The Apotheosis of Prince Octavius (1779-83) by Benjamin west, 1783. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

The Death of Princes Alfred & Octavius and Queen Charlotte’s mysterious pregnancies

Our present Queen was not the only one to have an ‘Annus horribilis’, for King George III and Queen Charlotte theirs, however, lasted somewhat longer than one year. For them, the years between 1781-1783 could, without a doubt be described as being some of the worst years of their lives with the loss of their two youngest sons. Both parents were devastated by such tragic events.

We begin at the end of March 1781 when the newspapers reported that the queen was once again pregnant with what would be her fifteenth child and that a public announcement would be made at court after the Easter holidays. No announcement came – did the queen miscarry or was it merely ‘fake news’?

Kentish Gazette 28 March 1781
Kentish Gazette 28 March 1781

Early autumn of 1781 it was reported that young Prince Alfred (born 1780) was dangerously ill and that the queen was constantly attending to her youngest children in the nursery. By October Alfred was deemed to be much better and out of danger. All fourteen children were now doing well, even if the Prince of Wales (later George IV) was giving concern to his parents over his scandalous relationship with Grace Dalrymple Elliott who, at the end of March 1782, produced her one and only daughter reputedly as a result of her liaison with the Prince.

Prince Alfred (1780-1782). Miniature painted c.1782, British School. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017
Prince Alfred (1780-1782). Miniature painted c.1782, British School. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

Prince Alfred’s health remained something of a cause for concern and in May 1782, it was agreed that he should be taken to Deal Castle to make use of the salt water there for the benefit of his health. Mid-August his health again deteriorated and on August 20th, 1782, despite Dr Heberden attending to him throughout the night, young Prince Alfred, aged one year and eleven months died of ‘a consumption’; other reports stated that whilst perfectly healthy when he was born, he became weak and died from ‘an atrophy’. A report given in the Reading Mercury amongst several other newspapers stated that:

The queen is much affected at this calamity, probably more so on account of its being the only one she has experienced after a marriage of 20 years, and have been the mother of fourteen children. There will be no general mourning for the death of Prince Alfred, it being an established etiquette never to go into mourning for any of the royal blood of England under fourteen years of age, unless for the heir apparent to the crown.

The young prince’s body will be removed from Windsor to the Prince’s chamber next the House of Lords, where it will be till the time of internment in Henry the VIIth chapel, Westminster Abbey. The queen is now pregnant of her fifteenth children, thirteen of which are living.

The queen – pregnant! We had to find out more.

Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette 29 August 1782
Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette 29 August 1782

 

A lock of Prince Alfred's hair given to Lady Charlotte Finch
A lock of Prince Alfred’s hair given to Lady Charlotte Finch

History tells us that the next child born to Queen Charlotte was Princess Amelia in August 1783, so what of the reported pregnancy in 1782. We thought it must be another piece of ‘fake news’, but seemingly not. The Norfolk Chronicle at the end of April 1782 stated that the queen was ‘in her fifth month of her fifteenth child’.

Another newspaper report regarding the death of Prince Alfred also pointed out that the queen was now ‘big with her fifteenth child’ and another confirmed her to be ‘in the seventh month of her pregnancy’ at that time. So, you would have expected reports in the press about the birth of this child about September or even October – but nothing, not a word, and if a royal child was stillborn, confirmation would still usually appear in the newspapers – very strange!

Although there was no official period of mourning the Royals were not seen out until 7th September when they travelled to Buckingham House from Kew. There are several reports of the queen continuing with her usual duties but still no mention of the pregnancy.

The Apotheosis of Prince Octavius (1779-83) by Benjamin west, 1783. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017
The Apotheosis of Prince Octavius (1779-83) by Benjamin West, 1783. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

Early May 1783, disaster struck the royal family again when the young Prince Octavius was taken from them.

The queen never left him from Thursday night till Saturday, when he died; his majesty also continued with him from Friday evening till his death. Their majesties are almost inconsolable for the loss of the amiable young prince. Princess Sophia, who was inoculated at the same time it was feared would not recover; but yesterday it was thought the disorder had taken a favourable turn. Prince Octavius is to be interred privately in Westminster Abbey with his late deceased brother Alfred.

