Thursday, January 20, 2011

January 30, 1862 --- "Mad" Windham

After a 34 day lunatico inquirendo, a jury finds the so-called "Mad Windham" to be a person of sound mind "so as to be sufficient for the governance of himself." So ends a process that The Times called "unprecedented for its duration, for the scandalous waste of money which it has occasioned, and for the inexpressible filthiness of some of its details."

William Windham, bearing one of the first names in Norfolkshire, had turned 21 the previous summer, coming into an estate worth some 15,000 pounds a year. The young Windham had been a difficult charge.  Losing his father at an early age, he was raised by a series of tutors, or "keepers." His conduct at Eton had earned him the "Mad" nickname. Dismissed at last, though but a teen, he became a regular figure in London's Haymarket, frequenting the most vile of inns.  At home, he disported himself in the nude, soiling his bed repeatedly.  Curiously, he fancied himself a railwayman, often appearing socially in smoke-blackened clothing. He once clambered aboard a train at Norwich station and blasted the whistle, setting off a dangerous panic in the crowded yard.  The final straw was his wedding to a notorious woman whom he happily shared with a flash chap known as "Bawdyhouse Roberts."  Windham drew up a will - later thrown out in Chancery Court - that would have left his entire fortune to the dubious "Mrs. Windham." 

The family took action hoping to have Windham declared insane.  Only Windham's mother, a sister of the Marquis of Bristol, stood by him.  The Windham estate suggested that the young man needed to be placed under the care of a "good, kind, virtuous friend."  Yet when Windham was questioned before the lunacy panel, including "mad doctors," they were struck by his intelligence and manners.  Windham's lawyer conceded that the young man's lifestyle might disgust some people but if "profligacy and vice are insanity than London's asylums would be filled."  The Lancet agreed with the final ruling, condemning "the blind or perverse confounding of vice with insanity." 

Windham would not survive long, he was dead at 25.  Having lost the splendid family estate at Felbrigg (pictured above), he ended his days as a coachman "in more or less dissipated company."

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