Most of us got our introduction to Sally Jersey – sometimes referred to as Silence – through Georgette Heyer’s fiction. When I discovered Heyer’s books in the 1970s, I visualized Lady Jersey as a middle-aged meddler. There are others who, knowing the Prince of Wales (before he was regent) took Lady Jersey as his mistress, assumed that mistress was Sally Jersey. This blog is to set the facts straight.
First, her name was not Sally, but Sarah. She was born Sarah Fane on March 4, 1785. Her mother, the only child of the enormously rich bankerRobert Child, was Sarah Anne (1764-1793), who eloped with John Fane, the 10th Earl of Westmoreland. Their son would inherit the Westmoreland title and wealth; however, the entire Child banking fortune would go to the first daughter of the marriage: Sarah. It was estimated her annual income was £60,000. By comparison, the Duke of Devonshire, who was one of the largest landowners in Great Britain, enjoyed an enormous annual income of £50,000.
It is no wonder that when Lady Sarah came upon the Marriage Mart, she could have any man in the kingdom. Indeed, they all threw themselves at her. In addition to her massive wealth, she was also attractive.
When she was 19 she settled on George Villiers (1773-1859), heir to the 4th Earl of Jersey. They wed on May 23, 1804 at her home in Berkley Square. The following year he succeeded his father. It was his mother, Frances Villiers (1753-1821), who was a long-time mistress to the Prince of Wales.
So at the age of 20, the new Lady Jersey was the toast of London society. Along with other young matrons, including Lady Cowper, she was to wield consider clout as a patroness of Almack’s. Because of her great wealth and lofty position in society, she was held in awe.
The moniker Silence was facetiously attached to her because of her propensity to always be the center of attention.
She would live at 38 Berkley Square for the rest of her life. In addition to her maternal grandfather’s fortune, she also inherited his country estate, Osterley Park in Middlesex, which is now a suburb of London. She spent little time at Osterley, preferring the Jersey estate, Middleton Park in Oxfordshire.
She would give birth to eight children, one of whom died in infancy.
In addition to being an Almack’s patroness, Lady Jersey also was a noted political hostess. In her earlier years, she aligned herself with the Whigs; when the Tories Wellington and Peel (whose daughter married Lady Jersey’s son) came into power, she switched her allegiance.
Women of the era made fools of themselves over Wellington, as did she. He apparently did not reciprocate. In an era when her contemporaries – and especially her mother-in-law – indulged in extramarital affairs, it’s quite possible that she did, but I’ve not uncovered any details to corroborate this.
With her emerging Tory tastes, she opposed reform, but she was very good to those who worked on the Jersey estates and established a number of schools.
At the age of 78 she was widowed, in 1859. In a three-week period, there were three Earls of Jersey. Her eldest son inherited the title but died three weeks later, to be succeeded by his son. She outlived all but one of her children. Seven years after losing her husband, she died at her home in Berkley Square and was buried near her husband at Middleton Stoney.