2012 in review

I’d like to say a huge thank you to my readers for their support during Good Gentlewoman’s first year.  Actually, this blog isn’t officially a year old yet, just nine months in fact, but has already passed the 20,000 page view mark.

In 2012 there were 63 new posts – and 354 pictures uploaded, that’s about seven per week. The busiest day of the year was August 20, when the conundrum of Lady Dorothy Carey’s portrait received top viewing.

Lady Dorothy Carey

Lady Dorothy Carey

Top Good Gentlewoman of all time is Elizabeth Bourchier, the long suffering wife of Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell, who during her lifetime received an inordinate amount of bad press.  But not so on the pages of GG where she has received more than 1,500 page views.

Elizabeth Bourchier, Mrs Oliver Cromwell

Elizabeth Bourchier, Mrs Oliver Cromwell

In second place is poor Frances Winchcombe, the first wife of attainted politician Henry St John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke.  Read about her lonely life and Henry’s cruel comments when she died in 1718.

Frances Winchcombe

Frances Winchcombe

Also up there in the top ten posts is greedy Barbara Villiers, Countess of Castlemaine, mistress of Charles II about whom Barbara’s cousin John Wilmot, Lord Rochester wrote – ‘God bless our good and gracious king, whose promise non relies on; who never said a foolish thing, nor ever did a wise one.’

Barbara Villiers - Countess of Castlemaine

Barbara Villiers – Countess of Castlemaine

Do I have a favourite Good Gentlewoman? Well resourceful Mary Anne Ruthven has to be one of them – the wife of Bow Street detective and government spy, George Ruthven, she is my great-great-great grandmother.

2013 is all set to be a pretty spectacular year and I have some fascinating ladies waiting in the wings for you to meet. Thank you for your support and I look forward to meeting new readers.


Lady Margaret Beaufort – The King’s Mother


In her novel The Red Queen Philippa Gregory tells the story of a girl sacrificed by her single minded mother to the machinations of a warring royal family.  Married at 12 to a man twice her age, she endures permanent damage to her body during childbirth just a year later.

Heiress to the red rose of Lancaster, Margaret Beaufort is a strikingly pious child, the blurb on the book tells us. Saints’ knees her stigmata, she has a fierce and unwavering sense of destiny.  If not a nun, then she’ll be Queen of England and sign her name Margaret Regina: Margaret R.

Believed to be Lady Margaret Beaufort by an unknown artist

Believed to be Lady Margaret Beaufort by an unknown artist

So how does historical fiction stand up to the facts?

Margaret Beaufort was born on May 31, 1443, the daughter of Margaret Beauchamp and her second husband John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset. John Beaufort was at the centre of a complicated royal family. His father, another John Beaufort, was the illegitimate son of John of Gaunt and his mistress Katherine Swynford whom he later married.  The children were legitimised, which resulted in an awful lot of contenders for the throne.

John of Gaunt was a younger son of Edward III.  His eldest brother and heir to the throne Edward ‘The Black Prince’ predeceased the king their father and was in turn succeeded by his son Richard II. However Richard II  was deposed in 1399 by John of Gaunt’s son Henry IV.

Lady Margaret was most probably born at the Beaufort home of Kingston Lacy near Wimborne Minster although she spent her childhood at her mother’s Bletso home with her St John half siblings. Her father died soon after her birth, some sources say by his own hand, and her cousin Henry VI granted her wardship to William de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk and steward of the royal household. Aged just six she was married to the Earl’s seven year old son, although allowed to remain with her mother on the Bletso estate.

Following the death of Henry V in 1422 the tussle for the throne began. Add to this the rise of the Welsh Tudors when Henry V’s widow Catherine married Owen ap Meredith Tudor, throwing two more sons, Edmund and Jasper, into the monarchical mix.

