Born in England; married John Brewer (an historian).
Office—School of English and Drama, Queen Mary, Mile End Rd., London E1 4NS, England.
Writer. Centre for Editing Lives and Letters, teacher.
Book of the Year Award, Longman/History Today, and Fawcett Prize, both for Aristocrats: Caroline, Emily, Louisa and Sarah Lennox, 1740-1832.
The Impact of Modernism, 1900-1920: Early Modernism and the Arts and Crafts Movement in Edwardian England, Routledge (London, England and New York, NY), 1988.
Aristocrats: Caroline, Emily, Louisa and Sarah Lennox, 1740-1832, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1994.
Citizen Lord: Edward Fitzgerald, 1763-1798, Chatto (London, England), 1997, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux (New York, NY), 1998.
Aristocrats: The Illustrated Companion to the Television Series, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London, England), 1999.
A Royal Affair: George III and His Scandalous Siblings, Random House (New York, NY), 2006.
Contributor to Joshua Reynolds: The Creation of Celebrity, Tate Publishers (London, England), 2005.
Stella Tillyard became well-known in the 1990s for her biographies of British and Anglo-Irish aristocrats of the eighteenth-century Georgian era. Her 1994 group biography, Aristocrats: Caroline, Emily, Louisa and Sarah Lennox, 1740-1832, deals with the lives of four sisters whose father, the second Duke of Richmond, was a cabinet minister and an illegitimate descendant of King Charles II. His four daughters, though not notable for any extraordinary intellectual or artistic contributions, were at the very nexus of the swirling political and fashionable currents of their day. Irish independence, the American and French revolutions, and the politics of the Whig party were some of the major issues in which members of the family were involved and, in at least one case—that of Emily's son Edward Fitzgerald—for which they gave their lives.
As Tillyard writes in her book, the four sisters led lives that were privileged enough to allow them some departure from convention. Caroline eloped with a politician, Henry Fox, causing a mild scandal. Emily wed the Duke of Leinster and had nineteen children as his wife, but the last of them was believed to be the offspring of her children's tutor rather than of her husband; and when Leinster died, she married the tutor, William Ogilvie, and had two more children with him. Louisa married the richest man in Ireland, Thomas Conolly, and after years of living in unfashionable conjugal fidelity, discovered that he had had a mistress all the time. The youngest sister, Sarah, was jilted by King George III when he was a young man. She was married off in haste to a man who made her unhappy; later, a divorcee, she found bliss in a marriage to an impoverished lieutenant from a minor noble family.
Tillyard's approach to historical writing is a narrative one, aiming at readability for a general audience. It is does not, however, lack instructive minutiae. The book has aimed, wrote reviewer Patricia Beer in the London Review of Books, for "chaotic authenticity" rather than for scholarly neatness, and Tillyard attempted to interweave history and biography in a way that illuminated, but did not comment upon, the former. Using thousands of letters written by the various branches of the widespread Lennox family, Tillyard created, in the opinion of Times Literary Supplement contributor Linda Kelly, "a richly detailed group biography that reads as satisfyingly as any family chronicle in fiction." Kelly particularly praised Tillyard's "fascinating" depiction of the great Conolly estate in Ireland, a hundred-servant operation on a virtually industrial scale, with so many hierarchical levels that the master and mistress had little direct control of its ground-level workers.
Kelly also lauded Tillyard's view of the four sisters' emotional reliance on one another: "Among its many virtues, Aristocrats is a tribute to the strength of sisterly affection." Beer was less enthusiastic, taking Tillyard to task for verbosity and for including too much background detail on matters with which readers could reasonably be expected to be already familiar. (The role of Bath as a fashionable resort, and the details of the Anglican marriage ceremony, were examples Beer cited.) Nevertheless, Beer declared: "There is much to admire in this book, particularly the industry that must have gone into its compilation." Noting that Tillyard had both a straightforward style and a more academic style, Beer expressed a preference for the former. She responded favorably to Tillyard's apparent devotion to her characters: "They certainly move dashingly along their appointed tracks. Their biographer's enthusiasm makes them glow." She recommended, in view of the book's length and its wealth of densely packed detail, that readers peruse it selectivity to "bring out the real strength of Aristocrats." A Kirkus Reviews contributor asserted: "This colorful narrative succeeds at bringing four historically distant lives closer to us."
