J D Davies

Don’t Tell Your Mother

Apologies for missing my usual posting date last week. I’ve been in Wales for 10 days or so, packing in a lot of research and fieldwork for my new non-fiction book Britannia’s Dragon. I’ve had intermittent internet access and also managed to forget my access codes for the blog…

Anyway, I thought I’d get back on track with a marvellous little source that I found last week in Pembrokeshire’s  county record office. This is a wonderfully old-fashioned institution housed in a converted Georgian prison, itself located within the walls of a lofty hilltop medieval castle. In this letter, written on 7 June 1743, concerned father John Thomas of Posty, Pembrokeshire, writes to his son Vaughan, who has run away to sea after a family argument and entered himself on the ship’s books of HMS Princess Amelia, lying at Plymouth. The letter demonstrates that the cross-currents of angst, guilt and emotional blackmail that underpin many family relationships are as old as the hills –

we are all glad to hear that you are well, your mother and sister and self lost years at the reading of your letter. We expected to hear that you designed to return homewards, your mother has been ill of the rheumatism ever since you parted…there is not a day or night but that she sheds tears about your going away, pray if possible return home…We are informed that it is like to be very troublesome both at sea and land and that several worthy men have lately lost their lives at the West Indies, we desire you to consider both of the times and of the hot season, as to what your mother and myself proposed to give as the present you may assure yourself of it if you return home and settle with us. Pray let us hear how you were received when you went first on board, and what post you have had, we thought that you had no need of going into a man of war but leave such a place to those that had most need of having a sufficiency provided as we thought for you here. We desire you to consider seriously of it, and as to your having any preferment at sea, I think you are too old and besides one that never used the sea, and as to what [differences] have been between us here, your mother and self desires it might be forgotten…

Vaughan evidently left the navy but does not appear to have returned home, as a couple of years later he was living in Bristol. One of the things I particularly like about this letter is the way in which the father constantly tries, and fails, to conceal his own feelings about the matter, which are clearly complicated – although he shares his wife’s anxieties, his own concern for family dignity also comes through in his request to know what status Vaughan has aboard the ship. But best of all is his attempt to make the young man feel guilty by implying that the mother’s attack of rheumatism is all his fault!

I’ll compensate for the recent hiatus in the blog before the end of this week by posting a fairly epic analysis of the current debate on changing the royal succession rules, placing them in the context of the little-known succession crisis of 1667-72. More interesting than it sounds. Yes, honestly, it is. Trust me.