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Martyn Downer

The earl, his wife, and a scandal after Waterloo

On May 25th, 2015 Martyn Downer wrote on the subject of Listed for sale at My Family Silver.

A matched silver and Old Sheffield Plate rectangular entree dish and cover with gadroon edging; the silver cover made by Benjamin Smith, London 1819 (marks rubbed) with contemporary presentation inscription within armorial above motto: COELUM NON ANIMUM, with matched Old Sheffield plate dish and handle

Engraved: Presented by Lieut Col.the Rt. Hon Earl of Waldegrave to his brother officers of the 54th Regt. As a mark of his esteem & respect 1st Jany 1819 .

Overall length: 325mm / 12 3/4 inches; overall width: 245mm / 9 5/8 inches, overall height approx: 125mm / 5 inches

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The silver cover to this dish formed part of a gift by Lieutenant Colonel John Waldegrave, 6th Earl Waldegrave (1785-1835) to his brother officers on his retirement from the 54th Regiment of Foot in 1819.

The second son of George Waldegrave, 4th Earl Waldegrave (1751-1789), John inherited the title when his elder brother, the short lived fifth earl, drowned in the Thames as a schoolboy at Eton. A spendthrift, the 6th earl was the black sheep of a highly distinguished family. The 2nd earl, James Waldegrave (1715-1763) was a confidant of George II for whom he tried to form a government in 1757. He failed in favour of William Pitt the elder but earned the Order of the Garter for his pains.

The 6th earl spurned a life in public service preferring to follow his father into the army, buying a commission in the 55th Foot on leaving Eton in 1801. Over the next few years, by purchase and exchange of commissions, he served in several different regiments: suppressing Luddite disturbances at home and fighting overseas as a Light Dragoon in the Peninsular Campaign. In 1812 he purchased the Lieutenant-Colonelcy of the 54th (West Norfolk) Regiment of Foot leading the regiment during the final years of the Napoleonic War in campaigns in Swedish Pomerania on the Baltic coast, Northern Germany and the Netherlands. At Waterloo, the 54th was in the 4th Division which formed part of II Corps commanded by General Hill who was charged with defending Wellington’s right flank and the route to the Channel ports. As such the regiment played no part in the action but it did capture Cambrai in the aftermath and then follow the army of occupation to Paris where Waldegrave was appointed to the duke of Wellington’s staff.

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In 1811, John mother Elizabeth Laura Waldegrave, Countess of Waldegrave (1760-1816) was ceded ownership of Strawberry Hill, the famed gothic villa of her late great uncle Horace Walpole (1717-1797). To secure his inheritance,her cash-strapped son sought to legitimize his long-term relationship with Ann King, the daughter of an army chaplain with whom he already had at least one child John, born in 1814 . Ahead of Waterloo, rumours circulated in the army that the earl had already illicitly married Ann. In April 1815, General Hill’s ADC Captain Digby Mackworth of the 7th Foot commented that “[Lord Waldegrave] has greatly distressed his family by a very impudent marriage. Many people think the marriage has not actually taken place, though he introduces the lady whereever as Lady Waldegrave. I know nothing of him but his appearance and manner are not those of a sensible man, and I am sure his conduct might even a fool blush to be guilty of it”.

To scotch the gossip, and with Ann pregnant again,  the couple married in Paris on 3rd October 1815 after the fall of the city to the allies when the earl was serving on the staff of the duke of Wellington. Four months later, on 6 February 1816, George (later 7th Earl Waldegrave) was born at the family residence in London, the first of several more children.

Nevertheless, the Waldegraves wedding in Paris, hastily conducted in the aftermath of Waterloo, came back to haunt the earl’s family and to embroil the ageing duke of Wellington in legal proceedings. After the 6th earl’s death in 1835, the legitimacy of George to succeed as 7th earl was challenged by the late earl’s younger brother on the basis that marriage overseas by a serving officer was only permitted by English law during actual hostilities, within British lines, and that the ceremony should have been authorised in advance by the 6th earl’s commanding officer, Wellington.

On 14 July 1837, the case reached the House of Lords. The Rev William Cantley who had conducted the ceremony in Paris, at the Hotel Sebastiani where the earl was lodged, accepted that permission was needed for the marriage of private soldiers serving overseas but he was unaware it was required for colonels. However, some officers were present at the ceremony and “there was no attempt at secrecy that I know of”.

The duke of Wellington was then summoned to give evidence and to be cross-examined. He stated that the earl was lodged in Paris just 150 yards from his own headquarters, well within the legal jurisdiction of the army of occupation which, despite the return to power of the French King Louis XVIII, extended across Paris. “I do not recollect hearing of the marriage before it took place” said the duke but he was satisfied that the marriage met the legal criteria of being conducted within British lines.

Counsel for Captain Waldegrave again argued that, as it had been completed after the end of hostilities, the marriage should have been conducted either under French law or in a recognised British place of worship, such as the British ambassador’s chapel in Paris. But the lawyer faced an impossible task persuading the judge against the testimony of the duke of Wellington who was the hero of Waterloo and, by then, a former prime minister. The case was thrown out clearing the way for George to succeed as 7th earl.

