Theresa, Marchioness of Londonderry,
née Chetwynd-Talbot (1856-1919),
Empress Maria Theresa of Austria

Lady Londonderry was the eldest daughter of the Premier Earl of England, 19th Earl of Shrewsbury and 4th Earl Talbot – which was one of the oldest families in the country. Not surprisingly therefore, the family arranged her marriage in 1875 to the future 6th Marquess of Londonderry, a bearer of another historic Anglo-Irish title.

copyright V&A. Lady Ashburton 1897
The Marchioness's costume
as depicted in a line drawing in

The Queen
, 10 July 1897

Lady Londonderry, supporting her husband in his political appointments, became a leading political hostess of the day. As wife of one of the largest landowners in Northern Ireland, she was a founding member (and later the president) of the Ulster Women’s Unionist Council and a tireless fighter against Home Rule.

The Marchioness’s love affairs caused great scandal when incriminating billets doux fell into the hands of the vengeful Lady de Grey to whom, on her very deathbed, the Marchioness refused forgiveness. Her husband’s reported words upon reading her love letters were “henceforth, we do not speak.“ However, the ensuing long-term chill in relations with her own husband did not prevent them appearing the ideal couple on public occasions.

The Marchioness of Londonderry came to the Devonshire House Ball dressed as Empress Maria Theresa of Austria – a strong reference to her own powerful position in the political life of the country.

Although the costume was executed by Messrs. Durrant of New Bond Street, the embroidery was carried out by young ladies at a needlework school - a charitable purchase by Lady Londonderry. The gown was of the richest cream satin, and the bodice was further adorned with a magnificent diamond stomacher and ropes of pearls festooned on each side.

copyright V&A. Lady Ashburton 1897

"It has been Mr. Lafayette's blissful lot to photograph more of the most beautiful and distinguished women of Europe than anyone else," wrote Levin Carnac (pseudonym of the author George Chetwynd Griffith-Jones) in Pearson's Magazine in 1897.

The Marchioness of Londonderry as she appeared on a page of portraits of society beauties in The Picture Magazine, Volume VI, London, 1895.

The lointain look appears to have been particularly favoured by the grandest of Victorian beauties. In a pose which was the height of Victorian titillation, the sitter looks haughtily away from the viewer while remaining aware that she is being looked at.




She wore a necklace of pear-shaped pearls, with another diamond rivière above and as a crown the famous Londonderry tiara has been adapted by the addition of a cross of brilliants to form “an exact copy of Maria Theresa’s own crown”. The newspapers were unanimous that Lady Londonderry “looked the part to perfection” and she was listed among “the beauties of the night.”

The Londonderrys’ four country residences were favourites of the Prince and Princess of Wales (later King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra), where they were entertained in state no less than eight times between 1890 to 1903.

Daisy, Princess of Pless, wrote of her as one of the “universally acknowledged beauties” and always remembered Lady Londonderry’s advice at the beginning of her marriage: “My Dear, always enter a room, as if the whole place belongs to you”!

The British novelist EF Benson also recalled the strong-minded Marchioness with something akin to admiration:

“she went for life hammer and tongs… Like a highwayman in a tiara, trampling on her enemies as if they had been a bed of nettles.”

When she died, the British military journalist, Charles Repington, wrote: “she was one of the most striking and dominating feminine personalities of our time, terrifying to some, but endeared to many friends by her notable and excellent qualities”.

Click on image to enlarge
copyright V&A. Lady Ashburton 1897V&A Lafayette Archive
Negative number: L1506

Click on image to enlarge
copyright V&A. Lady Ashburton 1897V&A Lafayette Archive
Negative number: L1506a

copyright V&A. Lady Ashburton 1897V&A Lafayette Archive
Negative number: L1506b

copyright V&A. Lady Ashburton 1897V&A Lafayette Archive
Negative number: L3493
This detail of the Marchioness robed for the 1902 coronation shows that her fancy dress was not so different from costumes she wore on other grand occasions

List of Sitters
All text copyright © Russell Harris 2011