Victim, Beneficiary and Follower of his Father’s Legacy
SUMARY OF THE MAIN PRIMARY SOURCES
Chapter I: BLACKMAIL & BIGAMY
Chapter II: INTRICACY OF A SECRET MARRIAGE
Chapter III: AN HEIR TAINTED BY ILLEGITIMACY
Chapter IV: AFTERMATH - MAINTAINING A POLITICAL LEGACY
I wish to gratefully acknowledge the assistance of the following people without whom
this dissertation would be the poorer:
· Dr W.E. Vaughan, for his insightful advice, guidance, patience and time as my dissertation
· Dr A.P.W. Malcomson, for his kind and generous advice, and for pointing me in the
direction of Henry Windsor Villiers-Stuart, as an interesting and unexplored option.
· My grandmother, Mrs Emily Villiers-Stuart, for her direction and source of information.
· Ms Carol Quinn of UCC, for kindly permitting me access to the Villiers-Stuart papers
and for retrieving the necessary documents.
· The staff at Trinity College Library and Early Printed Books.
· My family for proof reading the dissertation.
· And to all those who helped otherwise.
I declare that this dissertation is of entirely my own work; submitted in partial
fulfilment of the requirements of a BA degree in History, 2007.
A D C Grubb V S
~SUMMARY OF THE MAIN PRIMARY SOURCES~
The Villiers-Stuart Papers
The Villiers-Stuart papers comprise of roughly 9,500 documents and volumes dating
from 1215-1945, relating to the estate, family and political affairs of the FitzGerald,
Villiers, Mason, Aland and Villiers-Stuart families of Dromana, Co. Waterford, Viscounts
and Earls Grandison and Baron(s) Stuart de Decies.
A section of the papers were loaned to the National Library in the late 1960s but
then returned to the family with some difficulty in 1995. In the late 1970s the main
section of the papers were tackled by the then Dr Dickson of Trinity College and
Dr Malcomson of Queens University & PRONI, who routinely took great pains to sift
through the contents and compile a calendar of the collection, which is what now
appears at: http://www.proni.gov.uk/records/private/villstu.htm
In 1995 the papers were then microfilmed by Waterford library with copies thereafter
held at Dungarvan, Lismore and the National Library of Ireland.
Finally in 2004 the Villiers-Stuart family permanently parted company with the collection
to UCC, where they are now held in the special collections section of the Boole Library.
UCC are in the process of procuring the necessary staff to comprehensively organise
the papers, so that finally their entirety can be microfilmed and thus accessed by
potentially interested scholars. The final third of the papers cannot be readily
accessible until this is achieved.
However, due to the kind generosity and patience of Carol Quinn, UCC, the author
was admitted access to the nineteenth and early twentieth century section of the
papers, much of which are still officially out of bounds. The author visited the
special collections library on four separate occasions with Carol Quinn having kindly
delved into the papers to retrieve what was needed. Prior to this the author also
accessed the microfilmed version in both the Waterford Library, Dungarvan and also
on occasion the National Library of Ireland.
The sections explored by the author were the Stuart and Villiers-Stuart estate and
financial correspondence, 1800-1907; letters and papers, 1824-1874, of Henry Villiers-Stuart,
1st Lord Stuart de Decies, concerning general politics, Co. Waterford politics and
administration, and family matters and most importantly, similar letters and papers,
1857-1893, of Henry Windsor Villiers-Stuart, MP for Co. Waterford, 1873-1874 and
The 1876 Peerage Case
As this paper demonstrates, possibly the most influential and consequential factor
in the life of Henry Windsor, and in the history of the Villiers-Stuart family since
1803, was the secret marriage of 1826. This lead to the unfortunate Peerage Case
of 1876, which was never able to conclusively establish what took place surrounding
the matrimonial affairs of Lord Stuart de Decies, and his Austrian wife, and still
remains a topic of debate over a hundred and seventy five years later within the
Under the guidance of my supervisor Dr Vaughan, the challenge presented itself to
explore the puzzling issues surrounding the legality and validity of the marriage
of 1826, and thus the legitimacy of Henry Windsor Villiers-Stuart. To successfully
achieve this the author has had to greatly rely on the evidence produced within the
captivating and convoluted Peerage case, which amounts to 255 pages. Included within
are letters of importance as well as cross-examination of witnesses.
The author has also briefly referred to various bundles of legal papers and letters,
which like the peerage case have remained in safe keeping at Dromana. Such documents
range from the significant and ‘sealed’ correspondence between Lord Stuart and his
brother William over the ‘Promise’ in 1840, to correspondence between curious members
of the family generations later, and to various correspondence between family members
and persons in Austria.
Also worthy of inclusion within the Miscellaneous items are the two books of newspaper
cuttings, and while highly interesting, they have been quintessential to the composition
of this dissertation, providing the author with a valuable insight into contemporary
thinking of the period. The collection was compiled most likely under the instruction
of Lord Stuart and then his son, Henry Windsor, who had what could be termed colloquially
as media agents, whom forwarded on any cutting of interest and relevance to Dromana
affairs. These two historically valuable books have only been recently rediscovered
at Dromana by the author’s grandmother, Emily Villiers-Stuart.
~PERSPECTIVE OF HENRY VILLIERS-STUART SNR~
While this dissertation shall delve into the tribulations and successes of one particular
family and character, consistently lingering overhead will be a range of significant
and vast subjects including; law, honour, gender and property. Taking these key issues
into account will be pertinent in the understanding of a family who may be classed
within the nineteenth century political elite of Ireland. In realising this, the
personal circumstances that this essay will examine become relevant to the wider
picture of the social and political history of Ireland. Before laying out the path
of this dissertation, it first becomes necessary to introduce the primary character
of this study, followed by the most influential and enigmatic figure of his father.
Henry Windsor Villiers-Stuart was born in London on 13 September 1827, under what
might be described as an ambiguous state of affairs. Publicly for most of his life
he was presented, arguably falsely, as the ‘Honourable’ and heir to his father’s
title and estate of Dromana Co Waterford, this before dubiety arose over the clandestine
marriage of his parents in 1826. Hence, his life was to assume a most unusual path
of intermittent legitimacy and illegitimacy, being privately cast as a ‘younger son’
by his father, while publicly being accepted, without question, as the legitimate
heir. Such tribulation lingered until an abandoned Peerage Case in 1876, which effectively
failed to class him in either bracket but which removed him of his Peerage.
In essence it appears that the subject of his legitimacy, and therefore his parents’
marriage, was one that caused some considerable confusion and evidently was never
conclusively established. It is probable that it was a seemingly inappropriate issue
to discuss, but one which ultimately came to bare upon his father’s death in 1873,
and the Peerage claim which arose three years later. It is this Peerage case which
appears to be the main source of light shed on the topic; with little or no evidence
elsewhere of correspondence, deliberation or resentfulness between Henry Windsor
and his father. It is a subject therefore which appears to have remained confined
purely to the past, and only dealt with in 1876 at which point much of the evidence
becomes patchy or even non-existent, making for a challenging historical discussion.
What is however apparent from Villiers-Stuart’s life, which it seems he derived in
some way from his father, was a benevolent like attitude to those who were less fortunate
than himself. Whether on his own estate, in parliament, or abroad, be it the labourer
of Ireland whose condition he struggled to ameliorate, or even the Fellaheen, the
peasant class of Egypt whose plight he reported to parliament, evidently Villiers-Stuart
rarely ceased to put the cause of the ‘down trodden’ before any other. Hence, it
may be argued that his life of sympathy to the unfortunate, the ‘underdog’ life which
he himself lived in many respects due the doubt surrounding his legitimacy, may well
have been a factor in the driving force behind his determination to somewhat better
the lives of others. In this, one cannot ignore the influence of his father, the
celebrated emancipationist, who played a major role in putting the cause of the disadvantaged
Irish Catholic to the forefront of society in early nineteenth century Ireland, and
who it seems set a precedent for his son.
