The Marquess of Bath is a title in the Peerage of Great Britain which was created in 1789 in favour of Thomas Thynne, then the Viscount Weymouth and continues to be held by his descendants to the present day.

The origins of the Thynne family

The family of Thynne trace their descent back to one Geoffrey Boteville of Poitou, a mercenary captain hired by king John in the thirteenth century, who appears to have later settled in the county of Shropshire. By the sixteenth century the Thynnes remained a family of no particular significance until one John Thynne obtained a post as a clerk in the king's kitchens at a salary of £4 a year. By this he means he came to the attention of Edward Seymour, then Earl of Hertford and obtained the position of steward to the Earl. Seymour subsequently became Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector, and the de facto ruler of England between the years 1547 and 1550.

John managed to avoid the fate of his patron when he was executed in 1551 and thereafter largely retired from politics. However whilst in the employment of the Duke of Somerset he had managed to accumulate, by means both fair and foul, large quantities of cash which were invested in the purchase of much land in the West Country, including the former monastic priory at Longleat where John made his home. Having thus established their fortune the family soon became one of great prominence in Wiltshire. But despite their wealth and prominence the family appeared in no hurry to acquire a peerage title, and indeed when John's grandson Thomas Thynne was offered the opportunity to purchase a barony by James I, he appears to have regarded the price as a little steep and declined the proffered title.

The Viscounts Weymouth

It was Thomas Thynne, the great-great-grandson of the aforementioned John Thynne who was the first Thynne to join the ranks of the peerage, when he was created Baron Thynne and Viscount Weymouth on the 11th December 1682. His elevation to the peerage seems to have been occasioned by nothing more than a sense of relief by Charles II, who was grateful that the wealth of the Thynne family was now under the control of somebody other than Thomas' cousin, predecessor and namesake, Thomas Thynne, Tom o'Ten Thousand, a notorious exclusionist and close friend of the Duke of Monmouth.

But whereas Thomas was not as extreme in his views as his cousin and namesake he was nevertheless opposed to the policies of James II and was one of the four representatives of the House of Lords appointed to deliver to William III the invitation to take on the government of the country. (Although he was never a particularly enthusiastic advocate of the Glorious Revolution.) The 1st Viscount eventually died on 28 July 1714, by which time his only son, Henry Thynne, had predeceased him, and so he was succeeded as 2nd viscount by Thomas Thynne, grandson of his younger brother, Henry Frederick.

The 2nd Viscount was born on the 21st May 1710, scarcely a month after his own father died from smallpox on the 24th April. He was only four years old on succeeding to the title and was raised by his mother Mary Villiers, daughter of Edward Villiers, 1st Earl of Jersey, and her second husband George, Lord Landsdown, a minor dramatist and occasional poet. Neither his mother or his step father had much time for him and Thomas grew up to somewhat wild in his behaviour but settled down after his marriage in 1733 to Louisa Carteret, daughter of John Carteret, 1st Earl of Granville. The subsequent death of Louisa on Christmas Day 1739 was therefore a great blow to him. He abandoned Longleat and lived with a gentleman companion at Horningsham where he devoted his time to raising and racing horses, until his death on the 12th January 1751 at the age of forty.

He was succeeded by his son Thomas the 3rd Viscount of whom Vicary Gibbs was to note that "his drinking and gambling propensities are frequently recorded in the literature of the time". He was thus frequently short of money and was soon close to bankruptcy at one time. His salvation was that he was a member of the 'Bloomsbury gang' of Whig peers led by the Duke of Bedford, who used his influence to get Thomas appointed as Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland. Thomas simply pocketed the salary and allowances of some £19,000, resigned after four months and never set a foot in Ireland.

His connection with the Duke of Bedford also allowed him a minor political career, most notable for his role in suppressing the 'Wilkes and Liberty' riots, although he spent most of his time gambling and getting drunk at White's and took the earliest opportunity to resign from office in 1770. Despite this rather ineffective performance, he was back in office in 1774 when he distinguished himself by his support for George III's intransigent attitude towards his American subjects. He eventually retired from office in 1779 when it became apparent that he was running short of money once more.

The Marquesses of Bath

As a reward for his political services (such as they were) the 3rd Viscount Weymouth was created Marquess of Bath on the 18th August 1789. The choice of Bath being determined by the fact that Thomas had a tenuous connection with a previous line of the Earls of Bath; his mother Louisa Carteret being the co-heir of John Carteret, 2nd Earl Granville who was himself a grandson of John Granville, 1st Earl of Bath.

