The Historical Birthday-Tea Party 26th January


(c) National Trust, Petworth House; Supplied by The Public Catalogue FoundationToday’s birthday belongs to Elizabeth Percy (26 January 1667 – 24 November 1722) the last of Queen Anne’s intimate lady friends.

Elizabeth was one of the richest heiresses of her time and as such was the centre of many intrigues. She was married at 12 to Henry Cavendish, widowed at 13 and married again aged 14, in 1681, this time to Thomas Thynne. She left him almost immediately and went to the Hague. When her husband was killed by Count von Koningsmark shortly afterwards, she was implicated. Supremely unconcerned, she returned to England and married the Duke of Somerset. (The owner of Syon House where Anne stayed when she was exiled from court by her sister Mary.)

She became Groom of the Stole in Sarah Churchill’s place when Sarah finally, finally went too far and got sacked.

Jonathan Swift (supporter/manipulator of Abigail Masham, another of Anne’s lovers) was of the opinion that:

 [she] quickly won so far upon the affections of her majesty, that she had more personal credit than all the Queen’s servants put together.

Swift also risked his chances of promotion to jibe at Elizabeth in his Windsor Prophesy

And dear England, if aught I understand
Beware of Carrots* from Northumberland;
Carrots sewn Thynne a deep root may get
If so be they are in Somerset.
Their Comyngs mark thou, for I have been told
They assassine when young and poison when old.
Root out these Carrots, o thou whose name
Is backwards and forwards always the same[Anna]
And keep close to Thee always that name
Which backwards and forwards is almost the same [Masham]
And England, would’st thou be happy still
Bury those Carrots under a Hill.

[*Elizabeth Percy had red hair.]

Anne chose to ignore this shamefully biased advice just as she had ignored the remarkably similar advice against Abigail in the final verse of A New Ballad to the Tune of Fair Rosamund.

It would seem that Elizabeth fared no better with the Whigs at court, certainly Sarah for once agreed with her enemies saying of Elizabeth:

She was never quite so kind as after she had taken the resolution  to supplant me, for then she not only came to dinner and made meetings for play oftener than before, but I remember she took it into her head to kiss me at parting which was quite new.

Of course it could be that Elizabeth had now become part of the inner circle of lesbians around the queen, and so felt an additional kinship with her old friend Sarah, but one can hardly expect Sarah to interpret her actions this way given her own lesbophobia and her capacity for putting the worst construction on any imagined wrong; the older the friend the more likely she was to take offence.

Elizabeth had plenty of opportunity to supplant Abigail, who was frequently away from court tending to her children,  there is no evidence to suggest any personal rivalry between Abigail and Elizabeth, but little survives of the correspondence of either.

Anne died in 1714. She left no will, and consequently Elizabeth never received jewels which Anne had promised her; she was, however, chief mourner at the funeral.

Following Elizabeth’s death:

A great number of letters from Queen Anne to Lady Elizabeth Percy, 1st wife of Charles Duke of Somerset had been burnt by his grace’s order.

I love a burnt letter, when you see what Anne wrote to other people, without them being burnt, you wonder.

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party 20th January


late again! In my defense, an over-long dress rehearsal for Orpheus followed by a rehearsal for Vocal Chords put a bit of a dent in the day.

So the 20th of January: not exactly a vintage day for lesbians, at least that I have found dates for – so lets meet Cicely Cornwallis, 1656 – 1723, who according to Sarah Churchill was the ‘first favourite’ of Queen Anne, whilst still a young thing. Cicely was a distant Catholic kinswoman of Anne’s. Sarah described the relationship in her autobiography:

The fondness of the young lady to her was very great and passionate but – the Duchess of York accidentally finding upon her daughter’s table a letter to her favourite, unsealed up, read it and was much displeased at the passionate expressions with which it was filled.

The result of this discovery was that Cicely was sent away from court (theoretically for her ‘papism’) and all Anne’s letters were carefully censored from then on.

 Thus ended a great friendship of 3 or 4 years standing, in which time lady Anne had written it was believed, above a thousand letters full of the most violent professions of everlasting kindness.

Sarah claims that Anne forgot her favourite within a fortnight. One possible reason for this lack of grief may have been that she now had Sarah’s company to divert her. At any rate, for all Anne forgot her, Sarah did not. Years later when Anne came to the throne she persuaded Anne to write to Cicely to let her know when she would be passing her lodgings so that she could look out and see her; and to grant her a pension, both of which Anne was reluctant to do.