Double Portraits: Mixed and Companionate Marriages

Throughout his long life, Sir Constantijn Huygens showed a weakness for attractive, talented, intelligent women. He cultivated intellectual friendships (seriously, and sometimes flirtatiously) with well-educated ladies across northern Europe who were renowned for their strong character and scholarly, musical and poetic aptitudes. He left rhetorically highly-wrought tributes to them scattered throughout his poems and correspondence.

These included outpourings of emotion and admiration for the artist and linguistic prodigy Anna Maria van Schurman (daughter of a Dutch father and a German mother),1 the poet Maria Tesselschade Visscher (with whom he exchanged particularly passionate poems when she converted to Catholicism), her sister Anna Roemers Visscher (who engraved verses on glass for Huygens) and the English poet and philosopher Margaret Cavendish, who lived in exile in Antwerp during the English Commonwealth period.2 He was master of the well-turned piece of flattery. In a characteristic letter written in middle age, complimenting the musician and singer Utricia Ogle and her friend, his erudite neighbour Dorothea van Dorp, together in a single missive, Huygens writes:

Yesterday I received from Mademoiselle Dorp the two beautiful tunes which it has pleased you [Utricia Ogle] to have copied for me. Never has so beautiful a package in so beautiful a hand been delivered to me by [another] so beautiful a hand. I leave you to imagine whether I am able fully to grasp the glory let alone to put the extent of the favour into words.3

Comparatively little, though, is known about the woman Huygens chose to spend his life with – his beloved wife, Susanna van Baerle. The glimpses we get of her, mostly through his letters and poems, are tantalising and shadowy, but do suggest that theirs was indeed an equal, companionate partnership.

A glass rummer engraved with verses to Huygens by Anna Roemers Visscher, responding to a poem of his addressed to ‘the diamond-tipped pen of Miss Anna Roemers’.

Susanna was the eldest of six children born to an affluent and influential Amsterdam family. Her father, Gaspar van Baerle, was a wealthy businessman and the cousin of Huygens’s mother. Like many with extensive commercial interests, he and his family had migrated north from Antwerp when access to the city was blocked during hostilities between the Spanish and the Dutch Republic. He died when Susanna was only six years old. When she was eighteen, her mother also died, leaving Susanna wealthy and free to make her own decisions concerning marriage. Her wealth and social status made her an enviable catch, and she was soon being widely courted. In 1622 the entire Huygens family appears to have tried enthusiastically but unsuccessfully to persuade her to marry Constantijn’s older brother Maurits. Eventually she asked them to desist, informing Constantijn’s sister Constantia that she had no intention of ever getting married.4

The families, however, kept in touch. In June 1624, Dorothea van Dorp, daughter of Constantijn’s immediate neighbours in The Hague, told him in a letter that ‘the only nice thing’ about an otherwise dull trip to Amsterdam had been ‘the Baerle girl: together we often drank your health’. Two years later, Susanna van Baerle succumbed to the considerable charms of Constantijn and consented to marry him. Letters and poems written around that time show Huygens to have been head over heels in romantic love. The marriage took place on 6 April 1627, to the delight of the Huygens family as a whole (though not that of Dorothea van Dorp, who had rather hoped that Constantijn might marry her).

In 1637, after less than ten years of contented marriage, Susanna Huygens died, leaving Huygens a widower with four small sons and a newborn daughter. Three stark entries in his diary for that year capture his grief:

10 May: She [Susanna] rendered her spirit to God 30 minutes after the fifth evening hour. Woe! My bliss. Woe my soul.

16 May: Her body has been committed to the earth with a huge crowd in attendance.

17 May: Moved into the new house. Alas! Without my turtle dove.5

Perhaps it was just as well that the demands of the court allowed Huygens little time for private grief: two days later his diary records him back on secretarial duty at the side of Frederik Hendrik. He never remarried. Shortly after Susanna’s death, her sister’s unmarried daughter, Catherina Sweerts, moved into the new house to take care of the five motherless children. Huygens never liked her, but tolerated her for the children’s sake. When she died in 1680 he could find nothing better to say about her contribution to his household than that ‘she hawked and harped and meddled and died’.6

After Susanna’s death, Huygens referred to her as his precious companion, his equal and his helpmate (from early on in their courtship he referred to her affectionately as ‘Stella’, his ‘star’), whose loss had cast a permanent shadow across his life. In his most famous poem, ‘Daghwerck’ (The Day’s Work), begun during Susanna’s lifetime as a celebration of their domestic life together, and broken off unfinished when she died, Huygens characterises their relationship as one of harmonious reasonableness: ‘Stella, by that reason guided/Which I always see in you’; ‘If I find my burden easy,/So light, that had Stella wished it,/It could well have been avoided/Or by reason overcome.’7 Their life together was, he writes, one of shared intellectual activity:

How shall I stand my trial in the court of the world,

Without you, Stella, the sharer and guide of my pen?

