IN THE the process of cataloguing the papers of the Fleming family of Rydal Hall, Elaine Brison, an archivists at Cumbria Archive Centre, found seven letters dated around 1770, written in French and addressed to Sir Michael Fleming, 4th Baronet.

Current descendants of the le Fleming family are thought to live in New Zealand, but their forebears acquired land in Rydal early in the 15th Century and Michael le Fleming, the fourth Baronet, was born in 1748. He was MP for Westmorland until he died in 1806.

He married Lady Diana Howard, only daughter of the 14th Earl of Suffolk, in 1782.

The couple had one daughter, Lady Anne Frederica Elizabeth.

Both prior and following his marriage, Sir Michael is believed to have enjoyed a metropolitan lifestyle rather than a provincial one at home with his family.

He is supposed to have had a fondness for visiting the playhouse, which may have resulted in the attachment evident in these letters from a Mlle Debrieux of Paris, to Sir Michael, while he was staying at the Hotel d’Orleans, Paris.

Five of the letters are undated, making it difficult to establish their order. But the two that are dated seem likely to be among the last, by which stage Sir Michael has left for England.

It seems that Debrieux was a theatre girl, as she refers to rehearsals and sends Sir Michael tickets.

Dances and balls are mentioned, including that of the Spanish Ambassador, and Sir Michael has her transported around in his carriage, at her request.

At one stage she reports her quarrel with another man, ‘mon Monseiur’, who returned and stayed all night to see who she was sleeping with.

Debrieux says that she will leave him if Sir Michael truly wants to live with her and she awaits to hear what arrangements Sir Michael will make.

In another letter she believes she would be even fonder of him if she were to live with him and they would see each other until around four or five o’clock each day, or she would be happy to dine with him and he would see she had very good manners.

She has concerns about whether Sir Michael is faithful and that he will be having a good time with other ‘belles’ and forget her, and the same letter goes on to refer to her pregnancy – the result of their ‘“petit comerce clandestin’.

Sir Michael may have had similar concerns. Most of the letters refer to M. Pelleve, who seems to attend her and he endorses one of her letters to confirm what she writes.

References to her ill health occur three or four times – but many more are made to money.

The final letter, wherein she is living a retired life and suffering in her pregnancy, which is ‘fort grasse’, hopes he has not abandoned her and again asks for money because she has creditors for around £700 and is ‘dans un chagrin epouvantable’ (terrible distress).