The name’s James, Charles James: a Napoleonic-era enigma (Part 2)

James portrait from Poems vol 1 1811

From the frontispiece of the 1808 edition of Charles James’s Poems

You can read last week’s post about Charles James, poet, fixer, and international man of mystery extraordinaire, here.

Major of the Royal Artillery Drivers and ‘French Secretary’ to the Ordnance

In 1806, Pitt the Younger died and Lord Moira’s Whig associates came to government as the Ministry of All the Talents. Moira himself became Master-General of the Ordnance.

Moira – who was, as you will recall, Charles James’s patron and employer – wanted to bring James with him, but couldn’t quite manage to get him openly attached to the Ordnance. As the Master-General could employ the services of any officer on the Ordnance establishment in any way he wanted, however, Moira appointed James (who, insofar as he had any military duties at all, was currently a lieutenant on half-pay in the 62nd) as Major of the Royal Artillery Drivers.

This was, to put it mildly, a bit of a stretch, but it doesn’t seem to have been exactly illegal. The majority was a new post (created January 1806) with a handsome salary of about £400 a year (a guinea a day, plus perquisites and allowances); because it overlapped with field commissions that already existed, the majority also had very few practical duties. This allowed Moira to use James in any way he liked, and the way he chose to use him was as ‘French Secretary’.

James’s duties as ‘French Secretary’ were just as nebulous as his duties as a major. James himself later described them as follows: ‘attendance on the Master-General, receipt, transcript or translation of foreign papers, personal interviews with foreigners and others, together with confidential reports … chiefly on foreign matters’. [1] The closest anyone got to any practical official designation of James’s duties was a line in a letter from Colonel Charles Neville, Secretary to the Master-General of the Ordnance, employing him for a task ‘whereon his Lordship [the 2nd Earl of Chatham, Moira’s successor at the Ordnance] and you conversed when you last saw him’. [2]

regimental_companion

(The Regimental Companion, vol. 3, p. 508)

From this, it seems that James’s duties either didn’t exist at all, in which case the post was a total sinecure – which James strenuously denied – or that his duties weren’t the kind of thing he could talk about in a public document.

James’s strange position inevitably came to the notice of the Commissioners of Military Enquiry (the Commission for Military Enquiry had been instituted in 1805 to look into potential financial abuses in many military departments). The Commissioners were convinced the new majority was a job, but proving this was like nailing jelly to the wall.

The most likely explanation for James’s role at the Ordnance is that Moira was using him as he had often used him before – to undertake rather shady activities out of the public eye, and to engage in liaison with Ordnance contacts and agents abroad: ‘engaged in particulars of a military nature, for the general benefit of the service’. [3]

It All Becomes Too Much

A-Kick-at-the-Broad-Bottoms-Gillray

James Gillray, ‘A Kick at the Broad-Bottoms!’ (1807), from here. Moira is portrayed on the right with his arms in the air in alarm

Moira fell from the Ordnance (along with the rest of his government) in March 1807, but James stayed on as ‘French Secretary’ under the 2nd Earl of Chatham. Chatham, however, was at the opposite end of the political spectrum from James, and seems to have avoided employing James except when it was absolutely necessary to do so.

James was understandably unhappy with Chatham and with the Commission for Military Enquiry, which he thought should have been investigating why Chatham kept him on the Ordnance’s paybooks without actually using him rather than engaging in a witch-hunt against innocent parties (viz. Major Charles James, RA Drivers):

‘There is not an officer in the service, civil or military, but may be subjected to the most rigorous inquiry. There is not one but may have the dirty passions of the human mind let loose against him; and there are many who may be placed in a situation to excite and consequently to incur the visitation of envy, spleen, and prejudice.’ [4]

But politics was in no mood for military inefficiency, and it was a bad time to be a public servant with a salary but no obvious duties.

