The Great Seal is attached to the official documents of state that require the authorization of the monarch to implement the advice of the government.
On the night of 23rd March 1784, thieves had entered Edward Thurlow, 1st Baron Thurlow’s Great Ormond Street house and stolen some money, but more importantly they stole the Great Seal, a symbol of royal authority. A new one had to be hastily made to replace it as it was not recovered and popular opinion suggested that Fox or his supporters were behind the theft.
A satirical rhyme, ‘The Consultation’, made fun the finances of Colonel Richard FitzPatrick and Charles James Fox, referencing the recent theft of the Great Seal from the house of the Lord Chancellor, Edward Thurlow.
Says F__t____k to Fox, ‘Oh how can we ate!
By Jasus you know we have both pawn’d our plate?
Black Reynard replies, ‘We can have one good meal,
By filching from Thurlow his boasted Great Seal
A contemporary print, depicting Fox as Falstaff holding the Prince of Wales on his shoulders with Mary Robinson (Perdita) standing alongside, is thought to show FitzPatrick leaning out of the window of Thurlow’s house handing down the Great Seal.
Whilst rumours spread, the truth of the theft may in fact have been slightly different, if the Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser (Wed 21 April 1784) was correct:
William Vandeput was on Monday committed to New Gaol, Southwark, where he is now doubled ironed, on a charge of burglary in the house of the Lord Chancellor, and stealing there-out the Great Seal. A Jew in Petticoat Lane was yesterday apprehended, on an information against him for having purchased and melted the Great Seal into an ingot; but while he was conducting to the Rotation Office in Southwark, for examination, he was released from the Peace Officer by eight ruffians. The Jew melted the seal, while the robbers remained in his house.
As to which story was true, we will never know, but certainly William Vandeput was a well known criminal and was sentenced to death eventually in October 1785 and was executed on 1st December 1785.
Just as an aside, in our book, An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliot, we unmask Richard FitzPatrick as one of her lovers when he was taking a break from his long term mistress, a celebrity in her day but forgotten now, Mrs Moll Benwell.
Britain was struggling financially and so, needless to say, the government looked for ways to raise much needed revenue to balance the books. If it could be taxed, it probably was! In a previous post we looked at the various taxes that existed around this time so for this blog we thought we would take a closer look at the tax placed on gloves.
In 1784 a tax on hats had apparently proved lucrative so in the budget the following year William Pitt the Younger decided to add a tax to gloves, much to the mild amusement of the committee apparently.
He felt that it would be difficult to lay the burden of the tax on the consumer so Pitt proposed that a mark should be put on the gloves and that the duty should be paid by the retail trader. In his opinion the sale of gloves would be extremely high and that one pair of gloves would be sold to every individual, and therefore 9,000,000 pairs would be purchased each year. As such he proposed a tiered system of taxation:
One penny duty should be added to all gloves up to the value of ten pence
Two pence to gloves costing between ten pence and fifteen pence
Three pence for all gloves costing over fifteen pence
He estimated that this would raise a revenue of some £50,000. Mr Fox held no strong objection to this tax, but felt that Pitt was over estimating the amount of revenue it would generate as there were ‘children, labourers and other inferior classes of mankind who never consumed this article’, but nevertheless he sincerely hoped that this tax might be as productive as the minister wished.
26th July 1785, The Stamp Office declared that:
Anyone selling gloves without this tax would be liable for a fine of £20.
Every licensed retailer selling gloves and mittens without the words ‘Dealer in Gloves’ painted or written in the front of his shop shall be forfeits for each pair of gloves or mittens sold £5.
A stamp ticket denoting the particular rate of duty to be paid on every pair of gloves or mittens is to be affixed upon the right hand of each and every person (except those dealing with each other) who shall sell, buy or exchange any gloves or mittens without having such a stamp affixed as foresaid, forfeits for every pair sold, bought or exchanged £20.
