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Birthright: The True Story That Inspired "Kidnapped" Hardcover – January 25, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
The dramatic tale of James (Jemmy) Annesley inspired Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped and four other novels. Now Virginia Tech history professor Ekirch (Day's Close) presents the intriguing, complex true narrative of the 18th-century travails of the rightful earl of Anglesea. Ekirch describes young Annesley's near abandonment to the Dublin streets through the greed-induced maneuvering of his father, Baron Altham, and Altham's mistress. Upon Altham's death, Jemmy's Uncle Richard perpetuated the lie that the boy was illegitimate and, later, that he had died. In 1728 Richard had 12-year-old Jemmy kidnapped and transported to the colony of Delaware as an indentured servant. After 13 years of virtual slavery, Jemmy escaped and returned to the British Isles. His claim to gentlemanly birth was endorsed by numerous former acquaintances, but denied by a few key individuals. Eventually, his cause was championed by Daniel Mackercher, a self-made Scottish merchant who dedicated his life to the defense of Jemmy's birthright. Lengthy and sensational legal proceedings resulted in a less-than-timely vindication of the claim. Confusing because of excessive use of frequently changing noble titles, Birthright is nonetheless a fascinating read. 26 illus., 3 maps. (Jan.)
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*Starred Review* Ekirch, a history professor at Virginia Tech University, reanimates a crime dating back to the early eighteenth century, the crime that inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped. James Annesley, the heir to five aristocratic titles, had a startlingly hard early existence. His father, Arthur Annesley, the fourth Baron Altham, turned James (called Jemmy) into the streets of Dublin to fend for himself at the age of eight. Jemmy turned up at his father’s funeral four years later. Shortly after, his uncle had him kidnapped and shipped to Delaware, where he spent the next 13 years living as an indentured servant. The term kidnapping, Ekirch explains, originated in the seventeenth century to describe seizing a child with the intent of transporting him or her to the colonies to work as an indentured servant. Kidnapping was a misdemeanor under British common law; horse theft was a felony punishable by death. Jemmy’s escape, passage to London, and pursuit of his birthright, leading eventually to his vindication at the end of a famous criminal trial, form the backbone of this story. Annesley had to prove his identity with virtually no evidence: he had no scars or distinguishing birthmarks; written records of his birth were nonexistent; and the science of fingerprints, photographs, and DNA was far in the future. Ekirch also illuminates such subjects as the position of wives and mistresses in eighteenth-century England; the causes of the sharp rise in mortality that threatened the great peerages; and the realities of indentured servitude in the colonies. Ekirch out-kidnaps Stevenson in this thrilling, thoroughly documented story. A perfect mix of true crime and real-life adventure. --Connie Fletcher
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British or American court of law on native soil.The Bahwal case in India is even more insidious and convoluted but the Sacco and Vanzetti case and the Alger Hiss Case,even the Tichborne case,are small potatoes compared to this one.
Dr.Ekirch's main problem in logically presenting his massive,almost entirely heretofore unpublished,documentation is that he fails to recognize his story for what it really is- that most marvelous of all archetypal legends which, about once in a hundred years,actually gets into a court of law:namely the classic back from the dead case:
A young person of high birth disappears at a time of tremendous social upheaval and is reported dead on no certain evidence Rumors continually circulate that the "deceased" has been seen at some remote part of the globe.Fifteen or twenty years later he,she,or somebody,returns to a very strange homecoming indeed.Once you're into a back from dead case ordinary rules (designed to deal with rational situations) largely and increasingly fail to apply.
Moreover ,in one respect, the Annesley case is the weirdest of them all for it is neither a legitimacy case nor an identity case(both of which terms Dr.Ekirch employs),but an EXISTENCE case.It is as if the Grand Duchess Anastasia arrives back from the dead and is told by the Romanov family,sorry,my dear,you can't
be our legitimate relative because Nicholas and Alexandria never had a daughter named Anastasia.And we have hundreds,if necessary,thousands of witnesses who will back us up under oath.You are trying to impersonate someone who never got herself born.
