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

Julia, Countess of Jersey

According to librettist W.S. Gilbert – ‘When constabulary duty’s to be done, a policeman’s lot is not a happy one.’ The same cannot be said for Sir Robert Peel, founder of the Metropolitan Police Force, and his family, whose lot seems to have been pretty jolly, by and large.

Julia, Lady Peel painted by Lawrence in 1827

Julia, Lady Peel painted by Lawrence in 1827

The Peel’s London residence was No 4 Privy Gardens, a property adjoining Whitehall Palace, boasting a large bow window and a fine gallery of paintings by old masters, and the best collection of modern portraits by Sir Thomas Lawrence, including one of Lady Peel.

Julia Peel as a child

Julia Peel as a child

The couple’s eldest daughter Julia was born at the Peel’s Drayton Manor estate in Staffordshire in 1821, shortly before Sir Robert became Home Secretary in 1822, establishing the Metropolitan Police Force in 1829.  Sir Robert held the office of both Chancellor of the Exchequer and Prime Minister in 1834 – 1835, and served again as Prime Minister in 1841 – 1846.

On July 12, 1841 Julia married Tory politician George Augustus Frederick Child Villers, who served as MP for Rochester, Minehead, Honiton, Weymouth & Melcome Regis and Cirencester during a career spanning more than twenty years.  George’s ancestry can be traced back to that dynastic coupling of Sir Edward Villiers, half brother to Royal favourite  the 1st Duke of Buckingham, and Barbara St John who grew up at Lydiard House in Wiltshire.

Julia, Lady Jersey

Julia, Lady Jersey

Julia and George divided their time between their country home at Middleton Stoney, Oxfordshire and their London address.  Following 18 years of marriage and six children, George, who was suffering from consumption, died suddenly at their London home on October 24, 1859, just three weeks after succeeding to the title and estates of the earldom of Jersey.  The couple’s fifteen year old son Victor unexpectedly became the 7th Earl of Jersey.

Julia appears to have been in no hurry to remarry and when she did so it was to Charles Brandling, a man some 12 years her junior.  The wedding took place at St Paul’s Church, Knightsbridge on September 12, 1865 ‘in the presence of a large circle of relations and friends,’ according to The Standard.

The ceremony was followed by a ‘sumptuous dejeuner’ at the home of Julia’s sister Eliza Stonor.  Invitations were restricted to immediate family members and a few intimate friends with a guest list straight out of Burke’s peerage – the duke and Duchess of Wellington, the Countess of fife and Lady Anne Duff, the Earl and Countess of Clarendon and a selection of honourable Villiers’s and various Peels.

Charles Brandling lived on his interest of money, according to the census returns and appears to have little to recommend him.  In her book ‘Fifty one years of Victorian Life’ Julia’s daughter in law Margaret Leigh writes: ‘My mother-in-law and her second husband, Mr. Brandling, were among our frequent visitors.  Mr Brandling had a long beard and a loud voice, and a way of flinging open the doors into the dining-room when he came in in the morning which was distinctly startling.  Apart from these peculiarities he did not leave much mark in the world. He was very fond of reading, and I used to suggest to him that he might occupy himself in reviewing books, but I do not think that he had much power of concentration.  My mother-in-law was tactful with him, but he had a decided temper, especially when he played whist.  As I did not play, this did not affect me.’

Margaret Elizabeth Leigh, Julia's daughter-in-law

Margaret Elizabeth Leigh, Julia’s daughter-in-law

Julia contracted a chill whilst on holiday in Switzerland and died suddenly on August 14, 1893 at the Villa Lammermoor, Petit Saconnes, Geneva. Her body was returned to England where she was buried in the family vault at Middleton Stoney.

In an effusive obituary published in the Morning Post, Lady Jersey was described as ‘a type of those fast disappearing ladies who directly connect us with the fine manners and pleasant ways of the earlier part of the century… The passage of years left little trace upon her lively and impulsive character; but as they rolled by so amiable and sincere a heart was sure to gather, as it did, troops of friends in the best sense of the word.  She will be widely and sincerely mourned.’

Jane Eyre

Frederick St John’s wife may have had a novel name and like that other Jane Eyre she too stood by her man through good times and bad.

The Bronte sisters

The Bronte sisters

Jane Margaret Eyre married Frederick Charles St John, a Lieutenant in the 30th Regiment of Madras Native Infantry on June 17, 1860 at Ramandroog near Bellary, Madras.  Jane, the daughter of Edmund Walter Eyre, Deputy Inspector of Hospitals in the Madras Army, was born on October 6, 1832 in Secunderbad and so was no stranger to India.

The couple’s first child was born in Bellary the month before their first wedding anniversary. It seems likely Jane spent most of the following eight years in India with her husband, where five of a further six children were born.

