The Scandalous Life of Lady Jane Digby. Apparently Bad Girls Do Go Everywhere.

The Scandalous Life of Lady Jane Digby. Apparently Bad Girls Do Go Everywhere. August 25, 2016

Jane Digby 2

I was bereft of subjects to share for today, and so fell back on my old standby in such situations, a brief walk through Wikipedia’s listings of events and births and deaths of any given day. There I noticed it was King Ludwig I of Bavaria’s birthday. And, briefly confusing him with Ludwig II, the so-called “dream king,” I started reading the Wikipedia biography. It didn’t take long to understand my error, but before I lost interest, I noticed the line “Ludwig had several extramarital affairs and was one of the lovers of Lady Jane Digby, an aristocratic English adventuress.”

And that caught my attention. An English adventuress. The very word “adventuress” is so richly evocative. Throw in “aristocratic,” and I felt compelled to look her up. I did. I recall that old line, “good girls go to heaven, but bad girls go everywhere.” Apparently that would be Jane Digby’s motto.

She was born in 1807. Her father was an admiral, her mother “a renowned beauty” and daughter of the Earl of Leicester. The family’s fortune was established with her father’s share of the take when he seized a Spanish treasure ship.

In an era where women were not even seen much less heard, Jane, well, she went everywhere. Thanks to a fortuitous combination of traits, physical beauty, charming personality, I gather a wit of repute, and astonishing intelligence, she would master nine languages in her time, and, oh yes, money, don’t let anyone tell you money doesn’t matter; she was able to do what she wanted. And, well, sometimes girls just want to have fun.

Her first marriage was to the 2nd Baron Ellenborough, and she followed him when he was appointed Governor General of India in 1824. They had a son who died in infancy. Turned out she had a taste for handsome men, and took several lovers. Among them the Bohemian prince Felix of Schwarzenberg. A scandalous divorce followed. The prince and Lady Jane had a child, who also died in infancy.

It was then that she moved to Munich and took King Ludwig (the first, not the second) as a lover. And, apparently one just wasn’t enough. She met Baron Karl von Vennigen, whom she married. They had two children. By 1838 she’d taken on a new lover, the Greek Count Spyridon Theotokis. There was a duel, but no one was killed although the count was wounded. This seemed to be enough for the Baron who allowed Jane to divorce, and took responsibility for raising the children. Apparently he and Jane remained friends for the rest of their lives.

In Greece she met the Thessalianian brigand general Christodoulos Chatzipetros, and became his “queen.” It was by all accounts a stormy affair, and when she learned he liked multiple partners, as well, she left him.

She was forty-six when she arrived in the Middle East and met the sheik Abdul Medjuel el Mezrab. He was twenty years her junior. Of course they became lovers. And they married. This would last. The biographical sketch at Wikipedia says Jane “adopted Arab dress,” but I wonder what that would have meant. I rather doubt she took on purdah. Apparently she spent half the year following the traditional nomadic style of living in tents in the desert, and half the year in a villa she had built in Damascus.

She died in Damascus in 1881. Her bereaved husband had a pink limestone tombstone set up, wrote her name in Arabic on it with charcoal, and then had it carved into the stone. According to the article the grave is still extant. Should you ever find yourself in Damascus, you might want to visit. I know I will.

My take away from this account? Not tons. Just a hint of a thought of a dream of a life that went against all the stories little girls would have been told in England at the beginning of the nineteenth century, about who they were, and what they could be.

Somehow I just like that…

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