Dilston Hall, Jacobites and a Treacherous Past

Standing proud on a hilltop, above extensive gardens and a river, this attractive watercolour of an impressive country house is a fabulous new purchase for Nicholas Wells Antiques. Not only is it lovely to look at, but it is actually a very rare depiction of a remarkable property, demolished in 1768. The house in question, however, and the family responsible for its construction, were highly influential elites in Northern England but embroiled in a scandalous affiliation with the Jacobites.

The Family – Who Lived at Dilston?

Dilston Hall was built by James Radcliffe, the 3rd Earl of Derwentwater., on the site of a Dilston Manor House which had been held by the Radcliffe’s since the sixteenth century. As a family, the Radcliffe’s have a history of dissent and being involved in political disturbance…

At the start of the seventeenth century, Sir Francis Radcliffe, a known Catholic, was arrested on suspicion of complicity in the Gunpowder Plot. Only a couple of decades later, His son, Edward, was a distinguished Royalist and sadly had his estates confiscated during the Civil War. His son, Francis, was more ambitious and sought to restore the family’s fortunes.

In 1688, Francis was made Earl of Derwentwater by King James II. This was partially because they had arranged a marriage for Jame’s son, Edward, to Lady Mary Tudor. Lady Mary was the daughter of Charles II and his actress mistress, Moll Davis. Due to the royal connections, this was obviously a highly prestigious marriage arrangement. This cemented the Radcliffe’s support of the Stuart dynasty and therefore, as one of the most powerful and wealthy Jacobite families in Northern England, was the cause of their ultimate demise following the Glorious Revolution.

Edward Radcliffe, 2nd Earl of Derwentwater, John Baptist Closterman, c. 1690
Lady Mary Tudor, Countess of Derwentwater
Dilston Hall and the Jacobites

In 1709, James Radcliffe, 3rd Earl of Derwentwater, returned from France upon the death of his father, Edward, the 2nd Earl. He wanted to remodel the Jacobean Hall into one of the grandest stately homes in the country and he built the Dilston that we see in the watercolour. James was, however, a supporter of the ‘Old Pretender’, James Francis Edward Stuart, Prince of Wales, son of James II, prior to his removal from the throne.  They had, in fact, grown up together in the exiled Stuart court in France. He was therefore caught up in the 1715 Jacobite Rebellion which aimed to restore the throne to the Stuart dynasty after the death of Queen Anne in 1714, in favour of the Protestant Hanovarians. James eventually was arrested, tried and executed at the Tower of London in 1716 for Treason.

His son, John, 4th Earl of Derwentwater, died aged 19 in 1731 and James’ wife had fled to Brussels after her husbands execution. The house, which never reached completion, sadly fell into disrepair. After John’s death, the title Earl of Derwentwater went to James’ brother, Charles Radcliffe, who fled to France and became secretary to Charles Stuart – ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’, or,  ‘The Young Pretender.’ Charles, the 5th Earl, was also captured and executed for treason when he supported the Young Pretender in the Jacobite Rising of 1745-6.

The Government conferred the Derwentwater estates to Greenwich Hospital before Dilston Hall was demolished in 1768.

Another view of this lost landmark
A View into the Past

It is amazing where simply finding an interesting object can lead you. The mere act of purchasing the watercolour has uncovered stories of rebellion, royalist support and treachery. It looks as though Dilston Hall would have been an impressive home, rivaling the finest houses in England and it is a shame that we cannot see it for ourselves.

We shall have to make do with the wonderful watercolour, one of the few surviving depictions of the Hall. Please get in touch for further information as it is available now!

Alexandra Kate

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