Saturday 19 August 2023

Lord Cathcart's Women

Charles 8th Lord Cathcart (1686-1740) was an army man, rapidly rising up through the ranks to reach the top of his profession.  While his life as a soldier brought him acclaim and fame, the women in his life were also very interesting characters.

Portrait courtesy of Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Museum

Charles 8th Lord Cathcart fought at the Battle of Sheriffmuir in 1715 as commander of the 2nd (Royal North British) Dragoons.  At one time he was Lieutenant Colonel of the Scots Greys, and in 1730  was appointed Groom of the Bedchamber to King George II (1727-1760).  In 1732 his father died and he succeeded to the title of 8th Lord Cathcart and estates at the age of 46.  In 1734 he was elected one of the sixteen peers for Scotland at the British Parliament.  He also held other positions, he was Governor of Duncannon Fort in Wexford, Ireland, and by 1739 he was Commander in Chief of the British Forces in America. 

In this position he was involved in the war against the Spanish (expedition to Carthagena) which took place mainly in the Caribbean where many British subjects had business and financial interests.  The Spanish had control of many of the ports in the area and British forces had tried to seize them for Britain, but without much success and a great loss of life.  A joint venture by the British Army and Navy was planned with Admiral Vernon in charge of the Navy and Lord Cathcart leading the Army.  They left from Spithead in October 1840 after a long delay.  Unfortunately, Lord Cathcart died of dysentery at sea just before arriving.  (Many British troops died from disease either on the journey out or on their arrival in the Caribbean.)  Lord Cathcart was buried at Portsmouth, Dominica.  It was a few months before word of his death reached Britain.  

In February 1841 the ship Industry of Glasgow, Captain Adam Chisholm arrived in Greenock after a seven-week journey from St Christopher (St Kitts) with a letter giving – “the most melancholy news, that the Rt Hon Charles Lord Cathcart died at the Island of Dominica the 20th December, to the inexpressible Grief of the whole Fleet.

Another letter gives more, detailed information – “he was seized with a violent Flux 14 days before, which occasioned a Mortification in his Bowels, and surrendered his great Soul with a truly Christian Patience and Resignation, ordering his Remains to be interred by those of his first Lady in the New Church at Edinburgh”.  The newspaper continued – “It is not easy to express the deep Concern which surprized the Citizens, the Affliction was universal, People here justly regarding as a National Loss, his Death, whose extensive Benevolence and good Offices could never be confined to Party Views.”

He is described as a man of honour, a most affable man and that he was “trained up from his Youth in the Army, his known experience, Conduct, Valour and Prudence recommended him to his Prince as a very proper Person to lead out his Forces against the Enemies of his Country”.  He was succeeded by his son, Charles 9th Lord Cathcart (1721-1776).

While his illustrious military career is worthy of mention, it is the women in his life who have proved to be equally (if not more) interesting.  

Marion Shaw - Lord Cathcart's first wife 

It was through his wife Marion Shaw (1700-1733), sometimes written Schaw, only child of "the last" Sir John Shaw (1679-1752) and his wife Margaret Dalrymple (d1757) of Greenock that he acquired land in Greenock.  The couple married in London in 1718.  

The couple lived for a while at the Mansion House in Greenock.  They had ten children, not all of whom lived to adulthood.  Marion died in 1733, aged just 33, before her father who died in 1752.  However the bulk of Sir John's estate, due to terms previously set out regarding inheritance, did not go to Marion's children, but was left to the family of Sir John's sister, Margaret whose heir was her grandson, John Stewart of Blackhall whose family then took the additional name Shaw (thus Shaw Stewart).  However Marion and her husband did acquire some land and few-rights, mainly around the mansion house in Greenock.  Various streets in Greenock show this - Cathcart Square, Cathcart Street and Charles Street.  Marion Shaw’s mother was Margaret Dalrymple (daughter of Sir Hew Dalrymple) - therefore Dalrymple Street.

Their two elder sons, twins died young.  Third son Charles became 9th Lord Cathcart.  Their fourth son, Shaw Cathcart an Ensign in the Guards died at the Battle of Fontenoy in 1745.  He was just 23 and unmarried.

