I am presently recording the diaries of Edward Phelips V (1725-1797) of Montacute House. They are in different places and have started my project at Montacute House itself, which has kept 4 of them. These are for the years 1759-1774 (one diary – with some backdated entries for 1731-1737), 1782, 1786 & 1790. The latter two are formal diaries call The Daily Journal. The other two being notebooks without pre-printed material.
The 1786 & 1790 journals were printed and sold in London and in Salisbury with a target market of gentlemen. Whilst Edward Phelips V used his journals to record the names of his hounds, events, his hunting activities, distances from various places, the weather and a few of his own Latin poetry, the journals also contain pre-printed information of interest to the gentlemen of the day.
One aspect that caught my notice was that of advice to fathers on the education of their daughters.
The 1790s were a time that saw social change and threats to the existing structure. The French Revolution of 1789 resounded around Europe and nations like England were concerned about the implications of a class system being broken so abruptly and violently. However, others saw it as a time to rethink social conventions and restrictions.
In 1791 Thomas Paine published his Rights of Man. His book was written in part as a response to Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the French Revolution which had been published in late 1790. Burke thought that the French Revolution would ultimately fail as society needed a structured patriarchy to work properly.
It was Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) who took up the fight for women’s rights and the reform of their education. She wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women in part response to Burke’s publication, which was published in 1792. It was a ground-breaking work on asserting the education of women as human beings rather than companions for men. In her introduction she states:
I attribute [these problems] to a false system of education, gathered from the books write on this subject by men, who, considering females as women rather than human creatures, have been more anxious to make them alluring mistresses than affectionate wives and rational mothers … the civilised women of this present century, with a few exceptions, are only anxious to inspire love, when they ought to cherish a nobler ambition, and by their abilities and virtues exact respect.[i]
In 1790 pre-printed section of The Daily Journal at Montacute House is a section on a ‘New Plan’ adapted for the education of daughters. I have also written it out in modern language for ease of reading.
EDUCATION on a New Plan, principally adapted to the FEMALE SEX.
If you have no fortune to bequeath your daughters, educate them in every polite science, such as dancing and music.
Keep them from domestic employments, because it is vulgar – and from reading, because it will hurt their eyes.
N.B. An exception may be made here in favour of Novels, Plays, and “Books of the Opera.”
Procure them to be introduced to young men of high rank and fashion – to whom, for this purpose, you must give expensive entertainments.
They, in return, will eat your victuals, toy with your daughters, and laugh at your absurd pride.
Take care the misses miss no ball, fete, or public amusement. Let them be seen as often, as in as many places as possible.
Endeavour to make them forget what they are, and they will soon forget what they ought to be.
Let these practices be continued as long as possible, and “the young ladies of beauty, taste, and spirit,” will, if they escape being taken into keeping, at least be so blown upon, that you need not fear their being solicited in marriage by such vulgar fellows as tradesmen and shop-keepers.
A trip to India has been often recommended, when other methods have failed; but, this cure has of late been found ineffectual; many young ladies have been brought home incurable. Women, like wines, are not the better for keeping; nor become more mellow for – having crossed the line.
Would Jane Austen’s Mr Bennet of Pride and Prejudice have read this in his study when wondering how to educate his daughters? Pride and Prejudice was published in 1813, so 23 years afterward the publication of the above ‘advice’. In the novel, Caroline Bingley lists the skills which a young lady should be accomplished: music, singing, drawing, dancing, modern languages, and ‘possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions’ (Chapter 8).
Also printed in The Daily Journal of 1790 there is also some advice for fathers on boarding schools.
PARENTS should be particularly cautious, and take care in placing their female children at boarding-schools,
that they are not to receive their education from some of those male delinquents who are the proprietors of many such places;
and who watch with a lascivious eye an opportunity to seize the fair victims, and make them at once hateful to themselves, and a curse to their families.
