Saturday, February 7, 2015

Dorothy Boyle, Countess of Burlington

Dorothy Savile was born in London on 13 September 1699. She was the eldest daughter born to William Savile, the second marquess of Halifax, and his second wife, Lady Mary Finch. Upon turning eighteen, Dorothy and her younger sister, Mary, inherited the Halifax estates, which made their marriage prospects increase significantly. In fact, she married the third earl of Burlington, Richard Boyle, on 21 March 1721 and became Dorothy Boyle, Countess of Burlington. They had three daughters, Dorothy, Juliana (who died in infancy), and Charlotte. Dorothy eventually married George, Earl of Euston and Charlotte married William Cavendish, who would later become the fourth Duke of Devonshire. 

Dorothy Boyle sketched by William Kent

Dorothy and Richard proved a good match and had a very agreeable relationship, in part due to their shared interests in the arts, such as the theater and music. Dorothy herself was an amateur caricaturist and portrait painter. Nevertheless, she an interest in the architectural design of her and her husband’s new villa at Chiswhick, even though the project of remodeling the Chiswick estate began before their marriage in 1719. The new villa was completed around 1729 in the Palladian style, a Venetian architectural style inspired by Andrea Palladio, whom her husband fervently admired. This house was one of the three in which the Countess spent her married life; the others include the Burlington House on Piccadilly and Londesborough in the East Riding of Yorkshire. The Burlington House on Piccadilly served as the "London town house" for Dorothy's husband and therefore, it is likely that Dorothy took up residence there while she served as a Lady of the Bed Chamber for Princess Caroline (1727-1737). 
Traditionally considered a whig, recent theories have arisen than Dorothy's husband was secretly an agent for the Jacobite cause. Speculations have been thrown that his interest in architecture, supposedly embedded with Jacobite symbolism, was a cover for political activities in support of the exiled Stuarts. Nevertheless, there is no concrete evidence for these tendencies but Dorothy understood that her husband was under suspicion. In an exasperated letter to Lord Burlington in 1731, she informed him that the authorities had insisted on opening and reading their correspondence, only to find nothing condemning. Lady Burlington shrewdly remarked, "if I had any secrets to impart to you I should certainly not commit them to the post, especially since the receipt of you last letter which had plainly been opened."
For over thirty years, Dorothy and her husband maintained a friendship and patronage with William Kent, the painter, designer, and landscape gardener who lived with them in their house on Piccadilly. It is imagined that over their years together, Kent gave Dorothy lessons but she mostly taught herself by copying other paintings or drawings. As a Lady of the Bedchamber for Princess Caroline she was given permission to copy portraits in the Royal Collection. Nevertheless, the two doted on each other. Dorothy on occasion referred to him as Kentino or “little Signor” and the pair drew frequently together. Kent did introduce her to pen and ink sketches and their drawings often used an “energetic ink and pen line.” One of her more popular sketches displays Kent sitting as his desk and, unsurprisingly, sketching. Primarily, the Countess used friends and family in her sketches, most of which were of her daughters Charlotte and Dorothy (one of her best portraits was of her daughter, Lady Charlotte Boyle). She did, however, produce and oil portrait of Princess Amelia.

Sketch of William Kent by Dorothy Boyle

Dorothy and her husband became patrons of David Garrick, the actor and playwright, for six years. During this time, the Countess had received the newly famous dancer, Eva Maria Veigel (Violette) and welcomed her into their home at the Burlington House. Violette and Garrick would soon become attached to each other and develop a romantic relationship.  In the beginning, Lady Burlington did not entirely agree to the match of Violette and Garrick, having become quite protective of her rising star. The couple eventually married anyway in 1749 but the countess still attempt to retain a semblance of control over the couple's private life. Unfortunately, their relations turned sour and correspondence ceased.
On a more positive note, Dorothy maintained a long and amicable friendship with Alexander Pope, the English poet. For almost twenty years (1732-1750), he helped her organize and publish some of the papers of her grandfather, George Savile, marquess of Halifax. Pope also wrote a poem titled, “On the Countess of Burlington Cutting Paper” dated around 1732. 

Poem written about Dorothy Boyle by Alexander Pope

The exact fortune of the Earl of Burlington and his wife is not known but it can be speculated that it must have been quite hefty. The earl participated in and funded several large architectural projects in his lifetime, the Chiswick villa being partly financed through the fortune Dorothy brought to the marriage. These massive undertakings, however, did lead Lord Burlington into debt. Sir William Heathcote noted around 1737 that Lord Burlington had debts adding up to £ 169,000. In order to pay off some of this outrageous amount, Lady Burlington's husband had to sell. A letter written by Alderman Barber to Dean Swift in March 1738 stated, "My Lord Burlington is now selling in one article £ 9,000 in Ireland for £ 200,000, which won't pay his debts." Although the Burlington family had been wealthy enough to build several beautiful structures, the earl's spending put the family in financial danger.

Family Portrait of Lord Burlington and his wife and daughters

After her husband's death in 1753, the Countess became ill. Partially due to age and loneliness, Dorothy Boyle passed away on 21 September 1758 in the comfort of the Chiswick House.


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