Marsack (Marsac)


Major Charles Marsack


Died: 6 Nov 1820

Married: 31 Oct 1783 Charlotte Becher at Epsom, Surrey, England.

Parents: Frederick Ludwig of Hanover, Prince of Wales and Comtesse Margaret de Marsac(k)

Charles was (allegedly) the illegitimate son of Frederick Ludwig (Louis), Prince of Wales and Margaret, Countess of Marsac(k). In April 1786, Thomas Jefferson, the future third President of the United States, visited Caversham Park and other places described in Whately's treatise in search of inspirations for his own gardens at Monticello and other architectural projects. An astute observer, Jefferson's account in his Notes of a Tour of English Gardens reads like this:"Caversham Park near Reading in Berkshire was owned by Charles Marsack: "Caversham. Sold by Ld. Cadogan to Majr. Marsac. 25. as. of garden, 400. as. of park, 6 as. of kitchen garden. A large lawn, separated by a sunk fence from the garden, appears to be part of it. A straight broad gravel walk passes before the front and parallel to it, terminated on the right by a Doric temple, and opening at the other end on a fine prospect. This straight walk has an ill effect. The lawn in front, which is pasture, well disposed with clumps of trees."

The Mysterious Nabob - Charles Marsack

The man who appeared so opportunely to buy the Caversham estate from Lord Cadogan [1] in 1783 remains the most enigmatic figure ever to be associated with it. He is known as Major Marsac, or Marsack and like many rich men of that era, he had served in the East India Company.  He is said to have bought Caversham over lunch with Cadogan.  It would be interesting to know the sum he gave for it, but correspondence or documents throwing light on this do not appear to be available. On his death thirty-seven years later, his real estate is said to have been valued at £107,000 and as this consisted almost entirely of the Caversham estate, it may be assumed, even though land values rose during the period, that the price he paid for it was very substantial, probably in the neighbourhood of £100,000.


With Charles Marsack, we enter on perhaps the most extraordinary phase in the long history of the Caversham estate.  Lord Cadogan, certainly no great figure in the hall of fame, but at least  placeable in the political and social spheres of his time, suddenly divests himself of this fine house and estate, and into his shoes there steps this shadowy personage about whose origins and history his contemporaries seem to have been almost as uncertain as we are today. They knew he was rich and personable, and what they called an East Indian that is, a man who had spent his time in the service of the East India Company and who might therefore be assumed to have the characteristics of the opulent exile, vulgar ostentation and impatience of opposition. But beyond this, if the publications of the time are any guide, they were completely in the dark.  If his neighbours, with all the popular prejudice against the behaviour of returned Nabobs, were prepared in advance to dislike his ways, they were not disappointed. As early as 1784 - the year after his purchase of Caversham- we find the Public Advertiser criticising him for guarding his land against trespassers with unwonted strictness.


  "His Lordship (Cadogan) suffered any person to pass through his Park, but now you must pay or 'tis back again!"


It continued in sarcastic strain about the number and type of the large band of retainers Marsack had brought with him to Caversham.


 "The homely rustic blushing maid are now supplanted by old French women, Swiss Valets-de-w, Black boys' Gentoo coachmen, Mulatto footmen, and negro butlers. The dialect is of course improved much - through here and there the plain English is retained - but it is only to make mistakes - for they call Mr. Marsac - a very worthy East Indian - Major Massacre - and his improvements, his devastation."


Who was this exotic stranger whose arrival in the quiet countryside near Reading caused the surprise and distaste reflected in the "Public Advertiser"? The name Marsack is absent from every major work of reference except Burke's Landed Gentry (1937 edition). There, he is said to have traced his descent from "the French family of the De Marsac, through Count De Marsac, who left France during the Huguenot dispersion and became attached to the Court of Hanover, with which he came over to England in 1719." Burke says that Major Marsack was the grandson of the Count De Marsac, but makes no mention of his father. The fact is that the editors of Burke were probably working largely in the dark, as every researcher must who deals with the problem of this family. The assertion that Marsack was descended from a Huguenot refugee Comte de Marsac, who was attached to the Court of Hanover and came thence to England with that court, is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to substantiate. Search as one will, high and low, in the records and publications of the period, official or otherwise - or indeed of any subsequent period - it is impossible, it would seem, to find any reference whatever to a Comte de Marsac - let alone to one who came to England in 1719 with the Court of Hanover. And this applies not only to English records and publications, but to those in Paris and Hanover. It is also stated in Burke that the Comte's widow Margaret, appears to have married one Holcroft, whom it does not identify, and to have died in 1785. Here again, there is no evidence in any traceable record or publications for the existence in England at the time of any Comtesse de Marsac, although a woman named Margaret Marsack certainly married a man called John Holcroft (or Houlcroft) in 1754, according to the register of St George's Chapel, Mayfair, a church notorious for the celebration of clandestine weddings - and died in 1785, according to the burial register of St Marylebone Parish Church.


