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Howard Family Holidays: A Different Point of View
By Curator Blogger // Thu 17th August 2023
curator, grand tour, lady isabella
Across the month of August, when many of you may be on your own holidays, we are exploring some of the travels enjoyed by previous generations of the Howard family. This week we are looking at the Grand Tour of Lady Isabella Caroline Cawdor, eldest daughter of the 5th Earl of Carlisle.
Women and The Grand Tour

The Grand Tour was typically seen as a rite of passage for young, aristocratic men. However, travelling to discover the cultural wonders of Europe was not an exclusively male pursuit; women certainly made the journey, even if not in the same numbers. Some independently minded women were able to travel alone, such as Lady Anne Irwin, daughter of the 3rd Earl of Carlisle, who made a tour of Holland in 1730 as a wealthy widow. However, most women travelled in the company of husbands and other male relatives, and this was the case for Lady Cawdor. 

Figure 1: Portrait of Anne, Viscountess Irwin (c. 1696 – 1764), by the circle of Thomas Hudson. Castle Howard Collection

Figure 2: Miniature portrait of Lady Isabella Caroline Cawdor (1771-1848) by Henry Bone, 1800. Castle Howard Collection.

In October 1814 Lady Cawdor set off to the continent with her husband John Campbell, 1st Baron Cawdor, on a journey which took them through France, Italy, and Switzerland. She studiously kept a journal throughout which survives in the Castle Howard archive and provides a remarkably detailed account of life on the Grand Tour.

This was a return journey for Lord Cawdor, who had travelled extensively thirty years earlier and become a keen collector of art and antiquity as a result. The French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars had made continental travel virtually impossible since the 1790s, but when the Treaty of Fontainebleau was signed in 1814 and Napoleon Bonaparte sent into exile, peace returned to Europe. The Cawdors embarked on their journey just a few months later, clearly itching to explore. No doubt it was Lord Cawdor who instigated this, driven by the zeal of a collector and connoisseur, but it is clear from her journal that his wife was equally enthusiastic about the opportunity to travel. 


Figure 3: Excerpt from Lady Cawdor’s Journal describing her visit to the Colosseum

The great sights of the Grand Tour were dutifully noted throughout their journey, not least the Colosseum and Forum in Rome, an array of Italian Renaissance villas, and the archaeological excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum. Lord Cawdor’s interests and experience clearly dictated their movements; they spent months in Rome in close company with the sculptor Antonio Canova, who Cawdor had met on his prior visit. From there they headed south: “Lord C particularly wish[es] me not to leave Italy without seeing Naples, which he admired above all other places”.

What is perhaps more interesting, however, are the bits in between, the snippets of daily life and realities of travel. Lady Cawdor often lingers more on these passages; the Colosseum is dealt with in a few short sentences, while a farcical altercation with an inn owner takes several pages. We gain a clear impression of her as a person, not least her sharp wit, perfectly exemplified when she describes her meeting with Pope Pius VII: “…he stretched his hand to each [of us], which we were at liberty to kiss or shake as we thought proper. The Contessa Moroni fell upon her knees and looked as if she would devour this sacred hand, kissing it with such zealous devotion”. 


Figure 4: View of Via di Sant Lucia, Bay of Naples, by M. Mauton, late 18th or early 19th century. Castle Howard Collection.

Travel was clearly anything but straightforward. Arrival in France was an ordeal in itself, where locals, described as “absolute savages, jabbering some strange dialect” gave them piggy backs through the water from the boat to the beach. Much of the expedition took place during the winter; to escape from cold, dark Britain to a Mediterranean climate must have been appealing, but it was also safer, avoiding the searing summer heat and threat from diseases such as malaria.

The quality of accommodation and food was a consistent concern, and the threat of robbery from banditti a constant threat. Lady Cawdor recounts one eventful evening when their carriage was approached by two riders. Incorrectly assuming they were robbers she reached for the pistols she carried, but in the dark caught hold of a cooked chicken leg instead. A funny, self-effacing account written in hindsight, but recorded alongside serious incidents which had befallen fellow travellers.


Figure 5: Portrait sketch of Frederick Howard (1785-1815) by John Jackson, c. 1805. Castle Howard Collection.

Although their journey across Europe was a lengthy one, Lord Cawdor must have noticed that it was quicker and easier than on his previous visit. Approaching the Alps, Lady Cawdor writes that they were benefiting from a brand new road through the mountains. This continued up and over Mount Cenis to take them into Italy, a journey which once would have required the traveller to walk or be carried in sedan chair across the mountainous peaks. She begrudgingly recognises that this was thanks to Napoleon Bonaparte, although she continues: “But I fear that his object in this grand work, is not the convenience of Travellers, or public utility, but for the destructive purpose of conveying his artillery into Italy”.

The recent turbulent history of revolution and warfare cast a long shadow over the Cawdors journey. When they set out it must have seemed as though Napoleon’s abdication and exile had closed that eventful chapter. Instead they found that they were travelling in the midst of seismic historical events; on arrival in Naples they were met with the news that Napoleon had escaped Elba and was launching his attempt to return to power. Other English travellers hurried to return home, but the Cawdors decided to take their time: “for I feel very unwilling to have taken so long a journey without accomplishing the object of it”.

The remainder of their Tour was spent dodging the armies marching across Europe. This more circuitous route took them “somewhat out of the usual line of English travellers” and allowed them to enjoy lesser known sights, but the very real threat from current events casts a pall over Lady Cawdor’s writing. In June 1815, now in Switzerland, joy at the news of Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo was quickly followed by sorrow on learning that her brother Frederick had died in battle.

Finally, Lady Cawdor writes on their return home: “We scrambled on shore [at Dover] as we could, in the dark, and landed on English ground, after an absence of eleven months”.