Mar 17, 2017

Lucy Walter Biography

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Lucy Walter (est 1630 - 1658) 

Lucy Walter was a distant cousin of our Leigh family, and probably our most famous or (in many eyes) most notorious relative. It is rare to have so much detail on a female in our Leigh lines, as women were usually neglected and often not even named in our early pedigrees. It's no accident that Lucy was a famous royal mistress, not an ordinary wife or daughter.

Lucy is related to us through the wife of the first Oakley Leigh in Carmarthen. On the maternal side, ?Margaretta Prichard's line is unknown (and even her own first name is uncertain), but her father's grandmother (?Margaretta's paternal great-grandmother) belonged to a very well-documented, ancient and noble family in south west Wales. This great-grandmother was Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas ap Rhys of Ravensdale (Keven y dale or Cwmgigfran only a few miles east of Carmarthen) and sister of Griffith ap Thomas ap Rhys, who was Lucy Walter's great-grandfather on her father’s side. For details see the ANCESTRY CHART. Thus, Lucy and ?Margaretta were third cousins, because they had the same great-great-grandparents, Thomas ap Rhys and Elen Vaughan. Elen was one of the eight daughters of Hugh Vaughan, founder of the Vaughan family at Golden Grove in Carmarthenshire, and her only brother John was grandfather of the first Earl of Carbery. The Vaughan family at that time became the premier family of Carmarthenshire. Through her mother, Lucy had another line from Hugh Vaughan through his grandson Walter Vaughan, whose wife descended from Katherine Howard, daughter of the second Duke of Norfolk and ultimately a descendant of Edward I.

Lucy Walter also figures in the ancestry of the famous Spencer family of Althorp. Therefore all modern descendants of Oakley I Leigh's wife are very distant cousins of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, and her son Prince William, heir-to-be to the British throne. Diana had the same 12x-great-grandparents Thomas ap Rhys and Elen Vaughan. This makes us all cousins though very distant indeed—no closer than thirteenth cousins. To keep this connection in perspective, when one goes back in time fifteen or sixteen generations to those common x-great-grandparents, one has twenty to fifty thousand other ancestors too. So Diana and William are two among many, many distant cousins in our family tree.

For us now, nevertheless, it is still interesting to learn that we have blood relatives who were and are close to the British throne, and who participated in the great historical events surrounding the monarchy. No matter how distant they may be, they still personalize the history that otherwise seems long past and abstract, like the English Civil War and the continuing struggle between Royalists and Parliamentarians in the 17th century. These political events affected the fates of everyone living at the time including our Leighs, Lloyds, and Hugheses as seen in the biographies of Bridgett Leigh, Stephen Hughes, and Oakley Leigh. But they totally determined the two lives to be sketched here. Lucy and her son were engulfed in political currents far stronger than their ability to swim against them, and their lives became deep personal tragedies.


Lucy Walter
 Lucy Walter, an extraordinary dark-haired, blue-eyed Celtic beauty called "brown, beautiful, and bold" even by one of her enemies, is usually considered the earliest love of King Charles II, while he was the eighteen-year-old Prince of Wales in exile on the Continent after his father King Charles I was imprisoned and then beheaded in 1649 by the Parliamentary army that defeated the Royalist forces and created the Commonwealth to rule Britain in place of the monarchy. It is unclear when Lucy traveled to the continent, and possibly she had already met Charles at Golden Grove or in London (Scott 39, 41-45, Lamford pages?? ). Within this historical context, the bare story of Lucy's life was simple. She and Charles Stuart, Prince of Wales, met and fell in love, then she bore his son in April 1649 and possibly his daughter in 1651. They became estranged, and Lucy died young in 1658 before King Charles II returned triumphantly to England and the restored monarchy in 1660.

Yet these simple, well-known facts became surrounded by mystery. One of the basic questions concerns whether Lucy and Charles married, as Lucy always insisted they did. During their period together, Charles was almost penniless, dependent upon support from sympathetic or, worse, indifferent foreign royal courts on the Continent. He was surrounded by advisors whose only goal was to restore the monarchy to England. Charles knew he needed to acquire a wealthy princess from a powerful royal family with strong alliances, but he had fallen in love with Lucy, and they were both eighteen and legally could marry. Against advice they had a secret ceremony -- or did they?

To this day no one knows, though many historians believe there was no marriage. Charles was well aware that he had to use his marriageability for political advantage to England, and in fact he had earlier courted a young French duchess who was too proud to accept the "pitiful" exiled heir (Ashley 28-29, Bryant 47-48). Yet the idea of a secret marriage to a British woman of no dynastic importance was not entirely preposterous, because Charles's younger brother James (next in line for the throne and eventually King James II) actually made such a secret marriage to Anne Hyde, daughter of Charles’s Lord Chancellor. When James's secret marriage became public, it was almost voided but then became accepted, and their two daughters, in fact, later became the queens Mary II and Anne.

