The Troubles and the Restoration
During the bloody interim of the English Troubles (or Civil Wars), Mary Villiers proved a reliable conduit and female intelligencer for the Royalist side. On one occasion, while her younger brother George Villiers, second Duke of Buckingham, disguised as a mountebank, was brazenly entertaining crowds of Puritans in the streets of Cromwell's London, she intercepted from him an important packet of royalist communiqués (D'Aulnoy 111-112; Coffin 235; (Image 7). As the younger Buckingham, 'Mall' would soon cultivate the ploy of hiding in plain sight, on the very title-page, no less, of her amusing book project of 1679. As surviving letters between Charles II and his sister, "Minette" in Paris, document, Mary also would serve the Stuarts during the Secret Treaty of Dover: "According to the Treasury Books for 1667-8, a warrant was issued to Customs officials...to permit Mary, Duchess of Richmond and Lennox, to pass safely through the countryside with her coach and twelve horses, as she was in the service of the Crown" (Hartmann, Letters 362).
Prior to the Restoration, Mary Villiers was an emerging presence in patronal circles. The appearance of her name in book dedications in 1628, 1638, and 1651 suggests that her role as a literary stewardess was cultivated by her contemporaries in early girlhood. As my research in Franklin Williams' Index of Dedications (1962) uncovered, Mary Villiers became an official member of the literary culture of the first Caroline court as the young dedicatee of Phineas Fletcher's love-poem on the amors of Venus and Anchises, Brittain's Ida (London, 1628; 8vo, 20 pp, 61 stanzas; rpt., Oxford UP, 1926, ed. Ethel Seaton). But this was an inauspicious début. First, the text was an inappropriate choice for a virginal dedicatee of six years. Second, the book itself, as A.B. Grosart in 1869 and F.E. Boas in 1926 showed, was fraudulently issued by its seller, Thomas Walkley, as the work of Edmund Spenser. Finally, the book's ('genealogical') dedication, "To the Right Honourable Lady Mary, Daughter to the most Illustrious Prince George, Duke of Buckingham" (A3), was supplied in 1628, the year of Buckingham's murder, not by Fletcher, but rather by the opportunistic Walkley. (This fraudulent issue of Walkley's was preceded by his pirated edition of Wither's poems in 1620. [Percy Simpson, The Library, December, 1925]). In 1628, Mary Villiers had become associated with a rogue bookseller
As Williams' Index also shows, Mary Villiers in 1638, now the sixteen-year-old Lady Mary Stuart, wife of James (Stuart), Duke of Richmond & Lennox, found herself and fourteen other female masquers of Queen Henrietta Maria praised by a worthier pen in Great Britain's Beauties; or, the Female Glory Epitomized, in Encomiastick Anagrams and Acrostiches...by Francis Lenton, the so-called Queen's poet (London, M. Parsons for J. Becket, 1638; quarto, 31 pp.; STC 11057; no. 15465, reel 1177). Mary Villiers, a principal dancing-and singing-masquer in the Queen's opulent court-masques at Whitehall Palace in the 1630s, is given pride of place among her female peers by Lenton, whose address emphasizes Mary's lineage and noble character: "To the Highly Descended and Heroicke Dutchesses Grace of Lenox...." The first masquer Lenton praises in his amusing trick poems, Mary first receives a fourteen-line anagram of her name, "Marye Stuart," namely, "A Trusty Arme", which emphasizes her strength of character (by 1638, she had lost her father and her first husband). She is a "loyall, loving, Trusty Arme" to her new husband, his "safe-guard or defense" (p.4). Lenton also offers a ten-line acrostic to the new Mary Stuart, remarkable on two grounds: it aligns Mary and the Queen on the basis of their mutual name, Mary Stuart ("Maryes blest name you have, and Maryes Grace,/And Maryes Vertues"); and it reminds the younger Mary Stuart of the security of her new status ("by faire Hymens Rites you doe inherit a United Force"; p. 5).
A third location of Mary Villiers's patronal role in pre-Restoration London, brought to my attention by Hugh Mowbray-Jones, a collector in London, and also Sammy Hardman of Commerce, Georgia, a student of Van Dyck, is Leanard Willan's dedication to a mature (twenty-nine-year-old) Mary Villiers in his five-act pastoral play, Astraea, or, True Loves Myrrour, one of many post-1649 texts on the imperial theme of the Astraeamyth (London: R. White for H. Cripps & L. Lloyd, 1651; 8vo; 128pp; New CBEL I:1758; STC W2262, no. 5184, reel 589). Willan's ('status') dedication runs: "To the Illustrious Princess, Mary, Duchess of Richmond & Lenox," an address not dissimilar from Mary's self-dedication in her witty book-project of 1679. In his four-page prose dedication, Willan pays her the high compliment of being the very original of Astraea, whom he calls a mere counterfeit of his dedicatee. Though he predictably pays homage to Mary's lineage ("the Eminence of your Extraction" and "noble Progeny"), his effusions are not puffery, but factual; for by 1651, she had indeed displayed uncommon strength, loyalty, and faith as a Stuart-family exile on the Continent and secret courier for the royalist network.
When Mary Villiers self-dedicates her own pseudonymous book in 1679 ("To the most Excellent, PRINCESS MARY, Dutchess of Richmond & Lenox"), she places herself in an exulted literary role, one to which she had become accustomed since girlhood. As a known patroness since the 1620s, she was a member of the London literary establishment and, thus, invested in its product and its quality. In the 1670s, she would transit from patronal role to authorial role with highly bold --and unusual-- contributions of her own.
At the Restoration, Mary Villiers returned to London to set up residence with the royal Stuarts in Whitehall Palace. In 1660, 'Mall' was approaching her fourth decade, twice a widow, still a beauty, and still high value in the marriage market, notwithstanding her financial difficulties owing to the turmoil of the Civil Wars. Prince Rupert, a cousin of Charles II, had pursued the widowed Duchess of Richmond; and, for a while, rumors developed of a great romance. But the affair came to nothing ("The Ladies Parliament," 1647; Warburton II:45,III:212). In 1664, at the age of forty-two, Mary Villiers wed a man of her own choice, Colonel 'Tom' Howard, fourth son of Sir William Howard and brother of Charles, first Earl of Carlisle. Because Howard was Catholic, younger, and of a lower rank, Mary initially kept this marriage clandestine. Reportedly, theirs was a felicitous union, though Howard was a notorious womanizer. His amours, notably with Anna-Maria (Talbot née Brudenell), "the fatal Lady Shrewsbury," strained the early years of their courtship. Was Shrewsbury the rival 'Mall' dueled? Or was "Mopsa" (Lady Catherine Crofts, longstanding mistress of Jermyn) the rival at the end of 'Mall''s dueling sword? (Appendix A.)