The Entail of the Regency – Part One

This blog often analyzes the social stratification (there’s a mouthful) of Regency-era England. It is the Maypole around which Jane Austen spun her tales and today’s authors rely upon time and time again for character development and conflict. Rules determine a person’s rank in society. The entail insures that the descendants of that person also enjoy the same precedence.

But rules are made to be bent or even broken.*

In the event of rival claimants to a title, it is the House of Lords who must interpret the entail language contained in the original grant of the hereditary dignity at issue. The inheritance history of earldom of Oxford, which is very long indeed, at one time hung in the balance between the male descendants of two previous earls.

“This Earle of Oxford, making of his low obeisance to Queen Elizabeth, happened to let a Fart, at which he was so abashed and ashamed that he went to Travell, 7 yeares. On his returne the Queen welcomed him home, and sayd, My Lord, I had forgott the Fart.”Brief Lives by John Aubrey

When the 18th Earl of Oxford died without issue, Baron Willoughby of Eresby pressed his claim to the earldom, his mother being the daughter, and heir general, of the 16th earl. The other claimant, Robert de Vere, was more distantly related to the deceased earl, being descended from a younger son of the 15th earl.

The original grant of the earldom of Oxford was made by the Empress Maud to Alberic de Vere with the remainder to his heirs, (meaning the children of his body). His oldest male child would succeed him, being given preference by custom and precedent over all his other children. The children of the oldest male, including females, would then be given preference as lineal heirs over their cousins, males included, the so-called collateral heirs of the original grantee.

Isabel, 8th Countess of Devon, inherited the earldom according to its entail, with remainder to heirs general (as opposed to heirs male). This must have troubled her as much as it did her male colleagues. At one point, she, a tenant-in-chief to the king, went into hiding to avoid a forced marriage to Simon de Montfort. She outlived all her children and was succeeded by a collateral heir, the male descendant of the 5th earl. Pictured: a carving in Dorset’s Christchurch Priory purportedly to be her likeness.

Several successors to the earldom of Oxford were attainted for treason. Afterwards, depending on who you ask, the earldom was either revived or granted via a new patent to their de Vere descendants. This confusion was partly due to Parliament’s involvement in such proceedings.** Statutory language ignored the terms of the original grant to give the remainder to heirs male of the body. Eresby, a lineal heir, was passed over for an heir descended from a male in the collateral line.

In the end, a captain in the Dutch army named de Vere became the 19th Earl of Oxford.

And yet time hath his revolutions: there must be a period and an end to all temporal things–finis rerum: an end of names and dignities, and whatsoever is terrene, and why not of De Vere? For where is Bohun? Where is Mowbray? Where is Mortimer? Nay, which is more and most of all–where is Plantagenet? They are entombed in the urns and sepulchres of mortality. And yet let the name and dignity of De Vere stand so long as it pleaseth God.”

A Digest of the Laws of England Respecting Real Property, Volumes 3-4, by William Cruise, citing the Lord Chief Justice Crew’s magnificent opinion rendered in judgment on the entail of the Earldom of Oxford.

A troubling prospect occurs when there is no male heir of the body. In that case, the language of the original grant can be crafted to insure the family preserves its precedence for future generations.

A female is better than no heir at all.

For example, that clever lawyer and Lord Chief Justice of the King’s Bench, William Murray, 1st Earl Mansfield was bound and determined that the 2nd Earl would be a Murray, too. He did not have heirs of the body himself, he and his wife being childless. The nearest male relation was his nephew, David Murray, Viscount Stormont. So he crafted a special remainder to the entail, writing in his nephew’s name for the King’s signature.

But before the King could sign them, his lordship began to have second thoughts. Perhaps he had not done enough to insure a Murray would sit in the House of Lords. Politics of the time could very likely prevent David from being summoned.

He was a Scot.

To remedy the problem, the Lord Chief Justice sat down again to create a new special remainder to the entail. Striking the tail mail language, he rewrote the grant to make the earldom pass to a female. David’s wife would become the next Countess of Mansfield. The entail further provided that the male heirs of her body by his nephew would succeed her–Murrays all of them.

The Lord Chief Justice and his wife were comforted in their childless state by taking in two girls, Dido Elizabeth Belle and Lady Elizabeth Murray. Born overseas, they were sent to live with the Earl and Countess in Robert Adam’s gorgeous creation, Kenwood House. The artist of this famous portrait, David Martin, won recognition for the ‘honest, natural style’ of Scottish painting.

But times were a-changing. The bias against a Scot taking a seat in the House of Lords disappeared (if it ever existed). His lordship accordingly wrote out another set of letters patent with a more conventional entail. Duly signed by His Majesty, the grant of a new title was made–the Earl of Mansfield, second creation, and a special remainder to his nephew David.

Just to be on the safe side.

*This blog post deals with English law as it was during the Regency. Not as it stands today. Secondly, this blog post is not intended as legal advice. There are generalities being made here–every circumstance warrants a fresh analysis not possible in this format.

**Further complicating matters was a contest between heirs general for the hereditary dignity Lord High Chamberlain of England commonly granted to the Earls of Oxford.

Humanitarian to the Regency

Urbanity toward women; benevolence toward men; and humanity toward the brute creation.’ — Jonah Barrington

Richard Martin, (1754? – 1834) was an Irish MP, lawyer and a tireless advocate for the defenseless and mistreated. His efforts in Parliament created a body of law protecting animal rights. He inspired others to create the RSPCA. He searched out any who needed help–animals and humans, Irish rebels and ton debutantes. He expanded the meaning of being humane to encompass kind treatment toward all living things.

He was the Humanitarian to the Regency.

‘In life he never was equalled, and when he dies by whom shall he be replaced?’

It was the Prince Regent who first christened him ‘Humanity.’ Dick Martin did not always see eye-to-eye with his sovereign, notably in his defense of the estranged Princess of Wales. But when news arrived that Humanity survived a shipwreck, His Highness was overjoyed. Back in Connemara, where Martin had given shelter and legal assistance to many a countryman during the Irish Rebellion of 1798, his preservation was treated as a matter of course:

“.. ‘No one need be afeared for the master; for if he was in the midst of a raging sea the prayers of widows and orphans would keep his head above water.’ “

Before he came to London and Royal notice, Richard Martin was known in Ireland as ‘Hair-trigger Dick,’ for the many duels he fought. His most famous conflict was waged over a dog that belonged to a family close to the Martins. The notorious Fighting Fitzgerald, whose violence was attributed to a botched trepanning, induced that family to produce their famous wolfhound Prime Sargeant for his admiring inspection.

The madman shot the dog at point-blank range.

The DNA of the Regency-era Irish wolfhound is believed to closely resemble that of a Great Dane. Highly prized by royal and aristocratic circles, large numbers of them were exported abroad. (Photo via Pixabay)

Everyone agreed it was murder, but it was Martin who called Fitzgerald to account. He pursued the murderer for years. Fitzgerald evaded him time and again by seeking refuge in jail and even breaking his second’s finger at one point. Martin’s own man forgot to show up with his pistols. A theater curtain contrived to trip and injure him as he ran after his quarry.

When the day of reckoning finally came, Fitzgerald, as most bullies are apt to do, succumbed to cowardice. He complained the ground was uneven. Then he took up an opposing position beyond the range of Hair-trigger Dick’s pistol.

“I will soon cure that,’ Martin retorted. ‘I will now march up until I lay my pistol on your face.’

The first Mrs. Martin cuckolded him. But the budding Humanity did not shoot his wife’s lover, as one might expect a hair-trigger duelist to do. He sued the man instead and won £10,000 in damages (a goodly sum of money in those days). Still, the compensation that really wasn’t began ‘to weigh heavily on him.’ He threw the award out of his carriage window, a few coins at a time, from the London courtroom all the way back home to Ireland.

