Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Rosenhagen, Philip

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ROSENHAGEN, PHILIP (1737?–1798), suggested author of ‘Junius,’ the descendant of a Danish family, was the son of Arnold Rosenhagen of Middlesex, and was born at Isleworth about 1737. His father probably died early, for when admitted at St. Paul's school on 22 June 1751, at the age of fourteen, he was described as the ‘son of Mrs. Rosenhagen of Isleworth.’ He was captain of the school in 1754–5, preceding Sir Philip Francis, his class-fellow and friend throughout life, in that position, and he was contemporary there with Woodfall the printer. In 1755 he obtained an exhibition at his school, and was admitted sizar at St. John's College, Cambridge (20 Oct.). He graduated B.A. (being ninth wrangler) in 1760 and M.A. in 1763. In March 1761 he was elected to a Platt fellowship at his college, and held it until July 1771.

Rosenhagen was ordained, and in 1765 was elected and presented by the university to the small rectory of Mountnessing in Essex, the patronage of which belonged to Lord Petre, a Roman catholic. He was in 1766 domestic chaplain to the Earl of Chesterfield. Soon afterwards he became chaplain to the 8th regiment of foot, and was at once ‘the gayest man in the mess.’ About 1769 he espoused with great eagerness the cause of Wilkes, occasionally wrote in Woodfall's paper, the ‘Public Advertiser,’ and published in 1770 an anonymous ‘Letter to Samuel Johnson, LL.D.’ in reply to the ‘False Alarm.’ It contained some remarkable passages, and Parkes believed that it was strengthened by Francis. He could not restrain himself from gambling, and his excesses forced him to flee to the continent. In the spring and summer of 1771 he was in Spain and the south of France, and scandal reported that he had sojourned at Lyons with Mrs. Pitt, wife of George Pitt (afterwards Earl Rivers). When at Paris in November 1772 he was described as ‘a thorough Frenchman.’ He was staying with his wife at Orleans in 1774.

About 1780 Rosenhagen returned to England and resumed his acquaintance with his old associates. Lord Maynard appointed him in 1781 to the rectory of Little Easton with the donative of Tilty in Essex (Cambridge Chronicle, 22 Sept. 1781). Wraxall knew him, between 1782 and 1785, as ‘a plausible, well-informed man, imposing in his manner, of a classic mind and agreeable conversation, living much in the world, received on the most intimate footing at Shelburne House, and possessing very considerable talents’ (Memoirs, ed. 1884, i. 341). His convivial gifts had made him by 1784 very popular in the circle surrounding the Prince of Wales, who, it has been said, endeavoured to induce Rosenhagen to marry him to Mrs. Fitzherbert, but the price offered for this dangerous act was not high enough. It was perhaps in consequence of this refusal that Rosenhagen became a Pittite. His character, though well known at home, did not prevent his being sent out to Ceylon as archdeacon of Colombo. He was now a martyr to the gout, and an erroneous rumour of his death was noised abroad in 1796 (Gent. Mag. 1796, ii. 1059). He died at Colombo in September 1798 (ib. 1799, i. 252).

It was industriously circulated at one time that Rosenhagen was the author of the ‘Letters of Junius,’ and in the hopes of getting a pension to write no more, he endeavoured to instil this belief in the mind of Lord North. He sent Francis several communications on Indian affairs, and Francis forwarded him at least one long letter. He is said to have left his papers to Francis, including a diary, which was amusing, but ‘too personal to be published.’ Letters from Rosenhagen to Wilkes are in the British Museum (Addit. MSS. 30876 f. 28 and 30877 f. 136), and one to Woodfall in 1767 is in the same collection (27780, f. 6). It appears from these that he had three sons, all provided for by Lord Bridport. Two letters from Elizabeth Rosenhagen, probably his mother, to Wilkes are in Additional MS. 30874 (ff. 94, 98). They are dated from Saffron Walden, May 1793, and refer to her grandson, George Arnold Andrew Rosenhagen.

[Parkes and Merivale's Sir Philip Francis, i. 8, 230–2, 261, 309–10, ii. 222–4, 274–8; Baker's St. John's, ed. Mayor, i. 307–8, ii. 1076; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. x. 216, 315 (giving long extract from Town and Country Mag. 1776, p. 680); Halkett and Laing's Anon. Literature, ii. 1439–40; Gardiner's St. Paul's School, pp. 96, 103, 397, 402; Good's Junius, ed. 1812, i. 121*; information from Mr. Scott, bursar, St. John's Coll. Cambr.]

W. P. C.