07 March 2015

Today's Princess: Mary Bagot

By Sir Peter Lely via Wikimedia Commons
American entrepreneur and showman P.T. Barnum once said, "I don't care what they say about me, just make sure they spell my name correctly." These sentiments might well have been shared by Mary Bagot (1645-1679), about whom much scandal has been assumed but whose name has been frequently handed down as Elizabeth thanks to a silly mistake.

In her late teens, Mary, the daughter of an Army officer was one of the ladies at the randy court of King Charles II. At age 19, she married Charles Berkeley 1st Earl of Falmouth and became Countess of Falmouth. Some alleged it was a love/lust match because she had no money, while others proclaimed that she was not such a great beauty to to inspire that. Falmouth was a 15 years older, however, and a pretty young thing is a pretty young thing in any era. In his book, The Fair Ladies of Hampton Court (written centuries later), Clare Jerrold declares that their marriage must have been happy because it was "disinterested." (Secret to a happy marriage: don't care about your spouse.)

Shortly after the marriage, Mary was painted by Sir Peter Lely as one of the Windsor Beauties. It was in this portrait that she came to be misidentified as Elizabeth and so the error has been passed down for 150 years. Soon after that, she was widowed when Falmouth was killed by a cannonball during the Battle of Lowestoft fighting with The Duke of York (the future King James II).

Mary, who was pregnant at the time, did not rush into a second marriage. Since the child was a girl, the Earldom of Falmouth went extinct and his landed estates and secondary title of Viscount Hardinge went to his father. Mary and the baby were left with a smaller portion.

Mary continued at the Court, where it is thought that she aimed to marry the widowed Duke of York and it is thought that she likely became the mistress of his brother, King Charles II. He certainly gave her significant sums of money, although unlike so many of his other mistresses, she never bore him a child.

After about a decade of widowhood, Mary married the poet Charles Sackville 6th Earl of Dorset and became the Countess of Dorset. This marriage also lasted barely a year, but this time it was Mary who did not survive. She died in childbirth; the baby also did not survive.

Read more about Mary and her contemporaries in:

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