FOR ALL THE GOSSIP and speculation that Henrietta’s departure from court occasioned, it proved to be merely the ‘novel of a fortnight’, and people soon turned to other subjects. Life at court also began to return to normal. Camilla, Countess of Tankerville, was expected to take over both Henrietta’s official and unofficial duties, and the other ladies in the Queen’s household resumed their daily chores and petty quarrels.
Only Caroline noticed any real difference, and it was an irksome one, for she was now obliged to entertain her husband during the many long hours he had formerly passed with Lady Suffolk. She soon became heartily sick of his company, and her daughter, Anne, the Princess Royal, shared her desire that he might soon find a suitable replacement. ‘I wish, with all my heart, he would take someone else,’ she told Lord Hervey, ‘then Mamma might be a little relieved from the ennui of seeing him for ever in her room.’ Deprived of her customary periods of peace and rest, Caroline’s health began to suffer, and it was whispered about the court that she was sick with fear that Lady Tankerville was ‘not a proper person to preserve the good correspondence between the King and herself that is necessary for her influencing his Majesty in the manner she has been used to do’.1
Nevertheless, the Queen resolved to make the best of the materials available to her. If Lady Tankerville was not so ideal a pawn as Lady Suffolk had been, she was at least good-natured and simple – ‘a very safe fool’ – and was a known quantity insofar as the King had flirted with her in the past. Together with Walpole, she therefore set about engineering a liaison between them, making sure the lady was placed at the King’s table for cards. George, though, had already found a far more alluring companion with whom he could while away his hours of leisure.
Lady Deloraine, his daughters’ governess, was a vivacious and attractive woman, with ‘a pretty face, a lying tongue, and a false heart’.2 Walpole and the Queen were alarmed at his choice, knowing that, far from being the malleable mistress they required, she was cunning and dangerous. But George was apparently besotted, and before long he was boasting that he had bedded her in his daughters’ apartments. Feeling that her hold over the King was slipping away, and all too conscious of her own fading charms, Caroline must have rued the day she allowed Lady Suffolk to quit the court.
Henrietta, meanwhile, had no such regrets. Upon leaving the palace, she had sought refuge in her brother John’s house on nearby Pall Mall, opposite St James’s Square. The two had remained close throughout her time at court, and he no doubt shared in her joy at being free from it at last. She left his house after a few weeks, eager to take up residence in the Thames-side villa that had been hers for a decade.
Her arrival at Marble Hill inaugured what was to be the happiest period of her life. She at once set about arranging the interiors to her satisfaction, ensuring that every detail of the decoration, furnishings and art complemented Campbell’s elegant structural designs. The crowning glory was the magnificent Great Room, which was lavishly decorated with gilded sculptures, moulded plasterwork and finely carved furniture. Paintings by the Italian artist Panini served as a further reminder to Lady Suffolk’s guests that they were living in the new Augustan Age, one which had produced this perfect Palladian villa. The decor also had some darker allusions, for there were a number of prominent portraits of the Stuarts, which hinted at Jacobite sympathies on the part of the hostess.
As soon as it was completed (which was the work of no more than a few weeks), Henrietta put the house to one of the main purposes for which she had intended it: a place of entertainment for her friends. Upon her retirement from court, Lord Bathurst had jokingly warned her that ‘to be reduc’d to live within the Circle of one’s friends, would be to most people a most dismal retreat’.3 But in truth, this was the very thing for which she had yearned throughout the long and dreary years at St James’s. Alexander Pope was one of the first to visit Marble Hill, delighted by his friend’s proximity to his own villa, and he soon became a regular fixture there.
Henrietta must have revelled in the novelty of being able to enjoy her friends and her house without the grim prospect of having to leave either and return to her duties at court. The transformation of her life had an instant effect upon her health, as well as her happiness. ‘She has now much more ease and liberty and accordingly her health better,’ observed Lady Betty Germain, another frequent visitor to Marble Hill.4
So much did the Dowager Countess of Suffolk delight in being mistress of her own house that just a few months after moving there, she decided to buy another. She was eager to have a base in town to complement her country residence, and she set her sights on a new development in a fashionable area just north of Piccadilly. Savile Street (now Savile Row) was at the heart of the Burlington Estate, owned by Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington. An acquaintance of Lady Suffolk, he was one of the greatest advocates of the Palladian style in England, and had recently remodelled his mansion at Chiswick so that it formed a perfect homage to it. The Earl also owned Burlington House on Piccadilly (now the Royal Academy of Arts), which Colen Campbell had rebuilt for him in the Palladian style.
