Kidnap and Attempted Murder in the 18th Century: Viscount Valentia’s ancestry

Arthur Annesley, Baron Altham and Viscount Valentia was the downfall of Grace Dalrymple Elliott.  Their indiscretion in a London bagnio (a high class brothel) led to her divorce from her portly little doctor of a husband, John Eliot.

Although too much of a distraction from Grace’s story to be included in our book on her, An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott, Valentia’s immediate ancestors have a fascinating story which we recount here.

An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden.

His father, Richard, was the younger brother of Arthur Annesley, 4th Baron Altham (1689-1727).  Baron Altham had one son, James, who was twelve years of age when his father died, however Baron Altham had become alienated from his son and sent James to an obscure school where his death was announced.  At Baron Altham’s death his brother Richard claimed the titles and estates and arranged for his nephew, who was still alive, to be kidnapped and sold as an indentured labourer to an American planter for a seven year term.  James survived and managed to return home in 1741 and instigated an action against his uncle, who had now also become the 6th Earl of Anglesey on the death of a cousin in 1737, to reclaim his estates.

Valentia - plantation

Richard’s defence rested on whether James had been born to his father’s legitimate wife, Mary Sheffield who had died in 1729, or to a maidservant, Joan (Juggy) Landy.  James was successful in this action, but due to appeals by his uncle he was prevented from taking possession of his properties and spent many years in penury.  Richard attempted to have his nephew charged with the murder of a poacher.

The trial in which James Annesley stood tried for murder occurred in 1742. He had been out shooting sparrows with his friend Joseph Redding who was a gamekeeper when they saw a man named Thomas Egglestone and his son poaching fish. They went over to try to take the nets and Annesley’s gun discharged accidentally, killing Thomas Egglestone. All kinds of shenanigans went on behind the scenes before the trial came to the Old Bailey to induce the witnesses to accuse Annesley of murder. Annesley, to his distaste, was described to the court as a mere labourer.

The TRIAL of JAMES ANNESLEY, Labourer, at the Sessions-House in the Old Bailey, July 15, 1742 before the Right Honourable the Lord Chief Baron Parker, &c for the Murder of Thomas Egglestone, on Three Indictments; viz. At Common Law, on the Coroner’s Inquisition, and on the Black Act.

‘My Lord, I observe that I am indicted by the Name of James Annesley, Labourer, the lowest Addition my Enemies could possibly make Use of; but tho’ I claim to be Earl of Anglesea, and a Peer of this Realm, I submit to plead Not Guilty to this Indictment, and put myself immediately upon my Country, conscious of my own Innocence, and impatient to be acquitted even on the Imputation of a Crime so unbecoming [to] the Dignity I claim.’

James Annesley and Joseph Redding’s defence was as follows, and the full transcript of the court case can be read on the Old Bailey website here.

Court. Mr Annesley, you are indicted in a very unhappy Case, what have you to say for yourself?

Mr Annesley. My Lord, I am very unable to make a proper Defence, having by the Cruelty of those, whose Duty it was to protect me, been deprived of the Advantages of an Education I was entitled to by my Birth.

All I know of the melancholy Accident in Question is, that on the unfortunate Day mention’d in the Indictment, I went out with my Gun, in company with my innocent Fellow-Prisoner, to shoot Sparrows, as I usually did. As we were going along, Mr Redding, who is Game-Keeper to the Lord of the Manour, saw some People a poaching within the Royalty, upon which he proposed to go and seize their Nets, I followed him, the Deceas’d threw the Net into the River, and the Boy jump’d in to pull it across, to prevent which, I stoop’d to lay hold of one of the Ropes that trailed upon the Ground, and at the same Instant, the fatal Instrument I had in my other Hand, hanging by my Side, went off without my Knowledge, and to my great Grief as well as Surprize. My Behaviour, immediately after the Accident, was, I hope, inconsistent with a Temper that could murder a Man I had never seen before, without one Word of Provocation.

Whatever may be the Determination of your Lordship and the Jury, great as the Misfortunes of my Life have been, I shall always consider this unfortunate Accident as the greatest of them all.

Court. Mr Redding, what have you to say for yourself?

Joseph Redding. My Lord, I am Game-Keeper to Sir John Dolben, Lord of the Manour of Yeoveney. On the first of May last, in the Afternoon, Mr Annesley and I went out a walking; we saw a Crow, and Mr Annesley made an Offer to shoot at her, but I called to him not to fire, for that she was too far off: Soon after I saw Egglestone and his Son a fishing with a Casting-Net, upon which I said to Mr Annesley, I would go and endeavour to take their Net away, as it was my Duty to do; according I went up to the Deceas’d and demanded the Net, which he refused to deliver to me, and threw it into the River, one End of the String being about his Arm, I then laid hold of the String, and pulled, whilst the Boy endeavoured to draw it cross the River, and presently I heard the Gun go off (my Back being towards Mr Annesley ) and saw the Man fall down. – I said to Mr Annesley, I hoped he had not shot the Man, he said no, but turning up the Flap of his Coat, we saw he was shot; upon which Mr Annesley cried out, What shall I do! and expressed so much Concern, that I am sure it was quite an accidental Thing.

