"Bachelor" George Lucy of Charlecote Park
“Bachelor” George Lucy lived a colourful life in the eighteenth century. His kindness is well-documented and he is the Lucy ancestor that many of our room guides would most like to have met.
The younger son
George didn’t expect to inherit Charlecote from his uncle Reverend William Lucy. But George’s father was disinherited for being a drunkard and a gambler, and George’s elder brother Thomas was epileptic. When Thomas died in 1744, George succeeded him at Charlecote.
George never married, possibly due to his fears for his health, and possibly because he simply enjoyed the freedom of a bachelor’s life. Among his friends, Lady Ann Coventry suggested he employed a housekeeper rather than marrying. Once Mrs Hayes was given the day-to-day running of the household, George refused to give in to pressure.
There is no mention of George forming any lasting relationship with a woman although he participated fully in the ‘society’ of the day. In a letter to Mrs Hayes from Naples he described himself as a ‘cicisbeo’ – a ‘recognised gallant of married women’. He appeared to be quite happy in this role, enjoying the gossip and observing others’ rise and fall.
A lifetime of health concerns
George travelled to Europe between 1756 and 1758 and we have a lot of documentary evidence from a diary kept by John Dobson, his travelling companion. However, it would appear that rather than going on the Grand Tour around Europe, George spent most of his time in or near Naples and that his main reason for going was for his health.
His problems seem to have started as an undergraduate at Oxford where he over-indulged in the finer things of student life, ‘port drinking had brought on gouty tendencies’. Later George suffered from rheumatic fever in 1751 which left his hands partially paralysed.
George was not particularly interested in the wonders of classic culture and art of the Grand Tour. He was not impressed with Venice, and while in Rome confessed to be relieved to be able to avoid sight-seeing on Sundays, ‘which is always allotted to me a day of rest’. John Dobson writes that George liked riding, bathing or walking around the countryside studying agriculture. It is therefore no surprise that George's greatest legacy to Charlecote is probably the changes he made to the park and gardens.
Pirates and painting
George was mixing in high circles and felt underdressed in Naples, ‘I often lament leaving my finery at home’, so he asked Mrs Hayes to send some to him from England. They never arrived and it seems that the ship carrying George's box was boarded by Moors and that all the goods including George's clothes were carried off to Algiers.
All of this happened before George sat for his portrait (top of article) by Pompeo Battoni in 1758. It was long thought that he must have been painted in borrowed clothes, but it’s more likely that if his waistcoat looks a little ‘snug’, it’s because it was a sign of status for the rich to look overweight and the artist saw no reason to disguise George’s waistline.
You’ll find objects that caught his eye and he sent back to Charlecote in the Billiard room and Ebony bedroom. But the lasting memorial of his European tour was a black-and-white ram and several ewes, which he acquired in Portugal. These Jacob sheep travelled by sea and arrived thin and terrified at Charlecote, but settled down placidly on Warwickshire grass, where their descendants (it’s believed) browse to this day.
George’s changes to the garden conformed to the fashion of the time to remove formal elements and create a larger landscaped vista. Instead of constantly repairing the brick lining of the water pools, George had one of the canals filled in and turned into an area of shrubbery. This may have been the beginning of what would later come to be called the wild garden (now the woodland) and it was just the start.
At this time the main road to Stratford crossed the river Dene near the stables – very close to the house. George had protective ‘firs and flowering shrubs’ planted here, the current spinney may well be a relic of this area.
However, soon afterwards permission for a new road was granted. The road was soon diverted over a new bridge, and the flow of creaking carts, pedestrians, riders, and their chattels were removed far beyond the garden. Charlecote owes its tranquillity today to George Lucy.
George’s health continued to decline and in November of 1786 he passed away, aged 71, the last of the male line of Lucys, which had stretched back to the twelfth century.
Ask our room guides to tell you more about George Lucy and to show you the early Gainsborough portrait of him.
This article is an all-too-short summary of the fully referenced work carried out by our volunteer Research Group. Do get in touch if you’d like to know more.