7 October [1666]

The duchess of Ormonde – writing from Kilkenny – to her kinsman Colonel William Legge



Cousen                                                                        kilkeny the 7 of october


The same day that I sent a way my Leter of the 4 of this Month I fortuned to reseve one from you of the 16 of the Last, that Mentions the ressept of Mine by my Nephue Hambelton and that My Sone was gone unto Sir william Portmans from whense Corronell Pigott whoe Came Latlie over tells mee that hee went and was Entertanede twise at Sir John wards House, where thay spent ther time a dansinge and were very Merye but what hopes My Sone John has of the yonge Ladys favour I know not, for I never heard word from hime sense I saw you, but doe beleve well, if hee follow your advise and derections as I doe hope hee will, as to the Mache proposed for your Daghter My Last Leter will with othars that was then sent you, will Sufisentlie satisfie you that theris nothinge my unkell, and all his relations soe much desiers as the Mach may goe on, as will apiere by his owne Leter, to my lord in hopes wherof, hee has broke ofe that treatie that hee was upon when wee came to Bristoll, soe as I referr you to that accompt, which I asshure my selfe is with you or willbee befor this cane come unto your hands and remayne very asshuredlie


your Cousen and Sarvant



William Legge (1608 – 13 October 1670) was an English royalist army officer.  He served with distinction in the English Civil War under Prince Rupert of the Rhine. At the Restoration of the Monarchy, Charles II restored him as Groom of the Bedchamber and Master of the Armouries, and also appointed him Lieutenant-General of the Ordonance.

Portrait of William Legge (1609-1672) after Jacob Huysmans (1633-1696).
© National Portrait Gallery, London

James Butler, 3rd earl of Ormond purchased Kilkenny Castle from the Despenser family in 1391. The 12th century castle became the principal seat of the family for over nearly 600 years.

View of Kilkenny Castle by James Saunders (1775-1830)

Reproduced courtesy of the National Library of Ireland.

This letter shows the duchess’s role in overseeing the marriage negotiations of her children and indicates her responsibility for the women who marry her sons.


A series of letters to Colonel William Legge in 1666 focus on the ultimately doomed marriage negotiations between the duchess’s youngest son, Lord John, and the wealthy heiress Elizabeth Malet, who would later marry the famous poet, the earl of Rochester. The prospective marriage was well known in court circles as the diarist Samuel Pepys acknowledges:


But it was pleasant to see how every body rose up when my Lord John Butler, the Duke of Ormond’s son, come into the pit towards the end of the play, who was a servant to Mrs Mallet, and now smiled upon her, and she on him.


Legge was a distant kinsman who acted as a marriage broker for the family. The duchess evidently oversaw his work. This letter demonstrates her involvement in securing marriages for others in the family’s wider kinship network, including the daughters of Legge himself. In anticipating these marriage celebrations, the duchess mentions that the duke dabbled in poetry-writing himself. By labelling his poetry ‘ballads’ and teasingly referring to his previous efforts, she suggests that perhaps her husband’s talents lay elsewhere.

The letter also sheds light on Elizabeth’s relationship with her daughter-in-law. In 1664 her middle son, Richard, Earl of Arran, had married Mary Stuart, daughter of the duke of Richmond and niece of the duke of Buckingham. It was a hugely advantageous marriage for Arran and the Ormonde family. Mary was only 13 when she wed and so she lived with her husband’s family before setting up her own home.

Their daughter-in-law was much loved by Elizabeth and her husband. Mary died in the summer of 1668, only four years after her wedding, and her funeral was conducted with much ‘Grandeur and Magnificence’, according to a contemporary. Her body lay in state in Dublin and was then brought to Kilkenny for burial. With the duke and duchess attending to business at court, Mary’s sister-in-law, Amelia, Countess of Ossory, was chief mourner