Beaufort: The Duke and His Duchess, 1657-1715

Beaufort: The Duke and His Duchess, 1657-1715

by Molly McClain


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780300188387
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication date: 06/01/2001
Series: Yale Historical Publications Series
Pages: 298
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.25(h) x 0.62(d)

About the Author

Molly McClain is assistant professor in the department of history at the University of San Diego.

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Chapter One


'What shall we say to your fine ladies,' wrote Sir Edward Hyde to his colleague and friend Sir Edward Nicholas, 'when my Lady Beauchamp marries my Lord Worcester's son? Sure my Lord Hertford cannot like it.'

    Sir Edward Hyde, who would later become the first earl of Clarendon, wrote from Brussels in the autumn of 1657 about what he thought were the approaching nuptials of Mary, Lady Beauchamp and Henry, Lord Herbert. In fact, the marriage had already taken place. His letter is written in the casual but intimate style that he adopted in so many of his missives to Nicholas, secretary of state to the exiled King Charles II, for they corresponded frequently with news about family and friends, diplomatic affairs and political intrigues. This short passage contains just a hint of scandal, but it would have captured Nicholas's attention immediately. For this was news about people that they knew quite well. Mary was the daughter of one of their dearest friends, Arthur, Lord Capel of Hadham, the widely respected royalist commander of the Colchester garrison who had been tried for high treason and beheaded in 1649. She was also the widow of another prominent royalist, Lord Beauchamp, the eldest son of the first marquis of Hertford, who had died three years before. They also knew Henry, Lord Herbert, if not by sight then by reputation. He was the son of Edward Somerset, earl of Glamorgan and second marquis of Worcester, a former royalist commander in South Wales who spent much of the 1650s imprisoned in the Tower of London. During his father's incarceration, Henry shamelessly courted Oliver Cromwell in an effort to regain his family's sequestered estates. He secured for himself, among other things, a small manor house at Badminton in Gloucestershire, close to the Wiltshire border, where he was living in 1657. The presence of this dark-eyed Welshman must have caused quite a stir in county society for Hyde hints at the disappointment his forthcoming marriage would cause to the 'fine ladies'. But he recognized that Henry was far too ambitious to admire for long and concluded, tongue-in-cheek, 'Sure my Lord Hertford cannot like it.' Indeed, he did not. Not only was Hertford's daughter-in-law marrying the son of a political rival, but she was also putting his grandson and heir into the hands of an aggressive fortune-hunter. Hyde leaves his reader to imagine the outburst of anger which greeted the news of the couple's engagement. In fact, the event might not have taken place at all had it not been for their resolution to form a lasting alliance.

    Mary, Lady Beauchamp and Henry, Lord Herbert did not marry for love but for sexual companionship and financial gain. Mary wanted to escape from her controlling mother-in-law, the marchioness of Hertford, and to return to the kind of sensual pleasures that she had experienced all too briefly in her first marriage. Henry, meanwhile, desired the financial security that a wealthy young widow could provide. So they made a bargain which neither time, nor the opposition of their friends and relations, could break. Forty-two years later, they could celebrate both the anniversary of their marriage and the survival of a remarkable political partnership.

    One must not condemn these two individuals for negotiating a marriage contract which contained provisions for personal satisfaction and career advancement for they did not live in the later 'culture of sensibility' that popularized the concept of romantic love. Instead, they lived in a world which had discovered the power of rational calculation. The seventeenth century was the age of Hobbes, Newton and Locke. It was the time when William Harvey mapped the circulatory system of the human heart but failed to unlock its secrets. Reason, order, logic and symmetry characterized both the works of God and the affairs of men and gave meaning to the structure of everyday existence. It should not be surprising, therefore, that the alliance between these two individuals reflected the calculating age in which they lived; it was, after all, a marriage à la mode.

    The story of this remarkable partnership begins in the West Country of England during a period of relative peace. By 1657, the civil wars had long since ended, leaving behind a government committed to propagating the gospel, satisfying the demands of the army and resolving the strange constitutional position in which it found itself. The abolition of the monarchy and the dissolution of the Long Parliament put power in the hands of General Oliver Cromwell, who established the Protectorate in 1653. Royalist supporters of the exiled Charles II engaged in a variety of conspiratorial activities in an effort to return the king to the throne. But the combination of incompetent leadership, effective intelligence work on the part of Cromwell's secretary of state, John Thurloe, and a general distaste for continued bloodshed meant that royalist uprisings stood little chance. In 1657, the lord protector showed sufficient confidence in the quiescence of the landed classes to consider, and ultimately reject, the title of king, to draw up a new constitution and to replace military commander John Lambert with his son, Richard, in a variety of state offices. These actions encouraged country gentlemen who wanted an end to army rule and the return of government to civilian hands.

