27 May 2019
A ruined castle near Thurles
and a cathedral monument
are reminders of a lost family
In recent days, I have been writing about tangled family trees and difficult marriages that led to questions about the inheritance of titles and estates in the Townshend family and the Leeson family.
In the Townshend family, scandals and a bigamous marriage threatened the succession to both the title of Marquess Townshend and the ownership of Tamworth Castle. In the Leeson family, a tangled family tree led to the loss of Russborough House in Co Wicklow and the disappearance of the title of Earl of Milltown.
Similar stories are told about the Mathew family of Thomastown, Co Tipperary, and the claims to the title of Earl Landaff.
The Mathew family claimed descent from a branch of the Matthew family of Radyr in Glamorgan, in south Wales. There are three 15th and 16th century Mathew family effigies in Llandaff Cathedral.
George Mathew sold his estate at Radyr in the mid-17th and moved to Co Tipperary. He became the owner of Thomastown Castle, near Thurles, when he married Elizabeth Poyntz (1587-1673), Lady Thurles, widow of Thomas Butler, Viscount Thurles.
It was a marriage that brought George Mathew into a powerful and influential family circle, and he was the stepfather of James Butler (1610-1688), 1st Duke of Ormond.
George Mathew died in 1638, but the Mathew family maintained close connections with the Ormond Butlers in the generations that followed. In 1666, George Mathew was granted a large estate in Co Tipperary, including part of Thomastown. The original Thomastown Castle was a two-storey house of pink brick built in the 1670s by George Mathew with early 18th additions.
Thomastown Castle was the birthplace and early home of Father Mathew, the ‘Apostle of Temperance,’ and his father was a cousin of Thomas Mathew and worked for him as his agent.
Thomas Mathew of Annefield succeeded to the Mathew estates of Thomastown and Thurles in 1760. Wilson described Thomastown Castle in 1786 as ‘an ancient but handsome edifice.’ Thomas was succeeded by his son Francis Mathew in 1777 who was given the title of Earl Landaff in 1797.
Francis Mathew (1738-1806), 1st Earl Landaff, had been MP for Tipperary in the Irish House of Commons in 1768-1783, and was High Sheriff of Tipperary. He was made a member of the Irish House of Lords in 1783 with the title of Baron Landaff, of Thomastown, in Co Tipperary. In 1793, he received the higher title of Viscount Landaff, and in 1797 he was made Earl Landaff.
The Earls Landaff used the invented courtesy title Viscount Mathew for the heir apparent. Despite their territorial designations, the misspelling of Llandaff as Landaff, and the fact that the titles were in the Irish Peerage, the titles all referred to the place in Glamorgan now spelt Llandaff. After the Act of Union, Lord Landaff was elected as one of the 28 Irish peers to the British House of Lords.
This Lord Landaff was married three times. On 6 September 1764, he married Elisha Smyth (1743-1781) in Bellinter, Co Meath. She was a sister of Sir Skeffington Smyth of Tinney Park, Co Wicklow. They had four children, three sons and two daughters: Francis James Mathew, later 2nd Earl of Landaff; General Montague Mathew (1773-1819); the Hon George Toby Skeffington Mathew (died 1832); and Lady Elizabeth Mathew (died 1842).
In 1784, he married his second wife, Lady Catherine Skeffington (1752-1796), a daughter of Clotworthy Skeffington, 1st Earl of Massereene. They had no children, and in 1799 he married his third wife, a woman named Coghlan from Ardo, Co Waterford.
When he died in 1806, he was succeeded in his titles by his eldest son from his first marriage, Francis James Mathew (1768-1833), 2nd Earl Landaff, who had been known by the courtesy title of Viscount Mathew. He was MP for Tipperary in the Irish House of Commons (1790-1792), Callan (1796) and again for Tipperary (1796-1801). As Earl Landaff, he also took his father’s place as an Irish representative peer in the House of Lords.
He opposed the Act of Union, supported Catholic Emancipation, and was seen as ‘a personal enemy of George IV’ when he gave evidence in favour of Queen Charlotte regarding her conduct at the Court of Naples during her famous trial.
Thomastown Castle was enlarged in the early 19th century, and transformed into a Gothic castle, designed by Richard Morrison for Francis James Mathew, the 2nd Earl Landaff.
Lord Landaff married Gertrude Cecilia La Touche, a daughter of John La Touche, of Harristown, Co Kildare. They had no children, and he died in Dublin on 12 March 1833, aged 65.
