Margaret McPhee

Go to content

Main menu:

Behind the Scenes

Books > Latest > Mistress to the Marquis

Mistress to the Marquis


Behind the Scenes

You first met Alice and Razeby in Dicing with the Dangerous Lord, the story that belongs to their best friends, and in which Alice becomes Razeby's mistress.

During the Regency era it was considered completely acceptable for a gentleman and nobleman, such as Razeby, to keep a demi-rep woman, such as Alice, as his mistress. Marriage between the two of them, however, would have been viewed very differently. But there were cases in which mistresses went on to marry their noblemen protectors. Sophia Dubochet, courtesan and sister of the infamous Harriette Wilson, married Lord Berwick, and Margaret Farmer, a commoner and daughter of an Irish spendthrift, became first Lord Mountjoy's mistress and then his wife. Below is an outline of Margaret's story.

From Mistress to Countess – the true story of Marguerite, Countess of Blessington

Married at Fifteen to a Hellraiser
Margaret Power was born in Clonmel, County Tipperary, Ireland in September 1789. Her father was a minor landowner whose drinking was said to have kept the family poverty stricken. Perhaps this is why at only 15 years of age her father pushed her into marriage with a neighbouring hellraiser -Captain Maurice St. Leger Farmer.

Her First Protector – Captain Jenkins
Margaret was not happy in the marriage and left her husband to return home to her father. Eventually she went on to meet Captain Thomas Jenkins who took her to England and installed her in a house in Hampshire. Jenkins brought her books from London and encouraged her education. It was also through Jenkins that she came to meet John Gardiner, Viscount Mountjoy, whom her protector invited to Hampshire on a visit.

Margaret and the Earl of Blessington – love or lust at first sight?
Mountjoy was a wealthy man, worth about £30 000 a year, and about to be granted an earldom. He was also newly single, having been widowed the previous year. At this time Margaret was about 27 years old, and Mountjoy in his early thirties. Whether it was love or lust at first sight is not clear but almost immediately that Mountjoy had been made the 1st Earl of Blessington, he proposed to Margaret. Then he paid off Jenkins, ‘compensating’ him with £10 000, a huge sum today and even bigger in 1816! And moved Margaret to a house in Manchester Square in London.

The demise of the hellraiser first husband
As she was still legally married to Captain Farmer he took pains to safeguard her reputation, only visiting her when they were chaperoned. Meanwhile he searched for Farmer. The plan was to bribe Farmer to divorce Margaret. But in October 1817 Farmer, who it turned out was imprisoned in the King’s Bench Prison, suffered a fatal fall from a high window in the jail while ‘carousing’ with some debtor friends, and there was no need for a divorce.

Margaret Farmer becomes Marguerite, Countess of Blessington
Margaret and Blessington married four months later, on 17 Feb 1818, in St Mary’s Chapel, Bryanston Square, Marylebone, London. Margaret Farmer had become Marguerite, Countess of Blessington. The couple honeymooned in Ireland and then returned to live in the gentleman’s club heartland of London - St James’s Square.

Rejected by the Ton
Even with lavish entertaining and generosity, and Marguerite’s engaging personality, her scandalous past meant that the couple faced hostility from the Ton. Their salon was visited by many of the leading men of the time but always without the company of their wives.

A handsome French dandy enters their lives
It was during this entertaining that Marguerite and Blessington met Count Alfred D’Orsay, a 21 year old French aristocrat. He was a dandy, tall, handsome and stylish, and the couple were entranced with him. So much so that they planned a tour of the Continent together. Marguerite and Blessington left England in August 1822 with Marguerite’s sister and stayed for a while in Paris. A few months later they travelled to Avignon to meet up with D’Orsay and together went on to Genoa. Marguerite and Blessington eventually lived for a while in Naples.

Blessington dies
In Italy in Dec 1827 Count D’Orsay married Harriet Gardiner, Blessington’s daughter by his first wife. Harriet was only 16 years old and Blessington gave his blessing under the proviso that the marriage was not consummated until Harriet was 21. Harriet and D’Orsay joined Marguerite and Blessington in Paris but a year later, Blessington died of an apoplectic fit in the Hotel Marechal Ney aged just 46. Marguerite went back to England with Harriet and D’Orsay.

Life after Blessington
Blessington left the major part of his estate to D’Orsay in his will. Marguerite received relatively little in comparison - an annuity of £2000 and the contents of the house in St James’s Square. But Marguerite was a survivor. As a widow and with her considerably reduced income she sub-let the St James’s Square house and rented a smaller house in which she determinedly established her salon as a place where writers and intellectuals came to meet and exchange ideas. By now Marguerite had dabbled with writing in the past but her financial situation led her to write full time.

Was D’Orsay her lover?
Count D’Orsay, by now legally separated from Harriet, took an apartment in nearby Curzon Street. Speculation as to the nature of Marguerite’s relationship with him was rife. That D’Orsay acted as host at her dinners fanned the flames of that speculation.

A sad end
By 1849 Marguerite and D’Orsay were both deep in “River Tick”. D’Orsay fled to Paris to avoid debtors’ prison. Marguerite took out a life insurance policy which she gave as payment to her chief creditors. She then auctioned her belongings to cover her remaining debts and joined D’Orsay. Four months later she was dead, aged 59, reportedly of an enlarged heart. But Marguerite had lived an exciting, adventurous and extravagant life.

Home | Books | About Margaret | Bits and Bobs | Email | Copyright | Site Map | Site Map |

Back to content | Back to main menu