Edward Walford.

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

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assured that he was dead, he desired that the
people might be dispersed, saying that he would
surrender; yet, almost in the same breath, he
desired that the people might be let in, and have


some victuals and drink ; but the issue was that
he went away again from the window, swearing
that he would not be taken. The people, how-
ever, still continued near the house, and two
hours later he was seen on the bowling-green by
one Cortis, a collier. ' My Lord' was then armed
with a blunderbus and a dagger, and two or
three pistols; but Curtis, so far from being
intimidated .... marched boldly up to him,
and his Lordship was so struck with the deter-
minate resolution shown by this brave fellow,
that he suffered him to seize him without making
any resistance. Yet the moment that he was in
custody he declared that he had killed a villain,
and that he gloried in the deed."

The rest of the story is soon told. From
Staunton Lord Ferrers was taken to Ashby,
where he was kept at an inn till the Monday
following. During the interval, a coroner's jury
sat upon the body, bringing in a verdict of
"wilful murder." From Ashby Lord Ferrers
was sent to gaol at Leicester, and thence, about
a fortnight later, to London. He was brought
up, we are told, in his own landau and six, under
a strong guard. He arrived in town about noon
on the 14th of February, " dressed like a jockey,
in a close riding frock, jockey boots and cap, and
a plain shirt."


Being arraigned before the House of Lords
for a peer has a legal right te be tried by his
peers and the coroner's verdict having been
read aloud, he was formally committed into the
custody of the Usher of the Black Rod, and
ordered to be kept in the Tower. He arrived
there about six in the evening, and we are gravely
told that " he behaved during the whole journey
and at his commitment with great exactness and
propriety" whatever those words may mean. It
may interest Mr. Hepworth Dixon, as the author
of " Her Majesty's Tower," to learn on good
authority that he was confined in the Round
Tower near the drawbridge, two warders being
constantly in the room with him, and one at the
door ; " two sentinels also were posted on the
stairs, and one upon the drawbridge, with their
bayonets fixed ; and from this time the gates
were ordered to be shut an hour sooner than
usual." It is strange that so much of extra pre-
caution should have been taken because a culprit
about to be tried for his life happened to have
worn an earl's coronet.

We are told by the chronicler of small things
relating to this titled prisoner of State, how
much beer, how much porter, how much water
Lord Ferrers was allowed daily during his incar-
ceration. No doubt the writer "interviewed"



or at least tried to interview the noble Earl in
his dungeon. Mrs. C- , his lady -housekeeper,
and her four young children were allowed to see
him from time to time, and to correspond with
him daily from a lodging which they had taken
in the neighbourhood of the Minories.

On the 16th of April, when he had been a
prisoner a little more than two months, he was
brought to trial at the bar of the House of Peers.
Lord Henley, afterwards Earl of Northington,
who at that time happened to be Keeper of the
Great Seal, presided as Lord High Steward, but
with a want of dignity to which Horace Walpole
more than once alludes in his letters to Sir
Horace Mann and Mr. George Montague. The
trial lasted till the 18th, when Lord Ferrers
endeavoured with great skill and cleverness to
elicit from several witnesses proofs of his in-
sanity. No detailed report of the substance of
such examination is extant; but it may easily
be believed that the greater the skill that he dis-
played the more signal his failure.

" His Lordship," says one account, " managed
his defence in such a manner as to show perfect
recollection of mind and uncommon powers of
understanding; he dwelt with the most delicate
and affecting sensibility on the hard situation of
being reduced to the necessity of proving himself


a lunatic in order that he might not be deemed
a murderer ; and when at last he found that his
plea could avail him nothing, he confessed that
he had put it forward only to gratify his friends,
being always averse to it himself."

It is needless to add that each of his brother
peers, on being asked the usual question, brought
in against Lord Ferrers a verdict of " Guilty upon
my honour ;" accordingly he was sentenced by
Lord Henley, in due form, to be hanged by the
neck till he was dead," and that his body should
be given afterwards, as was then the usual
practice, to the anatomists for dissection. The
day at first fixed for the execution was the 21st of
April ; but we are told that, " in consideration of
his rank," the fatal hour was postponed to the 5th
of May. It seems more to the point to record the
fact that, also " in consideration of his rank,"
he was permitted to be hanged with a silken
instead of a hempen rope.

