What Shall we do with the Children?

In the latest post for the Georgian Lords, Dr Stuart Handley considers the difficulties one peerage family experienced in providing for a large family, the strategies pursued and the resulting careers of the offspring of the first Baron Barnard.

Eighteenth-century correspondence often focused on the provisions to be made for the children of a marriage. Good planning could avoid the unpredictable nature of the time. Nevertheless, even wealthy families could be faced with intractable problems and difficult decisions should one or both of the parents die young, or become incapable of taking care of their offspring.

In January 1705, Gilbert Vane, the heir of Baron Barnard, and grandson of Henry Vane the younger, married Mary, the daughter of Morgan Randyll, MP for Guildford. Gilbert was widely seen as an unstable character, being described as a ‘madman’ in 1708. However, his wife was seen as more manipulative, her father-in-law referring to her as a ‘scandalous’ woman. They seem to have contracted large debts and spent a considerable number of years living with Randyll (who himself died a pauper’s death).

When Gilbert succeeded his father as second Baron Barnard in 1723 he was resident in France. The newspapers reported that an express had been sent to bring him home, adding that he had three sons and six daughters. Then, as now, the press were not entirely accurate – he had six sons and three daughters.

The death of Barnard’s wife in 1728 precipitated something of a crisis, with the family estates being put into a trust run in the main by Edward Harley, second earl of Oxford, and John Leveson Gower, second Baron (and future Earl) Gower. A gentleman, one Patrick Guthrie, was employed to minister to Barnard’s needs, a task he stuck to, doggedly, until 1740. The fate of the children in this set-up caused Guthrie, and the trustees, considerable anxiety.

Some of the children had already been launched into society, and were making their mark. The eldest son, Hon. Henry Vane, protected somewhat by being the heir to much of the family’s wealth was in 1725 able to make a favourable marriage with Lady Grace Fitzroy, the daughter of (another weak-minded man) the duke of Cleveland and Southampton. In May 1726 he was elected to Parliament for Launceston in Cornwall. Thereafter, he served continuously in the Commons for the boroughs of St. Maws and Ripon, before being returned for County Durham at the General Election of 1747. He served in various offices, including as a treasury lord, despite being limited by ‘a monstrous tongue which lolled out of his mouth’ and made public speaking difficult. He succeeded to his father’s peerage in April 1753, and the next year was made earl of Darlington.

The second son, Morgan, also sought royal service, being named a page of honour to the Princess of Wales in April 1727. He was a diplomat and officer, serving under William Stanhope (the future earl of Harrington) at the Congress of Soissons and as his secretary while in Paris. In 1731 he was appointed clerk in extraordinary of the Privy Council. He married in 1732, the daughter of Robert Knight, the notorious cashier of the South Sea Company at the time of the Bubble. He was appointed comptroller of the Stamp Office (thanks to Harrington’s support). His second marriage was to a Miss Fowler the elder (for looking after his infant children). He died in 1780.

The eldest daughter, Lady Anne Vane, was a maid of honour to Caroline, Princess of Wales, in 1725, continuing in the position after Caroline had become Queen. She was reported in the press as being on the verge of marrying Stanhope, but seems instead to have become his mistress, as she did Lord Hervey and Queen Caroline’s eldest son, Frederick, Prince of Wales. Dismissed by Caroline in 1732, she was set up by Prince Frederick in Soho Square. Their son Cornwall Fitz-Frederick Vane, was born in June 1732 and a (short-lived) daughter in 1733. Cornwall Fitz-Frederick died in February 1736, followed in March by Lady Anne herself.

The younger children proved more problematic to place and Guthrie found them difficult to control, especially given their ability to upset Lord Barnard.

A military career beckoned for the fourth son, Gilbert, who was firstly a page of honour and then in 1732 made an ensign in the first regiment of foot guards before being promoted lieutenant. He served in Flanders in 1742 and by the 1745 Rebellion he was lieutenant-colonel of the earl of Berkeley’s newly raised foot regiment. He also served as treasurer for Chelsea Hospital.

The fifth son, Randyll, joined the Navy, probably in 1729, and was appointed lieutenant of the Eltham in 1736. He probably served until shortly before his death in 1739, the year his letters to Oxford stop, a will being proved early in 1740.

Charles, the sixth son, was appointed an ensign in 1733. He arrived in Lisbon in September 1736 and fought in America in 1742. Apparently he settled in Norfolk and was married in 1776 to a daughter of Richard Wood.

By 1736, only Thomas was not provided for, ‘and even he might turn out well if his cousins the duke of Newcastle, Mr. Pelham, or his brother could get him a proper employment in Ireland or the West Indies.’ He did not want to go to sea and may have lived with his father for a time, but without an allowance. He resided at Staindrop Hall in Durham and died on 19 February 1758.

In June 1729 Guthrie thought that the two ‘Lady Barnards’ were ‘mad children’, and the aim was to find suitable husbands for them. In July 1731, Lady Elizabeth Vane went to live with Lady Humble, widow of Sir John Humble, 4th Bt. In October 1732 she married Sir William Humble, 5th Bt. Sir William died in October 1742 and her son, Sir Thomas, 6th Bt. died, aged seven, while attending boarding school in Essex. She died in 1770. The last of them, Lady Jane Vane married Thomas Staunton, the recorder of Galway and MP for Galway 1727-61 and Ipswich 1757-1784. She died in February 1742.


Georgian lords 2


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