In the early 1730s, building work was begun in the area north of Burlington House. Savile Street, named after the Earl’s wife, Lady Dorothy Savile, comprised a series of elegant three-storey houses designed for members of London’s most fashionable society. William Kent, one of the greatest architects of the age, leased a house at No. 2, and Lord Robert Montagu, Vice-Chamberlain to the Queen, moved into No.17. The lease for No.15 was put up for sale by the builders, Gray and Fortnum, at the beginning of 1735. The house had only just been built, and it was offered in an unfinished state. Relishing the prospect of being able to put her architectural skills to work yet again, Henrietta snapped it up for £2,500 on 12 February 1735, along with an adjoining coach house large enough to accommodate three horses.5 Some ‘allowances’ were made by Gray in his bill for finishing the house, and Lady Suffolk again commissioned the Earl of Pembroke and Roger Morris to carry this out – an indication of how satisfied she had been with their work at Marble Hill.
Compared with her first house, the completion of No.15 Savile Street was a much simpler project, but Henrietta nevertheless threw herself into it with alacrity. Every last detail was described in the instructions she gave her builders, from applying stucco work to the great stairs and hall, to skirting both the public rooms and the servants’ quarters, glazing the windows with ‘the best Crown Glass’, lining them with lead, and installing a ‘pump cistern and seat’ to the water closet. Everything was finished to the highest possible specification. Even the paintwork, which had been applied only a few days before the sale, was deemed of insufficient quality, and Lady Suffolk sent instructions for ‘All the work new painted to be painted over again.’6
She could certainly afford such luxuries, for the King had generously agreed to continue her annual allowance of £2,000 by way of a pension after she had retired from court. There was even a suggestion that she might have received an additional lump sum of around £40,000, although her accustomed discretion extended to money matters, and even her closest friends could only guess at the scale of her fortune.7 Henrietta also continued to receive interest from the money she had been left by her late brother-in-law, albeit a rather more modest sum than her royal pension.
Once completed, Lady Suffolk’s new town house presented an impressive prospect to her visitors. All the public rooms were elegant and spacious, their features shown off to best effect by the light that came flooding through the large sash windows. Like Marble Hill, it was a homage to the designs of Palladio. The steps up to the house were flanked by ornate iron railings, and the large front door opened into a thirty-foot-long parlour, flanked by four Ionic columns. Every room beyond was ornamented with richly carved stucco work. There were panelled ceilings with plaster mouldings, dado rails and wainscoting around the walls, and polished wooden floorboards. The overall effect was completed by lavish furnishings throughout, from the highly fashionable ‘India paper’ in the back parlour to the cherry-coloured silk damask in the twenty-eight-foot high saloon.
The Savile Street house was large enough to entertain a sizeable party of guests, for as well as an impressive dining room, it had a front and back saloon for ladies and gentlemen respectively, a study and four spacious bedrooms. The extensive service quarters were indicative of a house built for entertaining. There was a large kitchen, detached from the main house, containing four stoves, an enormous lead-based sink and many yards of shelving. Adjoining this was a pantry, store rooms and a wash house, together with accommodation for a housekeeper and a butler.8
Having such a lavish town house to entertain in, as well as a country villa by the Thames, might seem a little excessive for a lady on her own, no matter how high her status. A countess she might have been, but Henrietta was also a widow, and her only son had long been estranged from her. Custom tended to dictate that a woman in her situation should live in just one house, and that would normally be in town rather than the country, so that she was closer to the social life it offered. Others might choose to live in a dower house on their children’s estate. Lady Betty Germain, one of Henrietta’s closest friends, had moved out of her country estate at Drayton after her husband’s death, and spent the rest of her life with the Duke and Duchess of Dorset at Knole in Kent, where she had her own apartments.
It was therefore rather unusual for Lady Suffolk to have bought a second residence so soon after moving into her first. Of course, it might simply have been that, free at last from the shackles of court, she was determined to make up for all those wasted years. Besides, as a woman who had separated from her husband and had a long-standing affair with the King, she was hardly one to bow to convention. But it is at least equally likely that Henrietta did not plan to entertain alone for long.
As well as Pope, Chesterfield and the other members of Lady Suffolk’s circle who came to see her at Marble Hill, there was another friend whose visits she most particularly anticipated. George Berkeley’s admiration for the King’s former mistress had in no way diminished after she had resigned her prestigious position at court. In fact, he had become an ever more frequent visitor to Marble Hill, and was also among the Duchess of Queensberry’s guests at Highclere when Henrietta went there in early summer 1735.
