ABDY, Sir William, 7th Bt. (?1779-1868), of Felix Hall, Essex.
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Family and Education
b. ?1779, o.s. of Sir William Abdy, 6th Bt., of Felix Hall by Mary, da. of James Gordon (formerly Brebner) of Moor Place, Herts. educ. Eton 1791-3; Christ Church, Oxf. 22 Jan. 1796, aged 17. m. 3 July 1806, Anne (div. 25 June 1816), illegit. da. of Richard Colley Wellesley*, 1st Mq. Wellesley, s.p. suc. fa. as 7th Bt. 21 July 1803.
Lt. S. Essex militia 1798; 2nd lt. Southwark vols. 1807.
Abdy’s parliamentary career might have started in 1812 had a suggestion of the prime minister’s that he should stand for Maldon been acted upon. Perceval wrote to the Marquess Wellesley, 7 Feb. 1810:
If Sir William Abdy has any wish to make good his way to a seat ... for Maldon, it has been suggested to me that the means are not difficult. Pray learn for me what he wishes upon this subject, and if he likes the idea I will then enable you to put him in the train.
Later that year Joseph Holden Strutt*, whose family had so much influence at Maldon, indicated to Perceval that he was aware that Abdy’s father-in-law probably wished him to be returned there.1 But nothing came of it and Abdy did not enter the House until 1817, on the interest of Joseph Pitt* at Malmesbury. He did not seek re-election at the dissolution. He made no known speech at Westminster, voting with ministers on the Admiralty questions, 17 and 25 Feb. 18I7; with the majority against Catholic relief, 9 May; in favour of the suspension of habeas corpus, 23 June 1817; but in the opposition majority on the ducal marriage grant, 15 Apr. 1818.
Shortly before he entered Parliament Abdy had been cast in the role of ‘a weak man’ in a triangle in which his wife figured as ‘proud, disdainful and stupid’ and her lover Lord William Charles Augustus Cavendish Bentinck* as ‘a fool’.2 She eloped with him, 4 Sept. 1815, regretted it next day and expressed a wish to return to her husband. Her wish was concealed from him by his mother and sister, who saw to it that she was exposed publicly as an erring wife. When she returned to Abdy, he refused to see her and she was thrown back upon her lover. Her family blamed Abdy’s ‘silly management’ of her for her conduct, which was further mitigated by his rumoured infidelity, and looked to a speedy divorce. But Abdy now sought a reconciliation, on condition that her father used his influence to obtain him a post abroad where he could live down the scandal. The marquess disclaimed influence and could only suggest that his brother Henry might be able to obtain Abdy a vice-consulship in Spain or an embassy post at Madrid. He took a dim view of Abdy’s bargain:
An appointment abroad is not at all essential to Sir William’s honour, if he thinks fit to forgive his wife. It will not cover the disgrace, if there be any, in the transaction. On the contrary, it will draw public attention more keenly on the whole affair, and will bring forth a whole host of sarcasms in the newspapers, which otherwise would probably be silent. If Sir William’s mind has subdued his first sensations on the transaction, I think he is bound as a consequence of his own mercy not to leave the matter in a state of suspense which, while it is disgraceful to him, is the most cruel and ruinous of all imaginable proceedings towards Anne, exposing her to the utter loss of all comfort, and depriving her of all chance of any reparation of the disgrace to which she has subjected her character and condition. On the other hand, if Sir William cannot make up his determination to receive Anne as his wife immediately, she ought to return to Lord Charles, and every step should be taken to prevent embarrassments in the application for a divorce. I think it necessary to add (as you say that Lord Charles in this latter case talks of insisting on a divorce) that the divorce must proceed entirely from Sir William’s application, and that any interference on the part of Lord Charles, for the avowed purpose of facilitating a divorce, would effectually defeat it.3
When Abdy’s wife forced the issue by an ultimatum to him, which he refused, and went back to her lover, her family washed their hands of all three. Wellesley commented:
The conduct of these three parties is almost equally despicable and odious. What woman of sense, feeling or honour would thus fluctuate between her seducer and her husband, placing at last the happiness and reputation of all parties on the issue of an application for an office, and then precipitating herself and them into the lowest state of misery and shame, before the issue of her own application could be known? What injured husband could be so mean and so absurd as to offer himself for a bribe to the family of the adulteress, and to imagine that such a bribe would gild his disgrace, or would not accumulate upon him with tenfold aggravation the just weight of public indignation and private scorn? What seducer ever before sat quietly during the negotiation of such a corrupt bargain for the repurchase of the husband’s goodwill, and then concluded by stigmatising the very negotiation to which he was himself accessory, as an unkind proceeding on the part of the family of the unfortunate girl?
He added: ‘If the case be ever fully known, damages or divorce will never be obtained’. Those three ‘worthless parties’ should henceforth be left to their own devices.4
The usual proceedings in the ecclesiastical court followed, and the court of King’s bench awarded Abdy, whose counsel was Henry Brougham*, £7,000 damages, plus costs. It does not appear that he obtained them. A bill to dissolve the marriage was introduced into the House of Lords on 3 May 1816 and received the royal assent on 25 June. After some discussion in committee, the customary clause prohibiting the divorced wife from marrying the seducer was struck out of the bill, in spite of the opposition of the lord chancellor, who said that it had not originally been Parliament’s intention that the guilty parties in a divorce bill should intermarry; and also of Lord Kenyon, who considered that the prohibitory clause should be enacted, as the inducement held out to Lady Abdy was a subsequent marriage and the interests of morality required that such inducements should be rendered unavailing.
Finally, on 26 July 1816, Richard Wellesley informed his father that his sister had married Bentinck three days earlier. Lord Charles had made this reparation to her and her family ‘before she had produced the damning proof of Sir William’s impotence’: she was within three weeks of her confinement.5
Fifty-two years later the obituary notices had nothing more to say of Abdy, who died 18 Apr. 1868, than that he had been an active magistrate for Surrey and that, leaving no issue, his title became extinct. His estate was valued at almost £1,000,000. He left over £80,000 to Jane Goodburn and her three children, of whom, probably, he was the father.