So much for the present, for Major Marsack's ancestors, but what of the man himself? The only ascertainable references to his origins and career, apart from a few letters in "Notes and Queries", occur in Hodson' [2] s "List of Officers of the Bengal Army, 1758 - 1834", and in the National Army Museum at Sandhurst. These sources tell the same tale, and are probably derived, as far as their genealogical details are concerned, from a single original source - the Marsack family records which have remained private. The story which emerges is that Charles Marsack, born in 1736, was the natural son of Frederick Louis, Prince of Wales, father of George III , by Marguerite, Comtesse de Marsac. The bare fact of his parentage is recorded, and there is nothing to show where he was born of what his upbringing and education were. Once again, too, the annals of the period are devoid of anything which might corroborate the assertion of royal paternity. Nor do Prince Frederick Louis' several biographers so much as mention the name Marsack, although they deal with the subject of his mistresses and illegitimate offspring in some detail. Both the Prince's father, George II, and his grandfather, George I, were notorious for the number of their mistresses, one lady of seemingly perennial charm is reputed to have been the mistress of all three royal gentlemen in turn, and were certainly not particularly concerned about hiding the identity of their natural children. Prince Frederick's own illegitimate son by Miss Vane, a court lady, was given the surname FitzFrederick. Such royal liaisons were common enough, and open enough, during the reigns of the first two Georges.


Why then, if the Prince of Wales was in fact Major Marsack's father, the apparent lack of any evidence pointing to this? The fact of such parentage once granted, the complete absence of any allusion to it in contemporary records and publications, or in the private correspondence of the time, is only explicable on the assumption of a conspiracy of silence.  The motive for a conspiracy so curious, if conspiracy there were, may perhaps be found in the nature of the terms on which Prince Frederick Louis lived with his parents, King George II and Queen Caroline.  The Prince's biographers, though varying considerably in their estimates of his character, unanimously admit that he was hated by his father and despised by his mother and draw attention to their wish to exclude his from the succession to the throne in favour of his brother, the Duke of Cumberland.  George II's obsessive aversion to the Prince seems to have taken the form of doubting, or affecting to doubt, whether Frederick was really his child.  Queen Caroline, if Lord Hervey, her closest confidant is to be believed, appears to have been convinced, or wished to be convinced, that her eldest son was impotent, so bitter was her contempt for him.  When the first child - a daughter - of his marriage to Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha was about to be born in 1737 - the year after the birth of Charles Marsack - the Prince at the last moment hurried his wife away from Hampton Court in the greatest secrecy,  and the birth took place at St James' Palace.  He was unwilling that the Princesses' delivery should take place in the palace where the King and Queen were in residence.  One biographer even suggests that he feared for the child's life such was the obsessive hatred of his parents for their heir.  Certainly, the first words uttered by the King, when roused by Queen Caroline in the middle of the night to be informed of the event, betray the extraordinary atmosphere of suspicion and morbid loathing which hag-rid the royal couple.  They also reflect the predicament of the head of a house which had been so loose-living for three generations that doubt about the paternity of royal children became an automatic reflex.  George II is reported - again on the authority of Hervey, who had it from Queen Caroline - to have bellowed:


"You see now, with all your wisdom, how they have outwitted you!  This is all your fault.  There is a false child which will be put upon you, and how will you answer it to all your children?"


Queen Caroline's behaviour is no less significant.  She drove off at once to London, with a party of five, including her two elder daughters, and hurried to St James' Palace to make a personal inspection of mother and child.  This seems to have satisfied her that no question of the introduction of a changeling, or some other trickery, was involved, for on the return journey she burst out:


"Well, upon my honour, I no more doubt this poor little bit of a thing is the Princesses' child than I doubt of either of these two being mine, though I own to you I had my doubts upon the road that there would be some juggle; and if instead of this poor little ugly she-mouse, there had been a brave, large, fat, jolly boy, I should I should not have been cured of my suspicions."


It is noteworthy that the Queen's doubts at first seem to have turned upon whether the Princess had in fact had a child at all.  Once she had satisfied herself of this, all her emphasis was upon the sex and identity of the child, since upon this depended the royal succession.


