The Trials and Tribulations of Peter Davenport (part 2)

on Friday, 23 October 2015. Posted in Davenport


By late 1717, Peter Davenport had severe money troubles. He had lost his case at Chester Assizes to recover a portion of the substantial Davenport estate and had, with the other plaintiffs, been required to pay costs. In addition, he still was bearing the costs for the care of his aged brother. He was living in Macclesfield in relatively straightened circumstances for an officer and a gentleman but had successfully petitioned his Regimental Commander, General Sharington Davenport, to remain in England over the winter of 1717-18 'as the only Method I cou'd propose to my selfe to save money in some measure to make up the expense of my journey (from his regiment in Ireland) and my misfortune at the assizes' (1). However he was not without friends. His senior officer in Ireland, Colonel Hatton, had offered him the Captain Lieutenancy in the regiment, the Fourth Dragoon Guards1, a promotion to higher status with the potential for better remuneration. This preferment, though welcomed by Peter, was not without problems as the new commission had to be purchased, with the cost being offset by the sale of Peter's current lieutenancy. In late November 1717, Peter wrote to Sharington that Colonel Hatton 'very kindly Presses me to treat wth. Capt. Lister about the Capt. Lieutenancy and offers me very generously towards the Purchasing it' (2), but this assistance would be insufficient for the acquisition and he continued 'But as I can't without being the most unreasonable man on earth have the assurance to aske you Sr any farther favour therefore Humbly beg Leave to submit that affair entirely to your selfe'. The General's willingness to accommodate his namesake was revealed in a draft letter from him to Peter two months later in which he agreed to join with Col. Hatton and to contribute to the cost of the commission. Capt. Lister apparently was expecting £2000 but the General believed that he might be prepared to accept £1100 (3). At this time, commissions were often sold to the highest bidder and there may have been a premium for the Dragoon Guards but these were vast sums of money in 1717. Not all people were of this opinion, however, as in a letter of 14th April 1718, Peter records that Capt. Lister thinks the amount is a 'trifle' (4). By contrast it may be noted, in 1720 the prices for commissions in a Regiment of Foot, set by the King, were £450 for a Lieutenant-Captain and £300 for a Lieutenant (5)!

The problems with the buying and selling of the commissions continued during early 1718. Peter Davenport had found a potential buyer for his lieutenancy whose father 'had made a bargain for a lieutenancy in the Guards for his son, but was Disappointed of it, and Desired I wou'd write to his son who he beleived wou'd be glad to treat with me, if there was a Commission to be disposed of in your Regimt.' (6). The cost for the lieutenancy in the Guards had been seven hundred guineas so Peter hoped the son would pay eight hundred guineas or, at least £800 for his position in the Fourth Dragoons. The final price paid by Peter for the Captain-Lieutenancy is not clear; frantic correspondence to the General in March and April 1718 detailed a dispute between Lister and Peter Davenport over whether the cost is £1100 or 1100 guineas. An appeal to Sharington Davenport in a letter dated 14 April 7 asked the general to make a final adjudication and some resolution must have been reached as by late April, Peter's letters to the General were filed as from 'Capt. Davenport'.

Whatever long-term effects the promotion might have had on Peter's finances, the short-term consequences were still dire. Peter was conscious of the need to repay his loans and lamented 'I can't say I have any Method to Return you and Coll. Hatton your money, but by good Husbandry' (8). This 'good husbandry' included renewed entreaties to both Sharington and Henry Davenport for their assistance in securing a place for his brother with the Knights of Windsor (3,8,9,10,11). However, in a major development, Peter Davenport chose to pursue the route followed by all gentlemen who, for one reason or another, have no fortune of their own. He found someone who had, or at least the prospect of, a fortune, and married her! On the 18th April 1718, at St Michael's Church, Macclesfield, Peter Davenport was married to Maria (or Mary) Thornycroft, the daughter of Edward Thornycroft, of Thornycroft Hall, Cheshire (12). His winter in penury in Macclesfield had had a purpose and had not been in vain.

