The legend of Mostyn de Vaux and the Edwards family of Chile

As I have written many times before, I am a member of the extended Edwards family of Chile on my mother’s side. My maternal grandmother was a direct patrilineal descendant of the founder of the family in Chile, Jorge (George) Edwards Brown.

The Edwards family of Chile is of British origin and has a long and illustrious presence in that country, its members having been integral parts of Chile’s history, affecting it along the way at critical junctures.

As with any family, there are many legends surrounding the Edwards. The most prominant legend of them all is the one that links the Edwards to the Mostyn de Vaux family.

The legend has been repeated from generation to generation for a very long time. I remember, as a kid, my mother recounting the story and I know that all the family members took this legend as gospel.

So, what does this legend say?

According to the legend, George Edwards, the founder of the family:[1]

  • Was not just any British immigrant to Chile with a story of rags to riches.
  • Was not the (illegitimate perhaps?) son of John Edwards and Elizabeth Brown, born in Shoreditch, London.
  • Was the 4th son of Lord Hugh Mostyn, Baron de Vaux and of Elizabeth O’Higgins

It appears that this story was first published in the book “Linajes vascos y montañeses en Chile” by Pedro Javier Fernández Pradel, published in 1930.[2] This same story is then repeated in the book “Un alma cumbre: Juana Ross de Edwards” by Blanca Subercaseaux de Valdés, published in 1944.

On page 16 of the book by Subercaseaux de Valdés, we find that there’s more to the story:[1]

A diferencia de sus hermanos, [Jorge] no siguió la carrera de las armas sino que, apasionado por las ciencias naturales, estudió medicina en Eton, llegando a graduarse de médico en el Real Colegio de Físicos de Londres.

Pero Jorge Mostyn no vivía sólo para el laboratorio. A pesar de la oposición de sus padres, se casó con una célebre belleza, bailarina, o actriz, renunciando por ella, en pública escritura, a sus apellidos adoptando los muy comunes que usó desde entonces.

Habiendo fallecido a los pocos meses la esposa causante de eso graves trastornos familiares, y queriendo el joven distraer su pena y desengaño, se contrató de médico a bordo de una fragata rusa. Naufragada la fragata en las costas de Alaska, Lord Hugo pensó que se encontraba su hijo entre las víctimas del naufragio y así lo deja declarado en su testamento.

or in English

As opposed to his brothers, [George] did not follow a military career but instead, as he was passionate about the natural sciences, studied medicine at Eton and graduating as a medical doctor from the Royal College of Physicians in London.

However, George Mostyn had a life beyond the laboratory. Over his parents’ objections, he married a celebrated beauty, ballerina or actress renouncing, for her, in writing and publicly his family name and adopting the common surname he used ever since.

A few months later, the wife that caused this family turmoil died and the young man wanting to distract himself from the grief, joined the crew of a Russian frigate. This frigate shipwrecked on the Alaskan coast and Lord Hugh believed that his son was among the victims and states it in his will.

The source of the text above is the previously cited book by Fernández Pradel and the footnote include the following:[1]

Da alguna luz sobre el linaje de don Jorge el oficio que, el 12 de Noviembre de 1806, redacta el doctor Hipólito de Villegas, subdelegado de Coquimbo, acusando al fisco (sic) inglés, Jorge Edwards de los Valles por creerlo, erradamente, comprometido en un contrabando cometido en Totoralillo. Es posible que en uno de los muchos interrogatorios a que fue sometido se le preguntara por su nombre y

contestara: ‘Jorge Edwards’ ¿que más? inquiriría el oficial, refiriéndose al apellido materno, según es costumbre entre nosotros, y entonces el interesado, acordándose de su apellido solariego, repondría: ‘de los Valles’. Ahora bien en ‘Burkes Peerage’, edición de 1914-1915, se hace mención de los Edwards de Vaux, (de los Valles, en francés) oriundo de Gales, rama filial de Mostyn

in English:

Some light is shed on the lineage of George the official document dated November 12, 1806 where Dr. Hipólito de Villegas, subdelegate of Coquimbo, accuses the British doctor, George Edwards “de los Valles” [from the valleys] of erroneously believing he was engaged in smuggling in Totralillo. It is possible that in one of the many interrogations he [George] was submitted to, he was asked for his name and he would respond: “George Edwards”. “What else?” would ask the official, referring to the maternal surname, as is customary among us, and he would respond, remembering his illustrious surname: “de los Valles”. As a matter of fact, in “Burke’s Peerage”, edition of 1914-1915, there is a listing for the Edwards de Vaux (“from the valleys” in French) originally from Wales, a branch of the Mostyn family

 

So, now we know what the legend says.

Let’s investigate at each part separately and see if there is any truth to it.

The obvious starting point is, naturally, also the most important: the title of “Baron de Vaux”.

