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December 1999

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Sex & scandal in north Berkshire

John Gurnett

Until the 1857 Divorce Act divorce and separation was confined to the rich elite. If a husband wished to divorce his wife he would need to go through a complicated series of procedures with no certainty of the outcome. In the early nineteenth century divorce involved three separate lawsuits: one in an ecclesiastical court, for separation from the adulterous wife, one in a civil court against the wife's lover for damages for criminal conversation, or crim con, and a private parliamentary bill. Crim con involved a writ of trespass, the principle being that by using the body of the wife, the alleged adulterer had damaged the property of her husband.

The nature of the divorce procedure meant that few husbands came before the courts, but one scandalous case involved Edward and Anne Loveden of Buscot Park near Faringdon. Little is known about their marital relationship, although as an MP, and with his county commitments, Edward would have been away from home on many occasions. Anne said she felt neglected, so a young good looking visitor'who had the reputation of flirting with every woman he came near', would have been a clear temptation despite the moral climate of the time. Thomas Raymond Barker, the son of a close friend of Edward, lived a short distance away at Fairford Park, and he was a constant visitor to Buscot. Edward supported him at College and even lent him an expensive horse. in 1805 both friends and servants noticed a growing attachment between Anne and Tom. The love affair had begun.1

'that loss of virtue in a female is
irretrievable, that one false step involves
her in endless ruin'

One of the witnesses in the divorce action that followed four years later who heard the gossip felt compelled to approach Anne. She is said to have taken it badly declaring that "so long as Mr. Barker behaved well to her she should not alter her behaviour to him". According to the Consistory Court judge this was a symptom of blind attachment, because a "women of delicacy who had been informed by a friend that her character was suffering would, for her protection and good name, have avoided such unfavourable impressions of her character". 2 As Jane Austen wrote in 'Pride and Prejudice': "that loss of virtue in a female is irretrievable, that one false step involves her in endless ruin, that her reputation is no less brittle than it is beautiful".

Anne does not seem to have cared for her reputation. The couple were often seen walking arm in arm in the grounds of the house, and when her husband was away they would remain closeted for hours in Anne's dressing room, where men were not usually admitted. The housekeeper, Hannah Calcutt, later gave evidence that the couple had already 'conceived a criminal passion for each other'. In the following year more evidence emerged. On one occasion the butler noticed first Anne and then Tom enter her dressing room before she had rung the bell to announce she was awake. When breakfast was served the butler also saw them sitting close together and "mixing their legs or feet together in a very peculiar and indecent fashion".

Anne paid particular attention to his accommodation when he visited the house, taking care with the ornaments, getting lavender, hyacinth roots, and roses, even assisting with making the fire. No sooner was her husband absent then Tom arrived by appointment. When he was in the house she told the servants to say she was out if visitors called.

By the end of 1806 Edward became suspicious. He sought the advice of an old friend Francis Knight. Edward wanted to send Anne back to her mother, but Knight counselled that there was no real evidence of any impropriety. Francis Knight did talk to Tom about Edward's suspicions and warned him not to visit Buscot Park. Later in 1807 Anne and Tom spent two nights at the Barker family house at Fairford. Edward was furious with his wife for disobeying his wishes, but Knight once again advised that there was no proof of misconduct.

Gradually more rumours began to reach Edward, and his son Pryse, and Tom was once again ordered never to come to the house again. But the liaison continued. They were seen kissing and almost discovered making love in the greenhouse.

While the family was in London Edward's coachman and footman gave evidence that in May 1806, his mistress picked up Tom in her coach. It was hot weather and she was accustomed to have the carriage open, but on this occasion it was closed and when she got out "she looked very warm and wild in her attire". On another occasion in 1807 while the house guests were out hunting, the cook looked for her mistress to ask how to make a particularly fine dish. She searched the house and finally Anne emerged from the dining room closely followed by Tom. Anne was "very red in the face and extremely confused, and held her riding habit half-way up her legs as if she did not know what she did for the confusion she was in".