Thornycroft Hall

Thornycroft Hall, now a Catholic retreat

Unfortunately the marriage was conducted in secret without the consent of the bride's father or, crucially, the permission of his regimental commanding officer. Mr Edward Thornycroft and General Sharington Davenport were sorely displeased!

Mary was approaching her 30th birthday at the time of her marriage and, strictly speaking, did not require parental permission to wed. However, Edward Thornycroft was a widower at this time and, it would appear, Mary, as his only surviving daughter, was caring for him at the family home. Nor was this, in fact, a sudden or unexpected event as Peter and Mary had been known to each other for several years. As part of his attempt to re-establish relations with General Sharington Davenport after his over-eager marriage, Peter recruited two titled ladies to write to him to plead his case. A Lady Legh, in a letter dated 21st July 1718 13, requested from the General 'the continuance of yr favour to so trully honest Worthy Gentleman as Capt. Davenport beging his pardon who aftere Ten years Love did marry without yr knowledge', while a Lady Mohun, on 23rd July, reported that Mr Thornycroft 'gave him much incouragment when he courted his daughter that he had no reason to doubt but he wou'd have given her what so good and dutifull a child deserved from a parent she had allways been a slave to, this past on for some years, and the father seemd to incourage it in all appearanc , and when he proposed the marriage he gave him no other answer but that he wou'd consider of it'. However, when confronted by the prospect of losing his daughter, Thornycroft 'forbid the young woman ever seeing him more swearing to him her out of doors if she did, and accordingly has done so now that it is too late, for they were privately married some months before' (14). Although the main purpose of these two letters was to plead with Sharington to give retroactive permission for the marriage, with Lady Legh begging 'ye will please to give yr consent to make him hapy' (15), there are also great attempts to assure Sharington that Peter had not married someone socially inferior, that it will be a 'good' marriage and that Mary 'is an agreeable Lady' and 'moste certainly good qualatys for a Wife' and has 'a mighty good Caractor'. Furthermore, Mr Thornycroft 'will make her fortune very considerable providing he can have yr consent & which I hope ye will give' (Lady Legh (15)). Lady Legh also assured the General that Mr Thornycroft will give Mary 'a good Portion as he ought to doe', the bride's mother 'being Sr. Rolph Ashtons Sister & had five Thousand pound Portion & there is but one son & Daughter' (13). Lady Mohun similarly wrote 'I know the father well able to give her a good fortune' and that Mary 'is so frightened of being the cause of his misfortune, that she has begd me to let you know the truth of their history, and since his whole fortune depends on your countenance and favour, you wou'd not on her unhappy account withdraw it from a man the most sensible and gratefull for them ...... for behaving himself like a man of honour in a case where a womans reputation and the reposes of her whole life was concern'd' (14).

The attitude of General Davenport to these events was, however, very unclear during the spring and early summer of 1718. What was clear was that Peter had been corresponding regularly at this time with Henry Davenport and the latter had been offering him advice on his financial position and on his career in the army. In a letter dated 29th March 1718, Peter had noted 'in a particular manner I most hartily thank you for your good advice and assure you I will exactly pursue it' (11) while in a further letter two weeks later he gives 'my truly humble and sincere thanks, for the very great favours, your continually pleased to doe me, and alsoe for your very good advice, I assure you Sr., my notions of the army entirely agree wth. yours, and hope you'l beleive me, when I promise Sr. to make it my study' (16). By mid-May, however, the emphasis on the nature and consequences of Peter's relationship with Mary Thornycroft had changed. By this time, the marriage has already taken place but it is by no means clear whether this was known to Henry Davenport and it was certainly not known to the General. In a letter to Henry dated 14th May 17, Peter displayed elements of remorse, self-pity and doubt bordering on panic about what he had done. Henry had clearly warned Peter of the career-limiting dangers of marrying but Peter was reluctant to admit that this has already occurred. He noted that 'I .... take your advice as friendly as tho' you had gaind me Preferment, and know it Proceeds from a true Desire of seeing me doe well but what you Recommend to be don I took the Liberty of telling you before I cou'd not Propose nor can it ever I beleive be don' and continued 'Common Policy wou'd touch me to tell you it was all over and especially at this Juncture but Sr. how ever mean I may appear to you, both as to my sense and Conduckt in this affair, I sware to you, I wou'd not either deceive you or the Lady'. He then made a rather blatant attempt to justify his pursuit of Mary in terms of the potential financial rewards of the match complaining that 'the misfortunes of my family have been too great and I too great a sufferer by e'm ever to forget e'm and I thank you Sr. for Putting me in minde to compare them, wth. what may happen me but my comfort is they were wholely owing to Cursed Vilianous Perjury and Bribeberry otherways few family's in the County wou'd have made better figures then ours in it, however Sr. I entirely agree wth. you none and soe miserable as those who are left wth.out having Provision made for them by there Parents, and are to struggle for them selves in this world, alas Sr. noe man on Earth knows this better than my selfe, How hard and difficult a task it is, for a young man turnd out into the world to Preseve his Carracter untainted when he has noe Estate to cover the Least False step he may make; when on the other hand a young fellow wth. a Plentifull fortune may doe any thing thats Scandilous and be excused, but as to the former, if his Carracter be once touched, its never to be Retrieved, noe not by a thousand good actions'.

