THE COUNTESS OF BRISTOL,OTHERWISE THE DUCHESS OF KINGSTON
Whose Trial for Bigamy, at Westminster Hall, was attended by the Queen and other Members of the Royal Family
The Duchess of Kingston's interview with Foote, the comedian
Portrait of the Duchess of Kingston
The trial of the Duchess of Kingston
FEW women have attracted so large a portion of public attention as the Countess of Bristol, otherwise the Duchess of Kingston. She was the daughter of Colonel Chudleigh, the descendant of an ancient family in the county of Devon; but her father dying while she was yet young, her mother was left possessed only of a small estate with which to bring her up, and to fit her for that grade of society in which from her birth she was entitled to move. Being possessed, however, of excellent qualities, she improved the connection which she had among persons of fashion, with a view to the future success in life of her daughter. The latter meanwhile, as she advanced in years, improved in beauty; and upon her attaining the age of eighteen was distinguished as well for the loveliness of her person as for the wit and brilliancy of her conversation. Her education had not been neglected; and, despite the small fortune possessed by her mother, no opportunity was lost by which her mind might be improved, and a means was about this time afforded for the display of her accomplishments. The father of George III. held his Court at Leicester House; and Mr Pulteney, who then blazed as a meteor on the Opposition benches in the House of Commons, was honoured with the particular regard of his Royal Highness. Miss Chudleigh had been introduced to Mr Pulteney; and he had admired her for the beauties of her mind and of her person, and, his sympathies being excited on her behalf, he obtained for her, at the age of eighteen, the appointment of maid-of-honour to the Princess of Wales. His efforts, however, did not stop at thus elevating her to a situation of the highest honour, but he also endeavoured to improve the cultivation of her understanding by instruction; and to him Miss Chudleigh read, and with him, when separated by distance, she corresponded.
The station to which Miss Chudleigh had been advanced, combined with her numerous personal attractions, produced her many admirers -- some with titles, and others in the expectation of them. Among the former was the Duke of Hamilton, whom Miss Gunning had afterwards the good fortune to obtain for a consort. The Duke was passionately attached to Miss Chudleigh, and pressed his suit with such ardour as to obtain a solemn engagement on her part that, on his return from a tour, for which he was preparing, she would become his wife. There were reasons why this event should not immediately take place; but that the engagement would be fulfilled at the specified time was considered by both parties as a moral certainty. A mutual pledge was given and accepted; the Duke commenced his proposed tour, and the parting condition was, that he should write by every opportunity, and that Miss Chudleigh of course should answer his epistles. Thus the arrangement of Fortune seemed to have united a pair who possibly might have experienced much happiness, for between the Duke and Miss Chudleigh there was a strong similarity of disposition, but Fate had not destined them for each other.
Miss Chudleigh had an aunt, whose name was Hanmer: at her house the Hon. Mr Hervey, son of the Earl of Bristol, and a captain in the Royal Navy, was a visitor. To this gentleman Mrs Hanmer became so exceedingly partial that she favoured views which he entertained towards her niece, and engaged her efforts to effect, if possible, a matrimonial connection. There were two difficulties, which would have been insurmountable had they not been opposed by the fertile genius of a female -- Miss Chudleigh disliked Captain Hervey, and she was betrothed to the Duke of Hamilton.
No exertions which could possibly be made were spared to render this latter alliance nugatory; and the wits of this woman were exerted to the utmost to favour the object which she had in view. The letters of his Grace were intercepted by Mrs Hanmer; and his supposed silence giving offence to her niece, she worked so successfully on her pride as to induce her to abandon all thoughts of her lover, whose passion she had cherished with delight. A conduct the reverse of that imputed to the Duke was observed by Captain Hervey: he was all that assiduity could dictate or attention perform. He had daily access to Miss Chudleigh, and each interview was artfully improved by the aunt to the promotion of her own views. The letters of his Grace of Hamilton, which regularly arrived, were as regularly suppressed; until, piqued beyond endurance, Miss Chudleigh was prevailed on to accept the hand of Captain Hervey, and by a private marriage to ensure the participation of his future honours and fortune. The ceremony was performed in a private chapel adjoining the country mansion of Mr Merrill, at Lainston, near Winchester, in Hampshire.
The hour at which she became united with Captain Hervey proved to her the origin of every subsequent unhappiness. The connubial rites were attended with unhappy consequences; and from the night following the day on which the marriage was solemnised Miss Chudleigh resolved never to have any further connection with her husband. To prevail on him not to claim her as his wife required all the art of which she was mistress; and the best dissuasive was the loss of her situation as maid-of-honour should the marriage become publicly known. The circumstances of Captain Hervey were not in a flourishing condition, and were ill calculated to enable him to ride with a high hand over his wife; and the fear of the loss of the emoluments of her office operated most powerfully with him to induce him to obey the injunctions which she imposed upon him in this respect. Her marriage being unknown to mere outward observers, Miss Chudleigh, or Mrs Hervey -- a maid in appearance, a wife in disguise -- was placed in a most enviable condition. Her Royal mistress smiled upon her; the friendship of many was at her call; the admiration of none could be withheld from her: but amidst all her conquests and all her fancied happiness she wanted that peace of mind which was so necessary to support her against the conflicts which arose in her own breast. Her husband, quieted for a time, grew obstreperous as he saw the jewel admired by all, which was, he felt, entitled only to his love; and feeling that he possessed the right to her entire consideration resolved to assert his power. In the meantime every art which she possessed had been put into operation to soothe him to continued silence; but her further endeavours being unsuccessful she was compelled to grant his request, and to attend an interview which he appointed at his own house, and to which he enforced obedience by threatening an instant and full disclosure in case of her non-compliance. The meeting was strictly private, all persons being sent from the house with the exception of a black servant; and on Mrs Hervey's entrance to the apartment in which her husband was seated his first care was to prevent all intrusion by locking the door. This meeting, like all others between her and her husband, was unfortunate in its effects: the fruit of it was the birth of a boy, whose existence it will be readily supposed she had much difficulty in concealing. Her removal to Brompton for a change of air became requisite during the term of her confinernent, and she returned to Leicester House perfectly recovered from her indisposition; but the infant soon sinking in the arms of death, left only the tale of its existence to be related.