Without you my quill is no wing, wing wet with salt of my tears

Which flew the empyrean before, and followed your train in the skies.8

He and his wife were, he writes in another poem, ‘two minds joined in a single mind’ (‘una mens mentes duae’). In spite of their emotional intensity as elegies for and reminiscences of a lost love, though, these poetic glimpses are bound to seem to us largely conventional, and offer few real clues as to the woman behind her bereaved husband’s lasting regret.9

The real-life Susanna can be glimpsed in Huygens’s correspondence with the French philosopher and long-term resident of the United Provinces, René Descartes, just a few months before her death in May 1637. Susanna was, it seems, understood by those close to her and her family circle to be both highly intelligent and capable of independent discernment in intellectual matters. The letters concern the printing and publication of Descartes’ recently completed Discours de la méthode.

Writing to Huygens in early March 1637, Descartes asks him if he will kindly read the proof sheets of the Discours carefully, as he had promised when last they were last together, and annotate them with his own corrections. For the time being he is sending the two preliminary sections of the Discours (the ‘Dioptrique’ and ‘Meteores’):

You would oblige me enormously, if you were prepared to take the trouble to read them, to mark or have marked in the margin your corrections, and then to let me see them.

He expressly asks that Susanna should be included in this scrutiny of his work:

If Madame de Zulichem [Susanna Huygens] would like also to add her own corrections, I would consider that an inestimable favour on her part. I would value her judgement, which is naturally excellent, far higher than that of many of the Philosophers, whose judgement art [formal training] has rendered extremely defective.10

In his next letter, responding to Huygens’s effusive praise for as much of the Discours as he has read already, Descartes sends the remainder, and once again requests that Susanna, this time together with Huygens’s sister Constantia, might be persuaded to read it:

And because these Ladies understand better than men, I recommend the two enclosed [works] to them, with your permission, the one for Madame Zulichem and the other for Madame de Willelm [Constantia]. They [the works] were born at almost the same time as your newborn daughter [Susanna junior], and therefore share the same Horoscope, which means that I could not possibly have a poor opinion of the fortunes of my works, and I wish long life and happiness to all who are born under that constellation, as also to their parents.11

Alas, Descartes’ astrological compliments were to no avail. Only a few months after this second letter reached Constantijn, his wife Susanna died, perhaps from post-natal complications. Towards the end of her final pregnancy, she may indeed have discussed the finer points of Descartes’ hot-off-the-press publication with her husband, as ‘the sharer and guide of [his] pen’. But we shall never know what contribution Susanna Huygens might have made to reshaping and polishing Descartes’ most famous and widely known work.

This little vignette reminds us how, in spite of the fact that they have left little trace in the historical records, educated women in Dutch families like the Huygenses participated fully and on equal terms in the cultural lives of their menfolk and the circles they frequented. The influence they could thereby exert within the family extended to the particular cultural and social background from which they came. Well-matched couples brought their shared interests to the joint household. In the case of an alliance between a Dutch man and an English wife – or vice-versa – both Dutch and English language, habits and culture would inform the ménage. It is to such ‘mixed’ seventeenth-century marriages that I now turn, but before I do so, here is one further story connected with the Constantijn Huygens–Susanna van Baerle marriage, to remind us how easily the women in my present story slide into historical oblivion, and how much work is required to retrieve them.

Some years ago, the eminent historian of seventeenth-century Dutch art Julius Held published an article in which he identified a double portrait in a private collection in England as ‘a hitherto unknown portrait’ of Constantijn and Susanna Huygens.12 When the painting was put up for auction in April 1992, it was purchased by an anonymous Dutch benefactor and returned to the Netherlands.13 Today, that painting hangs in the Mauritshuis at The Hague, and is so confidently identified as indeed a portrait of the couple by Jacob van Campen, dating from around 1635, that it needs no justification. It graces the cover of several books on Huygens, and is frequently reproduced in articles about him. Yet until its discovery, less than twenty years ago, there was no known surviving likeness of Susanna Huygens, although a 1785 inventory of Huygens family portraits included three of her.14 Since her death she had simply disappeared from sight.

Huygens’s relationship with Jacob van Campen dates from the early 1630s. In December 1632, a friend of Huygens’s wrote to him from Leiden, asking him, in his official capacity in the administration of the Stadholder, to obtain a passport to travel for the artist van Campen. As a ‘sweetener’, perhaps, the letter concluded:

He is a good architect and a good painter: à propos which, he would like to make you a gift of one of his paintings, asking you with affection to take the offer in good part.15

Six months later, van Campen’s offer had been taken up, and the artist was proposing a portrait of Huygens to complement an existing one in Huygens’s possession, by Jan Lievens:

Master van Campen is very eager to paint a light one for your Honour, to match the dark one by Lievens, and requests to have that picture sent together with its frame and all, in order for him to see the size and the expression of the face and the pose.16