The Three Youngest Daughters of George III, John Singleton Copley, Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014
The Three Youngest Daughters of George III, John Singleton Copley, Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

After these tragedies, life was to improve for the royal family with the birth of Princess Amelia almost one year after the death of Prince Alfred meaning she was conceived just after the queen would have given birth to the child she had been reported to have been bearing in 1782 – all very strange!

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Sold for a pot of beer and a shilling!

On August 10th 1817 the marriage took place between Charles Skinner and Mary Gower, at Speldhurst, Kent, the union of two people in Holy matrimony. This seemingly happy union was to last for the next ten years until John Savage appeared on the scene.

We turn to an account of a court case in the Globe newspaper of July 26th, 1828 which took place at the West Kent Quarter Sessions. Charles Skinner, Mary Skinner and John Savage, of the parish of Tonbridge, were indicted for a misdemeanour. The misdemeanour being:

one of those disgusting transactions which were frequently mentioned in the newspapers, and which by a vulgar error, were imagined to be lawful. It was by many persons supposed that if a man became tired of his wife, he might take her to a public market with a halter round her neck, or (as in the present instance) a handkerchief round her waist, and there publicly sell her. Such proceedings were both illegal and immoral, whether the parties were or were not all agreed. Sometime the wife was sold against her will; but in this case, there was an agreement by all parties before they left the cottage at Speldhurst, in which they all lived.

Matrimony: may the Devil take them that brought you and me together.
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

Charles and Mary had separated in the respect of being husband and wife, but they continued to live under the same roof along with Mary’s new lover, John Savage. The cottage they all lived in belonged to the parish and this unusual living arrangement came to the attention of the officers responsible for the cottage. Charles and Mary were told in no uncertain terms to ‘behave themselves’.

Clearly ‘behaving’ was not an option and they decided upon a different course of action so that they could retain possession of the cottage. So, with that, Charles and Mary went to the tap-room of the George and Dragon public house in Tonbridge. Then, after a while, John Savage appeared in the pub and the drama began. Making sure that people heard, Charles, having tied a silk handkerchief around his wife’s waist, said to Savage, “Will you buy my wife?” Savage replied, “Yes, what will you have for her?” Charles replied, “A shilling and a pot of beer”. Savage agreed to the bargain and Mary was handed over to him with Charles saying to her ‘If you give me that handkerchief I have nothing more to do with you”. She then gave him the handkerchief and they went away.

Thwick-Thwack
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

Mr Pollock, prosecuting, concluded by observing that these people ought to be taught that what they had done was both immoral and illegal, that by their punishment other people might be warned that such transactions could not take place without impunity.

William Hook who was one of the overseers of Speldhurst confirmed that Charles Skinner was a pauper of the parish and that he had resided in the cottage belonging to the parish for three years, but was now in the workhouse because of this transaction. Hook also pointed out that the couple had already been warned at the Monthly Vestry that if he permitted Savage to live in the house, and cohabit with his wife, he must leave the cottage; if he had more room than he wanted, the parish would find somebody to put in it, but apparently Skinner took no notice of this warning.  John Smith the landlord of the George and Dragon was called to give his account of the events of that evening.

He confirmed that on June 2nd that Charles Skinner went in first and ordered a pot of beer and shortly after Savage arrived, the transaction was carried out. He confirmed that there were about four other people present who also witnessed it. Skinner and Savage assumed that this would make it all legal – how wrong they were! As each witness gave their version of events, all were consistent that Skinner had, in fact, sold his wife for a shilling and a pot of beer.

The learned Chairman intimated that there was not enough evidence to support a charge of conspiracy, but that the transaction took place could not be denied.

The defendants were called to give their account of the event. Mary simply laughed and said, “My husband did not wish to go along with my wishes and that was the reason I wished to part”.

