Poyntz, Stephen (DNB00)

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POYNTZ, STEPHEN (1685–1750), diplomatist, born in London, and baptised at St. Michael's, Cornhill, in November 1685, was the second son of William Poyntz, upholsterer, of Cornhill, by his second wife, Jane, daughter of Stephen Monteage, merchant of London and Buckingham, whose wife was a sister of Richard Deane [q. v.] (Lipscomb, Buckinghamshire, ii. 579). He was educated at Eton, being a king's scholar and captain of Montem in 1702. On 17 Feb. 1702–3 he was admitted at King's College, Cambridge, and became in due course a fellow of his college, graduating B.A. in 1706, and M.A. in 1711.

Shortly after he left college he travelled with the Duke of Devonshire, and he was also tutor to the sons of Lord Townshend, with whom he was at The Hague in 1709 and 1710. For some time he seems to have acted as Townshend's confidential secretary, communicating on his behalf with the English ambassadors abroad, and, through his chief's influence, he was introduced into the diplomatic service. Poyntz was commissary in 1716 to James, first earl Stanhope, the secretary of state, and envoy-extraordinary and plenipotentiary to Sweden in July 1724; of this mission Poyntz acquitted himself well, though Sir Robert Walpole complained of the large sums which he drew from the English exchequer to secure Sweden's support. In 1728 he was sent as commissioner to the congress at Soissons, where he made the acquaintance of George, first baron Lyttelton [q. v.], and he remained in France until the summer of 1730.

On the formation of the household of the Duke of Cumberland, second son of George II, Poyntz was appointed as the young duke's governor and steward of the household, and throughout his life he continued the prince's trusted adviser. About 1735 he purchased from the family of Hillersdon an estate at Midgham, a chapelry in the parish of Thatcham, near Newbury, Berkshire; the duke spent some of his early years there (Money, Newbury, p. 335), and two rooms, still called ‘the duke's rooms,’ were added to the house for his accommodation (Godwin, Newbury Worthies, pp. 49–50). As a mark of esteem for his services, a very beautiful vase, ornamented with figures in high relief, was placed by Queen Caroline in the grounds at Midgham (Mrs. Roundell, Cowdray, p. 107). Poyntz played an important part at court. He acted in 1734 as the medium of communication between the king and queen and an Austrian envoy (Hervey, Memoirs, ii. 54–5). It was in his rooms at St. James's Palace that the famous Earl of Peterborough in 1735 formally acknowledged to the company that Anastasia Robinson was his wife (Burney, History of Music, iv. 247–9). In 1735 he was created a privy councillor, and he received the sinecure post of inspector of prosecutions in the exchequer concerning ‘prohibited and uncustomed goods.’ He died at Midgham on 17 Dec. 1750, and was buried there. Horace Walpole says that he was ‘ruined in his circumstances by a devout brother, whom he had trusted, and by a simple wife, who had a devotion of marrying dozens of her poor cousins at his expense; you know she was the “Fair Circassian.” Mr. Poyntz was called a very great man, but few knew anything of his talents, for he was timorous to childishness. The duke has done greatly for his family and secured his places for his children, and sends his two sons abroad, allowing them 800l. a year’ (Letters, ii. 233).

Poyntz's influence at court, his talents, and his kindly disposition were acknowledged on all sides. Carlyle, in his ‘Memoirs of Frederick the Great’ (ii. 58), characteristically describes him as ‘a once bright gentleman, now dim and obsolete.’

Poyntz married, in February 1732–3, Anna Maria Mordaunt, daughter of the Hon. Lewis Mordaunt, brigadier-general, and maid of honour to Queen Caroline. She had been a great beauty, and her charms were described by Samuel Croxall [q. v.] in his poem of the ‘Fair Circassian.’ They had two sons—William of Midgham (d. 1809), and Charles, prebendary of Durham—and two daughters, Margaret Georgina and Louisa. The latter died unmarried, but Margaret Georgina became the wife, at Althorp, on 27 Dec. 1755 (the day after he came of age), of John, afterwards first earl Spencer. Mrs. Calderwood of Polton met the Spencers and the whole of the Poyntz family travelling at Spa in great state in 1756. Mrs. Poyntz was then a ‘deaf, shortsighted, loud-spoken, hackney-headed wife, and played at cards from morning till night.’ Mrs. Spencer was ‘a very sweet-like girl; her sister is a great hoyden’ (Journals, pp. 189–92). Mrs. Poyntz was in great favour at Versailles in August 1763, when she cured Madame Victoire of the stone (Walpole, Letters, iv. 110). She died at Midgham on 14 Nov. 1771, and was buried there (cf. Walpole, George III, ed. Barker, i. 187–8).

Poyntz was the author of a ‘Vindication of the Barrier Treaty,’ which is erroneously printed among Bishop Hare's writings. It was an ‘excellent work’ (Coxe, Horatio, Lord Walpole, ii. 398). Lord Lyttelton, Lord Hervey, Sir C. Hanbury Williams, Nicholas Hardinge, and others addressed verses to Poyntz (cf. Gent. Mag. x. 459; Dodsley, Collection, ii. 31, iv. 239; New Foundling Hospital for Wit, 1786 edit. i. 242–3, iii. 61–4; Nichols, Illustr. of Lit. i. 555, 687–91; Memoirs of Sneyd Davies, p. 209; Select Collection, vi. 85; Hardinge, Poems, pp. 202–5).

Poyntz was a friend of Samuel Richardson, the novelist. Through his agency the sum of 100l. is said to have been granted by Queen Caroline to Elizabeth Elstob [q. v.], and when James Ferguson, the astronomer, came to London in May 1743, he brought with him a letter of recommendation to Poyntz, who befriended him in every way. Ferguson drew the portraits of Mrs. Poyntz and the children, so that Poyntz might be able from personal knowledge to speak favourably of the skill of the artist. A portrait of Poyntz was painted by John Fayram, and engraved by J. Faber. Another, painted by Thomas Hudson, belongs to the Earl Spencer.

[Maclean's Memoir of the Poyntz Family; Gent. Mag. 1750 pp. 570–1, 1789 pt. ii. p. 447; Nichols's Lit. Anecdotes, iv. 596, 714, v. 339, viii. 520, 543; Elwes and Robinson's Castles of Western Sussex, p. 79; Harwood's Alumni Eton. p. 286; E. M. Boyle's 64 Quartiers of his Family; Registrum Regale, 1847, p. 44; Coxe's Sir Robert Walpole, vol. i. pp. xxvi, 743, ii. 471–3; Smith's Mezzotint Portraits, i. 413–14; Mrs. Calderwood's Journals, pp. 189–92; Le Marchant's Earl Spencer, pp. 2–6; Lysons's Berkshire, p. 387. For letters to and from Poyntz see Hist. MSS. Comm. 10th Rep. App. pt. i. and 11th Rep. App.; Additional MSS. Brit. Mus. 9151, 28156, 23780, 23793, and 23801; Coxe's Life of Sir Robert Walpole, ii. 55 et seq., 627–85, iii. 607–9; Phillimore's Life of Lord Lyttelton, i. 35. A schedule of his real and personal estate is in the Addit. MS. 25086.]

W. P. C.