Viscountess Vane was born at Purley, near Reading, in Berkshire to Francis Hawes of Purley Hall. As one of the directors of the South Sea Company, her father was declared bankrupt in 1721 when the estates of the company directors were seized following the explosion of the South Sea Bubble. She therefore had little or no dowry, but her striking beauty won her a titled suitor and she married, when nineteen, Lord William, second son, by his second wife, of James Douglas, 4th Duke of Hamilton and 1st Duke of Brandon. The bridegroom had no ostensible means of supporting his wife and Queen Caroline named the pair the "handsome beggars". Two years later, on 11th July 1734, Lord William, having recently been appointed MP for Lanarkshire, died at his house in Pall Mall.
After an interval of ten months, Lady Anne took, as her second husband in May 1735, William Vane, 2nd Viscount Vane, for whom she always expressed an exaggerated abhorrence. Lord Vane, who inherited a large fortune, mostly out of the Newcastle estates, was the third, but eldest, surviving son of William Vane, created Viscount Vane by patent dated in Dublin, 13th October 1720. The 2nd Viscount who, upon his marriage, had but recently succeeded to the title, was thus a great grandson of Sir Henry Vane, the regicide. He was distinguished through life by his sensitive uprightness in politics and by a doting fondness for his wife which led him to ignore her most flagrant peccadilloes.
Lady Vane, or 'Lady Fanny' as she was now called, was the finest minuet dancer in England and as extravagant as the most capricious of danseuses. As early as January 1737, his lordship had occasion to advertise in the papers for the recovery of his wife and, for the next thirty years, her escapades were both frequent and costly. She entertained large parties at the family seat of Fairlawn in Kent, where she diverted her guests by ridiculing her husband. At Bath, where she frequently led the balls, at Tunbridge Wells and at other resorts, she set up temporary establishments, her tenure of which was generally terminated by the sale of the furniture to pay her gambling debts. For a time, in order to escape from the importunity of her creditors, her husband was compelled to place himself as a debtor under the authority of the King’s Bench Prison, residing within their ‘rules’ (ie living within three square miles of the establishment). The lady’s name had already become conspicuous in the annals of gallantry when, in 1751, she caused a sensation by paying Smollett to insert, as chapter eighty-one in his novel 'Peregrine Pickle’, her 'Memoirs of a Lady of Quality'. This most impudent and repulsive narrative, by the side of which Smollett's sins against good taste appear venial, was compiled by Lady Vane from materials afforded by her own experience with the aid, it is said, of Dr. John Shebbeare. She is stated to have given the work to her husband to read. The Viscount steadily refused to sue for a divorce.
Fortunately for the Viscount, his wife was incapacitated by disease before his ruin was complete. She spent the last twenty years of her life in bed, studying the philosophy of Lord Chesterfield, and died on 31st March 1788 in Curzon Street in Mayfair, where she had had an establishment for many years. She was buried in the family vault of the Vanes at Shipbourne in Kent. Her charms were best known, wrote an acquaintance, "to a race of men departed long since; the Duke of Leeds and Lord Kilmorey are almost the only survivors of her fame and beauty". The testimony to her beauty is as strong as to the fact that she remained, to the last, a stranger to the veriest rudiments of good feeling. With the death of her widower in 1789, the title became extinct.
Edited from Sidney Lee's 'Dictionary of National Biography' (1894).
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