Lady Suffolk had been widowed for almost two years (a respectable period, even for one who had not been estranged from her late husband), she had no further duties to her royal master, and she also enjoyed the luxury of financial independence. It was therefore entirely reasonable – and, in the eyes of polite society, respectable – for her to enter into a courtship with another man. That she had, to all intents and purposes, been doing so with George Berkeley for several years was known only to their closest friends.
The couple were discreet in their courtship, apparently anxious not to reveal it beyond their immediate circle. So successful were they that even those acquaintances who saw them often were astonished when, in July 1735, they joyfully announced to the world that they were married. The wedding had taken place at St Dunstan’s Church on the Berkeley family’s estate of Cranford, Middlesex, on 26 June. Only a handful of close family members, including Lady Betty, had witnessed the event, and they had kept it secret for almost two weeks. When the couple at last announced it, the whole of the fashionable world was agog at the news. ‘The town’s surpris’d, & the town talks, as the town loves to do on these ordinary Extraordinary occasions,’ observed Lady Betty Germain in a letter to Swift.9 It was reported in all the newspapers (most of which inaccurately claimed that the wedding had taken place in early July), and was gossiped about throughout the court and polite society.
Henrietta once more found herself the subject of intense speculation. ‘Mr Berkeley was neither young, nor handsome, healthy, nor rich,’ observed Lord Hervey in typically cutting fashion, ‘which made people wonder what induced Lady Suffolk’s prudence to deviate into this unaccountable piece of folly.’ The cruellest among those who commented on the matter claimed that she had been so long with a companion that she ‘could not live without something in that style’, but that as she was getting on in years, she could not afford to be too selective so had grabbed the first offer that had come her way. Some asserted that it was a deliberate ploy to salvage her reputation and convince the world that nothing improper had ever passed between her and the King. Others believed the opposite, and that it was designed to pique her former royal lover.
If that had been Lady Suffolk’s intention, then she had failed miserably. George II was in Hanover when he received the news in a letter from the Queen, and was reported to have expressed great surprise that his old mistress should have married the ‘gouty’ Mr Berkeley, who was himself somewhat advanced in years. He added: ‘I would not wish to confer such presents upon my friends, and when my enemies rob me, pray God they may always do it thus!’ Caroline, meanwhile, was similarly taken aback by the news, and dismissed the match as ‘the silliest thing she could do’.10
That Henrietta’s marriage to George Berkeley should have caused such a stir was perhaps understandable. Her struggle for freedom from the burdens of court service, a violent husband, a protracted and tedious affair with the King, and the persistent solicitations of ambitious place-seekers was well known, and most people had expected her to now sit back and enjoy her newly won independence. But those who knew her best realised that one simple and unforeseen factor had overcome all these considerations: she had fallen in love.
George was an ideal match for Henrietta. He was cultured, witty and sincere, and was as good-natured and mild-mannered as her first husband had been unstable and hot-headed. Here, at last, was her chance to find the happiness in her personal life that had so long eluded her, and she was not about to let it slip away. It was, as one commentator rather aptly put it, her ‘Indian summer of love’.11
The couple’s friends were overjoyed for them, and none more so than the woman who had brought them together, Lady Betty Germain. She declared herself to be ‘extreamly delight’d’ at the match, and told Swift: ‘The Countess of Suffolk . . . has been so good and gracious as to take my Brother George Berkeley for better, for worse, tho I hope in God the last wont happen, because I think he is an honest good natured man.’ Referring to the longevity of their acquaintance, she said that her brother ‘has appeard to all the world as well as to me, to have long had . . . a most violent passion for her as well as esteem & value for her Numberless good qualities’, quickly adding that his ‘violent passion’ had only dated from the time that Lady Suffolk had become a widow, ‘so pray don’t mistake me’.12
