In London tomorrow, Sotheby’s will auction Portrait of Rose, Fourth Marchioness of Headfort by Orpen. Long forgotten now, her marraige to the Marquis of Headfort, Geoffrey Thomas Taylour is one of the truly great love stories of the 20th century, writes Noel Shine.
The young Marquis, not then of age, created a stir by insisting on marrying Miss Rosie Boote. Rosie, who was then a music hall sensation, was an anathema to so-called polite London society of the Edwardian era. Not just because of her music hall background but because she was a devout Irish Catholic of no aristocratic breeding. A noted beauty, she was possessed of a talent for acting singing and dancing and was groomed for stardom by Wexford man George Edwards. She was one of his ‘Gaiety Girls’ on the London stage, as distinct from the Dublin theatre of the same name.’ Gaiety Girls’ were considered polite, educated, well-behaved young women, unlike those corseted actresses from London’s earlier musical burlesque shows. Educated at the Ursuline Convent in Thurles, Rose was born into a family of independent means. Her father, Charles Boote was a stage comedian and her mother a seamstress.
Tremendous efforts were made to prevent the marriage by all of Lord Headfort’s relatives and friends, even the vice-ridden King Edward endeavored to use his influence in the same direction. But to no avail, he was smitten. Under duress, the Marquis resigned his much cherished commission as first lieutenant in the First Life Guards, one of the crack British regiments and married his beautiful fiance in April 1901.
When the young married couple returned to Kells, County Meath, after their honeymoon they received the kind of reception reserved nowadays only for Hollywood royalty at the railway station and were feted through the town. The couple lived between their home at Headfort House, Kells, Co Meath and a London townhouse. They would have three children, Lady Millicent Olivia Mary Taylour, Terence Geoffrey Thomas Taylour and Lord William Desmond Taylour.
The former chorus-girl Marchioness and her husband were eventually received back into London society where Lady Headfort is reported as “bearing herself in a manner which every one declared to be perfect.” Her gown was reported as one of the most beautiful costumes observed at the ball and her appearance and her manners were better than those of the grande dames, who crowded around, eying her inquisitively.
Orpen, who was born in Stillorgan, Co Dublin, painted her portrait in 1914. According to Sotheby’s, the “absolutely stunning” sitter “deftly managed the dwindling finances of the estate at Kells in Co Meath, proved a brilliant hostess at numerous house parties, and was attentive to the concerns of the Headfort tenants and the local community”. She and her husband’s alleged “popularity as progressive landlords ensured that Headfort survived the struggle for Irish independence largely unscathed”.
Her husband went on to gain the rank of Lieutenant in the service of the 2nd County of London Imperical Yeomanry and fought in the First World War between 1915 and 1918. Geoffrey Thomas, a proud Freemason not only married for love but was welcomed into the church of his new bride when he became a Catholic. Much later, he became a member of the the first Seanad of the Irish Free State. Not your stereotypical landed gentry type then, but not an eccentric either. He merely tried to remain true to himself and the two islands he loved equally. He lived as he died, a man true unto himself who was loved and knew love. A real success. He died aged 64 in 1943. Rose survived him until 1958 when she died aged 80. She was interred alongside Geoffrey at the family plot on an island at their beloved Headfort Estate. Today, Headfort House in Kells is a stand alone private school, run without any state subvention. Portrait of Rose by Orpen is expected to fetch in the region of 500,000 Sterling.