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Lot 32

Sold for £ 30,000 (US$ 40,159) inc. premium
Papers of Mary English and her husband, General James Towers English, Commander of Bolívar's British Legion, comprising:

(i) Twin portraits of James Towers English and his wife Mary, attributed to Thomas of London, showing Mary seated nearly full-length within a classical interior, holding a straw bonnet in her left hand, with a purse suspended from her right arm; General English seen seated nearly full-length, dressed in dragoon uniform, his arms resting upon a cavalry sabre, with his shako upon the ground and at the right a spear-like lance (this being General Páez's famous Llaneros lance presented to English for coming to his aid at the Battle of Ortiz in 1818), water-colour and body colour, both professionally restored, that of Mary English showing more fading and wear, both in elaborate near-contemporary gesso gilt frames in Rococo revivalist taste, probably South American, 330 x 270 mm., [London, 1818]

(ii) 'Relics of Simon Bolivar', an album containing: AN AUTOGRAPH DRAFT POEM BY BOLIVAR, in Spanish, meditating on the paradoxical nature of power, drafted in twelve lines, with a revision, docketed by Mrs English "Autograph of Bolivar's given me by his A.D.C. Colonel Wilson M.C.E. 1826, opening: "Feliz el satisfecho con su humilde fortuna/ Libre del yugo soberbio a que yo estoy ligado/ Vive en la oscuridad de el cielo lo ha ocultado" [written apparently in 1826 when at the height of his power, the Libertador here contrasts his own eminent but paradoxical position, tied to a magnificent, golden and oppressive yoke, with that of a common man, happy with his humble fortune and obscurity]; LETTER SIGNED BY BOLIVAR, as President of Colombia, to Mrs English, in Spanish, expressing deep sympathy with her lamentable plight as a "young widow... full of afflictions, far from her country, mourning the object of her heart" and regretting the immense calamities that have befallen her in Venezuela and pledging the assistance of the Colombian Government ("...nada mortifica tanto mi espiritu como no poder aliviar la pena de las victimas voluntarias que ha hecho nuestra revolucion, y nuestra guerra...") [this fine example of Bolívar's gallantry printed in Cartas del Libertador (1929), from an undated transcript] (Rosario de Cúcuta, 8 October 1821); A LOCK OF BOLIVAR'S HAIR, mounted on a page inscribed "Bolivar's hair, a relick taken after his decease, and sent to me by Colonel Belford Wilson [who had accompanied the dying Bolívar on his last journey to the coast and been at his deathbed], M.C. Greenup 20th June 1831 (see Wilson's letter of 20 May 1831, below: "Six months pay is due to me of which I cannot obtain one farthing. An old Aide de camp of the Liberator might have expected greater justice – I will not say generosity – but when you learn that from the heirs of this Great Man I could not even obtain an old pistol – old foraging cap – or the slightest token of remembrance of my former Chief, you will not be surprised at anything... I enclose you a lock of his hair, it is all I have to offer you – by you at least it will be regarded as a sacred relic..."); pressed flowers, mounted on a page inscribed "The flowers given me by the Libertador General Bolivar the day I dined with him at his Excellency's quinta, Monday November: 20th 1826. M.C. English", the verso later inscribed "To My beloved Eliza. The enclosed hair I cut off from General Bolivar's head Myself, M.C.G., the poem one page, the letter 3 pages, both with traces of guards and silked, 4to, loose in a modern morocco album, 4to

(iii) Papers of General James Towers English and of the British Legion, including the draft of English's speech to the "Soldiers of the British Legion" made prior to embarkation ("...The long-expected Moment has arrived. You are about to embark, to fight in support of that glorious cause for which you have engaged yourselves. Remember you are British. Remember the Eyes of your Country are fixed upon you..."); the indenture signed by Bolívar's recruitment recruiting officer, Luis López Méndez, "acting as Agent and for and on behalf of the Independent Republic of Venezuela in Southern America", Colonel English and the banker Charles Herring, agreeing that English raise a force of a thousand men (12 December 1818); accounts of "The Government of Venezuela & New Granada" with Charles Herring "for the equipment & conveyance of Troops from London to Margarita & other services particularly enumerated in the following Account" (1821); series of nearly 30 letters to English by Herring's partner, Richard Jaffray, discussing finance, organization, armaments and transport; a contemporary history of the expedition, evidently written by a participant; with a file concerning English's widow's claim for a pension, including a set of English's commissions and official communications to him

