Elizabeth Sarah Villa-Real, born between 6 and 7 o’clock in the morning on Monday the 27 June 1757 at her father’s house in Edwinstowe, Nottinghamshire had a varied and illustrious heritage. Her father, William Villa-Real, Esquire, a handsome man in his late twenties, was the grandson of Joseph da Costa (1683-1753), a wealthy Portuguese Jewish merchant and the son of Catherine Rachel (Kitty) da Costa.
Kitty had been brought up in luxury, first at the Budge Row house of her paternal grandfather and then at her father’s mansion house, Copped Hall, Totteridge, Hertfordshire.
In 1724 when only 14 years of age Kitty had agreed to marry her cousin Jacob (or Philip) Mendes Da Costa but he was a rake and her parents did not approve. Instead, in 1727 when she was seventeen she married Joseph Isaac Villa-Real. Her husband was a Portuguese Jew who was much older than she being 54 years of age when he married and who had fled from his homeland and the Inquisition to England the previous year.
Two children were born, Sarah in 1728 and Abraham in 1729 before Joseph Villa-Real died on the 27 Dec 1730. Kitty, only twenty and now a very rich widow renewed the acquaintance with her cousin and plans were secretly put in place between the couple for them to marry once she had completed a year of mourning. Again, her family were against the union and Kitty finally listened to sense, sending Jacob away. His fury at being denied both her and her fortune was great and he sued her for breach of promise in 1732 but it was decided that Kitty’s promise had depended upon her father’s consent and not on her own word. Jacob tried once more to bring a civil suit for damages in 1734 which again he lost. Kitty’s fortune was reportedly £35,500 which today would be worth almost £5 million . . . no wonder that Jacob was so eager to marry her!
Although Kitty had respected the wishes of her family in respect to not marrying her cousin she was not prepared to play the dutiful daughter any longer and she left Copped Hall, leaving her two children behind, and married again, clandestinely in ‘Madam Mellish’s own house‘ at Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury, on the 25 February 1735, this time outside of her faith, to William Mellish Esquire of Blyth in Nottinghamshire, taking the religion of her second husband at a baptism a month after the wedding.
Her father was furious and initially refused to return her children to her (she had previously signed a deed allowing him to be their guardian) but after various legal wrangles she obtained custody of them and on the 11 April 1738 at St. Anne’s in Soho the young Sarah and Abraham de Costa Villa-Real were baptized in the Protestant faith and given the names of Elizabeth and William. William Mellish was the same age as Kitty and their marriage was a happy union, producing a son born in 1737 named Charles who would go on to become only the second man who bore Jewish blood to enter the British Parliament. A second son, Joseph, died in infancy. Kitty died in 1747 and was buried in Blyth. Her younger brother Benjamin also converted to Christianity.
The two Villa-Real children no longer used their Jewish forenames. Elizabeth had married William, 2nd Viscount Galway of Ireland in 1747 (she was the first person of Jewish blood to marry into the peerage) and William himself married, in 1755, Elizabeth Hallifax of Mansfield whose brother Samuel would become bishop of Gloucester and of St. Asaph, a second brother, Robert, was to be physician to the Price of Wales, later King George IV.
William Villa-Real was aged 26 years at the time of their marriage and the bride only 17 years of age (her father Robert Hallifax of Mansfield, gentleman and apothecary, gave his consent to the nuptials). Elizabeth Sarah was their only child; William, although still young, had a reputation for hard living, a fact which shortened his life. He was reportedly a man of coarse manners, an uncontrollable temper and insatiable appetites, he gambled all night and spent his days recovering from the effects of the immoderate luxury of those evenings and his short marriage was an unhappy one (although in fairness to him we must point out that Elizabeth, in her Memoirs, held the opposite view). He died on the 27 November 1759, aged just 30 years.
One fact which only comes to light in Elizabeth’s Memoirs is that she had a half-sister, one born illegitimately and fathered by William Villa-Real some years before Elizabeth herself had been born. This girl, whose name so far remains undiscovered, was brought up in the Villa-Real household after her own mother had died shortly after her birth, although Elizabeth’s mother had presented her as an orphan adopted by her husband rather than his by-blow. Although very much loved by William Villa-Real this daughter had been excluded from his will; Elizabeth hints at dark family secrets and suspicions but points no finger of blame.
