Lady Elizabeth Percy (1667 – 1722) was the daughter of the eleventh earl and one of the “Beauties of Windsor,” Elizabeth Wriothesely. An intimate of hers noted with sadness how the Countess had lost custody of her daughter upon her second marriage. The heiress was given into the care of her grandmother, the Dowager Countess of Northumberland and a co-heiress in her own right of the Duke of Suffolk. Lady Howard was
“..a meddling and jealous old woman, who, having got her long-descended and amply dowered grand-daughter into her own hands, ‘made her the subject of constant intrigues with men of power who wished for wealth, and rich men who wished for rank and power.'”
Thus, Elizabeth was married at age twelve to the twenty-year-old heir to the Duke of Newcastle. However, he died before “the nuptials could be completed” and Grandmama lost little time in thrusting the now fourteen-year-old back onto the marriage mart. This time the old lady was holding out for more than a duke’s title. She was in it for a handsome commission and had obtained the services of one Colonel Brett to insure the payment of said fee.
Those “constant intrigues” were one day to haunt the young heiress. Displayed with her inheritance like a bauble at the fair, there were many who were induced to pay their addresses to her, whether they were worthy of her or not. One such man was a Swedish count called Count Karl Johann von Konigsmark. He was an adventurer of sorts, having sought employment alternately as a mercenary and as a bull baiter. He had an excuse to be in England, as an envoy from the Swedish court to that of Charles II. However, the old lady turned him away. He had no money.
Then along came Thomas Thynne, otherwise known as Tom of Ten Thousand. He was fabulously wealthy and quite the bon vivant, being “the wealthy western friend” of the ill-fated Duke of Monmouth, later executed for rebelling against his father, Charles II. The two men were very close, their relationship immortalized in the poet Dryden’s Absalom and Achitophel. It was thought that through the offices of Monmouth, Thynne was introduced to the Dowager Countess. A jointure was promised to her if she were to deliver Elizabeth in marriage. Whether this was paid or not, it was the subject of considerable scandal. It was so embarrassing that right after the ceremony Elizabeth left for the Continent in the company of her mother.
It was a scrambling business that smacked of illegality. It was foreseen the marriage might be called into question, unconsummated and undoubtedly coerced. That was when Count Konigsberg reappeared, perhaps spurred on by the notion he might yet have his heiress, if only her husband-in-name-only could be gotten rid of.
While in Amsterdam, Elizabeth received word her husband had been shot dead by a gang of gunmen as he rode in his coach along the Pall Mall. The count, along with his henchmen, wsd soon apprehended, tried and hung. Thynn was buried in Westminster Abbey with an illuminating epitaph:
Here lies Tom Thynne of Longleat Hall/Who ne’er would have miscarried;
Had he married the woman he slept withal/Or slept with the woman he married.
Elizabeth returned to England, the object of so much scrutiny and curiosity she must have found anything preferable to that, including another marriage. Five months later she wed Charles Seymour, later Duke of Somerset. He was known as the “Proud Duke,” immortalized in Macauley’s description that he was a “man in whom the pride of birth and rank almost amounted to a disease.”
“To his servants, it was alleged, he spoke only by signs–as if he apprehended the sound of his ducal voice might prove too agitating to beings of so inferior a species.” — English Causes célèbres: or, Reports of remarkable trials, edited by George Lillie Craik
Together the two became close advisors to Queen Anne. Elizabeth in particular was often the target of written attacks. Swift, of Gulliver’s Travels fame, called her “Carrots” and blamed her for the Queen’s refusal to grant him an English bishopric: “..from her red locks her mouth with venom fills and thence into the Royal ear instills.”
Oddly enough, Elizabeth’s third and final husband came into his dukedom by reason of his older brother being shot dead in Italy, by a man who thought, mistakenly, that His Grace had insulted his wife.
Elizabeth died when she was only fifty-six, having born thirteen children. Her successor in the marriage bed once ventured to tap her husband on the shoulder, the duke having become deaf in his old age. The proud old duke cried out in indignation:
“Madam, my first wife was a Percy, and she never took such a liberty.”