The Theft of the Great Seal, 1784

The Great Seal is attached to the official documents of state that require the authorization of the monarch to implement the advice of the government.

by Thomas Phillips, oil on canvas, 1806
Lord Chancellor, Edward Thurlow by Thomas Phillips, oil on canvas, 1806 Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery

On the night of 23rd March 1784, thieves had entered Edward Thurlow, 1st Baron Thurlow’s Great Ormond Street house and stolen some money, but more importantly they stole the Great Seal, a symbol of royal authority.  A new one had to be hastily made to replace it as it was not recovered and popular opinion suggested that Fox or his supporters were behind the theft.

fitzpatrick-parade-macaroni-in-colour

A satirical rhyme, ‘The Consultation’, made fun the finances of Colonel Richard FitzPatrick and Charles James Fox, referencing the recent theft of the Great Seal from the house of the Lord Chancellor, Edward Thurlow.

Says F__t____k to Fox, ‘Oh how can we ate!

By Jasus you know we have both pawn’d our plate?

Black Reynard replies, ‘We can have one good meal,

By filching from Thurlow his boasted Great Seal

A contemporary print, depicting Fox as Falstaff holding the Prince of Wales on his shoulders with Mary Robinson (Perdita) standing alongside, is thought to show FitzPatrick leaning out of the window of Thurlow’s house handing down the Great Seal.

fitzpatrick-prince-pretty-man
The adventure of Prince pretty man, March 1784, British Museum

Whilst rumours spread, the truth of the theft may in fact have been slightly different, if the Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser (Wed 21 April 1784) was correct:

William Vandeput was on Monday committed to New Gaol, Southwark, where he is now doubled ironed, on a charge of burglary in the house of the Lord Chancellor, and stealing there-out the Great Seal. A Jew in Petticoat Lane was yesterday apprehended, on an information against him for having purchased and melted the Great Seal into an ingot; but while he was conducting to the Rotation Office in Southwark, for examination, he was released from the Peace Officer by eight ruffians. The Jew melted the seal, while the robbers remained in his house.

As to which story was true, we will never know, but certainly William Vandeput was a well known criminal and was sentenced to death eventually in October 1785 and was executed on 1st December 1785.

Just as an aside, in our book, An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliot, we unmask Richard FitzPatrick as one of her lovers when he was taking a break from his long term mistress, a celebrity in her day but forgotten now, Mrs Moll Benwell.

great-seal-moll-benwell
Moll Benwell

 

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2 thoughts on “The Theft of the Great Seal, 1784

  1. Ha yes, the great seal. The other theory was that Fox and his mates had stolen it to stop the King dissolving Parliament, as this was coming up to the end of the great fight between Fox and Pitt leading up to the General Election of 1784 and by this time it was quite clear Fox was probably going to lose (although I’m not sure anyone could have predicted how badly he would lose at this point!). Thurlow, of course, being Lord Chancellor.

    Fitzpatrick had been identified a few weeks before trying to incite chairmen to attack Pit during a riot outside Brooks’s Club — things got pretty dirty in the election lead-up. Makes today’s shenanigans seem rather tame!

    Liked by 1 person

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