The speculation regarding the death of Dorothy, Viscountess Townshend, in 1726 has been hashed over for almost three-hundred years. I’ll lay out some of what’s been written to allow you to make up your own mind. Whether or not the famous photograph of the Brown Lady descending the staircase is real is not the point. What really happened to Lady Dorothy is the mystery. That she haunted Raynham Hall is pretty much a given with or without the photograph. She’s been “seen” by too many people, too many times over the centuries, wearing a brown brocade dress and looking like her painting. George IV, when he was Prince Regent, visited Raynham Hall, saw her and nearly did the “run screaming into the night” shtick. Another idiot tried to shoot her, maybe not the best authority, but it happened while he was with two others. The list goes on. And on. Let’s get to the clues. Some at least, because there are tons.
It’s written that Dorothy, thirteenth child of the Walpole’s, fell in love with Townshend but her father, who was also guardian to Townshend, would not allow them to marry. Walpole feared public suspicion that he would be perceived as throwing the youths together for personal and social gain. Townshend ended up marrying the daughter of Baron Pelham. His wife died in 1711, and not long after that, Dorothy and Townshend married. From then on, Dorothy was perpetually pregnant. She bore seven children to add to the five Townshend had with his first wife. There is no mention, of course, of the lost pregnancies that could have happened between births. The point is, the two of them kept busy. Then came trouble.
While Townshend was married to his first wife, Dorothy wasn’t idle. Whether she was seduced or forced, she had an involvement with Lord Wharton, a “profligate” sort, who later fled the country to avoid debts. This guy was so bad he was declared an outlaw and stripped of his titles in 1729. Somewhere along the way Townshend found out about the old affair, and from that point on, Dorothy was “locked up” in her apartments, separated from her children.
It’s been written that Dorothy died of mysterious circumstances that include everything from small pox, a fall or a push down stairs, or a broken heart. It was also suggested that she never died in 1726, at the age of forty, but that Townshend continued to keep her locked up for years.
When it comes to the truth about being locked up, or cruelly treated, I have to wonder about her family. Dorothy’s brother, the famous PM, Sir Robert Walpole, was also a business partner of Townshend’s. Seems odd that Sir Robert would allow anything too grim to happen to his sister. Husbands held complete legal power over their spouses, there was no interfering with that, but families had been known to intervene. Then again, Sir Robert could have been ticked at his sister for letting it get about that she had a thing with a guy as slimy as Wharton. Townshend and Walpole were prominent politicians. Reputations must be maintained.
Then there’s small pox. I didn’t find mention that anyone else in the household had it, but a servant outbreak might never be noted. It is contagious, which could be a reason why she was set apart, or maybe it wasn’t really small pox, but the other “pox” kind, venereal disease. If she were the type to “get around” during the safe times of perpetual pregnancy, she could have picked it up.
It’s often agreed that ghosts linger due to traumatic deaths or embittered life experiences. Why is Dorothy hanging around? Give it your best guess. Here are a few links.
And sorry about no personal post last week. I had a new ebook release, The Duchess and the Duelist, written as Julia Donner.
The attendant work involved and the holiday activity fried me down to the socket. See you next week. Happy New Year and ghost hunting!