This is the story of Charles, 5th Duke of Rutland (1754-87), and his sailor brother Robert (1758-82), sons of the Marquis of Granby after whom many English pubs are named - the surest popular accolade Britain has to offer - and thus grandsons of the 4th Duke. The family context is provided by David Rutland (11th Duke), drawing on his extensive family archives, to show us the matrimonial peccadilloes of the 18th century aristocracy and how Charles and his father were somewhat indisciplined in regard to money. As a pocket social history of the age at the top of the tree I found this civilian side of the narrative just as enthralling as the naval. The exposition of the subtleties of Charles' (and thus others') political situation, including the genealogical spider's web of the Whig peerage, is masterly.
- David Rutland and Emma Ellis
The naval element is supplied by Emma Ellis, on three levels. The 'domestic' side of RN service, as Robert finds his feet and seeks advancement (the latter larded by a somewhat extreme sense of entitlement - as a very junior lieutenant he even badgers the First Lord) is well covered. There is then the strategic environment of the American War that morphs into full blown war with France as that jackal joins in - at this level the narrative includes the political background in London, in which Rutland shows us how Charles might have played a greater part if he had been able to prioritise politics above pleasure. Ellis also takes us tactically and incisively through the battles of Ushant, Chesapeake Bay, the Moonlight Battle, St Kitts and the Saintes in which last Robert was severely injured - dying of his wounds and the subsequent medical attention, aged 24. In between we have an in-depth account of the Keppel/Palliser feud after Ushant in which the political and naval issues became disastrously entwined for all, and excellent insights as to why glib condemnation of Graves for losing us America are somewhat superficial; there the ultimate responsibility lay with parliament for not funding the Navy sufficiently in the first place. The account of the breaking of the enemy's line at the Saintes shows us that giving Rodney the credit is not quite the story. This naval part is slightly marred by the occasional terminological solecism - for instance misuse of 'moored' early in the work and 'pulleys' on page 210, and 'wardroom dining companions' (Robert as a Captain would have kept his own table) on p.285. In regard to the hardship of being a pressed man, there might have been a greater understanding of the long standing obligation of all those who used the sea to serve their sovereign in time of war; and also that many so pressed were offered the chance to 'volunteer' and so receive a bounty.
The seamless integration of the civilian and political, and naval sides to the story does the authors much credit. One has sometimes to remind oneself not to feel censorious of want of balance towards two men who were very young for the responsibilities thrust upon them - a senior dukedom at 25 for the one, captaincy of a battleship at 21 for the other - with subordinate officers twice his age and hundreds of men to be managed even in mutiny. One might pause to compare how a duke's grandson so climbed the ladder while others were stuck as lieutenants or even as midshipmen in their forties.
Besides 42 colour plates beautifully presented across twelve pages there are numerous black and white illustrations in the text, mainly reproductions of Rutland documents from the archives. The National Archives and the archives of Eton College and elsewhere have been scoured as well as the Rutland archives held in Belvoir Castle. There is a comprehensive bibliography. Those wishing to study the naval side of the American War might also enjoy 'A Naval Career During the Old War' (1883), a life of Admiral John Markham MP of which a pdf download is available at https://ia902701.us.archive.org/34/items/navalcareerdurin00mark/navalcareerdurin00mark.pdf , which work also includes a contemporary account of the Gordon Riots which feature in the book under review here.
Charles was broken by Robert's death. However the book closes with Charles showing what he was really capable of as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland., although some of his recreational activities might have escaped the pen of a Victorian biographer. Charles died aged 33, his liver 'irreversibly decayed' and we see how his heir's long minority finally enabled the Belvoir books to be balanced.
I gained much from this book and am now much better informed about the political and naval background to the period.