Elizabeth Murray, 2nd Countess of Dysart, Lady Tollemache, Duchess of Lauderdale
Born September 1626 – died 5 June 1698
Elizabeth Murray aged 18 painted by Peter Lely in 1648
Which hangs in Ham House
Scotsman William Murray, his wife Catherine Bruce Murray and their four daughters lived at Ham House on the Thames at Richmond, a property given to them by King Charles I to mark their close boyhood friendship when William would accept a whipping for the transgressions of the young prince.
When the Civil War broke out in 1642, as Gentleman of the Bedchamber, William joined his royal master at the exiled court in Oxford after the Battle of Edgehill that drove King Charles out of London. Created 1st Earl of Dysart for his loyalty, he continued carrying messages through enemy lines.
In 1648, the Murrays arranged a marriage between Elizabeth and Sir Lionel Tollemache, 3rd Baronet, of Helmingham Hall in Suffolk, a wealthy and cultivated squire whose family came to England with the Norman invasion. They had eleven children, of whom five survived to adulthood.
Renowned as a political schemer, Elizabeth was rumoured to have been Oliver Cromwell’s mistress while also an active member of The Sealed Knot, the secret organisation supporting the exiled King Charles II. Even before Earl Tollemache's death in 1669, Elizabeth, as Lady Dysart, was rumoured to have formed an attachment to the ambitious John Maitland, 1st Duke of Lauderdale, Secretary of State for Scotland.
Lauderdale’s wife, jealous of her husband’s friendship with the widowed Lady Tollemache, went to live in Paris and died there. Only a few weeks after her death, Lauderdale, now one of the most powerful ministers of Charles II and Elizabeth scandalised London by marrying. Over the next ten years the pair lavished money on Ham House, extending and refurbishing it as a palatial villa reflecting the Duke's status. One of Elizabeth’s extravagances was a garden on the west side of the house where she had forty cherry trees planted, her favourite fruit which were exclusively for her own use.*
Lauderdale eventually quarrelled with the King and after a stroke, died in 1682, leaving the Duchess almost penniless. Elizabeth’s final years were spent in gentile poverty at her beloved Ham House, vilified by society and abandoned by her children, the triumphs of her remarkable life largely forgotten.
Inspiration For Royalist Rebel
If you visit Ham House, which has been restored to the way it looked during Elizabeth’s lifetime, this is the woman the guides talk about; an irascible, embittered widow stripped of her glory. They hold ghost evenings at Ham, recounting tales of the old lady’s spirit that roams the mansion tapping the floors with her stick, her small dog at her side while the scent of attar of roses permeates her favourite rooms announcing her ghostly presence.
In the gallery is the above portrait of Elizabeth, painted by Sir Peter Lely when she was eighteen. This was the young woman I wanted to discover and subsequently began writing about - the beautiful, intelligent and passionate young girl on the verge of womanhood who was dedicated to Ham House, the Royalist cause and the men in her life; her father William Murray, son of a minister who rose to become King Charles’ friend and confidant, Lionel Tollemache, her husband of twenty years who adored her, Oliver Cromwell who was fascinated by her, and John Maitland, Duke of Lauderdale, Charles II’s favourite on whom he heaped honours and riches, only to ostracise him after a bitter quarrel.
Royalist Rebel is the story of that girl.
Anita’s Blog – The Disorganised Author
Royalist Rebel Blog- http://royalistrebel.blogspot.com
Ham House Website
* During a recent visit to Ham House, Anita was told that the National Trust intend re-planting the forty cherry trees in Elizabeth’s garden, just as it was in the 1670’s.
|From History and Women|