Croome Court

“Welcome to my office,” said Joe as he led the Friends of Lydiard Park group from the visitor’s centre along a winding pathway which opened up on to this breath-taking view.

DSC00882

Croome Court has been a work in progress for more than 260 years as restoration continues today. The 6th Earl of Coventry’s £400,000 (worth £35 million in today’s money) project began in 1751 with the building of a Palladian mansion and a landscaped parkland and work continued throughout the 18th centuries. Croome Court was sold in 1948 following the death of the 10th Earl at Dunkirk in 1940.

The National Trust acquired 670 acres of the Park in 1996 and in 2007 the Croome Heritage Trust bought Croome Court and leased it to the National Trust on a 999 year lease. The house opened to the public on September 26, 2009.

The 6th Earl of Coventry inherited Croome Court in 1751 when he was 28 years old, but he already had a vision for his family home. He engaged Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown (who designed first the house and then the grounds) and Robert Adam neoclassical architect, interior and furniture designer, to fulfil his ambitions.

DSC00962

At my first glimpse of Joe’s ‘office’ I could see many similarities to Lydiard House. Admittedly on a larger scale, well yes a MUCH larger scale, but then John St John probably didn’t have £400,000 at his disposal.

Joe walked us past the Georgian Gothic church, built when the 6th Earl demolished the medieval church which stood too close to the house, pointing out the world’s most impressive greenhouse in the distance and up to the stairs on the north front where we met volunteer guide Rosie who gave us a most fascinating and comprehensive tour of the house.

DSC00887

Most exciting for me was visiting the apartments occupied by the 6th Earl’s 2nd wife Barbara St John.  Barbara was the fourth daughter of John St John, Baron St John of Bletsoe and his wife Elizabeth Crowley.

Barbara was no slouch in the beauty stakes as is evident from her portrait painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds around the time of her marriage.  Today the portrait is part of the Faringdon Collection and is on display at Buscot Park.

The Earl’s second marriage was much more successful than his first to the actress and society beauty, the stunning Maria Gunning. The teenage Maria and her sister Elizabeth were presented at Court to George II in December 1750 and in little over a year they were both married.  Elizabeth to the 6th Duke of Hamilton and on March 5, 1752 19-year-old Maria married George William 6th Earl of Coventry.

Kauffmann,_Angelica,_Barbara_St._John_Bletsoe,_Countess_of_Coventry

In his second wife Barbara the 6th Earl found a soulmate, a meeting of like minds.  She was interested in birds and animals and George created a menagerie and a model dairy and farm for her.  Boating parties took place on the lake with firework displays to entertain their guests.

Barbara’s rooms at Croome Court were among those re-decorated by one of the more recent owners of the property who gave her elegant bedroom a bathroom makeover. Quite what happens to this room is still up for debate as the National Trust occupancy is still relatively recent and there is an awful lot of work still to do.

DSC00933

So what were the best bits of my day – well, I loved standing in Barbara St John’s rooms, and the attic rooms, oh and the Church where I discovered the grave of William Dean (more of that to follow) but I didn’t have time to explore the parkland with its numerous follies or visit all the rooms in the house, or the walled garden not to mention the RAF Defford Museum where radar was developed.

 

DSC00944

Croome Court most definitely requires a second visit…

Lady Mary St John

Lady Mary Kerr married Frederick St John in December 1788. She had just celebrated her 21st birthday and he was soon to turn 25.

Mary was a member of the Scottish aristocracy whose family seat was the medieval Newbattle Abbey at Dalkeith. Mary was the 4th child and 3rd daughter of William John Kerr, 5th Marquess of Lothian and his wife Elizabeth Fortescue.

011387_001

Elizabeth Fortescue – Lady Mary’s mother

Frederick St John was the younger of two sons born to the warring Frederick St John, 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke and Lady Diana Spencer whose marriage ended spectacularly  in divorce in 1768.

Frederick Jnr joined the army in 1779 aged 14 as an ensign in the 85th Regiment of Foot and went on to become the second most senior general in the British Army. But in 1788 he had marriage on his mind and the young Lady Mary Kerr fitted the bill nicely.

Frederick St John

Frederick St John

Mary didn’t become pregnant immediately after the wedding, perhaps Frederick’s military duties took him away from home, but by February 1791 she was due to give birth to the couples’ first child. A son, Robert William, was born on February 5; the following day Mary died. She was 23 years old.

