BRIDGETT LEIGH (est 1640 - aft 1669)
Melldith Duw fo ar Maesyfelin
Dan boh carreg, dan boh gwreiddyn;
Am dafiu blodau plwyf Llanddyfri
Ar el ben i Deifi foddi.
May God with heavy curses chase
Or in another version (Phillips 4, from Rice Rees ed. 1841):
Melltith Duw fo ar Maesyfelin,
Ar bob carreg a phob gwreiddyn,
Am daflu blodyn tre' Llandyfri
Ar ei ben i Dywi i foddi.
| May God's curse be upon Maesyfelin,
On every stone and every root,
For casting the flower of Llandovery town
Headlong into the Towy to drown.
The personae and location varied, but in all versions of the curse the Vicar's young son, Samuel Prichard, fell in love with a beautiful girl in the Lloyd mansion, and was murdered by her relatives, primarily Sir Francis, for motives of jealousy, greed, or class pride. Sometimes the young woman was said to be one of the six Lloyd daughters, Sir Francis's sisters, and sometimes (later) Bridgett Leigh, or even Bridgett's daughter Frances Lloyd. Samuel was always described as a young impetuous lover tempted into a riotous life at Maesyfelin against the wishes of his pious father, his soul corrupted even before he was smothered with a pillow and his dead body secretly thrown into a river flowing past the Lloyd estate.
Folk stories always develop from a few facts or a core of historical truth. The Vicar of Llandovery had indeed been friendly with the Lloyds of Maesyfelin during the early life of Sir Francis's father, Sir Marmaduke, and probably later. A letter from Sir Marmaduke to the Vicar, dated 1626, is evidence of their friendship. Also, the Vicar's only son Samuel was something of a wild student at Oxford before being ordained, but he apparently reformed (according to his letter of repentance to his father (cited by Phillips 2, from Rice Rees). Later he became his father's curate in Llandovery, but soon died (before his father) perhaps by drowning.
This historical support for the legend, however, collapses with the fact that at his death in 1642/43 Samuel was a married 38-year-old man with two teen-aged children. At that time, the young Sir Francis was an M.P. and/or Comptroller of King Charles I's household in London and still living with his wife, long before Bridgett Leigh entered his life (Edmunds 23-24, Phillips 9-10). The Vicar himself died in 1644, so the curse, if really his, must refer to the early Lloyd household of those years. Biographers and students of the Vicar, as well as of the Lloyd family, find the murder and its implications completely out of character and implausible (Edmunds 23-25, Phillips 10-11). There is no known reference to such a murder, nor even to suspicion of foul play in the young Prichard's death. Though the curse is phrased in the meter and rhyme of the Vicar's Welshman's Candle, it is regarded as religiously and literarily unlike the Vicar's work. It appears nowhere in his known writings and was first printed only in 1841, i.e. almost two hundred years after the Vicar's death.
Thus, the curse was not based upon an actual or even suspected murder. Instead, in its earliest form it perhaps arose as a weapon in a political and religious polemic. Speculatively, two historians have suggested its origin in Civil War hatreds and fears far from the personal lives of Sir Francis and Bridgett. Ironically, however, we Leighs cannot escape from the curse even though its origin may not be laid to Bridgett Leigh and Sir Francis. We find ourselves looking at a different possible family relation to the curse through the Vicar himself and our collateral relative, Stephen Hughes, who became and remains beloved for his role in publishing the Vicar's Welshman's Candle.
Regardless of the origin of the curse, however, it carried a powerful charge against the Lloyds and relevant Leighs in the popular imagination for well over two centuries. This thriving life of its own was fed, not by the origin of the curse, but by its startling accuracy in prophesying the eventual unhappy fate of the Maesyfelin family and the total destruction of the estate. "God's curse" seemed to chase the family and fall upon "every stone and every root."
Bridgett and Sir Francis's children began well. At the time of Sir Francis's will, they were apparently living apart from either parent, presumably for education and a respectable upbringing in England. Lucius was called ''Lucius Lloyd, alias Baker of the city of Worcester, gent" (p.1, line 30), and he may have lived with Sir Francis' friend and overseer listed as "Thomas Herbert of or near the City of Worcester" (p.3, lines 4-5). Charles was called "Charles Lloyd of Faust Hill in the county of Oxford, gent" (p.1, line 22). Daughter Frances was called "Frances Lloyd of the city of Worcester, spinster" (p.1. line 27), but by the Codicil three months later she was "of Staneway. Shropshire" (Cod. line 17) and Lucius was said to be on "Newport Street" in Worcester (Cod. line 15). Possibly more could be found by study of those locations.
