Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Annesley, James

ANNESLEY, JAMES (1715–1760), claimant, was born in 1715, and was the son of Lord Altham, according to one account, by his wife Mary Sheffield, natural daughter of the Duke of Buckingham, or, according to another, by a woman called Juggy Landy. Lord Altham, grandson of Arthur, the first Earl of Anglesey, was a dissolute spendthrift. He was married in 1706, quarrelled with his wife, was reconciled to her in 1713, and lived with her for some time at his house at Dunmaine, co. Wexford. During their cohabitation the child was born. In 1716 they were again separated; the child remained with the father, and was said to have been treated for a time like a legitimate heir. About 1722 Lord Altham fell under the influence of a mistress, named Gregory. Lady Altham returned to England in 1723, having for some time suffered from paralysis, and lingered in London till her death in October 1729. Meanwhile the mistress (it is suggested) alienated the father's affections by persuading him that the boy was not his own son. The lad was left to himself, rambled to different places during two years previously to his father's death (16 Nov. 1727), and was at one time protected by a butcher named Purcell. Lord Altham was succeeded by his brother Richard, afterwards Earl of Anglesey, in spite of the reports as to the existence of a legitimate son. In order to make things pleasant, the uncle attempted to kidnap the nephew, and succeeded, about four months after the father's death, in having him sent to America and sold for a common slave. The boy remained there till the term of his slavery was out; at the end of 1740 he entered one of the ships of Admiral Vernon's fleet as a sailor, told his story to the officers, and was brought back by Vernon to England, where he took measures to support his claim. He was actively supported by a Mr. Mackercher, who appears as M—— in a chapter of ‘Peregrine Pickle,’ where Smollett introduces a long narrative (of questionable authenticity) of the Annesley case and Mackercher's previous history. An action of ejectment was brought against the uncle, now Lord Anglesey, in possession of the Irish estates. On 1 May 1742 James Annesley went out shooting at Staines, with a gamekeeper; they met a poacher netting the river, and a dispute followed, in which Annesley shot the man dead. He was tried for murder (15 July 1742), and Lord Anglesey, who had previously been thinking of a compromise, now thought that he could get rid of his nephew, instructed an attorney to prosecute, and said that he did not care if it cost him 10,000l. to have his nephew hanged. It was, however, clearly proved that the shot was fired by accident, and James Annesley was acquitted. He went to Ireland in 1743 with Mackercher to carry on his action, in spite, as is said, of various attempts upon his life by the uncle. On 16 Sept. 1743 they went to some horse races at the Curragh, where they encountered Lord Anglesey and his party. A riot took place; the party were violently assaulted by the earl's servants and friends; Annesley escaped by the speed of his horse, though injured by a bad fall, and three of his friends were knocked down, beaten, and stunned. The trial for ejectment came on upon 11 Nov. 1743, and lasted for the then unprecedented space of fifteen days. The question was simply whether Lady Altham or Juggy Landy was the claimant's mother. The most contradictory evidence was given. Several witnesses swore that they had been in the house at the time of the birth, and said that Landy was the foster-mother; that a road was specially made to her cottage after the event; that the christening was celebrated by bonfires; and that Lord Altham repeatedly acknowledged James as his legitimate son and treated him accordingly. On the other hand it was sworn, especially by Mary Heath, who attended Lady Altham until her death, that the lady had never been pregnant at all. The weight of evidence seems to be against the legitimacy, as the parents had strong reasons for establishing the birth of a legitimate heir; though Lord Anglesey's unscrupulous behaviour implies doubt as to the sufficiency of his cause. The verdict, however, was given for the claimant. Mary Heath was prosecuted for perjury on 3 Feb. 1744, but, after a repetition of much of the former evidence, was acquitted. On 3 Aug. 1744 Lord Anglesey, with Francis Annesley and John Jans, was tried for the assault at the Curragh, and they were all convicted and fined.

It seems that Annesley was unable to raise the funds necessary to prosecute his case further. An ‘Abstract of the Case of James Annesley,’ published in 1751, is an appeal to the public to help him. He died 5 Jan. 1760, having been twice married, to a daughter of Mr. Chester of Staines (d. 1749), by whom he left a son (d. 1763) and two daughters, and, secondly, to a daughter of Sir Thomas I'Anson, by whom he had a son (d. 1764) and a daughter (d. 1765). A doubtful narrative of his life in America is given in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine,’ vol. xiii. The very curious trials are fully reported in the ‘State Trials,’ vols. xvi. and xvii. The story was turned to account by Scott in ‘Guy Mannering’ (see Gent. Mag. for July 1840), and it has been more directly used by Charles Reade in the ‘Wandering Heir.’

[Howell's State Trials, vols. xvi. and xvii.; Abstract of Case of James Annesley, 1751; Gent. Mag. vols. xiii. and xiv.]

L. S.