Tag Archives: Horace Walpole

Edward Vernon

The Hon. Edward Vernon, Esq, subscribed to Kirby’s Historical Account. As the “Hon.” indicates, he was at the time an MP, representing Ipswich. Although not originally from Suffolk, he had bought an estate at Nacton, a few miles southeast of Ipswich and built a house there. Vernon was a naval and political man, more celebrated, and more voluble, than Ellis Brand. Edward Vernon (1684—1757) was the second son of James Vernon, who had been Secretary of State under William III. Born in Westminster, he attended Westminster school, studying mathematics and astronomy along with the usual languages. In 1700, Vernon began his naval career as a volunteer on the Shrewsbury, which sounds modest enough, until you discover that the Shrewsbury was the flag-ship of Admiral Sir George Rooke. Vernon rose ranks rapidly, becoming a captain in 1706, by which time he was in the Mediterranean with Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell’s fleet and had been present at the capture of Barcelona. On their return to England, several ships, including Admiral Shovell’s flagship, were wrecked off the Isles of Scilly and a couple of thousand men, including Admiral Shovell, were lost. With his own command, Vernon was no longer on the flagship and survived. By 1708, he had been sent to support Commodore Charles Wager’s squadron in the Caribbean, arriving just too late to take part in Wager’s Action. Vernon continued to advance and by 1719 was commander-in-chief of his majesty’s ships at Jamaica. England was at war with Spain, and much Spanish treasure flowed through the Caribbean, but Vernon did not see much action at this point. Back in England, Vernon was elected MP for the first time in 1722, as member for Penryn in Cornwall (his father had held this seat several times earlier). Vernon’s father died in 1717, and in 1729 he married Sarah Best. They would have three sons, all of whom, sadly, died young. By this time, Vernon had bought his estate at Nacton and settled as a Suffolk gentleman, his fractious nature and intemperate language having caused a break in his political career. In 1739 he returned to naval service and was sent out to the West Indies just as war again broke out with Spain (the War of Jenkins’ Ear). Soon after his arrival, he led the successful attack on the town of Porto Bello. Porto Bello was a small town, but the port through which all Spanish silver from Peru passed. When the news reached England, there was massive celebrating. The restrained DNB records,

The rejoicing went far beyond the usual celebrations of victory. Vernon became a national hero almost overnight. Both houses of parliament voted their thanks and the City of London made him a freeman. Addresses of congratulations came to the king from across the country. His popular appeal was immense. Medals, pottery, road names, and public house signs bore the name Vernon or Porto Bello and his birthday became a day of celebration across the country.

Mount Vernon was also named after him. Vernon’s next target was Cartagena. He launched a massive amphibious assault, the troops being commanded by Major-General Thomas Wentworth. Such an assault against a heavily-fortified position was a race against time – as men who succumbed to wounds or disease could not be replaced. Despite initial successes, the attack failed as disease took its toll. A later attempt against Panama fared no better. Vernon and Wentworth did not get along, and Vernon, in his dispatches and private letters, attempted to discredit Wentworth. Despite his failure, Vernon was still popular in England and, on his return in late 1742, he found he had been elected MP for Ipswich while away. In 1745 he was promoted to Admiral, but his fractious nature, intemperate language and leaked correspondence with the Admiralty caused the King to have him struck off the flag list in 1746. He rumbled away in parliament, but his influence was waning. Horace Walpole acidly described him as, “a silly, noisy admiral … his courage was greater than his sense, his reputation was much greater than his courage”. Vernon was always concerned about the health of sailors and his other claim to fame stems from diluting their daily ration of rum with water and then ordering the addition of lime juice to counter the bad taste of the water. Although the benefits of citrus at sea were not fully understood at the time, his sailors were healthier than average, and suffered much less from scurvy.  Vernon’s nickname was `Old Grog’ from his habit of wearing a of a grogram coat, and the sailors gave the name to the new drink. Gainsborough painted Admiral Vernon around 1753; the portrait is now in the National Portrait Gallery collection. For more on Admiral Vernon, start at his Wikipedia page, or DNB entry. For more details on the ships he commanded, see the wonderful threedecks.org site. Admiral Vernon was preceded as MP for Ipswich by William Wollaston

