Category Archives: Stories

4 March 1805. The Polish Dwarf—“a little horror”

Betsey Wynne records a unusual meeting in her diary. She travelled to London with her husband, Captain Thomas Francis Fremantle. Mary Nugent, Marchioness of Buckingham called on her:

Lady Buckingham called to take us to see Count Barlowsky, the little polish dwarf who is only three feet two inches & 69 years of age, he is a little horror, tho’ better proportioned than dwarfs are in general, but his manners & conversation exceedingly done.

The Count’s name is incorrect in the published edition of the Wynne Diaries and it may have that Betsey did not know how to spell his name. Józef Boruwłaski, born in 1739, was a Polish-born dwarf who toured European and Turkish courts, ending his days in Durham, England.joseph_boruwlaski-scaled500

He was never a Count of course. That was a title adopted by a man of great wit and intelligence, a talented dancer and musician, to ease his way through European society. Just 8 inches tall at birth, he grew to 3 feet 3 inches in adulthood. He arrived in Britain in 1782 and retired to Durham in 1791.

In Durham, he was great friends with Stephen Kemble, an actor of Falstaff proportions. They strolled the banks of the River Wear together, the original Little and Large!

For all his lack of height, Boruwłaski did not lack in longevity. He died in Durham in 1837, aged 97.

Betsey of course did not mean “horror” in the way the word is used today. She meant “oddity” rather than “disgraceful” or “terrifying”.

5 March 1806. Broad Bottoms Suckling

It is not the task of satirists to be kind to their subjects and to the Grenvilles and their political associates, James Gillray was never kind.

William Pitt died at half past four on the morning of January 23, 1806. William Wyndham Grenville was Pitt’s natural successor and King George III commanded that he form a government. It was not an easy process. As Grenville attempted to draw together something approaching a coalition government of national unity, he found he had too many politicians jostling for the limited number of posts, while others would not join him.

On 11 February 1806, the Ministry of All the Talents began its short and troubled attempt to govern a deeply divided Britain which was still at war with France. James Fox led the government from the House of Commons and prime minister Lord Grenville led in the House of Lords.

The ministry immediately became a target of Gillray’s acerbic etching pen. Not entirely without reason, Gillray believed that many politicians of the day, especially the Grenvilles, were in politics for personal and financial gain. He shared the suspicion of the majority of the public harboured about the new government’s catholic leanings. And he believed the growing burden of taxation was sucking working people dry to finance the ambitions and line the pockets of government.

Three weeks after the new government began work, Hannah Humphrey published James Gillray’s satire on the Ministry of All the Talents—“More Pigs than Teats”. It portrays 29 identifiable politicians rushing to suckle John Bull’s sow. Sidmouth, Grenville, Fox and Spencer are already sucking while others scramble for a teat. At the left edge latecomers are rushing to join the government and some do not succeed. Gillray subtitled the work “The new Litter of hungry Grunters sucking John Bull’s old Sow to death”. Grunters is probably an allusion to the Grenvilles, three of whom were in the cabinet.

more_pigs_than_teats_BM_1000© Trustees of the British Museum

In an age where photography had not been invented and newspapers were yet to carry illustrations, cartoons like these carried an additional importance in putting a face to a name. One of Gillray’s great skills was portraying faces. He of course exaggerated facial features, sometimes grossly, but his caricatures are instantly recognisable. On the image below, I identify the politicians. The  rear end of the Duke of Clarence, which is supporting Charles Fox, is identified by the British Museum.


The Ministry of All the Talents fell on 25 March 1807, after just one year and 42 days.

My detailed analysis: More Pigs Than Teats Identified

10 March 1806. British “invaders seeking to establish a dominion and to acquire an empire” in India

In 1805, James Paull arrived in the House of Commons determined to settle old scores. Paull had been a successful trader in Oudh, now part of Uttar Pradesh, in India. As he built his fortune, he became friends with the governor-general, the Marquess of Wellesley (Richard Wellesley; 1760–1842; brother of the future Duke of Wellington). That friendship abruptly ended when Wellesley threw the traders out of Oudh.

A fiery Scot and lousy gambler, Paull smouldered with anger against Wellesley and was set on revenge. In June 1805, Paull purchased a seat in parliament representing Newtown on the Isle of Wight. Almost at once, he set about trying to impeach Wellesley for ruining the trade of the nawabs of Oudh but he met ferocious resistance, not least from Richard, Lord Temple, the future Duke of Buckingham and Chandos. Whatever the merits of the case against Wellesley, and the general view was that it was not strong enough to justify impeachment, the Wellesleys were close friends of the Buckinghams. Richard would not stand by and see him impeached. The matter dragged on through parliament for two years but the motion to impeach Wellesley was finally defeated by 182 votes to 31 in 1808.

gillray_a_plumper_for_paul© Trustees of the British Museum

The image above is taken from James Gillray’s print “A Plumper for Paul!” published on 13 March 1807. Paull had again made a nuisance of himself by petitioning against Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s election for the seat of Westminster. He failed to overturn the election result, just as he failed to impeach Wellesley. Sheridan is shown angrily blasting Paull who has collapsed onto the Wellesley impeachment document while holding the election petition.

