Holland House (1605-1900)
By Cheryl Bolen
The Home of the Hollands
by the Earl of Ilchester
New York: E.P. Dutton and Company Inc., 1937, 410 pages
of Holland House 1820-1900
by the Earl of Ilchester
New York: E.P. Dutton and Company, 1938, 550 pages
bought the earlier volume first (from former Regency Plume editor
Marilyn Clay upon her retirement), but since I wanted to learn more
about the Regency's social, literary, and political leaders as they
paraded into the Victorian era, I was compelled to purchase the second
volume, too. (When my husband asked me what I was reading, I told him it
was like a People magazine of Regency England.)
Those whose interests lie strictly within the Regency time frame need
not purchase the second volume.
What Devonshire House was to the late eighteenth century, Holland House
was to the early nineteenth century. And then some. Holland House has
been called the closest thing England ever had to a continental salon.
For Holland House, in the first 40 years of the nineteenth century,
referred not only to the house built in 1605 but to a gathering place of
the era's movers and shakers.
Holland House was built in the seventeenth century by Sir Walter Cope
and was originally called Cope Castle. The baronet's gracious, turreted
three-storey structure was placed upon a hill surveying his vast
parkland in what is now Kensington.
Though only two miles from the present Marble Arch of central London's
Hyde Park, that part of Kensington was considered "country" even later
in Regency times. In fact, the 3rd Lord Holland (whose 40
plus years of dinners made Holland House internationally famous) always
rented a house in the city during Parliamentary sessions. (Three miles
through bustling London with its hundreds of toll gates was an arduous
journey well into the nineteenth century.)
Sometime after Sir Walter Cope's death, the house passed to the first
Earl of Holland, whose title became extinct. However, the title was
revived by eighteenth-century politician Henry Fox (1705-1774), who
became the first Baron Holland after purchasing the house. Enormously
wealthy (until his sons squandered his money gambling), Fox eloped in
1744 with the Duke of Richmond's daughter, Lady Caroline Lennox, who was
18 years his junior.
most famous of their three (spoiled) sons was Charles James Fox, who was
elected to Parliament before he was 21 and led the Whig party until his
1806 death. After the early death of Charles James Fox's older brother,
Stephen, the Holland title passed to the 3rd Lord Holland
(1773-1840). It is he who brought prominence to Holland House.
Having succeeded to the title while still a boy, the 3rd Lord Holland
fell in love with Sir Godfrey Webster's wife while traveling in Italy
before his twenty-first birthday. After her divorce, she and Holland
married in 1797—but not before the birth of their first child, Charles
Fox, named for the uncle Holland idolized throughout his life.
Likely because as a divorced woman, Lady Elizabeth Holland (whose
journal I've previously reviewed for Quizzing Glass) could not be
received in polite society, she began presiding over dinners at her new
home with other "Foxite" Whigs. These dinners grew to include the most
interesting men of the era: important Tories, visiting Europeans of
prominence—including heads of state—and some of the greatest writers of
the nineteenth century.
massive home was filled with portraits of nineteenth-century notables
who exchanged portraits with the Hollands, which was a custom of the
day. (The exchanged portraits were typically copies of portraits by more
well known painters .)
"dinner books" kept by Lady Holland for 40 years provide the nucleus of
Lord Ilchester's two volumes. Many of the names in those dinner books
inspired Ilchester (who resided at Holland House during the 1930s, when
he authored these volumes) to provide well-researched word portraits of
those visitors, making his work a virtual People Magazine of
early nineteenth-century England.
Lord Ilchester's considerable proficiency at both researching and
writing destroys the early twentieth-century conception of an "upper
Sadly, the Holland title went extinct when the 3rd Lord
Holland's son and heir died childless in 1859, nineteen years after
succeeding his father. He left Holland House to his widow, urging her to
keep the historical structure and its priceless contents intact. Upon
his widow's death 30 years later, she left Holland House to the 5th
Earl of Ilchester, a member of the Fox family. She had turned down
opportunities to sell it or its contents in respect of her late
husband's wishes. The wealthy Lord Ilchester had previously worked out
an agreement with the last Lady Holland to give her a generous annuity
and to be responsible for the upkeep on the house until her death. Also,
he agreed that when he took possession of the residence he would keep
the house and its immediately surrounding property as she left it.
That Lord Ilchester's son, the talented author of these volumes, came
into possession of Holland House on his mother's death in 1935. Little
did he know when writing the saga of Holland House that German bombs
would destroy it in 1940, two years after his second volume was
published. I have not been able to learn if he was able to save the
house's treasures or the dozens of portraits it held.
treasure that will always be preserved for posterity is his painstaking
research about Holland House that's presented in these volumes.