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Authors: Brian Masters

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The Dukes (47 page)

BOOK: The Dukes
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"Hast thou no care that, ebbing all too fast,

My youth is scorched and scarred with burning tears? Hath thy hard heart no memories of the past, No longings for the love of happier years ?

"Come back ! Come back! I beg thee from this boon - Oh, turn thine ear and hearken to my cry — Come back! come back ! and come, dear love, full soon, For if thou come not soon I needs must die."

Harry did not, could not, come back. The cruel hypocrisy of the time had despatched him as far away as possible from polite gaze, to New Zealand, where he died in 1902. Lord Henry, now exiled for nearly twenty-five years, thought England might be ready to receive him again, and chose to come for Edward VII's coronation. He did not reckon with his mother-in-law's vindictiveness. She set private detec­tives upon him, who watched his every move, and she informed Scotland Yard that the monster was again at large.
Presumably, his own family at Badminton was not ready to forgive him either, for he appears to have stayed in London only a few days, to return once more to Florence, a saddened man.

Lord Henry's younger brother was Lord Arthur Somerset, born in 1851, a former Guards officer, and Assistant Equerry to the Prince of Wales (Edward VII). In 1889 there erupted the scandal already mentioned in a previous chapter, concerning a male brothel in Cleve­land Street, frequented on the one hand by adolescent telegraph boys, who were paid for their services, and on the other by members of the aristocracy, who did the paying. The case would not have reached the proportions it did were it not for the assiduous probing of the
North London Press,
an organ since retreated into obscurity. The newspaper named some clients of the establishment, among them Lord Euston (son of the Duke of Grafton), who successfully sued; by implication the Duke of Clarence, eldest son of the Prince of Wales, and heir to the throne (he died in time, and was succeeded as heir by his brother, George V); and Lord Arthur Somerset, who was known in Cleveland Street as "Mr Brown".

A police constable called Sladden observed "Mr Brown" call at 19 Cleveland Street on 9th July and on 13th July 1889. Two weeks later, on 25th July, P.C. Sladden went with two of the boys, Swins- cow (aged fifteen) and, incredibly, Thickbroom (aged seventeen) to Piccadilly, where they identified "Mr Brown" in the street as the man they had both been to bed with at Cleveland Street. P.C. Sladden then followed the suspect to Knightsbridge barracks, where he was identified as Lord Arthur Somerset."

The same day, the papers were sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions, in whose opinion the evidence was sufficient to pros­ecute Lord Arthur for gross indecency. Another boy called Newlove had testified to the police that Lord Arthur "had to do with me on several occasions there"
and a fourth, a "good-looking curly- headed youth" of fifteen called Algernon Alleys, had been kept by Somerset for the past two years. There were a number of compro­mising letters to Alleys, which were hurriedly destroyed, but the police did have two of the postal orders which Lord Arthur had sent him, as well as sworn statements. The Prime Minister was informed, and he sent to the Lord Chancellor for an opinion; Lord Arthur should not be prosecuted, came the reply.

Meanwhile, the Prince of Wales, who was a personal friend to Lord Arthur, heard the rumours and refused to believe them. "I won't believe it," he said, "any more than I should if they accused the Archbishop of Canterbury", an unfortunate comparison since the Archbishop's sons were every one of them brothers in inclination. The Prince thought any man capable of such behaviour "an unfortunate lunatic".
Whatever his reasons (and his own son's name had also been whispered), the Prince of Wales brought some pressure to bear, and Lord Arthur Somerset was permitted to escape. The Chief Com­missioner of Police suspected that this would happen. On 19th Sep­tember he wrote to the Director of Public Prosecutions, "my impres­sion is that it is by no means certain we shall be authorised to prosecute L.A.S. Steps will certainly be taken to remove him from the country and consequently 'Society'."
That is in fact what occurred. Lord Arthur exiled himself to Boulogne on 17th or 18th October, with the connivance of authority higher placed than the Director of Public Prosecutions, and remained beyond the jurisdiction of English courts. The warrant for his arrest was not issued until 12th November. Only once did he return to England, when he was smartly told to make himself scarce again. The man who ran the brothel, Hammond, also escaped abroad. Two who had acted as pro­curers for the others, Veck and Newlove, were prosecuted, found guilty, and sentenced to nine months' and four months' hard labour respectively, but not before Lord Arthur had tried to get them out of the country too, through the mediacy of his solicitor, leading to another trial. Newlove was eighteen years old. What the Duke of Beaufort made of all this, we are not told.

