The Trials and Tribulations of Peter Davenport (part 1)

on Friday, 23 October 2015. Posted in Davenport

From the late 17th century, the Talbot family of Lacock was closely related by a number of marriages to the Davenport family of Shropshire and Cheshire. Elizabeth, the daughter of Sharington Talbot, Lord of Lacock from 1646-1677, married a Henry Davenport, and their son, also Henry, married Barbara Ivory, the great grand-daughter of Sharington and the brother of John Ivory Talbot who inherited Lacock in 1714. The family connection was further strengthened when William Davenport, the son of Henry and Barbara, married Martha, the daughter of John Ivory Talbot.

Barbara's husband Henry Davenport (1678-1731) had become rich in the service of the East India Company and, on his return to England in 1714, continued a career in London. Henry's brother, Sharington Davenport was, from 1715, a Major-General in the Fourth Dragoon Guards, having previously served in the Life Guards. These, then, were two powerful and well-connected men within the Talbot-Davenport clan in the early 18th century. During this period, there appeared the figure of Peter Davenport, a man with an eye to the main chance who cultivated a connection with Henry and Sharington Davenport and exploited their common family name to his advantage in a most audacious and brash manner. The Lacock Archive includes a decade-long correspondence between Peter and the two influential Davenport brothers.

Henry Davenport III

Henry Davenport III

The Trial

In 1714, Peter Davenport was an army Lieutenant on half pay following the disbandment of his regiment, Brigadier Dormer's Regiment of Foot, in Ireland the previous year (1). The regiment had returned from Spain in 1712 following the withdrawal of England from the War of the Spanish Succession, but whether Peter Davenport saw action in this conflict is unknown. By 1714 however, he had already begun entreating General Sharington Davenport to use his influence for his preferment and advancement, noting that the General has 'been pleased to express your selfe very kindly in my behalf' (2) to several high ranking officers. A year later Peter is recorded as a lieutenant in the newly-formed Dormer's Dragoons, under his previous commander, Brigadier-General James Dormer, based again in Ireland (3). Peter Davenport's commission is dated 22nd July 1715, but by 1st October he was writing to Sharington that 'the height of my ambition and desire is to serve under your imediate command, without regard to either Rank or Pay' (4). He also speaks of the 'gratitude I owe you Sr. for these many favours already Received' (5) indicating that he had already received support from his namesake. That his ambition appeared to have reached its desired height is indicated in a letter, in draft form, dated 18th October 1715, from the General offering Peter a position in his regiment, and that he, Sharington, has already approached the Lord Justice of Ireland to enable it (6).

General Sharington Davenport

General Sharington Davenport

It was, however, to be many months before the transfer could be effected as the wider political situation intervened. The rebellion by the Highland Scots in favour of the Stuart succession had begun in 1715 and by mid-November a Jacobite force had moved south from Scotland and had occupied Preston. Dormer's Dragoons were involved in the loyalist attack to free the town and Peter Davenport undoubtedly saw action in the battle. He reported in a letter to Sharington, dated 4th December (7), that he 'had the good fortune to be near Brigdr. Dormer when he was wounded and carried him of'. The subsequent action of the regiment was somewhat less glamorous as the Dragoons spent most of the following winter guarding '[a] great number of High Land Rebells' (8) in Lancaster Castle.

In January 1716, the assault on the General for preferment recommenced with renewed vigour. He wrote 'my Dependence being Intirely upon you Sr, Humbly beseech your Interest at this Juncture for some other Prefermt. if I can't come into your Regiment. wch. is ye uttmost of my Desires ... Admit to say, I have noe Friends to apply to but your selfe and hope Sr. you'l Pardon ye Trouble given you' (9) and 'Admit me to say Sr. that upon you I fix my sole Dependence for future Preferment, and from your Innate Goodness Hope for Pardon for all ye Trouble I have given you' (10). These heartrending expressions are backed up with endings to his letters which are remarkable in being, effusive, obsequious and frequently oleaginous, being variants on 'your most Dutyfull and most Truly obedt. Humble Servt. Peter Davenport', frequently expanded for added entreaty to 'but beg leave to subscribe my selfe Sr. your ever obliged and most faithfull and obedt. humble servt.'.

