Lady Hester Stanhope
Lady Hester Lucy Stanhope (12 March 1776 – 23 June 1839), the eldest child of Charles Stanhope, 3rd Earl Stanhope
Charles Stanhope, 3rd Earl Stanhope
Charles Stanhope, 3rd Earl Stanhope aka Charles Mahon, 3rd Earl Stanhope FRS was a British statesman and scientist. He was the father of the great traveller and Arabist Lady Hester Stanhope and brother-in-law of William Pitt the Younger. He is sometimes confused with an exact contemporary of his,...

 by his first wife Lady Hester Pitt, is remembered by history as an intrepid traveller in an age when women were discouraged from being adventurous.

Early life and travels

Lady Hester was born and grew up at her father's seat of Chevening
Chevening, also known as Chevening House, is a country house at Chevening in the Sevenoaks District of Kent, in England. It is an official residence of the Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom...

 until early in 1800, when he sent her to live with her grandmother, Hester Pitt, Countess of Chatham
Hester Pitt, Countess of Chatham
Hester Pitt, Countess of Chatham , 1st Baroness Chatham in her own right, was the wife of William Pitt , 1st Earl of Chatham, who was Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1766 to 1768...

, at Burton Pynsent. A year or two later she travelled abroad, but her cravings were not satisfied until she became the chief of the household of her uncle, William Pitt the Younger
William Pitt the Younger
William Pitt the Younger was a British politician of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. He became the youngest Prime Minister in 1783 at the age of 24 . He left office in 1801, but was Prime Minister again from 1804 until his death in 1806...

, in August 1803.

In his position as British Prime Minister, Pitt, who was unmarried, needed a hostess for his household. Lady Hester sat at the head of his table and assisted in welcoming his guests; she became known for her stately beauty and lively conversation. Although her brightness of style cheered Pitt's declining days and amused most of his political friends, she also made enemies unnecessarily. Lady Hester possessed great business talents, and when Pitt was out of office she acted as his private secretary. She was also the prime initiator of the gardens at Walmer Castle
Walmer Castle
Walmer Castle was built by Henry VIII in 1539–1540 as an artillery fortress to counter the threat of invasion from Catholic France and Spain. It was part of his programme to create a chain of coastal defences along England's coast known as the Device Forts or as Henrician Castles...

 during his tenure as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports
Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports
The Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports is a ceremonial official in the United Kingdom. The post dates from at least the 12th century but may be older. The Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports was originally in charge of the Cinque Ports, a group of five port towns on the southeast coast of England...

. She was with him in his last illness, and his dying thoughts were concerned with her future, but he had no reason to worry. The nation, grateful for his qualities, awarded his niece a pension of £1200 a year, dating from shortly after his death in January 1806, which Lady Hester Stanhope enjoyed for the rest of her days.

On Pitt's death she lived in Montagu Square
Montagu Square
Montagu Square is a square in Marylebone, London. It is situated a little north of Marble Arch. It is oriented on an axis approximately NNW on the same grid plan that extends eastwards as far as Portland Place. Montagu Place runs along the north end, George Street along the south end...

, London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

, but life in London without the interest caused by associating with the principal politicians of the Tory
Toryism is a traditionalist and conservative political philosophy which grew out of the Cavalier faction in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. It is a prominent ideology in the politics of the United Kingdom, but also features in parts of The Commonwealth, particularly in Canada...

 party frustrated her, and she went to live in Wales
Wales is a country that is part of the United Kingdom and the island of Great Britain, bordered by England to its east and the Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea to its west. It has a population of three million, and a total area of 20,779 km²...

, leaving England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 for good in February 1810 after the death of her brother. A romantic disappointment is said to have caused her decision to go to a long sea voyage. Among her entourage were her physician and later biographer Charles Meryon, her maid, Anne Fry, and a young man called Michael Bruce, who became her lover. It is claimed that when they arrived in Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

, the poet, Lord Byron
George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron
George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron, later George Gordon Noel, 6th Baron Byron, FRS , commonly known simply as Lord Byron, was a British poet and a leading figure in the Romantic movement...

