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Title: Love Romances of the Aristocracy
Author: Hall, Thornton, 1858-
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Love Romances of the Aristocracy" ***

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LOVE ROMANCES OF THE ARISTOCRACY

By

THORNTON HALL, F.S.A.


BARRISTER-AT-LAW

AUTHOR OF "LOVE INTRIGUES OF ROYAL COURTS," ETC. ETC.


ILLUSTRATED


LONDON

T. WERNER LAURIE

CLIFFORD'S INN


[Illustration: ELIZABETH, DUCHESS OF HAMILTON]


_TO_

MRS TOM HESKETH


_L'amitié est l'amour sans ailes_



PREFACE


My object in writing this book has been to present as many phases as
possible of the strangely romantic story of the British Peerage, so that
those who have not the time or facilities for exploring the library of
books over which these stories are scattered, may be able, within the
compass of a single volume, to review the panorama of our aristocracy,
with its tragedy and comedy, its romance and pathos, its foibles and its
follies, in a few hours of what I sincerely hope will prove agreeable
reading. If my book gives to any reader a fraction of the pleasure I
have derived from its writing, I shall be more than rewarded for a
labour which has been to me a delight.

THORNTON HALL.


_As love plays a prominent part in at least twenty of these stones, and
is only really absent from one or two of them, I venture to hope that my
good friends, the reviewers, who have been so kind to my previous books,
will not find fault with my title, which, more accurately than any other
I can think of, describes the nature and scope of my book_.

T.H.



CONTENTS

   CHAP. PAGE
      I. A PRINCESS OF PRUDES                          1
     II. THE NIGHTINGALE OF BATH                      21
    III. THE ROMANCE OF THE VILLIERS                  36
     IV. THE STAIN ON THE SHIRLEY 'SCUTCHEON          51
      V. A GHOSTLY VISITANT                           62
     VI. A MESSALINA OF THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY       74
    VII. A PROFLIGATE PRINCE                          87
   VIII. THE GORGEOUS COUNTESS                        96
     IX. A QUEEN OF COQUETTES                        110
      X. THE ADVENTURES OF A VISCOUNT'S DAUGHTER     127
     XI. A SIXTEENTH CENTURY ELOPEMENT               136
    XII. TRAGEDIES OF THE TURF                       148
   XIII. THE WICKED BARON                            165
    XIV. A FAIR _INTRIGANTE_                         177
     XV. THE MERRY DUCHESS                           195
    XVI. THE KING AND THE PRETTY HAYMAKER            207
   XVII. THE COUNTESS WHO MARRIED HER GROOM          222
  XVIII. A NOBLE VAGABOND                            231
    XIX. FOOTLIGHTS AND CORONETS                     243
     XX. A PEASANT COUNTESS                          256
    XXI. THE FAVOURITE OF A QUEEN                    266
   XXII. TWO IRISH BEAUTIES                          282
  XXIII. THE MYSTERIOUS TWINS                        298
   XXIV. THE MAYPOLE DUCHESS                         316
    XXV. THE ROMANCE OF FAMILY TREES                 326



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

  ELIZABETH, DUCHESS OF HAMILTON           _Frontispiece_
  FRANCES, DUCHESS OF RICHMOND         _to face page_ 18
  MARGUERITE, COUNTESS OF BLESSINGTON                 98
  SARAH, DUCHESS OF MARLBOROUGH                      110
  LOUISE, DUCHESS OF PORTSMOUTH                      184
  HARRIET, DUCHESS OF ST ALBANS                      252
  ROBERT DUDLEY, EARL OF LEICESTER                   266
  MARIA, COUNTESS OF COVENTRY                        288



LOVE ROMANCES OF THE ARISTOCRACY.



CHAPTER I

A PRINCESS OF PRUDES


Among the many fair and frail women who fed the flames of the "Merrie
Monarch's" passion from the first day of his restoration to that last
day, but one short week before his death, when Evelyn saw him "sitting
and toying with his concubines," there was, it is said, only one of them
all who really captured his royal and wayward heart, that loveliest,
simplest, and most designing of prudes, _La belle Stuart_.

When Barbara Villiers was enslaving Charles by her opulent charms, the
queen of his many mistresses, Frances Stuart was growing to beautiful
girlhood, an exile at the French Court, with no dream or care of her
future conquest of a king. Her father, a son of Lord Blantyre, had
carried his death-dealing sword through many a fight for the first
Charles, a distant kinsman of his own; and, when the Stuart sun set in
blood, had made good his escape to the friendly shores of France, where
he had found a fresh field for his valour.

Meanwhile his daughter was happy in the charge of the widowed Queen
Henrietta Maria, who although, as Cardinal de Retz tells us, she
frequently "lacked a faggot to leave her bed in the Louvre," and even a
crust to stay the pangs of hunger, proved a tender foster-mother to
brave Walter Stuart's child, and watched her growth to beauty with a
mother's pride.

Even before she emerged from short frocks, Frances Stuart had
established herself as the pet _par excellence_ of the Court of France.
With Anne of Austria the little Scottish maiden was a prime favourite;
every gallant, from "Monsieur" to the rakish Comte de Guise, loved to
romp with her, and to join in her peals of childish laughter; and the
King himself, Louis XIV., stole many a kiss, and was proud to be called
her "big sweetheart." So devoted was His Majesty to _La belle Ecossaise_
that, when her mother talked of taking her away to England, he begged
that she would not remove so fair an ornament from his Court, and vowed
that he would provide the child with a splendid dower and a noble
husband if she would but allow her to remain.

But Madame Stuart had other designs for her pretty daughter; and when
Henrietta Maria took boat to England to shine again at the Court of
Whitehall, under her son's reign, Frances Stuart joined her retinue, and
found herself transported from the schoolroom to the most brilliant and
dangerous court in Europe. When this transformation came in her life
Walter Stuart's daughter was just blossoming into as sweet and fragrant
a flower as ever bloomed in woman's guise. Fair and graceful as a lily,
with luxuriant brown hair, eyes of violet, and a proud, dainty little
head, she had a figure which, although yet not fully formed, was
faultless in its modelling and its exquisite grace. And these physical
charms were allied to an unspoiled freshness, which combined the artless
fascinations of the child with the allurements of the woman.

Such was Frances Stuart when she made her appearance at the Court of
Charles II. as maid-of-honour, to his Queen, Catherine; and one can
scarcely wonder that, even among the most beautiful women in England,
the French "Mademoiselle," as she was called, was hailed as a new
revelation of female fascination, especially as she brought with her the
bubbling gaiety and passionate zest of life of the land of her exile.

To the "Merrie Monarch's" senses, sated with riper beauties and more
stolid charms, this unspoiled child of nature was as a wild rose
compared with exotic hot-house flowers. She was, he vowed, so "dainty,
so fresh, so fragrant," that none but the sourest of anchorites could
resist her--and he was no anchorite, as the world knew well. Almost at
sight of her he fell madly in love with her, and brought to bear on her
the battery of all his fascinations. Was ever maid placed, on the
threshold of life, in so dangerous a predicament? For the King, who was
her first lover, was also one of the most captivating men in England, a
past-master in the conquest of woman. But, in response to all his
advances, his honeyed words and oglings, the Stuart maid only laughed a
merry childish laugh. She would romp with him, as she had done with the
gallants at the French Court; to her he was only another "big
playfellow" to tease and play with. She knew nothing of love, and did
not wish to know more. He might kiss her--_vraiment_--why not? and that
Charles made abundant use of this concession, we know, for we are told
that "he would kiss her for half an hour at a time," caring little who
looked on.

And all her other Whitehall lovers--a legion of them, from the Duke of
Buckingham to the youngest page at Court, she treated in precisely the
same way. Was it innocence or artfulness, this assumption of childish
prudery? "She was a child," says Count Hamilton, "in all respects save
playing with dolls"--a child who refused to grow into a woman, and yet,
one shrewdly suspects that behind her childishness was a motive deeper
than is usually associated with so much simplicity.

She infected the whole Court with her exuberant youthfulness.
Basset-tables and boudoir intrigues were alike deserted to enjoy the new
era of nursery games which she inaugurated. Jaded gallants and sedate
Ladies of the Bedchamber mingled their shrieks of laughter in
blind-man's buff and hunt-the-slipper with the Stuart maid as Lady of
Misrule and arch-spirit of jollity. Pepys was shocked--or affected to
be--one day by seeing all the great and fair ones of the Court squatting
on the floor in the Whitehall gallery playing at "I love my love with an
A because he is Amorous"; "I hate him with a B because he is Boring,"
and so on; and no doubt rocking with glee at some sally of wit, for,
Pepys says, "some of them were very witty."

The little madcap even carried her games and toys into the sacred
environment of the Audience Chamber. Seated on the floor, innocently
exposing the prettiest pair of ankles in England, and surrounded by her
big playfellows, she would challenge them to a competition in
castle-building with cards; and when her carefully-reared edifice
toppled to the ground she would break into a silvery peal of laughter,
and clap her hands for the King to come and help her to rebuild it, for
no less distinguished assistant would she allow to touch her cards. And
Charles never failed to respond to the summons, though he were
hobnobbing with chancellor or archbishop, and would be sent away happy,
with a kiss for his pains. No wonder poor Pepys was horrified at such
unseemly goings-on.

And equally small wonder that the King's mistresses and the great ladies
of the Court cast many a jealous and vindictive glance on the child, who
had power to lure away their slaves to her nursery shrine. The Duke of
Buckingham, himself, was prouder to be her favourite playfellow than of
all his conquests in the field of love. He wrote songs, and sang them
for her pleasure; he kept her in a ripple of laughter for hours together
by his stories and clever mimicry, and rushed to her side whenever she
summoned him to build card-castles or to join in a romp--until what was
"play to the child" began to prove a serious matter to the man of the
world. He found that, while he was building castles or chasing the
elusive fairy blindfolded, she had stolen his heart away; but when he
ventured to tell his love to her she boxed his ears, and told him to run
away and not be so naughty again.

Was there ever so tantalising and inscrutable a maid? And as she had
treated the King and his chief favourite, she treated all her other
playfellows. The Earl of Arlington, a grave, dignified Lord of the
Bedchamber, so far unbended as to make love to the little witch, who
stood so well in the favour of his Sovereign; and never did man exert
himself more to win the favour of a maid.

     "Having provided himself," says Hamilton, "with a great
     number of maxims and some historical anecdotes, he
     obtained an audience of Miss Stuart, in order to display
     them; at the same time offering her his most humble
     services in the situation to which it had pleased God and
     her virtue to raise her. But he was only in the preface
     of his speech, when he reminded her so ludicrously of
     Buckingham's mimicry of him that she burst into a peal of
     laughter in his very face, and rushed stifling from the
     room. Thus ignominiously was sounded the death-knell of
     Arlington's hopes!"

George Hamilton, one of the most handsome and fascinating men in
England, fared better, but retired from the pursuit of so seductive and
tantalising a maid. Still Hamilton was the most congenial playfellow of
them all. He was a madcap like herself, always ripe for fun and frolic;
and for a time she revelled in his comradeship. He first won her heart
in the following fashion. One day old Lord Carlingford was delighting
and convulsing her by placing a lighted candle in his mouth, and
hobbling to and fro thus illuminated. "I can do better than that,"
exclaimed the irrepressible Hamilton. "Give me two candles." The candles
were produced. Hamilton lit them, and thrust the pair into his capacious
mouth, and minced three times round the room before they were
extinguished, while _La belle Stuart_ paraded after him, clapping her
hands and laughing in her glee.

Such a feat was an efficient passport to her favour. Rollicking George
was at once installed as playmate-in-chief to the spoiled child, and was
privileged with a greater intimacy than any of her other favourites had
ever enjoyed.

     "Since the Court has been in the country," he confessed,
     "I have had a hundred opportunities of seeing her. You
     know that the _déshabille_ of the bath is a great
     convenience for those ladies who, strictly adhering to
     their rules of decorum, are yet desirous to display all
     their charms and attractions. Miss Stuart is so fully
     acquainted with the advantages she possesses over all
     other women, that it is hardly possible to praise any
     lady at Court for a well-turned arm and a fine leg, but
     she is ever ready to dispute the point by demonstration.
     After all, a man must be very insensible to remain
     unconcerned and unmoved on such happy occasions."

It is conceivable that Hamilton, stimulated by such, no doubt, artless
encouragement as he seems to have enjoyed, might have made a conquest
where so many had failed, had not his future brother-in-law, Gramont,
taken him seriously to task and warned him of the grave danger of
flirting with the lady on whom the King had set eyes of love, and
persuaded him at the eleventh hour to beat a dignified retreat.

Pepys draws a pretty picture of Miss Stuart at this time, as he saw her
riding, among the Ladies of Honour, with the Queen in the Park.

     "I followed them," he says, "up into Whitehall, and into
     the Queen's presence, where all the ladies walked,
     talking and fiddling with their hats and feathers, and
     changing and trying one another's by one another's heads
     and laughing. But, above all, Mrs Stuart in this dresse,
     with her hat cocked and a red plume, with her sweet eyes,
     little Roman nose, and excellent _taille_, is now the
     greatest beauty I ever saw, I think, in my life; and, if
     ever woman can, do exceed my Lady Castlemaine, at least
     in this dress. Nor do I wonder if the King changes, which
     I verily believe is the reason of his coldness to my Lady
     Castlemaine."

How many hearts Frances Stuart toyed with and broke in these days of her
girlish beauty and irresponsibility will never be known; but we know
that at least one hopeless wooer committed suicide, and another, Francis
Digby, Lord Bristol's handsome son, after years of unrequited idolatry,
in his despair rushed away to seek and find death in the Dutch war.

And it was not only over men that Frances Stuart cast the spell of her
witchery. One of her earliest and most ardent admirers was none other
than my Lady Castlemaine herself, who alone claimed to hold her
Sovereign's heart. So secure she thought herself of her supremacy that
she not only took the French beauty into favour, but actually encouraged
Charles in his pursuit of her, probably little realising how dangerous a
rival she was taking to her bosom. It is said that this was but an
artifice to divert Charles's attention from an intrigue that she was
carrying on with that rakish beau, Henry Jermyn; but, whatever the
cause, there is no doubt that for a time she lost no opportunity of
throwing her Royal lover and the fair Stuart together. She even looked
on smilingly at a mock marriage, at one of her own entertainments,
between the pair--"with ring and all other ceremonies of church service
and ribands, and a sack-posset in bed, and flinging the stocking,
evincing neither anger nor jealousy, but entering into the diversion
with great spirit."

And not only did she thus trifle with fire; for some months she rarely
saw the King but in Miss Stuart's presence.

     "The King," to quote Hamilton again, "who seldom
     neglected to visit the Countess before she rose, seldom
     failed likewise to find Miss Stuart with her. The most
     indifferent objects have charms in a new attachment;
     however, the Countess was not jealous of this rival's
     appearing with her in such a situation, being confident
     that whenever she thought fit, she could triumph over all
     the advantages which these opportunities could afford
     Miss Stuart."

As a matter of fact Charles's _maitresse en titre_ regarded the
"Mademoiselle" as nothing more dangerous than a pretty, winsome child.
"She is a lovely little thing," she once said patronisingly, "but she is
only a spoiled child, fonder of her toys and games than of the finest
lover in the world." But she was not long left in this unsuspicious
Paradise. There was soon no doubt that the "child" had made a conquest
of the King, and that she, the mother of his children, no longer held
the throne of his heart.

Her first rude disillusionment came when Charles was presented by
Gramont with "the most elegant and magnificent carriage (called a
'calash') that had ever been seen." The Queen herself and Lady
Castlemaine each decided that she and no other should be the first to
take an airing in Hyde Park in this georgeous vehicle, which was sure to
create an unparalleled sensation; and each exerted her utmost arts and
eloquence to secure this concession from the King.

     "Miss Stuart, however, had the same wish and requested
     to have the calash on the same occasion. The Queen
     retired in disdain from such a contest, while the King
     was driven to distraction between the cajoling and
     threats of the two rival beauties."

It was Miss Stuart, however, who won the day, to Lady Castlemaine's
unrestrained rage and disgust. The child had scored the first point in
the duel, the prize of which was the King's favour.

According to Hamilton, this victory was believed to have cost the
"prude" her virtue; but Miss Stuart had proved again and again that she
was no such compliant maid. The only passport to her favours, though a
King sought them, was a wedding-ring; and amid all the temptations of a
dissolute Court, where virtue was as hard to seek as a needle in a a
bundle of hay, she adhered to this high resolve. Probably no maid ever
found her way with such a sure step through the iniquitous mazes of
Charles II.'s Court to an honourable marriage as _La belle Stuart;_
though at one time she so despaired of realising her ambition "to be a
Duchess" that she declared she was "ready to marry any gentleman of
fifteen hundred a year that would have her in honour."

And never, perhaps, have the designs of a dissolute King been so
cleverly and consistently baffled. Charles made no concealment of his
passion for the beautiful maid-of-honour, and the more coldly she
treated his advances, the more marked and ardent was his pursuit.

     "Mr Pierce tells me," Pepys writes, "that my Lady
     Castlemaine is not at all set by by the King, but that he
     do doat upon Mrs Stuart only, and that to the leaving of
     all business in the world, and to the open slighting of
     the Queen. That he values not who sees him, or stands by
     while he dallies with her openly; and then privately in
     her chamber below, while the very sentrys observe him
     going in and out; and that so commonly that the Duke, or
     any of the Nobles, when they would ask where the King is,
     they will ordinarily say, 'Is the King above or below?'
     meaning with Mrs Stuart; that the King do not openly
     disown my Lady Castlemaine, but that she comes to Court."

Such was the spell which this enchantress cast over the King. Nor were
her conquests by any means confined to the circle of the Court in which
she moved a splendid, but unassailable Queen, for every man who came
within the magic of her presence seems to have lost both head and heart.
One of the most infatuated of all her victims was Phillipe Rotier, the
youngest brother of the famous medallists whom Charles had invited to
England, and whose first commission was to design a medal in celebration
of the Peace of Breda. For the purposes of this medal Miss Stuart was
asked by the King to pose as Britannia; and so captivated was Phillipe
Rotier, to whom she gave sittings, by the exquisite perfection and grace
of her figure, and so entranced by her beauty, that he fell madly in
love with her, and narrowly escaped the loss of reason as well as of
his heart. Since that day the figure of Britannia has appeared on
millions of coins and medals to perpetuate through the centuries the
faultless form of the woman who drove artist as well as King to the
verge of despair by her beauty and her inaccessible prudery.

It was destined, however, that a prize which had so long eluded the
handsomest gallants in England should fall at last to one of the most
insignificant of all Charles's courtiers, a man who had neither good
looks, intellect, nor character to commend him to a lady's favour. Such
a gilded nonentity was Charles Stuart, Duke of Richmond and of Lennox,
who, having buried two wives, now began to cast envious eyes on the
maid-of-honour whom his Sovereign could not win.

Small in stature, deformed in figure--a caricature of a man, His Grace
of Richmond was the last degenerate scion of the Stuarts of
Richmond-d'Aubigny, a man of depraved tastes and besotted brain, the
butt and the clown of Charles's Court. That this middle-aged buffoon
should aspire to the hand of the loveliest and most elusive woman in
England was only less amazing than that she should smile on his suit.
The Court was struck with consternation--and convulsed with laughter.
Nothing so utterly astonishing and so ludicrous had come within its
experience. But there could be no doubt about it. _La belle Stuart_, who
had so long resisted the King, and given the cold shoulder to such
gallants as the Duke of Buckingham and Lord Arlington, was not only
smiling on her ill-favoured suitor, she was actually giving him midnight
assignations in her own apartments, and risking for a clown the
reputation a King had been powerless to sully.

Here, at last, was a fine weapon placed in the hands of the outraged and
vindictive Castlemaine. Here was a splendid opportunity of paying off
old scores, of showing to her Royal lover the kind of woman for whom he
had supplanted her, and of reinstating herself in his good graces. One
night, as he returned in an evil temper from a fruitless visit to Miss
Stuart's apartments, from which he had been sent away on some frivolous
pretext, he was accosted by my Lady Castlemaine, who, with ill-concealed
triumph, told him that at the moment _La belle Stuart_ turned him away
from her door, she was actually dallying with his new and contemptible
rival, the Duke of Richmond, at the other side of it.

Charles was incredulous, furious at the suggestion. "Come with me," Lady
Castlemaine answered, "and I will prove that I am telling you the simple
truth;" and taking his hand she led him exultantly down the gallery from
his apartments to the threshold of Miss Stuart's door, where, with a
sweeping curtsy and an invitation to enter, she left him. On throwing
open the door, to quote Hamilton, the King

     "found Miss Stuart in bed, but far from being asleep. The
     Duke of Richmond was seated at her pillow, and in all
     probability was less inclined to sleep than herself. The
     King, who of all men was usually one of the most mild
     and gentle, testified his resentment to the Duke of
     Richmond in such terms as he had never used before. The
     Duke was speechless and almost petrified; he saw his
     master and King justly irritated. The first transports
     which rage inspires on such occasions are dangerous. Miss
     Stuart's window was very convenient for a sudden revenge,
     the Thames flowing close beneath it. He cast his eyes
     upon it, and seeing those of the King more incensed and
     fired with indignation than he thought his nature capable
     of, he made a profound bow, and retired without replying
     a single word to the vast torrent of threats and menaces
     that were poured on him."

But if the Duke proved thus a poltroon, Miss Stuart showed a very
different metal. She was furious at the indignity of the King's
intrusion on her privacy, and proceeded to read him such a lecture as
his Royal ears had never listened to. She was no slave, she said, with
flashing eyes, to be treated in such a manner, not to be allowed to
receive visits from a man of the Duke of Richmond's rank, who came with
honourable intentions. She was perfectly free to dispose of her hand as
she thought proper; and if she could not do it in England, there was no
power on earth that could hinder her from going over to France, and
throwing herself into a convent to enjoy that tranquillity that was
denied her in his Court! And the enraged beauty wound up her lecture by
pointing imperiously to the door and bidding the King begone, "to leave
her in repose, at least for the remainder of the night."

Charles went away baffled and cowed, but with a fierce rage in his
heart. He had been defied, browbeaten, insulted by the woman for whom he
would almost have bartered his crown; and he vowed that he would be
revenged. On the following morning Miss Stuart, her anger now cooled,
and awake to the enormity of her offence against Charles, sought an
audience with Queen Catherine, to whom she told the whole story, begging
her to appease the King, and to induce him to allow her to retire to a
convent. So affecting was this interview that, we are told, the Queen
and the maid-of-honour mingled their tears together, and Catherine
promised to do her utmost to bring about a reconciliation.

One final attempt Charles made to capture the prize before it was lost
to him for ever. He offered to dismiss all his mistresses, from the
Castlemaine herself to saucy Nell Gwynn, and to dower her with large
revenues and splendid titles if she would but consent to be his
_maitresse en titre_; but to all his seductions and bribes the
inflexible maid-of-honour turned a blind eye. No future, however
dazzling, could compensate her for the loss of her dearest possession.
"I hope," said the King at last, "I may live to see you old and
willing," as he walked away in high dudgeon. To the proposed match with
the Duke he point-blank refused his consent, and vowed that if his
sovereign will were defied, the punishment would be in proportion to the
offence.

But the fair Stuart had finally made up her mind. It had long been her
ambition--from childhood, it is said--to be a Duchess, and she was not
going to let the opportunity slip for all the kings in the world. What
might come after was another matter. A Duchess's coronet and a
wedding-ring were her immediate goal. Thus it came to pass that one dark
night she stole away from the Palace of Whitehall, and was rowed to
London Bridge, where the Duke awaited her in his coach. Through the
night the runaway pair were driven to Cobham Hall, in Kent, where, long
before morning dawned, an obliging parson had made them man and wife.
Frances Stuart was a Duchess at last; and Charles's long intrigue had
ended (or so it seemed) in final discomfiture.

On hearing the news the King was beside himself with anger. He forbade
the runaways ever to show their faces near his Court--he even dismissed
his Chancellor Clarendon, whom he suspected of having a hand in the
plot.

But all his wrath fell impotently on the new Duchess, who returned his
presents and settled smilingly down to enjoy her new dignities and her
honeymoon. Within a year--so powerless is anger against love--Charles
summoned the truants back to favour, and the Duchess, as Lady of the
Bedchamber to the Queen, was installed once more at Whitehall, more
splendid and pre-eminent than ever. During her brief exile, she had held
a rival court of her own as near Whitehall as Somerset House, where,
says Pepys,

     "she was visited for her beauty's sake by people, as the
     Queen is at nights. And they say also she is likely to go
     to Court again, and there put my Lady Castlemaine's nose
     out of joint. God knows that would make a great turn."

How far the Duke's bride succeeded in putting Lady Castlemaine's "nose
out of joint" must remain a matter of speculation. There seems little
doubt that as a wife she proved more complaisant to Charles than as a
maid. She had carried her virtue unstained to the altar and a Duchess's
coronet, and this seems to have been the main concern of the beautiful
prude. That Charles was more infatuated even with the wife than with the
maid-of-honour is incontestable. He not only made open love to her at
Court, but, especially after he had packed off her husband, the Duke, as
Ambassador to Denmark, his pursuit took a clandestine and more dangerous
shape. Pepys throws a light on what looks like a secret amour, when he
tells us, on the authority of Mr Pierce, that Charles once "did take a
pair of oars or a sculler, and all alone, or but one with him, go to
Somerset House (from Whitehall), and there, the garden-door not open,
himself clamber over the wall to make a visit to the Duchess, which is a
horrid shame."

[Illustration: FRANCES, DUCHESS OF RICHMOND]

But the Duchess's new reign of conquest was destined to be brief. To the
consternation of her Royal lover she was struck down with small-pox,

     "by which," to quote Pepys again, "all do conclude she
     will be wholly spoiled, which is the greatest instance of
     the uncertainty of beauty that could be in this age; but
     then she hath had the benefit of it to be first married,
     and to have kept it so long, under the greatest
     temptations in the world from a King, and yet without the
     least imputation."

That Pepys's fears were realised we know from Ruvigny's letters to Louis
XIV., in which he says that "her matchless beauty was impaired beyond
recognition, one of her brilliant eyes being nearly quenched for ever."
During this tragic illness Charles, who was consumed with anxiety,
visited her more than once, thus proving, at a terrible risk, the
sincerity of his devotion. And it is even said that his admiration of
her was not diminished by the loss of her beauty.

With this loss of her beauty, however, the Duchess's reign may be said
to have come to an end. King Charles's eyes were soon to be dazzled by
the fresher charms of Louise de Querouaille, whom the "Sun-King" had
sent from France to turn his head and influence his foreign policy in
Louis's favour; and _La belle Stuart_ was not slow to realise that at
last her sun had set. During the remainder of her long life, at least
until the Orange King came to the Throne, she retained her office of
Lady of the Bedchamber to two Queens; but her appearances at Court, the
scene of so many triumphs, were as few as she could make them.

For the rest her days were spent in retirement, among her beloved books
and pictures and cats; until, after thirty years of widowhood, full of
years and wearied of life's vanities, she was laid to rest in her ducal
robes in Westminster Abbey. The bulk of her enormous fortune went to her
nephew, Lord Blantyre, with a direction that he should purchase with
part of it an estate, to be known as "Lennox's Love to Blantyre"; and to
this day "Lennox-Love" perpetuates, like the Britannia of our coins, the
memory of one of the most beautiful and tantalising women who have ever
driven men to distraction by their beauty.



CHAPTER II

THE NIGHTINGALE OF BATH


A century and a half ago Bath had reached the zenith of her fame and
allurement, not only as "Queen of the West," but as Empress of all the
haunts of pleasure in England. She drew, as by an irresistible magnet,
rank and beauty and wealth to her shrine. In her famous Assembly Rooms,
statesmen rubbed shoulders with card-sharpers, Marquises with swell
mobsmen, and Countesses with courtesans, all in eager quest of pleasure
or conquest or gain. The Bath season was England's carnival, when cares
and ceremonial alike were thrown to the winds, when the pleasure of the
moment was the only ambition worth pursuing, and when even the prudish
found a fearful joy in playing hide-and-seek with vice.

But although the fairest women in the land flocked to Bath, by common
consent not one of them all was so beautiful and bewitching as Elizabeth
Ann Linley, the girl-nightingale, whose voice entranced the ear daily at
the Assembly Rooms concerts as her loveliness feasted the eye. She was,
as all the world knew, only the daughter of Thomas Linley,
singing-master and organiser of the concerts, a man who had plied
chisel and saw at the carpenter's bench before he found the music that
was in him; but, obscure as was her birth, she reigned supreme by virtue
of a loveliness and a gift of song which none of her sex could rival.

It is thus little wonder that Elizabeth Linley's fame had travelled far
beyond the West Country town in which she was cradled. George III. had
summoned her to sing to him in his London palace, and had been so
overcome by her gifts of beauty and melody that, with tears streaming
down his cheeks, he had stroked her hair and caressed her hands, and
declared to the blushing girl that he had never seen any one so
beautiful or heard a voice so divinely sweet.

Charles Dibdin tried to enshrine her in fitting verse, but abandoned the
effort in despair, vowing that she was indeed of that company described
by Milton:

    "Who, as they sang, would take the prisoned soul
    And lap it in Elysium."

The Bishop of Meath, in his unepiscopal enthusiasm, declared that she
was "the link between an angel and a woman"; while Dr Charles Burney,
supreme musician and father of the more famous Madame d'Arblay, wrote
more soberly of her:

     "The tone of her voice and expression were as enchanting
     as her countenance and conversation. With a
     mellifluous-toned voice, a perfect shake and intonation,
     she was possessed of the double power of delighting an
     audience equally in pathetic strains and songs of
     brilliant execution, which is allowed to very few
     singers."

To her Horace Walpole also paid this curious tribute:

     "Miss Linley's beauty is in the superlative degree. The
     king admires and ogles her as much as he dares to do in
     so holy a place as oratorio."

Such are a few of the tributes, of which contemporary records are full,
paid to the fair "Nightingale of Bath," whom Gainsborough and Reynolds
immortalised in two of their inspired canvases--the latter as
Cecilia--her face almost superhuman in its beauty and the divine rapture
of its expression--seated at a harpsichord and pouring out her soul in
song.

It was inevitable that a girl of such charms and gifts--"superior to all
the handsome things I have heard of her," John Wilkes wrote, "and withal
the most modest, pleasing and delicate flower I have seen"--should have
lovers by the score. Every gallant who came to Bath, sought to woo, if
not to win, her. But Elizabeth Linley was no coquette; nor was she a
foolish girl whose head could be turned by a handsome face or pretty
compliments, or whose eyes could be dazzled by the glitter of wealth and
rank. She was wedded to her music, and no lover, she vowed, should wean
her from her allegiance. It was thus a shock to the world of
pleasure-seekers at Bath to learn that the beauty, who had turned a cold
shoulder to so many high-placed gallants, had promised her hand to an
elderly, unattractive wooer called Long, a man almost old enough to be
her grandfather.

That her heart had not gone with her hand we may be sure. We know that
it was only under the strong compulsion of her father that she had given
her consent; for Mr Long had a purse as elongated as his name, and to
the eyes of the poor singing-master his gold-bags were irresistible. Her
elderly wooer loaded his bride-to-be with costly presents; he showered
jewels on her, bought her a trousseau fit for a Queen; and was on the
eve of marrying her, when--without a word of warning, it was announced
that the wedding, to which all Bath had been excitedly looking forward,
would not take place!

Mr Linley was furious, and threatened the terrors of the law; but the
bridegroom that failed was adamant. It was said that, in cancelling the
engagement, Mr Long was acting a chivalrous part, in response to Miss
Linley's pleading that he would withdraw his suit, since her heart could
never be his, and by withdrawing shield her from her father's anger.
However this may have been, Mr Long steadily declined to go to the
altar, and ultimately appeased the singing-master by settling £3,000 on
his daughter, and allowing her to keep the valuable jewels and other
presents he had given her.

It was at this crisis in the Nightingale's life, when all Bath was
ringing with the fiasco of her engagement, and she herself was overcome
by humiliation, that another and more dangerous lover made his
appearance at Bath--a youth (for such he was) whose life was destined
to be dramatically linked with hers. This newcomer into the arena of
love was none other than Richard Brinsley Sheridan, grandson of Dean
Swift's bosom friend, Dr Thomas Sheridan, one of the two sons of another
Thomas, who, after a roaming and profitless life, had come to Bath to
earn a livelihood by teaching elocution.

This younger Thomas Sheridan seems to have inherited none of the wit and
cleverness of his father, Swift's boon companion. Dr Johnson considered
him "dull, naturally dull. Such an excess of stupidity," he added, "is
not in nature." But, in spite of his dulness, "Sherry"--as he was
commonly called--had been clever enough to coax a pension of £200 a year
out of the Government, and was able to send his two boys to Harrow and
Oxford.

The Sheridan boys had been but a few days in Bath when they both fell
head over heels in love with Elizabeth Linley, with whom their sister
had been equally quick to strike up a friendship. But from the first,
Charles, the elder son, was hopelessly outmatched.

     "On our first acquaintance," Miss Linley wrote in later
     years, "both professed to love me--but yet I preferred
     the youngest, as by far the most agreeable in person,
     beloved by every one."

Indeed, from a boy, Richard Sheridan seemed born to win hearts. His
sister has confessed:

     "I admired--I almost adored him. He was handsome. His
     cheeks had the glow of health; his eyes--the finest in
     the world--the brilliancy of genius, and were soft as a
     tender and affectionate heart could render them. The same
     playful fancy, the same sterling and innoxious wit that
     was shown afterwards in his writings, cheered and
     delighted the family circle."

Such was Richard Brinsley Sheridan, when, in the year 1769, he first set
eyes on the girl, who, after many dramatic vicissitudes, was to bear his
name and share his glories. From the first sight of her he was
hopelessly in love, although none but his sister knew it. He was little
more than a school-boy, and was content to "bide his time," worshipping
mutely at the shrine of the girl whom some day he meant to make his own.

He gave no sign of jealousy when his elder brother made love to her
before his eyes--only to retire quickly, chilled by a coldness which he
realised he could never thaw; or even when his Oxford chum, Halhed, his
dearest friend and the colleague of his youthful pen, fell a victim to
Elizabeth's charms, and, in his innocence, begged Sheridan to plead his
suit with her. Halhed, too, had to retire from the hopeless suit; and
Richard Sheridan, still silent, save, perhaps, for the eloquence of
tell-tale eyes, held the field alone.

It was at this stage of our story that a grave element of danger entered
Elizabeth Linley's life, with the arrival at Bath of a Major Matthews, a
handsome _roué_, with a large rent-roll from Welsh acres, and a
dangerous reputation won in the lists of love. At sight of the fair
Nightingale in the Assembly Rooms this hero of many conquests was
himself laid low. He was frantically in love, and before many days had
passed vowed that he would shoot himself if his charmer refused to smile
on him. Her coldness only fanned his ardour; and his persecution reached
such a pitch that in her alarm she appealed to young Sheridan for help.

Nothing could have been more fortunate for the young lover than such an
appeal and the necessity for it. It was a tribute to her esteem, and to
his budding manliness, which delighted him. Moreover, it gave him many
opportunities of meeting her, and talking over the situation with her.
At any cost this persecution must end; and the result of the conferences
was that an excellent plan was evolved. Richard was to worm himself into
the confidence of the Major, and, in the character of friend and
well-wisher, was to advise him, as a matter of diplomacy, to cease his
attentions to Miss Linley for a time. Meanwhile arrangements were to be
made for the Nightingale's escape to France, where she proposed to enter
a convent until she was of age--thus finding a refuge from the
persecution to which her beauty constantly subjected her, and also from
the scandal which the Long fiasco had given rise to, and which was still
a great source of unhappiness to her.

The plot was cunningly planned and worked smoothly. The Major was
induced by subtle pleading to leave Miss Linley in peace for a time;
and, to quote Miss Sheridan:

     "At length they fixed on an evening when Mr Linley, his
     eldest son and Miss Mary Linley were engaged at the
     concert (Miss Linley being excused on the plea of
     illness) to set out on their journey. Sheridan brought a
     sedan-chair to Mr Linley's house in the Crescent, in
     which he had Miss Linley conveyed to a post-chaise that
     was waiting for them on the London road. A woman was in
     the chaise who had been hired to accompany them on this
     extraordinary elopement."

For elopement it really was, although ostensibly Sheridan was merely
playing the part of a friendly escort to a distressed lady, whatever
deeper scheme, unknown to her, may have been in his mind. After a brief
stay in London a boat was taken to Dunkirk, and the journey resumed
towards Lille.

It was during this last stage of the journey that Sheridan disclosed his
hand. With consummate, if questionable, cleverness he explained that he
could not, in honour, leave her in a convent except as his wife; that he
had loved her since first he met her more than anything else in life,
and that he could not bear the thought of her fair name being sullied by
the scandal that would surely follow this journey taken in his company.

To such plausible arguments, pleaded by one who confessed that he loved
her, and to whom she was (as she now realised) far from indifferent,
Miss Linley could not remain deaf. And before the coach had travelled
many miles from Calais the runaways found an accommodating priest to
make them one. The would-be nun thus dramatically ended her journey to
the convent at the altar.

     "It was not," she wrote to him later, "your person that
     gained my affection. No, it was that delicacy, that
     tender interest which you seemed to take in my welfare,
     that were the motives which induced me to love you."

The honeymoon that followed these strange nuptials was of short
duration; for, a few days later, Mr Linley arrived, in a high state of
anger, to reclaim and carry off his runaway daughter; and Sheridan was
left to follow ignominiously in their wake. When he reached Bath it was
to find his hands full. During his absence the irate Major, quick to
discover his perfidy, had published the following notice in the local
_Chronicle_:--

     "Mr Richard S., having attempted, in a letter left behind him for
     that purpose, to account for his scandalous method of running away
     from this place, by insinuations derogating from my character and
     that of a young lady, innocent as far as relates to me or my
     knowledge, since which he has neither taken notice of my letters,
     nor even informed his own family of the place where he has hid
     himself, I cannot longer think he deserves the treatment of a
     gentleman, than in this public manner to post him as a Liar and a
     treacherous Scoundrel.--THOMAS MATTHEWS."

Such a public insult could, of course, only have one issue. Sheridan
promptly challenged Matthews to a duel, the result of which was that the
Major was compelled to make an apology, as public as his insult. But,
so far was he from penitence, that within a few weeks he demanded a
second meeting--and this proved a much more serious matter for Sheridan.

The rivals met the following morning on Claverton Down; and after a few
furious exchanges both swords were broken, and the opponents were
struggling together on the ground. Matthews, however, being much the
stronger, was able to pin Sheridan down, and with a piece of the broken
sword stabbed him repeatedly in the face. "Beg your life, and I will
spare it," he demanded of the prostrate and defenceless man. "I will
neither beg it, nor receive it from such a villain," was the unflinching
answer.

     "Matthews then renewed the attack, and, having picked up
     the point of one of the swords, ran it through the side
     of the throat and pinned him to the ground with it,
     exclaiming, 'I have done for him.' He then left the
     field, accompanied by his second, and, getting into a
     carriage with four horses which had been waiting for him,
     drove off."

Sheridan, unconscious and apparently dying, was driven from the Downs to
a neighbouring inn, "The White Hart," where for a time he hung betwixt
life and death. On hearing of his condition Miss Linley (who at the time
was singing at Cambridge) travelled post-haste to his bedside; and,
tenderly nursed by his wife and his sister, the wounded man slowly
fought his way back to strength.

One would have thought that, after such a tragic experience and
observing the mutual devotion of the young couple, their parents would
have relented and given their approval of the union, however improvident
and inexcusable it might appear to them. But, on both sides, they were
obdurate; and Mr Sheridan carried his opposition to the extent of
extracting from his son a promise that he would not even see his wife.

But love laughs at parents' frowns and usually triumphs in the end. When
Elizabeth Linley went away to London to sing in oratorio, her husband
followed her; and, in the _rôle_ of hackney coachman, had the pleasure
of driving not only his wife but her father, home nightly from the
concert-room, without either of them suspecting his identity. When at
last he revealed himself to his wife, her delight was so great as to
leave no doubt of the sincere love she bore him. Many a secret meeting
followed; a final joint appeal ultimately broke down the obduracy of the
parents; and once again Sheridan led his bride to the altar, to make her
finally and securely his own.

For a time Richard Sheridan and his Nightingale found a haven in a
remote, rose-covered cottage at East Burnham. These were days of
unclouded happiness, when, the "world forgetting and by the world
forgot," they lived only for love, caring nothing of the future. They
were days of simple delights; for their entire income was the interest
of Mr Long's £3000, which proved ample for their needs. Mrs Sheridan,
now at the zenith of her fame, might have won thousands by her
voice--she actually refused offers of nearly £4000 for one short
season--but her husband wished to keep the Nightingale's voice for his
own exclusive delight; and she was only too happy in thus turning her
back on fame and fortune.

But such halcyon days could not last long. Even Paradise might pall on
such a restless temperament as that of Richard Brinsley Sheridan. He
began to sigh for the outer world in which he felt that it was his
destiny to shine, for an arena in which he could do justice to the gifts
which were clamouring for scope and exercise. And thus, to Mrs
Sheridan's lasting regret, cottage and roses and simple delights of the
country were left behind, and she found herself installed in a Portman
Square house, in the heart of the world of fashion.

Here Sheridan, always the most improvident of men, launched out into
extravagances more suited to an income of £5000 a year than the paltry
£150 which was all he could command. He entertained on a lavish scale;
and his wit and charm, supplemented by his wife's beauty and gift of
song, soon surrounded them with a fashionable crowd eager to eat his
dinners and to attend his wife's _soirées_. Sheridan was in his element
in this environment of luxury and prodigality; but the Bath Nightingale
would gladly have changed it all for "a little quiet home that I can
enjoy in comfort," as she told her husband--above all, for the Burnham
cottage where she had been so idyllically happy.

Perhaps if Sheridan had never left the cottage and the roses, his name
would never have been known to fame. His ambition needed some such
stimulus as this spasm of extravagance to wake it to activity. He must
now make money or be submerged by debts; and under this impulse of
necessity it was that he wooed fortune with _The Rivals_, and awoke to
find himself famous and potentially rich. Other comedies followed
swiftly from his eager and inspired pen--_The School for Scandal_, _The
Duenna_, and _The Critic_--each greeted with enthusiasm by a world to
which such dramatic triumphs were a revelation and a delight. Sheridan
was not only the "talk of the town"; he was hailed universally as the
brightest dramatic star of the age.

It is needless to say that Sheridan's fame was a delight to his wife.

     "Not long ago," she wrote to a friend, "he was known as
     'Mrs Sheridan's husband.' Now the tables are turned, and,
     henceforth, I expect I shall be just Mr Sheridan's wife.
     Nor could I wish any more exalted title. I am proud and
     thankful to be the wife of the cleverest man in England,
     and the best husband in the world!"

That Mrs Sheridan adored her husband is evident from every letter she
wrote to him. She addresses him as "my dearest Love" and "my darling
Dick," and vows that she cannot be happy apart from him. "I cannot love
you," she declares, "and be perfectly satisfied at such a distance from
you. I depended upon your coming to-night, and shall not recover my
spirits till we meet." But through her letters runs the same hankering
after the old simple, peaceful days--the days of love in a cottage. "I
could draw," she writes, "such a picture of happiness that it would
almost make me wish the overthrow of all our present schemes of future
affluence and grandeur."

But greatly as he loved his wife, Sheridan was now too much wedded to
his ambition to listen to such tempting. He had conquered fame with his
pen; now he aspired to subdue it with his tongue. In 1780, while he was
still in the twenties, he was sent to Parliament by Stafford suffrages;
and from his first appearance at Westminster captivated his fellow
law-makers by the magic of his eloquence. A new star had arisen in the
oratorical firmament, and soon began to pale all other luminaries.
Within two years he was a Minister of the Crown; and in another year he
had electrified the world by the most brilliant oratory that had ever
been heard in our tongue--notably by his historic speech in the trial of
Warren Hastings, to the preparation of which his wife had devoted
herself body and soul.

Fresh from listening to this latest sensational triumph of her husband
in Westminster Hall, she wrote:--

     "It is impossible to convey to you the delight, the
     astonishment, the admiration he has excited in the
     breasts of every class of people. Every party prejudice
     has been overcome by this display of genius, eloquence
     and goodness.... What my feelings must be, you can only
     imagine. To tell you the truth, it is with some
     difficulty that I can 'let down my mind,' as Mr Burke
     said afterwards, to talk or think on any other subject.
     But pleasure too exquisite becomes pain; and I am at this
     moment suffering from the delightful anxieties of last
     week."

But Mrs Sheridan's day of happiness and triumph was soon to draw near
to its close. She saw her husband climb to the dizziest pinnacle of
fame, and she watched with pain his brilliance dimmed, and his
marvellous intellect clouded by excessive drinking, before the fatal
seeds of consumption, which had already carried off her dearly-loved
sister, began to show themselves in her. Her illness was as swift as it
was, happily, painless. She simply drooped and faded and died, tenderly
watched over to the last by her husband with a silent anguish that was
pitiful to see.

     "During her last days," says Mrs Canning, her devoted
     friend, "she read sometimes to herself, and after dinner
     sat down to the piano. She taught Betty (her little
     niece) a little while, and played several slow movements
     out of her own head, with her usual expression, but with
     a very trembling hand. It was so like the last efforts of
     an expiring genius, and brought such a train of tender
     and melancholy ideas to my imagination, that I thought my
     poor heart would have burst in the conflict."

And one June day, when the world she had loved so well was flooded with
a glory of sunlight, her beautiful spirit sped silently away to join the
"choir invisible." Nine days later she was laid to rest in Wells
Cathedral, thousands flocking to pay farewell homage to the closest link
the world has ever known "between an angel and a woman." As for Sheridan
he survived his grief twenty-four years, to end his days in poverty, and
to crown his life's drama with a stately funeral in Westminster Abbey.



CHAPTER III

THE ROMANCE OF THE VILLIERS


The Villiers have had a liberal share of romance, ever since the
far-away days, three centuries and more ago, when the fourth son of Sir
George opened his eyes at Brookesby, in Leicestershire. From being a
"threadbare hanger-on" at Court this son of an obscure knight rose to be
the boon companion of two kings and the lover of a Queen of France.
Honours and riches were showered on this spoiled child of fortune. He
was created, in rapid succession, Viscount and Marquis, and finally Duke
of Buckingham; he won for bride an Earl's daughter, the richest heiress
in the land; and for some years dazzled the world by his splendours and
wealth as he alienated it by his arrogance. And just when his meteoric
career had reached its zenith, his life was closed in tragedy by the
assassin's knife.

His mantle of romance, however, fell on his son and successor, the
second Duke, who was brought up in a Palace nursery, and had for
playmates the children of Charles I.; and who, after a career which in
its dramatic adventure outstripped fiction, ended his turbulent life, if
not, as Pope says,

    "In the worst inn's worst room, with mat half-hung,"

at least in extreme poverty and suffering in a Yorkshire inn, at Kirby
Moorside. Of all the vast estates he had inherited, his kinsman, Lord
Arran, said: "There is not so much as one farthing towards defraying the
expense of his funeral."

Nor have the men of Villiers' blood had any monopoly of adventure. Their
wives and daughters have seldom been content to lead the unromantic life
which happily contents so many of their sex. From Barbara Chaffinch,
whose intrigues secured the Earldom of Jersey for her husband in William
III.'s reign, to the Lady Adela Villiers who ran away with Captain
Ibbetson, a handsome young officer of Hussars, to Gretna Green and the
altar, they have played many diverse and sensational _rôles_ on the
stage of their time.

It was but fitting that George Villiers, fifth Earl of Jersey, should
make a Countess of the Lady Sarah Sophia Fane, in whose veins was an
adventurous strain as marked as in his own; for she was the fruit of one
of the most dramatic unions recorded in the annals of our Peerage. A
year before she was cradled her mother was Anne Child, the richest
heiress in England--the only daughter of Robert Child, head of the great
banking firm at Temple Bar, and a descendant of Francis Child, the
industrious London apprentice who married the daughter of his master,
William Wheeler, goldsmith, whose riches and business he inherited.

"Old Child," as Anne's father was familiarly known, had many
aristocratic clients who used his cheques and overdrew their accounts;
but the most prodigal, as also the most ingratiating, of them all was
the young Earl of Westmorland, who, not content with making large
demands on the banker's exchequer and patience, had the audacity to
aspire to all his wealth through his daughter's hand.

Anne was perhaps as naturally flattered by the attentions of a lord as
she was fascinated by his handsome face and figure and his courtly
manners; but the father had other designs for his heiress than marrying
her to a prodigal young nobleman. "Your blood, my lord, is good," he
once told him; "but money is better."

Lord Westmorland was not, however, the man to be turned aside from the
gilded goal on which he had set his heart. If he could not wed the
heiress with her father's blessing, he would dispense with the
benediction. That he _would_ marry her he was determined; and Anne was
just the girl to assist a bold lover in such an ambition.

One day, so the story is told, Lord Westmorland decided to bring the
matter to a crisis. He had been dining with Mr Child, and, after the
wine had circulated freely, he said, "Now, sir, that we have discussed
business thoroughly, there is another matter on which I should be
grateful for your opinion." "What's that?" enquired the banker, beaming
benevolently on his guest, as a man who has dined well and is at peace
with the world. "Well, sir, suppose you were deeply in love with a girl
who returned your love, and that her father refused his consent. What
would you do?" "What should I do?" laughed the banker, "why, run away
with her, of course, like many a better man has done!"

What more direct encouragement could an ardent lover want? It is
possible that the next morning the banker had completely forgotten the
conversation, and his vinous approval of runaway matches; but, two days
later, he was destined to have a rude awaking. In the middle of the
night he was aroused by the watchman to learn that his front door had
been found open; and a little later the alarming discovery was made that
his daughter had flown. His suspicions fell at once on that "rascally
young lord"; and they were confirmed when he found that the Earl, too,
had disappeared, and that a chaise, with four galloping horses, had been
seen dashing northwards as fast as whip and spur could drive them.

The banker was furious. He raged and stormed as he ordered his servants
to procure the fastest horses money could command; and with lavish
promises of reward to the postboys he set out in hot pursuit of the
fugitives. Luckily they had no long start; and, with better horses, more
frequent changes, and a heavier purse, he had little doubt that he would
soon overtake them. But the chase was sterner and longer than he had
imagined. Cupid lends wings to runaway lovers. Fast as Mr Child's
sweating horses raced, they gained but little on the pursued. Through
the long night, the next day, and the following night the desperate race
continued--through sleeping villages and startled towns, over hill and
moor, until the borderland grew near. Then, between Penrith and
Carlisle, the quarry was at last sighted.

Mr Child's horses, urged to a final effort by the postboys, slowly but
surely reduced the interval; and now inch by inch they draw abreast of
the runaway chaise. The moment of triumph has come. Mr Child, with body
half protruding from the chaise, calls loudly on the fugitives to halt,
shaking his fist at the smiling face of the Earl, who with one hand
waves a graceful adieu, with the other presents a pistol at Mr Child's
near leader. A flash, a report, and the horse falls dead. A few minutes
later the Earl's chaise is a distant dark speck in a cloud of dust, at
which the baffled banker impotently shakes his fist.

Before the fallen horse could be removed and the chase resumed the
runaways had got so long a start that they could laugh at further
pursuit; and by the time Child's chaise rattled impotently through the
street of Gretna village, his daughter had been a Countess a good hour.

For three years the banker kept his vow that he would never forgive her
and her shameless husband. The Earl, indeed, he never did forgive, but
his daughter won her way back into his heart, and to her he left the
whole of his colossal fortune, amounting, it is said, to little less
than £100,000 a year.

It was from this romantic union that the Lady Sarah Sophia Fane came,
who was to unite the 'prentice strain of Francis Child with the blood of
the proud Villiers. As a young girl the Lady Sarah needed no such rich
dower as was hers to commend her to the eyes of wooers. From the Fanes
she inherited a full share of the beauty for which their women were
noted, and to it she added many charms of her own. She had a figure,
tall, commanding, and of exquisite grace, eyes blue as violets, a
luxuriant crown of dark hair, and a complexion pure and beautiful as a
lily.

It is little wonder that a young lady so dowered with gold and good
looks should attract lovers by the score, all anxious to win so fair a
prize. But to one only of them all would she listen, Lord Villiers, heir
to the Earldom of Jersey, a man of towering stature and handsome face,
aristocrat and courtier to his finger-tips, a fearless and graceful
rider, and an expert in manly sports. Such a combination of attractions
the daughter of Anne Child could not long, nor was she at all disposed
to, resist. And one May day in 1804--almost twenty-two years to the day
after her parents' dramatic flight to Gretna Green--the Lady Sarah
became Vicountess Villiers. A year later she was Countess of Jersey.

From her first entry into society the child-countess (for she was little
more than a child) took the position of a Queen, to which her rank,
wealth, and beauty entitled her, and which she held, supreme and
unassailable, as long as life lasted. Her _salon_ was a second Royal
Court to which flocked all the greatest in the land, proud to pay homage
to the "Empress of Fashion." She entertained kings with a regal
splendour. Their Majesties of Prussia and Belgium, Holland and Hanover,
and the Tsar Nicholas I. were all delighted to do honour to a hostess so
captivating and so queenly.

At Middleton Park, her lord's Oxfordshire seat, she dispensed a
hospitality which was the despair of her rivals. Her retinue of servants
seldom numbered less than a hundred, and many a week her guests, with
their attendants, far exceeded a thousand. Money was squandered with a
prodigal hand. The very servants, it is said, drank champagne and hock
like water; her housemaids had their riding horses, and dressed in silks
and satins. Among her thousands of guests were such men as Wellington
and Peel, Castlereagh and Canning, all humble worshippers at her shrine;
and Lord Byron who, in his gloomy moods, would shut himself in his
bedroom for days, living on biscuits and water, and stealing out at dead
of night to wander ghost-like through the neighbouring woods. These
moods of black despondency he varied by turbulent spirits, when he would
be the gayest of the gay, and would challenge his fellow-guests to
drinking bouts, in which he always came off the victor.

Lady Jersey had no more ardent admirer than Byron, whose muse was
inspired to many a flight in honour of

                          "The grace of mien,
    The eye that gladdens and the brow serene;
    The glossy darkness of that clustering hair,
    Which shades, yet shows that forehead more than fair."

And among her army of guests the Countess moved like a Queen, who could
stoop to frivolity without losing a shred of dignity. Surely never was
such superabundant energy enshrined in a form so beautiful and stately.

     "Shall I tell you what Lady Jersey is like?" wrote
     Creevey. "She is like one of her numerous gold and silver
     dicky-birds that are in all the showrooms of this house.
     She begins to sing at eleven o'clock, and, with the
     interval of the hour when she retires to her cage to
     rest, she sings till twelve at night without a moment's
     interruption. She changes her feathers for dinner, and
     her plumage both morning and evening is the most
     beautiful I ever saw."

