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James Annesley

James Annesley—Calling Himself Earl of Anglesea

Arthur Annesley, Viscount Valencia, who founded the families both of Anglesea and Altham, was one of the staunchest adherents of Charles II., and had a considerable hand in bringing about his restoration to the throne. Immediately after that event his efforts were rewarded by an English peerage—his title being Baron Annesley of Newport-Pagnel, in the county of Buckingham and Earl of Angelsea. Besides this honour he obtained the more substantial gift of large tracts of land in Ireland. The first peer had five sons. James Annesley, the eldest son, having married the daughter of the Earl of Rutland, and having been constituted heir of all his father's English real property, and a great part of his Irish estates, the old earl became desirous of establishing a second noble family in the sister kingdom, and succeeded in procuring the elevation of his second son Altham to the Irish peerage as Baron Altham of Altham, with remainder, on failure of male issue, to Richard his third son.

Altham, Lord Altham, died without issue, and the title and estates accordingly devolved upon Richard, who, dying in 1701, left two sons, named respectively Arthur and Richard. The new peer, in 1706, espoused Mary Sheffield, a natural daughter of the Duke of Buckingham, against the wishes of his relatives. He lived with his wife in England for two or three years, but was at last obliged to flee to Ireland from his creditors, leaving Lady Altham behind him in the care of his mother and sisters. These ladies, who cordially hated her, set about ruining her reputation, and soon induced her weak and dissipated husband to sue for a divorce, but, as proof was not forthcoming, the case was dismissed. Thereupon his lordship showed a disposition to become reconciled to his wife, and she accordingly went over to Dublin in October 1713; and through the good offices of a friend a reconciliation was effected, and the reunited couple, after a temporary residence in Dublin, went to live at Lord Altham's country seat of Dunmain, in the county of Wexford. Here, in April or May 1715, Lady Altham bore a son, which was given to a peasant woman, named Joan Landy, to nurse. At first the young heir was suckled by this woman at the mansion, and afterwards at the cabin of her father, less than a mile from Dunmain. In order to make this residence a little more suitable for the child it was considerably improved externally and internally, and a coach road was constructed between it and Dunmain House, so that Lady Altham might be able frequently to visit her son.

Soon after the birth of the child Lord Altham's dissipation and his debts increased, and he proposed to the Duke of Buckingham that he should settle a jointure on Lady Altham, and for this purpose the pair visited Dublin. The effort was unsuccessful, as the estate was found to be covered by prior securities; and Lord Altham, in a fury, ordered his wife back to Dunmain, while he remained behind in the Irish capital. On his return his spite against her seemed to have revived, and not only did he insult her in his drunken debauches, but contrived an abominable plot to damage her reputation. Some time in February 1717, a loutish fellow named Palliser, who was intimate at the house, was called up to Lady Altham's apartment, on the pretence that she wished to speak to him. Lord Altham and his servants immediately followed; my lord stormed and swore, and dragged the supposed seducer into the dining-room, where he cut off part of one of his ears, and immediately afterwards kicked him out of the house. A separation ensued, and on the same day Lady Altham went to live at New Ross.

Before leaving her own home she had begged hard to be allowed to take her child with her, but was sternly refused, and at the same time the servants were instructed not to carry him near her. The boy therefore remained at Dunmain under the care of a dry nurse, but, notwithstanding his father's injunctions, was frequently taken to his mother by some of the domestics, who pitied her forlorn condition. When he came to an age to go to school, he was sent to several well-known seminaries, and was attended by a servant both on his way to them and from them; "was clothed in scarlet, with a laced hat and feather;" and was universally recognised as the legitimate son and heir of Lord Altham.

Towards the end of 1722, Lord Altham—who had by this time picked up a mistress named Miss Gregory—removed to Dublin, and sent for his son to join him. He seemed very fond of the boy, and the woman Gregory for a time pretended to share in this affection, until she conceived the idea of supplanting him. She easily persuaded her weak-minded lover to go through the form of marriage with her, under the pretence that his wife was dead, took the title of Lady Altham, and fancied that some of her own possible brood might succeed to the title, for the estates were by this time well-nigh gone. With this purpose in her mind she used her influence against the boy, and at last got him turned out of the house and sent to a poor school; but it is, at least, so far creditable to his father to say, that he did not quite forget him, that he gave instructions that he should be well treated, and that he sometimes went to see him.

Lord Altham's creditors, as has been stated, were very clamorous, and his brother Richard was practically a beggar: they were both sadly in want of money, and only one way remained to procure it. If the boy were out of the way, considerable sums might be raised by his lordship by the sale of reversions, in conjunction with the remainder-man in tail, who would in that case have been Lord Altham's needy brother Richard. Consequently the real heir was removed to the house of one Kavanagh, where he was kept for several months closely confined, and in the meantime it was industriously given out that he was dead. The boy, however, found means to escape from his confinement, and, prowling up and down the streets, made the acquaintance of all the idle boys in Dublin. Any odd work which came in his way he readily performed; and although he was a butt for the gamins and an object of pity to the town's-people, few thought of denying his identity or disputing his legitimacy. Far from being unknown, he became a conspicuous character in Dublin; and although, from his roaming proclivities, it was impossible to do much to help him, the citizens in the neighbourhood of the college were kindly disposed towards him, supplied him with food and a little money, and vented their abuse in unmeasured terms against his father.

