The Death of Lord Scarbrough


Considering the scarcity of information that survives about Thomas Anson, apparently so unassuming and reticent, it is quite extraordinary that two of his friends included dramatic and significant anecdotes about him in their published works. In both cases a brief paragraph is enough to open up an entire chapter in his life and both mark what must have been pivotal moments that affected him intensely. It is curious and even haunting that both of these brief fragments contain, verbatim, Thomas’s own words. It is almost as if he had passed on stories must have affected his listeners deeply but which would only reveal their full significance to a future generation.

Erasmus Darwin tells of an extraordinarily dramatic event in Thomas Anson’s life in his “Zoonomia”, (1794-6). Darwin was part of the Lichfield literary set, not necessarily a group of people closely involved with the Ansons. Though he may have known Thomas over many years but their only recorded encounter was in the 1770s when the Lanthorn of Demosthenes, Shugborough’s last monument, was being completed. It’s likely that this story was told thirty years after the event and published another twenty years after that.

The anecdote is brief and Darwin attempts to keep its subject anonymous. There are no other references to the incident in the Shugborough archives and yet, because it refers to a notorious and shocking event it is possible to fill in the background of the story in detail from other contemporary accounts.

Darwin writes:

Mr. Anson, the brother to the late Lord Anson related to me the following anecdote of the death of lord Sc-. His lordship sent to see Mr. Anson on the Monday preceding his death and said,

“You are the only friend I value in the world, I determined therefore to acquaint you, that I am tired of the insipidity of life, and intend to morrow to leave It.”

Mr. Anson said after much conversation, that he was obliged to leave town till Friday, and added,

“As you profess a friendship for me, do me this last favour, I entreat you, live till I return.”

Lord Sc- believed this to be a pious artifice to gain time, but nevertheless agreed, if he should return by four o’clock, on that day.

Mr. Anson did not return till five, and perceived by the countenances of the domestics, that the deed was done. He went into his chamber and found the corpse of his friend leaning over the arm of a great chair, with the pistol on the ground by him, the ball of which had been discharged into the roof of his mouth, and passed into his brain.

(Erasmus Darwin, Zoonomia, or the laws of organic life. Vol. 2, 1800)

Lord Sc- can very easily be identified. He was Richard Lumley, 2nd Earl of Scarborough, who committed suicide on January 29th 1740 (New Style).

The story as told here suggests that this must have been a shocking experience. Lord Scarbrough had sent for Thomas specifically to talk about his intention of committing suicide on the Monday. Thomas persuaded him to restrain himself until he returned to London on the Friday. Scarbrough agreed to wait. Thomas was delayed and Scarbrough shot himself only a short time before Thomas Anson finally arrived, only an hour later than he had promised.

Thomas Anson would have felt himself to be responsible. This would inevitably produce an appalling sense of guilt.

Richard Lord Scarbrough was born November 30th 1686. He was military man, and fought against the Jacobites in the first rebellion of 1715. He succeeded to the title in 1721, became Lord Lieutenant of Northumberland, a Privy Counselor and Knight of the Garter and Master of the Horse in 1727. He very close to George II and trusted with negotiations with the Frederick Prince of Wales over the Prince’s budget at a time when the Prince and King were not on speaking terms. Horace Walpole said he had wisdom but no wit. He was considered a man of honour and out of place in a frivolous age. He was a close friend of Lord Chesterfield, who, Walpole said, had wit but no wisdom.

“He had not,” says Lord Chesterfield,” the least pride of birth and rank; that common narrow notion of little minds…”

(The Annual register…for the year 1777, Dodsley, 1794,  Page 22. Available on Google books.)


Scarbrough visited Chesterfield on his last day, the Friday on which he shot himself:

The morning of the day on which he accomplished this resolution, he paid a long visit to Lord Chesterfield, and opened himself to him with great earnestness on many subjects. As he appeared somewhat discomposed, his friend pressed him to stay and dine with him, which he refused, but tenderly embraced him at parting. It happened in the course of the conversation, that something was spoken of which related to Sir Wm. Temple’s négociations, when the two friends not agreeing about the circumstances, Lord Chesterfield, whose memory was at all times remarkably good, referred Lord. S. to the page of Sir W.’s memoirs, where the matter was mentioned. After his lordship’s death the book was found open at that very page, several other books being piled about him, with the pistol in his mouth.