She seemed indeed incapable of fatigue. Tongue and body alike never
seemed to rest, from rising to going to bed.

     "She is really wonderful," says Lady Granville; "and how
     she can stand the life she leads is still more wonderful.
     She sees everybody in her own house, and calls on
     everybody in theirs. She is all over Paris, and at all
     the _campagnes_ within ten miles, and in all _petites
     soirées_. She begins the day with a dancing-master at
     nine o'clock, and never  rests till midnight.... At ten
     o'clock yesterday morning she called for me, and we never
     stopped to take breath till eleven o'clock at night, when
     she set me down here more dead than alive, she going to
     end the day with the Hollands!"

A life that would have killed nine women out of ten seemed powerless to
touch her. When far advanced in the sixties she was acknowledged to be
still one of the most beautiful women in England, retaining to an
amazing degree the bloom and freshness of youth. And when she appeared
at a fancy-dress ball arrayed as a Sultana, in a robe of sky-blue with
coral embroideries and a turban of gold and white, she was by universal
consent acclaimed as the most beautiful woman there. It may interest my
lady readers to learn that she attributed her perpetual youth to the use
of gruel as a substitute for soap and water.

Although Lady Jersey had admirers by the hundred among the most
fascinating men in Europe, no breath of scandal ever touched her fair
fame. Indeed, she carried her virtue to the verge of prudery, and
repelled with a freezing coldness the slightest approach to familiarity.
So prudish was she that on one occasion she declined to share a carriage
alone with Lord John Russell, one of the least physically attractive of
men, and begged General Alava to accompany them. "Diable!" laughed the
General, "you must be very little sure of yourself if you are afraid to
be alone with little Lord John!"

She was merciless to any of her lady friends who lapsed from virtue, or
in any way, however slight, offended the proprieties. But the vials of
her fiercest anger were reserved for her mother-in-law, the
Dowager-Countess, whose shameless intrigue with the Prince Regent
scandalised the world in an age of lax morals; and the outraged Princess
Caroline had no more valiant champion. She not only declined to have
anything to say to her husband's mother, she carried her disapproval to
the extent of refusing point blank to appear at Court. So furious was
the Regent at this slight that "the dotard with corrupted eye and
withered heart," as Byron calls him, had her portrait removed from the
Palace Gallery of Beauties, and returned to its owner.

A few days later, however, the Countess had her revenge. At a party in
Cavendish Square she was walking along a corridor with Samuel Rogers
when she saw the Regent coming towards them. As he approached he drew
himself to his full height, and passed with an insolent and disdainful
stare, which Lady Jersey returned with a look even more cold and
contemptuous. Then, with a toss of her proud head, she turned to Rogers
and laughingly said, "I did that well, didn't I?"

It was, perhaps, as Queen and Autocrat of "Almack's" that Lady Jersey
won her chief fame--Almack's, that most exclusive and aristocratic club
in Berkeley Street, Piccadilly, the membership of which was the supreme
hall-mark of the world of fashion. No rank, however exalted, no riches,
however great, were a passport to this innermost social circle, over
which Lady Jersey reigned like a beautiful despot.

Scores of the smartest officers of the Guards, men of rank and fashion,
and pets of West End drawing-rooms, clamoured or cajoled for admission
to this jealously-guarded temple, but its doors only opened to receive,
at the most, half a dozen of them. Even such social autocrats as Her
Grace of Bedford and Lady Harrington were coldly turned away from the
doors by the male members of the club; while the ladies shut them in the
face of Lord March and Brook Boothby, to the amazed disgust of these men
of fashion and conquest--for, by the rules of the club, male members
were selected by the ladies, and _vice versâ_. But beyond all doubt the
destinies of candidates were in the hands of the half dozen Lady
Patronesses who formed the Committee of the club--Princess Esterhazy,
Princess von Lieven, Ladies Jersey, Sefton and Cowper, and Mrs Drummond
Burrell; and of these my Lady Jersey was the only one who really
counted.

     "Three-fourths even of the nobility," says a writer in
     the _New Monthly Magazine_, "knock in vain for admission.
     Into this _sanctum sanctorum_, of course, the sons of
     commerce never think of intruding; and yet into the very
     'blue chamber,' in the absence of the six necromancers,
     have the votaries of trade contrived to intrude
     themselves."

     "Many diplomatic arts," writes Captain Gronow, "much
     _finesse_, and a host of intrigues were set in motion to
     get an invitation to Almack's. Very often persons whose
     rank and fortunes entitled them to the _entrée_ anywhere,
     were excluded by the cliqueism of the Lady patronesses;
     for the female government of Almack's was a despotism,
     and subject to all the caprice of despotic rule. It is
     needless to say that, like every other despotism, it was
     not innocent of abuses."

The fair ladies who ruled supreme over this little dancing and gossiping
world issued a solemn proclamation that no gentleman should appear at
the assemblies without being dressed in knee-breeches, white cravat, and
_chapeau bras._ On one occasion, the Duke of Wellington was about to
ascend the staircase of the ballroom, dressed in black trousers, when
the vigilant Mr Willis, the guardian of the establishment, stepped
forward and said, "Your Grace cannot be admitted in trousers," whereupon
the Duke, who had a great respect for orders and regulations, quietly
walked away.

Another inflexible rule of the club was that no one should be admitted
after eleven o'clock; and it was a breach of this regulation that once
overwhelmed the Duke of Wellington with humiliation. One evening, the
Duke, who had promised to meet Lady Mornington at Almack's, presented
himself for admission. "Lady Jersey," announced an attendant, "the Duke
of Wellington is at the door, and desires to be admitted." "What o'clock
is it?" she asked. "Seven minutes after eleven, your Ladyship." She
paused for a moment, and then said with emphasis and distinctness, "Give
my compliments--Lady Jersey's compliments--to the Duke of Wellington,
and say that she is very glad that the first enforcement of the rule of
exclusion is such that, hereafter, no one can complain of its
application. He cannot be admitted." And the Duke, whom even Napoleon
with all his legions had been powerless to turn back, was compelled to
retreat before the capricious will of a woman.

Such an autocrat was this "Queen of Almack's."

     "While her colleagues were debating," says the author of
     the "Key to Almack's," "she decided. Hers was the
     master-spirit that ruled the whole machine; hers the
     eloquent tongue that could both persuade and command. And
     she was never idle. Her restless eye pried into
     everything; she set the world to rights; her influence
     was resistless, her determination uncontrollable."

"Treat people like fools, and they will worship you," was her favourite
maxim. And as Bryon, her intimate friend, once said, "She was the
veriest tyrant that ever governed Fashion's fools, and compelled them to
shake their cap and bells as she willed."

It was at Almack's, it is interesting to recall, that Lady Jersey first
introduced the quadrille from Paris.

     "I recollect," says Captain Gronow, "the persons who
     formed the first quadrille that was ever danced there.
     They were Lady Jersey, Lady Harriet Buller, Lady Susan
     Ryder, and Miss Montgomery; the men being the Count St
     Aldegonde, Mr Montgomery, and Charles Standisti."

It was at Almack's, too, that she introduced the waltz, which so
shocked the proprieties even in that easy-going age.

     "What scenes," writes Mr T. Raikes, "have we witnessed in
     these days at Almack's! What fear and trembling in the
     _débutantes_ at the commencement of a waltz, what
     giddiness and confusion at the end! It was, perhaps,
     owing to the latter circumstance that so violent an
     opposition soon arose to the new recreation on the score
     of morality. The anti-waltzing party took the alarm, and
     cried it down; mothers forbade it, and every ballroom
     became a scene of feud and contention."

But through it all Lady Jersey circled round and round the ballroom
divinely, with Prince Paul Esterhazy, Baron Tripp, St Aldegonde, and
many another graceful exponent of the new dance, for partners; and her
victory was complete when the world of fashion saw the arm of the
Emperor Alexander, his uniform ablaze with decorations, round her waist,
twirling ecstatically, if ungracefully, round in the intoxication of the
waltz.

For fifty years, Lord Jersey's Countess reigned supreme in the social
world, carrying her autocracy and her charms into old age. As was
inevitable to such a dominant personality she made enemies, who resented
her airs and scoffed at her graces. Lady Granville called her "a
tiresome, quarrelsome woman"; the Duke of Wellington, one of her most
abject slaves, once exclaimed, "What ---- nonsense Lady Jersey talks!"
and Granville declared that she had "neither wit, nor imagination, nor
humour." But to the last day of her long life she retained the homage
and admiration of hundreds, over whom she cast the spell of her beauty
and personal charm.

The evening of her life was clouded by a succession of tragedies, each
sufficient to break the spirit of a less indomitable woman. One by one,
her children, the pride of her life, were taken from her; but she hid
her breaking heart from the world, and in the intervals between her
bereavements she showed as brave and bright a face as in the days of her
unclouded youth. The death in 1858 of her daughter, Clementina, the
darling of her old age, was a terrible blow; but still the hand of the
slayer of her hopes was not stayed. Her husband, whose devotion had so
long sustained her, followed soon after; three weeks later her eldest
son, the new Earl, died tragically in the zenith of his life; and the
crowning blow fell when, in 1862, her last surviving child was taken
from her.

For five more years she survived her triumphs and sorrows, until, one
January day in 1867, she passed suddenly and painlessly away, and the
world was the poorer by the loss of one of the noblest women who have
ever worn the crown of beauty or held the sceptre of power.



CHAPTER IV

THE STAIN ON THE SHIRLEY 'SCUTCHEON


The Shirleys have been men of high honour and fair repute ever since the
far-away days when the conqueror found their ancestor, Sewallis, firmly
seated on his broad Warwickshire lands at Eatington; but their proud
'scutcheon, otherwise unsullied, bears one black, or rather red, stain,
and it was Laurence Shirley, fourth earl of his line, who put it there.

Horace Walpole calls this degenerate Shirley "a low wretch, a mad
assassin, and a wild beast." He was, as my story will show, all this. He
was indeed an incarnate fiend. But was he to blame? He was possessed by
devils; but they were devils of insanity. The taint of madness was in
his blood before he uttered his first cry in the cradle. His uncle,
whose coronet he was to wear, was an incurable madman. His aunt, the
Lady Barbara Shirley, spent years of her life shut up in an asylum. And
this hereditary taint shadowed Laurence Shirley's life from his infancy,
and ended it in tragedy.

As a boy, he was subject to violent attacks of rage, when it was not
safe to approach him; and his madness grew with his years. Strange tales
are told of him as a young man. We are told that he would spend hours
pacing like a wild animal up and down his room, gnashing his teeth,
clenching his fists, grinning diabolically, and uttering strange
incoherent cries. He would stand before a mirror, making horrible
grimaces at his reflection, and spitting upon it; he walked about armed
with pistols and dagger, ready at a moment to use both on any one who
annoyed or opposed him; and in his disordered brain he nursed suspicion
and hatred of all around him.

When he was little more than thirty, and some years after he had come
into his earldom, he wooed and won the pretty daughter of Sir William
Meredith; but before the honeymoon was ended he had begun to treat her
with such gross brutality that, before she had long been a wife, she
petitioned Parliament for a divorce, which set her free. And as he was
obviously quite unfit to administer his estates, it became necessary to
appoint some one to receive his rents and control his revenue.

Such was the pitiful plight to which insanity had reduced Laurence, Earl
Ferrers, while still little over the threshold of manhood; and these
calamities only, and perhaps naturally, accentuated his madness. He
became more and more the terror of the neighbourhood in which he lived,
and few had the courage to meet him when he took his solitary walks.

     "I still retain," writes a Mr Cradock in his "Memoirs,"
     "a strong impression of the unfortunate Earl Ferrers,
     who, with the Ladies Shirley, his sisters, frequented
     Leicester races, and visited at my father's house. During
     the early part of the day his lordship preserved the
     character of a polite scholar and a courteous nobleman,
     but in the evening he became the terror of the
     inhabitants; and I distinctly remember running upstairs
     to hide myself when an alarm was given that Lord Ferrers
     was coming armed, with a great mob after him. He had
     behaved well at the ordinary; the races were then in the
     afternoon, and the ladies regularly attended the balls.
     My father's house was situated midway between Lord
     Ferrers's lodgings and the Town Hall, where the race
     assemblies were then held. He had, as was supposed,
     obtained liquor privately, and then became outrageous;
     for, from our house he suddenly escaped and proceeded to
     the Town Hall, and, after many violent acts, threw a
     silver tankard of scalding negus among the ladies. He was
     then secured for that evening. This was the last time of
     his appearing at Leicester, till brought from
     Ashby-de-la-Zouche to prison there.

     "It has been much regretted by his friends that, as Lady
     Ferrers and some of his property had been taken from him,
     no greater precaution had been used with respect to his
     own safety as well as that of all around him. Whilst
     sober, my father, who had a real regard for him, always
     urged that he was quite manageable; and when his sisters
     ventured to come with him to the races, they had an
     absolute reliance on his good intentions and promises."

Once he disappeared for a time, and made his way to London, where he
lodged obscurely in the neighbourhood of Muswell Hill. Here he
surrounded himself with grooms and ostlers, and other low company of
both sexes, abandoning himself to orgies of debauchery. Among his milder
eccentricities he would, we are told, mix mud with his beer, and drain
tankard after tankard of the nauseating mixture. He drank his coffee
from the spout of the coffee-pot, and wandered about, a grotesque
figure, with one side of his face clean-shaven.

But even then he had sane moments, when the raving madman of yesterday
became the courteous, polite, shrewd man of to-day, charming all by his
wit and high-bred geniality. It was, of course, inevitable that a career
such as this, marked by a madness which grew daily, should lead sooner
or later to tragedy. And tragedy was coming swiftly. It came early in
the year 1760, before Lord Ferrers had reached his fortieth birthday.
And this is how it came.

The Court of Chancery had ordered that his lordship's rents should be
received and accounted for by a receiver, who, by way of concession to
his feelings, was to be appointed by himself. The Earl, who rarely
lacked shrewdness, looked round for the most suitable person to fill
this delicate post--for a man who should be as clay in his hands; and
such a "tool" he thought he had found in his steward, Mr John Johnson,
who had known him since boyhood, and who had never thwarted him even in
his maddest caprices. Mr Johnson was duly appointed receiver; but the
Earl's self-congratulation was short-lived. The steward proved that he
was possessed of a conscience, and that neither cajolery nor threats
could make him swerve from the straight path of honesty.

In vain the Earl coaxed and blustered and bullied. The receiver was
adamant. He had a duty to perform, and at any cost he would discharge
it. His lordship's rage at such unlooked-for recalcitrancy was
unbounded. He began to hate the too honest steward with a murderous
hatred; behind his back he loaded him with abuse, and vowed that, of all
his enemies, the steward was the most virulent and implicable. But while
the Earl was nursing this diabolical hatred, he showed little sign of it
to Johnson, who was so unsuspectingly walking to meet tragedy.

One January day, in 1760, Lord Ferrers sent a polite message to his
steward to come to Staunton Harold on an urgent matter of business. It
was on a Friday; and punctually at two o'clock, the hour appointed, Mr
Johnson made his appearance, and was ushered into his Lordship's study.
Unknown to him, Lord Ferrers had sent away his housekeeper and his
menservants on various pretexts; and, apart from the Earl and the
steward (the spider and the fly), there was no one in all the great
house but three maidservants, whose chief anxiety was to keep as far
away as possible from their mad master.

With a courteous greeting Lord Ferrers invited Mr Johnson to take a
seat; and then, placing before him a document, which proved to be a
confession of fraud and dishonesty in his office of receiver, he
commanded his steward to sign his name to it.

On reading the confession which he was ordered to sign, Mr Johnson
indignantly refused to comply with such an outrageous demand. "You
refuse to sign?" asked the Earl with ominous calmness. "I do," was the
emphatic reply. "Then," continued his lordship, producing a pistol, "I
command you to kneel." Mr Johnson, now alarmed and awake to his danger,
looked first at the stern, cold eyes bent on him, and then at the pistol
pointed at his heart, and sank on one knee. "Both knees!" insisted the
Earl. Mr Johnson subsided on the other knee, looking calmly at his
would-be murderer, though beads of perspiration were standing on his
forehead. A moment later a shot rang out in the silent room, and the
steward fell to the floor mortally wounded. Laying down the smoking
weapon, Lord Ferrers opened the door and called loudly for assistance.
The horrified servants, who had heard the report, came, huddled and
fearful, at his bidding. One he despatched for a doctor, and, with the
assistance of the other two, he carried the fast-dying man to a bedroom.
When the doctor arrived he found the Earl standing by the bedside,
trying to stop the flow of blood which was ebbing from the steward's
chest; but the victim was beyond all human aid. He had but a few hours
at the most to live. An hour later Lord Ferrers was lying dead drunk on
the floor of his bedroom, while Mr Johnson's life was ebbing out in
agony at his house, a mile away.

     "As soon as it became known," to quote the account given
     by an eye-witness in the _Gentleman's Magazine_, "that
     Mr Johnson was really dead, the neighbours set about
     seizing the murderer. A few persons, armed, set out for
     Staunton, and as they entered the hall-yard they saw the
     Earl going towards the stable, as they imagined, to take
     horse. He appeared to be just out of bed, his stockings
     being down and his garters in his hand, having probably
     taken the alarm immediately on coming out of his room,
     and finding that Johnson had been removed. One
     Springthorpe, advancing towards his lordship, presented a
     pistol, and required him to surrender; but his lordship
     putting his hand to his pocket, Springthrope imagined he
     was feeling for a pistol, and stopped short, being
     probably intimidated. He thus suffered the Earl to escape
     back into the house, where he fastened the doors and
     stood on his defence.

     "The crowd of people who had come to apprehend him beset
     the house, and their number increased very fast. In about
     two hours Lord Ferrers appeared at the garret window, and
     called out: 'How is Johnson?' Springthorpe answered: 'He
     is dead,' upon which his lordship insulted him, and
     called him a liar, and swore he would not believe anybody
     but the surgeon, Kirkland. Upon being again assured that
     he was dead, he desired that the people might be
     dispersed, saying that he would surrender; yet, almost in
     the same breath, he desired that the people might be let
     in, and have some victuals and drink; but the issue was
     that he went away again from the window, swearing that he
     would not be taken.

     "The people, however, still continued near the house, and
     two hours later he was seen on the bowling-green by one,
     Curtis, a collier. 'My lord' was then armed with a
     blunderbuss and a dagger and two or three pistols; but
     Curtis, so far from being intimidated, marched boldly up
     to him, and his lordship was so struck with the
     determinate resolution shown by this brave fellow, that
     he suffered him to seize him without making any
     resistance. Yet the moment that he was in custody he
     declared that he had killed a villain, and that he
     gloried in the deed."

The tragedy is now hastening to its close. The assassin was kept in
custody at Ashby until a coroner's jury brought in a verdict of "Wilful
Murder" against him, when he was transferred to Leicester, and a
fortnight later to London, making the journey in his own splendid
equipage with six horses, and "dressed like a jockey, in a close
riding-frock, jockey boots and cap, and a plain shirt." He was lodged in
the Round Tower of the Tower of London, where, with a couple of warders
at his elbow night and day, with sentries posted outside his door, and
another on the drawbridge, he passed the last weeks of his doomed life.

In mid-April he was duly tried by his Peers at the Bar of the House of
Lords; and, although he tried with marvellous skill and ingenuity to
prove that he was insane when he committed the murder, he was, without a
dissentient voice, pronounced "Guilty," and sentenced to be "hanged by
the neck until he was dead," when his body should be handed over to the
surgeons for dissection. One concession he claimed--pitiful salve to his
pride--that he should be hanged by a cord of silk, the privilege due to
his rank as a Peer of the realm; and this was granted as a matter of
course.

One day in early May the scaffold was reared at Tyburn, where so many
other malefactors had looked their last on the world; and at nine
o'clock in the morning Lord Ferrers started on his last journey--the
most splendid and most tragic of his chequered life. He was allowed, as
a last favour, to travel to his death, not in the common hangman's cart
as an ordinary criminal, but in his own landau, drawn by 'six beautiful
horses; and thus he made his stately progress to Tyburn.

Probably no man ever journeyed to the scaffold under such circumstances
of pomp and splendour. It might well, indeed, have been the bridal
procession of a great nobleman that the black avenues of curious
spectators in London's streets had come to see, and not the last grim
journey of a malefactor to the hangman's rope. His very dress was that
of a bridegroom, consisting, as it did, to quote again from the
_Gentleman's Magazine_,

     "of a suit of light-coloured clothes, embroidered with
     silver, said to have been his wedding-suit; and soon
     after the Sheriff entered the landau, he said, 'You may,
     perhaps, sir, think it strange to see me in this dress,
     but I have my particular reasons for it.' The procession
     then began in the following order: A very large body of
     constables of the county of Middlesex, preceded by one of
     the high constables; a party of horse grenadiers, and a
     party of foot; Mr Sheriff Errington, in his chariot,
     accompanied by his under-Sheriff, Mr Jackson; the landau
     escorted by two other parties of horse grenadiers and
     foot; Mr Sheriff Vaillant's chariot, in which was
     Under-Sheriff Mr Nichols; a mourning-coach and six, with
     some of his lordship's friends; and, lastly, a hearse and
     six, provided for the conveyance of his lordship's corpse
     from the place of execution to Surgeons' Hall.

     "The procession moved so slowly that Lord Ferrers was two
     hours and three-quarters in his landau but during the
     whole time he appeared perfectly easy and composed,
     though he often expressed his desire to have it over,
     saying that the apparatus of death and the passing
     through such crowds of people was ten times worse than
     death itself. He told the Sheriff that he had written to
     the King, begging that he might suffer where his
     ancestor, the Earl of Essex, had suffered--namely, on
     Tower Hill; that 'he had been in the greater hope of
     obtaining this favour as he had the honour of quartering
     part of the same arms and of being allied to his Majesty;
     and that he thought it hard that he should have to die at
     the place appointed for the execution of common felons.'
     As to his crime, he declared that he did it 'under
     particular circumstances, having met with so many crosses
     and vexations that he scarcely knew what he did."

At the top of Drury Lane he paused to drink his last glass of wine,
handing a guinea to the man who presented it. On the scaffold not a
muscle moved as he surveyed the black crowd of onlookers with a calm and
amused eye. To the chaplain he confessed his belief in God; and he
exchanged a few pleasant words with the executioner as he placed a gold
coin in his hand.

Thus, cold, calm, without rancour or regret, perished Laurence, Earl
Ferrers, not even a struggle marking the moment when life left him.
After hanging for an hour, his body was taken down and removed to
Surgeons' Hall, where it was dissected; and, thus mutilated, it was
exposed to public derision and malediction before it found a final
resting-place, fourteen feet deep under the belfry of old St Pancras
Church.

Such is the stain which burns red on the Shirley shield, and such was
the man who placed it there. But, as we have seen, Laurence Shirley was
mad beyond all doubt, and "knew not what he did"; and in the eyes of all
charitable and right-thinking men the 'scutcheon of the Ferrers Earldom
remains as virtually unsullied to-day as when it was virginally fresh
two centuries ago.



CHAPTER V

A GHOSTLY VISITANT


There is scarcely a chapter in the story of the British Peerage more
tragic and mysterious than that which chronicles the closing days of
Thomas, second Lord Lyttelton, whose dissolute life had its fitting
climax of horror at the exact moment foretold to him by a ghostly
visitor. Various and somewhat conflicting accounts are given of this
singular tragedy; but in them all the chief incidents stand out so clear
and unassailable that even such a hard-headed sceptic as Dr Johnson
declared, "I am so glad to have evidence of the spiritual world that I
am willing to believe it."

Thomas, second Lord Lyttelton, son of the first Baron, the distinguished
poet and historian, was the degenerate descendant of five centuries of
Lyttelton ancestors, who had held their heads among the highest in the
county of Worcester since the days of the third Henry. Unlike his
clean-living forefathers, he was famous as a debauchee in a dissolute
age.

     "Of his morals," Sir Bernard Burke says, "we may judge by
     the fact of his having died the victim of the coarsest
     debauchery, and leaving behind him a diary more
     disgustingly licentious than the pages of Aratine
     himself."

William Coombe, who had been at Eton with Lyttelton, is said to have had
his old schoolfellow in mind when he dedicated his _Diaboliad_ "to the
worst man in His Majesty's Dominions," and when he penned those terrible
lines:--

    "Have I not tasted every villain's part?
     Have I not broke a noble parent's heart?
     Do I not daily boast how I betrayed
     The tender widow and the virtuous maid?"

From the days when he wore his Eton jacket the life of this perverse
lord seems to have been one long record of profligacy; at least, until
that day, but six years before its end, when, to quote his own words, "I
awoke, and behold I was a lord!"

     "From the time when," Mr Stanley Makower writes,
     "although no more than a youth of nineteen, his
     engagement to General Warburton's daughter had been
     broken off on the discovery of the vicious life he had
     led in his travels in France and Italy, he had been a
     source of shame and trouble to his family.... To measure
     the depths of Lyttelton's vices, it is necessary to read
     his own letters, in which the literary style is as
     perfect as the fearless admission of fault is
     bewildering."

Indeed, even more remarkable than the viciousness of his life, was the
brazen openness with which he flaunted it in the face of the world.

With this depravity were oddly allied gifts of mind and graces of
person, which, but for the handicap of vice, should have made Lord
Lyttelton one of the most eminent and useful men of his time. When he
was at Eton Dr Barnard, the headmaster, predicted a great future for the
boy, whose talents he declared were superior to those of young Fox. In
literature and art his natural endowment was such that he might easily
have won a leading place in either profession; while his gifts of
statemanship and his eloquent tongue might with equal ease have won fame
and high position in the arena of politics.

Shortly after he succeeded to his Barony he married the widow of Joseph
Peach, Governor of Calcutta, and for a time seems to have made an effort
to reform his ways; but the vice in his blood was quick to reassert
itself; he abandoned his wife under the spell of a barmaid's eyes, and
plunged again into the morass of depravity, in which alone he could find
the pleasure he loved.

Such was Lord Lyttelton at the time this story opens, when, although
still a young man (he was but thirty-five when he died), he was a
nervous and physical wreck, draining the last dregs of the cup of
pleasure.

And yet, how little he seems to have realised that he was near the end
of his tether the following story proves. One day in the last month of
his life a cousin and boon companion, Mr Fortescue, called on him at his
London home.

     "He found," to quote the words of his lordship's
     stepmother, "Lord Lyttelton in bed, though not ill; and
     on his rallying him for it, Lord Lyttelton said: 'Well,
     cousin, if you will wait in the next room a little while,
     I will get up and go out with you.' He did so, and the
     two young men walked out into the streets. In the course
     of their walk they crossed the churchyard of St James's,
     Piccadilly. Lord Lyttelton, pointing to the gravestones,
     said: 'Now, look at these vulgar fellows; they die in
     their youth at five-and-thirty. But you and I, who are
     gentlemen, shall live to a good old age!'"

How little could he have anticipated that within a few days he, too,
would be lying among the "vulgar fellows" who die in their youth at
five-and-thirty!

And, indeed, there seemed little evidence of such a tragic possibility;
for the very next day he was charming the House of Lords with a speech
of singular eloquence and statesmanlike grasp--the speech of a man in
the prime of his powers. Such efforts as this, however, were but as the
spasmodic flickerings of a candle that is burning to its end, and were
followed by deeper plunges into the dissipations that were surely
killing him.

It was towards the close of the month of November, in 1779, that Lord
Lyttelton left London and its fatal allurements for a few days' peaceful
life at his country seat, Pit Place, at Epsom (in those days a
fashionable health resort), where he had invited a house-party,
including several ladies, to join him. And, it should be said, no host
could possibly be more charming and gracious; for, in spite of his
depraved tastes, Lord Lyttelton was a man of remarkable fascination--a
wit, a born raconteur, and a courtier to his finger-tips.

During the first day of his residence at Epsom the following
incident--which may or may not have had a bearing on the strange events
that followed--took place.

     "Lord Lyttelton," to quote Sir Digby Neave, "had come to
     Pit Place in very precarious health, and was ordered not
     to take any but the gentlest exercise. As he was walking
     in the conservatory with Lady Affleck and the Misses
     Affleck, a robin perched on an orange-tree close to them.
     Lord Lyttelton attempted to catch it, but failing, and
     being laughed at by the ladies, he said he would catch it
     even if it was the death of him. He succeeded, but he put
     himself in a great heat by the exertion. He gave the bird
     to Lady Affleck, who walked about with it in her hand."

On the following morning his lordship appeared at the breakfast-table so
pale and haggard that his guests, alarmed at his appearance, asked what
was the matter. For a time he evaded their enquiries, and then made the
following startling statement:--"Last night," he said, "after I had been
lying in bed awake for some time, I heard what sounded like the tapping
of a bird at my window, followed by a gentle fluttering of wings about
my chamber. I raised myself on my arm to learn the meaning of these
strange sounds, and was amazed at seeing a lovely female, dressed in
white, with a small bird perched like a falcon on her hand. Walking
towards me, the vision spoke, commanding me to prepare for death, for I
had but a short time to live. When I was able to command my speech, I
enquired how long I had to live. The vision then replied, 'Not three
days; and you will depart at the hour of twelve.'"

Such was the remarkable story with which Lord Lyttelton startled his
guests on the morning of 24th November 1779. In vain they tried to cheer
him, and to laugh away his fears. They could make no impression on the
despondency that had settled on him; they could not shake the conviction
that he was a doomed man. "You will see," was all the answer he would
vouchsafe, "I shall die at midnight on Saturday."

But in spite of this alarming experience and the gloomy forebodings to
which, in his shattered state of nerves, it gave birth, Lord Lyttelton
did not long allow it to interfere with the work he had in hand, the
preparation of a speech on the disturbed condition in Ireland which he
was to deliver in the House of Lords that very day--a speech which
should enhance his great and rapidly growing reputation as an orator. He
spent some hours absorbed in polishing and repolishing his sentences,
and in verifying his facts; and, when he rose in the House, he was as
full of confidence as of his subject.

Never, it was the common verdict, had his lordship spoken with more
eloquence and lucidity or with more powerful grasp of his subject and
his hearers.

     "Cast your eyes for a moment," he declared, amid
     impressive silence, "on the state of the Empire.
     America, that vast Continent, with all its advantages to
     us as a commercial and maritime people--lost--for ever
     lost to us; the West Indies abandoned; Ireland ready to
     part from us. Ireland, my lords, is armed; and what is
     her language? 'Give us free trade and the free
     Constitution of England as it originally was, such as we
     hope it will remain, the best calculated of any in the
     world for the preservation of freedom.'"

It was the speech of a far-seeing statesman; and although it proved but
the "voice of one crying in the wilderness," Lord Lyttelton felt that he
had done his duty and had crowned his growing political fame with the
laurels of the patriot and the orator.

On the following morning Fortescue met his cousin sauntering in St
James's Park, as Mr Makower tells us, "with the idleness of one who has
never known what occupation means."

"Is it because Hillsborough, the stupidest of your brother peers, paid
you such fine compliments on your speech?" he asked.

Lyttelton smiled faintly. "No, it was not of that I was thinking," he
answered. "Those are things of yesterday. Hillsborough was wrong; the
majority who voted with him were wrong; and I was right with my
minority. They don't know Ireland as I do. But a Government which can
lose America can do anything. I have done with politics. I was thinking
of something entirely different when you came upon me. I was
thinking--of death."

Fortescue laughed. But, when he had heard the story of Lyttelton's
dream, something in the manner of the narrator conveyed to him a feeling
of uneasiness.

"No man has more thoroughly enjoyed doing wrong than I have," continued
Lyttelton. "But I should not have enjoyed it so much if I believed in
nothing. With me sin has been conscientious; and I enjoyed the wrong
thing not only for itself but also because it was wrong. Suppose it be
true that I have not more than three days to live--"

"You take the thing too seriously," interposed his cousin.

"Join me at Pit Place to-morrow," said Lyttelton. "Then you shall see if
I take it too seriously."

During the intervening two days he fluctuated between profound gloom and
boisterous hilarity. One hour he was plunged into the depths of despair,
the next he was the soul of gaiety, laughing hysterically at his fears,
and exclaiming, "I shall cheat the lady yet!"

During dinner on the third and fatal day he was the maddest and merriest
at the table, convulsing all by his sallies of wit and his infectious
high spirits; and, when the cloth was removed, he exclaimed jubilantly,
"Ah, Richard is himself again!" But his gaiety was short-lived. As the
hours wore on his spirits deserted him; he lapsed into gloom and
silence, from which all the efforts of his friends could not rouse him.

As the night advanced he began to grow restless. He could not sit still,
but paced to and fro, with terror-haunted eyes, muttering incoherently
to himself, and taking out his watch every few moments to note the
passage of time. At last, when his watch pointed to half-past eleven, he
retired, without a word of farewell to his guests, to his bedroom, not
knowing that not only his own watch, but every clock and watch in the
house had been put forward half-an-hour by his anxious friends, "to
deceive him into comfort."

Having undressed and gone to bed, he ordered his valet to draw the
curtains at the foot, as if to screen him from a second sight of the
mysterious lady, and, sitting up in bed, watch in hand, he awaited the
fatal hour of midnight. As the minute hand slowly but surely drew near
to twelve he asked to see his valet's watch, and was relieved to find
that it marked the same time as his own. With beating heart and
straining eyes he watched the hand draw nearer and nearer. A minute more
to go--half a minute. Now it pointed to the fateful twelve--and nothing
happened. It crept slowly past. The crisis was over. He put down the
watch with a deep sigh of relief, and then broke into a peal of
laughter--discordant, jubilant, defiant.

"This mysterious lady is not a true prophetess, I find," he said to his
valet, after spending a few minutes in further mirthful waiting. "And
now give me my medicine; I will wait no longer." The valet proceeded to
mix his usual medicine, a dose of rhubarb, stirring it, as no spoon was
at hand, with a tooth-brush lying on the table. "You dirty fellow!" his
lordship exclaimed. "Go down and fetch a spoon."

When the servant returned a few minutes later he found, to his horror,
his master lying back on the pillow, unconscious and breathing heavily.
He ran downstairs again, shouting, "Help! Help! My lord is dying!" The
alarmed guests rushed frantically to the chamber, only to find their
host almost at his last gasp. A few moments later he was dead, with the
watch still clutched in his hand, pointing to half-past twelve. He had
died at the very stroke of midnight, as foretold by his ghostly visitant
of three nights previously.

Thus strangely and dramatically died Thomas, second Lord Lyttelton,
statesman, wit, and debauchee, precisely as he had been warned that he
would die in a dream or vision of the night. How far his death was due
to natural causes, to the effect of fear on a diseased heart, none can
say with certainty. That his heart was diseased, that he had had many
former seizures, during which his life seemed in danger, is beyond
question; but if it was merely coincidence, it was surely the most
remarkable coincidence on record, that his death should come at the
exact moment foretold by the lady of his vision, as related by himself
three days before the event.

Such a happening was strange and weird enough in all conscience; but it
was no more inexplicable on natural grounds than what follows. Among
Lord Lyttelton's boon companions was a Mr Andrews, with whom he had
often discussed the possibilities of a future life. On one such occasion
his lordship had said: "Well, if I die first, and am allowed, I will
come and inform you."

The words were probably spoken more in jest than in earnest, and Mr
Andrews no doubt little dreamt how the promise would be fulfilled. On
the night of Lord Lyttelton's death Mr Andrews, who expected his
lordship to pay him a visit on the following day, had retired to bed at
his house at Dartford, in Kent.

When in bed, to quote from Mr Plumer Ward's "Illustrations of Human
Life," he fell into a sound sleep, but was waked between eleven and
twelve o'clock by somebody opening his curtains. It was Lord Lyttelton,
in a nightgown and cap which Andrews recognised. He also spoke plainly
to him, saying that he was come to tell him all was over. It seems that
Lord Lyttelton was fond of horseplay; and, as he had often made Andrews
the subject of it, the latter had threatened his lordship with physical
chastisement the very next time that it should occur. On the present
occasion, thinking that the annoyance was being renewed, he threw at
Lord Lyttelton's head the first thing that he could find--his slippers.
The figure retreated towards a dressing-room, which had no ingress or
egress except through the bed-chamber; and Andrews, very angry, leaped
out of bed in order to follow it into the dressing-room. It was not
there, however.

Surprised and amazed, he returned at once to the bedroom, which he
strictly searched. _The door was locked on the inside_, yet no Lord
Lyttelton was to be found. In his perplexity, Mr Andrews rang for his
servant, and asked if Lord Lyttelton had not arrived. The man answered:
"No, sir." "You may depend upon it," said Mr Andrews, thoroughly
mystified and out of humour, "that he is somewhere in the house. He was
here just now, and he is playing some trick or other. However, you can
tell him that he won't get a bed here; he can sleep in the stable or at
the inn if he likes."

After a further vain search of the bed-chamber and the dressing-room, Mr
Andrews returned to bed and to sleep, having no doubt whatever that his
too jocular friend was in hiding somewhere near. On the afternoon of the
following day news came to him that Lord Lyttelton had died the previous
night at the very time that he (Mr Andrews) was searching for his
midnight visitant, and abusing him roundly for what he considered his
ill-timed practical joke. On hearing the news, we are told, Mr Andrews
swooned away, and such was its effect on him that, to use his own words,
"he was not himself or a man again for three years."



CHAPTER VI

A MESSALINA OF THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY


There have been bad women in all ages, from Messalina, who waded
recklessly through blood to the gratification of her passions, to that
Royal mountebank, Queen Christina of Sweden, whose laughter rang out
while her lover Monaldeschi was being foully done to death at her
bidding by Count Sentinelli, his successor in her affections; and in
this baleful company the notorious Lady Shrewsbury won for herself a
dishonourable place by a lust for cruelty as great as that of Christina
or Messalina, and by a Judas-like treachery which even they, who at
least flaunted their crimes openly, would have blushed to practise.

No woman could have had smaller excuse for straying from the path of
virtue, much less for making foul crimes the minister to her lust than
Anna Maria, Countess of Shrewsbury. The descendant of a long line of
honourable Brudenells, daughter of an Earl of Cardigan, there was
nothing in the history of her family to account for the taint in her
blood. She had been dowered with beauty and charms which made conquest
easy, inevitable; and she was honourably wedded to a noble husband, the
eleventh Earl of Shrewsbury, who, although a man of no great character
or attainments, was an indulgent and faithful husband. Nor does she,
until she had reached the haven of married life, appear to have shown
any trace of the wickedness that must have been slumbering in her.

And yet, before she had worn her Countess's coronet a year, she had made
herself notorious, even in Charles II.'s abandoned Court, for passions
which would ruthlessly crush any obstacle in the way of their
indulgence. Lover after lover, high-placed and base-born indifferently,
succeeded one another in her fickle favour, as Catherine the Great's
favourites trod one on the heels of the other, each in turn to be flung
contemptuously aside to make room for a more favoured rival.

Even Gramont, seasoned man of the world and far removed from a saint as
he was, was frankly horrified at the carryings-on of this English
Messalina, compared with whom the most lax ladies of the English Court
were veritable prudes. "I would lay a wager," he says, "that if she had
a man killed for her every day she would only carry her head the higher.
I suppose she must have plenary indulgence for her conduct." The only
indulgence she had or needed was that of her own imperious will and her
elastic conscience.

As we glance down the list of her victims, we see some of the most
honourable names, and also some of the most despicable characters in
the England of the Restoration. The Duke of Ormond's heir caught her
capricious fancy for awhile; but, though his love for her drove him to
the verge of suicide, she wearied of him and trampled him under foot to
seek a fresh conquest.

To my Lord Arran succeeded Captain Thomas Howard, brother of the Earl of
Carlisle, a shy, proud young man of irreproachable character, whose love
for the fascinating Countess was as free from dishonour as a weakness
for another man's wife could be. She caught him securely in the net of
her charms, ensnared him with her _beauté de diable_, and then,
satisfied with her ignoble triumph, proceeded to make a fool of him.

Nothing pleased this Countess more than to bring her lovers together, to
watch with gloating eyes their rivalries, their jealousies, and their
quarrels, which frequently led to her crowning enjoyment--the shedding
of blood. And it was with this object that one day she induced Howard to
join her at a _petit souper_ at Spring Gardens, a favourite
pleasure-haunt of the day, near Charing Cross. The supper had scarcely
commenced when the _tête-à-tête_ was interrupted by the appearance of
none other than the "invincible Jermyn," one of the handsomest and most
notorious _roués_ of the day, a famous duellist, and one of my lady's
most ardent lovers.

Here was a prospect of amusement such as was dear to the heart of the
Countess, who, needless to say, had arranged the plot. Jermyn needed no
invitation to make a third at the feast of love. That was precisely
what he had come for; and although Howard played the host with admirable
dignity to the unwelcome intruder, Jermyn ignored his courtesy and
brought all his skill to bear on fanning the flames of his jealousy. He
flirted outrageously with the Countess, kept her in peals of laughter by
his sallies of wit and scarcely-veiled gibes at her companion, until
Howard was roused to such a pitch of silent fury that only the presence
of a lady restrained him from running the insolent intruder through with
his sword. Nothing would have delighted her ladyship more than such a
climax to the little play she was enjoying so much; but Howard, with
marvellous self-restraint, kept his temper within bounds and his sword
in its sheath.

Such an outrage, however, could not be passed over with impunity; and
before Jermyn had eaten his breakfast on the following morning, Howard's
friend and second, Colonel Dillon, was announced with a demand for
satisfaction--a demand which met with a prompt acquiescence from Jermyn,
who vowed he would "wipe the young puppy out." The duel took place in
the "Long Alley near St James's, called Pall Mall," and proved to be of
as sanguinary a nature as even the grossly-insulted Howard could have
desired.

On the 19th of August 1662, Pepys writes:--

     "Mr Coventry did tell us of the duel between Mr Jermyn,
     nephew to my Lord of St Alban's, and Colonel Giles
     Rawlins, the latter of whom is killed, and the first
     mortally wounded as it is thought. They fought against
     Captain Thomas Howard, my Lord Carlisle's brother, and
     another unknown; who, they say, had armour on that they
     could not be hurt, so that one of their swords went up to
     the hilt against it. They had horses ready and are fled.
     But what is most strange, Howard sent one challenge
     before, but they could not meet till yesterday at the old
     Pall Mall at St James's; and he would not till the last
     tell Jermyn what the quarrel was; nor do anybody know."

If no one else knew of the cause of the quarrel, certainly Jermyn did;
and never did man pay a more deserved penalty for dastardly behaviour.
Lady Shrewsbury's delight at thus ridding herself of two lovers, of both
of whom she seems to have grown weary, may be better imagined than
described. Although Jermyn was carried off the field of battle, to all
appearance a dead man, he survived until 1708 when he died, full of
years and wickedness, Baron Jermyn of Dover.

The Court, as Pepys records, was "much concerned in this fray"; but it
was long before Lady Shrewsbury's part in it came to light, to add to
the infamy which she had by that time heaped on herself. Her wayward
fancy next settled on a man of a different stamp to either Howard or
Jermyn. It seemed, indeed, to be her ambition to make her conquests as
varied as humanity itself. Her next victim was Harry Killigrew, one of
the most notorious profligates in London, a man of low birth and lower
tastes, a haunter of taverns, the terror of all decent women, and a
roystering swashbuckler, with a sword as ready to leap at a word as his
lips to snatch a kiss from a pretty mouth.

Such was my Lady Shrewsbury's successor to the aristocratic, high-minded
brother of Lord Carlisle. Killigrew's father was a well-known man of his
day, for he wore cap and bells at Charles's Court, and was privileged to
practise his clowning on King and courtier and maid-of-honour with no
heavier penalty than a box on the ears. The extreme licence he permitted
himself is proved by that joke at the expense of Louis XIV., which might
well have cost any other man his head. Louis, who always unbended to a
merry jester, was showing his pictures to Killigrew, when they came to a
painting of the Crucifixion, placed between portraits of the Pope and
the "Roi Soleil" himself. "Ah, Sire," said the Jester, as he struck an
attitude before the trio of canvases, "I knew that our Lord was
crucified between two thieves, but I never knew till now who they were."

Such was Tom Killigrew who kept Charles's Court alive by his pranks and
jests, and who is better remembered in our day as the man to whose
enterprise we owe Drury Lane Theatre and the Italian Opera; and it would
have been better for the world of his day if his son had been as decent
a man as himself. His fun, at least, was harmless, and his life, so far
as we know it, was reasonably clean. His son, however, was notorious as
the most foul-mouthed, evil-living man in London, whose very contact
was a pollution. Once Pepys, always eager for new experiences, was
inveigled into his company and that of the "jolly blades," who were his
boon companions; "but Lord!" the diarist says ingenuously, "their talk
did make my heart ache!"

That my Lady Shrewsbury should stoop to such a _liaison_ astonished even
those who knew how widely she cast her net, and how indiscriminating her
passion was in its quest for novelty. That such a man should boast of
his conquest over the beautiful Countess was inevitable. He published it
in every low tavern in London, gloating in his cups over "his lady's
most secret charms, concerning which more than half the Court knew quite
as much as he knew himself."

Among those to whom Killigrew thus boasted was the dissolute second Duke
of Buckingham, whose curiosity was so stimulated by what he heard that
he entered the lists himself, and quickly succeeded in ousting Killigrew
from his place in my lady's favour. To the tavern-sot thus succeeded the
most splendid noble in England, a man who, in his record of gallantry,
was no mean rival to the Countess herself. To be thus displaced by the
man to whom he had boasted his conquest was a bitter blow to the
libertine's vanity; to be cut dead by Lady Shrewsbury, who had no longer
any use for him, roused him to a frenzy of rage in which he assailed her
with the bitterest invectives; "painted a frightful picture of her
conduct, and turned all her charms, which he had previously extolled,
into defects." The Duke's warnings were powerless to stop his
vindictive tongue; even a severe thrashing, which resulted in Killigrew
begging abjectly for his life from his successful rival, failed to teach
him prudence. His slanders grew more and more venomous until they
brought on him a punishment which nearly cost him his life.

But before Killigrew's tongue was thus silenced, the wooing of the Duke
and the Countess was marred by a tragedy, to which our history happily
furnishes no parallel. The Countess's husband had hitherto looked on
with seeming indifference, while lover after lover succeeded each other
in his wife's favour. But even the Earl's long forbearance had its
limits; and these were reached when he saw the insolent coxcomb,
Buckingham, a man whom he had always detested, usurp his place. He
screwed up his laggard manhood to the pitch of challenging the Duke to a
duel, which took place one January morning in 1667, and of which Pepys
tells the following story:

"Much discourse of the duel yesterday between the Duke of Buckingham,
Holmes and one Jenkins, on one side, and my Lord Shrewsbury, Sir John
Talbot and one Bernard Howard, on the other side; and all about my Lady
Shrewsbury, who is at this time, and hath for a great while, been a
mistress to the Duke of Buckingham. And so her husband challenged him,
and they met yesterday in a close near Barne-Elmes, and there fought;
and my Lord Shrewsbury is run through the body, from the right breast
through the shoulder; and Sir John Talbot all along up one of his
armes; and Jenkins killed upon the place, and the rest all, in a little
measure, wounded. This will make the world think that the King hath good
Councillors about him, when the Duke of Buckingham, the greatest man
about him, is a fellow of no more sobriety than to fight about a
mistress."

It is said that the Countess, in the guise of a page, accompanied her
lover to the scene of this bloodthirsty duel; held his horse as, with
sparkling eyes, she saw her husband receive his death-blow; and, when
the foul deed was done, flung her arms around the assassin's neck in a
transport of gratitude and affection. Never surely since Judas sent his
Master to his death with a kiss has the world witnessed such an infamous
betrayal.

From the scene of this tragedy the Duke escorted the Countess-page to
his own home, where he installed her as his avowed mistress in the eyes
of the world, at the same time ordering the carriage which was to take
his outraged wife back to her father's house. Even in such an abandoned
and profligate Court as that of Charles II., the news of this dastardly
crime and Lady Shrewsbury's callous treachery was received with
execration, while a thrill of horror and fierce indignation ran through
the whole of England. But the Countess and her paramour smiled at the
storm they had brought on their heads, and with brazen insolence
flaunted their amour in the face of the world.

Now that the Countess's husband had been removed from their path the
shameless pair had time to attend to Killigrew, whose malicious tongue
must be silenced once for all. They hired bravos to track his footsteps,
and at a convenient moment to remove him from their path. The
opportunity came one day when it was learnt that Killigrew, who seemed
to know that his life was in danger and for a long time had evaded his
enemies successfully, intended to travel from town to his house at
Turnham Green late at night. His chaise was followed at a discreet
distance by my Lady Shrewsbury, who arrived on the scene just in time to
witness the prepared tragedy which was to crown her revenge. Killigrew,
who was sleeping in his chaise, awoke, to quote a contemporary account,

     "by the thrust of a sword which pierced his neck and came
     out at the shoulder. Before he could cry out he was flung
     from the chaise, and stabbed in three other places by the
     Countess's assassins, while the lady herself looked on
     from her own coach and six, and cried out to the
     murderers, 'Kill the villain!' Nor did she drive off till
     he was thought dead."

The man whose murder she thus witnessed and encouraged was not, however,
Killigrew, as in the darkness she imagined, but his servant. Killigrew
himself, although severely wounded, was more fortunate in escaping with
his life. But the lesson he had received was so severe that for the rest
of his days he gave the Countess and her lover the widest of berths, and
retired into the obscurity in which alone he could feel safe from such
a revengeful virago. This second crime, like its predecessor, went
unpunished, so powerful was Buckingham, and so deep in the King's
favour; and he and the Countess were left in the undisturbed enjoyment
of their lust and their triumphs.

    "Gallant and gay, in Clieveden's proud alcove,
     The bower of wanton Shrewsbury and love,"

the infamous pair defied the world, and crowned their ignominy by
standing together at the altar, where the Duke's chaplain made them one,
almost before the body of the Countess's husband (who had survived his
duel two months) was cold, and while the Duchess of Buckingham was, of
course, still alive. The Countess was not long before her brazen
effrontery carried her back to Court, where she took the lead in the
revels and at the gaming-tables, and made love to the "Merrie Monarch"
himself. Evelyn tells us that, during a visit to Newmarket, he

     "found the jolly blades racing, dancing, feasting and
     revelling, more resembling a luxurious and abandoned rout
     than a Christian country. The Duke of Buckingham was in
     mighty favour, and had with him that impudent woman, the
     Countess of Shrewsbury, and his band of fiddlers."

It was only with the downfall of the Stuarts that this shameless
alliance came to an end, when Buckingham's reign of power was over, and
he was haled before the House of Lords to answer for his crimes. He and
the partner of his guilt were ordered to separate; and for this purpose
to enter into security to the King in the sum of £10,000 apiece. Thus
ignominiously closed one of the most infamous intrigues in history.
Buckingham, buffeted by fortune, rapidly fell, as the world knows, from
his pinnacle of power to the lowest depths of poverty, to end his days,
friendless and destitute, in a Yorkshire inn.

    "No wit, to flatter, left of all his store!
     No fool to laugh at, which he valued more.
     There reft of health, of fortune, friends,
     And fame, this lord of useless thousands ends."

To my Lady Shrewsbury, as to her paramour, the condemnation of the Lords
marked the setting of her sun of splendour. The slumbering rage of
England against her long career of iniquity awoke to fresh life in this
hour of her humiliation, and she was glad to escape from its fury to the
haven of a convent in France, where she spent some time in mock
penitence.

But the Countess was, by no means, resigned to end her days in the odour
of a tardy and insincere piety. As soon as the sky had cleared a little
across the Channel, she returned to England, and tried to repair her
shattered fame by giving her hand to a son of Sir Thomas Bridges, of
Keynsham, in Somerset, who was so enslaved by her charms that he was
proud to lead the tarnished beauty to the altar. And with this mockery
of wedding bells "Messalina's" history practically ended as far as the
world, outside the Somersetshire village, where the remainder of her
life was mostly spent, was concerned. The fires of her passion had now
died out, and the restless and still ambitious woman exchanged love for
political intrigue. She became the most ardent of Jacobites, and plotted
as unscrupulously for the restoration of the Stuarts, as in earlier
years she had planned the capture and ruin of her lovers.

Not content with treading the shady and dangerous path of intrigue
herself, she set to work to undermine the loyalty of her only son, the
young Earl of Shrewsbury, one of the most trusted ministers and friends
of the Orange King; and such was her influence over the high-principled,
if weak Earl that she infected him with her own treachery, until the
man, whom William III. had called "the soul of honour," stood branded to
the world as a spy, leagued with the King's enemies, and was compelled
to leave England for ten years of exile and disgrace.

This corruption and ruin of her own son was the crowning infamy of one
of the worst women who ever enlisted their beauty, of their own free
will, in the service of the devil.



CHAPTER VII

A PROFLIGATE PRINCE


Of the sons of the profligate Frederick, Prince of Wales, Henry
Frederick, Duke of Cumberland, was, by universal consent, the most
abandoned, as his eldest brother, George III., of "revered memory," in
spite of his intrigue with the fair Quakeress, was the least vicious.
Each brother had his amours--many of them highly discreditable; but for
unrestrained and indiscriminate profligacy Henry Frederick took the
unenviable palm.

Even the verdict of posterity is unable to credit this Princeling with a
solitary virtue, unless a handsome face and a passion for music can be
placed to his credit. In his career of female conquest, which began as
soon as he had emancipated himself from his mother's apron strings, he
left behind him a wake of ruined lives; not the least tragic of which
was that of the lovely and foolish Henrietta Vernon, Countess Grosvenor,
whom he dragged through the mire of the Divorce Court, only to fling her
aside, a soiled and crushed flower of too pliant womanhood.

And yet, when his passion was in full flame, no woman was ever wooed
with apparently more sincere ardour and devotion.

     "My dear Angel," he once wrote to her, "I got to bed
     about ten. I then prayed for you, my dearest love, kissed
     your dearest little hair, and lay down and dreamt of you,
     had you ten thousand times in my arms, kissing you and
     telling you how much I loved and adored you, and you
     seemed pleased.... I have your heart, and it is warm at
     my breast. I hope mine feels as easy to you. Thou joy of
     my life, adieu!"

In another letter he exclaims:

     "Oh, my dearest soul ... your dear heart is so safe with
     me and feels every motion mine does. How happy will that
     day be to me that brings you back! I shall be unable to
     speak for joy. My dearest soul, I send you ten thousand
     kisses."

So irrepressible was his passion that it burst the bounds of prose, and
gushed forth in verses such as this:

    "Hear, solemn Jove, and, conscious Venus, hear!
     And thou, bright maid, believe me while I swear,
     No time, no change, no future flame shall move
     The well-placed basis of my lasting love."

