Boileau was born on 2 September 1794, in London, the eldest son in a family that claimed to be descended from Charles Boileau, baron of Castelnau and St Croix, a Languedoc Huguenot immigrant to England in 1691, and from Étienne Boileau, the first known provost of Paris in the 13th century. He was educated at Eton, Oxford and Edinburgh, and then commissioned into the rifle brigade.
In 1825, Boileau married Lady Catherine Sarah Elliot, daughter of the first earl of Minto, and they had nine children. He acquired Thursford Hall, near Fakenham, and the Ketteringham estate, where he built a Gothic hall, and where he came into a conflict with the local vicar, William Andrew.
In 1838, Boileau was created a baronet. He served as a county magistrate and a deputy lieutenant; and he was appointed high sheriff of Norfolk in 1844. Apart from holding various offices in London and being a Fellow of the Royal Society, he was also a founding member of the Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Society, and its president from 1849. His wife died in 1862, and he died in 1869. Further biographical information is available at Wikipedia and The Peerage. (Thanks to the National Portrait Gallery for the image.)
In 1960, a history professor at Cambridge University, Owen Chadwick, published Victorian Miniature (Hodder and Stoughton) which relied heavily on diaries kept by Boileau and by Reverend William Andrew, and told the story of an astonishing feud between the two Ketteringham characters. Here’s the publisher’s blurb: ‘Owen Chadwick’s Victorian Miniature paints a detailed cameo of nineteenth-century English rural life, in the extraordinary battle of wills between squire and parson in a Norfolk village. Both the evangelical clergyman and the squire, proudly conscious of his Huguenot ancestry, were passionate diarists, and their two journals open up a fascinating double perspective on the events which exposed their clash of personalities. The result is a narrative that is at once deeply informative about Victorian class distinctions, rural customs and festivities, and richly entertaining in a manner worthy of Trollope.’
The book was reprinted in 1991 by Cambridge University Press. Some pages can be browsed at Amazon; and there is further information on the Literary Norfolk website.
Boileau’s diary is deposited with the Norfolk Record Society in the Norwich public library. It begins in 1839, when he left England for a continental tour, and ends in February 1869, a month before his death. Some sections - notably 1846-1850 - remain in private hands, and a couple of short sections were probably destroyed for personal reasons, says Owen Chadwick. William Andrew’s diary is in private hands (or was at the time of the book’s publication). It is in two big volumes, the first from his ordination to 1855, and the second from 1855 to his last illness. Unlike Boileau, he didn’t write in his journal very often or regularly. Here are a couple of extracts from Chadwick’s book (which uses the diaries of both men extensively, but does not, in fact, provide many dated verbatim quotes from them).
‘Dined early, and in the evening servants had a ball in the hall, lighted up. There were our ten maids - four indoor and three outdoor, and Cowper - Easton and three gardeners there, besides John Cannell and wife, [ . . .] It went off well as they had supper also, and all over by two o’clock, which was somewhat too late. I took Mrs. Beale to dance in the New Year but she was puffy and obliged to sit down.’
Chadwick comments: ‘Andrew disapproved of these proceedings, and hoped that some of the participants also disapproved. He found villagers like Jonas Horstead, the fiddler, who professed uneasy conscience but nevertheless had attended the ball. He was grieved when he found that Sarah Cooper was among them. When he expressed his grief, Sarah said, “I was miserable all the while and always wished from the first not to have anything to do with the school under Sir John. But he came to me saying, “I know Mr. Andrew does not agree with me that balls are not wrong. I see no wrong and I myself join in the dance. Besides, remember you are now my schoolmistress, not his.” ” This at least was Sarah’s account of her fall, and Andrew found it impossible to be cross with one so penitent and unhappy. He bore his testimony against the pomps and vanities of the world, and took his leave.’
5 January 1842 [while Boileau was away]
‘Drew tooth for old Mrs. Roberts. It was singular that I went round to Ketteringham for the purpose of extracting it and I found her in great pain, upon which I drew from my pocket a pair of pincers which caused the poor old woman to shake and she begged I would use a piece of thread, I at last broke it off which perhaps was better than extracting the fangs.’
16 July 1843
‘Preached from Joshua ii and Jeremiah ii 37 latter part. Good congregation. Boileaus returned, very courteous. But before Mrs. Andrew reached the church they had ordered the first and second classes of girls into their pew, when my dear Ellen properly countermanded the order saying she was manager of the Sabbath School. How much they strive for mastery, but not lawfully. They aim at supremacy.’