In less than one year the newspapers began to report that the glove tax was not proving to be the great success it was expected to be, but that there was no good reason as yet to conclude that it should be repealed, despite many people trying to evade it. So it remained in place.
By the September however it was becoming clear that it was generating nowhere near the revenue expected, in fact it was achieving less than one eighth of anticipated revenue.
Despite its poor income generation, the tax was to remain in place for several years, generating only a fraction of its expected revenue.
A letter in the St James’s Chronicle, 1790, addressed to Mr Pitt read as follows.
My purpose is not to censure your system of taxation, to inveigh against you on the extension of the Excise, or to express my displeasure at the means you have pursued, to prevent our snuffing up the coffins and dried juices of our ancestors … I turn your attention to the Glove tax, which is generally hated. The gloves and stamp are tendered to the customer in such a manner, that he can purchase the one without the other, and in nine instances out of ten the stamp is left unpaid for. If you wish to make this tax productive, you must stamp the gloves, and contrive so to unite the tax with the price, such that the commodity cannot be purchased without paying it. At present none but the conscientious submit to it.
An article in the Public Advertiser, Wednesday, September 14, 1791, on the subject of the glove tax reported on an accident which they directly attributed to it.
Friday afternoon, a melancholy accident happened in St James’s Street; a modern young man, whose pockets were his gloves and his hands in them, coming briskly up the street, trod on the peeling of an apple which tripped up his heels, threw him against a lady following him, knocked her down, by which she was much bruised and he broke both his elbows – Wearing hands in pockets, says our correspondent is to subvert Mr. Pitt’s Glove Tax, but a penalty should be inflicted on any person or persons throwing parings of apples or oranges on the footpath, or his Majesty may lose some of his most valuable subjects.
By this time, it was reported that the tax was generating a maximum of just over £6,000 per annum rather than the anticipated £50,000 and so in March 1794 the government finally conceded that the glove tax was not workable and was not generating anything like the amount anticipated and the act was repealed – common sense finally prevailed.
We will leave The Right Honourable Richard Brinsley Sheridan to have the final words on the subject of the glove tax.
St. James’s Chronicle or the British Evening Post, July 30, 1785
Public Advertiser, Saturday, May 20, 1786
General Advertiser, Saturday, September 30, 1786
St. James’s Chronicle or the British Evening Post (London, England), April 1, 1790
Speeches of The Right Honourable Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Volume 1, 1842
The recent trial for crim. con. upon an action brought by Mr. F[awkener] against the honourable John Townshend, for criminal conversation with the plaintiff’s wife, is, at present, the topic of conversation in all the polite circles; but great pains having been taken to suppress the publication of the trial, the incidents of this illicit amour are not generally known. We have, however, come at a knowledge of the whole transaction, and will lay it candidly and fairly before our readers.
So began the article entitled ‘Histories of the téte-à-téte annexed; or Memoirs of the PERSEVERING LOVER, and the FALSE WIFE’ in the July 1786 edition of The Town and Country Magazine.
William Augustus Fawkener was the brother of Mrs Bouverie about whom we have written before. His wife was formerly Georgiana Anne Poyntz, daughter of William Poyntz of Midgham House in Berkshire and cousin to Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. Beautiful and clever, but with no great fortune, at the age of only twenty years she had been persuaded into marriage by her family to Fawkener, a man she did not particularly like. The marriage, at St George’s in Hanover Square, was conducted by her uncle, the Reverend Charles Poyntz. Sylvester Douglas, Lord Glenbervie later wrote of her, saying that Georgiana Anne had been “in a manner educated in Devonshire House, and continued to live principally in that society of easy manners after her marriage”. After only a year of marriage, while staying at Lord Melbourne’s house, Brocket Hall, the young Mrs Fawkener fell head over heels in love with the handsome Honourable John Townshend, second son to Field Marshal George Townshend, 1st Marquess Townshend.
