Sunday, 24 August 2014

Margaret [Peg] Hughes Prince Rupert's last Love

Margaret [Peg] Hughes
Actresses first appeared on the English stage in 1629, when a troupe of French players gave a performances at Blackfriars. A Thomas Brande wrote to Archbishop Laude expressing the anger of the crowd, in that the French actresses were 'hissed, hooted, and pippin-pelted from the stage,' thus Brande concluded he, 'did not think they would soon be ready to try the same again'.

This same troupe reappeared a few weeks later at the Fortune and Red Bull theatres, and received similar abuse, so to compensate, the Master of the Revels returned part of their licence fee. Three years later,  the Puritan author William Prynne brought out his Histrio-Mastix, The Player's Scourge, or Actor's Tragedy in which he stigmatized all 'woman-actors' as 'monsters', and their performances, 'impudent', 'shameful', and 'unwomanish'.

The ban on theatres which was imposed by the Commonwealth in 1642, was lifted by Charles II, who granted two royal patents to perform ‘legitimate drama’ in London to Sir Thomas Killigrew and Sir William Davenant. By 1661, the prejudice against women actors had declined, so when Killigrew and Davenant received a renewal of the letters patent,they included a clause that females could perform. The King’s Company and the Duke’s Company were formed, both briefly based in The Cockpit Theatre (also known as the Phoenix Theatre) Drury Lane, later moving to the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.

Margaret Hughes appeared in Killigrew’s ‘Othello’ as Desdemona in December 1660 at a converted tennis court called the Vere Street Theatre.  The audience were asked: ‘And how do you like her?’ The applause that followed guaranteed the place of actresses on the English stage - however this story may be allegorical, as four years earlier, Davenant's  'Siege of Rhodes' was performed at Rutland House, with Mrs. Coleman as Ianthe.  

Not much is known about Peg’s early life, and she was already 30 before she performed Desdemona, but she apparently took the London theatre scene by storm.With her long dark hair, sleepily sensual eyes and lovely face, Margaret ‘Peg’ Hughes counted among her lovers a brief liaison with Charles II, Charles Sedley, the famous fop and, reputedly, other members of the court circle.

Prince Rupert

Samuel Pepys, who recorded going backstage on 7 May 1668 after a performance of The Virgin Martyr and stole a kiss from an actress named ‘Pegg’ whom he described as ‘a mighty pretty woman, and seems, but is not, modest’ She was the first actress to play Theodosia in John Dryden's Evening's Love, or, The Mock Astrologer, which premiered on 22 June 1668.

According to the Count de Gramont’s memoirs, Peg was with the count on a summer visit to Tunbridge Wells in 1668 when she met Prince Rupert. No longer a young and dashing cavalier, he was still a rich and handsome man who had turned his back on his homeland after a fierce quarrel with his elder brother, Charles Louis the Elector Palatine. He lived in England under the patronage of his cousin, King Charles II. By 1669 , Peg became a member of the King's Company which gave her status and immunity from arrest for debt. She was also painted four times by Sir Peter Lely.  

Peg initially refused Rupert's gifts, preferring instead to ‘sell her favours at a dearer rate’.  This unexpected rejection upset Rupert a great deal, but this did not mean he was about to propose marriage. At least not a regular one. Some accounts say that the pair went through a ‘left-handed marriage’ ceremony, in that the groom held the bride’s right hand in his left hand instead of in his right - a ceremony that meant neither Hughes nor any children they might have would inherit Rupert’s royal titles or privileges.  

At the end of that year, Peg left the stage in order to set up home with the fifty-year old Prince, who was generous to Peg’s family and employed at least one of her brothers in his household.
It appears, though, that their ‘marriage’ was a happy one as Rupert rejected his elder brother’s pleas to marry more appropriately and produce an heir for the Palatine. 

For the next six years, Peg lived an expensive lifestyle with her royal lover, giving birth to their daughter, Ruperta in 1673. Rupert gave Peg at least £20,000 worth of jewelry during their relationship, including several items from the Palatinate royal collection.

