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The three daughters of Sir Edward were
respectively named Laura, Maria, and Charlotte;
they were elegant, lively, and highly accomplished,
and of good temper and wit they had their full
share. The portraits of Laura and Charlotte were
painted in a single picture by Ramsay, and that
of Maria by Sir Joshua Reynolds. At the
Strawberry Hill sale these pictures fetched
respectively fifty and seven hundred guineas.
Indeed, they were already reckoned among the
chief beauties of their time, and they excited the
admiration of everyone who had the happiness of
enjoying their society. Grand-daughters of the
Prime Minister, and as amiable as they were
lovely, they might fairly have appeared worthy of
the affection of the proudest nobles of the land.

* It is said of Horace Walpole that he once whimsically
declared at Strawberry Hill that he would like to be a doctor if
only for one reason that he might continually write for his
patients one grand recipe for all complaints : " R. Haustus
ccclxv. auroj Londin. in diem sumendos."


To any such idea, however, their left-handed
birth opposed what strange to say in a day
when the King's German mistresses were raised
wholesale to the peerage of England appeared
at the time an insuperable bar. They were
known, not as Misses Clement, but by their
father's name ; but, by the prudish rules of St.
James's they could not be presented at that
Court where ladies by no means respectable were
received wholesale ; and so of course " those Miss
Walpoles," as no doubt the Duchess of Kendal
and Lady Walsingham snubbingly styled them,
were never recognised by persons who could
boast of an unsullied descent so far as appears
in the records of the Heralds' College.

On the other hand, Horace Walpole himself, be
it said to his credit, was very partial to his brother's
daughters, and constantly invited them to Straw-
berry Hill. Indeed, as might have been expected
from one who combined as much as he did of the
republican with the courtier, he was very proud of
them one and all, notwithstanding the bend-
sinister which marked their escutcheons, or, if I
must speak heraldically, their " lozenges." His
friends and correspondents record that he would
gladly leave any of his favourite occupations, even
his collections of old china, in order to attend
upon his favourite nieces ; and it was almost always


a grand and festive day when the Lord of Straw-
berry Hill announced that he was to welcome the
Wai pole beauties within its Gothic walls. But
there were also younger men than "Dear
Uncle Horace," who were ready to leave their
pursuits and professional studies in town in order
to pass an afternoon in their charming society ;
and the lesser court of King Horace at Twicken-
ham proved no contemptible rival to the greater
court of King George and his Queen at St.

In fact, the beauty and real goodness and
worth of the Walpole girls conspired with the lax
code of morality in the highest circles to break
down the barriers which as yet stood in their
way. Added to this, the prejudices which had
hitherto kept members of aristocratic families
from matching with young women of plain and
untitled families were gradually passing out of
date. Had not plain Sarah Jennings worn the
ducal coronet of Marlborough, and ruled as a queen
of society, even over kings and queens and courts "?
And were the grand-daughters of Sir Robert
Walpole, though not born in wedlock, to be de-
barred from the outer circle of a court where even
the marriage of a lady was no guarantee of her
correct conduct?

The first young man of good birth and high


prospects be it said to his credit who resolved
to set this code at defiance, was the Hon. and Rev.
Frederick Keppel, a younger brother of the Earl
of Albemarle. He was a clergyman of good
character and fair position, already holding pre-
ferment in the Established Church, and one who
not unreasonably might look forward to the pros-
pect of further promotion. He much admired
Laura, the eldest of the three, and he thought
he saw in her those qualities which would make a
good wife for a clergyman. He knew the history
of Mary Clement, and in spite of it he resolved to
propose for her daughter. Horace Walpole thus
writes on the subject :

" I have forgot to tell you of a wedding in our
family ; my brother's eldest daughter is to be
married to-morrow to Lord Albemarle's brother,
a canon of Windsor. We are very happy with
the match. The bride is very agreeable, sensible,
and good, though not so handsome, perhaps, as
her sisters. . . . The second, Maria, is beauty
itself. Her face, bloom, eyes, hair, teeth, and
person are all perfect. You may image how
charming she is when I tell you that her only
fault, if one must find one, is that her face is
rather too round. She has a great deal of wit
and vivacity, with perfect modesty."

