Tuesday, November 28, 2017

A Dull, Deaf, Peevish Beast

by Catherine Curzon


Henrietta Howard by Charles Jervas

In the dying days of Queen Anne’s reign, the courtiers of Great Britain looked to George, the Elector of Hanover, their king in waiting and the man who would one day decide their fates. With the queen’s health failing and this unknown character from Germany waiting to take the crown, a good relationship with the heir to the throne was imperative. The only problem was, George loved Hanover and was in no rush to leave until his duty compelled him to do so. In that case, the ambitious nobles decided, if George wouldn’t come to them, they would come to George.

From across the sea they travelled to Hanover with one aim: to ingratiate themselves now, to win the favour of the soon-to-be-king and his family, no matter what it took. Among them was Henrietta Howard, a woman who had struggled against the odds to make the journey to the Hanoverian court. She had sold everything that was dear to her and, wed to a brute, was seeking protection, security and the future she feared she could not have if she remained in England. In fact, Henrietta was destined to be George II’s mistress for decades.

George II by Enoch Seeman
Orphaned at a young age and torn from an idyllic life, young Henrietta Hobart had sought what she hoped would be security in marriage to Charles Howard, son of the Earl and Countess of Suffolk. She soon came to bitterly regret the decision. Charles was a violent, womanising drunkard with a penchant for the gaming table. As soon as he and Henrietta were wed he took what money she had and abandoned her in favour of dissolute fun. Henrietta might have lost even more but for a quick thinking uncle who placed her inheritance in trust, keeping it safe from the grasping hands of Charles.

Henrietta dreamed of joining those courtiers who were making a new life in Hanover and she began to accrue a travelling fund, hiding every spare penny she had. Sometimes Charles found her stash and squandered it but eventually they had enough to their name and the couple travelled to the faraway court. Here Henrietta found favour with the dowager electress and, through her, Caroline of Ansbach, the wife of the man who became George II.

That man was George Augustus and when she met him, the sparks flew. Under the approving eye of Caroline, who would rather her husband’s mistress be a known quantity, the couple began an affair. As Lady Mary Wortley Montagu noted:

"[Caroline was] so devoted to [George Augustus’s] pleasures, […] that whenever he thought proper to find them with other women, she even loved whoever was instrumental to his entertainment."1

As the years of George I’s British reign sped past, Henrietta remained as his son’s official mistress. When that son was crowned, becoming King George II, Henrietta Howard remained at his side.

Yet George wasn’t an easy man to know. Possessed of a foul temper, he was given to furious rants and temper tantrums. Caroline had no patience for such displays and let Henrietta soothe his troubled brow whenever he felt like kicking his wig across the bedroom. Caroline, after all, had a political ambition that Henrietta lacked. Whilst the mistress was content to live a quiet life, the queen was busy empire building.

Henrietta was Caroline’s woman of the bedchamber. She was a devoted servant even when Caroline pulled rank just to keep her in her place. Caroline always made Henrietta kneel when assisting with her toilet, holding the basin from which the queen would wash. One day, after years of this and when her husband had finally assumed the title of Earl of Suffolk, Henrietta dared to complain. Needless to say, Caroline slapped her down hard.

"[…] the first thing this wise, prudent Lady Suffolk did was to pick a quarrel with me about holding a basin in the ceremony of my dressing, and to tell me, with her little fierce eyes, and cheeks as red as your coat, that positively she would not do it; to which I made her no answer then in anger, but calmly, as I would have said to a naughty child, 'Yes, my dear Howard, l am sure you will; indeed you will. Go, go! Fa for shame! Go, my good Howard; we will talk of this another time. About a week after, when upon maturer deliberation she had done everything about the basin that I would have her, I told her I knew we should be good friends again; but could not help adding, in a little more serious voice, that I owned of all my servants I had least expected, as I had least deserved it, such treatment from her, when she knew I had held her up at a time when it was in my power, if I had pleased, any hour of the day, to let her drop through my fingers thus."
Caroline of Ansbach
by Jacopo Amigoni
Yet Henrietta was ultimately powerless in the face of the queen’s spite, for employment with Caroline kept Henrietta safe from her own violent husband. Don’t be fooled into thinking that Charles was intimidated by Caroline’s rank though, for he was anything but. In fact, he even personally confronted Henrietta and violently insisted that she dismiss Henrietta from her service. Caroline, doughty, strong and no-nonsense, refused point blank even though she was far from ignorant of the very real threat he might pose.
"I was horribly afraid of him (for we were tete-a-tete) all the while I was thus playing the bully. What added to my fear upon this occasion […] was that, as I knew him to be so brutal, as well as a little mad, and seldom quite sober, so I did not think it impossible but that he might throw me out of that window…"3
George II paid off Charles and the couple were legally separated. Although glad to be away from her spouse, the separation was conditional on Henrietta’s surrendering her rights to see her only son. She agreed, opening a fracture that never healed.

Over the years the affair between George II and his mistress had long since cooled into friendship. Now, tired of court intrigues, Henrietta longed for a quiet life. She had no interest in politics and soothing the king’s tantrums, all she wanted were days to call her own. When her brutish husband died in 1733, Henrietta knew that her moment had come. No longer would she have cause to lament that, “I have been a Slave 20 years without ever receiving a reason for any one thing I ever was obliged to do.” 4

When Henrietta asked Caroline if she could be relieved of her duties, the queen was doubtful. She dismissed Henrietta’s claims that her relationship with the king had cooled and warned that life would not be nearly so rosy in the real world. Caroline was determined to keep Henrietta close for she was the best sort of mistress: unpolitical, unassuming, popular and with no ambitions to take her place.

