Thursday, 23 December 2010

Season's Greetings from the Ashdown House Blog!

The Ashdown House Blog thanks you for visiting us this year and wishes you a very happy holiday! Join us in the New Year for more pictures, news of Ashdown and insights into the history of this beautiful seventeenth century hunting lodge.

Friday, 17 December 2010

The Sotheby's Sale Part 2 - A Couple of Family Portraits

The Ashdown House portrait collection contains a number of paintings of Elizabeth of Bohemia's family but with the exception of a portrait of her eldest son Frederick Henry in his teens (painted by his sister, Louise Hollandine) there are none of her children at a young age. It was particularly nice therefore to see these two family portraits in the Sotheby's exhibition.

A Portrait of a boy and a girl, said to be the children of Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia, from the circle of Sir Anthony Van Dyck is said to represent Edward, Count Palatine and his sister Henrietta Maria. Edward was born in 1625 and Henrietta Maria, named for her aunt, the wife of Charles I, was born in 1626 so they were close in age. The other portrait of Edward is by Van Honthorst and was painted in 1638 when he was thirteen years old.

Princess Henrietta Maria is frequently described as gentle and sweet-tempered in the biographies of her mother, which also record that she was "happy in the kitchen," an odd place to find a princess. She was talented at embroidery, preserve-making and confectionery. The only blonde daughter, she was also considered the beauty of the family with a complexion of lilies and roses, so said her sister Sophie in her memoirs. At the age of twenty four Henrietta Maria received an offer of marriage from Prince Siegmund Rakoczy of Siebenbergen in Transylvania, who had apparently fallen in love with her portrait, spurning a wealthier match in order to make her an offer. He wooed her with a diamond watch and ardent love letters. Elizabeth was delighted; her eldest surviving son Charles Louis, newly restored to the Palatinate lands, less so. Reassured that Prince Siegmund's title was recognised by the Emperor and that he kept 200 men at arms and 50 gentlemen in attendance, and that the family ate off silver plate, Charles Louis eventually gave his consent.

The couple were married by proxy on May 14th 1651 and Henrietta Maria set off to meet her huband with a meagre trousseau. Fortunately when the couple met they liked each other; Henrietta Maria wrote that Prince Siegmund was stately, kind and generous and drove always with six horses. There was only one more letter from Henrietta Maria reporting how happy she was in her married life. Within five months of the marriage she had died, to her husband's great despair. He had her buried in her wedding gown, wearing the string of pearls that had been one strand of her mother's famous eight strand pearl necklace. Over 200 years later when Queen Victoria inherited the remaining seven strands she wished to complete the necklace. The suggestion that Henrietta Maria's grave should be opened and her strand removed was refused however; the necklace remains a seven strand one in the possession of The Queen.

Prince Edward, Count Palatinate of Simmern, to give him his full title was born in October 1625 at Prince Henry of Nassau's country house two hours from The Hague, where the family had withdrawn to avoid the plague in the city. He was said to be exceptionally good looking, with black hair and black eyes. Elizabeth sent three of her sons, Maurice, Philip and Edward, to France when they were in their early twenties in order to achieve some polish and address. Where good manners and charm were not the trademark of either Maurice or Philip, Edward excelled.

At the age of twenty one Edward married a French Catholic bride eight years his senior. Anne de Gonzague, daughter of the Duke of Nevers, was celebrated in Parisian society for her wit, beauty and wealth. Her affairs were well known but after she fell in love with Edward her only intrigues were political and she became a well known writer. Edward also seemed very happy in the shadow of his wife, turning up for all the fashionable events and certainly enjoying a rich lifestyle after a youth in straitened circumstances. Edward and his wife had three daughters. Eventually Elizabeth forgave him his conversion to Catholicism and received the family in the Hague. There is a portrait of Edward in the Ashdown collection that was painted at this time. According to the records, there was also a matching portrait of his wife Anne, painted in masquing costume. This is interesting because this portrait, originally in the Craven collection, is not at Ashdown. But there is a picture of a lady in masque costume painted by Van Honthorst which is said to be Princess Elizabeth. A case of mistaken identity, perhaps!

