Category Archives: Peers and Gentry

The Duke Buys a Wife

Once upon a time in December 1744…

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Selling a Wife by Thomas Rowlandson (1812-14)

An ostler named Jefferyes decides to rid himself of his wife. He ties a halter around her neck and hauls her, like he would any poor beast, to an inn in Newbury called The Pelican.  Inside, the second Duke of Chandos and his companion are dining and notice a commotion taking place in the yard outside.

“Wife for sale” somebody shouts. “He’s leading her around by a halter,” shouts another. “Whoopie,” shouts a third.

“What can this be?” thinks the duke. It’s not everyday he gets to witness the sale and purchase of a female, though wife selling is not an uncommon occurrence. In the days pre-dating divorce, how else is a fellow to ameliorate his unsatisfying experiences at home?  He cannot kill her, or at least he ought not.  No, auctioning her to the highest bidder is the right of the common man, and the duke decides he may as well see what’s being offered before he repairs to London.

Together with his companion, he ventures into the yard only to be struck by Cupid’s arrow.  “Damnation,” thinks the duke.  His father died this past August and because of the South Sea Bubble, the duke is left with a miserly inheritance.  He cannot afford a blinding attraction to an ostler’s wife, but it’s not like he’s going to marry her.  Even so… The beautiful creature before him has been humbled.  She is not prideful but submits to her husband’s indictments, peeping not a word.  Some who witness the scene later imagine the ostler has beaten her, and the duke swoops in as her noble rescuer. Others say the duke is so sympathetic to her plight that he believes it better to be sold by a villain than to bed down with one. Either way, he’s so overwhelmed by her charms he cannot help himself.  

He buys her.

Still from The Slipper and the Rose (cinderella story)

And so Ann Jeffreyes, chambermaid, is at one moment the unwanted wife of an ostler and the next the property of a duke. “How unbelievable,” she must think to herself. “How terrifying and exciting.”  And then, “Yes, I’ll marry you!”

It’s true. Henry Brydges, the widower Duke of Chandos, makes his pretty purchase a duchess and a Cinderella story is born.  He and Ann give life to every servant girl’s dream: one doesn’t have to be born a lady to become one.  One only needs to be sold and purchased.  Preferably with a duke attending her auction, but there’s always earls and viscounts to be had…

Susan Ardelie is the author of Shadow Fire Lady, the first book in the Incorporeal Lords series, a historical paranormal romance.  

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Handsome Devils and Their Digs: 1st Baron Dover

May I introduce you to this handsome fellow,

George Agar-Ellis, 1st Lord Dover, by Thomas Lawrence (1823)

his digs,

Gowran Castle, Kilkenny Ireland

and his lady wife,

Georgina Agar Ellis, Lady Dover, 19th century

Lady Dover and son Henry, attributed to Joseph Lee, after Joshua Reynolds (1832 or thereabouts).  You can also view her here.

George Agar-Ellis, 1st Baron Dover, was husband to the charming Lady Georgina, nee Howard.  He was also the father of four children, two boys (3rd and 5th Baron Dover) and two girls.

The house engraving confused me at first because a mansion is depicted, yet it is called Gowran Castle.  This is because the mansion was built on the grounds on the old castle, which was purchased by the Agar family during the Restoration, and I guess they just kept the name.  The first Agar to hold it, James Agar, Esq, expended a considerable amount in 1713 to improve the castle by casing it in stone and raising its front to two stories.  Unfortunately, by the time of its tear down date in 1816, the castle was in ruins.

I would have liked to find an image of the castle in its pre or post-remodeled glory because the old castle has a fascinating history. During the Third English Civil War, it was an important stronghold when Oliver Cromwell’s forces seized it and shot all within–except the dude who had given them the key to the castle.  He was pardoned, and Cromwell then ordered the Franciscan friar inside to be hanged and the castle burned to the ground.

After the Third Civil War ended, the remains were seized from the royalist Butler family and given to the Lord Deputy of Ireland.  Eventually, James, Duke of York, was granted a number of “forfeited” Irish properties and filled his coffers by selling them. James Agar, Esq. purchased from York, and was the last to put his stamp on the castle.

Gowran Castle post-1819 was the seat of the Viscounts of Clifden and would have been George Agar-Ellis, 1st Baron Dover’s, home had he not predeceased his father, Henry Agar-Ellis, 2nd Viscount Clifden. Lord Dover died when he was just 36, but he managed to cram in a considerable amount of accomplishments during his life.

