Wild Facts About Seymour Fleming, The Regency Scandal-Maker

July 10, 2024 | Rachel Seigel

Wild Facts About Seymour Fleming, The Regency Scandal-Maker

Seymour Fleming, The Regency Scandal-Maker

Forget the prim and proper world of Jane Austen novels: Seymour Dorothy Fleming, aka Lady Worsley, was the most scandalous woman of the Regency. Known for being a wild child, she became famous for her numerous conquests and witty quips. But she also made headlines for a torrid affair and a drama-filled lawsuit. Strap in: Here's the story of the "Scandalous Lady W".

Seymour Fleming Split

1. Her Childhood Was Tragic

Seymour Fleming entered a world of drama right from the get-go. She was born to the Irish baron Sir John Fleming and Lady Jane Coleman, but her father and two of her sisters perished when Seymour was only five years old. That left little Seymour with just her mother and her demure, pretty sister Jane.

Seymour FlemingWikipedia

2. She Was A Risk-Taker

If you looked up the 18th century's definition of the perfect woman, Fleming would not fit the bill. She was highly independent, unafraid to speak her mind, and determined to do as she pleased. Seymour's brazen behavior and saucy quips completely defied expectations for women of the time.

Seymour Fleming FactsThe Scandalous Lady W,BBC Two

3. Tragedy Made Her An Heiress

Upon their father’s death, Fleming and her sister Jane received a sizeable inheritance. Along with their striking beauty, this recent cash injection made both of them very desirable on the 18th century dating scene. According to the British tabloids, Seymour was worth about 70,000 pounds at the time of her marriage. Not too shabby!

Seymour Fleming FactsWikimedia Commons

4. Her Husband Immediately Betrayed Her

Fleming’s eventual husband, the baronet Sir Richard Worsley, first came sniffing around the sisters when they were still in their early teen years. But his wooing hid a dark detail: When Worsley initially called on the Fleming girls, he wasn't romancing Seymour, but her sister Jane. Talk about an awkward way to meet.

Seymour Fleming FactsWikipedia

5. Her Marriage was Doomed From the Start

Unfortunately for Worsley, he just didn't appeal to prim and proper Jane Fleming. Instead, she trotted off and married the well-to-do Earl of Harrington. But Worsley didn't give up—after all, there was another perfectly good Fleming girl available. He met up with 17-year-old Seymour at the York races and married his consolation prize by 1775.

Despite their meet-ugly, Fleming is believed to have loved Worsley at the time, but she didn’t stay in love for long...

Seymour Fleming FactsWikimedia Commons

6. The Law was Against Her

Fleming’s marriage contract was more like a prison sentence. The document was totally skewed in favor of her husband, giving over most of Seymour's wealth to Worsley. When all was said and done, he had total ownership of her and her property until he perished, and she had a small allowance of 400 pounds a year for clothing and other incidentals. Her wardrobe alone probably cost that much!

Improve Their Lives factsShutterstock

7. Her Husband Used Her

With his marriage to Fleming, Worsley found himself with everything he’d wanted—and he was eager to show off his new prize. While Seymour was still new and shiny to her hubby, Worsley took her to all the balls, dinners, and parties he could. With the belle of the ball on his arm, Worsley enjoyed some major butt-kissing from his friends and acquaintances. But the good times wouldn't last forever.

Seymour Fleming FactsThe Scandalous Lady W,BBC Two

8. She Gave Him a Passive Aggressive "Gift"

Worsley was so pleased with his upward marriage that he rewarded himself with a pretty cringey gift: A grandiose portrait not of him and his wife...but just of himself. He posed for the painting while wearing his spiffy army uniform, preening like the gentleman he wanted everyone to see him as.

But what about the wife who bankrolled this elaborate selfie? Fleming passive aggressively commissioned an almost identical portrait of herself as a "gift" for her husband. Touché.

Seymour Fleming FactsShutterstock

9.  Her Marital Life was a Mess

Marrying Fleming was just the beginning of Worsley’s aspirations. He turned his focus to his career and rose through the government ranks, leaving Seymour neglected. According to Fleming, it took her husband three long months to even get intimate with her after marriage. And that's not even the worst part: On the rare occasion that the couple made it into the bedroom, Worsley wasn't even a good lover.

Even so, Seymour trucked on, producing the required male heir in 1776.