(Henrietta) Laura Pulteney, Countess of Bath
The young lady in the main image of this post is Laura Pulteney (1766-1808). She was painted by Angelica Kauffman in about 1777, when she was about 11. She was the daughter of Sir William Pulteney, a Scottish aristocrat who became one of the wealthiest men in England due to the inheritance of his wife and entrepreneurial success in his estates in Scotland and America, along with his West Indian plantations. Her mother, Frances (nee Pulteney), was also wealthy and well-connected. Laura was the only child of this union and one of the richest heiresses in England.[ii]
Laura was initially educated at home under the supervision of her father’s cousin, Miss Murray. She then completed her education in Paris at the convent of Montparnasse in 1783. She was then introduced into Parisian society by Anne Cochrane, countess of Dundonald.[iii]
On her mother’s death in 1782 she inherited much of the Pulteney fortune. She also endowed schools and supported nuns who had fled France after the revolution. Laura took an active interest in the many development projects conducted by her father at her estates in London, Bath, Shropshire, Northamptonshire, Staffordshire, and Wales. She was also engaged in his business affairs.[iv]
She married General Sir James Murray of Claremont, seventh baronet (c. 1755-1811) in 1794, when she was aged 24. He was a first cousin of her father and like Laura’s father took the surname Pulteney (which had come down her mother’s line). Her father had been born a Johnstone. They made the Grand Tour in 1795 and met Emma, Lady Hamilton, in Naples.[v]
In 1803 Laura was made Countess of Bath (she had previously been made Baroness of Bath in 1792). This was contested by the Thynnes, who held the marquessate of Bath, but things got sorted.[vi]
Her father died in 1805. It seems rather surprising that such a careful and aware business man died intestate. Because of this Laura inherited around two-thirds of his vast fortune. The other share went to his second wife and the Scottish properties passed to his nephew.[vii]
Laura died only a few years later in 1808 of tuberculosis. The majority of her personal estate went to her cousin Elizabeth Evelyn Fawcett – her husband then adopted the Pulteney name – and her immense landed estates passed to William Harry Vane, third earl of Darlington (later first duke of Cleveland) and Sir Richard Sutton bt. As she had no children her titles became extinct. Her maternal grandfather (Daniel Pulteney), father and mother had been buried in Westminster Abbey. She was buried there too, in the south cloister under the large stone known as Great Meg. There is no memorial monument to the Pulteneys.[viii]
After her death the Bath Herald reported that she had gained ‘much useful knowledge, and in those affairs which maybe called business, she was considered an expert, and was certainly persevering when did apply them’.
In Bath her father had bankrolled the new town of Bathwick along with Great Pulteney Street and Sydney gardens. In 1769 he promoted an act of parliament allowing the bridging of the Avon between the old city and the parish of Bathwick. Another Scotsman and friend, the architect Robert Adam, was invited to design the Bathwick estate. However, in the event, only Pulteney Bridge was built from his plan.[ix]
The name of Pulteney is still very much present today in Bath, particularly with Pulteney Bridge begin a tourist attraction. Laura had a unique life and was able to expand her skills to some degree into business. This was the exception due to her wealth, position and being an only child. Most women from middle and upper-ranking families, were destined for limited roles in society and subject to the control of men. This was perceived, at one level, as protecting them. A decent education, independence and life choices were not available to women as we can experience today.
[i] ‘Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Women’, British Library Collection Items https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/mary-wollstonecraft-a-vindication-of-the-rights-of-woman [accessed 1 Sept 2021].
[ii] M. J. Rowe and W. H. McBryde, ‘Pulteney [formerly Johnstone], Sir William, fifth baronet (1729-1805)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Mar 2021, https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/56208 [accessed 6 Sept 2021].
[iii] M. J. Rowe and W. H. McBryde, ‘Pulteney [formerly Johnstone], (Henrietta) Laura, suo jure countess of Bath (1766-1808)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008, https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/59519[accessed 6 Sept 2021].
[iv] M. J. Rowe and W. H. McBryde, ‘Pulteney [formerly Johnstone], (Henrietta) Laura, suo jure countess of Bath (1766-1808).
[v] M. J. Rowe and W. H. McBryde, ‘Pulteney [formerly Johnstone], (Henrietta) Laura, suo jure countess of Bath (1766-1808).
[vi] M. J. Rowe and W. H. McBryde, ‘Pulteney [formerly Johnstone], (Henrietta) Laura, suo jure countess of Bath (1766-1808).
[vii] M. J. Rowe and W. H. McBryde, ‘Pulteney [formerly Johnstone], Sir William, fifth baronet (1729-1805)’.
[viii] M. J. Rowe and W. H. McBryde, ‘Pulteney [formerly Johnstone], (Henrietta) Laura, suo jure countess of Bath (1766-1808).
[ix] M. J. Rowe and W. H. McBryde, ‘Pulteney [formerly Johnstone], Sir William, fifth baronet (1729-1805)’.
‘Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Women’, British Library Collection Itemshttps://www.bl.uk/collection-items/mary-wollstonecraft-a-vindication-of-the-rights-of-woman [accessed 1 Sept 2021]
Rowe, M. J., and W. H. McBryde, ‘Pulteney [formerly Johnstone], (Henrietta) Laura, suo jure countess of Bath (1766-1808)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008, https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/59519 [accessed 6 Sept 2021]
Rowe, M. J., and W. H. McBryde, ‘Pulteney [formerly Johnstone], Sir William, fifth baronet (1729-1805)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Mar 2021, https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/56208 [accessed 6 Sept 2021]