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The Earl of Landaff was a title in the Peerage of Ireland that was in the posession of the Mathew family between the years 1797 and 1833. Its holders are often referred to as being the Earls of Llandaff since that is the more usual spelling of the Llandaff, that is today a suburb of the city of Cardiff in Wales, the title is however most properly that of the Earl of Landaff as it was "so spelt in the patents".

The Mathew family of Llandaff, Radyr and Thurles

The first Mathew was Dafydd ap Mathew, or David Mathew, the son of Mathew ab Ieuan (florit 1381-1397) a supporter of Owain Glyn Dwr. The family were based at Llandaff Court in Glamorgan, and served various absentee English lords as stewards and seneschals during the fourteenth century, although naturally the family could also produce a genealogy that showed their descent from Cunedda. This David Mathew was a leading Yorkist who was supposed to have saved Edward IV's life at the battle of Towton in 1461, being later killed during a riot at Neath in 1484, after which he was certainly buried in Llandaff Cathedral, where his altar tomb may still be seen bearing an effigy measuring 6 foot 7 inches, which is said to have been his actual height. He married Gwennlian, daughter of George Herbert of Llandaff who bore him a total of seven sons, and it was the fourth of these sons Thomas Mathew (died 1470) who married Catherine, the daughter and coheiress of Morgan ap Llywellyn ap Ieuan Gethyn, the lord of Radyr, and so established the line of Mathew of Radyr. Amongst their descendants was a George Mathew (d. 1636) who married Elizabeth Poyntz, the daughter of John Poyntz of Iron Acton, and more importantly the widow of Thomas Butler, Viscount Thurles. George sold the Radyr estate, and moved to Ireland and lived on his wife's estates at Thurles in County Tipperary.

Their son Theobald Mathew (died 1699) was granted Thurles by his half-brother, the 1st Duke of Ormonde, and so established the line of Mathew of Thurles, married a Margaret Browne and left two sons named George and Thomas. Although the line of his elder son George died out around the year 1760, the family estates, which by now included the manor of Llandaff and both Welsh and Irish properties, passed into the hands of a descendant of the younger son named Thomas Mathew of Annefield (died 1777), despite the fact that Margaret the daughter of the last George Mathew unsuccessfully disputed the will.

Thomas Mathew was politically and sometimes actively Roman Catholic and indeed his son Francis Mathew, appears to have been raised as a Roman Catholic, although he later conformed to the Church of England. Francis became the Sheriff of Tipperary in 1769 and was also the Member of Parliament for County Tipperary from 1768 until 1783, when he was created the Baron Landaf of Thomastown on the 12th October 1783, being one of the eight new baronies proposed by Charles James Fox which George III refused to add to the British Peerage.

The Earls of Landaff

According to The Gentleman's Magazine, Francis was "possessed in an eminent degree the united advantages of captivating address and personal beauty", which may well explain his advance up the ranks of the peerage as he was created the Viscount Landaff on the 4th December 1793, and then the Earl of Landaff 22nd November 1797. All of these titles were in the Peerage of Ireland and therefore did not confer a seat in the House of Lords upon the holder, although the 1st Earl soon remedied that when he was elected as one of the original Irish Representative Peers in 1801.

His first wife was Ellis or Elisha, the daughter of a James Smyth of Tinney Park in Wicklow, who was described by Horace Walpole as "a perfect beauty", and had her portrait painted by Joshua Reynolds, but nevertheless died of the dropsy in 1781. His second wife was Catherine, second daughter of Clotworthy Skeffington, 1st Earl of Massereene who died without issue in 1796. The 1st Earl was then married for the third time, although the name of his third wife has apparently escaped the notice of history, despite the fact that she was the sister of the Countess of Barrymore. He later died in Swansea on the 30th July 1806, although his body was returned to Thomastowm for burial, and he was succeeded by Francis James, his eldest son by his first wife Elisha.

