Monday, May 30, 2011

June 4, 1860 --- The Abode of Love

A suit before the Vice Chancellor's Court gives the curious public a closer look at the Rev. Henry Prince, founder of Agapemone, a mysterious religious commune in Somerset.

Prince, a defrocked C-of-E curate, styled himself "the Beloved," claiming to be, variably, John the Baptist or the prophet Elijah. He fully believed in his own immortality and that of his faithful. At its peak, his 200-acre "Abode of Love" near Spaxton had hundreds of followers living behind locked gates. Polygamy was suspected but even worse, Rev. Prince reputedly made love with favored disciples in front of the congregation! One snoop, who braved the hungry hounds roaming the estate, reported seeing nothing more sinister however, than men and woman playing a "joyous" game of field hockey.

The suit in question involves the peculiar Nottidge sisters of Stowmarket. Three of them had married "Brothers" of Rev. Prince. The fourth and eldest, Louisa, a simple-minded woman, had joined up first but, in late 1846, she had to be committed to an asylum for almost two years. On the very day of her release, Prince's minions escorted the hapless woman to her stockbrokers where she signed over to "the Beloved" some £5700 in 3% annuities. When Louisa died in 1859, her brother Ralph - who had failed to show the devotion of his sisters - filed suit alleging "misrepresentation, deception and undue influence due to Louisa's religious delusions." Rev. Prince, claiming piously to be more interested in truth than money, accuses the family of hypocrisy. They too, he insists, are only after her money. After four days of testimony and a month of deliberation, the court rules for Ralph Nottidge, finding it shocking that Louisa or any human being could be found "with an understanding so weak and degraded." As for Rev. Prince, the Vice-Chancellor thought him guilty of a gross imposture, mitigated only by the fact that he is '"under the influence of a disordered imagination."

The Times hailed the decision but feared that religious credulity would seem to be "an ineradicable weakness of the human intellect." Although the unfavorable publicity sent Agapemone into decline, "the Beloved," while not immortal, lived on with his followers to the age of 88. He was succeeded in 1899 by the Reverend John Smyth-Piggot, who still wore the vestments of the Church of England. Smyth-Piggot continued the tradition of selecting his "spiritual wives" from the congregation until he was at last dismissed by his Bishop for "wickedness of life."

A sketch of "The Abode of Love" from the Illustrated London News.

June 3, 1896 --- A Derby Winner for the Prince

All hail the Prince of Wales as his horse wins the Derby. It has been 108 years since a Prince (the future George IV) led his horse into the winner's circle at Epsom.

On a hard track despite a light morning rain, Persimmon, (Watts, the jockey, clad in the Prince's garish silks; purple with gold braid and scarlet sleeves and a black velvet cap with gold fringe!) goes off at 5-to-1. Lagging in the early stages, the Prince's colt catches the leaders at Tattersall's and, in a fierce stretch drive, edges the favorite, St. Frusquin (at 13-8), by a neck.

Some "railbirds" felt that had not St. Frusquin's jockey broken a stirrup the outcome might have been different. Other cynics in the paddock whispered that Leopold de Rothschild - owner of the favored colt - was known to harbor the thought that a win for the Royal stables would be for "the good of the sport of Kings." The theory gained more acceptance when St. Frusquin easily bested Persimmon in a rematch at Newmarket a short time later.

Still, no one will deny the Prince his triumph. Beaming proudly, he leads the horse himself through cheering crowds. The Prince returns to London that evening, several thousand pounds to the good, to host his annual Derby Day dinner for the "turf set" at Marlborough House. The salutes from the crowd outside his home and the good-natured chaff from his guests inside are genuine. The Times declares, "To win the Derby is much, but it is even more to know that a whole nation joins in congratulating him upon his success and in rejoicing because he is glad."

It is the first of three Derby wins for Bertie, his last (Minoru in 1909) coming whilst King. But Persimmon - who also won the prestigious St. Leger in 1896 - retained a special place in the King's memory. When the horse died of a fractured pelvis in 1908, the King mourned, "I have lost a trusty friend." He presented Persimmon's skeleton to the Natural History Museum in Kensington.  A statue of the Derby champion stands at Sandringham. 

