Henrietta Howard: king's mistress, queen's servant
Henrietta Howard, later Countess of Suffolk, was the long-term mistress and confidante of King George II. Described by Swift as a consummate courtier who packed away her 'private virtues... like cloaths in a chest', by Pope as 'so very reasonable, so unmov'd', and by the world at large as 'the Swiss' (due to her apparent neutrality), she remains as fascinating and perplexing today as she was for her contemporaries. Orphaned at the age of twelve after her mother died and her father was killed in a duel, and dragged into poverty by her brutal husband, Henrietta used her own ingenuity and determination to secure a role at the very heart of the royal court. Although renowned for her passivity and mildness, her relations with the Queen became increasingly acrimonious, and she made an enemy of Prime Minister Robert Walpole before eventually resigning her position amidst intense political scandal. As well as providing a fascinating insight into the dynamics of the Georgian court, Tracy Borman's wonderful biography reveals a woman who was far more than the mistress to the King: a dedicated patron of the arts; a lively and talented intellectual in her own right; a victim of violence and adultery; a passionate advocate for the rights of women long before the dawn of feminism. Above all, she was a woman of reason in an Age of Reason. The mark that this enigmatic and largely forgotten royal mistress left on the society and culture of early Georgian England was to resonate well beyond the confines of the court, and can still be felt today.
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