The Digby Children - The most Scandalous woman in Europe & her mean brother

The most Scandalous woman in Europe, - Spanish plunder put to good use?

John Hoppner
The Digby Children
oil on canvas
50 ¼ in x 39 ⅞ in (127.64 cm x 101.28 cm);56 ¼ in x 46 in (142.88 cm x 116.84 cm)
Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Ralph Coskey
Lady Eleanor Dundas is shown half length, seated in front of a brown background.  She looks towards the light source to the right of the painting.  She is dressed in a diaphanous black dress with an Empire cut and black veil.  A sheer lace collar frames her throat.  She has heavy lidded eyes and an alert or slightly mournful expression
Henry Raeburn
Lady Eleanor Dundas
oil on canvas
30 1/8 in. x 25 in. ( 76.5 cm x 63.5 cm )
Bequest of Margaret Watson Parker
A fallen man in the red coat of the 18th c. British military officer lies face down in a landscape. To the left, holding his hand, is a grieving widow and infant son. Behind the grouping is a landscape that opens off to the left with the reddish glow of continued combat. Behind the figures, a drapery has been set in the trees to frame the grouping and separate it from the distant landscape behind them.
Joseph Wright of Derby
The Dead Soldier
oil on canvas
65 in x 78 in x 5 in (165.1 cm x 198.12 cm x 12.7 cm)
Museum purchase made possible by the W. Hawkins Ferry Fund and anonymous individual benefactors

Object Creation Date:  circa 1778-1810

Note: since the children were born 1807 and 1809, the earliest it could have been painted is 1812, and the latest  1818. 

Jane Elizabeth Digby, Lady Ellenborough (3 April 1807 – 11 August 1881) was an English aristocrat, famed for her love life and lifestyle. She had four husbands and many lovers, including King Ludwig I of Bavaria, his son King Otto of Greece, statesman Prince Felix Schwarzenberg, and a Greek general (Christodoulos Hatzipetros). She died in Damascus, Syria, as the wife of Arab Sheikh Medjuel el Mezrab, who was 20 years her junior.

Jane Elizabeth Digby was born in Forston House, near Minterne Magna, Dorset on 3 April 1807, daughter of Admiral Henry Digby and Lady Jane Elizabeth Coke. Jane's father Henry Digby fought at the Battle of Trafalgar, in the West Indies, and Captained one of four British ships that seized the Spanish treasure ship Santa Brígida sailing from Mexico in 1799. His share of the prize money, along with the loot from 57 other ships, established the family fortune.

Marriages, scandal, and affairs

Jane Digby was first married to Edward Law, 2nd Baron Ellenborough (he later became an Earl, and was Governor General of India 1842-44) , on 15 October 1824. At the time of her marriage, she was described as tall, with a perfect figure. She had an attractive face, pale-gold hair, wide-spaced dark blue eyes, long dark eyelashes, and a pink complexion. They had one son, (although Jane Digby's cousin, rather than her husband, was the father) Arthur Dudley Law born February 1828, but he died shortly before his second birthday.

After affairs with her maternal cousin, Felix Schwarzenberg,, and the Bohemian Prince Felix Schwarzenberg, (then ambassador to London, later to become the Minister-President Austrian Empire) she was divorced from Lord Ellenborough in 1830 by an act of Parliament. This caused considerable scandal at the time. Digby had two children with Prince Felix; Mathilde "Didi" (born1829 and raised by Felix's sister) and Felix (born December 1830 Paris) who died just a few weeks after his birth. The affair with Felix ended shortly after the death of their son.

She then moved on to Munich and became the lover of King Ludwig I of Bavaria. In Munich, she met Baron Karl von Venningen (6 January 1806 – 10 June 1874). They married in November 1833 having had a son, Heribert (b 27 January 1833), and a daughter, Bertha (4 September 1834).


