Mary Villiers by Van Dyck circa 1637 before her second marriage
Mary was raised at Wallingford House and later at York House with her two younger brothers, George and Francis, in a climate of sumptuous cultural privilege
When Mary’s father, the profligate George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, bi-sexual favourite of King James I and the young Charles I was assassinated in 1628, her mother, Catherine Manners , lost no time in marrying Randal MacDonal of Antrim.
Charles I was so incensed that such important children would be raised in a Papist household that he ordered that his ‘Steenie’s’ three children should be handed into the care of the court. Lady Mary was only six, and the resulting separation from her mother was traumatic.
As De facto Stuarts, the three Villiers children were the most cosseted orphan-wards of the seventeenth century, educated with the young Stuarts, under the direction of Brian Duppa, later Bishop of Salisbury.
Their adoptive parents (or guardians) were Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria; and their new adoptive siblings and playmates were the future Charles II, James II, Mary Princess of Orange, Queen Anne, Henry Duke of Gloucester, and Henriette-Anne, Duchesse d' Orléans ("Minette," the first "Madame").
In 1635, ‘Mall’, as Lady Mary was called, was sent to Wilton House to reside with her future in-laws, the Herberts. She married the 15-year-old Charles, Lord Herbert, eldest son of the 4th Earl of Pembroke and 1st Earl of Montgomery. Her young husband died of smallpox within the year and ‘Mall’ left Wilton to reside at Whitehall.
On 3 August 1637, the fifteen year-old widow married the 4th Duke of Lennox, who was created Duke of Richmond in 1641. Mall became Principal Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Henrietta Maria.
They had two children: Esmé Stewart, 2nd Duke of Richmond and 5th Duke of Lennox, and Lady Mary Stewart, who married the 1st Earl of Arran.
Whilst living at King Charles I exiled court at Oxford between 1643 and 1645, Mary was rumoured to have had an affair with Prince Rupert of the Rhine. Sometime before 1664, Mary married Colonel Thomas Howard (d. 1678) about whom little is known.
True to her family name, 'Mall' Villiers was a large, narcissistic personality. She was also believed to be the author of the poems published under the pseudonym Ephelia. Portraits of her by Van Dyck, and descriptions of Lady Mary by contemporaries mention her beauty, hauteur, theatrical personality, and charisma, from her early exposure as a Villiers and then (through marriage) as a Stuart.