Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Duras, Louis

DURAS or DURFORT, LOUIS, Earl of Feversham (1640?–1709), general, was the sixth son of Guy Aldonce de Durfort, marquis de Duras, by his wife, Elizabeth, daughter of Henri de la Tour d'Auvergne, duc de Bouillon, marshal of France, and his second wife, Elizabeth de Nassau. His ancestor, Gaillard de Durfort, seigneur de Duras, while in allegiance to England, was governor of Calais and a councillor of Edward IV, by whom he was created a knight of the Garter in 1461 (biographical notice in Addit. MS. 6298, f. 284). His uncle was the great Turenne, a connection of which he used frequently to remind his friends. In the peerage of France he bore the title of Marquis de Blanquefort (La Chenaye des Bois, Dictionnaire de la Noblesse, v. 712–13, 717; Beltz, Memorials of the Order of the Garter, pp. lxxv, clxiii, clxv). In 1665 he was in England in attendance on the Duke of York, and was naturalised in that year. He distinguished himself in the action with the Dutch off Southwold Bay, Suffolk, in June 1665. In the same month a royal proclamation was issued granting him, along with four others, the sole right of licensing lotteries in Great Britain, Ireland, and the plantations, ostensibly ‘to raise stock for the Royal Fishing Company’ (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1664–5, p. 438), a privilege renewed for seven years longer 25 Feb. 1667 (ib. 1666–7, pp. 531, 532). Though professedly a protestant (‘his religion, however, was not much trusted to,’ says Burnet, ‘Own Time,’ Oxford edition, iii. 46), he became a great favourite with the Duke of York, who eventually placed unbounded confidence in him. Duras proved on the whole a faithful servant. The duke advanced him to the captaincy and colonelcy of his guards, 29 June 1667 (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1667, p. 245), and prior to 1673 sold him his estate at Holdenby, Northamptonshire (Baker, Northamptonshire, i. 197). In the spring of 1671–2 he was in France ‘about making conditions to carry over an English regiment of horse’ there (Hatton Correspondence, Camd. Soc. i. 83). By letters patent dated 19 Jan. 1672–3 he was raised to the peerage with the title of Baron Duras of Holdenby. As English ambassador he attended the conference at Nimeguen in July 1675 (Evelyn, Diary, ed. 1850–2, ii. 206). Having married in 1676 Mary, eldest daughter and coheiress of Sir George Sondes, K.B., of Lees Court, Kent, who was created Baron Throwley, Viscount Sondes, and Earl of Feversham, Kent, 8 April of that year, the same titles were limited to him, and he succeeded to them on the death of his father-in-law, 16 April 1677 (Dugdale, Baronage, ii. 485). Besides these honours Charles II preferred him to the command of the third and afterwards to that of the second troop of horse guards. In November 1677 he was sent ambassador to the court of France in order to submit proposals for a treaty of peace with Flanders (instructions dated 10 Nov. 1677 in Addit. MS. 25119, ff. 6–12). With the Marchese di Borgomanero, the Spanish ambassador to England, he undertook a more secret mission to Flanders in July 1678, ‘to know what the designes of the confederates were, particularly those on this side the Meuse, in order to carry on a war in case the treaty break off’ (instructions dated 13 July 1678 in ib. ff. 35–6). On 26 Jan. 1678–9 he nearly lost his life by the blowing up of some houses at the disastrous fire in the Temple lane (Luttrell, Relation of State Affairs, 1857, i. 7–8; cf. Hatton Correspondence, i. 171, 172). When the Duke of York, on account of his unpopularity, was sent to Flanders in March 1679, Feversham made every effort to obtain his recall (Reresby, Diary, ed. Cartwright, p. 177). In December 1679 he was appointed master of the horse to the queen (Luttrell, i. 30), which office he resigned in September 1680 for that