George Nugent, 7th Earl of Westmeath
George Frederick Nugent, 7th Earl of Westmeath PC (18 November 1760 – 30 December 1814), styled Lord Delvin until 1792, was an Irish peer. He gained some notoriety in his lifetime due to his unhappy first marriage, which ended in divorce, following a much-publicised action for criminal conversation.
Background and early career
Nugent was the only surviving son of Thomas Nugent, 6th Earl of Westmeath, by his second wife Catherine White, daughter of Henry White of Pitchfordstown, County Kildare. He sat in the Irish House of Commons as member for Fore from 1780 until 1792, when he succeeded his father in the earldom. He became a member of the Irish Privy Council the following year, and held the offices of Custos Rotulorum for Westmeath and Auditor of Foreign Accounts. He was a Colonel in the Westmeath Militia.
As a young man he was described as "gay, social and convivial". At the age of 24 he married Maryanne Jeffries, who was about a year older. She was the daughter of Major James St.John Jeffries of Blarney Castle and Arabella Fitzgibbon, sister of John Fitzgibbon, 1st Earl of Clare. She was described as a young woman of "great beauty, education and high accomplishments". It was generally regarded as a love marriage, and according to the evidence at the trial, the early years were happy. After about six years the couple effectively parted, he living in Ireland, she in London. At an unknown date Maryanne became intimate with Augustus Cavendish-Bradshaw, younger son of Sir Henry Cavendish, 2nd Baronet and brother of the future Baron Waterpark.
There is no reason to doubt the claim made by Lord Westmeath's counsel at the trial that he hesitated for a long time before deciding on divorce: divorce then invariably caused scandal, and the process was slow and expensive, requiring a Private Act of Parliament. Although he was a rich man, financial motives may partly explain his decision to sue for criminal conversation, seeking the (then) very large sum of £20,000; such a suit was also then a necessary first step towards divorce.
The action opened on 20 February 1796, before Barry Yelverton, the Chief Baron of the Irish Exchequer. Each side had an impressive legal team: John Toler, the Solicitor General for Ireland and William Saurin, the future Attorney General for Ireland for the plaintiff faced John Philpot Curran for the defendant. The trial aroused enormous public interest and the courtroom was packed.
Five witnesses, all servants of the Westmeaths, testified to actions which amounted to strong if circumstantial evidence of adultery (it was not the practice for the actual parties to give evidence). Curran's cross- examination is said to have afforded great entertainment to the public, but he did not seriously damage the witnesses' credit. His speech to the jury was praised for its eloquence, although he came close to admitting that adultery had been proved. On that basis he attacked the character of both husband and wife, describing Lady Westmeath as an experienced woman of the world who had seduced a much younger man. Lord Westmeath he described as a pleasure-loving and neglectful husband; as he quite fairly pointed out the picture of a happy marriage destroyed by the intrigues of Bradshaw did not fit with the fact that the couple had led separate lives for years before Bradshaw ever arrived on the scene.
For once Curran's eloquence had little effect: Yelverton in his summing up described the evidence as overwhelming and suggested that the damages should be very large. The jury found for the plaintiff and awarded him £10,000.
The Westmeaths were divorced by a private Act of Parliament later that year, and in November Maryanne and Bradshaw married. She long outlived her first husband, dying in 1849, aged about 90.
In 1797 Westmeath remarried Lady Elizabeth Moore, daughter of Charles Moore, 1st Marquess of Drogheda. He supported the Act of Union 1800 and became an Irish Representative Peer. He died on 30 December 1814.
While the trial refers to several children of the first marriage, we know of only one son George Nugent, 1st Marquess of Westmeath; the others presumably died young. There were five children of the second marriage, Robert, Thomas, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary.
- Mosley, editor Burke's Peerage 107th Edition Vol.1 p. 865
- Burke's Peerage, p.865
- "The Trial of an action for adultery brought by George Frederick Nugent, Earl of Westmeath against the Hon. Augustus C. Bradshaw" reported in Collected Speeches of John Philpot Curran, New York 1811 Vol. 1 p.163
- Curran Speeches pp.168–175
- Curran Speeches pp.176–7
- Burke's Peerage p.865
- Burke's Peerage p.865
- Burke's Peerage p.865
|Parliament of Ireland|
|Member of Parliament for Fore
With: James FitzGerald 1780–1783
Gervase Parker Bushe 1783–1790
Stephen Francis William Fremantle 1790–1792
Stephen Francis William Fremantle
|Peerage of Ireland|
|Earl of Westmeath