In the letters of Sir William Robinson (1655–1736), 1st Baronet of Newby [1], is the following set of riddles. I found it difficult to work out which person’s names they’re referring to, but all becomes (a bit) clearer when you look at the answers he provides – I’ve given these in the footnotes, if you want to try and solve them first.

The letter which sometimes for no letter gos

And what’s a great deal in any man’s nose

With the name of York Medows and what quenches our thirst

Is the name of a Lady deny it who durst

That in virtue & goodness may be reckonnd the first [2]


What the gardiner doth when he planteth his trees

And what we must do to be cloathed in frize

Is the name of a man who is chearfull & free

And whose age I account to be fivety & three [3]


The first letter we learn, and the least bird that flys

With a part of the wood that in Beaconsfield lies

Is the name of a man who with indolent air

Makes love without meaning and sight for the fair [4]


The letter next G and the Welsh-man’s distemper

Is the name of a lady who’s ne’re out of temper

And who dances with such an air, motion & grace

That you don’t see a bit of her name in her pace [5]


What’s found in a bush & what hunters pursue

With the place where at present you’ve nothing to do

Is the name of a man who is both blind & old

Yet wishes for waters to keep him from cold [6]

I’m fascinated by the ‘Welsh-man’s distemper’ in the fourth one. The association between the itch (scabies or other skin infestations) and the people of Wales was apparently widespread – according to Steven Connor’s The Book of Skin, Wales was even known as ‘Itchland’!

If you can shed any more light on these, do let me know.

1. WYL150/6002, West Yorkshire Archives.

2. Lady H-inch-ing-brook – probably Elizabeth Wilmot (1674–1757), daughter of 2nd Earl of Rochester and wife of Edward Montagu, 3rd Earl of Sandwich, Viscount Hinchingbrooke until his accession to the earldom.

3. Mr Dig-buy.

4. A-wren-dell – Arundel, probably Thomas Howard (1683–1732), 8th Duke of Norfolk and 7th Earl of Arundel. In 1709 he married Maria Shireburn, from a well-known Catholic family in Lancashire, who brought him a fortune of £30,000. I’m not sure why the insult, but it may have been because of his supposed involvement in a Jacobite plot.

5. Miss H-itch.

6. Hare-court – probably Simon Harcourt (1661–1727), Lord Chancellor to Queen Anne. He left court on the accession of George I in 1714, so he had ‘nothing to do’ there. Also alleged to be a Jacobite, which may account for the tone.

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