Janet Dalrymple - Lord Cathcart's aunt (also related to Marion Shaw)

Lord Cathcart's mother was Elizabeth Dalrymple, younger sister of Janet Dalrymple whose father was James Dalrymple, 1st Viscount Stair (1619-1695) and his wife Margaret Ross.  In 1669 Janet Dalrymple secretly became betrothed to Archibald 3rd Lord Rutherford.  They "plighted their troth" in a secret, unofficial ceremony  "imprecating dismal evils upon whoever should withdraw from or violate the contract".  

However, her mother, Lady Stair had other ideas.  She had marked out "country gentleman" David Dunbar of Baldoon, Wigtonshire as a more appropriate husband for Janet.  She intercepted all correspondence with Janet's lover, Rutherford writing to tell him that her daughter wanted to break all contract.  Sure that this was not what Janet wanted, Rutherford demanded to speak personally to Janet.  A meeting was arranged, but it was to be in the presence of Lady Stair - a formidable woman,  who told the young man in no uncertain terms that there would be no marriage.  It was reported that Janet was "mute and overwhelmed" as her mother and lover argued and eventually returned to Rutherford a portion of the coin they had split as a mark of their love and betrothal.

The marriage with Dunbar was arranged and the usual ceremony and festivities took place.  The bride was described as "like one lost in reverie and who only moves and acts mechanically".  On the wedding night horrific screams were heard and when the door to the bridal chamber was unlocked and opened, the groom was discovered drenched in blood and wounded.  The bride was "cowering in a corner of the chimney, with no covering but her shift that was drenched in her husband's blood".  Dunbar recovered from his wounds, but poor Janet "pined away" and died less than three weeks later.  David Dunbar died in a fall from his horse in 1682.  Andrew Rutherford, the forsaken lover, died unmarried and childless in 1685. 

Naturally these events created quite a scandal which, James Dalrymple as an important politician and lawyer, could not have tainting his family.  Lots of alternative stories about what happened did the rounds, but as is usual with these sort of events, the story grew and became more outrageous as the years went by.  It was even said that Janet's mother, Lady Stair, dabbled in witchcraft.  However Janet's story would never be forgotten because in 1819 Sir Walter Scott further dramatised events in his novel The Bride of Lammermuir.

Elizabeth Sabine - Lord Cathcart's second wife

After the death of Marion Shaw, Lord Cathcart married a widow, Elizabeth Sabine of London in 1739.  Lord Cathcart was actually her third husband.  Born in 1691, Elizabeth Malyn (or Mailing) was the daughter of Thomas Malyn, a brewer of Battersea.  Her first marriage was to James Fleet (1686-1733), only son of Sir John Fleet, former Lord Mayor of London who owned the manor of Tewin in Hertfordshire.  James Fleet owned property in London, Southwark and Hertfordshire.  He died in April 1733 and there was a memorial to him in Tewin Church describing him as an “affectionate husband”.  The couple had no children, and Elizabeth was left Tewin Water House.

Within a year Elizabeth married again.  Her second husband lived in the same parish, was Joseph Sabine of Queenhoo Hall.  He was the younger brother of General Sabine Governor of Gibraltar.  Joseph died in 1738, leaving his wife as his sole executrix and legatee.  Once again, a year later in 1739, Elizabeth married Lord Charles Cathcart who had been a widower for five years.  He died just a year later, but Elizabeth had become Lady Cathcart and received a settlement on her marriage.

After Lord Cathcart's death in 1740, the widowed Lady Cathcart lived for a while at his town house in Dartmouth Street, Westminster.  Then, in May 1745, Elizabeth married for the fourth time (age 54) to the "handsome and dashing” Hugh Maguire (1710-1766) twenty years her junior.  He was from a family of loyal Irish Jacobites of Castle Nugent in County Longford.  Like many in his family he had fought overseas, and was said to have been in the Austrian army in the service of Queen Maria Theresa of Hungary.  Although they married in 1745, it is believed that Lady Cathcart bought Maguire a Lieutenant Colonel’s commission in the British army in 1841, three years before their marriage.  He became lieutenant colonel in Colonel De Grangue’s regiment of foot.  He sold the commission sometime later.  It was said that when they married she had a wedding ring engraved with the words “If I survive, I will have five.”