“Lord Chesterfield and his world” by Samuel Shellabarger has this account, partially based on Horace Walpole:

At eight o’clock on the evening of January 29 1740 Chesterfield was called suddenly from the House of Commons (where he been attending the debate on the Place Bill) with the news that Lord Scarbrough was dead or at the point of death from a stroke of apoplexy. He had had one or two previous attacks, so that the news could not have been altogether a surprise. But when Lord Chesterfield reached his house he found that the cause of death had not been apopolexy but suicide. Lord Scarbrough had ordered his chair for six o’clock in the evening to carry him to Lady Hervey’s. When he failed to appear a valet entering the Earl’s room discovered that he had put a bullet into his head. He had spent that morning with Chesterfield discussing, among other matters, Lord Temple ’s negotiations.

(Samuel Shellabarger, Lord Chesterfield and his world, Biblo-Moser, 1971)

Frances Countess of Hertford wrote another account of the events:

Feb. 4th. 1740.

The news will, before this time, have informed you of my lord Scarborough ‘s death; but perhaps the tragical manner of it may yet be unknown to you. On the 30th of January he sent for my lord Delaware ; to whom he talked more than two hours, about a bill to be brought into the house of lords, to enable my lord Halifax to pay his sisters’ fortunes. After which he sent to know whether my lord Essex dined at home; and upon hearing that he did not, he ordered a dinner in his own house, and appointed to meet my lord and lady Harvey, and lady Anne Frankland, at the duchess of Manchester’s, to play at cards, at seven o’clock, at which time he ordered his chariot: but when his valet-de-chambre went up to let him know that it was come, he found him dead on the floor, with a pistol lying by him, which he had discharged in at his mouth. The balls were lodged in his brain, and had not penetrated his skull. Every thing was agreed on for his marriage, which was to have taken place very soon. It is said, that the duchess of Manchester’s affliction, and that of lady Anne Frankland, are inexpressible.

(Correspondence between Frances Countess of Hartford (afterwards Duchess of Somerset) and Henrietta Louisa, Countess of Pomfret between the years 1738 and 1741. Vol. 1, Richard Phillips, 1806)

Lady Anne Frankland was Lord Scarbrough’s daughter. Lady Hertford seems to be wrong about the date of the suicide. She writes January 30th when all other sources say January 29th. There are other slight differences in detail. Lady Hertford gives very precise information about Lord Scarbrough’s plans for later that day, his planned evening of cards at the Duchess of Manchester’s. Lady Hertford’s letter was written on the day of Lord Scarbrough’s funeral so she would have had time to have gathered all the information that was around and heard all the gossip. (8) The version in “Lord Chesterfield and his World” states he was going to Lady Hervey’s, but Lady Hertford’s letter is so detailed that it is seems convincing evidence.

It is interesting to put the evidence of Scarbrough’s last day together.

On the 30th (in fact 29th) of January he sent for “my lord Delaware ; to whom he talked more than two hours” (Lady Hertford).

On the 29th January Lord Scarbrough had been to see Chesterfield. Chesterfield

pressed him to stay and dine with him, which he refused, but tenderly embraced him at parting.” (Walpole).

“…he ordered a dinner in his own house” and arranged to go to the Duchess of Manchester’s at 7.00pm. He ordered his “chariot” for this time.” (Lady Hertford)

Lord Scarbrough had ordered his chair for six o’clock in the evening to carry him to Lady Hervey’s” (Horace Walpole)

“… but when his valet-de-chambre went up to let him know that it (the Chair or Carriage)) was come, he found him dead on the floor” (Lady Hertford)

Thomas Anson says he returned at 5.00 on the Friday, an hour later than his appointment.

