Extract from: Costume Historian Blogspot / Pat Poppy

Everyone is aware of the modern idea of the super-rich woman being someone who thinks nothing of spending on a handbag, what for most people is a year’s income. As part of my researches for The Stuart Tailor I have been looking at the General Account Book of Rachel, Countess of Bath, for 1639-54, and she counts as mid seventeenth century super-rich, hubby is Charles I’s Lord Privy Seal. She was also one of the last people to have her portrait painted by Van Dyck, he returned to England in May of 1641, and was already ill. In her June 1641 accounts are two payments, “to Sir Anthony Vandick in part for my picture £10” and “to Sir Anthony Vandick for my picture £10, for the frame £4, to his man £1.” Van Dyck died in November 1641. The whereabouts of this painting are unknown, meaning that it is probably in a private collection somewhere. [There is] a 1870s photograph of the painting.

In some respects it is difficult to compare what Rachel is spending with the income of an ordinary woman of the time. A 1645 list of the servants at the Baths’ Tawstock estate shows three female servants being paid £2 a year. Women who were employed on an annual basis by the gentry Le Strange family of Hunstanton received between £1 10s and £2 a year, while the two female servants listed in the 1642 memorandum book of yeoman farmer Henry Best were paid £1 4s and £1 8s. However as has been pointed out servants were provided with board, lodging and clothing in addition to this money. Day labourers also received food and drink as part of their remuneration and there was a statutory equivalent of the “minimum wage”. In Suffolk in 1630, for female reapers and binders of corn, this was 4d a day.

Apart from jewellery, which is discussed at the end, furs are among her most expensive purchases. In 1650 she pays for “a rich sable muff” £22, while in 1640 she had purchased “a sable for my neck” for £8 10s 0s.

She buys a large number of hoods ranging in price from 3s for a black hood in 1639, to 12s in 1640 for a tiffany hood laced. In 1644 she buys three hoods for a total of 13s, of love, described by the OED as a thin crape or gauze material, of ducape, described by the OED as a plain-wove stout silk fabric of softer texture than Gros de Naples, and of sarcenet, which is a fine, soft silk fabric.

In 1643 Rachel purchases “a pair of [shoe] roses and 3 yards of pink coloured ribbon for your Ladyship bought at Mr Gumbletons 5s” The ribbon is probably for gartering, in 1644 she buys “gartering ribbons 7s”, and in 1650 “3 yards of blue gartering for my Lady 5s.” The shoes on the other hand are a lot less expensive, in 1644 “for a pair of shoes for your Ladyship 3s 6d”, even decorated shoes as in 1646 “for a pair of laced shoes for your Ladyship 4s” and in 1646 her slippers were 2s 6d.

Rachel’s [stockings] are usually of silk at around £1 2s to £1 5s a pair. In 1639 we have “for 3 pair silk stockings £3 15s” and in 1649 “2 pair of silk stockings 46s,” there are other stockings listed.

Rachel buys lots [of gloves], “paid my glover 6th May 1641 £4 10 0,” and a 1646 bill has “paid for 12 pair of white and 11 pair of brown gloves Mrs Everatt 19s.”

She buys fans. In 1647 she buys one for 2s and another for 3s. She also buys them with other things, for example “for gloves & a fan £1 0s 6d,” and in 1647 in a small spending spree, “for a fair laced scarf and hood & 2 pair of pearl pendants & a screen fan £3.” The assumption is that a screen fan is a solid fan, as opposed to a folding fan.

For her neckwear she has gorgets, these are deep, usually circular, cape like collars. In 1640 she pays “for a tiffany gorget 10s, in 1641 for making 2 gorgets & tiffany to one of them Miss Antony £1“. Tiffany is a kind of thin transparent silk. Her neckwear wasn’t always of silk, in 1649 we have “for 2 handkerchiefs, cuffs and a gorget of plain Holland £2”

Rachel also purchases a sweet bag in 1640 for the sum of £6 10s. Sweet bags are small purses often given as gifts, and sometimes containing a scented “sweet powder,” enabling them to be put with clothing in the same way as lavender bags are used today. Shortly after buying her sweet bag she spends £1 6s 8d on “silver and gold lace for my best sweet bag.” The Victoria and Albert Museum has an excellent collection of examples from the first half of the 17th century. Jacqui Carey has written a book on the whole subject of sweet bags.

