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Howard of Shelton Abbey – the Earls of Wicklow


“Inservi Deo et Laetare” (Serve God and Rejoice)

For close on three hundred years, the Howard family held court at Shelton Abbey outside Arklow. From the outset they were an unusual clan with a tremendous penchant for the arts. Hugh Howard emerged as one of the great collectors of the early 18th century while his brother acquired the great library of Lord Chancellor West. The Howards were equally adept at collecting wealthy wives. Marriages with the Boleyns, Forwards, Arnolds, Darnleys, Charlemonts, Powerscourts and Abercorns ensured their position in high society. Created Viscounts in 1776 and subsequently elevated to the Earldom, four sons of the family sat as Representative Peers between 1800 and 1905. The 7th Earl was a Senator in the Irish Free State and the last Countess sat in the Irish Seanad in 1948. The family’ artistic bent was emphasized by friendship with the hymn-writer Fanny Alexander and the pre-Raphaelite poet, Dante Rossetti. Protestant by birth but often Catholic by persuasion, the family was caught up in one of the most extraordinary legal battles of Victorian times. In the last century, Billy Wicklow was one of Evelyn Waugh’s great friends and a renowned figure in Dublin society. His cousin Lady Katherine Howard established a charitable foundation and was the last of the Howards.

Dr. Ralph Howard & the Hassells of Shelton Abbey
Unlike was born into an Ireland torn apart by civil war as the Puritanical forces of Oliver Cromwell sought to overthrow the armies of Royalist and Catholic Irish. His father, John Howard, was born in the reign of King James I and married in 1636 Dorothea Hassells, daughter and heiress of Robert Hassells.[i] But John Howard died in 1643 aged just 27. Unwilling to be left alone, Ralph’s mother then married her cousin, another Robert Hassells, who had acquired a lease on the Shelton and North Arklow estates from the Duke of Ormonde. Young Ralph presumably grew up in this household, moving to Dublin to study medicine at the University shortly after the Restoration of Charles II. By 1665 he had secured the Hassells estates in Wicklow by means of a renewed lease. Central to this estate was Shelton Abbey which would become the home to the Doctor’s descendents for the next 300 years. He acquired his doctorate in 1667 and, the following summer, married Katherine Sotheby of the Yorkshire family.[ii] In 1674 he was appointed President of the College of Physicians in Ireland, residing in a house on Great Ship Street. This was no mean achievement in an age of major scientific revolution that featured Robert Boyle, Isaac Newton and their ilk. His mother died in the winter of 1684 and was buried beneath a marble headstone in Kilbride churchyard. As an opponent of James II he was attainted by the Irish Parliament in 1689 and fled with his family to England. In his absence, Shelton was given to a Mr. Hacket. Legend has it that James II actually stayed with Mr. Hacket at Shelton while on the run between his defeat at the Boyne and his eventual flight from Waterford. A path running through the demesne is called “King James Road” to this day. Another story tells of a piece of Shelton’s front door splattered during one of the beleaguered king’s many nosebleeds and retained as a relic until a servant girl mistook it for kindling and threw it on a fire.
Hugh Howard, Art Connoisseur
Dr. Howard acquired the freehold of the Shelton estates from the 2nd Duke of Ormonde in 1697. He died in 1710 leaving three sons and three daughters.[iii] His eldest son, 35-year-old Hugh Howard, succeeded to Shelton. As a young man, Hugh had joined the suite of Thomas, 8th Earl of Pembroke, during his mission as Ambassador to the Treaty of Ryswyck. He subsequently traveled form Holland to Rome where he studied under the Italian classicist Carlo Maratti. He returned from Italy, via France, in 1700 and after visiting his family in Dublin, established himself as a portrait painter in London. He became a friend of the poet Matthew Prior whose mistress, Anne Durham, he painted in the guise of Flora. Other known sitters include Arcangelo Correlli, John Bagford and Justinian Isham (later 5th Baronet). He developed a reputation as a connoisseur of art, advising a number of prominent collectors such as the Earl of Pembroke and the 2nd Duke of Devonshire. As such, his role in shaping some of Britain’s most notable and historic collections might reasonably be considered enormous. In 1714, he was appointed Keeper of the State Papers at Whitehall. Shortly after this appointment he married Thomasine, daughter and heiress of General Thomas Langston. In 1723, the couple were painted by the Swedish portraitist, Michael Dahl. In 1726 Hugh was appointed Paymaster of the Royal Works. In 1737, John Faber Jr engraved his portrait. On March 17th of the following year he passed away, without issue, in Pall Mall. He was buried in Richmond churchyard beside his wife. His extensive and valuable collection passed through his brother, Robert Howard, Bishop of Elphin, to the Earls of Wicklow. Part of the collection was later acquired by the British Museum with the majority dispersed at a series of sales at Sotheby’s from 1873 onwards.

