“On Thursday last Queen Anne was taken very ill, at her Palace at Kensington, and so continu’d all that Day; the next Morning her Majesty was seiz’d with Convulsions, which went off for Some Hours; so that Some Small Hopes were conceiv’d of her Recovery, but on Sunday after Seven in the morning She departed this Life. Hereupon the Lords of the Council met at St. James’s, and issu’d a Proclamation, importing, That by the Decease of her late Majesty Queen Anne, of blessed Memory, the Imperial Crowns of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, and solely and rightfully come to the High and Mighty Prince George, elector of Brunswick-Luneburg.”108
When Henrietta and Charles Howard left England, they were hopeless, destitute, and on their very last chance. They returned as members of the new king’s coterie. Henrietta’s gamble had more than paid off. Perhaps best of all, a return to her homeland meant that Henrietta could finally be reunited with her beloved son, Henry.
Bad weather delayed the departure of the new king’s party but eventually they set off from The Hague for the kingdom that George Louis now ruled. Amongst the party was George Augustus, whilst Caroline of Ansbach and the couple’s daughters were to follow a month later. Their eldest son, Frederick, stayed behind in Hanover to serve as the family figurehead.
The royal family made their new home at St James’s Palace and all those courtiers who had flocked to Hanover to win their favour now found that they had to repeat the feat in England. Official appointments were being made and nobody wanted to miss out because they were slow to leave Hanover, least of all the Howards, who had pinned all their hopes for the future on the new monarch and his family. Henrietta and her husband weren’t part of the initial group who sailed for England, but they weren’t far behind. As soon as she arrived in London Henrietta made for St James’s and an audience with Caroline of Ansbach, who was the highest-ranking woman at court since George Louis no longer had a wife or a mother. Thankfully, Caroline remembered the promise she had made to Henrietta Howard and gave her the position of Woman of the Bedchamber, as “Mrs. Howard had had a Promise of it from Hanover in the Princess Sophia’s Time”109. Charles too was awarded with an appointment and became Groom of the Bedchamber to George I.
The appointments weren’t merely ceremonial either, and each brought with it several duties. As a Woman of the Bedchamber, Henrietta was expected to attend the Princess of Wales at her toilet, assisting with her bathing, dressing and other personal matters. A Woman of the Bedchamber was inferior in rank to a Lady of the Bedchamber, usually the wife or widow of a peer, all of whom were presided over by the First Lady of the Bedchamber and Groom of the Stole. In the household of Caroline of Ansbach at the time of Henrietta’s appointment, this lofty position was occupied by Diana Beauclerk, Duchess of St Albans. Also among the women was young Molly Lepell, George I’s particular favourite until Melusine paid her to make herself scarce, and a lady named Mary Bellenden, who soon won the affections of George Augustus. As far as the balladeers were concerned, they were the fairest ladies at court by a long way.
“So well I’m known at Court
None asks where Cupid dwells;
But readily resort
To Bellenden’s or Lepell’s.”
As a Groom of the Bedchamber Charles theoretically had similar duties to perform for George I to those his carried out by his wife for the Princess of Wales. However, George Louis preferred to rely on the German servants who had attended him for years, meaning that Charles’ role required little work indeed. It might have been tailormade for him, but the same couldn’t be said for Henrietta’s position. Caroline worked her Women of the Bedchamber hard, and they spent hours each day waiting on her from the moment she woke to the moment she retired for the evening. In fact, the Women of the Bedchamber were hard at work long before their mistress left her bed, preparing her toilette and clothes for the day ahead. It was an arduous role, entirely subject to the whims of the princess.
In a world in which such appointments were ruthlessly fought over, it was an achievement that the Howards were proud of. Even better for the couple who had once scurried from one hovel to another, the roles brought with them both a wage and apartments in St James’s Palace, a necessity for those who held positions in the bedchamber. Though apartments in a palace might sound grand, St James’s Palace had seen better days. It was gloomy, damp and filled to overflowing with the new court, but it must have seemed luxurious to Henrietta after some of the dire places in which her husband’s debts had forced her to reside. For the first time in years, Henrietta could finally allow herself to breathe.