But that was not quite the end of the story. The 7th earl was even more irresponsible and hopeless with money than his father. In 1840 he married his elder illegitimate brother’s nineteen year old widow Frances (1821-79). A year later, she joined her husband in Queen’s Bench prison where he had been confined for a year for drunkenly assaulting a police officer. On his release, steeped in debt, George sold by auction the magnificent contents of Strawberry Hill although following his early death due to his excess drinking in 1846, Frances re-married and returned to the near-derelict mansion to restore it.

On the death of the 7th earl, the 6th earl’s brother William Waldegrave, promoted admiral since the infamous court case, finally inherited his longed-for title, aged 58.







Martyn Downer

“We are King’s Dragoon Guards – not Royals”

On May 1st, 2015 Martyn Downer wrote on the subject of Listed for sale at My Family Silver.


This silver tray was presented by the surviving officers of the King’s Dragoon Guards to their army agent Edmund Hopkinson after the battle of Waterloo . Raised in 1685, the King’s Dragoon Guards (which continues today as 1st The Queen’s Dragoon Guards) is the oldest cavalry line regiment in the British Army.

The KDG had remained in England during the Napoleonic Wars but following Napoleon’s return from Elba in April 1815 four squadrons or eight troops of the regiment (consisting of 27 officers and 505 troopers) led by Lieutenant Colonel William Fuller were ordered to join the Allied army assembling under the duke of Wellington’s command in Belgium.

On arrival, they were brigaded with the Life Guards and Royal Horse Guards (the Blues) under Major General Lord Edward Somerset to form the Household Cavalry Brigade. With the Union Brigade of Greys, Royal Dragoons and Inniskillings under Major General William Ponsonby; they completed the heavy cavalry division of the army under the overall leadership of the Marquess of Uxbridge.

After two months of reviews and preparations bivouacked in the Dender Valley, early on 16 June the brigade was ordered to Quatre Bras but arrived too late for the costly but indecisive action there between Wellington’s vanguard and Napoleon’s advancing army. The next day the KDG covered the army as it fell back to Waterloo, near Brussels, where Wellington had resolved to stand and face Napoleon. Several times during the withdrawal, the KDG and other heavy cavalry units charged the French as they pursued the allied infantry up the road.

On the morning of 18 June, the heavy cavalry formed up in the centre of the British position about 200 yards behind the infantry and the ridge of Mont St Jean. The KDG were in the front rank of the Household Brigade, to the right of the Brussels road. There they waited until about 1.30pm when Napoleon, frustrated in his efforts to secure Hougoumont farm, launched 4 divisions of troops supported by an artillery barrage and a brigade of Cuirassiers at the heart of the allied line. At this critical moment, Uxbridge unleashed the heavy cavalry: the Union brigade tore into the French infantry  whilst the KDG and Life Guards swept down and met the Cuirassiers full on.

The impact of the charge had devastating consequences – for both sides. The KDG charge was split by the buildings at La Haye Sainte and in the mad confusion which followed, men and horses became disorientated and ill-disciplined, some galloping straight through the French lines to become isolated and easy prey for the Cuirassiers to pick off. Five of the KDG’s eight troops were wiped out and six officers killed or missing, including Colonel Fuller. But the charge was a body blow to Napoleon: stopping his advance and scattering the Cuirassiers. As the exhausted horsemen returned to the British lines, an officer of the Royal Dragoons called for them to rally on him only to be hear the defiant reply: “We are King’s Dragoon Guards – not Royals”.

After a lull, the French unleashed wave upon wave of cavalry against the British centre, forcing the infantry into squares whilst the remnants of the British heavy cavalry repeatedly counter charged. By six, the entire Household Brigade was down to about 100 men and horses. The Union Brigade had fared no better so the two brigades joined up and rallied in a final and desperate show of strength, their horses blown and subjected to constant artillery and musket fire they watched as the battle reached its crisis point.

All seemed lost but slowly more and more Prussian troops arrived on the British left, releasing British divisions to bolster Wellington’s fragile centre until, imperceptibly at first then in a rout, the French left turned, crumbled and fled chased by the exhausted remnants of the heavy cavalry. The battle was won but at appalling cost for the KDG. Out about 530 KDG who had paraded that morning only 15 were still in action at the end of the day. Others  - wounded or lost on the battlefield – eventually made their way back but the losses were still terrible: 129 killed  and 134 wounded. In addition, 269 horses were killed.

The dead included 7 of the KDG’s 26 officers. It was these survivors who, on their eventual return to England in May 1816, presented this silver tray to their banker and army agent Edmund Hopkinson (1787-1869), of Hopkinson and Sons, St James’s probably for arranging the distribution of prize money after the battle. This was a sum of money awarded to soldiers of the British Army after victories, paid from the value of captured enemy property.

The money was a reward, but it was also meant to encourage soldiers to fight aggressively and force the enemy to flee and abandon their possessions. Dividing the money amongst all the soldiers helped discourage individuals from looting in the middle of the battle – although this undoubtably did occur.

For Waterloo the sum amounted to the huge amount of £978,850-15s-4d. In 2015, this amount of money would be worth over £63 million. Private soldiers received £2-11s-4d each (in today’s money c. £200), sergeants  £19s-4s-4d each, subalterns £34-14s-9d , £90-7s-3d for captains,£433-2s-4d for field officers and £1,274-10s-10d for each general officer. As commander-in-chief, the Duke of Wellington received the largest share of £61,178-3s-5d halfpenny (about £4.9 million today).