Seymour Fleming FactsThe Scandalous Lady W,BBC Two

10. She Ran with a Scandalous Crowd

With her husband otherwise occupied, Fleming started looking for new ways to entertain herself. She quickly joined Lady Georgina Devonshire and her fashionable group of friends. Like any pack of Regency mean girls, Georgiana's circle was know for wicked quips, and hard-partying. "The Ton," as they were called, would drink and gamble all night long. Their influence would impact the entire course of Seymour's life.

Seymour Fleming FactsThe Scandalous Lady W,BBC Two

11. She Inspired a Risqué Character

Fleming’s gallivanting and affairs earned her enough notoriety that she inspired a bad girl character in one of the most popular plays of the period: Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s School for Scandal. Everyone turned out in droves to see the show, which was great for Sheridan's career...but not so great for Seymour Fleming's reputation.

She was supposed to be a proper wife, but here she was, inspiring a shamelessly flirtatious character. Another woman would have watched her step—but not Seymour.

Seymour Fleming FactsRawpixel

12. She Played a Wild Prank

Between Christmas and New Years of 1778-79, Fleming travelled to Harewood to spend the holidays with her mother and stepfather. At the family’s extravagant masquerade ball, Fleming and two of her gal pals got into some mischief. They went through the male guests’ belongings and threw their clothes out of the window. It sounds like a harmless prank—but it had horrific consequences. 

Seymour Fleming FactsThe Scandalous Lady W,BBC Two

13. Her Parents Were Ashamed of Her

The men didn’t take Fleming’s antics lightly, and one of them was so furious that he got his revenge. One guest, Mr. Wrightson, took the girls' clothing and hung it in a tree overnight. Fleming's high-society family was not impressed that their daughter used their home for a prank battle. Seymour was starting to gain a reputation for being out of control, and for a woman in the Regency, that was a death sentence.

Seymour Fleming FactsThe Scandalous Lady W,BBC Two

14. Her Husband Invited Drama into their Home

In 1780, a handsome young gentleman named Maurice George Bisset turned the Worsleys' lives upside down. He arrived on the Isle of Wight and moved into Knighton Gorges manor a few miles away from Seymour and Mr. Worsley’s estate. It turned out the neighbors had a lot in common. Worsley got his new friend a cushy job in the militia, but their relationship would soon take a very dark turn.

Seymour Fleming FactsThe Scandalous Lady W,BBC Two

15. She Had a Torrid Affair

In 1778, France declared war on Britain, leading the Worsleys to freak the heck out. They hightailed it out of the Isle of Wight and moved onto the mainland, settling in Kent. Worsley rented a fashionable house and, being a nice guy, invited his new buddy Bisset to join Seymour and himself. Can you see where this going? Yeah, the two men were soon sharing more than just a house.

Seymour Fleming FactsThe Scandalous Lady W,BBC Two

16. Her Husband was Perverse

Most men wouldn’t have wanted their buddy to even glance at their wives, but Worsley supposedly encouraged Bisset to do way more than that. According to one story, in 1781, while visiting Maidstone’s bathhouse, the men discovered a high window that peered into Seymour's private chambers. This creepy discovery gave Worsley a deranged idea.

Seymour Fleming FactsThe Scandalous Lady W,BBC Two

17. She Was Secretly Surveilled

When Seymour was getting changed, Worsley called out to his wife to tell her that Bisset was going to climb up and take a look at her. Worsley then proceeded to lift Bisset up on his shoulder so he could peek in on an undressed Fleming and her servant. Apparently, Fleming looked great in the buff because soon after Bisset caught a peek, he and Fleming struck up a torrid affair literally under Worsley's nose.

Seymour Fleming FactsThe Scandalous Lady W,BBC Two

18. She Had a Love Child

Seymour Fleming's life was a rollercoaster of emotion. She gave birth to her son in 1776, but the boy perished when he was still young. By 1781, she became pregnant again...but there was just one problem: The baby, uh, wasn't her husband's. When Fleming gave birth to her daughter Jane, Lord Worsley claimed she was his, but Fleming knew better. Jane's true father was Fleming's lover, Bisset.

Babies FactsPixabay

19. She Risked Everything for Love

Had Bisset and Fleming been discreet in any way, Worsley might have been able to avoid scandal, but they didn’t do him that favor. Six years of being unhappily married was enough for Fleming and she was ready to lash out. She began planning to abandon Worsley and run off with her new boy toy Bisset. Their scandalous elopement got into motion at a party in November 1781.

Seymour Fleming FactsThe Scandalous Lady W,BBC Two

20. She Embarked on a Dangerous Journey

On the night of the big party, Worsley wasn't feeling great, so Fleming and Bisset played it cool and went without him. But when the party ended, their plan kicked into gear. Bisset loudly said he'd walk Fleming home, but in reality, it was a lie to cover up their tryst. Fleming rode to Bisset's lodge and sent a scandalous note to her maid. She told her to send all Fleming's clothes to London because she was never coming home.

