Social Victorians/People/Fanny Ronalds

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Overview[edit | edit source]

Arthur Sullivan is not listed as having attended the Duchess of Devonshire's fancy-dress ball at Devonshire House, although he took an active part of some of the Jubilee celebrations and he and Ronalds had been in a close relationship for many years. She remained married to her American husband, for the sake of respectability and access.

This relationship appears to have ended in 1896. Jacobs sees the important loss as hers because "she basked in his sun," as he says,[1]:367–68 but Ronalds was at the ball and Sullivan was not. Perhaps the access to this social network that she enjoyed means that she was not the only one to benefit in this relationship.

Also Known As[edit | edit source]

  • Family name: Carter Ronalds
  • Mary Frances Carter
  • Mary Frances Ronalds
  • Mrs. Ronalds
  • Fanny Ronalds

Acquaintances, Friends and Enemies[edit | edit source]

Friends[edit | edit source]

Timeline[edit | edit source]

1859, Fanny Carter married Pierre Lorillard Ronalds.[2]

Early 1860s, Fanny Ronalds hosted a ball at which she dressed as Music.[2]

1867, Fanny Ronalds had separated from Pierre Lorillard Ronalds by this time.

Met Arthur Sullivan in Paris.

1871, at the fall of the Second Empire in France, Fanny Ronalds moved to London, from Paris by way of Algiers.

1877, Arthur Sullivan's brother Fred died.

1896 August 23, a serious rupture in their relationship changed Ronalds' relationship with Sullivan. Jacobs says,

at St Moritz, he 'made a mess' (as he put it in a letter home to his nephew) of Mrs Ronalds's birthday in August. 'I thought it was the 29th and it is the 23rd,' On the correct day she sent him a poem headed 'In remembrance' and signed 'L.W.' [probably Little Woman, a code he used in his diaries to mark social and sexual encounters]. It ended:

If I have ever made you glad,
Have ever made one single hour
Pass brightlier than else it had,
Have planted in your life one flower —
If I have ever had such power,
I cannot now be wholly sad.

There is a gracefulness in these words of resignation which transcends Sullivan's 'made a mess'. Mary Frances Ronads was not, in a formal sense, separated from Arthur Sullivan — since, in a formal sense, she was never united with him. Nor did he ever cease to maintain a solicitous responsibility for her. But the close companionship was over, and since it was she who had basked in his sun it must have been she that felt the cold.[1]:367–68

1897 July 2, Friday, Fanny Ronalds attended the Duchess of Devonshire's fancy-dress ball at Devonshire House.

1900 November 22, Arthur Sullivan died.

Costume at the Duchess of Devonshire's 2 July 1897 Fancy-dress Ball[edit | edit source]

Black-and-white photograph of a standing woman richly dressed in a costume covered with symbols of music and carrying a lyre, with a lyre as part of her hat
Mary Frances ('Fanny') Ronalds (née Carter) in costume as Euterpe. ©National Portrait Gallery, London.

At the Duchess of Devonshire's fancy-dress ball, Fanny Ronalds (at 92) was dressed as Euterpe, Music, the Spirit of Music or the Goddess of Music

  • She was dressed as "the Goddess of Music."[4]:p. 5, Col. 7c
  • "Mrs. Ronalds appeared in an allegorical costume representing the Goddess of Music. The underdress and drapery were of almond green Bengal satin, with embroidery of music. She carried a harp, and the head-dress consisted of a diamond lyre and jewelled crown of enamelled green laurel leaves."[5]:p. 3, Col. 2c
  • She was dressed as "'Music.' Pale green crepe de chine, embroidered in gold, with ever-dress of white Liberty satin, also wrought in gold, the design being harps and crowns of laurel leaves. Round the hem were a few bars of one of Arthur Sullivan's waltzes in green velvet. The cloak of white satin was lined with green crepe de chine, and in the front of the bodice was a golden harp[.] The head-dress was a wreath of gold laurel leaves, studded with diamonds, and in the centre was a lyre of diamonds and tiny electric lights. A necklace of gold bars, with enamel notes, was worn wfth pearl and diamond ornaments."[6]:p. 8, Col. 1b
  • "Mrs. Ronald's [sic] 'Spirit of Music' also deserves notice. The robe was of white and green silk, with a drapery of green silk falling from one shoulder, and had embroidered at the foot some bars of a waltz by Sir Arthur Sullivan. A diamond lyre was fastened at the bust, a small harp was held in the hand, and on the head was a diamond harp set in by electric lights."[7]:p. 6, Col. 1a
  • "Mrs. Ronalds (allegorical costume representing Goddess of Music), underdress and drapery of almond-green Bengal satin with / embroidery of music; drapery overdress of white Bengal satin, with embroidered musical devices."[8]:p. 40, Col. 2b–3a
  • "An allegorical costume, representing the Goddess of Music, was worn by Mrs. Ronalds, and was carried out delightfully in pale green and white, with musical devices traced in diamonds, and embroidered in gold and green. In her hair Mrs. Ronalds wore a diamond lyre and a jewelled crown of laurel leaves, every detail of the graceful costume having been most carefully thought out."[9]
  • "Mrs. Ronalds, as the "Spirit of Music," was a great success in a becoming and emblematic dress, and with lyre surrounded by electric lights on her head."[10]:p. 5, Col. 1
  • The Lewiston Evening Journal says, "Mrs. Ronald's dress is said to have cost $12,000."[11]

