The Trials and Tribulations of Peter Davenport (part 3)
The extent of his dilemma and the degree of disfavour that Peter Davenport had generated is evidenced in a number of letters written during early 1719. On 14th January 1719, after a silence of several months, he finally wrote to General Davenport explaining his actions and trying to retrieve what honour he could, pleading 'this is the first time I ever Presumed to write to you since I was unavoidably abliged to Disoblige you and hope youl Pardon me for endeavouring to Put my case in a true Light' (1). Henry had clearly accused Peter of misleading his Colonel (Col. Hatton) as to the true reason for his request to leave Ireland for he speaks to the General of a 'Letter from your Brother Mr Davenport in wch. he charges me heavily wth. imposeing an untruth upon Coll. Hatton and writeing contrary to him so that I Designed, and Proceeds to say if I keep not my word wth. my wife Better than I have with you and him she will have a bad Bargain'. Peter admitted that 'I owne he (Hatton) has a Right to use me as he Pleases and Besides it seems to be true, nor am I goeing to Justify my selfe for coming wth. out having Directly your Leave for it, but as exactly as I can to tell you the whole matter, and first as to Coll. Hatton, I did not tell him I had your Leave, nor never having told him, that I was Marryed, cou'd not tell him upon wch. acct. I wanted to come over' (1). As if this deception was not enough, Peter then claimed that he had been encouraged to travel post-haste to England by Henry who had 'said that if there were a certainty of Mr Thornycroft being Reconciled I shou'd come but upon noe other, I took it for Granted by the answer I sent him that you wou'd imidiatly consent, tho' when I writ that Letter I had not the Least Thoughts of Coming before an answer to mine came' but having received a letter indicating 'that Mr Thornycroft was extremly uneasy that I did not come, the same Letter said there was nothing wanting to Perfect a Reconcilliation but my coming ..... [and] upon this I told Coll. Hatton, that I had Recd. an answer to my Letter that I writ to your Brother Davenport for his interest to get me Leave, and that he said, that if I cou'd make it appear I had exterordinary Buisiness you wou'd give me Leave this was as nere the matter as Possable I cou'd Bring it, he not knowing I was marryed' (1). With these half-truths ringing in his ears, Coll. Hatton approached the Irish authorities and Peter was granted leave to proceed to England forthwith.
This letter ends with contrition and remorse as 'by comeing Mr Davenport (Henry) tells me I have put the finishing stroaks to your favour I truly conclude my selfe the most unfortunate of mankind in having Lost two of the best Friends that ever man had, and dare not ask you to forgive this fult, But most Humbley Beseech you to have a more Favourable oppinion of my Honour wch. I ever have endeavoured and hope I have effectually Preserv'd, unblemished Hitherto'. Expecting to be asked to leave the regiment, Peter 'now begin[s[ to think it time to leave the army, and Humbly beg you to be noe worse to me than you have been to all your well effected officers in giveing me Leave to Dispose, this I beg you to take into your Charitable Consideration, wch. is the Last Humble Request of .... Peter Davenport'.
A similar letter (2) to Henry Davenport, also dated 14th January 1719, expressed analogous sentiments of his distress of losing his friendship and insisting that he had 'made it appear Plain that I have not Imposed an untruth upon my Lient. Coll. nor writ quite Contrary to what I Designed to you'. The remark from Henry about keeping his word with his wife clearly struck a raw nerve as there is an assurance that 'I shall endeavour that my wife shall always finde me, as I have always Hitherto appeared in the world, a man of Honesty and I hope I may wth. out Vanity say a man of Hon.'. The ending to this letter was poignant but Peter could not resist a further request for Henry's help with his problems; 'I doe not in the Least Blame you for your Treatment for you had reason for it, seemingly, and Right from ye very many favours I have Recd, to use me in what manner you Pleased, and as you have Hitertoo been the best of friends I Beseech you not Leave me, till you have used your Interest with the Generall to give me Leave to Dispose, this is my Last Request, and I doe assure you, whilst I have Breath I will be truly Gratefull, and Pray for both your Long Lives and happyness till the Death of .... your ever obliged and most obedt. Humble Sert. Peter Davenport' (2).
