Catherine Howard, Lady d’Aubigny

3 May 2012

Lady Catherine Howard, attributed to Van Dyck.

I promised yesterday to tell you more about the dashing Lady d’Aubigny and so here you go.

Lady d’Aubigny was another one of those glamorous russet haired Howard girls that pop up every now again in the history books as she was born Lady Catherine Howard, eldest daughter of Theophilus Howard, 2nd Earl of Suffolk and his wife, Lady Elizabeth Home. The infamous Lady Frances Howard, Countess of Essex and Somerset was her aunt while Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk and terrifying uncle of both Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard was her great great great grandfather.

Lady Catherine Howard. Photo: Royal Collection.

There is no definite date of birth for Lady Catherine but it was probably at some point around 1620. It’s not even known where she was born but it was probably either at her family’s principal country seat of Audley End near Saffron Walden in Essex or at their London residence, Suffolk House near Charing Cross. The family also owned Framlingham Castle until they sold it on in 1635.

Lady Catherine Howard, Van Dyck, 1638. Photo: Christie’s.

As was only natural for a girl of her station, Lady Catherine joined the court in 1638 when she was in her teens and was immediately lauded as A Beauty. It didn’t take long before she caught the eye of the twenty year old Lord George Stuart, Sieur d’Aubigny and second son of Esmé Stuart, Duke of Lennox. The Duke of Lennox died in 1624, leaving his children as wards of his cousin, Charles I, which meant that he had to give permission for their marriages.

Lord George was an extremely eligible match – he was a Stuart after all and his family had enjoyed royal favour for several generations (in the case of his grandfather, Esmé, who was a favourite of James I, it was whispered that perhaps he enjoyed rather TOO MUCH royal favour but who are we to carp?). His eldest brother, James, who was now Duke of Lennox had only a year earlier married the renowned court beauty Lady Mary Villiers, daughter of the murdered Duke of Buckingham and would go on to be created Duke of Richmond in 1641.

For whatever reason, Catherine and George were thwarted in their wish to be together – maybe there was talk about betrothing one of them to someone else or maybe their parents didn’t get on – although I would have thought that Catherine’s parents as head of the Catholic bastion that was the Howard clan would have liked the fact that George had been raised as a Catholic in France until the age of eighteen and had studied at the University of Paris. Anyway, for some reason the match wasn’t approved of and they decided to employ subterfuge and marry in secret in 1638 and without the permission of either her parents or the King. Scandal!

Lady Catherine Howard, Hoskins, 1638. Photo: Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Luckily, it seems that all’s well that ends well and the happy couple were forgiven for their transgression and welcomed back to court, where they enjoyed much favour. Their London residence was on Queen’s Street near Covent Garden and it was there that in January 1640 her younger sister Lady Margaret Howard was married to Roger Boyle, the 1st Earl of Orrery. This wedding is significant because it inspired Sir John Suckling’s A Ballad Upon a Wedding, which is one of the most delightfully florid pieces of Cavalier poetry:

The maid (and thereby hangs a tale)
For such a maid no Whitsun-ale
Could ever yet produce:
No grape, that’s kindly ripe, could be
So round, so plump, so soft as she,
Nor half so full of juice.

Her finger was so small, the ring
Would not stay on, which they did bring;
It was too wide a peck:
And to say truth (for out it must)
It look’d like the great collar (just)
About our young colt’s neck.

Her feet beneath her petticoat,
Like little mice, stole in and out,
As if they fear’d the light:
But oh! she dances such a way
No sun upon an Easter-day
Is half so fine a sight.

He would have kissed her once or twice,
But she would not, she was nice,
She would not do’t in sight,
And then she looked as who should say
I will do what I list to day;
And you shall do’t at night.

Her cheeks so rare a white was on,
No daisy makes comparison,
(Who sees them is undone);
For streaks of red were mingled there,
Such as are on a Catherine pear
(The side that’s next the sun).

Her lips were red, and one was thin,
Compar’d to that was next her chin;
(Some bee had stung it newly);
But (Dick) her eyes so guard her face,
I durst no more upon them gaze
Than on the sun in July.

Catherine and George didn’t have a poet to commemorate their romantic secret wedding but instead and quite defiantly they posed for Van Dyck.

Lord George Stuart, Van Dyck, 1638. Photo: National Portrait Gallery, London.

Lord George is shown here posing as a very grumpy shepherd – the motto on the painting says ‘Love is stronger than I am.’ He really has got a ‘Yes, I’m a shepherd with ENORMOUS SILK SLEEVES AND WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?!’ look about him, hasn’t he?

Lady Catherine Howard, Van Dyck, 1638. Photo: National Gallery of Art, Washington.

For her part, his blushing bride chose to be painted holding a garland of roses in allusion to her newly married state. She looks EXTREMELY pleased with herself doesn’t she? I bet the portraits were her idea. He probably just wanted some nice engraved silverware or something but NO…

The D’Aubigny couple were to have two children – Sir Charles Stuart, on the 7th of March 1639 and Catherine Stuart, on the 5th of December 1640.

Sadly it would all go awry very soon afterwards and when the English Civil War broke out, George, along with his brothers naturally chose to take the side of his relative, Charles I, joining the royal army at York in 1642. He’d seen warfare before when he fought with the French against Spain and was no stranger to the soldier’s life. Tragically though he was to be killed at Edgehill, the first major clash of the Civil War on the 23rd of October 1642. He was just twenty four years old.

Lord John and Lord Bernard Stuart, Van Dyck. Photo: National Gallery, London.

His younger brothers Lord John and Lord Bernard Stuart would also die in the course of the war. They were the subjects of one of Van Dyck’s best known portraits. The epitome of Cavaliers, I think.

Poor Catherine was left alone in the world with two small children and at first was even beset by financial problems as her husband had died without leaving a will and his estate would not be released to her until June 1647. In the meantime, Catherine, always intrepid and, as is evidenced by her secret marriage, with a taste for subterfuge and DRAMA, made herself useful as a spy by hiding official documents in her ringlets or beneath her petticoats and smuggling them around the country or even overseas although she seems to have been mostly based with the rest of the royal court at Oxford during this period.

Lady Catherine Howard and Lady Frances Stuart, Van Dyck, 1638. Photo: Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow.

I love this portrait of Catherine with her sister-in-law, Lady Frances Stuart, Countess of Portland. There’s a gorgeous miniature of Lady Frances in the Royal Collections:

Lady Frances Stuart, Countess of Portland. Photo: Royal Collections.

At some point, she married again to James Livingstone, 1st Earl of Newburgh, but they did not have children. The couple escaped to the continent in the late 1640s and Catherine would die at the Hague in 1650 at the age of thirty, leaving her children to be raised in France with their uncle, Lord Ludovic Stuart.

Frances Stuart, Lely, Hampton Court Palace. Photo: my own.

As an interesting postscript, Catherine and George’s son, Charles, who apparently looked like a Weasley and would succeed his uncle to the title of Duke of Richmond would later take as his third wife the famous society beauty Frances Teresa Stuart, wresting her from the clutches of his cousin Charles II…

You Might Also Like...