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 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?

The Cayley crest – a romantic legend

cayley crest 2
From the Cayley crest in Burke’s Peerage 1938

The crest of the Cayley baronets has what is known as a lion rampant or demi-lion rampant with no tongue and holding a battle-axe. (A demi-lion is the upper half of a lion; ‘rampant’ means standing on its hind legs.) Lions and demi-lions rampant are quite common heraldic emblems. Tongueless ones holding a battle-axe are not, and may be a Cayley peculiarity. The origin of this device goes back to a romantic, but far-fetched and almost certainly apocryphal, medieval story.

But before we explore that, we need to explain how the d’Albini (also spelt d’Aubigny) family relate to the Cayleys. In medieval times, the most powerful Cayley was Thomas de Cailly, Lord of Buckenham in Norfolk (c.1282-1316), who inherited very extensive estates (which alas passed out of the Cayley family soon after his death) and married the daughter of Walter de Norwich, who was Chief Baron of the Exchequer – roughly equivalent to the Chancellor of the Exchequer today – from 1311 to 1317, when he resigned on health grounds. Thomas de Cailly’s mother was Emma de Tateshall, a great-granddaughter of William d’Albini, 4th Earl of Arundel. It is that William d’Albini’s great-grandfather, another William d’Albini and first Earl of Arundel (c.1109-1176), to whom our tale relates. It is told by Sir William Dugdale, the 17th century garter king-of-arms, in his Baronage of England, published in 1675-6.

After the death of King Henry I of England in 1135, William d’Albini became engaged to Henry’s widow, Adeliza (also spelt Adelicia and Adelizia) of Louvain – they married in 1138. During the engagement, Adeliza urged William to seek fame in France. There the dowager queen of France, Adelaide de Maurienne, widow of Louis VI, held a major tournament in Paris, and William emerged champion. Adelaide, strongly attracted to him, summoned him to a banquet, showered him with gifts and asked him to marry her. William explained to her that he was already engaged to Henry I’s widow. Adelaide felt spurned and was in high dudgeon. After consulting her ladies-in-waiting, she arranged to have William brought into her garden where there was a cave (or, some say, a pit). In the cave lurked a ravenous lion. Adelaide pushed William d’Albini into the cave, expecting him to be mauled to death and eaten. But William killed the lion with his battle-axe, thrust his hand into the lion’s mouth, and tore out the animal’s tongue. Thereafter he was sometimes nicknamed ‘William Strong-Arm’.

The Cayley crest refers to this rather tall story. The lion is said to be holding the battle-axe with which it was killed, and its sadly tongueless state alludes to William d’Albini, 1st Earl of Arundel, having torn out its tongue.

Both Adelaide of Maurienne (who died in 1154) and Adeliza of Louvain (who died in 1151) entered religious houses in the final year of their lives – quite a common practice among the aristocracy of the time. They would have been looked after luxuriously in them.

I believe Thomas de Cailly was the first Cayley to adopt the device on his crest, in honour of his d’Albini ancestor.


  • The Creation of a Crone: the Historical Reputation of Adelaide of Maurienne by Lois L Honeycutt, in Capetian Women, ed. Kathleen Nolan, pub. Palgrave Macmillan 1993 (pp.27-28)
  • Wikipedia articles on Adelaide of Maurienne, Adeliza of Louvain and William d’Aubigny, 1st Earl of Arundel
  • Illustrated London News, 15 February 1862 (in the death notice for Cornelius John Cayley)

Flying Machines Have Their Uses

Today we think of Sir George Cayley, 6th baronet, as a pioneer of flight. His family may well have regarded his construction of flying machines as an expensive eccentricity. After his death, the flying machine which flew a few hundred yards (with a startled coachman inside, who is said to have given his notice as soon as he landed) in 1853 was tucked away in a barn on the Brompton estate.

One of his granddaughters, Dora Cayley (a daughter of Sir Digby, the 7th baronet), told a cousin how, in her childhood, she used to sit in the glider when she wanted to hide from her governess. Unwanted flying machines have their uses!

[Source: “The Legards of Anlaby and Ganton”, Col. Sir James Digby Legard KCB, pub. Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co, London 1926]

An Early 19th Century Volcanic Eruption in the Caribbean

In 1812 Thomas Cayley, who at the time was captaining a ship sailing from Liverpool to St Vincent in the Caribbean, witnessed an eruption of La Soufrière on St Vincent which started on 30 April. On 30 August 1812 he wrote a letter to his sister Mary, then living at Whitby. After a long series of paragraphs describing his despondency and referring to financial problems, the letter concludes with a description of the eruption:

You must no doubt have been a good deal alarmed for our safety, when the first accounts of the eruption of the volcano reached England. The various accounts of it however, which I discern inscribed in the newspapers, will convey but a very faint idea of the sublime horror of that ever memorable night. History perhaps does not record a more dreadful convulsion for I believe excepting the eruptions of Mount Hecla in Iceland. Those from Vesuvius & Etna are not to be compared to it, either in point of duration or volume.

