Anson in Italy

Sir John Eardley Wilmot was a judge who had worked on the Midland Circuit and at one point turned down the offer to replace Lord Hardwicke as Lord Chancellor. On the day Thomas Anson died (30th March 1773) he wrote a personal obituary for him in his journal. It was a habit of his to make brief notes about people he had known when they passed away. Perhaps Wilmot, as well as being connected with the Hardwicke circle, had known Anson in his role as a barrister – if he had, in fact, ever had an activecareer in the law, as it seems Anso spent a lot of his time out of the country:

Wilmot wrote:

On the 30th of March 1773, Thomas Anson, esquire, of Shuckborough, in the county of Stafford, departed this life: he was the elder brother of lord Anson, who died without issue, and inherited his great acquisitions. He was never married, and, in the former part of his life, had lived many years abroad; was a very ingenious, polite, well-bred man, and dignified all his natural and acquired accomplishments by his universal benevolence and philanthropy.

(John Eardley-Wilmot, Memoirs of the Life of the Right Honourable Sir John Eardley Wilmot, Knt. Printed by J. Nichols and son, 1811)

For such an invisible man as Thomas the number of laudatory comments such as this is quite surprising. They all agree on his philanthropy and taste.

Wilmot writes that Anson “had lived many years abroad.” The word “lived” suggests something far more than the occasional journey. Until the present author began researching Thomas in earnest in 2006 there were very few hints of his travels. There was an idea that he had been “in the East,” and there was written record of a trip along the entire length of the Mediterranean in 1740/1, but no evidence of him having “lived abroad.”

There is an anonymous poem in the Staffordshire Archives addressed to “Thomas Anson Esq of Shuckbro’” which implies that Thomas had been very well travelled in the realms of the ancient civilisations.

After thy Course of various Travel run,

& to his morning-glories trac’d the Sun,

Here, Anson, rest; the busie Toil is o’er,

And Waves & Tempests recommend the Shore.

See from this Haven length of Waters past;

Look from this Summit to the dreary Waste,

Enjoy by turns thy pleasures & thy pains,

The burning sands & aromatic Plains;

Here to reflection Desarts wild be brought,

Or in the Citron grove refresh thy thought.


What Europe, – and what Asia yields, is thine;

For Thee it’s splendour & Decays combine,

Where fretted Gold Alcairo’s roof adorns,

Or Templ’d Balbeck her lost grandieur ourns.

To please thy view, Time check’d his cruel pow’r,

And sav’d the mouldring shrine, & falling Tow’r.


What tho’ Palmyra boast her pillar’d pride,’

Tho’ by Minerva’s Fane Illisus glide;

Can thy stretch’d Wish beyond Posession roam,

Or sigh for beauties, which thou wan’st at Home?

Does Lycus roll his stream thro’ fairer Meads?

Or Tempe’s self a fresher Verdure spreads?

May not that broken Pile’s disorder’d state

(Columns expressive of the stroke of Fate)

Hap’ly recall to thy attentive eye

Some lov’d Remain of fair Antiquity?


Here may’st Thou oft regale in Seric Bow’r,

Secure of Mandarin’s despotic Pow’r,

Behold thy Eastern structures rise, nor fear

The Sultan’s frown, or Turban’d Officer.

Safe from their servile yoke, their arts command,

And Grecian Domes erect in Freedom’s land.

(Staffordshire Archives D615/P(S)/2/5)

A note on the manuscript says “probably by Dr Sneyd Davies. Sneyd Davies (1709-1755) was from Kingsland, in Herefordshire. He held a chaplaincy at Lichfield, became a prebendary, before becoming Archdeacon of Derby in 1755. He visited Shugborough in 1750 and wrote down his impressions, including the “pile of broken arches, and of imperfect pillars, to counterfeit the remains of antiquity.” His notes also imply that Thomas had visited him in Kingsland. If this poem is by Dr Sneyd Davies the poet may well had opportunities to talk about Anson’s travels.

“Various travel” implies that this marks his abandonment of the travelling life and his retirement to his Staffordshire home? Do the various historic sites mentioned actually relate places he had travelled to? If they do, he was exceptionally adventurous. Is this possible?

