Frances (Winckley) Shelley.

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Almack's Ball, at Willis's Rooms, where he knew
that I was going.

Quizzing was the fashion of that day, and I had
much to endure and to parry, for I would not allow
my friends to think that I had the slightest thoughts
of marrying Sir John Shelley. Not even dear Lady
liesketh had the faintest idea of the state of my



feelings, nor the agony I endured when, after the
4th of June, the King's Birthday, we departed for
Lancashire. No proposal had been made, and,
having accurately gauged the volage character of my
admirer, I felt certain that the July Newmarket
Meeting, and the following shooting and hunting
season, would drive me from his thoughts. In all
probability he would not even fulfil his intention of
coming to the Seftons' in the autumn. Neither the
Derbys, nor my brother, gave him the slightest en-
couragement ; and, as we were not to return to London
(whose gaieties bored my brother intensely), I never
expected to see Sir John Shelley again. My sole con-
solation was, that I had never given him any cause to
suspect the impression which he had made upon me.

While I was staying at Knowsley, the Prince of
Wales — afterwards George IV. — announced his inten-
tion of coming there in the following week, to visit
Liverpool. Lord and Lady Jersey, the Ossulstons,
and many other fashionables, preceded his Royal
Highness; and there was a gathering of London
Society, which made Lady Derby's invitation to me,
to remain during the Prince's visit, extremely flatter-
ing. My brother and Lady Hesketh returned home.
On the morning that his Royal Highness was ex-
pected, a letter arrived from Sir John Shelley saying
that he had been invited by his Royal Highness to
meet him at Knowsley, and that he should trust
to Lord and Lady Derby's hospitality to receive him.
Never shall I forget being sent for into Lady Derby's
boudoir, where, closeted with her, was my squinting
old guardian, with a malicious look in his eyes. He
announced that his conscience, and the duties that
he owed me — arising, as I knew very well, from his
determination that I should marry his son Geoffrey —
well, his duty required that I should immediately leave
Knowsley, where that villain, Sir John Shelley, was
intruding himself, and not run the risk of being


exposed to his fascination ! He then openly accused
me of having encouraged the addresses of that pro-
fligate, and had perhaps invited his presence !

I was much agitated, but preserved an outward
calm. It was great disappointment to me to leave this
pleasant party, and return to Rufford ; but I made no
resistance to my guardian's stern command. After
he had left the room, Lady Derby questioned me
as to the state of my feelings towards Sir John
Shelley ; saying, that if I had determined to marry
him, she would persuade my guardian to allow me to
remain at Knowsley. But it was not possible for me
to confess an attachment to a man who had not
proposed to marry me. I would not allow myself to
feel any deep affection for one who, after all, might
only be amusing himself at my expense. This was
not to be thought of; so, without hesitation, I ordered
my carriage to be ready after luncheon, and prepared
to leave my kind hosts. I felt sure of the sympathy
of dear Lady Hesketh, and the approval of my brother,
and that consoled me. This step was to be made to
appear as being my own act. The avowed reason
being that there was no room for me at Knowsley.
On Sir John's arrival, he happened to be put into,
what was called, my room ; and he has since told me
of the interest he felt in inhabiting it, and his annoy-
ance that I would not stay to meet him.

When the Prince departed, Sir John went into
Norfolk, and Leicestershire. He resumed his old
habits, and lived, as before, in the society of the
Haggerstones and the Seftons ; much too proud to
give me a thought, after my apparent coldness. But
the Seftons did not abandon their pet scheme, and
continued to talk of me to him.

In the autumn I received an invitation from my
early friend, Lady Sarah Savile, to visit her father's
place in Yorkshire. By a strange coincidence her
letter had been franked by Sir John Shelley! Lady

26 CIRCE'S COURT [ch. ti

Mexborough's reputation made it impossible for me
to accept this invitation, and confirmed my friends
in their opinion of Sir John's profligacy, in being
domiciled in that house !

Poor Sarah's affection continued undiminished, in
spite of the coldness with which Lady Hesketh had
treated her in London. I was never allowed to call
upon her, or to set my foot within her mother's house.
1 fear that I must own now, that my friends were right.
There never was a house where such profligacy
reigned ! Devonshire House, at all events, wore the
garb of the greatest refinement and delicacy. It
enshrined all the charms of talent, beauty, and
those agrements, imported from the Court of Marie
Antoinette, which veiled the inveterate profligacy of
that set, with elegance and outward propriety. In
that fascinating coterie the most sensitive natures
would become demoralised, before discovering that
they had unwittingly entered the very precincts of
Circe's Court.