At first it seemed that this was about all the information I would be able to garner about Mary. Her death warranted a brief mention in the Annual Register, or a View of History, Politics and Literature for the Year 1791 – Lady Mary St John, lady of the honourable major Frederick St John. In The Gentleman’s Magazine the entry is equally brief 6 [February] at her house in Park Lane, Lady Mary St John, lady of Major St J. and daughter of the Marquis of Lothian.

Horace Walpole, Whig politician and friend of Frederick’s mother Lady Di, mentioned Mary’s death in a letter to Miss Berry, and that seemed to be that.

And then a visit to the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre revealed a most fascinating document filed among the household bills of Henry Herbert, 10th Earl of Pembroke.

Frederick had close family ties to the Pembroke family. Henry Herbert, the 10th Earl, was married to Lady Elizabeth Spencer, the sister of Frederick’s mother, Lady Diana Spencer. Their son and Frederick’s cousin, George Augustus Herbert, who became the 11th Earl of Pembroke, married Elizabeth Beauclerk, Frederick’s sister by his mother’s second marriage to Topham Beauclerk.

However, I certainly didn’t expect to find the following in a box of Pembroke family papers:

2057/A6/18 Account for the funeral of Lady Mary St John at Lydiard Tregoze; to be paid by Lord Herbert.

12593767_786750621427224_5423742653352291144_o

A view of the South Door at St Mary’s Church, Lydiard Tregoze, through which the funeral cortege would have entered.

In fascinating detail this document recounts the cost of Lady Mary’s funeral, from the arrangements at her London home, the long journey to Wiltshire and the short one from the Hall in Lydiard House to the church at St Mary’s just footsteps away.

According to this document Lady Mary’s body was collected from her home in North Audley Street and she was buried on February 12 in the family vault at Lydiard Tregoze in Wiltshire by the order of the Hon. Lord Herbert.

DSC09397 - Copy

Details from the funeral account – Lady Mary St John died 1791

The first items to appear on the long list are:

Superfine Crape Shroud, headress & pillow neatly pink’d £2 2s

Large Superfine Crape Sheet to wrap the Body in £1 5s

An Elm Coffin lined with Superfine Crape, Quilted lining & a thick Mattress for the Bottom of the Coffin £1 11s 6d

Other expensive items include the outer lead coffin, inscription plate and brass handles, but it is the details of the journey which are especially interesting.

Feathers [ostrich] placed on the Corps in Audley Street & carried before the Funeral to the Stonesend, placed on the Corps at the Inn on the Road & place of Interment.

Travelling costs were expensive – Two men on Horseback as Porters to attend the Funeral to the place of Interment 6 days each cost £7 4s; a Hearse & 4 Horses £2 2s 6 days cost £12 12s and a coach & 4 Horses £2 2s 6 days cost £12 12s.

Rooms at the Inns on the Road for the Corps cost 17s 6d with a further 17s 6d for two men sitting up with the Corps.

As the funeral cortege neared Lydiard Tregoze a bell was tolled at Marlborough – 6s 8d and again at Swindon 5s.

At Lydiard Tregoze 8 Bearers were employed to carry the Corps from the Hall to the place of Interment by Mr Crooks appointment £2 2s.

The last item on the funeral account is the charge of Turnpikes £1 18s 6d.

The final bill came to £98 18s 8d.

DSC09398 - Copy

Details from the funeral account – Lady Mary St John died 1791

Sadly so little is known about the life of Lady Mary St John, but a great deal is known about her after her death.

 

 

 

 

 

Henrietta, Louisa and Elizabeth Molesworth

There appears to have been some confusion concerning the portraits of the three Molesworth sisters in the Springhill collection, County Londonderry.

Henrietta

 

This portrait is catalogued as being of the Hon Louisa Molesworth, Lady Ponsonby, later Countess Fitzwilliam who was born in 1749 and died in 1824. However it is now thought to most probably be a portrait of her elder sister Henrietta, later the Hon Mrs John Staples, who was born in 1745.

Elizabeth

And this one called Louisa Staples, Lady Pakenham is now believed to be that of Elizabeth Molesworth born in 1751, the wife of James Stewart, Henrietta and Louisa’s younger sister.

 

Louisa Molesworth 2

A third portrait in pastel and graphite, supposedly of Louisa, has confusing inscriptions written on the back in two different hands, causing some doubt as to the sitter.

In recent years the identity of these three women has become confused, which is somewhat surprising as during their lifetime they were remembered as the survivors of a terrible family tragedy.

