Stacia Briggs’ guide to Norfolk WAGs of the rich and famous

PUBLISHED: 09:52 10 March 2018

Anne Boleyn: The Norfolk-born queen who was married to Henry VIII. Briefly.

Anne Boleyn: The Norfolk-born queen who was married to Henry VIII. Briefly.


In her latest contribution towards Norfolk day, Stacia Briggs picks out ten famous local WAGs of history.

As we march towards Norfolk Day on July 27, I am determined to concentrate on all things county until we reach the summit (and on that note, more on Norfolk summits another day).

I note that in lists that herald the great and good of Norfolk there is little mention of their other halves and, as we all know, behind every great man or woman is an equally great woman or man (or in the case of Henry VIII, Robert Walpole and Rider Haggard, several great women).

So today I am concentrating on the long-suffering partners of some of Norfolk’s most famous faces, from eight foot tall brides to beheaded queens, who all deserve their slice of glory as we celebrate the county’s most well-known exports. Someone has to get the tea on when other people are showboating about on chariots, on horseback, in rebellions or in, er, boats.

10 Norfolk WAGs/HABs (wives/husbands and girlfriends/boyfriends) of the rich and famous

1) Mr Elizabeth Fry was Joseph Fry, a tea dealer and an unsuccessful banker. He and his brother joined the family business, built up by their mother who has “the financial acumen which had enabled money both to be acquired and prudently managed,” said a commentator at the time, before adding, “It was a quality which perhaps neither of the sons inherited.” Ouch.

2) Frances Nisbet married Horatio Nelson in 1787. Within 13 years he’d left her for an affair with Lady Emma Hamilton. Emma once wrote to Nelson saying: “My dress from head to foot is a la Nelson. Even my shawl is in blue with gold anchors. My earrings are Nelson’s anchors: in short, I am be-Nelsoned all over.” It’s a look we can all aspire to.

3) Author Henry Rider Haggard married a Norfolk heiress, Mariana Louisa Margitson, in 1880 and whisked her away to run an ostrich farm in Holland, the romantic devil. Secretly, he was sending money to his first love, Mary Jackson, whose husband had deserted her. She repaid him by returning to her husband and contracting syphilis. Women, eh?

4) The most significant thing that Norfolk-born Queen Boudica’s husband Prasutagus ever did was die. When he left his kingdom to Rome and his daughters – and Rome decided to take the daughters’ share – their Mum led a bloody revolt against the Roman occupation of Britain. To paraphrase Saint Beyonce: “She felt like it was time to set up her future, so she set a goal. Her goal was independence.”

5) When 8ft tall Eliza Simpson married 7ft 2in Norfolk Giant Robert Hales in 1849, it was big news (see what I did there?). The marriage was actually a publicity stunt created by circus impresario PT Barnum, which no doubt came as good news to bed manufacturers across the county.

6) Anne Boleyn (1501-1536), said to have been born at Blickling Hall, had possibly the most famous and prolific husband ever, Henry VIII. After three years of marriage, he declared she had tricked him into the union with spells and had her beheaded, a new version of ‘it’s not me, it’s you’.

7) Robert Kett (1492-1549) led an enclosure-related revolt in Norfolk during the reign of Edward VI. His wife was Alice Appleyard, the daughter of a local landowner, who he married in 1519 and with whom he had five sons, William, James, Loye, George and Richard. All five sons survived Kett’s Rebellion and provided for their mother after their father’s execution.

8) Norfolk-born Sir Robert Walpole was the first English Prime Minister. His marriage to Catherine Shorter would have kept tabloid editors busy for decades – the couple had five children and Walpole had many affairs. Within a year of Catherine’s death in 1737, Walpole married one of his mistresses, Maria Skerett, 26 years his junior.

9) Legendary Norfolk lifeboatman Henry Blogg was 25 when he married his sweetheart Ann Brackenbury in 1901. The couple were married for almost 50 years and although Blogg saved 873 lives at sea, both his children tragically died – Henry before his second birthday and Annie when she was 28.

10) Sir Thomas Browne condemned marriage as “trivial and vulgar” in his classic work, Religio Medici, written in 1643. By this point, he’d been married to his wife Dorothy for two years. Ouch.

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