Friday, 15 January 2021

Earl of Blessington

The ancestor of William Stewart, first and last Earl of Blessington of the first creation, the Rt Hon Luke Gardiner (c1690-1755), MP for Tralee, 1725-7, Thomastown, 1727-55, Privy Counsellor, Vice-treasurer of Ireland, married, in 1711, Anne, only daughter and sole heiress of the Hon Alexander Stewart, second son of William, Viscount Mountjoy and Earl of Blessington.

Mr Gardiner was succeeded in his estates by his son,

THE RT HON CHARLES GARDINER MP (1720-69), also of the Privy Council, MP for Taghmon, 1742-60, who inherited the estates of his maternal great-grandfather, Lord Blessington, upon the extinction of the male issue in that family.

He married, in 1741, Florinda, daughter of Robert Norman, and had issue,
LUKE, his successor;
Florinda; Anne;
William Neville, General in the Army.
The eldest son,

THE RT HON LUKE GARDINER MP (1745-98), Privy Counsellor, Colonel, the Dublin Militia, succeeding to his ample possessions, MP for County Dublin, 1773-79, Colonel, the Dublin Militia, married, in 1773, Elizabeth, eldest daughter of Sir William Montgomery, and had issue,
CHARLES JOHN, his successor;
Margaret; Louisa.
Mr Gardiner was elevated to the peerage, in 1795, in the dignity of VISCOUNT MOUNTJOY, of Mountjoy, County Tyrone.

His lordship's first wife died in 1783, and he wedded secondly, in 1793, Margaret, eldest daughter of Hector Wallis.

Lord Mountjoy fell at the head of his regiment, during the unfortunate rebellion in Ireland, in 1798, and was succeeded by his son and heir,

CHARLES JOHN, 2nd Viscount (1782-1829), who was created, in 1816, EARL OF BLESSINGTON (of the second creation).

His lordship married firstly, in 1812, Mary Campbell, daughter of Alexander MacDougall, and had issue,
Luke Wellington (1813-23);
Harriet Anne Jane Frances.
He espoused secondly, in 1818, Margaret, daughter of Edmund Power.

The peerages expired on the decease of the first and last Earl in 1829.

Charles John Gardiner, 1st Earl of Blessington (1782-1829)  was best known for his marriage to Margaret Farmer, née Power, whom he married at St Mary's, Bryanston Square, London, on 16 February 1818 (only four months after her first husband's death).

He was present at the trial of Queen Caroline.
After she left her first unhappy marriage, Margaret Power had stayed for almost three years with her parents, then moved to Cahir, in 1809 to Dublin, and from 1809-1814 with a Dublin acquaintance, Captain Thomas Jenkins, of the 11th light dragoons, with whom she formed a close relationship.

It was during her Hampshire stay that she met Gardiner, seven years her senior (Gardiner's first wife died sometime after 1812, having borne him two illegitimate children prior to their marriage and two legitimate children, Lady Harriet Gardiner and Luke Wellington Gardiner, Viscount Mountjoy).
Jenkins received £10,000 from Gardiner to cover the jewels and clothing that he had purchased for Margaret, buying his approval for Gardiner's and Power's marriage, after which she changed her name to Marguerite.

Honeymooning in Ireland, they returned to a newly leased town mansion at 10 St James's Square, London, in 1820.

This address (now the base of Chatham House) soon became a social centre, but their heavy spending and extravagant tastes meant that, despite his annual income of £30,000 from his Irish estates, they were soon both heavily in debt.

On the 25th August, 1822, they set out for a continental tour with Marguerite's youngest sister, the twenty-one-year-old Mary Anne, and servants.

They met Count D'Orsay (who had first become an intimate of Lady Blessington in London in 1821) in Avignon on 20 November 1822, before settling at Genoa for four months from 31 March 1823.

There they met Byron on several occasions, giving Lady Blessington material for her "Conversations with Lord Byron".

After that they settled for the most part in Naples, also spending time in Florence with their friend Walter Savage Landor, author of the "Imaginary Conversations" greatly admired by Lady Blessington.

It was in Italy, on 1 December 1827, that Count D'Orsay married Harriet Gardiner to strengthen the tie between himself and her stepmother Lady Blessington.

The Blessingtons and the new couple moved to Paris towards the end of 1828, taking up residence in the Hôtel Maréchal Ney, where Lord Blessington suddenly died aged 46 of an apoplectic stroke in 1829.

D'Orsay and his wife then accompanied Lady Blessington to England, but the couple soon separated.

D'Orsay lived with Lady Blessington until her death, and she let out Lord Blessington's St James's house.

Lord Blessington's country seat was Mountjoy Forest Lodge, near Omagh, County Tyrone.

His London residence was at 10 St James's Square.

The County Tyrone estates, comprising about 40,000 acres in Newtownstewart, Rash and Mountjoy Forest, contained two residences of quite modest size, Rash House and The Cottage.

Given his wealth, status and interest in architecture, it is surprising that Gardiner never constructed a large country residence in County Tyrone, although it was reported in 1791 that he was ‘about building’ a great house near Omagh.

The Blessington estate stretched from Newtownstewart to Mountfield at its height.

The afforestation was supervised by John McEvoy from 1791.

Part of the estate was sold ca 1846 to a prosperous Omagh family balled Spiller, who acquired 400 acres, including Rash House, the original shooting-lodge of Old Mountjoy and built by the Gardiners.

Luke Gardiner, Viscount Mountjoy, developed large parts of the city of Dublin, including Mountjoy Square.

His principal Dublin homes were at 10, Henrietta Street, and Mountjoy House, Pheonix Park.

J A K Dean, in his useful gazetteer, The Gate Lodges Of Ulster, tells us that,
Mountjoy Forest was an estate with a convoluted history. Sir William Stewart bought the property here at Rash in 1631, his grandson becoming Lord Mountjoy in 1688. By 1782, the property had passed to Luke Gardiner, a rich Dublin banker, who became Viscount Mountjoy in his own right.

It was he who was mainly responsible for giving the estate its present appearance, planting upwards of 200,000 trees in a programme of afforestation that was to be continued by his son Charles John, who became Earl of Blessington in 1816. At this time the demesne was "7-8 miles in circumference, and enclosed in an 8' high stone wall for much of its length".

He also gave the house, then called "The Cottage", its present castellated Tudor character. The Earl is best known for his lavish theatrical entertainments here, his beautiful and wayward wife and the squandering of his inheritance before his death in 1829.

A visitor in 1854 refers to an auction six years previous: "...the once magnificent demesne ... affords nothing of the attention of the tourist , being quite broken up, and sold to different proprietors".
There were two gate lodges, both pre-1833.

S J Murphy has written an account of the Gardiners here. 

First published in June, 2012.  Blessington arms courtesy of European Heraldry.

1 comment :

Heart of the Wood said...

Fantastic to read such detail about Blessington. My 8x great randfather laid out the demesne there! (My blog article about him: