top of page

Menabilly, My Love... Part Three: 'An Appalling Tragedy'

‘An appalling tragedy,’ she was saying, ‘the papers were full of it of course. They say he never talks about it, never mentions her name. She was drowned you know, in the bay near Manderley…’’ (‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier)

An appalling tragedy’ that a fictional wealthy American lady, Mrs Van Hopper, mentions to the narrator of the ‘Rebecca’ story is linked to the real-life ‘house of stories’ – Menabilly, - and one of its secrets associated with the mother of John Cosmo Stuart Rashleigh (1872-1961) – Mary Frances Labouchere (1848-1874). She was the youngest daughter of an English banker, John Peter Labouchere (1798 -1863), and Mary Louisa Dupre (1808-1875), and the wife of Jonathan Rashleigh, jun., (1845-1872), of Menabilly.

How well-informed Daphne du Maurier was in regards to this particular story can be judged by how many of its pieces had been inserted as references in to her book ‘Rebecca’. Some of the insertions had been coded or inverted in order to avoid being accused of indiscretion.

One of the most visible yet easily missed references is the book’s title, - ‘Rebecca, - that apart from other connotations draws the link to the family members of Mary Frances Labouchere, in particular to her grandfather, James Dupre MP (1778-1870), whose mother and sister were both called ‘Rebecca’.

Another clue that links the ‘appalling tragedy’ of the ‘Rebecca’ to Mary Frances Labouchere is the name of the great-great grandfather’s sister of the fictional Max de Winter – ‘Caroline de Winter’:

I always loved the girl in white, with a hat in her hand. It was a Raeburn, and the portrait was of Caroline de Winter, a sister of Maxim's great- great grandfather.’ (‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier)

A Raeburn’ is a Scottish painter, Henry Raeburn (1756-1823). The years of his life indicate the epoch in which ‘the girl in white’ was depicted. The end of 18th early 19th centuries. The period relates to the youth of the grandfather of Mary France Labouchere, and therefore to the youth of his sister, Rebecca Dupre (1780-1870).

The name of ‘the girl in white’ - ‘Caroline’, - a coded reference that suggests a link to South Carolina, United States, illustrating the birth place of the great grandfather of Mary Frances Labouchere - Josias Dupre (1721-1780), a director of the East India Company and Governor of Madras in 1770-1773. Another coded reference to South Carolina and, therefore, a link to the Labouchere-Dupre family is a special place at the Manderley grounds - the Happy Valley:

There were no dark trees here, no tangled undergrowth, but on either side of the narrow path stood azaleas and rhododendrons, not blood-coloured like the giants in the drive, but salmon, white, and gold, things of beauty and of grace, drooping their lovely, delicate heads in the soft summer rain. The air was full of their scent, sweet and heady, and it seemed to me as though their very essence had mingled with the running waters of the stream, and become one with the falling rain and the dank rich moss beneath our feet.’ (‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier)

The ‘salmon, white, and gold, things of beauty and of grace’ are Azalea indica also known as Azalea shrub. The plant was introduced to the outdoor landscape at the rice plantation Magnolia-on-the-Asley in Charleston, South Carolina, in the 1830s – the period in which Mary Frances’ father, John Peter Labouchere (1798 -1863), got married – 1830, - and a decade or so during which the elder sisters of Mary Frances Labouchere were born – Louisa (1833), Emily (1834), Fanny Adelaide (1838), Cecilia (1841), and Theresa (1844).

