Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Germain, John

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GERMAIN, Sir JOHN (1650–1718), soldier of fortune, passed as the son of a private soldier in the life guards of William II, prince of Orange. His mother, who was very handsome, is stated to have been that prince's mistress, and Germain is said to have assumed 'as his seal and armorial bearing' a red cross, implying pretensions to exalted parentage. His military qualities, independently of this supposititious relationship, endeared him to William III, whom he accompanied to England in 1688, and with whom he served in later years in Ireland and Flanders. His personal appearance and courage won favour with women, and his relations with Lady Mary Mordaunt, only surviving child of Henry, earl of Peterborough, and wife of Henry, seventh duke of Norfolk, made his name notorious. They were charged with having committed adultery in 1685,1690, and 1691, and the duke introduced into the House of Lords a bill for a divorce in 1691 and 1692, but it was rejected on each occasion. In November 1692 the duke brought an action in the court of king's bench against Germain, and claimed 50,000l. damages, when 'lascivious conversation' between him and the duchess was proved, but to the astonishment of the court the jury awarded only a hundred marks in damages and costs. A third bill for a divorce passed the House of Lords in 1700. At the death of her father, 19 June 1697, the duchess inherited great estates, including that of Drayton in Northamptonshire, which Charles, the next Earl of Peterborough, tried in vain to secure for himself. A license for the marriage of 'Sir John Germain, of St. James's, Westminster . . . and Lady Mary Mordaunt, of same, spinster,' was granted at the faculty office of the Archbishop of Canterbury at London on 15 Sept. 1701, and shortly afterwards they were married. She died on 17 Nov. 1705, aged 46, and a tomb of grey marble, with her figure above it, was placed under the east window of the north chancel aisle of Lowick Church. By her will Drayton and other property, valued at 70,000l., passed to Germain, who had been knighted at Kensington on 26 Feb. 1698, and exalted to a baronetcy on 25 March in the same year. Immediately on the death of Germain's wife it was rumoured that her brother, the Earl of Peterborough, intended to enter upon legal proceedings for obtaining her property, and in November 1707 a great trial took place, whenthe tithes were assigned to the peer, but the remainder was left to the husband. A second trial, with the same result, occurred in 1710, and for the rest of Germain's life he was involved in constant trouble over the estate. Upon his marriage to Lady Elizabeth Berkeley [see Germain, Lady Elizabeth], it was given out by Peterborough that if Drayton was left to her she should remain in undisturbed possession, and the peer kept his word. Germain died on 11 Dec. 1718, aged 68 years. A tomb of grey marble, with his effigies, and with representations of their three small children before him, was erected to his memory by his second wife near the monument of her predecessor. His 'defective morals were accompanied by a total want of education. A modern colonnade, the pillars of which were at first set up with their capitals downwards,' was constructed by him at Drayton, and he is said to have believed that St. Matthew's Gospel was written by his compatriot, Sir Matthew Decker [q.v.] In his last moments he is said to have been in great distress and desired the sacrament, but Dr. Clarke of St. James's, Westminster, refused to give it to him (Nichols, Lit. Anted, iv. 720).

[Walpole's Corresp. (Cunningham), viii. 58, 297; Prior's Malone, pp. 442-3; Wraxall's Memoirs (1884 ed.), iii. 131-3; Harl. Soc. xxiv. 240 (1886); Le Neve's Knights (Harl. Soc). p. 461; Burke's Extinct Baronetcies; Luttrell's Relation of State Affairs, vol. ii. passim; Bridges's Northamptonshire (1791 ed.), ii. 247-52.]

W. P. C.