He refused to file for divorce.

‘My distress in this unhappy business arose if possible more from the situation of the unhappy person (Mrs. Martin) in question than from what I in my person suffered.’

His efforts in London as an advocate for animal rights, both in Parliament and as a lawyer, are well-documented. In the courtroom he brought cases against drovers, slaughterhouses and ordinary citizens he spied abusing animals in the London streets. He was the Irish scourge of hackney and coach drivers.

When the law failed him in the courts, he brought bills to the floor of the Commons with the intention of rectifying it. His humor was legendary. It had to power to break down the opposition and draw support to his causes. The House cheered when Castlereagh, with whom Martin often clashed on the Catholic Question, welcomed him back after a period of several years’ absence.

“It was so usual for him to be entertaining that they sometimes misunderstood him and laughed when he was not even joking.”

Even members of the Beau Monde benefited from his assistance. A wallflower left without a partner could always count on Humanity to lead her in a set of country dances. He would offer his arm to the governess who’d just entertained the company on a pianoforte, accompanying her to supper before his hostess could banish her employee to the nursery.

“Erring sons and daughters who had incurred the wrath of their parents found in him a protector and a counsellor who restored them to the bosom of their families. He was notorious at interceding for young men who had fallen out of favour with their superiors, and his house was a refuge to the struggling while they tried to set themselves up in life.”

Pan edition of Georgette Heyer's The Nonesuch
‘Sir Waldo, you are labouring under a misapprehension! It would be most improper in me to stand up with you, or with anyone! I’m not a guest here: I am the governess! said Miss Ancilla Trent.
‘Yes, but a most superior female!’ Sir Waldo murmured.

Sometimes it was hard to take him seriously. His eccentricity puzzled many:

‘His sterling qualities were so embossed with wild humour and fun, that it was no easy matter to form a correct judgement upon his real character.’ — journalist William Jerdan

Unfortunately, Martin was many times his own saboteur, for his tender-hearted sensitivity took precedence over his dogged prosecution of cruelty. He took a man to court for beating his donkey with the iron buckle end of a leather strap. The man’s wife protested they could not pay the fine imposed–they were already poor and it would ruin them. Martin made the offender promise to never abuse his animal again. He paid the wife a half-sovereign.

He once withdrew a case he’d brought against a solicitor who had cheated him. Against his own interest, he declined the chance to get his money back, agonizing over the possibility the court might impose the death penalty as punishment.

Being a humanitarian came at a cost to Martin’s family. Throughout his career, he neglected his wife and children, as well as his finances. He had gone from being the rich King of Connemara to a bankrupt whose tenantry was to succumb to famine. Fleeing to the Continent to escape his creditors, Martin never returned. His son’s attempt to pay the debts by breaking the entail on the family’s estates left no inheritance and no Martin of any note in Connemara.

He might have been the prototypical Dickensian character, but even that author found Humanity Dick’s benevolence too much to take.

“It is a pity that he could not exchange a little of his excessive tenderness for animals for some common sense and consideration for human beings.” — Charles Dickens

quotes are from ‘Humanity Dick Martin ‘King of Connemara 1754-1834’ by Shevauwn Lynam 1975 unless otherwise noted.

Royal Antics in Regency-era Brighton

“While I hold the reins you will run as I choose, and by God! ma’am, if you try to take the bit between your teeth it will be very much the worse for you!” — super- Alpha Lord Worth scolding his ward, Miss Judith Taverner, for driving her curricle from London to Brighton with only her tiger for an escort.

Brighton was a popular spa and resort of Regency England. An invitation to the Royal Pavilion was supposed to be an honor–a coveted opportunity to be in the company of His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales. Over the years, however, the place developed a reputation for jokes and untoward incidents perpetrated by the Prince who gave his name to the era.

These antics, conducted by the heir-apparent to the British throne, were generally looked upon with grave disapproval:

“..childish practical jokes..continued to amuse him long after the age at which at which such pastimes cease to be excusable.”

Royal Pavilion Music Room – Brighton (photo via brightonmuseums.org.uk)

The Prince’s residence in Brighton necessitated the stationing of dragoons in barracks about a mile and half north of the town. They were to protect His Royal Highness in the event of invasion or some other circumstance threatening his safety. During the course of a late evening entertainment, the Prince inquired whether the dragoons might be summoned at a moment’s notice.

He encouraged their commander to demonstrate such readiness.

In the dead of night, the regiment’s trumpeter was roused to bugle the alarm. Taken completely by surprise and overwhelmed by the prospect of going into battle to protect his sovereign from an unknown enemy already on the attack, he couldn’t find the breath to blow into the horn.

The Music Room at the Royal Pavilion was used as a hospital for WWI soldiers from India fighting for King and Empire.

Another bugler was found, blasting the soldiers from a dead sleep. They hastily scrambled into their uniforms and struggled to tack up mounts spooked by the general disorder. Weapons had to be assembled and flying artillery wagons had to be hitched to plunging teams of horses. Passing a hurried inspection, the dragoons pounded down the road toward Brighton, leaving panicked townspeople and howling dogs in their wake. They were at their Prince’s side within fifteen minutes of the bugle call.

Imagine their disgruntlement when they arrived.

The premier peer of the realm was the old Duke of Norfolk. He probably wished he’d declined the Prince’s invitation to stay overnight at the Pavilion. At dinner, His Royal Highness, with the aid of his royal brothers, attempted to get the duke drunk. Realizing their intentions, His Grace got up to leave:

‘And now I request that my carriage may be ordered out; I mean to go home, and shall never set foot within these doors again.’

Unfortunately, he passed out soon after he entered his carriage. Obliged by Royal command, his coachman drove the ducal equipage around the Pavilion several times, returning his employer to the front door of the palace. The Regent’s servants carried his lordship inside and put him to bed.

Insensible to the entire proceeding, the duke woke up the next morning, confounded he was still ‘under the Prince’s roof.’

The library at Arundel Castle is all that remains of the 11th Duke of Norfolk’s Regency style renovation. Regency can mean chinoiserie–or Gothic. photo via Country Life

The Prince delighted Sir Edmund Nagle, vice-admiral of the Royal Navy and frequent visitor to the Royal Pavilion, with the gift of a specially-bred Hanoverian horse the color of cream. Although it was raining heavily, Sir Edmund insisted on riding his prize along the Steine in front of the Prince’s palace. He returned on a very dark bay horse, dismayed by the streaks of white running down the animal’s hide. In a paroxysm of laughter, the Prince explained he’d had the steed painted as a joke.

Sir Edmund being a good sport, Prinny presented him with a Hanoverian of the right color.

Hanoverian creams were the carriage horses once used by royalty for state occasions. Hanoverians can be pretty good size. One stepped on my foot once. It wasn’t pleasant.

By now, word got around that the royal host at the Royal Pavilion liked to prank his guests.

Upon his arrival at the Pavilion for a reception, the Reverend Sydney Smith was well-prepared for the Prince’s humor. Someone among His Highness’ guests asked the clergyman to identify the world’s most wicked man. The noted Regency wag obliged and shot his mouth off. He named the Duc d’Orleans, for ‘he was a prince!”

No, the Prince retorted, he should be Dubois, for ‘he was a priest!’

William Wilberforce was especially wary of the repeated invitations to the Pavilion he’d received, particularly because everyone knew he strongly disapproved of His Royal Highness’ conduct. He finally accepted a royal request to dine. To his surprise, he was treated very cordially and with profound respect. This encouraged him to accept a second invitation.

The Prince, perhaps feeling he’d come to an understanding with his detractor, teased Wilberforce over how much they’d both changed over the years. The evangelist agreed with this assessment. He added, however, that one hoped his sovereign had taken the opportunity during those years to improve himself (!)

