Disraeli, Mary Anne (1792–1872)

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Disraeli, Mary Anne (1792–1872)

English viscountess. Name variations: Viscountess Beaconsfield; Marianne or Mary Anne Evans. Born November 11, 1792, in Exeter, England; died on December 15, 1872, in Buckinghamshire, England; daughter of John Evans and Eleanor (Viney) Evans; married Wyndham Lewis, in January 1815 (died 1838); married Benjamin Disraeli (1804–1881, prime minister of England), in August 1839; no children.

The future wife of England's prime minister, Mary Anne Evans was born into a prosperous family of Devonshire. She was the second child of John Evans, a naval officer who died in Bermuda when Mary Anne was a year old. Her widowed mother Eleanor Viney Evans moved into her husband's family home outside Exeter, where Mary Anne and her brother spent their childhood. At their grandfather's country manor, they grew up amid a warm and loving extended family. Probably due in part to her upbringing, Mary Anne developed a lively, cheerful, and tolerant disposition that would earn her the admiration of London society in later years.

In 1807, Eleanor relocated her teenaged children to Gloucester. After teaching Sunday school for several years, Mary Anne met and married a wealthy Welsh magistrate, Wyndham Lewis, in 1815. She was 23 and quite fond of 37-year-old Wyndham, who was deeply in love with her. They spent over 20 years together, dividing their time between his country estate in Cardiff, Wales, and, after Lewis' election to Parliament in 1820, in London. Mary Anne became a popular hostess—intelligent, charming, outgoing—and excelled in her role as a politician's wife, an asset in his business and public affairs. Keenly interested in the welfare of children and the poor, Mary Anne opened a school for the children of Greenmeadow in addition to many other charitable activities. She administered her husband's estates herself, showing a practical side of her nature previously unseen, but for the most part her life was that of a leisured aristocrat. Her husband was away from home much of the time, while Mary Anne spent her days hosting parties and entertaining their friends. And from her surviving correspondence it is evident that Mary Anne enjoyed numerous love affairs with men of her social circle, both married and single, without much comment from her elderly husband.

In 1832, she was introduced to Benjamin Disraeli. Disraeli came from an affluent family of Italian-Jewish descent which had converted to Anglicanism after settling in England. He was an elegant, moderately successful novelist who was showing some political ambition by the time he met Mary Anne. Five years later, Disraeli and Wyndham Lewis were elected to Parliament from the same town. After Lewis' death in 1838, rumors began to spread about the friendship between his wealthy widow and his young political colleague Disraeli. While her letters show that Mary Anne was grieved by her husband's death, and that her relationship with Disraeli for months was a simple friendship, the two eventually fell in love.

They married in August 1839, beginning a long and happy union that lasted until Mary Anne's death 32 years later. As she had been for her first husband, Mary Anne was an ideal companion for her "Dizzy" both personally and politically. As he rose in the British political system

from member of Parliament, to chancellor of the Exchequer, to prime minister in 1868, Mary Anne campaigned for him, criticized and edited his speeches and writings, and hosted his patrons. Husband and wife constantly exchanged loving letters, poems, and small gifts, which they carefully preserved.

The Disraelis were often invited to Queen Victoria 's court in the 1860s, as the queen was quite fond of Disraeli. Despite her failing health, including her long suffering from the stomach cancer that would kill her, Mary Anne remained a fixture in high society throughout this period. England's aristocratic women commented on her sometimes outrageous statements and social faux pas, her insistence on daring youthful fashions well into her 70s, and her scandalously affectionate behavior in public with Disraeli. Yet she always had more admirers than critics, and counted the queen as a friend. Before his first retirement as prime minister in 1868 (he served again after Mary Anne's death), Disraeli pressed the queen to honor his wife with a peerage. Queen Victoria responded by creating Mary Anne as Viscountess Beaconsfield. In the last few years of her life, Mary Anne suffered immensely from her cancer, spending every day in Disraeli's care, but she amazed London society by her determination not to scale back her activities. She died on December 15, 1872, at age 80.

sources:

Hardwick, Mollie. Mrs Dizzy: The Life of Mary Anne Disraeli, Viscountess Beaconsfield. London: Cassell, 1972.

Sykes, James. Mary Anne Disraeli. NY: Appleton, 1928.

Laura York , Riverside, California

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Disraeli, Mary Anne (1792–1872)

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