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Power Brokers in the Making 24/4/77


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"Danby is on the cusp of impeachment, the French attempt to kill our King and convert England to Catholicism, English Catholics join with Jesuits, lords and ladies marry foreign spies, there is yet no royal heir to unite the kingdom and, despite their banishment to Chelsea, the libertines are cheapening the value of marriage and properness," came a voice hidden by the shadows of an early nightfall. Servants would need to be summoned to ignite a fire in the fireplace.


"I need a drink; a stiff one," came the reply of another wizened voice.




"Yes, but no sugar or honey."


"You must be upset truly."


The doors to the drawing room swung open as servants responded to the bell. Fresh logs were placed on the fire, and a blaze was rekindled as the tea was poured. It was not more than three minutes before the three servants departed.


"Worse, French fashions are pushing necklines lower and it is dreadfully hard to find a good seamstress these days," came a fresh lament.


The light of the fire now illuminated the two speakers -- Elizabeth Monck, Duchess of Ablemarle and Edith Habersham.


"I agree with you Mrs. Habersham," Elizabeth found herself nodding. Though still a young woman, Elizabeth was finding more comfort in the company of older proper ladies. Wisdom and guidance at court had all but evaporated as far as she was concerned. Without wizened hands to guide the next generation, ladies were left to emulate the young and merry -- never a wise move.


Edith was known as Lady Habersham, but mostly as respect for her age. She had married a commoner, which made her an outsider to many gatherings of ladies. Elizabeth was a Duchess and a stickler for protocol. She would not give the honorific of lady to any undeserving soul, notwithstanding the fact that she was growing to respect the wisdom and the daring of the elderly lady in her company.


"Something needs to be done your Grace," Edith pronounced as she sipped her tea. "If the men do not have the strength to right the mess that is brewing, it falls to the ladies of court."


Elizabeth could not agree more. Her own husband was part of the problem, watching the court decay and England be threatened. It was as if King Charles was the Emperor Nero and all his advisers were only too content to be influenced into doing nothing by the enemies of England -- foreigners, Catholics and libertines.


By God, I will do something. Looking up, the Duchess gazed upon a nearby painting. It was the work of a master, a vase with a single orchid. A spark ignited in her mind. A memory was recovered of a circle that had withered along with the rest of court. She knew what she must do. One step at a time Elizabeth. If one wanted something done right, one had to do it themselves.

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This time the circle was larger. The Duchess of Ablemarle, though young, was ready to take charge. She would start with the Duchesses in reviving the Orchid. In doing so, she would set precedent as it should be within the group. The French understood the value of precedence of rank and birth. The English were quick to forget it when convenient.


In the ornate parlor of Ablemarle House sat the Duchess of Ablemarle, the Duchess of Newcastle (Ablemarle's mother), the Duchess of Hamilton, the Duchess of Monmouth, and the very young Duchess of Somerset. Elizabeth had chosen to not invite the Duchess of Lauderdale because she was not an English Duchess, her husband being a Scottish Duke only. Though Anne Scott was a Scot, her husband was an English Duke and son of the King. The Duchess of Hamilton was older, and there was danger that she would try and take over the Society for herself. Elizabeth was only 23, Anne Scott was 26 and Lucy was 15. The Duchess of Norfolk, Jane Howard, was 32 and a Catholic. Though her husband had converted to Anglican, she had not. The Howards were also the rivals of the Cavendishes, so any excuse would be employed to exclude them.


There being much discussion over the reformation of the Orchid, Elizabeth found herself deferring to her mother Frances. It had been decided. The Society of Orchids would be re-established under the leadership of the Duchess of Newcastle. It would allow no foreigners, nor Catholics in their midst. No royal mistresses, regardless of title would be accepted (although both Cleveland and Portsmouth were Catholic anyway).


The purpose of the Society was patriotic -- to support the King and the Church of England from enemies at home and abroad. It would ensure the properness of its members so that the Society itself would not be ridiculed. It would operate with secrecy to achieve its objectives. It would protect the most powerful English lords from the sway of foreign wives and strumpets. It would seek out matches for the men and ladies of court that would advance the good of England.. It would flex the underutilized muscle of ladies in the area of politics.

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