Richard ‘Beau’ Nash, dandy, Bath’s Master of Ceremonies and unofficial ‘king’ of the city was born in 1674. He set the rules by which Bath society regulated their days, and established it as a resort of fashion. You had to pass Beau Nash’s scrutiny just to be granted admission to the balls and card parties and even the highest in the land had to do as he said.
When Kitty, Duchess of Queensberry, one of the era’s fashion icons, appeared at the Assembly Rooms with a delicate white apron over her skirt (which was against the rules), Beau Nash snatched it away and threw it onto the back benches, where the ladies attendants sat, acidly remarking that ‘none but Abigails appeared in white aprons!’ The duchess good-humouredly played the game and laughing, begged pardon of the Master of Ceremonies.
Even after his death in 1761, Beau Nash’s rules continued to be the basis for the Rules of Bath. The list below is from 1771, as published by Nash’s successor, William Wade and printed in The new Bath guide; or, useful pocket companion (1771).
Bath, October 1, 1771. This day the following new rules were published by the Master of the Ceremonies, and hung up in the Assembly-Rooms.
It being absolutely necessary, that a propriety of dress should be observed at so polite an assembly as that of Bath, it is humbly requested of the company to comply with the following regulations:
That ladies who dance minuets be dressed in a suit of clothes, or a full-trimmed sack, with lappets and dressed hoops, such as are usually worn at St James’s.
It is requested of those ladies who do not dance minuets, not to take up the front seats at the balls.
That no lady dance country-dances in a hoop of any kind and those who chuse to pull their hoops off, will be assisted by proper servants in an apartment for that purpose.
That no lady of precedence has a right to take place in country-dances after they have begun.
The places at the top of the room are reserved for ladies of precedence of the tank of a Peeress of Great Britain and Ireland, it being found very inconvenient to have seats called for and placed before the company, after the ball has begun.
That gentlemen who dance minuets, do wear a full-trimmed suit of clothes, or French frock, hair or wig dressed with a bag.
Officers in the navy or army in their uniforms are desired to wear their hair or wig en queue.
Ladies are not to appear with hats, nor gentlemen with boots, in an evening, after the balls are begun for the season; nor the gentlemen with spurs in the Pump Room in a morning.
The subscription balls will begin as soon as possible after six o’clock, and finish precisely at eleven, even in the middle of a dance.
That no hazard or unlawful games will be allowed in these rooms on any account whatever, and no cards on Sundays.
That in case any subscriber to the balls should leave Bath before the season is over, such subscriber may, by leaving an order under their hand, transfer his or her tickets for the remaining part of the season.
The major part of the company having expressed their desire that the tea, on public ball-nights, may be paid for by every person that comes into the rooms; the managing committee at the New Rooms, and Mr Gyde at his room, are come to a resolution, that each gentleman or lady on a ball-night are to pay six-pence on their admission at the outer door, which will entitle them to tea.
Amelia Maria Frances Elwes, known as Emily, was the only daughter – and heiress – of George Elwes of Marcham Park in Oxfordshire and Portman Square in London. The newspapers were probably over-egging the pudding a bit when they reported that she stood to inherit more than one million pounds, but she clearly stood in line to become an extremely wealthy woman. Of course, with those kind of prospects, Emily wasn’t short of suitors, but her heart was already given, to a man named Thomas Duffield.
Two years earlier, George Elwes had allowed Thomas to ‘pay his addresses’ to his daughter, but ‘some changes in the opinions of the governing part of the family had arisen, and other suitors were strongly recommended to the young lady’. Emily had other ideas, though.
George Elwes owed his immense fortune to the miserliness of his own father, John Elwes.
Known as both an eccentric and a miser, John Elwes was born John Meggot, the son of a successful Southwark brewer. Given a classical education at Westminster School, John then embarked on the Grand Tour, becoming known as one of the best horsemen in Europe and introduced to Voltaire. He not only inherited his father’s substantial fortune, but also that of his uncle, Sir Henry Elwes, 2nd Baronet (John took his uncle’s surname too). Sir Henry was also a miser, and probably it was his influence which steered John on the path which would come to define his life: penny pinching to the extreme. It’s difficult to separate fact from fiction when it comes to John Elwes’ life. He was said to wear rags and wear a wig that a beggar had thrown away, let his fine Georgian mansion, Marcham Park become so dilapidated that water poured through the ceilings in heavy rain and famously, when travelling, always carried with him, in his pocket, a hardboiled egg to eat. Apart from that, he would rather starve than buy food during his journey. It’s thought that John Elwes was Charles Dickens’ inspiration for Ebenezer Scrooge. Although he never married, John had two illegitimate sons who inherited some of his fortune, if not his miserly inclinations. One of those two sons was George Elwes, Emily’s father, who gained Marcham Park.
And what of Emily’s suitor? Thomas Duffield was born in 1782, the son of Michael Duffield of Syston near Grantham in Lincolnshire. He had gained his B.A. at Christ Church, Oxford in 1804 and then studied for his M.A. at Merton College. Following that, from 1807 (until 1811) Thomas was a fellow at Merton. Perhaps the Elwes family thought that Thomas’ income was insufficient, and that he was planning to live off Emily’s fortune?
With Thomas barred from the Elwes house, a plan was hatched with his friends and, it seems, with the lovestruck Emily’s knowledge and consent. Emily’s mother had a female friend staying with her, and one of Thomas’ co-conspirators contrived to be a guest in the Elwes family home in the first weeks of 1810 where he passed in the guise of this unnamed lady’s lover and future husband. One morning – just a few days before Valentine’s Day – he persuaded Mrs Elwes and her friend to go shopping together and once they had departed a chaise and four drew up to the house. George Elwes inconveniently met his daughter and his (un)gentlemanly house guest in the hallway as they walked to the front door; in answer to her father’s questioning, Emily said she was just ‘going to her mamma, who was waiting for her’. It appeared all too innocent; Emily, wearing neither a hat nor bonnet, was clearly not dressed for an outing but just popping out to her mother’s carriage on a quick errand before hurrying back inside.
The lack of headwear notwithstanding, Emily was handed in to the waiting chaise, where Thomas Duffield sat ready to spirit her away. His job completed, Thomas’s friend nonchalantly walked back in to the hallway. When George asked about his daughter’s whereabouts he was told that she had been delivered ‘to the man destined to make her happy; and that she was off to Gretna Green’.
Servants were sent after Mrs Elwes and she returned in a panic. Emily’s parents raced northwards, but having reached St Alban’s with no sight or sound of their daughter they gave up their search and returned home. While Thomas and Emily headed for the Scottish border, the newspapers picked up the story.
An elopement has taken place, which will make a very considerable noise.
The couple got safely to Gretna Green where they were married by the hale and hearty ‘old Parson Joseph’ (aka Joseph Paisley) who ‘drinks nothing but brandy, and has neither been sick nor sober these forty years’. Reputedly, Thomas Duffield paid Parson Joseph 50l. sterling to perform the ceremony.
With the deed done, George Elwes decided to make the best of things. He insisted that his daughter and new son-in-law go through a second marriage ceremony, just to be sure things were legal and above board, and this took place at Marylebone church a month later. In time, he was completely reconciled with his daughter, and grew to be fond of Thomas.
The story didn’t end there, however. Several years before Emily’s elopement and subsequent marriage, George Elwes had made a settlement (in October 1802).
George Elwes conveyed real estates upon trust for the benefit of his daughter; but he declared that, if she married under age, and without his consent, the trustees should hold the estates in trust for him and his heirs.
Emily had been a minor when she married (she was born c.1792 and so was 10 years younger than Thomas), and she certainly did so without her father’s consent. But, Thomas had been accepted as part of the family since then, and had been given possession of the Elwes’ mansion house. Upon George Elwes’ death, he left a tangled legal muddle behind him, as he never revoked the earlier settlement despite the fact that he had verbally made it clear that he wanted Emily and Thomas Duffield to inherit his estates. Emily’s mother, who had remarried to a gentleman named William Hicks, contested her first husband’s will in a protracted and complicated legal case, to the potential detriment of her son-in-law and grandchildren, but the Duffields managed to retain their rights to the Marcham Park estate and Emily and her mother clearly put any disagreements behind them. (Amelia’s will, written in 1824 during Emily’s lifetime, left her daughter and her Duffield grandchildren many personal bequests.)
After bearing nine children (three sons and six daughters) Emily Duffield died at the age of 43, and was buried 18 August 1835 at All Saints in Marcham. Thomas, who was an MP for Abingdon between 1832 and 1844, married for a second time, to Augusta Rushbrooke by whom he had four further children. He died in 1854 by which time he was living at The Priory in Wallingford while his son by Emily, Charles Philip Duffield, inhabited Marcham Park.
N.B.: County boundaries have changed over the years; Marcham Park in now in Oxfordshire, but was then in Berkshire.
Bury and Norwich Post, 14 February 1810
Leeds Mercury, 17 February 1810
New Reports of Cases Heard in the House of Lords: On Appeals and Writs of Error; and decided during the session 1827-8 by Richard Bligh, volume 1, 1829
Will of Thomas Duffield of The Priory, Wallingford, Berkshire: PROB 11/2189/352
Will of Amelia Maria Hicks of Marylebone, Middlesex: PROB 11/2102/386
We looked at Sir Wolstan Dixie, 4th Baronet of Market Bosworth in an earlier blog, and we promised we’d return to him in due course, to take a closer look at the man and his family.
Sir Wolstan was a pugnacious and pig-headed bully, and legend suggests he committed an awful crime.
We mentioned in our previous blog that Samuel Johnson lived with the family at Bosworth Hall for a time, while he was employed by Dixie as an usher at the local grammar school, ‘but was treated with what he represented as intolerable harshness; and, after suffering for a few months such complicated misery, he relinquished a situation for which all his life afterwards he recollected with the strongest aversion, and even a degree of horror’. At times, it’s difficult to know what is true and what is a tall tale when it comes to Sir Wolstan: he’s reputed to have made his butler the headmaster of the grammar school, purely because he could do so and no-one could nay say him. But, we reckon we can debunk that last one as a myth; we’ll say why at the end of this blog.
Sir Wolstan Dixie also fell out with his neighbours, particularly with Wrightson Mundy of Osbaston Hall and Markeaton. Dixie attacked one of Mundy’s waggoners when he caught the man driving across his park so Mundy disguised himself as a waggoner and repeated the offence. When Dixie tried to pull the waggoner down he got the surprise of his life when the man revealed himself to by Mundy, who then proceeded to deliver one almighty beating to the bemused Sir Wolstan Dixie. Possibly Mundy was the same squire with whom Sir Wolstan came to blows after the latter had closed off a footpath which gave access across some of his land. Shortly afterwards, Sir Wolstan appeared at court and was presented to George II and the king, when he heard that Sir Wolstan’s estate was Bosworth Park, recalled the ancient battle fought in 1485 and asked, “Bosworth! Big battle at Bosworth, wasn’t it?” With the memory of his recent fight fresh in his mind, Sir Wolstan stupefied the king when he replied, “Yes, Sire. But, I thrashed him!”
In May 1735, at All Hallows by London Wall, he married Anna Frere, a young, beautiful and – most importantly for Sir Wolstan – an extremely wealthy heiress. Anna had been born on the island of Barbados in 1711, the daughter of John Frere who, just before his death in 1721, was the acting governor of Barbados. After his death, his widow, Elizabeth, and her young family (there were four daughters, of whom Anna was the eldest, and two sons) returned to London and took a house on Great Russell Street in Bloomsbury. Elizabeth Frere died in March 1735 and just two months later, Sir Wolstan snared his young bride… and her fortune which amounted to over 20,000l.
In our earlier blog we recounted how Sir Wolstan kept Anna a virtual prisoner at his Leicestershire estate, Bosworth Hall at Market Bosworth, while she was pregnant later that year, having given his coachmen instructions that Lady Dixie was not to be driven further than three or four miles distant from her home. He also had Anna’s old family servant arrested and thrown into Newgate on a trumped up charge of theft when she displeased him.
The couple’s first child, born in 1736, was a daughter who was named Rebecca. There followed a son, Wolstan in 1737 and another daughter, Anna born in July 1739. Lady Dixie died giving birth to Anna; she was buried at Market Bosworth on 5 July 1739.
After just over a year’s mourning, Sir Wolstan married again. His second bride was Theodosia, daughter of Henry Wright of Mobberly Cheshire, and the wedding took place on 26 December 1740, at the bride’s parish church. With Theodosia, Sir Wolstan had six more children, one son, Willoughby, born 1742 and then five daughters, Purefoy (born 1743), Theodosia (born 1744), Eleanor Frances (born 1746), Rosamond (born 1747) and Juliana (born 1749).
Theodosia died in 1751. The painting below, of Sir Wolstan Dixie and his family, is dated four years after her death, and shows Sir Wolstan’s nine children. From left to right, they are probably Juliana, Eleanor Frances, Willoughby, Rebecca, Purefoy, Theodosia, Anna, Wolstan and Rosamond, with Sir Wolstan Dixie seated far right.
At Scarborough, in September 1758, Sir Wolstan married for a third and final time, to another wealthy heiress, Margaret daughter of William Cross, a ‘young lady with a handsome fortune’. Two of his children had, however, died since that family portrait had been painted. Purefoy Dixie was buried on 22 July 1757 at Market Bosworth and her sister Theodosia is also said to have died the same year.
Anna Dixie, the younger of the two daughters from Sir Wolstan’s first marriage to Anna Frere also died, and was buried 13 February 1758, aged around 19-years. It is Anna’s death which has given rise to a terrible legend. We can find no corroboration of it in contemporary sources, so give it here merely as hearsay.
It came to Sir Wolstan’s attention that Anna was surreptitiously meeting a young man in Bosworth Park (some sources say he was the gardener). In a cruel plan, Dixie set man-traps, intending to catch his daughter’s beau in one, but it was Anna herself who stepped into the device. Her screams led to her rescue from the jaws of the trap and she was carried back to the hall, bleeding heavily. There she died, and it’s said that her ghost haunts the hall to this day.
We have absolutely no idea how much of that tale is true, if any at all. What we can say, however, is that the portrait below, merely labelled as Miss Dixie and by Henry Pickering, dated to c.1750-1755, must be either Rebecca or Anna Dixie. (We have seen it erroneously called a portrait of Eleanor Frances Dixie, but this is impossible as she is too young to be the lady in this portrait.)
Rebecca Dixie died, unmarried, in 1762 and was buried 19 April at Market Bosworth while Juliana, the youngest of the Dixie children died in the December of the same year. Only the two sons, Wolstan and Willoughby, and two of the girls, Eleanor Frances and Rosamond survived their father, who died in 1767.
Two years later, Sir Wolstan’s eldest son, also Wolstan and, since his father’s death, the 5th Baronet, was declared a lunatic. Willoughby Dixie, the second son, took over the management of the estate, and of the grammar school. It was Willoughby who appointed Joseph Moxon, a waiter at a local pub, to the position of headmaster. This is clearly the origin of the story that Willoughby’s father appointed his butler to the job. Unless, of course, it was a case of like father, like son?
N.B.: The chapel of the Fleet Prison in London was notorious for clandestine marriages. On 19 May 1734, one Wolstan Dixie married a woman named Mary Guest. It’s an unusual name; there certainly weren’t many Wolstan Dixies around of marriageable age in 1734. We’re just throwing it in there, as a possible first marriage to Sir Wolstan… and if it was him, then either Mary Guest died within a year of her marriage or Sir Wolstan added the charge of bigamy to his many offences.
Relevant parish registers
The Baronetage of England, Thomas Wotton, Richard A Johnson and Edward Kimber, 1771
Cases in Chancery: The Attorney-General v. Dixie. Bosworth School, ex parte. 1807
Yesterday the old State Coach, built for King George I and the Carriages of his late Majesty, given by the late Master of the Horse to the Servants, were sold at Bever’s Repository; it is remarkable the Gold Lace of the State Coach, which was taken off before the sale and burnt, amounted to 53l. 19s.
A new superb State Coach is building for his Majesty, which, when finished, will be the most magnificent ever seen in this Kingdom.
(Derby Mercury, 9 January 1761)
George III had taken the throne on 25 October 1760, upon the death of his grandfather, George II (George III’s father, the old king’s eldest son, had died in 1751). His coronation took place almost a year later, on 22 September 1761, but if he was hoping that his new State Coach would be ready for the occasion, then he was going to be sorely disappointed. It took almost two years for the coach to be completed, for it was no ordinary coach. It would be, the new king decided, the most elegant and magnificent coach that had ever been seen in his kingdom.
It is said a new State-Coach is going to be built (from a design already made by a celebrated English Artist) which for elegance, taste, and grandeur, will, it is thought, excel any thing of the kind ever yet doe in Europe; and we have the pleasure to add, that the construction, painting, and every other part of the same, is to be the work of our own countrymen.
(Leeds Intelligencer, 20 January 1761)
Sir William Chambers, a Scottish/Swedish architect was responsible for the original design, while the contract for building the vehicle was given to the coachmaker, Samuel Butler. Then came the ornamentation, carved sculpture by Joseph Wilton which was then gilded by Henry Pujolas and decorated by the metal chaser, George Coyte.
The whole concept was for the coach to be the most wonderful – and therefore the most expensive – ever to have been built in England, and the decoration was full of symbolism. It was intended that ‘when riding in the coach, the King would appear as Neptune, monarch of the seas, and also Apollo, leader of the muses of artistic innovation’.
There are four Triton, mythical sea-gods placed on the body of the coach and, at the front, almost appear to be pulling the coach. Whether it was intended or not, in motion the coach rocked about as if it was rolling on the high seas, to the distress of those inside! When George III’s younger son, William IV used the coach during his reign in the 1830s, he complained that it was just like being on board a ship ‘tossing in a rough sea’, and as he’d served in navy for many years, he ought to have known.
The first outing of this magnificent new state coach was on 25 November 1762 when the king travelled in it to the State Opening of Parliament. So great was the public interest, that anyone with rooms in and around Parliament Street were able to rent them out at exorbitant rates for the day, and those ladies and gentlemen lucky enough to get one leaned out of the windows to watch the king pass by in his state coach, drawn by eight horses. As it turned out, watching from above was by far the safest vantage point.
London, November 25
This Day, about two o’clock, his Majesty went to the House of Lords from St James’s in his new State Coach, drawn by eight fine cream coloured horses, ornamented with blue ribbands and Morocco trappings. His Majesty went through the Park, and was attended by the Lords Oxford and Cadogan, the Master of the Horse and other principal Officers of State. The crowd was so great on this occasion, and carriages so numerous, that they extended quite from St James’s to the Parliament House, and it was with great difficulty that foot passengers could pass along the streets. In Parliament Street, one of the horses which drew his Majesty’s Coach fell down, and occasioned some little confusion, but we do not hear of any damage.
(Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 2 December 1762)
The crowds were so great that they led to injuries and even – reportedly – to death. The first accident occurred just as the coach left the gates of the Royal Mews on Charing Cross when a young woman fell beneath the hooves of one of the Life Guards horses. We haven’t found any further report on her, but it reads as if she survived her accident. The deaths were due to the immense press of people in confined spaces.
In the narrow passage leading from Spring Gardens into the park, a woman and child were crushed to death, and their bodies were laid on the grass in the park; another woman and a lad are said also to have been crushed to death near the Horse Guards, and several were beat down and trampled on, and had their arms broke, and otherwise much bruised; and divers women lost their hats, capuchins, gowns, shoes, &c. I the crowd.
(Derby Mercury, 26 November 1762)
The Gold State Coach is still used for ceremonial occasions, but has been modernised over the years to give a (slightly!) more comfortable ride.
Sources not mentioned above:
Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 2 September 1762
Derby Mercury, 26 November 1762
Leeds Intelligencer, 20 January 1761
Royal Collection Trust: notes against object RCIN 917942, Design for the State Coach by Sir William Chambers and object RCIN 5000048, the Gold State Coach.
