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Katherine Stanhope
Countess of Chesterfield

Katherine, Lady Stanhope by Anthony van Dyck
Born 1609
Boughton Malherbe, Kent
Died 9 April 1667
Belsize Park, Middlesex
Nationality English
Occupation Courtier
Spouse(s) (1) Henry Stanhope, Lord Stanhope (d. 1634)
(2) Jehan van der Kerckhove, Lord of Heenvliet (d. 1660)
(3) Daniel O'Neill (d. 1664)
Children Mary Stanhope (1629-1660)
Catherine Stanhope (c.1633-1662)
Philip Stanhope, 2nd Earl of Chesterfield (1634-1713)
Charles van der Kerckhove, 1st Earl of Bellomont (1643-1683)
Amelie van der Kerckhove (1646-1663)
Dorothea Helena van der Kerckhove (d. 1703)
Parents Thomas Wotton, 2nd Baron Wotton (1587-1630) and Mary Throckmorton (d. 1658)

Katherine Stanhope, Countess of Chesterfield (bapt. 19 December 1609–9 April 1667)[1][2] was an English-born courtier at the Dutch court of Mary, Princess Royal and Princess of Orange and later to the restored court in England. Throughout her serving life, she was a trusted aide to the princess and the exiled English court at The Hague. But, as a former widow, was also faced with the hardship of securing family lands during the sequestrations carried out by the Commonwealth of England and surviving political intrigue. Despite this, and after having been thrice married, she was later granted a peerage and was to become a wealthy woman before her death.


Early life and first marriage

Born Katherine Wotton in 1609, she was the eldest daughter and coheir of Thomas Wotton, 2nd Baron Wotton and his wife, Mary, nee Throckmorton. She was also a paternal great-niece of Sir Henry Wotton and a maternal great-niece of Sir Walter Raleigh.[3][4]

On 4 December 1628, Wotton married Henry Stanhope, Lord Stanhope (the eldest surviving son of Philip Stanhope, 1st Earl of Chesterfield, and his first wife, Catherine) at Boughton Malherbe[3] becoming Lady Stanhope by courtesy. They had three surviving children:

When Lord Stanhope died intestate at St. Martin-in-the-Fields in 1634, their eldest son, Philip, became a royal ward and Lady Stanhope was obliged to pay £2000 for the grant of the wardship to herself.[4] She was forced to borrow this money due to her husband dying in debt and her father-in-law, Lord Chesterfield, refusing to help her. Relations with her father-in-law appear to have been generally poor, since he petitioned against her in 1636 for her refusal to pay ship money of £30, which had then been claimed from his tenants. After her husband's death, Lady Stanhope then divided her time between her children at her estate in Boughton Malherbe and her house on New Street between Covent Garden and Strand (later briefly occupied by John Flaxman).[6] A letter from Lord Conway to Sir Thomas Wentworth (later Earl of Strafford) in 1637 suggests she was careful with her money.[7] The wealthy Lord Cottington was said to have wanted to marry Lady Stanhope, but she was said to be in love with her cousin, Carew Raleigh, son of Sir Walter. She was also a lover of van Dyck until they argued over the cost of a portrait of her, which he threatened to sell to a higher bidder.[8]

Second marriage

In 1640, the Dutch diplomat Jehan van der Kerckhove, Lord of Heenvliet, visited England with instructions to arrange a marriage between Prince William, the only son of Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange, and Princess Mary, a daughter of Charles I. Heenvliet was married with children at the time, but was soon widowed and began to woo Lady Stanhope. Their courtship did not go smoothly, however, as Heenvliet was considered an 'obscure foreigner,' any children from the marriage would have had no inheritance rights under English law, and, if she predeceased him, all of Lady Stanhope's property would be forfeit to The Crown. Heenvliet's confidant, Louis de Dieu, later wrote a letter to James Ussher, the Protestant Archbishop of Armagh, containing full details of Heenvliet's lineage and honours and asked Ussher to reassure Lady Stanhope as to the worth of her possible future husband.[9] When the king also gave his support to the marriage, Heenvliet and Lady Stanhope were married in early 1641, shortly before the marriage of the young prince and princess.[10]

Life in Holland

Charles I then appointed Heenvliet Superintendent of the new household of Princess Mary (aged nine) at The Hague, whilst Lady Stanhope took over as Mary's governess from the Countess of Roxburghe. Lady Stanhope's appointment was not universally accepted, however: the Marquess of Hamilton had lobbied for his mother-in-law, the Countess of Denbigh, to be appointed, and the princess herself had caused a public scene when Lady Roxburghe left The Hague a few months after they arrived there in 1642.[11] The young princess soon transferred her affections to Lady Stanhope, to whom she remained attached for the rest of her life, as she did to Lord Heenvliet.

