Huntingdon, Lady

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Huntingdon, Lady (1707–91). Foundress of the countess of Huntingdon's Connexion, Selina Shirley, daughter of the 2nd Earl Ferrers, married the 9th earl of Huntingdon (d. 1746) in 1728. Despite her aristocratic background, her fortune was slender and her marriage a love match. Small in stature but characterful in the extreme, she was converted by her sister-in-law, Lady Margaret Hastings, and joined the methodist society in Fetter Lane in 1739. Coming to know the Wesleys, the Welsh evangelist Howell Harris, and George Whitefield, whose side she took in his dispute with the Wesleys in 1749, she built a number of chapels in such places as Brighton (1761), Bath (1765), Tunbridge Wells (1769), Worcester (1773), and Spa Fields, London (1779), served by ministers trained after 1768 at the college which she instituted at Trevecca, near Talgarth. Thwarted in 1770 by a ruling that her rank did not entitle her to appoint as many Anglican clergymen to be her chaplains as she wished, she registered her chapels as dissenting places of worship under the Toleration Act, forming them into an association in 1790. Many of her sixty chapels, like her college, long survived her. Opinion towards her among the nobility varied greatly. The duchess of Buckingham rebuked her sternly for sentiments ‘so much at variance with high rank and good breeding’, and Horace Walpole tried out a variety of jokes at her expense as ‘Lady St Huntingdon’ and ‘Pope Joan of Methodism’. George Lyttelton thought her ‘a gentle angel’, and George III gave her an audience in 1772, wishing there were a Lady Huntingdon in every diocese.

Clyde Binfield; and Professor J. A. Cannon