Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Jesse, John Heneage

JESSE, JOHN HENEAGE (1815–1874), historical writer, born in 1815, was the son of Edward Jesse [q. v.] He was educated at Eton. During the latter part of his stay there he, as a companion of Lord Waterford, was involved in some of his wild pranks, and had to escape on board the marquis's yacht to Norway. His father intended to send him to Brasenose College, Oxford, but at the suggestion of the Duke of Clarence, on his return from Norway, he applied for and obtained a clerkship in the admiralty. He remained at the admiralty many years, earning a comfortable salary. He early developed a literary taste. At the age of sixteen he wrote a poem on ‘Mary Queen of Scots,’ which he dedicated to Sir Walter Scott. Soon after he published another volume of verses, entitled ‘Tales of the Dead,’ dedicated by permission to Queen Adelaide. He gave a dramatic form to an attempt to exculpate Richard III, and he published a fragmentary poem, entitled ‘London,’ which was dedicated to Samuel Rogers. Though he never quite abandoned attempts in imaginative literature, he is chiefly remembered by the series of entertaining memoirs, in which he strung together historical anecdotes of the later dynasties of British monarchs. He was still young when he published in 1840 the first of these, upon the court of the Stuarts. The success of this work encouraged him to bring out similar volumes on the protectorate, William III, the pretenders, and the house of Hanover. His ‘Memoir of George Selwyn and his Contemporaries’ met with great success. His best work was the ‘Memoirs of George the Third,’ in which he used some important unpublished correspondence, including letters of George III. He was convinced that the young king was really married to the pretty quakeress, Hannah Lightfoot, although he was opposed by Mr. Thoms, editor of ‘Notes and Queries.’ His ‘Memoirs of Celebrated Etonians’ was not published till after his death. He was in his later years a great frequenter of the Garrick Club, and while seated at the whist-table there he was sketched by Mr. (afterwards Sir J. E.) Millais on the envelope of a letter (Mrs. Houstoun). In character he was most amiable; in person tall and commanding, and, when he put on what he called his ‘purtiest manner,’ was very persuasive. He died at his rooms in the Albany, London, on 7 July 1874.

His works are: 1. ‘Mary Queen of Scots,’ a poem, circa 1831. 2. ‘Tales of the Dead,’ a volume of verses (date unknown). 3. ‘Memoirs of the Court of England during the Reigns of the Stuarts,’ 4 vols. 8vo, 1840. 4. ‘Memoirs of the Court of England from the Revolution to Death of George II,’ 3 vols. 8vo, 1843. 5. ‘George Selwyn and his Contemporaries, with Memoirs and Notes,’ 4 vols. 8vo, 1843. 6. ‘Memoirs of the Pretenders and their Adherents,’ 2 vols. 8vo, 1845. 7. ‘London, a Fragmentary Poem,’ post 8vo, 1847. 8. ‘Literary and Historical Memorials of London’ [1st ser.], 2 vols. 8vo, 1847; [2nd ser.] ‘London and its Celebrities,’ 2 vols. 8vo, 1850. 9. ‘Memoirs of Richard the Third and some of his Contemporaries, with an Historical Drama on the Battle of Bosworth,’ 8vo, 1862. 10. ‘Memoirs of the Life and Reign of George the Third,’ 3 vols. 8vo, 1867. 11. ‘London: its Celebrated Characters and Remarkable Places’ [new edition of No. 8], 3 vols. post 8vo, 1871. 12. ‘Memoirs of Celebrated Etonians,’ 2 vols. 8vo, 1875.

[Annual Register, p. 158; Athenæum, 1874, ii. 82; Sylvanus Redivivus, by Mrs. Houstoun (Jesse's sister), 1889; personal recollections.]

R. H.