In the meantime the sum of her unhappiness had been completed by the return of the Duke of Hamilton. His Grace had no sooner arrived in England than he hastened to pay his adoration at the feet of his idol, and to learn the cause of her silence when his letters had been regularly dispatched to her. An interview which took place soon set the character of Mrs Hanmer in its true light; but while Miss Chudleigh was convinced of the imposition which had been practised upon her, she was unable to accept the proffered hand of her illustrious suitor, or to explain the reason for her apparently ungracious rejection of his addresses. The Duke, flighty as he was in other respects, in his love for Miss Chudleigh had at least been sincere; and this strange conduct on the part of his betrothed, followed as it was by a request on her part that he would not again intrude his visits upon her, raised emotions in his mind which can hardly be described. The rejection of his Grace was followed by that of several other persons of distinction; and the mother of Miss Chudleigh, who was quite unaware of her private marriage with Captain Hervey, could not conceal her regret and anger at the supposed folly of her daughter.
It was impossible that these circumstances could long remain concealed from the society in which Miss Chudleigh moved; and, in order to relieve herself from the embarrassments by which she was surrounded, she determined to travel on the Continent. Germany was the place selected by her for her travels; and she, in turn, visited the chief cities of its principalities. Possessed as she was of introductions of the highest class, she was gratified by obtaining the acquaintance of many crowned heads. Frederick of Prussia conversed and corresponded with her. In the Electress of Saxony she found a friend whose affection for her continued to the latest period of life.
On her return from the Continent Miss Chudleigh ran over the career of pleasure, enlivened the Court circles, and each year became more ingratiated with the mistress whom she served. She was the leader of fashion, played whist with Lord Chesterfield, and revelled with Lady Harrington and Miss Ashe. She was a constant visitant at all public places, and in 1742 appeared at a masked ball in the character of Iphigenia.
Captain Hervey, like a perturbed spirit, was, however, eternally crossing the path trodden by his wife. If in the rooms at Bath, he was sure to be there. At a rout, ridotto or ball, this destroyer of her peace embittered every pleasure, and even menaced her with an intimation that he would disclose the marriage to the Princess.
Miss Chudleigh, now persuaded of the folly and danger of any longer concealment from her Royal mistress, determined that the design which her husband had formed from a malicious feeling should be carried out by herself from a principle of rectitude; and she, in consequence, communicated to the Princess the whole of the circumstances attending her unhappy union. Her Royal mistress pitied her, and continued her patronage up to the hour of her death.
At length a stratagem was either suggested or it occurred to Miss Chudleigh at once to deprive Captain Hervey of the power to claim her as his wife. The clergyman who had married them was dead. The register-book was in careless hands. A handsome compliment was paid for the inspection; and, while the person in whose custody it was listened to an amusing story, Miss Chudleigh tore out the register. Thus imagining the business accomplished she for a time bade defiance to her husband, whose taste for the softer sex having subsided from some unaccountable cause, afforded Miss Chudleigh a cessation of inquietude.
A change in the circumstances of the Captain, however, effected an alteration in the feelings of his wife. His father having died, he succeeded to the title of the Earl of Bristol, and his accession to nobility was not unaccompanied by an increase of fortune. Miss Chudleigh saw that by assuming the title of Countess of Bristol she would probably command increased respect, and would obtain greater power; and with a degree of unparalleled blindness she went to the house of Mr Merrill, the clergyman in whose chapel she had been married, to restore those proofs of her union which she had previously taken such pains to destroy. Her ostensible reason was a jaunt out of town; her real design was to procure, if possible, the insertion of her marriage with Captain Hervey in the book which she had formerly mutilated. With this view she dealt out promises with a liberal hand. The officiating clerk, who was a person of various avocations, was to be promoted to the extent of his wishes. The book was managed by the lady to her content, and she returned to London, secretly exulting in the excellence and success of her machination.
While this was going on, however, her better fate influenced in her favour the heart of a man who was the exemplar of amiability -- this was the Duke of Kingston; but, remarried as it were by her own stratagem, the participation of ducal honours became legally impossible. The chains of wedlock now became galling in the extreme. Every advice was taken, every means tried, by which her liberation might be obtained; but all the efforts which were made proved useless, and it was found to be necessary to acquiesce in that which could not be opposed successfully or pass unnoticed. The Duke's passion, meanwhile, became more ardent and sincere; and, finding the apparent impossibility of a marriage taking place, he for a series of years cohabited with Miss Chudleigh, although with such external observances of decorum that their intimacy was neither generally remarked nor known.
The disagreeable nature of these proceedings on their part was, however, felt by both parties, and efforts were again made by means of which a marriage might be solemnised. The Earl of Bristol was sounded; but upon his learning the design with which a divorce was sought he declared that he would never consent to it, for that his Countess's vanity should not be flattered by her being raised to the rank of a duchess. The negotiations were thus for a time stopped; but afterwards, there being a lady with whom he conceived that he could make an advantageous match, he listened to the suggestions which were made to him with more complacency, and at length declared that he was ready to adopt any proceedings which should have for their effect the annihilation of the ties by which he was bound to Miss Chudleigh. The civilians were consulted, a jactitation suit was instituted; but the evidence by which the marriage could have been proved was kept back, and the Earl of Bristol failing, as it was intended he should fail, in substantiating the marriage, a decree was made, declaring the claim to be null and unsupported. Legal opinion now only remained to be taken as to the effect of this decree, and the lawyers of the Ecclesiastical Courts, highly tenacious of the rights and jurisdiction of their own judges, declared their opinion to be that the sentence could not be disturbed by the interference of any extrinsic power. In the conviction, therefore, of the most perfect safety, the marriage of the Duke of Kingston with Miss Chudleigh was publicly solemnised. The wedding favours were worn by persons of the highest distinction in the kingdom; and during the lifetime of his Grace no attempt was made to dispute the legality of the proceedings. For a few years the Duchess figured in the world of gaiety without apprehension or control. She was raised to the pinnacle of her fortune, and she enjoyed that which her later life had been directed to accomplish -- the parade of title -- but without that honour which integrity of character can alone secure. She was checked in her career of pleasure, however, by the death of the Duke. The fortune which his Grace possessed, it appears, was not entailed, and it was at his option, therefore, to bequeath it to the Duchess or to the heirs of his family, as seemed best to his inclination. His will, excluding from every benefit an elder, and preferring a younger, nephew as the heir in tail, gave rise to the prosecution of the Duchess, which ended in the beggary of her prosecutor and her own exile. The demise of the Duke of Kingston was neither sudden nor unexpected. Being attacked with a paralytic affection, he lingered but a short time, which was employed by the Duchess in journeying his Grace from town to town, under the false idea of prolonging his life by change of air and situation. At last, when real danger seemed to threaten, even in the opinion of the Duchess, she dispatched one of her swiftest-footed messengers to her solicitor, Mr Field, of the Temple, requiring his immediate attendance. He obeyed the summons, and, arriving at the house, the Duchess asked him to procure the Duke to execute, and be himself a subscribing witness to, a will made without his knowledge, and more to the taste of the Duchess than that which had been executed. The difference between these two wills was this: the Duke had bequeathed the income of his estates to his relict during her life expressly under the condition of her continuing in a state of widowhood. Perfectly satisfied, however, as the Duchess seemed with whatever was the inclination of her dearest lord, she could not resist the opportunity of carrying her secret wishes into effect. She did not relish the temple of Hymen being shut against her. Mr Field, however, positively refused either to tender the will or to be in any manner concerned in endeavouring to procure its execution; and with this refusal he quitted the house. Soon after the frustration of this attempt the Duke of Kingston expired.
