Adeline Louisa Marie, Countess of Cardigan and Lancastre (1825-1915) was the second wife of the 7th Earl who led the ill-fated Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava in 1854. Lady Adeline came out in 1842 and was briefly engaged to the Spanish Infante Carlos, Count of Montemolin in 1848 before befriending her father’s friend the 7th Earl of Cardigan who set her up in a Park Lane townhouse as his mistress. The married Earl continued to court Lady Adeline until the death of his wife in 1858. Free to marry, the couple did so in the same year on the island of Gibraltar.
Queen Victoria refused the Countess of Cardigan the right to attend Court because the Earl had deserted his first wife to marry her and as a divorcee was persona non grata. A keen horsewoman and musician, the Countess was popular in local circles when she was installed at Cardigan’s family seat Deene Park but was shunned by Court and Society. On the Earl’s death, the Dowager Countess proposed marriage with her friend the politician and Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli who shunned her advances. Instead, the Dowager Countess married Don Antonio de Lancastre and lived with him in Lisbon and Paris before they separated and she returned to Deene Park. The Countess caused great disapproval by using both her English and Portuguese titles. Queen Victoria was particularly piqued about the Countess of Lancaster title because she herself traveled Europe incognito as the Countess of Lancaster.
A profligate spendthrift, the Dowager Countess dissipated the fortunes of the Cardigan family and the Deene Park estate and became something of an infamous merry widow famously organizing steeplechases through the estate graveyard and writing a scandalous, gossip-laden memoir in 1909 entitled My Recollections. The Dowager Countess was said to keep a coffin at Deene Park and ask houseguests if she looked elegant in repose while lying in it. She also smoked in public when it was not considered appropriate for titled ladies to do so. She eventually filed for bankruptcy and was forced to sell off personal effects such as her wardrobe, stables and mews. She was rather a local tourist attraction often seen astride her bicycle wearing her husband the Earl’s 11th Hussars (Prince Albert’s Own) ‘cherry picker’ regimental overalls.
The Dowager Countess first visited Henry Poole & Co’s Livery Department in 1868 – the year of her marriage to the 7th Earl – and ordered several black silk riding habits under her own account and twelve yards of black velveteen. Her husband the 7th Earl was also a great Henry Poole & Co customer. The firm’s archives own a tracing of the Earl’s 10th Hussar’s tunic worn for the Charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War.