To be able to form an opinion on this matter, it is necessary to understand what the Prince's own marriage aspirations had been.  His earliest love was the woman his parents had intended him to marry when they first began to plan a dynastic alliance for him - Princess Wilhelmina of Prussia.. He had become thoroughly attached to her when his father became involved in a quarrel - over some minor royal interest - with hers, and forced him to abandon the idea of marriage to her.  Frederick, it would appear, never forgave his father for this - even attempting to arrange a secret marriage with Wilhelmina at the last moment.  And by Walpole - involving a plan for a secret marriage to the old Duchess of Marlborough's granddaughter, Lady Diana Spencer, who was to bring with her a portion of £100,000.  Then, and rather suddenly, came the announcement of the Prince's engagement to Princess Augusta, and with it there came provision for a much increased allowance.  Why did Frederick, who had seemed happy enough to procrastinate over any matrimony sponsored by his parents, decide to take the plunge?  And why did the King, who seemingly abominated the idea of his eldest-born's coming to the throne, suddenly acquiesce in a royal alliance for him, giving him added publicity thereby and marking him out as the vehicle of succession?  Why after the birth of the first child of this alliance, with its strange attendant circumstances, did the King banish the Prince of Wales from his presence, and address him in a series of public rebukes and proscriptions so out of proportion with the offence that Sir Robert Walpole, the Prime Minister, was forced to explain the matter in a secret conclave to Lord Hardwicke, the Lord Chancellor, who thereafter proved unwilling to disclose what he had been told, to anyone.  All he says in his diary, that Walpole had informed him of "certain passages between the King and himself, and between the Queen and the Prince of too high a secret a nature even to be trusted to this narrative."  What extraordinary information could this have been which so effectively sealed the lips of all concerned?  Sir George Young, one of the Prince's biographers, believes that it may have concerned, "the royal resolution to cut the Prince out of the succession".  But surely, if such a resolution had in fact actually been taken by the King, he must have imparted to Walpole his reasons for wishing to take as step of so momentous a nature.  These would have to be of the weightiest kind - for the Prince could hardly be removed on the grounds that he had chosen to have his child born at St James' Palace rather than at Hampton Court.  Nor could such charges at addiction to mistresses, or the fathering of bastards, come with any force in such an age, or from a monarch so open to criticism himself for precisely these weaknesses.  King George II must have been as well aware as anyone that efforts to rid himself of his son on grounds such as these would get him nowhere with his Ministers, or indeed with the British public of that day.


Since Prince Frederick was not in fact deprived of his right to succeed, but lived to be the father of George III, and died still the heir to the throne during his father's reign, it must be assumed either that George II did not attempt to cut him out if the succession, or that he was unsuccessful in getting his Ministers' support for such a move.  If he did make the attempt, what kind of change could he have made that would have had any chance of success?  Surely one of the most effective would have been the charge of bigamy, or the existence of a still valid morganatic [3] marriage antedating that with Princess Augusta?  It is in this context that one should consider the remarks let drop first by the King and then by the Queen at the time of the birth of Princess Augusta's first child.  The King, it will be remembered, feared a "false child" being palmed off on them, and the Queen admitted to being cured of her suspicions because the child was a little "she-mouse" instead of being a "brave, large, fat, jolly boy".  Why should the she-mouse be more genuine than the large boy?  The only explanation seemingly fitting the facts is that the Queen already knew, or at least suspected, that a boy had been to Prince Frederick, and feared that he would attempt to pass him off as the child of himself and Princess Augusta, and hence second in succession to the throne.  If the child, known later as Charles Marsack, had been born in 1736, he would already be several months old, and so "brave, large and fat" in comparison with the new-born infant.  Assuming for the sake of argument that this hypothesis has validity, may it not be that at this stage the King and Queen knew, or suspected, more than this, but that very very shortly afterwards they discovered that Frederick was indeed the father of a male child, which was not illegitimate but the issue of a secret morganatic marriage previously contracted.  In other words, that they found themselves faced with a situation in which the heir to the throne had entered into a bigamous marriage with his royal spouse.  Here surely was a chance not only to do their duty as a constitutional ruler and his consort, but a golden opportunity to eliminate their hated Frederick from the succession?  Why - always  granting that such an hypothesis has any validity at all - was the opportunity not taken?  The answer surely must be that wily and experienced politician Walpole, and wary colleague the Lord Chancellor, would inevitably seek to avoid the scandal of such a revelation, with its incalculable political consequences, in preference to any other course, and would counsel the burial of this matter in the deepest obscurity.  And that - always remembering that all this is the purest conjecture - is just conceivably how the birth and origin of Charles Marsack came to be shrouded in impenetrable mystery, as was his whole life until the age of twenty-nine.


