Studio of Sir Peter Lely (1618-80)
Margaret Hughes was one of the most celebrated actresses of the Restoration and the mistress of Prince Rupert...
This picture is a high-quality contemporary studio replica of an original portrait by Lely now held in the Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University, in the United States. The original is dated to 1672. The sitter of the present version, previously mis-identified as the Countess of Falmouth, is Margaret Hughes, one of the most celebrated actresses of the Restoration and the mistress of Prince Rupert.
Margaret Hughes played many lead roles prior to her courtship with Prince Rupert (1619-1682), Charles II’s cousin and the cavalry hero of numerous Civil War battles. She gave the first recorded performance by an actress in role of Desdemona in Othello, and her beauty was noted by Samuel Pepys, amongst others, who wrote in his diary that she was ‘a mighty pretty woman…’. By 1669 the solidity of her relationship with Rupert was confirmed by her decision to leave the stage and live with him in Hammersmith, where she gave birth to their daughter Ruperta, in 1673.
She returned to the stage in 1676 as a member of the Duke of York’s company based at the Dorset Garden Theatre and throughout that year played an astonishing eight roles including; Valeria in Aphra Behn's The Rover and Charmion in Sedley's version of Antony and Cleopatra. After the 1676–7 season, however, she retired from acting altogether in order to devote her attentions to her daughter, and to Rupert, whose health was in decline. In November of 1682 Rupert died, and provided handsomely for Margaret and her daughter, who were the chief beneficiaries of his will.