The History of Henry Esmond, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter II.

Relates How Francis, Fourth Viscount, Arrives at Castlewood.

’Tis known that the name of Esmond and the estate of Castlewood, com. Hants, came into possession of the present family through Dorothea, daughter and heiress of Edward, Earl and Marquis Esmond, and Lord of Castlewood, which lady married, 23 Eliz., Henry Poyns, gent.; the said Henry being then a page in the household of her father. Francis, son and heir of the above Henry and Dorothea, who took the maternal name which the family hath borne subsequently, was made Knight and Baronet by King James the First; and being of a military disposition, remained long in Germany with the Elector-Palatine, in whose service Sir Francis incurred both expense and danger, lending large sums of money to that unfortunate Prince; and receiving many wounds in the battles against the Imperialists, in which Sir Francis engaged.

On his return home Sir Francis was rewarded for his services and many sacrifices, by his late Majesty James the First, who graciously conferred upon this tried servant the post of Warden of the Butteries and Groom of the King’s Posset, which high and confidential office he filled in that king’s and his unhappy successor’s reign.

His age, and many wounds and infirmities, obliged Sir Francis to perform much of his duty by deputy: and his son, Sir George Esmond, knight and banneret, first as his father’s lieutenant, and afterwards as inheritor of his father’s title and dignity, performed this office during almost the whole of the reign of King Charles the First, and his two sons who succeeded him.

Sir George Esmond married, rather beneath the rank that a person of his name and honor might aspire to, the daughter of Thos. Topham, of the city of London, alderman and goldsmith, who, taking the Parliamentary side in the troubles then commencing, disappointed Sir George of the property which he expected at the demise of his father-inlaw, who devised his money to his second daughter, Barbara, a spinster.

Sir George Esmond, on his part, was conspicuous for his attachment and loyalty to the Royal cause and person: and the King being at Oxford in 1642, Sir George, with the consent of his father, then very aged and infirm, and residing at his house of Castlewood, melted the whole of the family plate for his Majesty’s service.

For this, and other sacrifices and merits, his Majesty, by patent under the Privy Seal, dated Oxford, Jan., 1643, was pleased to advance Sir Francis Esmond to the dignity of Viscount Castlewood, of Shandon, in Ireland: and the Viscount’s estate being much impoverished by loans to the King, which in those troublesome times his Majesty could not repay, a grant of land in the plantations of Virginia was given to the Lord Viscount.; part of which land is in possession of descendants of his family to the present day.

The first Viscount Castlewood died full of years, and within a few months after he had been advanced to his honors. He was succeeded by his eldest son, the before-named George; and left issue besides, Thomas, a colonel in the King’s army, who afterwards joined the Usurper’s Government; and Francis, in holy orders, who was slain whilst defending the House of Castlewood against the Parliament, anno 1647.

George Lord Castlewood (the second Viscount), of King Charles the First’s time, had no male issue save his one son, Eustace Esmond, who was killed, with half of the Castlewood men beside him, at Worcester fight. The lands about Castlewood were sold and apportioned to the Commonwealth men; Castlewood being concerned in almost all of the plots against the Protector, after the death of the King, and up to King Charles the Second’s restoration. My lord followed that king’s Court about in its exile, having ruined himself in its service. He had but one daughter, who was of no great comfort to her father; for misfortune had not taught those exiles sobriety of life; and it is said that the Duke of York and his brother the King both quarrelled about Isabel Esmond. She was maid of honor to the Queen Henrietta Maria; she early joined the Roman Church; her father, a weak man, following her not long after at Breda.

On the death of Eustace Esmond at Worcester, Thomas Esmond, nephew to my Lord Castlewood, and then a stripling, became heir to the title. His father had taken the Parliament side in the quarrels, and so had been estranged from the chief of his house; and my Lord Castlewood was at first so much enraged to think that his title (albeit little more than an empty one now) should pass to a rascally Roundhead, that he would have married again, and indeed proposed to do so to a vintner’s daughter at Bruges, to whom his lordship owed a score for lodging when the King was there, but for fear of the laughter of the Court, and the anger of his daughter, of whom he stood in awe; for she was in temper as imperious and violent as my lord, who was much enfeebled by wounds and drinking, was weak.

