CSI Wanstead: Was Catherine poisoned?

Today is the anniversary of Catherine’s death, so it seems fitting to write about the circumstances surrounding her final hours. Catherine Tylney Long was the wealthiest, most desirable, most famous woman in Regency Britain. The public felt that they knew her intimately. Naturally the nation was shocked when she died suddenly and mysteriously.

Catherine Tylney Long

When Catherine’s death was reported in the newspapers, there was a public outpouring of grief similar to the scenes witnessed at the funeral of Princess Diana.

diana-funeral

Nineteenth century reports show that crowds lined the streets as Catherine’s funeral procession trundled out of London. The Duke of Wellington was among those who joined the somber parade at Chippenham, while throngs of workers poured out of the surrounding parishes and villages to line the route

But was Catherine’s death suspicious? People have asked me – Do you think she was poisoned? Did the Cad murder her? What caused her sudden death? Why was there no post mortem for such a high-profile figure?

My book does not speculate on the cause of death. I deliberately stick to the official verdict, stating how Catherine was seized by spasms and died in agony. ‘She cried out begging God to spare her. Despite the efforts of the best doctors in England, Catherine died at eleven o’clock, on 12 September… Sir Henry Halford, who attended on her to the end pronounced that ‘she died entirely of a broken heart’.

As an historian, my role is to report the symptoms and first hand accounts. The cause of death is left to the reader’s imagination. This seems to have opened up an interesting debate. Some believe that the official verdict was rather convenient. Was there something the family wanted to sweep under the carpet? So let’s review the evidence…

Did the Cad murder her?

Catherine’s husband, William, believed he would benefit from her death. Furthermore, William boasted about his henchman who ‘was a consummate bravo, and had murdered nine persons’.

Did the mistress poison her?

There was certainly a time when Catherine was in danger of being poisoned. The lock on her medicine chest was smashed open, because her love rival wanted to kill her. William knew that his mistress was responsible and said to a close friend, ‘we must get rid of this damned dangerous bitch!’

Why was there no post mortem?

ninteeth century autopsy

Autopsy in the first half of the nineteenth century was rare in Britain for many reasons:

Science – there were no set standards or methodology until Gray’s Anatomy was published in 1858.

Religion – Catherine’s family would have balked at the idea of cutting her open, disfiguring her for the afterlife.

Social – sudden death was not unusual and was therefore rarely investigated.

Did the family want to keep the true cause of death secret? There are several theories:

Scandalous – Some believe that Catherine died of syphilis – a parting gift from the Cad!

Undignified – A close friend on the scene reported, ‘[Catherine] had an illness of eight days. Her complaint was in the bowels, which reduced her to a state of extreme debility; this produced a violent nervous excitation, which terminated in delirium and death’.

Convenient – The Cad always said dispassionately: ‘My wife died of dysentery.’ However, the recent Domestic Violence Law (2015) would probably find him guilty of ‘psychological abuse’ and ‘coercive control’. 

In Conclusion

In an age where autopsy was unreliable, it was certainly easier to get away with murder. Perhaps Catherine was poisoned! Or given small doses of poison for a sustained period to debilitate her? However, I do not subscribe to this theory, because at the time of her death she was living in seclusion among a select and trusted group of people.

I also believe that ‘dysentery’ is too simplistic a diagnosis. Her friend’s description of ‘violent nervous excitation’ is telling. Catherine had been suffering from chest pains or ‘spasms’ for several years, brought on by the stress of being married to an abusive man. This was probably the underlying illness that led to her sudden death. In some ways, it supports her doctor’s assessment that ‘she died entirely of a broken heart’.

Medical advances

The uncertainty surrounding Catherine’s death seem to echo that of Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria, who died in 1861. In the two years before his death, Albert was often debilitated by chronic stomach cramps. The physician in attendance at his deathbed, William Jenner, diagnosed typhoid fever. However, modern writers believe that the sustained period of illness suggests that Albert may have died of Crohns’s disease or abdominal cancer.

Catherine and Prince Albert were celebrities, with the best doctors in attendance. Despite this, their cause of death is unknown. It emphasises of the lack of medical knowledge in the mid-nineteenth century and the tremendous strides that have been made since then.

modern-autopsy

Twenty-first century autopsy is high tech. It is hard to imagine a world without it, to assist in both medical and criminal investigations.