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

The Sotheby's Sale - Part 1

You may have noticed that the Ashdown House Blog has taken a six month sabbatical. Now we're back, and what better way to start the new season of blogs than with a selection of items from the recent Sotheby's sale of the contents of Ashdown House.

There were many fine paintings in the sale but one of particular interest was the Allegory of Love by Sir Peter Lely. This is thought to represent William Craven and Elizabeth of Bohemia. The Sotheby's catalogue gives the provenance of the painting as "by descent in the Craven family..." This begs the question of whether the painting was one of those bequeathed to William Craven by Elizabeth or whether he commissioned it originally. The date of the painting is not recorded in the catalogue.

An inventory of the paintings at Coombe Abbey in 1769 states that "an allegorical painting" was hanging in Lord Craven's dressing room. No such picture was listed in the 1866 catalogue of paintings at Coombe but a photograph from Ashdown dated 1913 shows it hanging on the stairs so it may have been transferred from one Craven property to the other at some point in its history.

If the picture does represent William Craven and Elizabeth then it sheds a very interesting light on their relationship, not least because it would be a contemporary reference to a romantic connection between the two of them. Craven was devoted to Elizabeth's service for over thirty years and was both a financial and an emotional support to her during the years of her exile and widowhood. He also provided a house for Elizabeth when she returned to London in 1661 and the diaries of Pepys and Evelyn record that they were seldom out of each other's company. There was some gossip about their relationship but no contemporary written reference to any marriage between them. The marriage was later spoken of as fact in the Craven family but there appears to be no evidence to support it. The painting is therefore both a clue and an enigma.

Friday, 28 May 2010

A Bit of a Chill!

In Ashdown village there are the remains of an icehouse. Trust me, they really are under this pile of weeds! Ice­houses predate the refrigerator as a means of storing ice for preserving food. They consist of chambers wholly or partly subterranean and suitably insulated from above. The practice of building ice houses came to England in the 17th century via France following the Restoration, one of the first ones being located in Upper St. James' Park, now known as Green Park, in 1662. By the eighteenth century it became increasingly common for major houses to have their own icehouse. A spell of several hard winters towards the end of the 18th century also encouraged their use.

The ice would have been collected from the nearest convenient lake or pond and dropped into the pit of the icehouse, possibly layered with straw to make removal easier. The ice was used in cooling drinks and for making cold confections in the kitchens. In the kitchen of the Royal Pavilion in Brighton there is a menu on display for a dinner dated 1817 and of the 22 sweets no less than 7 were made using ice.

Most icehouses comprised a rectangular chamber that is situated at the same level as or very slightly below the level of the entrance, which has a single door. This is probably the type of icehouse that existed at Ashdown since there is little evidence to suggest that much of it was subterranean.

In the cold surroundings, the ice should be capable of being stored for more than a year, and an experiment was carried out at Levens Hall in Cumbria in 1980 when ice was kept in the icehouse for 13 months under conditions similar to those prevailing in earlier times.

The location of icehouses in relation to the main house was often quite arbitrary. This picture is of an extant icehouse at West Wycombe. In most cases they seem to be neither close to the source of the ice nor to the kitchens. A distance of several hundred metres is not uncommon. This is one of the reasons why there is no point in shouting for help if you accidentally got locked in there! At Ashdown the icehouse was by the stables, a quarter mile from the main house and the kitchens, and the main mystery is where the ice was sourced. There are no lakes or ponds in the vicinity of the estate now although there would be some occasional pools in a wet year. Was the ice perhaps brought from Shrivenham or Lambourn? It would be fascinating to know.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

The Romance of it All!

In a week when the National Trust and Harlequin Mills & Boon announced that a historical romance was being published to commemorate 400 years of Ham House (left), I thought it would be nice to put forward Ashdown House's own romantic credentials. Indeed there can be few historic houses in the country that could rival Ashdown as far as scandal, love and sex are concerned. After all, it was home to the outrageous Elizabeth Berkeley, the beautiful 18th century Lady Craven, whom Horace Walpole called "infinitamente indiscreet." Lady Craven took lovers with the same flair that her husband took mistresses (sauce for the goose...), finally left Lord Craven to travel extensively through Europe and to more exotic climes, and set herself up as "sister" to the Margrave of Ansbach. It is said that Lady Craven received the news of her husband's death on the Friday, went into her widow's weeds on the Saturday and by the Sunday was wearing white satin and many diamonds, in which outfit she married the Margrave. The happy couple returned to England, purchased a villa on the banks of the Thames and, supremely indifferent to the disapproval of high society, held glamorous parties and entertained lavishly.

Evidently Lady Craven's eldest son had inherited something of his mother's unconventional ways, for he was the first lover of the notorious courtesan Harriette Wilson, who lived with him at Ashdown House for some time. I don't think Harriette was much taken with either the house or the country. Or with William, for that matter. I have talked about William, Harriette and Jane Austen (there's a menage a trois for you!) in a previous blog post so will say no more here about the Regency rakehell Earl of Craven other than to note that he went on to marry an actress.

But of course the Ashdown love story to end all love stories has to be the tale of the First Earl of Craven and Elizabeth, the Winter Queen. Indeed it is said that Ashdown was built "for the love of a woman who never lived to see it." Craven first met Elizabeth, daughter of King James I, when he was a soldier fighting in the 30 Years War in Europe and she was the was the stunningly pretty, charming and charismatic wife of Frederick, the Elector Palatine. Elizabeth attracted to her service a whole cadre of knights who worshipped her in the courtly traditions of medieval love; they included her cousin Christian of Anhalt, who used to carry her glove as a token when he rode into battle. There is a record of the Christmas celebrations at Heidelberg during the early years of Elizabeth's marriage when a host of infatuated young gentlemen threw themselves at Elizabeth's feet and pledged their swords to her service. Her husband Frederick was apparently not amused.

Craven's devotion to Elizabeth lasted for over 40 years, during which her fortunes were on the slide. Frederick's acceptance of the throne of Bohemia in 1619 provoked the Holy Roman Emperor into a response that saw the Protestant forces defeated at the Battle of the White Mountain in 1620. Elizabeth and Frederick were forced into exile and Elizabeth lived for 40 years in The Hague before the restoration of her nephew King Charles II finally saw her return to England. Her son Charles Louis eventually reclaimed his ancestral Palatine lands but Frederick had died in exile and Elizabeth, pawning her jewellery and her furniture to make ends meet, was increasingly reliant on both the moral and financial support of courtiers such as William Craven. One letter from her to him reports: "We have no money... and today if none be found we shall have neither bread nor meat nor candles..." Craven was clearly a man who could take a hint; he provided vast sums of money to support Elizabeth's household through her exile.

Opinion is divided over the relationship Elizabeth had with Craven. There are those who say that they were secretly married and there are even suggestions that one of the generous payments that Craven made to Charles I during the English Civil War (£50 000) had as a condition that he be permitted to marry Elizabeth, a twist worthy of a historical romance. In the 18th century the marriage of William and Elizabeth was spoken of openly within the Craven family but there appears to be no evidence to support it. Confusingly, at one point it was rumoured that Craven wanted to marry Elizabeth's eldest daughter, the Princess Elizabeth Palatine, the greatest beauty of the age. Elizabeth senior was twelve years older than William Craven, her daughter considerably younger.
In his youth a match had been put forward between William Craven and Lady Mary Cavendish but it came to nothing and she bemoaned the fact that he seemed to prefer soldiering to paying court to her! After this there is no record of Craven showing an interest in any woman other than Elizabeth. This is striking for a man who was not only one of the ten richest landowners in seventeenth century England but also had a title and estates to pass on to subsequent generations. Also striking is the fact that William Craven remained at Elizabeth's court in The Hague during the period of the English Civil War rather than return to fight for her brother Charles I despite being an experienced soldier, a staunch supporter of the Stuart cause and a financial benefactor to Charles. One might deduce from this that William's love for Elizabeth was stronger than his support for the Stuart cause in England and indeed stronger than his concern over the fate of his own estates - an interesting debate.
So was William's love for Elizabeth courtly or rather less rarefied? Was it requited or unrequited? Were they secretly married? The nature of Elizabeth's correspondence with Craven is irreproachably formal, though there might have been some fun in writing in formal terms to a secret lover. Against the match is also Elizabeth's sense of her own consequence; when all was said and done she was a queen and the daughter of a king. Craven was the son of a self-made man who had made a fortune in the cloth trade, bought himself a knighthood and invested in land. The match would have been beyond unequal.