A painting of the race by Major Godfrey (

June 2, 1868 --- The Jamaican Rebellion

A special grand jury refuses to indict Edward Eyre, the former British governor of Jamaica, who had harshly crushed a bloody insurrection in October, 1865. For over two years since, Eyre's handling of the rebellion had been subject, in the words of one of his strongest supporters, Thomas Carlyle, to an "insane uproar." So divisive had the issue become that The Saturday Review wondered "Are we henceforth to be separated, as a nation, into negrophilites and anti-negroites?"

When the rebels attacked the courthouse in Morant Bay, 18 people were killed. Initial press reports reaching London detailed barbarous acts of cruelty; rebels drinking rum from the skulls of their victims, etc. Declaring martial law, Eyre put down the rebellion in a month; over 400 were executed, among them the Rev. George Gordon, a black member of the House of Assembly. While Gordon's rhetoric was inflammatory, there was little evidence tying him to the rising. When the hysteria cleared and the first reports were discounted, questions were raised at the Colonial Office. A hasty inquiry cleared Eyre but he was recalled to England.

A newly-formed "Jamaica Committee," headed by John Stuart Mill, demanded Eyre be tried for Gordon's murder. While some attacked Eyre for being "hostile to the Negro," others of his critics chose rather to emphasize conduct which they called "unEnglish." As the scientist Thomas Huxley put it, "English law does not permit good persons, as such, to strangle bad persons, as such." The radical Reynold's Newspaper thought he belonged among "the bloodstained minions of the murderous despots of continental Europe."' Inevitably, an Eyre Defence Committee was formed, chaired by Carlyle who praised the Governor as a "faithful, valiant, wise and manful representative of the English Government." Dickens, Tennyson and Ruskin also lent their names to Eyre's cause.

In the end, some of Eyre's officers were tried, but he was not. He repeatedly maintained, "During a state of warfare ... many things must always occur which are to be deplored, but which are as impossible to foresee as to prevent." Freed by the grand jury, Eyre retired to Devon to escape what he called, "malignant and monstrous calumnies."

June 1, 1879 --- Death of the Prince Imperial

The 23-year old Prince Imperial, Napoléon Eugène Louis Jean Joseph, only son of the late Napoleon III and last hope of the Bonapartists, is slain while serving with British forces in Zululand.

The Prince, with a deserved reputation for impetuosity, left camp with a small reconnaissance party, commanded by Lt. Jahleel Brenton Carey. While dismounted, the unit is attacked by some 40 Zulus. The Prince's horse bolts, dragging him by a stirrup. Falling free, he fights bravely but vainly. His body was found with 18 assegai wounds. Two others are killed but Carey and the rest return to camp. A fellow officer greets him with, "Well, Carey, you're late for dinner." The stricken Carey answers, "I'm fine, but I'm afraid the Prince has been killed."

When word reached London, Prime Minister Disraeli could only grumble, "Now this is bad news." While living in exile in England with his mother, the Prince had volunteered for African duty but it took the Queen's intervention with Disraeli (who dismissed the young Frenchman as "that little abortion") to get it approved. Naturally, Victoria is badly shaken by his death. She writes, "It is too, too awful," and complains of nightmares featuring "those horrid Zulus." In a rare event, which Disraeli correctly predicted would upset the French government, the Queen attended the Prince's funeral at Chislehurst, with his mother, the Empress Eugenie.

As for Lt. Carey, the Duke of Cambridge, Commander-in-Chief, demanded "the most searching investigation to satisfy the world, both at home and abroad, that [the Prince] was not abandoned to his fate by the officer and men who were with him." Carey was at first treated sympathetically, but eventually court-martialed and found guilty of misbehavior in the face of the enemy. A damning piece of evidence was his own letter to his wife, written shortly after the attack: "I am a ruined man I fear ... but it might have been my fate." The Empress asked that the charges be dropped, which they were, but Carey was indeed ruined. Shunned by most, he yet remained in uniform, serving in India until his death in 1885.