Lady Anne Ward

Section of a portrait of Lady Anne Ward (nee Bligh) of Castle Ward

Castle Ward - the story of a warring couple, divided in opinion and styles leading to a house with two sides. Perhaps the story is a little more complicated - here we delve deeper into the background of Lady Anne Bligh, co-architect of Castle Ward.

Given that Lady Ann Ward was co-creator of the dichotomous architectural style of Castle Ward, it is astonishing that there is little of her possessions or papers remaining in the collection. Her’s remains a hidden history. Having left Castle Ward, and her husband Bernard in 1770 shortly after the completion of the house, she has become a symbol of mystery and speculation, made notorious and unusual because of her independence of mind and spirit.

The public expression of her personal tastes in the Gothic style at Castle Ward, clashed dramatically with her husband’s preferred classical style, and this has resulted in the condemnation of Lady Ann as unusual. History has found it difficult to understand the compromise that was reached by Lady Ann and Bernard, so conspicuous as an eventual legacy to their failed marriage and in the thwarted preconception of masculine dominance and feminine subservience. Whilst Bernard is remembered as the maker of the classical side of the house, symbolically representing reason, balance and order, Lady Ann in contrast represents an ‘otherness’ which she expressed in gothic architecture - seemingly conveying her fantastical, whimsical and unconventional personality.

The unusual ceiling of the Boudoir in the Gothic side of the house
The Boudoir at Castle Ward house
The unusual ceiling of the Boudoir in the Gothic side of the house

The Royal blood from her maternal grandparents gave Lady Ann the hauteur and confidence to do as she pleased. Her grandfather, the Earl of Clarendon was the nephew of the Duchess of York, wife of James II, and a first cousin of Queen Anne. Queen Anne was her mother Theodosia’s Godmother, and as such Theodosia was allowed to marry in Westminster Abbey. This was something Lady Ann was keen to highlight in her choice of architecture at Castle Ward, even copying the plasterwork from the Henry VII Chapel and recreating it in the Morning Room as a reminder of her royal connections.

The Gothic ceiling of the Morning Room
The Gothic styled ceiling in the Morning Room at Castle Ward
The Gothic ceiling of the Morning Room

But it would be the Earl of Clarendon who would also begin a family tradition of eccentricity which sought to push the social boundaries of the period, often acting out his role as Colonial Governor of New York dressed in women’s clothes, with historians unable to confirm if this was drag, transvestitism or if the Earl was in fact transgender. Whatever the reason, his contemporaries would condemn him for such public displays, but he remained protected and often handsomely rewarded by his cousin Queen Anne, which enabled him to survive a popular dislike of his behaviour from those who simply saw it as a manifestation of madness.

This "portrait of an unidentified woman" is generally accepted as Edward Hyde, 3rd Earl of Clarendon
Portrait of a sitter in a blue dress, generally thought to be Edward Hyde, 3rd Earl of Clarendon
This "portrait of an unidentified woman" is generally accepted as Edward Hyde, 3rd Earl of Clarendon

This perceived ‘family madness’ or what Lady Moira described as ‘an hereditary malady’ would continue to cascade to Lady Ann who was accused of having ‘ a shade of derangement in her intellects’, to her brother Lord Darnley who was convinced he was a teapot and was reluctant to engage in sexual activity lest ‘his spout would come off in the night’; and then to her son Nicholas who ‘was declared a lunatic’ in 1785, albeit the reason is not understood.

A print reproduction of an original painting is the only image of Lady Anne in Castle Ward's collection.
Coloured reproduction of painting of Lady Ann Bligh, Viscountess Bangor (d.1789).
A print reproduction of an original painting is the only image of Lady Anne in Castle Ward's collection.

Lady Ann’s relationship with a woman, prior to her two marriages, has also been the source of popular speculation and of academic debate. A 21, Lady Ann embarked on a six year relationship with Letitia Bushe, a woman much Lady Ann’s inferior in status and wealth, but a woman much more experienced in the world with a great intellect and close friend of the lionised Mrs Delany. From the surviving correspondence of Letitia Bushe, it is clear that she was besotted with Lady Ann who was some fifteen years her junior, writing in 1740:

This Day twelvemonth was the Day I first stay’d with you, the night of which you may remember pass’d very oddly. I cannot forget how I pity’d you and how by that soft road you led me on to love you… that first Sunday at Bray, when you were dressing and I lay down on your Bed – ‘twas then I took first a notion to you’.

Academic research has suggested that this instance of same-sex love and desire provided Lady Ann with ‘an alternative outlet for emotional needs and energies, free of the complex web of economic and social considerations that surrounded relations between men and women of the propertied classes’ at this time.

Sadly none of Lady Ann’s correspondence to Letitia Bushe survives – in true Lady Ann style she remains an enigma, true to herself regardless of tastes or conventions, and a symbol of ‘the three-dimensional complexity of human life’.

Sources:

  1. The whimsical Lady Ann, by Nicholas Ward in the Lecale Review, No: 14, A journal of Down History (2016), pp 12-23.
  2. A Woman’s Life in Mid Eighteenth-Century Ireland: the Case of Letitia Bushe by S. J. Connolly, in The historical Journal, Vol. 43, No. 2 (Jun, 2000), pp.433-451.