Duchess of Albemarle
Born 1616 Died 1670
Anne Clarges was the daughter of a farrier in the Strand named John Clarges and made her living selling perfume and wash balls, as well through occasional employment as a seamstress at the Tower of London. It was at the Tower that she made the acquaintance of one George Monck, whilst he was suffering a term of imprisonment there in 1646.
George Monck was a professional soldier who had been imprisoned by Parliament for serving in the Royalist army (the English Civil War was raging at the time) but was released later in 1646, once he'd agreed to serve in the Parliamentary army in Ireland. George and Anne then lived togther for a number of years and were later married on the 23rd January 1653, for reasons that soon became evident as Anne gave birth to a son named Christopher seven months later.
George was later to earn his place in history when he became the architect of the Restoration of the Monarchy, after which a grateful Charles II made him Duke of Albemarle and appointed him Commander-in-Chief of the British Army. From humble beginings Anne thus became the Duchess of Albemarle, although quite what George saw in her has puzzled many. Samuel Pepys, who was personally acquainted with her, described her as "a plain, homely dowdy" and "a damned ill-looking woman", whilst noting her complaints regarding the frequent absences of her husband abroad fighting the Dutch, when she would much rather he had a safe position as an ambassador.
Although as far as some were concerned being plain was the least of her sins. Known in her earlier life as 'Dirty Bess' she appears to have supplemented her income with a little prostitution on the side. Pepys recorded the opinion of his patron the Earl of Sandwich, who spoke of her as "the veryest slut and drudge and the foulest worde that can be spoken of a woman almost", and the Earl of Clarendon was scarcely less complimentary when he felt moved to record his opinion of her as "a woman of the lowest extraction, the least wit and the less beauty".
Thus Society regarded the working-class duchess with disdain, called her the 'monkey Duchess' and accused her of greed. But there is no reason of course, for us to be so harsh on poor Anne. We should remember that when she first took up with George in 1646, she had no particular reason for supposing that he would turn out to be anything other than a mere soldier. George Monck himself left no personal testimony regarding his feelings on the matter, but he appears to have been quite happy with Anne and remained faithful to her during their twenty or more years together. We can only hazard a guess that perhaps 'Dirty Bess' had learnt one or two tricks of the trade that kept him interested over the years.
George eventually died on the 3rd January 1670 and Anne followed him just over three weeks later on the 29th January. It is a tempting, if sentimental conclusion, to imagine that perhaps she didn't want to live without him.
There remains the curious question as to whether Anne and George were ever married at all. In 1633, when she was about seventeen years old, Anne had married a millner by the name of Thomas Radford. By the time that she eventually married George in 1653 she claimed that this Mr Radford had died. At the time everyone seems to have accepted Anne's word for it and not given the matter a second thought, but this all became an issue some years later.
Agnes and George's only son Christopher went and married an Elizabeth Cavendish. After Christopher Monck died in 1688, Elizabeth then remarried one Ralph Montagu, 1st Duke of Montagu; although he was only plain Mr Montagu at the time and only married her for money, which was quite understandable as Elizabeth was quite mad. A number of people thought badly of Ralph Montagu as a result, especially those who might otherwise have enjoyed the benefit of the Albemarle estates.
Amongst these were some of George Monck's family who put forward the claim that Anne had committed bigamy when she married him by virtue of the fact that her first husband Thomas Radford was still alive at the time. Thus her son Christopher was illegitimate and unable to inherit. The matter eventually came before the Lord Chief Justice Holt at the King's Bench.
Although there were several witnesses who claimed to have seen Thomas Radford alive after 1653, since no one could actually produce Mr Radford alive at the time of the trial, the case was dismissed and the marriage of Anne and George declared quite valid.
- Brian Masters The Dukes: The Origins, Ennoblement and History of 26 Families (Blond and Briggs, 1975)
- Pepys Diary, Selected and edited by Robert Latham (Folio, 1996)
- A genealogical survey of the peerage of Britain at www.thepeerage.com