Elizabeth Ilive - A Woman Ahead of Her Time

A portrait of Elizabeth Ilive

As part of the 2018 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 highlighted influential women that lived at Petworth and the legacy they left in an exhibition at Petworth House.

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 in 2018, the National Trust launched, Women and Power, a year-long national programme celebrating this historic milestone.

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

A particular focus was on 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 explored the life of Ilive as a mistress, mother, wife, inventor, scientist and patron of the arts.

Visitors saw paintings of Elizabeth Ilive in Petworth House that captured her devotion as a mother but also found out about the loss of three of her nine children. Visitors learned 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.

Our volunteer costume making team also recreated one of Ilive's dresses as part of the exhibition. 

Two works by William Blake that remain in Petworth House were commissioned by Elizabeth Ilive. She received a silver medal worht 20 guineas from the Royal Society of Arts for the invention of a cross-bar lever.

She wrote for various publications and pursued her interest in science at Petworth, establishing a domestic laboratory here.

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 for the exhibition there were four other prominent women Petworth highlighted:

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.

 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 who 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.

And the Dowager, Pamela Wyndham-Quin who married the politician John Wyndham in 1947.