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Worsley, Sir Richard, seventh baronetfree

(1751–1805)
  • Nigel Aston

Worsley, Sir Richard, seventh baronet (1751–1805), antiquary and politician, was born on 13 February 1751, the son of Sir Thomas Worsley, sixth baronet (1728–1768), of Appuldurcombe, Isle of Wight, and his wife, Elizabeth (1731–1800), daughter of John Boyle, fifth earl of Cork and Orrery and Henrietta, his first wife. He was educated at Winchester College, spent nearly two years with his parents in Naples (1765–7), and matriculated at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, on 9 April 1768, succeeding his father in the baronetcy on 23 September. He did not take a degree but completed his education with a European tour in 1769–70; Gibbon's friend Georges Deyverdun was his tutor. It gave him a lifelong scholarly interest in art and antiquities.

Worsley also had political ambitions. He entered the House of Commons for Newport, Isle of Wight, at the 1774 general election, a seat where he shared the electoral interest with the Holmes family and the government. Worsley was a reliable supporter of the North administration, anxious for office. He was appointed one of the clerks comptrollers of the board of green cloth in 1777, and was comptroller of the king's household 1779–82. He was sworn of the privy council on 9 February 1780, and was governor of the Isle of Wight 1780–82. These were compensation for his failure to win a seat at the Hampshire by-election of December 1779 which left him £6000 out of pocket. Worsley lost all his offices when the North administration fell in 1782.

Worsley's political career was badly damaged by the very public collapse of his marriage. On 20 September 1775 he had married Seymour Dorothy, the younger daughter and coheir of Sir John Fleming, first baronet (d. 1763), of Brompton Park, Middlesex, and his wife, Lady (Jane) Fleming (d. 1813), and had with her a son, Robert Edwin (1776–1795), and a daughter, Jane Seymour (1781–1782). Though the marriage brought Worsley over £70,000, the couple soon fell out. Lady Worsley's numerous affairs (twenty-seven lovers were rumoured) became notorious. On 21 February 1782 Worsley brought an action for criminal conversation with his wife against (Maurice) George Bisset, an officer in the Hampshire militia and a neighbour on the island. The jury found for the plaintiff but, on the ground of Worsley's connivance, awarded him only 1s. damages, not the £20,000 claimed. He subsequently entered into articles of separation with his wife in 1788.

Worsley gave up his seat at Newport in 1784 having already quitted England for the continent. In 1783–4 he was in Spain, Portugal, and France and, having wintered in Rome, he left the city in February 1785 for an extensive journey in the Levant, accompanied by Willey Reveley as his draughtsman. He reached Athens in May 1785, then travelled extensively in the Greek interior, going on to Rhodes, Cairo, and Constantinople. In 1786 he made an excursion to Sigeum and Troy, and also visited the Crimea. He returned to Rome in 1787, and went home during 1788. During his travels Worsley made a remarkable collection of statues, reliefs, and gems, which he arranged at his house at Appuldurcombe. It included the most important collection of Greek marbles yet seen in England. In 1798 he issued the first part (dated 1794) of Museum Worsleyanum, a sumptuous illustrated description of his collection. The cost of part one, exclusive of binding, was a staggering £2,887 4s. Part two came out in 1802 and his A Catalogue Raisonné of the Principal Paintings, Sculptures, Drawings, &c., &c., at Appuldurcombe was privately printed in 1804. It indicates a sensitive, informed man of taste, as much interested in the history and provenance of a work as in its aesthetic qualities. Failure in marriage had redoubled his ardour as a collector.

Worsley returned to the Commons in 1790 as MP for Newtown, Isle of Wight, and tried to secure another public office (as early as 1785 he had hoped for the post of British envoy to the Porte). Having vacated his seat for the young George Canning in June 1793, Worsley was made British envoy to the Venetian republic, arriving in February 1794. He bent his efforts to prevent the French minister from taking advantage of the republic's neutrality, while resuming his collection of objets d'art, buying at depressed wartime prices. Worsley returned home on the eve of Venice's extinction as an independent state in 1797 with a £600 annuity from the crown for his services. Resuming his seat for Newtown (where he had been re-elected in 1796 in his absence), he eventually left the Commons on Pitt's resignation in February 1801.

