The tale of Kitty Hunter – another of my stories of scandalous women

The picture of Kitty Hunter I saw at Longleat House

I was walking about Longleat House a couple of weeks ago, when I saw this picture. It was not particularly obvious. It was hung above a door in one of the rooms in the house and unless you turned and looked back you wouldn’t notice it.

I always look at the portraits in historic houses because they give me ideas for clothing and hairstyles and a sense of potential characters for my writing. Some portraits just scream a tale to be told.

There is one of a very sly looking chap at Stoneleigh Abbey, he’s from the 19th Century and has a moustache and a wicked twinkle in his eyes. None of the guides there have ever been able to tell me who he is, but he looks awfully like a Mr Wickham. However…

When I looked up at this picture I had that sense that this woman had a story to be told. I don’t know why. There was just something in the way she was holding her head and smiling, all confidence and come hither. I looked at the list of portraits I held in my hand which were left in each room and scanned through the list, but the name of the woman in this portrait wasn’t on it. So I turned to the guide who was sitting in the room and asked, “Who is that?”

“Kitty Hunter, the mistress of the Duke of Pembroke,” he answered.

Well now of course my interest was piqued, especially as Pembroke is a name I have borrowed for a character in my book. So then I had to discover her scandalous story.

Here it is…

Kitty Hunter

Catherine (Kitty) Hunter was the daughter of Thomas Orby Hunter, an Admiralty Lord, so very respectable, or should have been, had she not run off with the Earl of Pembroke.

At the end of this blog are elements of transcripts of letters, written by Horace Walpole at the time. These tell the story and express the horror, excitement and gossip which spun around London high society when the elopement occurred.

The couple did not decide to have a discreet affair. In Horace Walpole’s letters he describes witnesses to the intrigue (the 18th Century word for affair) at a ball on the Wednesday evening, as though it was plainly obvious to the whole room what was going on. I can just imagine the twenty-eight year old Earl of Pembroke eyeing the twenty-two year old Kitty with a lustful look while she batted her eyelids and flirted, not doubt outrageously, if it drew so much attention.

Henry Herbert, 10th Earl of Pembroke

Can you picture him leaning in close and perhaps touching a little too much and a little too openly. Maybe they were laughing and drawing the eyes of the whole room as they danced. Certainly they must have spent considerable time with one another for their interest in one another to have been noted so particularly, in a period where only two dances were supposed to be allowed to any one man in a night.

The elopement followed the next night, so at some point in the hours they had been flirting at the Middleton ball, they had arranged the details of their elopement.

The Earl is noted in Walpole’s letters below to have arrived home, having arranged for his wife to have plenty of company that night, with a bundle containing a disguise.

He ate in his rooms, and then donned the disguise of a sailor and black wig and apparently he and Kitty then left on a packet boat for France.

Other accounts say that the Earl’s family sent a man to find them and bring them back again, but having offered for his wife to join them (Shelley style), the Earl merely disappeared to France again with Kitty.

Walpole joked in one letter; ‘As Pembroke as horseman by most is accounted/ Tis not strange that his Lordship a [Kitty] Hunter has mounted’

When Kitty returned to England at the end of their whirlwind six month affair in November 1762, she was pregnant with his child.

Henry, the Earl of Pembroke stayed abroad and was reappointed to his commission as a General (and was rumoured to elope with another woman whom he ran away with on her wedding day).

Kitty’s and Pembroke’s child was named Augustus Retnuh Reebkomp – Retnuh an anagram of Hunter – Reebkomp an anagram of Pembroke.

The Earl arrived in England a few months behind her in the February of the following year and made peace with his wife in the March, paying Kitty off. He did continue to support and favour the child though who was brought up in Pembroke’s home for most of his life. Reebkomp did cause further arguments between Pembroke and his wife though. Especially when Pembroke attempted to have Reebkomp appointed in the army as a lieutenant under the name Augustus Herbert. Lady Pembroke immediately ensured Reebkomp kept his own surname, she did not wish him having his father’s family name which belonged to her own son. However Reebkomp was later renamed Montgomery.

Kitty must have had quite a character. I would guess she was fun-loving and not a woman to hold back. I should imagine she spoke animatedly and never cared about causing offence. I only make these assumptions because of the words Walpole recorded that the Earl of Pembroke wrote when he left his wife, he’d said he was bored with her ‘goodness and sweetness’. I assume then, Kitty was neither good nor sweet, and as the Earl also recorded in his letters, to tell everyone he was going, that he had ‘long tried in vain to make is wife hate and dislike him’ I am also assuming that Kitty must have been able to hold her own against such a man.It must have been fun and exciting to set everyone’s tongues wagging at the Middleton’s ball, while plotting to elope, you can just see that look of expectation in the eyes of her portrait which I saw at Longleat.

