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A Sisters Story

Fri Aug 25, 2017

By Stephen Taylor, author of 'Defiance - The Life and Choices of Lady Anne Barnard' (Faber & Faber, 2016)

Every picture may tell a story, but two can be even more eloquent, and in the case of a pair of miniatures [fig.1] painted by Anne Mee (née Foldsone) (c.1770/75-1851) of sisters in the 1790s we are presented with a long-forgotten family saga. Lady Anne Barnard (1750-1825) and Lady Margaret Fordyce (1753-1814) lived at the centre of Georgian society in an era that reflected their own turbulent and adventurous lives.

Fig. 1 Portrait miniatures of Lady Margaret Janet Fordyce (left) and Lady Anne Barnard (right) by Anne Mee - both previously with Philip Mould & Co. - ©Philip Mould & Company

Born to an impecunious Scottish aristocrat, the Earl of Balcarres, Anne and Margaret Lindsay forged a childhood bond in a remote corner of Fife that lasted their lifetimes. When Margaret was married at the age of 17 to Alexander Fordyce, an investment tycoon, Anne joined them in London. Fordyce was a brute, the marriage a disaster, and Anne set her face against a similar match, rejecting suitor after suitor while attracting gossip and controversy through her associations with prominent men. In 1772 the sisters’ lives were transformed when Fordyce went bankrupt, bringing down the entire banking system in a crash with echoes of modern times. Overnight they went from fabulous wealth to penury. Anne was 21, Margaret 19.

Anne remained nevertheless a prominent figure in fashionable London, with a wit and charm that continued to attract rich and aristocratic men, among them the Prince of Wales. Another admirer transformed her small inheritance and she turned to property for an income, buying and letting houses in Berkeley Square. She further defied convention by travelling in Europe alone and with women companions, including Maria Fitzherbert – secret wife of the Prince. When Margaret joined Anne in Paris, they visited the Bastille. There, Anne wrote, overcome by a desire to commit a crime in the prison “for the pleasure of saying we did”, Margaret coquetted with the governor “while I stole his pen”. Altogether more daring and risky was the journey Anne made alone to Paris to observe events after the Revolution.

Mee’s miniatures have their origin in the greatest of all Anne’s adventures. She married, finally, at the age of 42 a handsome but unknown army officer. The fact that Andrew Barnard was also twelve years her junior gave rise to further gossip and it was largely to escape society’s malice that she used her influence to obtain him a position in a distant corner of the world – secretary to the governor at the Cape of Good Hope. When she announced that she would be accompanying him, one of Pitt’s ministers burst out: “Good God! You go to live with the Hottentots?” She would also be separating from Margaret for the first time.

The miniatures were painted towards the end of 1796 by Anne Mee, a pupil of George Romney and daughter of John Foldsone. Although still relatively unknown, Mrs Mee had by then been commissioned to paint miniatures of the princesses at Windsor and it is possible that she came to Anne Barnard’s attention through the Prince of Wales. On completion, the miniatures of Lady Anne Barnard and Lady Margaret Fordyce were exchanged by the sisters, with a twist of hair at the back of each [fig.2], to be worn during the years of their separation.

Fig.2 Hairwork on the reverse of the portrait of Lady Anne Barnard ©Philip Mould & Company

The Cape brought Anne the happiest period of her life. She and Barnard lived at simple cottage called Paradise at the foot of Table Mountain, travelled into the interior by ox wagon and over the five years she spent there Anne never ceased to impress on Pitt’s government the potential of South Africa at a time when it was seen as no more than a strategic bastion to protect the shipping route to India.

Margaret, long separated from her bankrupt husband before his death, had endured another miserable relationship before Anne’s return. After Andrew Barnard died, aged only 45, the sisters resumed living together at Berkeley Square until Margaret was married for the second time, to a childhood sweetheart, and finally found some happiness of her own.

The story did not end there. Anne spent her later years compiling six volumes of memoirs which have never been published and were virtually unexplored until being discovered by myself, and used as the main resource for a biography. Defiance - The Life and Choice of Lady Anne Barnard shows her to be one of the unheralded chroniclers and pioneering women of her time.

Available to purchase online here.

Stephen Taylor's book is available to purchase online here.