Lady Hervey, meanwhile, who was still a close friend of Henrietta and had also become acquainted with Mr Berkeley, wished them ‘all the joy imaginable’, and said that if they did not find it, ‘’twould be very difficult for one to decide on which to lay the blame; tho one of ye wou’d be most excessively in the wrong’. George’s friends were similarly delighted, and letters of congratulation came pouring in from all parts of the country. They too could see that he and his new bride were well matched. ‘In the choice you have made, where the most agreable beautys of the mind are join’d to those of the body, wishing joy (where it already is & must last) is at any time a meer ceremony,’ wrote Lord Lovell from his estate in Norfolk. Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, joined him in congratulating their friend on having married ‘the most agreable lady in Europe’, and insisted that these were not mere words said for form’s sake, but ‘the real dictates of a sincere heart of one who has long known you’. The couple’s mutual friend, Lord Bolingbroke, was also overjoyed when he heard the news in France, and wrote at once to wish them ‘a long and uninterrupted scene of felicety’.13
The only sour note was sounded by Theresa Blount, who had been put out by Lady Suffolk’s neglect of her and her sister Patty during her courtship with Mr Berkeley. Eager to make amends, Henrietta had invited Patty to stay with them at Marble Hill shortly after the wedding, and Theresa had visited them there. ‘To behold ye happy Pair; & at night, to see her deaf-Ear, & his Lame-leg: put into Bed on Purpose baught, for ye unexpectid Nuptialls,’ she scoffed in a letter to Pope, although she grudgingly admitted that they both seemed to be very happy in their marriage.14
Theresa’s bitter comments aside, all Henrietta and George’s other friends wished them well and confidently predicted a long and blissful marriage. ‘I dont think they have above 10 to 1 against their being very happy,’ wrote Lady Betty Germain to Swift after the wedding, ‘& if they should not I shall heartily wish him hang’d because I’m sure twill be wholly his fault.’ She was just as assured a few months later, and told her friend: ‘I hope whenever you ask me about the Countess & George I shall be able to answer you as I can safely do now, that as yet theres no sort of appearance that they like one another the worse for wearing.’15
The couple fulfilled – and even exceeded – their friends’ confident expectations. They were clearly very deeply in love. This was not the passing fancy typical of so many marriages – indeed, typical of Henrietta’s first marriage. It was founded upon mutual affection, esteem and respect. Once the secret of their marriage was out, Henrietta and George took every opportunity to share their happiness with the world. They commissioned a pair of portraits to mark the occasion, and proudly displayed them in the long gallery at Marble Hill, alongside those of King George and Queen Caroline. The portraits show a couple who are at once at ease and joyful in their union. Mr Berkeley stands in front of a picturesque landscape, as if interrupted from a pleasant walk, a gentle smile playing about his lips. His wife, meanwhile, is dressed in an informal soft pink gown, worn loose around her breasts, and looks considerably younger than her forty-six years. In her left hand is a shell, perhaps a reference to the Goddess of Love, and her enigmatic smile matches that of her new husband.16
The couple were quick to open up their house to the wide circle of friends they had cultivated over the years, and before long it was one of the most vibrant centres of society away from London. ‘There is a greater court now at Marble hill than at Kensington,’ wrote Pope to a friend in August 1735, ‘and God knows when it will end.’17 Mrs Berkeley delighted in playing host with her new husband, and had the added satisfaction of knowing that, in contrast to her days at court, the people who now crowded into her rooms were all there for reasons of friendship rather than ambition. But nothing rivalled her joy at being able to complete this happy domestic scene by once again playing the role of mother.
Soon after her marriage, her brother John’s only surviving children, John and Dorothy, came to live with the newlyweds. Henrietta’s love for Dorothy has already been documented. She was also very fond of the boy, John, who was twelve years old when they came to live at Marble Hill. George shared his wife’s affection for them, and together they raised their young charges in a home filled with love and laughter. Henrietta always favoured Dorothy in arguments, which prompted George to scold her for overindulgence, claiming that it was high time she assumed the ‘office of Rebuker’ with the girl. He, meanwhile, took John’s side, and a light-hearted battle developed between the sexes. ‘You have a high opinion of my understanding, which is sufficient proof to me yt you have a good one,’ John wrote to his ally, adding: ‘I once thought yt silly woman, who has ye honour to call you Husband had been free, at least, from ye glaring foibles of her sex.’18
It was agreed that the children would stay at Marble Hill until John was of an age to be sent away to school, and Dorothy reached adulthood. In the meantime, they would be visited often by John Hobart senior when business brought him to London, and would also make regular trips to see him at their childhood home of Blickling.
