Sunday, 4 March 2012

Lady Henrietta Wentworth

Lady Henrietta Wentworth

In my search for a suitable 17th Century heroines, I came across several fascinating women worth writing about, some of them ahead of their time.  One was the Duke of Monmouth's mistress, Lady Henrietta Wentworth, though I rejected her as not being colourful enough, though with hindsight,  maybe that was because she died young.

Henrietta was only about eight, when her father, Thomas Wentworth, 5th Baron Wentworth died, making her the heir to her grandfather's title and the family home, Toddington Manor in Bedfordshire.

In December 1674, when she was seventeen, Henrietta was presented at the court of Charles II, when she took part in a masque called ‘Calisto, or the chaste Nymph,’ by John Crowne, where she, 'Personated Jupiter in love with Calisto'. Also taking part were the princesses Mary and Anne, the daughters of James Duke of York, and Sarah Jennings, the future wife of John Churchill.

It was at this masque she attracted the attention of James Scott, Duke of Monmouth, the king's illegitimate son who was already married to Anna Scott, Duchess of Buccleuch with whom he had three children, although the couple were estranged.

Their association caused a scandal at court as Henrietta was set to marry Richard Tufton, 5th Earl of Thanet. Although her mother, Philadelphia Carey dragged her back to Toddington, Monmouth aparently followed her there and spent a lot of time at the manor, where, under the watchful, but not displeased eye of Philadelphia, they spend hours riding together and walking in the grounds of the estate, reading and playing cards. Adjoining rooms in the Manor were known as Duke Monmouth and Little Lady’s Chambers.

Three years later, in 1683, Monmouth was implicated in the Rye House plot which was believed to include the murder of his father Charles II and uncle James Duke of York.  Fearing reprisals, Monmouth went into hiding at Toddington where it is said he hid in the oak tree behind the house. From there, he fled to Brussels, where Lady Henrietta joined him, then the couple went into exile in Holland where the Prince of Orange,  received Henrietta by the Prince of Orange as Monmouth's mistress.

James Scott Duke of Monmouth
Two years later, in early 1685, Monmouth's father, King Charles II died, with unsubstantiated rumours of him having been poisoned by his brother, the Duke of York, Monmouth launched his ill-fated rebellion, funded by a loan secured with Henrietta's jewels. After the disastrous Battle of Sedgemoor, and Monmouth was dragged out a ditch by Royal troopers at Ringwood, a notebook was found on him containing rhymes about the bowers of Toddington.

On the scaffold, a few days later, Monmouth maintained that his connection with Lady Wentworth was blameless in the eyes of God. He had been married, 'when but a child', and he had never cared for his duchess; Henrietta had reclaimed him from a licentious life; he remained faithful to her, and, turning to the crowd, he exclaimed that she was ‘a lady of virtue and honour, a very virtuous and godly woman.’

One of his last acts was to request one of the attendants to convey a memorial to her. As a result of this declaration, Monmouth was apparently refused the Eucharist because he refused to acknowledge their relationship as sinful. Also, Henrietta's declaration on hearing of her lover's execution is well recorded. 'Had that poor man nothing to think of but me?'

A month after Monmouth's death in July 1685, Henrietta returned to England, but not much is known of her subsequent fate, other than she was devastated by Jame's death. The fact she did not survive him by less than a year is also shrouded in mystery, or indolence, who can tell?  After all, dying at 25 in the 17th Century wasn't that unusual when any number of life threatening ailments could carry you off.

She died on 23rd April 1686, and was buried in the Wentworth Chapel in St. George's Church, Toddington and her barony, the manors and estates passed to Anne Lovelace, Henrietta’s aunt, who became 7th Baroness Wentworth.


Alison Stuart said...

Lovely post, Anita but I'm glad you didn't pursue Henrietta as a possible heroine...she sounds as wet as James!

I loved the bit about the oak tree :-)What was it about the Stuarts and oak trees.

Minerva Black said...

I love British history, and this is one tale I did not know. Thank you for sharing, enjoyed it a great deal.

KimH said...

This sounds like an interesting tale for a book, both James and Henrietta seem colorful--their relationship seems pretty interesting. James' adventures should definitely be made into a book!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your interesting article. Would you know whether Henrietta Maria Wentworth had a son named Robert Wentworth Smyth (1679-1745)?