Frederick was the great grandson of racehorse loving Frederick, 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke who ended his days ‘out of his mind’ at Lydiard Park.  His great grandmother was the artist Lady Diana Spencer, an ancestor of the late Diana, Princess of Wales.

Lady Diana

Lady Diana

Frederick Charles St John spent a long career in the Indian Army, gaining the rank of Colonel in the Indian Staff Corps. In July 1879 he wrote a letter to his friend John Hancock from his mud hut in Camp Vitakei during the middle of the Second Anglo Afghan War.

His long letter provides many details of the campaign and the area in which he was camped.  He describes Beloochistan, a region located in the Iranian Plateau between Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan, as ‘a wild wretched country perfectly bare not a tree to be seen in some of the plains a little scrub and grass. the hills as bare as can be rocks and stones – Afganistan is the same.’



As the son of naturalist and sportsman Charles William George St John is is not surprising he makes a reference to the wildlife he sees around him. ‘ – birds are few as you may suppose.  Partridge, the grand black, which is a splendid bird, the chookoor a beautiful bird, the little see see here and the common grey – sand grouse I’ve come across, of another kind to what we have in south.  The English Mallard is up here and in the Punjab Teal and ducks as usual.’  Although sometimes it seems Frederick was more interested in bagging a few with his gun than simply admiring their plumage.

He writes about the wolves that creep into the camp after dark and of fishing in a nearby stream catching up to 10 lbs of fish with just a stick, string and hook.

Frederick St John 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke

Frederick St John 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke

But like his great grandfather and so many other St Johns, Frederick struggles to live within his means. He writes: ‘.. my folly of getting into debt as I did, god knows it has been a fearful lesson to me, as here I am as much in debt as ever, as all I can pay off will not keep the interest down even, as the money lenders charge so much – but I must not go off on this subject, as it only upsets me and can be of no interest to others, but oh to be clear of debt, what a relief. I don’t know how I bear it, and much dread what will happen on my return to when they can get hold of me.’

During this period Jane is back in England living at 13 Kensington Place, Bath.  Frederick was busy making plans for her and he adds ‘I want to have my poor wife and 3 of the girls out in Octr it will save so much exchange and she has had to lead a hard life 7 children in lodgings and no servant and not enough to live on.’  

Sadly there is no record of how Jane coped with her difficult life in Bath but by 1881 she had returned to India where her eldest daughter Anne married John North in Trichinopoly. And on Feb 4, 1885 second daughter Emily married Hugh Thornton, also in Trichinopoly.


The market place at Trichinopoly pictured c1800

The couple eventually came home to England where Jane died in 1899 and Frederick the following year.


Lady Methuen of Corsham Court

When the three St John Mildmay sisters married in the early nineteenth century, they each acquired a country residence within a stone’s throw of one another.

Jane Dorothea St John Mildmay

Jane Dorothea St John Mildmay

Eldest sister Jane Dorothea moved into Corsham Court following her marriage to Paul Methuen in 1810. Younger sister Maria married a distant cousin, Henry St John 4th Viscount Bolingbroke, in 1812 and inherited the rapidly deteriorating Lydiard House, while Anne married William Pleydell Bouverie in 1814 and as the Countess of Radnor was mistress of Coleshill House across the Wiltshire border in neighbouring Berkshire.

The manor of Corsham appears in the Domesday book as the property of King Edward the Confessor and ‘the great house at Corsham’ dates back to Elizabethan times, the work of Customer Smyth in 1582.

South Front - Corsham Court

South Front – Corsham Court

The property had been in the Methuen family for more than 60 years when Jane married Paul, and three generations had already left their mark.  In 1760 another Paul, the first owner, commissioned that celebrity landscape gardener Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown to weave his magic and transform the Corsham estate.  Brown planted numerous trees including the Oriental Plane, which still survives today and has entered the record books on account of its dimensions.

Paul’s son, Paul Cobb Methuen, commissioned architect John Nash to create a new North Front on the gothic lines of Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill home. The work included the building of an Octagonal Saloon and a music room for use as a picture gallery to house his father’s extensive collection.  A huge undertaking and fraught with problems, most of the North Front was subsequently demolished a mere forty years after it was finished.

A keen gardener, Lady Jane turned her attention to the formal gardens.  High walls with climbing plants enclose long herbaceous borders, a lily pond and garden statuary, reflecting her taste to the present day.

In 1846 Jane’s husband Paul 1st Baron Methuen brought in Thomas Bellamy to remodel the North Front, a project she would not live to see completed.

Thomas Bellamy's North Front - Corsham Court

Thomas Bellamy’s North Front – Corsham Court

Paul Methuen served as MP for Wiltshire 1812-1819, High Sheriff of Wiltshire 1831-32 and MP for North Wilts 1833-1837 and in 1838 he was created Baron Methuen. The couple had four children – heir Paul Mildmay who died in 1837 aged just 23, a daughter Jane Matilda, Frederick Henry Paul 2nd Baron Methuen and St John George Paul. The family divided its time between Corsham Court and their London home in Park Street where Jane died on March 15, 1846.  Her body was returned to Wiltshire for burial.

