Abigail Masham, Baroness Masham

Abigail Masham, Baroness Masham

Abigail Masham, Baroness Masham (née Hill) (c. 1670 – December 6, 1734) was a favourite of Queen Anne and a cousin of Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough.

Abigail Hill was the daughter of Francis Hill, a London merchant, her mother being an aunt of Sarah Jennings, later Duchess of Marlborough. The family was reduced to poor circumstances through her father's speculations, and Abigail was forced to work as a servant of Sir John Rivers of Kent. Lady Churchill (as the Duchess was then known), Lady of the Bedchamber to Princess Anne, befriended her cousin Abigail – possibly out of embarrassment that her cousin had fallen on such hard times rather than any genuine affection. Churchill took Abigail into her own household at St. Albans. After the accession of the Princess to the throne, she procured an appointment in the Queen's Household about the year 1704.

1704 was the year that the Queen became weary of the Duchess's frequent absences from the Court, and her political lectures – Sarah was a Whig and Anne was a Tory, and Sarah wanted Anne to appoint more Whig ministers, the majority of which were in favour of the Duke of Marlborough's wars. The Queen, not prepared to abandon the "Church Party" (as the Tories were commonly known, and religion being Anne's chief concern) even for her favourite, confided to her Lord Treasurer, the Earl of Godolphin, that she did not feel that she and Sarah could ever be true friends again. It was not long before Abigail Hill began to supplant her powerful and imperious kinswoman in the favour of Queen Anne. Whether she was guilty of the deliberate ingratitude charged against her by the Duchess of Marlborough is uncertain. It is not unlikely that Abigail's influence over the Queen was not so much due to subtle scheming on her part as to the pleasing contrast between her gentle and genial character and the stronger temper of the Duchess, which after many years of undisputed sway had finally become intolerable to Anne.

The first intimation of her protégé's growing favour with the Queen came to the Duchess in the summer of 1707, when she learned that Abigail Hill had been privately married to a gentleman of the Queen's Household named Samuel Masham, and that the Queen herself had been present at the marriage. Churchill then found that Abigail had, for some time, enjoyed considerable intimacy with her Royal mistress, no hint of which had previously reached the Duchess. Abigail was a cousin of Robert Harley, Earl of Oxford, and after Oxford's dismissal from office in February 1708, she assisted him in maintaining confidential relations with the Queen. The completeness of her ascendancy was seen in 1710 when the Queen compelled Marlborough, much against his will, to give an important command to Colonel John Hill, Abigail's brother. Sunderland, Godolphin, and the other Whig ministers were soon dismissed from office, largely owing to her influence, to make way for Oxford and Bolingbroke.

In the following year, the Duchess of Marlborough was also dismissed from her appointment at Court, Mrs. Masham taking her place as Keeper of the Privy Purse. In 1711, the ministers, intent on bringing about the disgrace of Marlborough and arranging the Peace of Utrecht, found it necessary to secure their position in the House of Lords by creating twelve new peers; one of these was Samuel Masham, Abigail's husband, though Anne showed some reluctance to raise her bedchamber woman to a position in which she might show herself less ready to give her personal services to the Queen. Lady Masham soon quarrelled with Oxford, and set herself to foster by all the means in her power the Queen's growing personal distaste for her minister. Oxford's vacillation between the Jacobites and the adherents of the Hanoverian succession to the Crown probably strengthened the opposition of Lady Masham, who now warmly favoured the Jacobite party led by Bolingbroke and Francis Atterbury. Altercations took place in the Queen's presence between Lady Masham and the minister; and finally, on July 27, 1714, Anne dismissed Oxford from his office of lord high treasurer, and three days later gave the staff to the Duke of Shrewsbury. Anne died on August 1, and Lady Masham then retired into private life. She died on December 6, 1734.

Preceded by
The Duchess of Marlborough
Keeper of the Privy Purse to Queen Anne
Succeeded by

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