The breathless but smartly dressed clerk had clearly left the Bank of England in Threadneedle Street in a hurry, not even bothering to stop and put his hat on in his haste, nor to remove the pen which was stuck clumsily in his wig. When, on Leadenhall Street, a short distance away, he caught up with the lady who had just received a 50l. note from the bank, she had no reason to doubt the clerk’s words: that he had been sent to chase after her as it was thought there had been a mistake made in issuing the note. Could he, the clerk asked, see it?
The absence of a hat as well as the pen stuck in his wig clearly backed up his story. What else could he be but a bank clerk who had been dispatched post haste after the bank’s customer? The lady had no hesitation in handing over the note which the clerk checked and, with a look of relief, confirmed it was all correct and in order; the clerk handed the note back to the grateful woman before hurrying back to his desk.
By the time the lady opened the note, and found herself staring at a piece of white paper with a few handwritten lines on it, the conman and her 50l. note had both vanished into thin air.
A naval gentleman was preparing to travel from London to Portsmouth, and a trunk containing his clothes, a set of silver spoons and eight guineas was to be sent separately; the night before his intended departure, a porter was sent with the trunk from the naval officer’s lodgings in Aldersgate Street to Leadenhall Street’s Black Bull Inn, to get it on the next coach.
At the gate of the inn the porter was met by a man who introduced himself as a book-keeper employed at the inn; the book-keeper asked the porter what his business was.
The porter had no reason to doubt the book-keeper, for the man appeared to be exactly that, right down to the pen stuck in his wig (the book-keeper wasn’t wearing a hat).
“You came too late, Friend,” said the book-keeper, “the coach is just set out, but I’ll take care of [the trunk]; it shall remain safe in the warehouse, and go by Monday’s coach”. The book-keeper patted his pockets before exclaiming in annoyance, “Ha! That foolish blockhead, our porter, has taken the key with him”. He asked the porter to “step over to that alehouse over the way” and ask the inn’s porter to give him the key to the warehouse, while he, the book-keeper, kept guard over the trunk.
It will probably come as no surprise to learn that when the naval gentleman’s porter returned with the key, both the book-keeper and the trunk had disappeared into London’s dark streets.
Both frauds occurred in Leadenhall Street and, even though there is almost eleven years between the two, it’s tempting to think that it was the same brazen and perhaps opportunistic conman who committed both crimes, his disguise merely the lack of a hat and a pen, stuck carelessly in his wig.
Although George III had 15 children, and all but two of them survived to adulthood, grandchildren – at least legitimate ones – were thin on the ground. In 1817, when the Prince Regent’s daughter, Princess Charlotte of Wales died in childbirth (her son was stillborn), there was something of a constitutional crisis.
Three of the king’s daughters had married, but none of them had any surviving issue. The two eldest sons, George, the Prince Regent (and future George IV) and Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany had both separated from their wives long before; both were now childless, and weren’t in a position to provide an heir.
Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex was married and had children, but as he had married secretly and in contravention of the 1772 Royal Marriages Act, his union was deemed invalid and his children barred from the line of succession.
Prince Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland was also married, to his first cousin, Frederica of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, but the couple – at that time – had no children (a daughter had been stillborn in 1817).
And so, an unseemly scramble to a) marry and/or b) beget an heir to the throne broke out. In 1818, there were three royal marriages.
Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge, the king’s youngest surviving son (he was 44), was first off the starting block; he married Augusta of Hesse-Kassel in her homeland on 7 May 1818, and again in London (at Buckingham Palace) on 1 June. In a recurrent theme for the family, this marriage would, however, prove childless. Prince Edward, Duke of Kent was only a few weeks behind his younger brother; he settled on Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld and married in Coburg on 29 May, and again at Kew Palace on 11 July. The royal family tree is a tangled one and this marriage is a perfect example. The new Duchess of Kent had been the sister-in-law of the duke’s deceased niece, Princess Charlotte of Wales.
Rounding up the year’s royal weddings was the king’s third son, Prince William, Duke of Clarence who already had a brood of ten children by his long-term mistress, the actress Dorothea Jordan, all born illegitimately and given the surname FitzClarence. He married Princess Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen at Kew on 11 July in a double ceremony with his brother, Prince Edward.
The race to produce an heir was well and truly on. So, how did it play out?
After three weddings in 1818, several royal children were born the following year. The Duke and Duchess of Cumberland had a daughter, but she lived only a few hours and the Cambridges had a son. On 24 May 1819, Princess Alexandrina Victoria, daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Kent was born and, three days later, the Duke and Duchess of Cumberland had a boy, Prince George. The little princess took priority over the princes in the succession because her father, the Duke of Kent, was older than the Dukes of Cumberland and Cambridge.
George III died in 1820, and the Prince Regent took the throne as King George IV. At his death, ten years later, the Duke of Clarence was next in line and he ruled as William IV (the second son, Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany had died in 1827, still estranged from his wife). William IV’s wife and queen, Adelaide, suffered a succession of miscarriages and stillbirths, and the couple had no living children.
Princess Alexandrina Victoria, born because of that mad scramble for an heir, was next in the line of succession. Her father, the Duke of York, had died of pneumonia before she was a year old. In the portrait of her as a child with her mother (below), the young princess holds a miniature of her father.
Princess Alexandrina – known to her close family as Drina – is obviously much better known as Queen Victoria. She came to the throne on 20 June 1837 upon the death of her uncle, William IV, but as a woman was unable to also inherit Hanover which since George I had been held dually with the British crown. That went to the next male heir, her uncle Prince Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland who became King of Hanover. Victoria’s cousin, Prince George, who was born just three days after her own birth, would in time become the last King of Hanover.
Today, we’re taking you back in time to a public breakfast given by Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire at the end of June 1802, at her villa, Chiswick House. Public it might have been, but entry was only for those ‘of note’ in the fashionable world. You’ll be mingling with around 700 members of London’s high society so, in order to look the part you’ll need to dress in the latest fashions. Gentlemen should wear boots for practicality as the event is mainly outdoors. For ladies, we’d recommend a simple white muslin dress with an understated headdress (maybe one with just a few feathers as decoration). You’ll have to manage in a pair of dainty slippers, but we’re sure the suited and booted gentlemen will be on hand to offer assistance.
The breakfast rounded off the ‘fashionable arrangements’ for that particular week, which had started with a grand dinner given by the Prince of Wales on Monday 21st June and continued with a variety of musical evenings, routs and balls on every evening. By the time the weekend dawned, on Saturday 26th June, the haute ton were faced with the choice of attending two public breakfasts, one given by Mr Angerstein at his mansion, the Woodlands at Blackheath, or the Duchess of Devonshire’s gathering. No contest, we’re going to the latter!
Her Grace’s villa has long been deservedly the theme of public panegyric; but if it were always inhabited by as many beautiful women as appeared there on Saturday last, it would be a perfect Elysium.
Breakfast it might have been, but this was polite society and they kept fashionably late hours. The guests did not start arriving until the early afternoon, and they were the crème de la crème of society, headed by no less a person than the duchess’s friend, George, Prince of Wales who arrived dressed in green.
We’ll pick you a handful of others from the list of noted attendees. The Duke of Orléans was present (Philippe Égalité’s son) and the Countess Conyngham who would become the Prince of Wales’ mistress some years hence. From a banking family, the countess was a beauty but snootily regarded as somewhat vulgar, due to her ancestry. The Prince’s current mistress, Frances Villiers, Countess of Jersey is not mentioned as being in attendance… but a Mrs Fitzherbert is, and she is more than likely Maria Fitzherbert, the prince’s on-again, off-again one true love.
Some of the people present were those we know well; they are present within the pages of the books we have written. The Earl and Countess (later Marquess and Marchioness) of Cholmondeley were there; the earl was, for several years, the lover of our ‘infamous courtesan’, Grace Dalrymple Elliott, and he brought up her daughter, Georgiana Seymour, even though the girl’s father was not the earl but the Prince of Wales. Georgiana would have been almost 20 years of age and although she is not specifically mentioned as attending, it’s totally possible that she was there. If so, then she would have seen the man who, six years later, she would marry: Lord Charles Bentinck, a younger son of the 3rd Duke of Portland.
It was a perfect summer’s day and the guests strolled on the lawns and in the grounds. The Serpentine River provided rowing for any gentlemen who wanted a bit of exercise (aren’t you glad you wore your boots now?), and swings and a see-saw had been set up to provide a bit of fun (the latter reportedly ‘afforded much diversion’ and on the former, the ‘ladies assisted one another in swinging’).
Amongst this elevated and merry company strolled the Duchess of Devonshire, arm-in-arm with her eldest daughter, fondly known as Little G, Georgiana, Viscountess Morpeth. Just 20 years of age, Lady Morpeth had married a year earlier, to the 5th Earl of Carlisle’s eldest son. Little G had recently become a mother; her son, the future 7th Earl of Carlisle, had been born on the 18th April 1802, so a little over two months before this breakfast. In a sea of white dresses, the Duchess of Devonshire and her daughter managed to be the centre of attention. They both ‘looked remarkably well [and] wore a new sort of bonnet, with a large lace veil over it, serving as both cloak and bonnet. This was one of the handsomest promenade dresses we saw’.
The day was hot, so the veil which doubled as a cloak must have provided a little protection from the sun while not being too heavy. We wonder if it resembled the fashion plate below, which dates to the same period?
Around 4 o’clock, the company sat down to their breakfast. The tables, set with bouquets of fresh flowers and piled with refreshments, were scattered over the estate.
In the house covers were laid for 200, viz. in the two salons, the dining and green-rooms, and the dressing-room. In the Temple, &c. 100 were accommodated, and in the two Grand Marquees, and the other tents, about 200 more. Tables were likewise placed under the trees at the entrance of the lawn; the effect was cool and refreshing, the situation being impervious to the rays of the sun… the desert of fruit was very fine, cherries, strawberries, peaches, nectarines, pines, in abundance.
By 7 o’clock the guests started to drift away and an hour later most had departed, leaving the clearing up operation by the duchess’ servants to begin.
It had been a great success, but we have to note that two very important names did not appear on the list of guests. Neither the Duke of Devonshire nor his mistress Lady Bess Foster who lived with the couple in a form of ménage à trois, appear to have been present.
NB: The images used of Chiswick House are of an earlier date when the house was owned by the Duke of Devonshire’s ancestor, the Earl of Burlington, but give a good idea of how the house and grounds would have looked.
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Sir Wolstan Dixie (1700-1767), 4th Baronet of Bosworth Hall at Market Bosworth in Leicestershire was many things, and chief among them was the fact that he was a bully. For a few short months, Samuel Johnson lived with the family at Bosworth Hall while he was employed by Dixie as an usher at the local grammar school, ‘but was treated with what he represented as intolerable harshness; and, after suffering for a few months such complicated misery, he relinquished a situation for which all his life afterwards he recollected with the strongest aversion, and even a degree of horror’.
On 1 May 1735, at All Hallows by London Wall, Dixie married 24-year-old Anna Frere, the wealthy eldest daughter of John Frere of Barbados (Anna had been born on the island in 1711 and was also one of the heiresses of her grandfather, Tobias Frere). Anna’s mother had died just weeks before. It’s tempting to speculate that Dixie saw his chance and pursued solely Anna for her money (she had ‘upwards of 20,000l.), and probably that’s pretty close to the mark. Along with his bride, Sir Wolstan also took on the employment of Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Barker, who had worked as housekeeper and head servant for Anna’s mother, Elizabeth, for twelve years until Madam Frere’s death in March 1735, and then for Anna until her marriage. The Frere’s London house was in Bloomsbury, on Great Russell Street; John Frere had been acting Governor of Barbados just before his death on the island in 1721, after which his widow and children had returned to England. Betty Barker had worked for the family since that time.
Betty was utterly trustworthy. When, straight after the wedding, she was ordered to quickly pack up all the household belongings, close up the London house and head to the Dixie’s Leicestershire mansion, Bosworth Hall, she followed the instructions implicitly. There just wasn’t enough time, however, to pack properly and Betty ended up opening drawers and throwing armfuls of the contents into packing trunks which she left with trusted friends. She was honest about their contents, saying to her friends as she deposited the trunks with them that she knew some of the Freres’ belongings had got mixed up with her own, and that she would sort them out and return everything to its rightful owner when she was next in London. It was to prove a disastrous mistake, one compounded by the fact that Betty had been gifted so many of the Freres’ cast-offs. (The Frere family quite obviously viewed Betty with great affection; she had cared for them during all their time in London and they held her in high regard.) Betty had also pretty much worked for nothing except the gifts that the family had bestowed on her; by the end of 1735, Betty was owed five years wages. It’s clear that she viewed the cast-offs she’d received from the family as a form of recompense for her labour.
Reading between the lines of what happened next, it looks like Sir Wolstan had been snooping on his wife’s letters in the interim. He had intercepted one from Betty to Anna, Lady Dixie, in which Betty ‘mentioned the names of Capt ___ and a Baronet; and told [Anna] it was unfortunate she married so soon, for she might have had such, or such a Gentleman’. Betty, it seems, already had the measure of Sir Wolstan. He saw his chance in the Frere and Dixie belongings found in poor Betty’s possession, dismissed her and, after Betty had returned to London, had her charged with theft. Declaring he would have Betty hanged before Christmas, if it cost him a thousand pounds, he saw his wife’s servant incarcerated in Newgate prison.
It must have been an horrendous ordeal for Betty who caught gaol fever and nearly died before she even got to court to be tried for theft, on 10 December 1735.
Prisoner: I lived twelve Years with my Old Lady Madam Freer. I kept all the Keys, and was entrusted with every thing that was of Value in the House. After my Old Lady dyed, my Young Lady Married to Sir Wolstan Dixie. In a little time we left off House-keeping in Town, and the Goods were all pack’d up in great haste, to go to Sir Wolstan’s Country-Seat in Leicester shire. And its very likely that I might, when we were in such a hurry and Confusion, put some of my old Lady’s things among my own. The Night before we went away, I would have settled with Madam Freer (my old Lady’s Sister and Executrix) but she said she had not leisure then, and she would settle with me when the Family came to Town again – Sir Wolstan turn’d me away suddenly, and I return’d to London in August last, but Mrs. Freer has never yet called in to settle the Account, and the Five Year Wages and other Money is yet due to mes.
Mrs. Freer: Tis true the Account is not-yet settled and I believe there is five Years Wages due to her
Witness after witness took the stand to testify to Betty’s honesty, and the fact that the numerous items she was supposed to have stolen had been either freely gifted to her, or had been among the ones thrown into the packing cases to be sorted out at a later date.
Mrs. Bainton: I knew her twelve Years when she lived with Old Madam Freer, and, she always behaved in the best Manner and so much to her Mistress’s satisfaction that she left her a Legacy of Ten Pound. Madam Freer dyed the 13th of March and on the first of May her Daughter was married to Sir Wolstan Dixy and they went directly to Lewisham. Sir Wolstan and his Lady came to Town again on Friday the rest of the Familiy came on Saturday. And on Sunday the Goods were pack’d up in a great hurry and Confusion, in order to set out the next Morning for Bosworth in Leicester-shire. The Room was strewed all over with Goods, and the Prisoner was putting them up in Trunks and Boxes, she said she scarce knew where to put things, and believed that by mistake she had put up some of her Lady’s Goods with her own.
Mrs. Collins: I have known her eleven or twelve Years, she was House-keeper and Head-servant , and had the best of Characters from the Family.
When I heard she was in Newgate, I was amazed, and should as soon have thought of hearing the King was there – I live at the Colour Shop. in King’s Gate Street.
Cornelius Maddox, Porter: I assisted her in cording up the Boxes, and Trunks. I said, Here is a great many Things, what must I do with them. Aye, says she, Here is a great many things of my Ladies, as well as mine, I think I will send them to Lewisham. But Mrs. Bingham, and Mrs. Smith, told her she might leave them at their Houses, and accordingly, the Boxes were carried to their Houses publickly.
Mrs. Wright: The Day Sir Wolstan went out of Town, the Prisoner said to Mrs. Freer, Mam, there is a great many things put up, but if in this hurry there should be any thing of my Lady’s intermixt with mine, here are my Boxes, we shall not stay for ever in the Country, and when we return we will put all to rights.
Also among the witnesses were Elizabeth and Rebecca Frere, Lady Dixie’s sister and aunt respectively. Mrs Smith, the Freres’ dressmaker, was also called and asked about a scarlet silk night gown, which was held up in the court.
Mrs. Smith. I believe I made this for my Lady; I have made her three, four, or five such in a Winter.
Prisoner. Would not you have bought that Gown of me when I was going into Mourning for my old Lady?
Smith. She offered to sell me a scarlet Gown before they went into mourning, which was about eight Months ago; and she said, her Lady gave it her – This may be the same for ought I know.
Next, a yellow silk gown and petticoat was held up for the jury to see.
Smith: I made such a Coat and Gown for my Lady.
Question: How many new Gowns might you make the Lady in a Year?
Smith: A great many – I believe a Dozen in a Year.
Question: And what could she do with so many, if she did not give some of them to her Maids?
Smith: The Lady used to give the Prisoner a great many Clothes, and she never denied or concealed them, but wore them in publick – She told me when her Lady married, she had given her all her Clothes.
Question: Is it not usual for single Ladies of great Fortunes to give away their Maiden Clothes when they marry?
Smith: Yes, it is usual – And all these Clothes in Court were made before my Lady married, for when she married she was in Mourning.
Finally, the bombastic Sir Wolstan Dixie took to the stand. He stuck to his story that the goods had been stolen, and also that his wife had become ‘sick of the Prisoner’. Lady Dixie had been called to appear at the trial, but wasn’t present.
Sir Wolstan: She is at my Country Seat in Leicestershire – She is with Child, and in her Condition, and the badness of the Roads, it might endanger her Life to come up.
Council: Have you not said that you had prevented her coming to Town?
Sir Wolstan: No.
Council: Have you not commanded that your Coach should not go above four Miles from home?
Sir Wolstan: I am not to answer all Questions.
Unfortunately for Sir Wolstan, all his endeavours to lock his wife away at Bosworth Hall proved fruitless, as two men took the stand who had talked with Lady Dixie in the meantime.
Thomas Weaver: This Subpoena I served Lady Dixy at Market Bosworth, on Day last. I told her I came from Mr. Nelson, who desired she would come to Town to clear her Servant. She said, she was nevermore surprized; that she believed the Maid was very innocent; and that she would come with all her heart, but that Sir Wolstan had sent her down a Letter, and threatened it should cost her her Life if she came – she said she had been served with one Subpoena before by Mr. Street – I set out on Saturday Night last at half an Hour past eight. I took post at Littleworth, and rid a-cross the Country with the Post-boy.
Robert Nelson: The Prisoner sent for me to Newgate, and I knowing how she had been trusted, and what Character she bore, I took Horse this [Satur] day was a Fort-night, and arrived at Bosworth on Sunday. I told Lady Dixy, that Sir Wolstan had sent her Maid to Newgate. She said I am surprised that Sir Wolstan should offer such a thing, I believe she is as innocent as the Child unborn. He must know that she had a great many things of mine which I gave her. I told her among other Things, that she was charged with stealing a Locket and some China. She answered I gave her the China, and as for the Locket it was but a paultry Thing, that Sir Wolstan gave me, and I bid her lay it by among her other odd Things till I came to Town, and then I would settle with her, for I owe her a hundred Pound, I told her, when I came to London I would send her a Subpoena. She cryed, and said she would come with all her Heart, and would pack up her Things to be ready against next Friday
We said at the beginning that Sir Wolstan was a bully; he had told his wife that if she went to London for the trial he would ‘throw her off, and she shall never live with me again’. Lady Dixie was, effectively, a prisoner in her own home.
It took the jury no time at all to find Betty Barker not guilty on all the charges.
…after a long trial, she was acquitted, with the greatest honour that ever woman was, the jury not going out of Court about the verdict; after he acquittal, her Counsel mov’d for a Copy of her Indictment; which was directly order’d her by the Court, without any Debate.