At the trial, not only the Earl himself, but his
two brothers, tried to prove him to have inherited
the family misfortune of insanity ; and, as Horace
Walpole remarks, " it must have been a strange
contradiction to see a man trying, by his own
sense, to prove himself out of his senses, and
even more shocking to see his two brothers brought
to prove the lunacy of their own blood, in order to

H 2


save their brother's life. Both," adds the old
gossiper, " are almost as ill-looking men as the
Earl ; one of them is a clergyman suspended by
the Bishop of London for being a methodist; the
other a wild vagabond, whom they call in the
country ' ragged and dangerous.' " As a proof of
the madness of Lord Ferrers himself, it may be
mentioned that two years before, in 1758, he at-
tempted to murder his wife, " a pretty, harmless
young woman," according to Horace Walpole.

During the interval between his sentence and
its execution, his lordship made a will bequeathing

various sums to Mrs. C , to his children by her,

and to the children of his victim a poor instalment
of the reparation which he owed to the orphans
for the murder of their parent.

The scaffold was erected at Tyburn turnpike,
as nearly as possible on the spot where now stand
Con naught-place and Connaught- square. About
nine o'clock on the morning of the 5th his
lordship's person was formally demanded of the
keeper of the Tower by the sheriffs of London and
Middlesex. Being in form edof the fact, Lord Ferrers
requested that he might be allowed to travel to Ty-
burn in his own landau, instead of in the mourning
coach which had been provided. His request was
granted ; and at the gate of the Tower he entered
for the last time his own " landau," accompanied


by one of the sheriffs and by the chaplain of the
Tower, one Mr. Hnmphries.

The account of the journey from the Tower to
Tyburn, as it stands in the Gentleman s Magazine,
is so strange that I venture to extract it
entire :

" He was dressed in a suit of light-coloured
clothes, embroidered with silver, said to have
been his wedding suit ; and soon after the sheriff
entered the landau he said, " You may perhaps,
sir, think it strange to see me in this dress, but I
have my particular reasons for it." The pro-
cession then began in the following order: A
very large body of constables of the county of
Middlesex, preceded by one of the high constables ;
a party of horse grenadiers and a party of foot ;
Mr. Sheriff Errington in his chariot, accompanied
by his under-sheriff, Mr. Jackson; the landau,
escorted by two other parties of horse grenadiers
and foot ; Mr. Sheriff Vaillant's chariot, in which
was the under-sheriff Mr. Nichols; a mourning
coach and six, with some of his Lordship's
friends; and lastly a hearse and six, provided
for the conveyance of his Lordship's corpse
from the place of execution to Surgeons' Hall."

It is added that

" The procession moved r>o slow that Lord
Ferrers was two hours and three-quarters in his


landau ; but during the whole time he appeared
perfectly easy and composed, though he often
expressed his desire to have it over, saying that
the apparatus of death and the passing through
such crowds of people was ten times worse than
death itself. He told the sheriff that he had
written to the King, begging that he might suffer
where his ancestor, the Earl of Essex, had
suffered namely, on Tower Hill ; that ' he had
been in the greater hope of obtaining this favour
as he had the honour of quarteriug part of the
same arms arid of being allied to his Majesty ;
and that he thought it hard that he should have
to die at the place appointed for the execution of
common felons.' As to his crime, he declared
that he did it * under particular circumstances,
having met with so many crosses and vexations
that he scarcely knew what he did ;' and in fine
he protested that he had not the least malice
towards Mr. Johnson."

It would be profitless to dwell on all the lesser
details of Lord Ferrers' last journey how he
felt thirsty as he passed the top of Drury-lane,
and wanted a glass of wine aud water before he
went on ; how he gave a sovereign to the
assistant-executioner in mistake for his principal ;
how he declared to the chaplain that he believed
in a God, but did not like " sectaries" and their


teaching ; how he expressed at the last moment
his forgiveness of the hangman and of all mankind.

