The Great Loves of John Hervey, Part II

By Amy-Jane Humphries

This second part of our last #Pride month post delves further into sexualities and royal studies, continuing the story of John Hervey.

Frederick, Prince of Wales (1707-1751)

Frederick of Wales.

The social circle that Hervey, the Fox brothers, and Frederick ran in was defined by its sexual relationships, both heterosexual and homosexual.[1] When Frederick arrived in Britain in 1728, Hervey was abroad with Stephen Fox. Frederick quickly made a royal mistress of Anne Vane in a move which has been viewed as “signalling his advance into adult manhood.”[2] In this period, “rampant heterosexuality [was] proof of masculinity”[3] which, in turn, meant that homosexuality was coded as evidence of effeminacy and vice versa. In pursuing women as they did, both Hervey and Frederick were making statements about their manhood and their virility in line with the libertine spirit that they were attempting to embody. Their relationship to women was, it seems, just as complex as the relationship they themselves had. We know from their surviving correspondence that, during the early 1730s, the two were incredibly close – they even penned an almost universally panned opera together. The letters between them which have managed to survive reveal the affectionate pet-names that they had for one another. They also embodied classical roles within their letters, most frequently that of Orestes and Phylades but also that of Hephaestion and Alexander the Great. One might not be altogether in error if they read such illusions as reflecting some sort of truth about their relationship that could not be explicitly articulated.  This embodying of different identities was a trope many letter writers used throughout the period and arguably the most famous example of this are the characters of ‘Mrs Freeman and Mrs Morley,’ played by Sarah, Duchess of Churchill and Queen Anne respectively. It hints a more intimate entanglement between them, one which might account for why Hervey was so hostile towards Frederick later in his memoirs. However, we cannot ever be certain exactly what happened between them as many of their letters and parts of Hervey’s memoirs have not survived. Just like with some of Hervey and Steven Fox’s letters, the account of this friendship has largely been lost due to the interference of Hervey’s descendants. This absence further indicates that there may have been more to their relationship than meets the eye, but, as with all of his relationships, this one ended badly too.

The end of Hervey and the Prince’s relationship is believed to have been caused, in part, by Anne Vane, who had been a Maid of Honour in Queen Caroline’s household. Both men were involved with her sexually during the same period and it appears that a disagreement regarding her contributed to the breach between them. The birth of Vane’s first child, Fitz-Frederick Cornwall Vane, in 1732 was a complex affair because although the naming of the child indicates that Frederick fathered the child, and despite him acknowledging Fitz-Frederick, there were other paternity candidates who put themselves forward after the birth. This would have been a blow to Frederick’s self-esteem – particularly as his mother would later cast doubt upon his ability to father a child – and possibly helped to alienate him from Hervey. The extent to which Anne was the predominant cause of the breach between them is difficult to measure because we do not have the full picture of what was taking place. Hervey was certainly pushed out of Frederick’s sphere, however, because he soon found himself turning to Anne to try and get back into the Prince’s good graces. His inelegant attempt to blackmail her into helping him undoubtedly did little to help the situation – in fact, it probably made matters much worse for him. While it appears that the end of their relationship hinges on their involvement with Anne Vane, she is probably not the sole reason. Rather, she is likely part of a wider tale, the rest of which has been lost to history. There may well have been a romantic part of Hervey and Frederick’s relationship which went awry. Hervey might also have been collateral damage in Frederick’s attempts to reform his public image and, with his eventual marriage to Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, demonstrate himself to be a devoted husband and father, rather than a philandering libertine. Therefore, the friendship may have simply run its course.[4] Regardless of how it happened, by the mid-1730s, Hervey’s feelings had manifested into an intense loathing of the Prince of Wales and he found solace in the one person that detested him just as much: Frederick’s own mother.

Caroline of Ansbach, Queen of Great Britain (1683-1737)

Caroline of Ansbach.

Hervey “made prodigious court to [Caroline], and really loved and admired her”[5] in a way that he likely did not wholly expect. He became intrinsic to their routine—“the Queen sent for him every morning … and kept him, while she breakfasted”[6]—and was absorbed into the family as totally as Prince Frederick was pushed out. Caroline’s feelings towards her eldest son are inexplicable to us but they may be in part explained by the long separation between them when Frederick was a child. He was left behind in Hanover when the royal family decamped to Britain and at the time both George and Caroline were devastated. The son that the couple had lost had been replaced in their affections by the birth of William Augustus in 1721. Thus, when Frederick arrived in Britain, half-forgotten, uninvited and largely unannounced, in 1728, he did not receive the warm welcome he might have been dreaming about. From there, the Hanoverian tradition of open hostilities between the father and his heir was renewed once more and Caroline became more vehement about her hatred for her eldest child, siding with her husband on the matter just as she had done when they had been in Frederick’s position during George I’s reign. It is unlikely that the presence of Hervey, driven by his own reasons for loathing Frederick, helped matters between the King and Queen and their eldest son. Her disdain was cemented further by Frederick’s behaviour at the time of Augusta’s first pregnancy. Unwilling to have his parents witness the birth, Frederick bundled the labouring Augusta into a carriage and had her transported from Hampton Court to St. James’ Palace in a move that was not only childish but also showed a complete disregard for his wife’s safety. That both mother and child survived the ordeal was really a matter of luck and the ludicrous episode remains a permanent stain on Frederick’s character. Hervey reported all of this in his memoirs in unforgiving detail. 