Henrietta, Louisa and Elizabeth Molesworth were the daughters of Richard Molesworth, 3rd Viscount Molesworth and his second wife Mary Jenney Ussher. Richard Molesworth was an Anglo Irish nobleman and politician who held extensive lands in Limerick. He had enjoyed an illustrious military career, serving alongside the Duke of Marlborough at the Battle of Blenheim in August 1704 and was the Duke’s aide de camp during the War of the Spanish Succession two years later. Made Master General of the Ordnance in Ireland in 1740 Richard later became Commander in Chief of Ireland in 1751.

Richard, 3rd Viscount Molesworth

Richard, 3rd Viscount Molesworth

His wife, Mary Jenney Ussher, more than 45 years his junior, was the daughter of Rev. William Ussher, archdeacon of Clonfert. When the couple married in 1743/4 Mary was little more than 15, her husband 64 years old.

Mary Jenney Ussher

Mary Jenney Ussher

The couple’s first child, a daughter Mary, was born on September 24, 1744 and lived for just one day. The following year another daughter Henrietta, was born, followed by Melesina in 1746, Mary in 1747, a son and heir Richard Nassau Molesworth in 1748 followed by Louisa in 1749, Elizabeth in 1751 and Charlotte born in 1755 who died in 1757 aged 2 years old. The children were all born in Dublin, most probably in the family’s town house, 14 Henrietta Street.

The 3rd Viscount died in 1758 and in 1763 the family was in residence in London at No 49 Upper Brook Street, Hanover Square.

In the first week of May 1763 the house was full with family, servants and visitors, among them Lady Molesworth’s brother Royal Naval Commander Arthur Ussher and Dr Molesworth and his family. Only the young heir, 15 year old Richard, was away from home, studying at Westminster School.

Louisa Molesworth

Louisa Molesworth

In the early hours of May 6, 1763 fire broke out. An extract from a letter dated London 7th May 1763 was published in Faulkner’s Dublin Journal and gives a vivid description.

“It is with the utmost horror that I relate to you the dismal catastrophe which befel poor Lady Molesworth and her family yesterday morning about 5 o’clock, when a fire suddenly broke forth in her house by the carelessness of a servant in the nursery, in which she herself, two of her daughters, her brother, who was Capt of a Man of War, the children’s governess and two other maid servants perished. The other three daughters are indeed not consumed, but scarce in a condition preferable, the eldest jumping out of a 2nd floor window was caught upon the iron palisades, which tore her thigh so miserably that the surgeons were obliged to cut it off directly four inches above the knee.”

The report continued:

“The Hon Coote Molesworth and his wife, who, unluckily for them, happened to be her guests, have escaped. He had the presence of mind to throw his bedding out of the back windows, upon which his wife and two children fell, otherwise they must have been dashed to pieces, for the children came from the garret down to the back area, no less than four stories high. Mr Molesworth hung by an iron on the outside of the two pair of stair windows, till a neighbouring carpenter brought him a ladder. – List of saved; Lord Molesworth, fortunately at school; Miss Harriet’s [Henrietta] thigh cut off, and the other leg much torn with spikes; Miss Louisa thigh broke, near hip, but set and hopes of cure without amputation; head cut but not fractured. Mr & Mrs Molesworth, Miss Betty much bruised and scorched. Perished; Lady Molesworth; Miss Melesina; Miss Molly, Capt. Usher; Mrs Moselle, governess to the children; Mrs Patterson, Lady Molesworth’s woman; the young ladies maid, Capt Usher’s man, who got out, but perished by returning to save his master; and two black footman.”

That man of letters, Horace Walpole, wrote of the disaster to the Hon H.S. Conway.

“I must change this tone, to tell you of the most dismal calamity that ever happened. Lady Molesworth’s house, in Upper Brook Street, was burned to the ground between four and five this morning. She herself, two of her daughters, her brother and six servants, perished. Two other of the young ladies jumped out of the two pair of stairs and garret windows: one broke her thigh, the other (the eldest of all) broke her’s too, and has had it cut off. The fifth daughter is much burnt. The French governess leaped from the garret, and was dashed to pieces. Dr Molesworth and his wife, who were there on a visit, escaped; the wife by jumping from the two pair of stairs, and saving herself by a rail; he by hanging by his hands, till a second ladder was brought, after a first had proved too short. Nobody knows how or where the fire began, the catastrophe is shocking beyond what one ever heard; and poor Lady Molesworth, whose character and conduct were the most amiable in the world, is universally lamented. Your good hearts will feel this in the most lively manner.”

