THe life and times of Henrietta St John, eighteenth-century aristocrat, bluestocking and society exile.
Henrietta St John was born on St Swithun's Day in 1699 into a world of wealth, privilege and seeming security. Beloved sister of rake and statesman, Viscount Bolingbroke, she grew up in Hogarthian London and Wiltshire, her ancestral home, into a headstrong woman of poetry and letters - Pope, Swift and Gay were amongst her acquaintance. Yet with more wit and intelligence than was good for a high-ranking woman of her time and a wild mane of dark curly hair, Henrietta was not the easiest of marriage propositions. She succumbed at twenty-seven, with her infatuation for the son of the infamous and exiled South Sea Company chief cashier. Soon afterwards, she was accused by her pompous husband of infidelity with a young poet, and sent into the country to moulder and die.
In refusing to fulfil these cruel expectations Henrietta created for herself, and for us, an eccentric and enchanting company of friends from the understorey of mid-eighteenth century society. Her circle - they liked to set their wooden chairs in a circle in the garden, sip port and gossip on warm, moonlit nights - was a lively collage of characters far removed from the Court and the City, and yet occasionally touched by great events. It was Henrietta's gardens, however, that most sustained her sanity and that now shape Jane Brown's lively biography. Through evocative descriptions of the gardens and houses her heroine inhabited, Jane Brown reconstructs Henrietta's remarkable and tumultuous life, and reveals an intricate portrait of early eighteenth-century English culture and society.