The Monarch and the Maypole
Fun And Games At Kendal House
In its time the Isleworth/St Margarets riverside has been graced by some fine and famous buildings. There was Lacy house, home for a while to Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Kilmorey House, built for but never occupied by the Earl of Kilmorey, Gordon House, home of lawyer and humorist Thomas Chandler Haliburton, Nazareth House and St Margarets, the family seat of the Marquis of Ailsa and over whose grounds is built the district that now bears its name. But of them all perhaps the most notable, if not the most famous was Kendal House, the home of the Duchess of Kendal, the German mistress of King George I.
The Duchess first met George in the 1670’s when she was plain old Ehrengard Melusina von der Schulemburg and serving as a maid of honour to his mother, Sophia, the Electress of Hanover. At the time George was married to his cousin, Sophia Dorothea of Celle. Theirs was not a happy union. He saw her only as an annual wage packet of 100,000 thalers. She saw him as a “snout faced pig.” It all ended in tears. In 1681 she found solace with the handsome Philip Christoph von Königsmarck. George found the same in the skinny arms of the maid of honour, Ehrengard Melusina von der Schulemburg… and skinny she was. One contemporary writer described her as “lank bony hideousness that was to later to distinguish her in England”. In 1694 George divorced Sophie Dorothea of Celle and because of her infidelity with Philip Christoph von Königsmarck threw her into prison where she stayed for the rest of her life. The fact that he was doing the same with Ehrengard Melusina etc etc didn’t seem to count for much in those days.
In 1698 George Louis succeeded as Elector of Hanover and in 1714 became King George 1st of Great Britain. In the same year he came to Britain bringing with him the ‘bony hideousness’ that was Ehrengard Melusina von der Schulemburg and installed her in a fine country house in Isleworth. The good people of Isleworth didn’t like her much. They thought she was corrupt, greedy, snobbish, foreign, overly tall, angular and hideously bony. They called her “The Maypole”. This was a slight improvement on what the Germans used to call her. They preferred “The Scarecrow”.
On 18 July 1716 Melusina was created Duchess of Munster, Marchioness of Dingannon, Countess of Dungannon, and Baroness Dundalk, in the Peerage of Ireland. On 19 March 1719 she was further created Duchess of Kendal, Countess of Feversham and Baroness Glastonbury, in the Peerage of Great Britain. From that hotchpotch of titles they selected Kendal as the name for her house in Isleworth.
It seems that the King and his skeletal sweetheart were interested in spiritualism and the possibility of life after death. In the “Good Fellows Calendar”, a racy publication of the time, it was reported that…
“This gracious sovereign once, while ‘doing the tender’ with the Duchess of Kendal, promised her that if she survived him, and if departed souls were so permitted, he would pay her a visit. The suspicious Duchess, on his death (in 1727) so expected this that when a large raven, flying into a window of her villa in Isleworth, she was persuaded it was the soul of her departed monarch, and treated it with respect and tenderness.”
(The gracious sovereign must have ‘done the tender’ with his Maypole on numerous occasions because she bore him at least 3 illegitimate children.)
W.M. Thackerey also picked up on the story in his book “The Four Georges”;
“After his demise a great raven flying in at the Duchess of Kendal’s window at Twickenham she imagined the King’s spirit inhabited her sable visitor. Affecting metempsychosis - funereal Royal bird. How pathetic is the idea of the Duchess weeping over it!”
After the Duchess’s death in 1743, aged 76, Kendal House was opened up as a place of public entertainment. An advertisement in the ‘Daily Advertiser’ of 1750 reads:-
“Kendal House, Isleworth, near Brentford, Middlesex, eight miles from London, will open for breakfast on Monday. The room for dancing is 60 feet long, and all the other rooms elegantly fitted up. The orchestra is allowed to be in the genteelest taste, being housed in an octagon in the Corinthian order. Ladies and gentlemen may divert themselves with fishing, the canal being well stocked with tench, carp and all sorts of fish; near are two wildernesses, with delightful rural walks, and through the garden runs a rapid river, shaded with a pleasant grove of trees, so designed by nature that in the hottest day of summer you are secured from the heat of the sun. Great care will be taken to keep out all disorderly people. There is a man cook and a good larder; all things are as cheap or cheaper than at any place of the kind.”
In 1753 Kendal House and a similar establishment in Islington called the “New Tunbridge” were celebrated in a song called “Modern Diversions”.
To opera, assemblies,
Or else to masquerade,
New Tunbridge, or to Kendal House;
And this shall be the trade.
We’ll sally out to breakfast,
And hear the fiddles play;
And there we’ll revel, feast and dance.
And make a merry day
If all her other titles were not enough, in 1723, Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor, bestowed upon Melusina the designation Princess of Eberstein. Although she had apparently never married George 1st it was thought that this new title proved that she had married the King in secret. Robert Walpole, the prime minister at the time and the man who really knew ‘what’s what’ said of Melusina that she was “As much the queen of England as anyone was.”
It is thought that the name Melusina (or Melusine) was taken from the fresh water siren or feminine spirit of European legend. The Melusine is usually depicted as a woman who is a serpent or fish much like a mermaid. She is sometimes depicted with wings, two tails or both, and is sometimes referred to as ‘a nixie.’Interestingly the Starbucks logo is based upon a two tailed Melusine as an early version of their emblem shows.
— from Martyn Day
30 July 2010 | around town