The ‘Real’ Lady de Winter?

                                                                                                                                                                                       Lucy Hay, Countess of Carlisle 1599 to 1660


                                                                                                                                                                                              Portrait by Anthony van Dyck, 1637

I’ve always felt a sort of sneaking dislike for Lucy Carlisle based on the few things I knew about her. In certain respects, I may have done her an injustice; in others, not so much. Certainly, having taken the time to dig a little deeper, she’s a more interesting woman than I previously suspected.

Lucy was extremely well-connected.  Her mother was the daughter of the 1st Earl of Essex – and therefore the aunt of the Great Cuckold.  Her father was the 9th Earl of Northumberland; the so-called Wizard Earl, known for his interest in alchemy, who spent seventeen years in the Tower of London following the Gunpowder Plot, though it’s unlikely that he had any personal involvement in it.

In 1617, Lucy married James Hay – a match her father actually offered her £20,000 to refuse!  The following year, she had a son who died within a month and, in 1622, she suffered a near-fatal miscarriage – the result being that she never had children.  It was in that same year that James Hay was created 1st Earl of Carlisle and Lucy acquired the title that we know her by.

In 1625 when Henrietta Maria came to England to marry Charles 1, Lucy – already famed at Court for her beauty and wit – was having an affair with George Villiers, the 1st Duke of Buckingham.  This didn’t endear her to the new [and very moral] Queen and, for a time, Henrietta refused to have Lucy in her household.  It’s also possible that Carlisle and Buckingham hoped that Lucy might ensnare the King – though Buckingham, at least, ought to have known how unlikely that was.  At all events, Lucy’s affair with Buckingham – along with their friendship – ended abruptly when he became besotted with the Queen of France.

And this is where Lucy becomes entangled with fiction.  Alexandre Dumas based The Three Musketeers on an anecdote written by La Rochefoucauld – a gentleman who would have known both Lucy and Buckingham.  Rochefoucauld told of the theft of a diamond necklace belonging to the French Queen and implied that the thief was Lucy.  This, since one can easily imagine Lucy having all the fury of a woman scorned and taking her revenge, is not impossible … and it’s supposedly what led Dumas to base Milady de Winter on Milady Carlisle.

By the time Buckingham was assassinated in 1628, Lucy had managed to ingratiate herself with Henrietta Maria and though, since they had very little in common, their relationship had its ups and downs, she was one of the Queen’s favourites.   At this time, Lucy also established a salon where writers, poets and men with political influence gathered about her.

In 1635, Lord Carlisle [having Irish lands and monopolies] sent his wife to secure the goodwill of Thomas Wentworth, Lord Deputy of Ireland.  Once again, rumour suggests that Lucy achieved this by becoming Wentworth’s mistress.  And when, in the following year, Carlisle died and Lucy inherited his Irish holdings, the Lord Deputy’s favour presumably became even more useful to her.

As Civil War approached, Wentworth became one of Charles 1’s closest advisers and was created Earl of Strafford.  When Parliament sent him to the block in May of 1641, Lucy did something I find inexplicable.  She embarked on an affair with John Pym.  And when the King planned to arrest the five Members in January 1642, she passed on the information to her cousin, the Earl of Essex, so that Pym and the others could remove themselves from the House.  Why?  Did she blame Charles for signing Strafford’s death-warrant even though she must have known that he was forced into it by the very man she was now sleeping with?  Was she merely hedging her bets for the coming conflict? Or was she merely enjoying a little intrigue?  I have no idea.  I can only say that it casts her in a very poor light.

Throughout the first Civil  War, Lucy allied herself with the likes of Denzil Holles and the Earls of Holland and Essex – men who hoped to halt the growing influence of the Independents and the Army by making peace with the King.  And in 1648, during the second war, she redeemed herself a little by pawning a pearl necklace to finance Lord Holland’s ill-fated rising in Kingston-on-Thames.

After the execution of Charles 1 in 1649, Lucy’s anti-Cromwellian activities resulted in her spending eighteen months in the Tower but failed to damage her status as one of the most politically influential women of her day.  She appears to have been motivated – largely but not completely – by self-interest and, unlike many of her female contemporaries, she was never awash with religious fervour.  Whether one likes her or not, there’s no doubting that she lived life to the full and was a force to be reckoned with.   She died on the anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot and was buried at Petworth in Sussex.

Dorothy Osborne wrote that the Countess of Carlisle’s letters should act ‘as models for wit and good breeding’ but added, ‘I am a little scandalised that she uses the word faithful – she never knew how to be so in her life.

Perhaps that says it all.

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Prince Rupert of the Rhine – Shagamuffin

Rupert, Count Palatine of the Rhine, Duke of Bavaria, 1st Duke of Cumberland, 1st Earl of Holderness
(17 December 1619 – 29 November 1682)

Portrait by Gerrard von Honthurst

Rupert’s parents were Frederick V, Elector Palatine and Elizabeth Stuart, the elder sister of Charles 1. Both were strongly Protestant and it was this that led Frederick to accept the throne of Bohemia – a poisoned chalice which wiser men had already refused because there was no chance that Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand was going to tolerate a Protestant ruler in one of his territories.