William’s young widow Elizabeth moved to Pontefract in Yorkshire after her husband’s death, apprenticing Elizabeth’s unfortunate half-sister out to a mantua maker in Mansfield and leaving her to fend for herself, and it was at Pontefract that Elizabeth Villa-Real met a Captain in the Durham Militia.
She married this Captain, William Hutchinson Esquire of Egleston, County Durham in October 1763 and moved to his family home. Three or four years later when she was around 10 years of age Elizabeth was sent to a boarding school in Little Chelsea run by a Mrs Martha Latouche and it was whilst at school she received news that her stepfather William Hutchinson had died from a ‘raging fever’. William Hutchinson had been a good man and had made his wife and step-daughter very happy, they were both bereft by his death which also left his stepdaughter, sole heir to her father’s fortune, easy prey to fortune hunters. She was alienated from her father’s relations as her mother disliked them all so strongly that she had severed all contact with them.
The widowed Mrs Hutchinson and her daughter eventually took a house in Bishopton near Ripon in North Yorkshire, Elizabeth leaving her boarding school. They were soon an accepted part of the local society who included a young Scottish doctor, Thomas Crawford who, during 1774, paid his addresses to the young heiress, ultimately asking her to meet him in the middle of the night; Elizabeth was certain he meant to elope with her.
After much deliberation, she refused to meet with Dr Thomas Crawford for fear of deceiving her mother who would not approve of the match. To escape Dr Crawford, Elizabeth and her mother left to visit friends, by the April of 1775 finding themselves in Bath where she then fell under the spell of William Gooch Esquire. Gooch, the second son of Sir Thomas Gooch of Benacre Park in Suffolk, was insistent in his suit of Elizabeth; reports of her fortune having been much exaggerated in Bath and he had long tried to hook himself an heiress. Her mother left for London, in need of advice and driven to consult her first husband’s relatives, Lady Galway and Charles Mellish as her instinct was to oppose the marriage.
Gooch followed the pair to London and both he and his father persuaded Elizabeth’s mother and her relatives to agree to the match. The marriage duly took place at St. George’s in Hanover Square on the 13th May 1775, Elizabeth aged just seventeen years like her mother and paternal grandmother before her at their first marriages, the marriage taking place with her mother’s consent; the couple had known each other for just over four weeks.
One might have thought Elizabeth destined for high places, after all she was niece to a Viscountess, a bishop and the Prince of Wales physician, now wife to the son of a baronet and an heiress (even if her fortune was possibly not quite so large as her husband was expecting it to be) and well connected in society. For all her benefits however she had too much of the headstrong attitude of her grandmother Kitty, too much of the impulsiveness of her father, and she lived to rue her decision to make a hasty marriage for just three years after her wedding her life had fallen apart and she found herself abandoned and facing life in a convent in Lille.
The marriage quickly fell apart. The Gooch household was ruled by his attractive, unmarried sister and his stepmother, the new Lady Gooch who had formerly been a governess in the household, both of whom took a dislike to Elizabeth. For all this, she soon found herself pregnant and persuaded her husband to take a house in the north of England where they could be away from his family. A house in York duly being taken, it soon became a haunt of officers from the resident Inniskilling Regiment who were stationed there. Although she was big with child, William Gooch suspected his wife of encouraging the attentions of one Lord Banff, a junior officer in the regiment, whilst she, in turn, suspected him of a dalliance with a handsome widowed lady by the name of Mrs Hudson, claiming she once found Mrs Hudson sitting on Gooch’s lap in the dining room of their house.