With or without a secret marriage, Lucy's baby boy was born on 9 April 1649 in Holland and called James "Crofts" (after his guardian Lord Crofts). He later took the name James Scott from his wife and was made the Duke of Monmouth. Though he never bore the royal name of Stuart, he was at once claimed and lovingly doted on by Charles. He was accepted as Charles' son by Henrietta Marie, the queen mother, and Princess Mary, Charles's sister, when Lucy lived with them off and on for five years (Scott 110-122). These women’s letters to Lucy are evidence of their close relations and family feeling, and Charles supported both Lucy and James financially for the rest of their lives. This James was the handsome, engaging son later to be known as the "unfortunate" Duke of Monmouth.

During the ten years after Lucy and Charles met and before her death, Charles was often occupied and absent on his political and military activities against the Commonwealth. We have only inconsistent and incomplete stories of Lucy's actions. She traveled under the name "Mrs Barlow" with various family members or royal friends. Her second child, Mary, born around 1651, was not explicitly accepted by Charles as his daughter, though Lucy insisted that he was the father and Charles financially supported Mary throughout his reign. As time passed, however, Lucy and Charles's good relation was irrevocably broken, and Charles's advisers, sister, mother, and probably Charles himself had had enough of Lucy (Scott pp.82,110-125). The Royalist dream of returning from exile on the Continent to restore the monarchy in England became all-important.

The saddest tragedy of Lucy's life is that at this time when she most needed to be calm, reasonable, and disciplined, she instead turned into a hysterical, unreasonable nag. She came from a broken home as her father abandoned her mother when she was about eleven, and her mother had to go to court to obtain his financial support. Lucy was naive and excitable (Scott 43). Probably only the most stable personality could have resisted the pressures she was under. Her desperate need of money, her frustrated sense that she should be treated as queen or at least as mother of the royal heir, her need for powerful supportive parents or advisers, and her lack of a stable household of her own, took a great toll. She demanded the large allowance Charles had promised her and her son, but which he literally had not a shilling to pay. She neglected the education of her young son, she threatened Charles, and worst of all she created public scandals around him while he was himself still dependent upon the good will of foreign royalty for his own support.

Thus Lucy came to be considered by Charles's sister Mary and his political advisors as a very great obstacle to the hoped-for Restoration of the monarchy, which looked increasingly possible as the Commonwealth faltered and Oliver Cromwell and his successor son were rapidly losing popularity in England. Unfortunately for Charles, Lucy had in her hands both his beloved son and a number of letters and papers apparently of critical importance to him (Scott Ch. 10). Increasingly desperate, Lucy threatened Charles that she would make these papers public. Was proof of their marriage among them? No one knows for sure.

Charles's advisors and young friends, charging (doubtless justly) that Lucy's son was being harmed by his hysterical mother, literally kidnapped the boy at least twice and took many of her papers. After the first time, Lucy got the little boy back, but in December 1657 the boy was taken again and given to the queen mother, Henrietta Marie, who became responsible for his upbringing and put him in school at Port-Royal near Paris. Lucy's objections were finally subdued by the threat that Charles would disown the boy if she tried to get him back. Less than a year later, she died in Paris, where she had moved presumably to be as close as possible to her son in his nearby school (Scott 202-03). She was buried by late 1658, but her death record and Paris gravesite are no longer known.

Lucy did not survive to enjoy the merry Restoration Court, where Charles II’s many mistresses were showered with gifts and often made duchesses. But her son was brought to London by the queen mother, and he lived in King Charles's favor from 1660 to almost the time of his death in 1685. At age fourteen the boy was created the Duke of Monmouth and given countless other honors.

Charles had at least twelve other illegitimate children, but it was well known that his favorite was Monmouth. The young man was married to a Scottish countess, lived at court, danced in royal entertainments, accompanied the king to Newmarket for horse racing and to Bagshot for hunting. Also spoiled and undisciplined, he took part in a murderous assault on a critic of Charles' own behavior and in the actual murder of a minor official, but was only reproved, not charged or punished. He showed genuine bravery and skill in battle against the Dutch in 1673, and was made captain-general of all the king's forces. By his relation to the king, not his own intellectual accomplishment, he was elected chancellor of Cambridge University (DNB, 967). His wife had at least six children, and Monmouth took several mistresses of brief interest before one of them became his concubine until his death.

Within this glittering and pleasurable royal life, however, was an undertow pulling Monmouth down. When Charles was finally married, his Portuguese queen, Catherine of Braganza, was found to be barren, and no legitimate heir could be born. Therefore, his brother James became the next in succession to the throne when Charles II should die. This fact divided England with Monmouth in the middle.

