Home » 18th century marriage » ‘A dirty Apothecary’: the elopement of Lady Lucy Stanhope and Thomas Taylor

‘A dirty Apothecary’: the elopement of Lady Lucy Stanhope and Thomas Taylor

Lady Chatham has now an account of her poor Granddaughter, disposed of (with ten thousand pounds) to a dirty Apothecary in whose shop she is to reside at Sevenoakes. [1]

Lady Lucy Rachel Stanhope was not quite 16 years old when Lady Aylesford wrote this report to Mrs Stapleton, companion to the Dowager Countess of Chatham. Born on 20 February 1780, Lucy was the youngest daughter of Charles, 3rd Earl Stanhope, and his first wife, Lady Hester Pitt. This made her the granddaughter of the first Earl of Chatham and niece of prime minister William Pitt the Younger.

At the end of January 1796, Lady Lucy disappeared from Chevening, her father’s Kentish country estate. Her family sought desperately to find her; when they did, it transpired she had not gone far. She had eloped to the neighbouring town of Sevenoaks with a man named Thomas Taylor.

V0011301 The wedding of Lady Lucy Stanhope to Thomas Taylor, a

James Gillray’s satirical portrayal of Lady Lucy Stanhope’s wedding to Thomas Taylor (1796), from here

Thomas Taylor was probably a Stanhope family employee, and Lady Lucy would have seen a great deal of him while living in the country. He was about a dozen years older than his bride (he was probably born in the late 1760s) and had received some medical training under the surgeon Henry Cline. His fellow trainee surgeon, Sir Astley Cooper, later wrote of him:

Taylor was a clever fellow, but entirely a man of pleasure, and hated our dirty experiments, as he was a neat methodical man, and much sought by the ladies of the west-end of the town, who used to fetch him in their carriages. [2]

An apothecary, therefore; but hardly a dirty one, and one who had to hurriedly abandon his profession to marry the woman he had absconded with, which he did on 26 April 1796 (with Lord Stanhope’s reluctant blessing).

In some ways, Lord Stanhope might be said to have reaped what he had sown. Born in 1753, the 3rd Earl was educated in Geneva, then a centre for avant-garde political and democratic thought. He was something of an eccentric; two generally-given examples are that he refused to powder his hair and always slept with the window open, although they seem sensible enough to me. He was also a celebrated scientist who experimented with electricity, designed a fire-retardant material, and tried to patent a steam-boat.

3rdEarlStanhope

From here

Unfortunately for Stanhope, he was also considered eccentric because he whole-heartedly embraced the French Revolution, smashing his armorial bearings and styling himself ‘Citizen Stanhope’. Perhaps the only reason he wasn’t locked up for this was that the prime minister, Pitt, did not want to cause an éclat by imprisoning his own brother-in-law. Nevertheless, Stanhope alienated his second wife and all six of his children, who fled one by one and never spoke to him again. His two younger sons, whom he had intended to bring up as ‘mechanics or manufacturers’, escaped ‘out of [the] Window with their best Coats & Linen’. [3]

This may have had something to do with his efforts to get his sons to renounce their claims to the Stanhope title; it probably had just as much to do with the physical abuse to which he subjected them. His eldest daughter, Lady Hester Stanhope, later recalled her father ‘often has said that from the hour I was born I had been a stranger to fear. I certainly felt no fear when he held a knife to my throat – only pity for the arm that held it.’ [4]

Stanhope never voiced open objection to his youngest daughter’s choice of husband – he couldn’t, really; not with his republican views. Still, he must have known that Lucy had acted at least in part to get away from him. When his other two daughters, Hester and Griselda, also left him within four years of Lucy’s elopement, ‘he was heard to compare himself to Lear, quoting the line (certainly applicable), “I never gave thee kingdoms”.’ [5]

20130623_160457

Chevening, Kent (photo by J. Reiter)

Whatever Lord Stanhope’s true feelings may have been, his Pitt in-laws were horrified. They came to accept the match, of course – Pitt the Younger got Thomas Taylor a minor sinecure as Comptroller General of the Customs, and the second Earl of Chatham made Lucy’s eldest son William one of his two heirs and executors. Still, as head of the family, Lord Chatham felt it necessary to try and stop his niece making a terrible mistake. Probably he tried to persuade Lucy that it would not matter if she broke it off, for everyone would believe she had been coerced by her notably republican father.

Lucy’s response to her aunt, however, showed she was perfectly aware of her actions and that she had made her choice freely. Every line of her letter to the Countess of Chatham after her elopement (but before her marriage) rings with confidence and defiance – and, dare I say it, with considerable sass.

Dear Lady Chatham,

We received yours and my Uncle [probably the 2nd Earl of Chatham]’s letters this morning. I cannot express the obligation I feel myself under to you both, for the interest you take in my happiness, nor how grateful I am for the advice you have given me upon this occasion, which, however contrary your sentiments are to mine upon the subject in question, I cannot but regard as the strongest proof of the sincerity of that affection you so kindly assure me of. But I must add, I should indeed justify the opinion you seem to take of my choice standing as nothing, if when I had finally consented, to what has not been the lowly idea of the moment, but the result of sincere attachment, the arguments you have offered could make me waver. I have been well aware that with many of my station, Mr Taylor’s situation would be an insuperable objection; but with me, that objection has no weight. And whatever respect I may feel for your opinion, and however I may regret acting contrary to your wishes, at a time that you and my Uncle have shown me so much kindness; my first consideration ought certainly to be, for my own happiness; and since I have the sanction of a good father, I know no one whose disapprobation can influence me. I prefer happiness to Splendour and Riches, and had they any charms for me I would gladly sacrifice them all for Mr Taylor’s sake. Affection for him, has been the guide, and the sole guide of my conduct; no other sentiments, no other opinions, have led me to the decision I have irrevocably made. At the same time, believe me, I shall ever remember your solicitude upon this occasion for what you consider as my welfare, with unfeigned sentiments of affection and respect.

Pray give my love to Uncle and with all my most sincere thanks for his goodness. My sisters join in the same to you both.

I remain

Your ever affectionate and grateful Niece

Lucy Rachael Stanhope [6]

This letter is certainly a lot longer (although perhaps just as firm) than its direct translation: ‘Mind your own business.’

References

[1] Charlotte, Lady Ayesford to Mrs Stapleton, 10 February 1796, National Army Museum, Combermere MSS, 8408-114.

[2] Bransby Blake Cooper, The life of Sir Astley Cooper, Bart. … vol. 1 (London: J.W. Parker, 1843), p. 182.

[3] Charles Lamb to John Rickman, [February 1802], Edwin W. Marrs, Jr. (ed.), The letters of Charles and Mary Anne Lamb, vol. 2 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1976), p. 50.

[4] Duchess of Cleveland, The Life and Letters of Lady Hester Stanhope (London: John Murray, 1914), p. 16.

[5] Cleveland, Life and Letters of Lady Hester Stanhope, p. 12.

[6] Lady Lucy Rachael Stanhope to Mary, Countess of Chatham, undated [1796], National Army Museum, Combermere MSS, 8408-114.

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