My Darling Herriott is the story of a lively, cultured and well-bred woman, Henrietta St John, who was born in the last year of the seventeenth century, and lived until 1756. She was the much-loved half-sister of Harry, Viscount Bolingbroke, the high Tory who fled to France in 1715, at the Hanoverian succession, just before he was charged with treason, and also great-granddaughter of the Sir Oliver St John who was Lord Chief Justice in Cromwell’s day. Henrietta, who was known to Bolingbroke as ‘Herriott’, had the misfortune to make a loveless match, and was then banished to Barrells House, in the muddy depths of the Warwickshire countryside, after her husband, Robert Knight (later Lord Luxborough), suspected her of a dalliance with a poet. She insisted that the relationship was ‘platonick’, and although Knight himself took mistresses, he would not divorce her, yet denied her access to her two children and kept her on a tight rein financially. She was shunned by a number of the beau monde.
Her response to this calamity, which would surely have laid low many of her female contemporaries, was to gather around her a circle of poets and clergymen, from what Jane Brown calls the ‘understorey of eighteenth-century society’, as well as