There was one more prisoner at the Old Bailey that day, and Betty Barker acted as a witness for him. Richard Paine had been Sir Wolstan’s butler, and he too had been committed to Newgate on a charge of stealing two shirts and a bob-wig belonging to Dixie.
Prisoner: I lived with Sir Wolstan from May the first, to June the twenty second. And when I went into his service, I agreed to have his old Cloaths. One day as I was puting on his Shirt, he asked me why I gave him a torn Shirt, Sir, says I, they are all so bad the Maids can’t mend them. Well, says he, I have got some new Cloth, and I’ll have Caps made of the best of these, and do you see that the Maids do not make Aprons of the rest. I told him I would take care of that for my own sake; but Sir, says I. you have got several old mouldy Wigs, what shall I do with them? He bid me take ’em, and do what I would with them.
Sir Wolstan: I never said so.
Elizabeth Barker, (the last Person that was try’d.): He was my Fellow-servant, at Sr. Wolstan’s, where he behaved in a very civil honest manner – Two Weeks before he was discharged, I heard him say publickly, that Sir Wolstan had given him two old Shirts, and an old Wig.
Richard Paine was also acquitted. For the gutsy Betty though, the story didn’t end quite there. She brought a civil action against Sir Wolstan Dixie for false imprisonment and for a malicious prosecution, seeking damages of 2,000l. and, while she won, she was only awarded damages of five shillings. Sir Wolstan was better prepared for this fight; he turned up with his wife (and no doubt she had little option but to reinforce her husband’s words) and managed to persuade the jury that Betty Barker didn’t quite merit the good character she’d been given at her trial. (It’s worth remembering here that not one person other than Sir Wolstan said anything to Betty’s detriment during her trial at the Old Bailey, and their were numerous witnesses.) Betty was outraged and did try to take things further and bring about another action, but Sir Wolstan had taken enough and pulled his weight to halt the proceedings.
Thereafter, Betty Barker fades from sight; we know she was living on Great Winchester Street in the City of London during 1736. Unfortunately, there were many women with the same name in London and it’s nigh on impossible to track her further.
Watch out for a further blog when we’ll delve a little further into the life, and family, of Sir Wolstan Dixie.
Old Bailey Online
National Archives, C 11/321/32
Samuel Johnson by Walter Jackson Bate, 1975
London Evening Post, 29 April-1 May 1735
Daily Journal, 11 June 1736
Old Whig, or The Consistent Protestant, 8 July 1736
In 1726, a new title was created in the peerage, the Duke of Edinburgh, and the recipient was Prince Frederick Louis, George I’s grandson.
The new duke was second in the line of succession to the throne behind his father, George Augustus who was, in 1726, the Prince of Wales.
News of his new title had to be carried to Hanover, for that was where Frederick lived. In 1714, when Queen Anne had died and his grandfather had taken the British throne as George I, Frederick’s parents, George, Prince of Wales and Caroline of Ansbach, the new Princess of Wales, had been forced to travel to England and leave their eldest son behind to represent the dynasty in Hanover (despite the fact that he was only seven years old).
Delighted with the news from England, celebrations were prepared at the Hanoverians’ summer residence, Herrenhausen Palace.
Hanover, Sept. 20. One the 12th inst. there was a great Entertainment at Herrenhausen, on Prince Frederick’s being created Duke of Edinburgh. There was a numerous Court, and at Night a fine Firework at the End of the Garden.
(Caledonian Mercury, 27 September 1726)
At the same time as Frederick had been created Duke of Edinburgh, his younger brother, William (who had been born in England) was made Duke of Cumberland, a title which had first been held by his 2x great-uncle, Prince Rupert of the Rhine. Prince William was only five years old, while Frederick was nineteen; the former was the focus and the favourite of the British royal court while Frederick, overseas and out-of-sight, was overlooked and becoming ostracized.
Frederick did not use his new title for long; on 11 June 1727 George I died, and Frederick’s father took the throne as George II. Frederick was – finally – brought to Britain, but father and son rarely saw eye-to-eye. On 8 January 1729, Frederick was invested as the Prince of Wales and his eldest son, George, was given the Edinburgh dukedom.
Frederick never became king; he predeceased his father, George II and instead his son, George, the 2nd Duke of Edinburgh (and Prince of Wales after Frederick’s death) succeeded as George III, and so we have the unbroken reigns of the four Georges which give the period it’s moniker, the Georgian era.
The title of Duke of Edinburgh fell into abeyance in 1760 with George III’s accession to the throne, but was resurrected by Queen Victoria for her second son, Prince Alfred (although the monarch’s second son is traditionally created Duke of York). And, in 1947, in its third creation, the title was bestowed on Prince Philip.
King George III celebrated his 70th birthday on 4 June 1808.
The king was losing his eyesight and, because of this, wasn’t present at his birthday court at St James’s Palace, but did receive several members of the nobility at Buckingham House (as Buckingham Palace was then known).
The morning was, as usual, ushered in with the ringing of bells, at noon the Park and Tower guns were fired, the ships in the Thames displayed their colours, and the flags and standards of the United Kingdom were hoisted on the different churches and public buildings. The streets in the neighbourhood of the Palace were crowded to an excess, and the windows in St James’s Street in particular, exhibited a display of beauty and splendour rarely to be witnessed in any country.
The royal family – minus the king – all began to arrive throughout the day, and assembled for ‘Her Majesty’s drawing-room’. The Prince of Wales, predictably, made sure everyone noticed his entrance.
At two o’clock the Prince of Wales and his Suite, in three carriages, and servants in state liveries, dress hats and feathers, proceeded from Carlton House to the Drawing Room, and entered by the private door in the Park. His Royal Highness was attended by the Duke of Clarence, Lords Keith and Dundas, Generals Lee and Hulse, and Colonels McMahon, Lee and Bloomfield.
The music playing had been specified by the king, but it was the queen who received the company, and all the nobility were present. Everyone had to wear full court dress and the queen continued to stipulate that ladies had to wear full hoops under their skirts, in an echo of the fashions of several decades earlier. Coupled with the trend for gowns with a slim silhouette in the early years of the nineteenth-century, the full skirts of the dresses which had to be worn at court looked ridiculously cumbersome. They certainly weren’t the most flattering of dresses to wear!
A sketch of one of the dresses worn has survived at this particular Drawing Room, and it was worn by the Countess, later Marchioness of Cholomondeley, someone we’ve written about at length. The Earl of Cholmondeley had, a few years prior to his marriage, been the lover of that ‘infamous courtesan’, Grace Dalrymple Elliott. And Grace had also, for just a few weeks in 1781, been the mistress of Cholmondeley’s boon friend, the Prince of Wales, and had subsequently given birth to the prince’s daughter. That girl, Georgiana Seymour (no, we don’t know why she had the surname Seymour either!) was brought up by the Cholmondeleys, treated as their own daughter. Georgiana, 26-years-of-age, couldn’t attend the court, however. The queen had agreed with her son that she should not be presented until she was married, lest the king realise exactly who she was. (Georgiana married in September 1808, and she was present at King George’s 1809 birthday court, as you can discover in our first book, An Infamous Mistress.)
The newspapers described the Countess of Cholmondeley’s dress as follows:
A yellow satin petticoat, covered with a rich Brussels point lace, with a rich border; the train of yellow satin; the sleeves ornamented with rich lace.
La Belle Assemblée magazine went into more detail.
Explanation of Lady Cholmondeley’s Court-Dress: A bright primrose-coloured sarsnet petticoat trimmed full round the bottom with point lace, and a rich drapery of the same, most tastefully festooned with diamond chains, and ostrich feathers in the form of the Prince’s plume reversed. Body and train of primrose sarsnet; the latter trimmed with lace, and the former ornamented with the most splendid diamond wreath to represent the oak leaf and fruit, placed obliquely across the front of the bust; the sleeves finished to match, and the bottom of the waist confined with a diamond cestus. Head-dress court lappets of point; a diamond bandeau and rich coronet, with four ostrich feathers of unequal lengths, most tastefully disposed. Splendid earrings of the oval form; necklace and bracelets also of brilliants. Gloves of French kid, considerably above the elbow. Shoes of white satin with silver trimming.
We recently ran a post on our Facebook page which shared images of Princess Charlotte of Wales in a blue Russian style dress. It proved really popular, so we thought we’d take the opportunity to look at the dress, and the portrait of Charlotte where she is depicted wearing it, in greater detail.
With the end of the Napoleonic Wars two years earlier, anything Russian was eminently fashionable in 1817, when the portrait was painted. Princess Charlotte of Wales, only legitimate child of the Prince Regent (later George IV) was desperate to have the Russian Order of St Catherine bestowed on her. She’d been trying for the honour since at least 1813, with little success. (The order was only given to women, primarily those of the Russian royal family but also occasionally granted to foreign queens and high-ranking princesses.)
The well-known portrait of her, by George Dawe and dated to 1817 (shown above), depicts the princess in a Russian style dress, known as a sarafan, and – supposedly – wearing the Star of the Order of St Catherine’s. The notes on the Royal Collection Trust website say of the portrait:
At her left breast she wears the star of the Order of St Catherine, which she received on 1 July 1817, from Maria Feodorovna, wife of Paul I, in gratitude for hospitality shown to her son Nicholas during his visit to London. (Princess Charlotte’s husband, Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, also served under the Russian Emperor during the Napoleonic Wars.)
Now, we don’t want to contradict the RCT who surely know better than us, but we can find no corroborating evidence that Charlotte ever received this honour, and upon zooming in to the portrait, the Star insignia which she is wearing looks incorrect. It almost appears to have the Prince of Wales feathers atop it and is not studded with diamonds, as it should be. Maybe, however, Dawe chose to paint it this way? Although we have our suspicions, we really can give no confirmation one way or another and will have to rely on the royal collection’s assertion that this is the Star of the Order of St Catherine.
The dress Charlotte wears could almost have been copied from a portrait of Sophia Petrovna Svechina, a Russian exile in Paris. She was painted by François Joseph Kinson in 1816, just a year before Charlotte sat for her portrait, wearing a remarkably similar dress.
A Sarafan is a Russian trapezoidal jumper (or pinafore) dress, and a traditional folk costume. These two Russian portraits show the subjects wearing dresses that are also very like that worn by Charlotte.
No doubt Charlotte had her dress especially made (it was produced in England) for the portrait and to set off her Russian order, whether being worn legitimately or not. Charlotte’s version of this Russian dress is made from blue silk, trimmed with gold lace which has red highlights, and edged with gold fringe. Amazingly, it has survived and is also in the royal collection. As you can see from the images below, it has either faded slightly, or Dawe used a little artistic licence to darken it in his portrait of the princess.
When she sat for her portrait, the princess was pregnant. Her child – a son – was stillborn, and Charlotte died from complications following the birth the next day, 6 November 1817. She was just twenty-one years of age. Had she or her son lived, they would have been heir to the British throne.
Copies of the painting were made, many with slight variations. One shows the dress in white instead of blue, another leaves off the gold trimming. This version below shows the dress in a darker hue, and with a much more extravagant ‘blouse’ beneath, with lace sleeves.
Interestingly, when George Dawe’s brother, Henry Edward Dawe, made a mezzotint copy of the portrait after the princess’ death, which was published in January 1818 and an amalgamation of two of the portraits already given above, the Order of St Catherine pinned to Princess Charlotte’s breast was totally omitted.
George Dawe subsequently spent many years at the Russian court where he painted many of the nobility there. It is thought that he used the portrait of Princess Charlotte as inspiration for his later one of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna. Certainly, the rich colour of the dress and the pose are reminiscent of the princess’ portrait. It increases the pathos of poor Princess Charlotte’s picture however; how she would have loved to be painted with her arms around her children. Sadly, that was not to be.
We’ll leave you with this fantastic video, which looks at Princess Charlotte’s dress and the portrait.
Sources not mentioned above:
Letters of the Princess Charlotte, 1811-1817 (1949)
Autobiography of Cornelia Knight, Lady Companion to the Princess Charlotte of Wales: With Extracts from Her Journals and Anecdote Books, Volume 1 (1861)
* Please note: this week, our next blog post will be on Friday. *
On Tuesday 19 May 1795, King George III held a grand fête at Frogmore House in the grounds of Home Park, Windsor (around half a mile from Windsor Castle), celebrating both Queen Charlotte’s 51st birthday and the recent arrival and marriage of his new daughter-in-law, Caroline, Princess of Wales (she’d married the Prince of Wales, later George IV, just weeks earlier, on 8 April).
The fête was in the style of a Dutch Fair. This was in honour of some recent guests: William V, the Prince of Orange and Nassau-Dietz and his family had fled their Netherlands home after the French army had invaded, and headed for exile in England. (The Prince of Orange’s wife, Wilhelmina of Prussia, was the aunt of Princess Frederica Charlotte, the wife of George III’s second son, Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany.)
Their Majesties and the Orange Family, &c. &c. dined at half past three in a grand saloon, superbly ornamented, in Fête Champêtre. Four tents were fitted up in front of the saloon for the reception of their noble guests.
The presence of one guest was extremely contentious. Frances Villiers, Countess of Jersey was there, the Prince of Wales’ mistress despite his recent marriage. The prince famously hated Caroline, his wife, disliking her at first sight while Lady Jersey reigned supreme in his affections for some time. It was reported – wrongly, as it turned out – that Lady Jersey was pregnant with the prince’s child, and was ‘particularly distinguished’ at the fête held at Frogmore House. In fact, it was not Lady Jersey who was with child, but Caroline, Princess of Wales.
Dancers and singers from Windsor and Covent Garden, dressed in rustic character formed part of the day’s entertainment. The pastoral idyll was thrown into chaos and gales of laughter though, when the pretend haymakers were interrupted by ‘a set of ass-racers, whose obstinate steeds, in the confusion, threw some of the blushing maids on the very haycocks they had just been raising’.
George III’s eldest daughter, Princess Elizabeth had been the brains behind the Dutch fair, organising the day with the assistance of the Orange family.
The booths, which were numerous, displayed a collection of articles for sale, from the dairy to a lady’s toilet; the purchase money, which was voluntary, was dropt by the purchase into boxes appropriated for the charity schools of Windsor.
While the fair continued into the evening, the royal family and their especial guests gracefully retired from the gardens of Frogmore House and made their way to Windsor Castle where a ball and supper was held.
The Frogmore Estate has been owned by the royal family from the 1500s, although Frogmore House dates from the late seventeenth-century. Various tenants lived there (including one of Charles II’s illegitimate sons) until Queen Charlotte bought the house in 1792, as an idyllic and peaceful country mansion to which she and her unmarried daughters could retreat from court life.
After the 1795 fair, a nine-year programme of alterations was embarked on; the house was enlarged and extended, and pavilions added at the wings.
Of course, the Frogmore Estate is back in the news right now as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex (and their new baby, Archie), have made Frogmore Cottage their new home.
We have pored over many eighteenth and nineteenth-century documents in the course of our research. Letters, diaries, legal documents, wills, you name it, we’ve probably struggled through it, including cross-hatched letters which take an eternity to read!
So you can image what an absolute joy it was to come across a letter from our ‘infamous’ eighteenth-century courtesan Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s brother, Henry Hew Dalrymple, in the National Archives of Scotland which was written in the most beautiful, clear copperplate hand – how many of you would long to find such a letter?
The letter was to Henry Dundas and because of copyright restrictions we can’t show it in full here, but we do mention it and give the gist of the contents in our book, An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott. But we couldn’t resist giving you a little peep at it, just so you can judge for yourselves, so we have cropped his signature from the letter to share with you.
On Thursday 6 May 1819, William Hutchinson, a horse dealer from Canterbury in Kent and in consequence of a wager of 600 guineas, set off to prove that he could ride from his home city to London Bridge, a distance of 55½ miles, in three hours or less. What followed was enthusiastically described in the press of the day as ‘one of the greatest, if not unrivalled pieces of horsemanship’, especially when taking into account the hills on the route.
Hutchinson’s attempt began at 3.30am precisely, setting off at a gallop from the Falstaff Inn on St Dunstan’s Street. He changed horses along the way, at Boughton Hill, Beacon Hill, Sittingbourn, Rainham, Chatham Hill, Day’s Hill, Northfleet, Dartford, Welling and lastly, at the Green Man in Blackheath. It was on this last horse that he raced up to and over London Bridge.
The horses were all the property of either Hutchinson himself, or of his close friends, and some came from the stud of the Wellington coach. At each stop, Hutchinson dismounted himself and was assisted to mount the next horse which, Hutchinson calculated, took up less than 30 seconds at each stage (it must have been the eighteenth-century equivalent of a Formula 1 pit stop today!) The horse which took Hutchinson from Welling to Blackheath was the most troublesome, bolting twice while going down Shooter’s Hill and again on Blackheath, which lost Hutchinson quite a bit of time. Throughout the journey, Hutchinson was accompanied by a horseman on each stage just in case an accident befell him.
Two men had travelled to London ahead of Hutchinson and were in place to act as umpires. With their watches, and the watches of two more umpires present at the start of the race in Canterbury, the time was worked out accurately. And, it was found that Hutchinson had comfortably completed his feat within the allotted three hours; in fact, he ran the distance in just 2 hours, 25 minutes and 51 seconds.
Although Hutchinson bragged that he felt fit enough to return to Canterbury in less than three hours on the same day, he actually returned in more comfort, in the Wellington coach, enjoying a hearty breakfast followed by two mutton chops and a quantity of brandy at the Bricklayer’s Arms on the Kent road.
Later that day, back in Canterbury and at the Rose Inn (where he arrived at 2.45pm), William Hutchinson received the Freedom of the City of Canterbury, ‘in consideration of the extraordinary feat he has this day performed with a faithfulness as honourable to himself, as it is satisfactory to every individual concerned in the match’.
Sussex Advertiser, 10 May 1819
Kentish Weekly Post or Canterbury Journal, 7 and 11 May 1819
In our latest book, which is based on our blog and titled All Things Georgian: Tales from the Long Eighteenth-Century, one of the 25 true tales within tells of the life of the red-headed actress, Elizabeth Hartley. Elizabeth was a beauty, but not particularly vain; she disparagingly said of herself ‘Nay, my face may be well enough for shape, but sure ‘tis freckled as a toad’s belly’.
Born Elizabeth White, and from Berrow in Somerset, Elizabeth had a sister, Mary, who also had strikingly red hair. Mary made a good marriage to the Reverend, later Sir Henry Bate Dudley, minister, playwright and newspaper editor, a ‘witty and profligate man’ who glorified in the nickname, the Fighting Parson.
While researching Elizabeth Hartley we came across a Thomas Gainsborough portrait held by the Ascott Estate (National Trust), painted in the late 1780s and depicting a woman with red hair. The identity of the subject is disputed: it is labelled as either Lady Mary Bruce, Duchess of Richmond or Elizabeth Hartley.
This is the painting.
We contacted the estate who gave us some information from their guidebook relating to the portrait.
John Hayes has called this ‘one of the most ravishing of Gainsborough’s late romantic portraits. . . . The enigmatic smile and slightly distant expression heighten the poetic mood of the canvas.’ The supposed sitter was the daughter and co-heir of Charles, 4th Earl of Elgin and 3rd Earl of Aylesbury by his third marriage, in 1739, to Caroline, daughter of the 4th Duke of Argyll. She married in 1757 Charles, 3rd Duke of Richmond and Lennox. There were no children of the marriage and the title devolved upon a nephew.
The picture has been called a ‘late London work’ by Waterhouse, and ascribed more precisely by Hayes to 1786–7, when Lady Mary would have been more than 45 years old. In an endeavour to resolve the discrepancy between the sitter’s apparent age and the evident date of the picture, it has been suggested that she is the wife, Lady Louisa Gordon Lennox, daughter of the 2nd Duke of Richmond, and not the sister-in-law of Thomas Conolly, to whom this picture is said to have belonged, but neither the dark-haired Hugh Douglas Hamilton pastel of her at Springhill, Co. Londonderry, nor the Romney of her at Goodwood, Sussex, bear this out. Yet nor can one detect any resemblance with the equally dark-haired sitter in the Chardinesque Reynolds of Mary, Duchess of Richmond, sewing that is likewise at Goodwood.