One memorable debate took place on Monday, 10 March 1806. In the House of Commons, Richard Temple accused the Rajah of Bhurtpore of treachery (he was not the only MP to do so). Lord Folkestone rose and condemned Richard’s remark:

“This rajah is a native prince of India, having natural connections with the country; we have none such, but are really invaders, seeking to establish a dominion and to acquire an empire. In these circumstances, if these or other native chiefs should take measures for preventing us, or for expelling us, it seems to me that it might be attributed to other dispositions than those of perfidy, and such conduct be called by another name than treachery.”

An independent radical MP, William Pleydell-Bouverie the 3rd Earl of Radnor was styled Viscount Folkestone. Despite his aristocratic background, he was fiercely opposed to the old style of government that relied on patronage and sinecures—though ironically he was elected to a pocket borough controlled by his father. His retort to Richard Temple was well ahead its time. The attitudes of most British politicians to the colonisation of India were to change very slowly indeed. It would be more than 140 years before India was to break free from British rule.

12 March 1829. The Catholic Question that divided a nation and divided a family

The rights of catholics to sit in parliament and take part in public life had been restricted since the Reformation, when the Church of England was established as the state Church. Laws were passed which discriminated against Roman Catholics, including the 1559 Act of Uniformity. Widespread discrimination and persecution followed.

Political opposition to suppression of catholics grew throughout the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The Grenvilles were strong supporters of emancipation but Lord Grenville’s government of All the Talents fell in March 1807 in the face of opposition by King George III to even limited catholic emancipation.

the_funeral_procession_of_broad_bottom_cq-scaled500© Trustees of the British Museum

“The funeral procession of Broad-bottom” (6 April 1807). James Gillray’s satire of the fall of Lord Grenville’s government, portraying the Grenvilles as catholics. From left: George Grenville (the Marquess of Buckingham), Pope Pius VII and Richard Temple (Lord Temple). 

The Catholic Question split the Grenville family too. Richard Temple, the 1st Duke of Buckingham and Chandos was an ardent supporter of the catholic cause—his mother and his sister were catholics. But his wife and their son, Chandos, were fiercely opposed to allowing catholics further rights.

In late 1828, Brunswick Clubs were formed across England with the express purpose of stirring opposition to catholic emancipation. Chandos took the chair of the newly formed Buckinghamshire Brunswick Constitutional Club in late 1828, while his father was touring the Mediterranean. When Richard got to hear of the Club in March 1829, his response was immediate and furious. He wrote an open letter from Rome to the “Gentry, Clergy, and Freeholders of the Hundreds of Buckingham, Ashendon, and Cottesloe in the County of Buckingham” condemning the Brunswick Club for misunderstanding history, the constitution and betraying his family.

Richard’s lengthy letter defends the role of catholics in British history and argues there is no constitutional reason the King could not sign an act on catholic emancipation into law. He calls on the memory of his father, George Grenville, who Richard says was much loved by the people of Buckinghamshire who had supported him in full knowledge of his pro-catholic views. And they had several times voted for Richard himself. “Every freeholder… voted for me. Ay, every one!”, he writes somewhat hysterically. The Bucks gentry had voted for him because they:

“had not then been lashed into fury and madness by intriguing, mischievous, and discontented spirits. You had not then suffered the unbridled enthusiasm and fiery zeal of heated youth to overpower prudence and overwhelm experience.”

The heated youth and discontented spirit Richard referred to was his son, Chandos. An Ultra Tory, Chandos opposed emancipation at every stage but to no avail. On 13 April, 1829, King George IV reluctantly signed “An Act for the Relief of His Majesty’s Roman Catholic Subjects” into law.

Catholic emancipation is of course not yet complete. Nearly 200 years after catholics were allowed to sit in parliament we have yet to have a catholic prime minister and a catholic cannot ascend to the throne. But then, catholic emancipation has been a slow process all along.

15 March 1773. My mother she conquers as Oliver Goldsmith stoops

She Stoops to Conquer was first performed on this day at Covent Garden Theatre in 1773. Over two-and-a-half centuries, countless people have laughed at the antics of Tony Lumpkin as related by his stepfather, Hardcastle:

MRS. HARDCASTLE. Humour, my dear; nothing but humour. Come, Mr. Hardcastle, you must allow the boy [Lumpkin] a little humour.

