From the archive: The Madness of King George III

13th November 1810 (Tuesday).

“The times are very awful.”

‘My dear Robert’, wrote George Wharton Marriott (a London-based lawyer) to his brother, the Rector of Cotesbach in the Leicestershire countryside, “If I could have found time I should have written to you on Saturday merely to give the good tidings then received of the King. He has since that time not proceeded uninterruptedly towards recovery, but the retrograde steps have not been very important.”

The ‘good tidings’ had come directly from the physicians who were attending the elderly King George at Windsor.A daily bulletin was posted in the window of London’s St James’s Palace, attracting large crowds, and the news published on Saturday 10th November 1810 was that “We consider, this morning, his Majesty to be better than he has been for five or six days past.”  A separate, more detailed, report was written daily for George, Prince of Wales, and what he received on that same Saturday morning was more ambiguous: “The King has not slept since twelve o’clock

…. The King has been occasionally, during the night, clear and distinct, but generally confused and unconnected.”  As George Wharton Marriott observed later in the letter to his brother, “The reports of the actual state [of the King’s health] are various and contradictory in the extreme, and a great deal of the less favourable tales in circulation originate in the interested policy of those who would benefit, or expect to do so, by a new King or a Regency. But it is beyond controversy a very afflicting state to which he is reduced, and enough to have weighed him down, unless timely relief is obtained, at any period of his life, much more so at this advanced one.”

Cotesbach Archive Document no. 460.1

We know, with the dual benefits of hindsight and of medical documents digitised by the Royal Archives, that there was to be no ‘timely relief’. On the contrary, the day on which the letter was sent to Cotesbach saw the funeral of the King’s beloved youngest daughter Amelia, an event which we can now perceive as the beginning of the end. There were to be some lucid days in the weeks to come but more days on which the monarch was agitated, delusional and sometimes violent. In January 1811, King George was deemed unfit to rule and, under the terms of the ‘Care of King During His Illness, etc. Act’, ceded power to his son, the unpopular Prince of Wales. This was the step that George Wharton Marriott had anticipated with trepidation: “If a Regency is necessary, there must necessarily be increased division among our leading men, for [only] some of the present ministry are for the Prince”.  It was with some justification that he observed to his brother, “The times are very awful.”


  • Archive of the Royal Collections Trust:

National Poetry Day

The theme this year is ‘Truth’ so this hymn, written by the Rev. John Marriott, contained in our archive seems appropriate.

Spirit of Truth and Love,
Life giving Holy Dove,
Speed forth thy Flight.
Move o’er the Water’s face
Bearing the Lamp of Grace,
And in Earth’s darkest place
“Let there be Light”.

New project announced: ‘Reconnect 2020’

Our theme for next year, ‘Reconnect 2020’, is about ecology, land use and climate change.

We are curating a programme of talks, walks, workshops, events, displays, cross curricular educational activities and volunteer opportunities, which embed positive messages about low carbon lifestyles, protecting biodiversity and small scale farming, exploring issues around food and growing, and providing access to high quality produce, key to the well-being and future of people and the soil

We will encourage a diverse and practical approach to learning, engaging the senses, developing relationships, sharing ideas and challenging mainstream practice. Collaboration with Cotesbach Estate provides access to historic, unspoilt environmental resources including the organic garden and farmland. And our unique archive is a mine of historic perspective, stories of lives before fossil fuels, as unimaginable to us as our lives would be to them. As technology saps intuition, increasing vulnerability to mental illness, so people crave the comparative simplicity of the past. Yet the past reveals anything but ‘simple’: hardship, economic upheaval, social inequality, amongst many factors which changed and shaped the land – so what does this teach us about ourselves and how can this knowledge help us build a better future?

CET aspires to be part of culture in the making as well as offering a doorway to the past. We hope this project will help attract creative initiatives, a sense of belonging, an awareness of our evolving charity and how it can benefit many – in time, we hope, becoming a resilient hub, with regional, national and global reach through partnerships with individuals and related organisations.

