Elizabeth Bedingfeld, Mrs Thomas Wetenhall (1636-1689)
manner of Sir Peter Lely (Soest 1618 – London 1680)
Oil painting on canvas, Elizabeth Bedingfeld, Mrs Thomas Wetenhall (1636-1689) in the manner of Sir Peter Lely (Soest 1618 – London 1680). Painted oval. Half-length portrait, turned to the right, gazing at the spectator, wearing an ice-blue decollete dress, with a grey fichu caught with a pendant brooch and clip. Her bouffant sleeves are slashed and caught with a silver clasp. She wears a necklace of pearls and pendant pearl earrings. Her coiffure is dressed in a classic Restoration style. This portrait is placed within a painted, trompe-l'oeil oval frame. There is a coat of arms above, top centre. An inscription, bottom left, records 'La Blanche Weetenhall, daughter of Sir Henry Bedingfeld....' Daughter of Sir Henry Bedingfeld, 1st Baronet, she became Mrs Weetenhall upon her marriage to Thomas Weetenhall (1626 - 1704) of Hextall Court, Kent.
The best known account of the possible reasons, both for her virtue and for her failure to have children, is supplied by Anthony Hamilton, in his Mémoires de la vie du Comte de Gramont (1713; here cited in the translation by Peter Quennel, 1930, esp.pp.265-76, 304-9, & 369), who calls her "Madame Whittnell". Her husband Thomas Whetenhall, was a second son, and had been intended for the (Catholic) priesthood. The death of his brother caused him to inherit the family estates, but not to abandon his interest in theology, so that he "preferred to put his back into his studies, rather than into the duties of the married state". His wife, therefore, intrigued to escape "her turkeys and her cabbages at Peckham", by going first to London, then to Tunbridge Wells when the Court was there, in company with her cousin, Elizabeth Hamilton. There, the latter was courted by her future husband, the comte de Gramont, whilst her brother George paid court to Mrs. Whetenhall. That lady, however, "was what is rightly called an essentially English beauty; her colouring, that is to say, was a composite of lilies and roses, snow and milk; her arms and hands, her bosom and her feet, were so delicate that they might have been modelled out of wax; but all was quite soulless and quite uninspired. Her features were of the finest and most charming; but they were always the same features; one would have said that she took them out of a bandbox every morning, and put them away again every night when she went to bed, without having made any use of them in the meantime. How should it have been otherwise! Nature had made a doll of her ever since she was a child; and a doll, till the day of her death, remained the milk-white Wetenhall." George Hamilton was first puzzled, then exasperated, and finally bored, pursuing the more dangerous game of "la belle Stuart" instead. Elizabeth Whetenhall thus, reluctantly, preserved her virtue and her loveless marriage, to which, as well as to the porcelain perfection of her skin, her sobriquet of "la blanche Wetenhall" may well have alluded. A rather different picture of Thomas Whetenhall, however, for which we have to thank Margaret Lawrence (op. cit.), is provided by Richard Lassels’s ms. account, now in the British Library, of his pilgrimage to Rome with the first of Whetenhall’s three wives, Lady Catherine Talbot, second daughter of the banished Earl of Shrewsbury: ‘The Voyage of Lady Catherine Whetenhall, dedicated to his most noble friend, Thomas Whetenhall, Esqr.’, and by the wording of the three ledger slabs recording each of his wives in St. Michael’s, East Peckham. His first marriage, to Lady Catherine, in Louvain in 1649, is reputed by Lassels as one of love and shared interests, and her death in childbirth in Padua in 1650 as one that he commemorated by an extravagant tomb in the church of S. Tommaso di Cantorbery there, and by treasuring all her possessions. He appears to have brought her heart home to be buried in St. Michael’s, and it seems to have been when that was found in 1856 that the original ledger to his second wife, Elizabeth Whetenhall, whom he married in 1658, when she was only 16, was broken – and the present – from its lettering, evidently Victorian – copy substituted, faithfully copying the orthography of the original. The inscription includes the statement that she died: “having faithfully & exemplarily discharged the part of an affectionat wife, dutifull child, and sincere friend, & which comprehends all, of a good Christian...leaving with all for her untimely though as to her self most mature and happy end, a generall sadnesse, but with her husband so perticular a resentment as he could rather wish engrave his own then her monument.” His third and last marriage, and the only one to give him children (two sons and two daughters surviving her) was in 1666, to Anne Anglesye, daughter of Francis Saunders, of Shankton, Leics., and of Dame Catherine Jerningham, of Costessey, Norfolk. This lasted 23 years, until her death, aged 51, in 1689, and the ledger stone refers to him as “the thrice unfortunate Thomas.” None of all this suggests a man more devoted to his books than to his wives.
by descent from 1st Baronet; given to the National Trust by Sybil Lyne-Stephens, Lady Paston-Bedingfeld (1883 – 1985), 1961
Marks and inscriptions
La Blanche Weetenhall, daughter of Sir Henry Bedingfeld
Makers and roles
manner of Sir Peter Lely (Soest 1618 – London 1680), artist