If you’ve read my stories, particularly An Unlikely Hero, you may recall my rat-faced villain the Earl of Mulgrave whose often mentioned in passing. The Character is named after and in my mind looks like, John Sheffield who was the Earl of Mulgrave (before he became a Duke). As you can see by his portrait he wasn’t ugly (he was allowed to be handsome), but stare at his lips and nose for several minutes and you’ll get the feeling the man finds you beneath his contempt and you’d be right. The fictional Mulgrave has been heavy on my mind these last few months because he’s a main character in the short story I’m writing (I’m also working on Dancing the Maypole). I’ve really enjoyed getting to know Mulgrave better, even if he is a rat. As the fictional Mulgrave developed I was struck by a need to know more about the real Mulgrave. I knew he’d written some awful poetry, but I wanted more and I found it.
In 1933 The Haworth press printed 250 copies of a condensed version of an orginal publication of the real Mulgrave’s writings published by his wife after his death in 1721. I own number 84; my very first, first edition! It cost me ten pounds. There’s no line of eagre readers waiting to snatch up John Sheffield’s earthly ramblings. I was so excited to get my book. I was going to read it as a treat ( a reward for doing some work) but I cracked it open and couldn’t put it down ’till I got to the final section which is on 18th century law which nearly put me to sleep, but the opening section ‘A short life…’ was worth ten pounds.
I discovered Mulgrave while researching the rakehell, John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester (note the sky blue ribbon – he was apparently well known for his sky blue ribbons). The two men loathed each other. On one occasion they nearly fought a duel. I believe Mulgrave challenged Rochester (who by his twenties was suffering from alcohol poisoning and that day was having difficulty with his legs). Rochester wished to fight on horseback, but according to Rochester, Mulgrave refused and went back to court and told everyone that Rochester had refused to fight. For all I know, they were both correct in their viewpoints, but I suspect Mulgrave’s problem was that he was jealous of Rochester. Rochester was better looking, charming, witty, graceful, intelligent, disgustingly talented at almost anything he tried to do (when he bothered to do anything) and was the King’s pet. I call Rochester the King’s monkey as he had the onerous job of entertaining Charles II on demand when he wasn’t in the Tower of London or in exile for enraging the King. Mulgrave was no saint, but he wasn’t a rakehell. From what I’ve read I get the feeling that Mulgrave considered himself on higher moral ground than Rochester and his set which included the Duke of Buckingham, the last of the Villiers.
Mulgrave was always ambitious and had an exceedingly high opinion of his own importance. He actually tried to court one of the legitimate daughters of James II (I think Anne) and ended up with a metaphorical boot in the backside. He married three times. His last wife, who published his works, was an illigitimate daughter of James II so he married one of the King’s daughters in the end. She was 25 he was 58, but by this time he’d become the Duke of Buckingham. Villiers had died without legal issue so that line was extinguished and the title recycled as often happened.
What sort of man would want to be known by the title of a dead man he hated? It conjures up someone rather vindictive, ‘You’re dead and I have your title, whose laughing now?’. Mulgrave finally had legitimate children with his third wife; three sons. One survived him, but the young man died soon after without issue. Mulgraves’ ambition to create a new dynasty of Dukes was over, but he did have other children. Quoting from the book, “He (Mulgrave) left many natural children (bastards), which he had own’d before his third marriage; and he has been often heard to say since he had legitimate children, he wish’d he had never had the others, or at least had not own’d them; it being in private families an ill example.” Those poor children! Can you imagine how awful it would be to hear your father say something like that or worse to hear that he often repeated the sentiment? While they were all he had to carry on his blood he was happy to own them, but once they were superseded by legal heirs he wished they’d never been born. And yet from his noted actions we can assume he was extremely proud of his third wife because she was the owned bastard daughter of the King! What a hypocrite!
