Last summer I made a decision that I almost came to regret. The end of the story seemed the most tragic of all I'd done here. And today finally seems the time to finish with it.
I had decided to tackle the courtroom drama between Robert Horace Walpole, 5th and Final Earl of Orford, and Miss Valerie Wiedemann (sometimes spelled "Weidemann") regarding his alleged rape of her in Istanbul, and his claim that she was merely an adventuress looking for blackmail money after satisfying his lust. In fact, at the outset, I had intended to transcribe it ain its entirety to make it all searchable here. I wearily soon gave up on that.
It was somewhat related to our study of George Mills because Walpole, a man of questionable character despite the courts predictably coming down along his side of the argument when all was said and done. Both sides admitted what amounted to sexual contact, but whether that was consensual (and whether Walpoole afterwards had given her a signet ring and a promise of marriage) was in question. The precipitating events occurred in September 1882. [The entire unwieldy thread can be accessed by clicking HERE.]
Walpole, then the bachelor heir to the Earldom of Orford, later married American heiress Louise Melissa Corbin on 17 May 1888 at the English Embassy Church in Paris, France. Miss Corbin, daughter of multi-millionaire capitalist and railroad magnate D. C. Corbin of the northwestern United States, was raised by her mother, Louisa Corbin, an eternally sickly (or perhaps hypochondriacal) 'hothouse orchid' of a woman who raised her children, including Louise, in and around the great spas of Europe. Young Louise, presumably in line for a large inheritance from her elderly father (a man she actually barely knew) and twelve years Walpole's junior, must have been quite a catch for Robert (whose landed family was in need of a great influx of cash), and the engagement was written up in a December 1887 supplement of LIFE magazine.
LIFE also published a picture of the young Louise [right; click to enlarge]—an action that would carry tragic consequences.
Wiedemann, then in England, serving as a governess and still trying unsuccessfully to contact Walpole about his alleged promise to her (and to his illegitimate child), saw the photograph of the heiress in the periodical and apparently snapped.
Walpole v. Wiedemann became a scandalous staple for readers in Great Britain and around the world during three sensational, lurid, and always surprising trials from 1888 through 1891. Of the sheltered Louise and that published image, I wrote last year: "[Louise had] 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."
What couldn't have helped matters was the trial returned to popular discourse another Victorian sex scandal, one involving Walpole's uncle, Horatio Walpole, who had run off with a friend's mentally unstable wife and fathered an illegitimate child around 1850.
Three Walpole v. Wiedemann trials occurred, as well as numerous appeals. Weiedemann was left a beggar (who oddly appears of no UK census, during the 1891 trial or after), portrayed in the press as driven mad and still trying to raise money for a 4th day in court and justice.
Louise had not weathered the embarrassment of the scandals and the threats very well, to say the least.
During the sequence of trials, she gave birth to the couple's first child, a daughter, Dorothy Rachel Melissa Walpole (who would later become Lady Dorothy Mills) on 11 March 1889 in Kensington, London, England.
Soon after, the following item appeared in the The Pullman [Washington] Herald reported on 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 that she can not recover. Since the scandal between her husband and Miss Wieldman [sic] 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 [sic]."
The frightening words there, in the hometown newspaper of D.C. Corbin, are: "...her friends fear she cannot recover."
During the course of the many trials, Louise—who had survived that scare back in 1889, after attending and hearing much of the distressing testimony while she was pregnant—once again became pregnant with a child who would hopefully become Walpole's own subsequent heir to the Earldom of Orford. Louise gave birth to a son, Horatio Corbin Walpole, on 9 January 1891. Little Horatio likely would have been conceived in May of 1890, between the appeal of the first Wiedemann v. Walpole trial in April and the onset of the second trial in June 1890…
There is no public record of the details of Horatio's birth or christening, and whether or not he was a healthy infant. However... young Horatio died on 20 May 1893, suddenly leaving Robert Horace Walpole without a male heir—something that would become a real problem for him in the future [The statue of Horatio at his tomb is seen, left; click to enlarge].
From the 8 December 1894 edition of the Toronto Daily Mail, hower, came better 'family' news for Robert Walpole: "London, Dec. 7.—The sudden death of the Earl of Orford is announced. He will be succeeded by his nephew, Robert Horace Walpole, who in 1888 married Miss Louise Melissa Corbin, of New York. The succession to the Earldom of Orford recalls the suit for breach of promise brought against the new Earl by a German governess of Constantinople prior to his marriage to Miss Corbin."
While the 4th Earl's passing (and the sale of his estate, especiually his collection of rare books) brought the new Lord Orford an immediate influx of cash, it still reminded everyone of the costly and scandalous trials—something that must have eaten at Louise, still mourning the passing of her son, Horatio.
We'll soon see that, in 1894, Lousie did not seem to have been in the best of spirits.
But, come 1905, we find an article entitled "Ladies' Gossip" from the Otago [N. Z.] Witness on 15 February 1905, which contains this description: "The present peer [Walpole] met his bride in Paris when she was Miss Louise Melissa Corbin, daughter of a well-known railway king of New York [sic], and after their marriage the couple lived very quietly in a little house at Waybourne [also Weybourne and Waborne], when Mr Walpole's duties as a sub-lieutenant in the Navy did not call him elsewhere. When he succeeded to the title, he went globe trotting with his wife and visited Japan, Ceylon, the West Indies, and America. In Florida they took to tarpon fishing with notable success, to which a 183-pounder, stuffed and varnished, which adorns the staircase at Mannington Hall, bears mute testimony. It was on the strength of this and other achievements that the Earl and Countess were asked to write on tarpon fishing for the Badminton Library."
