Theresa, Marchioness of Londonderry
It would be Theresa, wife of the 6th Marquess, who would revive and redecorate Mount Stewart to some extent in the late nineteenth century, the intervening wives of the 4th and 5th Marquesses preferring to live predominantly in their own properties, and not at Mount Stewart. Arguably more Irish than the Londonderry’s themselves, Theresa was daughter to Lord Shrewsbury, premiere Earl of Ireland, and with blood connections to most of the great Anglo-Irish families she could boast a leading role, and a natural place amongst the Irish elite.
Like her husband, Theresa was an ardent Tory and Unionist and every bit as politically charged as he was on, as they saw it, the dangerous and unpalatable subject of Home Rule. Between 1886 and 1889, Theresa and her husband took on the challenging and expensive Viceregal responsibilities for Ireland.The position was a diplomatic one as a means of Ireland being governed by one of its own. Theresa was well placed as the socio-political leader of London Society to place a focus on the Irish debate, and to attempt to foster closer relations with Britain.
Fortunate to have Mount Stewart at her disposal, Theresa would utilise the property as a symbolic means of uniting Britain and Ireland, hosting house parties for the Royal Family, prominent members of the aristocracy, leading politicians and interestingly also members of the press. She did what she could to make Mount Stewart more hospitable and more of a central space for entertaining that it had previously been. Before sending out the invitations for house parties she had much to do. She noticed how ‘the place looked extraordinarily shabby, and we felt it must be tidied up’. As more of a gardener than an interior designer, and with Wynyard in County Durham as her preferred house in which to stamp her personality, Theresa merely made Mount Stewart more comfortable and convenient for her house guests, without enacting any radical changes. As the Countess of Fingal remarked, the interior was ‘very Victorian, with anti-macassars on the chairs, and there were tall screens and palms and chairs arranged… in groups… Lady Londonderry had not much taste or feeling for beauty in the furnishing of a house’. This said, Theresa’s intervention in Mount Stewart allowed her to achieve what she had set out to do – to bring people of influence together in Ulster. She used her house parties to showcase Irish produce, Irish textiles, and Irish hospitality. She must be given credit for giving the house this new sense of purpose, and centrality, as one house guest commented ‘at one time England was ruled largely from the quiet and dignified rooms at Mount Stewart. All the great statesmen of the time came there, and Lady Londonderry was a wonderful hostess’. In 1903, she used her significant influence to secure a Royal Visit when King Edward VII, Queen Alexandra and Princess Victoria came to stay, with the Mount Stewart guest book recording the sentiments of Queen Alexandra, ‘a most lovely hospitable place’.
Subsequently, and during the first two decades of the twentieth century, Theresa continued to use Mount Stewart as a means of highlighting the Unionist cause. With her political ally Edward Carson, politicians and newspaper editors were drawn in to Theresa’s staunch beliefs on the Irish question, and her regional involvement in Ulster Unionism and in the Ulster Women’s Unionist Council. Drawing on her supremacy within this socio-political setting, she could make influential guests feel at ease, feel gratitude, and feel the benefits of being in her circle. Edward Carson remarked ‘I believe I was born to lounge and enjoy myself and be at Mount Stewart for long periods of time’ in a world apart from the pressures of his roles as MP and Solicitor General for Ireland. It was her Unionist cause which drew Theresa to Mount Stewart and gave it a renewed purpose. Her passionate beliefs also inspired over 200,000 women to publicly sign the Declaration of The Solemn League and Covenant in 1912.
Dr. Neil Watt, House and Collections Manager