Lord Landaff’s next brother, Lieut-Gen Montague James Mathew (1773-1819), had died 14 years earlier, on 19 March 1819, and so the family titles became extinct. General Mathew was MP for for Ballynakill in the Irish Parliament until 1800, and MP for Co Tipperary in Westminster in 1806-1819. He was a Whig and a supporter of Catholic Emancipation.
Their youngest brother, the Hon George Toby Skeffington Mathew, also died in 1832. So, when the second earl died, the family titles became extinct, and the estates passed to his sister, Lady Elizabeth Mathew. The Ordnance Survey Name Books record Lady Elizabeth Mathew owned townlands in the parish of Kilfeacle, barony of Clanwilliam, in 1840.
When she died in 1842, she left the family estates and fortune to a cousin, the Vicomte de Chabot, the son of her mother’s sister Elizabeth Smyth. Viscount Chabot was living at Thomastown Castle in the mid-19th century. Later it was owned by the Daly family, but from the mid-1870s it began to decay from the mid-1870s. William Daly was living there in 1906.
As Thomastown Castle crumbled and decayed, a number of pretenders came forward, claiming they were the rightful holders of the title Earl Landaff and heirs to the castle. The most outrageous of these pretenders was Arnold Harris Mathew (1852-1919), self-styled de jure 4th Earl Landaff, also self-styled Count Povoleri di Vicenza.
Mathew was also the founder and first bishop of the self-styled Old Roman Catholic Western Orthodox Church in Great Britain, an Old Catholic Church. His episcopal consecration was declared null and void by the Union of Utrecht’s International Old Catholic Bishops’ Conference. In addition, he was excommunicated by Pope Pius X for illicitly consecrating two priests as bishops which led a London jury to find that ‘the words were true in substance and in fact’ that he was a ‘pseudo-bishop.’
He claimed his father, Major Arnold Henry Ochterlony Mathew, who died in 1894, was the third Earl Landaff, and the son of Major Arnold Nesbit Mathew, of the Indian Army. According to these claims, this Major Arnold Mathew was, in turn, the eldest son of the 1st Earl Landaff, born in Paris five months after his parents married.
This claim was later shown to be based on invented and fictitious information. Arnold Nesbit Mathew originally used the name Matthews, as did his son. He was, in fact, the son of William Richard Matthews and his wife Anne, of Down Ampney in Gloucestershire. Incidentally, Down Ampney was also the home village of the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958(, who composed the tune ‘Down Ampney’ for the hymn ‘Come down, O love divine’
Arnold Harris Mathew put forward his claim to the Garter Principal King of Arms for the title of 4th Earl Landaff of Thomastown, Co Tipperary, in 1890, and placed his creative pedigree on the official record at the College of Arms.
John H Matthews, Cardiff archivist, said in 1898 that the number of claimants to the dormant or extinct earldom was ‘legion.’ In his opinion, Arnold Henry Mathew’s pedigree was ‘too extra-ordinary to commend itself to an impartial mind.’
Nevertheless, Arnold Henry Mathew presented his petition to the House of Lords in 1899, claiming a right to vote with the Irish peers for representative peers in the House of Lords. In his petition, he did not repeat other exuberant claims, including one that his grandmother was Eliza Francesca Povoleri, was an Italian countess and the daughter of a Papal marchese.
His petition was read and referred to the Lord Chancellor, Lord Halsbury, who reported in 1902 that Mathew’s claim ‘is of such a nature that it ought to be referred to the Committee for Privileges; read, and ordered to lie on the Table.’
Mark Bence Jones in a feature in Country Life says Archbishop Mathew also bought the ruins of Thomastown Castle and 20 acres surrounding it to save it from destruction.
Mathew’s aristocratic pretensions, like his life as a ‘wandering bishop,’ were fantasies that continue to resurface in the claims of fantasists and pretenders in many walks of life.
When he died on 19 December 1919, the claims to the Mathew title did not come to an end.
As recently as 1987, a mural memorial was erected in Llandaff Cathedral, claiming it was: ‘In memory of Thomas James Mathew son and heir of Francis James Mathew second Earl of Landaff born in London 1798 died in Cape Town 1862.’ The memorial includes a full display of the coat of arms of the Mathew family of Co Tipperary as Earls Landaff, and the misspelling of Llandaff as Landaff.