Sir Francis's efforts at securing his children's inheritance succeeded, and his eldest son became Sir Lucius Lloyd of Maesyfelin. Yet the young man committed suicide, with no known reason or explanation, at a date probably before December 1690, when his younger brother was already called "Charles Lloyd of Maesyfelin ... Esquire" in his marriage bond (as summarized in an Indenture of Release dated 28 September 1752, NLW Isgarn Miscell., pp.7-8). The daughter Frances is said in the Golden Grove books to have married a man named Murrel "of Staffordshire," then she died in 1680, perhaps not yet twenty years old, and was buried at Lampeter church (GG, Tydwal Gloff, 23A83, Film no.104351).
With the inheritance of Lucius' younger brother as Sir Charles Lloyd, however, the family prospered. He served as sheriff of Cardiganshire in 1689 and as M. P. for several terms, and he was knighted by King William III before 1702. Queen Anne made him a Baronet on 10 April 1708 (Edmunds 19). He married twice, had four daughters who died young and three who married, and had two sons who followed him as Lord of the Manor. His first wife, Jane Lloyd, died young, and a beautiful baroque-style white marble gravestone for her and their daughter describes her wifely virtues:
|Underneath this Monument Lyes ye body of Jane ye First Wife of Sr Cha:Lloyd of Maes Y Velin Kt & also Their Daughter Elianor Aged about 12 years. She was an Affectionate, Good, Virtuous and discreet Wife, and Descended of ye best Family in ye County. She Dyed July ye 20, 1689. Aged 32 years. this Monument was Erected by Sr Cha:Lloyd Anno Dni. 1706|
Both the church building and the graveyard of St Peter's in Lampeter have been reconstructed several times, and this stone from the Lloyd vault in the chancel is one of the few survivors that are now mounted high on the wall of the church vestibule.
Sir Charles married a second time, to Lady Frances Cornwallis perhaps in 1691, according to their pre-nuptial bond dated 30 December 1690 (summarized in an Indenture of Release dated 28 September 1752, NLW Isgarn (Miscell.). They must have felt great satisfaction and security with their two sons, having an "heir and a spare."
| The only known portrait of anyone in the family shows the dignified Sir Charles as a portly middle-aged squire in white wig, grey velvet suit with fine lace ruffles, sitting erect in a gracefully carved wooden chair, holding an opened letter (dated about 1720). The painter is unknown.
Formerly in the mansion of Dolau Cothy, the current whereabouts of the
portrait are unknown to us.
This reproduction was supplied by the NLW from the book Portraits in Welsh Houses.
But this satisfaction and security were not permanent, and Sir Charles' long happy life was the only one in the family. His elder son and heir, Sir Charles Cornwallis, married but died childless at age twenty-four in 1729, only six years after his father's burial. The younger son, the spare for the heir, was only fourteen when he became Sir Lucius Christianus Lloyd. He grew up, filled his duties as Lord of the Manor, for example serving as Justice of the Peace in 1745 (Phillips 63) and as sheriff in 1746 (Edmunds 20). He supported a Welsh-language historical collection in 1740 (Edmunds 20). He made a very suitable marriage to Anne Lloyd of the neighboring estate of Peterwell, and thus united the two great families of the region. Yet both of the young couple were sickly, and had no children before she died in December 1747.
Sir Lucius' grief must have been great. The marble he had made for his wife's place in the family vault in Lampeter church is now mounted high in the vestibule, beside his father's white carved marble for his first wife. Plain, even stark, the white slab has no ornamentation, only the high praise of his wife. To it were later added the names of Sir Lucius himself and his father:
|Near this place are Deposited the Remains
of Lady Lloyde Wife of Sir Lucius Christianus Lloyde
of Millfield Baronet. She was Eldest Daughter
of Walter Lloyde of Peterwell Esquire his
Majesties Attorney General for the Counties of Carmarthen; Pembroke, and Cardigan.
For Piety, Charity, and every other Virtue
that could either adorn or endear
For the regular Discharge of all Duties
In her several Relations of Life
Admired by all
In the cheerfull evenness of her Temper
The meekness of her Behaviour
The agreeableness of her Conversation. She departed this life December 21st 1746
Conjugis Bene Maerentis Lucius Christianus Lloyde
Baronettus Monumentum hoc Maritus Moerens Posuit.
