Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Stuart, Frances Teresa
STUART or STEWART, FRANCES TERESA, Duchess of Richmond and Lennox (1647–1702), ‘La Belle Stuart,’ born on 8 July 1647 (Sloane MS. 1708, f. 121), was elder daughter of Walter Stewart, M.D. Her father, who took refuge in France after 1649, and seems to have been attached to the household of the queen dowager, Henrietta Maria, was third son of Walter Stewart or Stuart, first lord Blantyre [q. v.] Her younger sister, Sophia, married Henry Bulkeley, master of the household to Charles II and James II, and brother of Richard Bulkeley [q. v.]; and her sister's daughter Anne, ‘La Belle Nanette,’ was the second wife of James, duke of Berwick (see Fitzjames, James; cf. Douglas, Peerage of Scotland, ed. Wood, i. 214; Lodge, Peerage of Ireland, v. 26).
Frances was educated in France, and imbued with French taste, especially in matters of dress. Pepys relates that the French king cast his eyes upon her, and ‘would fain have had her mother, who is one of the most cunning women in the world, to let her stay in France’ as an ornament to his court. But Queen Henrietta determined to send her to England, and on 4 Jan. 1662–3 procured for the young beauty, ‘la plus jolie fille du monde,’ a letter of introduction to the restored monarch, her son (Baillon, Henriette-Anne, pp. 80 sq.). Louis XIV contented himself with giving the young lady a farewell present. Early in 1663 she was appointed maid of honour to Catherine of Braganza, and it was doubtless her influence which procured for her sister Sophia a place as ‘dresser’ to the queen mother, with a pension of 300l. a year (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1663, p. 98). Lady Castlemaine affected to patronise the newcomer, and Charles is said to have noticed her while she was sleeping in that lady's apartment. Early in July Pepys noted that the king had ‘become besotted with Miss Stewart, and will be with her half an hour together kissing her.’ ‘With her hat cocked and a red plume, sweet eye, little Roman nose and excellent taile,’ she appeared to Pepys the greatest beauty he had ever seen, and he ‘fancied himself sporting with her with great pleasure’ (Pepys, ed. Wheatley, iii. 209). The French ambassador was amazed at the artlessness of her prattle to the king. Her character was summarised by Hamilton: ‘It was hardly possible for a woman to have less wit and more beauty.’ Her favourite amusements were blindman's buff, hunt the slipper, and card-building. Buckingham was an ardent admirer; but her ‘simplicity’ proved more than a match for all his artifices. Another aspirant was Anthony Hamilton [q. v.], who won her favour by holding two lighted tapers within his mouth longer than any other cavalier could manage to retain one. He was finally diverted from his dangerous passion by Gramont. More hopeless was the case of Francis Digby, younger son of George Digby, second earl of Bristol [q. v.], whom her ‘cruelty’ drove to despair. Upon his death in a sea-fight with the Dutch, Dryden penned his once famous ‘Farewell, fair Armida’ (first included in ‘Covent Garden Drollery,’ 1672, and parodied in some verses put into Armida's mouth by Buckingham in the ‘Rehearsal,’ act iii. sc. 1). Hopeless passions are also rumoured to have been cherished by John Roettiers, the medallist, and by Nathaniel Lee.
The king's feeling for Miss Stewart approached nearer to what may be called love than any other of his libertine attachments. As early as November 1663, when the queen was so ill that extreme unction was administered, gossip was current that Charles was determined to marry the favourite (Jusserand, A French Ambassador, p. 88). It is certain that from this date his jealousy was acute and ever on the alert. The lady refused titles, but was smothered with trinkets. The king was her valentine in 1664, and the Duke of York in 1665. Yet Miss Stewart exasperated Charles by her unwillingness to yield to his importunities. Her obduracy, according to Hamilton, was overcome by the arrival at court of a calèche from France. The honour of the first drive was eagerly contested by the ladies of the court, including even the queen. A bargain was struck, and Miss Stewart was the first to be seen in the new vehicle.
In January 1667 Miss Stewart's hand was sought in marriage by Charles Stuart, third duke of Richmond and sixth duke of Lennox [q. v.] His second wife was buried on 6 Jan. 1667, and a fortnight later he preferred his suit to the hand of his ‘fair cousin.’ Charles, fearing to lose his mistress, offered to create Miss Stewart a duchess, and even undertook, it is said, ‘to rearrange his seraglio.’ More than this, he asked Archbishop Sheldon in January 1667 if the church of England would allow of a divorce where both parties were consenting and one lay under a natural incapacity for having children (cf. Burnet, Own Time, i. 453–4; Clarendon, Continuation, ii. 478; Ludlow, Memoirs, ii. 407). Sheldon asked time for consideration. In the meantime, about 21 March 1667, a rumour circulated at court that the duke and Miss Stewart had been betrothed (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1667, p. 576). A few days later, on a dark and stormy night, Miss Stewart eloped from her rooms in Whitehall, joined the duke at the ‘Beare by London Bridge,’ and escaped into Kent, where the couple were privately married (cf. Lauderdale Papers, iii. 131, 140). Charles, when he learned the news, was beside himself with rage. He suspected that Clarendon (‘that old Volpone’) had got wind of his project of divorce through Sheldon, and had incited the Duke of Richmond to frustrate it by a prompt elopement. The suspicions thus engendered led, says Burnet, to the king's resolve to take the seals from Clarendon. The story helps to explain the deep resentment, foreign to Charles's nature, which he nursed against the chancellor (Burnet's account is confirmed in great measure by Clarendon's letter of 16 Nov. 1667 to the king in the ‘Life;’ cf. Christie, Shaftesbury, ii. 8, 41; Ludlow, ii. 503).
