‘Like an Owl of the Desert – Lady Anne Clifford

In 1590 at Skipton Castle in Yorkshire the Countess of Cumberland, Margaret Russell gave birth to a daughter, Anne. Her father was George Clifford one of England’s heros; explorer, commander of ships during the Spanish Armada, favourite and champion of Queen Elizabeth I. However, whatever his public reputation, privately he was not much of a husband and father.

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Skipton Castle Gateway

George Clifford died in 1605 when his daughter was just fifteen. His final act of neglect was to disinherit his daughter of all the land, titles and possessions of the Clifford estates. Why he did this is not clear. Perhaps he felt that the responsibilities were too much for a young lady to carry. The estate was substantial encompassing the old county of Westmoreland and parts of North Yorkshire. Five castles stood within the boundaries – Skipton to the south, Brougham in the north  with Appleby, Brough and Pendragon in between – in all some 90,000 acres.He willed his estate to his brother, Anne’s uncle Francis and his brother’s male heirs. The problem was that legally, he could not disinherit his daughter. By an entail made by an earlier Clifford, the estates were to be left to direct descendants regardless of gender. In effect George Clifford’s will was invalid and the fight was on!

George had reckoned without his daughter’s persistence, even stubborness and her very acute sense of what was due to her. Together with her mother they start a legal action in the earl marshall’s court which is dismissed. A year later in 1607 they demolish her uncle’s case and the judges decide that half the estate is rightfully hers. Her uncle however refuses to yield any of the estates.

In 1609 Anne marries the Earl of Dorset, Richard Sackville.

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Richard Sackville

Like her father he is a courtier with expensive tastes and frequently empty pockets. He takes charge of the lawsuit and in 1615 the courts decide she can chose one or other half of the estates Skipton or Westmoreland but she cannot have them both. But no, Anne is adamant, she wants what she is entitled to and that is that.

The situation hots up. Anne is now subject to criticism from her friends who urge her to settle. Her husband uses both threats and fine words and she suffers an hour and a half of sermonising from the Archbishop of Canterbury. She digs her heels in.

In 1616 she buys time to relieve the pressure on her. She insists that she must discuss the settlement terms with her mother. She goes north to meet her and the response she sends back is ‘a direct denial’ to agree to the settlement. Now the situation really sizzles.

In May that year her husband tells her she may no longer live in his houses, Knowle and Bolebrooke. He sends a message saying he will see her one last time. A further letter is sent telling her to send their only child to London, to be separated from her. Then her husband changes tactics. He tries to sweeten her and delays the separation from her child. The whole affair becomes the talk of the London society and she comes in for heavy condemnation for her intransigence. All the while she is quite alone, living quietly in the country, suffering ill health whilst her husband enjoys himself, expensively, in London. She writes sadly,

‘Being condemned by most folk…I may truly say I am like an owl in the desert.’*

At the end of the month Anne loses her only ally, her mother who dies at Brougham castle.

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Brougham Castle

Her husband, ever with an eye to the main chance, sends her to Brougham to take possession. Fights break out between Anne’s faithful retainers and her uncle’s men. Her husband and her cousin are set to fight a duel. The king, James I steps in. He tells her husband to fetch Anne back from the north and he, the king himself, will settle matters once and for all.

So, in January 1617 Anne finds herself back in London and summoned to the king’s presence. He asks both Anne and her husband to trust him and leave the matter in his hands. Her husband readily agrees but Anne beseeches the king to:

‘pardon me for that I would never part with Westmoreland while I lived under any conditions whatsoever.’

The king subjects her to both fair and foul means of persuasion yet still she resists. Two days later she is sent for again. This time she has not only the king and her husband to contend with but also her uncle and cousin plus any number of other nobles.  Everyone agrees to submit to the king’s judgement…except Anne. At this, she is subjected to much harassment. In Anne’s words:

‘The king flew into a great chaffe’

at which point, fearing that she might be publicly disgraced, her husband puts her out of the room. After which a settlement is agreed upon. Her uncle gets all the estates and she is awarded £17,000 compensation which is quickly snaffled by her husband. In effect she has nothing. The fight is over.

However, in all good stories there is a twist in the tale. Anne’s great great grandfather Henry was a keen astronomer and astrologer. There is a tradition that on the birth of his grandson (Anne’s grandfather) he read the stars. He predicted that this new grandson would have two sons ‘between whom and their descendants there would be great lawsuits and that the heirs male of the line should end with these two sons…or thereafter’.

And that is what happened. Anne’s uncle Francis died and the estates passed to his only son, her cousin Henry who died without a male heir.

Nearly forty years after it all began Lady Anne Clifford regained her inheritance and as she approached her sixtieth year she moved back north to claim her lands and never again left them. She died in the great chamber at Brougham castle in 1670.

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Lady Anne at 58 years old

 

*’I am like an owl of the desert; loving solitude, moping among ruins, hooting discordantly.’ Psalm 102:6

 

 

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Charles Waterton 1782-1865

Charles Waterton, naturalist, explorer, environmentalist and true English eccentric. I mean how else would you describe a man who, expecting dinner guests, hid under the table, growled like a dog and bit his guests’ legs?

Charles_Waterton_by_Charles_Wilson_Peale,_1824,_National_Gallery,_London

Charles_Waterton_by_Charles_Wilson_Peale,_1824,_National_Gallery,_London

Born in 1782, into a devout Catholic family. He lived at Walton Hall in West Yorkshire, England – the house built by his father on the remains of an earlier one. He attended Stonyhurst College before completing his education abroad.  As a non-Conformist Waterton did not have the usual opportunities open to him that a man of his class would normally enjoy. He was unable to hold any public office, army commission or attend an English university.

