The Gay Delavals

A traditional family portrait of the Delavals Seaton Delaval Hall

Captain Francis Blake Delaval and his wife Rhoda moved into the newly built Seaton Delaval Hall in 1728, and over the next twenty years had twelve children. It was during this period that the Delavals gained their reputation for fun-loving and outrageous behaviour.

 
Their wild, undisciplined children, under the leadership of the eldest boy, Francis, encouraged travelling players and entertainers to call at the hall and instigated the practical jokes for which the Delavals became notorious.
 
Going to bed could be an unnerving experience at Seaton Delaval Hall. Guests would retire to their bedrooms and while they were undressing, mechanical hoists would suddenly raise the bedroom walls, exposing them to public view. In one bedroom, there was a four-poster bed which could be lowered into a tank of cold water, complete with occupants, by winding a handle in the room next door. In another room, drunken guests would be put to bed in the dark, and awaken in the morning to find themselves lying on the ceiling. The room was completely inverted, the chairs and tables were stuck to the ceiling, and the chandelier was in the middle of the floor.
 

Sir Francis Blake Delaval

The most notorious of the Delavals was Sir Francis Blake Delaval, the eldest son of Captain Blake Delaval. Francis moved to London where he fell in with a group of dissolute actors led by Samuel Foote. Francis fitted nicely into this world. He was at ease with everyone and soon became friends with Prince Edward, the younger brother of George III.
 
Possibly to avoid his debtors, he became at one stage a soldier and took part in a raid on the French coast. Tipped from the first boat to reach the shore, he led the charge up the beach and took part in the 'glorious' burning of St Malo. Returing as a hero to England, he was honoured with a Knighthood of the Bath by the new king George III. The lack of any serious opposition to the raid was tactfully overlooked!
 
Francis enjoyed mainly the life of an idle gentleman, but could not afford it and was always in debt. Foote dreamt up an elaborate charade, using a bogus fortune teller and a prearranged accidental meeting, to 'persuade' Isabella, Lady Paulet, a rich elderly widow, to marry Francis. Francis soon spent his new fortune, including £1,500 on hiring the Drury Lane Theatre in London to stage Othello, with the family taking all the leading parts, and Isabella faded out of his life and died in obscurity.
 
Francis spent his time and money on various mistresses, socialising and gambling.  In 1767, Prince Edward died suddenly. Francis was deeply affected by his friend's death, took to drink and became grossly overweight. In August 1771, after a huge meal, he collapsed and died, alone except for his servant. He left at least five illegitimate children and a pile of unpaid debts.