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Will The Real Lady Howe Please Stand Up?

May 2024
1min read

The readers of A MERICAN H ERITAGE , many of whom, of course, are history buffs, tend to be sharp observers, and now and then we realize that among them are some whose eyes and memory would qualify them as secret agents of 007 caliber. Such a one is Mr. Joseph E. Mainous, who writes to us from Lexington, Kentucky:

“While re-reading an article in your February, 1964, issue, ‘The Enigma of General Howe,’ by Thomas Fleming, I came across a genuine enigma. The question is, was Lady Howe really Madame d’Hardancourt Brillon de Jouy in disguise? In discussing the Howe family on page 99 of that issue, you have a drawing of Lady Howe playing chess with Benjamin Franklin. If this really is Lady Howe we have half of our enigma. The other half comes from your June, 1959, issue and the article, ‘We shall eat apples of paradise …’ On page 39 you have a drawing of Benjamin Franklin playing chess with Madame Brillon, but the lady is unmistakably Lady Howe! This thing has all kinds of possibilities. Perhaps Howe was really a French agent. No wonder the British lost the war. As they say on the television program, ‘Will the real Lady Howe please stand up?’”

There is no denying that we love that picture of Benedict Arnold—er, Benjamin Franklin—playing chess with Lady Howe. But Lady Howe has never been Madame Brillon. Our 1959 article was about the ardent verbal love affair between Franklin, the septuagenarian gallant, and the delightful French lady; and we looked a long time for a picture of them together. When we could not find it, we had to settle for an illustration that showed the right setting and costumes, even though the lady was the wrong one. Somewhat sneakily, perhaps, we did not caption the picture. In 1964, when “The Enigma of General Howe” gave us the chance, we ran the picture again—right time, right place, right lady. The only remaining question is whether the real Madame Brillon, who supposedly has been nibbling celestial apples with Franklin since they met in paradise, will stand still, much less up, for all this. — The Editors

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