Wilberforce’s opinion of the Pavilion at Brighton was also unsparing:

“St. Paul’s had gone down to the sea and left behind a litter of cupolas.”

First Lady Louisa Adams, wife of John Quincy had this to say about the seaside palace: “Prince George’s fantasy pavilion at Brighton was by far the most erotic. I have never been in a Turkish seraglio, but I’ll wager that even the most sophisticated Pasha was out-done by Prince George. He had erotic furniture, such as comfortable chaise longues [sic] that in Paris were made for ladies to lounge in, but in Prince George’s Brighton palace were for sexual intercourse(!)

All quotes are from Social hours with celebrities; being the third and fourth volumes of “Gossip of the century,” by Mrs. William Pitt Byrne (1898)

The Fighting Peer of the Regency

Thomas Pitt, 2nd Baron Camelford (1775 – 1804) had a reputation for violent madness the ton deplored, scorned and ultimately mourned. His conduct is a catalog of misadventures that would gratify the wildest schoolboy imagination. His character, a hot mess of contradictions, is the prototypical anti-hero.

He was the fighting peer of the Regency.

1804 memorial etching by Dighton, via the National Portrait Gallery. ‘Lord Camelford was not such a man as you would have supposed. He was tall and bony–rather pale–with his head hanging generally a little on one side–so.’ — Lady Hester Stanhope

Thomas longed to go to sea and at first the notion seemed like a good idea, given his unruliness as a lad:

“If his lordship could have conquered that irritability of temper, which involved him in such a variety of disputes that ultimately ended in his death, he would have attained the highest naval honors.” — Life, Adventures and Eccentricities of the late Lord Camelford (1804)

Perhaps it was that irritability of temper which helped him survive his first voyage, one the history books record as ‘almost unparalleled.’ He and a skeleton crew navigated the crippled frigate HMS Guardian — little more than a raft — almost 2000 kilometers back to port.

And yet:

While imminent shipwreck conditions suited Thomas, smooth sailing did not. His naval career ended after he assaulted his former commander, shot and killed a fellow officer and attempted a solo invasion of France.**

Camelford’s sister, Anne, painted here as Hebe by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun in 1792 —  She was one of the few persons her brother loved. He left his fortune to her and her husband, Prime Minister Lord Grenville.

Thomas was still a seaman when he became Baron Camelford. He inherited a fortune exceeding £150,000 and an annual income over £20,000. His estates sprawled across the counties of Cornwall and Dorset. His family was a powerful and well-connected political dynasty.

And yet:

“..ambition was the spur of his life..to achieve success independent of inherited rank and wealth.” — The Half-Mad Lord, Nikolai Tolstoy (1978)

Returning to England, Thomas became a fearsome presence, particularly in London. He never shrank from physical violence. His temper and courage were legendary. Many thought him insane.

A jury awarded £500 in damages (a huge sum in those days) against him for assault in the Theatre Royal during a play appropriately titled, The Devil to Pay. The watch-house constables knew him well and sometimes let him take their place in adjudicating offenders, who he always pardoned after a stern talking-to. Woe betide the nightwatchman he found asleep at his post.

His notoriety alone invited unprovoked challenges from the foolhardy.

As Lord Camelford, Thomas could live in the most sumptuous of surroundings. He owned beautiful Boconnoc in Cornwall, an estate of over 7,500 acres, ‘made for its late owner and for a great mind.’ His Mayfair townhouse was a refined neo-Classical villa on Park Lane, Camelford House.

Shepherd’s 1850 watercolor of Camelford House, for a short time the residence of Charlotte, Princess of Wales, later demolished in 1915. Photo via British Museum

And yet:

Thomas preferred modest lodgings above a tea shop in Bond Street.

It was here he put to rest the menace posed by the first Bond Street Loungers, dandified young men whose business it was to harass shoppers, block sidewalks, leer at women and generally make a nuisance of themselves. One of these louts brought his boorish behavior into a nearby coffee house. After brow-beating the harassed waiter, he mocked a shabbily dressed young man reading his newspaper nearby. The waiter (with relish, no doubt) informed the coffee-house buck that he’d just taunted Lord Camelford.

” ‘Lord Camelford!’ returned the former, in a tone of voice scarcely audible; horror-struck at the recollection of his own impertinence, and almost doubting whether he was still in existence..actually stole away without daring to taste his Madeira.” — The Eccentric Mirror by G. H Wilson (1807)

Bond Street Loungers

via National Portrait Gallery – Gillray illustrates the rude phenomenon of the Bond Street Loungers in 1796. They were rather more respectable by the time of the famous 1820 illustration from Captain Gronow’s Reminisces.

Thomas was politically connected to both the Pitt and Grenville families (his uncle was William Pitt the Younger). From his father he inherited the rotten borough of Old Sarum. Generally he supported the policies of his sister’s husband, the Pittite Tory William Wyndham Grenville, 1st Baron Grenville.

And yet:

Thomas would get a burr under his saddle and vote for policies that went against his family and their interests–and at the most inconvenient of times. He alarmed both established parties with his connections to the radicals Sir Francis Burdett and John Horne Tooke, espousing their egalitarian principles. At other times he and his cudgel forced radicals to listen to a blind fiddler he hired to play patriotic tunes in their gathering place.

A virulent protester against the peace with Napoleon, Thomas refused to light his windows in support of the nightly London celebrations taking place. A mob broke his windows and knocked down his door. Fearless, he took up a sword and cudgel and dashed into the street, fighting the drunk, maddened crowd all alone, with some success, until felled by a brick from behind. His senseless body mercilessly kicked and stoned, he barely escaped with his life.

He was ready for them the next night, guarding the tea shop with a mob of brawny seamen he’d rounded up on his own.

Bill Richmond, prize fighter and cabinet maker. He is credited with dragging his employer Lord Camelford to safety.

And yet:

Unbeknownst to the fashionable world, his lordship eschewed the social events of the ton to go to areas of London stricken with typhus and blue ruin. There he sought out families to render them financial aid.

“In such deeds as these, and at an expense of several thousands a year (he mortgaged one of his estates in this effort) did this unaffected philanthropist pass the hours which he stole from the dissipation of high life; and his protégées were not aware of the name or quality of their benefactor, until his untimely fate put a period to his munificent donations.” — The Clubs of London, by Charles Marsh (1832)

Thomas loved all kinds of sports and was a nonpareil himself. An accomplished amateur boxer, he sponsored many professionals of the sport and could be counted on for a generous purse even after their careers. He patronized the Jolly Brewer, an establishment owned by the famous Jem Belcher, gifting his valuable dog to the retired pugilist.

“He always received the respect due to his position, and if a coal-heaver or meatporter of his acquaintance attempted any insolence he was swiftly paid in his own coin.” — Tolstoy

And yet:

He could shed his rough exterior and become the fashionable beau, being among the first to wear a Jean de Bry coat and the Belcher neck cloth. He was a rather ‘well-looking man.” This was evident during his brief courtship of his cousin, Lady Hester Stanhope, herself an enigmatic figure of beauty and independence. Her memories of Lord Camelford are full of admiration and very illuminating–‘people were very much mistaken about him.’ His wide-ranging adventures inspired her to embark on her own travels.

Generally unchaperoned, the two attended ton parties, drove down turnpikes in Thomas’ curricle and spent time at his estate in Cornwall. She told her doctor many years later that Lord Camelford’s appearances at balls and routs put people in a fright, but when engaged in conversation, he was ‘charming, irresistible, so well-bred, such a ton about him.’