He went into his chamber and found the corpse of his friend leaning over the arm of a great chair, with the pistol on the ground by him, the ball of which had been discharged into the roof of his mouth, and passed into his brain. (Thomas Anson to Erasmus Darwin)

Whether Scarbrough planned to go to the Duchess of Manchester’s by carriage or Lady Hervey’s by chair (and Lady Hertford is probably more reliable than Walpole) the idea that Scarbrough had made it clear that had plans for the evening is a puzzling detail. Did Scarbrough make these plans in the hope or expectation that Thomas Anson would fulfil his appointment and save him from suicide? Scarbrough seems to have been a man of deep and melancholy honour. He may have held his promise to Anson as serious vow. He had promised Thomas Anson that if he came back by four o’clock that Friday he would abandon his plan of suicide and go out to play cards. As Anson did not return on time Scarbrough found himself obliged to stick to his vow.

This may seem a rather exaggerated code of honour but it is horribly credible. For such a character the thought that Anson would have known that he had broken his word would have been intolerable.

If this is the true interpretation Thomas’s guilt would have been entirely justified.

“At eight o’clock on the evening of January 29 1740 Chesterfield was called suddenly from the House of Commons.” (Lord Chesterfield and his World.

Someone sent a message to the House of Commons – either a servant or could it ahve been Thomas Anson? – but this did not reach Chesterfield for two hours and he was the next on the scene, between two and three hours after the actual suicide, sometime after 8 o’clock.

The only inconsistency in these various points of view is the time when the valet found Scarbrough dead. Anson may have exaggerated the time to make it sound even more of a tragic narrow miss, arriving one hour too late, or the chair or carriage might have arrived early. The solution must be that Thomas arrived just after the chair had come and the valet had found Scarbrough dead, sometime between five and six.

The most mysterious feature of this story is that none of the reports of the incident mention Thomas Anson. And yet Scarbrough had called him:

the only friend I value in the world.”

This is a remarkably three dimensioned account of an incident 250 years ago. Though it seems to be startingly clear what actually happened, and no doubt that it was devastating incident, several questions remain:

What was Thomas Anson’s relationship with Scarbrough?

Why did Lord Scarbrough shoot himself?

The second of these may not have any bearing on the first. There are several possible answers and the truth may be a mixture of them all. Is it possible that one of these involved Thomas Anson in some way?

There are several different explanations of his suicidal mood –


An accident a few days before had affected his thinking.

This may be a simple invention to cover a more personal reason, though there are several hints of ill-health.


He was upset by political gossip.

Richard (Lumley), second Earl of Scarborough. He killed himself in 1740, in consequence, as it is said, of having betrayed a state secret to the Duchess of Manchester, for which he was reproached by Sir Robert Walpole.

(The Olio, or museum of entertainment. Vol. 6, Joseph Shackell, 1831)

This theory certainly circulated at the time. A satirical pamphlet “A court secret” is supposed to have been inspired by this idea and it was said to be by George (later Lord) Lyttelton, later a friend of Thomas Anson’s.


He was caught between his mistress and his fiance.

No less a person than Voltaire tells this version, and adds an anecdote about Scarbrough’s character :

The earl of Scarborough has lately quitted life with the same indifference as he did his place of master of the horse. Having been told in the house of lords that he ruled with the court, on account of the profitable post he held in it, My lords, said he, to convince you that my opinion is not influenced by any such consideration, I will instantly resign. He afterwards found himself perplexed between a mistress he was fond of, but to whom he was under no engagements, and a woman whom he esteemed, and to whom he had made a promise of marriage. My lord Scarborough , therefore, killed himself to get rid of difficulty.

(The works of M. Voltaire, vol. 17, 1762)


He was embarrassed by scandal around his brother.

In his will Scarbrough disinherited his brother Thomas who was the object of a scandalous memoir by Con Phillips (probably ghost written by Paul Whitehead) published in 1749. Phillips claimed to have been raped at the age of 13 by a gentleman. Some interpreters assumed this was Lord Chesterfield but it seems to have been Thomas Lumley, later the third Earl. The book was dedicated to the 3rd Earl which threw people off the scent but it seems the dedication was a very dark kind of irony.