HARDCASTLE. I’d sooner allow him a horse-pond. If burning the footmen’s shoes, frightening the maids, and worrying the kittens be humour, he has it. It was but yesterday he fastened my wig to the back of my chair, and when I went to make a bow, I popt my bald head in Mrs. Frizzle’s face.

This event was inspired by a prank played on the author, Oliver Goldsmith, by the young Mary Nugent, later the 1st Marchioness of Buckingham, mother of Richard Temple, 1st Duke of Buckingham and Chandos.oliver_goldsmith_by_sir_joshua_reynolds-scaled500

Oliver Goldsmith, studio of Sir Joshua Reynolds c. 1770

The story is told in the Memoir of Robert Nugent by Claude Nugent (1898):

Nugent’s daughter Mary was a great favourite of Goldsmith’s and an amusing story is told of how on one occasion, when he was asleep after dinner, she tied his wig on the back of a chair, so that on walking and rising to his feet, his wig was dragged from his head exposing his baldness. He treated it as a joke, however, with the utmost good-nature, and put the incident into his delightful comedy, She Stoops to Conquer.

So Richard’s mother was, in part at least, an inspiration for the antics of Tony Lumpkin!

20 March 1821. Death of a confidential postman

Richard Temple, Marquess of Buckingham, writes to his London confidant and fixer, William Henry Fremantle:

The date of my letter compared with that of the receipt of it will have shewn you that you ought to have got it a day sooner. But the poor wretch who carried my post bag on Sunday night was thrown from his horse & killed on the spot & my bag lay with him all night in the road.

It was unlucky indeed for the poor postman, whose name history has not recorded. It could have been more unlucky for the Duke of Wellington if the letter the postman was carrying had been stolen.

The letter, marked “Confidential”, offered advice to be conveyed by Fremantle to Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, the nation’s conquering hero on the battlefield—and in the bedroom.

Five or six years earlier, the Duke had an encounter with Lady Westmeath. Beautiful, dark eyed and rapacious, Emily was struggling through a tempestuous, sometimes violent marriage. Now, as tortuous divorce proceedings got under way, there seemed no hope that the Duke of Wellington’s name could be kept out of it.

One accusation made by Emily was that her mother had suggested she sleep with the Duke to advance the family fortunes. Perhaps she did so in the winter of 1815/16, or on others that presented themselves. She would not have been the first woman to fall for the Duke’s advances. Whether she dallied or not, her husband saw it as an opportunity to lay a trap for his wife and to drag the Duke of Wellington into the divorce proceedings.

It took a while for the bitter Westmeath affair to unravel. Although the Duke of Wellington was mentioned in court documents, his reputation came to no harm as by then his reputation as a womaniser was well established. This satirical print drawn by Isaac Cruikshank in 1819 leaves little to the imagination:

duke_of_wellington_cannon_cruikshank© Trustees of the British Museum

The ladies are saying:

“Bless what a spanker! I hope it won’t fire it at me, I could never support such a thing!”
“It can’t do any harm, for he has fired it so often in various Countries, that it is nearly wore out!” 

As I said, it leaves little to the imagination.

13 May 1820: Medical wisdom

On 13 May 1820, Tom Grenville writes to the Marchioness of Buckingham, Anna Eliza Brydges, with some medical advice. The following extract sums up much wisdom on the medical practices of the day:

I am no great friend as you know to the many-coloured phials which grow out of the grim-gribbler of the learned professors of the black doses; but a sensible man who has passed a long life in watching all the infirmities that our frail frames are subject to is certainly very likely to have a good guess at what spring it is that wants oiling in the clockwork; & tho’ they cannot take their magnifying glass & look at the machinery, as Arnold would examine his Timekeeper, & tho’ they must therefore travel in the dark, yet they become long-sighted by the long habit & experience & when that is found united with good sense & judgement, very important help may be afforded them.

Tom Grenville adds a waspish footnote about the consort of King George IV, Caroline of Brunswick:

At White’s somebody was wondering at the passion for Lady C “with a leg as thick as a post” what then said Copley, tho’ it is a post remember it is “Poste Royale”

The Grenvilles and Buckinghams, though not Anna Eliza, suffered a great deal from gout. James Gillray’s illustration, below, captures the misery perfectly. He must have suffered himself!

the_gout_james_gillray© Trustees of the British Museum

The Myth of the Grenville Diptych

In the centre of the ceiling of the Gothic Library at Stowe is an amazing work of heraldry: The Stowe Armorial.