What she couldn’t allow herself to do was shirk. Though Charles’ master preferred his German servants to his newly appointed Grooms of the Bedchamber, the Princess of Wales wasn’t about to let her ladies off so easily. They were required to be available whenever she needed them and though it was a far cry from the drudgery of Henrietta’s early days with her husband, it was still anything but easy. We shouldn’t lull ourselves into the belief that Henrietta bore it all without complaint though. After chatting to Henrietta during a visit to the royal household, her friend Alexander Pope wryly noted that he and Henrietta had “agreed that the life of a Maid of Honor was of all things the most miserable, & wished that every Woman who envyd it had a Specimen of it. To eat Westphalia Ham in a morning, ride over Hedges and ditches on borrowed Hacks, [then] simper an hour, & catch cold, in the Princesses [sic] apartment; from thence to Dinner [and] after that, till midnight, walk, work, or think, which they please”110. It wasn’t a life for the fainthearted, but neither was marriage to Charles Howard.
There was also the ever-present matter of court drama and among the ladies of the household, politics was as important as it was in the chamber of the House of Commons itself. Just as Melusine had done her best to avoid squabbles and politicking in Hanover, so too did Henrietta attempt to keep out of it in England. She had made it as far as the royal inner circle and she had no wish to jeopardise her position, which only served to make her more popular than ever amongst her comrades in the bedchamber. Henrietta could be trusted, they intuited, and was beyond the conniving ways of some of her peers. It was one more quality that no doubt endeared her to George Augustus.
Henrietta’s careful efforts to see off court drama are illustrated by her intervention in a petty scheme cooked up by Sophia Charlotte von Kielmansegg to cause trouble between the Princess of Wales and her ladies. Sophia Charlotte and Caroline of Ansbach were far from fond of one another and Sophia Charlotte also disliked Mary, Countess Cowper, who was friends with the princess. In 1714 Sophia Charlotte asked Lady Cowper to pass on a book to Caroline of Ansbach on her behalf. By employing the countess as a courier, the sly Sophia Charlotte knew full well that Caroline would assume that she and Lady Cowper were friends. That would be enough to make the princess cool on Lady Cowper. It really was the stuff of the playground.
Upon realising what Sophia Charlotte was up to, Henrietta advised Lady Cowper “that there was a mortal Hatred between [Sophia Charlotte and Caroline of Ansbach] and that the Princess thought her a wicked Woman.” Henrietta warned Lady Cowper that Sophia Charlotte had specifically targeted her relationship with Caroline for “if it had not been so, she would have sent the book either by the Duchess of Bolton or Shrewsbury.”111 Though it certainly sounds petty to us, Lady Cowper learned a valuable lesson about court politics that day. Everybody was working an angle.
The young and accomplished maids of honour who surrounded the Princess of Wales became one of the central attractions of the court of George Augustus and his wife. They were celebrated for their sparkling personalities and could attract the most illustrious society names to their gatherings with a click of their fingers. Chief among their number was Charlotte Clayton, later Baroness Sundon, who was a particular favourite of Caroline and who would, over the years of George II’s reign, prove to be a thorn in the side of Robert Walpole himself. She and Henrietta were never destined to become close, but they had more in common than they might have guessed. Just as Henrietta would later be the person to whom people turned when seeking influence with George Augustus, Charlotte Clayton served the same role with Princess Caroline. Unlike Henrietta, Mrs Clayton relished her power.
George I and Melusine never courted the limelight. Instead they actively avoided it, living as private a life as they could in their rooms at St James’s, but George Augustus couldn’t have been more different. He and Caroline were the toast of the town and they loved it. They were sociable and cheery, and keen to prove themselves worthy of their adopted homeland. It made for a heady atmosphere among their attendants too, who found themselves at the centre of a glamorous court indeed.
Life in the household of the Prince and Princess of Wales was never dull whether they were dining in public, hosting a glittering ball, taking the air in the park, or simply basking in the love of their subjects. The public who viewed the dour George I with distrust lapped it up and grew ever fonder of his son and daughter-in-law, which irked the king no end. George I’s coronation had been met with riots and protests and the threat from the Jacobites was a constant niggle. The last thing he needed was to be undermined by a son with whom relations were far from rosy, but things had already reached the point of no return. When George Louis appointed a regency council to rule in his absence during a trip to Hanover instead of entrusting his son with the job, the Prince of Wales felt the slight keenly. The stage was set for a fracture in the royal household.