Thursday, March 26, 2009

The interesting career of Lady Theodosia Ivy

After a spell as governor of Madras on behalf of the East India Company (he succeeded the city’s founder, Francis Day, in 1644), Sir Thomas Ivy returned home to England a conspicuously wealthy man. Traveling to meet him, his first wife died on her short journey, and so Sir Thomas’s misfortunes began. After a short spell as a widower, he was “persuaded to address my self to one Mrs. Garret, a Widow, and Daughter of Mr. Stepkins, who was represented unto me to be as beautiful in mind as in person; And though her Husband had left her nothing, yet was I not deterr’d by this to forbear my suit…”

Overcome by desire, Ivy settled a lavish thousand a year jointure on Theodosia Garret. She set about emptying his pockets: “I am confident, (and tis proved by sufficient Witnesses in Chancery) that in eighteen months after our Marriage, she had spent for her Accommodations above £3000 whereof £600 was in Apparel only, £500 in ready money.”

Financially at breaking point, unable to appear in the streets of London for fear of arrest by creditors, Ivy tried to get his wife to join him at estates he owned down in Wiltshire, at Malmesbury. A good bureaucrat, he was able to produce copies of the letters he sent her when he published an account of his ghastly matrimonial misadventures in his desperate last throw, Alimony Arraign'd, OR THE REMONSTRANCE AND HUMBLE APPEAL OF THOMAS IVIE Esq From the High Court of CHANCERY, To His HIGHNES the LORD PROTECTOR of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland, &c. WHEREIN Are set forth the unheard-of Practices and Villanies of Lewd and Defamed Women, in Order to separate Man and Wife (1654).

He probably transcribed his version of the letters, because Theodosia seems to have produced her own, discreditable, version of some of his correspondence with her: ruthlessly exploitative, and without any scruple, she seems to have fabricated evidence throughout her career.

Poor Sir Thomas gives a plaintive account of the slights and humiliations he endured, and represents himself as always trying to reestablish the marriage. He probably was besotted with the beautiful Theodosia: one of her major abettors, her aunt “Mrs. Williamson called Mr. Ivie Clown, and Fool; and advised Mrs. Ivie not to go with him into the Country … And that he was an ugly fellow”.

Theodosia set out to annihilate him in the Church court: a maid, Jane Gilbert, was bullied to declare herself pregnant by her master (the maid seems to have refused to play along, and then died mysteriously). She claimed that Sir Thomas had transmitted venereal disease to her (he submits to Cromwell certificates from several doctors declaring him free of any such disease). He had deserted her (this was his effort to escape arrest by going to his Wiltshire estates), denied her maintenance, and she feared his violence. Sir Thomas takes a while to come round to the last point, but eventually spells out a main allegation:

“much fear she pretended (for had it been more than a Pretence, all had been accomplished, and my life lost) lest she should participate of the Sins and Punishments of Sodom and Gomorrah: And as for her body she durst not trust that with me lest (at any time being Morose and Cholerick) I should injure her by Blows; or if kind, I should infect her with unclean diseases … Mrs. Williamson reported that Mr. Ivie had bugger’d his Wife.”

Sir Thomas delivers (to Oliver Cromwell, imagine!) his pained denial of this charge:

“I never had within my breast the least inclination or desire to so vile & abominable a thing; neither did I ever attempt to persuade her by fair Words and Inticements, or to move her by threats, or ever used the least force or struggling with her to compass any such Base or Heathenish Design.”

Meanwhile Theodosia and her cabal are living a very high life in London, and what may be taken to be her next 'easy marks' feature, with their lives also thrown into turmoil:

“immediately after our marriage, she held correspondency with Sir William Killegrew’s Son, under the name of Ornaldo, called her self Callis ….she admitted both Sir William Killigrew and his Son her Corrivals; and that young Killigrew threatened to kill his Father, and her Husband also … Sir William Killigrew chid Mrs. Williamson for suffering his Son to be so familiar with Mrs. Ivie”.

However rackety, Theodosia routed her husband in court, confident enough to laugh at him: “When the Day came, and the Counsel began to speak, my hopes were quickly commanded to vanish, and the Counsel to hold their Peace; for they suddenly declared, ‘That they would not hear the Merits of the Cause. With much pressing, Mr. Lisle read the Petition; And though they took evident notice of it, yet would they not return any Answer to it; or so much as demand of my Wife, (who stood there laughing in their Presence) whether she would return to me, or no…” He was ordered to pay her alimony of £300 a year. It is this that pushed him to his final desperate appeal direct to Cromwell.

Ivy makes a good case for himself in print: that he is still upset that the court failed to ask Theodosia if she was willing to return to her husband shows the amount of humiliation he was willing to bear.

