One of the most scandalous women of the Victorian Era is Jane Elizabeth Digby. She was a woman known for her numerous marriages and affairs. But was she really so bad or was she just a victim of an era when women were seen as the property of their husbands rather than people in their own right?
Jane was born in Dorset, England, in 1807 to an aristocratic family. Her father was a decorated admiral in the British navy who was known for capturing enemy ships and taking their bounty.
Jane was an intelligent, independently wealthy woman who spoke nine languages, and was considered a talented artist and a magnificent horsewoman. She would have been coveted for these qualities alone, but Jane was also beautiful. Her peers described her as tall, with a perfect figure, blond and blue-eyed.
At the age of seventeen she married Edward Law, Lord Ellenborough, a man nearly twenty years her senior. Lord Ellenborough had a rising political career and it seems he spent many days and weeks away from the young, adventurous Jane. She responded to her loneliness by having affairs first with her cousin, Colonel George Anson, who it is rumored was the father of her son, Arthur. She must have also been sleeping with her husband at this time because Edward had no questions about paternity. Unfortunately, Arthur died in infancy.
Next she had an affair with Prince Felix Schwarzenberg. She became pregnant again and gave birth to a daughter, Mathilde, in 1829. This time Lord Ellenborough knew beyond a doubt that the child was not his.
Edward divorced Jane by act of Parliament in 1830. In this time period only two divorces a year were granted. The salacious details of this case caused a scandal that rocked England.
After her divorce, and against the wishes of her family Jane followed Felix to Munich, but the relationship ended when their son died soon after birth. Felix broke contact with Jane and it seems that she had no qualms about leaving her daughter to be raised by Felix’s sister.
Jane wasn’t alone for long, she soon caught the eye of Ludwig I of Bavaria and the pair became lovers. It was at this time that she met and married her second husband, Baron Karl von Venningen. They married in November 1833. This, it seems, was a marriage of convenience, and although Jane may have cared for Karl she wasn’t in love with him. Together they had a son, Heribert and a daughter, Bertha.
But Jane couldn’t or wouldn’t settle. Within five years she took another lover, Count Spyridon Theotokis of Greece. When Venningen found out he was furious and challenged Theotokis to a duel. Karl won the dual, injuring Spyridon, but lost the girl. Jane left her husband to care for her injured lover. Seeing that her affections had changed, Venningen released her from their marriage. He kept the children and took care of them, although, he and Jane remained friends and kept in touch for the rest of their lives.
Jane, now in Greece, converted to the Greek Orthodox faith and married Theotokis in 1841. The pair had a son, Leonidas. Tragically, he died at the age of six, after a fall from a balcony. Out of her five children, Leonidas was the only one she seemed to have truly loved and was devastated by his death. Her relationship with Theotokis ended and the coupled divorced.
Once again, Jane wasn’t alone for long; her next lover was King Otto of Greece. This just seems to have been a quick affair. And Jane moved on to Greek General, Christodoulos Hatzipetros. She threw herself into her life with him, living in caves, riding horses and hunting in the mountains. Christodoulos was a man famous for his womanizing and Jane walked out on him when she discovered he was cheating on her. (Okay, I’m surprised by this considering all the cheating she’d done in her life.)
In her mid-forties Jane travelled to Arabia where she met and fell in love with Sheik Abdul Medjuel El Mezrab, whom was fifteen years her junior. Their marriage seems to have been a happy one, built on compromise. She wanted to be married in the European sense whereas he wanted to keep his harem. It is rumored that they agreed to be monogamous for three years after that time he would reinstate his harem and could take other wives. By all accounts, Jane loved the Bedouin life, living for six months a year travelling, and sleeping in a tent. The other six months were spent in her palatial home in Damascus. Her marriage lasted nearly thirty years until her death in 1871.
Jane was definitely a woman out of time. She seemed to yearn for adventure, and men were a part of that. She doesn’t seem to have had much in the way of maternal instinct. I think her children were just a byproduct of sleeping with men in an era where there was no such thing as reliable contraceptives.
I like to believe she found the life she was looking for with the Bedouin. The fact that everyday was different would have been fun for her. And when she got tired of sleeping in a tent she could return to her comfortable home in Damascus.
What happens when Annabel meets James? You’ll have to read the book to find out.
A WOMAN OF LOVE is part of the Honour, Love and Courage series from Marlow Kelly:
When her dissolute husband insists that Lady Annabel Peters bed one of his villainous cohorts to repay a gambling debt, she is scandalized. But she is forced to agree because he controls every aspect of her life.
A physically and emotionally crippled war hero, James Drake has retreated from society. At the request of his brother, he manipulates events so he can interrogate Annabel, a woman he thinks may be part of a ring of thieves.
Neither of them count on an instant and overwhelming attraction. James may now believe Annabel but she suspects her husband plans to kill her. As one of her husband’s friends, James is not to be trusted.
Yet how can she escape a man who has the ability to control her with a gentle kiss?
She swung around, and came face to face with a demon. He was tall, and broad with long, black hair, a bushy beard, and a scar that traversed his right cheek, narrowly missing his eye. Shadows darkened his face with stark lines making him look like a man who had come straight from hell. She straightened her spine. He was a man, plain and simple. Not a demon, and certainly not from hell. She needed to keep her whimsical thoughts at bay, so she could form a plan.
“Have you changed your mind regarding our rendezvous?” His soft-spoken, polite manner seemed strangely at odds with his appearance.
“I-I never agreed to...” She licked her lips. Why was her mouth so dry? Had his intense gaze turned her into a blathering nitwit?
Yes, she was. It had been years since a man had caressed her with anything close to tenderness.
Buy Links for A WOMAN OF LOVE:
Author Marlow Kelly
After being thrown out of England for refusing to drink tea, Marlow Kelly made her way to Canada where she found love, a home and a pug named Max. She also discovered her love of storytelling. Encouraged by her husband, children and let’s not forget Max, she started putting her ideas to paper. Her need to write about strong women in crisis drives her stories and her curiosity regarding the lives and loves of historical figures are the inspiration for her characters. You can visit Marlow at www.marlowkelly.com.
Marlow's Social media Links:
Marlow be awarding a $10 Amazon egift-card to a lucky winner via Rafflecopter.
Readers can go to www.marlowkelly.com to get the tour dates and follow the tour. The more you comment, tweet and follow the more chances you have to win. Giveaway runs from 4th March until 31st March.