What we do know is that on Elizabeth's return to England in 1661 it was William Craven who put his house in London at her disposal and he also began work on two houses on his Berkshire estates, Hamstead Marshall, which was to mirror Elizabeth's palace in Heidelberg, and Ashdown House, a tiny white palace for a queen. Elizabeth died before either of these projects were completed. A secret marriage between the two of them may be in dispute. What is not in dispute is the devotion William Craven showed to Elizabeth of Bohemia for over 40 years.

Friday, 9 April 2010

The Park Pale

The Ashdown park pale is a thing of beauty. Not only that, it is enormous and ought really to be an ancient monument in its own right. Built originally around 1300AD, it was intended to keep the deer within the bounds of the Ashdown hunting chase at a time when there was a hunting lodge belonging to Glastonbury Abbey on the Ashdown site.

Park pales consisted of a bank and ditch with a wooden palisade, or fence, on the top. They were designed to let the deer in through gaps in the pale called deer leaps, but once inside the emparkment the deer could not get out again. At Ashdown the park pale that surrounded Middle and Hailey Woods has mostly been either ploughed out of the fields, demolished or worn away, although the later haha is still visible. However to the south of the sarsen field and most particularly around Upper Wood, the park pale is a magnificent earthwork that still stands up to 9 metres high on the escarpment of the hill. There is a footpath that runs up the back of Upper Wood and around the top of the park pale and from this vantage point you get a superb view of the surrounding landscape and in particular the remains of the Romano-British settlement to the south. All part of the complex historical landscape in which the current house sits, and a reminder that though the history of Ashdown post 1660 may be a fascinating one it is matched in interest by what happened before the house was built.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

The Palatines - A Made for TV Story!

We've had The Tudors and the Plantagenets. The Borgias are coming around for a second time. We've even had some of the Stuarts but we've never had a film or TV adaptation based on The Palatines, as far as I know. Why not? Is it the name? Because it has often struck me that the tale of Elizabeth of Bohemia and her family would make a marvellous TV series. In terms of drama, love, scandal, shipwreck and sibling rivalry you can't beat The Palatines.

First there's the parents, Elizabeth and Frederick. An arranged match at sixteen years old and yet they fall in love practically at first sight. (This is after Elizabeth, chosen by the gunpowder plotters to be Queen if they had succeeded in blowing up the Houses of Parliament, survives a kidnap attempt). Then there is the year of living dangerously as King and Queen of Bohemia, the extravagance, the parties, the hordes of young men dedicated to the service of the charismatic young Queen. It all ends in disaster at the Battle of the White Mountain in 1620 and Elizabeth and Frederick are forced to flee into exile with their young children. Pursued by the forces of the Holy Roman Emperor, they finally find refuge in The Hague from where they make endless, hopeless attempts to regain Frederick's patrimony. Frederick dies in exile and Elizabeth is utterly distraught.

Then we have the thirteen children, ten of whom survive into adulthood. There's Frederick, the heir, who drowns when he is fourteen, Charles Louis, hedging his bets during the English Civil War and Rupert who certainly doesn't hedge his bets when it comes to a good fight. Maurice is always in Rupert's shadow but manages to come into his own spectacularly in death, lost in a hurricane at sea whilst he and his elder brother are imitating pirates of the Caribbean. Or is he really alive, as his mother always believes, and a slave of the Barbary pirates? There's the lesser known Philip, picking fights and causing a scandal that engulfs his mother and sisters, and Edward hunting down the richest heiress in Europe because he doesn't want to be poor any more.