They fled at night in darkness, in disguise and on a boat, to go abroad. Well what could have felt more romantic and exhilarating than that?

I would also assume it was her character Pembroke fell for, as Walpole comments on how beautiful Pembroke’s wife was, more beautiful than Kitty. (although if you continue reading Walpole’s letters there are several further comments on Lady Pembroke’s presence at parties, and her beauty, so Walpole obviously had an eye for her himself.)

Augustus Hervey later Lord Bristol

Kitty cannot have disliked the life of a courtesan. Soon after her affair with Lord Pembroke ended she took a new lover, Augustus Hervey, later 3rd Lord Bristol – this was probably the point her son by the Earl of Pembroke, was taken into his father’s house. She certainly did not need to take on a new lover for financial support as the Earl of Pembroke had settled and annual annuity on her to support her – which was a common practice when men of good birth set aside a lover.

There is not so much known about her affair with Hervey except it produced another child, a boy, named Augustus for his father. A miniature of the child, painted by Gainsborough, is at Ickworth House.

Alured Clarke, Kitty’s Husband

Kitty was one of my luckier scandalous women. She found contentment in later life. She married Field Marshal, Sir Alfred Clarke in 1770.

Horace Walpole wrote at the time of Kitty’s elopement with the Earl of Pembroke, on February, 22nd, 1762;

In all your reading, true or false, have you ever heard of a young Earl, married to the most beautiful woman in the world, a Lord of the Bedchamber, a general officer, and with a great estate, quitting everything, resigning wife and world, and embarking for life in a pacquet-boat with a Miss? I fear your connexions will but too readily lead you to the name of the peer; it is Henry Earl of Pembroke, the nymph ‘Kitty Hunter.’ The town and Lady Pembroke were but too much witnesses to this intrigue, last Wednesday at a great ball at Lord Middleton’s. On Thursday they decamped. However, that the writer of their romance, or I, as he is a Noble Author, might not want materials,’ the Earl has left a bushel of letters behind him; to his mother, to Lord Bute, to Lord Ligonier, (the two last to resign his employments) and to Mr Stopford, whom he acquits of all privity to his design. In none he justifies himself, unless there is a justification, that having long tried in vain to make is wife hate and dislike him, he had no way left but this, and it is to be hoped he will succeed; and then it may not be the worst event that could have happened to her. You must easily conceive the hubbub such an exploit must occasion. With ghosts, elopements, abortive motions…

Kitty Hunter after she married Lord Clarke

Later in the letter Walpole jokes that ‘no soul could have read a line’ in some books ‘unless I had changed the title page, and called them,The Loves of the Earl of Pembroke and Miss Hunter’ obviously society in London had been a buzz with gossip about the story.

Horace Walpole was so moved by the story he told it to another friend in a letter, in which he declared;

Lord Pembroke – Earl, Lord of the Bechamber, Major General, possessed of ten thousand pounds a-year, Master of Wilton, husband of one of the most beautiful creatures of England, father of an only son, and himself but eight-and-twenty to enjoy this assemblage of all good fortune – is gone off with Miss Hunter, daughter to one of the Lords of the Admiralty, a handsome girl with a fine person, but silly and in no degree lovely as his own wife, who has the face of a Madonna, and, with all the modesty of that idea is dotingly fond of him… it is not yet known whither this foolish guilty couple have bent their course; but you may imagine the distress of the Earl’s family, and the resentment of the house of Marlborough, who doat on their sister… but did ever one hear of an Earl running away from himself?

On February 25th, Walpole then said;

No News yet of the Runaways… but all that comes out antecedent to the escape is more and more extraordinary and absurd. The day of the elopement he had invited his wife’s family to and other folk to dinner with her, but said he must himself dine at a tavern; but he dined privately in his own dressing-room, put on a sailor’s habit, and black wig, that he had brought home with him in a bundle, and threatened the servants he would murder them if they mentioned it to his wife. He left a letter for her, which the Duke of Marlborough was afraid to deliver to her, and opened. It desired she would not write to him as it would make him completely mad. He desire the King would preserve his rank of Major-General, as some time or the other he may serve again.’

