Friday 9 August 2013

The Financial Misfortunes of James Brydges, Duke of Chandos

James Brydges, 1st Duke of Chandos, PC DL FRS (Hereford, England, 6th January 1673 – England, 9th August 1744) 

Portrait of James Brydges, Duke of Chandos by Michael Dahl, 1719
James Brydges, Duke of Chandos by Michael Dahl, 1719

We're back in England today to meet a gentleman who went from the heights of wealth to the doldrums of debt and provided sport for Alexander Pope along the way!

James Brydges was the oldest child of fourteen children born to Sir James Brydges, 8th Baron Chandos and Elizabeth Barnard. In addition to the title of Baron Chandos, taken after his father's death, he was also 1st Viscount Wilton, 1st Earl of Carnarvon, 1st Duke of Chandos and 1st Marquess of Carnarvon. He served as Member of Parliament for Hereford for almost twenty years, making and losing a fortune in the process.

Like many of his peers, the Duke enjoyed a privileged upbringing. He was schooled at Westminster and Oxford University before beginning a highly lucrative political career as Paymaster-General of the Forces Abroad during the War of the Spanish Succession. Enjoying the patronage of the Duke of Marlborough, Brydges became a Duke in 1717 and lived a high profile life of luxury and influence.

The Chandos Family by Godfrey Kneller, 1713
The Chandos Family by Godfrey Kneller, 1713 (The Duke, Henry, Cassandra Willoughby, his second wife, and John)

We Georgians know that there is no sense in having money if you don't let everybody know about it and Brydges understood that better than most. As part of his first wife's dowry he took up hime at Canons, a country estate in Middlesex, and began work on a house in Cavendish Square that was never completed. Although the Duke was a man who liked to show off his wealth he wasn't entirely without a social conscience and was involved in the creation of the Foundling Hospital, serving as a governor to the charity. He was also a champion of education and founded the Chandos Chair of Medicine and Anatomy at the University of St Andrews, which still exists today.

When he wasn't occupied with universities, charity and grand building schemes, the Duke was a lover of the arts and employed Handel as a live-in composer in Middlesex. Handel composed the Chandos Anthems in recognition of the Duke's generosity and the two were devoted friends until the our hero's finances became a little stretched, at which point Handel departed Canons for pastures new. Like the subject of our post earlier this week, the Duke was considerably less popular with Alexander Pope, who took an affectionate swipe at Canons in Epistle to the Earl of Burlington. However, once word began to spread that Brydges was the subject of his satire, Pope was quick to claim that no malice or mockery had been intended. 

James Brydges, Duke of Chandos by Herman van der Mijn, 1725
James Brydges, Duke of Chandos by Herman van der Mijn, 1725

Despite his early financial success, the Duke of Chandos was not always so canny when it came to financial speculation. He made poor investments and lost a fortune when the  South Sea Bubble burst, though a judicious marriage kept him afloat, if in somewhat reduced circumstances. In fact, the true extent his monetary straits only became known after his death when his son, Henry, became 2nd Duke of Chandos and found himself deeply mired in his father's debt. So dire was the situation that the new Duke was left with no choice but to sell off the contents, fittings and architectural elements of Canons before having the remains of the house demolished in 1747.

Photograph of the Monument at Whitchurch
Monument at Whitchurch
(photograph from

The Duke was predeceased by two of his three wives and one of his two children. He was laid to rest in Whitchurch and his monument is as lavish as you might expect from a man who knew how to show off his wealth, even when he had none!


Unknown said...

Ha ha... Nothing changes. Money speaks volumes and if you haven't got money then appearance is everything!

Catherine Curzon said...

He certainly knew how to spend!

Grace Elliot said...

OOOOOoooooh, I went to school in the Duke of Chandos' house. No kidding. I won a scholarship to North London Collegiate School which was opened in Victorian times by Frances Mary Bus, in the Duke of Chandos' house.
The sixth form rooms were in the old house proper and the history just seeped out of the walls. There was this fantastic marble staircase and I used to fantasise about coming down those stairs in a ball gown! There can't be many school that have a rose garden, a folly and greek statues in the junior playground!
Grace x

Catherine Curzon said...

You are *very* lucky; what a place to go to school!

Gem Twitcher said...

...and a distant kin of Jane Austen on her Mothers side?

Catherine Curzon said...

Great-great uncle!

Jude Knight said...

Lovely article, as always.

Catherine Curzon said...

Thank you, Jude!

Arkay60 said...

I'm afraid you didn't - as it says in the article Can[n]ons, the Duke of Chandos's palatial house, was famously demolished after the contents were auctioned off in 1747. The house you refer to is a villa built by cabinetmaker William Hallett in 1760.

Catherine Curzon said...

Thank you!