It is enough to say, in the words of "Sylvanus
Urban," whose contributor was doubtless an
eye-witness of the scene, that his Lordship met
his fate with fortitude and composure of mind as
he was pinioned and had the cap drawn over
his eyes, and that as soon as the bolt was
withdrawn the drop fell, and Lord Ferrers died
quickly and with but little apparent pain. At
the end of an hour the body was put into a coffin,
and taken to Surgeons' Hall, where the remainder
of the sentence was carried out in all its disgusting
details. The corpse, thus mutilated, was publicly
exposed to view, and on the Thursday following
was handed to his Lordship's friends and family
for interment ; but his remains were not destined
to rest with those of his ancestors at Staunton
Harold, for Mr. John Timbs tells us in his
' Curiosities of London' that after his execution,
the body of Lord Ferrers was taken to old St.
Pancras church and there buried privately be-
neath the belfry, in a grave fourteen feet

The Earl's widow also met with a tragic fate.
She married, secondly, Lord F. Campbell,
brother of John, fifth Duke of Argyll, and was


burnt to death tit Coombe Bank, Kent, in 1807,
aged seventy years.

Horace Walpole calls Lord Ferrers "a low
wretch, a mad assassin, and a wild beast ;" and
he details all the circumstances of his trial and
execution with considerable minuteness to Sir
Horace Mann, then our ambassador at Florence.
" What," he asks, " will your Italians say to a
peer of England, an earl of one of our best families,
tried for murdering his servant with the utmost
solemnity, and then hanged at the common place
for the execution of highwaymen, and afterwards
anatomised ?"

I will only add that as Lord Ferrers had no
legitimate issue, the title and estate passed to
his brother, and that therefore the present Earl
Ferrers and the various collateral branches of the
house of Shirley can at all events boast that they
do not inherit one drop of the blood of Laurence,
third Earl Ferrers.



AMONG the ladies of " Quality" who made
themselves most conspicuous and famous
I may almost say famosce in the classical sense
of the term in the good old days when George
III. was King, was Elizabeth Chudleigh, Count-
ess of Bristol, and (or) Duchess of Kingston.
A proud, haughty, and imperious child, she grew
up headstrong and self-willed beyond her fellows,
in an age when independence of character was
far from uncommon among women ; and it is
clear that she reigned for many years, feared, if
not loved, among the circle of her compeers, long
before her name was brought prominently before
the world by certain events which I purpose re-
cording in the. present paper.

In the early part of the last century a cer-
tain Colonel and Mrs. Chudleigh were living at


the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, where the former,
a cadet of a good family in Devonshire, and who
had served in the army under Marlborough, held
a subordinate post. Mr. and Mrs. Chudleigh had
a family of several sons and daughters, the
eldest of whom Elizabeth, was, as Horace Wai-
pole tells us, one of his playmates when he lived
in his father's house at Chelsea.*

Colonel Chudleigh died early, leaving it to his
relict to educate and " bring out" into society his
young family on a very small income, exclusive
of her pension as an officer's widow. Under
these circumstances Mrs. Chudleigh appears to
have done what most other women would do in

* Horace Walpole set her down as being fifty-five or fifty-six
at the time of her trial, and he was likely to know the fact, as
she and her brothers were his playfellows. The Walpoles
then lived at Chelsea, and her father, Colonel Thomas Chud-
leigh (who died in 1726) was Deputy Governor of the College.
Her mother was something of a heroine in her way ; at all
events, the story is told that, being asleep one night as she was
returning from a late party between London and Chelsea, she
was awakened suddenly by three footpads, one of whom held
a pistol to her breast. She coolly put her head out of the
other window of her carriage, and said " Fire," when the
patrol, who were fortunately at hand, fired, and shot the
robber. The daughter, if we may judge from the coolness and
nerve which she displayed on the memorable trial in Westmin-
ster Hall, was quite a "chip of the old block," and in no way


a like position, and resolved to turn to account
her own and her husband's " good connections"
the best substitute for money. She hired a
house on the outskirts of the town, within reach
of the rival camps of St. James's and Kensington
Palaces ; and, if she did not seek, at all events
she soon found, an opportunity of displaying in
high quarters the charms and attractions of her
eldest daughter Elizabeth, who was almost a
woman at fifteen. From a child, it is said, she
was distinguished for a brilliancy of wit and re-
partee,* and for other qualities which shone more
brightly in fashionable circles than at home. It
so happened that Frederick Prince of Wales and
the Princess (the father and mother of George
III.) held their Court at Leicester House, on the
north side of what now is Leicester Square,
having quitted St. James's in consequence of the
continual quarrels between the Prince and his
parents. Mr. Pulteuey, afterwards Earl of Bath,
was at this time a great favourite of the Prince
and Princess. The Chudleighs knew something