The only remotely similar case seems to involve a family of beleaguered Protestant aristocrats in seventeenth century France.
It is not for nothing that the last writer,Andrew Lang to publish a book on James Annesley also published nearly twenty volumes of folk mythology and authored a book on the Shakespeare authorship question.Lang ended believing in his man but also admitting he believed against fantastic odds and he fairly stated the huge rational objections to his theory, almost all of which objections are completely ignored in the work under review.
For Dr.Ekrich,apparently the only living person who has read,or at least skimmed, some six hundred unpublished affidavits from both sides,the case proved "much less difficult than anticipated".
The incumbent Richard Annesley is unquestionably one of the most morally loathsome people in the history of non-lethal true crime.Whether or not he was robbing alleged nephew Jemmy of his birthright,he, despite his denials,certainly shanghaied the twelve year kid and sold him out to fifteen years of penal servitude.When Jemmy,like the nine-lived cool cat that he was,came back as a naval hero and sued the man he liked to call "Uncle Dick" .Richard invested up to two hundred pounds (worth thousands on today's scale)into getting Jemmy framed for murder.When Jemmy was acquitted with much favorable publicity,a Richard supporter tried to shoot him.
When that didn't work,Richard and a batch of over a hundred of his rooters charged Jemmy and several of his key witnesses (and heavy financial investors)at the Dublin Races,severely beating them.For which crimes he was not only convicted but received even worse headlines than previously in the newly budding mass media.
And if this wasn't bad enough at the height of the furor he openly took a third(third) wife even though there were already two well known women claiming to be married to him.
And if this wasn't bad enough.good King George eventually received"nephew" Jemmy as aristocracy and publicly chastised the "infamous Earl of Anglesea".
In the end his own daughter by the second "marriage" charged that her Dad brought her in for a reconciliation on his death bed, then whipped a revolver from under the sheets and opened fire.
It is understandable that Dr.Ekirch is cheering for a incredibly brave little kid who lived by his wits on the Dublin streets from age eight onward,who at age twelve,clad in rags, disrupted his,putative,father's funeral and single handedly managed to,for the time being,to block
Uncle Dick's investature.
Six weeks later he was on his way to a fate worse than death,fifteen years in Philade[phia.But the cat came back and,in spite of the combined resources of his many enemies, won a verdict in open court.American boy makes better than good...One of the three back from the dead claimants in world legal history to win a verdict in a court of law.
Nevertheless there are flashing red lights all over the place that this case is a gigantic Sting.
Since Dr.Ekirch began by miscatagorizing his subject,he failed to realize that the first thing the investigator should do in an archetypal case like this is
look for the dowager.There's always the ancient matriarch lurking in the background.The mother or grandmother(never the father or grandfather),whose word, IF she can be persuaded to testify ,will stand against a hundred,perhaps five hundred,lesser witnesses but not one of these matriarchs,ever in history,got to a public witness stand.
Jemmy and his extremely adroit backers certainly knew the name of a very old game from day one even if Dr.Ekirch doesn't.Jemmy made two strategic visits immediately on his return to London.(1)to cousin" Francis Annesley who was also suing Uncle Dick for megabucks.Francis wasn't signing anything -yet, but did not close the door to further,amiable negotiations(2) "his" step-grandmother Mary,Duchess of Buckingham.The Duchess was one of the most powerful women in England.When she died she had herself interred in the biggest tomb in Westminster Abbey.She knew the value of a legal documents.The Buckinghams were long one of the most powerful families in England(Think "Richard 3rd" and "Three Musketeers".The present Queen of England still lives in Buckingham Palace.)
If Jemmy could talk her into sicking her lawyers onto Uncle Dick there wouldn't be any court case.Dick would certainly pay.