Henry Legge

Another colorful subscriber to Kirby’s Historical Account was Henry Legge. Styled in the subscriber list as “Hon. Henry Legge, Esq.” he was at the time the other MP for Orford. Orford was a pocket borough in the gift of the Treasury, with few, and carefully-chosen voters. According to the Parliamentary History Online in 1764 only six out of 21 [voters] were resident in Orford, and 18 held places under Government. Its expenses were paid from secret service funds. Henry Legge (1708—1764) was the fourth son of the 1st Earl of Dartmouth. He later added the surname Bilson as the result of a bequest. Horace Walpole (a not-unbiased observer) said of him that “[his father] had early turned him into the world to make his fortune, which he pursued with an uncommon assiduity of duty. Avarice or flattery, application or ingratitude, nothing came amiss that might raise him on the ruins of either friends or enemies”. In fact, his father had early sent him to Christ Church in Oxford, from whence he disappeared to join the Navy, taking a berth as an ordinary seaman on a convoy protecting the Newfoundland fishing fleet. He repeated the voyage as a midshipman, before returning to land. He apparently never went to sea again, although this did not prevent him obtaining a later position as Lord of the Admiralty. As a young man he entered the circle around the Walpoles, becoming secretary to Sir Robert Walpole in 1736, then at the peak of his power. Legge was awarded a seat in the House of Commons first for Looe in Cornwall in 1740, and then for Orford from 1741 onwards, shortly after he was appointed Treasury Secretary. Also in 1741, he seems to have made an unfortunate attempt to woo Maria Walpole, which did not go down well with the family, but then Walpole fell spectacularly the following year. Dismissed from his post in the purge of Walpole’s followers, he promptly acquired a position as Surveyor-General of Woods and Forests in 1742, and joining the Admiralty Board in 1745. In 1748 he was sent off to Berlin as envoy to Frederick the Great, taking the blame for the failure of negotiations. Perhaps the appearance of Kirby’s book was a consolation. Returning to England, he married, and pursued his hobby of shooting, then became Chancellor of the Exchequer three times in the 1750s. He died in 1764. Portrait by William Hoare As noted above, Horace Walpole was not particularly enamored of Legge. Another choice quote is the Legge “wormed himself into every intrigue where his industry and subservience could recommend him”. The DNB article on him, written by P. J. Kulisheck (who wrote her dissertation on Legge), rehabilitates him, noting “his character and actions have in the past been judged unfavourably primarily on the basis of statements, now known to be biased, in Horace Walpole’s writings. Legge’s letters reveal a man no better or worse than other younger sons who made their fortune through holding office under the crown, but one with a better sense of humour and less vindictiveness than his contemporaries”.

Colonel Waldegrave

Another high-powered, and intriguing, subscriber of Kirby’s Historical Account was “Hon. Col. Waldegrave”. This was John Waldegrave (1718—1784), a career soldier. Waldegrave was close to the centers of power, especially in the 1740s and 1750s. Born in 1718, the third son of the 1st Earl Waldegrave, he joined the Foot Guards as Ensign in 1735, aged sixteen (his father withdrew him from Eton on the grounds that he “would never be a scholar” and a desire to “sound out [his] dispositions whether for the Sea or Land Service”).

The Waldegraves had been a prominent Catholic family (John Waldegrave’s grandmother was an illegitimate daughter of James II) who had been exiled to France. His father, James Waldegrave, had married in 1714 a wealthy Catholic, Mary Webb, who came with a £12000 dowry. Not long after his wife died in childbirth in January 1719, he took his place in the House of Lords, swearing allegiance and abjuring his former faith. By 1723, he had been appointed a Lord of the Bedchamber to George I, a position he retained under George II and held until his death in 1741. Much more important than the, admittedly handy, £1000 salary was direct personal access to the king. Waldegrave also became friendly with the Walpoles. Horace Walpole (1717—1797) was a contemporary of Waldegrave’s two sons, James and John (the other son died young), a playmate and lifelong friend; the elder son James married Maria Walpole. Along with his personal service to the king came diplomatic service: he was Ambassador at Vienna 1728—1730, and Ambassador in Paris 1730—1740, a posting occasionally a little sticky given his background.

James Waldegrave, 1st Earl Waldegrave

On the death of the 1st Earl in 1741, his eldest son James inherited the title. Although he was very close to George II, he had little political background and few connections. He hated the machinations involved with party politics and, while discreet and respected in personal diplomacy, was not a faction-builder. When, very reluctantly, he did become Prime Minister in 1757, his administration lasted all of five days. Interestingly enough, he was (also reluctantly) for a time tutor to the Prince of Wales (the future George III) and his brother before the takeover by Bute. James died in 1763 and his brother inherited the title as the 3rd Earl.

James Waldegrave, 2nd Earl Waldegrave

And so we come to the Hon. Col. Waldegrave. John Waldegrave proceeded steadily in the Army. He was promoted to Colonel in 1748, the year after becoming aide-de-camp to the Duke of Cumberland. He, too, became a Groom of the Bedchamber to George II and George III. He joined Parliament as member for Orford in Suffolk in 1747, and held a seat in the Commons until succeeding his brother in 1763. Thus was his status when Kirby’s book appeared. Ahead of him were a scandalous marriage in 1751 to Elizabeth Leveson-Gower, daughter of the Earl of Gower, without her father’s consent, leading the British infantry at the Battle of Minden in 1759, promotion to General in 1772, and appointment as Lord-Lieutenant of Essex in 1781. He died in 1784.