Charlotte St John

Charlotte St John  died on January 11, 1804. Of all the indignities inflicted upon the Ladies of Lydiard, those suffered by Charlotte St John must rank as the most iniquitous.

Charlotte Collins was born in about 1760 the daughter of Rev Thomas Collins, second master of Winchester College. Little is known of Charlotte’s early life. In 1764 her father was appointed Rector of Graffham with the rectory of Coombes, and it can be supposed that Charlotte spent her childhood in Sussex.

It is thought likely that the Rev Collins was employed as a tutor to George Richard 3rd Viscount Bolingbroke and 4th Viscount St John and that this is how the young couple met. After a three year courtship George Richard and Charlotte married in Compton Rectory on February 26, 1783. George later liked to protest that he had been duped into marriage with Charlotte.

George Richard had experienced a troubled childhood. His parents were the warring Frederick St John and the former Lady Diana Spencer who endured an unhappy, volatile marriage that ended in adultery, scandal and eventually a divorce in 1768.

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One might have thought George Richard would have learned a lesson or two from his parents, but it appears he was intent upon making his own mistakes, and plenty of them.

With the Battersea estate sold to pay for the excesses of previous St John’s and Lydiard Park let to tenants, the couple led a nomadic lifestyle. A son George was born in 1784 followed by Henry and a daughter Mary.

And then Mary Beauclerk came to stay. Mary was George Richard’s half sister, the daughter of his mother Diana and Topham Beauclerk. The couple began an incestuous relationship and Mary soon became pregnant. In an attempt to prevent yet another scandal Charlotte travelled aboard with Mary, nursing her through her confinement, and even claiming the son she bore as her own.

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George Richard deserted Charlotte and resumed his travels, this time with Mary. The couple were to have four sons together and lived for a time in Paris as Mr & Mrs Barton.

But by 1794 George Richard had tired of Mary. He provided annuities for her and her four sons from the diminishing Lydiard coffers and took up with Isabella Antoinette, Baroness Hompesch.

George Richard and the Baroness left for America where Isabella gave birth to three sons and two daughters. Charlotte, meanwhile, remained at Lydiard House with her own three children and her father.

In June 1803 her much loved eldest son George died. ‘Providence supported me wonderfully in the last trial, I never felt my own debility, & had the resolution never to leave the dear angel ‘till he had breathed his last – and I kiss’d his beautiful face every day ‘till it was necessary to have his coffin soldered down,’ she wrote after his death.

Already ill herself, Charlotte travelled to Hot Wells, Bristol to take the waters, but the Lydiard money was in short supply, frittered away on the playthings of the past dissolute generations. When it came to paying for her own health care, Charlotte was reduced to taking a room in one of the infamous Clifton lodging houses known as ‘Death Row.’

Charlotte died on January 11, 1804 and was buried in the St John family vault at St. Mary’s, Lydiard Tregoze. Her younger son Henry inherited the titles 4th Viscount Bolingbroke and 5th Viscount St. John. George Richard married Isabella Hompesch on August 1, 1804.

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