There should have been a major Annesley Buckingham corresondence on the birth of James Annesley on or about April 22nd,1715,if such a baby ever actually existed.The alleged birth followed nearly tenyears of sterility in an abortive international property merger.But when the Duchess ,in 1746 chose to leak four such letters from her step-daughter and son-in-law,the Solicitor General found these meagre four sufficient to prove the claimant fraudulent.
Jemmy would claim that his parents,however rich, weren't the kind of people who bothered to write letters.May be not but they lived in the midst of a lot of people who did.The Butlers,the Colcloughs,the Loftuses,the Tenches,the Downses,the Piggotts,the Pallisers,the Fitzgeralds,names which are still well known in Irish society today.Yet in the entire case not one of these great families who so furiously cross-swore each other at the trials could(or would?)produce a single scrap of contemporary paper showing that that there was a such a baby though it was sworn that Protestant Mrs.Butler (of the great Butlers of Ormond from whom William Butler Yeats claimed descent) was present at the birth and the christening which followed somewhere between May 16 and May 30th,1715.Further her close family connection Catholic Major Fitzgerald allegedly dropped in the day after the birth to view the infant heir.Fitzgerald's Protestant Aunt Piggott stood godmother,as did Catholic Anthony Colclough. Her brother-in-law Captain Tench attended and drank deep.Unfortunately all of these people, except Fitzgerald, were dead by the time Jemmy hit London with a fanfare of advance press coverage in October,1741.
But the Duchess certainly held correspondence,fourteen more years of it and would have the names of the witnesses to the birth and the baptism.Her step-daughter split with her husband forever in Feb.,1717.He,according to Jemmy and his lawyer Danial Mackarcher,forcibly seized control of the baby.The child was worth multi-millions but, as much to the point, the Duke of Buckingham genuinely loved his foolish,passionate daughter. Why then was no effort made to regain custody of the heir.Again,there should again have been substantial written evidence and,if it existed,the Duchess and/or her lawyers held that evidence.
Jemmy knew all this when he went to call on "his_ grandmother.She declined to see him(or,alternatively,it was claimed that she was in France,therefore not precluding the possibility she might be open to negotiations on her "return".)Did he give up that easily? Hard to believe.But Dr. Ekrich has only one further reference to the Duchess in his entire book. In fact he doesn't even bother to index her!Apparently he doesn't regard her as all that important.
Moreover, one key piece of public documentation about the Duchess has been available since 1744 and Dr.Ekrich ignores it as well.A second woman who certainly held documents and knew Lady Annesley(actually Baroness Altham) much better than her step-mother was available.She was Mary Heath,Lady Annesley's legal executor and hourly companion from 1712 to the day of her death in 1729.According to Mackarcher's own witnesses "nobody knew that young gentleman's affairs better" than Mary Heath.Except for one week which Mary had taken off to bear her only child Sarah,
Sarah,Mary had worked seventeen years non-stop for her deceased ladyship and ended up with a cash estate valued around 450 pounds,the greater part of which was in Sarah's name.
After procrastinating for six months Mackarcher(in the absence of his client) finally held an interview with Mary Heath on April 13th,1742.According to Mary (a biased witness to be sure but her account was never denied by Mackarcher)Dan came on her with a roll call of Irish witnesses whom she knew in the old days and were now living with him and one William Henderson. Henderson had recently brought them over from Ireland.On the kindest interpretation these bombshell Irish witnesses were rushed out of Ireland and put on the Mackarcher payroll to prevent Uncle Dick from manhandling them.
On the other hand Mary pointed out that if,as executrix of her Lady's estate she had anything to prove James Annesley was for real she wouldn't be living ,with her maiden daughter,on the income from four hundred and fifty pounds.And Mackarcher left claiming he was so impressed he was going to turn the pack of them out.