Two of the images mentioned of Mary, Duchess of Richmond are shown below and we think you’ll agree that they look nothing like the redhead in the Gainsborough held by the Ascott Estate.
There appears to be no record as to why it is suggested that it may be a portrait of Elizabeth Hartley, other than the obvious red hair, but if it is not Elizabeth, we have another suggestion for the identity of the sitter in the Ascott portrait. We believe that she might be Elizabeth’s sister, Mary, Lady Bate Dudley. The Fighting Parson was a patron of Gainsborough, and a good friend to the artist. Thomas Gainsborough painted Henry Bate Dudley in 1780.
And, in 1787, he painted a glorious full-length portrait of Mary, Lady Bate Dudley. Did he also paint a second portrait around the same time? We think that the lady in the Ascott portrait bears a marked resemblance to Lady Bate Dudley. The two images below are from the known 1787 portrait of Mary, both unfortunately losing some of the impact of the true colour of the original which was recently exhibited at the Tate. The gallery label at the time said that:
Mary Bate-Dudley was married to Gainsborough’s friend and champion, Henry Bate-Dudley. She’s shown here in a romantic woodland setting, leaning on a classical pedestal and an urn. Her pose is languid yet statuesque and the gesture of her left hand suggests a refined sensibility. Unusually in Gainsborough’s art, Lady Bate-Dudley’s head is shown in profile. This is a dramatic ploy intended to elevate the painting beyond the everyday world of conventional portraiture to the realm of High Art.
Gallery label, February 2016
As an aside to this, Henry Bate Dudley did have a connection to Lady Mary Bruce, Duchess of Richmond as, in 1780, the Fighting Parson was sentenced to a year in prison for libelling her husband. And, you can read more about him and his sister-in-law, Elizabeth, in the pages of All Things Georgian: Tales from the Long Eighteenth-Century, available now in the UK in hardback and illustrated with over 100 colour images.
Easter just wouldn’t be Easter without hot cross buns. These sweet, spiced buns were also popular throughout the Georgian era, known both as cross buns as well as hot cross buns, and traditionally eaten on Good Friday. The well-known song relating to them has its origins in the eighteenth-century.
Hot cross buns! Hot cross buns!
One a penny, two a penny,
Hot cross buns!
If you have no daughters, give them to your sons.
One a penny, two a penny,
Hot cross buns!
This started out as a London street cry, used by the sellers of the buns. The Oxford English Dictionary references a street cry dating to 1733, printed in Poor Robin’s Almanack:
Good Friday comes this Month, the old woman runs,
With one or two a Penny hot cross Bunns.
So, when did the street cry become a ditty? Wikipedia (not always the most reliable, we know!) dates the earliest recorded version of the rhyme to its appearance in The Christmas Box, published in London, 1798. However, we have found mention of a ‘catch’ (a round song; two or more voices singing the same song but beginning at different times) dating from 1767 and printed in the London Chronicle newspaper (2-4 June 1767).
A Catch that won the Prize at the Boarded Bagnio:
One a penny, two a penny, hot cross-buns;
If you’ve no daughters, give them to your sons;
And if you’ve no kind of pretty little elves,
Why then good faith, e’en eat them all yourselves.
One a penny, two a penny, &c.
(Da capo is an Italian term meaning to repeat from the beginning. The Boarded Bagnio was located in Banister’s Alley, St Giles.)
We’re not sure what exactly was going on at the Boarded Bagnio to merit the hot cross bun rhyme winning a prize, but this version of the popular ditty predates its appearance in The Christmas Box by over three decades and is the earliest reference to it that we can find. Is this the origin of the song?
What of the origins of the buns themselves? One writer, in 1777, refers to the custom in Greece to make presents of coloured eggs, and cakes of Easter bread. He continues:
Probably the Cross Buns made at present on Good Friday have been derived from these or such like Cakes of Easter Bread. The Country People in the North make with a knife many little Cross Marks on their Cakes, before they put them into the Oven, &c. – I have no doubt but that this too, trifling as the Remark may appear, is a Relique of Popery. Thus also persons, who cannot write, instead of signing their Names, are bid to make their Mark, which is generally done in the form of a Cross.
We’ve searched for an authentic recipe for the cross buns of the era, but the closest we have found is this from the Morning Chronicle, 23 April 1791:
GOOD FRIDAY ADVERTISEMENTS
A person, well known at Leicester, lately took this mode of informing the public, ‘that his Buns, made of the best Flour, and the genuine spices of the East, would be ready for delivery by six in the morning’. After desiring them to be aware of imposters, he concluded as follows:
GOOD FRIDAY approaches, and hard have I strove,
My highest respect for the Public to prove;
And to make my commodity worth approbation,
Collected the sweets of each spice-breathing nation.
What tho’ some base Gingerbread Weavers, for fun,
In their ribaldry, call me a Cake and a Bun;
In the making of Buns, there’s no rival I fear,
I’ve in mine, no mix’d Butter, nor rot-gut Small Beer –
But there’s everything genuine! Look at their size,
For they’ll melt in your mouth, and swell proud to your eyes.
And so, while I exist, you shall never lay fault on
Your Cross-bun Distributer, fam’d EDIS WATTON.
There was a tradition, probably harking back to the religious connotations with the buns, that stale and mouldy cross buns would cure many childhood ailments. Luckily the child does not seem to have been expected to eat the buns – sometimes several years old – but instead they would be bandaged to their body.
Sources not referenced in the text:
Observations on popular antiquities: including the whole of Mr. Bourne’s Antiquitates vulgares, with addenda to every chapter of that work: as also, an appendix, containing such articles on the subject, as have been omitted by that author. By John Brand, A. B. Of Lincoln College, Oxford. 1777
In our latest book, All Things Georgian: Tales from the Long Eighteenth-Century, we recount the adventures of Sarah Wilson, aka Lady Wilbrahammon… amongst other aliases! Sarah was a very convincing impostress and her life is one of those cases when fact proves to be far stranger than fiction. But, although rare, Sarah was certainly not unique. She was perhaps inspired to commit her grand fraud after reading of a girl named Mary Ramsay in the broadsheets. Mary’s story dated to April 1738, but it was widely reported in 1764 just before Sarah’s own antics.
* * *
In a ditch, between St Albans and Colney Heath in Hertfordshire, lay a poor starving girl, half-naked and too weak to move. Two bakers were travelling along the road, and they heard the girl’s groans and rescued her, taking her to an alehouse near the turnpike. The surgeon and apothecary, Mr Humphries, was sent for and under his care, the girl recovered.
Then the girl told her story. She was Mary Ramsay, nineteen years of age and from Hull in East Yorkshire. Her father had been an eminent surgeon and man-midwife who, when he died, had left Mary, his younger daughter, a fortune of £7,000 and trusted her to the care of his brother (there was an elder daughter living in London who was married to a wealthy Suffolk gentleman named Mr Cooke). Mary’s uncle was kindness itself to his young charge and so Mary suspected nothing when he sent her to London to board with a gentlewoman who kept a school in order that she could learn the manners required for a young lady of fashion. Dressed in a new riding habit and jockey cap, Mary was placed in a stagecoach and given a letter of introduction addressed to the schoolmistress. At the coaching inn at Stamford in Lincolnshire, where Mary had stopped to dine, she accidentally dropped the letter; it was found by a fellow passenger, a sea captain whose name Mary had forgotten. Upon hearing Mary’s story, the sea captain persuaded her to open it. The note – signed by her uncle – was brief and to the point.
The person who brings you this is the young woman I told you of. I acknowledge receipt of half the money agreed on, and expect the remainder as soon as convenient.
Mary had been effectively sold, to a man she did not know. With no-one looking she made her escape, slipped away and travelled on foot for a couple of days. In need of funds, she sold her jockey cap to an old woman and then exchanged her riding habit for a gown and some money, enough to get her to London to find her sister. It proved a fruitless search and so she set out once again, penniless now, resolving to return to Hull. Mary managed to trek as far as St Albans where – in her distressed state – she had been found.
She was the very picture of innocence and the good townsfolk of St Albans rallied around Mary, raising a subscription to clothe her and pay for her journey back to Hull. In the meantime, she lived in the mayor’s house with his family. All was going very well for young Mary until one voice of dissent was heard. A man recently returned from London cast doubt on her story, to the fury of the mayor and the inhabitants of St Albans. This man remembered that he had an acquaintance in Hull and so he wrote to him, to establish the truth of the matter. The reply was unfortunate for Mary. The acquaintance in Hull stated that:
… a surgeon of the name of Ramsay had formerly lived in the neighbourhood of Hull, who was very poor all his life-time, and who was confined for debt in the castle of Lincoln, and died there about ten years before; that he had two daughters, abandoned wretches and common prostitutes, who strolled about the country under various and fallacious pretences; that upon the strictest enquiry, he could not find that Ramsay had a brother; and that if the people of St Albans would pass her to Hull, [Mary] would there meet with her dessert.
Mary protested; the man who had written the letter was a particular friend of her uncle and had colluded in the deception practised upon her. The mayor – not knowing who to believe – directed two letters to gentlemen in Hull, asking for clarification. The answers came back, confirming that Mary was lying. The mayor wasted no time and Mary found herself in the Bridewell where she confessed all. She was a dupe, an impostor, and she was whipped at the cross as a vagrant on the next market day before being packed off back to Hull.
That Mary received her comeuppance didn’t deter Sarah Wilson who, just two years after this tale had been published, embarked on her own fantastical adventures. In fact, we suspect the tall-tale about Mary Ramsay to be a complete work of fiction as we can find no proof to substantiate any of it, but that probably doesn’t matter. It was reported as fact and the tale took on a life of its own in the imagination of Sarah Wilson, alias Lady Wilbrahammon, whose story is most definitely true, even though it is not quite as has been reported over the centuries. But, to discover the amazing adventures of ‘Lady Wilbrahammon’, you’ll have to read our book, All Things Georgian: Tales from the Long Eighteenth-Century.
The Beauties of all the Magazines, selected for the year 1764, vol. iii
In an earlier blog, we looked at the life of Charlotte Williams, illegitimate daughter of the 5th Duke of Devonshire; Charlotte was brought up in the duke’s household by his beleaguered wife, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. It has proved to be one of our most popular blogs, so we thought it was worth trying to shed a little more light on Charlotte’s mother, a milliner named Charlotte Spencer.
If you’ve watched the film, The Duchess, you will no doubt remember the scene early on when Georgiana, pregnant with her first child, is introduced to her husband’s young daughter, who is brought to Devonshire House in London following the death of her mother. Using artistic licence, the timings are, however, slightly out in the film.
On 7 June 1774, at Wimbledon, William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire, married Georgiana Spencer, d/o John, Earl Spencer and his wife Georgiana (née Poyntz). The groom’s parish was stated to be St George, Hanover Square, that of the bride Westminster St James. Charlotte Williams was known to be born a few months before this grand union; just weeks earlier, on 20 March, a little girl named Charlotte had been christened at St George, Hanover Square, her parents named as William and Charlotte Cavendish (and her birthdate given as 22 February).
All we really know of the mother, Charlotte Spencer, comes from one of the Town and Country Magazine’s gossipy tête-à-tête articles which appeared in the spring of 1777; Memoirs of the D___ of D___ and Miss Charlotte S____r. If Georgiana had been in the dark about her husband’s mistress, she would certainly have known all about it when this magazine hit the streets.
Shortly before his sixteenth birthday, William Cavendish had succeeded to his title, on the death of his father. Left an orphan, he was raised by three bachelor uncles who sent him abroad on the aristocratic ‘gap year’, the Grand Tour. The tête-à-tête article claimed that while in Paris, Cavendish captured the heart of Louis XV’s maîtresse-en-titre, Jeanne Bécu, Comtesse du Barry, some five years older than the duke but much more worldly wise. The duke’s uncles got wind of things, and rushed him home.
Finding she [Madame du Barry] had built too much upon her charms, influence, and attractions; and, at the same time, that her heart was too far engaged in the conflict, she became the dupe to her own artifice; and the young English nobleman had his vanity so far gratified as to be the rival of the grand monarque.
Returning to London, the duke made the acquaintance of a pretty milliner who had ‘the finest eyes he had ever beheld’. He became a customer, and then her lover. Charlotte Spencer was the daughter of a country curate whose situation had allowed of nothing more than a ‘tolerable education’ for his daughter. After his death, Charlotte travelled to London where she fell into the clutches of ‘a veteran procuress, who, under the veil of religion, prevailed upon Charlotte to be a lodger in her house, that she might take care of her salvation’. It is suggested that Charlotte had at least one pregnancy (and possibly a termination) while lodged in this brothel before leaving, only to fall into the hands of ‘an old debauchee, who pretended to adore her mental, as well as her personal attractions’. This old rake gave Charlotte a handsome allowance and set her up in an elegant house, but she hated the life; after a few months her ‘keeper’ died and left her mistress of a fortune enough for her to set up a milliner’s shop. Where, soon afterwards, the 5th Duke of Devonshire found her…
The duke and Miss Spencer seem to have lived happily together for some years; she left the milliner’s shop behind and the duke provided for her. He set her up in a discreet rented villa.
We may now suppose our hero in full possession of all Charlotte’s charms, and that she was happy in an alliance with a young nobleman every way amiable. Yet a paradox still remains to be solved; which is, that after some years intercourse with Miss S___r, who was now rather approaching the decline of beauty, our hero should marry a nobleman’s daughter, a universal toast, still in her teens, with every personal accomplishment, who gives the Ton wherever she goes, and that he should still be fond of his antiquated (by comparison) Charlotte?
The truth is that the duke needed a male heir, and while he was clearly fond of Charlotte Spencer, the teenaged, wealthy and well-connected Miss Georgiana Spencer (it is an ironic coincidence that the two ladies bore the same surname) was the more suitable bride and prospective mother for a son and heir. Poor Charlotte had only given him a daughter.
Georgiana married her duke in May 1774, and this little scandal broke in the press almost three years later. Popular gossip said that the duke continued to see Charlotte regularly during the first years of his marriage.
There is a caprice in mankind, it is true, that cannot be accounted for – whim prevails more than reason – but that the blooming, the blythe, and beautiful D___ should be neglected for Charlotte S___r is really astonishing!
The duke’s affair with Charlotte Spencer fizzled out after 1778, and all available evidence suggests that she had died by May 1780 when the six-year-old Charlotte Williams was brought, with her nurse, Mrs Gardner, into the Cavendish household.
Despite her unhappy marriage, the Duchess of Devonshire was the toast of the town. Extravagant, vivacious and addicted to gambling, Georgiana was also compassionate and caring; when the young and motherless Charlotte Williams was presented to her, Georgiana took the girl to her heart and brought her up as her own daughter. In time, Georgiana had three children of her own by the duke, Georgiana (Little G) born 1783, Harriet (Harry-O) in 1785 and William (known as Hart, as his courtesy title was Marquess of Hartington) who was born in 1790. (Georgiana suffered many miscarriages during her marriage.)
A couple of years or so after Charlotte Spencer’s death, Georgiana met Lady Elizabeth (Bess) Foster at Bath; Bess quickly became an indispensable member of the Cavendish household, given a role as Charlotte Williams governess and replacing Charlotte Spencer in the duke’s affections. Something of a ménage à trois developed. Georgiana retaliated with an affair of her own, falling in love with the future prime minister, Charles Grey; in 1792 and in exile from her husband and children, Georgiana gave birth to Grey’s daughter. Known as Eliza Courtney, this girl was brought up by Grey’s family although Georgiana did manage to make secret visits to her. Bess Foster accompanied Georgiana during these years of exile before the two returned to the duke in 1793. Bess, after Georgiana’s death, would become the duke’s next wife.
Town and Country Magazine, March 1777
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman (Flamingo/Harper Collins, 1999)
We have some exciting news to share with you, our readers, today. As well as writing our bi-weekly blog posts, we have also been working on our fourth book together… and this one is based on our blog! In fact, we’ve reused the name, and the title of our new book is All Things Georgian: Tales From the Long Eighteenth-Century.
It contains 25 tales that you won’t find on our blog already, all a little longer in length but, as ever, lavishly illustrated, predominantly in colour. In fact, we’ve got over 100 gorgeous colour pictures scattered throughout the text. The tales are all in roughly chronological order, covering the reign of the four Georges, 1714-1830 and set within the framework of the main events of the era.
So, what stories can you expect to find inside? We bill ourselves as historical super-sleuths and we’ve dug into various archives to discover the weird, the wonderful and the downright strange side of long eighteenth-century.
Take a romp through the long eighteenth-century in this collection of 25 short tales. Marvel at the Queen’s Ass, gaze at the celestial heavens through the eyes of the past and be amazed by the equestrian feats of the Norwich Nymph. Journey to the debauched French court at Versailles, travel to Covent Garden and take your seat in a box at the theatre and, afterwards, join the mile-high club in a new-fangled hot air balloon. Meet actresses, whores and high-born ladies, politicians, inventors, royalty and criminals as we travel through the Georgian era in all its glorious and gruesome glory.
Out in the UK by the end of April, 2019. Click here to discover more.
For a woman who was noted as such a beauty, it has always frustrated us that there are not more surviving portraits and drawings of our ‘infamous mistress’, Grace Dalrymple Elliott. There is a miniature by Cosway, painted around the time of her marriage with Dr (later Sir) John Eliot, and the two well-known portraits by Thomas Gainsborough, plus a disputed chalk drawing by John Hoppner which may or may not depict Grace.
Imagine our surprise and delight then, to come across the drawing below by the caricaturist Thomas Rowlandson which purports to depict ‘Lady Elliott, otherwise Dally the Tall’. The inscription contains one glaring error; Grace was never Lady Eliot, her husband had divorced her well before he became a baronet but, nevertheless, this could indeed be Grace (her nickname was Dally the Tall, a play upon her surname and height), probably drawn sometime around 1782-1786 and wearing a chemise à la reine. We know that she was famous for bringing the dress into fashion here in the UK.
After her divorce, Grace had been the Earl of Cholmondeley’s mistress, before leaving his arms for the protection of Philippe d’Orléans, then the duc de Chartres (later duc d’Orléans and, during the Revoution, Philippe Égalité). Grace then snared British royalty when, for just a few short weeks, she enjoyed a relationship with the young Prince of Wales (later King George IV). During the summer of 1782, Grace gave birth to the prince’s daughter.
In February 1783, Grace appeared at a masquerade ball held at the Pantheon arm-in-arm with Charles Wyndam, 3rd son of the 2nd Earl of Egremont. Also present were Perdita (Mary Robinson), Grace’s one-time rival for the Prince of Wales, but now with her new lover, Colonel Banastre Tarleton, Lady Grosvenor and Mary (Moll) Benwell with Colonel Richard FitzPatrick.
A few of the Cyprian Corps in elevated life were present – Mrs Elliott’s dress, the chemise de la reine, and Miss Sheppard’s were the most elegant of the whole group. The Perdita and the T__le__n paired off very early. Mrs B__nw__ll, and Col. F___tz__ck were in close Teˆte-a`-Teˆte all the evening, also Mr W___nd__m and Mrs Elliot, Lady Gr__v__r likewise perambulated the circle for a considerable time.
The company were very sociable, and the dances continued till past seven in the morning.
The chemise à la reine, was the height of fashion. A diaphanous white muslin gown with a coloured sash ribbon tied high on the waist, the wearer appeared fashionably déshabillé or undressed; the chemise had, until this time, been used as an undergarment but now it was worn as a dress in its own right with no corset underneath. It was popularized in France during the early 1780s by Queen Marie Antoinette who was painted wearing such a dress by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun (to the outrage of her subjects who were scandalized to see their queen dressed in such a simple and romantic way).
