This week’s Throwback is a bit like a treasure hunt. Which is basically my favorite kind of research. Blame it on watching Indiana Jones and National Treasure too many times. I wish I could be that cool. Oh, and even Tomb Raider- because girls can be awesome historian/adventurers and kick butt too (and actually better butt than those two boys).
I needed to find a new image for Wordless
Wednesday and decided it should not be a pre-Raphaelite work because I am a bit too obsessed with them. The first name that popped in my mind was George Romney- a late Georgian era artist. While looking at his gallery on Wikimedia I saw the image for Rose Gardiner Milles. The caption said, “daughter of Edward Gardiner of Hertfordshire and heiress of Pishiobury Park.” As a crazy Janeite, I had to research this Edward Gardiner!
Edward Gardiner died in 1779 and Rose’s husband, Jeremiah III Milles, rebuilt Pishiobury from 1782-1784. It was the “second great estate of Medieval Hertfordshire” and the Wikipedia page has something about what looks like a complicated lease arrangement that I honestly don’t understand very much of. Rose and Jeremiah’s only son died as an infant, so the estate went to their only daughter, also named Rose, who married Rowland Aston in 1810. That’s essentially all that I easily had access too about these Gardiners of Hertfordshire. So, then I looked up the Milles family.
Jeremiah III was a sheriff of Hertfordshire and from a long line of ministers. His great grandfather, Isaac Milles, was considered the model parish priest of his day. Isaac was the youngest son of an undistinguished country squire in Suffolk, but the family did have a coat of arms. Isaac ultimately served at Highclere, Hampshire, which is the home featured in Downton Abbey.
Having met an end of the Milles family, I considered the Alston family, and there I stuck gold.
Rowland Aston was the second son of Thomas Alston of Odell Castle in Bedfordshire. Thomas was the nephew and heir of Sir Rowland Alston, 6th Baronet. Sir Rowland died in 1791, and the title became extinct. He had been a Colonel and was the son of the 4th baronet, also named Rowland, he married but died without issue.
Naturally, I was curious about the 5th baronet. Sir Thomas Alston was recorded to have had bouts of insanity and even was committed to an asylum at times. He married Catherine Davis-Bovie in 1750, but they separated by mutual agreement in 1752. This is what his Wikipedia article says:
Confined for a while to a madhouse, he was nevertheless re-elected to Parliament unopposed in 1754. Horace Walpole reported a sorry appearance in the House of Commons in November 1755: “Poor Alston was mad, and spoke ten times to order.”
On 2 Jan 1759 he succeeded his father as 5th Baronet. He did not stand for Parliament in 1761. Alston died 18 July 1774, leaving his property to his housekeeper Margaret Lee, through whom it eventually made its way to his illegitimate son Thomas. He was buried at Odell.
I found it excessively strange that his property went to his housekeeper and later illegitimate son and hoped Peerage.com might have more information. There it records him having a son with Margaret Lee named Thomas Alston born some time before 1774. I still found it interesting that he was legally able to leave his estate to his lover and not his wife and found a curious line about his will.
He died intestate, and his estate was administered on 14 February 1776. His will (dated 6 September 1766) was proven (by probate) on 21 November 1776.
An estate left in intestate means there was no will in place, usually. Yet his gave a date for a will eight years before his death. I assume it was made upon the birth of his son with Margaret Lee. I also assumed his wife, and possibly other family, contested the will, and that’s why it took so long to be proven.
Looking up Catherine Davis-Bovie, I saw that she had two illegitimate sons by a horse trader. John Wasse Alston was born in 1763 and bore the Wasse surname until Sir Thomas died. Then his name was legally changed to Alston, and he was styled as Baronet! There’s more! Catherine’s younger son, Charles, born in 1769, took up the style in 1807 when his brother John died. Nevermind that the title legally went on to Sir Thomas’s brother and then became extinct as he died childless in 1791. Charles Wasse used the title until his death in 1853, and there ended the mischief as his only son died in 1834.
Well, I wish I knew more about Sir Thomas and Catherine. I will have to attempt to find more information! His wife’s eldest son was only eleven years old when he died, so any claims to the title would have been because of her. However, the younger son was definitely an adult when he made the same claims. It seems there is no reason to think they could be legitimate issue of Sir Thomas, so the fact that they both tried to claim the title is quite interesting! I wonder at these reports of his insanity.
What a strange juxtaposition for Edward Gardiner’s granddaughter. Her mother’s family were gentry, her father’s were outstanding clergy and her husband’s had a few skeletons in the closet: madness, separations, infidelities, illegitimacy, grabs for power, titles and money. Austen didn’t favor the Gothic, but I think somewhere in here she may be interested in the romance between Rose Milles and the heir to the House of Alston. They seem so imbalanced! And all this from wondering if Jane Austen had ever heard of Edward Gardiner of Pishiobury Park, Hertfordshire!