Lita-Rose Betcherman

History



Court Lady and Country Wife

Lita-Rose Betcherman is author of the acclaimed Court Lady and Country Wife and other award-winning works of history. She earned her Ph.D. in Tudor and Stuart history from the University of Toronto. She is completing Buckingham’s Man, about Balthazar Gerbier, art collector, spy and scoundrel.

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Buckingham's Wife

Katherine Manners was a girl when she fell under the spell of the magnetic George Villiers, later the Duke of Buckingham. His family estates were nearby her father’s castle Belvoir but George, a favourite of King James, scarcely noticed her. 

The attention lavished by King James on George scandalized many who watched in horrified fascination as James kissed and fondled the dashing young man. George, a legendary womanizer and philanderer, had no qualms about using the King’s desire and dependence to his advantage.

Kate’s passion for Buckingham made her family uneasy. But Kate, the richest girl in England, was aided by George’s mother who had the young woman kidnapped and the marriage forced, much to Kate’s satisfaction.

She coped with Buckingham’s numerous dalliances, his long absences on missions to Europe for both James and his son King Charles, his lavish spending, his huge debts, and his growing unpopularity. His bloody assassination left her devastated.

For seven years as a wealthy young widow with a distinguished title, Kate spurned her numerous suitors.  At age 32 she became intimately involved with Randal Macdonnell,a handsome Irish nobleman six years her junior and married him when she was already pregnant.

Later as Earl of Antrim, Randal inherited vast landholdings in Ireland. In 1638 Kate took up residence in Dunluce Castle, perilously perched on an outcropping off the Ulster coast, until part of it fell into the sea during a storm, carrying all of the kitchen staff to their death.

With Buckingham, Kate used her influence for good works but with Antrim she had political influence as well. In the growing storm of rebellion and tensions between Catholics and Protestants, Kate was suspected of influencing Antrim to join the rebel side against the King.

The truth was that they had a secret commission from Queen Henrietta Maria, an ardent Catholic, to raise an army of native Irishmen to fight for King Charles against Parliament's forces. The "Popish Plot," as it was called when it was uncovered, ruined Kate's good name in England. She found herself scorned by the English who ruled in Dublin. She died in obscurity in 1649, deeply mourned by her beloved Randal.

Through the lens of Kate’s life we get a vivid view of the life of the nobility, the great political battles and alliances, and the unseen role of women in this rich pageant that spans the first half of the 17th century.