By 1808 Edward's under-butler, Warren Hastings, suspected that his mistress had received Tom. She denied that he had been there, yet upon hearing a noise late at night, Hastings ran out of the house with a pistol in his hand and caught Tom attempting to leap over the palings. The two men, one a servant and the other a lay fellow at Merton College, Oxford, spent three-quarters of an hour in conversation. Hastings warned Tom that the affair was well known in the neighbourhood, a horse-dealer had even mentioned it at a local market. Tom admitted that he was planning to see Anne, but promised Hastings that he would never visit the house again. Tom's father and Edward's son-in-law, Mr. Cox, also warned Tom to stay away from Anne. The following morning Hastings saw Anne and she admitted seeing Tom. Hastings said that her behaviour was imprudent, and he told her that Tom had given him an assurance that the clandestine affair would end. She promised never to see Tom or correspond with him again. But the lovers were now committed to each other and entering into correspondence.

'Anne was very red in the face and extremely
confused, and held her riding habit half-way up
her legs as if she did not know what she did for
the confusion she was in'

What Anne did not know was that the servants were conspiring against her. In November 1808 James Hooper, Edward's manservant, took a locked bag of letters from Buscot to the Faringdon Post Office. He was warned by Anne's maid that the package contained letters addressed to Tom. Hooper removed the package and found that it contained three letters. One was from Tom dated 1804, another was an amorous love-letter from her. The third letter was sealed and became the decisive evidence of adultery which the servants had sought. In it Anne gave details of her menstrual cycle over the winter months, so that they could avoid making love on those days. She recommended the avoidance of intercourse for six days after her period. It was clear that she was embarrassed by writing such personal details. "Now love, she wrote, "you cannot but consider me most indulgent. I flatter myself too, most explicit, but I am so much ashamed of what I have said that I shall instantly seal it up and expect that you as readily and immediately commit it to the flames". With this evidence of adultery it remains curious why Hooper did not immediately pass the correspondence on to his master? He waited for a further four months before doing so.

In March of the following year while Edward was at Abingdon for a meeting of the local militia the servants suspected that Tom would try to see Anne again. Hastings said that he heard the library window open and Tom admitted by Mrs. Loveden. At about nine o'clock he was ordered to bring a glass of wine and water into the library. Tom was not there, but Hastings suspected he was in the study, on the other side of the stairs. The servants said that Anne went earlier to bed that night than was usual. Hastings suspected that the defendant would go from the study to his mistress's bedroom. He watched until nearly two o'clock but saw nothing. Hannah Haynes, Anne's maid, usually slept in the same bed with her mistress when Edward was absent. But on this occasion she was in an adjoining room.3 In the middle of the night she heard a noise as if the bolt of the door was raised and somebody entering her mistress's bedroom. The next morning she examined the bed and found it "very much tumbled" leaving her without any doubt that two people had slept in it.

The next morning Hastings tried the door of the library and found it locked and asked his mistress for the key; she denied having one. Hastings was not satisfied and got a carpenter to put a ladder against the window and when it was opened Tom was found hiding in the room, with his boots on and his greatcoat over his arm attempting to hide himself behind the door. He was released by Anne who had found a key to the room.

The housekeeper immediately sent a letter to Edward, who was staying with his son at Woodstock. When it arrived Hooper took the letter, with the package of letters from Anne intercepted the previous November. Hooper's reason for not handing over these letters before was that Pryse had been out hunting: a justification which really does not make any sense, unless the servants were waiting to catch the couple in the act of sleeping together. But why not hand over the letters to Edward rather than his son? In the event Edward sent for his lawyer and the legal formalities began.

The High Court action for crim con was heard on July 3, 1809. It involved eight separate occasions when intercourse was said to have taken place, although only two were relied on in court, the rest going to prove an improper familiarity between the parties. Although the evidence was convincing Edward was unable to introduce the damning letter about his wife's menstrual cycle as it had not been delivered to Tom, and the indelicate nature of its contents could not be read in court. Despite that the remaining evidence should have been sufficient to convict. In his summing up Lord Ellenborough went through the eight occasions when it had been suggested that adultery took place. He found the evidence unconvincing or ambiguous. He set very high standards of proof, and his view was that all the evidence was circumstantial. The jury was out for 45 minutes and when they returned brought in a verdict of not guilty. Although they won the case both Tom and Anne's reputations were tarnished.

