The Romance of Lady Isabel Burton, by Isabel Burton

Chapter I

Birth and Lineage

Man is known among men as his deeds attest,

Which make noble origin manifest.

Alf Laylah wa Laylah (Burton’s “Arabian Nights”).

Isabel, Lady Burton, was by birth an Arundell of Wardour, a daughter of one of the oldest and proudest houses of England. The Arundells of Wardour are a branch of the great family of whom it was sung:

Ere William fought and Harold fell

There were Earls of Arundell.

The Earls of Arundell before the Conquest are somewhat lost in the mists of antiquity, and they do not affect the branch of the family from which Lady Burton sprang. This branch traces its descent in a straight line from one Roger de Arundell, who, according to Domesday, had estates in Dorset and Somerset, and was possessed of twenty-eight lordships. The Knights of Arundell were an adventurous race. One of the most famous was Sir John Arundell, a valiant commander who served Henry VI. in France. The grandson of this doughty knight, also Sir John Arundell, was made a Knight Banneret by Henry VII. for his valour at the sieges of Tiroven and Tournay, and the battle that ensued. At his death his large estates were divided between the two sons whom he had by his first wife, the Lady Eleanor Grey, daughter of the Marquis of Dorset, whose half-sister was the wife of Henry VII. The second son, Sir Thomas Arundell, was given Wardour Castle in Wiltshire, and became the ancestor of the Arundells of Wardour.

The House of Wardour was therefore founded by Sir Thomas Arundell, who was born in 1500. He had the good fortune in early life to become the pupil, and ultimately to win the friendship, of Cardinal Wolsey. He played a considerable part throughout the troublous times which followed on the King’s quarrel with the Pope, and attained great wealth and influence. He was a cousin-german of Henry VIII., and he was allied to two of Henry’s ill-fated queens through his marriage with Margaret, daughter of Lord Edmond Howard, son of Thomas, Duke of Norfolk. His wife was a cousin-german of Anne Boleyn and a sister of Catherine Howard. Sir Thomas Arundell was a man of intellectual powers and administrative ability. He became Chancellor to Queen Catherine Howard, and he stood high in the favour of Henry VIII. But in the following reign evil days came upon him. He was accused of conspiring with the Lord Protector Somerset to kill the Earl of Northumberland, a charge utterly false, the real reason of his impeachment being that Sir Thomas had been chief adviser to the Duke of Somerset and had identified himself with his policy. He was beheaded on Tower Hill a few days after the execution of the Duke of Somerset. Thus died the founder of the House of Wardour.

In Sir Thomas Arundell’s grandson, who afterwards became first Lord Arundell of Wardour, the adventurous spirit of the Arundells broke forth afresh. When a young man, Thomas Arundell, commonly called “The Valiant,” went over to Germany, and served as a volunteer in the Imperial army in Hungary. He fought against the Turks, and in an engagement at Grau took their standard with his own hands. On this account Rudolph II., Emperor of Germany, created him Count of the Holy Roman Empire, and decreed that “every of his children and their descendants for ever, of both sexes, should enjoy that title.” So runs the wording of the charter.1 On Sir Thomas Arundell’s return to England a warm dispute arose among the Peers whether such a dignity, so conferred by a foreign potentate, should be allowed place or privilege in England. The matter was referred to Queen Elizabeth, who answered, “that there was a close tie of affection between the Prince and subject, and that as chaste wives should have no glances but for their own spouses, so should faithful subjects keep their eyes at home and not gaze upon foreign crowns; that we for our part do not care that our sheep should wear a stranger’s marks, nor dance after the whistle of every foreigner.” Yet it was she who sent Sir Thomas Arundell in the first instance to the Emperor Rudolph with a letter of introduction, in which she spoke of him as her “dearest cousin,” and stated that the descent of the family of Arundell was derived from the blood royal. James I., while following in the footsteps of Queen Elizabeth, and refusing to acknowledge the title conferred by the Emperor, acknowledged Sir Thomas Arundell’s worth by creating him a Baron of England under the title of Baron Arundell of Wardour. It is worthy of note that James II. recognized the right of the title of Count of the Holy Roman Empire to Lord Arundell and all his descendants of both sexes in a document of general interest to Catholic families.

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Wardour Castle

Thomas, second Baron Arundell of Wardour, married Blanche, daughter of the Earl of Worcester. This Lady Arundell calls for special notice, as she was in many ways the prototype of her lineal descendant, Isabel. When her husband was away serving with the King’s army in the Great Rebellion, Lady Arundell bravely defended Wardour for nine days, with only a handful of men, against the Parliamentary forces who besieged it. Lady Arundell then delivered up the castle on honourable terms, which the besiegers broke when they took possession. They were, however, soon dislodged by Lord Arundell, who, on his return, ordered a mine to be sprung under his castle, and thus sacrificed the ancient and stately pile to his loyalty. He and his wife then turned their backs on their ruined home, and followed the King’s fortunes, she sharing with uncomplaining love all her husband’s trials and privations. Lord Arundell, like the rest of the Catholic nobility of England, was a devoted Royalist. He raised at his own expense a regiment of horse for the service of Charles I., and in the battle of Lansdowne, when fighting for the King, he was shot in the thigh by a brace of pistol bullets, whereof he died in his Majesty’s garrison at Oxford. He was buried with great pomp in the family vault at Tisbury. His devoted wife, like her descendant Lady Burton, that other devoted wife who strongly resembled her, survived her husband barely six years. She died at Winchester; but she was buried by his side at Tisbury, where her monument may still be seen.

