Henrietta Hobart, Countess of Suffolk
Daughter of Sir Henry Hobart, MP, 4th Baronet and Elizabeth Hobart
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About Henrietta Hobart, Countess of Suffolk
- Profile picture by Michael Dahl. See Media for more portraits.
- From "Courtiers, The Secret History of Kensington Palace" by Lucy Worsley. Faber & Faber.
"In 1734, an uneasy love triangle existed at Kensington Palace. George II was Britain’s king – his fat and shrewd wife Caroline was queen. Mrs Henrietta Howard was one of six ‘women of the bedchamber’ who worked for the queen. Calm and conscientious, Henrietta seemed the perfect servant. But resentment seethed within her. During her 20 years as the queen’s bedchamber woman, she’d also had unglamorous, unenviable and unpaid extra duties as the king’s acknowledged lover. During the research for my book Courtiers, The Secret History of Kensington Palace, Henrietta Howard stood out as one of the Georgian court’s most attractive characters. She was not an astounding beauty, but she radiated charm and intelligence. Her build was slim, she had ‘the finest light brown hair’ and she was ‘always well dressed with taste and simplicity’. Yet she suffered all her life from headaches and deafness. Her friend, the poet Alexander Pope, described a grievous ‘air of sadness about her’, and accused her of ‘not loving herself so well as she does her friends’. But Henrietta was a survivor. After so many years at court, she’d become legendary for her ‘imperceptible dexterity’ in negotiating the hazards of palace life. She had been forced to become fluent in a courtier’s language of half-truths and flatteries. She knew, though, that her way of life was gradually eroding her health and her happiness. She hoped to escape from court while her integrity still remained intact. But the story of her difficult life so far suggested that this might be impossible. Henrietta was born in 1689 to the Hobart family of Blickling Hall, Norfolk. Their finances were precarious, and became desperately so after Henrietta’s father was killed in a duel. Henrietta, aged 16, assumed that a marriage to the 30-year-old Charles Howard, younger brother of the Earl of Suffolk, would provide security. This was a terrible mistake. Howard would prove himself to be a ‘drunken, extravagant, brutal’ reprobate. As one friend put it, ‘thus they loved, thus they married, and thus they hated each other for the rest of their lives’. Despite their high birth, the couple were genteel paupers. Her husband wasted money in gaming houses and brothels, while Henrietta often felt the ‘smart of hunger’ in their dingy London lodgings. This experience of poverty scarred her deeply. Henrietta gave birth to a son in 1707, and in 1713 insisted that she and Charles flee to Hanover to escape his creditors. She even offered her long brown hair to a wig-maker in exchange for the money for the journey. In the little German state of Hanover, she hoped to become intimate with its ruling family. Queen Anne, the last of the Stuarts, had no surviving children, and on her death it seemed likely that the electors of Hanover, her nearest Protestant relatives, would be invited to rule Britain.
Queen Caroline pitied rather than envied her love rival. She also recognised that Henrietta bore the brunt of the king’s famously bad temper The gamble paid off. Caroline, the elector George’s daughter-in-law, offered Henrietta a job as a personal servant. Soon afterwards Caroline’s husband, the future George II, indicated that he would like her services sexually. Caroline accepted Henrietta as her husband’s mistress: she rightly feared that a woman less discreet and sensible than Henrietta would cause more trouble. Nor did the court as a whole see cause for scandal: George’s German grandmother thought Henrietta would at the very least improve his English. After the death of Queen Anne in 1714, Henrietta Howard – both servant and mistress – accompanied the newly royal family on its journey to England. She was in high favour with both George and Caroline, now Prince and Princess of Wales (George’s father was now King George I of Britain). Her husband had also found a job at court. But he still constantly harassed Henrietta, pretending to be jealous of her position as the prince’s mistress, and attempting to get blackmail money by threatening to reveal her royal relationship. Henrietta’s plight was pitiable. While her husband lorded over her ‘with tyranny; with cruelty’, she had no remedy in the eyes of 18th-century law. She reasoned with herself that his neglect alternated with brutality negated their marriage contract: ‘I must believe I am free.'