The girls don't do too badly either. Elizabeth, the eldest, is considered the greatest beauty of the age and is known as the Star of the North. She refuses to marry the King of Poland on religious grounds and enters a convent, becoming Mother Superior and one of the most respected scholars in Europe and a correspondent of Descartes. Her sister Louise, a talented artist, also enters a convent but this is a Catholic one. Rival mother superiors! Henrietta Maria marries a Hungarian prince but dies within six months of the wedding and is buried in her bridal gown and pearls. Her husband dies of a broken heart shortly afterwards. And Sophie, the youngest, evades her mother's plans to marry her to her cousin Charles II, runs away and accepts the marriage offer of one duke, who then asks his brother to step in and marry her instead because he's not up to the task. Eventually she is named heir to the English throne and founds a new dynasty.

Meanwhile Frederick's death has left Elizabeth impoverished but still trying to hold it all together with a court of two thousand in The Hague and no money. She sells her furniture and pawns her jewellery. Step forward William Craven who is a very rich man indeed, but a commoner, and who supports Elizabeth throughout her exile and widowhood. Finally Elizabeth returns to England forty years after she left. She is something of an embarassment to her nephew, the newly restored King Charles II, and has nowhere to live. So Craven puts his house at her disposal and starts to built two beautiful new palaces for her; Hamstead Marshall and Ashdown House. But Elizabeth dies before they are completed.

I've left a lot out, of course, but I reckon there's still enough material for two series, maybe even three! In the absence of a film or TV series, however, you'll have to come to Ashdown if you want the story told!

Ashdown House opens on 3rd April.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010


Ashdown House is unique amongst stately homes in having a sarsen field lying to the east of the house. This field is classified as a Site of Special Scientific Interest as the sarsen stones host exceptional lichen flora which is thought to have taken centuries to develop. The sarsen field is an integral part of Ashdown's historic past.

Sarsens are extremely hard boulders composed of quartz sand particles cemented together by silica to form sandstone. Most authorities believe that the sandstone layer was formed approximately 50 million years ago when a tropical climate existed in Southern England. The weathered stones that now litter the landscape are the remnants of this layer which once overlaid the chalk of the Downs. During inter-glacial times the thawing of the ice and the meltwaters eroded the chalk, causing the sandstone to fracture into irregular shaped stones that were carried down hill. Famous sarsen sites include Stonehenge, Waylands Smithy and Avebury Circle.

Despite the proximity of the sarsen field to the house, the stones have been preserved undisturbed for centuries. There are also many sarsen stones in the grounds and in the woods. Many of these have the characteristic holes which were made by the roots of palm and other tropical trees that grew in the area when the sandstone layer was forming. Sarsen stone was also used to face the outer ramparts of Alfred's Castle, the Iron Age fort situated nearby. The antiquarian and traveller John Aubrey passed Ashdown at the time the house was being built and commented that the builders robbed out the fort in order to use the sarsen stones in the foundations of Ashdown House, so Ashdown is literally a house built on Sarsen stone if not of it.

The word sarsen derives from Saracen, meaning "foreigner." The name probably originated as a way to describe these different stones in a chalk landscape. They are also known as grey wethers because the scattering of stones can easily be mistaken at a distance for grazing sheep.

Various legends and folklore have grown up around the sarsen field. It is said that the sarsens are the remains of an army turned to stone by Merlin. Since nearby Baydon is one of the possible sites for King Arthur's Battle of Badon Hill, one can see the links in the legend. The enormous sarsen stone a few miles away at Blowing Stone Hill is reputed to have been used by King Alfred to rally his troops for the Battle of Ashdown in 871AD. Again the link between the stones and local folklore is very strong.

The sarsen stones add another layer of history and myth to the story of Ashdown. They are a constant source of fascination to the visitors to the Park and we hold them in great respect.

With thanks to Keith Blaxhall, Head Warden, for extracts from his article on the Sarsen stones.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Carved Wooden Heads and Cursed Pearls!

As the new season at Ashdown House approaches I'm reminded of all the reasons why I enjoy working there. One of the main ones is that I always learn fascinating historical facts from our visitors. We get such a huge variety of people through the doors; history buffs, people with a connection to the Craven family, people whose ancestors worked at the house, and experts who have come to see the portrait collection or who are knowledgeable about 17th century architecture, or gardens or both or many other things.