In his diary, Captain James Naylor, a KDG officer wounded at Waterloo, notes regular visits to Hopkinson’s bank to draw funds or pay annuities at least until the end of 1817. As their agent Hopkinson was not only responsible for managing the officers’ personal and prize money but also for broking the purchase and sale of their commissions.

Edmund Hopkinson printed by Maxim Gauci, after Eden Upton Eddis

Edmund Hopkinson
printed by Maxim Gauci, after Eden Upton Eddis Courtesy NPG, London.

Hopkinson & Sons was founded about 1796 by Edmund Hopkinson’s father Lieutenant Colonel George Cesar Hopkinson (c 1738-1825), formerly of the 15th Light Dragoons.  In 1816, the firm moved from premises off Jermyn Street, St James’s to 34 Pall Mall which Admiral Lord Nelson’s banker and prize agent Alexander Davison (1750-1829) had recently vacated. It appears Edmund Hopkinson left the family bank in about 1826 to purchase Edgworth Manor near Bristol and pursue the life of a landed gentleman. He built an important library and collection of antiquities, becoming a magistrate, deputy lieutenant and latterly High Sheriff of Gloucestershire.  The bank eventually failed in 1903.






Martyn Downer

Captain Coram’s Cup

On April 7th, 2015 Martyn Downer wrote on the subject of Listed for sale at My Family Silver.



A Fine George I documented silver-gilt cup and cover by Richard Bayley, London 1721
Plain, inverted bell-shape on spreading circular foot, with two scroll handles and detachable domed cover.
In original leather, wood and felt shaped fitted case
Height: 174mm / 6 3/4 inches
Weight: 482 grams / 15 oz

Captain Thomas Coram (c.1668-1751)
By his gift to his nephew Thomas Corham (1720-) of Kinterbury, Devon
By descent to Mrs Thomasine Shepheard (c1787-) of Plymouth, Devon, (the great niece of Captain Coram).
Property of a Gentleman; sold Christies, London, 10 July 1996
Private Collection

This re-discovered cup was gifted by Captain Thomas Coram (c 1668-1751), a seaman, ship builder, radical thinker and philanthropist, whose indefatigable efforts to relieve the suffering of London’s abandoned and starving children led to the establishment of the Foundling Hospital. Born in Lyme Regis, Dorset, Coram went to sea aged just eleven before returning to apprentice for a shipwright on the Thames.

In 1694, after impressing the admiralty and consortium of London merchants, he was put in charge of a new yard at Taunton near Boston, Massachusetts to build ships and secure sources of timber for the Royal Navy. For the next ten years he lived and worked in America but his success and abrupt plain-speaking manner attracted enemies, as did his staunch Anglicanism among his puritan neighbours. He was dogged by litigation, his ships were burned and there was even an attempt on his life. Nevertheless, he continued to espouse radical ideas such as land rights for the native Mohicans, an end to primogeniture and, later, the founding of a colony in America for destitute former soldiers.

Portrait of Captain Coram (c.1668-1751) 1740, Hogarth, William (1697-1764) / © Coram in the care of the Foundling Museum, London / Bridgeman Images

Portrait of Captain Coram (c.1668-1751) 1740, Hogarth, William (1697-1764) / © Coram in the care of the Foundling Museum, London / Bridgeman Images


Coram continued ship building back in England whilst retaining an interest and encouraging investment in the American colonies. For many years he espoused various philanthropic schemes for the colonies including libraries, aid for debtors and support for Anglican missionary work. In London he campaigned for a lighthouse to be built at Boston harbour, his success showing the perseverance and talent for lobbying which led to his later achievement with the hospital. He was also a founding trustee of the new American colony of Georgia, raising funds and seeing off colonists although his objection to a restriction in women’s rights in the new colony led to his disillusionment and resignation.

During the War of Spanish Succession (1701-14) he commanded merchant ships becoming captain. In around 1720, Coram, now comfortably off, settled with his American wife at Rotherhithe, an historic dockyard area populated by merchant seamen and ship builders. Whilst pursuing his business interests across town, Coram, childless himself, was appalled by the sight of abandoned children living and dying on the streets of London. With characteristic zeal and determination, he set about promoting the building of a hospital for foundlings, modelled on examples on the continent. For years, Coram doggedly sought support and patronage for his scheme systematically soliciting support from London’s aristocracy but with little success.

However, he did enjoy enthusiastic help from painter William Hogarth (1697-1764) forging a close association between the future hospital, art and artists. Composer George Frederick Handel (1685-1759) would likewise become a future governor of the hospital. Eventually direct appealing to the emotions of aristocratic women led to a “ladies petition” under the patronage of Queen Caroline and then, in 1737, to the signing, in front of Coram and Hogarth, of a Charter of Incorporation by George II.


The Foundling Hospital

The Foundling Hospital

The Foundling Hospital opened its doors in 1741, first in Hatton Garden then, in 1745, in a purpose built property at Lamb’s Conduit fields adorned with a coat of arms specially designed by Hogarth alongside his magnificent full-length portrait of Coram. Its success was immediate and lasting, alleviating the misery of thousands of children and women, a mission the Coram Foundation continues to this day.
Many of the earliest boys admitted to the Hospital were re-christened Thomas Coram in honour of their saviour although the captain himself, perhaps demonstrating those stubborn traits which had alienated people throughout his life, was eventually excluded from its administration. Nevertheless, it is said that in his last years, Coram, who was childless himself, would sit in the hospital’s colonnade giving out gingerbread to “his” children.

