"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Monday, December 17, 2018

Sir John He Would A-Wooing Go

Sir John Dinely's life could be characterized as being dominated by murder, madness, and marriage proposals.

Emphasis on the marriage proposals.

Dinely was born in 1729, the younger (by half-an-hour) of twin sons of Samuel Goodere, a Captain in the British Navy. Samuel had long been on bad terms with his elder brother, the head of the family, Sir John Dinely Goodere. This tension was only exacerbated when Sir John successfully prosecuted his wife for conspiring to kill him. During his wife's imprisonment, Sir John sought a divorce, but with Samuel's help, she was able to get the House of Lords to dismiss his petition.

It took a heck of a lot more than mere attempted murder to break up a marriage in Georgian times.

After this episode, relations between the brothers became so toxic that Sir John began to talk of disinheriting Samuel in favor of his sister's son, John Foote. It was this threat that inspired Samuel to horrific measures. On January 17, 1741, Samuel hired a small gang of desperados to help him kidnap Sir John, bring him aboard Samuel's ship, the "Ruby," and strangle him to death.

At Samuel's subsequent murder trial, he pleaded innocence. His defense was that his late brother was a lunatic who in "a fit of the phrenzy," strangled himself. To no one's surprise, this argument failed to convince the jury, and Captain Goodere, along with two confederates, was hung in chains, near the place where the murder ship had been at anchor.

Samuel's eldest son Edward went insane and died unmarried in 1761, so the hero of our piece wound up inheriting this rather cursed baronetcy.  He also acquired a decent-sized fortune, which he soon lost, largely by squandering it on every woman shrewd and unscrupulous enough to shower him with praise. If one lady professed admiration of his legs, he gifted her with a bracelet. If another complimented his wit and learning, a necklace was her reward. Naturally, this led to him being surrounded by a swarm of ladies who all professed their greatest esteem for him--as long as his money held out. By 1770, he was forced to sell the family estate in Herfordshire, the last of his resources, and he subsequently spent the rest of his long life in genteel poverty. The only thing that saved him from utter destitution was that friends managed to have him named as a "poor knight of Windsor," which earned him a small pension from the Crown, as well as an apartment in Windsor Castle. At about this time, he dropped the notorious name of "Goodere," and became known merely as "Sir John Dinely."

Although Sir John was quite as unhinged as his brother, father, and uncle, his eccentricities, happily, moved along much more innocuous lines. Although to the outward world, he was a pitiful charity case, peculiar in appearance and with a decidedly unsavory ancestry, the baronet conducted himself as regally as a king--albeit a king dressed in gaudy, if shabby clothes of the style of a previous era. The contemporary "Penny Magazine" described him thus: "He then wore a large cloak called a roquelaure, beneath which appeared a pair of thin legs encased in dirty silk stockings. He had a formidable umbrella, and he stalked along upon pattens...Wherever crowds were assembled—wherever royalty was to be looked upon—there was Sir John Dinely. He then wore a costume of the days of George II—the embroidered coat, the silk-flowered waistcoat, the nether garments of faded velvet carefully meeting the dirty silk stocking, which terminated in the half-polished shoe surmounted by the dingy silver buckle. The old wig, on great occasions, was newly powdered, and the best cocked hat was brought forth, with a tarnished lace edging. He had dreams of ancient genealogies, and of alliances still subsisting between himself and the first families of the land."

Sir John's great ambition was to restore his family fortunes, and he realized that the only practical way in which this could be done was to marry some rich lady. As his combination of poverty, criminal heritage, and familial insanity failed to have women fighting for his hand, he soon lowered his standards enough so that he was willing to marry anyone at all. He became, in short, addicted to proposing to virtually any eligible woman he met. As the "Penny Magazine" noted, "To secure for himself a wife was the business of his existence; to display himself properly where women most do congregate was the object of his savings." He haunted the fashionable gathering places such as Vauxhall Gardens and the London theaters. When he would catch some woman's eye--which, thanks to his strange appearance, happened frequently--he would, in the most dignified manner, approach her, bow with an elegance that would do the most experienced courtier proud, and take from his pocket a printed paper extending his offer of marriage, and gracefully withdraw. This led to a series of what were described as "whimsical interviews" with various ladies. (These occasionally became so whimsical that "when he has expected to see his fair inamorata at a window, he has been rudely saluted with the contents of the jordan.")

