Catherine Sedley, Countess of Dorchester (1657 - 1717) MP

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Nicknames: "Katherine Sedley", "Catharine Sidley"
Birthplace: London, England
Death: Died in Bath, Bath and North East Somerset, England
Occupation: Vindögd blek frilla, Mistress of King James II
Managed by: Anne SHERLOCK
Last Updated:

About Catherine Sedley, Countess of Dorchester

Catherine Sedley, Countess of Dorchester, Countess of Portmore (21 December 1657 – 26 October 1717), daughter of Sir Charles Sedley, 5th Baronet, was the mistress of King James VII and II both before and after he came to the thrones. Catherine was not noted for beauty but for her wittiness and sharp tongue.

'Good God, who would have thought that we three whores should have met here!'

The Countess of Dorchester , mistress of James Il on encountering the Duchess of Portsmouth,mistress of Charles II, and the Countess of Orkney, mistress of William III, at the coronation of George I, October 20, 1714

Catherine was the only daughter of Restoration hellrake and poet Sir Charles Sedley. She grew up "notoriously plain." While her father roistered around England, her mother spiraled into insanity until she entered a Psychiatric hospital in Catherine's early teens. At this low point in her life, Sir Charles consoled his daughter by introducing a common-law wife into the family and ejecting Catherine from the house.

She landed a job with Italian princess Mary of Modena, who had just married James, Duke of York, heir to the British throne. This eventually led to an affair with him. She was bewildered at having been chosen by James."It cannot be my beauty for he must see I have none," she remarked incredulously. "And it cannot be my wit, for he has not enough to know that I have any."

In August of 1696, Catherine, at the age of thirty-eight, married a one-eyed Scot named Sir David Colyear, afterwards the first Earl of Portmore. He was an officer in William III's army and highly respected. By her husband, Lady Dorchester gave birth to two sons, and by all accounts the marriage was a happy one. When her sons were sent off to school, she told them, "If anybody call either of you a son a whore, you must bear it; for you are so: but if they call you bastards, fight till you die; for you are an honest man's sons."

Lady Dorchester died at Bath on October 26, 1717 at the age of 60 of unknown causes. While her former lover, James II came to regret his prolifigacy in his old age. "I abhor and detest myself for having lived for so many years in a perpetual course of sin," apparently she had no such regrets. She leaves behind a legacy of priceless bon mots. At the coronation of George I, when the Archbishop of Canterbury formally asked the congregation for the people's consent to the King's crowning, the Countess was heard to say loud and clear, "Does the old fool think that anybody will say no to his question when there are so many drawn swords?" (Charles and Camilla, Brandreth page. 21).

Catherine gave birth to several children while James II's mistress, but only a daughter survived. The daughter Catherine, although acknowledged by James, in all probability was the daughter of Colonel James Grahame, a witty and fashionable hanger-on at court and the King's Keeper of the Privy Purse. Apparently Catherine felt no need to confine her favors to just the one man. When her daughter began to give herself airs, Catherine told her, "You need not be so vain, daughter, you are not the King's child, but old Grahame's."

-------------------- Note: she was James II mistress, they were never married; their 'connection' began around 1678, James broke it off briefly when he became king in 1685, and then soon began it again, only to end the affair the following year on the demands and protests of his catholic advisors who seized on the occasion of the protestant Catharine's being created countess of Dorchester to engineer her ouster, James and she seem quietly to have resumed their affair when she returned from Ireland to England later in 1786; she and James had several children who died young and one daughter who survived to maturity

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Catherine Sedley, Countess of Dorchester's Timeline

1657
December 21, 1657
London, England
December 28, 1657
London, Middlesex, England
1681
1681
Age 23
Westminster,London,England
1684
August, 1684
Age 26
London, England

Calculated date based on burial.

Source: The Scots Peerage: Founded on Wood's Edition of Sir Robert Douglas's Peerage of Scotland, Containing an Historical and Genealogical Account of the Nobility of that Kingdom, with Armorial Illustrations (1904-1914), Paul , Sir James Balfour, (9 volumes. Edinburgh: D. Douglas, 1904-1914), FHL book 941 D22p; FHL microfilms104,157-104,161., vol. 7 p. 93 fn. 3.

1685
1685
- 1686
Age 27

Catherine had formerly been the mistress of James II and VII. who had created her Countess of Dorcester and Baroness of Darlington for life and by Letters Patent granted her money per annum out of the lands of Ireland. (A grant by King James II for £3,000 per annum for 5 1/4 years out of the English Exchequer, and £5,000 for 99 years out of the quit rents in Ireland, dated in 1685/1686.)

Her father however did not take kindly:

"King James the Second ... it seems, had fallen in love with Sir Charles' (Sidley) only daughter and heir... He therefore conceived a hatred. When asked why so warm against the King ..."it was from a principle of gratitude. Since his Majesty has made my daughter a countess, it is fit I do all I can to make his daughter a Queen."

1696
August 20, 1696
Age 38

Listed as "in or about 1695" in 'The Scots Peerage', vol. 7 p. 93, and 'Het Geslacht Colyear', p. 25; listed as "in or shortly before Aug 1696", in 'Complete Baronetage', vol. 4 p. 82; listed as shortly after 20 Aug 1696 - on which date the marriage was announced as to take place shortly - see 'The Complete Peerage', vol. 10 p. 604 fn. d.

1698
December 17, 1698
Age 40
Weybridge, Surrey, England, United Kingdom

The Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom, Extant, Extinct, or Dormant (1910), Cokayne, George Edward (main author) and Vicary Gibbs (added author), (New edition. 13 volumes in 14. London: St. Catherine Press,1910-), vol. 10 p. 604.

1700
August 27, 1700
Age 42

[S452] #21 The Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom, Extant, Extinct, or Dormant (1910), Cokayne, George Edward (main author) and Vicary Gibbs (added author), (New edition. 13 volumes in 14. London: St. Catherine Press,1910-), vol. 10 p. 604.

1717
October 26, 1717
Age 59
Bath, Bath and North East Somerset, England
1729
September 8, 1729
Age 59
Weybridge, Surrey, England, United Kingdom