Elizabeth Seymour, Duchess of Somerset

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The Duchess of Somerset
ElizabethPercy ByGodfreyKneller 1713 PetworthHouse.jpg
Lady Elizabeth Percy (Duchess of Somerset), painted in 1713 by Godfrey Kneller (1646/9-1723); collection of Petworth House
Born(1667-01-26)26 January 1667
Died24 November 1722(1722-11-24) (aged 55)
OccupationCourtier, politician
Spouse(s)
Children
Parent(s)
Lady Elizabeth Percy, Lady Ogle by George Perfect Harding

Elizabeth Seymour, Duchess of Somerset and suo jure Baroness Percy (26 January 1667 – 24 November 1722) was a great heiress. She was styled Lady Elizabeth Percy between 1667 and 1679, Countess of Ogle between 1679 and 1681, Lady Elizabeth Thynne between 1681 and 1682 and Duchess of Somerset between 1682 and 1722. Elizabeth was the only surviving child and sole heiress of Joceline Percy, 11th Earl of Northumberland (1644–1670). Lady Elizabeth was one of the closest personal friends of Queen Anne, which led Jonathan Swift to direct at her one of his sharpest satires, The Windsor Prophecy, in which she was named "Carrots."

Marriages and children[edit]

She married three times, having children by the third marriage only:

Henry Cavendish, Earl of Ogle[edit]

At the age of twelve she married, on 27 March 1679, the 20 year-old Henry Cavendish, Earl of Ogle (1659 – 1 November 1680), the only son and heir of Henry Cavendish, 2nd Duke of Newcastle, who in accordance with the marriage settlement adopted the surname of Percy in lieu of his patronymic.[1] However he died the following year and was buried in the parish church at the Percy seat of Petworth. The couple had no children; due to Elizabeth's age, the marriage probably had not been consummated.

Thomas Thynne[edit]

On 15 November 1681, at the age of fourteen, she married Thomas Thynne (died 1682) of Longleat, Wiltshire, known due to his great income as "Tom of Ten Thousand", a relative of Thomas Thynne, 1st Viscount Weymouth. He was murdered the following February by a gang on the order of Swedish Count Karl Johann von Königsmark, who had started to pursue Elizabeth following the rumour that her marriage was unhappy. For the rest of her life, Elizabeth's enemies spread the story that she had incited the murder. The actual murderers were hanged, but Königsmark was acquitted of being an accessory to the crime, despite widespread public feeling against him. There were no children from this marriage.

Charles Seymour, 6th Duke of Somerset[edit]

Arms of Charles Seymour, 6th Duke of Somerset: Seymour, Duke of Somerset, with inescutcheon of pretence of Percy, of three quarters: 1st: Or, a lion rampant azure (Percy modern/Brabant); 2nd: Gules, three lucies hauriant argent (de Lucy); 3rd: Azure, five fusils conjoined in fess or (Percy ancient). Marshalling as shown sculpted on overmantel of the Marble Hall, Petworth House[2]

At the age of fifteen, five months after the death of Thomas Thynne, Elizabeth married, on 30 May 1682, the 20 year-old Charles Seymour, 6th Duke of Somerset, of Marlborough Castle in Wiltshire, and so became Duchess of Somerset. Soon after the marriage, he rebuilt in palatial style her father's principal seat Petworth House in Sussex. She was Mistress of the Robes to Queen Anne from 1710 to 1714. The marriage is said to have been unhappy: while she brought the Duke great wealth, it was said that she received neither affection nor gratitude in return. By the Duke she had the following children:

Political influence[edit]

Elizabeth Seymour circa 1710

The Duke and Duchess were among the Queen's oldest friends, with whom she had come to live at Syon House in 1692 after a heated quarrel with William III and Mary.[3] Like Marlborough before him, Somerset used his wife's position as royal confidante to advance his career. Both of them became the target of violent verbal attacks, especially from Jonathan Swift who hoped to influence the Queen through Mrs Abigail Masham, the obvious rival for the position of confidante. Apparently against Masham's wishes he published a scathing diatribe, The Windsor Prophecy, against the Duchess in which her character is derided as "Carrots" (a common nickname derived from the Duchess' red hair). Swift explicitly accused the Duchess of having conspired to murder her second husband, and wildly suggested that she might poison the Queen "I have been told, they assassin when young and poison when old".[3] The Queen was outraged; always a bad enemy to make, from then on she refused to consider Swift for preferment to a bishopric: even his appointment as Dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, was made against her strongly expressed wishes (she did not have power to veto it). Ignoring the gossip, she insisted on retaining the Duchess in her household.

