Lady Anne Halkett – “Memoirs” (excerpt)

Lady Anne Halkett had, if Wiki is to be believed, a fascinating life, of which this excerpt is just a tiny morsel. She becomes friends with one Colonel Bamfield, at that time in service of the imprisoned King Charles. The Colonel visits her sometimes in company of other ladies, sometimes alone, but he speaks only about “piety, loyalty and virtue”. At some point Halkett (then still Murray, and unmarried woman in her 20s) learns that Bamfield is married though he hasn’t seen his wife for a year. She asks him about this difference between what he seems to practise and what he preaches, and he tells her he can’t live with his wife because he is on this super important mission of serving the king and never stays in one place for long; moreover, his wife is staying with her parliamentarian family who don’t like him. I don’t buy these excuses, especially the second one, but Anne apparently did. Wiki gives a different version of the story, so maybe she gave us a censored version to avoid scandal.

Once Bamfield considers Anne Murray to be trustworthy enough, he tells her about his plan to spring Duke of York (the second son of Charles I, later King James II) from his imprisonment in St James’ Palace. The King is especially keen on it, because he is afraid that Prince of Wales, then in France, might be kidnapped or assassinated; with two princes at large, this attempt to cut off the Stuart succession would be more difficult. There are two other royal children in St James Palace, but there is no talk about rescuing them, probably because Henry was too young (9 years old) and Elizabeth, as a girl, didn’t count as much in the succession line. Bamfield manages to get access to James and take his measurements with a piece of ribbon. He also tells him about the plan, which which was “cheerfully entertained”, but what fifteen-year-old wouldn’t love the idea of a dramatic escape? Anne takes the measurements to her tailor, and asks him to sew a mohair jacket and skirt. The tailor is somewhat surprised that the young lady, for whom the clothes are made, has such big a waist, but he prepares the ordered clothes. I think it’s something more than just the waist size – there must have been chubby ladies in the 17th century, even with all the corseting. And young James in the portraits, even if they are flattering, seems to be a rather skinny boy, so his waist couldn’t have been that much bigger than that of a larger girl. Maybe it’s the whole height/bust/waist ratio which gave the tailor a pause?

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