The turning point was Anne's letter on her menstrual
cycle....... It is a letter which from public decency is
not permitted to be read in court."

Edward took the case to the Consistory Court, before Sir William Scott, when 20 witnesses gave evidence. Anne denied adultery, although she admitted an unnatural attachment to Tom. Contrary to the opinion given in the High Court Sir William said it was a fundamental rule that it was not necessary to prove the direct fact of adultery. "It is rare for the parties to be caught in the act", he said. It was not necessary to prove that adultery took place in a certain room at a precise hour, circumstantial evidence should be sufficient.4

The turning point for the Consistory Court hearing was Ann's letter on her menstrual cycle. "It is a letter which speaks for itself", Sir William said, "without reference to any external transactions. It is a letter which from public decency was not permitted to be read in this Court; but I feel that my public duty calls upon me to state so much as this - that it does contain an account of the times in which the periodical indisposition of the sex visits her, and when she says she must avoid intercourse; she promises to mark the period in future so that he may always compute it without difficulty".5

The evidence from the witnesses seems conclusive, said Sir William, "the only wonder in the case is that such an intercourse could have been possible for such a length of time, without in some way or other, by some accident, by some information, reaching the notice of Mr. Loveden".6

In his judgement Sir William declared that he was satisfied that adultery had taken place for a considerable time. So Edward could now be legally separated from Anne. The next step was the introduction of a Bill in the House of Lords for full divorce. When it finally reached the Commons Anne was awarded maintenance of 400 a year. Edward was clearly furious at the high cost of his divorce settlement and when the amendments went back to the Lords Edward urged them to drop the Bill. By abandoning the divorce action Edward deprived Anne of a substantial settlement, now he would only need to pay her expenses under the original marriage contract amounting to no more than 100 a year.

The servants played a key role in gathering the evidence for their master and protecting his good name. But why did they fail to keep him informed about Anne's relationship with Tom on a continuing basis? What seems doubly strange is that Edward did not attempt to find out from the servants what they knew. As we have seen the affair lasted for four years. Edward and his son had heard rumours and banned Tom from the house, yet the servants made no move. They must have been aware of developments in the household; they spied on Anne and set traps for her yet they seemed to have held their counsel. Even when they obtained the damning letters they were withheld from the family for four months. The question is why? Why did Hooper not give the letters immediately to Edward's son? The reason given in court that Pryse was out hunting seems particularly weak. When Edward had all the evidence surely he would have demanded a full explanation from his own servant Hooper? The only answer would seem to be that the servants were acting on the instructions of their master or his son. They must have been told to watch Tom and Anne and report all the evidence. It is possible despite the explanation given in court that the letters were in fact given to Edward or Pryse four months before. Edward may have been waiting to catch his wife and Tom actually sleeping together. If this explanation rings true it does mean that Edward was attempting to entrap his wife. Alternatively were the servants, more particularly Hooper and Hastings, blackmailing Anne and Tom? It may be unlikely, but it is unquestionably a possibility. How else to account for the delay in handing over the letters to the family?

However, Sir William Scott was convinced that this was not a case of entrapment. "There is I think no reason to presume any kind of connivance" on the part of Edward. Laurence Stone believes this effectively destroys any argument that Edward set a trap for his wife.7 If we accept that he may have ignored his wife's affair we are still left with many unanswered questions. Did his son know the full story? If so his motive could have been to destroy his stepmother's reputation and deprive her of a substantial legacy after Edward's death.

What kind of man was Edward? He was born in 1750. When he was 17 years old he inherited his father's large for-tune. Five years later his uncle died leaving the whole of his estate to the young man described at the time as remarkably handsome. He married three times, firstly to Margaret Pryse, a Welsh heiress in 1773, then an even richer heiress, the daughter of a hop merchant. The third time he found another wealthy bride Anne Liddell. When they married in 1794 Anne was 21 years old and Edward 43. So far he had received two large inheritances, one including Buscot Park, and married three rich heiresses. It could be argued that he was lucky, alternatively that he had a mercenary streak which made him seek out money. His constituents had already detected a parsimonious streak in his character which strengthens this hypothesis.8