, dived into the sea to greet her. From Athens they traveled to Constantinople
Constantinople was the capital of the Roman, Eastern Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman Empires. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Constantinople was Europe's largest and wealthiest city.-Names:...

, capital of the Ottoman Empire
Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman EmpireIt was usually referred to as the "Ottoman Empire", the "Turkish Empire", the "Ottoman Caliphate" or more commonly "Turkey" by its contemporaries...

, and intended to proceed to Cairo
Cairo , is the capital of Egypt and the largest city in the Arab world and Africa, and the 16th largest metropolitan area in the world. Nicknamed "The City of a Thousand Minarets" for its preponderance of Islamic architecture, Cairo has long been a centre of the region's political and cultural life...

, only recently emerged from the chaos following Napoleon
Napoleon I of France
Napoleon Bonaparte was a French military and political leader during the latter stages of the French Revolution.As Napoleon I, he was Emperor of the French from 1804 to 1815...

's invasion of Egypt
French Invasion of Egypt
The Egyptian Campaign was Napoleon Bonaparte's campaign in "The Orient", ostensibly to protect French trade interests, undermine Britain's access to India, and to establish scientific enterprise in the region...

 and the international conflicts that followed (see here).

Journey to the Near and Middle East

En route to Cairo by sea, the ship endured a storm and was shipwrecked on Rhodes
Rhodes is an island in Greece, located in the eastern Aegean Sea. It is the largest of the Dodecanese islands in terms of both land area and population, with a population of 117,007, and also the island group's historical capital. Administratively the island forms a separate municipality within...

. Stanhope's party lost all their clothes and had to borrow Turkish costumes. Stanhope refused to wear a veil
The word "hijab" or "'" refers to both the head covering traditionally worn by Muslim women and modest Muslim styles of dress in general....

 and dressed as a Turkish male
Ottoman clothing
Ottoman clothing is the style and design of clothing worn by the Ottoman Turks.-Ottoman period:While the Palace and its court displayed showy clothes, the common people were only concerned with covering themselves. The administrators occasionally brought about legal regulations on clothes...

, in robe, turban and slippers. When a British frigate
A frigate is any of several types of warship, the term having been used for ships of various sizes and roles over the last few centuries.In the 17th century, the term was used for any warship built for speed and maneuverability, the description often used being "frigate-built"...

 took them to Cairo, she bought a more elaborate version of the costume: purple velvet robe, embroidered trousers, waistcoat, jacket, saddle and saber. In this costume she went to greet the Pasha
Pasha or pascha, formerly bashaw, was a high rank in the Ottoman Empire political system, typically granted to governors, generals and dignitaries. As an honorary title, Pasha, in one of its various ranks, is equivalent to the British title of Lord, and was also one of the highest titles in...

, who received her with awe. From Cairo she went on to journey in the Middle East
Middle East
The Middle East is a region that encompasses Western Asia and Northern Africa. It is often used as a synonym for Near East, in opposition to Far East...

. Many Turkish sheikh
Not to be confused with sikhSheikh — also spelled Sheik or Shaikh, or transliterated as Shaykh — is an honorific in the Arabic language that literally means "elder" and carries the meaning "leader and/or governor"...

s received her with respect . She refused to wear a veil even in Damascus
Damascus , commonly known in Syria as Al Sham , and as the City of Jasmine , is the capital and the second largest city of Syria after Aleppo, both are part of the country's 14 governorates. In addition to being one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, Damascus is a major...

, which was reputed to be a particularly anti-Christian city. In Jerusalem, the governor received her; when she announced she wanted to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, also called the Church of the Resurrection by Eastern Christians, is a church within the walled Old City of Jerusalem. It is a few steps away from the Muristan....