As this cup shows, one child was especially important for Coram, his own god son and namesake Thomas, born in 1720. Thomas was the son of William and Rebecca Corham of Kinterbury in Devon. With scarce records, the direct link between the Captain Coram’s family in Lyme Regis, Dorset and the Corhams of Kinterbury, Devon is unclear although a family pedigree dated 1846 in the Foundling Hospital’s manuscript collection notes the gift of this cup between the families. The cup is also referenced in an early history of the hospital [Brownlow, John Memoranda; Or, Chronicles of the Foundling Hospital Including Memoirs of Captain Coram &c, London 1847] when it was, with other family relics, in the ownership of a Mrs Thomasine Shepheard of Plymouth, Devon. She was said to be a “grand-niece of the Founder of the Hospital” so it is reasonable to assume not only that she inherited the cup from her father Thomas Corham but that he in turn was Captain Coram’s nephew. Such a lavish gift illustrates the importance of the relationship between the families but above all the cup is a touching tribute from the founder of England’s earliest and most famous children’s home to a child he loved.

Further reading:
Brownlow, J., Memoranda: Or, Chronicles of the Foundling Hospital Including Memoirs of Captain Coram &c. (1847)
McClure, R.K., Coram’s Children: the London Foundling Hospital in the Eighteenth Century (1981)
Wagner, G., Thomas Coram, Gent. (2004)
The Cup can also be viewed at

Martyn Downer

Silver Peeler

On March 27th, 2015 Martyn Downer wrote on the subject of Listed for sale at My Family Silver.

Silver soup plate by William Brown, London 1829 from the service of Sir Robert Peel

Silver soup plate by William Brown, London 1829 from the service of Sir Robert Peel

This George IV silver soup plate is from the service of Sir Robert Peel (1788-1850) who was twice Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in 1834-5 and again in 1841-6. In the complicated world of 19th century politics, Peel’s name still uniquely and widely resonates as a colloquial description of the police force he helped to establish.  From a northern mercantile family, Peel rose rapidly through the ranks of the Tory party. As Home Secretary in the 1820′s, he initiated reforms to the criminal justice system and famously established the Metropolitan Police Force in London whose constables were quickly nicknamed “Peelers” or “Bobbies” after their founder, affectionate labeling which survives to this day. Despite his conventional Tory and privileged background, throughout his career Peel betrayed radical leanings supporting Catholic Emancipation,

Sir Robert Peel

Sir Robert Peel

Free Trade, the reform of Parliament and the repeal of the hated Corn Laws, often in the teeth of opposition from party colleagues. Nevertheless, he enjoyed the support of the duke of Wellington and with his patronage became prime minister; first briefly in 1834 then again in 1841 although he always had a difficult relationship with a young Queen Victoria who was in sway to the ageing Whig statesman Lord Melbourne. His second ministry foundered over the fraught issue of the repeal of the Corn Laws. Peel died in his prime in 1850, following a fall from his horse. Had he lived, the rise of liberalism, and the new Liberal Party, may have brought him back to power as intellectually he was closer to William Gladstone than William Pitt.

The plate, originally from a large service, is engraved with the coat of arms granted to Peel’s father Sir Robert Peel, 1st baronet (1750-1830) an industrialist and old-school Tory who enjoyed his own political career as member of parliament  although he never reached the heights of his famous son. One imagines the plate was used at Downing Street during Peel’s tenure and admired by his many distinguished guests and friends.

Coat of arms of Sir Robert Peel: "Ar. three sheaves of as many arrows ppr. banded gu., on a chief az. a bee volant"

Coat of arms of Sir Robert Peel: “Ar. three sheaves of as many arrows ppr. banded gu., on a chief az. a bee volant”


Martyn Downer

The Sheridan Grant silver dishes: love and scandal (and a duel)

On January 16th, 2015 Martyn Downer wrote on the subject of Listed for sale at My Family Silver.


A set of four William IV silver second course dishes each plain shaped circular with gadroon, acanthus leaf and shell border and bowl recess, engraved with two armorials, by John Harris, London 1834.

10 1/2″ (262 mm) diameter; 97 tr.oz. (3019 grams)


1. Arms of SHERIDAN, Vert a lion rampant between three trefoils slipped for Richard Brinsley Sheridan of Frampton (1806-1888) son of Thomas Sheridan and grandson of the playwright and politician Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Motto: CERVUS LECESSITUS LEO; the arms of GRANT: Gu., three eastern crowns or., as borne by Lieut. General Sir Colquhoun Grant quartered with  BROWNE of Frampton: ar., on a chevron sa. between three herons az. as many escallops for Marcia Grant (1815-1882) in pretense


2. Arms of GRANT: Gu., three eastern crowns or. as borne by Lieut. General Sir Colquhoun Grant KCB, (c.1764 -1835) within garter for the Order of the Bath suspending the Grand Cross of the Guelphic Order  and the orders of St Vladimir in Russia and William the Lion in the Netherlands; supporters:  two Hussars of the 15th regiment, mounted with their swords drawn and accoutred. ppr.; motto:  TE FAVENTE VIREBO  