I do not write from personal experience ; but from
reports which I gleaned from Sir John Shelley long
after our marriage. At that time the Duchess of
Devonshire had left this gay world. Her admir-
able daughters had never mixed in her evening
coterie, and were brought up in that strict propriety
which characterised the daughters of our Grandees in
those days. Children were never admitted to hear
the gossip of their elders, and knew nothing of the
world until they married.

That autumn I lived a great deal at Lathom, with
Mrs. Wilbraham Bootle, afterwards Lady Skelmers-
dale. I fear that I coquetted considerably with her
brother, Brook Taylor, afterwards Sir Brook, who
accompanied me on the violin ; while his brother,
afterwards Sir Herbert Taylor, played the violoncello.
The latter was secretary to King George III. during
his blindness. Both brothers were disposed to marry


the heiress ; and Brook became seriously attached to
me. I have often reproached myself for having flirted
so much with him, and for the annoyance it caused to
Lady Skelmersdale, who never really forgave me, and
who ceased to love me as she had previously done.
She and her brothers were highly educated and

Old Lathom House had been famous for its
defence, under the celebrated Lady Derby, against
the Roundheads in the Civil War. But that house
had been pulled down, and a new one was built on
the same site by Inigo Jones. 1

Mr. Randal Wilbraham, a cousin of Lord Skelmers-
dale, who possessed estates in Cheshire, was at that
time about forty years of age. He had travelled in
the East, and charmed me with tales of Jerusalem,
Arabian deserts, and Egyptian Pyramids. He was
highly educated, a classical, as well as an Eastern,
scholar, and devoted himself, during that winter, to
the improvement of my mind. He also gave me new
views of religious duty — spoke of the poor in his
parish, his own desolate home ; for he was a widower
with three sickly children. By these means he
excited all that was best in my enthusiastic nature,
and, as I had resolved to give up the world, and my
early inclinations, I hoped to become a martyr to
duty. In an evil hour, I consented to become this
unhappy man's wife. But, when he tried to seal my
resolve with a kiss, the truth flashed upon me, and the
disgust, thus excited, made me fly to my room. Early
next morning I gave Mr. Wilbraham his conge, which
he received with such fury and indignation as made
me realise that I had had a providential escape from
wretchedness for life.

Mr. Wilbraham refused to believe that his rejection

1 Although Lathom House is attributed to Iuigo Jones, this is scarcely
possible, as he died in 1652. The construction of Lathom House would not
he earlier than the eighteenth century.

28 CROXTETH [ch. ii

was final. His whole family, including my friend
Lady Skelmersdale, called my conduct " infamous,"
and actually persuaded my brother that my reputa-
tion was seriously injured ! As my brother had
used all his influence to make me marry this gentle-
man, and thus escape what he considered the
wretchedness of marrying Sir John Shelley, he was
easily persuaded to attribute my behaviour to that
foolish attachment. He ordered me to leave his
house, and never again to return to it as a home.
I bowed to this cruel sentence, and passed a couple
of wretched months under my guardian's roof. At
the end of that time my brother, at the earnest request
of dear Lady Hesketh, relented, and allowed me to
return to Rufford.

Lord Alvanley, who had lately joined the Guards,
was our frequent guest. This young man had many
talents which seemed to promise a fine career — but
alas ! a life of frivolity wasted these bright prospects
utterly. 1 In September the Seftons came to Croxteth.
They had heard rumours of my brief engagement to
Mr. Wilbraham, and, fearing that one of the many
fretendants who surrounded me at that 'time would
rob Sir John of his chances, wrote to him to say that
unless he came to them immediately, the prize would
escape him. A large party had been invited to Croxteth
to meet the Duke of Gloucester, who commanded the
Lancashire District. 2 The Duke, in common with all
persons who are not quite sure of their position — for
he was not then a Ro}^al Highness, a title conferred on

1 Lord Alvanley (1789 — 1849), described by Gronow as " the greatest wit of
modern times." He entered the Coldstream Guards at an early age, and
served with distinction in the Peninsula, but being possessed of a large fortune
he left the army, and gave himself up entirely to the pursuit of pleasure. He
challenged O'Connell, who shirked the encounter and deputed his son, Morgan,
to take his place. He eventually dissipated his fortune, but never lost his wit
and good humour to the last.