“Alcairo” presumably means Cairo. This is the one place mentioned which there is no doubt that Thomas visited, in 1741. Could he have been to Baalbeck, in Lebanon, or Palmyra, in Syria? He certainly visited Aleppo in 1741. Palmyra might have been within his sights.

Most tantalising is the reference to “Illisus”. This is a river in Athens, the Ilisos. The phrase “Minerva’s Fane” is an echo of Alexander Pope’s translation of the Iliad, where it refers to a temple within Troy. It is very possible, as will be explained, that Thomas reached Troy – but did he actually set foot in Athens?

There is a temple on the Ilisos, but not of Minerva, or Athene as she is in Greek. This might be a simple error by the anonymous poet, who remembered the words of Pope.

This poem is, surely, implying that Thomas had been in Athens. To the cultured classicist “Ilisos” would bring to mind Plato. In Plato Socrates and Phaedrus discussed the nature of love on the banks of the Ilissos.


The earliest of Thomas’s travels for which there is evidence was a tour of Belgium, France and Italy beginning in 1723.  The excursion lasted at least at least two years, and perhaps more.

Lord Whitworth, a government representative at the Congress of Cambrai (a long running conference in which France and Britain mediated between Spain and the Holy Roman Emperor) wrote to Lord Polwarth in July from Spa, Belgium:

Mr Mytten, Mr Anson and Mr Degg, three English gentlemen who have been here for some time and design to take Cambray in their way to Paris desire your lordship’s protection. They are pretty modest gentlemen, and Mr. Anson, who is nephew to my Lord Chancellor, the Earl of Macclesfield, has been particularly recommended to me by the Chancellor of the Exchequer as Secretary of State and Mr De la Faye. When he has been about a month in Paris, he designs to come back and make some stay at Cambrai.

(Alexander Hume-Campbell Marchmont , Earl of; Walter Hugh Hepburne-Scott Polwarth , Baron; Henry Paton, Report on the manuscripts of Lord Polwarth, preserved at Mertoun house, Great Britain. Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts. HM Stationery Office, 1931. Available on Google Books.)


At this time Thomas was seen as a protegee of Lord Macclesfield, the Lord Chancellor and the Ansons’ uncle. Charles Delafaye was a Civil Servant, at that time Secretary to the Lords Justices of England. Alexander Hume Campbell, Lord Polwarth, was one of the British ambassadors to the Congress of Cambrai.

Ingamells’ ‘Dictionary of British and Irish Travellers in Italy 1701-1800′, a rich source of information,suggests that Mytton was William Mytton, a wine trader and one of the extensive Shropshire family

(John Ingamells, A dictionary of British and Irish Travellers in Italy 1791-1800, Yale UP, 1997)

It is far more likely that this fellow traveller was William Mytton’s younger brother James (1696-1764). James Mytton, youngest of a large generation of the Myttons of Halston, Shropshire, lived in Richmond and there are many references to him in the Anson papers in the Staffordshire Archives. Identification is not always certain as the writers rarely use a first name or even an initial. He isn’t always even given a “Mr”. For example, Lady Anson refers to “the problem of Mytton’s almshouses” in a letter to Admiral Anson in 1759. The almshouses were Houblon’s Almshouses in Sheen Road, left to the care of James Mytton by his great aunt Susannah Houblon, widow of John Houblon, governor of the bank of England. She died in 1759. The will also required that Mytton’s sister Esther be allowed to live for the rest of her life at Ellerker House, Richmond, which became James Mytton’s home.

James Mytton was left in charge of Thomas’s business while he was in the east in 1740/1. He visited Paris with him in 1748 and, seems to have been a regular visitor to Shugborough. One of Lady Anson’s letters mentions him being there as late as 1756. Mytton was a neighbour at Richmond of Daniel Wray, an antiquarian friend of Philip Yorke and the Wrest Park set.

He seems to have been Thomas’s longest lasting friend. Thomas Pennant, who left the detailed description of Shugborough quoted in the previous chapter was Mytton’s nephew. After the death of his brothers James Mytton found himself the senior member of the family, supporting Pennant and his other nephews and nieces, including the father of Mad Jack Mytton, the famous huntsman of the turn of the century.

James Mytton, like Thomas Anson, was unmarried.