Marie Antoinette had sent a few of these chemises to her aristocratic friends in England, in particular to Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. The duchess and Mary Robinson are usually credited with introducing the fashion to England but Grace was also an early devotee of the style. She had spent time at the French court as the mistress of the duc de Chartres; had she too been sent a chemise à la reine from friends in France?
With the Prince of Wales no longer interested in Grace, and the Earl of Cholmondeley having also moved on, Grace found herself in Paris… and with a new rival: the beautiful and ‘celebrated’ Moll Benwell, a courtesan at least a decade younger than Grace. If Grace wanted to renew her relationship with the duc de Chartres she was out of luck, for Moll Benwell stole her thunder. There began a tit-for-tat game between the two women, played out in London and Paris.
If we may credit our intelligence from France, English beauties are not less admired in Paris, than in their native kingdom – the reigning toasts there at present are, the Benwell, and the Elliot; the former is allowed to be by far the most elegant woman that has appeared there these many years, they term her the Kitty Fisher of her time, from her likeness to that beautiful woman. The Duc de Chartres has made himself extremely ridiculous on her account, following her to all public places; to the contempt with which she treats him and his promises (which that nobleman is but too apt to make) she may attribute his constant attendance on her.
The fortunes of the handsome Colonel Richard FitzPatrick (second son of the Earl of Upper Ossory) fluctuated wildly. He was a close and loyal friend of Charles James Fox (the two men had known each other since their schooldays) and one of the intimate group that included the Earl of Cholmondeley, the Prince of Wales and Charles Wyndham. An ofﬁcer with the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards, the dashing colonel was also an inveterate gambler, a solo balloonist, bon viveur and wit.
As beﬁtted such a great friend of Charles James Fox, FitzPatrick had stood as a Member of Parliament, holding the borough of Tavistock from 1774, but gave as little time as he could to matters of business, preferring to devote himself to pleasure instead. He lived on his credit and tradesmen were always denied access to his house when they called to press their bills. Because of her own debts, Moll had left the colonel in the spring of 1783; she couldn’t pay them and neither could he, and so she journeyed to Paris at the same time as Grace.
With an improvement in FitzPatrick’s ability to procure credit, Moll returned to London; Grace must have been pleased to see the back of her and the way to the duc de Chartres left clear once more.
The winter of 1783 found the tables turned and Grace in London with Mary Benwell back in Paris; King George III was on the verge of dismissing the government and so FitzPatrick’s credit would once more be on hold. With her rival once more stealing her thunder in Paris, Grace, in London, exacted her tit-for-tat revenge and found herself a new protector, snaring for herself the Honourable Colonel Richard FitzPatrick.
During the 1784 election, Grace was by FitzPatrick’s side campaigning for the Whigs and Charles James Fox on the streets of Westminster (as, famously, did Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire). The supporters of Charles James Fox took to wearing ‘true blue’ colours and favours on the streets, denoting their support of American Independents and their hostility to Pitt and his ministers, and Grace was no exception.
Miss Dalrymple is so azurized, that nothing under the blue sky can exceed her; she wears a blue hat; her eyes are blue, her breast-bows and ribbons are the same colour; her carriage is also blue; and she is called by way of distinction the ‘Blue Belle of Scotland, &c. &c’.
Was the Rowlandson caricature drawn around this time?
In An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott, you can discover Grace, and her equally fascinating relations. It is available at all good bookshops worldwide, including Amazon, in hardback and as an eBook.
Courtesan. Spy. Survivor. A gripping and meticulously researched account of the swashbuckling life of one of history’s most overlooked heroines: Hallie Rubenhold, author of The Scandalous Lady W
At the time of writing, you can download An Infamous Mistress as either a Kindle or ePub from our publisher, Pen & Sword Books, for just £4.99.
We’ve written about Georgian era riding habits in an earlier blog, but this time we’re looking at the practicalities of wearing one. Female equestrians in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-centuries were certainly hampered by their clothes, in comparison to men, and needed assistance just to mount and dismount. Then, once in the saddle, they had to arrange themselves to be perfectly positioned with their skirts all in place.
The young horsewoman’s compendium of the modern art of riding; comprising a progressive course of lessons; designed to give ladies a secure and graceful seat on horseback; at the same time, so effectively to form the hand, that they may, in a short time, acquire perfect command of their horses, (1827) gives the following instructions for a novice horsewoman.
Two persons are necessary to assist in putting a Lady on Horseback; one to hold up the Horse’s head, standing immediately in front, with a hand on each Bridoon Rein, close to the Horse’s mouth; the other to life the Lady up to the Saddle.
The Lady having first adjusted her Habit, is to place her right shoulder against the Saddle, her face turned a little from the Horse. Her right hand, with the Bridoon Rein hanging loosely on the fore-finger, or thumb, to be placed on the upright Horn, and to stand perfectly erect, resting the whole weight of the body on the right foot.
The person lifting our equestrian up, now stoops down and cups his hands together; the lady places her left foot in his hands and keeps her left knee as straight as possible.
If the left knee be much bent, the person lifting the Lady up, has very little command of her weight; she is, therefore, compelled to drag herself up in the most ungraceful manner possible… by attention to the foregoing rules, the most heavy, or inactive person, may be lifted up at the first attempt, if the pressure in the man’s hands is correctly perpendicular, and the Lady stands so close to the Saddle as to touch it with her right shoulder.
Before all this, however, thought needs to be given to the riding habit… specifically keeping it out of the way.
[When being lifted onto the saddle] care must be taken, that no part of the Habit is under the Lady’s foot when placed in the man’s hands; as it acts as a check, and prevents her taking a sufficient spring, which must be proportioned to the height of the Horse the Lady is to be put on.
On arriving in the Saddle, the right knee must be put into the crutch as soon as possible; but, previously to doing so, it will be advisable to take hold of the Habit and under garments with the right hand, close to the right knee, to ease them up, in order to allow sufficient room for the knee to come quite down in the crutch, where it must remain perfectly stationary.
Should the Habit require any regulating behind, the Lady must take hold of the crutch with her right hand, and gently raise herself from the Saddle, and smooth it down with her left hand; but if it is properly adjusted, previously to being lifted up, it will require very little alteration after arriving in the Saddle.
Great care must be observed, that the Habit and under garments are particularly full and easy, in order that the Lady may be at perfect liberty, and not, in the most trifling degree, confined by them.
It is a much safer plan, to put that part of the Habit which hangs near the Horse’s side, round the foot, previously to putting it into the Stirrup, than to fasten it down with a clasp, or a pin; as, in the event of a Lady being thrown from her Horse, the Habit disengages itself with the foot.
The Skirt to the Riding Habit should not be too long, as there is a possibility of its getting between the Horse’s fore-legs, or being blown across them, so as to check his action, and throw him down. It also makes a Lady’s figure appear disproportionate.
There is also advice as to headgear, but not relating to safety as we’d understand it. No hard hats here, and we do wonder what the writer would have made of a lady carrying a parasol while hawking, as in this portrait below.
Long veils are also dangerous on Horseback, as they get entangled with the Reins, confuse the Rider, and cause her to lose the command of her Horse.
Never lift the right hand up, with the Whip in it, to adjust the Hat; it not only looks extremely awkward, but will sometimes cause a Horse to shy. Place the Whip under the thumb of the Bridle Hand; and should there be a Rein in the right hand, it may either be dropped, or placed under the forefinger of the Bridle Hand. This leaves the right hand quite at liberty.
This lady, then, is doing everything wrong!
It was advised that, as with getting into the saddle, at least two men should be present to help our lady dismount from her horse and that:
before springing from the Saddle, [she should] draw the right hand down under the right leg, to feel that the Habit is quite clear of it and the Stirrup.
It wasn’t unheard of for women to ride astride a horse rather than side-saddle. An early nineteenth-century caricature, full of innuendo, jokes about the practice.
It was more commonplace on mainland Europe for ladies to ‘ride astride’ or en cavalier (literally, as a rider or horseman). There are famous portraits of both Marie Antoinette and Catherine the Great riding in male clothing in this way. The ill-fated Caroline Matilda, George III’s younger sister, embraced the custom after she married the Danish king.
The [Danish] Queen Consort, young, gay, affable and obliging, gained all hearts by her assiduity to please. It is no wonder that such a person should give occasion for censure to those who were already disposed to find fault… The ladies of Denmark, unlike our countrywomen, when they ride, bestride their horses like men; but to preserve the decorum of the sex, they wear a petticoat over their drawers or breeches. Unhappily her Majesty looked upon the petticoat as an incumbrance, and when she hunted, dressed herself en cavalier. This was immediately taken notice of by her enemies as a great act of indecency.
Nevertheless, riding in this way caused much astonishment and excitement in England.
A German Lady who dresses, and rides en cavalier, has for several days past attracted the attention of the beaux and belles in Hyde-park. She is well mounted, takes her morning rides without any attendant, and leaps over the different bars in the park with all imaginable coolness, and resolution.
And, just slipping in within our timeframe, is this account of the trend-setting Lady Mary Deerhurst, taking full advantage of her freedoms while living and travelling abroad.
The lady alluded to in the Morning Post as astonishing the natives of Rome by riding in the public streets in Turkish trowsers, and en cavalier, with her daughter in a similar costume is Lady Mary Deerhurst, the lively daughter of Aubrey, Duke of St Albans. Her elopement with Viscount Deerhurst was followed in a few years by separation between the parties; since which period, being in possession of a splendid fortune, she has lived an independent life in Italy, somewhat after the fashion of Lady Hester Stanhope. In her exploring parties in the vicinity of Rome, Lady Mary frequently remains on horseback from twelve to sixteen hours, to the no small consternation of her languid Italian attendants.
The person, Sir, who I informed you had last year swallowed a fork on Shrove Tuesday, discharged it by the anus the same year, (1715) on the 25th June.
Ahem! Now we’ve got your attention, today being Shrove Tuesday, we’re taking a look at some of the events which occurred on the day in the Georgian era. Often celebrated as a half-holiday with bell-ringing and games, we all know of the custom of pancakes; today pancake races are still often held. But, what about other traditions? And no, fork swallowing wasn’t one of them; that was just an accident which occurred on the day. Mind you, some of the customs were just as awful…
An old custom around the mid-1700s was to throw sticks at cocks on this day… no, we don’t know why either. One theory, given in a letter in the Stamford Mercury of 1768 said that:
Gallieide, or cock-throwing, was first introduced by way of contempt to the French, and to exasperate the minds of the people against that nation: but why should the custom be continued when we are no longer at war with them?
A cockerel would be tied to a post and then coksteles (weighted sticks) thrown at the bird until, inevitably, it died. In 1763, the mayor and justices of Bath printed an appeal for this practice to end, it being ‘barbarous, and therefore doubtless offensive to Almighty God’. They asked the country folk who lived nearby the city not to bring their cocks to market and sell them for this purpose. Possibly their plea went largely unheeded, as they were forced to repeat their appeal the following year too. In 1753, a riot broke out in Dublin when some soldiers, who were watching the proceedings, expressed their distaste at the practice. In 1766, at Blackburn in Lancashire, some of the local lads were throwing sticks at a cock in the churchyard, but their aim was off and instead they hit a woman walking past.
The stick flew into her eye, and up into her head, which put her into very great torture, and after languishing some time, she died.
Mind you, with the custom of throwing at cocks all but forgotten by the end of the eighteenth-century, the Justices of Derby worried instead about the practice of:
…playing at Foot Ball on Shrove Tuesdays; a custom which whilst it has no better recommendation than its antiquity, for its further continuance, is disgraceful to humanity, and civilization; subversive of good order, and Government, and destructive of the morals, properties, and very lives of our inhabitants.
The year before, it seems, one John Sneap had lost his life while indulging in the game on Shrove Tuesday. Rowdy ‘mob football’ games were yet another odd Shrove Tuesday tradition. And so the city of Derby:
… being fully satisfied that many public and private evils have been occasioned by the custom of playing at FOOT BALL in this Borough on Shrove Tuesdays.
We have unanimously resolved, THAT SUCH CUSTOM SHALL FROM HENCEFORTH BE DISCONTINUED.
Some towns in England still continue this tradition. A much more satisfactory custom was gathering for drinks and a feast.
In Bury, on 24 February 1762, 72 people who all lived within a mile of the town met at the Old Hare and Hounds, to drink the health of the royal family. Amongst the crowed were 38 elderly folk, whose ages amounted to ‘upwards of 3040 years’. Adding the combined ages of those gathered to celebrate Shrove Tuesday seems to be of national interest. The following dates to 1759.
At an entertainment given by the Master of the Talbot Inn, at Ripley in Surrey, on Shrove Tuesday last, to twelve of his neighbours, inhabitants of the said parish, and who lived within five hundred yards distance, the age of the whole amounted to one thousand and eighteen years. What is most remarkable, one of the company is the mother of twelve children, the youngest of whom is sixty. She has within the fortnight walked to Guildford and back again (which is twelve miles) in one day. Another has worked as a journeyman with his Master (a shoemaker, who dined with him) forty-nine years. The all enjoyed their senses and not one made use of a crutch.
And, let’s not forget the poor fork swallower. He was reputed to be a Spanish officer who had accidentally gulped down the fork (it was only a small implement) while cleaning the root of his tongue with the end of the handle. And, the account we have read suggests he came to no permanent harm.
Derby Mercury, 16 March 1753, 7 March 1766 and 18 February 1796
Manchester Mercury, 6 March 1759 and 2 March 1762
Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 10 February 1763 and 23 February 1764
There are many accounts of dogs seeking help for their owner following an accident. Here we’ve collected a few tales from contemporary newspapers.
In the early evening of a mid-November day in 1767, a man named Gabriel Park was walking to his home at Carntyne, a Glasgow mining area, when he fell into an old and deep abandoned coal pit by the roadside. Luckily it had no water in it, but he had no way of escape. Gabriel’s small pointer dog was with him, and all night it ran around the mouth of the pit, yelping and howling. This noise alerted several colliers who, early the next morning, were walking to their place of work; they came over to see what the commotion was. Gabriel was fair spent by this time, and had barely the strength left to call his name, but his rescuers heard his faint cries for help. They fetched ropes and brought him to safety; although he was in a bad state, Gabriel was expected to survive. And, if the Gabriel Park who was buried at Glasgow in 1794 at the age of 67 is him, then survive he did, thanks to his dog.
Another rescue by a dog also occurred in Scotland, on a similar winter’s evening in 1811. Andrew Frame and John Corbet, from Larkhall, were on their way home in an open cart together with their dog. They had to cross the Clyde, which was swollen, and by a mishap, cart, horse and the two men ended up in the river. John Corbet disappeared under the surface and was drowned, but his companion, Andrew, survived, thanks to the dog who grabbed hold of his master’s clothes and kept his head above the water until they got to the shore. The horse also managed to make it to safety; after getting away from his harness he swam to one side of the river only to find the bank too steep to escape, so made his way to the opposite side where he was able to scramble out.
When the Comet II paddle steamer collided with another steamer off Kempock Point, Gourock, Scotland, and sank with the loss of 62 of the 80 passengers on board, a lady named Jane Monro was saved when she managed to grab hold of a greyhound who had been onboard, and who kept her afloat. The fate of the greyhound was not recorded (but we hope he was pulled to safety too!).
Many other accounts relate stories of faithful hounds refusing to leave their dead masters. The following is from early February, 1799.
On Tuesday, an officer’s servant belonging to West Suffolk, was found near the Newmarket turnpike, supposed to have lain in the snow since Saturday. A faithful dog was found lying near his deceased master, buried in the snow by whose barking the body was discovered.
Several years earlier, in 1778, a Southampton man known as French Frank was sent on horseback to Stoke, accompanied by his faithful Newfoundland dog. Somehow met with an accident and both French Frank and the horse ended up tangled together in what was described as ‘the Barge River’ (possibly this means the Trent and Mersey Canal which was completed the year before and that French Frank was heading to Stoke-on-Trent). They both drowned, the bodies discovered due to the Newfoundland, who swam next to French Frank’s body and who could not be coaxed from the water until he was almost exhausted.
A clearly well-to-do gentleman from the London area (for the family had servants) had, in the summer of 1752, been missing for a fortnight. He had a favourite dog who rarely left his side, and this dog had also been absent, returning only for his dinner each day, then quickly vanishing again. Eventually, someone decided that it would be an idea to follow the dog, to see if he could lead them to the missing man. The dog led his owner’s relations to the side of a flooded gravel pit on the road to Marylebone where the dog’s master was found drowned.
Faithful dogs to guide the blind are nothing new.
In the summer of 1810, a blind man accepted a bet of seven shillings, that he could walk six miles in an hour and a half. In this undertaking, he would be guided by his faithful dog. The pair started at 8 o’clock in the morning, on the Fulham road, and walked one mile out and then one mile back in until the six miles was completed. There was a huge crowd of people gathered to watch the event and, to their surprise, the whole six miles was completed with fifteen minutes to spare. The spectators, so impressed by the blind man’s feat, hastily started a collection amongst themselves, and in no time at all they’d raised 40 shillings, which was handed over to the blind pedestrian. Let’s hope he treated his pooch to a good meal with some of the proceeds!
Things didn’t always go so well, though. In 1776, a blind woman was walking along Newcastle’s Quayside, led by her dog. Unfortunately, the dog got a bit too close to the edge, and the poor woman fell into the water. It was near full tide, and a passing stranger grabbed a boat hook, managed to get hold of her dress, and dragged her back to dry land before any great harm came to her.
We found another account of a blind man falling into a river, but this time you couldn’t blame his faithful dog as it was down to foul play.
Sunday night a poor blind man, who was led about the streets by a dog, fell into the Liffey, and was drowned. This was occasioned by some abominable villain cutting the cord with which the poor man was guided by the dog. The animal displayed astonishing affection to the body of his master, when taken out of the river, by licking it over, and signifying great concern at his fate.
We have the following odd affair transmitted to us from Windsor, viz. That a few days ago there died at Portsmouth a person who had lived at Windsor for many years, and by his will order’d that a relation of his (to whom he had bequeathed his all) should go to Portsmouth, bring his body from thence in a hearse, and bury it at six o’clock in the morning, in a grave ten feet deep, in his orchard, where he had himself buried a favourite dog some time ago…
The man was John Mathews, a hat maker from Windsor in Berkshire, who died sometime in late August 1741. (It’s hard to be sure, without a ‘regular’ burial in a churchyard, but his will was opened on 27 August and proved on 3 September 1741, and the newspaper report was dated two days later.) The Will actually stipulated that John should be buried in his ten foot deep grave in his garden under the mulberry tree. No more than a dozen of his friends ‘that have been used to sport with me’ were to be present. A French horn was to be played (the newspaper said it should sound the Death of the Hare while John’s body was being lowered into the ground).
Each mourner was to get a bottle of wine and the parson, who John’s executor should choose, should have a pair of gloves.
John specifically stipulated that if he died away from his home, his executor should bring his body back to be buried beneath the mulberry tree and, if he’d already been buried, to exhume his remains and rebury them as directed. If not, the executor would ‘answer it at the last day and forfeit ten pounds to my next heir at law in three months after my decease…’.
This executor was John’s nephew, William Mathews, who lived with his uncle at Windsor. In return for carrying out his uncle’s wishes, William got the bulk of John Mathew’s wealth and possessions.
We’re not sure what John’s wife, Martha, made of all this, but she was also named in his will, getting 5l. within twenty days of his death and then 20l. a year thereafter, to be paid quarterly unless she remarried in which case her annuity would cease.
There was one further condition placed on William Mathews.
The said relation (who is not of the Establish’d Church) should within three calendar months [of John’s death], receive the Sacrament according to the Ceremony of the Church of England; and upon neglecting to comply with these things, to be cut off from all that this whimsical person died possess’d of, which we hear is about 1000l.
Can we just say here, that if this was his true fortune, we feel for his wife Martha, described by John in his Will as his ‘loving wife’. She got just a fraction and, unless her nephew allowed otherwise, doesn’t seem to have had any right to remain in her home (assuming it was owned by John and not Martha). However, the newspaper wasn’t quite correct on one thing; if William didn’t take the Sacrament, he didn’t forfeit everything, just 100l. which was to go to whoever stood next in line as John’s ‘lawful heir’.
