The Trials of the King of Hampshire

Pages: 368
Subject: History
Imprint: Oneworld

The Trials of the King of Hampshire

Madness, Secrecy and Betrayal in Georgian England

Elizabeth Foyster

The Guardian best history book of 2016 - a fantastic story of an aristocratic family desperate to prove that one of their own is insane
9781780749600 (8 Sep 2016)
RRP £20.00 / US$30.00
9781786071781 (7 Sep 2017)
RRP £9.99 / US$16.99

The Book

A Guardian best history book of 2016

Every family has its skeletons, but in 1823 the grand Wallop family was about to share theirs with the world. The 3rd earl of Portsmouth was a peculiar man but, by most accounts, a harmless one. An aristocrat of enormous wealth, he kept company with England's most famous names, inviting Jane Austen to balls and having Lord Byron as chief witness to his second marriage. For the first fifty years of his life he had moved with ease in high society, but at the age of fifty-five his own family set out to have him declared insane.

Elizabeth Foyster invites us into Freemasons' Hall for the most extraordinary, expensive and controversial British insanity trial ever heard. Amid accusations of abductions, sodomy, blackmail and violence, jurors have to decide if Portsmouth is just a shy, stammering eccentric with foolish habits or a sinister madman attempting to mask his dangerous and immoral nature. Both provocative and heart-rending, The Trials of the King of Hampshire goes beyond the fate of a single man to question Georgian society and examine the treatment of the mentally ill and disabled both then and now.

Additional Information

Subject History
Pages 368
Imprint Oneworld


About the Author

Elizabeth Foyster is a Fellow and Senior College Lecturer at Clare College, Cambridge. She explores the sort of subjects that are often left out of the history books - childhood, married life, sex, relationships with siblings and parents, masculinity, old age and widowhood. She lives in Barnet, North London.


‘Foyster proves to be not only a scrupulous and thorough historian, but also a delightfully inquisitive one…compelling.'

- Literary Review

‘Foyster has turned a great mound of papers lying neglected in the Lambeth Palace Library into a grippingly readable tale.'

- Terry Eagleton, London Review of Books

'A highly engaging book that should reach a wide public'.

- Times Literary Supplement

‘A well-informed, sympathetic portrayal of an extraordinary world.'

- Guardian, Best History Books of 2016


- Spectator

‘Reveals an aristocratic household turned upside down by scandal and mental illness...Unputdownable.'

- John Guy, bestselling author of Elizabeth: The Forgotten Years

‘Thoroughly absorbing…heading beyond the immediate confines of its subject…the 3rd earl emerges…as a Georgian "character” to rank with Beau Brummell or Parson Woodforde'.

- Times

‘One of the early nineteenth century's most notorious lunacy inquiries and a dynasty in turmoil...If this were a novel, no one would believe it.'

- Sarah Wise, author of Inconvenient People: Lunacy, Liberty and the Mad-Doctors in Victorian England

‘Extraordinary...A well researched and vividly readable account.'

- Catharine Arnold, author of Necropolis: London and Its Dead

‘Portsmouth's story unfolds like a novel, filled with blackmail, abductions, adultery, secret marriages, disputed inheritances and family scandals. Readers will find the book difficult to put down. There's also a Canadian postscript to the story: Portsmouth's widow eventually immigrated to Canada and settled in Chatham-Kent where the story of "How the Countess of Portsmouth came to Chatham” remains a fixture of haunted walks in his Ontario town.'


‘Foyster documents a family scandal ripped directly from early nineteenth-century headlines...The standing-room-only proceedings are exhaustively detailed, but equally as compelling are the stories of Wallop's family, friends, and servants, who contributed, one way or another, to his cover-up, his exposure, and his downfall.'

- Booklist

‘Extensively researched and gracefully written.'

- New York Times Book Review

‘Highly readable and illuminates the world Portsmouth lived in. Cameos by the family of Jane Austen and Lord Byron are an added bonus.'

- Historical Novel Society

‘Ms. Foyster did a wonderful job taking all of the information from the case and putting it into chapter form to make it easier for the layperson to understand. She really makes you look at how those with mental disorders or disabilities were treated in Georgian England and makes you wonder if it is any different than today.'

- San Francisco Book Review