“If I had neither mirror nor memory, I would think I was fifteen years old." (Jane Digby)
|Karl Joseph Stieler (1781 – 1858): "Jane Digby" (1831)*|
King Ludwig of Bavaria had several notable affairs with several remarkable adventuresses during his reign and the last one, Lola Montez, née Betsy Gilbert from Sligo, proved to be his downfall in 1848, when the good people of Munich revolted against the newly-created Countess of Landsfeld’s rather daft political ambitions and her intolerable favouritism and overthrew Ludwig as well at one go. His affairs remained in public memory, though, and under this legacy, Richard Wagner, close associate of the fairytale-castle-building Ludwig II, Ludwig’s son and successor’s, earned himself the nickname “Lola”. Another son of Ludwig’s, Otto, King of Greece, inherited a no less remarkable legacy, his father’s former mistress from 1831, Jane Digby, Lady Ellenborough, and what sounds like the climax of a re-enactment of the Freudian primal scene was really just a part of Jane’s rather colourful life. After a few weeks, she left King Otto for a Greek brigand chief, became his robber queen, lived with him and his Klephts in caves, rode and hunted with him and walked out on the fellow in turn when he became unfaithful. And such was the life of Jane Digby, who was a companion, wife and mother of British, Bavarian and Austrian nobility, duels were fought on her behalf, dramas enacted and what not, while she did just one thing, remaining true to herself and hang the consequences until she discovered her interest in archaeology, went to Syria at the age of 42 and began to establish a stable relationship, for the first time in her life, with a Syrian Bedu warlord, 20 years her junior.
|Carl Haag (1820 - 1915): "Portrait of Jane Digby el Mezrab" (1859)|
The comparison with the other desert-loving English lady, Hester Stanhope, “Star of the Morning” and “New Queen Zenobia” is obvious. Lady Hester had died, quite impoverished, in her derelict manor near Beirut 10 years before Jane Digby came to Damascus. And she promptly set forth to the ruins of Palmyra, Queen Zenobia’s old capital and one of Hester Stanhope’s favourite haunts, in something of a memorial tour of her famous predecessor. Jane met her future fourth husband Mijwal al-Musrab while she was about to buy a horse for her journey into the desert. The two fell in love, married and Jane became Jane Elizabeth Digby el Mezrab, locally known as Shaikhah Umm al-Laban, the Mother of Milk, because of her light complexion. The couple lived half of the following 28 years in a villa in Damascus and the other half as Bedu out in the desert and in contrast to the “New Queen Zenobia”, Jane never had any misguided ambitions of political grandeur and being a new messiah, but was content to live her adventurous life with her husband as it was. When she died at the age of 74, Mijwal, mad with grief, was about to make a scene when he ran away wailing from her funeral at the Protestant Cemetery of Damascus. However, he returned with her favourite horse to witness the funeral, a befitting end of a woman who had lived her scintillating life to the fullest.
|Carl Haag: "Portrait of Sheikh Medjuel el-Mezrab" (1859)|
* Depicted above is Jane Digby’s portrait painted during her time in Munich as King Ludwig’s maîtresse by Karl Joseph Stieler (1781 – 1858) as part of the king’s “Schönheitsgallerie”, a gallery of 36 portraits of Munich’s most beautiful women (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gallery_of_Beauties) in 1831
And more about Jane Digby on: