Monday, December 1, 2008

Fabulous Fanny

My blog-writing slowed down somewhat over the last week because I decided to spend a little time producing a readable presentation of the genealogy of my compatriot friend Sheridan Henty, whose ancestors came from Surrey and Kent.

[Click the image to access my work on the Heaths.]

A year or so ago, Sheridan gave me a copy of an old family tree, and I've been aware that, if I didn't document it correctly, it was likely to disappear, which would be a pity.

Amusing anecdote. The family tree states that an 18th-century fellow named William Heath was a gambler and a spendthrift, who ended up squandering all the inherited possessions of the ancient family. It then says that he married a girl named Fanny Seymour, a niece of the Marquess of Hertford. Now, that tale intrigued me, because marquesses are rare creatures in the English peerage, and I couldn't understand how a chap like William could have won the hand of a noble woman named Seymour, descendant of the 1st Duke of Somerset, brother of Jane Seymour, third wife of Henry VIII. I felt that there had to be a hitch somewhere, so I set out on a quest to identify William's beloved Fanny.

I soon found a woman who matched the given description: a certain Anne Seymour [1748-1828], niece of the 1st Marquess. More than a dozen years older than William, she had married a nobleman named John Damer. After seven years of an unhappy marriage, her husband blew his brains out with a pistol in Covent Garden. Left to her own resources, his widow soon became a celebrated sculptor. She is known, in particular, for a marble bust of her friend Horatio Nelson. Her bronze bust of the great English naturalist Joseph Banks, who accompanied James Cook to Australia, is particularly imposing.

Anne Seymour Damer (as she is generally called today) studied under the Italian sculptor Giuseppe Cerrachi, who produced a life-sized marble statue (housed today in the British Museum) of his young pupil, attired in ancient robes.

Anne's closest confident was the effeminate Earl of Oxford, Horace Walpole, ten years younger than her. She was never the wife of William Heath. Besides, it appears that Anne preferred female partners. In any case, she was no doubt capable of infatuating her young admirer, and helping him spend what remained of his fortune.

Why, I wondered, would William have called his friend Fanny, rather than Anne? This morning, I discovered that a popular novel had been published when William was 9 years old. Although the story was in no way connected with Anne Seymour Damer, it probably enabled William Heath to fantasize.

Poor William! Not only was he carried away by a noble lesbian widow who surely preferred the cold touch of marble and bronze to the caresses of her young admirer. He had fallen in love with the heroine of a Georgian novel!

1 comment:

  1. Excellent, William, from a piece of genealogical research you have created a splendid mini-saga.

    It was a pleasure to read.