Oh, and as a quick postscript to his Will, John left just a shilling to a niece.
The newspapers reported that the first part of this odd will had been complied with, and John had been laid to rest in his garden at 6 o’clock in the morning. A week later, twelve people were to assemble at the makeshift grave, the invites already having been sent (John’s Will, however, seems to suggest they should have been present at the burial itself), ‘and ‘tis not doubted but the last part will be perform’d in due time’.
John Mathews’ will had been written on 9 January 1738/9, but when he died just over two years later he was described as being ‘late of New Windsor in the county of Berkshire but at Portsmouth in the county of Southampton’. As a further clue to the date of John Mathew’s death, his nephew William swore that he had opened the cover in which the Will had been sealed on Thursday 27 August 1741.
We’re reminded of the phrase, mad as a hatter. Hatters, through their trade, were susceptible to mercury poisoning. Whether or not John Mathews suffered in this way, there’s no doubt he was an eccentric character both in life and in death.
National Archives, PROB 11/712/16 Will of John Mathews, Hat Maker of New Windsor, Berkshire, 3 September 1741
Elizabeth Frances Robertson was born c.1773, possibly in a humble house in the outskirts of the town of Huntingdon where her father worked as a porter to an oilman and her mother as a laundress. She clearly received an education somewhere for she gained employment as a teacher in a boarding school, and did so well that a lady from Cheshire recommended her to the attention of Miss Charlotte Sharpe who ran a boarding school for young ladies at Croom’s Hill in Greenwich. From 1795, Eliza and Charlotte ran the school in partnership.
Short and somewhat plain in appearance, and badly marked by smallpox, Eliza soon endeared herself to the staff and pupils, not least with the melancholy – but totally fictitious – tale of her childhood. Her father, she said, was dead. He’d upset her grandfather when he married against his wishes and was driven from his home and country, forced to wander as an exile. Mr Robertson ended up in the United States and – claimed Eliza – was given shelter at Mount Vernon by General Washington. There Mrs Robertson joined him and several children were born. An older brother, Eliza told her rapt audience, had been killed in battle, but not before he had married a woman of great fortune and even greater beauty. A sister had married a Captain Pigot who, shortly afterwards, had been killed in a duel, but nothing lost, then attracted the attention, and hand in marriage, of Lord Paget, heir apparent of the Earl of Uxbridge. Eliza was outwardly amiable and sensible, appeared very religious although later described as insinuating in her manner and speaking in an elevated tone of voice.
As everyone seemed to have swallowed these lies without murmur, Eliza went further. She claimed that she was entitled to an estate in Scotland, Fascally (it doesn’t exist but she said it was near Perth), after the death of an uncle, Alexander Stuart Robertson, and was an heiress. Lord Kenyon, Eliza asserted, had said she was entitled to this estate. Then, in 1799, Eliza received the news of her mother’s death. She was distraught, bought mourning rings for all her friends (on credit!) and announced that she had come into more money, around 700l. a year. When her grandfather died, she would receive even more, around 15 or 20,000l. Determined to enjoy her supposed new-found wealth, with the help of Charlotte Sharpe, Eliza contacted Mr Creasy of Greenwich, a man of business, to help her gain control of her Scottish estate. Mr Creasy was instantly duped. A surveyor was applied to, who would go to Fascally to give his opinion on the rents and value the timber. The surveyor also later added a somewhat gruesome piece of information to the tale: he recalled seeing a wax model of a dead child… Eliza, while weeping over it, claimed it was a (macabre!) present from Lord Paget and was the likeness of her sister’s child. Miss Robertson didn’t do things by halves! We almost suspect she began to believe her own lies.
Eliza planned to enjoy her good fortune; she wanted a fine house and fixed on a handsome one in the Paragon, an elegant crescent at Blackheath, which was half built. In early 1800, she bought it on credit… Mr Creasy had advanced her 2,000l. of his own money in lieu of her settling matters at Fascally. This Blackheath villa (it was no. 3 on the crescent) was to be finished in the most expensive style. Creasy hired bricklayers, carpenters and painters. The drawing rooms were painted in watercolours by one of the best artists money could buy, the walls in landscape and the ceiling composed of clouds. Floor to ceiling looking glasses in richly carved, burnished gold frames were hung on the walls in other rooms; six mirrors came to 1100l. Mr Driver, a nurseryman, planted the shrubberies and improved the extensive pleasure grounds. Meanwhile, Eliza set up three carriages, a coach, a sociable and a post-chariot and had a card printed which read, ‘Miss Robertson, of Fascally and Blackheath’ which she distributed around all the best houses in the neighbourhood. As we have already pointed out, why go small when you can go large.
Creasy also went to Thomas Haycraft’s ironmongery in Deptford; Mr Haycraft had gone to Bath, leaving his two sons in charge. After being assured of Eliza’s status by Mr Creasy, they extended her credit and supplied several items for her new house. In the end, across all the tradesmen, dressmakers and milliners who were approached by Eliza and Mr Creasy, she received credit amounting to an eye-watering 15,000l. against her future expectations.
During the building work, Eliza and Charlotte stayed at Croom’s Hill. (Charlotte Sharpe was later described, unkindly, as having large black eyes, with a rather ferocious expression, pallid skin and sharp features.) Towards the end of June, they set off for Brighton, where they ‘figured away with four horses and outriders’. In August they returned, and Eliza went to Hatchett’s the coachmaker and desired him to make her an elegant chariot, with silver mouldings and raised coronets of silver. A trip to Margate also took place, with Mr Creasy accompanying the ladies. Eliza realised that he might talk to people in Margate and unravel her tales so, near to Shooter’s Hill, she stopped the carriage and told her coachman not to announce Mr Creasy; he seems to have made no resistance to this. He was a married man so had no designs on her fortune, although he may have been in on the scam.
Furniture was supplied by Mr Oakley, an upholsterer who had a warehouse on Bond Street. Eliza told Oakley she had great expectations from rich relations in India and was continually receiving presents of great value. Among the number lately arrived was a chimneypiece then lying at India House, and she added that she intended to build a room in which to hold balls or musical evenings. Oakley’s order amounted to almost 4,000l., again, all on credit. With the house beginning to be furnished, servants were hired and Eliza and her ever-trusting companion, Miss Sharpe, moved into their fine new mansion. They were, perhaps, lovers.
John Cator, Esq., the wealthy Quaker timber merchant and MP who owned the land the villa stood on, had been a mortgagee on the house and became the landlord. Eliza told him she wanted 850l. to pay the workmen, and that she did not mean to have a lease, but to purchase the house. He loaned her the money.
Oakley was the first to grow suspicious and when half the order had been completed, asked for 1000l. Eliza was hurt by his lack of trust and indignantly said if he doubted her he could write to her sister, Lady Paget, or her cousin, the Bishop of London. If he had further doubts, he could apply to Sir Richard Hill who had known her from infancy or to Sir Edward Law, the present Attorney-General, who could vouch for her. Her boldness won the day, and Oakley proceeded without contacting anyone. But, as suspicions had started to be raised – somewhat too conveniently, perhaps – Eliza’s grandfather now died. She put her entire household into mourning while her creditors looked with interest at Eliza’s increasingly large inheritance.
‘From the manner in which she was going on, he [Oakley] took it for granted that she was a woman that had so much money that she did not know what to do with it, or that she had none at all.’
Then, just before everything was finished, Mr Oakley finally did what he should have done weeks earlier, and called on the Bishop of London and Sir Richard Hill; both gentleman only knew Eliza through her card, which she had left at their door. The game was finally up!
Oakley took out a writ and waited for Eliza and Charlotte to return home (she was dining out), but the crafty Eliza realised what was happening, sent her carriage home empty and vanished into the night. Oakley broke in and by 6 o’clock the next morning his men had cleared the mansion of its furniture. Three hours later came in an execution, by which the remaining part of the property was to be sold by auction on the premises.
Mr Creasey, at the last minute, had gained a warrant of attorney from Eliza and took two very heavy hampers from the Blackheath villa, part of the plunder. He also reportedly took the lease of the house, so that while the others were ruined, he was safe. Had he been in on the game, or truly a dupe? Eliza was spotted by a haberdasher in St Paul’s Churchyard who chanced on her in Bishopsgate Street, dressed in men’s clothes and boots, with Charlotte leaning on her arm. After that, the two women, both in their normal dress but heavily veiled, took the Devon mail-coach out of London. They eventually ended up in Penzance in Cornwall where they took rooms in a hotel, Miss Sharp going by the name of Sydenham and claiming Eliza as her distant relative and protégé Madame Douglas, a lady of large fortune from the north of England, travelling for the benefit of her health; being reclusive, Mme Douglas didn’t want to travel with a retinue as the anxiety that would produce would counterbalance any comforts. You bet it would!
They stayed in during the day, only going out at night with veils over their faces; during their week’s stay they saw no one and the staff grew suspicious. A chambermaid overheard a conversation in which the names of Oakley and Creasy were frequently mentioned, and she’d been reading the newspapers which had reported the swindle. A letter was written to Blackheath but the two ladies got wind of it and left the next day. At length, in early April 1801, Eliza and Charlotte were traced to Huntingdon where they were lodging under the name of Cunningham. Eliza, who had signed everything, was arrested and thrown into the town jail. There, the jailer made a tidy sum by charging people to see his notorious prisoner while Eliza maintained her pretence to the end, insisting she had property sufficient to meet all her debts. She managed to publish ‘an apology’, purportedly to raise money for the support of her friend, Charlotte, who was struggling to pay for lodgings.
Eliza was transferred to Bow Street in London to be examined and ended up in the Fleet Prison from where, with no prospect of repaying her debts, she knew she had little chance of escaping. Thomas Haycroft took out an action against Mr Creasy in the Court of the King’s Bench in the Guildhall. Haycroft was asking for – and won – damages of 485l. 9s. 4d., claiming that Creasy had been the one who vouched for Eliza and said she was good for credit. In a somewhat ironic twist, given that Eliza had claimed he had been the man who said she was entitled to her Scottish estate, Lord Kenyon presided at the hearing.
During August 1802, Eliza was represented by no less a person than the famed Mr Garrow in a case she brought to Maidstone assizes to try to recover the goods and furniture Mr Oakley had ‘unlawfully possessed himself of’. Some of the furniture, Eliza claimed, was Charlotte’s property, brought from Croom’s Hill, and she suggested Oakley and his men had helped themselves to more than they were entitled to. Charlotte took to the witness stand, well-dressed and demure, wearing a fashionable ‘gypsy hat’ and said that she had believed all Eliza’s tall tales, and was as hurt and surprised as anyone else to find them false. It didn’t help; Garrow lost this case.
Eliza remained in the Fleet and continued to publish several works. There, in June 1805, aged 32-years, Eliza died of a decline and was buried, on 11 June, in the churchyard of St Bride’s, the only mourners her father, mother and one of the turnkeys of the fleet.
Chester Courant, 24 March 1801
Salisbury and Winchester Journal, 6 April 1801
Caledonian Mercury, 9 April 1801
Morning Chronicle, 15 July 1801
Stamford Mercury, 17 July 1801
Caledonian Mercury, 14 September 1801
Oxford Journal, 20 March 1802
Morning Chronicle, 9 August 1802
Caledonian Mercury, 14 August 1802
Staffordshire Advertiser, 14 August 1802
The New Annual Register, Or General Repository of History, Politics, Arts, Sciences and Literature: For the Year 1805
The Paragon, Blackheath (published 16 September 2016 on The Regency Redingote website)
The Nottingham born artist, Paul Sandby, painted and drew many scenes in and around Windsor and also informal portraits of some of the inhabitants. One of his drawings, held in the Royal Collection, caught our eye: the Miss Isherwoods, the Brewer’s daughters, c.1770-1780. Isherwood is an uncommon surname, and with the father’s occupation, surely it would be possible to track down the forenames of these two young women and complete the attribution?
The father of these two young women was Henry Isherwood who owned an ale brewery which traded from premises on Datchet Lane/Lower Thames Street in Windsor (around where St George’s School now stands on Datchet Road). From the brewhouse yard, you had an excellent view of Windsor Castle.
Henry Isherwood was reputed to be ‘a poor lad’ from Yorkshire who had made his way to Eton in Berkshire where he found work at the Christopher Inn. He married well, to Sarah Kendal (on 5 May 1737 at Hedgerley in Buckinghamshire) whose money helped her husband establish his brewery at Windsor (the town had a thriving brewing industry).
The couple had three known children, a son, Henry (baptized 9 February 1739) and two daughters, the two young ladies in the drawing above, Sarah (born c.1743) and Christiana Maria (born c.1745). The family prospered and grew wealthy on their business’s profits.
Also in the Royal Collection is a drawing by Sandby which features another of the Isherwood family, although the name of the man depicted seems to have got muddled over time. When exhibited at the Royal Academy, the man stood on the far left was just denoted as ‘Isherwood the brewer’, a later mount now attached to the picture claims the man to be J. Isherwood and the notes on the RCT website mark the man out as Henry Isherwood senior. However, this drawing dates to 1760 and the man depicted looks to be very young; we believe that it is more likely the man shown is Henry Isherwood junior, who would have been around 21 years of age in 1760.
The four men are standing on Windsor Terrace; in the middle is Davis, Windsor Castle’s smith and to the right a man identified as Captain Archibald Campbell (the RCT notes suggest that he is possibly the same man who married Amelia Ramsay, daughter of the painter Allan Ramsay, but as Amelia Ramsay’s future husband saw action in the Seven Years’ War, we’re not totally sure about this).
Then tragedy struck the family. Henry Isherwood senior died suddenly in 1773… and it was hinted that he had been poisoned.
Henry Isherwood’s will left his family well provided for. His son took over the running of the brewery and also later – for just a short time – became New Windsor’s MP. Henry junior’s death, on 22 January 1797, cut short his parliamentary career. Sarah and Christiana Isherwood were both left financially secure by their father, each receiving 10,000l. They never married. Around 1790, the Isherwood family built a substantial mansion-house, situated in large grounds, at Bushey in Hertfordshire and named Laurel Lodge. There Sarah and Christiana lived in their old age, often visited by their brother’s children. (Laurel Lodge was remodelled in the late 1800s and has now been converted into flats known as Herne Mansions (formerly Sparrows Herne House); it stands in Bushey Heath down Fuller Close, a short distance from the junction of Little Bushey Lane and Elstree Road.) Sarah died in 1820 aged 77 and Christiana in 1827, aged 81. Both women are buried in the churchyard at New Windsor.
We’ve already mentioned Henry Isherwood senior’s melancholy end. We’ll relate the events leading up to his death and leave you to decide if he was indeed poisoned.
Henry was a member of the Colnbrook Turnpike Commission and on 29 March 1773, he and the other members dined at an inn named The Castle, at Salt Hill outside Slough. The men present were the Hon Mr O’Brien, the Hon Captain Thomas Needham (aged 33 and the eldest son of ‘Jack’, 10th Viscount Kilmorey), Edward Mason Esq, Major Mayne, Mr Cheshire, Walpole Eyre Esq (aged 38 and whose godfather was Sir Robert Walpole, hence his name), Captain Salter, Henry Isherwood, Mr Joseph Benwell, a draper from Eton who was the Commission’s treasure, Mr Pote senior (on business) and Mr Burcombe, the Commission’s surveyor. Over the course of the next two weeks, all but one of the gentlemen were taken seriously ill. At first, the wine was suspected to be the cause; Captain Salter had preferred to drink punch instead, and Mr Cheshire had drunk very little. Both men were only mildly ill. It was initially believed that Mrs Partridge, the landlady, had added a little arsenic to the wine, to ‘refine’ it.
The dinner was turtle soup, followed by fish, jack, perch and eel, spatchcock fowls, bacon and greens, veal cutlets, a ragout of pigs ears, a chine of mutton and salad, a course of lamb and cucumbers, crayfish and, as if you needed more after that feast, pastry and jellies. All was described as:
…plain and innocent, nothing high-seasoned, or that could give cause of suspicion of any bad consequence; the wine, Madeira and Port, of the best sorts. In both articles of meat and drink, the company were moderate, and no excess appeared.
After their dinner, some people were brought in to be examined before the members of the commission, among them a poor man, in a ‘distressed, miserable condition’. He seems to have been in ill-health. Mr Pote, perhaps wisely it seems, had gone out to the gardens of the inn to stretch his legs; he was there on other business relating to the commission but had no need to be present during the examinations. Mr Pote was the only one of the company not to suffer any ill effects, all the others fell ill to varying degrees. Four of the men died: Captain Needham, Joseph Benwell, Walpole Eyre and Henry Isherwood.
Mrs Partridge was horrified and willingly allowed her kitchen and cellar to be fully inspected. Major Mayne’s doctor, Dr James, was of the opinion that his patient’s illness was due to an infection; if it had been poison, he assured the public, the men would have fallen ill within hours, not days. There were reports that a Clerk of the Justices, a Mr Mason who had dined on beefsteaks in a private room in the inn (confusingly, an Edward Mason Esq was said to be present at the commission’s dinner too), was also dangerously ill; the Justices had examined a poor man, brought before them in a ‘dying condition’ from Taplow to be passed to his own parish. This man later died, as did the farmer at whose house he lodged on his journey. Local gossip also claimed that several prisoners had travelled from Reading gaol on their way to London, to be transported for their crimes, and stopped at the inn. Gaol fever could have been the cause.
In short, it appears from the newspapers of the day that there was certainly an outbreak of a contagious fever in the area, but nevertheless, with all the talk of poison, trade at the Castle Inn dropped dramatically and Mrs Partridge struggled for a good twelve months afterwards. And, rumours abounded years later. Years later, Queen Charlotte’s Assistant Keeper of the Wardrobe, Charlotte Papendick, in her memoirs recounted the tale and claimed that Mrs Partridge, on her deathbed, confessed.
…she considered it right to disclose the secret of the poisoning now it could no longer hurt any individual, and was at the time purely accidental, she would confess that it arose from the turtle having been left in the stewpans cold, and then heated afresh for the dinner. The cook, renowned for the dressing of this favorite luxury, came down from London late the evening before, expressly for this purpose. He said that as the turtle was better for long stewing, he should do it through the night, during which time he would be preparing various other dainties. He didn’t keep to his word. He slept, let the fire out, and heated the turtle soup up again without removing it from the pan… From the acids used in dressing the turtle, the pan was covered with verdigris. When she showed it to the cook he said he wasn’t aware of harm…
In fairness, Mrs Papendick’s account contains many errors, so we’re not at all sure of her accuracy. Another account also blames the soup, however, again attributing the poisoning to an accidental cause. The soup had been allowed to stand in a copper vessel, and the gentlemen died of mineral poisoning. So, arsenic in the wine, mineral poisoning, a bad batch of turtle soup or an infectious pauper? Sadly, we’ll never know the true cause, but we’d love to hear your thoughts.
Sources not mentioned above:
The Bath Road: History, Fashion & Frivolity on an Old Highway by Charles G. Harper, 1899
Royal Academy: 1934 – Exhibition of British Art c.1000-1860, 6 January 1934 to 17 March 1934
Northampton Mercury, 26 April 1773
Reading Mercury, 26 April 1773
Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser, 5 February 1820
The Scots Magazine, vol 35, 1773
Collectanea topographica et genealogica, 1837
Court and Private Life in the Time of Queen Charlotte; Being the Journals of Mrs Papendick, Assistant Keeper of the Wardrobe and Reader to Her Majesty, 1887
A few days ago, I was browsing through an 1819 copy of the Morning Advertiser looking for something completely different when this story caught my eye.
Around early July 1819, a pretty young woman, reckoned to be in her early 20s, turned up at a lodging house in George Court off Aylesbury Street in Clerkenwell. She was, she told the owner, a complete stranger in London, having just arrived from the country, and asked if she could take a room for a few weeks while she attended to some proceedings in Chancery.
