Places: The History of Henry Esmond, Esquire

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1852

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Bildungsroman

Time of work: Late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedCastlewood (England)

Castlewood History of Henry Esmond, Esquire, The (England). Great house in southern England’s Hampshire County where Henry Esmond is raised by his cousins in the Castlewood family. There Henry is first succored by Rachel’s solicitude, and there he falls in love with Beatrix. The house stands for all that is valuable in Henry’s heritage. Henry is the rightful heir to Castlewood, but he stands in an oblique relationship to the Castlewood family inheritance. Castlewood has an art gallery containing portraits by Van Dyck and Dobson. It is in this room where an unhappy Henry is first taken into the bosom of the family.

The Esmond family came into possession of Castlewood in the sixteenth century, when a page named Esmond married the lady of the house. This line gave rise to the viscounts of Castlewood. Neglected by the second viscount, Castlewood Manor was damaged during the civil wars of the seventeenth century, when its clock tower was attacked. Thomas, the third viscount, embarked on an ambitious program of refurbishment, whose residue is still evident in Henry’s day.


*Chelsea (CHEL-see). London neighborhood, near Kensington and north of the Thames, where the dowager Viscountess Castlewood maintains her residence. It is the third leg of the Castlewood-Cambridge-Chelsea triangle on which Esmond’s family relationships are based.


*Cambridge. University town northeast of London where Esmond is educated. Cambridge is less important primarily as a symbol of how Esmond is distanced from his idyllic boyhood memories of Castlewood and Lady Rachel.

*Newgate Prison

*Newgate Prison. London prison in which Esmond is falsely imprisoned and separated from all he loves. This period is the low point of Esmond’s fortunes, although the prisoners are well fed and allowed a good number of visitors. Newgate is less a hellish place of torture than a site of confinement, in which Esmond hones his sense of his inner density and fortifies his moral convictions.


*Kensington (KEN-zing-ton). London neighborhood in which the Castlewoods maintain their in-town residence. Kensington is also the locale of the guard-table at which Henry meets Joseph Addison and other literary luminaries. The guard-table is associated with stimulating companionship and good cheer. William Makepeace Thackeray also uses the table as a vehicle through which to have leading historical figures of the day make brief appearances. The Old Pretender is brought to Kensington in secret and reveals his loutish ways. The Kensington scenes of the novel portray the dynamic coffee-house culture of the time and represent the public sphere as opposed to the aristocratic country-house culture of Castlewood Manor itself.

Castlewood (Virginia)

Castlewood (Virginia). The second Castlewood manor is an estate on the right bank of the Potomac River, in Virginia’s West Moreland County, north of the Rappahannock. There Henry and Rachel spend the idyllic “Indian summer” of their lives. Their descendants flourish there growing tobacco.

BibliographyFerris, Ina. “The Uses of History: The History of Henry Esmond.” In William Makepeace Thackeray, edited by Herbert Sussman. Boston: Twayne, 1983. Focuses on Thackeray’s self-conscious realism and analyzes the complex question of how fiction can respond to and reflect reality. Begins with a brief contemporary reaction to the novel, as well as Thackeray’s own statements about the work.Hardy, Barbara. The Exposure of Luxury: Radical Themes in Thackeray. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1972. Discusses aspects of Thackeray’s social criticism and shows his preoccupation with the surface manners of his society. Examines Thackeray’s self-consciousness and lack of moral optimism as elements of his radical thinking and caring about humanity.Loofbourow, John. Thackeray and the Form of Fiction. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1964. An excellent starting point for serious study. Discusses the interrelationship of form and content in four novels: The History of Henry Esmond, Esquire: A Colonel in the Service of Her Majesty Q. Anne, The History of Pendennis (1848-1850), The Newcomes (1953-1855), and Vanity Fair.Lukacs, George. “Henry Esmond as an Historical Novel.” In Thackeray: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Alexander Welsh. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1968. Examines the ways in which Thackeray uses history as the framework within which to construct his novel.Peters, Catherine. Thackeray’s Universe: Shifting Worlds of Imagination and Reality. Boston: Faber and Faber, 1987. Readable and well balanced. Relates Thackeray’s fiction to his life, in particular stressing his challenge to his society. Includes a selected bibliography.Tilford, John E., Jr. “The Love Theme of Henry Esmond.” In Thackeray: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Alexander Welsh. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1968. Discusses love as the theme of the novel and as it related to Thackeray’s own life.
Categories: Places