The twists and turns of Catherine’s life are astonishing. Her story unfolded in the press like the chapters of a highly wrought Gothic novel. There was duels, grossest adultery, murder threats, kidnapping, slashed wrists and much more. In view of this, the theory that she was poisoned is not implausible.

Despite the challenges she encountered, Catherine was not a tragic figure. She was a popular celebrity who influenced British culture, fashion and law. She also instigated a landmark court battle against the establishment and gained an important victory in the fight for women’s rights. You can read her sensational story in my book – The Angel and the Cad.

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Chilcot Enquiry: Did Blair have too much power?

How can we stop this happening again?

How can we stop this happening again?

Yesterday, I was glued to the TV, watching reactions to the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq War. The report severely criticises Tony Blair on many counts and raises the question: ‘How can we stop this happening again?’ Perhaps the answer is to consider the amount of power entrusted to one person – the British Prime Minister.

In theory, we already have a system in place to curtail a Prime Minister’s over-mighty tendencies. ‘Collective responsibility’ is the underpinning principle of Cabinet government. The Cabinet is there to provide checks and balances, to prevent a Prime Minister taking significant decisions unchecked. This doctrine alludes to the spirit as well as the machinery of government – it is built on mutual respect.

Tony Blair’s ministerial style was autocratic, often described as ‘sofa government’. He was prone to taking important decisions without proper consultation with his Cabinet ministers. This was evident from the start of his ministry as one of his first acts as Prime Minister was to deregulate the banks… and we all know how well that turned out! Even though this was a monumental decision, there was no Cabinet discussion and Blair relied solely on advice from Gordon Brown, his Chancellor of the Exchequer.

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The Chilcot inquiry reinforces the view that Blair was over-mighty. It states that prior to the Iraq War:

  • Blair wrote to George Bush promising, ‘I’ll be with you, whatever…’
  • Blair did not adequately consult with his Cabinet
  • Blair misled parliament about the ‘vast stocks’ and ‘urgent threat’ posed by the so called weapons of mass destruction.
  • Subsequent military action ‘Undermined the authority of the UN Security Council’
cabinet meeting

Successful Cabinet Government relies on ‘collective responsibility’

Clement Attlee is considered the most collegiate of all post-war Prime Ministers. He operated like the Chairman of a meeting, encouraging discussion to flow around the table before summing up with a decision. More recently, we have seen this system operating relatively well with Cameron’s coalition government. So a collective approach is possible, even in modern times.

So what gave rise to the ‘Blair Presidency’? Margaret Thatcher was probably the forerunner, who paved the way. She operated in a different world to her predecessors. The media made everything more visible and immediate. ‘Visits abroad and summit meetings have glamour…The world stage offers a different kind of politics where [the Prime Minister] automatically enjoys dignity and prestige’.[2]  Television coverage focuses on Prime Ministers, elevating them to Presidential status in the eyes of the public. By her second term, Thatcher courted a formidable public persona as the ‘Iron Lady’. The Iranian Embassy siege in 1980, the Falklands war, hounding the EU over the British rebate, and breaking the miners’ strike in 1985, all reinforced the notion that ‘the Lady’s not for turning’.[3]  Thatcher’s Press Secretary, Bernard Ingham, took media management to another level, ‘policy-making and political weather-setting’ by feeding stories to the newspapers, particularly The Sun.[4]

howe and thatcher

It’s healthy to have a Cabinet colleague on your shoulder

Blair took all this to a new level, with the assistance of his spin doctor Alistair Campbell. From the start he was media focused, chasing headlines. In 1997, Blair’s speech on the death of Princess Diana was particularly mesmerising. There was mass hysteria among the public and press as the nation mourned. With the palace was silent, it was left to Blair to comfort the nation. His speech captured the mood perfectly and by the time he had finished the public and press were eating from his hands. It has since emerged that Alistair Campbell wrote the ‘Diana’ speech. But it was a tremendous publicity coup that made Blair appear incredibly charismatic and believable. Everyone seemed to be in awe of him – including his Cabinet – and his ratings as a Prime Minister reached an all time high.

