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by Anthony Malcomson
"Theodosia, Countess of Clanwilliam, has usually been taken at face value and accordng to her own self-image. This is the image projected by the Ulster Museum's portrait of her, painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds in 1765, depicting an idealised beauty and innocent.
The Ulster Museum's recent acquisition of a Gainsborough portrait of her, also dated 1765, provides some corrective, because Gainsborough's portrait is of a creature of flesh and blood. But is even this the reality? Was she, as the story has hitherto run, the victim of a disastrous, arranged marriage to a drunken, unfaithful husband? Or is the truth more complicated?
It can be argued that she was a hard and calculating female, that Lord Clanwillian was an ordinary, decent drunk and debauchee, and that she exacerbated and took advantage of his weakness to regain possession of her own estate and indulge her tyrannous preference for her second son over her first-born, Lord Gilford, who succeeded in 1800 as 2nd Earl of Clanwilliam."
This article looks at the life of Theodosia, Countess of Clanwilliam, one of a number of women who thrived in 18th-century County Down and were more than a match for the men with whom they came in contact.