Old St. Andrews



The Strange Case of Charles Briscoe



The St. Andrews Beacon, July 24, 1902

In a sheltered corner of the ancient burial ground of St. Andrews, protected by narrow wooden palings, stands a plain white marble table, which tells the above simple tale. Weather-beaten and moss-grown the stone is, but it still stands erect—in marked contrast to many others about it. The inscription is plainly discernible. To the wayfarer who knows nothing and cares less of the early history of St. Andrews and of the occupants of this humble tomb, the story told by the marbled page has little of interest, yet beneath the grave there lies hidden from mortal eyes a romance of real life such as the novelist's pen has seldom written:—a romance in which no less a personage than a king of England is alleged to have played s leading part.

The story has been closely guarded for many years, but with the death of the immediate members of the family the necessity for further concealment has been to a great extent removed. Charles Joseph Briscoe was an Englishman by birth and was the reputed son of King George IV, his mother being said to be one of the ladies of the court with whom he had fallen in love. In order probably that he should be out of the reach of gossips of the court—for there were gossips in those days as there are now—he was appointed to a position in the Imperial Customs at St. Andrews. Capt. Grant being at the same time the chief officer here.

There are a few people now living who can remember Mr. Briscoe and who can recall him riding around the streets of St. Andrews in his scarlet hunting coat. He was tall man, of an autocratic disposition; would brook no interference and dept himself aloof from the common people. His wife was a lady of much culture and refinement and had been at court in England before coming to this country. Upon her husband's demise she was under the necessity of supporting herself by teaching school. Some of the old people of the town were among her pupils. They can easily recall the stately, dignified figure of the old lady as she appeared in her school-room, with a white ruffed Elizabeth collar about her neck and gold-headed cane in her hand.

It was generally expected that upon Mr. Briscoe's death the mystery surrounding his life would be revealed, but the secret was hidden in the grave, where so many secrets are hidden. In his will, he left instructions that upon the death of the last of his children his grave should be opened, when papers would be found upon his body, which would reveal the history of his life and make clear all that was doubtful concerning his birth. It was nearly sixty years afterward that the last of the name passed form earth. Then, in the presence of two St. Andrews gentlemen, who have died within a few years, and a grandson of the deceased—who holds a responsible position in St. John—the grave was opened.

But the precaution of enclosing the papers within a metallic or other suitable casket had not been taken, so that when the light touched hem they crumbled into dust, and the secret that had been so jealously guarded still reMained the property of the tomb. A medallion portrait of the deceased's wife was found in the coffin and is now among the priceless treasures which the deceased's grandson has in his possession. It is somewhat dimmed by its long imprisonment in the grave, but the features are still recognized by those who knew the old lady.