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The Lady in Red: An Eighteenth-Century Tale of Sex, Scandal, and Divorce

3.66  ·  Rating Details  ·  320 Ratings  ·  50 Reviews
She was a spirited young heiress. He was a handsome baronet with a promising career in government. The marriage of Lady Seymour Dorothy Fleming and Sir Richard Worsley had the makings of a fairy tale—but ended as one of the most scandalous and highly publicized divorces in history.

In February 1782, England opened its newspapers to read the details of a criminal conversatio
Paperback, 320 pages
Published August 17th 2010 by St. Martin's Griffin (first published July 7th 2008)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,370)
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In 1775, a shallow young baronet married an eighteen year old lady with far more money than looks or learning. They lived tolerably well together for a few years, until at last Lady Seymour Dorothy Fleming Worsley ran away with their mutual friend, Maurice Bisset. The lovers hoped Sir Richard Worsley would initiate divorce proceedings against Lady Worsley so they could marry each other, but Sir Worsley was far too angry to do so. Instead, he sued for separation and further, sued Bisset for a pro ...more
Marguerite Kaye
Mar 26, 2015 Marguerite Kaye rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Research, how I love research - even when it turns out not to be what I was expecting!

The treatment that history has doled out to women never fails to astound me - and to get me bristling with both anger and ideas. Not two hundered years yet since the Married Women's Property Act finally allowed us to own heritable property in our own names, and considerably less than that since the law decided that women could divorce their husbands on the same grounds. In Lady Worsley's time, there was no suc
Sep 13, 2014 Caroline rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: british-history
The Georgian law courts have furnished history with a number of high-profile 'criminal conversation' (adultery) and divorce cases, but few could have been as scandalous and titillating as the case of Worsley v. Bisset. Brought by a minor baronet after his independent-minded and spirited young wife had eloped with her lover, determined to drag both through the courts and ruin his rival, the case engrossed all of England for months, even years. Indeed the interest and gossip spread further afield ...more
Sep 14, 2015 Karen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm a bit of a history geek so after watching the BBC drama 'The Scandalous Lady W' I thought i'd read the book.
The author Hallie Rubenhold was inspired to write this story after a visit to Harewood House in Yorkshire England and seeing the painting of Lady Seymour Worsley in her South Hampshire Militia riding habit.(painted in 1779)
This is a true story from the 1780s,Seymour's husband, Sir Richard Worsley, convinces her to take other lovers.But when she falls in love with Captain George Bisset,
Samantha Bee
Aug 10, 2015 Samantha Bee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I figured this was an appropriate next read, what with the BBC drama, The Scandalous Lady W, coming out soon. An enjoyable book about a fascinating woman and the scandals that surrounded her. Rubenhold doesn't just focus on the infamous Worsley v. Bisset trial but far beyond that. As far as historical non-fiction goes, this book read rather quickly, which I appreciate, though at the same time it sometimes felt more like fiction, which I personally don't love when reading a non-fiction book. Rega ...more
Literary Ames {Against GR Censorship}
After watching the astonishing BBC adaption The Scandalous Lady W, a true story, with Natalie Dormer in the title role, I have to read this.
Jul 22, 2014 Meredith rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Interesting look at divorce laws, property ownership, and a crim. con. trial (criminal conversation -- basically one man suing another for compensation for property damage.....said property being his wife) which was the on dit of the town in 1782 -- and some time after.

I am always intrigued to learn the stories behind properties and paintings. Many will recognise Reynold's striking portrait of Lady Worsley in her militia-style scarlet gown, also the beautiful portrait he painted in 1775 of her s
(4.5 stars)

The sordid story of the divorce of Lady Seymour Dorothy Fleming and Sir Richard Worsley which went to court in 1782 makes for a really interesting read. There are no diaries or letters really preserved to shed light on what had happened, but using what is available (legal documents, newspapers, contemporary books and poems and engravings) Rubenhold still manages to paint a vivid picture of what was going on and how thing could turn out this way.
Jan 17, 2016 Cynthia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, bio
The escapades of the brash and daring Lady Seymour Worsley were fascinating, especially so given the time period of the 1770-1810's. By comparison, the gossip of today's tabloids is peopled with lackluster characters and their drab goings on. Seymour Dorothy Fleming Worsley was, alternately, someone I would love to have met and someone best avoided. It amazes me when I read a history of a person I had not previously heard of, yet whose path, in some way, twined in and out of the lives of other s ...more
Oct 23, 2009 Al rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I can understand how this could be pretty tough to get through for some. How can you make sex, scandal and divorce be a tough read you might wonder? Somehow the author figures out how to give some of the most scandalous behavior a clinical feel. Even the driest writing couldn't force me to put the book down though. It was a pretty interesting and shocking book, all in all.
A man’s wife publically runs off with her lover and his name is dragged through the mud, jeopardizing his political future. How much is a man’s honor worth? Is it worth more if his wife brought wealth into the marriage and is this “worth” more if she remains unsullied by others? Is it worth less if the husband regularly invited his friends to oogle his wife? Is it worth less if it seems he knew of and ignored other lovers? What is it worth if the husband let her lover stand on his back to peep i ...more
Jenny Brown
Mar 18, 2012 Jenny Brown rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Thought I came away not thinking much of the subjects of this biography, the author did a great job of telling their story and shedding light on the nature of divorce in the 18th century.

