Howard, Henrietta (1688–1767)

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Howard, Henrietta (1688–1767)

English patron and mistress of King George II. Name variations: Countess of Suffolk; Lady Suffolk; Henrietta Hobart. Born Henrietta Hobart in Norfolk, England, in 1688 (some sources cite 1681); died on July 26, 1767, in Marble Hill, Twickenham, Middlesex; daughter of Sir John Hobart and Elizabeth Maynard (d. 1701); married Charles Howard (b. 1675), 9th earl of Suffolk, on March 2, 1705 or 1706 (died 1733); married Honorable George Berkeley, on June 26, 1735 (died 1746); children: (first marriage) Henry Howard (1706–1745), 10th earl of Suffolk.

Henrietta Howard was one of England's most notable royal mistresses but made her mark as a patron of letters and the arts. The daughter of a minor aristocrat, Henrietta was one of three children orphaned young, after their father died in 1698 and their mother in 1701. Henrietta and her siblings were then taken in by a distant relative, the earl of Suffolk, who provided them with an excellent education and found profitable marriage alliances for his wards. In 1706, Henrietta brought a large dowry to the earl's family when she married his youngest son, Charles Howard. It was an unhappy union. An army captain, Charles was an alcoholic gambler who soon lost his military commission; after the birth of their only child, Henry, in 1706, the couple separated and the marriage was essentially over.

Henrietta and Charles lived in separate households on the Suffolk estates until 1714, when Henrietta secured a position as Lady of the Bedchamber to Princess Caroline of Ansbach , wife of the Prince of Wales, the future George II. Henrietta liked the fast pace and excitement of court life and became friends with the prince and princess. When Prince George was expelled from court for his misbehavior in 1717 by his father, King George I, Henrietta chose to accompany the exiled court on its wanderings across England. Although even she admitted that she was no beauty, Prince George was drawn to Henrietta's charming and lively personality. By 1720, they had become lovers, in a relationship that would last for 13 years. They enjoyed each other's company immensely, and it was common knowledge that Lady Howard spent almost every evening with the prince. She received a large allowance from the prince's treasury. Her influence led the prince to make her family, the Hobarts, the hereditary earls of Buckingham after he came to the throne in 1727.

In 1724, Henrietta began the construction of a magnificent Palladian country house on her lands in Middlesex. Called Marble Hill, the home is still standing, its classical design and decoration evidence of Henrietta's cultured tastes. After its completion, she divided her time between Marble Hill and the new king's court. In 1731, Henrietta became countess of Suffolk when her husband Charles inherited his father's titles. Charles died only two years later, in 1733, the same year that the relationship between Henrietta and the king came to an end.

The following year, she moved permanently to Marble Hill, where she became known as a patron of artists and writers. Among her friends and clients were three of the great English literary figures of the period, John Gay, Alexander Pope, and Jonathan Swift; all wrote verses about the countess and exchanged verses with her. She also exchanged letters on philosophical issues with other aristocrats of her circle. Henrietta was greatly interested in architecture and interior design and spent the years after her retirement from court planning and decorating the rooms of Marble Hill, as her surviving correspondence shows. Her first love as an art collector was porcelain; she also collected sculpture and, to a lesser extent, paintings, and amassed an extensive library.

In 1735, at age 47, Henrietta married the 42-year-old Honorable George Berkeley, son of the earl of Berkeley and a member of Parliament. Her second marriage was much happier than her first, lasting until George Berkeley's death in 1746. Outliving virtually all of her friends and family, the countess continued her literary and artistic patronage activity until her death in 1767.


Benjamin, Lewis. Lady Suffolk and Her Circle. London: Hutchison, 1924.

Bryant, Julius. Mrs. Howard: A Woman of Reason. London: English Heritage, 1988.

Laura York , Riverside, California

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Howard, Henrietta (1688–1767)

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