Friday, December 4, 2009
Tart of the Week: Henrietta Baroness Luxborough
Born into the lap of luxury, Henrietta St John was the adoring half-sister of Henry, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke, the politician whom she claimed made a "half-scholar" of her. She grew up among the glamour of the beau monde and her brother's circle which included, Alexander Pope and Voltaire. Unlike many aristocratic ladies, Henrietta didn't marry in her teens and enjoyed her twenties, gossiping with her bff, the future Duchess of Somerset, spending half her time in London, and gardening.
Of course, marriage ruined everything.
In 1727 Henrietta found herself in a married to a businessman, Robert Knight. He was rude and crude and his job forced them to live mostly in Paris. Paris probably didn't bother Henrietta so much (her mother was French) as being far away from her friends and family did. Not to mention, she didn't care for her husband's crowd who only talked of money instead of the cultured topics of her brother's circle. Despite her miserable marriage, Henrietta had a son and daughter whom she loved dearly. But it was only a matter of time before she cracked.
In 1736 Henrietta was the talk of the town for an affair. It's unclear who exactly she conducted it with, some gossiped a doctor, others a tutor, and the more romantic notion is a poet since Henrietta herself was one. No matter whose bed Henrietta hopped in, her husband was furious and banished her to his remote estate, Barrells (sometimes 'Barrels') to "moulder and die." He chose not to divorce her and left her a meager annuity so that she would be forced to live like a prisoner. She couldn't visit London and she wasn't allowed any contact with her children. What's a girl to do?
Henrietta got vengeance in the simplest of ways: by enjoying her life despite her husband's attempts to cut her off from the world. Barrells was meant to be her soul-crushing prison but she was able to transform it into her own personal "Arcadia." She finally had a chance to get back into gardening and dove into the hobby to distract herself. She took up writing to friends, sometimes in poetic stanzas. She called herself a "farmeress" and delighted in her home which turned out to be just what Marie Antoinette tried to achieve with her Petit Trianon. Visitors began to venture to the middle of nowhere to see Henrietta's humble retreat. Not everyone was impressed, for whatever reason Horace Walpole liked to bitch about Henrietta calling her "lusty" and making snide remarks about her hair. Her home even became a literary center, a gathering place for the educated minds she so loved to mingle with since childhood.
For the most part Henrietta lived her life quietly. When her children grew up they were free to visit her and mother was finally reunited with children. Henrietta died in 1756, her husband would outlive her by many years, finally dying in 1772. Barrells would go to the eldest son he had with his long-time mistress.