Monday, August 4, 2014


Recently I saw the movie "Belle" based on the true account of Dido Elizabeth Belle, daughter of a West Indian slave, and Captain John Lindsay, British naval officer. Dido's mother died, and John, who spent most of his time on the high seas for the Royal British Navy, placed his child in the hands of his Aunt and Uncle back in England.  His uncle was William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, who brought up Dido as a free gentlewoman, who lived with them for 30 years. Her father, upon his death, left her with an annuity of several hundred pounds, which actually made her a rich woman for the times, and an independent one as well.

In the movie, of course, artist license is used, with Dido given a better place within the household, than in real life. Though it did not detract from the story, in reality, Dido kind of assumed a role as a lady's companion, taking dictation for the Earl's letters, managing the dairy and poultry yards on the estate. She was given an annual allowance of £30, several times the wage of a domestic servant.

Not only was she illegitimate, but also her race played a role in her adult life. She was truly never quite accepted as an equal, but there is an interesting twist to the story. The Earl's family had a gallery of paintings of family members and ancestors, and one of the paintings depicts Dido along with another young family member, quite equally honored and depicted of equal status. Today it hangs in Scone Palace in Scotland.
Eventually Dido was married John Davinier in 1793, a Frenchman who worked as a gentlemen's steward, and she had three sons.

The painting was painted in 1779, of Dido and her cousin Elizabeth Murray, the Earl's niece, attributed to Johann Zoffany, a German neo-classic painter.

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