The Gwent Local History Council was set up in 1954 to encourage public interest in local history, to bring together societies and persons interested in the study of local history, to arrange lectures and publish the results of historical research. Their twice yearly magazine "Gwent Local History" has made a valuable contribution to the store of historical knowledge. Here Caerleon Net, with the full agreement of the Gwent Local History Council, is making available many of the articles from this magazine relating to Caerleon.
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Gwent Local History No. 44, 1978
Charles Williams of Caerleon - Legend or Truth?
by Eija Kennerley
In the town of Caerleon a story is still told about Charles Williams, approximately in this form: "Charles Williams was the son of Thomas Williams, a merchant, and was born in the Castle of Caerleon. In his youth he had a good friend, John Hanbury of Pontypool and they spent a lot of time together as was usual with the well-to-do youths of that time: riding, hunting, falling in and out of love. But, one day Charles had a duel with his cousin, Edmund Morgan of Penrhos, over a girl whom they both loved and unfortunately Charles killed Edmund. Now, of course, he had to flee, and the place where he first ran was the church. There he spent half of the night, creeping quietly under the cover of darkness to the waterside and sailing in his father's ship down the river Usk, far away, to Turkey. There, in Smyrna, he spent several years, becoming a fig (or silk) merchant and amassing great wealth. His old friend, John Hanbury finally managed to get a pardon for him, through Mrs. Hanbury's friendship with the Duchess of Marlborough who in her turn was friend of Queen Anne. So, Charles Williams was able to come back to London, where he bought a house in Bow Street, Covent Garden. He lived to the age of 86, and in his will gratefully gave £70,000 to his friend John Hanbury and his son who later became a diplomat, Sir Charles Hanbury-Williams. In his testament Charles Williams asked the Hanbury family to use the name Williams in his memory - he himself had no children and never married. He also gave £4,000 for founding a school in Caerleon and £3,000 for the parish church."
However, there are variations to this story. E.g. Archdeacon Coxe tells it as follows: "Charles Williams, esquire, was born and educated in Caerleon, and lived in his native town, until an unfortunate recontre with his cousin Mr. Morgan of Penros, which terminated in the death of the latter, compelled him to quit his country. He fled to Smyrna, and after acquiring a considerable fortune by trade returned to England, in the reign of King William, and lived in London incognito. He increased his fortune by loans to government, and by purchasing in the funds which were recently established." Coxe also says that Charles Williams bequeathed £1,000 for the repairs of the church - not an accurate statement by any means.
The story appears again in the Preface to the Works of the Right Hon. Sir Charles Hanbury Williams, K.B., written probably by his grandson, the Earl of Essex, or the publisher, Edward Jeffery: "Charles Williams, of Caerleon, his father's (i.e. John Hanbury's) neighbour, having killed a person in a fray, fled to the Continent, and having on his return, many years after, received from Mr. Hanbury that friendship and countenance which his misfortune had probably induced others to deny him, bequeathed the most part of his property, to the amount of more than seventy thousand pounds " This was written in 1822, about 25 years after Coxe's Tour.
In her work, "The Hanbury Family," A. Audrey Locke writes that Charles Williams killed his cousin William Morgan of Penros. Finally, Sir Joseph Bradney in his History of Monmouthshire gives his version: "This Charles fought a duel in 1670 with his relative Edmund, younger son of Thomas Morgan of Penrhos Fwrdios, whom he killed. He then fled to Smyrna, where he became engaged in trade and made a large fortune. On his return to England he resided in London, increasing his fortune by loans to government."
The reader has now seen that there are several smaller and greater differences between these variants of the legend. Coxe's is the oldest and one is inclined to think he heard it in Pontypool when he visited the Hanbury family and therefore it should be the most reliable of them all. However, about 130 years had passed after the duel, when Coxe was in Pontypool.
