We’ve often noted that Torquay was once the richest town in England and attracted many of the nation’s most affluent, both as visitors and residents. Indeed, more members of Europe’s royal families could be seen in Torquay than anywhere else in the world. Many came in their yachts.
One of these was – take a deep breath – Anne Sutherland-Leveson-Gower, Duchess of Sutherland (1829-1888), 1st Countess of Cromartie, also known as the Marchioness of Stafford.
Born Anne Hay-Mackenzie, on 27 June 1849 Anne married George Sutherland-Leveson-Gower, Marquess of Stafford. They had five children. George was a Liberal Member of Parliament for Sutherland and was the tenth richest man in the Western world, owning 1.4 million acres of land.
As an example of Anne’s wealth, we have a necklace featuring twenty one grey natural pearls. The pearls date to around 1780 and originally belonged to Marie Antoinette, the last Queen of France. After the Queen’s execution, the pearls were mounted as a necklace for the marriage of George and Anne.
The Duchess was known for her liberal opinions. She opposed slavery, and in 1864 received the Italian national hero Garibaldi who most viewed as a common European revolutionary.
It’s also in her role as confidant to Queen Victoria from 1870 to 1874 that Anne is worth noting. Anne was a close friend was appointed by the Queen to serve as her Mistress of the Robes. The close relationship between Anne and Victoria is reflected in their correspondence where the Queen refers to the Duchess simply as ‘Annie’. These give an insight into the life and views of the Queen of the British Empire.
Many of the letters from Victoria refer to her thoughts about contemporary political issues.
The Queen’s correspondence further reflects contemporary social and moral views such as this example on the topic of the acceptability of divorced women.
In a letter dated 3 May 1874 Victoria explains her reasons for refusing to receive a lady named Effie Millais. Effie had been married to Torquay visitor John Ruskin but left him to marry the artist, John Millais. ‘Annie’ had written attempting to persuade the Queen to receive the divorcée, but Victoria replied that, “the rule has always been adhered to” and she refused to make an exception and meet Effie.
The Queen commented that receiving the lady would be “opening the door to many others” and would cause “remarks of every kind & sort which would be much more injurious to the Lady than her not being received”. Victoria concluded her letter by instructing Anne, “you should advise Mrs Millais in her own interest to say no more about it”.
Royal attitudes to divorced women have somewhat changed over the years.
To show the Queen’s appreciation of Anne’s friendship, the Duchess of Sutherland was awarded the Order of Victoria and Albert (3rd class).
The Sutherlands’ marriage was, however, an unhappy one due to the Duke’s infidelities. The Duchess did consider divorce proceedings but was discouraged on the advice of the Queen. Nevertheless, the marriage collapsed in the early 1880s.
The ending was hastened in 1883 when a guest of a house party at Pitlochry Castle, a Captain Arthur Blair, was shot dead. The Duke (pictured above) had been in a relationship with the Captain’s wife and, while Blair’s death was officially recorded as accidental, there was speculation that it may have been suicide or even murder.
On the death of Anne in 1888, Sutherland married Blair’s wife. Though George was estranged from Anne for many years before her death, his marriage to Mary, less than four months after Anne’s death, caused a scandal – the conventional minimum period between the death of a spouse and remarriage being one year.
Anne died at the age of 59 at the family’s London mansion, Stafford House, St James’ Park, in 1888. But she was buried at the part of Barton Road Cemetery belonging to All Saints Church, Babbacombe. She had been a devout worshipper at All Saints and her internment was presided over by a personal friend, the church’s first incumbent, Father John Hewett,.
An ornate cross mounted on a three-step plinth reads: “In Loving Memory of Anne. Duchess of Sutherland Countess of Cromartie Wife of George Granville Third Duke of Sutherland Born 21st April 1829 Died 25th November 1888. For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. Looking to Jesus.”
‘Torquay: A Social History’ by local author Kevin Dixon is available for £10 from Artizan Gallery, Lucius Street, Torquay, or: