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Sir Charles Asgill, 2nd Baronet

Mezzotint by C. Turner after original oil on canvass by Thomas Phillips (location unknown) - details in "Images" section
Born 7 April 1762(1762-04-07)
London, England
Died 23 July 1823 (aged 61)
Park Place South, London, England
Residence 6 York Street, St.James's, London
Occupation General
Title Baronet
Political party Whig
Religion Church of England
Spouse(s) Jemima Sophia Ogle
Relatives Sir Charles Asgill, 1st Baronet and Sarah Theresa Pratviel [1] [2]

General Sir Charles Asgill 2nd Baronet GCH (6 April 1762 – 23 July 1823) was a career soldier, educated at Westminster School, London and Göttingen University, Germany.

Contents

Biography

Born in London, the only son of one-time Lord Mayor of London Sir Charles Asgill, 1st Baronet and Sarah Theresa Pratviel, Charles Asgill entered the army on 27 February 1778 (just before his 16th birthday), as an ensign in the 1st Foot Guards, now called The Grenadier Guards. He became Lieutenant in the same regiment with the rank of Captain on 3 February 1781 (just before his 19th birthday). In that year he was ordered to America, joining the army under Lord Cornwallis, and following the capitulation of Yorktown, Virginia, in October 1781, he became a prisoner of war.

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"The Asgill Affair"

He was the subject of a diplomatic incident in May 1782 (referred to then and now as "The Asgill Affair"), when he was selected by lot to be executed in retaliation for the murder of Joshua Huddy which had been carried out by the Loyalists, on the orders of William Franklin, the Loyalist son of Benjamin Franklin. His mother, the doughty Sarah Asgill (of French Huguenot origin), wrote to the French Court pleading for her son’s life to be spared. She was the instigator of the misleading information that her son was only 19 years of age. The fact is that Asgill had already celebrated his 20th birthday before the drawing of lots on 26 May 1782. The King, Louis XVI, and Queen of France, Marie Antoinette, ordered the Comte de Vergennes, the Foreign Minister, to convey to General George Washington their desire that a young life be spared. Since Asgill was protected by the 14th Article of Capitulation, safeguarding prisoners of war, such an unjustified execution would have reflected badly on the newly emerging independent nation of America. Congress agreed and young Asgill returned to England a free man in December 1782. A year later, together with his mother (who had been too ill to travel sooner), and sisters, he went to France to give thanks to the King and Queen for saving his life. The visit commenced on 3 November 1783. Asgill writes about this experience in his Service Records, where he states "the unfortunate Lot fell on me and I was in consequence conveyed to the Jerseys where I remained in Prison enduring peculiar Hardships for Six Months until released by an Act of Congress at the intercession of the Court of France. Returned to England on Parole in December 1782...had leave of Absence for a few months for the purpose of going to Paris to return thanks to the Court of France for having saved my Life".

Link to DNB page 159: [[3]]

Multimedia Presentations and Lectures, Lancaster County Historical Society, USA, 10 Sep 2008 – 28 February 2009 – The Asgill Affair.[4]

Object of the Month, Massachusetts Historical Society, USA, October 2007 [5]

A surprisingly accurate esoteric portrait can be found here:[6]

Subsequent career

Asgill was appointed Equerry to Frederick, Duke of York in 1788. In that same year he inherited the Asgill Baronetcy upon the death of his father. In August 1790 he married Jemima Sophia Ogle, daughter of Admiral Sir Chaloner Ogle, at Martyr Worthy, Hampshire. Asgill went to the Continent and joined the Army under the command of The Duke of York in 1794-1795, served the Campaign and was present at the whole of the Retreat through Holland. In June 1797 he was promoted Brigadier General in the 1st Foot Guards and was appointed to the Staff of Ireland. In his Service Records he states: “was very actively employed against the Rebels during the Rebellion in 1798 and received the repeated thanks of the Commander of the Forces and the Government for my Conduct and Service”. General Sir Charles Asgill marched from Kilkenny and attacked and dispersed the rebels. The Irish song, Sliabh na mban, remembers this. The song and the musical accompaniment can be found here. [7] He remained on the Irish Staff until February 1802 when in consequence of the Peace he was removed and returned to England.

