From here. . . to there
EILEEN BATTERSBYponders Viscount Castlereagh and Lady Lavery
ROBERT STEWART, Viscount Castlereagh, second Marquis of Londonderry (1769-1822) was the most wretched of men. For all his privilege and political success (he was a major player in late 18th- and early 19th-century British and European history, and a chief negotiator in the 40-year European peace achieved by the Congress of Vienna in 1815), his support of the Act of Union (1800) made him heartily disliked in his native country. His father, the first Robert Stewart, was, by contrast, sympathetic and popular. Distraught at the death of his first wife, the future statesman’s mother, Stewart senior later re-married into immense wealth through Lady Frances Pratt, Lord Camden’s daughter. Castlereagh would eventually have 11 step-siblings.
The family seat was Mount Stewart House, situated on the western shore of the glorious Ards Peninsula, overlooking Strangford Lough in the splendid Co Down landscape. A paradise, to be sure, and even the sickly young Robert, who had been born in Dublin and was mainly educated at Mount Stewart before attending the Royal School in Armagh, always loved his family home – which had been originally purchased by his grandfather in 1744. Long after Castlereagh’s time at Cambridge and his subsequent political career in London (beginning with his costly election at 21 as MP for Co Down), he encouraged his father’s many building projects on the estate.
In 1798 he was appointed chief secretary to the Lord Lieutenant and served in various British governments. The United Irishmen rebellion convinced him that union with Britain was vital to the survival of the empire. Upheaval in Europe saw him appointed secretary for war in 1805; by 1812 he was foreign secretary. His efforts to secure Queen Caroline’s divorce were denounced. When King George IV in 1821 asked him to become prime minister, a depressed Castlereagh declined. His father died that same year and he succeeded to the title only to slit his own throat on August 12, 1822. His widow (they had no children) pleaded that he had been temporarily insane, thus securing his burial in Westminster Abbey.
Mount Stewart continued to gather history: Castlereagh’s flamboyant half-brother, Charles, inherited it. He married Frances Anne Vane-Tempest whose outrageous father, Henry “Harry” Vane-Tempest, had commissioned the then 75-year-old George Stubbs to paint Vane-Tempest’s fabulous thoroughbred Hambletonian, who had won a brutal four-mile challenge race. The remarkable, realistic painting, depicting the exhausted horse being rubbed down, hangs on the wall over a staircase in the villa which today is internationally celebrated for its gardens. In the dining-room are the 22 Empire chairs used by the Congress of Vienna delegates. Mount Stewart had many famous guests: Winston Churchill and Michael Collins visited, as did Lady Hazel Lavery, the American beauty who was married to the famous Belfast-born artist, Sir John Lavery. She and Collins have been romantically linked. They were certainly friends: when he died in 1922 he was wearing a miniature of her about his neck. She attempted to throw herself into his grave.
Lovers or not, they shared an obvious affection.