News of the tragedy reached the King who provided the surviving sisters with a fully furnished house at his expense. He made them a ‘handsome present’ and continued the pension previously settled on their mother, increasing it by £200 a year.

It is impossible to imagine how these girls coped with the trauma and the horrific injuries they sustained.

Yet all three went on to marry, Louisa twice, the second time when she was 73, and all three raised large families and lived long lives. Henrietta died in 1813 aged 68, Louisa was 74 when she died and Elizabeth was 83 years old when she died in 1835.

Louisa

Louisa

This is one of the more poignant stories to come from the extended St John family files. The three surviving Molesworth sisters were the great great granddaughters of Nicholas St John and his wife Elizabeth Blount whose monument stands in St Mary’s Church, Lydiard Tregoze. The girls’ descent is traced through the marriage of Nicholas and Elizabeth’s daughter Elizabeth who married Richard St George.

Nicholas St John and his wife Elizabeth Blount

Nicholas St John and his wife Elizabeth Blount

And the girls’ uncle, Major Edward Molesworth, their father’s brother, is the 5 x great grandfather of Sophie, Countess of Wessex, wife of Prince Edward.

Sophie, Countess of Wessex

Sophie, Countess of Wessex

 

Mary O’Brien, 3rd Countess of Orkney

There’s nothing that excites me more than finding a family with multiple links to the St Johns of Lydiard Park – I know, very sad and I probably should get out more!

The Good Gentlewoman featured today is Mary O’Brien, 3rd Countess of Orkney whose portrait (below) this may or may not be.

Mary O'Brien, 3rd Countess of Orkney

Mary O’Brien, 3rd Countess of Orkney

Some say it is of her daughter also named Mary, 4th Countess of Orkney. If any reader has the definitive answer perhaps they would like to add it to the comments below. Meanwhile I’ll continue.

Mary was born c1720, the daughter of Anne and William O’Brien, 4th Earl of Inchiquin. As the eldest daughter of George Hamilton 1st Earl of Orkney, Anne inherited the title in her own right, as did her only child, daughter Mary.

Mary was born deaf and her marriage to her cousin Murrough O’Brien on March 5, 1753 at Duke Street Chapel, Story’s Gate, St James’s Park was conducted by signs.

After the ceremony the couple returned to their home Rostellan Castle on the west coast of Ireland, although Murrough spent much of his time in London where he had many mistresses.

Rostellan Castle

When Mary’s daughter was born in 1755 her greatest concern was that the child might also be deaf. The story goes that Mary crept into the nursery where her baby daughter was asleep in the care of her nursemaid. As she gazed into the baby’s cradle she pulled out a large stone from beneath her shawl. The young nursemaid jumped to her feet, terrified that the Countess planned to crush the child. As she rushed to take the stone from the Countess, Mary threw it to the floor, creating a loud noise. The baby awoke and began to cry and the mother sank to her knees ‘in a transport of joy’ relieved that the child was able to hear.

This account was recalled 75 years later in the obituary of that baby, the 4th Countess of Orkney published in the Gentleman’s Magazine in 1830.

Sadly there is a somewhat disturbing postscript to this poignant tale.

“She (the 3rd Countess) exhibited on many other occasions similar proofs of intelligence, but none so interesting.”

Along with the title Mary also held property of her own. Her grandfather George,Hamilton, 1st Earl of Orkney, bought Taplow Manor in around 1700. It was here that George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham built his 17th century palatial manor house. The lodges, temple and pavilions were later additions completed by Mary’s grandfather and the whole shebang was enjoyed by, among others, Frederick Prince of Wales, father of George III, who leased the property for several years.

Sadly Buckingham’s pile was razed to the ground in 1795. The property better known today as Cliveden House was built on the site in 1851,

Cliveden

Cliveden

Cliveden was later owned by the Astor family. American born Nancy, Lady Astor was the first woman to take her seat in the House of Commons, elected Tory MP for Plymouth South in 1919.

The Victorian mansion later provided the backdrop for the notorious 1960s Profumo Affair featuring Christine Keeler and John Profumo, Conservative MP for Kettering and Secretary of State of War. Their brief affair ruined Profumo’s reputation and political career and even toppled the Prime Minister Harold Macmillan.

Nancy Aston by John Singer Sargent

Nancy Aston by John Singer Sargent

Even though Lady Astor has no connection (well, none so far discovered) to the St John family I couldn’t resist including this beautiful portrait by John Singer Sargent.