- William Frederick, second Duke of Gloucester (1776 — 1834), served as
Colonel of First Foot Guards in Flanders 1794. In 1816 he married his cousin
Mary, fourth daughter of George III.

1 80s] A STRATAGEM 29

his marriage with Princess Mary — exacted more than
royal respect and attention. He never allowed a
gentleman to be seated in his presence, and expected
the ladies of the party to hand him coffee on a salver —
to stand while he drank it, and then to remove the
cup. He alwa} r s travelled in great state. I constantly
met the Duke at all the great Cheshire houses, and in
these parties Tom Cholmondeley, afterwards Lord
Delamere, was my constant attendant. He gave a
ball at Vale Royal to show me his fine place ; and,
a few days later, he wrote to my brother stating his
wish to be allowed to come to Rufford to pay his
addresses to me. When I saw the letter I at once
dictated a civil refusal, as I had an invincible horror of
being again called a " flirt." Although I never men-
tioned this proposal to any one, it became known ; and
Sir John Shelley — between whom and Cholmondeley
there had long been a sort of rivalry — decided to give
up Holkham, and every other engagement, in order to
lay siege in earnest to the " inaccessible heiress," as he
called me. My brother, who was obstinate by nature,
declared that he never would admit Sir John Shelley
within his doors, and vowed that I should not meet
him anywhere if he could help it. Lord Sefton, on
the other hand, was equally determined that, coute que
cofite, he would baffle my brother's determination.

We lived nineteen miles apart ; and Lord Sefton has
often since declared that he ruined three of his best
horses, in bringing us together, by constant trans-
mission of messages and invitations, to say nothing of
offers of visits which were always rejected ! Although
I had by this time become aware of the state of my
feelings towards Sir John, nothing could have induced
me to confess them ; not even to my most intimate
friend. At last, Sir John succeeded by stratagem in
getting into the house. My brother had gone to
Quarter Sessions; and, on the following day, when he
was expected to return, the sounds of carriage wheels


were heard rumbling along the approach to the house.
His affectionate wife and I ran to the hall door to
receive him ; when, to our great surprise, out of a
hack chaise jumped Sir John Shelley, and Captain
Fraser of the Royal Navy, who, poor man ! was never
forgiven for having accompanied the intruder.

My sister-in-law, Lady Hesketh, was far too shy
to be uncivil ; and sat blushing, and trembling at
the thought of what would happen on her husband's
return. However, when that dreaded moment arrived,
her husband's natural politeness, and sense of hos-
pitality, even to an unwelcome guest, triumphed
over his resentment. My brother would not, in his
own house, even appear to be inhospitable. The un-
welcome guests remained to luncheon, and afterwards
we all walked through the woods and gardens.
During this visit, though no words passed, I had
a firm conviction that Sir John was really in earnest.
The excuse made for his visit was at least made
to appear plausible. He bore a message from Lady
Sefton to my brother, to say that they were going to
have a ball, and hoped that we would go to stay for
it in the house at Croxteth. My brother, without a
moment's hesitation, declined the invitation, on the
plea that he could not possibly leave home just then.
Sir John, not in the least surprised at this curt refusal,
exclaimed : " Then you must let me come and shoot
snipe on your meres." There was no reply. The
visitors remained till dark, but no invitation to dinner !
At last they were obliged to depart ; and then a fine
storm of indignation was poured upon me for having
walked with Sir John Shelley, and for having, doubt-
less, encouraged his attentions.

On the following day a servant brought an invitation
from Lord Sefton. Invitation refused. Next day came
another invitation, for any day suitable to the conveni-
ence of my obdurate brother ! This was more difficult
to deal with, unless he wished to offend the Seftons


outright. My brother then called upon me to declare
my intentions with regard to Sir John Shelley ; but I
kept my own counsel. At last, Lady Hesketh's brother,
with the instinct of true love — for he had long been
hopelessly attached to me— divined my real feelings,
and persuaded his sister, and, through her, Sir Thomas
Hesketh, to accept Lady Sefton's invitation for the
Croxteth ball.

