Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.
Lieutenant-General Benjamin Bloomfield 1st Baron Bloomfield
13 April 1768 – 15 August 1846
Lieutenant-General Benjamin Bloomfield 1st Baron Bloomfield was born in 1768, the son of John Bloomfield and Anne Charlotte Waller, and educated at the Royal Military Academy Woolwich. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Artillery in 1781. After seeing action at the Battle of Vinegar Hill in June 1798 during the Irish Rebellion, he served in Newfoundland, Gibraltar, and at Brighton in 1806, where, as a brevet Major, he was in charge of a troop of the Royal Horse Artillery. He was also appointed a Gentleman in Waiting to the King that year. Promoted to major-general on 4 June 1814, he was appointed Colonel Commandant of the Royal Artillery on 21 February 1824 and became Commanding Officer of the garrison at Woolwich in 1826.
He served as Member of Parliament (MP) for Plymouth from 1812 from 1818 and was made a Privy Councillor on 19 July 1817.
He was an Aide-de-Camp, then Chief Equerry and Clerk Marshal to the Prince of Wales and finally was Private Secretary to the King, Keeper of the Privy Purse, and Receiver of the Duchy of Cornwall from 1817 to 1822. He was knighted on 12 December 1815, appointed a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath on 1 April 1822, and ennobled in the peerage of Ireland as Lord Bloomfield on 11 May 1825.
Benjamin Bloomfield took over this rather wretched position in 1817 following the extremely successful tenure of his predecessor, Sir John McMahon. Bloomfield was selected partly as a result of his skills of negotiation, shown through a secret mission to Sweden by the government as Minister Plenipotentiary. Bloomfield’s relationship with the Prince Regent was necessarily close, as the role of the Private Secretary to the Prince Regent was to suppress his most mischievous secrets to a media who so ferociously pursued his misdemeanours. This was no simple task as the Prince Regent’s flamboyant lifestyle did not abate despite pressure from various sources.
In the year that the Prince Regent became King, 1820, there were over 800 cartoons depicting him in various states of disorder, which greatly distressed the new monarch. Bloomfield was ordered to prevent as many of these cartoons from being published as possible by bribing cartoonists using a ‘secret service fund’. From 1819 to 1822, Bloomfield spent over £2,600 worth of taxpayer’s money on such bribery, including noted men of the field such as J.L. Marks and George Cruikshank. This provided them a fruitful second income and even more serendipitously saved them the cost of both paper and ink. This line of work put an increasing strain upon Bloomfield’s relationship with the King, and the former’s criticisms of his royal master became unbearable. Indeed, it became apparent that Bloomfield’s job of curbing the King’s royal expenditure was no more successful than his predecessors leading to Parliamentary discussions concerning the matter.
Bloomfield was summoned to a meeting with the Prime Minister, Lord Liverpool, and gave his most sincere assurances that he would do as much as he could to control the King’s wild spending. From then on in, the royal household had a financial regime based upon accountability imposed, meaning that Bloomfield had to scrutinise every scintilla of royal spending with an even keener eye. Bloomfield’s heightened meddling in royal expenditure infuriated the King, severing any last strands of friendship between them, with the King increasingly shouting at his secretary and even giving him a ‘good hearty shake’. In March 1822, Bloomfield complained to the Tory MP Charles Arbuthnot that the King no longer even shook hands or spoke to him when he entered the room, and even publicly abused him in the presence of a royal cook. Bloomfield’s persistence in curbing the royal purse was admirable, however, his efficiency now irked the King’s mistress, Lady Conyngham, who wished him to be relieved of his post. This gossip became public knowledge, which the contemporary satirists delighted in mocking, noting that Lady Conyngham and Bloomfield were perhaps too similar to ever fall out:
‘Ben Bloomfield and the fat old cook,
Herself a perfect larder,
A simple jig together took,
The tune was Shave the Barber’.
