Saturday, January 29, 2011

February 12, 1881 --- She Must Be Crazy

At Christ Church, Mayfair, the 67-year old Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts, arguably the second richest woman in the realm, marries a 30 year old "swell," William Ashmead Bartlett.

Heiress to two fortunes, including Coutts Bank, the Baroness had used her immense wealth in numerous worthy causes, earning the name "Queen of the Poor." The well-beloved Lady Coutts had never married and the wedding plans disquieted her friends. The Queen wrote, "Lady Burdett really must be crazy," and Disraeli admitted, "the element of the ridiculous has now so deeply entered her career that even her best friends can hardly avoid a smile by a sigh!" One of the sporting papers, Pink'un, understating the groom's age, posed "An Arithmetical Problem: How many times does twenty-seven go into sixty-eight and what is there over?"

The Baroness was obdurate. Saddened by the recent death of Mrs. Brown, her longtime companion, Lady Coutts had become attached to Bartlett, one of several young men who served as her "secretaries." Frantic Coutts relations tried to scuttle the marriage, bearing tales of Bartlett's previous amours, resulting (allegedly) in at least one child. Derided as a tuft-hunter, Bartlett did make an offer to step aside, and, at one point, the Press declared the wedding was off.  The Baroness contradicted all such reports: "I mean to carry it out." Not even the loss of 60% of her Coutts inheritance for marrying an alien (Bartlett was American-born) could dissuade her.

The wedding portraits in the illustrated papers fail to minimize the age difference. Lady Angela ignored the whispers.  Hadn't she proposed (unsuccessfully) to her neighbor, the 77-year old Duke of Wellington when she was Bartlett's age? The wedding couple leaves by special train for Kent, "where they propose spending a short time in retirement." Taking the pretentious title of Mr. William Ashmead Bartlett-Burdett-Coutts and supported by his wife's still considerable fortune, Bartlett soon became a Tory MP, winning little distinction, preferring rather to raise horses.

Lady Angela's charitable efforts would suffer owing to her reduced circumstances. She died in 1906, outliving the Queen who often referred to her as "that poor foolish old woman." Bartlett never remarried and died in 1921.

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