(iv) Exceptionally long and comprehensive series of some 400 letters by and to Mary English (written after English's death and when remarried to William Greenup), the majority written from South America, comprising some 110 letters by Mary, to her husband William Greenup, many being journal-letters written over several days, each of a dozen or more closely-written or cross-written pages, most from Bogotá or her estate at Cucuta, to Greenup in Maracaibo, England and elsewhere: an important series giving an extremely detailed account of contemporary politics, especially the fortunes of her friend Bolívar (August 1827 to November 1842); series of some 107 letters by Mary, to her daughter Eliza, mostly from Cucuta, Eliza being in England, containing further news of Bolívar and political bulletins ("...He has all the qualities of a hero with the mildness of the mildness and humanity of the philosopher; the latter he sometimes allows to neutralise the energy of the former. His clemency in 1826 entailed the disastrous stream that at present embroils Colombia in bloodshed..."), otherwise taken up with family news (July 1829 to August 1846); plus nearly 90 letters by her husband William Greenup to Mary, many written from their estate at Cucuta, others from England and elsewhere; as well as series to Mary by her daughter Eliza, her servant Mary Byers (writing from Bogotá to Mary at Cucuta), and General English's mother

(v) Financial papers of Mary English (Greenup), comprising over 80 items, mostly correspondence with Messrs Barclay, Herring, Richardson & Co, concerning international loans to Colombia, individual claims on the country, etc. (1819-1827)

(vi) Miscellaneous correspondence of Mary English (Greenup), comprising some 250 letters addressed to her, including four by Bolívar's ADC, Colonel Belford Wilson ("...With him perished all hope, all moral feeling and social ties. Colombia is now at the mercy of the Captains of Alexander... A spirit of provincialism will serve as a canker worm to destroy all liberty and all law... My compromises with his suicidal country terminated with the life of the Liberator, nor do I wish to renew them by becoming an accomplice or victim of Anarchy. I shall sail in about four days to New York and thence proceed to England..."); seven by his father, Sir Robert Wilson, about his son's career and the revolution in South America (1824-1827); a series by Sir William Adams (later Rawson), concerning the Mexican loan, platina currency and his plans for the military use of steam engines, with reports of confidential conversations held with members of the Government (1823-1826); plus series by Colonel Thomas Manby of the Colombian army, James Miller (describing the war in Peru), and others

(vii) Other papers, including Mary English's will; letters to William Greenup by South American friends; Mary English's album kept in Bogotá "in hours of illness" (1824); the album of her daughter Eliza; a commonplace book (including Mary English's speech when presenting the colours to the British Legion at Margarita on 14 May 1819); other Greenup family papers; plus transcripts and printed reference books


  • PAPERS OF MARY ENGLISH AND THE BRITISH LEGION DURING THE SOUTH AMERICAN WARS OF INDEPENDENCE, INCLUDING A POEM IN BOLIVAR'S HAND, A SIGNED LETTER AND A LOCK OF HIS HAIR. Mary English was the wife of James Towers English (1782-1819), commander of the British Legion. Having originally worked in the British army commissariat, he was seeking fresh employment (as were many army veterans at the close of the Napoleonic Wars) when he was recruited in 1817 by Luis López Méndez, representative of Simon Bolívar in London, and was made captain in the 1st Venezuelan Hussars, sailing for South America in December 1817. After fighting with distinction at the Battle of Ortiz, he returned to England and, in May 1818, he signed a contract (see above) with Bolívar's government to recruit and equip a British force of 1,000 men. He returned to Venezuela with over 1000 volunteers in April 1819, where he was confirmed as Brigadier and given command of all the foreign mercenaries, under General Rafael Urdaneta. Taking part in Urdaneta's disastrous coastal campaign, his health broke down, and he retired to Margarita Island where he died 26 September 1819. His wife, Mary, remained in Colombia and married the English trader William Greenup: for further details of General English's career, see Moises Enrique Rodríguez in the Dictionary of Irish Latin American Biography. See also Mary English: A Friend of Bolivar (1991) by Drusilla Scott, who had access to the present papers; but of necessity quotes only very short extracts from their considerable bulk.