To look more closely at the different stories, we must first consider the duel. Fights of all kinds were quite usual in the Restoration period and duels were nothing extraordinary. Killing a man in a duel or any brawl did not mean the same as killing anyone now would mean. Duels were even fashionable. However, it is unlikely that Charles Williams had any need to flee anywhere, as the usual punishment was a few weeks or months imprisonment, if that. It was natural that he did not want to stay in Caerleon where he was so well known. But, it is impossible to say whether Charles Williams ever fought that duel as there is no documentary evidence whatsoever. The sword that was found near Penrhos can not speak. It could be any sword, dropped by a soldier in the Civil War period.
Secondly, it is also impossible to say whether Charles Williams had a cousin in the Morgan family: we do not know his mother's maiden name, or any relatives on his father's side. (His father most probably came from Abergavenny, as did William Thomas, the father's uncle. Fonmon papers, Glam. R.O..)
Thirdly, if the duel took place in 1670, Charles Williams was then about 37 or 38 years old. Would he have fought over a girl, or for any reason, at that age? Later we shall see that he was not that kind of person whom one expects to take up a weapon at all. Fourthly, the writer was not able to find any pardon by Queen Anne, during the searches in the Public Record Office. And in the Monmouth Assize records of the Public Record Office, the only piece of information of the year 1670 and concerning anyone called Morgan, is of an Inquisition Post Mortem on John Morgan, the cause of whose death is said to be "visitatio dei", i.e. natural causes. Where he came from is not recorded. (1)
The fifth point, Charles Williams's long absence, supposed to have been spent in Turkey, now has to be dealt with.
If we assume that Charles Williams left Caerleon approximately in the year 1670, we find that in 1676 he was in London. According to a document of that year he lent money, £130, to Herbert Evans of Pencreek and was called "Charles Williams, formerly of Carlyon and now of London, gent". (2) This belies Coxe's information of Charles Williams's coming back from exile to this country "in the reign of King William", who actually became King of England only in 1688. As to the suggestion by the local legend that John Hanbury would have helped him to get his pardon, we shall see later that he does not mention anything like that in his letters to John Hanbury.
In 1678, Charles Williams signed the document in which he released some farms in Bishton, Nash and Llangattock to his brother William who had stayed in Caerleon and had inherited their father's property in the town. (3) The farms were the same which Charles had inherited. The money that changed hands was £600. This must have been useful for Charles in London.
After long searches it seems fairly certain that Charles Williams never went to Smyrna or Turkey at all. It is true that there are two great gaps in his life we know nothing about, namely from his birth to 1676 and from 1678 to 1691 when he bought a house for himself. Let us look at the several possibilities concerning his whereabouts and his work.
The trade with Turkey was the monopoly of the Levant Company. A. C. Wood in his "History of the Levant Company" describes the working of the Company, its structure and the type of men who belonged to it. The leading men were "of high rank and political distinction" and "The factors (i.e. the merchants) who actually lived in the Levant consisted of the Sons of freemen, or of gentlemen and cadets of noble families who were apprenticed to some member of the Company in London in order to learn the trade and make their fortunes." Apprenticeship lasted seven years. While in Turkey, the factors were almost completely on their own, communication with England was difficult and took a long time. They were not allowed to marry and lived closely together, but led rather formal lives. All this could, of course, be made to testify of Charles Williams really being there: he was absent a long time, he never married etc.
The Levant Company's books and documents are kept in the Public Record Office. Having gone through all the relevant books, in the relevant period and not having found Charles Williams's name anywhere, I had to come to the conclusion that he indeed had nothing to do with the Turkey trade.
So far, the different points of the legend have not been proven.