Another of Mytton’s nephews, also called James, travelled in Italy many years later. He was an art collector and member of the Dilettante Society and must have been the Mr Mytton who received a mourning ring when Thomas died, his uncle having died in 1764.

Ingamellls gives no evidence that Mr Mytton travelled into Italy with Anson and Degge. Perhaps he returned to England after visiting Paris and Cambrai.

Simon Degge, (1797- c1765) of Blithbridge (Blythe Bridge, according to the Royal Society database), was a Staffordshire friend, and a contemporary of Thomas’s in the Inner Temple, having been entered four years after Thomas in 1712.

Ingamells dictionary (3) gives no clues to Thomas Anson’s whereabouts for the next year. It is possible that he had returned home before setting off again for Italy, but there are traces of Simon Degge and it is possible Anson was still travelling with him.

On 22nd May 1724 Degge was in Rome when he, Richard Rawlinson and Benjamin Calvert visited the palace of Cardinal Spada. In July he was in Siena, and back again in Rome in December.

In the last few months of 1724 Thomas Anson was following a different itinerary.

In September 1724 he was in Padua with Alan Brodrick, who also a member of the Inner Temple, according to Ingamells, though he is not listed on the Inner Temple database. Thomas and Alan Brodrick signed the visitors’ book of the University of Padua together. This was a tradition for Grand Tourists and the book contains the names of over 2000 British travellers.

Simon Degge arrived in Padua a few months later. On February 17th 1725 he signed the Padua visitors’ book with a group of others including Lucius Cary, and Benjamin and Francis Lambert. One of them made a note that they were “all safe and sound arrived here from the Carnavale of Venice.”

(The visitors’ book is included in Monografie storiche sullo Studio di Padova, 1922, and can be searched on Google Books with a creative use of key words.)

(The visitor’s book later lists Simon Degge’s brother, William, who joined the Society of Dilettanti with Thomas Anson, visiting Padua in 1732 with George Knapton, the portrait painter for the society.)

The three contemporaries of the Inner Temple Alan Brodrick, Simon Degge, and Thomas Anson may have been fellow travellers throughout this period, though occasionally diverting to other cities. All were in their early thirties. The usual image of a Grand Tourist is of a very young man, in his teens or early twenties, travelling with a guardian or tutor, taking the opportunity to gather a wide variety of experience of the world, not necessarily cultural. This group of friends were visiting the usual haunts of educational tourists, but wandering backwards and forwards and apparently being in no hurry to return.

Such tours were often a chance to collect art works, whether valuable or merely souvenirs. There is no evidence that Thomas Anson bought objets d’art on this trip, though there is a pietro duro table top at Shugborough which may come from this period. Brodrick not only bought pictures but also sat for his portrait in Venice.

There were, of course, many other distractions and amusements in Italy that would not be accessible back home. Apart from these, and we know very little of Thomas’s private life, there was music. In his last years music was as important to Thomas as architecture, sculpture and botany. Italy was the focus for high quality music throughout the 18th century even when the other arts and the political power of its various states was declining.

Venice, Naples and Rome in particular were full of music, in every theatre, every church and every street corner. In 1725 Vivaldi had returned to Venice as an opera composer after promoting his career elsewhere, and his Four Seasons dates from this period. In Padua Tartini was starting his career, founding his violin school in 1726 at which Thomas’s friend of his old age, Anton Kammell, studied.

Thomas Anson met up with Simon Degge again in Rome by April 1725. Alan Brodrick and Sir Gerard Aylmer left Rome for Naples in March 1725. Anson and Degge stayed in Rome for Holy Week. Easter Day was 1st April in 1725.

The spectacle of Holy Week and Easter, with the processions of penitents followed by the grand celebrations of Easter, were an attraction to Grand Tourists. What did they make of it? Was it just curiosity about an alien culture? Some tourists, most notoriously Sir Francis Dashwood, went out of their way to mock the ritual and the attitudes of the catholic church. On his Grand Tour a few years later, if Horace Walpole can be believed, Dashwood joined a group of penitents, who were scourging themselves at midnight, and strode up the aisle cracking a horsewhip and terrifying them all.

(Sir Francis Dashwood, The Dashwoods of West Wycombe, Aurum Press, 1990.)

