© Cheryl Bolen
In the days before organized non-profits and charity fetes, the British raised money for the less fortunate through subscriptions advertised in newspapers. Subscribers could donate an amount with which they were comfortable. The higher the person’s rank, the more they were expected to give. It was a coup to use the name of a member of the Royal Family as having donated.
Here are a few subscription notices that appeared on the front page of The Morning Chronicle in 1817.
Subscription for Poor Irish laborers
HRH the Princess Charlotte Auguste of Saxe Coburg
His Serene H the Prince Leopold of Saxe Coburg
Right Hon. G. Ponsonby
the Right Honorable Viscount Castlereagh
the Hon. Louisa Cavendish
A Case of Real Distress
Rt. Hon. John George—Lord Arden, Registrar of the Admiralty, Ld of the Bedchamber, etc., etc. It appears from the most unexceptional authority this truly unfortunate nobleman is now actually out of pocket by his sinecure. This case is recommended to all charitably disposed persons. . . the smallest sums will be thankfully received—Messrs. Curtis & Co. Downing Street: Rev. Dr. Sidmouth, Spring Gardens. . . the following subscribers have already been received . . .
It is likely that Curtis & Co. on Downing Street would have been solicitors who handled the subscription and its dispensation.
Friends would often come to others’ aids with subscriptions, such as in the case of statesman Charles James Fox. In a 1793 letter to his wife, who was on the Continent, Lord Bessborough wrote, “We have had a subscription for Charles Fox, who was in distress; Dudley North (Whig M.P.) and Charles Pelham (another M.P.) were the chief movers of it, and they have got as much money as will buy him annuity for his life of £2,000 a year. I should have thought it would have better to have done it without a publick meeting, as they had got nearly money enough without it. However they chose to have it. I had not much to give (huge gambling losses had decimated the Bessborough’s fortune) so I only subscribed £200.”
A week later he wrote
I have been this morning to a meeting about Charles fox’s affairs. We had a very handsome letter from him, & his politicks this years have been kept clear of in what was said; I understand they have got £33,000 paid, which is very extraordinary at this time, & £10,000 more promised. they are in hopes of paying his debts & having enough to get him annuity of £2,000 for his life. I understand they have agreed to buy the annuity of the Duke of Bedford & Ld. Spencer at 11 years purchase.
The grandson of a duke, Fox had inherited enormous wealth from his father, Baron Holland, but squandered it away at the gaming tables. Twice. An annuity of £2,000 would have been an extremely comfortable income. In Fox’s case, subscribers generously reached into their pockets because he was so affable, clever, and well liked.
Still, Fox’s debts, in today’s dollars, would have been roughly $4.5 million. It is doubtful the poor Irish laborers received anything approaching that hefty amount.—Cheryl Bolen, the NY Times and USA bestselling author of two dozen Regency romance novels, has just released Oh What a (Wedding) Night.
Morning Chronicle, February 6, 1817
Lady Bessborough and Her Family Circle, Earl Bessborough in collaboration with A. Aspinall, John Murray, London, 1940.