Their son, William Thomas, was born in York on the 20th February 1776 and baptized at St. Michael-le-Belfry the next day. The family next moved to a house at Nun-Appleton, once the home of Sir William Milner, and it was there that their second son was born, Robert Henry who was baptized at Bolton Percy on the 6th April 1777. Very soon afterwards William Gooch was anxious to rejoin his family in Bath and insisted on Elizabeth accompanying him, leaving behind the children to the care of servants. Once in Bath, they first lodged with his family before taking a house of their own, but at both Elizabeth was receiving lessons from one Venanzio Rauzzini, an Italian castrato, pianist and singing teacher who, together with his friend the violinist La Motte, was taking Bath by storm. Towards the end of 1777, Elizabeth was accused of an ‘improper familiarity’ with Rauzzini by her husband who seemed intent on spreading the word of his discovery to incriminate his wife. On Christmas Eve, with snow lying on the ground, William Gooch escorted his wife to a carriage and conveyed her across the Channel to France. In her memoir, Elizabeth states that this was the 24th December 1778, but she had misremembered the year as, by the January of 1778, the gossip was already starting to spread itself far and wide.
John Dixon at Worsbrough near Barnsley wrote to a Nottinghamshire correspondent on the 30th January 1778 that:
Mrs Gooch… has had an intrigue at Bath with La Motte the Fidler, Rawzzini (a castrati) is likewise said to have been concerned…
On the 4th January 1778, Elizabeth Harris had written from Salisbury to her son James at St. Petersburg with the news that there had been a ‘Sad doing at Bath since we left it. Louisa no doubt will write all the history of Lamotte and Rauzzini with Mrs Gooch. If what we have heard is true, the two musical hero’s will gain credit. I know but little of the lady and by the little I have heard of her conversation I thought her very silly’.
Gooch took Elizabeth first to St. Omer where he decided the convents were too full of English residents and then on to Lille. She viewed the convent he chose there with horror, it seemed little more than a prison to her and at last, he relented and took a private house for her in the town. Elizabeth entreated him to stay with her and he promised to do so but said he had to sort out his affairs at home first. He left, promising to return and to bring their two sons with him and said that, once the storm had died down, they could retire to her estate at Edwinstowe in Nottinghamshire which she would take possession of on her twenty-first birthday later that year. Did he lie to her? A letter from Edward Thoroton Gould at Woodhouse Nottinghamshire to the 3rd Duke of Portland, received on the 26th January 1778, mentions that he has made enquiries about Edwinstowe and discovered that William Gooch intended to reside there himself, mentions the Bath affair and the fact of Gooch taking his wife to France with the intention of depositing her in a convent there. Gould had, however, managed to secure refusal of Edwinstowe for the Duke of Portland.
Elizabeth next received a letter from her husband in which he stated that his family had decided they should no longer live together, or at least not for another two or three years, these years she was expected to spend abroad in a state of contrition and to return repentant to her husband at the end of them. Her immediate family had either abandoned her, or cautioned her to remove herself into a convent or, at the very least, to get out of Lille and away from all the army officers stationed there. Elizabeth, totally alone, decided to accept none of the above. With a little encouragement from a friend she had made in Lille she asked her husband to instigate a divorce, which would leave them both free to marry again. He agreed and servants were sent over to her with the specific intent of being discovering her inflagrante with one of these officers.
The Morning Chronicle newspaper reported on the 22nd June 1778, from an extract of a letter from Calais dated the 17th June that:
‘You may perhaps remember the singular affair at Bath a short while since, between Mrs G__h and Rauzzini the singer; the husband of the lady immediately hurried her away to Lisle, where she soon commenced an amour with a French officer. Matters are amicably settled between Mr and Mrs G__h for a divorce, and yesterday two persons (a man and woman) went through this place for Lisle, in order to be eye-witnesses of her adultery, proofs of which she has agreed to give them, for the completing the business in Doctors Commons. ‘Tis said the French officer intends to marry her as soon as she is free from her husband.’
The petition for divorce did not, however, go as planned, a divorce from bed and board being granted at the end of 1780 but not a full divorce which would allow the couple to remarry. They needed more proof of Elizabeth’s infidelity and she returned to London to consult with her husband, taking back with her another servant when she returned to the continent. Once back in France the servant was duly summoned one evening to her mistresses bedchamber, only to find her in a compromising situation with one Monsieur Dumenil. The judges of the case felt there had latterly been a degree of collusion by William Gooch in asking his wife to allow herself to be discovered, they felt they were being duped and that it would present a dangerous precedent to allow a full divorce in this case. So, Elizabeth had to make do with just the £200 per year she had been granted and no chance of another husband whilst her present one lived; her husband had taken control of her estates for the term of his life and she was dependent on him paying the ‘pin money’ for her subsistence. The sum was further reduced in 1790 when Gooch decided to send their two sons to Eton where he himself had received his education, telling his wife he was deducting £50 a year from her allowance to cover the extra expenses involved in the school fees.