Peter's real fear was that his actions had ruined his relationship with Sharington Davenport, especially as he speaks of him as 'the most generous friend' and that 'since he did me the Hon.r to Promise me his friendship I have not don an action I cou'd not with Pleasure submit to his knowledge, for this affair was entirely finished soe far as it is, before the Death of the Late Queen' (Queen Anne, who died in 1714). This, of course, was a blatant lie! Peter's attempts at deception went further as he wrote to Henry 'as I have before told you, and tho' nothing further may ever happen, yet you say if he but suspects me marryed at any time I never must have a troop in his Regimt. therefore you may Plainly see how very Precarious I am like to stand while I continue in the Gen.lls Regimt. for tho' I hope I have as few enemies as any body, yet there's noe body wth. out some, and if they shou'd but suggest such notions into the Gen.ll then I am Lost' (17).

Further dissembling followed when Peter noted that 'there is nothing has kept me here for some time Past ... and tho' Sr. I am wth. in three miles of the Lady who I supose you mean ... I assure you I doe not see her once perhaps in a month her father being averse to it as any body Breathing tis wth. great Difficulty and Secresy when ever wee meet, and I have taken me Leave of her some time since'. He ended with the hope that 'at this time onely ...I besech you if possable to have a favourable opinion of me in this affair, and Rather beleive it my misfortune than my fault' and 'if the Genll. can hear me named wth. temper Pray give my most humble Duty to him if this shou'd ever come to be any thing there is not that Danger of Ruin you apprehend, however I hope god will have mercy on my soul' (17).

Although somewhat confusing, there are a number of conclusions that can be drawn from these letters, the chief of which is that Peter is terrified of losing the friendship of his major benefactors who have supported him and given him preferment over a number of years. General Sharington Davenport had, in particular, treated Peter with a degree of almost paternal indulgence that he is unlikely to have shown to all officers in his regiment but he was clearly not a believer in having married officers. In general, the marriage of army officers was discouraged at this time and some senior officers were very much opposed to it. It can also be inferred that both Sharington and Henry, and one must presume, numerous others, had noted the long-term relationship between Peter and Mary developing along an inevitable path and had warned Peter of the consequences. Notwithstanding this, the lies and half-truths in the correspondence are breathtaking in their audacity and reveal the angst of the newly-wed, and newly promoted, Captain-Lieutenant of the Fourth Dragoon Guards.