In 1726, Dr. Howard’s youngest son William inherited the extensive library of the late Lord Chancellor of Ireland, Richard West. William was elected MP for Dublin in 1727 but died the following year. His library went on to form the nucleus of the once great private library at Shelton. Amongst the collection was an original copy of Chaucer’s Canterbury tales, subsequently auctioned in the 1820s.

Robert, Bishop of Elphin
In’s second son, Robert, Bishop of Killala, was translated to the See of Elphin. He had joined the Church of Ireland as a young man and risen steadily through the hierarchy over the ensuing decades. A contemporary of Jonathan Swift, he was a Senior Fellow of Trinity College Dublin. His most remarkable action in his eleven years as Bishop of Elphin was to propose a bill in 1731 to make “marriages by papist priests void”. His energies seem to have been otherwise devoted to the improvement of his estates. He was married in 1724 to the heiress, Patience Boleyn. Her father was Godfrey Boleyn of Fennor, Slane, Co. Meath and her mother Mary was a sister of the Tory barrister Henry Singleton, later Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas. This was the first of many strategic marriages by the Howard family, designed to propel them from the status of mere gentry to the upper ranks of the Ascendancy. By the 1780s they had secured control of enough parliamentary seats to oblige the King to ennoble the family head. The Bishop and Patience had a number of children including Ralph, their heir, and two daughters, Mary and Katherine.[iv] In 1738, the Bishop succeeded to Shelton on the death of his brother Hugh, the art collector.
The Forward Marriage & New House at Shelton Abbey
The Bishop died less than three years later and was succeeded by his eldest son, Ralph, a Privy Councillor. In 1755, Ralph married Alice Forward, daughter and co-heiress of William Forward, MP, of Castle Forward in County Donegal. As the only daughter and co-heiress of her father, the marriage effectively added the Forward’s 6000 acre estate on Inishowen and the parliamentary seat of Newtowncunningham to the Howard’s already extensive property of 20,000 acres in Wicklow. In 1766, Ralph’s niece, Mary Stoyte, married the 3rd Earl of Darnley. In 1770, Ralph adroitly used his new wealth to convert the ancestral home at Shelton Abbey into a substantial two-storied red-brick country house of 11 bays. During this time he also developed the hamlet of Redcross into a model rural, self-contained village, complete with bakery, post office and other services.

Ralph Howard, 1st Viscount Wicklow

On 21st July 1776, just fifteen days after America colonists made their Declaration of Independence, Ralph was elevated to the Peerage of Ireland as Baron Clonmore of Clonmore Castle in the County of Carlow. Nearly a decade later, on 23 June 1785, he was advanced to the Viscounty of Wicklow. He died on 26th June 1789, less than three weeks before French citizens stormed the Bastille in Paris. He left four sons and several daughters including Robert (2nd Earl of Wicklow), William (3rd Earl) and Hugh, MP for St. Johnstown, Co. Longford. His widow, a formidable lady by all accounts, was created Countess of Wicklow in her own right on 5th December 1793. Six years later, the Countess’s daughter, Lady Mary Hore, wife of the Rev. Thomas Hore, took ill while en route to Scarborough and died aged 22.

Sir Ralph Howard & his Sisters
The younger son, Colonel Hugh Howard, was born in 1761 and married in 1792 to his cousin, Catherine Bligh, daughter of the Dean of Elphin and niece of the 1st Earl of Darnley. Hugh died in 1840 leaving two sons and three daughters. His eldest son, Sir Ralph Howard, was Colonel of the Wicklow Militia and MP for the county from 1829 to 1840. In 1837 he married Lady Fraser, widow of the Waterloo veteran, Lt. Col. Sir James John Fraser. In the 1841 census he was living at 17 Belgrave Square, London, with his wife, seven female servants and four male servants. Sir Ralph was created a Baronet by the young Queen Victoria in July 1838. In later life he was financial guardian to the young Charles Stewart Parnell but he died in 1873 when the baronetcy became extinct. Colonel Howard’s daughters secured three of County Wicklow’s greatest landlords for husbands. Frances married the liberal anti-Union MP William Parnell Hayes in 1810 but died at Avondale four years later. In the spring of 1818 Isabella married the 3rd Earl of Carysfort and moved to Glenart Castle where she held court for eighteen years. The younger sister Theodosia was married in August 1822 to the 5th Viscount Powerscourt but he died the following year; she became a prominent evangelist and died in 1836.

