On April 24, 1623, Lucy Harrington, Countess of Bedford, wrote to Sir Dudley Carleton, the English Ambassador to the Low Countries, that she had transmitted his letters to the Duke of Lennox, the king’s longtime Scottish friend and member of the Privy Chamber, and the Earl of Pembroke, the Lord Chamberlain, who was with the countess when Carleton’s despatches arrived. She then turned to the burning question of the moment: who would receive the provostship of Eton, a position which Carleton very much coveted.
Since Mr Thomas Murray’s death nobody believes Sir William Becher shall enjoy the fruits of his hope of Eton; for which though there are too many worthier pretenders, yet by our skillfulest courtiers, it is supposeth Freeman that is one of the Masters of Requests, and an ally of my Lord Admiral’s, [George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham] is like to carry it, claiming a former promise of his. I dare neither advise you to persist nor desist…as I can make no judgment of any thing, all wonted grounds failing and I assure your Lordship even those that are nearer the well head, know not with what bucket to draw for themselves, or their friends. 1
Court brokers and patrons, “even those near the well head,” wondered how to tap the fountain of favor for themselves and their clients. With this pungent phrase the countess captured the fluidity and fragility of court patronage connections even at the time of dominance of the great Stuart favorite, the Duke of Buckingham. Furthermore, her letter suggests several important themes that this chapter will take up: first, the character of patrons, favorites and factions, second, the search by the client for a patron; third, the mobilization of patron-client relationships in the quest for a single post, and finally, the usually veiled role of women as patrons, clients and