Edward Walford.

Tales of our great families. 2d series (Volume 1) online

. (page 3 of 16)
Online LibraryEdward WalfordTales of our great families. 2d series (Volume 1) → online text (page 3 of 16)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

smile from the Duchess of Hamilton, who sat


by her side ; upon which the young princess
briskly remarked, " My dear duchess, you may
laugh, for you have been married twice; but it
is no joke to me."

The general respect in which the young
Dowager Duchess of Hamilton was held at the
time of her second marriage, forced an acknow-
ledgment even from the censorious Walpole, that
her merit was as conspicuous as her good for-
tune, and that the extraordinary sensation
created by her beauty had not at all impaired
the modesty of her behaviour. The Duchess of
Hamilton became Duchess of Argyll in 1770, a
change of title characteristically commented upon
by Walpole, who observes that, " As she is not
quite so charming as she was," he does not know
" whether it is not better than to retain a title
which put one in mind of her beauty." In 177 tf
she was created Baroness Hamilton, of Hamilton,
in Leicestershire, in her own right. She was
one of the Ladies of the Bedchamber to Queen
Charlotte, who, jealous of her undoubted favour
with the King, treated her so badly that at one
time she contemplated resigning her post. The
Duke consented that she should do so, on condi-
dition that he might dictate the letter of resigna-
tion. The letter was accordingly written, but
the Duchess, greatly dissatisfied with the terms


employed, which by no means expressed her feel-
ings, added a postscript to this effect : " Though
/ wrote the letter, the Duke dictated it." Ulti-
mately the affair was arranged by the Duchess
retaining her place.

Elizabeth, Duchess of Hamilton and of Argyll,
was the wife of two dukes, and the mother of
four. By her first husband, she was mother of
James, seventh duke, and of Douglas, eighth
Duke of Hamilton : and by her second husband,
of George, sixth duke, and of John, seventh
Duke of Argyll. She died on the 20th Decem-
ber, 1790, and so terminated the history of the
two fair Gunnings.

There is at Croome Court, the seat of the pre-
sent Earl of Coventry, a fine portrait of Maria
Gunning, and another of her " double-duchessed"
sister; the latter was also painted by Sir Joshua
Reynolds, and sat to other artists. At Inverary
Castle, Argyllshire, the seat of the Duke of
Argyll, there is an authentic full-length portrait
of Elizabeth Gunning (his Grace's grand-mother)
by Cotes, and another, also full-length, is to be
seen at Hamilton Palace. I am given to under-
stand that the present Duke of Argyll, the
grandson of Elizabeth Gunning, has two other
portraits of his ancestress, both half length, and


that one of them is at his Grace's town residence
at Campden-hill.

The " fair Gunnings" were painted as com-
panion pictures by Cotes in 1751, and also by
Read ; the latter pictures were both engraved by
Finlayson, and other engravings of Maria and
Elizabeth are to be seen in the British Museum.
Read represents the Duchess in a lace mob cap
and cloak, while an engraving by Houston por-
trays her as a country lass, with a rose in her
bosom. Of Maria there is a portrait by Hamil-
ton, whole length, with a greyhound by her side.
The two sisters are very much alike ; both are
remarkable for their small mouths, high fore-
heads, aquiline noses, and arched eyebrows.
Certainly, Maria would be adjudged by the
ladies nowadays the prettier in detail she is
slim and elegant, though rather inanimate ; but
I much prefer the looks of Elizabeth, who is
darker, plumper, and more intelligent, and alto-
gether a finer woman. I am told that there is
also a mezzotint of " the three Miss Gunnings,"
but 1 have not been able to find a copy in the
Print Room at the British Museum.



IT is stated as a fact, by a writer in the Stock
Exchange Review, that " at the end of the
last century, when George the Third was King,
and when .Meyer Auselm Rothschild kept a
broker's shop in the Jew-lane of Frankfort,
there were six bankers in London who had each
and all the repute of being possessed of extraordi-
nary wealth, or what would now be termed
millionaires. These six bankers," he adds, " were
Thomas Coutts, Francis Baring, Joseph Denison,
Henry Hope, Lewis Tessier, and Peter Thellus-
son." I purpose in my present chapter to tell my
readers a little about the latter wealthy gentle-
man, what sort of will he made, and what
became of his wealth, which at one time threat-
ened to prove of fabulous amount, to swallow
up half the riches of his contemporaries, and to


form the nucleus of a fortune which should
fairly outstrip the Rothschilds and Esterhazys.