It is not hard to identify the Lievens portrait as the one associated with Huygens’s earliest public praise for Lievens in his autobiographical fragment of 1631.17 Huygens’s friend and intermediary suggested that the Lievens portrait should be shipped to a broker in Amsterdam, where he would supervise its forwarding to van Campen. A ‘light one’ suggests a painting whose mood is less sombre than that of the darkly melancholic Lievens portrait. It was another ten months before the van Campen portrait (now lost) was finished and shipped, with a note from Huygens’s friendly intermediary:

Here is the long-awaited painting by van Campen; the long delay he blames entirely on his innate negligence … he hopes nevertheless that Your Honour will be somewhat pleased with it.18

The painting was evidently a success, and marks the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship between Huygens and van Campen, culminating in van Campen’s designing and building Huygens’s house in Het Plein in 1637. Along the way, he painted the double portrait of Constantijn and Susanna. At the end of 1635, Huygens penned three epigrams ‘On the profile portrait of myself and my wife, on a sheet of paper, by J. van Campen’. The third reads:

Brother and sister may differ

as much as peace and friendship can stand:

Man and Wife no more than here,

Not the thickness of the paper.19

Here, thinks Held, we have the preliminary drawings for the double portrait he has re-identified.

In the course of 1635 Huygens and van Campen met regularly to discuss the plans and construction of Huygens’s fashionable new neoclassical house in Het Plein, their shared interests in both architecture and painting bringing them increasingly close. While his neighbour Johan Maurits van Nassau-Siegen was abroad serving as Dutch Governor in Brazil, Huygens oversaw the completion of his house – adjacent to his own – also under construction by van Campen and Pieter Post. Although Huygens’s house was demolished in the nineteenth century, we may consider the Mauritshuis as a memorial to the Huygens–van Campen architectural partnership.

Huygens later described how actively Susanna too had been involved in planning the layout and functions of rooms for their new family home. It was natural, then, that when plague broke out in The Hague in 1635, and Susanna had taken two of their four sons to stay with her brother-in-law in Arnhem, and needed temporary accommodation for herself and the other two boys, Constantijn junior and Lodewijk, she should seek refuge with the van Campen family on their estate near Amersfoort. They in their turn were only too happy to extend their hospitality to the Huygenses. It was while they were there that van Campen made a delightful drawing of the six-year-old Constantijn in a straw hat, in red chalk – one of the few surviving examples of his artistic prowess which can be securely assigned to him. On the back Constantijn Huygens junior has written (in later life): ‘My portrait aged six or seven, drawn by Mr. van Campen’.

The sheet of manuscript music Susanna and her husband hold together in van Campen’s double portrait is the basso continuo (the running instrumental accompaniment) to an unidentified song. Of course, a couple holding a piece of music in a Dutch painting may readily be taken simply to symbolise the harmonious relationship between them.20 The painting’s subject, one historian of music writes, ‘is not that of domestic music making but the treatment of music as a mirror of matrimonial harmony’.21

LEFT: Drawing showing the Huygenshuis and Mauritshuis adjacent to one another in the fashionable district of Het Plein in The Hague.

RIGHT: Drawing of the six-year-old Constantijn Huygens junior by van Campen.

We may still allow that the musical reference in the double portrait is to actual musical activities shared by the young couple. The best-known portrait of Constantijn, painted by Thomas de Keyser on the occasion of Constantijn and Susanna’s 1627 wedding, which hangs in the National Gallery in London, includes a theorbo (or theorbo-lute) alongside other carefully chosen objects connoting his interests and occupations. When, in 1647, Huygens sent his song collection Pathodia Sacra et Profana for publication, the Latin psalms and French and Italian airs it contained had accompaniments specifically for theorbo. The publisher persuaded Huygens to replace this with a figured bass, in an easier notation (of the kind shown in the double portrait), in order that the songs could also be accompanied by a keyboard player. So the two paintings together suggest that Constantijn and Susanna are united musically, as singer and accompanist. The painting, which rediscovers the engaged, intelligent face and direct, searching gaze of Susanna Huygens, also suggests that she shared her husband’s love of music.22

It is when we begin to recover the sisters, wives and daughters in family histories during the periods of bi-directional migration of the 1640s and 1650s between England and the Netherlands that the extent of the interweaving of Anglo–Dutch social and cultural relations really becomes apparent. Because the lives of seventeenth-century women are so hard to retrieve, this has proved the most difficult part of this book by far to research. What follows is a selection of specimen examples of the kind of Anglo–Dutch marriage, forged by political circumstances in the mid-seventeenth century, which ensured that many of those moving in élite circles at the time of the Glorious Revolution – both Dutch and English – felt thoroughly comfortable and at home with the mores of the partner nation. In this, as in so many other contexts, Sir Constantijn Huygens is the source for several characteristic and telling examples.

