Fitzwilliam and Fitzbillies

I am sorry to say I missed the bicentenary of the foundation of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, which fell last Thursday, 4th February.

As I have noted elsewhere, the museum was founded with a bequest of Richard 7th Viscount Fitzwilliam of Merion, a well-travelled and cultured aristocrat of the late eighteenth century, who in his travels managed to amass a collection of some 170 painting and sculptures (as you do), including works by Titian and Veronese still proudly displayed in the museum.

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Venus and Cupid with a lute-player, Tiziano Vecellio 

It now seems the Viscount also amassed (if that is the word) three children, two of whom survived infancy and were named Fitz and Billy, in Paris. He did this with the cooperation of his long-term mistress, a dancer at the Opéra called Marie Anne Bernard but known as Zacherie, whom he met in 1784.

Fitz and Billy’s questionable legitimacy, and their father’s devotion to their mother, was good news for museum-goers, since the boys had no legitimate siblings and the father’s collection devolved to the University.

Whether little Fitz and Billy have anything to do with the naming of the venerable cake shop which stands opposite the museum (Fitzbillies) – a long-standing folk memory, perhaps – or if the cake shop predates the young FitzBilly-Fitzwilliams, and they were named in its honour, is disappointingly unclear, and requires further research.

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