The Queen of Beauty: Jane Georgiana Seymour Duchess of Somerset

A lady not very well known to history, Jane Georgiana Seymour Duchess of Somerset played an interesting role in the early reign of Queen Victoria, and her trace in the sources reveal a strong and captivating personality.  

Cokayne finds that Jane was born 5 November 1809 to Thomas Sheridan and Caroline Henrietta Callender.  She succeeded her mother-in-law Charlotte Hamilton as duchess in 1855, following the death of her husband's father, Edward Adolphus Seymour, in August of that year. Jane had married the heir to the dukedom of Somerset, also named Edward Adolphus Seymour, presumably after his father, on 10 June 1830, at the house of Sir James Graham at Grosvenor Square. They were similar in age, she was 20 years old, and he was 25. 

Jane Georgiana Seymour, (c)National Portrait Gallery, used with permission

Edward had a busy career in politics, with positions such as Trustee of the British Museum, First Lord of the Admiralty and Lord of the Treasury. As Duchess of Somerset, Jane too was well known, particularly for her beauty. Cokayne quotes a memoir written by her nephew who describes her as 'tall and stately'. She also had 'large deep blue or violet eyes, black hair, black eyebrows and eyelashes, perfect features, and a complexion of lilies and roses'. Jane presided in a central role at the legendary Medieval-style Tournament at Eglinton in August 1839 as the 'Queen of Beauty', watching the entertainments from a specially constructed stage along with other lords, ladies and gentlemen. She would have been 29 years old. 

In an account of the tournament, Jane is described as wearing 'a jacket of ermine, the skirt of violet velvet, with the front of sky blue velvet, on which was her Ladyship's arms (those of the Duke of Somerset), richly embroidered in silver, and a coronet or crown, ornamented with costly jewels'.(1) A portrait of the duchess in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery survives showing her in her glamorous Medieval costume, her hair braided into side buns and seated on a wooden throne adorned with what look like griffins.

Jane would have witnessed the tournament at Eglinton Castle in August 1839, when thunderstorms, lightning and heavy rain interrupted the festivities and turned the tiltyard into a bath of squelching mud. Queen Victoria noted in her diary, written a few days later at Windsor Castle, that the weather was so bad Jane had to be ushered into a close carriage, adding that the whole thing, in her eyes, was an 'absurdity'.(2) She also hints at another contender originally for the role of the Queen of Beauty: Lady Londonderry, who Lord Eglinton had had a bit of a crush on.(3) 

Queen Victoria's diaries repeatedly mention Jane, who, the queen learned, paid £40 (around £2,400 today) for her dress at Eglinton, although she had heard of one anonymous lady who spent £1,000 on three dresses for the occasion.(4) She also raised concern over whether her husband was happy to see his wife paraded around in this way. Lord Melbourne told her, 'he likes her to make a figure and to be admired', adding that Jane married him 'for her rank...having tried first for Lord Huntley and Lord Fife'.(5)

Jane Georgiana Seymour, (c) National Portrait Gallery, used with permission

The young queen attended a number of functions with Jane, including some balls and dinners, and she wrote that she had enjoyed herself there, sometimes not returning home until around three in the morning. Jane also threw parties and breakfasts, but the queen did note that her dining room, according to Lord Melbourne, was 'pretty' but not big enough for a party.(6)

Jane seems to have been an ambitious and sometimes forceful woman, happy to be at the centre of the limelight and interested in furthering her own status. She also pressed her case on a number of occasions, in August 1839 petitioning of behalf of the Duke of Sussex (the queen's uncle) and once keeping Lord Melbourne 'very long', asking him to help a Mr Babbage and Mr Blunt.(7) She said that Melbourne had told her that Jane was 'an artful pushing woman', the queen adding that he thought she was likely to cause trouble.(8) She also wrote that although the queen had 'no doubt' of Jane's beauty, she wasn't very well liked because of 'her saying such odd things'.(9)

An ambitious woman, a keen social climber and unafraid to use her influence to promote the causes of others, Jane is not very well known although she did take centre stage as the Queen of Beauty at the famous Victorian tournament at Eglinton. The surviving portraits of her certainly demonstrate her beauty, her dark hair and large round eyes gazing out at us through the centuries. She lived a long life, and died at the age of 75 on 14 December 1884. Her husband died at his home at Stover Lodge near Torquay in Devon, just two years later. 

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1. Aikman, James, An Account of the Tournament at Eglinton, revised and corrected by several of the Knights ... With a biographical account of the Eglinton family; to which is prefixed a sketch of chivalry, and of the most remarkable Scottish tournaments, (Edinburgh: Hugh Paton, 1839)
2.  Queen Victoria's Diaries (QVD), Lord Esher's Typescripts (LE), vol. 12 (7th August 1839-31st October 1839) p118
3. QVD, LE, vol. 12 (7th August 1839-31st October 1839) p122
4. QVD, LE, vol. 12 (7th August 1839-31st October 1839) p23
5. QVD, LE, vol. 11 (2nd June 1839-6th August 1839) p288
6. QVD, LE, vol. 10 (5th April 1839-1st June 1839) p101
7. QVD LE, vol. 12 (7th August 1839-31st October 1839) p104 and vol. 10 (5th April 1839-1st June 1839), p43. 
8. QVD LE, vol. 5 (30th March 1838-6th June 1838) p175
9. QVD LE, vol. 12 (7th August 1839-31st October 1839) p106