Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Seymour, Charles

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

SEYMOUR, CHARLES, sixth Duke of Somerset (1662–1748), born on 12 Aug. 1662, was youngest son of Charles, second baron Seymour of Trowbridge (d. 1665), and fourth son by his father's second wife, Elizabeth, daughter of William Alington, first baron Alington. The father was eldest son and heir of Francis, first baron Seymour of Trowbridge [q. v.], younger brother of William, second duke of Somerset [q. v.] Charles's elder brother Francis, who was born on 17 Jan. 1657, not only succeeded his father as third Baron Seymour of Trowbridge, but became fifth Duke of Somerset on the death, in 1675, of his cousin John, fourth duke; he was murdered at Lerici, near Genoa, on 20 April 1678. He was said to have offered an affront in the church of the Augustinians at Lerici to a lady of rank, whereupon the latter's husband, Horatio Botti, shot the duke at the door of his inn. The murdered man's uncle, Lord Alington, demanded satisfaction of the republic, but Botti escaped, and his effigy only was hung by the Genoese.

Charles, who had recently entered at Trinity College, Cambridge, thus succeeded to the dukedom; but it was to his marriage he owed all his wealth and at least half of his importance. His wife, Elizabeth Percy, born on 26 Jan. 1667, was the only surviving daughter and sole heiress of Josceline, eleventh and last earl of Northumberland. At the age of four she succeeded to the honours and estates of the house of Percy, holding in her own right six of the oldest baronies in the kingdom, namely Percy, Lucy, Poynings, Fitz-Payne, Bryan, and Latimer. She was brought up by her grandmother, the dowager countess [see under Percy, Algernon, tenth Earl], who in February 1679 refused her ward's hand to Charles II for his son, the Duke of Richmond [see Lennox, Charles, first Duke], and a few weeks later bestowed the heiress upon Henry Cavendish, earl of Ogle, a sickly boy of fifteen, heir of Henry, second duke of Newcastle. The victim's great-aunt, ‘Sacharissa,’ found the bridegroom the ugliest and ‘saddest creature.’ However, he took the name of Percy, and it was arranged that he should travel for two years. Before a year had elapsed he died, and the old countess lost no time in arranging a fresh match between her ward and (by way of contrast) a well-battered rake, Thomas Thynne [q. v.] of Longleat in Wiltshire, familiarly known as ‘Tom of Ten Thousand.’ Thynne was formally married to Lady Ogle in the summer of 1681, but immediately after the wedding the bride of fourteen fled for protection to Lady Temple at The Hague, and Thynne was murdered in Pall Mall by hired assassins on 12 Feb. 1681–2, at the instigation of Count Charles Konigsmark, who had been a rival suitor for the Countess of Ogle. Some three months after Thynne's death the countess, who was now fifteen, consented to regard the Duke of Somerset in the light of a suitor, and on 30 May 1682 they were married, the duke having previously agreed to assume the names and arms of Percy; but from this agreement he was released when his wife came of age. Besides the estates and the territorial influence of the Percys, Somerset thus became master of Alnwick Castle, Petworth, Syon House, and Northampton, better known by its later title of Northumberland House in the Strand.

Somerset was appointed a gentleman of the bedchamber in 1683, was installed K.G. on 8 April 1684, and was second mourner at Charles II's funeral. His handsome figure appeared to advantage in pageants of this character, for which he showed an extraordinary predilection, taking a chief part at the funerals of Mary, William III, Anne, and George I, and bearing the orb at four coronations. His wife was chief mourner at the funeral of Mary. On 2 Aug. 1685 he was appointed colonel of the queen's dragoons (now 3rd hussars), a regiment formed out of some troops specially raised to cope with Monmouth's rebellion. In July 1687 James assigned to Somerset as first lord of the bedchamber the duty of introducing at St. James's the papal nuncio d'Adda, whom James was determined to receive publicly in his official character. Somerset objected to the task on the ground that its performance would subject him to a heavy penalty under the law of the land. ‘I would have you fear me as well as the law,’ said James. ‘I cannot fear you,’ was the answer; ‘as long as I commit no offence I am secure in your majesty's justice.’ He lost his place and his regiment, but his spirited conduct raised him high in the estimation of the people.