Officer of the Hussars by Theodore Gericault 1814

Officer of the Hussars by Theodore Gericault 1814

For a few days in Spring 1835, reported the gossipy Court Journal, “the fashionable world was in ferment” over the elopement of Miss Marcia Grant, the 19 year old daughter and sole heiress of Waterloo hero General Sir Colquhon Grant, with Brinsley Sheridan, the indigent grandson of the famed Irish playwright and statesman Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816).  “Even Politics – eternal Politics – have been swamped” by interest in the scandal, trilled the correspondent. It had everything required for a good scandal: celebrities, sex and money as Marcia would one day inherit Frampton in Dorset, a magnificent mansion and estate worth, in today’s terms, £3/4 million pounds a year. After mocking the hypocrisy of its older readers who spoke with “horror, wrath and astonishment” over the incident forgetting their own impetuous past, the magazine gave a full juicy account of events on Friday 15 May when the young lovers borrowed the carriage of a friend in London and hot footed it in just 32 hours to Gretna Green on the Scottish border where, exhausted, they married at 5am on Sunday morning at a coaching inn (now a hotel, Gretna Hall, has a suite named for the elopers) . Visiting the hall a few years later, a journalist from The Literary World asked to see the room where the infamous union had taken place only to find that “it had a very commonplace aspect, in paper and decoration. There should have been a print of Wilkie’s Penny Wedding, instead of one of Tom O’Shanter  and another of Two Tygers Fighting ! The latter, methinks, in many instances, too metaphorically true!” Gretna, the first village in Scotland on the principal London to Edinburgh road, had been a popular destination for runaway lovers since the late 18th century when a quirk in law allowed boys as young as 14 and girls as young as 12 to marry without parental consent. As long as it was witnessed, almost anybody could perform the ceremony.

Gretna Hall where the elopers were married

Gretna Hall where the elopers were married

Before fleeing London, Marcia slipped her guardian Sir Robert Macfarlane – who had been charged by the general to keep an eye on her – then sent her maid with clothes on a fool’s errand to Dartford  trusting, correctly, that her enraged father would pursue her there believing she and Sheridan were headed for the continent. However, the general had forgotton,  the Journal wryly observedthat he was dealing with the grandson of the ingenious author of “The Rivals” and “School for Scandal” who as a young man had also eloped with his 18 year old lover, the beautiful Elizabeth Ann Linley. Born in 1806, Brinsley was the son of Richard Sheridan’s troubled eldest son Tom who had struggled beneath the fame of his father. Brinsley’s birth was widely celebrated: his grandfather’s fame and friendship secured the prince of Wales as his godfather and his christening was marked with a lavish dinner, a gala performance by artistes from the Opera House and Sheridan’s own Drury Lane Theatre and ended with a ball.

.Richard Brinsley Sheridan by Sir Joshua Reynolds

Richard Brinsley Sheridan by Sir Joshua Reynolds

But perpetual money troubles and his father’s ill health overshadowed and disrupted his childhood. His parents were often overseas seeking a cure for Tom’s tuberculosis leaving their children in the hands of relatives. This rootless existence may have led Brinsley to decide to spurn the romantic but erratic theatrical life of his father and grandfather and to seek a settled career instead in the East India service. But after just eight years as a clerk in Madras, Brinsley returned to England with vague ideas of a career in politics but with no resources to pursue them. Then he met Marcia Grant, the precious only child of the seventy year old General Grant. She was born in 1815, the year of her father’s greatest exploit, when Grant had commanded the 5th brigade of the British and King’s German Legion cavalry at Waterloo and had several horses shot from under him. With a fortune to her name, the general was unlikely to allow Marcia to marry an impoverished former clerk, however eminent his family name. So, in his family tradition, Brinsley and Marcia plotted to escape.

The Spectator  named Marcia’s accomplices in crime as Brinsley’s three sisters (colloquially known as “The Three Graces”): the celebrated author Caroline Norton (1808-1877), poet and composer Helen Blackwood (1807-1867), later Baroness Dufferin and Claneboye ; and Lady Georgiana Seymour (1809-1884), duchess of Somerset. The motivation of two of the women for helping their brother was obvious: Caroline  was in a very unhappy, abusive marriage and had begun a scandalous affair with the prime minister Lord Melbourne (which would explode into a notorious court case), whilst Helen had married an impoverished naval officer against her family’s wishes.

"A false alarm on the road to Gretna" after Charles Newhouse

“A false alarm on the road to Gretna” after Charles Newhouse


Immediately, Sir Robert Macfarlane was aware that Marcia had gone he  charged round to the Nortons’ house in Spring Gardens beside St James’s Park where he found Sheridan’s mother (another former eloper ) his three sisters, Lord Seymour and George Norton gathered as if colluding in her escape. Hearing this, an irate General Grant, confounded in his attempt to catch his daughter, accused the entire Sheridan family of criminal conspiracy in the abduction of a minor. He forced Brinsley back from his honeymoon in Cumberland to answer a criminal summons in Chancery and challenged Lord Seymour to a duel as he had refused to divulge the whereabouts of Marcia when pressed by Macfarlane . Officially outlawed since 1815, duelling remained the ultimate resort for gentlemen to gain satisfaction for their wounded honour and neither Grant nor Seymour were prepared to allow the law to deny them. The duel took place at dawn on Hampstead Heath in a scene from “The Rivals” by Brinsley’s grandfather (himself a multiple duelist). When the first exchange of shots failed to hit their targets, the general ordered the pistols to be re-loaded. Only the intervention of the seconds and admission by Seymour of some of the details of the elopement prevented bloodshed. Unappeased, the general turned his ire on Caroline’s feckless husband George Norton accusing him of being “deeply involved in the disgraceful plot that has been fatal to my pride and happiness”.  Despite his violence towards his own wife, Norton was in no condition to accept a duel with a man who had commanded a brigade at Waterloo. Hiding behind his position as a magistrate (which, in Grant’s eyes, made his implication “in this nefarious proceeding” even worse), Norton demurred and then avoided further confrontation and repercussions by pacifying the old general.