On 18 March 1803, and by now a Major General, Asgill writes: “I was reappointed to the Staff of Ireland, and placed in the Command of the Eastern District, in which the Garrison of Dublin is included; I was in Command during the Rebellion which broke out in the City in July 1803. In August 1805 I had the command of a very large Camp which was formed at the Curragh of Kildare; and since that period have continued in the same Command in the Eastern District:- Whenever any Armament or Expedition was preparing I always offered my Services to the Commander in Chief and should have been highly gratified had they been accepted. From the nature of my Command in Dublin (where there is always a considerable Garrison) I have been much in the Habit of strict Exercise of Weapons, and in respect to my competency it is for the General Officers to decide, under whose command I have had the honor of Serving”.

Asgill was appointed Colonel of the 2nd Battalion 46th Regiment of Foot (South Devonshire Regiment) on 9 May 1800. In 1802 the 2nd Battalion 46th Regiment of Foot was disbanded and Sir Charles went onto half-pay as the Colonel of a disbanded battalion. Promoted to Lieutenant General in January 1805, he was appointed Colonel of the 5th West India Regiment on 10 February 1806; Colonel of the 85th Regiment of Foot on 30 October 1806 and Colonel of the 11th Regiment of Foot on 25 February 1807. He was promoted to full General on 4 June 1814.

Charles Asgill died in London. He was buried in the vault at St James's Church, Piccadilly on 1 August 1823. His wife, Sophia Asgill, predeceased him in 1819 and she too was buried in the vault at St. James’s. St. James's Church Piccadilly [8] was damaged in the Blitz of London in 1940. After WWII ended, specialist contractors, Rattee and Kett Ltd, of Cambridge [9], under the supervision of Messrs. W.F. Heslop and F. Brigmore, undertook restoration work which was completed in 1954. Two former employees, who were involved with the restoration work, remembered temporarily removing coffins from the vault prior to installing under-floor-heating. They stated, in 2003, that the Church has a vault, although the present-day Church staff were unaware of this and have no record of either Asgill being buried there. Curiously, also, when monumental inscriptions were drawn up in the mid-19th Century, and again in the early 20th Century (prior to the bomb damage to the church) no monumental inscriptions have been recorded for either Charles or Sophia Asgill. It would seem, therefore, that the General did not place a memorial to his wife, and nor did the Asgill family place one for him after his death. This is strange since Charles Asgill was one of the notable men of his age. He loved his wife, referring to her as "my beloved wife" in his will, in spite of the fact that history has recorded her as a woman of great beauty, a flirt, and enjoying the company of other men, notably Thomas Graham, 1st Baron Lynedoch (see The Diary of Frances Lady Shelley 1787-1817).

The character, "Lady Olivia" in Leonora (Maria Edgeworth) was rumoured to be based on Lady Asgill, thereby portraying her as a "coquette"! Rumours circulated thus: “Lady Olivia in ‘ Leonora ‘ is now supposed by all Dublin to be a portrait of Lady Asgill”. Also, the following letter sheds light on Sophia: Maria Edgeworth’s letter to her aunt Mrs. C. Sneyd at Byrkley Lodge, Lichfield, dated 3 December 1809. To my dear Aunt Charlotte, ...She [Miss Whyte] told us a great many good anecdotes of Lady Asgill - of whom she has seen a great deal, and it was for some time difficult for us to determine whether she was her friend or her enemy but at last this point was determined by her account of a battle royal between these two belles at Miss Whyte’s own table lately in Dublin. Lady Asgill began the attack thus “ Miss Whyte do you know the good people of Dublin are beginning to abuse you quite as much as they abuse me”. “Oh no, I hope not quite so bad as that” – quoth Miss W. “Why though they abuse me, I’m certainly very popular” reasoned Lady A – “for if I invite 60 people to my dinners or my concerts not one of the 60 send an excuse. They all come to my parties”. “Oh that is no proof of popularity” replied Miss W “for your ladyship knows that if one came down from the gibbet and gave good dinners and good music they might be sure of having everybody at their parties.” The conversation went on from popularity to notoriety - then the word famous was brought in by some of the company and a Mrs Parkhurst (the English lady who brought in the message about comedy from Sheridan) brought in the word infamous. I don’t exactly know how but Lady Asgill, who has, it is said, infinite command of temper, coolly in her high keyed voice " Does Mrs Parkhurst mean to say that Miss Whyte and I are infamous?".

