The Old Court Suburb, or Memorials of Kensington, Regal, Critical, and Anecdotical Volume I

Hunt, Leigh

1855

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XIV

 

We now come, not onlyt ot he possessors of the present house, but to those of the one that preceeded it; and therefore must go

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a good way back, before we return to the Foxes.

We have seen, in a former chapter, that, with the exception of an Anglo-Saxon in the time of , of whom nothing further is mentioned, and of the Bishop of Coutances, to whom gave it with power to alienate; the De Veres, Earl of Oxford, were the earliest recorded possessors of the manor of , and seated probably on the spot in question. IT is no ascertained that such was the case; but as the property was valuable , was convenient for its neighborhood to London, and seems to be implied as residential in the name of the adjoining locality, Earl's Court, that is to say, the course for administering the Earl's property or jurisdiction, it is extremely improbably that none of the

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family ever occupied it. It was associated with their name from the time of to that of . Aubrey de Vere, its first holder under the Bishop, must needs have visited his property some time or other, or for what did he come with the Conqueror into England ? The ancient manor-house that stood not far from the present , must have been built for somebody; and visions of Aubrey and his successors, however transient, naturally present themselves to the eye of the local antiquary.

This Aubrey de Vere came from Holland with the first William, as countrymen of his did afterwards with William the Third. He died, however, a monk; perhaps out of penitence for the wrongs which he had committed as a soldier. The title of Earl of Oxford came into the family with

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his grandson. Almost all his successors were stirring soldiers and influential subjects. One of them was a Magna Charta baron; another a commander at the battles of Cressy and Poitiers; another at Agincourt; another was the great lord who received Henry the Seventh at his house with such a magnificent show of retainers, and who, notwithstanding his having been one of the chief instruments in setting that moneyscraper on the throne, was fined by his sharp-eyed and shabby visitor, for entertaining him at a cost beyond the law.

The family branched out into congenial worthies, a daughter of one of whom, the "starry Vere" of some noble verses by

Marvell, was the Lady Fairfax, who gave that brave contradiction, in Westminster

Hall, to the assertion that all the people of England were indicters of ;

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"No! not the hundredth part of them." In short, the word Vere was almost synonymous in English history with whatsoever was noble and dignified, when in its twentieth Earl of Oxford, it came to a sorry end in the person of a profligate time-server, who accommodated himself to every Court in succession-Tory, Commonwealth, and Whig, and who crowned his anti-heroical achievements by cheating an actress with a false marriage.

The property, however, was saved the disgrace of belonging to this scoundrel; for he died long after it had been carried, by a co-heiress, into the families of Argyle and others, who sold it to, the builder of Holland House.

But before we part with the Veres, we have a quarrel to pick with the whole of

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them, or rather with their name, and with the Vere, whoever he was, who first gave them their motto, Vero Nihil Verius-Nothing truer than true; that is to say, pun-ically speaking, Nothing more veritable than Vere. For the fact is, saving their lordships' valours (and we think we see their dust redden as we say it-but it is the inventor's fault, not ours) the motto is a lie. Vere does not mean "true." The family came from Holland; the word in Dutch is written Weer; it is the name of the place in the isle of Walcheren, which the owners quitted for drier quarters; and the word means neither more nor less than the same word in English, -weir or wear; that is to say, a dam, fish-trap, or flood-gate. "Aubrey de Vere" is as fine an aristocratical sound as can well be imagined, and it is a pity to spoil it; but truth must be told.

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Aubrey de Vere means Aubrey of the dam, fish-trap, or flood-gate. Amicus Vere, sed magis amica veritas. The inventor of the motto, had he loved the truth as much as he did a pun, should have taken a dam for his crest, with the words Verus Bataviniter-True as I'm a Dutchman.

In short, the Veres originated with the coasters or others, whoever they were, a hardy, painstaking race, ancestors of the Vandykes and Vandammes,-who, according to the witty poet, fished up Holland out of the sea, and who obtained distinction with one another, in proportion to their success in the invention of shovels, and consolidations of a ditch.

"For as with pigmies, who best kills the crane, Among the hungry who best treasures grain, Among the blind the one-eyed blinkard reigns, So rules among the drowned he that drains.

Not who first sees the rising sun, commands; But who could first discern the rising lands: Who best could know to pump an earth so leak, Him they their lord and country's father speak: To make a bank was a great plot of state;- Invent a shovel, and be a magistrate."

It may be added, to complete the notice of the Veres, that the present represention of the race is in the Beauclerk family, the daughter of the last lord having married the first Duke of St. Albans, the son of by Nell Gwynn. The two fathers, it is to be feared, helped to spoil, for a time, the blood of the actress; for Sidney Beauclerk, their grandson (father of Johnson's Topham Beauclerk), is said to have been as great a "raf" as either of them, without inheriting any of the royal wit. This could not be said of Topham, however he might have resembled the king in

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more respects than one; for though Johnson, in one of the most extraordinary compliments on record, told him "his body was all vice," he added that " his mind was all virtue;" a combination of totals which, to the Doctor's surprise, Beauclerk did not seem happy to admit. Something of such a mixture of extremes is, however, not impossible as the world goes; so here, we are to imagine, was a blink of the "starry Vere" shining on the mud of the debauchees.

