Henrietta did not have the most fortunate of circumstances. She was the third daughter of six sisters and two brothers. Her mother's side of the family had connections with the Vanisttart and Lytton families and a relation of her fathers, Richard Lowe was protected by Lady Betty Seymour of Syon House. She had named him there and then sent him to Gnoll Castle in South Wales and put under protection there. He was put under protector of names of the warde, but it appears that he was defrauded of his rights given by Lady Seymour, as were his descendants and he was apprenticed to mechanical trades. It is unclear at this stage what the relationship was between Richard and Lady Seymour, or why she protected him and had him brought up in Wales.
Yet despite his wifes worth, James squandered her fortunes on his work. But despite the family being poor, Henrietta had connections with high status families, perhaps she was a social climber and had dreams of grandeur. By 1855 she had married a lieutenant in the 14th Dragoons, Frederick Vansittart who had been based at the British Embassy in Paris and who had been associated with her mothers side of the family. They were married at the embassy on 25th July 1855.
Soon after they returned to England, and bought a house in Clarges Street, London, selling his commission so they could set up home here.
But in 1859 Henrietta started an affair, which lasted 12 years with the novelist and politician, Edward Bulwer Lytton. At this time it appears that Henrietta and Frederick were living apart and that she had returned to her grandfathers home in Ewell. Lytton was known to both the Vansittart and Barnes families and was 30 years her senior. He was a man of high status and Henrietta clearly had an effect on him and he on her. It was a well known affair, which took place after two other well known affairs of his which resulted in a number of illegitimate children.
His marriage to writer Rosina Bulwer Lytton ended unhappily after only a few years. he took their two children away from her and this became the start of a very bitter battle between the two people for the rest of their lives.
Henrietta and Edwards' affair was perhaps not to Disrealis liking and he is said to have blamed Lyttons absences from the House of Commons on his association with Henrietta. When Lytton died on 18 January 1873, he left Henrietta £1200 in his will and unusually £300 to her husband. She returned to Frederick and lived in Richmond and Twickenham.
Henrietta and Frederick moved into No.4 Maids of Honor Row on Richmond Green sometime around 1869. It was an imposing Georgian house which certainly set her apart from others. For the last two or three years of Lyttons life, he lived in Torquay nursing ill health. It is not clear if Henrietta maintained her relationship with him until the end or if by this stage she had gone back to Frederick and thus the reason for them buying a property in Richmond.
Maids of Honor was built around 1720 and strong comparisons have been drawn with the houses built around the same time in Montpelier Row, Twickenham.
It seems they did not stay in Richmond for long and soon headed for Twickenham. An equally imposing row of terraced houses built by Captain John Gray. She was clearly making good money from her propeller as she soon became a property owner in Twickenham and purchased several houses in Montpelier Row.
Bohn took to paper soon after spying on the Vansittarts to air his grievances about Henrietta in public – entitled ‘The Montpelier Row Difficulty’, he writes that:
‘It is with great regret that I find myself brought once more into a verbal conflict with Mrs Vansittart, but she is inexorable, and by way of publicly introducing, what appear to me to be mere figment of the brain, contrives to make me the scapegoat. I have no choice, therefore, but to reply to her, and bring out what may well be called the facts of a Tweedledum affair’
The letters went much further than the sign and became an attack on each other. Bohn went into details of Henriettas mortgages and purchases and insinuating that she had lied about certain things and was also trying to extract money for no reason out of the sales of her houses. Bohn accused her of allowing her properties to deteriorate and ruin the essence of the row. Henrietta claimed that she had spent thousands on improving the row. She stressed that she has done more for the neighbourhood than Bohn had ever done – keeping up with the Jones of the Victorian age.
Indeed, what obviously had been private discussions seems to have reached a head in 1879/1880 as both wrote backwards and forwards to the paper airing their grievances of one another’s behaviour over several years. A very public affair!