The Duke's pride and arrogance eventually wore out the Queen's patience and he was dismissed from his court offices early in 1712. The Queen's doctor, Sir David Hamilton, advised her to keep the Duchess in her service "for her own quiet", and the Queen agreed. The Duchess remained with the Queen to the end of Anne's life, by which time Lord Dartmouth described her as "much the greatest favourite". During the Queen's painful last days, Elizabeth's calm and soothing manner is said to have brought some comfort, whereas Masham was in a state of hysterics.

Reputation[edit]

A painting of Elizabeth Seymour by Peter Lely

Elizabeth's influence on the Queen, together with her colourful past, made her many enemies. Like her third husband she seems to have been proud, although Lord Dartmouth called her "the best bred as well as the best born person in England".[4] She showed great skill in dealing with the Queen, her secret, it was said, being never to press the Queen to do anything for her, in contrast to Abigail Masham who constantly asked for favours. She was known as a shrewd observer of Court life and a notorious gossip; even the Queen, who was fond of her, called her "one of the most observing, prying ladies in England".

Estates and residences[edit]

Lady Elizabeth Percy brought immense estates to her husbands and in addition her residences: Alnwick Castle, Petworth House, Syon House and Northumberland House in London.[5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14][15][16][17][18]

Ancestry[edit]

References and notes[edit]

  1. ^ Collins, Arthur, Peerage of England, Volume 4, London, 1756, p.186]
  2. ^ Per photograph in Nicolson, Nigel, Great Houses of Britain, London, 1978, p.166
  3. ^ a b Gregg, E.G. (1980, London) (republished 2014, Yale) Queen Anne
  4. ^ Gregg
  5. ^ Cokayne et al., The Complete Peerage, volume I, p.212
  6. ^ Cokayne et al., The Complete Peerage, volume I, p.90
  7. ^ Cokayne et al., The Complete Peerage, volume XII, p.488
  8. ^ The Diary of John Evelyn
  9. ^ The Letters of Horace Walpole
  10. ^ Calendar of state papers, domestic series, 1682, 49
  11. ^ Cokayne et al., The Complete Peerage, volume XII, p.586
  12. ^ See
  13. ^ Burke, John – "Somerset, Duke of" and "Northumberland, Earl of":Burke's Peerage
  14. ^ de Fonblanque, E. B.,Annals of the house of Percy, from the conquest to the opening of the nineteenth century, p.507
  15. ^ The diary of Sir David Hamilton, 1709–1714, p.49, edited by Roberts, P. (1975)
  16. ^ A Journal to Stella, Swift, Jonathan, edited by Williams, H. (1948)
  17. ^ Holmes, G. S., British politics in the age of Anne (1967)
  18. ^ Life and Letters of Sir George Savile, p.244

Sources[edit]

  • British Library, Blenheim manuscripts
  • Bucholz, R. O. "Seymour (née Percy), Elizabeth, duchess of Somerset (1667–1722), courtier and politician". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 6 August 2007.
  • Bucholz, R. O. (1993). The Augustan court: Queen Anne and the decline of court culture.
  • Chatsworth House, Devonshire manuscripts
  • Cokayne, George (1887–1898). The Complete Peerage. Sutton, Alan.
  • Gregg, E. G. (1980). Queen Anne.
  • Holmes, G. S. (1967). British politics in the age of Anne.
  • Snyder, H. L. (1975). The Marlborough–Godolphin correspondence.
  • West Sussex Record Office, Petworth House archives, Somerset papers
Court offices
Preceded by
The Duchess of Marlborough
Mistress of the Robes to
Queen Anne

1711–1714
Succeeded by
Preceded by
The Duchess of Marlborough
Mistress of the Robes to the Queen
1711–1714
Succeeded by
The Duchess of Dorset