TAAFFE, Theobald (c.1708-80), of Hanover Sq., London.
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Family and Education
b. c.1708, 1st s. of Stephen Taaffe of Dowanstown, co. Meath by his 2nd w. Mabel, da. of Henry, 2nd Visct. Barnewall [I].1 m. Susanna, yst. da. of Henry Lowe of Goadby Marwood, Leics., s.p. suc. fa. 1730.
Taaffe came of an Irish Roman Catholic family, distantly connected with the Earls of Carlingford. Marrying a wealthy Englishwoman, who inherited half the Jamaican property of her brother, Samuel Lowe,2 he settled in England, with a house in Hanover Square and an estate near Midhurst in Sussex, building up an interest in the neighbouring borough of Arundel, for which he was returned as an opposition Whig after a contested election in 1747. In 1750 he was one of the boon companions of the Duke of Bedford and Lord Sandwich, who were spending their whole time that summer in ‘riot and gaming’.3 On 22 Nov. 1751 Horace Walpole described him to Mann as
an Irishman, who changed his religion to fight a duel, as ... you know, in Ireland a Catholic may not wear a sword. He is the hero who having betted Mrs. Woffington five guineas on as many performances in one night, and demanding the money which he won, received the famous reply, double or quits. He is a gamester, usurer, adventurer, and of late has divided his attentions between the Duke of Newcastle and Madame de Pompadour, travelling with turtles and pineapples in post-chaises, to the latter, flying back to the former for Lewes races—and smuggling Burgundy at the same time.
Towards the end of 1751 Taaffe and Edward Wortley Montagu, who had been acting as faro bankers to the French ambassadress in London, transferred their activities to Paris, where they were arrested and imprisoned on charges of cheating and robbing a Jew with whom they had been gambling (see Edward Wortley Montagu, jun.). Released on representations from the British Embassy, after a series of actions and counteractions Taaffe went to Hanover ‘to pay his duty to H.M. and to remove any bad impressions’ that Newcastle, who was in attendance there, might have received from this affair.4 In 1754 he stood again for Arundel but came out bottom of the poll. Returning to France, where he was presented at court, he attached himself to the Prince de Conti, a notorious gambler and libertine.5 In 1755 he won a large sum of money in Paris from Sir John Bland, M.P., who committed suicide after being arrested at Taaffe’s instigation in consequence of the dishonouring of the bills which he had given for the debt.6 Three years later he himself was sent to the Bastille for suspicious behaviour, but was released on the intervention of Choiseul.7 At the beginning of 1761 he was said to be living at the French court on the best footing.8 In March of that year he visited London, professing to bring a message to Henry Fox from Choiseul to the effect that if England was inclined to peace on reasonable terms the French Government were ready to send someone to open negotiations. Fox, knowing Taaffe only as a ‘sharper’, consulted Selwyn, the Paris banker, who reported that he was very able and well-informed about France, had been extremely intimate and influential with the late Marshal Belle Isle, and had not played for four years. In the end Fox ‘dismissed’ Taaffe.9
In 1763 Edward Gibbon reported from Paris that Taaffe was again in prison there, this time for debt.
He has settled with his English creditors and given up his estate at Jamaica for the payment of his debts. He wants to compromise with his other creditors, who are very numerous, but as they are convinced he wants to cheat them and that he only offers the same estate after the other debts are cleared which cannot be in less than ten or