Biography, Women's History

Seymour Dorothy Fleming (1757-1818), part 2

Richard’s vengeance had badly backfired. He and his sexual proclivities were now the talk of London society. For the press, Richard’s hobby of collecting ancient art and showing it off to the public, gave rise to the question of whether he treated his wife similarly – an object to be displayed, rather than a woman to be loved. They speculated whether over his voyeurism, seeing it as a fetish displayed in his hobby as his marriage. Whether Richard was a regular voyeur and how active a role Seymour played in these sexual games is an open question. Perhaps it was to escape such shows that made her willing to elope?

However, he may also have had a cruel streak. Later in his life, when living in Egypt and trying to escape the scandal created by the trial, he bought a slave child (despite this being illegal), who he was known to treat very badly, regularly beating him for no reason. Some of his British servants and employees resigned due to similar bad treatment. While such behaviour only emerged in his later life, it raises questions about how he treated his wife in the privacy of her home. Seymour never got to provide her side of events, so we will never know.

In her attempt to save her lover, Seymour had given up every shred of respectability. After the trial, she was a social outcast, disowned by friends and family alike. Her son remained with Richard, as was the law, while the baby Jane had died during the trial, not having seen her mother since she eloped. Respectable eighteenth-century society shunned divorcees; ‘respectable’ women could not risk having their own reputations ruined through association. This was even more the case for a woman like Seymour, who had not only eloped with another man but admitted to multiple lovers. At the same time, Seymour was not the first divorcee in London high society, and she found herself welcomed into a circle of elite women, who were either divorced or known courtesans. Amongst this group, she not only found companionship, but an active social life of parties and gambling (often with the same men, whose reputations were less vulnerable, as before).

Her relationship with George lasted another eighteen months, but without the opportunity to marry and provide him a legitimate heir, the relationship was doomed. He moved on and later married, rejoining respectable society and living a thoroughly conventional life. Seymour, on the other hand, was left in limbo as her separation suit dragged on. She was entitled to £400 a year pin money, and the court had granted her another £600 a year. But, Richard disputed the latter sum and it was never paid. Instead, he went to Europe to lay low after the trial, leaving their separation incomplete. In financial limbo, Seymour was able to purchase things using Richard’s credit, but he was not around to pay the bills and she had no money to do. As her depts piled up, so her credit dried up. Moreover, when George left, she was four months pregnant.

To survive, like many women in her situation, Seymour became a mistress to a wealthy Indian plantation owner, Isaac Byers. He was looking for an attractive mistress and the access to aristocratic society that he desired, and she was looking for company and financial support. She gave birth in 1783, but what happened to the child is unknown. It was customary for such children to be put out to nurse and supported by their fathers. Infant mortality was high, so it is possible the child died later. Afterwards, driven from London due to growing debts and disapproving glances, she spent a number of years on the continent, supported as a mistress for various wealthy aristocrats. In 1788, Richard returned to England and finally signed his separation agreement. He agreed to pay all Seymour’s debts (calculated at over £3500) and to pay her pin money, but refused the court ordered £600. He also added a clause saying that Seymour would not return to the UK for four years or he would stop paying anything. Moneyless and desperate, Seymour signed and moved to Paris.

What she did not foresee was the French Revolution. Unable to return home and living on the charity of various lovers, Seymour could not leave France when the revolutionaries began their anti-aristocratic attacks. She briefly moved to Lille and then disappears from the record for a number of years. Yet, there is good evidence to suspect that she was ‘Mrs Neylour’ jailed in Carmes Prison between 1793 and 1794, alongside a number of other aristocrats in her social circle. It was also during this time that she gave birth to another daughter, who was adopted by French parents, and also learned that her son Robert had died at the age of nineteen, leaving Richard without an heir.

Seymour finally returned to England in 1797. She was desperately ill, with little money, and growing doctor’s bills. The seriousness of her illness brought her family to her bedside and a reconciliation of sorts was formed, with her parents paying for her to travel to the coast to recuperate. She established herself at Brompton, where she tried to live quietly, at least with the appearance of decorum. At the same time, her next door neighbours during these years involved many of the women and men she had partied with in the years following the Crim Con trial. It seems that if Seymour had learned a lesson, it was discretion.

During this time, she met the 26 year old, Swiss musician, Jean Louis Hummell. With a twenty-year age gap, he may have been attracted by the money she would eventually receive when her husband died, but they also cared for each other. When Richard died in 1805, they finally tied the knot and she settled her returned fortune on him. In return, Hummell changed his name to John Lewis Fleming. Shortly after their marriage, a couple showed up on her doorstep. The woman claimed to be her and Richard’s daughter, adopted by a French couple, and so entitled to inherit Richard’s estate. While they had tracked Seymour down, they were not aware of the scandal that had caused the couple’s separation five years before the woman’s birth. Legal proceedings were started, but in 1808, Seymour chose to settle. Whether she believed this was her daughter or just did not have the energy for another trial is unknown. The daughter was provided with £1000 and £3000 to be settled on any issue of her marriage. John Lewis and Seymour lived together until her death in 1818 from an unknown illness. He appeared to genuinely care for her, perhaps recognising that she had turned him from a lowly musician into a landed gentleman. Despite remarrying, John requested that he was buried alongside his first wife after his death in 1836.

Further Reading

Hallie Rubenhold, Lady Worsley’s Whim; An Eighteenth Century Tale of Sex, Scandal and Divorce (Chatto & Windus, 2008).

Katie Barclay is interested in the emotions created in the general public by this scandal. How did Seymour’s behaviour shape public opinion and why were they – and now us – so fascinated by this story.


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