Elizabeth Delaval


Contributor: Professor Susan Wiseman

How often have I been shoke with less stormes of fortune then this, and now I find myself unmoved. Whence, O my heart, dos this unexpected calme procede.1

This marks May 10, 1670 in Elizabeth Delaval’s meditations. Given that the subject of the meditation is ‘my fathers anger that I refused to marry Mr. DeLaval,’ it may be that it is significant that it ends, ‘Let me be in what part of the world I will, so I shall be able to pay my debts’.2 The marriage articles were signed on 10 July.3

The Elizabeth Livingston that found herself writing about marriage as a solution to debt was an Earl’s daughter. She was the first child of a Scottish peer, James Livingston first Viscount then, at the Restoration, Earl of Newburgh. She was the only child he had with her mother, Lady Catherine d’Aubigny, who had two children from an earlier marriage to George Stuart, Charles and Catherine.4 Elizabeth, then, was related to the royal Stuarts through her mother and to the Scottish peerage through her father – his father had come to England with James VI and I, and the title Viscount Newburgh was created just two years before her birth.5 Both parents were active plotters for Charles I. In 1648 the pair combined their equine and Stuart interests in a plan to rescue Charles I on one of Newburgh’s fastest horses.6 The plan foundered, Charles was executed, and soon after Elizabeth was born, in or around October 1649, her parents were implicated in communication with the exiled future Charles II. They fled to the Hague. Delaval’s actions, though not explicitly followed up in her writings, suggest that these events left her with a marked identification with the Stuarts.

Livingston’s 1670 meditation on her father’s anger is also on ‘his threatening to send for me away from Nocton.’7 Elizabeth described being ‘preserved’ from ‘the rage of the rebell’s’ and the sword ‘in my nurse’s arms’ and being raised by her aunt ‘when my father and my mother forsoke me and fled’.8 Livingston’s mother died at the Hague while her father was in Scotland fighting with Charles Stuart, the future Charles II. Following his military and Stuart commitments, Newburgh liaised with Scottish royalists and was associated with the Restoration drive to establish episcopacy in Scotland, as well as being captain of the king’s lifeguards. Newburgh was relatively close to Edward Hyde who ensured he became an earl at the Restoration, but he was also difficult, extravagant, unpredictable and, increasingly, gouty.9 Soon after he returned to England, Lord Newburgh married Anne Poole, daughter of Sir Henry Poole of Gloucestershire. It is clear that Anne was important to him and Elizabeth’s contrasting lack of importance was compounded when the couple had sons, whom Elizabeth felt her father made ‘prosperous’ at her expense. She thought, too, that she was perceived to be jealous of them.10

Thus, during Elizabeth's early years her father held a significant place in English, and particularly Scottish, politics. However, his world seems to have had little place for Elizabeth, who was placed with his widowed and childless sister at Nocton when she was not visiting her beloved grandmother Gorges, widow of Ferdinando Gorges, in London.11 By 1670 Nocton, in Lincolnshire, was Livingston’s home for she had been brought up there by her paternal aunt, Lady Stanhope. The meditations and memoirs emphasise Delaval’s strongly conflictual relationship with her aunt, but also the both limiting and homely aspects of Nocton. It is clear that in these early years of paternal neglect the household at Nocton supplied both security and a relatively constricting environment. Certainly, Delaval wrote about her early years with some asperity and considered the way in which she had been brought up to be damaging, writing of neglect and a relationship with a servant, Mrs Carter who ‘never fail’d to indulge me in every thing’ and ‘fill’d my thoughts with foleish fable’s’ including ‘tale’s of fary’s’.12 However, for all her criticism of her upbringing, she seems to have been introduced to several forms of writing and reading at Nocton, both secular and sacred. It was here that Delaval seems to have learned the practice of occasional meditation and the linked, numbered, meditations that she writes up clearly register what she refers to as ‘private devotions.’

