Venetia James

Portrait by Samuel Luke Fildes, 1895

Mary Venetia James (née Cavendish-Bentinck; 4 June 1861 2 May 1948) was a London society hostess and racehorse breeder.

James was born into the Cavendish-Bentinck family, the daughter of Prudentia (née Leslie) and George Cavendish-Bentinck. She married the racehorse owner and breeder Arthur James in December 1885 in the Chapel Royal, St James's, London. The couple resided at Grafton Street, London, and bred horses at Coton House.[1] Venetia James was related to the Dukes of Portland, with the dukedom eventually passing to her nephews, Ferdinand and Victor; she was also a relative and godmother of Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, who later became Queen Consort of the United Kingdom. Venetia and Arthur James were both friends of King Edward VII,[2] and Venetia was reputed to be his mistress.[3] The King's private secretary Frederick Ponsonby wrote that she was "full of humour and high spirits, walking with the King and keeping him amused".[4]

Despite being a millionaire, James was noted for her extreme frugality. She served her guests milk that her cat wouldn't drink and preferred to host Catholics on Fridays because fish was cheaper than meat.[5] She was widowed in 1917, and financed the construction of a new department of Hospital of St Cross, Rugby, in the memory of her husband, who had also donated to the hospital.[6] She continued to breed horses and participate in races, winning the Victoria Cup and 1932 Coronation Cup. James died in 1948, leaving her jewellery and paintings by Titian, Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough to her goddaughter, Queen Elizabeth.[7]

In 1872 the 11-year-old Mary Venetia Cavendish-Bentinck had been a bridesmaid at the wedding of Christina Nilsson, a famous opera singer of the period. The wedding was a high society affair, arranged by Venetia's father in Westminster Abbey, London. Venetia held the bride's bouquet whilst Nilsson took her vows with her future husband, French banker Auguste Rouzaud.[8][9]



    1. "A Friend of the King". Liverpool Echo. 2 May 1917. p. 3.
    2. "House party at Coton House". Windows on Warwickshire. Warwickshire County Council. Retrieved 1 October 2014.
    3. Brummer, Alex; Cowe, Roger (1998). Weinstock: The Life and Times of Britain's Premier Industrialist. Harper Collins Business. p. 33. ISBN 0002556766.
    4. Middlemas, Keith (1972). The Life and Times of Edward VII. London: Book Club Associates. p. 197.
    5. Summerskill, Ben (15 September 2004). "Tax cuts for the well off? That's a bit rich". The Guardian.
    6. Rugby From Old Photographs. Amberley Publishing Limited. 2013. p. 33. ISBN 1445630583.
    7. "Friend Left Jewels to Queen". Dundee Courier. 30 June 1948. p. 2.
    8. "Marriage of Mademoiselle Nilsson". Birmingham Daily, Post Page 4. 29 July 1872.
    9. "Marriage of Mademoiselle Christine Nilsson and M Rouzaud in Westminster Abbey". Christina Nilsson Sällskapet . Engraving, 19th-century English School. Retrieved 29 September 2014. External link in |website= (help)
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