Edward Onslow (1758 – 1829)

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.

Engraving of Edward Onslow, late eighteenth century. From Baudime Jam's book 'George Onslow' (Clermont Ferrand 2003)

Engraving of Edward Onslow,
late eighteenth century.
From Baudime Jam’s book
‘George Onslow’ (Clermont Ferrand 2003)

‘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 LGBTQ+ 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.

(From CE Vuillamy, The Onslow Family 1528-1874, 1953)

(From CE Vuillamy, The Onslow Family 1528-1874, 1953)

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.

Find out more about West Clandon and Clandon Park.

Surrey in the 18th century.

Find out about the illustrations and documents relating to the Onslow family held at the Surrey History Centre.

4 thoughts on “Edward Onslow (1758 – 1829)”

  1. Alan Page says:

    Fascinating stuff. I was always puzzled by George’s French nationality and it is intriguing to see he owed it to a Oscar Wilde type scandal.

  2. Clive Williams says:

    ’tis a pity that Edward did not pursue a famous Onslow interest from the beginning of the modern sport through George the first earl and Tom the second, who was a founding member of the MCC. Edward might have averted a great deal of French upset and successfully broadened the game in France. It is, I believe a fact that just about nobody in Government has got around to assisting the growth of cricket around the world, except perhaps M.Chirac when he was numero uno in Paris, who diverted some public funds to support cricket in the capital by all accounts.

  3. Chris Adams says:

    I don’t know if it is of interest to anyone on this site, but I have an original parchment entitled,
    “Plan of the several lots of freehold land etc purchased of the Right Honourable the Lord Onslow inc Thames Dutton and Surrey by William Speer esquire.”
    The only date that I can see at this time is 1774.
    It is basically a map of fields and prices paid etc.
    It shows hand coloured different fields with there information.

    1. Annie says:

      I would be really interested to see that.

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