Lady Stanhope became pregnant during the early months of her governess-ship and gave birth to 'a big and fat child' in 1643.[12] She and Lord Heenvliet intended to name him Thomas after her father, with her mother, the Dowager Lady Wotton, and Lord Heenvliet's father, Poliander, as godparents. However, Princess Mary and the Prince of Orange proposed themselves for this role and the child was baptised with the more regal names of Charles Henry.[3]

Lady Stanhope's initial duties as governess consisted of looking after the princess's wardrobe and carrying out small errands for her, but she was also given the task of monitoring the princess's sexual development. She had promised King Charles that she would not allow the marriage to be consummated before Mary was fourteen years old and even stationed an attendant, Mrs. Abercrombie, to sleep in the princess's room to prevent it. When it was discovered in 1644, that the princess's nurse had allowed Prince William to sneak into Mary's bedroom whilst Mrs. Abercrombie was asleep, Lady Stanhope scolded both Abercrombie and the nurse. When it was mentioned that the Prince and Princess of Orange supported their son's actions, Lady Stanhope was silenced and, as Heenvliet commented, 'there is no remedy and they are continuing'.[12] Thereafter, Queen Henrietta Maria and the Princess of Orange both awaited news from Lady Stanhope of a possible pregnancy, though Lady Stanhope told the queen that it was not until early 1647, the time she became Princess of Orange, that Mary began to menstruate.

Lady Stanhope had given birth to a daughter, Amelie Willemine in 1646. Mary, a week after the death of her husband, gave birth to her only child, William (later William III of England) in 1650, at which time Lady Stanhope became indispensable to the young, widowed princess. A few months later, Lady Stanhope's stepdaughter, Walburg (from Heenvliet's first marriage), married Hon. Thomas Howard (a younger son of Theophilus Howard, 2nd Earl of Suffolk), the princess's Master of the Horse and Walburg became a Lady of the Bedchamber to Mary and governess to the young Prince William.


The birth of Lord Heenvliet and Lady Stanhope's son a few years earlier had raised their concerns over his inheritance rights to Lady Stanhope's lands in England. In 1642, Charles I had offered Heenvliet English citizenship and to revive the barony of Wotton (Lady Stanhope's father having been the last holder of the title) for him. However, Heenvliet knew the peerage would have made both himself and his children foreigners in the Dutch Republic and so asked for the barony to instead be conferred on any future son of theirs.[13] In 1648, shortly before being removed from Hurst Castle, the king issued a warrant disclaiming any Crown interest in Lady Stanhope's lands, although she obviously tried to secure her lands after the king's execution in 1649. Later that year, the de jure Charles II issued an identical warrant and also created their son Baron Wotton, via a patent which was formalised at Perth in 1650.

In 1644, during the English Civil War, Lady Stanhope's property had been threatened with sequestration by the Roundheads because of her correspondence with the Charles I. Despite her underwriting an arms deal, Sir Edward Nicholas, a royalist, was also hostile to both her and Heenvliet and suspected she would compromise with the parliamentary forces in order to save her estates.[12] In 1651, the Chesterfield lands had been sequestrated due to her former father-in-law's role in the war. They were to be sold off if his heir, Lady Stanhope's son, Philip, was not in London to compound for them by the end of the year. After attempts to contact her son, who was then travelling in Italy, failed, Lady Stanhope went to London herself and was immediately arrested.[14] She was freed after two weeks and stayed in England until the following June, by which time she had secured the Chesterfield estates for her son at a cost of £20,000.