While studying the life of Charles Williams, I was frequently led astray by the fact that the name was, if not very usual, in any case ordinary. There was a Lieutenant Charles Williams in the 1680's, serving in the Navy under Lord Berkley whose family were closely connected with the Levant Company. This Charles Williams seems to have served on the vessels which protected the ships plying the trade with Turkey, against pirates and other enemies. His patron was the Secretary of State, Leonine Jenkins. He became Captain in 1696. (4)
After much probing and searching, the writer was able to get hold of letters written by Charles Williams to John Hanbury, between the years 1715 and 1719. From these we find that our Charles Williams did later know a Winnington Williams from Monmouthshire who became Captain on one of the Levant Company's ships in 1717. Winnington could, therefore, be Lieutenant Charles Williams's son who followed his father's example and went to sea. While telling how Winnington Williams was made a Captain, Charles Williams writes to John Hanbury: "-he told me by word of mouth that not with standing the great opposition yt was made & the Intrest of 8 or 10 others that put In, both the owners of the ship & 16 of the top Turky marchants gaue him the comand of the Ship soe that we may now salute him by the Title of Captn Wins wch I am very glad of". (5)
This fact that there was a Charles Williams connected with the Turkey-ships in the 1680's, may have caused confusion and given someone, unknown to us now, the idea that our Charles Williams went to Turkey. Would that have been possible? In the year 1681 when Lieutenant Williams asked Lord Berkley to allow him to serve under him, (6) our Charles Williams was 48 years old. A man of that age was surely too old to go to sea to start a career. (Lieutenant Charles Williams is often mentioned in the documents of the Treasury, at the end of the 17th and beginning of the 18th century.)
Another Charles Williams appeared in the correspondence of the Mansel family. In 1689 a Charles Williams wrote to Sir Edward Mansel saying he had succeeded his father, now deceased, in the Examiners' Office. (The Examiners in Chancery conducted the examination of all witnesses in Chancery suits who could be examined in London.) From the letters dated before this one it became clear that the father's name had been Hopkin Williams, and he came from Glamorganshire. (7)
It is more likely that a third Charles Williams was our man. In the year 1679, 31st July, a Charles Williams, hosier, was paid by the Treasury £16811s. 0d. "for stockings to his Grace the Duke of Monmouth's soldiers in his Graces own Regimt." (8) It is not known whether our Charles Williams had any training for hosiers' craft. Hosiers belonged to the Framework Knitters Company, but there is no suggestion anywhere that Charles Williams belonged to that.
Also, in 1680, September 8th, a Charles Williams was recommended by Secretary Jenkins to be one of the four "gaugers" of the Excise, that is, checking the weights and measures, "he having been bred up in the Imploymt of a Gauger." (9) Possibly, this was the same Charles Williams whose salary in 1692 was £52 per annum and who was still inspecting the measures of beer and ales in 1710. (10) Whether our Charles Williams was employed as a gauger is doubtful because being "bred up" as a gauger actually meant learning the job by watching another, experienced gauger at work, and starting at an early age. It must also be admitted that there is nothing in his letters to indicate anything remotely concerned with this type of a position. The study would have to go much deeper in order to establish this detail definitely.
The letters which Charles Williams wrote to John Hanbury in the years when he planned the Caerleon Charity, have travelled a long way. The originals are kept in the collection which includes Sir Charles Hanbury Williams's papers, in the Lewis Walpole Library, Farmington, Connecticut, U.S.A. Although the tone of the letters is mainly personal, they give the reader many hints of the life of Charles Williams which has remained secret to us so long.
Charles Williams was very fond of the sons of John Hanbury
who at that period were at school. The eldest, John, was first at Chelsea
in a private establishment and went to France with his tutor, while
the younger boys Capel and Charles, only nine and seven years old, stayed
at "Chelsey". From the interest Charles Williams showed in
their education and particularly from the words concerning their French
studies and France, it becomes fairly clear that he himself had been
to France, to the same place where John Hanbury junior went, namely
Blois. Actually Charles Williams was glad he went to Blois instead of
Charles Williams valued languages, especially Latin which he said opened so many different careers, and French which was useful for trade. It is a pity he does not let us know whether he himself spoke French still, in his old age. It does seem that his visit to France had been very long ago.
If Charles Williams did not become a "Turkey merchant" and if we are not sure he was a hosier or gauger - what was he?