Correspondence from Peter to the Davenport brothers during February and early March 1719 continued the themes of remorse and hope for redemption but then the affairs of nations intervened. Britain was already at war with Spain when, in March 1719, the Spanish sent an invasion fleet with some 6000 men towards the southwest of England in support of a planned Jacobite uprising. As it happened, this fleet suffered the same fate as the previous Armada and was wrecked in a storm but the armies of Britain were forced on the alert and Peter was ordered back to Ireland to rejoin the regiment. Peter had arrived in Dublin by the end of March but, before leaving Cheshire, some of his old impertinence was revealed in a letter to the General in which he asked to be allowed to return home when 'this Threatened Invasion is over' in order to restore his financial position and repay his debts. He assured Sharington that 'I shall save every Fathing of my Pay, wch. wou'd soon inable me to Pay my Debts; .... your complyance wth. this wou'd enable me to Pay you and get clear of my Debts, wth. out the assistance of my Father' (3). It must be assumed that the father to which Peter refers was Thornycroft as he requested a rapid reply from the General so that he could show it to Thornycroft before he left but 'considering your aversion to writing, and the unreasonableness of my expecting that Honr., have Humble Besought your Brother Davenport to favour me wth. one Line, whether you will be pleased to condesend to what I beg or not, I shall only beg you to consider the Exterordinary advantage your consenting may be to me Perhaps in Encouraging my Father to doe for me Imidiatly, and otherways the ill consequence your Refusall may be to Sr. your most Dutyfull and most Faithfull and Obedt. Sert.' (3).
The inference that financial salvation for Peter lay in England was reinforced in a letter to Henry from Dublin dated 29th March in which he recorded that he was 'soon Enough to get Ten Thousand Pound for the Taking of Yeoman Buttler' but 'I beg Sr. my most Truly obedt. Humble Duty to my Genll. and beseech him to consider what I writ to you from Thornycroft; wch. if he is soe good as to Comply wth. I can easily get Leave of the Govermt. here, wch. wou'd Put me out of Debt and enable me wth. out the assistance of my Father soon to make as good a Figure as any officer needs to doe' (4). Who or what Yeoman Buttler was, and whether the £10,000 was forthcoming, is unknown but it would appear that the money would only be available to Peter on his, possibly rapid, return. It is also clear that he did not want his father-in-law to be involved.
By May, the threat from Spain was over and the regiment was back in 'there usuall Quarters'. Peter was now even more desperate to return home but Henry had written to him that the General had left London and was out of reach. He entreated Henry in a letter dated 21st May 1719 'for God almighty's Sake to use your Interest wth. the Genll. if he is Returnd to London to give me Leave to come over, and if he is In Shropshire to write one Line to him, in my behalfe, Sr. I have noe body to apply to but your selfe, and I have already Inform'd you fully wth. my Circumstances, therefore shall not Trouble you at this time any further, onely to tell you, if the Genll. Refuses me this Request, I must be oblidged to sell (his commission), if he will Consent, I once more for God almightys Sake beg you to Consider my Condidtion, and in Charity use your Interst ...... I beg you to beleive Sr. that tho' my comeing now to England will be the saving of mee yet were the Service of my Country in the Least to Suffer, nothing shou'd oblidge me to Solicit thus for Leave.' (5). Fraught pleadings tempered with a touch of acknowledgement of his duty as an army officer!
General Sharington Davenport had left London to join his regiment in Ireland, presumably to take command in any action against the Spanish forces. However, this was to be his last action in a long military career as on 4th July 1719, in Dublin, the General died. How long he had been in Ireland and whether he and Peter had met and resolved their differences is unrecorded but some reconciliation had probably been achieved as, in the General's will, dated 3rd July 1719, one of the witnesses was Peter Davenport.
With the death of the General, Peter lost his major benefactor. It is a matter of conjecture as to whether he saw Sharington as a friend and mentor or merely as someone whose willingness to help a namesake was there to be exploited. One interpretation from the correspondence is that Sharington viewed Peter as the son he never had and exercised a large degree of indulgence in his many misdemeanours. Similarly, Peter may have viewed Sharington as a father figure, as there is evidence that he and his own father were not close. At the end of the unsuccessful pursuit of a share of the Davenport fortune at Chester assizes in 1717, Peter wrote to Henry lamenting his misfortune and noting that 'I have only the satisfaction to see my Father has been Bubbeld out of an Estate' (6), while, in a letter to the General, he blamed his family's misfortunes on 'my Father keeping to Plentiful a house in the begining of his time' (7).