He concludes their story with a note in a later letter dated, March, 29th, 1763;

Lord and Lady Pembroke are reconciled, and live again together. Mr Hunter would have taken his daughter Kitty too but upon condition she should give back her settlement to Lord Pembroke and her child : she replied nobly, that she did not trouble herself about fortune, and would willingly depend on her father; but for her child she had nothing left to do but take care of that, and would not part with it; so she keeps both, and I suppose will soon have her lover again too, for my Lady Pembroke’s beauty is not glutinous…

Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional love stories.

See the side bar for details of Jane’s books, and Jane’s website to learn more about Jane. Or click  ‘like’ on Jane’s Facebook  page to see photo’s and learn historical facts from the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras, which Jane publishes there. You can also follow Jane on twitter at @janelark

This week my scandalous woman is Mary Shelley the author of Frankenstein

Mary Shelley

If you have read my last two blogs about Mary’s sisters then you will already know that Mary began her affair with the Romantic Poet Shelley when she was just sixteen and Shelley twenty-one.

Initially to avoid the eyes of her father she used to meet Shelley by her mother’s grave. There is no knowing whether she was already pregnant at the point they eloped on 28th January 1814 but she fell pregnant to him soon afterwards if she was not already, while Shelley left behind an estranged pregnant wife.

Mary had her sister for company, Claire Claremont, who I wrote about last week and who may well have also been Shelley’s mistress, although Mary never believed this, but Shelley certainly believed in free love.

Percy Shelley

Mary, Claire and Shelley kept Journals as they travelled and excerpts of these can be found on the links below, which imply that for them it was a grand adventure. Certainly Mary thought it so, she even described it as a Romantic adventure in later years in 1826 ‘It was acting in a novel, being incarnate romance’. But Claire’s note about a dispute between Shelley and Mary implies Mary was subservient to her lover and probably in awe of him and all he declared to be true, so much so, she denied her own feelings of sadness at deserting her father, because Shelley challenged then and asked if her distress was targeted to blame him;

Mary’s Journal

Claire’s Journal

There is evidence of Mary’s inclination to be subordinate and the peace-maker in her later life too when she wrote of the impact of ‘feminine affections and compassion’ and stated she was ‘profoundly committed to an ethic of cooperation, mutual dependence, and self-sacrifice’.

There is another record of their journey through the war damaged continent in 1814, which again shows Shelley’s potential blindness to the feelings of anyone but himself as he writes to his estranged wife, Harriet, whom he’s deserted and left pregnant and asks her to join him and the girls.

She did not go, but she showed this letter to Mary’s father when he called upon Harriet in distress.

Mary, Claire and Shelley returned to England in September, with Mary pregnant, and were foolishly surprised when Mary’s father did not welcome them into his home.

Another letter exists from this era, the earliest letter known in existence from Mary to Shelley, expressing how much she misses him when he has to be away from the house hiding from debtors.

During this time, while Mary played mistress which did not seem to bother her, Harriet bore Shelley a son, and Claire, who lived with Shelley and Mary, spent hours in his company, while poor Mary suffered with ill-health. Though not such ill-health that she was incapable of Shelley seeking to encourage her to practice her own free love and sleep with his friends. There is no evidence that she complied with the assertions recorded in some of his correspondence to her.

Sadly Mary’s daughter was born premature and did not survive. But Mary quickly fell pregnant again and bore a second child, a son, who they named William for her father.

Then in 1816, they set out on a new adventure, with Claire now pregnant by Lord Byron, and Mary with her young son. They followed Byron to Lake Geneva. Mary now called herself Mrs Shelley as she travelled, although Harriet, Shelley’s wife was still alive.

Shelley’s sketch of his own and Byron’s sailing boats

The story of Frankenstein came from this trip. Mary wrote at the time that the weather was often inclement for days, and they were frequently confined to the house and so when Shelley and Byron were not sailing on the lake, they were writing and telling stories.

It was Lord Byron who inspired the idea to write Mary’s first novel. They had been seated about the fire at Byron’s villa reading German ghost stories, and during their conversations recounted the rumours of a scientist who was said to have brought life back to human matter, and then Lord Byron suggested they all might write their own supernatural tales. Mary set out crafting Frankenstein, a story which Shelley loved and urged her to continue.

When Mary, Claire and Shelley arrived back in England after their fruitful summer it was to a time of burdens though. They were forced to hide away in Bath, both from debtors and to contain the secret of Claire’s pregnancy, which by then must have been notable. They arrived back in England in September, and then in the October, Mary’s oldest sister Fanny committed suicide, which was hushed up by Shelley (see Fanny’s story in one of my earlier blogs), and then two months later on the 10th December, Shelley’s wife also committed suicide. She was found drowned in the Serpentine Lake at the centre of Hyde Park.Here are links to letters of the time, including Harriet’s suicide letter. She was with child by another man when she died. Shelley sought to gain access to his children by Harriet, but due to his infidelity with Mary he did not succeed in gaining them, despite immediately marrying Mary to support his case. Mary wrote scant journal entries on the subject of Harriet’s suicide and her own marriage.

