Wanstead’s Heiress: The Last Days of Catherine Tylney-Long

If you wish to avoid spoiling your enjoyment of Geraldine Roberts‘ excellent book The Angel and the Cad, look away now! Because this post examines the final tragic days of Catherine Tylney-Long, whose life ended on 12th September 1825. As we shall see her death is not just about Wanstead House – it is in fact an important marker on the long road to women’s equality. Less than 15 years after turning down the chance to marry the Duke of Clarence (later King William IV) Catherine’s final days were spent in a turmoil of pain and anxiety – thrust upon her by the man she did chose to marry: William Long- Wellesley.

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Wanstead House lamented, but not its tragic owner

Prior to the publication of The Angel and The Cad, Catherine Tylney-Long has been a barely remembered footnote in the sad story of the loss of Wanstead House, Britain’s first and finest Palladian Mansion. She had long been blamed for getting mixed up with ‘Wicked William’ Long-Wellesley in the first place:- Catherine’s early death has somehow been viewed as a punishment befitting her negligence in marrying ‘Wicked William’ Long-Wellesley, whose reckless extravagance brought her so much pain and sorrow. Years of research have now overturned this viewpoint, and Catherine has finally been liberated from obloquy. Thus we can now mourn her loss because she did not survive to witness the astonishing victory she delivered for womankind in relation to maternal rights, rather than because Wanstead House is no more.

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Catherine

Here are some details of Catherine’s final days as compiled via eyewitness reports and private letters. To set the scene, Catherine has fled to Richmond with her sisters and children, because she knows that her husband William intends to seize her children and regain control of their remaining funds.

August 28th 1825

Catherine makes William aware that he will no longer receive an allowance from her pin-money. As part of her marriage settlement Catherine had sole control over pin-money of £11000 per annum (roughly £900K in today’s terms) – She had been giving half of this to William since their separation, and he had been living a high life in Paris with his mistress in tow. As from 30th October 1825 William’s funds would be cut, thus his reaction was a desperate one. Catherine was informed that ‘if he could not obtain custody of the children by legal measures, he would resort to stratagem.’ For this reason she now went into hiding.

the-paragon-1The Paragon, at Richmond – Catherine’s final home

September 7th 1825

In the words of Catherine’s sister Emma:

On Wednesday the 7th of September we arrived with Mrs Long Wellesley and her children into a house, in the Paragon, Richmond. She had previously been much indisposed with a stomach complaint. On the evening of that day she was seized with spasms, which occasioned so much alarm that she called my sister Dora into another room & told her that, as spasms in the stomach have proved fatal, she considered it her duty to revoke without delay a will she had signed some years before, which had been made under Mr Long Wellesley’s direction, & probably, she added, to the disadvantage of her children. She then wrote a short revocation of that will & signed it in the presence of two witnesses. She then saw the apothecary who provided a medicine & the spasms subsided.

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Emma and Dora Tylney-Long

September 8th 1825

Thursday the 8th, Mrs Long Wellesley received a letter from her uncle Mr H Windsor, containing one from William The instant she saw Mr Long Wellesley’s handwriting, she closed the letter, and sending for my sister Dora & myself, she informed us that she had received a letter written by Mr Long Wellesley, that concluding it contained some distressing threats of removing her children from her care; and feeling too ill to encounter any distressing intelligence, she was resolved not to open it, & directed us to take charge of it, she said, “if it contains, as I have reason to suspect, any threats regarding the children, I authorise you both to communicate with my solicitor, Mr Hutchinson, & in his absence from Town,… to send for Planch, the Police Officer, to resist to the utmost every attempt to remove the children, which you are well aware I should have done had I been in good health. – Only avoid mentioning this distressing subject to me at present, as I feel persuaded that, if I were to attempt reading that letter, my spasms would return, and I might be dead in a few hours.” My sister Dora and myself then assured her that we would faithfully respect her wishes and we never mentioned the subject to her again.

September 9th 1825

Having been treated by Dr Julius, Catherine was well enough to walk out. However, word had been sent to relatives regarding her precarious state, and the Duke of Wellington dispatched Sir Henry Halford a top physician to attend her.

September 10th 1825

Cousin and long-time guardian Bartholemew Bouverie wrote to Dora Tylney Long from London on hearing of Catherine’s illness

I am very much concerned indeed to learn that your sister Mrs Long Wellesley is so alarmingly ill… I fear your sister’s illness must be increased by reflecting into what wretched hands her poor children must fall, should it please providence to remove her from hence; but I will not even for a moment anticipate an event so calamitous to them & to yourself & Miss Emma, but trust that ere long I shall have the satisfaction of hearing that she can be pronounced convalescent.

September 11th 1825

Catherine suffered a relapse and despite the attention of three doctors experienced ‘agonies of the heart’ and screamed hysterically. She was, however, able to have final words with her children – and to relate instructions to her sisters as to their future care.

September 12th 1825

Catherine passed away quite suddenly at 11am in the presence of her sisters and doctors. She was just 36 years old. Halford wrote directly to the Duke of Wellington, ascribing her death to a fever. The day was spent trying to work out into whose charge the children should be placed. William was in Paris and legally entitled to take them, but those present at Catherine’s deathbed knew that she wanted anything but that to occur. So Dr Gladstone placed the children with their aunts as next-of-kin present to take charge of their welfare. This act was to enrage William, who saw it as an act of treachery denying him his legal rights as a father – leading to the famous custody case fought on Catherine’s behalf to protect her children.