Mary died at Rostellan Castle in May 1790. Some accounts say she was buried at Cloyne Cathedral in County Cork others at Taplow in Buckinghamshire. My research continues.

So what is the connection between Mary O’Brien, 3rd Countess of Orkney and the St John family at Lydiard Park. Well, if I told you that the maiden name of both her grandmothers’ was Villiers, would that help? Elizabeth Villiers, the former mistress of William III, married George Hamilton, 1st Earl of Orkney. Her daughter Anne was Mary’s mother. Mary Villiers married William O’Brien, 3rd Earl of Inchiquin and their son William O’Brien, 4th Earl of Inchiquin was Mary’s father. Mary and Elizabeth Villiers were the daughters of Sir Edward Villiers and Frances Howard. Sir Edward was the youngest son of Sir Edward Villiers and his wife Barbara St John, born at Lydiard House c1590.

And there’s more … but let’s save that for another day.

Elizabeth Mallet Palk – married by owl light

When Horace married Elizabeth they tied the knot ‘at half past seven by owl light.’ Now doesn’t that sound magical – I shall definitely be using that phrase at every possible opportunity in the future.

The young aristocrats married at that celebrity church, St George’s in Hanover Square. According to Lady Charlotte Williams-Wynn the wedding party had something of a wait as the Bishop of Gloucester was locked in the House of Lords for a division.

St George's, Hanover Square.

St George’s, Hanover Square.

Perhaps the guests gathered beneath the portico, watching the rich and famous enjoying an evening promenade along St George’s Street. Or maybe they took a stroll down to the gardens to pass the time.

Set in the very heart of fashionable London, St George’s, built in 1721-25 has been ever popular for society weddings and in 1816 there were 1,063. The first wedding to take place in the new church on April 30 1725 was between David Williams and Sarah Thomas. Flipping through the pages of the registers reveal some notable names. For example, on September 8, 1757 John Calvert married Elizabeth Hulse, the only daughter of Sir Edward Hulse, physician to Queen Anne, George I and George II.

And on July 22, 1765 the Rt Hon William Lord Viscount Folkestone, later to be 1st Earl of Radnor, married his third wife Anne, Lady Dowager Feversham. His grandson, William Pleydell Bouverie, 3rd Earl of Radnor would marry Judith Anne St John Mildmay in 1814 a distance relative of Elizabeth Mallet Palk.  Thereon in the registers are peppered with the great and the good, including a few more St Johns.

wedding

Horace was born in 1791 the younger son of Admiral Lord Hugh Seymour and his wife Lady Anne Horatia Waldegrave. Following the death of his parents Horace was placed with his uncle Lord Hertford who guided him through a military and political career. Horace served as a gentleman usher to the prince regent from 1818-1820 and also from 1820-30 following the princes’ accession to the throne. He then served as a gentleman usher to William IV from 1830-31 followed by service as an equerry 1832-7. He continued service in the reign of the newly crowned Queen Victoria.

The young cavalry officer fought bravely and was said to have killed more men than anyone else at bloody Waterloo, receiving several promotions during that year, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

Col Henry Beauchamp Seymour

Elizabeth was one of eight children born to Sir Lawrence Palk, 2nd Baronet and his second wife Lady Dorothy Elizabeth Vaughan. Like several of her siblings, Elizabeth bore the middle name Mallet, reference to her noble ancestors, including another Elizabeth Mallet, wife of the notorious John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester.

At the time of her marriage Elizabeth was living at Suite II, the Secretary of War’s Lodgings at Hampton Court Palace overlooking Base Court. These Grace and Favour apartments were allocated at the discretion of the reigning monarch to those who had performed a great service to the Crown. Some families had a stranglehold on these hugely desirable residences, among them the extended Seymour family.

Elizabeth’s first child, Charles Francis, was born on September 13, 1819 at Rendlesham Hall in Suffolk where the couple were visiting Lord Rendlesham. The child was christened the next day, perhaps because he was not expected to survive. The couple’s next two children were born at their London home 23 Bruton Street, just a few doors up from where Elizabeth II was born. Frederick Beauchamp Paget Seymour born 1821 and his sister Adelaide Horatia Elizabeth born four years later were both christened at St George’s, Hanover Square.

