NOW WELL INTO THEIR forties, Henrietta and George were aware that death would be an ever more frequent blight on their lives. Up until the mid-eighteenth century, medical practices were largely ineffectual and tended to worsen conditions rather than alleviate them. Purgatives and blood-letting were common, as it was widely believed that ridding the body of phlegm, vomit and toxins in the blood was beneficial. These practices, coupled with a fatty, sugary diet lacking in fresh fruit and vegetables, excessive drinking and a lack of exercise, rendered the population vulnerable to disease. Smallpox was the scourge of the eighteenth century, claiming around 15,000 victims every year in London alone, and influenza often reached epidemic proportions. Gout, with which George Berkeley suffered, was also common, particularly among the wealthier classes, with their rich diet and sedentary lifestyle, and comprised a painful inflammation of the joints which sometimes led to arthritis. All of this considered, it is perhaps not surprising that the average life expectancy was just thirty-eight.
The first year of Mr and Mrs Berkeley’s marriage saw the death of two of their closest friends. The first was John Arbuthnot, who had been a physician, friend and confidant to Henrietta throughout her time at court, and whose political leanings had also won him the respect of her husband George. Pope and Chesterfield were with him at his house in Cork Street, Piccadilly, the night before he died, aged sixty-eight. ‘He suffered racking pains from an inflammation in his bowels, but his head was clear to the last,’ wrote Chesterfield. He had taken leave of them ‘without tenderness, without weakness’, deriving comfort from his devout Christian faith.1
Five months later, in October 1735, Henrietta’s old admirer, the Earl of Peterborough, also died. His health had been failing for some years, and he had lost much of his energetic lust for life. He was fond of saying that the world had become so indifferent to him that he amused himself with thoughts of going out of it. When his health began to deteriorate rapidly, several of his closest friends visited him at his home at Bevis Mount, near Southampton. They were amazed by the humour and optimism with which he approached his impending death. ‘This man was never born to die like other men any more than to live like them,’ wrote Pope, who had been among the friends to visit. Peterborough retained his affection for Henrietta to the end, and urged her to come and see him, saying that it was one of his ‘strongest motives’ for keeping alive a little longer. ‘I want to make an appointment with you, Mr Pope, and a few friends more, to meet upon the summit of my Bevis hill and thence, after a speech and a tender farewell, I shall take my leap towards the clouds . . . to mix among the stars,’ he wrote.2 Sadly, she never made it, and at the end of the summer, Peterborough set sail with his young wife for Lisbon, where he died on 25 October.
Death was also stalking the corridors of St James’s Palace. The Queen, who had been suffering with her ‘secret rupture’ for some time, was becoming noticeably slower and in need of frequent rests. Her condition was not helped by the fact that she was now somewhat obese, years of indulging in hot chocolate and rich food having swelled her portly figure to considerable proportions. Although the King still loved her deeply, he no longer desired her, and he was now finding sexual pleasure elsewhere.
Caroline’s long-held fear that once Henrietta had left court, her husband would find a more alluring mistress who would threaten her own hold over him was now being realised. Lady Deloraine had proved a passing fancy, but she had soon been replaced by a more dangerous rival. The year after Lady Suffolk’s retirement, George II had paid one of his triennial summer visits to Hanover. Whilst there, he had fallen head over heels in love with a young German noblewoman, Amelia Sophia de Walmoden. Vivacious and high-spirited, she was also cunning and quick-witted, and used all her feminine wiles to seduce the King. Although she was married and already enjoying a series of illicit liaisons with various men at Herrenhausen, Madame Walmoden flattered the King into believing that he was the only man she had ever loved. He was soon so besotted that he showered her with gifts and trailed after her like a lovesick puppy, all the while sending detailed accounts of each stage of the conquest back to his wife in England. ‘I know you will love the Walmoden, because she loves me,’ he assured her in one.3
The whole of London was buzzing with the news, and speculation was rife that the Queen’s notoriously tight hold on her husband was now, finally, slipping. Caroline dismissed such notions as ridiculous. She firmly believed that by the time George returned at the end of the summer, the affair would have fizzled out. When he delayed his return because he could not bear to be parted from his new love, however, she began to panic. Her anxiety rose even further as the King’s birthday approached and there was still no sign of him: it was inconceivable that he could miss such an important state occasion. In fact, he arrived just in time for the event, but some six weeks later than originally scheduled. What was worse, he had only managed to tear himself away by promising his mistress that he would return the following spring – an unprecedented move that was likely to be as unpopular with his English subjects as it was alarming for his wife.
