Sparagnapane, Florence Gertrude

Florence Gertrude Sparagnapane
b: 22 Jul 1864
d: 2 Jan 1949
From the Dictionary of National Biography

Fonblanque, Florence Gertrude de [née Florence Gertrude Sparagnapane] (1864-1949), suffragist, was born on 22 July 1864 at 142 Bishopsgate Street in the City of London, a younger daughter of Gaudente Sparagnapane (c.1816-1877), an Italian immigrant wholesale confectioner, and his wife, Aurelia Williams (c.1832-1915). She was educated in Brussels and at Brighton. Tall, dark, and elegant, she became an actress. On 17 October 1891, at St George''s Bloomsbury, giving her age falsely on her marriage certificate as twenty-one and her father''s profession as ''gentleman'', she married a young actor, Robert Edgar De Grenier de Fonblanque (c.1869-1932), the son of a barrister. Her husband later acquired the titles marquess of Juliers, comte de Hautserve, and comte de Fonblanque. Nothing is known of the couple''s early married life except that they apparently had no children and by 1906 had taken up residence in Duncton, a small Sussex village.
At this time, with her sister, Maud Arncliffe Sennett, Florence became interested in the movement for women''s suffrage, belonging successively to both constitutional and militant societies. By 1912 she was a member of the committee of the west Sussex branch of the Conservative and Unionist Women''s Franchise Association. It was in this year that she originated the idea of a ''Woman''s March'' to draw the country''s attention to the woman''s cause. She felt that the constitutional arm of the movement should be seen to enact a heroic feat to emulate the daring deeds of the militants. Her first idea was that women should march from London to Edinburgh, but she was soon convinced by more experienced publicists that the direction of the march should be changed to culminate in London. Maud Arncliffe Sennett wrote of her sister, ''She dressed her little army in warm autumnal brown and bright emerald green brazzards and rosettes, and she secured a splendid Press-London as well as the provinces'' (Arncliffe Sennett, 70).
The ''army'' was indeed ''little''. Although invitations were sent in early September to all the suffrage societies, only six women set off from Edinburgh on 12 October, a few others joining the march en route. Despite the small numbers taking part, the report of the march in the Suffrage Annual and Women''s Who''s Who (1913) was exhaustive-a result, no doubt, of the sisters'' ability to activate the publicity machine. It appears from this report that the character of the march was distinctly more religious and spiritual than political, and that the suppression of sweated labour and of the white slave trade were of concern as well as the enfranchisement of women. The marchers reached London on 16 November, having held as many as three meetings a day along the route. Maud Arncliffe Sennett co-ordinated the arrival into London, the women being accompanied at this stage by such male suffragists as Cecil Chapman and Israel Zangwill. A large meeting was held in Trafalgar Square, at which Charlotte Despard was one of the speakers, and a petition praying ''the Government to bring in a bill for Women''s Suffrage this Session'' and containing thousands of signatures garnered during the course of the march was presented by Florence de Fonblanque to a representative of the prime minister. ''Mr Asquith promised to give it his consideration; and later, informed Mrs de Fonblanque that he had nothing to add to his previous statement'' (Suffrage Annual, 149). Although the march achieved no political success it provided an outlet for active women who could not condone militancy.
Florence de Fonblanque founded and became leader and honorary organizer of what was originally called the Marchers `Qui Vive´ Corps, later the Qui Vive Corps. This group, although not militant, was distinctly militaristic, dressing, as they had done for the march, in a brown and green uniform. Perhaps it was Florence de Fonblanque''s stage experience that gave her a penchant for such dressing up. The idea was that the Qui Vive Corps should offer its services to different suffrage services impartially whenever extra workers were required. Although intended as a national movement, with the aim of showing that the women of England were as capable of organization, comradeship, and discipline as the men, its influence does not appear to have spread beyond Sussex. However, although the main constitutional society, the National Union of Women''s Suffrage Societies, had refused to take part in the Women''s March, it obviously recognized the value of the idea, and shamelessly adopted it, organizing its own Pilgrimage the next year.
Florence de Fonblanque died of cardiac failure at her home, The Cottage, in Duncton, on 2 January 1949. Her gravestone in the tiny parish churchyard carries the epitaph ''Originator and leader of the women''s suffrage march from Edinburgh to London 1912'', wording she specified in her will. One might conclude from this evidence that she felt that her contribution to the suffrage cause represented the highlight of her life.

E. Crawford, The women''s suffrage movement: a reference guide, 1866-1928 (1999)
A. J. R., ed., The suffrage annual and women''s who''s who (1913)
M. Arncliffe Sennett, The child (1938)
d. cert.will of F. G. de Fonblanque
Likenesses photograph, repro. in Votes for Women (22 Nov 1912)
Wealth at Death £11,329 17s. 2d.: probate, 2 March 1949, CGPLA Eng. & Wales
  • 22 Jul 1864 - Birth - ; London, England
  • Jan 1949 - Burial - Buried in the churchyard of Holy Trinity in Duncton, West Sussex ; Duncton, Sussex, England
  • 2 Jan 1949 - Death - ; Sussex, England
  • 1871 - Residence - Relationship: Daughter ; Leyton, Essex, England
  • 1901 - Residence - Relation to Head of House: Wife ; Duncton, Sussex, England
  • 1939 - Residence - Marital Status: Widowed ; Duncton, Sussex, England
  • 1871 - Residence - Relationship: Daughter ; Leyton, Essex, England
  • 1901 - Residence - Relation to Head of House: Wife ; Duncton, Sussex, England
  • 1939 - Residence - Marital Status: Widowed ; Duncton, Sussex, England
Gaudente Sparagnapane
abt 1816 - 1877
Florence Gertrude Sparagnapane
22 Jul 1864 - 2 Jan 1949
Amelia Williams
abt 1834 -
Family Group Sheet - Child
PARENT (M) Gaudente Sparagnapane
Birthabt 1816Switzerland
Death1877 London
Marriageto Amelia Williams
PARENT (F) Amelia Williams
Birthabt 1834Blagdon, Dorset, England
Marriageto Gaudente Sparagnapane
FFlorence Gertrude Sparagnapane
Birth22 Jul 1864London, England
Death2 Jan 1949Sussex, England
Marriage17 Oct 1891to Robert Edgar de Grenier Fonblanque at England
Family Group Sheet - Spouse
PARENT (M) Robert Edgar de Grenier Fonblanque
Birth4 Jan 1869Islington, Middlesex, England
Death1 Feb 1932 Sussex, England
Marriage17 Oct 1891to Florence Gertrude Sparagnapane at England
FatherJohn William Martin Fonblanque
MotherMary Ann Scott
PARENT (F) Florence Gertrude Sparagnapane
Birth22 Jul 1864London, England
Death2 Jan 1949 Sussex, England
Marriage17 Oct 1891to Robert Edgar de Grenier Fonblanque at England
FatherGaudente Sparagnapane
MotherAmelia Williams
[S681374841]1901 England Census
[S681373450]London, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754-1932
[S681374830]1939 England and Wales Register
[S683165963]UK and Ireland, Find A Grave Index, 1300s-Current
[S681373304]England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index, 1916-2007
[S681380821]1871 England Census
[S681375501]England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966, 1973-1995