Sarah Child Villiers, Countess of Jersey (4 March 1785 – 26 January 1867), was a very prominent female figure in Regency society. As the leading patroness of Almack’s Assembly Rooms, she was reverently referred to as “Queen Sarah” due to her social status and power over the members of the ton.
A Smashing Success or a Social Outcast
Almack’s Assembly Rooms were a central social venue and the heart of the London season during the Regency period. Almack’s was “the” place for a young debutante to be seen and demonstrate her social skills as a member of the ton. Marriage-minded gentleman would go to Almack’s in search of a wife of excellent breeding to carry on the family line by producing an heir and a spare (a second son to inherit in case of the unfortunate demise of the first born son). Possessing a voucher to enter the sacred rooms of Almack’s could make or break a young debutante’s entrance into the ton and elevate her chances of catching a titled husband. Thus, Almack’s was referred to by many as “The Marriage Mart”.
Almack’s Assembly Rooms
In acknowledgement of her leading role among the ton throughout the Regency period and beyond, the Countess of Jersey was known to all as “Queen Sarah”.
Her amiable manners, her interest in politics, her admirable linguistic powers, her kindly, genial nature, all combined to give her a sort of prescriptive right to the exalted sphere in which she moved.Memorials of St. James’s Street and Chronicles of Almack’s by E Beresford Chancellor (1922).
As a strict enforcer of ton etiquette and rules, the Countess of Jersey is infamous for her refusal to allow the Duke of Wellington entry into Almack’s. Apparently, the Duke arrived seven minutes late after 11 p.m. and found the doors to the Assembly rooms closed to him on Queen Sarah’s order.
The Countess of Jersey is also known for introducing the quadrille to the Assembly rooms in 1815 upon her return from Paris, where the quadrille had become a very popular form of dance. The quadrille is performed by four couples with each couple standing at positions representing the four sides of a square, similar to the American square dance.
Heiress to A Fortune
Lady Sarah Child, Countess of Jersey, was the only daughter and potential heiress of Robert Child, the senior partner in Child’s bank. However, when Sara Child’s mother married the Earl of Westmorland against her father’s wishes, Robert Child cut her out of his will.
Subsequently, on the death of Lady Sarah’s mother in 1793, Lady Sarah became an heiress when she inherited all her grandfather’s wealth with an estimated income of £60,000 a year. As a result, Lady Sarah Child also inherited the senior partner role of the Child and Co. Bank, which she actively managed until her death.
The Other Lady Jersey: Mistress of Prince Regent George IV
As the leading queen of the ton, Lady Sarah Child Villiers, Countess of Jersey, is not to be confused with her mother-in-law, Frances Villiers, Countess of Jersey, the mistress to George IV while he was Prince Regent. The two countesses could not be any more opposite in moral standards. Lady Sarah Child Jersey was the epitome of virtue, morality, and the embodiment of ton rules; whereas her mother-in-law, Frances Villiers, was a notorious mistress to the Prince Regent.
Marriage and Family
Lady Sarah Child married George Villiers, Viscount Villiers on May 23, 1804 and had seven children during their marriage. In 1805 George Villiers became the 5th Earl of Jersey upon his father’s death. Although the Countess of Jersey inherited Osterley Park from her grandfather, (shown below), the Villiers preferred to live at Middleton Park.
Middleton Park is in Middleton Stoney in Oxfordshire (shown below), where Lord Jersey enjoyed breeding and training racehorses.
Originally built for the Earl of Jersey, Middleton Park was sold in 1737 to William Villiers, the 3rd Earl of Jersey, in whose family it remained until 1946.
The Villiers’ residence was a spectacular neo-Georgian style country house designed by Sir Edwin Lutyen, a famous English architect known for his innovative traditional designs. The bedrooms had en-suite dressing and bathrooms, while the servants were located in lodgings in the north forecourt. The country home is best known for the Countess of Jersey’s luxurious bathroom decorated in pink and white marble.
When in London, the Villiers resided at their townhouse at 38 Berkeley Square.
Sarah Child Villiers, Countess of Jersey, lived a long life until the age of 81. Upon Lady Jersey’s death on 26 January 1867, her estate largely passed to her grandson, the 7th Earl of Jersey.