When at last he arrived back in England, George was in the foulest of tempers, full of bitterness at being forced to leave the ‘magnificent delightful dwelling’ of Hanover and return to the ‘mean dull island’ over which he was King. He railed against his ministers, courtiers and the English in general. No Englishman could cook, no English player could act, no English coachman could drive, no Englishman knew how to come into a room, nor any English woman how to dress herself. But it was the Queen who bore the brunt of his ill humour. Everyone at court noticed that his behaviour towards her had completely changed. Everything she did was now a fresh cause for irritation – from hanging some pictures in the wrong place at Kensington to constantly ‘stuffing’ herself with chocolate.4‘The King . . . was now abominably and perpetually so harsh and rough, that she could never speak one word uncontradicted, nor do any one act unreproved,’ observed Lord Hervey.5
Caroline was greatly troubled by his treatment of her. She had experienced humiliation at his hands in the past, but never anything to compare with this. She confided her fears to Walpole, who told her frankly that after thirty years of marriage, she could not expect to enjoy the same influence over her husband that she had done before, and that ‘three-and-fifty and three-and-twenty could no more resemble one another in their effects than in their looks’. This was cold comfort indeed, and she could find no better from her husband. All he could talk about were the charms of his new mistress – a subject that gave him so much delight that he could not understand why his wife apparently failed to share it. When he was not talking about her, he was writing to her, or reading out the letters that she faithfully sent him every post. Blundering on in his insensitivity towards the Queen’s feelings, he even had a full-length portrait of the lady installed at the foot of his bed, ‘a compliment that shows indeed the violence of his love’, one courtier observed.6
George II’s impatience to return to Hanover was heightened still further by the fact that the object of his passion was with child. While in reality the father could have been one of several men (not least her husband), she swore that the baby was his, and he did not doubt it for a second. He assured her that he would do everything possible to be with her for the birth, but by the time he arrived in early summer 1736, she was already holding their son in her arms. The child proved ‘a cement that binds them faster’, and George was now more besotted with his mistress than ever.
It was fortunate for her that he was, for it made him blind to her obvious infidelities. One night during the King’s sojourn in Hanover, a gardener discovered a ladder beneath Madame Walmoden’s window. Fearing that an intruder was at that very moment making away with her jewels, he scoured the gardens and found a man lurking behind a nearby trellis. With the assistance of his fellow servants, he carried him to the captain of the guard then on duty. Rather than a thief, however, the man turned out to be a relation of George I’s old mistress, Madame Schulenburg, and an officer in the Imperial Service.
The affair at once created a scandal at Herrenhausen, and Madame Walmoden flew to present her version of events to her royal lover before he heard the gossip from a less favourable (and more accurate) source. Giving the performance of her life, she threw herself at his feet, weeping bitterly and pleading with him to protect her from insult and falsehood. Speaking very quickly, in between sobs, she regaled the bewildered George with an elaborate tale of how the Schulenburg family had plotted to ruin her reputation. Incensed by such an outrage committed against his lady-love, the King ordered that the captain of the guard at Hanover be put under immediate arrest for having released the culprit, and that the latter should again be apprehended. However, the incident had planted a small seed of doubt in his mind, and he wrote to ask the Queen and Walpole’s advice on the matter.
The King’s shenanigans in Hanover were soon the talk of the English court, and Caroline was determined not to show any sign of humiliation at her husband’s foolish infatuation with such a conniving young harlot. Her Gentleman Usher reported that when she overheard some indiscreet whispers about her husband’s affair one day at court, she declared that she was ‘sorry for the scandal it gave others, but for herself she minded it no more than his going to the close stool’.7 In truth, however, she was growing increasingly weary of her husband’s infidelities. Ill health added to her troubled state, and she was now in almost constant pain and discomfort.