George Agar-Ellis, Baron Dover

Study for Patrons and Lovers of Art by Pieter Christoffel Wonder (1826-1830)

Lord Dover is on the left

© National Portrait Gallery, London

When doing these posts, I like to think about what type of man I’m writing about, and I think that Lord Dover seemed not so much a devil as he was a kind, considerate man.  During his earliest youth, the borough of Gowran was described in one church record as being filled with “wretched habitations” that contributed very little to the borough’s taxable base–essentially the community was poverty stricken.  The 19th century Gowran house would have been the nicest abode around.  Lord Dover grew up to be sensitive and liberal-thinking, a self described “decided reformer” and Whig politican, maybe as a result of his personal and familial history.   His ancestors hailed from the French Comte Venaissin, who fled France due to religious persecution.  A collector of fine art, he was also a man of letters who rescued and edited his family’s letters on the Revolution, 1686-88, from the British Library where they languished in obscurity because he thought them important to English history.  He also wrote a number of books including The True History of the State Prisoner: Commonly Called the Iron Mask, mostly because he found the original history written by Monsieur Delort convoluted and and excessively flattering to King Louis XIV.  Yes, the thoughtful Lord Dover was offended that Delort bestowed compliments on the monarch while “recording one of the most cruel and oppressive acts of the Sovereign’s cruel and oppressive reign.”  See what I mean by sensitive?  His obituary is quite lengthy and lists him “involved [in] the cause of learning, the fine or useful arts, charities, and the improvement of people.”

I think he might be the least eligible “devil” I’ve written about, but it’s refreshing to have a nice guy around these parts once in a while.  You can see more pictures of Lord Dover at the National Portrait Gallery, and if you’ve an exceptionally good eye, you can play where’s Lord Dover in famous Trial of Queen Caroline by Sir George Hayter.  Good luck!

The Lady in the Punchbowl

Lady Diana was an heiress worth £30,000 and a renowned Elizabethan beauty. She married firstly Henry de Vere, 18th Earl of Oxford, who died within a year of their nuptials following a fever after a battle.  She later joined with with the 1st Earl of Elgin, ancestor of Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl Elgin, and acquirer of the eponymous Elgin marbles.

Below is Lady Diana painted in typical William Larkin fashion.  Ever present Larkin curtains notwithstanding, I like the portrait, especially the gathered/Elizabethan-version-of-lasered details on the front on her gown.  I haven’t a clue what the technique is actually called, but it looks like she got in a creative sword-fight  on her way to the portrait being painted.  Maybe that offers at least one possibility for her expression. Frankly, it’s better than this  (very nice embroidery, btw) or this (they say).

lady diana, countess of Elgin by William LarkinLady Diana Cecil by William Larkin, (1614-18) (Ranger’s House, Suffolk Collection)

Lady Diana’s grave (known as ‘the lady in the punchbowl’) was a subject of humor for Horace Walpole who visited the Ailesbury Mausoleum* in 1771:

“At two miles from Houghton Park is the mausoleum of the Bruces, where I saw the most ridiculous monument of one of Lady Ailesbury’s predecessors that was ever imagined. I beg she will never keep such company. In the midst of of an octagon chapel is the tomb of Diana, Countess of Oxford and Elgin. From a huge unwieldy base of white marble rises a black marble cistern; literally a cistern that would serve for an eating room. In the midst of all this, to the knees, stands her Ladyship in her white domino or shroud, with her left hand erect as giving her blessing. It put me in mind of Mrs. Cavendish when she got drunk in the bathing tub.”

Mrs Cavendish is not specified by the editor of Walpole’s letter. It could be either Barbara Cavendish, daughter of the Bishop of Durham, or Elizabeth Cavendish, the bishop’s niece by marriage to his eldest son.

*The Ailesbury Mausoleum brochure has a picture of Lady Diana’s tomb.

