The aristocrat abandoned her privileged background for a life of Middle East adventure, dressing as a man, visiting harems and leading archaeological digs
Lady Hester Stanhope, AKA The Queen of the Desert or Queen Hester. Born 12 March 1776, Queen Anne Street, Marylebone, London.
Claim to fame
The big puzzle about Hester Stanhope is how we’ve reached 2020 without a massive Netflix drama ever having been made about her fascinating life. Born into the British elite – the niece of prime minister William Pitt and the granddaughter of a man who made his fortune after discovering an enormous diamond in India, she was all set up for a life of comfort. Instead, shaken by a failed love affair, she left England when she was in her 30s, never to return. She travelled to Europe, then the Middle East, lost all her clothes in a shipwreck and started dressing as a man. She visited harems, smoked pipes, impressed the Bedouin with her horsemanship and, having discovered a mysterious map that suggested treasure was buried under the ruins of a mosque, undertook pioneering archaeological work in Palestine. She also travelled to Turkey, Malta, Egypt and Syria, finally settling in a turbulent corner of Lebanon.