Despite her ailments, Caroline still had all her wits about her, and devised a clever plan to bring her husband to heel. She wrote to suggest that he bring his mistress over to England so that she might be employed in the Queen’s service, adding thoughtfully that the lady should be given apartments at St James’s so that she would be within convenient reach of the King. To the untrained eye, it seemed as if Caroline had admitted defeat, but her real motive was in fact to have her new rival where she could keep an eye on her. Showing such apparently selfless devotion to her husband’s wishes would also sweeten his temper towards her and make him more likely to do her will.
It was a bold move, and one that even the master tactician Walpole had counselled against on the basis that the King’s German mistress enjoyed more influence with him than Lady Suffolk had done, and that she would therefore be much harder to manipulate. But the Queen was determined to bring the situation under some sort of control, and saw this as the only way. At first it seemed that her gamble had paid off. Upon receiving her letter, George wrote back at once, praising his wife’s understanding and goodness, and instructing her to prepare Henrietta’s old apartments so that Madame Walmoden might take up residence there as soon as possible. He also promised to make his own way back to London without delay.
His stay had already been a protracted one, however, and the people of England were growing increasingly hostile towards their absentee monarch. The pamphleteers and satirists had a field day. ‘It is reported that his Hanoverian Majesty designs to visit his British dominions for three months in spring,’ ran one acerbic comment. For a time, public sympathy was firmly with the Queen, who was viewed as a long-suffering and loyal wife to a man who, at almost sixty years of age, ought to know better than to be chasing after young girls. A particularly daring soul caused great hilarity by posting a bill making fun of the King on the very gates of St James’s Palace. ‘Lost or strayed out of this house a man who has left a wife and six children on the parish,’ it declared. ‘Whoever will give any tidings of him to the church-wardens of St James’s parish, so that he may be got again, shall receive four shillings and sixpence reward. This will not be increased, nobody judging him to deserve a crown.’ As George II’s absence grew longer, the jests became ever more inventive. One day, an old horse was set loose in the city with a ragged saddle on its back and a woman’s pillion tied behind it. A note was fastened to its forehead which read: ‘Let nobody stop me, I am the King’s Hanoverian equipage going to fetch his Majesty and his whore back to England.’8
George II’s protracted stay in Hanover, coupled with his foolish antics whilst there, were bringing shame on the entire royal family. Although she was arguably the greatest victim of his betrayal, Caroline was soon tarred with the same brush as her husband. One evening in mid-November 1736, long after the King should have returned to England, she paid a visit to the opera, determined to maintain the pretence that all was well. The assembled crowds were not to be fooled, however, and to her horror, as she took her seat in the royal box, they started to hiss at her. Worse was to come. She was jeered by a mob of people on her way to Kensington Palace, who cried out that they did not wish to see her there again. Then in December, when she set off to spend the winter at St James’s Palace, it was noticed that ‘the people did not rejoice as they used to do, but stood sullen as she passed the streets without pulling off their hats’.9
This was the greatest crisis the Hanoverian family had ever faced. The tide of public opinion had turned so firmly against them that it seemed unlikely the damage could ever be repaired. It was a dangerous time to lose their subjects’ loyalty, for the Jacobites were steadily gathering support for a new offensive. The Queen wrote again and again to her husband, urging him to return. But week after week passed, and there was still no sign of him. His birthday came and went, and the disapproval at his absence was all too evident among the crowds who had gathered for the official reception. It was serious indeed for the King to miss his own birthday celebrations, and it was the first time that any of the Hanoverian monarchs had done so.
It was now December, and people began to suspect that His Majesty would also miss the Christmas receptions at court. At last, news reached the court that George had left Herrenhausen, after a long and tender farewell to his mistress, and was expected in London within a few days. No sooner had this dispatch been read, however, than another arrived bearing the terrible news that there had been a violent storm at sea on the day that he was due to embark, and it was not known whether or not he had sailed. If he had, then he was surely drowned, for no ship could have survived such angry seas.