Due to this apparent paternal influence, it is clear that in order to fully comprehend
the life of Henry Windsor, a considered understanding of his father is required within
the initial reaches of this paper. It would be unbefitting to exclude him from any
analysis of a Villiers-Stuart in the nineteenth century, as he appears to have been
an individual who was revered, albeit benignly perhaps, as someone who had left his
mark on the history of his country, and who, it has was quoted, had his ‘services
remembered and cherished by every Catholic mind in Ireland’. The origins of such
exaltation bestowed upon Villiers-Stuart can be traced back to 1823, when at the
age of twenty, he was being acclaimed for his relief to the poor and his sympathy
towards the Catholic cause was becoming increasingly acknowledged.
It was at that time that Villiers-Stuart publicly made himself available to champion
the Catholic cause. On 26 July 1825, in what was characterized as ‘the seed of all
the after events’, some wealthy Catholics of Waterford hosted a dinner for twelve
Protestant magistrates who had shown considerable affinity towards Catholic Emancipation,
at which it was announced that Villiers-Stuart was to be a nominated Liberal candidate
in the General Election of 1826 against the Conservative Lord Beresford of Curraghmore.
This move initiated what might be termed as an historic alliance between liberal
Protestants and the ‘well to do’ Catholics of Ireland. Villiers-Stuart, most likely
now influenced by the rhetoric of the Catholic Association, claimed that while Ireland’s
seven million inhabitants remained in a state of political servitude, peace and tranquillity
would not be forthcoming. He, therefore, assumed what was believed to be the role
of the ideal liberal candidate, while a strike at the Beresford’s was seen as nothing
less than a strike at the very heart of the Ascendancy.
Although the Catholic Emancipation cause succeeded in arousing a surprisingly large
amount of support from the Protestant gentry throughout Ireland and Waterford, it
nonetheless must have initially raised some eyebrows amongst Villiers-Stuart’s counterparts.
Nevertheless, whether Villiers-Stuart courted the Catholic cause for personal political
benefit, or as the widespread evidence would indicate, out of genuine sympathy, it
was widely remembered that his triumph in the 1826 election, was ‘the prelude to
the striking off the shackles of disability from his Catholic fellow countrymen’.
Villiers-Stuart’s liberal nature may therefore have elevated his popularity among
the Catholics of Ireland, but as one of his obituaries revealed in 1874, by presenting
himself as the champion of liberty, he was in some quarters shunned by his own class
and furthermore incurred the hostility of the ascendant party [Conservatives]. Yet
as his own party, the Whigs, were in power for mostof the period from 1830-74, indeed
politically his policy was arguably a resounding success, for any hostility received
from the Conservatives would have been rather inconsequential.
With regard to the accusation that his own class shunned him - it could rather be
suggested that Villiers-Stuart simply became an element of the new ‘Establishment’,
but not without making himself a pariah of his own class. One has only to refer to
a letter franked by Daniel O’Connell in 1838 wherein it was revealed to Villiers-Stuart:
‘it will not be forgotten that you…had to cast away the prepossessions and prejudices
of ‘your order’, upon which you waged war’. The latter part of his quote was most
likely referring to Villiers-Stuart’s affiliation with his priestly allies, who recklessly
encouraged tenants across the board to vote against their landlords. Take for instance
Dromana’s larger neighbouring estate - Curraghmore, seat of the Beresford’s, whose
power base was to suffer briefly from Villiers-Stuart’s policies. It could be presupposed
therefore that it was from his daring and astute political strategy, and the popular
effect that it appeared to invoke amongst the majority of the ‘unfortunate class’,
which was to essentially shape the political path to liberalism for Henry Windsor,
Having emerged from the 1826 election politically triumphant, but perhaps socially
wounded, Villiers-Stuart relinquished himself from politics four years later to concentrate
partially on the management of his estate, but not before courting trouble at the
hands of blackmailers on the continent. It is from here that our attention strays
towards his personal life, while remembering to consider the impact of this on his
son. As such then, although it is largely through the political spectrum that the
nineteenth century Villiers-Stuarts’ are remembered, it is the highly perplexing
and ambiguous debate over Villiers-Stuart’s marriage in 1826 that shall be the subject
of most importance within this paper. But while focusing the substance of the essay
on the intriguing yet largely unfathomable issues surrounding the marriage, it is
pertinent that such a subject matter should not outshine the other noteworthy facets
of what must be perceived as a remarkable sixty-eight years. It was to be a life
in which Henry Windsor was to assume an abundance of different roles, including a
significant period of his time absorbed as a Liberal politician.
Due to the constraints of length it will not be possible to expand entirely on these
subjects, or other stages of Henry Windsor’s life. Those that cannot be assimilated
deserve a brief mention. For instance, he was a cadet in the Prince Liechtenstein’s
Regiment (The 5th Regiment of Light Horse) of the Austrian Imperial Army 1844-46,
to ensign in the 26th (British Regiment), 1846-1847 in the British Army, to then
becoming vicar of Bulkington, Warwickshire, 1852, and of Napton Warwickshire, in
1855. Admittedly however, the latter three vocations have produced little or no evidence
of note. In 1871 he resigned Holy Orders, having arguably been sufficiently boosted
in moral terms, enabling him to stand as a Member of Parliament (MP) for County Waterford
from 1873 to 1874. It was at that time that he vacated his seat on his succession
to his father’s peerage. He returned as MP for Waterford from 1880 to 1885 with a
determination to champion the labourer’s cause in a way that could be compared to
his father’s espousal of Catholic Emancipation over half a century earlier. Henry
Windsor though was not simply a social activist, but also an author, producing several
interesting works including a significant parliamentary report on ‘Egypt After the
War’. Indeed, when the Villiers-Stuart papers are accessible in their entirety, his
time as a benevolent and somewhat unique landlord will deservedly attract some significant
attention from scholars of that subject, while letters in addition to interesting
books written on his travels across the continent of America, and the fascinating
period of his time spent with the people of Egypt further to his official tour of
inspection following the battle of Tel-el-Kebir in 1882, although sadly cannot be
committed to this paper, will remain excellent material for further scholarly attention.
One already has a perception of the most unusual life that this character experienced.
In order to find an explanation for this, it becomes necessary, before discussing
his time as an MP and Landlord, to further expand on the analysis of his father,
whose personal conviction that Henry Windsor was not to be the heir apparent to his
title and estates was largely steadfast until the 1860s. Prior to this, the essay,
which, aside from it’s wider context, is essentially a story of a man, a marriage
and a son, shall examine the two separate but equally important allegations surrounding
the previously mentioned perplexing marriage of Henry Windsor’s parents in 1826.
The sequence of this dissertation shall be therefore as briefly follows:
Chapter one will examine the first unlikely, yet accusatory issue of the Villiers-Stuart
matrimony concerning its bigamous nature. Chapter two will deal with the separate
issue as to whether the marriage was invalid, for whilst it may or may not have been,
the contemporary evidence was unable to prove otherwise. Chapter three shall explore
Henry Windsor’s legitimacy, dealing with the impact of this and his father’s change
of opinion. Finally, chapter four will assess his championing of the farm labourer’s
cause in the 1880s. In approaching the latter chapter, it should be remembered that
the somewhat unique policies in which Henry Windsor pursued may be traced back to
the influence of his father, and may also be observed colloquially as a silver lining,
which emerged from the loss of his Peerage and his legitimacy, with a probable desire
not to be overshadowed by his father before him. While this essay shall examine the
above, it will ultimately demonstrate to the reader that honour, property and politics
were inseparable in nineteenth century Ireland.
~BLACKMAIL & BIGAMY~
The initial concern to be scrutinized is the accusation of bigamy, defined as such
when the husband or wife of a prior legal marriage was living at the date of the
ceremony, in which case the second ‘marriage’ would therefore be considered bigamous
or polygamous. In the Villiers-Stuart case, it was established that firstly Theresia
Ott, (Lord Stuart’s* Austrian wife to be) had claimed to be the widowof one Leopold
Gersch, an officer in the Austrian Imperial Archer Guard, by whom she had two children.