The woman’s appearance was decent and, as she was happy to pay the rent on her lodgings in advance, she was accommodated in the house with no further ado.
It didn’t take the other women who lived there long, however, to notice that the lady was in the advanced stages of pregnancy, however well she might have tried to hide it. A nearby apothecary was called in to attend to her and, in the first week of August, this unnamed woman gave birth to a fine and healthy child (if the evidence we have is correct, on 2nd August 1819).
The next day, against all advice to the contrary, the new mother got up and dressed herself.
She was remonstrated with on the danger to which she exposed herself, but she made light of it. This and other circumstances drew the attention of the people in the house more particularly towards her…
Four days after the birth of her child, and under close observation from the family and other lodgers, the young woman was seen to leave George Court, carrying a small box under her arm. Two women who were fellow lodgers followed her, one of whom was a Mrs Baker, a printer’s wife. The mysterious young woman and her two spies wended their way some distance across the fields of rural Clerkenwell towards the New River (really a form of canal dating from 1613, created to supply London with fresh drinking water from a series of Hertfordshire springs). When near Sadler’s Wells, where the New River terminated in a reservoir known as the New River Head, it looked as if she was going to throw the box she carried into the water, but then changed her mind and instead veered away over the adjoining fields.
With Mrs Baker and her friend still in hot pursuit, our mystery lady headed across the fields towards Islington and made for a secluded area where she sat down, opened the box, took something out and tied it in her shawl. Then she closed the box, picked up both it and the bundle tied in her shawl, and walked on until she came to a gentleman’s house. There she put both the box and bundle down and was about to walk away when Mrs Baker and her accomplice caught up: they darted forward and grabbed hold of her. Once the box was opened, as they’d suspected, they found the baby, naked and gasping for breath. The infant’s clothes were wrapped in the shawl.
Mrs Baker called for a watchman and ‘the inhuman mother’ (as a newspaper report termed her) was apprehended and marched to the watch house.
It was now that a sensational twist to the tale was revealed, if we believe the reports which surfaced. During a search of the woman, ‘upwards of 1000l. in good Country and Bank of England notes were found in her possession’. To put that into perspective, it’s the equivalent of over £50,000 in today’s money, a small fortune then, as now. Certainly enough for her to have disappeared and set up in a house with her child, rather than abandon the babe at the doorway of a gentleman’s house.
Taken overnight to the workhouse, before she could be hauled before the Hatton Garden magistrates the woman fell into a fever. A reluctant inmate, she slowly recovered but stubbornly refused to answer any questions about her identity.
This snippet of factual evidence sounds like a great start to a work of historical fiction. We already have many different theories buzzing around our heads as to how the young woman had found herself in this position.
We’ve searched for more information on her, hoping to find out her name. That still, unfortunately, eludes us, but we did find one more newspaper report. The lady’s husband turned up to claim her! We’ll relate the report from the newspapers but, attempting to read between the lines, we are still left wondering as to the truth of the matter. Incidentally, no further mention was made of the huge sum of money that she was supposedly carrying: was this myth or just a further strand of the whole mystery? She had, remember, paid for her rent at George Court in advance. Money worries don’t seem to have been an issue for her.
The couple were from Yorkshire, and the husband was of ‘respectable appearance’ and seemed dutifully affected by his wife’s distress. He claimed that she was suffering from the ‘consequence of a severe hurt she had formerly received in her head, was at times deranged, and he could no otherwise account for her leaving a comfortable home, and acting in the extraordinary manner she had done, than by supposing she was under the influence of the disorder to which she was subject’.
The magistrate agreed to bail the woman as long as her husband entered into a recognizance for £50 and found two other householders who would each join him in promising £25 each, to secure her future appearance at the court. The Yorkshire husband pleaded against this: could he not provide the full £100 himself, for he didn’t know anybody in London who would be prepared to stand as the additional surety? He went further, urging as a reason:
the deplorable state of his family, one child having died since his wife left her home, and two lying at present in a state of imminent danger.
The magistrate commiserated with the man, but rules were rules. If he couldn’t meet the required bail conditions, then his wife must remain in custody.
And there, sadly, we must also leave her until such time as further information comes to light. In the meantime, we reckon there’s a novel in this story for anyone disposed to write it and rescue our mystery woman. Which way would you take it: was she fleeing from her husband or was his story of woe true? How did she come by the injury to her head in that case? Why did she want to give up her child? And, all that money! Where did that come from?
This is the third in a series of blogs in which we have taken a closer look at some of the staff and servants of the Dukes and Duchesses of Devonshire. Today we’re taking a look at the 6th duke’s trips to Russia and concentrating on just one man, a larger than life Russian coachman. He certainly merits his own blog.
In 1817, William Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire (known as Hart due to his former title, the Marquess of Hartington) travelled to St Petersburg in Russia with a whole host of attendants for the wedding of his friend, the Grand Duke Nicholas Pavolvich of Russia (later Czar Nicholas I and Catherine the Great’s grandson). The bride was Charlotte of Prussia (subsequently known as Alexandra Feodorovna); Hart loved St Petersburg and thought it ‘more beautiful than Paris’.
His Grace the Duke of Devonshire is about to sail for the Continent, in company with the Grand Duke Nicholas of Russia. His Grace has seceded to an invitation from the Grand Duke, to make a tour in Russia, and other parts of the Continent, which will occupy the whole of the ensuing summer.
During the trip, one of the duke’s attendants was his courier, Xavier Faldyer. He was ‘not agreeable, a sort of obstinate old Don Quixote, in an eternal wrangle with the Doctor, who had undertaken to regulate the expences and never ceased to exclaim, “terrible! terrible!”’ From the Chatsworth archives relating to the family’s servants, we can glean further information. Edwin Jones was the clearly long-suffering doctor who accompanied the duke.
Michael Lemm went along as a footman but didn’t think much of Russia, observing that ‘he would rather be hung in England than die in Russia’. Mr Worrall was the coachman.
Another expedition to Russia took place in 1826 when the 6th Duke of Devonshire travelled there to attend the coronation of Nicolas I. George Spencer Ridgway, the duke’s valet and ‘foster brother’ was by his side; George’s mother, Mrs Ridgway had been the duke’s wetnurse and George’s middle name, Spencer, indicates a close relationship with the family. He started at Devonshire House as a footman in 1802 and, when appointed the duke’s valet, Ridgway was his most trusted servant, acting as personal secretary, agent and steward too until 1858.
In Russia, the duke and George were given a Russian coach by the emperor, known as a droshky. They also acquired a coachman who they brought back to Chatsworth along with the droshky. Peter Wisternoff (also Westerney, Wisternou and Ustinowica and born c.1796) was known as Peter the Russian or just the Russian Coachman; his helper was a man named Thomas Hawkins (who seems to have ended up the Porter at Devonshire House). Wisternoff stayed at Chatsworth until the early 1840s, a brilliantly eccentric character, tall and with a fine, intelligent countenance who wore his traditional Russian clothes rather than livery and sported the biggest and bushiest of beards.
He is habited in the costume of his country, which consists of a large coat, generally green, which is gathered in folds round the waist, crimson sash, with an ample flow of black beard.
The Russian Coachman is one of the subjects in Bolton Abbey in the Olden Time by Sir Edwin Landseer, the original of which hangs in Chatsworth. The image below is a very good copy of the painting in tapestry; there are three men with beards but Peter the Russian is the one in the foreground, kneeling with the stag.
In 1832, Princess Victoria visited Chatsworth.
[Saturday 20th October, 1832] … we went to the stables where we saw some pretty ponies and a Russian coachman in his full dress, and the only Russian horse which remained reared at command; there were 3 other horses, English ones, but trained like the other.
[Sunday 21st October, 1832] … Mamma and me drove in front in the pony phaeton and the Duke and Lady Cavendish behind; Lady Catherine and Lehzen going in another little phaeton; while Lord Morpeth and Mr Cooper went in the Russian drotchky. This curious carriage is drawn by one horse (which was the piebald one) in the shafts with a houp over its head, and the harness is golden without and winkers, and the horse in the shafts always trots, while the other, a pretty chestnut one, always gallops and puts its head on one side; the coachman, called Peter, sitting in his full dress on the box and driving the horses without any whip.
Peter the Russian married a girl named Sarah from Clowne, Derbyshire by whom he had at least eight children, one of whom was disabled. He fell foul of the duke’s Steward, George Spencer Ridgway, who forbade Peter from taking beer from the cellar, a disagreement which seems to have culminated in Peter leaving the duke’s service.
In the early 1840s (certainly after the 1841 census when Peter was living with his family at the Chatsworth stables), the duke broke up his Russian establishment and granted a liberal pension to Peter who subsequently lived – rent-free – on a 10 acre farm at Nether Handley near Staveley where, in 1851, he described himself as a ‘retired gentleman’. One the 1861 and 1871 census returns his occupation was that of a farmer of 10 acres. Peter died on Saturday 4th May 1878 at the age of 82 years, having been a pensioner ‘on the bounty of the Dukes of Devonshire for nearly forty years’.
Sources for all three of our blogs on Chatsworth’s staff and servants not referenced in the relevant articles are:
The Eighteenth-century Woman by Olivier Bernier (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1981)
Queen Victoria’s Journals (online resource)
Chatsworth: Historic Staff and Servants database
Chatsworth blog: The Russian Coachman’s Beard
Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald, 18 May 1878
Carlisle Patriot, 15 March 1817
If you want to explore the database of staff and servants further, you can find it by clicking here. It lists those who have worked at Chatsworth or on the Cavendish estates going back to 1700, and will be added to over the coming years.
The excellent Chatsworth servants and staff database and associated blog posts on the Chatsworth website were created by Lauren Butler (@HistoryButler), Hannah Wallace (@hwallace24) and Fiona Clapperton (@feeclapperton) as part of a collaborative PhD with the University of Sheffield and is the culmination of many years work.
In a previous blog, we looked at a few of the staff and servants mentioned in a great new resource from the Chatsworth House archives which has been released online. It documents those who have worked for the family over the years, both at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, Devonshire House in London and elsewhere, shedding light on people who might otherwise have been forgotten. We’ve picked out a few of those mentioned for a closer look and in this blog, we’re taking a peek into the stables, and also examining just a few of the people who worked as a groom, valet, butler, steward and housekeeper.
Starting work in 1773 as a stable hand in the coach house of Devonshire House, Francis Beeston became the 2nd coachman in 1777 before being promoted to 1st coachman nine years later and a wage of £20 paid half-yearly. He continued as the 1st coachman at Devonshire House until 1814.
Francis must have driven coaches carrying Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, her husband the 5th duke and Georgiana’s rival for the duke’s affection, Lady Bess Foster (later also Duchess of Devonshire); Georgiana married the duke in 1774, the year after Francis had begun his employment in the stables.
Besides Chatsworth in Derbyshire and Devonshire House in Piccadilly, the Cavendish family also owned Burlington House and Chiswick House. Both houses were built in the Palladian style and were inherited by the Dukes of Devonshire via Lady Charlotte Boyle, daughter of the 3rd Earl of Burlington. Lady Charlotte, who died in 1753, was the wife of the 4th Duke of Devonshire (however, as she died before he became duke, Lady Charlotte’s title was the Marchioness of Hartington).
Robert Hunter was one of the duke’s coachmen from 1759; from 1760 to 1765 he worked at Burlington House and later he was employed at Chiswick. Ann Hunter, who is mentioned in the accounts books for Chiswick and Burlington House between 1770 and 1774 is possibly his wife.
Devonshire House was also located in Piccadilly, very close to Burlington House. Later, Burlington House was rented out (from 1770 was the London home of the 4th Duke of Devonshire’s brother-in-law, the 3rd Duke of Portland). However, between 1760 and 1765, the Cavendish family clearly had need of a paid coachman at the property to retain Robert Hunter there. The Dukes and Duchesses of Devonshire used Chiswick House as a country retreat.
Besides Robert Hunter, one other employee in Burlington House’s stables was John Higgs (between 1759 and 1765) who was employed as a postilion and worked his way up to coachman.
Joseph Marsden began working in Chatsworth House’s stables in 1757 when he was just a boy. Becoming a footman and then ‘his Grace’s Gent’ and ‘travelling gent’, Joseph ended up at Devonshire House as the duke’s Valet de Chambre. He was employed as such until 1798, a career spanning 41 years in the duke’s service.
Grooms, footmen and valet
Another man employed at Devonshire House was David Bovey, or Beauvais, a ‘snuffy old French-man’ according to the 6th Duke of Devonshire. David’s role was Groom of the Chamber, a function he fulfilled from 1774 to 1801. As he entered Devonshire House in the year of Georgiana Spencer’s marriage to the 5th Duke, it is likely that David Bovey was Groom of the Chamber to the new Duchess of Devonshire. The position was considered so vital to the family that Georgiana’s niece, Lady Caroline Lamb, who spent a large part of her childhood at Devonshire House, once remarked on the extreme poverty of an acquaintance: “Would you believe that the unfortunate lady didn’t even have a Groom of the Chamber?”
The duties of the ‘snuffy French-man’ included announcing company, managing the duchess’ invitations and visitors and overseeing her receiving-rooms. He eventually was promoted to the position of Attendant.
Possibly he is the same 28-year-old David Bovey who married Jane Bache, by licence, at St George’s in Hanover Square on the 25th February 1775? Unusually, it was Jane Bache, aged 21 and upwards, who applied for the marriage bond and not David Bovey. And, a David Bovey was paying rates at a house on Little Jermyn Street North in St James, Piccadilly in 1783 so it appears that, as a married man, he lived in his own home, just a short distance from Devonshire House.
David was succeeded in the position by James Lawton, who also was also a Groom of the Chambers and Attendant until 1811; in contrast to the ‘snuffy’ David, James Lawton was described as being very polite.
John Brown was a footman in Devonshire House’s dining room from 1773; in 1784 he became the 5th Duke of Devonshire’s footman. His wages included a yearly sum of 16s 6d for powder and shoes. In autumn 1798, John Brown landed the role of valet to the duke and, from the following year until 1804, when he was last recorded at Devonshire House, he received an annual salary of £42.
John Hawkins was Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire’s groom at Chatsworth between 1793 and 1797. He had started out as one of Chatsworth’s stable hands in 1771.
The 6th Duke of Devonshire’s valet, Robert Meynell, seems to have been something of a rogue. Despite this, he served the duke from 1823 for at least 27 years, abroad and at home. Meynell drank, smoked, gambled and whored; at one Derby inn, the duke had to calm an irate innkeeper who took offence at being called a fool by the valet when he refused Meynell’s request for a woman to be sent to him. The final straw came in 1851 when Meynell was discovered in a London brothel. That in itself might have been overlooked, but Meynell had taken the duke’s dog, Vio, along with him. Even so, he received a pension from the duke which enabled him to live in comfort for the remainder of his life.
Meynell was responsible for getting another of the duke’s servants into trouble. Paul Santi, ‘a very handsome and picturesque person, with clever wicked eye’ was employed as a courier and attendant by the 6th Duke of Devonshire between 1825 and 1838, when he was dismissed, probably for gambling. In 1836, Santi had threatened to do away with himself when he was discovered to have been pilfering the housekeeping money to fund his gambling, a vice he blamed Meynell and George Spencer Ridgway (respectively the duke’s valet and steward) for encouraging.
Butler and steward
The position of Butler was, besides that of the Housekeeper, the most important in the household. Devonshire House’s butler, for six years from 1805, was James Duncan who, by 1811, was paid £80 a year.
Decades earlier, in the 1750s, Devonshire House’s Butler was a man named Thomas Elmes. As odd as it may sound, there was a clear ladder of promotion from starting out as a stable lad to becoming a footman indoors. A footman could aspire to become a butler and this is exactly the route Thomas Elmes took. In 1719 he began working at Chatsworth as a stable hand and by 1730 he was a Stud Groom. He was still there in 1743. In 1751 he became the Under Butler at Devonshire House and by 1759 was at the top of the ladder, as Butler.
John Edwards was the House Steward in 1792 and 1793 and, before that, he possibly worked in Devonshire House’s kitchens for several decades, starting as the Under Cook and eventually becoming the Head Cook. It is mentioned in the notes against John Edwards’ name that House Stewards are usually invisible in the wage books of stately homes, as they were in charge of these and did not often record themselves. But, during his tenure as Steward, John fell ill and the payments for doctors to attend to him are recorded. Sadly, it seems they could not help and John died in 1794; the 5th Duke of Devonshire paid for his funeral (which cost £32 12s 6d).
To leave you, we’ll just mention one other servant who, while just out of our period, merits a mention because the description of her made us smile. In the 1st Duke of Devonshire’s lifetime, Mary Hacket was the ‘angry housekeeper’ at Chatsworth between 1685 and 1697.
In a future blog, we’ll be looking at the servant from overseas who joined the family and became something of a celebrity. If you haven’t already done so, please do consider subscribing to our blog to be alerted to all our new posts.
In the meantime, if you want to explore the database of staff and servants further, you can find it by clicking here. It lists those who have worked at Chatsworth or on the Cavendish estates going back to 1700, and will be added to over the coming years.
The excellent Chatsworth servants and staff database and associated blog posts on the Chatsworth website were created by Lauren Butler (@HistoryButler), Hannah Wallace (@hwallace24) and Fiona Clapperton (@feeclapperton) as part of a collaborative PhD with the University of Sheffield and is the culmination of many years work.
A wonderful new resource from the Chatsworth House archives has been released online, looking at the staff and servants who have worked for the family, both at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, Devonshire House in London and elsewhere. It sheds light on people who might otherwise have been forgotten; we’ve picked out some for a closer look. In this blog, we’re concentrating on just a few of those who worked as maids, governess and in the kitchen.
Housemaids, laundrymaids, dairymaids and lady’s maids
Mary Austwick began working at the Cavendishes London residence, Devonshire House as a housemaid in 1795; eight years later she took over the duties of laundrymaid before, in 1811 (the year that the 5th Duke of Devonshire died), returning to her former occupation of housemaid at a yearly wage of £16. She was last recorded as an employee in 1814 but was remembered after her death by the 6th Duke of Devonshire with a clear fondness, despite her obvious quirks. He had known Mary for most of his life (the 6th Duke was born in 1795) and described her as ‘the swarthy, venerable, and cross housemaid, peace be to her soul!’. Perhaps, with his ascension to the dukedom, the 6th duke rescued Mary from the laundry?
Between 1803 and 1805, Maria Foley was Lady Harriet’s woman and, from 1800 to 1801, Elizabeth Winchester was Lady Georgiana’s dressing maid. Lady Harriet and Lady Georgiana were the daughters of the 5th Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. Elizabeth remained with Little G, as Lady Georgiana was known when she married. It was another Elizabeth, Elizabeth Olenrainshaw, who was Little G’s maid from 1790 to 1799. She’s probably the Elizabeth Ollenranshaw who married the Nottinghamshire born Pinder Simpson, a solicitor, at St George’s, Hanover Square on the 23rd July 1799. Pinder Simpson and John Simpson had offices at Burlington Street, Piccadilly close to Devonshire House. The couple’s first child was a daughter who they named Georgiana.
The extended Furniss/Furness family appear to have provided many of Chatsworth’s servants; the surname crops up time and time again over a period of several decades. Two of the earliest were sisters, Barbara and Alice. Barbara was one of Chatsworth’s Dairy Maids from 1793 to 1797 when she left to marry Thomas Pursglove (in London and at St Martin in the Field). She was replaced by her sister, Alice, who worked in the dairy until 1803; a year later Alice married a man named John Thornhill in the same church as her sister had wed.
Governess and nursery maids
Selina Trimmer, daughter of Sarah Trimmer, was the governess between 1789 and 1805, based mainly at Devonshire House.
During 1762, the 12-year-old Lady Dorothy Cavendish, eldest daughter of William Cavendish, 4th Duke of Devonshire was tutored in the nursery by a lady named Anne Gibbon. Lady Dorothy would go on to marry William Cavendish Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland; it is her descendants that we have written about in A Right Royal Scandal.