Blair's popularity reached new heights after 'Diana speech'

Blair’s popularity reached new heights after ‘Diana speech’

In contrast, Thatcher’s Cabinet did attempt to challenge her. Kenneth Baker describes how Thatcher led from the front, often summing up her views at the start, and defying colleagues to disagree.[5] Howe claims that she often blatantly summed up with her own view, against the mood of a meeting.[6] In November 1985, she was out-voted 6-1 in a debate about European monetary cooperation, but she vetoed the decision. Howe was ‘dumbfounded… Margaret was unwilling to heed our collective judgement’.[7] Heseltine was similarly disgruntled in January 1986 over the Westland Crisis. He resigned and went public, telling the world’s press, ‘this is not a proper way to carry on government’.[8] Thatcher’s premiership nearly ended in its prime because there was a huge backlash against her conduct of Cabinet government. She faced severe criticism in Commons, where she was open to the charge of misleading the House. The Leader of the Opposition, Neil Kinnock, failed to seize the opportunity and the moment passed.[9]  Because Thatcher was in a vulnerable position, she reformed her conduct. Kenneth Baker was among those who noticed ‘a definite shift to longer and fuller discussions’ with a more collegiate approach.[10]

This shows how Thatcher was reigned in through powerful dissenting voices in her Cabinet. Eventually, it was Howe who delivered the fatal blow that deposed her. During a televised speech in the House of Commons he resigned from his Cabinet post stating, ‘The time has come for others to consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have wrestled for too long’. Heseltine then stepped forward to issue a challenge that Thatcher could not fend off. Cabinet colleagues visited in dribs and drabs to persuade her to resign. In her memoirs, Thatcher acknowledges, ‘support for me in the Cabinet had collapsed…It was the end’.[11]  As constitutional expert Peter Hennessy summarises, ‘The price of an over-commanding premiership was an accumulation of resentments and resistances, which caused her to lose it. For it was the Cabinet – that ancient instrument for dispersing power and preventing growth of a single chief executive – which undid her.[12]

It has come to light that Blair consistently avoided Cabinet discussions on matters large and small. Ministers complained that Cabinet meetings were woefully brief, during which time Blair would study his fingernails in a show of disinterest. But what did they do about it?

blair yawning

Yawn…Blair was bored at Cabinet Meetings

The Chilcot report categorically states that Blair did not adequately consult with his Cabinet before the Iraq War. Undoubtedly Blair was high-handed. But were the Cabinet also to blame?  As George Jones points out, a Prime Minister is ‘only as strong as [his colleagues] let him be’.[14] Cabinet ministers should have intervened, insisting on thorough discussion and full disclosure. Robin Cook was the only minister courageous enough to resign, stating, ‘I can’t accept collective responsibility for the decision to commit Britain now to military action in Iraq without international agreement or domestic support.’ If just one more Cabinet minister had the courage to resign the ‘Blair Presidency’ would have been overthrown.

So what lessons can be learned from this? It is important to remember that a Prime Minister really is only as strong as his or her colleagues allow. We have seen how Thatcher’s Cabinet sprang into action to challenge her, and to eventually remove her from office. I hope that Cabinet ministers will continue to have the courage to confront a Prime Minister, to take ‘collective responsibility’ and to provide the essential checks and balances.

In fact, we all have a ‘collective responsibility’ to guard the conduct of our government. The public and the media were vehemently set against the war, and the government was lobbied through the many rallies, marches and petitions.

Over a million protesters marched on Parliament (2003)

Over a million anti-war protesters marched on Parliament (2003)

But regrettably it was to no avail… During the Iraq War, 179 British troops were killed along 4,424 members of the US military. Probably the most damning finding of the Chilcot inquiry was the fact that post-invasion plans were ‘wholly inadequate’. As a result, repercussions in Iraq have been devastating: around 150,000 Iraqis civilians were killed; millions have lost their homes and livelihoods, millions of refugees have been displaced and much of the infrastructure has been destroyed.

With  feelings running high in the media, Blair has been labelled a ‘war criminal’, while the sister of a British casualty has called him the ‘world’s worst terrorist’.

shock and awe

‘Shock and Awe’ or Total Devastation?

I believe that Tony Blair became Prime Minister hoping to leave his mark on the world. He has certainly left a legacy – but not one to be proud of.

Notes:

I had the great privilege to have studied political history at Queen Mary University of London, where my professor was Peter Hennessy, the renowned constitutional expert. As one of his students I’ve taken a solemn vow to observe the hidden wiring of Government.

[1] See Foley, M., The Rise of the British Presidency (Manchester: MUP, 1993).

