LETHBRIDGE, Sir John, 1st Bt. (1746-1815), of Sandhill Park, Taunton, Som.
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Family and Education
b. 12 Mar. 1746, o.s. of John Lethbridge of Westaway House, Pilton by Grace, da. of Amos Cardor of Westdown, Devon. educ. ?Winchester; Magdalen, Oxf. 1764. m. June 1776, Dorothea, da. and coh. of William Buckler of Boreham, Wilts., 1s. 2da. suc. fa. 1761; cr. Bt. 15 June 1804.
Sheriff, Som. 1788-9; capt. Som. fencibles 1794.
I do not assume too much by calling myself an independent country gentleman, for such I have always lived and such I hope to die. A proper spirit and an easy fortune co-operate to give me a title to that character and I reside upon a handsome estate in the county of Somerset.
So Lethbridge introduced himself to Lord Southampton (18 July 1786) in offering ‘some few thousands ... with the greatest cheerfulness, punctuality and dispatch’, to relieve the Prince of Wales, out of concern for the dignity of the Royal family and the country and with no ulterior motive.1
Again, in 1802, when John Fownes Luttrell I* faced a fierce contest at Minehead, Lethbridge, a friend of his who had allowed his name to be used as a cover for Luttrell’s treating expenses in 1796, offered to pay the excess expenses ‘without the least view to remuneration’, and ‘from pure regard to Mr Luttrell’s interest’.2 Such disinterested conduct helped him to a baronetcy in 1804 and a seat in Parliament in 1806, when Luttrell incurred liability for a treating offence and, rather than risk facing a petition, returned Lethbridge as locum tenens until the danger of a petition was past. In the few weeks he was in Parliament (joining his son who had been returned for the county in June), Lethbridge made no mark, nor did he seek to return there: though in 1811 he bought the Hammet estate at Taunton and returned his son-in-law there. What he had desired ‘for many years’, so his son informed Spencer Perceval, 3 Dec. 1811, renewing an application he had made two years before, was the revival of the barony of Fitzwarren to which he had a claim through his great-grandmother Margaret Bowchier, ‘as a mark of royal favour’. He anticipated that the Prince Regent would remember the incident of 1786. On 9 Mar. 1812 his son applied again, this time emphasizing his own services to administration, but this and further applications were to no avail.3 Sir John died 15 Dec. 1815.
Lady Spencer described him (under the travestied name of ‘Sir Richard Lethmore’) as
a most abominable profligate—a rustic roué, very rich and using his riches for the worst purposes; he is likewise employing them in adorning his place and mansion. He has a near neighbour who is at daggers drawn with him and has completely got the better of [him] in the art of tormenting, by imitating instantly every improvement Sir Richard is making at his seat, in his own, which kills with spleen the unhappy man of taste, for these imitations are very ill-executed. Sir Richard bethought himself however, lately, of a scheme which he conceived entirely out of the reach of his persecutor, namely a large and magnificent piece of water which he knew from the nature of the place his neighbour possessed, could not be equalled by him. However, here again he was mistaken, for the tormentor immediately made a frightful piece of water and placed in the very centre of it a large horrid statue holding a label out of its hand on which is written ‘The way to Harlots Hall’. Did you ever hear such thorough-paced country gentlemen’s raillerie?
On his deathbed Lethbridge tore up a will by which he had disinherited his son. Joseph Jekyll*, reporting this, added
The young baronet has made peace with the Winters, the effigy of Moll Flanders is taken down, and the feud is not to be hereditary.4