reposted from Hearts through History:
The Referendum on Scottish independence brings to mind the fate of a little girl born to forge a much earlier Union.
In 1283, some three hundred years before England and Scotland were joined under a single monarch, a daughter was born to the sea-king of the north, Eirik II of Norway. The little Maid of Norway, as the baby Margaret came to be known, was the only surviving grandchild of the Scottish king, Alexander III.
In Scotland, Alexander set about rectifying the matter at once. Perhaps he did so too hastily, for he died of a fatal accident on horseback, hurrying to the side of his new wife, the young Yolande de Dreux.
Dismayed, the Scots looked to Edward I to support Margaret’s claim to the throne against those put forward by Robert the Bruce and John Balliol. The Treaty of Birgham was arranged by which Margaret would marry Edward, the English prince (later Edward II) in exchange for Scottish independence. She was sent by her father in a Norwegian ship to the British Isles, where she would be kept in wardship by her prospective father-in-law. Alas, famed Norse seamanship could not prevail against stormy weather off Scotland’s coast and the little Maid died on the shore of Orkney, only eight years old.
She had been, if only for a little while, the first queen regnant in the British Isles. Her passing was mourned in Middle English verse:
Christ, born in virgynyte,
Succoure Scotland, and ramede,
That stade is in perplexite.
–the earliest surviving example of Scottish poetry.
Had the Maid of Norway lived, England and Scotland might have been joined in a Union so ancient Time would have obliterated all memory of separation, and deprived History of all those Braveheart moments.
“The ship, probably the Terror, was very neat and orderly, but the Inuit descended into the darkness of the hull with their seal-oil lamps, where they found a tall dead man in an inner cabin.” — The Guardian, 2009
After years of tantalizing clues found in the ice and stories told by indigenous Arctic people of men freezing to death, it appears that one of two ships from Sir John Franklin’s expedition to chart the Northwest Passage has finally been found.
Sir John Franklin (1786-1847) “the man who ate his boots” became a subject of interest to this blog for having married the Regency poet Eleanor Anne Porden. She was his first wife, urging him not to linger while she was dying of tuberculosis, but instead to follow his dreams on the sea.
She was spared the agony of his disappearance. That would be reserved for Sir Franklin’s second wife.
Jane Griffin (1791-1875) was a good friend of Eleanor’s and a part of Regency London’s scholarly set. She had no inclination of who her future husband might be, but one Dr. Peter Mark Roget had made quite an impression on her. He was, she once said, “the only man to make me swoon.”
In 1828 she married her friend’s widowed husband and soon after became Lady Franklin upon his knighthood. His travels took her to places as far away as Australia, arousing her keen interest in its colonies, particularly for the condition of female convicts who’d been transported there.
When Sir Franklin embarked on his ill-fated expedition to navigate icy Arctic waters, she supported him unreservedly. When he failed to return, she made certain no one would forget him. Because of her tireless effort to discover his fate, the charting of the Northwest Passage occurred a good deal sooner than it otherwise might have. She sponsored seven expeditions in all.
And now my burden it gives me pain
For my long-lost Franklin I would cross the main
Ten thousand pounds I would freely give
To know on earth, that my Franklin do live
– Lady Franklin’s Lament
It was by land the answer was eventually determined. Scotsman John Rae, an Arctic explorer familiar with the Inuit and their territories, found definite evidence of Franklin’s demise. His report mentioned cannibalism, shocking Victorian society.
Lady Franklin refused to believe her husband had been a part of an act so heinous and so she turned her efforts toward the messenger bearing such bad news. She made certain no one would remember him.
Blackwood’s Magazine, or “Maga,” first appeared in 1817, “breaking upon the startled gaze of Edinburgh Whigdom.” It soon gained a notoriety for being, more than anything, an affront to the Edinburgh Review, subject of this blog’s previous post.
This rivalry served to give Blackwood’s popularity a boost throughout Regency Britain, along with the curious way its writers adopted numerous pseudonyms; a practice that probably began with one John Wilson.
He was born a gentleman, with a comfortable fortune and had only dabbled in writing because of crippling self-doubt about his literary abilities, bringing himself to publish only a few of his poems. Then one day he discovered that his inheritance, made from the manufacture of paisley, had been speculated away, thanks to the efforts of an unscrupulous uncle.