‘Reconnect 2020’ will help promote the core purpose of Cotesbach Educational Trust, and its vision, equally relevant today as at the launch of our organisation in 2007, of:

  ‘Reconnecting with place and land to develop skills for the future’

From the archive: Mystery at Cotesbach Rectory

G. Bennett and J. E. Daniels, October 17th 1873.

Recent refurbishments at the house built as Cotesbach Rectory revealed an inscription inside a window frame. Archive volunteers were asked whether any of our documents could shed light on the writers’ identity.

by permission of Mrs. P. Lean

The joiners in question were George Bennett (1849-1903) and James (‘Jemmy’ or ‘Jimmy’) Edward Daniels (c1852-1908).  They are not mentioned by name in the Archive but there are records of a number of payments to their employer, the Rugby firm of J. Parnell & Son, who were charged with building the Rectory.

The two workmen were quite difficult to trace because they were always on the move. George Bennett, the son of a framework knitter, was born and bred in Lutterworth but in the 1871 census is living as a lodger in Stoke Albany, Northamptonshire. By the time of his marriage to Sarah Ann Foster in the chapel of Wroxall Abbey (where she was a servant) in November 1879, his address is given as Caldecote in north Warwickshire. The 1881 census finds George and his wife Sarah living in a village called Thursley in Surrey. Street directories (listing George as ‘foreman carpenter’) locate the couple in Rugby in the mid-1880s and their three children were born there in the years 1883-1889, but by 1891 the family can be found living in Walsall in Staffordshire. This move was George’s last; he left Parnell’s, took a job on the railway and died in Walsall in 1903.

It seems odd that a carpenter and joiner should need to move so often and so far afield to find employment, yet the pattern is not uncommon when we look at the censuses. Here is George Bennett in Stoke Albany in 1871:

His immediate neighbours include two other carpenters/joiners and a bricklayer, all from outside the area and all lodging with local families – and this circumstance is what gives the clue to the puzzle. The men are evidently in the village for a building project of some kind; they are not looking for work but are a team sent by an employer to complete a job. This prompts us to look a little more closely at the firm of J. Parnell and Son; what kind of projects did they undertake that would require them to send workmen around the country? The answer lies in their reputation not as a small local building company but as an esteemed national concern working with some of the best known architects of the day (Edwin Lutyens and Alfred Waterhouse, for example) and constructing some prestigious edifices. They specialised in ecclesiastical architecture, restoring and extending churches all over the country. Locally, they were responsible for the enlargement (including the addition of the second tower) at St Andrew’s, Rugby in 1877-1885 and the construction of the Chapel and the gymnasium (1871) and the Temple Reading Room (1878-1879) at Rugby School. Further afield, they built chapels, libraries and whole colleges (notably Keble) at Oxford, and refurbished castles from Lindisfarne to Herstmonceux in Sussex. They must have carried out the restoration (completed in 1872) of the church at Stoke Albany where George Bennett was lodging in 1871, and the church at Thursley (restored in the early 1880s) near which George and Sarah were living in 1881. The firm is known to have built Caldecote Hall in Warwickshire, which was constructed during the years 1879 and 1880; Caldecote was the address given by George Bennett at his marriage on 25th November 1879.

James Daniels (his usual name – of which more later) was also very mobile, although his various comings and goings were not quite so closely related to the demands of the building trade. He was born in Horsley, a village near Stroud in Gloucestershire, but not baptised until his family had settled in Rugby a few years later. Successive censuses in 1861, 1871 and 1881 place James in Rugby, but he married Emily Smalley at the Independent Chapel in Kilsby on 11th December 1873 (quite possibly while he was still working on Cotesbach Rectory) and the couple must have moved to Wales soon afterwards as their daughter, Florence Emily, was born in Abergavenny in the last quarter of 1874. Another daughter, Mary Jane, was born there a year later. By the beginning of 1877, the Daniels family was back in Warwickshire and a son, Frederick William, was born in Newbold. The 1880s were spent in Rugby, with listings of James in the census of 1881 and a street directory of 1889.