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Walton Hall, Home of Charles Waterton

So, in 1804 he travelled to British Guiana to manage his uncle’s estates near Georgetown. In 1812 he began a series of what he called “Wanderings” in South America where he recorded the local flora and fauna and hunted animals to take back to Walton.  Over time, he amassed a large collection for which he developed new a method of taxidermy and some of this collection, remarkably lifelike, survives today. He also used his skills to poke fun at the Church of England and the State.

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One of Waterton’s taxidermy creations – John Bull carrying the national debt and surrounded by devils

In 1813, returning from his travels, Waterton appears to have experienced an epiphany in his relationship with wildlife.  He began to turn the park around Walton Hall into a wildlife reserve, permitting no hunting and excluding no animal except the fox and badger.  He nursed the old trees on his estate, keeping them standing when most would have felled them and planted holly hedges and ivy for nesting sites.  Wildfowl were enticed back to the lake surrounding the Hall.  He railed at his neighbours for killing dwindling species of birds.

In the 1820’s he started his most ambitious project – building a nine-foot high wall around three miles of his park to create a sanctuary not only for wildlife but also for himself.  He states in one of his essays:

“having suffered myself and learned mercy, I broke in pieces the penal laws which the knavery of the gamekeeper and the lamentable ignorance of other servants had hitherto put in force”.

In 1829 Waterton married 17-year-old Anne Edmonstone who was a granddaughter of an Arawak Indian. She died shortly after giving birth to their son Edmund when she was only 18. After her death he slept on the floor with a block of wood for a pillow,

“as self-inflicted penance for her soul!”

His two sisters-in-law came to live at Walton to look after the young Edmund. As the child grew up Waterton found it increasingly difficult to develop a father-son relationship. As a young man Edmund was lavish with money that he did not have, he had little or no interest in his father’s activities. It is quite possible that he was embarrassed by his father’s eccentricities – an embarrassment that developed perhaps into contempt as indicated by Edmund’s later actions.

Apart from family difficulties there was also the problem of the impact of growing industrialisation in the country but events brought it right to his doorstep.  Adjoining his estate was Walton Soap Works, owned by William Hodgson and Edward Simpson.  Soap manufacture, one of Victorian England’s growth industries, used particularly noxious chemicals that generated harmful pollutants and by-products.  Waterton had co-existed peacefully with his neighbours – a peace based on a gentleman’s agreement to refrain from manufacturing the actual chemicals required to make soap – a practice that made production cheaper.  However, growing consumer demand proved hard to resist.  Hodgson and Simpson reneged on the agreement.

When Hodgson died in 1840, Simpson took over entirely and the soap works flourished. He built a new chimney that belched out sulphuric acid fumes. This acid rain killed trees and hedgerows. Stinking toxic effluents accumulated in drains and oozed into nearby watercourses. Crops failed and livestock sickened.  Even the men at the works were affected.  Waterton writes in a local newspaper:

“Simpson’s operatives are the very personification of death alive.  There is not a single cherry-cheeked fresh or healthy looking man among them”.   

In 1847, Waterton declared war, starting the first of three legal campaigns against “soapy” Simpson.  This was to be no gentlemanly conflict.  Simpson was a formidable enemy.  The soap works made him a wealthy man.  He had gained respectability, becoming a local councillor, a partner in a bank and a property owner.

Simpson did not attempt to defend himself.  He was astute enough to know it was fruitless to deny, directly, the claims made against him. Instead, he used personal attacks and ridicule to undermine Waterton’s credibility. When the case came to court, it was referred to arbitration.  In the time leading up to the hearing Waterton suffered volleys of personal abuse together with random acts of violence to property and livestock.

At the eventual hearing in 1848, the verdict was double-edged.  Simpson was found guilty of negligence and given a warning.  Waterton received £1100 compensation but had to bear part of the legal costs.  Simpson carried on his business and the pollution continued unabated.

A few months later Waterton launched his second attack.  He presented a vast quantity of evidence and Simpson brought in a great squad of witnesses (who received suspiciously high expenses for their trouble) to deny the works were harmful or polluting.  This time, the arbitrator merely warned Simpson to maintain high safety standards.

In the final battle of 1850, Waterton took a more subtle approach.  Perhaps he learned a few tricks from his adversary. He discovered that Simpson wanted to expand his works and Waterton’s sister-in-law, “by chance” owned a house with land away from Walton.  How she came to do this is unclear.  Possibly Waterton bought it secretly, with a view to inducing Simpson to leave.  Waterton offered terms – the land and house in exchange for the complete closure of the Walton Soap Works.  Simpson accepted the terms and paid all legal costs.

It was a Pyrrhic victory for Waterton.  He lost trees, hedges, birds and other wildlife. Pollution fouled his lake and watercourses. He spent considerable time and money on the lawsuits. His health suffered.  Yet Simpson prospered, merely taking his work and pollution elsewhere.

Charles Waterton died in 1865 after a heavy fall. His coffin was taken across the lake to his chosen burial place. In a final ironic twist his estranged son, Edmund sold off all the valuable timber, mercilessly slaughtered the birds and game and did his best to obliterate all traces of his father’s conservation legacy.  Ultimately, he sold the estate to none other than the son of Waterton’s bitter enemy, “soapy” Simpson.

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Charles Waterton’s cortege

Today, Waterton’s home is a hotel and part of Waterton’s park is once more a wildlife sanctuary.  The nearby Walton Park Wildlife Discovery Centre promotes the values of the man who advises us:

“Look close with a quiet mind.  Learn from all that you see and so try not to assert your power…”