Lady Anne Blunt (1837 – 1917); Horse Sense

Née Lady Ann Isabella Noel-King.

Her grandfather was Lord Byron, her father the Earl of Lovelace, her mother Ada Lovelace, who is credited (not quite accurately) as the first computer programmer for Babbage’s calculating machine.  With that kind of pedigree, anything was possible.

She grew up on her father’s considerable estate at East Horsley Park,  home-schooled in languages, mathematics, and violin.  She learned drawing from John Ruskin.  As befits a proper country blueblood,  she found her  real passion from  a young age was horses (indeed, it was said that she could jump a mount well into her seventies).    This meshed nicely with her husband’s passion for the Middle East.  It was about the only thing on which they could make a real partnership.

She met her husband the poet/diplomat/adventurer/writer  Wilfrid Scawen Blunt  in Florence,  after he had had several years under his belt in the diplomatic corp.  They married in 1869.  In 1872,  Blunt’s brother died,  thoughtfully leaving him Crabbet, the family estate in Surrey (fifteen servants and a dilapidated Elizabethan house)  and  £21,000 per annum.  What to do with such a windfall?  Fix up the old homestead, of course, but more than that – travel.  In 1873, the young couple went on the first of several extended ride-abouts to the desertish areas of Algeria, Egypt, Iraq and Arabia, she the sole woman on the caravan,  the fruits of which are in her  Bedouin Tribes of the Euphrates (1879) and A Pilgrimage to Nejd (1881).   Plenty of adventure in these books!   These were the days when crossing the Tigris, Euphrates, and Kherkha rivers depended on riding a goatskin raft or clinging to a swimming horse.  Here she also mastered Arabic, to complement her fluent French, Italian, Spanish and German.

Their attempts at starting a family suffered from a series of miscarriages and infant death; one daughter only survived to adulthood.  It was a particular blow to Wilfrid, who was particularly keen on keeping the Blunt family line, dating back to 1066, from dying out.

If not the family line, there were always horses.  In 1878 the couple decided to import six Arabian horses into England, to which end they established the Crabbet Arabian stud farm (1878) on the estate (she designed the accompanying house).   The results were favorable, and four years later she and her husband were in Cairo and bought Sheyk Obeyd, some 36 acres of fruit trees and pasturage just outside the city as a sort of sister establishment.  They were able to benefit from the declining fortunes of their neighbor Ali Pasha Sherif, another horse-breeder of local distinction (the better part of his collection wound up on the auction block on his death in 1897).  Over time the Blunts acquired perhaps 16 stallions and 51 mares of finest quality.

Acquisition was one thing, preservation another, and management of these two breeding establishments continents apart proved something of a difficulty.  The couple could not be in both places at once, and when not on site, the animals were in the care of indifferent, even negligent managers.   Worse, the Blunts differed on best practices.  Wilfrid – not a born horseman – believed that  the horses would do better with natural habitat, which in his mind meant short water, poor feed,  and full sun, just like in the desert.  The results were not good, and Lady Anne was only able to fully counter his ideas when she separated from him entirely and moved to Egypt.

The separation had been in the cards for some time.  Wilfrid may have held the admiration of many of the great and good (to say nothing of the women) of his time, but his treatment of his family was appalling.   Enough to say that he was profligate with both his and her money and serially unfaithful (there was illegitimate issue), the last straw being when, 1906, he brought his latest popsy home to Crabbet  with the intention of having her around full time.   Too much for the long suffering Lady Anne, and it was separate lives from then on (as Catholic converts, divorce was not in the cards), his in Surrey, hers in Shaykh Obeyd, where she could concentrate on horse-breeder.   Back in England, he had become the fount of wisdom in all things Muslim and deserty for the likes of T.E. Lawrence and  St. John Philby.  Clearly he had some kind of charm.)

Come the First World War, she tended the British wounded in Egyptian hospitals and working on a history of the Arabian Horse.   She died in 1917 after a brief illness, and just weeks after having inherited the title of Baroness Wentworth, leaving her estate to her daughter and grandchildren.

“To the end of her life,” said the obit in the Times (probably the work of her daughter), “she had the heart of a child, the brain of a scholar, and the soul of a saint.”

She also had the Lady Blunt violin, considered the finest example of Stradivarius’ art, in part because so little played.

(After Lady Anne’s death, Wilfrid and their daughter and grandchildren became embroiled in years of litigation over money, land, and horses.  Crabbet House was his, the farm – that was his daughters.  Money was thicker than blood, and to get money, he rustled several animals that did not belong to him in a night time raid, shooting a foaling mare that was in no position to endure travel. He shot a few others as well, mostly out of spite, which did not go down well in animal loving England.   He eventually lost the suit, but not before going through a good deal of property not his to go through. Elizabeth Longford write A Pilgrimage of Passion: The Life of Wilfrid Scawen Blunt (Tauris Parke Paperbacks)
for those interested in his hectic life.)

4 thoughts on “Lady Anne Blunt (1837 – 1917); Horse Sense

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