His seeming attachment to Sharington was evidenced after the General's death as, writing to Henry in October 1719, he commented that 'I am not surprised that those vile People, in that Vile Country of Ireland, have been Barborons to the Genlls. affairs, tho' had he lived, the[y] durst not have don soe; there is not one in there cursed Country, but wou'd have troubled, had he looked angry at him' (8). In December, Peter expanded upon the attitude of the Irish towards the General, recording to Henry that on the 'night or the next, which of 'em I have forgot after Dr. Generall Davenports Death, I was told by a Gentleman of Honr. that there was then in Lucasses Coffee House some People who had given them selves Liberttys in speaking of the Genll. but wou'd by noe means tell me the Persons; I hope you will beleive Sr. that a man that had any Honr. or Gratitude for soe Dr. Friend as the Genll. had ever been to me, must Naturally be fired wth. this; upon this I instantly went to the Coffee House and openly Declared what I had been Inform'd, and I Declared Who ever had or Dared open his Lips to the Prejudice of the Deceased Genll. Davenport was a Villian and Scoundril; and if I come to Know who Dared doe soe I wou'd make him what I have said, the Coffee House was full of People but noe man Answered' (9). It is difficult to interpret how genuine were these feelings, particularly after the several deceptions that had been practiced by Peter against the General, and it could have reflected remorse and a guilty conscience.
Nevertheless, Peter was now left to rely on his own wits and his financial situation was still dire. The debts he owed to Sharington did not disappear with his death and Henry, as Sharington's executor, was speedy in pursuing Peter for the outstanding amounts. On 26th October 1719, Peter wrote to Henry expressing his thanks 'for not sending my Debt to Ireland' and noting 'it shall be Faithfully Discharged at the time I mentioned' (8). The sale of his commission was clearly designed to be his main source of funds as on 14th December he told Henry that 'I Designe to be in London to sell my Command the Latter end of February or the Beggining of March' but secrecy was again in play as 'neither Mrs. Davenport nor my Father know any thing' (9). The matter of the sale of the commission was still unresolved by April 1720 as he informed Henry that his new General 'Readily agrees to my Disposing according to the Regulation' and 'when money is Paid, you shall be Thankfully Paid, but I can't doe it till my Commission is sold' (10). Better news for Sharington's estate was forthcoming by September when Henry was notified that 'I writ to you some time since that I has sould my post' and that '[I] am ready to pay in the money when you please to send me directions where' (11).
Henry obviously responded rapidly to the news but not in a considerate way as, by 26th September 1720, Peter was complaining that 'If I had not been by accident in Macclesfield when the post brought your letter, I had almost been undone you know Sr. I beg'd you not to mention your debt, noebody here knowing any thing of it'. However, he assured Henry that the debt would be paid in full and that 'in the mean time [I] have inclosed you a bill for the Generals Principle, and know not how far you may insist upon interest; I assure you the General wou'd never have taken a farthing from me' (12).
Whether interest on the General's loan was ever demanded is unrecorded, but as late as 1724, Peter and Henry were still in dispute about repayments and Peter was still finding excuses to delay reimbursement. The records are not clear as to whether these debts relate to Sharington's estate or to separate loans from Henry but on 18th April 1724 Peter wrote to Henry saying 'I am more concern'd than I can express, that I am constrain'd to break my word wth. you at this time .... but .... an unexpected affair, I may say a disapiontment, has happen'd that obliges me either to make free wth.you till the latter end of next June, or the beginning of July; or I must borrow it, of a friend to pay you, wch. ill convenionce I flatter my selfe you don't deserve to put me too; I think nothing can happen to prevent my paying you at the time above mention'd, and I hope for a fine opportunity of doeing it in person wch. will be very agreeable to me' (13). Peter was aware of the liberty he was taking because he noted 'I am afraid you will be a little out of humour wth. this letter'. Interestingly, this letter was written from Shropshire where Peter was clearly still in the army.
Peter was still having financial problems at this time, coupled with personal tragedy. His marriage to Mary Thornycroft had been fruitful and she had borne two sons. However, by 1721, Mary and both boys had died and unfortunately for Peter 'before her father gave her any fortune' (14).
By August 1724, however, Peter appeared finally to be in a position to make, at least partial, repayments, writing to Henry 'I have by my servant sent you thirty Pound wch. I beg you will please acknowledge by [a] line of receipt, and if you will please to pardon my not sending the full, wch. I realy cou'd not wth. convenience doe, at this time, I assure you, you shall never have occassion to ask for it' (14) and showing that his capacity for using, perhaps abusing, the good nature and patience of the Davenports to his advantage had not abated. He did, however, express confidence for the future, noting that 'I have had a great deal to doe wth. my money of late ... but thank God I have perfected all my affaires, and being a man of moderat ambition, am as happy in my circumstances as I desire'.
