Countess of Dorset, Countess of Pembroke
Born 1590 Died 1676
The Collour of myne eyes was Black lyke my Fathers and the forme and aspect of them was quick and Lively like my Mothers. The Haire of myne head was Browne and verie thick and so long as that it reached to the Cut of my Legges when I stood upright was apeake of Haire on my foreheade and a Dimple in my Chynne lyke my Father full Cheekes and round faced lyke my Mother and an exquisite shape of Bodie resembling my Father.1
Anne Clifford was born at Skipton Castle on the 30th January 1590, being the only surviving child of George Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland by his wife Margaret Russell, daughter of Francis Russell, 2nd Earl of Bedford.
The Cliffords had held a peerage title since the days of Robert de Clifford, who was first called to Parliament as the Baron de Clifford in 1299. Although the Clifford baronial caput was at Skipton Castle in Yorkshire the family held the bulk of its lands in adjacent Westmorland, where they were hereditary sheriffs of the county and thus the power in that particular corner of England.
Anne was actually the youngest of three children, but her two older brothers both died in infancy, a tragedy that soured her parent's marriage who separated when Anne was young. As a result of the separation and through the influence of her aunt, the Countess of Warwick, from the age of twelve Anne was raised at Queen Elizabeth I's court and subsequently also attended the court of King James I at which time she became a lady-in-waiting to Anne of Denmark.
Anne Clifford's father died on the 30th October 1605 when she was fifteen at which time both Anne and her mother were upset to discover that the late Earl had left the considerable family estates to his brother Francis Clifford, who as the next male heir in line also became the 4th Earl of Cumberland. Anne was left with £15,000 and the de Clifford barony2, but neither Anne nor her mother were satisfied and went to law to overturn the 3rd Earl's disposition of his assets.3
Anne persevered with the lawsuit for many years, despite the indifference of her first husband (whom she married in 1609) and the death of her mother on the 24th May 1616, but eventually in March 1617 James I was required to pronounce on the matter. Unfortunately for Anne, James saw nothing wrong with her father's will and so despite awarding her a further £20,000 held that her uncle should receive the family estates. A disappointed Anne was thus forced to make do with what she had.
As previously noted, on the 25th February 1609 Anne had married Richard Sackville, 3rd Earl of Dorset. They had three sons and two daughters together, but the three boys all died young and the prospect of more children and indeed an heir to the Dorset title were dashed by the premature death of Richard Sackville on the 28th March 1624 at the age of thirty-five.
Anne remained a widow for the next six years before she married the Philip Herbert, 4th Earl of Pembroke on the 3rd June 1630. She had two more children by Philip but this marriage was not successful; apparently because her husband pursued the idea of marrying one of the sons of his previous marriage to Isabella, daughter of Anne's marriage. In any event by the year 1635 the two were living apart, and remained separated until the earl's death some fifteen years later.
Despite being 'disinherited' by her father and failing to persuade the courts to overturn the will, circumstances were eventually to give Anne what she wanted.
By the terms of the George Clifford's will, although his estates passed to his brother, they were to return to his daughter Anne in the event of any failure in the male line of his brother. As it happened her uncle Francis, 4th Earl of Cumberland died in January 1641, and although he was succeeded by his son Henry Clifford as 5th Earl, Henry died on 11th December 1643 without male heirs. Thus Anne Clifford duly inherited the Clifford estates in Westmorland and Yorkshire "without Question or Controversie".
Unfortunately the English Civil War was then in progress and it was not until 1649 that Anne could actually take possession of her property, and it was not until the summer of that year that Anne could make the journey north to Skipton Castle. Shortly afterwards she was widowed for the second time when her husband Philip Herbert died on the 23rd January 1650. Notwithstanding the death of her husband, Anne continued to use the title of Countess of Pembroke and Montgomery and indeed styled herself as Anne Pembroke for the remainder of her life.
Anne devoted the next quarter of a century to the business of managing her estates and embarked on an extensive rebuilding programme, restoring the Clifford castles at Skipton4, Pendragon, Appleby, Brough and Brougham as well as repairing churches and founding almshouses for the poor. She spent much of her life progressing throughout her domains, spending a few months at each of her homes in turn, entertaining the great and the good of the locality and performing her duties as the hereditary sheriff of Westmorland. In so doing she became a popular figure very probably because she spent more time and money on her estates than any of her male predecessors who were of course had been distracted by the alternative attractions of politics and war etc etc.
Much of the care and attention that she lavished on her estates was inspired by her a strong sense of family. In particular she appears to have idolised her father (despite the provisos of his will) and commissioned a tomb for him to be built at Skipton Church in 1654. Two years later she also ordered the The Countess' pillar to be built on the roadside a short distance from Brougham Castle in memory of her mother.
Anne Clifford finally died on 22nd March 1676 at the age of eighty-six at Brougham Castle in the very room where her father had been born. She was buried at Appleby on the 14th April when Edward Rainbow, Bishop of Carlisle read the sermon at her funeral.
Anne wrote at least four autobiographical tracts during the course of her life, which appear to have been composed to support her many court cases in pursuit of the family estates. She also kept a diary which has survived and contains a great deal of detail about the everyday life of the period.5
It is Anne Clifford who commissioned what is known as the 'Great Picture'. Now on display at Appleby Castle, this triptych, probably by Jan van Belcamp, depicts a family portrait in the centre panel showing Anne's father, mother, and the two brothers who died. Flanking this central
are two individual portraits of Anne herself, aged fifteen on the left hand panel and aged fifty-six on the right.
1 Anne Clifford's description of herself from her diary.
2 Being an old barony created by writ the de Clifford title could pass through the female line whilst the Cumberland earldom created by letters patent and was restricted to legitimate heirs male of the body.
3 In fact it was common practice for the bulk of any wealthy landowner's estate to pass to the next male heir in line subject to a provision being made for any surviving widows or unmarried daughters. What was unusual for the time was that anyone would seek to question this perfectly natural arrangement.
4 Skipton Castle had in fact been pulled down by order of Parliament and Oliver Cromwell stoutly objected to the repair of Skipton castle. Anne simply took no notice of him and was thus one of the few people who successfully defied the Lord Protector.
5 Which was last in print as The Diary of Anne Clifford 1616-1619: A Critical Edition (Garland, 1995)
- The Papers Of Anne Clifford by S.J. MacPherson, Cumbria County Archivist. www.microform.co.uk/guides/R97576.pdf
- 'Lady Anne Clifford' at
- Charles Arnold Baker The Companion to British History (Longcross Press, 1996)