The Huguenot Sisters
Politics, Money and Love in Georgian England
- Gill Blanchard
15th September 2025
The sisters Mary Magdalen Walpole and Elizabeth Leheup (née Lombard) were born in the late 1690s to wealthy Huguenot refugees. Through their marriages and family connections these two women were at the heart of eighteenth-century national and international political and social affairs. Mary's husband, Horatio Walpole of Wolterton Hall in Norfolk, was a diplomat and brother of Robert Walpole, generally acknowledged as the first Prime Minister. The dowry she took into her marriage highlights how ‘new’ or ‘foreign’ money transformed the fortunes of many old English families in this period. Elizabeth’s husband Isaac Leheup was from another Huguenot family with properties across several counties. He became a plenipotentiary to the King of Sweden and a minister at the Hanoverian court.
The fascinating upward mobility of the Lombard sisters provides the spine of a story that is actually about the Huguenot diaspora and the even broader topic of the status of the refugee. The present Duchess of Cambridge is descended from Huguenots who fled France, as was Winston Churchill. The effect of those in flight from persecution was profound in Georgian society. It was greatly resented by some, one of Walpole's aristocratic friends referring to these two astute and influential women as 'the French staymaker's daughters'. Through primary sources, Gill Blanchard sheds new light on Georgian society and the politics of being an outsider.