Things seem to have settled down for Robert and Louise in the intervening decade. A time in the couple's life during which Walpole was embroiled in an embarrassing sexual scandal and the papers blared his family's name constantly was, by 1905, summed up entirely as having lived "very quietly in a little house," and his departures in association with those frequent court appearances he made became carrying out his "duties as a sub-lieutenant in the Navy"—which Walpole indeed was when he encountered Wiedemann during his time of indiscretion.
In fact, the June 1905 edition of Ainslee's (Vol. XV, No. 5), describes that "little house" in greater detail: "Lady Orford—who was Miss Corbin—lives at Waborne Hall, her husband’s magnificent Georgian place in Norfolk. There she gives shooting parties, from there she goes with her husband and pretty young daughter to fish in Scotland and Norway, and the chief interest that brings her up to London is her taste for music and the opera, which, she declares, is the only pleasure that one cannot gratify out of town."
A quiet life in a little house, indeed!
Two weeks later, The Bruce [N.Z.] Herald ran a story on 28 February [Huitanguru] 1905 on Robert Horace Walpole, Earl of Orford [spelled "Oxford" in the article, entitled "The Earl of Oxford"]: "The Earl of Oxford [sic], who has had his Georgian mansion, Wolterton Hall [right], built by Ripley for Sir Horace Walpole, thoroughly modernised from cellar to attic, is a peer who has had many stirring adventures in his half-century of life…
In 1888 he married Miss Louise Corbin, the daughter of the famous American railroad magnate, who, sharing to the full his adventurous spirit, has accompanied him on all his world-wide travels and helped him shoot big game in all parts of the earth."
Lady Dorothy Mills had accompanied her mother and father on these extensive, and likely expensive, trips.
1905 was a year in which the Countess, Louise, was for some reason in the public eye. It is unlikely, however, that she had wanted the attention. We can determine that from this item in the 15 December 1905 edition of the Otago [N. Z.] Witness: "The Countess of Orford, although her portrait is rarely seen in any illustrated paper, is one of the most interesting Anglo-American peeresses. Her sporting record is quite exceptional, and, together with her husband—now the head of the Walpole family—she has traveled in search of sport in many little-known countries, and she is one of the few women who have enjoyed the excitement of tarpon fishing, Lord Orford's favourite outdoor amusement."
While all seems quite rosy in this glamourous marriage of an American heiress to an adventurous peer, the phrase, "her portrait is rarely seen in any illustrated paper," jumps out as one that still is dripping with the pain of the trails, and Valerie Wiedemann's threats of a "curse" after Louise's portrait ran in LIFE magazine.
Despite Walpole's adventurous lifestyle, Corbin had not provided the influx of cash that the family felt it needed, except after the death of his uncle, the Earl, and that seems to have been quickly spent. In fact, Corbin seemed to distrust, or at least dislike, Walpole completely. From historylink.org we discover: "When D. C. Corbin died in 1918, he left to that branch of the family only a trust fund for his granddaughter [that would be Lady Dorothy] from which she could not draw income until the death of her father, the earl. In the meantime, Lord Orford’s diary makes it clear that, during his marriage, little money had been forthcoming from his rich American father-in-law."
The elder Corbin, in fact, would outlive his daughter, Louise, by nine years.
Louise Melissa Corbin Walpole passed away on 4 May 1909. From a special cable from London to the New York, the Times ran this headline: "COUNTESS OF ORFORD DROPS DEAD IN HOME; Niece of Austin Corbin Collapses While Preparing for a Motor Trip. WAS WELL KNOWN HERE Visited New York Nearly Every Year and Was Interested in Fishing, Shooting, and Other Sports."
Sickness, we see, still had been stalking Louise. The New York Times article goes on to state: "The Countess of Orford (nee Corbin) died to-day with tragic suddenness at her home in Wolterton Park, Norfolk. She had been ill for several days, but the indisposition was so slight that she had arranged to go motoring this afternoon."
The 5 May 1905 New York Sun reported [below, right]: "She had been indisposed for several days, but her condition did not seem in any way serious. She was dressing for an automobile ride when she collapsed. Her maid summoned her daughter Dorothy, who reached the room just before her mother died. The Earl of Orford, who was in London, hastened with all speed to Wolterton Park when he heard the sad news."
This is far more coverage than the scant 50 or so words run by the London Times for her obituary. The headline by itslef in the New York Times, by comparison, was 36 words long. It should be mentioned that the family was not from and did not live in New York City, although that was often written.
Louise Melissa Corbin Walpole seems to me to be an exceptionally tragic figure in our research regarding George Mills and his family. She never would have met George, having passed away in Norfolk while he was a child, likely at school in Parkfield at Haywards Heath. Her daughter, Dorothy, would become a popular and prolific author, but Dorothy's biography only mentions Louise once, in passing, unnamed. We have no idea what, if any, were Louise's last words.
Still, her impact on her daughter, Dorothy, who would be disowned by her father and family by choosing to marry George's brother, Arthur Frederick Hobart Mills, for love and not money, would carry over into her relations with the Mills family.
Louise clearly had known what it was like to have married without love having been the major factor—and she must have been disappointed almost immediately with the life she and Robert Walpole led, despite all of the "globe trotting" and estates. Walpole hungered not only for revenue streams, but also for an heir that Louise was unable to provide. This must have been a source of some friction, or at least resentment, in the marriage, and none of this would have been lost on a girl with so keen a mind as young Dorothy.
We'll end here, but next time we'll consider the impact that Louise had on her daughter, and how that legacy played out in her relations with the Mills family... and her own.