Who'd be a wit in Dryden's cudgel'd skin,
Or who'd be rich and senseless like Tom
The Earl of Rochester
Born in 1648, Thomas Thynne was the great-great-grandson of John Thynne, the sixteenth century founder of the Thynne family fortune, and the eldest son of Sir Thomas Thynne and Stuarta the daughter and heiress of Walter Balcanquhall, dean of Durham. Having matriculated from Christ Church, Oxford on the 14th December 1666, two years later he entered at the Middle Temple, but it was not until the death of his childless uncle Sir James Thynne in 1670 that he inherited Longleat House and the family's estates and became known as 'Tom o'Ten Thousand' for the simple reason that he was believed to have an income of £10,000 per annum.
Whether the exact extent of his income, Thomas was indeed wealthy, far richer indeed than most peers, most of which he spent on his own pleasure. The surviving accounts at Longleat indicate that Thomas spent freely to satisfy his sundry needs (he once acquired 168 pounds of gold in one year, for some reason or another), whilst he dressed as if he were the epitome of the Restoration rake, sporting "a grey wide-briimmed hat, silk shirts and stockings ... a lace embridered waiscoat, blavk velvet breeches and a green frock coat", all topped off with his signature piece, a gold-fringed scarf fully seven yards long.
Having gone to Oxford he joined the entourage of James Stuart, Duke of York, but later some quarrel arose between the two, and Tom switched allegiance to the rival camp of James Scott, Duke of Monmouth. Thomas spent most of his time at his London house in Cannon Row, leaving his Wiltshire estates in the hands of agents, and himself free to tour London's brothels and gaming houses in the company of the Duke of Monmouth. Thus the two appear to have become firm friends; when Monmouth made a tour of the west country in 1680 his arrival at Longleat was greeted by flowers strewn in his path and in his Absalom and Achitophel, John Dryden referred to Thomas as "Wise Ischar" the "wealthy Western friend" of the Duke.
As a member of the Monmouth party Thomas took a leading role in the Exclusion Crisis of 1679-1681; together with Walter St. John and Edward Hungerford early in 1680 he presented the king with a petition from his Wiltshire constituents calling for for the punishment of popish plotters, and on the 30th June he was one of ten lords and ten commoners who proposed that the Duke of York should be brought before the grand jury of Middlesex as a papist. Such actions persuaded Charles II to deprive Thomas of his command of the Wiltshire militia in November 1681, but otherwise failed to change his political inclinations. Indeed such was his enthusiasm for the cause of the Duke of Monmouth, it seems very likely that he would otherwise have met his end during the later Monmouth Rebellion of 1685, but as it happens it was to be matrimony not politics that proved to the undoing of Tom o'Ten Thousand.
On the lookout for a suitable wife, Tom's eye had fallen on Elizabeth Percy, the only child of the deceased Joceline Percy, 11th Earl of Northumberland and thus perhaps the most valuable heiress on the market at the time. Despite being only fifteen years old Elizabeth was already a widow, having been married at the age of thirteen to Henry Cavendish, Earl of Ogle. The earl was however dead within the year, and since Elizabeth had remained with her grandmother at Petworth throughout that time, it was almost certain that the marriage was never consummated.
To facilitate his wooing of the young Elizabeth, Thomas enlisted the help of a Major Brett and Mrs Potter, her former nurse, to act as his intermediaries. As it happens the dowager Countess of Northumberland, Elizabeth Howard was equally keen for her grand-daughter to marry the wealthy owner of Longleat and on the 14th July 1681 the couple met for the first time at Brett's home in Surrey where they were duly married in a private ceremony. To obtain her acquiescence to the match, Thomas promised Elizabeth an allowance of £2,000 a year, and during the course of the wedding ceremony, with the pronouncement of the words, "With all my worldly goods I thee endow", produced a bag holding one hundred gold guineas and held them out to his intended, who promptly wrapped it in her handkerchief and stuffed it down the front of her dress. Thus was the bargain sealed.
Having escaped from her grandmother's clutches Elizabeth was reluctant to shut herself away in Longleat House just yet and so she went to stay in the Netherlands for a year with Lady Dorothy Temple the wife of William Temple. Thomas happily spent the intervening time gaining control of his wife's property despite the protests of many of her relations, whilst awaiting her return.
It was whilst she was at the Hague that Elizabeth made the acquaintance of one John Philip Köningsmark, a Swedish count about whom little is known but much has been written. It is however certain that he was an adventurer and a serial seducer of impressionable women, who duly succeeded in making Elizabeth his latest conquest. Having won the heart of the young heiress, Köningsmark came to the conclusion that the only obstacle to his future prosperity and happiness was the unfortunate matter of her prior contract with Tom o'Ten Thousand. He twice issued Tom a challenge to fight a duel through his steward a German named Captain Christopher Vratz. Thomas very wisely declined these challenges but it is said to have sent his own party of six men to France to murder Köningsmark, or at least forcibly disuade him from further contact with his wife.
