Saucy scan­dal of Lady Pene­lope... Af­ter an un­savoury di­vorce the Vis­count­ess Ligo­nier came to Hal­i­fax to es­cape public eye

Halifax Courier - - Nostalgia -

The BBC’s re­cent colour­ful and sala­cious cos­tume drama The Scan­dalous Lady W, star­ring Natalie Dormer, told the tale of Seymour, Lady Wors­ley, step­daugh­ter of Ed­win Las­celles, Lord Hare­wood.

This re­minded me that dur­ing that same pe­riod Hal­i­fax had a res­i­dent no­ble­woman who was re­garded as a “scar­let woman”. She was at the cen­tre of a great so­ci­ety scan­dal in 1771 and was al­most cer­tainly liv­ing here when the Wors­ley case hit the head­lines in 1782.

Thomas Gains­bor­ough’s 1770 por­trait of Pene­lope, Vis­count­ess Ligo­nier, is one of his finest; it is one of a pair, the other fea­tur­ing her hus­band, Vis­count Ed­ward.

I first came across the name of Lady Ligo­nier’s con­nec­tion with Hal­i­fax some years ago, while read­ing the works of lo­cal an­ti­quary J Hors­fall Turner .

When Turner was a boy there were mem­o­ries of this great lady who had blot­ted her copy­book in the dis­trict where he was raised and un­til fairly re­cently a paint­ing of a hunt­ing scene in­clud­ing her im­age and that of the Rev Wil­liam Aked, cu­rate of Southowram, hung in the house of the late John Thompson at St Anne’s in the Grove.

It was fol­low­ing a scan­dalous di­vorce that Lady Ligo­nier ar­rived here in the mid-1770s. She lived at New House, Light­cliffe (its site to­day oc­cu­pied by the Manor House residential home), where her la­dy­ship is said to have con­sorted with a man named Wright.

Pene­lope’s other known lo­cal res­i­dence was the for­mer Lec­turer’s House at the top of Cause­way, Hal­i­fax, on the site where the Wilby in­sur­ance firm is to­day. That build­ing later be­came part of the first Hal­i­fax Dis­pen­sary and, later still, a bar­racks; it was de­mol­ished at the turn of the 20th cen­tury.

What brought this fa­mous so­ci­ety beauty to York­shire is un­known, ex­cept that she was seek­ing to live her life out of the public eye.

Pene­lope Pitt was born in Hamp­shire in 1749, the daugh­ter of Lord Rivers and a rel­a­tive of the fa­mous states­man Wil­liam Pitt the El­der. She grew up to be a very beau­ti­ful young woman, mov­ing in the high­est cir­cles, and was pre­sented to King Ge­orge III and Queen Char­lotte. She is men­tioned in the letters of Ho­race Walpole, art his­to­rian, an­ti­quar­ian and politi­cian.

In De­cem­ber 1766 she mar­ried Ed­ward Ligo­nier at the The Lec­turer’s House , Cause­way, Hal­i­fax, one of two homes oc­cu­pied by Lady Pene­lope dur­ing her years out of the public eye in the town. Bri­tish Em­bassy in Paris. He was a soldier, the heir to his un­cle, Field Mar­shal Earl Ligo­nier, a great Bri­tish soldier of French Huguenot de­scent.

But the mar­riage was not a suc­cess. In 1770 Ligo­nier suc­ceeded his un­cle, be­com­ing Vis­count Ligo­nier. When Gains­bor­ough painted his por­traits of the elite cou­ple later that year Pene­lope may have al­ready launched into a se­ries of adul­ter­ous af­fairs, first with her hus­band’s head groom and then with Count Vit­to­rio Al­fieri, a well-known Ital­ian drama­tist.

By the time Gains­bor­ough ex­hib­ited his por­traits of the Ligo­nier cou­ple at the Royal Academy in 1771 he knew that the mar­riage he had been com­mis­sioned to im­mor­tal-

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