The place of honour-if such there be-in this chronicle of the social life of the Court during the reign of Charles II, belongs by right to the Duchess of York, and that, not because of her rank but because she it was who commissioned her prot��g�� Lely to paint that series of portraits which became known as "The Windsor Beauties" from the fact that they were originally housed at Windsor.
Anne was the eldest daughter of Edward Hyde, afterwards created Earl of Clarendon, by his second wife, Frances, daughter of Sir Thomas Aylesbury, Bart., one of the Masters of the Court of Bequests and Master of the Mint. She was born on March 14, 1637, at Cranbourne Lodge, in Windsor Park, then in the occupation of her maternal grandfather. Hyde came of an old, if not particularly distinguished Cheshire family. He was called to the bar, where he soon acquired a good practice. His rapid progress may, in the first instance, have been due to the influence of his uncle, Chief Justice Sir Nicholas Hyde; but once started, his abilities were more than sufficient to take him along. He was, perhaps, always more interested in politics than in law, and, at the first promising opportunity, he, in 1640, entered Parliament. His first efforts were directed to the improvement of the judicature, and he spoke vigorously against the many perversions of the law that were then rife. At first he joined the popular party, but differing from it on Church matters he soon transferred himself to the King's party, of which he soon became a leader.
During the Civil War, Hyde was one of the principal advisers of Charles I, and had his suggestions been taken, on many occasions it would probably have been better for the monarch. However, his Majesty was wilful, and the Queen, Henrietta Maria, who cordially disliked Hyde, used such influence as she had against him. However, Charles II, immediately after his escape to Paris in November 1651, summoned him to his side to act as Secretary of State. After the death of Cromwell, he it was who laid down the terms on which the King would return. As Dr. Firth put it, Hyde's aim was, as it had been throughout, to restore the Monarchy, not merely to restore the King; and, in the main, he had his way at the time.
Two years before Edward Hyde went to Paris, his wife had taken Anne and the other children to Antwerp. Presently they removed to a residence at Breda, which had been placed at their disposal by the Princess of Orange, the eldest daughter of Charles I and Henrietta Maria. This royal lady took a fancy to Anne, and, when the girl was seventeen, appointed her one of her Maids of Honour, although this appointment was opposed by Henrietta Maria, and was also against the wish of the girl's father, who knowing something of courts, may well have thought that his daughter was too young to be submitted to the temptations that would surround her.
Anne became a general favourite with all she met at The Hague or at the Princess's country residence at Teyling. She was very pretty, most attractive, and, unquestionably, a coquette. She received attentions from many men with equanimity. Her heart, however, was fluttered by the attentions paid her by Henry Jermyn, afterwards first Baron Dover, who was one year her junior, and from his early youth a notorious libertine. He held a position in the Household of the Duke of York, and accompanied his Royal Highness to Holland in 1657. "Jermyn", Anthony Hamilton wrote of him, "supported by his uncle's wealth, found it no difficult matter to make a considerable figure upon his arrival at the court of the Princess of Orange: the poor courtiers of the King, her brother, could not vie with him in point of equipage and magnificence; and these two articles often produce as much success in love as real merit: there is no necessity for any other example than the present; for though Jermyn was brave, and certainly a gentleman, yet he had neither brilliant actions, nor distinguished rank, to set him off; and as for his figure there was nothing advantageous in it. He was little; his head was large, and his legs short; his features were not disagreeable, but he was affected in his carriage and behaviour. All his wit consisted in expressions learnt by rote, which he occasionally employed either in raillery or in love. This was the whole foundation of the merit of a man so formidable in amours. The Princess Royal was the first who was taken with him: Miss Hyde seems to have been following the steps of her mistress: this immediately brought him into credit, and his reputation was established in England before his arrival. Prepossession in the minds of women is sufficient to find access to their hearts: Jermyn found them in dispositions so favourable for him, that he had nothing to do but to speak."
Anne Hyde, however, recovered from her infatuation when in 1657 she met the Duke of York, who had come to Paris to visit his mother, Queen Henrietta Maria. He saw the girl, and paid his court to her according to the manner of Princes of the Blood of that day-that is to say he offered her his bed, but not his hand. No one can say whether Anne fell in love with the man, or whether she was flattered by having the Duke at her feet; all that is known is that they were much together. Their frequent walks and talks gave rise to much scandal, and it was generally assumed that the young lady yielded to the solicitations of her lover. "When his sister, the Princess Royal, came to Paris to see the Queen Mother, the Duke of York fell in love with Mrs. Anne Hyde, one of her maids of honour," so runs a passage in the Memoirs of the Count de Grammont. "Besides her person, she had all the qualities proper to inflame a heart less apt to take fire than his; which she managed so well as to bring his passion to such an height, that, between the time he first saw her and the winter before the King's restoration, he resolved to marry none but her; and promised her to do it and though, at first, when the Duke asked the King, his brother, for his leave, he refused, and dissuaded him from it, yet at last he opposed it no more, and the Duke married her privately, owned it some time after, and was ever after a true friend to the Chancellor Clarendon for several years."