We are told by Sir Nathaniel William Wraxall,
in his amusing "Memoirs of My own Time,"
that George the Third had a very great objection
to raise to the peerage any member of a family
engaged in commercial pursuits ; and it was
long before he could be persuaded even by his
favourite " heaven-born" minister, William Pitt
to break his resolution. The first to burst
down the barrier of royal exclusiveness was Mr.
Robert Smith, a banker in London, and the
son of a banker at Nottingham, to whom Pitt was
largely indebted for the " sinews of war" in the
earlier part of his career, and on whom, there-
fore, was conferred, in 1797, the title of Lord
Carrington, or, as the family now spell it,

Another of the wealthy money-changers and
money-brokers, whose fortunes were established
by successful commerce, east of Temple Bar, in
the middle of the last century, was the afore-
said Peter Thellusson, who was born in 1735.
Though not known to fame on this side the
British Channel, yet, according to Sir Bernard
Burke and the Heralds, the Thellussons trace
back their origin to the ancienne noblesse of the
kingdom of France. The first of the name of


whom we hear anything in particular was Frede-
rick de Thellusson, Seigneur de Flesche'res,
and Baron de Saphorin, one among the nobles
who assisted Philip VI. of France in his expedi-
tion into Flanders early in the fourteenth century.
His family still owned their hereditary estates at
Fleschere*, near Lyons, up to the time of the great
Massacre of St. Bartholomew, in August, 1572,
when they fell among the victims of that dreadful
night According to tradition, the only member of
the family who escaped the slaughter was Theo-
philus de Thellusson, who had married a sister of
the Count de Saluce, at that time the Governor of
the city of Lyons; he seems to have effected his
escape into Savoy, and thence to Geneva, where
he settled, and his descendants at different times
filled high places connected with the Republic
of that city.

Isaac de Thellusson, who established himself as
a banker in a good way of business in Geneva,
and afterwards at Paris, and who was Ambas-
sador from his native city to the Court of France
in the reign of Louis XV., had four sons, one of
whom, Peter, became the great merchant of
London, whom we have already named. His
history is certainly a very singular one. The
father had largely increased his business by
taking into his employ as a clerk, and afterwards


as a partner, a man subsequently celebrated in
French history, M. Necker, the same who was
Minister of Finance during the French Revolu-
tion. The firm accordingly became known as
Messrs. Thellusson and Necker. The son had
joined his father's banking house in Paris when
a young man ; but as soon as the first throes of
the Revolution made themselves felt, he resolved
to seek a country where property would be
more secure, and with that view to establish in
London a branch in connection with his father's
business. His great and absorbing passion
seems to have been to acquire a large fortune
in hard cash ; and many years had not elapsed
ere Mr. Peter Thellusson found his sails swell-
ing with the breezes of favouring fortune, for he
succeeded in establishing one of the principal
banking houses in the City.

" A man of great sagacity and extraordinary
perseverance," writes Mr. F. Martin, "coupled
with a desire of making money, which amounted
to an all-absorbing passion. Mr. Thellusson soon
found success at his door, and in a few years
built up one of the first banking establishments
in the British metropolis." But however great
his wealth, he still yearned for more. Accord-
ingly unsated with the gold which he had ac-
cumulated, he resolved, as he knew that he


could not live for ever himself, to try at
least if he could not hand down a colossal for-
tune to his distant posterity, either entire or in
three shares, he did not much care which. Pro-
bably such a will as he devised, in order to
effect that end, had never been heard of, or
even dreamt of, before the year of grace 1797;
the sequel will prove that it is a good thing
for society at large that there have not been
many found to imitate his example ; and it is
well that, although his will was allowed to stand,
the recurrence of such a disposition was forbid-
den by a special Act of Parliament.