When the fair and frail Countess, in a fit of alarm, took refuge at
Eaton Hall, her Royal lover followed her in disguise, installed himself
at a neighbouring inn, and continued his intrigue under the very nose of
her jealous husband, who at last was driven to sue for divorce. He won
an easy verdict, and with it £10,000 damages--a bill which George III.
himself had ultimately to pay. Within a few months the incorrigible Duke
had another "dearest little angel" in his toils, and pursued his
gallantries without a thought of the Countess he had left to her shame.

Such was this degenerate brother of the King when the most memorable of
his victims crossed his blighting path one summer day in the year 1771,
at Brighton--a radiantly beautiful young woman who had just discarded
her widow's weeds, and was arrayed for fresh conquests.

Anne Luttrell, as the widow had been known in her maiden days, was one
of the three lovely daughters of Lord Irnham, in later years Earl of
Carhampton, and a member of a family noted for the beauty of its women,
and the wild, lawless living of its men. Her brother, Colonel Luttrell,
was the most reckless swashbuckler and the deadliest duellist of his
time--a man whose morals were as low as his temper and courage were
high.

At seventeen Anne had become the wife of Christopher Horton, a
hard-drinking, fast-living Derbyshire squire, who left her a widow at
twenty-two, in the prime of her beauty, and eager, as soon as decency
permitted, to enter the matrimonial lists again.

About this time Horace Walpole, who had a keen eye for female charms,
describes her as

     "extremely pretty, very well-made, with the most amorous
     eyes in the world, and eyelashes a yard long. Coquette
     beyond measure, artful as Cleopatra, and completely
     mistress of all her passions and projects. Indeed,
     eyelashes three-quarters of a yard shorter would have
     served to conquer such a head as she has turned."

In another portrait Walpole says:

     "There was something so bewitching in her languishing
     eyes, which she could animate to enchantment if she
     pleased, and her coquetry was so active, so varied, and
     yet so habitual, that it was difficult not to see through
     it, and yet as difficult to resist it. She danced
     divinely, and had a great deal of wit, but of the satiric
     kind."

Such were the charms and witchery of Mrs Horton when the lascivious
young Prince, who was still a boy, was first dazzled by her beauty at
Brighton; and when, in fact, she was on the eve of smiling on the suit
of one of the legion of lovers who swelled her retinue, one General
Smith, a handsome man with a seductive rent-roll to add to his
attractions. But the moment the Prince began to cast admiring eyes at
the young widow the General's fate was sealed. She had no fancy to go to
her grave plain "Mrs Smith" when a duchess's coronet (and a Royal one to
boot) was dangled so alluringly before her eyes.

For from the first she had made up her mind that she would be the
Prince's legal wife, and no light-o'-love to be petted and flung aside
when he chose, butterfly-like, to flit to some other flower; and this
she made abundantly clear to Henry Frederick. Her favours--after a
period of coquetry and coy reluctance--were at his disposal; but the
price to be paid for them was a wedding-ring--nothing less. And such was
the infatuation she had inspired that the Duke--flinging scruples and
fears aside, consented. One October day they took boat to Calais, and
were there made man and wife. The widow had caught her Prince and meant
the world to know she was a Princess.

For a few indecisive weeks the Duke put off the evil day of announcing
his marriage to his brother, the King, and to his mother, the Dowager
Princess of Wales, whose frowns he dreaded still more. But his Duchess
was inexorable. She declined to play any longer the _rôle_ of "virtuous
mistress" in an obscure French town, when she ought, as a Princess of
the Blood Royal, to be circling in splendour and state around the
throne.

Between his wife's tears and tantrums on one side of the Channel and the
Royal anger on the other, the Duke was driven to the extremity of his
exiguous Royal wits; until finally, in sheer desperation, he decided to
make the plunge--to break the news to the King. Had he but known how
inopportune the time was he would surely have taken the first boat back
to Calais rather than face his brother's anger. George was distracted by
trouble at home and abroad. His mother was dying; across the Atlantic
the clouds of war were massing; the political atmosphere was charged
with danger and unrest. And when the quaking Duke presented himself
before his brother as he was moodily walking in his palace garden,
George was in no mood to accept quietly any addition to his burden of
worries.

No sooner had the King read the ill-spelled, clumsily-worded note which
the Duke shamefacedly placed in his hand than his anger blazed into
flame. "You idiot! You blockhead! You villain!" he shouted, purple in
face and hoarse with passion. "I tell you that woman shall never be a
Royal Duchess--she shall never be anything." "What must I do, then?"
gasped the Duke, quailing before the Royal outburst. "Go abroad until I
can decide what to do," thundered the King, waving his brother
imperiously away.

It was a very crestfallen Duke who returned to Calais to face the
upbraiding of Duchess Anne on his failure. But it took much more than
this to cow a Luttrell. She at least was not afraid of any king. She
would defy him to his face, and compel him to acknowledge her--before
her child was born. And within a few weeks she was installed at
Cumberland House, with all the state and more than the airs of a Royal
Princess. The days of concealment were over; she stood avowed to the
world, Duchess of Cumberland and sister-in-law to the King; and she only
smiled when George, in his Royal wrath at such insolence, announced
through his Chamberlain that "there was no road between Cumberland House
and Windsor Castle--that the Castle doors would be closed against any
who dared to visit his repudiated sister-in-law."

There were some, however, who dared to brave George's displeasure by
paying court to the Duchess, whose beauty and grace surrounded her with
a small body of admirers. The daughter of an Irish nobleman played to
perfection her new and exalted _rôle_ of Princess. "No woman of her
time," says Lord Hervey, "performed the honours of her drawing-room with
such grace, affability, and dignity." And, in spite of George's frowns,
the only real thorn in her bed of roses was the knowledge that the
Duchess of Gloucester, who, as the daughter of a Piccadilly sempstress,
was infinitely her inferior by birth, and not even her superior in
beauty, was received with open arms at the Castle, and drew to her court
all the greatest in the land.

She even made overtures to her rival and enemy, and proposed that they
should appear together in the same box at the opera--an overture to
which the Duchess of Gloucester retorted contemptuously: "Never! I would
not smell at the same nosegay with her in public!"

By sheer effrontery Duchess Anne at last forced her way into the Royal
Court and public recognition as a member of George's family; and the
fact that both the King and the Queen snubbed her mercilessly for her
pains, detracted little from her triumph and gratification. What her
Grace of Gloucester had won by submission and ingratiating arts, she had
won by brazen defiance and importunity. But the goal, though so
differently reached, was the same. Her triumph was complete.

To her last day, however, she never forgave the King and Queen. While
they had smiled on the sempstress's daughter, who had been guilty of
precisely the same offence as herself--that of wedding a Royal Prince
without the King's sanction--they had scorned her, a Luttrell, the
daughter of a noble house; and terrible was the revenge she took. She
deliberately set herself to debase the Prince of Wales--a youth whose
natural tendencies made him a pliant tool in her hands. She enmeshed him
in the web of her beauty and charms; she pandered to his vanity and his
passions; while her husband initiated him into the vices of which he
himself was a past-master--drinking, gambling, and lust. Notorious
profligate as George IV. became, there is little doubt that he would
have been a much better man if he had not fallen thus early into the
hands of a revengeful and unprincipled woman. Thus infamously the
Duchess of Cumberland repaid George and his Consort for their slights;
and her shameless reward was when she witnessed their grief at the moral
degradation of their eldest son.

But even in the hour of her greatest triumph and splendour Anne Luttrell
was an unhappy woman. She had climbed to the dizziest heights of the
social ladder; her pride was more than satisfied; but her heart was
empty and desolate. Her fickle husband soon wearied of her charms, and
flaunted his fresh conquests before her face. In the royal family
circle, into which she had forced her way, she was an unwelcome
stranger; and such homage as she received was conceded to her rank and
not to herself. "Of all princesses," she once wrote to a friend, "I
really think I am the most miserable."

Her husband died at the age of forty-five, worn out with excesses,
regretted by none, execrated by many. Of his father it had been written
by way of epitaph:--

    "He was alive and is dead,
    And, as it is only Fred,
    Why, there's no more to be said."

Henry Frederick's epitaph, if it had been written by the same hand,
would have been much more scathing. His Duchess survived him a score of
years--unhappy years of solitude and neglect, a Princess only in
name--harassed and shamed by her eldest sister, Elizabeth, a woman of
coarse tastes and language, a confirmed gambler and cheat, whose
failings, which she tried in vain to conceal, brought shame on the
Duchess.

The fate of Elizabeth--one of the "three beautiful Luttrells"--is among
the most tragic stories of the British Peerage. When her Duchess-sister
died she drifted into low companionships, was imprisoned for debt, and
actually bribed a hairdresser to marry her, in order to recover her
liberty. On the Continent, to which she escaped, she fell to still lower
depths--was arrested for pocket-picking, and for a time cleaned the
streets of Augsburg chained to a wheelbarrow, until a dose of poison set
her free from her fetters.



CHAPTER VIII

THE GORGEOUS COUNTESS


If, a century ago, Edmund Power, of Knockbrit, in County Tipperary, had
been told that his second daughter, Marguerite, would one day blossom
into a Countess, and live in history as one of the "most gorgeous"
figures in the fashionable world of London under three kings, he would
certainly have considered his prophetic informant an escaped lunatic,
and would probably have told him so, with the brutal frankness which was
one of his most amiable characteristics.

The Irish squire was a proud man--proud of his pretty and shiftless
wife, with her eternal talk of her Desmond ancestors; proud of two of
his three daughters, whose budding beauty was to win for them titled
husbands--one an English Viscount, the other a Comte de St Marsante; and
proudest of all of his own handsome figure and his local dignities. But
he was frankly ashamed to own himself father of his second daughter,
Marguerite, the "ugly duckling" of a good-looking family, and with no
gifts or promise to qualify her plainness.

But the squireen was probably too full of his own self-importance to
waste much thought or regret on an insignificant, unattractive girl,
though she was his own child. He loved to strut about among his humble
neighbours in all the unprovincial glory of ruffles and lace, buck-skins
and top-boots, and snowy, wide-spreading cravat. He was the king of
Tipperary dandies, known far beyond his own county as "Buck Power" and
"Shiver-the-Frills"; and what pleased his vanity still more, he was a
Justice of the Peace, with authority to scour the country at the head of
a company of dragoons, tracking down rebels and spreading terror
wherever he went. That he was laughed at for his coxcombry and hated for
his petty tyranny only seemed to add to the zest of his enjoyment of
life; and he saw, at least, a knighthood as the prospective recognition
of his importance, and his services to the King and the peace.

Such was the father and such the home of Marguerite Power, who was one
day to dazzle the world as the "most gorgeous Lady Blessington."

As with many another "ugly ducking" Marguerite Power's beauty was only
dormant in these days of childhood; and before she had graduated into
long frocks, the bud was opening which was to grow to so beautiful a
flower. If her father was blind to the change, it was patent enough to
other eyes; and she had scarcely passed her fourteenth birthday when she
had at least two lovers eager to pay homage to her girlish
charm--Captains Murray and Farmer, brother-officers of a regiment
stationed at Clonmel. To the wooing of Captain Murray, young, handsome,
and desperately in earnest, she lent a willing ear; but when thus
encouraged, he asked her to be his wife, she blushingly declined the
offer, on the ground that she was yet much too young to think of a
wedding-ring. To the rival Captain, old enough to be her father, a man,
moreover, whose evil living and Satanic temper were notorious, she
showed the utmost aversion. "I hate him," she protested in tears to her
father, who supported his suit; "and I would rather die a hundred times
than marry him."

But "Beau Power" was the last man to be moved from his purpose by a
child's tears or pleadings. Captain Farmer was a man of wealth and good
family, and also one of his own boon companions. And thus, tearful,
indignant, protesting to the last, the girl was led to the altar, by the
biggest scoundrel in Tipperary--a "maiden tribute" to a lover's lust and
a father's ambition.

[Illustration: MARGUERITE, COUNTESS OF BLESSINGTON]

The child's fears were more than realised in the wedded life that
followed. Before the honeymoon had waned, the Captain began to treat his
young wife with all the brutality of which he was such a past-master.
Blows and oaths were her daily lot; and when his cruelty wrung tears
from her, her husband would lock her in her room, and leave her for
days, without fire or food, until she condescended to beg for mercy.

After three months of this inferno the Captain was ordered to a distant
station; and, as his wife refused point-blank to accompany him, was by
no means reluctant to "be rid of the brat" by sending her back to her
home. Here, however, the child-wife found herself less welcome than, and
almost as unhappy as in her wedded life; and, driven to despair, she
left the home in which she had been cradled, and fared forth alone into
the world, which could not be more unkind than those whose duty it was
to shield and care for her.

How, or where, Beau Power's daughter lived during the next twelve years
must always remain largely a mystery. At one time she appears in Dublin;
at another, in Cahir; but mostly she seems to have spent her time in
England. Over this part of her adventurous life a curtain is drawn;
though some have endeavoured to raise it, and have professed to discover
scandalous doings for which there seems to be no vestige of authority.
We know that, by the time she was twenty, Sir Thomas Lawrence was so
struck by her beauty that he immortalised it on canvas; but it is only
in 1816 that the curtain is actually raised, and we find her living with
her brother in London, where, to quote her sister,

     "she received at her house only those whose age and
     character rendered them safe friends, and a very few
     others, on whose perfect respect and consideration she
     could wholly rely. Among the latter was the Earl of
     Blessington, then a widower."

Whatever may have been her life during this obscure period, when her
charms were maturing into such exquisite beauty, it is thus certain that
at its close she was moving in a good circle, and was as irreproachable
as she was lovely. Of her rascally husband she had happily seen nothing
during all those years of more or less lonely adventure; and the end of
this tragic union was now near. One day in October 1817, the Captain
ended his misspent days in tragedy. He had drifted through dissipation
and crime to the King's Bench prison; and in a fit of frenzy--or, as
some say, in a drunken quarrel--had flung himself to his death through a
window of his gaol.

Thus, at last, the nightmare that had clouded the young life of the
squireen's daughter was over, and she was free to plan her future as she
would. What this future was to be was soon placed beyond doubt. The
widowed Earl of Blessington had long been among the most ardent admirers
of the lovely Irishwoman; and before Farmer had been many months in his
prison-grave, he had won her consent to be his Countess. The "ugly
duckling" had reached a coronet through such trials and vicissitudes as
happily seldom fall to the lot of woman; and her future was to be as
radiant as her past had been ignoble and obscure.

Seldom has a woman cradled in comparative poverty made such a splendid
alliance. Lord Blessington was a veritable Croesus among Irish
landlords, with a rent-roll of £30,000 a year; allied, it is true, to an
extravagance more than commensurate with his revenue. He had a passion
for all things theatrical, and an almost barbaric taste in the gorgeous
furnishings with which he loved to surround himself; and this taste his
wife seems to have shared.

When the Earl took his bride to his ancestral home, Mountjoy Forest, she
revelled in her boudoir, with its hangings of "crimson Genoa
silk-velvet, trimmed with gold bullion fringe; and all the furniture of
equal richness." But she had had enough of Irish life in the days of her
childhood, and soon sighed to return to London and to a wider sphere for
her beauty and her social ambition; and before she had been a bride six
months we find her installed in St James's Square, drawing to her
_salon_ all the greatest and most famous in the land, and moving among
her courtiers with the dignity and graciousness of a Queen.

Royal Dukes kissed her hand; statesman basked in her smile; Moore sang
his sweetest songs for her delight; and all the arts and sciences
worshipped at her shrine, and raved about her beauty of face and graces
of mind.

Sated at last with all this splendour and adulation, my Lady Blessington
yearned for more worlds to conquer; and so, one August day in 1822, she
and her lord set out on a triumphal progress through Europe, with a
retinue of attendants, and with luxurious equipages such as a king might
have been proud to boast. In France they added to their train Count
d'Orsay, who threw up his army-commission under the lure of the
Countess's beautiful eyes; and seldom has fair lady had so devoted and
charming a cavalier as this "Admirable Crichton" of Georgian days.

     "Count d'Orsay," says Charles James Mathews, the famous
     comedian, who knew him well, "was the beau-ideal of manly
     dignity and grace. He was the model of all that could be
     conceived of noble demeanour and youthful candour;
     handsome beyond all question; accomplished to the last
     degree; highly educated, and of great literary
     acquirements; with a gaiety of heart and cheerfulness of
     mind that spread happiness on all around him. His
     conversation was brilliant and engaging, as well as
     instructive. He was, moreover, the best fencer, dancer,
     swimmer, runner, dresser, the best shot, the best
     horseman, the best draughtsman, of his age."

Such was the Count, then a youth of nineteen, who thus entered Lady
Blessington's life, in which he was to play such an intimate part until
its tragic close.

From France the regal progress continued to Italy, everywhere greeted
with wonder at its magnificence and admiration of my lady's beauty. Two
spring months in 1823 were passed at Genoa, where Lord Byron loved to
sit at the Countess's feet and pay homage to her with eye and tongue.
From Genoa the procession fared majestically to Rome, of which her
ladyship, in spite of the sensation she produced and the adulation she
received, soon wearied; she sighed for Naples, where she was regally
lodged in the Palazzo Belvidere, a Palace, as she declared, "fit for any
queen." And how the squire's daughter revelled in her new
pleasure-house, with its courtyard and plashing fountain, its arcade
and its colonnade, "supporting a terrace covered with flowers"; its
marvellous gardens, filled with the rarest trees, shrubs and plants; and
long gallery, "filled with pictures, statues, and bassi-relievi."

     "On the top of the gallery," she says, "is a terrace, at
     the extreme end of which is a pavilion, with open arcades
     and paved with marble. This pavilion commands a most
     charming prospect of the bay, the foreground filled up by
     gardens and vineyards. The odour of the flowers in the
     grounds around the pavilion, and the Spanish jasmine and
     tuberoses that cover the walls, render it one of the most
     delicious retreats in the world. The walls of all the
     rooms are literally covered with pictures; the
     architraves of the doors of the principal rooms are
     oriental alabaster and the rarest marbles; the tables and
     consoles are composed of the same costly materials; and
     the furniture bears the traces of its pristine
     splendour."

Such was the Arabian palace of all delights of which her gorgeous
ladyship now found herself mistress; and yet nothing would please her
indulgent lord but the spending of a few thousands in adding to its
splendours by new and costly furnishings. Here she spent two-and-a-half
years of ideal happiness, sailing by moonlight on the lovely bay, with
d'Orsay for companion; visiting all the sights, from Pompeii to the
galleries and museums, with a retinue of experts, such as Herschell and
Gell in her train, and entertaining with a queenly magnificence Italian
nobles and all the great ones of Europe who passed through Naples.

From Naples Lady Blessington took her train to Florence, where she cast
her spell over Walter Savage Landor, who spent every possible hour in
her fascinating company; and where she was joined by her husband's
daughter, the Lady Harriet Gardiner, a girl of fifteen, who, within a
few weeks of reaching Italy, became the wife of my lady's handsome
protege, d'Orsay. And it was not until 1828, six years after leaving
London, that the stately procession turned its face homewards, halting
for a few months of farewell magnificence in Paris, where Lady
Blessington was installed in Marshal Ney's mansion, in an environment
even more gorgeous than the Palazzo Belvidere of Naples could boast,
thanks to the prodigality of her infatuated lord.

The description which her Ladyship gives of her Paris palace reads,
indeed, like a passage from the "Arabian Nights."

     "The bed," she says, "which is silvered instead of gilt,
     rests on the backs of two large silver swans, so
     exquisitely sculptured that every feather is in
     alto-relievo, and looks nearly as fleecy as those of a
     living bird. The recess in which it is placed, is lined
     with white fluted silk, bordered with blue embossed lace;
     and from the columns that support the frieze of the
     recess, pale blue silk curtains, lined with white, are
     hung. A silvered sofa has been made to fit the side of
     the room opposite the fireplace--pale blue carpets,
     silver lamps, ornaments silvered to correspond."

Her bath was of white marble; her _salle de bain_ was draped with white
muslin trimmed with lace, and its ceiling was beautiful with a painted
Flora scattering flowers and holding an elaborate lamp in the form of a
lotus. And all the rest of the equipment of this dream-palace was in
keeping with these splendours, from the carpets and curtains of crimson
to the gilt consoles, marble-topped _chiffonières_, and _fauteuils_
"richly carved and gilt and covered with satin to correspond with the
curtains."

This, although Lady Blessington little dreamt it, was to be the last
lavish evidence of her lord's devotion to his beautiful wife; for,
before they had been many months back in England the Earl died suddenly
in the prime of his days. Large as his fortune had been, the last few
years of extravagance had made such inroads in it that all that was left
of his £30,000 a year was an annual income of £600, which went to his
illegitimate son. Fortunately the Countess's jointure of £2,000 a year
was secure; and on this income Lady Blessington was able to face the
future with a heart as light as it could be after such a bereavement;
for, eccentric as her husband had been, and in some ways almost
contemptible, she had loved him dearly for the great and touching love
with which he had always surrounded her.

It was during her early years of widowhood that her ladyship turned for
solace, and also for additional revenue to support the extravagance
which had now become second nature, to her pen, in which she quickly
found a small mine of welcome gold. Her "Books of Beauty" and "Gems of
Beauty" were an instantaneous success--they made a strong appeal to the
flowery sentiment of the time, and sold in tens of thousands of copies.
Her "Conversations with Byron," a record of those halcyon days at Genoa,
fed the curiosity which then invested the most romantic of poets with a
glamour which survives to our day; and her novels and gossipy books of
travel were hailed in succession by an eager public of readers.

In these years of prolific literary labour she was able to double her
jointure, and to maintain much of the splendour to which she had become
so accustomed. Even her literary children were cradled in luxury on a
_fauteuil_ of yellow satin, in a library crowded with sumptuous couches
and ottomans, enamel tables and statutary. To her house in Seamore Place
her beauty and fame drew the most eminent men in England, from Lawrence
and Lyndhurst to Lytton and young Disraeli, gorgeous as his hostess, in
gold-flowered waistcoat, gold rings and chains, white stick with black
tassel, and his shower of ringlets.

But the Seamore Place house proved too cabined and too modest for my
lady's exacting social ambition. She demanded a more spacious and
magnificent shrine for her beauty, which was still so remarkable that
she was considered the loveliest woman at the Court of George III. when
well advanced in the forties--and this she found at Gore House, in
Kensington, a stately mansion in which Wilberforce had made his home,
and which, surrounded by beautiful gardens and shut in with a girdle of
spreading trees, might have been in the heart of the country, instead of
within sight of the tide of fashion which flowed in Hyde Park.

Here for thirteen years, with the handsome, gay, accomplished d'Orsay,
who had separated from his wife, as major-domo, she dispensed a princely
hospitality. Her dinners and her entertainments were admittedly the
finest in London; and invitations to them were as eagerly sought as
commands to a Court-ball.

"At Gore House," said Brougham, "one is sure to meet some of the most
interesting people in England, and equally sure not to have a dull
moment." Brougham was himself a constant and a welcome guest, and the
men he met there ranged from Prince Louis Napoleon, then an exile
without a prospect of a crown, and the Duke of Wellington to Albert
Smith and Douglas Jerrold--so wide was the net of Lady Blessington's
hospitality. And all paid the same glowing tribute, not only to their
hostess's loveliness but to the warmth of heart, which was one of her
greatest charms. And of all the great ones who sat at her dinner-table
or thronged her drawing-rooms not one was wittier or more fascinating
than Count d'Orsay, who, in spite of envious and malicious tongues,
never occupied to the Countess any other relation than that of a
dearly-loved and devoted son.

Although Lady Blessington's income rarely fell below £4,000 a year, it
was quite inadequate to her expenditure; and it was clear to her that
this era of splendid hospitality could not last for ever. A day of
reckoning was sure to come; and it came sooner than she had anticipated.
D'Orsay, who seems to have been even more careless of money than his
mother-in-law, plunged deeper and deeper in debt--some of it, at least,
incurred in helping to keep up the Gore House _ménage_--until he found
himself at last face to face with liabilities far exceeding £100,000,
and besieged with duns and bailiffs. Once he was arrested at the suit of
a bootmaker, and was rescued from prison by Lady Blessington's
rapidly-emptying purse. The climax came when a sheriff's officer
smuggled himself into Gore House, and brought down on d'Orsay's head an
avalanche of angry creditors, each resolute to have his "pound of
flesh." The Countess was powerless to stem the invasion; her own
resources were at an end, the Count himself was penniless. The only
safety was in flight; and one day Gore House was found empty. The birds
had flown to Paris; and the mansion which had been the scene of so much
magnificence was left to the mercy of a horde of clamorous creditors.

A few weeks later, all "the costly and elegant effects of the Right
Honourable, the Countess of Blessington, retiring to the Continent" were
put up to auction; and twenty thousand curious people were pouring
through the rooms which her gorgeous ladyship had made so famous--among
them Thackeray, who was moved to tears at the spectacle of so much
goodness and greatness reduced to ruin. The sale, although many of the
effects brought absurdly low prices, realised £12,000--a smaller sum
probably than would be paid to-day for half-a-dozen of the Countess's
pictures.

This crushing blow to her fortunes and her pride no doubt broke Lady
Blessington's heart; for within a few months of the last fall of the
auctioneer's hammer, she died suddenly in Paris, to the unspeakable
grief of d'Orsay, who declared to the Countess's physician, Madden, "She
was to me a mother! a dear, dear mother--a true, loving mother to me."
Three years later this "paragon of all the perfections" followed the
Countess behind the veil, and rests in a mausoleum, of his own
designing, at Chamboury, with one of the most lovely women who have ever
graced beauty with rare gifts of mind and with a warm and tender heart.



CHAPTER IX

A QUEEN OF COQUETTES


The 29th of May in the year 1660 was indeed a red-letter day in the
calendar of jovial fox-hunting Squire Jennings, of Sandridge, in
Hertfordshire. It was the day on which his Royal idol, the second
Charles, set out from Canterbury on the last stage of the journey to his
crown. Mounted on his horse, caparisoned in purple and gold, at the head
of a gay cavalcade of retainers, he rode proudly through the Kentish
lanes and villages: through avenues of wildly-cheering crowds, flinging
sweet may-blossoms and flowers under his horse's feet, and waving green
boughs over their heads in a frenzy of welcome.

[Illustration: SARAH, DUCHESS OF MARLBOROUGH]

And it was on this very day, as the "Merrie Monarch" was riding under
the flowery arches and fluttering pennons of London streets, to the
clanging of joy-bells and the thundering of cannon, with a procession
twenty thousand strong behind him, that Squire Jennings' daughter first
opened her eyes on the world in which, though her simple-minded father
little dreamt it, she was destined to play so brilliant a part. No
birthday could have been more auspicious than this which saw the
restoration of a nation's hope; and the sun which flooded it with
splendour was typical of the good fortune that was to gild the life-path
of the Sandridge baby.

If on that day Squire Richard had been told that his baby-girl would
live to wear a Duchess's coronet and to be the bosom-friend and
counsellor of a Queen of England, he would have laughed aloud; and yet
Fate had this and more in waiting for Sarah Jennings in the years to
come. The Squire himself professed to be no more than a plain
country-gentleman, who knew as much as any man about horses and the
management of acres, but knew no more of courts and coronets than of the
man in the moon.

His family, it is true, had been seated for generations on its broad
Hertfordshire lands, and his father had been dubbed a Knight of the Bath
when the Prince of Wales, later Charles I., himself received the
accolade. His mother, too, was a Thornhurst, of Agnes Court, Old Romney,
a family of old lineage and high respectability; but, apart from Sir
John, no Jennings had ever aspired even as high as a mere knighthood,
and certainly they were as far removed from coronets as from the North
Pole.

Squire Jennings had another daughter, Frances, at this time a winsome
little maid of eight summers, already showing promise of a rare
loveliness. And she, too, was destined to a career, almost as brilliant
as, and more adventurous than that of her baby-sister. Her story opened
when one day she was transported, as maid-of-honour to the Duchess of
York, from the modest home in Hertfordshire to the glamour and
splendours of the Royal Court, where her beauty dazzled all eyes.

The Duke of York himself lost his heart at sight of her, and turned on
her the battery of his sighs and smiles, his ogling and flattering
speeches. When she met his advances with coldness, he bombarded her with
notes "containing the tenderest expressions and most magnificent
promises," slipping them into her pocket or muff, as opportunity served;
but the disdainful beauty dropped the _billets-doux_ on the floor for
any one to read who chose to pick them up, until at last the Royal lover
was compelled to abandon the pursuit in despair.

James's brother, the King, made violent love to her; and every Court
gallant, from the Duke of Buckingham to Henry Jermyn, the richest beau
in England, fluttered round her beauty like moths around a candle. How,
after many romantic vicissitudes, Frances Jennings gave her heart and
hand to Dick Talbot, the handsomest man in the British Isles; how she
raised him to a Dukedom, and, as Duchess of Tyrconnel, queened it as
Vicereine of Ireland; and how, in later life, she sank from this dizzy
pinnacle to such depths of poverty that for a time she was thankful to
sell tapes and ribbons in the New Exchange bazaar in the Strand, is one
of the most romantic stories in the annals of our Peerage.

While Frances Jennings was coquetting with coronets and playing the
madcap at the Court of Whitehall, Sarah was growing to girlhood in her
rustic environment in Hertfordshire, more interested in her pony and her
toys than in all the baubles that made up the life of that very fine
lady her sister, and giving no thought to her beauty, to which each day
was adding its touch of grace. But she was not long to remain in such
innocence; for one day when she was still but a child of twelve her
sister came in a splendid Court carriage, and took her off to London,
where a very different life awaited her.

She was not, it is true, to move like Frances in the splendid circle of
the Throne, though she was to be on its fringe and to catch many a
glimpse of it. Her more modest _rôle_ was to be playfellow and companion
of the Duke of York's younger daughter, Anne--a shy, backward child, a
few years younger than herself, who suffered from an affection of the
eyes, which practically closed books and the ordinary avenues of
education to her.

To such a child cradled in a palace and hedged round by ceremonial,
Sarah Jennings, with the superabundant health and vitality of a
country-bred girl, was an ideal playmate; and before many days had
passed the timid, clinging Princess was the very slave of the vivacious,
romping, strong-willed daughter of the squire. Thus was begun that union
between the strong and the weak, which in later years was to make Sarah,
Duchess of Marlborough, virtual Queen of England, while her childish
playfellow, Anne, wore the crown.

It was under such conditions that Sarah Jennings blossomed rapidly into
young womanhood--little less lovely than her ravishing sister, but
infinitely more dowered with strength of mind and character--an
imperious young lady, with the cleverest brain and tongue, and the most
inflexible will within the circle of the Court.

While Sarah was playing with her Royal charge in the Palace nursery,
John Churchill, son of a West Country knight, whose life was to be so
closely linked with hers, had already climbed several rungs of the
ladder at the summit of which he was to find a Duke's coronet. He had
made his first appearance at Court while she was still in the cradle at
Sandridge; and although, no doubt, she had caught many a glimpse of the
handsome young courtier and favourite of the King, in her eyes he moved
in a world apart, as far removed by his splendid environment as by his
ten years' superiority in age.

John Churchill was, at least, no better born than herself. He was son of
one Winston Churchill, of a stock of West Country gentry, who had flung
aside his cap and gown at Oxford to wield a sword for King Charles; and
who, when Cromwell took the fallen reins of government into his own
hands, was made to pay a heavy price for his loyalty by the forfeiture
of his lands and a fine of £4,000. When Charles I.'s son came to his
own, Winston's star shone again; his acres were restored, he was dubbed
a knight, and was rewarded with well-paid offices under the Crown.
Moreover, a place at Court, as page-boy, was found for his young son
John; and another, as maid-of-honour to the Duchess of York, for his
daughter Arabella.

From the day young Churchill entered the service of James, Duke of York,
Fortune smiled her sweetest on him. The Duke was captivated by the boy's
handsome face, his intelligence and charming manners, and took him at
once into favour. By the time he was sixteen he was a full-blown officer
of the Guards, and the idol of the Court. His good looks, his graces of
person, and powers of fascinating wrought sad havoc in the breast of
many a Court-lady; and, boy though he was, there were few favours which
might not have been his without the asking.

Even Barbara Villiers, my Lady Castlemaine, who had for many years been
the King's "light o' love," and had borne him three sons, all
Dukes-to-be, cast amorous eyes on the handsome young Guardsman; and,
what is more, succeeded where beauty failed, in drawing him within the
net of her coarse, middle-aged charms. Strange stories are told of the
love-making of this oddly-assorted pair, which had a ludicrous
conclusion. One day King Charles was informed that if he would take the
trouble to go to Lady Castlemaine's rooms he would be rewarded by a
singular spectacle--that of young Churchill dallying with his mistress
and the mother of his children. And so it proved; for when the King made
an unexpected appearance he was just in time to see the
lieutenant-Lothario disappearing through an open window and his
inamorata on the verge of hysterics on a sofa.

One cannot blame the "Merrie Monarch" for deciding that such activities
were better fitted for another field of exercise. The young Lothario was
packed off to Tangier to cool his ardour by a little bloodshed; but
before he went Lady Castlemaine handed him a farewell present of £5,000
with which, according to Lord Chesterfield, "he immediately bought an
annuity of £500 a year of my grandfather Halifax, which was the
foundation of his subsequent fortune."

A young man so enterprising and so gifted by nature could scarcely fail
to go far, when his energies were directed into a suitable channel. He
proved that he could serve under the banner of Mars as gallantly as
under the pennon of Cupid. He did such doughty deeds against the Dutch,
under Monmouth, that he was made a Captain of Grenadiers. At the siege
of Nimeguen his reckless bravery won the unstinted praise of Turenne,
who, when one of his own officers cowardly abandoned an important
outpost, exclaimed, "I will bet a supper and a dozen of claret that my
handsome Englishman will recover the post with half the number of men
that the officer commanded who has lost it." And the "handsome
Englishman" promptly won the supper for the Marshal. Moreover, by an act
of splendid daring, during the siege of Maestricht he saved the Duke of
Monmouth's life; and returned to England a hero and a colonel, having
thoroughly purged his indiscretion in Lady Castlemaine's boudoir. If he
had toyed dangerously with the King's mistress, he had at least saved
the life of his Sovereign's best-loved son.

It was at this time that Churchill seems to have first set eyes on Sarah
Jennings, now standing on the verge of womanhood, and as sweet a flower
as the Court garden of fair girls could show. He saw her moving with
queenly grace and dainty freshness among a crowd of the loveliest women
at a Royal ball, her proud well-poised head rising above them as a lily
towers over meaner flowers. And--such are the strange ways of love--from
that first glance he was fascinated by her as no other woman ever had
power to fascinate him. When he sought an introduction to her, the
bright spirit that shone in her eyes, her clever tongue, and her
graciousness quickly forged the chains which he was proud to wear to his
life's end. Seldom has a woman's spell worked such quick magic--never
has the love it gave birth to proved more loyal and enduring.

But Sarah Jennings was no maid to be easily won by any man--even by a
lover so dowered with physical graces and so invested with the halo of
romance as John Churchill. She knew all about his heroism on
battlefields; she knew also of that little incident in a palace boudoir,
and of many another youthful peccadillo of the gallant young colonel.
She was no flower to be worn and flung aside; and she meant that Colonel
Churchill should know it. She could be gracious to him, as to any other
man; but she quickly made the limits of her indulgence clear. To all his
amorous advances she presented a smiling and inscrutable front; his
ardour was as unwelcome as it was premature.

Had she designed to make a conquest of her martial lover she could not
have set to work more diplomatically. Colonel Churchill had basked for
years in woman's smiles, often unsought and undesired; to coldness and
indifference he was a stranger; but they only served, as becomes a
soldier, to make him more resolute on victory. As a subtle tongue and a
handsome person made no impression on this frigid beauty, he had
recourse to his pen (since his sword was useless for such a conquest)
and inundated her with letters, breathing undying devotion, and craving
for at least a smile or a look of kindness.

     "Show me," he writes, "that, at least, you are not quite
     indifferent to me, and I swear that I will never love
     anything but your dear self, which has made so sure a
     conquest of me that, had I the will, I had not the power
     ever to break my chains. Pray let me hear from you and
     know if I shall be so happy as to see you to-night."

But to all his protestations and appeals she returns no response. If she
is deaf to the pleadings of love she must, he determined, at least give
him her pity. He writes to tell her that he is "extreme ill with the
headache," and craves a word of sympathy, as a beggar craves a crust. He
vows, in his pain,

     "by all that is good I love you so well that I wish from
     my soul that if you cannot love me, I may die, for life
     could be to me one perpetual torment. If the Duchess,"
     he adds, "sees company I hope you will be there; but if
     she does not, I beg you will then let me see you in your
     chamber, if it be but for one hour. If you are not in the
     drawing-room you must then send me word at what hour I
     shall come."

At last the iceberg thaws a little--though it is only to charge him with
unkindness! She assumes the _rôle_ of virtue; and, with a woman's
capriciousness, charges her lover with the coldness and neglect which
she herself has visited on him.

     "Your not writing to me," she says, "made me very uneasy,
     for I was afraid it was want of kindness in you, which I
     am sure I will never deserve by any action of mine."

Was ever wayward woman so unjust? For weeks Churchill had been deluging
her with ardent letters, to which she had not deigned to answer one
word. Now she assumes an air of injured innocence, and accuses _him_ of
unkindness! She even promises to see him, but cannot resist the
temptation to qualify the concession with a gibe.

     "That would hinder you," she says, with delicious, if
     cruel satire, "from seeing the play, which I fear would
     be a great affliction to you, and increase the pain in
     your head, which would be out of anybody's power to ease
     until the next new play. Therefore, pray consider; and,
     without any compliment to me, send me word if you can
     come to me without any prejudice to your health."

At any rate, the Sphinx had spoken and shown that she had some feeling,
if only that of pique and unreason; and the despairing lover was able to
take a little heart. After all, coquetry, even if carried to the verge
of cruelty, holds more promise than Arctic coldness.

But the course of love, which could scarcely be said to have even begun,
was not to run at all smoothly. Sir Winston Churchill had set his heart
on his son marrying a gilded bride, and he had discovered the very woman
for his ambitious purpose--one Catherine Sedley, daughter of his old
friend Sir Charles Sedley, a lady, no longer quite young, angular and
unattractive, but heiress to much gold and many broad acres. And he lost
no time in impressing on his handsome boy the necessity of such an
alliance. Pretty maids-of-honour were all very well to practise
love-making on; but land and money-bags far outlast and outshine
penniless beauty.

For a few undecided weeks the lure seemed to attract Churchill, coupled
though it was with the death of his romance. He dallied with the
temptation as far as the stage of marriage-settlements; and rumour had
it that the match was as good as made. Handsome Jack Churchill was to
marry an elderly and gilded spinster, and to mount on her money-bags to
greatness!

No sooner had these rumours reached the ear of Sarah Jennings than she
flew into a towering rage. "Marry a shocking creature for money!" she
raved; "and this was what all his passionate protestations of love
amounted to!" Sitting down in her anger she poured out the vials of her
wrath on her treacherous swain, bidding him wed his gold.

     "As for seeing you," she wrote, "I am resolved I never
     will in private or in public if I can help it; and, as
     for the last, I fear it will be some time before I can
     order so as to be out of your way of seeing me. But
     surely you must confess that you have been the falsest
     creature upon earth to me. I must own that I believe I
     shall suffer a great deal of trouble; but I will bear it,
     and give God thanks, though too late I see my error."

Never had maid been so cruelly treated by man! After spurning Churchill
for months, returning nothing to his ardour and homage but a disdainful
shoulder or a gibe, the moment he dares to turn his eyes on any other
divinity she is the most outraged woman who ever staked happiness on a
man's constancy. But at least her anger served the purpose of bringing
Churchill back to his allegiance more promptly than smiles could have
done. He, who had never yielded a foot to an enemy on the field of
battle, quailed before the tornado of his lady's anger. He broke off the
negotiations for his marriage with Miss Sedley, who quickly found a
solace in the Duke of York's arms in spite of her lack of beauty, and
came back to the feet of his outraged lady on bended knees.

But if she was coy and cold before, she was unapproachable now. In vain
did he vow that he had never ceased to love her more than life--that he
adored her even more now in her anger than in her indifference.

     "I vow to God," he wrote, "you do so entirely possess my
     thoughts that I think of nothing else in this world but
     your dear self. I do not, by all that is good, say this
     that I think it will move you to pity me, for I do
     despair of your love, but it is to let you see how unjust
     you are, and that I must ever love you as long as I have
     breath, do what you will. I do not expect in return that
     you should either write or speak to me. I beg that you
     will give me leave to do what I cannot help, which is to
     adore you as long as I live; and in return I will study
     how I may deserve, though not have, your love."

Was ever lover more abject, or ever maid so hard of heart, at least in
seeming? To this pathetic effusion, which ought to have melted the heart
of, and at least wrung forgiveness from, a sphinx, she retorted that he
had merely written it to amuse himself, and to "make her think that he
had an affection for her when she was assured he had none." At last,
however, importunity tells its tale. She consents to see him; but warns
him that

     "if it be only to repeat those things which you have said
     so often, I shall think you the worst of men and the most
     ungrateful; and 'tis to no purpose to imagine that I will
     be made ridiculous to the world."

Still again she gave signs of thawing. To his next letter, in which he
wrote:

     "I do love and adore you with all my heart and soul, so
     much that by all that is good, I do and ever will be
     better pleased with your happiness than my own,"

she answered:

     "If it were sure that you have that passion for me which
     you say you have, you would find out some way to make
     yourself happy--it is in your power. Therefore press me
     no more to see you, since it is what I cannot in honour
     approve of; and if I have done so much, be as good as to
     consider who was the cause of it."

At last Churchill had received a crumb of real encouragement. Even the
veriest poltroon in love must take heart at such words as these--"you
would find out some way to make yourself happy--_it is in your power_."
And it was with a light step and buoyant heart that he went the
following day to the Duchess's drawing-room to pursue in person the
advantage her letter suggested. But the very moment he entered the room
by one door his capricious mistress left it by the other; and when, in
his anger at such cavalier treatment, he wrote to ask the meaning of it,
and if she did not think it impertinent, she left him in no doubt by
answering that she did it "that I may be freed from the trouble of ever
hearing from you more!"

Once more Churchill, just as he had begun to hope again, was relegated
to the shades of despair. She refused to speak to him, she avoided him
in a manner so marked that it became the talk of the Court, and brought
her lover into ridicule. To such extremity was he reduced that he
actually wrote to her maid to beg her intercession.

     "Your mistress's usage to me is so barbarous that sure
     she must be the worst woman in the world, or else she
     would not be thus ill-natured. I have sent her a letter
     which I desire you will give her. I do love her with all
     my soul, but will not torment her; but if I cannot have
     her love I shall despise her pity. For the sake of what
     she has already done, let her read my letter and answer
     it, and not use me thus like a footman."

In her reply to this letter Sarah assumed again an air of wounded
innocence. She had done nothing, she declared, with tears in her pen, to
deserve what he had written to her; and since he evidently had such a
poor opinion of her she was angry that she had too good a one of him.

     "If I had as little love as yourself, I have been told
     enough of you to make me hate you, and then I believe I
     should have been more happy than I am like to be now.
     However," she continued, "if you can be so well contented
     never to see me, as I think you can by what you say, I
     will believe you, though I have not other people."

No wonder the poor man was driven to his wits' end by such varied and
contradictory moods. After avoiding him for weeks in the most marked and
merciless manner she charges him with "being content never to see her."
Although she had never uttered or penned a syllable of love in return
for his reams of passionate protestations, she taunts him with having
less love than herself! Was ever woman so hard to woo or to understand,
or lover so patient under so much provocation?

She further accused him of laughing at her when he was "at the Duke's
side," to which he retorted "I was so far from that, that had it not
been for shame I could have cried." She even swore that it was he who
avoided _her_; and he proves to her that he had followed her elusive
shadow everywhere, and had even "made his chair follow him, because I
would see if there was any light in your chamber, but I saw none."

But even this arch-coquette recognised that the most devoted lover's
forbearance has its bounds, and she was much too clever a woman to
strain them too far. When she had brought him to the verge of suicide by
her moods and vapours she saw that the time of surrender had come; and
when her lover's arm was at last around her waist and her head on his
shoulder, she vowed that she had never ceased to love him from the
first, and that she had never meant to be unkind!

Thus it came to pass that one winter's day in 1677, at St James's
Palace, John Churchill led his bride to the altar, which proved the
portal to one of the happiest wedded lives that have ever fallen to the
lot of mortals. How little, at that crowning moment, Sarah Churchill
could have foreseen those distant days of the future, when she was left
to walk alone the last stage of life, in which she would read and
re-read, with tear-dimmed eyes, the faded letters which her coldness had
wrung from her lover in the flood-tide of his passion and his despair.



CHAPTER X

THE ADVENTURES OF A VISCOUNT'S DAUGHTER


When the Hon. Mary King first opened her eyes in Cork County late in the
eighteenth century, her parents, who already had a "quiverful" of
offspring, could little have foreseen the tragic chapter in the family
annals in which this infant was to play the leading part. Had they done
so, they might almost have been pardoned for wishing that she might die
in her cradle, a blossom of innocence, before the blighting hand of Fate
could sully her.

Her father, Robert, Viscount Kingsborough, was heir to the Earldom of
Kingston, and member of a family which had held its head high, and
preserved an untarnished 'scutcheon since its founder, Sir John King,
won Queen Elizabeth's favour by his zeal in suppressing the Irish
rebellion. All its men had been honourable, all its women pure; and it
was not until Mary King came on the scene that this fair repute was ever
in danger.

Not that there was anything vicious in Lord Kingsborough's young
daughter. She was the victim of a weak nature and a lover as
unscrupulous as he was handsome and clever. She grew up in the
Mitchelstown nursery--one of a dozen brothers and sisters--a wholesome,
merry, mischievous girl, with no great pretensions to beauty, but with
the fresh charms, the dancing grey eyes, and brown hair (which, in its
luxuriant abundance, was her chief glory) of a daughter of Ireland.

Among those whom her bright nature and winsome ways captivated was one
Henry Gerald Fitzgerald, the natural son of her mother's brother, and
thus her cousin by blood, if not by law. Fitzgerald, who was many years
Mary's senior--indeed, at the time this story really opens, he was a
married man--had been brought up by Lady Kingsborough as one of her
children. He had been the companion of Mary's elder brothers, and Mary's
"big playfellow" when she was still nursing her dolls. He was, moreover,
a young man of remarkable physical gifts--tall, of splendid figure, and
strikingly handsome. It is thus small wonder that the child made a hero
of him long before she had emerged from short frocks. When she grew into
young womanhood Fitzgerald's attentions to her grew still more marked.
He was her constant companion on walks and rides, her partner at
dances--in fact, her shadow everywhere, until even her unsuspecting
parents began to grow alarmed.

One summer day in 1797, when the Kingsborough family were spending a few
weeks by the Thames-side, near Fitzgerald's home at Bishopsgate, the
blow fell. Miss King disappeared, leaving behind her a note to the
effect that she intended to drown herself in the Thames. Her family and
friends were distracted. The river was dragged, but no trace of the
missing girl was found. On the river bank, however, were discovered her
bonnet and shawl, mute witnesses to the fate that seemed to have
overtaken her. Her father alone refused to believe that his daughter had
ended her life tragically. He persisted in his search for her, and was
soon rewarded by a clue which threw a different and more ominous light
on her fate.

From a postboy he learned that a young lady, answering exactly to the
description of his daughter, had been driven, in the company of a
handsome man, to London, where they had walked off arm in arm together.
In London they had vanished; and advertisements and placards offering
large rewards failed to discover a trace of them. Then it was that Lord
Kingsborough's suspicions fixed themselves firmly on Fitzgerald. He and
no other must have been the scoundrel who had done this dastardly
deed--a shameful return for all the kindness lavished on him by the
family of the girl he had abducted.

When his lordship sought Fitzgerald out, and charged him with his
infamy, he was met with open surprise and honest indignation. So far
from being the guilty man, Fitzgerald avowed the utmost disgust at the
deed, and declared that he would know no rest until the girl had been
restored to her parents, and the miscreant properly punished. And from
this time no one appeared to be more zealous in the search for the
runaway than her abductor.

For weeks all their efforts to trace the fugitive proved of no avail,
until one day a girl of the lower-classes called on Lady Kingsborough,
to whom she told the following strange tale. She was, she said, servant
at a boarding-house in Kennington, to which, some weeks earlier (in
fact, at the very time of the disappearance), a gentleman had brought a
young lady who answered to the advertised description of the missing
girl, especially in her profusion of beautiful hair, which fell below
the knees. The gentleman, she continued, often visited the girl.

"It must be my daughter!" exclaimed Lady Kingsborough. "But who is the
gentleman? Pray describe him as fully as you can." "He is tall and
handsome----" began the girl. At that moment the door opened, and in
walked Fitzgerald himself. "Why," exclaimed the servant, as with
startled eyes she looked at the intruder, "that's the very gentleman who
visits the lady!"

For once Fitzgerald's coolness deserted him. At the damning words he
turned and dashed out of the room, thus confirming the worst suspicions
against him. The rage and indignation of the injured family were
boundless. Such an outrage could only be wiped out with blood, and
within an hour Colonel King, elder brother of the wronged girl, called
on Fitzgerald, with Major Wood as second, struck him on the cheek, and
demanded a meeting on the following morning.

The next day at dawn the duellists met near the Magazine in Hyde Park,
Colonel King bringing with him his second and a surgeon. Fitzgerald came
alone. He had been unable to find a friend to accompany him. Even the
surgeon, when requested, point blank refused to undertake the
dishonourable office of second to such a miscreant. The combatants were
placed ten yards apart, and, at the signal, two shots rang out. Neither
man was touched. Again and again shots were exchanged, and both men
remained uninjured.

After the fourth ineffectual exchange Major Wood tried to make peace
between the duellists. But Colonel King turned a deaf ear alike to his
second and to Fitzgerald, to whom he said: "You are a ---- villain, and
I will not hear a word you have to offer!" Once more the duellists took
up their positions, three more shots were exchanged without the least
effect, and, as Fitzgerald's ammunition was now exhausted, the
combatants left the ground, after making another appointment for the
next day. The next day, however, both were placed temporarily under lock
and key, to prevent a further breach of the peace.

Meanwhile, the unhappy girl had been rescued from the Kennington
lodging-house, and taken back to the family seat at Mitchelstown, where
at least she ought to be safe from further harm from the scoundrelly
Fitzgerald. The Kings, however, had not reckoned on the desperate,
vindictive nature of the man, who was now more resolute than ever to get
Mary into his power.

Disguising himself, he journeyed to Cork, carrying the fight into the
enemy's camp. He took up his quarters at the Mitchelstown Inn to develop
his plans for a second abduction. But in his scheming Fitzgerald had
literally "bargained without his host," who chanced to be an old trusted
retainer of the King family, and who from the first was not a little
suspicious of the strange guest, who kept so mysteriously indoors all
day and walked abroad at night.

No honest man would act in this secretive way, he thought. There had
been strange "goings-on" lately; and the least he could do was to
communicate his fears to Lord Kingsborough, in case his guest should be
"up to some mischief." His lordship, who was away from home, hurried
back to Mitchelstown, convinced, from the description, that the
suspected man was none other than Fitzgerald himself, and arrived at the
inn only to discover that the bird had already flown.

Luckily, it was no difficult matter to trace the fugitive in the wilds
of County Cork. The postboy who had driven him was easily found, and
from him it was learnt that the stranger had been put down at the
Kilworth Hotel. There was no time to be lost. Jumping on to his horse,
Lord Kingsborough accompanied by his son, the Colonel, raced as fast as
spurs and whip could take him to Kilworth, and demanded to see the
newly-arrived guest at the hotel. A waiter, despatched to the guest's
room, returned with the announcement that his door was locked, and that
he refused to see any one. But the pursuers had heard and recognised the
voice through the closed door. It was Fitzgerald himself.

Bursting with rage and indignation, father and son rushed up the stairs
and demanded that Fitzgerald should come out. When he refused with
oaths, they broke in the door--and found themselves face to face with a
brace of pistols. Before they could be used, however, Colonel King,
stooping suddenly, made a dash at Fitzgerald, closed with him, and was
at once engaged in a life and death struggle. Backward and forward the
combatants swayed, straining every muscle to bring their pistols into
play for the fatal shot. By an almost superhuman effort, Fitzgerald at
last wrested his right arm free. His pistol was pointed at the Colonel's
head. But before he could press the trigger, a shot rang out, and he
fell back dead, shot through the heart. Lord Kingsborough had killed his
daughter's betrayer to save his son's life.

The news of the tragedy flew throughout the country, in all the
distorted forms that such news assumes on passing from mouth to mouth.
But wherever it travelled--from the shebeens of Connemara to the
coffee-houses of Cheapside--it carried with it a wave of compassion for
the assassin and execration for his victim. As for Lord Kingsborough, he
confessed to a friend: "God knows, I don't know how I did it; but I wish
it had been done by some other hand than mine!"

As was inevitable, the Viscount and his son were arrested on a charge of
murder. Colonel King was tried at the Cork Assizes, and acquitted to a
salvo of deafening cheers, as there was no prosecution. For Lord
Kingsborough a different escape was reserved. Before he could be
brought to trial at Cork, his father, the Earl of Kingston, died, and
the Viscount became an Earl, with all the privileges of his
rank--including that of trial by his Peers.

In May 1798, a month after his son's acquittal, Lord Kingston's trial
took place in the House of Lords, with all the state and ceremony
appropriate to this exalted tribunal. Preceded by the Masters in
Chancery, the judges in scarlet and ermine, by the minor lords and a
small army of eldest sons, the Peers filed in long and stately
procession into the House, followed by the Lord High Steward, the Earl
of Clare, walking alone in solitary dignity.

Then began the trial, with all its quaint and dignified ceremonial; and
Robert, Earl of Kingston, pleaded "Not Guilty," and claimed to be tried
"by God and my Peers." But the trial, which drew thousands to
Westminster, was of short duration. To the demand that "all manner of
persons who will give evidence against the accused should come forth,"
no response was given. Not a solitary witness for the Crown appeared.
One by one the Peers pronounced their verdict, "Not Guilty, upon my
honour"; the Lord Steward broke his white staff; and amid a crowd of
congratulating friends, the Earl walked out a free man.

And what was the fate of Mary King, the cause, however innocent, of all
this tragedy? For her own sake, and for obvious reasons, it was
important that she should disappear for a time until the scandal had
subsided; and with this object she was sent, under an assumed name, to
join the family of a Welsh clergyman, not one of whom knew anything of
her story. Here, secluded from the world, and in a happy environment,
she soon recovered her old health and gaiety. She was young; and youth
is quick to find healing and forgetfulness. In the Welsh parsonage she
made herself beloved by her amiability and admired for her gifts of
mind.

Among the latter was a talent for story-telling, with which she beguiled
many a long, winter evening. On one such evening she told the story of
her late tragic experiences, disguising it only by giving fictitious
names to the characters. And she told the story with such power and
pathos that, at its conclusion, her auditors were reduced to tears for
the maiden and execrations for her betrayer.