Six Weeks after Marriage
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

The learned Chairman, in summing up, observed that this indictment was rather of a novel nature. He did not think the charge of a conspiracy had been proved. These people had been living together in the same house, but in what manner it was not now necessary to inquire; and even it was, a mere rumour was not sufficient to reply upon that point. Besides the count of conspiracy, there were two others, charging the defendants with making the sale, and it appeared that such a sale did take place. The lady certainly did not rate her own value very highly; for a pot of beer and a shilling was the only consideration given for that valuable commodity.

The jury, without hesitation, found all of them guilty. They were each sentenced to serve one months hard labour.

 

Featured Image

Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

Old Hastings by Edward William Cooke, 1834-1835. Victoria and Albert Museum

On the trail of the Hawkhurst gang of smugglers

In An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliot, we mention her uncle by marriage, John Dundas who married Helen Brown, Grace’s determined and strong-minded maternal aunt who was a constant presence in Grace’s formative years.  In 1748, some six years before Grace was born, John Dundas was a Captain in the 34th Regiment of Foot and was placed in command of a troop of soldiers hunting two fugitives from Newgate Prison.

William Gray and Thomas Kemp had been arrested for smuggling, both members of the notorious Hawkhurst Gang of smugglers and thieves who terrorised the south coast of England from Kent to Dorset during 1735 to 1750.  On the 30th March 1748, these two, along with five other smugglers who were all being held in Newgate, managed to escape, all taking different routes through the London streets.  Five of them were soon taken, but Gray and Kemp got clean away.  They evaded capture for some weeks until, in mid-May, the following report appeared in the newspapers:

By an Express from Hastings we have an Account, that William Gray, who lately broke out of Newgate, was last Tuesday Morning retaken by a party of Lord Cobham’s Dragoons, under the Command of Capt. Dundass, of Cholmondeley’s Regiment of Foot and carry’d to that Place; and that Kemp, who broke out at the same Time with Gray, narrowly escaped being taken with him.[1]

Chasing Smugglers on a Rocky Coast; British School
British School; Chasing Smugglers on a Rocky Coast; National Maritime Museum

William Gray stood trial and was sentenced to be transported for seven years; the Penny London Post reported on 27th July 1748, that Gray had given the Government information regarding smugglers and he was to be pardoned, however, he remained in Newgate and the General Evening Post, 19th November 1748 mentioned that he was so ill his life was despaired of.  Thomas Kemp was recaptured along with his brother in 1749, after breaking into a house armed with pistols; both were sentenced to death.

More information on John Dundas and his wife Helen Brown can be found in our book which documents not only Grace’s life but those of her extended family as well.

[1] London Evening Post, 17th May 1748.

Featured image:

Old Hastings by Edward William Cooke, Victoria and Albert Museum

The sad tale of the miser Mary Luhorne

Sailmaker, Isaac; Two Views of an East Indiaman of the Time of William III; National Maritime Museum; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/two-views-of-an-east-indiaman-of-the-time-of-william-iii-175440
Isaac Sailmaker; Two Views of an East Indiaman of the Time of William III; National Maritime Museum

Mary Manlove married Nicholas Luhorne, some seven years her senior, in 1715 at St Andrews Holborn. There’s nothing especially noteworthy about either of them on the face of it until after the death of Nicholas, a captain in the navy, when the story of Mary’s life after the loss of her husband became particularly tragic as we discovered in a book, titled Lives and anecdotes of misers. What became of Mary…?

In the month of August of the year 1766 there died at Deptford a wretched old woman, in her ninety-sixth year; she was the widow of Captain Luhorne, of the East India service. She survived her husband forty years, and during the whole of that period she lived a most miserly and penurious manner. She not only denied herself the comforts, but even the most common necessaries and decencies of life.

Her clothes were so tattered that she was almost in a state of nudity, and the rags which she hung upon her shoulders were so filthy, and so animated with vermin, that passengers took the precaution to keep at a distance from her in the streets.

marriage-1715

She was never known to have lit a fire in her room, and never indulged in the luxury of a candle; she wore no under garments, and had no sheet to cover her at night; she eschewed all the rules of cleanliness, and appeared never so happy as when surrounded with filth and loathsomeness. She would frequently wander along the roads to beg of passers by, and always professed the utmost poverty.