Her greatest tribute to Thomas was the fact he couldn’t abide hypocrisy, particularly amongst those who occupied the highest levels of society. He hated whoever who took advantage of others and used his status as a peer to rectify injustice:

“He was a true Pitt, and, like me, his blood fired at a fraud or a bad action.” — Memoirs of the Lady Hester Stanhope by Charles Lewis Meryon, I (1846)

Lady Hester Stanhope on Horseback – Her lonely and abusive childhood was similar to Camelford’s–isolated on a country estate with her brother by a father who meant to force his heir to renounce his inheritance, once he came of age, thus breaking the entail that protected the family fortune from Lord Stanhope’s spendthrift habits. Hester helped her brother escape.

The fatal duel that took Thomas’ life could have been avoided, by all accounts. As he lay painfully dying (the bullet was lodged in his spine) he forgave his opponent, Captain Best. Only too late did he realize that the insult lodged against him was fabricated by a disgruntled mistress.

His death occasioned a great deal of comment. The men breathed a sign of relief, ‘it was dangerous to sit in company with such a man,’ one said. Lady Bessborough, who often appears in this blog as Lady B, was sorry for him and the ‘dreadful lesson against violent passion his whole life and death have been!’

“He was a man of superior abilities but of singular character…in him Courage was a struggle of sentiment against Constitution.” — The Farington Diary, Vol II, Joseph Farington (1923)

*The Guardian’s passengers were mostly convicts being transported to Australia. They and the accompanying crew and guards abandoned ship only to die almost to a man in the life boats.

**Lord Camelford was often flogged and placed in irons under mutinous conditions on board ship closely resembling those of the Bounty. Unlike Christian Fletcher, his lordship made it back to England and assaulted old Captain Vancouver until the latter’s brother, fresh from fighting native Americans and felling trees in Kentucky, returned the favor and nearly killed his lordship. As for the murder of a fellow officer, his lordship’s actions were found to be necessary to quash what was ruled a mutiny.

The Violent Secret of Miss Scott

A future prime minister on the subject of love:

“…I’m pretty sure I am not born to die of love and I am quite sure I shall never be a lover.”

That was the impression George Canning (1770-1827) certainly gave, for he made little or no attempt to be agreeable to women. The patroness of his own party, Lady Elizabeth Leveson-Gower, Countess of Sutherland, ‘thoroughly disliked’ him. Canning believed all women of fashion were depraved and corrupt, as Lady Holland noted in her diary, July 4, 1799.

 

Canning was mean to her, Lady Bessborough complained to her lover Granville:

 

“What possible chance have I of escaping under the eye of a person who judges everyone with severity, women particularly and me perhaps more than any other woman?” — August 1798

 

George Canning by Hoppner. “Never was any human being less bent on falling in love than I was…”

That all changed when Canning attended a Tory gathering at Walmer Castle upon the invitation of his mentor, Pitt. There he met Miss Joan Scott, the heiress of a tremendous fortune in gambling proceeds (over £500,000) won by her father, General ‘Pawky’ Scott. Her sister had made a grand match, marrying the heir to the Duke of Portland and former prime minister. The same was expected of Miss Scott but so far she had rejected every suitor for her hand, including that handsome devil Sir Arthur Paget.

 

Contemptuous of the courtship business, Canning refused even the appearance of dangling after Miss Scott.

 

“Perhaps it was in some measure this very circumstance of having her so constantly in my thoughts as something to be avoided, perhaps it was an observation of something I cannot put into words..probably it was the observation which I could not but make of her beauty, and good sense, and quiet, interesting manners…” Canning to Granville Leveson Gower, August 1799

 

The Cottage at Walmer Castle via English Heritage. You can spend your holiday at the Castle and stay in the cottage!

‘Seized by a passion that would last the rest of his life,’ Canning sought out Miss Scott. Unfortunately, embarrassment overcame him and the master parliamentary orator was unable to Speak. He fled to Dover, trying to talk himself out of his infatuation, reasoning that he couldn’t offer for her hand. Their financial circumstances were too disparate. He shuddered to think he might appear as a fortune hunter, particularly when he didn’t have a proper job. She would reject him anyway, leaving him open to jeers and mockery, for Canning’s sharp wit had made him plenty of enemies.

 

Somehow he had to keep the ‘violent secret of Miss Scott’ to himself.

 

At Dover, Canning saw Lady Susan Ryder, his good friend Granville’s sister. Reluctantly, and in the strictest confidence, he told her about his predicament. Fortunately Lady Susan had a slight acquaintance with Miss Scott and volunteered to sound her out for him. Her response, ‘she found me so different from what she expected,’ threw him into a paroxysm of  doubt and perplexity.

 

What did that mean? He knew he had his detractors. Sometimes he carried a joke too far. He even made his own friends cry. That d—d Charles Greville, her relative, must have said something disparaging:

“…he amuses himself by representing me as a compound of satirical and ill-natured and insolent feelings and manners and particularly with stating himself to be an object of my contempt..”

 

‘The Gower Family,’ considered Romney’s masterpiece. Painted in 1776, it depicts the 2nd Earl Gower’s children, two of whom were Canning’s close friends. Lady Susan is in profile, her brother Granville peers around her, his gaze mischievous, his golden hair shining.

What did it matter, anyway? Miss Scott made it clear she didn’t want to marry a politician. So, Lady Susan advised Canning to give it up. He returned to Walmer anyway, unable to contemplate a future without Miss Scott. He reasoned that no objection was ‘sufficient to make it a matter of duty or delicacy in me to see her no more.’ He promised he wouldn’t harass or embarrass her but he had to have her definitive answer, to ‘learn his fate.’

 

That was when

 

“..I first touched my own Love’s hand–and put my arm ’round her, & drew her to me–and she was not very angry (!)–not very angry I think–though it was very saucy in me to do what I did.”

 

Nevertheless, on the question of marriage Miss Scott prevaricated. She would defer to her sister’s husband, Marquess Titchfield, a man who wasn’t her guardian but whom she relied upon for advice. Canning told her he would not retire from the field unless and until he had her repudiation–not something half-hearted and dependent on others.

 

She would remain ‘an object so dear to me.’

 

Meanwhile, the government offered him a real job–an ambassadorship to Holland. He agonized, knowing it was an opportunity he shouldn’t decline and yet if he left England Miss Scott would slip away forever. Then she fell dangerously ill, her life was despaired of. Perhaps her recovery was the catalyst for surrender. She agreed to marry him in the summer.

 

“It is the one Event most essential to my happiness that has ever yet occurred in the course of my life.” — Canning to Granville’s mother, Lady Stafford, May, 1800

 

The secret was out.

 

South Hill Park, the Cannings’ country residence, now an arts centre — photo by Garrick Hywel Darts

 

Postscript: Before his marriage, Canning mentioned to Granville an entanglement he had with a married lady, a relationship that seemed to demand some reluctant reciprocation on his part, for he planned to use the excuse of a pending marriage to escape it. The lady’s identity remains uncertain, but many believe she was Caroline of Brunswick, Princess of Wales. On the other hand, Lady Holland pointed to the Earl of Malmesbury’s wife who hosted her husband’s cadre of foreign affairs protégés, including Canning and another future prime minister, Lord Liverpool. Lady B begged Granville to reveal her identity, having just discovered ‘the violent secret of Miss Scott.’

 

Sources:

 

The Rise of George Canning by Dorothy Marshall (1938) – particularly his letters to Lady Susan Ryder and containing the quote in the photo of South Hill Park above.

 

George Canning: Three Biographical Studies by P. J. V. Rolo (1965)  — best for a glimpse of his devotion to his wife and children ‘if anything should happen to (Canning’s daughter) it would kill him on the spot.’

 

Private correspondence, 1781 – 1821 by Granville Leveson Gower, Earl Granville, et al and edited by Castalia Leveson-Gower, Countess Granville (1916) for all other quotes.

