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A Group of Scottish Women
Anne, Duchess of Buccleuch and Monmouth (1651 - 1732)


It cannot be denied that in the world of Art or of Literature, Scottish women have never occupied a very prominent place. Scotland has yet to produce a Rosa Bonheur, a Georges Sand, and Charlotte Bronté. It is impossible to compare Joanna Baillie with Elizabeth Barratt Browning, or Miss Ferrier with Jane Austin or George Eliot. The Scotswoman’s genius is not of a creative or speculative kind. But for sheer individuality she cannot be rivalled. Looking back at the history of the past six centuries, it is not difficult to find many examples of Scottish women whose personalities have had a profound influence upon their times. Scotswomen of strong – if occasionally eccentric – character, of shrewd intelligence, of active wit, have again and again inspired the men of their day to heights which the latter would never have reached without feminine assistance. The great ladies of the court, in particular, were fully sensible of the responsibilities attaching to their high social position, and for the most part worthily upheld the traditions of their rank.

An excellent example of a woman of title whose life and conduct earned universal respect, and who exercised a beneficial influence upon her contemporaries, in Anna, Duchess of Buccleuch and Monmouth, whom Sir Walter Scott was proud to number among his distinguished ancestry.

Of the many Scottish families which rose to greatness upon the ruins of the mighty house of Douglas, the Scotts were by no means the least important. When the last Earl of Douglas died in retirement about 1491, some years after he had been handed over as a prisoner to King James III., his vast estates were divided among those who had remained loyal to the crown. Sir Walter Scott of Kirkurd and Buccleuch had assisted in the downfall of the Douglasses at the battle of Arkinholme in 1455, and his services were rewarded by grants of lands in the forests of Ettrick and Selkirk and in the shire of Roxburgh. He acquired also the lands of Branxholm, and in his time Branxholm Castle was first established as the residence of the Buccleuch family. His descendant Walter, Lord Scott, was created Earl of Buccleuch in the year 1619.

Francis, 2nd Earl of Buccleuch, died in 1651 without male issue, and his title and estates passed to his daughter Mary, who at once became the greatest heiress of her day in Scotland. At the early age of eleven this unfortunate child was married to a kinsman, one Walter Scott of Highchester, a boy of fourteen. Vainly did some of the girl’s relations and her tutor, Sir John Scott of Scotstarvet, seek to have this scandalous marriage annulled. They were not strong enough to counteract the influence of the little countess’s mother, Lady Margaret Leslie, only daughter of John, Earl of Rothes, and widow of Lord Balgonie, a clever and determined woman who, after her second husband’s death, married David, 2nd Earl of Wemyss. The dowager-countess had her way, and as soon as the heiress reached the age of twelve, at which she could legally effect a marriage of her own free will, the girl was persuaded to approve of the proposed match, and went to Dalkeith to commence married life with her boy husband.

Mary was a delicate child. Her premature marriage cannot have had a beneficial effect upon her health; and having been taken up to London by her mother to be touched by the King for the “cruels,” she died there, after a short two years’ experience of matrimony, and was succeeded by her sister Anna.

Anna, (or Anne, as she is generally called), Countess of Buccleuch, was born in the year 1651 at Dundee, where her mother is supposed to have gone to act as an intermediary between General Monck and the Scottish nobility. Her early life was spent at Dalkeith, and later on, when her mother married again, at Wemyss Castle. She was, of course, as great an heiress as her sister had been, and the question of providing her with a suitable husband was one that immediately occupied her mother’s mind. General Monck is supposed to have wished his son to marry her. But Lady Wemyss was, as has been seen, an ambitious and designing woman, and, after taking note of all the possible suitors for her daughter’s hand, fixed her final choice upon James, Duke of Monmouth, the natural son of Charles II. and Lucy Walters. To this arrangement, supported as it was by the powerful Earl of Lauderdale, the King offered no objection, and on 20th April 1663, when little Anne was in her twelfth year and Monmouth but a trifle older, the marriage between the two children was duly solemnised at Wemyss Castle in the presence of the King and Queen. Monmouth at once assumed his wife’s name of Scott. On the day of their wedding he was created Duke of Buccleuch, and, two days later, his newly-acquired honours were celebrated by a banquet given by the King to the Knights Companion of St. George on the name-day of their patron saint.

