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Royal Intrigue


The Saracen’s Head Inn in Towcester has seen much, but perhaps nothing quite as strange as royalty in disguise.


About the end of September 1769, William Pratt was the landlord. He had been married for nearly 3 years to his third wife, Susanna, and had several children. One Wednesday evening (market day), three men arrived on horseback, and booked a room, and dinner. One of them was so muffled up, that his face could hardly be seen, but from what little could be seen, William Pratt realised he might be entertaining no less a person than the Prince Henry Frederick, Duke of Cumberland, a younger brother of King George III. However, it was difficult to be sure, as he couldn’t see too much of his face.


The three men had dinner, and as they were returning to their room, they mentioned that they were expecting to meet a man who would be advancing them some money. Hurriedly revising their estimate of “royalty”, William and Susanna decided these might instead be swindlers, and resolved to stay up all night if necessary, to prevent anything untoward happening before the men left.

However, they weren’t called to sacrifice their sleep, as the men left shortly afterwards. They returned about a week later, and shortly after their arrival, a carriage containing Lady Grosvenor drew up.


Lady Grosvenor had stopped at the Saracen’s Head en route between London and the Vernon estates in Cheshire for the previous 3 years. She had been married for just 5 years to Sir Richard Grosvenor (a man several years older than herself).  She was deemed to be one of the most beautiful ladies in the country.

On this occasion, she and her entourage stayed the night, and set off to travel further North in the morning. Nothing unusual there – until the following year, when enquiry agents for Henrietta’s husband came asking questions. William ended up as a witness in court, in a sensational trial – the adultery case of Henrietta, Lady Grosvenor. She had been carrying on an affaire with the Duke of Cumberland, and the Earl of Grosvenor successfully sued the royal prince for £10,000 – equivalent to over £1m today.  The Duke had followed Lady Grosvenor to every inn she went to, to keep assignations with her. William was one of a long list of innkeepers, their wives, and servants, who gave evidence at the trial.


Henrietta spent several years in retirement in the country following the case; she re-married in 1802, following the death of her husband. William Pratt continued to keep the Saracen’s Head in Towcester until his death at the age of 71 in 1801.











The Saracens Head, early 20th century and today