Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Dido Elizabeth Belle

This painting of two young girls depicted at Kenwood House which was their home is of Dido Elizabeth Belle and her half cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray.
Dido was born around 1763, the daughter of an African slave and Sir John Lindsay, a Captain in the Royal Navy. Lindsay sent Dido to live with his uncle, William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield and Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench. Lord Mansfield had a sympathetic view toward the abolition of slavery declaring in the Somersett case that slavery was illegal.
Dido's role within the household seems to have been as a companion to her cousin. She tended the dairy farm and helped Lord Mansfield with his work as a secretary might. Although she was educated to a level beyond most women of the day and enjoyed a comfortable life, her position in the family was a difficult one, living somewhere between the life of a family member and the servants. Dido was not allowed to join the family when entertaining, except after dinner.
Between her father and Lord Mansfield she was left quite a wealthy woman when they died. In 1794 she left Kenwood to marry John Davinier who is believed to have been a clergyman.
It has been suggested that Jane Austen's Mansfield Park was named in reference to Lord Mansfield and I'm sure I'm not the only one who has noticed the parallels in the positions of both Dido and Fanny Price within the family circle and wondered if Jane Austen knew her story. Like Dido, Fanny was neither a servant or considered of a high enough status to be considered really part of the family.
Sadly, Dido did not enjoy a long life, dying around the age of forty one in 1804.


Jan Jones said...

Beautiful painting and a fascinating subject.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

How interesting - and a lovely name for a heroine.......


Georgie Lee said...

A very interesting bit of history.

Anonymous said...

An inspiring and revealing story from the multi-ethnic history of our veried and inclusive country. Makes me proud.