Florence Nightingale

Richard Monckton Milnes

A chalk sketch by George Richmond
Richard Monckton Milnes was Florence Nightingale's romantic interest as far as history is concerned. Theirs was a seven year courtship ending in her refusal to marry. There was one other male "love" for her and it was her cousin Henry Nicholson. Oddly enough this "romance" lasted for seven years ending in her refusal to marry. Henry moved to Lea Hurst to teach her mathematics when she was still a young woman with a passion to learn and no experience. The Richard Monckton Milnes relationship came later but was also one of learning for RMM was part of the independently wealthy group wanting to reform the world through science and system. Her refusal to marry resulted in much trauma. In cousin Henry's case the Nicholsons refused to talk to the Nightingales for years after. In RMM's case her family went completely nuts. Her mother and sister considered it the end of the possibility of marriage for both sisters and her father retreated again from the feuding women.

In both cases she remained close to both men: Henry wrote to her often after joining the army and informed her of health conditions abroad. While RMM was married to another within two years he continued to be friendly with the Nightingale family and helped her in her various causes later in life.

I have very little information on Henry Nicholson but Richard Monckton Milnes was an historic figure warranting a two-volume biography written by James Pope-Hennessy. Quoting from his The Years of Promise (volume one, 1809-1851) Henry Adams writes of him:

Milnes ... is everywhere and knows everything; has the largest range of acquaintances, from the Chartist to the Lord Chancellor; fat, easy, affable and obliging; a little careless and slovenly in his dress .... His good humor is infinite .... He is very liberal of his money and sincerely kind and useful to young people of merit. Jane Carlyle testified to his generosity -- rare, she said, among people of fashion with his money .... He is one of the most valuable companions in London, too, for the multitude of anecdotes he tells about good people, and at Paris I found him equally acquainted with everybody and a privileged man, with his pockets full of free cards, which admitted him everywhere.

The Pope-Hennessy book goes on to tell that it was said that if Jesus returned to earth Milnes would invite him to one of his famous breakfasts held in his mansion. (Mutton pie was a favorite dish.) Male friends would spend the night and breakfast the next day spending much time in Milnes famous library. The library contained books on every subject from everywhere, among them the most extensive collection of Marquis de Sade and pornographic books and even a human skin bookmark. Milnes is said to have collected autographs of executioners. He was instrumental in bringing about reform for youth prisons.

There was one more man who played romantically into FN's life for a long important period and that man is Sir Harry Verney. Sir Harry was a liberal member of the House of Commons for 52 years and a pioneer in rural housing and administration. He was 56 years old and he proposed to FN who was then 37 years old. It was 1857. During that winter he stayed at Embley Park and fell in love with Parthenope and they were married in June of 1858.

Parthe became Lady Verney and lived with Sir Harry in his mansion Claydon House. The Verney family, Sir Harry and Claydon House played important roles in FN's life up to her death.

Back to Timeline