Lady Anne Blunt and Sir Wilfrid Scawen Blunt
Sir Wilfred Blunt was born August 17,1840 and was the second son of Francis Blunt, the scion of an ild Sussex family. Unfortunately, Blunt's father died two years later. His mother leased the family estate, Crabbet Park, and wandered with her three young children in desultory fashion throughout England and Europe. At the age of eighteen Blunt passed the examination for the diplomatic service and for twelve years he served as an attaché to British embassies and legations in Athens, Constantinople, Lisbon, Madrid, Paris and Frankfurt. It was also during this time that the handsome Blunt pursued his favorite pastime, the seduction of beautiful, often married, aristocratic women.
Blunt ended up marrying a very different sort of woman. Lady Anne King Noel was twenty-nine years old when they first met in Florence, Italy. She was chaste, rich and attractive in an unassuming way. Blunt described her in later years:
Lady Anne came with a remarkable family history. She was child of Lord Byron's daughter, Augusta Ada, and had been brought up largely by her grandmother, Lady Byron. She had spent most of her youth in Europe. By the time Blunt met her, Lady Anne already boasted several impressive achievements: fluency in French, German, Italian and Spanish; a considerable artistic talent (she had studied drawing under John Ruskin); and some musical skills (she owned two Stradivarius violins and practiced in them five hours a day).
Blunt was attracted to her almost from the first. A marriage to the heir of the Byronic tradition appealed very strongly as a major first step in his own poetic progress. Nor was he indifferent to the obvious advantages of her annual income of some £3,000 when his own, as a second son, had dwindled to £700. Later Blunt discovered he had in her a perfect companion for his Arabian travels. She was a woman courageous, tough, resourceful, cool-headed in life threatening crises, self-reliant, adaptable and shared his major interests in Orientalism and horses.
They were married on June 8, 1869 in London. In the summer of 1873 they began their first adventure to the Middle East. In the winter of 1875-76 the Blunts visited Egypt. After leaving Egypt, they hired Bedouins and camels and made a leisurely trip through the Sinai to Jerusalem. While crossing the desert, the small group ran out of water and almost died of thirst. However, the Blunts survived the experience and gained a rudimentary knowledge of Arabic, an insatiable desire to learn more about the Muslim culture and a determination to mount a major expedition into central Arabia.
There were years of pain as well as pleasure. Lady Anne suffered one miscarriage after another, the first occurring just two months after their wedding. A year later she delivered a son who died after 4 days. In 1872 she delivered twin girls. One died immediately. Lady Anne took the other in her arms. "Oh, it was so lovely to me, it had feet and hands like its father, and its voice went to my heart," she wrote. The baby died a few days later. And so it went through one terrible pregnancy after another. Both were keenly aware that their families were among only sixty-eight in England that had come over from Normandy with William the Conqueror in 1066. Blunt especially was desperate for a son to carry on the family line and each failure devastated him.
In the spring of 1872, Blunt's older brother unexpectedly died and he inherited the ancestral estate at Crabbet Park. Suddenly the couple found themselves with a country house, 4,000 acres, fifteen servants and an annual income of £21,000. Blunt immediately set about restoring the dilapidated Tudor manor house. On February 6, 1873, Lady Anne gave birth to a daughter. She lived and they named her Judith Anne Dorothea. She grew up as an only child.
In late November of 1877 the Blunts returned to the Middle East to begin their first expedition. It was not until January 9, 1878 that their small caravan departed from Aleppo. At the end of their adventures (I encourage reading Lady Anne's account of the trip in her book Bedouin Tribes of the Euphrates) the Blunts sailed home to England with six Arabian mares that were to form the heart of the famous Crabbet Arabian Stud farm. The idea had been the brainchild of their friend in Aleppo, James Skene, who also joined as a general partner. Blunt believed that the Arabian horse was the finest in the world but in order to develop its full potential it must be bred in England. Within a few years the Crabbet's stud reputation had spread throughout England.
In late 1878 the Blunts decided to return to the Middle East, this time to penetrate northern Arabia and the Nejd, the highlands sacred to all Syrian Bedouins as their ancestral homeland. It was also considered the birthplace of the Arabian horse. Isolated by rugged mountains and fierce deserts, few regions in the world were more inaccessible. Only three European men had preceded them. Lady Anne would be the first European woman to visit the Arabian Peninsula. (I encourage reading Lady Anne's account of this trip in her book A Pilgrimage to Nejd).
In 1882 the Blunts purchased Sheykh Obeyd, a thirty-two acre house and walled garden on the outskirts of Cairo in the desert near the pyramids. The estate was originally owned by Ibrahim Pasha, uncle to Abbas Pasha. A family friend, Frederic Harrison, visited Sheykh Obeyd in 1895 and wrote a full description of the Blunt's life in Egypt:
The primary horse objective of the Blunts became that of collecting from the stud of Ali Pasha Sherif. With perseverance and tenacity they collected approximately 16 stallions and 51 mares bred by Ali Pasha Sherif which were some of Egypt's finest Arabians. They shipped some of them to the Blunt's estate, Newbuildings and later to Crabbet while leaving others at their Sheykh Obeyd Stud. In a poignant note, Lady Anne mentions that she could almost regret having purchased the Ali Pasha mares because Judith, her sole heir, did not value them.
The Blunts slowly drifted apart. Lady Anne lived a reclusive life at Sheykh Obeyd, now her chief home, rarely returning in later years to Crabbet Park in Sussex. Arabic, not English, became her first language and she insisted, the language of her dreams and thoughts. Blunt often sought the companionship of other women. In 1895, when he was 55, he had a passionate affair in the desert with the daughter of an earlier mistress. In 1900 he started an affair with a young woman, Dorthy Carleton, whose pet name for him was Merlin. In 1906 she moved in with him at Crabbet Park. This precipitated a separation with Lady Anne. They continued to correspond on friendly terms and unsuccessfully attempted in 1915 a reconciliation.
On December 15, 1917, Lady Anne died in Cairo. Her body was buried in a small cemetery on the edge of her beloved desert. Her obituary as it appeared in the London Times has been reprinted in the Arabians Visions Archive. Wilfred Blunt died September 10, 1922. By his own orders there was no ceremony, only a simple Bedouin-style funeral. His body was wrapped in an Oriental carpet and carried by six workmen to a grave several hundred yards from Crabbet Park.
Lady Anne's fears about Judith's lack of appreciation of the Ali Pasha Sherif horses were not without foundation. Judith Blunt, known as Lady Wentworth, inherited the Crabbet Stud from her parents and did not bother to preserve the Ali Pasha Sherif bloodlines in any straight form and eventually Blunt desert bred stock and the impure Polish Arabian Skowronek predominated the Crabbet pedigrees. Thus, the Wentworth "super horse" was born, but at the expense of what Lady Anne and Sir Wilfred valued most. It is only recently that a handful of dedicated breeders have recognized what the Blunts and early Egyptian breeders knew so well, the special qualities only found in Sheykh Obeyd Arabians.