Carried away by the excitement of the moment and the effect she had
produced, she exclaimed: "I, myself, am the person for whom you express
such sorrow." Then, horrified by her indiscretion, she added: "And now,
I suppose, you will drive me from your home." But such was not to be
Mary King's fate. The clergyman, who was a widower, had already almost
lost his heart to her charms; and her sufferings made his conquest
complete. A few weeks later the bells rang merrily out when Mary King
became the wife of her kindly host; and for many a long year there was
no one more beloved or happy in all Wales than the parson's wife, who
had thus romantically come through the storm into a haven of peace.



CHAPTER XI

A SIXTEENTH-CENTURY ELOPEMENT


In the latter days of Queen Elizabeth there was no merchant in England
better known or held in higher repute than Sir John Spencer, the
Rothschild or Rockefeller of his day, whose shrewdness and industry had
raised him to the Chief Magistrateship of the City of London.

From the day on which John Spencer fared from his country home to London
in quest of gold, Fortune seems to have smiled sweetly and consistently
on him. All his capital was robust health and a determination to
succeed; and so profitably did he turn it to account that within a few
years of emerging from his 'prentice days he was a master of men, with a
business of his own, and striding manfully towards his goal of wealth.
Everything he touched seemed to "turn to gold"; before he had reached
middle-age he was known far beyond the city-walls as "Rich Spencer"; and
by the time his Lord Mayoralty drew near he was able to instal himself
in a splendour more befitting a Prince than a citizen, in Crosby Hall,
which a century earlier Stow had described as "very large and
beautiful, and the highest at that time in London."

Indeed, Crosby Hall, ever since the worthy alderman, whose name it bore,
had raised its walls late in the fifteenth century, had been the most
stately mansion in the city, and had had a succession of famous tenants.
When Sir John Crosby left it for his splendid tomb in the Church of St
Helen's, it was for a time the palace of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, in
which, to quote Sir Thomas More, "he lodged himself, and little by
little all folks drew unto him, so that the Protector's Court was
crowded and King Henry's left desolate"; and it was in one of its
magnificent rooms that Richard was offered, and was pleased to accept,
the Crown of England.

Shakespeare, who lived in St Helen's in 1598, knew Crosby Hall well, and
has immortalised it in "Richard III."; Queen Elizabeth was feasted more
than once within its hospitable walls, and trod more than one measure
there with Raleigh. For seven years it was the home of Sir Thomas More
when he was Treasurer of the Exchequer; and, to his friend and successor
as tenant, More sent that affecting farewell letter, written in the
Tower with a piece of charcoal, the night before his execution. Such was
the historic and splendid home in which "Rich Spencer" dispensed
hospitality as Lord Mayor of London in the year 1594.

Not content with the lordliest mansion in London Sir John must also have
his house in the country, to which he could repair for periods of
leisure and rest from his money-making; and this he found in Canonbury
Tower, which he purchased, together with the manor, from Lord Wentworth.
It is said that Sir John had a bargain in his purchase; but, in the
event, he narrowly escaped paying for it with his life. It seems that
the news of "Rich Spencer's" wealth had travelled as far as the
Continent, and there tempted the cupidity of a notorious Dunkirk pirate,
who conceived the bold idea of kidnapping the merchant and holding him
to a heavy ransom. How the attempt was made, and how providentially it
failed is told by Papillon.

     "Rich men," says this chronicler, "are commonly the prey
     of thieves; for where store of gold and silver is, there
     spirits never leave haunting, for wheresoever the carcass
     is, there will eagles be gathered together. In Queen
     Elizabeth's days, a pirate of Dunkirk laid a plot with
     twelve of his mates to carry away Sir John Spencer,
     which, if he had done, £50,000 ransom had not redeemed
     him. He came over the sea in a shallop with twelve
     musketeers, and in the night came into Barking Creek, and
     left the shallop in the custody of six of his men; and
     with the other six came as far as Islington, and there
     hid themselves in ditches near the path in which Sir John
     came always to his house. But by the providence of God--I
     have this from a private record--Sir John, upon some
     extraordinary occasion, was forced to stay in London that
     night; otherwise they had taken him away; and they,
     fearing they should be discovered, in the night-time came
     to their shallop, and so came safe to Dunkirk again.
     This," adds Papillon, "was a desperate attempt."

But proud as Sir John Spencer was of his money-bags, he was prouder
still of his only child, Elizabeth, heiress to his vast wealth, who, as
she grew to womanhood, developed a beauty of face and figure and graces
of mind which pleased the merchant more than all his gold. So fair was
she that Queen Elizabeth, on one of her many progressions through the
city, attracted by her sparkling eyes and beautiful face at a Cheapside
window, stopped her carriage, summoned her to her presence, and, patting
her blushing cheeks, vowed that she had "the sweetest face I have seen
in my City of London."

That a maiden so dowered with charms and riches should have an army of
suitors in her train was inevitable. A lovely wife who would one day
inherit nearly a million of money was surely the most covetable prize in
England; and, it is said, the bewitching heiress had more than one
coronet laid at her feet before she had well left her school-books. But
to all these offers, dazzling enough to a merchant's daughter, Elizabeth
turned a deaf, if dainty ear. "It is not me they want," she would
laughingly say, "but my father's money. I shall live and die, like the
good Queen, my namesake, a maid."

And so has many another much-sought maiden said in the pride of an
untouched heart; but to them as to her the "Prince Charming," before
whom all her defences crumble, comes at last. In Elizabeth Spencer's
case, the conquering prince was William, second Lord Compton, one of the
handsomest, most accomplished and fascinating young men in London. In
person, as in position, he was alike unimpeachable--an ideal suitor to
win even the richest heiress in England; and it is little wonder that
the heart of the tradesman's daughter began to flutter, and her pretty
cheeks to flame when this gallant, whose conquests at the Royal Court
itself were notorious, began to pay marked homage to her charms.

That his reputation in the field of love was none of the best, that he
was as prodigal as he was poor, mattered little to her--probably such
defects made him all the more romantic in her eyes, and his attentions
all the more welcome. To Sir John, however, who was even more jealous of
his treasure than of all his gold, the young lord's reputation and,
above all, his poverty were fatal flaws in any would-be son-in-law of
his. As soon as he realised the danger he put every obstacle in the way
of his daughter's silly romance, even to the extent, it is said, of
locking her in her room, and closing his door in the face of her lover.
"If your reputation, my lord, were equal to your rank," he told him in
no ambiguous terms; "and if your fortune matched your family, I should
have naught to say against your suit. But as it is, I tell you frankly,
I would rather see my girl dead than wedded to such as you."

To his daughter's tears and pleading he was equally obdurate. She might
ask anything else of him and he would grant it gladly, though it were
half his wealth; but he would be unworthy to be her father if he
encouraged such folly as this. But Spencer's daughter, when she found
conciliatory measures of no avail, proved that she had a will as strong
as her father's; she told him to his face that with or without his
sanction she meant to be my Lady Compton. "I will marry him," she
declared with flushed face and panting breast, "even if you make me a
beggar." "And that, madam," the defied and furious father retorted, "I
can promise you I will do; for not a shilling of mine shall Lord
Compton's wife ever have."

For a time the artful Elizabeth feigned submission to Sir John's anger;
and he began to congratulate himself that this trouble at least,
whatever others might follow, was at an end. But how little he knew his
daughter, or her lover, the sequel proved.

One day, a few weeks after Sir John's fierce ultimatum, a young baker,
carrying a large flat-topped basket, called at his house, from which he
soon emerged, touching his cap to the merchant as he passed him in the
garden, and giving him a respectful "good day." "A civil young man," Sir
John said to himself, as he continued his promenade; "his face seems
somehow familiar to me." And well might it be familiar; for the baker
who gave him such a civil greeting was none other than the scapegrace,
Compton; and inside the basket, which he carried so lightly, was the
merchant's only daughter and heiress, whom her lover had taken this
daring and unconventional way of abducting under the very nose of her
parent.

It was not long before Sir John's disillusionment came. His daughter
was nowhere to be seen; and none of his domestics knew of her
whereabouts. Alarm gave place to suspicion, and suspicion to fury
against his child and against the young reprobate who, he felt sure, had
outwitted him. Messengers were despatched in all directions in chase of
the runaways; but the escapade had been much too cunningly planned to
fail in execution. Before Sir John set eyes on his daughter again--now
becomingly penitent--she had blossomed into the Baroness Compton, wife
of the last man her father would have desired to call his son-in-law.

To "Rich Spencer" the blow was crushing, humiliating. It was bad enough
to be defied and outwitted, to be made a fool of by his own daughter;
but to know that the treasure he had lost had fallen into such
undesirable hands was bitter beyond words. His home and his heart were
alike desolate; and, in his despair and wrath, he vowed that he would
never own his daughter as his child, and that not one penny of his
should ever go into the Compton coffers.

In this mood of sullen, unforgiving anger Sir John remained for a full
year; when to his surprise and delight he received a summons to attend,
at Whitehall, on the Queen, whose graciousness during his mayoralty he
remembered with pleasure and gratitude; and no man in England was
prouder or more pleased than he when, at the time appointed, he made his
bow to his Sovereign-Lady and kissed her hand.

"I have summoned you, Sir John," Her Majesty said, "to ask a great
favour of you. I do not often stoop, as you know, to beg a favour of
any man; nor should I now, did I not know that I have no more dutiful
subject than yourself, and that to ask of you is to receive. I am
interested in two young people who have had the misfortune to marry
against the wishes of the lady's father, and who have thus forfeited his
favour. And I wish you to give me and the youthful couple pleasure by
taking his place and standing sponsor to their first child."

To such a request made by his Sovereign Sir John could but give a
delighted consent. He would do much more than this, he vowed, to give
her a moment's gratification; and he not only attended the baptismal
ceremony, but on the suggestion of the Queen, who was also present,
allowed the child to bear his own Christian name. "More than this, your
Majesty," he declared, "as I have now no child of my own, I will gladly
adopt this infant as my heir."

"Your goodness of heart, Sir John," Her Majesty answered, beaming with
pleasure, "shall not go unrewarded; for the child you have now taken to
your heart and made inheritor of your wealth is indeed of your own flesh
and blood--the first-born son of your daughter, and my friend, Elizabeth
Compton."

Such was the dramatic plight into which "Rich Spencer's" loyalty and
generosity had led him. He had innocently pledged himself to adopt as
his heir, the son of the daughter he had disowned for ever. "And now,
Sir John," continued the Queen, "that you have conceded so much to make
me happy, will you not go one step farther and take your wilful and
penitent daughter to your heart again?" What could the poor merchant do
in such a predicament, when his Sovereign stooped to beg as a favour
what his lonely heart yearned to grant? Before he was many minutes older
he was clasping his child to his breast; and was even shaking hands with
her graceless husband.

       *       *       *       *       *

When, full of years, Sir John died in 1609, his obsequies were worthy of
his wealth and fame. He was followed to his grave in St Helen's Church
by a thousand mourners, clad in black gowns; and three hundred and
twenty poor men, we are told, "had each a basket given them, containing
a black gown, four pounds of beef, two loaves of bread, a little bottle
of wine, a candlestick, a pound of candles, two saucers, two spoons, a
black pudding, a pair of gloves, a dozen points, two red herrings, four
white herrings, six sprats and two eggs"--a quaint and lavish symbol of
his charity when alive.

So enormous was the fortune he left, that it is said Lord Compton, on
hearing its amount (£800,000) "became distracted, and so continued for a
considerable length of time, either through the vehement apprehension of
joy for such a plentiful succession, or of carefulness how to take up
and dispense of it."

That my Lady Compton, who a few years after her father's death blossomed
into a Countess, proved a devoted and dutiful wife to her lord there is
no reason to doubt; but that she had an adequate idea of her own
importance and a determination to have her share of her father's
money-bags is shown by the following letter, which is sufficiently
remarkable to bear quotation in full.

     "My sweet life,--Now that I have declared to you my mind
     for the settling of your estate, I suppose that it were
     best for me to bethink what allowance were best for me;
     for, considering what care I have ever had of your
     estate, and how respectfully I dealt with those which
     both by the laws of God, nature, and civil policy, wit,
     religion, government, and honesty, you, my dear, are
     bound to, I pray and beseech you to grant to me, your
     most kind and loving wife, the sum of one thousand pounds
     per an., quarterly to be paid.

     "Also, I would, besides that allowance for my apparel,
     have six hundred pounds added yearly for the performance
     of charitable works; these I would not neither be
     accountable for. Also, I will have three horses for my
     own saddle, that none shall dare to lend or borrow; none
     lend but I, none borrow but you. Also, I would have two
     gentlewomen, lest one should be sick; also, believe that
     it would be an indecent thing for a gentlewoman to stand
     mumping alone, when God has blest their Lord and Lady
     with a great estate. Also, when I ride hunting or
     hawking, or travel from one house to another, I will have
     them attending, so for each of those said women I must
     have a horse. Also, I will have six or eight gentlemen,
     and will have two coaches; one lined with velvet to
     myself, with four very fair horses; and a coach for my
     women lined with sweet cloth, orelaid with gold; the
     other with scarlet, and laced with watchet lace and
     silver, with four good horses. Also, I will have two
     coachmen, one for myself, the other for my women. Also,
     whenever I travel, I will be allowed not only carroches
     and spare horses for me and my women, but such carriages
     as shall be fitting for all, orderly, not pestering my
     things with my women's, nor theirs with chambermaids, nor
     theirs with washmaids.

     "Also, laundresses, when I travel; I will have them sent
     away with the carriages to see all safe, and the
     chambermaids shall go before with the grooms, that the
     chambers may be ready, sweet, and clean.

     "Also, for that it is indecent for me to croud myself
     with my gentleman-usher in my coach, I will have him have
     a convenient horse to attend me either in city or
     country; and I must have four footmen; and my desire is
     that you will defray the charges for me.

     "And for myself, besides my yerely allowance, I would
     have twenty gowns apparel, six of them excellent good
     ones, eight of them for the country, and six others of
     them excellent good ones. Also, I would have to put in my
     purse two thousand and two hundred pounds, and so you to
     pay my debts. Also, I would have eight thousand pounds to
     buy me jewels, and six thousand pounds for a pearl chain.

     "Now seeing I have been, and am, so reasonable unto you,
     I pray you to find my children apparel, and their
     schooling, and all my servants, men and women, their
     wages.

     "Also, I will have all my houses furnished, and all my
     lodging-chambers to be suited with all such furniture as
     is fit, as beds, stools, chairs, cushions, carpets,
     silver warming-pans, cupboards of plate, fair hangings,
     etc.; and so for my drawing-chambers in all houses, I
     will have them delicately furnished with hangings, couch,
     canopy, cushions, carpets, etc.

     "Also, my desire is that you would pay your debts, build
     up Ashby House and purchase lands and lend no money (as
     you love God) to the Lord Chamberlain, which would have
     all, perhaps your life from you; remember his son, my
     Lord Wildan, what entertainments he gave me when you were
     at the Tilt-yard. If you were dead, he said, he would be
     a husband, a father, a brother, and said he would marry
     me. I protest I grieve to see the poor man have so little
     wit and honesty to use his friend so vilely; also, he fed
     me with untruths concerning the Charter-House; but that
     is the least; he wished me much harm; you know how. God
     keep you and me from him, and such as he is.

     "So now I have declared to you my mind, what I would
     have, and what I would not have; I pray you, when you be
     Earl, to allow a thousand pounds more than now I desire
     and double allowance.--Your loving wife, ELIZABETH COMPTON."



CHAPTER XII

TRAGEDIES OF THE TURF


In the whole drama of the British Peerage there are few figures at once
so splendid in promise and opportunities, so pathetic in failure and so
tragic in their exit as that of the fourth and last Marquess of
Hastings. Seldom has man been born to a greater heritage; scarcely ever
has he flung away more prodigally the choicest gifts of fortune.

When Henry Weysford Charles Plantagenet was born one July day in 1842 it
was a very fair world on which he opened his eyes, a world in which rank
and wealth and exceptional personal gifts should have ensured for him a
leading _rôle_. He was still in the cradle when his father, the second
lord, died; and he was barely nine years old when the death of his elder
brother made the school-boy a full-blown Marquess, the inheritor of vast
estates and a princely rent-roll.

But Fate, which had showered such gifts on the young lord had, as so
often happens, marred them all by the curse of heredity. The taint of
gambling was in the boy's blood. His mother had won an unenviable
reputation throughout Europe by her passion for gambling; indeed there
were few gaming-tables in Europe at which the "jolly fast Marchioness"
was not a familiar and notorious figure. And his father, the Marquess,
was as devoted to horses and turf-gambling as his wife to her cards and
roulette. That the child of such parents should inherit their depraved
tastes is not to be marvelled at. And it was not long before they
manifested themselves in a dangerous form.

While he was still an undergraduate at Oxford the young Marquess who,
from childhood, could not bear the sight of a book when there was a dog
or a horse to claim his attention, began that career on the turf which
was to be as tragic in its end as it was dazzling in its zenith. He
bought from a Mr Henry Padwick for £13,500 a horse called Kangaroo,
which was not worth the cost of his keep. What a fraudulent animal he
was is proved by the fact that he never won a penny for his purchaser,
and ended his career, as he ought to have begun it, between the shafts
of a hansom.

But, so far from being disheartened by this initial experience, Lord
Hastings had barely thrown aside his cap and gown before he was owner of
half a hundred race-horses, with John Day as trainer; and was fully
embarked on his turf-career. From the very first year of his enlarged
venture success smiled on him. Ackworth won the Cambridgeshire for him,
in 1864; the Duke captured the Goodwood Cup two years later; and the
Earl carried off the Grand Prix de Paris. In the four years, 1864 to
1867 the Marquess won over £60,000 in stakes alone, while his winnings
in bets were larger still. So excellent a judge of a horse was he that
he only spoke the truth when he boasted, "I could easily make £30,000 a
year by backing other men's horses." Indeed on one race, Lecturer's
Cesarewitch, he cleared £75,000. Such was the brilliant start of a
racing-career which was to close so soon in failure and disgrace.

In the world of the Turf the youthful Marquess was hailed as a new
deity. At Epsom, Newmarket, and a dozen other race-courses his
appearance created as much sensation as that of the Prince of Wales
himself; he was greeted everywhere with cheers and a salvo of doffed
hats; and the way in which he scattered his smiles and his bets was
regal in its prodigality.

     "As he canters on to the course," we are told, "he
     slackens speed as he passes through the line of
     carriages, from which come shrill, plaintive cries, 'Dear
     Lord Hastings, do come here for one second,' and others
     to like purpose. Conveniently deaf to the voice of the
     charmers, he rides straight into the horseman's circle,
     and takes up his position on the heavy-betting side.
     'They're laying odds on yours, my lord,' exclaims a
     bookmaker. 'What odds?' blandly asks the owner. 'Well, my
     lord, I'll take you six monkeys to four!' 'Put it down,'
     is the brief response. 'And me, three hundred to two--and
     me--and me!' clamour a score of pencillers, who come
     clustering up. 'Done with you, and you, and you'--the
     bets are booked as freely as offered. 'And now, my lord,
     if you've a mind for a bit more, I'll take you
     thirty-five hundred to two thousand.' 'And so you shall!'
     is the cheery answer, as the backer expands under the
     genial influence of the biggest bet of the day. Then,
     with their seventies to forties, and seven ponies to
     four, the smaller fry are duly enregistered, and the
     Marquess wheels his hack, his escort gathers round him,
     and away they dash."

Such was the splendid, reckless fashion in which the Marquess would
fling about his wagers until he frequently stood to win or lose £50,000
on a single race. If he had always kept his head under the intoxication
of this wild gambling he might perhaps have made another fortune equal
to that he had inherited. But his wagering was as erratic as himself,
and his gains were punctuated by heavy losses which began to make
inroads on even his enormous resources.

The first crushing blow fell on that memorable day when Hermit struggled
through a blinding snowstorm first past the post in the Derby of 1867,
to the open-mouthed amazement of every looker on; for Mr Chaplin's colt
had been considered so hopeless that odds of forty to one were freely
laid against him.

Hermit's sensational victory was the climax of a singular and romantic
story. Three years earlier Lady Florence Paget, daughter of the second
Marquess of Anglesey, had been the affianced bride of Mr Henry Chaplin,
who was passionately devoted to her, little dreaming that another had
stolen her heart from him. One day Lady Florence, with Mr Chaplin for
escort, drove to Messrs Swan & Edgar's, ostensibly on shopping bent; but
the shopping was merely a cloak to another and treacherous design. She
entered the shop, slipped out through the back entrance where Lord
Hastings was awaiting her, jumped into his cab, and was whirled away
while her _fiancé_ patiently and unsuspectingly awaited her return at
the opposite side of the building.

When Mr Chaplin realised the dastardly trick that had been played on
him, he bore the blow to his pride and affection right bravely. No trace
of resentment was ever shown to the world; but he would have been less
than a man if he had not cherished thoughts of retaliation. His
opportunity came when Hermit was offered for sale by auction, and Lord
Hastings was among the keenest bidders for the son of Newminster and
Eclipse. At any cost Mr Chaplin determined to baffle his betrayer for
once--and he succeeded; for, when the Marquess stopped short at 950
guineas, Mr Chaplin secured the colt by a further bid of 50 guineas.

At the time he little realised--nor did he much care--what a bargain he
had got; for Hermit not only sired two Derby winners in Shotover and St
Blaise, before he died his sons and daughters had won among them
£300,000 in stake-money alone. Not much later came that ill-starred
Derby, which none who saw it can ever forget. Lord Hastings, angry at
having lost the horse to his rival, laid the long odds against Hermit
so recklessly that he stood to lose a large fortune by his success; and
Hermit's last few gallant strides cost him over £100,000.

It was a staggering blow, under which the most stoical man with the
longest purse might well have reeled; but the Marquess met it with a
smile of indifference; and when, a few minutes later, he drove off the
course, with his friends, in a barouche and four to dine at Richmond, he
seemed the gayest of the company. A few days before his death, recalling
this tragic moment in his life, he said proudly, "Hermit fairly broke my
heart. But I didn't show it, did I?"

That his smiling face must have masked a very heavy heart, it scarcely
needed his own confession to prove. Rich as he still was, the loss of
more than £100,000 was a very serious matter. Indeed we know that he was
only able to meet his liabilities by parting with his magnificent estate
of Loudoun in Scotland, which realised £300,000. When the doors of
Tattersall's opened on the morning of settling-day, the first to present
themselves were his agents, who handed over £103,000 in settlement of
all claims against the Marquess. Mr Chaplin had scored, and scored
heavily; but at least it should never be said that his defeated rival
had shrunk from paying the last ounce of the penalty the moment it was
due.

When next his lordship appeared on a race-course--it was at Ascot, a few
months later--he was greeted with thunders of cheers from the
bookmakers, a tribute to his pluck and sportsmanship, which must have
taken away some of the sting of defeat. But fate which had dealt this
merciless blow to the Marquess was in no mood to spare him further
disaster. The second stroke fell within five months of the first--at the
Newmarket second October Meeting. The favourite for the Middle Park
Plate was Lord Hastings' filly, Elizabeth, whose chances he fancied so
much that he backed her heavily, confident that he would recover a great
part of his Derby losses.

When Elizabeth, instead of running away from her rivals, passed the
winning-post a bad fifth, even his iron nerve failed him for once. He
uttered no word; but he grew pale as death, and staggered as if about to
fall. A moment later, however, he had pulled himself together and was
helping Lady Aylesbury to count her small losses. "Tell me how I stand,"
asked her ladyship, as she placed her betting-book in his hand. The
Marquess made the necessary calculation; and with a smile of sympathy,
answered: "You have lost £23." And he, who could thus calmly calculate
so trifling a loss, was £50,000 poorer by his filly's failure to win the
Plate!

He knew well that he was a ruined man--worse than this, unutterably
galling to his proud spirit--he knew that he was a disgraced man. His
vast fortune had crumbled away until he had not £50,000 in the world to
pay this last debt of honour. And yet he continued to smile in the face
of ruin, carrying through this crowning disaster the brave heart of an
English gentleman and a sportsman.

He sold the last of his remaining acres, his hunters and hounds, and
all his personal belongings; and all the money he could raise from the
wreckage of his fortune was a pitiful £10,000. His last sovereign was
gone, and he was £40,000 in debt, without a hope of paying it. When he
next appeared on a race-course the very men who had cheered him to the
echo at Ascot greeted him with jeers and angry shouts at Epsom. The hero
of the Turf, the idol of the Ring, was that blackest of black sheep, a
defaulter!

And not only was he thus branded as a defaulter. Strange stories were
being circulated to his further discredit as a sportsman. The running of
Lady Elizabeth in one race was, it was said, more than open to
suspicion. The Earl, who was considered a certainty for the Derby, was
unaccountably scratched on the very evening before the race, though the
Marquess stood to win £35,000 by her, and did not hedge the stake-money.

The public indignation at these discreditable incidents found a vent in
the columns of the _Times_; and although Lord Hastings denied that there
was "one single circumstance mentioned as regards the two horses,
correctly stated," and offered a frank explanation in both cases, the
public refused to be appeased, and the stigma remained.

So overwhelmed was he by this combination of assaults on his fortune and
his good name that his health--undermined no doubt by excesses--broke
down. He spent the summer months of 1868 in his yacht, cruising among
the northern seas in search of health; but no sea-breezes could bring
back colour to his cheeks or hope to his heart. He was a broken man
before he had reached his prime, and he realised that his sun was near
its setting. When he returned to England no one who saw him could doubt
that the end was at hand. But his ruling passion remained strong to the
last. He was advised by his friends to stay away from the Doncaster
races; but he would go, though he could only with difficulty hobble on
crutches.

The last pathetic glimpse the world caught of this former idol of the
Turf was as, from a basket-carriage, with pale, haggard face and
straining eyes, he watched Athena, a beautiful mare which had once been
his, win a race. As she was being led to the weighing-house he struggled
from his carriage, hobbled on his crutches up to the beautiful animal,
and lovingly patted her glossy neck.

Such was the last appearance of the ill-fated Marquess on a scene of his
former triumphs. For a few months longer he made a gallant fight for
life. He even contemplated another voyage, and a winter in Egypt; but,
almost before winter had set in, on the 11th November 1868, he gave up
the struggle and drew his last breath--"leaving neither heir to his
honours nor the smallest vestige of his ruined fortune; but leaving, in
spite of his final failure, the memory of a true sportsman, and of a
perfect gentleman who was no man's enemy but his own."

       *       *       *       *       *

Before the Marquess of Hastings had mounted his first pony another
meteor of the Turf, equally dazzling, had flashed across the sky, and
been merged in a darkness even more tragic than his own.


Lord William George Frederick Cavendish Bentinck, commonly known and
loved as "Lord George," who was cradled at Welbeck in February 1802, was
the second son of the fourth Duke of Portland, a keen sportsman who won
the Derby of 1809 with Teresias. The boy thus had the love of sport in
his veins; and a passion for racing was the dominant note in his too
brief life from the day, in 1833, when he started a small stud of his
own, to that fatal day on which, piqued by his repeated failure to win
the coveted "blue riband," he sold every horse in his stables at a word,
and abandoned the Turf in despair.

     "Lord George Bentinck," wrote Thormanby, a few years ago,
     "was the idol of the sportsmen of his own day. The
     commanding personality of the man threw a spell over all
     with whom he was brought into contact; they were
     half-fascinated, half-awed--judgment and criticism
     surrendered to admiration. There are still veterans left,
     like old John Kent, who talk with bated breath of Lord
     George as a superior being, a god-like man, a king of
     men."

From the day he joined the Army as a cornet of Hussars in 1819, to the
tragic close of his life, Lord George always cut a conspicuous and
brilliant figure in the world. He was the spoilt child of Fortune; and,
like all such spoilt children, was constantly getting into hot
water--and out of it again. As a subaltern, for instance, he showed such
little respect for his seniors that, one day on parade, a Captain Kerr
exclaimed aloud: "If you don't make this young gentleman behave himself,
Colonel, I will." Whereupon the insubordinate sub. retorted: "Captain
Kerr ventures to say on parade that which he dares not repeat off."

Such was the youth and such the man--gay, debonair, and popular to the
highest degree, but always uncontrollable and reckless. As a sportsman
he was the chief of popular heroes, his appearance on a race-course
being the invariable signal for an ovation, such as the King might have
envied. And, indeed, his Turf transactions were all conducted on a scale
of truly regal magnificence. Though he was never by any means rich, he
often had as many as sixty horses in training, while his racing stud
numbered a hundred. He kept three stud farms going, and his
out-of-pocket expenses ran to £50,000 and more a year. To provide the
money for such prodigality he wagered enormous sums. For the Derby of
1843, for instance, he stood to win £150,000 on his horse Gaper, and
actually pocketed £30,000, though Gaper was not even placed. In 1845 his
net winnings on bets reached £100,000; and he thought nothing of staking
his entire year's private income on a single race.

One by one all the great prizes of the Turf fell to him--some many
times--but the only prize he ever cared a brass farthing for, the Derby,
always eluded his grasp, though again and again it seemed a certainty.
So deep at last became his disgust and mortification at the unkindness
of Fate in withholding the only boon he coveted that, in a moment of
pique, he decided to sell his stud and leave the turf for ever.

"I'll sell you the lot," he impulsively said to George Payne at
Goodwood, "from Bay Middleton to little Kitchener (his famous jockey),
for £100,000. Yes or no?" Payne offered him £300 to have a few hours to
think the offer over, and handed the sum over at breakfast the next
morning. No sooner had the forfeit been paid than Mr Mostyn, who was
sitting at the same table, looked up quietly and said: "I'll take the
lot, Bentinck, at £10,000, and will give you a cheque before you go on
the course." "If you please," was Lord George's placid answer; and thus
ended one of the most brilliant Turf careers on record.

And now for the irony of Fate! Among the stud thus sold, in a fit of
pique, for "an old song" was Surplice, the winner of the next year's
Derby and St Leger. Lord George had actually had the great prize in his
hand and had let it go!

How keenly he felt the blow may be gathered from the following passage
in Lord Beaconsfield's biography:

     "A few days before--it was the day after the Derby, May
     25, 1848--the writer met Lord George Bentinck in the
     library of the House of Commons. He was standing before
     the bookshelves with a volume in his hand, and his
     countenance was greatly disturbed. His resolution in
     favour of the Colonial interest, after all his labours,
     had been negatived by the Committee on the 22nd; and on
     the 24th, his horse, Surplice, whom he had parted with
     among the rest of the stud, had won that paramount and
     Olympic stake, to gain which had been the object of his
     life. He had nothing to console him, and nothing to
     sustain him, except his pride. Even that deserted him
     before a heart, which he knew at least could yield him
     sympathy. He gave a sort of superb groan.

     "'All my life I have been trying for this, and for what
     have I sacrificed it?' he murmured. It was in vain to
     offer solace.

     "'You do not know what the Derby is,' he moaned.

     "'Yes, I do; it is the Blue Riband of the Turf.'

     "'It is the Blue Riband of the Turf,' he slowly repeated
     to himself; and, sitting down at a table, buried himself
     in a folio of statistics."

Just a few months later, on 21st September 1848, his body was found
lying, cold and stiff, in a meadow about a mile from Welbeck. That very
morning he had risen full of health and spirits, and at four o'clock in
the afternoon had set out to walk across country to Thoresby, Lord
Manvers' seat, where he was to spend a couple of days. He had sent on
his valet by road in advance; but the night fell, and Lord George never
made his appearance. A search with lanterns was instituted, and about
midnight his body was discovered lying face downwards close to one of
the deer-park gates. He had been dead for some hours.

What was the cause of his mysterious death? The coroner's jury appear
to have found no difficulty in coming to a decision. Their verdict was,
"Died by the visitation of God--to wit, a spasm of the heart." Thus
vanished from the world one of its most brilliant and picturesque
ornaments, in the very prime of his life and his powers (he was only
forty-six), and when he seemed assured of a political future even more
dazzling than his Turf fame.

But there were many, among the thousands who deplored the tragic eclipse
of such a promising life, who were by no means satisfied with the vague
verdict of the inquest. Lord George had always been a man of remarkable
vigour and health, and never more so than on the day of his death. Was
it at all likely that such a man would drop dead during a quiet and
unexciting stroll across country? Later years, however, have brought new
facts to light which suggest a very different explanation of this
tragedy. "The hand of God" it was, no doubt, which struck the fatal
blow--it always must be; but was there no other agency, and that a human
one? Could it not be the hand of a brother? Some have said it was; and
although the story is involved in obscurity and may be open to grave
doubt (indeed it has been more than once flatly contradicted) there can,
perhaps, be no harm in including it in this volume. This is the story as
it has been told.

Though Lord George Bentinck was the handsomest man, and one of the most
eligible _partis_ of his day he never married; yet, no doubt, he had
many an "affair of the heart." But not one of all the high-born ladies,
who would have turned their backs on coronets to become "Lady George,"
could in his eyes compare with Annie May Berkelay, a lovely and
penniless girl, who could not even boast a "respectable" parentage.

Miss Berkeley was, so it is said, a child of that most romantic union
between the Earl of Berkeley and pretty Mary Cole, the butcher's
daughter. This girl he professed to have made his countess shortly after
in the parish church of Berkeley. That his lordship legally married his
low-born bride at Lambeth eleven years later is beyond doubt, but that
alleged first secret marriage was more than open to suspicion. There
seems little doubt that the entry the in Berkeley church register was a
forgery; and that, not until Mary Cole had borne several children to the
Earl, did she become legally his wife by the valid knot tied at Lambeth.
It was, in fact, decided by the House of Peers that the Berkeley
marriage was not proven, and thus seven of the children were
illegitimate.

It was one of Lord Berkeley's children thus branded to the world who is
said to have won the heart and the homage of Lord George Bentinck. And
little wonder; for Annie May Berkeley had inherited more than her
mother's beauty of face and of figure, with the patrician air and
refinement which came from generations of noble ancestors.

But handsome Lord George was only one of many wooers whom her charms had
enslaved. There were others equally ardent, if less favoured; and among
them none other than the Marquess of Titchfield, Lord George's elder
brother, and the future "eccentric Duke" of Portland, often referred to
as "The Wizard of Welbeck." The Marquess and his younger brother had
never been on the best of terms. They had little in common; and when
they found themselves rival suitors for the smiles of the same maiden
this incompatibility gave place to a bitter estrangement.

It was not, however, until Lord George discovered that the Marquess was
more intimate with his ladylove than he should be, that their mutual
relations became strained to a dangerous degree. It is said that the
brothers quarrelled fiercely whenever they met, and that Lord George,
whose temper was violent, frequently struck his brother, who was no
physical match for him. One day, so the story goes, their constant
squabbles reached a climax. After a fiercer quarrel than usual Lord
George struck his brother and rival repeatedly, until the latter, roused
to fury, struck back and landed a heavy blow on his brother's chest,
over the heart. Lord George's heart was diseased, and the blow proved
fatal.

This, then, is said to be the true explanation of the tragedy of that
September day in 1848; of that "spasm of the heart" which, according to
the verdict of the coroner's jury, was the cause of Lord George
Bentinck's death. If this story is true, much that has been so long
mysterious becomes clear. Lord George's sudden and tragic death is
explained; as also the fact that it was from this period that the Duke
of Portland's moroseness and shunning of the world became so marked as
to be scarcely distinguishable from insanity. If the death of a brother,
however provoked and accidental, had been on his conscience, what could
be more natural than that the fratricide should thus shut himself from
the world in sorrow and remorse?



CHAPTER XIII

THE WICKED BARON


The British Peerage, like most other human flocks, has had many black
sheep within its fold; but few of them have been blacker than Charles,
fifth Baron Mohun of Okehampton, who shocked the world by his violence
and licentiousness a couple of centuries ago.

Charles Mohun had in his veins the blood of centuries of gallant men and
fair women, from Sir William de Mohun, who fought so bravely for the
Conqueror on the field of Hastings, to his father, the fourth Lord of
Okehampton, who took to wife a daughter of the first Earl of Anglesey, a
man who won fame in his day by his statesmanship and his pen. But there
was also in his veins a black strain which branded the Mohun 'scutcheon
with the stigma of eternal shame.

From his early youth he exhibited an unbridled temper and a passion for
low pursuits. In an age when loose morals and violence were winked at,
he soon won an unenviable notoriety by his excesses in both. Wine and
women, gambling and duelling, were the breath of life to him, and in
each indulgence he was infamously supreme. He was twice arraigned for
murder, and in the prime of life he died a murderer.

Such was the fifth Lord Mohun when our story opens, towards the close of
his shameless career; and in the first of the disgraceful episodes that
marked its close, as in so many others of his career, a beautiful woman
figures prominently--none other than the celebrated Mrs Bracegirdle, the
most fascinating actress of her day, whose witcheries made a lover of
every man who came under the spell of her charms.

Her army of lovers ranged from Congreve and Rowe, who wrote inspired and
passionate plays for her, to the Dukes of Dorset and Devonshire and Lord
Lovelace (among a hundred other titled gallants), who were ready to shed
their last drop of blood in defence of her fair fame; though each sought
in vain to besmirch it in his own person. But her virtue was reputed to
be "as impregnable as the rock of Gibraltar." Dr Doran describes her as
"that Diana of the stage, before whom Congreve and Lord Lovelace, at the
head of a troop of bodkined fops, worshipped in vain"; although, with
all her unassailable propriety, she did not escape outspoken suspicions
of being Congreve's mistress all the time.

Describing her charms, another chronicler says:

     "She was of a lovely height, with dark brown hair and
     eyebrows, black sparkling eyes, and a fresh blushing
     complexion; and, whenever she exerted herself, had an
     involuntary flushing in her breast, neck, and face."

Such, in the cold medium of print, was Mrs Bracegirdle when she became
the central figure of a great tragedy, the horrors of which have sent a
thrill down to our own time.

Among Mrs Bracegirdle's many baffled wooers was Captain Richard Hill, a
boon companion of Charles, Lord Mohun, and a man of unrestrained
passion. To all the Captain's coarse advances the actress turned a
contemptuous shoulder, until in his rage he swore that at any cost she
should be his. There was, he was convinced, only one real obstacle to
the success of his suit, Jack Montford, the handsomest actor of his day,
to whom Mrs Bracegirdle was said to be very kind; and the furious
Captain vowed: "I am resolved to have the blood of Montford, and to
carry off his charmer by force if need be."

Captain Hill made no concealment of his purpose. He mouthed his threats
aloud at his favourite tavern in Covent Garden and elsewhere; and he
found a willing helper in Lord Mohun, who was always ripe for any
dastardly scheme; and, with Mohun's help, he carefully prepared his
plans for both murder and abduction, for on both his heart was set.

By lavish bribes the two conspirators engaged half a dozen soldiers to
assist in their scheme; they arranged that a coach with two horses, and
four others in reserve, should be in waiting at nine o'clock in Drury
Lane, close to the theatre at which Mrs Bracegirdle made her appearance
nightly; and, equipped with a formidable armoury of swords, daggers, and
pistols, they repaired at the appointed time to the scene of action.

For a full hour they waited, watching with lynx eyes the door from
which the fair actress would emerge; but, as luck would have it, she was
not playing that night. She was, in fact, at the moment supping at the
house of a friend, Mrs Page, in Princes Street, close by; and they were
on the point of proceeding there when the lady made her appearance, with
her mother as companion and Mr Page and her brother for escort, on her
way home to her lodgings in Howard Street across the Strand.

At sight of their fair prey two of the soldiers rushed forward, snatched
Mrs Bracegirdle from her mother's arm and dragged her, screaming and
resisting, towards the coach in which Lord Mohun was sitting by his
cases of pistols, and in which it was intended to carry her off to
Totteridge. When her escort rushed to her rescue, Hill struck at the old
lady with his sword; but the cries and sounds of scuffling attracted
such a crowd that a change of plans became necessary.

With consummate cleverness the adroit Captain now took each of the
ladies by the arm and coolly conducted them himself out of the crowd to
their lodgings, Mohun and the soldiers following ignominiously behind.
Upon reaching Howard Street, the ladies safely indoors, the soldiers
were dismissed, and Mohun and his ally, with drawn swords, paced up and
down the street, vowing vengeance on the unhappy Montford, whom they
considered the cause of all their troubles, and who, sooner or later,
must pass through Howard Street on his way to his house in Norfolk
Street adjoining.

For two long hours they kept their bloodthirsty vigil, feeding the
flames of hate with copious draughts of wine, which they procured from
a neighbouring tavern. The lady had escaped them, but they would at
least make sure of her lover, the handsome actor, who on the stroke of
midnight turned the corner into Howard Street.

Montford had, it appears, already heard of the frustrated attempt to
carry off Mrs Bracegirdle, and that Mohun and Hill were keeping watch
outside her lodgings; so that he was not unprepared for an unpleasant
scene. Picture his amazement then when Lord Mohun advanced smilingly to
meet him, and embraced him with a great show of affection. "I am not
prepared for such cordiality," the actor said coldly, as he disengaged
himself from the unwelcome embrace. "I should prefer to learn how you
justify Captain Hill's abominable rudeness to a lady, or keeping company
with such a scoundrel."

At this moment the Captain, inflamed with drink, strolled insolently up
to the pair, and, giving Montford a resounding box on the ear,
exclaimed, "Here I am to justify myself. Draw, fellow!" But before
Montford had time to recover from the blow and to unsheath his sword,
Hill ran him through the body. Without a groan the wounded man sank to
the ground. A cry of "Murder" arose; the watchmen rushed to the scene.
But before they arrived Hill had made his escape; while Mohun, who at
least had the courage of his race, submitted himself to arrest. His
first question to the watchmen was, "Has Hill escaped?" And when he was
assured that he had, he added: "I am glad of it! I should not care if I
were hanged for him."

Such was the story which sent a thrill of horror through London on the
day following the tragedy, and which aroused a fury of anger against the
cowardly assassins; for not only was Jack Montford a popular idol who
had captured all hearts with his handsome face and figure, his clever
acting and his unaffected personal charm, but his wife, who had been
thus tragically widowed, was one of the most gifted and delightful women
who ever adorned the stage.

It was thus inevitable that Lord Mohun's trial by his Peers, which was
opened on the 31st of January 1693, in Westminster Hall, and which was
invested with all the pomp and ceremonial befitting such an occasion,
should attract crowds of excited spectators, curious to see the
principal actors in this sensational drama, and burning to see justice
done to the noble instigator of the murder. The pent-up excitement
culminated when Mrs Bracegirdle, looking more beautiful than ever in
spite of her pallor and evidences of suffering, entered the witness-box;
and every word of the story she told was listened to in a silence that
was painful in its intensity.

In answer to the Attorney-General's request that she should "give my
lord an account of the whole of your knowledge of the attempt that was
made upon you in Drury Lane, and what followed upon it," she said:

     "'My lord, I was in Prince's Street at supper at Mr
     Page's, and at ten o'clock at night Mr Page went home
     with me; and, coming down Drury Lane there stood a coach
     by my Lord Craven's door, and the hood of the coach was
     drawn, and a great many men stood by it. Just as I came
     to the place where the coach stood, two soldiers came and
     pushed me from Mr Page, and four or five men came up to
     them, and they knocked my mother down almost, for my
     mother and my brother were with me.

     "'My mother recovered and came and hung about my neck, so
     that they could not get me into the coach, and Mr Page
     went to call company to rescue me. Then Mr Hill came with
     his drawn sword and struck at Mr Page and my mother; and
     when they could not get me into the coach because company
     came up, he said he would see me home, and he had me by
     one hand and my mother by the other. And when we came
     home he pulled Mr Page by the sleeve and said, "Sir, I
     would speak with you."'

     "ATTORNEY-GENERAL:--'Pray, Mrs Bracegirdle, did you see
     anybody in the coach when they pulled you to it?'

     "MRS BRACEGIRDLE:--'Yes, my Lord Mohun was in the coach;
     and when they pulled me to the coach I saw my Lord Mohun
     in it. As they led me along Drury Lane, my Lord Mohun
     came out of the coach and followed us, and all the
     soldiers followed them; but they were dismissed, and, as
     I said, when we came to our lodgings, Mr Hill pulled Mr
     Page by the sleeve and said he would speak with him.
     Saith Mr Page, "Mr Hill, another time will do; to-morrow
     will serve." With that, when I was within doors, Mr Page
     was pulled into the house, and Mr Hill walked up and down
     the street with his sword drawn. He had his sword drawn
     when he came alone with me.'

     "ATTORNEY-GENERAL:--'Did you observe him to say anything
     whilst he was with you?'

     "MRS BRACEGIRDLE:--'As I was going down the hill he said,
     as he held me, that he would be revenged, but he did not
     say on whom. When I was in the house several persons went
     to the door, and afterwards Mrs Browne (my landlady),
     went to the door, and spoke to them, and asked them what
     they stayed and waited there for. At last they said they
     stayed to be revenged of Mr Montford; and then Mrs Browne
     came in to me and told me of it.'

     "ATTORNEY-GENERAL:--'Were my Lord Mohun and Mr Hill both
     together when that was said, that they stayed to be
     revenged of Mr Montford?'

     "MRS BRACEGIRDLE:--'Yes, they were. And when Mrs Browne
     came in and told me, I sent my brother and my maid and
     all the people we could out of the house to Mrs Montford
     to desire her to send, if she knew where her husband was,
     to tell him of it; and she did. And when they came
     indoors again I went to the door, and the doors were
     shut, and I listened to hear if they were there still;
     and my Lord Mohun and Mr Hill were walking up and down
     the street. By-and-bye the watch came up to them, and
     when the watch came they said, "Gentlemen, why do you
     walk with your swords drawn?" Says my Lord Mohun, "I am a
     peer of England--touch me if you dare!" Then the watch
     left them, and they went away; and a little after there
     was a cry of "murder." And that is all I know, my lord.'

When at the close of the case Lord Mohun was asked if he had anything to
say in his defence, he answered:

     "My lords, I hope it will be no disadvantage to me my not
     summing up my evidence like a lawyer. I think I have
     made it plainly appear that there never was any formal
     quarrel or malice between Mr Montford and me. I have also
     made appear the reason why we stayed so long in the
     street, which was for Mr Hill to speak with Mrs
     Bracegirdle and ask her pardon, and I stayed with him as
     my friend. So plainly appeareth I had no hand in killing
     Mr Montford, and upon the confidence of my own innocency
     I surrendered myself to this honourable house, where I
     know I shall have all the justice in the world."

The trial, which lasted five days, resulted in a verdict of
acquittal--sixty-nine peers voting Lord Mohun "Not Guilty," and fourteen
finding him "Guilty."

One would have thought that such a severe lesson and narrow escape would
have given Mohun pause in his career of vice and crime. On the contrary,
it seems merely to have whetted his appetite for similar adventures. He
plunged into still deeper dissipation; one mad revel succeeded another;
duel followed duel, all without provocation on any part but his own. He
killed in cold blood two more men who had innocently provoked his
enmity, "as if increase of appetite did grow by that it fed on," until
he rightly became the most dreaded and hated man in all England, a man
to whom a glance, a gesture, or a harmless word might mean death.

But his evil days were drawing to their end; and appropriately he died
in a welter of innocent blood. When the Duke of Hamilton was appointed
Ambassador to the French Court, the Whigs were so alarmed by his known
partiality for the Pretender that the more unscrupulous of them decided
that, at any cost, he must be got rid of. What simpler plan could there
be than by provoking him to a duel; what fitter tool than the
fire-eating, bloodthirsty Mohun, the most skilled swordsman of his day?

Mohun jumped at the vile suggestion, and lost no time in seeking the
Duke and insulting him in public. His Grace, however, who knew the man's
reputation only too well, treated the insult with the silence and
contempt it deserved; whereupon Mohun, roused to fury by this studied
slight, changed his _rôle_ to that of challenger. Thrice he sent his
second, one Major-General Macartney, almost as big a scoundrel as
himself, to the Duke's house in St James's Square; the fourth time a
meeting was arranged for the following morning at the Ring, in Hyde
Park, a favourite duelling-ground of the time. The intervening night
hours Mohun and his satellite spent in debauchery in a low house of
pleasure.

In the cold, grey dawn of the following morning--the morning of 15th
November 1712--the principals and seconds appeared almost simultaneously
at the Ring--in the daytime the haunt of beauty and fashion, in the
early morning hours a desolate part of the Park--and the preliminaries
were quickly arranged. Turning to Macartney, the Duke said: "I am well
assured, sir, that all this is by your contrivance, and therefore you
shall have your share in the dance; my friend here, Colonel Hamilton,
will entertain you." "I wish for no better partner," Macartney replied;
"the Colonel may command me."

A few moments later the double fight began with infinite fury. Swords
flashed and clattered; lunge and parry, parry and lunge followed in
lightning succession; the laboured breaths went up in gusts of steam on
the morning air. There was murder in two pairs of eyes, a resolve as
grim as death itself in the stern set faces of their opponents. Soon the
blood began to spurt and ooze from a dozen wounds; the Duke was wounded
in both legs; his adversary in the groin and arm. Faces, swords, the
very ground, became crimson. Colonel Hamilton had at last disarmed his
opponent, but the others fought on--gasping, reeling, lunging, feinting,
the strength ebbing with each thrust.

At last each made a desperate lunge at the other; the Duke's sword
passed clean through his adversary up to the very hilt; Mohun, reeling
forward, with a last effort shortened his sword and plunged it deep into
the Duke's breast. Colonel Hamilton rushed to his friend and raised him
in his arms, when Macartney, snatching up his fallen sword, drove it
into the dying man's heart, then took to his heels and made his way as
fast as horse and boat could carry him to Holland.

Before the Duke could be raised from the ground to which he had fallen,
he had drawn his last breath. A few moments later Mohun, too, succumbed
to his wounds--the "Dog Mohun," as Swift called him, lying in death but
a few yards from his victim.

     "I am infinitely concerned," Swift wrote the same day,
     "for the poor Duke, who was an honest, good-natured man.
     I loved him very well, and I think he loved me better."

Thus, steeped in innocent blood, perished Charles Lord Mohun, who well
earned his unenviable title, "The wicked Baron."



CHAPTER XIV

A FAIR _INTRIGANTE_


The face of a baby, the heart of a courtesan, and the brain of a
diplomatist. Such was Louise de Querouaille who, two centuries and a
half ago, came to England to barter her charms for a King's dishonour,
and, incidentally, to found a ducal house as a memorial to her
allurements and her shame.

If she had been taken at her own estimate Louise was at least the equal
in lineage of any of the proud beauties whose claim she thus challenged
to Charles II.'s favour. She had behind her, she said, centuries of
noble ancestors, among the greatest in France; and she was kin, near or
remote, to every great name in the land of her birth. All, however, that
is known of this Queen of _intrigantes_ is that she had for father a
worthy, unassuming Breton merchant, who had made a sufficient fortune in
the wool-trade to take his ease, as a country gentleman, for the latter
part of his days, and whose only ambition was to bring up his son and
two daughters respectably, and to dispense a modest hospitality among
his neighbours. It was at Brest that Evelyn enjoyed this hospitality
for a brief period; and the diarist has nothing but what is good to say
of the retired tradesman.

But the worthy merchant had his hands full with one at least of his two
daughters, who was developing dangerous fascinations, and with them a
precocious knowledge of how to turn them to account. He was thankful to
pack Louise off to a boarding-school, where she seems to have led her
teachers such a dance that it became necessary to place her in stronger
hands; and with this view the foolish father sent her to Paris, the last
place in the world for such a charming and designing minx, and to the
custody of a weak-willed aunt.

Nothing could have suited Louise better than this change of arena for
the exercise of her wilfulness and witchery. Before she had been many
days in the French capital she was able to twist her aunt round her
little finger--indeed her power of captivating was, to the end of her
life, her chief dower--and to obtain all the freedom she wanted. And it
was not long before her allurements won the admiration of the dissolute
Duc de Beaufort, High Admiral of France, a man skilled in all the arts
of love. The girl's bourgeois head was completely turned by the
splendour of her first captive; and, to make him secure, she counted no
sacrifice too great. Not, indeed, that she ever regarded her virtue as
anything but the principal piece she intended to play on the chessboard
of life.

For a few years Louise revelled in the new life which the amorous Duc
opened to her, and which only came to an end when the Admiral was
despatched, in command of a fleet, against the Turks, an expedition from
which he was fated never to return. Before he said good-bye, however,
Louise took care to make the next step on her ladder of world-conquest
secure. Through the Duc's influence she was appointed maid-of-honour to
Madame, sister-in-law to Louis XIV., and sister to the second Charles of
England, now restored to the throne of his fathers.

We can well imagine that the wool merchant's daughter wasted no sighs on
the lover she had lost. She had now a much wider and more splendid field
at the Court of France, for the exploiting of her dangerous gifts and
the indulgence of her ambition. That the new maid had no lack of lovers
we may be sure; for though she was not richly dowered with beauty she
always seems to have had a magnetic power over the hearts of men. We
know, too, that she singled out for special favour, the Comte de Sault,
the handsomest noble in France, a man skilled above all his fellows in
the then moribund knightly exercises; and that her _liaison_ with the
Comte, in a court where such intimacies were the fashion, added to,
rather than detracted from, her social prestige.

Such was the life of Louise de Querouaille up to the time when she made
her first acquaintance with the land in which she was destined to crown
her adventurous career, and to make herself at once the most dazzling
and the most hated figure in England. At this time Louis' designs on
Spain and Holland had received a rude check by the signing of an
alliance between England, Sweden, and the United Provinces; and it
became a matter of vital importance to detach England from a combination
so fatal to his schemes. With this object he decided to send Henrietta,
Duchess of Orleans, on a visit, ostensibly of affection, to her brother
Charles II., charged with a secret mission to induce him by every
artifice in her power to withdraw from the alliance.

How Henrietta returned flushed with triumph from this iniquitous
embassy, after ten days of high revelry at Dover, is well-known history.
Charles, in response to his favourite sister's pleading and bribes, not
only consented to desert his allies, but, as soon as he decently could,
to follow in the steps of his brother, the Duke of York, to Rome; and in
return for these evidences of friendship, Louis was gracious enough to
promise him substantial aid and protection; and, further, to grant him a
subsidy of £1,000,000 a year if he would take up arms with France
against Holland.

It is more to our purpose to know that among the gay galaxy of courtiers
who accompanied Madame to England was Louise de Querouaille, who thus
first set eyes on the King, in whose life-drama she was to play so
brilliant and baleful a _rôle_; and that before Charles, with streaming
eyes, said "good-bye" to his scheming sister, she had made excellent use
of her opportunities to enslave this English "King of Hearts." So much
at least was reported to Louis on the return of the embassy, when he
was assured by Madame that, of all the beautiful women in her train, the
only one to make any impression on her Royal brother was Louise de
Querouaille.

