Caroline Stanhope, Countess of Harrington

Caroline Stanhope, Countess of Harrington (née Lady Caroline FitzRoy; 8 April 1722 – 26 June 1784) was a British socialite and demimonde. After being blackballed by the English social group The Female Coterie, she founded The New Female Coterie, a social club of courtesans and “fallen women” that met in a brothel. Known for her infidelity and bisexuality, she was nicknamed the “Stable Yard Messalina” due to her adulterous lifestyle. Her “colourful” life is often contrasted with that of her daughter-in-law, Jane Stanhope, Countess of Harrington, who was viewed as a respectable member of British high society.

18th-century British demimonde
Caroline Stanhope
Countess of Harrington

Portrait of Lady Caroline FitzRoy by Richard Cosway
Born Caroline FitzRoy
8 April 1722
Died 26 June 1784
Noble family FitzRoy (by birth)
Stanhope (by marriage)

(m. 1746; died 1779)

Issue Isabella Molyneux, Countess of Sefton
Charles Stanhope, 3rd Earl of Harrington
Father Charles FitzRoy, 2nd Duke of Grafton
Mother Lady Henrietta Somerset
Occupation Socialite, demimonde

. . . Caroline Stanhope, Countess of Harrington . . .

Lady Caroline was born on 8 April 1722, the fifth child of Charles FitzRoy, 2nd Duke of Grafton and Lady Henrietta Somerset, the daughter of Charles Somerset, Marquess of Worcester.[1][2]

Lady Caroline married William Stanhope, 2nd Earl of Harrington on 11 August 1746. Together they had seven children, including Isabella Molyneux, Countess of Sefton and Charles Stanhope, 3rd Earl of Harrington.[3] Lady Caroline and her husband were both notorious for their extramarital affairs, but they chose to stay married to prevent the scandal of divorce.[4][5] Lady Caroline was reportedly bisexual and had male and female lovers.[6]

Due to her rather scandalous reputation in society, Lady Caroline was blackballed from the Female Coterie, an elite social group, affiliated with Almack’s, for members of London’s high society. Lady Caroline instead founded her own group, The New Female Coterie, which included other members of the British upper class who were shunned by high society due to their reputations, particularly for women who had been guilty of committing adultery.[7][5] The meetings were held in a brothel owned by Sarah Prendergast. Seymour Fleming, Lady Worsley, the sister of Lady Caroline’s daughter-in-law, was among the members of the new club.[1]

Lady Caroline was nicknamed “Stable Yard Messalina” by the press.[8][9] The nickname was a reference to Empress Messalina, the controversial wife of Roman Emperor Claudius, and to the Harrington home in St James’s Park, located near the stable yard.[10]Town & Country published a story accusing her of having affairs with all echelons of society “from a monarch down to a hairdresser.”[5]

. . . Caroline Stanhope, Countess of Harrington . . .

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. . . Caroline Stanhope, Countess of Harrington . . .

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