Henrietta was overjoyed at being given this unexpected chance to experience the contented family life for which she had so long yearned, but which she had resigned herself never to have. She immediately set about transforming Marble Hill into a family home, furnishing the guest bedrooms with all the comforts necessary for a young gentleman and his sister, as well as purchasing a new bed for herself and her husband. She also engaged an extra servant to help run what was suddenly a busy household. These frenzied activities were all related in a letter she wrote, somewhat hurriedly, to her friend Anne Pitt. So often in the past, Henrietta had read wistfully of her friends’ ordinary family lives away from court, but now the roles had been reversed, and it was she who was apologising for giving a ‘tedious account of my domestic affairs’. For all her panic in trying to arrange everything to the satisfaction of her husband and young charges, she was clearly deeply contented with her new life, and it was with barely disguised pride that she spoke of ‘my family’.19
The happy domestic scene at Marble Hill was temporarily broken up when Henrietta accepted an invitation to visit her friend Lord Cobham’s celebrated gardens at Stowe, towards the end of August 1735. She was reluctant to leave her new family, but her recent poor health proved an incentive. The headaches that had plagued her so often at court had returned, perhaps brought on by the exertion of disrupting her formerly tranquil life in Twickenham, no matter how pleasant the cause had been. George urged her to go, assuring her that he would manage the house and its young occupants in her absence. She duly set off, taking her old friend Patty Blount along for company.
Although the trip only lasted a few days, the Berkeleys obviously found the separation unbearable and wrote to each other every day. The affectionate sentiments expressed in their letters might have been expected from a pair of lovesick newlyweds, but they were no less sincere for that. Indeed, even many years into their marriage, there was no discernible decline in their mutual adoration. ‘The moment your Ladyship was gone I went to bed lay half an hour, disliked it extremely, gott up again,’ wrote George to his wife the day after her departure, adding that he had ‘never found Marble Hill so disagreeable’. Evidently hoping that Lord Cobham’s gardens would soon have the desired effect upon her health so that she might return, he ended: ‘I begg of you for my sake take more than usual care of your self.’
Henrietta wrote back by return of post and said that she was ‘not sorry’ he disliked being at home without her, but assured him that she would soon return because her health was greatly improved. Indeed, all the party at Stowe had commented upon how well marriage suited her, for although she was now in her mid-forties, she appeared more radiant than in the bloom of her youth. ‘Baron Sparr affirms I look better than I did seventeen years ago, and Lord Cobham says the best looking woman of thirty that he ever saw,’ she told him, claiming that all these compliments had quite cured her headaches. She could not resist adding, as a playful afterthought: ‘I will follow your advice strictly and expect as I have now told you the method that is proper to keep me in health, that you will repeat the doses as often as is necessary.’ The letter ends with a final mark of her affection. ‘God bless you,’ she wrote, ‘I do with all my heart and soul nor do I yet repent that I am H. Berkeley.’
Perhaps this expression of tenderness provoked a sudden impatience to be back with her husband, for she added a hurried postscript urging him to order horses to be ready at Winslow, Buckinghamshire, some fifty miles north-west of London. She proposed setting out very early from Lord Cobham’s on the day appointed for her departure so that she might make it back to Marble Hill before nightfall – a journey that would usually take two days.
‘My Life! My Soul! My joy!’ George replied excitedly. He hastily arranged for the horses to be at Winslow a night earlier than she had instructed, to be on the safe side, and hoped ‘to be blessed with your company’ the following day. His wife wrote to thank him immediately, and also expressed mock anxiety about his fidelity during her absence. ‘I have not heard one word how Madam Pitt and you meet . . . I don’t like the silence’, she wrote, adding the warning: ‘But at your Peril, she has a Brother; I say no more.’
This irrepressibly high-spirited, youthful-looking woman was barely recognisable from the downtrodden royal mistress whose heavy cares had threatened to crush her altogether. Her marriage to George Berkeley, coupled with her freedom from court, had given Henrietta a new lust for life, and she seemed to take joy in everything she experienced. She even learned the theory of cricket during her visit to Stowe, telling her husband that she had ‘some thoughts of Practicing this afternoon’.
Mrs Berkeley was up at dawn on the day of her departure and set off before the rest of the household was awake. But for all her efforts, the horses that George had ordered proved frustratingly slow and she was forced to break her journey with an overnight stay. When he heard of this, her husband sent her a hurried note, offering to hire some fresh horses to bring her back from any place that she might wish. ‘I miss you even more than I thought I should,’ he added as a postscript, ‘I cant express it stronger. Heaven preserve you.’20
When Henrietta and George were at last reunited, such was their joy that they vowed never to be apart again if it was at all in their power to prevent it. They were true to their word, and during the years that followed, they were almost always in each other’s company. Their time was divided between their two homes, as well as visits to friends or fashionable retreats, and even the occasional foreign venture.