This usually of course, would have raised no misgivings. However sometime after
his marriage in 1826, Lord Stuart reportedly fell into the hands of blackmailers
in Vienna, who scheming on behalf of Gersch, claimed that the ‘ex-husband’ was still
alive, which indeed he was. It followed then that the newly resurrected Gersch, on
hearing that Ott had married an ‘Englishman’ with considerable wealth, began to ‘touch’
Lord Stuart for money. It has been proposed, without due evidence, that his bankbook
at this time revealed great sums being transferred to a continental bank, far in
excess of normal living expenses.
So the blackmailers had convinced Lord Stuart, contrary to Ott’s claim, that Gersch
was still alive and that Lord Stuart had therefore entered into a bigamous marriage,
which would be concealed at a price. Lord Stuart of course would naturally have been
willing to pay to avoid distressing publicity, especially at a time when he had elevated
himself in the public eye following his much enunciated support for Catholic Emancipation,
and furthermore, contracting a bigamous marriage was treated as felony, and would
most likely have been punishable by law.
However, as proven by the profoundly convoluted and drawn out case of Queen v Millis
in 1854, if the first marriage was not deemed as valid, then it was difficult to
later indict a subject for bigamy. In this case Millis had been acquitted, having
previously been indicted in the Reg. v Millis case under the statute 10 Geo. 4. 34.
He was a member of the Church of England and had married a woman in Ireland who
was either a Roman Catholic or a Presbyterian. A Presbyterian minister had celebrated
the ceremony, which was arguably within the law, while cohabitation as man and wife
followed for two years afterwards. Subsequently while the first wife was still living,
Millis contracted a second and valid marriage in England, but in doing so, was later
to be indicted for bigamy. Yet the House of Lords, who were widely criticised for
their inconsistent handling of the case, unanimously urged after much debate that
the first marriage, having not been celebrated by a minister of the established church,
was invalid. Millis was consequently acquitted of his charge, but left his mark on
marriage law. As Ireland was not a subject of Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act of 1753,
the rule as to common law marriage was from then on established.
Lord Stuart though would not have required an invalid union to rescue him from bigamy,
for it transpired many years after his marriage that he had been severely deceived
and that neither Gersch nor Ott had revealed the truth to him. Although they had
cohabited as man and wife, they had never actually been married, so whether Gersch
was dead or alive became largely irrelevant. As to why the two had never married,
the answer may lie in the fact that Gersch, being an Archer Guard in the Austrian
Imperial Army, had to present a large sum of caution money before a marriage could
take place. Unfortunately for Gersch, his finances had dissipated to the extent whereby
he found it impossible to deposit the caution money required by Austrian Military
This detectable accusation of misdemeanour against Gersch and the then Ott is awarded
further credence with the observation that Ott had given four descriptions of herself
before meeting Lord Stuart. For instance, on the birth certificate of her first
child Leopoldine, in 1821, she was described as the ‘widow of the despatch director’
while on the birth certificate of her second child Emil in 1823, she was reportedly
described as ‘single’. In the census sheet of 1805/30 she was described as an ‘imperial
royal colonel’s widow’ and finally on her passport to England, which was granted
by Prince Paul Esterhazy, the then Austrian ambassador in London, she was described
as the ‘widow of a Sicilian colonel’. So as to why Lord Stuart didn’t become suspicious
of the Austrian, or even think to consider the consequences of any potential transgression,
one can only ponder.
Whatever the case, for much of his life Lord Stuart had falsely believed that his
marriage was bigamous and reportedly only discovered the truth when Lady Stuart,
on her deathbed in 1867, confessed to him that she had never been married to Gersch.
This, if true, would most likely mean that Lord Stuart’s marriage was not bigamous
as originally believed. However, caution should be exercised when assuming the ‘deathbed
confession’ as hearsay, as it was never put into writing. Rather within the family
it has been popularly professed that from a seemingly guilty conscience, the then
Lady Stuart admitted the deceit to Lord Stuart and he naturally passed the revelation
on. Yet although there is no factual evidence for such a supposition, Lord Stuart’s
behaviour towards his son after the death of Lady Stuart certainly does indicate
that he believed his son to be legitimate from then on.
As for Lady Stuart’s behaviour, it would appear that her motives for deception were
the interests and marriage prospects of her children by Gersch, for they were falsely
then believed to be legitimate, and it is possible that Gersch realised the financial
opportunity of extracting money from Lord Stuart by presenting himself as a husband
than as an ex-partner. Much of the above though might be judged as speculation, and
until further evidence begins to surface, it would be unwise not to attach a minor
hint of scepticism to what has already been aptly described as a story of blackmail
and family treachery more suited to fiction than fact.
Following a close examination of the Peerage Case, it is probable that the House
of Lords, despite the lack of evidence, were less suspicious of the monogamous nature
of the marriage. What appeared to concern the Peers more was the Catholic marriage
of 1826, due to the mixed religious nature of the couple, and the paucity of evidence
forthcoming of the marriage ceremony. An investigation of this is therefore required
in order to fully comprehend the nature of the accusation of invalidity, which in
hindsight might be regarded as the underlying source of Villiers-Stuart’s supposed
~INTRICACY OF A SECRET MARRIAGE~
To examine the marriage itself it becomes necessary to refer back to 1825 and thereafter,
when Lord Stuart met Madame de Ott; mother of Henry Windsor. Sometime shortly before
12 January 1826, she travelled from Austria to London to marry him in comparative
secrecy. Yet due to the fact that he was courting Catholic Emancipation in 1826,
Lord Stuart could scarcely have chosen a more foolish moment and a more unsuitable
prospect to marry, and could not have invited a more unique and trouble provoking
set of circumstances. Lord Stuart was a Protestant Anglo-Irishman, Ott was a Roman
Catholic ‘foreigner’, with the difference in religious affiliation automatically
defining the union as a ‘mixed marriage’. Further difficulties were to emerge, especially
as he married her in the Roman Catholic Spanish Embassy Chapel, Spanish Place London,
under the auspices of a Roman Catholic priest. The latter on its own would most definitely
have deemed the marriage void. In addition to the irregularities mentioned, marrying
in an embassy chapel held its own problems as there were serious doubts as to whether
a union solemnized between a British subject and a foreigner was recognized as legally
binding and valid upon the British subject. This made matters more complicated at
a period in which the marriage laws of England were highly ambiguous.
This all at a time when Lord Stuart would have been publicly well known and with
the possibility of provoking accusations over his motives for championing Catholic
Emancipation. It would have been difficult for Lord Stuart to deny to his opponents
that he supported Catholic Emancipation, not on principle, but because he was under
wifely and priestly influence. So clearly the set of circumstances that Lord Stuart
confronted himself with, naturally forced his hand in keeping the marriage secret,
with the Emancipation card alone making it necessary to marry the Austrian away from
Ireland, where incidentally the marriage would have been deemed as valid by a Protestant
clergyman. For Lord Stuart though, the most important thing at the time was to conceal
his marriage to a Catholic.
The well-known Yelverton case, a mixed marriage in Ireland that occurred on August
15 1857, bears a useful resemblance. The parties involved were Theresa Longworth
and William Charles Yelverton, he being a Protestant member of the Anglo-Irish ascendancy
and she being a Catholic of a lesser social standing. Yelverton reportedly told the
curate Fr. Mooney, that he was only going through with the ceremony to satisfy the
lady’s conscience, with a later marriage in Scotland being the ‘real’ ceremony, while
the two witnesses present were sworn to secrecy and no entry was made in the church
register, with Yelverton insisting that the Catholic marriage be kept secret.
