I’ve been researching Henrietta Wentworth in more depth since beginning my novella about her relationship with the Duke of Monmouth. I find her fascinating, though some of my peers seem quite happy to brush her off as “dull.” I don’t see that, I see a woman who did what other women could not do – have a truly loving relationship with James Scott, Duke of Monmouth.
So, who was this lady? Born in 1660, Baroness Wentworth hailed from Toddington Manor in Bedfordshire, England, where she lived with her mother, Philadelphia Carey (I love her mum’s forename!). Her father – Thomas, 5th Baron Wentworth – had died when she was but five years old.
Monmouth, gorgeous specimen of a human male, was floundering from one court babe to another, in much the same vein as his dear old Papa, King Charles II. He was separated from his wife Anne Scott, to whom he was forcibly married at the tender age of 13 (she was 12), and whom, at his death, he claimed “never to have much cared for.” Despite not caring for her, he fulfilled his obligations and was able to impregnate her several times. As for mistresses, one of his biggest flings was with Eleanor Needham – a woman who would bear him three more children.
But it would be at the sumptuous Masque of Calisto – or the Chaste Nymph, in early 1675, that his fate would change. He espied the fourteen-year-old Henrietta playing the part of Jupiter, and it was there, when she was pretending to seduce Mary Stuart’s (later Mary II) Calisto, that she was inadvertently seducing him! The twenty-six year old Duke wanted her immediately, but was tied to both his wife Anna, and his mistress Eleanor.
In 1680, things came to a head. Henrietta was to marry Richard, Earl of Thanet, and Monmouth pursued her relentlessly. Things happened. *wink, wink*
By 1683, they were acknowledged lovers and lived together at Henrietta’s home in Toddington, and it was here that he came following the Rye House Plot, when he was exiled from court. With her love, he found some stability at last in a relationship, and the two were devoted to each other. There is no mention of his having another mistress again. In spite of their good relationship, courtiers said unkind things about them, particularly about Henrietta. John Evelyn wrote of her only once in his Diary:
“…that debauched woman…”
In time, the lovers fled to the Dutch Republic, where they were welcomed by Monmouth’s cousins, William and Mary. After some time there, in 1685, they learned of Charles II’s death, and William was forced to send them away from his court (his father-in-law, James II, was unhappy with Monmouth being so happily received at their court, when he was a rival). William, with his typical wisdom, advised Monmouth to go to the Palatine, or Hungary, and stay out of trouble. Unfortunately, this did not happen. Monmouth, easily persuaded, fell into the company of fops who urged him to take up arms against his uncle James. Henrietta pawned her jewels to secure him money.
Following the Battle of Sedgemoor, Monmouth was caught, taken to the Tower of London, where he wrote letters to the King and Queen, begging for his life. All for nought. He was beheaded in a horrifically botched execution by John “Jack” Ketch in July of 1685. He last words were about Henrietta.
Incredibly romantic and tragic.
Henrietta, still abroad, was devastated by the news. If the Postscript of J.N.P. Watson’s excellent biography of the Duke of Monmouth: Captain-General and Rebel Chief: The Life of James, Duke of Monmouth, is to be believed, she made a great sacrifice:
“The child which Henrietta is said to have had by Monmouth was brought up in Paris by a Colonel Smyth, a close friend of the Wentworths, and was named James Wentworth Smyth Stuart.”
She followed her beloved Duke to the grave less than a year later. I think it’s an amazing story, and again, I don’t understand why people dismiss Henrietta so readily as a character. We always have to remember that women whom we may regard as weak or insipid now, were seen as exciting, good women in their own time.