Political intrigue

Soon after Lady Stanhope returned to Holland in 1651, Sir Edward Nicholas wrote to Sir Edward Hyde with a serious accusation against her (exactly what is not clear from Hyde's reply), which Hyde passed on to Charles II.[15] The de jure king reluctantly wrote to his sister, Princess Mary, to warn her against Lady Stanhope, but the princess furiously denounced the accusation and demanded to know the author.[13] The chief suspect was the princess's mother-in-law, the Dowager Princess of Orange, with whom she had poor relations, for which Lady Stanhope was held responsible by the Dutch. Lady Stanhope's suspected damaging influence was shared by Hyde and Nicholas, who saw her and her husband's support for Queen Henrietta Maria and Henry Jermyn's "Louvre faction" as antagonistic to royalist interests.[12][15]

Lady Stanhope was seemingly unaffected by the event and by 1654, had won favour with Hyde by offering favours to his wife, Frances and their daughter, Anne (later wife of Prince James, Duke of York). Hyde subsequently denounced any accusations of Lady Stanhope by Nicholas, especially defending her when the latter accused her of a relationship with Daniel O'Neill.[12] Her efforts to regain trust with Charles II took longer, but she later did so, evident that despite refusing to accompany Princess Mary to Paris on a political visit in 1656, Charles forgave her on the grounds of their friendship.[13]

Family feud

The re-purchasing of the Chesterfield estates for Lady Stanhope's son soon brought problems. In 1649, her mother had demanded money allocated to the former's daughters, Catherine and Mary (who had stayed with her grandmother throughout Lady Stanhope's life in Holland). However, the land from which Lady Stanhope intended to raise this money had to be sold to buy the Chesterfield estates, the income from which made her son, Philip, independent of his mother. In 1654, Philip brought a lawsuit against his mother which seems to have been connected to the money reserved for his sisters, yet possibly connected to the terms of his recent marriage contract to Lady Anne Percy, since the lawsuit also involved his father-in-law, the Earl of Northumberland. Lady Stanhope counterclaimed by claiming all expenses paid to her son since his father's death, whilst at the same time pleading for assistance and sympathy from family or friends.

The dispute continued throughout the 1650s and was finally resolved in 1659, when the old accusations, against Lady Stanhope's and Heenvliet's readiness to co-operate with the parliamentary forces for the protection of their lands, resurfaced. They were also accused of being willing to accept the Wotton barony and citizenship not from Charles I, but from Richard Cromwell, and also of providing information to John Thurloe during the war, charges denied by Heenvliet.[16]

Third marriage and final years

Lord Heenvliet died in 1660 and Lady Stanhope commissioned a marble monument to him in the Pieterskerk in Leiden.[17] Charles II's recognition of her services to himself and his sister, Princess Mary, was rewarded when on 29 May 1660 (the day the king arrived in London following The Restoration), he created her Countess of Chesterfield (a title she would have been known by had her first husband survived his father) for life.[4] The new countess then prepared for the arrival of Princess Mary to England, but the next few months were to be the last of her long service to Mary, as the princess died later that year.[18] The countess and her stepdaughter, Walburg, were left £500 by Mary, but the countess was owed a considerable amount from the princess, which was unable to be paid (as well as most of her other legacies) as she died heavily in debt.[19][20] As a result, Lady Chesterfield refused to return the princess's jewellery until she received her full legacy, and also kept Mary's wardrobe as a perquisite.

Lady Chesterfield then made her life in England and Heenvliet and their three children were naturalised in 1660.[21] She was later reconciled to her son, Philip (by now Earl of Chesterfield), but her daughters soon died: Mary from smallpox in 1660, Catherine in childbirth in 1662 and Amelie in 1663.[22][1] She continued her royal service to the new court, becoming an attendant to the Duchess of York and later becoming a Lady of the Bedchamber to the Queen in 1663.[23]

St Nicholas church, Boughton Malherbe.