Elizabeth was by now a wealthy woman and her fourth husband had no fortune.  A marriage settlement was made ensuring that she had sole control of her property (and income she received from that property) inherited from her three previous husbands – property, jewels, household goods etc, as well as use for life of the Cathcart townhouse in Dartmouth Street.  After their marriage they lived together at Tewin for a short time.  Macguire was constantly trying to get more money from his wife.  He brought his mistress into his wife’s household and managed to acquire a copy of his wife's will.  It was said that, with a gun to her head, he tried to force her to change her will in his favour, but she refused.  He was determined to get as much of her money, jewels and property as he could and was prepared to take drastic steps to achieve his goal.

One evening when out for a drive, Elizabeth expected to return home in time for supper, but she found herself trapped in the carriage and on the road to Chester.  There were rumours that Macguire intended taking Elizabeth to Ireland against her will.  Some of her friends having heard of what was happening, sent an attorney to Chester to demand to see Elizabeth and find out from her own lips if she was going of her own free will.  The lawyer caught up with them at the White Lion Inn where he demanded to see Lady Cathcart.  Maguire, knowing that the man did not know what his wife looked like, sent his mistress to take her place and she confirm that she was going to Ireland of her own free will.  The lawyer apologised and made the journey back to London.  Macguire’s party then freely travelled on to Holyhead, and from there to Ireland. 

Once back in his homeland, Macguire lived the high life spending his wife’s money.  It was reported that “he was a great favourite with the ladies” and not a man to be argued with.  Lady Cathcart was imprisoned at Castle Nugent and then forced to sign papers entitling Macguire to a portion of her estate.  Maguire’s agent, Joseph Hickey took possession of Tewin Water House, rented it out, and sold as many of Elizabeth's possessions he found there.

Elizabeth was imprisoned for 20 years in Ireland.  When Hugh Maguire died in 1766 In his will he left what he had in trust for his nephews and allowed his wife “all the jewells and plate of which she was possessed at the time of her marriage”!  It was said that he died attempting to locate deeds to her property which she had secreted away at Tewin before he had taken her to Ireland.

Elizabeth quickly returned to England and began to take legal action to recover as much of her property as she could.  She ejected the tenant from Tewing House and lived there.  It was said that Lady Cathcart had told a friend that her first marriage was to please her parents, her second for money, her third for rank and her fourth for love but that had not turned out well.  Her experiences with her fourth husband would certainly have put her off having a fifth as engraved on her wedding ring!  She seems to have made the most of what was left of her life after returning to England attending balls and concerts and enjoying company, making up for her years of imprisonment in Ireland.

Elizabeth died in 1787 at the grand old age of 96.  She left much of  her estate to her godchildren, friends, servants and local good causes.  She was buried in St Peter’s Church vault in Tewin beside her first husband.  In the 1800 writer Maria Edgeworth wrote a novel Castle Rackrent which is said use some of Lady Cathcart's story.

Elenora Cathcart - Lord Cathcart's elder daughter

Elenora Cathcart (1720-1769) was, along with her younger sister Mary Ann (or Mainie Ann) brought up by her maternal grandmother, Lady Shaw (nee Elizabeth Dalrymple) after the death of their mother in 1833.  Their father died in 1840.  Elenora was educated to the standard of the day for women and had an exceptionally large dowrie or tocher as it is called in Scotland.  (Eleanora is also sometimes named as Eleonara, Helen or Eleanor.)

On 15 February 1744 she married Sir John Houston (Houstoune).  Sir John was reported to be “in bad health, of an irritable temperament, and had a high opinion of himself, both as regarded intellect and personal appearance”.  Eleanora was high spirited and seemed to irritate him.  She did not give in to his moods, and tried her best to make life tolerable. The marriage was a very unhappy one.  Sir John did not seem like a particularly good catch, but the Shaw and Houston families had been connected by marriage throughout the generations.  Sir John Shaw, Elenora's grandfather was Sir John Houston's cousin.

Another factor which affected the marriage was, as an article in a magazine (Notes & Queries 1866) coyly puts it “had it not been for an indisposition which his medical advisers were unable to overcome, but with the existence of which his wife was made acquainted before her marriage, he might have been regarded as a fitting candidate for matrimony”!  Shortly after the marriage, Sir John decided that a change of air would be good for his health and he and Eleanora travelled abroad.  Her younger sister, Mainie Anne accompanied them.