The demon of avarice was so strong within this covetous soul, that she was more than once detected pilfering some trifling articles from her neighbours. One Tuesday the old woman was missed; she had not been observed to leave her room, and she had not been seen in her accustomed walks: Wednesday past, and the neighbours began to suspect that the old miser must be ill; they knocked at her door, but no voice replied; they waited for the morrow; and when the day had far advanced, and she did not appear, they got in at the window. They found her in bed alive, but speechless: with the attention she revived a little, but on Saturday the old woman died.

Her relatives were sent for, who on opening her drawers and chests found securities and gold to the amount of forty thousand pounds, besides clothes of the most sumptuous make and texture, plate, china, jewels and linen. For years she had been surrounded with this wealth and possessed these luxuries, which if rightly used would have served to comfort her old age, and have been the means of relieving the miseries and wants of others; the remembrance would in return have proved great solace to the bed of sickness and death.

st-pauls-deptford-burial-6th-aug
Although not very clear, we finally found her burial – 6th August 1766, St Nicholas, Deptford, Kent

Yet although her drawers were thus crammed with costly apparel, which was slowly moldering  and rotting before the effects of time; that wretched object of penury chose rather to wear rags so filthy that it became the imperative duty of her relatives to burn them immediately after her death.

In a life so wretched, so devoid of purpose, so laborious, so self-denying and so debased, we have a striking ample of the littleness of human wishes, and the ignobility of the human mind, when unguided by reason, and when swayed by the despotism of the passions. Her life is indeed, a problem the philosopher will find some difficulty to solve. With forty thousand pounds, no fraction of which she would venture to enjoy – with none for whom affection would prompt her to save – here was a wretched being whose lust for gold and whose propensity to hoard was so overwhelming, that she would beg of strangers in the streets whatever she could lay her hands upon; and although surrounded with an abundance, deprive herself of every enjoyment – of every hope and consolation, that she might gratify this most senseless propensity of her life, of her avarice, as manifested in all its strength at the age of ninety five, and of her lonely and comfortless death bed, we are prompted to exclaims, with the psalmist:

Vanitas Vanitatum omnia vanitas!

(vanity, vanity, all is vanity)

The destruction of Speldhurst Church in Kent on the 20th October 1791

On Wednesday the 19th October 1791, the sea off the Kentish coast ‘ran mountains high, without any apparent cause’. Ships hastily made for harbour and lucky that they did for, on the following morning, a tremendous storm hit the south-east of England, with Kent particularly suffering.

On Thursday 20th October, at half past eleven o’clock and amidst high winds, thunder, lightning, hail and rain, a bolt of lightning struck the wooden steeple of Speldhurst Church near Tunbridge Wells in Kent. Some sources say that a ‘ball’ entered the shingled roof, others that lightning struck the weather vane atop the steeple. However it started, almost instantly flames and smoke could be seen.

speldhurst-church-near-tunbridge-wells
Speldhurst Church set on fire by lightning – 20th Oct 1791
Source: © British Library

As the fire was, so far, confined to the steeple, some people who were nearby rushed into the chancel to save the pulpit cushions, the plate and the parish chest. They did not have time to save anything else for the rain and hail stopped and the wind drove the flames onto the church which was soon engulfed in the inferno. Four hours after the lightning had struck, all that remained of the ancient and beautiful church was ruins, with the tombs and headstones which were closest to the doomed building also suffering damage. Bizarrely the font, which was still whole, had been turned upside down.

Amongst the items lost to the fire were the four bells housed in the steeple (they were melted) and the church monuments.

The monuments (one of which was very ancient, belonging to the Waller family, on a large scale, and a most curious piece of workmanship in marble) crumbled to dust.

For Speldhurst villagers William Card and Elizabeth Cole the tragedy was on a very personal level; they were due to marry in the church on the following day. Determined that the wedding should go ahead, a small space was cleared in the rubble by the chancel door and the couple were married there but, it was reported, ‘the bride’s new shoes were completely spoiled’.