Lafayette's portrait of "Mary Frances ('Fanny') Ronalds (née Carter) as Euterpe" in costume is photogravure #58 in the album presented to the Duchess of Devonshire and now in the National Portrait Gallery.[12] The printing on the portrait says, "Mrs. Ronalds as Euterpe."[13]

Demographics[edit | edit source]

  • Nationality: born American[2]
  • Separated by 1867[2]

Family[edit | edit source]

  • Mary Frances ("Fanny") Carter Ronalds (23 August 1839 – 28 July 1916)[2]
  • Pierre Lorillard Ronalds ()
  1. Pierre Lorillard Ronalds, Jr. ()
  2. Reginald Ronalds ()
  3. Fannie (Fannette) Ritchie ()

Anthology[edit | edit source]

The last story in Julian Osgood Field's 1924 memoir Uncensored Recollections:

Another very delightful American personality in London society was the late Mrs. Ronalds. Fanny Carter was one of the prettiest girls in Boston, Mass., more than sixty years ago; and not only was she most remarkably pretty, but she had the most marvellous voice, a soprano that has rarely been surpassed on the operatic stage during the past half century, either in tone, quality or compass. But she was poor; she and her younger sister, Josephine, were both desperately poor; and yet, strange to say, Fanny was always well dressed. Malevolent old gossips in the very select salon of Mrs. Harrison Gray Otis used to say that the lovely and melodious Fanny was purely and simply clothed from head to foot


by the young men of Boston society who were all, needless to say, madly in love with her. It was said to be done in the following simple and guileless way. Fanny would go out for a walk in Beacon Street with some nice rich boy; she would go into a shop, order what she wanted and then — “Oh, how provoking! I've left my purse at home! Do pay for it, that's a dear boy. Popper will send you the money to morrow.” Popper, of course, always forgot to send, and so Miss Fanny's unkept promises, forgotten purses, and sweet smiles, kept her as well dressed as any maiden of the haughty house of Thayer, Hunnewell, or Ames. Old Peter Ronalds fell madly in love with her, and as he had pots of money, she married him and came to Paris with her sister, leaving her husband in New York to continue making money “down town” and send it to her — a habit of not a few pretty American ladies, and one which American husbands submit to with good grace. Everyone in Paris at first went mad about her: her beauty, her charm, her marvellous singing. The career of her younger sister, Josephine, was a short one. She went to a Fancy Dress Ball given at the French Admiralty (I am speaking now of the Second Empire days, of course) by the Ministre de la Marine, the Marquis de Chasseloup Laubat — who himself married American lady — lying back with but little on but a tiger skin, in a hammock carried by Africans in native costume, caught cold, developed typhoid and died. Her death was a terrible blow to poor Fanny


who was devotedly attached to her; and whose very lovely head was being by degrees completely lost in the wild whirlpool of admiration which she found herself creating in the French capital. Very disquieting rumours at length reached the ears of old Peter in New York, and he began instituting divorce proceedings. There seemed to be no shadow of defence, and things looked very black indeed for Fanny, when she, suddenly remembering how her bewitching smiles had clothed her in the old days in Boston, decided that it might perhaps be worth trying to see what effect they might have on judges in Paris. She promptly, therefore, called on the one before whom her apparently hopeless case was about to be heard and was doubtless gratified to find that her charms had lost none of their power, for the case was decided in her favour. But soon Fanny fell into very bad hands. A villain carried her away with him to Tunis, thus shutting the gates of society against her. He treated her infamously; she escaped from him and returned to Paris. But there she fared still worse, for as all the ladies whom she formerly knew now refused to receive her, she drifted into a life of adventure, and was seized upon, blackmailed and exploited by two of the biggest scoundrels of those days, “Reggie” Russell and Baron Malortie, nephew of the great Bismarck. These villains practically sequestrated Mrs. Ronalds and kept her closely guarded in the neighbourhood of the Rond Point. I had always been one of her admirers, and when