Lady Margaret Beauchamp published courtesy of Duncan and Mandy Ball

Lady Margaret Beauchamp published courtesy of Duncan and Mandy Ball

In 1453 Margaret and her mother were summoned to the Court in London where Henry VI revoked the de Pole’s wardship, turning it over to his own half brothers Jasper and Edmund Tudor.  With the young girl’s marriage to John de Pole dissolved the scene was set for her to take centre stage.

From 1455 to 1485 the Houses of Lancaster and York slugged it out in the War of the Roses and as the civil war ebbed and flowed it is easy to see how important young Margaret was to prove.

Her reappearance on the marriage market in 1455 saw her quickly snapped up by none other than her guardian, Edmund Tudor, who at 24 was twice her age.

Margaret Beauchamp obviously played a key role in brokering her Beaufort daughter’s second marriage and Ms Gregory paints the picture of a hard, unfeeling mother.

When the 13 year old Margaret suffers agonising child birth she hears her governess speak to the midwives.

‘Your orders are to save the baby if you have to choose. Especially if it is a boy.’ ‘That’s the right thing to do,’ Nan agrees. ‘But seems hard on the little maid’ …’It is her mother’s order,’ my lady governess says, and at once I don’t want to shout at them any more.’

An astute business woman who drove a hard bargain and provided well for her St John off spring, it remains unknown whether Margaret Beauchamp was in fact this cold and callous.

Lady Margaret Beaufort

Lady Margaret Beaufort

Edmund Tudor died of plague and didn’t live to see his son Henry Tudor born.  The teenage widow and her baby son lived with her Tudor relatives in Wales, but the child was soon made the ward of William, Lord Herbert with whom he lived until he was twelve years old.  When Edward IV regained the throne in 1471 Henry fled to Brittany where he spent the next 14 years. For more than twenty years Margaret spent little time with the son she adored and whose right to the throne she campaigned for so fervently.

Margaret would marry twice more, not easy for a deeply pious woman, physically damaged by childbirth.  Her second husband was Sir Henry Stafford, her third marriage to Thomas, Lord Stanley took place in 1472.

Henry VII

Henry VII

Henry Tudor returned to England in August 1485 where he defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field and was proclaimed King of England by right of conquest.  His marriage to Elizabeth of York eldest daughter of Edward IV united the two royal households and secured the Tudor throne for more than one hundred years.

As the King’s Mother, Margaret enjoyed status, influence and independence.  Eminent Tudor historian Dr David Starkey describes her as the most powerful woman in England of her day.

Lady Margaret Beaufort depicted in a stained glass window in St Botolph's Church, Boston.

Lady Margaret Beaufort depicted in a stained glass window in St Botolph’s Church, Boston.

A sponsor of printer William Caxton, she translated and published the Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis along with other devotional works. Founder of Christs’s and St John’s Colleges at Cambridge she endowed the Lady Margaret professorships of Divinity at both Oxford and Cambridge University.  In 1499 Margaret took a vow of chastity before Archbishop Fisher and lived out the last years of her life as she had always wanted, devoted to prayer and study.

Margaret died aged 66 on June 29, 1509, just two months after her son.  She is buried in the Henry VII Lady Chapel in Westminster Abbey.

Lady Margaret's tomb in Westminster Abbey

Lady Margaret’s tomb in Westminster Abbey

Philippa Gregory ends her novel with Henry’s victory at Bosworth Field.

They bring the news to me where I am praying, on my knees, in my chapel.  I hear the bang of the door and the footsteps on the stone floor, but I don’t turn my head.  I open my eyes and keep them fixed on the statue of the crucified Christ and I wonder if I am about to enter my own agony. ‘What is the news?’ I ask.

Christ looks down at me, I look up at Him. ‘Give me good news,’ I say as much to Him as to the lady who stands behind me.

‘Your son has won a great battle,’ my lady in waiting says tremulously. ‘He is King of England, acclaimed on the battlefield.’

I gasp for breath. ‘And Richard the usurper?’


