Henrietta Howard: King’s Mistress, Queen’s Servant by Tracy Borman
Henrietta Howard: King’s Mistress, Queen’s Servant by Tracy Borman. I wanted to read this book after reading Courtiers. The Secret History of the Georgian Court by Lucy Worsley. Henrietta was born on 11 May 1689. I stopped reading the book and returned to it in early May as I wanted to share the review of the book today, on the 329 anniversary of her birthday.
Her great-great-grandfather, Sir Henry Hobart, bought Blickling in 1616 because of its past. The property once belonged to Harold Godwinson, Earl of East Saxons (defeated by William the Conqueror). More recently, it was where Anne Boleyn was born. Charles II was the first royal visitor in 1671, when he was on progress, despite Sir John being on the side of the Parliament during the revolution. Charles II knighted Sir John’s son, Henry, who was Henrietta’s father. In 1683 Henry inherited the house from his father. Being in debt, he married an heiress with an impressive dowry. Henrietta had 7 siblings and a happy family life at Blickling until her father died in a duel, in 1698. Her mother pursued the man responsible until he was brought to justice in 1700. Her mother died in 1701, her two older sisters died in the next four years, making her the eldest at only 16.
She got married at 16 in an attempt to secure a future for her and her siblings. It didn’t work. Her husband spent all the money he had and continued to spend her own money. She had to flee creditors and live in poverty with him and their son. When it rumoured that Sophia will be the heir of Queen Anne, Henrietta managed to sell everything she had and moved to Hanover with her husband. Both of them were told they will receive positions at the Royal Court. Sophia died before Queen Anne, but when George I moved to Britain with his family, they did receive their promised positions. She was made a Woman of the Bedchamber.
She was witty and, luckily, her letters and diaries survive, and are now at the British Library. In a letter she said: “You will find that a woman’s pen is not so ready as her tongue, for most women speak before they think, and I find it necessary to think before I write.”
When the rift between George I and his son happened, Henrietta decided to follow Princes Caroline and leave her husband. A couple of years after that she will become the mistress to the Prince of Wales. Her husband kept their son from her, as a punishment. At the court, she was close to Alexander Pope (author, he translated Iliad and Odyssey), Jonathan Swift (Gulliver’s Travels), John Gay and other poets and writers. Most of her guests being Tory were in direct political battle with Walpole from the Whig party, that had the support of Princess Caroline.
There were rumors that Henrietta had a daughter with the Prince of Wales, but nothing is known for sure. After four years of being a mistress, she received a very generous gift from the Prince, made in a way that only she could benefit from it and not her husband. Her husband continued to torment her in an attempt to get money from her.
With the money she received from Prince George, she built a house for herself, Marble Hill, now part of English Heritage. I can’t wait to visit it, as soon as I have the chance.
After the death of George I, her position was even more important. Some of her friends tried to take advantage. One of them, Swift, ended up hating her because she couldn’t help him secure a position he was looking for. Most likely the Queen wanted to restrict her power and intervened. At the coronation, Henrietta wore a scarlet dress, and was part of the procession. Soon after, the relationship between her and the King was colder, maybe due to Queen Caroline’s involvement. She was his mistress for almost a decade.
Her estranged husband tried again to get money from her, to pay his growing debts. He managed to break in the Queen’s apartments one night. Due to the stress and anxiety, she became ill for weeks, with headaches. Divorce was out of the question, considering that from mid-seventeenth century to mid-nineteenth century only 4 divorces were accorded. Henrietta asked for a separation and got the help of a lawyer, friend of hers, James Welwood. While preparing her case, he died.
Her next lawyer tried to persuade Queen Caroline to help Henrietta by paying her husband. She refused. But the King payed her more, so she could give that money to her husband. He eventually agreed with the separation deeds, 22 years after they got married.
In 1729, Marble Hill was finally ready, but Henrietta was still at court. After the death of her brother in law, she became Countess and also received money according to his will. Being Countess meant she was promoted to Mistress of the Robes. In 1733 her husband died and she was finally free. A few years before that, she met George Berkeley with whom she appears in a painting from 1730. His sister has introduced them.
Her son managed to solve the financial problems his father left, but never talked with her. Growing impatient with life at court, she asked for a 6 weeks leave of absence to go to Bath. While there, Princess Anne spread some rumours that Henrietta was conspiring against the King. Finally, the Queen agreed and she was able to leave the court and move to Marble Hill.
In 1735, she bought a town house in London on Savile Street (now Savile Row). As a faithful servant, she received a pension and she had financial security. A few months after that she married George Berkeley for love. They took in her brother’s children and lived as a happy family for years.
Sadly in 1745 her son died without ever having a relationship. The following year George died too, leaving her a widow. They were both in their 40s when they got married, in an age where the life expectancy was 38. Both of them had many health issues and they supported each other. After his death, Henrietta spent most of her time at Marble Hill where she became friends with Walpole’s son. He published Reminiscences after Henrietta’s death, a notebook containing their conversations.
Aged 71, she lost her pension after the death of George II. Her advice was sought for the clothes used in the coronation. Her health was deteriorating and in July 1767 she died, aged 78. According to her wishes, she was buried in the family mausoleum at Berkeley Castle.
Marble Hill was inherited by John, her nephew. On his death, Henrietta Hotham, her niece inherited the house, as it was her wish. Mrs Hotham would rent the house to Maria Fitzherbert, the mistress of the future George IV, great-grandson of George II.
Henrietta Howard: King’s Mistress, Queen’s Servant by Tracy Borman
Details about the picture: –
My rating: 5/5 Stars.
Would I recommend it: Yes
Published by: Vintage 2010
Year it was published: 2007
About the author: Tracy Borman both studied and taught history at the University of Hull. She was awarded a PHD in 1997. She has a successful career in heritage, working with well known national heritage organisations, like the Heritage Lottery Fund and English Heritage. Now she is Chief Executive of the Heritage Education Trust, a charity that encourages children to visit historic properties.
She is also joint Chief Curator for Historic Royal Palaces.
Other books by her (links to books I’ve reviewed): Matilda – Wife of the Conqueror, First Queen of England ; Elizabeth’s Women: Friends, Rivals, and Foes Who Shaped the Virgin Queen; The Private Lives of the Tudors; Thomas Cromwell: The Untold Story of Henry VIII’s Most Faithful Servant; Witches, a tale of Scandal, Sorcery and Seduction; Henry VIII and the men who made him: The secret history behind the Tudor throne; The Story of the Tower of London; A really useful guide to the Georgians.
Website & Social Media Links: tracyborman