Mary Griffiths started working at Devonshire House in 1787 as a maid in the Still Room. Two years later she became a housemaid and then, in 1790, nursery maid to Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire’s children.
A Frenchman worked as a confectioner in the kitchens between 1790 and 1805. Monsieur A Caille (his forename has not been recorded) once rushed to the rescue when a small fire broke out. He did so by pouring on to the flames ‘the contents of the kettle he was carrying’. His kettle contained melted sugar, which only made things worse.
In forthcoming blogs, we’ll turn our attention to the family’s coachmen and stables, and grooms, valets, butlers and stewards. If you haven’t already done so, please do consider subscribing to our blog to be alerted to all our new posts.
In the meantime, if you want to explore the database of staff and servants further, you can find it by clicking here. It lists those who have worked at Chatsworth or on the Cavendish estates going back to 1700, and will be added to over the coming years.
The excellent Chatsworth servants and staff database and associated blog posts on the Chatsworth website were created by Lauren Butler (@HistoryButler), Hannah Wallace (@hwallace24) and Fiona Clapperton (@feeclapperton) as part of a collaborative PhD with the University of Sheffield and is the culmination of many years work.
Sir Joshua Reynolds painted the courtesan Nelly O’Brien twice, between 1762 and 1764. Both paintings were paid for by her lover, Frederick St John, 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke, although she was introduced to Reynolds by Admiral Augustus Keppel, 1st Viscount Keppel. (Keppel was the great-grandson of Charles II by his mistress, Louise de Kérouaille, Duchess of Portsmouth.)
Bolingbroke also commissioned Reynolds to paint a picture of his wife, Diana Spencer, daughter of the 3rd Duke of Marlborough at the same time. Horace Walpole claimed that Bolingbroke had asked Reynolds to give Diana’s ‘eyes something of Nelly O’Brien, or it will not do’. Walpole continued, ‘as he has given Nelly something of his wife’s, it was but fair to give her something of Nelly’s; and my Lady will not throw away the present!’.
Frederick and Diana’s marriage was a disaster; he took lovers and so did she, famously having an affair with Topham Beauclerk (like Keppel also a great-grandson of Charles II, but by Nell Gwyn). When Bolingbroke divorced his wife in 1768, she promptly married her lover.
Frederick and Nelly (whose origins remain obscure) were an item certainly by 1763. Most sources seem to suggest that Nelly bore Bolingbroke a son, born c.1764, supposedly named Arthur and of whom nothing else is known. If she did bear a child by Bolingbroke, it’s more likely that he was born a year or two earlier. It was not Bolingbroke who fathered a child on Nelly in 1764, it was her new love, the splendidly named Sackville Tufton, 8th Earl of Thanet.
Alfred (not Arthur) Tufton was born 23rd November 1764, and baptised almost a month later, on 20th December, at St George, Hanover Square. His birth was hardly a secret; Nelly was named alongside Sackville in the baptism register. The wit, George James ‘Gilly’ Williams, writing to his friend, George Selwyn on Christmas Day, 1764, said:
I told you Nelly O’Brien has a son. It was christened yesterday. Bunny and his trull were sponsors. Now for his name; guess it if you can; it is of no less consequence in this country than Alfred; but Magill was so drunk he had like to have named it Hiccup!
(Bunny is thought to be Sir Charles Bunbury, who had recently married Lady Sarah Lennox, daughter of the Duke of Richmond. Magill, the drunk, was Henry Magill, curate of St George’s.)
A year later, on 4 December 1765, a second son was born; this one was given his father’s name, Sackville Tufton, and baptised at the same church as his elder brother on New Years’ Day, 1766.
After that, things rapidly went downhill for Nelly. Her earl was seeking a wife, and his family would certainly not countenance a union with a courtesan. In the summer of 1767 (on 30th July), Sackville Tufton married Mary daughter of Lord John Sackville. Beforehand, Nelly had been turned out of his Grosvenor Square house to make way for the new bride, although she appears to have moved only a few streets away and taken rooms on Park Street, almost certainly provided for her by the earl as Nelly was once again carrying his child.
Nearly six months after Sackville’s marriage to Mary, Nelly was delivered of a third son. Stanley Tufton was born 18th January 1768 and baptised 5th February. In the baptism register at St George’s, his parents were described as they had been with the older boys, Sackville Tufton, Earl of Thanet and Elinor O’Brien. Presumably, the new Countess of Thanet was fully aware. She was also pregnant herself and her daughter, Lady Elizabeth Tufton, was born that spring. Nelly was, however, furious at having to leave Grosvenor Square. As she complained to anyone who would listen, her former lover had a good precedent to follow: when the wife of Augustus Fitzroy, 3rd Duke of Grafton was pregnant in 1764, the duke moved his lover, the courtesan Nancy Parsons, into their London home where they lived together openly. The Earl of Thanet had moved his courtesan out!
A few weeks after Stanley’s birth, realising that she would never reclaim her position as the earl’s mistress and facing an uncertain future, Nelly wrote her will. All her wealth appeared to be in the form of fine clothes and a quantity of valuable diamond jewellery which, besides her three sons, were all that she had been left with. Her star, which had shone so brightly, was looking decidedly dimmed.
I Elinor O Brien do leave to my mother all my best cloaths, to my maid Ann Dixon all my old cloaths, to Miss ?Pyrott one of my best diamond rings, to Nurse Duran such token or legacy as they can chuse out. I beg Lord Thanet will take care of his children and believe them his own. To my children I give my diamonds to be equally divided between the three and I beg my ready money will be sent to my mother and some to poor Molly and I hope all my debts will be paid immediately my ??
Could ‘poor Molly’ possibly be Nelly’s sister? The will is frustrating in its ambiguity. Another mystery concerns the nurse, was she there for Nelly, or for her newborn son. Was Nelly ill? Although still just a young woman, she would be dead before the year was out. While she was afterwards said to have died in childbirth, and in anguish from being abandoned by her earl, the fact she wrote her will, to try to safeguard her children’s future, could indicate that she had indeed been unwell for several months. In March the Public Advertiser newspaper reported her demise, followed by a retraction:
Wed. March 23, 1768. Sunday last died in Park Street, Grosvenor Square, the celebrated Miss Nelly O’Brien.
Friday, 1 April, 1768. The account inserted in the Papers of the Death of Miss Nelly O’Brien in Mount Street, Grosvenor Square, is premature; that lady being in perfect health.
Unfortunately for Nelly, the account was not premature. On Saturday 2nd April 1768, Nelly O’Brien was buried at St George’s, Hanover Square (a new burial ground attached to the church had been consecrated in Bayswater three years earlier).
(A burial at St Ann, Rotherhithe on 29th December 1768 is often mistakenly thought to be hers. Likewise, Nelly’s assumed birth year of 1739 is taken from incorrect burial: the Elinor O’Brien buried in Rotherhithe was 29 years old. We still have no true idea of Nelly’s birth date.)
On 4th May 1768, one of her creditors was granted administration of her estate; the whereabouts of her diamonds are now unknown.
The two elder sons, Sackville and Alfred Tufton, joined the East India Company, Sackville in their naval service and Alfred as a writer, based at Kolkata. When his brother Sackville wrote his will in October 1788, Alfred was left the bulk of his wealth.
Stanley was not mentioned and, although we have not been able to trace him further, it would seem likely that he died young. In a later codicil, Sackville left bequests to his half-brothers and sisters, the sons and daughters from his father’s marriage to Mary Sackville, so it looks like he had been brought up as their sibling.
He also left legacies to his O’Brien aunts and uncles (sadly not named!), his mother Nelly’s siblings and to his grandmother (Nelly’s mother) who was still clearly alive in 1794. Sackville died the same year. Alfred lived to 1812; he had been promoted to the position of Judge at Gya but had returned home in the early 1800s in ill-health, and had never fully recovered. He was only 47-years of age when he died. Both Sackville and Alfred’s resting place is a shared grave in the church at Hothfield in Kent, where his ancestors, the Earls of Thanet, have their seat.
In September 1809, almost 41 years after Nelly’s death, a gentleman named Edward Jeremiah Curteis wrote to Alfred Tufton, who had been detained in London due to illness. There had clearly been some conversation between the two, and Alfred had been under the illusion that his long-dead mother, who he hardly recalled, had died around the time of Sackville’s birth.
Mrs Curteis, Edward’s wife or mother, recalled that:
your mother did not die until about the period of Lord Tufton’s marriage, which was more than two years later than you suppose – she was then great with child and the probable cause of death was grief and vexation at the marriage and desertion of the Earl of Thanet.
She went on to say that the earl had been persuaded to marry by his family, but before that, he had previously taken a ‘small but elegant’ and admirably furnished house in Brook Street for his mistress (which Lady Thanet went to see incognita). A Mrs Toke had told Mrs Curteis that Lord Thanet had snubbed Nelly in public which ’caused chagrin and mortification to such a degree as that a miscarriage ensued, and that having miscarried a third infant she died in childbed’.
It’s possible that Nelly had been pregnant again, but her third child was Stanley, born a year before her own premature death. Mrs Curteis’ memories had possibly become confused.
Sources not mentioned above:
George Selwyn and his contemporaries, with memoirs and notes, vol. 1, John Heneage Jesse (1843)
Correspondence of the Curteis family of Windmill Hill, Battle, East Sussex Record Office, AMS 5995/5/8
The Diaries of a Duchess: extracts from the diaries of the first Duchess of Northumberland (1716-1776), edited by James Greig (1926)
National Archives wills: PROB 11/1247/21 and PROB 11/939/51
The Gentleman’s Magazine, and Historical Chronicle, vol 82, part 1 (1812)
The letters of Horace Walpole (ed by J Wright), 1842
We would like to thank the staff at the City of Westminster Archives for confirming the record of Nelly’s burial for us.
I’ve long been intrigued by a portrait on the Art UK website of a rather dishevelled and – quite frankly – eccentric figure, which, so the label claims, depicts William Hornby (incorrectly labelled as Hornsby) of Hornby’s Bank in Gainsborough, a market town in North Lincolnshire.
The archives office in Lincoln claims differently; they believe it depicts William’s brother, Joseph who, they suggest, was a well-known eccentric character in these parts.
Which brother, then, is in the rather cruel portrait?
Joseph was born at Gainsborough in 1729, the eldest child of Joseph Hornby senior, a prosperous mercer in the town. Seven more children followed but all except two, William (born in 1732) and John (1739), died in infancy. The elder two of the three sons, Joseph and William, followed their father into the mercantile trade.
At his death in 1762, Joseph Hornby senior left considerable inheritances to his three sons.
Gainsborough was a thriving and prosperous town in the eighteenth-century, boosted by trade from the busy River Trent which passes through. The Hornby family’s wealth grew and, together with Sir Joseph Esdaile, Esq, William opened a bank, the first known to exist in the town. In partnership with two other gentlemen, they also established the Chesterfield Bank in Derbyshire.
In 1760, William Hornby took out a lease on the medieval timber-framed Gainsborough Old Hall and established a coarse linen factory in part of the building and sublet the rest. The factory lost money and the old manor house was in a poor state of repair.
You peeped in and saw its great ground floor apartments occupied by joiners, and coopers and bricklayers – depositories for lime, hair, and bricks – and you turned away disgusted.
By 1790, Hornby had wound up his factory and sublet the Great Hall of the manor house to a Mr West, who used it as a theatre. The staircase which was temporarily added at this time to access the theatre can be seen on the print below.
By the end of the century, troubles were mounting up. The partnership which ran the Chesterfield Bank (William Hornby, Joseph Esdaile, Samuel Raynes and Richard Gillett) was dissolved in 1799. By 1803, William Hornby could no longer meet his creditors’ demands and he was declared bankrupt. The Gainsborough Bank was no more.
William Hornby is reputed to have ended his days in penury, being cared for by a woman who had formerly been his cook, dying ‘at an advanced age’ (he was 72) in February 1805 at Doncaster, just over the county border in South Yorkshire.
After all this, are we any closer to identifying which Hornby brother is shown in the painting? Well, there is no contemporary mention of Joseph being an eccentric. At his death in 1811 (he was buried in the churchyard of Gainsborough All Saints) he is described as formerly being ‘an eminent merchant’. No hint of madness or eccentricity.
It seems more likely that the painting is a cruel depiction of William Hornby. Perhaps in his pursuit of wealth and in his running of the bank, he made an enemy of someone who commissioned this painting in revenge? Or, was it painted after Hornby’s bankruptcy, the work of a creditor who was left out-of-pocket and wanted to leave a lasting visual legacy of the former banker, that of a miserly man down on his luck.
At this distance in time, and with no other evidence to hand, we are simply left to wonder.
Quilted petticoats were an item of clothing that transcended any notions of class or status; they were worn throughout most of the eighteenth-century by all women from nobility down to fish-wives and had a variety of uses. Usually tied at either side of the waistband, they had a gap in the side seams which allowed access to a pair of pockets worn underneath.
Clearly, the primary function of the garment was that of warmth; in colder climates (and here in Britain we’re always complaining about the weather!) the padding provided an extra layer to insulate the wearer.
By the mid-eighteenth century, women’s gowns were worn open at the front and the petticoat underneath became a decorative item. Well-to-do ladies wore petticoats made of silk or satin, often in contrasting colours to their robe, although the backing was often made of a more robust material such as calico or coarse linen.
The courtesan, Nelly O’Brien is famously depicted wearing a simple diamond patterned pink quilted petticoat in her portrait by Joshua Reynolds, but embellishment is added with an embroidered gauzy apron worn over the top. Note the contrasting blue and white striped gown.
Flat quilting, whereby two or three layers were stitched through using a running or backstitch, and corded quilted which involved parallel channels being sown through which cord was inserted from the reverse, were the most popular forms. The latter provided a textured relief.
The designs used were often more decorative and elaborate than the simple pattern on the petticoat worn by Nelly O’Brien; flowers, intricate geometric patterns and even animals all featured.
The following image gives an example of a linen quilted petticoat dating to c.1700-1725, designed to be worn under a mantua. Backed with linen, the quilting pattern was worked first and then both layers of linen were overstitched with embroidery. The notes against this petticoat suggest it was made domestically rather than professionally as the join and certain other details are clumsy.
When just the front of the petticoat would be glimpsed, the decoration was concentrated on that area. As polonaise gowns became fashionable, where the skirts were gathered and looped up at the back, the full hemline of the petticoat was visible. This led to a trend for decoration all around the undergarment. John Wilkes’ daughter, Mary, in this next portrait, demonstrates the fashion; her green quilted petticoat, contrasting sharply with her pink gown, has the addition of a deep frill all around the hemline.
Marseille (or French) quilting is a term used to describe the distinctive cotton quilting which was a feature of the Provence area of southern France, known for fine cording and stuffed designs. There, textiles were made for export, and the London weavers suffered as a result.
In the 1740s, a solution was found: a weaving technique was developed in England using a loom which imitated hand quilting, making the process both quick and inexpensive although it was not true quilting. Usually made with linen, while the fabric appeared to be quilted there was no middle layer of woollen wadding so, although cheap, petticoats made this way lacked the warmth of their ‘Marseilles’ counterparts.
A Sale of Ready Made Goods, &c. by JONAS CLIFTON, SILK-WEAVER and WAREHOUSE-MAN, from SHOREDITCH, LONDON: who now sells at the FOUNTAIN in MARGATE, His CURIOUS BRITISH LOOM QUILTING, for Ladies Petticoats, Bed-gowns, and Gentleman’s Winter Waistcoats, exceeding rich, neat and serviceable…
Kentish Gazette, 9th December 1769
The profession of quilted petticoat maker is described in the London Tradesman, 1747. It was not a lucrative one.
I must just peep under the Quilted-Petticoat. Every one knows the materials they are made of: they are made mostly by women, and some men, who are employed by the shops and earn but little. They quilt likewise quilts for beds for the upholder. This they make more of than of the petticoats, but not very considerable, nothing to get rich by unless they are able to purchase the materials and sell them finished to the shops, which few of them do. They rarely take apprentices, and the women they employ to help them, earn three or four shillings a week and their diet.
An extra cost to the manufacturers of quilted petticoats was the price of the wool used for the wadding, which was subject to the attention of customs.
Last week, the Prince Frederick, a Collier, lately arriv’d from Newcastle, was searched by a custom-house officer, who found about 200 weight of the combings of wool, in two bags, the property of a female passenger on board the said ship, who follows the business of making quilted petticoats; whereupon he seiz’d the same, together with the ship and all her cargo, as forfeited by law, for bringing wool from any part of England without entering it at the custom-house and clearing it from thence; and modestly demanded 600l. of the owners for clearing her, which was refus’d…
Ipswich Journal, 29th October 1743
Quilted petticoats provided shape to the skirts worn over them. Often the wadding used in the manufacture of these petticoats did not extend all the way to the waistband, so they were less bulky at the waistline. But, in an era when women wore a variety of hoops, bum rolls and panniers to enhance and alter their natural forms, quilted petticoats were a useful tool, providing a little extra padding where needed. In fact, evidence shows that they were worn in a variety of different ways throughout the century, both with and without a little extra support and definition beneath them depending on the desired silhouette. Perhaps, when Mary Hobbins went missing, she was trying to disguise her slim frame by wearing multiple quilted petticoats: even for late September, wearing two of these garments must have been quite warm.
September 26, 1724. Whereas one Thomas Robinson… went away with one Mary Hobbins of Swineshead near Boston in Lincolnshire: She is a slender thin-vizzag’d Woman, had two quilted petticoats on, viz. one green, and the other red and blue, with a white Gown with small Stripes or a Popple and white with broad Stripes…
Stamford Mercury, 29th October 1724
The painter Arthur Devis depicted women wearing quilted petticoats over hoops and panniers which gave definition and decoration to the fine silk gowns they wore, which are clearly very wide in the hips.
Towards the 1770s, it was common for fashionable ladies to wear a bum roll underneath their quilted petticoat, to add emphasis to their rear (think Kim Kardashian today!), others simply wore only their shift or another petticoat underneath.
A working woman would, of course, need to be able to move freely; they would wear very little under their quilted petticoats, relying on the bulkiness of the garment to provide any necessary shape, more concerned with practicalities than fashion.
By the end of the eighteenth century, women’s silhouettes became more slender and quilted petticoats were no longer in vogue with women of fashion although lower class women still clung to the practical, hard wearing and warm garment.
So, we’ve looked at quilted petticoats being worn for decoration, for warmth and to add shape to gowns, what other possible reason could there be to wear one? Well, they were handy when smuggling items such as tea or lace past the strict customs officials of the day!
Another smuggler is committed to the Castle of Norwich; from whence ‘tis added, that the Officers of the Customs there had seized a considerable Quantity of Tea, India Silk Handkerchiefs brought up from Yarmouth by a Woman, who, when taken, had several Pounds of Tea quilted in her Petticoats.
Ipswich Journal, 9th January 1731
Thursday a Gentleman and Lady put up at an inn at Dover, where they had just landed from France; when two Custom-house Officers came in, and insisted upon searching the Lady, on whom they found a quantity of Brussels lace, to the value of near 300l. which was concealed in her quilted petticoat… Some of our Nobility, it seems are suspected and even accused of harbouring smuggled goods. The truth is, so many Nobility and Gentry deal so much in smuggling, that a Correspondent says, he will venture to affirm that one half of the foreign lace that shall appear at Court on the ensuing birth-day, is smuggled.
Stamford Mercury, 4th June 1772
Patchwork and Quilting in Britain, Heather Audin, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2013
The Dreamstress: What to wear under a quilted petticoat, 6th January 2012
FIDM Museum: Quilted petticoat, c.1840-45
Five Colleges and Historic Deerfield Museum Consortium, Collections Database: Object Accession No. HD F.495A
The London Tradesman: Being a Compendious View of All the Trades, Professions, Arts, Both Liberal and Mechanic, Now Practised in the Cities of London and Westminster. Calculated for the Information of Parents, and Instruction of Youth in Their Choice of Business, R. Campbell, Esq, 1747