What’s in a name? One ‘r’ or two?
I plan on reading a book entitled “The Noble Assassin”, historical fiction about Lucy Harington, Countess of Bedford. But I wanted to find out some of the facts about this lady before the novel inserts itself in my understanding as “this is actually what happened”.
Despite the spelling variation, Harrington Sound, the large inland sea-water lake in the middle of Bermuda, was apparently named for this lady.
Poets (John Donne and Ben Johnson) and musicians seemed to be falling over themselves in their efforts to honour her, dedicate works to her, write poetry to her – she had over 50 works dedicated to her. Why was she so popular?
- She was well connected – her father was Sir John Harington, Baron of Exton. This family were said to have the most extensive estates in Rutland in the 16th century. Rutland? It’s a tiny county almost as small as Bermuda in the east midlands, UK.
- She clearly came from a wealthy family, though some sources suggest her father and brother made huge losses and she inherited debts. She did however have sufficient to buy both Twickenham Park and Moor Park estates. There she became an amateur gardener – a 17th century Charlie Dimmock (you might have to be British to know her – a TV gardener).
- And she was intelligent – home schooling resulted in fluency in French and Italian and she was knowledgable about classical art and poetry.
- One author described her as “a fit companion for men” but we need to allow that in 1949 he might not have intended what this could mean today.
- She performed in court masques, as a Lady of the Bedchamber for Queen Anna of Denmark she would join the other court ladies in these extravagant performances. For one, Masque of Blackness, the ladies all used body paint to blacken their faces and arms, which was actually quite controversial even then. She had speaking parts in some of the dramas and helped with directing others – clearly not just backdrop material.
- But she wasn’t exactly “available” having been married from the age of 13 to Edward Russell, 3rd Earl of Bedford. He made some poor decisions and spent some years in prison and under house arrest after supporting the “wrong-would-be-monarch” but his fortunes picked up somewhat when King James came to the throne. It appears that he was happy to permit his wife an active life at court in her own right.
- She may have been considered beautiful, though the few portraits that exist don’t really confirm this, but maybe it was like early photographs, smiling was considered inappropriate.
It seems she never actually set foot in Bermuda, but as a wealthy lady investing in the adventurous Virginia Company she was one of the original shareholders and thus land owners of the island. She was the only woman among the 117 original investors in The Somers Isles Company that was granted a charter to control Bermuda in 1616.
One of the local websites encouraging tourists here states that Lucy Harington “did a lot for the parish”, immediately triggering an image of a parish fete with stalls of home-made jam; but I don’t think she actually DID anything for the parish of Hamilton and probably was only vaguely aware she had a large body of water named after her. After all, which would you prefer, a poem written for you or a salty mid-Atlantic lake that in all likelihood you would never get to see?
So why the spelling mistake? In one of the earliest maps of the island they do have the name spelled with just one “r” but modern spelling has morphed to Harrington. I don’t think it is of major importance, after all the Harington family descended from the earlier Haveringtons by a series of typographical variations.
Amazing – Harrington Sound has a Facebook page : https://www.facebook.com/pages/Harrington-Sound/135689173130265
Admittedly the person posting most on there seems to be me, and I didn’t even know it existed! How do these pages just appear? Oh well, maybe I will end up “doing a lot for the parish” just like Lucy Harington, Countess of Bedford (1581-1627)