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Lady Rachel Fane, Countess of Bath, 1613-1680

Lady Rachel Fane Portrait

Lady Rachel Fane
by Sir Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641)
Oil on canvas, 83 1/2 in. x 52 in.

In the south chancel aisle of St Peter's, Tawstock, beside the monument to Sir Henry Bourchier, 5th Earl of Bath (1587-1654), stands a white marble statue[1] that commemorates the life of Lady Rachel Fane, Countess of Bath (1613-1680). The Latin inscription reads as follows:

Rachel
Comitissa Henrico digna, vix altera e sexu
vel animo, vel virtute aequipollens
Rebus demisticis civilibus sacris, ingenio
pluaquam virili, at materno
(quo suo tempore vix maius dabatur in terris)
Ecclesiae Anglicanae Filia humilis, et devota,
et iniquis temporibus eiectorum Patrum mater
et hie pene unica fautrix
Unicum Lugendum quod in se perjisset nobile
Bourchieri nomen, ni sat illa habuit virtutum
vel illu immortale reddere
Er liset improlis plus mille liberorum Parens,
quos liberalissime educavit, doravit,
sacravit, et nobilitavir
Adhuc vivit et nunquam moritura dum his
Regionibus supersunt grata pectora.

Francis Fane PortraitLady Rachel Fane was the fifth daughter of Sir Francis Fane (1580-1629) and Mary Mildmay (? - 1649), only child of Sir Anthony Mildmay (? -1617) and Lady Grace Sherington (? - 1620). Rachel was baptised at Mereworth, Kent on 28 Jan 1612/13. By the time of Rachel's death on 11 Nov 1680, she had outlived all thirteen of her siblings as well as both her husbands.

Rachel was four when her grandfather died and her family moved to Apethorpe, Northumberland to live with Rachel's grandmother. Anthony Mildmay had been knighted by Elizabeth I and was appointed ambassador to the court of Henry IV of France in 1596. In 1621, Rachel's father, Sir Francis Fane, had the South Chapel of St Leonard's, Apethorpe built to accommodate a spectacular monument to his wife's parents. The domed monument contains marble effigies of Sir Anthony and Lady Grace. Sir Anthony wears armour while his wife wears a mantle, ruff and headdress. At each corner of the monument is a female figure representing the four cardinal virtues: Piety, Charity, Wisdom and Justice.

Francis Fane had been created Knight of the Bath on 24 Jul 1603, the day before the coronation of James I in 1603. On 29 Dec 1624, when Rachel was 11, he was created Earl of Westmorland. Her older brother, Mildmay Fane (1602-1666), succeeded his father as 2nd Earl of Westmoreland. Mildmay was a politician, playwright and poet who authored over 900 poems in English and Latin, as well as eight masques and stage plays. One of Rachel's younger brothers, Anthony Fane (1614-1642) became a colonel in the Parliamentary Army, while another brother George Fane (1616-1663) was a colonel with the Royalists.

Apethorpe HallApethorpe Hallis a Grade I listed country house dating from the late 15th century, and was the principal seat of the Mildmay and Fane families for over 350 years. Notable features are the Great Hall, the impressive Long Gallery, and a series of state rooms including the King's Chamber. Apethorpe hosted both Tudor and Stuart royality, notably James I who visited eleven times. In the early 1620s, Sir Francis Fane created the state rooms and Long Gallery at the request of James I.

At Apethorpe, Rachel received an ususual education in the classics as evidenced by the collection of her notebooks held at the Centre of Kentish Studies in Maidstone, Kent. Her grandmother, Lady Grace, expressed in her own writings that her granddaughters should be educated but conform to conventional feminine characteristics of chastity, modesty, and silence. Rachel became fluent in French and also studied Latin and Spanish. A number of Rachel's masques also survive in manuscript form as does a collection of recipes that contains one of the earliest set of instructions for making merigue.

The Long Gallery may have been the venue for various entertainments including masques, but it is unlikley that any of the courtly entertainments written by Rachel to amuse her family were ever performed for the King. As a young adololescent, Rachel wrote a number of pastoral masques that were performed by her brothers, sisters, cousins, and the children of servants. Her works are quite sophisticated and contain a number of Shakespearean elements. In The Girlhood of Shakespeare's Sisters, Jennifer Higginbotham describes them as "vivacious and imaginary works" quite a odds with the platitudes copied into her notebooks.

Several portraits of Lady Rachel Fane exist. Sir Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641) apparently painted two portraits of her. The first was painted sometime before her first marriage and bears the inscription, "Rachel, daughter to Francis E. of Westmoreland." The Sedelmayer Gallery's Illustrated Catalogue, published in 1913, describes the portrait as follows:

Against a background formed by a brown column and a green drapery, the radiant figure of the young sitter is brilliantly relieved. Dressed in a rich court gown of white brocaded satin, she appears standing, full-length, live-size, turned very slightly to the left, her face almost full to the spectator. Curling chestnut hair ornamented with an orange bow enframes the youthful oval of her face. Round her neck is a string of large pearls, with a pendant of rubies, terminating in a single pearl. Another necklace, of emeralds, fastened in front and at the shoulders, and a deep lace collar, adorn the very low bodice. Orange ribbons with bows are fastened round her waist, and round her puffed sleeves. Her left hand, on the wrist of which is a bracelet, hangs by her side. In her right she holds, with a dainty gesture, a rose plucked from a cluster of rosebushes and large-leaved plants beside her. Behind her is a vase ornamented with masks and containing an orange-tree, bearing a few oranges among the dark foliage.

