Jane Bickerton

Jane Bickerton (Duchess of Norfolk)
Other names
Jane Howard; Jane Maxwell
Birth and death
1644 - 1693
Profession details
Related place
Alex Best and Anne Wright

Life Beyond Weybridge

Jane Bickerton was not born into wealth in 1644, coming as she did from a modest background as the daughter of Robert Bickerton, a Gentleman of the King's Wine Cellar and his wife Anne Hester of Oxfordshire; she was a rare example of social and economic mobility at a time when this was extremely unusual, especially for a woman. Jane became an actress but little seems to be known of her career. She was initially the mistress and then the second wife (1678) of Henry Howard, sixth Duke of Norfolk and bore him children before and after their marriage. In all they had four sons and three daughters. Jane became a widow on the Duke's death at Arundel House, the Strand, London on 13 January 1684. She subsequently married Col. Thomas Maxwell (d. 1693), who served as a Quartermaster -General in the army and was the youngest son of the Scottish Earl of Nithsdale. Jane had therefore made two 'good marriages'. She died at Rotheram, on 28 August 1693, while residing on estates inherited from her first husband and was buried, like him, at the Norfolk family home, Arundel, Sussex. The image of Jane, below, can be seen at the National Portrait Gallery in London. The pencil drawing was made by George Harding. Looking at drawings and portraits of Jane one can see that she wore expensive clothes, which would have been the height of fashion at the time, also her hair styles, which may look strange to us, would also have been the height of fashion and although her features may not be what is currently considered beautiful, at the time, having sleepy looking eyes, pale skin and very pink high cheeks would have been as desirable as being thin or having long legs is now.

Life in Elmbridge

The Victoria County History for Surrey, vol. 3, records that during the reign of Charles II (1660 - 1685) Henry Howard, 6th Duke of Norfolk, '... rebuilt a house at Weybridge near the confluence of the Wey and the River Thames which came to him from his second wife, Jane.....' Their marriage was announced in January 1678 to the consternation of the children of the Duke's first marriage to Lady Anne Somerset (1631 - 1662) and indeed to the diarist and gardener John Evelyn who dined with the Duke on 23 January 1678 and wrote in his diary, '...The Duke had now newly declared his marriage to his concubine, whom he had promised me he never would marry......' Evelyn thought that the Duke was a man of poor judgement who did not spend wisely as his record of a visit to Weybridge on 23 August 1678 shows, '....he has laid out in building near £10,000, on a copyhold, and in a miserable, barren, sandy place by the street side; never in my life had I seen such expense to so small purpose. The rooms are wainscoted, and some of them richly pargeted with cedar, yew, cypress, etc....'He did, however, admit generously to admiring a Holbein painting of a previous Duke of Norfolk, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk and Henry VIII!

After the Duke's death in 1684, Jane sold the house to Catherine Sedley, Countess of Dorchester, who was the mistress of James II (1685 - 1688) when he was Duke of York. She married David Colyear, 1st Earl of Portmore and the house remained the family seat of the Earls until the title died out in 1835. Shortly after this, it was pulled down but the grounds continued to be referred to as Portmore Park and now all that remains is a pair of Gate Piers at the end of Portmore Park Road which it is believed were designed by the architect William Talman (1650 - 1719) when he redesigned Portmore House for the first Earl. The location of the house which was once home to Jane Bickerton, daughter of a Gentleman of the King's Wine Cellar and wife if the 6th Duke of Norfolk is commemorated in Weybridge by place names such as Portmore Park Road and Portmore Quays.


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