SKIPWITH, Sir Thomas, 2nd Bt. (c.1652-1710), of Metheringham, Lincs. and Twickenham, Mdx.
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Family and Education
b. c.1652, o. s. of Sir Thomas Skipwith, 1st Bt.†, of Metheringham and Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Mdx. by his 1st w. Mary, da. and h. of Ralph Lathom of Upminster, Essex. educ. ?travelled abroad (Italy) 1663–5; G. Inn 1670. m. Margaret (d. 1732), da. and coh. of George Brydges, 6th Baron Chandos, wid. of William Brownlow (d. c.1675) of Humby, Lincs., 1s. 1da.; ?1da. illegit. by Susan(na) Gurney. suc. fa. as 2nd Bt. 2 June 1694.1
Capt. 13 Ft. 1685–6; commr. of prizes 1707–d.
Master keeper of West Hainault walk, Waltham forest by 1692–c.1701.2
An engaging roué, Skipwith was sharply characterized by Mrs Manley, with whom he had been for a while on very intimate terms, in her semi-fictionalized autobiography, Rivella. Under the name of ‘Sir Peter Vainlove’, he appeared as an inveterate philanderer. Despite being blessed with a wife who, besides the fortune she had brought him, was (in Mrs Manley’s eyes) in every respect ‘worthy’, Skipwith ‘was detestably vain, and loved to be thought in the favour of the fair, which was indeed his only fault, for he had a great deal of wit and good nature; but . . . no youth of 20 had so vast a foible for being admired’. His amorous ambitions were not assisted by his appearance, for although he
had a very good face . . . his body was grown fat; he was naturally short, and his legs being what they call somewhat bandy, he was advised to wear his clothes very long, to help conceal that defect; in so much that his dress made him look shorter than he was.
After a brief army commission, he reverted to the more congenial occupations of fashionable society. He acquired a half-share in the patent for the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, which returned no profits but enabled him to oppress the actresses with his attentions. Under his part-management the Drury Lane company practically discarded serious drama in favour of entertainments more usually associated with ‘Bartholomew Fair’, a policy which outraged the actor Thomas Betterton so much as to provoke a petition to the lord chamberlain. Brought into Parliament by Lord Wharton (Hon. Thomas*) at a by-election in 1696, Skipwith is not known to have spoken. Defeated in 1698, and listed as one of the Court supporters ‘left out’ of the new Parliament, he petitioned on grounds of bribery, but his case collapsed when a key witness on his side was discredited. He did not stand again. In the summer of 1707 he ‘grew so weary’ of the squabbles in the theatrical world that he gave away his share in the Drury Lane patent to his close friend Henry Brett*, thinking that Brett, ‘being a greater favourite of the people in power and . . . among the actors too, than [he] himself was’, might be able to make something of it. However, when his own stock at court increased, evinced by his appointment as a commissioner of prizes, and when Brett seemed to be having some success as a patentee, Skipwith suddenly brought a Chancery suit in January 1708 for the recovery of his share, alleging that the grant to Brett had only been in trust. Eventually Brett in turn ‘tired of the plague and trouble the whole affair had given him’, and stood aside to allow Skipwith to recover his position.3
Skipwith’s domestic arrangements were seldom regular, and in 1705, when he made his will, he acknowledged that his wife kept a separate establishment from him, off Piccadilly. Two years later it was reported from Twickenham that he had ‘turned out his – [sic], and is grown a very good husband; his lady lives with him here’. His renewed connexion with the theatre may have upset these honourable intentions, however. He died at Bath, 15 June 1710, and was buried in his mother’s parish of Upminster. The gossip at Twickenham, that he had left ‘his son £1,200 a year, his daughter £6,000 and his miss £1,000’, and moreover had ‘mortgaged his house’ to his mistress ‘for money he owed her’, was not far from the truth. He had charged his estate with a portion of £4,000 for his daughter, and annuities of £30, or £500 in cash, each for ‘my present housekeeper’, Susan(na) Gurney, alias Vanta, and her daughter Charlotte Gurney, with the additional sum of £1,000 for Susan Gurney in a codicil dated only ten days before his death. No mention was made of a mortgage. Charlotte was also constituted the heiress in remainder to some of Skipwith’s Lincolnshire property, which strengthens the suspicion that she may have been his illegitimate daughter.4
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: D. W. Hayton
- 1. Lysons, Environs, Supp. (1811), 320; Le Neve, Mon. Angl. 1700–15, p. 207; Lincs. Peds. (Harl. Soc. lii), 893; Add. 24121, f. 226; Burke, Extinct Baronetcies, 489; Coll. and Travels ed. A. and J. Churchill (1744–6), vi. 520, 663.
- 2. CSP Dom. 1687–9, p. 165; Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 1886; x. 9; xviii. 320; xxi. 495.
- 3. Mrs Manley, Adventures of Rivella (1714), 45–52; Apology for Life of Cibber (1740), 125–6, 212–13, 219, 228; F. Morgan, Woman of No Character, 91; Poems on Affairs of State ed. Cameron, v. 370; Luttrell, Brief Relation, iv. 495.
- 4. PCC 170 Smith; Wentworth Pprs. 61, 118.