Born in the early-to-mid 1700s, the beautiful Lennox sisters flouted every expectation. From driving their families into crippling debt to flirting with crown princes, Caroline, Emily, Louisa, and Sarah raked in scandals like they were cold, hard cash. Clutch your pearls: Here are 42 jaw-dropping facts about the wildest family in 18th-century England.
The Lennox Sisters Facts
1. Dearest, Darlingest Mumsie and Popsie
Every good brood of scandalous siblings comes from a pair of worthy parents. In the case of the Lennox Sisters, our poor, about-to-be-betrayed mom and pop were society heavyweights Charles Lennox, the 2nd Duke of Richmond, and his beautiful bride, Lady Sarah Cadogan. Strap in, guys. Your daughters are going to make life…interesting.
2. Royal Blood…ish?
Daddy Lennox held a number of high-ranking and impressive offices. The 2nd Duke of Richmond wasn’t just a nobleman, but an ingenious politician and a member of the peerage. But all of that pales with the knowledge that Charles Lennox might have been a prince. His father was an illegitimate son of King Charles II, and though bastards don’t tend to get prime treatment, the Lennoxes can still trace their lineage back to royalty.
3. Hit the Point, Score the Ball
Despite his pseudo-royal ancestry and numerous high offices, Charles Lennox was better remembered for his patronage and contributions to cricket. (That’s the one that looks like baseball but with a bat that got run over). Charles was a major player in elevating cricket from a rural entertainment to a high-society sport.
4. A Mother’s Love
Let’s not forget about the sisters’ mother, Sarah Lennox née Cadogan. Cadogan’s marriage to Charles Lennox happened in a dark flurry. Sarah’s father betrothed her to Lennox as a way of settling his gambling debt to Lennox’s father, but that’s not even the most chilling part. The wedding took place on December 4, 1719, when Sarah was 13 years old. That number gets even grosser when you realize that Lennox was 18.
5. The Honeymoon’s Not So Much Over As It Is Cancelled
The good news is there’s not too much to worry about when it comes to their unsavory age difference. Immediately after the wedding, Lennox embarked on his Grand Tour. This was a custom where upper-class young men celebrated their coming of age by traveling around Europe and educating themselves (read: low-key partying) for years at a time.
6. Knew Her Way Around the Bedchamber
Sarah Lennox didn’t sit around while her older husband went on the 18th-century’s version of Eurotrip. Instead, she worked as the Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Caroline of Ansbach for 13 years. This was a sort of specialized lady-in-waiting, making her a personal attendant of the wife of King George II. It was a cushy position for the already-esteemed young lady.
7. Honey, I’m Home!
Charles Lennox returned from his Grand Tour three years after his wedding, and was apparently reluctant to become re-acquainted with his wife. Still, things went sweetly for the pair. As the story goes, Charles (then known as Lord March) went to the theatre one night and asked after a charming young woman he happened to glimpse.
When he heard who she was, Lennox’s jaw hit the floor. He was told, “You must be a stranger in London not to know the toast of the town, the beautiful Lady March.” Must be nice to take interest in someone you’re already married to.
8. Superfluous Siblings
Generally, “The Lennox Sisters” are the four longest-lived of the Lennox’s children, though there were others who did not experience life for long. Louisa Margaret, Anne and Margaret all died at less than five years of age. In a heartbreaking twist, beautiful Cecilia died when she was 19. Two brothers, Charles and George, lived to adulthood. There were also two other siblings who passed away in infancy.
9. Firstborn, By a Long Shot
Of the four Lennox sisters, the eldest was Georgiana Carolina Fox, 1st Baroness Holland, better known as Lady Caroline Lennox or Lady Caroline Fox depending on the period of her life. She had two decades over her youngest sisters and used her head start to get the ball rolling on the Lennox sisters’ famously scandalous behavior.
10. A Sly Old Fox
Lady Caroline fell madly in love with a saucy politician named Henry Fox, who was a whopping 18 years her senior. Even though she begged her family to accept him as her husband, the Lennoxes refused. In the end, Caroline did something unbelievable: the heiress ran off into the night with Fox. Caroline’s decision permanently damaged her relationship with her parents, and made her marriage a huge scandal.
11. Rough Beginnings Make For Happy Endings
No, Caroline’s family wasn’t happy about the marriage, but Caroline was! She and Fox had four sons and for the first few years, the couple seemed happy. However, they were doomed to some very rough times. Harry Fox began to see mistresses as the years went on. His infidelity devastated poor Caroline, who gave up everything to be with him.
12. Proud Mama
Caroline probably loved all of her boys, but, of the four, two did a better job at making names for themselves. Charles James Fox was a Whig statesman whose career in parliament lasted almost 40 years. Henry Edward Fox was a British Army general who served as Governor of both Minorca and Gibraltar. If only all her children were such high achievers…
13. Boys Will Be Boys?
Caroline’s other sons were… less accomplished. Her eldest, Stephen, was best known for causing the family a great deal of embarrassment. “Ste”, as he was called, accrued hefty amounts of debt by gambling. Just like his maternal grand-pappy! Stephen frequently became bankrupt and would beg his mother for money all the time.
