Sir Charles Henry Augustus Frederick Lockhart Ross, 1872-1942: Loaded for Bear

Read at any length about the Vietnam war and you will come across accounts of American GIs ditching  their M-16 rifles in favor of Kalashnikovs, a weapon better suited to abuse and jungle life.   It’s not the first nor probably the last time this sort of thing has happened.  Back in World War One, there was a similar problem with the Mark III Ross rifle, the brain child of  Sir Charles Henry Augustus Frederick Lockhart Ross.

Ross was born at Balnagown, Scotland, one of those Downton Abbey type estates, encompassing 350,000 (eventually 366,000) acres and 3,000 tenants.  He inherited the Baronetcy at age eleven,  making the lucky pre-teen the largest landowner in Scotland.  Continue reading

Sampiero Corso,1498 – 1569: ‘The Most Corsican of Corsicans’

I once had a French teacher whose family was Corsican.  Among the family possessions was a dagger, on one side of which blade was engraved “Vendetta”, on the other, “Morte”.

Hardboiled, the Corsicans. Perhaps no surprise that a Napoleon could come out of there.  For overall toughness and misfortune in love, however, we can argue that Sampiero has the marshal beat.

He was born a commoner and a reduced lower aristocratic mother.  With a background like that, the military was a natural. He apprenticed as a soldier at age fourteen.

He was good at it, too.  He led Corsican mercenaries for France’s house of Valois during the Italian wars and was more successful than not.  The money was good, too.  By 1547, he was a colonel and rich enough to marry Vanina D’Ornano. He was forty nine.  She was fifteen. Continue reading

Henry de la Poer Beresford, third marquess of Waterford (1811–1859): Beast and the Beauty

“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. Continue reading

Judith Blunt-Lytton (1873-1957): The Case of Byron’s Slippers

I was reading Artemis Cooper’s biography of Patrick Leigh Fermor and came across the anecdote of Lord Byron’s slippers.  I’d read it before (it’s part of Leigh Fermor’s book of travels in Greece, Roumeli) , but I had forgotten it long since.  The only reason I pricked up my ears this time is that it referred to Judith Blunt-Lytton, 16th Baroness Wentworth,  who I had occasion to mention in this previous post.

Fermor first.  He was a cheerfully wayward autodidact , charmer, adventurer, writer, war hero and social climber who had a particular affection for all things Greek.

As a favor to a friend who was trying to compile a definitive collection of Lord Byron’s letters with a view towards publication (it happened, you can find them here),  Leigh Fermor and a friend  who happened to be on good terms with Lady Wentworth went down to Crabbet Hall for lunch. Continue reading

Henrietta d’Orleans, 1644-1670; Gather Ye Rosebuds

She is better known to history as the sister of Charles II of England and the sister in law of Louis the XIV of France.  It was the latter association which made the luck of Henrietta’s life.  She was the last child of Charles I  and his French Queen Henrietta Maria. She had gone with her mother into exile in France after her father’s capture and execution, and endured a cold and miserable childhood flitting about the backstairs of the French court, noticed by the young Louis only for her extreme lankiness.

After the Restoration of her brother Charles’s crown, Henriette went from being a skinny girl of no consequence, to being one of the most eligible young women in France.  She made a very grand marriage indeed (1661) to Phillippe d’Orleans, younger brother of Louis XIVContinue reading

Rosina Bulwer Lytton (née Rosina Doyle Wheeler; 1802 –1882) ; A Woman Scorned

“The first mistake I made was being born at all, though, like most of the serious errors that may be laid at my door through life, I had no choice and little part in the matter.”

Hm, sounds pretty bad.  And when did this unfortunate event take place?

“At ten o’clock of a dreary drizzling November morning…”

At least it was not a dark and stormy night, which is really quite the pity as our subject was the wife of Edward Bulwer Lytton, author of the great cliche.

He’s well enough known, of course, if mostly as a butt of cheap shots based on his failure to please current tastes in prose.   Continue reading

Prince Felix Felixovich Yusupov, 1887- 1967: “any resemblance to living persons….”

Famous for the assassination of Rasputin, which he may or may not have actually had a hand in.

On a lighter note, he was also responsible for the familiar disclaimer on books and movies, this is a work of fiction, any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidence.

It all had to to with the 1932 MGM rather ahistorical production, Rasputin and the Empress, in which a “fictional” Prince Chegodieff is credited with killing the Mad Monk after the fellow had hypnotized and raped Chegodieff’s wife, the Princess Natasha.

Yusupov had no problem with being thought the killer of old Creepy-Drawers, but the bit about the rape was, to his mind, libelous.  The British courts agreed and MGM settled for £25,000, the removal of some crucial footage in the first reel,  and the disclaimer at the start of the film.

But wait, there’s more.   Turned out that there was a real Prince  Chegodiev,  who also sued on grounds of libel.  And also won.

Not easy, the movie making business.

(For footnote minded people like me, the question remaining is, is Chegodiev the Prince Alex Chegodiev mentioned here, or his son Paul, or someone else entirely? If one of the above, it clearly did nothing to turn other family members off of the film industry. )

Francis Henry Egerton, 8th Earl of Bridgewater, 1756-1829: Privilege Done Right

Look him up and the subject will immediately turn to dogs.  Dogs and boots and dinner parties.

“At his table, which was celebrated, Sir Henry invited companions of more than one kind. Bijou and Biche, the two favourite dogs, were often there seated on chairs, with imposing napkins around their necks, and to them each plate was solemnly offered. One day, however, their behaviour not conforming to the ideas of their master, they were punished in the most terrible manner! A tailor was immediately summoned.

” ‘ These blackguards have deceived me,’ said their eccentric master. ‘ I have treated them like gentlemen, they have behaved like rascals. Take their measure! they shall wear for eight days the yellow coats and knee breeches of my valets, and stay in the anteroom, and be deprived of the honour of seeing me for a week.’ ”

Nevermind these two, there were plenty of other dogs as well, for each of whom expensive boots were hand made, along with clothing.  All the dogs would sit at table, a servant for each one of them, and let the feasting begin.  They, and the household cats, were also given free use of the earl’s numerous carriages, much to the amazement of their Parisian neighbours.  Ils sont fous, ces anglais!

The writers of potted biographies tend to leave it there, which is very wrong of them.  Truth is, the fellow had a good deal more on offer,  much of it remarkable. Continue reading

Praskovia Kovalyova, 1768-1803 : Power of Love

Sentimental Americans like to point to Harriet Beecher Stowe as the conscience of the abolitionist movement.  The little lady who started the Civil War, as Lincoln put it.

What about the Russians?  The serf system, effectively slavery, was something a parallel.  Of course the  gentry were fine with it, the church was okay with it (they had a whole lot of land and the souls that went with it  – yet the whole thing was outlawed in 1861,  two years before the Emancipation Proclamation, four years before the Thirteenth Amendment.

Another case of cherchez la femme, it is said, in this case, not a novelist, but a singer, a diva even, Praskovia Kovalyova. Continue reading