With a wife and children to support, Wilson was forced to move into his mother’s house on Queen’s Street in Edinburgh and seek employment. Blackwood’s was hiring writers–the previous ones having been sacked by Mr. Blackwood for producing a dull first volume. Reluctantly, Wilson accepted the job, girding himself against his old insecurities by assuming a pseudonym, an alter ego that would serve as a cloak once he sallied forth with his fellow literary critics to assail (some called it assassinate) the characters and careers of those beloved by the Review and its editor Francis Jeffrey.
Wilson became known as the notorious Christopher North, that “beautiful Leopard from the valley of the palm trees.” The power of his criticism, some said, was like a force unleashed by “animal spirits:”
Of Coleridge and his Biographia Literaria: “a most execrable performance” by someone who possessed both “egotism and malignity.”
On Leigh Hunt: “a profligate creature..without reverence either for God or man.”
It must have felt positively delicious, this new-found freedom that came from masquerading as another. Indeed, the other critics at Blackwood’s adopted Wilson’s penchant for fake names, if for no other reason than to “perplex the public.” Some of these appellations were mystical, some were just ridiculous–Timothy Tikler, Baron Lauerwinkle, William Wastle and Dr. Ulrick Sternstare.
The pretension was carried even further when writers adopted the real names of ordinary Edinburgh citizens, preferably those far removed from the literary scene, and made them father articles of great distinction. One dentist became very well-known as a respected contributor to Blackwood’s, to his friends’ amazement. Even the doctor himself began to believe those clever jokes and observations were his, for they very often contained his own expressions and identified many of his acquaintances:
“The doctor’s fame when far beyond Edinburgh. Happening to pay a visit to Liverpool, he was immediately welcomed by the literary society of the town as the glorious “Odontist” of Blackwood’s Magazine, and received a complimentary dinner.”
Pretense became deception, in the manner of a very wicked joke on poor Leigh Hunt. Blackwood’s was fond of targeting this darling of the Review and often accused the poet of badgering the Whig periodical to include favorable reviews of his work in its pages. This might have gone unnoticed by Hunt had he not received letter from one John Dalyell apologizing for the terrible things he’d written about the poet in Blackwood’s. Hunt scratched his head, perplexed, wondering who the devil Dalyall was. He sought the advice of the Review’s editor, who instantly recognized the name of the apologist.
Dalyell was appalled and furious. Of course he hadn’t written any such thing about Leigh or his poetry. He hated Blackwood’s. He had to sue them for libel once.
“Oh, the villainy of these fellows!” he declared. He’d been made a figure of fun. Everyone in Edinburgh knew John Dalyell–he was the most prominent Whig in Edinburgh. Now they knew him as a contributor to a wretched Tory magazine.
As amusing as Blackwood’s was, John Wilson eventually wearied of writing as someone other than himself. Escape came in the form of a professorship of Moral Philosophy at Edinburgh University.
He was happy to leave the hurly-burly world of literary society to a place, however dull, where his insecurities could be soothed–the ivory tower.
By 1814, the Romantic “cult of feeling” was finding its way into all sorts of media, including the obituary section of Regency-era periodical. Evocation of far-away places, heroic sacrifice, violence and a desire to return to the natural state of things were being expressed:
Sarah Anderson, a free black woman, a native of Guinea, of the Congo country, died the 20th of September last, at Providence Grove, St. John’s, Jamaica, at the extraordinary age of 146 years! She arrived on that island in 1687, during the Government of the Duke of Albemarle, whom she remembered well, and whose person she described quite accurately.
Major Maxwell McKenzie, Lieutenant-Colonel of the 71st Regiment..this gallant officer received his mortal wound in an engagement with the enemy near Bayonne, while nobly cheering and leading on his men to charge the enemy, and thus terminated an honorable life in a glorious death..
At Gibraltar, in consequence of a severe and violent attack of the dreadful disease raging at that place, John Smith, Esq., son of the late J. Smith, merchant from Inverness
In Presburg, Hungary, Eve Zuacher, at the advanced age of 123 years. Her hair was abundant and remained black; her teeth were very white and she retained all her senses to the last. Her sight was so piercing, that she could, at a distance of 1000 paces, distinguish the different kinds of cattle in the meadows. When questioned once as to her mode of living, she answered, ‘I eat and drink, not because the victuals are placed before me, but because I am hungry and dry; I go to rest with the cock and rise with him.’ A few days before her death she taught catechism to an infant of four years and walked eight miles (!)