Upon his death the Asgill Baronetcy became extinct. Most biographies claim he died without issue (excepting A New Biographical Dictionary of 3000 Cotemporary (sic) Public Characters, Second Edition, Vol I, Part I, printed for Geo. B. Whittacker, Ave-Maria Lane, 1825 which states Sophia bore him children). This book of 1825 would probably have been collated and prepared for printing during Asgill’s lifetime as his entry is written in the present tense.

John Asgill, 1659-1738, (known as "Translated" Asgill) was a relative [first cousin, five times removed], both being descendants of Joshua Asgyll MA, DD, born 1585. He maintained that "according to the covenant of eternal life, revealed in the Scriptures, man may be translated from hence, without passing through death, although the human nature of Christ himself could not be thus translated, till he had passed through death."

Images

Images of General Sir Charles Asgill may be found at the following locations.

1786 engraving

April 1, 1786 engraving.

The New York Public Library holds a copy of the image on the right [10]

An engraving which was published on April 1, 1786, as an illustration in John Andrews’ book, History of the War with America, France, Spain, and Holland: Commencing in 1775 and Ending in 1783, 4 vols. (London: J. Fielding, 1785-86). The engraving was apparently based on a portrait miniature, the present location of which is unknown. Asgill wears a scarlet frock coat with dark blue facings. The collar and lapels are edged with gold lace, but the buttonholes on the facings are plain. His buttons are gilt. The collar buttons down over the top lapel button. Curiously, Asgill sports a gold epaulette on his left shoulder. A battalion company officer in the Foot Guards would have worn a single epaulette on his right shoulder. It is not known if Asgill was assigned to the 1st Foot Guards grenadier company after his return to England. If he was, it seems odd that he is shown wearing a cocked hat rather than a bearskin cap. The temporary light infantry company that served with Brigade of Guards in the American War was dissolved after the cessation of hostilities. Thus either the artist took some liberties in depicting Asgill’s uniform, or the latter was a grenadier when he posed for his portrait. It is a possibility that the lost miniature was painted before Asgill left to join Lord Cornwallis’s army in America. Perhaps his family wanted a likeness of their only son before he left England, knowing he was going to war and might not return.

Asgill also wears a white ruffled shirt, a black neckstock, and a white waistcoat. His black cocked hat is plain, except for a gilt button and gold lace loop securing the cockade on the left front. Asgill wears his hair en queue with side curls. The hair also looks like it could have been powdered.

The above information has been provided by Gregory J.W. Urwin, [11] Professor of History, Temple University, Doylestown, PA 18901.

1822 mezzotint

The National Army Museum, London, [12] holds a copy of the following image (1981-03-61 image number 79658) which can be viewed at the top of the page.

It is a mezzotint by Charles Turner after the original oil painted by Thomas Phillips RA, which was exhibited at the Royal Academy London, in 1822, the year before Asgill died. In his will, General Asgill left this portrait to his brother-in-law, Admiral Sir Charles Ogle. Asgill states in his will: “And I give to the said Sir Charles Ogle, 2nd Baronet, for his, my portrait painted by Phillips, and at his decease I give and bequeath the same portrait to his son Chaloner Ogle, requesting it may be preserved and retained in his family.” It thus seems clear that Asgill wanted the Ogle family to treasure his portrait and preserve it in perpetuity; however, the present location of this portrait is unknown.

