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Poor Sir John Dineley, Bart

British Isles Genealogy | Chapters From the Family Chest

     At the beginning of the present century there were two living objects of curiosity at Windsor; the one was the good old farmer king, George III, who, till laid aside by mental and bodily ailments, used to walk along its streets and converse on the Castle terrace regularly, to the great delight of his subjects; and the other was one of the Military Knights, or, as they were then called, the Poor Knights of Windsor a certain landless and almost penniless baronet, Sir John Dineley, a man of eccentric dress and mien, who had found in the Lower Ward, through the kindness of those who had known him in better days, a refuge from the storms of life. Anchored in his little two-roomed house, he was in se ipso totus, teres, atque rotundas, and he was the better able to keep the wolf from the door because he had not a servant, or even a charwoman, to wait upon him. He would go out early in the morning, after having carefully locked his door, and walk down through the Castle gate into the market-place, whence he would return laden with a penny roll, a pat of butter, a small bundle of firewood, and possibly a herring, taking care to return to his rooms and dress in time for the service in St. George s Chapel which the ' Poor Knights' were bound, by the statutes of the Order of the Garter, to attend daily.
     And who was Sir John Dineley? He was a member-indeed, the last head and representative-of a worthy and respectable family who long held landed estates in Herefordshire and Worcestershire. His ancestor had been raised in 1707 to a baronetcy for his political services, having sat for many years in the House of Commons as member, first for Evesham, and afterwards for Herefordshire; and the family had passed through many generations without a stain upon its escutcheon, when a sad event occurred which destroyed it root and branch. Towards the end of January, 1741, the page announced that a tragedy in high life bad occrured at Bristol. On the 17th of that month. Sir John Dineley Goodyere-Dineley, Baronet, of Burhope and Charleton, happened to be staying in the neighborhood, either at the' Hot Wells' or at Clifton. He was on bad terms, owing some family dispute about property, with his next brother Samuel, who was in command of vessel named the Ruby, then lying in the roads off the entrance of the Avon.
     A mutual acquaintance, with the kindest, intentions but with the most unfortunate results brought these two brothers together; and it was hoped that a meeting under his friendly mahogany might pave the way for a reconciliationn.  Apparently this hope seemed likely to be realized, and the brothers parted with an interchange of the usual kindly expressions, saying 'good-night,' while the baronet went even so far as to say that he should be 'glad to see his brother again soon.'
     He was taken at his word, a little more speedily than he had imagined possible; for, having lingered a little longer at his friend's table, quite late at night he found himself crossing the large square under the shadow of the cathedral, known to everybody in the West of England as College Green. Here he was suddenly brought to a stand, being confronted by six sturdy sailors, all armed with pistols and cutlass, with his brother, the captain of the Ruby, at their head. It was the work of less than a minute to seize and gag the unsuspecting landsman and to carry him off to the river-side, where a boat was waiting. As soon as he was on board, the men rowed down the Avon to their ship. He was speedily hoisted on board, and then strangled by two sailors named White and Mahony, acting under the orders of Captain Samuel Goodyere.
     But the vengeance of the law was both speedy and slue. The vessel was detained in the roads on suspicion, and the instigator of the crime.  Captain Samuel Goodyere-Dineley, who of course had succeeded his brother in the baronetcy, was tried, with his two accomplices, at Bristol, in the following month of March. A verdict of guilty was returned, and he was sentenced to death within three months after the perpetration of the cruel act which had made him at once a baronet and a murderer. There was nothing to plead in his defense, nor was any influence used by titled personages, as was so often the case in convictions for high treason, to beg George II. to respite or pardon the criminal. His estates were forfeited to the Crown, and his wife and two sons were reduced to beggary. The elder son, Edward Dineley, died a lunatic in 176l, never having married, and the younger son was the Sir John Dineley, whom I have already introduced to my readers sixty years later as a `Poor Knight' of Windsor, living in the dole of a set of room in the Castle,

"and passing rich on sixty pounds a year.'