Likewise, the function of the Villiers-Stuart marriage of 1826 was probably only
merely to satisfy Ott’s conscience, she being a devout Catholic, and while it may
have been entered into the church registry in Spanish Place, it was never recovered,
with the records for that period kept in a seemingly negligent and inconsequential
manner. Yet being a clandestine marriage, the ministers performing such unions would
presumably have been unreliable and it should probably have been expected then that
no record of the marriage was officially recorded. As for the consequence of the
Yelverton case, an amendment to the marriage law in Ireland was made which resulted
in the Marriage Causes and Marriage Law Amendment Act of 1870. The result being that
in Ireland, from then on a mixed marriage before a Catholic priest became valid and
lawful, subject of course to the normal provisions of civil law. Previous to this,
it was required that for twelve months prior to the ceremony both parties must have
been of Roman Catholic faith, but as there was no evidence of Catholicism from Yelverton,
the ceremony performed by Mooney did not constitute a valid marriage.
Thus the small Embassy chapel at Spanish Place was probably sufficient for satisfying
Ott and for keeping the marriage secret, although with all the irregularities attached,
Lord Stuart must surely have been aware that his marriage in Spanish Place was to
be taken sincerely, but not seriously, apart from the fact that proof of the ceremony
would have been needed in the future. This becomes a serious issue of debate when
the question arises as to whether there were sufficient numbers of witnesses, the
required figure being two, but the evidence only suggests that there was one, that
being Ott’s companion. Of note as well, by 1876, none of those who were present at
the ceremony were still alive, which meant all that could be drawn from the ceremony
after Lord Stuart’s death in 1873 was mere speculation and not the proof that was
For an example of a case lacking in proof, which resulted in outright failure, one
need only refer to the Lemon v Lemon case of 1840, in which two female subjects each
claimed to be the widow of one deceased man. The first of the women was dismissed
for failing to produce proof of marriage, furthermore not even reputation of marriage.
The second woman was married to the deceased by an unplaced dissenting minister,
and with no proof that the two parties married were Protestant Dissenters, or one
of them a Protestant Dissenter and the other a Roman Catholic. The claim of the second
woman was also therefore rejected, with her marriage simply deemed as unlawful. Hence,
it is apparent that proof of marriage was essential, while also important to avoid
was a lack of understanding concerning the marriage laws, and therefore the ceremony.
Of further interest to this discussion is a letter written by Ott’s companion, Catherine
Schwarzel, which denotes that bizarrely it was not until nearly seven years after
1826 that Lady Stuart was to realise that the Catholic marriage was invalid. According
to Schwarzel this ‘unexpected discovery’ and the possibility of her children being
declared illegitimate had caused much distress for the then Mrs Villiers-Stuart.
This, however, is a revelation that should be treated with slight suspicion, but
perhaps bizarrely she never thought to question Lord Stuart about the marriage, or
that Lord Stuart for some reason decided not to reveal the truth to her about the
authenticity of the Catholic ceremony. However, a second marriage that took place
in Scotland in 1827, which also reveals scant evidence, would surely have raised
suspicions, unless of course she had in fact known that the London marriage was invalid,
but that she was certain, without realising the predicament of the 1826 marriage,
that the later Scottish marriage had validated it.
Before proceeding, the question should be posed as to why the 1826 marriage was deemed
invalid, excluding the fact that there was little or no proof of its occurrence.
The answer is found quite simply when one refers back to Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage
Act of 1753, which attempted to reduce the number of clandestine marriages. It was
deemed pertinent that for a marriage to be considered legitimate, the ceremony had
to be first carried out by a Church of England clergyman, with a proper record kept.
A clergyman of the Established church could naturally not carry out a union within
a Roman Catholic chapel so one has to assume that a Catholic priest and none other
undertook the marriage of 1826.
As mentioned, in referral to Lord Stuart’s wife, it may be presumed initially that
when a foreigner such as Ott had no knowledge of English marriage laws, no sympathy
in legal terms would expect to be forthcoming. However, when one refers to the case
of Wright v Elwood (date not given but presumed sometime after 1753) where a marriage
was solemnized under a false name, it was suggested that for the marriage to be judged
unlawful and invalid, both parties had to be aware that it was unlawful. In this
case one of the parties was unaware of a false name being used, and therefore the
marriage was concluded to be valid. If that argument had been replicated in the Villiers-Stuart
case, whereby Ott, ignorant of English marriage laws, language and customs, and naturally
coming to England with the intent purpose and desire of having a valid Catholic marriage,
then it could well be asserted that as one of the subjects was not aware that the
union was unlawful, the marriage itself might have been deemed as valid. Yet even
Lord Stuart, in 1826 still a young man, only recently of age and having just returned
from residence in a Roman Catholic country, (Austria) may well have been of the belief
that he was doing no wrong, or even violating the laws of his country.
Yet, the fact that he went to the trouble of performing a further marriage in Scotland,
which was valid and legal, would of course indicate the he was initially doubtful
of the validity of his first marriage, or rather realised that a second ‘real’ ceremony
was needed to legalise the marriage as a whole. In fact as already indicated it was
highly likely that his marriage of 1827 was simply an attempt to conform to the Act
of 1753 (that lasted until 1836), which required Catholics to be either married twice
(A private wedding and a public Anglican one) or just once (in an Anglican church).
The fact that Lady Stuart reportedly kept the marriage certificate of 1826 in her
possession until her death in 1867 would indicate that the Catholic marriage was
of great importance to her, and this as suggested may well have been the reason why
Lord Stuart went ahead with a Catholic marriage initially.
On further examination, aside from the fact that the 1826 marriage was not the ‘real’
ceremony, it is also likely that Lord Stuart’s apparent laissez faire attitude to
the first marriage may have been influenced by his political stature of the time.
One only has to look at the example of the Marquis of Donegall to see why. He, like
Lord Stuart, was a politically influential figure of the period and in 1822, in order
to validate an unlawful marriage that he had entered into, he simply sought to pass
an Act of Parliament declaring such a marriage to be valid.
The Donegall case arose when it had been discovered that a legal technicality judged
the marriage, which had been carried through in a hasty and secretive manner, to
be invalid, but not before the birth of seven children and a period of marriage stretching
back twenty-five years! It was eventually a change in the law that spared the blushes
of the Marquis and Marchioness of Donegall, and permitted Lord Belfast to become
the legitimate heir once again. The reaction to such an embarrassment was met by
an amendment to the 1753 act, passed in the summer of 1822, which validated all cases
of marriage that had been solemnized by licence before the passing of this Act ‘where
the parties shall have continued to live together as husband and wife until the death
of one of them, or until the passing of this Act’. What is most significant here
is that Donegall clearly had a considerable sway in parliament, especially among
his fellow peers. This becomes apparent when revealed that the amendment to the bill
had been accepted by 122 votes to 20. So the question arises then as to whether Lord
Stuart had optimistically felt that he would somehow be able to gather the same level
of support as the Marquis of Donegall, and validate his troublesome and complicated
marriage, if the need were to arise.
Although much earlier, another useful comparison can be found in the case of George
IV, who illegally married a Catholic by the name of Maria Fitzherbert. Somewhat like
Lord Stuart, he was determined to keep his marriage secret, and realised that in
the public eye, his priority was not his wife, but that of his reputation. Similarly,
George IV must have realised that he was entering into a false union, with the 1701
Act of Settlement making it clear beyond doubt that his heir could not be a ‘Popish
Prince’. It was also argued that the King’s mistress, as with Ott, would naturally
have taken clerical advice if in doubt about a proposed marriage, and it is unlikely
that Ott, as with Maria Fitzherbert, would have agreed to a secret marriage without
first ensuring that her church would regard it as valid.
Yet in the case of Ott, it is highly likely that she was completely ignorant of the
marriage laws of England and most likely remained in full confidence of Lord Stuart,
arguably of course not realising that the bigamous element of the marriage would
be later revealed. Interestingly despite all the uncertainty over the legality and
validity of the Villiers-Stuart marriage, there appears to be no evidence to suggest
that any effort was made to avail of the Legitimacy Declaration Act of 1858, which
provided the means for determining the soundness of a matrimonial union and also
the legitimacy of any offspring which, as will be noted later, Lord Stuart and later
his son evidently never availed of. Yet it could very well be argued that Lord Stuart
harboured complete confidence in the leniency held by the laissez faire marriage
Laws of Scotland, which was not encompassed within the stringent Marriage Act of
The Scottish marriage law essentially admitted the validity of marriage contracted
according to any form between persons of marriageable age, in any place, and without
witnesses, provided that there was sufficient evidence to substantiate the fact that
the parties had taken each other for husband and wife, and that the marriage was
followed by cohabitation, which of course the Villiers-Stuart case conformed to.
