The Scandalous Lady W.
"I belong to no man. And although it may be my misfortune to live in an age of men, I will never belong to a man."
In 1781, a man’s wife is considered to be his property, much like his home, his land or his cattle.
Last night’s BBC drama, The scandalous Lady W, documented the amazing true story of the wealthy heiress, Lady Seymour Worsley, who caused outrage when she cuckolds her husband which consequently sparked one of the greatest scandals of eighteenth-century England.
Not only was this drama highly compelling and fascinating due to the fact that it actually happened, it was perhaps the biggest advertisement for radical, militarized feminism and premarital sex too. However, among eighteenth-century England, Lady Worlsely was considered to be the ultimate Scarlett woman. It was said that her sex life was so shocking that she was the inspiration for Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s play School for Scoundrel.
She was also the inspiration behind David Eldbridge’s play, The Scandalous Lady W (quite literally). This play recounts the nasty business between Lady Seymour Worsley, her lover George Bissett and her husband Sir Richard Worsley. Lady Seymour ‘goes into her union with Sir Richard Worsley fully expecting it to be a meeting of equals. But she starts to become wary when he warns her: “You will recall, Seymour, you made a vow to love, cherish… and obey.” She is soon being tyrannised by Richard, who takes a perverted pleasure in watching her have sex with other men.
Unable to stand Richard’s cruelty anymore, Seymour flees her oppressive marriage and elopes with his best friend, George. Richard sues the couple, hoping to ruin them both. But Seymour decides to contest the case, refusing to accept the archaic law that defines a wife as the property of her husband, “much like his home, his land and his cattle.” She skilfully manipulates the nascent press to support her and turn the nation against her reprehensible husband’ (The Independent). Most notably, this is seen when Lady Worsley reveals the scandalous revelations of her marriage by presenting her 27 lovers in court. Thus, she was able to turn the case in her favour as it questioned the legal status of her husband, who was only awarded one shilling in compensation for damages caused.
When Richard died Seymour reclaimed what remained of her dowry and her maiden name, Fleming.
She married again, a musician twenty-one years her junior, but she didn’t take his name.
He took hers.
Her portrait hangs to this day in Harewood House, Yorkshire.
When questioned about her most recent role, lead actress Natalie Dormer stated; “I found the historical fact so intoxicating that I didn’t want anybody else to play this woman. A woman couldn’t legally own or inherit until 1870-which is only 145 years ago. Most girls walking around the street tweeting or ordering on their Net-a-Porter app have no idea how minute the time is that we’ve had equality.” She says; “without sounding too earnest there are a lot of women in the world who don’t have a political voice, don’t have suffrage. We are talking about it as history, but there are plenty of places in the world where women are second-class citizens and still enslaved to their male counterparts. It’s not as distant politically as we like to think it is.”
Being a fan of Natalie Dormer’s for many years, I was so excited when I saw the advertisement for The Scandalous Lady W. She has got to be one of my favourite actresses, especially after I watched her portrayal of Anne Boleyn in The Tudors. As well as this, she is best known for her role as Margaery Tyrell in Games of Thrones and as Cressida in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay-Part 1.
Born in Berkshire, Natalie Dormer studied at the Reading Blue Coat School. At school, Dormer was head girl, a first-class student, vice-captain of the school netball team, and she also got to travel the world with her school’s public speaking team. She describes herself as the “academic hopeful” of the family and was provisionally offered a place to study history at Cambridge; but, in her A-Level History exam, she did not achieve the A grade she needed to attend. Dormer decided she would audition for drama school and decided to train in London.
Initially, when I read this I felt so disappointed for Natalie as being an A-Level student just one year ago I empathised majorly for her. However, I came to think that it would have been a great shame if Natalie had gone to Cambridge because then England and America would never have seen Natalie grace our screen and experience the splendour that is her acting ability.
A tremendous and enigmatic performance.
An excellent adaptation, as well as an inspirational story about a woman who has to undergo a publicly embarrassing scandal to discover her own worth.