Her only comfort lay in her female friends. Her stalwart supporter, Lady Lansdowne, was typical in writing: ‘Dear Mrs Howard, you & I shall live to see better days, & love & honour to flourish once more.’ Eventually Henrietta plucked up the courage to leave her husband, a risky and shameful undertaking. But her fear of him still compelled her to remain in her degrading relationship with the Prince of Wales, who became King George II in 1727. The palace walls provided protection, and her servant’s salary was her only source of income. In 1728 Henrietta finally succeeded in persuading her husband to sign a formal deed of separation, a very rare proceeding for the time. But freedom came at a high price. Her only child would remain in her husband’s custody. It seemed unlikely that she would ever see her son again. Queen Caroline therefore mainly pitied rather than envied her love rival. She also recognised that Henrietta bore the brunt of the king’s famously bad temper. He spent a couple of hours every evening with Henrietta, but more out of duty than desire. By the 1730s the courtiers were firmly convinced that the king had a mistress ‘rather as a necessary appurtenance to his grandeur as a prince than an addition to his pleasures as a man’. He was heard speaking to her in an ‘angry and impatient tone’, and replying to a mild question with ‘that is none of your business, madam; you have nothing to do with that!’ As Henrietta put it, ‘I have been a slave 20 years without ever receiving a reason for any one thing I ever was oblig’d to do.' Some of the most intense scenes in the breakdown of the eccentric but enduring love triangle between George II, Caroline and Henrietta were played out between the two women, in the bedchamber, during the queen’s toilette. Henrietta’s position of bedchamber woman was not physically demanding, but the long hours of waiting, the boredom, and the need for self-possession took their toll. If ever she showed a hint of insubordination – complaining about having to hold the basin while the queen washed her face, for example – Caroline had no hesitation in slapping Henrietta down.
In 1731, though, came Henrietta’s great stroke of luck. She inherited a considerable sum of money from the Earl of Suffolk, her former husband’s older brother. Despising his wastrel sibling, the earl had left a fortune to Henrietta instead. Along with the money, Henrietta also gained the title Countess of Suffolk (her husband Charles inherited the title of earl even though he got no money) and she was promoted from bedchamber woman to mistress of the robes. Now her duties were far lighter, and luckily her husband quickly followed his brother to the grave. For the first time in her life Henrietta had plenty of money and a little leisure time. She was so happy, the courtiers said, that even her hearing improved. She began building a villa for herself by the Thames at Marble Hill, between Richmond and Twickenham, West London. Most people thought Henrietta’s loss of the king’s favour a great setback, but with it the stage was set for her redemption. And there was a hidden reason for her exit from court And in summer 1734 she took her first-ever holiday. She spent six weeks in the resort of Bath. Because no one could remember Henrietta leaving court before, it caused a sensation. When she returned in October, though, she found George II even less eager than before to share her company, and he cut her dead in the drawing room. That ‘the king went no more in an evening to Lady Suffolk was whispered about the court by all that belonged to it’. Armed with what she thought was incontrovertible evidence of the king’s disapproval, Henrietta sought a resignation interview with Caroline, in the queen’s bedchamber. At first Caroline claimed that she hadn’t noticed Henrietta’s cold reception since her return from Bath. She refused to listen to Henrietta’s complaints of court intrigue and the king’s coldness, saying, ‘Believe me, I am your friend, your best friend.’ She told Henrietta not to mind court gossip, and reminded her how cold the world would seem outside the court bubble. ‘I can’t say that to keep such an acquaintance will be any argument for me to stay at court,’ Henrietta replied. Annoyed, Caroline tried hard to have her husband prevent her meekest, mildest and most useful servant from leaving. By now, though, he was as anxious to let Henrietta go as she was to depart. ‘What the devil did you mean by trying to make an old, dull, deaf, peevish beast stay and plague me when I had so good an opportunity for getting rid of her?’ he shouted at his wife. Finally, on 22 November 1734, to universal amazement, Henrietta departed from the court for Marble Hill and private life. Queen Caroline condemned her departure as ‘the silliest thing she could do’, while the newspapers thought it reprehensible and incomprehensible in equal measure. Most people thought Henrietta’s loss of the king’s favour a great setback, but with it the stage was set for her redemption. She could at last rediscover her talent for sincerity, writing and friendship. And there was also another, hidden, reason driving Henrietta forward in her path of propulsion from the court. She had fallen in love. The next scandal to grip the court was the news of an unexpected and very hasty marriage. Henrietta’s wedding to MP George Berkeley in June 1735 consummated a relationship that had begun in secret well before her delicate negotiation of her exit from the palace. (They had met many times at the houses of friends.) George Berkeley was 42 to Henrietta’s 46, and her escape from court had left her looking ‘better than [she] did 17 years ago’. He was kind, loving and honest, and their correspondence shows they shared a deep bond. Safe, happy, and third-time-lucky in love, Henrietta was occupied with her husband and with decorating their house at Marble Hill. On the rare occasions when they were apart, she signed off her letters to him with ‘God bless you… I do with all my heart and soul’. Her beloved George Berkeley died, after a painfully brief 11 years of marriage, in 1746. Henrietta continued to live quietly at Marble Hill. But her health and hearing remained poor, and her only son, turned against her by his father, was altogether lost to her. Henrietta had one final, chance encounter with her former royal lover in October 1760. A London traffic jam brought Henrietta’s vehicle close to the coach of the king, ‘whom she had not seen for so many years’. Henrietta recognised him immediately, but he looked back at her blankly. Although he had seen her every day for more than 20 years, George II had erased her from his memory. Only two days later, he suffered a massive heart attack while seated on the water closet at Kensington Palace. His death brought with it the end of Henrietta’s court pension. Her fortune spent, and having inherited little from her second husband, her final years were marred by penury. Into her 70s, though, Henrietta retained ‘spirits and cleverness and imagination’. She finally died in 1767, and asked to be buried next to George Berkeley, her one true love."
- From the Dictionary of National Biography (by Matthew Kilburn):
"Howard [née Hobart; other married name Berkeley], Henrietta, countess of Suffolk (c.1688–1767), mistress of George II and architectural patron, was the third daughter of Sir Henry Hobart, fourth baronet (1657/8–1698), of Blickling, Norfolk, and his wife, Elizabeth (d. 1701), the daughter and coheir of Joseph Maynard of Clifton Reynes, Buckinghamshire. John Hobart, later first earl of Buckinghamshire (1693–1756), was her younger brother. Following the death of her mother her upbringing, and that of her sisters, was entrusted to her step-great-grandmother Mary, née Upton, the widow of Sir John Maynard (1604–1690) and the second wife of Henry Howard, fifth earl of Suffolk. All the Hobart children had inherited part of Sir John Maynard's wealth, although his complex will was the subject of litigation in chancery. None the less, Henrietta displayed finances that were sufficiently sound to attract Charles Howard (1675–1733), Lord Suffolk's third son from his first marriage, a captain in Lord Cutts's regiment of dragoons. They married on 2 March 1706 at St Benet Paul's Wharf, London.