Furthermore, Scottish marriage law required merely a civil contract, demanding only
the deliberate consent of both parties for its completion, provided it took place
seriously, deliberately and with genuine purpose immediately to establish the relation
of husband and wife. Effectively then a marriage could have been made without the
use of any precise ceremony or solemnity. Furthermore it was not necessary that consent
be delivered before witnesses either publicly or privately and may have been sufficiently
attested by writings, which were not in need of public record. As a result, it was
not necessary to procure a great deal of evidence for the Scottish marriage, or largely
as well for the unknown and only speculative Irish marriage of 1833, rather it was
proof of the 1826 marriage in England, that was encompassed by the stringent Act
of 1753, which it was felt Villiers-Stuart would need to obtain if he wished to convince
the House of Lords as to his legitimacy, and thus to resume his Peerage is 1876.
~AN HEIR TAINTED BY ILLEGITIMACY~
As suggested within the initial reaches of this essay, it would appear from the manner
in which Villiers-Stuart pursued his life, that his father had entertained at least
some level of personal apprehension as to his son’s legitimacy. Such doubt first
surfaced not long after the 10 May 1839 when Villiers-Stuart senior was to assume
the title of 1st Baron Stuart de Decies of Dromana to him and his male heir. Being
under the erroneous belief as to his marriage, the then Lord Stuart wrote to his
younger brother William, the letter dated 10 January 1840, which contained what is
known as the ‘Promise’, to settle the Dromana Estate on his brother William and not
upon his own son. Lord Stuart, declaring that Henry Windsor born from his Catholic
marriage in 1826, be brought up as a younger son and that he be ‘divested by the
circumstances of his birth to all legal claim to be considered heir at law’.
At this stage, Lord Stuart’s view was most likely influenced by the perceived bigamous
element of his marriage. The marriage law of the time stated that children born under
such circumstances, if in England were considered illegitimate, even if both parties,
or at any rate one of them, may have contracted the union in perfectly good faith
and in ignorance of the impediment of the marriage. Significantly however this Matrimonium
Putativum, as it was termed, was recognised by the Scottish law, which rendered the
children of such a union legitimate, even though the marriage itself may have been
null. In essence then, a marriage that depended for its validity on the law of Scotland
had the effect of legitimizing any child born to the parties before the date at which
the Scottish marriage was contracted. The fact that Villiers-Stuart was born from
the convoluted marriage of 1826 in London and that Lady Stuart may not have entered
into the marriage in perfectly good faith, most likely deemed him illegitimate in
the eyes of Lord Stuart.
Yet it has also been charged that in exceptional circumstances a special Parliamentary
Act or a bishop could provide legitimation if convinced that before the birth of
the child the parents had been through a form of marriage which was invalid through
a technical flaw, or if the parents could demonstrate that they were unaware of the
existing consanguinity or wedlock. This, Lord and Lady Stuart could have done, due
to the time spent abroad in Catholic Austria. Such wedlock had been termed a ‘putative
marriage’, and in order to afford means to persons about whose legitimacy doubts
might be entertained, the ‘Legitimacy Declaration Act’ was passed on 2 August 1858.
Yet the doubt surrounding Lord Stuart’s marriage, and more importantly in this case
surrounding his son’s legitimacy, does not appear to have been universally acknowledged,
or rather perhaps Lord Stuart naturally held no desire to publicly reveal this. It
seems surprising however that Villiers-Stuart’s entry into the army and clergy did
not raise any suspicions, with Lord Stuart encouraging him to pursue such a vocation
in addition to entering him into the church, surely being an indication that he was
rather filling the role of a younger son and not that of heir to Dromana and the
Peerage. This however does not seem to have been publicly grasped or queried, for
right up until his father’s death in 1873, Villiers-Stuart was widely acknowledged
as the ‘Honourable’.
Further evidence of what might be termed as Lord Stuart’s detachment towards his
son’s status was evident once again in 1865 when Villiers-Stuart was to be married
to Mary, second daughter of the Venerable Ambrose Power, Archdeacon of Lismore. Rather
than being present at the wedding, Lord and Lady Stuart were instead entertaining
themselves on the continent with their daughter and son-in-law Sir Charles and Lady
Cuffe. Such apparent indifference towards his son’s marital affairs would scarcely
have been in keeping if he had been considered as legitimate heir to the title and
Despite this, it would also appear that, peculiarly, Lord Stuart did not harbour
an entirely consistent stance towards his son, which in indicating the level of ambiguity
entertained over the subject, may also suggest that the above evidence has been over
interpreted or that perhaps Lord Stuart was in two minds as to whether he could possibly
conceal his son’s illegitimacy. Evidence for this may be apparent with the insertion
of ‘Windsor’, among Villiers-Stuart’s Christian names, which seems to have taken
place around 1850 or thereabouts. Windsor was the family name of the heiress who
brought Cardiff into the Bute family. Although not fitting with the sequence of events,
this adoption of Windsor by Villiers-Stuart should be viewed as nothing more than
an assertion by Lord Stuart of his son’s legitimacy and perhaps more importantly
in this case, of the transfer to him of his father’s by-now-remote rights to the
succession of the Bute estates, but not without the Marquess of Bute’s Estate Bill
in 1853 causing further confusion.
Within the Act, Lord Stuart was said to have declared a decree of no issue, which
was essentially a statement of his son’s inappropriate standing as legal heir. Yet
it was later claimed that Lord Stuart was away on the continent at the time of the
Act and therefore could not have made such a declaration, while furthermore the Marquis
of Bute was reportedly disenchanted by the rumour of Lord Stuart’s bigamous marriage.
If this was the case then doubts must surface as to the authenticity of the Act and
the motives of the Marquis of Bute, who naturally would also have been less than
enthralled at the idea of an illegitimate heir being in line to his vast estates
and title. This is only a speculative assumption though, and is merely an attempt
to shed some additional light on the manner in which Lord Stuart viewed his son.
Any such dilemma that Lord Stuart experienced over discerning the legitimacy of his
son was seemingly disposed of in 1867, after his wife’s apparent deathbed confession.
Yet in the same year was the fascinating and rather well known Breadalbane case of
Campbell v Campbell, which was a successful attempt to prove the legitimacy of a
son. It was disclosed that a Scotchman, John Campbell, serving in the British Army
had in 1780 eloped with the wife of an Englishman and lived with her continuously
until 1806. The English husband died in 1784. The effect of the judgement of the
House of Lords in 1867 was to declare the legitimacy of the descendants of a son
born in 1788 to the parties whose marriage was in question. In other words a relationship,
which was illicit in the beginning, could mature into a legal marriage, by general
repute and conduct, and thereby legitimatise the children of the couple. Once Campbell’s
grandson was deemed legitimate, the case took a further successful twist in 1871,
which will be observed later.