Married By Morning: A True Story

Elizabeth Gunning by Gavin Hamilton 1752-3, commission by Duke of Hamilton

Portrait of Duchess of Hamilton by Gavin Hamilton (1752-53) Commissioned by the Duke of Hamilton

He first sees her at an Opera House masquerade.  She is the shy Gunning sister, demure compared with the spirited and more beautiful Maria, but the Duke of Hamilton is fascinated.  Spurned by his former fiancée Elizabeth Chudleigh eight years prior, the bachelor Hamilton is freshly returned from his second continental tour.  He sets foot in London when the Irish Miss Gunnings are the toast of town.  They are 17 and 18, heralded as THE diamonds of 1752 despite hailing from an impoverished gentry, and soon the Duke of Hamilton will make one of them his duchess.

On the night of February 24, 1752 the dissolute gambler and drunkard, who is known to begin drinking anew as soon as his hangover diminishes, is hours away from the altar.  Gossip would later say he acted upon a wager during a binge, but either way, the result is the same.

At a ball thrown by Lord Chesterfield to celebrate his sparkling new Grosvenor residence on South Audley Street, the duke sets his sights on Elizabeth Gunning.  She is dressed in a simple Quaker’s gown and no sooner is his proposal aired than they are spirited away to Mr. Keith’s Chapel, the so-called “Gretna Green of Mayfair.”  The hour is midnight, and with one of the chaplains awakened, the ceremony on Curzon Street commences.  A curtain ring, you must know, is used in place of a jewel.

By earliest morning your graces are married and proceed immediately to the Hamilton seat of Sunburn in Hampshire for their honeymoon.  By the middle of March, the new duchess is presented at Court and come March 30th, they depart for Scotland before a crowd gathered outside Hamilton’s townhouse on St. George Street.  The duke, who proves a much better suitor than a husband, dies six years later and the ever successful Elizabeth goes on to bag a second duke, the Duke of Argyll.

Elizabeth Gunning by Sir Joshua Reynolds

The Duchess of Argyll by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1760)

Lord Chesterfield on Trivial Pursuits, Day 7 REPOST

Originally posted 1/2/11

Dear Lord Chesterfield,

As a lady of substantial cranial proportions, I say with all humility that I simply cannot countenance the follies of my age.  To dance and make merry?  Bah!  ‘Tis a waste of sturdy, spinster feet.  Likewise, I do not care to garland my person in the most dear and newfangled fashions, thereby bankrupting my paltry accounts, simply to join in the happy pursuits of society.  Yet what choice have I but to make myself a lemming?

Verily Yours,

Miss Anthrope

Marie-Adelaide de Bourbon, one of Louis XV’s spinster daughters

Dear Miss Anthrope:

In truth, whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well; and nothing can be done well without attention: I therefore carry the necessity of attention down to the lowest things, even to dancing and dress. Custom has made dancing sometimes necessary for a young [wo]man; therefore mind it while you learn it that you may learn to do it well, and not be ridiculous, though in a ridiculous act. Dress is of the same nature; you must dress; therefore attend to it; not in order to rival or to excel a fop in it, but in order to avoid singularity, and consequently ridicule. Take great care always to be dressed like the reasonable people of your own age, in the place where you are; whose dress is never spoken of one way or another, as either too negligent or too much studied.

Adieu!

From Bath, October 9, O.S. 1746

Missed the previous Lord Chesterfield’s posts? See On Friendship and On Giving Compliments and On Domestic Affairs and On Secrets and On Political Atmosphere.
 

Lord Chesterfield on Political Atmosphere, Day 6 REPOST

Originally posted 12/31/10

Dear Lord Chesterfield,

I solemly swear before God and country that all politicians are liars and thieves!  They never accomplish what they vow, and upon my soul, there is a not a noble man among such a house of fools.  I dare say, in the next election I will not suffer to vote.  What say you on this most important matter?  Given the day’s unsavory climate, am I wrong to feel apathetic towards these demmed pimps?