* As an example of her wit, we may mention the following
anecdote, which is told by Sir N. W. Wraxall. The Princess
of Wales who was accused of being far too intimate with Lord
Bute one day took Miss Chudleigh to task for some act of
levity. " Ah, Madame" washer quick retort, " chacvne id a
ton But"


of Mr. Pulteney or of his wife, and Elizabeth,
through their interest, was appointed when only
just eighteen one of the Maids of Honour to the
Princess. Mr. Pulteney took a somewhat more
than paternal interest in the clever girl, and en-
couraged her to improve her education, which
had been somewhat neglected, and made her his
amanuensis and constant correspondent. To
him she would read aloud, and, although her
volatile disposition prevented her from ever se-
riously applying herself to study, she gained
sufficient superficial information to enable her
to fulfil her own avowed aim of being on all sub-
jects, whether she wrote or spoke, " short, clear,
and surprising."

Had she lived in our days she would probably
have become a lady novelist; as it was, she
played a role of her own choosing, acting out a
romance instead of writing one. With such a
pupil even so grave a statesman as Pulteney
could laugh and amuse himself, for she had
always plenty of small talk at hand; but it must
be owned that when he tried to initiate her into
the secrets of political economy and statesman-
ship, she rather demurred, and showed a decided
preference for literature of a more amusing kind,
and probably for lighter and more frivolous
diversions. In her station, with a pretty face,


fine figure, and much ready wit to recommend
her, Miss Chudleigh soon became a general fa-
vourite with the Court at " Leicester Fields,"
among whom she could laugh and sing and play
a part in the miniature theatre as well as any of
the rest. A host of admirers sprung up around
her, some with coronets in possession, others
with titles in prospect.

Among those who were struck with her beauty
and fascination was the Duke of Hamilton, who
subsequently wedded one of the beautiful Miss
Gunnings, after whom all the world ran mad, as
already stated. The Duke proposed and was ac-
cepted, and it seemed as if she were about to attain
the summit of her ambition, the ducal strawberry
leaves, when the machinations of a heartless and
meddlesome relative, Mrs. Hanmer, dashed the
cup of happiness from her lips. Whatever may
have been the motive of Mrs. Hanmer's dislike
to the Hamiltons, it is certain that she set her-
self deliberately to work to break off the engage-
ment of her niece, and to destroy her prospects by
intercepting the letters of the Duke during his
temporary absence in France. Like many an-
other young lady's heart, that of Miss Chudleigh,
if she had one, was caught on the rebound. It
is probable that her ambition received a more
severe blow than her affections in the supposed


neglect of the Duke. Like the Due de Roussil-
lon's pet widow, " she would be a Duchess ;"
and a Duchess in some sort, at least in Eng-
land, though not in Scotland, she was destined
to become, although the intrigues of her aunt
prevented her from sharing the honours of his
Grace of Hamilton.

Among the daily visitors of her aunt was a
young naval officer, the Honourable Augustus
Hervey, of whom Mrs. Hanmer was very fond,
and on whom she had, for some inscrutable rea-
son, fixed to become the husband of her niece.
It was easy to throw the pretty, heedless girl
into the young sailor's way, and tci persuade the
insulted beauty that the Duke's neglect proved
he had ceased to care for her, at the same time
contrasting his conduct with the devotion of her
new admirer, and artfully suggesting that Her-
vey was in ultimate remainder to the Earldom of
Bristol. The bait took ; her hopes of becoming
a Duchess being for the time frustrated, Elizabeth
Chudleigh elected to run the chance of wearing
a Countess's coronet, although she cared nothing
for the man who was to confer it on her.

Urged on the one side by the dictates of
wounded pride and disappointed ambition, and
on the other by the worldly arguments of an
artful woman, Miss Chudleigh consented in an


evil hour to become the wife of Captain Hervey ;
but as neither she nor her lover could afford the
loss of her place at Court, it was settled that the
marriage should be strictly private, and that
even afterwards she should still officiate in her
capacity as a " maid of honour."