[2] James, S., British Cabinet Government (London: Routledge, 1992), p.141

[3] Margaret Thatcher : speech at Tory Party Conference:  Brighton, 10/10/1980

[4] Hennessy, P., The Prime Minister: The Office and its Holders since 1945 (London: Penguin, 2001), p.426

[5] Baker, K., The Turbulent Years (London: Faber & Faber, 1993), p.255-9

[6] Howe, G., Conflict of Loyalty (London: Macmillan, 1995), p.467

[7] Ibid., p.450

[8] Hennessy, P., Cabinet (London: Blackwell, 1986), p.106

[9] Howe, Conflict, p.468-472

[10] Baker, Turbulent Years, p.255-9

[11] Thatcher, M., The Downing Street Years (London: Harper Collins, 1993), p.855

[12] Hennessy, Prime Ministers, p.433

[13] Private correspondence 23/3/10

[14] Edwards, G., The Gresham Reader on Cabinet Government (London: Politico’s, 2004), p142-3

 

 

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Super Injunctions, Scandal & Celebrity

I love celebrity gossip and scandal. But recent debates over CELEBRITY SUPER INJUNCTIONS raises important questions: What is in the ‘public interest’? Do individuals give up the ‘right to privacy’ when they actively court celebrity? Is the need for privacy stronger than the right to publish?

The Duke of Wellington says 'Publish and be Damned!'

The Duke of Wellington says ‘Publish and be Damned!’

This is not a new dilemma. The cult of celebrity may feel like a modern phenomenon, but it exploded during the Regency period (1812-20), when innovations such as the steam powered press enabled the widespread distribution of daily newspapers and caricatures. The parallels between then and now are startling. Gossip became a tradable commodity as Gentlemen of the Press and satirists vied for the next big story. Almost immediately questions were raised about ‘privacy’, and the Duke of Wellington is attributed with the famous quote, ‘publish and be damned’.

Britain's first celebrity couple: bigger than Brangelina

Catherine and William were ‘bigger than Brangelina’

My bookThe Angel and The Cadexplores the blossoming of the tabloid press, together with the problems faced by those living in the public eye. It tells the true story of Catherine and William Long Wellesley, Britain’s first ever celebrity couple. They exuded glamour and wealth, and the public were intrigued by them because they were racy, trendy and exciting. They became household names constantly in the news. As a review in the Daily Mirror points out, ‘They were Regency England’s version of Brangelina, Kimye and Tomkat filling the gossip columns for more than two decades – and OMG! Their scandals would break the internet today.

Mr 'Long Pole' discovers that celebrity has its ups and downs

Mr ‘Long Pole’ discovers that celebrity has its ups and downs

Researching my book was a joy because contemporary newspaper reports were riveting, capturing all the drama and excitement of Catherine and William’s lives. The media deftly branded and packaged them for public consumption – She was ‘The Angel’ all virtue and goodness… He was labelled ‘Mr Long Pole’ due to this notorious sexploits. Their scandals were truly mind-boggling, with episodes of ‘grossest adultery’, obscene decadence, illegal abortions, slashed wrists and attempted kidnap. Nobody was surprised when their antics culminated in a landmark court case.

In 1825 William fought to protect his private life

In 1825 William fought to protect his private life

Wellesley v Beaufort opened in 1825, and the public were thrilled at the prospect of a courtroom drama with a celebrity cast. Evidence to be presented in court was highly salacious, with testimonies from people closest to the couple, including the butler, the valet and family doctor. Unsurprisingly, Mr Long Wellesley did not want details of his exploits in the public domain. With echoes of the current arguments over super-injunctions, he appealed to the Lord Chancellor Eldon demanding a private hearing. Chancery suits were often held behind closed doors and shrouded in mystery. But on this occasion Eldon ruled, ‘in cases of this anxious and delicate kind, a public hearing is preferable, because it is a guard to the conduct of the judge…as well as of public justice’.

The Lord Chancellor ruled for a public hearing to 'guard conduct'

The Lord Chancellor ruled for a public hearing to ‘guard conduct’

Eldon was right to order a public hearing to ‘guard conduct’. He recognized that celebrities are role-models that set trends and influence culture. It transpired that Wellesley v Beaufort was an important trial that set a new precedent in English Law. It also sparked nationwide debate about moral standards and raised the question – is it right to treat women this way? It set a benchmark that helped to redefine the role of men and women as Regency decadence gave way to Victorian values. This shows that the airing of private matters can often be in the public interest, and the lessons learned in 1825 continue to resonate in Britain today. You can read the full story in my bestselling book – The Angel and The Cad

Twitter vs Super-Injunctions as celebrity naming goes viral

Twitter vs Super-Injunctions as celebrity naming goes viral

However, the debate about freedom of the press has been superseded in this new era internet technology. We are no longer reliant on the Gentlemen of the Press for news stories, because social media provides a platform for just about anyone to air their views, whether it’s the truth or not. As a result the struggle for ‘privacy’ will continue to intensify, not just for celebrities, but in all walks of life.

