George Perfect Harding , 1781 –1853
Portrait of Lucy Russell, Countess of Bedford (née Harington) (1580–1627)
pencil and watercolour
15.50 x 25.50 cm.


J. Heugh Esq., 1878
Picton Morris Collection


Lucy Russell, Countess of Bedford (née Harington) (1580–1627) was a major aristocratic patron of the arts and literature in the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras, the primary non-royal performer in contemporary court masques, a letter-writer, and a poet. She was an adventurer (shareholder) in the Somers Isles Company, investing in Bermuda, where Harrington Sound is named after her.

Lucy Harington was the daughter of Sir John Harington of Exton, and Anne Keilway. She was well-educated for a woman in her era, and knew French, Spanish, and Italian. She was a member of the Sidney/Essex circle from birth, through her father, first cousin to Sir Robert Sidney and Mary, Countess of Pembroke; she was a close friend of Essex's sisters Penelope Rich and Dorothy Percy, Countess of Northumberland, and the latter named one of her daughters Lucy after her.

Lucy Harington married Edward Russell, 3rd Earl of Bedford, on 12 December 1594, when she was thirteen years old and he was twenty-two, at St Dunstan's on Stepney Green. She miscarried her first child in February 1596 at Bedford House on the Strand in London.

The Earl of Bedford got himself into serious trouble in 1601 when he rode with the Earl of Essex in rebellion against Queen Elizabeth. The Bedford fortunes revived when the reign of James I began in 1603. Several English nobles secretly sent representatives into Scotland to try to gain favour and court appointments.The Countess of Bedford audaciously skipped the late queen's funeral and rode hard to the Scottish border, ahead of a party of gentlewomen appointed by the Privy Council, and got an audience in Scotland with the new king's wife Anne of Denmark. The new queen immediately made her a Lady of the Bedchamber and she became a trusted confidant.The queen came from Stirling Castle to Holyrood Palace with a convoy of English ladies who had come seeking attendance and on 31 May 1603 attended church in Edinburgh accompanied by these would-be companions.Some of the ladies stayed at John Kinloch's house in Edinburgh.

The Countess of Bedford travelled south with Anne of Denmark and Prince Henry and Princess Elizabeth. At Dingley, Northamptonshire she rode south to meet Lady Anne Clifford, perhaps at Wymondley Priory, and brought her to Dingley on 24 June.

Bedford performed in several of the masques staged at Court in the early 17th century, including The Masque of Blackness (1605), Hymenaei (1606), The Masque of Beauty (1608), The Masque of Queens, and The Vision of the Twelve Goddesses. On two occasions in 1617, she functioned as a theatrical producer, instigating and organising the 1617 Court performance of Robert White's masque Cupid's Banishment, acted by students from the first English girls' school, the Ladies Hall in Deptford. In February 1617 the masque by Ben Jonson presented by Lord Hay to the French ambassador Baron de Tour, the Lovers Made Men, was staged by the Countess of Bedford.

She was a noted patron of Ben Jonson, who dedicated his play Cynthia's Revels (1600) to her and addressed several of his Epigrams to her, extolling her patronage. By his own admission, Jonson portrayed her as Ethra in his lost pastoral, The May Lord — though he may also have depicted her as Lady Haughty, president of the Collegiates in Epicene (1609). When Jonson was imprisoned in 1605 for his role in the Eastward Ho scandal, he wrote a letter to an unknown lady, who is thought by some scholars to have been the Countess of Bedford.

In addition to Jonson, Bedford supported other significant poets of her era, including Michael DraytonSamuel DanielGeorge Chapman, and John Donne. She might be the "Idea" of Drayton's pastoral Idea: The Shepherd's Garland (1593) and of his sonnet sequence Idea's Mirror (1594). Drayton dedicated his Mortimeriados (1594) to her, as Daniel did his Vision of the Twelve Goddesses (1604). Bedford patronised a range of lesser writers of her era, including the translator John Florio, who credited her help in his translation of the essays of Montaigne. She "received more dedications than any other woman associated with the drama" in her era.

Bedford was the godmother of Donne's second daughter, also named Lucy, and the namesake of Sir Henry Goodere's daughter (later wife of Sir Francis Nethersole). Donne seems to have been deeply involved with her on a psychological level — "Most of the poems of Donne's middle years relate, in one way or another, to this glamorous and intriguing woman." Her contradictions could be provocative: the Countess was a dedicated Calvinist, and supported many Calvinist authors and thinkers – yet she allegedly performed bare-breasted in Court masques. Her relationships with some of her poets, including Donne and Drayton, were sometimes uneven; poets who dedicated their works to her could also complain of the loss of her favour.She was also receptive to women poets, such as her cousin Cecily Bulstrode. Bedford occasionally wrote poems herself, including a poem Donne claims he saw in the garden of her Twickenham estate. Only one of her poems is extant, "Death be not proud, thy hand gave not this blow", an epitaph on Bulstrode. This poem has been attributed to Donne, and suggestively shares an opening clause with his Holy Sonnet X; nevertheless, it is now considered much more likely to be Bedford's poem. The elegy has an image of Bulstrode's breast as a crystal palace and the repository of her soul, clearer than the crystal;

From out the Christall Pallace of her brest
The clearer soule was call'd to endlesse rest.

Bedford certainly wrote an elegy on the death of her cousin Bridget Markham at Twickenham Park in 1609.

While best remembered for her patronage of writers, Bedford also supported musicians, John Dowland being a noteworthy example. She is the dedicatee of Dowland's Second Book of Songs (1600).