of lord chamberlain to her majesty (ib. i. 54). On 10 Aug. 1682 he was sent by the king to congratulate Louis XIV on the birth of the Duke of Burgundy, son of the dauphin (ib. i. 212). On Mulgrave's disgrace in November 1682 he succeeded him as lord of the bedchamber (Reresby, p. 262). He was one of the two noblemen allowed to be present when the dying Charles became formally reconciled to the church of Rome, 5 Feb. 1684–5 (Burnet, ii. 457). At James's accession he was placed on the privy council, and continued lord chamberlain to the queen-dowager. When Monmouth made his attempt at the throne in June 1685, Feversham was entrusted with the chief command of the royal forces (Luttrell, i. 347). His incapacity and indolence brought on him the contempt of his officers, who remarked of their general that at the most momentous crisis he thought only of eating and sleeping. Churchill alone had the wisdom to preserve an appearance of respect, and so successfully that Feversham praised his diligence, and promised to report it to the king (Churchill to Clarendon, 4 July 1685, in Clarendon's Correspondence, &c., ed. Singer, i. 141). Churchill adds in his letter: ‘I see plainly that the troble is mine, and that the honor will be anothers.’ The morning of Sedgemoor found Feversham fast asleep in bed, ‘so that,’ as Burnet mildly puts it, ‘if the Duke of Monmouth had got but a very small number of good soldiers about him, the king's affairs would have fallen into great disorder’ (iii. 47). After the battle Feversham signalised himself by the cruelty of his military executions (copy of his order addressed to Colonel Kirke, dated 7 July 1685, in Addit. MS. 32000, f. 91). Then leaving Kirke and his ‘lambs’ to continue the work at their ‘discretion,’ he hastened to court. He was elected a knight of the Garter 30 July, installed 25 Aug. (Beltz, p. cxcv), and made captain of the first and most lucrative troop of life guards (Luttrell, i. 356). Court and city, however, only laughed at his martial achievements, and Buckingham in a farce, ‘The Battle of Sedgemoor’ (Works, ed. 1775, ii. 117–24), made merry at the expense of a general who had gained a battle by lying in bed. Such was his influence with James that he undertook, on the offer of 1,000l., to intercede in behalf of Alice Lisle. James, however, told him that he was bound by his promise to Jeffreys not to grant a pardon (Burnet, iii. 60). In 1686 Feversham, then a widower, employed his friend, Sir John Reresby, to obtain for him the hand of Lady Margaret Cavendish, daughter of Henry, duke of Newcastle. The history of this negotiation, which ended in a quarrel between the duke and duchess, may be read at length in Reresby's ‘Diary,’ pp. 364, 366, 375–9, 382–6. Reresby calculated that his friend then enjoyed an income of 8,000l. From 1685 to 1689 he was colonel of the 1st troop of horse guards. In 1686 he was appointed commander-in-chief of the army collected by James to overawe his people, but soon found that he could not count on the fidelity of the troops (ib. i. 476). In 1688–9 he was lord-lieutenant of Kent. When James withdrew himself for the first time, 10 Dec. 1688, he left a letter for Feversham addressed to the general officers which could be understood only as a command to disband the army, ‘neither payeing them nor taking away their armes,’ says Luttrell (i. 487). A copy of this letter in contemporary hand-writing is Additional MS. 32095, f. 297 (cf. Eachard, Hist. of England, 3rd edit. p. 1129; Reresby, Diary, p. 423). Accordingly four thousand armed men were let loose on the country (Kennett, Hist. of England, iii. 532, 534). Feversham and three other general officers reported their proceeding to the Prince of Orange, who was then on his march to London (Clarke, Life of James II, 1816, ii. 250–1). William, greatly angered, protested that he was not to be dealt with thus. Feversham was afterwards despatched