He was a diplomat in Italy for 25 years, and saved the day when his elder brother faced bankruptcy and was forced to auction off most of his possessions.
William received hurried letters from his elder brother, telling him to ‘acquire the family portraits,’ and some of the furniture ‘not the showy stuff’ and paintings, ‘especially the two Hacketts.’
William did purchase some of the furniture and saved most of the portraits and also leased Attingham to stop it passing out of the family.
Most interesting though is that when he returned from Italy he brought with him his own collection of furniture and treasures. Including white and gilded furniture from the Plazzo Belvedere, the home of Caroline Murat, Napoleon’s sister, as well as paintings and the ambassadorial silver, gold and french porcelain, which belonged to the Italian embassy in Naples, purchased to impress visitors the ambassador would have entertained.
Surely it should have remained in Italy for the next ambassador?
The National Trust has a theory for why William retained his ambassadorial gold and silver allowance, which was due to be returned on demand or if he left the post. They propose it may have been a deal to encourage him to resign and make way for a replacement, Lord Palmerston’s nephew.
Another question of course is how he obtained Caroline Murat’s furniture. Caroline was Queen of Naples through marriage, and when Napoleon was captured in 1815, Caroline and her husband were forced to flee Naples. It is unknown whether William acquired her possessions by fair means or foul.
Certainly he must have known Caroline, his role as ambassador in Naples was largely one of entertaining the great the and good, although he once stated that his diplomatic role largely concerned ‘losses of Bonnets and Gowns, cruel Custom House officers, or the want of Passports’.
The people he entertained included Byron, who was travelling through Italy to Greece. Byron described him as ‘the only one of the diplomatists whom I ever knew who really is Excellent.’
I think William knew how to throw a good party and be charming. He was known for his natural bon viveur.
Like his elder brother Thomas, William fell for a courtesan, in Italy, who bore him illegitimate (natural) children.
Unlike his elder brother, Thomas, William did not marry her, and never married. Although there is some indication he was briefly engaged to Lady Stanhope who was as sensational a character as Lord Byron.
I can only wonder at the intrigues that might have occurred in Naples.
Perhaps his own commitment to a mistress explains his understanding of Thomas’s wife, he allowed Sophia to retrieve some of her possessions after his brother’s death (see my previous blog for Thomas’s story).
When William died without legitimate issue in 1842, the estate passed to a third brother, a Rector, who never expected to inherit the title and had a far less colourful life, but a drinking habit, he was said to have ‘swallowed more wine than any other man in the country.’
Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional love stories.
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