A few days before her marriage Henrietta protected her fortune, the value of which was unknown to her but estimated at £6000, by placing £4000 in trust with her uncle John Hobart and Dr James Wellwood, thereby guaranteeing a small income for her personal use. This precaution proved necessary. In June 1706 Howard sold his commission for £700, and a cycle began which Mrs Howard, bred to expect more from the life of a gentlewoman, found excessively degrading. After a year of marriage she gave birth to a son, Henry, on 1 January 1707, but the couple increasingly lived apart, Mrs Howard in Berkshire while her husband stayed in London, until bailiffs seized their property and they were forced to move in with Lord Suffolk. Suffolk expelled his son and daughter-in-law when Howard was unable to pay their board, and the couple then lived in lodgings in St Martin's Street, London, under the name of Smith. Howard was frequently absent for long periods, and when with his wife subjected her to physical and verbal abuse. Mrs Howard's attempts to restore their fortunes involved negotiations with her husband's creditors in the City, pawning her few valuables, and selling her hair. What money she raised was usually spent by Howard, until, probably in 1713, she retained enough for them to travel to Hanover and seek favour in the electoral court. Mrs Howard won the approval of the dowager electress Sophia and probably also of the electoral princess Caroline. Following the accession of Sophia's son as George I of Great Britain on 1 August 1714, Mrs Howard returned to London with the royal party, and about 26 October 1714 was appointed woman of the bedchamber to Caroline, by then princess of Wales. Her husband became a groom of the bedchamber to George I, placing them in separate households, although they shared apartments in St James's Palace.
Mrs Howard enjoyed the social and intellectual opportunities of the princess's circle, where she befriended Alexander Pope, John Gay, John Arbuthnot, and Jonathan Swift, among others, but she continued to be harassed by her husband, who wished to borrow money from the princess's courtiers. In a memorandum of 29 August 1716 she reasoned with herself that her husband's brutality and neglect meant that he had invalidated the marriage contract, and so ‘I must believe I am free’ (BL, Add. MS 22627, fol. 13), but that social conventions would make it difficult for her to leave him. In November 1717, however, George I expelled the prince and princess of Wales from St James's Palace, and Mrs Howard followed them to their new home at Leicester House. She was then told by Charles Howard that he no longer considered her his wife. He retained control of their son.
It was probably soon after this that Mrs Howard became the mistress of the prince of Wales, afterwards George II (1683–1760). The nature of their relationship was such that Lord Hervey later wrote that many courtiers doubted George II ‘ever having entered into any commerce with her, that he might not innocently have had with his daughter’ (Hervey, 1.41), but Hervey confirmed that the two did have a sexual relationship, with the support of Caroline, who knew that Mrs Howard's advice would never be preferred over her own. None the less she was taken up by the brothers John Campbell, second duke of Argyll, and Archibald Campbell, earl of Ilay, in the belief that she would have influence with the prince. On their advice she invested in the Mississippi scheme promoted on the Paris stock exchange by John Law, and may well have lost money. In 1723 the prince settled £11,500 worth of South Sea stock on her, with Argyll, Ilay, and Robert Britiffe, a lawyer whose sister was the wife of Mrs Howard's brother Sir John Hobart, as her trustees.
Her financial settlement allowed Mrs Howard to express her interest in architecture and develop an identity separate from her husband and from the prince and princess of Wales. John Gay found a plan of a projected house in her apartments at Richmond in July 1723. Through Lord Ilay, she bought 25½ acres along the River Thames at Twickenham in 1724, which became the setting for her Palladian villa, Marble Hill House. The first design for the house may have been by Colen Campbell, to whose third volume of Vitruvius Britannicus Mrs Howard was a subscriber, but it was Roger Morris who was contracted to build the house in June 1724; he was probably advised on design by Henry, Lord Herbert, later ninth earl of Pembroke. Pope and Allen, Lord Bathurst, contributed to the design of the gardens, but they were principally realized by Charles Bridgeman. The house was not finished until 1728 or 1729, and during 1727 work seems to have stopped altogether. This may have been because Charles Howard, encouraged by George I, was attempting a reconciliation with Mrs Howard which would have entailed her departure from the princess's service and her retirement to the country; the king probably saw her as one of the ties that connected the prince of Wales to the opposition. For several weeks in spring 1727 she lived in fear of kidnapping after Howard procured a warrant for her arrest. The death of George I in June 1727 made Mrs Howard's position safer, and her husband was bought off by an annuity of £1200, paid by Mrs Howard but largely provided by the new king. For the 1727 coronation she managed Queen Caroline's clothes and jewellery, and later reminisced to Horace Walpole of her economy. The document effecting her separation from her husband was signed on 29 February 1728.