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Regency Heartthrobs

 

1815-regency-proposal-woodcut

 

The Regency seems to be the era for dashing men! Jane Austen’s novels are stuffed full of hunks riding up on horseback to perform acts of gallantry. But then, of course, beware of Regency rakes such as Mr Wickham who are gorgeous but feckless.

My forthcoming book The Angel and the Cad is a true story featuring some of the most delectable men of the period – the Duke of Wellington, Lord Byron and Beau Brummel to name a few. These men are significant because they were hugely influential public figures that helped to shape the era as well as the way we live today.

the times2

Mass produced newspapers enabled celebrity culture

The Regency was a seminal time of innovation and ingenuity, when ideas and ideals were changing rapidly. Inventions such as the steam powered press enabled London to emerge as the first truly modern metropolis with booming consumerism, a buoyant fashion industry, mass media and celebrity culture.

So here’s the low-down on some of the earliest celebrity heartthrobs…

 

  1. William Wellesley Pole – ‘the CAD’ in my book – was considered ‘the finest young dandy’ of the Regency era. He epitomised male desirability. Even Jane Austen was intrigued by him. William was a brilliant athlete, famous for his waltzing, equestrian skills and beautifully sculpted physique. If he was around today he would probably be modelling underwear for Calvin Klein.

williamcrop2

  • Pros:    He’d make you laugh. He’s exciting and utterly gorgeous. He was nicknamed Mr Long Pole – I’m sure you can work out why!
  • Cons:   He’d make you cry. He’s reckless. There’d always be other women.

 

  1. Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington – the great military commander led forces that liberated Spain and Portugal and ended years of conflict in Europe. He was the epitome of a knight in shining armour – valiant, gallant and honourable.

wellington

  • Pros:    He’s so dashing in uniform (swoon). He was so mesmerising that he was always surrounded by a throng of women. One observer noted, ‘the adoration of the ladies for the Duke was given the name “la nouvelle religion”’.
  • Cons:   Too much competition! He’d hardly ever be home – too busy being heroic.

 

  1. George, Lord Byron is regarded as one of Britain’s greatest poets. His work remains widely read and influential, including his romantic short lyric:

She walks in beauty, like the night of cloudless climes and starry skies

 Lord Byron

  • Pros:    The poet was brilliant, handsome and passionate.
  • Cons:   He was ‘Mad, Bad and Dangerous to know’.

 

  1. George, ‘Beau’ Brummel revolutionized the British fashion industry with his sharply cut Savile Row suits. He created the definitive style of the English gentleman – the tailored suit – which remains popular today worldwide. A statue of him now stands in Jermyn Street, in the heart of London’s most select menswear boutiques.

 Beau_Brummell_Statue_Jermyn_Street

  • Pros:    His acid wit and sharp observations were legendry. He was a trendsetter, much admired and copied. He transformed male grooming by persuading men that they should wash every day (hurrah).
  • Cons:   Too critical and high maintenance. He’d be too busy preening to pay you any attention.

 

  1. The Prince Regent (later George IV) – he presided over society, influencing British style, taste and culture. He helped to establish the National Gallery and Kings College London and was instrumental in shaping the landscape of modern London. His favourite architect John Nash designed and laid out public spaces and ceremonial thoroughfares: Pall Mall, Piccadilly Circus, Regent’s Street and Regent’s Park.

 prinny1

  • Pros:    Thomas Lawrence’s official portrait implies that he was rather debonair.
  • Cons:   The reality was rather different (see below) – a bit like turning up for a date and finding the guy is nothing like his profile picture!

prinny2

 

  1. Fitzwilliam Darcy – Okay, maybe this is stretching it slightly! But William Wellesley Pole was hot news when Jane Austen was writing Pride and Prejudice – it is possible that the fictional Mr Darcy is based on the image of William that was built up in the press.

 darcy

  • Pros:    This picture says it all
  • Cons:   Occasionally he’s haughty and proud (but it’s a small price to pay).

 

In conclusion 

Mr Darcy is probably the most compelling romantic hero of all time, and he continues to epitomise male desirability. However, I hope that the real life characters in my book will show why the Regency really was the golden age of dashing men.

