She was the muse of most of the poets and writers who met her. She was a lover and a spy, and Alexandre Dumas based the character of Milady on her in his famous novel “The Three Musketeers”. But first and foremost, she was a Percy. Her father was the 9th Earl, who was also known as “The Wizard Earl”, because he was passionate about science – of a sort; his main interest was alchemy which of course was a pseudoscience. When Lucy was only 6, her father was sent to jail after the gunpowder plot (‘remember remember the 5th of November’). There was no evidence that he was connected with the plot except for the fact that he had had dinner with his cousin who was one of the conspirators the night before the plot was scheduled to take place. Subsequently he was thrown in the Tower this was ‘just in case’ he was guilty… The King demanded a fine of over £7million in today’s currency for his release. This was a sum that the family could not afford (but at least the Earl was allowed to bring his wife and servants to the tower, and he even had his own bowling green).
When Lucy turned 18, she fell in love with James Hay, one of the courtiers of King James I. Her father disapproved of this marriage, mainly because his future son in law was a Scot. Fighting the Scots was kind of the “Percy thing”… but being imprisoned in The Tower meant that he could do nothing to stop the wedding. Lucy and James Hay became the power couple at court, and while her husband gained the trust of the King, who sent him all over Europe on diplomatic work, she became the mistress of the Duke of Buckingham, who was the man King James Ist loved the most (also physically).
Eventually, it was Lucy’s husband who managed to reduce the fine and secure the release of the Earl, Lucy’s father.
When King James I died, the couple continued to rule the court. The new King, Charles I, appointed James Hay to the most senior position in his bedchamber while the Duke of Buckingham managed to arrange a similar position for Lucy in Queen Henrietta Maria bedchamber. At first, the Queen was not happy about Lucy’s role, and she was afraid that she would overshadow her and steal the King’s attention, but Lucy had other lovers, and she and the Queen became good friends.
During the period, according to some diarists, Lucy did something terrible… The handsome Duke of Buckingham received a pair of diamond earrings from none other than the Queen of France. Lucy threw a jealous tantrum, and she decided to steal them from him. Later the Queen demanded the diamonds back, and Lucy had to find a way to return them without anyone knowing that she took them… If this story sounds familiar to you, is it because Alexandre Dumas later retold it almost entirely in “The Three Musketeers”.
During her time at court, Lucy also contracted smallpox, a deadly disease that at the time meant certain death and even worse… disfigurement. Lucy hid her face behind a mask, and because she was such a popular figure, wearing masks at court became the new fashion. Luckily for Lucy, she managed to fully recover, and the disease did not destroy beauty.
Unfortunately, the Duke of Buckingham was murdered in Portsmouth, and not long after this, her husband also died. Lucy had to find new friends (besides the Queen of course). She took a new lover, the Earl of Strafford, and their relationship started to evolve during the beginning of the 1640s, when Parliament and the King were not on good terms. Strafford was Charles Ist’s man, but when Parliament decided to accuse Strafford of treason, he chose not to protect him, and Strafford was executed.
Furious with the King, Lucy chose to switch sides and support Parliament. She became the mistress of one of the leaders, John Pym, and it was she who informed Parliament that the King was about to arrest Pym and four other members on January 4th 1642. This information saved Pym and his colleagues and the next day when the King arrived at Parliament with his guards, Pym and his colleagues had fled.
Famously Charles the first said, “I see the birds have flown”. This was a massive moment in the build-up to the English civil war. Pym and the other four escaped, and when they returned, nothing could stop the war from breaking out.
During the war, it seemed that Lucy would continue to help Parliament, but as soon as Oliver Cromwell and his crazy Puritans started to gather power, she shifted sides back to the royalists. She even sold her own jewellery to raise money for the King. Eventually, Parliament arrested her, and in 1649 she was imprisoned in the Tower like her father before her. It did not stop her from helping Charles and Henrietta Maria, and she sent coded letters to both of them from her prison cell. Parliament really wanted to decipher the Royalist codes, and they threatened to torture her (torturing women was illegal in England, but hey… anything can happen while you are at war). Lucy did not surrender the code to them, and after a year and a half in jail, she was released.
Lucy spent the last decade of her life as a Royalist agent, doing whatever she could to restore the monarchy. She finally managed to see this happen in 1660, and died a few months later.
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