The relationship between Delaval’s meditations and her daily actions seems to vary. The meditations we have are, she tells us, written when she was between 14 and 20 and can loosely be described as intensifying in terms of their imbrication in daily life as her circumstances change. The meditations of her early years suggest a method being put in place for the trials of adulthood. Yet, at the same time, Delaval both evokes her world vividly and at times her worldly thinking spills over into her meditational writing. At the same time that the text moves forward in cycles of meditation taken year by year, a retrospective narrative of linking passages both frames the meditations and, increasingly, shapes and organises the experience discussed. Thus, the first time we hear about Delaval needing to pay off debts is in an interpolated passage on the death of her grandmother Gorges.13 She writes ‘at her death she gave me all she had to give me which was a thousand pound,’ a gift which ‘severall year’s after when I received it brought more quiet to my mind than any other gift that ever was given me.’14 The reason her grandmother’s bequest was so important was because she was able to persuade her aunt to give it to her instead of adding it to her portion to take to the marriage. This was so important to Delaval because it enabled her to pay off the debts that she had incurred at court and go into the marriage without making her husband liable for her debts, ‘since had they not been pay’d before I was a wife, they must certainly have fallen upon my husband’.15

The time she spent at court came to be characterized as one of debt and possibly regretted public romance. As an earl’s daughter, Elizabeth was entitled to take a turn as one of two maid of the Privy Chambr to Catherine of Braganza.16 She was in London, she tells us, for both fire and plague (though she gives no description of these), but in her meditations ‘writ in Lent in my 18th year’ she seems to reflect on her time at court, from her susceptibility to the desire to go, and ‘ambition’, to the point where she rejected the ‘pleasures which had so bewitch’d my soul’, and did so ‘yea, I left them by my own choyce in the spring time of my life’.17 While this section seems to be written retrospectively, and from the rhetoric, with a reader in mind, Meditation 11 in this sequence seems to give a contemporary account of a spiritual crisis. Thus, the temporality of composition, even within the meditations, can be complex as a retrospective voice blends with or jostles a meditation in the present mode.

In a marriage-market where beauty conferred value but also vulnerability, Elizabeth Livingston’s experience seems to have been determined by her financial position (from the point of view of her father) and the strange advice and determination of her aunt. These events take up much of Delaval’s attention in retelling her early life; they clearly constitute a worldly crisis that is interwoven with her attempts to achieve an improved spiritual state using prayer and meditation. Delaval’s account of events, though not readily verifiable, is accurate in some regards. In her account, having rejected a wealthy suitor proposed by her aunt, Lord Brudnell, on the grounds of his Roman Catholicism, Livingston contracted other attachments. At the point where she had fallen deeply in love with Lord Annesley, the son of Lord Anglesey, it became clear that her aunt not only planned to thwart Delaval’s independent choice but that she intended Elizabeth for John Manners, Lord Roos, their friend and neighbour. Roos, as it happened, was waiting for a divorce. Where, earlier, Delaval seems to have taken from romance the models of sexual desire at this point she invokes their moral code – honoured in the breach – of parental consent, only reluctantly agreeing to an elopement.18 When the elopement was thwarted by her letter being delivered to Lord Anglesey rather than her beloved, his son, Lord Annesley, the latter was married to Roos’ sister. Before this happened he wrote to Livingston, she tells us, breaking off their match. By July Elizabeth’s match with Robert Delaval was secured. Soon after this marriage the meditations stop, but they register her unhappiness. She blames herself for her misery, writing of ‘[h]ow miserably havI failed in the performance of this last new duty’ as a wife, but also repines at her husband’s failure to reform his ‘intemperate life’.19 The match lasted, though apparently very unhappily, until Robert died in 1682.20

The period covered by the meditations is nearly a decade earlier than the end of the marriage. However, the decade after Robert’s death was turbulent indeed and Delaval played a part in the complex political circumstances of her time. From this point we know nothing of her from her own hand but we can track her in the State Papers of William, James II and Anne. While we seem to have no writing from this period it was, it seems, when the memoirs were written up.

In 1686 Elizabeth Delaval had married Henry Hatcher, probably about 22, in London.21 In 1688 the pair were involved in a plot to hide documents to be sent to James II in a ‘pewter pot’ with a false bottom. Elizabeth, her cousin Essex Griffen, and Griffen’s husband were all sought as conspirators. Hatcher, as she now was, fled to France. It seems that her husband Henry may have been in James’s army. Soon, they both were in the employ of the court at St Germain-en-Laye.22 Papers indicate that Hatcher was a Jacobite agent and she seems to have moved between Paris and London in the 1690s.23 When James II died, Henry Hatcher was at his bedside. However, soon afterwards, Elizabeth Hatcher petitioned to return to England to sort out financial matters and was allowed to do so for three months in 1702 – the year in which her half-sister died. In 1707 she petitioned to return because she could not receive annuities in France but was only granted a licence to live in France – and so receive money.24 Even in the later years of her life, when she petitioned to return as a widow in 1713, she seems to have been turned down. Certainly, someone who worked for her carrying letters, Richard Robins, was interrogated with regard to her religion and her character (see ‘Deposition of Richard Robins’).