Adelaide

 

Their fourth child was born in the suite of rooms at Hampton Court Palace that Elizabeth had occupied for so many years. The week old baby girl was christened Gertrude Elizabeth at the parish church of St Mary’s, Hampton on January 20, 1827 – just two days after her mother’s funeral service was held in the same church.

death

The apartment apparently remained in the Seymour tenure as this is where little Gertrude died two years later.  The entry in the parish registers notes that she was buried in a private vault in the church, perhaps reunited with her mother.

Horace continued to lived at Hampton Court Palace and this amusing anecdote is recalled in Factsheet ‘Grace and Favour’ at Hampton Court Palace Suffragettes, Soldiers and Servants 1750 – 1950 Exhibition

Sir Horace Beauchamp Seymour (1791-1851) a single, dashing, former Battle of
Waterloo war hero moved into the palace in 1827. A spate of ‘fainting’ episodes
followed in the Chapel Royal during the services, where the strategically placed
‘helpless’ victims managed to fall into his arms. After the third successive
Sunday of fainting fits, the epidemic was brought to a halt by his aunt, also a
resident, who pinned a note to the Chapel door warning any other would-be
sufferers that Branscombe the Dustman would henceforth be carrying them out
of the Chapel Royal! By the following Sunday the faintings had ceased.

There’s something about Horace that’s just a bit – I don’t know, objectionable, don’t you think? In 1835 he married Frances Poyntz, sister of Georgiana Poyntz wife of Frederick, 4th Earl Spencer. Charles 9th Earl Spencer writes about this marriage in his authoritative book The Spencer Family.

‘Aunt Fan’ was known for her looks and her lack of intelligence. Although she adored Sir Horace, he had married her only to pay off his debts. He never concealed that fact from her and, as soon as the wedding service was over, he retired to his gentleman’s club to resume his bachelor existence. Sir Horace’s sister, a Mrs Damer, was so appalled by his behaviour that she immediately went to a jeweller’s and bought an emerald and diamond halfhoop ring, which she gave to her new sister in law, claiming it was from Seymour. ‘Aunt Fan’ never knew otherwise.

See what I mean?

Of Elizabeth’s three surviving children eldest son Charles, Lieutenant Colonel in the Scots Fusilier Guards, was killed in action at the Battle of Inkerman; second son, Admiral Frederick was a British Naval Commander and created Baron Alcester in 1882.  And in a strange twist of marital fate Horace and Elizabeth’s daughter Adelaide Horatia Elizabeth became the second wife of Frederick Spencer, 4th Earl Spencer. Her 2x great granddaughter was Diana Frances Spencer, later Diana, Princess of Wales.

Diana, Princess of Wales

Diana, Princess of Wales

The ancestry of Elizabeth Mallet Seymour can be traced back to Anne Leighton who married John St John in 1604 and lies buried in the family vault at St Mary’s Church, Lydiard Tregoze.

Elizabeth Hervey, Countess of Bristol

Elizabeth Felton was born on December 18, 1676 the only daughter of Betty and Sir Thomas Felton. One cannot help but wonder what Elizabeth Felton’s childhood was like. She was probably well provided for – never short of a new gown or two – but with a mother like Betty Felton, lewd and pocky, according to a popular 17th century verse – well, what an example to set a young girl.

Lady Elizabeth Hervey, Countess of Bristol

Lady Elizabeth Hervey, Countess of Bristol

The eighteen year old heiress married John Hervey, 1st Earl of Bristol, at Boxted Church, Suffolk on July 25, 1695, becoming his second wife. Whig MP for Bury St Edmunds from 1694 – 1703, John Hervey was a lover of bloodstock breeding and horse matches and his Suffolk home was suitably close to that hub of horse racing, Newmarket. Yet, despite their incompatibility – she like town, he liked country – theirs was a devoted marriage.

John Hervey, 1st Earl of Bristol

John Hervey, 1st Earl of Bristol

When he was away from home they sent each other love letters by each post. He addresses Elizabeth as ‘My ever new Delight’ while she calls him ‘My dear dear life.’ In a letter dated December 30, 1696 she adds a PS ‘The children are all well. I beg your pardon for forgetting them last time; but you’ll forgive it when I tell you the thoughts of you would leave no room for anything else.’

