Charteris, Francis (DNB00)

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CHARTERIS, FRANCIS (1675–1732), colonel, notorious criminal, son of John, second son of Sir John Charteris of Amisfield, was born in 1675. On the death of his uncle without male issue he became male representative of the family of Amisfield, but the estate passed to his cousin Elizabeth, sole heiress of his uncle. Her son, Thomas Hogg, assumed the name of Charteris, and became the ancestor of the family of Aimisfield in Dumfriesshire, but Colonel Charteris also gave the name of Amisfield to the property of Newmills, near Haddington, which he had purchased. At an early age Charteris entered the army, but while an ensign was drummed out of his regiment for cheating at cards. After serving for some time in a Dutch regiment of foot, he was again expelled, this time, it is said, for stealing a large piece of beef from a butcher’s shambles at Bruges. On his return to Scotland his father purchased for him a pair of colours in the 3rd regiment of foot guards, then commanded by Major-general Ramsay, but the officers refused to enrol him. While in command of a company in the lst regiment of foot guards a charge was brought against him in 1711 of receiving large sums of money from tradesmen for enlisting them in his company to save them from arrest, and the charge having been investigated by a committee of the House of Commons, he was on 20 May reported guilty, whereupon he received a severe reprimand on his knees at the bar of the house by the Speaker. His career in the army not being a remarkable success, Charteris ceased at last to persevere in it, and devoted all his serious attention to gambling. By a combination of skill, tricks , and effrontery he managed to acquire large sums of money from nearly every one whom he selected to be his victim. The money thus obtained he lent out at exorbitant interest to the spendthrifts of his acquaintance, and, by distraining remorseless as soon as the payments became due, he acquired in a short time an immense fortune, the value of his estates in various counties ultimately amounting to about 7,000l. a year, in addition to 100,000l. in the stocks. He was equally eager in the gratification of his lower appetites and ‘persisted, in the words of Arbuthnot, ‘in spite of age and infirmities, in the pursuit of every human vice excepting prodigality and hypocrisy.’ Pope frequently introduces his name in his verses, as in the phrase ‘Chartres and the devil’ (Moral Essays, Ep. iii.), or the caustic lines:-

[Shall] some old temple, nodding to its fall,
For Chartres’ head reserve the hanging wall?
Essay on Alan, Ep. iv. 130.

He also appears in the first plate of the ‘Rake's Progress’ by Hogarth. As Charteris was utterly heedless of his reputation he did not scruple to decline a challenge to a duel when for any reason he preferred not to fight; but that personal cowardiee was at least not one of his constant characteristics is proved by the fact that he would occasionally accept the challenge and kill his man. In 1730 he was convicted at the Old Bailey for rape on his maid-servant, but after a short imprisonment in Newgate, and some confiscations was pardoned by the king. He died at his seat of Stoney Hill, near Musselburgh, in February 1731-2, in his fifty-seventh year. When he knew that he was dying, he is said to have left off swearing, and to have ordered, ‘with a great roar, that on his dissolution his just debts should be paid. He also expressed his willingness to give 30,000l. to be assured that there was no hell, remarking at the same time that the existence of heaven was to him a matter of indifference. During the night o his death the district was visited by a dreadful tempest, which the populace interpreted as a token of divine vengence. At his funeral they raised a great riot, almost tore the body out of the coffin, and cast dead dogs and offal into the grave along with it. In the following April number of the 'Gentleman’s Magazine’ (ii. 718) there appeared the pungent epitaph on him, under the name of Don Francisco, by Dr. Arbuthnot, often reprinted in the notes to Pope's works. He married Helen, daughter of Sir Alexander Swinton, lord Mornington, of the College of Justice, by whom he had one daughter, Janet, married to James, fourth earl of Wemyss. The bulk of his property and estates was left to her second son, the Hon. Francis Wemyss, afterwards fifth earl, who in consequence assumed the name and arms of Charteris. To the countess, his daughter, he left 1,200l., and to her husband, the Earl of Wemyss, 10,000l. The manor house of Stoneyhill, with 1,000l., was bequeathed to his law agent, the well-known Duncan Forbes of Culloden, of whom he said that his honesty was so whimsical that it was 45 per cent. above that of Don Quixote.

[Works of Pope; Case of Colonel Charteris, 1711, and various other pamphlets on the same subject; Proceedings at the Sessions of the Peace and Oyer and Terminer for the City of London and county of Middlesex held at Justice Hall in the Old Bailey. on Friday the 17th February last, ... upon a bill of indictment found against Francis Charteris, esq., for committing a rape on the body of Anne Bond. of which he was found guilty, London 1730; Scotch gallantry displayed, or the Life and Adventures of the unparalleled Col. Fr-ne-s Ch-rt-s impartially related, 1730; The Life and Actions of Colonel Ch —s, 1739; Life of Colonel Don Francisco, with a woodcut of Colonel Charteris or Chartres, 1730; Political State of Great Britain. i. 241. xxxix. 321, 431, xliii. 301; London Magazine, i. 39; Gent. Mag. ii. 677-8, 718.]

T. F. H.