Mary Capel (1630–1715, also spelled Capell), was the daughter of Arthur Capel, first Baron Capel of Hadham, Herts. (1604–49). He was already, by inheritance, a very rich man, but by his marriage in 1627 to Elizabeth Morrison, heiress of Cassiobury, he became one of the wealthiest people in Britain.
During the Civil War, Capel was a military commander (albeit an ineffective one) under the king; he fled to Jersey in 1646 with the Prince of Wales, returning to England after the prince joined his mother, Henrietta Maria, in France. After a period of house arrest, he was freed, but immediately began to further various royalist schemes, including Charles I’s flight to the Isle of Wight. Captured and imprisoned in the Tower of London, he escaped once, but was betrayed and re-imprisoned, finally being executed outside Westminster Hall on 9 March 1649, six weeks after the king.
His widow Elizabeth survived until January 1661, and so saw the Restoration. In his Coronation honours list in April of that year, Charles II restored to his eldest son, also Arthur, the estates which had been confiscated, and gave him the title of earl of Essex – which had previously been held by the Parliamentary general to whom the lands had been granted.
Arthur had a sad end – after long service in Ireland, and as an advisor to the king, he became involved in the conspiratorial circles of those who opposed the succession of the Catholic James II. He was arrested and placed in the Tower (in the chamber formerly used to incarcerate his father), where he was found dead on 13 July 1683 – either he had slashed his own throat or had been murdered, the latter theory being more favoured today.
Meanwhile, his sister Mary had, at the age of 18, married Henry Seymour, Lord Beauchamp (c.1626–54), third son of William Seymour, 2nd Duke of Somerset, another royalist commander. Both his elder brothers died before him, so he was his father’s heir, but in fact his and Mary’s son, William (1652–71) became the third duke after his father’s early death; William, after his own early death, was succeeded by his paternal uncle, John.
Mary’s first marriage had apparently been a happy one, but, as was almost inevitable at that time, she married again after three years of widowhood: her second husband was (slightly confusingly) Henry Somerset, Lord Herbert (1629–1700). The Somersets were marquesses of Worcester, and Catholics: Henry had been sent to France and Italy with a tutor for his education in 1644 and returned in 1650 to find his home, Raglan Hall, destroyed and his estates sequestered. However, surprisingly, he got on well with Oliver Cromwell, through whom he managed to claw back part of his inheritance.
His marriage to Mary on 17 August 1657 in Clerkenwell was a so-called ‘republican’ one, before a Justice of the Peace, rather than a religious ceremony, and may have been intended to remove any suspicion of his Catholicism. None the less, he too spent two months in the Tower in the autumn of 1659; however, as one of the twelve commissioners sent to Breda to validate Charles II’s return to England in May 1660, and coming from undoubted royalist stock, he was in a good position to rise in the Restoration court, becoming effectively the king’s deputy in Wales and the Marches. Made duke of Beaufort in 1682, he lived, when not touring the areas of his responsibilities, at Badminton House in Gloucestershire, and at Beaufort House in Chelsea which was (probably not coincidentally) next to Sir Hans Sloane’s Chelsea Manor, later the Chelsea Physic Garden. He retired from public life in 1689, having declined to declare William and Mary his ‘right and lawful’ sovereigns, and died in 1700, being buried in the Beaufort chapel of St George’s Chapel, Windsor, whence his large and elaborate monument was transferred to Badminton in the late nineteenth century.
Mary, duchess of Beaufort, and her second husband had nine children, of whom six survived to adulthood. (One was the religious writer (and patron of Mary Astell, teacher, philosopher and one of the ‘celebrated ladies of Great Britain‘), Anne, countess of Coventry.) But in spite of eleven children she clearly had energy to spare, to judge from her activity as a gardener and botanist.
Badminton House had been inherited in 1660 from a cousin of Henry’s, and in 1664 the couple began major works on both the house and the garden, possibly under the influence of Mary’s brother, Henry, Lord Capel of Tewksbury (1638–96), a keen gardener and pioneer of growing under glass, whose estate at Kew, with its gardens and conservatories, was later acquired by Augusta, princess of Wales, and merged with the royal estate at Richmond to become the Kew Gardens we know today.
In 1699, William Sherard (1659–1728), the widely travelled Oxford botanist who left money for the founding of a professorship of botany at his alma mater, became, probably via the Sloane connection, tutor at Badminton to Mary’s grandson for eighteen months (he had previously done two Grand Tours as ‘bear-leader’ to fledgling aristocrats, but it is arguable that she wanted him more for his botanical knowledge). By this connection with the network which also included John Ray, Leonard Plukenet and James Petiver, it is estimated that up to 1500 rare and exotic plants were acquired for Badminton, and after the duke’s death, Mary seems to have become even more committed to her garden, than which, according to Sloane, ‘no place raises or preserves plants better’.
She created a twelve-volume herbarium, which she bequeathed to Sloane and which is now in the Natural History Museum, and in about 1703, she employed a Dutch artist, Everard Kick (first brought to England by Sloane to trace and sketch items in his Jamaica collection) to begin painting the exotic plants in her collection. Kick (1636–after 1705) was from a Dutch family of painters, and is also known as Everhardus Kickius, Edward Kikius and (in the volumes compiled for the duchess), ‘Kychicus’. (The tendency of Dutch savants to Latinise their names often produced odd results.)
While he was working at Badminton, according to The Duchess of Beaufort’s Flowers, a (sadly) slim book of 1983 by Gloria Cottesloe and Doris Hunt, ‘it was discovered [one really wants to know how!!!] that a young Gloucestershire man, Daniel Frankcom, who was employed as an under-footman in the house, also possessed a rare talent for delicate painting’, whereupon the duchess had him trained by Kick and sent to London to record the exotics in her garden there. (There cannot however be much doubt that Kick remained the better painter.)
The two volumes produced by Kick and Frankcom remain at Badminton, but other works by the two men can be found in the British Museum (along with Kick’s paintings of mammals from Jamaica), the British Library and the NHM.
In most (but not all) cases, the paintings by both men are ‘botanic’ rather than decorative, i.e. they show the roots of the plant, and occasionally a bit of landscape context.
Interestingly, Frankcom was not confined to living plants – he copied several plates from Maria Sibylla Merian’s Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium (first published in 1705), and also painted a composite plate showing British butterflies and moths, their caterpillars, food plants and chrysalids. The duchess had a collection of insects, and I assume that she asked for this painting and the Merian copies to be made?
It is intensely frustrating that no biography has been written of Mary (though there is a fairly recent joint biography of the ducal couple). Likewise, the Badminton volumes, described thus in the ODNB: ‘Two illustrated albums of plants in Mary Somerset’s gardens were produced by Kychique and Daniel Frankcom, who had visited Badminton between 1703 and 1705. Frankcom also viewed her Chelsea garden. These albums, in addition to the images, contain information about provenances and the treatment of particular plants in the dowager duchess’s care’ – have not been published in facsimile or digitised, though they clear contain a massive amount of botanical as well as aesthetic interest.
Mary died in 1715, at the age of (probably) 84, having outlived most of her relations, and was buried at Badminton. In the 1740s, Sloane purchased the Chelsea estate, and later demolished the house, incorporating the garden into his Physic Garden. The subsequent lives and dates of death of Kick and Frankcom are not known.