Henry de La Poer Beresford was never supposed to be the 3rd Marquess of Waterford. Born in 1811, he was the 2nd son of the 2nd Marquess. As he got older, he should have slowly moved further down the family pecking order as his older brother, George, married and had heirs of his own. That changed in 1824. George, the Earl of Tyrone, came down with an inflammation of the bowels and died only two days later at the age of 14. Henry, only 13, took on his title. Two years after that, at the death of his father and at the age of 15, he inherited the title Marquess of Waterford.
The Marquess of Waterford is a title in the Peerage of Ireland. It was created for Henry’s grandfather in 1789. The life of an early 19th century Marquess seems incredibly far removed from our lives today but newspaper archives still exist which chart the lives of some of the most privileged members of society. For example, we know that Henry’s father died alone in a country inn while in transit from the family estate in Ireland to meet with his family at their home in London. We also know that less than a year after the death of Henry’s father, his mother also passed away. The Standard, a London newspaper, printed her obituary on 11 Jun 1827. They called her a “superior, excellent, and amiable lady,” as well as, “the best of wives and the best of mothers, pure, noble, and charitable.” The article ends:
“But no doubt can arise that the young Marquis of Waterford will imitate the eminent virtues of his illustrious parents, and be, as they were, the joy and boast of his country.”The Standard 11 June 1827
Henry had different ideas. His first few years as a Marquess were spent finishing school and coming of age. Then came the revelry. If you’re a reader of Regency romance you know the best of male conquests are reformed rakes. By all accounts Henry fit the bill. He was young, possibly jaded by the death of his older brother, without parental guidance, and absolutely mind-blowingly wealthy.
Partying Peer Paints the Town Red
In 1835, at the age of 24, Waterford (Peers were often addressed as though their title were a surname) sailed his yacht to New York city with a group of friends. They were treated well in New York and after a night of drinking decided to go on a “spree” as the newspaper called it. The group was making their way back to their lodgings and along the way “attacked, unmercifully beat, and nearly denuded, an inoffensive passer-by”. In addition, they smashed two street lamps and a window before being confronted by a watchman. The watchman, having never been told to spare nobility, attempted to arrest the men. The Nobles took issue with that and beat him as well. Eventually more of the watch joined in the fight and successfully arrested the lot. They eventually paid their way out of the predicament and were released. The Leicester Chronicle which printed the above story then printed the below correction.
Since the foregoing was in type we have received authentic information which exonerates the English gentlemen from much that was alleged against them. The truth is, the young noblemen in question had not dined in the city at all, but, on the contrary, they had been entertaining a few friends on board their own vessel. At a late hour they were bringing their friends ashore in their own boat, and were rather boisterous in their singing and other evidences of merriment. The consequence was the interposition of the watchmen, and an affray, which had been greatly exaggerated by the plice reporters, who seem to be more ambitious to tell great stories than correct ones. The Marquis of Waterford regrets exceedingly that any thing of an unpleasant nature should have occurred in a country where he has been so much gratified by his visit and in which he has received so many evidence of hospitality and kind feeling.A very believable correction by the Leicester Chronicle 31 Oct 1835
The Lancaster Intelligencer of Lancaster, PA took the liberty of reprinting exact conversations from another night of revelry. They do state outright that “in these days of moonshine,” they can’t vouch for the authenticity of what they’ve printed, but that it was too good a story to pass up. I tend to agree.
Waterford and his companions caught a boat heading south down the eastern coast of the United States. One night, they decided to dress up as common sailors and make their way to the ladies’ cabins. When they were discovered, the Captain of the ship was called to try to sort out the situation. The Captain asked the men what they were doing, to which Waterford replied, “Damn it! What’s that to you?” A bold flex considering that the Captain is pretty well known to be in charge on ships. The Captain communicated just that idea. Lord John Beresford, Henry’s brother, then demanded to know just who the Captain thought he was dealing with. The Captain replied, “Just what you appear – drunken, unmannerly vagabonds. Out with you.” Which seems pretty accurate given what we know. The group then claimed to be gentleman, which the Captain, understandably, did not believe. Waterford explained that the group was compromised of Irish nobleman. This did not impress the Captain, who said, “As you came here in the garb of sailors, and your behaviour is such as would disgrace the lowest tars, you must excuse me for treating you accordingly.” He then ordered his men to confine the group to the forecastle of the ship, which is where they stayed for the rest of the journey.
The trip to New York ended early when Lord John Beresford’s leg was badly injured after being run over by a carriage. Details of how this happened are not provided, but the group sailed for home shortly after.
In March 1836 an excerpt from The Weekly Standard and Express began “The Marquis of Waterford Again – ” denoting that he was a man that often made the gossip section of the newspaper. On this occasion, he smashed several windows, offered strangers money to fight him, and demanded a gentleman on horseback pay the toll on the road to him rather than to the gatekeeper. The man refused and the interaction came to blows. An apology letter was later sent to the man. In April, another article starts the same way. This time it was for “again making himself conspicious by abusing three poor glee singers.” He apparently did this while naked. He was covered by someone’s coat and sent home in a carriage.
All of this was just a warm up for 1837, the year Henry really hit his stride as a well-to-do menace to society. In April of that year, Henry and a group of friends attended the Croxton Park Races. At the conclusion of the races, the party retired to their lodgings in Melton. During a night of debauchery, the group visited the Grantham tollgate house. I’m not sure if the Marquess had a specific hatred for gatekeepers or if they were just easy targets. The gate was undergoing some repairs and large vessels of red paint were found nearby. After breaking the window shutters and attempting to scare the gatekeeper (who then tried to shoot at the party but couldn’t find his gunpowder) the group requisitioned the red paint. They walked to a nearby public house called the Old White Swan. Waterford was hoisted onto the shoulders of his friends and painted the swan red. The group proceeded to overturn caravans, throw signs into the canal, smash lamps, wrench off knockers, along the way they continually spread the red paint. This escapade is the origin of the phrase “paint the town red” which is still used today as the tagline for undoubtedly tame bachelorette parties.