The ‘things of beauty and of grace’ description echoes the remark of Mrs Van Hopper that suggests that the real-life counterpart of Mrs de Winter, Mary Frances Labouchere, was a beautiful and graceful woman with an exquisite taste and talents to match:

‘‘I never saw her,’ she said, holding the glass away to see the effect, ‘but I believe she was very lovely. Exquisitely turned out, and brilliant in every way.’’ (‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier)

The exquisiteness and brilliance of ‘Mrs de Winter’ are reminiscent of some of the best and most prominent American heiresses. The parallel drawn suggests that although the nouveau riche, – merchants and bankers of 18th and 19th centuries, - did not have the land and titles associated with it, it did not mean their daughters and grand-daughters were not raised to the highest standards:

They wouldn’t be troubled by the task of writing out menu cards in French; they would know exactly which fork should be used for the ortolans; they would never stare at frescoed twenty foot ceilings. They had been brought up to these things. They had been scolded and chaperoned and drilled and dressed so that, when they made their debuts, they were refined little specimens indeed.’ (‘To Marry an English Lord’ by Gael MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace)

But before Mary Frances Labouchere made her debut she, as all of her five sisters, had received a bequest of 8,000 GBP (the equivalent of 1,000,000 GBP in today’s purchasing power) from her father, John Peter Labouchere, who died on 29th July 1863, making his daughters very attractive, from the financial point of view, brides, and his wife, Mary Louisa (Dupre) Labouchere (1808-1875), a very rich widow:

The personal property was sworn under 140,000 GBP (the equivalent of 18,000,000 GBP in today’s purchasing power). He made a liberal provision for his relict, and has appointed her residuary legate of both real and personal estate.’ (24 October 1863, Hampshire Advertiser)

In 1863, Mary Frances Labouchere was just fifteen years old and still living at home, which, in town, was a mansion in Portland Place, and in the country, Holmwood estate, near Dorking, Surrey. In six years, on the 8th of August 1869, she would turn twenty-one years old and in full possession of her inheritance. A little bit more than a year later, on 8th November 1870, she would marry Jonathan Rashleigh, jun., (1845-1872):

Marriage of Mr. Jonathan Rashleigh, jun., with Miss Labouchere – on Tuesday, at Christ Church, St. Pancras. Mr. Jonathan Rashleigh, of 3, Cumberland-terrace, Regent’s Park, was married to Miss Frances Labouchere, the youngest daughter of the late Mr. John Labouchere, of Broome Hall, Dorking, Surrey, and niece of the Lord Taunton.’ (Royal Cornwall Gazette, 12 November 1870)

The wives of the English bankers, as ‘the American hostesses, as Vanity Fair remarked, entertained ‘with a splendid disregard for money which our sadly handicapped aristocracy, cannot afford to imitate.’ (‘To Marry an English Lord’ by Gael MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace)

And so, the wedding of Mary Frances Labouchere was lavish and duly publicised in the papers:

‘There was a large gathering of relations at the dejeuner in Portland Place. Among those present there were, as bridesmaids, - Miss Alice Rashleigh, Miss Mary Rashleigh, Miss Thornton, Miss Du Pre, Miss Stuart, and others; also Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan Rashleigh, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Rashleigh, Mrs. Labouchere…’ […] ‘Amongst the relatives unable to be present were Mr. and Hon. Mrs. Rashleigh, of Menabilly, Sir Colman and Lady Rashleigh, the Earl of Ranfurly, Lady Taunton, &c, most of whom, however, send handsome presents, which were altogether very numerous and beautiful. The happy pair took their departure for Sussex, about three o’clock.’ (Royal Cornwall Gazette, 12 November 1870)

The lavish entertainment that the money of the late John Peter Labouchere (1798 -1863) could afford is mirrored in the ‘Rebecca’ in the testimonials of Mrs Van Hopper:

They used to give tremendous parties at Manderley. It was all very sudden and tragic, and I believe he adored her.’ […] ‘The Manderley parties were famous when she was alive. Of course, he has told you all about them?’ (‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier)

But who is ‘he’? And who is ‘his’ real-life counterpart? In the ‘Rebecca’, the role of ‘he’ is assigned to Mr de Winter, who also appears in the story as Maximilian, Maxim, and Max. Out of the three, it is Maximilian de Winter that Mrs Van Hopper refers to in her remark. In real life, there were three candidates for the role of Maximilian de Winter, all coming from the Rashleigh family. They were Jonathan Rashleigh (1820-1905), Jonathan Rashleigh, jun. (1845-1872), and John Cosmo Rashleigh (1872-1961). The ‘her’, in this case, refers to Mary Frances Labouchere who had been connected to all three men in the following capacities: the daughter-in-law of Jonathan Rashleigh, the wife of J. Rashleigh, jun., and the mother of John Cosmo Stuart Rashleigh.

