Littell's Living Age/Volume 140/Issue 1806/The Vicissitudes of Titles

From The Gentleman's Magazine.


The vicissitudes of titles are twofold. In the first place, the same titles have been borne by different families: in the second, a family coronet may descend to persons very different indeed from the first possessor, and they again may transmit it to persons who seem to have nothing in common with their ancestors.

There were Dukes of Norfolk before the Howards, the best-known to Englishmen being probably that Thomas Mowbray whom Shakespeare has rescued from oblivion. And before the Mowbrays, Norfolk had given an earl's title to a son of Edward I. On the whole it may be said that few titles in the peerage call up more forcibly the images of feudalism, of monarchy, of soldiership, of the old faith. And yet a decided majority of the Howard dukes have been men of peace, while some have been Protestants, and one was almost considered a Radical by the Tories of his day. The friend and political coadjutor of Fox, he did not scruple to give the toast of "The People, our Sovereign," at a public banquet. But Lord Holland, in his "Memoirs of the Whig Party," appears to be sceptical as to the depth of the duke's liberalism, which is perhaps not surprising when one remembers that an earl marshal has everything to lose and nothing to gain by "reforms" of existing institutions. Other dukes of Norfolk have also wandered considerably from the ideal which would have commended itself to the bold "Jockey" who first wore the strawberry leaves.

The Somerset title has had stranger vicissitudes than the Norfolk one. The Beauforts, descended from a natural son of John of Gaunt, played no mean part in our history as Dukes of Somerset. A natural son of the last duke of that line took the name of Somerset, married an heiress, and became the founder of a new house, now represented by his descendant the Present Duke of Beaufort. Henry VIII. created his own natural son (Henry Fitzroy) Duke of Richmond and Somerset. In the next century, James I. bestowed an "earldom of Somerset" on the infamous Carr. But it is the family of Seymour who have unquestionably done most to render the name of Somerset famous in English history. A family likeness is perhaps more visible in these Dukes of Somerset than in the successive heads of any other house. Edward the First, who pulled down churches to build himself a palace, was the true ancestor of Edward Adolphus the Twelfth, who recently distinguished himself by a smart pamphlet against the Christian religion.

Third on Garter's Roll comes the Duke of Richmond, whose title recalls to the mind some of the wisest and best of Englishmen, notably that earl who was crowned on Bosworth field and reigned so well as Henry VII. Of the Dukes of Richmond, descendants of Charles II. and Louise de Quérouaille, little need be said, except that the name has not always been associated with the staunch Toryism and valor of the present duke. It was a Duke of Richmond who moved one of the earliest addresses to George III. advising the king to recognize the independence of the American colonies. Chatham went down to the House of Lords for the last time to speak against the motion: the incidents of that most mournful of historic scenes are known to all who care about their country's history.

St. Alban's, now made into a cathedral city, has given a title to persons so widely dissimilar from every point of view as the author of the "Novum Organon" and the son of Charles II. by Mrs. Eleanor Gwyn. Of course the bastard became a duke, while the great philosopher was only "Viscount St. Alban."

Passing the dukedom of Leeds, of which the founder alone is remembered, one finds the Bedford title next inscribed on the Roll of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal. The Russells have certainly left their mark on English history, but the most famous Duke of Bedford was a Plantagenet. John, brother of Henry V., and regent of France during the minority of Henry VI., has furnished one of the most splendid portraits in the Shakespeare gallery. One is pained to remember that his Grace of Bedford was at times sadly in want of cash, and even reduced to selling the few books which formed the contents of the ducal library.

The dukedom of Devonshire, created at the same time as the present dukedom of Bedford, is one of those which illustrate the utter absence of meaning now attaching to territorial titles. There is a Duke of Devonshire and an Earl of Devon, as there is a Duke of Buckingham and an Earl of Buckinghamshire. Titles of this sort could not obviously have co-existed while earls and dukes had authority over the counties from which they were called. It may be observed that the dukes of Devonshire, though they can show some four centuries of descent, are of a quite modern nobility compared with the Courtnays, whose chief bears the humbler title of Earl of Devon. The earl indeed represents an imperial line.

The Duke of Marlborough has precedence next after the Duke of Devonshire. It does not clearly appear for what reason Lord Churchill chose the title of Earl of Marlborough when offered a couple of steps in the peerage by William III. Charles I. had previously ennobled an eminent lawyer by the style of Baron Ley, of Ley, Co. Devon, and (in the year following, 1626) Earl of Marlborough. But the Churchills appear to have been in no wise connected with this family, whose title had become extinct before the Revolution.

