The Communication Gallery at Hampton Court Palace was so named because it linked the King's and Queen’s apartments. The walls are lined with dark oak timber panelling with an egg and dart motif and there is an equally plain grey marble fireplace in the centre. On display is a sequence of nine portraits of Restoration women known as the Windsor Beauties and all painted by Sir Peter Lely.
|Anne Hyde, Duchess of York|
The title “beauties” is a somewhat flexible term. given that the central portrait above the fireplace is of the Duchess of York, Anne Hyde. She was the wife of the then Duke of York and heir apparent. Samuel Pepys did not consider her a beauty. Indeed he wrote in his diary on the 20th April 1661:
“So back to the Cockpitt, and there, by the favour of one Mr. Bowman, he and I got in, and there saw the King and Duke of York and his Duchess (which is a plain woman, and like her mother, my Lady Chancellor).”
But then Samuel Pepys always had a very low opinion of Anne Hyde, thinking it ridiculous that the Duke should marry a woman he had made pregnant even if she was the daughter of Edward Hyde, the Lord Chancellor. Beauty or otherwise Anne had commissioned the paintings and it is her portrait that takes pride of place above the fireplace.
|Margaret Brook, Lady Denham|
Margaret Brook, Lady Denham was married to a man twice her age but determined to make her own way at Court and in Restoration England the way to social advancement for a pretty young woman, whether married or no, was to catch the eye of the king or his brother. Having seen her attempts to set her cap at King Charles II thwarted by the machinations of the king’s principal mistress Barbara Palmer, Margaret turned her attention to his brother, the Duke of York. By June 1666 Pepys was writing in his diary: " the Duke of York is wholly given up to his new mistress, my Lady Denham, going at noonday with all his gentlemen to visit her in Scotland Yard; she declaring that she will not be his mistress, as Mrs. Price, to go up and down the Privy-stairs, but will be owned publicly; and so she is.” The affair ended in tragedy with the sudden death of Margaret. She believed she had been poisoned and insisted before she died that an autopsy should be carried out. No trace of poison was found but it did not allay public suspicion that her husband Sir John Denham had murdered her with a poisoned cup of cocoa at the behest of the jealous Duchess of York, an early example of death by chocolate. The poet Andrew Marvell wrote couplets on the supposed murder in his poem "Last Instructions to a Painter", written in September 1667:
“What frosts to fruit, what arsenic to the rat,
What to fair Denham, mortal chocolate.”
According to Clare Jerrold in her informative book published in 1911 “The Fair Ladies of Hampton Court” Frances Brook, Lady Whitmore “possessed heavily marked features, thick eyebrows, a long, rather ugly nose, well-formed but large mouth, and dark hair.” Unlike her sister, or perhaps even because of her ill-fated sister Margaret Brook, Frances went on to marry two men, first Sir Thomas Whitmore and then Mathew Harvey and lead a life of quiet domesticity away from the hurly burly of court life.
|Jane Mrs Myddelton|
The Count de Gramont claimed that Jane Mrs Myddelton (no relation to a certain Pippa or Catherine) " was fair, well made and delicate, in manner somewhat precise and affected, giving herself indolent, languishing airs, and extremely anxious to pass as a wit. She wearied by trying to explain sentiments which she did not understand, and she bored while trying to entertain." His tart comment can be attributed to the fact that he had failed to make Mrs Myddleton his mistress, a goal many men at the Restoration court aspired to. On 3rd October 1665 Samuel Pepys hears that although Jane Myddelton might be as pretty as a picture she is somewhat less pleasing to certain other senses: “the fine Mrs. Middleton is noted for carrying about her body a continued sour base smell, that is very offensive, especially if she be a little hot. “
|Frances Stuart, Duchess of Richmond|
Frances Stuart, the Duchess of Richmond was another young woman celebrated for her beauty at the Restoration Court. Unlike many others, Frances did not seek to immediately capitalise on it by becoming some man’s mistress even if that man was Charles II. Despite his ardent pursuit of her she preferred to defend her honour by eloping with the young Duke of Richmond. Alas, virtue was to be her only reward. She succumbed to small pox which destroyed her legendary beauty leading Samuel Pepys to lament on 30th March 1668: “Here I did see Mrs. Stewart’s picture as when a young maid, and now just done before her having the smallpox: and it would make a man weep to see what she was then, and what she is like to be, by people’s discourse, now.” In time the Duke and Duchess of Richmond were allowed to return to court. It seemed Frances was far from happy in her marriage and allowed the king those kindnesses she had hitherto withheld from him. In one famous episode the king rowed to her marital home, Somerset House, after midnight and finding the gates closed, clambered over the garden wall so he could see her. La Belle Stuart, as she was styled, was immortalised as the seated figure of Britannia on two gold medals of the period. Her life-size wax effigy in her robes for the coronation of Queen Anne can still be seen at Westminster Abbey today, near that of her erstwhile lover King Charles II.
