Meghan isn't the first to cause a very British stir over race

17 May 2018

Meghan Markle has made headlines over far more than her forthcoming nuptials to Prince Harry. Chief among the topics of discussion has been race.

But as Royal commentators ruminate over whether British society is ready for a mixed race Royal, it’s worth remembering another woman who caused a similar stir more than 200 years ago.

Dido Elizabeth Belle was the mixed race daughter of an African slave and Sir John Lindsay, a British naval officer who was later knighted. Sir John’s uncle and aunt, the Earl and Countess of Mansfield, brought up Dido as a free, educated woman in England after her father brought her back here.

Dido, just six when she moved to Britain, grew up on the Mansfields’ estate at Kenwood House, Hampstead with Lady Elizabeth Murray, the Earl and Countess’s niece. The Earl and Countess were said to have treated her like their own. The Earl of Mansfield went on to become Lord Chief Justice and took steps to abolish slavery in Britain – no doubt having been influenced by Dido.

Dido is famously represented in a painting which now hangs in Scone Palace, run by the present-day Earl and Countess of Mansfield. The image depicts Lady Elizabeth and Dido sitting on a bench, Dido seemingly pointing to her face and holding a bowl of fruit. The painting draws interested crowds at the Palace, now one of Perthshire’s most popular visitor attractions, especially given the popularity of the film about her life, Belle, released in 2014.

Lady Mansfield said: “The painting hangs in our Ambassador’s Room here at Scone Palace and never fails to fascinate our visitors, and me. Art critics have asked why Dido is pointing to her face. Whatever the story is behind it, the painting is iconic in that it represents a mixed race woman who had both made her mark and ruffled some feathers in late 18th century Britain.”