The couple spent most of the year at Marble Hill. Henrietta obviously relished her new role as a loving – and much-loved – wife, and George, who had been a city dweller for most of his life, adapted smoothly and delightedly to the slower pace of country living. All this was a far cry from the scandal, intrigue and backbiting of the court, and Henrietta could not have been happier at the transformation. ‘We live very innocently, and very regular, both new scenes of life to me,’ she told Miss Pitt, going on to describe ‘the joys of solitude, and our happiness in it’. She could not suppress the pride she felt in her new husband, who was as different from her first as it was possible to be. ‘He rides, walks, and reads; for smoking drinking and hunting I take to be the life of a country brute.’21
But for all their simple domestic pleasures, Mr and Mrs Berkeley’s new life together was hardly one of complete isolation. The vibrant social scene that they had established at Marble Hill during the first few weeks of their marriage continued to flourish. Many of their visitors were connected in some way to the court. Anne Pitt often called when the royal household was at nearby Richmond, as did Anne Knight, the daughter of James Craggs, former Secretary of State. William Pulteney, who was still at the heart of the opposition to Walpole, was frequently of the party, his long friendship with Henrietta and George deepening as the years went by. He and his wife were grateful to the couple when they offered to take care of their son during a bout of illness. By now adept at looking after young children, they performed the task so well that the boy was soon back to full health. ‘If I would take the liberty of carrying a sick Child to any bodys house,’ Pulteney vowed afterwards, ‘it should be to you & Lady Suffolk.’22
Other guests included the Duchess of Queensberry, along with Henrietta’s old companion at court, Lady Hervey, and Henry Herbert, Earl of Pembroke. Alexander Pope continued to be one of the most frequent visitors, and despite living only a short distance upstream, he often stayed over rather than risk his fragile health by setting out late at night. Although he had had Henrietta to himself before her marriage, he seemed to grow accustomed to her husband and was always solicitous in enquiring after his health. Pope’s only complaint was the lateness of the hour at which the Berkeleys chose to dine. During the early part of the eighteenth century, most of society, including the court, had tended to take dinner at around midday, but this became gradually later as the century progressed. Ever at the forefront of fashionable taste, within a year or so of their marriage, Henrietta and her husband were serving dinner at four o’clock in the afternoon. This was far too late for the stubbornly traditional Pope, who was a slave to a constitution that would brook no interruption to its accustomed digestive habits. ‘I find I must never attempt to dine so late as a fashionable hour,’ he complained to an acquaintance, adding: ‘I really dread the consequence of doing it at Marble-Hill.’23
Everyone who called on Mr and Mrs Berkeley at Marble Hill found a warm welcome and generous hospitality. Henrietta had ordered an ice-house to be built in the grounds, where ice and snow would be packed in the winter for preserving food and cooling drinks. Guests were also treated to home-grown fruit and vegetables, as well as fresh milk, butter and cream from the Marble Hill dairy. A team of household staff and gardeners was employed to keep everything ticking over, and to ensure that their masters’ table was always one of the finest to be had for miles around.
The constant stream of visitors took its toll on the house and the guest rooms were frequently redecorated or repaired. This was not enough to satisfy Henrietta, who decided that more space was needed to cope with the unremitting round of social calls and receptions. She therefore commissioned her faithful architect, Roger Morris, to build a cottage in the grounds. Once completed, this not only created more space within the main house, but also served as a perfect repository for Mrs Berkeley’s ever-expanding collection of china. She ordered elaborate shelves to be constructed along every wall in order to show this off to best effect, and also chose a rather garish colour scheme which included a ‘gaily painted ceiling’. ‘My Cheney room will make you stare if not swear,’ she told Lord Pembroke, who for once she had not consulted. ‘I must tell you ’tis the admiration of the Vulgar, but my vanity would be intirely gratified if it shou’d meet your approbation.’24 It is doubtful whether the Earl, whose tastes were more inclined towards classical simplicity, would have given the stamp of approval that she hoped for.
While Marble Hill remained Mr and Mrs Berkeley’s main home, they made regular visits to their town house in Savile Street and spent most winters there. They also chose to celebrate their first Christmas together there in 1735, although it was evidently quite a wrench to leave Marble Hill. A week before their departure, Henrietta had written to let Anne Pitt know that they would be in town, and to invite her to supper at Savile Street. She confided that she and her husband were both sorry to be leaving their life of solitude in order to ‘try again how we like noise, scandal and all the other pleasures your great world abounds in’.25 She may have said this half in jest, but it is remarkable how quickly she had moved from being at the very centre of fashionable London life to being a passive observer of it. It was a transformation that suited her well.
