Tag Archives: Victorian England

A Jersey Lilly

March is Women’s History Month!

In honor of the occasion, I will be reposting some of my previous articles about women who’ve helped pave the way for empowered women everywhere. Here is a two part article I published in June of 2012 about Lillie Langtry, also known as The Jersey Lilly–a social climbing powerhouse who rocked Victorian England. Her popularity was so immense it became termed, “The Langtry Phenomenon.”

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Considered the most beautiful woman in England, Royal Mistress to the Prince of Wales, paramour of the Earl of Shrewsbury and Prince Louis of Battenberg, Lillie Langtry, a Victorian beauty, caused a commotion wherever she went. She became a controversial figure who challenged Victorian society’s attitude toward women and paved the way for future women entrepreneurs all over the world.

Born in 1853 on the island of Jersey, located off the Normandy coast of France, Emilie Charlotte Le Bretton, affectionately called Lillie, grew up with six brothers. Her father was the Reverend William Corbet le Breton, the Dean of Jersey, and her mother, Emilie Davis, a woman noted for her beauty.

Lillie inherited her mother’s good looks and had many suitors on the island. One asked Lillie’s father for her hand, but the Reverend turned him down as Lillie was only fifteen years old. She paid the suitors no mind preferring to roughhouse with her boisterous brothers, join in their pranks, and ride horses bareback on the beaches and throughout the countryside of Jersey. Her father also insisted that she have the same educational opportunities as the boys and she proved to be an ardent and talented student.

When it became known that her father, the religious authority on the island, was a habitual philanderer, Lillie decided it was time to leave Jersey and wanted to sail to the continent and live in London. Her reprieve came in 1874 when at twenty years old she married Edward Langtry, a wealthy landowner, yachtsman, and angler. He took her from the island to his home in Southampton. Having escaped Jersey and her family’s troubles Lillie expected marriage to open up a whole new world for her. But, married life and her new husband proved to be disappointments. Edward often left Lillie alone in their grand house with no one for company except servants, to go on his sailing and fishing excursions.

Despondent and unhappy Lillie contracted Typhoid Fever. Her doctor, her soul source of company for weeks, soon became besotted with his beautiful patient. She confided in him that she wanted above anything else to move to London. When Edward returned from his adventures the doctor insisted that the couple move to London or else risk Lillie’s good health.

After the move Lillie received word from her family that her younger brother Reggie was killed in a riding accident. She went home to comfort her mother and when she returned to London she wore a simple, black, form-fitting dress for all occasions – even soirees and balls — in honor of her favorite brother. The simplicity of her attire only enhanced her beauty.

Miles’ pencil drawing purchased by Prince Leopold (Wikipedia)

Lillie and Edward were invited to a reception given by her father’s friend and fellow Jerseyman, the 7th Viscount Ranelagh, in Lownes Square. Many of the guests became enchanted with the Jersey beauty who stood out in contrast to the glittering and tailored ladies of London’s elite in her simple, black gown. Frank Miles, an up and coming young artist and guest, was so taken with her he immediately took out his sketch pad and made a line drawing of her right there at the party. Drawings of beautiful society women were printed on postcards and sold to the public. Miles’ postcard was an instant best seller and out-sold all the other postcards of society beauties. Thrilled with the success of the postcards, Miles begged Lillie to honor him with a formal sitting. The resulting portrait was immensely popular and purchased by England’s Prince Leopold.

Lillie had arrived.

Millais, A Jersey Lilly
(WikiArt)

Soon, other artists were clamoring for her to sit for portraits. Sir John Everett Millais’ depiction of her became her most famous. Dressed in her usual black gown with a white lace collar Langtry held a Guernsey Lilly, as no lilies from Jersey were attainable. Millais named the portrait, A Jersey Lilly. The painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy and caused quite a stir. After the exhibition Lilly was always referred to as “The Jersey Lilly.”

Part Two coming soon!

Interesting Facts About “Black Beauty” – A Timeless Classic

My father traveled a lot for business when I was a child. This created a great deal of anxiety for me as I feared the plane would go down and I would never see him again. To ease my angst, he always told me he would bring me something from his trip. It worked because instead of worrying about my father, I had something else to think about. Of course I prayed every night he was gone that he would come home safe and sound, but I would go to sleep with positive thoughts on what he would bring me when he returned. To my delight, it was usually a book. One of my favorites was Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. This may have started my life-long passion and love of horses and writing, something that I am sure my father did not intend, but that he and my mother ended up wholly supporting during my youth and beyond.

First Edition Black Beauty (Wikipedia)
First Edition Black Beauty
(Wikipedia)

I was so young when I read the book that some of the lessons it provided were forgotten. We also moved several times during my growing up years and my copy of it must have gotten lost along the way. It wasn’t until I started researching books about horses that I happened upon Black Beauty again. I’ve just ordered a new copy and look forward to scouring it from cover to cover.

Here are some interesting facts about Anna Sewell and her book:

  • Anna Sewell spent six years writing the book. It was published in 1877 when she was 57 years old, 5 months before her death.
  • It was her first and last book.
  • It was an instant best-seller and has to date sold 50 million copies.
  • A signed first edition sold for $18,133 in 2015. The copy she signed for her mother sold in 2006 for $50,693.
  • Anna’s mother Mary Wright Sewell was a best-selling author.
  • Anna and her family were Quakers and believed in kindness to animals.
  • Black Beauty was the very first novel ever published written in an animal’s point of view.
  • It was based on her childhood horse, Bess. The Sewell’s considered Bess one of the family—not a very common philosophy in those days.
  • Anna’s ankles were injured in an accident at age 14 and she never regained full use of her legs again. She spent much of her time in a horse-drawn carriage where she thought about the plight of the working horse.
  • The book was never intended for children, but for adults to reconsider the treatment of horses.

    (http://www.lexiqueducheval.net/images/attelages/checkrein_AAdam.JPG)
    (http://www.lexiqueducheval.net/images/attelages/checkrein_AAdam.JPG)
  • Sewell’s description of the “check rein” or “bearing rein” caused its demise in Victorian England. The “check” or “bearing” rein is a rein extending from the bridle to the harness of a driving cart that is used to pull the horse’s head up and back. In Victorian times it was fashionable to have this rein pulled tight, causing an unnatural backward bend in the horses’ neck, making it difficult to pull correctly and even to breathe. This caused detrimental effects to the horse and many had to be retired early or actually died from the effects. There are varying opinions on the use of “check reins” still today. Natural horsemanship adheres to the idea of a horse being able to move “naturally” without any bodily limiting devices.
  • The social practices regarding the use of horses in Black Beauty also inspired legislation in many states of the U.S. during the Victorian period that would condemn abusive practices towards animals.
  • The novel has been compared to Uncle Tom’s Cabin in its influence on social outrage and protest action in society.
  • It has inspired many other books concerning animal cruelty.
Anna Sewell (Wikipedia)
Anna Sewell
(Wikipedia)

We live in a time when in order to be a successful author, one must be incredibly prolific. Anna Sewell never had the opportunity to be prolific, but Black Beauty, her one and only novel, did the job. More than just a story about a horse in Victorian England, the novel is about treating all of God’s creatures with kindness, empathy and respect. A theme we can all relate to and want to read about.

I rarely worry about my dad going down in a plane anymore. Time and age have added other, different concerns for both of us, but my dad still gives me books. And rarely a birthday or Christmas goes by without me giving him one in return. It is something we have always shared. If you haven’t come up with a new year’s resolution yet, maybe you should consider giving loved ones a good book on gift giving occasions or just because. Maybe one of the classics like Black Beauty.