The Countess of Aldborough was the eldest daughter and heiress of the Reverend Frederick Hamilton, Archdeacon of Raphoe, grand-daughter of Lord Archibald Hamilton (1673–1754), and great-granddaughter of William, 3rd Duke of Hamilton. In 1777 she married Lord John Stratford (c. 1740–1823), later 3rd Earl of Aldborough, with whom she had three daughters: Elizabeth, who married John, 1st Baron Tollemache (1805–1890); Louisa-Martha, who married John Rodney, younger son of Admiral Lord Rodney, the hero of Cape St Vincent and the Battle of the Saints; and Emily (d. 1863), who married Captain Thomas Best (d. 1829), the finest shot in England, famous in Georgian London for killing Thomas Pitt, 2nd Baron Camelford in a duel in 1804.
A notorious society figure in Ireland, Lady Aldborough was, according to the Gentleman’s Magazine, ‘a Dublin toast, and the best horse-woman in Ireland’.2 She appears to have largely abandoned her husband and kept a house at Brighton and a Salon at Temple Hill, Dublin. She had many admirers, among them the future Duke of Wellington and Lord Nelson, for whom she is said to have performed shawl dances in the manner of Emma Hamilton. Legend has it that she met the young Lieutenant Wellesley, then serving as ADC at Dublin Castle, at a ball in the city and took him off for a late night ride in her carriage. Tiring of his company she drove home without him, leaving the future Iron Duke to make his own way back to his barracks with the fiddlers who had played at the ball. Many years later, after the Congress of Vienna, she is said to have bumped into the Duke in Paris and told him that she did not realise at the time of the incident that, eventually, he would become the first Fiddler.3 Famous for her bold repartee she was described as ‘rather a coarse wit’, and allegedly Queen Adelaide, wife of William IV, refused to have her at Court. Nevertheless Captain Rees Howell Gronow (1794–1865), a diarist writing in 1860, said that her sayings were quoted all over Europe. Perhaps the most famous of these came when, on hearing of the unfortunate Princess de Leon, who had been burned to death when her dress caught fire at a ball in Paris in 1815, and being told that her husband, the Prince, had been more a brother than a husband to his wife, Lady Aldborough is said to have exclaimed, ‘What, a virgin as well as a Martyr, really, that’s too much’.
In later life she lived in Paris, where she was friends with King Louis Philippe and Lucien Bonaparte. Always discreet about her age, in her late 70s a French official is said to have remarked, on inspecting her passport, ‘Madam I think you must be over 25’, to which she replied rather haughtily, ‘Monsieur, you are the first Frenchman who ever questioned what a Lady says about her age’; whilst the Duchess of Sutherland is said to have declared, on being told of the invention of a new calculating machine, ‘I wish I could calculate two things, first Lady Aldborough’s age and secondly, whether the Tories will ever again come back to power’.4 Lady Aldborough died in Paris on 29 January 1846 at the age of about 92. Her death, according to the Gentleman’s Magazine, ‘deprived fashionable society of one of its most fascinating ornaments’.
1. Crookshank and the Knight of Glin 2002, pp. 104–05.
2. The Complete Peerage, London 1910, vol. I, p. 99.
3. G.H. Stratford, A History of the Stratford Family, 1988 (online, chapter 11).
4. G.H. Stratford, A History of the Stratford Family, 1988 (online, chapter 11).
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.