John Gay (1685-1732)
John Gay, poet and dramatist, was possibly the first of Mrs. Howard’s friends to see the plans for Marble Hill, as she wrote to him in 1723, ‘I beg you will never mention the plan which you found in my room. There is a necessity to keep the whole affair secret, though (I think I may tell you) it is almost entirely finished to my satisfaction’. She kept a portrait of him in her apartment at court. Gay’s early writings were performed in the pubs and coffee houses of London, and he had relatively little luck in achieving recognition until his musical comedy The Beggar’s Opera of 1728. While being popularly entertaining, it made satirical digs at the Whig prime minister Sir Robert Walpole (father of Horace), whose displeasure is thought to have provoked the banning of its sequel Polly.
Catherine Hyde, Duchess of Queensberry (1700-1777)
The Duchess of Queensberry was an eccentric, known not only for her wit and beauty, but also for her friendship with the Augustan circle of poets and writers including Gay, Swift, Congreve, and Pope. She defended John Gay’s The Beggars Opera (1728) and particularly its sequel Polly (1729) against royal censorship for which she and the Duke lost favour at court. They lived at Petersham, on the opposite bank of the Thames to her friend and correspondent Lady Suffolk of Marble Hill. In old age, Catherine insisted on dressing in the style in vogue during her youth, refusing ‘to cut and curl my hair like a sheep’s head, or wear one of their trolloping sacks’.
Mary Lepel, Lady Hervey (1700-1768)
Mary Lepel was a Woman of the Bedchamber to Princess Caroline at the same time as Henrietta Howard, and the two were close friends. She had many admirers, including Lord Chesterfield and Alexander Pope. Voltaire addressed a copy of verses to her beginning with the lines ‘Hervey, would you know the passion/You have kindled in my breast?’. She married John Hervey in 1720, later Baron Hervey of Ickworth, who enjoyed a prominent political career. Lady Hervey was a correspondent of Horace Walpole in her later years, and in 1762 he dedicated his book Anecdotes of Painting in England to her. A volume of Select Novels, published in London in 1720, which is dedicated to Mary Lepel can be seen in the Gallery at Marble Hill.
Charles Mordaunt, 3rd Earl of Peterborough and 1st Earl of Monmouth (1658-1735)
Charles Mordaunt, a close friend and ardent admirer of Mrs. Howard, led a colourful and unconventional life. He was an early confidant of William of Orange and accompanied him to England at the Revolution. In reward, he was created Earl of Monmouth, and held various prestigious official posts, but in due course fell out with the king. He was dismissed from office in 1697 and briefly imprisoned in the Tower of London.
He secretly married an opera singer, Anastasia Robinson, but did not acknowledge her publicly until shortly before his death. It is said that upon his death she was so shocked at what his correspondence revealed about his life that she burned all his papers.
Alexander Pope (1688-1744)
Pope was the leading poet in the 18th century, becoming renowned for his hugely sucessful translation of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey the large income from which made him financially independent. A Roman Catholic, he was obliged by the then penal laws to live 10 miles outside London, and eventually settled in Twickenham. He lived upstream from Marble Hill in his celebrated villa (demolished 1807).
His satiric wit and Tory sympathies made him enemies, yet he enjoyed good relations with many great men. His expertise in gardening, and development of a more natural style, led many to seek his advice on garden design and to visit and imitate the grotto he erected at his villa.
Pope’s friendship with Henrietta Howard probably dates to about 1717. He became a close friend and admirer of Henrietta Howard when she moved to the neighbourhood, and he advised her on garden design. He was virtually caretaker of the estate during her absences at court, and took advantage of the house to entertain their literary friends, particularly Swift and Gay. Seemingly the two remained friends until about 1738, but the friendship cooled, and there is no record of correspondence between them from 1739.
Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)
Swift, clergyman, poet and satirist was the author of Gulliver’s Travels. An Irish patriot, he also wrote political tracts reflecting his Tory sympathies.
He was briefly a member of Henrietta Howard ‘s circle around the time of Marble Hill’s construction. He divided his time between London and Dublin, where he was Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral from 1713. He and Mrs.Howard maintained a lively and witty correspondence, having been introduced by their mutual friend Alexander Pope. In 1727, George II ascended the throne, and Swift’s bitter disappointment at Mrs. Howard’s failure to gain high positions for himself and John Gay soured their relationship.
Richard Temple, 1st Viscount Cobham (1675-1749)
The 1st Viscount, was a distinguished soldier appointed Field Marshall in 1742. He became a focus for political opposition to Robert Walpole, prime minister to both George I and George II. Younger Whig politicians, known as ‘Cobham’s Cubs’, gravitated towards him. Among them was the future great prime minister, William Pitt.
He was a close friend of Lady Suffolk, and planned to place a bust portrait of her in his ‘Temple of Friendship’ at his house at Stowe, although this was never executed. This was one of several follies in his garden, designed to symbolise a political message. Like Marble Hill, the magnificent garden at Stowe was largely the work of Charles Bridgeman.
Horace Walpole (1717-1797)
Walpole was a neighbour, and close companion of Lady Suffolk from about 1747, shortly after the death of her beloved second husband. He delighted in her reminiscences of life in the court of George II, where she knew his father, Sir Robert Walpole, the first prime minister. Many of her anecdotes found their way into his Memoirs of the reigns of George II and III, published posthumously. Although a generation apart in age, they were close friends and Walpole was one of the last people to see Lady Suffolk alive, having visited her the evening before she died. He wrote ‘I have lost few people in my life whom I shall miss so much’.
Walpole was a man of letters, who pioneered Gothic architecture and was the author of the first Gothic novel. The Gothic architectural style adopted by him at his home at Strawberry Hill near Twickenham was in direct contrast to the styles derived from classical Rome and Greece which were in fashion. He found an audience for his views and was influential in the field of architecture and interior design. He even persuaded Lady Suffolk to erect a Gothic style chapel (since demolished) as a folly in the park at Marble Hill. It was called the ‘Priory of St Hubert’ (a play on her Hobart family name).