His political career gives many clues to his character. His Berkshire property gave him a strong county interest and he was returned as an MP for Abingdon in 1783. At a time of shifting political allegiance changing sides was common, but Loveden seems to have changed his political loyalties more than most, possibly in an attempt to gain political office, or even a peerage. Many of his constituents, already resentful for his frugality, were outraged during the Regency crisis at his attitude which at best could be described as equivocal and at worst as changing sides to gain financial reward from political office. He opposed Pitt as a "man of doubtful gender", but later sought his support when attempting to stand as one of the Berkshire County Members of Parliament. He lost his Abingdon seat in 1796 while he was still unpopular in the county but then said he was determined never to enter Parliament again - however, he eventually became MP for Shaftesbury.9

So what conclusions can we draw? At the time of his separation Edward was almost 6o, while Anne was 36. His interest in her may have waned and once the liaison started Edward may have seized the opportunity of waiting for his young wife to step over the bounds of impropriety which could lead to divorce. Whether it was Edward or his son Pryse either one, or both of them, had much to gain from separation and divorce.

There was no love lost between Edward's family and Anne. Edward wrote to his sister Jane Gill telling her about the discovery of the letters. Jane wrote back immediately, "how such devils never existed, I wonder much they did not connive to give you a dose of poison, I am certain they were both equal to it - and I firmly believe had she continued under your roof, it would have been effected, without doubt".10

What happened to Anne and Tom? The Loveden papers at the Berkshire Record Office includes a letter from the Town Clerk at Abingdon, Samuel Sellwood, dated 9 August, 1811.11 In it he refers to the vacancies at Mer-ton (Tom's old College), "B[arker] of course has taken his leave, but I think with you his courage will never carry him to Spain as a Volunteer". The letter goes on to speculate that Anne and her mother were planning to leave Berkshire.

Anne and Tom did in fact leave the county. They moved to Hambledon in Buckinghamshire where Tom purchased'Bakers House'. Here they lived together until 1821 when his beloved Anne died. In her will she left her entire estate worth about seventeen thousand pounds to Tom.12 Her husband Edward died the following year so Arm and Tom were never able to marry. Edward bequeathed "to his old and faithful friend Francis Knight" a dress sword and gold-headed cane. His servants received annuities: "my old and faithful servant Hannah Calcott" received one of 20, the widow of another servant received 11 for life, the widow of his groom an annuity of 20 and Warren Hastings and James Hooper, who played such an important role in the story, were given 50 each. Most of the estate apart from provision for his sister and his daughters by an earlier marriage was left to Pryse. Clearly the servants did well by standing by their master.13

Tom's father John Raymond Barker died in 1827. As well as his properly at Fairford Park he also owned a house in Portman Square, London.14 He provided for all his sons and daughters, including Tom. The size of the estate would have allowed Tom to have a good lifestyle. He appears to have played a full part in the life of the community in Buckinghamshire curiously becoming a magistrate, probably as early as 1832, and chairman of the Gaol Building Committee. He seems to overcome his love for Anne and eventually married Eliza Jane, who was nine years his junior. He died on 23 June 1866 aged 88 and is buried at Hambledon churchyard with Eliza Jane.

References

1 Stone, Lawrence: 'Broken Lives, separation and divorce in England 1660-1857', CUP, 1993, pp 248-269. For a detailed account of the divorce action.
2 Haggard, John, 'Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Consistory Court of London; containing the Judgements of the Right Hon. Sir William Scott', London, 1822, p 651
3 The Times Law Report of the King's Bench, JulY 4, 1809, p2d
4 Haggard, p648
5D/ELV L24
6 Haggard, p651
7 Haggard, p652
8 Thorne, R.G. 'The House of Commons 1790-1820' London 1986, pp457
9 ibid p458
10 D/ELV C2/13
11 D/ELV E98/16
12 PROB 11/1643/286
13 PROB 11/1657
14 John Raymond Barker's will, PROB 11/1722

I am grateful to Lisa Spurrier of the Berkshire Record Office and to Sue Baxter from the Buckinghamshire Record Office in identifying some of the Loveden and Barker documents in their position.


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