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Stories of the Stuarts: Abigail Masham

Abigail Masham was the Daughter of Francis Hill and through relatives, she already had a very close connection to the court of Queen Anne. Abigail’s Mother was the former Elizabeth Jennings, aunt to Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, her second cousin was Robert Harley, Tory Minister and First Lord of the Treasury. When Abigail married Samuel Masham, these connections were further enhanced, she was henceforth related to Henry St John, Viscount Bolingbroke the grandson of Johanna, Lady St John. Its fair to say that Abigail was well connected and even fairer to say that without these connections, Abigail would not have achieved her powerful position as a firm favourite of Queen Anne.

Abigail Masham.

Abigail Masham.

Following Francis Hill’s death shortly after his declaration of bankruptcy, Abigail’s family was certainly on its knees and a ten year old Abigail was sent to the Chafford household of Sir George, 4th Baronet Rivers as a servant. Abigail remained as a servant at the household until her cousin Sarah Churchill came to her rescue, taking her into her own household and using her friendship with Princess Anne, Sarah asked the royal to reserve a place for Abigail as one of her bedchamber women- a move that Sarah would ultimately regret.

When Queen Anne acceded the Throne, Abigail became a woman of the bedchamber on a salary of £500 a year and by 1705 she was considered as one of the most influential of all of Anne’s servants, Abigail was thus making herself indispensable to the Queen. Occurring behind the scenes was a shift in the relationship between Abigail, Sarah and their Monarch. Whig supporting Sarah was on the wrong political side for Queen Anne while Abigail was publicly supporting the Tories, to the delight of the Queen.

Abigail married Samuel Masham in 1707 and in a sign of the affection Queen Anne felt for her servant, she received 2000 guineas from the privy purse. Samuel Masham was also well connected to the royals, owing to the fact he was a Groom of the Bedchamber to the Queen’s Husband, Prince George. In a further sign of the Queen’s favouritism towards Abigail, Anne was present at the marriage, a sign of affection that The Duchess of Marlborough was not too pleased with.

As mentioned, Sarah Churchill was not too pleased with the affection that Queen Anne was showing Abigail Masham, she was however oblivious to the friendship that had been growing between Monarch and servant. Tensions were beginning to become strained between Anne and Sarah and they came to a head at a thanksgiving service at St Pauls Cathedral. The Duchess of Marlborough was seen publicly verbally attacking the Queen over the jewels she had chosen to wear to the service, a sure sign of a faltering closeness that Sarah once felt towards Anne or in my opinion, pure jealousy over the fact that Anne wasn’t showering all of her attention on to Sarah, as she once had.

Following Sarah Churchill’s dismissal from Anne’s Court, Abigail turned her back on the cousin who had virtually secured her position as a firm favourite of the Queen and even took over her role as Keeper of the Privy Purse. Sarah, however, retaliated in what can only be described as a childish way, taunting Abigail’s appearance and describing her as ‘hideously ugly’, slightly harsh but then how else could Sarah get her own back, she was out of favour with the Queen after all.

Although Abigail remained a firm favourite of Queen Anne, it wasn’t just Sarah Churchill who was verbally attacking the royal favourite. Journalist and Politician, Sir Arthur Maynwaring called her ‘an ugly hag with a frightful face and stinking breath’ while Sir William Legge, 1st Earl of Dartmouth, described her as ‘exceeding mean and vulgar in her manners, of a very unequal temper, childishly exceptious and passionate’.

Abigail Masham was a favourite of Queen Anne.

Abigail Masham was a favourite of Queen Anne.

Abigail Masham remained Keeper of the Privy Purse as well as a loyal servant until Queen Anne’s death on 1st August 1714. Abigail was heartbroken at the loss of the Queen and somebody who she considered a friend. Tensions between Abigail and Sarah Churchill softened somewhat when Abigail was accused of stealing Anne’s jewels, Sarah commented that ‘I believed Lady Masham never rob’d anybody but me’.

It was inevitable that Abigail’s influence at Court would end, The House of Stuart was finished and The House of Hanover was coming to Britain. Abigail retired to her home at Langley, Windsor though she did remain on the royal guest list. When Sir Francis Masham died, Abigail and Samuel moved in to the Masham family home at Otes in Essex.

After a long illness Abigail Masham died on December 6th 1734.

Photo Credits: See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Willem Wissing and Jan van der Vaart [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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