Nevertheless, when they were up in town, the Berkeleys entertained in style. No.15 Savile Street soon became as lively a social centre as their villa in Twickenham, and also provided a base from which to sample the capital’s playhouses, assemblies and other fashionable diversions. But Marble Hill was never far from their thoughts, and they even ordered fresh fruit, vegetables and dairy produce to be sent from there to sustain them and their guests in London.
Consummate hosts though they were, Henrietta and George also made regular visits to the country estates of friends. Their most frequent destination was Lady Betty Germain’s. Henrietta’s marriage to the lady’s brother had deepened their friendship still further, and the three made a very relaxed and convivial party together. Although Lady Betty lived with the Duke and Duchess of Dorset most of the time, she returned to her house at Drayton in Northamptonshire to receive the Berkeleys. This was a considerable journey from Marble Hill, and as the roads were among the most treacherous in the country, it could take several days.
On one trip, Henrietta complained that ‘the roads were worse than I had ever gone, and the miles longer’. At the slowest part of the journey, it took two hours to cover just five miles. Things got even worse on this particular trip, for their coach overturned and although nobody was seriously injured, Henrietta sustained a small wound ‘in a place where I hope it will be no eye sore’. They found little relief at the coach houses where they stayed en route, which grew less salubrious the further they travelled from London. Mrs Berkeley described one of these to her friend Anne Pitt. ‘I, like a good wife, went to see our chamber was clean, aired, and in order,’ she wrote. Unfortunately, it fell short on all three counts, and when she and George retired to bed that night, they quarrelled over which side of it smelt the least, eventually concluding that both sides were just as bad.26
Such inconveniences were to be expected for an age in which transport was still quite primitive, particularly outside London. ‘I find the farther one goes from the capital, the more tedious the miles grow, and the more rough and disagreeable the way,’ complained Lord Hervey.27 Some rural roads dated back to Roman times or even prehistoric trackways, but many more meandered haphazardly up hill and down dale, or wound their way through uneven open fields. This meant a slow, uncomfortable and often hazardous journey for the passengers within. ‘If one could fly in ye Aire twould be a charming Countrey,’ wrote Henrietta’s cousin Margaret Bradshaw during a trip to Cheshire, ‘but since there is no such machine I would not live here . . . for ye Kings ransum.’28
During the early to mid-eighteenth century, most people travelled in heavy, lumbering coaches, which covered an average of just four miles per hour. Passengers would be in for an uncomfortable ride in summer, as the coaches jolted and bumped their way over the dusty ground; whereas in winter the roads were often so caked in mud that travellers became stuck en route. Added to this was the perennial danger of highwaymen, which was a very real one judging by the number of attacks reported in the papers. Only later in the century did things start to improve, but for Henrietta and her contemporaries, travel was a necessary evil in the pursuit of social pleasures.
The couple did not restrict their excursions to Britain alone. As the century progressed, it became increasingly fashionable for well-to-do ladies and gentlemen to go travelling on the Continent. The ‘Grand Tour’, which included France, Italy and the Netherlands, became an essential part of an aristocratic son’s cultural education. There he would be expected to acquire a knowledge of languages (in particular French, which was spoken by polite society across Europe) and sophisticated Continental etiquette, and above all to develop a taste for the arts and architecture. Many young men returned with crates of art and antiques with which to adorn their country houses. By the 1760s, the Grand Tour had become so popular that much of the paraphernalia associated with modern-day travel had started to be introduced, including published guides to historical monuments and art galleries, and even a few tour guides, who were usually expatriates from Britain.