The countdown has started – it is now just three months to publication of The Angel and the Cad. I’m very proud that the launch date coincides with the bi-centennial of Waterloo – 18 June 2015. Various talks and books signings are being arranged. I will post a schedule of events in the coming weeks.

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Catherine and the legacy of Wanstead House

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In 1810, Catherine Tylney Long was the ‘richest commoner in the British Dominions’. The 21-year-old heiress was highly unusual because landed estates ordinarily passed along the male line. How did such enormous wealth accumulate and why did it end up in the hands of – A WOMAN?

To answer this question we must look and Catherine’s ancestors – Who were they? What did they contribute? What were their aspirations?

1. JOSIAH CHILD (1631-99)

richsrd tylney

Catherine’s great-great-grandfather, was a remarkable businessman who rose from obscurity to become one of the richest men in Britain.

Wealth  – Josiah Child started out as a brewer, but soon secured a contract to supply beer and other services to the navy. By 1659, he was provisioning East India Company ships, and reinvesting heavily into the company until he became the controlling shareholder. As Governor of the East India Company, Sir Josiah acquired fabulous wealth, monopolizing trade between Britain and the Far East.

Power – Gritty determination spilled into Sir Josiah’s private life. He used his fortune to pursue social advancement through powerful family connections. He provided huge dowries to ensure that his children married into the highest echelons of society. This paid dividends – his grandson was Henry Somerset, 2nd Duke of Beaufort, and his granddaughter Elizabeth became the Duchess of Bedford.

oldwansteadhouse

Old Wanstead House c.1708

Ancestral home – Sir Josiah wanted to leave his mark by establishing a family seat that would proclaim his incredible success. In 1673, he paid £11,500 for the manor of Wanstead, in Essex, a scenic estate comprising of rolling hills, forests and lakes, with the River Roding flowing through it. In his final years, he devoted his time to remodelling his gardens, planting avenues of trees and creating ornamental lakes.

knyff and kip

Knyff and Kip’s bird’s eye view of Wanstead c.1710 shows the spectacular landscaping, demonstrating why Wanstead Park became renowned as the ‘English Versailles’.

 

2. RICHARD CHILD (1680-1750), 1ST EARL TYLNEY

ViscountCastlemainHogarth

When Richard Child inherited his father’s fortune in 1704, he not only embraced Sir Josiah’s vision for Wanstead, but raised his aspirations to a new level.

Wealth – Richard shrewdly added value to the family coffers by marrying advantageously. He married a wealthy heiress and acquired the vast Tylney estates in Hampshire from his wife’s family.

Power – Richard gained titles that elevated the family status. In 1718, he was made Viscount Castlemain. On being raised to the peerage in 1731, he adopted his wife’s surname and became 1st Earl Tylney.

Hogarth Assembly at Wanstead House

Hogarth’s Assembly at Wanstead c.1729

Ancestral home – Richard chose to invest his money on a home that would rival royal palaces. Wanstead House was the first private residence in Britain to be constructed in Palladian design, appealing to a change in taste to more understated classical architecture. The Assembly at Wanstead House, by William Hogarth, captures the splendour of the staterooms: the sumptuous furnishings, ornate gilding and richly painted ceiling frescos.

 wansteadhouse color

Wanstead House – Britain’s first Palladian mansion

3. JOHN CHILD (1712-1784), 2ND EARL TYLNEY

at naples

Wealth – Rather than striving for more, John Child enjoyed his wealth, spending for the joy of it and indulging his passion for art, music and theatre. He is thought to be a character in this 1760s painting of the English connoisseurs at Florence.

Power – The 2nd Earl Tylney was homosexual; when he inherited Wanstead in 1750, he had no desire to marry for the sake of appearances or to produce heirs. In an age when homosexual liaisons were a capital offence he was vulnerable. Eventually, he was compelled to flee to Italy after being found in bed with a male servant (or two as the rumour goes).

Ancestral home – Wanstead House lay empty for almost two decades while the 2nd Earl lived abroad. As a connoisseur of art, he devoted much of his time to collecting artwork and treasures for Wanstead House. The highlight of his collection was three ancient bronze statues recovered from the ruins of Herculaneum.

