April 1812: Diplomatic Mooning for Annabella

On  April 18, 1812, Augustus Foster, the British Minister Plenipotentiary to the United States, writes to his mother Elizabeth, the Duchess of Devonshire, in England. Foster is responding to her mother's ongoing queries as to his interest in Annabella Milbanke. On February 29, 1812, the Duchess had written to him that she would see if Lady Caroline Lamb would raise the matter with Annabella. Lady Caroline was a cousin of Annabella. The Duchess writes: "Caro means to see la bella Anabella before she writes to you. I don't like the last letter which you received, and I shall almost hate her if she is blind to the merits of one who would make her so happy." On April 18, Foster responds that he does not think that he has much of a chance with Miss Milbanke given the distance that separates them.

Elizabeth, Duchess of Devonshire. 

Washington, April 18, 1812. 

. . . I am afraid my chance is small with Miss Milbanke. Indeed, staying as long as I do here, it is scarce just to think I can keep an interest with her sufficient to balance in any degree against the daily assiduities she must listen to. I wish, however, very much that I could go home, for I cannot consent to add to the number of diplomatic old bachelors. . . . Here they talk more loudly than before of war. The French Minister, on being told that France was threatened as well as England, said he must in that case solicit an interview with the British Minister, in order for us to concert together measures of defence against so alarming a power. A great many people are afraid of being laughed at if they don't fight. It is really a curious state of things. They even refer  to me occasionally to ask what we should think of them. I am on good terms with almost all. Good living, you are very right in saying, has its effect here. 
Foster is rather reticent in his letter and does not betray his feelings for "Miss Milbanke". Later, when it is clearer that she is not interested, one can sense that Foster really did have strong feelings for her. On May 26, 1812, he will write to his mother: 
I see you don't like Annabella much. She is certainly rather too cold in her manners, and gives to reason too much empire over her mind, but she has good eyes, is fair, has right ideas, and sense, and mildness. I don't think she will ever be able to love very warmly; but yet I believe she thinks she ought to wait till the spirit moves her, and the spirit perhaps may never come, as I fancy happens to many of her temperament. I long most anxiously to get back to settle that point, good or bad. No Minister ever had such temptations to break up a negotiation. I would give the world to go back for six months, and am miserable that I can't do so, but I can't leave these members to themselves two days together.
Foster's description of Annabella Milbanke accords with the descriptions by others.  She was the only child of Sir Ralph Milbanke, 6th Baronet, and his wife the Hon. Lady  Milbanke. Her family was wealthy and it was common knowledge that she would also inherit the estate of her uncle Lord Wentworth. Annabella was highly intelligent. Her parents provided her with a fine education even hiring a former Cambridge University professor as her tutor.  She was particularly adept in mathematics. However, in 1812, she was in London playing the role in a plot worthy of Jane Austen — Annabella's favourite author — and looking for a suitable husband. Annabella was an intriguing character in this plot: a pretty young woman raised in the country but now thrown into the high society of metropolitan London; a woman of intellect joined to a religiosity that led others to think she was, in Foster's words, "rather too cold in her manners"; and someone who was sensible in many ways but was also a little too sure of her own ability to judge the character of those around her and especially her suitors. She would spurn Foster but disastrously be receptive when Lord Byron came hunting for a wealthy wife.

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