The Library was commissioned by George Nugent-Temple-Grenville, 1st Marquess of Buckingham (often called Nugent Buckingham). It was built to a design by Sir John Soane between 1805 and 1807. The armorial is a 1.4m diameter heraldic painting of the 719 quarterings of the Temple, Nugent, Brydges, Chandos and Grenville families, including ten variations of the English Royal arms, the arms of Spencer, De Clare, Valence, Mowbray, Mortimer and De Grey. The painting is signed and dated P. Sonard 1806 (see Stowe House, Michael Bevington 2002).

Somewhere, sometime in a book and certainly on the Internet, this fascinating work has been renamed the Grenville Diptych. That, to put it colloquially, it ain’t. The OED tells us that a diptych is “an altar-piece or other painting composed of two leaves which close like a book.” ( The Stowe Armorial does not have two leaves, neither can an immovable object in a ceiling be folded.

This myth is widespread and on eBay and on Amazon you can buy prints of the “Grenville Diptych”. They are lovely images but  they are not  images a diptych.

Richard Temple’s eyes: the Chubby Cherub at Stowe identified

The State Music Room at Stowe is one of the great jewels in the crown of this magnificent house. Its ornamentation is pleasing, gracious and intriguing.

Accounts of the décor, furniture and artists are given elsewhere (for example, Stowe House, Michael Bevington 2002 and The Stowe Catalogue Priced and Annotated, Henry Rumsey Forster 1848). This note focuses on a single panel, featuring Apollo, and a woman and child.

The Music Room and the panel we are examining was painted by Vincenzo Valdre (1742–1814). Bevington suggests that the room was finished after 1781 and I know of no more precise date for its completion.

mary_nugentAll the elements of the panel are superbly executed but only two have a significant interest to a historian of Stowe and the Grenvilles. These are the lady and the child.

Bevington almost says it, as others have before and since. “Perhaps it is not too-far fetched to see in the attractive lady before [Apollo] a reminder of Lady Buckingham, herself a keen musician,” he writes. This is too coy. The sitter for the Grecian lady playing her lyre in an offering to the god of music is without a doubt Mary Nugent—Lady Buckingham, who from 1784 was the Marchioness of Buckingham. The following portraits illustrate the likeness (Valdre c. 1780; Unknown c. 1770; Reynolds 1780-82).

mary_nugent_headsThis is not the only likeness in Vincenzo Valdre’s panel. The chubby cherub is a stocky child just a little too large for the assemblage and has familiar features. There is no doubt in my mind that this child is Richard Temple, later the first Duke of Buckingham and Chandos. He was born in 1776 and would have been a few years old when the panel was painted. The hair and eyes are Richard Temple through and through. Again the portraits illustrate the likeness (Valdre c. 1780; Reynolds 1780-82; Romney before 1802).


We need entertain no discomfort in recognising the lady of the house as the sitter for a portrait that borders on the raunchy. Mary Nugent, politically minded, devoutly catholic and the mother of a duke to be, was a lady who loved art, music and fun in equal measure. Betsy Wynne’s diaries, and a host of letters give witness to the merriness and gaiety at Stowe at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries.

And of course, her son was the model for the cherub. You only need to look at the eyes. They are Richard Temple’s eyes.

5 January 1828. A Storm Right in Our Teeth

The Anna Eliza is anchored at Messina, Sicily. It is a rough night and day. Richard Temple, the first Duke of Buckingham and Chandos writes in his diary:

The Gale last night was tremendous. Craft of all kinds coming in all day from stress of the weather. Much thunder & lightening.

The Gale was so strong last night & this morning, that even if it had been in our favour we could not have gone. As it was, it not only blew a storm, but it was right in our teeth. So we are remained fast, fortunate in having a safe anchorage. All day vessels were putting in to Messina with more or less damage, driven in by the weather.

H.M.S. “Mastiff,” barque-rigged, employed as a surveying vessel in the Archipelago, put in here from Malta, bound to Naples. She was all but lost last night, having stood in too long upon one tack into the bay beyond Scylla, and getting embanked on a lee shore, just cleared the rocks. Her boat was carried from her stern.

To-day Mr. Moore, Sharp, and two seamen, were going on shore. The waves beat high on the quay where they landed. Sharp was in a hurry to get out, fell backwards, and upset the boat. Moore clung to her, and she righted again instantly. Sharp and the seamen jumped into the water, fearful lest the boat should come over them. All wet; no one hurt or injured. We are all better today—& shall sail as soon as the Wind moderates & comes round in our favour.

Moore was the ship’s surgeon. Sharp the waiter. They are among a crew of 48 aboard the Anna Eliza.

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