For historians, John Hervey’s relationship with Queen Caroline is key to our understanding of the court because it brought him into the epicentre of the Georgian political world. He left us some of the most vivid – if not always the most kind or accurate – portrayals of the royal family during times both happy and sad. His voice paints a picture of the reign of George II and it is his proximity to Caroline that we have to thank for that. He watched the wheels of power turn and he believed that it was Caroline creating that movement – although, it must be said that his less than flattering portrayal of George II may have caused him to overstate the extent of Caroline’s power. Nevertheless, Hervey captured her importance to the careers of George’s courtiers in his famous line: “whomever she distinguished, the king employed.”[7] He would have known this first hand as through Caroline he was able to acquire a significant rise in his wages as Vice-Chamberlain of the Household.[8] Their relationship was ultimately built upon mutual affection and she became more to him than a vehicle for promotion. Indeed, when Caroline died in 1737, it was the beginning of the end for John Hervey.

John Hervey died in 1743, aged forty-six. He never truly recovered from the blow of losing Caroline. In the aftermath of her death, he was largely alone. His beloved Ste had long since moved on, his wife had found her own way in the world, and his Prince had cultivated a new life without him. He left behind eight children, and all three of his lost loves survived him. Despite his somewhat tragic end, Hervey had lived a full life and left behind a vital account of one of the most interesting periods of British history that otherwise might have been obscure to us. It is impossible to do his varied life justice here alone, but it is my hope that this Pride month you might have a closer look yourself at the life of John Hervey, 2nd Baron Hervey and better get to know the man who was so distinguished by the Queen.

Bibliography

Sussex Record Office. 941/47/4. John Hervey to Stephen Fox, 26th August 1731.

Browning, Reed. “Hervey, John, second Baron Hervey of Ickworth (1696-1743), courtier and writer.” In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004-. Accessed 14th June 2021, https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-13116.

Kilburn, Matthew. “Hervey [née Lepell], Mary, Lady Hervey of Ickworth (1699/1700-1768), courtier.” In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004-. Accessed 16th June 2021, https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-13118.

Koscak, Stephanie. “Rituals of Royal Masculinity in Eighteenth-Century Britain: Frederick, Prince of Wales, Takes a Mistress.” The Court Historian 26 (2021): 71-92.

Pope, Alexander. Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot. 1735. Accessed 14th June 2021 https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44895/epistle-to-dr-arbuthnot.

Sedgwick, Romney, ed. Lord Hervey’s Memoirs. London: William Kimber, 1952.

Smith, Hannah and Taylor, Stephen. “Hephaestion and Alexander: Lord Hervey, Frederick, Prince of Wales, and the Royal Favourite in England in the 1730s.” The English Historical Review 124 (2009): 283-312.

Wilson Crocker, John, ed. Memoirs of the Reign of George II from his accession to the death of Queen Caroline. Vol 1. Philadelphia: Lea and Blanchard, 1848.

Wilson Crocker, John, ed. Memoirs of the Reign of George II from his accession to the death of Queen Caroline. Vol 2. London: Bickers, 1884.

Worsley, Lucy. Courtiers: The Secret History of the Georgian Court. London: Faber and Faber, 2010.


[1] Hannah Smith and Stephen Taylor, “Hephaestion and Alexander: Lord Hervey, Frederick, Prince of Wales, and the Royal Favourite in England in the 1730s,” The English Historical Review 124 (2009), 311.

[2] Stephanie Koscak, “Rituals of Royal Masculinity in Eighteenth-Century Britain: Frederick, Prince of Wales, Takes a Mistress,” The Court Historian 26 (2021), 80.

[3] Smith and Taylor, “Hephaestion and Alexander,” 269. 

[4] Koscak, “Rituals of Royal Masculinity,” 75.

[5] Hervey, Memoirs, 47.

[6] Hervey, Memoirs, 46.

[7] John Wilson Crocker, ed. Memoirs of the Reign of George II from his accession to the death of Queen Caroline, vol 1 (Philadelphia: Lea and Blanchard, 1848), 93.

[8] Hervey, Memoirs, 46.

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