Among other dukedoms, that of Portland is worth noting. The founder of the English branch of the Bentincks was made Earl of Portland by the Dutch master he served so well; and the earl's son was made a duke by George I. It is sad (or pleasing, as the reader chooses) to think that their descendants and successors forgot their Whiggism, and that one of them became a Tory prime minister of the most pronounced type. The present duke, as everybody knows, is a pillar of the Ottoman cause, and has relieved the wants of the Turks with a munificence altogether princely.

Possibly it is a tendency of ducal families to become Tory, however Whig may have been their beginnings. Certainly one cannot forget that his Grace of Manchester, albeit an honored member of the Conservative party, does actually descend from one of "the five[1] members" whom Charles I. so intensely longed to hang.

"Duke of Newcastle," again, has been the style and title of three very different politicians in three successive centuries. He of the Cavendish line, better known as the "Marquis," was governor of Charles II. when that hopeful scion of royalty was called Prince of Wales; and there is a most pathetic letter extant from the little Royal Highness to his governor, begging that he may be excused taking more physic. Whether the marquis complied with the petition deponent knoweth not. Mr. Carlyle has described Montrose as the "hero-cavalier" of his day, but the famous Marquis of Newcastle was an equally noble embodiment of the best qualities to be found in the Royalist party. Abrupt in deed is the descent, in the moral scale, from the Cavalier to the Whig Newcastle, from the chivalrous servant of the Stuarts to that curious politician who may be said to have been not a jobber but jobbery itself. The late Duke of Newcastle was, of course, of the same family as George II.'s remarkable minister, but a man of an altogether different stamp—one of those thoughtful, honorable statesmen, whose one fault is over-caution—a peculiar product of our Parliamentary life. The careers of the two dukes had, however, one circumstance in common. The one and the other managed to be politically associated with the most extraordinary character of the day. The name of the one Newcastle is not more closely bound up with that of Chatham than that of the other is bound up with the name of Mr. Gladstone.

The Northumberland title is suggestive of Harry Hotspur, and Otterbourne and Shrewsbury fights. But the Percies were more than once dispossessed of their earldom, which was held for a short time during the period of the Roses by a Neville, brother of the "kingmaker," Warwick. In the next century, John Dudley, who already enjoyed the old title of the Nevilles, being Earl of Warwick, further obtained of Edward VI.'s government a grant of the Percy estates (once more forfeited to the crown) and the title of Duke of Northumberland. Lord Guildford Dudley, husband of the Lady Jane, was his fourth son. The Percies soon recovered their old title and lands, but the male line, in which alone the former descended, became extinct in Charles II.'s time, when the king took an early opportunity of making one of his natural children Duke of Northumberland. The youth selected for the honor was one of his Majesty's three sons by Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland, the other two being made Dukes of Southampton and Grafton respectively. He of Grafton alone counts a descendant at the present day.

The actual Duke of Northumberland is a Smithson, but represents the house of Percy in the female line.

The Smithsons are a family of respectable antiquity, and could probably trace back their descent to the sixteenth century. One of them was made a baronet at the time of the Restoration for services rendered to the royal cause.

The little borough of Wellington does not appear to have given a title to any body before Sir Arthur Wellesley's time. The title next it in the peerage is one of the most famous in history; it is said, too, to be one which has always brought misfortune to its possessors. Certain it is that no one line of Dukes of Buckingham has extended beyond three or four generations. Of the Staffords, two were executed as traitors; of the Villierses, the first was assassinated, the second—his son—died poor and little considered.

The Sheffields, Dukes of Normandy and Buckinghamshire, were also a short-lived race.

Of the Grenvilles, Dukes of Buckingham and Chandos, it is sufficient to say that, from whatever cause, the ascendancy of the family in English politics seems to have come to an end about the time that its head attained to the first rank in the peerage.

The premier marquisate of England was founded by that courtier who managed to please four successive sovereigns, all of different religions. "I'm of the willow, not the oak," was his explanation to a friend who scarcely understood how Lord Winchester had kept his head, to say nothing of his place, in these unsafe times. He is said to have been ninety-seven years old at the time of his death. Of the oak rather than the willow was made the gallant cavalier, his descendant, whose defence of Basing House is the most honorable fact in the family history.

Among other marquisates, that of Lansdowne is of considerable interest to the student of heraldic antiquities. Lord Shelburne, the prime minister, who was so strangely eclipsed by his young colleague Pitt, appears to have set a higher value upon titles than might have been expected of one of his robust understanding. He asked to be made a duke; George III. declined to comply with his request, alleging that he meant to reserve the title henceforth for members of his own family. Lord Shelburne was therefore fain to content himself with a marquisate (of Lansdowne). Lansdowne had already given a title to one of the mediocre poets, whose lives Johnson wasted some valuable time in writing.

