Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hervey, Mary

HERVEY, MARY, Lady (1700–1768), the daughter of Brigadier-general Nicholas Lepell, by his wife Mary, daughter and co-heiress of John Brooke of Rendlesham, Suffolk, was probably born on 26 Sept. 1700; there is, however, some uncertainty about the date of her birth. According to the inscription in Ickworth Church, the year should be 1706 (Gage, p. 319), but Pope in a letter, said to be dated 13 Sept. 1717, speaks of her as already maid of honour to the princess (Lord Hervey, Memoirs, i. xix n.; and Elwin and Courthope's edition of Pope's Works, ix. 273-5). Her father, while a page of honour to Prince George of Denmark, married in 1698, and in the following year obtained on act of naturalisation (Luttrell, 1857, iv. 470). On 3 April 1705 he received a Commission to raise a new regiment of foot (ib. v. 536), and on 1 Jan. 1710 was promoted to the rank of brigadier-general. According to a letter written by the Duchess of Marlborough in December 1737, Mary was made a comet by her father 'in his regiment as soon as she was born … and she was paid many years after she was a maid of honour. She was extreme forward and pert, and my Lord Sunderland got her a pension of the late king [George I], it being too ridiculous to continue her any longer an officer in the army' (Walpole, Letters, i. clii.) At court Mary Lepell divided the honours for wit and beauty with her friend Edith Bellenden,subsequently the wife of Colonel John Campbell, who became the fourth duke of Argyll. Pope and Gay sang her praises. Pulteney and Chesterfield wrote a joint ballad in her honour to the tune of `Molly Mogg.' Voltaire, another of her numerous admirers, addressed a copy of verses to her beginning with the lines:

Hervey, would you know the passion
You have kindled in my breast?

which are the only English verse now extant of his composition. They were subsequently transcribed and addressed to one Laura Harley, the wife of a London merchant, by one of her lovers, and formed part of the husband's evidence in his proceedings for a divorce (Churton Collins, Essay on Voltaire in England, 1886, pp. 248-9). Even Horace Walpole, who became a correspondent of hers later in life, and in 1762 dedicated to her his 'Anecdotes of Painting in England,' always spoke of her with the greatest respect and admiration (see Letters, v. 129). Her good sense and good nature won for her the esteem of the ladies as well as the flatteries of the wits. Her marriage with John Hervey [q. v.], afterwards Lord Hervey of Ickworth, was announced to have taken place on 25 Oct. 1720 (Historical Reg. v. Chron. Diary, p. 46). It must, however, have occurred several months earlier, as in a letter preserved at Ickworth, and dated 20 May 1720, Lord Bristol congratulates her on her marriage, which he calls a secret (see Lord Hervey, Memoirs, i. xxii-iv). Lady Mary Wortley Montagu records, in a letter written to the Countess of Mar, in July 1721, `the ardent affection' shown to her by Mrs. Hervey and her dear spouse' (Letters and Works, i. 457).

In spite of her husband's infidelity she lived with him on very amicable terms, and was an admirable mother to a large family of troublesome children, who inherited those peculiar qualities which gave rise to the well-known saying, ascribed to Lady Mary Wortley Montagu among others, 'that this world consisted of men, women, and Herveys' (ib. i. 95). She appears to have been always a warm partisan of the Stuarts. Though she suffered greatly from severe attacks of the gout, she retained many of the attractions of her youth long after her husband's death.

Chesterfield, in a letter to his son dated 22 Oct. 1750, directed him to `trust, consult, and to apply' to Lady Hervey at Paris. He speaks in the most admiring terms of her good breeding, and says that she knows more than is necessary for any woman, 'for she understands Latin perfectly well, though she wisely conceals it' (Letters, ii. 40). She died on 2 Sept. 1768, in the sixty-eighth year of her age, and was buried at Ickworth, Suffolk. The epitaph on her tombstone was written by Horace Walpole (Gage, pp. 319-20). Lady Hervey was a lively and intelligent letter-writer. Her letters to the Rev. Edmund Morris, formerly tutor to her sons, written between 1742 and 1768, were published in 1821. Several earlier letters of hers written to the Countess of Suffolk are in the two volumes of Lady Suffolk's `Letters,' 1824.

Two portraits of Lady Hervey are in the possession of the Marquis of Bristol at Ickworth. Another, formerly belonging to the Strawberry Hill collection, painted by Allan Ramsay, was lent by Lord Lifford to the Loan Collection of National Portraits at South Kensington in 1867 (Catalogue, No. 258). An engraving from a miniature, also formerly at Strawberry Hill, is in Walpole's `Letters' (v. opp. p. 129).

[Lord Hervey's Memoirs, 1884; Letters and Works of the Earl of Chesterfield, 1845-53, ii. 40-1, 65, 73-4, 103. 141, 180-1, iii. 402. iv. 2, 55; Letters of Horace Walpole (Cunningham edit.), i. cxxiii-iv. clii-iii. iii. 71, 104, iv. 30, 31, v. 129; Letters and Works of Lady M. W. Montagu, 1861, i. 96-7, 457, 480-1, ii. 29; Gage's History of Suffolk. Thingoe Hundred, 1838, pp. 288, 299, 308, 309, 319; Crisp's Richmond and its Inhabitants, 1866, pp. 416-18; Quarterly Review, lxxxii. 505-8; Edinburgh Review lxxxviii. 490; Chester's London Marriage Licenses, 1887, p. 837, Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. ii. 416, x. 47. 76, 3rd ser. v. 98, 4th ser. ix. 506, x. 19, 98, 197. 237, 402, 506.]

G. F. R. B.