An Appuldurcombe House Story

The title of this story could perhaps be a little shocking (especially by today’s standards). But maybe the real shock should be the idea that no matter how wealthy or important an 18-century woman’s family was, she was still property. The property of her father until her marriage, and subsequently the property of her husband.

When Seymour Fleming turned 17 in 1775 she was one of the most excellent matches in Georgian England, this was as much to do in her £7M dowry (in today’s value), as opposed to her good looks.

Seymour ended up married to Richard Worsley 7th Baronet and moved to his beautiful baroque house which was considered the most exquisite home in the Isle of Wight.

As I’ve mentioned previously, marriage in the 18th century was a very different affair to that of today. You can probably describe it as economic and dynastic deal rather than anything that relates to love and affection. The woman in the marriage lost all her fortune and became the property of her husband much like his land and his cattle.

But since there was no love, it was common to take lovers. The husband could do this from the outset while the wife could only do so after she “fulfilled her task” of producing an heir.

In the beginning, the marriage of the Worsleys seemed sound, and the famous painting of her by Joshua Reynolds shows her with a dress designed to resemble her husband uniform, but in reality, things were unhappy from the start. This led Seymour to ignore the code of Georgian marriage, and embark on numerous love affairs, almost immediately. Later it was discovered that she had around 27 lovers, and she even became pregnant from one of them, Captain John Bisset.

After six years of miserable marriage, she decided to elope with him. Her husband was furious, he had his fair share of affairs as well, but it did not stop him from suing Captain Bisset for damage. After all, running away with someone’s wife was similar to stealing his property. Worsley demanded that Bisset pay him no less than £2M in today’s value.

It was not uncommon for such cases to take place, but what Lady Worsley did in return was very unusual. The brave woman decided to back Captain George Bisset and testify in court. She even asked her lovers to testify as well. Another witness she brought to court was her doctor who told the jury how Lady Worsley caught a venereal disease from one of her lovers (and a Marquese no less…).

As you can imagine her actions made this trial the most sensational piece of news in the country in those days. However, It seemed that none of this really helped the case of Captain Bisset, but then a piece of new evidence was revealed to the court. It appeared that her husband was the one who introduced his wife to Bisset, but he did much more than merely introducing them to each other…he also arranged for Bisset to watch her while she was naked…in fact, he let Captain Bisset climb on his shoulders and peak through a window while she was visiting a public bath.

The new evidence shocked the court (and the country), and the furious jury decided that although Bisset was “stealing” from the 7th baronet, he would pay him only 1 shilling compensation. It seemed like Lady Worsley had won, but that was far from the truth. Her husband decided not to divorce her but to separate from her, which meant that her huge dowry remained with him.
This also led to her lover ditching her and their daughter…Seymour had to survive, and the only way she could do so was by becoming some sort of upper-class mistress.

She became associated with what was known as the female Coterie, a club where upper-class aristocrat came to play, eat and chat (and maybe more) with upper-class ladies who found themselves in a similar position to Seymour. Amongst the male members of the club were five dukes…

Her troubles continued. Seymour would not change her lavish lifestyle and in 1788 she had to flee to France to avoid her debts. Unfortunately for her soon after her arrival, the French revolution erupted, and she ended up imprisoned. She finally managed to return to England in 1797 and went to live with her mother.

In 1805 her husband finally died, and after 30 years, her original dowry returned to her. She became rich once more. By now, she was 47 years old, and one month after his death she married her lover who was 26-year-old John Lewis Cuchet. She then asked  the court if she could revert to her maiden name, and her husband also adopted it, making sure that she would not die carrying on the Worsley name.

 

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