Lady Henry Somerset

Lady Henry Somerset
British Temperance Leader

Lady Henry Somerset was born as Isabel Cocks in 1851, the first child of John Somers Cocks, third Earl of Somers. Her father was a nobleman in every way. For some years he was Lord-in-waiting to the Queen, spending the time at Windsor, Osborne, and Balmoral. Being a man of artistic and literary tastes, he resigned his position to devote himself to his studies, yet his intimate acquaintance with the Queen gave his daughter many advantages.

As a young woman Isabel was very beautiful. She was presented at court at nineteen and married at the age of twenty-two to Lord Henry Somerset, second son of the Duke of Beaufort. The marriage was arranged and while Isabel was an heiress to estates, manor houses, and London property, Somerset, as the second son, was penniless. The marriage was not a success and Isabel became a very independent woman. Soon she separated from her husband, who allegedly abused her. She left the Church of England and attached herself to the Methodists.

Lady Somerset owned a vast estate at Eastnor, fifteen miles in length, containing twenty-five thousand acres. Her house, which was a castle, was three miles from the lodge gate in Eastnor Park. In London she owned property where one hundred and twenty-five thousand people lived. She devoted much of her time and income to the welfare of the people of England. She began by studying the causes of poverty and crime, and found the liquor traffic at the bottom of it all. Being a woman of deeds as well as words, she took the total abstinence pledge, induced some of her tenants to do the same, and so started a temperance society. She visited the homes of her tenants, gave Bible readings in the kitchens, and gathered the mothers at her castle to discuss with them the training of their children.

Her philanthropic work soon spread beyond her own estates and call came for her to speak and work in behalf of temperance far and near. She went among the miners of South Wales and held meetings for days on end in tents, halls, and in the pits during the dinner hours. Hers seemed to the poor miners as the form and voice of an angel (King, Woman, p. 425).

Isabel became president of the British Woman’s Temperance Association in 1890, and many attributed her sympathy with the outcasts of society due to her ostracism from society after her marriage failed. By 1891 Lady Somerset had found acceptance in British reform circles.

Isabel visited America to attend a convention of the World’s Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WWCTU). At that time she met Frances Willard, with whom she became fast friends and associates in the temperance movement. Lady Somerset took Frances Willard back with her to England for a much needed rest.

Lady Henry Somerset gave her life in service for her fellow man. Hers might have been a life of ease and selfish idleness, yet she chose to give herself untiringly to the betterment of her fellow human beings.

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This article may be re-published as long as the following resource box is included: Patricia Chadwick is a freelance writer and has been a stay-at-home mom for 15 years. She is currently a columnist in several online publications as well as editor of numerous newsletters. History’s Women is weekly online magazine highlighting the extraordinary achievements of women.