We can place James (now calling himself Edward James Daniels) in Aston in the spring of 1891 due to an unfortunate brush with the law; on 31st March, as reported in the newspapers, he stole a woman’s purse. He was in custody in Warwick Jail when the census of 1891 was taken on the night of 5th April and, when his case came to court on the 7th, he was sentenced to a month’s hard labour. This was not James’s first court appearance; there was, in November 1888, the small matter of his being on a neighbour’s premises ‘for unlawful purposes’ and the subsequent assault of said neighbour, for which a £5 fine was imposed by Rugby magistrates. Neither would it be his last appearance, although by the time he stood in the dock in Derby charged with bigamy he was calling himself Harry Knight.

Giving evidence at James’s trial, his daughter said that her father had changed his name in 1897, after he had left her mother and ‘following some trouble at Birmingham’. It was in the name of Harry Knight (‘bachelor’) that he had married Jemima Elizabeth Hodgkinson (spinster) at St Werburgh’s Church in Derby on 21st January 1900. James/Harry was apprehended on the bigamy charge ‘as he came out of Derby Prison’ on Saturday 15th March 1901, according to the arresting officer. He had just served a month for ‘loitering with intent to commit a felony’ in Derby’s fish market. Bigamy having been proved to the jury’s satisfaction at the Summer Assizes, he was sent back to jail for a further three-month term with hard labour. James Edward Daniels, still using the assumed name of Harry Knight, died in Derby in the spring of 1908.

From the Archive: Back to School

One line in a letter from a Victorian schoolboy catches the attention. John Marmaduke Marriott (aged just fifteen) writes home from Winchester College to his Papa in Cotesbach with, amongst other news connected with his return to school, the fact that “I am having claret every day here.”

Despite Samuel Johnson’s famous assertion that “Claret is the liquor for boys”, it seems that by this era such was no longer generally the case. Most boys at Winchester were not given claret. There were concerns about the quality of drinking water in the College until the 1880s – as witnessed by letters in the Winchester College Archive expressing worries about typhoid and blood poisoning – but the normal drink for scholars at mealtimes was bottled beer. Why, then, was Johnny given claret?

At Rugby School in Victorian times the usual drink was also beer, but the author of “Tom Brown’s Schooldays” included a scene in which Tom was given wine as a restorative. In 1877, Dr Francis Anstie published a book “On the Uses of Wine in Health & Disease” in which he recommended as much as a bottle a day for sick and convalescent adults. Claret was the doctor’s suggestion, since it was light in alcohol, kept its flavour when diluted with water and cost only a shilling a bottle for “an admirably sound ordinary Bordeaux”.

Was illness the reason that Johnny was given wine every day? Two clues in the document seem to support the theory. Firstly, the letter is dated 13th May 1868, an odd time to be returning to school unless he had been ill enough to be kept at home for a while. Johnny reports, in addition, that one of his acquaintances “said I did not look so well as she expected I should”. He is evidently still recovering from some fairly serious ailment.

Sadly, Johnny had no chance to recover completely. Family tragedy struck repeatedly while he was still at school. Only hours after this letter was written, his brother Robin (heir to the Cotesbach estate) fell to his death from the window of his rooms at Oxford University. Then his parents died unexpectedly within months of each other. After these “two such terrible blows”, his tutor commented that Johnny’s state was fragile and he had to postpone Oxford entrance exams. As an adult, his behaviour became increasingly worrying until, in 1900, his brothers were forced to correspond about the search for “something better than an asylum for Johnny”. The institution they eventually found was the Retreat in York, which was run by Quakers in line with their belief in respect and compassion. Johnny died there in 1910.


.2765 : Letter to Rev. J. P. Marriott from his son John Marmaduke dated 13th May 1868

.4147.3 : Letter from Rev. E. C. Adams to Charles Marriott dated 11th April 1872

.5538.2 : Letter to Charles Marriott from his brother James dated 26th October 1900

From the archive: A piece of detective work inspired by a mysterious note from 1892!

A summer Sunday in 1892 and two young men are sitting on a gate in the sunshine. Alfred Shortland (19) and Abraham Jennings (17) are spending what little leisure time they have in the countryside, having taken a walk from Lutterworth along the footpath to Cotesbach. What could be more idyllic?