Stieler-Jane Digby.jpg

Portrait of Digby by Joseph Karl Stieler (1831)

The Heart is an Impetuous Traveler - article about Digby's affairs in the NYT 2/25/73

In 1838, Digby found a new lover in the Greek Count Spyridon Theotokis (born 1805). Venningen found out and challenged Theotokis to a duel, in which the latter was wounded. Venningen generously released Digby from the marriage and took care of their children. They remained friends for the rest of their lives.

Although her divorce from Venningen was not finalized until 1842, Digby converted to the Greek Orthodox faith and married Theotokis in Marseille in 1841. The couple moved to Greece with their son Leonidas (b 21 March 1840 in Paris). In 1846, after their son's fatal fall at his mother's feet, from a balcony, Theotokis and Digby divorced. Greece's King Otto (son of her previous lover, King Ludwig) became her next lover.

Next came an affair with a hero of Greek revolution, Thessalian general Christodoulos Chatzipetros,[4] acting as 'queen' of his army, living in caves, riding horses and hunting in the mountains. She walked out on him when he was unfaithful.

Life in Syria

Jane Digby, Lady Ellenborough (William Charles Ross) MIniature sold at Bonhams in 2012 with biographical notes

At age forty-six, Digby traveled to the Middle East, and fell in love with Sheik Medjuel el Mezrab. (Twentieth-century sources sometimes incorrectly report it as "Abdul Medjuel el Mezrab.") Medjuel was a sheik of the Mezrab section of the Sba'a, a sub-tribe of "the great Anizzah tribe of Syria."[7] He was twenty years her junior.[8] The two were married under Muslim law and she took the name Jane Elizabeth Digby el Mezrab. Their marriage was a happy one and lasted until her death twenty-eight years later. It has been written that Jane Digby was referred to as Shaikhah Umm al-Laban (literally sheikha mother of milk) due to the colour of her skin.

Digby adopted Arab dress and learned Arabic in addition to the other eight languages in which she was fluent. Half of each year was spent in the nomadic style, living in goat-hair tents in the desert, while the rest was enjoyed in a palatial villa that she had built in Damascus. She spent the rest of her life in the city, where she befriended Richardand Isabel Burton while the former was serving as the British consul, and Abd al-Kader al-Jazairi, a prominent exiled leader of the Algerian revolution.


Jane Digby died of fever and dysentery in Damascus on 11 August 1881, and was buried in the Protestant Cemetery, which was housed in a corner of the Jewish cemetary. She was buried with her horse in attendance at the funeral.[9] Upon her footstone – a block of pink limestone from Palmyra – is her name, written in Arabic by Medjuel in charcoal and carved into the stone by a local mason.


The little boy in the sailor suit

Edward St Vincent Digby, 9th Baron Digby (21 June 1809 – 16 October 1889), also 3rd Baron Digby

Digby was the son of Admiral Sir Henry Digby, who fought at the Battle of Trafalgar, and Lady Jane Elizabeth Coke, daughter of Thomas Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester. Jane Digby was his older sister. He was commissioned a captain in the Dorsetshire Yeomanry in 1848.

In 1856 he succeeded as ninth Baron Digby (in the Peerage of Ireland) and third Baron Digby of Sherborne in Dorset on the death of his first cousin twice removed, which entitled him to take a seat in the House of Lords (the upper chamber of the British Parliament).

Lord Digby married his third cousin Lady Theresa Anna Maria Fox-Strangways, daughter of Henry Fox-Strangways, 3rd Earl of Ilchester, in 1837. He died in October 1889, aged 80, his titles were inherited by his eldest son Edward Henry Trafalgar Digby. Lord Digby's great-granddaughter was the Hon. Pamela Digby, aka Pamela Churchill Harriman American Ambassador to France.

