Letter from Col. George Wyndham to Charles Burrell: 1838

The first son of the 3rd Earl of Egremont expresses to his brother-in-law his frustration with Charles François de Courtenay

I’ve already written about a letter I read on September 21, 2018 from François de Courtenay to his estranged wife, Fanny, in 1860. Her family had been disappointed with François long before that, as evidenced by another letter I read that same day, this one written in 1838. While the other letters I discuss are housed at the Petworth House Archives, this one is held at the West Sussex Records Office. I keep intact the original punctuation, capitalization, and spelling in this letter wherever possible.

Col. George Wyndham, the eldest child of the 3rd Earl of Egremont, was Fanny’s first cousin on her father’s side. Charles [Merrik] Burrell, a British knight, was the husband of George Wyndham’s sister Frances.

The letter appears to have been postmarked three times. Two of those postmarks are in what looks like Midhurst. The other is difficult to read, although it may simply say not much more than “FREE 1838” within a red crown emblem.

4 April 38

Col G: Wyndham on [?] [Ayling?] family

C. M. Burrell

Richmond House


Wyndham picks up somewhere in a conversation about horses that had apparently been ongoing:

I won’t and superintend? the speculation until all is in fair train?, and then to return Home with a report to me of whether to [encrease?] the property or not. Is there a quiet stable? the lad near Botton’s for a 2 year old if I should send one to run at Epsom. They are to be tried at Goodwood course on Monday & after that I shall decide.

Then he gets to the topic of interest for me. Additionally, this letter was very short, so it concludes at the end of this passage:

Monsieur de Fouchecourt is a strong powerful man and certainly capable providing for a Wife and only Daughter if he likes to do so. I will do nothing till he is disposed to put his Shoulder to the Wheel and help himself. His family live in Normandy and Heleine they are capable of appointing him, & I cannot help thinking from what I have heard that he has a certain number of Francs a year, which he keeps to himself. If I knew how I would trace the Rascal & his Resources.

Your’s truly,


It was news to me that François had family living in Normandy.¹

The handwriting in this letter was the hardest for me to decipher of the three letters I read that day. I took me a long time to figure out the word “Rascal,” but when I did I was taken aback. I had been getting the impression that the Ayliffe and Wyndham families were beginning to be very disappointed in François by the 1830s, but I don’t think that alone would describe their feelings very well. It now seems as though they flat out disliked him. And there may have been very good reasons for that.

François struggled with money as a traveling tutor of French and English. It would have been difficult for him to appear as a gentleman of noble heritage while simultaneously asking for enough pay from his pupils to make a living. He was also unfaithful to his wife, Fanny, definitely by 1843 but quite possibly by 1838 or earlier. The Wyndham family clearly thought that he was spending money on endeavors other than his wife and daughter.

Whatever the case, his financial difficulties were about to get far worse. François would find his apartment in Brighton, Sussex, burglarized in August of 1838, just four months after this letter was written. From the descriptions in the newspaper articles that followed, it seems as if most of François’ valuable possessions were stolen. The burglar was apprehended and tried soon after, but I think it’s unlikely that much, if any, of François’ possessions were found and returned to him.

I find it highly likely that the separation of François and Fanny occurred shortly after this burglary. Fanny was probably still living in Paris at the time, having done so since probably not long after 1822. I don’t know if any future efforts were made by the Wyndham family to trace François or his resources. Since the separation probably occurred soon after, the family may have given up any notions of influencing his financial matters. They may have very well considered him to not be part of the family any more after that. There’s no evidence that his life from then on was interfered with in any way while he was in England until at least 1843, La Rochelle from 1846 to 1850, Nantes in 1853, or Reims until his death in 1861.

What questions I still have may never be answered, but many of the questions I previously had have been answered by the letters I read at the West Sussex Records Office. I’m eternally grateful for everyone who made it possible for me to read them.

¹Any family members of François de Courtenay who were living in Normandy in 1838 wouldn’t have included his father, who died in France in 1826, but could have been any one or more of his brother, mother, or uncles. His brother was living in Chérancé, Pays de la Loire at least from 1831 to 1834, so it may not have been him. I had not been aware that François had any family in Normandy until much later, when his second-eldest daughter was living in Dieppe with her daughter in the 1890s. I’m not sure if Col. George Wyndham’s suggestion that they were living in Normandy was correct, although it easily could be. I believe that Francois’ parents were in Paris or nearby in the 1820s. His brother, William, was in Paris by 1830 and until 1848 (I know because he participated in both revolutions, very violently so in at least the July Revolution). After a brief imprisonment at Mont-St.-Michel., he lived the rest of his life in Belgium. William’s descendants seemed to have settled in Reims towards the end of the 19th century. For more information about this family, please see The Missing Chevalier.

Feel free to tell me what you think of this post, let me know if any of the people I mentioned are your ancestors or if you have additional information, or ask me about genetic genealogy or genealogical research.

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