The love letters of the 6th Duke of Somerset

The Proud Duke, Charles Seymour, 6th Duke of Somerset (1662-1748) by John Closterman, 1692 at Petworth House

Generations of people have lived, loved and lost here at Petworth. Surrounding Valentines Day we've brought these stories to you so as you walk around the house and see the faces of these people looking down from the walls – it is touching to know that these distant lives were really no different to the trials of love today.

The 6th Duke of Somerset married Elizabeth Percy, the great Percy heiress, in 1682 but 6th Duke is better known as the Proud Duke, mainly for his arrogance: he docked £20,000 off one of his daughter’s inheritance for daring to sit down in his presence while he was asleep (so not a likely candidate for a romantic streak). His wife, Elizabeth Percy, died in 1722, which left him looking for a new bride.

The Duke turned his attentions to the widowed Duchess of Marlborough and began to send her feverish love letters, which showed another side to him altogether. Unfortunately for him, the Duchess of Marlborough was still loyal to her first husband, the Duke of Marlborough.

However, the 6th Duke and the Duchess of Marlborough continued to exchange letters regularly. The Duke never lost his passionate tone, even when writing about more mundane issues such as estate business. The last letter known from the 6th Duke to the Duchess is dated 1737, which showed that he continued writing, declaring his unchanged affections for her, even after marrying Lady Caroline Finch in 1726.

This obviously meant that the Duke’s second marriage was not a love match, and perhaps this is why his new bride was treated so poorly. He told her, after she had gently tapped him on the shoulder with her fan: ‘Madam my first wife was a Percy and she never took such a liberty.’ But that is another story…

The original letters between the 6th Duke of Somerset and the Duckess of Marlborough can now be found in the British Library.