Friday, September 2, 2011

Charles Dickens et al in Bentley's Miscellany, on the Trial of the Duchess of Kingston


The full story of the Duchess of Kingston is well-recorded elsewhere. My main interest is in what her story reveals of the character of her persecutor, Mr. Evelyn Medows.

Evelyn was the heir apparent of the Duke of Kingston, and stood to inherit considerable wealth and estates, but the Duke left everything to his floozy (some would say) wife for life, and then to Evelyn's younger brother. This outrageous snub is credited as the cause of the law suits brought to prove the Duchess a bigamist, and therefore not the lawful wife of the Duke, and to set aside the will.

The trial of bigamy ended with the Duchess being found guilty, but her first marriage – the one she had denied in the course of the trial – saved her. She was a peeress, being married first to the Earl of Bristol. And so she claimed the privilege of a peer, and was left to walk away with a warning that her punishment for a further offence would be death.

One report of the trial comes almost 80 years later, though it claims to be from an eye witness. As with all accounts, it must be taken with a grain of salt and compared to other versions. However, the comments about Evelyn Medows are interesting, and that's what I have selected here, after a description from the beginning of the piece telling us its origin.

From:
Bentley's miscellany, Volume 33 (Google eBook)
Charles Dickens, William Harrison Ainsworth, Albert Smith


Richard Bentley, 1853 - Literary Criticism



Front CoverAt page 562, the account begins.



In her defence, the Duchess told of why the Duke so hated his eldest nephew, Evelyn Medows (sometimes spelled Meadows, as here). The Duchess was alleged to have caused the rift between the Duke and Evelyn, but she said the opposite was true: she had tried to reconcile them.





I haven't found out who "Miss Bishop" is.

The description the writer gave:

"the vile man; … of all those on whom the name of man is prostituted, he is doubtless the vilest; … I am sure the devil has marked him for his own"

leaves no doubt what she thought of Mr. Medows!

And yet, the Duchess didn't turn her back on him. They had a long-standing attachment of a bizarre kind. Enemies they may have been, but sometimes the emotional bonds between enemies are stronger than between friends. I even wonder if they had a romantic history, given their reported respective licentious natures.

The Duchess escaped to the Continent and eventually died in France, near Paris. Evelyn immediately removed some of her jewels and valuables from her apartment!

Earlier on, the Duchess rescued him when he was arrested or about to be, for non-payment of debts. She paid him an allowance to live on.

When she died, the Duchess left a bizarre and (I believe) invalid last will and testament. I have a copy (readily available from the National Archives for a small fee). It is written to tantalize and tease, with the bulk of her wealth purportedly going to "A", more to "B", and so on, but these alphabetic creatures are never named. It was the worst kind of estate planning, even worse than a granny changing the masking tape on the family silver after every unsatisfying Christmas dinner with the kiddies.

It appears that Evelyn wasn't totally shut out after her death, though. His brother Charles, who became the next Duke of Kingston, paid him an allowance.

I'm going to look next at more of Evelyn's reputation as a "vile man" etc.





The bigamous, scandalous, fiesty Duchess of Kingston, Countess of Bristol, Elizabeth Chudleigh as was

The intriguing life of Mr. Evelyn Medows, late of 51 Charles Street, Berkeley Square, London

A timeline and links for Harriet Maria Campbell, formerly Dickson, formerly Medows, nee Norie

Sir John Campbell's brother-in-law wrote the leading work on navigation: J.W. Norie

From the Royal kalendar, 1820, an interesting charity name


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