From the quicksands of surmise and supposition, two patches of slightly firmer ground emerge.  From information in the possession of the royal library at Windsor Castle, it is known that one Charles Marsac was listed for a period of five years - from 1742 to 1747 - as "Servant to Mr Zollicoffe (or Zollicoffre), Page of the Backstairs to King George II".  Nothing is known of this Mr. Zollicoffe, but the name seems to be of Swiss origin.  Papers in the possession of the Marsack family, of whom there are still descendants living in England, New Zealand and elsewhere, are said to confirm Charles Marsack's royal descent.  But while one branch of the family names Prince Frederick as its ancestor, another takes the view that Major Marsack's father was George II himself.   A lady representing this branch of the Marsacks wrote, in her unpublished private history of the family:


"It would appear that Major Marsack returned to England from India to press his claims on George III, and that he was content to receive a large sum of money on condition that he should observe strict secrecy regarding his birth.  His father was George II, and his mother the Comtesse de Marsac, and many things point to a secret marriage.  Frederick Roome de Marsac, a grandson of the Major's, thought that documents to prove this are in the Royal Archives - but there they will now remain."


Contemporary members of the Marsack family firmly believe in the existence of a Comtesse de Marsac as their ancestress, and the present head of the family, a New Zealander, has a miniature said by Frederick Roome de Marsac, to be her.


Charles Marsack first emerges from the obscurity of his early years at the mature age of twenty nine, when he became a cadet in the Honourable East India Company's Bengal Army.  The year was 1765 - Prince Frederick had been dead for fourteen years, and George II for five; Margaret Marsac - plain Margaret Marsack, unadorned by a title - had been married to John Holcroft for eleven years.  Walpole and Hardwicke had both passed from the arena of life.  Marsack was gazetted as an ensign in the Bengal Army on 3rd November 1765, and as such he was almost immediately involved in an affair known as "the Batta mutiny" [4] .   The year had been one of great importance in the annals of the East India Company - it had seen the grant of Bengal to the Company by the Mogul Emperor, and the return of Clive to India (Major General Robert Clive returned to India in May 1765) after a period of five years at home.  The great man was back with the mission cleansing the Augean stable of Anglo-Indian corruption.  His job was to make immediate war on the great volume of private trade carried on by the Company's civilian servants, and to enforce retrenchments in military expenditure.  Officers of the Bengal Army had been retiring with fortunes made out of supplying clothing and food to the troops, and the batta (the double pay allowed officers when they were on active service) had been granted with a freedom, and in circumstances, of which the Court of Directors disapproved.  The axe fell on the Bengal Army in 1766, and Marsack, as one of the junior officers, who were principally affected, joined in the compact they made to resign there commissions en masse with the object of compelling Clive to restore the batta allowance.  The records show that he handed in his commission in May that year, and was reinstated in November, when the mutiny collapsed.  Within a few months, he had been made a lieutenant in a company of artillery belonging to the First Brigade, stationed at Monghyr, on the borders of Bihar, and by 1769 he had been appointed Surveyor of the Province of Oudh - a curious post for a young lieutenant of artillery to be given.  In 1771, he was promoted Captain, a rank which he still held when he finally retired from the service eight years later.  Promotion in the artillery was notoriously slow, and brevet rank was therefore occasionally granted, and it may be that this was how he came to be known as Major Marsack.  Little more has come down to us about his Indian service, except that he raised one of two cavalry regiments for the Nawab Wazir of Oudh in 1776, and commanded it, with the rank of major in the Oudh service, till its transfer to the Company the following year.  In 1778, he raised another regiment, the 31st Battalion of Sepoys, but declined the command.   It was clear that by this time, after some thirteen years in India, he was beginning to think of returning to England.  An indication of this occurs in Hazlitt's continuation of the autobiography of Thomas Holcroft, the dramatist, who it seems was John Holcroft's nephew.  In a chapter dealing with Thomas Holcroft's third wife , Dinah Robinson, he says, apropos of the period 1778-79, one of great financial stringency for Holcroft:


"At one time great hopes were entertained from the expected arrival of a Mr Marsac, a near relation of his wife, who had had a handsome appointment in India, and who, in their present situation, it was thought, would be willing to assist them.  But he did not arrive within the time which had been fixed." 