Mr. Keppel, already canon of Windsor, my


readers may be glad to learn, lived to mount the
ladder of further promotion, and died Bishop of
Exeter ; nor did I ever hear that he found cause
to regret the choice that he made when he married
the daughter of plain Mary Clement. As the un-
titled daughter of that uiititled lady, the doors of
St. James's had been closed against her ; but as
" the Hon. Mrs Keppel" she at once appeared at
court, and was duly presented to the King and
Queen "on her marriage," as is written in the
book of the chronicles of the Court Circular of
the day.

It is needless to state that after this marriage
of the elder sister, the chances in favour of the
beautiful Maria and of Charlotte making " good
matches" increased wonderfully, and that they
soon found as good a market to carry their matri-
monial wares to as they could have found at the
" drawing-room " of royalty. In fact, the sisters-
in-law of the Keppels appear to have been sisters-
in-love as well as sisters-in-law ; and in general
society the prejudices which for a time had stood
in the way of the young ladies' advancement soon
began to crumble away. Introduced into general
society by the Keppels, they were received every-
where among the Suffolk county families, Maria,
the beauty of the family, creating a marked sensa-
tion wherever she appeared.


Among the numerous admirers of the belle of
the season was a certain noble earl, of high and
noble descent, who, though not quite young, nor
yet quite advanced in years, thought himself not
too old to take a young wife. Maria Walpole, he
thought, was by far the most lovely woman that
he had ever seen, at all events that he knew ; but
then it was the old story, " There were objec-
tions," strong, though possibly not insurmountable.
His lordship, who was no other than James,
second Earl Waldegrave, had held the highly
respectable post of Governor and Privy Purse to
the Prince of Wales ; he was also Privy Councillor,
a Knight of the Garter, and a Teller of the
Exchequer ; and it would scarcely be becoming, he
thought, to fly in the face of his royal master, and
offend courtly propriety by marrying a lady whom
the King and Queen could not possibly recognise,
even though that lady was a Walpole. But
while Lord Waldegrave was striving to digest his
scruples, and to weigh his interest against his
inclinations, he found the prize within his reach
was daily becoming more and more precious
in the eyes of several persons of distinction
who had similar opportunities with himself of
observing how much more lustre the matchless
face of Maria Walpole would add to a coronet
than a coronet would add to her face. The earl


also could not but remember that he was already
four-and-forty, and that there were plenty of
younger rivals in the field who would be likely
to take advantage of any indecision on his part.
Indeed he was given to understand by one of
those kind lady friends who love to have a
finger in the pie of every match-making arrange-
ment, that with his lordship it was a question
of "now or never," and it was no season for

The result was, as might have been expected,
that the Prince's Governor and Privy Purse, Earl,
Privy Councillor, Knight of the Garter, and Teller
of the Exchequer though he was, came to a de-
cision to follow the example of Mr. Keppel, and lay
his honours and coronet at the feet of the daughter
of the poor tailor's apprentice. Accordingly, in the
year 1759, Maria Wai pole became Countess
Waldegrave, and, like her elder sister, was duly
" presented at Court " Lord Waldegrave, it may
be remarked, had some pretensions to unite
himself with so intellectual and literary a family
as the Walpoles, as being one of the " noble
authors " of his day. He had composed a volume
of " Historical Memoirs," extending from 1754 to
1758 ; a work with respect to which it is remarked
with some naivete by Mr. Eliot Warburton, that
" it is true he was the historian of rather a short


period ; but then it must be remembered that in
four years much may be done, and, therefore
much may be written about it." His lordship,
I believe, never found reason to regret his choice ;
and he had three daughters by his countess, who
proved as good a mother as wife. Four years
after her marriage, and just after the birth of her
last child, the Earl was struck with the small-
pox, of which he died. She nursed him, however,
through his illness with all care and affection, and
regardless of all consequences to herself, as I
learn on the testimony of her uncle Horace ; and
she deeply lamented his loss ; indeed, for many a
long month she was inconsolable. To her own
prospects, apparently, the loss of Lord Waldegrave
was a severe blow, as only a few days before his
last illness he had been offered the choice of two
splendid appointments the Ambassadorship at
Paris or the Lord-Lieutenancy of Ireland.

