Elizabeth Ilive - A Woman Ahead of Her Time

A portrait of Elizabeth Ilive

As part of the National Trust programme, Women and Power, that marks the anniversary of of the 1918 Parliamentary Act that gave the first voting rights to women, Petworth is shining a light on the influential women that lived at Petworth and the legacy they left.

The 1918 Representation of the People Act granted some women the right to vote in British parliamentary elections for the first time. A century on, the National Trust are launching, Women and Power, a year-long national programme celebrating this historic milestone.

At Petworth we are highlighting five remarkable women that influenced the development of Petworth House and its collection.

A particular focus is given to Elizabeth Ilive (1769-1822), who became the principal mistress of George O'Brien Wyndham, 3rd Earl of Egremont, around 1786 before marrying in 1801.

While living at Petworth she developed intellectual interests in both science and fine art.

This exhibition opening 5 May, explores the life of Ilive as a mistress, mother, wife, inventor, scientist and patron of the arts.

See paintings of Elizabeth Ilive in Petworth House that capture her devotion as a mother but also find out about the loss of three of her nine children. Learn more about her relationship with the 3rd Earl and how his persistent infidelity may have been the reason for their seperation only two years in to their marriage.

As part of the exhibition see a recreation of one of Ilive's dresses made by volunteers at Petworth House.

The William Blake in Sussex: Visions of Albion exhibition has already explored Ilive's patronage of this artist but take another opportunity to see the two works Ilive commissioned. Petworth House remains in the only country house in England to have works by this artist.

Discover more about Ilive's interest in invention and see an image of the cross-bar lever she invented. She received a silver medal worth 20 guineas from the Royal Society of Arts for this nvention, which is also on display for this exhibition.

Ilive also wrote for various publications and as part of this exhibition you can see some of the academic work she published.

Ilive also pursued her interest in science and established a domestic laboratory at Petworth House. Explore a re-imagining of what a Georgian domestic laboratory would have been like based upon other laboratories of the time but also from lists of equipment she kept, on loan from the Petworth House archives. Take part in this immersive aspect and get hands-on with equipment similar to tools she would have used, such as scales and mortars. Create your own scientific formulas on our own blackboard, or take a seat at a writing desk and glance over copies of her letters and have a go at writing your own.

Other women of Petworth

There are countless other women who have left their mark on Petworth House and it would be impossible to highlight them all but there are four other prominent women Petworth are shining a light on.

Discover more about Elizabeth Percy (1667-1722) whose wealth and inheritance from the powerful Northern Percy dynasty led to the complete rebuilding of Petworth House in to the fashionable baroque style you see today.

Find out more about Lucy Percy (c.1600-1660), brother to Algernon Percy, 10th Earl of Northumberland who inherited Petworth House. She remarkbaly served both the Royalists and the Parliamentarians during the English Civil War (1642-1649).

Elizabeth Purser worked at Petworth House for 60 years first as Housekeepers maid and then as Housekeeper until her death in 1814. She died in service and her portrait still hangs in the Still Room where she would have worked.

Also find out more about the Dowager, Pamela Wyndham-Quin who married the politician John Wyndham in 1947.