Lady Anne Blunt lived most of her life in the shadow of her awful husband Wilfrid, an adulterous cad who pranced about spending her money willy-nilly.
He even moved mistresses into Crabbet house; Lady Anne seemed to put up with all this and was more or less content to stay out of the limelight while her own achievements – at least in the eyes of modern-day Arabian breeders – far outweighed those of her husband. Even Lady Wentworth’s Authentic Arabian Horse is formed from much of Lady Anne’s writing and research.
Lady Anne Blunt: A biography, by HVF Winstone, Barzan Publishing. Hard cover, 366pp; RRP £19.95. ISBN: 1900988 577.
From about the age of four until her death, Lady Anne was a prolific writer and kept a journal that detailed everyday happenings — which were far from ordinary. The Blunts — thanks to Lady Anne’s connections — moved in the best circles. Her grandfather was the poet Lord Byron, who died some years before her birth. Anne was largely brought up by her grandmother, Lady Byron, while her mother, Ada, was pursuing her scientific interests. She worked with Charles Babbage, who invented the “difference machine”, which was an early forerunner to the computer.
Unfortunately, although possessing a brilliant mind — inherited by her daughter — she also had a gambling problem, and hocked “the family jewels” to bet on the races while virtually on her deathbed. She died a painful death of what was probably cancer as well as having mental problems. While Ada was alive, Anne’s father had little to do with the upbringing of the children, thanks mostly to the stern control of Lady Byron.
Every family has a skeleton in its closet — but in Anne’s case, the skeleton was very much alive in the form of a “cousin”, whose mother was said to be the result of a liaison between Lord Byron and his half-sister. The shadow of incest did rear its head every now and then, but it seemed to have had little effect on Anne. Neither did the unusual upbringing — she seemed to take it all in her stride.
To date little has been written about Lady Anne Blunt — the well-born former lady Ann Isabella Noel King – saviour of the arab breed, traveller, and writer. Indeed, it is more than two-thirds through this biography — the first dedicated to Lady Anne alone — that finally she is able to live her life the way she wishes. After separation from Wilfrid, she spent most of the winter months of each year — sometimes more — at their property in Egypt, Sheykh Obeyd.
It is amazing that a well-bred society woman roughed it (more or less) in the desert to travel to remote tribes in search of horses. Lady Blunt was the first European woman to make a recorded journey to central Arabia, and made three major trips there. For the Arabian horse fan, there are only brief accounts of the horses bought during these trips, as the book focuses on her life rather than delving into the matters of the Crabbet stud in detail.
However, from Winstone’s biography, we are painted a picture — probably a watercolour — of a highly intelligent, patient, and generous woman; and a talented writer and painter. Had she chosen another “cause” other than preserving the purity of the Arabian horse and collecting specimens from as many different desert strains as possible, it is almost certain the purebred Arabian as we know it today would be something quite different — if it existed at all.
First published on Horsetalk.co.nz in January, 2004.