John Crewe, 2nd Baron Crewe
John Crewe, 2nd Baron Crewe (bap. 1772 – 4 December 1835) was an English soldier and a peer. He formed part of the first British embassy to China, and rose to the rank of General. He became estranged from the majority of his family and spent much of his life in self-imposed exile on the Continent. He is perhaps best known for a painting of him as a child by Sir Joshua Reynolds.
Crewe was the son of John Crewe (1742–1829) of Crewe Hall, a wealthy Whig politician who was created the first Baron Crewe in 1806. His mother, Frances Anne Crewe, the daughter of Fulke Greville, was a political hostess known for her great beauty. His younger sister, Elizabeth Emma (1780–1850), married Foster Cunliffe-Offley; two other siblings, Richard and Frances, did not survive infancy.
As a child in around 1775, he was painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds in a pose and costume which mimic the well-known portrait of Henry VIII by Hans Holbein the Younger. The portrait is considered among the artist's finest portrayals of children, and has been described as "one of Reynolds' freshest attempts at comedy painting". Horace Walpole commented: "Is not there humour and satire in Sir Joshua's reducing Holbein's swaggering and colossal haughtiness of Henry VIII to the boyish jollity of Master Crewe?"
Frances Burney described him in the early 1790s as "a silent and reserved, but, I think, sensible young man". Local historian Ray Gladden describes him at the time of his entrance into the army as "high spirited", accruing gambling debts that his father had to pay off by selling land. One of his daughters later remembered that he claimed his total debts were never above £80,000, then a huge sum.
Crewe entered the army in the 1790s. In 1793, when he held the rank of a lieutenant, he was a member of the Macartney Embassy to China, led by Lord Macartney, who was his mother's cousin. Crewe rose to the rank of Major-General in 1808, Lieutenant-General in 1813 and full General in 1830, before retiring in 1831. He lost the sight in one eye during active service.
Marriage and children
On 5 May 1807, he married Henrietta Maria Anna Walker-Hungerford, daughter of George Walker of Studleigh house (now demolished), near Calne in Wiltshire. She was the heiress to a substantial fortune derived from Barbados sugar plantations. The couple had four children, three daughters, Henrietta Mary (1808–79), Maria Hungerford (who died in infancy) and Annabella Hungerford (d. 1874), and a son, Hungerford (1812–94).
According to Gladden, the marriage was not a happy one. Gladden states that Crewe contracted a second bigamous marriage in 1820, which was carried out at the chapel at the family seat of Crewe Hall and officiated over by a billiard-maker. This second marriage resulted in an illegitimate daughter.
Henrietta Crewe died in 1820, aged 48. The couple's three surviving children, aged between six and eleven, became wards of court, and lived with Lord Crewe at Crewe Hall. Hungerford Crewe was eccentric as a child, and is said to have seen little of his father. A family history written by Robert Crewe-Milnes, 1st Marquess of Crewe, states that John Crewe regarded his only son with "nothing but contempt".
Crewe lived abroad for many years while he was in the army and after his retirement. In 1817, he was imprisoned in France after being falsely accused of owing 23,945 francs to a hotel-keeper. The Times quotes the French newspaper The Moniteur:
The most extraordinary feature in this case ... is, that General Crewe preferred to remain for five months and a half in prison, and to sacrifice in the expenses of suit a sum much larger than the pretended debt, rather than pay to Brunet a sum which he did not owe. This ... is one of those causes which may serve to fix our opinion as to the English character.
On his father's death in 1829, he became the second Baron Crewe. Gladden states that his father cut him out of his will, so far as was possible. Crewe Hall and the rental income from the Crewe family's large estates in Cheshire and Staffordshire were inherited by his sister, Elizabeth Cunliffe-Offley. Small bequests were left to John Crewe's daughters.
Lord Crewe never subsequently lived at Crewe Hall. By this date he was living at the chateau Bois l'-Evèque, near Liège in Belgium. His younger daughter, Annabella, went to live with the Cunliffe-Offleys in Madeley, resulting in a permanent breach between her and her father. She married Richard Monckton Milnes in 1851. His older daughter, Henrietta, moved to Belgium to live with her father, and subsequently converted to Roman Catholicism. She returned to England after her father's death and never married.
Lord Crewe died at Bois l'Evèque in 1835, and is buried at Barthomley, Cheshire, where the family chapel is located. He was succeeded by his son, Hungerford Crewe. Hungerford Crewe inherited Crewe Hall and the Crewe family estates two years later.
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- Anecdotes of Painting in England (Warnum, ed.), Vol. I, p. xvii, 1888. Quoted in Wind, 1938
- Burney, Frances. Memoirs of Doctor Burney (Vol. III), p. 155 (Moxon; 1832)
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- co-heiress by her grandmother's father's family of the estate of George Hungerford (1637–1712)
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- Anon. (6 November 1817), "General Crewe, and Brunet the Tavern-Keeper", The Times, p. 2
- Gladden, p. 29
- Davenport-Hines R. Milnes, Richard Monckton, first Baron Houghton (1809–1885), in: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004), Oxford University Press, retrieved 15 February 2009
- Anon. (11 December 1835), "Died", The Times, p. 4
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