A few scholars have identified the Earl and Countess of Bedford as the allegorised couple in Shakespeare's The Phoenix and the Turtle, who left "no posterity" (line 59) — yet since the poem was published in 1601, when the Countess was only twenty years old, the identification has struck others as unlikely.

She was a significant figure in the development of English country-house and garden design, centering on her estates at Twickenham Park and Moor Park. An Italian writer Giacomo Castelvetro dedicated a book on fruit and vegetables to her. She described her building and improvements at Moor Park in a letter to a friend; "my works att the More, whear I have been a patcher this sommer and I am still adding some trifles of pleasure to that place I am so much love with, as I were so fond of any man I were in hard case."

As one of the most influential women at James's court, she was also involved in a range of political issues; in the later part of the reign she was among the most prominent supporters of Elizabeth of Bohemia, who had been brought up in her father's household at Coombe Abbey.

Bedford took part in the Masque of Blackness on 6 January 1605 as "Aglaia" one of the three graces. The masque marked the creation of Prince Charles as Duke of York. Bedford probably arranged the marriage of her cousin Mary Sutton Dudley to the Scottish Earl of Home. Their wedding in July 1605 was held at Bedford House in the Strand, and was part of a move to Anglicize the Scottish aristocracy.

She was apparently absent from the queen's company for a part of 1605 and 1606, around the time Anne of Denmark had her last daughter Sophia, and had perhaps been sent away in disfavour. When Anne of Denmark asked her to come back, and Bedford danced for her, according to Dudley Carleton the queen laughed and said, "her brother of Denmark was as handsome a man as the duke of Holstein". The remark may mean that Bedford had been involved with the Duke of Holstein, the queen's younger brother who had recently been in England.

Her husband, the Earl of Bedford fell from his horse in July 1613 and was seriously injured. The Countess gave up a plan to travel to Spa, Belgium for her health. John Chamberlain wrote that she came back to the royal court, but affected by grief she used less cosmetics than the other women at court, "Marry, she is somewhat reformed in her attire, and forebears painting, which they say makes her somewhat strange among so many vizards, which together with their frizzled powdered hair makes them look all alike, so you can scant know one from another at first view."

In August 1616 she was with the court at Woodstock Palace, the only countess present, when George Villiers was created Viscount Buckingham. She visited Anne of Denmark at Nonsuch Palace in July 1617. InI617 she was godmother of Elizabeth Gordon, daughter of Sir Robert Gordon of Gordonstoun and Louisa Gordon whose mother Geneviève Petau de Maulette is said to have taught French to Elizabeth of Bohemia. The other godparents were the Earl of Hertford and Jean Drummond, Countess of Roxburghe.

Roxburghe was dismissed from the queen's court soon after this christening, and Bedford seems to have absented herself at this time in sympathy with her friend. She wrote to her friend Lady Cornwallis that Roxburghe's absence in Scotland "makes me perfectly hate the court".

Anne of Denmark had a nosebleed at Oatlands in September 1618 that confined her to bed and disrupted her travel plans. Bedford thought it had weakened her, and she appeared "dangerously ill". Bedford wrote to Lady Cornwallis that she would now be more often at court because of the queen's illness than she had intended.

Prominent as she was, both Bedford and her husband had serious financial problems throughout their lives. In 1618 she transferred her shares in the Bermuda Company to the Marquess of Hamilton. Lady Bedford reportedly had debts of £50,000 in 1619, apart from the Earl's massive indebtedness.

The court physician Théodore de Mayerne noted she had "podagra" or gout. In 1619 he treated her for the smallpox that blinded her in one eye, and in 1620 treated her for depression which he recorded as "hypochondriacus".

Lucy, Countess of Bedford died in the same month as her husband, May 1627. None of their children survived infancy.

Artist biography

George Perfect Harding (1781 – 23 December 1853) was an English portrait painter and copyist.

He was a son of Silvester Harding of Pall Mall, London. Adopting his father's profession, he practised miniature-painting, and exhibited at the Royal Academy at intervals between 1802 and 1840; but, like his father, he mainly devoted himself to making water-colour copies of historical portraits.

Harding visited family seats of the nobility, royal palaces, and college halls. He produced highly finished copy portraits. He was elected a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London in 1839, but withdrew in 1847. Towards the end of his life he had money troubles, and sold his collections of drawings.

Harding died at Hercules Buildings, Lambeth, where he had resided for more than thirty years, on 23 December 1853. He left a large family by a second wife. His portrait was engraved by J. Brown, from a miniature by himself, in 1826. A collection of his works went to the print room of the British Museum.

In 1822–3 Harding published a series of eighteen portraits of the Deans of Westminster, engraved by James Stow, R. Grave, and others, to illustrate John Preston Neale and Edward Wedlake Brayley's History of Westminster Abbey. This was followed in 1825 by Ancient Oil Paintings and Sepulchral Brasses in the Abbey Church of St. Peter, Westminster, with descriptions by Thomas Moule. Among other historical works to which he supplied the plates was John Heneage Jesse's Memoirs of the Court of England during the Reign of the Stuarts, 1840. He gave much time to the preparation of a manuscript account of the Princes of Wales, illustrated with portraits and heraldic devices.

Lady Elizabeth Percy, by Harding

In 1840 Harding took a leading part in establishing the Granger Society, the object of which was the publication of previously unengraved historical portraits; through lack of support the society came to an end, after publishing a few prints, early in 1843. Harding carried on the work on his own account, and during the next five years issued a series of fifteen plates, engraved by Joseph Brown and William Greatbach, with biographical notices by Moule. The copperplates of these afterwards passed into the hands of John Russell Smith of Soho Square, who reissued the work in 1869.