Eccentrics of the Regency Period Series: Maria Fagniani

The mistresses of the Prince Regent and his brothers were as well known as the men. The Duke of Clarence, for example, sired ten children with Mrs Jordan, and the Duke of York’s relationship with Mary Anne Clarke caused a major scandal over army commissions. The Duke of Cumberland had rumors of incest, which followed him about. Most of the by-blows sired by upper class families were given the family surname and brought up in the same household as were the legitimate heirs. Occasionally, to avoid scandal, the child was born abroad and at an appropriate age reappeared in England to find a generous “Godfather.”

Maria Fagniani was one such child. She was the daughter of the Marchesa Fagniani, a woman known for bestowing her favors on a variety of gentlemen. Three men claimed Maria as his child. The first of those was the Marchese. The others included Lord March (later the Duke of Queensberry) and George Selwyn. Selwyn left Maria £20,000 pounds as an inheritance. The Duke left her £100,000. At age one and twenty, Mie-Mie married Lord Yarmouth, a man whose reputation was as rakish as her fathers.

Maria Emilia Fagnani (24 August 1771 – 2 March 1856) was the Marchioness of Hertford.

Maria was illegitimate. Born in the 1770s, most likely, she was the daughter of Costanza Brusati, the Italian  Marchesa Fagnani, and of either –

  • William Douglas, 4th Duke of Queensberry(1724–1810), who was famously detested by Robert Burns.
  • George Selwyn  (1719–1791), a prominent Tory and lover of  Grace Elliott. He was also a member of the Satanic Hellfire Club.  
  • George Selwyn’s  butler. 
  • Marchese Fagniani

Each of these men  believed himself  to be her father and left her very large legacies.

On 18 May 1798, Maria married Francis Seymour-Conway, Earl of Yarmouth (1777–1842), the son of the Second Marquess and Isabella Ingram-Shepheard. The Marchioness was the daughter of the Viscount Irvine, and the mistress of the Prince of Wales.

By 1802 they were estranged, and she lived in Paris for the rest of her life. Their children included:

  • Lady Francis Maria Seymour-Conway (d. 1822)
  • Captain Richard Seymour-Conway, 4th Marquess of Hertford (1800–1870)
  • Lord Henry Seymour-Conway (1805–1859)

When George III  was insane, he announced that he was going to take Lady Yarmouth as his mistress.

Later, the Marquess inherited his title in 1822. He died in 1842. The dowager Marchioness died in 1856 in Paris.

Willaim Makepeace Thackery parodied her husband as the Marquess of Steyne in his masterpiece, Vanity Fair.


About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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9 Responses to Eccentrics of the Regency Period Series: Maria Fagniani

  1. Monica P says:

    Wow – to be claimed and so well provided for by 3 (or 4?) potential fathers!

  2. Monica P says:

    Wow – to be claimed and so well provided for by 3 (or 4?) potential fathers!

    I’m enjoying learning about all these historical couples.

    monicaperry00 at

  3. I am happy you find these posts enjoyable, Monica.

  4. Lúthien84 says:

    Her possible fathers are so generous. The Regency rakes are so liberal that they line up and provide for her although they don’t know exactly whether Maria is their daughter or not.

  5. Lisa S says:

    So, if the Duke bequeathed 100,000 to his *possible* illegitimate daughter, how much did he give to his legitimate children?? And did each of these men know that there were other men who claimed the girl as their child or was that a secret? You know, mom says, “the girl is definitely yours” to each and then hopes they never speak of it to each other. Anyway, what I love about this story is it reminds all of us JA lovers that the dowries of Georgiana D, Emma W., and Caroline B may have been good but they were just middle of the road. The truly wealthy (Duke’s etc) were giving their daughters 6 figure dowries. I remember reading a regency story once where the daughter of a Duke was given a dowry of 350,000 pounds, and the author was criticized by several people for her unrealistic dowry number.

    • The problem, Lisa, is the give and take of the cash flow. Darcy took a big hit when he married Elizabeth. She has her share of the 5000 pounds from Mrs. Bennet (upon her mother’s death). When Georgiana marries, Darcy will present her husband with 30,000 pounds. Pemberley must be very wealthy to withstand the loss, especially during the later part of the Regency. In 1816, there was great drought across England, the US, and Europe (explosion of Mount Tambora). The Industrial Revolution took tenants from estates. Those who did not make changes would suffer.

      • Lisa S says:

        Oh, I always hate to think of the reality of the situation in these cases, unless to imagine our beloved characters being quite ahead of their times or prescient of their coming hardships and therefore ready to take them all on. It reminds me of the book North and South (Gaskell). The hero of that book is a cotton manufacturer in Victorian England and if you talk with people knowledgeable of the time and that industry they’ll tell you straight off that not many years after the publication of that book, pretty much the whole cotton industry collapsed in England. 😦 How sad to imagine that our noble cotton manufacturer, fictional though he was, lost it all due to the Civil War in America and other factors that made the industry economically inviable in England. 😦 So, I’ll imagine Darcy diving head long into the Industrial Revolution and trade (with Mr Gardiner’s invaluable assistance) and making all that money back in spades just like I’ll imagine that Thornton decided to leave the cotton industry (where he had gained much preeminence) and use that strong work ethic of his to build his shipping or railway or photography or chocolate empire. 🙂 I’m all about the happy thoughts. 🙂

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