At least one of the flirtations in which Huygens indulged during the 1640s and ’50s might have become a serious relationship – one which he could plausibly have hoped would lead to a second marriage. This was his friendship with Anna Morgan, daughter of the Governor of Bergen op Zoom, Sir Charles Morgan. Sir Charles (a Welshman) had married the Dutch heiress Elizabeth Marnix, daughter of the Protestant hero of the Dutch revolt (strategic adviser to, and personal emissary of, William the Silent), Philips Marnix, Heer van St Aldegonde, and was a member of Elizabeth of Bohemia’s innermost court circle.23

Anna Morgan was born and raised in a bilingual and bicultural household in the northern Netherlands. Her first husband was another Welshman, Sir Lewis Morgan (no relation), who died in 1635, and who, like her father, had served with English regiments in the United Provinces. However, since he was Member of Parliament for Cardiff in 1628–29, and was knighted at Whitehall in March 1629, we may assume that Anna made her home in Wales (in 1652, Huygens wrote to her thanking her for ‘the excess of civilities with which it has pleased you to shower my son [Lodewijk], extending as far as your beautiful country of Wales’).24

In 1644, Anna was once again in the United Provinces, to commission a magnificent white marble funerary monument for her father, who had died the previous year, at Bergen op Zoom. She was advised on this project, and the creation and construction of the monument by François Dieussart (completed in 1645–46), by Sir Constantijn Huygens. He and Anna were already friends,25 and in the course of their association over the funerary sculpture a romantic attachment developed between them. An elaborately conceited poem in Dutch by Huygens, ‘Aen Mevrouw Morgan’, written in 1645, on the occasion of Anna presenting him with the gift of a mosquito net to be used in the field during the annual summer military campaigning, openly affirms his passionate love for her.26 In 1646, in a gossipy letter written to Huygens around the time news broke of her impending second marriage to somebody else, Constantijn’s brother-in-law (husband of his sister Constantia) referred to Anna Morgan as ‘your would-be (or alleged) mistress’.27 The monument Huygens and Dieussart designed and erected for Anna in the Grote Kerk at Bergen op Zoom is a uniquely imposing piece of Dutch neoclassical monumental sculpture, which remains enduring testimony to the passionate, creative relationship between Huygens and ‘Mevrouw Morgan’.

Huygens remained on cordial terms with Anna Morgan after her marriage, in August 1646, to Walter Strickland, the English Parliamentary ambassador to the United Provinces between 1642 and 1651, and a prominent ally of Oliver Cromwell in the 1650s.28Anna was naturalised by Parliamentary ordinance in 1651, and took a further oath of naturalisation at the Restoration, in 1660.29

The two old lovers continued to correspond, in a mixture of English, French and Dutch, down to the 1680s. Occasionally, as often happens, disagreements over gifts exchanged during the love affair came between them, though not apparently for long. In October 1654, Huygens returned from a three-month trip to Spa, south of Maastricht, to find a letter from Anna demanding the return of ‘some copper medals which [she] once generously gave to [him]’. Affecting amazement at the request, Huygens wrote:

I am totally astonished, Madame, that having given them to me with the sweet and kind demeanour with which you were always pleased to honour me, you are now demanding their return.30

The medals were, he confessed, now intermingled with those which formed part of his considerable collection. However, if Lady Strickland (as she now was) was determined to have her gift returned, he would ‘give her the whole cabinet, which is entirely at your service, if you should be pleased to receive it from my hand’. The abrupt communication Huygens had received from Anna – now firmly of the English Commonwealth party – was perhaps not unexpected: he had been at Spa with the Princess Royal, for weeks of court amusement with the itinerant future Charles II (to whom Huygens refers consistently as ‘the King of Great Britain’). Reporting the goings on at Spa to Amalia van Solms, Huygens told her with evident satisfaction that ‘there is a lot of dancing, and this Prince performs better than anyone else at all, since he has a true ear, and understands and loves music with a passion, just like his Royal father’.31 The Commonwealth government of Oliver Cromwell was not well pleased at the continued support for Charles on the parts of Amalia and the Princess Royal.

The intimate liaison between the Dutch Huygens and the Anglo– Dutch Anna Morgan bridged the divide between the United Provinces and the British Isles, binding the interests of the two families invisibly together – families with significant influence in their respective political administrations. In 1652, an incident at sea precipitated Commonwealth England and the United Provinces into naval confrontation, and eventually into the first Anglo–Dutch war. Required by the captain of an English ship to dip his flag as a sign of English supremacy at sea, the Dutch commander, Admiral Tromp, refused to comply. Relations were already tense between the two countries, and England immediately declared war.

The situation was extremely delicate. At the moment when hostilities were declared between the two countries, a diplomatic mission from the States General to Parliament was in London, and with it Huygens’s third son Lodewijk. Huygens wrote to his old flame, Anna Morgan, begging her, from her influential position as wife to one of Cromwell’s closest advisers, to take care of his son.

