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.


scriptor said...

I was looking for clarification of the origin of the Barons d'Este in Paris and you have given it, so thank you. My colleague and I are researching the Kibbles of Green Trees here in Kent, England. Who? You may well ask as even locally few people have heard of them and nobody knew where they came from. In fact, if our research is correct, Thomas Kibble actually did the Dick Whittington thing in one respect, which in that respect is more than the real Richard Whittington, the son of a titled father, did. Thomas was born in Brettenham, Suffolk in 1770 and his father was a shoemaker. For many generations the lords of the manor there had been the Wenyeve family. As a young boy Thomas moved to London with his parents and through his own efforts ended up a successful merchant wealthy enough to buy the 600 acre Green Trees estate in Kent with its manor house.

Now that he was a member of the landed gentry Thomas married his daughter Frances Sarah to Oscar the son of Charles Edouard, Baron d'Este in Paris. The efforts of the d'Este family to maintain the semblance of an aristocratic line included naming Oscar and Frances's son Baron Alfred Beresford d'Este, Beresford having been her mother's family name. This meant that rather than being named after her paternal grandfather, a shoemaker, he was named after her maternal grandfather, who sold haberdashery and cloth, but at least unlike Kibble the name sounded like it might have had some claim to a family crest. Also it had strong connotations of the Royal Navy, suggesting that the Barons d'Este were even closer to Lord Nelson.

After Thomas's death the census of 1851 revealed a remarkable change of fortunes at Green Trees. The male line of the Wenyeves had ended but the name had continued through the female line to Georgeana Wenyeve Camac, whose father then owned the old Wenyeve estate where Thomas had been born. In an attempt to use her trust fund to pay off his debts when she reached age 21 her father went to great lengths to stop her marrying, but one year while in Edinburgh for the approaching Hogmanay celebrations she married Edward Fenton under Scottish law without needing her father's permission. Eventually by a court order the estate at Brettenham Park was sold to pay off various debts. The estate of the Fenton family in Yorkshire had also been sold off many years previously; in fact Thomas may well have considered buying it instead of Green Trees. Ironically the 1851 census discovered Edward and Georgeana staying as guests at Green Trees, which had by then been extended by the Kibbles into a magnificent mansion filled with valuable art treasures,with its new master, Thomas's son, a remarkable inversion of the statuses of the families.

Thomas's widow wasn't buried with him as she remarried to Dr. James Manby Gully. It was their estranged marriage and her longevity that precipitated the events that led up to that classic Victorian mystery, the Charles Bravo Murder. Eventually she was buried alone as Dr. Gully was buried with his first wife, the mother of his children.

Ultimately, when Thomas's only son died in old age still a bachelor, by his will all the proceeds from the sale of the Kibble estate were divided amongst his sister Frances's children, so the d'Estes ended up with all the Kibble money without even adopting the Kibble name.

As you observed, just one letter can open up a whole line of enquiry, and in our case this was an undelivered letter from Adelaide, South Australia addressed to Thomas Kibble at Green Trees. We are now looking into the family's involvement in the attempt to establish a colony of truly free people called Adelaide that started in 1835 and has proved slightly more successful from the British viewpoint than that business in some parts of the north American continent earlier. Sovereignty in Australia has been a bit touch and go in recent years but the visit by our latest royalty to that country seems to have tipped the balance back some for the time being.

J. L. Bell said...

I'm glad this was helpful.

Lesley Wood said...

I am a descendent of the Rev. Charles Este of "The World" fame, though his daughter Harriet and her husband Nathaniel Wells. Charles Este Sr. is a favorite forebear as he was SUCH a man about town (at least in his own eyes!) and so mercurial in nature -- almost "not quite respectable".
Nathaniel Wells' life events have been easy to trace thanks to recent research by Anne Rainsbury, curator of Chepstow Museum, but I have very little insight into his personality and Harriet remains just a pretty face in a formal portrait that Nathaniel had painted of her after their marriage.
I had previously researched, with much glee, the three Este sons who married two Smyth girls! I appreciate the clarification as to why Charles Jr was in Paris to begin with, as well as on Robert Smyth and presumably young Este's political leanings. The Paine letter is a nice primary source document! Regards, Lesley Wood, Canada

J. L. Bell said...

This series of postings took me far from my usual fields of New England, but they were rich with stories. I hope you find more about Harriet to fill out her portrait.