An officer, 18th Regiment of (Light) Dragoons (Hussars), 1815. National Army Museum

An officer, 18th Regiment of (Light) Dragoons (Hussars), 1815. National Army Museum

Indeed, the furore blew over almost as quickly as it started. Remarkably, just a month later in June 1835 Marcia and Brinsley’s marriage was officially solemnized at Arthuret in Cumberland and by the time of his death at Frampton six months later in December 1835, Sir Colquhoun was fully reconciled to his errant daughter and her husband. These lovely silver dishes displaying the arms of the newly-weds alongside those of Sir Colquhoun Grant, - so finished before the general died in December 1835 – mark the rapprochment and the prelude to a very happy, long and fruitful marriage which produced nine children.
Overseen at Frampton by the magnificent portrait of his grandfather by Reynolds, Brinsley realised the political career  denied his father, becoming member of parliament for Shaftesbury (1845-52) and then Dorchester (1852-68). With Marcia, he also cultivated a circle of literary friends, including Thackerary and Mary Shelley, and even persuaded Isambard Kingdom Brunel to tunnel his railway through the park at Frampton rather than disrupt the view. Only death separated the elopers: Marcia sadly dying first in  1882 then Brinsley in 1888.  By 1932, Frampton itself had gone, its contents sold at auction and the mansion demolished as the family fortune diminished, war and the twentieth century intervened.

The portico at Frampton House

The portico at Frampton House


Further reading:

Atkinson, Diane, The Criminal Conversation of Mrs Norton (2012)

Martyn Downer

Churchillian Silver for sale: Great British Silver for a Great Briton

On January 15th, 2015 Martyn Downer wrote on the subject of Listed for sale at My Family Silver.

Spencer-Churchill family crests on the Churchill service

Spencer-Churchill family crests on the Churchill service


Portrait of Sir Winston Churchill by Sir Oswald Birley, 1950. Sotheby's.

Portrait of Sir Winston Churchill by Sir Oswald Birley, 1950. Sotheby’s.

The phenomenal success of the recent sale at Sotheby’s in London of the collection of Mary Soames, daughter of Sir Winston Churchill, illustrates the inexhaustible interest of collectors around the world in objects, papers and artefacts connected to one of the very greatest of Great Britons, particularly in relics with such a wonderful family provenance. Led by a record price of £1.7 m for a painting by Churchill – a more than accomplished artist – the sale included one of his iconic red despatch boxes as a minister of state (£158,000), a signed first edition of his wartime speeches (£21,250), a striking portrait of Churchill in his distinctive Siren suit, and a pair of diamond earrings said to have been given by Winston to his wife Clementine (£92,500). The sale included a mixed bag of silver items,  many modern or domestic examples with no direct link to Churchill himself. However, two pieces of silver in particular caught my eye in the catalogue beforehand – one of a very private nature, the other very public – and I was not surprised to see them fiercely competed for at the sale.

Silver match slide, London 1911, given to Winston Churchill by his children for Christmas 1927. Sotheby's.

Silver match slide, London 1911, given to Winston Churchill by his children for Christmas 1927. Sotheby’s.

One was a simple silver match slide given to Winston by his children for Christmas 1927 – estimated at £300-500 (already high for any other slide!), it sold for £68,500. The other was a silver coffee jug, London 1942 presented to Churchill by his Cabinet following the battle of Alamein when it finally seemed as if the tide was turning in the struggle against Nazi Germany. Priced at £4000-6,000, the jug made £278,500.

The War Cabinet silver jug: presented to Churchill by his Cabinet in November 1942. Sotheby's.

The War Cabinet silver jug: presented to Churchill by his Cabinet in November 1942. Sotheby’s.

Somewhat surprisingly, given the family history, the sale offered no silver decorated with Churchill’s personal family crests or armorials which presumably remains with his family, or at Chartwell, his former country house now managed by the National Trust. So I am delighted that myfamilysilver is offering a 34 piece service of George III silver flatware dating from 1806 to 1825, each piece decorated with the distinctive twin crests for Spencer-Churchill displayed by the dukes of Marlborough since 1817 and which also adorn the coat of arms of Sir Winston Churchill. The absence of an additional ducal coronet on the silver suggests the service was not originally in the ducal collection but from a collateral line, such as Winston’s whose father was third son of the 7th duke.

Sir WInston Churchill's coat of arms as a Knight of the Garter, showing the combined Spencer-Churchill arms and both crests.

Sir WInston Churchill’s coat of arms as a Knight of the Garter, showing the combined Spencer-Churchill arms and both crests.


Spencer-Churchill crests on the silver

Spencer-Churchill crests on the silver

The service, which serves six people, leaves tantalizing questions of ownership but undoubtedly gives an intimate glimpse into the life of Churchill’s family. It also gives a future lucky owner a wonderful topic of conversation over dinner!

