Lady Hester Stanhope
Born: March 12, 1776
Died: June 23, 1839
Lady Hester was born and grew up at her father's seat of Chevening until early in 1800, when he sent her to live with her grandmother, Hester Pitt, Countess of Chatham, at Burton Pynsent. A year or two later she travelled abroad, but her cravings were not satisfied until she became the chief of the household of her uncle, William Pitt the Younger, in August 1803.
In his position as British Prime Minister, Pitt, who was unmarried, needed a hostess for his household. Lady Hester sat at the head of his table and assisted in welcoming his guests; she became known for her stately beauty and lively conversation. Although her brightness of style cheered Pitt's declining days and amused most of his political friends, she also made enemies unnecessarily. Lady Hester possessed great business talents, and when Pitt was out of office she acted as his private secretary. She was also the prime initiator of the gardens at Walmer Castle during his tenure as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. She was with him in his last illness, and his dying thoughts were concerned with her future, but he had no reason to worry. The nation, grateful for his qualities, awarded his niece a pension of £1200 a year, dating from shortly after his death in January 1806, which Lady Hester Stanhope enjoyed for the rest of her days.
On Pitt's death she lived in Montagu Square, London, but life in London without the interest caused by associating with the principal politicians of the Tory party frustrated her, and she went to live in Wales, leaving England for good in February 1810 after the death of her brother. A romantic disappointment is said to have caused her decision to go to a long sea voyage. Among her entourage were her physician and later biographer Charles Meryon, her maid, Anne Fry, and a young man called Michael Bruce, who became her lover. It is claimed that when they arrived in Athens, the poet, Lord Byron, dived into the sea to greet her. From Athens they traveled to Constantinople, capital of the Ottoman Empire, and intended to proceed to Cairo, only recently emerged from the chaos following Napoleon's invasion of Egypt and the international conflicts that followed.