The Bachelor Earl
Upon the death of the Countess of Wicklow in March 1807, her eldest son Robert succeeded as the 2nd Earl of Wicklow. The “Bachelor Earl” was a Representative Peer of Ireland from the Act of Union until his death just after the tenth anniversary of Trafalgar in October 1815. He enjoyed a drink and perished from gout. A contemporary described him as “quite imbibed with such a strong sense of religion enabled him to bear up against a most serious indisposition (ie: the gout) which deprived him of the pleasures of society”.

The 3rd Earl & Castle Howard
The titles and estates passed to the 2nd Earl’s brother William. As a young man, William had succeeded to his mother’s family estates in Donegal. He had thus been obliged to assume the surname and arms of Forward. His wife of twenty years, Eleanor Caulfield, died in 1807. She was a granddaughter of the Earl of Charlemont, orphaned when her parents, baby sister and a servant were caught in a hurricane while sailing across the Irish Sea. They had been on board the Trevor Totty voyaging for England so that Eleanor’s father, Major Francis Caulfield, might take up his duties in Westminster as MP for the Borough of Charlemont. The 3rd Earl and his Countess had three sons and four daughters. Their eldest son William succeeded to the Earldom in 1818. The middle son Francis was Vicar of Swords and father to the 5th and 6th Earls.

In 1811, the youngest son, Colonel Robert Howard, purchased Cronebane Lodge in the Vale of Avoca. Perched on a hill overlooking the famous “Meetings of the Waters”, this had belonged to the director of the Avoca copper mines. The Colonel, who died in 1828, commissioned the architect Richard Morrison to gothicize and extend the house into the present day Castle Howard. This was at a time when Thomas Moore could genuinely claim that there was “not in this wide world a vale so sweet as that in whose bosom the bright waters meet”. Castle Howard eventually passed out of the family and, in 1991, was sold with 200 acres of woodland to Ivor Fitzpatrick, a prominent Dublin solicitor and property developer whose clients include Charles Haughey, John McColgan, John Rocha and Dermot Desmond. Ivor and his wife, Susan Stapleton, now run the Castle Howard estate as an equestrian center. [v]

The 3rd Earl’s eldest daughter Lady Isabella married William Meade Smyth, MP for Drogheda; their three daughters died unmarried. The second daughter, Lady Eleanor, lived to be 94 and was married first to Thomas Fetherstonhaugh of Bracklyn Castle, Kinnegad, Co. Westmeath, and then to Lt Col WF Johnstone, Grenadier Guards. The third daughter Lady Mary married the Rev. JW Arnold. His brother, Dr. Thomas Arnold, was the headmaster of Rugby school who made such an impact on Tom Brown and Sir Harry Flashman. The Earl’s youngest daughter, Lady Alicia, married the Scottish landowner, William Bisset, and settled at his family estate of Lessendrum in Aberdeenshire. The 3rd Earl died in September 1818 and was succeeded at Shelton by his 30-year-old eldest son, William Forward.

William Forward-Howard, 4th Earl of Wicklow

William Forward was born in 1788 and educated at St. John’s College, Cambridge. On inheriting the Earldom, he was granted permission to revert to the name of Howard, hyphenating this with Forward to become Forward-Howard. In February 1816, two years before his succession, the 4th Earl married Lady Cecil Frances Hamilton, daughter of the 1st Marquess of Abercorn. Over the next fifteen years, she bore him seven daughters– Eleanor, Frances, Harriet, Isabella, Anne, Mary and Katherine – but no sons. Through their governess, Miss. Charlotte Polidori, the Howard girls became friendly with the family of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the pre-Raphaelite poet and artist. In 1847 he etched a pencil drawing of “Lady Isabella” to accompany a poem dedicated to her by his sister, Christina Rossetti. In 1819, the new Earl commissioned Richard and William Morrison to remodel Shelton Abbey from the original long two-storey building of 1770 into a mock Elizabethan baronial manor. John Morrison later claimed that the designers were “much fettered” by the Earl’s desire to retain much of the original fabric. At any rate, the result was a splendid combination of crenellated parapets, wide-angled gables, Tudor arches and pinnacled buttresses. The Earl’s study was relocated to an octagonal tower with a conical roof on the east side of the house.