The ashes fell upon a ship’s decks 600 miles to the Eastward of Barbados, which is at least 70 miles distant from this Island. The repeated explosions which continued all night & till 6 o’clock the following morning, can only be compared to the roaring of ten thousand cannon, for the reports were heard distinctly in all the windward & leeward islands and darkness continued to cover many of them during the greater part of the day following. Since this great event, curiosity has led me to visit the crater thrice, and I can assure you that my gratification has amply compensated me for the fatigue of the journey. During the eruption, a new crater was formed, perfectly distinct from the old one but not near so large, altho every person almost is of the opinion that we have sustained greater injury from the matter ejected from the former than from that which was thrown out by the latter. As nearly as at present can be ascertained the old crater is in circumference about three miles, and one in diameter, approaching in form very near a circle. Its depth appears to be about 1800 feet. The damage sustained will amount to between £13 & £1400 Stg [Sterling], this is deeply to be lamented, and will add I fear much to the embarrassments of the family.

[Source: letter donated by my sister-in-law Jeanette Cayley to the British Library, BL Add MS 79532 C]

Thomas Cayley, along with someone called Thomas Mason, also wrote from St Vincent to a John Moss of Liverpool with the names of a committee set up to report on the losses sustained in the eruption, and on compensation for those losses. – PRO State Papers SP 46/147/362, 363.

There were major eruptions of La Soufrière in 1718, 1812, 1902, 1971 and 1979. The 1902 eruption – which started a few hours before an eruption of Mt Pelée in Martinique – killed some 1680 people, almost all of them Carib, pretty well wiping out the remaining Carib culture on St Vincent. The great artist J M W Turner did a painting of the 1812 eruption which Thomas Cayley witnessed, basing his painting on a sketch by a witness.

Turner Eruption of Mt Soufrière
Turner – The Eruption of the Soufrière Mountains, exhibited 1815, © University of Liverpool

To see how Thomas Cayley fits into the Cayleys, see Cornelius Cayley line. He was a son of Edward Cayley of Whitby (1733-1805) and his second wife Mary Brown.

A Cayley questioned in the hunt for Jacobites

It was 1753. Seven years after the crushing of the Second Jacobite Rebellion. The hunt for Jacobite sympathisers was still going on apace, with investigations extending their tentacles back several decades. William Cayley (c.1700-1768), who had been British Consul in the Iberian Peninsula for many years, and was now an MP, was questioned by the Cabinet Council about one of his former friends, a Mr Vernon. The reader will gather that one of the key indicators of possible treasonable leanings was drinking a disloyal health – to the “king over the water” or something similar. Note the reference to finding a Bishop and the Solicitor General at Mr Vernon’s – a way of indicating that Mr Vernon was regarded as respectable. Here is a record of the questioning:-

Question What Mr Cayley observed or knew of Mr Vernon’s political Principles.

Answer He was well acquainted with Mr Vernon. The first Time he knew him, was in the Winter of the Year 1725/6. His stay then in England was very short, being sent Consul into Spain. Upon the Rupture with that Crown in May 1727, he returned to England, & from that Time till his Return to Spain in the Spring following, he was often with Mr Vernon, every Week he dined often with him at his House, as well alone as in Company, & he never heard any disrespectfull Expression fall from him of His Majesty or Royal Family, much less did he ever know him drink any treasonable or disaffected Healths, but so much the Contrary, that he does not remember to have once dined with him, that he did not drink the King & the Royal Family.

Question Did you use to go out of Town with Mr Vernon on a Saturday.

Answer He did once, and staid with him ’till Monday.

Question Whether Mr Vernon’s Behaviour was the same at that as at other Times.

Answer It was exactly the same.

Question Whether he thinks Mr Vernon was under any Restraint by his [William Cayley’s] Presence.

Answer He has great Reason to think from their Intimacy, that he was not under restraint.

Question Whether he was a nearer or more distant Relation to Mr Vernon, than Mr Fosset[?]

Answer That he knows Mr Charles Fosset[?], and that the degree of his [William Cayley’s] Relation with Mr Vernon, that he believes, he or Mr Vernon could scarce make it out, but remote as it is, it was a Degree nearer than Mr Foset’s. He knows this, by being himself related to Mr Fosset.

Question Whether he saw Mr Fosset at Mr Vernon’s.

Answer No never, but has seen the Bishop of Gloucester there, and also the Sollicitor General,, & has dined with him there, he is surer in regard to the Bishop than to Mr Murray. And in their Company he never knew any disaffected Healths drunk.

Question Whether there is, or has been, a familiar Acquaintance with Mr Fosset.

Answer That he never saw Mr Fosset since he was a Child that since his [William Cayley’s] return to England in 1747 he believes he has dined once or twice with him [William Cayley]. When Mr Fosset came last to Town, he came to see the Deponent [William Cayley], soon after his Arrival. Talked of indifferent Matters, & has not seen him since.

Mr Cayley then withdrew.

Source: British Library MS Eg 3440 f.50b



Cayleys and a Ghost

How were Cayleys connected with a ghost? I have just added a website page to explain all!

Imagine the scene. It is 21 November 1717. It is evening in the vicarage of Hackness near Scarborough in Yorkshire. Candles have been lit where the parson and his family are sitting, but there would be strong shadows in part of the room. A disembodied voice from nowhere calls out, “Amy, Amy!” Two evenings later there is a mysterious knocking three times on the inner door of the porch. The same again the next day…

So begins the tale of the Hackness Ghost, in which three Cayleys became caught up. It goes on to include mysterious happenings with keys and rings, a bare male bosom, allegations of serious fraud, toothmarks on a finger, a spectre leading a young woman on a long flight through the air, and what must have been very unusual business for a government Cayley lawyer, which I am sure he relished. It is a fascinating story. To read all about it, go to Ghostly Goings-on at Hackness. Enjoy!