NEAF Saturday Seminar series | Lecture 3 | Dr Kate da Costa, Lady Hester Stanhope
NEAF Saturday Seminar series | Lecture 3
1 June 2019
Dr Kate da Costa
Lady Hester Stanhope
Hester Stanhope’s life, if she had never left England, would have provided enough material for multiple books and films: the grand-daughter of Pitt the Elder, favourite niece and head of household for her uncle Pitt the Younger, confident or lover of politicians, lords and generals, daughter of an Earl who believed in the ideals of the French Revolution, rescuer of her brothers who were locked up by the Earl, and unmarried at 33.
At that age, her uncle, her brother Charles and her soulmate General Sir John Moore all dead, she embarked from Plymouth. Originally intending to travel to Sicily and Malta, she met and fell in love with the much younger Michael Bruce. They journeyed east. Hester spent the rest of her life in the Ottoman empire, first in Constantinople and then briefly Cairo. She ended up living outside the Lebanese village of Djoun in a renovated former convent renamed the Deir el-Sitt. As well as remaining well in touch with the interests of the British, and negotiating the delicate relationships of the Druze, the ambitions of Mehmet Ali and the Sublime Porte, she increasingly embraced Arab life and Sufism.
Hester was the first European woman to see Palmyra. More remarkably, having translated an Italian manuscript, she embarked upon excavations at Ashkelon, guided by the text. This is considered by Neil Asher Silberman to be the first stratigraphical archaeological excavation in the Levant. In her final years, increasingly impoverished and abandoned by her lovers, she gave refuge to those fleeing the Battle of Navarino and supported “her” Druze in rebellion.
The study day will cover Hester Stanhope’s extraordinary life, with a focus on her travels, adventures and archaeology in the Levant. As the ‘Queen’ of Palmyra and “Nejmet al Sabah (Star of the Morning)”, her exploits precede and, in many cases, outshine some of the more famous later female European explorers of the Middle East.
Hosted by the Near Eastern Archaeology Foundation (NEAF)