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copyright V&A

Lady Ashburton (1866-1904)
née Mabel Edith Hood

as Tennyson's Enid

The eldest daughter of 4th Viscount Hood, in 1889 she married 5th Baron Ashburton

Alfred, Lord Tennyson's Idyll of Geraint and Enid, first published in 1859, became immediately popular and was later illustrated by Gustave Doré in 1879. Tennyson was the pre-eminent poet of the Victorian period - his verse speaking for the educated middle class and representing their moral outlook.

As part of the court of King Arthur of the Round Table, Lady Ashburton was in the company not only of Arthurian ladies but also of a group of Arthurian knights in chain mail suits and body armour!

In her choice of costume, Lady Ashburton appears to personify Enid at the point in the Idyll where she has cast aside her "faded silk" and Arthur's mother has "clothed her in apparel like the day..."

The purity of Enid's fidelity is beautifully illustrated by Lady Ashburton's gown of white velvet with a raised design in brocaded white velvet, edged with silver and finished at the waist with a girdle of diamonds. The braids of her hair are interwoven with strings of pearls and she wears the Ashburton tiara with its enormous emeralds in diamond settings.

copyright V&AThe image, with the tiara, made on the night of the Ball in the photographer's tent in the garden of Devonshire House, appeared in the Ball Album.

Lady Ashburton made a second series of portraits in this costume at the Lafayette studio three weeks later, without the tiara and veil but with additional jewellery and a massive ostrich feather fan - changing the costume from mythical to contemporary. The later series of reclining portraits shows to better effect Lady Ashburton's minute waistline which is slightly obscured by her drapes in the earlier image.

"...Enid, whom her ladies loved to call Enid the Fair,
a grateful people named Enid the Good."

Alfred, Lord Tennyson



Negative number: V&A L1339, 03-07-1897 and V&A L1486b, 23-07-1897