    It was at this time, too, that élites began to heal the social divisions caused by civil war. Gentlemen did so through traditional pastimes like horse-racing, bowling and hunting. In Gloucestershire, Lord Herbert went on regular hunting trips with his companions, Colonel Edward Cooke and Robert, Lord Bruce, and their letters reveal a shared passion for stags, foxes and dogs. In one letter, written at Badminton in 1656, Cooke chides Lord Bruce not only for failing to show up, but also for making 'such frivolous excuses for not coming, as lands and possessions, wife and children; the former will but suffer under your care, and the latter (you know I too well know) you never had care enough for to disappoint one day's fox hunting.' County gentry, meanwhile, organized elaborate entertainments. They held parties and balls in London and the countryside, and even staged plays such as William Davenant's The Siege of Rhodes (1656) at Rutland House, despite the government's ban on theatres. 'All I can tell you', wrote the dowager duchess of Devonshire to Lord Bruce in 1653, 'is that suppers and balls are much in request. There are those of your society whose mirth far exceeds their cares ... The garb in the town is ladies all in scarlet, shining and glittering as bright as an "anty maske". You would wonder to see such stars in these our cloudy days.'

    It must have been at one of the many social gatherings in the West Country that Mary, Lady Beauchamp and Henry, Lord Herbert first met. They were both living in or near Wiltshire in the late 1650s and they had similar social connections. Mary regularly visited friends at Charleton House in Wiltshire, located only five miles away from Badminton. John Evelyn had met her there in 1655, accompanied by Heneage Finch, third earl of Winchelsea, who had recently married her sister-in-law. There is no way of knowing where they met, what they talked about or even when their courtship began to take place. But we can imagine what they saw in one another beyond good looks, birth and breeding. They saw intelligence, ambition and a determination to break free from the unhappy situations in which fate had cast them. It was as if they looked into a mirror and fell in love, not with each other, but with themselves.

    At the age of twenty-seven, Mary, Lady Beauchamp was no longer a docile child, willing and eager to be guided by others, but a woman of spirit and sense. She expressed her opinions in a forthright manner even at times when she should have held her tongue. Dull company and idle gossip were staples of county society and even the most discreet woman (which Mary was not) could hardly help but join in. In her diary, she writes of having 'given offence unadvisedly and ... unjustly delighted in the slanders and ill reports of others.' Still, she regretted her outspoken nature and asked God to take from her 'uncharitable and unhallowed speeches which may any way displease thy Holy Majesty or hurt my neighbour. Give me I humbly pray thee that great blessing of a discreet and pleasing conversation that I may both be acceptable to others and advantages to my own affairs and let me acknowledge it from Thee and not my own wit.'

    The most striking aspect of her appearance was her great height, which she was still young enough to find embarrassing. It made it difficult to find mantles, or fashionable shawls, that were long enough to fit. Her face had character, rather than beauty, and it was set off by dark hair and eyes. But she wore a sad expression, at least in the portrait that Peter Lely painted of The Capel Sisters in c. 1654 (ill. 2). Here, she turns an unsmiling countenance towards the viewer while her younger sister, Elizabeth, the countess of Carnarvon, tries to engage her attention by pointing to a wreath of ivy which she is holding in her left hand. Mary, meanwhile, fingers a small painted canvas of a tulip which rests in her lap. Ivy, of course, represented strength and endurance, qualities that both girls had displayed after their father's death. The tulip, however, had more than one meaning. It showed Mary and Elizabeth to be women of fashion who participated in the contemporary passion for collecting the rarest and most expensive commodities in the new 'world of goods'. But it also showed them to be sensible of the passage of time: the brevity of life, the ephemeral nature of youth and fortune, and the inevitability of death.

    For all her quick wit, Mary had been deeply touched by personal tragedy. The death of her father, Arthur Lord Capel, had been a terrible blow for he was, by all accounts, a remarkable man. The earl of Clarendon, in one of the more memorable passages in his History of the Rebellion, described him as 'a man in whom the malice of his enemies could find very few faults, and whom his friends could not wish better accomplished ... In a word ... whoever shall after him deserve best in that nation, shall never think himself undervalued, when he shall hear that his courage, virtue and fidelity is laid in the balance with, and compared to, that of the Lord Capel.' He was also a devoted father and husband. Before the outbreak of civil war, he and his family had lived at Hadham Hall in Hertfordshire, a manor which he had acquired from his wife, Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Charles Morrison. Here, he used his very large personal fortune to create the Italianate gardens which Cornelius Johnson painted in Baron Capel and his Family in c. 1639 (ill. 3). Mary appears in the picture as a bright-eyed child standing before a formal landscape of grass parterres and vase-like fountains. His passion for gardening inspired many of the Capel children. His eldest son, Arthur, created the remarkable forest garden at Cassiobury Park, Mary collected thousands of exotic plants, while Henry, Lord Capel of Tewkesbury began the botanical gardens at Kew. In so doing, they created lasting memorials to a man whom 'the world never valued to his worth, till it grew to be unworthy of him'.

