Online Encyclopedia

DUCHESS OF (1648–1702)

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V23, Page 312 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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DUCHESS OF (1648–1702), daughter of Walter Stewart, or Stuart, a physician in the household of Queen Henrietta Maria when in exile after 1649, was born in 1648 and was brought up in France. Notwithstanding the desire of Louis XIV. to keep her at his court, she was sent to England by Henrietta Maria in '683, when she was appointed maid of honour to Catherine of Braganza, Queen of Charles II. Pepys describes her at this time as the greatest beauty he had ever seen, and Henrietta Maria called her the prettiest girl in the world. Charles II., who is said to have first seen " La belle Stewart " in the apartments of his mistress Lady Castlemaine (afterwards duchess of Cleveland), quickly became enamoured of her; but for some time Miss Stewart resisted the king's importunities, though her behaviour was far from modest and " she had no aversion to scandal." She had numerous suitors, including the duke of Buckingham and Francis Digby, son of the earl of Bristol, whose unrequited love for her was celebrated by. Dryden. Her beauty appeared to her contemporaries to be only equalled by her childish silliness; but her letters to her husband, preserved in the British Museum, are not devoid of good sense and feeling. The king's infatuation was so great that when the queen's life was despaired of in 1663, it was reported that he intended to marry Miss Stewart, and • four years later he was considering the possibility of obtaining a divorce to enable him to make her his wife. This was at ,a time when Charles feared he was in danger of losing her as his mistress, her hand being sought in marriage by Charles Stuart, duke of Richmond and Lennox. The duchess of Cleveland, who was losing her hold on the king's affections, is reported by Hamilton to have led the king to Miss Stewart's apartment at midnight when Richmond was closeted with her, and the duke was immediately expelled from court. In March 1667 the lady eloped from Whitehall with Richmond and married him secretly in the country. The king, who was greatly enraged, suspected Clarendon of being privy to the marriage, and, according to Burnet, deprived him of office for this offence. The duchess of Richmond, however, soon returned to court, where she remained for many • years; and. although she was disfigured by small-pox in 1668, she retained her hold on the king's affections. Her husband was sent as ambassador to Denmark, where he died in 1672. The duchess was present at the birth of the prince of Wales, son of James II., in 1688, being one of those who signed the certificate before the council. She died in 1702, leaving a valuable property to her nephew the earl of Blantyre, whose seat was named Lennoxlove after her.
End of Article: DUCHESS OF (1648–1702)
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