No sooner were the funeral rites performed than the Duchess adjusted her affairs and embarked for the Continent, proposing Rome for her temporary residence. Ganganelli at that time filled the papal chair. He treated her with the utmost civility -- gave her, as a sovereign prince, many privileges -- and she was lodged in the palace of one of the cardinals. Her vanity being thus gratified, her Grace, in return, treated the Romans with a public spectacle. She had built an elegant pleasure yacht; a gentleman who had served in the navy was the commander. Under her orders he sailed for Italy; and the vessel, at considerable trouble and expense, was conveyed up the Tiber. The sight of an English yacht in this river was one of so unusual a character that it attracted crowds of admirers; but, while all seemed happiness and pleasure where the barque rested quietly on the waters of the river, proceedings were being concocted in London which would effectually put a stop to any momentary sensations of bliss which the Duchess might entertain.
Mrs Craddock, who, in the capacity of a domestic, had witnessed the marriage which had been solemnised between her Grace and the Earl of Bristol, found herself so reduced in circumstances that she was compelled to apply to Mr Field for assistance. The request was rejected; and, not withstanding her assurance that she was perfectly well aware of all the circumstances attending the Duchess's marriage, and that she should not hesitate to disclose all she knew in a quarter where she would be liberally paid -- namely, to the disappointed relations of the Duke of Kingston -- she was set at defiance. Thus refused, starvation stared her in the face; and, stung by the ingratitude of the Duchess's solicitor, she immediately set about the work of ruin which she contemplated. The Duke of Kingston had borne a marked dislike to one of his nephews, Mr Evelyn Meadows, one of the sons of his sister, Lady Frances Pierpoint. This gentleman, being excluded from the presumptive heirship, joyfully received the intelligence that a method of revenging himself against the Duchess was presented to him. He saw Mrs Craddock; learned from her the particulars of the statement which she would be able to make upon oath; and, being perfectly satisfied of its truth, he preferred a bill of indictment against the Duchess of Kingston for bigamy, which was duly returned a true bill. Notice was immediately given to Mr Field of the proceedings, and advices were forthwith sent to the Duchess to appear and plead to the indictment, to prevent a judgment of outlawry.
The Duchess's immediate return to England being thus required, she set about making the necessary preparations for her journey; and, as money was one of the commodities requisite to enable her to commence her homeward march, she proceeded to the house of Mr Jenkins, the banker in Rome, in whose hands she had placed security for the advance of all such sums as she might require. The opposition of her enemies, however, had already commenced; they had adopted a line of policy exactly suited to the lady with whom they had to deal. Mr Jenkins was out, and could not be found. She apprised him, by letter, of her intended journey, and her consequent want of money; but still he avoided seeing her. Suspecting the trick, her Grace was not to be trifled with, and, finding all her efforts fail, she took a pair of pistols in her pocket and, driving to Mr Jenkins's house, once again demanded to be admitted. The customary answer, that Mr Jenkins was out, was given; but the Duchess declared that she was determined to wait until she saw him, even if it should not be until a day, month or year had elapsed; and she took her seat on the steps of the door, which she kept open with the muzzle of one of her pistols, apparently determined to remain there. She knew that business would compel his return, if he were not already indoors; and at length Mr Jenkins, finding further opposition useless, appeared. The nature of her business was soon explained. The conversation was not of the mildest kind. Money was demanded, not asked. A little prevarication ensued, but the production of a pistol served as the most powerful mode of reasoning, and, the necessary sum being instantly obtained, the Duchess quitted Rome. Her journey was retarded before she reached the Alps; a violent fever seemed to seize on her vitals: but she recovered, to the astonishment of her attendants. An abscess then formed in her side, which rendering it impossible for her to endure the motion of the carriage, a kind of litter was provided, in which she slowly travelled. In this situation nature was relieved by the breaking of the abscess; and, after a painfully tedious journey, the duchess reached Calais. At that place she made a pause; and there it was that her apprehension got the better of her reason. In idea she was fettered and incarcerated in the worst cell of the worst prison in London. She was totally ignorant of the bailable nature of her offence, and therefore expected the utmost that can be imagined. Colonel West, a brother of the late Lord Delaware, whom the duchess had known in England, became her principal associate; but he was not lawyer enough to satisfy her doubts. By the means of former connections, and through a benevolence in his own nature, the Earl of Mansfield had a private meeting with the duchess and the venerable peer conducted himself in a manner which did honour to his heart and character.
Her spirits being soothed by the interview, the duchess embarked for Dover, landed, drove post to Kingston-house, and found friends displaying both zeal and alacrity in her cause. The first measure taken was to have the duchess bailed. This was done before Lord Mansfield; the Duke of Newcastle, Lord Mountstuart, Mr Glover, and other characters of rank attending. The prosecution and consequent trial of the duchess becoming objects of magnitude, the public curiosity and expectation were proportion ably excited. The duchess had through life distinguished herself as a most eccentric character. Her turn of mind was original, and many of her actions were without a parallel. Even when she moved in the sphere of amusement, it was in a style peculiarly her own. If others invited admiration by a partial display of their charms at a masquerade, she at once threw off the veil, and set censure at defiance. Thus, at midnight assemblies, where Bacchus revelled, and the altars of Venus were encircled by the votaries of love, the duchess, then Miss Chudleigh, appeared almost in the unadorned simplicity of primitive nature. The dilemma, therefore, into which she was thrown by the pending prosecution, was, to such a character, of the most perplexing kind.