, the doors were es pecially closed and reopened in her honour.

By now Lady Hester had begun to believe she had a destiny. She claimed to have heard omens from various sources, from fortune-tellers to prophets, that her destiny was to become the bride of a new messiah
A messiah is a redeemer figure expected or foretold in one form or another by a religion. Slightly more widely, a messiah is any redeemer figure. Messianic beliefs or theories generally relate to eschatological improvement of the state of humanity or the world, in other words the World to...

 therefore she tried to make matrimonial connection with Ibn Saud, the great chief of the Wahabies.Ibn Saud is not represented as a very loveable object ; but, making love subservient
to ambition, they may unite their arms together, bring
about a great revolution both in religion and politics, and
shake the throne of the Sultan
Sultan is a title with several historical meanings. Originally, it was an Arabic language abstract noun meaning "strength", "authority", "rulership", and "dictatorship", derived from the masdar سلطة , meaning "authority" or "power". Later, it came to be used as the title of certain rulers who...

 (Grand Signor) to its very center. She decided to visit the city of Palmyra
Palmyra was an ancient city in Syria. In the age of antiquity, it was an important city of central Syria, located in an oasis 215 km northeast of Damascus and 180 km southwest of the Euphrates at Deir ez-Zor. It had long been a vital caravan city for travellers crossing the Syrian desert...

, even though the route went through a desert with potentially hostile Bedouin
The Bedouin are a part of a predominantly desert-dwelling Arab ethnic group traditionally divided into tribes or clans, known in Arabic as ..-Etymology:...

s that is pre-joined Fedhan by whoem she was pursued. Fedhan are, also, wellknown to have strong parties abroad, mortal enemies of Franks
The Franks were a confederation of Germanic tribes first attested in the third century AD as living north and east of the Lower Rhine River. From the third to fifth centuries some Franks raided Roman territory while other Franks joined the Roman troops in Gaul. Only the Salian Franks formed a...

 and Turks, and wellknown to breed white camles. She dressed as a Bedouin and took with her a caravan
Camel train
A camel train is a series of camels carrying goods or passengers in a group as part of a regular or semi-regular service between two points. Although they rarely travelled faster than the walking speed of a man, camels' ability to handle harsh conditions made camel trains a vital part of...

 of 22 camels to carry all her baggage. Local Bedouin sheiks were apparently impressed by her courage and visited her particularly the Emir
Mahannah el Fadel, who received Lady Hester with
every testimony of respect and joy for her safe return. In Palmyra, people knew to expect her and she was crowned in a celebration. She became known as "Queen Hester".

In 1815 she obtained a 'map' in which a treasure
Treasure is a concentration of riches, often one which is considered lost or forgotten until being rediscovered...

 was indicated among the ruins of Ascalan (modern Ashkelon
Ashkelon is a coastal city in the South District of Israel on the Mediterranean coast, south of Tel Aviv, and north of the border with the Gaza Strip. The ancient seaport of Ashkelon dates back to the Neolithic Age...

) on the Mediterranean coast north of Gaza
Gaza , also referred to as Gaza City, is a Palestinian city in the Gaza Strip, with a population of about 450,000, making it the largest city in the Palestinian territories.Inhabited since at least the 15th century BC,...

. She persuaded the Ottoman
Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman EmpireIt was usually referred to as the "Ottoman Empire", the "Turkish Empire", the "Ottoman Caliphate" or more commonly "Turkey" by its contemporaries...

 authorities that she can excavate it for them and they might share the spoils. They agreed and ordered the governor of Jaffa
Jaffa is an ancient port city believed to be one of the oldest in the world. Jaffa was incorporated with Tel Aviv creating the city of Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel. Jaffa is famous for its association with the biblical story of the prophet Jonah.-Etymology:...

, Abu Nabbut (Father of the Mace) to assist her with workers. This resulted in the first 'archaeological excavation' ever carried out in Palestine
Palestine is a conventional name, among others, used to describe the geographic region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, and various adjoining lands....