So how do the Mildmay sisters’ properties fare today?

The Grade I listed Corsham Court is still owned by the Methuen family and is open to the public.  It is also used by Bath Spa University as a post graduate centre and for the study of arts and humanities.

A 1930s postcard view of Coleshill House

A 1930s postcard view of Coleshill House

Anne’s stately pile at Coleshill is sadly no more.  An accident with a blow lamp during restoration work in the 1950s saw the property gutted by fire.  What remained of the building was later demolished.

Perhaps the surprise success is the survival of Lydiard House.  By the 1830s even Maria and Henry declined to live there, renting it out to Maria’s distant cousin Julia and her husband Sir George Orby Wombwell.

Lydiard House

Lydiard House

When Lady Bolingbroke, Maria’s daughter in law and a former housekeeper at Lydiard, died in 1940 the estate was mortgaged to the hilt and the house all but derelict.  Bought by Swindon Corporation in 1943 deputy Borough Architect Mr Flack would later write that “the whole roof was held in place by its own weight, the friction between the tiles and spiders; webs.”

During a period when country houses were being demolished at an alarming rate, Lydiard House was rescued and restored and today is also open to the public.

Edith Villiers, Countess of Lytton

Symbolist, sculptor and portrait painter George Frederic Watts is widely considered to be the greatest Victorian painter.  In an era that produced Edwin Landseer, Frederick Leighton and the Pre Raphaelites that’s no mean feat. During a career that spanned more than 60 years, G.F. Watts was influenced by that avant garde brotherhood of artists, particularly Dante Gabriel Rossetti, as is evident in his portrait of ‘Edith.’

In 1862 Watts requested permission to paint a portrait of Edith Villiers, the 21 year old daughter of his old friend Edward.  Edith was at a bit of a low point in her life.  Her twin sister Elizabeth had recently married Henry Loch, a man with whom Edith was also in love.

Edith was sent to Little Holland House, the home Watts shared with the Prinsep family, where it was thought the exercise of being painted would cheer her up.  The portrait was completed in an estimated eight hours across several sittings which Edith apparently didn’t enjoy much. ‘They pulled down my hair and then made me sit to Mr Watts,’ she recalled. ‘It was such a bore.’

Edith was born on September 15, 1841 and on her paternal side could trace her ancestry back through more than two hundred years of Royal favourites.  Perhaps most famous was the Countess of Castlemaine, formerly Barbara Villiers, mistress of Charles II and mother of five of his illegitimate children.  Edith’s three times great grandfather Edward Villiers 1st Earl of Jersey numbered two royal favourites among his sisters; squinty eyed Betty Villiers who was the unlikely mistress of William III and Barbara, best friends for ever with Queen Anne, that is until they fell out. All these rampant Villiers women trace their lineage back to a marriage between Edward Villiers and Barbara St John, daughter of Sir John St John and Lucy Hungerford, immortalised in the St John polyptych at St Mary’s Church, Lydiard Tregoze.

Having recovered from her romantic disappointment Edith married statesman Edward Robert Bulwer Lytton, the son of novelist Edward Bulwer Lytton, on October 4, 1864. Edith was a devoted help mate, supporting her husband’s diplomatic career in Europe and especially in India.  Robert was appointed Viceroy of India in 1876 where in Delhi the following year he proclaimed Queen Victoria Empress of India.

Something of a fashion plate, Edith dragged the viceregal court into the modern era.  But she wasn’t just a nineteen century clothes horse and invested both her time and money in women’s education.

The couple left India in 1880 and in 1887 Robert was made Ambassador to France.  He died suddenly in Paris in 1891 from heart disease leaving Edith in a precarious financial situation from which she was rescued by non other than Queen Victoria.  Invited to attend court as a Lady in Waiting, the Queen later honoured Edith with the Royal Order of Victoria and Albert and, in recognition of the role she had played as vicereine, the Imperial Order of the Crown of India.

Edith went on to serve as Lady in Waiting to Queen Alexandra before retiring to a house on the Lytton family’s Knebworth estate in 1905.

Edith died on September 17, 1936, two days after her 95th birthday.  She had outlived her husband by 45 years and three of her seven children.


The Codrington Divorce

Returning to our screens this weekend, Downton Abbey portraits an establishment where gentry and servants co-exist in a symbiotic relationship.  This may well be true and sometimes the social divide can become distinctly blurred, as in the case of ‘housekeeper’ Bessie Howard who eventually became Lady Mary Bolingbroke, the wife of Henry 5th Viscount Bolingbroke of Lydiard Park, Wiltshire.

You can guarantee that very little went on above stairs that the servants didn’t know about – and when the ugly spectre of divorce made an appearance the aggrieved spouse frequently turned to the domestics for the necessary evidence.