Admiral Sir Charles Ogle disinherited his son, Chaloner Ogle, 3rd Baronet, so it is unclear what then happened to the portrait. It possibly went instead to his daughter, Sophia Ogle, who married her cousin the Rev. Edward Chaloner Ogle who succeeded to Kirkley Hall in 1853.

After Asgill died, Admiral Ogle wrote to the artist saying: Sir Charles Ogle requests Mr Philips will have the goodness to deliver the picture of the late Sir Charles Asgill to the bearer Mr Goslett - If Mr Philips has any demand on Sir Charles Asgill, he is requested to send it to Mr Domville. Fm C ....? ....? (illegible) 42 Berkeley Sq, Oct 23 1823.

Clearly the Admiral thought there was a possibility that the General had not paid Phillips for the portrait at the time of his death, and it would also seem likely that Asgill had not actually taken delivery of same.

Other images

Harper's Encyclopedia of United States History has a further image of Captain Charles Asgill. A copy of this is held at The British Library.

The National Library of Ireland holds a caricature attributed to William Sadler showing General Sir Charles Asgill in the uniform of the 11th Regiment of Foot, of which he was Colonel. It shows four military officers in different regimental uniforms. Inscribed in ink above their heads are their names or rank: Colonel Perry 16th Lancers; A Regimental Doctor 70th Reg - The 70th called the "Black Dogs"; An officer of the Green Horse, 5th Dragoon; Sir Charles Asgill, Colonel of the 11th. Reproduction rights owned by National Library of Ireland.[13]