James Annesley and Joseph Redding were found not guilty of murder, but guilty of chance-medley (a killing that lacks malice aforethought) and left the court room as free men. Thwarted in his plan to see James swing at Tyburn, Richard also made attempts on his nephew’s life – the Penny London Post carried a very thinly veiled report which hinted at this in connection with one of his chosen assassins, a man named Thomas Stanley.

Thomas Stanley, mentioned in this Paper of Friday last to have been committed to Newgate under a strong Party of the Guards, by Henry Fielding, Esq; for lying in wait to assassinate the Hon. James Annesley, Esq; made a stout Resistance when taken, but the Constables at length trip’d up his Heels, and carried him before the Justice. This Fellow is a most notorious Ruffian, and is the same Stanley who was tried at the Commission of Oyer and Terminer in Dublin, for being concerned with one Murphy, one Stephens, and several others in a Conspiracy to assassinate Mr Annesley and Mr Mackercher, and lying in wait with Fire-Arms and Cutlasses to carry it into Execution: On that Occasion, after full Evidence had been given against him, and the Court appeared thoroughly satisfied of his Guilt, he escaped Conviction by an Accident, one of the Jurors being suddenly seiz’d, or pretending to be seiz’d, with an Epileptic Fit; which obliged Mr Annesley and Mr Mackercher, at the Request of the Court, to consent to quash the Indictment, rather than keep the Court and Jury sitting to wait his Recovery: Nevertheless, considering him as a very desperate dangerous Fellow, the Court remanded him to Prison, till he should find good Security to their Satisfaction. How he has since been let loose is a Mystery! —— It was very remarkable, that this low Ruffian was supported on that Trial by a Bar of six of the most eminent Lawyers in the Kingdom of Ireland.

Penny London Post, or The Morning Advertiser, 16th February 1750

The Honourable James Annesley Esquire by George Bickham the Younger, after Kings, line engraving, 1744 © The National Portrait Gallery
The Honourable James Annesley Esquire by George Bickham the Younger, after Kings, line engraving, 1744
© The National Portrait Gallery

James Annesley married twice, having children by each wife before dying in 1760 without fully establishing his claim to the titles and estates.  His first wife was Mary Lane, the stepdaughter of a Mr Richard Chester of Egham near Staines in Middlesex, an innholder (he appears to have been the landlord of the Swan at Staines, where he also held the position of Postmaster), and he had married her in 1741 at St Bride’s Church, a year before he stood trial for murder.[i] By Mary, James Annesley had a daughter. The daughter was Mary, baptized on the 26th May 1743 at St Mary’s in Battersea; she married Charles Granville Wheler on the 9th June 1764 at St Martin in the Fields, Westminster. Mrs Mary Annesley died in 1749.

Last Sunday Evening died of a Consumption, Mrs Annesley, Wife to the Hon. James Annesley, Esq; who claimeth the Estate and Honours of Earl of Anglesey, leaving only one Daughter, a Child six Years old.

London Evening Post, 23rd December 1749

James married his second wife in 1751 at Bilborough in Kent. She was Margaret I’Anson, granddaughter of John Bankes of Kingston Hall (now known as Kingston Lacy) in Dorset. James had three children by his second wife: Margaret Bankes Annesley (born 1753, died 1765), Sophia Bankes Annesley (born 1756 and died in infancy before 1760) and Bankes Annesley (born 1757, died 1764).

On Friday last the new-born Son of the Hon. James Annesley was baptized by the Name of Bankes; the Sponsors were, the Hon. Baron Smythe, the Hon. Mrs Spencer, and John Bankes, of Kingston-Hall in Dorsetshire, Esq; after whom the Child was named.

London Evening Post, 12th November 1757

© Henry Kellner via Wikimedia Commons
Kingston Lacy
© Henry Kellner via Wikimedia Commons

James died in 1760, with the question of his entitlement to the Anglesey estates still unresolved. His son died three years after his father, thereby ending any further claims and his uncle Richard had himself died in 1761.[1]

On Monday was privately interred at Lee in Kent, the Corpse of the Hon. James Annesley, who has left behind him one Daughter by his former Wife; and by his last Wife, the Daughter of Sir Thomas I’Anson, Bart. one Son and one Daughter.

