Abigail Hill, to become Abigail Masham, as portrayed by Emma Stone in "The Favourite". In the background is Otes Hall, the real Abigail's future home.

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The Favourite - the film's true connections to Epping Forest

The film, The Favourite, has received critical acclaim and box office success. It tells a fascinating story revolving around the lives of three women – Queen Anne, her friend Sarah Churchill and Abigail Hill, a cousin of Sarah’s who becomes a servant to the Queen and develops a close friendship.

Whilst a lot of the film is historically correct, much is invented or left out (the presence of the King for example). However the main characters did exist and two of them, Abigail Hill and Samuel Masham have connections to High Laver in the Epping Forest District, home to the Masham’s estate which Samuel inherited as 1st Baron Masham. Abigail, Baroness Masham, lived till 1734 and is buried in All Saints Church, High Laver.

The true story of Samuel Masham of High Laver

The first Baronet of High Laver was Sir William Masham who was born in London in around 1592 and became Baronet in December 1621. He was MP for Maldon and then Colchester serving in both the short and long parliaments during the Civil War. He was re-elected as MP for Essex in the First Protectorate Parliament. The Baronetcy passed to his son, also William who died in 1663 when the Baronetcy passed to Samuel Masham’s father, Francis Masham.

Samuel was born around 1678, the eighth son of Sir Francis Masham, 3rd Baronet and Mary Scott in Otes Manor house. His mother died and his father married Damaris Cudworth who was a very close friend of the celebrated philosopher John Locke who was given residence at Otes from 1691 until his death in 1704

Samuel was introduced to service in the Royal Household when he became Page of Honour to Princess Anne in 1692. By 1702 he had become an Equerry and in 1706 became Groom of the Bedchamber to Prince George of Denmark, husband to the now Queen Anne. Unlike the portrayal in the film, Prince George and Queen Anne were very close and shared a royal bed, so as a close servant to Prince George, Samuel would have worked alongside his counterpart, the Queen’s Lady of the Bedchamber, Abigail. Samuel was also an officer in the Coldstream Guards and would have been acquainted with fellow officer Jack Hill, Abigail’s brother. During 1705-6 Samuel, now a Colonel in the Coldstream Guards, travelled to Lisbon and Altea on military business, so was equally active in the military as he was in the Royal Household.

In 1707 Samuel and Abigail were married in apartments belonging to Dr Arbuthnot. The marriage was attended by the Queen herself who also gave Abigail a £2,000 dowry. The whole thing was kept very quiet, especially from Abigail’s cousin and patroness Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, reinforcing the rise in the friendship between the Queen and Abigail and the fall from grace of Sarah, the Queen’s former favourite. In 1710 Abigail tried to use her influence with the Queen to gain further promotion to the rank of General for both her husband and her brother. John Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough, was outraged at this interference in army matters with the proposal to make such promotions over the heads of more experienced officers. His wife, Sarah Churchill was equally outraged that her influence over the Queen was lost to her rival. The Duke requested that the Queen’s favourite, Abigail, be removed from court and suggested that he had the backing of the House of Commons. However the Queen went ahead with the promotion for Samuel, although not for Abigail’s brother, as part of a compromise solution. (Jack Hill also had a reputation for a degree of military incompetency).

In 1710 the Whig party lost power and a new election also saw Samuel Masham chosen as MP for Ilchester begining his political career. Although not listed as a Tory MP, he gave his support to the new Tory administration. It is highly probable that Abigail was a strong influence in her husband’s entry into politics. She was second cousin to the Tory Robert Harley, Earl of Oxford, and her Tory views (shared by the Queen) were one of the things that had put her at odds with her Whiggish cousin Sarah.

1711 was an important year for Lord and Lady Masham. Abigail’s rival, Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, was dismissed from court and Abigail was given her role as Keeper of the Privy Purse. Robert Harley became lord treasurer and the lucrative office of Cofferer of the Household was offered to Samuel. This royal appointment forced him to relinquish Ilchester in favour of re-election at New Windsor. Also in 1711 the Tory Party decided to appoint twelve new peers to bolster their position as they negotiated the Peace of Utrecht (a treaty to end the War of the Spanish Succession)  and Samuel Masham’s name was put forward. However the Queen feared that she might lose the service of Abigail once her husband was ennobled (it being felt beneath the wife to a peer of the realm to serve the Queen). When the 12th barony was refused by Sir Michael Warton, Samuel’s name was again put forward and in 1712 the Queen agreed on the condition that Abigail continued to attend to her, and the Masham family rose into the peerage with Samuel now Baron Masham of Otes. In 1723, upon the death of his father, Samuel also succeeded as fourth Baronet of High Laver.

The Mashams continued to play an important role in the country until the death of Queen Anne in 1714. The new king, George I, reinstated the Whigs and the Marlboroughs which led to the Mashams retirement to private life at Otes. Abigail died in August 1714. In 1716, Samuel was appointed Kings Remembrancer. This post within the Exchequer was created in 1154 by Henry II and watched over the taxes due and those paid or unpaid “to put the Lord Treasurer and the Barons of Court in remembrance of such things as were to be called upon and dealt with for the benefit of the Crown”. Upon his death, the post transferred to Samuel’s son, the 2nd Baron Masham.

Samuel died in October 1758.

Find out more about the Masham family and their connection to John Locke whose tomb in the local church has a plaque placed there on behalf of the United States of America and their founding fathers!

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The Favourite - connections to Epping Forest

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