James's succession to the throne depended upon the illegitimacy of Monmouth, so the dead Lucy had to be blackened by James and his supporters in order to stop any possible claim to royal succession by her son. The question whether Monmouth was legitimate and thus heir to the throne depended on whether or not Charles had married Lucy. Everyone who disliked or feared this possible heir, trashed his mother with great skill during and especially after her short life. She was called a "whore," with the additional insult that her family was lowborn (which in the 17th century meant morally as well as socially inferior). James's political rivalry for the throne was only part of the force against Monmouth and his mother, however, because as a Roman Catholic James drew the support of all those who wanted to reduce or even reverse Protestantism, and as a Stuart son of Charles I he was favored by those seeking to retain hereditary royal power and curtail the powers of the elected Parliament.

Against these forces for James, however, were arrayed the equally powerful dual forces for Monmouth, i.e. Protestants who feared James's Catholicism and Parliamentarians who feared his royalist absolutism. Both forces believed James had lived too long in the French court of Louis XIV, and had forgotten English rights. They needed a legitimate heir to keep James off the throne. So again the dead Lucy was used, this time by the Protestants who now wanted to whiten the potential heir. By the late 1670s the Parliamentarians were pushing hard to legitimize Monmouth by supporting the dead Lucy's old claim that she and Charles had been married. This effort became known as the affair of the "black box," into which they said Lucy before her death had placed her marriage records and given it to Anglican Bishop John Cosin, who was also now dead and unable to testify. Witnesses swore they had received a black box from a bishop, or had seen it in someone else’s hands, though neither the box nor the papers could now be found. The black box was lost or destroyed with its papers, whatever they were, and those who claimed to have seen them were disbelieved by those who did not. The affair created such a sensation in 1679-80 that three times Charles II gave an oath to the Privy Council and twice for publication in the government newspaper that in his whole life he had married only once, to the queen.

Perhaps Charles could have prevented this conflict if he had legitimized Monmouth. But he (like James) believed that royalty carried at least some absolute power, and he steadfastly refused to agree with the Parliamentary followers of those who had beheaded his father Charles I. He may have also feared Monmouth's lack of maturity and shallow judgment. In any case, Charles's support for James as his successor instead of Monmouth remained firm to his death (Fraser 382-83, 465-66).

Slowly the Parliamentarians, however, were elevating the young impressionable Duke of Monmouth into a potential rebel against his royal father. He barely escaped trial for various plots (including a conspiracy to assassinate Charles which he swore he did not agree to) in 1683 (DNB 971). Spared by the king during trials of his guilty colleagues, Monmouth moved to the Continent and was there when Charles died in February 1685 and James II was crowned.

Within five months he returned to England to gather an army and declare himself "now head and captain-general of the protestant forces of this kingdom" with a "legitimate and legal" right to the crown, which he promised he would exercise only with the agreement of a free parliament (DNB 972). This was clearly treason against the reigning king James II. Though he was popular in the countryside and called "King Monmouth" by many commoners, the widespread uprising by the Parliamentarians that had been expected did not occur, and after several small battles his final defeat came at Sedgemoor near Bristol. Retreating, Monmouth was captured while hiding in a ditch. In London he appealed for clemency from James II, but his own declaration that he was the rightful king had made pardon impossible. His execution was fixed for the next day in the Tower. Probably for the benefit of his six children, he declared in writing that Charles II had told him privately that he never married Lucy, and secondly Monmouth claimed that his challenge of the rightful king had been forced upon him by others. He died with dignity, but the executioner bungled his work. According to a trustworthy eye-witness, he struck the duke five blows with his axe and "severed not his head from his body till he cut it off with his knife." (DNB 974).

The further ghoulish story now told with great relish to tourists by Tower of London guides in their scarlet coats and short round black boater-type hats may not be true. They tell of a decision to have a portrait painted of Monmouth despite his severed head, his stitched-together neck covered with an anachronistic white ruff. Such a portrait by Kneller now exists. Whether true or made up, the story gives an undignified end for the young man who represented, though "imperfectly," the important cause of parliamentary law binding upon royalty (DNB 975).

Thus ended the story of Lucy and her son James, but its importance for England continued for at least a century. The reign of James II was short-lived, and in less than three years he fled England. He was deposed in what is often called the "Glorious Revolution" because it was accomplished without the king's death, and it prepared the way for the constitutional monarchy we know today in Britain. William of Orange and his wife Mary (James II’s daughter) were invited by Parliament to become king and queen. Charles II too had been invited back to the throne by Parliament, but he was asked to restore the absolutist kingdom of his father, whereas William and Mary were asked to take the throne only under conditions set by Parliament as a constitutional monarchy. The hereditary principle was still important, because William of Orange was the nephew of James II and Mary was his daughter. They had no children and were followed by Anne, James's second daughter. Anne also had no adult heirs from her seventeen pregnancies, so the throne was given to the German grandsons and great-grandsons of Elizabeth Stuart, who had been the aunt of Charles II and James II and for a few months the Queen of Bohemia. These were the not very bright and not very popular Georges of Hanover.

