John French, 1st Earl of Ypres - Family


In 1875 French married Isabella Soundy, the daughter of a tradesman. They divorced in 1878 with Isabella as a co-respondent and said to have been paid off by French’s wealthy brother-in-law. The divorce could have ruined his career if widely known.

He married Eleanora Selby-Lowndes - one of seven sisters known as the “Belles of Bletchley” - in 1880; they had two sons and two daughters. Neither his second wife, nor his daughter Essex who died in 1979, were ever aware of his first marriage. French became estranged from his wife (officially, she did not accompany him to Ireland as it was too dangerous) and sons, although from 1922 he re-established relations with his second son Gerald, who defended his father’s reputation until his own death in 1970.

French's sister was the suffragette, anti-war campaigner and Irish nationalist Sinn Féin member Charlotte Despard.

During the First World War French had an affair with Mrs Winifred Bennett, the wife of a British diplomat and former mistress of one of his own officers killed at Loos. French signed himself “Peter Pan” and on the eve of Neuve Chapelle he wrote to her “Tomorrow I shall go forward with my war cry of “Winifred””. She was tall and elegant, and the disparity in their heights caused great amusement.

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