Hague

In early 1809, the Duke of York, the Commander-in-Chief, was investigated by a whole House of Commons committee in 1809 to determine whether he’d been complicit in selling commissions through the influence of his former mistress, Mary-Anne Clarke. James didn’t crop up during that investigation, but he was name-checked in a bile-filled pamphlet by Thomas Hague:

‘I do not inquire what distinguished talent recommended him, whether his poetical effusions, or his military dictionary? I leave Colonel Crewe [James’s friend and another Moira connection] to describe his excellence as a billiard player, and his never erring stroke at some pocket or other. Whether the Major or Lord Petty [a former Chancellor of the Exchequer] be the better financier I care not – I do not question his dexterity as a truckster, his cold closeness as a bargain driver; but, as a gunner driver, I may be permitted to speak of him; to ask what are his claims to the rank he bears, and the pay he receives? Do they arise from foreign service, wounds, or exploits? I will not assert that the Major has never been abroad, because he was educated in the Jesuit’s college, at Bruges; where he has perhaps qualified himself to become the head of that order [ouch]; but, I aver that he has never done a day’s military duty, OUT of England.’ [5]

James v Stuarton

stuarton

James had also been attacked from an altogether dodgier quarter. In February 1808, James brought a case against George Francis Stuart, Count Stuarton (a direct descendant of James II and the Jacobite ‘Kings Over the Water’). Stuarton was almost certainly a connection between Moira and the French Royalists, whose cause Stuarton was in Britain to promote.

The background to the case is hazy – James’s only comment on the matter was that he had ‘instituted a Criminal Information against’ Stuarton ‘for reasons known to the Earl of Moira, and to Earl Spencer, then Secretary of State for the Home Department’. [6] He later claimed he had prosecuted the case with funding from the Ordnance, which suggests the business was one with potential implications for the government. [7]

Stuarton’s libel doesn’t survive, but he probably accused James of playing a double game during the Quiberon affair in 1795, betraying the Royalists and ‘encourag[ing] or abett[ing] their persecutors in Paris’ – perhaps insinuating that the government’s employment of such a man showed it had never been serious about helping the Royalists at all. [8] The man formerly known as ‘Jacobin’ James may well have been a figure of suspicion to many, but, with the silent might of the government behind him, James naturally won his case. Stuarton subsequently escaped to America to avoid arrest.

By this time, however, James was becoming a liability. His usefulness depended on his low profile, and between 1808 and 1810 he was being talked about far too much. Lord Mulgrave, Lord Chatham’s successor at the Ordnance, quietly let James go in August 1810. I don’t suppose it was coincidental that James had just finished giving evidence to the Military Commissioners at the time.

Spying for the Home Office

In 1813, Moira introduced James to Lord Sidmouth, the Home Secretary, ‘for the purpose of being honourably employed’. [9] This wasn’t referring to a clerkship.

recto

Henry Addington, 1st Viscount Sidmouth, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, from here

By November, James was pulling in old favours from his contacts and informants on the continent – men he either knew through his financial ventures, or through his family’s wine trade, or through his work with the French Royalists in the 1790s and early 1800s. His background in Flanders (particularly Liège) also came in handy. [10]

Throughout 1814 and 1815, James’s information networks were crucial to a government seeking to keep an eye on French opinion of the newly-restored Bourbon monarchy. The importance of his contacts rose sharply with the return of Napoleon. [11] James may have remained in the pay of the Home Office until the end of his life: he may have been the ‘Major James’ who was called upon in the trial of the Cato Street conspirators, one of whom confessed to him that the cabinet was about to be murdered. [12] Although I can’t prove James’s connection with the Cato Street Conspiracy, it’s just the sort of thing I’d expect him to be mixed up in.

The end

After 1815, James seems to have spent most of his time devoting himself to domestic concerns. In October 1818, he married a woman named Judith Appleton, who was roughly 23 or 24 years his junior. The pair had already been an unmarried item for at least a decade, and had five children: Charles Woodcock, born in 1807; Francis, who died in 1818; William Bosville, born in 1809; Maria; and Louisa (born in 1816 or 1817). There may also have been another son named John, born in 1808.

Why James waited so long to marry Judith is unclear, but it raises the possibility that one or the other of them may have been secretly married to someone else. I haven’t been able to substantiate this, though.

