D'Eyncourt, Charles Tennyson-
- G. C. Boase
- , revised by H. C. G. Matthew
Charles Tennyson- D'Eyncourt (1784–1861)
D'Eyncourt, Charles Tennyson- (1784–1861), politician, second son and youngest child of George Tennyson (1750–1835) of Bayons Manor, Lincolnshire, MP for Bletchingley, and his wife, Mary (d. 1825), daughter of John Turner of Caistor, was born at Market Rasen on 20 July 1784. He was educated at Louth grammar school and at St John's College, Cambridge, where he graduated BA in 1805 and proceeded MA in 1818. From a fairly early stage, he suffered, like many of his family, from epilepsy. He married, on 1 January 1808, Frances (Fanny) Mary, only child of the Revd John Hutton. She was an heiress and brought Tennyson financial security. They had eight children, all in difficult births, and sexual abstinence led to frequent separation between the parents. From 1811 the marriage was in difficulties. Moreover, in April 1816 Tennyson began a long-standing liaison with Mary (Polly) Thornhill, daughter of the squire of Stanton near Bakewell. The eight children were given nicknames by their father (‘the Stone’, ‘the Sot’, and so on, except for Eustace, Tennyson's favourite, who was expelled from Sandhurst in 1833).
Tennyson made a promising start to his career as a barrister and entered parliament in 1818 as MP for Great Grimsby. From 1826 until 1831 he represented Bletchingley. He quickly made his mark in the house and seemed likely to have a career in politics on the whig/radical side. He strongly supported Queen Caroline and persuaded the house to pass a Landlord and Tenant Bill; in 1827 he was responsible for a measure prohibiting the setting of spring guns (7 & 8 Geo. IV c.18). Tennyson supported piecemeal parliamentary reform, especially via the redistribution of seats. It was his motion on East Retford which led to the breakup of the tory government. When the whigs took office in 1830 he was, on 30 December, appointed clerk of the ordnance. In May 1831 he was elected as a radical for Stamford, Joseph Parkes being his electoral agent in an intense contest. Lord Thomas Cecil, the other candidate, disparaged his electioneering methods and Tennyson challenged him to a duel, fought at Wormwood Scrubs on 18 June 1831; neither man was injured, both were arrested, but neither was prosecuted. Tennyson joked, 'it is thought a very proper thing that the Clerk of Ordnance should commence the shooting season' (Martin, 144), but the incident led to his ridicule. He retired as clerk in February 1832, ostensibly from ill health. He was sworn of the privy council on 6 February 1832, but the episode ended his official career.
In 1832 Tennyson became MP for the new borough of Lambeth, representing it until 1852. In 1834 and 1835 he unsuccessfully attempted to shorten the lifespan of parliaments by amending the Septennial Act. He became increasingly radical in political temper. He supported municipal reform and the repeal of the corn laws and of the Navigation Acts. He also, in line with his earlier proposals, supported various of the Chartists' demands.
In 1835 on the death of his father Tennyson gained further wealth and, in accordance with—as he stressed—his father's wishes, changed his surname to Tennyson-D'Eyncourt, the name deriving from the ancient titles of Scarsdale and D'Eyncourt of Sutton, from the holders of which the family was descended by the female line. He tried to revive the barony of D'Eyncourt, but Melbourne, the prime minister, refused what was generally seen as a grotesque request. Tennyson-D'Eyncourt's father left him that (major) part of his estate which derived from purchase and speculation, with the part derived from entail or inheritance going to the elder brother, George Tennyson, a mentally ill alcoholic who was rector of Somersby and father of the poet Alfred Tennyson; the Somersby branch of the family bitterly resented the disposition of the family wealth, blaming Charles Tennyson-D'Eyncourt for it, and complaining at his change of name.
Tennyson-D'Eyncourt, with his aristocratic patina and antiquarianism, fast became as well as a radical a figure worthy of the wilder fancies of the Young England movement. He at once used his money to plan a new Bayons Manor as a fairy-tale castle, with moat, medieval oratory, and secret passages. His friend Edward Bulwer-Lytton was a frequent visitor. The building became an obsession, 'a monomaniacal pursuit of an elusive past' (Martin, 210), which drove Tennyson-D'Eyncourt almost to madness (and, some thought, into it). This and some of his earlier architectural exploits had some influence on his poetic nephew. He quarrelled with his children, who disliked Bayons, and in the latter part of his life the failure of his once intense political ambition made him bitter. In 1852 he was defeated at Lambeth in the general election, and did not stand again. On 22 June the Lambeth radicals presented him with a testimonial. He was high steward of Louth, a JP, and deputy lord lieutenant of Lincolnshire, but he became something of a recluse, planning further changes at Bayons Manor (the house decayed and was demolished in 1964). He came to be considered something of a bore as well as a snob; he was, in the view of his nephew Alfred Tennyson, 'a considerable humbug' (Martin, 354).
Tennyson-D'Eyncourt's second son, Edwin Clayton Tennyson-D'Eyncourt (1813–1903), died an admiral. The third son, Louis Charles Tennyson-D'Eyncourt (1814–1896), was a police magistrate in London from 1851 to 1890, and his son, Edmund Charles Tennyson-D'Eyncourt, filled a like position from 1901. Of his three daughters, Julia Frances (d. 1879) became a Roman Catholic nun in 1852.
Tennyson-D'Eyncourt, who was elected FRS in February 1829, and was also FSA, published a number of his speeches and also Observations on the Proceedings Against the Queen [Caroline] (1821) and Eustace, an Elegy (1851), composed in memory of his son (1816–1842) who died of yellow fever in Barbados; it was published, somewhat embarrassingly, shortly after In Memoriam. Tennyson-D'Eyncourt died at 8A Gloucester Place, Portman Square, London (the house of his son-in-law John Hinde Palmer QC), on 21 July 1861. His wife died on 26 January 1878, though Tennyson-D'Eyncourt lived as a bachelor in his latter years.
- GM, 3rd ser., 11 (1861), 328–30
- ILN (25 June 1853), 515
- R. B. Martin, Tennyson: the unquiet heart (1980)
- W. Thomas, The philosophic radicals: nine studies in theory and practice, 1817–1841 (1979)
- M. B. Baer, ‘D'Eyncourt, Charles Tennyson’, BDMBR, vol. 1
- T. R. Leach and R. Pacey, Lost Lincolnshire houses: Bayons Manor, Tealby (1992), vol. 3
- The letters of Alfred Lord Tennyson, ed. C. Y. Lang and E. F. Shannon, 1–2 (1982–7)
- Lambeth Archives, London, corresp. and papers relating to Lambeth elections
- Lincs. Arch., corresp. and papers
- Durham RO, corresp. and papers as executor of Matthew Russell MP
- Herts. ALS, corresp. with Lord Lytton
- Lincs. Arch., corresp. relating to Grimsby politics; letters and papers relating to Grimsby politics
- North East Lincolnshire Archives, Grimsby
- oils, 1810, repro. in Leach and Pacey, Lost Lincolnshire houses
- C. Picart, stipple, pubd 1822 (after A. Wivell, 1820), BM, NPG [see illus.]
- F. C. Lewis, aquatint and stipple, pubd 1829 (after J. Harrison), BM, NPG
- E. Morton, lithograph, pubd 1838 (after J. Pelham), NPG
- G. Hayter, group portrait, oils (The House of Commons, 1833), NPG
- pencil, repro. in G. Hill, Electoral history of the borough of Lambeth (1879)
Wealth at Death
£7000: probate, 11 Oct 1861, CGPLA Eng. & Wales