This is a letter from Lord Mansfield to his judicial protégé Francis Buller on a point of insurance law. It was dictated by Mansfield to his great-niece Dido Elizabeth Belle. Dido Belle was the mixed-race daughter of Mansfield’s nephew John Lindsay and Maria Belle, an enslaved woman whom he encountered during his time in the West Indies.
She was adopted by Lord Mansfield and his wife and was brought up by them, as a companion to her cousin, Elizabeth Murray. Dido Belle’s position in the Mansfield household was unusual and is reflected in the famous double portrait of Dido and Elizabeth by David Martin. Unlike other portraits of the period, Dido is not portrayed as a servant but as Elizabeth’s companion.
Dido was given an allowance and an education by Mansfield and contemporary accounts show she was an accomplished young lady.
This letter demonstrates that she was trusted by Mansfield to act as his amanuensis and, happily for us, she added the following postscript “This is wrote by Dido. I hope you will be able to read it.”