An 18th Century Begging Letter

William Cayley, who was British Consul in the Iberian peninsula for much of his life, and then, after an interval, MP for Dover (1752-1755), towards the end of his parliamentary term sought a senior government post as a reward for his long service abroad and his loyal support of the Whig government in the Commons. Having been disappointed in his hope of becoming a member of the Board of Trade, he wrote the following begging letter to the then Prime Minister, the Duke of Newcastle, on 1 June 1754.

“My Lord

“Your Grace’s Time and Thoughts are taken up in the publick Service with so little Interruption, that desirous as I have been to find an opportunity of speaking to your Grace, it has not been in my power; and therefore if I have recourse to this means of conveying a few words to your Grace, I hope you will pardon me.

“Your Grace, I am persuaded, is no Stranger to the favourable Opinion Mr Pelham was pleased to entertain of me; tho’ some particular Marks of it may not perhaps have come to your Grace’s knowledge. He had, upon your Grace’s kind Interposition with him in my Behalf, not only brought me into parliament, but thought of placing me at the Board of Trade, as My Lord Dupplin I believe can further inform your Grace; and when the number of pretenders that arose to any vacancy which might happen there, had begun to make his Intention with regard to me in that particular of more difficult execution, he was then pleased to have me in his eye for the Excise, if in the Interim it should not be in his power to provide for me in a way as desireable, and at the same time compatible, with my Continuance in parliament, of which Mr West, I have reason to think, is not unapprised.

“These, My Lord, are circumstances that I mention to your Grace merely in testimony of my own Behaviour, and not for any view of intimating to your Grace in what manner, I either hope or desire your Grace to dispose of me. All I shall presume to say upon that head, and with great Submission beseech your Grace to consider it, is that I have spent my best days in the King’s Service, with the Zeal and Fidelity that are known to your Grace, and have hitherto had no advantages fall to my Lot; that I am now, My Lord, making hasty approaches to the close of my humble part in life; and that of consequence, if the Effects of your Grace’s Friendship do not reach me soon, there will be no room left me to expect they can do it at all. Be my Fate however in that respect what it will, I am sure of remembering the protection your Grace has already done me the Honour to show me with all the Sentiments of a gratefull heart, and with my latest breath to profess myself,

My Lord, Your Grace’s most obliged and most devoted humble Servant, Wm Cayley”

William Cayley eventually got the sort of post he desired: the following year, 1755, he was made a Commissioner of Excise.

Source: British Library BL ADD 32735 f.355


A Medieval Thief

I recently came across this reference to a medieval Cailly. The year is the 14th of the reign of Edward I, which ran from 20 November 1285 to 19 November 1286. The place is North Repps near Cromer on the NE Norfolk coast.

“Roger de Cayly and Robert the groom (valettus) of Henry de Brom, being prosecuted at the suit of the bailiffs of this hundred, took sanctuary in the church of North Repps, and admitted themselves to be thieves.”

Henry de Brom belonged to quite an important East Anglian family.

I do not know how, if at all, Roger de Cayly fits into the Cailly tree, but the fact that he is recorded as ‘de Cayly’ suggests he does somehow – ‘de’ normally signifies a member of a landowning family. About 40 years earlier there are references to a Roger de Cailli/Caly at Heacham on the Wash, where the Cailly’s had long held land, but this is unlikely to be the same person. It looks the thieving Roger was one of the family’s black sheep. Or was this an episode in a quarrel between the Cailly family and neighbours? Such quarrels often led to what we would regard as criminal acts, as State records, manor court records and the Paston Letters show.

Source: Crown Plea Roll, Norfolk, North Erpingham Hundred, in Norfolk Antiquarian Miscellany, vol. 1, ed. Walter Rye, pub. A H Goose and Co, Norwich, 1883

An Incorrigible Rogue

On 4 April 1882 the unfortunate Mary Ann Cayley, described as a tailoress, was convicted at Surrey County Quarter Sessions of being an ‘incorrigible rogue’. She was sentenced to six months of prison, with hard labour, and served them in Westminster Prison.

‘Incorrigible rogue’ was a legal term under the Vagrancy Act of 1864. The Act classed a wide range of people as “rogues and vagabonds”. They included prostitutes behaving indecently or  in a public place, beggars, pedlars, fortune-tellers, rough sleepers, people trying to sell items deemed obscene, men who exposed themselves to females, thieves and suspected thieves, and anyone who was found on private or commercial premises with unlawful intent. They were all liable to three months in prison. ‘Incorrigible rogues’ were repeat offenders, people who violently resisted arrest and were subsequently convicted under the Act, and rogues or vagabonds who had escaped prison: they could be imprisoned for up to a year. Anyone could arrest rogues or vagabonds and haul them before a magistrate.

Mary Ann Cayley herself had had a series of previous convictions. On 16 July 1871 she received a three-month sentence at Southwark Police Court (the record lists her as Mary Kelly); on 24 January 1881 she was sentence to a month in prison at the same court; there was another sentence, for 3 months, at Southwark Police Court on 21 August 1881; and on 29 December 1881 she was sentenced, under the name Mary Kayley, to 21 days in prison at Lambeth Police Court. We do not know the precise nature of her offences, but as a tailoress she would have had a very low income and her employment may have been intermittent, so the likelihood is that she was either begging or soliciting.


Drinks on the (monastic) house

mug-clipart-free-beer-18In medieval times ancestors of the Yorkshire Cayleys were associated with the Priory of Wymondham, SW of Norwich (which gained full Abbey status in 1448 and is now the parish church). In 1309, the wealthiest and most powerful member of the family, Thomas de Cailly, who inherited through his mother vast estates across much of England, is recorded as having the advowson of the Priory of Wymondham – the right to appoint the prior. Among the perquisites that went with the advowson, and which Thomas enjoyed, was bread and ale to be supplied by the Priory whenever he was in the area. (Venison, suckling pigs and the like do not seem to have been included – but Thomas will have had other sources for those.)

There is no indication that there was a limit to the amount of ale. I can think of at least one or two living members of the family – and one or two people connected with family members – who might have wanted to take full advantage of a right like this!

[Source: Close Rolls, March 1309, cited in the Victoria County History of Norfolk vol 2 p.338]

Expansion of Links page

I have expanded, and slightly re-organised, the Links page of this site:

  • I have added more links for the 19th century mathematician Arthur Cayley
  • I have also included links to a site containing some genealogical trees for medieval ancestors of the Yorkshire baronets, and related families, and to the Callaway Family Association – at least some Callaway/Kellaway/etc families are almost certainly descended from medieval Cayley ancestors

A Poem by Ethel Cayley

Ethel Barbara Cayley (1865-1956) was a daughter of Sir George Allanson Cayley, the 8th Cayley baronet, and Catherine Louisa née Worsley. In 1911 she had a slim volume of fairly light verse published by Blackwell’s. Here is one of her poems.


Give me advice;

Shall I do it?
Very concise

Make your advice,
Ever so nice

(Or you’ll rue it.)
Give me advice

Shall I do it?