Sir Henry of Calke Abbey: the solitary baronet

Sir Henry preferred to be alone © ©NTPL/Mike Williams

Sir Henry preferred to be alone

Sir Henry of Calke Abbey was not only an isolated and solitary baronet, he also committed the ultimate aristocratic faux pas when it came to his choice of mistress.

Until the death of Sir Henry's father - Sir Harry - in 1789, the Harpurs of Calke were notable only for their wealth. But the succession of Henry ignited the beginning of a hereditary desire for solitude that was to be a characteristic of the family for 200 years.

From seclusion to isolation

Having a noticeably unhealthy yearning for seclusion, this shy young man withdrew from all the conventional contacts with society that were expected from a man in his position.

His own mother even told a friend that her brother thought 'it a disgrace to his family and that he is lost to the world… and never would be persuaded to mix in society and marry suitably… He has no vices, and many good qualities, but will not be a man of the world’.

Mistress of the house

Sir Henry made things even more scandalous by acquiring a mistress - one Nanette Hawkins, a lady’s maid at Calke. He lived in a small house in the Parkland with Nanette before committing the ultimate impropriety of the time - marrying her.

A rare glimpse of Sir Henry

Despite his shy nature, patriotism induced him to raise a troop of Yeomanry from his estates during Napoleonic Wars. This did temporarily lift him out of isolation but once the emergency was over, he withdrew once again from the world.

His solitude deepened to the extent that he even delivered orders to his servants by letter.

Want to learn more about the collections of the eccentric men of Calke and see how their solitary personalities shaped the house we see today? Why not visit us.