Howard, Henrietta (DNB00)

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HOWARD, HENRIETTA, Countess of Suffolk (1681–1767), mistress to George II, born in 1681, was eldest daughter of Sir Henry Hobart, of Blickling, Norfolk, bart., by Elizabeth, eldest daughter of Joseph Maynard, son of Sir John Maynard, commissioner of the great seal in the reign of William III. She was married, Lord Hervey tells us, 'very young' to Charles Howard, third son of Henry, fifth earl of Suffolk, whom Hervey describes as `wrong-headed, ill-tempered, obstinate, drunken, extravagant, brutal.' The date of the marriage remains undetermined. Being poor for their station the pair went to live in Hanover towards the close of Queen Anne's reign, with the view of ingratiating themselves with the future sovereigns of England. Even there, however, they were sometimes in great straits for money, Mrs. Howard on one occasion selling her hair to pay for a dinner for the ministry. On the accession of the elector to the English throne as George I, Howard was appointed his groom of the bedchamber, and his wife bedchamber-woman to the Princess of Wales (Boyer, Polit. State of Great Britain, viii. 347,475). The rooms which in this capacity she occupied in St. James's Palace and, after the expulsion of the prince, at Leicester House were the favourite place of réunion for the prince and princess and their little court. Pope and Gay were frequently to be found there, and Swift when he was in England. The Prince of Wales soon made advances to Mrs. Howard, and was graciously received, and Howard's efforts to remove his wife from the prince's household proved ineffectual. In 1724 Mrs. Howard built herself a villa at Marble Hill, Twickenham, where she was a near neighbour of Pope. The house was designed by Lords Burlington and Pembroke, the gardens were laid out by Pope and Lord Bathurst. The Prince of Wales contributed 12,000l. towards the cost. Pope, Swift, and Arbuthnot took it in turns to act as her major-domo. On his accession to the throne George II quieted Howard with an annuity of 1,200l., and installed his wife in St. James's Palace as his lady favourite. She was formally separated from her husband, who made a settlement upon her.

In Lord Peterborough Mrs. Howard had an admirer of a very different stamp from George II. It is not clear when their intimacy commenced, how long it lasted, or whether it was ever carried beyond the bounds of flirtation. It seems, however, from the correspondence which passed between them, and which includes forty letters from Peterborough, written in the most romantic strain, to have been of some duration. All the letters are undated, but they are probably to be referred to the reign of George I.

For some time after the accession of George II Mrs. Howard was much courted by those who thought the king would be governed by her. This, however, ceased when it became apparent that the queen's influence was to prevail. Her society continued nevertheless to be cultivated by the wits and the opposition. About 1729 she began to decline in favour with the king, but poverty compelled her to keep her post. On the death of Edward, eighth earl of Suffolk, without issue, 22 June 1731, Howard succeeded to the earldom, and Lady Suffolk was thereupon advanced to the post of groom of the stole to the queen, with a salary of 800l. a year (Boyer, Polit. State of Great Britain, xli. 652). Her circumstances were further improved by the death of her husband (28 Sept. 1733), and in the following year she retired from court. In 1735 she married the Hon. George Berkeley, youngest son of the second earl of Berkeley, with whom she lived happily until his death, 16 Jan. 1747. She began to grow deaf in middle life, and in her later years almost lost her hearing. Nevertheless Horace Walpole loved much to gossip with her in the autumn evenings. She died on 26 July 1767 in comparative poverty, leaving, besides Marble Hill, property to the value of not more than 20,000l. By her first husband she had issue an only son, who succeeded to the earldom, and died without issue in 1745. She had no children by her second husband. Horace Walpole describes her as 'of a just height, well made, extremely fair, with the finest light brown hair,' adding that 'her mental qualifications were by no means shining' (Reminiscences, cxxvii.) Elsewhere he says that she was 'sensible, artful, agreeable, but had neither sense nor art enough to make him [George II] think her so agreeable as his wife' (Memoirs, ed. Lord Holland, 1847, i. 177; cf. Chesterfield, Letters, ed. Mahon, ii. 440). Pope wrote in her honour the well-known verses 'On a certain Lady at Court,' and Peterborough the song 'I said to my heart between sleeping and waking.' Both praise her reasonableness and her wit. Swift, in his somewhat ill-natured 'Character' of her, also recognises her wit and beauty, represents her as a latitudinarian in religion, a consummate courtier, and by so much the worse friend, and 'upon the whole an excellent companion for men of the best accomplishments who have nothing to ask.' Except the contribution towards the cost of Marble Hill she took little from George II, either as king or prince, except snubs and slights; and the queen avenged herself for her husband's infidelity by humiliating her, employing her until she became Countess of Suffolk in servile offices about her person. 'It happened more than once,' writes Horace Walpole (Reminiscences, cxxix.), 'that the king, while the queen was dressing, has snatched off the handkerchief, and, turning rudely to Mrs. Howard, has cried, "Because you have an ugly neck yourself, you hide the queen's." ' Nor was she able to do much to advance her friends. For Gay she could procure only the place of gentleman-usher to the Princess Louisa, which, though worth 200l. a year, he declined. She obtained, however, an earldom for her brother [see Hobart, John, first Earl of Buckinghamshire]. She was strictly truthful, and in conversation minutely accurate to the point of tediousness. She behaved with such extreme propriety that her friends affected to suppose that her relations with the king were merely platonic. A selection from her correspondence, entitled 'Letters to and from Henrietta, Countess of Suffolk, and her second husband, the Hon. George Berkeley, from 1712 to 1767,' was edited anonymously by John Wilson Croker in 1824, 2 vols. 8vo. The correspondence, which comprises letters from Pope, Swift, Gay, Peterborough, Bolingbroke, Chesterfield, Horace Walpole, the Duchess of Marlborough, and Lady Hervey, deals mainly with private affairs, and sheds little light on politics. The volume contains an engraving of her portrait preserved at Blickling.

[Blomefield's Norfolk,ed. 1805, vi.402; Gent Mag. 1767, p.383; Collins's Peerage, ed. Brydges, iii. 159, iv. 368; Horace Walpole's Reminiscences in Cunningham's edition of his Letters; Horace Walpole's Memoirs, ed. Lord Holland, 1847; Hervey's Memoirs; Pope's Correspondence, ed. Elwin and Courthope; Chesterfield's Letters; Coxe's Memoirs of Sir Robert Walpole, i. 279 et seq.; Suffolk Correspondence, ed. Croker; Swift's Memoirs, ed. Scott. Her relations with Lord Peterborough are discussed in Russell's Earl of Peterborough and Monmouth.]

J. M. R.