Towards the close of the last century, when he
was still several years short of the allotted
" three score and ten," he one day quietly took
stock of his worldly possessions, and found that
he was the owner of a clear .6,000,000 in hard
cash, besides an annual rent roll of 4,500. He
" had satisfied the ordinary ambition of an Eng-
lish bourgeois he had founded a family. Peter
Isaac, the son of his youth and the prop of his
house, was heir to ,35,000 a year in money and
land, and might claim to be a born gentleman.
Peers and peeresses might hereafter spring in
intermediate succession from the loins of that
denizen of a dingy little back parlour behind the
Bank. The best men upon 'Change envied the


prosperous Peter Thellusson, who had no object
of ambition unsatisfied. Peter himself was of a
different mind ; he had not nearly money enough.
Let other men be content to found one family ;
Peter was lucky enough to have three sons, and
he would found three families. It was not that
he loved his sons, or his sons' sons ; but it was
the hope and desire of this magnificent posthu-
mous miser to associate his name with three
colossal fortunes. If he did not love his sons,
he did not hate them ; he was simply indifferent
to everything except to his one cherished ob-

Accordingly he took the very best legal ad-
vice upon the subject, and made, as most men
make, a will. By this he left about .100,000
to his wife, his three sons, and three daughters
probably in order to show the world that no
unnatural antipathy to his nearest relatives
tainted his last dying testament with mania ;
while the rest of his fortune, amounting to
more than 600,000, was conveyed to trustees,
who were to let it accumulate till after the
deaths not only of his children, but of all the
male issue of his sons and grandsons ; in fact,
till every man, woman, and child of the off-
spring of Peter, and alive or begotten at Peter's
decease, should be defunct. After that event


the vast property, with its accumulations at
compound interest, was to be given to the nearest
male descendants who should bear the family
name of Thellusson. No one of the children or
grandchildren who had smiled in old Peter Thel-
lusson's face, or had trembled at his presence,
or had squalled at the sound of his hard, harsh
voice, should be ever the better or richer for all
his wealth. The money, divided into three
equal parts, was to go to the eldest male descen-
dants of his eldest, his second, and his third
sons respectively. If there should be a failure
in the male issue of any of the three, the share
was to be divided among the representatives of
the other two ; if a failure of two, then the three
shares were to go as one vast property to the
one survivor ; but, should after all no lineal male
descendants then remain, the whole was directed
to be sold, in order that it might be applied
towards paying off a part of the national debt !
This was the grandest part, perhaps, of all his
scheme ; the very idea of it is bewildering to the
ordinary business mind.

Having done what he pleased with his own,
and excluded, like an unnatural parent, his own
offspring from almost any share in the benefit of
the estate which he held in trust for " those of
his own household," he winds up his testament


with a whining appeal to the Legislature, almost
worthy of Shylock appealing against mercy ; he
had earned his money by honest industry, and
he humbly trusted that the two Houses of Parlia-
ment would not alter his will. But, though man
proposes, a higher Power disposes ; and this Mr.
Thellusson's family learned speedily. With such
intentions recorded in his will, which he duly
signed and sealed, Peter Thellusson died ; but
those intentions, like so many others in this world,
were doomed to be frustrated. The family met
after the funeral and the will was opened, and
created sensations which vibrated through the
laud in widening circles. Our law books picture
to us the blank disappointment of the then living
relatives, the gentle murmur of a past generation
of lawyers, and the gaping wonder of the general
public. There were then alive three sons and six
grandsons of this malignant old merchant, " all
destined to live the life of Tantalus ; to see this
great pagoda tree growing up before them, yet
never to pluck one unit of its fruit." The terms
of the will enjoined, that when the last survivor
of all the nine children and grandchildren should
yield up his breath, then the charm was to end ;
the great mountain of accumulated wealth was to
be divided into three portions, and one-third was
to be given to each of the " eldest male lineal


descendant " of his three sons. It is indeed
strange to think that so shrewd a man should
have had apparently no suspicion that his
nearest relations would do anything rather than
rest content under such a will, or that the Court
of Chancery under Lord Eldon would not engulph
in its wide jaws a good portion of his fortune
under such tempting conditions. And so it came
to pass that in something less than two years
after Peter Thellussoii was gathered to his fathers,
two bills had been filed in Chancery impeaching
the will, the one by his widow and children, and
the other by his trustees.

But although the suits were unsuccessful, the
will being allowed to stand good by the Lord
Chancellor and the other judges of the court, who
decided in favour of the testator, yet, for years
after, members of the bar found a rich mine which
they were not unwilling to work in cases con-
nected with the Thellusson will ; and only a few
years of the present century had elapsed when
poor Mrs Thellusson, the widow, died it is said
of a broken heart.