See also

Further reading

  • Mayer, Charles Joseph. Asgill, or the Disorder of Civil Wars. Amsterdam and Paris, Rue et Hotel Serpente, 1784. Professor Jack Iverson, Whitman College, [14] had this to say about Mayer's novel. When the Real Becomes Literature: The Asgill Affair. The connection between the real and the literary played a particularly important role during the second half of the eighteenth century in France. Of course, the attempt to sustain the illusion of literary authenticity was nothing new; it had long been customary for writers of novels to enhance the legitimacy of their texts by claiming that they derived from various types of authentic sources. But during the second half of the century, a number of authors called for a new type of literary creation that would draw its inspiration directly from the chronicles of everyday life. These authors argued that the anecdotes found in the burgeoning periodical press could, in fact, generate an emotional response much stronger than one resulting from merely fictitious incidents. Therefore, as writers placed ever increasing emphasis on a desire to elicit an emotional response from their readers, often with a corresponding pedagogical goal, real-life anecdotes presented themselves as an abundant and convenient source of material. At the end of my presentation today, I will return briefly to this type of literature, which I will be calling "reality-based literature." For the most part, however, I will focus on a single case that particularly highlights certain aspects of this general phenomenon. This specific case is a novel by Charles Joseph Mayer, entitled Asgill, ou les désordres des guerres civiles, which was published in two distinct versions during the years 1783-1784. Written concurrently with the conclusion of the American Revolutionary War, this novel amply demonstrates a desire to create literary effect by working directly from contemporary events. Indeed, as I will explain more fully, this novel was written in medias res, that is to say, the novel itself was completed before the real-life situation it describes had been resolved. In this sense, Asgill presents an extreme case of "reality-based literature," in which the transposition from the real to the literary took place in real time. In addition, and more radically, this work suggests that the desire to connect literary creation with real events and anecdotes influenced the ways in which eighteenth-century writers and readers perceived the world around them. Asgill thus presents an extremely interesting case for thinking about several important aspects of print culture in later eighteenth-century France.
  • Lamb, Roger, late Serjeant (sic) in the Royal Welch Fuzileers (sic) 1809. An Original and Authentic Journal of Occurrences During the Late American War from its commencement to the Year 1783. p 416-434 [15]
  • Mayo, Katherine. General Washington's Dilemma. Jonathan Cape,1938.[16]
  • Aspinall-Oglander, Cecil Faber. Freshly remembered: the story of Thomas Graham, Lord Lynedoch. Hogarth Press 1956.[17]
  • Haffner, Gerald O. published an article in History Today, Vol. 7, May 1957,[18] which, like so many articles before and since, has many inaccuracies within its final page. New evidence, found in 2008, provided Charles Asgill’s own account of events which clearly show that he went to pains to deny and explain all rumours surrounding him. His voice was silenced and his words never made it into print.
  • Tombs, Robert [19] and Tombs, Isabelle. That Sweet Enemy: The British and the French from the Sun King to the Present. William Heinemann Ltd., 2006. Reviewer A.J. Flint of London has this to say: "There seems to me to be two sorts of history books - those written by academics and intended to be read by other academics and then those produced by "television historians" (memorably attacked in Alan Bennett's play The History Boys) aiming at a mass market. This book is in neither category. It is exhaustively researched (30 page bibliography) but is elegantly written with frequent excursions into lives which were affected by Anglo-French relations - Captain Asgill, Paul de Rapin, Abbe Jean-Bernard le Blanc, Charles Frederick Worth, Emma Crouch and many others. If, like me, you have never heard of these people..."
  • Pierce, Arthur D. Smugglers' Woods: Jaunts and Journeys in Colonial and Revolutionary New Jersey. Rutgers University Press, 1960
  • The Joshua Huddy Era, Documents of the American Revolution [20]
  • McHugh, Rodger. Voice of Rebellion: Carlow in 1798 - The Autobiography of William Farrell edited by Roger McHugh with an introduction by Patrick Bergin. First published, Dublin 1949 as Carlow in '98
  • Packenham, Thomas. The Year of Liberty – The Great Irish Rebellion of 1798. Hodder and Stoughton Ltd., 1969
  • Shelley, Frances. The Diary of Frances Lady Shelley 1787-1817.
  • Granville Leveson-Gower, 1st Earl Granville. Private Correspondence 1781-1821 edited by his Daughter-in-Law Castalia Countess Granville in 2 Vols
  • Melbourne, Lady Elizabeth Milbanke Lamb Byron's "Corbeau Blanc" The Life and Letters of Lady Melbourne Edited by Jonathan David Gross. p.412