Dinah, widow of John Robinson, was in fact Major Marsack's half-sister.  She was John Holcroft's daughter by Margaret Marsack and as such Thomas Holcroft's cousin.


It is not surprising that the Holcrofts were disappointed, for Marsack did not return to England until 1783 - four years after the expected time.  And by 1786, he had become involved as a hostile witness in the seven-year-long trial of Warren Hastings.  It emerged during his testimony that he had in fact actually resigned his commission in 1779, but had spent the period 1779-1783 in India trying to get payment of money which he claimed was owed him by the Nawab of Oudh.  Hastings meanwhile had come home from his distinguished career in India, as the East India Company's principal administrator and finally as Governor-General, only two years after Marsack's own return. He had been impeached at the bar of the House of Lords on charges of corruption and cruelty - and the hunt was up against him with Burke, Fox and Sheridan leading the field.  His acquittal on all charges is now a matter of history.  At the outset of the preliminary investigation, Burke, in marshalling his evidence against Hastings rule.  However, it is clear from a letter he wrote in 1788 that he regarded the Major as having a personal axe to grind, but was determined to use his testimony, which he had found accurate at all points where it could be checked.  In fact, Marsack's evidence to the House of Commons lost much of its force when it became known that he had a personal grievance against Hastings.  For it emerged that he had tried only a short while before to persuade  Hastings to pay over £10,383, the sum which he claimed was owing him by the Nawab of Oudh and had hinted at legal proceedings in the event of non-payment.  Marsack's allegation in regard to this sum was that Hastings had prevented him from obtaining the money while he was in India by recalling him to Bengal at the crucial moment when payment could have been made.  He even accused the former Governor-General of ordering a company of sepoys to be sent to enforce his departure from Benares, where he had gone on leaving Oudh, and boasted that he had succeeded in slipping away before their arrival.  Official documents made public at the time of the trial show that Hastings had given orders in 1777 for Marsack's removal from the command of the cavalry regiment he raised for the Nawab of Oudh, and that he and his Council regarded him as one of those English Officers who had turned Lucknow into what he called "the school of rapacity", and who were battening upon the revenues of the over-pliable Nawab.  The documents also confirm that Hastings ultimately, in 1782, ordered Marsack's expulsion from Oudh, although they throw no light on Marsack's complaint that a company of sepoys had been sent to see that he left Benares.


Marsack's wife, whom be probably married during these years of waiting at the end of his Indian career - was Charlotte, daughter of Richard Becher, a famous and respected member of the East India Company, whose descendants were associated with the Indian service for generations, one of them being the mother of Thackeray the novelist.  Charlotte Marsack was very young  - possibly no more than seventeen, when Caversham was acquired, and must have been very much in the hands of her husband, who was more than thirty years her senior. In his new surroundings, the Major, as we have seen, not only caused offence by the exotic nature of his large domestic staff, and his desire to prevent persons passing through his park, but drew upon himself the wrath of Horace Walpole and other connoisseurs of the work of Capability Brown by cutting down a number of fine beeches which were such a feature of Brown's landscaping in the later Cadogan era at Caversham.  A print by Dayes [5] , dated 1787, shows him at his fell work, which, according to Walpole was the specific deed which earned him his nickname "Mr. Massacre"- for Walpole, with characteristic malice, even deprives him of his military title.


Caversham Park, Oxfordshire, engraved by W. and J. Walker (after Edward Dayes)

published 1793.


The view in this print includes the mansion, seen from the south; it appears to be a rather tall rectangular block of nine bays, with flanking wings and unbalustraded roof-line.  The first visitor of who there is record to Caversham Lodge, as it was still called in Major Marsack's day, was no less a person than Thomas Jefferson, later President of the United States.  He was American Minister in Paris at the time, 1786, and was on a tour of the more famous gardens in England.  He was accompanied by John Adams, the Minister in London, destined to precede him in the U.S. Presidency.  Garden-designing and architecture were among Jefferson's hobbies, but he had little to say about the layout at Caversham.  He comments, rather rapidly: "A large lawn, separated by a sunk fence from the gardens, appears to be part of it, and he notes the existence of the Doric temple at the western end of the terrace.  Surprisingly enough, he has nothing to say about the ornamental waters at Caversham, which had been a striking feature of the place at least since the days of the first Earl of Cadogan.  At the time of his visit, if contemporary maps are to be believed, the ground to the south of the house included three lakes, a feature which he could hardly have overlooked.