A document of 1676 was already mentioned, in which he lent money to Herbert Evans. From his letters to the Mansel family (1691-1713) we find he was in some way involved with their finances and in 1693 lent £5,000 to Bussy Mansel of Briton Ferry. (11)
During the "Glorious Revolution" of William III a new way of securing government finance was found. The wealth of London merchants now assisted the king in his wars. Charles Williams also lent money for this purpose. In 1689 there was an order for the repayment of some of these loans, and Charles Williams, esquire, is mentioned twice that year: August 12th, Cha. Williams esq. £500, and January 3rd 1689/90, Cha. Williams esq. £500. Both of these sums were at first entered wrongly among "the 12d. Aid" and were transferred to "the 2s. Aid." (12) Later, there were two loans, January 24th 1694/5, one of £300 and January 18th another of £600. (13)
In addition to the schemes of loans and lotteries, another really great idea blossomed out in King William's reign: the Bank of England was founded in 1694. The wealthy subscribed to it altogether £1,200,000. The subscriptions started on the 21st of June. We find now that Charles Williams was really very quick in his reactions, because in a letter from the Administrative Department (Museum and Historical Research Section) of the Bank of England, dated 29 September 1977, I was able to find the following definite information: "one Charles Williams, Esq., of St. Paul's (Bow Street), Covent Garden subscribed £3,000 to Bank of England Stock in June 1964".
It would be interesting to know the exact date, because there was a large rebate on the first three subscription days which then gradually was reduced until it was only five shillings. (14) Did Charles Williams make use of this opportunity?
The Bank had a governor, deputy governor and twenty four directors each of which must have at least £500 capital stock. Charles Williams qualified in regard to the amount but, whether he indeed was one of the directors, we do not know. In any case, the directors were elected anew every year. In one of his letters Charles Williams talks of meeting the Bishop of London at the gathering of "the corporation" but again it is impossible to say which corporation he meant.
He also had a drawing account in the Bank of England from 1695 to 1698, and a stock account until 10 March 1702.
During the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1713) Charles Williams also lent money to the government, and the interest, £24 0s. 7d. was paid to him in 17l3. (15)
By the last decade of the 17th century Charles Williams had collected enough money to afford to buy a permanent abode. He wrote to Sir Edward Mansel on 27th June 1691: "Growing old & lazy I am about buying a little Howse to end my dayes in, it will cost me neere £300 which is a greater sum than I can comand at present, therefor must intreat your assistance in returning me that sixty pounds for the halfe yeares intrest due the first may last & from that time wee are to prceede & upon the new accot at 5 (%?) you'l pardon this liberty."
It seems strange that he could not "command" £300, but the explanation must be that he had tied all his money in different enterprises. Three years later, in any case, he was able to subscribe those £3,000 to the Bank of England. He must have received the intrest money from Edward Mansel because he was able to buy his house. The earliest indication of this is in the document already mentioned, the loan to Bussy Mansel of 1693, in which he is called "Charles Williams, of the Parish of St. Paul, Covent Garden."
The house was in Bow Street, east side. The street had been built in 1637 and by the end of the century some of its houses were in great need of repair, some even had fallen down. It seems that London was battered by many storms, e.g. in 1701 when Grinling Gibbons's house fell down, (16) also in Bow Street, east side. In 1703 Charles Williams suffered another mishap although not quite as bad as Gibbons's. He writes to Edward Mansel on the 30th November 1703: "-haueing sufferd among many more of my neighbors in the Comon Calamity wch the vyolent storms on friday night last brought upon us, the damage don to the City of Lond is computed at 3 hundred thousand pounds besides the loss of many Lives that perished in theyre beds & in the ruyns. Tyles weare the day before for 20s a 1000 are now for £5 a thousand & but a small quantity to be (had for?) mony soe that I and thousands more are forcd to cover our howses with boords for this winter."
Bow Street was certainly fashionable at that time, and many well known people lived there, e.g. William Wycherley, the playwright. In the near neighbourhood lived people like Congreve and Kneller and the whole of Covent Garden was the centre of the literary and theatre world of the period. Therefore it is very vexing that Charles Williams never mentions any of these things in his letters. One would not like to think of him as a complete philistine.
