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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The naughty viscountess

Frances Anne Vane, best minuet dancer of her time, and notorious flirt

The lady with the enviable bosom, pictured, is the subject of one of the lives of the week on the online Oxford Dictionary of Biography, written by Emma Plaskitt.

Born in London in 1715, Frances had an interesting father, also named Francis -- Francis Hawes -- with the Francis spelled differently.

Francis (with an i) Hawes amassed a lot of money from his job as clerk to the treasurer of the navy, plus speculating in stocks and bonds, but he lost the lot after being exposed as the brain behind the South Sea Bubble.    His wealth was confiscated, to be distributed to the disappointed shareholders, and so the family was reduced to poverty.

Frances (with an e) coped magnificently, however, partly because of her beauty, vivacious nature, and enviable bosom, but also because she was reputedly the finest minuet dancer in England.  In May 1733, at the age of 18, she married Lord William Hamilton, second son of the Duke of Hamilton. Sadly, young Will passed away at his house in Pall Mall in July 1734.  Within months, in May 1733, the vivacious teenager married the unfortunate Viscount Vane, who was a year younger than herself.

Why do I say unfortunate?  Because the heart of William Holles, Viscount Vane, was lost on a disloyal doxy, whose contempt knew no bounds.  She attempted repeatedly to elope with other men, and to separate from him legally, but he remained infatuated with his beautiful young wife.

In 1751, Frances published an account of her escapades, Memoirs of a Lady of Quality -- which may or may not have provided the material for chapter 88  of the novel, The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, a book written by Tobias Smollett.  Because of style and content, it is now considered that the chapter was indeed written by the naught Ms. Vane.

The Memoirs describe her relationship with William Hamilton as a youthful idyll, a romantic episode cruelly terminated by his death.  They describe how her family pressured her into marrying Vane, who is portrayed as ugly and impotent -- slurs that are probably just excuses for her wild sexual escapades with a good selection of men from the current Burke's Peerage.

What everyone found so shocking about Frances was that she boasted about her adulterous alliances, instead of modestly veiling them from public view.  Accordingly, fate caught up with her.  Shunned by high society after the publication of her Memoir, Frances spent the last 20 years of her life as a bedridden invalid, before dying at her house in Mayfair in March 1788.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

~Hello there, The portrait of Frances Vane that you show above is lovely, but it does not feature the same Frances Vane in the DNB article. Here is a link, with portrait:,_Viscountess_Vane

She still has an enviable bosom!