Returning to the deathbed confession and thereafter, it is probably more likely than
being influenced by a case in Scotland, that Lord Stuart’s seemingly remorseful treatment
of his only son emanated more for personal reasons, with the actual turning point
reportedly occurring in 1869 after Lord Stuart experienced a second and more serious
heart attack. It was thereafter, having entered into a probably more humble mental
state following his ill health, that he was filled with remorse for his treatment
of his son. Yet in addition, the deathbed confession had probably opened up to him
the possibility of making amends without wounding the feelings of the now deceased
Lady Stuart, for although she may well have deceived him over her previous marriage,
it transpired that he was highly forgiving of her and probably did not wish to instigate
unhappiness and hardship on her Austrian children of whom he was reportedly most
So following the death bed confession and his apparent change of heart, Lord Stuart
wrote to his brother William in 1870, requesting that that he be relieved from the
‘Promise’ of 1840, which he felt he ought never have made. Two years later, according
to a Magistrate named Ussher for the county of Waterford, further evidence had been
advanced when he was in the company of Lord Stuart, whereby Lord Stuart made a statutory
declaration confirming his marriage with the mother of Henry Windsor, and of the
legitimacy of Henry Windsor and his sister. Additionally TheTimes later suggested
that Lady Cuffe, the sister of Henry Windsor, had purportedly proven that she and
her brother had always been treated as legitimate, how this was proved though was
There may have been an attempt to confer to the 1858 Legitimacy Declaration Act,
but this was before the turning point of 1869, and moreover there is absolutely no
evidence of Villiers-Stuart, like his father, attempting to avail of this. The process,
which was carried out in two stages, asserted that:
‘Any natural-born subject of the Queen, or any person whose right to be deemed a
natural-born subject depends wholly or in part in his legitimacy or on the validity
of a marriage, being domiciled in England or Ireland, may apply by petition to the
Court of Divorce and Matrimonial causes, praying the Court for a decree declaring
that the petitioner is the legitimate child of his parents, and that the marriage
of his father and mother was a valid marriage’.
Leaving this aside, further weight might be added to the argument by referring to
1872, whereby Lord Stuart entered into an elaborate and successful negotiation to
have his son made Vice-Lieutenant of County Waterford on the grounds that his own
failing health disabled him from exercising the Lieutenancy. Consequently Villiers-Stuart
became Vice-Lieutenant of the county in 1872, while also holding his previous position
as a Deputy Lieutenant. From this it may be argued that Lord Stuart must have felt
giving such status to his son would help him secure his claim as the legitimate heir,
despite the previous agreement or ‘Promise’ with Lord Stuart’s brother, William,
Upon the death of Lord Stuart in December 1873, it would seem that the tide had turned
for Villiers-Stuart as he assumed without question his father’s title, being publicly
acknowledged as the 2nd Baron Stuart de Decies. This signified that whatever doubt
was initially held within the halls of Dromana about his legitimacy, was certainly
not entertained publicly. Moreover, after he assumed the title of Lord Stuart de
Decies it was reported that he had a conversation with his cousin, the son of William
Villiers-Stuart, from which it appears that he understood that his cousin would not
oppose him before the Committee for Peerages. But after Villiers-Stuart’s case had
been opened and his witnesses examined In July 1876 and all the circumstances made
public, it emerged that Mr Arnold White (Queen Victoria’s private solicitor) acting
on behalf of the eldest son of William Villiers-Stuart, interviewed Villiers-Stuart’s
solicitor, Benjamin Greene Lake, and intimated that his client felt conscientiously
bound to produce the two letters containing the ‘Promise’ of 1840.
Colonel Villiers-Stuart and his solicitor appear to have taken the view that as Lord
Stuart had been, until a late period of his life, under the impression that his son
was illegitimate and had not treated him as his heir, it was not right that the committee
should be lead to believe that he had from an early age always treated Henry Windsor
as his legitimate son and heir. The Colonel’s motives however, probably stemmed from
the umbrage held by the Castletown (Kilkenny) Villiers-Stuarts’ who reportedly harboured
resentment at the withdrawal of the ‘Promise’ and their consequent loss of the Dromana
As for the Peerage Case itself, the lack of evidence coupled with the ponderously
suspicious and unsympathetic examination of events by the House of Lords was to affiliate
Villiers-Stuarts’ consequent claim with only a remote chance of success. To dispel
any doubts over the bigamous element of the marriage, clear evidence was required
from Austria, with witnesses needed to testify that Gersch and Ott had not been married,
which would have judged both of Ott’s Austrian children illegitimate. Significantly
the important witnesses in Austria declined at the last moment to give essential
evidence. Villiers-Stuart would have nonetheless been required to conclusively prove
that his mother had not been married to Gersch, thereby in all probability ruining
the lives of his half sister and brother, Leopoldine and Emile, as well as the extended
family in Austria where status was reportedly of greater virtue.
The Breadalbane Case appears to be a neat comparison here, whereby, John Campbell
of Glenfalloch died and was succeeded by the eldest son and heir who now claimed
the honours and dignities of his family as the nearest male heir of another John
the first, John the fifth Earls’ of Breadalbane; the petitioner desiring to command
a seat in the House as Earl of Breadalbane and Holland in addition to other illustrious
titles. The question in the resulting Peerage Case of 1872 was of pedigree and the
claim to be the nearest heir male of the Breadalbane family, title and estates, with
Campbell, the claimant, also demanding the right to vote in respect of a Peerage.
The evidence, unlike in the Stuart de Decies Peerage Case, was deemed throughout
to have been satisfactory, while significantly it was stated by the Lords that ‘we
have evidence at your lordships bar by which the whole history of the father of the
claimant was traced’. So unlike Villiers-Stuart, the Breadalbane claimant had gathered
the necessary evidence, and therefore ‘most satisfactorily established his title’.
Villiers-Stuart, unlike Campbell, had to come to grips with the complicated marriage
of his parents fifty years previous. Although being able to prove without difficulty
that Lord and Lady Stuart had lived as man and wife, the crucial issue persisted
for the House of Lords of there being absolutely no evidence of a cogent favour for
the marriage of 1826. This was to be an ever-persisting issue in determining the
legitimacy of Villiers-Stuart, for without any proof of the marriage before his birth,
it was judged near impossible to prove his legitimacy. Of added hindrance to the
claim therefore was the fact that by 1876 all four subjects involved and present
from the 1826 ceremony were deceased, and as the marriage had been carelessly registered
with no record remaining, the task of proving Villiers-Stuart’s legitimacy was to
be bereft of much hope.
There was also the matter of Villiers-Stuart’s cousin playing an increasingly hostile
part in the case, with it being feared that were the proceedings to fail, his cousin
would be liable to adduce a claim for all the Dromana settled estates. Furthermore
in the event of being proved illegitimate, he would at the very least have incurred,
in addition to unwelcome publicity, a higher rate of succession duty on his father’s
estate. This asserted from the Succession Duty Act of 1853, that estates which passed
from father to son incurred a duty at a rate of 1%, but this figure rose to 10% on
estates that passed from father to remote relations, including illegitimate children.
Other than the enormous cost of continuing with the Peerage case, the succession
duty alone would have inflicted serious financial distress upon Villiers-Stuart.
Consequently he was left with no real option but to withdraw his petition to succeed
as 2nd Baron Stuart de Decies, and to allow the hard won barony to expire quietly.
Yet in an ironically melancholic fashion and in what must have occasioned some confusion
at the time, having abandoned the peerage case of 1876, Villiers-Stuart was still
widely addressed, not from his own doing, as ‘Stuart de Decies’. For instance, in
1876 the estate bankers in London, Coutts and Co, addressed him with the title he
had assumed while the well-known Thom’s Directory recorded him in 1878 as 2nd Baron
Stuart de Decies. However, by the 1880 edition he was known simply as Henry Villiers-Stuart
Esq. Furthermore, his 1880 candidature for parliament referred to him rather sheepishly
and quite incorrectly as the ‘Honourable’ while finally it was not until the same
year that he ceased to be known locally and on his estate, as Lord Stuart. It was
at this time, which was to mark a further turning point in Villiers-Stuarts life,
veering away from the social distractions to resume his Liberal candidacy, and concentrate
on the issues that were arguably more important to his life.
~AFTERMATH: MAINTAINING A POLITICAL LEGACY~
Championing the farm labourers’ cause, 1880-1885
‘No measure of land reform for Ireland, however ably devised, can be considered complete
or perfectly satisfactory which does not deal with the condition of the farm labourers
of Ireland with a view to ameliorate it’.
‘The dwellings and food of the Irish labourers are a disgrace to humanity, and if
returned I shall do all in my power to remedy this evil’
By the time Henry Windsor Villiers-Stuart had emphatically declared the above in
March 1880, the Peerage issue was probably a matter of irrelevance confined to the
past. It shall therefore be the intent of this chapter, to exhibit that of greater
importance and significance to Villiers-Stuart’s life, was not so much to be a social
Peer, but rather a social activist, a landlord voice, rather than just a landlord.