Tillyard's 1997 book, Citizen Lord: Edward Fitzgerald, 1763-1798, is a direct outgrowth of her work on the Lennox sisters, for Edward Fitzgerald was the twelfth son of Emily Lennox, Duchess of Leinster. Fitzgerald came of age in a time of revolution, and became not only a revered Irish revolutionary in his lifetime, but a martyr to the cause of Irish freedom. As a boy Fitzgerald lived with his mother, his stepfather-tutor William Ogilvie, and his many siblings in a chateau in France, where Emily and her second husband had gone to escape the disapproval of London society. Fitzgerald's education was conducted on Rousseauian lines, emphasizing fresh air, exercise, and theater rather than academic work. (Emily had written to philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, years earlier, asking him to be her children's tutor, but he declined, thus opening a path for his follower Ogilvie.) It was a permissive environment in which the expression of feeling was encouraged, and Edward, a beloved child, established a lifelong, deep emotional bond with his mother.
Armed with universalist sympathies, Fitzgerald left at age sixteen to fight for the British in the American Revolution. In the process, he became a committed abolitionist and champion of liberty and equality. Wounded during a battle, his life was saved by a black slave named Tony who became his lifelong friend and servant. Dispatched to Nova Scotia, Fitzgerald came to know and admire the Native Americans; soon afterward, he and Tony wandered the continent for two years, sleeping in the open, hunting their own food, and befriending settlers.
Returning to London, Fitzgerald had an affair with the wife of Restoration playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan; she bore him a child with whom he would have little contact. He traveled to France on business for a planned Irish revolution, and married a French woman of revolutionary sympathies. The French invasion of Ireland, to which he gave so much of his energy, was a fiasco, and Fitzgerald became a wanted man in its aftermath, sometimes escaping from the law in disguise. Arrested, he contracted septicemia from a slight wound during the melee, and was allowed by his British captors to die. In the wake of his death, protests followed, and then the execution and torture of thousands of Irish patriots, helping to inflame the Irish hatred of England. Fitzgerald, it is worth noting, was a believer in sexual equality and bequeathed his estate equally to his sons and daughters.
Described by New York Times Book Review contributor Stacy Schiff as a "lively follow-up to Aristocrats," A Royal Affair: George III and His Scandalous Siblings is a group biography of the British king who reigned during the time of the American revolution. Though George handled many state matters during his reign, Tillyard's book focuses more on personality than on government affairs. The oldest son in the royal family, the plain and relatively untalented George saw it as his duty to live a life of service to his country and to try to keep his eight unruly siblings out of trouble. They, however, were difficult to control: his brother William, duke of Gloucester, defied George to wed in secret; his brother Henry, duke of Cumberland, was named as the third party in a scandalous divorce trial. His youngest sister, Caroline Mathilde—to whose story Tillyard gives particular time and attention in the book—almost provoked war between Denmark and Britain when her lover, Johan Struensee, attempted a coup against her husband, the king of Denmark. Tillyard argues that these and other conflicts in George's extended family help to explain the king's mistakes in dealing with the American colonists, whom he thought of as disobedient children.
Though many critics welcomed A Royal Affair's focus on interpersonal dynamics within the royal family, New York Times writer William Grimes observed that this sentimental approach discounted other factors that shaped George's actions, such as the economic challenges of governing an empire. Edward Bradbury, writing in the Contemporary Review, detected what he felt was almost a "distorting prejudice" against the king in the book; Grimes, on the other hand, wrote that Tillyard depicts her subject as a "sad, sympathetic figure." Several critics lauded Tillyard's thorough research and lively prose. Booklist reviewer Brad Hooper deemed the book a "riveting account" of the serious consequences of royal misbehaviors, and a writer for Kirkus Reviews hailed it as a "juicy account" of George and his siblings. As a contributor to the Economist noted, Tillyard "has returned to what she knows—and does—best, teasing out the bonds of love, hate and pretend indifference that bind siblings, no matter what their historical pedigree, into a cat's cradle of consequence."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies, fall, 1995, review of Aristocrats: Caroline, Emily, Louisa and Sarah Lennox, 1740-1832, p. 509.
