Briggs Correspondence: Biographies

This provides information about those people who feature prominently in this set of Amelia Opie’s correspondence, in particular, correspondents, family and friends.

Information about more minor acquaintances and less prominently featured friends can be found in the editorial notes to individual letters.

Alderson, Elizabeth(1753/4-1848): Often referred to as “aunt” or “aunty,” Elizabeth Alderson was the younger sister of Amelia’s father; James Alderson. In Amelia’s later years, she and her aunt were quite close, dining together often, with especial emphasis on their tradition of spending Christmas dinner together (Opie 19 December 1838). As her aunt’s health declined with age, Amelia “was closely engaged in attendance upon her” and “seldom left Norwich for more than a few days at a time” from 1844, until her aunt’s death on the 10th of January, 1848, at age 94. (Brightwell). By all accounts a lively if aging and ill woman, she drew much enjoyment from regular attendance of her coteries (Opie) for much of her life.

Alderson, Thomas John (1791-1864): Alias “Tom” or ‘Tommy” he was the brother of Elizabeth Briggs née Alderson, and cousin of Amelia Opie. A disreputable character, he was a close confidante of Amelia Opie during her time in London and Felcham in 1815 and 1816, and speculated to have had quite the flirtatious relationship with her (Menzies 190). In later life, he was known to be quite the disreputable character, often in debt and in need of aid from his relatives, such as Amelia and Elizabeth, who often loaned him money or searched for possible positions for him. He was declared bankrupt twice, once in 1828 and the other in 1838 (London Gazette), and the money scrivener of Chancery Lane was imprisoned for his debts in 1839 (Opie 15 November 1839). He was also named in the will of his brother in law, Henry Briggs. In the 1851 census he was living at 10 Lancaster Place, Strand, listed as unmarried, and a clerk in the register office chancery. In 1863 his name appeared in newspaper ads as a director of the Constantinople and Alexandria Hotels Company Ltd. He died on 4.1.1864 at Lancaster Place. The Times of 29.1.1866 reported that the Company had been wound up without making any yield, leaving liabilities. (Times)

Alderson, Margaret Thompson (1798?-18?): Margaret Thompson née Alderson was born the fourth daughter of John Alderson and Sarah Isabella Alderson née Scott, and therefore a first cousin of Amelia Opie née Alderson and Eliza Briggs née Alderson. Margaret is often referred to affectionately by Amelia as “Meggie” in her correspondence. As a young girl of 16, she visited her cousin Amelia in London in 1814, and was quite scandalized by the gay society and Amelia’s brash behaviour (Macgregor 55). She later married John Vincent Thompson in 1825 and the family lived in London. The couple had at least two daughters: one of which was born in 1832 ( Opie 22 April 1832); and one of which was named Anabel Thompson, likely the younger (Opie 27 December 1842). Meggie is frequently referenced in Amelia’s correspondence with her cousins and a frequent correspondent herself, often as a source of anxiety over various illnesses or failures to write.

Briggs, Elizabeth née Alderson (1791-1839): Often alias “Eliza,” “Bettina” and “Lady Pontibus” in her correspondence with Amelia Opie, Elizabeth was the first cousin of Amelia Opie, on her father’s side. A frequent correspondent for many years[1] the two shared a close and affectionate relationship. Eliza married the painter Henry Briggs, another cousin of Amelia Opie in the summer of 1830, and had two children by him, Henry Alderson Briggs and Elizabeth Amelia Briggs, the namesake of her cousin (Wroth). By all accounts the two had a happy marriage. Elizabeth passed away from tuberculosis in September of 1839.

[1] See Letter database.

