"Mourning letter from England to Italy, 1836"


Eunice Shanahan

I have had this month's letter for more than 30 years. It has a black edging signifying mourning, but once it was folded ready for posting only part of it shows. It is most interesting as it has 7 postmarks tracking its journey, plus 5 manuscript markings from the postal services involved, and also two additional inscriptions which appear to be accounts of some kind - in fact it is a visual mess! (Fig 1)

click here for larger picture.

The letter itself is a long and chatty one, with 'crossed' writing to cram as much news into the letter as possible, but is rather sad, as the writer has lost her father, and is sharing her grief with her friend. It was dated May 25th, but the address is one word, and that is illegible, but could be either Newton or Trenton. The only clue is the first of the postmarks which is the receiving office stamp, of CHESTER MY 28 1836, the standard provincial date stamp of that time. As it is three days later than the date of the letter, it must have taken her longer to finish it, or to get it to the post office. (Fig 2)

My illustrations are rather poor, as I am not a brilliant artist, but as it is quite hard to make out the marks I have separated them out from the cover shown in Fig.1

The next in order is the London receiving office PAID 30 MY 30 1836, tombstone type with the day before and after the month, which was in use from 1810 to 1840 and also in 1843. (Fig 3)

Next comes the stamp applied by the Foreign section of the London General Post in use from 1815-1836. According to Willcocks & Jay the significance of the number 16 in between the F and the year 36, is not known - it may be the identifying number of the handstamp. (Fig 4.)

From London the letter was transmitted to Calais, the poorly struck postmark in red should read ANGLETERRA PAR CALAIS, and it was applied in Paris, in use from 1834. (Fig 5)

Next stop was the Italian entry point of Point Beauvoisin. This was the entry mark for mail from France in use from 1830. (Fig 6)

Then onto Livorno (Leghorn), where it received the stamp which identified foreign correspondence arriving by road from Genoa. This is the earliest of the three types in use and the full wording around the circumference should read CORRESPZA ESTERA DA GENOVA, with a Florentine fleur-de-lys in the centre of the stamp.(Fig 7)

The final one is the arrival datestamp applied in Florence - from 1828 it included the year, so this was 10 GIUGNO, 1836 , 12 days after it was put in the post at Chester. (Fig 8)

The manuscript markings are a different kettle of fish entirely. The rates from Britain to Europe were extremely complex and included the cost from the receiving office to London, (11d) plus the Packet rate London to Italy, (1/11d between 1828 and 1837) which equals 2/10d, so the 'Pd 2/8' entered in red does not match that. The letter was re-directed from Florence to Baigui d'Aix, Savoja , (which is the Italian form of the name of the French town "Aix les Bains" which was a well-known health spa when this letter was written), so the other four figures in black ink - 9/2 crossed through in black ink, the figure '8' in two different places, plus a '30' - may be additional costs for the redirection. When I made enquiries in 1978 through the English stamp magazine Stamp Collecting, Alan Becker of St Neots gave me information about the Italian postmarks but was also baffled by the charge marks, so I think it is unlikely that I would ever be able to unravel that puzzle.


in June 2018 (40 years later), I have just received an e-mail from a visitor to our website who knows the answer to this puzzle of the charge marks.

It was from Winston Williams in England, who wrote :-

I believe the 2d difference is easily explained, as the UK inland rate was abated by 2d for places outside London. This applied at least from the time of the 1st July 1833 Anglo-French convention, and continued with the 1836 Anglo-French convention that came into effect later in 1836.
How amazing is that, and what a good advertisement for the internet, where people with common interests can, and do, share information.

And now to the letter itself which is yet another 'crossed' letter, making it difficult to decipher in some parts, full of family news and emotion.

"May 25th, Your last kind letter my dearest Lady Selsy deserved an earlier answer had not my time & thoughts for the past six weeks been most painfully taken up. I would not at least have had the appearance of being so ungrateful, when I tell you I have lost the best of fathers. I am sure you will forgive me & likewise excuse the melancholy that will I feel sure pervade this letter.

Augusta came with me to this place about a month ago and we then had the benefit of finding my dear father well enough to express pleasure at seeing us - but after that, then he was too weak to think, to smile as he looked at us all - for all his children here with him & many of his grandchildren- to the very last when he look leave of us in the most affecting manner possible . For in a most wonderful way his long lost speech was restored to him he enunciated more clearly than he had done for weeks. Then was there so solemn a scene attended with such Heavenly Peace and Resignation, it has left the most soothing and blessed impressions on the minds of all who surrounded him.

He was a great age and never can there have been a happier close to a long & virtuous life & how fervently does the witnessing of such a scene induce one to Pray to be called to lead the Life of the Righteous, that we others may be as blessed as him.
Forgive me dear Lady Selsy for passing my griefs into your care, but when the heart is full the mouth will speak, particularly when writing to a friend who will sympathise in one's feeling. My poor mother is wonderfully supported but after a happy union of 52 years the separation is hard to bear, but she puts her trust in the Almighty Power. She is both able and willing to join those who trust in him & looks forward with humble hope to a reunion with that Blessed Spirit whose loss she now suffers.

(Note : I would think it would have been unusual at this time for a couple to have been married for 52 years, they would have been married in 1784, and life expectancy was lower, so for both of them to have survived was quite an achievement. The next paragraph shows why Lady Selsy had gone to Florence - the weather in England leaving much to be desired that year. )

"I left Miss Tyse at Stoke with my younger Children, she is quite well & you have doubtless heard from her since I left her. I shall return home next week so Pray direct to me to Stoke as usual. You will I undstd be now soon thinking of leaving Florence I trust, or you may be on your way home - we have had the longest winter and the coldest spring that we have recollected, we are still all very glad of a fire. I know you will rejoice to hear I have very good accounts of Col: Tyse. I heard from him about 10 days ago from Alexandria on his way to Cairo, into Syria. He had not had the warm weather he expected, & altogether has I think been disappointed, this I think & hope may make him more committed to good old England when he gets back that will be some time in the Autumn - he will find his Boys will be dispersed about , my Senior son is just going to sail in the 'Dunganen' ?? Gammell? going to Oxford, & Willy going somewhere abroad.