The name of Grinling Gibbons is the only really famous one that appears in Charles Williams's Will. As Gibbons, who generally was unprovident and could not look after his finances, lent money e.g. to St. Paul's Cathedral, (17) one is tempted to imagine that he had taken advice from his neighbour Williams, esquire. The diarist John Evelyn describes Gibbons's house: "-furnish'd like a Cabinet (panelled rooms?), not only with his owne work, but divers excellent Paintings of the best hands". We know of only three paintings Charles Williams had, and they are mentioned in his will. He may have had others. In any case, the two houses probably were rather similar, and they both paid the same amount for them, £300. (18)
In his letters Charles Williams gossips quite a lot about the court, the king and the king's mistresses, about politics and politicians etc. This kind of information he received in Tom's Coffee House, at the corner of Bow Street and Russell Street. There he bought or read his Tatler and Gazette and his letters were "franked" there, that is, stamped by some person who had the right to free post. (His principal frankers were John Morgan, Lord Lieutenant of Monmouthshire, and Richard Vaughan, who later was one of his executors.) Why Charles Williams used his friends and acquaintances this way can only be explained as a kind of snobbery. He certainly would have been able to pay the postage.
The political gossip in the letters is very impartial. As so many men of wealth and class were Whigs, one can only assume that he also was one. E.g. the Bank of England is considered to be a Whig enterprise - why should he have been at its founding if he was a Tory?
Charles Williams's preserved correspondence with the Mansel family consists of only eight letters which are mainly about business. There are glimpses showing his attitude to business, e.g. in 1707 when he is rather annoyed by the carelessness of a Mr. Madocks who probably was one of the Mansels' agents or stewards. Madocks did not send the interest due to Charles Williams in time and from this followed that he in his turn could not keep his promises to his "Christmas creditors." He gives a short lecture to (Thomas?) Mansel: "to keepe the accot of Intrest betweene us within a narrower compass for twas the custom of both the old & the young gent thats gon, to balance that accot allways before Xmas wheras now, when this 300 Is is receaud there will remayn yet unpaid about 400 Is of Int. money & you are to consider that as many hundred pds as is unpaid after tis due is for many groats a day for each 100 Is less to me, for example there is now unpd 700 Is wch amounts at 7 groats a day to 16s. 4d. a weeke, thus wee (word missing) the product of a little money must (make a?) good calculation or not find our account(s?) (in order?)."
The very end of the letter is damaged badly and words are again missing. It is possible to reconstruct the sentences: "(This?) may be a service to yee when you com (to be an?) old man & turne userer / in the mean(time?) may you Live happily & Contentedly & continue (having?) me in yor good thoughts who am, Sir "
The word usurer has echoes not altogether pleasant. Charles Williams, however, does not seem to have had any compunction or regret about money-lending and interest-taking. He considered himself an honest man: "as yett God send it that such honest men as you (J.H.) and I are may liue in peace and quietness the remainder of our time."
We can follow the development of the forming of the Charity in the letters, at least to some extent. Charles Williams had made enquiries at the Society for Propagation of Christian Knowledge (SPCK) before the latter part of April 1715, because the letter that Society sent to the vicar of St. Woolos was dated 21st April, saying that they had an enquiry from "a Mr. Williams" concerning any need for a school in Caerleon. (19) In August Charles Williams wrote to John Hanbury saying that he had "talkd it ouer with the Gent of the Society." It seems he had asked John Hanbury to contact the Mayor and aldermen of Bristol who indeed later were involved with the Charity. Charles Williams was at the same time helpful in getting a new vicar for Caerleon. Griffith Davies had been Thomas Lingen's curate and, when Lingen resigned to move to St. Mellons, the living was given to Davies. Charles Williams seems to have dealt with the Llandaff Chapter and given at least £200 to "subscribe" Davies's living.
In addition to the actual Charity he gave money to the poor of Caerleon. In an undated letter it could he from the time just before his enquiries to the SPCK - he writes: "Sr, I had almost forgotten of my Cheif Erands wch is to desire you to detaine 15 £ in your hands for the poor of Caerleon wch together with 5 £ that Mr. Ph:Seys is to pay upon my acot wilbe 20 £ wch I desire you & the parson to cawse to be destrihuted when you think flit & as my old Landlady tells me, God will reward you for your Trouble & I wth my thanks."
