Henry Brydges, 2nd Duke of Chandos: "Henry Brydges, 2nd Duke of Chandos, KB (17 January 1708 – 28 November 1771), known from 1727 to 1744 by the courtesy title Marquess of Carnarvon, was the second son of the 1st Duke of Chandos...
"The Duke's second marriage was unconventional. In 1744 he married Anne Wells, a former chambermaid from Newbury in Berkshire. They had met a few years earlier in circumstances described by a witness as follows:
The Duke of Chandos and a companion dined at the Pelican, Newbury, on the way to London. A stir in the Inn yard led to their being told that a man was going to sell his wife, and they are leading her up with a halter around her neck. They went to see. The Duke was smitten with her beauty and patient acquiescence in a process which would (as then supposed) free her from a harsh and ill-conditioned husband. He bought her, and subsequently married her (at Keith's Chapel) Christmas Day, 1744."
-- Wikipedia, Henry Brydges, 2nd Duke of Chandos, accessed 02/07/2021
This is an interesting story; for obvious reasons, but also because it is approximately 0% true, but has been recounted so many times that it is generally taken for the truth. And it may be true; historical records of interesting domestic squabbles -- even very interesting domestic squabbles -- are some of the most unreliable creatures ever. But here's the full tale:
No wait!! Before we start the tale, we must attack an Extremely Boring Expository Lump. Sadly, this is important, so take notes. James Brydges, 1st Duke of Chandos (1673-1744)(Wiki) had a son, who died, but then also had a second son, who eventually became Henry Brydges, 2nd Duke of Chandos (1708-1771; endukened in 1744, when his father died). This is who Wikipedia is talking about above. In 1736, James married Lydia Catherine Van Hattem (his third wife of three). In 1744 Henry married Anne Jefferies, née Wells (his second wife of three). These are the two men, and the two wives, in question.
So then, 100 years passed.
Around the 1850s, tales of the Duke(s) of Chandos started to appear in print. Either... the 1st Duke (James) rode up to an inn to find the ostler (or a groom) beating his wife bloody, and demanded that he stop immediately, only to be informed that the man could do as he wished with his own wife... unless the Duke cared to purchase her? Well, he did (for 20 pounds, or perhaps half a crown, or a pot of beer), and lived with her as a mistress (or sent her off to school; or took her on as his ward: these are not mutually exclusive, of course) until his second wife died (1735); then he married her (1736).
Or... the 2nd Duke (Henry) was resting at an inn, when he was informed that a man was going to sell his wife, and was leading her up the yard with a halter round her neck. He decided to go and view the spectacle, and was so enchanted by her that he bought her himself. He took her as a mistress until his wife died (1738) and then her husband died (uncertain), and they married in 1744. She died in 1759, and he married again in 1767.
The footnotes here are extensive, and hard to organize. Before getting into the weeds, let me just say that there is a very good chance that both stories are completely made up. But if you want to chose one...
By most accounts, James' (the 1st Duke) third marriage was happy, and on his deathbed he praised his wife, and made provisions in his will for her to be buried with him and have a marble statue in the monument room1; this did not happen, because shortly after the Duke's death the 2nd Duke found the family's debts too great, and had the family home and chapel dismantled and sold at auction in 1747 (while Lydia lived on until 1750). Later, some commentators reported that the family would not permit Lydia to be buried in the family chapel, apparently overlooking the fact that Lydia herself would have been the first to protest if they had tried to do so when the chapel still stood.
It is also related that at age 14 Lydia went to work as a pot-girl (barmaid)1, but again, this was reported 100 years later. We do know that James was Lydia's second marriage2, and her first husband (who was also her cousin) Sir Thomas Davall, was knighted in 1713,3 and was a man of no slight wealth, although hardly one of the ton. He died shortly thereafter, in 1714, and if she had a husband between Thomas and James, it is not recorded. It is, perhaps, not likely that she would have married an innkeeper; it is quite unlikely that she would have married a groom.
