Henrietta Howard (1689-1767) was born wealthy into the gentry, into the Hobart family which boasted a line of distinguished lawyers and politicians. However, her early life was not easy.
In 1698, when Henrietta was about eight years old, her irascible father incited a duel, in which he was killed. This event plunged the family ~ Henrietta, her brother and two sisters into straightened circumstances. When her mother died four years later, Henrietta was left an orphan at the aged of twelve.
However, in those days, children of genteel families were made wards of court of other families who had the means and the station to help them make “good” marriages. And so Henrietta became a ward of Henry Howard, 5th Duke of Suffolk (1627-1709), eventually marrying Henry’s youngest son Charles, 9th Duke of Suffolk (1685-1733) in 1706, when she was around sixteen years old. The couple had only one child, a son Henry, 10th Duke of Suffolk (1710-1745.)
If Henrietta hoped that by making a dynastic marriage with the Howard family, she would be set for life, she was to be bitterly disappointed. Charles Howard was a compulsive gambler and an alcoholic. He managed to gamble away his wife’s dowry so that within a few years they were reduced to penury. And when drunk, he was vicious. He beat his wife so badly, that Henrietta became deaf at an early age.
But Henrietta had spirit, and was determined to escape her brutal marriage. She persuaded her husband to travel to Hanover to acquaint themselves with the Elector of Hanover (1660-1627) and his family, as Elector George was the Heir Presumptive of the Throne of England, becoming George I in 1714 on the death of Queen Anne. While there, Henrietta made friends with George’s son, also called George (1683-1760) and his highly intelligent wife Caroline (1683-1737.) This proved to be a stroke of genius on Henrietta’s part, for she proved to be so agreeable ~ listening with polite and apparently fascinated attention while George rambled on about various military campaigns ~ that he made her his mistress. While Caroline was not thrilled about this, nevertheless she liked Henrietta, who was famous for being discreet.
All of this meant that by the 1720s, Henrietta was gradually able to free herself from her marriage. George (now the Prince of Wales) gave her a generous income, and Caroline gave her a place at court. And so Henrietta began secretly planning a country house for herself, now known as Marble Hill, located in what was the pleasant Surrey countryside near Twickenham.
Matters were greatly improved when George and Caroline became King and Queen of England in 1727, and the King increased her income. IN 1731, Charles succeeded his brother as Earl of Sussex and Henrietta was elevated to Mistress of the Robes. In that same year, Finally, Henrietta finally persuaded her husband to draw up a formal deed of separation, which ended their toxic marriage of twenty-five years. The cost was that Henrietta was never allowed to see her son again.
In 1733, must to Henrietta’s relief, her husband died and she was at last free. The first thing she did was call in the architects to make a dream a reality, and the building of Marble Hill House began. After two years of “mourning” her husband, Henrietta finally married for love finding in her second husband George Berkeley (1693-1746) the passion and devoted love that had been so absent in her first marriage.
If you want to learn more about his fascinating woman who was a champion for women’s rights long before most people knew there was such a thing, then read Tracy Borman’s King’s Mistress, Queen’s Servant. You won’t be disappointed! Five Stars.