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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Lord Portsmouth & Lord Byron: One wedding, no funeral....but a necrophiliac annulment

Ellen Moody commented on the reference to Lord Portsmouth in Jane Austen's Letter 26, which prompted replies from Derrick Leigh, Nancy Mayer and then myself, my comments having to do with my interpretation of the shadow story of Persuasion:

[Ellen]: "Hurstbourne is the home of the Earls of Portsmouth -- so Austen is still thinking about Lord Portsmouth ball from the last letter. LeFaye's reference to her pages in Family Record is again an instance of tautology; we are given no explanation of her assertion Portsmouth was insane; nothing about why or what was the cause"

[Derrick]: " Is it Austen's or LeFaye's assertion that Portsmouth was insane? He clearly was, and was even listed on the 1851 census as "Earl and lunatic". Here's a blog about him entitled The Strange Case of the Vampyre Lord of Hurstbourne Priors, with details of his erratic behaviour. It notes that he was educated by George Austen, and gives an interesting example of downward social mobility. Born in 1767, he inherited the title on the death of his father in 1797. "

Ellen, did you not know about Lord Portsmouth's horrific saga?

About 6 years ago, Nancy posted, in Janeites, more or less that same brief outline of the story of Lord Portsmouth recounted in the blog entry Derrick linked to, above, and just resummarized by Nancy again today.

It was early 2005, just at the beginning of my own research, and I had been unaware of that bizarre real life story, and my immediate first reaction upon reading it was:

"That's Sir Walter, Mr. Shepherd and Mrs. Clay, all over again!!"

I was so immediately convinced of this, in part because I had already _previously_ concluded, based _solely_ on reading between the lines of the ironic narration at the beginning of Persuasion itself, that Mr. Shepherd's name is _not_ an accident! I realized right away that his name was a huge clue that tells us that he heavyhandedly attempts not only to "shepherd" his "sheep" Sir Walter into the arms of Mrs. Clay, but _also_ successfully maneuvers Sir Walter out of Kellynch Hall. Why? So as to separate Sir Walter from Anne's protective influence, and to give Mrs. Clay a clear, unimpeded "shot" at Sir Walter! Of course, Shepherd ultimately fails, because Anne and the Musgroves wind up back with Sir Walter in Bath just in the nick of time, and Mrs. Clay finds her path to him blocked, so she settles for Cousin Elliot.

In 2005, I also researched the details of the sad tale of Lord Portsmouth--including, as Nancy just noted, JA's taking note (in a letter) of the marriage of the Lord to his solicitor's daughter after the Lord's wife died, leaving him vulnerable to such predation.

I remain convinced that this is a key real-life allusive source for that pivotal "romantic" triangle in Persuasion, which JA intentionally drew upon.

I knew from my own online research that Hanson's daughter's trail eventually led to Canada, but it seems like the blogger Derrick has linked to has found the final chapter in this real life Mrs. Clay's grotesque life story, by finding some previously undiscovered letters. Very interesting!

That was the end of my first response, which I quickly added to as follows:

The following is from a post I made in Janeites in 2005 or 2006:

I found this brief excerpt from Lord Byron's letter:

"March 7 [1814]: “ ….Rose at seven--ready by half-past eight--went to Mr. Hanson's, Bloomsbury Square--went to church with his eldest daughter, Mary Anne (a good girl), and gave her away to the Earl of Portsmouth. Saw her fairly a countess--congratulated the family and groom (bride)--drank a bumper of wine (wholesome sherris) to their felicity, and all that--and came home. Asked to stay to dinner, but could not."

Prior to the death of Mrs. Lloyd in 1805, she and her daughters (including Martha Lloyd, of course JA's very close friend) lived at Ibnthorp, just down the road from Lord Portsmouth's estate. It seems likely that the many friends Martha must have left behind in Ibnthorp after she left would have been well aware of the goings on at Hurstbourne Park after the first wife of Lord Portsmouth died in 1813, and would have kept Martha (and therefore JA) in the loop (see #4, below). We know from JA's letters and novels just what an efficient gossip network existed in these small communities. Perhaps those were the very sort of letters that Cassandra later destroyed because of what she might have perceived as their scandalous content.

Here are two more excerpts from Byron's letters from March 7 and 10, 1814, respectively, in which he writes further about the marriage of Lord Portsmouth and Mary Anne Hanson.....:

"March 7: “…Queer ceremony that same of marriage--saw many abroad, Greek and Catholic--one, at home, many years ago. There be some strange phrases in the prologue (the exhortation), which made me turn away, not to laugh in the face of the surpliceman. Made one blunder, when I joined the hands of the happy ' rammed their left hands, by mistake, into one another. Corrected it, bustled back to the altar-rail, and said 'Amen.' Portsmouth responded as if he had got the whole by heart; and, if any thing, was rather before the priest."