Briggs, Henry Perronet (1791-1844): Second cousin to Amelia Opie, HPB was an antiquary and subject painter, born in London. He entered the Royal Academy Schools at age 19 in 1811, and in 1813 went to Cambridge. He settled in London, and continued to paint, turning his attention mainly to historical and Shakespearian scenes. In 1825, he was elected an associate of the Royal Academy, and was elected as RA in 1832, a matter of much excitement to his cousin Amelia, who knew the importance of such a title (Opie 17 Feb. 1832). After this, he turned his attention almost entirely to portraiture, and his cousin Amelia often aided him in securing sittings through her connections. He painted such notable figures as the Duke of Wellington, Sarah Siddons, and his best is often regarded to be that of Lord Eldon. William Thackeray regarded Briggs as the “out and out best portrait painter of the set” in the Exhibition. He also painted several portraits of Amelia Opie, which can be found under “portraits” on the site. Henry died of Tuberculosis in London in 1844 (Wroth).

As a member of the Royal Academy of Artists (RA), participated in what the Instrument of its foundation termed “Annual Exhibition of Painting, Sculpture, and Designs” which was open to “all Artists of merit” and open to the public for one month. “Instrument of the Foundation of the Royal Academy” qtd. pg. 202 in W. R. M. Lamb. The Royal Academy: A Short History of Its Foundation and Development to the Present Day. London: Alexander Maclehose & Co., 1935. In 1840, this Exhibition was held at the newly founded National Gallery, located in Trafalgar Square. See page 193 of James Fenton. School of Genius: A History of the Royal Academy of Arts. London: Royal Academy of Arts, 2006.Print. Richard Doyle, who later became an illustrator for Punch, attended this Exhibition and remembers there was a “pretty considerable number of persons collected” outside the gallery, and a “great scramble” when the doors at last opened (qtd. Fenton 197).

Briggs, Henry Alderson (1835-?): the only son of Henry Perronet Briggs and Elizabeth Briggs née Alderson, was born in 1835 and died young (Wroth). Opie often refers to him by the nickname “Prince” or “Prince Pontibus” .

Briggs, Amelia Elizabeth:  (1837-1915): the only daughter of Henry Perronet Briggs and Eliza Briggs, married Revd James Haslewood Carr MA (1831-1915) in 1864 (Wroth). She is often referred to as “Missy” or “Princess” in Opie’s letters.

Briggs, Catherine: Henry Perronet Briggs’s sister, who moved in with her brother following his wife’s death in September of 1839 from tuberculosis. She is mentioned in her brother’s will (Wroth). Amelia Opie frequently corresponds with her from 1839 onwards (Opie 27 December 1839).

Works Cited 

Brightwell, C. L., and Amelia Alderson Opie. Memorials of the Life of Amelia Opie: Selected and Arranged from Her Letters, Diaries, and Other Manuscripts. 2nd ed., Norwich, UK: Fletcher and Alexander, 1854.

Macgregor, Margaret E. “Amelia Alderson Opie: Worldling and Friend.” Smith College Studies in Modern Languages, vol. 14, no. 1-2, 1932-33, pp. i-xi, 1-145.

Macgregor, Margaret E. “Amelia Alderson Opie: Worldling and Friend.” Smith College Studies in Modern Languages, vol. 14, no. 1-2, 1932-33, pp. i-xi, 1-145.

Opie, Amelia. “Letter to Henry Perronet Briggs. 27 December 1839.” MS. Huntington Library.

—.Letter to Henry Perronet Briggs 14 November 1842. MS. Huntington Library.

—.“Letter to Eliza Briggs 17 February 1832.” MS. Huntington Library.

—.”Letter to Elizabeth Briggs 22 April 1832.” MS. Huntington Library.

 —.“Letter to Eliza Briggs 19 December 1838.” MS. Huntington Library.

—.”Letter to Henry Perronet Briggs.” 27 December 1842. MS. Huntington Library. Print.

Wroth. “Briggs, Henry Perronet (1791-1844).” Rev. Mervyn Cutten. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.Oxford UP, 2004. Web. 16 July 2013.

London Gazette, vol. 1, 1838, p. 558.

London Gazette, vol. 1, 1828, p. 1259.