When the flaws in the Codrington marriage were exposed during the sensational mid 19th century divorce the co-respondent was named as Colonel David Anderson.  But if fellow miscreant Lieutenant Mildmay thought he had escaped detection, he was sadly mistaken.  In 1864 Henry Bolingbroke’s first cousin Herbert Alexander St John Mildmay discovered that the discreet staff at Admiralty House, Malta were more than keen to speak up.

Lieutenant Herbert Alexander St John Mildmay

Herbert was born in Cadiz, Spain in 1836, the son of naval officer George William St John Mildmay and his wife Mary.  His grandfather was Henry Paulet St John who readily agreed to change his surname when he married the wealthy Jane Mildmay.

Herbert entered the navy in 1849 at the age of 13 as a midshipman.  He later joined the Rifle Brigade and served as a Lieutenant in the Crimea in 1854.  Decorated with the Crimea Medal with Sebastopol clasp and the Turkish Crimea Medal, he later served on the North West Frontier of India but before this he joined the 3rd Battalion of the Rifle Brigade in Malta where he engaged in some extra curricular activity.

In the court for divorce and matrimonial causes on July 29, 1864 Helen Codrington’s apparently carnal character was exposed and vilified.  Her husband’s counsel called forth several servants to give evidence who had worked in their former home in Malta where Vice Admiral Codington had served as Admiral Superintendent of the Dockyard in 1858-1863.

George Duff, a footman employed by Codrington in 1856-1861 dredged his memory for every vestige of evidence.  Confirming he knew Lieutenant Mildmay Duff went on to say “He frequently visited at the house, both when the Admiral was there and when he was absent.  He used to come home with Mrs Codrington very late at night and early in the morning.  They used to return home in the gondola from Valetta.  The Admiral had private gondolas.  A servant generally accompanied her, but not always,”  reported The Times.  He told how it was Mrs Codrington’s habit to take Herbert into a sitting room known as ‘the office’ where they sat in the dark for sometimes an hour at a time.  Now what can two people possibly do sitting in the dark for up to an hour?

Rear Admiral Henry Codrington

Duff continued: “At the end of 1860 or the beginning of 1861 I once went into a passage leading into the office.  It was past 12 at night.  I knew Mr Mildmay was with my mistress in the ‘office.’  There was a sofa in it.  I was going to the Admiral’s room, as I generally did the last thing at night.  I saw Mr Mildmay in the corner of the passage with Mrs. Codrington.  His arm was round her neck.  I started back and went away.”

Returning tot he subject of the gondola Duff told the court – “I have come from Valetta with them more than once after they have been to operas and balls.   They came home in the gondola.  There is a small square of glass in the door of the cabin; but persons cannot see inside.  I have noticed the boat swaying on one side and the door shaking when they were in the cabin.  There was no room for me to sit, and I used to stand with my back to the door.  The boat hung on one side and the boatman had great trouble in rowing, and they sent me on the other side to make it balance.  There was no light in the cabin.  The light was in the bow of the boat.  It was about 20 minutes journey from Valetta to the Government House.”

There was further talk of a rustling of dresses, whispering, a drawing of breath and exclamations.   “The next morning I picked up a piece of her head-dress and a piece of her bodice at the bottom of the landing where I had heard the noises,” Duff concluded.

Mrs Sarah Nichols was first employed as cook at the Codrington’s London home and travelled out with them to Malta.  She also told how Lieutenant Mildmay was a frequent visitor at Admiralty House and how he had joined Helen and her parents on a trip to Cormayeur.

“Mr Mildmay joined the party there and stayed in the same hotel with us.  Mr and Mrs Smith occupied two bedrooms and a sitting room.   Mrs Codrington slept in the next room to one of the bedrooms.  Mr Mildmay slept in quite another part of the hotel.  I slept in Mrs Codrington’s bedroom.  She wrote letters in her bedroom before going to bed.  She asked me more than once to take letters to Mr Mildmay’s bedroom.  I have taken letters to him four or five times.  I then objected to take them, and she told me to call Mary, and she would take them.  she was always very particular about the doors between the rooms being locked,” said Sarah.

So was all this evidence enough to toll the death knell on the Codrington marriage? Actually no. In an attempt to discredit her husband, Helen had involved an old friend Emily Faithfull in the murky matter of her marriage.

Emily Faithfull

Emily, a clergyman’s daughter from Surrey, feminist campaigner and founder of the all female Victorian Press, lived with the Codrington family at Eccleston Square in the 1850s.  Helen claimed that whilst sharing a bed with her friend who was ill following an asthma attack, her husband had climbed in between them and attempted to force his attentions upon Emily.

Suddenly the whole shift of the divorce changed completely as Codrington fought back.  The emphasis on Helen’s lovers Anderson and the feckless Lieutenant Mildmay evaporated and all attention was on poor plain Emily. She reluctantly appeared in the witness box where her evidence was rapidly disproved, sparking rumours of bribery by Codrington’s legal team.

