In 1781, Edward Onslow (1758-1829) of the well known Surrey family had recently begun a political career as MP of the borough of Aldborough.
‘Ned’, as he was known, had already distinguished himself as ‘a man generally esteemed and regarded, both in public and private life’, in contrast to his father ‘Black George’ Onslow, a notorious political schemer, and his elder brother Thomas. But the course of Edward’s life was altered forever when he was accused of homosexual advances on ‘Phelim Macarty esq of London’ during an encounter at the Royal Academy Exhibition.
Eighteenth Century exile
The case was brought before a magistrate, with claims of credible witnesses to the episode. The scandal was widely reported, although it appears the ‘abominable’ story was at first disbelieved among the Onslows’ own circle. However, according to a sympathetic commentator, Edward confessed to his family, admitting that ‘the passion he felt was beyond all control, and considering the place, the person, and all the circumstances it must have been no less than frenzy’. Both Edward and his family chose exile to avoid the consequences of the alleged crime, and he left Clandon for Clermont-Ferrand in rural France. The Bishop of Oxford warned Ned’s father that while in France he would be ‘in a country where men are more at liberty to be charitable on one subject’, however, ‘I am afraid to encourage you to hope for the same here’.
Marriage and legacy
In France though, Edward chose a new life and identity for himself. He married the noted beauty Marie-Rosalie de Bordeilles de Couzances and the marriage settlement provided him with £20,000 for the purchase of French property, the Chateau Le Chalendrat being subsequently acquired in1789. Except for a brief exile during the French Revolution, Edward remained resident in France for the rest of his life and active in Auvergne society. The couple had several children, including the eldest son George Onslow (1784-1855) who became a well-respected composer.
Edward Onslow is an LGBT history icon.
Surrey History Centre holds letters and papers relating principally to the inheritance of Edwards estate (Ref.6888). These were deposited by the Earl of Onslow but appear to have been in the possession of Edwards great great granddaughter, Valentine Onslow of Ontario, Canada. The Onslow papers also include a letter of 1808 from Edward Onslow to his parents concerning family and financial matters (Ref.G173/3/30), a copy of his will of 1810 (Ref.G173/3/32) and a history of the French branch of the family (Ref.G173/1/4, chapter XXI). The library collection holds several published works relating to the Onslow family and estates.
This eighteenth century Onslow family portrait from Clandon Park was once thought to feature Edward (seated right), with Lord Pembroke and Lord Fitzwilliam. More recent research by the Onslow family would seem to suggest that it may not be Edward.