Regency-era University Freshman

Hugh Fortescue (1783 – 1861), Viscount Ebrington and heir to the first Earl Fortescue moved in the circle of the powerful Grenville family of Whigs. His viscountcy was a courtesy title, giving him the opportunity to sit in the Commons as an influential MP during the Regency.

Just call him Ebrington
By Frederick Christian Lewis Sr, after Joseph Slater stipple engraving, 1826 or after

He was very good friends with Lady Williams-Wynn’s son, Henry. Among her correspondence is a collection of letters exchanged between the two, going all the way back to their school days and into college. Lady W. W. avidly followed Ebrington’s career in the military, suffering considerable anxiety when he went missing for awhile in Lisbon.

Ebrington’s letters to Henry provide a window into the lifestyle of a young nobleman in the early Regency period. His observations of important events and persons are illuminating. The 1797 Frogmore gala, he reported, was marred when one of the actors putting on a play accidentally shot another actor, to the great disappointment of the Prince of Wales.

On the famous Williams-Wynn cousin, Lady Hester Stanhope:

“..a great strapping ugly girl, talking incessantly on every subject, though sometimes (!) not without sense and humor, and descanting with as much learning on the get of a horse as any Newmarket Jockey.”

Correspondence of Charlotte Grenville, Lady Williams Wynn, and her three sons, et al 1795 – 1832, edited by Rachel Frances Marion Leighton (1920)

She’s been called Desert Queen and Star of the Morning. Ebrington was not impressed.
—Lady Hester Stanhope by Beechey

While Henry was employed in the Foreign Office, Ebrington wrote several letters to him from college. On the whole, Oxford suits him, he reports. Breakfast and prayers in the morning, followed by lecture, dinner at 3, more prayers at 5 and supper at 9 in the evening. He begs Henry to send snuff and copies of parliamentary speeches. He complains that the bursar rations bread.

His first night as a freshman is amusing.

Celebrations began the moment Ebrington’s father dropped him off. After dinner at 4 o’clock, he retired with fourteen other lads to a colleague’s room and drank bumper toasts in his honor, being a newcomer. They then proceeded to a supper at 9:30 in the evening, where he was expected to drink a glass of wine with each person present, and there were many.

I’m starting to feel queasy just reading this.

To Ebrington’s dismay, supper’s end did not mean the evening was over. Several bowls were brought, filled with a drink called tiff, which he describes as a “very strong and spicy” negus. As an aside, The Esquire recipe is my favorite–lemon, sugar and ruby (as opposed to tawny) port.

He was obliged to imbibe a good deal of the stuff:

“–this lasted til past eleven when the party broke up and retired to the enjoyment of sickness, night-mares, blue devils, Head-aches & the other attendants upon overloaded stomachs and overheated Brains.”

“..feverish with hopes and fears, soups and negus...” Mansfield Park, Jane Austen

Ebrington admits to Henry that he hasn’t the stomach for that sort of thing very often. To avoid being called poor-spirited, he escapes future festivities on the excuse of meeting his tutor for some “chop-logick.”

*chop-logick: an extremely detailed argument with overly complex reasoning. —







Regency Hazards – Oxen

Charlotte Grenville (1754-1830), Lady Williams Wynn, amassed a considerable amount of correspondence during the Regency.

In a January 1818 letter to her eldest daughter Fanny, she described the ball she’d given at Wynnstay, the family seat in Wales.

It was better than the best evening to be had at Almacks, despite the lack of Beauty:

“..3 Miss Dods at the Vicarage, Miss Lyster of Toft, & 2 very ugly Miss Allansons..& Emmy Brooke & Miss Parker divided the apple, which is not saying much.”

for there were Beaux aplenty and Lady Harriet, her daughter-in-law, who managed to turn out quite well in her diamonds and wedding gown (!)

There was also Lady W. W.’s good friend, Lord Bradford.

..he found a crooked sixpence against a crooked stile… from a vintage Mother Goose book

Orlando Bridgeman (1762 – 1825) was the first Earl of Bradford and married to Lucy Elizabeth Byng, daughter of the 4th Viscount Torrington. He arrived at Wynnstay ever so congenial since his new daughter-in-law was already pregnant. It was as if the coming baby were “his own.”

Being in such fine feather he admitted he was not opposed to his other son’s proposal of marriage to a Miss Chamberlayne, the daughter to the Consul in Brazil. The match “has nothing to recommend it,” but who could deny a “sailor-son” falling in love “the moment he came into port?”

The best part of Lord Bradford’s presence was the telling of his narrow escape from a ox.

He’d gone tramping the previous month at the Duke of Norfolk’s estate in Welbeck, which led him across fields separated by fences. One such fence had a stepped gate for crossing into the next field. With proper caution so as not to stumble, he felt his way over the stile and descended safely into an oxen pasture. Producing a scented handkerchief from his breast pocket, he proceeded to wipe his hands.

A bull, observing this nicety, became incensed and charged his lordship.

Regency bull

As there was very little about with which to protect himself, Lord Bradford could only escape back the way he’d come. However, scrambling over a stile in haste can be even more dangerous than a charging cow. The alternative was a hay rack nearby. This he grabbed and managed to pull himself up its high rungs, out of the maddened animal’s reach. It was a brief respite, for he fell down into the rack’s manger, there for catching leftovers or, in this case, a lord.

“Fortunately his cries brought assistance, and by the united exertion of six men the Animal was removed. (His lordship) was, of course, dreadfully bruised but not materially, and soon got well.”

Remonstrations were exchanged. To the extreme dissatisfaction of all concerned, the bull’s sudden violence seemed to have no warning or cause until someone thought to apply to a rustic expert for his opinion.

Nothing loth,

“The Cowman readily explained the cause of the misfortune by saying, ‘..the poor Cratur never could ‘boide a Stink(!)’ “