Clarkson Cardinall of Tendring in Essex was a miser. He lived in a large manor house, set in a good estate and had £60,000 in the bank, but he had let it fall into disrepair (to be honest, he reminds us of Sir Pitt Crawley, owner of Queen’s Crawley, in William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair). The front entrance to the house was shut up and the front court overgrown with weeds; guests had to enter by a narrow dark passage, conducted by the one and only servant, a decrepit old woman. Most of the windows were blockaded, to prevent the payment of window tax, but through the dim light available, guests could see the worn out old chairs they were expected to seat themselves on amidst the dust, cobwebs and detritus collected in the once stately rooms. Hanging proudly in the hallway was a military sash and sword, the remnants of Clarkson Cardinall’s military career as a junior officer with the Essex Militia. The family dressed in tattered clothing, Clarkson Cardinall often to be seen in a rusty drab coat with his grey hair straggling from beneath a faded brown wig.
Two children had been born to Cardinall, John, his son and heir, in 1770 and a daughter, Elizabeth, in 1776. His wife Elizabeth (known as Bessy) was the only child of the Reverend Talbot Lloyd; she had married Clarkson Cardinall in 1769.
Once a year father and son travelled (frugally of course!) to London to receive the dividends on their fortune held safely with the bank; the dividends amounted to more than £3,000 per year, but a visitor to their home would see scant evidence of the Cardinall’s wealth.
Elizabeth, when in her early 20s, attracted the attention of the son of a wealthy neighbouring landowner and William Leeds (for that was his name) began to pay court to her, leading to a marriage being arranged between the two fathers. Negotiations continued after William’s father had died and William moved in to live with the Cardinall’s in their manor house; terms were eventually agreed for Elizabeth’s hand in marriage, and the parties travelled to London to draw up the marriage settlement and to procure the marriage licence, staying at an Inn in Whitechapel.
Clarkson Cardinall reluctantly settled £4,000 on his daughter, but stipulated that the marriage should not take place until after midsummer; the half year dividend was due then and he wanted to be the recipient of it, not his new son-in-law. William Leeds was eager to marry though, he also settled £4,000 upon the marriage and promised that he would allow his father-in-law the full dividend on his own money if he would consent to the marriage taking place before then. Cardinall agreed, and on the 15th April 1802, a Faculty Office Marriage Licence in the names of Elizabeth Cardinall and William Leeds was obtained. Elizabeth and her father returned to Essex to prepare for the marriage and William remained in London where the marriage was to take place (either the bride or the groom had to have resided for four weeks in the parish where the marriage was to be held) and the marriage was scheduled for mid-May.
And then, on the 9th May, just days before the nuptials, Elizabeth ran away with a sailor who was newly landed on shore.
William Leeds, seeking damages against his inconstant lady, instructed his lawyers to prepare a ‘Breach of Promise’ case which was heard on the 1st March 1803 at the Court of the King’s Bench in the Guildhall.
Mr Erskine, acting for William Leeds, addressed the court.
Gentlemen, I do not mean to contend that when a man is thus deceived and disappointed, he suffers the like disparagement as when it happens to a female; nor do I affect to say that my client is ready to hang himself; but his Lordship will tell you, that if a man suffers mortification, in having his marriage settlements overturned by a woman’s playing the jilt, he is also entitled to compensation for his mortified feelings.
Elizabeth, now the wife of Charles John Cooke, the handsome sailor who had so swiftly obtained her hand in marriage and who, as Elizabeth was penniless, would be liable to pay any damages awarded to William Leeds, was represented by the well-known Mr Garrow. And here her story began to take on a different character.
For William Leeds was not the bereft lover he presented himself as. In fact, he was a cad of the highest order and Elizabeth had made a lucky escape.
As soon as the marriage settlement had been signed, and the marriage licence procured, William Leeds had shown himself in his true colours, confident that Elizabeth, or rather her fortune in the three percent’s, was his and that the marriage was now a mere formality. When Elizabeth expressed a wish to walk rather than to ride in a carriage when they went to take the air, William threatened her, promising to break her bones and flay her alive if she did not always instantly conform to his wishes when they were married. Mr Garrow continued:
It had once been a matter of merriment, to consider whether a man might not use a stick as thick as his thumb to correct his wife; but, to prevent all future discussion, Mr. Leeds before hand gave his intended wife a taste of the horsewhip he meant to use as his instrument of correction.
And, rather than stay by Elizabeth’s side, just hours after the marriage deeds had been drawn up he had, with the full knowledge of his future father-in-law, proceeded to enjoy the favours of two whores he met in Fleet Street; they took him back to their lodgings in Milk Street.