The Hymnwriter, Cecil Frances Alexander
The 4th Earl’s principal land agent was a retired army officer from Norfolk, Major John Humphreys. He seems to have moved to Wicklow soon after the Earl’s succession in 1818, settling at Ballykeane House, Redcross, 5km south east of Rathdrum.[vi] That same year, his wife gave birth to a daughter, Cecil Frances, or Fanny, who grew up to become the hymn-writer “Mrs. Alexander”. Her actual place of birth seems to be a divisive issue. Some sources say Dublin, others point at Milltown House in Co. Tyrone. However, the fact her Christian names Cecil and Frances were the very same as those of the young Lady Wicklow leads this author to side with those who hold that Mrs. Alexander was born and raised at Ballykeane. At any rate, she developed a close friendship with the 4th Earls’ daughter, Lady Harriet. The two young women were much influenced by the voluminous works of Dr. Walter Hook, the energetic Dean of Chichester. In 1846, they published a small book called “Verses for Holy Seasons”. In that most remarkable year of 1847, the Great Famine raging across the land, they collaborated for “The Lord of the Forest and his Vassals”. Lady Harriet became afflicted with tuberculosis at this time and died. In 1848, Fanny published “Hymns for Little People”, a book full of baptismal fire which had run to 69 editions by the time of her death in 1895. The book was edited by John Keble of the Oxford Movement. Of the four hundred plus hymns she wrote, her best known are “All Things Bright and Beautiful”, “Once in Royal David’s City” and “There is a Green Hill Far Away”. Nine of these hymns are to be found in the present Church of Ireland Hymnal. Mark Twain applauded her poem, “Burial of Moses”; Lord Tennyson declared it one of the few poems by a living author that he wished he had written. In October 1850, she married an upcoming clergyman from Derry by name of William Alexander. In 1867 he was made Bishop of Derry and Raphoe. Fanny became an active player in local charity, developing a district nurses’ service and co-founding the Derry Home for Fallen Women. She died in October 1895. The following year her husband was made Primate of All Ireland. Their only son was killed in October 1918 when a German submarine torpedoed the Leinster.

The Seven Sisters & The Nunnery
In 1840, the 4th Earl commissioned Richard Morrison to build a new wing wherein his seven daughters could live. The building was known as the Nunnery and, as Randal MacDonnell recently put it, “such was the power of suggestion that three of the Howard ladies turned Roman Catholic and did indeed become nuns”. This strong sense of Catholicism also carried through to the sisters who married. For instance, the second sister Lady Frances was married in 1845 to Colin Lindsay, younger son of the 24th Earl of Crawford & Balcarres. Mr. Lindsay, was a prominent High Church supporter in his younger years, serving as President of the English Church Union from 1860 – 1868. However, he subsequently converted to Catholicism in return for which he received a rare and special privilege from the Pope to celebrate mass in any house that he might happen to live. Mr. Lindsay died, leaving issue, in 1892 and Lady Frances in 1897. The youngest sister, Lady Katherine married a prominent Roman Catholic magistrate, the Hon. Arthur Petre, son of the 11th Baron Petre of Coptfold Hall, Essex.[vii] The eldest sister, Lady Eleanor, married Colonel Charles Law, a grandson of the former Chief Justice, Baron Ellenborough, but died young and without issue in 1852. Colonel Law’s impetuous uncle, Edward Law (who he succeeded as 3rd Baron Ellenborough in 1871) was appointed Governor–General of India immediately after the first disastrous Afghan War. Another sister, Lady Anne married twice. Her first husband, Richard Bulkeley Phillipps Grant, inherited the Picton Estates in Wales and was created Baron Milford of Picton Castle in 1847. After his death in 1857, she married Thomas Joseph Eyre of Uppercourt in Kilkenny.[viii]