She had already in a manner invited the disgrace, and she now neglected the means of preventing it. Mrs Cradock, the only existing evidence against her, again personally solicited a maintenance for the remaining years of her life: and voluntarily offered, in case a stipend should be settled on her, to retire to her native village, and never more intrude. The offer was rejected by the duchess, who would only consent to allow her twenty pounds a year, on condition of her sequestering herself in some place near the Peak of Derbyshire. This the duchess considered as a most liberal offer; and she expressed her astonishment that it should be rejected.
Under the assurances of her lawyers, the duchess was as quiet as that troublesome monitor, her own heart, would permit her to be; and reconciled in some measure to the encounter with which she was about to meet, her repose was most painfully disturbed by an adversary, who appeared in a new and most unexpected quarter. This was the celebrated Foote, the actor, who, having mixed in the first circles of fashion, was perfectly acquainted with the leading transactions of the duchess's life, and had resolved to turn his knowledge to his own advantage. As, in the opinion of Mandeville, private vices are public benefits, so Foote deemed the crimes and vices of individuals lawful game for his wit. On this principle he proceeded with the Duchess of Kingston; and he wrote a piece, founded on her life, called "The Trip to Calais." The scenes were humorous: the character of the duchess admirably drawn; and the effect of the performance of the farce on the stage would have been that which was most congenial to the tastes of the scandal-mongers of the day -- namely, to make the duchess ashamed of herself. The real object of Mr. Foote, however, was one of a nature more likely to prove advantageous to himself -- it was to obtain money to secure the suppression of the piece; and with this view he contrived to have it communicated to her grace that the Haymarket Theatre would open with an entertainment in which she was taken off to the life. Alarmed at this, she sent for Foote, who attended with the piece in his pocket; but having been desired to read it, he had not gone far before the character of Lady Kitty Crocodile being introduced, the duchess could no longer control her anger, and rising in a violent rage, she exclaimed, "Why, this is scandalous; what a wretch you have made me." Mr. Foote assured her that the character was not intended to"caricature her;" -- even in his serious moments being unable to control his desire to pun -- for he left her to infer that it was a true picture; and the duchess, having taken a few turns about the room, became more composed, and requested that the piece might be left for her perusal, engaging that it should be returned by the ensuing evening. The actor readily complied, and retired; but the lady being left to consider her own portrait, was so displeased with the likeness, that she determined, if possible, to prevent its exposure on the stage. The artist had no objection to sell his work, and she was inclined to become the purchaser; but on the former being questioned as to the sum which he should expect for suppressing the piece, he proportioned his expectations to what he deemed the duchess's power of gratifying them, and demanded two thousand guineas, besides a sum to be paid as compensation for the loss of the scenes, which had been painted for the farce, and which were not applicable to any other purpose. The magnitude of the demand, as well it might, staggered the duchess; and having intimated her extreme astonishment at so exorbitant a proposition, she expressed a wish that the sum might be fixed at one within the bounds of moderation and reason. The actor was positive; concluding, that as his was the only article in the market, he might name his own price: but the result was, that by demanding too much, he lost all. A cheque for fourteen hundred pounds was offered; the amount was increased to sixteen hundred pounds, and a draft on Messrs. Drummond's was actually signed; but the obstinacy of the actor was so great, that he refused to abate one guinea from his original demand. The circumstance might at any other time have passed among the indifferent events of the day, and as wholly undeserving of the public notice; but those long connected with the duchess, and in habits of intimacy, felt the attack made on her as directed by a ruffian hand, at a moment when she was least able to make resistance. His grace the Duke of Newcastle was consulted. The chamberlain of the household (the Earl of Hertford) was apprised of the circumstance; and his prohibitory interference was earnestly solicited. He sent for the manuscript copy of "The Trip to Calais," perused, and censured it.
But besides these and other powerful aids, the duchess called in professional advice. The sages of the robe were consulted, and their opinions were that the piece was a malicious libel; and that, should it be represented, a shorthand writer ought to be employed to attend on the night of representation, to minute each offensive passage, as the groundwork of a prosecution. This advice was followed, and Foote was intimidated. He denied having made a demand of two thousand guineas; but the Rev Mr Foster contradicted him in an affidavit. Thus defeated in point of fact, Foote found himself baffled also in point of design. The chamberlain would not permit the piece to be represented.
Foote now had recourse to another expedient. He caused it to be intimated "that it was in his power to publish if not to perform; but were his expenses reimbursed (and the sum which her grace had formerly offered would do the business), he would desist." This being communicated to the duchess, she in this, as in too many cases, asked the opinion of her friends, with a secret determination to follow her own. Foote, finding that she began to yield, pressed his desire incessantly; and she had actually provided bills to the amount of one thousand six hundred pounds, which she would have given him but for the Rev Mr Jackson, who, being asked his opinion of the demand, returned this answer: "Instead of complying with it, your grace should obtain complete evidence of the menace and demand, and then consult your counsel whether a prosecution will not lie for endeavouring to extort money by threats. Your grace must remember the attack on the first Duke of Marlborough by a stranger, who had formed a design either on his purse or his interest, and endeavoured to menace him into a compliance." This answer struck the Earl of Peterborough and Mr Foster very forcibly, as in perfect coincidence with their own opinions; and Mr Jackson was then solicited to wait on Mr Foote; Mr Foster, the chaplain of the duchess, professing himself to be too far advanced in years to enter into the field of literary combat. Mr Jackson consented to be the champion on the following condition: that the duchess would give her honour never to retract her determination, nor to let Foote extort from her a single guinea. Her grace subscribing to this condition, Mr Jackson waited on Mr Foote at his house in Suffolk-street, and intimated to him the resolution to which the duchess had come. The actor, however, still wished to have matters compromised; and to this end he addressed a letter to the duchess, which began with stating "that a member of the privy council and a friend of her grace (by whom he meant the Duke of Newcastle) had conversed with him on the subject of the dispute between them; and that, for himself, he was ready to have every thing adjusted." This letter afforded the duchess a triumph. Every line contained a concession; and, contrary to the advice of her friends, she insisted upon the publication of the whole correspondence.
