When Robert Sackville-West was writing Inheritance (2010), his history of Knole and the Sackvilles, he was ‘struck’, as he recalls in his new book, by the way that Sackvilles have ‘tended to take Italian or Spanish dancers as mistresses’. The most notable of these was Josefa Duran, the flamenco dancer known as ‘Pepita’.
A barber’s daughter, she was born in 1830 in the backstreets of Málaga — ‘Oh such a slum it is!’ observed her grand-daughter Vita Sackville-West, who wrote a biography of her, Pepita (1937). By the 1850s she was the toast of Europe, and in 1852 she began a liaison with Lionel Sackville-West, later the 2nd Lord Sackville, which lasted until her death in 1871. He bought her a house at Arcachon (‘one of Arcachon’s exclusive 19th-century villas’, as Robert Sackville-West puts it), and she bore him seven children, of whom five — Max, Victoria, Flora, Amalia and Henry — survived into adulthood.