Tuesday, August 10, 2010

1889: The New Wife and Mother Apparently Succumbs

We now find ourselves quite solidly in 1889, and, as we already know, that as of 7 May a new trial had been granted to Valerie Wiedemann in her breach of promise and libel case against Robert Horace Walpole.

It didn't take long for the news to spread. Here's a brief from the Brisbane Courier dated Thursday 9 May 1889:


Miss Wiedemann, who recently sued the Hon. Robert Horace Walpole, heir to the Earl of Orford, for breach of promise and seduction, has applied for a new trial, which was granted.
[It will be remembered that the Judge in the former trial ordered that a verdict for defendant be recorded, as the plaintiff refused to answer certain questions put to her in the witness box.]

The Walpoles have had a child, a daughter, and named her Dorothy Rachel Melissa Walpole. She was born in Kensington, London where her parents lived at 4 Queen's Gate Terrace, and she was baptized [the record is pictured, below left] on 15 April 1889 by an assistant curate, G. Bertram P. Coopland.

Just before that blessed event, however, readers on the West Coast of the U.S. had received upsetting news regarding the case and their own Louise Melissa Walpole [née Corbin]!

Here's a brief from the front page of the Pullman [Washington] Herald dated 13 April 1889:

From the time her child was born Mrs. Robert Horace Walpole, formerly Miss Louise Corbin of New York, has been very ill and her friends fear she cannot recover. Since the scandal between her husband and Miss Wieldman was exposed in court a few months ago she has been very nervous and in depressed spirits. Mr. Walpole is heir to the Earldom of Oxford.

Let's choose to ignore the facts that Wiedemann's name and Orford are both misspelled—likely the result of the effort of an over-zealous proofreader—and the fact that while her father, industrialist D.C. Corbin, had been born and raised in New York, Louise—born in Montana—had never been in the Big Apple as anything but a rich visitor. She'd been raised almost exclusively in and around the spas of Europe by her continually ailing mother, and never lived with her father.

What's striking is the fact that the article so calmly suggests that the young daughter of a local power broker may be close to death, at least according to unnamed friends. Now, I can easily see how the claim could be exaggerated, especially given that Louise had been raised by a woman who apparently never recovered from anything.

One can only imagine what was in the papers back in England. Was it a smokescreen planned to win back some of the sympathy that Wiedemann must have been currying through the writings of the Pall Mall Gazette, a newspaper that, while certainly not highly regarded [W.T. Stead of the Gazette was referred to by Matthew Arnold as a "feather-headed puppet of the New Journalism"], had apparently doubled its readership since it championed the cause of Miss Mildred Long in the Langworthy Case, and was presumably doing the same for Miss Wiedemann?

Still, the former Miss Corbin seemingly moved from a quite life on the continent alongside her perennially ailing mother into the midst of the latest scandal to hit the papers in a decade replete with them. She'd gone from eligible society girl to the public target of her new husband's crazed ex-lover. She'd heard from the seemingly unstable German ex-governess, "You know that I must curse you from the bottom of my heart, and that I do so, and shall do so in all eternity for the endless suffering you have brought over me, and also, you run away whenever I come. I shall meet you once, and you shall hear my curse." That couldn't possibly have sat very well with young Louise, likely still dreaming of marital bliss at that point. Or trying to.

The Walpoles apparently believed that Wiedemann had also written threats in chalk on their doorsteps and had followed the new Mrs. Walpole on the streets. Provocatively, a magazine portrait of the lovely new Countess of Orford had been defaced soon thereafter and left for her to find, having been scrawled insults such as, "Horrible, honourless girl," which I'll assume was a far more powerful condemnation of a woman than it might be today.

I've found the photograph at the top, right, of this entry [click it to enlarge] in an on-line portfolio of photographs grouped under the name "Walpole" by Life magazine. I believe this untitled, undated image is of Louise Melissa Corbin, and it is the portrait that had been torn from a supplement to Life magazine and defaced by Valerie Wiedemann. It was sight of this portrait, and its accompanying news, in early January 1888 that alerted her to Robert Walpole's engagement and upcoming nuptials.

Wiedemann's reaction may even have been the reason the couple was married at the English Embassy Church in Paris, and not in London or Norfolk, seat of the Orfords. But perhaps that had been the plan all along.

Let's just say that, despite my natural skepticism that this story may have been planted in the papers, it isn't very difficult to believe that Louise Walpole, suddenly the wife of an older man with what was quickly proving to be a checkered past, might have taken it all poorly and become ill.

1889 would be full of depositions, subpoenas, and preparation for proceedings that would not resume until over a year after Lady Dorothy's baptism. There would still be more strife between the legal teams before the second round of this match began, and, surprisingly, Valerie Wiedemann will have taken control of her own case inside the courtroom, representing herself, once the trial starts.

We'll see how that worked out for her next time…

No comments:

Post a Comment