Henrietta Howard was born Henrietta Hobart on 11 May 1689, the ‘middle’ child, according to Tracy Borman, of eight. Her father, Sir Henry Hobart, was killed in a duel when she was only nine years old, and her mother died a few years later. Before long Henrietta found herself responsible for her remaining siblings – there had been a few more deaths along the way – and she sought help from some maternal relatives, the Howards, the head of the household being the Fifth Earl of Suffolk. She went to live with the family (what happened to her younger siblings at this point is not explained) and then, ‘unaccountably’, according to Lord Chesterfield, she married Charles Howard, the Earl’s youngest son. Borman gives us several possible reasons for this precipitate marriage. Perhaps ‘she was taken in by his charming and easy manners’, or perhaps ‘his military bearing evoked memories of her cherished father’. Or perhaps ‘she saw this as the only means to ease the burden on her siblings’. But who knows? ‘Whether captivated or calculating,’ concludes Henrietta’s biographer, ‘she very quickly decided to marry him.’ The wedding itself, which took place at St Benet Paul’s Wharf in the City of London on 2 March 1706, comes with its own supply of imponderables. The groom ‘may have worn’ his military uniform; on the other hand, he may not.
The marriage was not a success. Charles Howard turned out to be a womanising gambler, who abused his wife and wasted what little money the couple could scrape together. But Henrietta was nothing if not resourceful. Despite being worn down by her boor of a husband, she conceived the idea