If you’ve ever been embarrassed by a spot of dad dancing or a dodgy jumper and slacks combo, spare a thought for Malet Wilmot, youngest daughter of John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester.
Malet’s dad was probably the most outrageous member of Charles II’s Restoration court, and that in itself is quite an accolade. He produced some of the rudest poetry and plays ever written and led a life of debauchery, dying at the age of 33 probably from syphilis or maybe alcoholism.
In 1665 he attempted an abduction of the wealthy heiress Elizabeth Malet, after which he spent three weeks on the naughty step in the Tower of London. But perhaps it was all just a playful escapade as the lady married him some two years later anyway.
Malet, the youngest of their four children, was born in 1675. Her father succumbed to his excessive lifestyle in 1680 when she was barely five years old and her mother died less than a year later, so little Malet probably had scant memory of either of her parents.
The orphaned children then came under the guardianship of their formidable, puritanical grandmother, the Dowager Countess of Rochester, the former Anne St John. It must have all come as a bit of a shock!
Yet despite her notorious father, or perhaps because of him, Malet was a very desirable prospect in the marriage stakes. Her brother Charles had died aged just 10, leaving his three sisters as co-heiresses of the Rochester family fortunes.
Malet was married off at the age of 17 to wealthy Welsh landowner John Vaughan. The marriage took place at St Giles’ in the Fields on August 18, 1692. Consent was given by Malet’s meddling grandmother, the Dowager Countess of Rochester who had recently moved from her Oxfordshire home to a property in St Anne’s, Soho.
The couple had six children – three sons and three daughters – all of whom were christened at Trawsgoed, a vast estate extending across 22 parishes in Cardiganshire, complete with panoramic views of the Cambrian mountains and the remains of a Roman fort, held by the Vaughan family since 1200.
John Vaughan served as MP for Cardiganshire 1694-1698 and was created baron Fethers and Viscount Lisburne by William III on June 25, 1695.
In 1720 Lord Lisburne sold the manor of Sutton Mallet in Somerset, an estate that had been held by his deceased wife’s Malet family for as long as Trawsgoed had been owned by his own. The property was bought by the disreputable Robert Knight, cashier of the doomed South Sea Company. His son, Robert Knight, Lord Luxborough, bought the manor following the enforced sale of his father’s estate. For readers keeping track of St John family doings – Robert Knight, Lord Luxborough, was the husband of Henrietta St John. Malet and Henrietta shared a common ancestry and were the great grandchildren of John St John, 1st Baronet, and Anne Leighton and were, therefore second cousins.
Malet died in 1716 aged 40ish. Did she have a problem with her Papa’s past? Apparently not as she appears to have kept up a correspondence with Elizabeth Barry, one of her father’s mistresses and mother of his natural daughter Elizabeth Clerke. The former actress wrote letters to Malet full of local news and gossip. Well who would have thought?
And for the Royal watchers among you – Lady Malet Wilmot is the 8x great grandmother of William, Duke of Cambridge.