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Sir John Duddleston, Alderman, Knight, and Baronet

British Isles Genealogy | Chapters From the Family Chest

     When the Roman Satirist tells us of the sudden rise or sudden fall of a public man, he ascribes either the one or the other to the 'freaks of fortune,' and sums up the event in the words, voluit fortune jocari, A curious instance of such a double freak of fortune which occurred in the city of Bristol all but two centuries ago, is still vaguely remembered in local tradition, although the precise facts are forgotten.
     Whilst the last of our Stuart sovereigns sat upon the throne, Bristol was the second city in the kingdom in point of wealth and commercial importance. Its very merchants were princes in the land, and lived like princes on the banks of the Avon, or in and around College Green. Among their number was one John Duddleston, a worthy trader, a bodice-maker, and who doubtless every now and then did a quiet stroke of legitimate business in the purchase and resale of negroes. He was a solemn and demure gentleman, who had just passed middle life, and was thinking of retiring from business in the coarse of a few years. He used to appear daily on 'Change, like his London brethren. If he was not an alderman, at least he was a common councilman; and, being reputed rich, he was also highly respectable. In fact, he was generally respected by all his acquaintances.
     One day Mr. John Duddleston remained talking to friends on 'Change after nearly all the merchants had gone home to the bosoms of their families, when two gentlemen of striking appearance, but evidently strangers, entered the building and looked around. The other merchants were shy, and said nothing; but John Duddleston, seeing their embarrassment, plucked up his courage, and resolved to go and speak to them, and see if they needed any information or attention. On drawing near, He thought he had seen the face of one of them before, for he travelled abroad, even as far as London, and had seen Whitehall, St. James s Park, and Kensington Palace. So he made bold, and asked the stranger if he was not Prince George of Denmark, the husband of Queen Anne. Having learned from the Prince's lips that his guess was correct, he said, ° I observed, sir, with much concern, that none of my worthy brethren here in Bristol have come forward to offer you hospitality, or to ask you or your friend to dine; but, if you will excuse all ceremony and come home with me, and bring your friend along with you, I can give you a good piece of beef and plum pudding, and some ale of my wife's own brewing: What follows shall be told in the words of the authors of the Percy Anecdotes.' The Prince admired the loyalty of the man, and, though he had already ordered dinner at the 'White Lion;' he accompanied the bodice-maker home to his house. Duddleston called to his wife, who happened to be upstairs, desiring her to put on a clean apron and come down, for the Queen’s husband and another gentleman were come to dine with them. She immediately came down, with her clean blue apron, and was politely saluted by the Prince. In the course of the dinner the Prince invited his host to come up to town, and to bring his wife with him, at the same time giving him a card to facilitate his introduction at court.
     ‘A few months afterwards John Duddleston set out for London on horseback, his wife riding on a pillion behind him. They found the Prince, and by him they were introduced to the Queen. Her Majesty received them most graciously, and invited them to an approaching dinner, informing them that they must have new clothes for the occasion. They were allowed to choose for themselves, when they both selected purple velvet, such as the Prince had on. The dresses were prepared, and they were formally introduced to the Queen herself as the most loyal persons in Bristol, and the only inhabitants of that city who had invited the Prince, her husband, to their house. After the entertainment was over, the Queen desired Duddleston to kneel, laid a sword on his head, and (to use Lady Duddleston's own words) said to him, " Ston' up, Sir Jan!' He was then offered some money, or a place under Government, but he would not accept either, informing the Queen that he had five hundred pounds out at interest, and that he thought that the great number of people whom he saw about the court must be very expensive! The Queen made Lady Duddleston a present of the gold watch from her side, which her ladyship thought so great an ornament, that she never went to market afterwards without having it suspended over her blue apron.
     Though he and his lady went back presently to Bristol, they were not forgotten at court, for in the following year Sir John was gratified by the arrival of a royal messenger, bringing down with him from London a patent of baronetcy, dated January 11th, 1691-2. The happiness of the worthy couple was now complete, this second honor being as unexpected as was the first.
     But their happiness was destined to be short lived. In the great storm of November, 1704, which did so much damage on our coasts and through the island, one of Duddleston's ships foundered at sea with twenty thousand pounds of his savings on board. He tool: his loss grievously to heart, and did not long survive it, his wife having gone a few months before him to her grave. Daughters he had none, and his only son had died soon after his title had been conferred upon him, leaving a child who succeeded to the baronetcy. Whether he was a 'ne'er-do-well ' or a spendthrift, or whether he was neglected or robbed by his guardians, it is not known, and probably never will be known; but in the reign of George I he was living in Bristol in comparative poverty, an glad to maintain a roof over his head by discharging the duties of some inferior post in the Customs there. What became of him ultimately is unknown; but one story ran to the effect that, despairing of bettering his condition here, he had gone off to "the plantations," as the;
North American colonies were then styled, to seek his fortunes. Whether he left children behind him or not is also a mystery which has never been cleared up, and therefore the extinction of the title is only a matter of surmise.  Who knows but that another " Arthur Orton" may arise and another story of the "foundering of the Bella" may be concocted, and another fat man pose before the British public at Westminster as a claimant for the baronetcy of Duddleston? The best reason for imagining that such a case is not likely to arise may perhaps be found in the fact that there never were broad acres attached to the title, and consequently that '° the game would not be worth the candle."' 

Chapters From the Family Chests, 1887

Chapters From the Family Chest

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