It hardly seems possible, but the tenth anniversary of starting Second Son fast approaches: November 13, 2013. (The meet-cute scene between Darcy and a young Lizzy during the dinner at Chatsworth was the first scene I wrote.) I remember those heady days of researching anything and everything, including a deep dive into the history of the Darcy family and, of course, the Fitzwilliams. Imagine my surprise, when researching earldoms with the surname Fitzwilliam, I came across an earldom with the surname Bennet (one t).
I spent several days down that one and fell in love with the family of Charles Bennet, the 4th Earl of Tankerville. The Tankerville earldom is still extant, so I renamed it the Earl of Lobelville and characters loosely based on Charles Bennet and his family have made appearances in each of my published stories.
The historic family seat is Chillingham Castle in Northumberland (supra, as painted in the 19th-century). The castle is said to be haunted and is the home of a rare breed of wild cattle. They had a second home, Mt Felix, on Walton-on-the-Thames, in Surrey.
Lord Charles Bennet, Lord Tankerville (1743-1822), was an intellectual man who collected shells and maps, but is best known as a cricket-enthusiast. (Hence, cricket is a Bennet family sport in Second Son.) His lordship sat on a 1774 committee codifying the rules of cricket, and two of the best cricket players in the Georgian era worked as his butler and his gardener.
Emma, nee Colebrooke, Bennet, Lady Tankerville (1752-1836), was said to have been an accomplished hostess, but she is best known for her love of plants, gardens, and particularly, orchids. A collection of paintings either done by Lady Tankerville or collected from other painters detailed every flower at the magnificent Mt Felix gardens, and this collection is now a revered part of the Kew Garden archives. Lady Tankerville was unable to join the Royal Academy or Royal Society, but that did not keep her, or her daughters, from making scientific notes on the back of these paintings or experimenting with their flowers. The first orchid to bloom in England – in the greenhouses at Mt Felix – was named phaius tankerville in honour of her achievement.
Lord and Lady Tankerville’s daughter, Lady Mary Elizabeth Bennet (1785-1861), was also interested in botany. With the gardener at Mt Felix, Lady Mary Elizabeth created the tri-coloured-heartsease, what we now refer to as the pansy, debuting at flower shows in Town in 1812. However, she is most famous for her art. She helped her mother catalogue the flowers at Mt Felix and spent many years studying with some of the best painting masters of her day. Lady Mary Elizabeth Bennet did a series of engravings of Chillingham Castle, many paintings of Mt Felix, and later, after her marriage to Sir Charles Monck in 1831, of Belsay Castle.
Lord Tankerville’s heir, Charles Augustus Bennet, Baron Ossulton (1776-1859), was a member of the House of Commons until his father’s death in 1822 and served as Treasurer of the Household during the short-lived Ministry of All Talents (1806-07). He allied with his younger brother, Henry (1777-1836), in Parliament and were evidently a force with which to be reckoned. The brothers were so powerful in their arguments that, for a time, Benneting became a verb used in Parliament to describe a forceful argument presented by two members.
I hope you enjoyed meeting the Bennets of Tankerville and can now picture this delightful family when you read of the Lobelville Bennets in my stories.
Godspeed to each of my dear readers!