The watch eventually caught up with the group and arrested a member of the party. After the watchman refused to release him from gaol he was beaten and forced to open the door. Following this, a warrant was issued for several men involved, including Waterford. In the days following, the group appeared before the magistrate wearing “bear-skin coats and large cravats”.
At the ensuing hearing, Waterford denied all charges and offered to give the prosecutor “a damned good licking” for even suggesting he would participate in such behavior. The conclusion of the case is not readily available but it was suspected the Marquess could expect to pay a 20 pound fine and be done with it.
In June of the same year, Waterford was accused of mutilating a statue of Henry VI while on a visit to Eton College.
In the same month, he celebrated the completion of his new yacht, the Charlotte. New York newspapers reported that over the course of the celebration he lit a cannon with his cigar. The ensuing kickback sent the cannon into his leg, leading to mutilation so severe that it was decided immediately to amputate it. It’s stated that he lost an eye in the same accident but the details of that bit weren’t provided. However, less than a month later the man sailed to Norway on a six month excursion. That coupled with the fact that British and Irish newspapers didn’t print the news makes me think it’s a spurious report.
In late August of 1837, while on an escapade in Norway, Waterford got into an altercation with a night watchman. The man, intended to strike Waterford in the arm, but the Marquess ducked at just the wrong moment and was struck in the head. He had a severe concussion and initial reports of the event were that he had been killed.
An interview with the watchman in question revealed that he came upon a couple. The woman was wearing a man’s hat, the gentleman was hatless. I think we can all deduce what happened there. The gentleman took offense to the watchmen’s question and picked up a stone to wave it at him. The watchmen, wanting to keep from being hit with a stone, tried to smack the gentleman’s arm with a club. The ill-timed ducking happened and he clocked him on the head. I’m guessing we can all also deduce who the gentleman in question was. A physician who was questioned stated that Waterford was hit on the right temple with a blow that pierced to the bone. There was considerable swelling and a discoloring of the skin which extended over the right eye.
An accompanying article printed in the Stockholm paper gave additional details about the Marquess’s life. He had an income of 60,000 a year. He kept two domesticated lions at his home in Ireland and when he wanted to add a tiger to his menagerie he tied it with a rope to his carriage and led it home. The man himself is described as such:
“He was himself as strong as a lion, 26 years of age, remarkably handsome, and had received a classical education.”The Morning Post 15 Sept 1837
By the end of September 1837, Waterford was well enough to be moved and removed himself to his home in Ireland to recover. In December, the matter was settled in court. Waterford was absolved of wrongdoing and the watchman after agreeing to pay expenses was not prosecuted further. The watchmen, by the way, was a father of four and a military veteran who likely did not have spare money for court expenses to pay for a Marquess’s bad behavior.
Marauding Marquess Marries
In June of 1942 Henry, Marquess of Waterford married Louisa Stuart, daughter of the 1st Baron Stuart de Rothesay. They were married by special licence in Chapel Royal in Whitehall. They were married by the Archbishop of Armagh, who happened to be Waterford’s Uncle. The wedding was the place to be and the police had to keep order around the entrance of the church.
Following the wedding, Waterford forgave the rent to all his tenantry for a year, which amounted to about 75,000 pounds. Just so you don’t get too rosy an image of the Marquess, it was also reported that several years earlier he had evicted 250 of his poorest tenants from his land and refused to pay wages owed to his workers. The political bent of the newspaper printing the story determined whether Waterford was a well respected landlord or a monster who mistreated his tenants.
The Marquess and Marchioness spent a honeymoon week at a friend’s house in Surrey before heading to Curraghmore. Their marriage was nearly cut very short when within a month of the wedding they experienced a terrible carriage accident. Louisa threw herself from the carriage, fracturing her head and Waterford’s ribs were broken when the carriage fell into a quarry. The moral of this story is that the past was a minefield of dangerous activities.
Despite the grim report, both Waterford and Louisa recovered from these injuries. Waterford lived until 1859. He died following a fall from a horse. He’d been out hunting on his land when he attempted to jump his horse over a small fence that was half bank and half wall. The horse missed the bank with his hind legs and dropped his fore legs into a small ditch on the other side. The animal dropped to it’s knees and hit it’s nose into the ground. Waterford was thrown foreward and smacked face first into the ground. He was placed in a sitting position but was entirely unconscious for the short time he lived following the fall. A doctor in attendance on the hunt said that death resulted from concussion of the brain.
“In personal appearance a genuine Bereslord, with the clear, the searching eye, and regularity of features, hereditary for generations in that noble race. In bodily form he was conspicuous for a chest and shoulders of rare development. At thirty years of age, Lord Waterford was probably the strongest man in the kingdom, and his activity was equal to his vigour. He had great personal courage and his youthful follies which at one time made his name amusingly familiar, resulted from his overflowing spirits and superabundance of energy.Belfast News-Letter reporting on the death of the Marquess of Waterford 5 April 1859
The many very favorable descriptions of his Lordship following his death just goes to show that very attractive, very rich people can beat up a lot of watchmen, destroy a lot of property and still be remembered fondly.
Louisa, an accomplished artist and philanthropist, lived until 1891. She died of natural causes at the age of 73. The couple never had children and the title was passed to Henry’s younger brother John. To this day, the title is held by John’s descendants.
Story sourced from The Leicester Chronicle, The Standard, The Freeman’s Journal, The Lancaster Intelligencer, The Weekly Standard and Express, The Morning Post, The Caledonian Mercury, Belfast News-Letter