– taken from The Scots Magazine and Edinburgh Literary Miscellany, Volume 76, dated 1814
By the time of the Regency, the family of Chichester had been deprived of the majority of its vast fortune by one generation of spendthrifts. But it convulsed over the dignity it valued most, its English title–the barony of Fisherwick. Although the house that bore this illustrious name and symbol of an Irish family’s entry into the highest society had long since been demolished, the baronial title Fisherwick remained the jewel in the crown, which could not be bought, sold or torn down.
The Countess of Charleville wrote to Lady Morgan in 1819 describing various bits of news to be had ’round London, gossip being the only enlivening thing when what one really wants is to get away from England entirely. She conveyed a variety of things to her ladyship, such as Lord and Lady Westmeath’s separation “for temper” and the outrage over Byron’s impious Don Juan. But the most intriguing of all was the following:
“…the overthrow of Lord Belfast’s marriage and fortunes, by Lord Shaftesbury having discovered that the Marquis and Marchioness of Donegal were married under age by licence, and not by banns, which renders it illegal, and bastardizes their children irreparably, is the greatest news of the upper circles at present.”
Lord Shaftesbury was the sixth earl of that name (seventh, according to his contemporaries). He had lately come into the title upon the death of his older brother and was one of the wealthiest men in England, with a daughter whose dowry could redeem many a debt. While still just the Honorable Cropley-Ashley Cooper, his lordship had been a clerk in His Majesty’s ordinance office. It is not too fanciful to imagine he had developed a healthy dose of skepticism during the course of administering a government function ripe with the potential for corruption.
When Lord Belfast, the heir of the Marquis of Donegall came courting, Shaftesbury had already been primed to sniff out any irregularity and not just because there were rumors about his mama.
It was generally known that Belfast’s mother, the Marchioness of Donegal, had been born a “natural” child. Even the circumstances of her marriage, a parson’s mousetrap baited by a scheming father, were overlooked in view of the high-flown family into which she had been brought in. Only after the birth of seven boys did talk surface that she might have been a minor at the time of her marriage. And according to the Marriage Act of 1753, with the aim of reducing clandestine marriages, a “natural” child had to have the consent of the Lord Chancellor to wed. Neither the couple who adopted her in Wales nor her putative father had standing to give consent for her marriage.
Some say Shaftesbury found out this anomaly via an anonymous letter. However this occurred, the marriage between his daughter and Lord Belfast was called off, a social event that made a family affair into a national one, as Lady Charleville goes on to relate:
“The young lady had said she married only for money; therefore, for her, no pity is shown; but poor Lord Belfast, to lose rank, fortune, and wife at once, at twenty years of age, is a strong and painful catastrophe to bear properly.”
All at once the family fortunes seemed at a standstill. Everywhere Lord Belfast became known as simply Mr. Chichester, for now his cousins, the sons of the Marquis’ deceased brother, Lord Spencer Stanley, were next in line to inherit the marquisate and its venerable barony of Fisherwick.
“I hear Mr. Chichester (rightful heir now) behaves well; but he cannot prevent the entail affecting his heirs, nor the title descending to him from his cousin.”
It wasn’t long afterwards that Belfast cast his eye on the daughter of the Earl of Glengall. According to Regency diarist Henry Edward Fox, Lady Glengall was a “little she-attorney,” determined to get her daughter off her hands even if she had to craft a new title for the Marquis of Donegal’s disinherited scion. Perhaps this was the reason that the indolent Lord Donegal was moved to Act.
What followed was a fascinating, if somewhat lengthy and confusing journey into Regency-era litigation. Far from disputing the lack of the Lord Chancellor’s order, Lady Donegal insisted she was not a minor when her father bamboozled Lord Donegal. Indeed, she scrambled together several aged witnesses and fought jurisdictional barriers to get evidence before the court as to her true birthdate.
The conclusion was a Parliamentary order to regularize the Donegal union that had been made illegitimate by the old Marriage Act.
Moral of the story: some families are too high up on the social ladder to fail–er, fall.
