The recent trial for crim. con. upon an action brought by Mr. F[awkener] against the honourable John Townshend, for criminal conversation with the plaintiff’s wife, is, at present, the topic of conversation in all the polite circles; but great pains having been taken to suppress the publication of the trial, the incidents of this illicit amour are not generally known. We have, however, come at a knowledge of the whole transaction, and will lay it candidly and fairly before our readers.
So began the article entitled ‘Histories of the téte-à-téte annexed; or Memoirs of the PERSEVERING LOVER, and the FALSE WIFE’ in the July 1786 edition of The Town and Country Magazine.
William Augustus Fawkener was the brother of Mrs Bouverie about whom we have written before. His wife was formerly Georgiana Anne Poyntz, daughter of William Poyntz of Midgham House in Berkshire and cousin to Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. Beautiful and clever, but with no great fortune, at the age of only twenty years she had been persuaded into marriage by her family to Fawkener, a man she did not particularly like. The marriage, at St George’s in Hanover Square, was conducted by her uncle, the Reverend Charles Poyntz. Sylvester Douglas, Lord Glenbervie later wrote of her, saying that Georgiana Anne had been “in a manner educated in Devonshire House, and continued to live principally in that society of easy manners after her marriage”. After only a year of marriage, while staying at Lord Melbourne’s house, Brocket Hall, the young Mrs Fawkener fell head over heels in love with the handsome Honourable John Townshend, second son to Field Marshal George Townshend, 1st Marquess Townshend.
Jack Townshend was an intimate friend of Charles James Fox and known as a man of wit and pleasure with elegant tastes; he was also a wicked mimic and could pen excellent verses. He was a regular guest at Devonshire House and the Duchess said of him in 1777 that “Jack Townshend is really a very amiable young man. He has great parts, though not such brilliant ones as Charles Fox’s, and I dare say he will make a very good figure hereafter – he is just twenty now, though he has the appearance of being older”. Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, was later accused of covering up the intrigues developing between her young cousin and her friend, Jack Townshend. Everyone but Mr Fawkener could see that Mr Townshend was taking ‘liberties’ with the young wife, and when William was roused to action, Georgiana Anne stoutly and boldly denied any wrongdoing, but in doing so she evinced so much partiality to Townshend and contempt for her husband that the pair separated, and Georgiana left her marital home. She must have run to her lover, for her husband had her watched and then when satisfied as to how the thing stood, challenged his rival to a duel. Meeting in Hyde Park, Fawkener fired first and missed; Townshend, conscious of having done wrong, refused to return his rival’s fire, instead, he discharged his pistol into the air.
Monday a duel was fought in Hyde Park between the Hon. John Townshend and William Faulkener, Esq; Clerk to the Privy Council. The gentlemen had some dispute at Ranelagh on Friday night, and they met with their seconds on Monday morning. Faulkener fired first, and missed, the bullet passing only thro’ the hat of Mr. Townshend; the latter then discharged his pistol in the air, and the affair terminated to the mutual satisfaction of the parties.
Public Advertiser, 24th May 1786
Georgiana Anne had first run to Twickenham and then she stopped in St Alban’s at the house of her aunt, the Dowager Lady Spencer. John Townshend joined her there and they left Lady’s Spencer’s house to live, to all intents and purposes, as man and wife. The couple kept on the move, to an inn at Staines, then Godalming, Richmond and back to Staines, thence to Lymington before moving to Hampstead and then Chelsea before finally settling at Hereford. At the ensuing trial which began on the 12th July 1786 and at which the Duke of Devonshire was called as a witness by Mr Townshend, it was established that Mrs Fawkener often met with John Townshend when she rode out and the gentleman took ‘several liberties both in action and conversation, which a modest woman could only allow to her husband’; he had been seen leaving Georgiana Anne’s bedchamber in the morning after her separation from her husband. Fawkener was awarded £500 damages for the loss of his wife.
The Town and Country Magazine speculated that, should a full divorce be granted, John Townshend would make haste to marry his lady, and that is exactly what happened despite objections from his father who wrote:
I forgive your conduct towards the woman, I approve of your behaviour towards her husband in the field; but should you marry her, I can never more consider you as one of my family.
The couple married on the 10th April 1787 at Sunbury on Thames. Townshend, known as Lord John Townshend from 1787, stood as M.P. for Westminster and then for Knaresborough for many years. The couple had three children (their daughter Elizabeth married Captain Augustus Clifford, the illegitimate son of the 5th Duke of Devonshire and his mistress Lady Elizabeth Foster, Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire’s rival) and seem to have lived out their long lives happily enough together. Lord John died in 1833 aged 76, and Lady Georgiana Anne Townshend lived to the great age of 94 years, dying in 1851.
As for William Augustus Fawkener, he too remarried and had two daughters by his second wife.
Sources used not mentioned above:
The Devonshire House Circle by Hugh Stokes, 1917
Lewis Walpole Library