1687: Duke dispatched by gangrene in his privities

George Villiers (1628-1687) was an English courtier, politician, writer and, later, the second Duke of Buckingham. His father, also George Villiers, was a favourite (and according to some, a bisexual lover) of King James I. Villiers senior was stabbed to death shortly after the birth of his son, who was then raised in the royal court alongside the future Charles II. Young George was sent to study at Cambridge but was bored by lectures, being spotted by Thomas Hobbes “at mastrupation, his hand in his codpiece”. Villiers sided with the Royalists during the English Civil War, later joining Charles II in exile. He returned to England in 1657 and participated in the Restoration, serving in Charles’ court and on the Privy Council. His political career was marked by scandals, intrigues and feuds. Two notable incidents were a hair-pulling brawl with the Marquess of Dorchester on the floor of the House of Lords, and a 1668 duel where Villiers shot dead the Earl of Shrewsbury. Villiers had been having an affair with the Countess of Shrewsbury; he later caused public outrage by moving the countess into his own home and living in a virtual menage a trios.

Villiers retired from public life in the late 1670s and retreated to his Yorkshire estate. He died in April 1687. The official cause of death was a pneumonia contracted while hunting in cold weather – however a letter written by Lord Arran, the future Duke of Hamilton, suggests a more colourful end. According to Arran he called on Villiers and found him dying of gangrenous private parts:

“He told me he was on horseback but two days before… He told me he had a mighty descent [and had] fallen upon his privities, with an inflammation and great swelling. He thought by applying warm medicines the swelling would fall and then he would be at ease. But it proved otherwise, for a mortification came on those parts, which ran up his belly and so mounted, which was the occasion of his death…. I found him there in a most miserable condition.”

George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham

Even though he remained conscious and alert, Villiers’ doctors gave him but a day or two to live. They asked Arran to break the news to Villiers, who received it stoically. He deteriorated rapidly and passed away at 11 o’clock the following night. Villiers was interred in Westminster Abbey, his funeral a somewhat grandiose and overblown affair, given his tumultuous and controversial political career. Having expired without a legitimate heir, Villiers’ ducal title died with him and his estate was broken up and sold. His wife Mary died in 1704 and was interred alongside him in the Abbey; their graves are presently unmarked.

Source: Letter from Lord Arran to the Bishop of Rochester, April 17th 1687. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1753: The Earl of Chesterfield notes similarities in dog farts

Philip Dormer Stanhope (1694-1773) was an English Whig politician and, from his father’s death in 1726, the fourth Earl of Chesterfield. Stanhope was born in Westminster and educated by tutors before studying at Cambridge. After completing a grand tour of Europe he returned to London and, in 1715, won a seat in the House of Commons. Stanhope’s maiden speech was a fiery attack on the Tories; according to an apocryphal legend they responded by threatening to fine him £500 for speaking in the Commons before his 21st birthday, which was still six weeks away. Stanhope survived this early hiccup to serve more than 50 years as a parliamentarian. He also spent several years on the continent as a diplomat and ambassador. Stanhope’s best known literacy legacy was a collection of letters he wrote to his son, also named Philip, during the 1740s and 1750s. Most of Stanhope’s letters are informative, educational and advisory, an attempt to prepare his son for the earldom – however he occasionally lapsed into whimsy.

In October 1753 Stanhope penned a long missive to Philip Junior that explored Jewish culture, Turkish history and how to conduct oneself around women. Stanhope interrupted this lecture to tell his son he had purchased a new dog:

“I have had a barbet [water dog] brought me from France, so exactly like [your dog] Sultan that he has been mistaken for him several times, only his snout is shorter and his ears longer than Sultan’s. [I] have acquired him the name of Loyola… My Loyola, I pretend, is superior to your Sultan… I must not omit too that when he breaks wind, he smells exactly like Sultan.”

Source: Letter from the Earl of Chesterfield to Philip Stanhope, October 19th 1753. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.