Word to the wise. If you’re going to be ennobled, make sure you’re not the Duke/Earl/Baron – anything, really, – of Greenwich. It has to be one of the patchiest titles in history.
Bet you didn’t even know there is a Baron Greenwich, did you. I’ll let you ponder on who it might currently be (and no, it’s not the latest baddie in the Greenwich Theatre Panto) while I tell you who it was…
The Tenth Earl of Argyll’s granddad was a misunderstood man. Or at least he held he was. He’d virtually ruled Scotland during the Commonwealth, but although he offered to play nice when Charles II returned, he was accused of treason and executed. His son had his lands returned to him, but he, too, just couldn’t stay out of trouble. He was executed for his part in the Monmouth Rebellion.
So by the time it was the tenth Earl’s turn, he figured that he’d better keep his nose clean. He made sure William of Orange knew he was on his side, and in return William made him the Duke of Argyll and a whole load of other viscounterys, baron-nesses and marquessetries too.
His son saw this was clearly the way to go, so he clambered onto the toady-waggon with Dad, albeit a bit more proactively. He fought against the Jacobites in the rebellion, shouted loudly for the new concept of a United Kingdom and waved the Union flag a lot in front of Queen Anne. It worked.
The Queen made him Baron Chatham and Earl of Greenwich in 1705. It seems to have been a pretty random choice of town. He doesn’t appear to have had any link whatsoever with either place, though he did at least come to London at some point – he was a supporter (among such luminaries as Hogarth and Handel) of the Foundling Hospital. In 1719, he was promoted to Duke of Greenwich, but when he died, the title died with him. He’s buried in Westminster Abbey, which is where I noticed his rather splendid tomb a short while ago.
The title was re-invented in 1767 when his daughter, Caroline Townshend was made Baroness. I have no idea why. No do I know where she lived – whether it was actually around here or not, but apparently there’s a gravestone in Lee churchyard of one of her domestics. Since Lady Greenwich’s sons died before her though, the title once again died with her.
Let us now peer through wibbly-wobbly change-of-time SFX to just under two hundred years later, 1947. Princess Elizabeth was marrying Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten. It seemed a bit stingy to just give him one title, the Duke of Edinburgh, so they tacked on the title Baron Greenwich as an extra freebie. He’s been collecting peerages ever since. Here is that title-list in full:
His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth, Baron Greenwich, Royal Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, Knight of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, Grand Master and First and Principal Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire, Member of the Order of Merit, Companion of the Order of Australia, Extra Companion of the Queen’s Service Order, Royal Chief of the Order of Logohu, Canadian Forces Decoration, Lord of Her Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council, Privy Councilor of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada, Personal Aide-de-Camp to Her Majesty.
Blimey. But at least we’re third.