Eight agonising days passed with no further news, and the suspense at court was great. Caroline was in extreme distress the whole time, fearing the worst. By contrast, her subjects seemed to care little about the King’s fate and casually laid bets on whether he was alive or dead. At last a messenger arrived with news that he had not sailed, and was therefore still safely on the other side of the Channel awaiting a favourable wind. In her relief, the Queen cried out in front of the assembled courtiers: ‘The King is safe! the King is safe!’ They did not share her enthusiasm. When an official enquired how the wind fared now for His Majesty, one wry soul replied: ‘Like the nation – against him.’10
George II finally arrived back in London on 15 December, after more than seven months’ absence. Courtiers were astonished to find him as cheerful and convivial as he had been foul-tempered and irritable upon his last return. He showered the Queen with praise and affection, prompted no doubt by her generous offer of welcoming his mistress to St James’s. But Madame Walmoden demurred, keen to avoid being trapped in a similar situation to Lady Suffolk. She therefore remained in Hanover with only the vaguest promise to join her royal lover in England as soon as she was able.
Caroline could take little satisfaction from this favourable turn of events, for she was by now preoccupied with her own rapidly fading health. George’s absence had at least given her the luxury of a rest, and she had been able to forego the exhausting daily route-marches around the gardens of Kensington and St James’s. But now he was back, the strain of keeping up the appearance of good health for his sake served only to make her condition worse. Her son, Frederick, was also creating fresh trouble, and in an extraordinary repetition of the scene played out exactly twenty years before, the simmering resentment between him and his parents suddenly broke out into open rupture. He was promptly expelled from St James’s Palace and forced to take up residence at Leicester House, which assumed the well-deserved nickname of ‘the pouting place of princes’.
All of this served to hasten the Queen’s decline, and by the autumn of 1737, her suffering was so obvious that even the King noticed it. One day in early November, she was busying herself with the fitting out of her new library at St James’s when she suddenly collapsed with violent stomach pains. Insisting that it was just a passing complaint, she dragged herself to the drawing room that evening, forcing smiles and chatter as if nothing was amiss. By the end of the evening, however, she was in so much pain that she had no choice but to take to her bed and remain there all the following day. The physicians were summoned to bleed and purge her, and when this worked no effect, they made an incision into the part of her bowel that seemed to be causing her most distress. Those who gathered around her bedside were aghast when this ‘cast forth so great a quantity of corruption’ that the stench was intolerable. The physicians declared that there was a larger abscess inside which would continue to grow ‘untill it gains a vital part’.11
The King, who had enjoyed the delusion that his wife was merely suffering from a temporary indisposition, was acquainted with the grave news and fell into paroxysms of grief. Day and night he kept a vigil by her bedside, telling anyone who would listen what an incomparable woman his wife was, and how deeply he loved her. Even in the midst of his turmoil, though, he could not help displaying a little of his accustomed short temper. As Caroline shifted restlessly on the bed, trying desperately to escape the pain, he burst out that she should keep still, for he found her constant moving about most irritating. ‘How the devil should you sleep, when you will never lie still a moment?’ he expostulated. ‘You want to rest, and the doctors tell you nothing can do you so much good, and yet you are always moving about.’
Eventually, after two long weeks of suffering, the Queen entered the final stages of her demise and began her farewells to the distraught family members surrounding her bed. To Princess Caroline she recommended the care of her two younger sisters. Her son William, Duke of Cumberland, she begged to support his father and show ‘superior merit’ to his elder brother, Frederick, whom she still refused to see. And finally, her husband, the King, she urged to marry again after she was dead. This threw him into a renewed fit of weeping, and in between sobs he spluttered: ‘Non-j’aurai-des-maîtresses’ [No, I will have mistresses], to which his wife sardonically replied: ‘Ah! mon Dieu! cela n’empêche pas.’ [My God! That won’t prevent your marrying.]12
At about ten o’clock in the evening of 20 November 1737, Caroline’s breath started to rasp in her throat. ‘I have got an asthma,’ she gasped. ‘Open the window.’ This being hurriedly done, she uttered, ‘Pray,’ and as her daughter Amelia began to read some verses, the Queen breathed her last. George kissed the face and hands of her lifeless body several times, and then left the bedchamber to weep in private. The sincerity of his grief betrayed a tenderness ‘of which the world thought him before utterly incapable’, and for a time this made him more popular with his English subjects than he had ever been. He remained inconsolable for many months afterwards. When he opened Parliament in January 1738, the assembled MPs watched in sympathy as he struggled to compose himself enough to read his speech, and then during it ‘he often put his hand to his forehead, and as they thought had tears in his eyes’. At a reception later that day, one courtier noted that he talked only of the Queen, and ‘cried the whole time’.