In the same letter, he did some shrewd informal diplomatic negotiating. The insult to English pride on the part of Admiral Tromp which had precipitated the crisis was, he assured Anna, nothing to do with the Dutch government:

We have just learned with great displeasure about the misunderstanding between our fleets. Whatever the reasons given by either party in this disorder, we can say with absolute certainty that the State did not authorise anybody to commit any hostile action, and to judge otherwise would be to do us wrong. However, since the authority of the government cannot always control the will of the people, in case of emergency, I commit my son to your care.32

Although Huygens in the end remained single for the fifty years of his life after Susanna’s death, in the middle decades of the century his name was frequently linked with those of his young female musician friends. Many years later his son Constantijn junior, on a visit to Antwerp, was mortified when his host hinted that his father’s relations with the ‘beautiful Duarte girls’ might not have been entirely innocent.

In the spring of 1642, on the eve of the outbreak of civil war in England, the ten-year-old Princess Mary Stuart, eldest daughter of Charles I, arrived in the Netherlands with her mother, Queen Henrietta Maria, to join her teenaged husband, Frederik Hendrik’s son Prince William of Orange, whom she had married in London the previous year. The two royal ladies established themselves at The Hague, surrounded by a large number of household servants and hangers-on. Princess Mary was attended by an entourage of eighty (the marriage agreement had stipulated only forty), while her mother, according to eyewitnesses, brought a total of three hundred followers.33

One of those who arrived at The Hague as lady-in-waiting to Princess Mary Stuart was Utricia Ogle, a spirited young woman born in Utrecht of an English father (Governor of Utrecht in 1610, and commander of the English garrison there for a number of years) and a Dutch mother, but raised in England.34 Originally a member of the household of Katherine Wotton, Lady Stanhope (an English widow who had recently met and married William of Orange’s leading negotiator in the matter of the English match), Utricia was an accomplished instrumentalist, with a lovely singing voice. She quickly became Huygens’s protégée and close personal friend, and a regular visitor to his country retreat. He composed songs especially for her, and set them to music himself, coaching her in their performance. His one surviving published compilation of songs, the Pathodia Sacra et Profana, is dedicated to her as its musical inspiration.

In 1645 Utricia married Sir William Swann, an English professional soldier serving in the forces of the Prince of Orange. Swann was also a musician, and it is probable that he and Utricia met at one of Huygens’s musical evenings (he and Huygens corresponded regularly – particularly, anxiously, concerning Utricia’s health). Utricia and Constantijn continued to perform together, privately and publicly. Indeed, her husband seems to have encouraged them to combine their musical talents whenever possible, probably to enhance his own prestige in court circles.35 ‘My wife presents her humbel service to you,’ he writes in January 1647 from Breda, ‘and greefs much for the loss of her voice, which a great could [cold] has taken from her … But I hoope, eere long she will bee fitt againe to beare her part in musyck with your consort, which I long to heare.’36

Some years later, Huygens sent the English composer and lutenist Nicholas Lanier a copy of the Pathodia Sacra et Profana, flattering him with the assurance that Lanier could correct any deficiencies in his compositions as he performed them on his ‘most excelent royal tiorba’. Huygens had met Lanier in London, at the home of Sir Robert Killigrew, in 1622.37 Now Lanier, who was of Huguenot descent, was in Antwerp, jostling for some kind of place with all the other English exiles, and trying to eke out a musical living there (though he soon went north, to the more welcoming exile community at The Hague). Huygens again characterised the songs as particularly intended for Utricia:

Or else, if you will bee so good to us one day, as to come where you may heare mylady Swanne and me make a reasonable beau bruict about some lessons on this booke. The Psalmes she most lovethe and doth use to sing are named here in the margent, as allso some of the songs.38

In a long Latin poem published in 1651, in celebration of his country estate ‘Hofwijk’, Huygens devotes an entire section to Utricia Ogle’s musical presence there, recalling the extraordinary emotional impact of her singing, and likening her open-air performance to the thrilling sound of the nightingale in the charmed surroundings of the Hofwijk garden.

Of women you the loveliest,

Most worthy to be heard.

The memory’s so strong

That I hear your song, first heard within this greenness,

Heard in my calm of leaves below the stormy trees,

That I still think it true that these, my finest trees

Were drawn into the wood, all through your voice’s power.39

Huygens’s poetic praise for Utricia beautifully captures the interwoven contexts of English and Dutch culture and taste, within which these enchanted moments in the Hofwijk gardens need to be understood. Utricia’s singing voice ‘eclipses the nightingale’, her presence in the garden raises Huygens’s spirits above his immediate surroundings, providing him with memories which endure beyond the moment:

I’d linger in my wood a while; for here remains

One thing to hear, when silenced still remembered.