Here are three of the most interesting things that I have learned from Ashdown visitors:

1. That the rather idiosyncratic carved wooden heads on which the antlers are mounted were the accepted way to display hunting trophies in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. The science of taxidermy had not progressed to the stage of allowing the preservation of the entire stag's head so the antlers were removed, a wooden stag's head was carved and painted and the antlers were attached to it. Each was done individually, by hand, which probably accounts for the difference in quality, the startled expressions and the lack of a resemblance to a real stag.

2. That the pearls which are worn by Elizabeth of Bohemia and her daughters in many of the portraits were part of a necklace of seven strings that belonged to Elizabeth and had originally been Medici pearls inherited by Mary, Queen of Scots. Elizabeth would pawn the necklace when she was particularly short of money during her exile and then buy it back if she had a special state occasion to attend. On her death she left one strand to each of her daughters. In the nineteenth century there was a long-running dispute between the British Royal family and the house of Hanover over possession of the pearls. The English crown claimed the necklace but only six strands were reassembled. The seventh strand had been given to Elizabeth's daughter Princess Henrietta Maria. She had died only six months after her wedding to Prince Sigismond of Transylvania and was buried in her wedding dress - and the string of pearls. Her descendents declined to open the tomb to retrieve the necklace! The picture shows Elizabeth's eldest daughter, also called Elizabeth, wearing her strand. This Elizabeth was considered one of the greatest beauties of the age and was known as "The Star of the North." She was also a great philosopher. What a girl!

It is also said that the large drop pearl in some of the portraits is "The Bretheren" a famous pearl that brings bad luck to the wearer. Elizabeth of Bohemia was, arguably, a very unlucky Queen but it is easy to attribute this to her poor choice of jewellery with the benefit of hindsight!

3. That in 17th century architecture a huting lodge such as Ashdown was considered a "masculine" building and it therefore required a masculine style of garden. The simple box parterre and stone statuary was considered suitable. There were no flowers or feminine-type adornments! That said, there are those who link William, Earl of Craven and Ashdown house to the Rosicrucian belief system and suggests that the house was an astronomical observatory and the gardens and grounds laid out as they are as part of a wider design in the ancient landscape. Intriguing!
Cross-posted to the Passion For History Blog.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

The Jane Austen, William Craven, Harriette Wilson Connection!

It seems a pity in some ways that the main claim to fame of William Craven, 1st Earl of Craven of the 2nd Creation, is that he was the first lover of the famous courtesan Harriette Wilson. (That is she in the picture on the left, taken from the frontispiece to her Memoirs). He was 31 and unmarried at the time. Harriette was much younger and does not give William a good press. Her memoirs start with the line "I shall not say why and how I became, at the age of fifteen, the mistress of the Earl of Craven..." but she leaves the reader in no doubt that she finds the Earl boring and old-fashioned, with his night caps and his endless talk of his cocoa trees on his estates in the Indies. What Harriette must have made of Ashdown House when William took her to the country in 1801, is anyone's guess. It is hard to imagine that Ashdown's rural isolation could appeal to this precocious and materialistic urbanite in any way.

A bad enough start for William, in all truth. And as if it wasn't a disaster to be denounced as boring by mischievous Harriette, Craven then incurred the disapproval of Jane Austen. In a letter to Cassandra in January 1801, Austen reports that Eliza Fowle "found [Lord Craven's] manners very pleasing indeed.—The little flaw of having a Mistress now living with him at Ashdown Park, seems to be the only unpleasing circumstance about him." More on the Austen/Craven connection anon.

So what do we actually know of William Craven other than these two literary references? William Craven was, in my opinion, far more interesting a man than Harriette implies. The son of the 6th Baron Craven and his scandalous wife Lady Elizabeth Berkeley, he was a man whose family background was what would be referred to today as dysfunctional; both parents took lovers and in 1783 they finally separated after 13 stormy years of marriage, with his mother taking her seventh and youngest child and travelling abroad. After the 6th Baron died in 1791 and Lady Elizabeth, now the Margravine of Brandenburg-Ansbach-Bayreuth, returned to England, her daughters refused to receive her. William, the new Lord Craven, was also for a time not on speaking terms with her. As an interesting footnote, his elder sister Maria married William Philip Molyneaux 2nd Earl of Sefton in 1792 and became one of the patronesses of Almacks, one of thr bastions of respectability in high society.

