Anne Elizabeth Fleeming 780
- Born: 10 February 1828, At Sea, off Venezuela 1004
- Marriage: Major William Cunninghame Graham in 1851
- Died: 1925 aged 97
From The Times, 28 March 1925
Memories of Five Reigns
The death of the Hon. Mrs. Bontine at the age 97, announced on another page, breaks a link with a past stretching back across five reigns and removes a gracious figure of the social world who to the end of her long life had retained her intellectual faculties and charm.
Anne Elizabeth Elphinstone was the third daughter of Admiral the Hon. Charles Elphinstone, subsequently Governor of Greenwich, a friend of the third Lord Holland, and Whig M.P. for Sterling County, who later on, inheriting the Wigton estates, assumed the additional surname of Fleeming. She was a granddaughter of the 11th and sister of the 14th Lord Elphinstone, and was granted the rank and precedence of a baron's daughter in 1860. Her mother was a Spanish lady, Donna Catalina Paulina Alessandro, and she was born at sea on board her father's ship, off the coast of Venezuela, on February 10, 1828. It was the year in which the Duke of Wellington formed his first Administration; Charles X. still occupied the throne of France; and Scott published his "Tales of a Grandfather"; and her earliest recollections as a child were the sounds of demonstrations in favour of the Reform Bill.
In her youth she visited Italy with her mother and sisters, and in the early 'forties lived for some months at Perugia, then fallen again under Papal rule; and she retained a recollection of Pope Gregory XVI., of whose Church her mother was a member, though Miss Elphinstone and her brother and sisters were brought up as Protestants. She was on intimate terms with her cousin, Margaret Mercer, Baroness Keith and Baroness Nairne in her own right, who had marred the Comte de Flahault, and Aide-de-Camp to Napoleon Bonaparte, and subsequently French Ambassador in London, who, it is now known from his great-grandson Lord Kerry's recently published book, "The Secret of the Coup d'Etat," was Louis Napoleon's confidant throughout; and it was probably due in no small degree to Flahault's influence in Whig circles that the Coup d"Etat was, after the first violent disapproval it aroused, accepted here with a tolerably good grace. Margaret Mercer, whom William IV. wished to marry, it will be remembered, belonged to the household and was a confidante of Princess Charlotte, and gave Greville an interesting account of the misfortunes of that unhappy lady, which he relates in the second volume of the Memoirs under the date of September 18, 1832. The De Flahaults (whose eldest daughter married the fourth Marquess of Lansdowne) had resided in London from about 1848, and Miss Elphinstone frequently stayed for long periods at their house, where she met the Duc de Morny (Flahault's illegitimate son by Queen Hortense), and as a girl she also saw much of Louis Napoleon before the events of 1848 had the transformed the refugee in England into the Emporer in France. She was probably the last the survivor of that period who had retained a vivid recollection of the personages who played the principal parts in the strange world-drama of the Coup d'Etat.
Miss Elphinstone married in 1851 Major William Cunninghame Graham Bontine, of Gartmore, a member of one of the most ancient families in Scotland (or, indeed, the British Isles), whose name appears under various spellings all through Scottish history from the 13th century. A curious custom of this family, under the provisions of an old entail, is for the eldest son to bear the surname and arms of Bontine during the lifetime of his father, after whose death he uses the name of Cunninghame Graham only. Major Bontine died in 1883. Of the marriage there were three sons, Robert Cunninghame Graham, the distinguished writer; Commander Charles E. F. Cunninghame Graham, M.V.O., who died in 1917, a Groom-inWaiting to King George V.; and a third, who died young.
For many years before her death Mrs. Bontine lived in Chester Square, where as a girl she had seen St. Michael's Church in course of erection; and there she delighted in receiving her friends and hearing everything they had to tell her and retailing in return her memories extending back over nearly a century. There were few persons in the world of politics, literature, music, and art whom she had not known or known about, and she remembered all that there was of interest to tell of them. She had heard Tom Moore sing his own songs; she knew and disliked Charles Greville; and she had seen one of her sons sent to prison with John Burns for rioting in Trafalgar Square.
But the past did not interest the old lady so much as the doings of the present. In her 95th year she remarked to a friend that, though much modern poetry seem to her unmelodious and much modern art rather ugly, still she like to know something about them, and it was wrong to ignore any movement merely because it was new. Thus she was young to the end because she would not grow old. Until she was about 95 she attended most of the important revivals of Shakespeare's plays, and she was able to compare with quotations the acting of the present with that of the players whom she had seen in her youth. Even in her last years, too, she was a frequent and picturesque figure of interest at art exhibitions, leaning on the arm of her son; and to the end she never missed reading week by week the Literary Supplement of The Times. Brought up a Whig, she retained her Liberalism to the last, and even showed sympathy with modern Labour developments. Indeed, there were few departments of life in which Mrs. Bontine was not interested, and it was this and her marvellously retentive memory that made her a personality who will never be forgotten by those who knew her. The sorrows inseparable from old age had not broken her fine spirit, which, though at rest, will shine for many as an example of how life may be lived with intelligence and grace regardless of the flight of time.
Anne married Major William Cunninghame Graham, son of Robert Cunninghame Graham and Frances Laura Spiers, in 1851. (Major William Cunninghame Graham was born in 1825 and died in 1883.)