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

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HATFIELD, JOHN (1758?–1803), forger, born of parents in humble circumstances, at Mottram in Longendale, Cheshire, before 1759, seems to have had a fair education. He became traveller to a linendraper in the North of England about 1772, and paid his addresses to a natural daughter of Lord Robert Manners, who was to receive a dower of 1,000l. if she married with her father's approbation. Lord Robert, deceived by Hatfield's demeanour, assented to his proposal of marriage, and presented him at his wedding with 1,500l. Hatfield shortly went up to London, described himself as a near relation of the Rutland family, and lived in luxury. When his money was spent he disappeared, abandoning his wife (who soon died broken-hearted) and three daughters.

After several years' absence Hatfield returned to London in 1782. His career was cut short by his committal to the King's Bench prison for a debt of 160l. Here by his arts of lying and boasting he induced a clergyman to lay his case before the Duke of Rutland, who generously sent him 200l. and secured his release. When the duke became lord-lieutenant of Ireland in 1784, Hatfield went to Dublin, and by impudently claiming relationship with the viceroy lived for a time on credit. He was soon committed to the Marshalsea, when the duke again paid his debts and sent him out of the country. He continued his career of imposture until arrested for an hotel bill at Scarborough on 25 April 1792. He remained in the Scarborough gaol for more than seven years, but eventually managed to excite the pity of Miss Nation, a Devonshire lady, who lived with her mother in a house opposite the prison. She paid his debts, and, though she is said never to have spoken to him till he quitted the gaol, married him next morning (14 Sept. 1800). The pair went to Dulverton in Somersetshire, where by fraudulent representations Hatfield obtained both money and credit. He lived in London once again in magnificent style, and even canvassed Queenborough, hoping, no doubt, to get as a member of parliament immunity from arrest, but, pressed by his creditors, he procured a few hundred pounds and disappeared, leaving his second wife and her young child in Somersetshire entirely dependent on charity. In August 1801 he arrived at Keswick in Cumberland, in a handsome carriage, and assumed the name of the Hon. Alexander Augustus Hope, M.P. for Linlithgow, brother of the Earl of Hopetoun. He spent his time in excursions, and on a visit to Grasmere became acquainted with a Liverpool gentleman named Crump, whose name and credit he employed when in want of money. By boldly franking letters in his assumed name he silenced all suspicion in the neighbourhood. An intrigue with a lady of fortune came to nothing. But the reputation of Mary Robinson, the ‘Buttermere Beauty,’ led him to pay many visits to the Fish Inn, Buttermere, of which the girl's father was landlord. After ascertaining that Mary's family had some means, he married her at Lorton Church on 2 Oct. 1802. Newspapers reported the marriage of the famed ‘Buttermere Beauty’ to a member of the aristocracy, and Lord Hopetoun's family made it known that Colonel Hope was then residing in Vienna. After his wedding Hatfield set out for Scotland, but in four or five days returned with Mary to her father's house. George Hardinge [q. v.], the Welsh judge, who knew Colonel Hope and had heard of the imposture, went to Keswick, and invited Hatfield to visit him. Hatfield went over to Keswick, and was introduced to Hardinge by a friendly creditor. Hatfield asserted that his name was Hope, but that he was not the member for Linlithgow. A warrant for his apprehension was, however, granted, and he was placed in the custody of the constable. He treated the matter as a mistake, and cleverly contrived to escape from his custodians. In November a reward of 50l. was offered for his apprehension, a description of him was widely circulated, and he was seized at a village sixteen miles from Swansea soon after. The trial took place at Carlisle on 15 Aug. 1803. To three indictments for forgery Hatfield pleaded not guilty. But the charges were fully proved. He was sentenced to be hanged, and met his death with the utmost coolness on Saturday, 13 Sept. Much of the interest excited in the case was due to Hatfield's connection with the beautiful Mary of Buttermere, whose sufferings at Hatfield's hands excited general sympathy. A public subscription was raised in both London and her own county to meet the pecuniary loss which she and her family had sustained. She afterwards married a respectable farmer and removed to a distant part of the county. Mary and her false lover were the subject at the time of many novels, verses, dramas, and tales. A portrait of Hatfield, published 5 Jan. 1803, is inserted in Kirby's ‘Museum,’ i. 309.

[Account of the Trial of Mr. John Hatfield, Liverpool, 1803; Trial of John Hatfield, London, 1803; Life of Mary Robinson, London, 1803; Life of John Hatfield, Carlisle, 1846; Kirby's Wonderful and Eccentric Museum, vol. i.; Tales and Legends of the English Lakes, by Lorenzo Tuvar; Knapp and Baldwin's Newgate Calendar, iii. 344–54; private information.]

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