A queen of beauty
A feminist social reformer
A literary talent
From August 19th to September 2nd (exhibition open 12 noon to 4pm daily), Muncaster Castle celebrates the astonishing achievements of three remarkable Victorian women. For over 800 years, talented, plucky and spirited women are found peppered liberally throughout the family tree of Iona Frost-Pennington, the current owner.
Thomas Sheridan and Caroline Henrietta Callander had three daughters: Caroline, Helen and Jane Georgiana. Collectively these three sisters were known by their contemporaries, because of their beauty, wit and accomplishments, as “The Three Graces”. Georgiana is Iona’s great-great-great grandmother.
The Honourable Mrs Caroline Norton and Her Sisters, William Etty.
Image courtesy of Manchester Art Gallery
Installations transform the Castle rooms into an Exhibition showcasing the lives of the Sheridan Sisters with, costumes worn by Georgiana when she was Queen of Beauty at the Eglinton Tournament, songs and poems by Helen, and the determination of Caroline. Local dressmaker Celestina Mahović is stitching a replica of Georgiana’s Queen of Beauty dress for Iona’s daughter, Isla. The finishing touches will be made just in time for the Exhibition opening and, when not being modelled by Georgiana’s 4x great granddaughter, will be on display in the Castle.
Georgiana was crowned the Eglinton Beauty at the renowned Scottish Eglinton Tournament in 1839.
“No lady throughout the empire could have been chosen whose preeminent attractors of face and figure, whose elegance of manners, whose correctness of taste and feminine dignity and demeanour could better have entitled her to have the proud rank of the ‘Queen of Beauty’”
(Commentators of 1839)
Caroline Norton was married to an abusive man at only 19 years old. He prevented her from seeing her three sons after their marriage fell apart and she successfully challenged the lack of legal rights for women which still impact on laws today.
“Mr Norton held my children as hostages; he felt that while he had them, he still had a power over me that nothing could control.”
(Caroline Norton, “English Laws for Women in the 19th Century.”)
Helen was a beloved songwriter, composer, poet and author admired for her literary talents and wit. She was a well-known figure in London society and became Baroness Dufferin and Claneboye.
“You see, Georgy’s the beauty, and Carry’s the wit, and I ought to be the good one, but I am not.”
(Helen speaking to Prime Minister Disraeli.)
Caroline Norton, by George Hayter
It is no wonder the sisters were so talented, having inherited their literary skills primarily from their mother, renowned novelist Caroline Henriette Callander. Her first novel was ‘Carwell, or Crime and Sorrow’ (1830), where she highlighted the inequitable sentences pronounced upon those who had been guilty of relatively minor misdemeanours. When her husband Thomas Sheridan died of consumption, she brought up and educated her children on a small pension in “grace and favour” rooms at Hampton Court Palace, granted by the Prince Regent.
Their grandfather was Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the famous satirist and playwright, famous for “Rivals” and “School for Scandal”. Sheridan, Iona’s 5 x great grandfather, was a long term owner of the London Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.
Iona is one of 4 daughters as was Phyllida her mother and between them have owned the Castle & Estate since the early 1980’s. Muncaster has been a very matriarchal society for almost 40 years now, with the ladies, at last, fully in charge!
“I used to work for my mother-in-law and wife and now I work for my wife and daughter.” (Peter Frost-Pennington) The tradition continues!
Research at Muncaster is fascinating. We are forever discovering more stories, facts and gossip! We have only just scratched the surface on what we can uncover on this topic and are sure that the amazing Sheridan sisters will pop up again in exhibitions in the near future. External funding such as sponsorship and more volunteers are always welcome!
Castle exhibitions are at no extra charge to holders of general admittance tickets including Castle entry and free to Friends of Muncaster and are open with the Castle’s public rooms. The Three Graces is open daily 19th August to 2nd September, 12 noon to 4pm. Purchase admittance tickets below, with 15% online discount.