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The Love-Match of the Earl of Ossory

British Isles Genealogy | Chapters From the Family Chest

     In the middle of the seventeenth century, one of the most powerful and influential nobles in Ireland was James, Earl and Marquis of Ormonde, whom Charles II. raised to the still higher grade of Duke, in reward for his service during the Civil War. Ormonde's eldest son Thomas, Earl of Ossory, appears to have been one of those young gentlemen who consider that they have a right, although the eldest sons of peers, and destined heads of families, to contract marriages of love, not of convenience, and to choose wives according to their own fancies, and not at the bidding of a parent however good and excellent. Accordingly, we find that in 1658, while residing at the Hague, he fell over head and ears in love with Emilia, daughter of a member of the house of Nassau, Louis, Sieur de Beverweert and Lord of Auverquerque, a natural son of Maurice, Prince of Orange. The duke---I call him so, though at the time of which I write he was only Marquis of Ormonde---was with the King at Brussels, while Ossory's mother, the marchioness, was resident at Dunmore, in the county of Kilkenny. As the great bulk of the Ormonde estate was hers, the Commissioners for Ireland, during the Commonwealth, allowed her the use of Dunmore Park and its demesne lands, to the value of two thousand pounds a year, for her personal maintenance. One consequence of this dispersion of the family is that the letters of all the parties concerned in the matter are forthcoming. and can be read in extenso.
     Early in October, 1658, Ossory first tells his father about his passion for Mademoiselle de Beverweert, and on the 24th of that month he writes, expressing his joy to find that his father approves of his suit. His expressions are very natural, and such as might well be used in the reign of Queen Victoria. ‘I that never believed that there was such a thing as love before, and that have so much jeered at others for being in it, cannot but with much shame confess that I am so much overtaken with it, that if I fail this I shall never have a concern for any other.' At the same time, he complains that he has not heard from his mother for some months. Of one thing he is glad, namely, that the young lady has had other suitors, but he knows that he stands high in her favor. He asks for some ' band-laces' of the newest fashion, in order to send as a present to mademoiselle, and concludes by referring to ‘some lie of Dick Talbot's about him.’ Next day again he writes that he has been so accustomed to have his hopes frustrated---‘though not in things of this kind,' he adds, in a parenthesis---as that his fears exceed his hopes. He is no further engaged, however, than that, if his friends approve, he has desired her not to oppose their mutual happiness, ' which, I am sure, she will not,' he quietly adds, as if he knew all the secrets of the female heart.
     The marquis, I have said, did not oppose the match, but it was not equally to the fancy of the lady mother.  She was a prudent old soul; she knew the value of a good jointure; and she hoped that her son would make such a match as would put a good round sum into the family purse. In fact, she set herself heart and soul to oppose and thwart the love affair; but it went on merrily notwithstanding. She did not think the De Beverweerts high enough in rank to mate with the heir of the house of Ormonde; and to the £10,000 belonging to the young lady she objected seriously that it did not come up to the mark at all, as there was a mortgage of £20,000 to be paid off, in order to clear the estate, and there were still two daughters unprovided for; so she hoped and trusted that some of her son's friends would dissuade him from the match while there was yet time, and so 'give a stop to his ruining a poor family.' As late, indeed, as January, 1659, after she has given an outward, and doubtless a reluctant, assent to the match, she still hopes on that Ossory will be open to conviction on the subject.  ‘It is not himself,' says the match-making and match-marring mamma, ' but a whole posterity that will be ruined by his marrying a girl with an unsuitable marriage portion.' Mr. Thomas Page, who was Ossory's secretary, writes to Ormonde:
     ‘About two mouths ago, my lord sent word to my lady (his mother) that in his next she might happily hear of a match proposed to him, and that the young lady's fortune was ten thousand pounds, and it may be more. My lady, whether taking offense at the improvidence of young men in general, or touched by the example of some of our nobility who have ruined themselves and their families by rash engagements in this very place, or dissatisfied with the dowry itself (because she made a " but " of ten thousand pounds,) or intending my lord for somebody else, or, lastly, upon presumption that this county affords not a party parallel to your family, enjoined him to proceed no further, under no pretense whatever, without her and his family's consent, since his lady's portion must serve to disengage the estate mortgaged, partly to marry my Lady Elizabeth.' Page adds: ' Since I had the honor to be known to my lord, I never saw him in so disconsolate a mood as he has continued ever since the receipt of this letter,' and he advises Ormonde to address a few words of comfort to Ossory. Page found it hard (he said) to disabuse Ossory of his hopes of getting Monsieur de Beverweert's assent to applying the marriage portion as his mother wished. He writes to Ormonde: 'I have a thousand times represented to him the use of himself or kindred; and if the father of the family deserve his character, 'tis as easy to get ten thousand pounds out of his hands as to fetch water out of a rock without a miracle.'