Somerset was ‘one of those in arms’ with the Prince of Orange in 1688, but he took a much less conspicuous part than his kinsman, Sir Edward Seymour [q. v.] In 1689 he was elected chancellor of Cambridge University (he was incorporated D.C.L. at Oxford in August 1702). He succeeded Halifax as speaker of the lords in 1690, and was one of the regents in July to November 1701. William looked coldly upon him, but with Anne he was a prime favourite. When, as princess, she had been summarily ejected from the cockpit in April 1692, and the courtiers were forbidden to countenance her, Somerset had caused her to be warmly welcomed at Syon House (cf. London Gazette, No. 2758). By her influence he was made in 1702 master of the horse, and in 1706 one of the commissioners for the union with Scotland. In December 1703 he was sent to Portsmouth to welcome the Archduke Charles as king of Spain, and figured prominently in the magnificent ceremonial devised for the occasion. He supported Marlborough in the ministerial crisis of February 1708; but Marlborough thought that the mastership of the horse was fully commensurate with Somerset's abilities, and ignored his claims to further advancement, being at some pains to explain to his wife that he never dreamed of employing so witless a person ‘in anything that is of any consequence’ (Works, x. 300). Somerset was consequently driven into the arms of Harley, and, though he was dismayed by the extent of the tory reaction in 1710, he retained his place in the council until August 1711. St. John was at last successful in his ruses to get rid of him, but he still had a large share in the confidence of Anne. His wife, too, despite her extreme coolness towards Harley and Mrs. Masham, remained mistress of the robes and groom of the stole, in which she had succeeded the Duchess of Marlborough in January 1711, and the queen was proof against all the efforts made to remove her. No one worked harder for this object than Swift, who, in December 1711, circulated a cruel lampoon upon the duchess, ‘The Windsor Prophecy’ (which he afterwards tried to recall). In it she was reproached with red hair (‘Beware of carrots from Northumberland’) and the murder of Thynne. But the confidante continued, in Swift's words, to ‘instil venom into the royal ear.’ She certainly aided the Hanoverian interests and influenced her husband in the same direction.

When the queen lay dying, Somerset repaired to the council board, where he had been a stranger for three years, and supported Shrewsbury, Somers, and Argyll in the steps taken to ensure the succession of George I. The new king reinstated him as master of the horse. Two years later, however, upon being refused permission to bail his son-in-law, Sir William Wyndham [q. v.], who was suspected of corresponding with the Pretender, Somerset expressed his indignation in terms which procured his dismissal. Henceforth he devoted himself to ruling his family and estates, and Horace Walpole often cites him as the type of aristocratic arrogance and parental despotism. He became known as ‘the proud duke,’ and the tradition of his pride is kept alive by the anecdote that, when his second duchess once tapped him with her fan, he remarked, ‘Madam, my first duchess was a Percy, and she never took such a liberty.’ He mulcted his daughter Charlotte of 20,000l. of her inheritance for having sat down in his presence. His domestics obeyed him by signs, and, when he travelled, the country roads were scoured by outriders, whose duty it was to protect him from the gaze of the vulgar. He died at his seat of Petworth, Sussex, on 2 Dec. 1748, and he was buried in Salisbury Cathedral, where a statue by Rysbrack surmounts a clumsy Latin epitaph. The following is Macky's description of 1702, the interpolation being Swift's: ‘Of a middle stature, well shaped, a very black complexion, a lover of music and poetry, of good judgement [not a grain, hardly common sense], but by reason of a great hesitation in his speech wants expression.’ He appears in history as a well-meaning man of slender understanding. He was a member of the Kit-Cat Club, and the portrait by Kneller, in a full-bottomed wig, with the order of the Garter, has been engraved by Simon, and by Holl for Lodge's ‘Portraits,’ and others. There are two portraits by Lely of the first duchess, which have often been engraved.