Lady Elizabeth Hervey, Countess of Bristol

Lady Elizabeth Hervey, Countess of Bristol

The children were John’s family by his first wife Isabella, a son Carr and two daughters Catherine and Isabella. Elizabeth’s first child, John was born in the first year of her marriage and like most high born 18th century women, Elizabeth was pretty much permanently pregnant for the next 18 years  She would have a further 16 children plus a set of triplets born in 1701 that did not survive and a still born son in 1704. In 1699 she had two babies within 12 months – Thomas was born on January 20 and William on December 25. James Porter Hervey died in 1706 barely two months old. Humphrey Hervey born in 1708 died young and Felton born in 1710 died at 13 days old while James was just 14 months old when he died in 1714.

(c) National Trust, Ickworth; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Lady Elizabeth Hervey, Countess of Bristol with her twins, Charles and Henrietta

Her six daughters fared slightly better, although Henrietta died aged nine years old and her same named sister at sixteen. Barbara was 27 when she died and eldest daughter Elizabeth made it to 29. Louisa, wife of Sir Robert Smyth, was 55 when she died and Anne made it to her 64th birthday.

Lady Barbara Hervey, named after her maternal grandmother

Lady Barbara Hervey, named after her maternal grandmother

In 1718 aged 42, her child bearing years over, Elizabeth was one of six Ladies of the Bedchamber appointed to Princess Caroline of Ansbach who later became the Queen Consort of George II. Elizabeth continued in this role until the Queen’s death in 1737.

Elizabeth’s six page will, written in December 1740, contains considerable detail concerning her home in Bury St Edmunds. She leaves the house and all the plate, goods, pictures, china and furniture for the use of her husband and following his death, to their youngest son Felton.

At the time she wrote her will, Elizabeth had outlived ten of her children. Her eldest son was to act as trustee for her property and she leaves him  ‘my cabinet chest large screen and small screen being white Japan of my own work in confidence that he will preserve them for my sake.’

To her unmarried daughter Lady Ann she leaves ‘my gilt Etoilet and all the furniture and things thereunto belong and also ‘that Snuff Box with her father’s picture in it.’

Lady Ann Hervey as a child

Lady Ann Hervey as a child

To her other surviving daughter Lady Louisa Caroline Isabella Smyth she leaves ‘my Ring with my Lord’s picture and another Ring set with the late Queen’s hair as also the said Queen’s picture now in my house at Bury.’

She leaves a large emerald ring to her husband which she asks that he wear ‘for my sake’ and the rest of her jewellery and Rings she leaves ‘unto my Trustees and Executors to sell and dispose of.’

She leaves instructions that her granddaughter Elizabeth Hervey, eldest daughter of her son Henry, should be placed under the care and supervision of Sir John and she bequeaths her £1,000 when she attains the age of 21 years, or when she gets married.

One last bequest, Elizabeth wants her maiden name of Felton to be added to the names of her sons and grandsons in remembrance of her family.

Elizabeth died on May 1, 1741 being seized with a fit as she was in St James’ Park in her sedan chair. She was buried in the Hervey family vault at St Mary’s Church, Ickworth, Suffolk.

Barbara St John, wife of Sir Edward Villiers

Barbara St John, wife of Sir Edward Villiers

And for those readers wondering how Elizabeth Hervey, Countess of Bristol is connected to the St John family at Lydiard House – her maternal grandmother was Barbara Villiers, the daughter of Sir Edward Villiers and Barbara St John.

The Three Wives of General Frederick St John

It has to be said that the St John men didn’t make very good husbands, but that didn’t stop them from trying! Frederick St John enjoyed a distinguished military career and lived to the age of 79. He married three times, yet very little is known about any of his wives.

Frederick St John 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke

Frederick St John 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke

Frederick was the second son of that ill fated match between Frederick, 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke and Lady Diana Spencer.  His parents’ marriage ended in scandal and divorce, but that was nothing compared to the antics of his elder brother.  George Richard St John deserted his first wife, had an incestuous affair and four sons with his half sister and duped his second wife into thinking their marriage was legal.

Lady Diana Bolingbroke

Lady Diana Bolingbroke

Like so many second sons Frederick’s destiny was the army.  He entered as an ensign in the 85th Foot in 1779 aged just 14 years old and quickly climbed the military career ladder becoming lieutenant, captain and then major in the 104th Ft.  Frederick served as a subaltern in the West Indies until 1781 and then as a captain in Jersey and Guernsey, until  1783.

Frederick married the first of his three wives at his mother’s Twickenham home by special licence on December 9, 1788.  Lady Mary Kerr was the third daughter of William John Kerr, 5th Marquess of Lothian and his wife Elizabeth Fortescue.  Although little is known of Lady Mary, a friend of letter writer and artist Mary Granville, Mrs Delany, it can be assumed that she was no dullard.