|Elizabeth Hamilton, Comtesse de Gramont|
Before La Belle Stuart was La Belle Hamilton. Possessed of an uncommon beauty Elizabeth Hamilton she was not alas possessed of an uncommon fortune. Consequently many a sprig of the nobility who might have married her considered it an impediment too far. She ended up as the wife of the Frenchman the Chevalier de Gramont. In the Chevalier’s memoirs, penned by Elizabeth’s brother Anthony, he wrote of his wife: " She had the finest shape, the loveliest neck, and the most beautiful arms in the world ; she was majestic and graceful in all her movements ; and she was the original after which all the ladies copied in their taste and air of dress. Her forehead was open, white, and smooth ; her hair was well set, and fell with ease into that natural order which it is so difficult to imitate ; her complexion was possessed of a certain freshness, not to be equalled by borrowed colours ; her eyes were not large, but they were lively, and capable of expressing whatever she pleased ; her mouth was full of graces, and her contour uncommonly perfect : nor was her nose, which was small, delicate, and turned up, the least ornament of so lovely a face.” So besotted was the Chevalier with his young wife that he heroically remained constant to her for the best part of a year. They appear to have had a long and happy marriage together, mostly spent in his native France.
|Elizabeth Wriothesley, Countess of Northumberland|
Elizabeth Wriothesley, Countess of Northumberland was half sister to Rachel, Lady Russell. The latter had become the chatelaine of Chenies Manor House upon her marriage to William Russell, Earl of Bedford. The latter found himself embroiled in the Rye House Plot and was later beheaded. His ghost is said to roam the grounds of Chenies. Elizabeth Wriothesley went on to become chatelaine of the even grander Syon House but she was not destined to spend many years there. Early in their marriage her husband whisked her off to Paris in 1669 where he dumped her, whilst he himself set off on the Grand Tour. It seems the jealous Earl was concerned that his wife’s beauty had caught the fancy of King Charles II and his brother and he wanted her removed from all temptation. The Earl’s sudden death in 1670 left Elizabeth free to return to England and remarry, this time to the Duke of Montagu.
Henrietta Boyle, Countess of Rochester was the daughter of the Richard Boyle, 1st Earl of Burlington, whose namesake went on to build the stunning Chiswick House. She married Lawrence Hyde the son of the Earl of Clarendon and brother-in-law to the future James II. The Earl of Clarendon suffered a calamitous reversal of political fortune and was forced to flee into exile rather than face impeachment in England. The Stuart royal family did not seem to bear any ill will towards Clarendon’s sons for the sins of the father and Lawrence went on to serve stints as a foreign ambassador. He even managed to maintain a position at court when his brother-in-law, King James, was ousted and was replaced on the throne by Queen Mary and her husband William of Orange. This was an act of singular political dexterity for he had openly spoken out against their being made joint rulers in James’ stead. According to the celebrated 19th century historian and politician Thomas Macaulay, Lawrence Hyde “had excellent parts, which had been improved by parliamentary and diplomatic experience; but the infirmities of his temper detracted much from the effective strength of his abilities. Negotiator and courtier as he was, he never learnt the art of governing or of concealing his emotions. When prosperous, he was insolent and boastful; when he sustained a check, his undisguised mortification doubled the triumph of his enemies: very slight provocations sufficed to kindle his anger; and when he was angry he said bitter things which he forgot as soon as he was pacified, but which others remembered many years. He drank deep, and when was in a rage—and he very often was in a rage—he swore like a porter.” I saw a painting of Lawrence Hyde in the Suffolk exhibition of Stuart portraits at Kenwood House. Sadly the paintings are no longer available to be viewed by the general public, owing to the shortage of staff to man the exhibition galleries.