Utricia and Constantijn sing in a variety of European languages (predominantly French and Italian), but they converse in English and share English experience of small consort and vocal musical performance. Both of their musical trainings and experiences are inflected with English taste and technique. All Huygens’s surviving letters to Utricia are in fluent, colloquial English, and although she spent most of her life in the Netherlands, William Swann, whom she married in 1645 – and who, to Huygens’s politely feigned annoyance, took her away from The Hague and her regular participation in his musical soirées – was an Englishman in the service of the Prince of Orange. Huygens and Swann also corresponded in English, with occasional French and Dutch interspersed. In the garden at Hofwijk, French and English Princesses, as well as Dutch gentry and nobility, joined their host in marvelling at Utricia’s accomplishment, their delight easily fusing Dutch and English sensibilities.40

The tendrils of cultural exchange and mutual influence binding Huygens’s virtuoso command of Dutch taste and style to equivalent circles in England extend into almost every corner of the cultural life of both nations. He seems unerringly to have bonded with others with equally ambitious international artistic interests and aspirations. During his regular early visits to England, one household in particular had shaped his musical appreciation. Huygens, we recall, had formed his impressions of England and its culture early, and with enthusiasm. During a visit to London in 1622, one of those whose hospitality he enjoyed was the English courtier Sir Robert Killigrew.

The Killigrews’ was a household full of excitement and activity – music, conversation and entertainment. There were no fewer than twelve Killigrew children, and according to Huygens everyone in the family participated in their musical soirées. It was through the Killigrews that Constantijn met Nicholas Lanier, who helped organise the musical evenings. He also encountered the philosopher and natural scientist Sir Francis Bacon (the Lord Chancellor, and Lady Killigrew’s uncle, whom Huygens disliked), the eccentric inventor and scientist Cornelius Drebbel, the poet John Donne, some of whose poetry Huygens later translated into Dutch, and possibly the poet and dramatist Ben Jonson.41 In a Latin poem entitled simply ‘My Life’, and written when Huygens was in his eighties, he recalls his time spent with the Killigrews as a formative episode in his life, when he forged lasting bonds of friendship with the whole family, ‘men and women alike’: he particularly admired, and became deeply attached to, Robert’s wife, Mary Killigrew, with whom, as a sign of intimacy, he sometimes corresponded in Dutch.42

In fact, it seems to have been rather fashionable for ladies in England to learn Dutch, which certainly must have made the young Huygens’s life in London that much more pleasurable (though his English was becoming extremely good). By the 1620s, Charles I’s sister, Elizabeth of Bohemia, was permanently domiciled at The Hague, with regular openings in her household for English ladies of rank. In a letter to Sir Thomas Roe, Elizabeth writes that she is ‘glade [his wife] beginns to learne so good dutch’.43

Huygens was devastated when it came to his ears at The Hague that Lady Killigrew was blaming him for the death in some kind of accident of her son Charles, for whom he had found a position in Holland as a page in the personal household of Prince William. Huygens’s first efforts on Charles’s behalf had been made while he was still residing in London in 1622. Positions as page to the Prince were much sought after, and it was 1630 before Huygens was able to notify the Killigrews that he had been successful. He had, naturally, assured his English friends that he would keep a careful eye on their son. Charles, though, fell in with bad company, and turned out to be something of a liability. Huygens wrote to both his old friends – in French to William Killigrew, in English to his wife – personal and passionate letters assuring them that he had done all he could to protect their son:

Everyone here knows the pressure of business under which I, because of my vocation, am obliged to live. To you, who might be ignorant of it, I must insist upon the fact that … I was too busy to be able constantly to supervise pages, even if they had been sons of my own father.

Had not Huygens written to the Killigrews with such regularity that ‘you must have been as exhausted with reading everything I entertained you with, covering so many sheets of paper, on the subject of your poor son, as I was in writing it’? He had done everything he could on their son’s behalf. He could have treated his own children no better. Surely their friendship is strong enough to withstand ‘the black and malicious calumny’ which has given such a ‘vile impression’ of him to Lady Killigrew?44

There was also some question as to whether there was money owing between Charles Killigrew and Huygens. Nor was this the only occasion in the long Huygens–Killigrew family friendship when debts and misunderstandings troubled the otherwise cordial relationship. At some point much later on, Huygens lent the Killigrews’ daughter Elizabeth Boyle (Lady Shannon) a large sum which she apparently failed to pay back. In 1671 Hugyens wrote to her brother Thomas in some indignation at ‘this foole business’, protesting at the fact that no other member of the family seemed inclined to settle the debt:

I would faine know, if I am to go and tell it in Holland, that the whole family of the noble Killigrews could find it in their heart to deny in the behalf of a sister what one stranger did not deny unto that sister in consideration of the whole familie.45

His affection for Lady Killigrew in particular, however, survived the occasional frictions caused by the more feckless of her children. He sent her gifts of engravings, and after his wife’s death he extended the hospitality of his house to her. There was room enough, in the wing which had been intended for Susanna, for Lady Killigrew to stay whenever she was passing through The Hague.

