Vashti de Montfort Wellborne (1869–1930)
Vashti de Montfort Wellborne was the daughter of Henry Kesterton Wellborne, a clerk, who married Annie Pether Rogers (born in St Ebbe’s, Oxford) in Newington, London at the beginning of 1867. Vashti, their only child, was named after Vashti, Queen of Persia. She was born at Walworth Road, London and brought shortly afterwards to St Clement’s Church in Oxford to be baptised on 28 March 1869. This may have been the home parish before marriage of her mother, who was born in St Ebbe’s in 1848.
The “de Montfort” part of her name may have added by Vashti herself. The Wellborne/Wellesbourne family believed that they were descended from the thirteenth-century knight Simon de Montfort; but E. J. Payne soon put paid to that idea: “Some … members of the family of Wellesbourne … in the reign of Henry VIII claimed, without any ground whatever, to be descended from the Montforts” (“The Montforts, the Wellesbournes and the Hughenden Effigies”, Records of Bucks, 1896, Vol. VII, 362–412). Vashti’s surname is mis-spelt Wellbourne in most censusus.
Vashti’s father Henry Wellborne died in Camberwell at the end of 1873 when Vashti was only four. Her mother, Mrs Annie Pether Wellborne probably then came back to her home town of Oxford, as three years later, at the end of 1876, she was remarried in Headington: her new husband was James Hedges, a prosperious butcher, who had lived in Barton Manor with his first wife, Emma Susannah Hedges, until her death in 1873 at the age of 28.
Annie and her daughter Vashti, aged seven, thus came to live in Barton Manor in 1876, and they remained there for the rest of their lives. Annie had no more children. The 1901 census shows James (65) in the house with Annie (53) and her daughter Vashti, who was described as an actress (with her age wrongly given).
Vashti acted with Sir Ben Greet’s Shakespearean company and founded the Barton Academy of Dramatic Art. She was also instrumental in the opening of the Electric Theatre, Oxford’s first cinema, in Walton Street in November 1910.
The 1911 census shows Vashti (42) once again described as an actress and still living at Barton Manor with her mother and stepfather, who was now retired.
Her stepfather died at the age of 84 on 10 May 1925 at the Haven Nursing Home in Oxford, and was buried at Holy Trinity Church in Headington Quarry with his first wife the next day.
Vashti herself died of cancer on 30 October 1930 at the age of 60, under a cherry tree in the garden of Barton Manor, and her funeral was at St Andrew’s Church on 1 November 1930. She left an estate valued at £2,888 12s. 5d. Her mother Annie Pether Hedges continued living at Barton Manor until her own death on 3 December 1933.
The design of Archibald Nicholson’s stained-glass window in memory of Vashti (below) caused some controversy at first. On the left, representing Miss Wellborne’s alleged ancestry, is Simon de Montfort on horseback, with the inscription “Founder of the English Parliament”, with the Chapter House at Westminster underneath. On the right, sitting with a panther at her feet, is the crowned Queen after whom Miss Wellborne was named, with the inscription “Vashti, Queen of Persia”, with Barton Manor (Miss Wellborne’s Headington home) below.
George Day (Vicar of St. Andrew’s 1946–1956), in an interview with S.P.B. Mais about the window in the Oxford Mail of 14 January 1955, said, “I don’t suppose there is another window to Vashti in the country, and there was some difficulty in getting the Chancellor to allow this one. He at first refused, but when it was ingeniously pointed out to him that Queen Vashti was most virtuous and exemplary in her refusal to attend her husband in his cups the Chancellor allowed it to be put up.”
Queen Vashti of Persia
Queen Vashti is now popular with women’s rights groups for standing up for herself and not bowing to the wishes of her husband, King Ahasuerus (sometimes identified with Xerxes); but it did her no good, as he divorced her for this disobedience and married Esther, who told the tale thus in her Old Testament book (Esther, chapter 1, verses 1–21):
Now it came to pass in the days of Ahasuerus, in those days when King Ahasuerus sat on the throne of his kingdom, which was in Shushan the citadel, that in the third year of his reign he made a feast for all his officials and servants — the powers of Persia and Media, the nobles, and the princes of the provinces being before him — when he showed the riches of his glorious kingdom and the splendour of his excellent majesty for many days, one hundred and eighty days in all. And when these days were completed, the king made a feast lasting seven days for all the people who were present in Shushan the citadel, from great to small, in the court of the garden of the king’s palace. There were white and blue linen curtains fastened with cords of fine linen and purple on silver rods and marble pillars; and the couches were of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of alabaster, turquoise, and white and black marble. And they served drinks in golden vessels, each vessel being different from the other, with royal wine in abundance, according to the generosity of the king. In accordance with the law, the drinking was not compulsory; for so the king had ordered all the officers of his household, that they should do according to each man’s pleasure. Queen Vashti also made a feast for the women in the royal palace which belonged to King Ahasuerus. On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar, and Carcas, seven eunuchs who served in the presence of King Ahasuerus, to bring Queen Vashti before the king, wearing her royal crown, in order to show her beauty to the people and the officials, for she was beautiful to behold. But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s command brought by his eunuchs; therefore the king was furious, and his anger burned within him. Then the king said to the wise men who understood the times (for this was the king’s manner toward all who knew law and justice, those closest to him being Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan, the seven princes of Persia and Media, who had access to the king’s presence, and who ranked highest in the kingdom): “What shall we do to Queen Vashti, according to law, because she did not obey the command of King Ahasuerus brought to her by the eunuchs?” And Memucan answered before the king and the princes: “Queen Vashti has not only wronged the king, but also all the princes, and all the people who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus. For the queen’s behaviour will become known to all women, so that they will despise their husbands in their eyes, when they report, “King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought in before him, but she did not come.” This very day the noble ladies of Persia and Media will say to all the king’s officials that they have heard of the behavior of the queen. Thus there will be excessive contempt and wrath. If it pleases the king, let a royal decree go out from him, and let it be recorded in the laws of the Persians and the Medes, so that it will not be altered, that Vashti shall come no more before King Ahasuerus; and let the king give her royal position to another who is better than she. When the king’s decree which he will make is proclaimed throughout all his empire (for it is great), all wives will honour their husbands, both great and small.” And the reply pleased the king and the princes, and the king did according to the word of Memucan. Then he sent letters to all the king’s provinces, to each province in its own script, and to every people in their own language, that each man should be master in his own house, and speak in the language of his own people.