Williamina Belsches

Anyone who has read Walter Scott's novels has met Williamina, or at least an idealised reincarnation of her: she is Greenmantle, Di Vernon, and innumerable other lively, wise and beautiful heroines who can ride with hounds, sing songs of her own composition, speak Greek, manage great affairs of men with skill and discretion, and renounce love for duty. In reality, she had considered marrying Scott, but instead married his very rich friend, Sir William Forbes, the chief force behind the building of St John's Chapel. She took the real reasons for her choice to her tragically early grave, but while the real Williamina remains obscure, as a literary muse she was one of the most important influences on the ideal of womanhood in the nineteenth century.

Lived
1776-1810
Origin
Fettercairn
Father
Sir John Belsches, WS, of William Belsches of Tofts, Berwick and Fort St. David's, Madras. The Belsches of Tofts were historically gentry but lost most of their land in the late seventeenth century. William Belsches was a younger son who made a fortune in India then inherited. John inherited the baronetcy of Stuart of Castlemilk, high stewards of Scotland, and in 1797 changed his name to Sir John Stuart of Fettercairn. (4)
Mother
Lady Jane Leslie, eldest daughter of David, Earl of Leven and Melville
Address
39 George Street
Chapel connection
1798 (baptism)
Married
1797
Spouse
William Forbes
Children
Jane (1798); son (1806); the youngest James David (1809) became an eminent physicist and geologist. He had an isolated and overprotected education following his mother's early death and with his tory, episcopalian, aristocratic background grew up very Conservative, aloof, superior but also responsible and high-minded. He succeeded John Leslie as Edinburgh Professor of Natural Philosophy and research in radiant heat made an important contribution to the development of a concept of a continuous radiation spectrum. He worked on glaciers (and enjoyed mountaineering) (3)
Related to
family tree
Connections
Walter Scott, who was in love with her: after she refused him in favour of Forbes, she became the inspiration for Scott's heroines like Greenmantle, Di Vernon and Lucy Ashton.

Sources

  1. Registers of Charlotte Chapel (NAS CH12/3)
  2. Edinburgh Post Office Directory 1818
  3. R.N. Smart, 'James David Forbes, 1809-1868' in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  4. David MacGregor Peter, The Baronetage of Angus and Mearns (Oliver and Boyd, Edinburgh, 1856) p.106-7

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