Postscript: What financial and legal ruin the Chichesters may have survived, their physical evidence has been erased. During the Victorian period, the mausoleum containing the bodies of the family, built near the vanished Fisherwick Hall, had become infested with rabbits and was destroyed.
George, Lord Belfast, had a brother six years younger–Lord Spencer Stanley Chichester (1775-1819). Spencer Stanley was the last child born to the old Marquis and his beloved first wife, Anne. He was only four when his mother died.
When George came of age in 1791, he had already declined an education at his father’s alma mater, Oxford, and left home for the gaming tables and the turf:
“I had the whole story of Lord Belfast and a sad one it is….the foolish young man had been bamboozled out of 40,000 pounds in the space of nine months by some villainous people..” — 1791 letter from Lady Newdigate
Sixteen year old Spencer Stanley remained at Fisherwick, companion to a perplexed father puttering about his shells and books in between trips to London for Parliament and the Season. One can easily speculate how his lordship, despairing over his absent elder son’s dissipation, should turn for comfort to the younger.
Imagine how he must have rejoiced, after seeing George rebuffed by a chit in the schoolroom, when Spencer Stanley married the Lady Harriet Stewart, the daughter of the earl of Galway. No one thought to question why the older son was absent from the nuptials, which was a good thing for it might have cast a cloud over the festivities.
You see, on that very day, George was being married to the daughter of a moneylender.
It was shortly afterwards that Spencer Stanley was informed by his father the Marquis that Fisherwick and all the furnishings therein would one day be his. And because the old man did not trust his older son to see his will carried out, he made the younger the executor and appointed a trustee to advise him:
“against the many embarrassments which the great extent and multiplicity of my concerns and his own inexperience and the unhappy conduct of his brother may otherwise involve him in..” –
In 1799, the brothers came into their inheritance, their father having died at age fifty-nine. Creditors descended in ever larger droves on the hapless George, who had executed a number of post-obit bonds to cover his debts incurred after his estrangement from the family. His younger brother held all the cards, including a cash settlement from the Lagan Canal in the family’s Irish property. The building of this waterway had yet to be paid for, its equity stripped to pay out the settlement. George, as the new marquess and owner, was liable for this worthless asset, already deeply encumbered by the interest payments on the construction bonds.
The new marquis and his family moved from house to cottage across England, sometimes barely escaping with their clothes. Meanwhile, Spencer Stanley lived on at splendid Fisherwick, among the Gainsborough portraits of his family and perhaps idly playing on Queen Elizabeth’s virginal.
Then, in January 1816, La Belle Assemblee reported that Lord Spencer Stanley Chichester had presided over the sale of his father’s collection, including the Queen’s virginal, almost twelve years before. This was followed by the Survey of Staffordshire which revealed Fisherwick had been sold to one Richard Howard, Esquire six years before, in 1810. The Survey, being concerned with the land’s economic value in its mines, farms, and woods, cast a cynical eye over the fall of Fisherwick:
“..a profusion of embellishment, and extravagance of expenditure, this earthly paradise, as it was termed by vulgar minds..demolished by other architectural projectors for the value of the materials, which have been carried off to decorate the paradise of some other fanciful mortal.” — A Topographical History of Staffordshire, William Pitt (1817)
A footnote to Fisherwick’s fate concerned its magnificent stone portico. Sadly, the wrenching away of this decorative feature had destroyed the house itself:
“..such was the firmness of the fabric, that the destruction of the building has been the almost entire destruction of the material itself..” The New Monthly Magazine, Vol. 6 (1816)
According to this source, the pillars were to fetch 1000 pounds bid for by a new church to be built in Birmingham, but went to the Viscount Anston for a fraction of that amount. Eventually the portico wound up in the industrial town of Walsall, decorating the old George hotel, until this too was demolished in 1934.
Spencer Stanley died in Paris in 1819, leaving two sons and three daughters.
How he had journeyed to this end, leaving in his wake the destruction of his papa’s beloved Fisherwick, is a matter of conjecture. Had George prevailed upon his younger brother to pledge what he had to stave off the never-ending horde of creditors, swallowing up what the old Marquis had fought in vain to save? Or had Spencer Stanley, without the steadying hand of his father, fallen prey to the gambling vice that afflicted his older brother, losing Fisherwick through his own efforts?
The answer may lie in a future dispute among members of the Chichester family–one concerning the very name of Fisherwick itself.