Category Archives: Nobility

1687: Duke dispatched by gangrene in his privities

George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham

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 trois.

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 pneumonia contracted while hunting in cold weather – but 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.”

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 the patient, who received it stoically. Villiers deteriorated rapidly and passed away at 11 o’clock the following night. Villiers’ body was interred in Westminster Abbey, his funeral quite a grandiose and overblown affair, given his tumultuous and controversial political career.

Having passed away 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 at Westminster Abbey. Their graves are 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: 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 – but 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.

1536: Lord Edmund beaten for bed-wetting

Lord Edmund Howard was a British nobleman and a courtier to Henry VIII. He was also related to Henry’s three ill-fated wives (Anne Boleyn was his niece, Jane Seymour a cousin’s daughter and Catherine Howard his own daughter).

An inveterate gambler, Howard squandered a fortune acquired from his first wife and had to palm off his children on relatives. He was also plagued by ill health. While stationed in Calais in the mid-1530s Howard suffered from painful kidney stones. For advice, he turned to Viscountess Lisle, an influential member of the court with a reputation for dispensing good medical advice.

Lady Lisle provided Howard with a diuretic “powder for stones”, probably dandelion-based. In a letter believed to have been written in 1536, Howard wrote to Lady Lisle to advise that her powder had resolved his kidney stones – but had left him with another embarrassing problem:

“I have taken your medicine, which has done me much good. It has caused the stone to break and now I void much gravel. But for all that, your said medicine hath done me little honesty, for it made me piss my bed this night, for which my wife has sore beaten me, saying ‘it is children’s parts to bepiss their bed’. You have made me such a pisser that I dare not this day go abroad.”

Howard asked Lady Lisle to provide him with “a wing or a leg of a stork”, as he had heard that eating one of these would put an end to his bed-wetting. It is not known whether he resolved his particular problem, however, his health continued to deteriorate and he died in 1539.

Source: Letter from Lord Edmund Howard to Viscountess Lisle, undated, c.1536. 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.

1814: Tibetan nobles clamour for Dalai droppings

John Pinkerton (1758-1826) was a Scottish explorer and cartographer, best known for his 1808 atlas which updated and greatly improved many 18th century maps. He was also a prolific writer of histories and travelogues. In 1814, Pinkerton published a volume summarising his “most interesting” voyages and travels in various parts of the world. One of these chapters described the people of Tibet and their devotion to its political and spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama:

“…The grandees [nobles] of the kingdom are very anxious to procure the excrements of this divinity, which they usually wear about their necks as relics… The Lamas make a great advantage [by] helping the grandees to some of his excrements or urine… for by wearing the first about their necks, and mixing the latter with their victuals, they imagine themselves to be secure against all bodily infirmities.”

Pinkerton also claimed that Mongol warriors to the north:

“…wear his pulverised excrements in little bags about their necks as precious relics, capable of preserving them from all misfortunes and curing them of all sorts of distempers.”

Source: John Pinkerton, A General Collection of the Best and Most Interesting Voyages and Travels, London, 1814. 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.

1769: English lord lands in Vienna with his eight-woman harem

Frederick Calvert, the 6th Baron Baltimore (1731-71) was one of the 18th century’s most notorious womanisers. When his father died in 1751, Calvert inherited his titles and the family’s most lucrative asset: the colony of Maryland. Frederick Calvert would never set foot in America, however, rents and taxes from Maryland funded his decadent existence in Europe.

Calvert married after his 22nd birthday but despised his wife and separated from her almost immediately. She died five years later after falling from a fast-moving carriage. Calvert was also in the vehicle and many believed he had pushed her.

His wife’s premature death kick-started Calvert’s life of self-indulgence. He travelled around Europe and lived for more than a year in the Ottoman Empire, where he surrounded himself with a private harem staffed by local women. Back in London in the 1760s, Calvert continued his sexual antics, taking several mistresses and fathering a host of illegitimate children.

In 1768, Calvert was accused of kidnapping, falsely imprisoning and raping Sarah Woodcock, a noted beauty who ran a London hat shop. He was acquitted after claiming that Woodcock had consented to the whole affair, though few outside the pro-Calvert jury believed it. After the trial, one of Calvert’s former mistresses further embarrassed him by writing a tell-all book, suggesting that he was sexually inadequate.

Eager to escape the scandal, Calvert assembled another harem and embarked on another grand tour of Europe. According to an Austrian noble who encountered him:

“…My Lord [Baltimore] was travelling with eight women, a physician and two negroes, which he called his corregidores… With the aid of his physician he conducted odd experiments on his houris [harem]: he fed the plump ones only acid foods and the thin ones milk and broth. He arrived at Vienna… when the chief of police requested him to declare which of the eight ladies was his wife, he replied that he was an Englishman.”

Calvert contracted an illness and died in Italy in 1771, by which time his travelling harem had doubled in size. His body was returned to England for an extravagant funeral, though few genuinely grieved his loss.

Source: Letter from Count Maximilien von Lemberg, December 2nd 1770. 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.