Whilst demonstrating this, the author shall heed caution by not attempting to breach
too far into the enormous subject of politics and land issues in nineteenth century
Ireland, but rather merely to endeavour to illustrate the unexplored and somewhat
unique example of Villiers-Stuart as a social activist, a politician, who like his
father fifty five years before him, more than often put the cause of the ‘down trodden’
ahead of any other. The remainder of this study is therefore based on the assumption
that Villiers-Stuart was undoubtedly influenced by the remarkable life which he led
up to the abandonment of the Peerage case, the comparative ‘underdog’ life in some
respects, assimilated with an already benevolent and sympathetic like attitude that
he most likely inherited and cultured from his father, the well-known emancipationist.
In 1873, Villiers-Stuart, aided by his liberal candidature and the close affiliation
he held with his father’s political legacy, had been elected to Parliament uncontested
after the Curraghmore candidate de la Poer had resigned. His victory of that year
would not have been surprising, as general elections until 1880 produced a substantial
proportion of landlords, of those who were returned. Not to be down played though,
his triumph purportedly caused wild scenes of celebration, an indication of the high
esteem in which he was held. Having put such ceremony on hold to contest his late
fathers peerage, he vacated his seat in 1874, with the intention, albeit unsuccessfully
as shown, to assume the Peerage of Stuart de Decies.
By 1880 however, Villiers-Stuart had put such reverberations behind him, once more
successfully returning to the House of Commons, having obtained 1751 of the 3135
votes from Co Waterford, while defeating the Home Ruler Blake as well as the Conservative
Lord Beresford. His victory this time was probably more significant, as firstly he
was to remain in power with the Liberals’ for five years, and secondly, he was elected
at a time when the Land League, having organised itself into an effective tool for
land agitation, was adamant that the electorate should no longer consider returning
landlords’ to parliament. Testament to Villiers-Stuart’s success, this call by the
Land League was taken relatively seriously, for not even one Home Rule candidate
elected in 1880 was said to have been a landlord.
Nonetheless, Villiers-Stuart was quick to diplomatically support the Land League
policies but carefully refrained from going as far as backing the agitation that
ensued. The former was not an approach to be taken lightly, as the Land League was
essentially opposed to landlords’ remaining in existence at all, and Villiers-Stuart,
no matter how sympathetic his policies, would naturally have been held within that
bracket as well. Such apparent radicalism from the Land League however had not deterred
the Waterford electorate from voting for the Liberal candidate. So like his father
before him, Villiers-Stuart was elected as a Liberal MP, with a likely determination
not to be overshadowed by his father’s political proficiency before him, but at the
same time, similar to his father, he was evidently willing to adopt the cause of
a ‘down trodden’.
While Villiers-Stuart was to closely associate himself with the issues of civil and
religious liberty, an extension to the principles of self-government, and essentially
a limited measure of Home Rule, it was rather his enigmatic championing of the labourers
cause or cottiers as they were sometimes called, which he was to be politically remembered
for. Worthy of inclusion, the labourers had no vote until 1885, which in itself dispels
any accusations that Villiers-Stuart was only intent on courting their cause for
personal political success. Instead they were effectively forced into relying on
political scraps, and on the benevolence of candidates such as Villiers-Stuart. Furthermore,
they were too like small farmers to be consciously separated from the tenant farmer
What was more likely of greater issue for Villiers-Stuart was that the labourer,
described as a submerged class in the post famine era of Ireland, was without doubt
the most disadvantaged and poorest group in Irish society. They were left with the
worst houses, and although their wages had improved, the increase failed to keep
up with the hike in agricultural prices. This was further aggravated by an over-supply
of labour relative to the demand as a result of the massive growth in population,
industrial decline and the attempts of farmers to economize in the face of lower
prices. Additionally, it was not uncommon for the labourer to be simply given a reduced
wage but to be provided with a cabin, or otherwise a tally of wages owed to the labourer,
with the sum deducted from the total rent that was due. So while the tenant farmer
complained of testing rents, the plight of the agricultural labourer was on a different
scale, and probably therefore in the eyes of Villiers-Stuart, merited a great deal
Thus, what was probably of added impulsion to Villiers-Stuart was that advocates
of land reform had previously largely ignored the labourer’s plight, with them receiving
little if any parliamentary attention before 1880. This of course had only been exasperated
due a tendency to concentrate strongly on the relationship between landlords and
tenants, with the plight of the labourers having been seemingly jilted somewhat.
This adopts an added relevance when considered that in the mid nineteenth century
and thereafter, 70% of the male agricultural labour force consisted of labourers’,
presenting Villiers-Stuart with an adequate number of discontented supporters, while
in Waterford, more than half the occupied males in 1881 were engaged in farming,
So despite the unattractive reality of receiving no votes from the labourer, there
was sufficient incentive for Villiers-Stuart to champion their cause having declared
in his election address that his principle concern was ‘the amelioration of the condition
of the labouring class’. Additionally they were still far worse off than the tenant
farmers had ever claimed to be and could be thrown out of their cottages within a
few weeks notice.
Furthermore, by 1880 and thereafter, Villiers-Stuart had come to represent the traditional
landlord view that the tenant farmers had long proven to be remiss in their employment
and housing of the labourers’ with the cottiers’ essentially suffering more at the
hands of the farmers than of the landlords’. Consequently Villiers-Stuart appeared
to publicly separate himself from the tenant farmer, even isolating himself somewhat
to side with the less fortunate labourer.
Thus Villiers-Stuart, who had on occasion been charged by his political opponents
with breaking his election pledges, on finding that Gladstone’s [Liberal leader]
1881 Land Act had no mention of the labourer’s plight in it, gave notice of a resolution
that the Act could not be considered complete or satisfactory ‘unless it dealt with
the question of the labourers’. As a result, an amendment to clause twenty of the
Land Bill was moved by Villiers-Stuart and then passed, which empowered the land
commission to advance to a ‘tenant whose holding does not exceed half an acre, and
who is a labourer, the whole of the price of his holding, or 90%’. Yet not satisfied
with the 1881 Land Act, he openly questioned as to why the tenant farmer’s grievances
were attended to so generously, but that of the labourer was treated in a half-hearted
manner, later declaring the legislation as having ‘merely mocked the unfortunate
class, presenting them with only vague promises of future consideration’.
This therefore must have been a prompting factor for Villiers-Stuart, who on 18 August
1882, produced his first notable political contribution, by introducing and successfully
piloting through the House of Commons the Labourer’s Cottages and Allotments Bill,
which became law. Included in the Act was an extension to the provision of the existing
‘labourers Acts’ with regards to the provisions of accommodation for labourers on
estates, by giving added powers to the district councils concerning the improvement
in all aspects of cottages and allotments.
In an acknowledgement of the effort channelled into the labourers cause, it was declared
that no member of the House of Commons other than Villiers-Stuart had taken more
pains in the passing of the bill. The cottiers were furthermore to receive added
recognition through the Labourers’ Act of 1883, which authorized Boards of Guardians
to build cottages for labourers and to let them with a plot of land attached, at
a rent that would pay the interest on the money borrowed for this purpose. Although
described as modest in its contribution, the Act essentially laid the ground for
more generous legislation in later years. As for Villiers-Stuart’s contribution,
he was responsible for an amendment to the Act, to which incidentally was supported
by the Home Rule leader Charles Stewart Parnell, that contained a clause enacting
penalties against neglect in carrying out the orders of the Commissioners to build
Villiers-Stuart’s attempt to champion the labourers’ cause was not a matter of simplicity,
having been confounded by the isolated opposition to labourers’ cottages by other
landlords. For instance, Lord Cloncurry evicted labourers on his estate in both Kildare
and Limerick, contributing to an increasing wedge between landlord and labourer.