This information, no doubt, was in Louis' mind when, later, it became
necessary to cement Charles's allegiance to his compact. Gold was always
a potent lure to the "Merrie Monarch," whose purse was never deep enough
for the demands made on it by his extravagance; but a still more
seductive bait was a beautiful woman to add to his seraglio. The Duchess
of Cleveland had now lost her youth and good looks; the incomparable
Stuart's beauty had been fatally marred by small-pox. Of all the fair
and frail women who had held Charles in thrall there was none left to
dispute the palm with the French maid-of-honour except Nell Gwynn, the
Drury Lane orange-girl, whose sauciness and vulgarity gave to the jaded
Sybarite a piquant relish to her charms.

Here was a splendid opportunity for Louis to complete the conquest of
his vacillating cousin whose allegiance was so vital to his plans of
aggrandisement. Louise should go to Whitehall to play the part of
beautiful spy on Charles, and, by her favours, to make him a pliant tool
in the hand of "le Roi Soleil."

Charles, who was by no means loth to renew his Dover acquaintance with
the bewitching maid-of-honour, sent a yacht to Dieppe to bring her to
England, and charged no less a personage than the Duke of Buckingham to
be her escort to Whitehall. The Duke, however, who was probably too much
occupied with his own affairs of the heart, "totally forgot both the
lady and his promise; and, leaving the disconsolate nymph at Dieppe, to
manage as best she could, passed over to England by way of Calais,"--a
slight which the indignant Louise never forgave.

Thus it was that the new favourite of the King made her journey across
the Channel under the escort of the English Ambassador, and was given by
him into the charge of Buckingham's political rival, Lord Arlington.
"The Duke of Buckingham thus," to quote Bishop Burnet, "lost all merit
he might have pretended to, and brought over a mistress whom his strange
conduct threw into the hands of his enemies."

The arrival of the "French spy," whose mission was well understood, was
hailed by the English nation with execration, modified only by a few
stilted lines of greeting from Dryden, as laureate, and some indecent
verses by St Evremond--efforts which the new beauty equally rewarded
with gracious smiles and thanks. That the English frankly hated her
without having even seen her was a matter of small concern--she was
prepared for it. All she cared for was that Charles should give her a
cordial welcome; and this he did with effusiveness and open arms. Apart
from her character as ambassadress to his "dear brother" of France, she
was a new and piquant stimulus to his sated appetite--a "dainty dish to
set before a King."

She was installed at Whitehall to the flourish of trumpets; was
appointed maid-of-honour to the Queen, who frankly disliked and dreaded
this new rival in her husband's accommodating affection; and at once
assumed her position as chief of those women the King delighted to
honour. And with such restraint and discretion did she conduct herself
during these early days at Whitehall that she disarmed the jealousy of
the Court ladies, while receiving the homage of their gallants.

To Charles she was coyness itself--virtue personified. While smiling
graciously on him she kept him at arm's length, thus adding to her
attractions the allurement of an unexpected virtue. So jealously did she
guard her favours that the French Ambassador began to show alarm.

     "I believe," he wrote at this time, "that she has so got
     round King Charles as to be of the greatest service to
     our Sovereign lord and master, _if_ she only does her
     duty."

That Louise was fully conscious of her duty and meant to do it, was
never really in question--but the time to unbend was not yet. It was no
part of her clever strategy to drop like a ripe plum into Charles's
mouth. _Il faut reculer pour mieux sauter._ She would be accounted all
the greater prize for proving difficult to win.

The psychical moment, she decided, had come when Lord Arlington invited
Charles and his Court to his palatial country-seat, Euston, where,
removed from censorious eyes and in the abandon of country-house
freedom, she could exhibit her true colours to full advantage. Over the
revels of which Euston was 183 the scene during a few intoxicating
weeks, it is but decent to draw the curtain. With such guests as the
merry and dissolute Charles, his boon-companions, experts in gallantry,
and his ladies, with most of whom an acquaintance with virtue was but a
faded memory, it is no difficult matter to raise a corner of the curtain
in imagination. One typical scene Forneron records thus:

     "Lady Arlington, under the pretext of killing the tedium
     of October evenings in a country-house, got up a
     burlesque wedding, in which Louise de Querouaille was the
     bride and the King the bridegroom, with all the immodest
     ceremonies which marked, in the good old times, the
     retirement of the former into the nuptial chamber."

It was precisely such a ceremony in which, a few years earlier, Charles
had figured with _La belle Stuart_, while Lady Castlemaine looked on
with laughter and applause.

[Illustration: LOUISE, DUCHESS OF PORTSMOUTH]

Such was the revolution that resulted from this country visit that
Louise de Querouaille returned to Whitehall, the avowed _maitresse en
titre_ to the King. The French maid-of-honour had justified the
confidence Louis reposed in her; and as reward she was appointed Lady of
the Bedchamber to Catherine, and wore a coronet as Duchess of
Portsmouth. More than this, the delighted Louis raised the wool
merchant's daughter to the proud rank of Duchesse d'Aubigny, in exchange
for which dignity she pledged herself to induce Charles to go to war
with Holland; to avow himself a Catholic; and to persuade his brother
and successor, the Duke of York, to take to wife a Princess of France.

Louise de Querouaille had now reached a dizzier height than, in the
wildest dreams of her girlhood, she had ever hoped to climb. She was a
double-Duchess, of England and of France, the mistress and counsellor of
a puppet-King, and an arbiter of the destinies of nations. Well might
her humble father, when he paid his Duchess-daughter a visit in London,
throw up his hands in amazement at the splendours with which his "petite
Louise" had surrounded herself! So high had she climbed that it seemed
at one time that even the Crown of England was within her reach; for
when Catherine was brought to the verge of death the Duchess was
probably not alone in thinking that she might be her successor on the
throne.

     "She has got the notion," wrote the French Ambassador,
     "that it is possible she may yet be Queen of England. She
     talks from morning till night of the Queen's ailments as
     if they were mortal."

But at least, if the crown was not to be hers, there was as much gold to
be had as she cared to garner. Not content with her allowance, which,
nominally £10,000 a year, in one year reached the enormous sum of
£136,000, she heaped fortune on fortune by trafficking in a wide range
of commodities, from peerages and Court appointments to Royal pardons
and slaves. A few years of such rich harvesting made her incomparably
the richest woman in England, although she squandered her ill-gotten
gold with a prodigal hand. Her apartments at Whitehall were crowded with
the costliest furnishings and objects of art that money could buy. When
Evelyn paid a visit to the Court he records:

     "But that which engaged my curiosity was the rich and
     splendid furniture of this woman's apartment, now twice
     or thrice pulled down to satisfy her prodigality and
     expensive pleasures; while her Majesty's does not exceed
     some gentlemen's wives in furniture and accommodation.

     "Here I saw the new fabrics of French tapestry, for
     design, tenderness of work and incomparable imitation of
     the best paintings, beyond anything I ever beheld. Some
     pieces had Versailles, St Germain's, and other palaces of
     the French King, with huntings, figures, and landscapes,
     exotic flowers and all to the life, rarely done. Then for
     Japan cabinets, screens, pendule clocks, great vases of
     wrought plate, table-stands, sconces, branches, braseras,
     etc., all of massive silver and out of number, besides
     some of his Majesty's best paintings!"

Probably at this time of her illicit queendom the only thorn in Louise
de Querouaille's bed of roses was that vulgar, "gutter-rival" of hers,
Nell Gwynn, with whom she suffered the indignity of sharing Charles's
affection. To the high-born, blue-blooded daughter of centuries of
French nobles (of whom her tradesman-father always affected a
disconcerting ignorance) the very sight of her saucy and successful
rival, the ex-orange-wench, was a contamination. She pretended to stifle
in breathing the same air, and with high-tossed head sailed past Madame
Nell (the mother of a duke), in the Court _salons_ and corridors, as if
she were carrion.

And to all these grand, disdainful airs Madame Nell only retorted with a
Drury Lane peal of silvery laughter. She, who was accustomed to "chuck
Charles's royal chin," and to call him her "Charles the third," in
unflattering reference to his two predecessors of the name in her
favour, could afford to snap her fingers at the French madame who, after
all, was no better than herself.

"The Duchess," she would say, "pretends to be a person of quality. She
says she is related to the best families in France; and when any great
person dies she puts herself in mourning. If she be a lady of such
quality, why does she demean herself to be what she is? As for me, it's
my profession; I don't profess to be anything better. And the King is
just as fond of me as he is of his French miss."

But while Her Grace of Portsmouth was revelling in her splendour and her
gold, her mission as Louis's Ambassadress was making unsatisfactory
progress. However disposed Charles may have been to change his faith to
the advantage of his pocket, he was not prepared to risk his crown,
possibly his head, for any Pope who ever lived; nor did the project of
providing a French bride for his successor, the Duke of York, promise
much better. Louis proposed the Duchess of Guise, his own cousin; but
James had heard too much of this unamiable and unattractive Princess
from his sister, Henrietta, to relish the venture. The Duchess herself
suggested a Princess of Lorraine, as a suitable bride, but Louis, who
had no love for the d'Elboeuf ladies, nipped this project in the bud.

After a long resistance, however, she had induced her Royal lover to
declare war on Holland; and Louis professed himself so pleased with this
concession to his schemes, that he dazzled her eyes with splendid
promises if she would but carry out his programme to the full. It had
become her crowning ambition to win the right to a _tabouret_ at the
Court of Versailles--the highest privilege accorded to the old
_noblesse_, that of sitting on a stool in the presence of the King; and
this proud distinction, which would raise her to the highest pinnacle in
France, inferior only to the crown itself, could be hers if Louis would
but grant her the d'Aubigny lands to accompany her title, for the
_tabouret_ went with the Duchy domains. Even this most coveted of all
the gifts in his power Louis promised to the little adventuress if she
would but carry out, not only all she had undertaken, but any future
commands he might lay upon her.

His immediate object now was to take advantage of the distraction caused
by the war between England and Holland to annex the Palatinate and the
Franche Comté, on which he had long set covetous eyes; but he quickly
discovered that for once his vaulting ambition had overleaped itself.
The whole of Europe took alarm; England to a man rose in angry protest,
sworn enemies joining hands to resist such an outrageous aggression; and
Charles, in a frenzy of fear for his crown, dismissed his hireling army
paid with Louis's gold. The proud edifice which the Duchess of
Portsmouth had so carefully reared was threatened with a cataclysm of
popular rage against the "painted French spy" who was regarded, and
perhaps rightly, as a prime instigator of the mischief, and the worst
enemy of the country that had given her such generous hospitality.

To add to the danger of her position she became seriously ill; sustained
heavy money losses; and even her supremacy with the King was gravely
imperilled by the arrival at Court of Mazarin's loveliest niece,
Hortense de Mancini, with whom Charles had flirted in the days of his
exile, and who now came to England in the full bloom of her peerless
beauty to complete her conquest of the amorous Sovereign--"the last
conquest of her conquering eyes," as Waller wrote in his fulsome
greeting of the new divinity of the Whitehall seraglio.

For once Louise's indomitable courage showed signs of yielding. The
whole armoury of fate seemed arrayed against her at this crisis in her
life; even Louis, for whom she had striven so hard, began to distrust
her powers and to show indifference to her. When Forneron paid her a
visit at this time he found her in tears. "She opened her heart to him,
in the presence of her two French maids, who stood by with downcast
eyes. Tears rained down her cheeks; and her speech was broken with sobs
and sighs." Never had this designing beauty been so near the verge of
absolute ruin.

It is not necessary perhaps to follow the Duchess through the period of
her eclipse; to watch the weak-kneed Charles sink deeper and deeper into
the morass of his disloyalty until, in return for a subsidy of
£4,000,000, he offered to dissolve parliament and to make England the
bond-slave of Louis's designs on Europe; or to see Louise, the chief
instrument of all this ignominy, reach the climax of her disgrace and
her peril when mobs besieged Whitehall, and clamoured that the "Jezebel"
should be sent to the scaffold.

It is sufficient for our purpose to know that through all this terrible
time she steered her way with almost superhuman skill back to the
sunshine of success and favour. Her life-long ambition was crowned when
Louis gave her the d'Aubigny lands and, with them, the _tabouret_ which
had so long dazzled her eyes and eluded her grasp. When the sky in
England had at last cleared she paid a visit to her native land. For
four ecstatic months the wool merchant's daughter made a triumphant
progress through France, acclaimed and fêted as a Queen. At her castle
of d'Aubigny she held a splendid court and dispensed a regal hospitality
to the greatest in the land, who had scarcely deigned to notice her in
her days as maid-of-honour. When, according to St Simon, she paid a
visit to the Capucines in Paris her approach was heralded by a
procession of monks, scattering incense and bearing aloft the holy
cross. "She was received," we are told, "as if she were a Queen, which
quite overwhelmed her, as she was not prepared for such an honour." To
such a pitch indeed did this popular idolatry reach that she was
actually painted as a Madonna to grace the altar of the richest convent
in France.

On her return to England from this tour of conquest she found a
reception almost equally regal awaiting her. She was reinstated as chief
favourite of the King, all his other mistresses--even the Queen herself
being relegated to the background; and high statesmen and Ambassadors
did their homage to her before they sought audience with Charles
himself. She was, in fact, as Louis's deputy, Vice-Queen of
England--_plus roi que le Roi_.

Thus secure of her power the Duchess was not unwilling to indulge once
more her old propensity for flirtation (to give it its mildest name).
The handsome and graceless Duke of Monmonth, Charles's favourite son,
Danby and many another gallant, succeeded one another in her favours,
which she dispensed without any care for concealment. But the only one
of her lovers of this time who made any real impression on such heart as
she had was the rakish Philippe de Vendôme, grandson of Henri IV. and
nephew of her first lover, the Admiral, Duc de Beaufort, who, as we have
seen, gave her the first start on her career of infamy and conquest. She
seems to have conducted an open and shameless intrigue with De
Vendôme--a man who, according to St Simon, had never gone sober to bed
for a generation, who was a swindler, liar, and thief, and the most
despicable and dangerous man living. When the Duchess, realising that
her intrigue with this handsome scoundrel was going too far, sought to
withdraw, he threatened to show certain incriminating letters she had
written to him, to the King; and it was only when Louis intervened and,
by bribes and commands, induced her lover to return to France, that she
was able to breathe again.

Not content with setting such a shameless example to the Court, she was
the arch-priestess of the gaming-tables at which Charles and his
courtiers spent their nights to the chink of glasses and gold. She made
light, we learn, of losing 5,000 guineas at a sitting. No wonder Pepys
was shocked at such scenes.

     "I was told to-night," he writes, "that my Lady
     Castlemaine is so great a gamester as to have won £15,400
     in one night, and lost £25,000 in another night at play,
     and has played £1000 and £1500 at a cast."

The Duchesse de Mazarin, he tells us,

     "won at basset, of Nell Gwynne 1400 guineas in one night,
     and of the Duchess of Portsmouth above £8000, in doing
     which she exerted her utmost cunning and had the greatest
     satisfaction, because they were rivals in the Royal
     favour."

But the end of these saturnalia was at hand. The last glimpse we have of
them was on the night of 1st February 1685--the last Sunday Charles was
permitted to spend on earth.

     "The great courtiers," says Evelyn, "and other dissolute
     persons were playing at basset round a large table, with
     a bank of at least £2000 before them. The King, though
     not engaged in the game, was to the full as scandalously
     occupied, sitting in open dalliance with three of the
     shameless women of the Court, the Duchesses of
     Portsmouth, Morland, and Mazarin, and others of the same
     stamp, while a French boy was singing love-songs in that
     glorious gallery. Six days after," he adds, "all was in
     the dust."

As the end of that wasted Royal life drew near the Duchess's chief
concern--for it was her last opportunity of redeeming one of her pledges
to Louis, her paymaster--was that Charles should at least die an avowed
Catholic.

     "I found her," Barillon wrote to Louis, "overcome with
     grief. But, instead of bewailing her own unhappy and
     changed condition, she led me into an adjoining chamber
     and said: 'M. l'Ambassadeur, I want to confide a secret
     to you, although if it were publicly known my head would
     pay the forfeit. The King is a Catholic at heart, and yet
     there he lies surrounded by Protestant bishops. I dare
     not enter the room, and there is no one to talk to him of
     his end and of God. The Duke of York is too much occupied
     with his own affairs to trouble about his brother's
     conscience. Pray go to him and tell him that the end is
     near, and that it is his duty to lose no time in saving
     his brother's soul.'"

The remainder of the Duchess's life-story is soon told. The days of her
queendom and glory were at an end. She was glad to escape to France
before James's tempestuous reign ended in tragedy. Here trouble and loss
were largely her portion. She lost favour with Louis to such an extent
that, at one time, he seriously thought of exiling her; her son deserted
and disgraced her; her ill-gotten riches took wings, until only a
pension of £800, wrung from Louis, saved her from absolute destitution.
True, she was still able to claim her _tabouret_ at the Court of
Versailles, and, for a few hours occasionally, to revive the glories of
the past; but apart from these ironical spasms of splendour she spent
her last years in loneliness and sadness, turning to a tardy piety as a
refuge from the coldness of the world, and as a solace for its lost
vanities. She saw all the great figures, among whom she had moved, pass
one by one behind the veil before she died, a wrinkled hag of
eighty-five, shorn of the last vestige of the charms which had wrought
such havoc in the world.



CHAPTER XV

THE MERRY DUCHESS


When Elizabeth Chudleigh first opened her eyes on the world, nearly two
centuries ago, at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, of which her father was
Deputy-Governor, we may be sure that her parents little anticipated the
romantic and adventurous _rôle_ Fate had assigned to her on the stage of
life. A member of an ancient family, whose women had ever been
distinguished for their virtue as its men for their valour, the Chelsea
infant was destined to shock Society by the laxity of her morals as she
dazzled it by her beauty and charm, and to make herself conspicuous, in
an age none too strait-laced, as an adventuress of rare skill and
daring, and as a profligate in petticoats.

As a child she amused all who knew her by the airs she assumed. Before
she was long out of the nursery she vowed that "she would be a Duchess,"
and a Duchess she was before she died. She was quick to learn the power
of beauty and of a clever tongue; and before she was emancipated from
short frocks she was a finished coquette.

Such was Elizabeth Chudleigh when, at fifteen, she blossomed into
precocious womanhood. Her father, the Colonel, had long been dead, and
his widow had made her home in the neighbourhood of Leicester House,
where the Prince and Princess of Wales held their Court. Here she made
the acquaintance of Mr Pulteney, later Earl of Bath, a great favourite
of the weak and dissolute Prince; and through his interest, Elizabeth,
now a radiantly lovely and supremely fascinating young woman, was
appointed a maid-of-honour to the Princess.

In the environment of a Court, surrounded by gallants, and with women
almost as lovely as herself to pit her charms against, Colonel
Chudleigh's daughter, eager to drink the cup of pleasure and of
conquest, was in her element. She was the merriest madcap in a Court
where licence was unrestrained; and she soon had high-placed lovers at
her dainty feet, including, so they say, none other than Frederick
himself. Coronets galore dazzled her eyes with their rival allurements;
but while, with tantalising coquetry, she kept them all dangling, one
alone tempted her--that which was laid at her feet by the Duke of
Hamilton, a gallant whose high rank was rivalled by his handsome face
and figure, and his many courtly accomplishments.

When the Duke asked her to be his wife she graciously consented, and her
Duchess's coronet seemed assured thus early, with a prospect of
happiness that does not always accompany it; for in this case she seems
to have given her heart where she gave her hand. For a time the course
of true love ran smoothly, and the maid-of-honour became a model of
decorum as the affianced wife of the man she loved.

But her dream of happiness was destined to be short-lived. An intriguing
aunt, Mrs Hanmer, who had no love for the Hamiltons, set to work to dash
the cup of happiness from her niece's lips. She intercepted the Duke's
letters, poured into Elizabeth's ears poisonous stories of his
infidelities and entanglements to account for his silence, and, when the
poison began to show signs of working, whisked her niece away on a visit
to the country-house of her cousin, Mr Merrill, at Lainston, where among
her fellow-guests was a dashing young naval lieutenant, the Hon.
Augustus Hervey, who was second heir to his father's Earldom of Bristol.

The lieutenant, as was inevitable, perhaps, fell promptly under the
spell of the maid-of-honour's charms, and made violent love to her,
with, of course, Mrs Hanmer's whole-hearted connivance. The girl,
blazing with resentment of the Duke's coldness, and his apparent
indifference to her beauty and his vows, lent a willing ear to his
pleadings, and within a few days had promised to be wife to a man whom,
as she confessed later, she "almost hated."

The wedding was, by mutual consent, to be secret, partly on account of
the bridegroom's lack of means to support a wife, and partly from fear
of giving offence to his family. In the dead of an August night, in
1744, the bridal party stole out of Mr Merrill's house, and made its
way to the neighbouring church, where the ceremony was performed by the
light of a taper concealed in the best man's hat. Thus, romantically and
mysteriously, Elizabeth Chudleigh took her first matrimonial step, which
was to lead to such dramatic developments.

Forty-eight hours later the bridegroom had joined his ship at
Portsmouth; and his bride's greatest joy, as she confessed, was when he
had departed. Such a marriage, the fruit of pique and anger, boded ill
for happiness. Frankly, the union was one long misery, broken by the
intervals when the husband was away at sea, and accentuated during his,
happily brief, visits to her. Two children were born to this
ill-assorted pair, but both died young; and Elizabeth Hervey had
abundant opportunity to follow her natural bent, by seeking
forgetfulness in dissipation.

In the full glow of her beauty, a wife who was no wife, she resumed her
broken career of conquest. She made a tour of Europe, leaving a train of
broken-hearted and languishing lovers behind her. At Berlin she brought
Frederick the Great to his knees, and made an abject slave of him; she
shocked the ladies of the Dresden Court by her laxity and the prodigal
display of her charms, and by the same arts bewitched the men. She led,
we are told, a life of shameless dissipation, which only her beauty and
intellectual gifts redeemed from vulgar depravity. She had lovers in
every capital she visited, and discarded them as lightly as so many
playthings.

On her return to England, so anxious was she to obliterate that fatal
episode in the dark church, she made a journey with certain friends to
Lainston, and, while the vicar's back was turned, tore the fatal page
out of the marriage register.

Meanwhile, the naval lieutenant had blossomed into an Earl, on his
father's death; and when the new Earl, her husband, showed signs of
failing health, and there was an early prospect of graduating as a
wealthy dowager Countess, she saw the wisdom of making another journey
to Lainston to replace the record of her marriage. Alas, for her
scheming; the moribund Earl took a new lease of life, and the gilded
dowagerhood became nebulous and remote again.

But Elizabeth Chudleigh was not to be long baulked in her ambitious
designs. Though her charms had grown too opulent and were faded--for she
was now near her fiftieth birthday--she was able to count among her
slaves the aged Duke of Kingston, an amiable and weak old gentleman of
enormous wealth, and with one accommodating foot already "in the grave."

Wife, or no wife, she now made up her mind to be a Duchess at last. She
appealed to Lord Bristol, the husband from whom she had so long been
estranged, to divorce her, even going so far as to offer to qualify for
the divorce by an open and flagrant act of infidelity; but his lordship
only shrugged a scornful shoulder. Still, not to be thwarted, she
brought a suit of jactitation of marriage, and, by a lavish use of
bribes and cajolery, got a sentence from the Ecclesiastical Court which
at last set her free. Within a month she had blossomed into "the most
high and _puissante_ Princess, the Duchess of Kingston," thus realising
her childish ambition.

For four and a half years the Duchess was a dignified pattern of all the
virtues. The passions of youth had lost their fires; the scenes of
revelry and coarse dissipation to which they had given birth were only a
memory. She would yet die in the odour of sanctity, however tardy. But
storms were brewing, and the Duke's death, in 1746, precipitated them,
though not before she had had another fling with the riches he left to
her.

Throwing aside her widow's weeds, she flung herself again--old, obese,
and faded as she was--into a round of dissipation which shocked and
disgusted even London, accustomed as it was to the vagaries of the
"quality," until she was glad to escape from the storm of censure she
had brought on her head.

She bought a magnificent yacht and sailed away to Rome, where Pope and
Cardinal alike conspired to do her honour; and was only saved from
eloping with a titled swindler by his arrest and later suicide in
prison. It was while in Rome that news came to her that her late
husband's heirs were planning a charge of bigamy against her, with a
view to setting aside his will in her favour.

Her exchequer was empty for the time; but, presenting herself before her
banker, pistol in hand, she compelled him to provide her with funds to
enable her to return to London--to find all arrangements already made
for her trial in Westminster Hall on a charge of bigamy. Public opinion
was arrayed against her; she was received with abuse, jeers, and
lampoons. Foote made her the object of universal ridicule by a comedy
entitled, "A Trip to Calais." But the Duchess metaphorically snapped her
fingers at them all. She was no woman to bow before the storm of
ridicule and censure. She openly defied it to do its worst. Her splendid
equipage was to be seen everywhere, with the autocratic Duchess, serene,
smiling, contemptuous.

It was of this period of her life that the following story is told. One
day when driving in London her gorgeous carriage was brought to a halt
by a coal-cart which was being unloaded in a narrow street. The Duchess
was furious at the delay, and protruding her head and shoulders from the
carriage and leaning her arms on the door, she cried out to the
offending carter: "How dare you, sirrah, to stop a woman of quality in
the street?" "Woman of quality!" sneered the man. "Yes, fellow,"
rejoined her Grace, "don't you see my arms upon my carriage?" "Indeed I
do," he answered, "and a pair of d---- coarse arms they are, too!"

Seldom has a trial excited such widespread excitement and interest.

     "Everybody," Horace Walpole wrote to his friend Sir
     Horace Mann, "is on the quest for tickets for her Grace
     of Kingston's trial. I am persuaded that her impudence
     will operate in some singular manner; probably she will
     appear in weeds, with a train to reach across Westminster
     Hall, with mourning maids-of-honour to support her when
     she swoons at the dear Duke's name, and in a black veil
     to conceal her blushing or not blushing. To this farce,
     novel and curious as it will be, I shall not go. I think
     cripples have no business in crowds, but at the Pool of
     Bethesda; and, to be sure, this is no angel that troubles
     the waters."

But if Walpole resisted the temptation to witness a scene so piquant and
remarkable, hundreds of the highest in the land, including Queen
Charlotte herself, the Prince of Wales and many another Royal personage,
ambassadors and statesmen, flocked to Westminster to see the notorious
Duchess on her trial on the charge of bigamy. And the vast Hall was
packed with a curious and expectant crowd when her Grace made her
stately entry with a retinue of _femmes de chambre_, her doctor,
apothecary, and secretary, and proceeded to her seat, in front of her
six bewigged Counsel, with the dignified step and haughty mien of an
Empress.

Hannah More, who was present at the trial, says that hardly a trace of
her once enchanting beauty was visible; and that, had it not been for
her white face, "she might easily have been taken for a bundle of
bombasin."

The trial lasted several days, during the whole of which the Duchess
conducted herself with remarkable dignity and composure, in face of the
damning array of evidence that was brought against her--the evidence of
a maid who had witnessed her midnight marriage in Lainston Church; of
the widow of the parson who officiated at the nuptials; and of Serjeant
Hawkins, who authenticated the birth of her first child by Augustus
Hervey.

     "The scene opened on Wednesday with all its pomp," wrote
     Walpole, who although not present seems to have followed
     the trial with the keenest interest, "and the
     doubly-noble prisoner went through her part with
     universal admiration. Instead of her usual ostentatious
     folly and clumsy pretensions to cunning, all her conduct
     was decent, and even seemed natural. Her dress was
     entirely black and plain; her attendants not too
     numerous; her dismay at first perfectly unaffected. A few
     tears balanced cheerfulness enough, and her presence of
     mind and attention never deserted her. This rational
     behaviour and the pleadings of her Counsel, who contended
     for the finality of her Ecclesiastical Court's sentence
     against a second trial, carried her triumphantly through
     the first day, and turned the stream much in her favour."

The following day proved a much more severe test to her Grace's
composure; and no sooner had the Court risen than "she had to be
blooded, and fell into a great passion of tears." And each succeeding
day added to the tension and anxieties which she struggled so bravely to
conceal.

On the third day of the trial Walpole says:

     "The plot thickens, or rather opens. Yesterday the judges
     were called on for their opinions, and _una voce_
     dismantled the Ecclesiastical Court. The
     Attorney-General, Thurlow, then detailed the 'Life and
     Adventures of Elizabeth Chudleigh, _alias_ Hervey,
     _alias_ the most high and _puissante_ Princess, the
     Duchess of Kingston.' Her Grace bore the narration with a
     front worthy of her exalted rank. Then was produced the
     first capital witness, the ancient damsel who was present
     at her first marriage. To this witness her Grace was
     benign, but had a transitory swoon at the mention of her
     dear Duke's name; and at intervals has been blooded
     enough to have supplied her execution if necessary. Two
     babes were likewise proved to have blessed her first
     nuptials, one of whom, for aught that appears, may exist
     and become Earl of Bristol."

Three days later Horace Walpole concludes his narrative of the trial,
which we are afraid his antipathy to the adventurous Duchess has
coloured a little too vividly:

     "The wisdom of the land," he writes, "has been exerted
     for five days in turning a Duchess into a Countess, and
     yet does not think it a punishable crime for a Countess
     to convert herself into a Duchess. After a pretty
     defence, and a speech of fifty pages (which she herself
     had written and pronounced very well), the sages, in
     spite of the Attorney-General (who brandished a hot iron)
     dismissed her with the single injunction of paying the
     fees, all voting her guilty; but the Duke of Newcastle,
     her neighbour in the country, softening his vote by
     adding 'erroneously, not intentionally.' So ends the
     solemn farce. The Earl of Bristol, they say, does not
     intend to leave her that title.... I am glad to have done
     with her."

A few days later, in spite of a writ, _ne exeat regno_, which had been
issued against her, she was back in France, travelling in state as
"Madame la Duchesse de Kingston." From Calais she made her magnificent
progress to Rome, where Pope and Cardinals vied in doing honour to so
exalted and charming a lady, and entertained her as regally as if she
had been a Queen. Returning to Calais she installed herself in a
palatial house where she dispensed a lavish hospitality, and flung her
gold about with prodigal hands.

But Calais soon palled on her exacting taste. It was too dull, too
cabined for her activities. So away she sailed in a splendid yacht to St
Petersburg where Catherine received her as a sister-Empress, and gave
balls, banquets, and receptions in her honour. From St Petersburg she
continued her journey to Poland, and made a conquest of Prince
Radzivill, who exhausted his purse and ingenuity in devising
entertainments for her, including the excitement of a bear-hunt by
torchlight.

Back again in France, flushed with her triumphs, she purchased a Palace
in Paris, and the château of Sainte Assize in the country, at which
alternately she held her Court, and moved among her courtiers an obese
Queen, alternately charming them with her graciousness and shocking them
by her profanity and indelicacies. Here she made her will, leaving most
of her jewels to her "dear friend," the Russian Empress; a large diamond
to her equally good friend the Pope; and an extremely valuable pearl
necklace and earrings to my Lady Salisbury, for no other reason than
that they had been originally worn some centuries earlier by a lady who
bore the same title.

But the career of the profligate and eccentric Duchess was nearing its
close, and she died as she had lived, game and defiant. While she was
sitting at dinner news came that a lawsuit had been decided against her.
She broke out in a violent passion and burst a blood-vessel. But, even
dying as she was, she refused to remain in bed. "At your peril, disobey
me!" she said to her protesting attendants. "I _will_ get up!" She got
up, dressed, and walked about the room. Then, calling for wine, she
drained glass after glass of Madeira. "I will lie down on the couch,"
she then said. "I can sleep, and after that I shall be quite well
again."

From that sleep she never awoke. The maidservants who held her hands
felt them grow gradually cold. The Duchess was dead. After life's fitful
fever, she had found rest. Thus died, in the sixty-ninth year of her
life Elizabeth, Duchess of Kingston, who had drunk deep of life's cup of
pleasure; who had alternately shocked and dazzled the world; and who had
found that the greatest triumphs of her beauty and the most prodigal
indulgence of her appetites were "all vanity."



CHAPTER XVI

THE KING AND THE PRETTY HAYMAKER


If ever woman was born to romance it was surely the Lady Sarah Lennox,
whose beauty and witchery nearly won for her a crown as England's Queen
a a century and a half ago; and who, after ostracising herself from
Society by a flagrant lapse from virtue, lived to become the mother of
heroes, and to end her days in blindness and a tragic loneliness.

There was both passion and a love of adventure in the Lady Sarah's
blood; for had she not for great-grandfather that most fascinating and
philandering of monarchs, the second Charles; and for great-grandmother,
the lovely and frail Louise Renée de Querouaille, Duchess of Portsmouth,
the most seductive of the beautiful trio of women--the Duchesses of
Portsmouth, Morland, and Mazarin--who spent their days in "open
dalliance" with the "Merrie Monarch," and their nights at the
basset-table, winning or losing guineas by the thousand.

As an infant, too, she drank in romance from her mother's breast--the
mother whose marriage is surely the most romantic in the annals of our
Peerage. One day, so the story runs, the Duke of Richmond, when playing
cards with the first Earl of Cadogan, staked the hand and fortune of his
heir, the Earl of March, on the issue of the game, which was won by Lord
Cadogan. On the following day the debt of honour was paid. The youthful
Earl was sent for from his school, Cadogan's daughter from the nursery;
a clergyman was in attendance, and the two children were told they were
immediately to be made husband and wife.

At sight of the plain, awkward, shrinking girl who was to be his bride
the handsome school-boy exclaimed in disgust, "You are surely not going
to marry me to that dowdy!" But there was no escape; the demands of
"honour" must be satisfied. The ceremony was quickly performed; and
within an hour of first setting eyes on each other, the children were
separated--Lord March being whisked back to his school-books, and his
bride to her nursery toys.

Many years later Lord March returned to London after a prolonged tour
round the world--a strikingly handsome, cultured young man, by no means
eager to renew his acquaintance with the "ugly duckling" who was his
wife. One evening when he was at the opera his eyes were drawn to a
vision of rare girlish loveliness in one of the boxes. He had seen no
sight so fair in all his wide travels; it fascinated him as beauty never
yet had had power to do.

Turning to a neighbour he asked who the lovely girl was. "You must
indeed be a stranger to London," was the answer, "if you do not know
the beautiful Lady March, the toast of the town!" Lady March! Could that
exquisite flower of young womanhood be the ugly, awkward girl he had
married so strangely as a boy? Impossible! He proceeded to the box,
introduced himself, and found to his delight that the beautiful girl was
indeed none other than Lady March, whom he had every right to claim as
his wife. A few too brief years of happy wedded life followed; and when
the Earl died in the prime of manhood his Countess, unable to live
without him, began to droop and, within a few months, followed him to
the grave.

Such was the singular romance to which Lady Sarah Lennox owed her being,
a romance which was to have a parallel in her own life. As a child in
the nursery she gave promise of charms at least as great as those of her
mother. And she was as merry and full of mischief as she was beautiful.

One day (it is her son who tells the story) she was walking with her
nurse and her aunt, Lady Louisa Conolly, in Kensington Gardens, when
George II. chanced to stroll by. Breaking away from her guardian the
pretty little madcap ran up to the King and exclaimed in French: "How do
you do, Mr King? You have a beautiful house here, _n'est-ce pas_?"
George was so delighted with the child's _naïveté_ that he took her up
in his arms, gave her a hearty kiss, and would not release her until she
had promised to come and see him.

And how the King and his "little sweetheart," as he called her, enjoyed
these visits! and the merry romps they had together!

     "On one occasion," says Captain Napier (Lady Sarah's son
     of much later days), "after a romp with my mother, the
     King suddenly snatched her up in his arms, and, after
     squeezing her in a large china jar, shut down the cover
     to prove her courage; but soon released her when he found
     that the only effect was to make her, with a merry voice,
     begin singing the French song of Malbruc, with which he
     was quite delighted."

But these happy days of romping with a King came too soon to an end. On
her mother's death Lady Sarah, then only five years old, was carried off
to Ireland, to the home of Lady Kildare. There she remained for eight
years, when she returned to England and the guardianship of her eldest
sister, Lady Holland. As soon as George heard of the return of his
little playmate he sent for her, hoping to resume the romps of early
years. But Lady Sarah, though prettier than ever, proved so shy and so
embarrassed by the King's familiarities that at last he exclaimed in
disgust: "Pooh! she has grown too stupid!"

But if Lady Sarah's shyness had cost her the King's favour, her beauty
and girlish grace quickly won for her another Royal friend--none other
than George's grandson and heir to the throne, then a handsome boy
little older than herself, and at least equally diffident. Every time
the young Prince saw her he became more and more her slave, until his
conquest was complete. He was only happy by her side; while she found
her dogs and squirrels more entertaining company than the King-to-be.

Lady Sarah was now blossoming into young womanhood. Every year added
some fresh touch of beauty and grace. She was the pet and idol of the
Court, captivating young and old alike by her charms and winsomeness.
Horace Walpole raved about her. When she took part in a play at Holland
House, of which he was a spectator, he wrote:

     "Lady Sarah was more beautiful than you can conceive....
     When she was in white, with her hair about her ears and
     on the ground, no Magdalen by Correggio was half so
     lovely and so expressive."

And Lord Holland, her brother-in-law, draws this alluring picture of
her:

     "Her beauty is not easily described otherwise than by
     saying she had the finest complexion, most beautiful
     hair, and prettiest person that was ever seen, with a
     sprightly and fine air, a pretty mouth, and remarkably
     fine teeth, and excess of bloom in her cheeks."

Although the Prince's passion for her was patent to all the Court, she
seems either not to have seen it or to have been indifferent to it--an
indifference which naturally only served to feed the flames of his love.
One day shortly after he had succeeded to the throne, George, the shyest
of Royal lovers, determined to unbosom himself to Lady Sarah's friend,
Lady Susan Strangways, since he could not summon up courage to declare
his passion to the lady herself. After turning the conversation to the
Coronation, "Ah!" he exclaimed with a sigh, "there will be no Coronation
until there is a Queen." "But why, sir?" asked Lady Susan in surprise.
"They want me to have a foreign Queen," George answered, "but I prefer
an English one; and I think your friend is the fittest person in the
world to be my Queen. Tell her so from me, will you?"

A few days later when the King met Lady Sarah, he asked: "Has your
friend given you my message?" "Yes, sir." "And what do you think of it?
Pray tell me frankly; for on your answer all my happiness depends. What
do you think of it?" "Nothing, sir," Lady Sarah answered demurely, with
downcast eyes. "Pooh!" exclaimed the King, as he turned away in dudgeon,
"nothing comes of nothing."

Thus foolishly Lady Sarah turned her back on a throne, which there is
small doubt might have been hers for a word. Why that word was not
spoken will always remain a mystery. It was said that her heart had
already been won by Lord Newbattle, a handsome young gallant of the
Court; but what was taken for a conquest seems to have been but a
passing flirtation. How little Lord Newbattle's heart was involved was
shortly proved when, on learning that Lady Sarah had been thrown from
her horse and had broken her leg, he made the heartless remark, "That
will do no great harm, for her legs were ugly enough before!"

The news of this accident, however, had a very different effect on the
young King, who was consumed with anxiety about the girl he still loved
passionately, in spite of her coldness. He promptly sent the Court
surgeon to attend to her; kept couriers constantly travelling to and fro
to bring the latest bulletins, and knew no peace until she was restored
to health again. When at last she was able to return to London he was
unremitting in his attentions to her. He was never happy apart from her;
and, in fact, his intentions became so marked that his mother, the
Princess-Dowager, and the ministers were reduced to despair.

Secret orders were given that the young people were never to be allowed
to be together. The Princess, indeed, carried her interference to the
extent of breaking in on their conferences, and rudely laughing in Lady
Sarah's face as she led her son away. "I felt many a time," the insulted
girl said in later years, "that I should have loved to box her ears."
But Lady Sarah, who seems at last to have awakened to the attractions of
the alliance offered to her, was not the girl to sit down tamely under
such interference with her liberty. Her spirit was aroused, and she
brought all her arts of coquetry to her aid.

If she could not see the King at Court she would see him elsewhere. When
George took his daily ride he was sure to meet or overtake Lady Sarah,
attired in some bewitching costume; or to see her daintily plying her
rake among the haymakers in the meadows of Holland House, a picture of
rustic beauty well-calculated to make his conquest more complete.

Once, it is said, when she had not seen her Royal lover for some days
she even disguised herself as a servant and intercepted him in one of
the corridors of the Palace. The coy and cold maiden who had told the
King that she "thought nothing" of his advances, had developed into the
veriest coquette who ever set her heart on winning a man. Such is the
strange waywardness of woman; and by such revolutions she often courts
her own defeat.

That King George still remained as infatuated as ever is quite probable.
Had it been possible for him to have his own way, Lady Sarah Lennox
might still have won a crown as Queen of England. But the forces arrayed
against him were too strong for so pliant a monarch. In a weak moment,
despairing of winning the girl he loved, he had placed his matrimonial
fate unreservedly in the hands of the Privy Council; and from this
surrender of his liberty there was no escape.

Colonel Graeme had been despatched to every Court on the Continent, in
quest of a suitable bride for him; and his verdict had been given in
favour of Charlotte Sophia, the unattractive daughter of the Duke of
Mecklenburg Strelitz. The die was cast; and George, just when happiness
was within his reach, was obliged to bury the one romance of his young
life and to sacrifice himself to duty and his Royal word. To Lady Sarah
the news of the arranged marriage was no doubt a severe blow--to her
vanity, if not to her heart. It was a "bolt from the blue," for which
she was not prepared. But she was too proud to show her wounds.

     "I shall take care," she wrote to her friend, Lady
     Susan, on the very day on which the blow fell, "I shall
     take care to show that I am not mortified to anybody; but
     if it is true that one can vex anybody with a reserved,
     cold manner, he shall have it, I promise him. Now as to
     what I wish about it myself, excepting this little
     message, I have almost forgiven him. Luckily for me I did
     not love him, and only liked, nor did the title weigh
     with me. So little, at least, that my disappointment did
     not affect my spirits more than an hour or two, I
     believe. I did not cry, I assure you, which I believe you
     will, as I know you were more set on it than I was. The
     thing I am most angry at is looking so like a fool, as I
     shall, for having gone so often for nothing, but I don't
     much care. If he was to change his mind again (which
     can't be, tho') and not give me a very good reason for
     his conduct, I would not have him; for if he is so weak
     as to be governed by everybody, I shall have but a bad
     time of it."

A few days later, the Royal betrothal was made public. At the wedding
Lady Sarah tasted the first fruits of revenge, when she was by common
consent, the most lovely of the ten beautiful bridesmaids who, in robes
of white velvet and silver and with diamond-crowned heads, formed the
retinue of George's homely little bride. During the ceremony George had
no eyes for any but the vision of peerless beauty he had lost, who,
compared with his ill-favoured bride, was "as a queenly lily to a
dandelion."

The ceremony was marked by a dramatic incident which crowned Lady
Sarah's revenge, and of which her son tells the following story. Among
the courtiers assembled to pay homage to the new Queen was the
half-blind Lord Westmorland, one of the Pretender's most devoted
adherents.

     "Passing along the line of ladies, and seeing but dimly,
     he mistook my mother for the Queen, plumped down on his
     knees and took her hand to kiss. She drew back startled,
     and deeply colouring, exclaimed, 'I am not the Queen,
     sir.' The incident created a laugh and a little gossip;
     and when George Selwyn heard of it he observed, 'Oh! you
     know he always loved Pretenders.'"

But if Lady Sarah had lost a crown there was still left a dazzling array
of coronets, any one of which was hers for the taking. Her beauty which
was now in full and exquisite flower drew noble wooers to her feet by
the score; but to one and all--including, as Walpole records, Lord
Errol--she turned a deaf ear. Picture then the amazement of the world of
fashion when, within a year of refusing a Queendom, she became the bride
of a mere Baronet--Sir Thomas Bunbury, who had barely reached his
majority, and who, although he was already a full-blown Member of
Parliament and of some note on the Turf, was scarcely known in the
circles in which Lady Sarah shone so brilliantly.

More disconcerting still, Lady Sarah was avowedly happy with her
baronet-husband.

     "And who the d----," she wrote to her bosom-friend, Lady
     Susan, "would not be happy with a pretty place, a good
     house, good horses, greyhounds for hunting, so near
     Newmarket, what company we please in the house, and
     £2,000 a year to spend? Pray now, where is the wretch who
     would not be happy?"

And no doubt she was happy, with her dogs and horses, her peacocks and
silver-pheasants, and her genial sport-loving husband who simply
idolised her. Even after five years of this rustic life she wrote to
Lady Susan, who was now also a wife:

     "Good husbands are not so common, at least I see none
     like my own and your description of yours, from which I
     reckon that we are the two luckiest women living. As for
     me, I should be a monster of ingratitude if I ever made a
     single complaint and did not thank God for making me the
     happiest of beings."

It was fortunate that she had an idolatrous husband; for even in Arcadia
she could not, or would not, keep her coquetry within decent bounds. She
flirted outrageously with the neighbouring squires and with such men of
rank as drifted her way; but the baronet saw no cause for alarm or
resentment. He was frankly delighted that his wife had so many admirers.
He basked genially in the reflected glory of his wife's conquests!

And Lady Sarah might have lived and died the baronet's adored wife had
not Lord William Gordon crossed her path. Lord William was young,
handsome, full of romance, a dangerous rival to the bucolic and stolid
baronet, under whose unobservant eyes he carried on an open flirtation
with his wife. Before Lady Sarah realised her danger, she had drifted
into a _liaison_ with the handsome Scot, which could only have one
termination. One morning in February 1769 Sir Thomas awoke to find his
nest empty. Lady Sarah had flown, and Lord William with her.

Then followed for Lady Sarah a brief period of fearful joy, of
intoxicating passion. Far away near the Scottish border she and her
lover spent halcyon days together. Their favourite walk by the banks of
the Leader is known to-day as the "Lovers' Walk." It was a foolish
paradise in which they were living, and a rude awaking was inevitable.
After three months of bliss Lord William's family brought such pressure
to bear on him that the lovers were compelled to separate--he to travel
abroad, she to find a refuge from her shame under the roof of her
brother, Charles, Duke of Richmond, at Goodwood, where, with her child
(but not Sir Thomas Bunbury's), she spent a dozen years in penitence and
isolation.

The life which had dawned so fairly seemed to be finally merged in
night. Her betrayed husband had procured a divorce; and although he was
chivalry itself in his forgiveness of and kindness to her, she realised
that there was no hope of reunion with him. Days of weeping, nights of
remorse, were her portion. But though she little dared to hope it,
bright days were still in store for her--a happy and honourable
wifehood, and the pride and blessing of children to rise up to do her
honour.

It was the coming of the Hon. George Napier, an old Army friend of her
brother, that heralded the new dawn for her darkened life. There were
few handsomer men in England than this tall, stalwart son of the sixth
Lord Napier, who is described as "faultless in figure and features."
When he met Lady Sarah, under the roof of his old friend, her brother,
he was still mourning the wife whom he had recently buried in New York;
but the sight of such suffering and beauty allied touched a heart which
he had thought dead to passion. That she was as poor as he was, and many
years older mattered nothing to him. He soon realised that his only hope
of happiness lay in winning her. In vain the lady protested that she was
not fit to be his wife.

     "He knows," she wrote to Lady Susan, "I _do_ love him;
     and being certain of that, he laughs at every objection
     that is started, for he says that, loving me to the
     degrees he does, he is quite sure never to repent
     marrying me."

Lady Sarah's family put every possible obstacle in the way of the
proposed union, but the masterful soldier had his way; and one August
day in 1781 Captain Napier led his tarnished but loved and loving bride
to the altar. For many years poverty was their lot; but they laughed at
their empty purse and found their reward in mutual devotion and the
sight of their children growing in strength and beauty by their side. Of
their five sons, three won laurels on many battlefields and died
generals; one of the trio was the famous conqueror of Scinde, another
was the historian of the Peninsular War.

When, after twenty-three years of ideally happy life together, Colonel
Napier (as he had become) died, his widow was disconsolate.

     "How I wish I could go with him," she wrote; "the
     gentlest, bravest man who ever brought sunshine and
     solace into a woman's darkened heart."

But Lady Sarah was destined to walk life's path alone for nearly twenty
years longer, finding her only comfort in watching the careers of her
gallant boys.

To add to her misfortunes her last days were spent in darkness. The eyes
that had melted with love and sparkled with mischief, could no longer
even look on the sons she loved.

A pathetic story is told of these last clouded days of Lady Sarah's
life. In the year 1814, when, although an old woman she had still twelve
years to live, she was present at a sermon preached by the Dean of
Canterbury in aid of an Infirmary for the cure of diseases of the eye.
As the preacher drew a pathetic picture of King George, a liberal patron
of the Infirmary, spending his days in darkness among the splendours of
his palace, tears were seen to stream down Lady Sarah's cheeks, until,
overcome by emotion, she asked her attendant to lead her out of the
church.

Who shall say what sad and tender memories were evoked by this picture
of her lover of fifty years earlier, in his darkness and isolation, shut
out like herself by a dark barrier from the joy and light of life. Among
the mental pictures that thronged her brain was, probably, that of a
dainty maiden, rake in hand, glancing archly from under her bonnet at a
gallant young Prince, whose eyes spoke love to hers as he rode
lingeringly by; and that other picture of the same maid, with downcast
eyes, declaring that she "thought nothing" of her Royal lover's vows,
though they carried a crown with them.



CHAPTER XVII

THE COUNTESS WHO MARRIED HER GROOM


Life has seldom dawned for any daughter of a noble house more fair or
full of promise than for the infant Lady Susanna Cochrane, second
daughter of John, fourth Earl of Dundonald. All that rank and wealth and
beauty could give were hers by birth. Her mother was an Earl's daughter,
and had for grandfather the Duke of Atholl. Her paternal grandmother was
Lady Susanna Hamilton, daughter of the Duke of Hamilton; and on both
sides she came from a line of fair women, many of whom, like her mother,
had ranked among the most beautiful in all Scotland.

Such was the splendid heritage of Lady Susanna when she opened her eyes
on the world two centuries ago; and, during the earlier years of her
life, it seemed that Fortune, who had already dowered her so richly,
could not smile too sweetly on her. She grew to girlhood and young
womanhood more beautiful even than her mother or her two sisters, Anne
and Catherine, of whom the former became a Duchess at sixteen; while
Catherine was not long out of the schoolroom before her hand was won by
the Earl of Galloway.

As for Susanna, the loveliest of the "three Graces"--"Scotland's
fairest daughter," to quote a chronicler of the time--she counted her
high-placed lovers by the score almost before she had graduated into
long frocks; and Charles, sixth Earl of Strathmore, was accounted the
luckiest man north of the Tweed when he won her for his bride.

It was an ideal union, this of the beautiful Lady Susanna with the
stalwart and handsome young Earl--"the fairest lass and bonniest lad" in
all Scotland; and none who saw their radiant happiness on their
wedding-day could have dreamt how soon tragedy was to close so bright a
chapter of romance.

For a few short years the young Earl and his Countess were ideally
happy.

     "I never thought," Lady Strathmore wrote to a friend,
     "that life could be so sweet. The days are all too short
     to crowd my happiness into."

Then, when the sky was fairest, the blow fell.

One May day in the year 1728, the young Earl went to Forfar to attend
the funeral of a friend, and among his fellow-mourners were two men of
his acquaintance, James Carnegie, of Finhaven, and a Mr Lyon, of
Brigton, the latter a distant relative of the Earl.

After the funeral the three men sat drinking together, as was the custom
of the time, and then adjourned to a tavern in Forfar, where they
continued their potations until all three were, beyond all doubt, in an
advanced state of intoxication, and ripe for any mischief.

From the tavern they went, uproariously drunk, to call on a sister of
Carnegie, where Mr Lyon not only became quarrelsome, but with drunken
jocularity, had the audacity to pinch his hostess's arms. It was with
the utmost difficulty that Lord Strathmore induced his two companions to
leave the house, in which one of them had so far forgotten what was due
from him as a gentleman; and it was scarcely to be wondered at that an
unseemly brawl began almost as soon as they were in the street.

Mr Lyon began to conduct himself more outrageously than before, now that
the modified restraint of a lady's presence was removed. With boisterous
horseplay, he pushed Carnegie into a deep gutter which ran by the
roadside, and from which Carnegie emerged covered with mud and raging
with fury. Such an insult could only be wiped out with blood; and,
drawing his sword, Carnegie rushed at his tormentor. The Earl, in order
to avert a tragedy, imprudently threw himself between the two
antagonists, with the intention of diverting the blow. Carnegie's sword
entered his body, passing clean through it; and he fell to the ground a
dying man. Two hours later the young Earl gasped his life out in the
tavern, where he had drunk "not wisely, but too well."

Thus a drunken brawl, following on a funeral, made a widow of the
beautiful Countess of Strathmore just when life was at its brightest and
best, and when the days seemed all too short to hold her happiness.

As for James Carnegie of Finhaven, he was brought to trial on a charge
of murder, and every nerve was strained to bring him to the gallows.
That this was not his fate, in spite of the terrible provocation he had
received, and the obviously accidental nature of the tragedy, he owed
entirely to the skill and eloquence of his counsel, Robert Dundas of
Arniston, who played so cleverly on the feelings and self-importance of
the jury that they returned a verdict of acquittal.

The widowed Countess mourned her lord deeply and sincerely. More
beautiful than ever (she was barely twenty when this tragedy came to
cloud her life), and richly dowered, many a wooer sought to console her
with a new prospect of wedded happiness. She had naught to say to any of
them. She preferred to live alone with her memories, and to find solace
in good works. And thus for seventeen years she lived, a model of all
that is beautiful in womanhood, captivating all hearts by her sweetness
and graciousness, and by a beauty which sorrow only served to refine and
make more lovely still.

Thus we find her in 1745, a gracious and lovely woman, still young,
dispensing her charities and hospitalities, and esteemed everywhere as a
model of all the proprieties. But she was still a woman. Romance and
passion were by no means dead in her; and to this "eternal feminine" we
must look for an explanation of the strange event which now follows in
her story.

Among the Countess's many servants was one George Forbes, a young and
strikingly handsome groom, who had been taken on as stable-boy by her
late husband. Forbes was a simple, manly fellow, a peasant's son, and
with no ambition beyond the state of life to which he had been born. He
was proud of the fact that he had served his mistress well, and that she
liked him. That Lady Strathmore valued her groom was proved by the fact
that she chose him as her escort whenever she went riding, and that she
promoted him to the charge of her stables--a proof of confidence which
no doubt he had earned. But that his high-placed mistress should regard
him otherwise than as a servant was an absurd idea which never entered
his head.

One day, however, the Countess summoned the groom to her presence, and,
to his amazement and embarrassment, told him that she had long grown to
love him, and that she asked nothing better of life than to become his
wife. Overcome with surprise and confusion, Forbes protested--"But my
lady, think of the difference between us. You are one of the greatest
ladies in the land, and I am no better than the earth you tread on."
"You must not say that," the Countess replied. "You are more to me than
rank or riches. These I count as nothing, compared with the happiness
you have it in your power to bestow."