In the neighbourhood of Winchester there is a
small parish named Lainston, and here in a pri-
vate chapel adjoining the house of the squire,
Mr. Merrill, was celebrated the union between
Captain Hervey and Miss Chudleigh. It was
celebrated late in the evening, by the light of a
tallow candle stuck into an empty bottle, and
without much ceremony. The consequences of
such a marriage, with no fixed principles of right
and wrong on the part of either, could not be
otherwise than most disastrous. Captain Hervey
seems, indeed, to have been utterly devoid of
any qualities which could ensure the esteem of or
attach even temporarily such a woman as Eliza-
beth Chudleigh ; and her miseries, which date
from this ill-starred union, proved the cause of
all the future unhappiness which dogged her
steps through life and gave a colour to her fate.
Only some forty-eight hours had elapsed from the
scene in the little chapel when the bride and bride-
groom parted ; and, as the union had not been
publicly notified, they agreed that it should be


kept secret. Elizabeth had already had sufficient
knowledge of her husband's disposition to be
aware it would require all the art of which she
was mistress to insure his discretion should he
change his mind and propose to make the mar-
riage public. The best argument which she
could plead was the fact that he had little or
nothing to live on but his pay, and that if her
marriage was publicly known she would lose her
post as maid of honour. He therefore yielded
the point, but in a way which showed that he
was resolved to play the tyrant and to torture
his victim. In fact, as she often expressed her-
self, " Her misery began with the arrival of Mr.
Hervey in England, and the greatest joy that
she experienced was the news of his departure."
Hence, while his ship was in the Downs or at
Spithead, she always trembled with fear lest his
destination might be altered by orders from the
Lords of the Admiralty. "A fair wind down
the Channel" was the soother of her mind, and
nothing pleased her better than to hear that his
ship had been " spoken" leagues away from
England on the wide Atlantic.

Miss Chudleigh, or rather Mrs. Hervey, for
such she was in the eye of the law a maid in
appearance, but really a wife in disguise, came
back to London, and mixed as usual in the


highest circles, with a cheerful face, but a heart
heavy with the consciousness of her anomalous
position and a prescience of the misfortunes
which awaited her. Her husband, though quieted
for a time, made his presence in London offen-
sively known, and even contrived to visit her at
her lodgings in Maddox Street. Not many
months afterwards Miss Chudleigh gave birth to
a son, who, however, lived only a few short weeks.
The same thing happened again a year or two
later, and for some little time there was a
boy who, if he had grown to manhood, would
have "put out of joint" the nose of the subse-
quent Earls and Marquises of Bristol. About
this time, to add to the chagrins of the unhappy
young wife, the Duke of Hamilton returned
from France, and hastened to throw himself at
the feet of his lady love, and to inquire the
reason of her mysterious silence. Mutual ex-
planations ensued, and it appeared that, so far
from his affection for Miss Chudleigh having
cooled, he was more than ever desirous of making
her his wife without delay. To his surprise his
suit was peremptorily rejected, and it being in
fact equally impossible for the ci-devant Miss
Chudleigh either to accept him, or to explain her
reasons for refusing the object of her former
ambition, she was subjected to much inconve-
VOL. i. I


nient importunity from her mother, as well as
from the Duke.

To escape the reproaches and resentment of
the former, who, all this time was wholly igno-
rant of the fact of her daughter's marriage with
Mr. Hervey, and of her having become a mother,
she next embarked for the Continent, where,
says Hone in his " Year Book," she lived in a
style of shameless dissipation. Calling herself
Miss Chudleigh, she now so wrought upon
Frederick the Great that he dispensed with all
etiquette, in consequence of her request that "she
might study at her ease a prince who gave les-
sons to all Europe, and who might boast of
having an admirer in every individual of the
British nation." During her residence at Berlin
she was treated with the greatest distinction.
She afterwards went to Dresden, where she ob-
tained the friendship of the Electress, who loaded
her with presents. Upon returning to England,
she .resumed her attendance upon the Princess of
Wales, and continued to be the attraction of the
Court. Her marriage with Captain Hervey,

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Online LibraryEdward WalfordTales of our great families. 2d series (Volume 1) → online text (page 6 of 16)