And then, of course, there were Sir John's regular ads in the newspapers, reminding the ladies of Britain that one of them could still to be lucky enough to become Lady Dinely. He showed an admirable open-mindedness in his quest. An contemporary biographer enthused, "The woe-begone widow, whose weeds, he conceives, are insupportable, he invites to his arms, to be relieved of her burden; as well as the blooming miss of sixteen, to whom he supposes the restrictions of a boarding-school are quite intolerable." His printed manifestos gave detailed requirements of the financial requirements for leading the last of the Dinelys to the altar. Simply put, the older the lady was, the more money she needed. "Previous to his entering upon a Treaty of Marriage with any Lady, he must be assured of her being possessed of such of the following Summs, as is required according to her age and condition; viz. Those under Twenty-one, only Three Hundred Pounds;—those from Twenty-one to Thirty, Five Hundred; and from Thirty to Forty, Six Hundred. All Spinsters turned of that age, must be treated with according to circumstances; and, probably few will be eligible with less than a Thousand. However, Widows under Forty-five will have such Abatement as personal Charms and accomplishments entitle them to expect."

His own fortune he estimated at some £300,000, "if he could but recover it."

Another early advertisement read: "To the angelic fair of the true English breed:--worthy notice. Sir John Dinely, of Windsor Castle, recommends himself and his ample fortune to any angelic beauty of good breed, fit to become, and willing to be, a mother of a noble heir, and keep up the name of an ancient family, ennobled by deeds of arms and ancestral renown. Ladies at a certain period of life need not apply, as heirship is the object of the mutual contract offered by the ladies' sincere admirer, Sir John Dinely. Fortune favours the bold. Such ladies as this advertisement may induce to apply, or send their agents (but not servants or matrons),may direct to me at the Castle Windsor. Happiness and pleasure are agreeable objects, and should be regarded as well as honour. The lady who shall thus become my wife will be a Baronetess, and rank accordingly as Lady Dinely, of Windsor. Goodwill and favour to all ladies of Great Britain; pull no caps on his account, but favour him with your smiles, and paeans of pleasure await your steps."

Some of Sir John's biographers consider this notice to perhaps be his finest matrimonial come-on:

"Ipswich Journal," June 7, 1788, via Newspapers.com

In 1801, newspapers carried the following optimistic entreaty:

"As the prospect of my marriage has much increased lately, I am determined to take the best means to discover the lady most liberal in her esteem, by giving her fourteen days more to make her quickest steps towards matrimony, from the date of this paper until eleven o'clock the next morning; and as the contest evidently will be superb, honourable, sacred, and ' lawfully affectionate,' pray do not let false delicacy interrupt you in this divine race for my eternal love, and an infant baronet. For 'tis evident I'm sufficiently young enough for you." This was followed by a poetic effusion:

"For your rank above half the kingdom fly,
What's two hundred pounds with an amorous eye?
I'm famed for looks of good nature and sense:--
Detect them all envy's impertinence.
Your first step with my fair plan must agree,
By sending your qualified line to me,
A beautiful page shall carefully hold
Your ladyship's train surrounded with gold!"

By 1802, the elderly Sir John was showing hints of desperation. The "Reading Mercury" published his latest cri de coeur:

"Miss in her Teens.—Let not this sacred offer escape your eye. I now call all qualified ladies, marriageable, to chocolate at my house every day at your own hour.—With tears in my eyes, I must tell you that sound reason commands me to give you but one month's notice before I part with my chance of an infant Baronet for ever: for you may readily hear that three widows and old maids all aged above fifty, near my door, are now pulling caps for me. Pray, my young charmers, give me a fair hearing."

Although Sir John became a celebrity in his day as one of the great curiosities of London society, it is sad to report that such gallant persistence never reaped its just reward. In November of 1809, it was noticed that the famed "Windsor Advertiser" was missing from his accustomed haunts. Finally, a search was made of the sad little room at the castle. There, his body was found in his bed, as alone in death as he had been in life.

1 comment:

  1. This is indeed a sad tale. Sir John may have been eccentric but hardly dangerous (I think) and, like most people deserved some company in life. I wonder how many people have been in similar, if not quite as noticeable, circumstances?


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