Jonathan Swift had assumed in verse and in correspondence that Mrs Howard would abandon Marble Hill on the accession of George II, but she did not relish her place as a servant to Queen Caroline, where her labours both physical and social were aggravated by her deafness. Her husband became ninth earl of Suffolk in 1731, and consequently she became of too high a rank to continue as a woman of the bedchamber. Her new office, mistress of the robes, left her with a reduced obligation to the queen, but with a higher salary, which relieved her of the apprehension that she would have to sell Marble Hill and allowed her to spend more time there. She continued to attend court and maintained her relationship with the king, although George II ‘seemed to look upon a mistress rather as a necessary appurtenance to his grandeur as a prince than an addition to his pleasures as a man’ (Hervey, 1.42), and, to the disappointment of her admirers, her political influence with the king was minimal. Marble Hill allowed her to entertain friends such as Pope and Gay who were unsympathetic towards the court, although her unwillingness to break with the king and queen alienated Swift, whose attempts to gain royal patronage for himself and for Mary Barber through Lady Suffolk had not been as successful as he had wished. Other regular visitors included the opposition politician George Berkeley (1693?–1746) and Charles Mordaunt, third earl of Peterborough, with whom for several years she conducted a written discussion on love, although she seems to have kept their affair a theoretical one.
Lady Suffolk shared the interest in rational religion of her fellow courtier Mary, Lady Hervey. Peterborough hailed Lady Suffolk in verse as ‘O wonderful creature! a woman of reason!’ (Letters to and from Henrietta, 1.xlvii), paying tribute to her as a woman who could make her own way in a man's world. The praise that Peterborough and her literary friends heaped upon her went unappreciated by George II, who was annoyed by ‘her constant opposition to all his measures’ and ‘her wearying him with her perpetual contradiction’ (Hervey, 2.382). The end of their relationship came in 1734. His visits to her, which had once been nightly, became less regular, and in October, after she returned from a six-week visit to Bath, the king ignored her. In November she resigned from her position as mistress of the robes following a difficult interview with the queen, who accused her of overreacting to the king's behaviour and of surrendering to manipulation by opposition politicians. Gossips speculated that she had departed for political reasons—she was often in the company of the opposition whig Richard Temple, first Viscount Cobham, and it was rumoured, incorrectly, that she was having an affair with Henry St John, first Viscount Bolingbroke—but the main cause was that the king had found her less attractive with age, reportedly describing her as ‘an old, dull, deaf, peevish beast’ (Hervey, 2.600–01). Pope lamented her resignation as the end of the intellectual court that had gathered around Caroline when princess of Wales.
The earl of Suffolk had died on 28 September 1733, so Lady Suffolk's hard-won liberty was no longer under threat. She married George Berkeley at Cranford, Middlesex, on 26 June 1735, and, aside from visits to friends and continental Europe, the two divided their time between Marble Hill and her new town house at 15 Savile Row, where she commissioned Morris, advised by Pembroke, to model the external features. Assisted by Berkeley, with whom she enjoyed a close and emotionally satisfying relationship until his death on 29 October 1746, she continued to extend the Marble Hill estate and make changes to the house, including the construction of a cottage where her extensive porcelain collection could be displayed. She bought paintings for the house, but they were not many and dominated by architectural studies. She continued to keep up with changes in taste, and employed Matthew Brettingham the elder to make alterations to Marble Hill in 1750–51. It has been argued that she was the first woman significantly to encroach ‘upon the gentlemanly pursuits of a connoisseur’ (Bryant, 6). She had little contact with her son, Henry, tenth earl of Suffolk, who died childless in 1745, but took a large share of the responsibility for the upbringing of John and Dorothy Hobart, her brother's children from his first marriage. John Hobart, who became second earl of Buckinghamshire in 1756, sought her advice on matters ranging from the design of a fireplace to how to conduct himself at court; she took part in the management of his domestic political interests following his appointment as ambassador to Russia in 1762, and represented his private concerns about the posting to the ministry.