Jack Townshend was an intimate friend of Charles James Fox and known as a man of wit and pleasure with elegant tastes; he was also a wicked mimic and could pen excellent verses. He was a regular guest at Devonshire House and the Duchess said of him in 1777 that “Jack Townshend is really a very amiable young man. He has great parts, though not such brilliant ones as Charles Fox’s, and I dare say he will make a very good figure hereafter – he is just twenty now, though he has the appearance of being older”. Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, was later accused of covering up the intrigues developing between her young cousin and her friend, Jack Townshend. Everyone but Mr Fawkener could see that Mr Townshend was taking ‘liberties’ with the young wife, and when William was roused to action, Georgiana Anne stoutly and boldly denied any wrongdoing, but in doing so she evinced so much partiality to Townshend and contempt for her husband that the pair separated, and Georgiana left her marital home. She must have run to her lover, for her husband had her watched and then when satisfied as to how the thing stood, challenged his rival to a duel. Meeting in Hyde Park, Fawkener fired first and missed; Townshend, conscious of having done wrong, refused to return his rival’s fire, instead, he discharged his pistol into the air.
Monday a duel was fought in Hyde Park between the Hon. John Townshend and William Faulkener, Esq; Clerk to the Privy Council. The gentlemen had some dispute at Ranelagh on Friday night, and they met with their seconds on Monday morning. Faulkener fired first, and missed, the bullet passing only thro’ the hat of Mr. Townshend; the latter then discharged his pistol in the air, and the affair terminated to the mutual satisfaction of the parties.
Public Advertiser, 24th May 1786
Georgiana Anne had first run to Twickenham and then she stopped in St Alban’s at the house of her aunt, the Dowager Lady Spencer. John Townshend joined her there and they left Lady’s Spencer’s house to live, to all intents and purposes, as man and wife. The couple kept on the move, to an inn at Staines, then Godalming, Richmond and back to Staines, thence to Lymington before moving to Hampstead and then Chelsea before finally settling at Hereford. At the ensuing trial which began on the 12th July 1786 and at which the Duke of Devonshire was called as a witness by Mr Townshend, it was established that Mrs Fawkener often met with John Townshend when she rode out and the gentleman took ‘several liberties both in action and conversation, which a modest woman could only allow to her husband’; he had been seen leaving Georgiana Anne’s bedchamber in the morning after her separation from her husband. Fawkener was awarded £500 damages for the loss of his wife.
The Town and Country Magazine speculated that, should a full divorce be granted, John Townshend would make haste to marry his lady, and that is exactly what happened despite objections from his father who wrote:
I forgive your conduct towards the woman, I approve of your behaviour towards her husband in the field; but should you marry her, I can never more consider you as one of my family.
The couple married on the 10th April 1787 at Sunbury on Thames. Townshend, known as Lord John Townshend from 1787, stood as M.P. for Westminster and then for Knaresborough for many years. The couple had three children (their daughter Elizabeth married Captain Augustus Clifford, the illegitimate son of the 5th Duke of Devonshire and his mistress Lady Elizabeth Foster, Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire’s rival) and seem to have lived out their long lives happily enough together. Lord John died in 1833 aged 76, and Lady Georgiana Anne Townshend lived to the great age of 94 years, dying in 1851.
As for William Augustus Fawkener, he too remarried and had two daughters by his second wife.
Following on from our blog about women in 18th century politics we found ourselves researching two of the women who have often been mentioned in connection with the Duchess of Devonshire in regard to the political campaign of 1784 where they all three were ardent supporters of Charles James Fox. Our previous blog article on ladies in politics in the 18th Century briefly mentioned Mrs Bouverie and Mrs Crewe, but we thought they were worthy of a blog in their own right, giving a little biographical information about them.
Mrs Bouverie was born Harriet Fawkener in 1750, the daughter of Sir Everard Fawkener, silk merchant and diplomat, and Harriet, natural daughter of Lieutenant General Charles Churchill who was himself illegitimate and a nephew of the 1st Duke of Marlborough. Sir Everard Fawkener is chiefly remembered to history as the great friend of the philosopher Voltaire. She was also the brother of William Fawkener, who will, in part be remembered for fighting a duel in 1786.