James didn’t live long enough to enjoy married life much. He died suddenly at the beginning of 1821, at the age of about 63. He was buried with his son Francis in St Mary’s, Paddington.

st mary

St Mary’s Church, Paddington, from here

His widow Judith inherited his house at Gloucester Place and (in a somewhat bizarre twist) she married another army agent – James Ashley – within seven weeks of burying her husband. Keeping it in the family, Ashley’s daughter Elizabeth later married James and Judith’s son Charles Woodcock.

Judith spent many years trying to obtain the money her husband had been owed by Moira (now Marquess of Hastings), but never succeeded. I can’t help feeling that, after so many years of devoted service, James and his family were owed something at least, but then maybe Moira felt his preferment and protection (and James undoubtedly needed both) had cleared all arrears between them.

Acknowledgements

I owe huge thanks to Rory Muir, Lynn Dawson, Sarah Murden, Charlie Stevenson, and Stephen Lark, whose time and resources I have totally monopolised in trying to track down the elusive Major James.

References

[1] 17th Report of the Commissioners of Military Enquiry (1811), p. 228.

[2] Charles James, Regimental Companion (1811), vol 3 (7th ed) (London: T Egerton, 1811), p. 508.

[3] James, Regimental Companion, vol. 3, pp. 511-12.

[4] James, Regimental Companion, vol. 3, p. 507.

[5] Thomas Hague, A letter to his Royal Highness the Duke of York on Recent Events, with a statement of the conduct of Generals Trigge and Fox, during their Commands at Gibraltar, and an Inquiry into Major Charles James’s Claims to Promotion (London: Wm Horseman, 1809), pp. 38-9.

[6] Memorandum by James, 6 Nov 1807, Liverpool MSS, British Library Add MS 38259, f. 267.

[7] James, Regimental Companion, vol. 3, p. 500.

[8] This is clear from some of the evidence printed in Papers on Charles James read to the Grand Jury for Westminster in the cause James versus George Francis Stuart, alias Count Stuarton, etc, 12 Feb 1808 (London: C. Roworth, 1808).

[9] James to Lord Liverpool, undated [1820], Liverpool MSS, British Library Add MS 38286, f. 228.

[10] James to Lord Sidmouth, Devon Record Office, Sidmouth MSS, 152M/C1813/OF/37, 38.

[11] James to Lord Sidmouth, Devon Record Office, Sidmouth MSS, 152M/C1815/0F29, 30, 31, 36; also Lyon and Turnbull’s Rare Books, MSS, Maps and Photographs catalogue of 31 August 2006, https://issuu.com/lyonandturnbullauctioneers/docs/476.

[12] Morning Chronicle, 20 April 1820.

The dangers of relying on 19th century printed sources

Still going through my MSS notes, and in doing so I found the following letter from Lord Mornington (later Marquis Wellesley, brother of the Duke of Wellington) to Henry Addington, Speaker of the House of Commons. The letter, dated 14 October 1797 (Devon RO Sidmouth MSS, 152M C1797 OZ 38), refers to Pitt’s ill health following the death of his brother-in-law Eliot (for which see more here):

“I trust you are now quite recovered, it was rather too much that you & Pitt should be ill at the same moment. I found him just as you had described him to me, & still more depressed by the death of poor Eliot; he did not disguise to me the state of his health, & I contributed to prevail on him to see Farquhar, I also took care that Farquhar should be apprised (without Pitt’s knowledge) of some leading defects in his system of life; this enabled Farquhar to form a much more accurate judgment of the case. Since Farquhar has seen him & put him upon a course of medicine, he is evidently much better, & has greatly recovered his appetite, & spirits. He went to Walmer quite a different man but he has not yet quite reformed his bad habit of drinking too much at supper.”

I quote the passage in its entirety, not only because it is interesting in itself but also and primarily because it demonstrates a phenomenon I have identified: the habit of 19th century biographers to (for want of a better word) bowdlerise the letters of their subjects.

You will note that in the letter above, Mornington makes no bones about the “leading defects in [Pitt’s] system of life” that he (and Addington, and presumably most of Pitt’s other friends) believed partially responsible for the breakdown in Pitt’s health, namely Pitt’s drinking— “his bad habit of drinking too much at supper”.