4. SIR JAMES TYLNEY LONG (1736-1794) – (Catherine’s father)

james tylney long

Sir James Tylney-Long memorial, at Draycot Cerne

Wealth – Catherine’s father inherited the Tylney property including Wanstead House from his uncle John. By now Sir James was aged forty eight, and already extremely wealthy as he owned the Long family estates in Wiltshire. With the two legacies combined, his accumulated fortune was enormous – approximately 25,000 acres of land spread over six counties, several stately homes plus stocks and bonds.

Power – Catherine’s father was an unassuming country squire renowned throughout Wiltshire for his charitable endeavours. He was a pioneering forward-thinking man with strong ties to the Shaftesbury family. As MP for the county, he used his power and influence to do good, setting up schools and providing welfare for the poor and infirm.

Draycot House

Draycot House, Wiltshire

Ancestral home – Sir James was perfectly content with life in Wiltshire, and reluctant to leave his ancestral home at Draycot. Although he had no desire to live at Wanstead House, he felt it his duty to produce heirs to the Tylney estate. He married in 1785, at the relatively mature age of forty nine, and four children were born in quick succession – the eldest was Catherine. Crucially, Sir James opted to name his own daughters as heirs, ahead of distant male relatives. So it came to pass that when Catherine’s only brother died in 1805, she was suddenly thrust into the limelight as ‘the richest heiress in the kingdom’.

These were Catherine’s ancestors – four remarkable men who each brought something to the table. But which one was the most historically important?

  1. Josiah Child – whose meteoric rise enabled everything that was to follow at Wanstead
  2. Richard, Earl Tylney – who had the vision to commission a relatively unknown architect to build Wanstead House. Colen Campbell’s scheme provided the perfect model for gracious modern living, and it sparked a Palladian revival in Britain.
  3. John, 2nd Earl Tylney – for his exquiste taste and gathering of an amazing array of priceless art and furnishings fit to adorn Wanstead House
  4. Sir James Tylney Long – who almost doubled the size of the Tylney estate, and crucially had the foresight to overlook rules of primogeniture, which opened the door to Catherine gaining the inheritance.

 

wanstead house jan 2015

Wanstead House – sparked a Palladian revival

Personally I would argue that Richard, 1st Earl Tylney, was the most important of these men. He was a man of great taste, a patron on the arts who promoted and supported influential artists such as William Kent, Hogarth, Nollekins and Casali. It is a shame that his contribution to British culture has been overlooked, as he played a key role in the Palladian revival, which revolutionised Georgian architecture – changing the landscape of 18th century Britain. The many elegant squares and sweeping terraces that adorn our country today owe much to his innovation.

queen square

Conclusion

On inheriting Wanstead House, the pressures on Catherine must have been immense. Each one of her predecessors had added value in some way, enabling her inheritance to snowball into something rare and remarkable. The hopes and dreams of her ancestors now rested firmly on her shoulders. What was expected of Catherine? I would like to think their advice might have been:

  • Gritty Josiah – Add value through powerful marriage connections and produce lots of heirs
  • Shrewd Richard – Marry well, produce heirs, display your wealth and taste
  • Flamboyant John – Enjoy your wealth and follow your heart
  • Benevolent James – Be charitable and pioneering

Whether she could live up to their hopes and expectations only time would tell!

I hope you have enjoyed this post which sheds light on the enormous responsibilities befalling 16-year-old Catherine the moment she became heiress to Wanstead House and its fabulous treasures.

The decisions Catherine made from this point onwards will be fully recounted in my forthcoming book The Angel and the Cad, (published by Pan Macmillan in June 2015). I aim to show that Catherine was every bit as worthy and influential as her ancestors, leaving behind an important legacy of her own.

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A beginners guide to Wanstead Park

wansteadhouse

Wanstead Park provides the backdrop for my forthcoming book, The Angel and the Cad, which tells the remarkable story of Catherine Tylney Long. Her gardens were renowned as the ‘English Versailles’, becoming a popular spot for day-trippers and tourists, ‘delighting visitors from all parts of the world’. I hope that my pictures will help readers to visualise Catherine’s surroundings.

Tucked away on the borders of East London and Essex, Wanstead Park remains one of the capital’s most enchanting open spaces. It is a tranquil oasis of natural beauty that hints of its former glory as one of England’s finest pleasure gardens. In many respects it is comparable to Hampstead Heath, but despite having many attributes it is relatively unknown, even to those living in close proximity.

Wanstead Park is one of London’s hidden treasures. One of my motivations for writing my book was to raise awareness of the parkland, and help to stop its decline. Despite its Grade II listing, Wanstead Park has been on English Heritage’s ‘at risk’ register for several years. I hope that you will enjoy my pictures and then come to visit! The park is a mere ten minute stroll from Wanstead Central Line Tube Station. It is also close to ‘Wanstead Village’ buzzing with cafes, bars, restaurants and shops.