Finally we have Rachel’s jewellery. Her largest expense is in 1652 for “for one fair diamond £40,” but she buys a fair number of small, cheaper items. Some of these items must have been similar to what was found in the Cheapside Hoard. She buys pendants together with a mask for 10s in 1640, and in 1642 she spends 14s on “a cornelian ring & crystal pendants.” The Cheapside Hoard contains several pendants, for example in amethyst and emerald, plus a much cruder crystal pendant. Two pair of pearl pendants where mentioned above in her 1647 shopping spree, and there is a pearl and wirework pendant in the Cheapside Hoard. In 1649 she spends £2 5s for “3 great pearls.” In 1652 she buys “two lockets £4 1s 6d”, and one can speculate as to whether the lockets might have been of the type circulating among royalist supporters after Charles’s death. The final entry for jewellery actually mentions her jeweller, and goes into some detail as to what he is making for her, “£30 to Mr Grumbleton for 4 diamonds and making two pair of lockets the one 18 diamonds and the other 25 and 17 & a little ring 5s with 5 diamonds.”

Rachel often mentions where she purchases her items, the Exchange and Paternoster Row in London are mentioned. However looking at some of her purchases, if you didn’t know, you wouldn’t realise, that most of the time there is a civil war going on.

Copyright: Pat Poppy 2016


Countess Rachel (nee Fane) of Bath is commemorated by a life-sized marble statue near the altar of St Peter’s Church in Tawstock, Devon, which was a gift of the diocese of Bath and Wells. The work is attributed to the sculptor Balthazar Burman, the original commission having been given to his father Thomas who died before it could be executed. Balthazar then copied a statue of the Countess of Shrewsbury which his father had completed before his death and which now stands in a niche above the gateway of Shrewsbury Tower of St John’s College, Cambridge.

The Latin inscription at the base of the memorial reads thus in translation:

A Countess really worthy of Henry, who had scarce an equal, either in spirit or virtue. In domestic, civil and religious affairs, she had a genius exceeding that of a man, and such a motherly disposition that scarce a greater existed in the world. She was a humble and devoted daughter of the Church of England, and in times of persecution a mother to distressed pastors, and in these parts, almost their only protrectress. This alone was worthy of our tears, that in her the noble name of Bourchier would have been extinct, if she had not been endowed with virtues sufficient to render it immortal. And though she was childless, yet she was parent to more than a thousand children, who in a very genteel manner she brought up, gave them portions, consecrated and even ennobled. She still lives, and never will die, while any spark of gratitude remains in this country.


Benefactions to the Parish & poor of Tawstock:
The right Hon’bl Rachel Countess Dowager of Bath hath laid out in land to the Benefit of the poor of this Parish for ever 1677 ----- 152=0=0
Shee hath also gave the parish a rich embroidered crimson velvet pulpit cloath and cushion and yearly bound out several poor children apprentices and done many other excellant acts of Charity curious memoria macterna benedictione, gave more by the same right Hon’bl Lady by her last will and Testament fifty pounds to the Poor of this parish for ever


Here under Lieth the Remains of Sara the Wife of Richard Pollard Gent: Educated in the French, and English Courts, And thought Worthy to attend the Right Hon: the Countisse of Westmoreland, And by her, Recommended to wait on her most dear Daughter Lady Rachel Countisse of Bathe. This Sara Was Daughter to Monsr: Voysin a Syndique of Gineva, Who most Honorably lost his Life in defence of that free City, Her Grandfather was the learned Henricus Stephanus, And Isaac Caursabon was her Uncle.
She died 30th Jan:


That few and evill are the dayes of fraile mortale man the living may heere read in this inscription dedicated to the memory of George Fane borne the 8th day of March Ao: Dni: 1668 : He dyed the 11th day in the same month He was eldest sonne to Sr: Henry Fane of Baiseldon in the Countie Of Barks Knight of the Noble Order of ye Bath and of Elizabeth his wife daughter and Heire of ye famili of the Southcotts of Caverly in this Countie This remembrance of him is erected by Rachell Countese Dowager of Bath annt unto the aforesd Sr Henry his father and great annt unto him the said George