Earl of Derwentwater - Encyclopedia

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EARL OF DERWENTWATER, an English title borne by the family of Radclyffe, or Radcliffe, from 1688 to 1716 when the 3rd earl was attainted and beheaded, and claimed by his descendants, adherents of the exiled house of Stewart, from that date until the death of the last male heir in 1814. Sir Francis Radclyffe, 3rd baronet (1625-1697), was the lineal descendant of Sir Nicholas Radclyffe, who acquired the extensive Derwentwater estates in 1417 through his marriage with the heiress of John de Derwentwater, and of Sir Francis Radclyffe, who was made a baronet in 1619. In 1688 Sir Francis was created Viscount Radclyffe and earl of Derwentwater by James II., and dying in 1697 was succeeded as 2nd earl by his eldest son Edward (16J5-1705), who had married Lady Mary Tudor (d. 1726), a natural daughter of Charles II. The 2nd earl died in 1705, and was succeeded by his eldest son James (1689-1716), who was born in London on the 28th of June 1689, and was brought up at the court of the Stewarts in France as companion to Prince James Edward, the old Pretender. In 1710 he came to reside on his English estates, and in July 1712 was married to Anna Maria (d. 172 3), daughter of Sir John Webb, baronet, of Odstock, Wiltshire. Joining without any hesitation in the Stewart rising of 1715, Derwentwater escaped arrest owing to the devotion of his tenantry, and in October, with about seventy followers, he joined Thomas Forster at Green-rig. Like Forster the earl was lacking in military experience, and when the rebels capitulated at Preston he was conveyed to London and impeached. Pleading guilty at his trial he was attainted and condemned to death. Great efforts were made to obtain a mitigation of the sentence, but the government was obdurate, and Derwentwater was beheaded on Tower Hill on the 24th of February 1716, declaring on the scaffold his devotion to the Roman Catholic religion and to King James III. The earl was very popular among his tenantry and in the neighbourhood of his residence, Dilston Hall. His gallant bearing and his sad fate have been celebrated in song and story, and the aurora borealis, which shone with exceptional brightness on the night of his execution, is known locally as "Lord Derwentwater's lights." He left an only son John, who, in spite of his father's attainder, assumed the title of earl of Derwentwater, and who died unmarried in 1731; and a daughter Alice Mary (d. 1760), who married in 1732 Robert James, 8th Baron Petre (1713-1742).

On the death of John Radclyffe in 1731 his uncle Charles (1693-1746), the only surviving son of the 2nd earl, took the title of earl of Derwentwater. Charles Radclyffe had shared the fate of his brother, the 3rd earl, at Preston in November 1715, and had been condemned to death for high treason; but, more fortunate than James, he had succeeded in escaping from prison, and had joined the Stewarts on the Continent. In 1724 he married Charlotte Maria (d. 1755), in her own right countess of Newburgh, and after spending some time in Rome, he was captured by an English ship in November 1745 whilst proceeding to join Charles Edward, the young Pretender, in Scotland. Condemned to death under his former sentence he was beheaded on the 8th of December 1746. His eldest son, James Bartholomew (1725-1786), who had shared his father's imprisonment, then claimed the title of earl of Derwentwater, and on his mother's death in 1755 became 3rd earl of Newburgh. His only son and successor, Anthony James (1757-1814), died without issue in 1814, when the title became extinct de facto as well as de jure. Many of the forfeited estates in Northumberland and Cumberland had been settled upon Greenwich Hospital, and in 1 749 a sum of 30,000 had been raised upon them for the benefit of the earl of Newburgh. The present representative of the Radclyffe family is Lord Petre, and in 1874 the bodies of the first three earls of Derwentwater were reburied in the family vault of the Petres at Thorndon, Essex.

In 1865 a woman appeared in Northumberland who claimed to be a grand-daughter of the 4th earl and, as there were no male heirs, to be countess of Derwentwater and owner of the estates. She said the 4th earl had not died in 1731 but had married and settled in Germany. Her story aroused some interest, and it was necessary to eject her by force from Dilston Hall.

See R. Patten, History of the Late Rebellion (London, 1717); W. S. Gibson, Dilston Hall, or Memoirs of James Radcliffe, earl of Derwentwater (London, 1848-1850); G. E. C(okayne), Complete Peerage (Exeter, 1887-1898); and Dictionary of National Biography, vol. xlvii. (London, 1896).

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