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Lady Essex (Rich) Finch, later Countess of Nottingham

British, 1652 - 1684

Lady Essex Rich was born around 1652, the youngest of three daughters of Robert Rich (1611-1659), 3rd Earl of Warwick, and his second wife (and cousin), Anne Cheeke Rogers, widow of Richard Rogers of Bryanston, Dorset. Lady Essex's half-brother, Robert Rich (1634-1658), was Oliver Cromwell's son-in-law. Her mother died within a few years of her birth, and her father made a death-bed request that she and her sisters be raised by Mary Rich (1625-1678), wife of his brother and heir, Charles Rich, 4th Earl of Warwick. Essex and her sisters were raised in a troubled domestic atmosphere, marred by the violent rages of their uncle, who suffered painfully from gout, and the morose, penitential brooding of their aunt, a religious convert who punished herself severely for the frivolous youth she spent among the Killigrew family. Co-heirs to their father's fortune, Lady Essex and her sisters inherited additional lands and money on their uncle's death in 1673. Vast wealth made them attractive marriage prospects. On July 27, 1668, several months after proposing a match between their son and Lady Essex's elder sister, Lord and Lady Berkeley made the same offer for fifteen-year-old Essex. Her aunt deemed the Berkeleys' son unsuitable, presumably because he lacked the piety she required of her nieces' suitors. On October 24, 1673, Lady Essex herself belatedly vetoed a match with Thomas Vane which her aunt had begun to arrange in March. Her "disinclination to change her condition" persisted on December 17, when another match was proposed with Daniel Finch (1647-1743), eldest son of Sir Heneage Finch (1622-82), Lord Keeper of the Great Seal and later 1st Earl of Nottingham. Nicknamed Don Dismallo for his dour manner and swarthy complexion, Finch was nevertheless a man of stellar character and won Lady Warwick's approbation. Several months later, Essex gave her consent and they were married on June 16, 1674, at Leighs Priory, near Felsted, Essex. The couple resided with the groom's parents in Kensington (now Kensington Palace). Tender letters from her husband and father-in-law reveal that Lady Essex (who suffered from delicate health) was the object of affectionate concern. Her husband served as Secretary of the Navy from 1679 to 1684, and by his father's death on December 18, 1782, he became 2nd Earl of Nottingham. The Countess gave birth to eight children, and adopted the unusual practice of nursing them herself. All but one (a daughter, Mary) died in infancy or childhood. Essex, Countess of Nottingham, died from complications of childbirth on March 23, 1684, and was buried in the Finch family vault at Ravenstone, near Newport Pagnell, Buckinghamshire. Nine months later, on December 29, 1685, her husband married eighteen-year-old Anne Hatton (1667-1743), third daughter of Christopher, 1st Viscount Hatton of Gretton. A notable poet, she bore approximately thirty children in forty-four years of marriage.