However, that she withstood him is more likely, for when he saw her again at Breda, he on November 24 contracted an engagement of marriage with her.
Then in May 1660 came the Restoration, and the whole situation was altered. There is all the difference between a King in exile and a King on the throne. At this time Charles was a bachelor and the heir-presumptive was the Duke of York, who had married a commoner. The Cophetua business, however romantic, found no favour in the eyes of Charles; it was distasteful to the Court, especially to the ladies, it was violently disagreeable to Henrietta Maria, who opposed it tooth and nail. Even Edward Hyde, who at the Coronation was created Earl of Clarendon, was alarmed, being far-sighted enough to realise that, by jealousy, powerful enmities would be brought into being. He was in a dilemma, confronted with the claims of his daughter and his duty to his Sovereign.
The Duke of York went to see the Chancellor, and told him "that he knew that he had heard of the business between him and his daughter, and of which he confessed he ought to have spoken to him before; but that when he returned from Dover (where he was going with the King to receive the Princess Royal on her arrival from Holland) he would give him full satisfaction: in the meantime he desired him not to be offended with his daughter." To this the Chancellor made no other answer than, "That it is a matter too great for him to speak of."
Clarendon behaved in a manner which now would be regarded as utterly scandalous. Some of the Duke's friends told him that the Chancellor had a great party in Parliament, and that he was resolved within a few days to complain there, and to produce the witnesses who were present at the marriage, to be examined, that their testimony might remain there, which would be a great affront to him."
The Duke was alarmed, and sent for the Chancellor, who has himself described the interview:
"The Duke told him with much warmth, 'what he had been informed of his purpose to complain to the Parliament against him, which he did not value or care for'; however, if he should prosecute any such course, it would be the worse for him; implying some threats, 'what he would do before he would bear such an affront'; adding then, 'that for his daughter, she had behaved so foully (of which he had such evidence as was so convincing as his own eyes, and of which he could make no doubt), that nobody could blame him for his behaviour towards her'; concluding with some other threats, 'that he should repent it, if he pursued his intention of appealing to the Parliament.'"
It would naturally be expected that the Lord High Chancellor of England would stand by his daughter; but not so at all, as he has been at pains to relate:
"As soon as the Duke discontinued his discourse, the Chancellor told him, 'that he hoped he would discover the untruth of other reports which had been made to him by the falsehood of this, which had been raised without the least ground or shadow of truth. That though he did not pretend to much wisdom, yet no man took him to be such a fool as he must be if he intended to do such an act as he was informed. That if his Highness had done anything towards or against him which he ought not to have done, there is One who is as much above him as his Highness was above him and who could both censure and punish it. For his own part, he knew too well whose son he was and whose brother he is, to behave himself towards him with less duty and submission than was due to him, and should always be paid by him.' He said, 'he was not concerned to vindicate his daughter from any of the most improbable scandals and aspersions: she had disobliged and deceived him too much, for him to be overconfident that she might not deceive any other man: and therefore he would leave that likewise to God Almighty, upon whose blessing he would always depend whilst himself remained innocent no longer.'"
Queen Henrietta Maria came over from Paris and, according to Clarendon, expressed her indignation to the King and her younger son, with her natural passion. It was reported, said the same authority, that the Duke had asked his mother's pardon "for having placed his affections so irregularly, of which he was sure there was now an end; that he was not married, and had now much evidence of her unworthiness that he should think no more of her."
The source of these accusations against the honour of Anne Hyde was soon generally known. "It was avowedly said," Clarendon wrote, "that Sir Charles Berkeley (afterwards Lord Falmouth), who was captain of his guard, and in much more credit and favour with the Duke than his uncle (though a young man of dissolute life, and prone to all wickedness in the judgment of all sober men) had informed the Duke, 'that he was bound in conscience to preserve him from taking to wife a woman so wholly unworthy of him; that he himself had lain with her; and that for his sake he would be content to marry her, though he knew well the familiarity the Duke had with her.' This evidence, with so many solemn oaths presented by a person so much loved and trusted by him, made a wonderful impression in the Duke; and now confirmed by the commands of his mother, as he had been before prevailed upon by his sister, he resolved to deny that he was married, and never to see the woman again who had been so false to him."