    The 'Relics of Simon Bolivar' apart, the heart of this remarkable archive lies in the letters by Mary English herself, especially in those written to her subsequent husband, William Greenup. Typical of her lively style and sharply observant eye is her description of Bolívar's arrival in 1827 at Bogotá, where he was to be confirmed in office as President of the disintegrating Republic of Gran Colombia, with his rival and erstwhile friend Santander as Vice President: (10 September 1827) "All the balconies were filled with full dressed ladies, and the triumphal arches through the Calle Real were richly decorated... We entered the church without difficulty and found members of Congress seated in the body of the church in a double circle of chairs. We heard that a deputation had been sent to meet the President... A buzz was heard that 'the Libertador is coming'... The crowd became immense, but 'twas a false alarm, and thus we remained chatting, laughing, sitting, standing up in the chairs by turns... We had taken up the best possible position, almost close to the table where three chairs were placed, for the Libertador, the President and Vice-President of the Senate. I was so near that I could have touched the very Book itself... Bolivar entered, but the acclamations were not equal to my expectations... He walked slowly up the middle of the church and turned to the right and placed his left hand on the table; he bowed low to the members on each side and motioned them to be seated. His step was steady but his gait awkward, and like a person whose legs and feet are benumbed by long riding. He looked much fatigued and by no means in good health. He had placed his cocked hat on the table. The President of the Senate had the Book open, his hand upon it, and his eyes (which are very small and very fierce) fixed full on the Libertador. He repeated the form of oath. My heart was in my mouth, but Bolivar answered firmly. Some light cheering was heard. When all was silent and the music ordered to cease, and the President [Bolivar] spoke. His voice is like one of our great actors, Kean, much against him. From his hoarse manner of speaking and the fatigue he evidently felt, he appeared confused and agitated and more than once passed his hand over his forehead and repeated the same thing twice. His feelings were hurt, and my heart bled for him... He spoke of his distress and mortification at the late political disturbances... He said that intrigue and calumny was a monster with a hundred thousand heads, but if his further devotion, his arm and self-sacrifice, could restore tranquillity to his bleeding country, he offered all, all to its service. He was silent and the President of the Senate made a most elegant and impressive speech... All now made a rush to the door that they might witness the first meeting between the Libertador and Vice President [Santander]. As Bolivar and his staff passed through the Calle Real the ladies threw roses; the crush of people was beyond description... we reached the foot of the stairs one moment before the Libertador and his staff. I saw them meet, 'twas ceremonious and cold... I was the only woman present; as soon as the speaking was over he saw me, and put out his hand to give me a seat by the side of him and paid me the most flattering attention, congratulated me upon my marriage and was really most kind to me..."; (11 September 1827) "[Bolivar] also expressed to St Anna his pleasure at seeing me yesterday at the Palace, and supposed my motive to be what it really was, to watch the countenances of both the VP and himself..."; (24 September 1827) "The Libertador was in excellent spirits. He did me the honor of taking the first vacant seat by my side, and as neither of us danced, he remained a full hour in close chitchat. He told me that he noticed me the moment he entered the church of San Domingo, and was sure I would continue, to witness his meeting with the Vice President... talked to me about the English, my girl, then about public speaking. Expressed his own feelings on such occasions, from that to the natural gift of writing well, the great difference of style of different writers and yet all people of education – in fine his conversation was most agreeable and gratifying, and the great compliment he paid me was in taking the seat by me three times during the night and immediately addressing himself to me... I was near him at supper time and he was most attentive to me – offering me the dish near him, served me with wine and laughingly offered me a dish of cigars..."
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