Saturday, January 29, 2011

February 9, 1848 --- An Old Rake

The notorious Charles, Duke of Brunswick successfully sues The Satirist, a London tabloid which had suggested that he was "habituated to unnatural practices."  The editor offered no proof other than to "advert to the dress and appearance of the plaintiff, as rendering him an object of curiosity." The court's judgment of £1000 will no doubt never be paid but the Duke has the comfort of watching his persecutors dragged off to gaol.

Now in his early forties, Charles had survived a mad and bad youth. Lady Longford describes him coyly as a "Byronic desperado." His behavior had even managed to disgust his uncle, George IV, no mean achievement,. When he came of age, the Duke left England for his native duchy in Germany but the people soon rebelled against his depravities and drove him back to London exile. At one point, there were even rumors that he might make a sally at the young Princess Victoria. Although he was fifteen years her senior, she was taken by him, especially his stylishly long hair. Before the racing emotions could go too far, the Princess' advisors began the search for a more suitable consort.

The Duke's confrontation with the press was not his first. Some years before, The Age had accused him of "imputations so foul and dreadful a nature that no individual, either Prince or peasant, could endure to have them brought forward against him." The editors were unrepentant: "We own ourselves to be the chasteners of that aristocratic viciousness which is overturning the morality of the country." 

The Duke never married and lived out his years in Geneva.  He saw few people owing to his fear of robbers and poisons.  He had his meals prepared by one trusted chef and served to him in locked dishes.  He died in 1873 and left his exquisite horde of diamonds and his American railway bonds to "the people of Geneva."  The monument above celebrates the gift.

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