The King never tired of saying that there was no other woman on earth who was ‘worthy to buckle her shoe’. There was one, however, who might dry his tears just a little. Realising this, Walpole sent for Madame Walmoden to comfort the nation’s grieving monarch. The lady duly arrived in June 1738 and took up residence at St James’s in the apartments formerly belonging to Henrietta, Countess of Suffolk.
Mr and Mrs Berkeley, along with the rest of polite society, observed the necessary protocols to mark the death of the Queen, such as wearing mourning clothes in public. Whether Henrietta felt any real grief at her former mistress’s passing is uncertain, however. The momentous event was afforded no mention in her correspondence, and she and her husband continued to enjoy the pleasant diversions of their life together. Visits to country estates, pleasure gardens and spa towns – both at home and abroad – occupied most of their time, and they were now often away from Marble Hill.
So absorbed was Mrs Berkeley in her joyful new life that she neglected some of her old friends. Most were glad that she had at last found happiness, and were content to see her as and when time allowed. But Pope was rather less forgiving. ‘What vexes me most is, that my female friends who can bear me very well a dozen years ago, have now forsaken me,’ he complained to Swift a few months after Henrietta and George’s wedding, adding: ‘I have nobody now left but you.’ His sourness towards his old friend had increased so much by the following autumn that he claimed he had only found out by accident that she and her husband had returned from their holiday in France and were staying at Savile Street. Nor did he expect to see them for many weeks, for he only made the journey up to London ‘when Particular Friends are there, and I now think there are but few Particular Friends’.13
Pope had, admittedly, always been rather quick to take offence if his friends paid him less attention than usual. When Henrietta had failed to wait for him before setting off on her escape to Bath in September 1734, he had complained to Martha Blount: ‘Lady Suffolk has a strange power over me: She would not stir a days Journey either East or West for me, tho she had dying or languishing Friends on each Quarter who wanted & wishd to see her.’ He said that he could expect no thanks for his trouble in going to see her there, adding rather pensively, ‘I suppose she’ll be at cards and receive me as coldly as if I were Archdeacon of the place’.14
Of course, he said such things half in jest, always keen to add colour and amusement to his letters. But there was nevertheless a very discernible edge to the criticism that he levelled at Henrietta after her marriage to Mr Berkeley. Jealousy no doubt played a substantial part in it. For many years, Pope had been Henrietta’s closest male friend, and the two had met and corresponded often during her time at court. Now she shared all her hopes and fears (and by far the greatest part of her time) with her husband, and Pope – dear friend though he was – no longer occupied centre stage in her personal life.
It is also possible that the poet’s feelings towards his ‘Lady at Court’ extended beyond pure friendship. Pope had a tendency to confuse tender and platonic love in his relationships with women, and had once famously mistaken Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s feelings for the former. When he had duly declared his love for her, she had laughed in his face, scorning the very notion that she should have any romantic inclination towards this deformed little man. In his pain and humiliation, Pope had mounted a campaign to discredit her with his pen, and the two had embarked upon a very public war of words.
His letters to Henrietta certainly suggest an affection that bordered on the romantic. Scarred by his experience with Lady Mary, however, he never openly declared his love – perhaps hoping that once she had finally escaped court and moved to Marble Hill, their relationship would develop naturally. When she subsequently married George Berkeley, any romantic hopes that he might have entertained were dashed. But the secrets of his heart went with him to the grave, so any theories about the nature of his feelings towards the new Mrs Berkeley must remain speculative. What is certain, though, is that he was genuinely put out by the fact that she now had a good deal less time for him than she had in the past.
