Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bovey, Catharina

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BOVEY or BOEVEY, CATHARINA (1669–1726), charitable lady, was born in London in 1669, her father being John Riches, a very wealthy merchant there (Wilford, Memorials of Eminent Persons, p. 746, Epitaph), originally of Amsterdam, and her mother being a daughter of Sir Bernard de Gomme, also of Holland, surveyor of ordnance to Charles II, and delineator of the maps of Naseby, &c. (Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. ix. 221-2). Catharina was a great beauty. In 'The New Atlantis' of 1736 (iii. 208 et seq.), where she is called Portia, she is described as 'one of those lofty, black, and lasting beauties that strike with reverence and yet delight,' and in 1684 she was married to William Bovey or Boevey, of Flaxley Hall, Gloucestershire. He was given to 'excesses, both in debauch and ill-humour,' bringing much suffering to his wife; she never complained, however, but supported it all 'like a martyr, cheerful under her very sufferings' (ib.). In 1691, when Mrs. Bovey was only twenty-two, Mr. Bovey died, leaving her mistress of his estate of Flaxley (Magna Britannia, 1720, ii. 834); and as she was also the sole heiress to her wealthy father (Ballard, British Ladies, p. 439), she was at once the centre of a crowd of wooers. Mrs. Bovey would listen to none. About 1686 she had formed a strong friendship with a Mrs. Mary Pope; and seeing ample scope for a life of active benefactions, she associated Mrs. Pope with her in her good works. She distributed to the poor, relieved prisoners, and taught the children of her neighbours. Her gifts, which included the purchase of an estate to augment the income of Flaxley Church (Fosbroke, Gloucestershire, ii. 177 et seq.), a legacy to Bermuda, and bequests to two schools at Westminster, are duly enumerated in her epitaph at Flaxley. Particulars of her habits, and of how she dispensed her charities, appear in H. G. Nicholls's 'Forest of Dean,' pp. 185 et seq.

In 1702 Dr. Hickes, in the preface (p. xlvii) to 'Linguarum Septentrionalium Thesaurus,' calls Mrs. Bovey 'Angliæ nostræ Hypatia Christiana.' In 1714, Steele prefixed an 'Epistle Dedicatory' to her to the second volume of the 'Ladies' Library.' 'Do not believe that I have many such as Portia to speak of,' said the writer of 'The New Atlantis' (p. 212); and the repute of her happy ways and generous deeds had not died out in 1807, when Fosbroke (Gloucestershire, p. 179) wrote of her as 'a very learned, most exemplary, and excellent woman.' She died at Flaxley Hall on Saturday, 18 Jan. 1726, and was buried 'in a most private manner,' according to her own directions (Gent. Mag. lxii. pt. ii. 703).

A monument was erected to Mrs. Bovey in Westminster Abbey, by her friend Mrs. Pope, shortly after her death; and it was there certainly as late as 1750. Ballard who calls it 'a beautiful honorary marble monument,' writes to a friend asking him to copy the inscription for him, telling him it is on the north side (Nichols, Lit. Illustr. iv. 223). It is copied in Ballard's 'Ladies' and in Wilford's 'Memorials;' there is no mention of Mrs. Bovey or the monument, however, either in Walcott's 'Memorials of Westminster,' 1851, or in Stanley's 'Westminster Abbey,' fifth edition, 1882. Mrs. Bovey was by some thought to be the widow who was inexorable to Sir Roger de Coverley in 'The Spectator' (Gent. Mag. lxii. pt. ii. 703).

[Wilford's Memorials of Eminent Persons, pp. 745, 746; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. ix. 221-2; Nicholls's Forest of Dean, pp. 185 et seq.; The New Atlantis, ed. 1736, iii. 208 et seq.; Fosbroke's Gloucestershire, 1807, ii. 177 et seq.; Ballard's British Ladies, 437 et seq.; Steele's Ladies' Library, Preface, 1714; Gent. Mag. 1792, lxii. pt. ii. 703.]

J. H.