The men who had attended her in the hope of winning her hand once she was free to marry, including the Baron d’Arthaud a Cuirassier officer, and many other French officers, now deserted her. And so began Elizabeth’s life of dissipations and her struggle for survival.
She recounts the advances of one James George Semple Lisle in her memoir, an English officer in Lille. Semple Lisle, actually a Scot, was an eighteenth-century adventurer whose father claimed the right to the title of Viscount Lisle, then extinct. In his own memoir, he remembers the facts somewhat differently, placing their first meeting at Bath in 1777. He was eighteen years of age, just back from America where he had served in the British army and had been taken prisoner and wounded. Because of this wound, he wasn’t dancing at Bath but instead formed one of a party playing at picquet which included the young Mrs Gooch who he followed to Lille (she claims in her memoir that he appeared as a stranger to her there). He gently makes fun of her boast in her memoir of their amour when she claims that ‘then, and not till then, I fell,’ by pointing out that, at that time, their joint ages did not amount to forty.
Elizabeth’s friends recommended to her that she should try the stage as a means of supporting herself (she notes in her Memoirs that the Duc de Bouillon was particularly anxious for this), with the added benefit that her family and husband would most likely try to keep her from it by making her a proper allowance. She had been visited by the actor Charles Macklin whilst she was living in Cork Street and began to take lessons from him. Indeed, the Rambler’s Magazine, in June 1784, reported that:
M___ the actor is taken into keeping by Mrs. G__ch, and they are now on a tour to Paris!
Even with help from Macklin, she was unable to try the London playhouses due to the amount of debt she was in and was forced to try one of the strolling companies instead. Mr Thornton who was the manager of the Portsmouth company agreed to let her take to the stage with his troop who was then at Farnham in Surrey. Assuming the name of Mrs Jackson she played first Miss Rusport in The West Indian and then Belvidere in Venice Preserv’d. The actor who played the part of Jaffier opposite her Belvidere was, Elizabeth records, ‘a handsome man and a good actor, but nothing to commend his off the stage’, this not preventing her to be persuaded to run away with him on the day they were due to take to the stage in Percy: A Tragedy.
The couple joined Austin and Whitlock’s Chester company, then performing in Warrington, Lancashire, where Elizabeth took the name of Mrs Freeman (possibly her Jaffier was Mr Freeman). Her stint with this company was short-lived; she fell foul of the leading actor of the company, who was also a shareholder in it, Joseph Shepherd Munden, who favoured another of the female performers of the troop over Elizabeth, and she returned, in disgust, to London where she learnt that she had been duped by her Jaffier who had concocted a scheme with his wife, also an actress, to dupe Elizabeth for financial gain.
Disillusioned, in the summer of 1785, she sailed for France, making a perilous landing at Dunkirk which nearly resulted in a shipwreck. She quickly fell in with a handsome French naval officer, Monsieur de Guichen who was the son of a Count and Lieutenant of the Ceres. The Ceres was to be stationed at Dunkirk for six months, patrolling the coastline for smugglers and Elizabeth changed her plans to remain with him. Tragedy quickly struck however, de Guichen had to sail on a patrol and promised Elizabeth he would be back within only a few days. On the 24th August 1785, in the midst of a storm, the Ceres came into view and despite the bad weather a boat put to shore with de Guichen on board, his commander the Viscount de Roquefeuil and three sailors. As Elizabeth’s landing only two weeks earlier had been perilous, so was this and, with the people watching from the shore unable to help, the boat came to grief and de Guichen and his commander perished.