by the lords, with two hundred of the life guards, to rescue James from his detention at Sheerness, and ‘to attend him toward the sea-side if he continued his resolution of retiring’ (Mulgrave, Some Account of the Revolution; Works, ed. 1723, ii. 87–8; cf. Hatton Correspondence, ii. 123). James injudiciously sent him with a letter to William at Windsor requesting a personal conference. The prince refused to see him, and on learning that he was without a safe-conduct ordered him to be forthwith put under arrest (Hatton Correspondence, ii. 127). He was released a fortnight later, 1 Jan. 1688–9, on the queen-dowager representing to William that she could not indulge in her favourite game of basset without her lord chamberlain to keep the bank (Eachard, p. 1136; cf. Luttrell, i. 493). On 29 Jan. 1688–9 he gave his vote in favour of a regency (Clarendon's Correspondence, &c. ii. 256). To Feversham the queen-dowager, on her departure for Portugal at the end of March 1692, confided the care of her household and palace of Somerset House, an office which gained for him the nickname of king-dowager. In May of the same year, when a French invasion was generally anticipated, Feversham, being regarded as an ally of James, was requested by the government to banish himself to Holland till peace was insured. He stoutly refused to go, and claimed his right as a peer and a subject (Hatton Correspondence, ii. 177). At the instance of the queen-dowager he received the mastership of the Royal Hospital of St. Catherine, near the Tower of London, in October 1698 (Luttrell, iv. 444). Some idea of his duties while holding these places may be gained from Additional MSS. *5017 f. 81, 22067 ff. 25–34. Feversham was among the knights of the Garter selected by the chancellor of the order at Anne's command in March 1701–2 to decide upon the manner in which she should wear the ensigns of the dignity as sovereign (Beltz, p. cxxi). He acted as one of the pall-bearers at Pepys's funeral, 4 June 1703 (Pepys, Diary and Correspondence, 3rd edit. v. 452). He died 8 April 1709 (Luttrell, vi. 428), and was buried on the 28th in the vault of the French chapel in the Savoy, Strand. His body was taken up and reinterred with those of his nephew and niece, Armand and Charlotte de Bourbon, 21 March 1739–40, in the north cross of Westminster Abbey (Chester, Registers of Westminster Abbey, pp. 355–6). His age is variously stated to have been sixty-eight or seventy-one. His will, dated 18 July 1701, with a codicil 6 April 1709, was proved at London 3 May 1709 by George Sayer of St. Clement Danes, Middlesex (registered in P.C.C. 3, Lane). As he left no issue by his wife, who had died in 1679, his titles became extinct. Burnet represents Feversham as ‘an honest, brave, and good-natured man, but weak to a degree not easy to be conceived’ (iii. 46); while Reresby extols his social qualities, knowledge of court etiquette, and of dandyism in general (Diary, passim). There is a mezzotint of Feversham, by Isaac Beckett, after the portrait by John Riley (Granger, Biog. Hist. of England, 2nd edit. iv. 271–2). In the ‘Biographie Universelle’ (Michaud), xii. 87, and the ‘Nouvelle Biographie Générale,’ xv. 463, it is stated that Marlborough professed to have learnt the art of war from Feversham, probably at Sedgemoor.

[Authorities as above; Burke's Extinct Peerage (1883), pp. 185, 498; Bridges's Northamptonshire, i. 526, 528, ii. 173, 335; Clarke's Life of James II (1816); Lords' Journals; Burnet's Own Time (Oxford edit.), ii. 457, iii. 46–7, 60, 334, 335; Eachard's Hist. of England, 3rd edit. pp. 1065, 1129, 1131, 1132, 1136; Clarendon's State Letters, &c. (Oxford, 1763, 4to); Clarendon's Correspondence, &c. (Singer); Macaulay's Hist. of England, chaps. iv. v. x.; Evelyn's Diary (1850–2); Grammont's Memoirs (Bohn), pp. 219, 382; Addit. Ch. 6076; Addit. MSS. 18743 f. 18, 22230 f. 27, 27447 f. 501.]

G. G.