It was long before the widowed countess
would venture again into society; but society
felt that it had a claim upon her, and was not
slow to enforce its claim. More lovely than ever
on her reappearance in fashionable circles, the
youthful widow drew on herself more admiring
eyes, if possible, than she had done in her early
maiden days. Her three little girls engrossed all
her attentions and affections. Many of the first


and highest nobles in the land sought to share
their honours and possessions with the charming
relict; but the Countess was obdurate, and a
long train of rejected suitors, with the Duke of
Portland at their head, passed away from her

But the whirligig of time brings round its
revenges. A few years of widowhood passed by
when another pretender to the widow's hand
entered the field, and the very lady against
whom only seven brief years before the doors of
"our Palace of St. James's were closed and
barred was now sought in marriage by the King's
own brother. " A singular union indeed," as Mr
Eliot Warburton remarks, " of the two extreme
links of the social chain took place when H.R.H.
William Henry, Duke of Gloucester, in 1766, es-
poused the daughter of the unfortunate Mary
Clement a marriage in virtue of which it was
not only possible*, but quite probable, that a de-
scendant of the tailor's apprentice might in course
of time take his or her seat upon that very throne
to which her own daughters had been denied all
approach." The issue of this second marriage
was (1) a son, Prince William Frederick, Duke

* What is known as the Royal Marriage Act, passed at the
instance of George III., was one of the consequences of this



of Gloucester, who married the Princess Mary,
daughter of King George III., and died in 1834 ;
and (2) a daughter, the Princess Sophia, who
died unmarried in 1844. It may be interesting
here to record the fact that Maria's three little
girls by her first husband all lived to grow up
and married well ; the eldest becoming the wife
of her cousin George, fourth Earl Waldegrave,
and eventually the owner of Strawberry Hill ;
the second marrying George Henry, fourth Duke
of Grafton ; while the third married Admiral
Lord Hugh Seymour, the grandfather of the
present Marquis of Hertford.

And do my readers wish to know the matri-
monial fate of Charlotte, the youngest of the
three of the Walpole beauties ? She was married
in 1760 to Lionel, Lord Huntingtower, afterwards
fourth Earl of Dysart in the Scottish peerage.
But they shall hear the story in the words of her
uncle Horace. He writes under date Oct. 2,

"I announce to you my Lady Huntiugtower.
I hope you will approve the match .... I
suppose my Lord Dysart will, as he does not yet
know, though they have been married these two
hours, that at ten o'clock this morning his son
married my niece Charlotte at St. James's Church.
The moment my Lord Dysart is dead, I will


carry you to see Ham House. It is pleasant to
call neighbours cousins, with a charming pros-
pect over against one. And now, if you want to
know the detail, there was none. It is not the
style of our little court to have long negotiations ;
and we do not fatigue the town with exhibiting
the betrothed parties for six months together in
public places. Venit, vidit, vicit. The young lord
has liked her for some time ; on Saturday sen'night
he came to my brother and made his demand.
The princess did not know him by sight, and did
not dislike him when she did ; she consented, and
they were to be married this morning : My Lord
Dysart is such a fool that nobody will pity him.
He has kept his son till six and twenty, and
would never make the least settlement on him.
" Sure," said the young man, " if my father will
do nothing for me, I may please myself; he can-
not hinder me of 10,000 a year, and ,60,000
more that are in the funds, all entailed on me on
a reversion," which one does not wonder that the
bride did not refuse, as there is present posses-
sion too of a very handsome person, the only
thing his father has ever given him."