This circumstance for a time served to turn the current of attention into a new channel. But while the public notice was withdrawn from her grace, she felt too heavily the necessity which existed to adopt some course to enable her either to evade or meet the impending danger. Her line of procedure was soon determined upon -- she affected an earnest desire to have the trial, if possible, accelerated, while in secret she took every means in her power to evade the measures which her opponents had taken against her, Her conduct in other respects appears to have been strangely inconsistent. An opportunity presented itself which remained only to be embraced to secure her object. It became the subject of a discussion in the House of Lords whether the trial of her grace should not be conducted in Westminster Hall; and the expense which would necessarily be incurred by the country was by many urged as being a burden which ought not to rest upon the public purse. Lord Mansfield, privately desiring to save the duchess from the disgrace and ignominy of a public trial, strove to avail himself of this objection in her favour; and so great had become the differences of opinion entertained upon the subject, that the withdrawal of the prosecution altogether would have been a matter which would have been considered desirable rather than improper. Here then was the critical moment at which the duchess might have determined her future fate. A hint was privately conveyed to her that the sum of ten thousand pounds would satisfy every expectation, and put an end to the prosecution; and doubts being expressed of the sincerity of the proposal; the offer was made in distinct terms. The duchess was entreated by her friends to accept the proposition which was made, and so at once to relieve herself and them from all fear of the consequences which might result to her; but through a fatal mistaken confidence either in the legal construction of her case, or in her own machinations, she refused to accede to the offers which were held out. Resting assured of her acquittal, she resisted every attempt at dissuasion from her purpose of going to trial; and she assumed an air of indifference about the business which but ill accorded with the doubtful nature of her position. She talked of the absolute necessity of setting out for Rome; affected to have some material business to settle with the Pope; and, in consequence, took every means and urged every argument in her power to procure the speedy termination of the proceedings -- as if the regular course of justice had not been swift enough to overtake her. In the midst of her confidence, however, she did not abandon her manoeuvring; but at the very moment when she was petitioning for a speedy trial, she was engaged in a scheme to get rid of the principal witness against her. Mrs Cradock, to whom before she had refused a trifling remuneration, might now have demanded thousands as the price of her evidence. A negotiation was carried on through the medium of a relation of hers, who was a letter-carrier, which had for its object her removal from England; and an interview was arranged to take place between her and the duchess, at which the latter was to appear disguised, and was to reveal herself only after some conversation, the object of which was that terms might be proposed; but her grace was duped: for having changed her clothes to those of a man, she waited at the am pointed hour and place without seeing either Mrs Cradock or the person who had promised to effect the meeting; and she afterwards learned that every particular of this business had been communicated to the prosecutors, who instructed the letter-carrier to pretend an acquiescence in the scheme.
Thus baffled in a project which bad a plausible appearance of success, the only method left was the best possible arrangement of matters preparatory to the trial.
About nine o'clock in the morning of Monday the 15th of April, 1776, the peeresses, foreign ambassadors, &c. concluded the ceremony of assuming their respective places in Westminster hall: and at half past ten her majesty, accompanied by the prince of Wales, the bishop of Osnaburgh, two other young princes, and the princess royal, and attended by lord and lady Holdernesse, lord Hinchinbroke, and others of the nobility, entered the hall from the duke of Newcastle's house in New Palace Yard, and took her seat in the centre of his grace's gallery.
The procession came into the hall in the following order at a quarter past eleven: the eldest sons of peers, preceded by the domestics of the lord high steward, masters in chancery, king's serjeants and judges, barons, bishops, viscounts, earls, marquesses and dukes; the serjeant at arms, the lord high steward with black rod on his right, and garter on his left; the lord president, and the lord privy seal. The barons proceeded to their seats next the bar, the junior barons taking the left hand seat next the bar, and the other barons following in that order till the seats were filled in the front of the court. The archbishops and bishops occupied the side benches on the right, and the dukes the benches extending from the throne to the table.
The persons who composed the court having taken their seats with the usual formalities, the lord high steward directed the clerk of the crown to read the certiorari, the return thereof, the caption of the indictment, the indictment itself, and other official papers; which being done, the serjeant at arms made proclamation for the usher of the black rod to place the prisoner at the bar.
The duchess then came forward, attended by Mrs Egerton, Mrs Barrington, and Miss Chudleigh, three of the ladies of her bedchamber, and her chaplain, physician, and apothecary; and as she approached the bar she made three reverences, and then dropped on her knees, when the lord high steward said, 'Madam, you may rise.' Having risen, she curtsied to the lord high steward and the house of peers; and her compliments were returned.
Proclamation being made for silence, the lord high steward mentioned to the prisoner the fatal consequences attending the crime of which she stood indicted, signifying that, however alarming and awful her present circumstances, she might derive great consolation from considering that she was to be tried by the most liberal, candid, and august assembly in the universe.
The duchess then read a paper, setting forth that she was guiltless of the offence alledged against her, and that the agitation of her mind arose, not from the consciousness of guilt, but from the painful circumstance of being called before so awful a tribunal on a criminal accusation; begging, therefore, that if she was deficient in the observance of any ceremonial points, her failure might not he understood as proceeding from wilful disrespect, but be attributed to the unfortunate peculiarity of her situation. It was added in the paper that she had travelled from Rome in so dangerous a state of health, that it was necessary for her to be conveyed in a litter; and that she was perfectly satisfied that she should have a fair trial, since the determination respecting her cause, on which materially depended her honor and fortune, would proceed from the most unprejudiced and august assembly in the world.
The lord high steward desired the lady to give attention while she was arraigned on an indictment for bigamy. Proclamation for silence being made, the duchess (who had been permitted to sit) arose, and read a paper, representing to the court that she was advised by her counsel to plead the sentence of the ecclesiastical court in the year 1769, as a bar to her being tried on the present indictment. The lord high steward informed her that she must plead to the indictment; in consequence of which she was arraigned; and, being asked by the clerk of the crown whether she was guilty of the felony with which she stood charged, she answered with great firmness, 'Not guilty, my lords.' The clerk of the crown then asking her how she would be tried, she said, 'by God and her peers;' on which the clerk said, 'God send your ladyship a good deliverance.'