All My Regency Sons

The sons of Lord Uxbridge cut quite a dash during the Regency.

William Paget, 1st Baron Paget and accountant to Henry VIII. “You can’t claim that as a dependent—Why? Because it’s inanimate!”*

Their father, a man humbly named Henry Bayly, inherited an ancient barony through the maternal line of his ancestors. To tidy things up, he took their name Paget. Another privilege, the earldom of Uxbridge, descended lockstep with the barony but Bayly couldn’t inherit that bit since it only passed through the male line.

Not to worry–a second creation made our man an earl.

Henry married the daughter of a minister and they had six sons who survived to maturity (among six daughters)–and good-looking ones, too.

“It is not common to see such..handsome young men in one family.” — Lady Stafford to her son Granville Leveson Gower; (from his correspondence edited by Castalia, Countess Granville 1916)

No. 1 — Field Marshall Henry William Paget, 1st Marquess Anglesey, the eldest and particularly famous for his military exploits during the Napoleonic Wars, an endeavor that cost him a limb which went on to have a career of its own (!) Many remarked upon his equanimity during the amputation procedure:

“I’ve had a pretty long run, I have been a beau these forty-seven years, and it would not be fair to cut the young men out any longer.” — One Leg: The Life and Letters of Henry William Paget, First Marquess of Anglesey; ed. 7th Marquis of Anglesey (1961)

Henry William Paget, 1st Marquess Anglesey by F W Wilkin Of him, Wellington declared ‘he shall not run off with me!’

After that, he wore an artificial limb which may or may not have caused him to fall down leaving the ballroom at Almack’s. Adding insult to injury, his sister Lady Jane Paget screamed ‘violently,’ sending the whole place into a panic.1

Henry’s amorous maneuvers are worth noting for their instructive value in late Georgian divorce law. On a personal level, his father threatened to cut him off ‘without a farthing’ if he did not return to his wife. Lady Williams Wynn (another fond parent of Regency sons) smugly thanked hers for being such a nice boy, pitying Lord Uxbridge for the conduct of his:

“What a misfortune to his family that he (Henry) did not find in Spain the Tomb of honor which they say he so eagerly sought. For his companion in disgrace, we must in charity remember the heavy degree of insanity (!) which prevails throughout her family…”

— from Lady W. W. to Henry W. W. W. March 14, 1809

Correspondence of Charlotte Grenville, Lady Williams Wynn, and her three sons, et al; ed. by Rachel Leighton (1820)

No. 2 — Most thought Captain William Paget, a naval officer, the handsomest of all the Paget boys (excepting Lord Granville’s sister, who danced with him at Lady Hume’s ball but preferred his brother Arthur.)2  William’s father was very proud of his naval service and roundly rebuked any who complained his son was too often absent from parliamentary proceedings as MP for Anglesey.  Captain Paget was busy capturing French vessels–surely a far greater service to King and County than sitting in the Commons. His death at sea was greatly mourned, its cause poorly understood.**

Sir Arthur Paget by Hoppner. He ‘liked to show his shapes to advantage.’

No. 3 — Sir Arthur Paget was a career diplomat and cut a rather extravagant figure while doing it.3  Serving in various posts throughout Europe, he pursued various females, including the daughter of the Esterhazys, earning him a serious smack-down from Leopoldine’s mother.4  The other notable rebuff came from a Miss Scott who preferred George Canning, future Prime Minister.5

On the other hand, Miss Georgiana Seymour was infatuated with him. This young lady, adopted by the Marquess of Cholmondelay, was rumoured to be the love child of the Prince Regent by noted courtesan and spy Grace Dalrymple Elliott.6

In the end, Arthur ran off with Augusta Fane, wife of the appropriately named Lord Boringdon.

No. 4 -General Sir Edward Paget lost an arm and was captured by the French serving under Wellington. When his father became convinced a young ‘hellkite’ was in love with him, to the point he was paying her a generous stipend, Edward was the only one to bring old Lord Uxbridge to his senses. He told his father quite bluntly:

” ‘What should you think if Sir David Dundas (then aged seventy-five) should seriously tell you that a girl of 20 was seriously and truly in Love with His Person? If you did not laugh at him, should you not be disgusted at the communication?’ ” — Charles Paget writing to his brother, Sir Arthur Paget, circa late 1809 as reprinted in One Leg

Sir Charles Paget by Lawrence. In a letter to his brother Arthur, he curses his mother-in-law for falsely accusing him of infidelity with the Duchess of Bedford.+

No. 5 – Sir Charles Paget, a vice-admiral, commanded HMS Endymion when it gallantly rescued the crew of a French warship that had run aground. He married Elizabeth Monck whose mother had an affair with Jack, the aforementioned Lord Boringdon. Charles was steady on–he counseled and supported his parents in their old age and bailed them out by loaning them a substantial portion of the prize money he won capturing four Spanish treasure ships. He died of a fever on board ship.

No. 6 – Berkeley Thomas Paget concerned himself mainly with politics, both as MP and as a Lord of the Treasury for two prime ministers. He and Lady Williams Wynn’s son were rivals for the hand of the beautiful Sophia Bucknall. Fanny, Lady Williams Wynn’s daughter, wrote to her brother encouraging him to make up to Sophia, an heiress ‘with a fortune of at least  £30,000.’ Berkeley won her and her fortune, but was less than faithful.

Berkeley Thomas Paget by Lawrence. His brothers and sisters called him ‘Bartolo,’ and, alternatively, ‘Villain.’

Another schadenfreude moment for Lady W. W.:

“..Mr. Paget has gone back to live with his poor wife, promising, I suppose, never to do so no more. I am sorry for it, as I fear she can have no further prospect of any permanent comfort in him & therefore will only be subjecting herself to further pangs.” — Lady W. W. to Fanny W. W. January 17, 1819 Correspondence of Charlotte Grenville, et al

Oh, those Paget boys.

 

 

*I couldn’t resist quoting from a ‘celebrity accountant‘ commercial that never gets old.

**Some speculated William died from complications due to a wound he sustained ‘years before’ during an assassination attempt in Constantinople, making him a very young teenager at the time of the attack.

+Charles Paget to Sir Arthur, June 17, 1810 written aboard the Revenge, reprinted in The Paget Boys by Sir Arthur Paget, edited by George Jolliff, Baron Hylton (1918). It was an accusation that was particularly troubling to Charles because he and his wife missed each other acutely while he was at sea.

1.From the Journal of Henry Edward Fox, March 27, 1822 by Baron Henry Edward Vassall Fox, ed. by Giles Strangways, Earl of Ilchester (1926)

2. From Lady Charlotte’s Jan. 30th, 1790 letter to her brother, Granville Leveson Gower. She goes on to tell her brother she danced with the oldest Paget boy, Henry, who she said ‘is a great favourite of mine.’ Apparently the brothers were still dancing into the night after she left at four in the morning! Lord Granville Leveson Gower private correspondence, ed. Castalia, Countess Granville (1916) vol. I

3.From the Earl of Dalkeith’s Dec. 31st, 1799 letter to Sir Arthur recommending a breeches maker in Naples, with a sly remark concerning the diplomatic possibilities that awaited there, including Lady Emma Hamilton. The Paget papers; diplomatic and other correspondence of Sir Arthur Paget, 1794-1807. (With two appendices 1808 & 1821 [1828]-1829.) ed Sir Augustus Berkeley Paget (1896) Vol. I

4. From Sir Arthur’s Aug. 18th, 1805 letter to his mother, the Countess of Uxbridge,  Paget Papers Vol II

5. From George Canning’s August 22nd 1799 letter to Lord Granville Leveson Gower expressing his relief that Paget was out of the running for Miss Scott’s hand, based second-hand on a conversation she supposedly had with someone else, an intelligence conveyed to Canning via the unlikely duo of William Pitt and his fixer, Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville. I say unlikely because one would not suspect these two men to be concerned with the romance of a younger ally (Pitt never married and Dundas cut off his adulterous wife from her fortune and children). Private Correspondence, Lord Granville. Postscript: It must be noted that Dundas was Scott’s guardian but both men were anxious for Canning to secure financial stability in order to pursue a promising career as a Tory politician.

