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The Rise of the Phippses

British Isles Genealogy | Chapters From the Family Chest
 

     I do not know that in the whole range of houses connected with the peerage there is to be found a family whose rise to wealth and high titles has been more truly the result of accident than that of the Phippses, Earls of Mulgrave and Marquises of Normanby. A reference to the genealogical portion of Burke's Peerage will explain my meaning.
     Three centuries ago the Phippses were plain, untitled gentlemen, or possibly only yeomen, in Lincolnshire. One of their number-a Mr. William Phipps, the first whose name appears in the annals of the country, or even of his county appears to have raised a regiment of horse soldiers for the service of King Charles during the Civil Wars. But this loyal act was not at till likely to have helped him in a pecuniary sense; for, with very rare exceptions, Charles II seems to have had a very short memory of good deeds done to his father when in difficulties. Mr. William Phipps, however, had a grandson, Constantine, who chose the profession of the law, and who, going over to Ireland at a fortunate juncture, rose to become the occupant of the woolsack in the 'sister island,' and to receive the honor of knighthood. He held the seals till 1714, when he resigned, and, coming back to London, settled down in his chambers in the Temple, resolved to spend his declining years in leisure and retirement.
     Like the noble house of Lansdowne, whose history I have traced in these pages*, the house of Phipps included in its pedigree a man of practical genius, whose name and career I find thus mentioned in the Mechanic's Magazine, for a cousin of Sir Constantine was William Phipps, the inventor of the diving-bell: 'The first diving-bell of which we read was nothing but a very large kettle, suspended by ropes, with the mouth downwards, and planks to sit on, fixed in the middle of its concavity. Two Greeks at Toledo, in 158$, made an experiment with it before the Emperor Charles V. They descended in it, with a lighted candle, to a considerable depth. In 1683, William Phipps, the son of a blacksmith, formed a project for unloading a rich Spanish ship sunk on the coast of Hispaniola. Charles II gave him a vessel with everything necessary for his undertaking; but, being unsuccessful, he returned in great poverty. He then endeavored to procure another vessel; but, failing, lie got a subscription, to which the Duke of Albemarle contributed. In 1687 Phipps set sail in a ship of two hundred tons, having previously engaged to divide his profits according to the twenty shares of which the subscription consisted. At first all his labors proved fruitless; but at last, when he seemed almost to despair, he was fortunate enough to bring up so Much treasure that he returned to England with the valve of 200,000. Of this sum he got about 20,000, and the Duke of Albemarle 90,000. Phipps was knighted by the king, and since that time dicing-bells have been constantly employed.'
     No doubt, when he died, this Sir William Phipps left the results of his invention to his cousin Constantine, who appears to have named after him his only son William, in whom the hopes of the family were centered. This Mr. William Phipps married the Lady Catherine Annesley, only daughter of the Earl of Anglesey, whose countess was a natural daughter of James II. As the husband of this latter lady, the Earl of Anglesey, died conveniently young, her ladyship took for her second husband John Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham and Normanby, by whom she had an only son, who died in his minority, and bequeathed to his mother the reversion of his large Yorkshire estates.
     It was of course a very natural thing for the mother, having inherited a fine estate from the only son of her second marriage, to leave it to the only grandson of her first marriage; and so it came about that Constantine Phipps, the son of Mr. William Phipps and the Lady Catherine Annesley, when he found himself the heir to this noble property, was enabled to claim and to obtain an Irish peerage. The title which he chose was that of Lord Alulgrave, of New Ross, in the county of Wexford; the same that had been one of the lesser titles of the Duke of Buckingham. Edmund Sheffield, third Lord Sheffield, of Butterwick, was created Earl of Mulgrave in 1626, and at his death, in 1646, was succeeded by his grandson Edmund as second earl. He was the father of the above-mentioned John Sheffield, who was elevated to the Marquisate of Normanby in 1694, and in 1703 advanced to the dignity of Duke of Buckingham. His grace was well-known in his day as a poet, but of moderate pretensions. He died in 1720, and was succeeded by his son Edmund, on whose death in his minority, in 1735, the dukedom and other honors became extinct. It is remarkable that, like the lands in Berkshire, the ducal title of Buckingham is ' skittish, and ever apt to cast its owners.' As often as it has been granted, it has become extinct after one or two generations.
     Constantine John, the second Lord Mulgrave of the new creation, was a captain in the royal navy, in which capacity he made a voyage for the purpose of endeavoring to find the northwest passage. An account of this expedition he gave to the world on his return to England. In Mr. Pitt's administration he was one of the paymasters of the forces, and a commissioner of the East India Board, and held many other important offices. He was added to the roll of the English Peerage in 1790, with the title of Baron Mulgrave, of Mulgrave, in Yorkshire, which became extinct on his death without male issue two years later. The Irish barony, however, devolved upon his brother, Henry Phipps, who in 1794 had a new patent granted him, conferring upon him the title of Baron Mulgrave of Mulgrave. In 1812 he was raised to the dignity of Viscount Normanby and Earl of Mulgrave. His lordship, having been educated to the army, obtained early a commission in the Foot Guards, and rose by regular stages to the rank of a general. He distinguished himself by his services at the taking of Toulon in 1794, and he was for some time colonel of the 31st Regiment of Foot, and Governor of Scarborough.
     His son, Constantine Henry, the father of the
present head of the family, was a distinguished statesman, politician, and diplomatist. He held many important official situations in the government of the country, including those of Governor-General of Jamaica, Lord Privy Seal, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Secretary of State for the Colonies, and Secretary for the Home Department. From 1846 till 1852, he was accredited representative of Great Britain at the Court of the Tuileries, and from 1851 to 1858 he was Her Majesty's envoy to the Court of Tuscany. He was also, inter alia, a successful novelist. Besides being made a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath and a Knight of the Garter, his political services were recognised by Lord Melbourne, who conferred upon him at the coronation of Her Majesty, in 1838, the Marquisate of Normanby. His lordship died in 1863, and was succeeded in all his honours by his only son, George Augustus Constantine, the present marquis, who has held several colonial posts, including the Governor ship of Victoria. of the Privy Purse to Her Majesty; and various members of the Phipps family, ever since the clays of Lord Melbourne, and the accession of Her Majesty, have held lucrative posts about the Court and the person of Queen Victoria.
His uncle, the late Hon. Sir Charles Phips, was for many years private secretary and keeper of the Privy Purse to Her Majesty;  and various members of the Phipps family, ever since the days of Lord Melbourne, and the accession of Her Majesty, have held lucrative posts about the Court and the person of Queen Victoria.


Chapters From the Family Chests, 1887

Chapters From the Family Chest

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