The 2nd Earl had earlier briefly been the Member of Parliament for Callan in 1796 and again for County Tipperary in the years 1790-1792 and again in 1796-1900, following which he represented County Tipperary in the new post-union British Parliament from 1801 until 1806, when he succeeded as the 2nd Earl and also took his father's place as an Irish Representative Peer in the House of Lords. The 2nd Earl was nevertheless an opponent of the Union and a supporter of Catholic Emancipation, who was also "a personal enemy of George IV" and gave evidence in favour of Queen Charlotte regarding her conduct at the Court of Naples during her famous trial. However although he was married to Gertrude Cecilia, a daughter of John la Touche of Kildare, the marriage proved childless by the time the 2nd Earl died of syncope in Dublin on the 12th March 1833.

The 2nd Earl had two brothers who survived into adulthood, and indeed all three featured in a caricature by James Gillray under the title 'The Three Mr Wiggins's' (after the farce of that name then playing at the Haymarket Theatre), and attracted a reputation as men about town who are said to have been responsible for a number of innovations in men's apparel of the period and were also credited with the invention of the round beaver hat. Unfortunately both of the 2nd Earl's younger brothers died unmarried; Montagu Mathew, a Lieutenant General in the Army and sometime MP for County Tipperary, had earlier died on the 20th March 1819, whilst George Tobias Skeffington Mathew died insane on the 10th March 1832 whilst in the care of a Dr Willis at Skellingthorpe.

The soi-disant Earls of Landaff

The title of Earl of Landaff was therefore regarded as having become quite extinct with the death of the 2nd Earl in 1833. That is until one Arnold Harris Mathew emerged in 1898 to claim that he was the '4th de jure Earl of Landaff'. His claim was based on his assertion that his grandfather Arnold Nesbit was in fact the eldest son of the 1st Earl by Elisha Smyth, who had been born in Paris on the 16th February 1765. Since the birth took place only some five months after their marriage, this would have caused some social embarrassment at the time, and would therefore explain why the birth was kept secret and that Arnold Nesbit was raised by his father's maternal uncle Joseph Matthews of Cromhall in Gloucestershire.

This Arnold Nesbit subsequently entered the Royal Artillery in 1782, married the charmingly named Eliza Francesca Povoleri di Nogarole Vicenza e Verona, died at Chandernagore in India on the 5th October 1820, and was buried at the British Cemetery in Chinsurah. It might well be asked why Arnold did not step forward and claim what was rightfully his at the time of his father's death in 1806, however according to Yaqub Zaki, Deputy Director of The Muslim Institute this was because Arnold Nesbit was a Muslim and "reluctant to abandon the fleshpots of Calcutta for the inferior ones of London", and so "refused to return" and left his "younger brother" to assume the title. As it was Arnold never claimed the title and neither fid his son Arnold Harris Ochterlony, who died in 1894 and was the father of the aforementioned Arnold Harris Mathew, who rectified his forefathers' omission and duly asserted his nobility.

Arnold Harris Mathew was by profession a cleric and indeed followed an eventful and somewhat colourful clerical career. Born at Montpellier in France in 1852 he was baptised as a Catholic, trained to be an Anglican priest, but was nevertheless ordained into the Roman Catholic Church in 1877, only to leave the Church in 1889 and become a Unitarian. He later joined the Church of England in 1892 and became a curate at Holy Trinity Church in London, and then left in 1899 and rejoined the Catholic Church as a layman. Then on the 28th April 1908 he was consecrated as the first Old Catholic bishop for Great Britain and two years later in 1910 established the separate Old Catholic Church of Great Britain and Ireland. However although Arnold Harris Mathew styled himself as the 4th Earl of Landaff, he never submitted any formal claim to the House of Lords, and he was therefore never legally recognised as such, despite the frequency with which he claimed to be the 'de jure' Earl.

