London from Blackheath by Francis Nicholson.

The Fair Swindler of Blackheath

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.

Croom's Hill overlooking Hyde Vale, Blackheath by Thomas Christopher Hofland
Croom’s Hill overlooking Hyde Vale, Blackheath by Thomas Christopher Hofland; English Heritage, Ranger’s House

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.

General George Washington (1732-1799) by John Copley Singleton
General George Washington (1732-1799) by John Copley Singleton; NT, Washington Old Hall

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.

London from Blackheath by Francis Nicholson.
London from Blackheath by Francis Nicholson. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

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.

The Paragon in Blackheath.
The Paragon in Blackheath. London Illustrated News, 19 April 1947

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.

On Shooter's Hill by George Scharf.
On Shooter’s Hill by George Scharf. British Library

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.

A furniture warehouse similar to that owned by Mr Oakley.
A furniture warehouse similar to that owned by Mr Oakley. Morgan and Sanders, from Ackermann’s Repository of Arts.

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!

Print via the British Museum: Madora, c.1800.
Print via the British Museum: Madora, c.1800.

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!

Journal des Dames et des Modes, Costume Parisien, 1 décembre 1799, An 8
Journal des Dames et des Modes, Costume Parisien, 1 décembre 1799, An 8. Rijksmuseum

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.

View of the inner court of the Fleet Prison, with the prisoners playing rackets and skittles on the left, 1807.
View of the inner court of the Fleet Prison, with the prisoners playing rackets and skittles on the left, 1807. © The Trustees of the British Museum

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.

Fashion plate dated October 1801 from the Ladies' Museum: the hat on the left is a gypsy hat
Fashion plate dated October 1801 from the Ladies’ Museum: the hat on the left is a gypsy hat. Los Angeles Public Library

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.

Sources:

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)

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The Old Bailey. Microcosm of London.

Eliza Fenning: innocent but proven guilty

We are delighted to welcome our guest, Naomi Clifford, host of the blog Glimpses of life, love and death in the Georgian era to recount the tragic tale of Eliza Fenning, so have your tissues handy, you’ll need them!

Eliza Fenning

In the afternoon of 11 April 1815 two men came into the Pitt’s Head public house opposite the Old Bailey and seated themselves at a table. Their clothes marked them out as working men but they were clean and neat. One of them, an old man, was trying to write on a scrap of paper, but was so distressed, his hand shaking so much, that he could not manage it. His friend tried to take over, but he too could not form the letters. Eventually, the old man appealed to a stranger to help. “I want to tell the court that my daughter Eliza told me she was happy in her situation,” he said.

This simple and innocuous statement was crucial to his daughter’s fate, he said. The stranger obliged and the men left the pub and crossed over to the Old Bailey where Eliza Fenning was on trial for her life, accused of attempting to murder her employer and members of his family by putting arsenic in their dinner.

William Fenning, Eliza’s 63-year-old father, was deluded: his daughter’s short road through life had already been mapped, its course decided by a combination of personal animosity, class prejudice, conspiracy and official incompetence.

Eliza, aged 20, worked as a cook for Orlibar Turner, a law stationer living at 68 Chancery Lane, London with his wife Margaret, son Robert and daughter-in-law Charlotte. Turner also employed a maid, Sarah Peer, and two apprentices. Eliza was generally well thought-of; she was lively, amusing, amiable and hard-working. However, a few weeks before the poisoning Charlotte had threatened her with dismissal for going, inappropriately dressed, into the apprentices’ room to borrow a candle. Eliza had been upset by this and had declared to Sarah Peer that she no longer liked her mistress but seemed to put the incident behind her. In reality, it was Charlotte and Sarah who disliked Eliza.

Eliza liked cooking and wanted to show off her skill at making dumplings but Charlotte put her off. However, on 21 March, on her own initiative, Eliza asked the brewer to deliver some yeast. At this, Charlotte relented and agreed that Eliza could serve the family steak, potatoes and dumplings for dinner, and that she should also make a steak pie for the apprentices. Eliza got busy. She made the pie and prepared the dumplings. The apprentices ate at 2pm and the family at 3 so she set the dumplings by the fire to rise while she took the pie to be cooked at the bakers. When she returned she could see that the dumplings were not a success. They had failed to rise.