The third Marquis of Lansdowne seems to have had the rare merit of exactly understanding his own abilities, and of knowing what he wanted. He saw that the premiership was be end his powers, and he steadily declined it. Yet no Whig cabinet was considered complete without Lord Lansdowne, so long as Lord Lansdowne chose to take office. He was indeed one of those men whose power is none the less a fact because their names do not appear in the newspapers so often as those of others. He managed, too, to play the difficult part of Mæcenas with eminent success, and amongst other good work brought Macaulay into Parliament.

Of a plainer sense than his father, Lord Lansdowne declined a dukedom.

For the name of Salisbury, Shakespeare's Henry V. predicts an immortality that shall make it as a household word. The name indeed recurs again and again in the historic plays. William Longsword, Earl of Salisbury, appears in King John. Another earl (John de Montacute) appears in Richard II. He, by the way, was beheaded, without trial, at Oxford, shortly after the accession of Henry IV. Other Salisburys followed, most of them hard hitting warriors. But as famous a line as any was to be founded by a man of peace. One Cecil, Earl of Salisbury, by the way, wandered so far from the political and religious tenets of his famous ancestor, Elizabeth's and James's minister, as to turn Catholic; while the present marquis would scarcely have agreed on the most serious subject with the founder of his house's greatness. Robert Cecil, first earl, was chancellor of the University of Cambridge; Robert, third marquis, is chancellor of the University of Oxford.

The name of Lord Salisbury not unnaturally links itself at the present time with that of his relative, Lord Derby, whose motto is "Sans changer" — rather a curious one for a house which may almost be said to have been founded by an act of treachery, and the heads of which have professed a variety of political opinions. James, seventh earl, who was taken prisoner at Worcester and beheaded by the Cromwellians, would assuredly have marvelled much at the opinions professed by Edward Henry, fifteenth earl. For the rest, the most famous holder of the title of Earl of Derby was Henry Plantagenet (son of John, Duke of Lancaster), afterwards Henry IV. Henry was only created Duke of Hereford in 1397.

Huntingdon gives a title to the third English earl, whose title dates from 1529. But the greatest men of the house of Hastings have not been earls of Huntingdon, though more than one, including the Marquis of Hastings, Viceroy of India from 1813 to 1823, have been connections of the family. Warren Hastings sprang from an entirely different line, though all the Hastings are supposed to be anxious to trace their descent back to a pirate, that Hastings who gave such sore trouble to our order-loving Alfred. Unquestionably the coronet of Huntingdon was never so honorably illustrated as by the excellent Countess Selina, a woman whose vagaries it is easy to laugh at, but whose virtues are not so easy of imitation. It is understood, by the way, that Earl of Huntingdon was the title selected by Cromwell when he was negotiating with Charles I. for a peerage and a garter. One can only regret that the treachery of Charles made the conclusion of the arrangement impossible. As a regularly-constituted minister of the crown, Cromwell could have rendered immense services to his country. Nearly all that he had done for England, while usurping the supreme authority, was undone at his death. He left us, indeed, little beyond the remembrance of his great deeds and a doubtful example to public men. And Cromwell is to a certain extent responsible for Napoleon, even as the Judicial murder of 1649 became a precedent for that of 1793.

Another title which has passed through many vicissitudes is the earldom of Essex. It was conferred in April 1540, on Thomas Lord Cromwell. Three months later, the Earl of Essex was arrested on a charge of high treason, a bill of attainder speedily passed through a compliant Parliament, and on July 28 Cromwell had lost both his coronet and his head. Walter Devereux Viscount Hereford next obtained the title, on a grant by Elizabeth in 1572. His son it was who terminated a brilliant career on the scaffold and broke the heart of the sovereign, who was after all but a woman. His son again commanded the Parliamentary army in the civil war. The domestic history of this nobleman is of the most curious. He was last earl of the Devereux line. Upon the Restoration, Charles II. revived the title in favor of Arthur Lord Capel, whose father had been beheaded by the Roundheads in 1649. He is ancestor of the present earl.

The earldom of Shaftesbury has never been in any other than the Ashley family, but it would be difficult to say what ideas are connoted by the title. Statesmanship of an altogether American "smartness," if one thinks of the first earl,

For close designs and crooked counsels fit,
Sagacious, bold, and turbulent of wit;

sceptical epicureanism and astheticism if one thinks of the third; but if of the seventh, a vision of Exeter Hall straightway looms in the distance; also, it must in fairness be added, of a practical benevolence which has nothing in common with the philosophies of the academy or the garden.

