Did white lead make-up enhance beauty at a deadly cost?
The Countess of Coventry
Her Looks and Charm
There are many gossipy 18th century stories about Maria, Lady Coventry. They can be cruel, portraying her as silly and empty headed. However, the king, George the II, found her funny and charming, even when others were shocked at what she had to say, and letters between her friends after her death show that she was deeply missed.
We do know, and can see in portraits, that she was certainly very lovely, with pale smooth skin, brown hair and brown eyes. She dressed beautifully, and the wistful comments of her peers on the utter charm of her caps and dresses still resonate with anyone who loves fashion today.
Portrait of Maria (nee Gunning), the Countess of Coventry, by Richard Houston, after Francis Cotes. Copyright, the National Portrait Gallery, London, England. Used with permission under academic license.