By Nicola Kelly, Archivist, Maynooth University Library
Born Lady Louisa Augusta Lennox, third of the four famous Lennox sisters, daughter of Charles Lennox, 2nd Duke of Richmond, of Goodwood House and great granddaughter of King Charles II of England. The collection of letters, dates from 1759-1821, the majority of which are addressed to her sisters Caroline, Emily and Sarah and her husband Thomas Conolly. The letters are cared for by the OPW-Maynooth University Archive and Research Centre, Castletown House, Celbridge, Co. Kildare. They not only provide an invaluable evocation of life at Castletown House in the Eighteenth century, but also an insight into the social mores and historical events of national and international significance of the period.
Among the letters in this interesting collection, includes one dated 3 June 1782. It is from Lady Louisa Conolly to her sister Lady Sarah Napier, in which she describes a watch and chatelaine to be commissioned for Louisa Staples (a niece of her husband Thomas Conolly). A chatelaine, traditionally a decorative belt hook or clasp worn at the waist with a series of chains suspended from it. Each chain is mounted with useful household appendages such as scissors, thimbles, watches, keys, vinaigrette, and household seals. The chatelaine was also used as a woman’s keychain in the 18th century to show the status of women in a household. Younger women (like Louisa Staples) in the house often wanted the appearance of this responsibility, and would often wear decorative chatelaines with a variety of small objects in the place of keys, especially bright and glittering objects that could be used to start a conversation.
The letter reads:
‘My dear Sally,
Mr. Conolly has promised Louisa a watch…..She wishes for a pretty enameled watch, and silver chain, with hair tassels. I send you 89 rose diamonds that Louisa wishes to have set about the watch, tassels of the chain, and round the hair of the middle of the chain, I have drawn to show how the hair I send you is to be disposed of.
No. 1, the first is to be my hair, and Richard Staple’s hair to lie on it. No. 2, No. 3, both tassels to be made of Harriette Staples hair. The diamonds to be of to your taste, and the colour of the enamel, and pattern also, as Louisa is quite sure that you will send her something pretty. We hope to get to make good guts to the watch, that it may be useful as well as ornamental.’
While the watch itself is quite elaborate (including 89 rose diamonds), perhaps it’s most unusual feature is the inclusion of hair in the tassels of the chatelaine, including Lady Louisa’s, Richard and Harriette Staples (Louisa Staples siblings). Although this is for sentimental purposes, it makes for a most unusual piece of jewellery!