Somerset's first wife died on 23 Nov. 1722, leaving Algernon, earl of Hertford, afterwards seventh duke [see below], two other sons, and three daughters: Elizabeth, who married Henry O'Brien, earl of Thomond; Catharine, who married Sir William Wyndham; and Anne, who married Peregrine Osborne, afterwards duke of Leeds. The duke married, secondly, on 4 Feb. 1725–6, Charlotte, third daughter of Daniel Finch, second earl of Nottingham, by whom he had issue: Frances, who married John Manners, marquis of Granby [q. v.], and Charlotte, who married Heneage Finch, earl of Aylesford. The second duchess died at Sutton Court, Chiswick, on 21 Jan. 1773.

The eldest son, Algernon Seymour, seventh Duke (1684–1750), born 11 Nov. 1684, joined the army under Marlborough at Brussels in May 1708, and bore the despatch to the queen after Oudenarde in the following November. Early next year he became colonel of the 15th foot, was promoted captain and colonel of the 2nd troop of horse-guards in 1715, colonel of the regiment in 1740, general of the horse and governor of Minorca from 1737 to 1742. On the death of his mother, in 1722, Lord Hertford wrongly assumed the title of Baron Percy (cf. G. E. C., Peerage); and in 1749, a year after his father's death, he was created Earl of Northumberland. He married in 1713 Frances, eldest daughter and coheir of Henry Thynne (only son and heir of Thomas, first viscount Weymouth). She was a lady of the bedchamber to Queen Caroline, and aspired to the patronage of learning. She corresponded with Henrietta Louisa Fermor, countess of Pomfret [q. v.], and Mrs. Elizabeth Rowe [q. v.] (her letters were edited by William Bingley, 1805, 12mo), entertained Thomson and Shenstone at Alnwick, and in March 1728 was instrumental in procuring the pardon for homicide of Richard Savage [q. v.] Thomson dedicated his poem ‘Spring’ to her in 1727. She was buried beside her husband, in Westminster Abbey, on 20 July 1754.

Upon the death of the seventh duke, on 7 Feb. 1750, without surviving male issue, a great dispersion of his various titles took place. The barony of Percy went to his daughter, Lady Elizabeth Seymour; the earldom of Northumberland to his son-in-law, Sir Hugh Smithson Percy [q. v.]; the earldom of Egremont (cr. 1749) to his nephew, Sir Charles Wyndham; while a remote cousin, Sir Edward Seymour (1695?–1757), grandson of Sir Edward, the speaker and fourth baronet [q. v.], became eighth duke of Somerset [see under Seymour, Edward Adolphus, eleventh Duke].

[Collins's Peerage, 1779, ii. 469; G. E. C[okayne]'s Complete Peerage, s.v. ‘Somerset;’ De Fonblanque's House of Percy; Luttrell's Brief Hist. Narration; Evelyn's Diary; Reresby's Diary; Dryden's Works, ed. Scott and Saintsbury; Swift's Works, ed. Scott; Memoirs of the Kit-Cat Club, 1821; Boyer's Annals of Queen Anne; Wentworth's Journal, passim; Marlborough Despatches, ed. Murray, iv. passim; Walpole's Correspondence, ed. Cunningham, vols. i. and ii.; Wyon's Hist. of Queen Anne; Lingard's Hist. of England; Aungier's Syon Monastery, p. 113; Jesse's Court of England, 1688–1760; Craik's Romance of the Peerage; Wheatley and Cunningham's London Past and Present; Burke's Romance of the Peerage, i. 12; Collect. Topogr. et Geneal. v. 346.]

T. S.