A marriage under such conditions, and between parties of so immature and age, was scarcely calculated to prove a success. From the very first moment of their wedded life, Monmouth and his duchess were at complete variance. They differed in character as well as in tastes. The duke’s charms were chiefly of a physical order. “His figure, and the exterior graces of his person were such,” says De Grammont, [Memoirs of the Count of Gramont, p.294. (1846)] “that nature, perhaps, never formed anything more complete: his face was extremely handsome; and yet it was a manly face, neither inanimate nor effeminate; each feature having its beauty and peculiar delicacy: he had a wonderful genius for every sort of exercise, an engaging aspect, and an air of grandeur: in a word, he possessed every personal advantage; but then he was greatly deficient in mental accomplishments.” [On the other hand, in a contemporary MS at the Advocates’ Library, entitled Historical Researches on the Antiquity and Anecdotes of the Noble Family of Buccleuch, Monmouth is described as one whose “learning was greater than any of his Rank at that time, without the least alloy of Pedantry.”]

His duchess, on the other hand, was probably not very handsome, or if she was, her contemporaries were so dazzled by the brilliance of her mental qualities that they failed to observe of record her physical attractions. John Evelyn, the diarist, calls her “one of the wisest and craftiest of her sex.” [Diary and Correspondence of John Evelyn, vol. ii. p87. (1857.)] Grammont, again, tells us that her mind possessed all those perfections in which the handsome Monmouth was deficient. [Grammont’s Memoirs, pp.295-6.] It might be imagined that two persons who were each the complement of the other could have managed to live together as husband and wife without friction or unhappiness. Unfortunately, Monmouth’s views of the duties of a husband did not coincide with those of his duchess – nor indeed with those of any self-respecting wife. He was “ever engaged in some Amour,” as the Duke of Buckingham relates in his Memoirs, [The Works of John Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham, vol. ii. p.15 (1723)] and was consequently not only a severe trial to his duchess, but the universal terror of husbands and lovers. Wife, widow, or maid, no woman was safe from his intrigues. “The Duke of Monmouth has so little employment in state affairs,” wrote the Dowager-Countess of Sunderland to Sidney in 1679, “that he has been at leisure to send two fine ladies out of town. My Lord Grey has carried his wife into Northumberland, and my Lady Wentworth’s ill eyes did find cause, as she thought to carry her daughter into the country in so much haste that it makes a great noise, and was done sure in some great passion. My Lord Grey was long in believing the Duke of Monmouth and unfaithful friend to him. He gave her but one night’s time to take leave, pack up, and be gone.” [Diary of the Time of Charles II., by the Hon. H. Sidney, pp.263-4 (1843)]

The duke did not confine his amorous attentions to married women alone. He dallied for a time with Eleanor, daughter of Sir Robert Needham, and one of their children, Henrietta Crofts, afterwards became Duchess of Bolton. But the chief intrigue of his life was the very genuine attachment which he formed for Henrietta, Lady Wentworth. [She was the granddaughter of Thomas, Earl of Cleveland, by whose death, in 1667, she became Baroness Wentworth in her own right.] His affection for the lady was sincere and most warmly returned. Lady Wentworth lived with Monmouth for many years, and even shared his banishment, and he was so far faithful to her that on the day of his death he stoutly declared her to be his only wife in the eyes of God.

