Elizabeth Hervey, Countess of Bristol

Elizabeth Felton was born on December 18, 1676 the only daughter of Betty and Sir Thomas Felton. One cannot help but wonder what Elizabeth Felton’s childhood was like. She was probably well provided for – never short of a new gown or two – but with a mother like Betty Felton, lewd and pocky, according to a popular 17th century verse – well, what an example to set a young girl.

Lady Elizabeth Hervey, Countess of Bristol

Lady Elizabeth Hervey, Countess of Bristol

The eighteen year old heiress married John Hervey, 1st Earl of Bristol, at Boxted Church, Suffolk on July 25, 1695, becoming his second wife. Whig MP for Bury St Edmunds from 1694 – 1703, John Hervey was a lover of bloodstock breeding and horse matches and his Suffolk home was suitably close to that hub of horse racing, Newmarket. Yet, despite their incompatibility – she like town, he liked country – theirs was a devoted marriage.

John Hervey, 1st Earl of Bristol

John Hervey, 1st Earl of Bristol

When he was away from home they sent each other love letters by each post. He addresses Elizabeth as ‘My ever new Delight’ while she calls him ‘My dear dear life.’ In a letter dated December 30, 1696 she adds a PS ‘The children are all well. I beg your pardon for forgetting them last time; but you’ll forgive it when I tell you the thoughts of you would leave no room for anything else.’

Lady Elizabeth Hervey, Countess of Bristol

Lady Elizabeth Hervey, Countess of Bristol

The children were John’s family by his first wife Isabella, a son Carr and two daughters Catherine and Isabella. Elizabeth’s first child, John was born in the first year of her marriage and like most high born 18th century women, Elizabeth was pretty much permanently pregnant for the next 18 years  She would have a further 16 children plus a set of triplets born in 1701 that did not survive and a still born son in 1704. In 1699 she had two babies within 12 months – Thomas was born on January 20 and William on December 25. James Porter Hervey died in 1706 barely two months old. Humphrey Hervey born in 1708 died young and Felton born in 1710 died at 13 days old while James was just 14 months old when he died in 1714.

(c) National Trust, Ickworth; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Lady Elizabeth Hervey, Countess of Bristol with her twins, Charles and Henrietta

Her six daughters fared slightly better, although Henrietta died aged nine years old and her same named sister at sixteen. Barbara was 27 when she died and eldest daughter Elizabeth made it to 29. Louisa, wife of Sir Robert Smyth, was 55 when she died and Anne made it to her 64th birthday.

Lady Barbara Hervey, named after her maternal grandmother

Lady Barbara Hervey, named after her maternal grandmother

In 1718 aged 42, her child bearing years over, Elizabeth was one of six Ladies of the Bedchamber appointed to Princess Caroline of Ansbach who later became the Queen Consort of George II. Elizabeth continued in this role until the Queen’s death in 1737.

Elizabeth’s six page will, written in December 1740, contains considerable detail concerning her home in Bury St Edmunds. She leaves the house and all the plate, goods, pictures, china and furniture for the use of her husband and following his death, to their youngest son Felton.

At the time she wrote her will, Elizabeth had outlived ten of her children. Her eldest son was to act as trustee for her property and she leaves him  ‘my cabinet chest large screen and small screen being white Japan of my own work in confidence that he will preserve them for my sake.’

To her unmarried daughter Lady Ann she leaves ‘my gilt Etoilet and all the furniture and things thereunto belong and also ‘that Snuff Box with her father’s picture in it.’

Lady Ann Hervey as a child

Lady Ann Hervey as a child

To her other surviving daughter Lady Louisa Caroline Isabella Smyth she leaves ‘my Ring with my Lord’s picture and another Ring set with the late Queen’s hair as also the said Queen’s picture now in my house at Bury.’

She leaves a large emerald ring to her husband which she asks that he wear ‘for my sake’ and the rest of her jewellery and Rings she leaves ‘unto my Trustees and Executors to sell and dispose of.’

She leaves instructions that her granddaughter Elizabeth Hervey, eldest daughter of her son Henry, should be placed under the care and supervision of Sir John and she bequeaths her £1,000 when she attains the age of 21 years, or when she gets married.

One last bequest, Elizabeth wants her maiden name of Felton to be added to the names of her sons and grandsons in remembrance of her family.

Elizabeth died on May 1, 1741 being seized with a fit as she was in St James’ Park in her sedan chair. She was buried in the Hervey family vault at St Mary’s Church, Ickworth, Suffolk.

Barbara St John, wife of Sir Edward Villiers

Barbara St John, wife of Sir Edward Villiers

And for those readers wondering how Elizabeth Hervey, Countess of Bristol is connected to the St John family at Lydiard House – her maternal grandmother was Barbara Villiers, the daughter of Sir Edward Villiers and Barbara St John.

