Thursday, June 30, 2011

July 13, 1849 --- Hellish Wickedness

Acting in the unlikely role of "private eye," the priggish William Gladstone sets off for the continent, as a favor to his close friend Lord Lincoln, eldest son of his patron, the Duke of Newcastle. The previous summer, Lady Lincoln had run off with her lover, Lord Walpole.

Gladstone's assignment, so to speak, is to seek confirmation of rumors that Lady Susan is with child, which would provide the damning evidence necessary for a divorce action before the House of Lords. He carries with him a "Dear Suzie" letter from Mrs. Gladstone: "Oh, may [my husband's] Christian and tender spirit, the earnest desire which fills his heart, produce an effect on you, dear Suzie, and lead you to follow his advice."

Criss-crossing the continent in comic opera fashion, chasing carriages, peeking in windows, Gladstone finally cornered his quarry at Lake Como. She refused to discuss her affairs with him and returned Mrs. Gladstone's letter unopened. But he had seen enough, writing home: "The unhappy subject of our cares is within a few weeks, probably a few days, of her delivery...[a] triumph of hellish wickedness over a woman of the rarest gifts, and the utter devastation of heart & home & profanation of the holy mystery of marriage. Lord have mercy upon us."

Lord Lincoln (pictured) had what he needed.  He replied to his emissary: "I hope the time may come when I may be able to revenge myself upon her by some act of kindness done to her without her knowledge." With Gladstone's testimony, the Lords granted a divorce in August, 1850. Gladstone's involvement in the scandal haunted him for some time. His later opposition to liberalized divorce laws in England was undercut and when the use of "detectives" to gather evidence in the new divorce courts was criticized in the Press, defenders of the "profession" recalled, with a smirk, that one "right honorable gentleman, once a Minister of the Crown, had tracked the wife of a noble Duke ... all through Italy."

No comments:

Post a Comment