This confidence was well-founded as Peter's fortunes finally started to show signs of significant improvement. In his last recorded letter to Henry, dated 24 October 1726, Peter spoke of 'Having had many instances of your friendship makes me assured you will be glad to hear of the good fortune that has lately befaln me. about five weeks since I was marryed at Bath in Somersershire to one of Mr Legh of Adlingtons Daughters' (15). The unnamed bride was, in fact, 31 year-old Lucy Frances Legh, a niece of the Earl of Radnor and the daughter of the Lady Legh who had written to the General so pleadingly on Peter's behalf on the occasion of his earlier marriage. Whether Peter and Lucy were smitten by love or Peter was driven by the financial opportunity of a match with a member of the minor aristocracy is in doubt but the latter is favoured by Peter's description of his new father-in-law as 'a most particular friend of mine, and I have always been much at his House, he has an estate of six thousand pound a year'. The emphasis of fortune over fondness was reinforced by the comment that Mr Legh 'has one Son, and two Daughters, the younger now my wife, and she has several thousand pounds fortune independant of any body, enough to make me perfectly easy and happy, but has a vast prospect of being an exceeding great fortune, but that as it Happens, I am in the mean time perfectly Happy' (15). Financial security had finally been achieved so it was little wonder that Peter was perfectly happy! This security had been attained with another of the deceptions that were the hallmark of Peter's life for 'wee marryed without Consent' but any doubts that Mr Legh may have had with the match were rapidly dispelled for 'in three days he was perfectly Reconciled'. Furthermore, the members of 'society' at Bath were quick to help 'for as soon as it was Knowne, Lady Walsingham, Lady Torrington, My Lord and Lady Pollet, my Lord and Lady St. John, and several other persons of Distincktion, went to interceede in our behalfes' (15).
Peter's financial circumstances had already improved before this secret rush to the alter for in a postscript to the letter to Henry he noted 'My late father in law (Thornycroft) dyed last May and a sister of his (possibly the aunt who had been so against Peter's marriage to Mary Thornycroft) in July and the both dealt Hansomely by me at their Deaths'.
From this date, Peter vanishes from the Lacock Archive. Perhaps he felt that Henry had outlived his usefulness and he no longer needed to take advantage of his Davenport connections. His future life was still not without tragedy as he was left a widower for a second time when Lucy died in 1728. Thereafter records are sparse but, probably as a result of his beneficial second marriage, his fortunes improved markedly. He became a JP and was appointed Receiver General of the County of Cheshire in May 1735 (16). Finally, Receiver General Peter Davenport was knighted in 1744 17. One can assume that he recovered from the troubles of his earlier life and assumed a comfortable position of respectability amongst the social elite of Cheshire. The indiscretions of his younger days behind him, Sir Peter Davenport died in 1747 and was buried at Prestbury in Cheshire on 27 January 18.
Roger Cripps, October 2015
1) WRO 2664/3/2B/38/36
2) WRO 2664/3/2B/67/6
3) WRO 2664/3/2B/38/3
4) WRO 2664/3/2B/34/15
5) WRO 2664/3/2B/185/20
6) WRO 2664/3/2B/67/7
7) WRO 2664/3/2B/38/27
8) WRO 2664/3/2B/73/13
9) WRO 2664/3/2B/73/14
10) WRO 2664/3/2B/32/19
11) WRO 2664/3/2B/27/3
12) WRO 2664/3/2B/77/6
13) WRO 2664/3/2B/35/9
14) WRO 2664/3/2B/77/10
15) WRO 2664/3/2B/16/4
16) The London Magazine, Or, Gentleman's Monthly Intelligencer, Volume 4, p.280. May 1735.
17) W. A. Shaw 'The Knights of England', VOL. II. Printed and Published for the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood, Lord Chamberlain's Office, St. James's Palace, Sherratt and Hughes London 1906
18) England, Cheshire Parish Registers, 1538-2000," database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:F38N-9JB), Peter Davenport, 27 Jan 1746, Burial; citing item 4 p 225, , Prestbury, Cheshire, England, Record Office, Chester; FHL microfilm 2,093,600.