At the time that James married Lydia, she was a widow, 43 years old, and had received a jointure of 800 pounds3 (approximately 170,000 pounds in today's money) in addition to her ex-husband's personal estate. None of this would preclude an unhappy and hidden second marriage to an ostler, but no record of such remains.
Henry's marriage to Anne, meanwhile, was much more mysterious. She was apparently a person of no real consequence, said to be a chambermaid. We must assume that she was "an innkeeper’s maid at Slough",4 as that is the only report we have from the time she was still alive. She was apparently known to be lower-class and was somewhat gossiped about; Elizabeth Montagu wrote of her "...the Dutchess's behavior was really an entertainment, not in the least embarrassed, she did the honours perfectly well, and seemed conscious she should make a good figure, and pleased with the opportunity."5 While the letter makes no reference to her background, the accompanying 1906 commentary is quick to jump in the with led-by-halter-to-the-inn story.
We know essentially nothing of Anne's family, history, or situation. We do know that at the time that Henry married her, he was still a courtier in the royal court (I believe, at that time, he still held the position of Groom of the Stole to the Prince), but was deeply in debt, and hounded by creditors. This is not long before he was forced to sell the grand family estate, due to his debts, and his accounts were not to recover until he married his third wife , Elizabeth Major, the daughter of a wealthy merchant; one must suspect that this marriage, at least, may have been a Smithfield bargain.
Why a man in such a situation might choose to marry a chambermaid is uncertain, but one might hypothesize love; this, again, does not preclude the possibility that he met her at auction.
And then, we do have one more piece of evidence: what about that eyewitness that the Wikipedia article mentioned? Well, that's this. The account is from 1870, purporting to be an eyewitness account of an old lady who was 10 years old at the time of the purchase of Mrs. Anne Wells. As Anne and Henry were married in 1744, the purchase must have been before that; in 1870 the purchase would have been at least 126 years in the past, making the eyewitness a world-record-holder at 136 years of age. Of course, it is more likely that this eye witness account was reported 40 or 50 years before it was published. Your confidence in this tale should be a combination of your trust in the perceptions of ten year olds, the memories of centenarians, and the truthfulness of reporters eager to recount such.
Given that the two Dukes married only 8 years apart, and each had multiple wives, it is understandable that accounts have become confused. It is amusing that James, who was wealthy, known for his charity, and was generally well-liked, has the kinder story, while poor Henry, broke from his father's poor judgement on the South Sea Bubble and his own poor judgement in money management, is barely better than a slave trader. It is worth noting that even without a dramatic rescue, both Lydia and Anna are rags-to-riches stories, although admittedly somewhat less so in Lydia's case.
I personally disbelieve that such a juicy piece of gossip could have remained undocumented for a century before surfacing. I think Lydia was occasionally looked down upon for her comparatively lower-class upbringing, and Anne much more so. I think that Anne, especially, probably was a bit of a scandal, and perhaps more so because she seems to have pulled off her own Eliza Doolittle story despite having a husband that was probably more of a social burden than a help. Most of all, I believe that the estate of the Earl of Egmont should digitize his diary, so we can learn the original story of the "the innkeeper’s maid at Slough".
And, most importantly of all, if you must repeat this story, repeat both of them; it makes a better tale: in 1736, James met the love of his life being brutally beaten, rescued her, and they lived happily ever after. Just a few years after this happy match, James' son, Henry, saw a lady in trouble and decided, 'hey, it worked for dad', and despite the tawdry setting, despite his own troubled finances, and despite knowing what the stuck-up folks at court would think -- he bought her.
1. Tales of Our Great Families, Volume 1 By Edward Walford, 1880
2. Lydia Catherine Van Hattem
3. Sir Thomas Davall
4. Henry, with note of his wives. Including the obscure reference to "the innkeeper’s maid at Slough" (H.M.C., Egmont Diary, vol. iii, pp. 307-8.), from the Manuscripts of the Earl of Egmont covering the years 1734-1738. I really wish I had access to that.
5. Elizabeth Montagu, the Queen of the Bluestockings:
Her Correspondence from 1720 to 1761 - Volume 2, By Mrs. Elizabeth Montagu, collected and with commentary by Emily J. Climenson, 1906.