The scene cannot be as innocent as it appears, however, or why were the youngsters’ names recorded and a log of the incident kept? The document itself holds no clues as to the reason – but local newspapers of the time do. Members of the Shortland and the Jennings families were often before the Lutterworth magistrates (of whom Charles Marriott of Cotesbach Hall was one) accused of minor anti-social offences; eighteen months previously, Abraham Jennings had found himself before Mr Marriott on a charge of letting off fireworks in the street. Charles Marriott (whose handwriting this is) had reason to suspect that Alfred and Abraham could be up to no good.

The real concern, of course, was that this might be a poaching expedition. The theft of rabbits was a perpetual worry to the landowning class and was treated harshly by magistrates; a week’s imprisonment with hard labour could be earned merely by being caught with poaching nets. Such punishment seems severe but landowners had to protect what was to them a lucrative source of income. In the 1890s, Charles Marriott was offered one shilling per rabbit for a regular supply to a butcher in Rugby, at a time when a rural labourer’s wage might be only eleven shillings per week. Most weeks, he dispatched twenty or so animals and he employed a rabbit-keeper (Mr Kettle) to make sure that the supply was maintained.

Mr Marriott’s suspicions about poaching were not wholly without foundation. The lads’ summer jaunt seems to have had no repercussions but Alfred Shortland was unwise enough to visit Cotesbach by the same footpath again six months later, accompanied by a friend called Garnett.  This time the pair took to their heels when they saw Charles Marriott but he gave chase and caught them in possession of a ferret and a poaching bag. Alfred Shortland was fined fifteen shillings by the Lutterworth magistrates.

From the Archive: Springtime in the Georgian garden.

This document is one of the earliest records of the Marriott family in Cotesbach. The ‘Mr Marriott’ to whom the bill was addressed was Robert, who had (at the age of 20 in 1763) recently graduated  from Oxford and taken up residence at the Hall. His gardener (one John Crow, as we know from his bills, also preserved in Cotesbach Archive) had been working hard to prepare the garden for the new owner and, in early spring 1764, it was about to produce the first crops of the year.

This was during the reign of George III (‘Farmer George’), an era of great public interest in botany and the development of plant cultivation. Joseph Banks, the famous botanist who sailed with Captain Cook and who is credited with the discovery of some 1,400 plant species, was an exact contemporary of Robert Marriott at Oxford. Banks went on to become botanical adviser to George III and director of the Botanical Gardens at Kew. Even Robert Marriott’s more modest establishment, however, can give us some insight into Georgian advances in horticulture.

The little list of seeds purchased for Cotesbach Hall gardens includes peas, beans, radish, lettuce, carrots, cucumber and mustard & cress, all destined to be sown in the winter months. In the days before frozen vegetables and produce flown in from warmer climes, varieties and techniques to extend the growing season were particularly prized. As Stephen Switzer (author of the classic Georgian manual ‘The Practical Kitchen Gardiner’) puts it: ‘[Gardening] of the Kitchen has been so wonderfully improv’d  within these few years, that … the winter, and almost all times and seasons of the year, are furnish’d with curiosities which it was thought could be had only in the summer and more benign months of the year. To this may be added likewise … the great improvements made in hot-beds and glasses; the forcing vegetables in such a manner as to eat near as well as when they come natural; [and] the great variety there is of new-discover’d plants and seeds.’

The seed varieties sown at Cotesbach in 1763/4 included some not generally recognised in the twenty-first century, but very popular in the eighteenth and nineteenth. Mazagon beans, for example, were introduced as the earliest cropping variety, ready for picking from early April. Charlton peas were known for early and heavy crops and were at one time one of the most widely grown garden vegetables, possibly declining in favour because the peas they produced were white. Yellow, grey and blue peas were also available. The Cos lettuce seed purchased by Robert Marriott in January 1764 produced white lettuces. Cucumbers grown in Georgian and Victorian times were also frequently white, while carrots appeared in red, yellow, white, orange and purple forms. What a pity that so much of  ‘the great variety … of new-discover’d plants and seeds’ has since been lost to us.

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