Henry Halford

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Sir Henry Halford, 1st Bt, by Sir William Beechey

Sir Henry Halford, 1st Baronet, GCH (2 October 1766 – 1844), born Henry Vaughan, royal and society physician, was physician extraordinary to King George III from 1793 to 1820, then as physician in ordinary to his three successors – George IV, William IV and the young Victoria. He also served other members of the Royal Family until his death.

Early life[edit]

Halford was born as Henry Vaughan at Leicester, the second but eldest surviving son of Dr. James Vaughan (27 March 1740 – 19 August 1813),[1] an eminent physician at Leicester, and his wife, Hester née Smalley (d. 2 or 7 April 1791),[2] He was educated at Rugby School, and there developed his love for classical literature. He went from Rugby to Christ Church, Oxford and obtained his MD in 1791 aged 25. Before taking his degrees in physic, he spent some months in Edinburgh (where he presumably studied the Scottish system of medicine).

Professional career[edit]

Portrait of Halford from an 1838 book

This section is based substantially on the Royal College of Physicians's profile as there are no other sources available on his professional life.

Vaughan (as he then was) practised for a short time with his father at Leicester. He went to London in about 1792, and was initially told that he could not succeed for five years, and must support himself on £300 annually in private income. Undaunted, he borrowed £1,000, and started his professional life in London. He advanced rapidly, owing in part to his smooth manners and his Oxford connections.

He was elected physician to the Middlesex hospital on the 20 February 1793; was admitted a Candidate of the Royal College of Physicians on the 25 March 1793; and a Fellow on the 14 April 1794. And in 1793, he was appointed physician extraordinary to the king (the youngest ever appointed aged 27). By the year 1800, his private engagements had become so numerous, that he was compelled to relinquish his hospital appointment. His professional career was undoubtedly advanced by his marriage in 1795 to Elizabeth, the daughter of John St John, 12th Baron St John of Bletso.

In 1809 he was made a baronet and changed his name from Vaughan to Halford in expectation of his inheritance (see below). His change of name was confirmed by an 1815 Act of Parliament.[3]

In 1812, Halford was appointed physician in ordinary to George III of the United Kingdom, having previously been appointed physician in ordinary to the Prince Regent. He continued to serve as physician in ordinary to successive sovereigns until his death in 1844. He also served as physician to other members of the Royal Family, notably the Princess Amelia, youngest daughter of George III.

In 1813 he was involved in the exhumation of the hitherto missing body of Charles I, discovered by accident during building work in St George's Chapel. The fourth vertebra, bearing the marks of the axe, came into his possession.[4]

Halford was also notably active in the Royal College of Physicians, serving in various posts. On the 30 September 1820 he was elected President, an office to which he was annually and unanimously re-elected for an unprecedented 24 years, until his death on the 9 March 1844 in the seventy-eighth year of his age. The College owes its removal from Warwick-lane to Pall-mall East in 1825 to Sir Henry Halford's exertions.

Halford was a fellow of the Royal and Antiquarian societies, and a trustee of Rugby School which he had attended; and, in virtue of his office as President of the College of Physicians, he was president of the National Vaccine Establishment, and a trustee of the British Museum.

He was known to his contemporaries as “The Prince and Lord Chesterfield of all medical practitioners”, and less complimentarily as “the eel-backed baronet in consequence of his deep and oft-repeated bows." Among his recorded advice is: "Never read by candlelight anything smaller than the Ace of Clubs".[5]

The Halford inheritance[edit]

Wistow Hall

Halford was a great grandson of Sir Richard Halford, 5th Baronet (d. 1727), through his maternal grandmother. As such, he became the heir presumptive to the family's Wistow Hall estate at the death of his mother's cousin Sir Charles Halford, 7th and last Bt (1732–1780), the last of the original Halfords.[6][7] However, his widow Sarah née Farnham (md 1769) remained in possession of Wistow, and remarried the Earl of Denbigh. She died only on 2 October 1814, but Halford (then Vaughan) changed his name in 1809 on the expectation of this inheritance.

Halford finally inherited Wistow Hall in 1814 on the death of Lady Denbigh (d. 2 October 1814).[6][8] The hall is still in the possession of the family, albeit partially converted into apartments.


Halford married 31 March 1795 Hon. Elizabeth Barbara St. John (Born 22 February 1762 Died 17 June 1833),[9] the third daughter of John St John, 12th Baron St John of Bletso[10] and had issue including

  • Sir Henry Halford, 2nd Baronet (1797–1868) who married his cousin Barbara Vaughan, daughter of Sir John Vaughan, his paternal uncle, and Hon. Augusta St John, daughter of Lord St John of Bletso and widow of the 13th Baron. They had two sons (both of whom married, but died issueless)
    • Sir Henry St. John Halford, 3rd Bart.
    • Reverend Sir John Frederick Halford, 4th Bart.
  • Louisa Halford, later Mrs Frederick Coventry (d 30 September 1865), who married 18 October 1819 her second cousin Frederick Coventry (1791–1858), elder son of Hon. John Coventry (second son of George Coventry, 6th Earl of Coventry, and his elder son by his second wife Hon. Barbara St. John, only child of John St. John, 11th Baron St John of Bletso) and his first wife Anne Clayton, on 18 October 1819. They had two sons (who married and left issue) and two married daughters.[11]

His father Dr. James Vaughan was the youngest son of the seven sons of Henry Vaughan, a surgeon, who settled at the corner of New Street and Friar Lane in Leicester in 1763. The father was active in the foundation of the Leicester Infirmary. He married Hester Smalley, the second daughter of a Leicester alderman, John Smalley (sometimes called Thomas or William in sources), by his wife Elizabeth Halford, second daughter of Sir Richard Halford, 5th Bart., of Wistow Hall, Leicestershire. Thus, while his paternal background was professional, his maternal grandmother came from the landed gentry. Dr James Vaughan and his wife Hester had at least six sons and an only daughter who married late in life. Halford's siblings included :

