S is for Clotworthy Skeffington

I am again focusing on the famous, the forgotten and the misbegotten for Round 21 of the popular ABC Wednesday meme. But finding suitable characters is getting harder, so apologies in advance if there are repeats of previous posts.

Clotworthy Skeffington

There can be few people with a more unfortunate name as Clotworthy Skeffington, a cruel trick played on him by his parents, but one he tried hard to live up to.

Born in 1743, he was then the latest in a long line of Clotworthies, the family having adopted the first name from John Clotworthy, the Anglo-Irish politician who became the first Viscount Masserene whose title passed to his son-in-law, Sir John Skeffington.

Clotworthy the younger was something of a strange character. As a young man of twenty-seven he visited Paris where he got himself drawn into a business venture that he really didn’t understand and when it failed he found himself imprisoned for debt.

All Skeffington had to do to secure his release was admit his guilt, pay the debt and slink off back to Ireland, but he proved to be rather stubborn. Instead he opted to stay in prison for 25 years when his debt would be cancelled under French law.

La Force Prison

La Force Prison

Now you might think that this was simply a skinflint’s way of saving money, but not so. Keeping himself in the manner he was accustomed to cost him £4,000 a year during his incarceration.

Not that friends and acquaintances (and mistresses) minded too much – they were quite happy to enjoy Skeffington’s company in prison and the sumptuous dinners cooked by his private chef.

It was while in gaol that he married Marie Anne Barcier, the beautiful daughter of the prison governor. After eighteen years in La Force, Skeffington finally escaped in 1789, the day before the storming of the Bastille, after Marie Anne bribed a mob to force open the gates.

Skeffington returned to Antrim Castle and embarked on a military career. He formed his own yeomanry to defend against the anticipated Jacobite uprising, training his men himself in his usual eccentric fashion.

They were drilled without weapons and simulated musket shots by clapping their hands
They were drilled without weapons and simulated musket shots by clapping their hands and presented arms in a complicated pantomime involving a series of hand signals. He also developed a number of entirely original manoeuvres such as Serpentine and Eel-in-the-Mud.

Skeffington convinced himself that he was a natural leader of men, a view not shared by the military establishment, although his yeomanry corps did some useful service at the Battle of Antrim in 1798.

Now derelict Antrim Castle

Now derelict Antrim Castle

Domestic life was equally odd. Skeffington would sometimes order his dining table and chairs to be set up on the roof and what couldn’t be carried was hoisted up through windows on pulleys.

Then just as the guests would settle themselves down to their sumptuous alfresco meal, Skeffington would declare himself dissatisfied and order the whole lot be carried back indoors again.

And when his wife’s dog died, all the local dogs were invited to the funeral, fifty of them acting as a guard of honour dressed in white scarves.

The loyal and unappreciated Marie Anne died in 1800 and soon after Skeffington married a servant girl and with the help of her family and her lover, she succeeded in gaining control of the family fortune before Skeffington died in 1805.

With acknowledgement to The Man Who Ate Bluebottles: And Other Great British Eccentrics by Catherine Caulfield

5 comments… Add yours
  • Yorkshire Pudding 16th November 2017

    Surely our beloved prime minister, the right honourable member for Maidenhead must also belong to that long line of Clotworthies. Incidentally, doesn’t being “the member for Maidenhead” sounds rather rude in a Frankie Howerd kind of way?

    • Mr Parrot 16th November 2017

      It must be my sheltered upbringing but that had never occurred to me until you mentioned it. And now I can’t unremember it! I suppose: ‘Please be upstanding for the honourable member’ would be worse!

      • Yorkshire Pudding 17th November 2017

        In Hertfordshire there’s a place called Boggy Bottom. I believe that the member for that constituency is Michael Gove but it could just as easily be Sajid Javid.

  • Roger Green 18th November 2017

    Yes, a mouthful of a name!


  • ABC-Wednesday 18th November 2017

    Another person I have never heard of.. I wish I could remember all your stories !!

    Have a splendid ABC-Wednes-day / – week
    ♫ M e l ☺ d y ♫ (abc-w-team)


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