The scenery in Wanstead Park is diverse. There are ornamental lakes such as the Basin and the Heronry Pond:

heronry

 There are ancient woodlands:

 woodlands

 Expanses of grassland and ornamental follies such as the Temple pictured below:

 long grass temple

 There are wildlife sanctuaries and a wide range of natural habitats:

 geese

 The most poignant feature is the derelict boathouse, or ‘Grotto’:

grotto

Hauntingly beautiful the Grotto whispers of times gone by; the grand summer parties, popping champagne corks, and pleasure boats bobbing on the lakes. But the Grotto is also has an air of melancholy, a stark reminder of all that has been lost.

For many centuries Wanstead Park has been a much-treasured recreational facility, a sanctuary where working folk can escape for an hour or two, taking a scenic stroll or enjoying family picnic. Every season brings fresh delights. Cold frosts transform the park into a winter wonderland:*

 winter

Springtime sees wild rhododendrons and fragrant bluebell wood:

 bluebell

Summer brings bursts of colour: wildflowers, butterflies and dragonflies hovering over the lily-pads on the lakes. While autumn forests are hues of red and gold.

Wanstead Park became Britain’s first public open space in 1882. The Corporation of London have acted as conservators, reinforcing pathways, planting avenues of trees and protecting wildlife. One of their biggest challenges has been to preserve the waterways, which are in danger of drying up. If this were to happen, numerous natural habitats would be lost. The Friends of Wanstead Parklands are also active in the drive for conservation, and groups of volunteers regularly help with tasks such as clearing away vegetation.

I hope that my forthcoming book, The Angel and The Cad, will help to raise awareness and show that Wanstead Parklands is worth preserving. A long term conservation strategy is in place – but cannot be fully implemented without much needed funding, support and publicity.

Part 2 of this article will explain how Catherine Tylney Long came to own Wanstead House

 

For more about Wanstead Park I recommend the following:

Corporation of London – For up-to-date information about Wanstead Park

Friends of Wanstead Parklands – Dedicated to the conservation of Wanstead Park

Wansteadium – What’s on in Wanstead

* Courtesy of Wanstead Meteo with thanks

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The Guardian newspaper named Geraldine Roberts as one of the ‘Rising Stars of 2015’

‘A fabulous piece of historical writing.’  – George Morley, Pan Macmillan

The Angel and The Cad tells the remarkable true story of Britain’s first ever celebrity couple. Catherine was the richest heiress in Regency Britain… her dashing husband was a notorious libertine. The exuded glamour and wealth, living like royalty at Wanstead House, while keeping the nation enthralled with the shocking twists and turns of their marriage.

Catherine Tylney Long williamcrop2

Listen to Geraldine’s BBC History Podcast

Reviews:

‘A shocking tale’The Times Book of the Week 

‘A racy, poignant read.. Regency England’s version of Brangelina, Kimye and Tomkat filled the gossip columns for more than two decades – and OMG! Their scandals would break the internet today.‘  The Daily Mirror

‘Roberts book truly is a page-turner that surpasses any work of Regency fiction…the author’s meticulous research is commendable.’  BBC History Magazine

‘A compelling and heart-wrenching debut which unlocks the secrets of a high society scandal that gripped Regency England.’  Lancashire Evening Post

‘A great story’ – Observer

‘Roberts treats her sensational subject matter with sincerity, conveying the full force of Catherine’s tragedy.’ – Country Life

‘Fascinating… Roberts does an outstanding job of bringing this dark take to life, and her book truly is a page turner.’ – Hallie Rubenhold 

‘Roberts leaves no stone unturned in telling this compelling tale of fortune and folly. She brings the Regency world into vivid life in describing the dangerous allure of a feckless man’. – Elizabeth Fremantle

‘The Angel and the Cad’ is about the Regency… an age of fabulous wealth and excess, of duels, debt, mistresses, betrayals, throbbing loins, slashed wrists, and, ultimately… of real and moving tragedy.’ – Oldie Magazine

‘Geraldine Roberts gives a compassionate look at two wholly disparate personalities and the wider society in which they span their elegant, and ultimately ruinous, lives.’ –  History Revealed Book of the Month

 

Follow Geraldine on twitter @_GerryRoberts

 

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