The serjeant at arms made proclamation for all persons who had evidence to produce against the prisoner to appear. The lord high steward requested, that, as his seat was so distant from the bar, he might be allowed, for the convenience of hearing, to go to the table; to which the court readily acquiesced.
Mr Dunning, in a concise speech, opened the pleadings in support of the prosecution. He was followed by Mr Thurloe, the attorney general, who learnedly animadverted on the plea advanced by the prisoner, and said that, being counsel for the prosecution, it became his duty to declare his opinion on the case in question, which was, that he could not discover any reasonable foundation for the plea urged by the prisoner; and he desired that, if there were reasons sufficient to support it, they might be produced by the counsel on the opposite side.
Lord Mansfield moved, that a proper officer from Doctors Commons might read the sentence of the ecclesiastical court. Hereupon the attorney general said that it would be necessary for all the allegations, replications, &c. on which the sentence was founded, to he read; and the clerk of the crown read the allegations, and was proceeding with the replications, when Lord Mansfield observed, that it would not be necessary to read the latter papers, since the counsel, in the course of their pleadings, would introduce the material arguments therein contained.
Mr Wallace rose to reply to the attorney general, and in an eloquent strain of forcible argument endeavoured to prove the determination of the ecclesiastical court to be conclusive. Mr Wallace was followed by Mr Mansfield, who displayed great ingenuity and learning in support of the same doctrine.
Doctor Calvert, a civilian, spoke nearly for the space of two hours, and produced many precedents to prove the sentence of the consistory court to be definitive and irrevocable. The same ground of argument was pursued by Doctor Wynne, another civilian, who also quoted several cases in point in behalf of the Duchess; and on the conclusion of this gentleman's speech the court was adjourned on the motion of Lord Gower.
The business of the second day was opened by the lord high steward, who desired the counsel for her Grace to reply to the arguments advanced on the preceding day against evidence being admitted in support of the prosecution.
The attorney general entered upon a minute examination of the pleadings on the other side, and endeavoured to confute the arguments of the counsel and civilians, and to prove that the cases they had quoted were ill-applied, and undeserving authority. This gentleman spoke about an hour and twenty minutes.
The solicitor general then arose, and delivered a learned and elaborate speech, wherein he was extremely severe on the consistory court, saying he could not allow authority to that doctrine which puts the decisions of that court above the cognizance of the temporal ones. He said, that if the sentences of the ecclesiastical court were to be deemed conclusive, persons addicted to indulge a disposition to variety might each, by the exercise of industry and ingenious collusion, gratify his passions with seventy-five wives before attaining his thirtieth year. His witty and humorous allusions frequently provoked a general laugh at the expence of Doctors Commons; and he concluded with giving it as his opinion that the supreme court of legislature was invested with an indisputable power of reversing the decisions of the consistory courts. Mr Dunning spoke next, strongly supporting the arguments of the solicitor general, and producing several authorities from the law-books in justification of his opinion, that the plea could not be admitted as a bar against calling evidence to prove the criminality of the prisoner.
Doctor Harris, a civilian, rose in behalf of the prosecution; and, taking an extensive view of the pleadings of the Doctors Calvert and Wynne, exerted his utmost power to prove them nugatory.
Lord Talbot then addressed the court, observing, that as the matter in agitation was of the utmost importance both to the noble prisoner, and the right honourable court in general, the pleadings on both sides could not be weighed with too minute an attention; and lest the memory should be encumbered (candidly acknowledging that he had already heard more than he believed his mind would retain) he moved for the court to adjourn to the chamber of parliament. Hereupon the lord high steward came from the table to the throne, and requested to be informed whether it was the pleasure of the house to adjourn; and the question being put, it passed in the affirmative.
On Friday, the 19th of April, Mr Wallace was called upon by the lord high steward to reply in behalf of the prisoner. Lord Ravensworth then begged he might propose question to the counsel at the bar. His lordship's question was, 'Is the sentence of the ecclesiastical court in this case final and conclusive, or is it not?' Upon this Lord Mansfield said, 'If the noble lord means -- Is there any precedent for reversing the sentence of the ecclesiastical court? the answer must certainly be in the negative. As to any other meaning, the question is in debate among the counsel at the bar, and has been so these three days.'
Mr Wallace then largely expatiated in support of his former cases, and pleaded powerfully in refutation of the arguments advanced by the counsel on the opposite side, producing many other cases in point, and urging that they were incontrvertble. the next speaker was Doctor Calvert, who pleaded very ably in support of the power of the ecclesiastical court he concluded with insisting that the sentence of the consistory court was indisputably a legal plea in bar of evidence being produced against the prisoner.
It being intimated that the counsel for the Duchess had concluded their replies, a motion was made by Lord Gower for adjourning to the parliament chamber, and for allowing her Grace permission to retire to her apartment till the peers should return into court; upon which the lord high steward adjourned the court about half past three o'clock.
The peers having taken their seats in the parliament chamber, Lord Camden proposed the following questions to the judges:-- 'Whether it was their opinion that the court had power to call evidence in support of the prosecution? or whether they deemed the sentence of the ecclesiastical court conclusive and irrevocable? and whether the prosecutor could or could not proceed in this court against the prisoner for obtaining the decision of the consistory court by collusion and fraud?' The opinion of the judges was, 'That in either case the prosecutor was authorised to enter into evidence in support of the indictment on which the prisoner stood arraigned.'
In conscquence of the above determination, the house, after having withdrawn for about half an hour, returned into court; and the lord high steward informed the attorney general, that he was directed by their lordships to order him to proceed with the trial.
Mr Attorney then explained the nature of the evidence he meant to produce, and recapitulated a great number of facts and circumstances from the year 1742, previous to the supposed marriage of her Grace with Mr Hervey, to the time of her marriage with the late Duke of Kingston.
The solicitor general rose to examine the witnesses, and Anne Craddock being called to the bar, the Duke of Richmond observed that it would he proper for her to stand a a greater distance from the prisoner, and, after some debate on this head, Mr Quarme, deputy usher of the black rod, was placed between them. One of the clerks of the house put the questions from the counsel, and delivered the answers of the witness with an audible voice.
