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Penelope (Pitt), Viscountess Ligonier

British, born 1749

Penelope Pitt was born on February 23, 1749, the eldest of three daughters among four children of the diplomatist and courtier George Pitt (1720-1803) of Stratfield Saye, Hampshire, and his wife Penelope (d. 1795), daughter of Sir Henry Atkins, 4th Bart., of Clapham, Surrey. Both her parents were noted for extraordinary physical beauty, but their marriage was notoriously unhappy and they were often estranged. While serving as envoy-extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary to Turin (1761-68), George Pitt enrolled Penelope and her sister in a convent in Lyons, France, to be educated. While there she became acquainted with Edward Ligonier, lieutenant colonel in the British army. On December 16, 1766 they were married in the chapel of the British Embassy in Paris. They returned to England, where, in April 1770, her husband became Viscount Ligonier on the death of his uncle, the great military war hero, John Ligonier. In November of that year, Lady Ligonier renewed a prior acquaintance with Vittorio Amadeo, Count Alfieri (1749-1803), a young Italian ensign who later gained fame as a tragic poet celebrating the overthrow of tyranny by champions of liberty. Lady Ligonier was a woman "who delighted only in extremes," according to Alfieri, and their flirtation soon escalated into a passionate "frenzy," until their "mutual imprudence attracted the attention of her husband." After confessing to Lord Ligonier as well as Alfieri (who rescinded his offer of marriage on learning of her previous affair with her husband's groom, John Harding), Lady Ligonier fled to Calais, France, with her sister-in-law, Frances (Ligonier) Balfour (1742-1813), who had abetted the affair. Her husband sued for divorce and the marriage was dissolved. Lady Ligonier afterwards spent much of her time in France, but occasionally returned to England. At Northampton on May 4, 1784 she married Private Smith, a trooper in the Royal Horse Guard Blues. The date of her death is unknown, and the last document relating to her is a letter of April 1791 to Alfieri, whom she had recently encountered at Calais, describing herself as content. Far from being disowned by her family, she evidently had the sympathy of her mother, and was buoyed up by "the friendship and immutable affection" of her unmarried brother, George Pitt (1751-1828), 2nd Baron Rivers of Stratfield Saye, and Baron Rivers of Sudeley Castle, Gloucestershire, "whom I have always loved above all the world, and who possesses the best of hearts." He continued to display her portrait well into the nineteenth century, and a full-scale copy was also commissioned.