In 1795, Richard Brothers, a fashionable London madman incarcerated in Bedlam, told the nineteen-year-old Lady Hester Stanhope that she would one day inherit the mantle of the Queen of Heaven, spend seven years in the desert and eventually become Queen of the Jews.
The young Lady Hester, clever, awkward, difficult to marry off, was impressionable. She never forgot Brothers’s words and indeed lived her life with that great destiny always in mind to sustain her. In fact, it could be said to have been the single real focus of an adventurous, restless life. By the time she was thirty-three she had left England to begin her travels round the Levant and the Middle East; she never returned home, ending her days as the cranky, debt-ridden despot of a palatial ruined convent in Lebanon, her subjects cowed servants and hangers-on.
Lorna Gibb’s well-researched biography begins with Lady Hester’s early days in London as the hostess and confidante of her uncle, Pitt the Younger. She was the gawky daughter of an oddball father: the Earl of Stanhope, influenced by the French Revolutionaries, gave away his fortune, was avowedly anti-monarchist and took