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This early 18th century Dog collar is pierced with the words: ‘Miss Horner Grosvenor Street’ and was owned by Elizabeth Strangways Horner, born in 1723, the daughter and heiress of Thomas and Susanna Strangways Horner of Mells in Somerset and Melbury in Dorset, the home inherited by her mother as the heiress of the Strangways family. Her parents lived apart for most of her childhood and Elizabeth led a strange life, at first being left to live with the lodge keeper at Melbury and, from the age of seven, travelling around Europe with her mother.
Returning to England in the summer of 1735, the question of a suitable husband for the young Elizabeth was considered by her parents. As early as May 1735, when Elizabeth was only twelve, the Daily Journal reported ‘We hear that a Treaty of Marriage is agreed on, and will speedily be consummated between his Grace the Duke of Buckingham, and Miss Horner, Daughter of Strangeways Horner, Esq; Knight of the Shire for the County of Somerset.’ [Daily Journal May 21st 1735]. Other possible husband were the Duke of Leeds and Lord Middlesex but the parents were unable to agree as to the best possible candidate, or indeed, whether she should be married off at all.
In one of a number of letters to Lady Sandon, Susanna Strangways Horner wrote of her husband: ‘Mr Horner... is just the same man he ever was, and in the morning will marry his daughter immediately; at nighty will not marry her till she is between twenty and thirty. My constant and speedy purpose is to close in with any match he will approve of likely to make her happy, and to wait with patience till such a temper of mind shall, among the great variety, begin to appear.’
By November, having moved back into her house in Grosvenor Street, two doors from Walpole, [the house that had formerly belonged to her sister, Elizabeth Duchess of Hamilton], Susanna had begun to negotiate secretly with Stephen Fox [1704-1776], the elder brother of her own lover, Henry Fox, towards a marriage with Elizabeth. Fox was at the time almost certainly still involved in a homosexual relationship with Lord Hervey. The plan hatched by Mrs. Horner involved arranging a secret marriage between Fox and her daughter that would appear to her husband to have been the result of an elopement by Elizabeth with Stephen Fox, so that her Thomas Horner would not be able to suspect that his wife had been part of the marriage plan. It would seem that Thomas Horner suspected that negotiations towards a marriage with Stephen Fox were going on but was absolutely opposed to them.
Accordingly, on 15th March 1736, Elizabeth was taken from the house in Grosvenor street to the ‘library below stairs’ at Fox’s house in Burlington street. ‘Before entering the house, little Elizabeth ‘was lifted up to knock at the door of her future husband with her own hand by way of proof of voluntary consent’. The ceremony was performed by a tame clergy man, Peter Lewis Willemin, and the witnesses were John, Lord Hervey; the bridegroom’s sister, Charlotte Digby; and the bride’s mother. Once the ceremony was over, the bride returned with her mother to their house in Grosvenor Street.’
‘After the wedding, Susanna [Horner] set about covering her tracks. ...’ As part of this plan, a second secret ceremony took place, again at the house in Burlington Street but ‘in the red damask room up one pair of stairs’, on the 22nd March. On this occasion the witnesses were ‘four close friends of the Fox brothers: John, Lord Hervey; Lucius, seventh Viscount Falkland; Thomas Winnington; and Charles Hamilton, the youngest son of the sixth Earl of Abercorn’
The news of this wedding was allowed into the newspapers within the next two days. On the 24th March, the ‘Daily Gazetteer’ reported: ‘On Monday Night last Stephen Fox, Esq; Member of Parliament for Shaftesbury, was married to Miss Horner, only Daughter to Thomas Horner, Esq; Knight of the Shire for the County of Somerset.’ Lord Gower wrote to a friend: ‘The Town is at present very much entertained with little Stephen Fox’s wedding, who on Monday night last ran away with the great fortune Miss Horner, who is but just thirteen years old and very low and childish of her age.’
Thomas Horner was, of course, very angry about the marriage but was unable to do anything about it. After the wedding, Elizabeth again returned to her mother’s house in Grosvenor street and continued to live with her mother, although now Mrs. Elizabeth Fox, for a further three years. Surprisingly, the marriage was a fairly successful one and once living together – at first at Redlynch in Wiltshire – they had nine children, of whom seven survived. Stephen Fox was created Lord Ilchester in 1741 and raised to an Earldom in 1756. Elizabeth died in 1792.
Susanna Strangways Horner is well known as a customer of Paul de Lamerie and provided communion plate by Lamerie to Abbotsbury and several other churches on her family estates. A most interesting but unmarked silver-gilt rococo ewer and basin of circa 1738, with later arms, is now in the Victoria and Albert museum but was probably a present to Stephen Fox and his young wife in the first years of their marriage. Another interesting rococo silver piece, a clock with the figure of Minerva, is still in the possession of the Ilchester family and is illustrated in Sir Charles Jackson’s ‘Illustrated History of English Plate’, volume 1, pp. 301-2. It is engraved on the reverse ‘Given by the Right Honble. The Lady Archibald Hamilton, Lady of the Bedchamber, Mistress of the Robes and Privy Purse to her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales, Septr. 1740, to Mrs. Strangways Horner.’ Lady Archibald Hamilton was at the time the mistress of Frederick Prince of Wales and a known client of the silversmith, Frederick Kandler. Her brother was Charles Hamilton, Fox’s friend and witness to the second secret marriage at Fox’s house.
The maker of this dog collar has not yet been identified but the collar can be dated to sometime between November 1735 and the marriage of March 1736. Three portraits of Elizabeth Horner, later Lady Ilchester, survive from the period. The first was painted in 1733, whilst in Italy, by Francesco Solimena, and shows Elizabeth with her mother and with a tiny dog in the foreground. [Collection of the Earls of Ilchester]; a second entitled ‘Miss Horner’ of circa 1735 is in the Melbury Collection; and a third, ‘Lady Ilchester in Redlynch Park with ‘Bully’’, 1741, shows Elizabeth again with a tiny pet dog. [Melbury Collection]
‘Wives and Daughters: Women and Children in the Georgian Country House.’ By Joanna Martin, publ. Hambledon & London, 2004. Chapter 2 ‘Elizabeth’.