Edward St Vincent Digby, inherited the Gleashill estate, the largest in County Offaly in Ireland in 1856. Outraged that the tenant farmers were not paying the market rate in rent, he evicted a large number of families from their lands. This was just six years after the Great Famine in Ireland, in which more than a million people died, was officially over. A local priest, Father Patrick Dunne, arranged for 400 people to be taken to Australia on a ship named the Erin-go-Bragh, which took a record 25 weeks to reach Moreton Bay; 51 passengers died en route. Following the evictions, Digby carried out extensive improvements in the 1860s and 1870s and many of the current buildings around the triangular green date from this time. The Kings County Directory recorded that Digby had converted the village of Geashill into what it now is, over 34,000 acres, "one of the neatest, cleanest and best kept in Ireland".

At the Paris Exhibition of 1867 Digby was awarded the bronze medal for models of the village he was building. He was awarded the gold medal for three years by the Royal Agricultural Society, for improving the greatest number of cottages in the best manner in the Province of Leinster. The Digbys built a house called Geashill Castle near the medieval tower house but this was unsurprisingly burnt down during the Civil War in 1922.

Edward St.Vincent Digby, 9th Baron, aka  Lord Digby 1809-1889

Edward St. Vincent Digby, 9th Baron Digby of Geashill was born on 21 June 1809.He was the son of Admiral Sir Henry Digby and Lady Jane Elizabeth Coke. He gained the rank of Lieutenant in the service of the 9th Lancers. When his cousin, Edward, the unmarried 8th Baron and 2nd Earl Digby died, he succeeded to the title of 3rd Baron Digby of Sherborne, Dorset and to the title of 9th Baron Digby of Geashill, King's County on 12 May 1856.

It seems his cousin was a very laissez faire landlord. Residing in his splendid residence at Sherbourne. He rarely visited Geashill and granted tenants very long and generous leases. However, because these grants extended beyond his own life-time, he was deemed to have exceeded his legal powers. This would prove to be a problem for his successor. When Edward St Vincent took up his new position he felt that his late ancestor had “no right moral or legal, to lease away his Irish lands for two thirds of their real value”. The new landlord was therefore determined to break the leases, which his predecessor had granted. This was to create much anxiety and upheaval at Geashill where the tenants were faced with loss of tenure, which they previously considered secure. Acting upon his legal rights, the 9th Lord Digby embarked upon breaking these leases, leading the tenants to look for redress and compensation to the executors. It was in the midst of this dispute that William Trench’s services were engaged.

When assessing his time in Geashill, the barony underwent a vast transformation with Lord Digby achieving both national and indeed international recognition for improvements carried out on the estate.The Geashill estate was much improved with bigger and better quality farms, improved cottages, a new school and estate office. It was perhaps no coincidence that the estate underwent a major transformation as Lord Edward Digby was the grandson of Thomas Coke, first earl of Leicester, who was not only a British politician but a noted agricultural reformer. Coke became famous for his advanced methods of animal husbandry used in improving his estate at Holkham in Norfolk. As a result he was seen as one of the instigators of the British Agricultural Revolution.

Edward St. Vincent married Lady Theresa Anna Maria Fox-Strangways, daughter of Henry Stephen Fox-Strangways. He died on 16 October 1889 aged 80.

The father who paid for the painting - and where the money came from.

Admiral Sir Henry Digby (1770-1842)

Admiral Sir H Digby, eldest son of Rev W Digby, Dean of Durham, uncle of the Earl of Digby; married in 1806 to Lady Jane Elizabeth Coke, eldest daughter of the Earl of Leicester. Entered the navy in 1784. Made Captain in 1796, Rear-Admiral in 1819, Admiral in 1841, died 1842 age 73. Commanded the Africa at Trafalgar.

