During the early days of the English Civil Wars, Elizabeth Murray lived at Ham House on the River Thames near Richmond with her mother and three younger sisters while her father, William Murray, was a Gentleman of the Bedchamber at the exiled court of Charles I in Oxford.
In the winter of 1643 as the war edged closer, Catherine Murray took her daughters to Oxford, where they lived amongst impoverished and dispossessed Royalists gathered round King Charles, who plotted to regain London and his throne.
Reputed to be Oliver Cromwell’s mistress as well as a spy for the Royalist secret organisation The Sealed Knot, Elizabeth married twice and died in 1698 at 72 years old, alone, embittered and impoverished in her beloved Ham House. Vilified by society and abandoned by her children, the triumphs of her remarkable life largely forgotten.
If you visit Ham House, which has been restored to the way it looked during Elizabeth’s lifetime, this is the woman the guides talk about; an irascible, embittered widow stripped of her glory and reduced to genteel poverty in her beloved childhood home. They run ghost evenings at Ham, where tales of sightings of the old lady’s spirit that roams the mansion tapping the floors with her stick, her small dog at her side while the scent of attar of roses permeates her favourite rooms announcing her presence.
In the gallery is this portrait of Elizabeth, painted by Sir Peter Lely when she was eighteen. This was the young woman I wanted to discover and subsequently began writing about - the beautiful, intelligent and passionate young girl on the verge of womanhood who was dedicated to Ham House, the Royalist cause and the men in her life; her father William Murray, son of a minister who rose to become King Charles’ friend and confidant, Lionel Tollemache, her husband of twenty years who adored her, Oliver Cromwell who was fascinated by her, and John Maitland, Duke of Lauderdale, Charles II’s favourite on whom he heaped honours and riches, only to ostracise him after a bitter quarrel.
Royalist Rebel is the story of that girl.
Release date January 17 2013
Royalist Rebel Blog- http://www.royalistrebel.blogspot.com
Ham House Website http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ham-house/