She must have taken remedial measures, which also failed because when she brought six dumplings to the table they were small, black and heavy. Nevertheless, the Turners ate them, as did Eliza herself. The effects were immediate. Charlotte was soon in excruciating pain and vomiting. Her husband and father-in-law – and Eliza – were also stricken. One of the apprentices, Roger Gadsden, who had picked at the dumplings in the kitchen, and later claimed in court that Eliza warned him not to do so, was also ill. Henry Ogilvy, a surgeon, was sent for, and soon there was another, John Marshall, in attendance.

Eliza asked her fellow servant Sarah Peer, who had not eaten any dumplings, to fetch her father who worked for his brother, a potato dealer, in Red Lion Street, Holborn. Sarah did not tell Mr Fenning it was urgent and said nothing about the sickness in the house, and her message slipped his mind until he was back at home. Between 9 and 10 that evening, he turned up at the Turners’ house in Chancery Lane and knocked. Now Sarah told him a barefaced lie. On the orders of her mistress, she said that Eliza was out on an errand. He went away entirely unaware that five people inside the house, including his daughter, had been poisoned. The family recovered. Whatever they had eaten had been insufficient to kill them.

Orlibar Turner seems to have immediately suspected the dumplings. Once he had recovered sufficiently he showed Mr Marshall the remains of the basin they had been prepared in. Marshall added water, stirred and decanted it and examined the sediment. He found half a teaspoon of white powder, which tarnished a knife. “I decidedly found it to be arsenic,” he later told the court. He did not detect arsenic in the remains of the yeast or in the flour.

Eliza Fenning

Eliza was the only suspect, as she had made the dumplings and, still suffering the effects of the poisoning, she was taken before a magistrate and sent to Clerkenwell Prison. When her parents were finally made aware of her plight, they raised £5 for her defence. Two guineas went to Mr Alley, a defence attorney, and the remainder to a jobbing solicitor who drew up the brief. This was the sum total of her legal resources: against her were ranged the Turners and their armoury of legal contacts, favours and knowledge. The prosecution was riddled with conflict of interest: their personal friend and solicitor worked as the clerk to the magistrate who had committed Eliza.

The case came to trial at the Old Bailey on 11th April 1815 and was heard by the Recorder, John Silvester.The case against Eliza was entirely circumstantial and focused on her general behaviour and attitude, and her potential access to the poison. Simmering with resentment at her dressing-down by Charlotte, she had stolen the arsenic and planned her murderous attack.

John Silvester c.1815
John Silvester c.1815

Orlibar Turner kept two wrappers of arsenic, tied up tight and labelled “Arsenick, Deadly Poison”, in an unlocked drawer in the office where the apprentices worked. It was used on the mice and rats who liked to eat the vellum and parchment. Two weeks before the poisoning, he noticed that it was missing. The drawer also contained scraps of paper, which the servants used for lighting the fire. During the trial, Roger Gadsden, one of the apprentices, said he had seen Eliza take paper from the drawer where the arsenic was kept. The implication was that she had seen it there and stolen it. In court Eliza said that when she needed paper for the fire she asked for it and pleaded for Thomas King, the other apprentice, to come to court to back her up. He was denied to her. Mr Ogilvy, who would have told the court that she herself had been very ill, was not called.

Eliza’s defence was feeble, to say the least. Her defence attorney Mr Alley barely spoke and was not even in court to hear the Recorder’s summing up. One of the jurymen was deaf. She was permitted to speak in her defence, but not for long. “I am truly innocent of the whole charge. I am innocent; indeed I am! I liked my place. I was very comfortable,” she said. She called five character witnesses.

William Fenning’s desperate attempt to submit sworn evidence of his daughter’s happiness with the Turners was in vain. The court would not accept his statement.

The guilty verdict and the death sentence, both predictable, were nevertheless a terrible shock, and not only to Eliza and her family. Many of the great and the good immediately started petitions: to the Home Secretary, Lord Sidmouth; to the Prince Regent. Letters were written to The Times (but not published).

Basil Montagu, a prominent Quaker, uncovered evidence that Robert Turner had had a previous episode of mental instability, appearing “wild” and “deranged”, threatening to kill his wife and himself. He sent his evidence to Silvester, who dismissed it as “wholly useless.”

An anonymous chemist decided to recreate elements of the crime himself. He made dumplings with arsenic – it had no effect on whether they rose or not. He asked his cook to make dumplings and then secretly contaminated them when she was not looking; no one noticed any change in their consistency. He even tried to convince the Turners, whose support was Eliza’s best hope of reprieve, by visiting them at home but, just as he was making headway with Orlibar Turner, John Silvester, the Recorder, entered the house and, backed by Robert Turner, convinced him not to sign the petition in support of Eliza.

