Boscawen, Fanny (1719–1805)

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Boscawen, Fanny (1719–1805)

British diarist, correspondent, and co-founder of the Bluestocking group. Born Frances Evelyn Glanville on July 23, 1719, in St. Clere, Kent, England; died on February 26, 1805, in London, England; daughter of Frances and William Evelyn Glanville (a politician and sheriff); educated at home; married Edward Boscawen (a naval officer), on December 11, 1742; children: Edward Hugh (1744–1774); Frances (b. 1746); Elizabeth (b. 1747); William (1751–1769); Benjamin (b. 1758).

By describing political, social and familial scenes in letters to her husband and friends, Fanny Boscawen left a diary of England's military and colonial decline during the 18th century. She was born in St. Clere, Kent, England, on July 23, 1719. Her mother Frances Glanville , heir to a considerable family legacy, died during a subsequent childbirth. Taking his wife's surname for status, William Evelyn Glanville remarried in St. Clere, Kent, while Fanny spent most of her youth with relatives.

Through her cousins, 18-year-old Fanny met the 23-year-old naval captain Edward Boscawen in 1738, and the two courted, though they kept the romance secret while he spent the next three years largely at sea. When he made port in May of 1742, they were engaged, then married by year's end. Fanny's navy life began abruptly. While she established their home in London, Ned, as the captain was known, set sail and was away almost continually for 18 months. The long absence was followed by an equal length of shore duty, during which Boscawen's first two children were born. Ned set sail again in the spring of 1746, and Fanny obtained a rented country home. This acquisition required negotiation with her father, who withheld her inheritance to keep his second family in their accustomed manner, but she obtained enough to take the cottage at Beddington. From then on, she kept a home outside London, believing country air to be better for her children's health.

Throughout 1746 and 1747, Ned was at sea frequently, defending Britain's colonial holdings. He was promoted to rear admiral following a financially successful battle in which a huge bounty was taken (after the government took its cut, a ship's crew divided seized loot). All the while, Fanny wrote to her husband, sharing news of politics, friends, as well as her daily activities and those of her children. In May of 1747, the third Boscawen child was born. Six months later, Ned was sent to the West Indies, a mission that lasted until April 1750. When letters could not reach him, Fanny kept journals and shipped them in bundles on navy boats. "I chat with you, my dear love, as if you could answer me," she wrote, "and I will not allow myself to reflect that is not the case." Gaps in her journal occur when his ship was dashed in rough seas or damaged in battles, and when he served shore duty for long stretches and filled his seat in Parliament. In 1751, a fourth child was born, and the admiral began a four-year period ashore.

From 1755 to 1760, however, the Seven Years' War kept him constantly away from home, either at sea, at the Admiralty, or at Parliament, with only short trips to the Hatchlands, a country estate near Guilford to which the family had moved. During that period, the Boscawens' final child was born, and they commissioned the building of a larger Hatchlands. The admiral's efforts at sea made the Boscawens national heroes, and Ned was promoted to general of Marines. Exhaustion from constant work broke his health in September of 1760. Nursing him until his death that January, Fanny Boscawen would live longer as the admiral's widow than as his wife. For a year, she went into seclusion, but she emerged to enliven the Bluestocking group, a roundtable of intellectual women whom she and Elizabeth Montagu gathered. Destined to span roughly two generations, the Bluestocking Circle became one of London's most celebrated societies for female members of the leisured gentry. A "bluestocking philosophy," concerned with literature rather than politics, emerged as a means of what members called "rational entertainment" for women.

Like their father, the Boscawen boys were drawn to the military. William joined up at age 12 and drowned at 17 while swimming in Jamaica. Benjamin was allowed to enlist at age 16 and served a dangerous tour during the American Revolution. Fanny Jr. married naval captain John Leveson-Gower and endured the same long absences and constant worry her mother had known. Boscawen sold the Hatchlands and moved to Colney Hatch in 1773. She visited her daughters and grandchildren frequently, kept correspondence with a number of friends, and welcomed visitors regularly. England was at war for 11 of her final 12 years. She wrote constantly of her own and her family's perspective on the battle—Benjamin's place in Parliament, Leveson-Gower's death in service, the country's decline as the strongest international power. Boscawen died on February 26, 1804, and was buried next to the admiral at Cornwall. Her letters and diaries were bequeathed first to her second cousin, then granddaughter, then great-great-granddaughter who married into the Oglander family. Cecil Aspinall-Oglander edited the papers to create Fanny biographies, Admiral's Wife and Admiral's Widow.

sources:

Aspinall-Oglander, Cecil. Admiral's Widow. London: The Hogarth Press, 1942.

——. Admiral's Wife. London: Longman's, Green, 1940.

Buck, Claire, ed. Bloomsbury Guide to Women's Literature. NY: Prentice Hall, 1992.

Crista Martin , Boston, Massachusetts