The 9th Duke of Beaufort (1847-1924), elder brother of Lords Henry and Arthur, succeeded his father in 1899. Of him it is recorded that he strongly objected to the Gloucestershire Hussars (of which he was Colonel) being encamped in undignified fashion on Salisbury Plain and having to wear khaki; the Boer War had just finished, and austerity was the order of the day. "Because there has been a war in South Africa," proclaimed the Duke, "I do not see why we should be condemned to spend our time in wet tents and convicts' dress."

His son was the 10th Duke of Beaufort, 1900-1984, the "Master". He also had half a dozen other titles, decorations from Norway, Sweden, Portugal, France, Belgium, Rumania, Ethiopia, and pre­sided over that sub-county of Gloucestershire commonly known as "Beaufortshire". Beaufortshire is distinguished by a membership totally committed to the country life, with mud on their boots and hot air puffing from their nostrils, gentlemen farmers and retired military men, eligible daughters in expensive twin-sets giving all their attention to eldest sons and ignoring everyone else, and the whole community speaking with an unmistakable clipped nasal twang. They move about in large cars built for comfort not speed, never raise their voices except in the hunt, and return to elegant comfortable homes, full of old rugs, log fires, and house-dogs (The Duke himself had about a dozen house-dogs, and was President of the Battersea Dogs' Home). The Duke's day was a strenuous one, as befitted a man grown to strength in the healthy country air. He was often called "as tough as nails".
His routine involved getting up at seven o'clock, and riding round the estate before breakfast to see what was going on. He knew the 120 men who worked on his estate far better than any factory boss knows his staff. No decision concerning the estate was taken without the Duke's active authority. He answered all his own letters. He was President of the Federation of Boys' Clubs, of the Outward Bound School, and of every society that has anything to do with horses. The only one that he had no time for is the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which had the cheek to ask His Grace to treat with care the horses that were to draw the coro­nation coach in 1953. He replied that he knew how to treat horses, thank you. The Duke was Chancellor of the University of Bristol from 1966 to 1970, an appointment which provoked violent opposition from the students; clashes with the police marred the installation, and decorated the front page of all newspapers. Even
The Times
joined in the attack, and declared that it did not think the appointment was a wise choice.
However, the Duke rode it out, and was finally a very popular Chancellor indeed. He was not a man to succumb to pressures of any sort.

Anyone who travelled on an express train from London to South Wales, as I have had to do, might have been astonished that the train stopped briefly at a tiny station called Badminton, where usually no one would get off or on, and only two houses were in view. I always wondered by what anomaly this situation occurred. I now discover that the station was built in 1903 to oblige the then Duke of Beaufort in fair exchange for the Duke's permission to lay tracks across his land. Beaufort said to the Great Western Railway, in effect, you can run your railway track across my land if you guaran­tee that four trains per day will stop there. The Duke had the addi­tional right to stop any other train that he wished, if he or his guests wanted to travel to London. The station was built just one mile from Badminton House, with the Duke's crest on the wall, and the stationmaster's office carpeted in red; the Queen used this as a waiting-room. With the demise of the train in favour of the motor­car as a popular means of transport, the railways lost money, and had to economise. In the face of severe financial need, the old promise to the Duke of Beaufort had to go the way of all privilege; Badminton station was closed in 1968.

