In 1787 the proper way for a young gentleman to complete his education was to go abroad under the care of a tutor to visit the great cities and particularly to settle down for a period of study in one of the Swiss cities. Such a young gentleman was Luke Stapylton, the son of Captain Francis Samuel Stapylton who had been killed at the battle of Bunker’s Hill, and grandson of the Reverend Sir Martin Stapylton of Myton who acted as his guardian after his parents’ death. We do not know much about him, but one group of tattered and mouldy letters gives us a brief glimpse of an episode in his short life, which illustrates a problem that the gentry had to face in bringing up their families. The documents are part of the fragmentary archive of the ancient Yorkshire family of Stapylton of Myton (reference ZLQ 65), found decaying in a solicitor’s office.
Mr Christian Ruperti was tutor for seven years to the two sons of a Mr & Mrs Drake in Brunswick. When his services were no longer necessary there it seems that his employers recommended him to the Reverend Sir Martin as a suitable person to accompany Luke to Lausanne. Ruperti was happy with the Drakes and earnestly requested that if he should go to Lausanne, Sir Martin should “desire Mr Stapylton to have a proper regard for me and to look upon me as a friend…, and assist me with the authority over him, if any difficult case should occur”. That difficult case occurred sooner than any might have expected!
It was agreed that Ruperti should stay with Luke for two years, during which time he should receive £100 per annum, with expenses of £260. After that he was to have an annuity of £50 for life.
14 July 1787
Mr Ruperti does agree to accompany my grandson Mr Luke Stapylton upon his travels during the space of two years, and to assist him that time with his advice, treating him as a friend and seizing every opportunity to be serviceable to him and particularly to inspect his expenses, of which he shall send an account every quarter of a year to England.
Off they went, and the next we hear is a letter from Ruperti:
24 Nov 1787 Lausanne
Reverend Sir: Without doubt you will be quite surprised to have received letters from Mr. Stapylton and Mr. Cruttenden of such an nature without any previous notice from me. But upon my honour I did not know a word of their writing to you till 3 days, and no one could think that Mr. Stapylton would go so fast in such an serious thing. I cannot deny but that I remarked Mr. Stapylton’s inclination to Miss Cruttenden but I thought, and he himself said always so to me, it was not in earnest. It is but the other day that he declared to me, that it was his intention to marry her and that he had wrote already to you, Sir, about her, and I have lost no time in writing to you. If he was not of age I would have gone away imidiately to any other town in Swisserland, but now I cannot do any other thing, without the express command of you, and am quite at a loss how to act. Indeed I have nothing to say, either against the Family or Miss Cruttenden. They are all the best natured People in the world and honoured from everyone in the town; but I think it is too soon from Mr. Staplyton to be married, and perhaps if he sees other young Ladies, his passion to her will be over in some time; as I have reason to think that this is not the first time that he has formed an attachment of this kind. I am sorry for our expenses of the road, the sum, which I was forced to pay for Mr. Stapylton at Brunswick, and the necessaries I was obliged to buy for him, as he was in want of everything, has deranged our affaires in such an manner, that I find it impossible to make any travel without a extra sum, if you would find it necessary, I expect about all this, Sir, your commands and am with the utmost Respect Revd Sir, your most obedient humble servant Ruperti
There was indeed no question of further travel. The Reverend Sir Martin wrote post haste to his solicitors in York who wrote back post haste on 29 November with a suggested reply to Mr. Cruttenden:
Your favour accompanied my grandson’s, and you will allow me to say I was greatly surprized at the Contents, (notwithstanding a constant succession of childish follys for the last 4 or 5 years, added Sir Martin in his own hand). I could not have conceived that the improvements which were to result to him from his travels under the care of a proper tutor at a very considerable expence and the settling an annuity upon the tutor for life would soon produce an engagement in marriage with a Lady in a Foreign Country, especially at his early years, he having only come of age last October.
To be sure at my decease he will be intitled to a very handsome estate but it is greatly incumbred with two jointures and with a considerable charge in money.
At present he is intitled to no more than the surplus money to arise from the sale of a house in Bristol after payment of £300 which I raised towards purchasing his father a company in the 9th Foot and the house is not now let for more that sixty three pounds a year, taxes etc. reduces it to perhaps somewhat better than forty.
In regard to baring the intail of the Estates which I believe may be done subject to the jointures and charges. It will require much consideration and my grandson’s personal presence in England. In the meantime it will be impossible for me to say more upon the subject of your letter and it will require great deliberation not only on his behalf but also for the interest of the rest of my family.
Mr Cruttenden may have been abroad to escape his creditors, a very common practice at that time among people in financial difficulties or maybe he was a business man there. At any rate he was clearly anxious that his daughter should make the most of a proposal of marriage from the heir to a landed estate, and wanted that estate made responsible for his daughter and any children she might have. How could the Baronet extricate his grandson?