If the duke’s and the duchess’s views of conjugal morality differed widely, their ideas of loyalty were equally dissimilar. Monmouth’s perpetual plotting against the crown is a matter of history. The duchess, on the other hand, by steering clear of the sea of conspiracies in which her husband was always plunging with such utter recklessness, managed to preserve the favour of James II. (and later of William III.) to the end of her life. The Duke of York, speaking to Bishop Burnet on the subject of the duchess’s integrity and loyalty, in 1673 – when it was proposed that the King should declare that he had been legally married to Lucy Walters, and thus legitimise the Duke of Monmouth – affirmed that not even the hopes of a crown would tempt her to do an unjust thing. [Bishop Burnet’s History of His Own Times, p.177.] Indeed, if she ever interfered at all in politics, it was either to save her husband from the consequences of his numerous indiscretions or to contribute towards his advancement. For this purpose she was well served by the friendship which the Duke of York openly professed for her, though the intimacy of so useful and uncle, whose only object, it is thought, was to convert the duchess to the Roman Catholic faith, gave mutual enemies an excuse for unfavourable comment. “Whether this familiarity of theirs was contrived, or only connived at, by the Duke of Monmouth himself, is hard to determine,” says the Duke of Buckingham. [The Works of John Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham (Memoirs in the Reign of Charles II.) vol. ii. pp.12-13.] “But I well remember that after these two Princes had become declared enemies, the Duke of York one day told me with some emotion, as conceiving it a new mark of his nephew’s insolence, that he had forbidden his wife to receive any more visits from him: At which I could not forbear frankly replying, that I who was not used to excuse him, yet could not hold from doing it in that case; wishing his Highness might have no juster cause to complain of him. Upon which,” adds this candid friend, “the Duke, surprized to find me excuse his and my own enemy, changed the discourse immediately.”

The Duke of York was not the only good friend made by the duchess during the course of a long life. Sir Gideon Scott, her guardian, and George, 1st Earl of Cromartie, were ever ready to give her advice as to the management of her private affairs; and for the conduct of her estates she depended upon the business-like qualities of her brother-in-law, George, Earl of Melville, with whom, however, owing to an unfortunate lawsuit, she quarrelled in her old age. Lord Wemyss, her stepfather, was a man of active and able mind. Before Anne’s mother became his wife he had already been twice married, first of all to Jean, daughter of Lord Balfour of Burleigh, and secondly to Lady Eleanor Fleming, daughter or the Earl of Wigton. His second wife was in some ways a remarkable character. During her brief two years of married life she managed to spend a hundred thousand merks of her husband’s money. Also, being addicted to a love of strong potations, [Chamber’s Domestic Annals of Scotland, vol. ii. p.215.] she had a door pierced through  the wall of her bedroom into the adjoining wine-cellar, in order that, in distant anticipation of Mrs. Gamp, she might “put her lips to the bottle when so dispoged.” To Lord Wemyss the duchess was devoted, and always displayed the warmest affection for her half-brother David, Lord Elcho.

The Princess of Wales was another of Anne’s friends. Lady Cowper, one of her Royal Highness’s ladies-in-waiting, describes how at a supper-party given by the princess in 1716 she met the Duchess of Buccleuch, who entertained and delighted the company with amusing stories of the court of Charles II. [The Diary of Mary, Countess Cowper, p.93. (1865)] The princess “loved her mightily,” says Lady Cowper, “and certainly no Woman of her Years ever deserved it so well.” [Ibid., p.125.] Owing to her influence at court the duchess was often able to perform many kindly actions, to which the natural benevolence of her disposition prompted her. Sir Walter Scott, in a note to the autobiography of his great-grandfather, declared that this fire-eating old gentleman – “Beardie,” as he was always called – who served with Dundee in 1685, ran a grave risk of being hanged but for the timely intervention of Duchess Anne.

