Unusually, Margaret, Duchess of Portland (1715 – 1785) was the third female in a row to inherit. Lady Margaret married William Bentinck, 2nd Duke of Portland (1709 – 1762) bringing this title into the family. She began the tradition of collecting under the name Portland, setting up The Portland Museum of art and natural history, and was one of the 18th century’s greatest collectors.

Margaret Cavendish had a serious and philosophical desire to understand and record the natural world. To this end she assembled The Portland Museum. This exhibition celebrates her extraordinary life; daughter of a great collector; friend to poets, philosophers, scholars and Royalty; patron of Captain Cook; owner of the largest natural history collection in 18th century Britain; owner of the Portland Vase and creator of vast botanical gardens and a zoo.

If her children had shared her passions, perhaps her collections may not have been sold and she may have remained as famous today as she was during her life. However after her death the entire contents of The Portland Museum (over 4,000 lots) were auctioned. The Duchess of Portland and her museum were then forgotten.

Curious? Duchess of Curiosities: The Life of Margaret, Duchess of Portland by Professor Rebecca Stott is available from the Bookshop.