In the face of such pleading, from one so beautiful and so reverenced,
what could the poor groom do but consent, fearful though he was of the
consequences of such an ill-assorted union? And thus strangely and
romantically it was that, one April day in 1745, the Countess of
Strathmore, the descendant of dukes and kings, gave her hand at the
altar to the ex-stable-lad and peasant's son.

What followed this singular union was precisely what was to be expected.
The Countess was disowned by her noble relatives; her friends with one
consent gave her the cold shoulder; and, unable to bear any longer the
constant slights and her complete isolation, she was thankful to escape
with her low-born husband to the Continent.

Here familiarity with the groom quickly, and naturally, perhaps, bred
contempt and disillusion. His coarseness offended every susceptibility;
he was frankly impossible in such an intimate relation; and after she
had given birth to a daughter in Holland, she arranged a separation, for
which the groom was, at least, as grateful as herself. The child--the
very sight of whom, reminding her as she did of the father, she could
not bear--was placed in a convent at Rouen, where she was tenderly cared
for by the abbess and nuns. As for the mother, weary and disillusioned,
she rambled aimlessly and miserably about the Continent until, after
nine years of unhappiness, death came to her at Paris as a merciful
friend. Such was the sordid close of a life that had opened as fairly as
any that has fallen to the lot of woman.

And what of the child who drew from her mother royal and ducal strains,
and from her father the blood of stablemen and peasants? At the Rouen
convent she grew up to girlhood, perfectly happy, among the nuns she
learned to love. The sad and beautiful lady who had come once or twice
to see her, and who, she was told, was her mother, had become a dim
memory of early girlhood. Who the great lady was, and who was her
father, she did not know. This knowledge the nuns, in their wisdom, kept
from her--if, indeed, they knew themselves.

One day, in 1761, her days of childish happiness came to an abrupt and
sensational end. A rough seafaring man called at the convent with a
letter from her father demanding the return of his daughter. The bearer
was sent by the captain of a merchant-vessel, who had instructions to
convey the girl from Rouen to Leith; and, after an affecting farewell to
the abbess and nuns, who had been so kind to her, Susan Janet Emilia
(for that was the girl's name) started with her strange escort on the
long journey to a parent whom she had never consciously seen. The
father, released by the death of the Countess, had married a second wife
of his own station, and had settled as a livery-stable keeper at Leith,
where, with his rapidly-growing family, he had now made his home for
some years.

At last Emilia was handed over to the custody of her groom-father, who
conducted her to his home, which, as may be imagined, was a pitiful and
sordid exchange for the peace and happiness of her convent life. From
the first day the new life was impossible. Emilia was treated by her
stepmother with coarseness and brutality; she was daily taunted with her
dependent position, and shown in a hundred ways that her presence was
unwelcome.

Can one wonder that the proud spirit of the girl rebelled against such
ignominy? It was better far to trust to the mercy of the world than to
bear the brutal treatment of her low-born stepmother. And thus it came
to pass that, early one morning, before the household was awake, Emilia
slipped stealthily away with a few shillings, all her worldly
possessions, in her pocket. Walking a few miles along the shore, she
took the packet-boat, and crossed to the Fife coast, thus placing a
broad arm of the sea between herself and the house of misery and
oppression she had left for ever.

For days this descendant of Scotland's proudest nobles tramped aimlessly
through the country, sleeping in barns or craving the shelter of the
humblest cottage, and, when her money was exhausted, even begging her
bread from door to door.

At last human nature reached its limit. Late one night, footsore and
fainting from exhaustion and hunger, she presented herself at a remote
farmhouse, and begged piteously for a meal and a night's rest. None but
the hardest heart could have resisted such a pathetic appeal, and Farmer
Lauder and his good wife had hearts as large as their bodies. At last
the waif had fallen among good Samaritans. She was received with open
arms; and instead of being sent away in the morning, was cordially
invited to make her home with them.

The rest of Emilia's strange life-story can be told in few words. After
a few years of peaceful and happy life in the hospitable farmhouse, she
married the farmer's only son, an honest and worthy young fellow who
loved her dearly. She became the mother of many children, who in their
humble life knew nothing of their high-placed cousins, the Dukes and
Earls of another world than theirs.

When, in process of time, her husband died--many of her children had
died young, the rest were far from prosperous--Mrs Lauder retired to
spend her last days in a small cottage at St Ninian's, near Stirling,
where for a time she lived in the utmost poverty. Then, when her life
was almost flickering out in destitution, a few of her great relatives
condescended to acknowledge her existence. The Earls of Galloway and
Dunmore, the Duke of Hamilton, and Mrs Stewart Mackenzie combined to
provide her with an annuity of £100; and, thus secure against want, the
old lady contrived to spin out the thread of her days a few years
longer. Thus died, at the advanced age of eighty-five, eating the bread
of charity, the woman who had in her veins the blood of Scotland's
greatest men and her fairest women.



CHAPTER XVIII

A NOBLE VAGABOND


The circle of the British Peerage has included many "vagabonds," some of
whom have worn coronets in our own day; but it is doubtful whether any
one of them all has had the _wanderlust_ in his veins to the same degree
as Edward Wortley Montagu, whose adventurous life was ignominiously
ended by a partridge-bone more than a century and a quarter ago.

It would have been strange if this blue-blooded "rolling-stone" had been
a normal man, since he had for mother that most wayward and eccentric
woman, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who dazzled England by her beauty and
brilliant intellect, and amused it by her oddities in the days of the
first two Georges. This grandson of the Duke of Kingston, and
great-grandson of the first Earl of Sandwich was "his mother's
boy"--with much of his mother's physical and mental charms, and more
than her eccentricities, as his story abundantly proves.

As a child of three he accompanied his parents to Constantinople, where
his father, the Hon. Sydney Montagu, was sent as our Ambassador; and
there he won a place in history at a very early age as the first English
child to be inoculated for the small-pox. Probably, too, it was his
boyish life in Turkey that inoculated him with the passion for all
things Eastern, that so largely influenced his later life.

His adventures began when his parents returned to London, and the boy
was sent as a pupil to Westminster. It was not long before he rebelled
against the discipline and trammels of school-boy life; and one day he
threw down his Euclid and Cæsar and vanished as completely as if the
earth had swallowed him. Every street, court, and alley was searched in
vain for the truant; advertisements and handbills offering a reward for
his recovery were equally futile. Not a trace of the runaway was to be
found anywhere.

One day, a good twelve months after his family had concluded that the
lad was dead, or, at least, lost for ever, Mr Foster, a friend of his
father, chanced to be in Blackwall when he heard a familiar voice crying
fish. "That is the voice of young Montagu," he exclaimed, and promptly
despatched his servant to bring the boy to him. The fish-seller
innocently came back, his basket of plaice and flounders on his head,
and was at once recognised by Mr Foster as the truant son of Lady Mary.

For a time he denied his identity with the utmost coolness; then, seeing
that denial was useless, he flung away his basket and took to his heels.
It was not, however, difficult to trace him; he was tracked to his
master's shop, where it was found that he had been a model apprentice
and fish-hawker for a year; and he was induced to return to his parents
and to school. Thus ignominiously ended Edward's first adventure, the
precursor of a hundred others.

He had, however, only been back at his books a few months when he
vanished again--this time as apprentice on a vessel bound to Oporto, the
captain of which, a Quaker, treated the lad with all kindness and
consideration. Arrived at Portugal he ran away again, and, tramping into
the interior, begging food and shelter on the way, he found work in the
vineyards, where for two years or more he shared the life of the
peasants. One day, as good or ill luck would have it, he was ordered to
drive some asses to the nearest seaport, where he was recognised both by
the English Consul and his old friend, the Quaker; and once more the
prodigal was induced to return to his father's roof.

For a time he proved a model student, to the surprise and delight of his
parents; but once more "hope told a flattering tale." For the third time
he disappeared, and was soon on his way to the Mediterranean as a sailor
working before the mast, and ideally happy in his vagabond life. This
time his father's patience was quite exhausted. He refused to trouble
any more about his prodigal son, declaring that "he had made his bed and
must lie on it."

Mr Foster, however, the rescuer from the fish-basket, was of another
mind. He went in chase of the fugitive, ran him to earth, and brought
him again triumphantly home, submissive but unrepentant. It was quite
clear that the boy would never settle down to the humdrum life of home
and school, and, with his father's permission, Mr Foster took the
restless youth for a long visit to the West Indies, where it seemed that
at last he was cured of his passion for straying. A few years later we
find him back in England, a model of stability, a student and a scholar,
who, in 1747, blossomed into a knight of the shire for the County of
Huntingdon. The rolling-stone had come to rest at last, and had actually
developed into a pillar of the State!

But this eminently respectable chapter in Montagu's chequered life was
destined to be a short one. He soon found himself so uncomfortably deep
in debt that he vanished again--this time to escape from his creditors.
He turned up smiling in Paris, where the sedate legislator blossomed
into the gambler and _roué_, dividing his time between the seductive
poles of the gaming-table and fair women.

His course of dissipation, however, received a sudden and severe check
one Sunday morning in the autumn of 1751, when he was rudely disturbed
by the entry of a _posse_ of officials into his room, armed with a
warrant for his imprisonment.

     "On Sunday, the 31st of October 1751," Mr Montagu
     records, "when it was near one in the morning, as I was
     undressed and going to bed, I heard a person enter my
     room; and upon turning round and seeing a man I did not
     know, I asked him calmly _what he wanted_? His answer was
     that _I must put on my clothes._ I began to expostulate
     upon the motive of his apparition, when a commissary
     instantly entered the room with a pretty numerous
     attendance, and told me with great gravity that he was
     come, by virtue of a warrant for my imprisonment, to
     carry me to the Grand Chatelêt. I requested him again and
     again to inform me of the crime laid to my charge; but
     all his answer was, that _I must follow him_. I begged
     him to give me leave to write to Lord Albemarle, the
     English Ambassador, promising to obey the warrant if his
     Excellency was not pleased to answer for my forthcoming.
     But the Commissary refused me the use of pen and ink,
     though he consented that I should send a verbal message
     to his Excellency, telling me at the same time that he
     would not wait the return of the messenger, because his
     orders were to carry me instantly to prison. As
     resistance under such circumstances must have been
     unavailable, and might have been blameable, I obeyed the
     warrant by following the Commissary, after ordering one
     of my domestics to inform my Lord Albemarle of the
     treatment I underwent.

     "I was carried to the Chatelêt, where the jailors,
     hardened by their profession, and brutal for their
     profit, fastened upon me as upon one of those guilty
     objects whom they lock up to be reserved for public
     punishment; and though neither my looks nor my behaviour
     betrayed the least symptom of guilt, yet I was treated as
     a condemned criminal. I was thrown into prison, and
     committed to a set of wretches who bore no character of
     humanity but its form. My residence--to speak in the jail
     dialect--was in the SECRET, which is no other than the
     dungeon of the prison, where all the furniture was a
     wretched mattress and a crazy chair. The weather was
     cold, and I called for a fire; but I was told I could
     have none. I was thirsty, and called for some wine and
     water, or even a draught of water by itself, but was
     denied it. All the favour I could obtain was a promise to
     be waited on in the morning; and then was left by myself
     under a hundred locks and bolts, with a bit of candle,
     after finding that the words of my jailors were few,
     their orders peremptory, and their favours unattainable.

     "I continued in this dismal dungeon till the 2nd of
     November, entirely ignorant of the crime I was accused
     of; but at nine in the morning of that day, I was carried
     before a magistrate, where I underwent an examination by
     which I understood the heads of the charge against me,
     and which I answered in a manner that ought to have
     cleared my own innocence."

The story of the charge and trial is a long one; but it can be briefly
outlined as follows:--It seems that one, Abraham Paya, a Jew, who,
disguised as "Mr Roberts," was staying with a Miss Rose who was not his
wedded wife, accused Montagu and two of his friends, Mr Taafe and Lord
Southwell, of making him drunk as a preliminary to inveigling him into
play and winning 870 louis d'or from him.

As the Jew, whom his losses had sobered, refused to pay, Montagu and his
associates had compelled him by violence and threats to give them drafts
for the sums owing to them. Then, knowing that payment would be refused,
"Roberts" shook the dust of Paris off his feet, turned his back on lady
and creditors alike, and ran away to Lyons. Whereupon, so said the
complainant, Montagu and his fellow-thieves had ransacked his baggage
(which he had foolishly left behind him), and appropriated all his money
and jewels, to the value of many thousands of livres.

To quote Mr Montagu again, the latter part of the charge was that Mr
Taafe

     "smashed all the trunks, portmanteaus and drawers
     belonging to the complainant, from whence he took out in
     one bag 400 louis d'or, and out of another, to the value
     of 300 louis d'or in French and Portuguese silver; from
     another bag, 1200 livres in crown pieces, a pair of
     brilliant diamond buckles, for which the complainant paid
     8020 livres to the Sieur Piérre; his own picture set
     around with diamonds to the amount of 1200 livres ...
     laces to the amount of 3000 livres, seven or eight
     women's robes; two brilliant diamond rings, several gold
     snuff-boxes, a travelling-chest containing his plate and
     china, and divers other effects, all of which Mr Taafe
     (one of Montagu's co-defendants) packed up in one box,
     and, by the help of his footman, carried in a coach to
     his own apartment. That afterwards Mr Taafe carried Miss
     Rose and her sister in another coach to his lodgings,
     where they remained three days, and then sent them to
     London, under the care of one of his friends."

Fortunately for Montagu, the verdict of the Court was in his favour;
and, after such an unpleasant experience, he was glad to return to
England, where, such an adept at quick-changing was he, that we soon
find him a full-blown Member of Parliament for Bossinery, lightening his
legislative labours by writing a learned treatise on the rise and fall
of ancient Republics. Was there ever such a man? Duke's grandson,
fish-hawker, common sailor, peasant, _roué_, gambler, Member of
Parliament, scholar--all _rôles_ came equally easily to him; and many
more just as varied were to follow. It was while thus wearing the halo
of learning and high respectability that his father died, leaving him a
substantial income, and a large estate in Yorkshire to his eldest son,
if he should have one. And now we find him leaving his law-making and
cultivating letters and science in Italy, further enriched by the guinea
which was all his mother, Lady Mary, condescended to leave her vagrant
son. The rest--an enormous property--went to his sister, the Countess of
Bute.

From Italy he went on a long tour through the East, where he seems to
have played the _rôle_ of Lothario very effectually. At Alexandria (to
give only one of his love adventures) he lost his fickle heart to the
beautiful wife of the Danish Ambassador, whom, under various pretences,
he induced to leave the coast clear by getting him to go to Holland. The
husband thus safely out of the way, Montagu proceeded to dispose of him.
He showed the lady a letter from Holland giving sad details of his
sudden death, and consoled the bereaved "widow" so well that she
consented to reward him with her hand and to accompany him to Syria.

By the time the dead husband had returned to life Montagu was already
weary of honeymooning, and was thankful to make his escape to Italy,
free to woo, and, if necessary, to wed again.

We next find this human chameleon at Venice, wearing a beard down to his
waist, sleeping on the ground, eating rice and drinking water, and
recounting his adventures to all who cared to hear them. He was an
Armenian, and played the part to perfection--until he wearied of it, and
found another to play. At this time he wrote:

     "I have been a labourer in the fields of Switzerland and
     Holland, and have not disdained the humble profession of
     postillion and ploughman. I was a _petit maitre_ at
     Paris, and an abbé at Rome. I put on, at Hamburg, the
     Lutheran ruff, and with a triple chin and a formal
     countenance I dealt about me the word of God so as to
     excite the envy of the clergy. My fate was similar to
     that of a guinea, which at one time is in the hands of a
     Queen, and at another is in the fob of a greasy
     Israelite."

From land to land he wandered, assuming a fresh character in each, and
thoroughly enjoying them all. During a two years' residence at Venice he
was visited by the Duke of Hamilton and a Dr Moore, the latter of whom
gives the following entertaining account of the visit.

     "He met us," Dr Moore writes, "at the stairhead, and led
     us through some apartments furnished in the Venetian
     manner, into an inner room quite in a different style.
     There were no chairs, but he desired us to seat
     ourselves on a sofa, while he placed himself on a cushion
     on the floor, with his legs crossed, in the Turkish
     fashion. A young black slave sate by him; and a venerable
     old man with a long beard served us with coffee. After
     this collation, some aromatic gums were brought and burnt
     in a little silver vessel. Mr Montagu held his nose over
     the steam for some minutes, and snuffed up the perfume
     with peculiar satisfaction; he afterwards endeavoured to
     collect the smoke with his hands, spreading and rubbing
     it carefully along his beard, which hung in hoary
     ringlets to his girdle. This manner of perfuming the
     beard seems more cleanly, and rather an improvement upon
     that used by the Jews in ancient times.

     "We had a great conversation with this venerable-looking
     person, who is, to the last degree, acute, communicative,
     and entertaining, and in whose discourse and manners are
     blended the vivacity of a Frenchman with the gravity of a
     Turk. We found him, however, wonderfully prejudiced in
     favour of the Turkish characters and manners, which he
     thinks infinitely preferable to the European, or those of
     any other nation. He describes the Turks in general as a
     people of great sense and integrity; the most hospitable,
     generous, and the happiest of mankind. He talks of
     returning as soon as possible to Egypt, which he paints
     as a perfect paradise. Though Mr Montagu hardly ever
     stirs abroad, he returned the Duke's visit, and as we
     were not provided with cushions, he sate, while he
     stayed, upon a sofa with his legs under him, as he had
     done at his own house. This posture, by long habit, has
     become the most agreeable to him, and he insists upon its
     being by far the most natural and convenient; but,
     indeed, he seems to cherish the same opinion with regard
     to all customs which prevail among the Turks."

It was during this interview that Mr Montagu declared: "I have never
once been guilty of a small folly in the whole course of my
life"--probably making the mental reservation that all his follies had
been great ones. Thus this singular sprig of nobility drifted through
his kaleidoscopic life, changing his religion as lightly as he changed
from priest to ploughman, or from debauchee to Armenian storyteller.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing he ever did was the publication of the
following advertisement, the object of which was evidently to secure the
large Yorkshire estate devised by his father to any son he might have:

     "MATRIMONY.--A gentleman who hath filled two succeeding
     seats in Parliament, is near sixty years of age, lives in
     great splendour and hospitality, and from whom a
     considerable estate must pass if he dies without issue,
     hath no objection to marry any lady, provided the party
     be of genteel birth, polished manners, and about to
     become a mother. Letters directed to ---- Brecknock,
     Esq., at Wills's Coffeehouse, facing the Admiralty, will
     be honoured with due attention, secrecy, and every
     possible mark of respect."

At this time Montagu was the father of three children--two sons (one a
black boy of thirteen, who was his favourite companion) and a daughter;
but they all lacked the sanction of the altar.

A lady answering these delicate requirements was actually found, and
Montagu would probably have graduated as a respectable husband and
father of another man's child had not his vagabond career been cut
tragically short. One day, when he was dining at Padua with Romney, the
famous artist, a partridge-bone lodged in the old man's throat, and
refused to budge. He was suffocating; his face grew purple--almost
black. In terrified haste a priest was summoned to administer the last
consolations of religion; but the dying man would have none of him. When
he was asked in what faith he wished to leave the world, he gasped, "A
good Mussulman, I hope." A few moments later Edward Wortley Montagu, who
had played more parts on the world's stage than almost any other man who
ever lived, was a corpse. This grandson of a Duke had begun his life of
adventure as a fish-hawker, and ended it as "a good Mussulman."



CHAPTER XIX

FOOTLIGHTS AND CORONETS


Ever since that tough old soldier Charles, first Earl of Monmouth and
third Earl of Peterborough, hauled down his flag before the battery of
Anastasia Robinson's charms, and made a Countess of his victor, a
coronet has dazzled the eyes of many an actress with its rainbow
allurement, and has proved the passport by which she has stepped from
the stage to the gilded circle which environs the throne.

The hero of the Peninsula and the terror of the French was an old man,
with one foot in the grave, when the "nightingale" of the London
theatres brought him to his gouty knees; but so resolute was he to give
her his name that, to make assurance doubly sure, he faced the altar
twice with her, before starting on his honeymoon journey across the
Channel.

Pope, who was a friend of the amorous Earl, draws a pathetic picture of
him in the latter unromantic days of his romance. During a visit to
Bevis Mount, near Southampton, the poet writes:

     "I found my Lord Peterborough on his couch, where he gave
     me an account of the excessive sufferings he had passed
     through, with a weak voice, but spirited. He next told me
     he had ended his domestic affairs through such
     difficulties from the law that gave him as much torment
     of mind as his distemper had done of body, to do right to
     the person to whom he had obligations beyond expression
     (Anastasia Robinson). That he had found it necessary not
     only to declare his marriage to all his relations, but
     since the person who married them was dead, to re-marry
     her in the church at Bristol, before witnesses. He talks
     of getting toward Lyons; but undoubtedly he can never
     travel but to the sea-shore. I pity the poor woman who
     has to share in all he suffers, and who can, in no one
     thing, persuade him to spare himself."

Pope, however, understated the Earl's vigour or his indomitable spirit;
for he not only succeeded in getting to the sea-shore, but as far as
Lisbon, where he died in the following October, but a few months after
his second nuptials. My Lady Peterborough and Monmouth lived to see many
more years, and by her dignity and sweetness to win as much approval in
the Peerage as in the lowlier sphere of the stage.

Anastasia Robinson was the first star of the stage to wear a coronet,
but where she led the way, there were many dainty feet eager to follow;
and, curiously enough, it was Gay's famous _Beggar's Opera_ that pointed
the way to three of them.

Any one who chanced to drop in at a certain coffee-house at Charing
Cross, kept by a Mr Fenton, in the days when the first George was King,
might--indeed, he could not have failed to--have made the acquaintance
of a "little witch" (as Swift called her) with a voice of gold, who was
destined one day to be a Duchess. This little elf with the merry eyes,
dancing feet, and the voice of an angel, was none other than Mrs
Fenton's daughter by a former husband, a naval officer, and the prime
favourite of all the wits and actors whom her fame drew to the
coffee-house.

She sang for her stepfather's customers, danced for them, charmed them
with her ready wit, and sent them into fits of laughter by her childish
drolleries. Of course there was only one career possible for her, they
all declared. She must go on the stage, and then she could not fail to
take London by storm. She had the best masters money could secure for
her; and when she reached her eighteenth birthday Lavinia Fenton made
her first curtsy on the Haymarket stage as Monimia, in _The Orphan_. Her
_début_ was electrifying, sensational. Such beauty, such grace, such
wonderful acting were a revelation, a fresh stimulus to jaded appetites.
Within a few days she had London at her feet. She was the toast of the
gallants, the envy and despair of great ladies. Titled wooers tumbled
over each other in their eagerness to pay her homage; but Lavinia
laughed at them all. She knew her value; and her freedom was more to her
than luxury which had not the sanction of the wedding-ring.

Her real stage triumph, however, was yet to come. After appearing in the
_Beaux's Stratagem_ with brilliant success she was offered the part of
Polly Peachum in Gay's Opera, which was about to make its first bow to
the public. The salary was but fifteen shillings a week (afterwards
doubled); but the part was after Lavinia's own heart. For a few
intoxicating weeks she was the idol and rage of London; her picture
filled the windows of every print-shop; the greatest ladies had it
painted on their fans. Royalty smiled its sweetest on her.

Then, at the very zenith of her triumph, the startling news went
forth--"The Duke of Bolton has run away with Polly Peachum." And the
news was true. The popular idol, who had turned her back on so many
tempting offers, had actually run away with Charles Paulet, third Duke
of Bolton and Constable of the Tower of London; and the stage knew her
no more. For twenty-three years she was a Duchess in all but name, until
the Duke, on the death of his legal wife, daughter of the Earl of
Carberry, was at last able to put Lavinia in her place.

As Duchess, a title which she lived nine years to enjoy, she won golden
opinions by her modest dignity, her large-heartedness, and by the
cleverness and charm of her conversation, which none admired more than
Lord Bathurst and Lord Granville.

Duchess Lavinia had been dead thirty years when Mary Catherine Bolton,
who was to follow in her footsteps, was obscurely cradled in Long Acre
in 1790. Like Lavinia Fenton, Mary Bolton was born for the stage. As a
child the sweetness of her voice and the grace of her movements charmed
all who knew her. The greatest teachers of the day taught her to sing,
and when only sixteen she made a brilliant _début_ as Polly, recalling
all the triumphs of her famous predecessor.

But it was as Ariel that she made her real conquest of London. "So
pretty and winning in pouting wilfulness, so caressing, her voice having
the flowing sweetness of music, she bounded along with so light a foot
that it scarcely seemed to rest upon the stage." It is little wonder
that Ariel danced her way into many hearts, and that even such a sedate
personage as Edward, second Lord Thurlow, should so far succumb to her
fascinations as to offer her marriage. Her wedded life was only too
brief, but she rewarded her lord with three sons; and a liberal share of
her blood flows in the veins of the Baron of to-day, her grandson.

Not many years after Mary Bolton had danced her way into the Peerage
London was losing its head over still another "Polly Peachum"--Catherine
Stephens, daughter of a carver and gilder in the West of London. Miss
Stephens, who like her predecessors in the _rôle_, sang divinely even as
a child, was but seventeen when she made her first stage curtsy, and won
fame at a bound, as Mandano in _Artaxerxes_. One triumph succeeded
another until she reached the pinnacle of success as Polly of the
_Beggar's Opera_.

Catherine Stephens had no lack of gilded and titled lovers; but she was
too much wedded to her art to listen to any vows or to be lured from it
even by a coronet. Although, however, she eluded her destiny until the
verge of middle age she was fated to die a Countess; and a Countess she
became when George Capel, fifth Earl of Essex, asked her to be his wife.
The Earl had passed his eightieth birthday, and was nearly forty years
her senior; but he made her his bride, though he left her a widow within
a year of their nuptial-day.

Since Catherine Stephens wore her coronet--and before--many an actress
has found in the stage-door a portal to the Peerage. Elizabeth Farren,
who was cradled in the year before George III came to his Throne, was
the daughter of a gifted and erratic Irishman, who abandoned pills and
potions to lead the life of a strolling actor, a career which came to a
premature end while his daughter was still a child. Fortunately for
Elizabeth, her mother was a woman of capacity and character, who made a
gallant struggle to give her children as good a start in life as was
possible to her straitened means; and by the time she was fourteen the
girl, who had inherited her father's passion for the stage, was able to
make a most creditable first appearance at Liverpool, as Rosetta, in
Bickerstaff's _Love in a Village._

So adept did she prove in her adopted art that within four years she
made her curtsy at the Haymarket as Miss Hardcastle, in _She Stoops to
Conquer_; and at once, by her grace and brilliant acting, won the hearts
of theatre-going London; while her refinement, at that time by no means
common on the stage, and her social graces won for her a welcome in high
circles. Many a lover of title or eminence sought the hand of the
sparkling and lovely Irishwoman, and none of them all was more ardent in
his wooing than Charles James Fox, then at the zenith of his career as
statesman; but she would have naught to say to any one of them all. Her
fate, however, was not long in coming; and it came in the form of Edward
Stanley, twelfth Earl of Derby, who, before his first wife, a daughter
of the Duke of Hamilton, had been many months in the family-vault, was
at the knees of the beautiful actress. He had little difficulty in
persuading her to become his Countess; and one May day, in 1797, he
placed the wedding-ring on her finger in the drawing-room of his
Grosvenor Square house.

For more than thirty years Lady Derby moved in her new circle, a
splendid and gracious figure, received at Court with special favour by
George III and his Queen, before she died in 1829, transmitting her
blood, through her daughter, Lady Mary Stanley, to the Earl of Wilton of
to-day.

While my Lady Derby was still new to her dignities, Eliza O'Neill was
beginning to prattle in the most charming brogue ever heard across the
Irish Channel, and to grow through beautiful childhood to witching
girlhood. The daughter of a strolling actor who led his company of
buskers through every county in Ireland from Cork to Donegal, the love
of things theatrical was in her veins; and while she was still playing
with her dolls she was impersonating the Duke of York to her father's
Richard III. Everywhere the little witch, with the merry dancing eyes,
won hearts and applause by her sprightly acting, until even so excellent
a judge of histrionic art as John Kemble sought to carry her away to
London and to a wider sphere of activity.

From Dublin, he wrote to Harris, manager of Covent Garden Theatre:

     "There is a very pretty Irish girl here, with a touch of
     the brogue on her tongue; she has much talent and some
     genius. With a little expense and some trouble we might
     make her an object for John Bull's admiration in the
     juvenile tragedy. I have sounded the fair lady on the
     subject of a London engagement. She proposes to append a
     very long family, to which I have given a decided
     negative. If she accepts the offered terms I shall sign,
     seal and ship herself and clan off from Cork direct. She
     is very pretty, and so, in fact, is her brogue, which, by
     the way, she only uses in conversation. She totally
     forgets it when with Shakespeare and other illustrious
     companions."

And thus it was that John O'Neill's daughter carried her charms and
gifts to London town in the autumn of 1812, when she justified Kemble's
discernment by one of the most brilliant series of impersonations,
ranging from Juliet to Belvidera, that had been seen up to that time on
the English stage. For seven years she shone a very bright star in the
firmament of the drama, winning as much popularity off as on the stage,
before she consented to yield her hand to one of the many suitors who
sought it--Mr William Wrixon Becher, a Member of Parliament of some
distinction. Eliza O'Neill lived to be addressed as "my Lady," and to
see her eldest son a Baronet, and her second boy wedded to a daughter of
the second Earl of Listowel.

Five years before Miss O'Neill's Juliet came to captivate London,
another idol of the stage was led to the altar by William, first Earl of
Craven. Louisa Brunton, for that was the name of Craven's Countess, was
cradled, like her successor, on the stage; for her father was well known
at every town on the Norwich Circuit as manager of a popular company of
actors, as devoted to his family of eight children as to his art. When
Louisa made her entry into the world she was the sixth of the clamorous
flock who roamed the country in the wake of their strolling father; and
it would have been odd indeed if she had not acquired a love of the
theatre to stimulate the acting strain in her blood.

Such were the charms and talent that the child developed that, by the
time she came to her eighteenth birthday she was carried off to London
to appear at Covent Garden Theatre as Lady Townley in _The Provoked
Husband_; and the general verdict was that no such clever acting had
been seen since Miss Farren was lured from the stage by a coronet. And
not only did she create an immediate sensation by her acting; her
beauty, which a contemporary writer tells us, "combined the stateliness
of Juno with the gentler and beauty of a Venus," made her a Queen of
Hearts as of actresses. So seductive a prize was not likely to be long
left to adorn the stage; and although Miss Brunton consistently turned a
blind eye to many a seductive offer, she had to succumb when his
Lordship of Craven joined the queue of her courtiers. Four years of
stage sovereignty and then the coronet of a Countess; such was the
record of this daughter of a strolling player, whose greatest ambition
had been to provide food enough for his hungry family. Lady Craven lived
nearly sixty years to enjoy her dignities and splendours, surviving long
enough to see her grandson take his place as third Earl of his line.

[Illustration: HARRIET, DUCHESS OF ST ALBANS]

For twenty years the English stage had no star to compare in brilliancy
with Harriet Mellon, whose life-story is one of the most romantic in
theatrical annals. From the January day in 1795 when she made her bow on
the Drury Lane stage as Lydia in _The Rivals_, to her farewell
appearance in February 1815, a month after she had become a wife, her
career was one unbroken sequence of triumphs. To quote the words of a
chronicler,

     She shone supreme, splendid, unapproachable, not only by
     her brilliant genius, but by her beauty and social
     fascinations.

That she revelled in her conquests is certain; for to not one of her
army of wooers, many of them men of high rank, would she deign more than
a smile, until old Thomas Coutts came, with all the impetus of his
money-bags behind him, and literally swept her off her feet The lady who
had spurned coronets could not resist a million of money, qualified
though it was by the admiration of a senile lover.

Nor did she ever have cause to regret her choice; for no husband could
have been more devoted or more lavish than this shabby old banker who
used to chuckle when he was taken for a beggar, and alms were thrust
into his receptive hand. Wonderful stories are told of Mr Coutts'
generosity to his beautiful wife, for whom nothing that money could buy
was too good.

One day--it is Captain Gronow who tells the tale--Mr Hamlet, a jeweller,
came to his house, bringing for the banker's inspection a magnificent
diamond-cross which had been worn on the previous day (of George IV's
Coronation) by no less a personage than the Duke of York. At sight of
its rainbow fires Mrs Coutts exclaimed: "How happy I should be with such
a splendid piece of jewellery!" "What is it worth?" enquired her
husband. "I could not possibly part with it for less than £15,000," the
jeweller replied. "Bring me a pen and ink," was the only remark of the
doting banker who promptly wrote a cheque for the money, and beamed with
delight as he placed the jewel on his wife's bosom.

    Upon her breast a sparkling cross she wore
    Which Jews might kiss and infidels adore.

And this devotion--idolatry almost--lasted as long as life itself,
reaching its climax in his will, in which he left his actress-wife
every penny of his enormous fortune, amounting to £900,000, "for her
sole use and benefit, and at her absolute disposal, without the
deduction of a single legacy to any other person."

That a widow so richly dowered with beauty and gold should have a world
of lovers in her train is not to be wondered at. For five years she
retained her new freedom, and then yielded to the wooing of William
Aubrey de Vere, ninth Duke of St Albans (whose remote ancestor was Nell
Gwynn, the Drury Lane orange-girl and actress), who made a Duchess of
her one June day in 1827.

For ten short years Harriet Mellon queened it as a Duchess, retaining
her vast fortune in her own hands and dispensing it with a large-hearted
charity and regal hospitality, moving among Royalties and cottagers
alike with equal dignity and graciousness. At her beautiful Highgate
home she played the hostess many a time to two English Kings and their
Queens.

     "The inhabitants of Highgate still bear in memory," Mr
     Howitt records, "her splendid fêtes to Royalty, in some
     of which, they say, she hired all the birds of the
     bird-dealers in London, and fixing their cages in the
     trees, made her grounds one great orchestra of Nature's
     music."

When her Grace died, universally beloved and regretted, in 1837, she
proved her gratitude and loyalty to her banker-husband by leaving all
she possessed, a fortune now swollen to £1,800,000, to Miss Angela
Coutts (grand-daughter of Thomas Coutts and his first wife, Eliza Stark,
a domestic servant) who, as the Baroness Burdett-Coutts of later years,
proved by her large munificence a worthy trustee and dispenser of such
vast wealth.

Such are but a few of the romantic alliances between the peerage and the
stage, of which, during the last score of years, since Miss Connie
Gilchrist blossomed into the Countess of Orkney and Miss Belle Bilton
into my Lady Clancarty, there has been such an epidemic.



CHAPTER XX

A PEASANT COUNTESS


In the dusk of a July evening in the year 1791 a dust-covered footsore
traveller entered the pretty little Shropshire village of Bolas Magna,
which nestles, in its setting of green fields and orchards, almost in
the shadow of the Wrekin. The traveller had tramped many a long league
under a burning sun, and was too weary to fare farther. Moreover, night
was closing in fast, and a few hissing raindrops and the distant rumble
of thunder warned him that a storm was about to break.

He must find some sort of shelter for the night; and among the few
thatch-covered cottages in whose windows lights were beginning to
twinkle, his steps led him to a modest farmhouse behind the small
village church. In answer to his knock, the door was opened by a burly,
pleasant-faced farmer, of whom the stranger craved a refuge from the
storm until the morning, and a little food for which he offered to pay
handsomely. "I shall be grateful for even a chair to sit on," added the
weary traveller, when the farmer protested that he had no accommodation
to offer him.

"Very well," said the farmer, relenting. "Come in, and we'll do the
best we can for you. It's going to be a bad night, not fit to turn a dog
out in, much less a gentleman; and I can see you're that." And a few
minutes later the grateful stranger was seated in Farmer Hoggins's cosy
kitchen before a steaming plate of stew, while the thunder crashed
overhead and the rain dashed in a deluge against the window-panes.

Thus dramatically opened one of the most romantic chapters in the story
of the British Peerage. As Farmer Hoggins shrewdly concluded, his
travel-stained guest was at least a gentleman. His voice and bearing
proclaimed that fact. But the farmer little suspected the true rank of
the man he was thus "entertaining unawares," or all that was to come
from his good-hearted hospitality to a stranger who was so affable and
so entertaining.

Although he was known in his own world as plain Mr Henry Cecil, he was a
man of ancient lineage, and closely allied to some of the greatest in
the land. Long centuries earlier, when William Rufus was King, one of
his ancestors had done doughty deeds in the conquest of Glamorganshire;
and from that distant day all his forefathers had been men who had held
their heads among the highest. One of them was none other than the
famous Lord Burleigh, one of England's greatest statesmen, favourite
Minister and friend of Henry VIII. and his two Queen-daughters. So great
was my Lord Burleigh's wealth that, as Sir Bernard Burke tells us,

     "he had four places of residence--his lodgings at Court,
     his house in the Strand, his family seat at Burleigh, and
     his own favourite seat of Theobalds, near Waltham Cross,
     to which he loved to retire from harness. At his house in
     London he supported a family of fourscore persons,
     without counting those who attended him in public.

     "He kept a standing table for gentlemen, and two other
     tables for those of a meaner condition; and these were
     always served alike, whether he was in or out of town.
     Twelve times he entertained Elizabeth at his house, on
     more than one occasion for some weeks together; and, as
     royal visits are rather expensive luxuries, and
     Elizabeth's formed no exception to the rule (for they
     cost between £1,000 and £2,000), the only wonder is that
     his purse was not exhausted, and that he was able to
     leave his son £25,000 in money and valuable effects,
     besides £4,000 a year in landed estates."

Such was the splendour of this early Cecil, whose two sons were both
raised to Earldoms--of Exeter and Salisbury--on the same day.

Henry himself was heir to one of these family Earldoms--that of
Exeter--and some day would wear a coronet and be lord of vast estates,
although the knowledge gave him little pleasure. His parents had died in
his boyhood; and as his uncle, the Earl, took no interest in his heir,
the lad was left to his own devices. In good time he had wooed and
married the pretty daughter of a West of England squire, a Miss Vernon,
who proved as wayward as she was winsome. His wedded life was indeed so
far from being a bed of roses that he was thankful to recover his
liberty by divorcing his wife; and at the age of thirty-seven, but a few
months before this story opens, he was a free man once more.

Courts and coronets had no attractions for him. His marriage had proved
a bitter draught. He was a disappointed and disillusioned man, and he
determined that if ever he took another wife she should be "a plain,
homely, and truly virtuous maiden, in whatever sphere of life I find
her. Then I swear with King Cophetua, 'This beggar-maid shall be my
Queen.'"

Full of this romantic, if quixotic, resolve, Henry Cecil strapped a
knapsack on his back, and, staff in hand, tramped off in search of the
"beggar-maid" who was to bring him happiness at last; or, if he could
not discover her, at least to find some place of retirement where he
could lead a simple life, remote from the empty splendours and vanities
of the world to which he was born, and in which he had sought happiness
in vain.

And thus it was that in his wanderings his steps led him to the little
village in Shropshire, and to the hospitable roof of Farmer Hoggins and
his good wife, whose hearts he had won before the humble supper-table
was cleared on that stormy July night. No doubt the stranger's enjoyment
of the farmer's hospitality was enhanced by the glimpses he had caught
of his host's daughter, Sarah, a rustic beauty of seventeen summers,
with a complexion of "cream and roses," with a wealth of brown hair, and
lovely blue eyes which from time to time glanced shyly at the
good-looking stranger.

No doubt, too, it was the wish to see more of pretty Miss Sarah that was
responsible for the stranger's reluctance to resume his journey on the
following morning, which dawned bright and beautiful. So far from
showing any anxiety to continue his tramping, Cecil begged his host's
and hostess's permission to spend a few days with them. He was, he said,
a painter by profession; it would give him the greatest pleasure to
spend a few days sketching in such a beautiful district; and he would
pay well for the hospitality.

The farmer and his wife, who had already grown attached to their
pleasant guest, were by no means unwilling to accept the offer; nor did
they raise any protest when the days grew into weeks and months. These
were halcyon days for the world-weary man--delightful days of sketching
in the open air in an environment of natural beauty; peaceful evenings
spent with his simple-minded hosts and friends; and, happiest of all,
the hours in which he basked in the smiles and blushes of pretty Sarah
Hoggins, carrying home her pails of milk, helping her to churn the
butter, or telling to her wondering ears stories of the great world
outside her ken, while the sunset steeped the orchard trees above their
heads in glory.

To Sarah he was known as "Mr Jones"; and to her innocent mind it never
occurred that he could be other than the painter he professed to be.
The villagers, however, were sceptical. True, the stranger was a
pleasant man who always gave them a cheery "good-day," and gossiped with
them in the friendliest manner. But that there was some mystery
connected with him, all agreed. "Painter chaps" were notoriously poor,
and this man always seemed to have plenty of money to fling about. Then,
he would disappear periodically, and always returned with more money.
Where did he go, and how did he get his gold? There could be little
doubt about it. This handsome, mysterious, pleasant-tongued stranger
must be a highwayman; for it was a fact that every time he was absent, a
coach or a chaise was held up in the neighbourhood and its occupants
relieved of their valuables.

Suspicion became certainty when Mr Jones bought a piece of land in their
village and began to build the finest house in the whole district, a
house which must cost, in their bucolic view, a "mint o' money." But Mr
Jones simply smiled at their suspicions, and made himself more agreeable
than ever. He loved the farmer's daughter, and she made no concealment
of her love for him, and nothing else mattered. He had won his
"beggar-maid," and happiness was at last within his grasp.

When he asked his hosts for the hand of their daughter in marriage, the
good lady was indignant. "Marry Sarah!" she exclaimed. "What, to a fine
gentleman? No, indeed; no happiness can come from such a marriage!"

But the farmer for once put his foot down. "Yes," he said, "he shall
marry her. The lass loves him dearly; and has he not house and land,
too, and plenty of money to keep her?" And thus it came to pass that one
October day the church-bells of Bolas rang a merry peal; the villagers
put on their gala clothes; and, amid general rejoicing, qualified by not
a few dark hints and forebodings, Sarah Hoggins was led to the rustic
altar by her "highwayman" bridegroom.

For two ideally happy years Mr Jones lived with his humble bride in the
fine new house which he had built for her, and which he called Burleigh
Villa. He had lived down his character of highwayman, and was regarded,
and respected, as the most important man in the village. He was even
appointed to the honourable offices of churchwarden and overseer; while
under his tuition his peasant-wife was becoming, in the words of the
village gossips, "quite the lady."

One day towards the end of December, 1793, after two years of this
idyllic life, Mr Jones chanced to read in a country paper news which he
had dreaded, for it meant a revolution in his life, the return to the
world he had so gladly forsaken. His dream of the simple life, of
peaceful days, was at an end. His uncle, the old Earl, was dead, and the
coronet and large estates had devolved on him. Should he refuse to take
them, and end his days in this idyllic obscurity, or should he claim the
"baubles," and return to the hollow splendour of a life on which he had
turned his back?

The struggle between duty and inclination was long and bitter; but in
the end duty carried the day. He would go to "Burghley House by Stamford
Town," and fill his place on the roll of the Earls of Exeter. To his
wife he merely said: "To-morrow we must start on a journey to
Lincolnshire. Business calls me there, and we will go together," a
proposal to which she gladly consented, for it meant that she would see
something of the great outside world with the husband she loved.

At daybreak next morning "Mr Jones" said good-bye to his kind hosts and
relatives and to the scene of so much peaceful happiness, and, mounting
his wife behind him on a pillion, started on the journey to distant
Lincolnshire. Through Cannock Chase, by Lichfield and Leicester, they
rode, finding hospitality at many a great house on the way, rather to
the dismay of Sarah, who would have preferred the accommodation of some
modest inn, and who marvelled not a little that her husband, the obscure
artist, should be known to and welcomed by such great folk. But was he
not her hero, one of "Nature's gentlemen," and as such the equal of any
man in the land?

At last, after days of happy journeying through the cold December days,
they came within view of a stately mansion placed in a lordly park, at
sight of which Sarah exclaimed, with sparkling eyes, "Oh, what a
beautiful house!" "Yes," answered her husband, reining in his horse to
enjoy the view; "it is a lovely place. How would you like, my dear
Sally, to be its mistress?" Sally broke into a merry peal of laughter.
"Only fancy _me_," she said, "mistress of such a noble house! It's too
funny for words. But how I should love it if we were only rich enough to
live in it!" "I am so glad you like it, darling," answered her husband,
as he turned in the saddle and placed an arm around her waist; "for it
is yours. I am the Earl of Exeter, its owner, and you--well, you are my
Countess--and my Queen."

   "'Now welcome, Lady!' exclaimed the Earl--
    'This Castle is thine, and these dark woods all.'
    She believed him wild, but his words were truth,
    For Ellen is Lady of Rosenthal."

He did not, like the hero of Moore's ballad, "blow his horn with a
lordly air"; but with his Countess he presented himself at the door of
Burleigh to receive the homage and welcome due to its lord.

   "Many a gallant gay domestic
    Bow before him at the door;
    And they speak in gentle murmur
    When they answer to his call,
    While he treads with footsteps firmer
    Leading on from hall to hall.
    And while now she wanders blindly,
    Nor the meaning can divine,
    Proudly turns he round and kindly,
    'All of that is mine and thine.'"

Thus did Sarah Hoggins, the peasant-girl, blossom into a Countess,
chatelaine of three lordly pleasure-houses, and Lady Bountiful to an
army of dependents. The news of the romantic story flashed through the
county, indeed through the whole of England; and great lords and ladies
by the score flocked to Burleigh to welcome and pay homage to its
heroine.

For a few too brief years Countess Sarah was happy in her new and
splendid environment, though it is said she often sighed for the dear
dead days when her husband was a landscape painter, and she his humble
bride in their village home. The modest primrose did not bear well the
transplanting to the lordly hot-house. Her cheeks began to lose their
roses. She bore to her husband three children; and then, "like a lily
drooping, she bowed down her head and died," tenderly and lovingly
nursed to the last breath by the husband whose heart, it is said, died
with her.

Of her two sons, the elder succeeded to his father's Earldom, and was
promoted to a Marquisate. The younger, Lord Thomas Cecil, married a
daughter of the fourth Duke of Richmond--thus mingling the peasant blood
of Hoggins with the Royal strain of the "Merrie Monarch,"--and survived
until the year 1873. Her daughter had for husband the Right Honourable
Henry Manvers Pierrepoint, and became grandmother to the present Duke of
Wellington, who thus has for great-grandmother Sarah Hoggins, the rustic
beauty who milked cows and was wooed in the Shropshire orchard by "Mr
Jones, the highwayman," when George the Third was King.



CHAPTER XXI

THE FAVOURITE OF A QUEEN


When Robert Dudley was cradled in the year 1532 the ball of Fortune was
already at his feet, awaiting the necessary vigour and enterprise to
kick it. He had, it is true, no great lineage to boast of. Cecil spoke
contemptuously of him in later and envious years as grandson of a mere
squire and son of a knight; but the so-called squire was none other than
Edmond Dudley, the shrewd financier and crafty-tongued minion of Henry
VII., who, with Empson for ally, filled his sovereign's purse with
ill-gotten gold, and paid for his enterprise with his head when the
eighth Henry set himself to the paying off of old scores. His father,
the knight, was that John Dudley, King Henry's trusted friend and
executor of his will, Admiral and Earl Marshal of England, whose
splendid gifts and boundless ambition won a dukedom for him, and made
him for a time more powerful than his King.

[Illustration: ROBERT DUDLEY, EARL OF LEICESTER]

Such was the parentage of Robert Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland's
fifth son, who inherited, with his grandfather's scheming brain and
plausible tongue, the ambition and love of splendour which made his
father the most brilliant subject of two kings. And this great, if
dangerous heritage was not long in manifesting itself in the young
lordling, who was destined to add to his family's story a chapter more
romantic and dazzling than that of which his father was the hero.

As a boy in the schoolroom he was quick to show gifts of mind almost
phenomenal in one so young. Latin and Italian, mathematics and abstruse
sciences came as easily to this scion of the Dudleys as reading and
arithmetic to less-dowered boys. And with this precocity of mind he
developed physical graces and skill no less remarkable until, by the
time he was well in his 'teens, few grown men could ride a horse, couch
a lance, or speed an arrow with such skill as he.

At the Royal Court, where his ducal father was autocrat, the handsome
boy of all the accomplishments found immediate favour and rapid
promotion. He was dubbed a knight when most youths of his years were
still wrestling with their Latin Grammar; he was appointed for life
Master of the Buckhounds; and was chosen one of the six gilded youths
who ministered to the King in the Privy Chamber. And in love he was as
precocious as at the Royal Court and in mental and manly
accomplishments, for at eighteen we find him standing at the altar in
the King's Palace at Sheen, near Richmond, with his youthful Sovereign
as best man.

Whether it was really a love-match or not is open to doubt, perhaps;
for Robert Dudley seems to have had little voice in the choice of his
bride. For his elder brother, Guildford, the Duke chose a wife of
exalted rank, none other than the Lady Jane Grey, grand-daughter of Louis
XII.'s Queen and Henry VIII.'s sister. But for his boy, Robert, a plain
knight's daughter seems to have been good enough in his eyes; and she
was Amy, child of Sir John Robsart, of Siderstern, a lady whose fate was
to be as full of pathos and tragedy as that of his brother Guildford's
wife.

For a time, however, Fortune seemed to smile on this union of the Duke's
son and the Knight's daughter, who was as fair as she was to be
unfortunate, and who was not without a goodly dower of Norfolk lands, on
which her youthful husband settled for a few years of peaceful life. He
soon became a man of mark in the county of his adoption, taking the lead
in local affairs, administering his estates with skill, and finally
blossoming into a Member of Parliament to represent his neighbours at
Westminster. But the call of Court life was always in his ears; and many
a long spell he stole from his wife and his rural duties to spend among
the gaieties of Whitehall or the splendours of Henri II.'s French
_entourage_.

With the death of the boy-king, Edward VI., a change tragic and
unexpected came in the young knight's life. His ambitious father coveted
a crown for his daughter-in-law, the Lady Jane Grey, whom he had induced
Edward, on his death-bed, to nominate as his successor; and
Northumberland, thus armed with Royal authority and spurred by his
insatiable ambition, sought by force of arms to give effect to his
scheme almost before the breath had left the late Sovereign's body. How
his daring project failed is well-known history--how the Princess Mary
on her way southward to her throne eluded Robert Dudley, who was sent to
intercept her; how she equally outwitted Northumberland and his army,
and made her triumphant entry into London as Queen; and how her
vengeance fell on those who had sought to snatch the crown from her.

From the Duke and Lady Jane to Robert Dudley, all the traitors who had
conspired to do this dastardly deed were sent to cool their misguided
ardour in the Tower, from which Northumberland, Jane and her husband
were led to the headsman's block; while Robert Dudley was among those
who were left to languish in durance, and to while away the tedious
hours of captivity by carving their emblems and names on the walls of
their cells, where they may be seen to this day, or to stroll
disconsolately on the Tower leads by way of melancholy exercise.

Robert, it is said, found many of these hours of duress far from
unpleasant; for among the prisoners in the Tower was none other than the
Princess Elizabeth, sister to the Queen (and her successor on the
throne); and we are told, on what authority does not appear, that there
were many sweet and stolen meetings between the fair young Princess and
the captive knight, when bribed warders turned a blind eye on their
dallying. And rumour even goes so far as to speak of secret nuptials,
the fruits of which were, in late years, to bear such high names as my
Lord of Essex and Francis Bacon.

"Fairy tales," no doubt; but, stripped of such ornamental embellishment,
there can be little doubt that it was within the Tower's grim walls that
Dudley first learnt to love the lady who was to be his Queen, and in
whose life he was destined to play such a romantic part, when she should
wear her crown, and he should be her avowed lover and aspirant to her
hand.

A year of such pleasantly-qualified captivity, and Robert Dudley was a
free man again, sent to purge his treason, by a Queen, indulgent to his
youth and it may be to his good looks, by wielding a sword in the war
then raging between Spain and France; and here he acquitted himself so
valiantly for Mary's Spanish allies that, on his return in 1558, covered
with glory, the ban on the Dudleys was removed; and Robert and his
brothers and sisters were restored to all the rank and rights their
father's treason had forfeited.

A few months later Queen Mary died; and when Elizabeth ascended the
throne, Dudley's sun burst into splendour. The romance which had been
cradled amidst the fearful joys of prison-meetings, was now to flourish
under vastly-changed conditions. That the new Queen had lost her heart
to the handsome and accomplished cavalier, whose prowess in war had set
the seal on the favour won by his graces of person and mind and his
ingratiating charm, there can be small doubt; and as little that Dudley,
forgetful of the wife left to pine in solitude in her Norfolk home,
returned the devotion of the lady, now his Sovereign, who had made his
Tower prison a palace of delight.

Nor did Elizabeth make any concealment of her passion. She was a Queen;
and none should question her right to smile on any man, be he subject or
king. Before she had been a year on the Throne, Dudley was proudly
wearing the coveted Garter; was a Privy Councillor and Master of Her
Majesty's horse. She gave him fat lands and monasteries to add to the
large possessions with which her brother Edward had endowed his
favourite; and wherever she went on her Royal progresses, Robert Dudley
rode gallantly at her right hand, a King in all but name. And no Queen
ever had more splendid escort.

He was, indeed, a man after her own heart, the _beau ideal_ of a
cavalier; a lover, like herself, of pomp and splendour, a past-master of
the arts of pageantry and pleasure, and the owner of a tongue as skilled
in the language of adroit flattery as in the use of honeyed words. Such
was Robert Dudley who loved his Queen; and such the Queen who returned
undisguised admiration for flattery, and love for love.

That the greatest Kings and Princes of Europe sought the young Queen's
hand; that ambassadors tumbled over each other in their eagerness to
press on her this splendid alliance and that, mattered nothing to her.
Her hand was her own as much as her Crown--she would dispose of it as
she wished, and none should say her nay. To the fears and anger of her
people at the prospect of her alliance with a subject she was as
indifferent as to the jealousies of Dudley's Court rivals. She could
afford to smile at them all--and she did.

And, while Dudley was thus basking in the smiles of his Sovereign, the
Lady Amy was eating her heart out in loneliness and a futile jealousy in
Norfolk. Her husband, it is true, paid her a duty visit now and then,
and kept her purse well supplied for dresses she had not the heart to
wear. She knew she had lost his love, if, indeed, she had ever had it;
and she spent her days, as was known too late, in tears and prayers for
deliverance from a burden she was too weary to bear longer.