Mulready, William; The Wedding Morning; Lady Lever Art Gallery; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-wedding-morning-102616
The Wedding Morning by William Mulready; Lady Lever Art Gallery

It was not just Speldhurst which had suffered, although the village saw the most devastation. In Tunbridge Wells itself the hail broke windows and caused other damage, and a man shooting a mile away from Speldhurst had ‘his gun twisted out of his hand by the lightning’. The church at Rainham near Canterbury was also struck and damage was noted at Newport on the Isle of Wight due to lightning strikes as the storm spread through the south-east of the country. It desisted during Thursday afternoon (although the wind continued to blow), but overnight and into the Friday morning there were further storms.

The Waller family lived at Groombridge manor house in Speldhurst; Sir Richard Waller (who died in 1431) had custody of a French royal hostage for many years. Charles, Duke of Orléans (1394-1465) had been taken prisoner by Waller after the battle of Agincourt in 1415, and both the duke and Waller were benefactors to the church which was destroyed in 1791. The dukes arms, which had been granted to Waller to quarter with his own, were displayed in stone above the porch of the church.

A new church was built (it opened in 1805), but that was demolished in 1870 and a further church now stands on the site. The website of the current church says that ‘remarkably, a few relics of the old church survive, including the coat of arms of the Duke of Orléans over the South door, a sundial and the very weather vane which was [reputedly] struck in 1791’.

 

Header image:

Speldhurst Church, Tunbridge Wells, Kent, Struck by Lightning; British (English Naive) School; Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art Gallery

 

Sources:

Hereford Journal, 2nd November 1791

Derby Mercury, 3rd November 1791

St Mary’s, Speldhurst.

The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 3 (1797) via British History Online.

Fanny Williams and the Amherst family of Kent

FASHIONABLE ANECDOTE, at present only whispered in the POLITE CIRCLES.

Some years ago, the Lady of a noble Lord, who once held a high military post, and greatly distinguished himself in a former war, received a small basket by an unknown hand, which, on being opened, was found to contain a female child, with a letter addressed to the lady, written in a female hand, expressing the high opinion the writer entertained of her Ladyship’s liberality, and particularly from personal knowledge of her humanity. Appealing to it, for protection of the unknown infant, whose existence, with that of the mother’s, depended on her Ladyship.  A bank-note was inclosed for a considerable amount. The child was ordered to be taken all possible care of, and has been from that time attended and educated in no other manner than if she had been the daughter of the noble Lord and his Lady.

The young lady has been introduced at court, and is highly esteemed by all whom she is known to, and possesses, in the highest degree, the affections of her friends and protectress: she is now about eighteen years of age, and till within a few days, the history of her birth and parents were unknown to all but the parents themselves, and a confidential servant.

It however now appears, her father is a peer of Ireland, her mother the sister to a peer; they managed their tendresse with so much dexterity, that the circumstance of this beautiful gage de l’amour would ever have remained unknown; but the noble Lord her father, who was soon after married to another lady, and that lady being dead, his Lordship, perhaps, feeling remorse for his former unkind treatment of this young lady, who has remained unmarried; which event is about to take place. The have claimed their daughter from Lady ______, to whom the whole circumstance has been related, and whom, we hear, is nearly inconsolable for the loss she is about to sustain, in parting from her amiable and charming favourite.

[We insert this article with the greater confidence, as the first part of this story is a fact well known to have happened to Lady Am___st.]


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Portrait of Elizabeth, Lady Amherst (1740-1830) (nee Elizabeth Cary) by Joshua Reynolds via Wikimedia

Lady Amherst, or Baroness Amherst of Holmesdale, formerly Miss Elizabeth Cary, was the second wife of Jeffrey Amherst, Baron Amherst, who was, at the time this article was written, Captain and Colonel of The Queen’s Troop of Horse Guards. She was born around 1740 to Lt-General the Honourable George Cary (son of the 6th Viscount Falkland) and his wife Isabella (nee Ingram).

The little foundling was given the name Fanny Williams and, as the Amherst’s had no children of their own, was brought up by them and treated in every way as their own daughter.  Fanny Burney recounted meeting the girl in 1791:

I was pleased in seeing Miss Fanny Williams, as she is called, the young person who was left an infant at the door of Lady Amherst, and who is reputed to be the daughter of every woman of rank whose character, at that date, was susceptible of suspicion. She looks a modest and pretty young creature, and Lady Amherst brings her up with great kindness and propriety.

