Categories
History

Queen Victoria’s Black Sheep: Prince Eddy and the Ripper Rumours, Part 1

Prince Albert Victor 'Eddy'

Jack the Ripper occupies a curious place in the popular consciousness – one that seems utterly divorced from the string of vicious murders (at least 5) he is thought to have committed. Perhaps we’ve grown too used to the idea of serial killers now, too exposed to the archetype of an unhinged misogynist, banishing their demons through clinical mutilation and remorseless murder. This psychological explanation seems to disguise the physical reality, rendering the world safer and more predictable again (unless of course you happen to be a prostitute). It’s a scenario we’ve seen played out countless times in film and television, and in reality, most recently in the 2006 Ipswich murders. So it may be that the image of Jack the Ripper has been softened by time, and fresher memories of other serial killers who have followed him, but it still strikes me as odd that Jack has somehow been absorbed into the myth of ‘Jolly Old London’; his story now, apparently suitable as entertainment, for families of tourists and coachloads of schoolkids.

Of course, another major factor in the air of unreality surrounding Jack is the fact that he was never caught, and, worse, a hundred suspects have been put forward in the intervening years (mostly by hacks looking to flog paperbacks). Whilst some are plausible and revealing (though inevitably inconclusive), a good number of these theories are fantasies of the wildest kind, like overblown kites stitched together out of old bits of claptrap, drivel and hooey, some of which have incomprehensibly caught in the winds of crazy and flown for a while. (Sorry, I’m just having a metaphor sort of a day today).

Several are out-and-out lies, relying on demonstrably forged documents or other falsehoods. Others are nothing but stories, and these can be guiltily enjoyable for their sheer chutzpah. In 1923, a Russian named Alexander Pedachenko was identified as the Ripper in the memoirs of William Le Queux. Le Queux claims to have seen a document, written in French by none other than Rasputin, which named Padachenko, an insane doctor, as the culprit, acting on behalf of the Okhrana (the Secret Police) to discredit Scotland Yard. Sadly, certain facts, most notably the lack of any good evidence pointing to Pedachenko ever having existed, count against this one.

Lewis Carroll. Look at him. Staring evilly. Thinking about doing some more muders, no doubt.

My favourite of all is the theory fingering Charles Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll, as the Ripper, which surely takes the cake as the most preposterous of all. Carroll was first suggested as a possible Jack by Richard Wallace, author of Jack the Ripper, Light-Hearted Friend. The theory seems to be based on the received (and largely exaggerated) image of Carroll as a deeply odd man, who formed dubious, intense relationships with women and girls. The clincher in the argument is Wallace’s use of anagrams, which he believe reveal hidden codes in Carroll’s writing, in which he actually confesses to being Jack the Ripper. He takes a passage from Carroll’s Nursery Alice, which reads,

‘So she wandered away, through the wood, carrying the ugly little thing with her. And a great job it was to keep hold of it, it wriggled about so. But at last she found out that the proper way was to keep tight hold of itself foot and its right ear’.

Innocent enough, you might think. But by simply shifting the letters around (oh, and changing some, and leaving others out), Wallace is able to reveal the shocking true meaning behind the passage.

‘She wriggled about so! But at last Dodgson and Bayne found a way to keep hold of the fat little whore. I got a tight hold of her and slit her throat, left ear to right. It was tough, wet, disgusting, too. So weary of it, they threw up – jack the Ripper.’

Absolute bunkum. As Casebook: Jack the Ripper notes, ‘all Wallace really succeeds in demonstrating is that Dodgson used the same alphabet as everyone else in the western world, and that, therefore his words can be rearranged to make other words – including rather rude ones about ripping ladies open’. Several wags have thankfully laid waste to Wallace’s ‘argument’ by finding other devastating examples of hidden Ripper confessions. This sentence from the beginning of Winnie the Pooh,

‘Here is Edward Bear coming downstairs now’

would be, in the world of Richard Wallace, enough to condemn AA Milne as a psychopath, with its hidden meaning,

‘Stab red red women! CR is downing whores – AA’

And then there’s this extract from Wallace’s own book,

‘This is my story of Jack the Ripper, the man behind Britain’s worst unsolved murders. It is a story that points to the unlikeliest of suspects: a man who wrote children’s stories. That man is Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, author of such beloved books as Alice in Wonderland. ‘

which can quite easily be transmogrified into,

‘The truth is this: I, Richard Wallace, stabbed and killed a muted Nicole Brown in cold blood, severing her throat with my trusty shiv’s strokes. I set up Orenthal James Simpson, who is utterly innocent of this murder. P.S. I also wrote Shakespeare‘s sonnets, and a lot of Francis Bacon‘s works too. ‘.

