The title of Earl of Anglesey has been twice created in the Peerage of England during the seventeenth century, once in the Villiers family and once in the Annesley family, neither of whom it appears, had any particular connection with the island of Anglesey in Wales.
Christopher Villiers, was the younger brother of the George Villiers who became the Duke of Buckingham and like his brother was prominent at the court of James I where he held a succession of offices such as those of Gentleman of the Horse, Gentleman of the Bedchamber and Master of the Robes. Although he was once apparently banished the Court for persistent drunkenness, he eventually received his reward on the 18th April 1623 when he was created the Earl of Anglesey and Baron Daventree in the county of Northampton.
After his death on the 3rd April 1630 he was succeeded by his only son Charles Villiers, 2nd Earl who despite his marriage to Mary Bayning, daughter of Paul Bayning, 1st Viscount Bayning failed to produce any issue. Accordingly on his death from smallpox in February 1661 the titles of Earl of Anglesey and Baron Daventree became extinct.
Annesley is a village in Nottinghamshire from which placename a number of not necessarily related families were to draw their surname. One such family found their way across the Irish Sea to Ireland, where towards the end of the sixteenth century a Francis Annesley succeeded in gaining a knighthood and the titles of Viscount Valentia and Baron Mountnorris in the Peerage of Ireland.
Francis' eldest son Arthur Annesley born on the 10th July 1614 in Dublin, graduated from Oxford University in 1634 and embarked on career in the law. Originally a supporter of the Parliamentary cause he became a royalist symapthiser after the execution of Charles I in 1649, and was one of the key figures behind the Restoration of Charles II to the throne in 1660. In recognition of these services on the 20th April 1661 he was granted the English titles of Earl of Anglesey and Baron Annesley to add to his existing Irish dignity as the 2nd Viscount Valentia. The new Earl does not appear to have had any particular strong connection with Anglesey and his choice of the title appears to have been dictated by the vacancy arising in February of that year.
Arthur Annesley continued his political career and served as the Treasurer of the Navy between 1667 to 1668 and later as Lord Privy Seal between 22 April 1673 and 9 August 1682 although his contemporaries did not have a particularly high regard for either his abilities or his morals. Samuel Pepys recorded that "Sir H. Cholmeley is confident my Lord A. is one of the greatest knaves in the world", a sentiment that was echoed by other commentators of the time. On the 21st May 1669 Arthur appears to have offended the sensibilities of a certain Major Scott who challenged him to a duel. The Earl declined the invitation whereupon the Major, determined to achieve some satisfaction on the matter inflicted upon the Earl a "sound cudgeling".
Nevertheless Arthur remained in good favour with the king and since his wife Elizabeth Altham had born him a total of five sons he also succeeded in procuring the elevation of his second son, Altham Annesley, to the Irish peerage as Baron Altham of Altham. (Of whom more below.)
Arthur Annesley died from quinsy on the 6th April 1686 at his London home in Drury Lane and was succeeded by his eldest son James Annesley. The 2nd Earl followed his father into politics and served as the Member of Parliament for County Waterford in 1666 and later for Winchester between the years 1679 and 1681. He married Elizabeth Manners, daughter of John Manners, 8th Earl of Rutland who bore him three sons, each of who was in turn to succeed as Earl of Anglesey after his death on the 1st April 1690.
The first of these was James, who married Catherine Darnley, an illegitimate daughter of James II, but the marriage was a failure and they were separated by Act of Parliament on the 12 June 1701 on account of his cruelty. John did not long survive the marital breakdown and died on the 21st January 1702 at the age of twenty-seven.
The sole issue of the marriage was a daughter named Catherine and so on the 3rd Earl's death the title passed to his younger brother John Annesley. The 4th Earl married Henrietta Maria Stanley, a daughter of William George Richard Stanley, 9th Earl of Derby in 1706 but died without surviving issue on the 18th September 1710 at the age of 34. The title then passed to the last of the three brothers Arthur Annesley. True to recent form, despite his marriage to Mary Thompson, daughter of John Thompson, 1st Baron Haversham, the 5th Earl died on the 1st April 1737 having apparently neglected to provide for the succession to the title.
Having thus exhausted the male heirs of the eldest son of the 1st Earl the succession therfore passed to the descendants of the second son, in the form of one Richard Annesley, 5th Baron Altham, who had succeeded to that title on the death of his older brother Arthur Annesley, 4th Baron Altham in 1727.
Strangely enough Arthur Annesley did had a son named James who was twelve at the time of his father's death, and although there appeared to be some doubt regarding his legitimacy, just to make sure of the matter his uncle Richard announced his death and had him transported him across the Atlantic and sold as an indetured servant to a planter named 'Drummond'. Years later however James escaped and by 1740 had made his way back to England, and proceeded to lay claim to his father's estates and titles.
On the 11th November 1743 the case was heard before the Court of Exchequer in Dublin and judgement was later recorded in favour of the claimant James Annesley. Despite this initial success, attempts by James to lay claim to his titles became bogged down by legal days and insufficient funds, so that although he sometime styled himself as the '6th Earl of Anglesey' he was never formally recognised as such in law.
James died on the 5th January 1760, and his uncle Richard followed on the 14th February 1761, and although Richard's son Arthur Annesley succeeded in claiming his father's Irish titles of Baron Altham and Viscount Valentia, the English House of Lords baulked at recognising his claim to the English titles and on the 22nd April 1771 declared that the titles of Earl of Anglesey and Baron Annesley had become extinct with effect from the death of the 6th Earl.
The decision of 1771 (as was so often the case with decisions by the House of Lords on matters of Peerage Law) lacked any kind of logic. Although James Annersely had two sons, neither son lived long enough to have any issue of their own, and both were dead by the time the House of Lords considered the matter. Which left Arthur as the unquestionable heir male of his namesake the 1st Earl, irrespective of the legitimacy or otherwise of his cousin James or indeed the morality of his father's actions.
Nevertheless the title of Earl of Anglesey became legally extinct, although Arthur Annesley was later granted by way of compensation the title of Earl of Mountnorris in the Peerage of Ireland on the 3rd December 1793. The dignity of Anglesey was later revived for Henry William Paget, the hero of the Battle of Waterloo who was created the Marquess of Anglesey in 1815.
THE EARLS OF ANGLESEY
- James Annesley 'Earl of Anglesey' (1740-1760)
- Arthur Annesley, 1st Earl of Anglesey (1614-1686), Politician and book collector at http://www.npg.org.uk/live/search/person.asp?LinkID=mp00105
- The 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica entry for ANGLESEY
- A genealogical survey of the peerage of Britain at www.thepeerage.com
- Extract from Celebrated Claimants. (London, 1873) included in Henry Graham Ashmead History of Delaware County, Pennsylvania (L. H. Everts & Co, Philadelphia, 1884) see http://www.delcohistory.org/ashmead/index.htm