Letter from Thomas Hamilton Ayliffe to Fanny de Courtenay: 1830

A concerned father sends a troubled, yet warm, letter to his daughter living abroad in the midst of revolution

I’ve previously written extensively about François de Courtenay and his descendants. I’ve also written about a letter I read on September 21, 2018 from François to his estranged wife, Fanny, in 1860. There was trouble in the relationship long before that, as evidenced by another letter I read that same day, this one written in 1830. Both letters are housed at the Petworth House Archives and can be made available to view at the West Sussex Records Office. I keep intact the original punctuation, capitalization, and spelling in this letter wherever possible.

Thomas Hamilton Ayliffe addresses his daughter, Fanny de Courtenay¹, who was then living in Paris:


Madame de Fouchécourt

12 Rue Montaigne [now Rue Jean-Mermoz]

Faub.g St. Honoré [Faubourg Sainte-Honoré]

The letter is postmarked September 16, 1830, presumably from Compton or Bovey Tracey, Devon². Like the 1860 letter to Fanny from her husband, this one begins with an explanation by her father as to why he hadn’t sent a letter to her earlier. The July Revolution had been going on in Paris, after all, thus deposing Charles X of the Bourbon Restoration and installing Louis-Philippe as the new monarch.³

My Dear Fanny,

The disturbance which has lately taken place in France has been the cause of my not writg to you before, for I was persuaded you would receive no letter while the commotion continued. I have been very uneasy for your safety. I hope in God you have not been injured by the Revolution. We heard lately of Mr Machenry who is in Paris, & had a narrow escape from being killed. He was going to put a letter in the post & had only a few doors to go, & while in the act, a person was shot dead by his side! I sincerely hope you have escaped all danger.

On the same theme a bit later:

I am very happy to hear you enjoy a good state of health, & comfortable in your circumstances, but as far as it depends on your own exertions it must be very precarious; whenever there should be a faulting off, or ultimate failing I would advise you to come to England & be near your friends & family.

I’m not sure what exertions Fanny had to make in order to keep her circumstances stable. From at least 1851 onward she collected an annuity as her financial means.

After this the letter transitions to a theme of Thomas’ financial difficulties, which takes up about three-quarters of the letter. But first he mentions the key player in his ambitions to be successful:

It is pleasing to hear that Charles has a warm heart towards you. he appears to me to be the best of the family & likely to prove a lasting friend.

Thomas is probably referring here to Col. Charles Henry Wyndham, who was Fanny’s first cousin (on her dad’s side). Fanny’s father, Thomas Hamilton Ayliffe, had a sister, Elizabeth Ilive, who had several children with George Wyndham, the 3rd Earl of Egremont. Charles Wyndham was the youngest son of that couple. Thomas seems to have thought him the most likely person to convince the 3rd Earl of Egremont to “remember” their family in his will:

For my part I am very uneasy respecting our future welfare; Lord Egremont is now far advanced in years, & we cannot expect him to live a great while longer. Should he die & not remember me in his Will, what my Dear Fanny will become of us? In case of such an event, we ought all to be found together & nearer to the spat. It gives me much concern to know what I shall do with your Brothers; George, he can turn his hand to any thing, & get [h]is living in a rough way; Thomas I think will make a good Farmer, his genious turns that way, & perhaps some part of the family, may be inclined to let him a small Estate; Poor Henry I do not know what he will be put for; he must depend upon the [existences?] of his Brothers & sisters who I hope will never see him want. It is a great misfortune I could not send them to School; but it has been utterly out of my power as you must know, for ever since I have been in the Country I have not been able to pay my Bills.

One addition to his financial difficulties is that he has taken in a family, which he had apparently told Fanny about previously:

Martin & his family are still with me, nor is there any likelihood of their going away; they are very expensive to me. I am dreadfully insolved, every Bill is now double. I fear I shall never get out of my difficulties. He has got 2 Pupils at Babbacom~⁴ but that will not find him in Clothes. I told him of what you recommended but he threw cold Water upon it saying it has been long known in England, that he had taught it to the Misses Puddicum; but that when he was in Paris, he had some idea of trying it.

The “Martin” family, despite the misspelling, is likely that of his daughter Cecilia, her husband John Marten, and their three children. Thomas, having been “utterly out of [his] power” before taking in the Martens, expands on how much more difficult it has become:

What power have I got now, my family is doubled I have Martin, his Wife & three children to support? I have to find them in Working, Coal, Candle, Medicines, & every individual article of life; there is only Clothes excepted, & even for this I have been at some expense for they were all in rags.