Case closed, I think you’ll agree.

But despite the lunacy of many Ripper theories, it is still interesting to examine why such accusations might attach themselves to certain people. And, in the case of Prince Albert Victor (or ‘Eddy’), Queen Victoria’s grandson, why should three such theories weave around him?

For that story, read Part 2.

Categories
19th Century Biography British History Royal History

How do you solve a problem like Victoria: was Queen Victoria illegitimate?

Queen Victoria - illegitmate?

Of the 41 monarchs of England since the arrival of William the Conqueror, only 7 have been women. But stop and think of the 41 figures on that list: how many do you feel any real connection with, how many produce an emotional response when you picture them? And, crucially, how many do you have any genuine respect for?

When you whittle things down this way, the list starts looking decidedly feminine. There are very few monarchs who can match the imaginative appeal of Elizabeth I and Victoria; none who seem so absolutely inseparable from their age. The majority of our male kings seem to run together into a blur of degeneracy or mediocrity, and frequently both. Perhaps precisely because of the essential masculinity of the role, many of our Queens seem to have worked much harder, given much more and left a far more unique legacy. Heck, to use a phrase borrowed (worryingly) from my parents, they just had more spunk.

In 2002, the BBC conducted a poll to find the ‘100 Greatest Britons‘. There are three monarchs in the top twenty – Alfred the Great, Elizabeth I and Victoria. So it seems, despite the fact that still only a puny one in five of our elected officials in the House of Commons is female, when it comes to strength, leadership and respectability, the monarchy has had no better, more lastingly memorable and characteristic representatives than Elizabeth and Victoria.

So what if many of the features that made Queen Victoria remarkable and rejuvenating were owed not to her connection to the ancient royal bloodline, but to her disconnection from it? What if Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, was not her real father? And what if Victoria’s troublesome genetic legacy is the smoking gun that can prove it?

This claim has been made most forcefully by the formidable Victorian specialist A.N Wilson, but questions have also been raised by those with a far more intimate connection to the subject. After watching the film of Alan Bennet’s The Madness of King George, which graphically depicted George III’s torments whilst suffering with porphyria, Princess Margaret is said to have wondered aloud, ‘Isn’t it hereditary?’.

She was of course right. Acute porphyria is now often attributed as the cause of George’s ‘madness’, triggering the famous discoloured urine, flatulence, constipation, colic, itchy skin, seizures and anxiety. Visit the Discover website to find out how cbd products helped with my anxiety. If you’re looking for supreme, unbeatable kratom products then, kratommasters.com will give all you want!

This diagnosis suggests that the king may not have been mad at all; rather the incessant discomfort, severe pain and nervous exhaustion caused by porphyria may have literally driven him to distraction, creating the impression of a man who had lost his mind and all connection to reality. She got her computer and searched for the best cbd body lotions online and found out they actually have a lot of benefits, like helping with stress, anxiety, depression, just what she needed. You can then look forward to enjoying the many benefits that CBD products can offer such as enhanced sleep, lower anxiety levels, and increased relaxation. cannablossom.co will look at the main benefits of buying CBD products online with them. CBD is generally considered to be safe and free from harmful side effects, and because of this, here are the best cbd companies that are popular in today’s market.

It is extremely rare for men to exhibit such extreme symptoms of porphyria, leading some researchers to speculate that it may have been caused by exposure to arsenic. An examination of a sample of George’s hair found traces of arsenic at 300 times the toxic level, likely as a result of the arsenic-laden James’ powders medicine the king is known to have been given.

It may well be that George inherited the disease from Mary Queen of Scots and her son James I, both of whom are recorded as suffering from complaints that tally well with the symptoms of porphyria. From this point on, porphyria seems to have been prevalent amongst the royals, with George only its most high profile sufferer. Prevalent, that is, until Victoria, after whom the disease mysteriously vanished from the royal family.

