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Mixed race female aristocrat may have helped end slavery

HISTORIC: Dido Elizabeth Belle, left, as seen in the famous painting

THE TRUE story of a mixed race 18th century woman who was brought up as an aristocrat and may have helped to end slavery, has been made into a film.

Belle follows the “extraordinary” account of Dido Elizabeth Belle, who is said to have been the daughter of distinguished British Naval officer, Sir John Lindsay and a slave woman.

But her story might have been lost, as Belle, who was featured in an 18th century painting with a white woman, was assumed to be a servant.

But historians say the ladies are portrayed as equals with both richly dressed in silks, satins and pearls and Dido was born in 1763, after an affair between Lindsay and the slave woman.

At the age of four, Lindsay sent her to be looked after by his uncle and aunt, Lord and Lady Mansfield.

What, historians say is “remarkable” is that not only did the childless couple agree to adopt her, she grew up, not as a slave, but as part of the family, along with her cousin Lady Elizabeth, whose mother had died.

William Murray, the grandson of the current Earl of Mansfield said: “Over the generations, the painting was listed as ‘Lady Elizabeth Murray and black slave or black companion’.

“There was no name, no relationship or connection with the family mentioned.

“My grandmother was telling some tourists this story and one of them was intrigued. After doing some research, they got in touch.

“Suddenly the paper trail was laid and it was realised who she was.”

Dido’s father is understood to have met her mother, Maria Belle, on board a Spanish ship he captured while captain of the warship, the Trent, during the Seven Years War.

It is believed that Mansfield’s love for the illegitimate child influenced his decision to rule that slaves could not be forcibly removed from England to return to the colonies, which paved the way for the Slavery Abolition Act, which came into force in 1833.

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