Another visitor, a Mrs. Sherwood, whose memoirs recall that she visited Caversham as a schoolgirl in the early 1790's, writes: "This was formerly a most magnificent mansion, in which queens and princesses had been entertained.  There was much when I visited the house to bring India before me, amongst other things a splendid tapestry representing a royal cavalcade on a march, with camels and elephants.  We were taken before dinner to a hot house, where the Major presented me with a Capricum, telling me it was some sort of fine fruit, laughing heartily when I put some of it in my mouth.  He had a delicate young wife and several little children, but I did not envy her with all her splendour".  The last sentence suggests that the Major had not made a very pleasant impression on his visitor.  In 1795, we find him employing a French refugee from the Revolution, Bonne d'Alpy [6] - the adoptive daughter of an aristocrat, the Princesse de Craon [7] - as governess of his children.  Mme. Henri-Pierre Danloux, wife of the French portrait painter [8] , who, with her husband, kept a diary during their exile in England at this period, records this of a London dinner party given by the Marsacks in 1796: "At dinner was a very pretty Miss Fox, a friend of Mrs. Marsack. I didn't care about her style, nor did I think her looks proper in a young miss.......Dinner went on for an extremely long time, and was a really miserable affair; two of the diners sang in English, but so drearily that one might have thought oneself in church.  After dinner Bonne gave a recital with M. de la Tullaye,  a Frenchmen who played the violin.  The English recited scenes from Shakespeare.  Mrs. Marsack is a very sweet woman; she has arranged for me to stay with her in the country next summer."


Another entry in the diary, for 20th June 1796, reports:


"The Princess de Craon has told them (friends called Saint-Aubin [9] ) that she is with Bonne at Caversham,  at Major Marsack's, and that he, always bad-tempered, gave them a bad reception."


Finally, early in 1797, the diary informs us that the Major's little French governess had heard from her uncle that he had been able to save enough of his fortune to make her a modest allowance, and that she hurried to Mrs. Marsack and announced that she was going to leave her. Her relief at being able to leave the household of the bad-tempered Major was no doubt genuine; but it is nice to know, from a diary entry some three weeks later, that relations were still friendly, and that the Major had called at Mme. Danloux's to invite her to the opera with Bonne d'Alpy and Miss Fox.  It is clear from the Danloux diary that such members of the exiled French nobility as the Duc de Bourbon, the Duc de Mortemart, and the Princesse de Craon were to be found among the Marsack's visitors at this period.


Major Marsack had passed his sixtieth birthday in 1796, and by this time he and his wife must have had a whole houseful of children to look after.  His own five sons and three daughters were not his only responsibility;  his half-sister, Margaretta - daughter of John Holcroft and Margaret Marsack (or the Comtesse de Marsac) - and her husband, William Roome, had both died young, and Charles Marsack had taken their three small boys to live with him at Caversham Lodge.  All three were older than their Marsack cousins, the youngest being thirteen in 1796.  The Major kept them at Caversham until each in turn was old enough to go into the East India Company's Bombay Army, where in due course they all became generals.  Their adoption by their uncle must have transformed their lives and their prospects, for Charles Marsack, in spite of the mystery of his origin, had been made High Sheriff Of Oxfordshire within a few years of his coming to live at Caversham, and was Deputy Lieutenant of the county for nearly the whole of his life there.  Clearly, he was not only rich, but influential, and in Caversham, he possessed one of the finest estates in Oxfordshire - a place to be described, on its offer for sale some thirty years later, as "one of the most distinguished seats in England".  Even if one allows for some exaggeration in the estate agent's puff, and for the fact that it was made subsequent to the very costly embellishments to the mansion of the early 1820s, there can be no doubt that Caversham, for situation and beauties of its park and grounds, was highly rated by connoisseurs of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.  Lord Harcourt, an Oxfordshire magnate, had written of it, in December 1783,  that it was "much too fine a place to be passed over unnoticed, particularly as the approach to the house from London road is universally allowed to surpass in beauty and variety everything. Comparable off the kind."  Mrs. Lybbe-Powys,  a devoted admirer, who as a neighbour was able to visit the place frequently, thought that the terrace on the south side of the house, one thousand eight hundred feet long, was surpassed by only one other in England, that of the ninth Earl of Lincoln at Clumber Park.  Caversham was  full of fine trees- particularly the superb cedars bordering the terrace - and must have been a paradise for the houseful of children living there at the turn of the century.  Not only was there a variety of trees to climb, but three ornamental lakes, to boat on in summer and skate on in winter.  No clue now seems to survive as to why three lakes were thought necessary.  But, owing to the existence of an "outlier" of Clay in the neighbourhood holding up a considerable volume of underground water, it was very easy to creat ponds or lakes, and it may be that one at least provided reserve supplies for ice-making and the replenishing of the ice-house sited north of the mansion.  As recently as 1915, a letter to the "Reading Mercury" pointed out that an excavation of about eight feet in this particular area would produce a permanent pool.  The reservoir of water so close beneath the surface of the ground say, together with its proximity to the Thames, have been among the chief factors attracting owners to the place in the feudal past, when moats and wells were of such prime importance.  As a modern authority has pointed out: "All along the foot-hills of the Chilterns in Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire are moats in numbers: they are almost dry now, but their presence proves that there were at one time springs in plenty where now there are few or none."  He attributes the disappearance of the water in modern times to present day drainage and the making of reservoirs.


