Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Lady in the Riding Habit & the Worsley Scandal

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Loretta reports:

Susan's recent blog about 18th C riding habits elicited some comments about the subject of the portrait she posted: Lady Worsley, who was at the center of a famous scandal in 1782.  I blogged on this subject a while ago, but it's such a funny scandal, I couldn't resist returning to it.

It was in all the newspapers and written up in pamphlets and zestfuly caricatured in satirical prints.

It seemed simple enough.  Sir Richard Worsley had sued Captain Bissett for "criminal conversation"* with his wife.   In times when divorce was insanely expensive, requiring an Act of Parliament, this was a common way for a cuckolded husband to get revenge.  In this case, though, it was one of those "What was he thinking?" incidents.

“The court heard that while [Sir Richard] Worsley was quartered in the military camp at Cox’s Heath, Lady Worsley had often used the nearby bathhouse at Maidstone. On one occasion her husband had tapped on the bathhouse door, saying ‘[Captain] Bissett is going to get up to look at you.’ Hoist Bissett up to the window Worsley duly did, for him to gaze on her nakedness.”

Worsley ended up with a one shilling reward from a disgusted court, and his wife became Society's big joke.  Horace Walpole, a great gossip and letter writer (about whom I've also blogged) wrote to his friends that "'thirty-four young men of the first quality had enjoyed her favours.'"  And one of them, the Marquis of Graham, had given her the clap.

Excerpts from Vic Gatrell, City of Laughter: Sex and Satire in Eighteenth-Century London.

You can read the court proceedings here.

And more about Lady Worsley here. And here.

Here’s one of the satirical prints.



Unknown said...

What a strange story. Just goes to show that you can never be too careful when taking a bath.

Deb said...

As I recall from Hallie Rubenhold's book about the scandal, one of the reasons Lady W allowed evidence of her (supposed) many lovers to be presented in court was that she was trying to prove that Lord W was not going to lose the "value" of a virtuous wife--which was essentially what much of the trial was about, how much was Lord W going to lose in a non-monetary way--hence the reason the court only awarded him a shlling. He undoubtedly knew his wife had lovers, obviously facilitating the process--at least in the case of Bissett.

After Lord W died, Lady W was finally able to gain possession of her fortune--all of which had been controlled by her (ex-)husband during his lifetime.

Anonymous said...

i'm so confused....

the husband lifted the other guy up so that he could see his wife naked, and then sued him? do i have that right??

Heather Carroll said...

Yes you do have that correct! Lord Worsley was a silly spoiled man and didn't have much interest in his wife, or any other women for that matter. But when word spread about him being a cuckold he sued as an act of regaining his reputation...which of course he never gained because everyone found out about his lack of concern (and his actual enthusiasm) in his wife's adultery.

God, do I love an 18th century scandal!

Loretta, excuse my butting in! Thank you again for including my link!

LorettaChase said...

Heather, thank you for butting in! Yours was a great post, and your 18th C gossip expertise is a delight.

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Hi Loretta,

Great post. I did an interview with Hallie Rubenhold, the author of the Lady in Red, when the book came out in the states last year.

Jo Manning said...

I have a genuine copy of that print showing Bissett atop Worsley's shoulders gaping at W's wife! The jury was truly angered by W -- as it were -- pimping his wife.

Grace Elliott's longtime paramour, Lord Cholmondeley of the prodigious endowment, was one of Lady W's lovers.

Worsley was more than silly and spoiled; he was, according the research I did when I thought I was going to write Lady W's bio, a real psycho.

It was one of the biggest scandals in an age known for its scandals!

What I like is that Lady W finally had the last laugh, getting back her dowry and flying off to France with her much-younger lover!

By the way, she might have had syphilis, too. She was probably one of the patients of Dr. Hunter (the famous anatomist), who treated aristos for all kinds of sexually-transmitted-diseases.

All this motivates me to write it up in a novel. Have the title already :-)

LorettaChase said...

Jo, I hope you do write that novel. Or a bio. I loved My Lady Scandalous.

Auron Renius said...

HAHAHA What a way to be remembered in history!!

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