The Noble Lady and the Player

In the early eighteenth century, writes Robert Halsband, the marriage of an aristocratic young widow and a Drury Lane singer caused violent surprise among her friends.

In the Autumn of 1738 a most unusual scandal agitated London’s beau monde. Lady Henrietta Herbert had ‘furnished the tea-tables here with fresh tattle for this last fortnight’, wrote Lady Mary Wortley Montagu to a friend travelling abroad. The young widowed Lady Harriet (as she was usually called), daughter of Earl Walde-grave, had asked a priest to marry her to John Beard, ‘who sings in the farces at Drury-lane’.

A friend of the young widow had appealed to Lady Mary, and had been advised that, ‘since the lady was capable of such amours, I did not doubt if this was broke off she would bestow her person and fortune on some hackney-coachman or chairman; and that I really saw no method of saving her from ruin, and her family from dishonour, but by poisoning her; and offered to be at the expence of the arsenic, and even to administer it with my own hands’, if she were invited to drink tea that evening.

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