In later life Lady Suffolk was befriended by Horace Walpole, who shared her interest in architecture and contributed towards the Gothic farm at Marble Hill, called the priory of St Hubert, whose chief designer was Richard Bentley; according to Walpole, two of the towers were designed by Lady Suffolk herself. Walpole made notes of their conversations for their anecdotes and for their information on the politics of his youth. Her closest male friend in her later years was probably William Chetwynd, third Viscount Chetwynd, who was with her when she died at Marble Hill on 26 July 1767. According to Walpole, her later years had seen a struggle to keep out of debt, which she had hidden from most of her friends. She left Marble Hill to her nephew Lord Buckinghamshire, a legacy of £500 to a goddaughter, and also a few small legacies, but the bulk of her estate passed to her great-niece Henrietta Gertrude Hotham (1753–1816), the daughter of her niece Lady Dorothy Hobart, who had married Charles Hotham, elder brother of William, first Baron Hotham. Henrietta Hotham had lived with Lady Suffolk for several years, and inherited Marble Hill in 1793. The estate was sold by the Hobart family in 1824, and in 1902 was bought by London county council to save it from development. The council opened the house and grounds to the public in 1903; the house was restored to a close approximation of its appearance in Lady Suffolk's day in 1965–6, and passed into the care of English Heritage in 1986."
Henrietta Howard (1689 – 26 July 1767) was a mistress of King George II of Great Britain.
She was the daughter of Sir Henry Hobart, 4th Baronet, a Norfolk landowner who was killed in a duel when Henrietta was aged eight. Her mother Elizabeth (née Maynard) died a few years later.
Having become the ward of the Earl of Suffolk, she married his youngest son, Charles Howard, at the church of St Benet, Paul's Wharf in London on 2 March 1706, hoping to provide for her siblings. They had one son, Henry Howard, 10th Earl of Suffolk. The marriage was unhappy; Charles was a wife-beater and compulsive gambler. On the other hand her relationship with George II was of great benefit to her own family who received the title Earl of Buckinghamshire.
In 1714, they travelled to Hanover, hoping to ingratiate themselves with the future George I of Great Britain. Henrietta met and became mistress to his son, the future George II, and was appointed a Woman of the Bedchamber to his wife, Caroline of Ansbach. In 1723, the prince made a financial settlement with her husband in exchange for her services as a royal mistress. Queen Caroline liked Henrietta, and was happy that the King kept a mistress she found congenial, although she would occasionally administer snubs to Henrietta in public. Henrietta was noted for wit and intelligence (she went deaf at an early age) rather than beauty.
She and her husband officially separated, and after Charles Howard's death in 1733, Henrietta re-married, in 1735, the Hon. George Berkeley, son of the Earl of Berkeley.
After leaving the position of mistress to George II, Henrietta purchased land on the banks of the river Thames, having received a very large financial settlement from him. Marble Hill House in Twickenham was built for her on this site by the architect Roger Morris, who collaborated in its design with Henry Herbert, 9th Earl of Pembroke, one of the "architect earls." When her second husband died, in 1746, she retired there permanently. She formed an intellectual circle, and her many friends included Charles Mordaunt, 3rd Earl of Peterborough, and Alexander Pope, who wrote of her, in his poem "On a certain lady at court": I knew a thing that’s most uncommon(Envy be silent and attend!)I knew a reasonable woman,Handsome and witty, yet a friend.
She is generally supposed to be the model for Chloe in Pope's The Rape of the Lock.
Her correspondents also included Horace Walpole (a near neighbour in later life) and Jonathan Swift.
She is a character in The Heart of Midlothian by Sir Walter Scott, who describes accurately her ambiguous friendship with the Queen.