General Davenport appears to have been receptive to Peter's approaches. The opportunity presented by Sharington in October 1715 appears to have fallen through (perhaps the draft letter of 18 October was never sent) but by mid 1716 Peter received better news. On 11th July, he wrote to the General 'Sr., By a Letter from Brigadr. Dormers Agent .... I am Inform'd that through the Abundance of your Goodness you have taken out a Commission for me in your Regimt. and as your Generosity to me is of soe High a Nature, that words can't by any means sufficiently show my Gratitude and Thankfullness' (11). This was followed by a further effusive missive 3 days later thanking the General again for taking him into his Regiment and giving assurances of his gratefulness and wish to be forever in his service. Peter had been given the task of recruiting men for service in Ireland for he writes 'I hope Sr. you will beleive I shall use my uttmost Diligence in getting men' but he also asks anxiously whether he will be required to support these men financially before they enrol (12). This was a first warning note of Peter's precarious financial position which had not been helped by his apparent inability to sell his commission in Dormer's Dragoons. He had indicated to General Davenport that he would write to Dormer to beg his friendship 'in the same manner he had used Cornett Forester of his Regimt. upon the Like Occassion wch was 200 Pound for ye Quitting his Comission' (11) but subsequently noted 'I doubt Sr. I can have noe expectation from Brigadr. Dormer since his Major has obliged him to put in a halfe Pay Officer' (12).

Peter Davenport's good fortune in obtaining a position in the Fourth Dragoon Guards had clearly been assisted by interventions by Henry Davenport for in another letter of 14th July 1716 (13), Peter sends his thanks to Henry for his kindness 'having noe other way to show my Gratitude to my two best and Indeed only Benefactors but Hope by my Diligence, Sobriety and taking care of the Main Chance I shall soe effectually Please you Both that neither the Generll. will Repent his Generous Care of me, by Raising me in ye World, nor you these Great and numberles favours, heap'd upon me'. Stirring words indeed!

The nature of these great and numberless favours is unrecorded but certainly involved cash loans from the General for by January 1717 Peter was reporting that he had equipped himself with the Regimental Uniform and furniture and has purchased a grey horse for £28-10s from a fellow officer. As a consequence, he had overspent the money 'you soe Kindly Furnished me with' and has had to 'Receive his Subsistence which otherways shou'd have Lain in the Agents hands till you had been Paid'. Peter promised to curb his spending by 'good Husbandry in Staying in Quarters' (14) presumably implying that he would then be in a position to repay his debts to the General. Whether to ingratiate himself further with his General or from audacious impudence and self-confidence, he then commented on the state of the Regiment; 'my Little Experience in our Service shall Venture noe farther than to say in my Humble Opinion' that Colonel Hatton and Quartermaster Hanfort are doing a good job but that, of his Troop 'there is noe credit to be got by being in it, Let an officer take what Pains he can, before Severall old men and Horses are Changed'. He is convinced his Captain is willing to do all he can and 'beg you to beleive there shall be noe Pains wanting' (14). There is more than a whiff of over-familiarity in these remarks from someone only 6 months in the regiment!

By the latter half of 1717, the full state of Peter Davenport's financial position has begun to become apparent. He had '... a Poor Brother Sr. nere sixty years of age, who has always lived like a gentleman till some years Past, but is now soe Reduced that he has not, nor has had, for a few years Past anything to subsist on, but from me, and is a continual Charge of at Least Fifteen Pound a year to me, and is like to continue soe to his Death; except Sr. you'd be Pleased to use your Interest in geting him in to be one of the Poor Knights of Windsor, which if Pracktacable (sic) wou'd be a provision for him for Life; I am informed 'tis in the Power of the Capt. General or the Bishop of Salsbury' (15). Pleas for help to both Henry and Sharington abound during 1717, and beyond, to use their influence with the Bishop of Salisbury to obtain a place among the Knights of Windsor and to free Peter from the financial burden of his brother. Henry's attitude is not on record but the General was broadly sympathetic and agreed to help, assuring Peter that he 'will prevail with those who have the disposal of 'em & I do assure you I'll do what I can to get your brother established there being very desirous to do every thing that lyes in my power to serve any of my name that deserve it' (16). The efforts appear to have been unrewarded as the matter of Peter's brother was still unresolved in 1720!