The evidence of Anne Craddock was to the following purpose: -- I have known her Grace the Duchess of King ston ever since the year 1742; at which time she came on a visit to Mr Merrill's, at Launceston in Hampshire, during the Winchester races. At that time I lived in the family of Mrs Hanmer, Miss Chudleigh's aunt, who was then on a visit at Mr Merrill's, where Mr Hervey and Miss Chudleigh first met, and soon conceived a mutual attachment towards each other. They were privately married one evening about eleven o'clock in Launceston church, in the presence of Mr Mountney, Mrs Hanmer, the Reverend Mr Ames, the rector, who performed the ceremony, and myself. I was ordered out of the church, to entice Mr Merrill's servants out of the way. I saw the bride and bridegroom put to bed together; and Mrs Hanmer obliged them to rise again: they went to bed together the night following. In a few days Mr Hervey was under the necessity of going to Portsmouth, in order to embark on board Sir John Danvers's fleet, in which he was a lieutenant; and being ordered to call him at five o'clock in the morning, I went into the bed chamber at the appointed hour, and found him and his lady sleeping in bed together, and was unwilling to disturb them, thinking the delay of an hour or two would not be of any consequence. My husband, to whom I was not married till after the time I have mentioned, accompanied Mr Hervey in the capacity of his servant. When Mr Hervey returned from the Mediterranean, his lady and he lived together. I then thought her in a state of pregnancy. Some months after, Mr Hervey went again to sea, and during his absence, I was informed that the lady was brought to bed. She herself told me she had a little boy at nurse, and that his features greatly resembled those of Mr Hervey.
The Duke of Grafton asked the witness, whether she had seen the child? and she answered in the negative. His Grace also asked, whether, as the ceremony was performed at night, there were any lights in the church? In reply to which she said, Mr Mountney had a wax light fixed to the crown of his hat. In reply to questions proposed by Lord Hillsborough, the witness acknowledged that she had received a letter from Mr Fossard, of Piccadilly, containing a promise of a sinecure place, on condition of her appearing to give evidence against the lady at the bar, and expressing that if she thought proper she might shew the letter to Mr Hervey.
On Saturday the 20th of April Anne Craddock was further examined. The Lords Derby, Hillsborough, Buckinghamshire, and others, questioning her whether she had not been promised a reward by the prosecutor on condition of her giving evidence to convict the prisoner; her answers were evasive, but she was at length brought to acknowledge that pecuniary offers had been made to induce her to give evidence in support of the prosecution.
Mrs Sophia Pettiplace, sister to Lord Howe, was next examined; but her evidence was of no consequence. She lived with her Grace at the time when her supposed marriage took place with Mr Hervey, but was not present at the ceremony; and she only believed that the Duchess had mentioned the circumstance to her.
Caesar Hawkins, Esquire, deposed, that he had been acquainted with the Duchess several years, he believed not less than thirty. He had heard of a marriage between Mr Hervey and the lady at the bar, which circumstance was afterwards mentioned to him by both parties, previous to Mr Hervey's last going to sea. By the desire of her Grace he was in the room when the issue of the marriage was born, and once saw the child. He was sent for by Mr Hervey soon after his return from sea, and desired by him to wait upon the lady, with proposals for procuring a divorce, which he accordingly did; when her Grace declared herself absolutely determined against listening to such terms; and he knew that many messages passed on the subject. Her Grace some time after informed him, at his own house, that she had instituted a jactitation suit against Mr Hervey in Doctors Commons. On another visit she appeared very grave, and desiring him to retire into another apartment, said she was exceedingly unhappy in consequence of an oath, which she had long dreaded, having been tendered to her at Doctors Commons to disavow her marriage, which she would not do for ten thousand worlds. Upon another visit, a short time after, she informed him, that a sentence had passed in her favour at Doctors Commons, which would be irrevocable, unless Mr Hervey pursued certain measures within a limited time, which she did not apprehend he would do. Hereupon he enquired how she got over the oath; and her reply was, that the circumstance of her marriage was so blended with falsities that she could easily reconcile the matter to her conscience; since the ceremony was a business of so scrambling and shabby a nature, that she could as safely swear she was not, as that she was married.
Judith Philips being called, swore, that she was the widow of the Reverend Mr Ames; that she remembered when her late husband performed the marriage ceremony between Mr Hervey and the prisoner; that she was not present, but derived her information from her husband; that some time after the marriage the lady desired her to prevail upon her husband to grant a certificate, which she said she believed her husband would not refuse; that Mr Merrill, who accompanied the lady, advised her to consult his attorney from Worcester; that in compliance with the attorney's advice a register-book was purchased, and the marriage inserted therein, with some late burials in the parish. The book was here produced, and the witness swore to the writing of her late husband.
The writing of the reverend Mr Ames was proved by the reverend Mr Inchin, and the reverend Mr Dennis; and the entry of a caveat to the duke's will was proved by a clerk from Doctor's Commons. The book in which the marriage of the duke of Kingston with the lady at the bar was registered on the 8th of March, 1769, was produced by the reverend Mr Trebeck of St Margaret's, Westminster; and the reverend Mr Samuel Harpur, of the Museum, swore, that he performed the marriage ceremony between the parties on the day mentioned in the book produced by Mr Trebeck.
Monday the 22d of April, after the attorney-general had declared the evidence in behalf of the prosecution to be concluded, the lord high steward called upon the prisoner for her defence, which she read; and the following are the most material arguments it contained to invalidate the evidence adduced by the proseeutor: -- she appealed to the Searcher of all hearts, that she never considered herself as legally married to Mr Hervey; she said that she con sidered herself as a single woman, and as such was addressed by the late duke of Kingston; that, influenced by a legitimate attachment to his grace, she instituted a suit in the ecclesiastical court, where her supposed marriage with Mr Hervey was declared null and void; but, anxious for every conscientious as well as legal sanction, she submitted an authentic state of her case to the archbishop of Canterbury, who, in the most decisive and unreserved manner, declared that she was at liberty to marry, and afterwards granted, and delivered to doctor Collier, a special licence for her marriage with the late duke of Kingston. She said that, on her marriage, she experienced every mark of gracious esteem from their majesties, and her late royal mistress, the princess dowager of Wales, and was publicly recognized as duchess of Kingston. Under such respectable sanctions and virtuous motives for the conduct she pursued, strengthened by a decision that had been esteemed conclusive and irrevocable for the space of seven centuries, if their lordships should deem her guilty, on any rigid principle of law, she hoped, nay, she was conscious, they would attribute her failure as proceeding from a mistaken judgment and erroneous advice, and not censure her for intentional guilt.
