|Dido Elizabeth Belle (L) and half-cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray (R).|
This picture currently resides at Scone Palace in Perth, Scotland.
Seeing her picture for the first time, I assumed she was a servant. Lucky for us, her status at Kenwood House, London was vastly more remarkable. Her name was Dido Elizabeth Belle, the charge and great-niece of William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield.
|Dido’s father was British Navy officer, |
Sir John Lindsay
Dido’s status at Kenwood was curious. Since her mother was possibly enslaved, Dido technically shared her subjugated rank. Yet though she wasn't treated as part of Mansfield’s family like Elizabeth, her half-cousin, she wasn't regarded as a domestic. She and Elizabeth enjoyed an affectionate relationship; roughly the same age, they were playmates growing-up. During her adolescence, she became Elizabeth’s lady’s companion/personal attendant. She was also taught reading and writing, and granted a stipend. Though she had chores, they were more distinguished responsibilities like supervising the dairy and poultry yards.
Scholars also gained an understanding of Dido’s position from
August 29th 1779
A Black came in after dinner and sat with the ladies and after coffee, walked with the company in the gardens, one of the young ladies having her arm within the other. She had a very high cap and her wool was much frizzled in her neck, but not enough to answer the large curls now in fashion. She is neither handsome nor genteel- pert enough. I knew her history before, but My Lord mentioned it again. Sir John Lindsay having taken her mother prisoner in a Spanish vessel, brought her to England where she was delivered of this girl, of which she was then with child, and which was taken care of by Lord M., and has been educated by his family. He calls her Dido, which I suppose is all the name she has. He knows he has been reproached for showing fondness for her — I dare say not criminal.
A few years ago there was a cause before his Lordship bro’t by a Black for recovery of his liberty. A Jamaica planter being asked what judgement his Ldship would give? “No doubt” he answered “He will be set free, for Lord Mansfield keeps a Black in his house which governs him and the whole family.”
She is a sort of Superintendant over the dairy, poultry yard, etc, which we visited. And she was called upon by my Lord every minute for this thing and that, and shewed the greatest attention to everything he said.
|Dido was a resident of Kenwood House for 30 years|
|William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield was |
Dido’s great-uncle and guardian
The fate of Dido’s possible last descendant, Harold Davinier, proves another intriguing facet of Dido’s legacy. Born in South Africa, Harold died, says English Heritage, “white and free”, in 1975. Blacks, like his forebear Dido, only started receiving equal rights after apartheid was ended in 1994, #irony.
For more information on Dido Elizabeth Belle, visit:
Slavery and Justice Exhibition at Kenwood House