However, when Caroline mentioned to George II that she had prevented Henrietta’s departure, she did not get the thanks she might have been hoping for. Instead he raged about her intervention, roaring, “What the devil did you mean by trying to make an old, dull, deaf, peevish beast stay and plague me when I had so good an opportunity of getting rid of her?” 5

Marble Hill
And that was that. The king had spoken, the mistress agreed and the queen could do nothing. Henrietta Howard, Countess of Suffolk, twenty years a mistress, was bound for a private life at last. When Henrietta left the court, she took up a peaceful, happy residence at Marble Hill. Twenty five years later she saw the king again, just days before his death. When the former lovers passed in a London street the monarch barely glanced at his former mistress Yet this was no deliberate attempt to shun her; in the quarter of a century that had passed, Henrietta had avoided the limelight so successfully that George no longer recognised her.

Henrietta, however, was no lonely recluse. In fact, she got her very own happy ending in 1735 when she married her long-time friend, George Berkeley, a Member of Parliament. The couple were deeply in love and would remain so until his death eleven years later. On the occasion of the marriage Berkeley’s sister, Lady Elizabeth Germain, wrote to Jonathan Swift. In her letter she shared her hoped for the happy couple.

"…he [George Berkeley] hath appeared to all the world, as well as me, to have long had (that is, ever since she hath been a widow, so pray don’t mistake me) a most violent passion for her, as well as esteem and value for her numberless good qualities. These things well considered, I do not think they have above ten to one against their being very happy; and if they should not be so, I shall heartily wish him hanged because I am sure it will be wholly his fault. "6
George II, of course, would not be without a mistress for long and when Henrietta was swiftly replaced by a young beauty named Amalie von Wallmoden, Caroline’s nerves were well and truly rattled. Now she had the interloper she had always feared, and Amalie’s continued residence in Hanover was a threat in itself for the more time George II spent there, the less he seemed to think of Caroline at all.

For Henrietta, however, life was sweet. Her marriage to Berkeley was blissful and even after his death she was happy. She lived peacefully at Marble Hill until 1767 and perhaps is best summed up by her friend, Alexander Pope who once wrote of her, "Handsome and witty, yet a friend.”

What better epitaph is there than that?

Footnotes

1. Wharncliffe, Lord. (1837). The Letters and Works of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu: Vol I. London: Richard Bentley, p.118.

2. Hervey, John and Croker, John Wilson (ed.), (1848). Memoirs of the Reign of George the Second: From his Accession to the Death of Queen Caroline, Vol II. London: John Murray, pp.16-17.

3. Hervey, John and Croker, John Wilson (ed.), (1848). Memoirs of the Reign of George the Second: From his Accession to the Death of Queen Caroline, Vol II. London: John Murray, p.14.

4. Borman, Tracy (2010). King's Mistress, Queen's Servant: The Life and Times of Henrietta Howard. London: Random House, p.174.

5. Hervey, John and Croker, John Wilson (ed.), (1848). Memoirs of the Reign of George the Second: From his Accession to the Death of Queen Caroline, Vol II. London: John Murray, p.179.

6. Swift, Jonathan and Hawkesworth, John (1737). Letters, Written by Jonathan Swift: Vol III. London: A Pope, pp.76-77.

All images courtesy of Wikipedia.


Further reading

Borman, Tracy (2010). King's Mistress, Queen's Servant: The Life and Times of Henrietta Howard. London: Random House, p.174.

Campbell Orr, Clarissa. Queenship in Europe 1660-1815: The Role of the Consort. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Doran, John. Lives of the Queens of England of the House of Hanover, Volume 1. New York: Redfield, 1819.

Hervey, John and Croker, John Wilson (ed.), (1848). Memoirs of the Reign of George the Second: From his Accession to the Death of Queen Caroline, Vol II. London: John Murray. Kiste, John van der. King George II and Queen Caroline. Stroud: The History Press, 2013.

Swift, Jonathan and Hawkesworth, John (1737). Letters, Written by Jonathan Swift: Vol III. London: A Pope.

Wharncliffe, Lord. (1837). The Letters and Works of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu: Vol I. London: Richard Bentley.

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Catherine Curzon is a royal historian. She is the author of Life in the Georgian Court, Kings of Georgian Britain, and Queens of Georgian Britain

She has written extensively for publications including HistoryExtra.com, the official website of BBC History Magazine, Explore History, All About History, History of Royals and Jane Austen’s Regency World. Catherine has spoken at venues and events including the Stamford Georgian Festival, the Jane Austen Festival, Lichfield Guildhall, the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich and Dr Johnson’s House. In addition, she has appeared with An Evening with Jane Austen at Kenwood House, Godmersham Park, the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, the Jane Austen Festival, Bath, and the Stamford Georgian Festival.

Her novels, The Crown Spire, The Star of Versailles, and The Mistress of Blackstairs, are available now.

Catherine holds a Master’s degree in Film and lives in Yorkshire atop a ludicrously steep hill.

Connect with Catherine through her website (http://madamegilflurt.com), Facebook, Twitter (@MadameGilflurt), Google Plus, Pinterest, and Instagram






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