Though Dashwood and Thomas Anson certainly knew each other in later years as fellow members of the Society of Dilettanti, the Egyptian Society and the Divan Club, this kind of behaviour seems very far removed from Anson’s serious and modest style.

Thomas Anson’s religious interests, if any, are a mystery. It is very curious that the largest and most ostentatiously placed of the pictures that survive from his collection at Shugborough is a very strongly catholic subject. The Immaculate Conception by Miguel Jacinto Melendez is now hung as the focus of the Red Drawing Room, the grandest of the room built after his time. The painting is dated 1731 so it was probably acquired by Anson long after the Grand Tour years. In the more intimate interior of the house as it was before 1800 it must have seemed even more striking.

Thomas and Simon Degge and an unidentified Thomas Kemp followed Brodrick to Naples on 4th April . On 24th May Anson and Degge had returned to Rome and were leaving again, heading towards Florence.

In the following months Brodrick was also in Northern Italy, including visits to Parma and Venice.

Degge was still in Italy in March 1726 when he was reported as being in Milan. There are no further traces of Thomas Anson. He may still have been with Degge or Brodrick but simply not mentioned in the sources. As it is it appease his tour may have lasted two years or more. This is a long time but not enough to account for Wilmot’s comment about “many years abroad.” It is only one of several known journeys and there may well have been more.

Brodrick was back in England in August 1727 when he was involved in the event that has proved to be his only lasting claim to fame – a historic Cricket Match at Godalming with the Duke of Richmond’s 11. Brodrick and Richmond drew up “Rules of Agreement” for their match which became the basis for the rules of Cricket ever since. I have found no evidence that Thomas Anson was a cricketer. There was a bowling green at Shugborough.

Alan (or Allan) Brodrick’s relationship with Thomas Anson may be slight. They may have been passing acquaintances or they may have been part of a circle of close friends from the same legal background (and in Degge’s case from the same part of England).

As with so many things in this story it would be helpful to know more about their relationship, if any, as Alan Brodrick reappears ten years later as one of the most important patrons of Thomas Wright, the architect who transformed the house and gardens at Shugborough in the 1740s. By that time Brodrick had become the 2nd Viscount Midleton, of Peper Harow, Surrey. He was one of the Commissioners of Customs and M.P. for Midhurst. He married, in 1729, Mary youngest daughter of Algernon, Earl of Essex. Wright stayed with Midleton several times, teaching his family and members of the Earl of Essex’s family.

(The editor of Thomas Wright’s Early Journal wrongly identifies Lord Midleton as Francis Willoughby, who was actually the completely unrelated Lord Middleton, and whom, coincidentally, Wright met in his 1750 travels.)

There is no trace of Thomas Anson’s and Simon Degge’s return from Italy but the rare and valuable clues that do survive suggest a continuing connection between them. They appear in together in the next known document mentioning Thomas Anson, his election to the membership of the Royal Society in 1730. Four years later Thomas’s name appears next to Simon Degge’s brother William’s in the list of founder members of the Society of Dilettanti but Simon disappears from the scene.

(Ingamells wrongly gives Degge’s date of death as 1727. It was a complicated Derbyshire family with several cousins and uncles all called Simon and the details have been confused with a second cousin, Simon, died in 1729. It is unfortunate that two of Anson’s companions are wrongly identified, but it is only by a very careful investigation of family dates and clues in other documents that the correct identities of Mr. Mytton and Mr. Degge have been established.)

While the travellers were away Thomas’s uncle, Thomas Parker, Earl of Macclesfield, the Lord Chancellor became involved in a serious charge of corruption. He was accused of encouraging the misuse of legal funds, for himself and other Masters in Chancery. He resigned in January 1725 and was tried in the House of Lords during May. He was found guilty, imprisoned in the Tower of London and ordered to pay £30,000 fine.

He retired to Shirburn Castle where he and his son, with the help of William Jones, built up a famous scientific library which has only been broken up and sold since 2000. One of Macclesfield’s few visits to London after his disgrace was to be a pall bearer at his friend Isaac Newton’s funeral in 1727. He died on 23rd April 1732. His son, astronomer and politician George, the Anson’s first cousin, succeeded him as the 2nd Earl of Macclesfield.