She bestowed the highest encomiums on the deceased duke, and solemnly assured the court, that she had in no one instance abused her ascendency over him; and that, so far from endeavouring to engross his possessions, she had declared herself amply provided for by that fortune for life which he was extremely anxious to bequeath in perpetuity. As to the neglect of the duke's eldest nephew, she said it was entirely the consequence of his disrespectful behaviour to her; and she was not dissatisfied at a preference to another nephew, whose respect and attention to her had been such as the duke judged to be her due, in consequence of her advancement to the honour of being the wife of his uncle.
The lord high steward desired Mr Wallace to proceed with the evidence. The advocate stated the nature of the evidence he meant to produce to prove that Anne Craddock had asserted to different people that she had no recollection of the marriage between Mr Hervey and the lady at the bar; and that she placed a reliance on a promise of having a provision made for her in consequence of the evidence she was to give on the present trial; and, to invalidate the depositions of Judith Phillips, he ordered the clerk to read a letter, wherein she supplicated her grace to exert her influence to prevent her husband's discharge from the duke's service, and observed, that Mrs Phillips had, on the preceding day, swore, that her husband was not dismissed, but voluntarily quitted his station in the household of his grace.
Mr Wallace called Mr Berkley, Lord Bristol's attorney, who said his lordship told him he was desirous of obtaining a divorce, and directed him to Anne Craddock, sayng she was the only person then living who was present at his marriage; and that, a short time previous to the commencement of the jactitation suit, he waited upon Anne Craddock, who informed him that her memory was bad and that she could remember nothing perfectly in relation to the marriage, which must have been a long time before.
Anne Pritchard deposed that about three months had elapsed since being informed by Mrs Craddock that she expected to be provided for soon after the trial, and of being enabled to procure a place in the custom-house for one of her relations.
The lord high steward addressed himself to the court; saying, that their lordships had heard the evidence on both sides, and that the importance and solemnity of the occasion required that they should severally pronounce their opinions in the absence of the prisoner, observing that the junior baron was to speak first -- their lordships declared the prisoner to be guilty.
Proclamation was then made that the Usher of the Black Rod should replace the prisoner at the bar; and, immediately on her appearing, the Lord High Steward informed her that the Lords had maturely considered the evidence adduced against her, as well as the testimony of the witnesses who had been called on her behalf, and that they had pronounced her guilty of the felony for which she was indicted. He then inquired whether she had anything to say why judgment should not be pronounced against her.
The Duchess immediately handed in a paper containing the words, "I plead the privilege of the peerage," which were read by the clerk at the table. The Lord High Steward then informed her Grace that the Lords had considered the plea, and agreed to allow it, adding: "Madam, you will be discharged on paying the usual fees."
The Duchess during the trial appeared to be perfectly collected, but on sentence being pronounced she fainted, and was carried out of court.
This solemnity was concluded on the 22nd of April, 1776. But the prosecutors still had a plan in embryo to confine the person of the Countess of Bristol -- for to this rank she was now again reduced -- to the kingdom, and to deprive her of her personal property; and a writ of ne exeat regno was actually in the course of preparation, but private notice being conveyed to her of this circumstance she was advised immediately to quit the country. In order to conceal her flight she caused her carriage to be driven publicly through the streets, and invited a large party to dine at her house; but, without waiting to apologise to her guests, she drove to Dover in a post-chaise, and there entering a boat with Mr Harvey, the captain of her yacht, she accompanied him to Calais. Circumstances of which she had been advised, and which had occurred during the period of her absence from Rome, rendered her immediate presence in that city necessary, and proceeding thither, without loss of time, she found that a Spanish friar, whom she had left in charge of her palace and furniture, had found means to convert her property into money, and after having seduced a young English girl, who had also been left in the palace, had absconded. Having now obtained the whole of her plate from the public bank where she had deposited it, she returned to Calais, which she adopted as the best place at which she could fix her residence, in consequence of the expeditious communication which existed between that town and London, by means of which she might be afforded the earliest intelligence of the proceedings of her opponents.
Their business was now to set aside, if possible, the will of the Duke of Kingston. There was no probability of the success of the attempt, but there was sufficient doubt upon the subject in the mind of the Countess to keep all her apprehensions alive. The will of his Grace of Kingston, however, received every confirmation which the Courts of Justice could give, and the object of the Countess now was to dissipate rather than expend the income of his estates.
A house which she had purchased at Calais was not sufficient for her purpose; a mansion at Montmartre, near Paris, was fixed on, and the purchase of it was negotiated in as short a time as the Countess could desire. This house being in a ruinous condition a lawsuit was brought by her. Going to St Petersburg, she turned brandy-distiller, but returned to Paris before the lawsuit was settled. The possession of such a place, however, was not sufficient for the Countess, and she proceeded to make a second purchase of a house, built upon a scale of infinite grandeur. The brother of the existing French king was the owner of a domain suited in every respect for the residence of a person of such nobility, and the Countess determined to become its mistress. It was called the territory of St Assise, and was situated at a pleasant distance from Paris, abounding in game of all descriptions, and rich in all the luxuriant embellishments of nature. The mansion was of a size which rendered it fit for the occupation of a king: it contained three hundred beds. The value of such an estate was too considerable to be expected in one payment; she therefore agreed to discharge the whole of the sum demanded, which was fifty-five thousand pounds, by instalments. The purchase on the part of the Countess was a good one. It afforded not only game, but rabbits in plenty; and, finding them of superior quality and flavour, her ladyship, during the first week of her possession, had as many killed and sold as brought her three hundred guineas. At St Petersburg she had been a distiller of brandy; and now at Paris she turned rabbit-merchant.
Such was her situation when one day, while she was at dinner, her servants received the intelligence that judgment respecting the house near Paris had been awarded against her, the sudden communication of the news produced an agitation of her whole frame. She flew into a violent passion, and burst an internal blood vessel. She walked a little about her room, and afterwards said: "I will lie down on the couch; I can sleep, and after that I shall be entirely recovered." She seated herself on the couch, a female having hold of each hand. In this situation she soon appeared to have fallen into a sound sleep, until the women felt her hands colder than ordinary, and she was found to have expired. She died on the 26th of August, 1796.