Lady Rose Leigh, later Countess of Cottenham,
née Nevill (1866-1913),
the Duchesse de Villars

At the time of the Devonshire House Ball, Rose, a twin and one of the 11 children of the 1st Marquess of Abergavenny, had been married for ten years to John Blundell Leigh, a county deputy lieutenant.

For the Devonshire House Ball, Lady Rose Leigh chose to impersonate the ‘Duchesse de Villars, time of Louis XV.’ Claude Louis Hector duc de Villars was maréchal de France in the time of Louix XIV and a member of the regency council of Louis XV and on 2 February 1702 had married Jeanne Angélique Roque de Varengeville ( 1682/3-1763) who was renowned for her beauty and who was appointed Dame du Palais de la Reine in 1725.

There is only one portrait in oils recorded of the maréchale de Villars, by Charles Coypel, in the collection Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, when she must have been around 40, in which she is portrayed playing a lute, ‘with her music and languorous grace charming all creation’, attended by putti with garlands of flowers and in an apparent hint at the character of Cybele, she rests her foot on a docile lion’s head.

The press seemingly found Lady Rose’s costume fetching in the extreme, and an intricately detailed description of it was published in The Queen, an illustrated newspaper, a week after the event:

“...The long pointed bodice and full skirt were in rich ivory satin; the bodice and quaint bell sleeves outlined in old Louis XV embroidery, in the finest gold sequins, and bullion thread interspersed with small rose tinsel flowers. The berthe in fine Brussels lace was sewn with old diamond ornaments. A lovely old scarf, in real Rose du Barry brocade, was suspended with old diamond buckles from the right shoulders, and was carried gracefully draped over the left arm, hanging in a long hem on to the skirt; a small cluster of roses fastened the lace at one side of the bodice. The hair was worn powdered, and rather low, in the style of that period, with a small bunch of the same Pompadour roses as on the bodice. Long lace mittens were worn instead of gloves."

The Countess also carries an 18th-century style fan, possibly made by the leading London éventailliste Monsieur Duvelleroy.

Two years later the Leighs were divorced with the 4th Earl of Cottenham named as co-respondent. The latter, in the same year, then married Rose. She bore him three sons and was an excellent shot but after only 14 years of marriage was found dead (“shot through the heart” according to The New York Times) after an apparent hunting accident. At the inquest, her brother stated that “she was in the habit of carrying her gun carelessly.”

These images were made in the Lafayette studio one month after the Ball. As well giving the sitter as the unnaturally marble-like texture of the face, the chin has also been considerably trimmed by the retouching department.


Click on image to enlarge
copyright V&A. Lady Ashburton 1897V&A Lafayette Archive
Negative number: L1521a

Click on image to enlarge
copyright V&A. Lady Ashburton 1897V&A Lafayette Archive
Negative number: L1521b




List of Sitters
All text copyright © Russell Harris 2011