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A Modern Episode in the House of De Clifford

British Isles Genealogy | Chapters From the Family Chest

     The holders of the peerages of Lord Clifford of Chudleigh and of Lord De Clifford are descended in the male and female line respectively from the once great and powerful house of Clifford, who enjoyed the earldom of Cumberland, and who, as stated by me on a previous page,* stood next to the Percies and the Dacres in the north of England. Of late years the ancient Barony of De Clifford has passed, through females, into one or two different families. Nevertheless the title is still extant.
     All my readers are aware, no doubt, that the old bridge across the Thames at Blackfriars was the work of an engineer named James Mylne.
     It is not often that the architect of a bridge becomes also the architect of a peerage; and yet one of the merest accidents in the world, in which Mylne figured as the principal hand, conferred that very ancient title, or at all events its revival, upon a plain gentleman of Glouscestershire.
The story is told at some length in the 'General Biograpbical Dictionary' of Chambers; its substance may be related as follows: Mr. Mylne happened to be engaged in making some very great alterations and improvements at King's Weston, near Bristol, for the late Lord De Clifford, then Mr. Southwell, who had known him at Rome, and who had conceived a very high opinion of his talents, for a sight of his (then) new bridge at Blackfriars. On Mr. Mylne's arrival there, he commenced making some plans, in the course of which he discovered in the back part of the house a small room, to which apparently there was no means of access. It was resolved accordingly to cut into it from the outside.
     On obtaining an entrance, they found, to their great astonishment, a quantity of old family plate, and a pile of musty papers and parchments. These were deciphered by the aid of a local antiquary, and the result was that among them were found the original records of a barony granted to that family in the reign of Henry III. The family pedigree was accordingly hunted up and set forth; the Heralds' College was consulted; the matter was brought under the attention of the House of Lords; a petition to the king to have the claim submitted to a committee of privileges was duly presented and favorably received; at last, after a short interval, during which every link in the chain of proof was closely examined and established to the satisfaction of the committee, the king was graciously pleased to revive the dormant title, and Mr. Southwell took his seat among the peers of England, as second on the roll of the barons, in 1716.
     The room in which these papers were found had in all probability been closed up, for the sake of security, during the 'troublous times' of the reign of Charles I, and had never been opened subsequently-upwards of a century. The rats and the mice had been good and bind enough to spare the precious documents,* and the absencee of damp no doubt had contributed to the preservation of the papers which conferred a coronet on Mr. Edward Southwell.
     The title, at the death of this nobleman's son and successor, fell into abeyance, which was terminated, in 1833, in favor of his eldest daughter, Sophia, who married. Captain John Russell, and whose grandson is the present holder of it.

* Sec vol. i, p. 144.
* This has not always been the case. For instance, the late Sir John Bowring told me once that his ancestor, the squire of Bowringsleigh, in Devon, had conferred on him a patent of baronetcy, but that, being Put for safety during the troubles of the Commonwealth behind the panelled wainscoting of the house, it had been devoured almost entirely by rats or mice.

Chapters From the Family Chests, 1887

Chapters From the Family Chest

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