Cloncurry, like other landlords, may well have argued that the blame for this should
lie with the rent reducing farmers. Whatever the case, it did not run well with Parnell,
who used it as a licence to declare to the labourers’ of Ireland that the Committee
on the labourers Act might not produce immediate results due to landlord interests
stonewalling progress and making life difficult for the labourer. Parnell however
was probably more fearful of landlords influencing and splitting labourers’ from
the land movement, rather than them actually restricting improvement. Furthermore,
he may have equally feared that Villiers-Stuart’s actions were leaving the farmers
resolutely unimpressed, as aside from being pressurised with bad prices and arguably
in some cases unfair rents, they were probably fearful that labour agitation would
result in a rising up against them.
Yet nonetheless, if, as it has been suggested that Parnell’s criticism was directed
at Villiers-Stuart amongst others, it was hardly well founded, as aside from the
evidence of his reaction to the labourers’ cause, Villiers-Stuart was praised as
‘the first voice raised in Parliament on behalf of the down-trodden Irish Agricultural
labourer, and that it is due to his efforts that something is to be done for the
labourers’ by the Irish land bill’.
Furthermore in 1884, in an example of his own personal contribution, it was declared
that any labourer of Waterford and Southern Ireland, wishing to become members of
Villiers-Stuart’s Southern Labour League were to choose a delegate who was to communicate
with Villiers-Stuart. The League reportedly gathered noticeable support in Waterford,
Tipperary, Cork, Clare and Limerick with Villiers-Stuart dedicating much his time
and effort to the cause. For instance, at his own expense, he arranged a conference,
the object of which was to draw up a list of grievances and to come up with the best
method of obtaining redress and of improving the condition and prospects of the labourer.
Villiers-Stuart also went to the effort of inviting both Parnell and the Land League
figurehead, Michael Davitt.
Yet such efforts did not spare Villiers-Stuart a wave of criticism from the Parliamentary
Party, who were quite probably threatened from the progress in support being made
by him. For instance, Home Rule MP William O’Brien stated openly in his home town
of Mallow in 1884 that ‘any Labourers’ Act passed by Villiers-Stuart or anyone else
could never in itself be anything but a temporary palliative for the labourers and
that the final solution could only lie in an end to landlordism’. Furthermore, the
United Ireland in January 1886 cynically accused Villiers-Stuarts’ championing of
the labourers’ cause as an attempt to distract them from the national cause while
it was argued in the same year that the agricultural labourers’ and the tenant farmers’
had managed to maintain a united agrarian front against the efforts to divide them.
Interestingly however, the same paper had admitted two years previously that Villiers-Stuart
had gone as far as to champion them in the Bessborough Commission, during the 1881
Land Act; and during the debates on his very own Labourers’ Cottages’ & Allotments’
Act of 1882 and finally in T.P O’Connor’s Labourers’ Bill of 1883, all of which has
reluctantly prompted the Decies Old Waterford Society to declare that ‘Villiers-Stuart’s
parliamentary record on the labour question could compare favourably with that of
any of the Irish Parliamentary party, if not perhaps surpassing it’.
Ultimately, it was the comparative inactivity of labourers’ in the Land War, and
the widespread indifference of Land League organizers towards the grievances of labourers’,
which reflected not only the unimportance but also the disaffection of the labouring
class and ultimately prompts one to question whether the famous Land League slogan
of ‘Land for the people’, was really just a transfer of power, rather than an administering
of justice. It was essentially this anomaly, which led the Villiers-Stuart into the
path of the labourer. Indeed, aside then from championing the labourers’ cause in
Parliament, Villiers-Stuart was equally arduous on a practical level, in particular
on his own estate where it was not unknown for the cause of the labourer to receive
considerable attention. So arguably, like in politics, the labourers’ on his estate
were to benefit from both his political and personal policies, with Villiers-Stuart,
possibly the only politician and landlord in Ireland to have championed the labourer’s
cause with such enthusiasm and endeavour on both a personal and ultimately political
Having relinquished himself from politics in December 1885 as the enigmatic champion
of labourers’ rights, Villiers-Stuart followed in the footsteps of his father. He
lived out the final tens years of his life in the management of his estate and essentially
extended the policies he pursued in parliament to the labourers’ and indeed the tenants’
of Dromana. In doing so he was venerably described as one of the most lenient landlords
in Ireland’, who frequently reduced rents whilst refusing to force his tenants to
pay when they were financially struggling.
The end to Villiers-Stuart’s illustrious life came about suddenly on 12 October 1895
when he drowned close to Villierstown quay, not far from Dromana. When reportedly
in feeble health and wearing a cumbersome coat, he fell off his boat and into the
deep and murky waters of the river Blackwater, sinking at once. His assistants failed
to recover his body. Along with his premature departure, he took with him a most
remarkable life that has provided the author with long and interesting hours of research,
delving into largely untouched and fascinating material, which is sure to warrant
continued attention at a future stage.
The drama that evolved from the accusations of bigamy and invalidity and the consequent
treatment and influence placed on Henry Windsor Villiers-Stuart by his father, did
arguably contain a silver lining as this essay has exhibited. If not for Villiers-Stuart,
then certainly for the labourers’ of late nineteenth century Ireland. Similar to
many Irish Catholics at the beginning of the same century, the labourers’ arguably
only benefited from the consequent sympathy and interest bestowed on them by Villiers-Stuart
and his father, whose contributions to the land and social issues of nineteenth century
Irish history cannot be underestimated.
This essay has realised Henry Windsor Villiers-Stuart’s contribution to Irish history
while demonstrating once again the link between; law, honour, property and politics
in nineteenth century Ireland. In doing so the paper has also awarded the reader
a glimpse into one of the many interesting parts of Henry Windsor’s life that has
remained largely unexplored. Beginning with the intriguing issues of his father’s
bizarre marriage to the then Madame Ott, the essay has incorporated the numerous
twists and turns, which led to the great Peerage claim of 1876. The loss of Dromana’s
last title, Baron de Decies, may be harshly attributed to the ‘hot Ott’, as the Austrian
has been humorously branded by the family. Indeed her affiliation with the Villiers-Stuart
family and the circumstances that she experienced may at first glance prompt one
to sympathise with the Austrian. Yet after closer examination, the issues surrounding
the union of 1826 were probably far from innocent. For one, she was thirteen years
his senior and secondly she most likely used this seniority to lull the young emancipationist,
who may have felt himself more advanced in age and tact than was the case.
Ultimately, the issues of Henry Windsor Villiers-Stuart’s life that have been dealt
with within this paper have presented a series of challenging circumstances that
leave many more questions than answers, questions that bare little hope of being
answered today. As this paper has shown, all that the historian can do is to discuss,
speculate and wrangle the available evidence in an attempt to make a clouded picture
that bit more transparant. Indeed, if more evidence were forthcoming, the subject
itself may even warrant a thesis or short book to be produced at some stage, for
the character and life of Henry Windsor Villiers-Stuart can be described as nothing
short of unique.
Stuart de Decies Peerage Case (London, 1876).
Villiers-Stuart papers [MS 24699 I/8].
Villiers-Stuart papers [MS 24690-24692].
Villiers-Stuart papers [T/3131/1/6/1-24].
Villiers-Stuart papers [T/3131/I/9/16].
Villiers-Stuart papers [T/3131/L/93].
Villiers-Stuart papers [T/3131/1/6/1-24].
Villiers-Stuart papers [MS 24639 G/23: P/20].
Villiers-Stuart papers [MS 24698 I/8 P/47].
Villiers-Stuart papers [MS 34699 I/8: P/47].
Yelverton Marriage Case – Thelwall v Yelverton, (London: 1861).
Ramsay’s Waterford Chronicle
House of Commons Papers, Return of Commissions in Army, with or without Purchase
Commencement of Crimean War, No 45, p.XL.139, 1856.
House of Commons parliamentary papers, Return of Lord Lieutenants of Irish Counties,
Paper Number 264,365, 1831.
House of Commons Parliamentary Papers Vol xxxii – Royal Commission on the Laws of
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