Thursday, July 2, 2015

Sir Everard Fawkener: Merchant, Gentleman, Friend of Voltaire

"Sir Everard Fawkener" by Jean Etienne Liotard

Everard Fawkener was born a member of the country gentry on 23 February 1694 to a successful merchant, William, and his wife, Mary, as the eighth of ten children. Although his family had a country seat at Uppingham Manor in Rutland, Fawkener was most likely born in the city due to the fact he was baptized on the day of his birth at St. Michael Bassishaw, which is located in the city of London. The Fawkener family was a family of merchants who had been a part of the trade business since the seventeenth century. They were highly involved in Levant trade and Fawkener’s father was a head member of the Levant Company (the Levant Trading Company was a joint-trading company established in 1581). Fawkener was a man who enjoyed the classics, such as Horace and Virgil, which were probably part of his early education (according to Voltaire, Fawkener knew nothing “outside silk, cloth, ancient coins, Homer, and Virgil” (Perry, 11)). Following his family’s footsteps and expectations, he became a merchant in 1716 when he was sent to Aleppo, a prosperous trading city in the Levant region that also served as the headquarters for the Levant Company. The family firm he worked for, named Snelling and Fawkeners, hit a prosperous stride in the 1730s allowing Fawkener to build up his personal wealth. Nevertheless, Fawkener and his partner William Snelling were both accused of “unduly favoring their own interests” (Perry, 56), which demonstrates a darker side of mercantilism. After nine years in Aleppo, Fawkener returned to England. He became close friends with Voltaire, whom his met in Paris in 1725, possibly on this return trip. Fawkener solidified their friendship when the Frenchman came to him in an hour of need having turned up desolate in England in 1726. Voltaire stayed with Fawkener at his estate in Wandsworth, just outside of London.
            Fawkener’s experience and family connections put him in a respectable position for advancement. In 1735, Fawkener left the merchant business after being appointed ambassador to the Sublime Port in Constantinople. While Voltaire thought his friend’s advancement was a sign of English freedom and mobility—which Voltaire found severely lacking in France—Fawkener’s wealth, familial connections, experience with the East, and amiable character made him an obvious candidate for the position. Fawkener’s merchant status makes it easy for one to forget that the man was, in fact, a gentleman. The possession of these advantages was not available to all, which calls to questions whether Fawkener’s exceptional advancement was truly as exceptional as Voltaire chose to believe. Shortly after his appointment as ambassador, Fawkener became Sir Everard Fawkener on 3 October 1735. He would serve as ambassador until 1742 when he left Turkey for a brief leave of absence but would not return to Constantinople.
            Three years later, in 1745, Fawkener began running in royal circles and was appointed secretary to the Duke of Cumberland. Since the Duke was commander of the British land forces, Fawkener’s position required him to be in constant attendance of the Duke throughout his military campaigns. He was responsible for “settling on suitable accommodations, organising the moves, and seeing to [the Duke’s] entertainment” (Perry, 93). Should someone come to the Duke with a request, Fawkener met with them first before deciding whether to schedule a personal interview with the Duke. Oftentimes, Fawkener took care of the business on his own. Fawkener was present during several major battles, such as the battle of Fontenoy during the Flanders campaign of the War of Austrian Succession in 1745 and the Battle of Culloden during the Jacobite Uprising in 1745/1746. The Battle of Culloden was a major success for the Duke and the victory allowed Fawkener to return to England in July where he took part in the trial of Lord Lovat, who was accused to supporting the Jacobite cause. Fawkener was tasked with finding evidence that convicted the presumed accomplices of Lord Lovat but ultimately the search was fruitless. This failure could have resulted in the retraction of his nomination for envoy to Frederick of Prussia.
            Fawkener spent most of his life a single man. Yet, on 19 February 1747, he married a woman named Harriot to which he was thirty years her senior. The age gap proved not to be a substantial issue and the couple would have two sons and a daughter.  Fawkener’s wealth allowed him to establish a home in best areas of town, such as St. James Square and Berkeley Square. He also had a home in Little Marlow, Buckinghamshire, which he inherited from his brother, William. Even though Fawkener had found himself in an advantageous position for most of life, he passed away on 16 November 1758 without a will or enough money to pay his debts. The wealthy merchant died impoverished. A life of extravagant spending and “fondness for the gaming-table” (Perry, 56) demonstrates how far even the mighty can fall (these habits are speculated to have been influenced by the Duke, who can be considered a gambling spendthrift himself (Perry, 133)). A memorial tablet was erected for Fawkener in Bath Abbey, where he is buried.
            Fawkener’s friendship with Voltaire endured throughout his lifetime in part due to the great admiration and respect Voltaire possessed for Fawkener’s position and character. In the eyes of a Frenchman, Fawkener “was the quiddity of mercantilism…, and if he rose to the dizzy heights of being a diplomat, it must be because England, that pearl among nations, knew how to appreciate the true merchant who was the source of the country’s prosperity.” (Perry, 148). Voltaire seems to have lacked a complete understanding of the English class system and failed to attribute any part of Fawkener’s rise to his gentle background and sociability. Thomas Carlyle refers to Fawkener as “highly unmemorable now, were it not for the young Frenchman he was hospitable to” (Carlyle, 48). Voltaire’s vision and understanding of Englishness seems to have been highly influence by his friendship with Fawkener, even if Fawkener seemed unaware that he was corresponding with one of the greatest minds of the age. His importance to Voltaire makes Fawkener memorable indeed but it can be argued the Fawkener’s place in history is also that of a representative of a certain class of gentleman who supported and attributed to the Walpolian system.

Àgoston, Gàbor and Bruce Masters. Encyclopedia of the Ottoman Empire, 1st ed. s.v. “Levant Company.” New York, Facts on File Inc., 2009.,%20Enc%20of%20Ott%20Empire.PDF.
Carlyle, Thomas. History of Friedrich II of Prussia, called Frederick the Great. Boston: D. Estes and C.E. Lauriat, 1884.
Freeman, E., T.D. Hemming, and David Meakin. The Secular City: Studies in Enlightenment. Exeter: Unviersity of Exeter Press, 1994.
Mason, Haydn. “Fawkener, Sir Everard (1694–1758).” Haydn Mason In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Online ed., edited by Lawrence Goldman, January 2015. (accessed June 28, 2015).
Perry, Norma. “Sir Everard Fawkener, friend and correspondent of Voltaire.” In Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century, edited by Theodore Besterman, 7- 156. Banbury: Thorpe Mandeville House, 1975.

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