By July 1718, however, the secret was out, as the letters to the General from Lady Mohun and Lady Legh reveal. There is no record of any correspondence between General Davenport and Peter at this time which probably is a good reflection of the General's displeasure as, up to this time, there had been a regular and frequent exchange of letters between the two. Henry Davenport became the conduit for Peter's appeals to the General and the recipient of Peter's self-justification and remorse. In mid-August 1718, at this time with the regiment in Dublin, Peter attempted a grandiose explanation of his actions and his confident expectation of a happy outcome, at least on the domestic front, writing:

'I  ... humbly thank you for ye favour of answering me, at all, and alsoe for the friendly pains you took to prevent what has happened, I must owne you wrott me very fully upon the ill consequence of it and doe assure you Sr. had there been the least probability of avoiding what is done, wth. the safety either of my Honr. or consience, in compliance to you and the Genll. I shou'd have let it alone tho' my inclinations were and are as strong for it, as ever mans were, you say Sr. I shou'd have acted more the man of Honr. by Breaking of[f], than as I have done, so that I shall onely answer and wth. much submission that I think it improbable for any man to make anothers case exactly his owne, and more especially in such a case as this, you know Sr. if a man has Honr:, that is, if he has it thoroughly, he must and will be Governd by consience, and 'twas that told me, I cou'd not break those Sacred Vowes soe long contracted, wth. out a falt, I with pleasure submit this point to you, being assured noe body has a clearer, or more tender, conscience than your selfe to this I know you will say, what consecionce (sic) is there, in ruining ones selfe and friend, to which I answer, that I hope our case is not soe very dismal as you apprehend, 'tis very certain her father has removed her to her brother, and 'tis as certain that he is able to give her a very good fortune, and the last packquets brought me letters from two or three gentlemen in the country that assurd me that he will be in a very little time reconciled to us, and I have continually friends soliciting him, I know Sr. that great men, think there is noe happyness beneath them selves, but Haven [Heaven] often blesses men less fortunate, by limmiting there desires to there cirumstances I must owne I shou'd think my selfe as happy as any body living, were our friends reconciled to us, as for her father I am sure, he soon will be soe but I think it time to conclude this, being assured my buisiness must be troublesome, since my misfortunes hereafter, will have noe weight upon once the best of friends; I have .... to say ....  that my most humble duty may be given to my Generall, I beseech you both for god almighties sake, that since I have lost your friend ships the only thing I dreaded on earth; that you wou'd not commence my enemies Sure Sr: I have not don a scandilous thing, nor any way a dishonest one, the worst that can be said is that I have don a foolish or imprudent act yet perhaps not soe silly as is apprehended' (18).

One of the major worries of Peter was that, because of his marriage, the General would 'not suffer me to serve under him, in his Regimt. the only thing I covet' and that he would have to 'beg leave' to sell his commission. He lamented to Henry 'I can't complain I have I owne, seemingly justly forfeited his friendship ... nor shou'd he oblige me at never soe great a disadvantage to leave his Regimt. I cou'd not blame him, for he raised me to what I am, and has the onely right to reduce me and I submit wth. pleasure to what pleases him best' (18).

It is clear that General Davenport did not demand Peter's resignation of his commission and that he continued to serve with the regiment in Ireland. However, matters moved ahead on the domestic front and by October 1718, Peter was again seeking favours by entreating Henry to use his influence with his brother to grant him leave to come to England to effect reconciliation with his wife's father, Edward Thornycroft. He wrote 'I am Sensecible of my Impertinence in ... asking you a favour, ... yet nothing cou'd have imbolden'd me to it, but the Knowledge of your Compassionate Temper. I have Pritty good assurance from my neighbouring Gentlemen in Chesshire that if I was there Mr Thornycroft wou'd very soon be Reconciled to us; and what I have to beg of you Sr. is your interest wth. the Genll. to give me his Leave to come to Chesshire' (19). This good assurance was either not communicated to, or was disbelieved by, Peter's wife, Mary, because at this point she threatened to leave her effective house arrest in Cheshire and join Peter in Ireland. This must have induced panic in Peter as his fellow officers in Ireland were apparently unaware of his married state and he immediately took ship back to his wife, not waiting for the General's permission.