14. Forgive, Sure. Forget? Not So Much.
When Caroline’s parents died (in quick succession, it should be noted), the youngest Lennox sisters were still children. While Caroline tried to repair her relationship with her parents, it seems that daddy Lennox never got over the elopement. When the Mr and Mrs Lennox died, they dealt their eldest daughter a heartbreaking betrayal. Caroline was left out of the will. The three young siblings (Sarah, Louisa, and Cecilia) were left in the care of the second-eldest sister, Emily. Ouch.
15. If It Ain’t Broke Don’t Fix It.
Resentful of her father’s posthumous slight, Caroline tried to compensate by helping her sisters make good matches at court. This resulted in her sister Emily’s husband blaming Caroline for scandals that occurred in the young Lennox sister’s romantic lives (more on that later, stay tuned.) Caroline and Emily quarrelled so terribly that they didn’t really make amends until shortly before Caroline’s death.
16. Views From the Top
Family life notwithstanding, Caroline did something right playing the British social game. She was named a Baroness almost a year before her husband was made a Baron. Keep up, hubby.
17. Wait, I’m Coming With You!
When Caroline’s philandering husband died in 1774, she followed him to the grave just 23 days later. It’s almost romantic–until you remember that she had already been suffering from a mysterious and painful illness before Harry Fox’s passing.
18. Through Thick and Thin
Sister number two, Lady Emily, married someone the Lennoxes approved of; James FitzGerald, the 20th Earl of Kildare. The couple lived together in FitzGerald’s native Ireland, where he showed Emily how much he loved her by…cheating on her a whole bunch. However, letters from Emily reveal the startling truth. In them, we see that she knew all about her husband’s infidelities and accepted that she was in an open marriage.
Emily figured that when she met the right person, she could have some fun too. She was right…
19. Perpetually Pregnant
As proof that Emily and James enjoyed a happy marriage despite James’ infidelities, Emily was pregnant for most of her life. She had 19 children with FitzGerald, with her understandable exhaustion showing through the fact that she repeated names several times. Emily’s litter included two Georges, two Carolines, and two Louisas, though that doesn’t quite tell the whole, sad story. While most of Emily’s children survived, she only reused names when a baby perished.
20. Gotta Have a Back-Up
Emily’s entire world turned upside down when she hired a rebellious tutor to educate her small army of children. William Ogilvie immediately became beloved by Emily’s brood, and soon enough by Emily herself. The noblewoman and the average Joe tutor struck up a passionate affair. Emily was head over heels in love–but her joy was about to hit a major bump in the road.
21. Good Timing
In 1773, Emily realized that she was pregnant yet again–though this time, it was not a happy occasion. She knew that the father was not her husband James FitzGerald but her lover William Ogilvie. Emily had no idea what to do. As she fretted, time ticked away until she gave birth to an illegitimate son: George Simon “FitzGerald.” Emily never had to find out what her husband would have done about his “son.” FitzGerald died soon after the birth.
22. Don’t Hate the Player
With FitzGerald out of the picture, Lady Emily was free to marry whoever she wanted. As a rich, beautiful woman, she had her pick, but out of everyone, Emily chose William Ogilvie. The couple married less than a year after FitzGerald’s death, creating an enormous social scandal. If you added up the short time between Emily’s marriages, her new husband’s lower-class status, and the whispers about her most recent baby, it was hard to deny that something fishy had been going on behind the Earl’s back.
23. Seriously? More Babies?
Emily decided to continue her never-ending pregnancies with William Ogilvie. She had three kids with him, and a bonus fourth kid if you count the youngest son birthed during her first marriage.
24. Home is Where the Affair Is
Emily was always up on the latest trends in child-rearing, breastfeeding her babies herself (instead of using a wet nurse) and instructing Ogilvie to go full hippie with her kids’ educations. He gave them swimming lessons and outdoor exercise, and taught them to garden. In fact, scholars believe that Emily and Ogilvie’s affair started at Frescati House, the seaside estate where Ogilvie taught the children all his granola ways. Perhaps these fond memories are why the couple chose to live there after the Earl’s death. D’aww.
25. Unfitting End
Emily was known for being vivacious and loving, which only makes her terrible death even more tragic. The Duchess of Leinster lived to a ripe old age, but by the end, she was completely demented. She had almost no memory of her own incredible life.
26. Every Family Has a Black Sheep
Lady Louisa Conolly was the third Lennox sister, though she had a very different claim to fame. Unlike Caroline and Emily, Lady Louisa was known for being an all-around good person. She led a life that her salacious sisters might have described as “unremarkable,” mostly because it lacked the trademark Lennox controversy.
It’s fair to say that Louisa probably had an unconventional relationship with her older sister Emily. When the Lennox parents died, Louisa was only eight years old. As such, Emily raised Louisa as though they were mother and daughter, instead of sisters.
