In the London Metropolitan Archives there is the very substantial Archive of Antony Gibbs and Sons, which was originally in the Guildhall Archive, where it had been placed by Lord Aldenham. David Hogg remarked that he was astonished to find 70 pages of love letters from Frasquita de la Peña to William Gibbs (later of Tyntesfield). It seems that William Gibbs had kept them in his office and that Lord Aldenham decided to take them and add them to his letter collection.
Not only was William born in Spain, in Madrid, he had also spent much of his early working life in Spain, especially in Cadiz building up his father’s merchant trading business.
William Gibbs had given her a miniature portrait of himself and in the extract below she described her thoughts on the painting:
I am sorry, my love for the awful time you must have spent being 5 hours seated in the same position: although I am well persuaded that you would do it with pleasure for the pleasure that you obtain for me, however, certain sections must have troubled you: besides, I must thank you and with regard to the pleasure so great that I have felt on receiving such a precious copy, I think that I have already given you a sufficient idea of it, so that you don’t doubt even for an instant that my wishes have been fulfilled. In my opinion the painter couldn’t have better captured the expression on your face when you are sad, I am looking at you and each time it seems to me that it is impossible to find a thing more close to the unique, my glory, what I am not so happy with is the ear – goodness! You have a very pretty ear and it is made too big but I forgive him that fault because of how well he has depicted the rest, your eyes, Oh! my beloved eyes that look tearful. It reached Seville very on time so that Pedemonte could collect it and bring it to me himself.Translated by Ruth Ryder, kindly provided by David Hogg
I don’t know if my return to Cadiz will be tomorrow for it depends on the weather so that Tité, who is the one who has to take me, will be able to return to this house without great inconvenience: a good calculation, I am already on my last side of paper and I feel that the paper is telling me so, but I can’t make up my mind to deprive myself of the pleasure of communicating all my thoughts to you and I see with greater feeling that soon I shall have to leave you. I never tire of repeating to you my tender affection, it always results in such a great pleasure to assure you of how much I love you, for I cannot help repeating it to you frequently.
You already see that I haven’t curtailed the length of my letters. I hope you are grateful but it is pure egoism: it gives me such a lively satisfaction that I want to obtain it as often as I can and when you receive one shorter, say “she must have suffered greatly from not being able to write more” and you will be right: Tité laughs at me and wants to make me believe that such a long read must annoy you: do not fear, my life, that I take any notice of such a proposition, I know very well when to stop on the particular, besides, I know that it is a joke on her part and I take it as such. I feel too much pleasure in reading your letters, however long they are, not to doubt that you feel the same when I write my letters to you.
I come from Behie’s house and I hadn’t yet been there and all the time they have only talked to me about you. I didn’t deny that I loved you intensely: I find all my glory in that confession of my affection for you and, althoug I spent a better time than I expected because of you being the object of our conversation, however, I couldn’t stay any longer because there had been almost an hour when I couldn’t look at your beloved image and I have such a great emptiness when I don’t look at it that I got up and came to obtain that consolation. I have already given you 50,000 kisses, I have spoken a thousand tendernesses to you: naturally I end up repeating to you, my life, that my heart is yours: it is faithful to you. Mme Morel and Tité send you expressions of affection. Goodbye, my love, take good care of yourself because I love you.
From the pages of letters from Frasquita de la Peña, it is self evident that there was a very romantic relationship between William and Frasquita. Numerous friends, relations and social contacts are mentioned in the letters. Several letters have been translated and are in David Hogg’s book, “My Dear Uncle William, Tyntesfield letters.” She even wrote one letter in French because she thought it a more romantic language than Spanish.
From the sample here one can observe what exquisitely beautiful hand-writing she had!
Many years later, aged 63, on a journey to visit old friends and associates in Spain, William visited Frasquita in Chiclana de la Frontiera, just outside Cadiz. He was accompanied by two of his nephews, Henry Hucks Gibbs and John Lomas Gibbs, who described the visits very vividly in their diaries.
On Wednesday 16th November 1853, William Gibbs and his two nephews called on Doña Francisca de la Peña, William Gibbs’ old fiancée. They arrived at 11 o’clock in the morning. She did not recognise him, but when he said, “Ya no conoce me’’, her eyes brightened up and she cried out “Por la certeza, Gibbs”. She was very moved by the encounter and laughed to hide her tears. She was a very nice woman, very lively with plenty to say. She had not seen William Gibbs for 30 years.
On Sunday 20th November 1853, Port St Mary’s. Fonda de la Vista Alegre. This morning we drove over to Chiclana starting at half past seven after reading the Service – and breakfasted with Doña Francisca, who received us very kindly, and gave us an excellent meal …. Doña Francisca delighted us by her playing – her touch is beautiful, and if her music is good now on a cracked piano what must it have been in Uncle William’s eyes 30 years ago? I don’t wonder at his falling in love with her – so clever a woman, so full of imagination, and such an excellent musician. The only wonder is how he could have made up his mind to give her up so lively, good tempered and affectionate as she seems…
It seems that the clash of religions between two fervently religious families meant that neither William’s nor Francisca’s parents would even consent to their marriage. William was 49 years old and running the “Firm” in England before he eventually married to Matilda Blanche Crawley-Boevey.
On returning to England after this Spanish visit, William had a top of the range grand piano shipped out to Doña Francisca as a gift.
My thanks to David Hogg for sending me the details of this story.