In 1759 the Earl Brooke, owner of Warwick Castle. obtained the title of Earl of Warwick, which has remained with his descendants till this day. Before it was given to the Grevilles the title had been borne by the chiefs of the house of Rich; in the sixteenth century it belonged to the Dudleys, in the fifteenth to the Nevilles, while in the fourteenth it had been conferred on a Beauchamp. Henry Beauchamp, who succeeded to the earldom in 1439, was in 1444 created Duke of Warwick. In the following year Henry VI. bestowed on him the astonishing title of King of the Isle of Wight, and crowned him with his own hands. The dignity seems to have proved too much for the king-duke, who died the same year.

The earldom of Orford has had a singular fate. No distinguished man who has ever borne it is remembered in history by that name. We speak of Sir Robert Walpole, and of Horace Walpole, but both father and son ended as earls of Orford. Again, the victor of La Hogue is far better known as Admiral Russell than by the title to which he was raised by William. III.[2] It may be added that the present earl, though a Walpole, descends from neither the prime minister nor the master of Strawberry Hill.

Lord Granville, who narrowly missed the premiership in 1859, and is pretty sure to hold it before many more years are passed, would be the second prime minister of the title. Lord Carteret, who became Earl Granville in 1744, was never indeed at the head of the treasury, but was virtually chief of the cabinet formed on the retirement of Walpole. Though far from being the ablest or the most patriotic of English statesmen, there are perhaps few on that bead-roll of fame who could more justly be styled "men of genius" than he. We too seldom understand such men until they are dead, and it is not surprising that our fathers should have termed Lord Granville's "the drunken administration." Of course to a certain extent the epithet was literally just, yet no one would have thought of the minister's fondness for claret had he been dull and incapable instead of brilliant and incapable. The present Lord Granville's title dates from 1833, when it was conferred on his father, of whom the late M. Thiers was wont to say that he realized the beau idéal of a diplomatist.

The earldom of Leicester has been held by a De Montford, and in more modern times by Dudleys, by Sydneys, and by Cokes; that of Ellesmere by Egertons and by Leveson Gowers; that of Stratford by Wentworths and by Byngs; that of Feversham by a Duras and by Duncombes. There has been but one Earl of Beaconsfield, but Lord Beaconsfield was the title selected by Burke when about to be raised to the peerage. Before the patent could be made out Burke's only son died, and the father had no longer a motive for accepting what to him could only be an empty honor.

Among extant viscounties that of Halifax undoubtedly recalls the most august memories. George Saville, Viscount and afterwards Marquis of Halifax, was succeeded in the title by his son, who died without male issue in 1700, when his honors became extinct. Charles Montague was created Lord Halifax the same year, and Earl of Halifax in 1714. Sir Charles Wood's claim to take the title of Viscount Halifax might be justified by his long representation of the borough in Parliament. For a similar reason it was lately rumored that Mr. Gathorne Hardy was nearly be coming Lord Oxford instead of Lord Cranbrook. About the same time a stranger rumor was afloat, to wit that a descendant of the De Veres was about to claim the famous earldom inseparably associated with their name.

The vicissitudes of the various baronial titles would occupy too long a time in the telling. Nearly all the old titles on the list are baronies in fee, and follow a different rule of descent from ordinary peerages. The first fifteen barons thus derive their titles through female ancestors. The Barony of De Ros, first on the list, has passed through more than one family; and indeed it would be difficult to find half a dozen peers whose direct ancestors in the male line had been heard of in the year 1264, when the premier barony was created.

To dwell on the curious fate of certain episcopal titles might be more interesting, as to the profane mind it would doubtless prove amusing. But one forbears: only trusting that so meek and unassuming a prelate as Dr. Thomson feels happy in the chair of Wolsey, and that Dr. Tait has never been disturbed with doubts as to the genuineness of his spiritual descent from such confirmed Papists as St. Augustine and St. Thomas à Becket. E. C. Grenville Murray.

  1. We commonly speak of "the five members," forgetful that those champions (and well-nigh martyrs) of English liberty were six in number. There were, in truth, five members of the House of Commons and one peer, Lord Kimbolton, whom the king wished to arrest. Lord Kimbolton was ancestor of the Dukes of Manchester.
  2. The Russell earldom of Orford became extinct at the death of the first earl in 1727.