Page images
PDF
EPUB

bury were interred, on the 12th of May, 1731, in the sacred repository of departed genius, Westminster Abbey. The country, which had rejected him when living, seemed proud to receive his ashes when dead.

CHAPTER III.

MRS. MASHAM.

Abigail Hill, Afterward Mrs. Masham, Daughter of Mr. Hill, a Turkey Merchant Placed as a Waiting-woman with Lady Rivers - Her Relationship to the Duchess of Marlborough, Who Places Her in the Queen's Household - Anecdote of Her Related by the Duchess - The Latter's Communication to Bishop Burnet-Extract from the Duchess's MemoirsHer Kindness to the Hill Family - Abigail Hill's Marriage to Mr. Masham, Gentleman of the Bedchamber to Prince George of Denmark - Queen Anne Present at the Ceremony - Extracts from the Duchess of Marlborough's Memoirs — The Duke's Remarks on Mrs. Masham's Influence - His Letter to the Queen - Brief Account of Mr. Masham - He Is Created Baron Masham of Otes-Lord Dartmouth's and Swift's Opinions of Mrs. Masham - She Retires with Her Husband, on the Death of the Queen, to Her Seat at Otes - John Locke Their Guest - Mrs. Masham's Death in 1734.

IT is remarkable how little is known of this celebrated woman, who, from an almost menial situation, rose to be the favourite of her sovereign; who governed both Queen Anne and her councils; who expelled ministries, and gave birth to others almost at her will; and who, without positive talent, or, apparently, merit of any sort,

could boast that she had on more than one occasion changed the destinies of Europe.

The maiden name of Mrs. Masham was Hill. She was the daughter of a Mr. Hill, a Turkey merchant, and, according to Lord Dartmouth, who was well acquainted with her, had originally been a "6 'waiting-woman" to a Lady Rivers, in Kent.' She was an indigent relation of the Duchess of Marlborough, a circumstance which, added to the general propriety of her conduct, her apparent humility, and a character which she had obtained of being a peculiarly trustworthy person, appears to have induced the duchess to place her relative near the queen. It was an act of goodnature which she very shortly had reason to repent; and, in after years, any allusion to the "incurable baseness" of Mrs. Masham - almost the very mention of the name of the aspiring bedchamber-woman was sufficient to throw the duchess into a tempest of rage. "After I brought this woman into the court," observes her Grace, "she always had a shy, reserved behaviour toward me; always avoided entering into a free conversation, and made excuses when I asked her to go abroad with me. And what I thought, then, ill

woman

'The assertion that Mrs. Masham had been a "waiting. to Lady Rivers is corroborated by a statement of Coxe. "Abigail," he says, 66 I was so reduced as to enter into the service of Lady Rivers, wife of Sir John Rivers, Bart., of Chafford, in Kent, as I was informed by the late John Rivers, Esq. She was raised from her humble situation by the duchess."

breeding, or surly honesty, has since proved to be a design deeply laid, as she had always the artifice to hide very carefully the power and influence she had over the queen, an instance of which I remember, when I was with the queen at Windsor, and went through my own lodgings a private way and unexpected. She unlocked the door in a loud, familiar manner, and was tripping across the room with a gay air, but upon seeing me she immediately stopped short, and, acting a part like a player, dropped a grave curtsey, and when she had gone a good way without making any, and, in a faint, low voice, cried, Did your Majesty ring, pray?'” The reflection, indeed, must have been not a little. provoking to the imperious duchess, that she had not only been outmanoeuvred by her humble kinswoman, but owed her own fall, and that of her husband, to the machinations of a woman whom she affected to have raised from the dirt.

[ocr errors]

Amongst the mass of acrimonious abuse with which the duchess, alike in her memoirs and her private letters, invariably loads the name of her rival, we occasionally find some curious particulars relating to Mrs. Masham. To Bishop Burnet, who had apparently applied to her for some addition to the stock of agreeable scandal which he was preparing for posterity, the duchess — anxious, on all occasions, that her name should stand well with posterity — thus eagerly replies: "You inquire into the ground of favour to the Hills. I can

only tell you, that I did not know there were such people till about twenty years ago, when I was told by an acquaintance that I had relations. that were in want, and that this woman was a daughter of my father's sister. My father had in all two and twenty brothers and sisters, and though I am very little concerned about pedigrees or family, I know not why I should not tell you that his was reckoned a good one, and that he had in Somersetshire, Kent, and St. Albans four thou

sand pounds a year. However, it was not strange that, when the children were so many, their portions were small, and that one of them married this Mr. Hill, who had some business in the city, rather as a merchant or proprietor, and was some way related to Mr. Harley, and by profession an Anabaptist. From the time I knew their condition, I helped them every way as much as I could, to which I had no motive but charity and relationship."

The duchess, in her memoirs, introduces some further and no less interesting particulars respecting the early history of Mrs. Masham, and her own share in establishing the fortunes of the future favourite. After again adverting to their relationship, she adds that she has been informed, on good authority, that her uncle Hill "lived very well" in the city, till he turned projector,

'It appears by this statement that the Duchess of Marlborough and Mrs. Masham were first cousins.

« PreviousContinue »