Tag Archives: 1st duchess

20 January 1827. If you are lower class, “a word and a blow go together”. But if you are a nobleman…

After years of conflict, the domestic battle between Lord and Lady Westmeath ended up in the courts. She had a ferocious temper, and it is fair to say, a lack of judgement on matters matrimonial. He was violent, beating her several times. Attempts at an agreed separation fail, and she sued for divorce. He countered with a suit in the Consistory Court for restoration of conjugal rights, and won. That judgement was overturned on 20 January 1827.

Sir John Nichol, judge of the Arches Court of Canterbury, was measured in his judgement. There are things he cannot not say because they did not contravene the law in 1827. He was judging aristocrats and, as a man of some standing himself, he struggled to give credibility to poor and poverty stricken witnesses against the word of a man of standing—Lord Westmeath. Early in a lengthy judgement, he opined on whether domestic violence is more acceptable among the lower classes.

“Among the lower classes, blows sometimes pass between couples who, in the main, are very happy, and have no desire to part; amidst very coarse habits, such incidents occur almost as freely as rude or reproachful words: a word and a blow go together. Still, even among the very lowest classes, there is generally a feeling of something unmanly in striking a woman.”

He was saying that it may be unmanly but quite expected that a lower class man might swear at and thrash his wife. What then of the noble classes? Judge Nichol continues:

“But if a gentleman, a person of education… if a nobleman, of high rank and ancient family, uses personal violence to his wife, his equal in rank, the choice of his affection, the friend of his bosom, the mother of his offspring—such conduct, in such a person, carries with it something so degrading to the husband, and so insulting and mortifying to the wife, as to render the injury itself far more severe and insupportable.”

To be fair to Nichol, after this crustaceous start to his judgement, he did identify Lord Westmeath as the principal guilty party, ruling that “to compel the wife to return to cohabitation would be but to expose her to the risk and danger of renewed violence”.


The image above is Gillray’s cartoon of Judge Thumb, Sir Francis Buller, who famously decreed that a man might beat his wife if the stick was no thicker than the man’s thumb. Buller was Anna Eliza’s legal guardian.

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