Jane Elizabeth Digby was born in Forston House, near Minterne Magna, Dorset on 3 April 1807, daughter of Admiral Henry Digby and Lady Jane Elizabeth née Coke, a renowned beauty. She was often called Jenny, or Aurora, the latter bestowed upon Jane by one of her many admirers. Jane's father seized the Spanish treasure ship Santa Brigada in 1799 and his share of the prize money established the family fortune.
As captain of HMS Africa he participated under Admiral Nelson's command in the Battle of Trafalgar. His estate, Minterne Magna, was inherited. Jane's maternal grandfather was Thomas Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester. Pamela Churchill Harriman was the great-great-niece of Jane Digby.
Considered promiscuous for her times, she was first married to Edward Law, 2nd Baron Ellenborough (later Earl of Ellenborough), who became Governor General of
, on 15 October 1824. At the
time of her marriage, Jane was described as tall, with a perfect figure. She
had a lovely face, pale-gold hair, wide-spaced dark blue eyes, long dark lashes,
and a wild rose complexion. They had one son, Arthur Dudley Law (15 February
1828 – 1 February 1830), who died in infancy. India
After affairs with her cousin, Colonel George Anson (born 1799) (who Jane thought was the biological father of her son), and Prince Felix Schwarzenberg, she was divorced from Lord Ellenborough in 1830 by an act of Parliament. This caused considerable scandal at the time. Jane had two children with Felix; Mathilde "Didi" (born 12 November 1829
Basel and raised by Felix's sister) and
Felix (born December 1830 )
who died just a few weeks after his birth. The affair with Felix ended shortly
after the death of their son. Paris
She then moved on to
and became the lover of Ludwig I of .
In Bavaria , she
met Baron Karl von Venningen (6 January 1806 – 10 June 1874). They married in
November 1833 an had a son, Heribert (27 January 1833 Palermo-1885 Munich), and
a daughter, Bertha (4 September 1834 Mannheim-22 September 1907). Munich
In 1838, Jane found a new lover in the Greek Count Spyridon Theotokis (born 1805). Venningen found out and challenged Theotokis to a duel, in which the latter was wounded. Venningen generously released Jane from the marriage and took care of their children. They remained friends for the rest of their lives.
Though she was not legally divorced from Venningen until 1842, Jane converted to the Greek Orthodox faith and married Theotokis in Marseille in 1841. The couple moved to
with their son Leonidas (21
March 1840 Paris-1846 Athens). In 1846, after their son's fatal fall off a
balcony, Theotokis and Jane divorced. Greece 's King Otto became her next
Next came an affair with a hero of Greek revolution, Thessalian general Christodoulos Chatzipetros, acting as 'queen' of his brigand army, living in caves, riding horses and hunting in the mountains. She walked out on him when he was unfaithful.
At age forty-six, Jane travelled to the Middle East, and fell in love with Sheik Abdul Medjuel el Mezrab (also known as Sheikh Abdul Mijwal Al Mezrab in accounts by contemporary Western travellers in
Abdul Medjuel was a sheik of the Mezrab section of the Sba'a, a well-known
sub-tribe of the great 'Anizzah tribe of Syria '. However Abdul Medjuel or
Abdul Mijwal (Slave of Medjul dates) is a nonsensical name. Arabic sources give
the Shaikh's name as Mijwal al-Musrab. It has also been written that Jane Digby
was referred to as Shaikhah Umm al-Laban (literally Shaikhah Mother of Milk
i.e. Milky lady) due to the color of her skin. Syria
Although he was twenty years her junior, the two were married under Muslim law and she took the name Jane Elizabeth Digby el Mezrab. Their marriage was a happy one and lasted until her death 28 years later.
Jane Digby died in
in 1881. Damascus
Jane adopted Arab dress and learned Arabic in addition to the other eight languages in which she was fluent. Half of each year was spent in the nomadic style, living in goat-hair tents in the desert, while the rest was enjoyed in a palatial villa that she had built in
She spent the rest of her life in that city, where she befriended Richard and Isabel Burton while he was the British consul, and Abd al-Kader al-Jazairi, a prominent exiled leader of the Algerian revolution.
She died of fever and dysentery in
Damascus on 11 August 1881, and was buried in the there, where her grave may
still be seen today. She was buried with her horse in attendance at the funeral.
Upon her footstone – a block of pink limestone from Palmyra – is her name,
written in Arabic by Medjuel in charcoal and carved into the stone by a local
mason. Protestant Cemetery
After her death her house was rented and the family of the young H. R. P. Dickson rented it. A small part of the house still survives today, still in the ownership of the same family who purchased it from Abdul Medjuel's son in the 1930s.
Jane Digby would have been very pleased!!!
By A Customer on 24 Aug. 1999
During her "Scandalous Life" Jane Digby was often written about in the popular press and remained a topic for tea time gossip for more than 50 years! Victorian England was fascinated by this unconventional woman who lived her life as she followed her heart and passions across Europe and the
Middle East. Her story
has so many twists and turns that it needs no embellishments.Mary S Lovell's
research on Jane's life relied upon the volumes of diaries and letters she
discovered . This brings a validity to her work that other writers have lacked.
Jane's experience with the "tabloid press" type stories about her adventures
(especially Isabel Burton's exaggerated account written when she thought Jane
had died) had to leave her very cynical of potential biographers...but I really
believe she would have been very pleased with Mary Lovell's book. The author
presented Jane's life without moralizing and judging her and focused on her
unique strengths and appreciation of strong personalities without prejudice of
any kind. I was fortunate to find a copy of this biography while visiting in
Ashburton, Devon, this August.It is out of
print here (as "The Rebel Heart") and Mary Lovell's fans hope the
publisher will reconsider. I was first introduced to Jane's extraordinary life
when I read a biography of her distant relative, Pamela Digby Harriman and the
reference was made to the similarities between these two unconventional women.
After reading Pamela's life story...I knew I had to find out more about this
earlier Digby woman that Pamela felt such a connection with. Mary Lovell has a
real flair for writing about strong women characters.