Seymour Fleming FactsThe Scandalous Lady W,BBC Two

21. Her Relationship was too Fiery

Early the next morning, the couple fled to London and covertly checked into a hotel as husband and wife. But the hotel staff noticed something was...off. Most husbands and wives low-key hated/at best tolerated one another, but here was this married couple making goo goo eyes at each other. Yup, in an ironic twist, Fleming and Bisset's chemistry ruined their ruse. Their plan was already falling apart.

Seymour Fleming FactsThe Scandalous Lady W,BBC Two

22. She Abandoned her Husband

On the same morning that Fleming and Bisset fled to London, Worsley woke up and realized that his wife never returned from the party. Panicked, he sent his butler and his wife’s maid to the host's house, leading him to discover that neither Fleming nor Bisset had been seen since they left the soiree in the same carriage. It didn't take long for Worsley to figure out what had happened.

Seymour Fleming FactsThe Scandalous Lady W,BBC Two

23. Her Husband Chased her for Days

For three frantic days, Worsley raced around London trying to find his runaway wife. The search finally ended when Fleming sent a girlfriend to do her dirty work. In an ice cold move, she enlisted an acquaintance to go see Worsley and let him know that their marriage was over. Worsley was devastated, but his sadness quickly transformed into fury.

Seymour Fleming FactsThe Scandalous Lady W,BBC Two

24. She Demanded a Divorce

Once Worsley received news of Fleming’s abandonment, he was in quite the bind. He could get a parliamentary divorce, which would let the couple remarry and avoid a scandal, though this option also had a major downside. If he went with this route, Worsley would have to support Fleming financially. Understandably, he did not want to pay the woman who had just publicly left him for his best friend.

Seymour Fleming FactsThe Scandalous Lady W,BBC Two

25. Her Ex-Husband Punished Her

The second option was often used by men whose wives cheated. This type of divorce would prevent Worsley and Fleming from remarrying while the other was still alive (again, avoiding social scandal), plus all he had to give her was a small annual sum. Worsley chose Divorce Package B, purely to punish Fleming for leaving him.

Seymour Fleming FactsThe Scandalous Lady W,BBC Two

26. Her Ex-Husband Was a Vicious Opponent

Worsley wasn’t about to let Fleming go without a fight, and he went to chilling lengths to get his way. He genuinely believed that he could hold their children captive until she came back to him. And here's the most terrifying part: He was right. Legally, adulteresses weren’t allowed to see their children, so by running off with Bisset, Fleming risked never seeing her daughter again.

Seymour Fleming FactsThe Scandalous Lady W,BBC Two

27. Her Ex was Hellbent on Revenge

Punishing Fleming wasn’t nearly satisfying enough for Worsley. Feeling double-crossed by his supposedly close friend, Worsley decided to sue him for "Criminal Conversation," aka cheating with Worsley's wife, at the most senior court in England. Strap in: The scandalous trial made jaws drop all over England. 

Seymour Fleming FactsThe Scandalous Lady W,BBC Two

28. Her Lover was in Grave Danger

Worsley decided to sue Bisset for 20,000 pounds (about 25 million today), hoping to really stick it to him. He figured that there was no way Bisset could afford even half of that (which was what Worsley figured he'd win) and Bisset would be forced to sell his property and be sent to debtor’s prison. Win-win for Worsley!

Seymour Fleming FactsThe Scandalous Lady W,BBC Two

29. She Endured a Humiliating Trial

The only way that Worsley would prove his adultery case was by producing witnesses who would testify that Bisset and Fleming had slept together. Bisset’s lawyer decided to recruit the hotel staff to confirm that they were sharing a room and a bed, and Worsley's servants to confirm their identities. Sounds like a slam dunk right? But think again...

Seymour Fleming FactsThe Scandalous Lady W,BBC Two

30. The Law Disregarded Her Humanity

The trial may have been about Fleming and her infidelity, but from a judicial standpoint she had no part in the proceedings. In a brutal insult, as far as the court was concerned, Fleming was just property. The trial simply had to determine the monetary value she held. Get this: If Bisset was found guilty, he’d be expected to pay damages to Worsley for spoiling his "property". Being a woman in the Georgian Era was something else, y'all.