More damaging was the evidence given by Mrs Watson, a ‘friend’ of the Codrington couple who had been the confidante of both and who scoured her memory for tales of Helen’s confession and general bad behaviour.

Codrington was awarded his divorce.  The case received worldwide attention but not everyone was convinced of the validity of the evidence.  And the result of the whole is that, upon an accumulation of inadequate and doubtful, though very damaging, pieces of evidence, Admiral Codrington, who is rather the reverse of a model husband, is divorced from a wife whose affection he never had the good luck or good feeling to conciliate or retain, reported the Sydney Morning Herald, Friday February 3, 1865. It is not to be denied that, taken together, the pieces of evidence against Mrs Codrington are not only inconsistent with themselves, or with guilt, but present a definite picture of a wilful, passionate, ill-trained, and guilty woman.  All we say is that, taken separately, the proofs are legally weak.

Proceedings dragged on for another three years.  In September 1866 Colonel Anderson was called upon to pay the petitioner’s cost of £942 2s 4d and in January 1867 Codrington was ordered to pay his ex wife’s legal costs of £1,118 10s 0d.

Helen lost her reputation and her children.  Mildmay, who was serving in India at the time of the divorce proceedings and refused to give evidence, seems to have got off lightly.  He retired from the Army in 1880 as Lieutenant-Colonel and later joined the Corps of Gentlemen at Arms. He was on duty at Queen Victoria’s Golden and Diamond Jubilee celebrations and at the coronation of both King Edward VII and George V.  He died on October 21, 1922 at his London home, 31 Gloucester Street, aged 86 and was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery.


The Codrington divorce is the subject of best selling novel The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue published in 2008.

Isabella Frances St John

Who would live in a house like this?

Well apart from Cardinal Wolsey, Henry VIII and other assorted monarchs, during the Victorian period there were one hundred residents, plus servants, including the Hon Lady Isabella Frances St John and her daughter Antonia; their needs attended to by a footman, a ladies maid, a cook and a housemaid according to the census of 1861.

When George III decided he would rather live elsewhere, Hampton Court Palace was opened up to an elite set of residents – people who had performed some great service for Crown and Country.

The average apartment consisted of 12-14 spacious rooms.  Conditions of tenure included a minimum six months residency each year in the Palace, no subletting, no boarders and definitely no dogs. But despite the desirable address there were disadvantages; the apartments lacked basic 19th century mod cons and were damp and difficult to heat.

When it came to her credentials, Isabella had an unqualified claim to one of the grace and favour apartments.  Her pedigree was impeccable, if awash with illegitimate ancestors, including a direct line to Charles II and by a quirk of history, to a St John ancestor as well.

Isabella Frances Fitzroy was born on May 6, 1792, the daughter of George Henry Fitzroy, 4th Duke of Grafton and Charlotte Maria Waldegrave.  Her great-great-great-grandfather was Henry Fitzroy, 1st Duke of Grafton, the son of Charles II and Barbara Villiers, Countess Castlemaine.

Apparently Charles had initially been reluctant to claim the boy as his own – Barbara’s infidelities were well known to him.  However by the time Henry was nearly ten years old Charles suddenly noticed a family resemblance and in 1672 acknowledged the boy as his natural son.

Her maternal line was also well connected, if illicitly so.  Isabella’s grandmother Maria was one of Sir Edward Walpole’s three illegitimate daughters by his mistress Dorothy Clement.  Isabella’s mother and her two sisters – the Ladies Waldegrave – were famously painted by Joshua Reynolds.

The Ladies Waldegrave

Isabella’s mother was well acquainted with Hampton Court Palace when in 1764 Maria, Lady Waldegrave moved into apartment 47 in The Pavilions following the death of her first husband.  The suite of rooms had recently been vacated by Princess Amelia, second daughter of George II and Queen Charlotte.  Lady Waldegrave subsequently married William Henry, Duke of Gloucester, George III’s brother.

In 1829 Isabella married Henry Joseph St John at St George’s, Hanover Square to whom, by one of the vagaries of history, she was related.  Both could trace their ancestry back to Sir John St John and Lucy Hungerford, making them 6th cousins once removed.

Poor Henry was no stranger to scandal and subterfuge.  His father George Richard, 3rd Viscount Bolingbroke deserted his first wife Charlotte Collins and their three children to take up with his half sister Mary Beauclerk. Four sons later George Richard ran out on this family too.  Henry Joseph’s mother Isabella Hompesch thought she was legally married to George Richard only to find, pregnant with her seventh child, that she wasn’t.

