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Thurles Gaiety Girl Rosie Boote Scandalises Edwardian Society

Rosie and the Marquess of Headfort

Highlights of the May 2012 “Irish Art Sale,” by Sotheby’s Auction House in London, will go on view in Dublin at No 16 Molesworth Street, on April 24th and 25th and will include two portraits by Dublin born, Sir William Orphen, Ireland’s if not the world’s greatest portrait painter.

Interestingly both of these portraits in this auction have strong Thurles associations to this very day. The portraits are of the glamorous music-hall star Rosie Boote and a Co Meath aristocrat, Geoffrey Thomas Taylour, 4th Marquess of Headfort DL, JP, FZS (1878 – 1943) both of whom were to enthrall and scandalised Edwardian society in 1901.

Rose Boote, (1878-1958) or ‘Miss Rosie Boote,’ latter her later stage name, was the only daughter of Charles Boote, a comedian and while little is known of her mother, it was believed she was a straw hat sewer.

Rose however was sent to the Ursuline Convent School in Thurles in the 1890’s to be educated. The Ursuline Convent then, as now, had a high reputation in educational circles, renowned for their proficiency in turning girls into young, well educated ladies, who could take their place even in the highest society.

Having left the Ursuline Convent School in Thurles, Rose, possibly through connections of her father, was introduced to George Joseph Edwardes, (1855–1915)  an English theatre manager, born ‘George Edwards,’ a native of Co Wexford, Ireland. George had introduced a new era into musical theatre on the British stage.

George now introduced Rose to the stage as one of his ‘Gaiety Girls,’ where she achieved great acclaim. Gaiety Girls were the chorus girls of Edwardian musical comedies, which had its beginning earlier in the 1890s, at the Gaiety Theatre, on the Strand, London. The sudden popularity of this genre of musical theatre depended, mainly on these beautiful dancing troupes of “Gaiety Girls” appearing onstage in bathing attire and in the latest fashions from London and Paris.

Gaiety girls were considered polite, educated, well-behaved young women, unlike those corseted actresses from London’s earlier musical burlesque shows. They became a popular attraction and a symbol of ideal womanhood, soon attracting the attention of aristocratic young men, known as “Stage Door Johnnies.”  These young men would often wait outside the rear stage door in the hope of escorting one of these young ladies to dinner. Rose’s mentor, Edwardes had arranged with Romano’s Restaurant, on the Strand, for his girls to dine there at half-price. It was good exposure for his girls and made Romano’s Restaurant the embodiment of London’s night-life.

It was possibly Rosie’s performance in a hit musical ‘The Messenger Boy,’ in 1900, when she danced and sang ‘Maisie,’ that apparently charmed the eligible handsome young Irish aristocrat, the 4th Marquis of Headfort, Geoffrey Thomas Taylour (1878-1943). She would soon quit the theatre and they would be married on the 11th of April, 1901, but not without the resistance of high society and family members.

Huge efforts were now made to prevent the intended marriage, by all of Lord Headfort’s relatives and friends, even King Edward was called upon to use his influence in this matter.  Geoffrey Thomas Taylour, after all, was a first lieutenant in the First Life Guards, a crack British regiments, and he was soon informed that if he married this music hall actress his resignation would be expected.

King Edward became greatly interested in this whole affair and infored Prince Edward of Saxe-Weimar, who was Colonel of the First Life Guards, to undertake whatever was necessary to prevent the marriage.  Prince Edward, in turn, wrote to the offending Lord Headfort, explaining that his career would be ruined if he were to marry Miss Boote, as he could never be received by the regiment.  Geoffrey Thomas Taylour, Lord Headfort, replied, forwarding his resignation papers to Lord Roberts. His Commander in Chief now refused to accept Lord Headfort’s resignation, instead ordered the Marquis to hold himself in readiness to go to South Africa, on active service.

Lord Headfort insisted on resigning and married Miss Boote. English society were shocked, after all Rosie did not belong to the upper classes, she was a devout Roman Catholic, marrying an Irish Protestant Freemason, (Having been initiated in the Lodge of Assistance No 2773  at Golden Square, London, in February 1901, aged 22 years.) the head of an ancient house and the possessor of considerable wealth, owning estates of some 22,000 acres in Cavan and Meath.

However English Society were unaware that Rosie was a quiet, refined, well educated Ursuline Convent girl, and the then confidently predicted marriage separation, between this young couple, would never materialize. The couple lived between their home at Headfort House, Kells, Co Meath and a London townhouse and they would have three children, Lady Millicent Olivia Mary Taylour, Terence Geoffrey Thomas Taylour and Lord William Desmond Taylour.

I understand that Rosie visited the Ursuline Convent, Thurles, on a few occasions during her marriage, on one occasion to officially open a new building extension, and indeed gifted the convent with a veil, for a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This veil is still one of the Ursuline Convents treasured possessions.

The chorus-girl Marchioness and her husband were eventually received back into London Society, when they were invited to one of the most important balls of the season. Princess Christian and other members of the royal family were there, and none of the most exclusively disposed members of the aristocracy, who had been invited, stayed away. The entrance of Lord Headfort and his chorus-girl wife was of course the sensation of the evening. Lady Headfort is reported as “bearing herself in a manner which every one declared to be perfect.”  Her gown was reported as one of the most beautiful costumes observed at the ball and her appearance and her manners were better than those of the grandees dames, who crowded around, eying her inquisitively.

Rosie’s husband who had succeeded to the title 4th Marquis of Headfort on the death of his father in 1894 continued to move in the highest echelons of then British society. He remained a lieutenant in the 1st Life Guards and later fought in the first World War. He also served as a senator in the Irish Free State between 1922-1928.

Rose died in 1958 at the age of 80, 15 years after her husbands death. She was one of the very few people who ever attended three Coronations in Westminster Abbey, Edward VII, George V and George VI. Her grandson Lord Bective and employees of the estate carried her coffin to an island in the grounds of Headfort House, where she was buried alongside her husband.

In her portrait by Orphen, now on sale, Rosie is depicted in her cocktail dress, fur and diamond earrings which is estimated to sell at auction for between £300,000-£500,000. The diamond earrings shown in her portrait, were sold by Sotheby’s in Geneva last year for €35,000.
Headfort House of course was sold off in 1981, but the title is still extant.

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