Mr and Mrs Smith

With the wedding out of the way, the newlyweds settled into London life and Henrietta was soon expecting what was to be her first and only child. Yet the marriage quickly soured, and she must have rued the youthful enthusiasm that led her to accept the worldly and cunning Charles Howard’s proposal. The Earl of Chesterfield summed up the unhappy situation that followed the hasty marriage when he wrote, “thus they loved, thus they married, and thus they hated each other for the rest of their lives.”106

Though Henrietta’s uncle had drawn up a marriage settlement that should have protected her interests, once the front door closed and the couple was alone, that was easier said than done. Charles burned through his own money and then started on his wife’s, spending it as though it was a well that would never run dry. Soon he was back to his old ways, drinking, gambling, fighting, and wenching, and his pregnant wife was abandoned back at home, fearful of her new husband’s brutal temper. Though he couldn’t get his hands on her money legally, he could do it by menace instead and Charles soon relieved Henrietta of the allowance that was meant for her personal expenses. The money proved nowhere near enough to meet his needs and he went so far as to bring a suit in the Court of Chancery against his wife’s trustees, hoping to lay claim to the entire £6,000 which provided Henrietta with her income. The suit failed, which further blackened relations between the Howards. When Henrietta gave birth to a son on New Year’s Day 1707, what should have been a day of unbridled happiness no doubt came tempered with new worries for the unhappy woman. Little Henry Howard was just one more mouth to feed.

If living the high life in London with a wife in tow was a pain for Charles, living the high life with a new baby at home was something he wasn’t prepared to countenance. He packed mother and baby off to a miserable set of lodgings in Berkshire, where Henrietta experienced the most poverty-stricken days she had ever known. For more than two years the couple lived apart, one in misery, one in debt-ridden hedonism, and Charles saw his infant son only a handful of times. He had married for money and with Henrietta’s income lining his pockets for as long as he could refrain from gambling it away, Charles Howard’s wife and child could be forgotten. Naturally, Charles saw the situation somewhat differently. Far from being the author of Henrietta’s misfortune, the man who had a reputation for trouble long before they married actually blamed her for his penury. Later in the marriage he furiously spat “you had a share in former years from him who was not a beggar when he first knew you”, as though Henrietta had been the one to wring him dry. It was very much the other way round. Charles might not have been a beggar when they met, but he was certainly well-travelled along the road to ruin.

Yet whilst it was Charles who racked up debt after debt, it was Henrietta who suffered. What few possessions she had managed to cling onto were seized by Charles’ creditors and after a couple of years living a miserable life in Berkshire, Henrietta was evicted from her sorry lodgings when she was no longer able to pay the rent. She couldn’t even go back to London, for the modest city home she had shared so briefly with Charles after their marriage was also lost to them, thanks to her husband’s gambling.

When Charles’ father died in 1709 his brother, Henry, became 6th Earl of Suffolk. It was to him that the little family now appealed for help. He grudgingly offered them a home at Audley End, but there was to be no charity. The family would have to pay rent. Henrietta and little Henry remained at Audley End for two years whilst Charles continued his self-destructive life in London, but Henrietta was still determined to try and make a go of the marriage, despite all that she had suffered at his hands. She left Audley End and went back to the city, where she took up residence with her husband in Covent Garden until the money ran out. Occasionally adopting the pseudonym Smith to escape Charles’ creditors, the family moved from place to place around the city to keep one step ahead of their debts, each new destination more hopeless than the last.

If Henrietta had been hoping to somehow reform Charles, she was soon disavowed of that notion. She was poor, hungry, and hopeless, abused, ignored, and kept as a household servant for a man who had no affection or regard for either his wife or their son. Something had to change.

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