The straightened circumstances of Peter and his brother were due to an inheritance issue. The situation was explained in a long letter to the General, dated 1st July 1717 (17) in which Peter's heartfelt expressions of moral outrage incompletely disguised his vested interest:

'Sr., Having in some manner given you an acct. when in London, of the barborous usage my Father and Brother have Hetherto met with, in being Cheated out of Davenport Estate in Cheshire, by the most Illegall and unwarrentable Proceedings ever heard of, Occasion'd onely by our want of money and Friends, Presume to give you a Further acct. which is as Follows; That at the time when the Late Lunaticke Mr. Davenport Sufferd a Recovery by the Indirect Contrivances of his then, Son In Lawes, to the Prejudice of my Father and his Heirs; They Summonsd all their Tennants to Surrender in there Leases to e'm, which was accordingly don by all but five, who had Freehold Leases from the Late Lunaticke Father, which he was never in Possession of; nor wou'd they Surrender to e'm, they being all Friends of my Fathers; and consequently the Recovery had itt been never soe Fairly Executed cou'd have noe effect upon these five Tenents. and now Sr. I beg Leave to acquaint you further, that the Last Life in one of these Tenements dyed the Last Winter and they Tennants then in Possesion have ever since Kept Possesion for my Brother, upon which the Heirs of the Late Lunatick, ejected the Possesion Holder, to a Tryall at the Last Chester Assizes which was in Last Apll. and accordingly our attorney appeard , and found a vast Difficulty to get a Lawyer, they having as they Thought Retained them all, and when they found he had got a Lawyer, and that the[y] cou'd not make him False to his Trust by the Considerable offers they made him, they Thought fitt to Drop it, and give out they will trye it the next assizes; Neither my Brother nor I cou'd be at the Last Assizes, nor will his Circumstances admit him to appear ye next, nor Indeed will mine well; but there being such an absolute nessesity for one of us to be there; I hope I shall finde out some credable Method to Furnish my selfe wth. a Little Money for the Tryall, and Humbly Beg you'd Please to give me Leave to goe to itt; it will begin, the[y] write me word, the Middle of next Month or there abouts; I wou'd willingly be there some time before, to Digest Matters in a Readyness for the Tryall, tho' noe body beleives they will ever Bring it to one; I am assured from some of the Best hands in Cheshire that they Dread my coming over to the assizes well knowing I am soe happy to be taken into your Protection, I have also great Incouragemt. of being Put in Possesion of ye other four Tenemts. or some of e'm, they in all are Better than two hundred a year, and they gaining these, may be a Lending Stroake to the setting aside there Vile Recovery'.

These phrases lay bare the money troubles of Peter Davenport and his immediate family and illustrate clearly the problems Peter had in establishing himself as a self-supporting officer of means in a superior regiment. It should be noted that the sums of money at issue here were considerable as the total value of the Davenport estate at issue, as reported to Henry Davenport in a letter in January 1717 (18) was estimated at £5000 per year, although Peter's family were only aiming to secure a portion of this.

The letter of 1st July 1717 (17) ends with a direct appeal to General Davenport for help: 'I see in the Publick Prints that Mr. Spencer Cooper is made Ld. Cheife Justice at Chester ..... and as I am assured my enemies can noe way hurt me in this matter, except by making underhand Interest, which I don't in the Least fear, from a Gentleman of his Hon. Caracter, yet Sr. if you are acquainted with him, and it shou'd soe Happen that without Trouble you shou'd see him, it might be of the Last good Consequence to me, if you'd Please to mention that an officer of yours is to have a Tryall before him the next assizes, nothing cou'd Imboldon me to give you this Long Letter and Trouble, but your unlimited Goodness, which I have in the most Extensive Manner Receivd since first I had the Honr. to be Knowne to you, and give me Leave Sr. to assure you; that it is and ever shall be my Constant Care, not to abuse any of these great and unmerrited favours, soe Plentifully bestowed upon (me)'. Whether the General was able, or willing, to speak with Lord Chief Justice Cooper is not recorded but 3 months leave of absence was granted for Peter to attend the trial at Chester and this was acknowledged with expressions of excessive and effusive gratitude: 'The only acknowledgement in my Poor Power to make, to soe great and Generous a Benefactor admit me to tell you Sr. that you have already Raised a Sinking Branch of the Family Davenport, to that Degree that I am Greatly Carres'd by my Friends and in a Capacity wth Just Contempt and Indignity, to Look Downe upon my Enemies' (19). 

