Eccentric British Noblemen: Background information when reading The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife, and the Missing Corpse

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The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife, and the Missing Corpse

An Extraordinary Edwardian Case of Deception and Intrigue

by Piu Marie Eatwell

The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife, and the Missing Corpse by Piu Marie Eatwell X
The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife, and the Missing Corpse by Piu Marie Eatwell
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2015, 352 pages
    Sep 2016, 352 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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Eccentric British Noblemen

This article relates to The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife, and the Missing Corpse

Print Review

William John Cavendish-Bentinck-Scott, 5th Duke of Portland William John Cavendish-Bentinck-Scott, 5th Duke of Portland and the eponymous "Dead Duke" of Piu Marie Eatwell's book, was undeniably eccentric. He was extremely reclusive, never inviting anyone to his home at Welbeck Abbey and prohibiting his servants and workmen from acknowledging his presence in any way (any who did were immediately expelled from the property). He communicated with his staff only via letter; an inbox and outbox were fastened to his chamber door to facilitate the communication. Perhaps most interestingly, he had miles of tunnels excavated under his property which led through many underground rooms (such as an enormous ballroom, thought to be the second largest in the country at the time).

Needless to say, he was not the only eccentric British nobleman. A few others of note include:

Matthew Robinson, 2nd Baron Rokeby (1712 – 1800)
Rokeby was well-known as an individual who loved the water. Each day, regardless of weather, he would walk to the sea trailed by his servants in a coach. He would then swim for hours until exhausted, sometimes passing out before he was able to return to shore and consequently having to be rescued. Eventually building a pool under glass on his property, he swam nearly all the time, keeping a plate of meat always floating nearby so he wouldn't have to stop to eat.

Francis Egerton, 8th Earl of Bridgewater (1756 – 1829)
This gentleman was well known for preferring dogs to people. He would regularly have his enormous dining table laid out with 12 places for his canine friends, who would then be led in, fully clothed (including tiny, specially made shoes) and with clean white napkins tied around their necks. The dogs were fed on silver plates, and each had its own servant. Also the Earl would only wear a pair of boots once, and when he was done he would line the boots up along the wall of his chamber and use them as a calendar.

Alexander Douglas, 10th Duke of Hamilton (1767-1852)
Alexander Douglas, 10th Duke of Hamilton The Duke of Hamilton was obsessed with family history, ancestry, legacy and death (in particular, his own). He constructed a magnificent mausoleum that rose 120' high. He also purchased a sarcophagus (outbidding the British Museum for it) in which he planned to be entombed. He would frequently lie down in it to make sure he fit, although when the time came, the embalming process he ordered made the body too long. His feet had to be removed so his wishes could be honored.

Helena, Comtesse de Noailles (1826-1908)
The only woman to make this list, Helena fell in love with a portrait of a young girl. Upon discovering it had already been sold, she tracked down the subject of the painting and adopted her. She was convinced that methane was the key to good health and kept a herd of cows near her residence to produce the gas. She ended her days living entirely on milk, champagne and methane.

Sir George Reresby Sitwell, 4th Baronet (1860 – 1943)
Sitwell was an inventor who created both a tiny revolver with which to shoot wasps and a musical toothbrush. He was also known to have painted the cows on his estate in a blue and white Chinese willow pattern because he didn't like the way the animals normally looked. He was very interested in the Middle Ages, and once tried to pay his taxes in crops in what he felt was a time-honored tradition. Considered a megalomaniac by those who knew him, he reinforced this notion with a sign at the entrance to his property: "I must ask anyone entering the house never to contradict me or differ from me in any way, as it interferes with the functioning of the gastric juices and prevents my sleeping at night."

Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron Rothschild (1868 – 1937)
Walter Rotschild with his zebras carriage The Baron was another well-known animal lover. He drove a carriage drawn by zebras and lived with a tame bear (which was allowed to attend dinner parties and had been trained to strike the female guests on their buttocks). He once held an important political banquet for twelve individuals, who each discovered an empty chair next to them. Just before dinner, the seats were occupied by the rest of the party: twelve monkeys.

Henry Paget, 5th Marquis of Anglesey (1876 – 1905)
Perhaps the most flamboyant British noble, Paget would give Elton John or Liberace a run for his money. The fabulously wealthy Marquis would dress in flowing peacock robes with jewels in his long, silky hair. His car was set up to emit perfumed exhaust, and he spent millions of British pounds on enormous quantities of gems and clothing. He also loved to entertain, often performing "sinuous, sexy, snake-like dances in front of astonished audiences around Europe, earning him the sobriquet, 'The Dancing Marquess.'"

Picture of William Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck, the fifth duke of Portland from The Telegraph
Picture of Walter Rothschild with zebras which he rode to Buckingham Palace from The Picture Magazine
Picture of Walter Rothschild with zebras which he rode to Buckingham Palace from The Picture Magazine
Picture of 10th Duke of Hamilton by Jan Arkesteijn

Filed under People, Eras & Events

Article by Kim Kovacs

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife, and the Missing Corpse. It originally ran in October 2015 and has been updated for the September 2016 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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