But we are losing sight of . , the purchaser of the Vere property in , seems to have been one of the money-getters, who profited by the endeavours which James the First made to supply his lavish exchequer without the help of a Parliament. He built the house, or rather the main body of the

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house (the centre and turrets), about the year sixteen hundred and seven, and bequeathed it to , as the husband of his daughter and heiress, Isabella. The wings and arcades were added by the earl.

This Earl of Holland was the younger son of Robert Rich, first Earl of Warwick, by Penelope, daughter of Queen Elizabeth's Earl of Essex, the Stella of Sir Philip Sidney. He was a handsome, showy man; was a favourite with James's favourite, the Duke of Buckingham; and had the reputation of being more than in the good graces of Charles the First's queen; probably on no other ground than the fact of his having fetched her as a bride from , and been coxcombical in his attentions on the way.

He and his friend, Hay, Earl of Carlisle, were the twin stars of the great world, next

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after their patron Buckingham; and Holland House, during the prosperous portion of Rich's career, must have entertained in its saloons all the rank and fashion of the time. Among others came Bassompierre, the French Ambassador, who with the dandy indifference of his countrymen respecting the orthographies of other countries, or because he was too fine a gentleman to hear the word properly from the first, has recorded Kensington under the mincing appellation of Stintinton.

" Wednesday 25.-Dined with the Earl of Holland at Stintinton."[1] 

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Unfortunately, Rich's coxcombry made him over-sensitive to what he thought attentions or the reverse from ruling powers, and in the Civil Wars he went to and fro in his partizanship with so provoking a caprice, now playing the part of a knight-errant for king and queen, and now sulking at Holland House and receiving visits from the disaffected for some imaginary affront, that when the Parliament at last seized him and put him to death for making a stand against the death of the king, his end was a grief to nobody. Foppish to the last, he died in a white satin waistcoat, and a cap ditto with silver lace.

Five months after the earl's execution, was occupied by the Parliamentary General Fairfax, husband of the "starry Vere," who thus found herself, under very extraordinary circumstances, contemplating

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the property of her ancestors. A journal of the day says, "The Lord General (Fairfax) is removed from Queen Street to the late Earl of Holland's house at Kensington, where he intends to reside." (This Queen Street is the present Queen Street in Lincoln's Inn Fields, then one of the most fashionable quarters in London.) It was at this period we are to suppose Cromwell and Ireton conferring on the lawn.

The mansion, however, was soon restored to the earl's widow and her children; and from that time it remained quietly in the possession of the family, almost as long as they lasted. The earl and his wife, like the extinguished court, had been friends of the drama; and for a few days during the first establishment of the republic, and a longer period in the reign of Cromwell,

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the players, who had been great loyalists, and who contrived to perform secretly now and then at noblemen's houses, where purses were collected for their benefit, found special encouragement in the house before us.

From the Restoration to the time of the Georges, appears to have been let by the noble owners on short leases, and to a variety of persons; sometimes in apartments to lodgers; or, more probably, a friend was now and then accommodated for nothing. Among these various occupants, the duration of whose abodes in the house is unknown, the names of the following have transpired:-

Arthur Annesley, first Earl of Anglesea, so created by Charles the Second. He had been President of the Council at the close of the Protectorate, and opened

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the correspondence with the restored King.

, the traveller. He was a French Protestant, and a jeweller. He settled in England, and was knighted by Charles the Second; probably by way of payment on account, for some bill sent in and delivered to Madame the Duchess of Portsmouth, of Cleveland, or of Mazarin.

The fantastical Duchess of Buckinghamshire - Catharine Darnley - illegitimate daughter of James the Second, who took upon her the state of a princess. Her first husband was one of the Anglesea family just mentioned.

From a passage in one of the letters of his daughter, Mrs. Morice, it is not improbable that 'the famous Jacobite bishop, Atterbury, who was very intimate with the duchess, had once apartments in this house.

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It is certain that his daughter and her husband lived there; for some of their letters to the bishop, ranging over a space of several years, are dated from it. This is the daughter, whose going to meet him in exile, and meeting him only to die, has given so affecting a turn to the last days of the proud and turbulent prelate. He appears to have been a loving father. Atterbury's books were preserved in during his exile, and apartments were kept ready for him by Mr. Morice, in case of his return.

But the most interesting of the temporary lodgers in was Morice's friend Shippen, the famous Jacobite, immortalised by Pope for his sincerity.

