John Robert Townshend, 3rd Viscount Sydney

John Robert Townshend, the only son of John Townshend and Caroline Clements, born August 1805, became 3rd Viscount Sydney on his father’s death in 1831. 

John Robert was connected with the Court from an early age.  He was successively Groom-in-Waiting to George IV, Lord-in-Waiting to William IV, and held the same post with Queen Victoria.  He was also Captain of the Yeomen of the Guard in the 1850s, Lord Chamberlain in the 1860s and ‘70s, and Lord Steward of the Queen’s Household in the 1880s, and was made an Earl in 1874.

A not entirely flattering cartoon of the 3rd Viscount appeared in Vanity Fair in May 1869, (reproduced right) with the following text:

’A great hardship is that which is often inflicted upon unoffending Peers by exacting party leaders who require them, as the price of office position, which should be theirs by right, to talk as if they understood political questions.

Happily there are even yet remaining some offices to which such hard questions are not attached, and it is fortunate for the Liberals that they are able to provide for so eminent a partisan as Lord Sydney the highly appropriate post of Chamberlain.  It gives him, it is true, but too few opportunities of displaying the qualities of a statesman in the ordinary sense of the word; but his duties are nevertheless important and delicate in a country which is governed to so large an extent by the laws of decency and invitations. The rights of women, as they may be, are for the consideration of others; but the rights of women, as they are, lie in his absolute control – and the power that control gives is appalling. The statesman who takes charge of the moral and material toilette of the fair has a stupendous duty to discharge; and Lord Sydney has been at least equally successful in defining moral and material limits from the one extremity in vogue on the stage to the other which is affected in the palace. If he is happy in recommending increased drapery to theatrical managers, he is quite as happy and much more curt and decisive in explaining to ladies why he has not sent them cards for the Royal balls; and if the real importance of these matters is but duly appreciated, Lord Sydney will take his proper place in history as a member of the Gladstone administration.

Probably Lord Sydney’s politics are Liberal; possibly there are some ladies who think that his opinions are not liberal; but these are trifles. When his career is recorded, impartial history will write of him: “He received Royal commands, and lengthened the skirts of the ballet”’.

He married Emily Caroline Paget, the sixth daughter of the first Marquis of Anglesey (who had served with Wellington at Waterloo).

It was during Earl Sydney’s time as Lord of the Manor of Chislehurst that the dispute over the use of and rights over Chislehurst commons came to a head.  Earl Sydney opposed, not unnaturally, the efforts to protect the commons, but was unsuccessful in preventing the passing of the Metropolitan Commons (Chislehurst and St. Paul’s Cray) Supplemental Act, 1888, which created the Commons Conservators, and restricted his ability to exploit the commons.

Earl Sydney died at Frognal in February 1890, aged eighty-five, and Queen Victoria mourned the loss of ‘a faithful and devoted friend, who had been for so many years attached to her person and had held high and important offices in her household, and for whom her Majesty had the highest regard.’ Lady Sydney, who had founded a little school in Perry Street in the 1870s, died in 1893. Lady Sydney was the last person to be buried in the Scadbury Chapel vaults, which were then full. 

The fine recumbent marble effigy of Earl Sydney (detail right), sculpted by Sir Edgar Boehm, and the two Sydney monuments in the Scadbury Chapel in St Nicholas Church, Chislehurst, remind us of all those preceding Townshends and their large families; yet sadly Earl Sydney and his wife never had children.  The title therefore passed to Robert Marsham, the son of the Earl’s elder sister Mary Elizabeth.

Sources: Webb’s History, The Times Archive