Two out of the three men – the father and his eldest son, - successfully married within the period of a little bit more than a year. The marriage of Jonathan Rashleigh, jun., to the youngest daughter of an English banker, in November 1870, had been preceded by the second marriage of his father to an Irish heiress. On 3rd of August 1869, Jonathan Rashleigh (1820-1905) married Jane Elizabeth Pugh (1836-1902), the daughter of Arthur Pugh, of Lissadrone, Co.Mayo:

J. Rashleigh, Esq., of Cumberland Terrace, Regent’s Park, to Jane Elizabeth, only daughter of the late Arthur Pugh, Esq. of Lissondrone, county Mayo.’ (Bell’s Weekly Messenger, Saturday, 7 August 1869)

The second marriage of Jonathan Rashleigh (1820-1905) was a crucial turning point in his and his eldest son’s lives. The father had become a landed proprietor, and the son - the heir to the lands in Ireland. Before that, neither owned any land, for the biggest in Cornwall estate, Menabilly, belonged to William Rashleigh (1817-1871), the older brother of Jonathan Rashleigh (1820-1905), who was still alive.

The respective matrimonial unions of the father and the son had greatly improved their financial and social status. Jonathan Rashleigh, jun., gained part of the Labouchere’s money, and his father - the lands of Arthur Pugh Esq., that his daughter had inherited being the only child of his. In both cases, the dowries of the brides had become the property of their husbands, for in those days, ‘in England, a woman’s dowry was traditionally absorbed into her husband’s estate; he thus controlled the capital she brought to the marriage, while she was paid an allowance, or ‘pin money’.’ (To Marry an English Lord’ by Gael MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace)

Feniton Court Estate

Having married, the Rashleigh father together with his second wife, and his children from the first marriage had moved in to his marital home - Fortfield House, Sidmouth, Devon, - whilst his eldest son stayed at 3, Cumberland Terrace, in Regent’s Park, London.

In 1871, Jonathan Rashleigh (1820-1905) purchased ‘the Feniton Court Estate not very many miles away in East Devon.’ (BNS Research Blog, by Hugh Pagan, 1 October 2019) As ‘he and his wife were preparing to move in there, William Rashleigh, Jonathan’s older brother, died on 31 October of that year and, as William had had no sons, Jonathan inherited the family’s 30,000 acres Menabilly estate in Cornwall’.’ (BNS Research Blog, by Hugh Pagan, 1 October 2019) This turn of events made Jonathan Rashleigh’s eldest son the heir to the Menabilly Estate, the Feniton Court Estate, and the Lissadrone Estate, Co.Mayo, literally overnight. Paired with his wife’s money, it presented lots of temptation as his obituary in 1872 stated:

‘… Christian tone of conduct which he always manifested was very remarkable in so young a man, surrounded as he was by so many temptations from his future worldly prospects…’ (Royal Cornwall Gazette, Saturday, 21 December 1872)

The overnight ‘future worldly prospects’ that were bestowed onto the young man made his wife, Mary Frances Labouchere, the future Lady of Menabilly No doubt also a very great temptation. And this is where the ‘dirty, damnable bargain’, which Maximilian de Winter of the ‘Rebecca’ refers to, comes into the picture:

She made a bargain with me up there, on the side of the precipice,’ he said. ‘’I’ll run your house for you,’ she told me, ‘I’ll look after your precious Manderley for you, make it the most famous show-place in all the country, if you like.’ (‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier)