I meet the eyes of Christ the Lord and I all but wink at Him.  ‘Thanks be to God,’ I say, as if to nod at a fellow plotter. He has done His part.  Now I will do mine.  I rise to my feet and she holds out a letter to me, a scrap of paper, from Jasper.

‘Our boy has won his throne, we can enter our kingdom. We will come to you at once.’

I read it again.  I have the strange sensation that I have won my heart’s desire and that from this date everything will be different.  Everything will be commanded by me.

The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory

Julia, Countess of Jersey

According to librettist W.S. Gilbert – ‘When constabulary duty’s to be done, a policeman’s lot is not a happy one.’ The same cannot be said for Sir Robert Peel, founder of the Metropolitan Police Force, and his family, whose lot seems to have been pretty jolly, by and large.

Julia, Lady Peel painted by Lawrence in 1827

Julia, Lady Peel painted by Lawrence in 1827

The Peel’s London residence was No 4 Privy Gardens, a property adjoining Whitehall Palace, boasting a large bow window and a fine gallery of paintings by old masters, and the best collection of modern portraits by Sir Thomas Lawrence, including one of Lady Peel.

Julia Peel as a child

Julia Peel as a child

The couple’s eldest daughter Julia was born at the Peel’s Drayton Manor estate in Staffordshire in 1821, shortly before Sir Robert became Home Secretary in 1822, establishing the Metropolitan Police Force in 1829.  Sir Robert held the office of both Chancellor of the Exchequer and Prime Minister in 1834 – 1835, and served again as Prime Minister in 1841 – 1846.

On July 12, 1841 Julia married Tory politician George Augustus Frederick Child Villers, who served as MP for Rochester, Minehead, Honiton, Weymouth & Melcome Regis and Cirencester during a career spanning more than twenty years.  George’s ancestry can be traced back to that dynastic coupling of Sir Edward Villiers, half brother to Royal favourite  the 1st Duke of Buckingham, and Barbara St John who grew up at Lydiard House in Wiltshire.

Julia, Lady Jersey

Julia, Lady Jersey

Julia and George divided their time between their country home at Middleton Stoney, Oxfordshire and their London address.  Following 18 years of marriage and six children, George, who was suffering from consumption, died suddenly at their London home on October 24, 1859, just three weeks after succeeding to the title and estates of the earldom of Jersey.  The couple’s fifteen year old son Victor unexpectedly became the 7th Earl of Jersey.

Julia appears to have been in no hurry to remarry and when she did so it was to Charles Brandling, a man some 12 years her junior.  The wedding took place at St Paul’s Church, Knightsbridge on September 12, 1865 ‘in the presence of a large circle of relations and friends,’ according to The Standard.

The ceremony was followed by a ‘sumptuous dejeuner’ at the home of Julia’s sister Eliza Stonor.  Invitations were restricted to immediate family members and a few intimate friends with a guest list straight out of Burke’s peerage – the duke and Duchess of Wellington, the Countess of fife and Lady Anne Duff, the Earl and Countess of Clarendon and a selection of honourable Villiers’s and various Peels.

Charles Brandling lived on his interest of money, according to the census returns and appears to have little to recommend him.  In her book ‘Fifty one years of Victorian Life’ Julia’s daughter in law Margaret Leigh writes: ‘My mother-in-law and her second husband, Mr. Brandling, were among our frequent visitors.  Mr Brandling had a long beard and a loud voice, and a way of flinging open the doors into the dining-room when he came in in the morning which was distinctly startling.  Apart from these peculiarities he did not leave much mark in the world. He was very fond of reading, and I used to suggest to him that he might occupy himself in reviewing books, but I do not think that he had much power of concentration.  My mother-in-law was tactful with him, but he had a decided temper, especially when he played whist.  As I did not play, this did not affect me.’