The Duke was one of the foremost sportsmen in England. He had been President of the M.C.C., of Bristol Rovers Football Club, and of the British Olympic Association. But of course it is as the Master of Foxhounds that he is best remembered. Until he retired to the rear of the pack in 1966, the sight of the Duke of Beaufort at the head of the hunt was one of the greatest spectacles to be seen in England. He devoted an extraordinary amount of time and energy to keeping his hounds the finest pack in the land. His ancestors were largely responsible (though not solely) for the establishment of foxhunting in this country in the mid-eighteenth century, as a replacement to stag-hunting. (When James I and the Earl of Worcester hunted, it was stags they were after.) Two hunts soon had a reputation above the others, and they were both ducal; the Duke of Rutland's Belvoir Hunt, and the Duke of Beaufort's Badminton Hunt. Beaufort has the edge now because his hounds have rather more stamina and more bone, and also because the reigning Duke has always been Master of the hunt which bears his name. The Beauforts have a rare uncanny feeling for the hunt. It was said of the 8th Duke that he "had an intuitive perception, more animal than human, of what may be called the line of chase".

The Duke naturally found himself the centre of controversy as the twentieth century has moved slowly towards a different view of foxhunting. Objections have been raised against it first on the grounds that it is a sport for the "idle rich", and secondly because it is cruel. The first objection holds no water at all. The hunt is enjoyed by members of all classes, but since they are not all dukes, they are not attacked for it. The Dowager Duchess of Beaufort rode with the Banwen Miners' Hunt, and invited the miners to hunt with the Beaufort.
The other objection is, however, more uncomfortable. One cannot help feeling uneasy that people should derive pleasure from seeing a living creature made dead; even the words used in hunting terminology smack of violence. The hounds do not kill a fox, they "break him up". A former Master of Foxhounds has described the hunt as "a carnival, with men and women paying money to take part in the slaughter",
and another correspondent voiced the feelings of the Duke's critics when he wrote of "callousness to animal suffering which is an affront to the civilised conscience".
The Bishop of Southwark claimed that bloodsports were contrary to Christian teaching, a charge that the Duke felt obliged to answer, but which he avoided; he said the alternatives were worse, which may well be true, but does not invalidate the Bishop's point.
Some neighbouring farmers, tired of reasoning with a man who could not bring reason to bear in a matter which was the fibre of his soul, took from time to time to more strenuous methods. There was one gentleman who threatened legal action against the Beaufort Hunt if it continued to cross his land and do damage: he said the hunters were boorish, and insulted him if he remonstrated with them.
Another farmer shot the fox to put it out of its misery, then ordered the Duke off his land. The Duke is reported to have said, "Don't be silly", which is usually the incredulous reaction of those who hunt foxes, and do not understand that it may be offensive to others.

The terrain of the Beaufort hunt was badly scissored by the M4, cutting off the Dauntsey Vale, where a famous hunt in 1871 had lasted for fifty miles, and the Duke had exhausted three mounts in the chase. Horses and hounds are not allowed to cross motorways. There is the occasional glimpse of humour amid all the earnestness. Mr H. P. Forder, of Samuel Fox & Co., learning that the Duke of Beaufort rode in a car marked MFH 1, wrote to
The Times.
"At these works we travel in FOX 1", he said. "May I be assured that, should we happen to meet His Grace upon the road, no unseemly incident will occur?"
In his reply the Duke pointed out that his hunt went nowhere near the works of Samuel Fox & Co.

Throughout World War II, Badminton played host, at the sug­gestion of the Government, to Queen Mary, who was the Duchess of Beaufort's aunt. Strict secrecy was imposed with the result that hardly anyone knew where she was all this time. Badminton certainly knew, however. The Duchess viewed with some appre­hension Queen Mary's convoy of vans arrive in October 1939, with her seventy pieces of personal luggage, and retinue of fifty-five fastidious servants. The arrangement was that she should take over the whole house, or as much of it as she wanted, with the exception of the Duke's bedrooms and sitting-rooms. The Beauforts in effect were guests in their own home. The Duchess wrote: "Pandemonium was the least it could be called! The servants revolted, and scorned our humble home [Badminton
They refused to use the excellent rooms assigned to them. Fearful rows and battles royal were fought over my body. . . . The Queen, quite unconscious of the stir, has settled in well, and is busy cutting down trees and tearing down ivy." (Queen Mary hated ivy and attacked it wherever she saw it.)
She kept three suitcases ready packed throughout the war with which to escape in the event that the Nazis should attempt to kidnap her.

BOOK: The Dukes
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