Lady Mary Villiers

Sometimes it seems as if the 17th century St John family is related to just about everyone of any note …or otherwise, actually!

For example, Lady Mary Villiers’s father was murdered by a relative of the husband of her first cousin once removed. Now how’s that for a coincidence.

NPG 711; The Duke of Buckingham and his Family after Gerrit van Honthorst

The Duke of Buckingham and his Family

Lady Mary Villiers was the eldest child and only daughter of George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham and his wife Catherine Manners. George was one of those characters one either loved or loathed. James VI Scotland and I England obviously loved him – a lot. In her latest BBC 2 series Fit to Rule: How Royal Illness Changed History, Dr Lucy Worlsey looks at letters from the King to his favourite and reveals the complex relationship between the two men. Good looking, charming George played the role of lover, father, son, best friend, slave and dog, but perhaps we won’t delve into the ‘dog’ role too deeply.

George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham

George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham

After the King’s death in 1625 Charles I kept George close to him, as friend and advisor, much to the exasperation of Charles’s ministers and his Queen. George definitely got in the way of not only the king’s parliamentary progress but procreation with his Queen as well.

When Lieutenant John Felton polished him off there were a lot of people who were none too sorry. Especially Queen Henrietta Maria who produced a son Charles James nine months later. But Charles did mourn his friend and took George’s three young children into his protection, raising them alongside his own family.

Lady Mary Villiers

Lady Mary Villiers

Consequently young Lady Mary became a desirable proposition in the marriage stakes. And in January 1634/5 she was wed to Charles, Lord Herbert of Shurland, the son of another of James’s favourites. Lady Mary was twelve years old and her groom fifteen. She appears with her husband to be and his family in a painting by Anthony van Dyck. However, the marriage was a brief one as young Charles contracted smallpox while on military service in Italy and died a year after the wedding.

Lady Mary Villiers 2

Lady Mary – posing as St Agnes

On August 3, 1637 Lady Mary married for a second time. Her new husband was a royal cousin, James Stuart 4th Duke of Lennox, and a marriage much favoured by Charles I who gave the bride away at the ceremony held in the Archbishop’s Chapel at Lambeth Palace.

Lady Mary’s second marriage lasted 18 years and produced two children, a son Esme born in 1649 and a daughter Mary born in 1651.


Lady Mary and her two children

James Stuart, Duke of Lennox and Duke of Richmond, died in 1655, impoverished by his long and faithful service to Charles I, £65,000 poorer and ostracized by the reigning Parliamentarians.

In 1668 Lady Mary married for the last time. Her third husband was Colonel the Hon Thomas Howard, Lieutenant of the Yeoman of the Guard, whom she outlived by seven years.


Lady Mary Villiers, Duchess of Richmond and Lennox

So was Lady Mary ever anything more than a very marriageable proposition?

Now we already know that the Villiers clan were pretty broadminded, and with a father like George it seems inevitable that Mary and her brothers would be pretty uninhibited.

Described as a ‘bisexual adventuress’ Lady Mary has been identified as Ephelia, an anonymous 17th century poet, whose work contained lesbian and bisexual references. And they say she liked to share a tipple with that legendary St John drinker John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester. And she may have had a fling with the king’s handsome nephew Prince Rupert – oh, and she liked to wear men’s clothing and she enjoyed various ‘manly’ sports such as shooting and fencing. So she was quite a gal!

Lady Mary died in November 1685 and was buried in Westminster Abbey close to her father George and her aunt Barbara.

So how was she and her father’s murderer related to the St John family? Right – are you sure you’re ready for this?

Copyright Lydiard House / Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Barbara St John – wife of Sir Edward Villiers

Lady Mary’s father George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, had an elder half brother Sir Edward Villiers. Sir Edward married Barbara St John, the daughter of Sir John St John and Lucy Hungerford, who appear on the St John polypytch in St Mary’s Chruch Lydiard Tregoze. Their granddaughter Elizabeth Howard married Sir Thomas Felton, 4th Baronet of Playford Hall, Suffolk.

Now George was murdered by Lieutenant John Felton. Felton had taken part in Buckingham’s unsuccessful expeditions in Cadiz 1625 and the Isle of Rhe 1627. Overlooked for promotion and out of pocket, Felton harboured a grudge against Buckingham and decided it was his duty to rid the country of this menace. He bought a dagger for tenpence and walked to Portsmouth where Buckingham was preparing for an expedition to Rochelle. He gained entrance to Buckingham’s house and on August 23, 1628 stabbed him over the heart, killing him pretty much instantly. Felton was later hanged at Tyburn. John Felton was a member of the junior branch of the Playford Hall Feltons.

Ta – da *takes a step forward with arms outstretched.* Now please don’t ask me to go through all that again.