How to Get Exiled From 18th-Century English High Society


Everything these days is Edwardian-era England this, World War-era England that; how come nobody ever talks about the years of George I, George II, George III and George IV, from the early 1700s until 1830? Those were some high-class English people who knew how to dress, decorate, and party.

In her new book The Beau Monde , Hannah Greig examines the extravagant way the upper crust lived during the period that saw England experiencing unprecedented social change, the Industrial Revolution, as well as the evolution of fashion in the country. Well-researched and with enough gossip to keep the book from becoming a dry history lesson, The Beau Monde shows us the glamorous way the wealthy and titled lived in the era of the Georges, with a strong eye for details such as the custom of decorating houses with lots of candles (ones made from beeswax and sperm whale oil were more desirable) and the type of jewelry that was trendy at the time.

The clothes were great, the public gardens were gorgeous, and the opera was the place to be — but like any good era in English history, there was plenty of controversy.

Of course, adultery was a crime which, for anyone found guilty in the eyes of their peers, usually meant automatic exile. And, of course, it was usually the woman who suffered the harshest social rejection.

One of the most well-known falls from grace of the period concerned Lady Sarah Bunbury, who, as a teenager, was considered as a possible match for George III, but eventually had to settle for serving as a bridesmaid at the royal wedding instead. The man she ended up with, Sir Thomas Charles Bunbury, 6th Baronet, was one of those guys who cares more about some hobby — in his case, horse racing — than his wife. Lady Sarah took to gambling, and eventually gossip circulated that she was pregnant with an illegitimate child. She was exiled to live in a cottage in the country for the next 12 years, a time which Greig calls “long and lonely,” until meeting Colonel The Hon. George Napier, and having eight children.

Pretty much everyone with a title was having affairs back in those days, but the Countess of Derby really upset people by leaving her husband and children to go live with John Frederick Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset. Although the duke’s own family tried to convince him to sign a paper stating that he’d marry the countess once her divorce went through, he never did, and she was forced to live abroad, far away from high society, for five years.

No connection to The Smiths’ album Strangeways, Here We Come (that is a reference to the high-security prison in Manchester), Lady Susan Fox Strangeways’ crime, in the eyes of her wealthy and fabulous friends, was what Greig describes as choosing “a clandestine marriage” to the actor William O’Brien over marrying within her ranks. The union ruined Lady Susan and her family’s ranking in society, and they eventually “retreated to Kent and regretfully accepted their fate.”