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Consuelo Yznaga, Duchess of Manchester

Consuelo Yznaga’s parents were Antonio Yznaga del Valle, originally from Cuba, and Ellen Little Clement of Natchez, Mississippi.11 Antonio Yznaga owned a plantation at Ravenswood Place, Concordia Parish, Louisiana, where he lived with his family and 145 slaves.12 Most likely he had also already established a residence in New York before the end of the American Civil War.13 The Yznagas’ eldest child and only son, Fernando, was born in about 1850. Maria Consuelo, more often called Consuelo, was born in about 1853. The middle sister, Natica, was born in about 1856,14 and Emilie probably in 1859 in New York.15 In 1876 Consuelo married Viscount Mandeville, the son of the 7th Duke of Manchester.16

Consuelo had not reached adulthood when she and her sisters were taken to Paris by their mother. They stayed there several years until the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, when they returned to Louisiana. In the meantime, Consuelo had befriended the Empress Eugénie, as well as Jennie Jerome (later Lady Randolph Churchill) and Alva Smith (later Mrs William Vanderbilt).17 As a young woman in New York, where she went in 1875,18 Consuelo was apparently one of a group of six ‘fragrant specimens of American girlhood’ who were nicknamed ‘The Bouncers’ and without whom, according to the New York Times, ‘No dance was complete … No country house frolic was a “go” …’.19 Following her marriage in New York to Lord Mandeville in 1876, which initially horrified Mandeville’s father, the 7th Duke of Manchester, who is said to have called her ‘a little American savage’,20 she went with him to England and, in the words of the Duke of Portland, ‘took Society by storm by her beauty, wit and vivacity, and it was soon at her very pretty feet’.21 Thereafter she resided mainly in England and Ireland, where her new family had residences at Kimbolton Castle, St Neots; Portman Square in London; and Tandragee Castle, County Armagh. In 1877 Consuelo gave birth to a son who would become the 9th Duke of Manchester and to twin daughters two years later. Mandeville went bankrupt in 1889,22 a year before he became the 8th Duke on the death of his father. By then the couple were living apart. According to one account Mandeville ‘formed a scandalous public liaison with Bessie Bellwood, a coarse, hoarse-voiced, male impersonator of the music halls’.23 If Consuelo was able to console herself with Joseph Chamberlain, a member of Gladstone’s cabinet, whom she is said to have taken as a lover,24 and then with the novelist, Robert Hichens,25 the deaths of her daughters at the ages of 16 and 21 were doubtless bitter blows. Materially and socially, however, Consuelo led a charmed existence. In 1880 she and Emilie helped at a charity event led by the Princess of Wales at Kensington House.26 In 1884 she was in New York staying at the Vanderbilts’ and helping plan the huge costume ball given in honour of her and Lord Mandeville.27 In 1897 she was one of the guests at the celebrated Duchess of Devonshire’s costume ball at Devonshire House, Piccadilly (since demolished), where she is described as dressing as Anne of Austria in a gown of white, silver and gold satin and wearing a diamond crown and a single pearl on her forehead.28 Consuelo’s life revolved around both the London social scene and the out-of-town activities of its participants: racing at Ascot,29 yachting at Cowes,30 renting Old Mar Castle in Scotland for shooting,31 hiring White Lodge, Richmond Park, for entertaining ‘in the most lavish manner’,32 interspersed with trips to Biarritz, St Moritz33 and New York.34 Consuelo’s social prominence was such that she would make posthumous appearances in Proust’s La Prisonnière, the fifth volume of A la recherche du temps perdu, as Mme de Guermantes’s London shopping companion. Among the visitors at Mar were her sister Emilie and Edward, Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII.