Henry, third Lord Arundell, succeeded his father in his titles and honours. Like many who had made great sacrifices to the Royal cause, he did not find an exceeding great reward when the King came into his own again. As Arundell of Wardour was one of the strictest and most loyal of the Catholic families of England, its head was marked out for Puritan persecution. In 1678 Lord Arundell was, with four other Catholic lords, committed a prisoner to the Tower, upon the information of the infamous Titus Oates and other miscreants who invented the “Popish Plots.” Lord Arundell was confined in the Tower until 1683, when he was admitted to bail. Five years’ imprisonment for no offence save fidelity to his religion and loyalty to his king was cruel injustice; but in those days, when the blood of the best Catholic families in England ran like water on Tower Hill, Lord Arundell was lucky to have escaped with his head. On James II.‘s accession to the throne he was sworn of the Privy Council and held high office. On King James’s abdication he retired to his country seat, where he lived in great style and with lavish hospitality. Among other things he kept a celebrated pack of hounds, which afterwards went to Lord Castlehaven, and thence were sold to Hugo Meynell, and became the progenitors of the famous Quorn pack.

Henry, the sixth Baron, is noteworthy as being the last Lord Arundell of Wardour from whom Isabel was directly descended (see p. 9), and with him our immediate interest in the Arundells of Wardour ceases. Lady Burton was the great-granddaughter of James Everard Arundell, his third and youngest son. Her father, Mr. Henry Raymond Arundell, was twice married. His first wife died within a year of their marriage, leaving one son. Two years later, in 1830, Mr. Henry Arundell married Miss Eliza Gerard, a sister of Sir Robert Gerard of Garswood, who was afterwards created Lord Gerard. The following year, 1831, Isabel, the subject of this memoir, was born.

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I have dwelt on Lady Burton's lineage for several reasons. In the first place, she herself would have wished it. She paid great attention to her pedigree, and at one time contemplated writing a book on the Arundells of Wardour, and with this view collected a mass of information, which, with characteristic generosity, she afterwards placed at Mr. Yeatman’s disposal for his History of the House of Arundell. She regarded her forefathers with reverence, and herself as their product. But proud though she was of her ancestry, there never was a woman freer from the vulgarity of thrusting it forward upon all and sundry, or of expecting to be honoured for it alone. Though of noble descent, not only on her father’s side, but on her mother’s as well (for the Gerards are a family of eminence and antiquity, springing from the common ancestor of the Dukes of Leinster in Ireland and the Earls of Plymouth, now extinct, in England), yet she counted it as nothing compared with the nobility of the inner worth, the majesty which clothes the man, be he peasant or prince, with righteousness. She often said, “The man only is noble who does noble deeds,” and she always held that

He, who to ancient wreaths can bring no more

From his own worth, dies bankrupt on the score.

Another reason why I have called attention to Lady Burton’s ancestry is because she attached considerable importance to the question of heredity generally, quite apart from any personal aspect. She looked upon it as a field in which Nature ever reproduces herself, not only with regard to the physical organism, but also the psychical qualities. But with it all she was no pessimist, for she believed that there was in every man an ever rallying force against the inherited tendencies to vice and sin. She was always “on the side of the angels.”

I remember her once saying: “Since I leave none to come after me, I must needs strive to be worthy of those who have gone before me.”

And she was worthy — she, the daughter of an ancient race, which seems to have found in her its crowning consummation and expression. If one were fanciful, one could see in her many-sided character, reflected as in the facets of a diamond, the great qualities which had been conspicuous in her ancestors. One could see in her, plainly portrayed, the roving, adventurous spirit which characterized the doughty Knights of Arundell in days when the field of travel and adventure was much more limited than now. One could mark the intellectual and administrative abilities, and perhaps the spice of worldly wisdom, which were conspicuous in the founder of the House of Wardour. One could note in her the qualities of bravery, dare-devilry, and love of conflict which shone out so strongly in the old Knight of Arundell who raised the sieges of Tiroven and Tournay, and in “The Valiant” who captured with his own hands the banner of the infidel. One could see the reflex of that loyalty to the throne which marked the Lord Arundell who died fighting for his king. One could trace in her the same tenacity and devotion with which all her race has clung to the ancient faith and which sent one of them to the Tower. Above all one could trace her likeness to Blanche Lady Arundell, who held Wardour at her lord’s bidding against the rebels. She was like her in her lion-hearted bravery, in her proud but generous spirit, in her determination and resource, and above all in her passionate wifely devotion to the man to whom she felt herself “destined from the beginning.”

In sooth they were a goodly company, these Arundells of Wardour, and ’tis such as they, brave men and good women in every rank of life, who have made England the nation she is to-day. Yet of them all there was none nobler, none truer, none more remarkable than this late flower of their race, Isabel Burton.

1 The name of Arundell of Wardour appears in the official Austrian lists of the Counts of the Empire. The title is till enjoyed by Lord Arundell and all the members of the Arundell family of both sexes. Lady Burton always used it out of England, and took rank and precedence at foreign courts as the Countess Isabel Arundell (of Wardour). She used to say, characteristically: “If the thing had been bought, I should not have cared; but since it was given for a brave deed I am right proud of it.”

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:33