At least I think so … but if anyone can find evidence to the contrary I’d love to hear about it.
Testing the water with a new project (I need to lay the novel aside while I see what happens with it), I found myself this afternoon looking into the Harrison family, who owned Teaninich Castle in Easter Ross from 1921. Francis Burton Harrison, an American, was Governor General of the Philippines, and his colourful life story includes wealth, politics, controversy, a Scottish castle, as many wives as Henry VIII, and several tragedies.
Research these days does generally start with Google and wikipedia – but today is a perfect example of why it can’t stop there! Google Teaninich and Harrison together, and you read time and again that the flamboyant American Charles Harrison who lived there was the inspiration for Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Little Lord Fauntleroy. There’s even a Frances Hodgson Burnett room in the castle. Intriguing! Was this Charles Harrison a brother, a father, or a mistaken first name, perhaps?
Digging a little deeper I found what seemed to be confirmation. American newspaper articles from as early as 1910 and 1913 identified politician Francis Burton Harrison (so definitely the right man) as the inspiration for Little Lord Fauntleroy, which was written by his mother, Frances Hodgson Burnett. One headline reads ‘Lord Fauntleroy is barred from the White House’!
Really? Well, I loved The Secret Garden and the Little Princess as a child so I was pleased to find their author was connected to the family I was researching. The only problem is, I cannot find a single piece of evidence for the claim. Frances Hodgson Burnett’s family details do not include Francis Burton Harrison. She is said to have modelled the character on her son Vivian. Mr Harrison’s family details are also widely available, and do not include the author of Little Lord Fauntleroy.It seems there is no connection whatsoever between Frances Hodgson Burnett and Teaninich Castle. So what is going on?
Francis Harrison’s mother was in fact a writer of the same era, known as both Constance Cary Harrison and Mrs Burton Harrison. Incidentally, she sounds like a very interesting woman in her own right. One article about ‘lady dramatists’ mentions both women within a few paragraphs. Perhaps they knew each other. Perhaps the similarity of names led to confusion. Did our Francis Burton Harrison try to deny that he was Little Lord Fauntleroy, or did he in fact perpetuate the mistake? All the people involved were still living in the 1910s, when these claims were made. What did they think?
The Harrisons are a tiny, tangential link in the new project, so I need to resist the temptation to explore this one much further … at least for now.
But ‘fake news’ can last a long, long time …
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I live in Alness and have tried to research this also. I agree it seems like there is a mix up with the identity.
So far I have found that Frances Hodgson Burnett had 2 x sons; Lionel & Vivian. According to most research The little Lord was based on Vivian – or was it Vivian that became based on the little Lord!
Looks like both ladies had links to presidents; Jefferson Davis & James Garfield and both had a connection to Britain and spent time in France, a possible link there?
They may well have met or at least known of each other. Both were published by Scribner’s Monthly. Could the character be based on both sons or was the story based on Cary’s more ‘noble’ background?
Then I was wondering where the name Charles comes in and I found below link;
Could this Charles be the confusing and often used link between the castle, the name and the Little Lord? He was in Philippines, as was Cary’s son Francis.
If you come across anything else, I would be very interested to hear from you.