One of the best descriptions of Sisi’s great friend the 5th Earl Spencer comes from the memoirs of Irish aristocrat Elizabeth, Countess of Fingall. Writing 50 years later in 1937 Daisy, as she was known, told how she was presented at Court to Earl Spencer in Dublin Castle during 1883.
‘The throne room was picturesque on such an occasion … There, unmistakably, was Lord Spencer with a long red beard … In those days the Lord Lieutenant kissed each of the debutantes as they were presented – an ordeal for both. I can remember now the feeling of that thick long red beard against my cheek, tickling it.’
The ‘Drawing Room’ over which Earl Spencer presided was part of the formal season centred on Dublin Castle. Several years before, Austrian Crown Prince Rudolf had accepted an invitation to a ball whereas his mother Empress Elisabeth declined to attend a similar event.
Daisy had been to school in England and first saw Earl Spencer on the ferry back to Ireland. Her father pointed out the tall man with a beard that ‘stood out from his face. It was the new Lord Lieutenant, Lord Spencer. … He looked cold and tired, almost a little dour at that lovely hour’. It would have been about 1868.
Five months after her Court presentation, Daisy married Arthur Plunkett, Earl of Fingall. Among the wedding guests were Leonard and Mrs Morrogh who had hunted with Sisi. The Fingalls lived at Killeen Castle, next to Dunsany Castle from where Sisi set out hunting.
Lady Fingall said that Earl Spencer, ‘like many Englishmen, had fallen under the spell of Ireland’ and in his first spell as Viceroy had been very popular with the Irish. Spencer was ‘the red Earl’ and his wife ‘Spencer’s Fairy Queen’. It explains why he supported Irish Home Rule in the 1880s, which made him very unpopular politically in Britain.
She also recalled occasions when Earl Spencer’s red beard turned white during the evening. ‘Powder must have been coming into vogue then. For once, at least, he had to retire so that it might be removed, and his beard restored to its natural colour.’
+ Seventy Years Young: Memories of Elizabeth, Countess of Fingall has been reprinted by Lilliput Press.
+ Dublin Castle is open to visit and is free for members of Heritage Ireland or English Heritage.