You may perhaps have seen my pretty friend Miss Happerly. Let me know when you receive this, as she was to leave here some time ago on her way thence. Her sister Miss Clara was so very homesick that she could not prevail upon herself to accompany her, so is returned to England.

People here are very full of Prince Charles's marriage to Miss Smith, she must be a strong Person I think, as they are only just married after they have been going about together everywhere, and they say she is very Pretty but I should imagine she was not very wise.

I feel this letter is not worth sending so far to you dear Lady Selsy, but I would rather run the risk of being thought stupid tho' respectful, which I fear I must already have done in not having sooner written to you.
I hope this will find you quite well & Lord Selsy as little suffering as you would naturally expect him to be.
With my kind rgds. & love from Augusta, Believe me dear Lady Selsy yours most sincerely and affectionately Fanny Harrod Tyse"

An old letter like this has so much interest for anyone who is interested in postal or social history, and like many of my letters, this one provides a lot of puzzles, in addition to the postal markings. I have checked with the Oxford Archivist and there is no one of the name Tyse registered at Oxford at this time, so the son was not attending the university. I have been unable to trace a vessel named "Dunganen" but the writing is such that it may be the wrong name. What was her husband Col. Tyse doing going into Syria - apart from chasing the sun? Who is the Prince Charles mentioned ? I could find no trace on the web or reference books but a contact in Britain has told me that Prince Charles of Hesse married in 1836. After 30 years, I still don't know the answers.

GREAT NEWS! I have found out who he was and the lady he married.

After all these years, I did another search on the internet in August 2013, and I found them through a Wikipedia article and a website which gave more details.

Charles of the Two Sicilies, (10 November 1811 22 April 1862 in Turin,)Prince of Capua (Full Italian name: Carlo Ferdinando, Principe di Borbone delle Due Sicilie, Principe di Capua Kingdom of Italy), was the second son of Francis I of the Two Sicilies and his second wife Maria Isabella of Spain.

During the winter of 1835 the Prince of Capua fell in love with Penelope Smyth, daughter of Grice Smyth of Ballynatray, Co. Waterford, Ireland, a beautiful Irish woman visiting Naples. Ferdinand II forbade their union as it would be a morganatic marriage. On 12 January 1836 the couple eloped. Ferdinand II forfeited his brother's income, denounced Charles departure as illegal and tried to prevent the marriage.


On 12 March 1836 King Ferdinand II of the Two Sicilies, issued a decree upholding the 1829 decision of the brothers' late father King Francis I of the Two Sicilies that members of the blood-royal of the kingdom, whatever their age, were required to obtain the consent of the sovereign to marry and that marriages made without this consent should be deemed to be null and void.

This did not deter Carlos - known in England as Prince Charles, as he was bowled over by this beautiful young Irish lady.

Defying his brother's will, Charles married morganatically Penelope Smyth on 5 April 1836 in Gretna Green, which was a popular place for young lovers to marry. There couples only had to declare their wish to marry before witnesses. A residential requirement or parental consent was not needed.

Later, Charles applied for a Special marriage licence from the Archbishop of Canterbury in order to marry (or re-marry) Miss Smyth at St George's, Hanover Square. In the court order they are described as a bachelor and a spinster respectively. The King's Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary, Count de Ludolf, objected to the grant of the licence and a hearing took place in the Court of Faculties on 4 May 1836. The Master of the Faculties, Dr John Nicholl, refused to grant the licence on the grounds that the royal succession might be affected by the non-recognition of the marriage in Naples. Banns of Marriage were read for the final time in St George's, Hanover Square on 8 May 1836.

The Prince of Capua and Penelope had two children, Francesco, Conte di Mascali (24 March 1837 2 June 1862) and Vittoria di Borbone, Contessa di Mascali (15 May 1838 9 August 1895).

Ferdinand II never forgave his runaway brother, but Carlos remained loyal to his wife. All his estates were confiscated except the county of Mascali in Sicily which he had inherited from his father. As Mascali was not run efficiently it provided just a small revenue and the Prince had to live modestly. For years the Prince of Capua tried to obtain a pardon from his brother and be allowed to return to Naples, but to no avail, and he had to live his life in exile. He settled in London at the expense of his wife and her relatives accumulating debts. The government of Lord Palmerston tried to intervene in his favor as with Ferdinand II. In 1848, the Prince of Capua aspired in vain to the crown of Sicily. When Palmerston got tired of him, the Prince of Capua moved to Turin, where he died in 1862. This photo was taken much later in their lives and the caption is Carlo di Borbone, Penelope Smyth, and their daughter Vittoria.

Because of the connections to the royal families of Europe all the actions of this young couple were given great publicity. The young Penelope Smyth survived all the scandal and became the Countess of Mascali, which no doubt would have surprised the writer of our letter, who thought that although she was very pretty, she may not have been very wise.
References : 'U K Letter Rates 1657-1900 Inland and Overseas C. Tabaert' "British County Catalogue of Postal History - London R M Willcocks & B Jay' 'Great Britain Post Roads Post Towns and Postal Rates 1635-1839' Alan W. Robertson.
This article published in Stamp News, June 2001

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