Mary went straight from Mackarcher to the Duchess of Buckingham.They talked for over two hours.Between them there could be no deceit.They and one Joan Landy,now living on Mackarcher's property,knew exactly what had, or had not, happened on or about April 22nd(old style),1715.If omly we knew what was said between Mary and the Duchess and Mackercher and Joan Landy that afternoon there would be no mystery about the Annesley case.One thing is certain Mackarcher left Mary Heath knowing that she and, quite possibly,the Duchess would be taking the stand against his client.
On the other hand he literallly held Jemmy's wet nurse,Joan Landy(whom Uncle Dick and hundreds of other people would claim to be Jemmy's natural mother as well as Uncle Dick's ex-girl friend) ,his alleged dry nurse Joan Laffan and a woman, Eleanor Howlett Murphy, who claimed to have been in the room when baby Jemmy was birthed.
Both Daniel and Mary were play-acting.His next move was to file suit against Mary for all documents and all monies which she,as her ladyship's executrix, had "wrongfully" seized from yet another estate rightfully belonging to his client.
Unfortunately for his case Lady Annesley's will but did not mention any surviving child.
And Mackercher faced even greater credibility problems.Lloyd,the Protestant pastor who allegedly baptized Jemmy,did not keep a register of parish activities.But Father Downes,the Catholic priest,did( forty-three years of them ) and it contained no mention of Jemmy Annesley.Plaintiff argued that a Catholic priest wouldn't register a Protestant child but Downes insisted that,considering the importance of the event and the alleged presence of a Catholic godparent,he would have put Jemmy down-if Jemmy had ever existed. Worse still ,Father Downes had baptized Jemmy Landy and would never forget the huge rabbit birthmark on the baby's left shoulder.That birthmark was on the child whom Baron Altham took into his house shortly after turning out his wife.
By another odd coincidence the baby born to the mistress in April-early May,1714 was named James and the Baron likewise decided to name his legitimate son,born almost exactly one year later,James, and his wife not only put up with this but sent her child to live for a year with the mistress and her husband's bastard.
Dr. Ekrich omits all referemce to the Downes registries ,omits the rabbit mark and,worst of all neglects to mention that both babies were named Jemmy!In fact Jemmy Landy,like "Grandmother" Buckingham, is not even indexed though he may well be the one and only Jemmy.
It is now ten months later and Irish contacts (in answer to my specific queries) are digging up dozens of glaring factual contradictions which were missed. or glided over, in the composition of this book.It is becoming increasingly certain on the basis of unpublished material ignored in this publication that this case was a complete hoax engineered by Sir Cesar Coclough in collaboration with Daniel Mackarcher.
I hope to print a selection of this testimony here shortly.In addition to a conspctus 0f the entire six previously known surviving pieces of docunentation,1715 to 1730.All of these,if genuine, tend to weigh heavily against the claimant.
The law cases that ensued, the corruption of the courts and the British rule of Ireland, take your breath away. Ekirch does a brilliant job of probing the seamy lives of dissolute noblemen, and making you feel the appalling injustice of the times. What happened to Annesley was, to some degree, normal--it was a scandal only because it involved the aristocracy. The true scandal is the corruption of the legal system and the rottenness of the society that created it--which is also the society that gave birth to the United States.
The story of this one mistreated, orphaned, abused boy, who became a man determined to reclaim what was his, becomes a gripping insight into all of 18th-century Anglo-Irish society, top to bottom. It's a terrific book. I couldn't put it down.
Aside from simply being a first class yarn, perhaps the most compelling reason to read Birthright is to appreciate how a top historian carefully untangles the events of the distant past. Ekirch succeeds in weaving a compelling mosaic of lives lived and events transpired almost 300 years ago. It's nothing short of amazing. Museums house the artifacts of the times, but a great historian's work is the only true portal into the collective ethos of these bygone societies. From the intricacies of the English legal system, to the weather patterns (he clearly visited all these locations!), to the time it took for a speedy horseman to convey news from Dublin to London (5 days), Ekirch has compiled an incredible piece of research and understanding. Bravo!