The letters to John Hanbury give a good picture of the old man in his eighties, gradually going blind and suffering with swelling of legs and other ailments of old age. However, he is still very observant, curious about what is happening in the world, in politics both at home and in Europe. Once he sounds a note that is familiar in our modern ears: "- neither ffrench Suede (Swede, i.e. the Swedish king, Charles XII who was waging war in Europe) or Zar (Peter the Great) neede arm or fight agst us, let us but alone to ourselues wee shall contriue our own Ruyn sooner then any other way "
He is also very keen on giving advice on education to Hanbury, and also to John Morgan whose sons he thinks are not getting enough of it: "Our Ld Leift about the beginning of the weeke desird I wou'd giue him an ayring in my Chariot & I thought I could not divert him better then to goe & make yor Son a visitt & walk in that pretty Garden at Chelsey with a little designe & hopes that it would haue put him in mind of som such schoole for his owne children to wyden their Education a little but finding he made no step towards it I tooke the liberty in our return to tell him of sewell (several) advantages that often accrues to Contry Gent Sonns that can afford it in placeing em in som of those schooles where children of the best quality are Educated for freindship contracted at Schoole or by Trawlling in good Company haue often turnd (into?) accot I haue Experiencd the later my Self in som small degree, but where an Overgrown Estate is it can want nothing of that sam but good breeding."
Although he here talks of education of the higher classes, he also considered it important in general, as his Will best proves.
One cannot escape the feeling when reading his letters that the thing which mattered most to Charles Williams was money. One can hear the irritation in the words: "I am quite tird with keeping Mr. Cesills money by me soe long without any profit from it pray tell Mr. Williams." (Mr. William Williams, an Attorney. He could be the same man who was the treasurer of the Trustees in 1729.) And, the very last lines written by his hand in these letters, 14th January 1719, give John Hanbury information of South Sea Stocks and are added to the end of the letter which is obviously written for him by another hand. He was interested and probably involved in the South Sea adventure which came to an unfortunate end within a week from his death. (The first intimations of trouble in the South Sea Company came about during the first week of September, according to the Weekly Journal, 1720.)
The friendship with the thirty years younger Major John Hanbury may have started fairly late, that is, when John Hanbury became M.P. for Gloucester in 1701 and spent long periods in London. They could not have known each other when Charles still was in Caerleon: in 1670 John Hanbury was only 6 years old. In the letters are no hints of any special services John Hanhury might have done to him, unlike the suggestion in the legend. He only talks of his sincere admiration of John Hanhury's straightforward character and good business dealings. He also admires Mrs. Hanhury, the Major's second wife Bridget Ayscough and never forgets to send her his special greetings and thanks for the grouse she has sent to him. He keeps an eye on political developments and their effect on trade, e.g. when he warns John Hanbury about the rise in the price of iron, as a consequence of the Great Northern War. The frequent pieces of information concerning the Duke of Marlborough may have been partially caused by the fact that Mrs. Hanbury then already knew and was friendly with Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough. It is obvious, however, that some of Charles Williams's remarks and hints indicate that he did not altogether admire the great couple.
The character of Charles Williams himself appears in the letters gentle, modest and mildly humorous, although at the same time still very hardheaded in business. He never boasts and hardly ever complains. To his good friend John he can sometimes admit being lonely: "I am conflnd to the fireside & thank God hitherto without any ill effects of the hard frost, how this Thaw will deal wth I know not, very Solitary wth out Company 7 or 8 hours in a day & in great want of a man with a Laudible voice to read to me the best remeady is patience tis wt must be endurd by old age."
His first will was put together in 1715 but was cancelled and a new one was made in 1717. The main points were the founding of the school and the sum given to the church, as well as the enormous sum to John Hanbury and his family. He stipulated that the money was to be transferred in the Hanbury family "in tail male," and there are only three women mentioned: Elizabeth, his niece, and Elizabeth and Anne Cary who were grand-daughters of Thomas Mansel. And, indeed, no-one by the name of Morgan is mentioned in the will.
