Alan Crosby: Our thirst for ancestral scandals

By Jon Bauckham, 22 October 2015 - 10:06am

Frances de la Tour's episode promises scandalous stories from the past – something that never fails to pique our interest, says columnist Alan Crosby

Dr Alan Crosby is the editor of the Local Historian and a columnist for WDYTYA? MagazineThursday 22 October 2015
Alan Crosby
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Nunhead Cemetery 1960s Getty

Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, was notorious for her extra-marital affairs (Photo: Getty Images)

Frances de la Tour’s episode (the last one of the series!) promises to look at scandals in high society. We all love a scandal and the tabloids make a hefty income out of it. In fact, they always have done – ever since newspapers were invented!

I read a lot of historical biography, partly for my work and partly for unashamed enjoyment, and the personal stories that involve scandal are always fascinating.

Witness the success of Amanda Foreman’s book on Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, which was published to great acclaim a few years ago. If Georgiana had lived a virtuous life of unimpeachable domestic harmony, not ruffling the feathers of 18th-century society or complicating aristocratic genealogies, how dull would it have been!

But in her story there’s a generous measure of adultery, ménages à trois, illegitimacy, wife- and husband-swapping... all great stuff, and we can’t read enough of it!

Of course, the 18th century was an especially good time for such goings-on, maybe because the heavy hand of Victorian morality had not yet descended to suppress this waywardness (or, to be more accurate, to conceal it more effectively, because it certainly continued behind the scenes).

The Hanoverian royal family hardly set a good example of domestic bliss and contentment, with the conspicuous exception of George III and Queen Charlotte, who were devoted to each, had 15 children, and were regarded as tremendously dull and boring in consequence.

But most of their children went off the rails big-time, with spectacular genealogical results for royal descent ‘on the wrong side of the blanket’. I am still looking for a connection with my own family tree!
 

Alan Crosby lives in Lancashire and is editor of The Local Historian. He is an honorary research fellow at Lancashire and Liverpool universities

 

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Alan Crosby: Grave-digging for clues
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Five things you didn't know about Frances de la Tour
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