Lacking any letter or diaries from Lady Worsley, Rubenhold was forced to rely on contemporaneous media accounts. At times it seemed she gave them too much credence. For example, I wasn't convinced that a poem supposedly composed to embody Lady Worsley's version of why she divorced was written by the lady, thoug
Freda Lightfoot
Sep 10, 2011 Freda Lightfoot rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Although this is non-fiction it is a racy tale of a vicious divorce in Georgian England. I really felt for Seymour, an unusual name for an unusual and spirited lady. Ravishingly beautiful and incredibly rich, she not unnaturally married a title. Unfortunately it is not prove to be happy ever after as Sir Richard Worsley did not quite come up to snuff, not least in the department of the bedchamber. Not being the kind of girl to suffer in silence, Seymour finds a new amour with whom she ultimately ...more
Loved it! Ever since I saw Reynold’s amazing portrait of Lady Worsley at Harewood House in Yorkshire and got fed a few tales about her from the room guide, I’ve been waiting for this story to be told. Seymour Dorothy Fleming was an heiress in Georgian England who made a promising marriage to Richard Worsley at an early age. Quickly they tired of one another and (with her husband's encouragement) Seymour set off on a series of affairs with various gentlemen of the ton, one of whom she eloped with ...more
Jan 30, 2013 Dorothy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
I found this an easy read but it left me somewhat underfilled.. The challenge the author faced is the lack of primary source material that might have added greater dimension to the lady and her husband. That said, the outlines of Lady Worsley's behavior were certainly eccentric and her public, self-inflicted, sought-after nose-snubbing of Society were really quite astonishing. This woman would have been a hit on reality TV. Today's housewives have nothing on her.

More important and enlightening
Very interesting book with lots of information about separation and divorce in the late 1700s in England. The book starts out a little slow and occasionally is a little hard to follow at the author focuses on either the husband or wife for several years and then has to jump back in time to catch us up to speed on the other's life during that time. Some of the "name dropping" can be confusing, too, as the author compares the Worsley's situation to other divorce/separation proceedings but rarely g ...more
Aug 24, 2012 Dorian rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The title of this book sounds as if it should belong to a piece of Victorian sensation fiction...but though the content is sensational, it's neither Victorian nor fiction. The publisher's blurb says
It was the divorce that scandalised Georgian England... She was a spirited young heiress. He was a handsome baronet with a promising career in government. Their marriage had the makings of a fairy tale but ended as one of the most salacious and highly publicised divorces in history.

Which is fairly acc
Jun 17, 2014 Diana rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm a sucker for some good gossip, never mind if it's a few centuries old.

This is a great train/vacation read, packed with interesting historical details but mostly centered around the lurid history of the Worsleys in the eighteenth century. It's not all superficial; the author gives great context so that a modern-day reader better understands the societal constraints in which men/women and nobility operated during the time, and the cultural setting that impacted these two people's lives so dras
Mark Farley
Jun 23, 2013 Mark Farley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An exquisitely written portrait of a group of fascinating characters in this most fascinating period of history, plus the ideals and morals of a time quite unfamiliar to ours and quite contradictory to how we behave in modern day, striking not only parallels but raising excellent questions and points about our own accepted form of society. Hallie weaves the story of the Worsley's through excellent and intense research really getting into the minds of each person and creating this wonderful style ...more
May 04, 2010 Alicia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thought this was a good non-fiction book. Not as great as Trudy swimming the channel, or the Queen Victoria, but still good. After reading this and Moll Flanders, I'm just so shocked at how easily children were cast aside and put away. However, this book had a really good quote that said something to the effect of "there's no use getting attached to someone that might die and could be taken away from you at a moment's notice" talking about how women were considered property and their children ...more
Kristi Woody
An impressive amount of research went into this book, and I admire the author for her efforts. She put the story together very well, though it seems like it could have been shorter. I just didn't connect with this story or this time period at all. Reading about how the legal system worked in the late 18th century was interesting, but that's about all I cared for.