I heard of this awful state of things from a friend, the old dandy Vicomte de Grente, I told George Sheffield, and he gave me a private letter to a very high-placed Government Official, with the result that Messrs. Russell and Malortie had to release their prey — at least appear to do so, although I know, as a matter of fact, the poor woman was forced to give them money for many months after. Still, she was now apparently free, and her friends (for she was really a most lovable woman quite apart from her great beauty and marvellous voice) rallied round her. I am happy to think that it was I who first presented her to the Duke of Edinburgh, and thus brought about the miracle of her social rehabilitation, for the Duke and Duchess had her down to stay with them at Eastwell; and with such a Royal whitewash spread over the crimson of her past, who was to be found to cast a stone? So Fanny Ronalds settled down in London and soon her little house near Sloane Street became a very amusing social centre — not very select perhaps, but yet not quite Bohemian. Her great friend in England was Arthur Sullivan; but she also had the merit of discovering that interesting personality — Count” Ward, and during the famous Rio Tinto boom her drawing-room was like a miniature Stock Exchange. Peace be to her ashes! Possibly she had many faults; but very certainly she had very many and very rare and precious good qualities — not the least among them being that she never was


known to speak one hard, harsh or unkind word, even of her most bitter enemies and most merciless and relentless detractors. With her great beauty, charm of manner, and marvellous voice, had she been well brought up, and not left to lead a life of adventure from her very earliest girlhood, she would, no doubt, have been one of the greatest social leaders of her day, no matter in what capital she might have honoured with her presence.[3] (324–328)

Questions and Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. Fanny Ronalds had worn a similar costume at an earlier fancy-dress ball, perhaps in New York?

Footnotes[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Jacobs, Arthur. Arthur Sullivan: A Victorian Musician. Oxford University Press, 1984.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 "Fanny Ronalds". Wikipedia. 2021-09-09.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Field, Julian Osgood. Uncensored Recollections. Lippincott, 1924. Google Books (retrieved May 2023).
  4. "Duchess of Devonshire's Fancy Ball. A Brilliant Spectacle. Some of the Dresses." London Daily News Saturday 3 July 1897: 5 [of 10], Col. 6a–6, Col. 1b. British Newspaper Archive and
  5. “The Ball at Devonshire House. Magnificent Spectacle. Description of the Dresses.” London Evening Standard 3 July 1897 Saturday: 3 [of 12], Cols. 1a–5b [of 7]. British Newspaper Archive
  6. "Fancy Dress Ball at Devonshire House." Morning Post Saturday 3 July 1897: 7 [of 12], Col. 4a–8 Col. 2b. British Newspaper Archive
  7. "The Duchess of Devonshire's Fancy Dress Ball. Special Telegram." Belfast News-Letter Saturday 03 July 1897: 5 [of 8], Col. 9c [of 9]–6, Col. 1a. British Newspaper Archive
  8. “The Duchess of Devonshire’s Ball.” The Gentlewoman 10 July 1897 Saturday: 32–42 [of 76], Cols. 1a–3c [of 3]. British Newspaper Archive
  9. “The Devonshire House Ball. A Brilliant Gathering.” The Pall Mall Gazette 3 July 1897, Saturday: 7 [of 10], Col. 2a–3a. British Newspaper Archive
  10. “The Duchess’s Costume Ball.” Westminster Gazette 03 July 1897 Saturday: 5 [of 8], Cols. 1a–3b [of 3]. British Newspaper Archive
  11. "Royalty Has Its Troubles." "Had No Invitation to Devonshire Ball and Names Kept Out of Papers." Lewiston [Maine] Evening Journal 10 July 1897: 1, Col. 4b [of 7]. Google Books. Retrieved September 2023.
  12. "Devonshire House Fancy Dress Ball (1897): photogravures by Walker & Boutall after various photographers." 1899. National Portrait Gallery
  13. "Mary Frances ('Fanny') Ronalds (née Carter) as Euterpe." Diamond Jubilee Fancy Dress Ball. National Portrait Gallery