English silver made for Harriet Beauclerk, Duchess of St. Albans (1777-1837) comes for sale at Chiswick Auctions this month. The June 21 sale includes a pair of George III chambersticks that once formed part of a massive service of thousands of ounces of silver collected by ‘the richest widow in the United Kingdom’.
This was the ultimate rags to riches tale.
Born into a traveling theatre troupe, Harriet first became famous as a child actress. In secret, and against substantial opposition from his family, she married banker Thomas Coutts (1735-1822) and upon his death in 1822 inherited his whole fortune of around £600,000. She married her second husband William Aubrey de Vere Beauclerk, 9th Duke of St Albans in 1827, writing a letter to Sir Walter Scott saying: “What a strange eventful life has mine been, from a poor little player child, with just food and clothes to cover me, dependent on a very precarious profession, without talent or a friend in the world – first the wife of the best, the most perfect being that ever breathed…and now the wife of a Duke!”
While dubbed ‘the richest widow in the United Kingdom’ by The Morning Post, Harriet became senior partner in Coutt’s & Co and took an active role in decisions made in the business. Under the term of her will, she did her utmost to protect the bank’s future and safeguarded the Coutts inheritance from beyond the grave.
The majority of the family silver was stored in vaults in Coutts until 1914 when some 35,000 ounces of silver formed part of the Coutts Heirloom sale. All elements of the service bear Harriet’s monogram and ducal coronet in prominent position rather than the Beauclerk crest, testimony to her strength of character and her position in the highest ranks in British society.
This pair of George III sterling silver chambersticks by Charles Price, London 1814 are expected to sell for £1,200-1,600.