Mulgrave’s only notable monument is having built the original Buckingham House which was bought by the Prince Regent and incorporated into what is now Buckingham Palace. If you look at an aerial view of the palace there’s a large open square in the middle; the back section is the original house built by Mulgrave (after he’d become the Duke of Buckingham). It wasn’t a cooincidence that he built it on the edge of St James Park, which was owned by the crown. He not only got a free giant garden view, he obstructed the Queen’s view! Cooincidence? I doubt it, but fate plays a wicked game of cards; one of Rochester’s daughters is an ancestor of Princess Diana. There is every likihood that Prince William or Prince Harry will inherit and then one of Rochester’s descendents will live in the house Mulgrave built…as King. Checkmate!
Bellow are some excerpts from the ‘A Short ‘Life’ at the begining of the book. I think it was either written by Mulgrave trying to justify his various faults and weakness as strengths or a very cunning enemy who knew the art of insinuation and wanted to make Mulgrave look like a hypocritical jerk. Perhaps his wife really did have the last word…read on and tell me what you make of him!
“The Duke of Buckingham was tall; and tho’ he was not perhaps the most exactly shap’d, being thought a little too long-waisted, and rather too narrow in his chest and shoulders, yet all together, he look’d more like a man of Quality than most of those of his rank who liv’d at the same time with him. Sitting in a coach, or standing in a room, without the blue ribbon, or any other ornament of dress, he had an air of grandeur, which gave you an impression he was of more than common quality. He was allow’d to be handsome, his face being a refular oval, and all the features of it well-proportion’d. His countenance had an extraordinary sweetness, joined with a lively and penetrating look, which, at first sight, struck you with an Idea of that great understanding of which he gave the world such various proofs
The Duke’s father died when he was but nine years old; and his mother (tho’ so sincerely affected by his death, as to fall into a volent fit of sickness0 yet marrying again, the care of his education was left to a Governor only. He was a learned man, but too much neglected the studies of his pupil, either from too great an application to his own, or from a fault in Governors, which often turns to the misfortune of young Noblemen, too much compliance in humouring those by whom they hope afterwards to advance their fortunes. A trifling thing happen’d when they went first to France, which very much lessen’d his authority with the Duke. The Governor advised him in the strongest terms to avoid kneeling to the host, if he should meet it in a pricession; representing it as an act of direct idolotry, which a Protestant ought to suffer death itself rather than commit. Very soon after, they met a procession at the corner of a street; he (Mulgrave) made the utmost effort to step aside into a shop, but tumbled over his Governor, who was fallen on his knees the first moment…
He was sometime out of employment at Court, and refrain’d even from passing his Compliments there till the marriage of his third wife, the Countess of Angelesey, a natrual daughter of King James II. upon which he went to kiss the Queen’s (Anne) hand.
The Duke of Buckingham kept his employments till the Queen’s death (Anne), tho’ he was truly or falsely inform’d there was amongst some of her mininsters, a little before her death, a scheme laid to get him out; tho’ there could be no good reason for it, because because he did not heartily join in speaking ill and doing ill offices, according to the usual custom, to the Favorite disgrac’d, I mean the Earl of Oxford…
After what we have said of the Duke’s conduct in relation to publi, affairs, it will be proper to speak of his private character and temper; which in some respects was prodigiously mistaken, or misrepresentated. He was reported not to be good natur’d; and to be very haughty and proud: whereas he was really good-natur’d. Even upon seeing in the streets any real object of compassion, he has, several times, been touch’d to a degree of bringing tears into his eyes. He was affected in the same manner, upon reading a melancholick story, or hearing of any friendly and generous behaviour.
It must be own’d that sometimes he was inclin’d, when anything had put him out of humour, to be a little passionate and wuick upon people who had not occasion’d it. This was now and then the case of his most familiar friends, or of gentlemen who came freely to visit him. But when any thing of this kind had happen’d, he never was at ease till he had made them some ameds, either by doing them some good officem or by saying to them something full as exraordinary, or more in the way of obliging them, than what had pass’d before to their dissatisfaction.
