Sunday, August 8, 2010

A Victorian Landscape of Adultery, Scandal, and Divorce

Having waded through texts of the first Wiedemann v. Walpole [not pictured] trial in 1888, we stopped to take a look at the particulars wearing the silks and wigs of the British courts at the time. And, we've primarily read coverage from the London Times, a paper that documented the courtroom scene in great detail, but provided little or no context for the proceedings.

Today, one needs to head "out of town" to gain some insight into what happened before the judge, Mr. Baron Huddleston, entered the courtroom on 29 November 1888 to hear that case. The events in Victorian society leading up to the case still can, even over 120 years later, be teased out of the internet, providing us with a great deal of context.

Here's a good start: It's an article from the Brisbane Courier on Monday 7 January 1889, after Valerie Wiedemann's proceedings against Robert Horace Walpole had been ended acrimoniously at the close of the previous November. It reads:

A ROYAL GIFT. London, January 4. A report was recently published that the Queen had presented 25 guineas to Fraulein Wiedemann, the German governess, who recently sued the Hon. Robert Horace Walpole, heir to the Earl of Orford, for breach of promise of marriage and seduction, the case being dismissed. It now transpires that her Majesty sent the money to Miss Wiedemann on first hearing of her misfortune, and before the trial took place.

Having stumbled across this brief article months ago, it weighed on my mind. I wondered: Why would Queen Victoria have sent her anything? Had she been moved by Miss Wiedemann's unfortunate story? And if so—and this is what I simply could not seem to work out—how had it come to the ear of her Majesty?

Recently, the following rather caustic article, written without any apparent knowledge of paragraphing, was found in the Melbourne Argus of 5 January 1889. I doubt that anyone would exhibit this piece as to a class of young journalists learning the profession [unless they worked for Hearst], but it provides interesting, pertinent, and extremely useful information I've been unable to unearth elsewhere. Here it is in its entirety:

A sensational breach of promise case was commenced on Wednesday, but collapsed ignominiously on Thursday morning. The plaintiff was a German governess named Valerie Wiedemann, and the defendant was Mr. Robert Horace Walpole, the nephew and heir of the octogenarian Earl of Orford, Mr. Robert Walpole has been connected with English diplomacy in various ornamental capacities for 10 years past, chiefly on the staff of his cousin, Sir Henry Drummond Wolff. In the course of his duties he found himself at Constantinople in 1882, where he lost his heart to the governess of his hotelkeeper's children; and the usual kind of Constantinople romance followed. The lady—who states that in consequence she became a mother—eventually found her way to England, where she became governess in the family of Lord Walter Campbell, to whom she imparted the story of her wrongs and her ruin. One would have supposed that any of the Campbells would have an instinctive aversion from law and the law courts; but it was not so in Lord Walter's case; and he promptly took his fair protégé to Mr. Stead [pictured, right] at the Pall Mall Gazette office, where her story was duly put into type. At one time it was contemplated to make the case a repetition of the Langworthy case, and that, as it now turns out, would have been the wiser course, but instead, law proceedings of the usual type were decided on and commenced. Unfortunately, the plaintiff appears to have caught the infection of "not swearing up to her proof," which has broken out so virulently among The Times witnesses in the neighbouring Probate Court; and in cross-examination, she carne to a full stop, refusing to answer any questions about her child and was ordered out of Court by Baron Huddlestone, the jury binding a verdict for Mr. Walpole. Mr. Walpole, who is a handsome young man, with the usual F.O. repose and insolence of manner, married last spring the daughter and heiress of Mr. Corbyn, one of America s railway kings. He and his fiancée were led a terrible life of it before and after their marriage by fear of the outraged governess and her vengeance. It is believed that a thousand pounds would at any time have set the matter quietly at rest; but this Mr. Walpole would not give, for he is "close," and, more over, obstinate; and in thus resenting interference with affairs which he considered peculiarly his own, he has only been imitating the example of the uncle, Lord Orford, whose heir he is. That ill-regulated nobleman it was who carried off the wife of the last Duke of Newcastle but one, when his Grace was Earl of Lincoln. Mr. Gladstone was the colleague, friend, and trustee of the injured lord, and he took upon himself to follow the guilty couple over Europe with a view to obtaining evidence which would enable his friend to obtain a divorce. In one of the smaller German principalities Lord Orford, finding Mr. Gladstone's attentions rather troublesome consulted a local lawyer as to how he could get rid of them, and the local lawyer advised him that if he would prefer a claim for debt against Mr. Gladstone, the latter would be at once locked up until he paid or proved conclusively to the highest court in the principality that he did not owe the money. Lord Orford was much pleased with the idea, which he at once adopted—poor Mr. Gladstone lying in durance vile for two or three days until the lovers were well out of ken, when orders were sent by Lord Orford to withdraw the charge against him. The part which Mr. Gladstone took in the Lincoln-Orford divorce case was often thrown in his teeth when, in 1857, he was opposing, tooth and nail, Lord Westbury's bill for cheapening and popularising the process of divorce.

