Lady Anne Clifford


Lady Anne Clifford was a legend in her own lifetime, and she has remained so ever since. She was one of the greatest figures in the history of north-west England. She was married first to Richard Sackville, earl of Dorset, and later to Philip Herbert, earl of Pembroke, so she was twice a countess by marriage. But later generations have always referred to her as a Clifford, the name she was born with, rather than by one of her married titles, and this has given emphasis to her position as the last in the direct line of a great family whose lordship in Westmorland stretched back into the thirteenth century.


She was herself intensely aware of her dynamic standing. She had the history of her ancestors researched in depth and detail, and the findings were collected into the great ‘books of record’, which to this day constitute an essential source for the history of the Cliffords. She also gave visual expression to her pride in her ancestry on her own tomb in St Lawrence’s Church in Appleby, designed while she was still alive. It bears no image, just twenty-four shields, which set out her lineage in an impressive display of heraldry.


Lady Anne’s castles also reflect her Clifford forbears. Conscious of the antiquity of those great buildings, she was at pains to restore them in a style in keeping with what was there already. As a result, it is not always easy to tell exactly what changes she made. Her self-restraint is all the more striking in the light of her early life, before she retired to Westmorland. She was born in 1590 at Skipton Castle, and as a little girl she was said to have been much beloved’ by Queen Elizabeth. Her toe husbands were both courtiers, as her father had been, and she grew up and spent her early adulthood in and around the court. Since she was intelligent and well-informed, one might have expected her taste to have been influence by the work of painters Rubens and Van Dyck, and the architect Inigo Jones, but it was not. As soon as she was able to settle in the North she turned her back on the new-fangled metropolitan fashions, preferring those of earlier generations.


In this respect she showed the independence of mind which was typical of her character – a character which was also shaped by many years of frustration and disappointment. As the only surviving child of the third earl, Lady Anne might have expected to succeed him in the family estates when he died in 1605. But Earl George bequeathed them to his brother Francis and the Francis’s heirs, and all Ann’s efforts to have the will set aside came to nothing. In spite of the support of her mother, Countess Margaret, to whom she was devoted (her death at Brougham in 1616 was a heavy blow), Lady Anne was not able to secure her family’s lands and castles. It was Francis, not Anne, who received James I at Brougham in 1671. To add to her sorrows, neither of her marriages seems to have brought lasting happiness. Only the possibility that Francis’s son Henry would have no heir, in which case the Clifford inheritance would revert back to her, gave Anne hopes of what she regarded as her rightful inheritance.

Her hopes were fulfilled when Henry died in 1643, but thanks to the Civil Wars it was only six years later, by which she was nearly sixty,  that she was able to travel north, where she remained for the last twenty-seven years of her life. During the 1650s her energies largely devoted to restoring her estates and Castles. She was a staunch Royalist, but when it was suggested to Oliver Cromwell that he should stop her building, he is said to have replied, ‘Let her build what she will, she shall not be hindered by me’. Since she had no soldiers, Brougham, Brough and the other castles would in fact have been useless as fortresses. No doubt Cromwell understood this, and appreciated that what she really was doing was converting castles into country mansions, on a scale appropriate to her dignity. Indeed, she moved in stately succession from one castle to another, making each in turn the base from which she exercised her influence and authority, as befitted the last bearer of the Clifford name. The tenants whose rents she raised to pay for the alterations might not have regarded her with reverential eyes. To everyone else she was an almost majestic figure, raised by ancestry, wealth and office (she was hereditary sheriff of Westmorland) to a uniquely exalted position in regional society.


Lady Anne owned four castles in Westmorland – Appleby Castle , Brougham Castle, Brough Castle and Pendragon Castle. Appleby, set in the county town, was probably her chief seat, but she occupied them all, moving round them at intervals. On 14 October 1670, for instance, she came into residence at Brougham, and stayed there until 17 August the following year, when she left for Appleby until 17 November, when she moved to Pendragon, staying there until 19 April 1672, when she left for Brough. She stayed there until 15 August, when she departed for Appleby again. From reading Lady Anne’s accounts, we know that most of her household when with her, as did huge quantities of ‘household stuff’ – clothes, hangings and furnishings of all kinds. Forty fours carts and two wagons where needed to transport it all from Brougham to Appleby in June 1668. Members of the local gentry attended Lady Anne as she went, and her arrival in Appleby might have been greeted by the strains of the town musicians and the ringing of the church bells.


Lady Anne had her eccentricities, which doubtless grew upon her with age. For instance, she used to distribute not just portraits and medallions of herself, but also large door-locks with her initials carved on them. She would also hang pieces of paper in her bedchamber on which written sayings and phrases which had caught her attention. Her clothes were unusual enough to be mentioned in the sermon preached at her funeral, being diplomatically described as ‘not disliked by any, but imitated by none’. She might also have been a landlord, but all the same, there were many who were grateful for her continual presence in the North-west. A devout Christian, she restored churches as well as castles, and was generous in giving alms to travelling musicians and players, as well as to the poor and crippled at her gates. As far as possible, she patronised local craftsmen and shopkeepers and paid them in cash for their services and good. Generous to her servants (as long as they behaved themselves), she occasionally contributed to the marriage portions of her laundrymaides, and once helped one of her officers to buy himself an estate. Not surprisingly, many of her employees stayed in her service for years.


Lady Anne had been devoted to her mother, and she was herself an affectionate mother, grandmother and eventually great-grandmother. Her diaries record he pleasure she took in visits from members of her family, especially if she could send them off to inspect and admire one of her castles. After the battering these had received over the years, either through neglect or from involvement in the Civil Wars, she was entitled to be proud of the care she had lavished on bringing them back to life. Indeed, it might have cost her as much as £40,000. She set up inscriptions to mark her restorations, each one concluding with a reference to a passage of Isaiah, chosen to shoe herself:

“And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of the many generations; and thou shalt be called, the repairer of the breach, the restorer of paths to dwell in.”


Lady Anne Clifford died on the 22nd March 1676 at Brougham Castle, in the same room that her father was born.


Lady Anne Clifford’s Castles

Blogs and histories of the above Castles are at the links below.

Brougham castle

Appleby Castle

Brough Castle

Pendragon Castle

Heading Castles Blog


Heading photo taken from Wikipedia page – Portrait of Lady Anne Clifford by William Larkin
(National Portrait Gallery[1])

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