A Prime Minister in the Family
The 4th Earl was no enemy of Catholicism. In 1829, at the request of his friend and brother-in-law, Lord Aberdeen, he seconded the Address in the House of Lords in favour of Catholic Emancipation. He emerged as a leading speaker on all matters religious over the next thirty years, arguing against the tithe system and for State endowment of the Roman Catholic College in Maynooth. He also supported the removal of civil disabilities on Jews and the repeal of the Corn Laws. He lived most of the year in Ireland and was generally regarded as a fair and liberal landlord. In 1844 he also built a summer retreat at Torquay in Devon called Dunstone Hall. This fine Victorian house was later purchased by Edward VII, apparently as yet another secret hideaway where he could frolic with Lillie Langtry. The 4th Earl was a Representative Peer for Ireland, a Knight of St. Patrick and a Lord Lieutenant for Co. Wicklow. From 1852 to 1855, his brother-in-law, Lord Aberdeen (who married another of the Duke of Abercorn’s daughters) was Prime Minister of Britain but the pressure of the Crimean War brought about the peace-loving statesman’s resignation and death. The Countess died in the summer of 1860. The 4th Earl died at his London residence, 2 Cavendish Square, in March 1869. He was 81 years old. His titles and estate devolved upon his nephew Charles Howard, second son of his brother, the Rev. Francis Howard, Vicar of Swords.

The Vicar of Swords
The Rev. Francis Howard was born in 1797. At the age of 27 he took his first wife, Frances, a daughter of the George de la Poer Beresford, Bishop of Kilmore. She gave him a son, William George Howard, who died young in 1864 but was to become a source of much conversation when his widow sought to claim the Earldom for their infant son. Frances Howard died in 1833 and three years later her husband, now Vicar of Swords, married secondly Sarah Hamilton. Her father, Charles Hamilton, the Duke of Leinster’s principle agent and confidant, lived at Hamwood in Co. Meath. Sarah gave the Vicar two sons, the 5th and 6th Earls, and four daughters.

The Extraordinary Case of the Pretender Earl
On March 24th 1869, a letter appeared in The Times that prompted one of the greatest society cases of the Victorian age. Two days earlier, the 4th Earl of Wicklow had died. He had duly been succeeded as 5th Earl by his nephew, Charles Howard, son of the Rev. Francis Howard, by his second wife, Sarah. The letter to The Times was written by Ellen Howard, the widow of William George Howard, the late son of the Rev. Francis Howard by his first wife, Frances. In the letter, she claimed that she was the mother of William G Howard’s infant son, also William, born in May 1864. Thus, she reasoned, this child, her son, was in fact the new Earl of Wicklow.

William George Howard married Miss. Ellen Richardson in February 1863. At the time he was heir apparent to his uncle, the 4th Earl. In July 1863, four months after their marriage, William and Ellen went to lodge with Mr. Bloor, a customs officer, at 27 Burton Street, Eaton Square, London. Here they remained for three weeks, during which time they contracted a close friendship with the Bloor family. At the age of 39, William comes across as a peculiar, rather degenerate fellow, forever “haunted by duns” and bailiffs looking for money. There was definitely some odd behaviour going on, with William hiring a second residence at No. 32 on the same street, but retaining a room upstairs at No. 27 where “by Mr. Bloor’s kindness, [he] was accustomed to meet his wife occasionally in a room, which was placed at his service”. By May 1864, Mr. Bloor was obliged to go to Ireland and consult with William. This may have had something to do with a mystery man by name of Baudenave who was renting the lower half of the Bloor’s house. At any rate, William and Bloor decided to confine Ellen at No. 27 and “make every arrangement for her comfort”. Upon his return to London, Bloor encountered Ellen who announced that she was going to leave the city for a time. She promptly set off in a cab for the railway station. One thinks of Helena Bonham-Carter, rainy windows, smoggy streets, whistling steam-engines and such like. In a very short time Ellen returned to the Bloors, declaring that she felt extremely ill. She was immediately put to bed. That evening, aided by Mrs. Bloor and no other witnesses, Ellen gave birth to a son.

Or so Ellen’s story ran when she launched her appeal on behalf of the young boy she claimed as her son. Her husband had died suddenly in October 1864, without ever acknowledging the child’s existence. Indeed, when Ellen came forward in the wake of the 4th Earl’s death, the Howards of Shelton Abbey swore it was the first they had ever heard of the child.

