The true story of a sensational marriage and murder in 17th century London
Restoration England was a dangerous place for a girl like Lady Bette Percy, it was an era not so eloquently summed up as ‘a place where women were either pawns or whores’; and Lady Bette was a pawn indeed. At the age of 14, Lady Bette – a wealthy heiress to the Northumberland estates – was pushed into marriage by her ruthless grandmother, the Countess Howard. The man in question, Thomas Thynn was three times her age, and a fortune hunter in possession of an evil reputation. Pretty Lady Bette was repulsed by Mr. Thynn and she fled to Holland. Three weeks later, Mr. Thynn met his fate when he was gunned down by three assassins. But who was behind this contracted killing? Could it have been the dashing Swedish Count Coningsmark, in love with Lady Bette, and reputed to have golden hair down to his waist, or was it a political assassination – Thynn was, after all, a key player in the plot to overthrow the catholic James, Duke of York, as Charles II successor.
Pickford’s narrative conjures up scenes straight from a Gainsborough melodrama – murder, mystique and wealth set to the backdrop of the sleazy world of London’s taverns and brothels, to the grandeur of Syon and Petworth’s vast estates. The prose is vivid and atmospheric, where a trip to the gallows was the height of entertainment. As they say, truth is stranger than fiction.