Some right royal St John connections

If you’ve ever wondered just how many royal connections the St John family has, I can tell you the answer – loads!

But what is so exciting and worth shouting out about is that there is a direct line of descent from the Lydiard Park St John family to Queen Elizabeth II and the three heirs to the throne, Charles, Prince of Wales; William, Duke of Cambridge and baby Prince George.

William, Duke of Cambridge and Prince George.

William, Duke of Cambridge and Prince George.

And this is how …

Cecilia Nina Cavendish Bentinck was born on September 11, 1862 the eldest daughter of the Rev Charles William Frederick Cavendish Bentinck and his second wife Caroline Louisa Burnaby. The Rev Charles, a grandson of former Prime Minister William Henry Cavendish Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland, was Vicar at Ridgmont in Bedfordshire, today a small village close to Junction 13 of the M1.

Cecilia Nina Cavendish Bentinck

Cecilia Nina Cavendish Bentinck

Twin daughters Ann Violet and Hyacinth were born to the couple in 1864 but the following year the girls’ father died, aged just 47.

The widowed Caroline married Harry Warren Scott in 1870 at St George’s, Hanover Square and the three sisters grew up at Forbes House in Ham and at their parents London residence, 45 Grosvenor Place.

Cecilia married Claude George Bowes-Lyon, Lord Glamis at St Peter & All Saints Church, Petersham on July 16, 1881. Claude, a Lieutenant in the 2nd Life Guards, was 26, Cecilia was 18 years old.


Their first child, a daughter named Violet Hyacinth after Cecilia’s twin sisters, was born at their London home on April 17, 1882; the couple had another nine children. Four of Cecilia’s sons fought in the Great War, her fourth son Fergus, was killed in action during the Battle of the Hohenzollern Redoubt in the Battle of Loos on September 26, 1915.

But it would be their youngest daughter, Elizabeth Angela Marguerite who became known world wide and who remained in the affection of the British people for more than 79 years.

In 1904 Cecilia’s husband inherited the title 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne and she became chatelaine of three grand houses, Glamis Castle, St Paul’s Walden Bury and Streatlam Castle in County Durham.

A keen gardener Cecilia designed the Italinate gardens at Glamis. Described as deeply religious and a very private person, Cecilia preferred a quiet life, something that came under threat when her youngest daughter Elizabeth married Prince Albert, Duke of York in 1923 and became Queen Consort in 1936.

26th April 1923:  King George V of Great Britain (right) and Queen Mary on the wedding day of their son George, later King George VI, to Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (1900 - 2002). With them are the Earl and Countess of Strathmore (left)

26th April 1923: King George V of Great Britain (right) and Queen Mary on the wedding day of their son George, later King George VI, to Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (1900 – 2002). With them are the Earl and Countess of Strathmore (left)

In April 1938 Cecilia suffered a heart attack during the wedding of her granddaughter, Anne Bowes Lyon to Thomas, Viscount Anson. She died 8 weeks later on June 23 at 38 Cumberland Mansion, London W1. Her body was buried at Glamis Castle on June 27.

So what does all this mean for the St John family spotter?

Cecilia traces her family back through the Cavendish Bentinck family to the 1st Earl of Portland, Hans William Bentinck, friend, diplomat and advisor to William III, who married Anne Villiers. Anne was the granddaughter of Sir Edward Villiers and his wife Barbara St John, who grew up at Lydiard House. Barbara’s portrait hangs in the State Bedroom in Lydiard House and she appears on the magnificent St John polyptych in St Mary’s Church.

Barbara St John, wife of Sir Edward Villiers

Barbara St John, wife of Sir Edward Villiers

So, to be precise, Barbara St John is the 10x great grandmother of William, Duke of Cambridge. Come on Swindon, let’s shout it out!

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.

Lady Mary Bentinck – Countess of Essex

The Villiers family exploded onto the Royal scene in 1614 when George, later Duke of Buckingham, caught the roving eye of James I and it remained there for more than a hundred years.  Never straying too far from the Royal bedchamber, this post about Lady Mary Bentinck begins a short series on those members of the family descended from Sir Edward and his wife Barbara St. John.