Lord Castlewood would have had a match between his daughter Isabel and her cousin, the son of that Francis Esmond who was killed at Castlewood siege. And the lady, it was said, took a fancy to the young man, who was her junior by several years (which circumstance she did not consider to be a fault in him); but having paid his court, and being admitted to the intimacy of the house, he suddenly flung up his suit, when it seemed to be pretty prosperous, without giving a pretext for his behavior. His friends rallied him at what they laughingly chose to call his infidelity; Jack Churchill, Frank Esmond’s lieutenant in the Royal Regiment of Foot-guards, getting the company which Esmond vacated, when he left the Court and went to Tangier in a rage at discovering that his promotion depended on the complaisance of his elderly affianced bride. He and Churchill, who had been condiscipuli at St. Paul’s School, had words about this matter; and Frank Esmond said to him with an oath, “Jack, your sister may be so-and-so, but by Jove my wife shan’t!” and swords were drawn, and blood drawn too, until friends separated them on this quarrel. Few men were so jealous about the point of honor in those days; and gentlemen of good birth and lineage thought a royal blot was an ornament to their family coat. Frank Esmond retired in the sulks, first to Tangier, whence he returned after two years’ service, settling on a small property he had of his mother, near to Winchester, and became a country gentleman, and kept a pack of beagles, and never came to Court again in King Charles’s time. But his uncle Castlewood was never reconciled to him; nor, for some time afterwards, his cousin whom he had refused.

By places, pensions, bounties from France, and gifts from the King, whilst his daughter was in favor, Lord Castlewood, who had spent in the Royal service his youth and fortune, did not retrieve the latter quite, and never cared to visit Castlewood, or repair it, since the death of his son, but managed to keep a good house, and figure at Court, and to save a considerable sum of ready money.

And now, his heir and nephew, Thomas Esmond, began to bid for his uncle’s favor. Thomas had served with the Emperor, and with the Dutch, when King Charles was compelled to lend troops to the States; and against them, when his Majesty made an alliance with the French King. In these campaigns Thomas Esmond was more remarked for duelling, brawling, vice, and play, than for any conspicuous gallantry in the field, and came back to England, like many another English gentleman who has travelled, with a character by no means improved by his foreign experience. He had dissipated his small paternal inheritance of a younger brother’s portion, and, as truth must be told, was no better than a hanger-on of ordinaries, and a brawler about Alsatia and the Friars, when he bethought him of a means of mending his fortune.

His cousin was now of more than middle age, and had nobody’s word but her own for the beauty which she said she once possessed. She was lean, and yellow, and long in the tooth; all the red and white in all the toy-shops in London could not make a beauty of her — Mr. Killigrew called her the Sybil, the death’s-head put up at the King’s feast as a memento mori, &c. — in fine, a woman who might be easy of conquest, but whom only a very bold man would think of conquering. This bold man was Thomas Esmond. He had a fancy to my Lord Castlewood’s savings, the amount of which rumor had very much exaggerated. Madame Isabel was said to have Royal jewels of great value; whereas poor Tom Esmond’s last coat but one was in pawn.

My lord had at this time a fine house in Lincoln’s-Inn-Fields, nigh to the Duke’s Theatre and the Portugal ambassador’s chapel. Tom Esmond, who had frequented the one as long as he had money to spend among the actresses, now came to the church as assiduously. He looked so lean and shabby, that he passed without difficulty for a repentant sinner; and so, becoming converted, you may be sure took his uncle’s priest for a director.

This charitable father reconciled him with the old lord, his uncle, who a short time before would not speak to him, as Tom passed under my lord’s coach window, his lordship going in state to his place at Court, while his nephew slunk by with his battered hat and feather, and the point of his rapier sticking out of the scabbard — to his twopenny ordinary in Bell Yard.

Thomas Esmond, after this reconciliation with his uncle, very soon began to grow sleek, and to show signs of the benefits of good living and clean linen. He fasted rigorously twice a week, to be sure; but he made amends on the other days: and, to show how great his appetite was, Mr. Wycherley said, he ended by swallowing that fly-blown rank old morsel his cousin. There were endless jokes and lampoons about this marriage at Court: but Tom rode thither in his uncle’s coach now, called him father, and having won could afford to laugh. This marriage took place very shortly before King Charles died: whom the Viscount of Castlewood speedily followed.

The issue of this marriage was one son, whom the parents watched with an intense eagerness and care; but who, in spite of nurses and physicians, had only a brief existence. His tainted blood did not run very long in his poor feeble little body. Symptoms of evil broke out early on him; and, part from flattery, part superstition, nothing would satisfy my lord and lady, especially the latter, but having the poor little cripple touched by his Majesty at his church. They were ready to cry out miracle at first (the doctors and quack-salvers being constantly in attendance on the child, and experimenting on his poor little body with every conceivable nostrum) but though there seemed, from some reason, a notable amelioration in the infant’s health after his Majesty touched him, in a few weeks afterward the poor thing died — causing the lampooners of the Court to say, that the King, in expelling evil out of the infant of Tom Esmond and Isabella his wife, expelled the life out of it, which was nothing but corruption.

The mother’s natural pang at losing this poor little child must have been increased when she thought of her rival Frank Esmond’s wife, who was a favorite of the whole Court, where my poor Lady Castlewood was neglected, and who had one child, a daughter, flourishing and beautiful, and was about to become a mother once more.