Undaunted by their failure to date, in February 1682 both Köningsmark and Vratz arrived in England and began making their own plans to remove Thomas from the picture. On the 12th February 1682 Vratz, together with the count's groom, a Pole named George Boroski, and a Swedish mercenary John Stern met at a tavern in Whitehall. From there they set out for Thomas's London home and spent the rest of the day following him around town until a suitable opportunity arose. Eventually they seized their chance that evening, whilst Thomas's carriage was travelling down the Pall Mall (where he had gone to pay a call on the dowager Countess of Northumberland.) Vratz seized the horses forcing the carriage to stop, and Boroski emptied his blunderbuss at Thomas Thynee. Stern it seems was too drunk to take any direct part in the murder, but fled the scene nonetheless.
Thomas was wounded in four places and rushed to his home in Cannon Row where he died in his bed at six the following morning surrounded by the Duke of Monmouth and his friends.
Given Thomas's position as one of the leading members of the Duke of Monmouth's party his murder rapidly gained a political dimension; rumours abounded that it was all part of a Catholic plot and that the Duke of York was marching from Scotland
at the head of a Catholic Army. Others however believed that it was an act of retribution by a certain Miss Trevor, a former mistress whom Thomas had once promised to marry, and whom he'd also shared with the Duke of Monmouth.
The investigation of the murder fell to a magistrate named John Reresby and even as Thomas lay dying Reresby succeeded in identifying a witness who had seen the three conspirators acting suspiciously. Later on the 13th February Vratz was arrested in his lodgings and soon gave up the wherabouts of the other two. All three were aprehended by noon that day taken before the king and examined. Vratz admitted that he had been employed by Köningsmark, but claimed that the intention was only to force Thomas to fight a duel and that Boroski had misinterpreted his instructions. Boroski in turn swore that Vratz had ordered him to kill Thynne, whilst Stern pleaded that he had no knowledge of either the planned duel or the murder and had simply the misfortune to be in the company of Vratz when the deed was done. Nevertheless all three were placed in Newgate prison, allowing king Charles II to breath a sigh of relief, as the arrest of three foreigners meant that the crime was of no political significance, and was likely to excite no further anti-Catholic sentiment.
The Count Köningsmark proved slightly more elusive to get hold of, but he was apprehended a week later on the 19th February at Gravesend by the Duke of Monmouth's steward, where he had been unsuccessfully trying to obtain passage home to Sweden. He too was briefly examined before the king and council and again by the Lord Chief Justice Francis Pemberton, before being committed to Newgate.
On the 27th February Vratz, Stern and Boroski were taken before the Old Bailey on a charge of murder with Köningsmark facing a charge of being an accessory before the fact. Vratz, Stern and Boroski were all found guilty but much to many's surprise and astonishment, Köningsmark was acquited. His acquital appears to have been a political fix initiated by the court at the behest of certain foreign ambassadors who intereceded on the count's behalf. The judge, the Lord Chief Justice Francis Pemberton, whilst condemning the three conspirators as "not fit to look upon themselves as accounted men", demonstrated a considerable amount of favour towards Köningsmark during the course of the trial and directed the jury to acquit. Reresby was to note that he had been offered (and declined) a bribe to favour the Swede and John Evelyn was to claim that Köningsmark "was acquitted by a corrupt jury".
Thus whilst the Köningsmark was set free, Vratz, Stern and Boroski were all sentenced to be hanged at the scene of the murder at Pall Mall, and on the 10th March 1682 a large crowd turned out to view their executions. Vratz faced his fate with a certain amount of stoicism and asked to be excused the customary blindfold; "Never man went so unconcerned for his fate" wrote John Evelyn. Boroski was however shaking with fear whilst Stern was verging on hysteria. As the man who had pulled the trigger, Boroski's corpse was hung in chains at the Mile End Road as the customary warning, Stern's remains were quietly buried, whilst Vratz's corpse was embalmed and returned to Germany in a lead-lined coffin "too magnificent for so daring and horrid a murderer" according to Evelyn.
Köningsmark was killed not long after in 1687 at the Siege of Argos fighting the Turks and the twice widowed Elizabeth Percy went on to marry Charles Seymour, 6th Duke of Somerset, although it is unlikely that she found much in the way of happines. Jonathan Swift later felt inspired to compose the following satirical verse in his Windsor Prophecy, recounting her chequered past with the words,
And dear England if aught I understand
Beware carrots from Northumberland
Carrots sown Thynn a deep root may set
If so they be in Somer set
There Conyngs mark thou; for I have been told
They assassins when young, poisons when old.
As for Thomas, he was succeeded in the Longleat estates by his cousin and namesake Thomas Thynne, 2nd Baronet Thyne, who afterwards became the Viscount Weymouth
and is the ancestor of the present Marquess of Bath
. His remains were interred at Westminster Abbey
in a magnificent marble tomb designed by Artus Quellinus
to be found at the south aisle of the choir. Underneath his recumbent figure flanked by a prancing cherub, a bas-relief panel depicts a representation of the scene of his murder at Pall Mall.
Despite his wealth and the extravagance his memorial, Thomas was an otherwise unremarkable man. A more scurrilous view of his passing was recorded by the anonymous verse that circulated soon after his death;
Here lies Tom Thynne of Longleat Hall
Who never would have miscarried,
Had he married the woman he lay withal
Or laid with the woman he married.