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Marguerite [Margaret] Gardiner

Gardiner, Marguerite [Margaret] (Countess of Blessington) née Power, previously Farmer, 1789—1849

Marguerite Gardiner, countess of Blessington, was born Margaret Power on 1 September 1789 at Knockbrit, co. Tipperary, Ireland. She was the daughter of Edmund Power (1767-1837), a Roman Catholic small landholder, and Ellen Power, née Sheehy. From the age of 8 she lived at nearby Clonmel after her father had been appointed magistrate. In 1804 her debt-ridden father forced her, at the age of 14, to accept the marriage proposal of Captain Maurice St Leger Farmer (d. 1817), an officer in the 47th regiment of Royal Artillery, then at Clonmel, but within three months she had returned to her parents, her husband proving unpredictable, violent, and emotionally unstable. Subsequently, he quarrelled with his superiors, resigned his commission, and shipped out to India, returning only in 1816; in 1817, he died after a fall while in debtor’s prison.

Separated from her husband, Margaret Farmer maintained a barely tolerated presence within her parents’ household until moving to Cahir in 1807 and Dublin in 1809. She travelled next to Hampshire in England under the protection of Captain Thomas Jenkins of the 11th Light Dragoons, with whom she had formed a liaison. By 1816, they had moved to London, where Margaret Farmer met and subsequently married, in February 1818, Charles John Gardiner, second Viscount Mountjoy and first earl of Blessington (1782–1829). With this union, she changed her name to Marguerite, countess of Blessington, under which identity she became an influential salonnière, bringing together at her residence in St James’s Square the leading figures from the world of art, literature, and fashion.

With her husband, Lady Blessington travelled to the Netherlands and France in 1821, and upon her return turned author with three anonymous books all published in 1822, two on London life (The Magic Lantern and Sketches and Fragments) and a third on her travels abroad (Journal of a Tour). On 25 August 1822, the Gardiners began an extended continental tour, spending nearly three months in Genoa in the company of Lord Byron before proceeding to Naples, their base until 1829. At Naples in 1827, Lord Blessington’s fifteen-year-old daughter by a previous marriage, Harriet Gardiner, married Alfred, Count d’Orsay (1801-52; ODNB), an artist and dandy who had been a favourite of Lady Blessington since 1821 and with whom she may have become romantically involved even before his marriage to her step-daughter.

After Lord Blessington died of a stroke at Paris in May 1829, the family returned to England where Lady Blessington continued to live extravagantly, supplementing her widow’s jointure with literary publication. Her first novel, The Repealers (1833), reached a second edition, but her most enduring work, Journal of Conversations with Lord Byron (1834) emerged from a popular serialization of articles in Henry Colburn’s New Monthly Magazine from July 1832 to December 1833. Colburn also published her popular travel anecdotes The Idler in Italy (1839) and The Idler in France (1841). In total, Lady Blessington published some 18 titles between 1833 and 1846 earning £2-3,000 per year.

Expenditure outpaced income, however, and when the investment on which her widow’s jointure depended faltered in 1845 and then failed three years later, she was forced to flee creditors. With D’Orsay, in May 1849, she rented rooms at Paris, but died two months later after an apoplectic seizure.

Sources:

Matoff, Susan. Marguerite, Countess of Blessington: The Turbulent Life of a Salonnière and Author. Newark: U of Delaware P, 2015.

Scheuerle, William H. ‘Gardiner, Marguerite, countess of Blessington (1789–1849)’. ODNB.

Woodcox, D. C. 'Marguerite, Countess of Blessington (Margaret Power Farmer Gardiner)', DLB 166: 50-54.

Texts

Title Published
Journal of a Tour through the Netherlands to Paris 1822
The Idler in Italy 1839

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