"In another letter the chatty and communicative
old uncle thus tells the story in its full details,
which are too amusing to be lost to my readers :

" My brother's last daughter, Charlotte, is

M 2


married, and though their story is too

short for a romance, it will make a very pretty
novel ; nay, it is almost brief enough for a
play, coming very nearly within one of the unities,
the space of twenty-four hours. There is in the
world .... and he lives directly over against
me, across the water, a strange brute called the
the Earl of Dysart. Don't be frightened, he is
not the bridegroom. His son, Lord Hunting-
tower, to whom he gives but .400 a year, is a
comely young gentleman of six-and-twenty, who
has often had thoughts of trying whether his
father would not like grandchildren better than

he does his own children All the answer

he could ever get was that, as he had five younger
children, the Earl could not afford to make any
settlement; but he offered, as a proof at once
of his inability and his kindness, to lend his son
a large sum of money at a low interest. This
indigent earl has thirteen thousand a year and
sixty thousand pounds in the funds. This money,
and ten out of the thirteen thousand, are entailed
upon Lord Huntingtower. The young Lord, it
appears, had been in love with Charlotte for
some months, but thought so little of inflaming
her that yesterday fortnight she did not know
him by sight. On that day he proposed himself
as a son-in-law to my brother, who with much


surprise heard his story, but excused himself
from giving an answer. He said he would never
force the inclinations of his children ; he did not
believe his daughter Charlotte had any engage-
ment or attachment, but she might have ; he
would send for her and know her mind. She was
with her sister Maria, to whom she said very
sensibly, 'If I were but nineteen, I would refuse
point blank, for I don't like to be married in a
week to a man I never saw. But I am two-and-
twenty. Some people say I am handsome, and
some say I am not ; but I believe the truth is that
I am likely to be at large and to go off soon. It
is dangerous to refuse so great a match.' Take
notice of the words 'married in a week.' The
love that was so many months in ripening could
not stay above a week. She came and saw the
impetuous lover, and I believe she was glad that
she had not " refused point blank," for they were
married last Thursday. I tremble a little for the
poor girl ; not to mention the oddness of the
father and twenty disagreeable things that may
be in the young man, who has been kept and has
lived entirely out of the world. He takes her
fortune, and cannot settle another shilling upon
her till his father dies, and then promises only a
thousand a year. Would one venture one's
happiness, and one's whole fortune too, for the


chance of living to be Lady Dysart? If Lord
Huntingtower dies before his father she will not
have a sixpence. Surely my brother has risked
too much !"

In a letter of subsequent date the gossiping old
uncle follows up the subject with a story too good
to be omitted here :

" Lord Huntingtower wrote to offer his father
eight thousand pounds of Charlotte's fortune if he
would give them a thousand a year at present
and settle a jointure on her. The Earl returned
this truly laconic .... answer : ' Lord Hunting-
tower. Sir, I answer your letter as soon as I
receive it. I wish you joy. I hear your wife
is very accomplished. Yours, DYSART.'

" I believe my Lady Huntingtower must make
it convenient that Lord Dysart should die, and
then he will. For myself, I expect to be a very
respectable personage in time, and to have my
tomb set forth like the Lady Margaret Douglas,
that I had four earls for my nephews, though 1
never was one myself. Adieu."

The "strange brute" of an earl died in 1770,
and Charlotte Lady Huntiugtower thereon became
Countess of Dysart. She died, however, issue-
less. Horace Walpole's prophecy, however, was
never quite fulfilled ; it is true that his nephew,
George, a queer, eccentric, and half-cracked


creature, became third Earl of Orford, and that
two of his three nieces wore the coronets of
countesses, namely, those of Waldegrave and
Dysart; but Maria was obliged to be content
with seeing her husband hold a spiritual peerage,
which gave no coronet to herself. Horace
Walpole, however, made up for this deficiency
in two ways ; first by his second niece becoming
a princess of the blood royal, and secondly by
succeeding, though late in life, to his nephew's
earldom, a title which became extinct at his
death, though revived subsequently in another
branch of the family.

In conclusion, I must add that Sir Edward
Walpole's only son, Edward, the brother of the
beauties whose stories I have attempted to tell,
entered the army, and distinguished himself while
a subaltern by an act of gallantry which will be
found duly recorded in the Walpole Letters. His
name is not mentioned in the " Peerages" along
with those of his sisters ; but it is satisfactory
to know that he rose to the rank of lieutenant-
colonel. Of his ultimate fate I have been able
to learn nothing.



