Finsthwaite Princess Page 5

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The Finsthwaite Princess continued

photo of St Peter's FinsthwaiteMore recently two versions of an even more fanciful twist to the story have come my way. In the 1970's I was told that a story had been circulating the public houses of Barrow (in itself a remarkable notion) to the effect that in 1940 the Home Office had sought the exhumation of the Princess or an examination of her grave because, as she might have claim to the throne of Scotland, she would be an object of interest to the Nazis if the Germans were to invade, or that fifth columnists might interfere in the matter in the German interest as a means of destabilising the British monarchy. Not surprisingly I was told by the late Stephen Kellett of Finsthwaite, the churchwarden at the time, that no such application had been made. The fantasy is however, a remarkable instance of the tenacity and inventiveness of the popular mind.
 
In 1997 a lecture was given in Grange which included the staggering suggestion that HRH the Duke of Edinburgh had actually attended the exhumation in December 1940 on behalf of the Royal Family and the government, as both considered the matter to be of sufficient importance to require a royal presence. The idea hardly needs comment except as a further example of myth-making. Prince Philip was nineteen years old, a junior officer in the Royal Navy, and not a member of the British Royal Family. The lecturer explained the Princess's presence in Finsthwaite by saying that she and her parents were on their way to Scotland when they met with some emergency near Levens and were diverted to Finsthwaite in safe Roman Catholic country. Mother and child were separated from the father and the child remained incognito in Finsthwaite. Again, refutation of comment would be superfluous, but the incident serves to make the point that the story of the Finsthwaite Princess seems to be never-ending.
 
I am inclined to believe that Clementina and James Douglas did lodge at Jolliver Tree until the death of James Backhouse in 1762. His wife, the former Mary Taylor, who inherited the farm after the deaths of both her brothers, married a Quaker-turned-Anglican from Cartmel Fell, Robert Gurnell, in 171531 and they had an only son John who would have been the heir to her property had he lived. In 1729, a year after her second marriage to James Backhouse, she placed Jolliver Tree in trust for her new husband and her son John Gurnell.32 At the same time she built a second, larger house next door to the old one and which she and Robert Gurnell had lived. In style it bears a close resemblance to the oldest part of the present Finsthwaite House which was built over quite a long period in the 1720's and '30's. Mary Gurnell was a wealthy woman by local standards. As well as inheriting her father's property she was also a legatee under the will of her uncle, Edward Taylor of Craikside (d. 1729). It seems likely that the new house was intended both to provide a more suitable home for Mary and her prosperous second husband and to improve the property for her young son.
 
John Gurnell died in 1733 and as Mary's son by James Backhouse also died young, in 1752 a the age of twenty, she had no direct heirs and James Backhouse had only a life interest. His own will33 disposed only of the property in Finsthwaite which he owned in his own right, that is to say Chapman House Farm, the present Church View Cottage, and some land. The new owner of Jolliver Tree, Mary Backhouse's heir at law, was Jane Penny (1735-1815), the daughter of her cousin Mary who had married William Penny of Penny Bridge in 1732. Nothing suggests that she ever lived at Jolliver Tree, which seems to have been let after she inherited. She was "of Penny Bridge" in deeds of the 1770's and '80's and later lived at Townhead Staveley in Cartmel, with her nephew William Townley, who inherited Jolliver Tree from her.34 So she could well have met Clementina Douglas if she visited her aunt Mary's husband at Jolliver Tree before 1762. If they thus became friends perhaps the medallion did indeed come into the Townley family in this way. Is it possible to make any suggestions as to the identity of the Princess and how she came to Finsthwaite? I can only surmise that James Douglas was her father and that he had been a soldier in the army of Prince Charles Edward, a committed Jacobite who had given his daughter her highly suggestive names.
 
After the failure of the '45 such men were to a great extent an embarrassment in their own country and a quiet life in Furness might have seemed attractive. He could also well have owned a medallion. It is also worth noting here that there are in the immediate neighbourhood two small crystal hearts; in the centre of each is the silver head of a man, believed to be the Young Pretender. Were they perhaps given to friends by Clementina Douglas or by James Douglas before he left Finsthwaite? Such souvenirs were only commonly treasured in Jacobite families. 35
 
And why Finsthwaite? Assuredly not because it was a hotbed of Jacobite sympathisers. It is not however, unreasonable to seek for a connection with Scotland, and James Backhouse had a long-standing one. He was a partner in the Newland Company from its beginnings in 1747, with Richard Ford of Ulverston and his son William, and Michael Knott of Rydal. In 1752-53 the company, seeking new supplies of wood for charcoal-making went to Scotland and established the Bonawe furnace at Taynuilt on the shores of Loch Etive. Michael Knott's son George spent several summers at Bonawe in the 1770's. Is it not possible that James backhouse visited the company's Scottish property too or that James Douglas was introduced to him by one of the men who went up and down between Furness and Scotland?36 If so, after the death of his wife in 1744, James backhouse had a large house in which he would have been alone when his son died in 1752 and in which there would have been plenty of room for him to take in James and Clementina Douglas. After 1762 the farm passed to Jane Penny. Property must try to ear its keep and it would have been natural for Miss Penny to install a proper agricultural tenant. At waterside there was just such another large house lived in by two elderly people who were glad enough to let rooms.
 
All that can only be conjecture, but it is at least based upon facts, not upon fiction. It would make life a little easier if we knew how old the Princess was. A search through the International Genealogical Index for Scotland produced only one Clementina Douglas, baptised 1723 in Forfar, the daughter of William. On the face of it that one seems unlikely to have been the Finsthwaite Princess.
 
In 1913 Canon Townley sought to perpetuate the name of Clementina Douglas by appealing for funds to erect a stone over her grave. In a letter to the Ulverston News on 25th January he said: "it is surmised that in 1745 she accompanied the army of Charles Edward, the Young Pretender on its disastrous march to Derby.....and that she left it at Kendal in order to find a safe retreat from the enemies of the Stuarts". The stone, a white marble cross, was duly erected at a cost of 8.00.37 It bears her names as recorded in the register, the date of her burial, and the inscription "Behold thy King commeth". The appeal provoked a certain amount of discussion about the Princess38 and led to Canon Townley to write his pamphlet, the draft of which is dated 31st February 1914. When it appeared in the parish magazine in 1922, and was then issued separately, that which had been supposition in 1914 had become fact. 39
 
Numerous visitors have sought out the grave and do so still. Some write to local newspapers and magazines asking for information or offering suggestions. At fairly regular intervals someone writes an article about the Princess. Most such authors re-work the myth without enquiring too closely into the facts. Some add embellishments of their own.40
 
Whatever the truth may be, the story of the Finsthwaite Princess is persistent and enduring. As a writer to the Barrow news put it in 1968, "perhaps history and legend should be kept apart, so that the former does not destroy the latter" 41 In fact they feed each other, and both need to be reviewed from time to time. Perhaps H S Cowper should have the last word: "We venture to think that the true story would prove much less sensational than the tradition". 42

Janet D Martin

Copywrite - Janet D Martin & Transactions of the Cumberland & Westmorland Antiquarian & Archaeological Society - 2001


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