Eastern Promise: Mughal India and the East India Company

We never initially set out to research Mughal India and the East India Company (EIC) but, time and time again, the people we were looking at took us east. It all started with the eighteenth-century courtesan, Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s family. Grace had a brother and three male cousins who all ventured to India in different capacities with the EIC. Perhaps best known of these is Colonel John (Jack) Mordaunt, who has been captured for posterity in the middle of a cock match against Asaf-ud-daula, Nawab Wazir of Oudh. Mordaunt, a keen cock-fighter, had imported birds from Europe which he thought were superior to those of the Nawab’s.

Colonel Mordaunt's Cock Match c.1784-6 by Johan Zoffany. The Tate.
Colonel Mordaunt’s Cock Match c.1784-6 by Johan Zoffany. The Tate.

And as well as her male cousins out in India, Grace also had two female cousins – sisters – who travelled to the country on an ultimately successful husband-hunting trip. The EIC was concerned about its officers taking Indian women as wives and adopting Mughal dress and habits. In an effort to stem this, they encouraged British girls and young women to embark on ships for an Indian adventure and to provide suitable marriage material.

A Sale of English Beauties in the East Indies. © The Trustees of the British Museum
A Sale of English Beauties in the East Indies. © The Trustees of the British Museum

You can find more on Grace and her relations, who travelled the globe, in An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott.

Our second book, A Right Royal Scandal: Two Marriages That Changed History, looks at the ancestors of the British royal family, specifically Anne Wellesley, her second husband Lord Charles Bentinck and their son, the Reverend Charles Cavendish Bentinck but, first, we examined Anne’s background. She was the daughter of Richard Colley Wellesley, 1st Marquess Wellesley (the Duke of Wellington’s older brother) and Hyacinthe Gabrielle Rolland, a Parisian opera dancer whom the marquess fell in love with as a young man. Richard was posted to India as Governor-General but Hyacinthe Gabrielle, chronically afraid of the sea voyage, refused to accompany him, a decision which would ultimately lead to the break-up of their marriage.

A Cheetah Hunt in Lord Wellesley's Park at Barrackpore by Charles D'Oyley, 1802, British Library, India Collection.
A Cheetah Hunt in Lord Wellesley’s Park at Barrackpore by Charles D’Oyley, 1802, British Library, India Collection.

And so we come to our latest book, A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs. Charlotte, as our heroine preferred to be known, fell in love when she was only sixteen years of age with a young lad who left her behind when he sailed to India in search of adventure, subsequently joining the EIC as a junior officer and rising to become a general and a baronet. This man, Sir David Ochterlony, remained Charlotte’s one true love throughout all her many adventures and exploits. Towards the end of their lives, David and Charlotte once again reached out to each other, albeit by letter and from one side of the globe to the other. Ochterlony, like so many before him, had ‘gone native’, dressing in flowing Mughal robes and smoking a hookah pipe while sitting cross-legged on his diwan, watching dancing girls. He could be spotted each evening with his multiple Indian wives, each atop an elephant as they perambulated around Delhi. Did Charlotte dare to dream that the only man she had ever loved would return to England to claim her, in her dotage?

Major-General Sir David Ochterlony (1758-1825), Soldier by Arthur William Devis; National Galleries of Scotland.
Major-General Sir David Ochterlony (1758-1825), Soldier by Arthur William Devis; National Galleries of Scotland.

If you’d like to discover more about Charlotte, all is revealed in our book. A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs is out now in the UK (and coming soon worldwide) and can be found at Pen & Sword, Amazon and all good bookshops.

 Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs lived an incredible life, one which proved that fact is often much stranger than fiction. As a young woman she endured a tortured existence at the hands of a male tormentor, but emerged from that to reinvent herself as a playwright and author; a political pamphleteer and a spy, working for the British Government and later singlehandedly organising George III’s jubilee celebrations. Trapped in France during the revolutionary years of 1792-95, she published an anonymous account of her adventures. However, was everything as it seemed? The extraordinary Mrs Biggs lived life upon her own terms in an age when it was a man’s world, using politicians as her mouthpiece in the Houses of Parliament and corresponding with the greatest men of the day. Throughout it all though, she held on to the ideal of her one youthful true love, a man who abandoned her to her fate and spent his entire adult life in India. Who was this amazing lady?