     But, poor as he was, lie did not despair, even when sixty, seventy, and eighty years of age of being able to retrieve his position, and once more to become Sir .John Dineley of Burhope in reality. The way to accomplish this was easy if he could only find the right and proper person a lady both able and willing to rescue him from his painful situation as a poor bachelor. In fact, like, his grace the sham Duc de Roussillon, he felt that the one solution of his difficulties was a well-endowed wife; and what he felt he avowed openly. With that view, no sooner was the service over in St. George's than be went back to his room, threw off his blue cloak and 'roquelaure,' and came out like a butterfly, another creature, quite captivating in appearance.
     Wherever Royalty took its public walk, where ever a crowd assembled, as often as the sounds of military music brought together the fair ladies of Windsor and Eton on to the gay parade. there was Sir John Dineley. Then was disclosed the gay apparel of the old beau-the embroidered coat, the silk-flowered waistcoat, the nether garments of tawdry and faded velvet carefully meeting the dirty silk stockings, which in their turn terminated in the half-polished shoes, fastened with silver buckles and clasps. 'On great, occasions the old wig was newly powdered'-so writes Charles Knight, who remembered him well, in his pleasant gossiping about Windsor and the best cocked hat was brought forth, with a tarnished edging of lace.' 
     And so Sir John stepped proudly about the streets and terraces of Windsor at the opening of the nineteenth century, just as if he was one of the fops who hung about Kensington Palace in the reign of George II. 'All other days were to him as nothing. He had dreams of ancient genealogies, and of alliances still subsisting between himself and the first families in the land, and of mansions described in Nash's "History of Worcestershire," with marble halls and " superb gates," and of possessions that ought to be his own, and which would place him upon an equality with the noblest and the wealthiest in tile land. A little money to be expended in law would turn all those dreams into realities. 'That money was to be obtained through a wife, to whom in exchange he world give the title of my lady.'
     Very naturally, therefore, he devoted himself to that which he bad persuaded himself to be the one great business of his existence. To be able to display himself where the ladies congregated most thickly was the object of his daily savings; to be constantly in the public eye was his hope and glory. And, to do poor Sir John Dineley justice, there was not a particle of levity in all his proceedings. They were terribly real-to himself, at least. 'His face,' writes Charles Knight, 'had a grave and intellectual character ; his deportment was staid and dignified. He had a wonderful discrimination in avoiding the twittering girls, with whose faces he was familiar. But perchance some buxom matron or timid maiden, who had seen him for the first time, gazed upon the apparition with surprise and curiosity. In that case he would approach. With the air of one bred in courts, he made his most profound bow, and, taking a piece of paper from his pocket, he presented it, and withdrew' doubtless watching the effect it produced.
     I give an extract from one of these matrimonial advertisements:

'For A Wife'

As the prospect of my marriage has much increased lately, I am determined to take the best means to discover the lady most liberal in her esteem, by giving her fourteen days to make her quickest steps toward matrimony from the date of this paper until eleven o'clock the next morning; and, as the contest will evidently be the most superb, honorable, sacred, and lawfully affectionate, pray, ladies, do not let false delicacy interrupt you . . . An eminent attorney here is lately returned from a view of my very superb gates before my capital house, built ill the form of the Queen's house. I have ordered him, or the next eminent attorney here, who can satisfy you of my possession in my estate, and every desirable particular concerning it, to make you the most liberal settlement you can desire, to the vast extent of three hundred thousand pounds.'
     And then follow some comical verses, which conclude thus:

A beautiful page shall carefully hold
Your ladyship's train surrounded with gold.'

     In another of his handbills ho thus addresses the ladies with reference to the alienation and loss of the family estates on account of his father's crime: ' Pray, my young charmers, give me a. fair hearing; do not let your avaricious guardians unjustly frighten you with a false account of forfeiture.'
     There is a quaint portrait of Sir John Dineley in the 'Wonderful Characters' of Caulfeild; and John Timbs tells us in his 'English Eccentrics' that he spent no less than thirty years in this wild-goose chase after a partner. 'His figure,' he adds, I was truly grotesque; in wet weather he was mounted on a high pair of patens . . . He came to London twice or thrice a year, and visited Vauxhall and the theatres. His fortune, if he could recover it, he estimated at three hundred thousand pounds. He invited the rich widow, as well as the blooming maiden of sixteen, and addressed them in printed documents, bearing his signature, in which he specified the sums that he expected the ladies to possess; he demanded less property with youth than with age or widowhood, adding that few ladies would be eligible who did not possess at least ten thousand pounds a year, which, however, was as nothing compared with the hour which his high birth and noble descent would confer, for he was descended in the female line from the royal house of Plautagenet. The incredulous he referred to "Nash's Worcestershire." he addressed his advertisements to the 'angelic fair " from his house in Windsor Castle, and to the last he cherished the expectation of forming a connubial connection with some lady of property.'
     But from these dreams he woke at last, somewhat suddenly. One morning, in the year 1808, Sir John Dineley was missed from his, place at the service in St. George's Chapel, and, on inquiry, it was found that he had not been seen sallying out that day as usual to buy his penny roll and farthing candle. His door, which was fastened inside, was burst open ; his house, which he never had allowed a creature to enter, was found to be almost destitute of furniture, except a deal table, a couple of chairs, and a pallet bed. His sitting-room was strewed with type from a printing-press, at which he used to 'set up' and 'work off' his matrimonial circulars. He lay in the inner room stretched out on his bed, apparently in a dying state. He lingered only a few days, and died-after all his projects and efforts matrimonial-a bachelor; and with him died the baronetcy of Dineley.

Chapters From the Family Chests, 1887

Chapters From the Family Chest

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