6. J. Talbot’s Mar. 12th, 1803 letter to Sir Arthur in Paget’s Papers, Vol I.

 

A Pictorial Regency-era Christmas

Irving by Jarvis (1809) “Christmas is the season for kindling the fire of hospitality in the hall, the genial flame of charity in the heart. ”

It is ironic that an American author describes the sights and sounds of Regency Britain as well as any native diarist of the time. In a previous post, this blog examined Washington Irving’s (1783-1859) remarkable talent for charming the jaded ton. Today’s post takes a look at his first great success, the 1819-1820 serial Sketch Book.*

The chapters on Christmas are written in a visual way that is unusually striking. They have since been printed in a separate volume many times–

A coffee-table book of late-Georgian Yuletide.

Colorful, accessible to everyone’s understanding, Irving’s style might be considered unduly sentimental. Regency-era readers in particular, steeped as they were in the Romantic movement’s faraway, exotic locales, were bound to find a Yankee’s observations of everyday British life provincial and dull.

On the contrary,

“…(the Christmas sketches) are written to engage the finer feelings of the heart, they operate upon the imagination like the polished weapons of modern surgery; they make a deep, but a delicate wound.”

— The Atheneum, Vol I No. 10, February 1828

“Every ragamuffin that has a coat to his back thrusts his hands into the pockets, rolls in his gait, talks slang and is an embryo Coachey.”

The chapters begin with a journey to Squire’s estate via public coach. As an aside, I consider this snippet as good as any primary resource on Regency-era holiday travel.

There is the coachman “with a large bunch of Christmas greens stuck in the button-hole of his coat.” The English inn kitchen is detailed down to the last pot.

Young students returning home from school for the holiday are among the passengers in the coach. They seem perfectly ordinary to the naked eye. After Irving gets through with them, these schoolboys are impossible to forget. When the coach finally rolls to a stop before an ornate country estate gate, they eagerly look to see who has been sent up from the house to wait for them. It is Old John, the family footman. He has brought with him their childhood pony Bantam, an intrepid steed who will clear any hedge. The beloved dog that greets them “wriggles his whole body with joy.”

“..(the boys) held John’s hands, both talking at once, overpowering him with by questions about home, and with school anecdotes.”

Arriving at his own destination, Irving joins a large company of extended family and friends hosted by Squire at Christmas. No creature escapes his keen attention. Squire sings a stanza of an ancient carol, “his eye glistening, his voice rambling out of all the bounds of time and tune,” and the parson scolds the sexton for decorating the church with pagan mistletoe amongst the greens.

Squire’s cousin, Master Simon, acts as master of ceremony.

“..a tight, brisk little man, with the air of an arrant old bachelor…an eye of great quickness and vivacity, with a drollery and lurking waggery of expression that was irresistible.”

 

A disapproving Mama finds Master Simon’s efforts deplorable, as they encourage giggling that is only barely stifled and unbridled merriment among the younger set.

The Christmas Eve meal displays Squire’s singular character. He is a man who loves nothing more than researching the old customs so he can recreate them on important occasions. The sideboard is laden with generous amounts of rich, elaborate dishes, but  Squire forsakes them to eat the simple, traditional meal of frumenty —  ‘England’s oldest national dish.’

For his part, Irving was glad to see the familiar minced pie.

Christmas Day dinner is full of ceremony. The wassail bowl, the boar’s head and meat pie decorated with peacock feathers all warrant extensive explanatory footnotes at the end of the Christmas chapters. It seems Irving was compelled to prove to his astonished London audience that ‘the grave and learned manner of old custom’ was still being carried on in many parts of the country.

‘The tide of wine and wassail fast gaining,’ one might just recognize the outlines of the timeless Christmas party getting out of hand.

Of course there are games and dancing afterward the main meal. Squire’s sons, an army officer and an ‘Oxonian,’ step out with their maiden aunts. Most amusing is the boisterous schoolgirl trying Master Simon’s patience when he partners her in a stately rigadoon. There are masques and mummeries, enacted in costume fashioned from old clothes brought down from the attic, and an ancient hoodening rite whereby the young parade a hobby horse covered in cloth, demanding tribute from the adults.

Charles Dickens by Gillies — He, too had an ‘eagle eye,’ according to  Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Squire worries the Christmas spirit will disappear without the pastoral traditions to sustain it. He may not have been aware that his American guest was about to revive the Yuletide holiday’s former glow. Certainly he did not know that another great storyteller would follow Irving, one who would rekindle the Christmas spirit into a roaring blaze.

*Quotes (unless otherwise noted) are taken from Old Christmas by Washington Irving. This extract is from volume II of the original Sketch Book published in serial form in 1821. The clever illustrations by Randolph Caldecott appear in the 1886 printing.

Standard-Bearer to the Regency – Part Five

This is the final installment of a series examining the personality of Sarah Sophia Villiers, Countess of Jersey. For two centuries she has played a role in late Georgian-themed literature–a remarkable testament to her character’s powerful influence. Writers rely upon her time and again to establish a challenging setting for their plots because she is the symbol of an immovable, rigid society of unbending rules and top-of-the-trees elites.

To repeat: Sarah Sophia was–and still is–the Standard-Bearer to the Regency.

“The devil himself was not more handsome or seductive than this man who called himself Glenarvon. From the moment she met him, Calantha knew she was damned..” –from the back cover

As described in a previous post, Sarah Sophia makes her most significant appearance in the first of many works: Glenarvon (1816). Among the members of the Regency ton, there were plenty of society figures who possessed a penchant for talking excessively and interrupting ongoing conversations, or an obsession with secrets and frenetic socializing. As Lady Holland wrote to Mrs. Creevey1, the libel lay in the way such traits were so cleverly packaged. Future authors would emulate this unique method of characterization.

Lord Worth chides her: “Don’t talk, Sally, you interrupt Miss Crewe.”

Like the intrepid fox-hunting Corinthian in a Heyer romance, Caro showed us all the way.

Sarah Sophia, in the guise of Lady Augusta, deplores Glenarvon’s cruel seduction and expresses sympathy for Calantha, “dying alone, upbraided, despised and deserted.” She recognizes injustice done to another woman but does nothing about it.

It is a virulent portrait of an unfeeling creature, very like contemporary diarist Charles Greville’s2 description of Sarah Sophia–devoid of feminine softness.

“I am like a deer, and ever fly with the herd; there is no excuse..ever, for those who are wounded and bleeding and trodden upon.” — Lady Augusta Selwyn, Glenarvon

When Sarah Sophia was about sixty years of age, she made another appearance in literature, this time as Lady St Julians in Benjamin Disraeli’s Coningsby and Sybil.  Both works reflect the author’s dissatisfaction with established political parties, where members exist only to serve their own interests and not the people they represent.