THE name of Heneage Finch is one which
for nearly two centuries has held a
foremost place both in the pages of the peerage,
and also among those Englishmen who have
gained distinction as " learned in the law," or as
leaders in affairs of state. Every Earl of Ayles-
ford in succession, from the first peer, who was
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in the
reign of George I., down to the present holder
of the title, representing no less than seven
generations, has borne that name ; and the first
Lord Aylesford himself was the distinguished
son of an even more distinguished father,
Heneage Finch, who, having been one of the,

* It may be desirable to state that this was written before I
had seen an article on the same subject in Temple Bar for
July, 1872.


leading members of the Parliament which restored
King Charles II., became successively Solicitor
and Attorney-General, Lord Keeper of the Great
Seal, and ultimately was advanced to the wool-
sack and created Earl of Nottingham. This Sir
Heneage Finch, while in the prime of manhood,
was not only Treasurer of the Inner Temple, but
also " Autumn or Summer Reader" of that society,
and in that capacity he gained a high reputation
for his practical and common-sense application of
the general principles of the law a subject which
as yet had not been taken in hand by Judge
Blackstone. His "readings" in the Temple, we
are told, were very popular and quite the fashion
of the day : so that we must not be surprised
to find that they were attended by many members
of other professions and the wits and courtiers of
the second Charles ; and that he brought them to
a conclusion by a grand entertainment which he
gave to the King and his Court in the great hall
of the Temple, where a play or ' masque' was
performed by the students in the presence of his

But if we go yet another generation back,
we shall find that this Lord Chancellor's father
was also a Sir Heneage Finch, and a man of
some note in his day at all events, he was
serjeant-at-law, Recorder of London, and Speaker


of the House of Commons under King Charles I.
in 1626.

It is this Sir Heneage Finch the story of whose
second wooing I propose to tell. By his first wife,
a daughter of Sir Edmund Bell, of Beaupre
Hall, Norfolk, he had a family of seven sons and
four daughters, so that he must have been well
forward in years or at all events, as they say,
no chicken when he first set his eyes on a rich
and charming widow, one Mistress Elizabeth
Bennett, the daughter of a Staffordshire gentleman
named Cradock, and whom the recent death of
her husband, Richard Bennett, a citizen of London,
and a parishioner of St. Olave's, Jewry, had
left at her own disposal, together with a good
round sum of money and other property.

By the custom of London, and by the will of
her departed lord, it appears that she was in
actual possession of two-thirds of her husband's
goods and chattels, besides jewels and chains of
pearl and gold, and some splendid diamond and
other rings, to say nothing of the family plate,
the family coach, with four "grey coach mares
and geldings," and other good things to boot. In
addition to these substantial recommendations,
she seems to have had no small share of personal
attractions with a full consciousness of their
value, no doubt and no more drawbacks and


incurabrance than one little boy. In those days,
although the " Duke of Roussillon". was not born
or thought of, it was scarcely necessary for a
pretty widow to advertise for a husband ; and the
fair Mistress Bennett accordingly had no lack of
suitors for her hand and heart.

Much to the amusement of the wits who moved
about in London society at that time, three of
the most conspicuous among the rival candidates
bore the names of birds Sir Sackville Crow, a
physician named Raven, and the Sir Heneage
Finch whom we have already introduced to our
readers ; and besides these we have on record a
fourth suitor, Sir Edward Bering, of Stirrenden
Dering, in Kent, and sundry other titled arid
untitled individuals, whose names we shall have
occasion to mention presently.

The course of true love, in the case of Sir
Heneage, appears to have given the lie to the old
proverb by " running" tolerably k ' smoothly." It is
true that he had no lack of rivals ; and, though
it might be supposed that the chances were in
favour of a man, like himself, who had filled the
Speaker's chair, and must therefore have been
of courtly and commanding presence, and who
had the still more substantial endowments of a
town house, and also an estate and mansion at


Kensington,* with high Court connections to boot,
yet for several months it seemed as if he was not
unlikely to be distanced in the race by one of the
aforesaid birds, and still more by the Kentish
squire, Sir Edward Dering, whose efforts to win
the hand and heart of the pretty widow were

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Online LibraryEdward WalfordTales of our great families. 2d series (Volume 1) → online text (page 9 of 16)