Saturday, 29 August 2009

I grow, I prosper; Now, gods, stand up for bastards - King Lear

I feel like something out of East Lynne, but may I make a plea from the wintry doorstep? I like to think I may have entered the family via the Duchess of Beaufort (nee Frances Scudamore) who was accused of adultery with William Lord Talbot of Hensol by whom she was said to have an illegitimate daughter. She married the Duke in 1729. I was born in 1929. Significant, eh?

The Duke sued in the Ecclesiastical Court for permission to divorce Frances by Act of Parliament. She counter-sued claiming that the Duke was impotent. In a letter to the Court in 1742 she wrote: "The privy members of the Duke were never to my knowledge turgid, dilated or erected in such a way as may be usual or necessary to perform the act of carnal copulation. As a result the Duke never did penetrate or enter my body."

When he heard the news of the Duchess's claim, the Duke cried, "The bitch has got us. She'll stop my divorce and put that bastard child in line for my fortune. You see a ruined man...."

As she had given birth to an illegitimate child, the Duke agreed to prove HIS virility before a distinguished panel which included Horace Walpole, the Dean of the Court of Arches, two physicians, three surgeons, an ecclesiastic court and several other gentlemen.

His manservant James Phillips suggested the potency test which had last been used in York in 1433. Indeed it was Phillips who started the hare. Another manservant at Holme Lacey, the Duchess's Herefordshire home, beckoned Phillips to follow him on tiptoe and peep through the keyhole of Her Ladyship's dressing room. Inside, Phillips saw her sitting on Lord Talbot's knee. He entered the room - “she jumped up and smoothed down her petticoats, but I saw her lace cap was tumbled and her bosom exposed. Talbot crossed his legs and turned away to stop me from seeing his trouser buttons were undone.”

Phillips deposed that whilst the Duke was away Lord Talbot visited the house three times a week.

An undermaid reported that five of the six chairs in the dining room had been set side by side to make a couch. On the chairs and floor they found bits of silver lace, rubbed off the back of the gown the Duchess was wearing.

She was heard to say on another occasion: “You make me very hot. I am not able to bear it. What would you have me do, my precious lord? I fear the servants suspect us.”

The proving took place in a Dr Meade's London home. When Walpole arrived, his friend the actor and playwright Colley Cibber said: “Good thing you are here. You are Controller of the Pipes. Let's hope the good Duke can control his. His Lordship's member is on everyone's lips.”

Thomas Grey, the poet, sighed: “That things like this should be done for money. Simply to be revenged on Talbot for four score thousand pounds.”

Lord Orrery observed: “Alas, what money can recompense for such injuries?”

The General Consensus was that the the Duke should have openly demonstrated his virility in a brothel. However, as Walpole said, “This man at the age of seven acceded to one of the noblest titles in England. A Plantagenet, direct descendant of John of Gaunt, he has royal blood in his veins. He is the Duke of Beaufort, Marquis and Earl of Worcester, Earl of Glamorgan and Barons Herbert, Raglan and Beaufort of Raglan Castle. One of the richest noblemen in Europe.”

Sir Horace Man, the Ambassador to Florence, said: “... and about to be humiliated in a way not seen in England since a case in York in 1433.”

That case was tried in open court with seven women. The Duke performed behind a screen. He was dressed in a powdered wig with side curls, his hair gathered at the back in a bow from which a ribbon went round his neck, rimmed shirt, lace cravat and knee-breeches, fitted over stockings with gold buckle shoes.

As he approached the screen looking frail and weak for his 36 years, he turned and bowed to the company. “When I knock on the screen, come to me speedily at that moment.”

Ten minutes later there was a knock, the sound of happy gasps......................Beaufort had proved his case.

JUST A THOUGHT...........................

Why should other departments and agencies of the state transform themselves and the way they do things, while the vast, creaking NHS structure - the world’s third largest employer after Indian rail and the Chinese army - stands intact and protected?
Nigel Lawson famously observes in his memoirs: ‘The National Health Service is the closest thing the English have to a religion, with those who practise in it regarding themselves as a priesthood. This made it quite extraordinarily difficult to reform.’ ...................... Mr Cameron, desperate to prove his theological orthodoxy as a worshipper in the church of St Aneurin Bevan, condemns heresy unambiguously.
Yet what the NHS religion needs now is not unquestioning doctrinal traditionalism but its equivalent of the Reformation: a revolution in practice and the distribution of power within the faith, away from the ‘priesthood’ to which Lawson refers, and towards the parishioners - that is, the patients themselves...(The Spectator Aug 19)

And  remember:
Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways - Chardonnay in one hand - chocolate in the other - body thoroughly used up,  totally worn out and screaming "WOO-HOO, what a  ride!!"