It seems that Hatcher died in 1717.25 It was in the second half of her life that she returned to her meditations and wrote them up. So, it may be, that her earlier Protestant devotions as well as her experiences at the hands of Whigs made a persuasive case for her to be once again a subject of a Stuart monarch. Her loyalty and suffering for the Stuarts is grounded in a high Anglican, quasi-Episcopalian, understanding and practice of faith. Yet she was also an agent against the English. The mediations record those early years and a struggle towards high-church devotion, but they were written up and narrated in a different world. We cannot know for whom, if anyone, they were told and put in sequence yet there seems to have been a reader in mind and at the court of St. Germain, clearly, a personal story had political valency. In considering MS Rawlinson D. 78, then, both the events described and the long period of redaction, curating and writing out are significant in shaping an understanding of a text which, may, indeed have a closer relationship to the political world of the late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-centuries than has hitherto been considered.

  1. The Meditations of Lady Elizabeth Delaval ed. Douglas G. Greene (Gateshead: Northumberland Press for the Surtees Society, 1978) p. 185.
  2. Meditations, p.186.
  3. Greene, ‘Introduction’, p. 12.
  4. Margaret J. M. Ezell ‘Delaval, Lady Elizabeth (1648?–1717)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography ed. Lawrence Goldman, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/68215 (accessed August 6, 2014); on the Scottish peerage 1603-1701 see Neil Davidson, Discovering the Scottish Revolution (London: Pluto, 2003), pp. 16-17. See portrait ‘Catherine Howard, Lady d’Aubigny’ by Van Dyck National Gallery of Art, Washington, which must have hung at Cobham, being owned by first her son Charles Stuart and then his sister. http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/Collection/art-object-page.1234.html. Accessed 8 September 2014.
  5. See Greene, p. 1, p. 19 n. 1. See also Susan Wiseman, ‘Elizabeth Delaval’s Memoirs and Meditations: Textual Transmission and Jacobite Context.’ Early Modern Women: an Interdisciplinary Journal 2015 (10/1): 68-92
  6. Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, The History of the Rebellion (Oxford, 1836), vol. 6, pp. 220-3, 291, 292. Cited in Greene, p. 19 n. 3.
  7. Greene, p. 185; see also pp. 200-201.
  8. Greene, p. 1-2; p. 36.
  9. Greene, p. 2.
  10. Greene, pp. 3, 20. Elizabeth Delaval to Charles Stuart, Duke of Richmond and Lennox, 28 January 1671. Add MS 21948 fol. 6r.
  11. Charles E. Clark, ‘Gorges, Sir Ferdinando (1568–1647)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/11098, accessed 25 Jan 2013].
  12. Greene ed., p. 30.
  13. See Greene, pp. 66-76.
  14. Greene, p. 68.
  15. Greene, p. 68
  16. Greene, p. 123
  17. Greene, p. 123, p. 124.
  18. Margaret J. Ezell, ‘Elizabeth Delaval’s Spiritual Heroine: Thoughts on Redefining Manuscript Texts by Early Modern Women Writers’, English Manuscript Studies 1100–1700 vol. 3 (London: The British Library, 1992), pp. 216–37.
  19. Greene, p. 209.
  20. Greene, ‘Introduction’, p. 14.
  21. A. R. Maddison, Lincolnshire Pedigrees 4 vols. (London: Publications of the Harleian Society, 1902), 2:469–70; see also Ezell ODNB.
  22. See Wiseman, ‘Elizabeth Delaval’s Memoirs’, 90-91.
  23. Wiseman, ‘Elizabeth Delaval’s Memoirs’, 83-4.
  24. Wiseman, ‘Elizabeth Delaval’s Memoirs’, 87.
  25. Greene, p. 17.