We went, perhaps, rather to keep up appearances
than for any other reason, but I think that we all
enjoyed that visit. After two days of entire devotion
on the part of Sir John, there could be no doubt of
his intentions. I confess that I was still very reserved,
and undecided whether to accept him or not, owing
to his alarming reputation. But, when he subse-
quently arrived at Rufford, determined to stay and
shoot, and could not be refused this time without
offending the Seftons, my fate was sealed.

Those three weeks were not all sunshine for me.
I began to doubt my capacity for that most difficult
of all tasks, the reforming of a rake ! But :

" I loved his gen'rous nature,
Bold, soft, sincere, and gay,
Which shone in every feature
And stole my heart away ! "

Those who read the autobiography of a woman
must expect that she will dwell on the first awakening
of those affections, upon which the future happiness or
misery of her existence depends. To those who cannot
enter into these feelings, 1 say " Guarda e passa."

Sir John contrived, in a short time, to win all
hearts. Even my Hornby cousins approved of my
choice, especially the men did so. Georgiana, my
eldest cousin, in becoming Sir John's confidante, had
lost her own heart to him ; she was never so happy
as when in his society. Even my old guardian, who
arrived shortly after my engagement, experienced the
same fascination. 'Tvvas thus, at length, the course


of true love did run straight. It was decided that
my guardian should take a house in London, pending
the preparation of settlements, which, as I was a
ward in Chancery, was expected to take some time.

In February 1807, we were settled in Albemarle
Street ; and I was not married until June 4, at St.
George's, Hanover Square. Meanwhile my cousins,
the Hornbys, enjoyed themselves as much as I did.
Lady Derby took them out a great deal, while all
Sir John's intimate friends — and they were legion —
received me with open arms. I began, indeed, fully
to enjoy the charm of that refined society into which
I entered as the fiancee of a man of fashion. Lady
Cowper, who had been lately married, was my favour-
ite chaperone, and took me to the opera, and to balls
and routs. She danced as much as I did, and it was
not then thought strange that an "engaged" young lady
should dance with others, besides her affianced husband.

Sir John always attended the Newmarket meetings,
telling me that I should find him, as a husband,
what he was as a lover. For this reason he re-
solved to continue his life on the Turf — the most
engrossing pursuit of his life. 1 But he at once gave
up playing " games of chance," in accordance with a
promise which he had made to me shortly after our
engagement. Unfortunately, at this very time, my
cousin, Lord Peterborough, invented "short whist";
and as, by our contract, Sir John was to be allowed
to play at whist — then a sober game of ten points,
at which it was not possible to lose much money
— the whist-playing continued as usual. To a care-
less and indifferent player like Sir John Shelley,
"short whist" was indeed a dangerous game. He
contrived to lose thousands in a single night, sitting

1 Sir John Shelley was eminently successful on the Turf. He was the
proud owner of Phantom, Cedric (both Derby winners), Eidelsworth, and
many other winners. There was, however, more honour than profit when his
life's book was closed.


up until daylight chained to his chair by the fascina-
tion of the game ! I passed many wretched nights,
wasting the midnight oil, and waiting for my husband's
return !

Lady Sefton had given me some excellent advice,
which I determined to follow. I never went to sleep
until my husband came home. During the first years
of our married life this necessitated a great deal of
reading, and affected my eyesight. Those eyes which,
according to Saunders's miniature, 1 were once so large
and brilliant, began insensibly to grow dim.

During this, my first real London season, a gay and
restless carnival to a young married woman — for I
was only nineteen — many were the tales whispered
into my ears of Sir John's unworthiness ! I was told
that I was wasting my affections on a profligate ;
that I did not possess his undivided love ! These
were the cruel things said, under the guise of friend-
ship, by men who had sought my fortune, and by
women who had been jealous of Sir John's future wife!
Among the latter was the lovely Lady Borrington,
Lady Jersey's sister, who was married to a man she
despised, and who was at that time desperately in
love with my husband. She tried, by every artifice,
to induce him to go off with her. This lady's sub-
sequent flight with Lord Arthur Paget makes this
revelation less indiscreet. I was not, at that time,
aware of her motives in breathing poisonous insinua-
tions into my unwilling ears. If only I had known
I should not have been so unhappy ! The only effect
which her cruel confidences had upon me was to
make my devotion to my husband more intense, and
to convince me of the necessity of making Sir John
so happy in his home that he would not crave for
the love of other women. I exerted every power
with which nature and study had endowed me, to
fascinate him as a mistress, and to enchain his affec-