Admiralty Office, Oct 19, 1803    Copy of letter from Captain Digby of HMS Alcmene

“My Lord, I have the honour to acquaint you, that I captured, on the 16th ult, Les Deux Amis French brig, letter de marque, of six guns and 60 men from France, bound to St. Domingo. I have the honor to be etc.  -- H Digby.”,_Henry :

This officer is the eldest son of the late Hon. and Rev. William Digby, Dean of Durham, Vicar of Coles Hill, a Chaplain in Ordinary to the King, and Canon of Christ Church, by Charlotte, daughter of Joseph Cox, Esq., and niece of the late Sir Charles Sheffield, Bart.[1]

He went to sea at an early age with the late Admiral Innes; served for some time as a Midshipman on board the Europa, of 50 guns, in the West Indies; in June of 1794, the Europa assisted in the capture of Port-au-Prince, Haiti from the French.

was made a Lieutenant in 1790; commanded the Incendiary sloop in 1796, and subsequently the Aurora, a small frigate, on the Lisbon station, where he cruised with very great activity; and in addition to forty-eight sail of the enemy’s merchantmen taken, sunk, or destroyed by him, captured the following national vessels and privateers; la Velos Arragonesa Spanish frigate, pierced for 30 guns, with a complement of 100 men; the Egalité French corvette, of 20 guns and 200 men; a privateer of the same force; and seven others carrying in the whole 71 guns and upwards 400 men. His post commission bears date Dec. 19, 1796.

In the autumn of 1798, Captain Digby was appointed to the Leviathan, a third rate, bearing the broad pendant of Commodore Duckworth, with whom he served at the reduction of Minorca, which was effected by a squadron consisting of two 74’s, one 44, and seven smaller vessels, in conjunction with a body of troops commanded by the Hon. Charles Stuart. The Spanish garrison was between 3000 and 4000 strong, and had the means of making a stout resistance; notwithstanding which the British obtained possession of the island without the loss of a man. A great quantity of ordnance and military stores were taken in the forts. At Port Mahon were found an abundance of naval stores, a brig of war on the stocks, 14 gun-boats, and several merchant-vessels.

Our officer’s next appointment was, early in 1799, to the Alcmene frigate, in which he cruised between the coast of Portugal and the Azores, and made many captures; among others the Courageux French privateer, of 28 guns, pierced for 32, and 270 men; la Felicidad, a Spanish ship pierced for 22 guns, laden with hemp, a few lower masts, and ship timber; El Bisarro brig, with ship timber and iron; les Deux Amis, French letter of marque, of 6 guns and 60 men; and le Depit, privateer, of 8 guns and 45 men.

On the 18th Oct., 1799, the Alcmene, in company with the Naiad and Triton frigates, had the good fortune to intercept the Santa Brigida, of 36 guns and 300 men, from Vera Cruz bound to Spain, having on board 1,400,000 dollars, independent of a cargo of immense value. On the preceding day, the Ethalion, belonging to the same squadron, having parted company in chace, took the Thetis, a ship of similar force, and with a cargo of equal estimation[2]. In the running fight kept up by the Santa Brigida, the Alcmene had 1 man killed and 9 wounded.

Captain Digby continued to be employed on the Lisbon and Mediterranean stations until the spring of 1801, when he was removed into the Resistance, a frigate of the largest class, and ordered to North America. On his passage out, he captured the Elizabeth, a French letter of marque from Cayenne bound to Bourdeaux, the last vessel taken during that war. He returned to England Nov. 30, in the same year; and during the remainder of the winter was employed in the Channel, cruising against the smugglers.

We next find Captain Digby commanding the Africa, of 64 guns, in which ship he bore a conspicuous part at the defeat of the combined fleets of France and Spain on the ever memorable 21st of October. For his conduct in that glorious battle, on which occasion 18 of his crew were slain and 44 wounded; he was honored with a gold medal, and, in common with his brother officers, received the thanks of both Houses of Parliament. His advancement to the rank of Rear-Admiral took place Aug. 12, 1819; previous to which he had been nominated a Companion of the most honorable Military Order of the Bath.

Our officer married, March 17, 1806, Jane Elizabeth, relict of Charles Viscount Andover (son of the Earl of Suffolk and Berkshire) and daughter of Thomas William Coke, Esq., M.P. for Norfolk, who in respect to landed property, is one of the most powerful commoners in Great Britain. The Rear-Admiral’s family consists of two sons (?)  and one daughter.

Town-residence.– 78, Harley Street.

