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THE ENGLISH NOBILITY.
The names of celebrated families form a portion of the national glory, and justly occupy the first place in the pages of history. Honour, above all, is due to the son who worthily represents the title which his ancestors obtained by their services to the country, or the prince, the representative of that country. Respect for ancestors strengthens the feeling of selfrespect, and in this sense the motto noblesse obligé is to be understood.
When we follow in history the career of national celebrities, or regard the varied origin and peculiar fortunes of noble families, we cannot refrain from reflecting on the political, social, and moral influence of the nobility, Is the magic of noble birth increasing or decreasing? Is it a benefit or a misfortune for humanity? Should it be supported in old states or destroyed in new ones? Is it a material component of a constitutional monarchy? Is it adverse to republican liberty? How have hereditary distinctions and old birth benefited civilisation, science, literature, and the arts? When we allow—and it would be difficult to deny it—that the privileged classes have done the state eminent service at certain times, must we, on the other side, declare that their career, like that of the mediæval monastic orders, is worn out, or that it is an impediment to the progress of enlightenment, since we have possessed representative assemblies and liberty of the press? Finally, when was pride in ancestry carried to the highest pitch, and what was its most substantial basis ?
At the present day the histories of families are traced more zealously than ever, and not alone in the Old World : the search after genealogical trees has now become fashionable also in the United States. It would be an idle task to defend genealogical studies against conventional accusations. These studies, which are stated to be dry and sterile, are rooted in feelings, inclinations, or prejudices inseparable from human nature. We will not be too eager to trace in this a mental weakness : we remember that Lord Byron was prouder of his birth than of his poems, and that the author of “ Waverley" spent his entire fortune in order to found a line of Scotch feudal lords. And yet how chimerical is such a hope? How often is this ambition deluded? The contemporaries of Byron saw Newstead change owners twice, and the Scotts of Waverley have, in the feudal sense of the term, ceased to exist. If we run over the celebrated names of England, we are astonished to see how few of them are represented by male descendants. Chaucer, Shakspeare, Spenser, Raleigh, Dryden, Pope, Addison, Bacon, Locke, Newton, Hampden, Blake, Marl. borough, Nelson, Clarendon, Hume, Goldsmith, Burke, Pitt, and Fox belong to the list, and we could lengthen it ad infinitim. The majority of these prominent men have left no descendants.
In our opinion the nobility, based on a social agreement, ceases to exist if it is not contined to very narrow bounds. Otherwise, it resembles the circles produced by throwing a stone into the water, which disappear as they become wider spread. This occurs when the nobility goes on in the female line. In order to judge with what speed the most renowned blood is extended by marriage and female descent, it is sufficient to refer to the great number of persons who indubitably have in their veins a few drops of the royal blood of England: they are reckoned by tens of thousands. Sir Bernard Burke says, that among the descendants of Edmond of Woodstock, Earl of Kent and sixth son of Edward I., who only left daughters on his demise, were a Mr. Joseph Smart, butcher at the village of Hales Green, and a Mr. Wilmot, turnpike-keeper near Dudley, Jacob Penny, a sexton at St. George's Church, in London, is descended from the female line of Thomas Plantagenet, Duke of Gloucester, fifth son of Edward, and he gave his eldest son, when christened, the name of Plantagenet. Through a single misalliance the ruin of a family is rapidly entailed. In 1637, a son of the great grandson of Margaret Plantagenet, daughter and heiress of the Duke of Clarence, was a soap-boiler at Newport. If this descendant of kings had married and left children, he could have stocked England with ragged or barefooted little Plantagenets. Duke Bernard of Norfolk one day had the notion of inviting all the descendants of the Norfolk, who was the friend of Richard III., to dinner, but gave it up again on seeing, from an imperfect list, that their number exceeded six hundred. All the true Howards have the right of quartering the royal arms, through their descent from Margaret Mowbray, who married the head of their family. In 1854, a genealogical list was drawn up of all the persons quartering the arms of the various dynasties that have reigned in England: the most ignorant amateur in English heraldry is aware how easy it is to prove a descent in the female line from Edward I., Edward III., or Henry III. American genealogists declare that Washington was also descended from English kings. In Corsica, a saint of the name of Napoleon has been found in the calendar for the Bonaparte family, and in the Italian archives a race of Bonapartes, who go back beyond the twelfth century. So much is certain, that every man who can reckon back to the sixteenth member has 65,536 paternal and maternal ancestors, and that in this number there will be the most respected as well as the most unworthy persons.