Lady St. Julians is a creature of the system, ignoring the principle of the thing in favor of her family’s interests, constantly maintaining a network to promote them:

“..she made it a rule to go everywhere and visit everybody, provided they had power, wealth and fashion…” — Coningsby (1844)

Her efforts to influence Conservative politics reflect Sarah Sophia’s, and not in a complimentary way:

 “…driving distractedly about town, calling at clubs, closeted with red tapers*, making ingenuous combinations that would not work, by means of which some of her sons was to stand in coalition with some great parvenu, to pay none of the expenses, and yet come in first.” — Sybil (1845)

” ‘Oh, goodness me! Don’t, I implore you, give her vouchers for Almack’s. ..she presents such a very off-appearance, doesn’t she? ..she looks stupid. I’m persuaded she’s not awake upon any suit!’ “

Thirteen years after her death, Disraeli gave Sarah Sophia immortality as Zenobia in his  Endymion (1880). For all his fascination for her, his published correspondence rarely mentions Lady Jersey, apart from seeing her ablaze with jewels at Queen Victoria’s coronation, and observing her husband’s (bless him) flood of tears when their eldest son married Prime Minister Peel’s daughter.3

 Some have said Zenobia is a composite portrait of Disraeli’s Whig patronesses.4 This is unlikely given his masterful rendition of Lady Jersey’s political efforts–they are hers almost to the life. When Endymion’s Whigs are in the ascendant, Zenobia gnashes her teeth. And when the Whig government resigns, Zenobia triumphs.

Sarah Sophia’s every idiosyncrasy is recalled with exactitude:

“..to listen, among her many talents, was also her rarest…she liked flattery, and always said she did..she liked handsome people, and even handsome women, and persons who were dressed beautifully.. she never liked her male friends to marry..and it was her habit to impress upon her noble fellows of both sexes that there were relations of intimacy between herself and the royal houses of Europe, which were not shared by her class.” — Endymion (1880)

Georgette Heyer resurrected Sarah Sophia to become a powerful utility character in many a Regency romance novel. As Caro did in Glenarvon, Heyer makes Lady Jersey a source of external conflict (society’s strictures) for intrepid heroines to overcome. She is also a tool manipulated by Heyer’s heroes, frequently men she adores, to steer other characters into position for season after season of excellent plot maneuvers.

“Hero would have been astonished, and indeed indignant, had she been aware that she was the object of Lady Jersey’s sympathy.”

Beloved Cotillion mentions the queen of society only in passing, but a chance remark Sarah Sophia makes ‘off-camera’ is telling, putting a very special hero to the blush. Freddy’s sister Meg may proclaim him the best dancer in all London, but for Lady Jersey to add her tribute warrants an exquisite “By Jove!” from him.

In Arabella, Lady Jersey fans the flames of internal conflict. “Vivacious, restless and scintillating,” Sarah Sophia enjoys the hero’s company, rousing jealousy in the breast of a heroine who has just rejected the hero’s marriage proposal out of hand.

One last observation of her character, before we leave her, comes from Henry Edward Fox, son of the aforementioned Lady Holland, appearing in a previous installment of this series. Of all the writers who have described Sarah Sophia, whether in fact or fiction, he is the most eloquent. He gives us the real woman, with all her faults, by the very reason he deeply admired her:

Dined tête-à-tête with Lady Jersey, whose wonderful garrulity does not bore me. I have such an affection for her and feel such perfect confidence in her sincerity that I like what many people cannot endure.” June 30, 1823

The Journal of Henry Edward Fox 1818 – 1830

“Lady Buxted remembered impertinent little Sally Fane, a wretched schoolroom miss to whom she had administered a number of well-deserved setdowns..”

 

*red Toryism – conservative with a small (c)

1 The Creevey Papers Vol I by Thomas Creevey (1904) Sarah Sophia’s Whig rival uses the term amplisagge to describe Caro’s clever rendering.

2 The Greville Memoirs, Charles C.F. Greville, Esq (1875)

3 Lord Beaconsfield’s correspondence with his sister, 1832-1852 by Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881); edited by Ralph Disraeli

4“Endymion, A Review,” Tullidge’s Quarterly, by Edward Tullidge, editor (1881). Tullidge was a Mormon who emigrated from England to Utah. He wrote extensively on a variety of topics and ran several magazines. Known as the Mormon feminist historian, it is ironic that his widow was said to have died penniless from his bankruptcy, her body found on the cold ground with scarcely a blanket to cover her.

Jane Austen’s Haunted Emma

The environs of Jane Austen’s Emma boast some spectral incidents. Set in Surrey “the most misunderstood English county,” the novel features picturesque Box Hill and surrounding villages serving as the backdrop for a subtle complexity of romantic misunderstanding.

All quotes are from the novel.

“Emma had never been to Box Hill; she wished to see what everyone found so well worth seeing..”

Box Hill itself contains the grave of a man buried upside down. Major Peter Labilliere, not surprisingly a somewhat eccentric man, was a particular friend of the 5th Duke of Devonshire. He spent a good deal of his time wandering the hill. His ghost has yet to quit the area, according to reports.

“Let everybody on the Hill hear me if they can. Let my accents swell from Mickleham on one side, and Dorking on the other.”

The road from Box Hill to Dorking passes through the village of Westcott, the location of Stowe Maries, a Grade II listed sixteenth century timbered house once owned by the actor Leslie Howard. Reports of a ghostly horseman abound. One witness saw the roadside bushes part as if pushed aside, accompanied by the sound of a horse trotting by.

“I didn’t chase women, but I couldn’t always be bothered to run away.” — Leslie Howard

The ruins of old Betchworth Castle to the east make it difficult to imagine this medieval fortification had been renovated into a fine Regency-era house. It became part of the grounds of nearby Deepdene, acquired by colorful banker Thomas Hope. His well-developed craze for the Gothic style led him to turn a destructive eye toward old Betchworth. He had the house deliberately reduced to a picturesque ruin. Ironically, his Regency masterpiece Deepdene was destroyed to make an office building.

Betchworth Castle still remains, said to be haunted by a ‘Lord Hope.’ His ghost wanders in perpetual grief over the accidental killing of his son. A spectral black dog prowls the ruins at night as well.

Old Betchworth lies along the River Mole. Spooky, yeah? Photo by Ian Capper via geograph.org.uk

To the west of Dorking is Silent Pool, situated near the old estate of Henry Drummond, one of the wealthier men of Regency England and a rival banker to Sarah Sophia, Countess of Jersey. The body of water has a blue opalescent color. It is said to be haunted by a woodcutter’s daughter who drowned there to escape King John’s embrace.

Mystery writer Agatha Christie mysteriously disappeared near Silent Pool, where her car was found abandoned.

Jane Austen wrote Emma while staying with relatives in Great Bookham, on the outskirts of Dorking. Richard Sheridan, Regency-era playwright and one of Lady Bessborough’s lovers, lived in the neighborhood for a time at Polesdon Lacey, an old manor later remodeled into a villa and fine example of the era’s architecture. The grounds of this house and nearby Cotman Dean heath (Little Bookham Common) long had the reputation of being haunted by the spirit of an old woman.

“..ridiculous, disagreeable old maid! The proper sport of boys and girls..”

The villagers had almost forgotten their local ghost until some boarding school boys resurrected her. They used a dark lanthorn (lantern with sliding black lens) and carried it around the place at night. The villagers were not familiar with this relatively new device. Thus they grew convinced the light moving swiftly around the heath, point to point, could have only been carried thus by spectral means.

The fun ended when the boys were discovered and thrashed within an inch of their lives.

Bookham Commons via nationaltrust.org.uk

 

Standard Bearer to the Regency – Part Four

Sarah Sophia Child Villiers, Countess of Jersey, achieved everything she set out to do as a young woman. She married the Earl of Jersey in her own drawing room. She gave him an heir and a spare, besides three beautiful girls.

She convinced most of Regency-era society she was their de facto ruler.

Portrait of Sarah Sophia’s daughters via National Galleries of Scotland: Frederica (later Princess Esterhazy), Adela (eloped with her own ‘Mr. Wickham’) and Clementina (her face appeared in all the era’s Books of Beauty)

The streak of restlessness in her character did not subside as she headed into matronhood, nor her powerful motivation to lead. These traits found an outlet in politics–an activity to promote her deeply held Tory principles. Many criticized her for being headstrong, imperious and meddling. Such hurly-burly behavior was unbecoming in a female of rank.

