Sources (biographical profile of Lady Villers)


In one of few extant sketches of the life of Mary Villiers, John Heneage Jesse writes, "Of one whose fortunes were so splendid, whose conversation is said to have been fascinating, and whose beauty was the envy of her contemporaries, it is extraordinary how few particulars are known"(Memoirs of the Court of England V [1813], 203).

Compounding the relative difficulty of constructing a first profile of Lady Villiers is her long list of names. Her parents, guardains, and intimates called her "Mall" and "The Lady Mary." Her younger brother, George Villiers, second Duke of Buckingham, called her "My Duchess" and, as suggested below, "My Muse."

Bibliographically, Lady Villiers is frequently confused with relatives and namesakes: Mary (Villiers nee Beaumont), Duchess of Buckingham (her mother-in-law); Francis (Stuart), Duchess of Richmond (her young niece and the "Beauteous Marina" in three verses in Female Ephelia); Mary (Villiers nee Fairfax), Duchess of Buckingham (wife of her brother, George Villiers, the second Buckingham); a later Mary Villiers, daughter of Sir Edward Villiers, Maid of Honor to Queen Mary, and wife (in 1691) of Lord William O'Brien; and an earlier Mary Villiers, elegized by Thomas Carew (ca. 1630s?). This elegy may have been occasioned by the infant death of Jacobina Villiers, first child of the first Buckingham, whom Carew mistook for the second (living) daughter, Mary Villiers, born shortly thereafter, and also a sickly child at birth.

There is little extant manuscript material by or about the new candidate, other than a cache of love letters between her parents, which mention Lady Mary's antics and clever impersonations when a precocious child (Harl. MSS 6987:117-119; Goodman II:260-267; Jesse III:84f.; Thomson II:232f.; Lockyer 153f.; Gibbs 91f.). Most of Mary Villiers's personal papers reportedly went down with a baggage ship in the late 1640s (Hamilton 187); and, to date, no handwriting sample of hers has been catalogued in manuscript collections at the Bodleian, the British Library, Castle Howard, and Nottingham, where we know she maintained a residence during the 1640s and '50s (Burghclere 53). I, therefore, had to rely on shards of information in contemporary materials and in reliable secondary sources in assembling these biographical and personality profiles.