Belles Lettres, summer, 1995, review of Aristocrats: Caroline, Emily, Louisa and Sarah Lennox 1740-1832, p. 27.
Booklist, October 15, 1994, Whitney Scott, review of Aristocrats: Caroline, Emily, Louisa and Sarah Lennox, 1740-1832, p. 398; June 1, 1998, Margaret Flanagan, review of Citizen Lord: The Life of Edward Fitzgerald, Irish Revolutionary, p. 1719; October 15, 2006, Brad Hooper, review of A Royal Affair: George III and His Scandalous Siblings, p. 21.
Bookseller, November 11, 2005, Caroline Sanderson, "Sibling Ribaldry," p. 34; February 24, 2006, Stella Tillyard, "The King and She: Stella Tillyard Gets to Grips with George III," p. 47.
Contemporary Review, September 22, 2006, Edward Bradbury, "The Marriages of George III's Siblings," p. 388.
Economist, January 28, 2006, "Gorgeous George; the British Royal Family," p. 80.
History Today, June 1, 2006, Jeremy Black, review of A Royal Affair, p. 63.
Independent (London, England), February 17, 2006, Sarah Burton, review of A Royal Affair; June 1, 2006, Jeremy Black, review of A Royal Affair, p. 63.
Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 1994, review of Aristocrats: Caroline, Emily, Louisa and Sarah Lennox, 1740-1832, p. 1204; May 1, 1998, review of Citizen Lord, p. 644; September 1, 2006, review of A Royal Affair, p. 893.
Library Journal, October 15, 1994, review of Aristocrats: Caroline, Emily, Louisa and Sarah Lennox, 1740-1832, p. 70; June 1, 1998, John J. Doherty, review of Citizen Lord, p. 120; December 1, 2006, Matt Todd, review of A Royal Affair, p. 133.
London Review of Books, June 9, 1994, Patricia Beer, review of Aristocrats: Caroline, Emily, Louisa and Sarah Lennox, 1740-1832, pp. 13-14; May 22, 1997, review of Citizen Lord, p. 11.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 7, 1995, review of Aristocrats: Caroline, Emily, Louisa and Sarah Lennox, 1740-1832, p. 14.
New Statesman & Society, March 31, 1995, review of Aristocrats: Caroline, Emily, Louisa and Sarah Lennox, 1740-1832, p. 43.
New York Review of Books, March 23, 1995, review of Aristocrats: Caroline, Emily, Louisa and Sarah Lennox, 1740-1832, p. 28.
New York Times, December 27, 2006, William Grimes, "Royally Hurt, at Home and Abroad."
New York Times Book Review, December 18, 1994, Lyndall Gordon, review of Aristocrats: Caroline, Emily, Louisa and Sarah Lennox, 1740-1832, p. 17; July 19, 1998, Thomas Flanagan, review of Citizen Lord, p. 10; December 31, 2006, Stacy Schiff, "All the King's Siblings."
New Yorker, February 6, 1995, review of Aristocrats: Caroline, Emily, Louisa and Sarah Lennox, 1740-1832, p. 91.
Observer, April 27, 1997, review of Citizen Lord, p. 16; June 14, 1998, review of Citizen Lord, p. 18.
Publishers Weekly, May 25, 1998, review of Citizen Lord, p. 79; August 28, 2006, review of A Royal Affair, p. 39.
Spectator, November 26, 1994, review of Aristocrats: Caroline, Emily, Louisa and Sarah Lennox, 1740-1832, p. 47.
Times Educational Supplement, March 24, 1995, review of Aristocrats: Caroline, Emily, Louisa and Sarah Lennox, 1740-1832, p. 13.
Times Literary Supplement, April 22, 1994, Linda Kelly, review of Aristocrats: Caroline, Emily, Louisa and Sarah Lennox, 1740-1832, p. 27; May 2, 1997, Ian McBride, review of Citizen Lord, p. 31; May 5, 2006, John Mullan, "Hack's Delight," p. 36.
Washington Post Book World, November 20, 1994, review of Aristocrats: Caroline, Emily, Louisa and Sarah Lennox, 1740-1832, p. 3; December 4, 1994, p. 3; February 18, 2007, Flora Fraser, "The Madness of King George: George III Suffered from Rebellious Colonists, Misbehaving Siblings and Inner Turmoil," p. 9.