Despite their occasional difficulties, generally Huygens was quick to come to the support of his old friends. When their daughter Anne, lady-in-waiting to Queen Henrietta Maria, drowned in a freak accident on the Thames in August 1641 (the boat in which she was travelling attempted to shoot the turbulent waters under a bridge, and overturned, resulting in the death of all those on board), Huygens, who was away from home on military manoeuvres with the Stadholder, wrote three short poems bewailing the loss of the ‘most beautiful Anne’.

Sir Robert was briefly appointed English Resident Ambassador to the United Provinces, though he apparently never took up the post. But in the second half of the 1640s and the 1650s, as the English Civil Wars and their aftermath unravelled the comfortable lives of many with Royalist sympathies, the fortunes of several of the Killigrew children became entwined with those of their Dutch neighbours. A letter Nicholas Lanier sent to Constantijn Huygens in 1646 captures the flavour of those unstable times. Lanier writes from Antwerp, where he and his family have just found a precarious refuge. They have been beset by calamities along the way: ‘The common calamitie of our cuntrey and of every one of us in particular – espetially servants of the King – by odd and ill accidents are even become prodigious’:

My poore wife with her two maydes between Gand [Ghent] and Bruges by a partie of Hollands soldiers were pillaged of all they had; she lost two trunkes with her cloaths and all she had. Among others ther was one caried prisoner to Sluce; he was once Sir Antony van Dyke’s man; he is releast and sent me word that he solicited the Rynegrave for my wives two trunks, telling him that she was a frend and retayner to Mylady of Arundell.46

The purpose of Lanier’s writing to Huygens is to secure from him a passport in the Stadholder’s name, to travel from Antwerp, which he considers a ‘prison, or denne of theeves – for myselfe was robd returning from France hither’, to the United Provinces. ‘If this favour may be obtayn’d, I most humbly desier, it may be directed for me to Mr. Dewarte [Duarte].’ He also hoped Huygens might be able to intervene in the matter of the missing trunks (these were eventually returned).47

In August 1646, Sir Robert Killigrew’s daughter Elizabeth also travelled to the Netherlands, arriving at The Hague with her husband Francis Boyle, a son of the Earl of Cork, and his younger brother, the future scientist and Fellow of the Royal Society, Robert Boyle. Elizabeth and Francis had been married at Whitehall Palace, where Elizabeth was one of Queen Henrietta Maria’s ladies-in-waiting, in 1638. Francis had been only fifteen, his brother, in attendance at the formalities representing his family in Ireland, just ten.48The two boys had been packed off on a Grand Tour of the Continent with their tutor immediately after the wedding, deferring the consummation of the marriage for propriety’s sake. On that tour, the party were joined by Elizabeth’s brother Thomas Killigrew, who had recently lost his own wife tragically.

Now, as civil war raged in England, the young Boyle couple had been granted a passport to leave England to become members of the household of Princess Mary of Orange.49 For them as for so many others, the English-speaking court across the water was a haven from the social and political upheavals at home.

Just a year and a half later, however, in February 1648, Robert Boyle left England for The Hague, at relatively short notice, ‘to accompany his brother Francis in conducting his wife from the Hague’.50 There was a Boyle family emergency. Following a rather public affair with the exiled Charles II – possibly the first of his many ‘flings’ during his European exile – Elizabeth Killigrew was pregnant. Robert Boyle went to help his brother to salvage his self-esteem as Elizabeth’s husband, and to hush up, as far as possible, a Boyle family scandal.

We can pinpoint the birth of Elizabeth’s baby to late summer 1648, because there was a family wedding at The Hague that autumn, which Francis and his wife ought to have attended, but from which they were noticeably absent. In October 1648, Frederik van Nassau-Zuijlenstein, the illegitimate son of the recently deceased Stadholder, Frederik Hendrik, and a person of considerable importance at the court, married Elizabeth Killigrew’s cousin, Mary Killigrew, another English lady-in-waiting to Princess Mary Stuart.

The marriage between Mary Killigrew and Frederik van Nassau-Zuijlenstein was to prove particularly important for future relations between England and the Dutch Republic, since it was to this couple (conveniently bicultural and bilingual in English and Dutch, and loyal supporters of the Stuarts) that in 1659 Mary of Orange entrusted the raising and education of her nine-year-old son William (later William III), who grew up, as a result, in a household of women who were native English-speakers. His faultless, if formal, English was to be a considerable asset when he arrived at Whitehall in 1688 to claim the English throne.

In summer 1648 Elizabeth Boyle returned to England in disgrace, before the Killigrew wedding guests were assembled, and was whisked out of sight to avoid awkward questions being asked about her thickening waistline. She and her husband spent the remainder of their lives mostly out of the public gaze, on their estates in Ireland. Her daughter, Charlotte Jemima Henrietta Fitzcharles – one of a number of illegitimate children Charles later acknowledged – was brought up as a Boyle.51 Shortly after the Restoration, Charles II elevated Francis Boyle to the Irish title of First Viscount of Shannon – a reward for his loyalty in not bringing his wife’s unseemly behaviour to public attention twelve years earlier.