The Dukes of Northumberland carry their heads as high as if they were descended in the direct male line from the northern Percys. Still that line of the English branch of the family was extinct so far back as Henry I., when Agnes Percy, daughter of the third lord of that name, married the son of the Duke de Brabant, Jocelin of Louvain, who assumed the name and arms of the Percys. No other feudal family has played a more important part, or been more mixed up in the troubles which harassed England. Possessing, as the family did, such large estates and widely extending influence, it was impossible for them to avoid taking part in the political or religious disputes, and they would have required more luck than sense if they wished to be always on the conquering side ; but it must be allowed that the Percys had a special vocation for rushing into conspiracies and revolts. At one moment they took part in insurrections, when these came in their way; at others they were the actual originators of them; and among them a natural death in bed was rather an exception than the rule.
The first Earl of Northumberland was killed at Braham Moor, his brother was beheaded, and his son Hotspur killed in the battle of Shrewsbury: the second fell at St. Alban's, the third at Towton, and the fourth murdered in a rebellion : the fifth, it is true, died in his bed, but, to make up for that, his second son was executed at Tyburn, and his eldest died of grief and misery. After him the fortunes of the family seemeu to pale : his estates and titles were given to a Dudley, but when the latter in his turn was condemned to lose them, they were returned to the Earl of Northumberland as legal heir. He had, however, learned nothing from his misfortunes, but took part in an insurrection against Queen Elizabeth, and lost his life on the scaffold. The eighth earl was imprisoned in the Tower for acting on behalf of Mary Stuart, where he either committed suicide or was murdered. The ninth, as a partner in the gunpowder plot, was condemned to pay a fine of 30,0001., and imprisonment for life. The eleventh and last representative of the English male line left only a daughter, whose life career was as strange and adventurous as that of her father. At the age of sixteen she had been twice a widow, and married for the third time. At the age of thirteen she was affianced to the young Duke of Newcastle, who died a few months later. The second husband selected for her was Thynne of Longleat, but this marriage was not consummated, because the notorious Count Königsmarck, who was after the rich heiress, had her betrothed killed. Still the heiress escaped him, for she married the proud Duke of Somerset, who at a later date, when his second wife, a Miss Finch, tapped him on the shoulder, or, according to others, sat down in his lap, said, angrily, “ Madam, my first wife was a Percy, but she would have never taken such a liberty."
The first Duchess of Somerset is best known by the circumstances that she persuaded Queen Anne not to give Swift a bishopric. In this way she avenged herself on Swift, who had ridiculed her red hair, and accused her of having been an accomplice in the murder of Thynne, her betrothed. “ It is not known," says Walter Scott, " whether she was most infuriated at the ridicule or at the other accusation, which was only founded on Swift's malice.” The estates and title of Northumberland then passed through the sole heiress to Hugh Smithson, a baronet of good family in Yorkshire. His son, who was dissatisfied at not having the Garter in addition to all his other honours, complained bitterly about it to George III., remarking that he was the first Duke of Northumberland to whom the order had been refused. “Certainly," the king replied ; “ but you are also the first Smithson who ever asked for it.” This is the only joke of which George III. was ever guilty.
The story of the Nevilles shows us the most remarkable changes of fortune, if we compare the position of the great Earl of Warwick, the king-maker, with that of his descendant, Charles Neville, the sixth Earl of Westmoreland, in 1572. The last of the barons (as Sir Lytton Bulwer calls the king-maker) enjoyed an income of 300,0001., and kept an open table in his castles for thirty thousand persons daily. His descendant lived in the Netherlands on a small pension which the King of Spain granted him, and Lord Seton speaks in a letter to Mary Stuart of his extreme poverty. He died in misery, and without male descent, in 1601.
Misfortune seems also to have dogged the Dukes of Buckingham. The first who bore this title, Humphrey de Stafford, fell with his eldest son in the wars of the Roses. His second son and successor was the friend and victim of Richard III. Shakspeare bas preserved for us the sad fate of the third duke. He had foolishly defied Wolsey, who con. trived to bring a charge of high treason against him, and he was bebeaded on Tower Hill. Villiers, to whom the title was given, fell by Felton's knife : a sad ending for a man who had dared to declare his love to a queen of France. Pope makes a sneering comment on the death of another Duke of Buckingham, in lines familiar to our readers. But his was a poetic licence, for the duke really died in the best bedroom of his steward's house. The literary productions of Sheffield, who was made Duke of Buckingham in 1703, cast a lustre over his ducal crown. His family expired in the person of his son, who died at Rome of a chest complaint.