The Grand Tour aside, other, less formal overseas excursions were made by increasing numbers of England’s nobility and gentry during the Georgian period. The vast majority of these headed to France and Belgium, where certain fashionable stopping-off points became an essential part of any visit. Travellers might take the waters at Spaa or Aix-la-Chapelle (now Aachen) in Belgium, admire the splendid landscaped gardens surrounding Brussels, or visit the art galleries of Paris. The summer months were the most popular time to travel, and those members of high society who did so could expect to encounter a great many people they knew. ‘I found the place swarming with English,’ wrote the Duchess of Queensberry from Spaa in August 1738. ‘Lord Lonsdale and his brother, Mr and Mrs Poultney, the Duke of Buckingham, Mr Herbert, Mr Newgent, Lord Cornbury . . . Lord Scarborough . . . Mr and Mrs Pryce, and 10,000 more.’29
A number of Henrietta and George’s other close acquaintances were also devotees of Continental travel, including Lady Hervey and Lady Betty Germain. Their letters were full of praise for the sights they saw and the lively company they kept, and were no doubt an important factor in prompting the newlyweds to make a trip of their own during their first full summer together. George Berkeley was, apparently, rather against the scheme at first, for he had a well-known aversion to the French. Lady Hervey, a fervent Francophile, had chided him for this shortcoming on several occasions. ‘Pray tell Mr Berkley that if I did not think of the French as I do, I shou’d think of them as he does,’ she wrote to Henrietta upon hearing of their marriage. ‘One must love or hate them there is no mean.’30 But he was a sensible man, and the pleasant prospect of a summer spent with his new wife and their circle of friends soon overcame any initial resistance. Moreover, he was eager to see his elder brother, James, 3rd Earl of Berkeley, who was on a recuperative visit to the Duke of Richmond’s house at Aubigny.
They duly set sail in early May 1736, accompanied by their beloved young charge, Dorothy Hobart. Their departure attracted some attention in the press, and was reported in several London newspapers. The contrast with Henrietta’s only other overseas excursion, some twenty-two years earlier, when she had wagered everything on an uncertain voyage to Hanover with her first husband, could not have been greater. This time, she was taking her first holiday with a loving new husband, and the objective was to seek pleasure rather than to secure her future.
The party rested at Calais before continuing their journey to Aubigny. The Duke of Richmond and his wife Sarah were old friends of Mrs Berkeley, having served in the households of George II and his consort respectively. The Duke had inherited the title and estate of Aubigny upon the death of his grandmother in 1734, and had thereafter spent a great deal of time in that pleasant retreat with his family. He was a genial host and his house soon became an unmissable part of the Continental tour for genteel travellers.
Mr and Mrs Berkeley knew several of the guests who were there upon their arrival, and received a warm welcome. The person whom they were most anxious to see was George’s brother James, whose health was showing little sign of improvement. Having lost his other brother, Henry, just a few weeks before, these were anxious times for George. He was greatly comforted by the arrival of his old friend Lord Bolingbroke and his second wife Marie-Claire de Marcilly, who had been living in France since his defeat by Walpole in 1734 and the brief sojourn in Bath that followed. His departure had prompted various disaffected politicians and other opponents to the regime to follow him there, and before long he had gathered quite a body of supporters about him. These included a growing contingent of Jacobites, who used the safety of the Continent to develop fresh plots to restore James ‘III’ to the British throne.
Lady Suffolk no longer needed to conceal her political allegiance, and therefore openly courted her old acquaintance. Both she and Mr Berkeley were delighted with Bolingbroke’s wife, who was renowned for her amiable disposition and good sense, and they maintained a correspondence with her long after their departure from France.
The party at Aubigny also included William Chetwynd, a mutual acquaintance of the Bolingbrokes and Berkeleys, who was known as ‘Brother Will’ in the close-knit society of disaffected politicians who gathered on the Continent. His attachment to Bolingbroke did not prevent his attaining considerable offices under George II, and he proved a very useful ally at the heart of government. Chetwynd’s friendship with the Berkeleys was to develop once they were back in England, and he became a regular guest at Marble Hill and Savile Street.
After spending a pleasant few weeks with this company, Henrietta and George took their leave, sufficiently well assured of James Berkeley’s health. Lady Bolingbroke promised to keep them informed of his progress. Together with his wife and her niece, George continued on to Paris, following what had now become the accustomed route for fashionable travellers. The absence of any correspondence to their friends back in England suggests that their time was entirely taken up with the vibrant social scene that greeted them upon their arrival.
Having enjoyed the galleries, theatres and assemblies for a few days, the Berkeleys spent the remainder of their trip recovering at Aix-la-Chapelle and Spaa, where they joined various other members of their acquaintance in taking the waters for their health. They had genuine cause to do so, for Henrietta was still troubled by headaches and poor hearing, and her husband had had a renewed attack of gout. Whilst in Spaa, they received the sad news that James Berkeley’s health had taken a turn for the worse after their departure from Aubigny, and he had died on 17 August. This cast a shadow over their carefree adventure, and they prepared to leave for home soon afterwards.