Saturday, May 30, 2015

Lady Isabella Finch: Professional Courtier and Independent Spinster

Lady Isabella Finch (often referred to as Bell) was born in May of 1700 as the seventh (or possibly fourth) daughter of the seventh earl of Winchilsea, Daniel Finch (who was also the second earl of Nottingham), and his wife, Anne Hatton, who was the daughter of the first Viscount Hatton, Christopher Hatton. Bell inherited the dark “dusky” complexion of her father as well as the sharp intellect, knack for business, and sense of integrity for which her family was well known. Her family also had a close connection to the court, which would introduce Bell to court life from an early age. She was well suited for this lifestyle in part due to her inherited ability to handle politicians and royals with tact and moderation. She also came from a long line of educated and tenacious women: her great-aunt was Anne Conway, Viscountess Conway and Kilultagh, the writer and female philosopher, and her distant cousin was Anne Finch, countess of Winchilsea, the poet.
                  Bell officially joined the royal court in 1736 when she was appointed the position of Lady of the Bedchamber for Princess Amelia and quickly became a close friend and confidante. Princess Amelia was often conceited and spoke without much consideration of the feelings of others but Lady Bell’s wit and firmness brought balance to the Princess’s character flaws. Bell’s ability to handle delicate conversations helped her smooth over situations in which the Princess often “ruffled feathers” (Chalus). The Princess grew attached to Lady Bell and soon allowed Bell to act as her social and personal secretary and gave Lady Bell permission to manage her royal business and accounts.
                 Lady Bell clearly took her position seriously and unlike most female courtiers, she remained unmarried and longed to be financial independent. Her wish was granted in 1742 when she received a £400 pound pension on the Irish establishment. In order to secure her financial stability, she set herself up in London in a gorgeous Georgian style townhouse, 44 Berkeley Square. William Kent built the house for her from 1742 to 1744 and it stands as his only surviving townhouse. The house is described as, “classical in conception, baroque in decoration, [and] theatrical in effect” (Kinross, 6). Lady Bell’s spinster status allowed Kent to experiment with proportions without worrying about building excess bedrooms or boudoirs. Lady Bell’s natural affability and gregarious nature ensured the townhouse constantly welcomed visitors. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu visited often as well as Horace Walpole, who commented on 5 June 1764 to Hon. H. S. Conway, “We had a funereal loo last night in the great chamber at Lady Bell Finch's; the Duke, Princess Emily, and the Duchess of Bedford were there” (“Lady Isabella Finch”). The duke and duchess of Newcastle are also listed amongst her many callers and Princess Amelia even cared to visit.

Outside view of 44 Berkeley Square
                  Although Lady Bell never married, she spent her life highly involved in a wide variety of political and social affairs. She was unafraid to address these issues, especially to the duke of Newcastle. Her letters to Newcastle include topics such as dinner parties, dessert, business, patronage, parliamentary politics, and due to her court position, the princess’s finances.  A fierce negotiator, Lady Bell understood how to use words to fight for, and ultimately get, what she wanted. For four years, 1756-1760, she successfully championed for a John Ryley to secure the living of Fobbings in Essex. Newcastle evidently understood how influential Lady Bell could be and asked her in 1764 to convince Sir Brooke Bridges to attend a parliamentary debate on general warrants. Her persuasive manner of speaking ensured Sir Bridges’s appearance. Princess Amelia did well letting Lady Bell run her business affairs for Lady Bell made sure to conduct her business efficiently and effectively. In 1761, she did not hesitate to confront Newcastle when she realized the duke of Cumberland’s arrears had been compensated while the arrears of the Princess had not.
                  For many, a position at court was often a temporary position that would lead them to either a higher position or a marriage to a quality suitor. Lady Bell, however, turned her appointment into almost a profession. Instead of seeking a husband, she sought to live her life on her terms and did so successfully until her death on 1 March 1771. For five years after her passing, 44 Berkeley Square remained empty until the earl of Clermont decided to take the property, which then became known as the Clermont House.

Chalus, E. H.. “Finch, Lady (Cecilia) Isabella (1700–1771).” E. H. Chalus In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Online ed., edited by Lawrence Goldman, January 2008. (accessed May 29, 2015).
Hutton, Sarah, "Lady Anne Conway", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.
Kinross, Lord. 1962. 44 Berkeley Square. Ebook. 1st ed. London.,. 2015. 'Lady Isabella Finch - Berkeley Square'.

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