Verily Yours,

Straight Suffering from Lack of Having Sovereigns

joseph, baron ducreux

Dear Straight Suffering, etc., etc.,

Another very just observation of the Cardinal’s [de Retz] is, That the things which happen in our own times, and which we see ourselves, do not surprise us near so much as the things which we read of in times past, though not in the least more extraordinary; and adds, that he is persuaded that when Caligula made his horse a Consul, the people of Rome, at that time, were not greatly surprised at it, having necessarily been in some degree prepared for it, by an insensible gradation of extravagances from the same quarter. This is so true that we read every day, with astonishment, things which we see every day without surprise. We wonder at the intrepidity of a Leonidas, a Codrus, and a Curtius; and are not the least surprised to hear of a sea-captain, who has blown up his ship, his crew, and himself, that they might not fall into the hands of the enemies of his country. I cannot help reading of Porsenna and Regulus, with surprise and reverence, and yet I remember that I saw, without either, the execution of Shepherd,—[James Shepherd, a coach-painter’s apprentice, was executed at Tyburn for high treason, March 17, 1718, in the reign of George I.]—a boy of eighteen years old, who intended to shoot the late king, and who would have been pardoned, if he would have expressed the least sorrow for his intended crime; but, on the contrary, he declared that if he was pardoned he would attempt it again; that he thought it a duty which he owed to his country, and that he died with pleasure for having endeavored to perform it. Reason equals Shepherd to Regulus; but prejudice, and the recency of the fact, make Shepherd a common malefactor and Regulus a hero.

Adieu!

From London, September 13, O.S. 1748

Missed the previous Lord Chesterfield’s posts? See On Friendship and On Giving Compliments and On Domestic Affairs and On Secrets.

Lord Chesterfield on Secrets, Day 5 REPOST

Originally posted 12/30/10

Dear Lord Chesterfield,

Recently at a party a most scintillating secret was relayed to me by an acquaintance and I simply cannot bear to keep it to myself!  If I go and whisper this trifle of a tale to say, a few of the fashionable ladies with whom I play the lute , would this be a violent breach of trust?  The secret did, after all, come by way of a rakish acquaintance.

Verily Yours,

The Gossipmongering Gent from Kent

Dear Gossipmongering Gent from Kent,

My word of advice from the Cardinal de Retz is, “That a secret is more easily kept by a good many people, than one commonly imagines.” By this he means a secret of importance, among people interested in the keeping of it. And it is certain that people of business know the importance of secrecy, and will observe it, where they are concerned in the event. To go and tell any friend, wife, or mistress, any secret with which they have nothing to do, is discovering to them such an unretentive weakness, as must convince them that you will tell it to twenty others, and consequently that they may reveal it without the risk of being discovered. But a secret properly communicated only to those who are to be concerned in the thing in question, will probably be kept by them though they should be a good many. Little secrets are commonly told again, but great ones are generally kept.

 Adieu!

From London, September 13, O.S. 1748

Missed the previous Lord Chesterfield’s posts? See On Friendship and On Giving Compliments and On Domestic Affairs.

Lord Chesterfield on Domestic Affairs, Day 4 REPOST

Originally posted 12/29/10

Dear Lord Chesterfield,

After fighting with my beau, I decided to confide the subject of our quarrel to several of my closest friends. Now I’m afraid I have made a mess of the situation, for where my beau and I have promptly forgotten our dispute, my friends, taking my momentary poor constitution to heart, now quite thoroughly detest him! As the damage is already done (and woefully irreversible in the near future) what advice have you to offer so I do not err further?

A Whimsical Woman

Dear A Whimsical Woman,

Cautiously avoid talking of either your own or other people’s domestic affairs. Yours are nothing to them, but tedious; theirs are nothing to you. The subject is a tender one; and it is odds but you touch somebody or other’s sore place; for in this case there is no trusting specious appearances, which may be, and often are, so contrary to the real situations of things between men and their wives, parents and their children, seeming friends, etc., that, withthe best intentions in the world, one often blunders, disagreeably.

From Bath, October 29, O.S. 1748

Come back the day after tomorrow for Lord Chesterfield on Secrets

Missed the previous Lord Chesterfield’s posts? See On Friendshipand On Giving Compliments.

Lord Chesterfield on Giving Compliments, Day 3 REPOST

Originally posted 12/28/10

Dear Lord Chesterfield,

I was recently watching a splendid film called ‘Pride and Prejudice’ (centuries ahead of your time, I’m afraid, old boy) and couldn’t help but cringe upon the following scene involving how to (or how not to) give delicate compliments.

Mr. Collins (the creepy toad): It’s been many years since I had such an exemplary vegetable.

Mr. Bennet: How happy for you, Mr. Collins, to possess a talent for flattering with such . . . delicacy.

Elizabeth Bennet (the serpent-tongued yet lovely chit): Do these pleasing attentions proceed from the impulse of the moment, or are they the result of previous study?

Mr. Collins: They arise chiefly from what is passing of the time. And though I do sometimes amuse myself with arranging such little elegant compliments, I always wish to give them as unstudied an air as possible.