Nelson’s Band of Brothers by Captain Peter Hore (a descendant of Captain H Digby)

On Oct 18, 1799, Digby went in pursuit, with two other ships, of the Spanish 36-gun ships Thetis and Santa Brigida. They were “both carrying fabulously rich cargoes -  in Santa Brigida alone there was over one and a half million dollars. It took sixty-three wagons to carry the riches from Plymouth to London.”

On the 21st the Thetis, and on the following day the Santa-Brigida, in company with the frigates which had captured them, arrived at Plymouth. The cargo of the Santa-Brigida consisted of two bales or serons of indigo, 26 of cochineal, 23 of cocoa, and 16 of sugar, of the estimated value, altogether, of about £5000. This frigate had also 446 boxes, containing each 3000 dollars, 59 bags of dollars, and many others of uncertain number, and three kegs likewise uncertain. Neither the Santa-Brigida nor the Thetis were considered eligible for the British navy : their chief and almost only value was in the cargoes they carried.

As some readers may feel an interest in these matters, we will show how the treasure was subsequently disposed of. On the 28th and 29th, the days on which the two cargoes were landed, 63 artillery waggons, escorted by horse and foot soldiers and armed seamen and marines, and accompanied by bands of music and an immense concourse of people, conveyed the treasures to the dungeons of the citadel of Plymouth. Thence, towards the latter end of November, it was removed to London, with all the pomp and ceremony usual on such occasions, and was, finally deposited in the bank of England.

--Naval History of Great Britain 1799 - Vol II p 358

“An ordinary seaman’s prize for this capture came to L182 or about ten years’ pay. Digby’s share was L40,731 but it was not won without a fight, this time in court [with the captains of the other two ships, who included Horatio Nelson]. He subsequently took several more prizes.

Report of Captain Digby commanding the Africa and his part in the Battle of Trafalgar.

Roles: Naval Sailor
Date of Birth: 20.1.1770 - Holcombe, Somerset ref:616
Father: The Honourable & Very Reverend William Digby LLD ref:616
Mother: Charlotte Cox ref:616
Wife: Jane Elizabeth Coke married, March 17, 1806 ref:616
Uncle: Robert Digby (1732-1815) ref:616
Brother: Joseph Digby (1786-1860)ref:616
Brother: Charles George Digby (1779-1829)ref:676
First Known Service: 1782 ref:616   Last Known Service: 22.7.1840 ref:616
Date of Death: 19.8.1842 - Minterne Magna, Dorset ref:616

Children’s Great uncle

Robert Digby (1732 - 1815)

Roles: Naval Sailor
Date of Birth 20.12.1732 ref:676
Father: Edward Digby, MPHPO Mother: Charlotte Fox ref:676
Wife: Mrs Eleanor Jauncey, née Elliot - Married 19.8.1784 (at his age of 52) HPO

Brothers: Edward, 6th Baron Digby (1730-57)   HPO Henry, 7th Baron Digby (1731-93)   HPO
Nephews: Charles George Digby (1779-1829)    ref:676 Stephen Thomas Digby ref:616   

Sir Henry Digby (1770-1842) ref:676
First Known Service 29.10.1752 age 12 ref:676     Last Known Service   9.11.1805 ref:676
Date of Death:  25.2.1815

The Naval Chronicle, containing a general and biographical history of the Royal Navy of the UK with a variety of original papers Published 1804

Admiral Robert Digby, Admiral of His Majesty’s White Squadron, brother to the late, and uncle to the present Earl of that title...(p89) First went to sea in 1744 at max age of 14, likely younger.

Shortly after the accession of his present Majesty to the throne, Captain [Robert?] Digby was elected MP for Wells. Had a stint of peace, then in 1778 the French embargoed British ports. And Captain Digby sailed with Admiral Keppel. In July, “signals for engagement having been made”, the French and Brits engaged in the Bay of Biscay, and “a heavy and incessant cannonade was maintained for two hours” In the two fleets, the English lost 133 killed and 365 injured, the French, 165 killed, 529 wounded.