Nor did he. Frederick and Elizabeth arrived in Prague in October 1619 to a rapturous welcome and, in December, were blessed with a second son – Rupert. The following November, the Emperor sent an army against Prague which routed the Protestant defenders and forced Frederick and his family to flee. Their departure was so frenzied that it was only as the last coach was drawing away and a ‘bundle’ was thrown into it that anyone realised little Prince Rupert had almost been left behind.

Frederick V’s year as King of Bohemia cost him the Palatinate as well, so Rupert and his growing tribe of brothers and sisters [excluding the three who died in infancy, he had nine siblings!] grew up in The Hague, relying on the charity of family and friends.


Rupert and his younger brother, Maurice, by Van Dyck

Rupert was a boisterous, active child whom those around him, perhaps prophetically, nick-named Rupert the Devil. By the age of three, he could speak English, French and Czech; later he also acquired Dutch, German, Italian and Spanish. He was quick to learn and excelled at mathematics, science and art – studying the latter under Gerard von Honthurst. He was tall – six feet four inches – and very athletic. And his constant ambition was to be a soldier
Rupert was fourteen when his Uncle Frederick Henry of Orange took him on campaign in the Spanish Netherlands and gave him his first taste of warfare. Two years later, he visited England and the court of his uncle, Charles 1. He became a particular favourite of Queen Henrietta Maria – sadly, this changed during the Civil War! – and fell completely in love with both England and its way of life. On his return to the Netherlands, he joined the Prince of Orange again and fought in various campaigns until he was captured at Vlotho in 1638 and imprisoned at Linz by the Emperor Ferdinand until 1641. This period of captivity, though comfortable, must have been extremely irksome – and yet it was not without its compensations. He had his dog, Boy, for company, as well – somewhat incredibly – as a tame hare; and the sixteen-year-old daughter of his custodian, Susanne Marie von Kuffstein, was quite possibly his first romantic interest.

I am not going to attempt to chronicle Rupert’s Civil War career.


It would require a book of its own and I have covered some of his peaks and troughs in A Splendid Defiance and The Black Madonna. Suffice it to say that he fought for Uncle Charles throughout and, in doing so, gained a reputation that was either heroic or demonic – depending on one’s point of view. Between 1649 and 1652 he spent most of his time ‘pirating’ round the Caribbean and he passed the years of the Commonwealth either at Heidelberg with his elder brother or fighting for the King of Hungary. He did not see England again until the Restoration when his cousin, Charles 11, invited him back and settled a pension of £6000 a year on him.
In 1666, he was joint Commander of the Royal Navy during the Second Dutch War (see The Marigold Chain) and remained in active service until 1674. Now, with time on his hands, he was finally able to devote himself to his long-standing passion for science. He became a founder-member of the Royal Society … and, in his fully-equipped laboratory at Windsor Castle, he plunged into a world of invention. He created a new method of mezzotint, a multiple-firing gun, a better-balanced quadrant for use at sea, a new brass alloy and a recipe for gunpowder, ten times stronger than its predecessor. Truthfully, the list goes on. The man was a creative dynamo.

Obviously, although he never married, there were women in his life. His last relationship was with the actress, Margaret Hughes, by whom he had a daughter – somewhat infelicitously named Ruperta.

Back in 1637, Rupert had told Charles 1 that he would like to leave his bones in England. He got his wish. He died of complications following an attack of pleurisy in 1682 and was buried in the crypt of Westminster Abbey. He left the bulk of his estate – valued at around £12,000 – to Margaret Hughes and Ruperta.

So what was he really like … this complex, many-faceted man?

In my opinion, an intriguing blend of enormous strengths and small weaknesses. Energetic, clever and capable of intense focus but also impatient and frequently tactless – his inability to suffer fools gladly probably won him as many enemies as friends. Rupert was far from perfect – and, to me, far easier to like, because of it. He was a remarkable man but endearingly human. He leaves behind a legacy of images as vivid as they are charismataic … the dashing Cavalry leader, the Wizard Prince, the Mad Cavalier … and beyond all these, Rupert the Unswervingly Loyal.

Born nearly 400 years ago, this fascinating character still leaps off the pages of history too boldly to be ignored or forgotten. And, speaking for myself, it really doesn’t hurt that he was also tall, beautifully-proportioned and outstandingly good-looking. I wish – I really wish I could have met him.

The only visible indication of Rupert’s final resting-place is to be found on the floor of the Henry V11 Chapel, squeezed in between the tombs of Margaret Beaufort and Margaret Douglas.
And for anyone interested in further reading, I’d recommend Margaret Irwin’s The Stranger Prince and Prince Rupert of the Rhine by Patrick Morrah.

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