As was becoming in a woman of her station, the duchess extensively patronised the drama and literature of her day. The poet Gay – afterwards destined to become famous in the service of another duchess – was for a time her secretary. She showed especial appreciation of Dryden, who, in return for her favour, dedicated The Indian Emperor – the first of his plays to attract public notice – to one whom he termed his “first and best patroness.” [Dryden’s Works, vol. viii. p.120 (1808)] In his preface to this work the poet heaps compliments upon both duke and duchess, whom he declares to be “a pair of Angels sent below to make Virtue amiable in their persons” – for, though Monmouth’s far from angelic conduct somewhat belied this description, poets could not then afford to be too particular. The Indian Emperor was played at the King’s Playhouse in 1667, with Nell Gwyn in the part of the Emperor’s daughter, “a great and serious part,” says Mr. Pepys with his customary candour, “which she does most basely.” [Diary of Samuel Pepys, August 22, 1667.] And in the following year the play was performed at court by an amateur company which included the Duke and Duchess of Monmouth. The histrionic talent displayed by these titled amateurs was not apparently of a very high order, if we are to believe Mr. Pepys, who bluntly remarks that “not any woman but the Duchesse of Monmouth and Mrs. Cornwallis did any thing but like fools and stocks” [Ibid., January 14, 1668.] – though it is only fair to add that the diarist was not himself among the audience on this occasion.

In The Duke of Guise, which was produced in 1682, Dryden frankly brought his patrons upon the stage. This play was of an avowedly political character; its meaning and moral were but lightly veiled. The Covenant was represented in the play by the League in France; the return of the Duke of Guise to Paris was analogous to that of the Duke of Monmouth to London. It naturally followed that the character of Marmoutičre, tenderly treated by the dramatist, was that of the duchess, whose intimacy with the Duke of York corresponded to that of the king and Marmoutičre in the play.

Monmouth’s position was at this time a perilous one. In 1679, owing to suspected complicity in the Rye House Plot, he had been banished, a punishment which would doubtless have taken a more severe form but for the duchess’s influence in high places. And on the death of Charles II., he planned a futile invasion with the Duke of Argyll, landed at Lyme in 1685, was defeated and taken prisoner at Sedgemoor. His trial and death sentence followed in due course.

Monmouth had many good points besides his personal attractions. “Brave, generous, affable,” is a description given of him by a contemporary, [Memoirs of the Most Material Transactions in England, by S.J. Welwood, p.152. (1820)] “constant in his friendship, just to his word, and an utter enemy to all sort of cruelty.” Of his humanity the Covenanters had experience after the fight at Bothwellhaugh, when he forbade his troops to put the prisoners to death. His personal bravery has never been questioned. He served with distinction in France in 1673, and in Flanders a few years later. And on the day of his execution he evinced a spirit of unflinching fortitude which evoked general admiration. The duchess, too, bore this tragic ordeal with wonderful courage. She and the duke had long been estranged, owing to the latter’s invariable inconstancy and the curious fancy he entertained for any wife but his own. But however little real affection she may have felt for him, it was impossible for a woman of her sensitive temperament to contemplate with equanimity the execution of one who was still her husband and had once been her lover.

The scene at their meeting, on that night that Monmouth was committed to the Tower, must have been peculiarly affecting. At this interview the duchess behaved with becoming calm, adopting a generous attitude towards the man who had wronged her so deeply and for so long. If, she declared, she had ever said or done anything displeasing to her husband – save in regard to his predilection for other women or his disobedience to the late king – if she had failed in duty or obedience as became a wife and a mother, she was ready to fall upon her knees and humbly ask his pardon. Monmouth’s reply was equally creditable to his good sense and feeling. He assured his wife that he had no cause for complaint in her conduct either towards himself, his children, or his king. And at the final farewell meeting, which took place on July 15, in the presence of his two sons and a company of officials and friends, Monmouth publicly declared his duchess to be innocent of any cognisance of his designs against the crown. He further begged her to forgive him for his many offences against her and for the irregular life which he had led, and earnestly committed his children to her charge. His composure throughout this affecting scene was remarkable, and he bade adieu to his weeping children with perfect self-control. [He continued to assert, however, that Lady Wentworth was his wife in the eyes of God, and that it was to her he owed all affection and fidelity (Memoirs of Sir John Reresby, p,213.)]

