Filial Affection, or a Trip to Gretna Green by Thomas Rowlandson; Metropolitan Museum of Art

The miser’s granddaughter: inheritance and elopement

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.

Satire on John Elwes: Temperance, enjoying a frugal meal. © British Museum
Satire on John Elwes: Temperance, enjoying a frugal meal. © British Museum

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.

Marcham Park (via Wikimedia)
Marcham Park (via Wikimedia)

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?

Merton College, Oxford by Michael Angelo Rooker; Yale Center for British Art
Merton College, Oxford by Michael Angelo Rooker; Yale Center for British Art

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’.

Filial Affection, or a Trip to Gretna Green by Thomas Rowlandson; Metropolitan Museum of Art
Filial Affection, or a Trip to Gretna Green by Thomas Rowlandson; Metropolitan Museum of Art

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.

Gretna Green. © British Museum
Gretna Green. © British Museum

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.

Church at Marylebone by James Miller.
Church at Marylebone by James Miller. Yale Center for British Art, Gift of Paul Mellon in memory of Dudley Snelgrove

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.

Sources:

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

National Archives:

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

Love and Marriage – Georgian Style

lwlpr07752 Here's songs of love & maids forsaken
‘Here’s songs of love & maids forsaken.’ Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library.

Samuel Johnson described a second marriage as a:

triumph of hope over experience

So what about a first marriage, how did you find a soul mate? Well, at the start of the Georgian era marriage, especially if you happened to be wealthy, was very much akin to an arranged marriage, with landed and gentry families arranging the marriage of their children to other wealthy families in order to build their empire and to keep the money in the family. Children were sometimes betrothed during their childhood and love took virtually no part in marriage. The situation was very different for working class people who were free to marry for love. Things began to change as a result of couples running away to Gretna Green and the like who wanted to marry for love, and by doing so they managed to cheat their parents out of such a financial union. The result of these runaway marriages being the 1753 Marriage Act which standardized marriages in England for the first time, meaning that couples under the age of 21-years had to seek parental permission. This, however, meant that couples under that age continued to runaway to Scotland.

British School; The Elopement; Paintings Collection; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-elopement-31757
British School; The Elopement; Paintings Collection

What if you couldn’t manage a first marriage, let alone a second one – where did you look? Well, there was always the ‘lonely hearts’ column. Today we have online and speed dating, back in Georgian times both men and women who were seeking love used the newspapers to look for a suitable partner, so we thought it might be fun to take a look at the advertisements placed for those seeking a suitable spouse.

The World Friday, March 21, 1788
The World Friday, March 21, 1788

So, what did men look for in a wife? Well in this case only tall women need apply! He really should have defined ‘tall’!

Public Advertiser 8th June 1774

MATRIMONY

A gentleman, lately arrived in England, and who is void of acquaintance, wishes to enter into the State of Matrimony. A fortune is not his object. He should be glad, were a lady about twenty-one years of age, rather tall than otherwise, of an affable and lively temper. Any one answering these particulars would have a carriage at her command and every other indulgence might tend to her happiness.

In the Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser 14th November 1776, this gentleman basically tells would be ‘timewasters’ to ‘jog on’!

To the fair candidates for Matrimony

A young gentleman, genteelly settled and possessed of three thousand pounds real and 400l per annum wishes to meet with an agreeable partner for life whose will and fortune is independent of others control; her fortune a thousand pounds; no objection to more; the beauty of the mind which is lasting will be preferred to the charms of the face; and favours are requested for Mr. Price to be left at the Penny Post House, Charles Street, Oxford Road.

NB Those insignificant jades whose characters won’t bear inquiry and in consequence are ashamed to appear to their appointment are desired not to trouble the author to no purpose.

Clater, Thomas; The Proposal; Stockport Heritage Services; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-proposal-89501
Clater, Thomas; The Proposal; Stockport Heritage Services

Seemingly the lonely hearts advertisements were not restricted to men – women also placed adverts such as this one in the Morning Post and Daily Advertiser, 12th October 1775.

A young gentlewoman that has met with some disappointments in life, has never been from home, and in expectation of some fortune, but chooseth to see genteel life, has a good education, and speaks French would be glad to superintend a single Nobleman or Gentleman’s house; no objection to age, town or country, or to go abroad, on terms agreed on at an interview.

NB Prefers a genteel independence to matrimony.

© The Trustees of the British Museum
© The Trustees of the British Museum

At the other end of the spectrum we discovered quite a number of people who marriage multiple times. One woman, Lydia Hall who according to ‘The World’ died in 1787, had been:

Tried at the Old Bailey nine times and was seven times marriage; three of her spouses were long ago executed and two of them transported.

In 1797, according to The Morning Herald of 30th December:

Thomas Lonfield Esq. who died at Bath last week was married six times, and by each of his wives received a large fortune: having no children, he has left the principal part of his immense possessions to his widow.

lwlpr12041
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole

 

Feature image: Hogarth, William; After; The Fitzwilliam Museum

Smick Smack.

Valentine’s Day in the Georgian Era

Valentine's Day
Courtesy of the British Museum

There were many different customs and traditions surrounding Valentine’s Day, one of which baffled the unsentimental writer of this letter to the newspaper.