Despite her shrewdness and complaints about her finances, Lady Chesterfield was already a wealthy woman at the time of The Restoration, retaining her estate at Boughton Malherbe and her house in Covent Garden.[24] Her wealth soon increased when she married, in 1662, her old friend Daniel O'Neill, who had been well rewarded by Charles II for his loyalty.[5] When O'Neill died of a stomach ulcer two years later, he left everything to Lady Chesterfield and she became very rich, inheriting his property, pensions, Postmaster Generalship and monopoly on the manufacture of gunpowder for The Crown.[25][26]

In her last few years, she lived at Belsize Park (built for her by O'Neill) with her son, Lord Chesterfield, who was with her when she died of dropsy in 1667.[27][22][4] She was buried alongside her husband in the church of Saint Nicholas at Boughton Malherbe and her will instructed a monument of the couple be erected there, showing who O'Neill was and 'my relation to him'.[5][28] Lord Chesterfield carried this out, but took the opportunity to add his own father to the memorial, which consists of three white marble lions surmounted by a black marble three-sided pyramid (now paving the vestry), the faces referring to O'Neill, Lady Chesterfield and Lord Stanhope.[29]


Notes and references

  1. ^ a b c d Cokayne et al, The Complete Peerage, volume I, p.108
  2. ^ Her name is also given as Katharine, Catharine or Catherine in various historical documents.
  3. ^ a b c Cokayne et al, The Complete Peerage, volume II, p.106
  4. ^ a b c d Cokayne et al, The Complete Peerage, volume III, p.180
  5. ^ a b c Cokayne et al, The Complete Peerage, volume III, p.181
  6. ^ 'Covent Garden : Part 2 of 3', Old and New London: Volume 3 (1878), pp. 255-269. Date accessed: 16 March 2008
  7. ^ The earl of Strafforde's letters and dispatches, with an essay towards his life, edited by Knowler, W. (1739)
  8. ^ Johnson, Paul - Art: A New History. Harper Collins: New York, 2003
  9. ^ A copy of the letter from Louis de Dieu to James Ussher, 17 November 1640, Bodl. Oxf., Rawl. D. manuscripts 559, folios 45–51
  10. ^ van Baerle, C. - Epithalamia in nuptias illustris viri Iohannis Polyandri à illustrissimae Catherinae Wottoniae (1641)
  11. ^ Fifth Report, Historical Manuscripts Commission, appendix 60
  12. ^ a b c d e Clarendon state papers, Bodl. Oxf., Clarendon manuscripts
  13. ^ a b c Letters of the royal family to Heenvliet and Lady Stanhope, Bodl. Oxf., Rawl. manuscripts 559, letter 115
  14. ^ Calendar of state papers; domestic series, 1651–2, 547
  15. ^ a b The Nicholas papers, edited by G. F. Warner, 4 volumes, Camden Society, new series, 40, 50, 57, 3rd series, 31 (1886–1920)
  16. ^ Thurloe state papers, volumes 1-2, 7
  17. ^ Pandora - Johannes à Kerckhoven (1594-1660), André Van Kerckhoven, 2007. Date accessed: 16 March 2008 (Dutch)
  18. ^ Wier, Alison, Britain's Royal Family: A Complete Genealogy, The Bodley Head, 1999, p.265
  19. ^ Calendar of state papers; foreign series, 1661
  20. ^ Public Record Office, SP 84/116
  21. ^ 'House of Lords Journal Volume 11: 27 August 1660', Journal of the House of Lords: volume 11: 1660-1666, pp. 144-145. Date accessed: 16 March 2008
  22. ^ a b Letters of Philip Stanhope, 2nd Earl of Chesterfield
  23. ^ Burke, John - "Chesterfield, Earl of": Burke's Peerage
  24. ^ 'Hampstead: Manor and Other Estates', A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 9: Hampstead, Paddington (1989), pp. 91-111. Date accessed: 16 March 2008
  25. ^ Letter from King Charles II to the Duchess of Orléans, 1664
  26. ^ Falmouth Packet Archives 1688-1850 Date accessed: 16 March 2008
  27. ^ The diary of John Evelyn, 4.92
  28. ^ Will of Lady Stanhope 11/323, folio 53
  29. ^ Kent Churches, John E. Vigar, 2006. Date accessed: 16 March 2008


Political offices
Preceded by
Daniel O'Neill
Postmaster General
(in right of her deceased husband)

Succeeded by
The Earl of Arlington


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