Webb, John Richmond (DNB00)

WEBB, JOHN RICHMOND (1667?–1724), general, born about 1667, was the second son of Colonel Edmund Richmond Webb of Rodbourne Cheney, Wiltshire, by his first wife, Jane, daughter of John Smith of St. Mary Aldermanbury, London, and afterwards of Tidworth, Wiltshire. Rodbourne Cheney had for many generations been in possession of the family, whose position in the county was improved in the sixteenth century by a marriage into the St. John family of Lydiard Tregoze. Old pedigrees and tradition claim descent of the family from the De Richmonds, constables of Richmond, and lords of Burton. Webb lost his mother in 1669; his father, who had commanded a regiment during Monmouth's rebellion, a prominent man in Wiltshire, long member of parliament for Cricklade and afterwards for Ludgershall, lived to see his son a distinguished soldier, and was buried beside his wife in the family vault in Rodbourne Cheney church on 19 Dec. 1705. The general's elder brother, Serjeant Thomas Richmond Webb (1663–1731) of Rodbourne Cheney, a well-known lawyer and recorder of Devizes in 1706, died in November 1731, aged 68.

John Richmond Webb obtained a commission as a cornet in the queen's regiment of dragoons (now the 3rd hussars) in November 1687, and in the November following was wounded at Wincanton in a skirmish between a small detachment of the king's army under Clifford and Sarsfield and a still smaller body of the prince of Orange's regulars (Boyer, William III, pp. 143–4). On 26 Dec. 1695 he was appointed colonel of the 8th regiment of foot (Dalton, iv. 76). Two years later we hear of his duel with Captain Mardike, in which both combatants were dangerously wounded. In 1702 he distinguished himself at the storming of Venloo (Cannon, Hist. Rec. 8th Reg. p. 110). He served in the campaigns of Flanders under Marlborough from 1703, was promoted brigadier-general on 11 April 1704, and major-general on 1 Jan. 1706. As a brigadier he displayed great gallantry in an attack on the village of Blenheim on the evening of 13 Aug. 1704, and in forcing the French lines at Helixem (17 July 1705). He commanded on the left of the English line at Ramillies on 23 May 1706, and distinguished himself greatly at Oudenarde on 11 July 1708. In the month following the victory last named Webb was one of the commanders of the force of twelve battalions, with cavalry and grenadiers, which raided Picardy and put the country under contribution. Near Lens the detachment under Webb fell in with a force of eight hundred cavalry, whom they pursued into the town. Early in September he was recalled to Thourout in Brabant. The circumvallation of Lille had been completed by the allies by the end of August, but as September advanced their communications were threatened on all sides by the French, and supplies were running short. The only route by which the requisite stores could now reach the besieging army was that between Ostend and Menin. The hasty preparation of a convoy of between seven and eight hundred wagons soon reached the ears of the French generals, and Vendôme and Berwick were both desirous to attempt its destruction; but the task was finally confided to Comte de Lamothe, whose local knowledge was expected to be of special service, and a corps amounting to twenty-two thousand men was concentrated under his command at Bruges. The convoy set out from Ostend some hours before daybreak on 28 Sept., escorted by Brigadier Landsberg with a force of about 2,500 men. Webb, with a force of about four thousand foot and three squadrons of dragoons, had received orders on the previous day to cover the convoy in the neighbourhood of Thourout, where it was most liable to attack. As the wagons were defiling through Cochlaer news was brought to Webb that the enemy had been observed at Ichteghem. He immediately advanced towards that place, but came upon the French in an opening between a dense coppice on the one hand and the wood and castle of Wynendaele on the other. Posting his grenadiers in these woods, Webb kept the enemy in play with his small force of cavalry while he formed his infantry in the intervening space. It was nearly dark before De Lamothe, after a long cannonade which did very little execution, ordered a general advance. He had an advantage in point of numbers of three to one; but his infantry were dismayed by the crossfire of the two ambuscades, and, after three attempts to force the position, they retired in the utmost confusion, having suffered a loss of between two and three thousand men; the allies lost 912 in killed and wounded. While the engagement was in progress the convoy pushed on to Rousselaere and reached Menin safely the next day. Major-general William Cadogan [q. v.], having seen the convoy safely through Cortemark, spurred to Wynendaele with a few squadrons of cavalry, arriving about dusk, and offered to charge the broken ranks of the French infantry; but the proposal was prudently negatived by Webb, who was the senior in command. Cadogan thereupon rode through the night to carry the news of the affair to Marlborough at Ronce, and on 29 Sept. the commander-in-chief wrote to Webb to congratulate him on the success, ‘which must be attributed chiefly to your good conduct and resolution’ (Despatches, ed. Murray, iv. 424). In writing home to Godolphin, Marlborough remarked that Webb and Cadogan had behaved well, ‘as they always do.’ Unfortunately, in a communication to the ‘London Gazette,’ Adam [de] Cardonnel [q. v.], the duke's secretary, assigned all the credit of the engagement to Cadogan, who was known to be a staunch whig and a rising favourite on Marlborough's staff. This version of the affair lost nothing at the hands of a partisan like Steele, who was at this time editor of the ‘Gazette.’ Webb asked and obtained leave to take home to the queen a true account of the engagement, and his brief narrative was printed. He was not averse from posing as the martyr of whig malevolence, and he became the hero of the hour. He received the order of Generosity from the king of Prussia, and the thanks ‘in his place’ of the House of Commons (13 Dec.)