. A headless ancient marble statue was discovered, later smashed to pieces.

Life amongst the Arabs

Having grown tired of wandering, Lady Hester Stanhope settled near Sidon
Sidon or Saïda is the third-largest city in Lebanon. It is located in the South Governorate of Lebanon, on the Mediterranean coast, about 40 km north of Tyre and 40 km south of the capital Beirut. In Genesis, Sidon is the son of Canaan the grandson of Noah...

, a town on the Mediterranean
Mediterranean Sea
The Mediterranean Sea is a sea connected to the Atlantic Ocean surrounded by the Mediterranean region and almost completely enclosed by land: on the north by Anatolia and Europe, on the south by North Africa, and on the east by the Levant...

 coast in what is now Lebanon
Lebanon , officially the Republic of LebanonRepublic of Lebanon is the most common term used by Lebanese government agencies. The term Lebanese Republic, a literal translation of the official Arabic and French names that is not used in today's world. Arabic is the most common language spoken among...

, about halfway between Tyre and Beirut
Beirut is the capital and largest city of Lebanon, with a population ranging from 1 million to more than 2 million . Located on a peninsula at the midpoint of Lebanon's Mediterranean coastline, it serves as the country's largest and main seaport, and also forms the Beirut Metropolitan...

. She lived first in the disused Mar Elias monastery at the village of Abra, and then in another monastery, Deir Mashmousheh, southwest of the Casa of Jezzine
Jezzine is a town in Lebanon, located from Sidon and south of Beirut. Surrounded by mountain peaks, pine forests, and at an average altitude of 950 m , it is the main summer resort and tourist destination of South Lebanon...


Lady Hester's cherished companion
Lady's companion
A lady's companion was a woman of genteel birth who acted as a paid companion for women of rank or wealth. The term was in use in the United Kingdom from at least the 18th century to the mid 20th century. It was related to the position of lady-in-waiting, which by the 19th century was only applied...

, Miss Williams, and her trusted medical attendant, Dr Charles Meryon, remained with her for some time; but Miss Williams died in 1828, and Meryon left in 1831, only returning for a final visit from July 1837 to August 1838. When Meryon decided to return to England, Lady Hester moved to a more remote abandoned monastery at Joun
Joun is a Lebanese village sitting on seven hills in the Chouf district of Mount Lebanon at a distant 13 kilometers from the city of Sidon....

 (also transliterated
Transliteration is a subset of the science of hermeneutics. It is a form of translation, and is the practice of converting a text from one script into another...

 Joon, Djoun, جون), a village of seven hills eight miles from Sidon, where she lived until her death. Her residence, known by the villagers as Dahr El Sitt, was on the tip of one of these hills. Meryon implied that she liked the house because of its strategic location, "the house on the summit of a conical hill, whence comers and goers might be seen on every side"; the road from Joon to the cities of Sidon, Beirut and Deir el Qamar
Deir el Qamar
Deir el Qamar is a village in south-central Lebanon, five kilometres outside of Beiteddine, consisting of stone houses with red-tiled roofs. During the 16th to 18th centuries, Deir el Qamar was the residence of the governors of Lebanon...

 goes into lonely mountains full of jackals and wolves.

At first she was greeted by emir
Emir , meaning "commander", "general", or "prince"; also transliterated as Amir, Aamir or Ameer) is a title of high office, used throughout the Muslim world...

 Bashir Shihab II
Bashir Shihab II
Bashir Chehab II was a Lebanese emir who ruled Lebanon in the first half of the 19th century.-Life:Bashir was born 2 January 1767 , son of Emir Qasim ibn Umar Chehab of the noble Chehab family which had came to power in 1697...