Apparently the case had been brought to the public's attention by the Pall Mall Gazette, a newspaper who had recently sensationalized a similar case involving breach of promise, seduction, illegitimacy, and abandonment by Mr. E. M. Langworthy. It took four years for the duped Mrs. Langworthy to find justice, and that case had just concluded in London on 10 August 1887 [We'll take a closer look at that affair soon]. The Langworthy case would seemingly still have been fresh in the minds of Londoners as the Gazette began another series, this time based on breach of promise, seduction, illegitimacy, and abandonment by Walpole.

Other names flicker in and out of the article immediately above.

Sir Henry Drummond Wolff [left] is mentioned, although he seems to have no involvement save the fact that it was while Walpole, his cousin, was assigned in an "ornamental" capacity to Wolff, that the indiscretions involving Wiedemann occurred. That also seems more than a small slap at Walpole.

Lord Walter Campbell, who had been a merchant as well as having been titled as Duke of Argyll, is mentioned as the employer and benefactor who brought Wiedemann's case to the attention of the Gazette.

The article snidely remarks that: "One would have supposed that any of the Campbells would have an instinctive aversion from law and the law courts." This, apparently, alluded to the fact that in the press at that very time, Lord Campbell had been beset by marital difficulties brought on by the infidelities of his wife, affairs that he steadfastly refused to address via divorce.

The New York Times of 10 May 1914, in recounting Lord Campbell's unhappy marriage, stated:

Lady Walter Campbell's loveliness was equaled only by her indiscretions, and on a memorable day Lord Walter abandoned her in Biarritz, taking away their two children from her, informing her that he washed his hands of her forever, and that if he refrained from instituting divorce proceedings against her it was because he did not wish to furnish a second chapter to the disgraceful story of the matrimonial experiences of his brother, the late Lord Colin Campbell, or to tarnish the escutcheon of the Dukedom of Argyll with another great public scandal.

Shortly afterward, Lord Walter, who had been passionately devoted to his wife, sailed for South Africa in search of a change of scene, leaving his children with his father, the eighth Duke, at Inverary Castle. But he died [at the age of 40] within a fortnight of landing at the Cape.

In a Biography of Lady Campbell [pictured right, born Gertrude Elizabeth Blood in May 1857], it's noted that back "in October 1880 she visited family friends staying in Scotland and met Lord Colin Campbell, MP and youngest son of the 8th Duke of Argyll. Within three days they were engaged, and despite his family's objections they married the following year. As Lady Colin Campbell, she was launched into an elevated social circle where she enjoyed the company of royalty, eminent politicians, and famous characters from the world of literature and art. But all was not well at home, as the couple's incompatibility became glaringly apparent. Despite desperate family attempts at mediation the marriage broke down [in 1884] irrevocably and ended up in the dreaded divorce courts [in 1886]. She accused him of adultery and cruelty. He accused her of adultery with four co-respondents and scandalised society with such a suggestion. A Duke, a general, a doctor, and a fire-chief were all named by Lord Colin in his thirst for victory in what was to become the longest divorce trial in English legal history.

After the acrimonious trial the couple went their separate ways. Lord Colin was indebted, embittered, and an embarrassment to his prominent family."

The widespread reverberations of all of these painful events must still have been clearly felt in London courtrooms as Wiedemann v. Walpole loomed in 1888. It's easy to see why Lord Campbell avoided his own time in court, but would have wanted to reach out and help another seemingly broken-hearted soul, ironically just months before his own tragic and untimely passing.

Finally, the article refers to Gladstone, the Duke of Newcastle, and Walpole's uncle, Lord Horatio Walpole, the 4th Earl of Orford. It's fairly descriptive of the suggested scenario, but leaves out the fact that the Duke of Newcastle had been influential in Gladstone having been elected to Parliament in 1832 as M.P. for Newark. Gladstone clearly had extremely close ties to the Duke, with whom he'd attended Oxford.