I love to pour out all myself as plain As downright Shippen, or as old Montaigne;

In them, as certain to be loved as seen, The soul stood forth, nor kept a thought within." No wonder that such a man drew houses, when he spoke in Parliament, and that none but the stupid kept away. "More loves the youth, just come to his estate, To range the fields, than in the House debate; More he delights in fav'rite Jowler's tongue, Than in Will Shippen, or Sir William Yonge."- Bramston's ' Art of Politics.'

Very different persons, however, were honest Will Shippen and unprincipled William Yonge, of whom said, that "nothing but his talents could have supported his character, and nothing but his character have kept down his talents." Shippen had talents and character both-the latter of the highest description. Though not so poor as Andrew

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Marvell, nor on minor points, perhaps, so uncompromising, he was nevertheless to the Whigs of the reign of George the First what Marvell had been to the Tories of Charles and James-the eloquent, witty, open-hearted, and upon the whole, incorruptible partisan. When asked how he should vote, he would say, "I cannot tell until I hear from Rome." At Rome resided the Pretender. observed of him, and of Parliament in general, "I will not say who are to be corrupted, but I will say who is incorruptible; and that is Shippen." Shippen, in turn, would say of Sir Robert, " Robin and I are two honest men. He is for King George, and I for King James; but those men with the long cravats (meaning Sandys, Rushout, and others) they only desire places, either under King George or King James."

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He was sent to the Tower for saying of King George (who could not speak English), that "the only infelicity of His Majesty's reign was, that he was unacquainted with our language and constitution." Both sides of the House wished him to soften the expression, but he declined. The Prince of Wales, afterwards George the Second, who was at variance with the King, sent a person to him with the offer of a thousand pounds (as a "convenience," we suppose, during his imprisonment); but it was not to be expected that he who would not alter his words for love, would do it for money.

intercepted a letter written to Shippen by the Pretender, and put it, himself, into his hands. It must have been of a description more than usually perilous, considering how openly Shippen

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talked of his correspondence with the exile. Sir Robert took the opportunity of saying, that he did not expect to alter the other's sentiments, but would hope for his support in case of being personally attacked. To this Shippen agreed, but remained in all other respects the same man. He was son of a country clergyman, and possessed a moderate independence; but latterly married a Northumberland heiress, who turned out unworthy of him. He appears, however, to have had a regard for her relations, for he generally spent his summer with them. At other times, he resided sometimes at , and sometimes at Richmond; and he lived for many years in Norfolk Street, in the Strand.

Shippen is said to have been a forcible, and even vehement speaker, pouring out his words too rapidly; though at the same

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time he was accustomed to speak low, and to "hold his glove before his mouth"-a curious trait in the bearing of so earnest a man. It looked as if he was conscious of wanting a screen, though determined to disregard it; and, in fact, he appears to have been in the habit of taking away his glove at particular points, and throwing out his words with great animation. He wrote verses; but they were less poetical than to the purpose.

In sixteen hundred and eighty-nine, went to look at , with the view of taking it; but he preferred the house of the Earl of Nottingham, which thus became the Palace. The preference could hardly have been on account of the size; for he might have enlarged the one house as he did the other. Probably, however, the rooms were larger in

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the Nottingham House and so were better to begin with. Perhaps also, William did not find the grounds about flat enough to suit his Dutch predilections.

To return to the owners of the mansion which had thus been successively occupied: nothing seems known of Robert, second Earl of Holland, who had quietly succeeded his father, except that, in failure of the elder branch of the family, he also succeeded as fifth Earl of Warwick, the title being thenceforth the conjoined one of Warwick and Holland.

His son and successor, Edward, married Charlotte, daughter of , of Chirk Castle in the county of Flint; a lady, whose name and origin we mention, because after the Earl's death she became the wife of Addison. Edward Henry, her

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son, the next earl, is the youth whose statue in Kensington Church has been noticed in a former chapter. He was succeeded by another Edward, his kinsman; and the daughter and only child of this nobleman dying unmarried, the title became extinct. This was in the year seventeen hundred and fifty-nine.

The house fell into the possession of William Edwardes, a Welsh gentleman, whose father had married the daughter of the first Earl of Warwick and Holland, and who, in the year seventeen hundred and seventy-six, was created Baron Kensington; but fourteen years previous he had sold the family mansion to the first Lord Holland of the Fox family, by whom the title had been consequently allowed to be taken; and in the possession of this distinguished race it remains.

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We have a good deal to say of them; but first we must return to Countess Charlotte and her still more distinguished husband.

 
 
Footnotes:

[1] So, on a visit to him at Hampton Court, he calls that village Imtincourt- "Went to see the Earl of Holland, who was sick at lmtincourt. (Le Vendredy 16.-Je fus voir le Comte de Hollande, malade a Imtincourt. Le Mercredi 25.-Je fus diner chez le Comte de Hollande a Stintinton.)