In 1727 Lord Altham died in such poverty that it is recorded that he was buried at the public expense. After his death, his brother Richard seized all his papers and usurped the title. The real heir then seems to have been stirred out of his slavish life, and declaimed loudly against this usurpation of his rights, but his complaints were unavailing, and, although they provoked a certain clamour, did little to restore him to his honours. However, they reached his uncle, who resolved to put him out of the way. The first attempt to seize him proved a failure, although personally superintended by the uncle himself; but young Annesley was so frightened by it that he concealed himself from public observation, and thus gave grounds for a rumour—which was industriously circulated—that he was dead. Notwithstanding his caution, however, he was seized in March 1727, and conveyed on board a ship bound for Newcastle in America, and on his arrival there was sold as a slave to a planter named Drummond.

The story of his American adventures was originally published in the Gentleman's Magazine, and has since been rehearsed by modern writers. It seems that Drummond, who was a tyrannical fellow, set his new slave to fell timber, and finding his strength unequal to the work, punished him severely. The unaccustomed toil and the brutality of his master told upon his health, and he began to sink under his misfortunes, when he found a comforter in an old female slave who had herself been kidnapped, and who, being a person of some education, not only endeavoured to console him, but also to instruct him. She sometimes wrote short pieces of instructive history on bits of paper, and these she left with him in the field. In order to read them he often neglected his work, and, as a consequence, incurred Drummond's increased displeasure, and aggravated his own position. His old friend died after four years, and after her death, his life having become intolerable, he resolved to run away. He was then seventeen years of age, and strong and nimble, and having armed himself with a hedging-bill, he set out. For three days he wandered in the woods until he came to a river, and espied a town on its banks. Although faint from want of food, he was afraid to venture into it until night-fall, and lay down under a tree to await the course of events. At dusk he perceived two horsemen approaching—the one having a woman behind him on a pillion, while the other bore a well-filled portmanteau. Just as they reached his hiding-place, the former, who was evidently the second man's master, said to the lady that the place where they were was an excellent one for taking some refreshment; and bread and meat and wine having been produced from the saddle-bags, the three sat down on the ground to enjoy their repast. Annesley, who was famished, approached closer and closer, until he was discovered by the servant, who, exclaiming to his master that they were betrayed, rushed at the new comer with his drawn sword. Annesley, however, succeeded in convincing them of his innocence, and they not only supplied him with food, but told him that they were going to Apoquenimink to embark for Holland, and that, out of pity for his misfortunes, they would procure him a passage in the same vessel. His hopes were destined to be very short-lived. The trio re-mounted, and Annesley had followed them for a short distance painfully on foot, when suddenly horsemen appeared behind them in chase. There was no time for deliberation. The lady jumped off and hid herself among the trees. The gentleman and his servant drew their swords, and Annesley ranged himself beside them armed with his hedge-bill, determined to help those who had generously assisted him. The contest was unequal, the fugitives were soon surrounded, and, with the lady, were bound and carried to Chester gaol.

It appeared that the young lady was the daughter of a rich merchant, and had been compelled to marry a man who was disagreeable to her; and that, after robbing her husband, she had eloped with a previous lover who held a social position inferior to her own. All the vindictiveness of the husband had been aroused; and when the trial took place, the lady, her lover, and the servant, were condemned to death for the robbery. James Annesley contrived to prove that he was not connected with the party, and escaped their fate; but he was remanded to prison, with orders that he should be exposed to public view every day in the market-place; and that if it could be proved by any of the frequenters that he had ever been seen in Chester before, he should be deemed accessory to the robbery and should suffer death.

He remained in suspense for five weeks, until Drummond chanced to come to Chester on business, and, recognising the runaway, claimed him as his property. The consequence was that the two years which remained of his period of servitude were doubled; and when he arrived at Newcastle, Drummond's severity and violence greatly increased. A complaint of his master's ill-usage was made to the justices, and that worthy was at last obliged to sell him to another; but Annesley gained little by the change. For three years he continued with his new owner in quiet toleration of his lot; but having fallen into conversation with some sailors bound for Europe, the old desire to see Ireland once more came upon him, and he ventured a second escape. He was recaptured before he could gain the ship; and under the order of the court, the solitary year of his bondage which remained was increased into five. Under this new blow he sank into a settled state of melancholy, and seemed so likely to die that his new master had pity upon his condition, began to treat him with less austerity, and recommended him to the care of his wife, who often took him into the house, and recommended her daughter Maria to use him with all kindness. The damsel exceeded her mother's instructions, and straightway fell in love with the good-looking young slave, often showing her affection in a manner which could not be mistaken. Nor was she the only one on whom his appearance made an impression. A young Iroquis Indian girl, who shared his servitude, made no secret of her attachment to him, exhibited her love by assisting him in his work, while she assured him that if he would marry her when his time of bondage was past, she would work so hard as to save him the expense of two slaves. In vain Annesley rejected her advances, and tried to explain to her the hopelessness of her desires. She persistently dogged his footsteps, and was never happy but in his sight. Her rival Maria, no less eager to secure his affection, used to stray to the remote fields in which she knew he worked, and on one occasion encountered the Indian girl, who was also bent upon visiting him. The hot-blooded Indian then lost her self-control, and, having violently assaulted her young mistress, sprang into the river close by, and thus ended her love and her life together.