    Lord Capel's execution in 1649 was one of the more notorious events of that year and it gained him a posthumous reputation as a martyr for the royalist cause. Capel had served as the lieutenant-general of the royalist forces in north-west Wales and he had played a significant role in keeping the Prince of Wales out of the hands of Parliament in 1646. Charles II would remember this when he granted Capel's son, Arthur, the title of earl of Essex in 1661. More significantly, Lord Capel had held off parliamentary troops for over two months at the siege of Colchester in 1648, an action which many army officers found hard to forgive. He was impeached for high treason at the end of the second civil war and imprisoned for several months. On 9 March 1649, shortly after the execution of King Charles I, he was beheaded outside Westminster Hall. Mary grieved bitterly over his death and, years later, she tried unsuccessfully to get her brother, Sir Henry Capel, to publish family documents which shed light on her father's actions during the civil wars. However, he refused to make them public, writing 'I do think it a very reasonable thing that any of my father's children should have the reading over of his book, or any of his papers as often as they please; but either to print or suffer them to be perused by such as pretend to print his Life, I know not how far 'tis in my power to permit.' As a result, early eighteenth-century readers had to make do with the latest partisan history, or as Mary put it, 'another lame account.'

    The death of Mary's father was shortly followed by that of her first husband, Henry Seymour, Lord Beauchamp (1626-54). Beauchamp was the third but only surviving son of William, first marquis of Hertford, the greatest royalist magnate in the West Country. He had been knighted by the king at Oxford in 1645 when he was only nineteen years old, and he served with Lord Capel, possibly accompanying him to Paris in 1646 when the latter engaged in negotiations with Queen Henrietta Maria. Clarendon characterized him as 'a most excellent young man', and his contemporary, Dorothy Osborne, wrote that he was 'an extraordinary person, and remarkable for an excellent husband'. Their romance began when Mary was seventeen years old and it unfolded so quickly that Lord Hertford feared that his son had been 'guilty of the rashness that hath been in the proceedings of this business'. Hertford knew all about reckless passion, having secretly married a cousin of King James I, Arabella Stuart, when he was twenty-two years old. His impulsive behaviour had landed both of them in the Tower, where Arabella had died in 1615. Beauchamp, however, had far more patience than his father. He obtained Lord Capel's permission and he waited for the two families to negotiate a marriage contract. Only after the outbreak of the second civil war in 1648 did he and Mary hasten to finalize the proceedings. They married at Hadham Hall on 28 June 1648 while Lord Capel was defending Colchester. When the latter was imprisoned at Windsor, Beauchamp visited him and brought messages from his new wife and mother-in-law. Lord Capel wrote to his daughter, 'your letter was a very great comfort to me, and the contentment I receive to hear how happy you are in your Lord is an unspeakable joy to me'.

    Mary's happiness was fleeting, for she would soon lose Lord Beauchamp as well. After 1649, he became involved in the Western Association, a significant royalist conspiracy, and he was captured and taken into custody in 1651. He spent long periods of time in the Tower, a notoriously bad place for anyone with a delicate constitution. 'It seems it is a place entailed upon our family, for we have now held it five generations,' wrote his father, 'yet to speak the truth, I like not the place so well but that I could be very well contented the entail should be cut off and settled upon some other family that better deserves it.' Beauchamp's health gradually deteriorated and he died at Tilsey in March 1654. Clarendon described his death as 'an unspeakable loss' to the royalist cause for it 'left all the business of the West without any order.' It also left a grieving widow, only twenty-four years old.

    Mary was heartbroken. She had lost both her father and her husband in five short years. She had two small children, William and Elizabeth, but even their presence could not assuage her grief. She felt that she had 'not strength to manage this great affliction but must needs sink and perish under the weight and pressure of it'. The exiled King Charles II, in whose service her husband had died, wrote to her from Paris in May 1654:

If the part I have borne in your late loss could have given you any ease, much of your grief would be abated for indeed I have been exceedingly troubled at it, nor can I have many more such losses; you will believe I will do my part to repair what can be recovered, and to preserve what is left, and that I can never forget what I owe to you and yours, who shall always be as much within my particular care, as the wife of such a husband, and the daughter of such a father ought to be.

Such sentiments gave her a hint of the role she was expected to play in the future, that of the noble and long-suffering widow who had sacrificed youth and pleasure for the royalist cause.