On the 30th June, 764, at St. George’s in Hanover Square, London, Harriet married the Honourable Edward Bouverie of Delapré Abbey in Northamptonshire who was to become Member of Parliament for Salisbury and Northampton. The History of Parliament website describes him as ‘An habitué of Brooks’s Club, he regarded himself as a personal friend of Charles James Fox and aped his politics.’
Mrs Bouverie was actively campaigning for the Whig party in 1784 and her connections carried on for many years. She entertained lavishly at her house, her dinner guests Charles James Fox, Lord Robert Spencer, Colonel Fitzpatrick and many others. She was also friends with Richard Brinsley Sheridan and particularly with Sheridan’s wife, Elizabeth Anne née Linley, another woman about whom we have written. Mrs Sheridan once recalled sitting up without a fire together with Mrs Bouverie till six in the morning to hear the result of a parliamentary debate and falling ill in consequence.
The Bouverie’s had three daughters, Harriet Elizabeth, Jane and Diana Juliana Margaretta and three sons, Edward, John and Henry Frederick Bouverie. The youngest child, Diana, born on the 19th September, 1786, although acknowledged as a Bouverie was, in fact, a Spencer. Her mother Harriet had begun an affair with Lord Robert Spencer, youngest son of the 2nd Duke of Marlborough and Diana was his child. She was referred to as the ‘tell-tale Bouverie’ as she looked so much like her natural father, and he left virtually everything he owned to her in his will. There was also a rumoured love affair with Richard Brinsley Sheridan.
Lord Robert Spencer was, like Edward Bouverie, a Member of Parliament and a close friend and staunch supporter of Charles James Fox and the Whig party and, like Fox, a gambler, at one point having to sell his paintings to pay his debts. The Prince of Wales and his brother the Duke of York were part of this circle. Mrs Bouverie became the long-term mistress of Lord Robert Spencer, living in a mènage á trois with her husband and her lover.
Edward Bouverie died on the 3rd September, 1810, aged 72 years, leaving behind him a disorganized mess and debts which his family knew little about. From his will he seems to bear no ill feelings towards his wife and asks that if he dies in Sussex he be buried at Woolbeding, where Lord Robert Spencer’s estate was. Harriet suffered a year of mourning, for the sake of decency, before finally marrying Lord Robert Spencer on the 2nd October, 1811, at his estate of Woolbeding in Sussex. The couple had no further children and Harriet died on the 17th November, 1825, survived by her 2nd husband.
Mrs Bouverie’s great friend was the beautiful and witty Mrs Crewe, born Frances Anne Greville in 1748, the daughter of Fulke Greville, envoy extraordinary to the elector of Bavaria. At the age of eighteen she married John Crewe of Crewe Hall in Cheshire in 1766 and subsequently entertained Charles James Fox and his circle in the same way that Mrs Bouverie did.
The two women shared many things, including the affections of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, but whilst Mrs Bouverie was reputed to be a passing fancy of his, Mrs Crewe embarked on a full blown affair with the playwright lasting around a decade from the mid 1770s. Sheridan’s School for Scandal was dedicated to her and he called her ‘Amoret,’ a name coined by Sheridan’s wife Elizabeth for Mrs Crewe, probably when she first became aware of the relationship. He also dedicated another play The Critic to her mother Frances Greville née Macartney who years earlier had been an acquaintance of Sarah Lennox, Duchess of Richmond.
In 1785, Mrs Sheridan wrote to a friend, Mary Anne Canning, from Crewe Hall:
S is in Town – and so is Mrs Crewe. I am in the Country and so is Mr Crewe – a very convenient Arrangement, is it not?
While her husband idolized Fox and bankrolled him to a large extent, Mrs Crewe was one of the leading lights along with the Duchess of Devonshire in the parties of ladies who canvassed for Charles James Fox at the 1784 election in Westminster. She hosted a party on the evening of his victory, 18th May 1784, at her London townhouse, everyone wearing blue and buff which had been adopted as Fox’s colours. The Prince of Wales was present and proposed a toast, “True blue and Mrs Crewe”. Mrs Crewe raised her glass and famously replied, “True blue and all of you”.