Arbuthnot was clearly alluding to Webb's treatment when, in the ‘Art of Political Lying,’ he explains how ‘upon good occasion a man may even be robbed of his victory by a person that did not command in the action;’ and the opposition generally endeavoured to make political capital out of what they represented as a great tory victory, in much the same way that thirty years later the opposition extolled Vernon ‘for doing with six ships’ what Walpole's admiral ‘could not do with twenty.’ Malignity went so far as to hint that, jealousy apart, the Duke of Marlborough was grievously chagrined by the repulse of the French at Wynendaele, inasmuch as he had entertained the offer of an enormous bribe payable upon the frustration of the siege operations which would have ensued upon the failure of the convoy.

Webb was promoted lieutenant-general on 1 Jan. 1709, and on 27 March, through the good offices of Harley, to whom he attached himself, he was granted a pension of 1,000l. a year pending more lucrative employment under the crown. The same autumn he fought at Malplaquet in the division of the prince of Orange, along with Lord Orkney and General Meredith, on the right of the ‘premier ligne’ (see plan, ap. Dumont, 1709, ii. 247). In the report addressed to the States-General, which set out the allied loss at twenty thousand, he was stated to be among the dead (ib. p. 526); in fact, he received severe wounds which crippled him for life. Swift mentions the fact of his walking with a crutch and a stick to support him (Journal to Stella; cf. Luttrell, vi. 582).

Webb, who was a fine figure of a man before he was incapacitated by his wounds, and had been described by a poetaster of the past

    As Paris handsome and as Hector brave,

was for the time being the idol of the populace, and during the summer of 1710 he contemplated putting up for Westminster against the whig candidate, General Stanhope. When, however, in August he was offered the post of captain and governor of the Isle of Wight, he thought fit to accept the offer (Warner, Hampshire, iii. 92). With the governorship went the safe seat of Newport, for which borough he was duly returned on 6 Oct. 1710; he had hitherto, since 1690, sat for the borough of Ludgershall. He voted steadily for Harley and the tories, and cultivated the good graces of Swift as the literary champion of his party. In January 1712 he was one of the first to pay his respects to Prince Eugène upon his arrival at Leicester House (Boyer, p. 535). On 16 June 1712 he was promoted general and nominated commander of the land forces in Great Britain. Upon the overthrow of the tories Webb was not only deprived of his posts, but was in 1715 forced to sell out. George I, who had fought by his side at Oudenarde and admired his bravery, remonstrated, but was ‘brought to reason’ by the triumphant whigs (Wentworth Papers). Webb was again returned for the family borough of Ludgershall in 1715 and on 24 March 1721–2. During the trial of Christopher Layer [q. v.] in November 1722, Webb's name was mentioned in connection with a Jacobite association known as ‘Burford's,’ and thenceforth he found it expedient to live in strict retirement (Hist. Reg. 1723, p. 69, ib. Chron. Diary, 1724, p. 52).

Webb died in September 1724, and was buried on 9 Sept. in the north transept of Ludgershall church, in the nave of which his hatchment still hangs. He was twice married: first, to Henrietta, daughter of Williams Borlase, M.P. for Great Marlow, and widow of Sir Richard Astley of Patshull (she died 27 June 1711); and, secondly, in May 1720, to Anne Skeates, a ‘widow,’ who must have been a comely person, seeing that, although of illegitimate birth, she was thrice married, the third time after Webb's death to Captain Henry Fowke or Fookes; she was buried at Ludgershall on 8 April 1737, having survived all her husbands. By his first wife Webb left two sons—Edmund, ‘a captain in Ireland,’ and Borlase Richmond, M.P. for Ludgershall, who inherited most of his father's property, and died without issue in March 1738—besides five daughters. By his second wife he left a son, John Richmond of Lincoln's Inn, M.P. for Bossiney (1761–6) and justice for the counties of Glamorgan, Brecon, and Radnor, who died 15 Jan. 1766, and two daughters.