His hostility towards her boiled over in 1738, when he started making plans to publish his correspondence – a tradition followed by many of his distinguished contemporaries. In the eighteenth century, letters tended to be written for show as much as for the amusement or interest of the recipient, and there was an increasing trend amongst high-profile courtiers, politicians and men of letters to publish their correspondence or memoirs as a way of leaving their mark on history. The more controversial the collection, the more likely it was to be published posthumously – Lord Hervey’s memoirs being a notorious case in point. The Earl of Peterborough’s letters were apparently so shocking that his widow burnt them after his death, rather than fulfil his last wish to share them with the world.
Alexander Pope’s correspondence was not particularly shocking, but it was no less diverting for that. All the wit and eloquence that had made him famous as a poet also shone through in his letters, and the fact that he conversed with some of the most important figures of the age made them even more compelling. Pope was keen to enhance the interest of his collection by including the letters that he had exchanged with George II’s most famous mistress. But Henrietta was reluctant to return a correspondence that she had cherished for so many years. She may also have been keen to avoid any further scandal now that she was living so pleasant and retired a life away from public scrutiny. She therefore demurred, reminding Pope that years ago he had told her that he kept copies of all the letters he sent anyway. When he persisted, she put an end to the matter by telling him (falsely) that she had burned them. Pope was furious. All the resentment that had been building up since her marriage now spilled over, and he exacted revenge through the most effective means at his disposal.
Later that year, he published ‘Cloe’, a poem about a woman as fickle in her affections as she is shallow in her tastes: a woman who, in short, ‘wants a Heart’. While she ‘speaks, behaves, and acts just as she ought’, he wrote, she ‘never, never, reach’d one gen’rous Thought’. Warming to the theme, he continued:
She, while her Lover pants upon her breast,
Can mark the figures on an Indian chest;
And when she sees her Friend in deep despair,
Observes how much a Chintz exceeds Mohair.
Although some commentators have claimed that Cloe was not based upon Henrietta, the evidence is quite compelling. The traits described resonate with elements of her character, such as her interest in design and furnishings, and ‘Cloe’ was the name given to her in Peterborough’s ‘Song’. Furthermore, when the verse was later included as part of Pope’s Characters of Women anthology, the introduction presented Cloe as someone who was personally known to Patty Blount, which was true of none of the other characters. Horace Walpole also made a note in the margin of his copy that the character was ‘meant for Lady Suffolk’.15 The contrast with the ‘handsome and witty’ friend of ‘A Certain Lady At Court’ could not have been greater. Pope’s esteem had, it seemed, turned to disdain.
Henrietta was as sanguine in her reaction to the vitriol poured forth in ‘Cloe’ as she had been to Swift’s ‘Character’ some years earlier. She may have felt an element of guilt at having neglected her old friend in her happiness with Berkeley, or she may have believed that, as a man given to petulant outbursts, his rage would soon pass. She therefore expressed her affection for him by making frequent enquiries after his health and, at the onset of winter, sending him a feather-filled quilt to guard against the cold that she knew he always felt so keenly. ‘Pray tell my Lady Suffolk in the first place that I think of her every night constantly as the greatest Comforter I have, under the Edder-down Quilt,’ Pope wrote to Patty Blount that December. The concern that he went on to express for her husband suggests that he was a little more reconciled to their marriage. ‘I wich Mr Berkley lay as easy, who I hear (& am sorry for it) has had the Gout,’ he wrote.16
But in truth, he never forgave her, either for the incident with his letters, or for her neglect of their friendship, and thenceforth they were polite acquaintances rather than close companions. They hardly ever corresponded, and only saw each other on the rare occasions that their social circles converged. Henrietta was no doubt saddened by the loss of Pope’s good opinion, but the experience with Swift had taught her that no matter how sincere such friendships seemed, their longevity could never be relied upon.
