Regency Woman Wednesday – Elizabeth Armistead

Elizabeth Armistead(11 July 1750 – 8 July 1842)

Elizabeth was a courtesan and, later, the spouse of statesman and politician Charles James Fox. Her relationship with and marriage to Fox was one of the most famous and controversial of their age.

Even as she supported herself with a string of wealthy lovers, Elizabeth Armistead maintained close friendships with the young politicians of the Whig party. When Richard Fitzpatrick was ordered to America with his regiment, she wrote letters to him enclosed in those of his friend Charles James Fox. Later, her drawing room at Clarges Street became a meeting place for the Foxite Whigs.

It may have been through Fox and his friends that Mrs. Armistead came to the notice of the Prince of Wales (the future George IV). Chafing for independence from his strict parents, the young prince had been drawn to Fox and his lively circle. A passionate affair with actress Mary Robinson had cooled, leaving him looking for a new mistress. According to Town and Country Magazine, the Prince spotted Mrs. Armistead about town and directed his page to make approaches. Their first encounter was reported to have taken place at an inn near Bushy Park.

Mrs. Robinson tried to rekindle the interest of her royal lover which the partisan newspapers of the day whipped up into a “severe contest” between the old mistress and the new. Because of her connection with the Opposition Whigs, Elizabeth Armistead came under attack from the pro-Administration press. Whatever cachet the title of royal mistress may have brought her, Mrs. Armistead soon discovered the Prince had neither the inclination nor the funds to support her in the style she had long maintained. After several months, she set off on an extended Continental Tour as a means of breaking off the affair without giving offense to the future king.

Shortly before going abroad, Mrs. Armistead acquired the lease of a small country house in Surrey called St. Ann’s Hill. The place belonged to the estate of the Duke of Marlborough and likely came to her attention though his brother Lord Robert Spencer who was one of her Whig friends and a rumoured lover. For nearly a year, beginning in the summer of 1781, Mrs. Armistead toured the European continent with a string of titled patrons. Her former lover, Lord Derby, took her to Paris and then to Spa, Belgium. Later she was accompanied by the Earl of Cholmondeley to Italy, then by Lord Coleraine back to Paris. She returned to England to find the Whigs finally in power under Lord Rockingham and her friend Charles Fox in office as Foreign Secretary. After the death of Rockingham forced Fox to resign, he was rumoured to have had an affair with Mary Robinson before beginning one with his long-time friend Elizabeth Armistead.

– from Wikipedia 

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