‘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]

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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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“Likely to get frampy”: In which the 2nd Lord Chatham has trouble getting his act together

One of the things I love most about John, 2nd Lord Chatham is how endearingly pathetic he could be sometimes. I know that must sound odd, but I often find myself grinning while reading about him. The Pitt family can, in general, be seen as a little frigid, rather stuffy and full of themselves, and without a normal bone in their overachieving bodies. It’s a false impression that can be easily corrected by reading their private correspondence, but one of the reasons I fastened so happily on John as a research subject is that he is so refreshingly human.

I call them my “oh dear John” moments, mainly because that’s what I say out loud when I stumble across them. You know, the moments were “the late Lord Chatham” just lives up so much to his reputation that I have to suppress the urge to thud my head repeatedly against the desk. John turning up three hours late to the King’s birthday review? Oh dear, John. John never making an appointment to meet with anyone before two o’clock in the afternoon? Oh dear, John. John countersigning contracts for enormous loans during a brief luncheon break while hunting at Newmarket? Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear John… you get the picture.

johnprint

But sometimes John surpasses even himself. Like in his courtship of Mary Townshend, in which the twenty-six year old John seems to have displayed all the maturity and backbone of a teenager mustering the courage to ask a girl on a first date.

I think it’s fair to say John was not a reluctant suitor. As I discovered recently, John and Mary’s names had been paired up as early as May 1779, and probably earlier. The Pitt and Townshend families had been close since at least the 1760s: it’s fair to say that John knew Mary well, and vice versa. At some point, probably prior to John’s going off to Gibraltar in May 1778, friendship blossomed into young lurve.

Mary, Countess of Chatham

Mary, Countess of Chatham

Nothing serious was initially expected to come of the pairing, at least while John was away so frequently on military service. By the summer of 1782, however, he had transferred from the 86th regiment serving in the Leeward Islands to the 3rd Foot Guards, a prestigious royal regiment with flashy gold braid serving in London. As early as 27 June 1782 John’s brother William wrote to their mother, “My brother, I believe, has not informed you of a match of which the world here is certain, but of which he assures me he knows nothing, between himself and the beauty in Albemarle Street” — that is to say Mary Townshend, whose father’s town house was just round the corner from John’s Grafton Street residence.[1]

William wasn’t the only family member gossiping about John’s attachment. Lady Harriot Pitt, John’s younger sister, also told her mother about a conversation she had had with a friend, in which “my Brother Chatham’s intended marriage … [was] brought upon ye Tapis.” By this time John seems to have been thoroughly sick of all the speculation, since Harriot reported him referring sarcastically to such rumours as “Stock Jobbing Reports,” possibly the closest I’ve ever seen John come to an outright joke.[2]

Whatever the truth, the next proper references to the courtship come in April and May 1783, at which point Harriot was confidently expecting her brother to propose at any moment. She wrote to her mother on 1 May 1783 of a jaunt with John to the family property at Hayes: “Hayes is just now in glory, and I think my Brother enjoyed very much ye contemplating his Pretty Place and thinking of ye Pretty Lady he means to give it”.[3]

Lady Harriot Pitt, ca 1779

Lady Harriot Pitt, ca 1779

Certainly John and Mary seemed very snug together at this time. “They were so amicable at ye Dutchess’s [of Buccleugh’s, where there had been a ball the night before] that I really was disappointed when I found ye matter was not settled there,” Harriot reported on 3 May.[4] But two days later Harriot reported in frustration that, despite “opportunities” during a trip to Mary’s father’s country estate at Frognal, John “had only very near done it once”.[5] (…. “Very near”? What on earth did that mean? “Mary?” “Yes?” “I wanted to ask you something…” “Yes?” “Something very important…” “Yeeeeeeeeeees?” “………… Could you please pass the salt?”) On the 6th Harriot described Mary as “not a little fidgetty [sic]”, and William, too, was getting fed up: “The scene in Albemarle Street has been carried on from day to day, till it is full time it should end. I rather hope it will be happily completed very soon, though it has lasted so long already that it may still last longer than seems likely.”[6]

Frognal House, Lord Sydney's country home

Frognal House, Lord Sydney’s country home, where John totally failed to propose to Mary in May 1782

William, apparently, knew John too well. On 19 May Harriot had had enough, and told John to pull himself together: he was mucking Mary Townshend about too much, and she might just kick him in the shins if he ever did manage to screw up the courage. “My Brother and I have been beating over ye same Ground again,” Harriot reported to her mother. “He is very much dissatisfied with their [Lord and Lady Sydney] precluding, as he says, all opportunities by not allowing of Tete a Tetes, and I wish him ye more to take some other sort of opportunity as I think in this sort of way all sides may be likely to get Frampy.“[7]

Whatever “Frampy” meant (… no, don’t Google it … well, don’t tell me I didn’t warn you), John managed to uhmm and aah and blush and shrug for another two weeks before finally diving in and proposing on the 5th of June. The reaction of both families involved can only be summarised as “OMG FINALLY!” As Harriot put it, the declaration “was received as you will imagine by every part of ye family with ye greatest Delight”.[8]

Lord Sydney wrote to John’s mother in sheer relief, apparently the minute John had walked out of his study:

Lord Chatham has today done me the honor to express his desire of proposing himself to my Daughter Mary … It would be an absurd piece of Affectation in me to attempt to conceal my feelings of Satisfaction & Pride in placing a Part of my Family, which deserves & possesses my warmest & most tender Affection, under the Protection of those, whose Alliance, I can truly say, I prefer to that of any Family in England.[9]

The marriage was celebrated on 10 July 1783, and seems (by and large) to have been happy for a very long time. Which was just as well, after John’s long hesitation.

Emotions of a schoolboy, eh?


References

[1] Lord Stanhope, Life of Pitt I, 81 (Pitt to Lady Chatham, 27 June 1782)

[2] Lady Harriot Pitt to Lady Chatham, undated, Manchester University Archives GB 133 Eng MS 1272 f 45

[3] Lady Harriot Pitt to Lady Chatham, [1 May 1783], Manchester University Archives GB 133 Eng MS 1272 f 32

[4] Lady Harriot Pitt to Lady Chatham, [3 May 1783], Manchester University Archives GB 133 Eng MS 1272 f 33

[5] Lady Harriot Pitt to Lady Chatham, [5 May 1783], Manchester University Archives GB 133 Eng MS 1272 f 34

[6] Lady Harriot Pitt to Lady Chatham, [6 May 1783], Manchester University Archives GB 133 Eng MS 1272 f 35; Pitt to Lady Chatham, 15 May 1783, Stanhope I, 121-2

[7] Lady Harriot Pitt to Lady Chatham, [19 May 1783], Manchester University Archives GB 133 Eng MS 1272 f 38

[8] Lady Harriot Pitt to Lady Chatham, [23 June 1783], Manchester University Archives GB 133 Eng MS 1272 f 43

[9] Lord Sydney to Lady Chatham, 5 June 1783, National Archives PRO 30/8/60 f 205