Besides, her own affection for him had suffered something of a decline. The cause was most probably his growing attachment to Patty Blount. He was keen for the two women to become friends, and for a while it had seemed that they would be. But Patty’s awkward and, at times, insensitive nature grated on Henrietta, who was perhaps a little jealous of the hold that she had over their mutual friend. As early as 1731, she had complained to Gay: ‘I never see Mr Pope, nor Mrs Blount tho I never go to Marble Hill without sending to them: She has been ill, but was well the last time I sent; but you know she has a peculiar pleasure in refusing her friends.’ Further criticism of Pope and Patty began to creep into her correspondence, such as Lady Hervey’s rather caustic reference to Miss Blount as ‘some proud flesh that is grown to his side’, which would, she predicted ‘prove a mortification’.17
The demise of Henrietta and Pope’s friendship may not therefore have been solely due to his sense of betrayal and neglect after her marriage to George Berkeley. Whatever the cause, it now seemed irreversible. In the years that followed, Mrs Berkeley turned increasingly to her female friends, in particular Lady Betty Germain. She had need of these when, in the spring of 1741, parliamentary business took her husband up to Yorkshire for a longer period of absence than the couple had yet endured in their marriage. The closeness and love between them had continued to deepen during those six happy years, and the prospect of being apart was even more distressing to them now than it had been when they were newlyweds. Added to this was the fact that Henrietta was again suffering from poor health.
She had come to rely upon her husband’s kind and patient efforts to ensure her comfort whenever she had a renewed attack of the headaches that had plagued her for so much of her adult life. ‘I am company for nobody but my own husband whose vow obliges him to take care of me in sickness & in health,’ she told their friend Lord Pembroke on one such occasion. ‘I try his patience sufficiently but he expects his reward in the next world.’ In 1741, George took her on a visit to Bath in the hope that it would ease the rheumatism that had now added to her former complaint. Shrugging off concerned enquiries from friends who had heard that he was far from well himself, he assured them: ‘I have as much health as any one needs to have as leads so insipid a life. I dare not drink, making love would be ridiculous at my age and I have too much and too little money to game.’18
George set out for his constituency at Hedon in Yorkshire in March 1741, accompanied by William Chetwynd. With the prospect of an election looming, their intention was to canvass votes on behalf of Walpole’s great adversary, William Pulteney. Anxious for Henrietta’s health during his absence, he had asked his sister to come and stay with her in Savile Street. Lady Betty had been happy to oblige, and was assiduous in the task, sending him regular updates on her charge’s health.
The first of these caused him great alarm, for it reported that his wife had suffered a relapse soon after his departure and was now taking significant quantities of laudanum to ease the pain. Upon receiving this letter, George was on the point of turning around and coming back, but Henrietta sent him another to reassure him that she was much better and was being well looked after. She was clearly still in a great deal of discomfort, however, and only found release in sleeping for much of the day. Her reliance on laudanum now bordered on addiction, and she later admitted to her husband that although she had resisted it for some days, ‘how long my Resolution will hold God knows for the Temptation is at this moment very strong’.19
The couple exchanged many letters during George’s sojourn in the north of England, and the sincere love and affection they shared was obvious in every page. Henrietta addressed her husband as ‘My Dear Dear little George’, while he called her his ‘Best Beast’. The bond they had developed with Dorothy and John Hobart was also as strong as ever. Mr Berkeley spoke proudly of ‘our little girl Miss Hobart’ and ‘my school fellow Jack’, and his wife noted with satisfaction that he showed the ‘greatest tenderness’ towards them.20
With the advent of spring, Henrietta moved back to Marble Hill. Although she loved the place, she found it very lonely without her husband and longed for his return. ‘My Duty, affection, inclination and interest makes me my Dear Dear little George yours,’ she wrote from ‘Mr Berkeleys Dressing Room’ the day after her arrival.21 She did not have long to wait, for he arrived back a week or so later.
