A number of alliances between actresses and peers of the realm took place or were current in the Edwardian era, almost all of them in the face of tremendous opposition from the families of the noblemen involved. Often, the young peers were ostracised by their families, and those that did not yet have independent incomes were often deprived of their allowances so that their new wives had to carry on working to support them.
It might have been expected under such circumstances that many of these marriages might have come to a swift and unhappy ending. In fact, however, the opposite seems to have been very much the norm. In many instances these marriages seem to have turned the men involved from indolent idlers to productive and respected members of their social class, and the actresses initially seen as pariahs were frequently elevated to become the darlings of their new families.
Reproduced below are two period articles discussing the successes of these high profile marriages.
THE FREDERICK POST - FREDERICK, MARYLAND - 15th Aug, 1913
MOST MARRIAGES OF ENGLISH PEERS WITH ACTRESSES HAPPY
Instances of Unhappy Alliances of This Sort Are Exceedingly Rare
LONDON, Aug 14 - How to be happy though married to a peer. It sounds a good deal harder than it really is.
Despite the popular notion to the contrary, the life stories of a long line of English peeress-actresses, dating almost from the time womeu first appeared before the footlights, show that it isn't a problem after all. In fact, the instances of unhappy alliances between the nobility and the stage have been so rare as to have caused considerable speculation recently how the idea originated that such unions necessarily mean social ostracism for the wife among her husband's friends.
When the young Marquis of Northampton jilted Daisy Markham, of the "Glad Eye," he gave two reasons: that his father — then near to death — had extracted from him a solemn promise that he would never marry the girl, and other that he was throwing her over for her own good.
"The ways of the world are hard," he wrote. "You don't know how these so-called ladies would treat you. I could not bear to see you suffering." The jurymen in giving the little actress an unprecedented heart balm of one-fourth million dollars evidently didn't regard either reason as valid, but probably they didn't know at the time that practically all the weight of historical evidence was against the boycott theory — or they might have made it a million.
First One Won a Place
The very first actress to marry into the English nobility was able to conquer the new world in which she found herself, and that at a period when actors generally were regarded as little better than vagabonds and only fifty years after women began to be employed on the stage. True, it took Lord Peterborough thirteen years to summon sufficient nerve to announce his secret marriage with Anastasia Robinson, but the "so-called ladies" of that day then promptly received the actress wife. The Duchess of Portland referred to her as "a very dear friend, which is Lady Peterborough," and such other testimony as is available indicates that she was held in genuine esteem by all women of her husband's aristocratic circle.
Lady Wortley Montague wrote concerning Lavinia Fenton, who in 1751 became the wife of the Duke of Bolton: "Though she was regarded in an alehouse, she finds the way to esteem, whereas the late duchess, although crammed with virtue and good qualities, was despised by her husband and laughed at by the public."
Many Have Had Success
When the twelfth Earl of Denby married Eliza Farren six weeks after her farewell appearance as Lady Teazle at Drury Lane Theater, she was presented at court where she was received with marked favor by royalty, a hint which society generally was quick to act upon. Another early marriages of actresses and peers which resulted happilly were those of Louise Brunton and the Earl of Craven; Mary Bolton who became Lady Thurlow; and Kitty Stephens, who married the Earl of Essex. Frances Braham, after her marriage with Earl Waldegrave, became a leader of society, and Harriet Meilon of Drury Lane was admired universally and respected as the Duchess of St. Albans.
Present day evidence is none the less convincing. Baroness de Clifford, once the beautiful Eva Carrington, was thoroughly happy until her husband's death. Camille Clifford, the "Gibson Girl." who married the Hon. Henry Lyndhurst Bruce, and who will therefore someday be Lady Aberdare, has made good in London society. Rosie Boote, formerly a great favourite on the English stage, is now the Marchioness of Headfort, one of the most popular of the "grand ladies" of Ireland. Twenty-four years ago the Earl of Clancarty made a bet with some friends on the street that he would marry the first girl he met. Belle Bilton, then appearing at the Oxford Music Hall, happened to be the one. He proposed at once and later was accepted. The earl's family was furious and insisted that he divorce her, even going to the extent of trying to compromise her. But Clancarty refused. The unconventional match proved to be a happy one for both, and before Belle's death the earl had the satisfaction of seeing her accepted by society generally.
Among other notable stage and peerage romances of recent years, all of which have culminated in singularly happy unions, were those of the Earl of Poulett and Sylvia Storey; Denise Orme, now Lady Churston; Frances Donnelly and Lord Ashburton; Estelle Berridge, who became Lady Clopmell, and Connie Gilchrist, who married the seventh earl of Orkney. "I have found it roses all the way," said the Countess of Orkney to a friend the other day."
Depends Entirely Upon The Actress
"I believe the 'so-called ladies' will make a place for any actress who marries into their own class, if she has a gentle heart," said Lady Muir-Mackenzie — one of the "so-called" — in an interview growing out of the Northampton affair. "Those who take the view that class hatred is a real thing have perhaps not noticed that change of thought that has taken place among English women of the upper classes. The best among them no longer admire the do nothings and eat-alls, either among men or women. It is those who can write, or speak, or act that are sought after by society in these days."
