From Strolling Player to Banker-Duchess

Joan Perkin tells the rags-to-riches story of Harriet Mellon, the actress who married the banker Thomas Coutts.

After Georgiana, ‘the People’s Duchess’ (of Devonshire) died in l805, the next ‘femme de scandale’ to be targetted by the gutter press was Harriot Mellon, actress, banker and duchess. Harriot was cartooned mercilessly by Cruikshank and others, first as the fabulously rich mistress, wife and widow of Thomas Coutts, the royal banker, and, later, as a big fat melon nursing her baby duke on her ample lap. She was satirised by Disraeli as Mrs Millions in Vivian Gray, and died one of the richest women in Britain. Yet she had begun life as the (almost certainly) illegitimate child of strolling players, who in the 1770s were regarded as rogues and vagabonds, liable to be thrown into the House of Correction.

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