Theodosia went to take refuge at the house of friends, Sir William Salkhill and his wife, in St Martin’s Lane, where she was very soon diddling the family about debts to Sir William she had accrued, and her rent for living there. I cannot at the moment trace Sir Thomas much further. He does not feature much in the printed account of Lady Ivy’s next big adventure. He seems to have been alive, and still falling out with his separated wife, in 1671. But I assume Cromwell did nothing to rescue him, despite Sir Thomas trying to provoke the Lord Protector to protect him with the reflection that alimony was a papist notion: “Alimony is a Thing not known at the Common or Civil Law, but indulged, and brought in by the Pope and his Canons, and very much put in Use by the late High Commission and Prerogative Court of Canterbury.” Theodosia did not (and of course could not) remarry while Sir Thomas was alive.

I would strongly surmise that Lady Ivy would have been very much in the mind of the author of the witless comedy, Lady Alimony, or, The alimony lady an excellent, pleasant, new comedy, duly authorized, daily acted and frequently followed (1659). Perhaps the deficiencies of that play may be explained by the notion that, while it features a parade of women seeking (and getting) alimony on the basis of various male deficiencies, there is no central ‘Lady Alimony’ – was a personal lampoon excised from the text? ‘Witless’ is over severe: as the fashionable ladies get their undeserved alimony, their bad example spreads to a countrywoman, Christabel, who has misheard ‘alimony’ as ‘ale-money’, and is determined to claim her share of that from her husband. In the play, a Duke comes to the rescue, and overturns the court decisions, facing the women with a theatrical choice between nunneries and returning to their inadequate spouses.

Lady Ivy carried on as she always had: the account of her final big adventure opens by describing her as “THE late Lady Ivy, so many Years famous for Wit, Beauty, and Cunning in Law above any…” The two edited texts of Wycherley’s The Plain Dealer which I have looked at make no connection between her and the Widow Blackacre, but she looks likely to me. It seems as though Sir Thomas Ivy had taken leases on land on the south bank of the Thames. Lady Ivy’s attention turned to property, and she seems to have managed to bamboozle her way to a landholdings in the area.

In 1684, Lady Ivy tried her greatest legal coup: using forged title deeds, she attempted to take ownership of a large built-up area of Wapping and Shadwell, lands considered to belong to the Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s. The case was heard by Justice George Jeffreys, who as ever conducted both the trial, and the cross-examinations.

The deeds by which Lady Ivy sought to prove her right of ownership came rather miraculously into her possession (or, that was her story) when they were found in ‘an old bag of writings’ in 1675. The account of how the deeds were forged is fascinating: Lady Ivy herself specialized in the rather lady-like business of painting the elaborate initial letters. Her main forger was one Duffett, who had previously forged for her letters purportedly written by the wretched Sir Thomas. Lady Ivy had discovered that saffron put in the ink would make it look old. The documents were rubbed on dirty windows, exposed to light rain, dried harshly in direct sunlight, or in front of an open fire, and carried around in pockets, all to age them convincingly.

Lady Ivy was aiming to add to her unjustly acquired portfolio on the south bank a built up area of land larger than the City of London itself. Her claim to ownership was based ultimately on a chain of ownership stemming from a deed which purportedly came from the reign of Mary Tudor.

Poor historical research let her and her cohorts down. The forged deed described marsh lands equipped with a mill, and this mill having an overshot wheel. Judge Jeffreys interrogates locals with memories stretching back to when mills stood on that land, and ‘Grindy’ – for that appears to be his real name - a local miller, to prove this wildly unfeasible:

Grindy “I keep part of a Tide-mill my self, and have done so this Forty Years, and I know the Water must rise at least Ten, Twelve, or Fourteen Foot higher than it needs in a Tide-mill. For we take in our Water as the Tide comes in, and we have a pair of Gates that are hung with Hinges at the Top, which open as the Tide comes in, but the Water as it goeth out, shuts it again, and that keeps the Water to stand three or four Hours in some Mills, and then we have only Gutts that belong to the Wheel, and then we draw up the Gates the Water goes out. We have no Water that comes above the Shaft, which is half the Heighth of the Wheel, which is Sixteen Foot high. To talk of an Over-shot-mill the Water must rise so high as to go over the whole Marsh.

Lord Chief Justice And must drown all the Town and Country too.”