     Meantime Ossory pursued his suit. He writes to his father: ‘I got so much favor that the young woman has promised to speak herself to her mother.' And then : ‘This is to tell you of the success of the gentlewoman's discourse, which was, I found, that her mother was somewhat displeased at her making so much an advance as to take upon her to break the thing first . . . I spoke to the mother myself.' He was, therefore, the more distressed at the marchioness's continued opposition. As to his mother's remark, ‘ She might have had more in England: she should remember that she has often failed in her projects, and that people will not be ready to ally themselves with a firmly in such disfavor with the ruling power in England.' He compares the present match with that proposed on the part of Mr. Treswell for his daughter: of that on Sir Walter Py's behalf, who said he would disinherit his son and make his daughter worth twenty thousand pounds. ' But there be over-reached himself,' says Ossory.  He knew the girl, and would never dispose of himself in that manner for a reason which he could tell Ormonde, but not write it. One of Ormonde's household, named Buck, having intermeddled, Ossory writes to say that 'Little Buck has been very officious, and he has been desired not to undertake so 'much. It is Lord Southampton's daughter he means, whose, alliance he (Ossory) would covet more than any other in England if he could like the young lady, whom he has often seen, or if it were not absolutely impossible for him to love another: He goes on to say that he considers it would be unworthy on his part if he were to marry a deserving person simply on account of a large fortune, which would not prevent misery if there was not mutual kindness. Thomas Page was sent by Ormonde to Ireland to try and soften Lady Ormonde. It shows how reduced the Royalists were that Page had not even money enough to pay for the letter he was sending to Ormonde. He had received two hundred guilders for the journey, but he said he did not know what Ossory would do to defray some trivial expenses. He (Page) could not part with any of the money he had received; and for payment of this, your excellence's packet, I had only one shift left, viz., an old gold ring, which I found in a cabinet.'
     Ossory still Loped that Monsieur de Beverweert might consent to the marriage portion being applied as his mother desired. In a letter to his father, after treating of his passion, and saying, 'as I never had a virtuous love before, so I am sure that I shall never be capable of having another again,' he adds a postscript, I forgot to tell you that one night the mother, talking with me of Tom Howard's marriage, laughed at him for being duped in having been shown his portion and afterwards bring put in bank, which I am apt to believe was not said without design of letting me know that I might expect the contrary.’ At length Lady Ormonde's assent was extorted, and on November 17th, 1659, her son was married. Shortly after his wife wrote, evidently at Ossory's dictation, a letter of compliment and affection to her new father-in-law, consisting of a few lines of scrawl, such as a child of five or six years might write. Some new attempt being now on foot for the king's cause, Ossory expresses his readiness to engage in it. ` I am very glad you are of my opinion that past services are not sufficient to keep up a posterity in reputation . . . . . You may see that, for the most part, a rebel's condition that treats is better than an honest sufferer.'
     In the event it is satisfactory to know that the married life of the Earl and Countess of Ossory was happy, but the Duchess of Ormonde probably judged right in thinking that an alliance with some of the English nobility would have been more likely to strengthen the family influence. The duchess generally speaks of her daughter-in-law in a tone of complaint and of dissatisfaction at the imprudence of the marriage. In 1668, being then in Ireland, she writes to the duke in London; after mentioning a few domestic affairs, she says: ' I suppose my son Ossory will now be convinced that it is not practicable what he did propose to himself---having a command in Flanders---though, at the same time, I doubt he designs what will be almost as prejudicial unto him, and to his own and your interests, which is to carry his wife and family into England and live in London; at least, leave her there, where she has a mind to be, and go himself to Italy. For in this place I find neither of them has a mind to stay, though I assure you they have not wanted such encouragements as might abundantly satisfy any reasonable person. I hear the house they pitch upon to live in there is the Lord Middleton's, and to take it ready furnished. Who has put him on that choice I cannot tell, and should be loth to suspect Sir Arthur Forbes. This is kept a profound secret from me, but possibly James Clarke may know something of this from Mr. Page, who is the only counselor my son chooses, because he finds him complying with his humor in all things.'
     In another letter the duchess prophesied her son Ossory's ruin in six months from his going thither  'with the charge of a helpless wife and a number of small children.’ He survived scarcely long enough to suffer many of the usual troubles which attend domestic life, when children multiply without the means to support them multiplying in proportion, and friends are apt to look askance at the 'happy' authors of their being. He died in 1680, during the lifetime of his father and also his wife. He lies buried in Westminster Abbey, and is known to history as 'the gallant Earl of Ossory.' He left two sons, who both inherited the peerage, and two daughters, one of whom married William, ninth Earl of Derby, while the other married her cousin, Henry d'Auverquerque, who was created Lord Grantham, an ancestor, through the female line, of the present Lord Cowper.

Chapters From the Family Chests, 1887

Chapters From the Family Chest

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