In 1779 Captain R Digby was promoted to Rear-Admiral.

Various battles with French and Spanish ships, then on 26th Sept, 1780, after his return home the following August he was ordered to America. He sailed with Admiral Graves from Sandy Hook to help Cornwallis at York Town, but they arrived too late, because Cornwallis had been compelled to surrender a week before.  Digby then transferred to a 64 gun ship, The Lion, under Sir Samuel Hood, “for the better protection of our [British] West Indian possessions”...”very little worthy of particular notice occurred...some spirited actions were fought...our trade in that quarter of the world was amply protected”.

Returned to England Jan 1784, married in August, by special license to Mrs Jauncy, eldest daughter of Mr Elliott, late Lieutenant Governor of New York.

“Our readers will regret to learn, that this distinguished Officer has uniformly through life declined sitting for his portrait.”

The "Captain Digby" is possibly one of the oldest drinking houses in Thanet. Lord Holland originally built it as a ‘Bede House' between 1763 and 1768. This was a place for drinking and entertainment by Lord Holland's guests from the impressive Holland House some hundred yards to the south.
The name Captain Digby comes from Robert, a nephew of Lord Holland who commanded a warship of the English fleet in 1759. It is recorded that when Lord Holland died he left a sum of money so that Captain Digby's health could be drunk every year by the customers. Also in his will was a sum to provide a bottle of wine to every young woman within the parish about to give birth. Sadly both these provisions seemed to have lapsed through the years!
By 1797 the ‘Kentish Gazette' records that the tenant, Mr Herbert, welcomes numerous guests from all the Thanet towns arriving by horse at the ‘Noble Captain Digby'.
On 18th October 1861 the larger part of The Captain Digby fell over the cliff in a severe storm. A gentleman's magazine of that date reports, “The Noble Captain Digby fell into the sea, except part of one wing where a servant boy slept”.
In 1816 the Captain Digby was recreated some yards away from the original site in the stables of the original Bede House. The present day building is almost the same as the 1816 building but through the years has undergone several alterations such as the restaurant, which was added in 1973.
Beneath the inn is a large subterranean cavern reputed to have been used by local Kingsgate smuggler, Joss Snelling and his infamous gang. Up to a few years ago one could reach the beach below by going through a trap door in the cellar.
In 2001 The Captain Digby won the highly prestigious ‘Family Pub of the Year' award at the National Publican Awards. a former home of Captain Digby, possibly formerly housed painting of Lady Ellenborough


16 Tags & 1 Keyword

Affair — by Sophie Grillet (August 22 2018 @ 11:07 am)
Battle of trafalgar — by Sophie Grillet (August 22 2018 @ 11:12 am)
Bavaria — by Sophie Grillet (August 22 2018 @ 11:09 am)
Bereavement — by Sophie Grillet (March 15 2021 @ 5:25 pm)
Child — by Sophie Grillet (August 22 2018 @ 11:07 am)
Children — by Sophie Grillet (August 22 2018 @ 11:07 am)
English — by Sophie Grillet (August 22 2018 @ 11:09 am)
Greece — by Sophie Grillet (August 22 2018 @ 11:09 am)
Ireland — by Sophie Grillet (August 22 2018 @ 11:12 am)
Mother — by Sophie Grillet (September 15 2020 @ 12:10 am)
Navy — by Sophie Grillet (August 22 2018 @ 11:09 am)
Piracy — by Sophie Grillet (August 22 2018 @ 11:07 am)
Scandal — by Sophie Grillet (August 22 2018 @ 11:07 am)
Syria — by Sophie Grillet (August 22 2018 @ 11:09 am)
Waterloo — by Sophie Grillet (September 14 2020 @ 11:28 pm)
Women — by Sophie Grillet (August 22 2018 @ 11:07 am)

Ireland — by Sophie Grillet (March 15 2021 @ 5:24 pm)

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Last Updated

March 15, 2021 5:24 p.m.


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