Dido Elizabeth Belle was the illegitimate daughter of Sir John Lindsay (1737–88). Lindsay was an officer in the Royal Navy who was stationed for a time in the Caribbean. Maria Bell, her mother, was an African woman whom he met when his ship was on duty there. Although she was born into slavery, her father entrusted her to the care of his uncle William Murray for her upbringing. Interestingly, Murray was the Lord Chief Justice and later 1st Earl of Mansfield, owner of Kenwood House in north London. Belle was brought up and educated alongside Lady Elizabeth Murray and even got an annuity for her upkeep. She could not be treated as equal to her cousin, however, it was clear that she was not enslaved. Irrespective, she earned the title “The Lucky Slave”. Here are the Top 3 Achievements of Dido Elizabeth Belle:
- Dido Elizabeth Belle is best known for the 1779 painting of her alongside her cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray. Lady Elizabeth Murray was the great-niece of William Murray. It is one of the most unusual painting in 18th century British art. Whereas, it depicts a black woman as the near equal of her white companion, instead of a servant or slave.
- Notably, Belle managed the estate’s dairy and poultry yards. Also, she helped Lord Mansfield with his correspondence, a task normally assigned to a male secretary or clerk. She was proof that knowledge makes one unfit to be a slave and her importance resonated in the Kenwood Household.
- It is undeniable that Dido influenced great-uncle Lord Mansfield’s opinions on the slave trade. From 1756 to 1788 Dido’s uncle was Lord Chief Justice, the most powerful judge in England. It was a unique position to preside over several court cases that examined the legality of the slave trade. An example of such cases being the Somerset case. He ruled in favour of an escaped slave whose owner tried to send him back to the West Indies. The Somerset case did not end the slave trade, however, it was a significant point along the road to abolition.
- Belle earned the respect of her great uncle’s contemporaries for her intelligence and articulation. She was also praised for her ability to repeat some pieces of poetry with an admirable degree of elegance.
- Dido Elizabeth Belle achieved a great influence on popular culture. Her life was chronicled in feature films, novels and poetry. Even the portrait of her and her cousin, owned by the current Earl of Mansfield is an important tourist attraction.