|Anne Digby, Countess of Sunderland|
Henrietta Boyle, Lady Rochester passed into history with nary a blemish to her name. Given the prominence of her father-in-law and her husband at the Stuart Court, if there had been any gossip to spread about her it would somehow have found its way into the diaries of the time. By contrast the character of Lady Anne Digby, the Countess of Sunderland, was torn to shreds by the then Princess Anne. In a letter to her sister, Princess Mary of Orange, in 1687 Anne wrote of Lady Sunderland: “She is a flattering, dissembling, false woman ; but she has so fawning and endearing a way, that she will deceive anybody at first, and it is not possible to find out all her ways in a little time. Then she has had her gallants, though may be not so many as some ladies here, and with all these good qualities she is a constant church woman ; so that to outward appearance, one would take her for a saint, and, to hear her talk, you would think she is a very good Protestant, but she is as much the one as the other, for it is certain that her lord does nothing without her." Anne added later:” Sure there never was a couple so well matched as she and her husband ; for as she is throughout in all her actions the greatest jade that ever was, so is he the subtlest workingest villain that is on the face of the earth."
The following year the Catholic King James was ousted from the throne by his daughter Princess Mary and her Protestant husband William of Orange. Anne Digby’s husband had served under James II and she had been a lady of the bedchamber to his second queen, Mary of Modena. Indeed, Anne Digby had been one of two ladies of the bedchamber who later bore witness to whether Mary of Modena had given birth to a legitimate living male heir or whether a notorious substitution had been made by way of a warming pan. (The bed in which this was supposed to have happened is on display at Kensington Palace. Instead of a warming pan it was embellished with a half suspended headless mannequin dressed in jeans and had been styled by the designer Aminaka Wilmonts as part of the Enchanted Palace exhibition). Rather fortuitously the Earl of Sunderland fell out with James II and been dismissed shortly before the king was dethroned. The Sunderlands went into self-imposed exile in Holland. Sunderland later returned to England and managed to ingratiate himself into William of Orange’s good books when the latter was proclaimed King of England. By some miracle Lady Sunderland was also able to worm her way into Princess Anne’s good graces and became her lady-in-waiting despite being “the greatest jade there ever was” when Anne became queen in turn,
There were more paintings of the Windsor Beauties produced than are currently on display. This is expected to be remedied next year when a special exhibition will be held. But there is yet another beauty whose name must be added to the collection and that is of the Brimstone Butterfly herself. My name was added by no less a personage than the man who had designed the great astronomical clock for Henry VIII in the 1540s. Last week,as the Brimstone Butterfly sat on a window seat in the Communication Gallery talking to a red coated warder, a man dressed in Tudor costume unexpectedly stepped through the door that led to the King's Staircase. I asked the warder who the "gentleman" was. The Tudor courtier said he was not there but then relented and said he was the Bavarian Nicolas Kratzer, who had designed the astronomical the clock in the palace. With a flourish he proclaimed me to be the 9th beauty in the room. He then had to admit that he wasn't sure how many portraits there were in all which, for a famous mathematician, was somewhat embarrassing. Still it's the thought that counts and he is one horologist I will always have time for. It is good to know that I still have it even though I now attract the more mature gentlemen: 500 years older than me to be precise.