How happy will a lady be

“How happy will a Lady be,
To have a little Baronet, to dandle on her knee.” 

Eccentric. This is how Sir John Dineley is described in his entry in the Dictionary of National Biography. Looking at his background, it is perhaps not difficult to see why!

His father Samuel had had a falling out with his elder brother, third baronet, causing him to threaten Samuel with disinheritance. To prevent this from happening, Samuel arranged for his brother to be kidnapped and strangled, thus ensuring that he would inherit the title. However, the plan did not quite work out as planned; Samuel was arrested for fratricide and hanged for the crime on 15 April 1741. Sir John would have been around 12 years old.

In 1761, Sir John became the fifth baronet after the death of his elder brother Edward, who died aged only 32. John seems to have set about spending the family fortune, with the Gentleman’s Magazine describing him as “a man of eccentric character, who chose to dissipate the competent fortune which he inherited”. In 1770 he was forced to sell the family home at Burhope. Eventually, after years of living in destitution and through the intervention of his friends, he was offered the place of a Poor Knight of Windsor, being admitted on the 16 April 1798.

He became a well-known figure around the Castle of Windsor, on account of his dress and demeanour. Landless and penniless, he became renowned across the country for his desperate search for a wealthy wife to bring him the status he felt he deserved. Using the last of his savings to display himself to best effect at the places where ladies congregated, according to one writer in the Penny Magazine, “He had a wonderful discrimination in avoiding the twittering girls, with whose faces he was familiar. But perchance some buxom matron or timid maiden, who had seen him for the first time, gazed upon the apparition with surprise and curiosity. In that case he would approach. With the air of one bred in courts, he made his most profound bow, and, taking a piece of paper from his pocket, he presented it, and withdrew’ doubtless watching the effect it produced.”

In the Archives is a signed copy of one of these marriage advertisements from 1799 [SGC F.67], in which he asks ladies to consider marrying him. He specifies the sums he expects his wife to bring to the union, and these vary depending upon the age of the lady in question, with Sir John prepared to accept less money for a younger wife. In return for their money, his wife would be able to call themselves Lady.

Sadly, no-one took up his offer and he died aged 80, a bachelor still, on 18 October 1809. He was buried at St George’s Chapel and the baronetcy became extinct.

Eleanor Cracknell (Assistant Archivist)

The King's Free Chapel. The Chapel of the Most Honourable and Noble Order of the Garter. The Chapel of the College of St George.