Stanley, Lady Augusta Elizabeth Frederica

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Stanley, Lady Augusta Elizabeth Frederica

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(from Oxford Dictionary of Biography entry by K.D. Reynolds)

Stanley [née Bruce], Lady Augusta Elizabeth Frederica (1822-1876), courtier, was born on 3 April 1822, the daughter of Thomas Bruce, seventh earl of Elgin and eleventh earl of Kincardine (1766-1841), diplomatist, and his second wife, Elizabeth Oswald (1790-1860). She had four brothers and two sisters as well as a half-brother and three half-sisters, and on the death of their father the large family was left impoverished. The earl and his family had been living for some time in Paris, and it was there that his widow continued to make a home for her family. Lady Elgin was a woman of culture and learning (especially in mathematics), and the intelligentsia gathered at her Paris salon in the rue de Lille. Lack of money and the need for a secure home led Lady Augusta to accept the offer of a place in the household of the duchess of Kent, Queen Victoria's mother, and in 1846 she served her first term as lady-in-waiting. The exuberant and sympathetic yet profoundly religious Lady Augusta swept through the elderly and rather staid household at Frogmore like a breath of fresh air: with her connections in France, and her large family of siblings seeking their fortunes in different spheres and parts of the globe, she brought the outside world into the enclosed court. She soon came to occupy the place of a daughter in the duchess's affections, especially after Lady Elgin died in 1860, and remained with the duchess until the latter's death in March 1861.

Service in the duchess of Kent's household had brought Lady Augusta into regular contact with the queen, and especially with the queen's children, and following the duchess's death Victoria invited her to join her own household .

Arthur Penrhyn Stanley (1815–1881), a leader of the broad church, was a canon of Christ Church, Oxford. He was well known to the Bruces and to the court, but it came as a surprise to Lady Augusta when their relations promoted a marriage between them: she had never ‘looked on [Stanley] in such a light, or dreamt of [him] as other than the most valued, trusted and admired friend’ (Letters, 292).

None the less, their mutual reticence was overcome and their engagement announced. The queen was furious. ‘My dear Lady Augusta, at 41, without a previous long attachment, has, most unnecessarily, decided to marry (!!)’ she wrote to her uncle, King Leopold of the Belgians (Gernsheim and Gernsheim, 143). She was eventually, if grudgingly, reconciled to the match, and on 22 December 1863 the wedding took place. Stanley took up his appointment as dean of Westminster shortly afterwards, and it was at the deanery that Lady Augusta was to make her home for the rest of her life.

At last settled in a home of her own, Lady Augusta Stanley revelled in her new duties. The deanery became something of a salon, where the church mixed with the intelligentsia and the politicians. Dean Stanley's politics were Liberal, but Lady Augusta's roots were tory, and politicians of all persuasions, British and continental, were to be met at the deanery, alongside scientists, artists, and writers. And Lady Augusta retained her connections with the court. On her marriage she was appointed extra woman of the bedchamber, and she was frequently in attendance on the queen. But now the most important service she provided for the queen was that of connecting her to the world, for Victoria was in the depths of her secluded widowhood. Lady Augusta, who travelled widely with her husband, constantly wrote to the queen about people and places, hoping always to draw her attention outward from her grief, and mindful always of the jeopardy in which the monarchy would stand if Victoria's popularity sunk too low. A particular project was to encourage the queen to visit Ireland; Lady Augusta was firmly of the belief that ‘if it had been Ireland she had visited and settled on, instead of Aberdeenshire—the ecstacies and interests that would have grown up would have been just as great—and fenianism would never have existed’ (Later Letters, 65). Only once did the queen invite herself to meet company at Lady Augusta's salon, on 4 March 1869, the guests being George and Harriet Grote, Sir Charles and Lady Lyell, Robert Browning, and Thomas Carlyle. The event was a mixed success, for although the queen found them ‘very agreeable’ (G. E. Buckle, ed., The Letters of Queen Victoria, 2nd ser., 3 vols., 1926, 1.587), she was never at ease in the company of the learned, and the experiment was not repeated.

In January 1874 the Stanleys travelled to Russia, where the dean was to perform the English ceremony at the marriage of Prince Alfred, duke of Edinburgh, with Grand Duchess Marie of Russia, at which Lady Augusta was one of the representatives of the queen. The journey marked the beginning of Lady Augusta's physical decline, for her health, long taxed by her devotion to her duties, never recovered. For some time she struggled to maintain her activities, attending the arrival of the new duchess of Edinburgh at Windsor, and keeping up her flow of cheerful letters. A trip to France in the autumn of 1874 led not to improved health but a case of ‘Roman fever’. Throughout 1875 she grew weaker, and on 1 March 1876 she died at the deanery, from ‘progressive muscular atrophy’ (d. cert.); her eventual physical weakness had been such that she was unable to sign her will on 19 February. She was buried on 9 March in Henry VII's chapel in Westminster Abbey. Her coffin bearers included an archbishop, a bishop, two dukes, and the poet Tennyson. The queen's usual encomium after the death of one of her household this time held real affection: ‘She was such a help in so many ways, so sympathising, loving and kind, so attached to me and mine, so clever and agreeable, known to so many. She used to write such interesting letters and knew so many interesting people. It was always a treat to me when she came’ (Later Letters, 274). If the loss of Lady Augusta to the queen was great, to Arthur Stanley, who had come late to marriage, it was immeasurable; his nephew commented, ‘The light had gone out of his life’ (ibid., 16).


Letters of Lady Augusta Stanley: a young lady at court, 1849–1863, ed. A. V. Baillie and H. Bolitho (1927) · Later letters of Lady Augusta Stanley, 1864–1876, ed. A. V. Baillie and H. Bolitho [1929] · W. A. Lindsay, The royal household (1898) · H. Gernsheim and A. Gernsheim, Queen Victoria (1959) · S. Weintraub, Victoria: biography of a queen (1987) · Darling child: private correspondence of Queen Victoria and the crown princess of Prussia, 1871–1878, ed. R. Fulford (1976) · K. D. Reynolds, Aristocratic women and political society in Victorian Britain (1998) · m. cert. · d. cert. · Burke, Peerage (1901) · will · CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1876)

For more information see Oxford Dictionary of National Biography at : . Note: access requires Passport York).


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Stanley, Arthur Penrhyn (13 December 1815 - 18 July 1881)

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22 December 1863 - 1 March 1876

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Welby, Victoria, Lady, 1837-1912 (1837-1912)

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1861-1862, 1864-1865, 1867-1868, 1871-1872, 1874

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Created 2015-10-29 by Anna St.Onge.


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