Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Feilding, Robert

FEILDING, ROBERT, called Beau Feilding (1651?–1712), was related to the Denbigh family. In his will he describes himself as of Feilding Hall, Warwickshire, and makes a bequest of property in Lutterworth parish, Leicestershire. He wasted a fair income, and became notorious for his many amours even at the court of Charles II, where he was known as ‘Handsome Feilding.’ Swift, in his fragment of autobiography, says that Beau Feilding married Mary, only daughter of Barnham Swift, viscount Carlingford (d. 1634), and squandered her property. James II gave him a regiment, and he is said to have put down a protestant riot. He afterwards married Mary, only daughter of Ulick de Burgh, first Marquis Clanricarde, and previously wife of Lord Muskerry, killed at sea in 1665, and of the (titular) third Viscount Purbeck, killed in a duel in 1684. He became a catholic, followed James to Ireland, and sat in the Irish parliament of 1689 for Gowran. In January 1691–2 he was in Paris, and trying to obtain his pardon. He did not succeed until 1696, when he returned to England, and was for a time committed to Newgate (Luttrell, Historical Relation, ii. 330, vi. 150, 223, 239). His wife died in 1698. In the reign of Queen Anne he became conspicuous as a surviving relic of the rakes of the Restoration period, and endeavoured to retrieve his fortunes by marriage. He promised 500l. to a Mrs. Villars if she would bring about his marriage to a Mrs. Deleau, a widow with a fortune of 60,000l. Mrs. Villars, who was Mrs. Deleau's hairdresser, contrived to pass off a certain Mary Wadsworth upon Feilding under Mrs. Deleau's name. Feilding at their second interview fetched a Roman catholic priest from the emperor's ambassador, who performed the marriage ceremony 9 Nov. 1705. He had been simultaneously courting the Duchess of Cleveland, the old mistress of Charles II and others. He married her 25 Nov. 1705. He appears to have bullied or beaten both his wives. The first wife, from spite or for a reward, told her story to the Duke of Grafton, grandson of the Duchess of Cleveland. Feilding was thereupon prosecuted for bigamy at the Old Bailey 4 Dec. 1706. He was convicted, after trying to prove, by the help of a forged entry in the Fleet register, that Mary Wadsworth was already the wife of another man. He was admitted to bail, having the queen's warrant to suspend execution. At the trial he is called ‘colonel’ and ‘major-general.’ Feilding is said, in a catchpenny life of 1707, to have been at one time, apparently under Charles II, a justice of the peace for Westminster (like Henry Fielding); and in March 1687 Luttrell mentions a Colonel Feilding as one of the Middlesex justices who requested the king to dispense with the taking the test. The life of 1707 also mentions among his absurdities that he only ‘hired a coach, and kept two footmen clothed in yellow,’ who wore black sashes made out of old mourning hatbands. This story probably suggested the yellow liveries of which Henry Fielding was afterwards accused. In 1709 Steele described Feilding as Orlando in the ‘Tatler’ (Nos. 50 and 51). He was afterwards in the Fleet, and, having compounded with his creditors, lived with his wife at Scotland Yard, where he died 12 May 1712, aged 61. His will leaves a shilling apiece to his brother and his nephew, both named William Feilding, 100l. to Roman catholic priests, and his property at Lutterworth to his wife, Mary Wadsworth. Swift, in the fragment called ‘Mean and Great Figures,’ says that Feilding at the age of fifty was wounded in a scuffle at a theatre, and showed his wound to make the ladies cry. He appears to have been a thorough reprobate, a gambler, and a bully. Lucas says that he was caned at a theatre, and afterwards ran a link-boy through the body. Two portraits by Lely and one by Wissing have been engraved.

[Historical Account of … that Celebrated Beau, Handsome Fealding, 1707; Theophilus Lucas's Memoirs of Gamesters (1712, pp. 207–216); Egerton's Memoirs of Mrs. Oldfield (1731), p. 70; Cases of Divorce for Several Causes (with memoir of Feilding and his will), 1723 (published by Curll); Howell's State Trials, xiv. 1327–72; Tatler (edited by Nicholls), 1786, No. 50; Burke's Extinct Peerages, pp. 523, 559; Lodge's Peerage, i. 135; Swift's Works (1814), i, app. p. iv, ix. 469; Granger, iii. 408.]

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