When he was by his equals disoblig’d, or even by his King, to his thinking, not well treated, he carry’d it pretty high, till he had got the better of the first, and prevail’d on the other to change his proceedings more to his satisfaction. But except upon such occasions, no man on earth could carry himself with more good breeding and humanity. And in all his conversations with his inferiors, you could not think he judg’d there was any difference betwixt him and them. He would talk as familiarly to his servants as if he was not their master; and often said, I was angry at you a little time ago, but I don’t mean half the things I say in passion, when perhaps he had been a little rougher to them, than the kind of faults that had been committed, really deserv’d; A thing common enough for men to do, but not to own so easily, and make amends for, by so good natur’d an acknowledgement.
He was by many thought not to have made a very good husband to his first and second wives. But ’tis hard to be sure of the truth of such reports. He never had any children by them…
The liberties which he had allow’d himself in relation to ladies, are too well known, to be omitted in his character. But this ought to be remark’d as a prood of his good sense, that none of his mistresses could ever prevail upon him to marry foolishly, or ever gain’d too great an ascendant over him. And he has often express’d, some years before he died, a good deal of concern for that kind of libertinism, into which an impetuosity of temper too much neglected in his education, together with the prevailing fashion of that Court in which he liv’d, had too often hurry’d him.
He was by his worst enemies allow’d to have liv’d always very kindly with his last wife, by whom he had several sons and daughter, tho’ at his death he left but one son alive. Whenever she was very ill or in danger (which generally happen’d when she was with child, or at her lying-in) he shew’d all possible marks of concern; and when there was more than ordinary danger, his servants often found him on his knees at prayers; and on those occasions he has made vows, in case she recover’d, to give in charities, sometimes two hundred, sometimes three hundred pounds at a time, which he perform’d puntually. And I have been credibly inform’d, that the Dutchess herself has said, that whenever they have had any difference, (which in twelve or thirteen years of marriage must sometimes happy) and he has been in a little passion, because he could not bring her to think just as he did, if she left the room to give him time to cool, he could never stay till supper-time, th’ pretty near, nor till she returned back of herself into his room, but constantly left his books or business to come after her, and said ‘Child, you and I should never fall out; and tho’ I still think myself in the right, yet you shall have it your way; which was accordingly done; and then he was in as good a humour as if nothing had happen’d.
He was thought to be too saving in money matters. But that opinion was ocasion’d by little trifling accidents, or rather an humour which indiscreet people knew not how to manage: for in reality, he was not to be called covetous. Here are some evident proofs of it. He always paid to the last Dutchess her pin-money to a day; and not withstanding some ill accidents in his fortune might have justified an omission or delay, when her pension form the Crown of 1200 per ann. part of the provision made for her by King JamesII (the payment of which, by the ill offices of a favorite at Court, had been for some time discontinu’d) when by a just representation to the Queen by Lord Treasurer Oxford, that Pension began to be repay’d, he always brought the money to her, desiring her to take what part of it she pleas’d for her own use; of which she always took one third.
Another instance in which many people, esteem’d more generous than he, are wanting to their damilies, was, that he always took care to have an eminent physician to attend on his wife all the time she went with child, and during her lyings-in; having besides advis’d to secure his constant care and attendance upoin his only son.
But the strongest indication of his neglecting money-matters, even too much, was his having lost a great part of his fortune meerly through an indolence and unwillingness to take the pains to visit his Estates at some distance from London, in the sapce of forty years.
In a word, he was a good husband, a just and tender father, a constant zealous friend, and one may add, the most agreeable of companions.”
(What do you think? Was the real Earl of Mulgrave a rat-face or misunderstood and maligned? He sounds like such a jerk…and this is someone praising him ? Frightening!)
I want to thank the book seller, Keith Alexander (Abebooks.co.uk); his service was excellent!