Practically nothing has come down to us about the last twenty years of Major Marsack's life, which coincided with the first two decades of the nineteenth century.  We do know, however, that in July 1812, when a case came up before the Berkshire assize court to establish responsibility for the repairing of Caversham Bridge, and the Oxfordshire county authorities pleaded that responsibility was Major Marsack's as lord of the manor of Caversham, the jury, under the direction of the learned judge presiding, found the county responsible and they were directed that in future they must keep the bridge in good repair. The original bridge had been built some six hundred years before by the then lord of the manor, William Marshal the younger, second Earl of Pembroke, who had shared the expense of its construction with the Abbot of Reading.  After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, expenditure on the bridge no doubt became the sole responsibility of the lord of the manor.  Major Marsack died on 8th November 1820 at the age of 84, and was succeeded at Caversham by his eldest son, Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Henry Marsack, of the Grenadier Guards - or First Foot Guards, as they were called then - aged 34.  Colonel Marsack had served in the army for seventeen years, taking part in the defence of Corunna under the command of Sir John Moore - hero of the imperishable jungle - and in other engagements of the Peninsular campaign, and had been involved in the siege of Bayonne when Wellington, after his arduous years in Spain and Portugal, pushed on into France on the heels of Napoleon's armies. Waterloo, however, had seen Marsack's Regiment, the first Battalion of the Guards, kicking their heels in their Portman Street barracks in London, left there because their Colonel, a crony of the Duke Of York's, had used his influence with him to retain a much coveted post as military attache to the Bavarian forces, a position he would have had to relinquish if his battalion had been ordered to the front.


Colonel Marsack retired within three month's of his father's death, and began to carry out a reconstruction of the mansion which transformed the place into a Regency style country house of great elegance.  A delightful aquatint of 1823 shows that after the "extensive alterations", Caversham, now provided with a portico on the south copied from the Pantheon in Rome, and consisting of six tall Corinthian columns supporting a balustraded entablature, had emerged as a place of distinction.  Unfortunately, the effort of bringing about this striking transformation completed the financial ruin of Colonel Marsack, the seeds of which had already been sown in his father's time, when he had started to raise money from moneylenders at exorbitant rates of interest, secured by post-obit bonds.  The family tradition is that he was an inordinate gambler, and that he lost great sums at cards.  It is said, though it seems impossible to find any evidence for this, that the Dukes Of York and Sussex - who, on the assumption of his descent from Prince Frederick Louis, would have been his second cousins - were frequent visitors to Caversham during his brief ownership.  The Duke Of York was certainly Colonel of his Regiment, and was probably well known to him.  In 1823, Colonel Marsack, after only three years as the master of Caversham, was forced to take refuge from his creditors by escaping to France.  His departure brought him the further embarrassment of involvement in lawsuits with his sister Charlotte (wife of Thomas Frederick Sowdon) and others of his younger brothers and sisters.  Arising from a quarrel over the share of their father's personal estate due to them, and about the validity of his will.


