Open main menu

Sundon, Charlotte Clayton (DNB00)

SUNDON, CHARLOTTE CLAYTON, Lady (d. 1742), woman of the bedchamber to Queen Caroline, was granddaughter of Sir Lewis Dyve [q. v.] of Bromham, Bedfordshire, and daughter of Sir Lewis's youngest son John, who married, in 1673, Frances, third daughter of Sir Robert Wolseley of Wolseley, Staffordshire. John Dyve was clerk of the privy council in 1691, and died in the following year; his widow died in 1702, and both were buried at St. James's, Westminster (W. M. Harvey, Hundred of Willey, pp. 44 seq.).

Before the end of Queen Anne's reign their daughter, Charlotte Dyve, married a Bedfordshire gentleman of family and fortune, William Clayton (1672?–1752) of Sundon Hall, afterwards Baron Sundon of Ardagh in the Irish peerage. He was M.P. for Liverpool from 1698 to 1707, and from 1713 to 1715. Afterwards he was M.P. for New Woodstock (1716–22) and St. Albans (1722–1727), by the influence of the Duke of Marlborough, and for Westminster (1727–41), Plympton Earl (1742–47), and St. Mawes (1747–52). In 1716 he was deputy auditor of the exchequer, and he became a lord of the treasury in 1718 (Gent. Mag. 1752, p. 240).

In 1713, when the Duke of Marlborough left England, Clayton, a confidential friend, was appointed one of the managers of the duke's estates, and afterwards he was an executor. On the accession of George I and the return of the whigs to office in 1714 Mrs. Clayton was appointed, through the influence of her friend and correspondent, the Duchess of Marlborough, bedchamber woman to Caroline of Anspach, now Princess of Wales. Lady Cowper, another lady of the bedchamber to the princess, was soon on terms of great intimacy, and sought to turn her influence to account in behalf of Mrs. Clayton's husband. Mrs. Clayton obtained much influence over her royal mistress (Diary of Mary, Countess Cowper, passim). Sir Robert Walpole, who was constantly in opposition to Mrs. Clayton, said that her ascendency over the Princess of Wales was due to her knowledge of the secret that her mistress suffered from a rupture; but the falsity of the story is shown by the fact that there were no symptoms of the trouble until 1724, when Mrs. Clayton had been in the princess's favour for ten years (Lord Hervey, Memoirs of the Reign of George II, i. 90, iii. 310). According to Walpole she accepted from her friend, the Countess of Pomfret [see Fermor, Henrietta Louisa], a pair of earrings worth 1,400l. to obtain for Lord Pomfret the post of master of the horse (Walpole, Letters, vol. i. pp. cxli, 115). The princess's attachment to clergymen whom Walpole held to be heterodox was attributed by him to Mrs. Clayton's influence. Benjamin Hoadly [q. v.], afterwards bishop of Winchester, Dr. Alured Clarke (1696–1742) [q. v.], Dr. Samuel Clarke (1675–1729) [q. v.], and Robert Clayton [q. v.], bishop of Killala, a kinsman of her husband, were among Mrs. Clayton's greatest friends. Among literary men to whom she showed attentions were Stephen Duck [q. v.], Steele (Aitken, Life of Richard Steele, ii. 75, 128, 297), Richard Savage [q. v.], and Voltaire, who thanked her for her kindness while he was in England.

Mrs. Clayton became Lady Sundon in 1735, when her husband was raised to the Irish peerage as Baron Sundon of Ardagh. Lord Sundon always sided with the court party in parliament, and his candidature for Westminster in 1741 resulted in a riot, in which his life was endangered. The high bailiff took the unusual step of summoning the military to his aid, and this, upon the re-assembling of parliament, enabled the opposition to deal a successful blow at Walpole. Walpole said that Lord Carteret had in 1735 opened two canals to the queen's ear, Bishop Sherlock and Mrs. Clayton, but hoped to prevent either of them injuring him (Lord Hervey, Memoirs, ii. 128). It is stated in the newspapers of the day that Lady Sundon succeeded Lady Suffolk as mistress of the robes in May 1735; but this alleged promotion, though perhaps contemplated, was not carried out (ib. ii. 203, 336, iii. 300). When Walpole feared that the queen would make a difficulty about Madame Walmoden, the mistress of George II, being brought to England, he said it was ‘those bitches, Lady Pomfret and Lady Sundon,’ who were influencing their mistress, in order to make their court to her.

Walpole told his son Horace that Lady Sundon, in the enthusiasm of her vanity, had proposed that they should unite and govern the kingdom together. Walpole bowed, begged her patronage, but said he knew nobody fit to govern the kingdom but the king and queen (Walpole, Letters, i. 115).

Lady Sundon was very ill at Bath in 1737, during the queen's fatal illness; but Walpole associated Caroline's refusal to receive the sacrament to the influence over her of Lady Sundon and ‘the less believing clergy’ whose cause she espoused (Lord Hervey, Memoirs, ii. 113, 281, iii. 300, 333). After the queen's death Lady Sundon was pensioned. In 1738 she was reported to be dragging on a miserable life, with a ‘cancerous humour in her throat’ (Lady M. W. Montagu, Letters, ii. 27, 55). She died on 1 Jan. 1742. Her husband survived her for ten years (see Walpole, Letters, i. 114).

Though most of Lady Sundon's correspondents flattered and fawned, in the hope of obtaining favours through her influence, it is clear that some of them were real friends. Hoadly speaks of her sincerity and goodness; Lord Bristol said she was ‘a simple woman, and talked accordingly’ (Nichols, Lit. Anecd. v. 87, ix. 592). Horace Walpole calls her ‘an absurd, pompous simpleton’ (Letters, i. pp. cxxx, cxxxii). Hervey's verdict is on the whole extremely favourable. She despised, he says, the dirty company surrounding her, and had not hypocrisy enough to tell them they were white and clean. She took great pleasure in doing good, often for persons who could not repay her. Mrs. Howard and Lady Sundon hated each other ‘very civilly and very heartily’ (Memoirs, i. 89–91).

A number of letters addressed to Lady Sundon from 1714 by aspirants to her favour are in the British Museum (Addit. MSS. 20102–5, 30516); many are printed in Mrs. Thomson's ‘Memoirs of Viscountess Sundon, Mistress of the Robes to Queen Caroline,’ 2 vols. 1847. This title is typical of the general inaccuracy of the work; for Lady Sundon was neither a viscountess nor mistress of the robes. Lady Sundon was not fond of letter-writing, but one letter to the Duchess of Leeds is in the British Museum (Addit. MS. 28051, f. 304).

There are portraits after Kneller of Lord and Lady Sundon, with an inscription stating that they were presented in 1728 by Mrs. Clayton to Dr. Freind, who had attended her husband in a dangerous illness. There is also a whole-length portrait of Lady Sundon on Lord Ilchester's staircase at Melbury (Harvey, Hundred of Willey, p. 109).

[Works cited; Pope's Works, vii. 238, viii. 300; Suffolk Correspondence, i. 62, 63; Baker's Northampton, i. 82, 160, 163, 169, ii. 254; Lysons's Magna Brit. i. 61; Blayde's Genealogia Bedfordiensis, pp. 55–7, 357.]

G. A. A.