Selina Hastings was born Lady Selina Shirley, the second daughter of Washington Shirley, 2nd Earl Ferrers, and Mary Levinge, at Staunton Harold Hall, a mansion near Ashby-de-la-Zouch in Leicestershire. She married Theophilus Hastings, 9th Earl of Huntingdon, on 3 June 1728, and went to live at Donington Hall, Leicestershire. Her husband died in 1746. She gave birth to seven children in the first ten years of the marriage, of whom four died at very young ages, and she suffered from poor health. The family were interested in politics, religion, and the arts, and commissioned portraits from fashionable artists of the day.
In 1739, Lady Huntington joined the first Methodist society in Fetter Lane, London. Some time after the death of her husband in 1746, she threw in her lot with John Wesley and George Whitefield in the work of the great revival. Whitefield became her personal chaplain, and, with his assistance, following problems put in her path by the Anglican clergy from whom she had preferred not to separate, she founded the “Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion”, a Calvinistic movement within the Methodist church.
In the earlier part of her life Isaac Watts, Mary, Lady Abney, Philip Doddridge, and Augustus Montague Toplady were among her friends. Lady Anne Erskine (eldest daughter of the 10th Earl of Buchan), was her closest friend and companion for many years in the latter part of Lady Huntingdon’s life.
In 1748, the Countess gave Whitefield a scarf as her chaplain, and in that capacity he preached in one of her London houses, in Park Street, Westminster, to audiences that included Chesterfield, Walpole and Bolingbroke. She held large dinner parties at which Whitefield preached to the gathered dignitaries after they had eaten.
Moved to further the religious revival in a Calvinistic manner compatible with Whitefield’s work, she was responsible for founding 64 chapels and contributed to the funding of others, insisting they should all subscribe to the doctrines of the Church of England and use only the Book of Common Prayer. Amongst these were chapels at Brighton (1761), Bath (1765), Worcester (c. 1766), Tunbridge Wells (1769), several in Wales, and a small number in London including founding one adjacent to her London home at Spa Fields, Clerkenwell/Finsbury. She partly funded the independent Surrey Chapel of Rowland Hill. She appointed ministers to officiate in them, under the impression that as a peeress she had a right to employ as many chaplains as she pleased.
Following the expulsion of six Methodist students from St Edmund Hall, Oxford in 1768 the Countess founded a ministers’ training college at Trefeca (Trevecca) near Talgarth, in Mid Wales, not far from Brecon. George Whitefield preached at the opening ceremony. The college moved to Hertfordshire in 1792, and was renamed Cheshunt College. It moved to Cambridge in 1906. Cheshunt College, Cambridge merged with Westminster College, Cambridge, the training college of the Presbyterian Church of England (and after 1972, of the United Reformed Church), in 1967.
In 1842, the Presbyterian Church of Wales opened a college at Trefeca which is approximately a quarter of a mile south of the site of the Countess’s college (which is now a farmhouse).
- Born: 24 August 1707, Leicestershire
- Died: 17 June 1791, London
- Family: Married to Theophilus Hastings, 9th Earl of Huntingdon and had two children, Elizabeth & Francis.