Saturday, January 29, 2011

February 4, 1864 --- The Great Scandal of the Hour

On the very day of an eagerly awaited suit charging the 79-year old Prime Minister Lord Palmerston with adultery, the plaintiff withdraws his action. "In town and country, nothing was talked of for days than the Palmerston case," complained Lord Clarendon. Political enemies charged that such a "licentious" man could not continue as first minister to "our widowed Queen." Even Palmerston's political allies were shaken; the upright Mr. Gladstone balked at spending a weekend with Lord and Lady Palmerston "in present circumstances."

"Old Pam" stood accused of seducing Margaret O'Kane, an erstwhile actress and now the wife of an Irish journalist.Thaddeus O'Kane claimed that his wife and the P.M. had made love on several occasions at Pam's Piccadilly mansion, Cambridge House. "Mrs." O'Kane had countered first by denying the allegation.  She then added the remarkable bit of detail that she and O'Kane had never been legally married; hence, no adultery. For his part, Palmerston simply denied everything and charged that O'Kane had demanded £20,000 for his silence, suggesting that the plaintiff was merely a disappointed black-mailer. O'Kane insists that he only withdrew the suit to protect his children.  He boasted that he had the evidence that "without a doubt" would have convinced a jury.

The judge, Sir James Wilde, after severely censuring O'Kane, declares: "It is a matter of great satisfaction to the Court that the name of the co-respondent, which is never mentioned in England without a just pride, should have passed from its annals without stain." The Times conceded, with understandable Tory disappointment, "The great scandal so eagerly bruited among the coteries of Vanity Fair in the dull season has at length run its course." 

Disraeli guessed, accurately, that the "absurd escapade" would boost Palmerston's popularity.  The joke went round the clubs, "She may be Kane but is Palmerston Abel?"

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