The duchess returned the king the jewels he had given her; but the queen seems to have acted as mediator (greatly preferring ‘La Belle Stuart’ to any other of the royal favourites), and she soon returned to court. On 6 July 1668 she was sworn of Catherine's bedchamber, and next month she and her husband were settled at the Bowling Green, Whitehall. In the same year she was badly disfigured by small-pox. Charles visited her during her illness, and was soon more assiduous than ever. The duke was sent out of the way—in 1670 to Scotland, and in 1671 as ambassador to Denmark. In May 1670 the duchess attended the queen to Calais to meet the Duchess of Orleans, and in the following October on a visit to Audley End, where she and her royal mistress, dressed up in red petticoats, went to a country fair and were mobbed (see letter to R. Paston, ap. John Ives, Select Papers, p. 39). The duke, her husband, died in Denmark, at Elsinore, on 12 Dec. 1672. His titles reverted to Charles II, who allowed the duchess a small ‘bounty’ of 150l. per annum. Not wishing to remain at Cobham Hall in Kent, she sold her life-interest therein to Henry, lord O'Brien (as trustee for Donatus, his son by Katherine Stuart), for 3,800l. She appears to have continued for many years at court. She attended Queen Mary of Modena at her accouchement in 1688, and signed the certificate before the council; and she was at the coronation of Anne. She died in the Roman catholic communion on 15 Oct. 1702, and was buried in Westminster Abbey in the Duke of Richmond's vault in Henry VII's chapel on 22 Oct. (Chester, Reg. p. 250). Her effigy in wax, modelled by Antoine Benoist, may still be seen in the abbey, dressed in the robesworn by the duchess at Anne's coronation (cf. Wheatley and Cunningham, London, iii. 478). From her savings and her dower she purchased the estate of Lethington, valued at 50,000l., and bequeathed it on her death to her impoverished nephew, Alexander, earl of Blantyre (d. 1704), with a request that the estate might be named ‘Lennox love to Blantyre.’ Lord Blantyre's seat is still called Lennoxlove (cf. Groome, Gazetteer of Scotland, iv. 496; Luttrell, v. 225). She also bequeathed annuities to some poor gentlewomen friends with the burden of maintaining some of her cats; hence Pope's satiric allusion in his fourth ‘Moral Essay:’ ‘Die and endow a college, or a cat.’ The duchess's fine collection of original drawings by Da Vinci, Raphael, and other masters, together with miniatures and engravings, was sold by auction at Whitehall at the close of 1702 (London Gazette, 17 Nov.)
However vacuous ‘La Belle Stuart’ appeared to be in youth, she developed in later life a fair measure of Scottish discretion. Her letters to her husband (in Brit. Mus. Add. MSS. 21947–8) give evidence of good sense and affection. She maintained her high rank with credit, and was kind to her retainers. Nat Lee, in dedicating to her his ‘Theodosius’ (produced at Dorset Garden in 1680), speaks warmly of personal attentions to himself.
‘La Belle Stuart’ figures in numerous medals, notably as Britannia seated at the foot of a rock with the legend ‘Favente Deo’ in ‘The Peace of Breda’ medal (1667), by John Roettiers [q. v.] (cf. Pepys, ed. Wheatley, vi. 96), and in a similar guise in the ‘Naval Victories’ medal (1667), with the legend, ‘Quatuor maria vindico,’ whence Andrew Marvell's allusion to ‘female Stewart there rules the four seas’ (Last Instructions to a Painter, p. 714). A special medal was struck in her honour in 1667 with Britannia on the reverse. Both medals and dies are in the British Museum, where is also a further portrait in relief upon a thin plate of gold. Waller, in his epigram ‘upon the golden medal,’ has the line, ‘Virtue a stronger guard than brass,’ in reference to Miss Stewart's triumph over Barbara Villiers, duchess of Cleveland [q. v.] The halfpenny designed by John Roettiers, bearing the figure of Britannia on the reverse, first appeared in 1672, and there is no doubt that the Duchess of Richmond was in the artist's mind when he made the design (cf. Montagu, Copper Coinage of England, 1893, pp. 38–9; cf. Forneron, Louise de Keroualle).
Of the numerous portraits, the best are the Lely portrait at Windsor (engraved by Thomas Watson, and also by S. Freeman in 1827 for Mrs. Jameson's ‘Beauties’); another by Lely, as Pallas, in the Duke of Richmond's collection (engraved by J. Thomson); as a man, by Johnson, at Kensington Palace (engraved by R. Robinson), and another as Pallas, by Gascar (see Smith, Mezzotinto Portraits, passim).
[Miss Stewart may almost be considered the heroine of Hamilton's Memoirs of Grammont, the animated pages of which are largely occupied by her escapades at court; but all his stories need corroboration. Good, though rather stern, characterisations are given in Mrs. Jameson's Beauties of the Court of Charles II, in Jesse's Court of England under the Stuarts, iv. 128–41, and in Strickland's Queens, v. 585 sq. The amount of responsibility due to the elopement for Clarendon's fall is carefully apportioned by Professor Masson (Milton, vi. 272). See also Archæologia Cantiana, vols. xi. xii.; Baillon's Henriette-Anne d'Angleterre; Lady Cust's Stuarts of Aubigny; Hatton Correspondence; Dalrymple's Appendix; Medallic Illustrations of Brit. Hist. 1885, i. 536–43; Pope's Works, ed. Elwin, iii. 138; Waller's Poems, ed. Drury, pp. 193, 338; Dangeau's Journal; Walpole's Anecdotes, ii. 184.]