George Richard 3rd Viscount Bolingbroke

Henry Joseph was born in Elizabeth Town, New Jersey in 1799.  In family records he is often called Joseph to distinguish him from an elder brother also called Henry.  Following his parents marriage the family returned to Lydiard House in Wiltshire in 1806 and in 1812 he was admitted to Sandhurst. His name appears in the Waterloo Medal Book where he served as an Ensign in the 2nd Battalion of the Grenadier Guards in Lieutenant Colonel West’s Company, supposedly the youngest officer to serve at the battle.

Lady Isabella’s own tenure at Hampton Court Palace dates from June 4, 1839 when she took up residence in Apartment 19 (Suite XII).  This suite of rooms, the Lord Chamberlains Lodgings, overlooks Base Court, the largest of the interior courtyards at the Palace.  In Tudor times Base Court contained 44 lodgings for Henry’s guest.

published courtesy of Jonathan Foyle

Henry was with his wife and daughter Antonia at Hampton Court Palace when he died in 1857.  He was buried on January 8 at St Mary’s Church, Hampton.

Isabella continued to reside in the Palace for another 18 years until her death on August 27, 1875 at the age of 83.  Her burial took place in the churchyard of Hampton St Mary on September 1.

Elizabeth Barbara St John, Lady Halford

When Charles I’s coffin was opened during building work in St George’s Chapel in 1813, Royal physician Sir Henry Halford purloined part of the 4th cervical vertebrae, just where the axeman struck his blow.  Did Sir Henry keep his acquisition in a curiosity cabinet, for the eyes of special friends only?

“Don’t get that flippin’ thing out again,” you can almost hear his beleaguered wife Elizabeth complain.

Or perhaps he kept it on the mantelpiece for all to see, gathering dust and creeping out the housemaids. Does anyone in the said Halford family possess the grisly relic today, one wonders?  Imagine discovering a dearly departed relative had left you a piece of Charles I’s severed neck in their will?

Henry began his medical career in Edinburgh following this with a stint in practice with his father in Leicester.  In 1793 he was elected physician to the Middlesex hospital and that same year he was appointed physician extraordinary to the King, the youngest doctor to hold the title.

When Elizabeth Barbara St John married Sir Henry in 1795 he was plain old Dr. Henry Vaughan.  He changed his name to Halford in 1809 in the expectation of a sizeable inheritance from Lady Denbigh, widow of his mother’s cousin and was created a Baronet in the same year.

Elizabeth Barbara St John was born on February 22, 1762, the third daughter of John St John, Baron St John of Bletsoe and his wealthy wife Susanne Louise Simond, the daughter of a London based French Huguenot merchant.  Henry and Elizabeth had two surviving children – a son Henry who became 2nd Baronet Halford, and a daughter Louisa who married a distant cousin, Frederick Coventry.

Such was Sir Henry’s reputation within the Royals that he became physician in ordinary, attending almost every member of the family across the years.  There is no denying he enjoyed an illustrious career, even if some accused him of having airs and graces.  James Wardrop, appointed surgeon to the King in 1828, called him ‘the eel backed baronet,’ in reference to the deep and frequent bows he made when in the Royal presence.

With so many professional commitments one wonders how much time Henry and Elizabeth actually spent together. The Court circular published in the Times contains frequent references to Sir Henry in his professional capacity, but there is no mention of Elizabeth.

In 1814 Henry came into his inheritance and moved his family into the 17th century Wistow Hall.  The Leicestershire property, which had received little attention during Lady Denbigh’s watch, was in a perilous condition and Henry quickly instituted a major makeover, perhaps supervised by Elizabeth.  Henry meanwhile remained at his Curzon Street home within close reach of his Royal patients.

Elizabeth died at Wistow Hall on June 17, 1833 and was buried in the Halford family vault in St Wistan’s.  The remodelled 18th century church is stuffed full of Vaughan and Halford memorials.  The earliest is a black and white marble monument with an alabaster effigy of Sir Richard Halford in armour who died in 1658.  Sir Henry and Elizabeth’s paired monuments are on the north wall of the nave.

“To the memory of the Honourable Elizabeth Barbara daughter of John, eleventh Lord St John of Bletsoe and wife to Sir Henry Halford of Wistow, Baronet. Distinguished by the graces and accomplishments which become a descent from a long line of noble ancestors. She was exemplary in the discharge of all her duties, studious to promote the welfare and happiness of all around her.  Remarkable for sincerity of character, humble before God, charitable to mankind, a most affectionate wife and tender mother.  Born February 22nd 1762 Died June 17th 1833.  “Favour is deceitful and beauty vain but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised.” Prov XXXI 30.

Following the death of George IV in 1830 Henry was presented with a clock surmounted by a bust of the late King.  The inscription reads – “of their esteem and regard, and in testimony of the high sense they entertain of his professional abilities and unwearied attention to their late beloved sister the Princess Amelia, her late Majesty Queen Charlotte, his late Majesty King George III, his late royal highness the Duke of York, and lastly, to his Majesty George IV.”

