Lady Henrietta Wentworth and the Duke of Monmouth – a love story.

henrieta wentworthLady Henrietta Wentworth’s mother was Philadelphia Carey. Her grandfather was Ferdinardo Carey and her great grand-father was Henry Carey Lord Hunsden. Which, of course means that her two times great grandmother was Mary Boleyn.  I must admit to a fascination with the Carey family courtesy of Lord Robert Carey, another of Hunsden’s son, who was a Warden of the Marches during the reign of Queen Elizabeth and, indeed, who rode with Elizabeth’s ring to Edinburgh upon her death as proof that James VI of Scotland was now James I of England.


Henrietta was only eight when her father, Thomas Wentworth, 5th Baron Wentworth died. She became heir to Toddington Manor in Bedfordshire as well as the title.


As was proper to a lady of her station she made her debut at court.  Charles II had been restored to the throne in the same year that she was born – 1660.   She appeared in a masque alongside Princesses Mary and Anne.   Also present was James Scott, Duke of Monmouth. Jemmy Crofts, as he was also known, the illegitimate child of Charles II and Lucy Walter had been married to Anne Scott, Duchess of Buccleugh when he was fourteen and she was just twelve. He took her name and title. They’d had a family but by this time were estranged.


The existence of a wife did not stop Monmouth from pursuing seventeen-year-old Henrietta and she was just as smitten by him – even though she was supposed to be marrying Richard Tufton, the fifth Earl of Thanet.  There was a scandal.


Philadelphia dragged her daughter back to Toddington with Monmouth right behind them. He came to know Toddington very well because it was at Toddinton where the lovers made their home.  It was here that he came after the Rye House Plot of 1683 which sought to assassinate Charles II and James who was then the Duke of York. Monmouth was implicated in the murder. Monmouth, like his father before him, is supposed to have hidden in an oak tree.


Monmouth eventually fled to Brussels. Henrietta joined him. The Nineteenth century historian Macaulay paints a picture of domestic bliss. “He retired to Brussels accompanied by Henrietta Wentworth, Baroness Wentworth of Nettlestede, a damsel of high rank and ample fortune, who loved him passionately, who had sacrificed for his sake her maiden honour and the hope of a splendid alliance, who had followed him into exile, and whom he believed to be his wife in the sight of heaven. Under the soothing influence of female friendship, his lacerated mind healed fast. He seemed to have found happiness in obscurity and repose, and to have forgotten that he had been the ornament of a splendid court and the head of a great party, that he had commanded armies, and that he had aspired to a throne.”


Sadly when Charles II died in 1685 thought so the throne once more drifted through Jemmy Croft’s head and it was Henrietta who funded James’ dream by mortgaging her home and pawning her jewels.  Monmouth’s Rebellion was ill-thought and though it had the popular support of the commons in the west country it did not bring the support of the gentry.  Even worse, his troops cam dup against one John Churchill – a man history recalls as the Duke of Blenheim.


Monmouth sentenced to death after his capture is alleged to have said that he came to the scaffold to die rather than to talk. He also asserted that he had been married, ‘when but a child’, and he had never cared for his duchess; so that therefore his relationship with Henrietta was blameless in the eyes of God not least because he’d reformed him from his rakish and decidedly dodgy life of whoring, drinking and gambling. He told the assembled crowd that Henrietta was ‘a lady of virtue and honour, a very virtuous and godly woman.’


‘Had that poor man nothing to think of but me?’ Henrietta exclaimed when she was told.  It was probably just as well that James was thinking of Henrietta.  His death was not an easy one – the axe was blunt.


Henrietta came back to England in July 1685 with a broken bank balance as well as a broken heart. She died the following year on 23rd April. She was twenty-five. The letters of Henry Saville suggest that it was due to mercury poisoning, “My Lady Henrietta Wentworth is dead, having sacrificed her life to her beauty by painting so beyond measure that mercury got into her veins and killed her.” However we don’t know how or why Henrietta died – there were plenty of deadly diseases in the seventeenth century.


Let me finish with Macaulay who paints a tragic picture of Henrietta’s end.  “Yet a few months, and the quiet village of Toddington, in Bedfordshire, witnessed a still sadder funeral. Near that village stood an ancient and stately hall, the seat of the Wentworths. The transept of the parish church had long been their burial place. To that burial place, in the spring which followed the death of Monmouth, was borne the coffin of the young Baroness Wentworth of Nettlestede. Her family reared a sumptuous mausoleum over her remains: but a less costly memorial of her was long contemplated with far deeper interest. Her name, carved by the hand of him whom she loved too well, was, a few years ago, still discernible on a tree in the adjoining park.”