The Spencer-Churchill Service

The Spencer-Churchill Service

The Spencer-Churchill service

The Spencer-Churchill service

To see the Churchill service go to Spencer-Churchill antique silver service 

Martyn Downer

Pushing the boat out: Captain Henry Blackwood’s table silver and jolly boats

On January 4th, 2015 Martyn Downer wrote on the subject of Listed for sale at My Family Silver.

A very rare pair of Old Sheffield Plate double wine coasters, together with a 24 piece Old English Pattern service of George III sterling silver flatware listed at myfamilysilver recall one of Admiral Lord Nelson’s most admired frigate captains, and a hero of the battle of Trafalgar, Captain Henry Blackwood. The coasters are designed as clinker-built rowing boats each set on a pair of detachable axles with spoked wheels, the interiors with two circular depressions for decanters and two for stoppers, rope-ring attachments to bows and engraved on the stern thwart with the armorial crest of ‘the sun rising from behind a cloud, all ppr.’ as granted to Captain Blackwood (1770-1832) at the creation of his baronetcy (Blackwood of the Navy) in the baronetage of the United Kingdom on 23 July 1814. The matching service of silver spoons and forks are engraved with the same crest and additionally decorated with Blackwood’s personal motto: Per Vias Rectas (Through the right way)
The coasters, which are complete with a matched set of two large and two smaller Regency decanters, give a fascinating glimpse into the shipboard dining custom of Napoleonic war naval officers. At sea, Jolly Boat wine trolleys were dismounted from their wheeled carriages. It was customary at the table after pouring out wine or spirit from the decanter, to return it to the stand and push it along to the next officer. It is believed that the saying ‘to push the boat out’ has its origins in this old naval custom as the officer paying for the wine was the first to start the jolly boat off round the table.
Prior to the first meeting between Nelson and Blackwood, the national hero was already a dedicated supporter and admirer of his subordinate’s vigilance, seamanship and willingness to close with the enemy. On the night of 30 March 1800 it was Blackwood in the small frigate Penelope that maintained the close pursuit of the 80-gun Guillaume Tell, the strongest French ship to survive the Battle of Nile, alternately pouring crippling broadsides into the vastly superior vessel’s stern quarters until larger British ships could catch up – a feat that later caused Nelson in communication with Blackwood to write ‘Is there a sympathy which ties men together in the bonds of friendship without having a personal knowledge of each other? If so (and I believe it was so to you), I was your friend and acquaintance before I saw you. Your conduct and character on the late glorious occasion stamps your fame beyond the reach of envy. It was like yourself; it was like the Penelope. Thanks; and say everything kind for me to your brave officers and men …’
Sir Henry Blackwood (1770–1832), by John Hoppner, 1806

Sir Henry Blackwood (1770–1832), by John Hoppner, 1806

Blackwood was born in County Down, Ireland, the seventh son of Sir John Blackwood, 2nd Baronet of Killyleagh, and his wife Dorcas (Stevenson), 1st Baroness Dufferin and Clandeboye. He entered the navy as a volunteer 1781, serving in the Mediterranean, and on the Newfoundland station, steadily gaining the confidence of his superiors, and developing a flare for frigate operations. He was made lieutenant in 1790 by Lord Howe serving in Invincible at the battle of the First of June (1794). He twice turned down the command of a 74-gun ship-of-the-line for the special opportunities offered in frigate service taking command of the 36-gun frigate Euryalus when war broke out again in 1803 after the Peace of AmiensIn 1805 he brought the news to London of the breakout of the French and Spanish fleets from Ferrol and their entrance into Cadiz, halting briefly at Merton in the early hours of the morning to inform Nelson, who went with him to the Admiralty, and received his final instructions to resume the command of the fleet without delay.
When Nelson sailed in Victory for Cadiz a few days later, Blackwood and Euryalus went with him.On the morning of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805, Blackwood was invited on board Victory and received a freehand in commanding all the frigates in assisting any disabled ships. He was further given permission to make use of Nelson’s name in ordering any of the stern most line-of-battle ships to do what struck him as best. Blackwood together with Captain Hardy also witnessed the subsequently disregarded codicil to Nelson’s will – ‘I leave Emma, Lady Hamilton therefore a legacy to my King and Country that they will give her an ample provision to maintain her Rank in Life.’ Anxious for his commander’s safety, Blackwood unsuccessfully tried to persuade Nelson to shift his flag to Euryalus. It was not until afternoon with shot flying thickly over the flagship, that Blackwood was finally ordered by Nelson back to his frigate with the words ‘God bless you, Blackwood, I shall never speak to you again.’ Immediately after the battle Collingwood hoisted his flag in Blackwood’s ship, but after ten days removed it to Queen, and Euryalus was sent home with despatches and with the captured French admiral Villeneuve. Blackwood landed at Falmouth and was one of the first messengers to use the Trafalgar Way to deliver his dispatches to the Admiralty in London. He also handed Nelson’s personal effects, bloodstained uniform and codicil in person to the hysterically grieving Emma, Lady Hamilton becoming for a time mixed-up in the mounting controversy surrounding the admiral’s final intentions towards his mistress. At Nelson’s funeral (8 January 1806), Blackwood acted as train-bearer of the chief mourner, Sir Peter Parker, the aged admiral of the fleet.Appointed to  Ajax (80 guns), in 1807 Blackwood joined the squadron under Sir John Duckworth in the expedition up the Dardanelles. At the entrance of the straits, on the night of 14 February 1806, the Ajax caught fire through the drunken carelessness of the purser’s steward, and was totally destroyed, with the loss of nearly half the ship’s company. Blackwood himself was picked up hanging on to an oar, almost perished with cold, after nearly an hour in the water. Declining a post at the Navy Board, Blackwood was then appointed to the command of Warspite (74 guns) in which he joined the very harassing blockade of Toulon. He returned to England at the end of 1812, but remained in command of the Warspite for another year. On 4 June 1814 he attained the rank of rear-admiral, and in August 1819 was nominated a KCB, and appointed commander-in-chief in the East Indies, from which station he returned in December 1822. He became vice-admiral in May 1825, and from 1827 to 1830 he was commander-in-chief at the Nore.