In 1676, Peg emerged from retirement for a year with the Company at the Dorset Garden Theatre, near the Strand. Rupert then bought a 'grand building' worth £25,000 that he bought in Hammersmith from Sir Nicholas Crispe where he installed Peg and their daughter.

Ruperta Howe

In June 1670, Peg's brother became embroiled in a quarrel with one of the king's retainers over which of the royal mistresses, Margaret Hughes or Nell Gwyn, was ‘the handsomer now att Windsor’. Insults flew,  swords drawn, and Hughes' brother was killed.

Rupert installed Peg in the lavishly furnished mansion at Hammersmith, later known as Brandenburg House, where Margaret gave birth to a daughter in 1673, christened Ruperta. 

Margaret returned to the stage in 1676 as a member of the Duke of York's Company, based at the Dorset Garden Theatre. After that season, Peg retired from acting and devoted herself to Rupert, now fifty-seven and with failing health. 

Rupert reputedly gave Peg a pair of pearl drop earrings that once belonged to his mother. Rupert's youngest sister, the Electress Sophia of Hanover, complained bitterly to her husband, Ernest Augustus, Elector of Hanover, but when she saw how well Peg looked after her elderly bachelor brother, she was forgiven and allowed to keep them.
By 1680, Rupert was bedridden and used an invalid chair. He wrote to Sophia that, ‘Margaret ‘took great care of me during my illness and I am obliged to her for many things’. Of his life with Peg, he also said, ‘as for the little one [Ruperta], she cannot resemble me, [for] she is turning into the prettiest creature. She already rules the whole house and sometimes argues with her mother, which makes us all laugh’.

Two days before his death, Rupert signed his will which stated Margaret was to receive all his money, plate, English estates, and investments, including: the string of pearls which had once belonged to his mother, the winter queen; his diamonds; and all of his tapestries, gold stucco work, and hangings. He  had already given her a large cabinet worth £8000 that she was to keep. Rupert died at his house in Spring Gardens, Westminster after a bout of pleurisy, and was buried in the crypt of Westminster Abbey.

Electress Sophia, Rupert's sister
From his deathbed the prince made a last request to Charles II that a marriage be contracted between Ruperta and Lord Burford, son of Nell Gwyn and the king. This, however, was refused. Concerned that his daughter should make an advantageous match, Rupert stipulated in his will that she should be ‘dutifull and obedient to her mother, and not … dispose herself in marriage, without her consent, and the advise of the … Earl of Craven’ 

The Earl of Craven was appointed executor and Margaret and Ruperta were the chief beneficiaries. Rupert’s former mistress, Francesca Bard, was excluded and their son, Dudley Bard, was left only Rupert's house at Rhenen and monies owed to him by the emperor and the elector palatine.

This was an era when women did not attend funerals, thus Rupert's coffin was accompanied to the grave on 6 December 1682 by a party which included a ‘Mr. Hughes—Gentleman’, probably another brother or kinsman to Margaret. Within a few months Craven had already paid out £6000 each to her and her daughter, and had sold one of the most valuable items—the pearl necklace given by Rupert's father to Elizabeth—to Nell Gwyn for £4520 in an attempt to clear household debts.
Rupert and Peg's House in Hammersmith
Hughes had an 'uncomfortable widowhood' without Rupert's support, exacerbated by her gambling. Elizabeth of Bohemia's earrings were sold to the Duchess of Marlborough. Hughes sold the house in Hammersmith to two London merchants: Timothy Lannoy and George Treadwell. [The name changed to Brandeburgh House when bought by the Margrave of Brandenburg-Anspach]  

Margaret moved to Eltham in Kent where she died in October 1719, and was buried at Lee, Kent.Her daughter, Ruperta, ultimately married Lt-General Emanuel Scrope Howe, future MP and had four children by him - James, Henriette, William and Sophie. Ruperta died in 1719.