Whether Mary Frances Labouchere did indeed ran Menabilly as the wife of the eldest son of Jonathan Rashleigh (1820-1905) from the moment of him inheriting it in October 1871 and until her death in February 1874 is debatable. What, however, is obvious is that the money she had brought into her marriage were spent either by her husband or by her with his consent outside of her own marital home which was 3, Cumberland Terraces, Regent Park. The house belonging to Jonathan Rashleigh’s father and its household consisting only of Jonathan Rashleigh jun., Mary Frances Labouchere, and their three servants (Census of 2nd April 1871), would not require too much money. Yet, in 1872, after two years of marriage, having died, Jonathan Rashleigh, jun., had left only a third of his wife’s money – the effects under 3,000 GBP (the equivalent of 350,000 GBP in today’s purchasing power).

So, where then had the money gone to? The possible answer can be found in the ‘Rebecca’, in the text of the ‘confessional’ speech of Mr de Winter:

Her blasted taste made Manderley the thing it is today. The gardens, the shrubs, even the azaleas in the Happy Valley; do you think they existed when my father was alive? God, the place was a wilderness; lovely, yes, wild and lonely with a beauty of its own, yes, but crying out for skill and care and the money that he would never give to it, that I would not have thought of giving to it - but for Rebecca. Half the stuff you see here in the rooms was never here originally. The drawing- room as it is today, the morning-room - that’s all Rebecca. Those chairs that Frith points out so proudly to the visitors on the public day, and that panel of tapestry - Rebecca again. Oh, some of the things were here admittedly, stored away in back rooms - my father knew nothing about furniture or pictures - but the majority was bought by Rebecca. The beauty of Manderley that you see today, the Manderley that people talk about and photograph and paint, it’s all due to her, to Rebecca.’ (‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier)

Similarly, the beauty of Menabilly and its garden was also ‘due to her’, to Mary Frances Labouchere. The interest of the real-life counterpart of Mrs de Winter in sharing her resources, taste, and vision with her father-in-law, Jonathan Rashleigh (1820-1905) had an obvious reason. She was investing into her future home, for she was the wife of the heir. But what was exactly Jonathan Rashleigh’s reason of letting his daughter-law and not his wife to take reigns at Menabilly? The possible answer to this can be pieced together using clues and hints given in the book, as well as analysing the real-life events associated with Rashleigh-Labouchere family.

In the ‘Rebecca’, one of the most obvious clues is the morning-room of Manderley, and the view that opens up from its windows. The room and the view are connected to Mary Frances Labouchere and Jonathan Rashleigh, and have symbolic interior and exterior elements, describing the two personalities and their relationship.

Mary Frances Labouchere’s character and personality are represented by the interiors of the morning-room:

This was a woman’s room, graceful, fragile, the room of someone who had chosen every particle of furniture with great care, so that each chair, each vase, each small, infinitesimal thing should be in harmony with one another, and with her own personality. It was as though she who had arranged this room had said: ‘This I will have, and this, and this,’ taking piece by piece from the treasures in Manderley each object that pleased her best, ignoring the second-rate, the mediocre, laying her hand with sure certain instinct only upon the best. There was no intermingling of style, no confusing of period, and the result was perfection in a strange and startling way…’ (‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier)

The personality of Jonathan Rashleigh (1820-1905) is depicted in the exterior, in particular, by the elements of the view from the morning-room:

Somehow I guessed, before going to the window, that the room looked out upon the rhododendrons. Yes, there they were, blood red and luscious, as I had seen them the evening before, great bushes of them, massed beneath the open window, encroaching on to the sweep of the drive itself. (‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier)

The ‘blood red and luscious’ rhododendrons can also be observed in the interiors of the morning-room:

