Aristocracy, Temperance and Social Reform: The Life of Lady by Olwen Claire Niessen

By Olwen Claire Niessen

Lady Isabella (Isabel) Caroline Somerset embodied social reform within the 19th century. The failure of her annoying marriage to Lord Henry Charles Somerset after revelation of his gay affairs and resulting child-custody conflict supply history to her metamorphosis from an aristocratic socialite right into a temperance activist, social reformer and women's-rights campaigner, the world over well-known and feted for her contributions to society. In her first biography for over eighty years, Olwen Niessen brings to lifestyles girl Somerset's development from an area temperance employee to management of the British Women's Temperance organization (BWTA) and her transformation of this association, from a reactionary, single-issue entity, into one devoted to lady emancipation and broader social reform. She presents a desirable perception into Isabel Somerset's participation within the women's suffrage and lab our events and Liberal politics and her impression upon Anglo-American and overseas reform activities, stemming from her shut dating with American temperance and woman's rights icon, Frances Willard.

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10 Three months after their wedding, Charles and Virginia travelled to Madeira, returning in time for the birth of their first child, Isabella Caroline, on 3 August 1851. On 24 September 1852, a second daughter, Adeline Mary, arrived, followed three years later by another girl, Virginia. At the time of Isabel’s birth, Viscount and Viscountess Somers were living in London at 45 Grosvenor Gardens. When Isabel was one year old, her grandfather, John Somers Cocks, 2nd Earl and 3rd Baron, died, and her father acceded to the titles; her mother became Countess Somers.

While viewing the Royal Academy’s 1849 exhibition, he became captivated by her portrait and, following a seemingly chance meeting at Lord Palmerston’s house, wooed and married her within a Aristocracy 14 3/30/07 10:03 PM Page 14 ARISTOCRACY, TEMPERANCE AND SOCIAL REFORM few months, much to his family’s consternation. The successful wooing of his bride by Charles, who was small in stature, with homely features, was something of a coup. Pursued by a host of suitors, and the subject of the adulatory prose of such notables as Edward Lear and William Makepeace Thackeray, she reportedly had earlier spurned sixteen marriage proposals.

Following Lord Henry’s October visit to Eastnor, the couple did not meet again until the deliberations over the proposed union were completed in early December. During this interval, the correspondence between the two families, establishing conditions for the prospective marriage, was conducted without obvious input on her part, and there is no evidence that the pair exchanged letters on the subject. Beyond her mother’s assurances to Lord Henry of Isabel’s change of heart towards him, there are no recorded references to her feelings or desires with regard to the proposed match.

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