Worsley's last few years were spent 'in a state of seclusion' (GM, 781) mainly at Sea Cottage (later known as Marine Villa), near St Lawrence, in the Undercliff of the Isle of Wight, with a Mrs Sarah Smith, his mistress from c.1788 until his death. He had constructed this property in the early 1790s and later embellished the grounds with small classical temples and employed a French viticulteur in an unsuccessful attempt to plant a vineyard. Ill health prevented his taking part in the defence of the island against the threatened Napoleonic invasion, but he continued to collect paintings and sculpture. Dealers fuelled his acquisitive instincts and he could rarely resist the urge to buy. As a result the estate was encumbered with debts when he died of apoplexy at Appuldurcombe on 8 August 1805. He was buried in Godshill parish church. Worsley was succeeded in the baronetcy by his fourth cousin, Henry Worsley-Holmes, while Appuldurcombe passed to his niece, Henrietta Anna Maria Charlotte, daughter of the Hon. John Bridgeman Simpson, who in 1806 married the Hon. Charles Anderson-Pelham, later first earl of Yarborough. Worsley's widow, who regularly used the style of Lady Fleming after her separation, married Jean Louis, otherwise John Lewis, Couchet (he subsequently used the name Fleming) on 12 September 1805 at Farnham, her £70,000 jointure having reverted to her on Worsley's death.

Worsley was one of the most important collectors of his generation, particularly after divorce had ruined his reputation. His political skills were modest, and his abrasive, somewhat self-important character also limited his influence. Antiquarian studies were always an important refuge. His father and grandfather had begun work on The History of the Isle of Wight and Worsley brought it to completion, albeit with unacknowledged contributions from the Newport attorney Richard Clarke. It was published in 1781 after four years' labour and was well received, Worsley having been elected both FSA and FRS in 1778 on its strength. He found it satisfying work, gathering materials patiently and searching the sources with some expertise. Modern opinion considers it 'well researched, organized, and written, and handsomely produced' (Hicks, 166). Worsley's ancestral sensitivities combined well with his aesthetic ones to complete the building of his family seat at Appuldurcombe and effect other estate improvements, including the landscaping of the grounds by Capability Brown.

Sources

  • GM, 1st ser., 75 (1805), 781, 874–5
  • GEC, Baronetage, 1.67; 5.127
  • E. B. James, ‘The Worsleys of the Isle of Wight’, Letters archaeological and historical relating to the Isle of Wight (1896), 1.481
  • Memoirs of Sir Finical Whimsy and his lady (1782)
  • Walpole, Corr., 25.227–8, 245
  • M. A. Hicks, ‘Hampshire and the Isle of Wight’, English county histories: a guide, ed. C. Currie and C. Lewis (1994), 165–75, esp. 166
  • T. Barber, Picturesque illustrations of the Isle of Wight (1834)
  • V. Batsford, Historic parks and gardens of the Isle of Wight (1989)
  • L. Boynton, Appuldurcombe House (1986)
  • L. Boynton, ‘The Marine Villa’, The Georgian villa, ed. D. Arnold (1996), 118–29
  • K. Pomian, Collectors and curiosities (1990)
  • Archivists' Report [Lincolnshire Archives Committee], 15 (1963–4), 15–20
  • J. Ingamells, ed., A dictionary of British and Irish travellers in Italy, 1701–1800 (1997), 1018–19
  • private information (2004) [B. Ford]

Archives

  • BL, family corresp. and papers, Add. MS 46501, fols. 71–120
  • Isle of Wight RO, Newport, corresp. and papers, MS JER/WA/38/1, 2, 4
  • Lincs. Arch., corresp. and papers, Worsley MSS 13–55
  • BL, letters to Francis Drake, Add. MS 46825, fols. 64, 82
  • BL, letters to Dr Farr, Add. MS 37060
  • BL, letters to duke of Leeds, Add. MS 27915
  • Bodl. Oxf., corresp. with John Charles Brooke
  • Lincs. Arch., corresp. and papers, Bradford MSS 1/1–1/11, 2/2/2–2/2/9, 2/4/1–2/4/54
  • NL Scot., corresp. with Robert Liston
  • NMM, letters to Lord Minto

Likenesses

  • J. Reynolds, portrait, 1780
  • G. Engleheart, miniature, 1800, V&A
  • A. Cardon, stipple, BM, NPG

Wealth at Death

wealthy, but estate encumbered with debts

R. G. Thorne, ed., , 5 vols. (1986)
H. Walpole, ed. W. S. Lewis & others, 48 vols. (1937–83)
G. E. Cokayne, , 6 vols. (1900–09)
Gentleman's Magazine
L. Namier & J. Brooke, eds., , 3 vols. (1964); repr. (1985)