A much more desirable inheritance than the vertebrae of poor King Charles.

The Two Mistresses Ruthven

Today’s GG post takes a look at a less aristocratic but none the less interesting family and two women who lived an unconventional life, not always on the right side of the law.

Little is known about Mary Ann Tamplin’s early life.  According to her marriage certificate her father William served in the Royal Navy; her mother gave the name Ann when she was called to give testimony on behalf of her daughter.

The first evidence of Mary Ann Tamplin is on the occasion of her marriage to George Ruthven at St Bartholomew the Great on June 3rd 1816.  George was 23 years old and ambitious.  Aged 17 he had followed his father Archibald and elder brother, also named Archibald into London’s embryonic police force. Founded in 1749 by Henry Fielding, the Bow Street Runners battled a tidal wave of crime in Georgian London.  While brother Archibald succumbed to temptation and was incriminated in corrupt policing practices, George carved out an illustrious career in the peace keeping force.

But these were the early days of George’s career.  He and Mary Ann moved into a house in Holles Street, a short walk from the magistrates court in Covent Garden.  Within five months of the wedding a son George John William was born.

Nicknamed ‘The Quaker’ by his fellow officers owing to an indifferent, cool attitude to his duties George has been described as an eccentric character. Resolute and not a little vindictive, Mary Ann experienced first hand his determination to see a case through.

At what point did the marriage go wrong?  Perhaps it was the long, unsociable hours George worked. Or maybe the cold determination that made him so successful in his career.  Perhaps his new found celebrity status following his detection of the Cato Street Conspiracy caused friction.  George had infiltrated a group of revolutionaries led by Arthur Thistlewood and learned of their plans to assassinate members of the British government. George led the party of peace officers who stormed their meeting place above a stable in Cato Street.  Although Thistlewood escaped, George hunted him down and brought him to justice.  George was proclaimed a hero.

As if this wasn’t excitement enough, Mary Ann left George and shacked up with a notorious horse dealer.  James Haseldine, also known as ‘Shock Jem’ ran a dodgy business buying and selling horses and carriages at establishments in Coleman Street and Grub Street in the City.  Haseldine incriminated several innocent and not so innocent bystanders in a fraudulent bankruptcy, with Mary Ann Ruthven playing a major part.  Haseldine was heard to boast that on the day he was examined Mrs Ruthven had money concealed in her stays. However, when his major creditor, bloodstock dealer Tattersall’s, smelt a rat Haseldine ended up in court.  Driving the whole investigation was none other than George who, it was reported ‘had been deeply injured by the treachery of Hazeldine in a pecuniary and domestic view.’  The expenses of the trial amounted to £5,000, some said paid for by George himself.

Having got his man and settled a few scores, George moved on.  On April 6, 1828 he had  Thomas Joseph and Mary Anne Sarah Ruthven, baptised at St Mary’s, Lambeth.  These were the eldest of a brood of twelve children he had with his common law wife Mary Anne Harrison.

Throughout the 1830s the couple lived at various addresses close to Covent Garden and across the Thames in Lambeth.  When Charles Henry and Christopher Charles Robert were born they were living in Drury Lane.  From 1832-1834 they were at Wych Street, beneath present day Aldwych, where Adolphus Devereux Duncan George, Grace and Louisa Ellen Isabella were born.  And in 1836 Alfred, Mary Ann Sarah Grace Jane and Catherine were born at Wellington Terrace.

On September 29, 1829 Sir Robert Peel’s new Metropolitan Police force took to the streets, but George’s career was far from over.  It was said that his family were rarely acquainted with his destination when he set off ‘on a long and dangerous expedition’ bidding them ‘you will perhaps hear of me soon.’

In 1839 the Bow Street force along with the Foot & Horse Patrol and the Thames River Police, amalgamated with the Metropolitan Police and George decided to call it a day.  In the best tradition of retired coppers, George bought a pub – the One Tun Inn on Chandos Street close to his old beat.

It was here that he died on March 26, 1849.  His death was registered by George John William Ruthven, his son by Mary Ann Tamplin and he was buried in the churchyard of St Paul’s, Covent Garden.

George’s death, most probably caused by a stroke, was sudden and just five days later poor Mary Anne Harrison gave birth prematurely to twins.  A son, John Prosper Ruthven died at 12 days old, a daughter Clara is described on census returns as ‘imbecile.’

In the obituary that appeared in The Times, it was said that George ‘was considered as the most efficient police officer that existed during his long career.’ He received a pension of £220 from the English government and similar amounts from both the Russian and Prussian Governments for his work on detecting forged currencies.

Meanwhile, what had happened to Mary Ann Tamplin? Shock Jem received a two year sentence in Newgate Prison, but whether Mary Ann waited from him remains unknown.  The 1841 census finds her living with her married son George at 13 Copenhagen Street in Islington, the address from which she married carpenter Thomas Wilson on March 18, 1848.