I wager being a Tory wasn’t the problem. Being female was.

To supplement her husband’s modest political activities,* Sarah Sophia put on lavish parties. Her townhouse was filled to the brim for the triumphant celebration she put on after the (practical) nullification of the Marriage Act of 1754. Prominent Whig hostess Lady Holland bemoaned the fact her Tory rival’s gatherings were better attended than her own, by members of both parties.+

It seems the atmosphere in Berkeley Square was more relaxed than Holland House in Kensington. At No. 38, observers noted how even foreign diplomats, like the great Talleyrand, freely discussed policies that might otherwise be too sensitive to bandy about at a party.++

Gossip had it that Sarah Sophia did some of her politicking in other men’s arms.

Much of this speculation rests on an often cited misquote of a remark made by, oddly enough, Lord Jersey himself. When challenged to a duel, he refused to defend his wife’s honor.+++  Somehow the purpose for the challenge got lost in the translation. Sarah Sophia’s husband might fight a duel over sex, but not over vouchers to Almack’s.

“Lord Jersey replied in a very dignified manner, saying that if all persons who did not receive tickets from his wife were to call him to account for want of courtesy on her part, he should have to make up his mind to become a target for young officers, and he therefore declined the honor of a proposed meeting.”– Captain Gronow, by R. H. Gronow, 1794-1865

Mild-mannered Lord Jersey appears to have held Sarah Sophia’s affections throughout their long (55 year) marriage.

Marble bust of George Child-Villiers, 5th Earl of Jersey by Nollekens — photo via UK Government Art Collection — “Looking in great beauty” —Lady Bessborough observed.  I, too, am a fangirl.

In any event, one has to think Sarah Sophia’s forceful, talkative nature would have made it difficult for her to execute political maneuvers in such an intimate setting as the bedroom.

The strategy she did employ had a much better chance of success. It was far more efficient to carry the war straight to the combatants since she already attended a staggering round of social events. Of course, it put people in a bustle if one discussed politics at routs, turtle breakfasts, balls and so forth. Very bad ton.

Yet Sarah Sophia managed to carry the thing off.

Lady Holland’s son Henry Edward Fox recorded a wealth of society’s doings at this time, including Lady Jersey’s. To the vexation of his Whig parents, he greatly admired the leading Tory hostess, albeit with some qualifications:

‘There is no fine lady I love so much; she never tells what is not true yet talks more than anybody in England.’
–The Journal of Henry Edward Fox 1818 – 1830, by Baron Henry Edward Vassall Fox (1923)

Those aborted attempts to discourage her are among his best anecdotes.

One in particular blew up in a duke’s face. His Grace of Devonshire planned a Whig celebration for newly crowned George IV and was well aware the Countess of Jersey expected to attend. The problem arose when she came out in strong support of Queen Caroline, the estranged wife of the new king. The duke suddenly ‘took fright’ and against Lord Jersey’s advice, tried to rescind the invitation.

Sarah Sophia vowed to go anyway–if only because His Grace didn’t want her there.

After proceedings in the House of Lords, the gallery spectators were permitted to descend to the floor and mingle. Queen Sarah’s place was (naturally) on the throne steps, where she could easily listen in on post-debate conversations. Other ladies inhabited the throne area as well, but it was Lady Jersey’s presence that some men found objectionable. On one occasion Lord Anglesey loudly warned those nearby to avoid talking politics around her because she might carry tales to the newspapers.

Anglesey apologized but the incident shows Sarah Sophia knew enough to be dangerous.

It didn’t help that Anglesey left Sarah Sophia’s sister-in-law for another woman (landing him in the basket not only with Sarah Sophia but Wellington as well). Lady Caroline Villiers (pictured here with her eldest son) later married the Duke of Argyll, a union that moved her to declare she never knew marriage could be so blissful. Portrait by Hoppner, via National Trust

Another diarist of the time, Henry Greville, thought Sarah Sophia a self-delusional know-it-all:

“Lady Jersey affects to be entirely in the Duke (of Wellington’s) confidence. She said to Lord Granville at Madame de Lieven’s the other night that ‘she made it a rule never to talk to the Duke about affairs in public.” ..I doubt whether he tells her much of anything.”
— Leaves from the Diary of Henry Greville, edited by Viscountess Enfield (1883)

Greville preferred Mrs. Arbuthnot, her cousin and a close confidant of the rising political star Lord Wellington. Of all the Fane women, she got the lion’s share of discretion and good sense, in his opinion. He admired how calm she remained in times of crisis. In Sarah Sophia’s defense, anyone with sense would be upset if Wellington were to die in a stupid duel. Not only would that destroy the Tory government, it would throw the country into economic and political turmoil.

Sarah Sophia was among the first to hear the Duke of Cumberland tried to assault Lady Lyndhurst in her own house. She mentioned it to Greville. Perhaps she already knew what a dreadful gossip he was (Queen Victoria tried to sensor his diary). As expected, he set about discovering all the salacious details of His Highness’ bad behavior. These he took care to share with others, while making sure Lady Jersey would be the last he informed. Suddenly and without warning he found himself in hot water, having to explain why he was spreading slanderous gossip concerning the brother of the King!

Oops.

Bust, marble, of a Lady (probably Sarah Sophia Child-Villiers, Countess of Jersey), by William Behnes, English, signed and dated 1827 — photo via the V&A Collection

It seems Sarah Sophia put Regency-era correspondent and Lord Brougham supporter Thomas Creevey in a quake. Why else would he be paranoid about committing to paper his candid impressions of her?

“Shall I tell you what Lady Jersey is like? She is like one of her many gold and silver musical dickey birds..On the merits of her songs I shall say nothing until we meet.”
–The Creevey Papers Vol II, by Thomas Creevey (1904)

He grew bolder in a subsequent letter, expressing great satisfaction over the clever way Lady Brougham gave Sarah Sophia a smart set-down. To paraphrase: No, her ladyship told Lady Jersey, my husband cannot attend your party in Berkeley Square to meet Prince d’Arenberg. He is attending Lady King’s dinner with me,and I NEVER go anywhere without him!

Both Creevey and Lady Brougham had to eat crow. The evening of Lady King’s dinner, the Brougham carriage arrived–minus Lord Brougham. It was an awkward business for his wife:

“..she made Lord Brougham’s apologies to Lady King for his unavoidable absence on account of business.”

Sarah Sophia’s dust-up with Lady Brougham was mild compared to the epic battles she waged against Lord Brougham. Simply put, he was a great advocate for reform and she decidedly was not. Creevey disapproved, and not just because he was a supporter of his lordship. He deplored the way Lady Jersey gave the vulgar press fodder by interfering in men’s affairs, particularly because such conduct gave females unnatural ideas.

Sarah Sophia may have been on the wrong side of history, but she was on the right side of the war between the sexes. She didn’t let gender stop her from advocating what she thought was right. Creevey remain unimpressed.

Sarah Sophia, he declared, was ‘going to the devil as fast as she can.’

“What I hate more than anything is a liar, a charlatan, someone who doesn’t believe in what they say.”  —–  Lucifer Morningstar (aka the Devil) via Netflix

 

 

*George Villiers, 5th Earl of Jersey did hold important Tory offices throughout his adult life. It is telling, however, that he was content with whatever scraps remained after the other peers fought over appointments in the new King George IV’s household.

+ The Creevey Papers Vol II, by Thomas Creevey (1904)

++The Journal of Henry Edward Fox 1818 – 1830, by Baron Henry Edward Vassall Fox (1923)

+++ The award-winning biography Palmerston, by Jasper Ridley (2008)