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History of Henry Esmond, Esquire, The


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A novel by Thackeray, published 1852.

Henry Esmond, who narrates his own story, is the (supposed illegitimate) son of the third Viscount Castlewood, who dies at the battle of the Boyne. Henry comes under the protection of the fourth viscount, and his young wife Rachel. The couple have two children, Frank, the heir, and Beatrix. The Castlewoods become estranged after Lady Castlewood catches small‐pox. The wicked Lord Mohun takes advantage of Castlewood's neglect of his wife to attempt to seduce her. There is a duel and Castlewood is killed. On his deathbed he reveals to Henry that he is in fact legitimate and the rightful heir, but Henry keeps silent for the sake of Lady Castlewood and her son. He is imprisoned for a year for having acted as Castlewood's second in the duel, for which Lady Castlewood bitterly reproaches him, and on his release joins the army and fights in the war of the Spanish Succession. On a visit to England he is reconciled to Lady Castlewood, who is secretly in love with him, and falls in love with Beatrix. But Beatrix is too ambitious to consider a man who has no fortune or position in society. Henry goes back to the wars and fights in Marlborough's Flemish campaign. The wayward Beatrix becomes engaged, first to Lord Ashburnham, then to the much older duke of Hamilton, who fights a duel with Lord Mohun, in which both are killed. Beatrix and her brother Frank, now the fifth viscount, are ardent Jacobites, and Esmond becomes involved with them in a plot to restore James Edward Stuart, the Old Pretender, to the throne on the death of Queen Anne. The plot fails because Beatrix is carrying on an intrigue with the Pretender, and at the moment when he should be in London he is at Castlewood, ‘dangling after Trix’. Esmond, disillusioned with Beatrix and the Jacobite cause, marries her mother Rachel and they emigrate to Virginia. The later history of the family in America and England is told in The Virginians.

Subjects: Literature.


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