Englefield House Case Study: Lady Margaret Clive at Englefield House (1780s)

PORTRAIT OF MARGARET MASKELYNE, LADY CLIVE, by Nathanial Dance, at Powis Castle, Powys, Wales

Portrait of Margaret Maskelyne, Lady Clive by Nathaniel Dance at Powis Castle, Powys, Wales. National Trust Images.

It seems that Richard Benyon did not recommend Lady Clive, but rather that she came under recommendation from others. Nathaniel Wrighte described to Benyon how he had been ‘informed by many who had the honour of being acquainted with Lady Clive, that her Ladyship was possessed of many excellent Qualities, and that there was no room for doubt but that she would take all possible care of the Books, Furniture etc left in the house and of the Premises in general’, therefore he ‘prevailed…to give her Ladyship the preferences to all others who had before made or were then making applications for that most delightful place.’[1] Wrighte chose Lady Clive to be tenant at Englefield in part because he believed that she would cherish and give due attention to the material objects and interiors belonging to the house. Wrighte clearly valued Englefield’s interiors and objects highly and was prepared to accept a lower rent in order to secure a tenant whom he believed would do the same.

In 1787, the house saw its links with the East India Company enlarge still further. In this year Margaret Fowke, niece of East India Company official John Walsh (who lived at nearby Warfield Park) planned to marry John Benn of Ormathwaite, Cumbria (who had worked in the service of the East India Company and had been based in Calcutta from 1778 to 1786) at Englefield House. Lady Clive was cousin to John Walsh and retained close connections with the family and Margaret in particular. Although Margaret ultimately decided to have the ceremony at her brother Francis’s house in London and the reception at Richmond on Saturday, June 30, she visited Englefield with her new husband in July 1787. Writing to John Walsh in 1787, Margaret explained that ‘I should be happy to follow your advice in having the ceremony performed at Englefield & should receive most pleasure from the presence of Lady Clive. The only reason why I prefer London & my brother’s house is that it is infinitely more private – a circumstance to my feeling of the utmost moment in a marriage.’[2] Country houses could be used to host marriage ceremonies on a large scale, but they also acted as important sites from which East India Company families could launch young daughters onto the marriage market.

Lady Clive moved to Englefield in the 1780s in order to place her youngest daughter in a suitable location for entry to the marriage market. Outside of London, but close enough to visit out of season and near to other East India Company connections in the area, Englefield was an ideal location at this moment in Lady Clive’s life cycle. When that moment ended in the late 1780s, Lady Clive decided to move to another location. As demonstrated in the Swallowfield Park Case Study, women connected to the East India Company returned from India with young children and often led peripatetic lives, moving from country house to country house. Lady Clive’s experience demonstrates how that mode of living could continue into later life.

Just before her youngest daughter married a certain Mr Walpole, as her motherly duties ended,  it was assumed by others in the Englefield household that Lady Clive would leave for a smaller residence.[3] In 1788 as she began to look for another house and considered renting Dunston Park, located around nine miles away from Englefield House in Thatcham, Berkshire, but decided against it. She also looked at some houses in Essex. Her desire to change residence could not have come too soon. In 1789 Nathaniel Wrighte died and Richard Benyon the Younger inherited Englefield.

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[1] Benyon Papers, Letter from Nathaniel Wrighte at Mr Fisker’s, Galloway’s Buildings to Richard Benyon, 19 December 1781, D/EBy/C3.

[2] British Library, India Office Records, Letter from Margaret Fowke to John Walsh, 1787, Mss Eur D.546/22 ff.61.

[3] Berkshire Record Office, Benyon Papers, Letter from R. Crockford, Englefield to Mr Benyon, 9 April 1788, D/EBy/C5.