  • Sir John Vaughan (11 February 1768 – 25 September 1839), third but second surviving son of James and Hester Vaughan, successively King’s Serjeant, Baron of the Exchequer, Justice of the Court of Common Pleas and Privy Councillor. He married first his sister-in-law Hon. Augusta St John, daughter of Henry Beauchamp St John, 13th Baron St John of Bletso and secondly Louisa, Dowager Baroness St John of Bletso, widow of St Andrew St John, 14th Baron St John of Bletso and daughter of Sir Charles William Rouse-Boughton, 9th Baronet.[12] Sir John Vaughan and his first wife had issue, including a son and two daughters:
  • Sir Charles Richard Vaughan, GCH, PC, (20 December 1774 – 15 June 1849) a British diplomat; and
  • Peter Vaughan, Warden of Merton College, Oxford (d. 1826).[16]
  • Reverend Edward Thomas Vaughan at the Wayback Machine (archived 27 October 2009) (c.1774 – 27 September 1829 aged 55), Rector of St. Martin's, Leicester, at the age of 25. He married 1stly 13 March 1804 Elizabeth Anne Hill (d. 16 January 1808 in childbirth), second daughter of David Thomas Hill of Aylesbury, Bucks, and had by her issue, three daughters. He married 2ndly 1812 Agnes Pares (d. 28 December 1878) daughter of John Pares, one of the town’s leading bankers, and had eleven children by her. Among them were three sons who were Rectors of St Martin's, Leicester
    • Edward Thomas Vaughan (26 July 1813 – 17 January 1900), the apparent donor of a portrait of his uncle Sir Henry Halford to the National Portrait Gallery.
    • Charles John Vaughan (6 August 1816 – 15 October 1897)
    • David James Vaughan (2 August 1825 – 30 July 1905) founder of the Leicester Working Man’s College that evolved into the present Vaughan College, the Adult Education Centre of Leicester University.

Sir Henry Halford also had an only sister

  • Almeria Selina Hughes, née Vaughan (1771- 27 March 1837 aged 66); she married 1817, the Rev Dr HUGHES, Principal of Jesus Coll: Oxford.[17]



  1. ^ Halford family monuments: A8 – James Vaughan M.D. and Hester Vaughan. Full date of death retrieved 12 March 2009.
  2. ^ Her funerary monument says she died 2 April 1791
  3. ^ Deed Poll Office: Private Act of Parliament 1815 (55 Geo. 3). c. 82
  4. ^ 'O Horrable Murder': Trial, Execution and Burial of King Charles I by Robert B.Partridge
  5. ^ J.A.Gere and John Sparrow (ed.), Geoffrey Madan's Notebooks, Oxford University Press, 1981
  6. ^ a b "Wistow Hall" Retrieved 12 March 2009
  7. ^ This baronet and his elder brother Sir William Halford, 6th Bt (d. 1768) were sons of Thomas Halford (1696–1766). His connection to Sir Henry Halford is not clear. The first baronetcy was created in 1641 for Sir Richard Halford d. 1658. The next baronets were Sir Thomas Halford d. 1679; Sir Thomas Halford d. 1689; Sir William Halford d. 1695; Sir Richard Halford d. 1727 (great-grandfather of Sir Henry Halford); Sir William Halford d. 1768; and Sir Charles Halford, d. 1780.
  8. ^ Lundy, Darryl. "Lady Denbigh". The Peerage. [unreliable source]
  9. ^ Funerary monument for Hon. Elizabeth Barbara Halford:"To the memory of the Honourable ELIZABETH BARBARA daughter of JOHN, eleventh LORD ST JOHN of Bletsoe and wife to Sir HENRY HALFORD, of Wistow, Baronet.". Retrieved 12 March 2009. The numbering used by the family is one less than the official rumbering used in Burke etc.
  10. ^ "Halford, Sir Henry" Royal College of Physicians website. Retrieved 12 March 2009.

    "His Oxford connexions, elegant attainments, and pleasing manners at once introduced him into good society, and he secured a position among the aristocracy by his marriage, on the 31 March 1795, to the Hon. Elizabeth Barbara St. John, the third daughter of John eleventh Lord St. John of Bletsoe."

    However, his father-in-law cannot be the 11th Baron (d. 1757), whose only daughter Hon. Barbara St. John married the Earl of Coventry in 1764. The RCP website appears to be mistaken here
  11. ^ Lundy, Darryl. "p. 3524 § 35233 : Louisa Halford". The Peerage. [unreliable source].
  12. ^ Halford funerary monuments: A3 – The Hon. Sir John Vaughan, Knt. Leicestershirevillages.com. Retrieved on 2012-05-20.
  13. ^ He used his middle name, according to his granddaughter's RCP obituary.
  14. ^ Halford funerary monuments: A10 – Augusta Vaughan. Leicestershirevillages.com. Retrieved on 2012-05-20.
  15. ^ Halford funerary monuments: A6 – Dame Barbara Halford. Leicestershirevillages.com. Retrieved on 2012-05-20.
  16. ^ A genealogical and heraldic history of the extinct and dormant baronetcies: Halford, of Wistow p. 238. Retrieved from Google Books on 12 March 2009.
  17. ^ Halford funerary monuments: A7 – Almeria Selina Hughes. Leicestershirevillages.com. Retrieved on 2012-05-20.


Baronetage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baronet
(of Wistow)
1809 – 1844
Succeeded by
Henry Halford