Mary Villiers (1622-1684), A Biographical Profile (Sources).
Beginning with her lineage, the new candidate for the Ephelia poet was the only living daughter and eldest child of George Villiers, first Duke of Buckingham, one of the most powerful, charismatic, and pre-eminently handsome men of his age. He was also the most highly-placed, non-royal peer at the Courts of James I and Charles I. On the force of irresistible charm and political acuity, Buckingham became the pivot and pointman for both Stuart administrators. Lady Mary's mother descended from royalty, and actually 'married down' in her union with Buckingham. She was the wealthy heiress and amateur gentlewoman writer, Lady Katherine ("Kate") Manners, whose extended pedigree dated back to the Plantagenets (the Angevin line) (Burghclere 389; Roberts 35-36);and see Ohlmeyer, as listed in this archive's Works Cited section). Historical Portraits gallery (Mayfair, London) presents the Beaubrun widow portrait of Lady 'Kate' in the gallery's stunning Picture Library for 17thC sitters and artists: input "Manners" at http://www.historicalportraits.com/InternalMain.asp. "Kate"'s darling daughter, 'Mall' Villiers, breathed the air of courts from infancy; and she lived at the epicenter of establishment politics all of her long, sad life, a life which witnessed every major crisis in seventeenth-century English history, a life marked by a pattern of interrupted identities.
After the assassination of Buckingham in 1628, Mary Villiers also "lost" her mother, when 'Kate' reverted to the ancient faith of her family, Catholicism, and boldly married, in 1635, an Irish Catholic, Randal MacDonal of Antrim. Charles I was so incensed that such important children would be raised in a Papist household that he ordered 'Kate' to commit her three children to the care of the Court. This forced maternal separation was traumatic for the young Lady Mary, who vowed to throw herself at the royal feet in supplication (Burghclere 15-16). But as the record of her long life shows, Mary's home, after her mother's remarriage, would never be with her own blood relations, but rather with the powerful dynasties of seventeenth-century England. And so young 'Mall' was sent to Wilton House in 1635, to reside with her future in-laws, the Herberts, while her two younger brothers were "raised and bred up" at Whitehall, as the King's own. Lady Mary was but thirteen years of age.
After the premature death in 1636 of her first husband, Charles Lord Herbert, the heir of Philip (Herbert), fourth Earl of Pembroke, 'Mall' left Wilton to reside at Whitehall, with her two brothers and foster (or surrogate) Stuart family. De facto Stuarts, the three Villiers children were the most cosseted orphan-wards of the seventeenth century. Their adoptive parents (or guardians) were Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria; and their new adoptive siblings and playmates were the future Charles II, James II, Mary Princess of Orange, Queen Anne, Henry Duke of Gloucester, and Henriette-Anne, Duchesse d' Orléans ("Minette," the first "Madame"). Mary Villiers and her two younger brothers were educated with the young Stuarts, under the direction of Brian Duppa, later Bishop of Salisbury. (Unsurprisingly, the script of Ephelia's "Isham" elegy (Image 5) resembles that of Lady Mary's brother, George Villiers: they had the same writing masters.) Mary Villiers's adoptive parents, playmates, and lifelong friends were all of the blood royal.
True to her family name, 'Mall' Villiers was a large, narcissistic personality, who wore fame on her face. Portraits of her by Van Dyck (discussed below) and descriptions of Lady Mary by contemporaries mention her beauty, hauteur, theatrical personality, and charisma (D'Aulnoy 230ff; Strickland, "Henrietta Maria," X:128,271). From her early exposure as a Villiers and then (through marriage) as a Stuart, Lady Mary enjoyed broad cultural and social entitlement. Before the breakup of her family, she was raised at Wallingford House and later at York House in a climate of sumptuous cultural privilege. Second only to Lord Arundel and his brother-in-law, the Earl of Pembroke, her father was one of the leading art collectors of seventeenth-century Europe and also a munificent arts patron (Waterhouse 53; Betcherman 250ff). 'Mall''s access was further broadened in her prestigious post as Principal Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Henrietta Maria. This post may supply something of the background of a curious verse-epistle in Mary's book project of 1679, most probably addressed to her deceitful lover, Henry Jermyn (Germyn, first Duke of St. Albans), "To a Gentleman that durst not pass the Door while I stood there" (Female Poems...by Ephelia, 10-13).