Tuesday, December 20, 2011

December 20, 1886 --- A Torrent of Filth

At last, the month-long Campbell v. Campbell divorce action comes to an end.  The Times called it "an unsurpassably offensive business."  The beautiful Lady Gertrude Campbell had charged her husband with cruelty and adultery. Lord Colin, eldest son and heir of the Duke of Argyll, countered by claiming that his wife had taken no fewer than four lovers, including the 8th Duke of Marlborough and Captain Shaw, the heroic commander of the London Fire Brigade.

For four weeks, the public had revelled in the sordid details of life at 79 Cadogan Place. Lady Gertrude testified that upon her wedding day she was informed that due to her husband's health, the marriage could not be immediately consummated.  He claimed it was fistula; but she learned that Lord Colin's "specific complaint" was syphillis. Although he professed to have been cured, he soon infected his wife and all physical relations between the two ended.

The charges and countercharges of infidelity seemed unending.  Lady Campbell said her husband had slept with men and had also raped a servant girl. That young lady, however, was found to be virgo intacta and Lady Gertrude's credibility suffered. The lawyers for Lord Colin detailed her Ladyship's numerous gentleman callers.  The most frequent visitor was Marlborough, a notorious philanderer and divorced from his wife.  The jury was informed that Lady Campbell's doctor, Thomas Bird, was found asleep in her bed, though the wags quipped that it would have been worse had he been found awake!  A servant testified to peering through the drawing room keyhole to see Lady Campbell and Capt. Shaw in flagrante delicto on the floor.   The jury was actually taken to Cadogan Place to peer through said keyhole.  Lady Campbell's lawyers pointed out that a key in the lock would have frustrated any peeping toms.  In the end, Lady Gertrude put up the unique defense that she simply did not have the time for adultery, between her social obligations and her charity work in Stepney.

After all this, the jury dismissed both petitions. The Spectator described the trial as a "torrent of filth [with] no result except to vitiate still more the already vitiated atmosphere of society." Lord Colin drifted off to India and an early death. Lady Gertrude never remarried, her beauty captured by Boldini in a painting (left) done ten years after the trial, which now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. A portrait of her nude by Whistler was destroyed by the artist's wife. When Marlborough died suddenly in 1892, he left her £20,000 (roughly her court costs) "as proof of my friendship and esteem."

No comments:

Post a Comment