Also the Body of Sir Charles Lloyde Gent of Millfield Kt and Bart Who departed this life ye 1st of Janry 1723 Aged 61 And Likewise the Remains of the above Mentioned Sir Lucius Christianus Lloyde of Millfield Aforesaid Bart Who departed this life the 18th of Janry 1749 Aged 34.
The carved lettering is damaged on the upper right of the slab, but was verified with the transcription made in 1860 by Edmunds (36).
Dame Frances survived her husband by thirty years and outlived both sons, still residing in Maesyfelin. In 1753 she was buried in the Lloyd vault according to the desire in her will to be "buried in the chancel of the church at Lampeter near the grave of my dear son Sir Lucius Christianus Lloyd" (Phillips 74). If a stone once commemorated her, it is no longer known, and there is no stone for her son Sir Charles Cornwallis, whose widow (Jennings Anderton) remarried, moved away, and was suing in court for her life annuity from her late husband. Three of Dame Frances' daughters died young, but two married and apparently outlived her. Emma married a medical doctor Ffoye of Carmarthen, and Elizabeth married a Sherburne man from Herefordshire, and was still living in June 1750 (NLW, Millfield Rent Roll 1750 A, p.6). Dame Francis's step-daughter Jane had also married earlier, and sold her mother's property at Green Grove (summarized in an Indenture dated 28 Sep 1752) to her father. Like Sir Francis' daughter Frances, these daughters too received money instead of property in the various wills and indentures of their fathers, and the estate itself could be inherited only by male heirs. Their children, if any, are untraced.
Despite the death of the last male descendant of Bridgett and Sir Francis Lloyd, the estate itself could have survived through a nephew or cousin. Yet it collapsed financially and in a few decades even physically. In Sir Francis's time it was prosperous, and he could buy other properties in trust for his children. But his son Sir Charles gave a mortgage in 1690 as part of his marriage bond with Frances Cornwallis, and this mortgage was not paid off in 1706 and 1711, when he also mortgaged property at the Green Grove estate of his late first wife, Jane Lloyd. On 20 April 1727 the grandson Sir Charles Cornwallis Lloyd mortgaged Maesyfelin and all the other lands from Sir Francis, as well as the Green Grove property (NLW Isgarn Miscell. Indenture of Release dated 14 June 1731, pp.1-2), as part of his pre-nuptial bond giving Jennings ANDERTON a life annuity of 450 pounds per year. Fulfilling Sir Francis' earlier fear of a Lloyd rival for his sons' property, a Lloyd cousin claimed the estate and had to be opposed and placated with a life annuity of fifty pounds per year (NLW, Millfield Rent Roll 1750 A, p.6; Phillips 116-17). Only one thousand pounds were paid on the mortgages, and two years later when Sir Charles Cornwallis died in 1729, his fourteen-year-old brother Lucius Christianus received a heavily mortgaged estate with expensive annuities charged against the yearly income.
This was hardly an unusual situation. The 18th century was a period when many old families lost their estates to new forms of industry and business in the coming Industrial Revolution that altered the old rural economy formerly supporting the British country estate with its leisured gentry. For centuries tenant farmers had worked the fields, woodlots, grist mills, game preserves, fishing streams, stone quarries, sheep flocks, wool mills, and the other activities that made up the country estate economy. But times were changing rapidly, and only estate owners who could adjust to the times survived. Some found coal or metals to mine on their estates, or set up factories and employed the farm laborers leaving the country estates. Others married the heirs of newly rich industrialists. Our Lloyds were not among them. I have seen only part of the Maesyfelin documents that evidence the owners' efforts to hold the estate together, but the sad story of their debts includes a puzzling aspect that seems psychological as well as economic.
Like many 18th-century gentlemen, Sir Lucius had a passion for cards and gambling. His addiction to risk, however, is thought by some historians to come from a deeper and more perverse irresponsibility than about mere money. On 14 January 1746, still during his wife's lifetime, he signed a strange will which left his entire estate to his friend and brother-in-law John Lloyd of Peterwell. John was Lucius's wife's elder brother and perhaps could be trusted to provide for her, but Sir Lucius also made no provision for his mother or his two living sisters. According to Edmunds, he and Lloyd had in a "frolicksome humour" made a pact to leave their entire estates to each other, the one who first died losing everything (20). Phillips says, "In this case it was a wager in the stake of life, winner take all" (p.73).
