Friday, November 26, 2010

The Days of Duchess Anne - Rosalind K Marshall

It’s odd how a reference in an article can lead to a book on the tbr shelves. I was reading an article in a magazine about the relationship between Lady Margaret Kennedy, a 17th century Scotswoman & the Earl of Lauderdale, an influential politician of the time. In the article, it was mentioned that Lady Margaret was a cousin of Anne, Duchess of Hamilton & had lived in her house for some time, much to the dismay of the Duke of Hamilton who disliked Lady Margaret intensely. Anne, Duchess of Hamilton rang a bell in my mind &, at the end of the article, one of the sources mentioned was The Days of Duchess Anne by Rosalind K Marshall. Ah, I thought, I’ve got that book! I got it down, had a look in the index, saw that Lady Margaret only had a couple of mentions, but started reading it anyway & couldn’t put it down. By the way, this is also one of the ways in which I justify my groaning tbr shelves. If I hadn't bought The Days of Duchess Anne five years ago & put it on my Scottish history shelf, I would have missed out on a fascinating experience.

Rosalind K Marshall is a well-known Scottish historian. I have several of her books & they all focus on women’s history. The Days of Duchess Anne began as a thesis based on the documents in the archive of the Duke of Hamilton. It was first published in 1973 but the edition I have is the reprint of 2000. In the Acknowledgements, Marshall writes that she was also able to update some chapters for the reprint when further information came to light, for example, inventories of furnishings for Hamilton Palace & Kinneil Castle that she discovered after the book was finished. The author writes of the thrill of researching in the archives,

Letters, accounts, memoranda and lists – all were carefully preserved by Duchess Anne, her husband, David Crawford their secretary and by successive generations of Hamiltons. I frequently found myself opening bundles of papers which had been undisturbed since the day three hundred years before when the 3rd Duke labelled them, tied them up with a leather thong and put them carefully away.

If you think that a book derived from a thesis based on dusty documents would be a dull read, you’d be wrong in this case. The Days of Duchess Anne is a fascinating look at a noble household in Scotland & London on the later 17th century. Duchess Anne was Duchess of Hamilton in her own right, inheriting the title after the deaths of her father & uncle. She spent her early childhood in London but, after her mother’s death, she was sent to live in Scotland with her grandmother, Lady Anna Cunningham. This was fortunate as Anne learnt about the estate & its management from her formidable grandmother.

Her uncle had been a fervent Royalist &, on his death, when Duchess Anne inherited the title & estates, her position was precarious. Her father & husband had contracted debts during the Civil War & her estates were confiscated by the Parliamentarians & handed over to Cromwell’s generals. Her title was also under siege by her father’s second cousin, the Earl of Abercorn, who claimed the estates were entailed & therefore, as the closes male heir, he should inherit. The resulting lawsuit, which Duchess Anne eventually won, was very expensive. Anne was supported in all these griefs by her new husband. She had married Lord William Douglas, Earl of Selkirk. This was a surprising match as she was a Presbyterian & he was Catholic. Selkirk seems to have married for her estates & been willing to convert to Protestantism. Whether their relationship was initially based on love is difficult to know but their marriage certainly became one of great affection & mutual support. They were both committed to the restoration of the Hamilton estates (Selkirk was created Duke of Hamilton by Charles II at his wife’s request) &the detail of how they restored their fortunes & improved the estate is fascinating.

They had a large family, seven sons & three daughters survived childhood, & their household also included other relatives, often young nieces & cousins. The picture of a noble family on their estates is bolstered by the details of how the estate was run. This is where the careful research into account books brings Duchess Anne to life. There are chapters on Hamilton Palace, the building work & furnishings commissioned by Duchess Anne; how the household was run, the servants, some of whom stayed for life or were part of the wider Hamilton family; the food the estate provided & what had to be bought elsewhere; how the family entertained, travelled, played & spent their time.

The Duke was involved in politics, and, although there was a Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh until the Union of 1707, he still had to travel to London quite regularly to maintain his position & influence with the Court of Charles II. Visits to London were an opportunity to buy luxury goods that couldn’t be found in Scotland. Duchess Anne disliked London as it was full of sad memories of her childhood so she sent the Duke off with lists of her requirements & his letters reveal his frustration & dislike of shopping. The Duchess bought most of her clothes from a local tailor but when she needed something a little more elaborate, the Duke was entrusted with the commission,

Fumbling his way through a maze of feminine terminology, the Duke knew despair. Sometimes he was not even certain what type of garment he was ordering. There was the regrettable occasion when he asked the dressmaker to make up a ‘sallantine’ and the fellow did not seem to know what was meant... At last he wrote home in a rage to the Duchess, declaring that ‘your “sallantine” I neither know what it is you mean by it nor can I find anybody that knows what it is, so explain yourself by the next (letter).’ The Duchess replied at once, pointing out somewhat tartly that he had misread her writing. As everyone knew, the word was ‘palatine’, that highly fashionable accessory, a furred scarf.

Even then he found himself in difficulties over the price he should pay for the palatine & how much he should pay for the silk & ribbons she also wanted him to buy. I can just imagine him furiously scribbling his queries, frustrated & bamboozled by the foreign realm of women’s clothing. I loved the details of how the shopping was done & then, how the goods were sent back to Scotland. The pros & cons of coach travel versus shipping are explored as well as the Duke’s worries about the astronomical cost of everything in London compared to Edinburgh or Glasgow. Still, he was a fond father & always returned with “bonny things for the bairns”, toy trumpets & swords, or material for dolls clothes to be made up by his tailor. 

The Hamilton’s Great Design for their estates was almost frustrated by the problems they had with their eldest son & heir, James, Earl of Arran. As is often the case, parents & son had completely different temperaments & personalities & the generation gap was alive & well in 17th century Scotland. Arran was a frivolous young man who, after a taste of Court life, had no desire to settle down in Scotland to learn estate management. He went on the Grand Tour, ran up a lot of debts & spent a lot of time pursuing heiresses without really wanting to marry. He was an unsatisfactory son in many ways. When he did finally marry, his young wife died in childbirth, leaving him with a daughter who was brought up be her grandmother while Arran returned to his bachelor life in London. He did eventually marry again & have a son, but spent the last years of his father’s life plaguing him for more money & trying to force Duchess Anne to give him the title of Duke as soon as his father died. Anne resisted this as she knew that she had to keep control for the sake of the estate's future & feared that Arran would just use the estate to finance his extravagant lifestyle.  

The Days of Duchess Anne is an absorbing book. A family saga full of marriages, births, quarrels & reversals of fortune, it’s also a picture of life on a noble estate in Scotland in the later 17th century.


  1. I'm interested in this one! Thank you for writing about it. I made a request through the library for them to purchase it (if it's not in another county). I go to your blog to find a good book to read. Thanks again. Elizabeth

  2. Thank you Elizabeth, I hope you're able to get hold of a copy. I thought it was such an interesting book about life in 17th century Scotland & the extracts from the letters really brought it to life for me.

  3. I came across your blog while researching more information on Nella Last and lo and behold what else did I find? A treasure trove of recommendations and excellent, well written reviews of the very kind of historical reading I love to do. I must get a copy of "The Days of Duchess Anne"! It looks like a fascinating read and now I cannot wait to get my hands on it...but for now, back to your blog and discovering what else you have enjoyed reading. Thank you for sharing your love of books. Stacy

  4. Thank you Stacy, that's very kind of you. I loved duchess Anne, I hope you can get hold of a copy. Nella Last is another of my favourites, what a shame there will be no more diaries.