NPG 150,Jeffrey Amherst, 1st Baron Amherst,by Thomas Gainsborough
Jeffrey Amherst, 1st Baron Amherst by Thomas Gainsborough
© National Portrait Gallery, London

Jeffrey Amherst, a ruthless and cruel man, was behind the attempt to introduce smallpox amongst the native Indians in America with infected blankets during the Anglo-Indian war.

In two sources Jeffrey Amherst is noted as having a natural son, the ODNB saying he was given the same name as his father and rose to become a Major General in the army, born around 1752 and dying in 1815. Jane Dalison had married Baron Amherst in 1753 (a year or so after the birth of his illegitimate son) but reportedly went insane whilst her husband travelled overseas with the army. She died in 1765 and two years later he married Elizabeth Cary.

2008_EX02_01 012

William Amherst (1732-1791)

Young Jeffrey was brought up by his aunt, Elizabeth Thomas. There is, however, another Amherst floating around, William Kerrill Amherst, whose unusual second name ties him in to the same family as Jeffrey Amherst but for whom no parentage is given.

Kerrill was the maiden name of Jeffrey Amherst’s mother, Elizabeth, and, by her husband who was yet another Jeffrey, she had four surviving sons:

Sackville Amherst (1715-1763) – a lawyer who ran up debts and caused his relatives much consternation by his scandalous behaviour

Jeffrey Amherst (1717-1797)

John Amherst (1718-1778) – Vice Admiral of the White

William Amherst (1732-1791)

William Kerrill Amherst (c.1761-1792) was sent out to Bengal in India as a writer for the East India Company in 1778. As if his middle name wasn’t clue enough to his ancestry, he wrote to the artist Ozias Humphry in 1785, when the latter arrived in India, saying he was anxious that they should correspond as they shared acquaintances in Sevenoaks, Kent (where Jeffrey Amherst had his estate, Montreal) and a love of the area. Certainly he was the son of one of the four brothers.

Montreal Park, the seat of Jeffrey Amherst, from a 1777 engraving
Montreal Park, the seat of Jeffrey Amherst, from a 1777 engraving

John and Sackville died without any legitimate heirs; William married Elizabeth Paterson and had three children, Elizabeth Frances, Harriet and William Pitt Amherst.  When both William and Elizabeth died young their children were taken into the household of Baron Amherst and brought up with young Fanny Williams, William Pitt Amherst becoming the heir to his uncle and the baronetcy.

Elizabeth Frances thought of Fanny as her sister, and indeed she may well have been.  It was known that the forename of the father could be bestowed on the child as a surname, in a similar way to that which Charlotte Williams, a subject of one of our former blogs, took the forename of her father William Cavendish, the 5th Duke of Devonshire, as her surname. Was Fanny then the natural daughter of William Amherst, brought up by her aunt Lady Amherst in much the same way that Baron Amherst’s natural son had been brought up by his own aunt, Elizabeth Thomas?

William Kerrill Amherst died on the 20th April, 1792, in India.

When Lord Amherst wrote his will in 1794 he did not omit to mention Fanny and left her a sizeable legacy; he provided for her by a thousand pounds in stock and asked his wife to supply proper mourning for her on his decease. No son, illegitimate or otherwise, was named in his will. He died three years later.

On the 23rd May, 1799, Fanny married Charles Pinfold, Esquire, at St. Marylebone Church, by licence, only to sadly die in childbirth just over a year and a half later (her son, Charles, did survive).

 

Sources used:

Stamford Mercury, 19th May 1786

The rising country: the Hale-Amherst correspondence, 1799-1825, Champlain Society, 2002

Diary and Letters of Madame d’Arblay, edited by her niece, Charlotte Barrett, vol. iii – 1788 to 1796

Royal Academy of Arts Collection, Letters of William K Amherst to Ozias Humphry

Header image: Montreal, near Sevenoaks, Kent, the seat of Lord Amherst of Holmsdale, McCord Museum