As the fatal hour approached, the duchess, who had hitherto restrained her emotion, broke down, and, bursting into tears, once more asked her husband to forgive her if she had ever in any way offended him.

Even on the scaffold Monmouth’s courage did not forsake him, and his conduct made a deep impression upon all who were present on this tragic occasion. “Rash in his undertakings,” as Grammont describes him, [Memoirs, p.294] “irresolute in execution, and dejected in his misfortunes, in which, at least, an undaunted resolution ought to equal the greatness of the attempt,” James, Duke of Monmouth, me his death – made needlessly painful by the bungling of an incompetent or nervous executioner – with exemplary fortitude.

They sympathy felt for the duchess under this trial was universal, nor was it lessened by the sudden death of her daughter Anne, a few days after Monmouth’s execution. The King showed his goodwill in a practical manner by giving her a re-grant of her titles and estates, so that she continued, as she had been since 1666, Duchess of Buccleuch in her own right. Badly as her husband had treated her, she could not refrain from mourning his loss. To the friends who, in order to cheer her, explained to her how highly the world had extolled her conduct during the duke’s unkindness and disloyalty, she replied simply that she had bought that commendation dear.

After three years of widowhood the duchess was secretly married to Charles, third Lord Cornwallis, [“Visited the Duchess of Monmouth, she being newly come to town. She owned that she had been married three weeks to Lord Cornwallis, and that she went into the country to avoid the clutter usual upon those occasions.” – Correspondence of the Earls of Rochester and Clarendon, vol. ii. p.173] by whom she had one son and two daughters. Lord Cornwallis has been described by a contemporary as “a Gentleman of sweet disposition, and great lover of the Constitution, and well esteemed in his native County of Suffolk; inclining to Fat, fair Complexion.” [Memoirs of the Secret Service of John Mackay, Esq., p.105.] She continued to reside a great deal in England, paying occasional visits to Scotland. She bought a house in Edinburgh in 1712, and, at her palace at Dalkeith, which in her old age she restored and refurnished, continued to keep up a state befitting the widow of a prince. Johnson, in his Life of Gay, says that she was “remarkable for inflexible perseverance in her demand to be treated as a princess.” She ordered a canopy to be erected in her room, and would sit beneath it to receive her friends with much ceremonial, while her attendants stood round in attitudes of respectful deference. It is said that even at meals she was the only person present who was allowed a chair. And Robert Chambers tells us that she was the last person of quality in Scotland to keep pages of good birth.

At her house at Moor Park she gave sumptuous entertainments to numerous guests (among them being Queen Mary), and some idea of the state maintained at Dalkeith may be gathered from an extract taken from the Duchess’s household book, quoted by Arnot in his History of Edinburgh:-

Table of Her Grace the Duchess of Buccleuch and Monmouth, kept at Dalkeith, A.D. 1701 and 1702.

Present, the family, Earl of Rothes, Earl of Hadington, Lord Elcho, and three gentlemen.

DINNER

First Course. Haunch of venison boiled; roast mutton; veal collops; boiled fish; pidgeon pye; brown fricassee of rabbits; whiting pottage. Second Course. Roasted wild fowl; roasted chickens; eggs in gravy; fried flounders; collard pig; buttered crabs; tarts.

DINNER. (Her Grace’s Table)

First Course. 200 Oysters; bacon and pease pottage; haggiss, with a calf’s pluck; beef collops; mutton roasted, three pints; fricassee of five chickens; remove, a roasted goose. Second Course. Six wild fowl, and six chickens; buttered crabs; collard beef; tarts; four roasted hens.

