Alethea TALBOT

(C. Arundel)

Born: 1586

Died: 24 May / 3 Jun 1654, Amsterdam

Buried: Rotherham, York, England

Father: Gilbert TALBOT (7° E. Shrewsbury)

Mother: Mary CAVENDISH (C. Shrewsbury)

Married: Thomas HOWARD (2º E. Arundel) ABT 24 Sep 1606 


1. James HOWARD (B. Maltravers) (d. 1624)

2. Henry Frederick HOWARD (3º E. Arundel)

3. William HOWARD (1º V. Stafford)

Talbot,Alathea(CArundel)01.jpg (133808 bytes)

Alethea Talbot, Countess of Arundel

by Daniel Mytens

Daughter of Gilbert Talbot, 7th earl of Shrewsbury, and Mary Cavendish, and was thus a granddaughter of Bess of Hardwick. She had two sisters, both of whom also married into the nobility: Mary, Countess of Pembroke, and Elizabeth, Countess of Kent.

Coheir and eventual heir of a vast estate in Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, and Yorkshire. Adm (Court of Delegates) 1659 to her son William Howard Viscount and Adm 8 Jan 1714/5 to grandson Henry Stafford-Howard Earl of Stafford Howard; inherited the Baronies of Furnival, Strange of Blackmere and Talbot 7 Dec 1651.

She was interested in science and had some of her own works published. Her husband Thomas Howard, second Earl of Arundel, was an art collector. They lived all over Europe and after a stint in Venice, Alethea brought a gondola back with her to use on the Thames. During the Civil War both Alethea and her husband remained on the continent, but they were not together and were also separated from their children.

Along with her sister Elizabeth and cousin Arabella Stuart, she performed in The Masque of Queens, written to Royal order by Ben Jonson, with costumes by Inigo Jones. The masque was originally planned to celebrate Christmas 1608 and was eventually performed at court on 2 Feb 1609. On 5 Jun 1610 she danced as the "Nymph of Arun" in the masque Tethys' Festival. In 1612 the English diplomat in the Netherlands, William Trumbull sent trees for her house in Highgate, shipped from Vlissingen.

Lady Arundel wished to join her husband abroad, but was dissuaded from doing so. Alethea and her husband accompanied the Elector Palatine Frederick V and his bride Princess Elizabeth Stuart to Heidelberg on their marriage in 1613.

Lady Arundel used her own money to buy back Arundel House and financed their trip to Italy in 1613–1614, travelling with Inigo Jones. The Earl of Arundel was one of the first Englishmen to buy antique statues. She met him in Siena. Then they travelled to Rome, Naples, Padua, Genoa, Turin, and Paris. They reached England in Nov 1614. Alethea's father died in 1616; she inherited a third of the estate and her husband's serious collecting started.

On 30 Aug 1618 Anne of Denmark provided a grand reception for the Venetian ambassador Piero Contarini at Oatlands Palace. Arundel sat next to the ambassador and talked of her time in Venice. At the end of the dinner there were sweetmeats, then they stood and toasted Elizabeth, Electress Palatine and Frederick V.

Around 1619 Lord Arundel sent his two elder sons to Padua. In 1620 Rubens painted Alethea Talbot, and her retinue, jester, dwarf and dog in Antwerp when she was on her way to Italy. (The male figure, called lord Arundel, was added many years later by an unknown hand.) He wished to visit his sons, but decided that Lady Arundel should go alone. Lady Arundel was accompanied by Francesco Vercellini. She stayed in Spa and engaged apartments. Lady Arundel moved to Milan and Padua.

In 1622 she lived in Venice in the Palazzo Mocenigo facing the Canal Grande, and also in a villa at Dolo. Antonio Priuli's election to office as Doge of Venice began a brutal process of ferreting out individuals suspected of plotting against Venice. Hundreds were arrested, with or without cause, with attention specially focused on foreign soldiers and sailors. The manhunt led to the arrest of many actual plotters, but also of many innocent victims, such as Antonio Foscarini, a patrician and Venetian Ambassador to England (1611–15), who was executed on 21 Apr 1621, after attending an event at the English Embassy.

The hysteria ended in 1622, and on 16 Jan 1623 the Venetian government issued an apology for Foscarini's execution, thus marking a scaling back of the manhunt. Sir Henry Wotton warned her to leave Venice. She declined the advice and went straight to Venice. Insisting on appearing next day, with Wotton, before Doge Priuli and the Senate she was completely justified. Lady Arundel left Venice with letters from Priuli ordering every favour to be shown to her on her journey through Venetian territory. She spent the winter in Turin together with her two sons. She met with Anthony van Dyck, the painter. Together they went to Mantua.

In 1623 she attempted to go to Spain to woo the Infanta, sister of Felipe IV of Spain. She started for England, intending to visit the Queen of Bohemia at the Hague on the way. In 1624 her eldest son James died of smallpox in Ghent. In 1626 her husband was put in the Tower of London by Charles because their elder son Henry, Lord Maltravers had secretly married Elisabeth Stuart, daughter of Esme Stuart, 1st Duke of Lennox, a kinswoman of Charles, without permission. Joachim von Sandrart gave his opinion on the collection and copied the works by Holbein. The King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria visited Arundel House to see the collections. Birth of another grandson to Lord Arundel.