In 1806 John Crewe was raised to the Peerage by Fox, becoming Lord Crewe and making Frances Lady Crewe. The couple had four children, two of whom survived infancy, a son named John (1772-1835) and a daughter, Elizabeth Emma (1780-1850). Mrs Crewe died on the 23rd December, 1818.
As we all know the ‘well to do’ women of the Georgian era were regarded as objects of beauty that simply swooned and fainted at the sight of a gallant gentleman. They wore stunningly beautiful clothes and shoes and spent hours on their hair and beauty regime. They paraded around Georgian London, Bath, Brighton etc. in their finery and partied into the early hours, but on the whole, they were regarded as fairly vacuous creatures.
STOP RIGHT THERE!
OK, so we’ve done the whole film thing, now let’s move on and dispense with that image. If we’re being totally honest that is, to a certain extent, the stereotypical image held of women from that period as, let’s face it, they had very few, if any ‘rights’ during that time. Only those in what was regarded as the lower class, worked, the remainder were kept in comfort by their spouses or parents if not married, they had no voting rights, rarely any disposable income of their own unless they had inherited money that was solely for their use and their husband could divorce them with minimal discomfort on their part.
Whilst women were maybe not able to publicly ‘have a voice’ in the world around them and how it worked it, appears from reading the newspapers of the day that actually they took more than a passing interest in the arts, science and politics. Many of the names we have become familiar with over the years did, in fact, take a more active role in politics than we had at first assumed with many of them engaged in gathering support for their chosen politician during elections using whatever methods were at their disposal.
One of the most famous election campaigns that took place was that of the 1784 Westminster election. If you thought politics and political campaigning today was vicious then take a look back to the Georgian era when things were far worse! We came across a book written October 1784 that provides a detailed account of all the events during the campaign – History of the Westminster Election from 1st April to the 17th May.
The Westminster election was of paramount importance as this was one of the key boroughs for two reasons – firstly every male homeowner could vote and secondly due to the number of voters it was equally important to both the Whig and Tory parties. There were two seats to be had and three candidates, so the battle was between Cecil Wray and Lord Hood, both Tory’s, and Charles Fox, Whig, therefore the candidates needed to use every weapon in their armoury to achieve success; none more so than Charles Fox. The battle then commenced.
The Duchess of Devonshire led the female canvassers accompanied by her sister Lady Harriet Duncannon, as she was titled at that point, later to become Lady Bessborough. The list of women involved in the election included Albinia, The Countess of Buckinghamshire, the Duchess of Portland, Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s wife, Elizabeth née Linley, Lady Jersey, the Honourable Mrs Bouverie and the Scandalous Lady Worsley.
Others including Perdita aka Mrs Robinson, The White Crow, aka Maria Corbyn, The Bird of Paradise aka Gertrude Mahon, Lady Archer, Lady Carlisle, Mrs Crewe, Mrs Damer and the Miss Waldengraves, Lady Grosvenor and Mrs Armistead, the future Mrs Fox, so quite a little collection.
The Morning Post and Daily Advertiser of 6th April 1784 confirmed that the
‘Duchess of Devonshire along with Lord Derby & Lord Keppel are the firm of Mr Fox’s responsible committee.
This seems to imply that her role was a little more than just to ‘look pretty’; presumably, she was there to help to obtain votes however she could. It is reported that she canvassed every day and that she arranged for a thousand coalition medals to be struck, one of which she gave to every voter who agreed to support Fox.
Just over a week later The Bath Chronicle reported that
‘ It was observed of the Duchess of Devonshire and Lady Duncannon, while they were soliciting votes in favour of Mr Fox, on Saturday last, they were the most lovely portraits that ever appeared upon a canvas’.
