Friday, January 29, 2010
Tart of the Week: Henrietta Countess of Suffolk
Although Henrietta Hobart was born in the lap of luxury in 1689 that didn't mean life was going to be easy on her. Her father, Sir Henry Hobart died in a duel when Henrietta was a mere eight years of age and her mother soon followed three years later. It appears that the family moved in with their cousin, the Countess of Suffolk in order to survive. It was the countess' son, Charles, who would take an interest in Henrietta and in 1706 she would marry him in hopes it would bring security to her family.
It does not take too much imagination to figure out what sort of marriage these happy foundations created. Charles was a drunk and a gambler. He also had a tendency to be violent and there were reports that he beat his new wife. It took Charles no time at all to spend all his money and the little bit his wife had brought to the marriage. This lack of funds sent the couple packing for Hanover to get some work at Electress Sophia's court. Henrietta did well in the foreign country, despite being homesick. She made friends with Sophia's grandson, George (the future George II) whose attention to her was more appealing than that of her husband's. During her time in Hanover, Queen Anne died and the English throne went to George I, Sophia's son. The switch in monarchs in England as well as Sophia's death right before, sent the Howards back to England looking for work.
Henrietta was able to gain a position as a Lady of the Bedchamber to the new Princess of Whales, the wife of George, her newfound friend. Well, it wasn't long before they were more than friends! Isn't it so very Tudors of Henrietta to carry on an affair with the husband of her employer? Her lack of respect for her boss was rewarded with a promotion to full-time mistress, a position that her husband must have been well-aware of. This coveted position came with full benefits: securities, money her husband couldn't legally touch, endless gifts, a trust fund, and property. However George was still in love with his wife so he treated Henrietta awfully, as many men with mistresses treated their wives.
When the king died and George ascended to the throne as George II, Henrietta went through another promotion, this time as royal mistress to the king. I suspect this coveted position was one of high-stress and her husband constantly bugging her for money probably didn't help. Eventually, she used the money she earned to by him off and make him go away, legally separating from him. When Charles became the 10th Earl of Suffolk in 1731 Henrietta was now too high of rank to serve as a lady of the bedchamber. A perfect chance for Queen Caroline to ditch the Harlot, right? Instead, she promoted her to Mistress of the Robes! Queen Caroline liked having Henrietta under her thumb and specifically holding her water basin in the morning. Henrietta was merely a court pawn to both the king and queen, used and abused.
In 1733 the Countess of Suffolk became a widow after many miserable years of marriage. By 1734 Henrietta, well-off from her mistress position (not the robes one) and weary of life at court, retired from her positions with the king and queen. The queen argued with Henrietta about her retirement but the strangely enough it was George who was happy to let her go. She was given a pension from the king to live comfortably in retirement. Henrietta didn't wait long to marry and her new choice was George Berkeley, which surprised many. Lord Hervey described him as "neither young, handsome, healthy, nor rich" but Henrietta saw past all that and was deeply in love with him. The two were soul mates. She happily spent her days with George and intimate friends which included at one point or another, Alexander Pope and Horace Walpole.
Henrietta was heartbroken when her beloved husband died in 1746. She spent the reminder of her life in ill-health before finally dying in 1767 and was laid to rest beside the man she loved the most at Berkeley Castle.