Almack’s Patroness Sally Jersey

© Cheryl Bolen, 2011

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.

15 thoughts on “Almack’s Patroness Sally Jersey

  1. Great post. I had read somewhere she was called Sally by her intimates, but not sure where I saw that. I think No. 38 Berkeley Square is still there and is now a collection of pricey flats. Lady Jersey is a character in one of my manuscripts.

  2. Angelyn, you’re right. Many of her contemporaries DID refer to her as Sally — but not to her face! She was always, after her marriage, referred to as Lady Jersey. I appreciate you visiting.

    I haven’t been to Berkley Square recently, but I seem to recall from the last time I was there that it’s entirely commercial now. No more single family dwellings.It’s sad.

  3. Thanks for clearing up some misconceptions. I was reading Jean Plaidy’s book on Princess Charlotte (my heavens but her style is dry). She talks about Lady Jersey as the Regent’s mistress, but I didn’t realize it wasn’t the Patroness of Almacks but her mother. Do you have a recommendation for learning about Lady Jersey, either a good modern bio or a good contemporary source? Thank you!!

    • Actually, Vivian, I’ve never come across any bio of “Sally” Jersey. Publishers often balk at investing in books of Georgian aristocratic women who were not born to royalty. I know because I wrote one, and my agent thought publishers would gobble it up, but they all said, “Wonderful book, but she’s not a queen.”

      Btw, the Prince of Wales mistress was Lady Frances Jersey, mother-in-law of Sarah.

      Thanks for checking out the post.

  4. Sally is a nickname for Sarah. No. 38 Berkeley Square was demolished and the space is now occupied by an office block.

    Nice post, covering most of the misconceptions about her. May I ask:

    1) Where did you get the info that she had a child who died as an infant?

    2) Who is the subject of the biography you wrote, and when did you write it?


      • Oh, my, how annoyed you must be that a biography of her was published recently, then! She was a fascinating woman. I have her published correspondence with GLG.

        I have looked through all of the peerages (ebooks collected from Google Books, etc.) for the 1840s and 50s and they all list seven children for Lady Jersey. I did find one genealogy site that says that she had eight, one dying an infant, but doesn’t list them. I would appreciate it very much if you would double-check your 1845 Burke and let me know the details.

  5. You are right, Laura. The info about the dead infant was not in my peerage. I traced it to my source: Oxford University Press’s Dictionary of National Biography entry on her. It was written by K.D. Reynolds in 2004. I used to subscribe to the online DNB, but it’s very expensive. I have a complete set of old DNBs, but women were much slighted.

    I, too, have the 2 vol. of Lady Bessborough’s letters to Granville. I began writing my book on her in 2005, way before the other bio was published. Mine was slightly fictionalized and was titled Lady Bessborough’s Lover.

    • Thank you so much for looking! I will assume error on the DNB’s part, then, as I’ve not found any evidence of an eighth child, despite searching for a long time in contemporary sources (I find the perfect spacing of her children almost unbelievable). They can’t get everything perfect!

      Your book sounds interesting! Maybe since it’s slightly fictionalized, the new bio would pave the way to convince a publisher that there’s a market for it.

  6. One of the things I love about Sarah (also known as Silence, due to her habit of constantly talking and making sure nobody ever interrupted!) was her idea of an economy drive. It consisted of ordering smaller bottles of champagne – my kind of girl. She was cursed by a gypsy who told her she would live to see all her children die in her lifetime. In that dreadful three week period in 1859, she must have wondered if the gypsy had, after all, been right. Her brother founded the Royal Academy of Music, and having played there, I was delighted to see his portrait and to curtsey him a “thankyou”.

  7. Very happy to come across this blog and particularly this post. I’m currently doing an MA in Biography at the University of East Anglia with a view to writing a dual biography of the Lady Jerseys who so often get confused. It may not, of course, find a publisher but I have permission from the current Earl of Jersey to use family papers so I’m hopeful! I’ll revisit this blog with a website link should the book see the light of day – but don’t hold your breath as there is masses of research to do.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s