The Court, as I have heard, only laughed the more because the poor lady, who had pretty well passed the age when ladies are accustomed to have children, nevertheless determined not to give hope up, and even when she came to live at Castlewood, was constantly sending over to Hexton for the doctor, and announcing to her friends the arrival of an heir. This absurdity of hers was one amongst many others which the wags used to play upon. Indeed, to the last days of her life, my Lady Viscountess had the comfort of fancying herself beautiful, and persisted in blooming up to the very midst of winter, painting roses on her cheeks long after their natural season, and attiring herself like summer though her head was covered with snow.

Gentlemen who were about the Court of King Charles, and King James, have told the present writer a number of stories about this queer old lady, with which it’s not necessary that posterity should be entertained. She is said to have had great powers of invective and, if she fought with all her rivals in King James’s favor, ’tis certain she must have had a vast number of quarrels on her hands. She was a woman of an intrepid spirit, and, it appears, pursued and rather fatigued his Majesty with her rights and her wrongs. Some say that the cause of her leaving Court was jealousy of Frank Esmond’s wife: others, that she was forced to retreat after a great battle which took place at Whitehall, between her ladyship and Lady Dorchester, Tom Killigrew’s daughter, whom the King delighted to honor, and in which that ill-favored Esther got the better of our elderly Vashti. But her ladyship, for her part, always averred that it was her husband’s quarrel, and not her own, which occasioned the banishment of the two into the country; and the cruel ingratitude of the Sovereign in giving away, out of the family, that place of Warden of the Butteries and Groom of the King’s Posset, which the two last Lords Castlewood had held so honorably, and which was now conferred upon a fellow of yesterday, and a hanger-on of that odious Dorchester creature, my Lord Bergamot;1 “I never,” said my lady, “could have come to see his Majesty’s posset carried by any other hand than an Esmond. I should have dashed the salver out of Lord Bergamot’s hand, had I met him.” And those who knew her ladyship are aware that she was a person quite capable of performing this feat, had she not wisely kept out of the way.

1 Lionel Tipton, created Baron Bergamot, ann. 1686, Gentleman Usher of the Back Stairs, and afterwards appointed Warden of the Butteries and Groom of the King’s Posset (on the decease of George, second Viscount Castlewood), accompanied his Majesty to St. Germain’s, where he died without issue. No Groom of the Posset was appointed by the Prince of Orange, nor hath there been such an officer in any succeeding reign.

Holding the purse-strings in her own control, to which, indeed, she liked to bring most persons who came near her, Lady Castlewood could command her husband’s obedience, and so broke up her establishment at London; she had removed from Lincoln’s-Inn-Fields to Chelsey, to a pretty new house she bought there; and brought her establishment, her maids, lap-dogs, and gentlewomen, her priest, and his lordship her husband, to Castlewood Hall, that she had never seen since she quitted it as a child with her father during the troubles of King Charles the First’s reign. The walls were still open in the old house as they had been left by the shot of the Commonwealthmen. A part of the mansion was restored and furbished up with the plate, hangings, and furniture brought from the house in London. My lady meant to have a triumphal entry into Castlewood village, and expected the people to cheer as she drove over the Green in her great coach, my lord beside her, her gentlewomen, lap-dogs, and cockatoos on the opposite seat, six horses to her carriage, and servants armed and mounted following it and preceding it. But ’twas in the height of the No-Popery cry; the folks in the village and the neighboring town were scared by the sight of her ladyship’s painted face and eyelids, as she bobbed her head out of the coach window, meaning, no doubt, to be very gracious; and one old woman said, “Lady Isabel! lord-a-mercy, it’s Lady Jezebel!” a name by which the enemies of the right honorable Viscountess were afterwards in the habit of designating her. The country was then in a great No-Popery fervor; her ladyship’s known conversion, and her husband’s, the priest in her train, and the service performed at the chapel of Castlewood (though the chapel had been built for that worship before any other was heard of in the country, and though the service was performed in the most quiet manner), got her no favor at first in the county or village. By far the greater part of the estate of Castlewood had been confiscated, and been parcelled out to Commonwealthmen. One or two of these old Cromwellian soldiers were still alive in the village, and looked grimly at first upon my Lady Viscountess, when she came to dwell there.

She appeared at the Hexton Assembly, bringing her lord after her, scaring the country folks with the splendor of her diamonds, which she always wore in public. They said she wore them in private, too, and slept with them round her neck; though the writer can pledge his word that this was a calumny. “If she were to take them off,” my Lady Sark said, “Tom Esmond, her husband, would run away with them and pawn them.” ’Twas another calumny. My Lady Sark was also an exile from Court, and there had been war between the two ladies before.

The village people began to be reconciled presently to their lady, who was generous and kind, though fantastic and haughty, in her ways; and whose praises Dr. Tusher, the Vicar, sounded loudly amongst his flock. As for my lord, he gave no great trouble, being considered scarce more than an appendage to my lady, who, as daughter of the old lords of Castlewood, and possessor of vast wealth, as the country folks said (though indeed nine-tenths of it existed but in rumor), was looked upon as the real queen of the Castle, and mistress of all it contained.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 19:07