King Charles II died in February 1685 leaving no legitimate heirs and the throne passed to his brother James, Duke of York. Nevertheless, fifty-three years later a grandson of the king was installed as a Canon of Windsor.
Lord James Beauclerk was born in Windsor in 1709, the ninth of twelve children born to Charles Beauclerk, 1st Duke of St Albans and his wife Lady Diana de Vere. The Duke of St Albans was himself the eldest of two illegitimate sons born to King Charles II and Eleanor (or Nell, as she is better known) Gwyn.
Other than his education at Queen’s College, Oxford, very little is known about Lord James’s early life until his appointment as Canon of Windsor in 1738. His tenure of the position was relatively short as he gave it up in 1746 to take up the office of Bishop of Hereford at the remarkably young age of thirty-six.
While at Windsor, Canon Beauclerk took on several of the different roles within Chapter, being at one time Treasurer, then Auditor, then Steward (which at that time meant responsibility for management of the parishes and manors that the Chapel owned across the country), then Chanter. He twice asked to be excused the office of Lecturer in Divinity, though no explanation is given of his objection to the role. Although canons in the present day tend to hold one office for several years, if not their whole time at St George’s, it was then customary to re-assign the offices every year. Unfortunately, the Chapel’s attendance registers from his time at Windsor have not survived so we cannot tell how faithfully he attended the services.
Canon Beauclerk occupied No. 5 Canons’ Cloister, a spacious property which was recorded in the year of his arrival as consisting of two parlours (the Best and the Green), two chambers, a dressing room, a study, an extra room called the ‘Green Room’; a kitchen, pantry, yard, water closet and three cellars [SGC XIII.B.8]. Beauclerk was unmarried so would have lived there alone apart from household staff.
In 1738 he paid a handsome sum of £40-50 for a new chimney piece in his dressing room and a few years later the Chapter purse paid out 30 shillings for repairs to the staircase in the house [SGC VI.B.6]. At that time in St George’s history it was the custom that, on leaving a property, a canon could claim from his successor 80% of the cost of any major alterations or decorations he had carried out. When Beauclerk was preparing to leave Windsor for Hereford it was arranged that Samuel Haynes, who was coming into the house after him, would pay him £56 – that is the equivalent of about £7,000 today [SGC XIII.B.8].
Canon Beauclerk would have had occasion to see his eldest brother Charles, 2nd Duke of St Albans from time to time at Windsor as he was installed as a Knight of the Garter in 1741, as their father had been in 1718. The stall plates of the 1st and 2nd Dukes of St Albans survive on the south side of the quire in stalls 15 and 19 respectively.
After leaving Windsor, Beauclerk flourished as Bishop of Hereford, where he proved a conscientious and attentive leader of his diocese for over forty years.
Kate McQuillian, Archivist & Chapter Librarian