Margaret Elizabeth Leigh, Julia's daughter-in-law

Margaret Elizabeth Leigh, Julia’s daughter-in-law

Julia contracted a chill whilst on holiday in Switzerland and died suddenly on August 14, 1893 at the Villa Lammermoor, Petit Saconnes, Geneva. Her body was returned to England where she was buried in the family vault at Middleton Stoney.

In an effusive obituary published in the Morning Post, Lady Jersey was described as ‘a type of those fast disappearing ladies who directly connect us with the fine manners and pleasant ways of the earlier part of the century… The passage of years left little trace upon her lively and impulsive character; but as they rolled by so amiable and sincere a heart was sure to gather, as it did, troops of friends in the best sense of the word.  She will be widely and sincerely mourned.’

Jane Eyre

Frederick St John’s wife may have had a novel name and like that other Jane Eyre she too stood by her man through good times and bad.

The Bronte sisters

The Bronte sisters

Jane Margaret Eyre married Frederick Charles St John, a Lieutenant in the 30th Regiment of Madras Native Infantry on June 17, 1860 at Ramandroog near Bellary, Madras.  Jane, the daughter of Edmund Walter Eyre, Deputy Inspector of Hospitals in the Madras Army, was born on October 6, 1832 in Secunderbad and so was no stranger to India.

The couple’s first child was born in Bellary the month before their first wedding anniversary. It seems likely Jane spent most of the following eight years in India with her husband, where five of a further six children were born.

Frederick was the great grandson of racehorse loving Frederick, 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke who ended his days ‘out of his mind’ at Lydiard Park.  His great grandmother was the artist Lady Diana Spencer, an ancestor of the late Diana, Princess of Wales.

Lady Diana

Lady Diana

Frederick Charles St John spent a long career in the Indian Army, gaining the rank of Colonel in the Indian Staff Corps. In July 1879 he wrote a letter to his friend John Hancock from his mud hut in Camp Vitakei during the middle of the Second Anglo Afghan War.

His long letter provides many details of the campaign and the area in which he was camped.  He describes Beloochistan, a region located in the Iranian Plateau between Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan, as ‘a wild wretched country perfectly bare not a tree to be seen in some of the plains a little scrub and grass. the hills as bare as can be rocks and stones – Afganistan is the same.’



As the son of naturalist and sportsman Charles William George St John is is not surprising he makes a reference to the wildlife he sees around him. ‘ – birds are few as you may suppose.  Partridge, the grand black, which is a splendid bird, the chookoor a beautiful bird, the little see see here and the common grey – sand grouse I’ve come across, of another kind to what we have in south.  The English Mallard is up here and in the Punjab Teal and ducks as usual.’  Although sometimes it seems Frederick was more interested in bagging a few with his gun than simply admiring their plumage.

He writes about the wolves that creep into the camp after dark and of fishing in a nearby stream catching up to 10 lbs of fish with just a stick, string and hook.

Frederick St John 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke

Frederick St John 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke

But like his great grandfather and so many other St Johns, Frederick struggles to live within his means. He writes: ‘.. my folly of getting into debt as I did, god knows it has been a fearful lesson to me, as here I am as much in debt as ever, as all I can pay off will not keep the interest down even, as the money lenders charge so much – but I must not go off on this subject, as it only upsets me and can be of no interest to others, but oh to be clear of debt, what a relief. I don’t know how I bear it, and much dread what will happen on my return to when they can get hold of me.’

During this period Jane is back in England living at 13 Kensington Place, Bath.  Frederick was busy making plans for her and he adds ‘I want to have my poor wife and 3 of the girls out in Octr it will save so much exchange and she has had to lead a hard life 7 children in lodgings and no servant and not enough to live on.’  

Sadly there is no record of how Jane coped with her difficult life in Bath but by 1881 she had returned to India where her eldest daughter Anne married John North in Trichinopoly. And on Feb 4, 1885 second daughter Emily married Hugh Thornton, also in Trichinopoly.


The market place at Trichinopoly pictured c1800

The couple eventually came home to England where Jane died in 1899 and Frederick the following year.