  • le Barbier-le-Jeune J.S., Asgill, drama in five acts, prose, dedicated to Lady Asgill, published in London and Paris, 1785. The author shows Washington plagued by the cruel need for reprisal that his duty requires. Washington even takes Asgill in his arms and they embrace with enthusiasm. This comi-tragedy was commissioned by Queen Marie Antoinette to commemorate the Asgill family’s visit to Paris in November 1783. Lady Asgill was very impressed by the play, and, indeed, Washington himself wrote to thank the author for writing such a complimentary piece, although confessed that his French was not up to being able to read it! fr:George Washington dans le théâtre français
  • de Sauvigny Louis-Edme Billardon's dramatization of the Asgill Affair, thinly reset as Abdir[21] Key books; study of critical biography and analytics for the service of literary history. ABDIR, drama in four acts and in verse, by Louis-Edme Billardon de Sauviguy. Paris, 1785, in-8. The subject of this piece is the same one as in Charles-Joseph Mayer's work, entitled: “Asgill, or the Disorders of the civil war, english anecdote.” (Paris, 1784, in-12). The piece and the romance are founded on a real and very dramatic event, newly arrived, during the war of Independence, in America. Sir Asgill, young english officer, hardly 19 years of age, made a prisoner by the american troops, was condemned to death, in reprisal for the murder of an american captain Huddy, hanged on the orders of english captain Lippincott, whom the royal army nevertheless refused to deliver up, in spite of George III 's order to that effect . During a captivity of eight months, Asgill was three times conducted to the gallows; but Washington, to whom this execution was repugnant, confirming in the meantime to the laws of war, three times made a suspension to his punishment, hoping that the royal army would put an end [to this] by delivering up Lippincott, in order not to let an innocent perish. Notwithstanding Washington's humanity, in spite of the intervention of the States of Holland who had begged mercy for the unfortunate young man, sir Asgill was lost, when his mother, not knowing who to turn to, had the unusual idea to address herself to a nation which was the enemy of her own, sent to M. de Vergennes, French minister of foreign affairs, a supplication that is a masterpiece of despair and of feeling. Louis XVI authorised his minister to intervene closely with the American States and Asgill was saved. Such is the very dramatic event which Mayer and Sauvigny have recounted and put on stage, both of them with equal success. But, by a peculiarity which cannot be explained, whereas Mayer was able to tell this story throughout using verifiable names, superior orders forced Sauvigny to change all the names in his piece; therefore , Abdir (or Abjir), represents Asgill;- The Nanges are the English; - Nouddy, is Huddy; - Wa^irkan, Washington; - Timurkan, Lippincott; - The persian monarch, Louis XVI; - Finally, the scene of action, America, becomes Tartary. See, for more copious details, the “Grimm's correspondence” (february 1786.) Translation from French to English by A.Morrison.
  • Marsollier of Vivetieres, music by Dalayrac, nl:Nicolas-Marie Dalayrac Asgill or The Prisoner of war - one act melodrama and prose, performed at the Opera-Comique for the first time on Thursday, May 2, 1793. In this play we are presented with a gaoler full of feeling; a poor mason who shows courage and generosity; a humane and philosophic clergyman and two young people whom the unhappy Asgill has promised to marry when he is free.
  • de Comberousse, Benoit Michel - Asgill or the English Prisoner, a drama in five acts and verse. Comberousse, a member of the College of Arts, wrote this play in 1795. The drama, in which Washington’s son plays a ridiculous role, was not performed in any theatre.
  • de Lacoste, Henri Washington, Or The Reprisal A Factual Drama, a play in three acts, in prose, staged for the first time in Paris at the Théâtre de l’Impératrice, on 5 January 1813. Henri de Lacoste, Member of the Légion d’Honneur and l’Ordre impérial de la Réunion. In this play we see Asgill fall in love with Betty Penn, the daughter of a Pennsylvanian Quaker, who supports him through his ordeal awaiting death.
  • d'Aubigny, Washington or the Orphan of Pennsylvania, melodrama in three acts by one of the authors of The Thieving Magpie, with music and ballet, shown for the first time, at Paris, in the Ambigu-Comique theatre, 13 July 1815.
  • Lambe, John Lawrence - Experiments in Play Writing, in Verse and Prose, first published by Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons, London, Bath and New York, 1911. Commencing on page 240 - An English Gentleman, the story of The Asgill Affair retold. On page 252 Asgill declares his love for Virginia Huddy (the daughter of Captain Joshua Huddy, whose murder eventually leads to his own impending execution). The play ends, with Washington’s blessing on this union, when he says (on page 303) “Captain Asgill, it rejoices me that an unfortunate incident has terminated thus happily. (Taking his hand) May your union with this young lady symbolise the affection which I trust will ever unite the old country and the new. Sir, it has been your great happiness to win the best fortune of all, what is most adorable on earth – the love of a good and faithful woman”. While this play is fanciful in many respects, the author has tried to stay truthful to the spirit of events as they unfurled at the time - and clearly researched original papers. It is true, at least, that Joshua Huddy's widow did not wish to see Asgill hang for a crime he did not commit. Whether she would have approved of her daughter falling in love with Asgill is another matter![22]

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