THE MARGRAVINE OF ANSPACH
By Walter Money F.S.A.
The reputation acquired by the Margravine of Anspach has conferred no
ordinary celebrity on her name, and the events of her life as delineated
in her memoirs are not only interesting by reason of the descriptive
passage illustrative of her travels, but also on account of the many
and anecdotes she relates concerning the numerous notable personages
with whom she was brought in contact during the course of her extended
experiences. She was the youngest daughter of Augustus, 4th Earl of Berkeley,
born in 1750. At the early age of a little more than sixteen she married
William, afterwards 6th Baron Craven, by whom she had seven children.
This union was not a happy one, an a separation consequently took place
and the next ten years Lady Craven spent on the Continent. Here she became
acquainted with the Margrave, or, as the Margravine recounts his titles,-"Christian
Charles Alexander Frederic, Margrave of Brandenburg, Anspach, and Bareith,
Duke of Prussia, Compte of Sayn, &c., &c., &c.," nephew
of Frederick II. King of Prussia, comonly called "The Great" and
on the death of Lord Craven in 1791, she was married to the Margrave at
Lisbon. The Margrave, having abdicated in favour of the King of Prussia,
retired to England, and resided at Brandenbourg House, Hammersmith, which
he had purchased at the request of the Margravine. Two years after the marriage
with the Margravine, the Emperor, Francis II., Emperor of Germany, and I.
of Austria, bestowed on her the title of Princess Berkeley. Her eldest son
had entered the army, and, his father having given him the disposal of Benham-Valence,
he sold the estate to the Margrave of Anspach. Speaking of Benham, the Margravine
says.-"This was a favourite spot with me and Lord Craven, and it gave
me infinite pain to see it parted with. I had built it myself, with my husband´s
permission, and laid out the grounds according to my own taste; nor could
I suffer any of the modern landscape-gardeners to interfere, though strongly
pressed to allow them. The famous man named Capability Brown was desirous
of being employed; but, as he had already laid out twelve thousand pounds
for Lord Craven at Coombe Abbey, I thought it unnecessary to be more plundered,
and trusted to myself to adding to Nature." During her residence at
Benham the Margravine attempted to stop up the right of way through Benhampark,
which attempt was successfully resisted by the village Hampdens of the
time, but not until a great deal of unpleasant feeling Hampdens of the
not until a great deal of unpleasant feeling had been created, as will
be seen by the following correspondence relating to two officers of the
Provisional Cavalry who rode through the park tin the belief that this
was a bridle-road to Hoe-Benham. The letters of the Margravine are very
This is the first letter of the Margravine to Col. Dundas, Commandant
of the Yeomanry:-
THE MARGRAVINE’S ANSWER
The Margravine in writing her reminiscences had the advantage of interesting subjects for her criticism, and has always something original to say on the many remarkable characters she met in her travels during a conspicuous period of political and literary history. No writer has, perhaps, more clearly appreciated the varied intellectual gifts and complicated character of the great author of the “Rambler,” who was a frequent visitor at Benham, than Lady Craven, as we must term her at this time. And if all the passages on the memoirs are not consistent with perfect taste, this may be readily excused in a writer whose opinions have the attraction of originality as well as being formed on personal observation. “Dr. Johnson,” she says, “who had recommended to me a tutor for my eldest son, whose health did not suffer him to go to a public school till he was ten years old, came frequently to see me; and I believe would have been the most agreeable person in the world, if he had had a female companion to suit him at home by his fireside; for gigantic and extraordinary as his thoughts and language were, there was a goodness of heart that pierced through his learning, and made him admired when he lost sight of it.” With equal adroitness the Margravine handles the foibles of the mighty genius, as in her felicitous compliments to real merit, and with practical common sense measures the great lexicographer as follows:-
“His biographers have combined to give the world every idle as well as sensible word he had ever spoken, and every trifling as well as serious action he ever performed: they have given at full length every little failing on defect. What character can stand against such a host of spies and informers! And much less that of a man, who, with much pain of body and uneasiness of mind, lived surrounded by those who were watching what the might take down, and what might fall from him at a time when few are supposed to have a command of themselves. But no one who knows how to appreciate his merit from his writings will ever think of attributing to him harsh and absurd opinions, as the deliberate sentiments of his heart.