According to Arnold Harris his grandfather had been born in Paris on the 16th February 1765 in the house of the Vicomtesse de Rohan Chabot, who was his mother's sister. However as The Complete Peerage notes, according to a report in Faulkner's Journal, Elissa Mathew gave birth to a daughter on the 2nd August 1765 which meant that it would have been a physical impossibility for her to have given birth to a son six months previously, whilst her sister Elisabeth didn't actually marry Marie-Charles-Rosalie de Rohan-Chabot, Comte de Jarnac until the year 1777, and therefore wasn't living in Paris as a French aristocrat in 1765 when Arnold Harris was supposedly born. Furthermore both Arnold Harris's father and grandfather bore the name of Matthews rather than Mathew, as did Arnold himself, who was actually known as Arnold Harris Ochterlony Matthews until he assumed the name of Arnold Harris Mathew on the 29th May 1894, and it is therefore quite reasonable to conclude that Arnold's claim to the title of Landaff was utterly bogus and without any foundation in fact.

Records show that there was an Arnold Nesbitt Matthews who was christened at Down Ampney in Gloucestershire on the 20th October 1767, being the son of a William Richard Matthews and his wife Anne. It would therefore seem entirely possible that this was the Arnold Nesbitt Matthews who joined the Royal Artillery and went to India. Down Ampney is not that far away from Cromhall in Gloucestershire where Joseph Matthews, the maternal uncle of the 1st Earl lived, so it would be likely that the Matthews family of Down Ampney knew of their namesakes and of their kinship with the Mathew family of Thurles in Ireland. Whether it was Arnold Nesbitt who dreamt up the tale of his clandestine birth to entertain his comrades in India (or to perhaps woo Eliza Francesca) or whether it was his grandson who did so to add lustre to his ecclesiastic career is not known. Whilst Yaqub Zaki may well be correct in stating that Arnold Nesbitt Matthews was a Muslim, he was almost certainly not the 2nd Earl of Landaff.

As it was Arnold Harris Mathew, the Archbishop of the Old Catholic Church of Great Britain and Ireland, and the self-styled 4th Earl of Landaff, died in 1919 and left one son named Francis Arnold Dominic Leo Mathew. Francis followed the family tradition of military service in India and by 1920 he was a 2nd Lieutenant in the Indian Army, styling himself as the 'Viscount Mathew'. He made an appearance in the Indian Army List of January 1923 where he was recorded as being a Lieutenant in the 11th Prince Albert Victor's Own Cavalry, but afterwards appears to have disappeared from the historical record. Whether he ever married or had any issue is not known.


THE EARLS OF LANDAFF

MATHEW

The line of the self-styled Earls of Landaff


SOURCES

  • George Edward Cokayne, Vicary Gibbs, et al, The Complete Peerage (St Catherine's Press, 1910-1959)
  • The entry for the MATHEW family from the Dictionary of Welsh Biography,
    by Archbishop David Mathew, with corrections and additions by Hugh Pawley Mathew of Saffron Walden
    http://yba.llgc.org.uk/en/s-MATH-LLA-1350.html
  • Dr Yaqub Zaki, Letter to The Times, December 6, 2007
    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/letters/article3006497.ece
  • Bertil Persson, A Brief Biographical Sketch on Arnold Harris Mathew, 2001
  • Nothing but...Tails http://thelondonlounge.net/gl/forum/viewtopic.php?t=5526&sid=7373aac4204f78f07afe6a43580b8a44
  • The information on Francis Arnold Dominic Leo Mathew is from a posting by Rob Alexander of the Surrey Genealogist citing Debrett's Illustrated Peerage of 1920
    http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/INDIA/2004-09/1094370472
  • Princeton University Library: The three Mr.Wiggins's
    http://diglib.princeton.edu/view?_xq=pageturner&_start=1&_doc=%2Fmets%2Fgc108.mets.xml&_index=287&_inset=1
  • Francis James Mathew, Viscount Mathew (1768-1833)
    http://www.npg.org.uk/live/search/person.asp?LinkID=mp61937
  • The tables for the Genealogy of Mathew from Land, Politics and Society in Eighteenth-century Tipperary by T.P. Power (Clarendon Press, 1993) thanks to the Search Inside! functionality of Amazon
  • The FamilySearch.org service sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints http://www.familysearch.org/Eng/Search/search_all1.asp?indid=&spouse_id=&color=blue

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