The efforts of Eliza’s middle-class supporters failed. John Silvester’s hold over the case prevailed and Eliza’s execution was scheduled. She protested her innocence to the last. “The parting scene with her mother was heart-rending. They were separated from each other in a state of dreadful agony,” wrote William Hone.2

On the morning of 26 July 1815, Eliza rose at 4 am, washed and gave a lock of her hair to each of her attendants. She prayed until 7 and dressed.

“I wish to leave the world – it is all vanity and vexation of spirit. But it is a cruel thing to die innocently; yet I freely forgive every one, and die in charity with all the world, but cannot forget my injured innocence.”

She looked through the window at the other prisoners, who had been locked in their cells but who had climbed up to the windows to see her. “Good bye! good bye! to all of you,” she cried.

Dressed in white muslin gown and a muslin cap and pale lilac boots laced in front, with her arms bound, she mounted the scaffold. Before she dropped, her last words were “I am innocent!” She was followed by two others: a child rapist and a homosexual.

Amongst the 50,000-strong crowd was the writer and journalist William Hone, defender of press freedom and friend of the oppressed.

William Hone by William Patten
William Hone by William Patten

“I got into an immense crowd that carried me along with them against my will; at length, I found myself under the gallows where Eliza Fenning was to be hanged. I had the greatest horror of witnessing an execution, and of this particular execution, a young girl of whose guilt I had grave doubts. But I could not help myself; I was closely wedged in; she was brought out. I saw nothing but I heard all. I heard her protesting her innocence – I heard the prayer – I could hear no more. I stopped my ears, and knew nothing else till I found myself in the dispersing crowd, and far from that dreadful spot.”

Eliza’s parents were charged 14 shillings and sixpence for her body. They had to borrow the money. Her only possession, a Bible, was bequeathed to her mother. On 31 April she was buried at St George the Martyr, near Brunswick Square. There were a hundred mourners but many others tried to get in.

Fenning’s case continued to trouble and intrigue lawyers and scientists. Did arsenic really blacken knives? Was Marshall’s evidence true and believable? How much had collusion between the judge, the prosecutor and the witnesses been responsible for the guilty verdict and the failure of appeals for remission?

To the crowds of poor and angry Londoners, who knew that a defenceless working woman had been judicially murdered, these things were irrelevant. A thousand angry people gathered outside the Turners’ house. Some were arrested for behaving in a “riotous and tumultuous manner”. Police from Bow Street were stationed outside for days.

Commissioned by John Watkins, William Hone, who had reluctantly witnessed Eliza’s death, started gathering evidence. The Sessions Report of the trial was flawed; large sections were missing. The Important Results of an Elaborate Investigation into the Mysterious Case of Elizabeth Fenning proved Eliza’s innocence and detailed the efforts that the establishment had taken to ensure that she was executed. Silvester’s extraordinary intervention with Orlibar Turner, Basil Montagu’s doomed investigation into Robert Turner’s mental ill-health were detailed.

Hone’s publication itself became the story as Silvester, and the legal establishment tried to defend their conduct. Silvester had a reputation as a hanging judge and was biased against female defendants. There were rumours that he solicited sexual favours in return for mercy.

The Observer took the lead and its lies were repeated in newspapers across the country. The Fennings were said to be Roman Catholics, to be Irish, to have shown Eliza’s body in return for money; her father, they said, had urged her to protest her innocence only to preserve his own reputation. These allegations were printed up as handbills and pushed through letterboxes and pasted up in shop windows. John Marshall and Henry Ogilvy claimed that Eliza had refused medical treatment because she knew her plan had failed. “She would much rather die than live, as life was as no consequence to her” they said.

Even if you accept that many trials at this time were ramshackle affairs, the injustice of Eliza’s execution was a brutal shock but not a surprise. For middle-class families at a time of political change, with ideas of equality wafting across Europe, Eliza represented their greatest fear: the resentful servant with revenge on her mind.

Postscript

Orlibar Turner was declared bankrupt in 1825 (Sussex Advertiser, 7 February 1825).

In 1828, John Gordon Smith, the University of London’s first Professor of Medical Jurisprudence, noted a claim in the Morning Journal that a son of Orlibar Turner had died in Ipswich workhouse confessing that he had put arsenic in the dumplings. I can find no evidence of this but Robert Greyson Turner was certainly living in Ipswich in 1820 (his wife Charlotte was from Suffolk) – he and his brother are listed in The Poll for Members of Parliament for the Borough of Ipswich.

