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Catherine Sedley was a prominent figure at the Restoration court; the only legitimate child of the poet Sir Charles Sedley, she was known for her wit and sarcastic tongue. In 1678 she became a Maid of Honour to Mary of Modena, second wife of James, Duke of York, later James II. Her position within the York household led to an affair between James and Catherine and she subsequently became an official royal mistress. Catherine, with her dark hair and slender figure, was considered plain by the standards of Restoration beauty, which favoured fair hair and a fuller form. She was therefore surprised by the Duke of York’s passion for her, reportedly quipping ‘it cannot be my beauty for he must see I have none; and it cannot be my wit, for he has not enough to know that I have any’. Following his accession to the throne, James made Catherine Countess of Dorchester for life, an elevation which aroused much indignation and after the Glorious Revolution, she was exiled from court.
Catherine Sedley (1657–1717), Later Countess of Dorchester
oil on canvas
H 127 x W 102.4 cm
gift from Mrs Greville Howard, 1974
'G.Kneller f. 1684' and 'an[?]'