, but over the years she gave sanctuary to hundreds of refugees of Druze
The Druze are an esoteric, monotheistic religious community, found primarily in Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan, which emerged during the 11th century from Ismailism. The Druze have an eclectic set of beliefs that incorporate several elements from Abrahamic religions, Gnosticism, Neoplatonism...

 inter-clan and inter-religious squabbles and earned his enmity. In her new setting, she wielded an almost absolute authority over the surrounding districts. Her control over the natives was enough to cause Ibrahim Pasha
Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt
Ibrahim Pasha was the eldest son of Muhammad Ali, the Wāli and unrecognised Khedive of Egypt and Sudan. He served as a general in the Egyptian army that his father established during his reign, taking his first command of Egyptian forces was when he was merely a teenager...

, when about to invade Syria
Syria , officially the Syrian Arab Republic , is a country in Western Asia, bordering Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the West, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest....

 in 1832, to seek her neutrality, and this supremacy was maintained by her commanding character and by the belief that she possessed the gift of divination.

She kept writing to important people and spent money at an alarming rate. She still received curious visitors who went out of their way to visit her. One French officer stayed with her until his untimely death; she temporarily buried him in the grave she had prepared for herself.

She mounted an expedition to search for buried treasure in the city of Ascalon
Ashkelon is a coastal city in the South District of Israel on the Mediterranean coast, south of Tel Aviv, and north of the border with the Gaza Strip. The ancient seaport of Ashkelon dates back to the Neolithic Age...

 and wanted the British government to pay the bills—neither attempt succeeded. She found herself deeply in debt and, by Lord Palmerston's order, her pension from England had to be used to pay off her creditors in Syria. She unsuccessfully complained to Queen Victoria
Victoria of the United Kingdom
Victoria was the monarch of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 20 June 1837 until her death. From 1 May 1876, she used the additional title of Empress of India....


Lady Hester was known for her hospitality. Dr. Charles Meryon records that she "received me with great apparent pleasure, kissing me on each cheek, ordering sherbet, the pipe, coffee, and a finjan [small cup] of orange flower water
Orange flower water
Orange flower water, or orange blossom water, is a clear, perfumed distillation of fresh bitter-orange blossoms.This essential water has traditionally been used in many French and Mediterranean dessert dishes, such as the gibassier and pompe à l'huile, but has more recently found its way into...

; all which civilities, at meeting, are regarded in the East as marks of the most cordial and distinguished regard."

Death and legacy

In her lonely Joun residence, a house "hemmed in by arid mountains", and with the troubles of a household of some thirty servants only waiting for her death to plunder the house, Lady Hester Stanhope's strength slowly wasted away, and she died there. The disappointments of her life, and the necessity of controlling her servants as well as the chiefs who surrounded Joun, had made her haughty and bad-tempered. She became a recluse and her servants began to take off with her possessions because she could not pay them. She would not receive visitors until dark and then would only let them see her hands and face. She wore a turban over her shaven head. After her death, the British consul arrived from Beirut to settle her affairs and found her quarters full of junk.

In 1846, some years after her death, Dr Meryon published three volumes of Memoirs of the Lady Hester Stanhope as related by herself in Conversations with her Physician, and these were followed in the succeeding year by three volumes of Travels of Lady Hester Stanhope, forming the Completion of her Memoirs narrated by her Physician. They presented a lively picture of this extraordinary woman's life and character, and contained many anecdotes of Pitt and his colleagues in political life for a quarter of a century before his death.


In 1988 the International Committe of the Red Cross in Lebanon were approached by an un-named individual who claimed to be in possession of Lady Hester's remains, said to have been removed from her grave which had been damaged during the civil war. The ICRC passed this on to the British Embassy in Beirut who eventually came into possession of the remains. The Embassy then made contact with the Chevening Trust (through the Near East and North Africa Dept of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office) who offered to pay for her reburial in the garden of the Ambassador's Residence.

Works by Stanhope

  • C L Meryon - Memoirs of the Lady Hester Stanhope (1845), Travels of Lady Hester Stanhope (1846)

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.