Blackwood married three times. On 12 January 1795 he married Jane Mary, née Crosbie; she died on 19 January 1798, without surviving children. On 3 June 1799 he married Eliza, daughter of Martin Waghorn; they had one son (later the second baronet) and she died on 30 October 1802. On 9 May 1803 he married Harriet, née Gore; they had several children and she died on 5 May 1851. Two of his sons became captains in the navy. Blackwood died on 17 December 1832, at Ballyleidy, the seat of his eldest brother, Lord Dufferin and Claneboye. Blackwood was typical of that generation of daring frigate captains, including Edward Pellew and William Hoste,  which was immortalized to brilliant effect in Patrick O’Brian’s fictional Jack Aubrey. However, undoubtedly his greatest fame today lies in his intimate role in the last day of Nelson’s life and his actions in the immediate aftermath of Trafalgar.   


Martyn Downer

General’s silver recalls the battle of Waterloo

On May 3rd, 2014 Martyn Downer wrote on the subject of Listed for sale at My Family Silver.

As the bicentenary of the battle of Waterloo approaches in June 2015, we are offering for sale a group of silver flatware from the personal collection of General Sir Frederick Adam (1784–1853) who led a brigade in the decisive last hours of the action. Of aristocratic Scottish ancestry, Adam joined the army in 1795 securing a captaincy in the Coldstream Guards by 1799. In 1801 he landed with General Sir Ralph Abercromby’s army in Egypt seeing action at the battle of Alexandria on 21 March. Following the Peace of Amiens, he joined the 21st Regiment of Foot as Lieutenant Colonel leading the 1st Battalion with distinction against the French invasion of Sicily in 1810. Adam was described as having a striking appearance, upright, with ‘snow-white’ hair from an early age, clear blue eyes, and ‘the most pleasing smile’ whilst socially he had ‘the utmost courtesy, the kindest manner, the most amiable gentleness in conversation’ . He was, nevertheless, a strict military disciplinarian. Back in England, he was appointed an aide-de-camp to the Prince Regent and married, although his wife sadly died within a year in childbirth. Now Colonel, he returned to the war in Spain facing a series of fierce engagements at Alicante, Tarragona and Ordal which left him severely wounded in the hand and arm.  After convalescence in England and further promotion to major-general, Adam returned to command the  3rd brigade in Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Clinton’s division at Waterloo. Comprising battalions of the 52nd, 71st, and 95th regiments, the brigade was defensively positioned for much of the 18 June 1815 above Hougoumont on Wellington’s right flank seeing only occasional skirmishing. However, around 5pm, Adam led the brigade forward attacking the flank of Napoleon’s Imperial Guard when it engaged the British guards in a frontal attack. After fierce fighting, the Imperial Guard made a last stand in squares on either side of the La Belle Alliance where they were again charged by Adam’s Brigade, throwing them into confusion.  At 8.30, with the French in retreat and victory at hand,  Wellington ordered Adam to dislodge a well defended battery of French artillery which was preventing a general pursuit of the enemy.  Adam bravely obliged earning a mention in dispatches from Wellington though at personal cost as he suffered another grievous wound in the closing stages of the battle.

The battle of Waterloo, 18 June 1815

The battle of Waterloo, 18 June 1815

For his gallantry at Waterloo, Adam was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB). In addition, he was appointed a knight of the Austrian order of Maria Theresa and of the Russian order of St Anne, both first class. With the end of the European war, Adam saw no further action serving instead as a lord high commissioner of the Ionian Islands from 1824 to 1832 – during the diplomatically fraught struggle by the Greeks for independence from Turkey – then, reluctantly, as governor of Madras until 1837.  However, these arduous services did earn him further honours. In 1833 Adam received the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George (KCMG) – a decoration originally designed to recognise services to the British protectorate of the Ionian Islands -  then, on 20 June 1840, he was raised to Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath (GCB), the highest class of this prestigious award. He died, suddenly, in 1853. Remarkably his widow, his third wife Anne, survived until 1904.

General Frederick Adam wearing his KCMG and KCB

General Sir Frederick Adam wearing his KCMG and KCB

General Adam’s silver was made a few years after Waterloo in 1824. Each piece is engraved with the Adam family crest of “a cross crosslet fitchée gu., surmounted of a sword in saltire ppr” augmented, presumably after 1833, with a garter displaying the motto of the Order of the Bath suspending the general’s decorations, his KCB and KCMG. They illustrate pride in his achievements on the battlefield and as an administrator and give us a fascinating and intimate contact to one of the principal commanders in the most celebrated action of the Napoleonic era.

General Adams' crest augmented with his decorations

General Adam’s crest within the motto of the Order of the Bath and augmented with his decorations


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