Portrait of a Norfolk Gentleman - Major Sir Martin Browne Ffolkes, 1795
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Provenance: Sir William Ffolkes, 3rd Bt., Hillington Hall, Norfolk, 1908.
Overall: 88cm x 76cm (34.5in x 30in)
Oil on canvas. Circle of Sir William Beechey. Half length portrait looking right in the uniform of the Norfolk Rangers. Contained in period gilt wood frame.
Norfolk gentleman Browne Ffolkes (1749-1821) was connected with two of the county’s most distinguished sons - the Whig statesman Sir Robert Walpole, K.G., and Admiral Lord Nelson. Successive generations of his wife’s family, the Turners of Warham, had provided the Member of Parliament for King’s Lynn, and it was in the interest of the corporation of Lynn and by a family connection to the Walpoles of Houghton, that Ffolkes himself was returned to Parliament in 1790. Although politically an independent, he generally sided with the Whigs against William Pitt’s Tories. His wife’s cousins further included Captain Maurice Suckling, R.N., M.P, the early patron and maternal uncle Horatio Nelson.
Ffolkes was educated at Eton, Emmanuel College, Cambridge and Lincoln’s Inn which he entered in 1768. He also ‘spent a small time abroad, being curious and studious after natural knowledge’. This bound with the fact that his uncle was a past President of the Royal Society was sufficient to secure his election as a Fellow in 1772. He was made a baronet in 1774 on the death of his maternal grandfather, and restyled himself Browne Ffolkes.
In 1783 Browne Ffolkes inherited his father’s estate at Hillington, Norfolk and affirmed his position in the county by serving as High Sheriff. He received his commission as Captain Lieutenant in the Norfolk Rangers from the Lord-Lieutenant of Norfolk, Lord Orford on 10 January 1783. The force had been raised in 1782 by their energetic neighbour George (later 1st Marquess) Townshend for the defence of the county. Townshend was a soldier of considerable experience having served under George II at Dettingen; against Jacobite rebels at Culloden, as well as enforcing English authority in Ireland and lately against revolutionaries in North America. To Townshend’s mind invasion, insurrection, lawlessness and criminality lurked at every turn but he also understood that enacting the 1757 Militia Act was not universally popular, as indeed he told Brown Ffolkes in a letter written at his London townhouse - ‘ ... there are many, Sir, who consider our poor united Rangers as a dreadful innovation, and had rather compromise with an outlawed smuggler or Lord George Gordon than break ye peace or ye Sabbath, by exercising on a Sunday.’
‘Exercising on a Sunday’ was frequently interspersed with social events including a ‘Rangers’ ball’ held at Townshend’s seat Raynham Hall, patriotic dinners and reviews. Following the Treaty of Versailles (1783) and return of peace, the Rangers where held in abeyance. Its well heeled members retained their arms and equipment at home until 1794 and the renewal of war with France. Brown Ffolkes remustered as ‘one of Marquis Townshend’s Rangers’ and in 1805 received a commission as a Major in the corps. In this latter period he acted as commanding officer. He continued as M.P. for King’s Lynn until his death in 1821, despite recurring bouts of gout which increasingly affected his attendance at Westminster.
Source: Harvey, J.R. (1908) ‘Records of the Norfolk Yeomanry Cavalry, 1782-1908’, Jarrold & Sons, Norwich