Court Lady and Country Wife: Two Noble Sisters in Seventeenth-Century England

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9780060762889: Court Lady and Country Wife: Two Noble Sisters in Seventeenth-Century England

The lives of two dazzling aristocratic sisters, Lucy and Dorothy Percy, present a perfect window into the world of political unrest and social intrigue in seventeenth-century English society. The sisters' breeding, beauty, and cunning made them among the most influential women of their time.

Born during the reign of Elizabeth I, the Percy sisters came to prominence at the court of Charles I in the 1630s. Lucy, the Countess of Carlisle -- the "court lady" -- dominated the royal scene thanks to her position at the center of power. Her beauty, captured in magnificent Van Dyck portraits, and her political skills attracted prominent lovers, and her charm and talent as a gossiper ensured her inclusion in the queen's inner circle. Then her machinations during the English Civil War led to her imprisonment in the Tower of London.

Her sister, Dorothy, Countess of Leicester -- the "country wife" -- had twelve surviving children and managed the family estates while her husband traveled abroad or immersed himself in books. She was brilliant as a diplomat's wife, with a keen eye and special purview of European politics. This early ancestor of Princess Diana's family was also a shrewish wife who bossed her mate for more than thirty-seven years before he rebelled publicly, causing a scandal.

In Court Lady and Country Wife, Lita-Rose Betcherman shines a spotlight on the position of upper-class women in seventeenth-century Britain and illuminates the major events and figures of a grand and turbulent era.

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About the Author:

Lita-Rose Betcherman received a doctorate in Tudor and Stuart history from the University of Toronto and was the Women's Bureau director for the province of Ontario. She is the author of three books on Canadian history and lives in Toronto.

From Publishers Weekly:

The lives of Dorothy and Lucy Percy, daughters of the early 17th-century earl of Northumberland, reflect striking contrasts in early modern marriage. Lucy married a much older rising star of the Jacobean court, later Lord Carlisle, and had only one short-lived child; centering her life on the royal court, she became mistress of the duke of Buckingham and a confidante of Queen Henrietta Maria. Dorothy married the later earl of Leicester, raising 12 children in the relative obscurity of the countryside, where she managed estates and campaigned for her husband's career. Both sisters were involved in the politics of the Civil War, when each precariously balanced family, finances and loyalties in order to survive. Canadian historian Betcherman dwells particularly on Lucy's charms, as sources praising her are abundant. The author is less generous to Dorothy, trusting too much in the sometimes bitter assessments of her husband and offering no hint of whether his taking loans with interest from his wife was unusual. Still, personalities, fashion, intrigue and even parliamentary and military history blend to provide a multifaceted entry into a period not always accessible to general readers of history. 8 pages of color illus. not seen by PW.
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