In August 1717 Charles Williams wrote a letter to John Hanbury which was intended to come into his hands at the same time as the Will. In it we can read the explanation for the Will: "I designe this shall come to your hands at the same time with my last will. The perusal of which will give you a much better Testimony of the value and Friendship I sincearly haue for you & yor ffamily, then any Expressions I can use: I have th prosperity & welfare of the Town of Caerlyon the place of my Birth soe much at Hart, that I cannot forbeare recommending it to the Care and protection of you and your posterity; I haue been long absent and live at soe great a distance that tis possible there may be som poor familyes related to me in blood within the County that escap'd my acquaintance. If you find any such, I am confident your owne Generosity without any particular recomendacon from me will incline you to show them som destinguishing marks of your favour & Countenance."
There is a postscript: "Tis probable you may find among my papers in the Scritores som frivolous & useless papers & Letters not fitt to be Exposd what ever you find of that kind I desire may be burnt. I have been hitherto soe lazy that I haue not taken time to cull em out." (20)
It is a pity that John Hanhury seems to have fulfilled that wish of his friend, to the letter.
The quest for Charles Williams finally ended under the silence of the North Room in the British Library. There, while studying the yellowed pages of newspapers published in the year 1720, I found the following notice:
"On Tuesday last died - Williams Esquire, a Welch Gentleman worth 80000 1. at his Lodgings in Bow Street, Covent Garden. He has left - Hanbury Esquire, Knight of the Shire for Monmouth his Executor, to whose 2d Son he has left an Estate of 1500 1. per Annum. His Corpse is to be carried down into Monmouthshire to be interred." (21)
That Tuesday was the 30th of August.
The last sentence of that announcement proved to be wrong as, after having turned still further pages, I found another notice: "Last Week the Corps of Williams, Esq.; was carried in great State from Bow Street, and interred in Westminster Abbey; it was met at the West Gate of the Church by the Choiresters who conducted it into the Choir, where an Antham was sung; the Funeral Service was performed by Dr. Edwards. This Gentleman, who died in the 87th year of his Age, hath, among other charitable Legacies, left 5000 1. for building and endowing a Free School in Wales; and to his Executor, Mr. Hanbury, and his Family, in Money and Land, to the Value of one hundred thousand Pounds." (22)
The newspapers were as inaccurate then as ever later.
The actual burial place is exactly where the memorial for Charles Williams was placed by John Hanbury: on the North wall of the North aisle. This was confirmed by the Register kept in the Muniment Room of the Abbey, on the 7th of October 1977.
Sir Walter Besant in his work, "London in the eighteenth Century", describes funerals of that period. It was the custom to have the body lying in state at first, in the house. Everything in the room (and other rooms also sometimes) was covered with black materials and candles burned around the body. "At the funeral the mourners were presented with black scarves & weepers, black cloaks, black gloves, and rings; everybody carried a sprig of rosemary which was thrown in the grave; and as the funeral generally was conducted at night (the Weekly Journal does not give this impression in the case of C. W's funeral.) the mourners wore long black cloaks etc.; they carried torches . . . the church was hung with black, plumes were borne before the coffin . . . Those who died maids or bachelors had their hearses decorated with white and black; married people with black only. (The bachelor's) horses were black and white, the driver dressed in black and white, while on the hearse nodded black and white plumes . . . After the ceremony, the friends returned to the house and took supper, with punch and wine." The funeral of Charles Williams was perhaps not quite as ostentatious as that because he stipulated in his Will that he wished to be buried without any feathers on his coffin.
That is the story of Charles Williams, born in quiet Caerleon and dying in the fashionable world of Covent Garden, buried in state in the greatest church of the land.
Nothing of the legend has been proven, it still stands as a story that indeed could be true, in outline. The study would have to go on, in order to find information of Charles Williams's younger years. It is very doubtful, however, that any would be found. We shall have to say only that Charles Williams was not the kind of man who would have forgotten a misdeed like that so completely, if he had committed it in his youth.
But is the story any less exciting if there never was any romantic duel or love? The actual tale of a self-made man at one of the most interesting periods of British history is surely also very thrilling. To the researcher at least it has been so.
1. PRO Assize Z. I.
PRO - Public Record Office
Recent research into the Charles Williams Story