Dutchess of Richmond
THE Dutchess of Richmond, in the reign of James I. had something singular in her character. This lady was celebrated for her birth and beauty. She was daughter to Viscount Bindon, second son of Thomas Duke of Norfolk. Her mother was the eldest daughter of Edward Duke of Buckingham. It is remarkable that both these Dukes lost their heads in their attempts upon the crown. Few could boast of a more elevated extraction than our Dutchess; yet she condescended when young to feel a passion for one Prannel, an opulent vintner, whom she married. This man dying left her childless; a young, a rich, and beautiful widow. Sir George Rodney, a gentleman whose person and whose fortune were by no means contemptible, placed his affections on her, and she encouraged the hopes of her lover. Unfortunately for Sir George, the Earl of Hertford solicited her hand. At this splendid offer the ambition which she had inherited from her grandfathers, although an irresistible passion had subdued it for a moment, now awakened; she left Rodney, and accepted the Earl of Hertford. The heart of Rodney was inebriated with passion, and he resolved on a desperate attempt, which might at least serve to express the love he had fo fatally nourished. He came to Amesbury in Wiltshire, where the Earl and his lady then resided; he retired to an inn in the town, shut himself in a chamber, and wrote a paper of verses with his own blood. These lines he addressed to the Countess, and laments in them her cruel infidelity. He sent them to her, and concluded this rnelancholy and romantic adventure of love, with running himself through with his sword. This spectacle of tender affliction seems to have affected the Countess but little; and it appears that in the affair, poor Rodney was the only sufferer.
The Countess of Hertford began now to intrigue and to plot. In her husband’s life-time, she was courted by the Duke of Lennox, who it was known paid his addresses to her in several disguises. Matters were conducted so adroitly that her reputation was never injured in the Earl’s life-time; who settled on her a jointure of above £5000 per annum. Soon after his death she married the Duke; and with the title of Dutchess, her ambition, it might have been expected, would have been amply gratified. This however was not the case. The Duke was found dead one morning in his bed: and by the confession of the Dutchess to her intimate friends, his death was satisfactorily accounted for. James the First, who that day was going to open his parliament, was so sensibly affected at the sudden loss of his favourite, on whom he greatly relied for assistance, that he postponed his intention.
When this lady found herself for the third time a widow, and of the first rank and income, she raised her eye to the throne itself. Considering the king was a widower, she gave out that she had vowed, after having had so great a prince as Richmond, she would never admit a kiss from, or eat at the table of a subject. But this bait was not caught at by the king; whose appetite was not very keen, for it was now subdued by the infirmities of age. She indeed missed her aim; and therefore her ambition was disappointed; but she gratified her inexorable pride, by scrupulously observing her vow during the remainder of her life.
When she was Countess of Hertford, she was surrounded by a levee of admirers. And she constantly made her two grandfathers the topic of conversation. When the Earl her husband appeared, he would frequently check her pride, by interrupting her with, “Frank, how long is it since thou wert married to Prannel?”—This confounded her ladyship, and seemed to sully the glorious ambition of her two beheaded ancestors.
Other particulars may be found concerning this Dutchess in Arthur Wilson’s Life of James I.