The King refused to allow Lady Arundel to accompany her husband on a special embassy to Holland, to invite Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia, the Winter Queen, his sister, to England.

In 1633 Lady Arundel purchased a small villa, known as Tart Hall, located just south of Buckingham Palace. Her second son, Lord Maltravers, was elected member of the Dublin Parliament of 1634. Arundel and his son paid a visit to Lord Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford in Dublin.

In 1636 Lady Arundel met her husband on the Thames, after his visit to the Holy Roman Emperor. She is involved in a Catholic intrigue. Arundel acquired the cabinet of the Dutch merchant Daniel Nijs.

In 1638 debts threatened ruin the estate, her husband started the Madagascar plan. Arundel House contained thirty seven statues, 128 busts and 250 inscriptions. Artemisia Gentileschi may have worked for Aletheia. A portrait by Van Dyck of Lord Arundel and his wife was made. Thomas and Alethea were appointed to escort Maria de' Medici, the Queen-Mother, from England to Cologne.

In 1641, on the eve of the English Civil War, she and her husband, their son, Viscount Stafford, and his wife fled to the Netherlands. She commissioned an inventory of the contents of Tart Hall, her home on the margins of St James's, which included a chamber known as the Dutch Pranketing Room. Lady Arundel was not prepared to wait for Maria de' Medici and with characteristic decisiveness set off for the Continent on her own, the reason being, so it was said, that she had a 'mania' for travel. Alethea went straight to Utrecht and met there with her husband. When he accompanied Maria de' Medici to Cologne, Alethea tried to persuade Urban VIII to allow her to enter a Carthusian monastery. In 1642 her husband accompanied the Queen and Princess Mary for her marriage to William II of Orange and left straight for Padua.

She lived in Antwerp, but moved to Alkmaar, after her husband died. She invited Franciscus Junius, for thirty years in their service, to rearrange the collection of books. Then she moved to Amersfoort (1649), and rented a pied-a-terre in Amsterdam at Singel 292, an elegant house, with a courtyard facing Herengracht.

Lady Alethea Talbot, Countess of Arundel

by Peter Paul Rubens 1620

Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya - Barcelona, Spain

Portrait of Sir Dudley Carleton, with Alethea Howard, Countess of Arundel

by Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1620.

Thomas Howard, 2nd Earl of Arundel, and his wife Lady Alethea Talbot, Countess of Arundel, with Francis Junius (1589–1677), or William Petty (1623–1687)

Three-quarter-length portraits of the Earl and Countess, the Countess seated left, the Earl in the centre wearing garter robes, pointing to Madagascar on a large terrestrial globe; in the background the librarian, Junius, his hand resting on a marble head/scull (?), beside the globe is a piece of paper on which is engraved a dog, a horse and a lion, the heraldic animals of the sitters, lying together in amity. The original (without the standing figures) is at Arundel Castle.

(after) Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641)

National Trust, Knole


When the Earl of Arundel died, Alethea inherited the collection of 600 paintings and drawings including works by Dürer, Holbein, Brueghel, Lucas van Leyden, Rembrandt, Rubens, Van Dyck, Raffaello da Urbino and Titian. There were 181 works with no attribution; 200 statues and 5,000 drawings, which he had bought with her money. His debts (or the collection) were estimated £100.000. She inherited Arundel Castle and Arundel House. Her eldest son argued three years in court against his father's will.

In 1651, she succeeded to the title of Baroness Furnivall, a title of her father's that had been in abeyance since his death. In 1652 her favourite son William was arrested in the Kurpfalz, Henry Frederick died. In 1653 William arrived in Amsterdam. On 3 Jun 1654 Alethea died in Amsterdam without leaving a will and a compiled and far from clear inventory was made. The inventory consisted of 36 paintings by Titian, 16 by Giorgione, 19 by Tintoretto, 11 by Correggio, 17 by Veronese 12 by Rafaello and five by Da Vinci.

Two grandchildren claimed half of the inheritance and sent Sir Edward Walker to the Netherlands. In 1655 Stafford was arrested in Utrecht, but released within a few weeks. Henry Howard, 6th Duke of Norfolk and his brother Charles were keen on getting the paintings and went in Utrecht to court in 1658 and 1661. Later on Henry inherited Arundel House, and Tart Hall (on Stafford Row) went to their uncle William.

Like her sister, Elizabeth, Alethea was interested in the use of herbs and other foodstuffs for medical purposes. Her recipes were published under the title "Natura Exenterata". Alethea's father Gilbert Talbot, 7th Earl of Shrewsbury, was a noted patron of early science, and Alethea herself was the author of one of the earliest printed books of technical and scientific material in England to be attributed to a woman – making her one of England’s first published female scientists.

She would have been devisor with her husband of their buildings, and was involved in site management at their Highgate house, Arundel House on the Strand, their lodge in Greenwich Park, and especially later in 1630s during the development of her own Tart Hall in St James's Park. Tart Hall was built with the advice of the Catholic priest George Gage and the master mason Nicholas Stone.

Tart Hall, long demolished, is believed to have had some resemblance to the villas of the Veneto that the countess had seen. An inventory details the furnishings, including her bed chamber which was decorated with fabrics from India, a parlour with Indian furniture, and a room for the display of porcelain and other collections, called in Dutch fashion, a "Pranketing Room".

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