Jane Loftus - The Queen’s Confidante

Jane Loftus

Oh, Jane Loftus, how did you cope while cooped up under Queen Victoria’s control for 48 years? Widowed at 36, riddled with illness, yet stoic in the face of a sovereign who drew you closer the more you protested.

Jane Loftus is a national treasure yet her story is rarely told. She was privy to a raft of top-secret information and helped Victoria through her hardest years following the death of her beloved Albert. But despite her desire for freedom, she muted every rumour and worked selflessly for the greater good.

Born into an aristocratic family, she was the daughter of James Hope-Vere, Member of Parliament for Ilchester, and Lady Elizabeth Hay, a cousin of the Duke of Wellington. From an early age, she was thrust into the right circles and at 23, married John Loftus the third Marquess of Ely (1814-1857). Loftus was born in London and a politician like her father.

In 1845, she sat for the notable Italian artist, Cavaliere Alessandro Capalti (1810-1868), a portrait we have in the collection here at Brave. She’s depicted with a near-ethereal sheen - yet there’s a glint in her eye, a suggestion that a fire burns behind her demure image. Within four years, she had two children - a daughter, Lady Marion Loftus, and a son, John Loftus.

Despite the pressures of family life, she made the acquaintance of Queen Victoria, presumably through her family, and was soon appointed a lady of the Queen's bedchamber. But it seems that the closer she got to the Queen, the more resistance she found from those around her. She was noted as being nervous and lacking the usual etiquette to work within the formulaic world of the Royal Family. In 1855, Mary Bulteel remarked that “Lady Ely is more utterly the reverse from what she ought to be on this occasion than anybody can possibly conceive. I mean, I see she is preparing to be foolishly cringing to all the little miseries of etiquette...I quite long for somebody as the Queen's first lady with more natural dignity”.

Hon. Mary Bulteel (1832-1916)

Hon. Mary Bulteel (1832-1916). Royal Collection Trust.

However, her nervous disposition and lack of convention amused Victoria who became increasingly fond of her. She referred to “Dearest Jane” as “almost one of ourselves”.

Over the next few years, she accompanied Victoria more frequently - staying at various Royal residences. She became privy to personal information and encountered the Queen in various moods. It seems that she had a natural skill for diffusing her and, contrary to many of the Queen’s aids, Jane spoke the truth.

Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria in 1859 by Franz Xaver Winterhalter (1805–1873)

It’s unclear whether the affection was reciprocal as it’s reported that Jane was terrified of Victoria and her ceaseless work inevitably took a terrible toll on her health. The Queen was relentless and when the young Marchioness needed a rest, she was further burdened with duties. Victoria clearly trusted her and commissioned Franz Xaver Winterhalter (1805-73) to produce a sparkling portrait, which is now in the Royal Collection.

In 1857, John Loftus died, leaving Jane a widow. And four years later, Victoria lost her beloved Albert. The two were now bonded by grief, each counselling the other through a particularly dark period of mourning. As a result, Jane had earned a place in the Queen’s heart and soon became a gatekeeper - fending off those that sought attention, leaving the sovereign to grieve without trivial interruptions.

Jane Loftus

Jane Loftus

This is how the relationship remained until Jane’s retirement in 1889. The death of her son proved too much to bear and in a letter, she described how it finally broke her. She had spent the majority of her adult life by the Queen’s side - supporting her through some of the most traumatic times, while also battling her own ill health within the tight shackles of stately responsibilities. She died in 1890 and is buried with her husband at Kensal Green cemetery in London.

“A great lady in style and circumstance, a great lady in sentiment and sympathy”.

Press Obituary

In a brief monograph Mr A H Wylie records once more the virtues and the noble life of Jane, Marchioness of Ely-the Queen’s most intimate friend of more than forty years, and the “Jane Ely” of more than one chapter of Royal autobiography. The memory of such good women is assuredly worth keeping green, and it ought not to be forgotten that in high places those who by their influence and character are most powerful for good live lives of duty the current of which is often hidden from the public gaze.

The least that can be said of Lady Ely is that while she was the trusted friend of her sovereign she never used the position for her own advantage. Lady Ely’s personal sorrows, born with great bravery and constant patience, well qualified her to be the companion of the Queen at the moment of her supreme trial, and the consolation she was then able to minister was never forgotten.

It was under the prudent direction of Lady Ely, moreover, that the beautiful girl who afterwards became Empress of the French made her first acquaintance with London Society, and from this time to the end Lady Ely was not less loved and honoured by the Empress Eugenie than by the Queen.

“After the downfall of the Empire she was one of the first to welcome the exiles at Chislehurst; and on the terrible morning when the news came of the death of the Prince Imperial Lady Ely went at once to comfort and console her”. The blessings promised to the peacemakers were assuredly deserved by this gentle and noble lady, who “never excited a sentiment of jealousy nor knew a single enemy.”

Mr Wylie calls her “a great lady in style and circumstance, a great lady in sentiment and sympathy”; but her work was perhaps best described by Bishop Wilberforce, who said, “What the good Lady Ely has done in the atmosphere of the Court by her gentle, winning influence will never be fully known on this side of the grave”.

Timeline

1821

Born to James Hope-Vere, Member of Parliament for Ilchester, and Lady Elizabeth Hay, a cousin of Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington.

1844

Married John Loftus the third Marquess of Ely.

1845

Painted by Cavaliere Alessandro Capalti (1810-1868).

1847

Birth of daughter, Lady Marion Loftus.

1849

Birth of son, John Loftus.

Painted by Francis Hayter (1800-1895). Engraving in the collection at the British Museum.

1851

Appointed as a lady of the Queen's bedchamber.

1855

Noted for her lack of dignity by Mary Bulteel who remarked that “Lady Ely is more utterly the reverse from what she ought to be on this occasion than anybody can possibly conceive. I mean, I see she is preparing to be foolishly cringing to all the little miseries of etiquette...I quite long for somebody as the Queen's first lady with more natural dignity”.

1856

Painted by Charles-Lucien-Louis Muller (1815-1892) - an oil on canvas that’s held in the Royal Collection (RCIN 404891).

Painted by Franz Xaver Winterhalter (1805-73) - an oil painting that’s held in the Royal Collection (RCIN 400758). This was commissioned by Queen Victoria.

1857

Death of husband, John Loftus.

1861

Following Prince Albert’s death, she became closer to the Queen and acted as a gatekeeper between Victoria and those that sought her attention.

1871

Began living closely with the Queen, travelling to various residences, and less with her own family.

1884

Death of Queen’s Victoria’s son, Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany.

1889

Resigned from her post following the death of her only son.

1890

Died. Buried at Kensal Green cemetery in London.

The National Portrait Gallery holds an engraving by William Henry Mote (1803-1871) after John Hayter (1800-1895). NPG D35981.

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