One of the pleasures of working in the archives at Chatsworth is encountering the names of interesting people in our visitors’ books.
The signature of George Finch-Hatton, 10th Earl of Winchilsea, caught my attention. The Earl was born in 1791 and died in 1858. Before visiting Chatsworth on 16 September 1835 he had become well known for fighting a duel with the Duke of Wellington.
In 1829, the Duke of Wellington, who was then the Prime Minister, passed the Roman Catholic Relief Act which allowed Catholics to serve as MPs at Westminster for the first time in centuries. This was a very controversial move on his part: many English Protestants were incensed by it and few more so than the Earl of Winchilsea.
The Earl wrote a letter attacking the Duke; Wellington demanded an apology and when the Earl refused, the Duke reacted by challenging Winchilsea to a duel with guns. They met in Battersea Fields on 21 March 1829. The Duke fired first but he missed. The Earl raised an arm and fired up into the air, then apologised for his inflammatory letter. This marked the end of their confrontation.
Lord Winchilsea strongly opposed other liberal reforms, including the Reform Bill of 1832.
He was married three times and had six children. His daughter Lady Caroline came with him to Chatsworth in 1835. There is no record of him meeting the 6th Duke of Devonshire: as an Ultra-Tory he would certainly have disagreed with the 6th Duke’s liberal political views.