Elizabeth saw the bodies brought ashore but was not allowed near them. She subsequently left for Lille but her unhappiness, destitution and recent shock combined to make her ill. She took a house and tried to retreat from the world but her debts continued to mount and she found herself taken to a prison, ensconced in a miserable room with no fireplace and no bed. A tavern owner took advantage of the situation, saying that Elizabeth owed much more than she actually did; Elizabeth received a letter from a man related to her family by marriage who informed her that her family were ‘violently offended’ with her and had instructed a banker to give her no more than two guineas a week on which to live.
With no help from her family, it was a stranger who bailed her out, a Monsieur Grandel, on the promise that she would return to England with his nephew, Monsieur Parquet, who was also imprisoned for debt. Monsieur Grandel told Elizabeth she could either repay him what he had spent to clear her bills or help his nephew who was penniless to get a start in London.
The nephew was feckless and, once back in London, caused Elizabeth much worry. She eventually got rid of him, having laid out a considerable sum for clothes and linen for him, housed and fed him for two months and given him five guineas to see him on his way; she considered the debt to his uncle fully paid.
With gentlemen callers including the Duc de Lauzun and Old Q, The Marquis of Queensbury, Elizabeth lived in some style before being arrested once more on the orders of a Frenchwoman by the name of Saville, a ‘notorious character’ with whom Monsieur Parquet had gone to live. Through this woman, Monsieur Grandel had instituted a claim for the debt Elizabeth owed him, and not having kept any of the receipts or having any proof of the money she had indeed repaid in kind to his nephew, she realized she had been duped once again. She was held first in the Marshalsea and then in the Fleet and, once word got out, a hoard of her creditors began to press their demands.
Elizabeth was touched by the people who did try to help her out; Old Q and Lord Galway both sent sums of money, as did an anonymous gentleman of fortune from Nottingham. Another unnamed person sent five guineas together with a hamper of wine. Although generous these donations did not clear her debt and, in January 1788 from the Fleet, she wrote and published ‘An appeal to the Public’, recounting her situation and asking for help. The World newspaper, on the 12th January, wrote the following:
To those who remember who Mrs Gooch once was – her present state in the Fleet Prison, must afford a strong lesson, of the superior guidance of Virtue through life.
The above Lady, when Miss Villa-Real in Yorkshire, on her marriage with the son of Sir THOMAS GOOCH, brought to him a fortune of thirty thousand pounds. But so early was the romantic spirit implanted in her bosom – that previous to that time, she was on the brink of running off with five or six different Gentlemen – and who may truly be said to have – narrowly escaped the noose!
Should the above moral instance fail of its effect – let the public cast an eye on the fallen state of LADY PERCY! Who from her hereditary brilliant situation – is now reduced to absolute beggary – and to be the vile companion of the loose hours of a prisoner in the King’s Bench.
This ‘Appeal’ had the effect of stirring her family into action, keen to stop the scandal in its tracks; possibly that was the intention Elizabeth had in mind all along by writing it. Settling with her creditor who had pressed their suit whilst she was in the Fleet, they ignored those to whom Elizabeth owed money but who had been kind enough not to imprison her for it. Her uncle, the Bishop of Gloucester, arranged a better room for her in the Fleet until she could be released when her family took lodgings for her in Featherstone Buildings where she was close to her mother who was visiting in Bedford Row.
Elizabeth hadn’t seen her mother for years and was denied access to her still, her mother pleading illness, but the two did correspond. A deal was proposed by her mother and the Bishop; Elizabeth should retire to the country under an assumed name, be guided by the Bishop and renounce every former acquaintance and correspondence whilst making over £40 of her yearly allowance to the repayment of her debts until they were paid off. If Elizabeth would agree to this her mother would visit her the next day.
Whilst desperate to see her mother once again, Elizabeth was not prepared to submit to being little more than a prisoner held in retirement in the country. Whilst she had lodged in Featherstone Buildings she had been constantly watched and not even allowed to walk outside to take the air. She packed what belongings she had and left, all hopes of a reconciliation with her mother ended.
It can be no surprise to learn that in just a short time Elizabeth was once more a prisoner in the Fleet.
Her release came thanks to the benevolent act of a jeweller living on Frith Street in Soho, a Jean Louis Knobel or Kennebel. Towards the end of 1788, Elizabeth now found a little happiness. She met a recruiting officer, one Captain Lindsay of the 59th Regiment of Foot, who had been born on the island of Antigua where his family owned a plantation and estate. Taking his name she accompanied him to Nottinghamshire where he was to stay for a few months before rejoining his regiment in Glasgow.