After leaving politics in 1779 Thomas devoted himself to agricultural improvement and forestry in particular, although his extravagant habits continued and he was forced to negotiate a loan of £80,000 (understandably known as 'the Great Loan' in the annals of the Thynne family.) In his later years he suffered from gout and died at his house at Arlington Street in London on the 19th November 1796.

His son Thomas Thynne, the 2nd Marquess was almost as extravagant as his father and had an agent in Paris scouring the country for objets d'art and a standing order with a London bookseller for a copy of every book published. His eldest son proved a disappointment to him, as he eloped with the daughter of a local toll-gate keeper named Harriet Robbins and fled to live in Paris. Two of his other three sons were similarly to earn his disapproval due to their propensity for spending money they didn't have and expecting their father to bail them out. The 2nd Marquess was eventually felt obliged to publish a notice in The Times disclaiming any liability for their debts.

By the time he died on the 27 March 1837 his disappointing eldest son had already died without issue and the title passed to his second son Henry Frederick. Henry had enjoyed a successful career in the Royal Navy, and had spent half of his life at sea. Life on dry land clearly did not suit as his tenure as Marquess was brief; he died on the on 24 June 1837 at the age of forty, less than three months after his succession to the title.

The title passed to his eldest son, the six year old Alexander, now 4th Marquess of Bath. Alexander grew up to the very model of the Victorian gentleman. As his obituary in The Times noted he "never played a prominent part in politics, though he devoted a considerable part of his time and energies to county business". He also had a decided fondness for foreign travel and preferred to spend much of his time abroad. He eventually fell ill in Venice and decided to return home, but died enroute at Milan on the 20th April 1896 at the age of sixty-five.

Thomas Thynne the 5th Marquess was a quiet and shy man who married Violet Mordaunt, who was quite possibly the natural daughter of the Prince of Wales. Their eldest son John was shot dead in the trenches of World War I on the 13th February 1916 and so the succession passed to his second son Henry Frederick Thynne. Educated at Harrow and Oxford, Henry Frederick, was one of the original Bright Young Things, as indeed was his first wife Daphne Winifred Louise Vivian. He sat in the House of Commons, mainly to please his father, joined the army in 1939, was wounded at the battle of El Alamein, and later served as the British liaison officer to the American 19th Corps. On succeeding his father as 6th Marquess on the 9th June 1946 he was immediately faced with a £700,000 bill for death duties, and a large ancestral pile at Longleat that was too expensive to maintain.

Since Henry was committed to the idea of preserving his home at Longleat, he took the revolutionary decision to open his home to the public as a tourist attraction. At the time this was widely regarded as a stupid idea and the press called him the 'Mad Marquess' in consequence. He nevertheless opened for business in April 1949 and by the end of that year a total of 135,000 people had paid their 2s 6d to satisfy their curiosity. By the 1960s when he faced with greater competition from the many other owners of stately homes that had followed his lead, Henry made a deal with James Chipperfield and opened a Safari Park in the grounds, thereby adding lions to the list of available attractions.

Henry died on the 30th June 1992 at age eighty-seven and succeeded by his eldest son Alexander Thynn (he has dropped the 'e' in his surname). Of the 7th Marquess the most important thing to note is that he is one of those delightfully eccentric individuals that crop up from time to time in the British peerage. Politically speaking he is noted for advocating the cause of regional government for Wessex, but is probably most famous for promoting the idea of polygamy both in theory and practice. Hence, although he is married to the Hungarian actress Anne Gail Gyarmathy, she spends most of her time in Paris, thereby allowing Alexander the freedom to indulge himself with a series of mistresses, or as he prefers to call them, wiflets.

He has added to the attractions of Longleat by painting a series of murals on a few previously blank walls, including a sequence in the aptly named Kama Sutra bedroom which your maiden aunt should avoid viewing. He has written three novels, is currently engaged in producing his multi-volume autobiography and is available for hire as an after-dinner speaker. (£2,000-£4,000 a time should you be interested.)

In addition to being the Marquess of Bath he also holds the titles of the Viscount Weymouth and Baron Thynne of Wermister (a scribal error in the letters patent for Warminster) and also Baronet Thynne of Kempsford. His only son and heir is Ceawlin Thynn, known by the courtesy title of the Viscount Weymouth and named after one of the ancient kings of Wessex.


THE MARQUESSES OF BATH
(Including the Viscounts Weymouth)

THYNNE/THYNN

As Viscount Weymouth

As Marquess of Bath


SOURCES

  • David Burnett Longleat, The Story of an English Country House (Dovecote Press, 1996)
  • Charles Arnold Baker The Companion to British History (Longcross Press, 1996)
  • A genealogical survey of the peerage of Britain at www.thepeerage.com
  • The Peerages of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom at http://www.angeltowns.com/town/peerage/Peers.htm

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