And I noticed then that the rhododendrons, not content with forming their theatre on the little lawn outside the window, had been permitted to the room itself. Their great warm faces looked down upon me from the mantelpiece, they floated in a bowl upon the table by the sofa, they stood, lean and graceful, on the writing desk beside the golden candlesticks. The room was filled with them, even the walls took colour from them, becoming rich and glowing in the morning sun. They were the only flowers in the room, and I wondered if there was some purpose in it, whether the room had been arranged originally with this one end in view, for nowhere else in the house did the rhododendrons obtrude.’ (‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier)

The obtrusion of the scarlet rhododendrons in the morning-room hints at the passionate connection between Mary Frances Labouchere (1848-1874) and Jonathan Rashleigh (1820-1905) that the interior and exterior of the morning-room represent. The outcome of their passionate relationship is also present in the exterior:

‘There was a little clearing too, between the bushes, like a miniature lawn, the grass a smooth carpet of moss, and in the centre of this, the tiny statue of a naked faun, his pipes to his lips. The crimson rhododendrons made his background, and the clearing itself was like a little stage, where he would dance, and play his part.’ (‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier)

A miniature lawn’ on which the ‘tiny statue of a naked faun’ stands is a symbol of mother and motherly love, and the statue itself symbolises a child. The type of the statue, - ‘a naked faun’, - suggests the initiator of the passionate connection, for faun is one of a class of lustful rural gods, half man-half goat. Considering the hint, the initiator must have been Jonathan Rashleigh (1820-1905), but the fact that the rhododendrons ‘had been permitted to the room’ tells that Mary Frances Labouchere did not resist the initiated pursuit. As such, the affair is not something uncommon, especially in the circles of these two people. What made it unusual was that the affair was between the daughter- and father-in-law, and the outcome of such an affair i.e. a child, especially of male gender, influenced the inheritance of the family estate. Hence, the ‘dirty, damnable bargain’ as certain things had to be negotiated to maintain the public face and equilibrium.

On the one side of the ‘bargain’ stood Jonathan Rashleigh (1820-1905), his reputation, his family, his children, and Menabilly as well as his passionate pursuits, and, on the other, aspirations, ambitious desires, and future ‘worldly prospects’ of Mary Frances Labouchere (1848-1874).

The depicted in the ‘Rebecca’ relationship dynamics can be also traced in a sequence of pregnancies and births that occurred in the two Rashleigh households, – the one of the son, Jonathan Rashleigh, jun., (1845-1872), and the one of his father, Jonathan Rashleigh (1820-1905).

While at the wedding of her step son, Jonathan Rashleigh’s wife, Jane Elizabeth Pugh (1836-1902), was already pregnant with her second child, Arthur Rashleigh, who had been conceived in September 1870 and born 24 June 1871. Since September 1870, there would be a gap of three and a half years before the third child of that marriage would be conceived. This is the gap during which Mary Frances Labouchere (1848-1874) married, in November 1870, conceived, in October 1871, and gave birth on 2 July 1872 to her son, John Cosmo Stuart Rashleigh. It is also the gap during which her husband died, in December 1872, and then a little bit more than a year later she would die too. These facts lead to an intriguing assumption that John Cosmo Stuart Rashleigh (1872-1961) was the son of Mary Frances Labouchere (1848-1874) and Jonathan Rashleigh (1820-1905).

It appears that Daphne du Maurier entertained similar kind of speculation and expressed her thoughts in the ‘confessional’ speech of Mr de Winter:

We’ve lived this life of degradation long enough, you and I,’ I said. ‘This is the end, do you understand? What you do in London does not concern me. You can live with Favell there, or with anyone you like. But not here. Not at Manderley. ‘She said nothing for a moment. She stared at me, and then she smiled. ‘Suppose it suits me better to live here, what then?’ she said.You know the conditions,’ I said. ‘I’ve kept my part of our dirty, damnable bargain, haven’t I?’ (‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier)

In this ‘confession’ one things in particular draws the attention. It is the question-statement: ‘Suppose it suits me better to live here, what then?’ she said.’ If it was the conversation between a wife and a husband then Manderley would be her home and there would not be any reason why she could not live in the house, unless the pair was officially divorced. In the book, the question-statement creates a certain ambiguity. However, if applied to real-life events of the family in question, it explains the limitations and difficulty of a very particular situation. The real-life ‘Mrs de Winter’ was a lover not a wife and therefore Menabilly was not her marital home. She could not officially live there as the Lady of the house, yet unofficially she considered herself as such, for perhaps this was a part of the ‘dirty, damnable bargain’ concluded with her lover, Jonathan Rashleigh (1820-1905).

