Jane Elizabeth Digby, Lady Ellenborough (3 April 1807 – 11 August 1881) was an English aristocrat who lived a scandalous life of romantic adventure, spanning decades and two continents. She had four husbands and many lovers, including King [[Ludwig I of Bavaria, his son King Otto of Greece, statesman Felix Schwarzenberg, and an Albanian brigand general. She died in Damascus, Syria as the wife of Arab Sheikh Medjuel el Mezrab, who was 20 years her junior.
Jane Elizabeth Digby was born in Forston House, near Minterne Magna, Dorset on 3 April 1807, daughter of Admiral Henry Digby and Lady Jane Elizabeth née Coke, a renowned beauty. She was often called Jenny, or Aurora, the latter bestowed upon Jane by one of her many admirers. Jane’s father seized the Spanish treasure ship Spanish ship Santa Brigada in 1799 and his share of the prize money established the family fortune.
As captain of HMS Africa he participated under Admiral Nelson’s command in the Battle of Trafalgar. His estate, Minterne Magna, was inherited. Jane’s maternal grandfather was Thomas Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester. Pamela Churchill Harriman was the great-great-niece of Jane Digby.
Marriages, scandal, and affairs
Considered promiscuous for her times, she was first married to Edward Law, 2nd Baron Ellenborough (later Earl of Ellenborough) on 15 October 1824 who became Governor General of India. At the time of her marriage, Jane was described as tall, with a perfect figure. She had a lovely face, pale-gold hair, wide-spaced dark blue eyes, long dark lashes, and a wild rose complexion. They had one son, Arthur Dudley, who died in infancy.
After affairs with her cousin, George Anson (whom Jane thought was the biological father of her son), and Felix Schwarzenberg, an Austrian statesman, she was divorced from Lord Ellenborough in 1830 by an act of Parliament. This caused considerable scandal at the time. Jane had two children with Felix before he left her in Paris: a daughter, Mathilde “Didi” (born 12 November 1829 and raised by Felix’s sister) in Basel, Switzerland; and a son Felix (born December 1830) who died just a few weeks after his birth.
She then moved on to Munich and became the lover of Ludwig I of Bavaria, but had a son, Heribert, by the Bavarian Baron Karl von Venningen, whom she married in a relationship based on convenience in 1832. Heribert was born on 27 January 1833 in Palermo, Sicily where Jane was residing at the time with her husband.
Soon she found a new lover in the Greek count Spyridon Theotokis. Venningen found out and challenged Theotokis to a duel. He wounded him but generously released her from the marriage, took care of her children, and remained her friend. Jane married Theotokis and they moved to Greece. Greece’s King Otto, became her lover. The marriage to Theotokis ended in divorce after the fatal fall of their 6 year old son, Leonidas.
Next came an affair with a hero of Greek revolution, Thessalian general Hristodoulos Hadzipetros , acting as ‘queen’ of his brigand army, living in caves, riding horses and hunting in the mountains. She walked out on him when he was unfaithful.
Life in Syria
At age forty-six, Jane traveled to the Middle East, and fell in love with Sheik Abdul Medjuel el Mezrab (also known as Sheikh Abdul Mijwal Al Mezrab in accounts by contemporary Western travelers in Syria). Abdul Medjuel was a sheik of the Mezrab section of the Sba’a, a well-known sub-tribe of the great `Anizzah tribe of Syria].
Although he was twenty years her junior, the two were married under Muslim law and she took the name Jane Elizabeth Digby el Mezrab. Their marriage was a happy one and lasted until her death 28 years later.
Jane adopted Arab dress and learned Arabic in addition to the other eight languages in which she was fluent. Half of each year was spent in the nomadic style, living in goat-hair tents in the desert, while the rest was enjoyed in a palatial villa that she had built in Damascus.
She spent the rest of her life in that city, where she befriended Richard and Isabel Burton while he was the British consul, and Abd al-Kader al-Jazairi, a prominent exiled leader of the Algerian revolution.
She died of fever and dysentery in Damascus on 11 August, 1881, and was buried in the Protestant Cemetery there, where her grave may still be seen today. Upon her footstone – a block of pink limestone from Palmyra – is her name, written in Arabic by Medjuel in charcoal and carved into the stone by a local mason.
After her death her house was let and the family of the young H. R. P. Dickson rented it. A small part of the house still survives today, still in the ownership of the same family who purchased it from Abdul Medjuel’s son in the 1930s.