Six years after the hushed-up scandal of Elizabeth’s royal affair, her brother Thomas Killigrew, soldier and dramatist, also joined the English exiles in the northern Netherlands. His experiences on both sides of the Narrow Sea formed his later interests, and offer a compelling example of the easy commerce through the middle of the seventeenth century between English and Dutch social and cultural circles.52

A courtier and dramatist, Thomas Killigrew became a page of honour to Charles I in 1632, and began composing plays for performance by Henrietta Maria’s court circle in 1635. He married Cecilia Crofts, a maid of honour to the Queen, but she died, tragically, three years later (van Dyck’s 1638 double portrait of Thomas and Cecilia’s brother is a mourning picture). Thomas joined his brother-in-law Francis Boyle, his brother Robert and their tutor on their ‘grand tour’ of European cities.53

As the situation in England deteriorated for those with Royalist sympathies in the late 1640s, Thomas Killigrew again left for the Continent. In 1652 he was briefly in The Hague, in the entourage of Charles I’s third son, Henry, Duke of Gloucester. He returned there in 1654, when he met and married Charlotte van Hesse-Piershil, the eldest and well-provided-for daughter of Johan van Hesse, gentleman of the Prince of Orange. The couple were married on 28 January 1655 – she had the good sense to draw up a prenuptial agreement, to protect the greater part of her inheritance from her new English husband – and shortly afterwards moved to Maastricht. Thomas Killigrew spent the rest of the Commonwealth years in the United Provinces, enjoying the lifestyle of the prosperous, cultivated families who moved in the circles of the princely courts at The Hague. He owed his appointment in 1655 as a captain in the service of the States General to Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia’s intercession with Charles II, her nephew, and to the latter’s mediation with Willem Frederik of Nassau-Dietz, Stadholder of Friesland. He appears to have performed sensitive missions (including a spot of spying, perhaps for both sides) as groom of the bedchamber for the peripatetic, exiled Charles II.

In his diary for 24 May 1660, Pepys records meeting Thomas Killigrew, ‘a gentleman of great esteem with the King’, on board the Charles, the boat on which Charles II returned in triumph to England. Thomas’s pregnant wife and the three children, however, prolonged their stay in Maastricht – Charlotte did not settle in England till after the birth in July of their son Robert. By the end of the year she and her three sons were naturalised, and in June 1662 Charlotte was made first lady of the privy chamber.

Thomas was less successful than his Dutch wife in securing royal employment, and for a while he retained his Maastricht connections (including obtaining formal citizenship there). In July 1660, however, the English King issued Killigrew and Sir William Davenant with a royal warrant ‘to erect two playhouses [in London], [and] to control the charges to be demanded, and the payments to actors … absolutely suppressing all other playhouses’. The two men thus obtained a virtual theatrical monopoly in London, authorised to form two companies of players, produce all and any dramatic entertainments, and license all plays submitted to them. This royal appointment marked the beginning of a successful career as a theatre manager for Thomas Killigrew, who enlisted the services of, among others, the poet John Dryden for his King’s Company. Killigrew died at Whitehall on 19 March 1683. Charlotte Killigrew outlived her husband, living on in London for more than thirty years.54

In 1655, Mary Killigrew herself (widowed, and now remarried to Sir Thomas Stafford) left London for the United Provinces. With no sign that the situation in England would improve for those with Royalist sympathies, she opted for a life of exile ‘amongst some of [her] obedient children’ there. It was Constantijn Huygens who offered to help find her a suitable house in which to live. He was ‘infinitly rejoyced to see your ladyship is in so good a health, that she hath the courage to thinke of a jorney beyond sea’:

In good faith, Madam, as the world goeth in your island, I doe imagine, you could as happily and quietly end your dayes in these parts amongst some of your obedient children as there, where publique and private troubles have agitated you till now. As for howses fit for such a family, I make account your ladyship may be served here at her ease for 60, 70 or 80 pounds a yeare, more or lesse, as she shall thinke fit herselfe. If it please your ladyship to let me know, of what and how many and how large roomes you would desire to bee accommodated, I will make your ladyship acquainted of what is to bee had here at the Haghe, which, you may beleeve, Madam, to bee one of the sweetest and handsomest dwellings of the world.55

On the other hand, he continued, she might understandably prefer to ‘live in one family with your sonne [Thomas Killigrew] and daughter in law’, who were installed in some comfort in Maastricht. The drawback to this plan was that she would find herself entirely cut off from the kinds of society and entertainment she was accustomed to in London:

If so bee, another course is to be taken, for they seeme to have a mind to live at Maestricht, which is more than a hundred mile from hence, in an excellent aire indeed, but as far from the Queen of Bohemia as the Haghe from thence, and no such conversation there, nor such pictures, nor such performes, nor such musicke as we are able to afford you here.56

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