The Cromwells furnish an example of the greatest elevation and deepest fall. Dugdale says that Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex, who bore the sobriquet of the Hammer of Monasteries,” was the son of a blacksmith at Putney, and served under the Constable de Bourbon at the siege of Rome. As he had no children, he adopted a nephew of the name of Richard Williams, who assumed his name, and became head and founder of the family. There are five representatives between him and Oliver Cromwell, whose story we may pass over. The sudden fall and utter disappearance of this family is a most remarkable circumstance. The Lord Protector had four sons and four daughters ; two of these sons survived him : Richard, who followed him in the protectorship; and Henry, who was governor of Ireland. Richard, whose government only lasted eight months, passed twenty years in exile, and it is believed that, on his return to England, he lived in seclusion under the name of Clarke. According to an anecdote told by Miss Hawkins, Richard Cromwell, in 1705, had a trial in the Court of Chancery, and as the counsel for the opposite party alluded in no complimentary terms to the name of Cromwell, Lord Chancellor Cowper asked whether Mr. Cromwell were in court; on receiving an answer in the affirmative, the chancellor invited him to take a seat by his side, through which step the counsel was induced to check his anti-republican eloquence. He died in 1712, and left only two daughters. Henry, the ex-governor of Ireland, lived, till his death in 1673, at his estate, Spinney Abbey, and left five sons and three daughters. All his sons died childless with the exception of one, who, after he had squandered all his property, wrote to his aunt Lady Fauconberg: “Our family has sunk deep, and there are people who assert that it is just ; still, I know that we belong to a race which is older than many others.” His son became a grocer on Snow-hill, and died in 1748, leaving only one son, christened Oliver, who was a simple clerk in the offices of St. Thomas's Hospital. This Oliver Cromwell died in 1821, and had one daughter, who married Mr. Russell, of Cheshunt Park. Among Cromwell's descendants in the female line, we may mention a basket-maker at Cork, one married to a shoemaker, another to the son of a butcher, with whom she was in service in the same house.
It has recently been publicly stated that a descendant of Simon de Montfort is a saddler in Tooley-street, and that the heir of Earl of Mar -an earl whose origin is lost in the mists of antiquity—has been discovered in the garb of a collier. A bricklayer's labourer might have asserted a claim to the earldom of Crawford. Hugh Miller, who was also a bricklayer in early life, often heard the following words addressed to Crawford : “Heh, John Earl of Crawford, bring the hod here! hand me the trowel!” The father of the last Earl of Glengall was a baker's apprentice when he heard what honours awaited him.
The Drummond family is remarkable among those which, though subjected to hard trials, ever retained sufficient strength to rise again: fortunately it found a chronicler, whose sympathy and talent befitted him, more than any other, to write its annals. The genealogy of the Drummonds begins with a scion of the royal house of Hungary (probably a descendant of Attila) of the name of Maurice, who was captain of the ship in which Edgar Atheling and his sisters sailed across the sea to Hungary. One of the ladies, Margaret Atheling, married Malcolm Canmore, King of Scotland, who gave Maurice the estates of Drymen and Drummond in the county of Dumbarton. Whatever truth there may be in this origin, the rank which the family attained certainly agrees with it. Without referring to its direct and indirect connexions with the Bourbons, Bruces, Stuarts, and other royal or princely houses, it gave Scotland a queen, and figures in all the grades of the peerage. The partial decay of the family fortunes dates from the Revolution of 1688, when the head of the Drummonds clung to the fallen dynasty, without taking the usual precaution in Scotland of letting an influential member of the family join the opposite side. This led to the banishment of the Drummonds; their peerage was legally extinguished, and they received but a poor compensa. tion for it in the dignities which the exiled king granted them at St. Germain. After the Union, Andrew Drummond settled in London. He was a clever man of business, and had a well-earned reputation for honesty; and hence most of the Jacobites placed their money affairs in his hands. This was the origin of the celebrated banking firm. The founder of the house, be it remarked, however, in his later years, always drew a marked distinction between a banker and a gentleman compelled by circumstances to take part in banking operations. Just in the same way the father of the bourgeois gentilhomme was not a cloth-dealer, but merely kept in his house a stock of cloth which he exchanged for gold, solely to oblige his friends.
The position of the Drummonds leads us to the question, how far any one dishonours his nobility by entering into trade. In Germany and Spain it is generally assumed that such employment is degrading, but such was not the case with the patricians of Venice and Genoa. In France, a noble who went into trade was obliged to lay aside his sword, and could only resume it when he retired from business. In England, even Pitt, who always remained Mr. Pitt, made it a condition, on raising the head of the banking firm of Smith and Co. to the peerage, as Lord Carrington, that he should retire from business. This was the express desire of George III., who had German prejudices as regards rank and titles. Lords Ashburnham and Overstone gave up business when they entered the Upper House, although no condition to that effect was made. Still, the name of a banker or man of business is always most honourable in England.
It would be wrong to believe that at the head of every genealogy in England we must find a nobleman dating back to the Norman conquest. If we may follow Augustine Thierry and the authorities he quotes, the army of William the Conqueror was mainly composed of low-born adven. turers, whom he collected around him by the prospect of loot: suttlers and camp-followers may have clothed themselves in the spoils of the enemy, presented themselves as cavaliers, and in that quality obtained fiefs.