In a brief biography of Henry Pelham-Clinton, the 5th Duke of Newcastle under Lyne, on the website of the University of Nottinghham, it relates the following [my emphases]:

Newcastle's personal life was unfortunately rife with unhappiness. His marriage was fraught with difficulties and ended in divorce in 1850. His relationship with his father was strained, particularly in later life as the political beliefs of father and son became increasingly divergent, as were his relationships with most of his children.

In 1832 he married Lady Susan Hamilton Douglas (1814-1889), only daughter of the 10th Duke of Hamilton and they had five children.

heir marriage was not a success and they were divorced in 1850 after a considerable scandal as his wife, who was considered by some to be mentally unstable, eloped and had an illegitimate child (Horatio Walpole) by Lord Horatio Walpole [left] (later 4th Earl of Oxford [sic]). She later remarried in 1860 M. Jean Alexis Opdebeck of Brussels.

The Argus article of 5 January 1889 makes it clear that they considered the behavior of Robert Horace Walpole almost a family trait, writing: "He has only been imitating the example of the uncle, Lord Orford, whose heir he is." Apparently, after the elopement of his uncle with an unstable married woman and siring of an illegitimate son with her, the Argus simply is less than shocked by young Robert Walpole's similar behavior. In fact, the anonymous author insultingly states that Walpole's "close" and "obstinate," but seemingly takes little issue with Walpole's actual behavior toward Wiedemann.

Oh—and what does "
F. O. repose" mean?

Anyway, the landscape of British society in the early 1880s seems to have been littered with a plethora of the closet skeletons of the well-to-do and the peerage. Perhaps, coming on the heels of these other scandalous cases, Walpole's alleged seduction, rape, impregnation, and abandonment of Frau Wiedemann became a case of "been there… done that" among the public and the courts.

Still, reaction wasn't entirely blasé in London at the time. Here's an extremely brief article from the Northern Territory Times and Gazette dated Saturday 22 December 1888:

The PALL MALL GAZETTE is championing the application of Miss Wiedemann for a new trial in her case against Robert Horace Walpole, the heir to the Earl of Orford, for alleged seduction.

We already know that Wiedemann had been granted a mistrial. Interestingly, here's how it was reported in a column called "TOPICS OF THE DAY [From Our London Correspondent]" in the Star, New Zealand, dated 26 June 1889:

MISS WIEDEMANN'S GRIEVANCES. The Court of Appeal has granted Fraulein Wiedemann's application for a new trial, so we may after all get to the bottom of the young lady's peculiar relations with Mr. Robert Walpole. It is worth remarking that, though the Walpoles loudly expressed regret at the first trial's falling through and said they could have proved this, that and the other had it gone on, they nevertheless opposed Miss Wiedemann's application for a re-hearing tooth and nail. We were also shown the line which they now mean to take up, as the Solicitor-General hinted the unfortunate girl had become mentally irresponsible. Miss Wiedemann's friends will surely take care, after this timely hint, to present her in the witness-box cool, calm and resolved not to be made angry.

One needs only to read a few lines below that snippet to be reminded of how tragic the entire Wiedemann v. Walpole case was fast becoming. Here's another blurb, ironically in the very same column, under the sub-heading "LORD WALTER CAMPBELL'S DEATH." It states:

Poor Lord Walter Campbell never quite got over the shock of his wife's elopement. He had been in poor health for some time, but it was hoped the business trip to the Transvaal would put him right. It seems, on the contrary, to have killed him. Like most of the Campbells, Lord Walter was "something in the City," or, in other words, earned a fair income as a " guinea pig" of the reputable sort. After the Colin Campbell esclandre, the family could not stand washing more dirty linen in public, and no proceedings for divorce were in consequence taken against Lord Walter's wife.

These words were printed about Walter Campbell of Inverary Castle [right] in 1889 on 26 June, via the newspaper's London correspondent. Earlier, on 11 March of the same year, Louise Melissa Walpole, Robert's relatively new bride, had given birth to a daughter, Dorothy Rachel Melissa Walpole.

It was into this landscape of adultery, scandal, and divorce among the rich and famous that our Lady Dorothy Mills had been born. To think that it hadn't colored the world in which she was raised, both at home and around England, would be naive.

Next time we'll take just a little closer look at that world into which she was born, particularly the now seemingly forgotten particulars of the Langworthy case mentioned above. Until then, please add anything you can to this context for the proceedings of Wiedemann v. Walpole, or the life of our young Dororthy!

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