Thursday, June 30, 2011

July 16, 1864 --- A Noble Jilt

Before few witnesses, at St. George's, Hanover Square, the Marquis of Hastings marries Lady Florence Paget. A petite beauty known as "the pocket Venus," Lady Paget had been engaged to be married to the  Marquis' best friend, the popular sportsman, Harry Chaplin. The two had been rivals for the lady but she'd accepted Chaplin at last and the wedding of the wealthy Lincolnshire squire and the daughter of the Marquis of Anglesey promised to be the event of the season.

But only days before the ceremony, while ostensibly out shopping for her trousseau, Florence goes in one door at Marshall and Snelgrove's on Oxford Street and slips out the Vere Street side door to a waiting carriage where, marriage license in hand, sits the Marquis. In one version of this oft-told tale, the hapless Harry waits patiently outside the store in his carriage for his betrothed, unknowingly the victim of a most infamous "jilt."

The audacity of it all.  Only the night before, the three principles had shared a box at Covent Garden Opera House. The fashionable Morning Post confessed surprise in its brief item on what it described as a "hurried and unexpected" marriage, "more particularly to the connexions of her ladyship none of whom were witnesses to the ceremony." To its American readers, Saunders' Newsletter reported that the "escalandre" had stunned London society: "Tho' everyone considers Mr. Chaplin most cruelly used, there are few who do not trust that - the first impulse of disappointed hopes over - common sense will soon induce him to recognize that there are some apparent losses which, being steadily examined, assume the permanent shape of a veritable gain."

Chaplin's revenge would come on Derby Day, 1867. Their friendship over, obviously, the two men became bitter rivals on the Turf. On an unseasonably cold May day, Chaplin's horse, Hermit (for whom he outbid Hastings at auction) went off at 66-to-1. Hastings bet heavily on the favorite, taking spiteful side action on Chaplin's longshot horse. In a storybook ending, Hermit charged out of the sleet to win, stunning the oddsmakers and costing Hastings no less than £120,000. Chaplin's winnings were £140,000.

Just over a year later, Hastings was dead, a combination of debt and drink. In an unusually scornful note on the Marquis' passing, The Times stated that he died "ruined in health, in honor and in estate." Chaplin married well, taking a sister of the Duke of Sutherland to the altar. Lady Florence remarried but never returned to society.

Lady Florence Paget (from the Frecker Collection).

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