The British monarchy kept many hereditary elements, but it had become constitutional. The final power in the land was no longer the king or queen, but the Parliament itself. Our distant relatives Lucy Walter and her son James, Duke of Monmouth, had a part in that transition. We can also appreciate their story as background for the American colonists' fight against King George III a century later in the American Revolutionary War.

The children of Lucy Walter were not punished for the faults of their parents, though a young daughter of Monmouth died of illness in the Tower where they were still living after his execution. Monmouth's two sons became Scottish earls, and one grandson and a great-great grandson became Dukes of Buccleugh. Monmouth's widow married Charles, third Lord Cornwallis (DNB, 975), and thus became a distant in-law of our Bridgett Leigh's son Charles's second wife, Frances Cornwallis. Lucy's daughter Mary and her children married commoners, then Lucy's great-great-great-granddaughter Lavinia Bingham married George John Spencer of the Althorp family, and eventually five generations later the 8x-great granddaughter of Lucy Walter became Diana, Princess of Wales. This is how all the descendants of Oakley I Leigh's wife became very distant cousins of Diana and her sons. We have the same grandparents, 15-16 generations back.

Only one part of Lucy's story remains to be told--the changes in her reputation. The slanders of James's supporters were so successful and so long-lived that the Dictionary of National Biography still repeated them in 1909 in its article on Lucy, as did all older historians. The DNB said that Lucy "abandoned herself to a life of depravity" and died of "the disease incidental to her manner of living" (DNB 716). In 1947 Lucy's descendant Lord George Scott published his long book expressly to rescue her reputation by examining the motives of those who had most severely and untruthfully condemned Lucy. Scott also wanted to show her as a normal though inexperienced young woman by treating neglected letters and other documents. Very strongly partisan, Scott's book nevertheless influenced later scholarship.

Most modern historians are skeptical of the worst version of Lucy's life. Maurice Ashley in 1971 wrote that because of the fight for the throne, "James's opprobrious stories about the character of Monmouth's mother are hard to credit and must be ignored by the impartial historian" (28). Antonia Fraser in 1979 wrote that Lucy was "neither a whore, as one legend suggests, nor the chosen bride of the Prince of Wales.... But she did belong to that restless and inevitably light-moralled generation of young ladies who grew up in the untrammelled times of the Civil War.... As their brothers, who had grown up frequently without fathers, became the undisciplined high-spirited bucks of the 1660s, so those young ladies who survived to the merrier times of the Restoration became the great ladies of the Court." (64)

The charge that Lucy's family was low-born and morally inferior has also been corrected. Scott gave the most extensive pedigree published at that time, for which he thanked the Librarian of the National Library of Wales (35 n.7). But he left out as "unknown" our own line of Lucy's great-great-grandfather, and numerous other lines were not completed as far as possible. The later book defending Lucy Walter by the Welsh author T.G. Lamford gives all the Welsh lines a fuller treatment except our own line unfortunately, which Lamford stops with Thomas ap Rhys and his wife Elen Vaughan. Therefore Lucy’s pedigree given by Lamford confirms our research on her ancestry (and our own), but we in turn have enlarged it by additional generations of our common line. Among the distinguished ancestors and relatives of this early line are Griffith ap Nicholas of Dinefwr with his wife Mabli Dwnn, whose male relatives fought at Agincourt with Henry V in 1415, as well as the old Princes of Powys in Hugh Vaughan’s long though illegitimate line, and especially the Lewis line of Hugh’s wife Jane Bowen back through most of the ancient Welsh kings to Hywel Dda and Rhodri Mawr.

For details see the PRICHARD ANCESTRY, where our common line with Lucy Walter is noted as such.


Ashley, Maurice. Charles II: The Man and the Statesman. New York: Praeger, 1971.

Bryant, Arthur. King Charles II. London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1931.

Fea, Allen. King Monmouth, Being A History of the Career of James Scott “The Protestant Duke”: 1649-1685. London: John Lane, The Bodley Head, 1902.

Fraser, Antonia. Royal Charles: Charles II and the Restoration. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979.

Lamford, T.G. The Defence of Lucy Walter. Ammanford: Salus Publications, 2001. ,

Scott, Eva. The King in Exile. London: Archibald Constable and Co., Ltd, 1905.

"Scott, James." Dictionary of National Biography. New York: Macmillan Co., 1908. YEARS 1922-30?

Scott, Lord George. Lucy Walter: Wife or Mistress. London: George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd, 1947.

"Walter, Lucy." Dictionary of National Biography. New York: Macmillan Co., 1908. YEARS 1922-30?

By Norma Leigh Rudinsky

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