‘Foyster proves to be not only a scrupulous and thorough historian, but also a delightfully inquisitive one…compelling.’
The Trials of the King of Hampshire
Madness, Secrecy and Betrayal in Georgian EnglandElizabeth Foyster
A Guardian best history book of 2016
Eccentric, shy aristocrat … or mad, bad and dangerous to know?
Neighbour Jane Austen found the 3rd earl of Portsmouth a model gentleman and Lord Byron maintained that, while the man was a fool, he was certainly no madman. Behind closed doors, though, Portsmouth delighted in pinching his servants so that they screamed, asked dairy-maids to bleed him with lancets and was obsessed with attending funerals. After he’d lived this way for years, in 1823 his own family set out to have him declared insane. Still reeling from the madness of King George, society could not tear itself away from what would become the longest, costliest and most controversial insanity trial in British history.
‘Foyster has turned a great mound of papers lying neglected in the Lambeth Palace Library into a grippingly readable tale.’
'A highly engaging book that should reach a wide public'.
‘A well-informed, sympathetic portrayal of an extraordinary world.’
‘Reveals an aristocratic household turned upside down by scandal and mental illness...Unputdownable.’
‘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’.
‘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.’
‘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.’
‘Extensively researched and gracefully written.’
‘Extraordinary...A well researched and vividly readable account.’