(Lynda M. Thompson, The Scandalous memoirists: Constantia Phillips and Laetitia Pilkington and the shame of “public fame”, Manchester University Press, 2001.)

The book was a scandalous best seller, even read by Elizabeth Carter, the poet, translator, and close friend of architect and astronomer, Thomas Wright.

Elizabeth Carter to Catherine Talbot:

Deal, Dec 16th 1749

I do not know whether you may think I am likely to profit much by Mrs. Phillips’s but my evenings next week are to be employed in hearing it read. Most people here give it a high character.

(A series of letters between Mrs Elizabeth Carter and Miss Catherine Talbot, Vol. 1, 1809)


His daughter, Lady Anne, had been suffering in a disastrous marriage. Lady Hertford explains:

Poor lady Anne Frankland is another topic of conversation; who is already parted from her husband, and, I think, without any one person giving her the least share of blame. It seems that he parted beds with her before she had been three weeks married, and on all occasions behaved towards her with the utmost cruelty. However, she made no complaint till he insisted on her leaving the house, when she begged of him not to force her to do that; and told him, that, provided he would allow her to have the sanction of being under his roof, she would submit to any thing. His answer was, that, if she continued there, he would either murder her or himself. She then applied to my lord Scarborough, who spoke to her husband with great warmth : he did not lay any fault to her charge, but only declared that she was his aversion, and persisted in the resolution of forcing her to leave him, or killing her or himself. It is said that he returns her fortune, allows her six hundred pounds a-year, and has given her a thousand pounds to buy a house. His strange conduct towards her has been so contrary to his former character, that his friends rather ascribe it to madness than his natural disposition.

(Correspondence between Frances Countess of Hartford (afterwards Duchess of Somerset) and Henrietta Louisa, Countess of Pomfret between the years 1738 and 174,  Vol. 1, Richard Phillips, 1806)

Several of these may play a part in his decision, though the words which Thomas Anson reported it imply simple ennui:

“I am tired of the insipidity of life, and intend to morrow to leave it.”

In general descriptions of Scarbrough show someone out of place in the flippant and corrupt world of the 1740s. The sensitive and depressive mood may have run in the family as his father also committed suicide.

Thomas Anson’s connection with Lord Scarbrough is still a mystery.

In 1740 Thomas Anson was a minor country land owner and a barrister. Philip Yorke, Lord Hardwicke, a protegee of the Ansons’ uncle Lord Macclesfield, had become Lord Chancellor in 1737 and was closely associated with Lord Scarbrough at court. Thomas Anson may have had legal connections with the Lord Chancellor, though there is no record at all of Anson’s legal career. During the 1720s and 1730s he may have spent time abroad, but he may have continued a practising career as barrister, perhaps on the assize circuit, while in England. It is unlikely that Anson had any professional legal relationship with Scarbrough. As a barrister he would not have acted as a solicitor or legal advisor to a particular client.

The world of politics and the court was small, everyone knew everyone, but Thomas did not become an MP until 1747, and then only unwillingly. He does not seem to have moved in the high political world until after the dynastic marriage of Lord Anson and Elizabeth Yorke –and perhaps even then he was only a peripheral figure in such high society. All his visible social connections were intellectual or artistic.

But did Anson have political connections, and was he involved in political activities, which were invisible?

For example, like Thomas’s friend of his later years, Lord Lyttelton, and like several of the early members of the Society of Dilettanti, Scarbrough was closely connected with Frederick, Prince of Wales. Is this significant?

This incident, and Thomas’s part in it, is as enigmatic as it is dramatic. Somewhere, in all this mystery, there might be clues to the more hidden aspect of Thomas’s life.

There is a connection between this mystery and another of the most curious mysteries of Shugborough, the lack of evidence of the involvement of the astronomer-architect Thomas Wright in the landscaping, monuments and extensions to the house.

Why is there no mention of Wright in the Anson archives, and no mention of Anson and Shugborough in any of the surviving records of Thomas Wright?

The answer might lie in the death of Lord Scarbrough. Scarbrough had been Wright’s patron.