Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Frederick Augustus Hervey, Sir Patrick Bellew, and ——— French, [before 10 September 1779]

From Frederick Augustus Hervey, Sir Patrick Bellew, and ——— French

AL: American Philosophical Society

Franklin did not often grant passports to British citizens, least of all to those who were spying on him. But in this case, the self-appointed spy was so innocuous, and the intelligence he communicated to the British government so patently outrageous, that he was neither suspected by Franklin nor valued as a source by his own government. In short, despite his attempts to create an air of intrigue, no one seems to have taken him very seriously.

The author of this passport request was Frederick Augustus Hervey, fourth Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry (1730–1803), the colorful scion of a family famous for eccentricity.5 He arrived in Paris sometime in late July, 1779, on his way back to England after two years’ residence in Italy, and immediately reported to Lord North on the French plans to invade Ireland.6 By August 4, when William Temple Franklin had arranged for his lodgings in a house which, according to English rumor, was across from Franklin’s,7 Hervey was reporting to Lord Germain that he had seen the American ambassador four times. Franklin, he maintained, was “dissatisfied” with Congress and Versailles, and “would gladly contribute to a reunion of the Empire.”8

Hervey’s subsequent letters laid claim to his having penetrated Parisian society. Alongside allusions to dinner parties and high-ranking informants—whose names would be revealed in time—he spoke of the French navy’s devastation, of the government’s growing ambivalence towards the American cause, and of Franklin’s plummeting reputation among the French.9

Hervey seems to have stayed in the environs of Paris through August. He must have secured his passport sometime before September 10, the day on which he wrote Lord Germain from Ostend. Two days later he was in Dover, and the course of the war remained unaltered.1

au Parc Royal a Paris [before September 10, 1779]

The Bishop of Derry Sr. Patrick Bellew & Mr. French2 beg the favor of Mr. Franklin to allow them a passport to secure their passage from Ostend to Dover.

Notation in William Temple Franklin’s hand: The Bishop of Derry & Mr French Application for a Pass —3

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

5For a detailed biography see William S. Childe-Pemberton, The Earl Bishop … (2 vols., New York, 1925). For the Herveys of Ickworth see the DNB.

6North, who forwarded Hervey’s letters to George III, thought the invasion scheme plausible but Hervey’s claims of its scale exaggerated. The King also found the accounts “highly exagerated,” and his proposal for preventing the operation so dangerous that “no man in his Senses could suggest it.” Fortescue, Correspondence of George III, IV, 402–3.

7A letter from Hervey to WTF of Aug. 4 thanked him for the trouble he had taken over finding him lodgings. Hervey would rent them at the price named if linen were provided by the proprietor. He requested WTF to meet him there at eight the next morning. APS. The location of those lodgings was reported by Horace Walpole: Lewis, Walpole Correspondence, XXV, 454.

8Report on the Manuscripts of Mrs. Stopford-Sackville … prepared by the Historical Manuscripts Commission Great Britain (2 vols., London, 1904–10; reprinted, Boston, 1972), II, 135–6.

9BF’s party was the “object of public scurrility,” while the Lees were gaining “ascendency”: Report on the Manuscripts of Mrs. Stopford-Sackville …, II, 139–40.

1His letters from Ostend and Dover are quoted in ibid.

2Sir Patrick Bellew was an old schoolfriend of Hervey’s who became a leader of disaffected Irish Catholics: William S. Childe-Pemberton, The Earl Bishop … (2 vols., New York, 1925), I, 19. French may be Sir Thomas French, Bart., another agitator for Irish Catholic rights: T.W. Moody et al., eds., A New History of Ireland (5 vols. to date, Oxford, 1976—), IV, 306, 317.

3The passport BF issued resembled the one he had given to Mr. King on July 22, above. See BF’s notation on that draft.

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