Luke at last came home at his grandfather’s summons, expecting no doubt as the heir newly come of age, to be able to discuss the marriage settlement. Grandfather must have breathed a sigh of relief to have him back, and cajoled or frightened him into absolute silence and seclusion while he and his lawyers dealt with the prospective bride and her mother who had accompanied him. But before he left the Cruttendens he had signed a receipt in circumstances which Sir Martin’s London lawyers explain in this way:
It is an actual receipt for £200 in part of the young lady’s fortune, and the body of it Miss Cruttenden acknowledged was of her handwriting and Mr. Stapylton had signed his name thereto and it is upon a one shilling stamp. Upon talking with Mrs. Cruttenden respecting this receipt she said it was right to have an acknowledgment for the money lent him and she acknowledged she had kept it in her pocket book for some time and had frequently requested Mr. Stapylton to sign it, but which he always refused (saying that he wished to consult his grandfather) till the night before he set off for Yorkshire, when upon its being presented to him again Mrs. Cruttenden said he in a great passion signed it and that she then began to smell a rat to think that he would not return to town…
Elizabeth Cruttenden, the prospective bride, then wrote to Luke with a nice balance of affection and threat:
My dear Luke
The alteration of your conduct is so truly unaccountable as to leave me totally at a loss what to think or how to act.
After every promise man could make of honourable intentions and inviolable affection; after constant attention to me for seven months, and repeated promises both to Father and myself of marriage; after bringing me five hundred miles from home at a very great expence; after taking up money from my Father to pay both your own and Mr. Rupertie’s debts to a considerable amount could I have supposed you would have left me for a fortnight without a line or the smallest explanation of your present intentions except a verbal message by Piere who is merely a common travelling servant. You may well suppose the situation to which you have reduced me must be truely unhappy, and such as I could not have imagined you would have inflicted on the object of your declared affection & choice. My regard for you, and my dependance on your truth & honor will engage one to perfect silence; unless you oblige me to alter this favourable opinion, in which case I must resent the injury in such manner as my friends (of whom I thank God I have many very respectable and kind ones) shall advise me. But I hope and trust you will never give me reason to be other than your sincere and
very affectionate Friend
June 7th 1788
Sir Martin instructed his solicitors to inform the Cruttendens that all thoughts of the marriage must be abandoned, but the Cruttendens were not to be put off. She wrote a very long letter to the baronet, and when he did not reply set off for Yorkshire.
Mrs. Cruttenden’s compliments to Sir Martin Stapylton (she wrote from the Crown Inn at Boroughbridge on 19 July 1788) Was sorry not to meet with him at home when she called on him this morning, but shall be happy to see him to morrow if convenient at any time of the day he will appoint.
Sir Martin could not escape her. She waited in Yorkshire for weeks, and at last they met on the neutral ground of a solicitor’s office in York. Luke, she explained, had
earnestly requested [Elizabeth’s] father’s leave for her to accompany him under my care to England, promising faithfully to return her back to him by the name of Stapylton and giving orders previous to our leaving Lausanne for her carriage to be new painted with the addition of her arms. He borrowed money to pay his own and tutors debts and defray his expenses to England which Mr Cruttenden firmly confiding in his honour actually let him have out of my daughter’s private fortune. On our arrival in England Mr. Stapylton introduced himself to every one of her family repeating to each of them that she was very soon to be his Bride…
I acknowledge (she concluded) if it will indulge Mr. Stapylton’s vanity and boasted superiority that he has most compleately deranged and disturbed my daughter’s happiness and peace of mind and has placed her as a mark for the envious and ill natured part of her sex to jeer and cast their witty jokes at. Her fair fame is secured by truth and honesty which rise superior to any arts in his power to use…
Sir Martin was quite unmoved and kept Luke incommunicado. Half way through their dreary Yorkshire visit Elizabeth wrote:
I was much mortified yesterday that I could not have sight of you. I hope that when I come again two hundred miles to have a little conversation with you, you will not deny me that pleasure. I am now going to Doncaster where I shall remain this week. I am your friend and well wisher
July 30 Ten o’clock
Nevertheless mother and daughter had to return to London without any satisfaction, and there Elizabeth wrote formally to Luke, to set in train legal actions for damages.
October 27th 1788
As the many endeavours on my part to learn your present Sentiments with respect to myself have proved altogether ineffectual, you have driven me to a very unpleasent task but there seems nothing left for me to do, but to require you to determine positively, whether you are ready to compleat your ingagement of marriage with me, or not. I understand that it is necessary on this occasion for me to say explicitly, that I am ready to fullfull that ingagement on my part and lest this Letter should find the same treatment which my former ones have met with, I must add that if I receive no answer to this written a month from the present time, I must consider myself as totally abandoned by you, and left to seek such redress as the assistance of my friends may enable me to obtain at the heads of Justice
I am Sir your very Humble Sert
In the end it seems that a payment of £800 to the Cruttendens finished the affair, a small enough sum for all the trouble Mrs Cruttenden had been to for securing a title and estate to her daughter. Mr Ruperti lost his pension and is last heard of living in poverty in London. The papers do not reveal what happened to Miss Cruttenden.