The book is fine, just not my taste!
Jill Hutchinson
The Georgian and Regency periods had some pretty juicy goings-on within the aristocracy. This tale of adultery and divorce in the Worsley family is an interesting read as it contains a plethora of social commentary on the mores and morals of the time. The Lady of the book's title turns the tables on her husband in the ensuing divorce trial at the expense of her own reputation and the results are surprising for a time when women were chattel and had very little control of their own lives. The Lad ...more
Dec 08, 2009 Amanda rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was very interesting for about 2/3 of the book. The last 1/3 I just skimmed as I lost interest. I picked it up because I couldn't believe that I hadn't even heard of this case, even though my concentration in my history degree was English history! It was the Monica Lewinsky trial of its day. Those that liked the story of the Duchess will enjoy hearing about her in relation to the "Lady In Red" -- albeit not that much. The thing that stuck out most in my mind was the idea of the fact that me ...more
Snail in Danger (Sid) Nicolaides
"It had been on account of his father, Sir Thomas Worsley's deteriorating health that the 6th baronet's entire household were uprooted for a curative sojourn amid the orange trees and crumbling ruins of the warm Mediterranean. Two years earlier, on the 23rd of April 1765 his wife, the polished hostess Lady Betty Worsley, his seven-year-old daughter Henrietta and his son, Richard assumed their seats inside a carriage which would trundle across the pitted roads of Europe towards southern Italy."

Lois Clark-Johnston
This book mostly focused on the trial and the fall out from the trial. It was not bad just not what I was looking for. I did very much enjoy the info provided abour how widespread and openly infidelity was practiced at that time.
Jul 27, 2014 Mardia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent read, and it's impressive how the author manages to pull a coherent narrative out of her limited sources.
Sep 03, 2010 Vivienne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

I read this in tandem with Julie Peakman's 'Lascivious Bodies: A Sexual History of the Eighteenth Century' and they made a good match giving accounts of naughty goings-on in 18th century England. It certainly wasn't 'No Sex Please, We're British' back then!

Again, the author had combined a strong academic approach, including plenty of notes and lists of primary and secondary sources, with a very readable style. She did a remarkable job of bringing this story to light and placing it in the social
Nov 29, 2014 Bee rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: recs
Margaret Sankey
Part of the flood of popular history following Georgina, Duchess of Devonshire, this is another 18th century SCANDAL! Actually, once you pare away the chapters of the SCANDAL!, the author does rather good job of explaining the Byzantine court procedures of crim. con., or criminal conversation and 18th century divorce. But why let perfectly good research and bureaucratic history get in the way of a trashy popular biography
Michell Karnes
Jul 21, 2015 Michell Karnes rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book to me waxed and waned in interest but all in all I enjoyed it. I learned a lot about the financial implications of divorce in the 18th century. While I understood it was taboo for a woman to leave her husband there was certainly more to it than just being looked down on by society. I also learned that in this case as well as today's divorces there is definitely two sides to the story.
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Sinopsis en Español // Synopsis in Spanish 1 2 Mar 12, 2015 09:11AM  
  • Perdita: The Literary, Theatrical, Scandalous Life of Mary Robinson
  • Privilege and Scandal: The Remarkable Life of Harriet Spencer, Sister of Georgiana
  • A Scandalous Life: The Biography of Jane Digby
  • The Gentleman's Daughter: Women's Lives in Georgian England
  • Aristocrats: Caroline, Emily, Louisa, and Sarah Lennox, 1740-1832
  • Court Lady and Country Wife: Two Noble Sisters in Seventeenth-Century England
  • Wedlock
  • Ladies in Waiting: From the Tudors to the Present Day
  • Madame de Stäel
  • Dancing to the Precipice: Lucie Dillon, Marquise de la Tour du Pin and the French Revolution
  • Nell Gwyn: Mistress to a King
  • Sisters of Fortune: America’s Caton Sisters at Home and Abroad
  • Sovereign Ladies: The Six Reigning Queens of England
  • My Lady Scandalous: The Amazing Life and Outrageous Times of Grace Dalrymple Elliott, Royal Courtesan
  • Governess: The Lives and Times of the Real Jane Eyres
  • The Courtesan’s Revenge
  • City of Laughter: Sex and Satire in Eighteenth-Century London
  • A Royal Passion: The Turbulent Marriage of King Charles I of England and Henrietta Maria of France

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