Derby Mercury – 7th March 1782

Sir,

Amongst many customs useful and ridiculous which have been handed down to us from our Ancestors, I lately observed one of drawing Valentines, on the Evening preceding Valentine’s Day, which was much in this Manner, the Boys collected all the names of females (unmarried) they could remember, and wrote them separately upon little tickets or bits of paper, which were put into a hat and shaked about for some time, when each of them drew one of these out, and the next day sent a kind of poetical epistle to the girl who was his Valentine or Lot.  I confess the meaning of this is extremely strange to me at present, as I cannot see any thing in it useful or entertaining.  I should therefore be greatly obliged, if any Correspondent of your’s would favour me with a reason for this superstitious ceremony.

I am, Sir,

Your humble Servant,

The INSPECTOR.

Love in a Village by Carington Bowles.
Love in a Village by Carington Bowles. © The Trustees of the British Museum

February the 14th was a popular and romantic day for a wedding whether they were unusual, unsuccessful or happy.

Read’s Weekly Journal – 16th February 1751

Thursday one Mrs. Mann, aged upwards of 60, who keeps a Cook and Chandler’s Shop in Shoreditch, was married to a Soldier quartered in that Neighbourhood, aged about 22.  Being asked by a Neighbour how she could think of Marriage at those Years?  She replied it was Valentine’s Day, and she was resolved to be coupled.  The old Gentlewoman had, by her Frugality and Industry, collected upwards of 200 l. which she freely bestowed on her new Lover.

Valentine's - Lovers of all sorts
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

Morning Herald – 4th March 1784

It may be worth remarking, that on last Valentine’s Day, a couple were married in St. Peter’s Church, Derby, who had between them seven thumbs, viz. the woman three, and the man four.

Valentine's - smick smack 1812
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

Hereford Journal – 26th July 1787

WINCHESTER, JULY 21.  At our assizes a cause was tried between Sarah Stephens, of Newport, in the Isle of Wight, aged 24, plaintiff, and Mr. Spencer of the same place, aged 65, defendant.  This cause occasioned much diversion in the court.  The happy pair had agreed, it seems, to unite in the soft and pleasing bands of Hymen on Valentine’s day last; a day conceived by them to be most propitious to love and the union of lovers; but unfortunately the demon of discord interfered.  The old gentleman’s age and unwieldy figure, contrasted with the youth and genteel appearance of the lady, afforded an ample field for wit and humour, and the laugh went much against the unfortunate gentleman.  But what was still more against him, the Jury gave a verdict in favour of the lady for 400 l. damages, with costs of suit.

Valentine's - The Best Shelter
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

The Bury and Norwich Post – 25th February 1807

On Valentine’s Day set out from Stamford, in Lincolnshire, on a matrimonial trip to Gretna Green, Mr. Charles Wales, printer, lately of Bury St. Edmund’s, with Miss Eliza Booth, second daughter of Mr. Booth, wine and spirit merchant, of the former place. – The far-famed Hymen of the Northern border having indissolubly entangled the happy pair in his silken bonds, they returned to Stamford on Sunday last, and their nuptial bliss was consummated with the blessing of the lady’s opulent friends!

Gretna Green, or, the red-hot marriage, c.1795. Lewis Walpole Library
Gretna Green, or, the red-hot marriage, c.1795. Lewis Walpole Library

In 1797 a booklet had been published titled ‘The Young Man’s Valentine Writer’ which listed romantic verses which could be copied out by those with little poetic skill and sent to their sweethearts. Later printers began to mass-produce printed verses and cards. While these lacked the personal touch of a handwritten note it did mean that they could easily and cheaply be sent anonymously via the postal service. Valentine’s Day proved to be a busy one for early 19th century postmen.

The Love Letter by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, 1770. Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Love Letter by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, 1770. Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Ipswich Journal – 23rd February 1805

On Valentine’s Day the General Two-penny Post Office received 80,000 letters – an increase from last year of 20,000.  The amount of 80,000 letters is 686£ 13s 4d.

Valentine's - Edward & Eliza
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

The Morning Post – 15th February 1815

Yesterday being Valentine’s day, the whole artillery of love was put into requisition.  The Postmen were converted into Cupids, and instead of letters upon business, carried epistles full of flames, darts, chains, and amorous declarations.

We end with a Valentine’s Day poem addressed to the lucky Miss F____ of Winchester by an anonymous admirer who used the Hampshire Chronicle newspaper rather than the post to proclaim his love.

Hampshire Chronicle – 21st February 1791

 

VALENTINE’S DAY.

LINES addressed to Miss F____, of WINCHESTER.

I only sing one blooming fair to gain;

Adieu, ye muses, if she will not hear.  HAMMOND

BEAUTY from fancy often takes its arms,

And every common form some breast may move;

Some in an air, a look, a shape, find charms,

To justify their choice or boast their love: –

But, had the great Apelles seen that face,

When the beauteous Cyprian goddess drew,

He had neglected all the female race,

Thrown his first Venus by, and copy’d – YOU.

Feb. 14., 1791