Philobiblon: A victim?

Monday, October 25, 2004

A victim?

I'm always keen to find examples of women making a success of their lives, rather than looking for victims, but I was taken today with the fate of Mary Feilding/Hamilton, who was in the court of Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I.

Mary was married off in 1620 at the age of seven to the 14-year-old Hamilton. The marriage, however, was not binding until consummated, and six years later he (commendably it would seem) fled to Scotland rather than be forced to have sex with his still extremely young bride, her father having taken her to him for that purpose.

She, and her husband, however, were at the mercy of greater forces, and King Charles, by a mixture of threats and blandishments, eventually forced him back to London, and, on the night of his return, into the bed of his wife 13/14-year-old wife. He pleaded exhaustion and lack of clean linen in the cause of a brief postponement, "Whereupon his Majestie commanded his owne Barber to attend him with a shirt, wastcoat & nightcap of his majesties, & would not be satisfyed till he had seene them both in bed together."

About 10 years later, at the age of 24 or 25, Mary died of consumption, after being at the centre of an unseemingly and, for the dying woman surely hugely traumatic, struggle over her soul.

"The indefatigable Olive Porter ... who was largely responsible for several of the actual of attempted conversions to Roman Catholicism for which Montagu almost found himself sent into exile again, urged proselytising literature on Lady Hamilton; her father, the Protestant Earl of Denbigh, countered by summoning the Bishop of Carlisle. George Con, the Papal agent visited her daily during the autumn of 1637, presumably with the support of her Catholic mother. Both sides threatened her .... with the loss of her immortal soul." (p. 179)

Neither, however, was able to proclaim success, so perhaps Mary was a strong-minded character despite, or perhaps because of, her experiences. The court thought her "gentle and virtuous"; unfortunately it would seem none of her own account of her life survives.

This from Sarah Poynting, "In the name of all the sisters": Henrietta Maria's notorious whores" in Women and Culture at the Courts of the Stuart Queens, ed. Clare McManus. London: Palgrave (2003), pp. 163-85.

Found while researching this, a surprisingly good bibliography of the relevant royalty.


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