The Twickenham Museum
People : Landowners and Gentry

Lady Frances Shirley
Devotee of the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion
1707 - 1778

Lady Frances Shirley. Detail from a portrait by Charles Jervas c1725 (courtesy of Julian Fellowes)

Famous beauty - the subject of poems and portraits

Frances (Fanny) Shirley was a famous beauty. She was the subject of a poem allegedly written by Lord Chesterfield, or perhaps Thomas Phillips:
"When Fanny blooming fair
First caught my ravished sight..."

and more than eight recorded portraits, two by Jervas and one by Kneller painted before she was 16 years old, dressed in Turkish costume.

In 1720 Kneller painted Lady Mary Wortley Montagu in Turkish costume which she had adopted following her time in Constantinople: had she set a brief fashion?

Life at Heath Lane Lodge

Frances was the third of five daughters of the 1st Earl Ferrers by his second wife, Selina Finch, and spent much of her life at Heath Lane Lodge, Twickenham with her widowed mother. After her mother's death in 1762 Frances went to live in Bath but returned to Twickenham in 1775, leasing a property known as Walnut Tree House on the east side of the London Road.

An admirer and admired

An admirer of Alexander Pope, she presented him with an inkstand and two pens to encourage him to continue writing on a subject for which he had been threatened with prosecution in the House of Lords: his Epilogue to the Satires. He expressed his thanks in a poem.

The 4th Earl of Radnor was an admirer, leaving her £50 for a mourning ring in his will of 1756 together with £50 to distribute to the Poor of Twickenham.

Laetitia Hawkins, daughter of Sir John Hawkins, living in Twickenham House along Heath Lane noted that Frances "kept up a neighbourly intercourse with my father, the memory of which is preserved in our family by the trifling circumstance of her having made the eldest of us children a present of a Guinea-pig."

Lady Huntingdon's Connexion

In 1739 Frances joined her niece's sect of Calvinistic Methodism, later to be known as Lady Huntingdon's Connexion. The Countess was the daughter of her half-brother Washington Shirley, 2nd Earl Ferrers, who had leased a property on the riverside in Richmond from about 1722 until 1729. She founded 64 Chapels for the sect, one of which was at Bath where eventually Frances chose to be buried having also left the bulk of her estate to her niece.

According to Horace Walpole she bestowed "the dregs of her beauty on religion."

Further reading:

E P Shirley, Stemmata Shirleana, Nicholls & Sons, 1873
Anthony Beckles Willson, Mr Pope & Others at Cross Deep in the 18th Century, 1996
Norman Ault & John Butt (eds), The Twickenham Edition of the Poems of Alexander Pope - Minor Poems, Methuen, 1970
Laetitia Matilda Hawkins, Anecdotes, vol I, p85, 1822

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