William and his brother Henry Augustus Berkeley Craven were educated at Eton and William followed this with a distinguished army career. A brief summary of this follows: In 1793 he became an ensign in the 43rd Foot and was promoted to a lieutenancy the same year. In 1794 he became a Major of the 84th and from there to Lieutenant Colonel. He served in the 1794 campaign in Flanders and was present at the siege of Nimeguen. He subsequently served in the West Indies and was present at the capture of Trinidad. On 1st January 1798 he was appointed ADC to the King and made a Colonel. In 1799 he served at the Helder and subsequently in the Mediterranean. In 1803 he was appointed Colonel of the Reserves and was made a Major General in 1805 and served on the Staff from the commencement of war until 1809. He was appointed Lieutenant General in 1811. The Earldom of Craven was recreated for him in 1801 as recognition from the King for his services to his monarch and to his country.

Significantly for a man with the reputation of having kept a notorious mistress - and indeed having married an actress, Louisa Brunton - he was a great favourite of George III's very proper wife Queen Charlotte so must have come across as a gentleman of some moral probity as well as charm!

As Noel Chanan comments in his excellent book about the Earl's son William, Earl of Craven and the Art of Photography: "The marriage raised some eyebrows within the aristocracy but Louisa was accepted in society. The Earl was in many respects a typical Regency gentleman, profligate with his money and also somewhat careless of his personal safety." In 1809, despite the presence of French privateers, he resumed pleasure sailing in the waters of the English Channel in his own lightly armed sloop, the Grafton. Sailing was one of his great passions. He was a founder member of the Royal Yacht Squadron and celebrated the fact by purchasing a three-masted, full-rigged ship of 325 tons, which he called the Louisa for his wife. In the year of his death he bought a third ship, the Mayfly, which cannot but have added to the massive debt that encumbered the estate on his death. It seems appropriate, even inevitable, that he died at Cowes in 1825.

The Earl of Craven's family connections to Jane Austen are well recorded. Jane knew of William Craven through Tom Fowle, her sister Cassandra's fiancé, who was cousin to William Craven and served as his chaplain on the military expedition to the West Indies in 1796. Other connections are explained in the fascinating article by Lanfersieck and Looser, Austen's Sense and Sensibility and Lord Craven. This article also posits that William Craven may have been the model for John Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility, suggesting that Sense and Sensibility contains several parallels to Craven's life, including place names, a difficult mother figure and the resonances with a "ruined" young woman, in Craven's case Harriette Wilson.

It is entirely plausible that Jane Austen may have been inspired to draw on Craven for some elements of Willoughby's character. I confess that I don't like the idea because I have always considered Willoughby to be a morally bankrupt character and I don't for a moment believe William Craven to have been so and feel that this comparison, like the comments made by both Harriette Wilson and Jane Austen, do him no favours. Here is a man of considerable depth, with a distinguished service record. There is more to him than the Regency wastrel even if he did possess some of the characteristics of the stereotypical Regency nobleman. In addition, I have always seen Harriette Wilson as being in control of her own destiny unlike the victim Eliza is in Sense and Sensibility. As another aside, I'm also sceptical that William's brother Berkeley Craven was ever Harriette's lover. Poor Berkeley has already been maligned in Venetia Murray's book An Elegant Madness when she suggested that he was besotted with Harriette's sister Amy, confusing him with another Berkeley entirely.

William Craven managed to come to terms with his difficult mother Elizabeth, Margravine of Anspach, at some point after her return to England. He even sold her second husband his estate at Benham Valence, where the Margravine built a villa, close to the Earl's own estate at Hamstead Marshall. William Craven and Louisa Brunton remained happily - and faithfully -married until his death. Perhaps this was a case of real life being happier than fiction?