Elizabeth was able to revisit the places she remembered from her childhood and to spend a few days with her half-sister who was now the wife of a Mr Thomas Dutton, Mayor of Chesterfield in Derbyshire and mother of a brood of charming children.
On the 23rd January 1789 Captain Lindsay and Elizabeth, as Mrs Lindsay, reached Glasgow. Major Fisher was in charge of the barracks and Elizabeth was fully accepted by him and the other officers and wives. Come the springtime Captain Lindsay was desirous to travel to Bristol where a ship was due to dock from the West Indies which carried a cargo of sugars that he had a considerable sum of money invested in. The couple left Glasgow on the 12th May 1789, travelling first to Chesterfield where they stayed with her half-sister for a few days and, on the 10th June, witnessed the baptism of Elizabeth’s niece, Mary Dutton (Elizabeth herself choosing the name Mary after visiting sites in Scotland associated with the unfortunate Mary, Queen of Scots), before arriving in Bristol and lodging in the Hot Wells. There they stayed for two months and when Lindsay had to return to Scotland, she persuaded him to take a house for her there and to leave her behind.
She had cause to regret that decision, much as she liked the Hot Wells. Lindsay followed his regiment to Ireland before travelling to the West Indies to visit his family, surviving a shipwreck off the coast of South America along the way. Elizabeth remained at Bristol for almost twelve months before passing into Wales. The winter of 1791 found her at Scarborough according to her Memoirs, but the Morning Post reported another alliance for her and placed her in Ireland.
The once celebrated Mrs Gooch has again found a fashionable protector in the person of Lord Cr__ght__n, son to the Earl of E___, with whom she has taken wing for Ireland
Morning Post, 4th November 1791
The Earl’s son referred to was Abraham Creighton, son of Earl Erne of Crom Castle in Fermanagh; seven years later he was declared insane and held in Brooke House in London for the ensuing forty years, his family claiming that his insanity stemmed from ‘immersion in a bath of mercury’. If true he may have possibly tried this as a cure for the pox.
With Captain Lindsay now nowhere to be seen, Elizabeth once more had no-one but herself on whom to rely. In the January of 1792, she enlarged on her ‘Appeal’, turning it into a three volume Memoir of her life. Other publications, novels and collections of poems, followed, receiving a favourable response from the public. The stage once more beckoned, a license to act at the Haymarket Theatre in London being granted and, as Mrs Gooch, she appeared on that stage in February 1796 as Almeria in The Mourning Bride and Lady Minikin in Bon Ton.
In 1802 Elizabeth was living at 20 St. Michael’s Place in Brompton, still beset by debts and appealing for assistance.
A CARD – To the Public.
The greatest part of my furniture was appraised, yesterday, by a broker, and sold to him to raise the money for the Income Tax, which is by that means paid. All hope and expectation has failed, and in this deplorable situation I am induced to supplicate some assistance from my Friends and the Public. I beg leave to offer my thanks to a Lady unknown to me, who called in her carriage, and left me a pound note. Likewise to a Noble Earl, for his assistance, who, with the Lady, are the only persons who have answered my advertisement at this house. ELIZ. SARAH VILLA-REAL GOOCH, Michael’s place, Brompton, Oct 20.
The Morning Post, 25th October 1802
Elizabeth’s mother had married for a third time, to Major Henry Rooke Esquire of St. George Hanover Square, on the 19th June 1789. She died in April 1797 at Bath without being reconciled to her only child. Her eldest son William died in Dijon in France in 1806, aged only 30, leaving behind a wife whom he had married, possibly clandestinely, in the Isle of Man.
Elizabeth herself died a year later, in June 1807, at Plymouth in Devon. It is not known why she was lodging there. As Elizabeth Sarah Villa-Real Gooch she was buried in the churchyard of St. Andrew’s there on the 14th June 1807.
Henry Robert Gooch, Elizabeth’s youngest son, died in 1829 aged 50 and William Gooch outlived them all, dying in Edinburgh in 1833.