Mary Anne Harrison appears on the 1851 census at 16 Gladstone Street, Southwark living with her three daughters Ellen 18, Kate 12 and Clara 7.  Her eldest son Thomas 23 is head of the household and works as a General Dealer and Clothier’s Clerk.  Mary Anne and Christopher 21 list their occupation as Brush Manufacturer.

By 1861 both women are lost on the census.  A search for Mary Ann Wilson throws up too many possibilities; of Mary Anne Ruthven there appears no sign.  Did she marry or had she died by then?  As they had once existed on the periphery of George’s life, after his death they disappear into the myriad of women named Mary Anne.

Mary Anne Harrison was my great-great-great-grandmother.

St John Sisters

When William Cobbett visited Lydiard Tregoze on his fact finding tour of 1826 he observed that the estate had once been a noble place.

“The land is some of the finest in the whole country; the trees show that the land is excellent,’ he writes, ‘but, all, except the church, is in a state of irrepair and apparent neglect, if not abandonment.’

By the beginning of the 19th century the St John money was pretty much gone.  There was no longer any disposable income to spend on Sevres porcelain or racehorses and there was certainly no money for grand portraits in oil painted by royal favourites.

Displayed in the Morning Room at Lydiard House are drawings of the daughters of Henry 4th Viscount Bolingbroke and his wife Maria St John Mildmay, but no portraits of the parents survive.  There are examples of Maria’s needlework – an embroidered panel of a negro boy with two dogs – and two chair seats, an occasional chair in the drawing room and another on a Jacobean style oak chair in the library.

Following the marriage of Henry 4th Viscount Bolingbroke and Maria St John Mildmay at St George’s, Hanover Square in 1812 the young couple didn’t immediately make their home at Lydiard House.  George Richard, the father who had deserted Henry as an infant, was back in residence with his second wife Isabella Hompesch and a whole brood of children.  Henry and his family didn’t move in until after George Richard’s death in 1824.  He did, however, bring his two little daughters to be baptised at St Mary’s – Maria Louisa in 1813 and Anne Jane Charlotte in 1815.

Eldest sister Maria married John Lauriston Kneller, a customs clerk, on March 11, 1839, and produced a family of ten children.  John’s work apparently kept the family on the move.  The children’s birthplaces are recorded as Ireland, France, Liverpool, Cheshire and London.  Baptismal records reveal that even when in London they were still on the move, living at addresses in Grove Terrace, Chiswick, Mornington Road and Clapton Common, Hackney.  Maria died on June 2, 1861.

Her sister Anne married Lawrence Robert Shawe, an officer in the 5th Dragoons.  He appears to have sold his commission at the time of his marriage as he fails to appear in the army lists of 1840.  The Shawe family also led a fairly nomadic lifestyle.  Three of their seven children were born in Devon, one in Cheltenham, one in Hereford and two in Scotland.

Anne, more frequently known as Charlotte, is the only one of the sisters to appear at Lydiard House on one of the Victorian census returns.  No longer able to rent out the dilapidated mansion house to paying tenants, Henry returns to live there himself.  Charlotte and her youngest daughter Montague are visiting at the time of the 1861 census.

Anne outlived her husband by nearly twenty years.  She died on April 24, 1881 at Stanfield House in Southsea, the home of her son. The administration of her Personal Estate valued at £315 19s 10d was granted to her son Lawrence Paulet  Shawe-Storey.

Alongside the modest portrait of a middle aged 5th Viscount Bolingbroke in the Morning Room at Lydiard House is a silhouette portrait of the four sisters and Henry executed in Brighton by Mr Gapp. Youngest brother Spencer is not included – perhaps he couldn’t stand still for long enough.

The tradition of silhouette portraiture where a likeness is cut from black paper and pasted on a light background, dates from the mid 18th century.  John Gapp was the first silhouette artist on The Chain Pier in Brighton working from 1823 when the pier opened until about 1835.

Youngest sister Emily Arabella St John was born on August 18, 1817. She married William Corbet Smith at St Mary’s Church, St  Marylebone on June 24, 1840 and they had one son, Corbet. William died in 1847 and in 1852 Emily married Frederick Geldart Webbe Horlock. Emily died just three years later in 1855.

Now I don’t know what it is about Frederick that I find objectionable.  Maybe it’s his often quoted four names – slightly ostentatious.  Maybe it’s his lack of profession or occupation and the ubiquitous title ‘gentleman’ that rings alarm bells.  In 1860 Frederick fathers a child by his dead wife’s sister Isabella Letitia and then takes more than three years before he gets around to marrying her.

On the death of their father in 1851 the girls’ only surviving brother Henry Mildmay inherited several titles, a crumbling mansion and the Lydiard Estate with a mortgage of £47,000.

Images of portraits in the Morning Room are courtesy of Lydiard House – visit the website on