The story of this disgraceful business is told with more of detail but with some difference in Grammont's memoirs:
"The Duke of York's marriage with the Chancellor's daughter was deficient in none of those circumstances which render contracts of this nature valid in the eye of Heaven: the mutual inclination, the formal ceremony, witnesses, and every essential point of matrimony had been observed.
"Though the bride was no perfect beauty, yet, as there were none at the Court of Holland who eclipsed her, the Duke during the first endearments of matrimony, was so far from repenting of it, that he seemed only to wish for the King's restoration that he might have an opportunity of declaring it with splendour; but when he saw himself enjoying a rank which placed him so near the throne; when the possession of Miss Hyde afforded him no new charms; when England, so abounding in beauties, displayed all that was charming and lovely in the court of the King his brother; and when he considered he was the only prince, who, from such superior elevation, had descended so low, he began to reflect upon it. On the one hand, his marriage appeared to him particularly ill-suited in every respect: he recollected that Jermyn had not engaged him in an intimacy with Miss Hyde, until he had convinced him by several different circumstances, of the facility of succeeding: he looked upon his marriage as an infringement of that duty and obedience he owed to the King; the indignation with which the Court, and even the whole kingdom, would receive the account of his marriage presented itself to his imagination, together with the impossibility of obtaining the King's consent to such an act, which for a thousand reasons he would be obliged to refuse. On the other hand, the tears and despair of poor Miss Hyde presented themselves; and still more than that, he felt a remorse of conscience, the scruples of which began from that time to rise up against him.
"In the midst of this perplexity he opened his heart to Lord Falmouth, and consulted with him what method he ought to pursue. He could not have applied to a better man for his own interests, nor to a worse for Miss Hyde's; for at first, Falmouth maintained not only that he was not married, but that it was even impossible that he could ever have formed such a thought; that any marriage was invalid for him, which was made without the King's consent, even if the party was a suitable match: but it was a mere jest, even to think of the daughter of an insignificant lawyer, whom the favour of his sovereign had lately made a peer of the realm, without any noble blood, and Chancellor, without any capacity; that as for his scruples, he had only to give ear to some gentlemen whom he could introduce, who would thoroughly inform him of Miss Hyde's conduct before he became acquainted with her; and provided he did not tell them that he really was married, he would soon have sufficient grounds to come to a determination.
"The Duke of York consented, and Lord Falmouth, having assembled both his council and his witnesses, conducted them to his Royal Highness's cabinet, after having instructed them how to act: these gentlemen were the Earl of Arran, Jermyn, Talbot, and Killigrew, all men of honour; but who infinitely preferred the Duke of York's interest to Miss Hyde's reputation, and, who, besides, were greatly dissatisfied, as the whole Court, at the insolent authority of the prime minister.
"The Duke having told them, after a sort of preamble, that although they could not be ignorant of his affection for Miss Hyde, yet they might be unacquainted with the engagements his tenderness for her had induced him to contract; that he thought himself obliged to perform all the promises he had made her; but as the innocence of persons of her age was generally exposed to Court scandal, and as certain reports, whether false or true, had been spread abroad on the subject of her conduct, he conjured them as his friends, and charged them upon their duty, to tell him sincerely everything they knew upon the subject, since he was resolved to make their evidence the rule of his conduct towards her. They all appeared rather reserved at first, and seemed not to dare to give their opinions upon an affair of so serious and delicate a nature; but the Duke of York having renewed his entreaties, each began to relate the particulars of what he knew, and perhaps of more than he knew, of poor Miss Hyde; nor did they omit any circumstance necessary to strengthen the evidence. For instance, the Earl of Arran, who spoke first, deposed that in the gallery at Honslaerdyk, where the Countess of Ossory, his sister-in-law, and Jermyn, were playing at nine-pins, Miss Hyde, pretending to be sick, retired to a chamber at the end of the gallery; that he, the deponent, had followed her, and having cut her lace, to give a greater probability to the pretence of the vapours, he had acquitted himself to the best of his abilities both to assist and to console her.
Excerpted from THE WINDSOR BEAUTIES by LEWIS MELVILLE Copyright © 2005 by Victorian Heritage Press. Excerpted by permission.
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