28. Get Yourself a Man Who Diplomats
At 15, Louisa married Thomas Conolly, whose great uncle was the Speaker of the Irish House of Commons. Thomas was known as a successful politician, and was elected to Parliament only a year after their marriage. While the couple was happy and Louisa filled her time with her passion for interior design, after almost two decades of renovations, it became clear that something was wrong.
29. Can’t Have it All
It turns out that even though Louisa desperately wanted a baby, she and her husband couldn’t conceive. The heiress was distraught, but ever the good girl, she channeled her sadness into charity. Louisa and Thomas made a lifelong effort of helping disadvantaged youth, donating their wealth and time to helping foundlings develop skills. They even developed one of the first Industrial Schools, where boys would learn trades, and Louisa mentored students personally.
30. Surrogate Mother
In her middle age, Louisa basically adopted her sister Sarah’s daughter, Emily. (This is a new Emily, not the one who had the affair with the tutor. There were only, like, six names in this time period). She and her niece maintained a close relationship until Louisa’s death in 1821.
31. ‘Til Death Do Us Part
In 1803, Louisa’s world came crashing down around her when her beloved husband Thomas Conolly passed away. But don’t fret! He left Louisa ample lands, including the Castletown House where they lived, and enough wealth and liquid investments that she could continue her charitable deeds until she died, almost 20 years later. As a touching gesture of her love for Thomas, Louisa never remarried.
32. Last But Not Least
Lady Sarah, the youngest of the Lennox sisters (besides Cecilia, who died at 19), was also arguably the most scandalous. She was five when her parents died, and lived with Emily until the age of 13, at which point she went back to London and lived with Caroline. That’s when things got interesting.
33. Royal Romance
Even as a kid, Sarah was destined for the spotlight. The little girl was a favourite of the King himself, George II. So, naturally, she was invited to appear at court where she quickly caught the eye of his son, George III. The two had met as children, and the Prince of Wales was immediately taken with her when they were re-acquainted at court.
Sarah’s family, particularly Caroline, pushed the relationship. The idea of one of their sisters becoming a princess and maybe even a queen was irresistible.
34. Prince and the Pauper
Apparently, a prince wasn’t good enough for Sarah. Instead, the young woman fell madly in love with a Marquess named William John Kerr. While Sarah’s family was able to convince her to ditch Kerr, it was too late. The King’s advisors noticed Sarah’s wandering eye and forbade the prince from pursuing a relationship with her. The family was furious.
35. Always a Bridesmaid
In a touching twist, King George III never forgot his first love, Sarah Lennox. In fact, when he married Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, he asked Sarah to be one of the 10 bridesmaids. Though whether that was sweet or petty is up for interpretation.
36. Femme Fatale
Ever the seductress, Sarah’s life was rife with romance even after refusing William Kerr and ultimately being denied by King George III. She turned down a marriage proposal from an Earl named James Hay, and then married Charles Bunbury, an eventual Baronet. They lived happily ever after. HA, lies. True to Lennox fashion, there was an affair.
37. Daughter Mine
Sarah became smitten with Lord William Gordon, a handsome Duke, and in their passionate adultery Sarah became pregnant with her first daughter. In a shocking twist, Sarah’s husband did not immediately disinherit the baby. He even gave the girl his name: Louisa Bunbury. We guess he had it pretty bad for Sarah…
38. Up and Out
It was all going well, given the circumstances, until Sarah made an utterly disastrous mistake. She couldn’t resist Lord William any longer, deciding to elope with the dashing Duke (and even to bring their infant daughter along for the ride). Sadly, Sarah vastly overestimated Lord William’s love for her and their daughter. He abandoned Sarah and baby Louisa very soon after the elopement. Men, am I right?
39. Fool Me Twice
In desperate straits, Lady Sarah tried to return to Sir Charles, but he was having none of it. Abandoned by her lover, spurned by her betrayed husband, and with an infant baby, Lady Sarah went to live with her brother. Humiliated and rejected, Sarah made a conscious effort to behave herself and sweep up the shattered pieces of her life.
40. Take ‘Er to the Cleaners
Unsurprisingly, Sarah’s ex-husband Sir Charles moved parliament for a divorce on the grounds of adultery. And fair enough, before the days of Maury and paternity tests, Sarah and William’s elopement was the 18th-century’s equivalent of a smoking gun. But ever the drama queen, Sarah refused to go quietly. She fought the motion for years, and the divorce was only finalized about six years later in 1776.
41. Happily Ever After
At the end of the proverbial tunnel that was Sarah’s notoriously wild youth, there was light. That light was Colonel George Napier. After being chastened by her social humiliation, Sarah met the mild-tempered, loving army officer and quickly fell in love. They were married for over 20 years and had eight children, the majority of whom lived full lives. Good job, Sarah!
42. Brought to Life
If this list just isn’t enough Lennox content, have no fear. The historian Stella Tillyard wrote a fascinating book that delves into the Lennox family’s dirty secrets and the BBC produced a lush miniseries about the sisters’ turbulent lives.