Like most people we had heard the story that the Duchess secured votes for Charles Fox by offering kisses in exchange for their vote, but until now we had assumed this was simply a myth that has evolved over time due to the astounding number of caricatures of such a scene, but it does seem from this letter written by a certain Duchess to Fox that there was some truth in it*.
Yesterday I sent you three votes but went through much fatigue to procure them. It cost me ten kisses for every plumper. I’m afraid we are done up – I will see you at the porter shop and we will discuss ways and means’.
NB Clare Market is a filthy place – keep up your spirits. I have a borough – you know where.’
The was much printed in the newspapers about her ‘method’ and many derogatory comments made about morals. The reality, however, was that amongst the public she was a very popular figure, not only because of her looks but also because she did actually engage with the public and by all accounts was able to discuss eloquently and put forward information about what Fox stood for.
As a campaigner for Wray we have the much quieter and more demure Duchess of Rutland, needless to say, we don’t have a plethora of caricatures for her!
‘we can assure the public, that the beautiful and accomplished Duchess of Rutland does not drive about the streets and alleys, or otherwise act in a manner unbecoming of a lady of rank and delicacy’.
Despite the mocking and caricatures of these women, predominantly of the Duchess of Devonshire, and the vile abuse they apparently received from Wray’s supporters and the press, the only person who apparently clearly objected to her participation in the election was her mother who felt that she was being used by Fox, no-one else appeared to have any objection which is quite telling; it appears that even the Queen was a supporter of the Duchess of Devonshire:
‘Her majesty has all the morning prints at breakfast every day and the Princesses are permitted to read them. Her eye caught the indecency of that one which attacked the Duchess of Devonshire. She gave it to an attendant and said let that paper never more enter the palace doors. The story got round and the same orders were given everywhere else.’
There were even comments made that women’s participation in politics could result in them wanting to vote – shock horror, how times have changed!
The Duchess of Devonshire suffered greatly at the hands of the press, but she clearly had a passion for politics and felt that the country would benefit from Fox’s appointment. We are aware from The Cavendish Family by Francis Bickley, that she wrote to her mother advising her of how miserable she was, but that she had begun her involvement and that she would see it through to the end. Given that the odds were stacked against Fox winning the election from the beginning, it could be argued that a win from Fox was highly unlikely that without the help of these women!
15th May of 1784 The Morning Post and Daily Advertiser printed the following letter purporting to be from Lady Worsley to the Duchess of Devonshire, whether it was genuine or not we have no idea, but it is nevertheless interesting
Before the General Election in the year 1780, the name of Lady W____y stood fair and respectable; the gay world derives no entertainment from her follies. The forms of decency and decorum had not been neglected, and, therefore men of gallantry felt but little encouragement to make approaches. Sir Richard found not Cassio’s kisses on my lips, for neither Cassio nor Roderigo revelled there. But, Madam in the general Election of that day I acted like yourself – like a woman of life – a woman of spirit, but how unlike a politician! As you set your face against Sir Cecil Wray, I opposed my influence to that of Jervoise Clerk Jervoise. I coaxed, I canvassed; I made myself, in the language of Shakespear ‘base, common and popular’. I was charmed with the public attention I received from the men; they talked to me of irresistible graces; the pressed my fingers; they squeezed my hand and my pulse beat quicker; they touched my lips, and my blood ran riot; they pressed me in their arms and turned my brain. O, the joy! The rapture, the enchanting, thrilling, aching sensations, which beset my soul! They banished in an instant, all ideas of a cold, a formal education; they drove from my mind all decent forms which time and observation had copied there. Your Grace is apprized of the sequel. Before the canvas – Was your Grace strict? So was I. Was your Grace modest? So was I. And if after the canvas, your Grace should find a violent metamorphosis in your feelings; I am ready to confess – so did I.
I am, Madam
Did our favourite 18th-century lady, Grace Dalrymple Elliott, interest herself in politics? Discover more in An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace DalrympleElliott which reveals all.