I love this portrait of David Lyon. Isn’t he dashing? Possibly a bit Darcy-esque? He has the refined air, proud stance, slender musculature, and elegant, chiseled face we all imagine when envisioning Mr. Darcy. His richly nuanced clothes, from the fur lining his coat to the slim cane and dandyish handkerchief, the gentleman in this portrait screams high position and wealth in society. You might be surprised to learn that David Lyon wasn’t a peer. Like Mr. Darcy, he was part of the landed gentry.
Hailing from Goring Hall, Sussex and Balintore Castle in Scotland, David Lyon’s family descended from the Lyons of Auldbar, a noble English lineage whose issue carry forth to the present century with Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the late Queen Mother. David’s father, David Lyon Sr., was reportedly worth around £600,000 at the time of his death. The family was rich in Jamaican sugar plantations, including exports of rum, and business investments closer to home. David Lyon junior was born in 1794, and aged 33 when his father died, inheriting his wealth, and then proceeding to amass a greater fortune through savvy business dealings as a merchant in the Antilles.
Lyon served as a Tory Member of Parliament for Bere Alston from 1831 to 1832, his only involvement with politics.
A considerable marriage prize in both appearance and riches, Lyon remained a bachelor until 1848 at the age of 54 when he married Blanche Augusta Bury (b. 1819), daughter of Reverend Edward Bury and the well-known novelist Lady Charlotte Bury. Lady Bury had numerous daughter from two marriages, all of them considered talented and beautiful, Blanche being “not less handsome than the daughters of her first marriage.” From Mrs. Grant Laggan’s Memoirs and Correspondence, Mrs. Laggan recalls of the young Blanche:
The couple made their home at Lyon’s 600 acre estate, Goring Hall in Sussex. Rebuilt on the grounds of a tear down, the new Goring Hall was completed in 1840, eight years prior to the wedding. Today Goring Hall is a hospital. Lyon also kept a townhouse in London at 31 South Street, Grosvenor Square, a prestigious area of London near Hyde Park. In 1860 David Lyon bought Balintore Castle in Forfarshire, the country of his forbears. Interestingly, one hundred years later, Balintore Castle was abandoned and remained so for over half a century until a new owner (David Johnston) took over and began a long restoration project. You can read all about the restoration of Balintore Castle at Mr. Johnston’s blog: Balintore Castle Restoration Project
In 1851, Lyon was High Sheriff of Sussex, but aside from this and his short duty in Parliament, his life was one of business and living as the typical gentleman of wealth in Society. Ten years into their marriage, Blanche took her husband to court to claim “restitution of conjugal rights”. The case was arranged out of court and “Mrs. Lyon went home to her husband”, but a year later the same paper carried the announcement by David that Blanche was absenting herself without cause from his house and would not honor any debts she made. She retaliated by announcing this is because of “his conduct towards her”. What exactly happened between the couple before or after is unclear. Needless to say, it was not a happy marriage! They had no children together, and it does not appear that Mrs. Lyon was present at the time of his death in 1872 at the age of 78 while wintering in Nice. The estate passed to David’s brother, William Lyon, and remained in the family until 1934.
Dashing David Lyon’s portrait also remained in the family until 1981, when it was sold via auction at Christie’s to Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza. The Baron displayed the painting in the drawing-room at Daylesford, his UK residence, and subsequently in his house at Lugano. In 1993 it became part of the collection of the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid Spain.