History

Frances Teresa Stuart, Duchess of Richmond

History

In the Westminster Abbey Museum is a life size (5 feet 8 inches) wax effigy of Frances Teresa (Stuart), Duchess of Richmond and Lennox. Known as ‘La Belle Stuart’ she was born in 1647, the daughter of Walter Stuart (a distant relative of the royal house of Stuart) and his wife Sophia. She was brought up in France and after the Restoration came to England with her mother and was appointed maid of honour to Catherine of Braganza, queen of Charles II. Samuel Pepys, the diarist, recorded that she was the greatest beauty he had ever seen. The King was so besotted with her that he considered divorcing Catherine to marry her but Frances had already accepted the proposal of Charles Stuart, Duke of Richmond and Lennox (as his third wife). She eloped with him, much to the fury of the King, and they were married privately in March 1667. Frances was depicted as Britannia on two commemorative medals. Unfortunately in 1668 she was disfigured by smallpox.

She ordered that her wax effigy, dressed in her coronation robes, be set up in Henry VII’s chapel near the grave of Ludovic Stuart, cousin of James I, (d.1624) and his wife Frances. She died on 15 October 1702 and was buried in the Duke of Richmond’s vault in Henry VII’s chapel. Her husband (d.1672) had been buried there but neither have monuments or gravestones. Frances had intended the wax figure, modelled by Mrs Goldsmith, to be her memorial.

The effigy, in its showcase, stood by the graveside until the early 19th century when, with several other wax figures, it was moved to the upper Islip chapel. All the wax figures are now in the Abbey Museum.

Her pet parrot

Beside her wax effigy in the Museum is displayed her pet African grey parrot on a stand. It is said to have lived with her for 40 years and died soon after her. Very few mounted bird specimens survive from this period but x-rays show that the entire skeleton of the bird is intact including its skull. This was a very primitive technique but the parrot probably survived because it was kept in a showcase. It is perhaps the oldest stuffed bird in existence.

Richmond vault

Also in the Richmond vault are buried Charles Stuart’s wives Elizabeth and Margaret and James (Stuart) (d.1655), Duke of Richmond and Lennox and his widow Mary.

The heart of James’s son Esme (d.1660) lies in an urn on a pyramid memorial next to Ludovic’s large monument.

Photographs of the wax effigy and parrot can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library.

The Abbey Museum is open Monday-Saturday 10.30-4.

Further reading

The funeral effigies of Westminster Abbey edited by A.Harvey & R.Mortimer (revised 2003).

The Honour of Richmond. A history of the Lords, Earls and Dukes of Richmond by David Morris, 2000.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004

The Antiquity of the Duchess of Richmond's parrot by P. Morris, Museums Journal November 1981

 

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Duchess of Richmond's parrot