Thomas was troubled by the prospect of financial ruin while waiting to find out if he would receive a large inheritance from one of the richest men in England. He explores his options:

Has Charles paid you a visit yet? If not, & he should come, I wonder whether you can ask him if he thinks his father will remember the family in his Will? How glad I should be if I could hold a correspondence with any one of them; but they are all to distant & haughty, so that I am like a perfect stranger to them. I am going to write to Colonel Meade & enclose his letter to Lord Egremont, which will give me an opportunity of writing a line or two hoping it may make him mindful of me.

It’s clear that the Wyndhams wanted to keep a certain amount of distance between their family and that of the Earl’s mistress. There’s one solution for which Thomas does not need to rely on the generosity of the 3rd Earl of Egremont or anyone else:

Next year I mean to advertise to sell my yacht, & if I am so successful to dispose of it, I will come over & see you. It is called the Britannia & has won 3 Blue[s?] Cups & 3 Sovereigns in One year — just the time she has been built. She cost me £215 building, & I expect to get 160 Guineas for her. At Dawlish & Teignmouth they call her a sweet [??] yacht. She beats every thing at the Regattas. I think I can get almost any money for her.

Eventually Thomas turns to the subject that I had been waiting for: Fanny’s relationship with my third great-grandfather, Charles François de Courtenay. He asks, “Has Francis returned yet from Algiers?”

It was news to me that François had fought in the Algerian war. He probably fought under Louis Auguste Victor de Ghaisne, comte de Bourmont in the invasion of Algiers from June to August of 1830. Louis de Ghaisne and François’ father had both fought in L’armée des émigrés against the French Republic. On August 11, 1830 de Ghaisne heard the news that his preferred monarch, Charles X, had been deposed. He refused to pledge his allegiance to the new king, Louis-Philippe, and was forced out of command. It’s possible that François was shipped home at the same time as de Ghaisne and he may have been back at home in Paris by the time Fanny received the letter.

I think he will act like a madman to give up his good appointment if it is in his power to keep it; he will do no such thing.

This may have been a military position. It would be in line with my thoughts that François would have tried to get out of Algiers after finding out that his preferred monarch had been deposed. However, it seems as though François’ return may have been a bit later than that of de Ghaisne. Another possibility is that the appointment referred to a civil position in government somewhere. For example, in a letter from Col. George Wyndham to Charles Burrell⁵ in 1838, Col. Wyndham suggests that François could easily get help from his family, who he says were in Normandy at the time.⁶

In any event, the letter from Thomas, as well as the one from George Wyndham to Charles Burrell, show that the family was beginning to have a very negative impression of François by the 1830s.

The most important reason that I was reading this letter was to gain insight about the separation of Fanny and Charles. The letter suggests that the separation had not yet occurred, and probably hadn’t by 1838 either. The next line was even more enlightening because it addresses a possible reason for the separation:

I am very sorry my Dear Fanny you should have cause to diminish your affection towards him, it is difficult to give advice. sometimes when it is attempted it only tends to widen the breach.

So it seems that there was trouble very early on­ — just ten years after the marriage. It may have been that François’ infidelity had already begun. Or they may have already had the argument in which Fanny called François a “French beggar” and perhaps François responded with a threat of divorce. I will probably never know for sure.

The best I can say is since you cannot alter your situation, but must continue for life, be of a forgiving disposition & reconcile with each other.

It seems that divorce was thought to not be an option. It highlights the incredible difficulties that people would have once had. For all of the talk today about how there isn’t enough respect for the institution of marriage, at least people are now seldom told “you cannot alter your situation, but must continue for life” with a person who is unfaithful, or worse. In Fanny’s and François’ case, it appears that Thomas’ advice had no effect of reconciliation. Within a relatively short time they would be living apart, and Fanny would remain separated from, yet married to, her husband for the rest of her life. And maybe that was her best option at the time.

Turning away from the topic of François, Thomas again touches on the issue of finances and adds a personal note.

I thank you my dear for your kind intention towards, but I trust my situation will never be so bad, as to be obliged to ask from you any aid; I know situated as you are in a foreign Country you cannot at any time have any thing conveniently to spare; no I trust I shall not get into serious trouble. I am happy to hear Rosa is well & that you are not disappointed in your expectations; I wish much to see you both, but I can not tell how far the me[r?]iad may be.