Solicitors were consulted and the case came before the House of Lords. Sir Roundell Palmer, representing the 5th Earl of Wicklow, contested that the infant claimant was not the child of William George Howard. He further suggested that this was in fact an elaborate attempt by Ellen and Mr. Baudenave to secure the Howard family fortunes. There was indeed much whispering of how Mr. Baudenave was “living on terms of suspicious familiarity” with Ellen. These whispers became talk when it emerged that Mr. Baudenave, a key witness, could not be found. Mr. Bloor was by then dead but his widow was “rigorously cross-examined” about her involvement in this child’s birth. To the astonishment of many, Mrs. Bloor defiantly stuck to the story as relayed by Ellen. New witnesses were called forward. A dressmaker who measured Ellen for a dress shortly before the alleged birth swore no traces of her supposed condition were visible. Other neighbours and servants likewise testified that Ellen had showed not the slightest signs of pregnancy.

The case acquired what was daintily described as “a new complexion” when, in March 1870, Sir Roundell told the court how, in August 1864, Ellen and another lady had visited a workhouse in Liverpool, and there procured a newly-born child from its mother, a pauper woman by name of Mary Best. In support of this, he introduced Mrs. Best, the head-nurse and two assistant-nurses. Mrs. Best and two of the nurses quickly identified Ellen as the lady who took the baby away. However, a third nurse expressed some doubt. When the Lords called upon Ellen to ask her to defend herself, they found she had vanished, having slipped out from the court mid-proceeding. The case was adjourned for a week. Ellen reappeared at the appointed time but such was her attitude in refusing cross-examination that she was remanded in custody for contempt of court. The evidence of the Liverpool witnesses was upheld. And that should have been that.

But then the case took another twist. A telegram arrived from Boulogne stating that the real purchasers of Mary Best’s child had been found. As the courtroom hummed with excitement, so the Solicitor-General (representing Ellen and her infant-claimant) announced that these “purchasers” would appear at the next hearing and thus negate the evidence of the Liverpool witnesses. However, when that day came, the Boulogne witnesses were nowhere to be seen. The Solicitor-General apologized and said he had been on the wrong scent. However, he continued to protest his client’s innocence, placing Mary Best in the witness-box. The story now became even more complex when, under intense cross-examination, Mrs. Best cracked. She told the court how she had left the workhouse with a second baby, given to her in the workhouse. She was unable to say who the baby’s real mother was or who had given it to her. She denied receiving any payment for the child but said she had fed and clothed him at her own expense before bringing him home to her father’s house in Yorkshire where the small baby had taken ill and died. Mrs. Best’s relatives and friends were then produced, and confirmed these facts. However, when the three Liverpool nurses were recalled, they denied all knowledge of this second child, stating that no child could have been given to Mrs. Best without their knowledge.

On 31st March 1870, the Lord Chancellor gave the verdict in favour of Charles Howard, upholding his claim to vote as Earl of Wicklow. While the marriage of William and Ellen Howard was not in doubt, he said there was no evidence to support her claim to have begotten him an infant son and heir. The fact that this child’s existence had been concealed from the world, and had been neither registered nor baptized, increased the difficulties. He expressed some bewilderment that Mrs. Bloor had been able to give such a firm account of the child’s birth but concluded that this was “so utterly inconsistent with all the admitted facts, and with the rest of the evidence” that he was “compelled to arrive at the painful conclusion that it was a mere fabrication, intended to defeat the ends of justice.” The whole saga of Mary Best and the two Liverpool babies was deemed an irrelevant confusion. The Earl of Winchelsea was of the opinion that Ellen’s story was utterly incredible, “being only worthy to form the plot of a sensational novel”. He greatly regretted that Mr. Baudenave would escape unscathed. Thus, Ellen’s child was deemed to have no claim to the earldom; and Charles Howard was confirmed as 5th Earl of Wicklow. One wonders how much fun there could be were the DNA experts to start investigating this case.[ix]

The 5th Earl of Wicklow (1839 – 1881) – A Representative Peer

Charles Francis Arnold Howard was 30-years-old when he succeeded as 5th Earl. Educated at Magdalene College, Oxford, he entered the Army as a cornet in the 11th Hussars in 1860 and later secured a commission as lieutenant in the 9th Hussars. He was ADC to Lord Wodehouse during his time as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (1864 – 1866).[x] He retired from the army in June 1870 and was elected a Representative Peer of Ireland two years later. He later served as State Steward to both his cousin, the Duke of Abercorn, and the Duke of Marlborough, during their respective Lord Lieutenancies. Much of his short life was spent defending himself against the extraordinary legal challenge by Ellen Howard, wife of his late half-brother, William. Plagued by ill-health, he died aged 42 at his mother’s residence on Lowndes Street in London in June 1881. He had returned from a long sojourn in Madeira only two weeks earlier.