THE WASHINGTON POST - 26th March 1916
Do Actresses Make suitable Wives for Noblemen
His Grace the Duke of Manchester Recalling Instances Among His Acquaintances in the British Peerage, Is Sure That Stage Marriages Are Successful
BY HIS GRACE THE DUKE OF MANCHESTER
When I first read this conundrum that the editor had put me I knew at once that it was a base attempt to revive the foolish question craze. It ranks with and after the question "Do married women make the best wives?"
However, if he really wants to know my opinion, he is welcome to it at the price. Mind you, if you take the question seriously, it really comes down to the question whether there is such a thing as a suitable wife for a nobleman, and the still more abstruse question whether there is such a thing as a suitable nobleman for a wife.
What Is an Actress?
And then you've got to go into the question of what suitability is. To add to all these difficulties you have to decide what is an actress within the meaning of the act. Let us start at the end and work backward in order to make it more complicated. What is an actress can only be decided by each individual from his own point of view, but I suppose we all think of the great artists on the stage — Sarah Bernhardt, Rejane in France, for instance; Irene Vanbrugh, Marie Tempest in England; Maude Adams, Julia Marlowe, Nazimova in America. Please note, I cite these as types and do not mean that is a complete list of this type of actress in those countries, still the number is small, and while I do not say they would not make suitable wives for noblemen, if the noblemen were so lucky as to be allowed to marry them, I do say that I know few noblemen who would be suitable husbands for them, either by upbringing, instinct or taste. But this class is more limited than even they themselves think. The following, if not "Verdi," is at least "ben Trovatere," as they say in opera.
The Toole-Irving Joke
Johnny Toole, the great English comedian, was a great friend of Henry Irving, and they used always to be chaffing each other. One night at supper Toole said: "Henry, I dreamed a curious dream last night. I dreamed I died and went up to heaven and St. Peter asked me my name. I gave It. 'What, Johnny Toole, the actor? I'm sorry, you can't come in,' and he pointed to a notice, which said, 'No actors admitted.'
"Sorrowfully turning away, I took one backward glance into Paradise and caught sight of you, Henry. 'I beg your pardon,' said I to St. Peter. 'How do you make that out? There's my friend Irving inside.' 'Yes, but that's different,' St. Peter replied. 'We all know Toole; he's a real actor. Irving only thinks he is.'"
Musical Comedy Marriages
The next spreading of the net catches the ordinary leading lady in all branches of the profession, who does not of necessity place her art before everything. Well, I can't think offhand of any modern instance of a nobleman having the good fortune to marry one of these ladies, although at least one duchess in the past was an ornament to the stage before she became an adornment to the peerage. But when we come to the next sweep of the net and take in the "small part" lady and the musical comedy chorus we have something to go on.
I can think of eight or ten such marriages offhand, and the great majority have been apparently eminently successful and satisfactory to the persons concerned, and when you think of the dead weight of prejudice that there is against such marriages in England among the female portion of the aristocracy they must have been truly suited to each other to live so happily.
Rescuing a Son
One young nobleman I know was a case in point. Some years ago his mother (his father was dead) sent for a friend of his, a man of some experience, and said: "I beg of you to go and find my son. He has disappeared." The friend tracked him down and found him stupefied in the apartment of a woman of the class often maliciously and untruthfully called "actresses," and about in that condition to be taken out by this woman to be married.
The friend rescued him, sobered him up and took him home to his mother. She was profuse in her thanks. Six months later the mother sent again; Son was in trouble Once more. "Well," said the friend, "what is it this time?" "Oh, dear, he's going to be married to a dreadful woman called ****** in musical comedy! Do go and stop him." "Certainly not," said the friend. "She is a charming lady, very talented, well educated, and if she really is going to marry him he is an extremely lucky fellow." The mother was furious, and never spoke to the friend again, but he was right. The marriage has proved a brilliant success. She has turned a somewhat foolish boy into a steady and useful man, and her company and friendship is sought after by society, and she is the darling of the boy's mother, who has come to believe that she chose her for him herself.
"All Women Are Actresses"
I think the prejudice against a nobleman marrying an actress from the point of view of the women of the aristocracy is, first, the "trades union" or "protection of home industries" instinct, and, secondly, the discredit brought on the word "actress" by the application of the term to people who have no claim to the honor and who belong to an old but discreditable profession.
The last sweep of all takes in every woman in the world, I think, for all women are actresses, whether they perform behind the footlights or display their talents on the home stage to the bewilderment of their men folk. Why, some women even laugh at their husband's jokes!
The Chief Consideration
To sum up, the only suitable wife for a nobleman — as for every man — is the wife who suits him and whom he suits. They have mutual love and respect and aspirations and tastes in common. As in every walk of life, there are good and bad noblemen, and good and bad actresses, just as there are good and bad persons and good and bad newspaper men (at least I think there are bad newspaper men). And nobody in this world can be certain how his or her marriage is going to turn out till they've tried and found out how the apparent good qualities stand the test of absolute intimacy.
And as such intimacy before marriage is not "bien vue" in Aryan countries, there must inevitably he unsuited marriages. But the fact that of the two high contracting parties one is an actress and the other a nobleman does not, ipso facto, mean an unsuitable marriage by any means.