In looking at the the series of volumes of Burke’s Peerage, we discover that the title of Baron de Vaux was in abeyance starting in 1662.[3] It isn’t until 1838 that the title is restored in the person of George Mostyn, resident of Harrowden (a town close to Bedford, about 100klm from London).[3]

Burke’s Peerage is also very helpful in this research as it lists the ancestry of George Mostyn. In this genealogical record, there isn’t a Hugh to be found in any of the generations listed, clearly contradicting what Subercaseaux de Valdés wrote in her book.[3]

The logical conclusion here is that the core of the legend is not true because simply, there was no “Baron de Vaux” during the majority of the lifetime of George Edwards! George was born circa 1780 (120 year after the title became dormant and 60 before it was restore) and died circa 1848 (only 10 years after the restoration of the title).[4]

At this point, we have enough evidence to tear down this whole myth. However, I enjoy the mental exercise so, let’s dig some more.

Let’s look at the source Subercaseaux de Valdés used, the book by Fernández Pradel. From here is the footnote in the former’s book that says that George Edwards responded “from the valleys”. Fernández Pradel concludes that this response can be nothing else by a reference to “de Vaux” since it is the French translation of the response.

Apparently, Fernández Pradel discounted the fact that George Edwards was British and his primary language was English and not French or Spanish.

Ask anyone from England or Wales what “from the valleys” means and they’ll tell you that it’s a reference to the valleys in the south of Wales. Coincidentally, this region is known for its coal mines, though a very respectable profession, not exactly a hallmark of nobility or aristocracy. Also, let’s not forget that “Edwards” is one of the more common surnames in Wales.

The myth now completely busted, it would be a good place to call it a day.

But, perhaps there are still some doubters out there. I mean, we’re talking about a family legend that people have sworn by for almost a century!

Therefore, my question is this: How come the Edwards family, that has counted among them some of the wealthiest entrepreneurs, most powerful politicians, most noted academics, most celebrated genealogists and most influential diplomats in the history of Chile never decided to look into this? How come a family with close, personal ties to the political leadership of the United Kingdom that sent its children to the UK to study and had its members as ambassadors of Chile to that country never took on this project?

Well…. they did!

Gonzalo Vial Correa in his celebrated biography of Agustín Edwards MacClure (founder of the largest newspaper of Chile “El Mercurio”, Foreign Minister of Chile and Interior Minister of Chile among other highlights) says on pages 19 and 20 that at the time of death of Alberto Edwards Vives (noted historian, Minister of Finance, then Education, then Foreign Relations and finally Justice of Chile), an unsigned document appeared among his personal documents that detailed the alleged link of George Edwards with the de Vaux family.[5]

A bit further down, Vial Correa adds:[5]

La viuda de Alberto Edwards [Vives] hizo llegar el papel a nuestro biografiado [Agustín Edwards MacClure] – embajador entonces ante Gran Bretaña – que encargó investigarlo a un genealogista de fama, aunque de nombre casi impronunciable: Hargreaves-Mawdsley, el cual mediante una veintena de libra esterlina dictaminaría el año 1936. Los resultados de su investigación, dio, eran ‘notables’ pero lo ‘uniformemente negativos’. El documento anónimo no contenía nada verdadero.

in English:

The widow of Alberto Edwards [Vives] sent the document to the subject of this biography [Agustín Edwards MacClure], at the time ambassador to Great Britan, who took it to a famous genealogist with an almost unpronounceable name: Hargreaves-Mawdsley, and was charged 20 pounds sterling in 1936. The results of his [Hargreaves-Mawdsley’s] investigation were “notable” but “uniformly negative”. The anonymous document did not contain any truth.

I think that the legend has now been checked from all possible angles and it is completely clear that the story of George Edwards being a “Mostyn de Vaux” is complete and utter fantasy!

I’ve wanted to publish my research here for the longest time and only recently did I find the time to put all my notes together into a cohesive and comprehensible article.

The true history of George Edwards, or as he was known in Chile: Jorge Edwards Brown, is much more interesting. His life is an example of human tenacity and demonstrates that any person, regardless of their past or heritage or social status, can become wildly successful and conquer the highest peaks. Denying him the recognition of his achievements is an affront to his legacy and to the honor of the Edwards family, my family.

References:

  1. Subercaseaux de Valdés, Blanca (1944). Un alma cumbre: Juana Ross de Edwards. Padre Las Casas: San Francisco. p. 16
  2. Fernández Pradel, Pedro Javier (1930). Linajes vascos y montañeses en Chile. Santiago de Chile: San Rafael.
  3. Burke, John Bernard (1852). A genealogical and heraldic dictionary of the peerage and baronetage of the British Empire (14 ed.). London: Colburn and Co. p. 1005.
  4. Barrios Barth, Juan (1993). “Extranjeros llegados a la Serena durante el siglo pasado (3a. Parte)”. Revista de Estudios Históricos 37: 274.
  5. Vial Correa, Gonzalo (2009). Agustin Edwards Mac Clure. Santiago de Chile: Aguilar Chilena De Ediciones (Mercurio Aguilar). pp. 19-20. ISBN 9789562396875.

 

Links of interest:

 

 

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