Elizabeth Bennet: Oh, believe me, no one would suspect your manners to be rehearsed.

I trust you can see how I would positively shudder at being considered a Mr. Collins.  Please do advise.

Lost in Austen

Dear Lost in Austen:

You will easily discover every man’s prevailing vanity by observing his favourite topic of conversation; for every man talks most of what he has most a mind to be thought to excel in.  Touch him there, and you touch him to the quick. 

Do not mistake me, and think that I mean to recommend you to abject and criminal flattery: no; flatter nobody’s vices or crimes: on the contrary, abhor and discourage them.  But there is no living in the world without a complaisant indulgence for people’s weaknesses, and innocent, though ridiculous vanities.  If a man has a mind to be thought wiser, and a woman handsomer, than they really are, their error is a comfortable one to themselves, and an innocent one with regard to other people; and I would rather make them my friends by indulging them in it, than my enemies by endeavouring (and that to no purpose) to undeceive them.

There are little attentions, likewise, which are infinitely engaging, and which sensibly affect that degree of pride and self-love, which is inseperable from human nature; as they are unquestionable proofs of the regard and consideration which we have for the persons to whom we pay them.   As for example: to observe the little habits, the likings, the antipathies, and the tastes of those whom we would gain; and then take care to provide them with the one, and to secure them from the other; giving them genteely to understand, that you had ovserved to like such a dish or such a room; for which reason you had prepared it: or, on the contrary having observed they had an aversion to such a dish, dislike to such a person, etc., you had taken care to avoid presenting them.  Such attention to such trifles flatters self-love much more than greater things, as it makes people think themselves almost the only objects of your care and thoughts.

Adieu!

From London, October 16, O.S. 1747

So why did Mr. Collins blunder?  First he asked which cousin to compliment on such a fine meal (An insult.  The Bennet’s were well-off enough to have a cook.  Harrumph!)  Then, he proceeded to compliment them on boiled potatoes, calling such a basic and ordinary food exemplary.  Yikes!  Hopefully none of you endured this sort of exchange over Christmas dinner.

Don’t forget to come back tomorrow for Lord Chesterfield on Domestic Affairs!

Missed the previous day?  Lord Chesterfield on Friendship

Lord Chesterfield on Friendship, Day 2 REPOST

Originally posted 12/27/10

Dear Lord Chesterfield,

I find myself in a common predicament these days: I have an abundance of friends when I have no real need of them and few friends when I do. What, pray, is the difference between a true friend and friend to pass the time, and why, when in most cases companionship is not wanting, should I care?

Adrift and Addlepated

Dear Adrift and Addlepated,

People of your age have, commonly, an unguarded frankness about them; which makes them the easy prey and bubbles of the artful and the inexperienced: they look upon every knave, or fool, who tells them that he is their friend, to be really so; and pay that profession of simulated friendship, with an indiscreet and unbounded confidence, always to their loss, often to their ruin. Beware, therefore, now that you are coming into the world, of these proffered friendships. Receive them with great civility, but with great incredulity too; and pay them with compliments, but not with confidence. Do not let your vanity, and self-love, make you suppose that people become your friends at first sight, or even upon a short acquaintance. Real friendship is a slow grower; and never thrives, unless ingrafted upon a stock of known and reciprocal merit.

There is another kind of nominal friendship, among young people, which is warm for a time, but, by good luck, of short duration. This friendship is hastily produced, by their being accidentally thrown together, and pursuing the same course of riot and debauchery. A fine friendship, truly! and well cemented by drunkeness and lewdness. It should rather be called a conspiracy against morals and good manners, and be punished as such by the civil magistrate. However, they have the impudence, and folly, to call this confederacy a friendship. They lend one another money, for bad purposes; they engage in quarrels, offensive and defensive, for their accomplices; they tell one another all they know, and often more too; when, of a sudden, some incident disperses them, and they think no more of each other, unless it be to betray and laugh at their imprudent confidence. Remember to make a great difference between companions and friends, for a very complaisant and agreeable companion may, and often does, prove a very improper and a very dangerous friend.

Adieu!

From London, October 9, O.S. 1747.

Missed the first post The Sagacious Letters of Lord Chesterfield?

Come back the day after tomorrow for Lord Chesterfield on Giving Compliments!