Elopement of Richard Brinsley Sheridan with Marcia Maria Grant

In 1835, English newspapers reported on the scandalous elopement of the future Whig politician Richard Brinsley Sheridan and Marcia Maria Grant, daughter of Lieutenant General John Colquohoun Grant. The elopement happened on 15 May 1835, around the same time that Madame Tussaud was busying establishing her wax museum on Baker Street in London and many years after the infamous elopement of Clementina Clerke and Richard Vining Perry in 1791..

Maria knew that her father would not allow her to marry Sheridan because despite Sheridan’s distinguished family name, he was at the time an impoverished clerk and Colonel Grant did not necessarily have great hopes for his future. Therefore, the couple decided to elope and to avoid anyone trying to follow them or prevent their marriage, they came up with a plan. As they made their way to Gretna Green (a spot famous for weddings after the 1754 Marriage Act took effect) they sent another carriage to Dover. Further details about the event were also provided by the Staffordshire Advertise:

“On Friday week, about one o’clock, Mrs. Norton called, and took the young lady out for a drive in the Parks; and being there, by some unaccountable accident, her brother, Mr. Brinsley Sheridan, was there also and … could do no less than gallantly renew his attention to Miss Grant. Of course he obtained a seat in the same carriage. From the Park, they drove to another sister of Mrs. Norton, Lady Seymour. Here a scene occurred, which ended in … Sheridan borrowing from his friend Colonel Beatinck, of the Guards, the use of his travelling carriage, which had just driven up, of course by accident. There was no impediment to immediate elopement, but a wardrobe and money. The kind sisters supplied this between them, and in addition furnished a lady’s maid. Miss Grant wrote a note to her own waiting woman, by way of ruse directing her to proceed with her wardrobe to Dover. All the preliminaries thus arranged, the parties popped into the carriage and were very soon in full swing for Gretna-Green, when they arrived and were married the following Sunday [at 5am at a coaching inn].”[1]

Elopement site in Gretna Green

Historic view of Gretna Green. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Sheridan, who was grandson of his namesake playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan, was born to Thomas Sheridan (colonial treasurer in the Cape of Good Hope) and Caroline Henrietta Callander of Craigforth (a novelist). He was born in London on 1 January 1806 and baptized a few months later, on 26 May 1806.

As to Marcia, everyone knew that she was set to inherit a fortune and that may have been partially why she had so many suitors. She had also reputedly received a £40,000 settlement and was entitled to “the unalienable right of £6000 per annum on the death of her father.”[2] However, some people claimed Marcia’s wealth was “grossly exaggerated.”

The first meeting between Marcia and Sheridan, happened at the house of Sheridan’s sister. Her name was Caroline Norton, and she was married to George Chapple Norton. Supposedly after the initial meeting between Marcia and Sheridan, Caroline did everything possible to create a love match between the pair and perhaps her matchmaking is what eventually led to the elopement.

Caroline Norton. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

It occurred while Colonel Grant was absent from London and in Poole campaigning for his election. After learning that his daughter had ran off with Sheridan, he decided a conspiracy had been committed. He believed that the three fashionable Norton sisters, known colloquial as “The Three Graces,” along with their husbands, were responsible for all his distress and the loss of his daughter. Moreover, the marriage greatly upset him as he had taken “precautionary measures” against numerous needy young captains who found his daughter’s fortune “an attractive object.”

Now he found she had willing married a destitute man, whom he felt had no future and of whom he did not approve. Colonel Grant therefore made it clear that he intended to prosecute all persons implicated in what he called an elopement “conspiracy.” At the time of the elopement Marcia was also underage and because jurisdiction of the court extended to minors Colonel Grant immediately initiated proceedings in the Court of Chancery against Sheridan, who thus eventually called upon to make a “fitting settlement upon his bride, or bow to the alternative of all her property being settled strictly upon herself and her children.”[3] In addition, it was declared:

“Sheridan will be deprived of a life interest even in the 40,000l; and in case of the death of his lady, he will not enjoy a single sous of the inheritance.”[4]

In the meantime, the newly-wedded Sheridans were not worried about the commotion Colonel Grant was creating back in London. In fact, it was reported that they were “sojourning” at the home of the groom’s aunt. Her name was Lady Graham and she lived in Netherby, which was “conveniently” located near Gretna Green. In addition, there was information being shared in newspapers about how the new bride came into possession of her marriage wardrobe:

“An extempore wardrobe for the fair fugitive is said to have been provided for her by her female coadjutors [the Norton sisters] among which was included a celebrated nightcap, to which it is to be hoped the same accident will not again occur as befel it on the first occasion on which it was worn by its lovely owner.”[5]

Although the “lovely owner”* remained a mystery, the Hertford Reformer reported as to what befell the previous owner of Marcia’s nightcap:

“We shall content ourselves with warning all brides most solemnly, to take especial care that their nightcaps are properly put on; for though it may be convenient, at times, to have two strings to their bows ― or to be able to boast, in other words, of having two beaux in a string ― there are few things more awkward than a mistake between the string of a night-cap and another string, particularly when to this string there is appended a bell, and when this bell communicates with the room of a lady’s maid.”[6]

Besides all the cryptic nightcap references, newspapers were providing other details surrounding the runaway couple. Colonel Grant may have read all the allegations about who was involved in the Sheridan’s elopement because he ultimately charged Caroline’s husband, George, with being involved in the “disgraceful plot.” Colonel Grant maintained that George should have taken counter measures to stop the elopement because of his “authority as a husband” and because he was a police magistrate. The Colonel then ridiculed George:

“[H]is behaviour has been disgraceful to him as a magistrate and a gentleman, and he has so identified himself with this nefarious proceeding as to be unworthy of either title.”[7]

Colonel Grant also alleged George with frustrating his efforts to “trace and recover” his daughter and he claimed that at the time this happened Caroline and her two sisters,** and Mrs. Helen Selina Blackwood, were present. The Colonel then contended that George had “tacitly sanctioned” the elopement because he did nothing to stop it. However, George countered Colonel Grant’s allegations in a reply that stated:

“Having to take Mrs. N to Lansdowne House I called for her at Springardens on the night of the elopement; I found [Sir Robert M’Farlane, (Marcia’s guardian)] … in the drawing-room there, in the middle of a conversation respecting an elopement which I had but just learnt had taken placed on my arrival from the city. My wife took little or no part in that conversation, though I have since understood she had previously had a conversation with Sir Robert M’F below stairs, and the only observation made by me was, that as you had recently said to me that all you wished for your daughter was gentleman and man of principle, I trusted you would be consoled and reconciled to the marriage when you became more acquainted with Mr. S. ― I am given to understand that what you characterise as a plot was contrived and settled by the married couple themselves, and by no other person or persons, in one quarter of an hour. Upon my honour, as a gentleman, I was not present at the elopement and knew not of it until many hours after it had taken place.”[8]

George therefore demanded Colonel Grant issue a retraction and insinuated that he would be justified in waiving his position as a police magistrate if he did not. George’s insistence that he was not involved and his position as a police magistrate resulted in Colonel Grant declining to challenge him. However, that did not stop the Colonel from making other allegations.

He also questioned Mrs. Blackwood’s behavior and complicity in the affair. As her husband was absent at the time of the elopement his uncle, Lord Dufferin, felt it his duty to intervene. A mutual friend of both parties arranged the matter and Dufferin called on Colonel Grant and gave an “account of the observations he thought fit to make on the conduct of Mrs. Blackwood,”[9] which seemed to bring closure to Colonel Grant about her role.

Colonel Grant next set his sights on Lord Seymour (Edward Adolphus Seymour, 12th Duke of Somerset) and his wife Jane, who was so beautiful she had served as the “Queen of Beauty” at the Eglinton Tournament of 1839. Lord Seymour was a British Whig aristocrat and politician and Colonel Grant’s letter to him stated:

“My Lord – Such has been the stupor and subsequent agony of mind I have endured since the sad event that has deprived me of the only remaining prop and comfort of my life, that till now I have not been able to calm my senses, or command my reason sufficiently to enable me to examine the circumstances connected with the foul transaction. I have found it hard, very hard, … to bear up against those afflictions which the will of Heaven has visited me with, till but only one of all I had to bless my home was left to me, it is, I find, beyond humanity to endure that this last solace of my life, for whom alone I wished to live, should be torn from my by a train of artifice disgraceful as it is cruel.

My Lord, I have said thus much … purely that you may know that if I have a heart that deeply feels a grief, it can as acutely feel a wrong. … I have just grounds for fixing on you … I may be hard, however so decided by law, in some cases to hold a man responsible for the acts of his wife ― such as where he could not, with the most honest feelings, control them; but surely where, by active or tacit concurrence, he witnesses, wickedly or tamely, the most grievous injury done by her, the husband cannot complain that that redress which could not in such be obtained from the wife should be demanded at his hands. In this precise predicament is your Lordship placed with regard to me.

