John Sheffield, the 3rd Earl of Mulgrave was born on the 7th April 1648. He inherited his title when he was a child. When he was eighteen he joined the fleet to fight against the Dutch in the Second Anglo Dutch war. He went on to command his own ship, the Royal Katherine, and was also made an infantry colonel having raised a regiment of foot. In 1680 he was sent to relieve the garrison of Tangiers.
All of which sounds like the usual “blah” until you realise that history says that he was sent off in a leaky boat to Tangiers for having looked a bit too closely at Charles II’s mistresses or else for having the audacity to look to marry James of York’s youngest daughter (it depends on the source but it was more likely the mistress than the princess given the date of his commission to relieve Tangiers which was before the princess scandal.) Samuel Johnson mentions “some resentful jealousy of the king,” he also comments that since Mulgrave resumed his duties at court as a courtier on his return that perhaps Charles II had never been angry at all – making the whole story a Stuart red herring.
On his return from Tangiers Mulgrave became noted for his support of James of York. He was one of the men who helped to bring about the disgrace of the Earl of Monmouth (Charles II’s illegitimate but protestant son.) Not unreasonably Mulgrave may have expected a little gratitude from Monmouth’s uncle James, Duke of York.
However, his desired reward was not forthcoming! In 1682 Mulgrave was sent away from court for putting himself forward as a prospective groom for seventeen-year-old Princess Anne – the gossip mongers claimed that he’d progressed rather further with his courting than either James of Charles II liked. Mulgrave was thirty five at the time and had a reputation as a rake (hence the leaky Tangiers bound boat.) He was quick to report that he was “only ogling” the princess (charming) but at the time it was understood that he had written letters to the princess that were rather too personal. When he was banished from court in November 1682 speculation about Anne’s possible seduction was rife. There were plenty of risqué songs on the subject in London’s taverns.
A description of the attempted disposal of Mulgrave by his dispatch to Tangiers can be found in an anonymous source in Cibber-Shiels, Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland (1753) 3:285-300. Which may be accessed from http://spenserians.cath.vt.edu/BiographyRecord.php?action=GET&bioid=35802
This account is more probably true, than the former when it is considered, that by sending the earl to Tangier, a scheme was laid for destroying him, and all the crew aboard the same vessel. For the ship which was appointed to carry the general of the forces, was in such a condition, that the captain of her declared, he was afraid to make the voyage. Upon this representation, lord Mulgrave applied both to the lord admiral, and the king himself: The first said, the ship was safe enough, and no other could be then procured. The king answered him coldly, that he hoped it would do, and that he should give himself no trouble about it. His lordship was reduced to the extremity either of going in a leaky ship, or absolutely refusing; which he knew his enemies would impute to cowardice, and as he abhorred the imputation, he resolved, in opposition to the advice of his friends, to hazard all; but at the same time advised several volunteers of quality, not to accompany him in the expedition, as their honour was not so much engaged as his; some of whom wisely took his advice, but the earl of Plymouth, natural son of the king, piqued himself in running the same danger with a man who went to serve his father, and yet was used so strangely by the ill-offices of his ministers.
Providence, however defeated the ministerial scheme of assassination, by giving them the finest weather during the voyage, which held three weeks, and by pumping all the time, they landed safe at last at Tangier, where they met with admiral Herbert, afterwards earl of Torrington, who could not but express his admiration, at their having performed such a voyage in a ship he had sent home as unfit for service; but such was the undisturbed tranquility and native firmness of the earl of Mulgrave’s mind, that in this hazardous voyage, he composed (a) poem.
The poem I should add is described by Johnson as licentious.
Mulgrave remained in England after King James II fled in 1688. He even protected the Spanish ambassador from the London mob. His political career nose dived during the reign of William and Mary.
He remained on very good terms with Anne. He became the Lord Privy Seal after she became queen and in 1703 was created Duke of Buckingham and Normanby. When in London he lived in Buckingham House which overlooked the Mall. He was furiously Tory in his sympathies throughout his life which was a bit of a problem whilst Sarah Churchill held the queen’s ear as she was a Whig. It’s somewhat ironic that Sarah Churchill met Anne when they were children but it was only after the Mulgrave scandal that the two became close.
Just a reminder – the final short summer class in Derby entitled Queen Anne- fact and fiction- starts on Tuesday 25th June. There are still spaces. Follow the link to find out more. https://thehistoryjar.com/derby-classes/