The 6th Earl & the Wingfield Connection

When he succeeded his brother to become 6th Earl, the Hon. Cecil Ralph Howard inherited a personal estate valued at £29,000 (approx €2.6 million in 2005) and a land mass comprising of 22,000 acres in County Wicklow and a further 6440 acres in County Donegal. He was born at the Vicarage of Swords in 1842 and educated at Rugby and Trinity College, Oxford. After graduating in 1867, he served as a Major in the Wicklow Artillery Militia. In 1876 he served his first commission as a captain in the 60th Rifles and then as a Major in the Seventh Brigade of the Northern Irish Division of the Royal Artillery. He married his first wife, Francesca Maria, in 1876. She was a daughter of Thomas Chamberlayne of Cranbury Park, Hampshire. Francesca bore a son and heir, the 7th Earl, on Christmas Eve 1876 but the birth was too strenuous for her and she passed away six days later. In 1880 the 6th Earl was married again, at Christ Church in Bray. The new Lady Wicklow, as she became the following year, was Fanny Wingfield, born at Windsor in 1847, eldest daughter of Richard Robert Wingfield of Fairy Hill, Co. Wicklow. (See Viscounts Powerscourt). Fanny was friendly with Father Healy, Bray’s parish priest, and regularly invited him to luncheon at Shelton. She gave her husband several daughters and two further sons – Cecil who died young, and Hugh Melville, DL, of Co. Wicklow. The 6th Earl died at Shelton aged 49 on 24th July 1891. According to The Times, “his decease was quite unexpected and no medical man was in attendance at the time”. Three years later, Fanny married Marcus Beresford but he too died young in the winter of 1896.

The Howard Ladies
Until her death in 1914, Fanny Beresford lived with her three unmarried daughters, the Ladies Alice, Joulie and Caroline Howard at Wingfield, a moderate-sized country house near Shelton Abbey. Here they frequently hosted tea and lawn tennis parties for the aristocracy and gentry. Every year they sailed for London to attend the “Season”, throwing parties at their Lowndes Street townhouse for a largely Irish posse of friends such as the Powerscourts, Carysforts, Courtowns and Rosses. The Howard Ladies may have failed to attract husbands, or perhaps they were simply not thus inclined, but they were as remarkable a hat-trick as anything the Ascendancy ever produced. Lady Alice, in particular, has bequeathed a mass of correspondence from which Mark Bence-Jones drew many fine anecdotes for his captivating 1987 book, “Twilight of the Ascendancy”. From the 1870s through to her death in 1923, Lady Alice reveals a hectic, incessant social life of garden parties at Kilruddery, Shelton and Powerscourt, house parties at Straffan, Birr, Moore Abbey and such like, the Investiture of a Knight of St. Patrick, a concert given by the London Symphony Orchestra hosted by her neighbour Stanley Cochrane at Woodbrook, Unionist rallies and Punchestown races, the St. Patrick’s Ball, the Dublin Horse Show, a never-ending “round of gaiety” as they lived it up with the Iveaghs, Listowels, Ashbournes and Carysforts. They generally stayed at Maple’s Hotel during the Dublin Season – unless blessed with the “good fortune” to stay at the Castle itself. She recalls a cricket match at the Viceregal Lodge some weeks after the famous Phoenix Park murders of May 1882 where “the whole ground [was] guarded by police and detectives in every direction”. She found church-going “very dreary” and far preferred life on a bicycle.

By 1898 the Howard sisters were often to be seen buzzling down the roads of Wicklow in their nephew Ralph’s new motorcar. By 1908 they had a Motor of their own. Upon the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, they sisters threw themselves into the cause, attending first aid lectures at Lord Meath’s Town Hall in Bray and stitching sh