Susan Priscilla Tarleton (Bertie) (1778 - 1864)

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Birthplace: England
Death: Died in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, England
Managed by: Erica Isabel Howton, (c)
Last Updated:

About Susan Priscilla Tarleton (Bertie)

Susan Priscilla Bertie was born illegitimately in 1778 in England and died on August 13th, 1864, aged eighty-seven, in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire.

Parents: daughter of Robert Bertie, 4th Duke of Ancaster and Kesteven and Rebecca Krudener.

Married:

  1. on 17 December 1798 to General Sir Bannastre Tarleton, 1st and last Bt., son of John Tarleton. [1][2]

Notes

Robert Bertie died at age twenty-two, possibly of a combination of heat stroke and excessive drinking. In his will he left Susan a comfortable inheritance and the legal right to his name. His mother, the dowager Duchess of Ancaster, persuaded Rebecca to allow her to adopt Susan Priscilla. In her grandmother's care, the little girl was raised within one of England's most powerful and influential families. By the time she was twenty, Susan was variously described as well-educated, accomplished in music, eccentric, spoiled, intelligent and quite imperious. She liked to ride unruly horses, she kept numerous pets, and while she loved the mad whirl of London society, she did not approve of vices such as heavy drinking and gambling. [3]

She was, as Holley once so aptly phrased it, "the handful Fate had bestowed on an aging stud muffin."

Susan and Banastre met in 1798 when he was attending a house party at Houghton Hall in Norfolk [see links], the country seat of Lord Cholmondeley, who was Susan's uncle by marriage. Susan was being widely courted at the time, by a circle of admirers that included Beau Brummell (less than seriously), and (quite seriously) the Duke of Bedford. Ban was old enough to be her father -- in fact, he was two years older than her father -- and in the throws of a midlife crisis. His long relationship with Mary Robinson had recently come to an end, he was trying to kick his chronic gambling habit, and he was questioning his political alliances. He was, to put it mildly, no longer having a good time with the riotous lifestyle he'd been living for the past twenty years. [4]

They were as unlikely a couple as could be found, but, gray-haired or not, Ban had lost none of his infinite charm. Virtually penniless, and in the face of a circle of rivals which included a wealthy and powerful duke, he courted Susan and won her hand in less than a week. In fact, the Sun newspaper gossiped, "In three days the match was settled, and the lady was content to resign all the luxuries of the fashionable life to attend her military husband abroad on his professional duties."[5]

In their reports on the wedding, a few newspapers added a dig at Susan's parentage which Bass believed was a final, vindictive barb from the "forsaken" Mary Robinson, who at the time was editor of the poetry column in the Morning Post. Other papers, such as Bell's Weekly Messenger, picked up on the gossip: "The Miss Bertie, whom General Tarleton has espoused, is a natural daughter of his late friend, the young Duke of Ancaster. Mrs. Tarleton's maiden name is Kreudorer [s.b. Krudener], and not Bertie. The natural relationship which she bears to the family of Ancaster induced many to suppose that she bore the name of that Noble house. Mrs. Tarleton is reckoned one of the most beautiful young women within the circle of fashion." [8]

Susan's dowry is mentioned in nearly all of the newspaper accounts of their wedding. (Variously reported anywhere from £12,000 to £20,000.) No doubt it enhanced her initial attraction for Tarleton, but it is somewhat misleading. Invested wisely -- and Susan seems to have possessed considerably more financial wisdom than her new husband -- it represented an income of roughly £600 a year. That amount would provide a very comfortable lifestyle, but not a lavish one. Susan was not fabulously rich. She was, however, sensible. [9]

Despite a few rough years near its beginning, marred by Banastre's acknowledgment of an illegitimate daughter, their thirty-five year marriage seems to have been happy. By November, 1803, Lady Harriet Cavendish gossiped to her sister that, "General and Mrs. Tarleton are thought too conjugal, as they always sit on the same chair and eat out of the same plate." When she met Susan soon afterward at the fashionable spa at Bath she gushed to her sister,

But my adoration at present is dear little Mrs. Tarleton. She is perfectly delightful and so kind to me that that alone would almost make me love her. I was with her yesterday from 2 till 5, and she is so entertaining, merry and goodhumoured that it seemed like 10 minutes. I was quite ashamed coming home loaded with presents, for whatever I looked at, she gave me and she lent me the most beautiful books to read. It is delightful to have her too at the stupid rooms and I am quite delighted with her being here. The only flaw in her character is her great admiration of Miss Seymour, but that I am doomed to meet with. She [Mrs. Tarleton] is rather pretty, I think, but so original, so remplie de talents, so fond of her husband, so good and so giddy. [10]

Susan seems to have also turned that sense and good judgment to weaning Banastre away from both the worst of his vices -- which no doubt helped his life expectancy, to say nothing of his finances -- and his radical politics. She accompanied him to Portugal, Ireland and a parade of different army posts in England until he finally retired. Eventually, they settled down in a country house which still stands in the village of Leintwardine, Herefordshire.

