How can you marry twice and still stay a virgin? and who would be “crazy enough” to marry a woman that lost two husbands (one of them, murdered). Well I suppose the answer is that even the rules of marriage change when you are a ‘Percy’
Elizabeth Percy was born in 1667, she was the daughter of the 11th Earl of Northumberland, the last of the line of Percy Earls. Her father was elevated into earldom one year after her birth but managed to keep the title for two years only. He died in Italy (after rumours which suggested he was enjoying himself with a cross-dressing prostitute). When the Earl died, Elizabeth was only three, and when his wife heard the news she miscarried. Elizabeth became the sole heiress of the Percy estates.
Like many young nobles, she was not meant to marry for love… of course not. In this age, marriage was an important and serious business, and the more lands and titles you had, the more attractive you were, and in that sense, Elizabeth was probably the most desirable woman in England. It was no surprise that she was barely 12 when first offered for marriage. The groom was 20-year-old Henry Cavendish who was the heir of the Duke of Newcastle. As part of the match, Henry added the name Percy to his family name but the marriage lasted one year only, and the poor lad died. Since Elizabeth was so young, the wedding was never consummated, so Elizabeth was a widow and a virgin…
She had very little time to grieve… As you can imagine, the chance to marry Elizabeth drove the aristocracy of England mad. Her grandmother was the one who managed “her marriages” and had grand aspirations for her, even considering marrying her to a member of one of the European royal families, but ended up marrying her to Thomas Thynne of Longleat. A man who was nicknamed “Tom of Ten Thousand” because of his immense wealth. The year was 1681, she was 14, and he was 34…
Elizabeth was not happy with her new husband (some say he forced her to marry him by abducting her, which is a great reason for her not to be happy with him. another good reason would be that he suffered from syphilis. Thynne was the best friend of the Duke of Monmouth, the illegal son of Charles II, and together they had a lot of fun visiting every possible brothel around London.
Elizabeth decided to free herself from Thynne and she escaped to the continent where she ended up staying at the court of William and Mary (soon to be William III and Mary II). Being in Holland, Elizabeth caught the attention of many local aristocrats. one of them was a Sweedish Count named Konigsberg. It is not clear if the two have developed a “thing” or not, but it was clear that Konigsberg hoped to marry Elizabeth, but in order to do so, he had to take care of a little problem called Thomas Thynne.
The Swedish headed to England in disguise… two weeks later her husband was shot by three horsemen, one of them being the notorious criminal, while travelling through central London in a coach, with his best friend, Monmouth… As you can imagine, this became the biggest story of its time, especially when the facts about 14 years old Elizabeth hiding on the continent was revealed.
It is tempting to think that this was a crime of passion and that the Count was just clearing the way which would enable him to marry the heiress, but many people believe that this event was part of a much bigger plot that was related to the struggle between Protestants and Catholics for the identity of the next king of England. On one side there was the popular Protestant (and prostitute lover) the illegitimate son of Charles II, the Duke of Monmouth, and on the other hand, you had the King’s Catholic brother, James, the Duke of York.
The three killers of Thynne were captured the next day, and so was Konigsmark, but although it was pretty clear who sent them, the judge decided that they alone were guilty and that the Count had not had anything to do with the murder… Later it was discovered that the jury had been heavily bribed… One day after the trial, the Swedish Count escaped from London onboard one of the royal yachts. He reached France and hoped that Elizabeth would join him there, but for some reason, she decided to cut all ties with him and went back to England (I don’t know about you, but I consider this behaviour a little suspicious). Elizabeth was now 15, and technically she was still a virgin (assuming nothing had happened with the Count).
You may think that being connected to this terrible scandal would make her less desirable to potential husbands? Wrong! London’s male aristocracy were fighting among themselves to try and wed the two-times virgin widow, and this time the winner was Charles Seymour the 6th Duke of Somerset. The marriage took place five years after the murder of her second husband. They say that justice works in mysterious ways, and in the case of Elizabeth Percy, you could say that her punishment came with her third marriage which was extremely unhappy. One thing that became apparent, was that she was no longer a virgin. She and Somerset had 13 children together.
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