One day, in September 1560, an ominous rumour began to take voice.
Dudley's wife had been poisoned--by her husband, it was said with bated
breath. The Queen herself heard, and repeated the report to the Spanish
Ambassador; varying it on the following day by the statement that "Lord
Robert's wife had broken her neck. It appears that she fell down a
staircase." And this amended version proved to be tragically true. While
Dudley was dallying with his Queen amid the splendours of the Court, his
devoted wife was found, with her neck broken, lying at the foot of a
staircase in the house of a Norfolk neighbour, whose guest she was.

How had this tragedy happened? and had Dudley any hand in it? were the
questions that passed fear-fully from mouth to mouth, from end to end
of England. The story, as told at the inquest, throws little light on
what must always remain more or less a mystery.

This story was as simple as it was tragic. It seems that Amy Robsart
(for by her maiden name she will always live in memory and in pity) rose
early on Sunday morning, the 8th of September, the day of her death, and
suggested that the entire household at Cumnor Place, at which she was
staying, should leave her alone and spend the day at a neighbouring fair
at Abingdon. "As for me," she said, "I shall be quite happy alone. I
have no taste for pleasure; but I always like to know that others are
enjoying themselves, even if I cannot." Eagerly responsive to such a
welcome suggestion the entire household repaired to the fair, except the
hostess (Mrs Owen) and a lady guest; and with them as companions Amy
Robsart spent a quiet and peaceful day. During the evening she rose
suddenly from the card-table, at which the three ladies were playing,
and left the room; and nothing more was seen of her until the servants
returning from the fair found her dead body at the stair-foot.

Was it suicide or a brutal murder? The bucolic jury shrank from either
conclusion, and gave as their verdict "accidental death." That Amy
Robsart ended her own life is far from improbable; for it was no secret
to her friends that she was weary of it, and would welcome the release
death alone could bring. But the general opinion, so far from supporting
this plausible theory, turned to thoughts of murder, and branded Dudley
as slayer of his wife. It was even commonly whispered that he had bribed
one of his minions, Anthony Foster, to hurl her down the stairs to her
death.

Whatever may be the truth, none could prove it then; and who shall
succeed now? It is more generous and certainly more probable to suppose
that Amy Robsart by her own act--wilful, at the dictate of a brain
disordered by grief, or accidental--removed the barrier to her husband's
passion for his Queen. Certain it is that Dudley affected, if he did not
actually feel, deep sorrow at his wife's death, and that he spared no
pains to solve the mystery that surrounded it.

His grief, however, seems to have been short-lived; for before the
unhappy Amy had been many months in her grave we find him more ardent
than ever in his devotion to Elizabeth, whose hand he was now free to
claim. But the Queen, who was nothing if not an arrant coquette, was in
no mood to be caught even by the man she loved. She drove him to
distraction by her caprices. One moment she would "rap him on the
knuckles," only to smile her sweetest on him the next. One day she would
flaunt in his face a patent of peerage, as evidence of her affection;
the next she would cut the parchment to pieces under his nose, laughing
the while. She roused him to frenzies of jealousy by dallying with one
Royal offer of marriage after another--now it was Philip, the Spanish
King, now His Majesty of Sweden--canvassing their respective merits and
charms in his presence, and flaring into angry retorts when he ventured
to ridicule his august rivals.

She carried her tortures even to the extent of seeming to encourage a
match between her favourite and Mary Queen of Scots; and, to make him a
worthy suitor for a Royal hand, granted him the peerage she had so long
dangled before him. Robert Dudley as Baron Denbigh and Earl of Leicester
was no unfit husband for her "Royal sister"; certainly a much more
possible personage than "Sir Robert" could have been. But she never
intended thus to lose her most acceptable admirer, and was
relieved--though she affected to be angry--when news came that Mary had
chosen Darnley for her husband. Thus was Leicester's loss Elizabeth's
gain; and his reward was that he took still a higher place in her
favour.

If he was not now King Consort in name, he was, at least, in place and
power. When the Queen fancied she was dying of small-pox she announced
her wish that he should be appointed Protector of the Realm at a
princely salary; and, when she recovered, he was empowered to act as her
deputy--to receive ambassadors, to interview ministers, and to sit in
her seat at the deliberations of her council. To such an eminence had
the favour of a Queen raised the grandson of the "country squire."

No wonder it was commonly rumoured either that she was actually Dudley's
wife or that her relations with him were open to grave suspicion. "I am
spoken of," she once bitterly said to the Spanish Ambassador, "as if I
were an immodest woman. I ought not to wonder at it. I have favoured him
because of his excellent disposition and his many merits. But I am
young, and he is young, and therefore we have been slandered. God knows,
they do us grievous wrong, and the time will come when the world knows
it also. I do not live in a corner; a thousand eyes see all I do, and
calumny will not fasten on me for ever."

But neither Elizabeth nor Dudley (or Leicester, as we must now call him)
allowed these rumours and suspicions to affect even their familiarities,
which were proclaimed to all on many a public occasion; as when the Earl
once, during a heated game of tennis, snatched the Queen's handkerchief
from her hand and proceeded to wipe his perspiring forehead with it.

To Elizabeth's passion for pomp and pageantry Leicester was
indispensable. It was he who arranged to the smallest detail her
gorgeous progresses and receptions, culminating in that historic visit
to Kenilworth in 1575, every hour of which was crowded with
cunningly-devised entertainments--from the splendid pageantry of her
welcome, through banquets and masquerades, to hunting and
bear-baiting--all on a scale of lavish prodigality such as even that
most gorgeous of Queens had never known.

Thus for thirty long years Leicester held his paramount place in the
affections of his Sovereign--a pre-eminence which was never seriously
endangered even when he seemed most disloyal, and transferred to other
women attentions of which she claimed a monopoly. When he flirted
outrageously with my Lady Hereford, one of the loveliest women at Court,
she responded by coquetting openly with Sir Christopher Hatton, Lord
Ormonde, or Sir Thomas Heneage; and only laughed at the jealousy she
aroused. "If a man may flirt," she would mockingly say, "why not a
woman, especially when that woman is a Queen?" And, of course, to this
question there was no other answer for my lord than to "kiss and be
friends," and to promise to be more discreet in the future.

But the Earl was ever weak in the presence of beauty; and in spite of
all his vows could not long be true even to his Queen. He lost his heart
to the lovely wife of Lord Sheffield; and when her husband died
conveniently and mysteriously (it was said that Leicester, with his
doctor's help, removed him by a dose of poison) it was not long before
he wedded her in secret, only just in time to make her child, whose
name, "Robert Dudley," made no concealment of his parentage, legitimate.
Before the child was many months old, however, the father was caught in
the toils of another charmer, my Lady Essex, and after deserting his
wife and, it is said, unsuccessfully trying to poison her, he made Lady
Essex his Countess, in defiance of that secret wedding with Sheffield's
widow.

When news of this double treachery, with the ugly suspicions that
attended it, reached the Queen's ears, her rage knew no bounds. She
vowed that she would send her faithless lover to the Tower, that his
head should pay forfeit for his false heart; and it was only when her
anger had had time to cool that more moderate counsels prevailed, and
she was content to banish him to a virtual prison at Greenwich.

It was not long, however, before her heart, always weak where her "sweet
Robin" was concerned, relented; and he was summoned back to Court to
resume his place at her side. In fact his very falseness and his follies
seemed to make him even dearer to the infatuated woman than his loyalty
and his love-making had ever done.

These days of silken ease were, however, soon to be changed. When, in
1585, Elizabeth wished to send her soldiers to help Holland in the
struggle with Spain, her choice fell on Leicester to take command of the
expedition, though his only experience of war had been more than a
quarter of a century earlier, when young Dudley had left the Tower and
his fellow Princess-captive's side to give his sword its baptism of
blood in Picardy. At Flushing and Leyden, Utrecht and Rotterdam, the
great English Earl and friend of England's Queen was received with the
rapturous homage due to a Sovereign deliverer rather than to a subject.
All Holland abandoned herself to a delirium of joy and festivity, and
before he had been many weeks in the Netherlands a heroic statue rose at
Rotterdam in his honour; and he was invited with one clamorous and
insistent voice to take his place as governor and dictator of the land
he had come to save.

Such a splendid lure was too potent for Leicester's ambition to resist.
Without troubling to consult his Sovereign at home he accepted the
"throne" that was offered to him; and it was only after ten days had
elapsed that he deigned to despatch a messenger to Elizabeth with news
of his promotion. Meanwhile, and long before his envoy, who was delayed
by storms on his journey, could reach the English Court, Elizabeth had
heard news of her favourite's presumption, and her Royal anger blazed
into flame at his insolence in daring to accept such honours without
consulting her pleasure.

She promptly despatched Sir Thomas Heneage, his whilom rival, to the
Netherlands armed with a scathing letter in which the Queen poured out
the vials of her wrath on Leicester's head.

     "How contemptuously we conceive ourselves to have been
     used," she wrote, "you shall by the bearer understand. We
     could never have imagined, had we not seen it fall out in
     experience, that a man raised up by ourself, and
     extraordinarily favoured by us above any other subject of
     this land, would have in so contemptible a sort broken
     our commandment in a cause that so greatly toucheth us in
     honour ... and therefore, our express pleasure and
     commandment is that, all delays and excuses laid apart,
     you do presently, upon the duty of your allegiance, obey
     and fulfil whatsoever the bearer hereof shall direct you
     to do in our name. Whereof fail you not, as you will
     answer the contrary at your uttermost peril."

One can imagine Leicester's feelings on reading such words of Royal
anger and reproach from the woman who had always shown such indulgence
to him. His impulse was to resign his governorship forthwith, and to
hasten back to London to beg forgiveness on his knees; but before he
could give effect to this decision he had learned that Burghley had
interceded for him with the Queen to such effect that, supported by a
petition from the States-General, he was to be allowed to retain his
office with Elizabeth's reluctant consent.

A few months of rule, however, were sufficient to disillusionise the
Dutchmen. Leicester proved as incapable to govern a country, as to lead
an army. His arrogance, his outspoken contempt for his subjects, his
incompetence and his capricious temper, so thoroughly disgusted the
nation that had welcomed him with open arms, that he was asked to resign
his office as unanimously as he had been invited to accept it; and in
November of 1587, the Earl returned ignominiously to England, eager to
repair his damaged credit by at least making peace with his Queen.

To his delight he was received with as much cordiality as if he had done
naught at all to earn his Lady's displeasure. Elizabeth had undoubtedly
missed her favourite, her right-hand man. She had in fact become so
accustomed to him that she could not be long happy unless he was at her
side; and it was by her side that he rode and shared the acclamations
with which her soldiers greeted her when she paid that historic visit to
the camp at Tilbury on the eve of the Armada.

But Leicester's adventurous life was now drifting to its close. His
health had for some time given him cause for alarm, and in August 1588,
he left his Kenilworth home to seek relief by taking baths and drinking
healing waters; and from Rycott he wrote the last of his many letters to
the Queen.

     "I most humbly beseech your Majesty," he wrote, "to
     pardon your poor old servant to be thus bold in sending
     to know how my gracious Lady doth and what ease of her
     late pain she finds, being the chiefest thing in this
     world I do pray for is for her to have good health and
     long life. For my own poor case I continue still your
     medicine, and find it amend much better than with any
     other thing that hath been given me. Thus hoping to find
     perfect cure at the bath, with the continuance of my
     wonted prayer for your Majesty's most happy preservation,
     I humbly kiss your foot. From your old lodging at Rycott
     this Thursday morning ready to take on my journey. By
     your Majesty's most faithful and obedient servant,--
     R. LEYCESTER."

But the Earl was not destined to reach the baths. His course was run. He
got as far on his journey as Coventry; and there, on the 4th of
September, he drew his last breath. Some said that his end was hastened
by a dose of poison administered by his Countess, eager to pursue
unchecked her intrigue with Christopher Blount; others that she
accidentally gave him a draught from a bottle of poison which he had
designed for her. But neither suspicion seems to have any evidence to
support it.

Thus perished, little past the prime of life, a man who more than any
other of his day drained the cup of pride and pleasure, to find its
dregs exceeding bitter to the taste.



CHAPTER XXII

TWO IRISH BEAUTIES


In the winter of 1745 the city of Dublin was thrown into a state of high
excitement by the appearance of a couple of girls from the wilds of
Connaught, whose almost unearthly beauty won the instant homage of every
man, from His Excellency the Earl of Harrington, then Lord Lieutenant,
to the sourest jarvey who cracked a whip in her streets. To quote the
pardonably extravagant language of a chronicler of the time,

     "They swam into the social firmament of the Irish capital
     like twin planets of dazzling splendour, eclipsing all
     other constellations, as if the pall of night had been
     drawn over them."

They had grown to girlhood, so the story ran from mouth to mouth, in a
ruinous thatched house, in the shadow of Castle Coote, in County
Roscommon, and were the daughters of John Gunning, a roystering,
happy-go-lucky, dram-drinking squireen, whose most serious occupation in
life was keeping the brokers' men on the right side of his door. And at
the time this story opens they were living in a cottage, rented for a
modest eight pounds a year, on the outskirts of Dublin, with their
mother, who was a daughter of Lord Mayo.

To say that all Dublin was at the feet of the Gunning sisters, at the
first sight of their lovely faces and dainty figures, is an unadorned
statement of fact. The young "bloods" of the capital were their slaves
to a man, ready to spill the last drop of blood for them; and every
gallant of the Viceregal Court drank toasts to their beauty, and vied
with his rivals to win a smile or a word from them. Peg Woffington, it
is said, threw up her arms in wonder at the sight of them, and, as she
hugged each in turn, declared that she "had never seen anything half so
sweet"; and Tom Sheridan went down on his knees in involuntary homage to
the majesty of their beauty.

It was Tom Sheridan who placed his stage wardrobe at their disposal when
they were invited to the great Viceregal ball in honour of King George's
birthday; and, attired as Lady Macbeth and Juliet respectively, they
danced the stately minuet and rollicking country dances with such grace
and abandon that lords and ladies stopped in their dances, and mounted
on chairs and tables to feast their eyes on so rare and ravishing a
sight.

     "With Betty as with Maria," says Mr Frankfort Moore, "the
     art of the dance had become part of her nature. Her
     languorous eyes were in sympathy with the voluptuous
     movements of her feet and lithe body, and the curves
     made by her arms formed an invisible chain that held
     everyone entranced. The caresses of her fingers, the
     coyness of her curtsies, the allurements of her
     movements--all the graces and charms inwoven that make up
     the poem of the minuet--became visible by the art of that
     exquisite girl, until all other dancers became
     common-place by comparison."

Such was the fascination of their beauty that, it is said, the sisters
were one day drugged by a party of licentious admirers, whose guests
they had innocently consented to be, and were actually being carried
away by their ravishers when Sheridan, who had got wind of the plot,
appeared on the scene with a number of stout-armed friends, and effected
their rescue.

But even Dublin was no suitable market for such peerless beauties, Mrs
Gunning decided. Through her they had the blood of the Plantagenets in
their veins; and no man less than a Duke or an Earl--certainly not an
Irish squire or impoverished lord--was a fitting match for her
daughters. And so to England and London they were carried, flushed with
their conquests, leaving broken hearts behind them, and heralded across
the Channel by many a sonnet singing their beauty.

But, although each was equally fair, the sisters were by no means alike
in their charms. Maria, all gladness and mirth, was a sprightly
brunette, in whose laughing glances shone the fires of a
pleasure-seeking soul; while Elizabeth, the younger, with soft blue eyes
and dark golden hair, although infinitely more placid, was no less
radiant than her dashing sister.

     "Each was," to quote another description, "divinely tall,
     with a figure of perfect symmetry, and a grace of dignity
     enhanced by the proud poise of the small Grecian head.
     Faultless also were the rounded arms and the hands, with
     their long, slender tapering fingers."

All the portraits of Elizabeth reveal the same dainty disdainful lips in
the shape of a Cupid's bow, the long, slender nose, the half-drooping
lids and lashes. In colouring there was the same delicacy. A soft, ivory
pallor shone in her face, a flush of pink warmed her cheeks, there was a
gleam of gold as the sunbeams touched her light brown hair.

Such, in the cold medium of type, were the two Irish sisters who took
London by storm, and who "made more noise than any of their predecessors
since the days of Helen," in the summer of 1751. Their conquest was
immediate, electrifying. London raved about the new beauties; they were
the theme of every tongue, from the Court to the meanest coffee-house.
Even Grub Street rubbed its eyes in amazement at the wonderful vision,
and ransacked its dictionaries for superlatives; and the poets, with one
accord, struck their lyres to a new inspiration.

Whenever the sisters took their walks abroad "they were beset by a
curious multitude, the press being once so great that one of the sisters
fainted away and had to be carried home in her chair; while on another
occasion their beaux were compelled to draw swords to rescue them from
the mob." When, too, they once went to Vauxhall Gardens, they found
themselves the centre of a mob of eight thousand spectators, struggling
to catch a glimpse of their lovely faces or to touch the "hem of their
garments."

When, in alarm, they sought refuge in a neighbouring box, the door was
at once besieged by jostling, clamorous thousands, who were only kept at
bay by the sword-points of their escort. And when, one day, they visited
Hampton Court, the housekeeper showed the company who were "lionising"
the place into the room where they were sitting, instead of into the
apartment known as the "Beauty Room," with the significant remark,
"_These_ are the beauties, gentlemen."

With such universal and embarrassing homage, it is no wonder that all
the gallants in town, from the rakish Duke of Cumberland downwards, were
at the feet of the fair sisters, or that they had the refusal of many a
coronet before they had been many weeks in London. Each sister counted
her noble lovers by the score, and each soon capitulated to a favoured
wooer.

Among Maria's most ardent suitors was the Earl of Coventry, "a grave
young lord" of handsome person and courtly graces, who had singled
himself out from them all by the ardour of his wooing; and to him Maria
gave her hand. One March day in 1752, the world of fashion was thrown
into a high state of excitement by reading the following announcement:--

     "On Thursday evening the Earl of Coventry was married to
     Miss Maria Gunning, a lady possessed of that exquisite
     beauty and of those accomplishments which will add Grace
     and Dignity to the highest station. As soon as the
     ceremony was over they set out for Lord Ashburnham's seat
     at Charlton, in Kent, to consummate their nuptials."

Of Lady Coventry, who seems to have been as vain and foolish as she was
beautiful, many amusing stories are told. So annoyed was her ladyship by
the crowds that still followed her when she took the air in St James's
Park that she appealed to the King for an escort of soldiers, a favour
which was readily granted to "the most beautiful woman in England,"
Thus, on one occasion, we are told,

     "from eight to ten o'clock in the evening, a strange
     procession paraded the crowded avenues, obliging everyone
     to make way and exciting universal laughter. In front
     marched two sergeants with their halberds, then tripped
     the self-conscious Lady Coventry, attended by her husband
     and an ardent admirer, the amorous Earl of Pembroke,
     while twelve soldiers of the guard followed in the rear!"

One day, so runs another story which illustrates her ladyship's lack of
discretion, she was talking to King George II., who in spite of his age,
was a great admirer of beauty, and especially of my Lady Coventry. "Are
you not sorry," His Majesty enquired, "that there are to be no more
masquerades?" "Indeed, no," was the answer. "I am quite weary of them
and of all London sights. There is only one left that I am really
anxious to see, and that is a _coronation_!" This unflattering wish she
was not destined to realise; for King George survived the foolish
beauty by a fortnight.

Lady Coventry had no greater admirer of her own charms than herself. She
spent her days worshipping at the shrine of her loveliness, and
embellished nature with every device of art. She squandered fortunes in
adorning it with the most costly jewellery and dresses, of one of which
the following story is told. One day she exhibited to George Selwyn a
wonderful costume which she was going to wear at an approaching fête.
The dress was a miracle of blue silk, richly brocaded with silver spots
of the size of a shilling. "And how do you think I shall look in it, Mr
Selwyn?" she archly asked. "Why," he replied, "you will look like change
for a guinea."

[Illustration: MARIA, COUNTESS OF COVENTRY]

Mrs Delany draws a remarkable picture of my lady at this culminating
period of her vanity.

     "Yesterday after chapel," she writes, "the Duchess
     brought home Lady Coventry to feast me--and a feast she
     was! She is a fine figure and vastly handsome,
     notwithstanding a silly look sometimes about the month;
     she has a thousand airs, but with a sort of innocence
     that diverts one! Her dress was a black silk sack, made
     for a large hoop, which she wore without any, and it
     trailed a yard on the ground. She had on a cobweb-laced
     handkerchief, a pink satin long cloak, lined with ermine
     mixed with squirrel-skins. On her head a French cap that
     just covered the top of her head, of blond, and stood in
     the form of a butterfly with wings not quite extended;
     frilled sort of lappets crossed under her chin, and tied
     with pink and green ribbon--a head-dress that would have
     charmed a shepherd! She had a thousand dimples and
     prettinesses in her cheeks, her eyes a little drooping at
     the corners, but fine for all that."

Such vanities may be pardoned in a woman so lovely and so spoiled by
Fortune, especially as her reign was fated to be as brief as it was
splendid. She was, perhaps, too fair a flower to be allowed to bloom
long in the garden of this world. Before she had been long a bride
consumption sowed its deadly seeds in her; and she drained the cup of
pleasure with the fatal sword hanging over her head. She knew she was
doomed, that all the medical skill in the world could not save her; and,
with characteristic courage, she determined to enjoy life to its last
dregs.

She saw her beauty fade daily, and pathetically tried to conceal its
decay by powders and paints. She grew daily weaker; but, with a brave
smile, held her place in the vortex of gaiety. Even when the inevitable
end was near she insisted on attending the trial of Lord Ferrers for the
murder of his steward. As Horace Walpole says,

     "The seats of the Peeresses were not nearly full, and
     most of the beauties were absent; but, to the amazement
     of everybody, Lady Coventry was there, and, what
     surprised me more, looked as well as ever. I sat next but
     one to her, and should not have asked her if she had been
     ill, yet they are positive she has few weeks to live. She
     was observed to be 'acting over all the old comedy of
     eyes' with her former flame, Lord Bolingbroke, an
     unscrupulous rake, who seems to have striven for years to
     make her the victim of his passion."

Her conduct, indeed, seems never to have been very discreet.

     "Her levities," says a chronicler of the time, "were very
     publicly talked of, and some gallantries were ascribed to
     her which were greatly believed. However, they were never
     brought home to her; and, if she were guilty, she escaped
     with only a little private scandal, which generally falls
     to the lot of every woman of uncommon beauty who is
     envied by the rest of her sex."

During the summer of 1760 the unhappy lady lay at the point of death, in
her stately home at Croome Court, bravely awaiting the end.

     "Until the last few days," says Mr Horace Bleackley, "the
     pretty Countess lay upon a sofa, with a mirror in her
     hand, gazing with yearning eyes upon the reflection of
     her fading charms. To the end her ruling passion was
     unchanged; for when she perceived that her beauty had
     vanished she asked to be carried to bed, and called for
     the room to be darkened and the curtains drawn,
     permitting none to look upon her pallid face and sunken
     cheeks."

Thus, robbed of all that had made life worth living, and bitterly
realising the vanity of beauty, Lady Coventry drew her last breath on
October 1st 1760. Ten days later, ten thousand persons paid their last
homage to her in Pirton churchyard.

       *       *       *       *       *

Three weeks before Maria Gunning blossomed into a Countess her younger
sister Betty had been led to the altar under much more romantic
conditions, after one of the most rapid and impetuous wooings in the
annals of Love. A few weeks before she wore her wedding-ring, the man
who was to win her was not even known to her by sight; and what she had
heard of him was by no means calculated to impress her in his favour.
The Duke of Hamilton, while still young, had won for himself a very
unenviable notoriety as a debauchee in an age of profligacy. He had
drunk deep of every cup of questionable pleasure; and at an age when he
should have been in the very prime of his manhood, he was a physical
wreck, his vitality drained almost to its last drop by shameful
excesses.

Such was the man who entered the lists against a legion of formidable
rivals for the guerdon of Betty Gunning's hand. It was at a masquerade
that he first seems to have set eyes on her; and at sight of her this
jaded, worn devotee of pleasure fell headlong in love. Within an hour of
being introduced he was, Walpole says,

     "making violent love to her at one end of the room, in my
     Lord Chesterfield's house, while he was playing at
     pharaoh at the other; that is, he neither saw the bank
     nor his own cards, which were of £300 each. He soon lost
     a thousand."

Such was the first meeting of the lovely Irish girl, and the man whom
she was to marry--a man who, even in the thraldom of a violent love,
could not refrain from indulging his passion for gambling. So inflamed
was he by this new beauty who had crossed his path that, to quote our
entertaining gossip again,

     "two nights afterwards, being left alone with her, while
     her mother and sister were at Bedford House, he found
     himself so infatuated that he sent for a parson. The
     doctor refused to perform the ceremony without licence or
     ring--the Duke swore he would send for the Archbishop. At
     last they were married with the ring of the bed-curtain,
     at half an hour after twelve at night, at Mayfair Chapel.
     The Scotch are enraged, the women mad that so much beauty
     has had its effect."

If the wooing be happy that is not long in doing, the new Duchess should
have been a very enviable woman; as no doubt she was, for she had
achieved a splendid match; the daughter of the penniless Irish squireen
had won, in a few days, rank and riches, which many an Earl's daughter
would have been proud to capture; and, although her Ducal husband was
"debauched, and damaged in his fortune and his person," he was her very
slave, and, as far as possible to such a man, did his best to make her
happy.

Translated to a new world of splendour the Irish girl seems to have
borne herself with astonishing dignity and modesty. She might, indeed,
have been cradled in a Duke's palace, instead of in a "dilapidated
farmhouse in the wilds of Ireland," so naturally did she take to her
new _rôle_. When Her Grace, wearing her Duchess's coronet, made her
curtsy to the King one March day in 1752,

     "the crowd was so great, that even the noble mob in the
     drawing-room clambered upon tables and chairs to look at
     her. There are mobs at the doors to see her get into her
     chair; and people go early to get places at the theatre
     when it is known that she will be there."

A few weeks after the marriage, the Duke of Hamilton conducted his bride
to the home of his ancestors; and never perhaps has any but a Royal
bride made such a splendid progress to her future home. Along the entire
route from London to Scotland she was greeted with cheering crowds
struggling to catch a glimpse of the famous beauty, whose romantic story
had stirred even the least sentimental to sympathy and curiosity. When
they stopped one night at a Yorkshire inn, "seven hundred people," we
are told, "sat up all night in and about the house merely to see the
Duchess get into her post-chaise the next morning."

Arrived at her husband's Highland Castle she was received with honours
that might almost have embarrassed a Queen, and which must have seemed
strange indeed to the woman whose memories of sordid life in that small
cottage on the outskirts of Dublin were still so vivid. Indeed no Queen
could have led a more stately life than was now opened to her.

     "The Duke of Hamilton," says Walpole, to whom the world
     is indebted for so much that it knows of the Gunning
     sisters, "is the abstract of Scotch pride. He and the
     Duchess, at their own house, walk into dinner before
     their company, sit together at the upper end of their own
     table, eat off the same plate, and drink to nobody under
     the rank of an Earl. Would not indeed," the genial old
     chatterbox adds, "one wonder how they could get anybody,
     either above or below that rank, to dine with them at
     all? It is, indeed, a marvel how such a host could find
     guests of any degree sufficiently wanting in self-respect
     to sit at his table and endure his pompous insolence--the
     insolence of an innately vulgar mind, which, unhappily,
     is sometimes to be met even in the most exalted rank of
     life."

Perhaps the proudest period in Duchess Betty's romantic life was when,
with her husband, the Duke, she paid a visit, in 1755, to Dublin, the
"dear, dirty" city she had known in the days of her poverty and
obscurity, when her greatest dread was the sight of a bailiff in the
house, and her highest ambition to procure a dress to display her
budding charms at a dance. Her stay in Dublin was one long, intoxicating
triumph. "No Queen," she said, "could have been more handsomely
treated." Wherever she went she was followed by mobs, fighting to get a
glimpse of her, or to touch the hem of her gown, and blissful if they
could win a smile from the "darlint Duchess" who had brought so much
glory to old Ireland.

Her wedded life, however, was destined to be brief. Her husband had one
foot in his premature grave when he put the curtain-ring on her finger;
but, beyond all doubt, his marriage gave him a new if short lease of
life. She became a widow in 1758; and before she had worn her weeds
three months she had a swarm of suitors buzzing round her. The Duke of
Bridgewater was among the first to fall on his knees before the
fascinating widow, who, everybody now vowed, was lovelier than ever; but
he proved too exacting in his demands to please Her Grace. In fact, the
only one of all her new wooers on whom she could smile was Colonel John
Campbell, who, although a commoner, would one day blossom into a Duke of
Argyll; and she gave her hand to "handsome Jack" within twelve months of
weeping over the grave of her first husband.

     "It was a match," Walpole says, "that would not disgrace
     Arcadia. Her beauty had made enough sensation, and in
     some people's eyes is even improved. She has a most
     pleasing person, countenance and manner; and if they
     could but carry to Scotland some of our sultry English
     weather, they might restore the ancient pastoral life,
     when fair kings and queens reigned at once over their
     subjects and their sheep."

It was under such Arcadian conditions that Betty Gunning began her
second venture in matrimony, which proved as happy as its promise.
Probably the eleven years which the Dowager-Duchess had to wait for her
next coronet were the happiest of her life; and when at last Colonel
Jack became fifth Duke of Argyll she was able to resume the life of
stately splendour which had been hers with her first Duke. By this time
her beauty had begun to show signs of fading.

     "As she is not quite so charming as she was," says
     Walpole, "I do not know whether it is not better to
     change her title than to retain that which puts one in
     mind of her beauty."

But what she may have lost in physical charms she had gained in social
prestige. She was appointed Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Charlotte;
and was one of the three ladies who acted as escort to the Princess
Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz to the arms of her reluctant husband,
George III. It is said that when the young German bride came in sight of
the palace of her future husband, she turned pale and showed such signs
of terror as to force a smile from the Duchess who sat by her side. Upon
which the frightened young Princess remarked, "My dear Duchess, you may
laugh, for you have been married twice; but it is no joke for me." Her
life as Lady of the Bedchamber appears to have been by no means a bed of
roses, for Charlotte proved so jealous of the attentions paid to the
beautiful Duchess by her husband, the King, that at one time she
contemplated resigning her post. The letter of resignation was actually
written and despatched; but Her Grace, who did not approve altogether of
its language, added this naive postscript before sending it, "Though _I_
wrote the letter, it was the Duke who dictated it."

Boswell, when describing a visit he paid to Inverary Castle, in
Johnson's company, gives us no very favourable impression of the
Duchess's courtesy as hostess. When the Duke conducted him to the
drawing-room and announced his name,

     "the Duchess," he says, "who was sitting with her
     daughter and some other ladies, took not the least
     notice of me. I should have been mortified at being thus
     coldly received by a lady of whom I, with the rest of the
     world, have always entertained a very high admiration,
     had I not been consoled by the obliging attention of the
     Duke."

During dinner, when Boswell ventured to drink Her Grace's good health,
she seems equally to have ignored him. And while paying the utmost
deference and attention to Johnson, the only remark she deigned to make
to his fellow-guest was a contemptuous "I fancy you must be a
Methodist." In fairness to the Duchess it should be said that Boswell
had incurred her grave displeasure by taking part against her in the
famous Douglas Case in which she was deeply interested; and this was no
doubt the reason why for once she forgot the elementary demands of
hospitality as well as the courtesy due to her rank; and why, when
Johnson mentioned his companion by name, she answered coldly, "I know
nothing of Mr Boswell."

The Duchess saw her daughter, Lady Betty Hamilton, wedded to Lord
Stanley, the future Earl of Derby, a union in which she paid by a life
of misery for her mother's scheming ambition; and died in 1790, thirty
years after her sister Maria drew the last breath of her short life
behind drawn bed-curtains in her darkened room.

To Betty Gunning, the squireen's daughter, fell the unique distinction
of marrying two dukes, refusing a third, and becoming the mother of four
others, two of whom were successive Dukes of Hamilton, and two of
Argyll.



CHAPTER XXIII

THE MYSTERIOUS TWINS


A century and a half ago the "Douglas cause" was a subject of hot debate
from John o' Groats to Land's End. It was discussed in Court and castle
and cottage, and was wrangled over at the street corner. It divided
families and estranged friends, so fierce was the partisanship it
generated; and so full was it of complexity and mystery that it puzzled
the heads of the wisest lawyers. England and Scotland alike were divided
into two hostile camps, one declaring that Archibald Douglas was son of
Lady Jean Douglas, and thus the rightful heir to the estates of his
ducal uncle; the other, protesting with equal warmth and conviction that
he was nothing of the sort.

Dr Johnson was a stalwart in one camp; Boswell in the other. "Sir, sir,"
Johnson said to his friend and biographer, "don't be too severe upon the
gentleman; don't accuse him of a want of filial piety! Lady Jane Douglas
was _not_ his mother." "Whereupon," Boswell says, "he roused my zeal so
much that I took the liberty to tell him that he knew nothing of the
cause, which I most seriously do believe was the case." For seven years
the suit dragged its weary length through the Courts; the evidence for
and against the young man's claim covers ten thousand closely-printed
pages; but although Archibald won the Douglas lands, his paternity
remains to-day as profound a mystery as when George III. was new to his
throne.

Forty years before the curtain rose on this dramatic trial which,
Boswell declares, "shook the security of birthright in Scotland to its
foundation," the Lady Jean, only daughter of James, second Marquess of
Douglas, was one of the fairest maids north of the Tweed--a girl who
combined beauty and a singular charm of manner with such abounding
vitality and strength of character that she did not require her high
rank and royal descent to make her desirable in the eyes of suitors. She
was, moreover, the only sister of the head of her family, the Duke of
Douglas, who seemed little disposed to provide an heir to his vast
estates; and these there seemed more than a fair prospect that she would
one day inherit.

It was thus but natural that many a wooer sought Lady Jean's hand; and
had she cared for coronets she might have had her pick of them. On the
evidence of the man who ultimately became her husband she refused those
of the Dukes of Hamilton, Buccleuch and Atholl, the Earls of Hopetoun,
Aberdeen and Panrnure, _cum multis aliis._ However this may be, we know
that she had several love romances; and that one at least nearly led to
the altar while Jean was still a "wee bit lassie." The favoured suitor
was the young Earl of Dalkeith, heir to the Buccleuch Dukedom, a young
man who may have been, as Lady Louisa Stuart described him, "of mean
understanding and meaner habits," but who was at least devoted to her
ladyship, and in many ways a desirable _parti_. The Duchess of Buccleuch
was frankly delighted with the projected marriage of her son with Lady
Jean Douglas, "a young lady whom she had heard much commended before she
saw her, and who since had lost no ground with her"; and, no doubt, the
fair Douglas would have become Dalkeith's Countess had it not been for
the treacherous intervention of Her Grace of Queensberry, whose heart
was set on the Earl marrying her sister-in-law.

The marriage day had actually been fixed when a letter was placed in
Lady Jean's hand, when on her way to the Court--a letter in which the
Earl claimed his release as he no longer loved her. That the letter was
a clever forgery never occurred to Lady Jean, who was so crushed by it
that it is said she fled in disguise to France to hide her shame and her
humiliation. Such was the tragic ending to Lady Jean's first romance,
which gave her such a distrust of man and such a distaste for matrimony
that for thirty years she vowed she would listen to no avowal of love,
however tempting.

During the long period, while youth was slipping from her, Lady Jean
appears to have lived alone at Drumsheugh House, near Edinburgh, where
she made herself highly popular by her affability, admired for her gifts
and graces of mind, and courted for her rank and her lavish
hospitality--paying occasional visits to her brother, the Duke of
Douglas, whose devotion to her was only equalled by the alarm his
eccentric behaviour and his mad fits of jealousy and temper inspired in
her. That the Duke, who is described as "a person of the most wretched
intellect, proud, ignorant, and silly, passionate, spiteful and
unforgiving," was scarcely sane is proved by many a story, one alone of
which is sufficient to prove that his mind must have been unbalanced.
Once when Captain Ker, a distant cousin, was a guest at the castle, he
ventured to remonstrate with his host on allowing his servants,
especially one called Stockbrigg, to rule over him; whereupon

     "the poor Duke," to quote Woodrow, "who for many years
     had been crazed in his brain, told this familiar, who
     persuaded him that such an insult could only be wiped out
     in blood. On which the Duke proceeded to Ker's room and
     stabbed him as he was sleeping."

It is little wonder that Lady Jean declined to live with a brother who
was thus a slave to his own servants and to a temper so insane; but
although their lives were led apart, and although, among many other mad
delusions, the Duke was convinced that his sister had applied for a
warrant to "confine him as a madman and she to sit down on the estate
and take possession of it," he was generous enough to make her a
liberal allowance, and to promise that, if she married and had children,
"they would heir his estate."

Such was the state of affairs at the time this story really opens. Lady
Jean had carried her aversion to men and matrimony to middle-age, happy
enough in her independence and extravagance; while the Duke, still
unwed, remained a prey to his jealousies, his morbid fancies and his
insensate rages; and it is at this time that Colonel Stewart, the
"villain of the play," makes his appearance on the stage.

Ten years earlier, it is true, John Stewart, of Grandtully, had tried to
repair his shattered fortunes by making love to Lady Jean, who, although
then a woman of nearly forty, was still handsome enough, as he confessed
later, to "captivate my heart at the first sight of her." She was,
moreover (and this was much more to the point), a considerable heiress,
with the vast Douglas estates as good as assured to her. But to the
handsome adventurer Lady Jean turned a deaf ear, as to all her other
suitors; and the "Colonel," who had never won any army rank higher than
that of a subaltern, had to return ignominiously to the Continent, where
for another ten years he picked up a precarious living at the
gaming-tables, by borrowing or by any other low expedient that
opportunity provided to his scheming brain. The Duke of Douglas, who
cordially detested this down-at-heels cousin, called him "one of the
worst of men--a papist, a Jacobite, a gamester, a villain"--and his
career certainly seems to justify this sweeping and scathing
description.

Such was the man who now reappeared to put his fate again to the
test--and this time with such success that, to quote his own words,

     "very soon after I had an obliging message from Lady Jean
     telling me that, very soon after my leaving Scotland, she
     came to know she had done me an injustice, but she would
     acknowledge it publicly if I chose. _Enfin_, I was
     allowed to visit her as formerly, and in about three
     months after she honoured me with her hand."

Was ever wooing and winning so strange, so inexplicable? After refusing
some of the greatest alliances in the land, after turning her back on at
least half-a-dozen coronets, this wilful and wayward woman gives her
hand to the least desirable of all her legion of suitors--a man broken
in fortune and of notorious ill-fame: swashbuckler, gambler and
defaulter; a man, moreover, who was on the verge of old-age, for he
would never see his sixtieth birthday again. The Colonel's motive is
manifest. He had much to gain and nothing to lose by this incongruous
union. But what could have been Lady Jean's motive; and does the sequel
furnish a clue to it? She was deeply in debt, thanks to her long career
of extravagance; and, to crown her misfortune, her brother threatened to
withdraw her annuity. But on the other hand she was still, although
nearly fifty, a good-looking woman, "appearing," we are told, "at least
fifteen years younger than she really was"; and thus might well have
looked for a eligible suitor; while her marriage to a pauper could but
add to her financial embarrassment. There remained the prospect of her
brother's estates, which would almost surely fall to her children if she
had any, if only to keep them out of the hands of the Hamiltons, whom
the Duke detested. And this consideration may have determined her in
favour of this eleventh hour marriage, with its possibilities, however
small, of thus qualifying for a great inheritance.

Thus it was, whatever may be the solution of the mystery, that, one
August day in 1746, Lady Jean was led to the altar by her aged pauper
lover, and a few days later the happy pair landed at Rotterdam, with a
retinue consisting of a Mrs Hewit (Lady Jean's maid) and a couple of
female servants, leaving her ladyship's creditors to wrangle over the
belongings she had left behind at Edinburgh.

From Rheims, to which town the wedding party journeyed, Lady Jean wrote
to her man of business, Mr Haldane:--

     "It is mighty certain that my anticipations were never in
     the marrying way; and had I not at last been absolutely
     certain that my brother was resolved never to marry, I
     never should have once thought of doing it; but since
     this was his determined, unalterable resolution, I judged
     it fit to overcome a natural disinclination and
     backwardness, and to put myself in the way of doing
     something for a family not the worst in Scotland; and,
     therefore, gave my hand to Mr Stewart, the consequence of
     which has proved more happy than I could well have
     expected."

Such was the unenthusiastic letter Lady Jean wrote on her honeymoon,
assigning as her motive for the marriage a wish "to do something for her
family," which could scarcely be other than to provide heirs to the
Douglas lands--an ambition which to the most sanguine lady of her age
must have seemed sufficiently doubtful of realisation.

Then began a wandering life for the grotesque pair. Rheims, Utrecht,
Geneva, Aix-la-Chapelle, Liège, and many another Continental town appear
in turn on their erratic itinerary, the Colonel travelling as Lady
Jean's _maitre d'hotel_, and never avowed by her as her husband; and at
every place of halting my lady finds fresh victims for her clever tongue
and ingratiating charm of manner, who, in return for her smiles and
flatteries, keep her purse supplied. Now it is young Lord Blantyre who
succumbs to her wiles, and follows her from place to place like a
shadow, drawing large sums from his mother to "lend to my Lady Jean, who
is at a loss by not receiving letters which were to bring her
remittances." Now it is Mr Hay, Mr Dalrymple, or some other susceptible
admirer who obliges her by a temporary loan, and is amply rewarded by
learning from her lips that he is "the man alive I would choose to be
most obliged by." Thus, by a system of adroit flatteries, Lady Jean
keeps the family exchequer so well replenished that she is able to take
about with her a retinue consisting of two maids and a man-cook, in
addition to the indispensable Mrs Hewit; and to ride in her carriage,
while her husband stakes his golden louis on the green cloth and
drinks costly wines.

Even such an astute man of the world as Lord Crawford she makes her
devoted slave, ready at any moment to place his purse and services at
her disposal, to the extent of breaking the news of her marriage to the
Duke, her brother, and begging for his approval and favour; a task which
must have gone considerably against the grain with the proud Scotsman.

     "I can assure your Grace," his lordship writes, "she does
     great honour to the family wherever she appears, and is
     respected and beloved by all that have the honour of her
     acquaintance. She certainly merits all the affectionate
     marks of an only brother to an only sister."

This appeal, eloquent as it was, only seemed to fan the anger of the
Duke, who, as he read it, declared to the Parish minister who was
present: "Why, the woman is mad.... I once thought, if there was a
virtuous woman in the world, my sister Jeanie was one; but now I am
going to say a thing that I should not say of my own sister--I believe
she is no better than ...; and that I believe there is not a virtuous
woman in the world."

At the very time--so inconsistent was this singular woman--that Lord
Crawford, at her request, was breaking the news of her marriage to her
brother, she was repudiating it indignantly to every person she met. To
Lady Wigton, she declared with tears that it was an "infamous story
raised by Miss Molly Kerr, her cousin, in order to prejudice her brother
against her, and that it had been so effectual that he had stopped her
pension"; and she begged Lady Wigton "when she went to England to
contradict it."

But this nomadic, hand-to-mouth life could not go on indefinitely. The
supply of dupes began to show signs of failing, and in her extremity she
wrote urgent letters to friends in England and Scotland for supplies;
she even borrowed from a poor Scottish minister almost the last penny he
had. A crisis was rapidly approaching which there was no way of
escaping--_unless_ the birth of a child might soften her brother's
heart, and, perchance, re-open the vista of a great inheritance in the
years to come. Such speculations must have occurred to Lady Jean at this
critical stage of her fortunes; but whether what quickly followed was a
coincidence, or, as so many asserted, a fraudulent plot to give effect
to her ambition, it would need a much cleverer and more confident man
than I to say. At any rate, from this failure of her purse and of her
hopes of propitiating the Duke began all those mysterious suggestions
and circumstances, of which so much was made in the trial of future
years, and which heralded the birth of the desired heir--or "to make
assurance doubly sure," in Lady Jean's case--heirs.

As the expected event drew near it became important to go to Paris in
order to have the advantage of the best medical assistance, especially
since Lady Jean was assured that the doctors of Rheims, where she was
then living, were "as ignorant as brutes." And so to the French capital
she journeyed with her retinue, through three sultry July days, in a
public diligence devoid of springs. How trying such a journey must have
been to a lady in her condition is evidenced by the fact that, during
the three days, she spent forty-one hours on the road, reaching Paris on
the 4th of July. Just six days later her ladyship, to quote a letter
written by Mrs Hewit, "produced two lovely boys," one of whom was so
weak and puny that the doctor "begged it might be sent to the country as
soon as possible."

So far the story seems clear and plausible, assuming that a lady, in
such a delicate state of health, could bear the fatigues of so long and
trying a journey as that from Rheims to Paris. But from this stage the
mystery, which it took so many wise heads to penetrate in future years,
begins to thicken. Although the children were said to have been born on
the 10th of July it was not until eleven days later that Mrs Hewit
imparted the news to the two maids who had been left behind at Rheims,
in the letter from which I have quoted. Further, although the Colonel
wrote to six different people on the 10th not one of his letters
contains any reference to such an interesting event, which should, one
would think, have excluded all other topics from a father's pen.

Moreover, although the Colonel and his wife were, as the house-books
proved, staying on the 10th of July at the hotel of a M. Godefroi,
neither the landlord nor his wife had any knowledge that a birth had
taken place, or was even expected; and it was beyond question that the
lady left the house on the 13th, three days after the alleged event,
without exciting any suspicion as to what had so mysteriously taken
place.

On the 13th, the Colonel and his lady, accompanied by Mrs Hewit,
declared that they went for a few days to the house of a Madame la
Brune, a nurse--but no child, M. and Mme. Godefroi swore, accompanied
them; and on the 18th of July, eight days after the accouchement, they
made their appearance at Michele's Hotel (still without a solitary
infant to show), where Madame was already so far recovered that she
spent the days in jaunting about Paris and making trips to Versailles.

At Michele's the story they told was that the infants were so delicate
that they had been sent into the country to nurse; and yet none had seen
them go. But before the parents had been a day in their new quarters the
Colonel, after hours of absence, appeared with a child--a puny infant,
but still unmistakably genuine. Thus one of the twins was accounted for.
The other, they declared, was still more delicate and must be left in
the country.

It was quite certain that the children had not been born either at
Godefroi's or Michele's Hotel. As for the intermediate place of lodging,
the most diligent later enquiries failed to discover either Madame la
Brune or the house in which she was supposed to live in the Faubourg St
Germain. Moreover, was it a coincidence that on the very day on which
the Colonel at Michele's with one of the alleged children, it was
proved that a "foreign gentleman," exactly answering his description,
had purchased, for three gold louis, a fortnight-old baby from its
peasant-parents, called Mignon, in a Paris slum?

To add further to the confusion, both Colonel Stewart and Mrs Hewit, in
later years, declared in the most positive manner, first that the
children had been born at Michele's, and secondly at Madame la Brune's,
in defiance of the facts that on the 10th of July, the alleged date of
birth, the mother was beyond any doubt staying at Godefroi's hotel, that
no such person as Madame la Brune apparently existed, and that the only
visible child at Michele's was a fortnight old.

On the 7th of August Lady Jean wrote to inform her brother, the Duke,
that she had been blessed with "two boys," one of which she begged his
permission to call by his name--a letter which only had the effect of
rousing His Grace's "high passion and displeasure," with a threat to
stop her annuity. For sixteen months the second and more delicate infant
was left with his country nurse, the mother never once taking the
trouble to visit it; and then the Colonel and his wife made a mysterious
journey to Paris, returning with another child, who, they alleged, was
the weakling of the twins. Was it again a coincidence that, at the very
time when the second child made his appearance, another infant was
purchased from its parents in Paris by a "strange monsieur" who, if not
the Colonel, was at least his double? And was it not strange that this
late arrival should appear to be several months older than his more
robust brother, as the purchased child was?

At last, provided with two children, and having exhausted their credit
on the Continent, Lady Jean and her husband turned their faces homeward,
prepared to carry the war into the enemy's camp. Arrived in London they
set to work to win as many influential friends and supporters as
possible; and this Lady Jean, with her plausible tongue, succeeded in
doing. Ladies Shaw and Eglinton, the Duke of Queensberry, Lord Lindores,
Solicitor-General Murray (later, Lord Mansfield), and many another
high-placed personage vowed that they believed her story and pledged
their support. Mr Pelham proved such a good friend to her that he
procured from the King a pension of £300 a year, which she sorely
needed; for, at the time, her husband was a prisoner for debt "within
the Rules" of the King's Bench.

Even Lady Jean's enemies could not resist a tribute of admiration for
the courage with which, during this time, she fought her uphill fight
against poverty and opposition. Her affection for her children and her
loyalty to her good-for-nothing husband were touching in the extreme;
and, if not quite sincere, were most cleverly simulated.

To all her appeals the Duke still remained obdurate, vowing he would
have nothing to do either with his sister or the two "nunnery children"
which she wanted to impose on him. In spite of her Royal pension Lady
Jean only succeeded in getting deeper and deeper involved in debt,
until it became clear that some decisive step must be taken to repair
her fortunes. Then it was that, at last, she screwed up her courage to
pay the dreaded visit to her brother, in the hope that the sight of her
children and the pathos of her personal pleading might soften his heart.

One January day in 1753, one of the Duke's servants says,

     "she looked in at the little gate as I was passing
     through the court. She called and I went to her, when she
     told me she was come to wait on the Duke with her
     children. I proposed to open the gate and carry in her
     Ladyship; but she said she would not go in till I
     acquainted his Grace."

The Duke, however, after consulting with his minion Stockbrigg, who
still ruled the castle and its lord alike, sent word that he refused to
see his sister; and the broken-hearted woman walked sadly away. To a
letter in which she begged "to speak but a few moments to your Grace,
and if I don't, to your own conviction, clear up my injured innocence,
inflict what punishment you please upon me," he returned no answer.

Trouble now began to fall thickly on Lady Jean. Her delicate child,
Sholto, died after a brief illness. She was distracted with grief, and
cried out in her deep distress: "O Sholto! Sholto! my son Sholto! if I
could but have died for you!" This last blow of fate seems to have
completely crushed her. A few months later, she gave up her gallant and
hopeless struggle, but only with her life. Calling her remaining son to
her bedside she said, with streaming eyes: "May God bless you, my dear
son; and, above all, make you a worthy and honest man; for riches, I
despise them. Take a sword, and you may one day become as great a hero
as some of your ancestors." Then, but a few moments before drawing her
last breath, she said to those around her: "As one who is soon to appear
in the presence of Almighty God, to whom I must answer, I declare that
the two children were born of my body." Thus passed "beyond these
voices" a woman, who, whatever her faults, carried a brave heart through
sorrows and trials which might well have crushed the proudest spirit.

Lady Jean's death probably did more to advance her son's cause than all
her scheming and courage during life. Influential friends flocked to the
motherless boy, whose misfortunes made such an appeal to sympathy and
protection. His father succeeded to the family baronetcy and became a
man of some substance. His uncle, the Duke, took to wife, at sixty-two,
his cousin, "Peggy Douglas, of Mains," a lady of strong character who
had long vowed that "she would be Duchess of Douglas or never marry";
and in Duchess "Peggy" Archibald found his most stalwart champion, who
gave her husband no peace until the Duke, after long vacillation, and
many maudlin moods, in which he would consign the "brat" to perdition
one day and shed tears over his pathetic plight the next, was won over
to her side. To such good purpose did the Duchess use her influence
that when her husband the Duke died, in 1761, Colonel (now Sir John)
Stewart was able to write to his elder son by his first marriage:

     "DEAR JACK,--I have not had time till now to acquaint you
     of the Duke of Douglas's death, and that he has left your
     brother Archie his whole estate."

Thus did Lady Jean triumph eight years after her scheming brain was
stilled in death.

The rest of this singular story must be told in few words, although its
history covers many years, and would require a volume to do adequate
justice to it. Within a few months of the Duke's death the curtain was
rung up on the great Douglas Case, which for seven long years was to be
the chief topic of discussion and dispute throughout Great Britain.
Archibald's title to the Douglas lands was contested by the Duke of
Hamilton and the Earl of Selkirk, the former claiming as heir-male, the
latter under settlements made by the Duke's father. Clever brains were
set to work to solve the tangle in which the birth of the mysterious
twins was involved. Emissaries were sent to France to collect evidence
on one side and the other; notably Andrew Stewart, tutor to the young
Duke of Hamilton, who seems to have been a perfect sleuth-hound of
detective skill; and it was not until 1768 that the Scottish Court of
Session gave its verdict, by the Lord-President's casting-vote (seven
judges voting for and seven against) against Lady Jean's son.

     "The judges," we are told, "took up no less than eight
     days in delivering their opinions upon the cause; and at
     last, by the President's casting-vote, they pronounced
     solemn judgment in favour of the plaintiffs."

Meanwhile (four years earlier) Sir John Stewart had followed his wife to
the grave, declaring, just before his death:

     "I do solemnly swear before God, as stepping into
     Eternity, that Lady Jean Douglas, my lawful spouse, did
     in the year 1748, bring into the world two sons,
     Archibald and Sholto; and I firmly believe the children
     were mine, as I am sure they were hers. Of the two sons,
     Archibald is the only one in life now."

But Archibald Douglas was not long to remain out of his estates. On
appeal to the House of Lords, the decree of the Scottish Court was
reversed, and the victory of Lady Jean's son was final and complete.

Of his later career it remains only to say that he entered Parliament
and was created a Peer; and that he conducted himself in his exalted
position with a dignity worthy of the parentage he had established. But,
although he became the father of eight sons, four of whom succeeded him
in the title, no grandson came to inherit his honours and estates; and
to-day the Douglas lands, for which Lady Jean schemed and fought and
laid down her life, have the Earl of Home for lord.



CHAPTER XXIV

THE MAYPOLE DUCHESS


For many a century, ever since her history emerged from the mists of
antiquity, Germany never lacked a Schulenburg to grace her Courts, to
lead her armies, or to wear the mitre in her churches. They held their
haughty heads high among the greatest subjects of her emperors; their
family-tree bristled with marshals and generals, bishops and
ambassadors; and they waxed so strong and so numerous that they came to
be distinguished as "Black Schulenburgs" and "White Schulenburgs," as
our own Douglases were "black" and "red."

But not one of all the glittering array of its dignitaries raised the
family name to such an eminence--a bad eminence--as one of its plainest
daughters, Ehrengard Melusina von der Schulenburg (to give her full,
imposing name), who lived not only to wear the coronet of a Duchess of
England, but to be "as much a Queen as ever there was in England."

Fräulein Ehrengard and her brother, who, as Count Mathias von der
Schulenburg, was to win fame as the finest general in Europe of his day,
were cradled and reared at the ancestral castle of Emden, in Saxony.
The Schulenburg women were never famed for beauty; but Ehrengard was, by
common consent, the "ugly duckling" of the family--abnormally tall,
angular, awkward, and plain-featured, one of the last girls in Germany
equipped for conquest in the field of love.

