The Tichborne Curse
The news in March 1853 of the death of the 9th baronet had revived interest in a story which had its origin in the 12th Century.
Sir Roger Tichborne, a soldier in the service of Henry II, was married to a saintly woman known as Lady Mabella who would regularly give to the needy. On her deathbed, fearing the effect of the end of her charitable giving, she requested that her husband deliver a dole (of flour) annually to the poor of the parish. The unkind response from Sir Roger was that he would only give as much as the rental value deriving from land which she could mark out whilst carrying a lit torch of fire. She took up the challenge, eventually managing to enclose over 20 acres, later to be known as the ‘Crawls’.
Sir Roger reluctantly agreed to the bargain against the curse from Lady Mabella that should his descendants ever abandon that annual gift to the poor on Lady Day, 25th March, the name of Tichborne would come to an end; this would be come to be as a generation of seven sons was followed by one of seven daughters.
Annual gifting to the poor continued from the time of Lady Mabella’s death, a tradition maintained by the descendants of Sir Benjamin Tichborne who had been granted a baronetcy by James I & V and by his eldest son, Sir Richard Tichborne. The descendants of his younger son, Sir Walter, had settled in Aldershot.
The practice of the Tichborne Dole came to an abrupt end in 1796, a date within living memory of several in the village when the story of the Tichborne Curse would have re-entered the folklore told to children.
There had already been a break in the senior line of Sir Richard’s line, triggered when his grandson, the 4th baronet, Henry Joseph Tichborne (b. 1663) died at the age of 80. He was without a male heir for the baronetcy, the title in 1743 then passing to his younger brother John who had become a Jesuit priest. The 5th baronet being unmarried was therefore also without a legitimate male heir.
Henry Joseph Tichborne did have two daughters, Frances Cecily and Mary Agnes, who were co-heirs to part of his estate, marrying, respectively, into the Doughty and Blount families. The bulk of the Tichborne estate, however, was left in trust. At the death of Father John Hermengil in 1748, that estate was passed to a distant cousin as the baronetcy was transferred to descend along the line of Sir Walter, the younger of the first baronet’s sons.
- Sir Walter’s family had been based at Aldershot, his son Francis and grandson White Tichborne adding to the family’s copyholdings.It was during the lifetime of White Tichborne’s son James that the locus of that junior line had started to shift away from Aldershot, towards Frimley. Although James had been baptised at St Michael’s Church in May 1674, the tenure of James Tichborne, later known as ‘of Frimley’, was also characterised by financial retrenchment, selling many holdings in Aldershot, including significant property to Charles Viner, the husband of Raleigh Weekes, a direct descendant of Amphillis Tichborne, the sister of Sir Richard and Sir Walter. He also sold the manor of Tongham in the 1720s, having mortgaged that several times.
On succeeding to the title in 1748, and becoming the 6th baronet, Sir Henry Tichborne (b. 1710) moved to the family seat at Tichborne Park. This would have represented a turnaround in the fortunes of the junior branch of the family.
The link between the senior and junior lines of the Tichborne family was re-connected through the marriage of Sir Henry to Mary Blount, She was the daughter of Mary Agnes and thereby the granddaughter of the Henry Joseph Tichborne, the 4th baronet. Mary’s aunt, her mother’s elder sister, Frances Cecily Tichborne, had married George Brownlow-Doughty, a family which combined the estates in Lincolnshire with those of William Brownlow including parts of Bloomsbury. That family’s fortune would have later significance in the Tichborne Curse.
The marriage was consummated by the birth of another Tichborne named Henry (b. 1756) who became the 7th baronet at the death of his father in 1785. Sir Henry Tichborne then sold the family estate of Frimley Manor in 1789, bringing to an end the tenure of those named Tichborne in the local area.
It was this Sir Henry Tichborne who was the baronet responsible for ending the Tichborne Dole in 1796. The reason for stopping the practice was attributed to the disturbances caused by large numbers of paupers and vagabonds arriving into the manor to secure a share of what was distributed as part of the Dole.
Seemingly, the end to the Dole really did trigger Lady Mabella’s curse and the the name of Tichborne was lost, as a generation one seven daughters followed that of seven sons.
