“I would there were no age between sixteen and three-and-twenty, or that youth would sleep out the rest; for there is nothing in the between but getting wenches with child, wronging the ancientry, stealing, fighting” A Winter’s Tale
Shakespeare knew his stuff of course, and what he says goes double for those who come into their inheritance too young, especially if that inheritance is large and privileged in the old sense.
Henry de la Poer got his title and his pile at age seventeen while at Eton, and then, oddly, went on to Christ Church, Oxford, from which he was sent down for being rather too much.
A hundred years later (at least if we are to believe Evelyn Waugh) such a young man would go into teaching (“I expect you’ll be becoming a school master, sir. That’s what most of the gentlemen does, sir, that gets sent down for indecent behaviour.”) He didn’t, though he did make a brief reappearance at Eton to steal the head master’s whipping block, which showed civic spirit of a sort. Then it was off to live the good life as he understood it.
No word about the stealing, but definitely the wenching, the wronging the ancientry, and the fighting. He was built for it, and liked a good dust-up. He challenged anyone to take him on, and when the law took note and hauled him to the magistrate, he simply dipped into the family vaults, paid off the fine, and went right out and did it all over again. Also uptipped applecarts, bricks through windows – the whole panoply of mindless unfettered Id.
The only good to come of this period was his adding to the general wealth of English speech. One day will especially high spirited, he and some friends allegedly took some cans of red paint and applied them to the shops on the High Street of Melton Mowbray, thus being the first man to paint the town red. (One can be grateful they did not have spray paint back in the day.)
So notorious was he that was suspected of being the man behind Spring Heeled Jack, notorious troublemaker of the time. If so, he had imitators, since that fellow put in any number of appearances long after Henry became a reformed citizen.
For happily, sometimes young thugs really do grow up, though in his case it had to wait until he was eight and twenty. In 1839, he took part in Lord Eglinton’s Tournament.
This bizarre piece of creative anachonism was a romantic attempt at reviving chivalry among the eligible sprouts of the Tory party. Archibald William Montgomerie, 13th Earl of Eglinton (1812-1861) dropped somewhere between £30,000 or £40,000. It was the real deal – aristocratic horse riders like Beresford trained for the better part of a year with genuine lances and steel armor (he’s wearing his in the picture above) so the crowd could get its moneys worth. (Well, they would anyway, admission was free.)
What were Beresford’s motives? Impossible to know for sure. If nothing else, it promised our young tough a lively bit of rough and tumble without the tiresomeness of the magistrates wanting their due. Certainly it was the talk of the day, sneered at by the kind of people who sneer at the earnest, but thronged by thousands more who made the trek to Kilwinning Scotland just to see what all the fuss was about. It sounds much like Woodstock without the nudity – many days, a freak rainstorm, in general a good time had by all.
Perhaps it was the crack of the battle lance, or the music, the dancing, the champagne, half whispered conversations with the promise of indiscretion ever hanging in the air – put short, beauty put an end to the beast. He fell for the beautiful and virtuous Louisa Stuart (1818-1891), daughter of Lord Stuart de Rothesay. (That’s her on the right, her sister Charlotte is on the left.) He suffered a full bore coup de foudre, love at first sight, dead stop reformation, then and there, though it did take another three years before the family was willing to believe the conversion was real.
And so it was, and remained so after the wedding. Police Court followers had to find new rapscallions to wait for, for Lord Henry had gotten to the church on time.
Good news and better times for his tenants as well, whom he started treating humanely. And when famine hit his part of Ireland, he is said to have done the best he could to help the worst afflicted.
Death came by horse, in his case, a bad throw broke his neck. The nation may not have mourned, but it did take a little notice. Even the one percenters can turn their lives around, and the love of a good woman can truly work miracles.
Louisa never remarried, and is remembered today for patronage of the arts and a dab hand at watercoloring. Augustus Hare wrote a dual biography of her and Charlotte, Countess Canning.