March 10, Thor's Day: “ …Received many, and the kindest, thanks from Lady Portsmouth, pere and mere, for my match-making. I don't regret it, as she looks the countess well, and is a very good girl. It is odd how well she carries her new honours. She looks a different woman, and high-bred, too. I had no idea that I could make so good a peeress."

So it sounds as though Byron, Emma-like, took credit for bringing this unfortunately marriage into being. What I hear in his tone is his ego, which has been subtly manipulated by his lawyer Hanson and Hanson's wife, so that this goal which they so clearly desired for their daughter was accomplished, devilishly, by appealing to Byron's sense of himself as a sort of Henry Higgins. The weak minded Lord Portsmouth might in some way have been mesmerized by Byron's by then considerable star power, and the exertion of undue influence by the degenerate Hanson (which we can fairly infer, given first that apples usually don't fall far from the tree, but more importantly because we know that the Hansons parents, in 1823, when all the facts of their daughter's grotesque and perverse abuse of Lord Portsmouth was revealed, nonetheless contested the case) was simply too much for him to resist. He must have been easier than Robert Ferrars or Sir Walter to bowl over.

A bit of additional background to the Portsmouth lunacy case from that book Madness at Home from which I quoted earlier: "In 1815-16, eight years before the Portsmouth case, an event took place that was to become a landmark in the history of psychiatric provision for the insane in England. It was the disclosure, by a House of Commons Select Committee, of abuse in asylums. The horrendous findings of the committee, the jolt they gave to the nation, and the subsequent battle over the issues of who should be responsible for taking care of mad people--all have been told many times and are aptly analyzed by Andrew Scull. Unlike its predecessor in 1807, the Select Committee of 1815-16 had enormous ammunition to support its call for reform in lunacy."

More from Madness At Home about the Portsmouth 1823 case: "One Richard Jones, a gardener to Lord Portsmouth, testified as follows: 'I [Jones] heard that he was knocked down, and I ran out; his Lordship had just got up; Mr. Alder was standing by him; his Lordship ran behind me for protection; he was crying very much; he showed me his hand and desired to wipe it; it was filled with gravel.....his Lordship then went and sat under a tree in front of the house; he cried very much. Lady Portsmouth nor Miss Laura (Hanson), nor Mr. Alder came to sit by him; but Mr. Alder came to him, and shaking his fist in Lord Portsmouth's face, said, 'You must prepare to fight a duel with me tomorrow morning.' Mr. Alder then walked up the steps, and went arm in arm with Lady Portsmouth into the hall; his Lordship remained under the tree for 2 hours."

And then, after posting the above, I responded to a reaction from Nancy as follows:

[Nancy wrote] "Some people have blamed Byron for this. I don't see why they think he should have been any more able to see into the future than any one else. "

As I indicated in my post, I think Hanson was a puppeteer, he played to Byron's Emma-like vanity in order to induce him to play _his_ role as "Yenta the Matchmaker" in the little drama that Hanson "staged".

[Nancy] "Lord Portsmouth didn't exhibit gross signs of lunacy. The clergyman didn't notice anything odd about his behaviour or his responses. It didn't appear that the earl had to be prompted or to be forced to answer."

Everyone in the neighborhood knew about Lord Portsmouth. I wonder if Hanson did not grease the palm of the clergyman to subdue any qualms that divine might otherwise be feeling.

As a small tangent, I am also reminded of the hilarious service conducted by "Bean" (i.e., Rowan Atkinson) when he botches every name and word possible....

[Nancy] " Yes, like Emma, he did take credit for the match in a way. Not that he arranged it, but when he joined their hands. He knew the Hansons and ahd met the daughters before. He hadn't seen her viciousness-- and it is possible that came about more from the encouragement of the lover than from natural tendency. I also doubt she knew exactly what she was getting into. She could easily ahve married the man in goiod faith and then turned to a lover when she discovered the reality of her situation."

I don't think so, I think she had her eyes on the prize, and they really thought that once she was married to him, she could act with impunity. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, as they say. I bet Hanson was not happy when his daughter ran amok as she did, though. That was surely _not_ part of the Master Plan, and it wound up blowing up in the faces of the Hanson family in the end of the day.

[Nancy] "I think the only schemer here was Hanson."

As I wrote above, I think Hanson was the master planner, so we actually agree on something! Now, if I can only get you to believe that JA alluded to all of this in Persuasion! ;)

By the way, I just recalled that i did post something else on this subject of Hanson/Lord Portsmouth back in January, 2011, and here is the link for it:

Cheers, ARNIE


Anonymous said...

I have done 15 years research into the whole affair and of the whole family.If you want any info please mail me at

Arnie Perlstein said...

Why don't you give us a taste of what you've got here and now--I would only be interested in fresh info that connects to Jane Austen and Persuasion.