September 13th 1825

News breaks about Catherine’s death, and her sufferings are blamed upon William. Batholemew Bouverie angrily writes

I had a fearful foreboding of the melancholy event, which your letter I received this morning has announced to me. The symptoms you had mentioned were of too alarming a character to afford us any sanguine hopes of your poor sister’s recovery. Oh! What remorse must that wretch feel, or rather ought to feel when he learns about what his perfidy & cruelty have effected! Alas! I fear, his heart is so hardened, & his mind so completely depraved as to be alive only to a very different impression… I hope the proceedings in Chancery were so far advanced that [the oldest boy] is now actually a Ward in Chancery, & therefore all that property will be kept completely out of that monster’s hands. If the boy is not already a Ward in Chancery, you and Miss Emma, as the next heirs, can make all the three children so.

Amidst the outrage though, there is genuine sorrow as expressed by Catherine’s close friend Sir George Dallas

Is it possible, that one so loved, so honoured, so deservedly mourned, is snatched thus suddenly from her weeping children… in the flower of her days, to that Heaven she had early earned by her virtues? O, God, it is impossible that a Soul so pure, so acceptable in thy sight, could be summoned to thy presence but to receive that Crown of righteousness which her spotless life, and admirable qualities, had fitted her to wear, and to experience an appropriate shelter from that earthly storm which had already wrecked her happiness, and threatened her future days, (had she been spared to see them), with increasing misery… A finer heart never bowed to earthly sufferings, and great we know her sufferings to have been, how she bore them we equally know; and these, while they embalm her memory in the hearts of her friends, will also enshrine it in the memory of a husband who now, that she is lost to him for ever, cannot forget how tenderly she loved him, and whose heart, touched by her sad, and unmerited fate, may, when brooding over the recollection of her virtues, and the remembrance of her misfortunes, awaken, perhaps, to penitence, and seek to atone for the misery he heaped upon her by a life of future devotion, and kindness to her children. So may he soothe her Shade, by a renewed, and tender, discharge of that parental duty to them it was the pride of her life, and the dearest object of her own heart to perform… What a blank she will create in our affections, and how she deserves to be mourned! Her sensible mind, her sprightly disposition, her graceful elegant manners, her generous heart, her happy temper, her devotion to her family, a breast wherein all the virtues dwelled, these were the adoring qualities of her character; and it is over these you must both muse when seeking for consolation under your affliction, for it is in the consciousness of these that you must reach the consolatory assurance that she is finally and imperishably happy.

Over the coming days there were a great many eulogies to Catherine in the newspapers. Out of a sense of decorum her loss was mourned without any blame being attached to William. However, the Evening Herald, was unable to resist using her story as a metaphor for contemporary life

It is seldom that we allude to domestic circumstances, under a strong conviction of the privacy of domestic life is what the Press can, generally speaking, have nothing to do with. But premature death of an amiable and accomplished lady, born to large possessions, and against who the voice of calumny never so much breathed a whisper, calls, we think, for one passing comment, in illustrating, and furnishing, we trust, a lasting and a useful lesson to the heartlessness of too many of the men of the present age. With a fortune that made her an object and a prize to Princes, this amiable woman gave her hand and heart to a man of her choice, and with them all that unbounded faith could bestow. What her fate has been, all the world knows: what it ought to have been the world is equally aware. To her, riches have been worse than poverty; and her life seems to have been sacrificed, and her heart ultimately broken, through the very means that should have cherished and maintained her in the happiness and splendour which her name and disposition were alike qualified to produce. Let her fate be a warning to all of her sex, who, blessed with affluence, think the buzzing throng which surround them have hearts, when, in fact, they have none: and if there be such a feeling as remorse, accessible in the quarter where it is most called for, let the world witness, by a future life of contrition, something like atonement for the past.

I hope that the above has given a flavour of Catherine’s final days, and shone some light into how much her loss was felt by family, friends and the wider general public. Just a week later thousands of mourners lined the roads to Draycot Church to witness Catherine’s burial and to pay their respects to a woman of virtue, who had been the victim of a morally corrupt husband. Thankfully, during the remainder of William Long-Wellesley’s lifetime, he was vilified for this act of cruelty above all others.

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Thanks to Catherine – Children were hereafter protected from bad fathers

Whilst there can be no doubt that Catherine Tylney-Long lost her life due to William’s shameful behaviour – she was equally a high-profile victim of an antiquated legal system, which denied women even the most basic rights in terms of property, and no say in the control of their own children. Such were Catherine’s sufferings that Lord Chancellor Eldon was unwilling to uphold the status quo, and instead ruled that William Long-Wellesely should be the first man ever to be denied custody of his children on the grounds of moral conduct. This Cruickshank satire depicts Catherine’s children safely in the control of legal guardians, whilst their errant father takes yet another fall from grace.

I am glad to say that ‘Wicked’ William’s attempts to silence his wife and place her in permanent ignominy have failed – Despite the destruction of her private papers, and Long-Wellesley’s assertion that she was an uneducated dullard, Catherine left enough scraps of information to allow a fresh examination of her life, and to overturn the conventional viewpoint. Geraldine Roberts’ book The Angel and the Cad reveals Catherine’s real nature – and liberates her from almost two centuries of misrepresentation. Her ‘guilt’, if you can even call it that, only extends to following her heart and falling in love with the wrong person – and then standing by him through thin and thinner. Ultimately, she was a brave woman risking all in the defence of her children, by instigating legal action that is nowadays acknowledged as a landmark in British legal history. Therefore, all that remains to be said is

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R. I. P. Catherine Tylney Long (1789-1825)

If you want to learn more about the Long-Wellesley family please bookmark this site. Wicked William’s long and notorious life contains many interesting chapters as yet unwritten. You can learn more about Wanstead House on Geraldine Roberts Website and the best resource for Wanstead Park is here.

You may also enjoy Wicked William and The Epping Hunt or see what a completely useless soldier he was when Wicked William went to War. Finally, to prove that bonkers behaviour can and does run in families, read the interesting tale of Wellesley-Pole’s Anger Management