“My Lord is not at home”

Image: Parish Church of St. Malachy, Hillsborough, Co. Down.

From: Chapter Fourteen (1771-1772) of Benjamin Franklin in London (2016) by George Goodwin:

“Hillsborough, though, was not absent from Ireland. He was in Dublin at the same time as (Richard) Jackson and Franklin. Moving in the same circles, they encountered each other at Dublin Castle, where they all dined as guests of the Lord Lieutenant, Marquess Townshend. The occasion went well: Hillsborough was absolutely charming. He insisted that they come to stay with him and his family at Hillsborough Castle near Belfast…

…To cap it all, when Franklin left, Hillsborough told him he would not just like to see him in London but often…

Franklin succinctly tells the story:

When I had been a little while returned to London I waited on him to thank him for his civilities in Ireland, and to discourse with him on a Georgia affair. The porter told me he was not at home. I left my card, went another time, and received the same answer…I made two more visits, and received the same answer. The last time was on a levee day…the porter, seeing me, came out and surlily chid the coachman…then turning to me, said, “My Lord is not at home.” I have never since been nigh him, and we have only abused one another at a distance.

…one can also interpret Hillsborough’s conduct in terms of the aristocratic social conventions of the day: whereby, face to face, one hid one‘s true feelings under a guise of good manners, only to reveal them later in a public forum such as Parliament or more directly through one‘s actions. Whatever Hillsborough’s reasons, the two episodes back-to-back merely served to increase Franklin’s loathing. He now said of Hillsborough, “I know him to be as double and deceitful as any man I ever met with.” This was quite something, considering Franklin’s long dealings with Thomas Penn and the Reverend William Smith.”

From Wikipedia:

“Absentee landlords were a highly significant issue in the history of Ireland. During the course of 16th and 17th centuries, most of the land in Ireland was confiscated from Irish Catholic landowners during the Plantations of Ireland and granted to Scottish and English settlers who were members of the established churches (the Church of England and the Church of Ireland at the time); in Ulster, many of the landowners were Scottish Presbyterians. Seized land was given to Scottish and English nobles and soldiers, some of whom rented it out to the Irish, while they themselves remained residents of Scotland and England. By 1782 the Irish patriot Henry Grattan deplored that some £800,000 was transferred annually to such landlords. He attempted to place an extra tax on remittances to the British. But many absentees also reinvested part of their rents into roads and bridges, to improve local economies, that are still seen today. A notable beneficial absentee in the 19th century was Lord Palmerston, who went into debt to develop his part of Sligo; an investment that eventually paid off.

By the 1800s resentment grew as not only were the absentee landlords Protestant (while most tenants were Catholic and forbidden to inherit land), but their existence meant that the wealth of the land was always exported. This system became particularly detrimental to the native population during the Great Irish Famine when, despite Ireland being a net exporter of food, millions starved, died of disease, or emigrated. In the years following, the land issue with the Irish Land League’s Land War became a significant issue in Ireland. The land issue was one of the historic factors which resulted in Ireland’s troubled history until the 1920s, though it had largely been addressed legislatively by 1903 in the Irish Land Acts.”

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