Sir Henry really did have seven sons: Henry, Benjamin, Edward, James, John, George and Roger. More than that, Sir Henry eldest son, Henry Joseph (b. 1779), who succeeded him as the 8th baronet, really had seven daughters, Elizabeth, Frances, Julia, Mary, Catherine, Emily and Lucy; all those daughters were born before their father succeeded to the title in 1821.
The 8th baronet had no living sons from his marriage. All was therefore coming to pass according to the Tichborne Curse, as recorded in 1829 within stanzas of the ‘Tichborne Dole’. This was the contribution by Lord Nugent, Member of Parliament for the rotten borough of Aylesbury, written in the style of an ancient ballad, to the 1830 edition of Marshall’s Pocket Book. He wrote of the fulfilment of the prophesy about the extinction of the male heirs, paying handsome compliment to the female descendants of the family.
On the death of Sir Henry Joseph in 1845, without a male heir, the title of the Baronetcy of Tichborne had to go to one of his brothers. The second eldest, Benjamin, had already died, in China in 1810. The title therefore went to the third son, Edward.
As though true to the very detail of the words in the curse uttered by Lady Mabella, Edward’s name was no longer that of Tichborne. It had been changed by royal licence to that of Doughty.
In 1826, the King had granted Edward Tichborne, Esq. royal licence that he and his issue could take the name of Doughty only, instead of that of Tichborne. This third son, not expecting to inherit the family fortune had changed his name in order to satisfy the condition of a considerable legacy from his cousin Elizabeth Doughty, related to, and possibly the granddaughter of, Frances Cecily and George Brownlow-Doughty. She had been keen to have her family name continued through the prospect of the birth of a son to Edward.
Edward was in Jamaica when he heard he had inherited the Doughty estate. He was working with his younger brother James on a sugar plantation belonging to the Duke of Buckingham. On his return to England, he had used his legacy to buy Upton House near Poole, Dorset, marrying well in 1827 to Katherine Everard of the Arundell family which was connected to the family of the (Catholic) Duke of Norfolk. Their only son, Henry Doughty, died in childhood in 1835.
On inheriting the baronetcy in 1845, Sir Edward, the 9th baronet, promptly revived the Tichborne Dole, presumably with intention to be both charitable and to allay the Tichborne Curse.
Perhaps the tradition of the Dole and the associated Tichborne Curse, once well known across Hampshire, would have been forgotten amongst most of the villagers of Aldershot by 1853, but for the recent news of the death of the 9th baronet in March.
The obituary in The Illustrated News noted that as Sir Edward’s son Henry had died as a youth, the title and estates therefore would pass to Sir Edward’s only surviving brother James. He had been the chief mourner at the elaborate funeral, attended by twelve Catholic priests. James was the third and only surviving of the seven Tichborne brothers. The fourth, fifth and seventh brothers had died much earlier, the seventh doing so in November 1849; all were without a male heir.
The report in the Illustrated noted that Sir James Francis Tichborne was married to Harriette-Felicita, daughter of Henry Seymour, Esq., and had two surviving sons, Roger Charles and Alfred Joseph. Not reported in the press, and perhaps unknown in the village, was that Sir James and his French wife were estranged. She was of aristocratic origin, the love child of Henry Seymour MP from his affair with the supposed love child of Louis François Bourbon, a direct descendant of the Louis XIV of France. Henry Seymour was himself a direct descendant of the eldest surviving brother of Jane Seymour, the mother of the only son of Henry VIII of England.
On becoming the 10th baronet, Sir James took the name Doughty-Tichborne.
His son, Roger Charles Tichborne, became the heir apparent, Roger’s 14 year old brother Alfred being the spare. Roger, had boarded a ship for South America at the start of March, unaware of his status with respect to the Tichborne estate.
Born in Paris and raised by his mother, Roger spoke English with a decidedly French accent. He joined the Dragoon Guards. then bought a commission as a Lieutenant in November 1850. He has courted his cousin Katherine, the only daughter of his uncle Sir Edward Doughty, much to the disapproval of her parents. Feeling rejected, Roger had sold his Commission and returned to Paris. The heir apparent then embarked from Le Harve in February 1853 on the long journey to Chile.
A year later, in April 1854, he was reported missing following a shipwreck, presumed to have been drowned. Much later, that would lead to a high-profile trial of the Tichborne Claimant. But that’s another story.
There is a related page on the Tichborne Family