Mary Granville, Mrs Delany

Mary Granville, Mrs Delany

This first marriage was a short one as Mary died giving birth to a son Robert William on February 5, 1791.  Her body was brought to the St John family home at Lydiard Park and she was buried in the family vault at St Mary’s Church.

Described by the Prince of Wales as ‘one of the most amiable young men I know,’ the compliment raises more questions about Frederick’s character than it answers. Others described him as vain and after a spot of political meddling, Frederick continued with his much more successful military career.

On April 6, 1793 he married 18 year old Arabella Craven, third daughter of William Craven 6th Earl Craven of Hampstead Marshall.  Arabella could trace her maternal ancestry back to Charles Lennox, Duke of Richmond, the illegitimate son of Charles II and his mistress Louise Kerouaille, Duchess of Portsmouth.  Arabella’s mother, Elizabeth Berkeley seems to have inherited a generous dollop of Old Rowley’s roving genes.  Elizabeth left Arabella’s father to travel the continent, eventually settling down with the Margrave of Anspach whom she married after the death of her husband. A writer of satirical plays, she penned numerous comedies including Somnabule; a musical farce called Silver Tankard and Miniature Picture.

Elizabeth Berkeley - mother of Arabella Craven

Elizabeth Berkeley – mother of Arabella Craven

Frederick and Arabella had three sons, George William born 1796; George Frederick Berkley 1797 and Henry John in 1798. The following year Frederick returned to India where he was to serve for another six years. No further children were born between 1798 and 1805 suggesting that Arabella did not accompany her husband. In 1807 a daughter Maria Arabella was baptised at the parish church in Ogbourne St Andrew, a village two miles north of Marlborough on the road to Swindon. A further five babies were baptised at this church suggesting the couple lived close by, just a few miles from the mansion house at Lydiard Tregoze.

Arabella died at her Grosvenor Place, her London home, on June 9, 1819 aged 45 and like Frederick’s first wife, was buried in the family vault at St Mary’s, Lydiard Tregoze.

St Mary's Church, Lydiard Tregoze.

St Mary’s Church, Lydiard Tregoze.

Frederick tried his luck in the political stakes and was returned MP for Oxford in 1818.  It was but a brief adventure, and he was defeated at the poll in 1820, after which he decided not to re-enter Parliament.

But he wasn’t past giving marriage another go, this time to Caroline Parsons, more than 25 years his junior.  The couple were married on November 14, 1821 at Godstone, Surrey and made their home in Brighthelmstone, Sussex where their two sons Henry Edward and Welbore William Oliver, were born.

Frederick died on November 19, 1844, the second senior general in the army.  His third wife survived him by more than 25 years.

Frederick’s service is detailed in the East India Military Calender recording that  ...’he was in command for 4 years of the principal depot, Caunpoor; and where he formed the army for the field, by the most constant and unwearied instruction; and when that army was reviewed by the Marquess Wellesley, he received the most marked public thanks in general orders, for having rendered it efficient, both in movement and discipline, beyond his lordship’s utmost hopes.  He likewise served as second in command under Lord Lake, throughout the Mahratta campaigns, and commanded the left wing of the army.  At the battle of Delhi, his services were of the highest important.  At a critical moment, he charged, with his wing of sepoys, the whole of the enemy’s artillery, consisting of 100 pieces, (chiefly 18 pounder cannonades) and at the moment enfilading the British advance.  Lord Lake, in his despatch to the Governor General, observes, “Major Gen. St John was opposed to the enemy’s right; the steadiness and ability displayed by the Honourable the Major General, quickly surmounted every difficulty, and forced the enemy to retire with very heavy loss.”

He was also present at the siege of Agra, where he was chosen to drive in a sortie made by the enemy.  The Com. In Chief, in his despatch on this occasion, thus notices his services – “My thanks are due to the Hon. Major Gen St John, for his spirited conduct in advancing at the head of the 2d batt. 2d N.I. which I found it necessary to order up to support the attack.”

Sadly his three wives form just a footnote in the St John family history.  If Lady Mary Kerr had survived childbirth, would we have learned more about her life?  If Arabella Craven had followed the most popular female family occupation, would we know more about her personality?  Despite more than twenty years of marriage we know next to nothing about Caroline Parsons.  And of the three women, I have only been able to discover one portrait, that of Arabella as a child with her nurse.

Arabella as a child pictured with her nurse

Arabella as a child pictured with her nurse