Rest My Case factsShutterstock

31. Her Divorce was a Media Sensation

Criminal Conversation trials were the reality TV of the Georgian era. They were a popular form of entertainment at the time and if anything could make a newspaper sell, it was a juicy divorce lawsuit. The trials were open to the public, free to anyone who wanted to attend, and most importantly, there was a high likelihood of something scandalous coming out. And boy, was this one a doozy!

Seymour Fleming FactsThe Scandalous Lady W,BBC Two

32. She Stood by Her Man

Rather than slink off into the night defeated and humiliated, Fleming made a radical choice. She would support Bisset at his trial, come what may. This decision was incredibly dangerous, as it meant that Fleming would have to air her dirty laundry and potentially destroy her already-shaky reputation. But even with all these risks, this was still better than letting her husband destroy Bisset.

Unfortunately, Fleming's bravery would not be repaid by Bisset.

Seymour Fleming FactsThe Scandalous Lady W,BBC Two

33. A Lawyer Ruined her Reputation

As part of Bisset’s defense, his lawyer ran Fleming's reputation right into the ground. He claimed that it wasn’t possible for Bisset to have damaged Worsley’s wife, because he was just one of 27 rumored lovers. Not content to leave it at that, the lawyer also noted that one of these lovers was the hoity toity Marquess of Graham, and included the rumor that he'd given Fleming a transmitted infection.

Surprise, surprise: After these revelations, the trial became front page news.

Seymour Fleming FactsThe Scandalous Lady W,BBC Two

34. An Ex-Lover Made a Chilling Revelation

Fleming tried to have all of those men summoned to testify, but at the time, there was neither a legal requirement for a nobleman to appear in court. Three of her purported lovers did answer the call, but only one, Viscount Deerhurst, admitted to doing the deed with Fleming. Just as the crowd was glaring at Fleming, Deerhurst dropped a shocking detail: He only courted Fleming because Worsley himself encouraged it.

Seymour Fleming FactsThe Scandalous Lady W,BBC Two

35. Her Doctor Spilled her Secrets

In a shocking move, Bisset’s defense called Fleming’s doctor as a witness. Normally a doctor would have to honor doctor-patient confidentiality, but Fleming released her physician from that obligation to save her lover. The doctor testified that he’d treated her for a transmitted infection, and confirmed that she'd gotten it from the Marquess of Graham, not Bisset.

It might surprise you to learn that this lascivious detail actually helped Bisset's case. How? Strap in: After the doctor's testimony, the trial officially went off the rails.

Seymour Fleming FactsShutterstock

36. Her Husband was a Monster

As it turned out, Worsley was not as much of a victim as he’d made himself out to be. Over the course of the trial, it came out that he was a pretty big pervert. He reportedly forced Fleming to sleep with his friends while he either watched in secret through keyholes or joined in. That little tidbit didn’t do him any favors in court. In fact, it did just the opposite.

Seymour Fleming FactsThe Scandalous Lady W,BBC Two

37. The Trial Changed Everything

Amazingly enough, Bisset's chilling defense worked. The judge found that Worsley had effectively been pimping out his wife for a good part of their marriage and asked the jury to take this into consideration when deciding on damages. Fleming’s reputation was in tatters, but she'd dragged her filthy husband into the mud with her.

Seymour Fleming FactsThe Scandalous Lady W,BBC Two

38. The Verdict Shocked Everyone

When delivering the verdict, it was clear that the jury had no sympathy for Worsley. They found that although Bisset had behaved badly, Worsley was no saint either. The jury decreed that Worsley had played a huge part by encouraging Fleming's affair with Bisset. But they delayed their most scandalous ruling until the end of their statement.

They awarded Worsley exactly one shilling, a far cry from the thousands of pounds he'd expected.

Seymour Fleming FactsThe Scandalous Lady W,BBC Two

39. She Became Infamous

Having been totally humiliated and cast as a villain, Worsley was eventually kicked out of parliament and lost all of his influence and titles. As much as he wanted to crawl into a hole and disappear, the press wasn’t done with him yet. Within two days of the trial’s end, a court reporter immortalized Worsley in print by publishing the full trial transcript. Now everyone knew what he'd done to Seymour Fleming.

But an even more scandalous publication was just around the corner...

Seymour Fleming FactsThe Scandalous Lady W,BBC Two

40. She Starred in the Regency's 50 Shades of Grey

A shockingly explicit poem called “Lady Worsley’s Epistle” was the talk of the town during Fleming's trial. Written from Fleming’s point of view, the smutty poem takes multiple pages to make one point crystal clear: Worsley couldn't satisfy a woman to save his life, but Bisset "sated" Fleming's "lust" with ease. And that's not even the most risqué part.