William Shelley their son who died in Rome

Shelley’s marriage to Mary did however reconcile Mary with her father and at last make her respectable. However Shelley’s debts still prevented them having any form of settled life and once Mary gave birth to another child, a girl, with little money, Mary, Shelley, their children and Claire and her illegitimate child, left England for good in March 1818 (the year Frankenstein was first published anonymously). They sought Byron in Italy to hand him Claire’s child. He did take her after some persuasion, and then the Shelley’s moved on to lead a nomadic life, moving from city to city in Italy with groups of friends and acquaintances.

However for Mary, despite now being respectable, her experience in Italy was ruined by first her young daughter’s death in September  1818, in Venice, and then her son become ill in Rome the following June 1819. She wrote to friends of her fears for her son. And then her father wrote after the boy had died, urging her not to remain in sadness as she was pushing Shelley away with her depression over the loss of her children.

Shelley wrote.

My dearest Mary, wherefore hast thou gone,

And left me in this dreary world alone?

Thy form is here indeed—a lovely one—

But thou art fled, gone down a dreary road

That leads to Sorrow’s most obscure abode.

For thine own sake I cannot follow thee

Do thou return for mine

It was another birth that finally restored Mary from her deep sorrow. Her second son was born in November 1819.

But it was after her depression that rumours of Shelley’s infidelity grew. As he was preacher of faithlessness in marriage it is fair to assume he was no more faithful to Mary than he had been to Harriet. There were rumours that his sister-in-law Claire produced his child in February 1819. And when Mary was heavily pregnant with their fourth child, who they named Percy, Shelley befriended a Welshwoman who was undertaking the grand tour and showed her Florence, while Mary was retired at home. He wrote her an ode, of which this is part.

 ‘Thou art fair, and few are fairer,
Of the nymphs of earth or ocean,

They are robes that fit the wearer –
Those soft limbs of thine whose motion
Ever falls and shifts and glances
As the life within them dances’

Jane Williams

She did not stay long in Shelley’s company but there were others and the most particular the wife of Edward Williams. Shelley knew Edward Williams from school and when the Williams started travelling with them he became affectionate with Edward’s wife, corresponding with her as frequently if not more frequently than with Mary when he was away from them and writing Jane poetry when he was with them.

Edward Williams

In 1822, with Mary pregnant once more, Mary, Shelley, Claire and the Edwards moved to a secluded Villa by the sea. Where Shelley hoped to practice his favorite hobby beyond writing, to sail. It was to be another period of sadness. It was here that Percy broke the news to Claire that her daughter by Byron had died in the monastery where he’d established her and then Mary miscarried in June and lost so much blood Shelley sat her in a bath of ice to stop bleeding. He saved her life by doing so.

With Mary depressed once more and ill, Shelley paid more attention to Jane Williams.

He bought her a guitar, and wrote this poem to accompany it.

In July Shelley left Jane and Mary and went to meet Byron in Pisa. He never returned. The ship he sailed back on with Edward Williams was caught in a storm and Shelley drowned. His body was washed ashore three days after he set out.

Here are the links to the last letter he wrote to Mary, and the last letter from Jane Williams to him, as he’d also written to her at the same day he had written to Mary.

Mary received the news of his disappearance by receipt of letter asking him to confirm he had reached home. He had not and so she set out to find him.

Shelley’s body was cremated on a beach by three of his friends, including Lord Byron, but excluding Mary present – it was not considered appropriate for women to attend funerals.

Mary continued her writing and lived to raise her young son who survived childhood. She never remarried. She died at the age of fifty-three having lived her life extolling Shelley’s literary gifts and creating a legacy for him. One year after her death her son and his wife opened her box-desk. Inside were locks of her deceased children’s hair, a note-book she’d shared with Shelley, and a copy of his poem Adonais with one page folded around a silk parcel some of his ashes and what was believed to be the remains of his heart.

She never remarried, and she appeared to never cease loving Shelley.

Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional love stories.

See the side bar for details of Jane’s books, and Jane’s website to learn more about Jane. Or click  ‘like’ on Jane’s Facebook  page to see photo’s and learn historical facts from the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras, which Jane publishes there. You can also follow Jane on twitter at @janelark