The Women of Claremont
The history of Claremont has been shaped throughout the years by a series of extraordinary women.
A happy childhood at Claremont
As a child, the future Queen Victoria frequently came to visit her Uncle Leopold at Claremont. Escaping from the seclusion of Kensington Palace gave her a rare chance to play and explore. As an adult, she continued to visit regularly, frequently celebrating her birthday at Claremont, and subsequently staying there with her son and his family.
As Queen of England, Victoria's were hugely influential, with the ability to change popular opinion. Letters have come to light showing that she was extremely anti-suffrage, opposing the increasingly popular move towards women's rights. Claremont's most famous visitor may have played a hugely significant role in governing the country but she was keen to keep other women away from positions of power.
" The Queen is most anxious to enlist every one who can speak or write to join in checking this mad, wicked folly of ‘Woman’s Rights’, with all its attendant horrors, on which her poor feeble sex is bent, forgetting every sense of womanly feeling and propriety. Woman would become the most hateful, heathen, and disgusting of human beings were she allowed to unsex herself; and where would be the protection which man was intended to give the weaker sex’"
The timeline of campaigns for women’s suffrage began more than 50 years after the death of Princess Charlotte. Yet the actions taken by Princess Charlotte during her short tell us a lot about how some royal women used their power before suffrage.
By defying her troublesome father, George IV, Princess Charlotte gained a reputation for sticking to her guns, especially when it came to choosing her future husband. In a world where even her household was filled with her Father’s spies, small acts such as entering a room unannounced spoke loudly.
Yet after her somewhat rebellious teenage years and the marriage to her chosen partner, Prince Leopold, Charlotte took very little interest in the potential political influence she could have wielded at the royal court. Instead her influence can be felt and seen at Claremont.
The mausoleum on top of the Amphitheatre was originally designed as her Tea-House and the Princess took a special interest in its design. Similarly although Leopold’s monogram features on the Camellia Terrace railings, clues of the footprint of Charlotte's beloved greenhouse can still be spotted.
Harriet Pelham-Holles, Duchess of Newcastle-upon-Tyne
In 1717 Lady Henriette Godolphin (known as Harriet) married Thomas Pelham-Holles, the Duke of Newcastle, a hugely influential figure who was Prime Minister twice and Secretary of State for nearly 30 years.
The couple lived at Claremont; a home which he had purchased aged just 21. They used it throughout their marriage as a tranquil retreat. As her husband was often away from home, Henrietta became a steward for the estate, supervising works around the house and garden. In this way, she was forward thinking, refusing to simply sit at home and do nothing.
Interestingly both were strong Whig supporters. Although they weren’t able to vote, women were well known to be instrumental in the Whig party’s success often making pamphlets, giving speeches and influencing the political beliefs of their husbands. It may well be that the duchess had a significant role in encouraging and supporting the political persuasions of her husband, exerting her power in the background.