When she reached her sixteenth birthday, Ehrengard's parents were glad
to pack her off to the Court of Herrenhausen, where the family influence
procured for her the post of maid-of-honour to the Electress Sophia of
Hanover. At any rate she was provided for--an important matter, for the
Schulenburgs were as poor as they were proud--and she was too
unattractive to get into mischief. But it is the unexpected that often
happens; and no sooner had the Elector's son and heir, George, set eyes
on the ungainly maid-of-honour than he promptly fell head over ears in
love with her, to the amazement of the entire Court, and to the disgust
of his mother, and of his newly-made bride, Sophia Dorothea of Zell. To
George--an awkward, sullen young man of loutish manners and loose
morals--the gaunt girl, with her plain, sallow face, was a vision of
beauty. She appealed in some curious way to the animal in him; and
before she had been many weeks at Herrenhausen she was his avowed
mistress--one of many.

"Just look at that mawkin," the Electress Sophia once exclaimed to Lady
Suffolk, who was a guest at the Hanoverian Court, "and think of her
being my son's mistress!" But to any other than his mother, George's
taste in women had long ceased to cause surprise. The ugly and gross
appealed to a taste which such beauty and refinement as his young wife
possessed left untouched. He had markedly demonstrated this perverseness
of fancy already by showering his favours on the Baroness von
Kielmansegg--who was reputed to be his natural sister, by the way--a
lady so ugly that, as a child, Horace Walpole shrieked at sight of her.

She had, he recalls,

     "two fierce black eyes, large and rolling, beneath two
     lofty arched eyesbrows; two acres of cheeks spread with
     crimson; an ocean of neck that overflowed and was not
     distingushed from the lower part of her body, and no part
     of it restrained by stays. No wonder," he adds, "that a
     child dreaded such an ogress!"

Such were the two chief favourites of this unnatural heir to the throne
of Hanover, who, by a curious turn of Fortune's wheel, was to wear the
English crown as the first of the Georges. In the company of these
ogresses and of a brace of Turkish attendants, George loved to pass his
time in beer-guzzling and debauchery, while his beautiful and insulted
wife sought solace in that ill-starred intrigue with Königsmarck, which
was to lead to his tragic death and her own thirty years' imprisonment
in the Schloss Ahlden, where she, who ought to have been England's
Queen, ate her heart out in loneliness and sorrow.

To George his wife's intrigue was a welcome excuse for getting rid of
her--a licence for unfettered indulgence in his low tastes; and the
tragedy of her eclipse but added zest and emphasis to his unfettered
enjoyment of life. In the hands of Von der Schulenburg the weak-minded,
self-indulgent Prince was as clay in the hands of the potter. She
moulded him as she willed, for she was as crafty and diplomatic as she
was ill-favoured. Madame Kielmansegg was relegated to the shade, while
she stood in the full limelight. She bore two daughters to her Royal
lover--daughters who were called her "nieces," although the fiction
deceived nobody--and as the years passed, each adding, if possible, to
her unattractiveness, her hold on the Prince became still stronger.

Thirty years passed thus at the Herrenhausen Court, when the death of
Queen Anne made "the high and mighty Prince George, Elector of Hanover,
rightful King of Great Britain, France and Ireland." The sluggish
sensual life of the Hanoverian Court was at an end. George was summoned
to a great throne, and no King ever accepted a crown with such
reluctance and ill-grace. He would, and he would not. For three weeks
the English envoys tried every artifice to induce him to accept his new
and exalted _rôle_--and finally they succeeded.

But even then he had not counted on the "fair" Ehrengard. She refused
point-blank to go with him to that "odious England," where chopping off
heads seemed to be a favourite pastime. She was quite happy in Hanover,
and there she meant to stay. She fumed and raged, ran about the Palace
gardens, embracing her dearly-loved trees and clinging hysterically to
the marble statues, declaring that she could not and would not desert
them. And thus George left her, to start on his unwelcome pilgrimage to
England.

Madame von Kielmansegg, however, was of another mind. If her great rival
would not go, she would; and after giving the Elector a day's start, she
raced after him, caught him up, and, to her delight, was welcomed with
open arms. The moment Von der Schulenburg heard of the trick "that
Kielmansegg woman" had played on her, she, too, packed her trunks, and,
taking her "nieces" with her, also set out in hot pursuit of her Royal
lover and tool, and overtook him just as he was on the point of
embarking for England.

George was now happy and reconciled to his fate, for his retinue was
complete. And what a retinue! When the King landed at Greenwich with his
grotesque assortment of Ministers, his hideous Turks, his two
mistresses--one a gaunt giant, the other rolling in billows of fat--and
his "nieces," the crowds thronging the landing-place and streets greeted
the "menagerie" with jeers and shouts of laughter. They nicknamed
Schulenburg the "Maypole," and Kielmansegg the "Elephant," and pursued
the cavalcade with strident mockeries and insults.

"Goot peoples, vy you abuse us?" asked the Maypole, protruding her gaunt
head and shoulders through the carriage window. "Ve only gom for all
your goots." "And for all our chattels, too, ---- you!" came the
stinging retort from a wag in the crowd.

But Schulenburg soon realised that she could afford to smile and shrug
her scraggy shoulders at the insolence of those "horrid Engleesh." She
found herself in a land of Goshen, where there were many rich plums to
be gathered by far-reaching and unscrupulous hands such as hers. If she
could not love the enemy, she could at least plunder them; and this she
set to work to do with a good will, while the plastic George looked on
and smiled encouragement. There were pensions, appointments,
patents--boons of all kinds to be trafficked in; and who had a greater
right to act as intermediary than herself, the King's _chère amie_ and
right hand?

She sold everything that was saleable. As Walpole says, "She would have
sold the King's honour at a shilling advance to the best bidder." From
Bolingbroke's family she took £20,000 in three sums--one for a Peerage,
another for a pardon, and the third for a fat post in the Customs. Gold
poured in a ceaseless and glittering stream into her coffers. She
refused no bribe--if it was big enough--and was ready to sell anything,
from a Dukedom to a Bishopric, if her price was forthcoming. She made
George procure her a pension of £7,500 a year (ten times as much as had
long contented her well in Hanover); and when valuable posts fell vacant
she induced him to leave them vacant and to give her the revenues.

Not content with filling her capacious pockets, she sighed for
coronets--and got them in showers. Four Irish Peerages, from Baroness of
Dundalk to Duchess of Munster, were flung into her lap. And yet she was
not happy. She must have English coronets, and the best of them. So
George made her Baroness of Glastonbury, Countess of Feversham, and
Duchess of Kendal. And, to crown her ambition for such baubles, he
induced the pliant German Emperor to make her a Princess--of Eberstein.
Thus, with coffers overflowing with ill-gotten gold, her towering head
graced with a dazzling variety of coronets, this grim idol of a King,
who at sixty was as much her slave as in the twenties, was the proudest
woman in England, patronising our own Duchesses, and snubbing Peeresses
of less degree. She might be a "maypole"--hated and unattractive--but at
least she towered high above all the fairest and most blue-blooded
beauties of her "Consort's" Court.

When the South Sea Bubble rose to dazzle all eyes with its iridescent
splendours, it was she more than any other who blew it. She was the
witch behind the scenes of the South Sea and many another bubble
Company, whether its object was to "carry on a thing that will turn to
the advantage of the concerned," "the breeding and providing for natural
children," or "for planting mulberries in Chelsea Park to breed
silk-worms."

Every day of this wild, insane gamble, which wrecked thousands of homes,
and filled hundreds of suicides' graves, brought its stream of gold to
her exchequer; and when the bubbles burst in havoc and ruin she smiled
and counted her gains, turning a deaf ear to the storm of execration
that raged against her outside the palace walls. She knew that she had
played her cards so skilfully that all the popular rage was impotent to
harm her. Only one of her many puppets--Knight, the Treasurer of the
South Sea Company--could be the means of doing her harm. If he were
arrested and told all he knew, impeachment would probably follow, with a
sentence of imprisonment and banishment. But the crafty German was much
too old a bird to be caught in that way. She packed Knight off to
Antwerp; and, through the influence of her friend, the German Empress,
the States of Brabant refused to give him up to his fate.

The Duchess of Kendal was now at the zenith of her power and splendour.
While Sophia Dorothea, the true Queen of England, was pining away in
solitude in distant Ahlden, the German "Maypole" was Queen in all but
name, ruling alike her senile paramour and the nation with a tactful, if
iron hand. It is said that she was actually the morganatic wife of
George, that the ceremony had been performed by no less a dignitary than
the Archbishop of York; but, whether this was so or not, it is certain
that this "old and forbidding skeleton of a giantess" was more England's
Queen than any other Consort of the Georges.

She was present at every consultation between the King and his
Ministers--indeed the conferences were invariably held in her own
apartments, every day from five till eight. She understood and humoured
every whim of her Royal partner with infinite tactfulness, to the extent
even of encouraging his amours with young and attractive women, while
she herself, to emphasise her platonic relations with him, affected an
extravagant piety, attending as many as seven Lutheran services every
Sunday. The only rival she had ever feared--and hated--Madame
Kielmansegg, had long passed out of power, and as Countess of Darlington
was too much absorbed in pandering to her mountain of flesh, and filling
her pockets, to spare a regret for the Royal lover she had lost.

When George, on hearing of the death of his unhappy wife, Sophia
Dorothea, set out on his last journey to Hanover, his only companion was
the Duchess of Kendal, the woman to whose grim fascinations he had been
loyal for more than forty years; and it was she who closed his eyes in
the Palace of Osnabrück, in which he had drawn his first breath
sixty-seven years earlier.

A French fortune-teller had warned him that "he would not survive his
wife a year"; and, as he neared Osnabrück, the home of his brother, the
Prince Bishop, his fatal illness overtook him.

     "When he arrived at Ippenburen, he was quite lethargic;
     his hand fell down as if lifeless, and his tongue hung
     out of his mouth. He gave, however, signs enough of life
     by continually crying out, as well as he could
     articulate, 'Osnabrück!' 'Osnabrück!'"

As night fell the sweating horses galloped into Osnabrück; an hour
later George died in his brother's arms, less than twelve months after
his wife had drawn her last breath in her fortress-prison of Ahlden.

The Duchess of Kendal was disconsolate.

     "She beat her breasts and tore her hair, and, separating
     herself from the English ladies in her train, took the
     road to Brunswick, where she remained in close seclusion
     about three months."

Returning to England, to the only solace left to her--her
money-bags--she spent the last seventeen years of her life alternating
between her villas at Twickenham and Isleworth. George had promised her
that if she survived him, and if it were possible, he would revisit her
from the spirit world.

     "When," to quote Walpole again, "one day a large raven
     flew into one of the windows of her villa at Isleworth,
     she was persuaded that it was the soul of the departed
     monarch, and received and treated it with all the respect
     and tenderness of duty, till the Royal bird or she took
     their last flight."

Thus, shorn of all her powers and splendour, in obscurity, and hoarding
her ill-gotten gold, died the most remarkable woman who has ever figured
in the British Peerage. Her vast fortune was divided between her two
"nieces," one of whom, created by her father, George, Countess of
Walsingham, became the wife of that polished courtier and heartless man
of the world, Philip, fourth Earl of Chesterfield.



CHAPTER XXV

THE ROMANCE OF FAMILY TREES


Such are a few of the scenes which arrest the eyes as the panorama of
our aristocracy passes before them; but it would require a library of
volumes to do anything like adequate justice to the infinite variety of
the dramas it presents. There is for instance a whole realm of romance
in the origins of our noble families whose proud palaces are often
reared on the most ignoble of foundations; and whose family trees
flaunt, with questionable pride, many a spurious branch, while burying
from view the humble roots from which they derive their lordly growth.

Although Cobden's assertion that "the British aristocracy was cradled
behind city counters" errs on the side of exaggeration, there is no
doubt that in the veins of scores of the proudest English peers runs the
blood of ancestors who served customers in City shops.

When, a couple of centuries ago, John Baring, son of the Bremen Lutheran
parson, Dr Franz Baring, opened his small cloth manufactory on the
outskirts of Exeter, his most extravagant ambition was to build up a
business which he could hand over to his sons, and to provide a few
comforts for his old age; if any one had told him that he was laying the
foundations of four families which should hold their heads proudly among
the highest in the land he would no doubt have laughed aloud.

Yet John Baring lived to see his only daughter wedded to John Dunning,
who made a Baroness of her. Of his four sons, Francis was created a
Baronet by William Pitt, and found a wife in the cousin and co-heir of
his Grace of Canterbury. The second son of this union, Alexander, was
raised to the Peerage as Baron Ashburton, won a millionaire bride in the
daughter of Senator Bingham, of Philadelphia, and, from the immense
scale of his financial operations, was ranked by the Duc de Richelieu as
"one of the six great powers of Europe"--England, France, Russia,
Austria, and Prussia being the other five. Sir Francis's eldest
grandson, after serving in the exalted offices of Chancellor of the
Exchequer and First Lord of the Admiralty, was created Baron Northbrook,
a peerage which his son raised to an earldom; a second grandson
qualified for a coronet as Baron Revelstoke; and a third is known to-day
as Earl Cromer, the maker of modern Egypt, with half an alphabet of high
dignities after his name.

At least three dukes (Northumberland, Leeds, and Bedford) count among
their forefathers many a humble tradesman. Glancing down the pedigree of
his Grace of Northumberland, we find among his direct ancestors such
names as these, William le Smythesonne, of Thornton Watlous, husbandman;
William Smitheson, of Newsham, husbandman; Ralph Smithson, tenant
farmer; and Anthony Smithson, yeoman. It was this Anthony whose son,
Hugh, left the paternal farm to serve behind the counter of Ralph and
William Robinson, London haberdashers, and thus to take the first step
of that successful career which made him a Baronet and a man of wealth.
From Hugh, the London 'prentice sprang in the fourth generation, that
other Hugh who won the hand of Lady Elizabeth Seymour, and with it the
vast estates and historic name of Percy.

Some years before Hugh Smithson, the farmer's son, set foot in London
streets, Edward Osborne left the modest family roof at Ashford, in Kent,
to serve his apprenticeship to, and sit at the board of, William Hewitt,
a merchant of Philpot Lane, who shortly after moved his belongings to a
more fashionable home on London Bridge. One day it chanced that while
his only daughter, the fair "Mistress Anne," was hanging her favourite
bird outside the parlour window she lost her balance and fell into the
river, then racing in high tide under the arches of the bridge.
Fortunately for Mistress Anne the young apprentice saw the accident;
quick as thought he threw off his shoes and surcoat, and, plunging into
the swollen waters, caught the maiden by her hair as she was being swept
away, and with difficulty dragged her to a passing barge, on which both
found safety.

There was only one proper sequence to this romantic incident; Mistress
Anne lost her heart to her gallant rescuer, the grateful parents smiled
on his wooing, and one fine August morning, not many months later, the
wedding-bells of St Magnus Church were spreading far and wide the news
that young Osborne had found a bride in one of the fairest and richest
heiresses of London town. In due time Osborne became, as his
father-in-law had been before him, Lord Mayor of London; the son of this
romantic alliance was knighted for prowess in battle; Edward Osborne's
grandson was made a Baronet; and his great-grandson, Sir Thomas, added
to the family dignities by becoming in turn, Baron, Viscount, Earl and
Marquis, and, finally, Duke of Leeds. Thus only two generations
separated the 'prentice lad of Philpot Lane from his descendant of the
strawberry-leaves, the first of a long and still unbroken line of
English dukes, whose blood has mingled with that of many noble families.

The noble house of Ripon has its origin in Yorkshire tradesmen who
carried on business in York, some of whom were Lord Mayors of that city
two or three centuries ago. These early Robinsons added to their fortune
and enriched their blood by alliances with some of the oldest families
in the north of England--such as the Metcalfes of Nappa and the
Redmaynes of Fulford--and slowly but surely laid the foundation of one
of the wealthiest and most distinguished of great English houses. For
four generations the head of the family was a Cabinet Minister, while
one of them was Prime Minister of England.

The Marquises of Bath derive descent from one John o' th' Inne, who
was, probably, a worthy publican of Church Stretton, and who was
descended in the seventh generation from William de Bottefeld, an
under-forester of Shropshire in the thirteenth century; while, through
his mother, the late Marquis of Salisbury derived a strain of 'prentice
blood from Sir Christopher Gascoigne, the first Lord Mayor of London to
live in the Mansion House.

Until a few years ago there might be seen in the main street of the
village of Appletrewick, in Yorkshire, a single-storey cottage, little
better than a hovel, which was the cradle of the noble family of Craven.
It was from this humble home that William Craven, the young son of a
husbandman, fared forth one day in the carrier's cart to seek fortune in
far-away London town. Like many another boy who has taken a stout heart
and an empty pocket to the Metropolis as his sole capital, he fought his
way to wealth; and before he died he was addressed as "My lord," in his
character of London's chief magistrate. The eldest son of this peasant
boy won fame as a soldier, became the confidential friend of his
Sovereign, and was created in turn a Baron, a Viscount, and Earl of
Craven. He died unwed, and all his wealth and dignities passed to a
kinsman who, like himself, traced his descent from the peasant stock of
Appletrewick.

The Earls of Denbigh have for ancestor one Godfrey Fielding, who served
his apprenticeship in London city, made a fortune as a Milk Street
mercer, and was Lord Mayor when Henry VI. was King. Five years later,
we may note in passing, London had for chief magistrate Godfrey Boleyn,
whose great-grand-daughter wore the crown of England as Queen Elizabeth.

The present Earl of Warwick, whose title was once associated with such
names as Plantagenet, Neville, Newburgh, and Beauchamp, has in his veins
a liberal strain of 'prentice blood. The founder of the family fortunes
was William Greville, citizen and woolstapler of London, who died five
centuries ago, after amassing considerable wealth; while another
ancestor was Sir Samuel Dashwood, vintner, who as Lord Mayor entertained
Queen Anne at the Guildhall in 1702, and found a husband for his
daughter in the fifth Lord Broke.

The father of the noble house of Dudley was William Ward, the son of
poor Staffordshire parents, who was apprenticed to a goldsmith and made
a fortune as a London jeweller.

In the latter half of the seventeenth century Nottingham had among its
citizens a respectable draper named John Smith, who, it is said, made
himself useful to his farmer customers, in the intervals of selling
tapes and dress materials to their wives, by helping them with their
accounts. John lived and died an honest draper, and never aspired to be
anything else; but his descendants were more ambitious. From drapers
they blossomed into bankers and Members of Parliament; and in 1796
George III. departed for once from his rule never to raise a man of
business to the Peerage, by converting Robert Smith into Baron
Carrington. His successor abandoned the patronymic Smith for his
title-name; and the present-day representative of John Smith, the
Nottingham draper is Charles Robert Wynn Carrington, first Earl
Carrington, P.C., G.C.M.G., and joint Hereditary Lord Chamberlain of
England.

When William Capel left the humble paternal roof at Stoke Nayland, in
Suffolk, to see what fortune and a brave heart could do for him in
London, it certainly never occurred to him that his name would be handed
down through the centuries by a line of Earls, Viscounts, and Barons.
Fortune had indeed strange experiences in store for the Suffolk youth;
for, while she made a Knight and Lord Mayor of him, she consigned him on
a life sentence to the Tower for resisting the extortions of the
mercenary Henry VII. Sir William's son won his knightly spurs on French
battlefields, wedded a daughter of the ancient house of Roos of Belvoir,
and became the ancester of the Barons Capel, Viscounts Malden, and Earls
of Essex.

The Earls of Radnor owe their rank and wealth to the enterprise which
led young Laurence des Bouveries from his native Flanders to a
commercial life at Canterbury in the days of Queen Bess. From this
humble Flemish apprentice sprang a line of Turkey merchants, each of
whom in turn added his contribution to the family dignities and riches,
until Sir Jacob, the third Baronet, blossomed into a double-barrelled
peer as Lord Longford and Viscount Folkestone. Not the least, by any
means, of the descendants of Laurence des Bouveries was Canon Pusey,
the great theologian, who was grandson of the first Lord Folkestone.

Lord Harewood springs from a stock of merchants who accumulated great
wealth in the eighteenth century; and Lord Jersey owes much of his
riches to Francis Child, the industrious apprentice who, in Stuart days,
married the daughter of his master, William Wheeler, the goldsmith, who
lived one door west of Temple Bar.

Other peers who count London apprentices among their ancestors are Lord
Aveland and Viscount Downe, both descendants of Gilbert Heathcote, whose
commercial success was crowned by the Lord Mayoralty in 1711; the
Marquis of Bath, a descendant of Lord Mayor Heyward, whose sixteen
children are all portrayed in his monument in St Alphege Church, London
Wall; and also of Richard Gresham, mercer, who waxed rich from the
spoils of the monasteries, and whose son was founder of the Royal
Exchange. The Earl of Eldon owes his existence to that runaway exploit
which linked the lives of John Scott, the Newcastle tradesman's son, and
Miss Surtees, the banker's daughter.

If George III. during his lengthy reign only raised one business man to
the Peerage, later years have provided a very liberal crop of coroneted
men of commerce. To mention but a few of them, banking has been
honoured--and the Peerage also--by the baronies granted to Lords
Aldenham and Avebury; Lords Hindlip, Burton, Iveagh, and Ardilaun owe
their wealth and rank to successful brewing; Baron Overtoun was
proprietor of large chemical works; Lord Allerton's riches have been
drawn from his tan-pits; Lord Armstrong's millions come from the
far-famed Elswick engine-works at Newcastle; and Lord Masham's from his
mills at Manningham. The Viscounty of Hambleden has sprung from a modest
news-shop in the Strand; the Barony of Burnham was cradled in a
newspaper office; and Lords Mount-Stephen and Strathcona were shepherd
boys seventy years or more ago, before they found their way through
commerce to the Roll of Peers.

Although these lowly origins are as firmly established as Holy Writ, and
are in most cases as well known to the noble families who trace rank and
riches from them as to the expert in genealogy, they are often as
carefully excluded from the family tree as the poor and undesirable
relation from the doors of their palaces. Not content with a lineage
extending over long centuries, and with a score of strains of undoubted
blue blood, many of our greatest nobles and oldest gentle families
strain after an ancestry which is not theirs, and throw overboard some
obscure forefather to find room for a mythical Norman marauder, who in
many cases exists nowhere but in the place of honour on their own
pedigrees.

"What are pedigrees worth?" asks Professor Freeman. "I turn over a
'Peerage' or other book of genealogy, and I find that, when a pedigree
professes to be traced back to the times of which I know most in detail,
it is all but invariably false. As a rule it is not only false, but
impossible. The historical circumstances, when any are introduced, are
for the most part not merely fictions, but exactly that kind of fiction
which is, in its beginning, deliberate and interested falsehood."

This scathing criticism refers to pedigrees which profess to be based on
existing records; what shall we say, then, of those family trees which
have their ambitious roots in the dark centuries which no ray of
genealogical light can possibly pierce? Take, for instance, that amazing
pedigree of the Lyte family of Lytes Cary, at the head of which is
"Leitus (one of the five captains of Beotia that went to Troye)," whose
ancestors came to England first with Brute, "the most noble founder of
the Britons." (It is only fair to say that the present representative of
this really ancient family, Sir H. Maxwell-Lyte, an expert genealogist,
turns his back resolutely on the Beotian captain, and even on Brute
himself, and generally lops his family tree in a merciless but most
salutary fashion.)

The College of Arms, among many amazing pedigrees, treasures one of a
family "whose present representative is sixty-seventh in descent in an
unbroken male line from Belinus the Great (Beli Mawr), King of Britain,"
which actually exhibits the arms of Beli, who, poor man, died long
centuries before heraldry was even cradled.

Of families who derive descent from Charlemagne the name is legion; but
even such elongated pedigrees are quite contemptible in their brevity
compared with others which have at their head no other progenitor than
Adam, the father of us all. At Mostyn Hall, we learn, there is a vellum
roll, twenty-one feet long, of pedigrees, some of which "are traced back
to 'Adam, Son of God,' without any conscious sense of the incongruous";
and these records, we must remember, are in the hand of "a man
thoroughly trustworthy as to the matters of his own time." There is in
the College of Arms a similar family tree which commences boldly with
Adam and the Garden of Eden; and an authority on Welsh pedigrees
declares,

     "A Welshman whose family was in any position in the
     sixteenth century can, as a rule, without much trouble
     find a pedigree thence to Adam; an Englishman who is
     unable to do the same has a natural tendency to regard
     all Welsh pedigrees with distrust, not to say contempt."

Mr Horace Round gives some startling examples of flagrant dishonesty,
where forgery is only one of the implements used. Take, for example,
that shameful story of the "Shipway frauds," which is thus referred to
by a clergyman of the parish.

     "In the fall of 1896, by an elaborate system of impudent
     frauds, an unscrupulous attempt was made to claim these
     monuments for one who was an entire stranger to the
     parish. An agent from London was employed in a search for
     a pedigree. He, by fraudulent means, concocted a very
     plausible story. Genealogies were manufactured, tombs
     were desecrated, registers were falsified, wills were
     forged--in a word, various outrages were committed, with
     many sacred things in this parish and elsewhere. These
     two figures, as part of the pedigree, were deposited in a
     niche in the chantry; on either side were huge brass
     tablets on which were engraven various untruthful and
     unfounded statements."

In another case Hughenden Church was desecrated to gratify the vanity of
a family of Wellesbourne, anxious to trace their descent from the
Montforts.

     "They caused a monumental effigy of an imaginary ancestor
     to be carved in the style of the thirteenth century
     ...they adapted the plate-armour effigy to their purpose
     by cutting similar arms on the skirts, and they had three
     rude effigies fabricated by way of filling up the gaps
     between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries."

To give but two more out of many cases of similar imposture, the
Deardens, many years ago, actually had a family chapel constructed in
Rochdale Church with sham effigies, slabs, and brasses to the memory of
wholly fictitious ancestors; while in two Scottish churches altar-tombs
were placed to the memory of successive apocryphal lairds of Coulthart.
Such are the lengths to which a craze for ancestry has carried some
unprincipled persons; and there is no doubt that the arts of the forger
are still enlisted in the service of people who crave long descent and
do not scruple as to the methods by which they attain it.

Happily, however, the mania for ancestors does not often take such
extreme and reprehensible forms; its manifestations are usually rather
amusing than criminal. A common weakness is, however plebeian and
obvious in its origin a surname may be, to dignify it with a Norman or
at least French cradle. Thus we are solemnly assured that the Smithsons
(a name which bluntly proclaims its own derivation) are "a branch of the
baronial family of Scalers, or De Scallariis, which flourished in
Aquitaine as long ago as the eighth century." The first Cooper was not,
as the unlearned might imagine, a modest if respectable tradesman of
that name--no, he was a member of the great house of De Columbers, one
of whom was "Le Cupere, being probably Cup-bearer to the King"; Pindar,
the patronymic of the Earls Beauchamp, is, of course, a translation of
the Norman Le Bailli, and its bearers are "probably descended from
William, a Norman of distinction"; while at least one family of Brownes
springs lineally from "Turulph, a companion of Rollo," founder of the
Ducal House of Normandy. After this, one learns with meek resignation
that the honourable cognomen Smith is derived from _Smeeth_, "a level
plain"; and that some, at least, of the Parker family had for ancestors
certain De Lions, who flourished bravely under William the Conqueror.

Another favourite vanity is to glorify a name by the prefix De:

     "a particle which has been all but unknown in England
     since the first half of the fifteenth century, and which
     has never possessed in Great Britain that nobiliary
     character which the French nation have chosen to assign
     to it. De Bathe, De Trafford, and the rest are
     restorations in the modern Gothic manner."

It is, we fear, a similar vanity which has displaced such modest
surnames as Bear, Hunt, Wilkins, Mullins, Green, and Gossip in favour of
De Beauchamp, De Vere, De Winton, De Moleyns, De Freville, and De Rodes.

This ludicrous yearning for a Norman ancestry is responsible for many of
the absurdities in the pedigrees of even our most exalted families. Thus
it is that we find such statements as this widely circulated, and
accepted with a quite childlike credence:

     "This noble family (Grosvenor) is descended from a long
     train in the male line of illustrious ancestors, who
     flourished in Normandy with great dignity and grandeur
     from the time of its first erection into a sovereign
     Dukedom, A.D. 912, to the Conquest of England. The
     patriarch of this ancestral house was an uncle of Rollo,
     the famous Dane...."

And again:

     "The blood of the great Hugh Lupus, Duke (_sic_) of
     Chester, flows in the Grosvenor veins."

This pleasing fiction still rears its head unabashed in spite of all
attempts to destroy it; in its honour the late Duke of Westminster was
actually named "Hugh Lupus" at the baptismal font, while his younger
brother was labelled Richard "de Aquila"; and yet it is an indisputable
fact that the Grosvenor ancestors cannot be carried beyond a Robert de
Grosvenor, of Budworth, who lived a good century after the Conquest, and
who has no more traceable connection with Rollo than with the Man in
the Moon.

The Ducal House of Fife, we are told, "derives from Fyfe Macduff, a
chief of great wealth and power, who lived about the year 834, and
afforded to Kenneth II., King of Scotland, strong aid against his
enemies, the Picts." The present Duke, however, has the good sense to
disclaim any hereditary connection with the old Earls of Fife, and to
place at the top of his family tree one Adam Duff, who laid the
foundation of the family prosperity in the seventeenth century. The
Spencers, it is claimed, spring lineally from the old baronial
Despencers, "being a branche issueing from the ancient family and
chieffe of the Spencers, of which sometymes were the Earles of
Winchester and Glocester, and Barons of Glamorgan and Morgannocke."
This, no doubt, is a very distinguished origin; but, alas! the earliest
provable ancestors of this "noble" family were respectable and
well-to-do Warwickshire graziers, and the first authentic title on the
true pedigree is the knighthood conferred on John Spencer in 1519, less
than four centuries ago. Similarly the Russells, Dukes of Bedford, are
said to be derived from one Hugh de Russell, or Rossel (who took that
name from his estate in Normandy), one of the Conqueror's attendant
barons on his invasion of England. Here, again, facts fail lamentably to
support the descent claimed, since the earliest known progenitor of this
"great house" was that Henry Russell who was sent to Parliament to
represent Weymouth in the fifteenth century, and whose great-grandson
blossomed into the first Earl of Bedford. (It may, perhaps, be well to
state that, although the pedigrees here criticised are those that have
been or are widely accepted, they are not necessarily approved by the
families whose descent they profess to give.)

Another Norman ancestor who must go overboard is the alleged founder of
the "noble" house of Bolingbroke--that "William de St John who came to
England with the Conqueror as grand master of the artillery and
supervisor of the wagons and carriages," since it can be positively
shewn that the St John family first set foot in England a good many
years after William I. was safely underground; and with this mythical
William must also go that equally nebulous progenitor of the Fortescue
family, "who" according to the venerable and almost uniform tradition,
"landed in England with his master in the year 1066, and, protecting him
with his shield from the blows of an assailant, was graciously dubbed
'Fortescu,' the man of the stout shield." The Stourtons, so the
"Peerages" say, were "of considerable rank before the Conquest, and
dictated their own terms to the Conqueror"; but, as Canon Jackson, the
learned antiquary, truly points out, "of this there is no evidence. The
name is found, apparently for the first time, among Wiltshire
landowners, in the reign of Edward I., when a Nicholas Stourton held one
knight's fee under the Lovells of Castle Cary."

The Duke of Norfolk has a family tree of very stately growth, and can
well afford to repudiate a good many of the ancestors provided for him
by "Peerage" editors. Certainly, if he ever read the following statement
he must have smiled aloud:

     "The Duke's proudest boast is that his name of Howard is
     merely that of an ancestor, Hereward the Wake, whose
     representative, Sir Hereward Wake, is still in
     Northamptonshire."

As a matter of fact, his Grace's earliest known ancestor was Sir William
Howard, "who was a grown man and on the bench in 1293, whose real
pedigree is very obscure"; and who, no doubt, would have laughed as
heartily as his descendant of to-day at his imaginary derivation from
the Conqueror's stubborn foe of the fens, Hereward the Wake.

In the Fitzwilliam pedigree we encounter another nebulous knight of the
Conqueror. "The Fitzwilliams," we are informed, "date so far back that
their record is lost, but Sir William, a knight of the Conqueror's day,
married the daughter of Sir John Elmley," and so on; and further, that
at Milton Hall, Peterborough, one may actually look on an antique scarf
which "was presented to a direct ancestor of the Fitzwilliams by William
the Conqueror." The most skilled of our genealogists have sought in vain
for an authentic trace of this gallant knight of Conquest days; and
Professor Freeman does not hesitate to dismiss the story of his
existence as "pure fable." But if Sir William of Normandy must fall from
the family tree, his place is most creditably taken by Godric, a Saxon
Thane, who, as a forefather, is at least as respectable as any Norman
warrior in William's train.

The house of Fitzgerald is credited with an ancestor, one Dominus Otho,
"who is supposed to have been of the family of the Gherardini of
Florence. This noble passed over into Normandy, and thence, in 1057,
into England, where he became so great a favourite with Edward the
Confessor that he excited the jealousy of the Saxon Thanes." Dominus
Otho must too pass, with many another treasured ancestor, into the
crowded genealogical land of the rejected; for the real founder of the
Fitzgerald house was Walter, son of "Other," whose name is first met
with in Domesday Book in 1086. The Otho story is shown to be "absolute
fiction."

In view of such examples of misplaced ingenuity exhibited by the makers
of pedigrees for our noble families, one can almost read without a smile
that

     "there were Heneages at Hainton in the time of King Edwy;
     they doubtless took part in the revolt which brought
     Edgar to the throne, and it is not impossible that some
     of them were in the train of Wulfhere, King of Mercia;"

or that

     "Lord Alington comes of a family of ancient lineage, one
     of his ancestors being Sir Hildebrand de Alington, who
     was marshal to William the Conqueror at the battle of
     Hastings,"

though we may know full well that the Sturt pedigree really begins in
the seventeenth century, and that the earliest known Heneage lived and
died some three centuries before.

But "noble" families have no monopoly of misguided genealogy. "The
immense majority of the pedigrees of the landed gentry," says a
well-known officer of arms, "cannot, I fear, be characterised as
otherwise than utterly worthless. The errors of the 'peerage' are as
nothing to the fables which we encounter everywhere;" and the same may
be said of many another collection of pedigrees which is a treasured
possession in countless British homes.

Some even justly famous men have not been proof against this insidious
form of vanity and pretence. Edmund Spenser was ungenerous enough to
"dismiss his known ancestry of small Lancashire gentry and plant himself
modestly in the shadow of the newly discovered shield of arms of the
noble house of Spencer, 'of which I meanest boast myself to be.'" And
Lord Tennyson, whose ultimate ascertainable forefather was an eighteenth
century Lincolnshire apothecary, was provided with a slightly
differenced cadet's version of the arms of Archbishop Tenison, with whom
he had no connection whatever.



INDEX

  Aberdeen, Earl of, 299
  Affleck, Lady, 66
  ----, Misses, 66
  Alava, General, 44
  Albemarle, Lord, 235
  Aldenham, Lord, 333
  Alexander, Emperor, 49
  Alington, Lord, 343
  ----, Sir Hildebrand, 343
  Allerton, Lord, 334
  Almack's, 45-49
  Andrews, Mr, 71-73
  Anglesey, Earl of, 165
  Anne, of Austria, 2
  ----, Princess, 113
  ----, Queen, 331
  Ardilaun, Lord, 333
  Argyll, Duke of, 295
  Arlington, Lady, 184
  ----, Lord, 6, 182, 183
  Armstrong, Lord, 334
  Arran, Lord, 76
  Ashburton, Lord, 327
  Atholl, Duke of, 299
  Avebury, Lord, 333
  Aveland, Lord, 333
  Aylesbury, Lady, 154

  Bacon, Francis, 270
  Barillon, 193
  Baring, Alexander, 327
  ----, Francis, Sir, 327
  ----, Franz (Dr), 326
  ----, John, 326-327
  Barnard, Dr, 64
  Bath, Marquess of, 330, 333
  Beaconsfield, Lord, 159, 160
  Beauchamp, Earl, 338
  Beaufort, Duc de, 178, 179, 191
  Becher, Sir William W., 251
  Bedford, Duchess of, 46
  ----, Dukes of, 340
  Bentinck, Lord George, 156-164
  Berkeley, Annie May, 162, 163
  ----, Earl of, 162
  Bilton, Miss Belle, 255
  Bingham, Senator, 327
  Blantyre, Lord, 1, 20, 305
  Blessington, Countess of, 97, 100-109
  ----, Earl of, 99-105
  Blount, Christopher, 281
  Boleyn, Godfrey, 330
  Bolingbroke, Lord, 290, 321
  Bolton, Duke of, 246
  ----, Duchess of, 246
  ----, Mary Catherine, 246, 247
  Boothby, Brook, 46
  Boswell, 296, 297, 298
  Bottefeld, William de, 330
  Bouveries, Laurence des, 332, 333
  Bracegirdle, Mrs, 166-173
  Bridges, Sir Thomas, 85
  Bridgewater, Duke of, 295
  Bristol, Earl of, 199, 204
  Broke, Lord, 331
  Brougham, Lord, 107
  Browne, family, 338
  Brunton, Louisa, 251, 252
  Buccleuch, Duchess of, 300
  ----, Duke of, 299
  Buckingham, Duke of, 4-6, 36, 37, 80-85, 112, 181, 182
  Buller, Lady Harriet, 48
  Bunbury, Sir Thomas, 216-218
  Burke, Sir Bernard, 62-63
  Burleigh, Lord, 257, 258
  Burney, Dr Charles, 22
  Burnham, Barony, 334
  Burrell, Mrs Drummond, 46
  Burton, Lord, 333
  Bute, Countess of, 238
  Byron, Lord, 42-43, 45, 48, 102

  Cadogan, Earl of, 208
  Campbell, Colonel John, 295
  Canning, 42
  ----, Mrs, 35
  Capel, William, 332
  Cardigan, Earl of, 74
  Carhampton, Earl of, 89
  Carlingford, Lord, 7
  Carnegie, James, 223-225
  Caroline, Princess, 45
  Carrington, Lords, 332
  Castlemaine, Lady, 8-12, 14, 18, 115, 116, 184, 192
  Castlereagh, Lady, 42
  Catherine, Empress, 205
  ----, Queen, 3, 10-12, 16
  ----, the Great, 75
  Cecil, Henry, (Earl of Exeter), 256-265
  ----, Lord Thomas, 265
  Chaffinch, Barbara (Countess of Jersey), 37
  Charles I., 1
  Charles II., 1-20, 75-84, 110, 112, 115, 116, 177-194, 207
  Charlotte, Queen, 202, 214, 296
  Chesterfield, Lord, 116, 291, 325
  Child, Anne, 37-41
  ----, Francis, 37
  ----, Robert, 37-41
  Christina, Queen of Sweden, 74
  Chudleigh, Colonel, 195, 196
  ----, Elizabeth, 195-206
  Churchill, Arabella, 115
  ----, John, 114-126
  ----, Winston, 114, 120
  Clarendon, Chancellor, 17
  Cobden, 326
  Cochrane, Lady Susanna, 222-227
  Compton, Lady, 142-147
  ----, Lord, 139-147
  Congreve, 166
  Conolly, Lady Louisa, 209
  Coombe, William, 63
  Cooper family, 338
  Coutts, Thomas, 252-255
  Coventry, Countess of, 287-290
  ----, Earl of, 286
  Cowper, Lady, 46
  Cradock, Mr, 52
  Craven, Earl of, 252, 330
  ----, William, 330
  Crawford, Lord, 306
  Creevey, 43
  Cromer, Earl, 327
  Crosby, Sir John, 137
  Cumberland, Duchess of, 91-95
  ----, Duke of, 87-95, 286

  Dalkeith, Earl of, 300
  Dalrymple, Mr, 305
  D'Arblay, Madame, 22
  Darlington, Countess of, 324
  Darnley, Lord, 275
  Dashwood, Sir Samuel, 331
  D'Aubigny, Duchesse, 184-194
  Dearden family, 337
  De Bathe, 338
  De Beauchamp, 339
  De Freville, 339
  Delany, Mrs, 288
  De Moleyns, 339
  Denbigh, Earls of, 330
  Derby, Earl of, 249
  De Reti, Cardinal, 2
  De Rodes, 339
  De Trafford, 338
  De Vere, 339
  Devonshire, Duke of, 166
  De Winton, 339
  Dibdin, Charles, 22
  Digby, Francis, 9
  Dillon, Colonel, 77
  Disraeli, 106, 159, 160
  Doran, Dr, 166
  D'Orsay, Count, 101-109
  Dorset, Duke of, 166
  Douglas, Archibald, 298-315
  ----, Duke of, 299, 301, 302, 306, 307, 310, 311, 312
  ----, James, Marquess of, 299
  ----, Jean (Lady), 298-315
  ----, Sholto, 312
  Downe, Viscount, 333
  Dryden, 182
  Dudley, Earls of, 331
  ----, Edmond, 266
  ----, Guildford, 268, 269
  ----, Robert (Earl of Leicester), 266-281
  Duff, Adam, 340
  Dundalk, Baroness of, 322
  Dundonald, Earl of, 222

  Eberstein, Princess von, 322
  Edward VI., 268
  Eglinton, Lady, 311
  Eldon, Earl of, 333
  Elizabeth, Queen, 137, 139, 142-144, 258, 269-281, 331
  Errington, Mr Sheriff, 59
  Errol, Lord, 216
  Essex, Countess of, 277
  ----, Earl of, 60, 248, 270, 332
  Esterhazy, Princess, 46
  ----, Prince Paul, 49
  Evelyn, 84, 177, 193
  Exeter, Earl of, 264

  Fane, Lady Sarah Sophia, 37, 41
  Farmer, Captain, 97-100
  Farren, Elizabeth, 248, 249
  Fenton, Lavinia, 245-246
  Ferrers, Earl of, 51-61, 289
  Feversham, Countess of, 322
  Fielding, Sir Godfrey, 330
  Fife, Dukes of, 340
  Fitzgerald, Henry Gerald, 128-133
  ---- family, 343
  Fitzwilliam family, 342-343
  Folkestone, Viscount, 332-333
  Foote, 201
  Forbes, George, 220-228
  ----, Susan Janet, 227-230
  Forneron, 189
  Fortescue, Mr, 64-65, 68-69
  ---- family, 341
  Fox, Charles James, 62, 249
  Frederick, The Great, 198
  Freeman, Professor, 334, 342

  Gainsborough, 3
  Galloway, Earl of, 222
  Gardiner, Lady Harriet, 104
  Gascoigne, Sir Christopher, 330
  George I., 317-325
  ---- II., 209, 210, 287, 293
  ---- III., 22, 87, 91-93, 210-221, 296
  ---- IV., 45, 94
  Gilchrist, Miss Constance, 255
  Glastonbury, Baroness of, 322
  Gloucester, Duchess of, 93
  ----, Duke of (Richard), 137
  Godefroi, M., 308-310
  Godric, 343
  Gordon, Lord William, 217-218
  Graeme, Colonel, 214
  Gramont, 10, 75
  Granville, Lady, 43, 49
  Gresham, Sir Richard, 333
  Greville, William, 331
  Grey, Lady Jane, 268, 269
  Gronow, Captain, 46, 47, 48, 253
  Grosvenor, Countess, 87-89
  ---- family, 339, 340
  Guise, Comte de, 2
  ----, Duchesse de, 188
  Gunning, Elizabeth, 282-297
  ----, John, 282
  ----, Maria, 282-297
  ----, Mrs, 284
  Gwynn, Nell, 186, 187, 192

  Haldane, Mr, 304
  Halhed, 26
  Hambleden, Viscounty of, 334
  Hamilton, Betty (Lady), 297
  ----, Colonel, 174, 175
  ----, Count, 4, 6, 10, 14
  ----, Duke of, 173-176, 196, 197, 239, 249, 291-294, 299, 314
  ----, George, 7, 8
  ----, Susanna (Lady), 222
  Hanmer, Mrs, 197
  Harewood, Lord, 333
  Harrington, Earl of, 282
  ----, Lady, 46
  Hastings, Marquess of, 148-156
  Hatton, Sir Christopher, 277
  Hay, Mr, 305
  Heathcote, Gilbert, 333
  Heneage family, 343
  ----, Sir Thomas, 277-279
  Henri IV., 191
  Henrietta Maria, Queen, 2
  Hereford, Lady, 277
  Hereward, the Wake, 342
  Hervey, Hon. Augustus, 197-199
  ----, Lord, 93
  Hewit, Mrs, 304, 308-310
  Hewitt, Anne, 328, 329
  ----, William, 328, 329
  Heyward, Lord Mayor, 333
  Hill, Captain Richard, 167-173
  Hillsborough, Lord, 68
  Hindlip, Lord, 333
  Hoggins, Sarah (Countess of Exeter), 259-265
  Holland, Lady, 210
  ----, Lord, 211
  Home, Earl of, 315
  Hopetoun, Earl of, 299
  Horton, Christopher, 89
  ----, Mrs, 89-91
  Howard, Bernard, 81
  ----, Captain Thomas, 76-78
  ----, Sir William, 342

  Ibbetson, Captain, 37
  Irnham, Lord, 81
  Iveagh, Lord, 333

  Jackson, Canon, 341
  Jennings, Frances, 111, 112
  ----, John (Sir), 111, 112
  ----, Sarah, 110-126
  ----, Squire, 110, 111
  Jermyn, Henry, 9, 76-78, 112
  Jerrold, Douglas, 107
  Jersey, Earl of, 37, 41, 50, 333
  ----, Countess of (Sarah), 41-50
  Johnson, Dr, 25, 62, 296-298
  ----, Mr John, 54-57

  Kemble, John, 250
  Kendal, Duchess of, 322-325
  Kent, John, 157
  Ker, Captain, 301
  Kerr, Captain, 158
  Kielmansegg, Baroness von, 318-320, 324
  Kildare, Lady, 210
  Killigrew, Harry, 78-81, 83
  ----, Tom, 79
  King, Colonel, 130-133
  ----, Sir John, 127
  ----, Mary (Hon.), 127-135
  Kingsborough, Lady, 128, 130
  ----, Viscount, 127, 129, 132, 133
  Kingston, Earl of, 134
  ----, Duchess of, 200-206
  ----, Duke of, 199, 231
  Königsmarck, 318

  La Brune, Madame, 309, 310
  Landor, Walter Savage, 104
  Lauder, Farmer, 229
  ----, Mrs, 230
  Lawrence, Sir Thomas, 99, 106
  Leeds, Duke of, 329
  Leicester, Earl of, 275-281
  ----, Countess of, 281
  Lennox, Lady Sarah, 207-230
  Lieven, Princess of, 46
  Lindores, Lord, 311
  Linley, Elizabeth Ann, 21-35
  ----, Mary, 28, 35
  ----, Thomas, 21, 22, 24, 28
  Long, Mr, 24, 31
  Louis XIV., 2, 19, 79, 179-194
  ----, Napoleon (Prince), 107
  Lovelace, Lord, 166
  Luttrell, Anne, 89-95
  ----, Colonel, 89
  ----, Elizabeth, 95
  Lyndhurst, Lord, 106
  Lyon of Brigton, 223, 224
  Lyte, Sir H. Maxwell, 335
  ---- family, 335
  Lyttelton, Thomas, Lord, 62-73

  Macartney, Major-General, 174-175
  Madden, Dr, 109
  Mancini, Hortense de, 189
  Mann, Sir Horace, 201
  Mansfield, Lord, 311
  Manvers, Lord, 160
  March, Lord, 46, 208, 209
  Marsante, Comte de, 96
  Mary, Queen, 269, 270
  ----, ---- of Scots, 275
  Masham, Lord, 334
  Matthews, Major, 26-30
  Mazarin, Duchesse de, 192, 193
  Meath, Bishop of, 22
  Mellon, Harriet, 252-254
  Meredith, Sir William, 52
  Merrill, Mr, 197
  Messalina, 74
  Metcalfes, of Nappa, 329
  Michele, 309, 310
  Mohun, Charles Lord, 165-176
  ----, Sir William de, 165
  Monaldeschi, Count, 74
  Monmouth, Duke of, 116, 191
  ----, Earl of, 243, 244
  Montagu, Edward Wortley, 231-242
  ----, Lady Mary Wortley, 231, 238
  Montford, Jack, 167-173
  Montgomery, Mr, 48
  ----, Miss, 48
  Moore, Dr, 239
  ----, Thomas, 101
  More, Hannah, 202
  ----, Sir Thomas, 137
  Morland, Duchess of, 193
  Mornington, Lady, 47
  Mount Stephen, Lord, 334
  Munster, Duchess of, 322
  Murray, Captain, 97, 98

  Napier, Hon. George, 218-220
  Napier, Lord, 219
  Neave, Sir Digby, 66
  Newbattle, Lord, 212
  Newcastle, Duke of, 204
  Ney, Marshal, 104
  Norfolk, Duke of, 342
  Northbrook, Lord, 327
  Northumberland, Duke of, 266, 268, 269, 327

  O'Neill, Eliza, 249-251
  Orleans, Duchess of, 179-181
  Ormond, Duke of, 76
  Ormonde, Lord, 277
  Osborne, Edward, 328, 329
  ----, Sir Thomas, 329
  Osnabrück, Bishop of, 324
  "Other," 343
  Otho, Dominus, 343
  Overtoun, Lord, 334

  Page, Mr, 170, 171
  ----, Mrs, 168
  Paget, Lady Florence, 151
  Panmure, Earl of, 299
  Parker family, 338
  Payne, George, 159
  Peach, Joseph, 64
  Pelham, Mr, 311
  Pepys, 5, 8, 12, 17, 18, 78, 80, 192
  Peterborough, Earl of, 243, 244
  Pierce, Mr, 12, 18
  Pierrepoint, Hon. H.M., 265
  Pindar, 338
  Pope, 243
  Portland, Duke of, 157, 163, 164
  Portsmouth, Duchess of, 184-194, 207
  Power, Edmund, 96-99
  ----, Marguerite, 96-109
  Pulteney, Mr, 196
  Pusey, Canon, 333

  Queensbury, Duchess of, 300
  ----, Duke of, 311,
  Querouaille, Louise de, 19, 177-194

  Radnor, Earls of, 332-333
  Radzivill, Prince, 205
  Raikes, Mr T., 49
  Raleigh, Sir Walter, 137
  Rawlins, Colonel Giles, 77
  Redmaynes (of Fulford), 329
  Revelstoke, Baron, 327
  Reynolds, 23
  Richelieu, Duc de, 327
  Richmond, Duchess of, 17-20
  ----, Duke of, 13-18, 208, 218, 265
  Ripon, Marquesses of, 329
  Robinson, Anastasia, 243, 244
  Robinsons, 328, 329
  Robsart, Amy, 268-274
  Rogers, Samuel, 45
  Rollo, Duke of Normandy, 339
  Rotier, Phillipe, 12
  Round, Mr Horace, 336
  Rowe, 166
  Russell, Lord John, 44
  ---- family, 340, 341
  Ruvigny, 19
  Ryder, Lady Susanna, 48

  St Albans, Duke of, 254
  St Aldegonde, Count, 48, 49
  St Evremond, 182
  St John family, 341
  St Simon, 190
  Salisbury, Marquess of, 330
  Sandwich, Earl of, 231
  Sault, Comte de, 179
  Schulenburg, Ehrengard von der, 316-325
  ----, Mathias (Count), 316
  Scott, John, 333
  Sedley, Catherine, 120-121
  ----, Sir Charles, 120
  Sefton, Lady, 46
  Selkirk, Earl of, 314
  Selwyn, George, 216, 288
  Sentinelli, Count, 74
  Seymour, Lady Elizabeth, 328
  Shaw, Lady, 311
  Sheffield, Lord, 277
  Sheridan, Charles, 25
  ----, Mrs (E. Linley), 31-35
  ----, Richard Brinsley, 25-35
  ----, Thomas (Dr), 25
  ----, Thomas, 25, 283, 284
  Shipway frauds, 336
  Shirley, Lady Barbara, 51
  ---- Laurence, (Earl of Ferrers), 51-61
  Shrewsbury, Anna Maria, Countess of, 74-86
  ----, Earl of, 75, 81, 82, 84, 86
  Smith, Albert, 107
  ----, General, 90
  ----, John, 331
  ----, Robert, 333
  ---- family, 338
  Smithson, Hugh, 328
  Smythesonne, Smitheson, etc., 327, 328, 338
  Sophia, Electress of Hanover, 317
  ---- Dorothea of Zell, 317, 323, 324
  Southwell, Lord, 236
  Spencer, Elizabeth, 139-147
  ----, Sir John, 136-144, 340
  ---- family, 340
  Spenser, Edmund, 344
  Standish, Charles, 48
  Stanley, Lord, 297
  Stephens, Catherine, 247-248
  Stewart, Andrew, 314
  ---- Colonel John, 302-315
  Stourton, family, 341
  Stow, 136
  Strangways, Lady Susan, 211, 212, 215, 216
  Strathcona, Lord, 334
  Strathmore, Earl of, 223-224
  Stuart, La belle, 1-20
  ----, Lady Louisa, 300
  ----, Madame, 2
  ----, Walter, 2, 3
  Sturt pedigree, 343, 344
  Suffolk, Lady, 317
  Surtees, Miss, 333

  Taafe, Mr, 236, 237
  Talbot, Sir John, 81
  ----, Richard, 112
  Tenison, Archbishop, 344
  Tennyson, Lord, 344
  Thackeray, 108
  Thormanby, 157
  Thurlow, 204
  ----, Edward, Lord, 247
  Tripp, Baron, 49
  Turenne, Marshal, 116
  Tyrconnel, Duchess of, 112

  Vaillant, Sheriff, 59
  Vendôme, Philippe de, 191, 192
  Vernon, Miss, 259
  Villiers, Adela, Lady, 37
  ----, Barbara, 1, 115
  ----, Clementina, 50
  ----, Sir George, 36
  ----, George, Earl of, 37, 41

  Wake, Sir Hereward, 342
  Wales, Prince of (Henry Frederick), 95
  Walpole, Horace, 23, 51, 89, 190, 201-204, 211, 289, 291, 295, 318, 321, 325
  Walsingham, Countess of, 325
  Warburton, General, 63
  Ward, Mr Plumer, 72
  ----, William, 331
  Warwick, Earl of, 331
  Wellesbourne family, 337
  Wellington, Duke of, 42, 47, 48, 49, 107, 265
  Wentworth, Lord, 138
  Westmorland, Earl of, 38-40, 216
  Wigton, Lady, 306, 307
  Wilberforce, William, 106
  Wilkes, John, 23
  William III., 86
  Willis, Mr, 47
  Wilton, Earl of, 249
  Wood, Major, 130, 131
  Woodrow, 301

  York, Duke of (James), 112, 115, 185, 193





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