Maria, who had been seriously abused, was carried home and put to bed, and her father naturally demanded some explanation of the extraordinary quarrel which had cost him a slave and very nearly a daughter. The other slaves had no hesitation in recounting what they had seen, or of saying what they thought, and the truth came out. Annesley's master was, however, resolved to be certain, and sent him into her room, while he and his wife listened to what passed at the interview. Their stratagem had the desired success. They heard their daughter express the most violent passion, which was in no way returned by their slave. As they could not but acknowledge his honourable feeling and action, they resolved to take no notice of what had passed, but for their daughter's sake to give him his liberty. Next day his master accompanied him to Dover; but instead of releasing him—as he had promised his wife—sold him to a planter near Chichester for the remainder of his term.

After various ups and downs, he was transferred to a planter in Newcastle county, whose house was almost within sight of Drummond's plantation. While in this employ he discovered that he was tracked by the brothers of the Indian girl, who had sworn to avenge her untimely fate, and nearly fell a victim to their rage, having been wounded by one of them who lay in wait for him. By another accident, while he was resting under a hedge which divided his master's ground from a neighbouring plantation, he fell asleep, and did not awake until it was perfectly dark. He was aroused by the sound of voices, and on listening found that his mistress and Stephano, a slave on another farm, were plotting to rob his master, and to flee together to Europe. Repressing his desire to reveal the whole scheme to his master, he took the first opportunity of informing his mistress that her infamy was discovered, and that if she persevered in her design he would be compelled to reveal all that he had overheard. The woman at first pretended the utmost repentance, and not only earnestly promised that she would never repeat her conduct, but by many excessive acts of kindness led him to believe that her unlawful passion had changed its object. Finding, however, that she could not prevail upon him either to wink at her misdeeds or gratify her desires, she endeavoured to get rid of him by poison; and an attempt having been made upon his life, Annesley resolved once more to risk an escape, although the time of his servitude had almost expired.

On this occasion he was successful; and having made his way in a trading ship to Jamaica, got on board the "Falmouth," one of his Majesty's ships, and declared himself an Irish nobleman. His arrival, of course, created a great stir in the fleet, and the affair came to the ears of Admiral Vernon, who, having satisfied himself that his pretensions were at least reasonable, ordered him to be well treated, wrote to the Duke of Newcastle about him, and sent him home to England. He arrived in October 1741. His uncle Richard had in the meantime succeeded, through default of issue, to the honours of Anglesea, as well as those of Altham, and became seriously alarmed at the presence of this pretender on English soil. At first he asserted that the claimant, although undoubtedly the son of his deceased brother, was the bastard child of a kitchen wench. He next tried to effect a compromise with him, and subsequently endeavoured to procure his conviction on a charge of murder. It is also said that assassins were hired to kill him. But it is certainly true that Annesley having accidentally shot a man near Staines, the Earl of Anglesea spared neither pains nor money to have him condemned. He was tried at the Old Bailey, and being acquitted by the jury, proceeded to Ireland to prosecute his claim to the Altham estates. On his arrival at Dunmain and New Ross, he was very warmly received by many of the peasantry. His first attempt to secure redress was by an action at law. An action for ejectment was brought in the Court of Exchequer in Ireland for a small estate in the county of Meath, and a bill was at the same time filed in the Court of Chancery of Great Britain for the recovery of the English estates.

In Trinity term 1743, when everything was ready for a trial at the next ensuing assizes, a trial at bar was appointed on the application of the agents of the Earl of Anglesea. The case began on the 11th of November 1743, at the bar of the Court of Exchequer in Dublin, being, as is noted in Howell's State Trials, "the longest trial ever known, lasting fifteen days, and the jury (most of them) gentlemen of the greatest property in Ireland, and almost all members of parliament." A verdict was found for the claimant, with 6d. damages and 6d. costs. A writ of error was at once lodged on the other side, but on appeal the judgment of the Court below was affirmed. Immediately after the trial and verdict, the claimant petitioned his Majesty for his seat in the Houses of Peers of both kingdoms; but delay after delay took place, and he finally became so impoverished that he could no longer prosecute his claims.

James Annesley was twice married; but although he had a son by each marriage, neither of them grew to manhood. He died on the 5th of January 1760.