“One day,” adds the Margravine, ‘in a tête-à-tête, I asked him why he chose to do me the singular favour of sitting so often and taking his tea with me. I, who am an ignorant woman,’ I said, ‘ and who , if I have any share of natural wit or sence, am so much afraid of you that my language and thoughts are looked up of fade away when I am about to speak to you.’ He laughed very much at first, and then said, ‘ An ignorant woman! The little I have perceived in your conversation pleases me; ’-and then with a serious and almost religious emphasis, he said, ‘I do like you!’ – ‘And for what?’ I said. He put his large hand upon my arm, and with an expression I shall never forget, he pressed it, and said, ‘Because you are a good mother.’ Heaven is my witness, I was more delighted at his saying this, than if he had praised me for my wit of manners, or any gift he might have perceived in me.”
The Margrave died a Benham in 1806, in his seventieth year, and bequeathed the estate to the Margravine. He was buried in the parish church at Speen, with considerable ceremony, (1) where a monument was erected by the Margravine to his beloved memory. The Margravine adds in her Memoirs that she erected an elegant mausoleum at Benham, the marble of which she procured from Italy, as a record of the virtues –“I spared no expences” she says, “for this memorial; the sum of upwards of five thousand pounds which it has cost me, is a small consideration of my gratitude.” There has hiherto been some misconception as regards this mausoleum-it having been stated in a local word to refer to the monument now in Speen Church, but this is not so. The mausoleum, a solid structure of stone, with the interior formed of rare and precious marbles, was erected in the ornamental grounds at the rear of the mansion at Benham, by the side of the Bath-road, from which it was approached by a pair of massive iron gates. (2) There was a cottage for the caretaker close by, who reaped a rich harvest by showing the mausoleum to the numerous passengers by the stage-coaches which the thronged this great highway. The mausoleum and its appurtenances were removed, after the death of the Margravine, and the materials sold by auction, but its site can still be identified by the differences in the brickwork of the wall when the gates were removed and the opening built up. The monument by Canova was originally placed in the mausoleum, and after its removal was erected in Speen Church. In 1811 the Margravine left Benham, and in a very spirited public address says:-
“I take this method of assuring the people of Newbury and all the worthy yeomanry of the county of Berks, that I only wish that I had ten times as much landed property in the county as I have, to have ten times the means and opportunities of proving my attachment to it.”
The Margravine made several ineffectual attempts to stop the public foot-path by the mansion to Marsh-Benham; (3) and it was largely owning to the annoyance and chagrin this question caused her that she left Benham, which she only again re-visited, when she came to see the monument erected to the Margrave. The King of Naples having presented her with two acres of land, commanding a complete view of the bay of Naples, she built a villa there, in form similar to her pavillion at Hammersmith; a large room in the centre, with smaller apartments surrounding it. Here the Margravine died 13 January, 1828. She was buried in the English cemetery at Naples; her own carriage drawn by four horses bearing her to her last home. A long string of carriages followed.
In addition to the many published dramatic pieces written by the Margravine, she produced several others for the amusement of her friends, at her private theatre in Brandenburgh House, which have never been printed; and was the author of “A Journey through the Crimea to Constantinople,” 4to, 1789, “The Soldier of Diérenstein,” etc.
Not only had the Margravine considerble literary ability, and a refined and discriminating taste for the fine arts, but attained some success as an amateur sculptor; and among other productions of her chisel, was a bust of her husband, the Margrave, which was engraved by Fry form drawing made by Uwins, and forms the frontispiece to the Memoirs.
(1) The funeral procession was as follows:-
(3) The right of way was diverted by Order of the court of Quarter Sessions, Eater, 1892.
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