Alas this view of Pitt, famous and undeniable though it is, did not sit well with George Pellew, Henry Addington’s Victorian biographer. So … he just decided to leave out the bits of Mornington’s letter he didn’t like. The following is the same passage as the above, only taken from Pellew’s Life of Lord Sidmouth, volume 1, 196:

“I trust you are now quite recovered: it was rather too much that you and Pitt should be ill at the same moment. I found him just as you had described him to me, and still more depressed by the death of poor Eliot. He did not disguise to me the state of his health, and I contributed to prevail on him to see Farquhar, who has put him upon a course of medicine from which he has derived much improvement, and he went to Walmer quite a different man.”

(Spot the difference!)

This trend has ensnared at least one of Pitt’s biographers: Robin Reilly, who cited the Sidmouth Papers in his bibliography but evidently decided Pellew was to be trusted on this occasion. In his biography of Pitt (p. 276) Reilly quotes Pellew’s version of Mornington’s letter. I can’t help feeling that Reilly, whose aim in writing his biography of Pitt was to flesh out “three important influences in his life: his health, his alcoholism and his sexuality” (p. 2), would have kicked himself to know what he was missing by not going back to the source.

Thus ends my cautionary tale for all 18th century historians. 😉

Add MS 41856 f 96: Dialogue between Mr. Addington & Bonaparte

I have been going through my old MSS notes in a bid to find all the relevant information I once collected for my novel in one place. In the process I found the following: a poem, possibly written by Lord Carlisle, either after the peace preliminaries that became the treaty of Amiens were signed in the autumn of 1801 or (more likely) early 1803 before war broke out between Britain and France again.

Carlisle was a member of Lord Grenville’s parliamentary faction. The Grenvilles considered the Peace of Amiens to be a disaster for Britain. Britain pledged to hand back all her wartime conquests except for Trinidad and Ceylon, to restore Egypt to the Ottoman Empire and to give Malta back to the Knights of St John. In return France was to evacuate Italy and her Portuguese territories, but the Grenvilles were unequivocal in their opinion that Britain had made all the sacrifices. The Prime Minister, Henry Addington, they considered to be foolish and inept. The poem has to be read with this in mind.

“Dialogue between Mr Addington and Bonaparte”

Mr. A—.

With a friendship most hearty

To you great Bonaparte

I open my pitiful case.

If by Peace you don’t aid me,

By the God who has made me,

I shan’t keep a moment my place.

Bona.

And wherefore thus sad in tone

My good Mr. Addington;

I wish you to govern yr. Nation.

I’ll do all that I can,

To preserve such a Man

As yourself, in that high situation.

Only Give me my share,

(What you’ll very well spare)

All Italy, Holland, & Spain.

With Switzerland too,[1]

Tis a trifle to you,

While you keep the rule of the Main.

Mr. A.

Lord for this my dear Chief,

I should hang like a thief:

O grant me an Island, or two!

A free port [2], that with ease,

You may shut when you please,

And something for Jenky [3] to chew.

Bona.

Well, I’ll give you Ceylon,

Tis a hundred to one

That this may prove dust for your rabble;

Trinidad may impose,

So dont turn up your nose,

I know you don’t venture to squabble. [4]

Did not Hawkesbury state,

(Many thanks to his prate),

How all nations refused you their aid.

Then to War if you’re led

Pitt jumps over your head:

And a fine piece of work you’ll have made.

But I smell all the trick,[5]

Pitt expects us to break:

And that he’ll have to manage the war.

But I know how to fit him; [6]

Take my Peace, and then quit him;

Let your place, not the terms be your care.[7]

[1] Over the course of 1802 and early 1803, Napoleon declared himself President of the Cisalpine Republic [Italy] and sent troops into Switzerland. He also remodelled the Dutch government. Much of this was in contravention to Amiens, and also to previous treaty engagements with Austria (Luneville, 1801)

[2] The Cape of Good Hope. Amiens made this into a free port

[3] Robert Bankes Jenkinson, Lord Hawkesbury, the Foreign Secretary. Later Lord Liverpool.

[4] Altered to “I well know that you don’t dare to squabble”

[5] Altered to “But beware of this trick”

[6] Altered to “But the best way to fit him”

[7] Altered to “Be your place, not your peace your first care”