Correspondence with the General during September 1717 described confident preparations for the forthcoming trial and it was clear that Peter's lawyers had assured him that he could expect a successful outcome; he wrote of 'all the assurances Imaginable of Success from my Counesell here. My Attorney goes next Tuesday to Chester to Retain the best Counnesell that can be got' (20). However, it was not to be and his hopes for a secure financial future were dashed by the verdict at the Assize. In a letter to the General dated 3rd October he reported 'Sr., this minute our Title has very stennously been open'd before Judges, by able Counsell bene as Vigourously Opposed by the Councesell of the Opposite Party, .... have not time to be Particular upon what heads it turn'd against us, but in short it is entirely given against us, and we are to Pay Cos,' (21). Despite losing the case, Peter admitted 'I must owne 'twas very fairly Debated' but the financial consequences to him were dire. On 16th October, in a letter to the General he laid bare his situation and he admitted he had no money. He expressed a wish to stay in Cheshire for the rest of the winter to start to restore his fortunes and wretchedly reported that he has 'Boarded my selfe in a Private House, Dyet and Lodging, after the Rate of twelve Pound a year, and have not an opportunity scarce of spending six pence a week besides'. He finds it 'impossable to Live upon Less than my subsistance, never Paying Less than six or seven shillings a week for Dyet, and that always at a Tavern where wee are obliged to Drink wine Dinner and Supper' (22). Although by modern standards these sums are modest, they were really quite substantial in 1717 and probably a strain on an officer devoid of private means, but perhaps the obligatory wine at dinner and supper helped! The letter ends with a thinly disguised appeal for money from the General but he did not totally forget his military duties as he assures the General that his troop, presumably still in Ireland, was in good order but 'at Present having few Horses, but what are Cast, and not above fourteen or fifteen men .... and those I dare venture to affirm to you Sr. Handled their Arms when I came away Perfectly well'.

The quest to establish some financial stability in his life became the major effort for Peter during the rest of 1717 and into 1718 and the help, influence, tolerance, sympathy and benevolence of Sharington and Henry Davenport became even more important in his life.

Roger Cripps October 2015

Note: Peter Davenport's handwriting was very legible but his spelling, punctuation, and odd use of capital letters were idiosyncratic. I have tried, as far as possible, to retain these in the quotes used, in as far as maintaining the sense of the text will allow.

1) 'Warrant Books: December 1713, 16-31', in Calendar of Treasury Books, Volume 27, 1713, ed. William A Shaw and F H Slingsby (London, 1955), pp. 464-489
2) WRO 2664/3/2B/38/21
3) Hamilton H.B. 'Historical Record of the 14th (King's)Hussars from AD 1715 to AD 1900' Longmans, Green & Co., London, New York and Bombay.
4) WRO 2664/3/2B/38/17
5) WRO 2664/3/2B/38/18
6) WRO 2664/3/2B/38/37
7) WRO 2664/3/2B/38/16
8) WRO 2664/3/2B/38/19
9) WRO 2664/3/2B/38/14
10) WRO 2664/3/2B/38/20
11) WRO 2664/3/2B/38/12
12) WRO 2664/3/2B/38/11
13) WRO 2664/3/2B/32/1
14) WRO 2664/3/2B/38/9
15) WRO 2664/3/2B/38/27
16) WRO 2664/3/2B/38/29
17) WRO 2664/3/2B/38/7
18) WRO 2664/3/2B/67/7
19) WRO 2664/3/2B/38/6
20) WRO 2664/3/2B/38/5
21) WRO 2664/3/2B/38/4
22) WRO 2664/3/2B/38/26