Anne Hyde, Duchess of York commissioned the Restoration court’s favourite artist, Peter Lely, to paint a series of portraits which became known as the Windsor Beauties.  Thirty years later her daughter Queen Mary II would engage Godfrey Kneller to do the same.  Kneller’s portraits were painted specifically for Hampton Court Palace where last summer they were central to the hugely successful exhibition The Wild, the Beautiful and the Damned.

Barbara Castlemaine

Peter Lely painted several portraits of the notorious Barbara, Countess of Castlemaine, Charles II’s most feisty and interfering mistress and mother of five of his illegitimate children.  In 1694 Kneller painted Barbara’s kinswoman Lady Mary Bentinck. First cousins once removed, the two women traced their ancestry back to Sir Edward Villiers and his wife Barbara St John who spent her childhood at Lydiard Park in Wiltshire.

Lady Mary Bentinck

The Villiers Royal connections were close as the family rose to prominence on the coat tails of George Villiers, favourite of King James I.

Mary’s grandfather Sir Edward Villiers fought on the Royalist side during the English Civil War and was wounded at the first Battle of Newbury in 1643.  He was implicated in a plot to assist the escape of the Duke of York, and fled aboard where he continued to work for the Royalist cause as a member of the Sealed Knot, a secret organisation to bring about the Restoration of the monarchy, operational during the Commonwealth period.

His wife Lady Frances Howard meanwhile secured places at court for four of her daughters, Anne, Elizabeth, Barbara and Katherine who were appointed as Ladies of the Bedchamber to the young Princesses Mary and Anne.  Anne, Elizabeth and Katherine Villiers accompanied Mary to The Hague following her marriage to Prince William of Orange and it was here that Anne married William’s close confidante Hans Willem Bentinck.

When William and Mary became joint monarchs following the Glorious Revolution young Lady Mary Bentinck came with them as one of the new Queen’s ladies in waiting.  It was therefore fitting that Mary should number among Kneller’s Hampton Court Beauties.

Algernon Capel, 2nd Earl of Essex

In 1698 Mary married the equally beautiful Algernon Capell, 2nd Earl of Essex pictured here as a boy. Algernon inherited the title 2nd Earl of Essex aged just 13.  His father Arthur Capel had been implicated in the Rye House Plot to assassinate Charles II and his Catholic brother James Duke of York and secure the succession of Protestant James, Duke of Monmouth, the eldest of Charles’s illegitimate sons.

Arrested at the family seat Cassiobury Park on July 9, Arthur was taken to the Tower of London where four days later he was discovered in his chamber with his throat cut.  Although it was widely believed he had been murdered, the coroner’s verdict was suicide, his motive to prevent an attainder and to preserve his estate for his family.

Algernon joined Mary at Court where he held the office of Gentleman of the Bedchamber to William. He served as Colonel and Lieutenant General in the 4th Dragoons, was Constable of the Tower of London and Lord Lieutenant of Hertfordshire and in 1708 a Privy Councillor.  He also entered into the spirit of the age and was described as ‘the lewdest young man in town,’ no mean feat considering the competition.  He was a member of the Kit-Cat Club, a gentleman’s club patronised by the movers and shakers of the 18th century with a Whig allegiance.  Famous for the members appreciation of beautiful women, Lady Mary had her very own Kit-Cat toast.

To Essex fill the Sprightly Wine

The healths immortal and Divine

Let purest Odours Scent the Air

And Wreaths of Roses bind her hair

On her Chaste lips these blushing lie

And those her gentle sighs supply

Algernon died in 1710 and in 1714 Mary married the Rt Hon Sir Conyers Darcy.  Mary died in 1726 aged 47 years old.  She led a full and busy life and her memory lives on – in the words of the Kit-Cat toast and in the evocative Kneller portrait.