J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, September 16, 2013

Mr. Este and Miss Smyth

Yesterday I described how Thomas Paine and Sir Robert Smyth bonded in Revolutionary France, first as British supporters of that country’s republican government and then as victims of its most radical regime. I also mentioned how Smyth’s wife Charlotte exchanged flirtatious letters and poetry with Paine when he was in prison, though that might have just been to keep his hopes up. In 1796 Paine lived with the Smyths while he recovered his health.

Also at the Smyths’ house was a young British gentleman whom Smyth had met in their French prison, Charles Este. The British peace ambassador James Harris, later Earl of Malmesbury (shown here), thought Este was worthy of suspicion, writing home to London on 28 Nov 1796:
It will not be foreign to the subject of this despatch to inform your Lordship that the author of a little pamphlet, addressed to me, and which I forwarded to your Lordship by the last messenger, is a man of the name of Este, son to a well-known clergyman of that name, who is, I believe, editor of a newspaper called the Telegraph. He is living here with Lady S * * * *, wife to the notorious Sir R. S * * * *; two more of his brothers, I understand, are lately arrived from England; they are all in close connexion with T. Paine, who at present is very much distressed in circumstances, has little or no influence in the country, and who declares himself to be highly discontented with the new Constitution.
The Rev. Charles Este did most of his journalism for a gossipy London newspaper called The World, but in 1796 he was indeed one of the investors in a short-lived paper called the Telegraph. Back here I guessed that American newspapers using that name in the 1790s took their inspiration from Revolutionary France.

Robert Smyth left France before the end of the century and, according to Paine’s December 1800 letter now on display at Iona College, the younger Charles Este and the Smyths’ younger daughter, Charlotte, had gotten married by that time. Charlotte was only seventeen that year, Charles twenty-five.

Paine’s letter evidently helped to get young Charles Este released from jail since the man went on to a long business career in France. Though trained as a doctor, he followed his father-in-law into banking, with more success. He also reportedly claimed the unused French title of Baron d’Este and started calling himself Charles-Edouard, though still maintaining ties to Britain.

The Este-Smyth family ties get more complex. Months after her father’s death in 1802, Louisa Smyth, the older daughter, married Charles Este’s younger brother Michael Lambton Este, usually called Lambton. He was then secretary to the British diplomat Charles Lock. Later he handled the same job for Lord Horatio Nelson, and finally he returned to Britain for a long career in medicine.

But that marriage didn’t last. In fact, it didn’t even get started according to a later court case about Louisa’s estate:
On the 31st of March 1803 the marriage was solemnized according to the rites of the Church of England, at the Chapel of the British Ambassador at Paris; but as it was intended that the marriage should also be solemnized in accordance with the French law the parties continued to live separate; this latter ceremony, however, never was performed in consequence of circumstances which transpired, and on the 26th of April 1803 the contracting parties separated, and Louisa C. Smyth shortly afterwards went through the forms of marriage with Thomas Raikes Este, by whom she had several children…
That’s right—Louisa married the third Este brother. And that marriage seems to have lasted nicely.

Some reference books say Louisa Smyth married Charles Este, and others get Charles mixed up with his father, who himself gets mixed up with his namesake uncle. Indeed, my whole recreation of the Paine/Smyth/Este saga is only tentative, given how I’m dealing mainly with conflicting secondary sources.

And remember Lord Edward Fitzgerald, who renounced his title alongside Sir Robert Smyth? His half-sister Cecilia Oglivie married Charles Locke, Lambton Este’s employer—who feuded with Lord Nelson, Lambton Este’s next employer, over his affair with Lady Hamilton. And the Este brothers’ little sister Harriet? In June 1801, still a minor, she married Nathaniel Wells, son of a St. Kitts planter and his enslaved mistress Juggy. These people were just a fount of gossip! And all from one favor-seeking letter by Thomas Paine.

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