1 See Frontispiece.

34 MRS. FitzHERBERT [ch. ii

tions as a wife. I was, naturally, jealous, and dis-
trusted my own attractions — two powerful incentives
— but I firmly believe that I was completely successful.
I entreated him not to tell me if he were ever un-
faithful to me, and though I cannot, of course,
be certain of the fact, I firmly believe that he was

I became subsequently acquainted with an incident
in Sir John's bachelor life which increased my appre-
hensions. There was a fascinating woman, moving
in the best society of London, to whom he had long
been devoted, but whose affections he had certainly
not seduced, for he had not been her first passion.
Lady Haggerstone, to whom I refer, was married
to a foolish, rich old man who cared nothing about
her proceedings, and who welcomed the agreeable
society which Sir John Shelley brought to her house.
Although the lady was old enough to have been Sir
John's mother, he had for twelve years been her
devoted admirer. One of the first struggles of my
young married life was to break her chains, for she
had no wish to lose her lover, even after his marriage!
She looked upon me as a mere " country girl " who
could be managed under her skilful guidance. Like
the mother-in-law of French romance, she expected
me to follow her advice in everything. Lady
Haggerstone was the sister of the celebrated Mrs.
FitzHerbert. It was to this liaison that Sir John
owed his intimacy with the Prince of Wales. 1 Often
have I heard my husband speak of the dulness of
those suppers, en partie ccirree, the two sisters, the
Prince, and himself. But sometimes the monotony
was relieved by a practical joke.

On one occasion, as Sir John entered the room, he
saw the Prince kneeling at the feet of Mrs. Fitz-
Herbert in an attitude which suggested prayer,
rather than devotion to a woman. The broad

1 Aftei wards George IV.


expanse of the royal form, in an attitude of suppli-
cation, so excited Sir John's sense of the ludicrous
that he gave the royal posterior a vigorous push,
which sent his Royal Highness sprawling at his
lady's feet !

With a terrible oath his Royal Highness regained
his feet, and advanced towards his tormentor, who
wisely made his escape a toates jambes ! The Prince
there and then declared that he had already put up
with much, but that this outrage should receive
condign punishment.

Eventually the two sisters succeeded in making
peace, and things went on as before. Sir John was
at that time like the Page in " Le Mariage de Figaro,"
and his pranks were tolerated — pranks which would
have caused others to be tabooed for life. The set
called " the Cream " could not get on at all without
Sir John Shelley's fun, and that honest gaicte de cceur,
which sprang from wonderful health and animal
spirits. So great was his sense of humour that he
could banish care, and every unwelcome monitor,
even when he came in the shape of a dun ! When
he had been successful at play, he would send
for all his bills, and pay them : when he lost, he
felt satisfied that he could not pay any of his
creditors until the next turn of Fortune's wheel.
He was, therefore, never disturbed either by good
or bad fortune, and led a happy-go-lucky life in the
society he loved best.

At Michclgrove, his beautiful place in Sussex,
he kept open house, two packs of hounds, excellent
shooting, and all the agrements of a luxurious existence.
But things could not continue at that rate very long.
At last the steward had no money to carry on the
establishment, and the family lawyer could provide
no more ! The inevitable day of reckoning had come,
and Sir John was compelled, much to his disgust,
to look into his complex affairs. To his surprise


he found that his father — though possessed of an
immense fortune for those [days — had himself under-
mined the future inheritance of his son. His father
was the nephew of the Minister Duke of Newcastle,
and, like him, lived at Court as Treasurer of the
Household, and Groom of the Stole. He also assisted
in contested elections, where a great deal of money
was wasted. He had been member for Lewes and
Shoreham, but having always lived beyond his in-
come, he had sunk everything, that was not entailed
upon his son, and purchased an annuity on his own
life. My husband had been a very delicate child, and
it was not expected that he would survive infancy.
His father, who cared for nothing but himself, fully
expected that his child would die, and that the entail

Online LibraryFrances (Winckley) ShelleyThe diary of Frances lady Shelley (Volume 1) → online text (page 3 of 33)