On 21 June 1829, The Examiner noted that William Fenning, Eliza’s heart-broken father, was still living in London. “The unfortunate girl was his favourite child.” A William Fenning died in Holborn in 1842. If this is “our” William Fenning, he would have been 91.

Endnotes

Fans of the BBC’s Garrow’s Law will recall Silvester as the somewhat fictionalized “baddie”. He was sometimes known as “Black Jack”.

The Important Results of an Elaborate Investigation into the Mysterious Case of Elizabeth Fenning.

Recommended

The Old Bailey online

Ben Wilson, The Laughter of Triumph. London, Faber and Faber, 2005 http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Laughter-Triumph-William-Fight/dp/0571224709

William Hone, The Important Results of an Elaborate Investigation into the Mysterious Case of Elizabeth Fenning , London 1815

The Poll for the Members of Parliament of Ipswich

 

Header image: An Old Bailey trial in the early 19th century. From Rudolph Ackermann, The Microcosm of London (London, [1808-1810]) British Library C.194.b.305-307

The Stolen Kiss, Jean-Honore Fragonard

The Elopement of Lady Elizabeth Howard

Elopement - Lady Elizabeth Bingham, born 1795 - via Bonhams
Lady Elizabeth Bingham, daughter of Lord Richard and Lady Elizabeth Bingham, born c.1795.

Lady Elizabeth Hamilton was the daughter of Henry Belasyse, the 2nd Earl Fauconberg, and the wife of Bernard Howard, heir to the Dukedom of Norfolk, who she had married on the 23rd April, 1789. The couple had one son, Henry Charles Howard born on the 12th August, 1791. But in 1793 she eloped with the man who had been her first love, whom she had wanted to marry originally but had been stopped from doing so by her family.

That man was Richard Bingham, son and heir to the 1st Earl of Lucan.

Elopement - Richard Bingham, 2nd Earl of Lucan - via Christies

Lady Elizabeth was a minor when she married The Right Honourable Bernard Edward Howard, Esquire, in her father’s house in George Street, Hanover Square, the marriage witnessed by her father, her new father-in-law and a man who merely signed Petre (probably Robert Edward Petre the future 10th Baron Petre who had married Bernard Howard’s sister Lady Mary Bridget Howard three years earlier).

Elopement - Bernard Howard, 12th Duke of Norfolk - via wiki

Lady Elizabeth had told her unsuspecting husband that she was going to travel to visit her father, who was in the north of England, and Howard agreed to visit his sister rather than travel with her.  He accordingly left for his sister’s house, his wife telling him she planned to leave for her own visit the next day.  On the evening of her husband’s departure, 24th July, 1793, Lady Elizabeth took her carriage to a jeweller’s shop near Piccadilly where she bought some trinkets before sending the carriage home with her infant son, his nurse and a letter to her husband which the nurse was to leave on her master’s table.

But the nurse was suspicious and sent a footman back to the jeweller’s to enquire for Lady Elizabeth.  When the footman arrived back to say that the jeweller had reported that Lady Elizabeth left his shop around half an hour earlier with Mr Bingham, hasty despatches were sent to both her husband and father, but to no avail for the runaway couple had gone to ground.

The Stolen Kiss, Jean-Honoré Fragonard
The Stolen Kiss, Jean-Honoré Fragonard

The criminal conversation case was heard before the House of Lords on 7th April, 1794; Lady Elizabeth was represented by Mr Garrow and Mr Erskine. With all parties wanting a divorce the sticking points were the 12,000l. which Lady Elizabeth had brought to her marriage (Mr Garrow argued that some provision should be made for her) and a proposed clause which would bastardize any child born to her.  Lady Elizabeth was heavily pregnant, about to lie in, and Mr Garrow argued on her behalf that “it was not in the nature of evidence to prove that the infant was not Mr Howard’s”.

Elopement - Six Weeks after Marriage - LWL

Mr Erskine observed that the marriage contract between the lady and Bernard Howard was made in opposition to her desires and that she was involuntarily taken to the altar.

A divorce was granted and she married her first love on 26th May, 1794, becoming the Countess of Lucan when her husband ascended to his Earldom, but this second marriage didn’t last either, the couple separating ten years later.

Elopment - Before and after Marriage

Lady Elizabeth Bingham, Countess of Lucan, died on the 24th March, 1819, aged 49 years.

Sources used:

Caledonian Mercury, 8th August, 1793

Caledonian Mercury, 12th April, 1794