To be brief, such men as Lords Loughborough,
and Alvauley, and Eldon, allowed the litigation to
go up to the House of Lords, by which the will
was confirmed. The Legislature, however, after-
wards took up the affair, and, although they


would not set aside the will by an ex post facto
law, they enacted that the power of devising
property for the purpose of accumulation shall be
restrained in general to twenty-one years after
the. death of the testator. It was calculated at
the time that the Thellusson fund, if it had been
left to accumulate as its founder had specified,
could not have amounted to less than 19,000,000
at the moment of distribution, and would very
probably have reached the figure of 32,000,000.
But this calculation was rash. It was beautifully
correct in theory and on paper, but would not
work in practice ; evidently, too, not a shadow of
a doubt existed in his mind when he made the
will, that by the simple process of allowing a large
capital locked up under the protection of the law
to accumulate through three generations, the
wealth of the future Thellusson would swell into
dimensions compared with which fortunes of
kings and emperors would be mere beggarly flea-
bites. Unfortunately for himself, he had left out
of his calculation one all-important item, the ex-
istence of a certain institution called the Court of
Chancery, with its array of long-robed worship,
all ready to claim a share in the interest and
compound interest. The Court of Chancery so
" clipped and pollarded Peter Thellusson's oak
that it was not much larger than when he left it."
VOL i. E


Not only was there a Chancery suit to set aside
the will, but there was a cross suit to have the
trusts of the will performed under the direction
of the Court of Chancery a suit which at sixty
years old was as lively as ever. Of, course, there
were also other suits ; suits about post-testament
acquisitions, ajpout advowsons, &c. The last
survivor of the nine lives died in February, 1856.

The unhappy lady who was the wife of this
selfish millionaire, was a Miss Wood ford, the
daughter of Mr Matthew Woodford, and sister of
Sir Ralph Woodford, of Carlby, sometime M.P.
for Evesham. She derived but little comfort from
her husband's bank notes, and owned with her
last breath that the source of true happiness is
not to be looked for in money bags.

Seats in the House of Commons were found for
all the three sons of Peter Thellusson ; the Irish
Barony of Rendlesham was conferred on the
eldest, Peter Isaac, in 1800, and three of this
nobleman's sous having held the title in succes-
sion, the latter now belongs to his grandson, the
fifth Lord Rendlesham.

But the many millions sterling which the great
merchant had hoped would eventually come to his
descendants, what has become of them ? The
money was never destined to be theirs in its in-
tegrity ; and but a comparatively modest fortune


remained, and still remains, to the house. Lord
Rendlesham, the head of the family, holds a seat
in the House of Commons, as one of the Members
for Suffolk, in which county he owns a fair estate ;
but though only eighty years have passed since
old Peter Thellusson's death, there is now no
banking house which bears his name in the great
world of London. Sic transit gloria mundi.

E 2



IF HORACE WALPOLE was allowed to
manufacture such a word as "Double-
Duchessed" as an epithet to the fair Miss
Gunning; who married successively the Dukes of
Hamilton and Argyll, I suppose that I may be
pardoned if I take a similar liberty and ask my
readers to pardon me for giving them a brief
account of the " Double-Marquissed" House of
Cecil. It is not often that two members of
the same family are created Earls in a single day,
and that their respective male descendants attain
a still higher step in the peerage after a lapse
of nearly two centuries. Yet such is the history of
the Cecils, now Earls and Marquises of Exeter
and of Salisbury.

And first it may strike my readers as strange
that, though the name of Cecil is no older than


the reign of Queen Mary, yet the ancestors of
this two-fold marquisate were a very ancient
stock ; for did not Robert Sisilt assist Robert
Fitz-Hamon in the conquest of Glamorganshire
and Gower Land, under William Rufus? And
did he not receive, in recompense for his services,
the fair manor oi Alterennes, in the County of
Hereford ? And was not his son and heir Sir
James Sisilt, of Beaufort, in the County of
Glamorgan ? and did he not fall at the siege of
Wallingford, " having then on him a vesture
with his arms and ensigns in needlework, as they
afterwards appeared on the tomb of his descendant,
Gerard, in the Abbey of Dore," the same which
were formally assigned by the King to his lineal
descendant, Sir John Sisilt, and the same which
are now borne by the Marquises of Exeter and
of Salisbury, viz., " Barry of ten, arg. and az.
over all six escutcheons, three, two, and one, sa.,
each charged with a lion rampant of the first"
the latter, adds Sir Bernard Burke, "with a
crescent for difference f I pass over some seven
or eight generations, and come to the above-named
Sir John Sisilt, concerning whom Mr. Sharpe
relates in his " Present Peerage" that a fierce
contest arose at Halidon Hill in 1333 between
him and Sir William de Fakenham respecting
the arms thus heraldically described. On this