At your house, from whence it was known, mark, that my child had eloped, were assembled with yourself and Lady Seymour, Mr. and Mrs. Norton, Mrs. Blackwood, and Mrs. Sheridan, in whose presence (added to that of Colonel and Miss Armstrong, just arrived) my friend, and in the event of my death, my daughter’s guardian, … required of your wife intelligence of her flight. This in your hearing, … that of all present, Lady Seymour refused; and you, not enforcing Sir R. M’Farlane’s right to trace my daughter, will, I think, be accused by all, as well as by myself, or having lent yourself to the plot, and for this most dishonourable conduct I demand that you render me satisfaction … (Signed) Coloquhoun Grant. Grosvenor-square, May 28, 1835.”[10]

elopement - Lady Jane Georgian Seymour

Lady Jane Georgiana Seymour at the Eglinton Tournament. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Lord Seymour responded to Colonel Grant stating that he wanted to remove what he claimed was “an erroneous impression” of the event. In addition, Lord Seymour maintained that his wife Jane “had been in no way concerned.”[11] He, like the others that Colonel Grant had cited as being conspiratorial, maintained the elopement was a matter contrived and settled between Sheridan and Marcia. Lord Seymour therefore requested that he be allowed to meet with Colonel Grant personally to discuss the matter.

elopement - Lord Seymour

Lord Seymour. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Unfortunately, the only way Colonel Grant would be willing to see Lord Seymour was if “his Lordship could state that Miss G. did not elope from his house, that he was not present when Sir Robert M’Farlane demanded information as to her route after her flight.”[12] Lord Seymour could not do that as he had known that the elopement was to take place an hour before it happened and he was there when the guardian requested information about Marcia’s whereabouts.

Colonel Grant therefore demanded satisfaction and despite dueling being officially outlawed since 1815, plans were for the two men to duel. Thus, Colonel Grant and Lord Seymour met on a field near Hampstead at dawn. There they exchanged shots “without effect.” A witness to the duel, George Pitt Rose,*** reported what happened next saying:

“Sir C. Grant begged me to load again … and I asked if I considered that Lord Seymour had afford Sir C. the satisfaction he required? I answered that I conceived he had; upon which … Lord Seymour was … ready to explain to Sir C. various circumstance connected with the transaction which had caused the meeting, and which would probably much alter his opinion with regard to it.”[13]

Sheridan and Marcia’s marriage was officially solemnized in June at Arthuret in Cumberland while in the meantime although Colonel Grant may have not been satisfied, he did nothing to repair his relationship with his daughter. By late June there were still no reports of a reconciliation attempt having been made between father and daughter. However, a reunion was eventually achieved in September 1835 when it was reported that the newlyweds and Colonel Grant had reconciled and were leaving town together heading to Dorsetshire.

Although Colonel Grant may have initially thought the marriage a mistake, the Sheridan’s marriage proved to be happy and long lasting. Moreover, Marcia bore Sheridan numerous children, three sons and six daughters. The couple were also never separated from one another until Marcia’s death on 14 August 1884 in Frampton, Dorset, England. Sheridan followed her four years later dying on 2 May 1888 in Marylebone, London.

 —
* It may be that the “lovely owner” was a reference to Caroline Norton and her supposed relationship with Lord Melbourne.
** The reason the sisters may have helped is that Caroline was in an unhappy and abusive marriage and Helen had wed an impoverished naval officer against her family’s wishes.
*** George Pitt Rose’s godfather was William Pitt, under whom his grandfather, George Rose, had served.

References:

  • [1] Staffordshire Advertiser, “The Late Elopement,” June 6, 1835, p. 2.
  • [2] Ibid.
  • [3] Bell’s New Weekly Messenger, “Chancery Proceedings,” May 31, 1835, p. 1.
  • [4] Ibid.
  • [5] Warder and Dublin Weekly Mail, “Elopement,” May 23, 1835, p. 5.
  • [6] Carlisle Journal, “Miscellany,” June 6, 1835, p. 4.
  • [7] Staffordshire Advertiser, p. 2,
  • [8] Bell’s New Weekly Messenger, “The Late Elopement,” May 31, 1835, p. 1.
  • [9] Warder and Dublin Weekly Mail, “The Late Elopement,” June 27, 1835, p. 8.
  • [10] Derry Journal, “Meeting Between Sir Colquhoun Grant and Lord Seymour,” June 9, 1835, p. 1.
  • [11] Ibid.
  • [12] Ibid.
  • [13] Ibid.

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