Regency Era Servants – Details, Details Part 2

This post is a continuation of the previous one, concentrating on the character of Regency-era servants when working under duress. I think these details are quite illuminating.

The following anecdotes, unless otherwise noted, come from the letters of Lady Williams-Wynn, (Correspondence of Charlotte Grenville, Lady Williams Wynn; edited by Rachel Frances Marion Leighton, 1920 – my copy is from archive.org).

In 1820, her ladyship wrote in horrified tones to her daughter-in-law concerning the destruction of Wotton House. This fine Queen Anne mansion in Buckinghamshire was the ancestral home of the politically powerful Grenville family.

Built in the English Baroque style, with square apartments and high ceilings, Wotton’s design readily explains its destruction, although that circumstance was not apparent right away. A fire started in the room next to the nursery and soon flames were shooting straight up through the ceiling. Unfortunately, the copper roof confined the heat and flames to the attic, which ran the length of the mansion, and so the fire spread outwards from end to end of Wotton. The fire then traveled back down into the house by the only avenues of escape–the wooden staircases at either end and down the center of Wotton.

A fire that might have damaged one part of the house ended up burning the whole to the ground.

Wotton House, rebuilt by noted architect John Soane, neo-classical architect to the Regency
photo by By Mark Edwards, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia

Lady Williams-Wynn grew up at Wotton. She witnessed many poignant events there, including the untimely deaths of her parents.

“You will easily believe what a pang it has given me to think that all which was associated with my earliest and tenderest recollections should be wiped off from the face of the earth..”

— Lady W.W. to Fanny W.W. Nov. 5th, 1820

Wotton was the home of Lord Temple, son and heir to the duke of Buckingham and Chandos. He, along with his wife and baby daughter, Lady Anna, were in residence at the time of the fire. Their child was only nine months old, having been born earlier in the year in February. Lady W.W. expressed great astonishment that Lady Anna might have died in the fire but for the efforts of his lordship’s valet.

“We are all wonder at hearing from all sides of the peril of the poor Baby without one word being said of its Nurse..”

Imagine the chagrin of poor Nanny. Of all persons present in the house, she should have been the one to rescue her charge. Instead, the business had been left to the valet. One must wonder at Lady Temple’s domestic arrangements for the valet to be present at that particular moment in that part of the house (!)

Moseley, my favorite valet. He had other occupations as well, and now he returns to Downton Abbey to serve the King and Queen.
photo from fandom.com

Such a destructive fire bore investigation and Nanny provided an important clue. It was she, and not the valet, who was the first to see the smoke traveling across the wooden beams of the nursery ceiling. It was she, and not the valet, who picked up Baby and fled. I surmise she delivered her charge into the care of his lordship’s man in order to race back to the nursery to save irreplaceable mementos, such as the child’s christening gown.

Holding the Lady Anna in his arms, the valet could not refuse the hero’s mantle.

Several years earlier, in 1814,* Lady W.W. described the following incident concerning the eccentric daughter-in-law of fellow Whigs, Lord and Lady Melbourne. Apparently, this unfortunate occurrence was all the ton could talk about–the on-dit of that autumn.

The ‘wretched’ Lady Caroline Lamb, as Lady W.W. called her, was already a figure of scandal by the time this latest outrage occurred. Earlier in the year she’d embarked on a well-publicized affair with Lord Byron, having met him in that Whig stronghold, Holland House.

Lady Caroline Lamb by Phillips
She had a thing for pages.

After the affair ended, a surgeon was called to Lady Caroline’s house. One of her pages had suffered a serious injury. Apparently the lad refused to make proper obeisance to her ladyship and received a blow to the head. The offender insisted her instrument of correction was a broomstick and not the poker lying nearby.

In any case, all doubted the boy’s survival.

“It is certainly an extraordinary test of the good humour and kindness of Lord and Lady Melbourne to endure such an inmate, but it is said they do now profess they can bear it no longer.”

It appears Caro’s abusive behavior toward her servants, particularly her pages, was well-known among the ton. Her fellow novelist and confidante, Sydney, Lady Morgan recorded as much in her diary. Caroline did nothing to dispel this, admitting that when she and her page played with squibs, (little firecrackers shaped into balls), the horseplay was often quite boisterous.

On one occasion, the boy threw his squib in the fire. Scolding him, Lady Caroline threw hers at his head.

“It hit him on the temple, and he bled. He cried out, ‘O my Lady, you have killed me!’ Out of my senses, I flew into the hall and screamed, ‘Oh God, I have murdered the page!’ ”

Lady Morgan’s Memoirs: Autobiography, diaries and correspondence by Sydney, Lady Morgan, ed. W. H. Dixon

Vol II (1863)

“The Page Affair,” as Lady Caroline called it, is very well explained here. Some scholars believe these tales of abuse were really a metaphor to describe Caro’s relationship with Lord Byron–that the “pages,” hers and Byron’s, were their literary creations.

Lady W.W. was not impressed, but Lady Cork, famous for her salons and conversation, was.

“..she has persuaded the ton she is a second Lady Cork, to whose salons it is an honor to be invited..She sounds very disagreeable.”

She told Lady Morgan, perhaps teasingly, that she meant to send one of her own naughty pages to Lady Caroline to be reformed. She heard the Melbournes’ daughter-in-law was well-qualified in this regard:

“..’tis said she broke her page’s head with a teapot the other day.”

Loyal to dear Caro, Lady Morgan protested the whole thing was quite untrue–a Tory rumor.

Lady Cork didn’t care if the tale was true or not.

“..all pages are better for having their heads sometimes broken.”

 

*This letter describing the poker incident is undated. The editor placed it among the writer’s correspondence in the fall of 1814.

Regency Family Disaster: Disinheritance

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:

Lord Belfast, when he later become 3rd Marquess Donegal

Lord Belfast, when he later become 3rd Marquess Donegal

“…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:

Lady Glengall - "that little she-attorney"

Lady Glengall – “that little she-attorney”

“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.

Harriet, Marchioness of Donegal

Harriet, Marchioness of Donegal

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.