occasion they were adjudged to Sir John by a
commission from Edward JIL, who forbade the
rival knights from meeting and doing battle
for the shield in single and possibly in deadly
combat. His great grandson Philip appears to
have spelt his name as Sicelt, which was again
modernised into Cyssel by his son David, Sergeant-
at-Arms and steward of the manor of Weston, in
Northamptonshire, memorable in after-time as
the place where Henry VIII. parted with his
daughter, the Lady Margaret, who eventually
became the ancestress of the Stewart and Bruns-
wick lines.

David's son, Richard, who appears to have
called himself indifferently Sitcell, Sicelt, or
Syssel, was page and groom of the wardrobe to
" bluff King Hal" and Constable of Warwick
Castle; and he attended Henry as one of his
Court on his interview with Francis, King of
France, on the Field of the Cloth of Gold. He
is described as being " of Burley," and he certainly
served as High Sheriff of Rutlandshire in 1539.
He received from the Crown a grant of 300
acres in St. Martin's at Stamford, together with
the site of St. Michael's Priory ; and he seems
also to have purchased the manor of Esyngdon,
or Essendon, in Rutlandshire, whence his


grandson, the first Lord Salisbury, took the title
of Lord Cecil of Essendon.

This gentleman was the father of a statesman
whose name is familiar to every reader of the
History of England under the reigns of the
Tudors and Stuarts William, Lord Burghley.
I will not, however, speak here of the great
Burleigh in his capacity of a statesman, but only
as a private individual. He was an ardent and
zealous genealogist, when his public duties gave
him time for such pursuits ; and his labours or
amusements in this direction, though they often
related to other families than his own, were
sometimes directed to researches into the early
annals of his own house. An excessive eagerness
for the credit of a noble ancestry was one of his
foibles ; and a leading antiquary of the day,
taking advantage of the classical appearance of
the newly-adapted name of Cecil, endeavoured
to court his favour by gravely trying to trace
his descent from a patrician house of ancient
Rome the gens Ccecilia !

Passing, however, from the realm of myth
to that of plain prose and history, and coming to
his early manhood, I find him at the age of
twenty-one a student in Gray's Inn. Inclining
strongly to the " new faith," he attracted King
Henry's notice and favour by a successful


disputation, which he held with two intemperate
chaplains of O'Neill, the Irish chieftain, as to the
limits of the power of the Roman Pontiff. The
King accordingly granted him the reversion of
the office of "custos brevium" in one of the
courts of law ; and his career henceforth forms
part of English history. I will therefore dwell
briefly on it, simply stating that, on the Protector
Somerset establishing a Court of Requests in his
own house, he appointed Sir William Cecil its
first master. The latter subsequently followed
his patron to Scotland, and on the field of Mussel-
burgh he narrowly escaped death from a cannon
ball which passed close beside him. On his
return south he was made Secretary of State,
and sworn a member of the Privy Council. On
the fall of Somerset he was sent to the Tower
to share his chiefs imprisonment. Released
thence, I find him restored to his high post, in
which, says Sharpe, " Queen Mary offered to
retain him permanently if he would consent to
abjure the Protestant faith; this, however, he
refused to do." The rest of his story shall be
told in the words of Sir Bernard Burke, which
differ slightly from the above statement :

"Under the rule of Mary, although a very
zealous reformist previously, Sir William, with
all the tact of that renowned churchman, the vicar


of Bray, doffed his Protestant mantle, and
conformed to the ancient faith outwardly, says
his biographer, Dr. Nares, but certainly so far
as engaging a Catholic domestic chaplain,

1 3 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

Online LibraryEdward WalfordTales of our great families. 2d series (Volume 1) → online text (page 3 of 16)