Sarah Villiers, Countess of Jersey

Sarah Sophia Child Villiers, Countess of Jersey (4 March 1785 – 26 January 1867), born Lady Sarah Fane, was an English noblewoman and banker, and through her marriage a member of the Villiers family.

The Countess of Jersey
Sarah Sophia Child Villiers, Countess of Jersey (née Fane) (1785-1867), by Alfred Edward Chalon.jpg
Portrait of Lady Jersey, by Alfred Edward Chalon
Personal details
Lady Sarah Sophia Fane

(1785-03-04)4 March 1785
Died26 January 1867(1867-01-26) (aged 81)
Berkeley Square, Middlesex
(after 1804)
Parent(s)John Fane, 10th Earl of Westmorland
Sarah Anne Child
RelativesRobert Child (grandfather)
Sarah Child (grandmother)
Maria Ponsonby, Viscountess Duncannon (sister)
ResidenceOsterley Park

Early lifeEdit

She was the eldest daughter of John Fane, 10th Earl of Westmorland, and Sarah Anne Child. Her younger sister Maria married John Ponsonby, Viscount Duncannon, later the 4th Earl of Bessborough, a brother of Lady Caroline Lamb.[1] Her other sister, Lady Augusta, married firstly the 2nd Baron Boringdon and in 1809 she scandalously eloped with and later, after her divorce from Lord Boringdon was finalised, married Sir Arthur Paget.

Her mother was the only child of Robert Child, the principal shareholder in the banking firm Child & Co.[1]


The First Quadrille at Almack's, an illustration featuring Lady Jersey, second from left

Under the terms of her grandfather's will, she was the primary legatee, and she not only inherited Osterley Park but became senior partner of the banking firm Child & Co. after the death of her grandmother, Sarah Child. Her husband, George Villiers, added the surname Child by royal licence. The inheritance made her one of the richest women in England: in 1805 she was able to give £20,000 each to four family members without impairing her own income.

In politics, she was a Tory, although she lacked the passionate interest in politics shown by her cousin Harriet Arbuthnot. On hearing that the Duke of Wellington had fallen from power in 1830, she burst into tears in public. She reportedly "moved heaven and earth" against the Reform Act 1832.[2]

Personal lifeEdit

Her daughter, Lady Clementina Child-Villiers, by Franz Xaver Winterhalter

Lady Jersey married George Child Villiers, 5th Earl of Jersey, on 23 May 1804, in the drawing room of her house in Berkeley Square. Her husband's mother, Frances Villiers, Countess of Jersey (also Lady Jersey), was one of the more notorious mistresses of King George IV when he was Prince of Wales. Her own affairs, though conducted discreetly, were said to be numerous: Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston, was thought to be one of her lovers. When asked why he had never fought a duel to preserve his wife's reputation, Lord Jersey drily replied that this would require him to fight every man in London.[3] Together, Sarah and George were the parents of seven children:[4]

Lady Jersey was one of the patronesses of Almack's, the most exclusive social club in London, and a leader of the ton during the Regency era. Lady Jersey was known by the nickname Silence; the nickname was ironic since, famously, she almost never stopped talking.[5] The memoirist Captain Gronow, who disliked her, called her "a theatrical tragedy queen", and considered her "ill-bred and inconceivably rude".

She died at No. 38, Berkeley Square, Middlesex (now London). She had outlived not only her husband, but six of her seven children.[4]

In popular cultureEdit

She was immortalized as Zenobia in Disraeli's novel Endymion. Caroline Lamb ridiculed her in Glenarvon; in revenge Lady Jersey had her barred from Almack's, the ultimate social disgrace.[6] This, however, was unusual since she was notable for acts of kindness and generosity; and she was eventually persuaded by Caroline's family to remove the ban.[7]

She is a recurring character in the Regency novels of Georgette Heyer, where she is presented as eccentric and unpredictable, but highly intelligent and observant, and capable of kindness and generosity.


  1. ^ a b "Westmorland, Earl of (E, 1624)". Heraldic Media Limited. Retrieved 9 November 2020.
  2. ^ Fraser, Antonia Perilous Question: the Drama of the Great Reform Bill 1832 Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2013; p. 91
  3. ^ Ridley, Jasper Lord Palmerston London: Constable, 1970; p. 42
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Jersey, Earl of (E, 1697)". Heraldic Media Limited. Retrieved 9 November 2020.
  5. ^ cf Georgette Heyer The Grand Sophy "Dreadful woman-she never stops talking! ...She is known as Silence in London".
  6. ^ Lord David Cecil Melbourne Pan Books Edition, 1965; p. 122
  7. ^ Ridley, p. 42

External linksEdit