During the years that followed, the Berkeleys settled back contentedly into the routine of their life at Marble Hill and Savile Street. Although poor health continued to plague them both, this did not prevent frequent excursions to their accustomed places of retreat and diversion. Their social circle was changing, however, as a number of their long-standing friends died in the 1740s. The first was John, Duke of Argyll, who had been a highly valued friend and adviser to Henrietta throughout her time at court. His protection had saved her from her violent first husband on numerous occasions, and his generous help with her legal affairs had helped her to secure a legal separation from Charles, as well as the purchase of her beloved Marble Hill. Their friendship had continued long after Henrietta had left court, and she was greatly saddened when she learned of his death in 1743.
The following year claimed the life of Alexander Pope. He had long been a slave to his delicate constitution, once referring to ‘this long Disease, my life’, but in 1743, his friends noticed a marked deterioration in his health. His customary headaches increased, and he began to suffer from asthma and dropsy on the chest. He lingered until 30 May 1744, when he died at his villa in Twickenham.
Pope had evidently not been reconciled with Henrietta before his death. Just a few days earlier, her nephew John had written casually to her that ‘Pope & Swift for you lay’d by Satyr, & join’d for once in Panegyrick’, as if to suggest that both friendships were now in the past.22 This is supported by the fact that despite her proximity to his house, she had not been among the friends who had gathered around his bedside to say their farewells. Furthermore, while Pope left gifts for various friends in his will, he left nothing for Henrietta. However estranged they had become, though, it is unlikely that she felt no emotion at his passing. Someone who had been such a close and loving friend could not be easily forgotten.
Less than a year later, she lost another person whom she had once held dear, but who had long been a stranger. This time, her grief was real indeed, for it was her son, Henry, who died at Audley End in April 1745. She had not seen him since he had been a young boy, and had received only the occasional scrap of news about him in the years that followed. The last known reference to him in her correspondence was in 1734, when Lord Bathurst had assured her that she could visit his castle without fear of being ‘molested’ by him. But she had never got over their estrangement, and the subsequent adoption of Dorothy and John Hobart suggests a desperation to fill the void it had created. Even though she had long since given up any real hope of a reconciliation, the news that death had finally robbed her of him for good must have been devastating. Neither was there the prospect of laying to rest the ghost of their estrangement through the next generation. Henry died without an heir, so his title and estates now passed to Henry Bowes Howard, 4th Earl of Berkshire, a descendant of the 1st Earl of Suffolk.
Lord Bathhurst’s prediction upon Henrietta’s retirement from court, that she would be forced to live in ‘the melancholy shades of privacy’ was, sadly, now realised.23 A little more than a year after the death of her son, she lost the person whom she loved most in the world, her ‘Dear Dear little George’. His gout had been getting steadily worse during 1746, and by the autumn he was in so much pain that Henrietta took him to Bath in the hope that the waters would offer him some relief. Lady Bolingbroke met them there and was distressed to see her friend so ill. ‘Le pauvre Mr de Berkeley, qui en effet a esté fort mal,’ she wrote to the Countess of Denbigh, adding that she feared his condition was now very dangerous.24 She was right, for he died there a few weeks later, on 29 October.
Henrietta was inconsolable in her grief. George Berkeley was, without question, the love of her life, and the eleven years of their marriage were the happiest she had ever known. She had lost not just her husband, but her closest friend and confidant. Evidence (if it was needed) that her love had been reciprocated came at the reading of Mr Berkeley’s will some months later. He had left everything he owned – property, goods and funds – ‘unto my dear wife Henrietta’.25 This had been written in his own hand and dated two years after their marriage. It served not only as a testament to his complete trust in and love for his new wife, but as a poignant contrast to the bitter, lengthy and impenetrable legal agreements that had underpinned his widow’s first marriage.
George Berkeley’s death was afforded a rather curt notice in the papers, which, after listing his various appointments, reported simply: ‘he marry’d the countess dowager of Suffolk, but left no issue’. Meanwhile, the men hoping to succeed him as Master Keeper and Governor of St Katharine’s Hospital waited impatiently until a respectable period of time had elapsed before laying claim to ‘that smug preferment’.26
His passing may not have excited any great public interest, but for his widow, Henrietta, life would never be the same again.