    At first, Mary played the part of the virtuous widow with considerable success. She gave up any hope of establishing an independent household and, instead, lived with her mother, Lady Capel. Her son, William, was placed in the care of her mother-in-law, Frances, first marchioness of Hertford, for extended periods of time. Lady Hertford had lost five of her six sons to illness and she was determined that the heir to the vast Seymour fortune should receive special care. At first, Mary was too deeply unhappy to mind this arrangement. She was concerned that her children be educated 'in the orthodox religion' and, to this end, she thought that her mother-in-law's influence would be beneficial. Lady Hertford had been raised by the second earl of Essex, a reformed Protestant who did not hold with the popish ceremonies that had crept back into the Church of England under Archbishop Laud. Mary also believed in a simple Christian faith:

I acknowledge the written word of God to be the complete rule both of faith and manners, nothing besides it, nothing against it, to be held as necessary to salvation; the sum of my faith is compendiously couched in the Apostle's Creed, my rule of life is the Ten Commandments, my rule of prayer the Lord's Prayer, and I receive only two sacraments, instituted by Christ himself, namely Baptism and the Lord's Supper, as gracious seals and pledges of God's love to me in Christ.

By allowing the older woman to direct William's education, Mary could be assured that he would be raised as an Anglican. But she hated to part with her 'dear jewel' and she bitterly resented the financial circumstances that made it necessary for her to do so.

    Mary quickly found that piety, modesty and virtue were difficult to practise when she was so pressed for ready cash. After Lord Beauchamp died, her in-laws refused to pay £750 that was due to her and they persuaded her 'by a trick ... to take some part of his debts upon me'. As a result, she had an income of £1,200 per annum, when she could collect it, and debts of between £800 and £1,000. She wrote that she 'had not a bed to lie upon, or a pair of sheets for myself and children, or a house, and can safely say, not twenty shillings in my pocket'. Nor could she raise any money, for she had already sold her jewels, worth £500, to buy necessities during her husband's final illness. She was forced to be 'as thrifty as possible' and to live 'beneath my quality', something that she had not been brought up to do. Her temper frayed and she found herself speaking with 'bitterness' about her situation in life. In the end, however, all she could do was grit her teeth and ask God for the patience to accept her fate.

    She also struggled to suppress her sexual desire which disturbed and embarrassed her. She pleaded with God to forgive 'my many passionate thoughts' and to 'enable me to bear this afflicted condition that my sins have drawn upon me.' She feared that she would dishonour and 'shame myself by displaying her desire for physical companionship. Instead, she prayed that God would help her to satisfy her wish 'of following the example of thy holy prophet Anna in continuing a widow all the days of my life. Keep me from all thoughts that may give any interruption to my persisting in that state or be unbecoming the strictness and modesty of that condition.' In the end, however, prayer would not be enough to keep her from temptation in the form of a very attractive young man.

    At the age of twenty-eight, Henry Lord Herbert was a fine-looking Welshman with a cultivated intellect and a considerable amount of charm. He could speak readily and at length on a variety of subjects and he projected a degree of confidence that contemporaries found highly appealing. A French visitor wrote that he was 'a man of the world who is all the more charming as a result of his attitude; he is full of spirit ... he speaks with a singular grace'.

    Henry was also a hunter, by nature as well as by inclination, and he was unrelenting in the pursuit of his quarry. He was particularly keen on stag-hunting but he also participated in a variety of other field sports, such as hawking and fox-hunting. At Badminton, he constructed stables large enough to accommodate forty horses and as many other animals as his hunting parties required. Colonel Edward Cooke described the arrival of the duke of Richmond and 'the whole bloods' of the Cooke and Fleetwood families at Badminton on an autumn evening in 1661, 'where are his Grace's hounds and horses, all ours, and hawks and greyhounds and setting dogs'. The excitement and camaraderie of such moments gave Henry a lifelong passion for the chase.


Excerpted from Beaufort by Molly McClain. Copyright © 2001 by Molly McClain. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsviii
Note on the Textxi
Genealogy: The Somerset Familyxii
Chapter One Marriage1
Chapter Two Building26
Chapter Three Theatre48
Chapter Four Fortune74
Chapter Five Possessions100
Chapter Six Politics125
Chapter Seven Revenge157
Chapter Eight Perspective187
A Note on Sources219
Select Bibliography241

What People are Saying About This

Mark Kishlansky

McClain presents the Duke and Duchess as flesh and blood individuals. One can't help but become engrossed in their lives.
—From Harvard University

David Underdown

Historians have written plenty of biographies of great men of the seventeenth century, but none depict a married couple on equal terms in the vivid way McClain does.
—From Yale University

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