The Scarlet Marquess
Each year a further aspect of the history of Bowood and the Lansdowne family is explored in greater depth in our special exhibition. Drawing on our extensive archive and reserve collection the annual exhibition is created by our Curator Dr Cathryn Spence and displayed in the Orangery.
John Henry, 2nd Marquess of Lansdowne (1765-1809) is probably the least well-known of the Petty noblemen, mainly because he chose to live in Southampton rather than Bowood. However, he is a fascinating man whose life is explored for the first time in our 2022 exhibition. He was known as Viscount Fitzmaurice until 1784, then Earl of Wycombe between 1784 and 1805 before becoming the 2nd Marquess of Lansdowne in 1805.
Lord Wycombe was an intrepid traveller visiting the United States of America, Russia and countless European countries and cities. General George Washington thought of him as both worthy and intelligent, whilst The Morning Post and Gazetteer described him as ‘that young nobleman so distinguished for his literary and political talents’. King George III claimed he was a ‘best-bred man’. He was tutored by non-conformist ministers Thomas Jervis and Dr Joseph Priestly before going up in February 1783 to Christ Church College, Oxford.
Lord Wycombe was an avid sailor and experimented with yacht design following the practice of his 17th-century ancestor Sir William Petty. He bought land at Southampton, overlooking the mouth of the River Test, and built a Gothick castle there. He was landlord to Jane Austen and is thought to have been one of the inspirations behind Baroness Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel, having saved Madame de Flahault and her son Charles from the Reign of Terror in Paris.
It was probably his great love of sailing that encouraged Lord Wycombe to live in Southampton. He knew the town previously, writing to his father from America in 1791 that New York was ‘Southampton on a larger scale’. Lord Wycombe ‘delighted in nautical experiments’ and was known to be ‘extremely fond of aquatic excursions’.
Lord Wycombe did not enjoy good health and often sought treatment for deafness and complications to do with his eyes. It is believed that he died from liver disease when he was just shy of his forty-fourth birthday and had been Marquess for less than four years.
We recently turned the tables and caught up with our Curator & Archivist – Dr. Cathryn Spence.
She may just have the most interesting and valued position at Bowood, as she takes care of all the irreplaceable historic artefacts and each year curates our exhibition.
We chatted all things Bowood, found out more about her role and amongst other questions, which artist (dead or alive) she would most like to meet!