In Leintwardine, they lived out the remainder of Banastre's life in bucolic tranquility. During those years, Ban kept a personal journal filled with sketches and scraps of poetry. One short poem expresses both his affection and his awareness of the effect Susan had on his life:

  • "To Lady Tarleton
  • By ambition tormented, by fortune sore crossed
  • Without little Su, I had paradise lost
  • Though deep sunk in debt, yet my fame was unstained
  • And winning Sweet Susan, I had paradise gained" B.T.12

Interesting aside

Whatever Susan may have felt about her husband's ex-mistress, Mary Robinson, it would seem she became friends with Mary's daughter, Mary (or Maria) Elizabeth. In 1804, Mary Elizabeth published an anthology entitled The Wild Wreath, which contained poems by her mother, Coleridge, Monk Lewis and several others. What makes this especially interesting is that the engravings for the book are based on drawings by "Mrs. B. Tarleton." The text of the collection is available online here and I am posting some examples of the engravings done for Susan's illustrations

Will

Her will begins with the admonition, "I direct that my funeral shall be private and as economically conducted as decency will admit and I direct that under no circumstances shall...my Executors expend theron a larger sum than one hundred pounds," which supports hints that in later life she developed an excessive frugality, unrelated to her comfortable financial circumstances.

The will goes on for several pages, suggesting that her widowhood was far from lonely. She left sizeable bequests to one Chevalier Franscisco d'Orhando de la Banda of Berne Switzerland and his three children, as well as to a number of others -- presumably friends or neighbors -- in addition to recognizable members of her family and Banastre's. [2]

Sources

Citations

  1. [S229] Burke John and John Bernard Burke, A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Extinct and Dormant Baronetcies of England (1841, reprint; Baltimore, Maryland, USA: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1985), page 519. Hereinafter cited as Extinct and Dormant Baronetcies of England.
  2. The Gentleman's Magazine 134: 398. Will of Priscilla Susanna Tarleton, proved at London 10th September 1864.
  3. Robert D. Bass, The Green Dragoon; The Lives of Banastre Tarleton and Mary Robinson (New York: Henry Holt and Company; 1957), pp42-43. Some sources give Susan's name as "Priscilla Susan" rather than "Susan Priscilla." The parish registrations for her birth and her marriage to Banastre Tarleton (IGI versions) list her as "Susan Priscilla." Bass used that form throughout The Green Dragoon, and printed a letter from Banastre to one of his brothers in which he referred to her as "Susan." Her death certificate, however, lists her as "Priscilla Susan Tarleton", and in her will she signs herself "Priscilla Susanna Tarleton." A childhood friend, mentioning Susan Priscilla in her memoirs, calls her "Priscilla." (See Frances, Lady Shelley, The Diary Of Frances Lady Shelley, 1787-1817, ed. Richard Edgcumbe, 2 vols. (London: John Murray, Albemarle Street, W., 1912-13), 1:44.) So, it's rather confusing, but I'm continuing to use the form which seems most common.
  4. Bass, p42-43. Information on Rebecca's marriage comes from the IGI.
  5. Bass, p385-389, quoting from a mixture of letters and newspaper reports.
  6. Bass, p385-389.
  7. Bass, p385-389. Sun quote, p386.
  8. Palmerston's letter (December 9, 1798) and the reply (December 14) are from Brian Connell, Portrait of a Whig Peer: Compiled from the Papers of the Second Viscount Palmerston, 1739-1802, (London: Andre Deutsch, 1957), pp405-406.
  9. The Times (18 Dec. 1793), p3. The "Miss Seymour" who was one of Susan's bridesmaids was probably a natural daughter of George, Prince of Wales, though Lord Cholmondeley is sometimes cited as her father. She and Susan were raised together.
  10. Bass, p386. Bell's Weekly Messenger (23 Dec. 1788).
  11. This assumes that the whole of Susan's £12,000 dowry was invested, and they lived off the dividends. By comparison, Mary Robinson received a £500 annuity from Prinny -- though it was not always paid on time -- plus the income from her writing, so the two women had roughly the same annual incomes, albeit vastly different ways of spending them. (Thanks to Linden Salter for pointing out this interesting fact.)
  12. Lady Harriette Cavendish to Lady Georgiana Morpeth, 22 November 1803, in Lady Harriet Cavendish, Hary-O, The Letters of Lady Harriet Cavendish. Ed. Sir George Leveson Gower. (London: John Murray, 1940), 1:83. Lady Harriet Cavendish to Lady Georgiana Morpeth, 30 December 1803, in Cavendish, 1:90.
  13. Lady Harriet Cavendish to Miss Trimmer, 19 January 1804, in Cavendish, 1:90.
  14. Sue Adams, Sir Banastre Tarleton (Published by the Leintwardine History Group in aid of the church of St. Mary Magdalene, Leintwardine, 2004), p11. The quote comes from an unpublished journal in the possession of Maurice Drake.
  15. A. G. Bradley, "Book Notes and Byways: Tarleton's Tomb," The Nation 103 (1916): 441. Bass, p450-453.
  16. The Gentleman's Magazine 134: 398. Will of Priscilla Susanna Tarleton, proved at London 10th September 1864.
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Susan Priscilla Tarleton's Timeline

1778
1778
England
1798
December 17, 1798
Age 20
Lord Gwydir's home at Whitehall, England
1864
August 13, 1864
Age 86
Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, England