Tuesday, August 16, 2011

August 23, 1861 --- Extraordinary Assault by a Foriegn Nobleman

The shocking case of the Baron de Vidil, charged with horse-whipping his son, comes to a mysterious end. The Baron, a minor French nobleman, resided in Twickenham.  He had married a wealthy Englishwoman, now deceased, and had the one son, Alfred, now 23. In July, while riding with his son down a wooded lane near their home, he suddenly attacked the young man with the butt end of his whip. Workers in a nearby field heard Alfred's cries.  They would later swear that the bleeding man ran to them, pleading "Help me, protect me, save me."

The Baron, after briefly seeing to his son's care at a local inn, had fled to France. Traced to the Jockey Club in Paris, de Vidil agreed voluntarily to return to face charges. As the Baron was well known in London gaming circles, his arrest caused great consternation on the Turf and in clubland. Speculation as to motive ran rampant; The Morning Chronicle theorised that "He had injured this young man beyond redemption; he had squandered the fortune entrusted to his keeping, and the day of repayment was at hand."

In the police court, Alfred announced that he would not testify against his father. In the witness stand, still bearing the scars of the attack, he declares: "My mind is fully made up ... and I must still decline to give evidence." Alfred is sentenced to one month in gaol. The trial proceeds without him; field hands, the
innkeeper and the doctor who treated the injured man relate their stories. Serjeant Ballentine, the Baron's counsel, belittles it all. Reminding the English jury, no doubt unnecessarily, that the French are "an excitable race," Ballentine argues that what took place was a family argument, no more, no less, unfortunately in broad daylight, on a public road and ending with injuries causing "little or no inconvenience." His client had been "slandered and calumniated" by gossip and scurrilous journalism.

The Baron is found guilty on the minor charge of unlawful wounding. The presiding judge, however, stressing the fact that the victim had been repeatedly struck with the heavy end of the whip, "for which there can be no possible justification," sentenced de Vidil to a year's hard labor.

A befuddled but fascinated Press is left to but surmise as to what really happened. The Daily Telegraph wonders: "Must we rest contented with this vague and imperfect explanation, which seems to hint at some secret too foul and hideous to be brought into the light of day? It would appear so."

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