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Dido Elizabeth Belle ~ (circa 1761 - 1804)

An interesting resident at Kenwood House, during the mid eighteenth century was Dido Elizabeth Belle.

Dido Elizabeth Belle was born circa 1761. (She was baptised in 1766).

Her father was at the time a British Royal Navy captain who later became Admiral John Lindsay and he was the nephew of the Earl of Mansfield.

Little is known of Dido's mother, although the story goes that Lindsay captured a Spanish ship and had his way with one of the slaves.

Dido was never treated as an equal member of the family, however.

She never dined with the family, especially if they had guests, but she would join the ladies qafterwards for coffee.

It is doubtful that Dido's mother had a willing relationship with the captain.

It is said that she was his mistress but a mistress must be free to make that choice and as a slave Dido's mother was not free.

There is no information as to what happened to her after Dido's birth.

Lindsay sent Dido to his uncle, the Earl of Mansfield, who lived with his family at Kenwood House in Hampstead, England.

They were already raising her cousin Elizabeth Lindsay who was about the same age as Dido and had also lost her mother.

It is possible Mansfield took Dido in as Elizabeth's playmate and, later in life, her personal attendant.

As she grew older, Dido took responsibility for the dairy and poultry yards at Kenwood.

She received an annual allowance of £30 10s (Elizabeth received around £100).
£30 10s was several times the annual wages of a female servant, however.

A 1779 painting by Johann Zoffany
(see opposite) shows the two cousins together and now hangs at Scone Palace in Scotland.
It is owned by the present Earl Mansfield.

Elizabeth married and left the estate in 1780 at the age of 20.

When Dido's father died, he did not leave her any money in his will although it is thought that he asked his wife Mary to take care of her.
He left his money to his other illegitimate daughter, Elizabeth Lindsay, who lived all her life in Scotland.

(The painting is credited to Zoffany by the Mansfields but experts today seem to think it is “school of Zoffany” and there is no documentary evidence that Zoffany did actually paint it.)

Mary Lindsay's later will does not mention Dido.
Lord Mansfield, in turn, left Dido £500 and £100 annuity in his will and officially confirmed her freedom.

Dido's later life is mostly unknown.

In 1793 Dido married a steward named John Davinier and they had three sons.
Dido Elizabeth Belle died in July 1804.
The documents (parish registers) with the entries relating to Dido’s marriage and death can be found in the City of Westminster Archives and the Guildhall Library.

Dido Elizabeth Belle was buried in the St. George Hanover Square “over spill” burial ground off the Bayswater Road.  

However, in the 1960’s all remains in this ground were disinterred and cremated at Lambeth Crematorium and the site redeveloped.

(with additional information supplied by Sarah Minney)

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