Rachel Bourchier PortraitThe second Van Dyck portrait was painted shortly before the artist's death in 1641. While the location of this portrait is unknown, the National Portrait Gallery holds several copies of a line engraving based on the portrait by Pierre Lombart. Another portrait, possibly by George Geldorp, was painted after Rachel's marriage to Henry Bourchier.

Rachel married Sir Henry Bourchier, 5th Earl of Bath, on 18 Dec 1638 at St Bartholomew the Great, London, when he was 45 and she was almost 26. Henry, the fifth son of Sir George Bourchier (abt 1535-1605) and Martha Howard (abt 1555-1598), was born in Ireland about 1587 and attended Trinity College, Dublin University. He was knighted by James I in 1621. He succeeded to the title of 5th Earl of Bath on the death of his cousin Edward Bourchier in 1637. Henry and Rachel lived at No. 53-4 Lincoln's Inn Fields in the Parish of St Giles in the Fields, London and at Tawstock in North Devon, and also held manors in Armagh and Limerick in Ireland.

Although Rachel and Henry had no children, their marriage was apparently a happy one. In his letters to Rachel, Henry frequently call her "my Girle," my sweet girl," and even "my dear wench."

In March of 1643, Henry, a Royalist, was arrested at Tawstock and detained in the Tower of London. He was released in August 1643 and later appointed Commissioner for the Defence of Oxford. On 22 Jan 1644/45 he was appointed Lord Privy Seal, a post he held until his death.

Henry died at Tawstock on 16 Aug 1654 and was buried the following day. His funeral rites were solemnized on 21 Sep 1654.

Rachel's second husband was Lionel Cranfield, third Earl of Middlesex (1625-1674), whom she married in May 1655, nine months after the death of her first husband. Rachel was 42 and Lionel less than half her age. Within two months of the marriage there were rumours of "a little breach between the late married couple, the Earl of Middlesex and his lady... it seems he does not well brook some of her servants."[4] In August 1657 Cranfield banished Rachel to her old house in Lincoln's Inn Field. A letter written by Lady Rachel Newport and dated 13 Jul 1658 reports that Cranfield had "sold all her plate, most of the household stuff, and all Lord Bath's libary: all goes in play and rioting."

In March of 1661, Rachel obtained a royal warrant to retain her precedency as Countess of Bath. Another letter written by Lady Rachel Newport provides some details: "Our cousin Lady Bath hath got her place of being Lady Bath again, it cost her £1,200... her lord is very angry at her changing her title; he says it is an affront to him." Later that year Rachel started proceedings to divorce her second husband. She was granted a legal separation by the Court of Arches, on the grounds of cruelty and desertion, in June of 1661.

After the death of her brother, George Fane (1616-1663), Rachel became the guardian of her nephew, Henry FANE (1650-1706). She purchased Basildon Park in Berkshire for him in 1656 and secured his knighthood at the coronation of Charles II in 1661. On his marriage to Elizabeth Southcott (1650-1724) in 1668, Rachel settled upon him the Bourchier estates in Armargh and Limerick. Inside St Peter's, Tawstock is a monument to Rachel's grandnephew, George Fane (1668-1668), the son of Henry Fane and Elizabeth Southcott.

Lady Rachel Fane, Countess of Bath, died at St Giles in the Fields on 11 Nov 1680 and was buried at St Peter's, Tawstock on 20 Jan 1680/81. The inscription on the breastplate of her coffin reads:

Depositum Proenobilis Rachaelis
Henrici Bourchier nuper Bathoniae comitis Relictae
Franciscie Fane Westmorlandiae pridem comites filiae quarto genitae
quae obiit undecimo diae Novembris A.D. 1680 aetatis suae 68


[1] In his 1954 work Devon, W.G. Hoskins states that the statue is by Balthazar Burman and is a replica of a 1672 statue by Burman's father of the Countess of Shrewsbury at St John's College, Cambridge. An English translation of the inscription is found on a framed plaque at St Peter's, Tawstock:

Rachel
A Countess, really worth of Henry,
who had scarce an equal of her sex
either in spirit or in virtue
In Domestic, Civil and Religious affairs
she had a genius exceeding that of a man,
and such a Motherly Disposition
that scarce a greater then existed in the World.
She was a humble and devote Daughter
of the Church of England
and in times of Persecution a Mother to
the Distressed Fathers
in these parts almost their only Protectress
This alone was worthy of our tears, that in her
the noble name of Bourchier would have
been extinct if she had not been endowed with
Virtues sufficient even to render it Immortal
And, tho she was childless, yet she was
parent to more than a thousand Children
whom in a very genteel manner she brought up,
gave them portions, consecrated and even ennobled.
She still lives and never will die
While any sparke of gratitude
Remains in this Country.

[2] Letter, dated 14 Jul 1655 from George Ayloffe to John Langley

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