It may be presumed that the duchess, her family, and six guests, after devouring 200 oysters and the remainder of this gargantuan feast, did not carry out the modern precept which insists of the advisability of rising from the table hungry. To provide so vast a daily meal as this was not in reality as expensive a matter as it sounds today. A price-list of provisions is also given in the Dalkeith household book, from which we learn that a hen cost 1s2d, a pair of chickens 10d, that oysters were only 2s per 100 – fourpence more than the same number of onions – but, on the other hand, such luxuries as anchovies were priced as high as 4s per lb., and an equal quantity of nutmeg could not be obtained for less than 16s. [“The Countess of Argile debit to John fferguissone, June 15, 1690.

To 6 ounce and a half tea. . . . . . . . . . . . . 10. 16. 00

To 2 botles hungarie water. . . . . . . . . . . . 02. 02. 00

To 2 Indian florored gravatts. . . . . . . . . . 10. 16. 00

                                                                   23. 14. 00.”

(from the Duchess of Argyle’s Letters. MSS. in the Advocates’ Library, Edinburgh.)]

In 1668 the duchess had the misfortune to meet with a painful accident whereby she sprained her thigh, - “dancing at her lodgings,” says Mr. Pepys [Diary, May 9, 1668.] – and the muscles of one leg became contracted, making it shorter than the other and laming her for life. This physical infirmity does not seem to have affected either her spirits or her temper. When she was sixty-five years old, says Lady Cowper, “she had all the Life and Fire of Youth, and it was marvellous to see that the many afflictions she had suffered had not touched her Wit and good Nature, but at upwards of Threescore she had both in full Perfection.” [Diary of Mary, Countess Cowper.]

Luttrel [Brief Relation of State Affairs, vol. v.] declares that she married a third time, the Earl of Selkirk, but there seems to be no foundation in fact for this assertion.

In her old age the duchess was sometimes in temporary financial difficulties owing to the unbusiness-like and casual fashion in which her pension was paid. On September 11, 1712, we find her writing to complain of this to Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford:-

“MY LORD. - You will oblige me verie much if you put her Majesty in mind that I did the other day represent to her the uneasiness I suffer in my affairs, by reason of the great Arrears due upon my jointure, Your Lordship can not but think it verie hard for me to pay Interest for borrowed money, whilest I have a Grant settled in the manner your Lordship knows mine is…”

The Earl’s reply, though it was not written until an interval of four months had elapsed, has at any rate the merit of extreme candour:-

“MADAM (he writes), I received the honour of Your Grace’s Lre, and I do assure Your Grace, that it is very greivous to me to see any thing unpaid of the Demands upon the Civill List, but particularly that Your Grace’s payments are in Arrear; Let me acquaint Your Grace with the true reason: when the Queen comanded my Service in the Treasury I found the Establish’d Expence  of the Civil List exceeding the Income One hundred Thousand pounds Yearly, add to this a Debt of severall hundred Thousand pounds, and for the most part due to the meanest and most necessitous people. This has been struggled with and I hope we are near a Method of Discharging the whole Debt. I have thus plainly laid the truth before Your Grace, and I beseech Your Grace to accept the assurances that I will take particular care of Your Grace’s payments…” [These letters are preserved among the family papers at Welbeck Abbey, and have never before been published. On the back of the duchess’s letter is the following note, probably in Lord Oxford’s hand: “ Ds Bucclieuch, paid by Wt. [Warrant] dated 28th Febry. 1710/1711 6000l. for a year & halfe to Xmas 1709: 4000l. p. annum.”]

It is to be hoped that Lord Oxford kept his promise, and that his correspondent was not put to any further inconvenience owing to the curious inadequacy of the Civil List.

The duchess lived to the age of eighty, and died on February 6, 1732. on the day that the notorious Colonel Charteris was buried – when so great a storm arose that the superstitious believed it to be caused by the Devil’s arrival in person to carry away the wicked Colonel – Anne, Duchess of Monmouth and Buccleuch, who,

“In pride of power, in beauty’s bloom,
Had wept o’er Monmouth’s bloody tomb,”

was laid to rest in her own peaceful sepulchre in the family vault of the old church of Dalkeith.


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