The friction between the married couple got worse as they travelled through England and was no better when they arrived in France and Italy.  In a letter she wrote to her grandmother from Calais in 1744, seven months after her wedding we get a glimpse of her life – “When I went with my dear Sir John, it was to be a nurse to him … “  She goes on to say that she had tried her best to be the wife he wanted, but “I looked sullen and would not eat; put on all kinds of airs, which he took the greatest pains to bring me out of, but in vain.”  However events would prove that she was trying to appease her grandmother.  The true state of their marriage was far more troubling.  In "Alienated Affections" by Leah Leneman (Edinburgh University Press, 1998 pp 302-308)) the author, who has read other letters and court documents, writes of  Eleanora's despair and fear as the petty quarreling turned to physical abuse.  Sir John spoke badly about her relatives and mocked her at every turn.  Many of those around them noticed his behaviour and commented on it. Eleanora knew that if Sir John heard that she had told her Grandmother the truth in a letter then it would be all the worse for her.  

Sir John’s behaviour became even more strange – he carried a monkey with him and had other animals which roamed freely around the house.  He also had a  snake from which the poisonous glands had been removed and he enjoyed tormenting his wife with with it.  Eventually, Eleanora's sister returned home.  Left alone with her abusive husband, life got even worse, to the point where he threatened to break every bone in her body

After a particularly vicious beating, Eleanora eventually left him seeking shelter with the authorities in Montauban before returning to Scotland.  She bravely took action against her husband, who denied all wrong doing, citing letters she had written in which she blamed herself for his behaviour.  Many of those who had witness his abuse and cruelty spoke in her favour.  In 1750 an official separation was declared, with Sir John paying a set amount for persecuting his wife.  Sir John Houstoune died in 1751.

Free from the horror of her marriage and well provided for, Eleanora took up writing, She wrote two comedies which were never printed.   The Coquette: or, the Gallant in the Closet, she sent to James Boswell, but nothing came of it, and In Foro, a Comedy.  Elenora died in London in 1769.  She had no children.

Mainie Anne - Lord Cathcart's younger daughter

Mainie Anne Cathcart (1727-1774) her name is sometimes given as Mary Anne, Manie Ann, or Marion.  Like her older sister Elenora was brought up by her maternal grandmother Lady Shaw.  Went abroad with her sister and her husband Sir John Houston shortly after their marriage in 1744.  Returned home and in 1754 married William Napier who, on the death of his father in 1773 became 7th Lord Napier.  He was in the army and in 1770 became a major in the Scots Greys (her father's old regiment).  He sold his commission 1773 because of ill health and was given the post of Deputy Adjutant-General of forces in Scotland.  He died in 1775.  

The couple had a son and heir, Francis, 8th Lord Napier (1758-1823) and four daughters.  Mainie Schaw Napier (1756-1806) married in 1779 Rev AndrewHunter of Barjarg (1744-1809) in Dumfriesshire.  He had been assistant minister at Dumfries,  in 1799 he moved to Greyfriars Church, Edinburgh and was also Professor of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh. Other daughters were, Henrietta Hope Napier (born 1759), Mary Elizabeth Napier (1766-1778) and Jane Wilhelmena Napier (1769- 1779).  Mainie died in 1774 while her family were still very young.

It would seem that Mainie Anne led quite a normal life for a mid-eighteenth century woman.  But, there had been a hint of scandal.  During her sister Elenora's proceedings against her husband in the late 1740s, several letters from Mainie to her brother in law, Sir John Houston were read out in court.  The letters were described as love letters and this led to speculation that Mainie had been having an affair with Sir John.  Mainie was seven years younger than her sister and although that is no excuse, being abroad and being a romantic young woman, was perhaps "played" by the horrible Sir John.  However, that seems to have been played down and she did make a good marriage, although of course it is impossible to say what the conditions of the marriage settlement would have been and if any financial arrangements were made.

Lord Cathcart - Many of the interesting events surrounding Lord Cathcart's women happened after his death.  His reputation was not in any way diminished.  However, for two of the women their stories are still remembered in fiction - The Bride of Lammermuir by Sir Walter Scott and Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgeworth.  Two of the other women's stories remain in the annals of the Scottish courts recorded during the separation proceedings of Elenora Cathcart and Sir John Houston.  What an interesting family!


  1. This makes fascinating reading. Apart from being interesting, it gives such a "feel" for the time and the environment and "transports" the reader back to the mid 1700s to the 1800s. Thank you for such an interesting article. Rose

  2. Really interesting story- thank you. Would make a great BBC drama.


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