Newcastle Courant, 26th January 1760

On Saturday last died of a Fever, at his Mother’s House in Westminster, the only Son of the late Hon. but most unfortunate James Annesley, Esq; by whose Death, his Right to the whole Anglesey Estate in England and Ireland, devolves on his two Sisters, the surviving Daughters of the said James Annesley. This Youth being the last of the Male Line of the Body of Arthur the first Earl of Anglesey, the Honours of Earl of Anglesey, and Baron Newport Pagnel, in England, and of Viscount Valentia, and Baron Altham, in Ireland, are extinct by his Death; Richard, the last Earl of Anglesey, who died about two Years ago, having left only three Daughters, by Ann, Countess of Anglesey, his Wife, but no legitimate Male Issue.

Newcastle Courant, 12th November 1763

Richard had married twice in 1715, once bigamously, and had by his second bigamous wife three daughters (Dorothea, Caroline and Elizabeth) before he threw her out around 1741 (he had deserted his first legitimate wife almost immediately).  Perhaps the cause of his disregard for his bigamous wife in 1741 was the fact that his first had conveniently died, hence technically leaving him a widower and, in September 1741, he married in secret Juliana Donovan, delaying a second, more public wedding until 1752.  By Juliana he sired Arthur plus another three girls, Richarda, Juliana and Catherine.[2]  At Richard’s death in 1761 a distant cousin claimed the Earldom of Anglesey, stating that Arthur, the son, was born illegitimate and this was upheld due to the secrecy surrounding the 1741 marriage leaving Arthur with the right to succeed to his father’s Irish titles only, those of Baron Altham and Viscount Valentia.

(c) Fylde Borough Council; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
The Village Wedding by Thomas Falcon Marshall
(c) Fylde Borough Council; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

On the 10th May 1767 Arthur Annesley, Baron Altham and Viscount Valentia, married Lucy Lyttelton at St. James in Westminster, the daughter of George Lyttelton, the 1st Baron Lyttleton of Fortescue.  Baron Lyttleton had both money and influence and Valentia hoped, with his father-in-law’s help, to rescue his earldom as Baron Lyttelton was anxious to see his daughter a countess.  This was not to be, a further legal challenge resulted in the final decision on the 29th April 1771 that Valentia’s claim to the Earldom of Anglesey was not valid.

George Lyttelton, 1st Baron Lyttelton by George Townshend, 4th Viscount and 1st Marquess Townshend pen and ink, 1751-1758 © The National Portrait Gallery
George Lyttelton, 1st Baron Lyttelton by George Townshend, 4th Viscount and 1st Marquess Townshend, pen and ink, 1751-1758
© The National Portrait Gallery

Three years later he was to be instrumental in Grace’s downfall, recounted in full in our book.

As first time authors this is a thrilling time for us, not least because we are longing to share the information we have uncovered during our many years of research into Grace and her family. We have lots which is new and hitherto unknown, and we are honoured to have been allowed to include within the pages of our biography some very rarely seen pictures connected to Grace and to her family.

Divorced wife, infamous mistress, prisoner during the French Revolution and the reputed mother of the Prince of Wales’ child, notorious courtesan Grace Dalrymple Elliott lived an amazing life in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century London and Paris. Strikingly tall and beautiful, later lampooned as ‘Dally the Tall’ in newspaper gossip columns, she left her Scottish roots and convent education behind, to re-invent herself in a ‘marriage a-la-mode’, but before she was even legally an adult she was cast off and forced to survive on just her beauty and wits. The authors of this engaging and, at times, scandalous book intersperse the story of Grace’s tumultuous life with anecdotes of her fascinating family, from those who knew Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, and who helped to abolish slavery, to those who were, like Grace, mistresses of great men. Whilst this book is the most definitive biography of Grace Dalrymple Elliott ever written, it is much more than that; it is Grace’s family history which traces her ancestors from their origin in the Scottish borders, to their move south to London. It follows them to France, America, India, Africa and elsewhere, offering a broad insight into the social history of the Georgian era, comprising the ups and downs, the highs and lows of life at that time. This is the remarkable and detailed story of Grace set, for the first time, in the context of her wider family and told more completely than ever before.


[1] Richard Chester and Mary Lane (the mother of the Mary Lane who married James Annesley, married at St Benet’s Paul’s Wharf in London on the 26th January 1738. Richard Chester died in 1744 and his widow who had inherited his estate, in 1750, was declared bankrupt – James Annesley, in his will, honourably and generously provided an annuity for his former mother-in-law even though his first wife had died years before.

[2]He also had two further illegitimate children, a namesake son by Mrs Ann Saulkeld of London and a daughter named Ann by Mrs Mary Glover of Newport Pagnell.



Old Bailey Online

John Martin, ‘Annesley, James (1715–1760)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [, accessed 18 Sept 2015]

Wills of James Annesley (mistranscribed as Armesley) and Richard Chester, National Archives

The London Magazine, Or, Gentleman’s Monthly Intelligencer, volume 19, 1750

Landed Families Blogspot

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