Saturday, 14 February 2015

Honora Sneyd and Major Andre'- A story for Valentines Day

The story of Honora Sneyd and Major Andre’- a story for Valentine’s Day

I was given a copy of John Sleigh’s tombstone of a book on Leek’s history which dates from 1883. Although the author has in recent times has been criticised for inaccuracy especially with regard to his account of the Huguenot involvement in the development of the silk industry in the town it is still an interesting read. I particularly like the genealogical tables of the established families of the area which are scattered through the book.

The Sneyd family of Ashcombe, Basford and Onecote has a distinguished history that goes back to Henry de Snede from Burslem a force in the area in the 14th century. But as it’s now Valentine Day my story concerns Honora Sneyd, granddaughter of Ralph Sneyd of Onecote and her ill fated relationship with Major Andre’ whose large monument has a significant place in Westminster Abbey which details his sad fate.

Honora was born in 1742 in Bath and spent much of her early life in Lichfield and the Peak District. Andre’ was eight years her junior of French Protestant origin. London born, he was something of a charismatic character, fluent in a number of languages. He was a poet, an artist and a gifted musician. Sometime in the mid 1760s they met and fell in love. Resistance from the relationship from Honore’s father clergymen at the Cathedral. Andre had a rakish reputation. The father demanded that Andre’ settled down applied himself and became rich. However the relationship cooled between Honore and Andre’ and after a meeting in Buxton in 1769 the engagement was broken off.

John it was said was upset by the breach, A Lichfield poet Anna Seward who knew them both thought that his disappointment led to Andre joining the Army gaining his commission in 1771. A few years later he joined the forces fighting the American rebels in the Revolutionary War. He kept a journal which is an interesting account of the war.
He became involved in intelligence during the conflict and found himself engaged in covert activity .  AndrĂ© was sent on a secret mission to General Benedict Arnold to negotiate the surrender of West Point to the British. However he was captured within the American lines, in civilian dress , with incriminating plans of West Point concealed in his boot. He was taken before General George Washington’s board of inquiry and in spite of every effort to obtain his pardon, he was hanged as a spy on 2nd October 1780 and buried beneath the gallows at Tappan, New York.

 Even before his execution AndrĂ© had aroused the sympathy of the British and the Americans. As he walked to the gallows he was watched by many sobbing women, one of whom is said to have given him a peach which later grew into a tree above his grave. He became a romantic hero in England and after the war the monument was erected in the Abbey and it was proposed that his bones should be brought back for burial. During a stay in England Benedict Arnold and his wife Peggy, who had been a friend of John, visited the monument.

In 1765 Richard Lovell Edgeworth, the well-known author, visited Lichfield.  He had been a wild young man, and had eloped with his first wife, who died in March, 1773.  His personal address was “gracefully spirited, and his conversation eloquent.”  He danced and fenced well, was an ingenious mechanic, and invented a plan for telegraphing, consequent on a desire to know the result of a race at Newmarket.

 Becoming very intimate with the Sewards, and the addresses he had made to and for Honora, “after some time being permitted and approved,” Edgeworth married her on 17th July, 1773, as his second wife, in the beautiful ladies’ choir in Lichfield Cathedral.  Mr. Seward, who had become a Canon Residentiary of Lichfield Cathedral, performed the ceremony, and shed “tears of joy while he pronounced the nuptial benediction,” and Anna Seward is recorded to have been really glad to see Honora united to a man whom she had often thought peculiarly suited to her friend in taste and disposition.

Honora died of consumption in 1780, and, in accordance with her dying wish, Edgeworth married her sister Elizabeth on Christmas Day in the same year.  Honora, who was buried at King’s Weston, had  two children.

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