An ‘Irregular’ marriage – Arthur Annesley Powell, did he go willingly?

Today we are supplying a little extra information on one of the people mentioned on our ‘sister’ blog, The Diaries of Miss Fanny Chapman. Arthur Annesley Powell was the husband of Fanny Chapman’s aunt, Jemima Neate.

The Elopement, or Lovers Stratagem Defeated. Courtesy of the British Museum.
The Elopement, or Lovers Stratagem Defeated.
Courtesy of the British Museum.

Annesley Arthur Roberts was born on the 15th April 1767, son of Elizabeth née Powell and William Roberts and was baptized at St George, Hanover Square, London.


In 1774 at the tender age of just 7 Arthur, as he was known, was sent to be educated at Harrow and according to the archivist, Joanna Badrock, this was the earliest case of a child starting at Harrow that she had come across.


In 1784, at just 17 he was admitted to Wadham College, Oxford, so we can only assume that he was quite an intelligent and well educated young man, an important assumption in light of later events!


In May 1783 his uncle, John Powell , owner of Quex House, died, so leaving no wife or children left the major part of his estate for the use of his eldest nephew, Arthur, son of his sister Elizabeth Roberts, on the condition that he change his surname to Powell.

The name change had to be ratified by Act of Parliament and this act confirmed that ‘the fruit of Powell’s body would also be entitled to continue to inherit the estate from him’. This legal change of surname however, didn’t take place until 1789, but he was commonly known as Powell straight after his uncles death.

So those are the facts. We have an intelligent and wealthy young man presumably with a bright future ahead of him, so what happened next?

Well, he was to meet a woman, some 10 years older than himself, Miss Jemima Neate and this is where we begin the story of his ‘irregular’ or clandestine marriage.

We discovered through the archives that on the 15th February 1788 a court action to nullify the marriage was taken by his father who was acting on his sons’ behalf as he was still regarded as a minor as he was still just under 21 at the time. The purpose of the Marriage Act of 1753 which came into effect March 1754, was to abolish clandestine marriages and to introduce the veto by parents on marriages of their under 21 year old children. Both aims were defeated for many reasons, but the main way of avoiding the new law was by marrying in Scotland.

There were four types of matrimonial suits open to litigants in ecclesiastical courts. The first were nullity suits, which challenged the legal validity of the marriage itself. Among those which were void in themselves were unions which involved incest, which usually meant marriage with a deceased wife’s sister, or with a niece or nephew; or an incapacitating state of mind or body—such as lunacy or male impotence (and, very rarely, female frigidity, or physical deformation of the vagina)—which prevented the essential purpose of marriage, namely sexual intercourse.

The allegation being, that whilst at Wadham College, Oxford in 1786, Fanny Chapman’s aunt, Jemima who was aged 28 and conversant in ‘the arts and management of crafty’ (don’t you just love that phrase), preyed on this soon to be exceptionally wealthy young man, described by his father as being ‘a youth of very weak faculties’ , in a nutshell Arthur’s father stated that Jemima was, what we would call today a ‘cougar’ and was after his billions!

The document reports that a plot or scheme was hatched by Jemima and her sister Christiana Chapman née Neate and other members of the family by ‘exercising an undue and improper influence over the great weakness of his understanding to entrap him into the Celebration of Marriage with Jemima, secretly and clandestinely without the consent of his father’.

It was alleged that about 6am on the 8th July 1786 at the house of Jemimas’ father William Chapman, Jemima and her sister Christiana gave him some tea for his breakfast and unknown to him, contrived to mix some drug or unknown medicine with a soporific nature in it. As to what Arthur was doing at their house apart from simply paying them a visit we have no idea and this was never questioned.

Apparently, he drank the tea, became drowsy and was bundled into a post chaise with members of the family who promptly headed off towards Scotland, so that a marriage could take place. It was alleged that he had further drugs administered during the journey, presumably to keep him sedated. When they arrived at Durham or Newcastle upon Tyne, it is alleged that they purchased some porter at an inn which they put into a glass bottle containing more drugs and gave that to him to drink too. So he was comatose throughout the journey!

Coldstream Bridge, linking Coldstream, Scottish Borders with Cornhill-on-Tweed, Northumberland, is an 18th-century Grade II listed bridge between England and Scotland, across the River Tweed.

They travelled onward to Cornhill in County Durham where they arrived about midnight on the 10th of July, Cornhill being about a mile and a half from Coldstream where they alighted at an inn known as The Bee Hive. The women then sent a messenger to procure a parson. A person calling himself Richard Powley and describing himself as the Episcopal Minister of Kelso in North Britain arrived, agreed his fees with Christiana.

Jemima, Christiana, Richard Powley and Arthur, all four in the same chaise proceeded across the Tweed to Coldstream, Arthur being under their control the whole time, although still slightly affected by the drugs he put up no resistance.

Marriage and Toll House at Coldstream Bridge

They arrived at an inn at Coldstream run by a George Weatherhead, about one o’clock on the 11th July 1786 where the marriage took place in the presence of Richard Powley, who was later described as not being a minister and that he was pretending. This fact was not checked out during the case, as if it were it would have possible to establish that he was actually a minister. They swiftly returned to London after the marriage had taken place.

Both the Public Advertiser and General Advertiser of the 15th July carried an announcement of their marriage, but sadly provided no further evidence of exactly where or when it took place. It also remains a mystery as to who notified the newspapers of this event if it weren’t true and why make such a public announcement of a clandestine marriage?

There is no judgement in this case but we know that Jemima not only retained the Powell surname but received £500 a year from Powell (about £30,000 in today’s money), we also know that a lawyer wrote to Mrs Powell only a month after the marriage, so clearly there was an assumption at that stage that the marriage was legal and everyone knew about it, so, putting all the evidence together the most likely reason for the nullity petition seems to be that Arthurs’ father was trying to protect his sons inheritance.

To a certain extent it did work as the couple only remained married for less than 3 years when they went their separate ways, but Arthur did not marry again, so arguably it did not work out at all well for him!

Arthur pursued a career in the military. The next time we hear anything of Arthur was when he shot Lord Falkland. The newspapers of the day providing us with all the details. Seemingly he managed to avoid prison or death at this time. He lived on until 1813 when he died as a result of a fall from his horse. We know far more about Jemimas life through her niece Miss Fanny Chapman whose diaries are available to read on our ‘sister’ site.

Annesley - MI

Although we don’t have any portraits of Arthur we have managed to find one for his younger brother John, who, as Arthur had no children, inherited Quex Park in Kent.


So, we are still left with the question of who to believe,

Did Jemima entrap the ‘very weak of faculties’ Arthur or did he go willingly and then regret it on his return?

Did they live together as husband and wife on their return?

Why did his father wait two years before pursuing a court case to have the marriage nullified, what happened during those two years?

Sadly, we have more questions than answers. Certainly Jemima’s family felt that she had been wronged but, given that she managed to receive £500 a year, it does look as if she wasn’t going to disappear quietly!

Sources Used

Deed Poll Office

Stone, L,  1990 –  Road to Divorce England 1530 – 1987, Oxford University

Crosby’s Complete Pocket Gazetteer of England and Wales

The Monthly Magazine, 1820

Fragmenta Genealogica

The Waterloo Tower


3 thoughts on “An ‘Irregular’ marriage – Arthur Annesley Powell, did he go willingly?

  1. Pingback: Clandestine Weddings and the Release of “Lady Chandler’s Sister” + a Giveaway | Every Woman Dreams…

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