In A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs, we delve into her life to reveal her accomplishments and lay bare Mrs Biggs’ continued re-invention of herself. This is the bizarre but true story of an astounding woman persevering in a man’s world.

Featured image

Colonel Mordaunt and Nawab Asaf al-Daula of Oudh at a Cock Fight, Company School, Patna, circa 1840, after Richard Earlom’s mezzotint of Zoffany’s ‘Col. Mordaunt’s Cock Match’, via Sotheby’s website.

Berkeley Square, 1813.

The publication date for ‘A Right Royal Scandal’ draws close

We’re now just a few weeks away from the publication in the UK of our second book, A Right Royal Scandal: two marriages that changed history (in the US it will be out on the 14th April 2017). Obviously we are very excited to share our work with you and thought we’d go into a little more detail today about what the reader can expect.

A Right royal Scandal: Two Marriages That Changed History

 

A Right Royal Scandal starts in 1815, just a matter of weeks after the Battle of Waterloo, with a Regency scandal in London when the widowed Lord Charles Bentinck (brother to the Duke of Portland; his first wife had been Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s daughter by George IV) eloped with Wellington’s niece, the haughty but beautiful Anne Abdy née Wellesley, wife of Sir William Abdy, Baronet. As you might imagine, tongues were set wagging the length and breadth of the ton and, with the ensuing Criminal Conversation case and divorce, the gossip continued into the next year before the first of the two marriages that ‘changed history’. Anne Abdy became the second Lady Charles Bentinck.

Lady Anne Abdy as a Bacchante. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016
Lady Anne Abdy as a Bacchante.
Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016

In time, Lord and Lady Charles Bentinck’s eldest son, Charles Cavendish Bentinck (Charley) fell in love with a girl deemed unsuitable by his family. Sinnetta Lambourne was of humble working class stock and had gypsy blood running through her veins courtesy of her Romany mother. They married, despite the opposition to their union.

Charley’s granddaughter and great-granddaughter were to sit upon the throne of Great Britain, but it was the tragic life and death of a young gypsy girl which lay behind the greatness.

Although A Right Royal Scandal is something of a family saga stretching from the Regency into the Victorian era and beyond – we also document the life of Lord Charles Bentinck’s daughter by his first marriage (Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s granddaughter) – it is also a thoroughly well-researched biography of two generations of this family, and a chapter in the history of the British royal family which has never been examined closely until now. We also delve a little into the background of Anne Wellesley and her parents, Richard Colley Wellesley, 1st Marquess, and his wife (and former mistress), Hyacinthe Gabrielle Rolland. We are pleased to have been able to add a little new information to the Marquess’ story in the addition of some biographical detail on his illegitimate son (by another mistress), Edward John Johnston. The monarchy as we know it now would have looked very different but for Sinnetta Lambourne’s death, and we end our book by looking at the royal family today, Charley Cavendish Bentinck’s descendants.

Hyacinthe Gabrielle Rolland, Marchioness Wellesley by Vigée-Lebrun via Wikimedia.
Hyacinthe Gabrielle Rolland, Marchioness Wellesley by Vigée-Lebrun via Wikimedia.

If you have already read our first book, An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott, then A Right Royal Scandal forms a sequel to Grace’s story, continuing the life of her granddaughter through to the publication of Grace’s memoirs (set during the French Revolution), and beyond and the second family of Grace’s son-in-law, Lord Charles Bentinck. But A Right Royal Scandal can also be read as a stand-alone book. It is available now to pre-order (both here, in the US and elsewhere) from our publisher Pen and Sword, Amazon and all good bookshops.

(Readers outside the UK might find Book Depository useful, as they ship free worldwide and have competitive prices.)

Reviews for An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott:

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

An Infamous Mistress is a fascinating read, yet it’s more than that. If anything, it’s a shining example of research done well, presented coherently on the perfect subject: a powerful courtesan that time forgot. – History of Royals magazine

This major new biography explores the life, loves and family of this celebrated personality who ended up as a prisoner of war during the French Revolution. Set for the first time in the context of Grace’s wider family, this is a compelling tale of scandal and intrigue. – Scots Heritage magazine

This tale of scandal and intrigue will not only appeal to history buffs, but to those who enjoy a ripping yarn. As well as being an in-depth social and family history, An Infamous Mistress is simply a great story. – Scottish Field