Villiers, Elizabeth (c. 1657–1733)

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Villiers, Elizabeth (c. 1657–1733)

Countess of Orkney . Name variations: Elizabeth Hamilton, Countess of Orkney; Mrs. Villiers. Bornaround 1657; died in London on April 19, 1733; daughter of Colonel Sir Edward Villiers of Richmond and Frances (Howard) Villiers (c. 1633–1677); sister of Anne Villiers (d. 1688); married cousin, Lord George Hamilton (5th son of the 3rd duke of Hamilton), 1st earl of Orkney (r. 1696–1737), on November 25, 1695; children: Anne Hamilton (b. 1694), countess of Orkney; Henrietta Hamilton .

Born around 1657, Elizabeth Villiers was the daughter of Sir Edward Villiers and Lady Frances Villiers , who, as governess to the princesses Mary (II) and Anne , secured a place for her children in Mary's household. Elizabeth's brother Edward Villiers (1656–1711), afterwards created 1st earl of Jersey, became master of the horse, while Elizabeth and her sister Anne were among the maids of honor who accompanied Mary to The Hague on her marriage to William III, prince of Orange (future William III of England).

Elizabeth became William III's acknowledged mistress in 1680. It is said that she tried to ward off his advances by encouraging the attentions of a Captain Wauchoop, a Scottish mercenary working for the Dutch. William summarily dismissed Wauchoop. "Elizabeth was no great beauty," writes Charles Carlton in Royal Mistresses. "She was ungainly, had a passable figure, and a long white neck." But when she grew older, she had "intelligence and wit enough" to keep Jonathan Swift "up all night laughing," and as a young woman she had the bearing to fascinate William of Orange.

After his accession to the English crown, William conferred on Elizabeth a large share of the confiscated Irish estates of King James II. This grant was revoked by Parliament, however, in 1699. Queen Mary, who was always painfully aware of her husband's relationship with Elizabeth, wrote a letter to William, to be opened after her death, begging him to break with his mistress for the sake of his soul. Following Mary's death in 1694, a grieving William heeded his wife's wishes and separated from Villiers. He was never again seen with her in public. In November 1695, Elizabeth married her cousin, Lord George Hamilton, fifth son of the 3rd duke of Hamilton. Early the next year, William granted her husband the titles of earl of Orkney, viscount of Kirkwall, and Baron Dechmont. The marriage proved to be a happy one. Elizabeth Villiers died in London on April 19, 1733.


Carlton, Charles. Royal Mistresses. London: Routledge, 1990.

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Villiers, Elizabeth (c. 1657–1733)

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