Peter wrote a desperate note of explanation of his impetuous action to Henry on 5th January 1719 saying 'my Buisiness being very urgent, and having noe Reason to Doubt of the Generall's Leave, I was advised not to loose the good oppertunity of the Yott; upon wch. my Lieutenant Coll. and the Government of Ireland both gave me Leave, I beg you Sr. if the Genll. has not yet consented to my coming, to use your utmost endeavours wth. him, to give me Leave, and not to let him know of my being here till there is time for an answer from me, after his consenting' (20). This is the cry of a man facing ruin on all sides! There is evidence that he also feared he had stretched Henry's patience too far and expected his criticism as he ends this letter 'Please to direct to Macclesfiled Cheshire, Mrs Davenport must see it soe shou'd be glad there were nothing severe in it'.

Peter's precipitate flight to his wife was successful as he reported to Henry on 10th January 1719 that 'I have the Pleasure to acquaint you, that my A[u]nt, who was my worst Enemy is Entirely Reconciled, and Extremely Kind to us, and assures us all things shall be well in a very Little time' (21). Furthermore 'Mr. Thornycroft sends privately almost every day to know how wee doe ... and wee have all Imaginable assurances that he will very soon send for us'. The General was, however, still unaware of Peter's presence in England as Henry was asked 'If you think proper as yet to Let the Gen.ll know that I am here, I beg my most Humble Duty to him' (21).

Over the next few weeks, matters in the Thornycroft household moved rapidly in Peter and Mary's favour, greatly assisted by Peter's presence in England. He noted that Mr Thornycroft had been 'was extremly uneasy that I did not come (to Cheshire) and that 'there was nothing wanting to Perfect a Reconcilliation but my coming'. Furthermore, by mid-January he reported that 'I finde things in Chesshire to my harts Desire, an old Rich A[u]nt, who' was my Greatest Enemy, Extremely fond now I am Come, She has an Entire acendant over her Brother (Edward Thornycroft), and says he both will and shall be Reconciled wch. there is not the Least doubt on' (22).

By March 1719, Mr Thornycroft had been won over and Henry was informed in a letter of 7th March that 'now Sr. all is affected here to my hearts desire for my father Thornycroft sent his son to Bring me on thursday Last to a meeting of most of the Gentlemen in this Part of the Country, where he first saw me in Publick, and Received me very civilly to the entire satisfaction of every body there' and that 'yesterday my Brother Thornycroft and I went to wait of him, where he gave me his Blessing and Hartily forgave every thing Past, express'd himselfe very Kindly, and comes on monday next to see Mrs Davenport' (23).

A week later, Peter wrote again with the good news that the meeting between his father-in-law and his wife had gone well and that Mr Thornycroft was 'was Fonder of her; than he had ever been before' and that Peter and Mary were soon to be guests at Thornycroft Hall 24. By the end of the month, the newly wedded pair had been invited to live at the family home and that, when Peter finally was to return to Ireland, Mr Thornycroft 'desired me to leave his daughter wth. him' (25).

The problem Peter Davenport now faced was to restore his credibility and friendship with Henry and Sharington Davenport and to explain his dissembling behaviour to his fellow officers in the regiment.

Roger Cripps, October 2015

1. WRO 2664/3/2B/38/27
2. WRO 2664/3/2B/38/28
3. WRO 2664/3/2B/38/29
4. WRO 2664/3/2B/38/35
5. Everard H. 'History of the 29th (Worcestershire) Regiment'.
6. WRO 2664/3/2B/38/31
7. WRO 2664/3/2B/38/35
8. WRO 2664/3/2B/38/30
9. WRO 2664/3/2B/67/7
10. WRO 2664/3/2B/38/32
11. WRO 2664/3/2B/35/7
13. WRO 2664/3/2B/38/25
14. WRO 2664/3/2B/38/23
15. WRO 2664/3/2B/38/24
16. WRO 2664/3/2B/35/8
17. WRO 2664/3/2B/67/1
18. WRO 2664/3/2B/124/23
19. WRO 2664/3/2B/34/13
20. WRO 2664/3/2B/27/43
21. WRO 2664/3/2B/67/2
22. WRO 2664/3/2B/38/36
23. WRO 2664/3/2B/67/4
24. WRO 2664/3/2B/67/3
25. WRO 2664/3/2B/38/3