Lady Craveing’s Teapot Goes For £22,800 At Bonhams

A teapot modelled on the infamous Lady Elizabeth Craven, playwright, socialite and one time resident of the Craven Cottage, has sold at Bonhams’ London showroom for a scandalous £22,800. The teapot bears the legend ‘Lady Craveing’s Teapot’, a pun on her name and various appetites.

Since it first appeared for sale in 1875 it has been described as a likeness of Lady Craven herself. The choice of a teapot shape may in fact be a reference to Lady Craven’s notorious tea parties at Craven Cottage between 1780-83. The teapot was even reputed to have belonged to King George IV, a one time friend of the Lady Craven, but there is no evidence surviving to support this.

Lady Elizabeth Craven (1750-1828) was a socialite whose life was full of scandal. She was reported to have had many affairs during her tumultuous marriage to Lord William Craven, a cousin of King George III. In 1775 she had a much-publicised affair with M. Le comte de Guines, the French Ambassador. Her husband Lord Craven found out and on that occasion he forgave her, but other liaisons followed, centred around Lady Craven’s luxurious cottage on the banks of the Thames at Fulham (The location now known as Craven Cottage, the site of Fulham Football Club). Lady Craven’s tea parties were the talk of London society.

During her marriage Lady Craven dabbled as a playwright. The teapot records the very short run of her first play ‘The Sleep Walker’, which was performed at Newbury in March 1778. In reality she had merely translated a French original by Pond de Vile and had written her own Prologue. According to this teapot, Lady Craven’s prologue mentioned a character who …’like a Tea-pot stand’s exactly thus’.

Later in 1778 Lady Craven’s first real play, The Miniature Picture was also performed at the town hall in Newbury for the benefit of the poor of the town. This was subsequently performed for four days at Drury Lane. In July 1781 her musical play The Silver Tankard was also performed in The Haymarket. Lady Craven is reported to have sat in the front row during the performances in order to receive maximum adulation from her society friends.

Lord Craven tired of his wife’s very public affairs. They separated in 1780 and in 1783 he effectively banished her abroad. She moved to France taking her youngest son with her and for some years she stayed very much in exile. She became close to the Margrave of Anspach, a nephew of George II’s wife Queen Caroline and also a nephew of Frederick the Great. Lady Craven embarked on a series of adventurous journeys, travelling all over Europe, into Russia and Turkey. Her letters to the Margrave, detailing her adventures, were published. One travelling companion was Henry Vernon, a soldier and nephew of Admiral Vernon. Lady Craven’s travelogue, A Journey through the Crimea to Constantinople was published in 1789.

Lord Craven died in September 1791. His widow married the Margrave of Anspach the following month. Her former friend, Horace Walpole, commented on the hasty union…

“Lady Craven received the news of her Lord’s death on a Friday, went into weeds on Saturday, and into white satin and many diamonds on Sunday…”

She was now the Margravine of Anspach and she returned to London with her new husband, occupying a grand house, Brandenburgh House in Hammersmith. She was determined to entertain on a lavish scale, but society was not prepared to forgive and forget and generally gave her the cold shoulder. Even though he was the Margrave’s cousin, King George III very publicly snubbed the newly-weds and refused their invitations. Instead the Margravine bought favour by lavish spending. She built her own theatre alongside her house and put on performances of her own plays. The Margravine and her son mostly took the lead roles. For the opening of her theatre in April 1793 the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Clarence attended her performance, which was followed by a grand masquerade ball. The Margravine surprised all the guests by handing out outrageous costumes and even the Princes changed clothes several times.

The following month the Margrave and Margravine breakfasted with the Prince of Wales at Carlton House. Her theatre performances continued—in June 1795 The Sleep Walker was performed—but gradually her friends lost interest and audiences were often pitiful, particularly as the Margrave’s financial position could not keep up with his wife’s pretensions. After the Margrave’s death in 1806, his widow moved back to the Continent, settling in Naples where she died at Craven Villa in 1828. Her memoirs were published in London in 1826.

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