The Caversham estate seems first to have been offered for sale following this catastrophe, as early as July 1823, and notices began to appear in the newspapers in June.  One of these, published in the "Morning Chronicle" Of June 17th, 1823, announced that the estate, consisting of the house, 1,000 acres of the best land, a manor co-extensive with the parish, quit rents, and the right of fishery, would be sold by auction in a single lot.  It spoke glowingly of "this singularly elegant MANSION and DOMAIN, Caversham Park, a Seat proverbial for its superiority over every contemporary within fifty miles of the metropolis and acknowledging no rival but BLENHEIM, to which alone it yields the palm", and boasted that it had cost Earl Cadogan £130,000 to plan and complete.  Warming to its task, it continue: "It is calculated to accommodate in the most ample manner a family of the first distinction; it is placed on a fine commanding situation, from which the views are exceedingly rich and interesting, extending at one point to Caesar's Camp, and including in the rich intermediate space an infinity of those admired seats that yield only to Caversham."  The place, it declared, was a paradise abounding with rare and valuable shrubs, umbrageous walks, and a great variety of hill and dale.  It had the added advantage that "contiguity to Reading, and the importance inseparable from Caversham will give it that weight, with reference to Parliamentary influence, that could hardly make one of the seats a matter of doubt."  However, in spite of this inspired piece of "blurb", and its own undoubted merits and solid advantages, Caversham Park was not to find a new owner for another twenty years, and was to remain desolate and untenanted for most of that time.  In the meantime, in 1826, all the furniture and fittings in the house were sold by public auction, including pictures and tapestries, and a library of 3,000 volumes "formed and selected by the late Lord Cadogan", of which an interesting feature was "upward of 100 volumes of Oriental illuminated MSS in the Persian, Arabic and Hindustan languages".  Six years later, an announcement - published in the "Reading Mercury" Of 2nd Jul, 1832 - stated that the trustees had directed that Caversham Manor should be sold by public auction at the Bear Inn, Reading, on 28th July; that it included Caversham Park, together with a number of farms and a fishery, totalling in all 1,031 acres; and that "the material of the mansion and offices will be sold by auction on the premises after the above sale" -  provision which suggests that the trustees had at this stage abandoned the idea of selling Caversham Park as a residence, and were prepared to see it demolished, and the materials sold off for what they could fetch.  It was about this time that John Claudius Loudon [10] , the noted horticulturalist and writer on gardening, visited Caversham Park with his wife, and inspected the gardens there.  He found that, although there was still a venerable head gardener there, one Mr. Mum, "the pleasure-ground scenery is now entirely overgrown, and only to be recognised by a few cedars and other trees."  "The kitchen garden", he noted, "forms a deplorable ruin; the walls are overgrown with bushes, the hot-houses leaning in all directions, the back sheds roofless, and even the gardener's house, which held out till within these few years, uninhabitable."  The mansion, though dilapidated inside, he found in good repair.

John Claudius Loudon [11]


It was not for about seven years - the exact date is not known - that another visitor came to Caversham Park, liked it enough apparently to become the tenant, and in 1844 bought the place outright.  This was William Crawshay [12] , the Iron King, a very wealthy man, and one of the leading industrialists of Wales.  It seems that he paid no more than £37,000 for Caversham Park - a measure surely of the decline and decay into which it had fallen, and of the two decades of decay it had suffered.  William Crawshay and the two generations of Crawshays who followed him were to be the last private owners of Caversham.

[1] Probably Charles Cadogan, 1st Earl of Cadogan (29 September 1728 - 3 April 1807)

[2] Major V Hodson.

[3] In the context of royalty, a morganatic marriage, sometimes called a left-handed marriage is a marriage between people of unequal social rank, which prevents the passage of the husband's titles and privileges to the wife and any children born of the marriage.

[4] The Batta Mutiny of 1766 - Outraged by the threatened loss of income, a large number of the officers of the First Brigade made a pact to resign their commissions "en masse" unless their double batta was re-instated. This pact was communicated to their colleagues in the Third and the Second Brigades with an enjoinder to do likewise. The officers of the Third readily agreed but the Second hesitated before finally agreeing too. The date set for the resignations was 1st July 1766.

[5] Edward Dayes 1763-1804

[6] BONNE D'ALPY (Mlle.) published some romances at Paris in 1804.

[7] Louise Etienne Desmier d'Archiac married Ferdinand Jerome de Beauvau, Marquis de Harou (1723-1790).

[8] Henri-Pierre Danloux (February 24, 1753 - January 3, 1809) was a French painter and draftsman.

[9] The Saint-Aubin's were a dynastic family of French designers and engravers.

[10] John Claudius Loudon (8 April 1783 - 14 December 1843) 


[12] William Crawshay II (27 March 1788 - 4 August 1867).





Caroline Emma Marsack

Caroline Emma (4th great aunt)

Born: 1800

Died: 19 April 1836

Married: Thomas Frederick Sowdon 09 Aug 1821

Parents: Major Charles Marsack (1736 - 1820), Charlotte Becher (1767 - 1837)