27 May 2019

A ruined castle near Thurles
and a cathedral monument
are reminders of a lost family

A memorial to one of the many pretenders to the Mathew and Landaff titles in Llandaff Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

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.

Inside Llandaff Cathedral in south Wales (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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.

Thomastown Castle was enlarged in the early 19th century, and transformed into a Gothic castle by Richard Morrison for Francis James Mathew, the 2nd Earl Landaff

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.

Thomastown Castle remains in ruins outside Thurles, Co Tipperary


Dean said...

Hello Patrick,

Interesting topic. I was wondering if you had any citations or further reading to accompany your article?

I'm putting together - and trying to sort - facts and fictions on the same topic. Thomas James Mathew is my ancestor and I'm the eldest Mathew son, who does indeed still live in Cape Town. I have some old documents from the 1800s and 1900s about Thomas James Mathew who arrived in the Cape in 1818 from London. Our ancestral cottage and Church still stand today in Claremont, Cape Town 200 years later.

It is interesting that you have written about Lord Llandaff as a personal enemy of the King and being against the Act of Union which is indeed recorded in numerous places including House of Lords and house of Commons. Do you think a King would record his personal enemy as having sons and heirs?

The Mathew brothers are recorded all over the news of the day (circa 1800) as being tall, handsome, rich, having an affinity for booze, and are seen in paintings walking through St. James Street in London at the height of fashion, or riding through central London streets on horseback. It's hard to believe they did not have any children during their years of being dandies in London, being young Lords no less. An illustration of all three Mathew brothers was also printed on the Players Cigarettes Cards of the day, alongside other dandies.

In particular do you have a citation confirming the plaque was erected in 1987? Or anything like that?

Thanks and best wishes!


Patrick Comerford said...

The source for the erection of the Mathew memorial in Llandaff Cathedral in 1987 is Anthony L Jones, Heraldry in Glamorgan, South Glamorgan No.3, Llandaff Cathedral, 1987 (Cathedral booklet), p 9. There is no verifiable evidence anywhere, in any primary historical resources, to indicate the second early had any children whatsoever, and it takes credibility in a conspiracy theory of major proportions to believe that he had children but every single record of them, everywhere, was deleted by every parish clerk, schoolmaster, civil servant, priest, college registrar, shipping official, or anyone else, just to please the passing whims of one monarch. Patrick.

Dean said...

Thank you for your reply I've just seen this! :)

Gearoid o Cuillinn said...

A grave in Thurles mentions Joan Mathew of Thurles wife to Richard purcell..their son John died 1682. The headstone is in the area mentioned by Canon Johnstone in 1960s as being the area traditionally to hold lady thurles and family..who was joan

Anonymous said...

Mr. Comerford

I enjoyed this blog post immensely. May I call your attention to a few items? First, you mention that the plaque in question in Llandaff Cathedral that mentions Thomas James Mathew is misspelled. I believe you are incorrect. Though the place is indeed named Llandaff, with two Ls, however the title itself was (for whatever reason) spelled Landaff. Therefore the "Earl of Landaff" is the correct spelling. This means that whomever erected the plaque indeed knew of what they spoke. Not saying the Thomas James Mathew story is automatically true or not as a result.

Secondly, I believe your confidence that there are no records of bastard children of either Earl is misplaced. The vast conspiracy of erasures you propose as the only explanation for the unknown existence of such a child is not, in fact, the only explanation for a lack of documentation. There are tens of other and very plausible explanations for it as well as much circumstantial evidence that there were numerous bastards. Space does not allow me to go into the full discussion of that here; I merely wanted to indicate my friendly disagreement with this point.

I would like very much to hear more from Dean about his family and some of the history he has inherited. Dean, can you please email me or chime in with further details? I have been researching the Mathew family for a year now and have substantial files copied from all the major archives holding related files. Would like to be in touch.


Andrew A. Matthews said...

I am Andrew Arthur Matthews and have been researching my Matthews / Matthew / Mathew Family lineage. It would seem there is a definite connection with those hailing from Down Ampney and surrounding districts in Gloucestershire. Also within the wider family is the ‘belief ‘ that we are linked to those related to Earl of Landaff, Wales. This latter business has proved to be a most murky affair albeit an interesting one !

I would welcome any communication from interested parties.

Andrew A. Matthews said...

I am Andrew Arthur Matthews and have been researching my Matthews / Matthew / Mathew Family lineage. It would seem there is a definite connection with those hailing from Down Ampney and surrounding districts in Gloucestershire. Also within the wider family is the ‘belief ‘ that we are linked to those related to Earl of Landaff, Wales. This latter business has proved to be a most murky affair albeit an interesting one !

I would welcome any communication from interested parties.

Michael GA Dixon said...

Thank you Patrick for your wonderfully simplified account of what indeed was and still is a convoluted Family History of Mathews.

History determines that Last holder, Francis Mathew, II Earl Landaff died 12 March 1833 d.s.p. at which time that title became extinct.

All the best extinction events seem to encourage new theories.
Often, too often perhaps the media print these as proven facts, much as the classic closing Lines of that classic movie 'The Man who Shot Liberty Valance' describes: -
“Ransom Stoddard: You’re not going to use the story, Mr. Scott?
Maxwell Scott: No, sir. This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

Again History describes how Arnold Harris Mathew, (1852–1919), the self-styled de jure 4th Earl Landaff, self-styled Conte Povoleri di Vicenza and self-styled first bishop of the Old Roman Catholic Western Orthodox Church Great Britain, put forward his claim to the Garter Principal King of Arms for the title of IV Earl of Llandaff of Thomastown, County Tipperary c.1890.

After due consideration that claim was conclusively rejected.
However it was not dismissed as fraudulent as Spence's Cotgreave Forgeries were.
The Claimant was simply concluded to have been in possession of "incorrect information", his Line demonstrably springing from William Richard Matthews, of Down Ampney, Gloucestershire, and his wife Anne.

Still, that Tale created a large amount of serious literature, and as well as, of course, the usual conspiracy tales.

Between these two extremes lies the interesting and untold Story of the Would-be Earl, Conte Povoleri di Vicenza and First bishop of the Old Roman Catholic Western Orthodox Church, of Great Britain!

Now, that would be a Whale of a Tale!

Michael GA Dixon

Patrick O'Flynn said...

Interesting I have some information

Anonymous said...

I would be very interested in starting a chat and file sharing group on descendants of the Matthews including DNA comparisons. I desend from James Mathews b. About 1760 who I believe was raised by his uncle. James m. Ann Butler and was the accountant or something for Francis Earl of Landaff. I have never been able to sort out their relationship. Different sources give different relationships. And why was not a heir ?