The forged document was proved by George Bradbury to have the wrong styling for the twin monarchs:

Mr Bradbury If your Lordship please to look upon them, the Stile of the King and Queen in both run thus. The one is, This Indenture made the thirteenth day of November, in the Second and Third Years of the Reigns of our Soveraign Lord and Lady Philip and Mary, by the Grace of God King and Queen of England, Spain, France, both Cicilies, Ierusalem, and Ireland, Defenders of the Faith, Arch Dukes of Austria, Dukes of Burgundy, Millain and Brabant, Counties of Hasburg, Flanders and Tyroll. The other is, This Indenture made the 22th day of December in the same Year. Now in November and December 2 and 3 of Philip and Mary it was impossible for any man in the World to draw a Deed in this Form that those two Writings are ---

Mr. Att. Gen. Is that your Demonstration?

L. C. J. Pray let him go on, methinks it is very ingenious.

Mr. Bradbury. My Lord, I had the hint from my Lord Coke in his first Institutes, not as to this particular Stile, for I know he is mistaken there, but for the detecting of Forgeries in general.

L. C. J. It is very well, pray go on.

Mr. Bradbury. My Lord, at that time King Philip and Queen Mary were among other Stiles, stiled King and Queen of Naples, Princes of Spain and Sicily; they never were called King and Queen of Spain and both the Cicilies then.

(Mr Bradbury tries to repeat the same point a little later, but Judge Jeffreys snaps his head off: “Lord, Sir, you must be cackling too; we told you, your Objection was very ingenious, but that must not make you troublesome, you cannot lay an Egg, but you must be cackling over it.”)

The final error, compounding all the widow Duffett’s account of her late husband’s forgeries: “The document is also found to be dated Livery and Seisin was Endorsed on the back of that Deed the 20th of Nov. in the 5th and 6th year of Philip and Mary, and 'tis notoriously known that Queen Mary died the Seventeenth of that Month, and that Queen Elizabeth was proclaimed the same day.”

The account of this trial, thought at the time – and with some justice – to show Judge Jeffreys at his finest, delivers all this in vivid court dialogue: The famous tryal in B.R. between Thomas Neale, Esq. and the late Lady Theadosia Ivy the 4th of June, 1684, before the Right Honourable the late Lord Jeffreys, lord chief justice of England, for part of Shadwell in the county of Middlesex ... together with a pamphlet heretofore writ ... by Sir Thomas Ivy 1696.

The 1684 case was, unsurprisingly, found against Lady Ivy, and the documents shown to be forged were detained: “a Motion was made by the Plaintiffs Counsel, that several Deeds produced by the Defendant, that were detected of Forgery, might be left in Court in order to have them pursued, and convicted of the Forgery. The Court upon debate of the Matter; and the Plaintiffs Counsel declaring they would prosecute an Information of Forgery, the Deeds of the 13th of November, and the 22th of December, 2 and 3 Phil. and Mar. were ordered to be left with the Clerk of the Crown till further Order.”

Sir Thomas humiliated himself in print (but his account of his catastrophic marriage is mentioned in neither Lawrence Stone’s The Family, Sex and Marriage nor Road to Divorce). Lady Ivy may have inspired both the comedy of ‘Lady Alimony’ and Widow Blackacre. If I cannot prove these things, I have at least a very modest OED antedating: the OED gives the word from 1655, Ivy’s work, Alimony Arraign’d is 1654.

My image is the 1696 chart of the land Lady Ivy so audaciously tried to establish as hers.


Gaenor Burchett-Vass said...

This one's got it all - Death! Murder! Buggery! Forgery! Grindy Miller! Fantastic. I see Julianne Moore as Lady T and Michael Gambon as the Judge.

Ben B said...

Thanks! What an extraordinary person! Lady Ivy has a chapter in Elizabeth Jenkins' 1949 study Six Criminal Women,

Theodosia was apparently not wholly to blame for Ivy's predicament: her father threatened to put her out on the street unless she accepted Ivy's suit; and he was twenty years her senior. (Her father certainly produced some odd suitors for her, including the charming Anthony Browne who was so anxious about meeting her that he got drunk and, on being introduced, promptly sicked up in her lap. She was less than impressed.)

My favourite Beautiful Bad Woman is Adeline Kingscote of Oxford, who made a career out of bankrupting wealthy men: she captivated a hapless clergyman and took him on her money-borrowing travels to vouch for her probity: when his use was over, he was bankrupted also.

Unknown said...

I seem to have found a document of 20-30 pages from the 1650s possibly signed by Cromwell (his signature is now gone) descibing this case. It refers to Thomas Ivy, Theodosia, 300 pounds alimony 3,000 pounds etc.

Unknown said...

I seem to have found a document of 20-30 pages from the 1650s possibly signed by Cromwell (his signature is now gone) descibing this case. It refers to Thomas Ivy, Theodosia, 300 pounds alimony 3,000 pounds etc.