John Hatfield – The Keswick Impostor

John Hatfield was born in 1758 or 1759 at Mortram in Longdale, Cheshire. As a teenager he found himself employed as “a rider to a linen-draper in the north of England,”[1] and, in this capacity, he met a young lady from a neighboring farm. The young lady had been brought up to believe the people she lived with were her parents, but the farmer and his wife were nothing more than guardians to her. In actuality, she was the “natural daughter of the British Army General, Lord Robert Manners, who was to receive a dower of 1,000l. if she married with her father’s approbation.”[2] Hatfield discovered this and immediately paid his respects to the lady representing “himself as a young man of considerable expectations in the wholesale linen business.”[3] When Hatfield met with Lord Manners, he also deceived him, for Manners “conceiving the young man to be what he represented himself, gave his consent at the first interview; and the day after the marriage … presented the bridegroom with a draft on his banker for £1500.”[4]

Keswick Impostor: John Hatfield at Age 15, Public Domain

John Hatfield, Public domain.

Flush with cash, Hatfield soon busied himself living the high life in London, and, from the mid-1770s on, he was seen “perpetually at the coffee-houses in Covent-garden.”[5] It was also during this time that Hatfield exaggerated his kinship and relationships with important people. His exaggerations were to such a degree, he acquired the title of “Lying Hatfield.” Eventually he squandered away the £1500 given him by Lord Manners, and with no way to continue his high life, Hatfield disappeared from London, abandoning his wife and three daughters.

After an absence of several years, Hatfield reappeared in London in 1782 but was imprisoned for a debt of 160l. He soon claimed to be related to Charles Manners, 4th Duke of Rutland, and was able to induce the Duke to send him 200l, which secured his release. Later, when the Duke became the lord-lieutenant of Ireland in 1784, Hatfield used his supposed relationship with the Duke to live for some time on credit, but ultimately found himself committed to Marshalsea, where the Duke once again paid his debts, but also temporarily sent him out of the country.

Charles Manners, 4th Duke of Rutland, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Charles Manners, 4th Duke of Rutland. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

John Hatfield could not stay out of trouble. In April 1792 he misrepresented himself, which was discovered when he failed to pay a hotel bill at Scarborough and was arrested. He remained in Scarborough’s local gaol for seven to eight years, during which time a Devonshire lady, named Miss Nation, took pity on him. Perhaps, it had something to do with his good looks:

“His face was handsome, the shape of which, in his youth, was oval, his person genteel, his eyes blue, and his complexion fair.”[6]

On September 13, 1800, Miss Nation “paid his debts, and, [supposedly] though she … [had] never … spoken to him till he quitted the gaol, married him the next morning.”[7] He and his new wife then traveled to Dulverton in Somersetshire. Once again, as Hatfield had no means to support himself or his new wife, he relied on fraud and deceit to acquire both money and credit. Hatfield soon returned to London, but this time when he arrived, he arrived in magnificent style. Unfortunately, just as he had done before, Hatfield spent every shilling and when pressed by creditors to pay his bills, he used a tried and true strategy: he abandoned his second wife and two children.

John Hatfield, Public Domain

John Hatfield. Public domain.

The same year that Madame Tussaud left Paris for London was the same year that Hatfield arrived at Keswick in Cumberland under the assumed name of Honorable Alexander August Hope, M.P. for Linlithgow, brother of the Earl of Hopetoun. To help alleviate suspicions Hatfield was who he said he was, he offered forged letters attesting to the fact. He also quickly made some beneficial acquaintances in and around Keswick. In addition. he made a fortunate acquaintance with a Liverpool gentleman named Crump, whose name and credit he employed as needed.  The Tamworth Herald described Hatfield’s appearance at Buttermere:

One fine morning … a handsome travelling carriage rattles up to the inn-door, and out steps a fine gentleman in the breeches and boots of the period. His powdered hair … tied in a club behind. His chocolate fustian coat…open at the throat to reveal a finely laced white cravat. With smiles and bows, the beau announces himself … He spends the summer months partly at Keswick, partly at Buttermere … To young ladies his nice combination of deference and presumption was irresistible; their mothers listened eagerly to the … references to his estates in Derbyshire and Cheshire and his ancient lineage; the martial envy of the men was stirred by stories of his exploits in the American War; desperate duels in France, travels in Egypt, Turkey, and Italy.[8]

His exquisite manners, fine dress, and station in life attracted the attention of Mary Robinson, also known as the “Buttermere Beauty” or “Maid of Buttermere.” The daughter of the innkeeper of Fish Inn, Mary quickly became enamored with Hatfield as much as Hatfield was enamored with her money. On 2 October 1802, John Hatfield carried off the “flower the mountains” when he married Mary at Lorton Church. Newspapers announced the marriage, and it was at that point that certain community members learned the real Colonel Hope was living in Vienna. Before Hatfield could be arrested for being an impostor, he escaped, but he was soon apprehended at a village sixteen miles from Swansea.

Mary Robinson, the “Buttermere Beauty.” Courtesy of British Museum.

Ultimately, John Hatfield, became known as “The Keswick Impostor.” He was charged with three indictments for forgery, found guilty, and sentenced to hang on 13 September 1803. The Buttermere Beauty returned to her “parents at … Fish Inn and married a respectable, God-fearing farmer of Caldbeck.”[9] Newspaper publicized the doomed romance between Mary and Hatfield, and, for many years after:

“‘The Beauty of Buttermere,’ became an object of interest to all England: dramas and melo-dramas were produced in the London theatres … and … shoals of tourists crowded to the secluded Lake and the little homely cabaret, which had been the scene of her brief romance.”[10]

References:

  • [1] Smith, John Jay, Celebrated Trials of All Countries, and Remarkable Cases of Criminal Jurisprudence, 1835, p. 411.
  • [2] Stephen, Sir Leslie, ed., Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. 25, 1891, p. 153.
  • [3] The Criminal Recorder, Volume 2, 1815, p. 4.
  • [4] Smith, John Jay, p. 411-412.
  • [5] Ibid., p. 412.
  • [6] The Criminal Recorder, p. 3.
  • [7] Stephen, Sir Leslie, ed., p. 153.
  • [8] “Mary of Buttermere,” in Tamworth Herald, 3 June 1905, p. 2.
  • [9] Ibid.
  • [10] The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, Volume 24, 1834, p. 251.

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