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“A most precious Jewel”

Another super quick blog post, since I’ve finally received the last piece of a little puzzle that has been needling at me since I got hold of a batch of photocopied correspondence between Lord Grantham and his brother Frederick Robinson from Bedford & Luton Archives. I am still ever so slightly mystified, although I think I know what it means. If anyone else can help shed some light on the mystery, though, I’d be grateful.

The Robinson brothers were prominent movers in Whig political circles, and their letters are full of references to the big names of political life. One of the families they were close to was the Townshend family, including Thomas Townshend, the future Lord Sydney, his wife Elizabeth Powys, and their growing family. Frederick and Anne Robinson, Lord Grantham’s siblings, frequently dined and socialised with the Townshends. On 4 May 1778 Frederick Robinson wrote to Lord Grantham: “I was at the Opera at night & supped at Mrs Townshends[.] Georgiana [Thomas Townshend’s eldest daughter, born April 1761] is much grown though little alter’d[.] The second daughter [Mary Elizabeth, later Countess of Chatham, then fifteen] will be pretty”.[1]

Mary, Countess of Chatham

Mary, Countess of Chatham

Almost exactly a year later, Mary’s future husband John, Earl of Chatham paid the visit to Grantham in Spain that I blogged about in a previous post. After John had left Madrid, Grantham wrote to Frederick Robinson with further thoughts about the three “English” who had been his guests for over a fortnight: “I believe he [Captain Colt] & Conway found out new Acquaintances at Madrid, but Lord Chatham never went with them, & I would not swear that he is not in possession of a most precious Jewel”.[2]

One thing is for sure about this curious turn of phrase: it was not meant literally. This “precious Jewel” was a euphemism for something, and something that made Chatham forego the pleasure of sharing Conway and Colt’s “new Acquaintances”. What was the nature of this jewel? Frederick Robinson’s response gives a clue:

I believe L[or]d Chatham is not in town, Nanny [Anne Robinson] met him at Tommy Townshend’s who gave him a dinner [upon Chatham’s return from abroad], I think it very probable that his Father recommended T[homas] T[ownshend] to him; if he has a mind to set that Jewel which you suppose him possess’d of very beautifully, he might consult Miss Mary Townshend.[3]

From which I gather that Lord Grantham guessed Chatham’s reluctance to visit Colt and Conway’s “Acquaintances” derived from some sort of attachment, and Robinson connected that attachment to Miss Mary Townshend, Tommy Townshend’s “pretty” second daughter. He certainly wasn’t wide of the mark, for four years later John and Mary were indeed married.

Could it be that John already had a thing for Mary in May 1779, when he was 22 and she was 16? Could it be that he had had a crush on her even before he left for Gibraltar, since Lord Grantham seems to have picked up on it even before John’s return to England? And if so, isn’t that kind of sweet?

Do you agree, or do you think Grantham was talking about something else?


References

[1] Frederick Robinson to Lord Grantham, 4 May 1778, Wrest Park (Lucas) MSS, Bedford and Luton Archives, L30/14/333/91

[2] Lord Grantham to Frederick Robinson, 2 May 1779, Wrest Park (Lucas) MSS, Bedford and Luton Archives, L30/15/54/139

[3] Frederick Robinson to Lord Grantham, 25 May 1779, Wrest Park (Lucas) MSS, Bedford and Luton Archives, L30/14/333/211

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3 thoughts on ““A most precious Jewel”

  1. Hello: I am an amateur genealogist. I’ve been studying my Robinson line for decades. I have a suspicion that Thomas Robinson, 2nd Lord Grantham may have produced an illegitimate son, George Robinson, and this George Robinson is certainly my ancestor.

    My George Robinson was baptized at Potterhanworth, Lincolnshire on 11th March 1758, when Thomas Robinson, 2nd Lord Grantham would have been 20. Interestingly this George Robinson is the ONLY baptism listed in the Potterhanworth parish register where the parents are not named.

    My George Robinson was married on 16th March 1779, aged 21. This is the same year Thomas Robinson, 2nd Baron Grantham returned from Spain.

    Thomas Robinson, 2nd Lord Grantham, was not married until 1780, when he would have been about 42 years of age – the year after my George Robinson was married at 21.

    Thomas Robinson, 2nd Lord Grantham, has the exact forehead, nose and hairline of my father. (ref: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Robinson,_2nd_Baron_Grantham )
    Thomas Robinson, 2nd Lord Grantham’s second son Frederick John, later Viscount Goderich and Earl of Ripon had the exact hair colour of my elder brother. (ref: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F._J._Robinson,_1st_Viscount_Goderich )

    The grandson of My George Robinson, also called George, has his name in the stained glass windows of Dunston church in Lincolnshire and lived in a substantial farmhouse. I cannot help wondering how does someone who has no parents listed in the register produce a grandchild who has their name in the stained glass windows of the church?

    My tentative hypothesis is that My George Robinson is the illegitimate son of Thomas Robinson, 2nd Lord Grantham. My tentative suspicion is that Thomas Robinson, 2nd Lord Grantham, despite his apparent eligibility, was prevented from marrying at a younger, more normal marrying age because family pressure or honour required him to wait until his illegitimate son was 21 and married. Alternatively the convention may have been that a suitable lady would never marry a man, even a man of high standing, if he already had a child. Also it might be better for a man with such lofty political ambitions to be out of the country when his illegitimate son was going through the teenage years.

    It is very speculative, but I am wondering if you or any other reader may have any indicators from the letters or other sources that could be referring – no matter how obliquely – to an illegitimate child or a reason why Thomas Robinson, 2nd Lord Grantham, was not available to be married at a younger age?

    Kind regards,
    William Robinson.

    • Dear Mr Robinson,

      I’m afraid I know very little about the Grantham family, but perhaps someone else may be able to help?

      Best wishes

      Jacqueline Reiter

  2. Dear Ms. Reiter:
    Thank you for your reply. I have one follow up question.

    Referring to the passage in your blog : “I believe L[or]d Chatham is not in town, Nanny [Anne Robinson] met him at Tommy Townshend’s who gave him a dinner [upon Chatham’s return from abroad], I think it very probable that his Father recommended T[homas] T[ownshend] to him; if he has a mind to set that Jewel which you suppose him possess’d of very beautifully, he might consult Miss Mary Townshend.[3]”.

    What is your basis for interpreting “Nanny” to be “Anne Robinson” ?

    Lastly, My George Robinson marries Eleanor Taylor, the daughter of landowners, in the nearby village of Cherry Willingham, in March 1779; Two months before the exchange of letters between Thomas Robinson, 2nd Lord Grantham. and Frederick Robinson. So I am not suggesting an alternative interpretation for the “most precious jewel” hypothesis.

    Sincerely,
    William Robinson

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