Lady Harriet Baring

Lady Harriet (aka Lady Ashburton) was a Society Grande Dame who lived in Addiscombe, then a country area within reach of London, from which comfortable repose she carved out a reputation as a formidable hostess.  Noted for her caustic and cruel wit – she once said of a lady’s ill-fitting false teeth that they ‘quivered like the diamonds our grandmothers used to wear on their heads.’

She was a close friend of Carlyle – too close, thought many, including Jane Carlyle who eventually fell out with her.  Harriet’s relationship with Thomas Carlyle was a cause of much gossip at the time although, as his marriage to Jane is generally thought to have been unconsummated, his relationship with Harriet is unlikely to have been more sexual.  Lady Harriet, true to form, was inclined to put Jane Carlyle down; her behaviour towards the great man’s wife was erratic, at one moment scoffing at her Scottish accent and plain looks, at the next sending her violets, wrote Jane: ‘leaves of the flowers one likes – sometimes sends me envelopes  by post containing nothing else!’

Richard Monkton Milnes called Harriet ‘the best-looking ugly woman ever seen’ and Thackeray said, ‘I like Lady H Baring but I hate her.’

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