The 3rd Earl and his mistress Elizabeth Iliffe

Painting of George O'Brien Wyndham, 3rd Earl of Egremont

In his younger days the 3rd Earl of Egremont was known as a man of fashion. He was well travelled having made two Grand Tours between 1770 and 1772, and was also known for having a way with the ladies

The 3rd Earl behaved no differently to most wealthy young men of his day, ‘taking women as frequently as they took snuff and changing lovers as often as they changed their linen.’ But the 3rd Earl pushed even the 18th century’s more liberal limits by installing his mistresses and children at Petworth.

In 1813 Lady Bessborough wrote of Lady Spenser: ‘Nothing will persuade her that Lord Egremont has not forty-three children who all live in the house with him and their respective mothers; that the latter are usually kept in the background…’

Although the 3rd Earl reputedly spent his whole life chasing and catching pretty young women he did make one notable connection.

In around 1784 he met Elizabeth Iliffe, the daughter of a teacher at Westminster School. She became his mistress; the relationship was to be a long-term one, resulting in seven children. The 3rd Earl installed her at Petworth, firstly as Miss Iliffe and later as Mrs Wydham. Elizabeth shared the 3rd Earl’s love of art; a painter herself she encouraged new talent and commissioned two paintings from William Blake (which still hang in the North Gallery).

It must have been hoped that the 3rd Earl had finally found a women who shared his interests and he could be happy with. The couple married in 1801, 17 years after their relationship began, but unfortunately the marriage only lasted two years. Elizabeth left Petworth, sought a deed of separation and never returned.