If Elizabeth had been shocked and frightened by William’s treatment of her in London she was aghast when, back in their mouldy Essex mansion, her father informed her that her intended spouse had been consorting with the Milk Street whores. Even though he knew of this, and of William’s treatment of his daughter, he still pressed for the marriage. It was against this backdrop that she ran into the path of the handsome sailor, and he presented an escape route from both her father and her fiancée; is it little wonder that she took to her heels and eloped with him, with scarcely a backwards glance?
It was claimed that the pair, Charles James Cooke, a purser on an East Indiaman, and Elizabeth Cardinall married at Gretna Green in Scotland, but if they did so they solemnised their vows a second time close to Elizabeth’s home for on the 9th July 1802 they presented themselves at the parish church in Ardleigh to recite their vows to one another. The three witnesses who signed the register were William and Elizabeth Cook and Louisa Kelly and the Ipswich Journal, on the 12th June 1802, carried the following notice.
COLCHESTER, June 11.
Lately was married, Mr. Chas. John Cook, of the Hon. East India Company’s service, to Miss Eliz. Cardinall, only daughter of Clarkson Cardinall, Esq. of Tendring.
Charles took Elizabeth without any fortune, for her enraged father cruelly refused to have anything to do with her (and was probably most satisfied with the prospect of keeping his fortune intact). Charles had been left under the care of a Trustee as a child when his father died, and the unscrupulous trustee had converted the money his young charge possessed to his own use, and so Charles had sought his own fortune at sea but had little besides his wages.
A daughter was soon born to Elizabeth, named Eliza Cardinall Cooke, and Elizabeth and her child found themselves in desperate want. On top of this, William Leeds brought the Breach of Promise case to try to win the money he had hoped to gain when Elizabeth was his wife, despite the fact that he had since asked for the hand in marriage of another lady, a Miss Turpin (it was suggested in court that this had been within a day or two of Elizabeth eloping).
Mr Garrow roundly denounced both William Leeds and Clarkson Cardinall, and various witnesses, including Elizabeth’s brother John, testified to William’s cruel treatment of her and the jury agreed with them; they awarded William Leeds a derisory one shilling for damages.
And, with that matter sorted, one could have hoped that Elizabeth might now have a chance of future happiness, having escaped both William Leeds and her father. Sadly it was not to be and, however much we would like to, we cannot give Elizabeth the happy ending that fate cruelly denied her. Just weeks later, beset by poverty and misery and with her new-born daughter in distress she approached her father’s house, only to be rebuffed by him. Just a few yards from his door she fell to the ground and breathed her last. She was buried on the 25th March 1803 in Tendring churchyard.
Maybe Charles John Cooke had returned to his ship, for he was not mentioned further. Their infant daughter was placed by her grandfather with a poor woman who lived near to his house, but his charity to this helpless infant, his own flesh and blood, extended little beyond that. He paid as small a sum for her sustenance that he could manage to get away with, and she lived a miserable existence.
Clarkson Cardinall died in 1825 at the grand old age of 95 years, and probably his passing was mourned by very few (his wife, Elizabeth, died in 1818). His son John inherited his father’s fortune and his estate, although little Eliza Cardinall Cooke was mentioned in her grandfather’s will. She was to receive the interest and dividends on a sum of £5,000 for the term of her natural life, and after her death the lump sum of £5,000 was to be shared by any lawful children she left behind. At the end of his life, had Cardinall regretted the cruel treatment he had meted out to his only daughter and her child? For Elizabeth’s only crime was to marry without his consent, an act she rashly undertook to try to save herself from a lifetime of misery as the wife of William Leeds.
Eliza Cardinall Cooke lived until 1839. She was buried, on the 9th May 1839, in the churchyard at Tendring, next to her mother; her abode was given as Wrabness.
Between 1798 and 1801 Charles John Cooke was the Purser on board the Tellicherry which sailed to St Helena and Bengal and arrived at the Downs on the 25th September 1801, but he had left the ship by the time of his marriage to Elizabeth (it sailed from the Downs on the 13th April 1802 with a new Purser).
Life at Weeley Camp and Barracks, 1803 to 1804, from Mary Ann Grant’s Sketches of Life and Manners (contains a link to an excellent transcript of Mary Ann’s letters, including one written after a visit to Clarkson Cardinall’s home in July 1803, just months after the death of Elizabeth).
The Ipswich Journal, 12th June 1802.
The Morning Post, 2nd March 1803.
The Morning Chronicle, 2nd March 1803.
A Register of Ships, Employed in the Service of the Honorable the United East India Company, from the year 1760 to 1810 by Charles and Horatio Charles Hardy, 1811.