The Trade of Courtiership: The Countess of Bedford

Margaret M. Byard describes the Bedford Memorials and the course of a eventful family history, from 1585 to 1607.

To John Donne she was ‘The first good Angell... That ever did in womans shape appeare.’ She was to him ‘Gods masterpeece’ ...whose ‘radiation can all clouds subdue’ and for whom ‘morning breaks at night’. In reality this shining figure was Lucy Harington Russell, Countess of Bedford (1581-1627), a ‘greatest person’ of the sophisticated court of James VI and I. Celebrated in any number of other tributes as well, the Countess danced in the masques at court from 1604 to 1609.

She had the taste and judgement to guide Queen Anne, James’s consort, in her patronage, and was herself dispenser of ‘sweet golden showers’ on many of the writers, musicians, and artists for whom the Jacobean years are remembered: Florio, Chapman, Drayton, Daniel, Dowland, John Donne, of course, and Ben Jonson are among them. In the ‘trade of courtiership’1 she was without a peer.

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