It was following her return to London from New York in 1884 that Consuelo became a friend of Edward, the Prince of Wales.35 They were to remain close friends for the rest of her life.36 An account of that friendship is contained in the New York Times in 1908, after Edward had become king:

Advancing years, a grandmother several times over, portly, and with few traces of the beauty and elegance for which she was formerly celebrated, she still retains her merry wit and her musical gifts which are always at the service of the King to dispel his boredom. Moreover, there are few persons who possess so intimate an acquaintance with his likes and dislikes, his prejudices and his tastes, and by catering to these the Duchess always manages to render herself agreeable in the extreme to his majesty.37

If there were some parallels between this friendship and that of Mme de Pompadour with Louis XV, it was not the music of Rameau which entertained Edward VII. According to the New York Times, when things were getting dull at Tandragee Castle during a royal visit, Consuelo and Natica delighted their majesties when they ‘got their banjos and began playing and singing the old time darky songs’.38

11 See RootsWeb website and

12 See ‘Concordia Parish, Louisiana: largest slaveholders from 1860 slave census schedules’ and ‘Surname matches for African Americans on 1870 census’ on RootsWeb website at

13 See note 15.

14 She too would make a transatlantic union on her marriage in 1881 to Sir John Lister-Kaye: The Times, 15 February 1943. The dates of birth of all the siblings are given variously in various sources. For that of Emilie Yznaga, see the following note.

15The Times, 15 February 1943, p. 6: obituary of Lady Lister-Kaye. Emilie Yznaga was born on 4 November 1859 in New York City and died a spinster at St. Luke’s Hospital, Manhattan, on 1 November 1944 according to the certificate of her death. However, Neil Jeffares kindly sent me a copy of her application for a United States passport dated 21 November 1919, wherein her date of birth is stated as 31 October 1864.

16 See the New York Times, 23 May 1876, for an account of the wedding. None of the wedding gifts recorded there was of a painting. According to an online search, Consuelo’s name as given on her marriage certificate was ‘Maria Francisca de la Consolation’.

17 Fowler 1993, pp. 6–9. Fernando Yznaga would marry the sister of Mrs William Vanderbilt in 1880: New York Times, 23 September 1880.

18 Fowler 1993, p. 10

19New York Times, 7 April 1907.

20 Murphy 1984, p. 112.

21 Quoted in Fowler 1993, p. 29.

22New York Times, 7 March 1889. Natica’s husband, Sir John Lister-Kaye, would also become a bankrupt: ibid., 5 November 1914.

23 Ibid., 19 August 1892. Consuelo was nevertheless at the duke’s deathbed at Tandragee Castle according to the London Times, 19 August 1892.

24 Fowler 1993, pp. 43–4.

25 Ibid., pp. 65–6.

26The Times, 17 June 1880, p. 11.

27 Fowler 1993, p. 49. This ball at the Vanderbilts’ home on 5th Avenue remained celebrated for many years thereafter: ‘Society at home and abroad’, New York Times, 28 October 1908. And see ‘Duke of Manchester dead’, ibid., 19 August 1892. Consuelo Vanderbilt, who became the Duchess of Marlborough, was named after her godmother, Consuelo, Lady Mandeville, as she then was.

28 Murphy 1984, p. 113.

29New York Times, 7 July 1907, where Consuelo is described as wearing ‘a gown topped with a capecoat to match of smoke-colored silk gauze over satin’.

30 Fowler 1993, pp. 59 and 67; and The Bystander, 193, 15, 14 August 1907, p. 323, in which she appears in a photograph with Lord Dunraven ‘enjoying a little jeu d’esprit’. Consuelo, Natica (Lady Lister-Kaye) and Emilie were all staying at Egypt House: ‘Morgan’s Yacht a Cowes Feature’, New York Times, 11 August 1907.

31The Bystander, 85, 7, 30 August 1905, p. 431.

32New York Times, 2 July 1905.

33 Fowler 1993, p. 60.

34 Consuelo went to New York at the end of the summer of 1907, and was reportedly there about three years earlier: New York Times, 28 August and 1 September 1907. She and Natica sailed to New York in January 1908 to attend their mother’s funeral in New York. Emilie Yznaga was with her mother in Natchez, Mississippi, when she died: ibid., 25 and 27 January, and 2 and 4 February 1908.

35 Ibid., pp. 54–5.

36 On her last visit to Cowes in 1909 Consuelo was visited by King Edward and Tsar Nicholas: New York Times, 5 August 1909.

37 Ibid., ‘Great changes in England under Edward VII’, 14 June 1908.

38 Ibid., ‘Society at home and abroad’, 30 July 1905; see also ibid., 20 May 1908, for the young Yznaga girls entertaining in British drawing rooms.