Miniature portrait of Thomas Hamilton Ayliffe. On the back is written “The portrait of Mr. Thomas Hamilton Ayliffe Surgeon the Father of Frances Ayliffe afterwards Mrs. de Courtenay Fouchécourt. Painted by Sir Robert Peat.” This portrait is in the possession of Elinor Gallant. A picture of it was sent to me by Jeremy Masters, who notes that the artist may have been the miniaturist Thomas Peat rather than Sir Robert Peat. Both this and the below portrait have recently surfaced as the only surviving images of both the letter writer and the recipient of the letter discussed in this article.
Fanny de Courtenay (née Ayliffe), right, and her granddaughter Horatia Cauty. Horatia is the daughter of Rosabella de Courtenay, Fanny’s daughter, who is the “Rosa” mentioned in this letter. The photograph is in possession of Elinor Gallant, courtesy of Jeremy Masters.

I found the end of the letter surprising (and largely indecipherable to a person who doesn’t know Latin), but it shouldn’t be surprising considering that Thomas Hamilton Ayliffe was a medical doctor:

I must now turn my thoughts to the relief of Madame de Cette as you requested, & I recommend her the following Injection vizl.

Robert Granatori 3i Coque in libvos duns ad unam Aqua et cola. deinde adde Linci Vitvialate by M. appellatu,

Injectis, sope atenda.

This Injection must be used every night and morning, & the Patient to observe a good deal of a horizontal posture, much walking & exercise is bad. Should the Womb protrude, she must go to a Surgeon & have a Pessera applied & make use of the same Injection.

I have no doubt in a Month or two she will get well.

Do you have any thing from Lady Burrell or Mrs. King? Adieu My Dear Fanny, I have no news to send you this dull place affords none.

Believe me your ever affectionate Father,

– T. H. Ayliffe. –

Sept. 11, 1830.

Mrs. King was likely Charlotte King (née Wyndham), another cousin of Fanny and daughter of the 3rd Earl of Egremont. Charlotte was married to a man named John James King. Finally, the letter contains a postscript:

George, Thomas, & Henry desire to be affectionately remembered to you & Rosa, & say they think far greatly as much of her as she does of them.

Your Mamma sends her affectionate love, & says she could wish to see you again in England. Poor Creature? She is almost killed with the fatigue [now?] the Martins have come upon us, Washing & Ironing almost every day in the Week. Adieu. Godbless You. Let Madame Cette get a Female Syringe.

It was only about seven more years until Lord Egremont died. I don’t believe he remembered Thomas in his will. He did remember his oldest son, George Wyndham, however, who inherited Petworth House. George assisted the Ayliffes in their emigration to Australia and for years afterwards.

Fanny de Courtenay probably lived in Paris until 1841 and even later. By 1851 she was back in England until her death in 1883. François de Courtenay traveled between England and France throughout the 1830s and until at least 1843. He was in western France for ten years after that and eventually settled in Reims, where he died in 1861.

I feel very privileged to have been able to read this little piece of history. I hope that others can find it as enlightening as I have.

¹In 1820, Frances Ayliffe married my third great-grandfather, François de Salivet de Fouchécourt, and became Frances de Fouchécourt. In their children’s christening records in 1821 and 1823 she went by Frances de Courtenay, which is a surname that the family de Salivet de Fouchécourt had begun using in the 1810s while living in England and sometimes thereafter. From 1851 onward she seems to have always used the de Courtenay surname, but between 1823 and 1851 she often used the surname “Fanny de Fouchécourt.”

²In 1825 the Ayliffes were at Compton, Devon, which is about 5 kilometers north of Paignton, and in 1833 were at Bovey Tracey, Devon, which is about 25 kilometers northeast of Paignton. Thomas probably resided at one of these two places in 1830 when he wrote the letter.

³The overthrow of the Bourbon monarch would have been much to the consternation of Fanny’s husband and his brother.

⁴Babbacom~ is how he wrote it and it probably means Babbacombe, Torquay, Devon.

⁵Thomas Hamilton Ayliffe’s sister, Elizabeth Ilive, had several children with George O’Brien Wyndham, 3rd Earl of Egremont. As previously mentioned, their youngest son was Col. Charles Henry Wyndham. Their eldest son was Col. George Wyndham, who wrote a letter to Sir Charles Merrik Burrell concerning François in 1838. Charles Burrell was his brother-in-law, having married George’s sister, Frances, in 1808.

⁶Any 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 ask me about modeling & simulation, genetic genealogy, or genealogical research. And make sure to check out these ranges of shared DNA percentages or shared centiMorgans, which are the only published values that match peer-reviewed standard deviations. That model was also used to make a very accurate relationship prediction tool. Or, try a calculator that lets you find the amount of an ancestor’s DNA you have when combining multiple kits.

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