The Colonel Richmond Webb who died on 27 May 1785, aged 70, and was buried in the east cloister of Westminster Abbey, was a kinsman—second cousin of the half-blood—of the general (they were both great-great-grandsons of Edmund Webb of Rodbourne Cheney, who died in 1621, and his wife, Catherine St. John); his father, Captain Richmond Webb, was buried at Rochester in 1734. Richmond Webb the younger, born in 1714, a cornet in the queen's own royal dragoons in 1735, became captain in Moreton's regiment in 1741, commanded a company for King George at Culloden, and retired from the army in 1758. He was survived four years by his widow, Sarah (Griffiths), who was buried beside her husband in June 1789. Their daughter Amelia (1757–1810), the godmother of ‘Emmy’ in ‘Vanity Fair,’ married at St. John's Cathedral, Calcutta, on 31 Jan. 1776, William Makepeace Thackeray (1749–1813), the grandfather of the great novelist. Another daughter, Sarah, married Peter Moore [q. v.], the friend of Sheridan (Bayne, Memorials of the Thackeray Family; cf. Hunter, The Thackerays in India, 1897, pp. 97, 179).

An interesting life-size equestrian portrait of Webb, signed ‘J. Wootton 1712,’ is preserved at Biddesden House, a red-brick mansion in the style of Kensington Palace, which the general erected for himself in 1711 upon an estate the nucleus of which he had purchased from the widow of Sir George Browne in 1692. Another portrait, now in the possession of Colonel Sir E. Thackeray, V.C., was engraved by Faber after Dahl (Noble, ii. 197). A curious medal attributed to Christian Wermuth was struck to celebrate the battle of Wynendaele, and represents a lion pursuing a cock through the mazes of a labyrinth (Rapin, vi. 5; Medallic Hist. of England, 1885, ii. 328). Three sketches drawn by Thackeray for some imaginary ‘Memoirs of Lieutenant-General Webb’ are prefixed to the volume containing ‘Esmond’ in the ‘Biographical Edition.’ The chapters in ‘Esmond’ relating to the exploits of Webb (bk. ii. chaps. x. xiv. xv.) are based upon minute research, and contain what is perhaps the best account extant of the affair of Wynendaele.

[Burke's Family Records, 1897, s.v. ‘Thackeray;’ Dalton's English Army Lists, vols. iii. and iv.; Notes and Queries, 8th ser. vi. 247, x. 119; Beatson's Political Index, ii. 209, 117; Members of Parliament (Official Returns); Chester's Westminster Abbey Registers, 1876, pp. 439, 440; Hoare's Modern Wiltshire, ‘Ambresbury Hundred,’ pp. 91 sq.; Marlborough Despatches, ed. Murray, vols. iv. and v.; Coxe's Life of Marlborough, ii. 318 sq.; Swift's Journal to Stella, ed. Ryland, pp. 156, 157, 160; Arbuthnot's Works, ed. Aitken, p. 430; Wentworth Papers, ed. Cartwright, passim; Boyer's Reign of Queen Anne, 1735, pp. 346, 362, 477, 535; Prior's Hist. of his Own Time, 1740, i. 277; Rapin's Hist. of England, iv. 75, 79, 84, 86, 116, 192, 433; Burnet's Own Time, 1823, ii. 506, 507; Oldmixon's Hist. of England, ii. 412–13; Stanhope's History, 1701–13, pp. 357, 373; Pointer's Chronolog. Hist. 1714, p. 595; Wyon's Hist. of Queen Anne, ii. 113 sq.; Mémoires du Maréchal de Berwick, Paris, 1780, ii. 36–9; Dumont's Lettres Historiques, 1708 ii. 505–20, 1709 ii. 526; Détail du Combat de Wynendale, ap. Pelet's Mém. Militaires, 1850; Egerton MS. 1707, f. 367 (a good account of Wynendaele in French, giving the English force as 18 to 20 battalions, and the French 34 battalions and 42 squadrons of cavalry); Official Return of Members of Parl.; genealogical and other notes most kindly supplied to the writer by Malcolm Low, esq., of Clatto, who has aided in revising the article, and by Alfred H. Huth, esq., of Biddesden House.]

T. S.