The situation had been complicated further by the birth of a child – John Cosmo Stuart Rashleigh (1872-1961), and the death of Jonathan Rashleigh (1845-1874), the husband of Mary Frances Labouchere, the eldest son of Jonathan Rashleigh (1820-905), and the heir to Menabilly. The birth of the child, in particular, his gender, had influenced the positions and status of the other two sons of Jonathan Rashleigh (1820-1905) – Evelyn William Rashleigh (1850-1926), from the first marriage, and Arthur Rashleigh (1871-1952), from the second marriage. What kind of influence it was is illustrated in the ‘Rebecca’:

‘‘If I had a child, Max,’ she said, ‘neither you, nor anyone in the world, would ever prove that it was not yours. It would grow up here in Manderley, bearing your name. There would be nothing you could do. And when you died Manderley would be his. You could not prevent it. The property’s entailed. You would like an heir, wouldn’t you, for your beloved Manderley? You would enjoy it, wouldn’t you, seeing my son lying in his pram under the chestnut tree, playing leap-frog on the lawn, catching butterflies in the Happy Valley?’’ (‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier)

In this particular case, Daphne du Maurier had used an inversion and the phrase ‘‘If I had a child, Max,’ she said, ‘neither you, nor anyone in the world, would ever prove that it was not yours,’’ is in fact means ‘‘If I had a child, Max,’ she said, ‘neither you, nor anyone in the world, would ever prove that it was yours.’’ What it means is that Jonathan Rashleigh (1820-1905) could never prove that John Cosmo Stuart Rashleigh was his son and not the son of the husband of Mary Frances Labouchere, for it had been born before his son’s death in December 1872. Proving that it was his own son would mean that he would be only third in line to inherit Menabilly. Without such a proof, he was the heir, and when Jonathan Rashleigh died Menabilly would his, which indeed happened in real life.

On the left, Cornwall County Lunatic Asylum

And the irony of the situation indeed was that Jonathan Rashleigh (1820-1905) could not do much about it, and not only because it was a ‘mission impossible’, but because he would not dare do it. He also made sure that no might-be witnesses could do it either. Being the Chairman of Cornwall County Lunatic Asylum Committee from 1873 to 1885, Jonathan Rashleigh could lock any undesirable witnesses in to the asylum for years. The prospect that no one would welcome willingly.

This particular fact and the link between Jonathan Rashleigh’s being the Chairman of the Cornwall Lunatic Asylum Committee, and the power he held are expressed in the ‘Rebecca’ by a minor yet very important character, a half-wit, Ben, who represents a collective image of undesirable witnesses:

Ben knew. Ben had seen. Ben, with his queer crazed brain, had been a witness all the time.’ (‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier)

Whether a similar kind of witness existed in the real life is hard to say, but what is certain is that if there had been one, he or she would have had high chances ending up in the asylum: ‘‘I done nothing’, he repeated, ‘I never told no one. I don’t want to be put to the asylum.’ A tear rolled down his dirty face.’ (‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier)

But even if no one said anything and all the might-be witnesses could be silenced there was still an inner conflict and knowledge that Jonathan Rashleigh (1820-1905) would carry throughout the rest of his life. A sort of personal hell of his own making.

Well, he’s paying for it now, isn’t he? I’ve seen his face, I’ve seen his eyes. He’s made his own hell and there’s no one but himself to thank for it.(‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier)

bottom of page