Hearts Through History Romance Writers

England’s Best Born and Best Bred Lady

by | March 14, 2013 | 15 comments

She was “the best born and the best bred” lady in all England and heiress to the vast estates of the earldom of Northumberland. She was also someone to die for.  Elizabeth Percy

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.

 Oh, dear. 

 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.”

Petworth House by J. M. W. Turner

Petworth House by J. M. W. Turner
rebuilt on the site of the old Percy fortified manor house




  1. Ella Quinn

    Loved the post, Angelyn. What some people will do still amazes me. I tweeted.

    • Angelyn

      Thanks for tweeting, Ella!

  2. Morgan K Wyatt

    The number of children she had floored me. Geesh, I thought three were hard to herd. Lovely blog.

    • Angelyn

      That was a lot of kiddoes… Thanks for stopping by, Morgan!

  3. marylou anderson

    Excellent post. What a life.
    Makes one wonder how anyone could call the “Good Old Days”
    good–unless referring to all the amazing twists and turns along the path of one life that didn’t turn out “bad”, in an era where one’s end was not, for many people, as noble as Lady Percy’s.

    • Angelyn

      I’m glad you liked the post, Marylou. In the end, Elizabeth may have gotten a man known for his pomposity but he was ultimately the best suited to provide a stable marriage for her.

  4. Gerri Bowen

    Interesting post as always, Angelyn. History is so interesting; you just can’t make this stuff up.

    • Angelyn

      Ha! That is such a true sentiment!

    • Angelyn

      Ha! that is so true!

  5. Ally Broadfield

    Wow. That’s a lot of kids and way too many men. Very intriguing post, Angelyn.

    • Angelyn

      “way too many men..” That sounds like a good title for Elizabeth’s biography. Too funny, Ally!

  6. Lacey Falcone

    Hi Angelyn – Very interesting post! She sounds like she was the equivalent of our famous actors/actresses of today, with respect to how she was judged and written about (medieval versions of the Inquirer and such). Sounds like she stayed strong, though. Just curious – who coined her “The Best Born and Bred Lady”? Thanks for sharing!

    • Angelyn

      It was Lord Dartmouth, noting how she remained in great favor with Queen Anne after the dismissal of the other royal favorite, the Duchess of Marlborough. Later historians say she was a much better politician than her husband. When the Tories came into power, they delivered the two court offices–Groom of the Stole and Mistress of the Robes–into her hands.

      Good to hear from you, Lacey!

  7. Anne Carrole

    Enjoyed this post. Poor Elizabeth. And 13 children! Oh my.



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