It wasn't written anonymously. Fleming herself commissioned it. Your move, Worsley.

H.P. Lovecraft factsShutterstock

41. Her Ex Tried to Clap Back

When Worsley saw Fleming’s poem, he was furious and decided to answer it with one of his own. The idea was to insult Fleming and rebut the claims in her poem with Worsley's own rhymes, kind of like a historical rap battle. Unfortunately for Worsley, only three bookshops even carried his response. Meanwhile, Fleming's poem sold out across town. Fleming: 1. Worsley: 0.

Seymour Fleming FactsThe Scandalous Lady W,BBC Two

42. She Endured Heartbreak After Heartbreak

When Fleming saved Bisset she probably assumed that she and Bisset had a rosy future, but tragically, they were doomed to a heartbreaking end. The couple remained together for another year and half after the trial, but without Fleming ever getting a proper divorce from Worsley, Bisset couldn't truly marry Fleming. And without marriage, Fleming couldn't give Bisset the thing every gentleman needs: a legitimate heir..

Seymour Fleming FactsThe Scandalous Lady W,BBC Two

43. She Became a Fallen Woman

With her reputation completely shredded, Fleming was cast out from society, and cut off from friends and family. Luckily for her, she found a group of ladies in a similar position to her to take her in. Known as the The New Female Coterie, the group was made up of upper-class divorcees or courtesans, and boy did they like to party! But she couldn't hide out with them forever, and when she left, her whole world crumbled.

Seymour Fleming FactsThe Scandalous Lady W,BBC Two

44. Her Lover Abandoned Her

Bisset eventually decided to seek out greener pastures, and he left Fleming at an absolutely brutal time: She four months pregnant with his child. So, let's recap, Fleming was pregnant, alone, and had only the paltry allowance from her disaster of a marriage. She tried to survive using her husband’s credit, but that didn’t get her too far. And then yet another tragedy struck: She lost the baby. Fleming was truly alone.

Dorothy Dandridge FactsShutterstock

45. She Turned to an Old Trade

While Fleming was busy running up debts in London, Worsley was licking his wounds in Europe, and definitely not paying his runaway bride's bills. Fleming soon found herself deep in debt and with no way to support herself. She had almost no options in the Georgian Era, so Seymour did what many women in her position had to do. She became a mistress to wealthy men.

Seymour Fleming FactsThe Scandalous Lady W,BBC Two

46. She Went Back to Court

After leaving Fleming hanging for several difficult years, Worsley finally dragged his butt back to England to settle their separation agreement in 1788. As part of the agreement, Worsley generously agreed to pay her substantial debts (around 530,000 pounds today), and her entitled marital allowance. But there was one teeny stipulation...

Seymour Fleming FactsThe Scandalous Lady W,BBC Two

47. One Detail Changed Her Life

Worsley's condition was this: Fleming had to leave England for a period of four years or else Worsley wouldn’t give her a dime. Fleming agreed to the terms (to be fair, it's not like she had a choice) and set off for France. She wisely chose that country because they took a much more generous view of her extramarital activities than the English.

Seymour Fleming FactsThe Scandalous Lady W,BBC Two

48. She Narrowly Escaped Death

While in France, Fleming had been hanging out with the extravagant Duc D’Orleans and his high-rolling crowd, but this association came back to bite her with the onset of the French Revolution. D’Orleans was apprehended in 1793, and Fleming could have been beheaded just for knowing him. It’s possible that she was imprisoned during the Reign of Terror as it was dubbed, but she managed to survive and get back to England in 1797.

Seymour Fleming FactsThe Scandalous Lady W,BBC Two

49. She Played the Long Con

Fleming’s return to England was far from a happy occasion. She was sick and broke, and with nowhere else to turn, she reconciled with her family and moved back in with her parents. Since Worsley didn't have a legitimate male heir, all Fleming had to do was stay out of trouble and hope he passed on soon so she could reclaim her fortune.

Seymour Fleming FactsThe Scandalous Lady W,BBC Two

50. Happy Endings

It took until 1805, but Worsley finally croaked, and with his death, Fleming's fortune reverted back to her. One month after his passing, a 47-year-old Fleming married her 26-year-old beau Jean Louis Hummel. She got permission from the courts to go back to her maiden name, and as a sign of his love, her new husband took Fleming as his last name as well.

They moved back to France in 1814 and lived happily ever after until her death in 1818.

Seymour Fleming FactsThe Scandalous Lady W,BBC Two

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15

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