The King and Lady Conyngham’s dislike of Bloomfield was further evident on the King’s trip to Scotland on 10 August 1822, as the rising star of the King’s entourage, Sir William Knighton, was situated next to the King’s cabin, whilst Bloomfield was rather coldly relegated to a cabin far further away. Furthermore, Conyngham encouraged her son, Francis, to shoulder some of Bloomfield’s responsibilities, much to Bloomfield’s obvious displeasure. There was even a rumour that some of Lady Conyngham’s jewels belonged to the Crown, a fact known by Bloomfield, and therefore the royal mistress felt compelled to have him removed. As Bloomfield began to be undermined by Sir William Knighton and Francis Conyngham, his self-confidence started to fade, his grip on the royal purse was weakened and he abruptly had his salary stopped by royal command- his demise was imminent. In an act of desperation he began to lobby Parliament, claiming ‘royal betrayal’, however, this was ineffective as Lady Conyngham’s family were attached to Bloomfield’s target audience- the Whig opposition- and therefore his pleas fell on deaf ears.
Bloomfield’s downfall was hastened further by a royal visit to Dublin in 1821. In one incident, the King visited a local theatre, and believing Bloomfield to be an important member of the King’s party, the manager began playing the national anthem as Bloomfield entered his box, responding by bowing and smiling jokingly as the crowd rose and began singing ‘God Save the King’ (believing Bloomfield to be a member of the royal family). The King, noted for his sense of humour, was unusually furious at this act, declaring it an insult. Another plausible explanation for Bloomfield’s demise is provided by a courtier, Sir William Freemantle in a letter to the Duke of Buckingham. The King’s expenses from the spring of 1822 showed a considerable amount of money had been spent on an undisclosed item, which Bloomfield revealed to be the purchase of diamonds by the King. The King considered this to be damaging, and showed beyond all doubt that Bloomfield had lost his ability to protect the King’s image at all costs. The diamonds were most probably for the royal mistress, an assertion which the media exposed. In a last humiliating episode for Bloomfield, he was ordered by the King to pay J.L. Marks a sum of £45 to prevent the publication of a cartoon which implicated the King and his mistress in the diamond affair, after Marks sent a copy to the King’s residence before its publication. Marks duly ripped up the plate before his eyes, despite having made copies sneakily beforehand. In fact Bloomfield had spent a fortune buying up caricatures.
Finally, to the relief of the King, ministers agreed that Bloomfield should be removed from his position. The King wrote to Lord Liverpool, asking for the post of Private Secretary to be abolished to make Bloomfield’s departure appear to be a matter of politics rather than the Crown. Bloomfield was offered the Governorship of Ceylon as compensation, or his current salary for life and the Order of the Bath. Bloomfield felt that his efforts deserved at the very least an English peerage, the King however flew into a rage when hearing Bloomfield’s demand, threatening to have him alienated from society, just as his wife had been. Bloomfield pragmatically refused the position of Governor of Ceylon, but accepted the Order of the Bath, a sinecure worth £650 per annum and the Governorship of Fort Charles in Jamaica, that he would later exchange for the post of Minister at Stockholm. The King invited him to the Royal Pavilion at Brighton one last time to receive the Order of the Bath from the King, but thought better of it, and did not journey to meet his former royal master for the last time.
Following his turbulent years in service to the King, Bloomfield unexpectedly embraced the values of Methodism and became a devout Christian. His house in Portman Square, London amused many a passer-by as he would often have a placard on his front door, adorned with the words ‘At Prayer’.
Bloomfield was promoted to lieutenant general on 22 July 1830 and died in Ireland in 1846. He was buried at Borrisnafarney Parish Church in the Bloomfield Mausoleum in County Offaly, Ireland which is located 1.5 miles from the village of Moneygall beside the Loughton Estate
Bloomfield married Harriott Douglas, daughter of John Douglas, on 7 September 1797. They had a son, John Arthur Douglas Bloomfield, 1st Baron Bloomfield of Ciamhaltha who was created Baron Bloomfield, of Ciamhaltha in the County of Tipperary, in the Peerage of the United Kingdom, on his retirement as British Ambassador to Austria, and two daughters, Georgina and Harriott.