The Hon. Richard Fitzwilliam,
7th Viscount Fitzwilliam of Merrion (1745-1816) &
Mademoiselle Zacharie (Anne Bernard) (b. 1768/9)
Born in Richmond, Surrey in 1745, Richard Fitzwilliam, 7th Viscount Fitzwilliam of Merrion, was the eldest son of Richard Fitzwilliam, 6th Viscount Fitzwilliam of Merrion, and Catherine, eldest daughter and co-heir of Sir Matthew Decker, baronet, of Richmond. Educated at Charterhouse School and Trinity College, Cambridge, Fitzwilliam was also an accomplished draughtsman and harpsichordist. Following graduation in 1764, he travelled to Paris to study composition and keyboard with Jacques Duphly. A small exercise book entitled 'R. Fitzwilliam, Paris 1765, Mr. Duphly', now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, bears testimony to his progress.
It was at this time also that Fitzwilliam bought a printed score of Jean-Philippe Rameau's Pigmalion, the first of many music manuscripts and printed scores he was to acquire. Further travels led him to Italy, the Netherlands and Spain, where he bought important illuminated manuscripts, paintings, prints and drawings. Still, it was his interest in music which set Fitzwilliam apart from other Grand Tour collectors. Back in England he took an active part in London's musical life, served as director of the Concerts of Ancient Music and was one of the instigators of the Handel Commemoration of 1784.
By this time Fitzwilliam had succeeded his father in his Irish titles and to his large estates. Still, he did not settle into married life. Rather he embarked on a love affair with a French ballet dancer, Anne Bernard, also known as Mademoiselle Zacharie. A frequent visitor to Paris, he had first seen her at the Opéra in the early 1780s. That they had met by 1784 is apparent from an autograph inscription on Fitzwilliam’s copy of Les Spectacles de Paris of that year:
Lord fitzwilliam aime zacharie. zacharie aime lord fitzwiliaim [sic] plus q'uelle [sic] même; elle est sa fidelle [sic] amie et l'amie la plus tendre et sincere.
Lord Fitzwilliam loves Zacharie. Zacharie loves Lord Fitzwilliam more than herself; she is his faithful friend, the most tender and sincere friend.
Fitzwilliam and Mademoiselle Zacharie’s relationship lasted several years and they had three children together.
Elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1789 and MP for Wilton in 1790, Fitzwilliam remained in politics until 1806. He died, unmarried, in London in 1816. Having provided for Mademoiselle Zacharie and his children, most of his property passed to George Augustus Herbert, 11th Earl of Pembroke, and his titles to his younger brothers; the title of 'Fitzwilliam of Merrion' became extinct in 1833.
Fitzwilliam is, however, best remembered for his bequest to the University of Cambridge of his magnificent library and rich collection of paintings, prints, drawings and illuminated manuscripts. Intended to further ‘the Increase of Learning and other great Objects of that Noble Foundation’, the bequest included such priceless treasures as the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book and Titian's Venus and Cupid with a lute-player.
The bequest also included the dividends of ₤100,000 of South Sea annuities for the erection of a museum. Designed by George Basevi in 1835, the Fitzwilliam Museum opened to the public in 1848.
B. H. Blacker, rev. J. D. Pickles, 'Fitzwilliam, Richard, 7th Viscount Fitzwilliam of Merrion', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004-8
Fitzwilliam Museum, French Music at the Fitzwilliam, 1975
Fitzwilliam Museum, The Dutch Connection, 1988
Gerald Gifford, 'Some recently identified sources of Handelian keyboard music at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge', The Consort, vol. 65, Summer 2009, pp. 46-59
Gerald Gifford ed., Fitzwilliam Handeliana, vol. I: Richard 7th Viscount Fitzwilliam of Merrion, Compositions for Harpsichord and Organ, Launton, Edition HH, 2009
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