Equally puzzling is the will signed by Lucius' wife Anne Lloyd two years earlier on 22 February 1744. A single sheet of paper, it first commends her "Soul into the Hands of Almighty God Hopeing through the meritts of Jesus Christ My Saviour and Redeemer to be received into Everlasting Life and My Body to the Earth." Then it appoints her "Dearly Beloved Husband" to be sole executor of her will. That is all--not a word on her property or dower (NLW SD/1750/61 W). She was young but somewhat experienced as the executrix of her first husband's estate (a fact mentioned as she identifies herself in her will), so why is there no reference to property or rights?
Such perverse behavior (recalling the unexplained suicide of the first heir) does suggest a curse at work even to a modern skeptic! Yet it likely came from simple fact. Anne's father's will signed on 18 May 1743 made his bequest of a thousand pounds to his daughter Anne conditional upon a "Settlement of Jointure" to be executed by her husband Sir Lucius (presumably not done by pre-nuptial bond). Also his will required Sir Lucius to make his testament bequeathing everything to any son or sons he might have with his wife Anne (NLW SD/1747/83. These were ordinary requirements, yet Lucius apparently ignored them. In fact, Anne may have had nothing to list in her will. Sir Lucius must have known he owned only mortgaged real estate and encumbered income. In these circumstances he could think (and Anne might agree) that his only escape was by death or acquisition of a new estate. Her will as well as his has a tone of ironic fatalism.
Our Lloyd relatives were not among the energetic survivors who adjusted to the coming Industrial Revolution and survived its economic changes. They certainly made efforts, doubtless more than appear in the documents I have read, but they couldn't find their way. Anne's will was not given for probate until after her husband's death four years later, when John Lloyd was made administrator of both wills in December 1750. Walter Lloyd died in 1747, but his will and codicil (revoking the thousand pounds to his late daughter Anne) were not probated for years, being successively given for administration to John Lloyd (1747), Herbert Lloyd (1757), Jeremiah Lloyd (1775), and a grandson Walter Lloyd (1782) (NLW SD/1747/83 X G1 G2). Presumably none of his heirs were able or willing to settle his accounts.
At Sir Lucius' death, John Lloyd united the estates of Maesyfelin and Peterwell, thus unintentionally preparing for even the physical destruction of the mansion and buildings. His "victory" over Sir Lucius Christianus was hollow, because he had to redeem the estate from its mortgagees or lose it, and again he had to placate the Lloyd cousin who claimed the estate (NLW Isgarn, Miscell. Assignment of 450 Annuity dated 1 July 1751; NLW Isgarn, Miscell. Indenture of Release dated 27 September 1752). A year later he had to mortgage it again to pay off accumulated annuities and debts (NLW Isgarn Miscell. Mortgage to Horace Walpole dated 9 April 1753). Maesyfelin became an economic drain on the Peterwell estate too. John Lloyd himself had little time to try to improve Maesyfelin, for he died in five years, and his brother Herbert inherited both estates together. This last Lloyd owner was so tyrannical and cruel that he became known to history as the evil squire of Peterwell.
This is no longer the story of Bridgett and Sir Francis, but it remains a story about our Leighs in two new ways. It goes back in time to the possible origin of the curse in the political and religious battles and polemics of the Civil Wars and after, and it gives the Biography of one of our most worthy relatives, Stephen Hughes. Also, the story goes forward in time to the dismal fulfillment of the curse, with the Biography of Oakley Leigh (III), one of our least worthy relatives.
The Peerage of England. Scotland, and Ireland: to which are annexed the extinct and forfeited peerages of the three kingdoms. 3 vols. London: W. Owen, .
Edmunds, William. On some old Families in the neighbourhood of Lampeter. Cardiganshire. Tenby: R. Mason, Printer, 1860. (read on Film no.839711)
Inglis-Jones, Elisabeth. Peacocks in Paradise. Carmarthen: Golden Grove Book Co., Ltd., 1988.
Jenkins, Geraint H. Literature. Religion, and Society in Wales. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1978.
Lloyd, John E. A History of Carmarthenshire. 2 vols. Cardiff: London Carmarthenshire Society, 1935, 1939.
Phillips, Bethan. Peterwell. Gomer Press, 1983.
Prys-Jones, A. G. The Story of Carmarthenshire. 2 vols.Llandybie: Christopher Davies Ltd, 1959, 1972.
Revised 9 March 2001
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