Thrice Wedded—Once Bedded
Duchess of Somerset(1667-1722)
by Sir Peter Lely (1618-80),
signed with monogram, c. 1670
oil on canvas
In the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries marriage amongst the Upper and Middle classes was not so much a matter of personal attraction but more a matter of ownership of property and of money. When Joceline Percy, 11th Earl of Northumberland, died his only child, Elizabeth, became the most desirable heiress in the Kingdom. Elizabeth's mother had scant influence in her upbringing which was taken over by her grandmother, the formidable and well-connected, Elizabeth Howard. A marriage was arranged between the 13 year old Elizabeth Percy and Henry Cavendish, Earl of Ogle, who was two years older. The marriage was not consummated and the couple were immediately parted to await the time that they had reached a degree of maturity. It was never to be as the young earl was soon to die.
Elizabeth's grandmother lost little time in assessing the ranks for a likely second husband for the girl who was now 15 years of age. The selected groom was the very rich Thomas Thynne of Longleat, "Tom o' Ten Thousand." When the pair met for the first time at the home of a Major Brett on 14th July 1681, they were straight away married by special licence. Once again before the marriage was consummated, Elizabeth was whisked away, this time to the Netherlands by Lady Dorothy, the wife of Sir William Temple, who was ambassador to the Hague. Sir William's secretary was a distant relation, Jonathan Swift.
Europe was in its usual state of ferment and was a place of opportunity for soldiers of fortune. One such of these was John Philip Königsmark, a Swedish subject. A look at the Königsmark family will outline their place in European history. John Philip's older brother was accused of an intrigue with Sophia Dorothea, wife of George, the Elector of Hanover and future King of England. She was divorced and locked up in the castle at Zelle. One of John Philip's sisters, Aurora, became the mistress of Augustus II, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland. He was reputed to have had 350 children. Hisson by Aurora became the famous Marshal Saxe. Aurora was made abbess of the convent at Quedlingburgh, in Austria.
John Philip, although penniless, had some idea of gaining the hand and fortune of Elizabeth Percy Thynne. The fly in the ointment was Tom o' Ten Thousand. Konigsmark recruited three desperadoes to assassinate Tom and this was accomplished by discharging a musketoon—a sort of blunderbuss—into his carriage as they waylaid it in Pall Mall. Tom was mortally wounded and died the next morning.
The three villains were soon arrested and Königsmark was apprehended trying to leave the country. Arraigned as an accessory, he was acquitted by the intervention of the King of Sweden. The other three were hanged in Pall Mall at the scene of the crime.
There is a memorial depicting the murder in Westminster Abbey. A mock epitaph appeared in the London coffee houses:
"Here lies Tom Thynne of Longleat Hall
Who never would have miscarried,
Had he married the woman he lay withal
Or lain with the woman he married."
Elizabeth's third marriage was to Charles Seymour, 6th Duke of Somerset. She was appointed Mistress of the Robes to Queen Anne and had great influence at Court.
Swift throwing caution to the winds and in his cynical and satirical manner, wrote the following:
"And dear England if aught I understand
Beware of carrots from Northumberland;
Carrots sown Thynne a deep root might set
If so they be in Somer set,
There Conyngs mark thou; for I have been told
They assassinate when young, poison when old."
This seems to implicate Elizabeth and he was in the Hague and in a position to know. Elizabeth wrought her revenge on Swift by using her influence with Queen Anne to deny him the bishop's mitre he so much wanted. He remained Dean of St Patricks, Dublin, until his death.
The Northumberland succession passed to the 7th Duke of Somerset, son of the 6th Duke and Elizabeth.