So goes the theory. Although it is often stated that after Victoria there is no evidence of porphyria in the line, at least two of her descendants seem to have shown signs of the condition. The remains of her granddaughter, Charlotte, Duchess of Saxe-Meiningen, have recently been examined and revealed a high likelihood that she suffered from porphyria, together with her daughter, who committed suicide in 1945, after a lifetime of health problems. Prince William of Gloucester, who died in a plane crash in the 1970s, was reliably diagnosed with the disease by three separate specialists, though he was also descended from Victoria’s uncle, the Duke of Cambridge, and might have inherited it from him.

This evidence is not enough to entirely quash the idea that the run of porphyria in the the royal family ended with Victoria, but it certainly introduces enough doubt to stop anyone getting too carried away with the idea that Victoria was illegitimate. There is, however, another genetic mystery which is harder to dismiss.

While porphyria is said to have stopped with Victoria, another disease is said to have started. Victoria was a known carrier of haemophilia, and certainly passed it on to two of her daughters and her son, Prince Leopold. What’s strange is that there is no known incidence of haemophilia in the royal family before this time, and, unlike porphyria, male carriers always suffer the disease, which would at the time have been very difficult to conceal. Research conducted at the Royal Society of Medicine through seventeen generations of ancestors on Victoria’s mother’s side has revealed no evidence of the disease.

This leaves only two options: either Victoria acquired haemophilia through a spontaneous genetic mutation, or the Duke of Kent was not her father. Although genetic mutation accounts for around 33% of all cases of haemophilia, the chances of it occurring in any one generation are between 1 in 25,000 and 1 in 100,000. And it must be admitted that the alternative explanation has several points in its favour. The marriage between Edward, Duke of Kent, and Victoria’s mother Victoire, Princess of Leiningen, was by no stretch of the imagination a happy one. Neither spoke each other’s language for a start, and by the time of the marriage, when Edward was in his 50s, he was, to put it politely, past his physical prime. There were also persistent and widespread rumours about Victoire and her secretary Sir John Conroy. Victoria seems to have openly loathed Conroy, which many (including the august Duke of Wellington) supposed was the result of her certain knowledge of his affair with her mother. Some went so far as to suggest that Victoria had inadvertantly stumbled across the couple in what would now be called a compromising situation.

There are problems with this theory – Conroy was a soldier, a career which would surely have been made next to impossible by haemophilia, and none of his descendants showed signs of the disease. But the tantalising possibility remains that Victoire’s infidelity may not have stopped with Conroy, and Victoria was the result. The implications of this are far-reaching – not only did this furtive coupling create one of our most iconic monarchs, but in successive generations it spread the disease throughout the royal houses of Europe; to Alfonso, Prince of Asturias and Infante Gonzalo of Spain, and to Alexei, Tsarevich of Russia. His mother’s desperate search for a cure, of course, brought the profoundly unpopular Rasputin to a position of royal influence, adding fuel to the revolutionary fires.

All this, of course, is speculation, and highly controversial speculation at that. The evidence from porphyria is at best questionable, and far more unlikely events have happened in history than spontaneous genetic mutation. On the balance of the evidence available, it has to be said there’s no reason to abandon the official line that the Duke of Kent was indeed the true father of Victoria. But the alternative remains appealing, partly because deep down everyone loves a good bit of gossip, and partly because of the light it sheds on the true nature of royalty and the vicissitudes of history. Could it be that Victoire got bored one afternoon, summoned some unknown haemophiliac lover to her bedchamber and engaged in a little nookie that changed the course of history forever? Probably not. But the mystery remains, and there’s something gloriously, wickedly subversive in it that serves as a refreshing antidote to all the grand history we so often have shoved down our throats.

Further Reading

  • The Victorians by A.N. Wilson A masterly overview of the Victorian period, which includes Wilson’s controversial claims about Victoria herself.
Categories
Historical Places Site of the Week World History

Site of the Week: Atlas Obscura, a compendium of curiousities from around the globe

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History Travel Site of the Week

It’s a well-worn, but absolutely true, travelling cliche that the best way to get to know a place is to get lost in it. The aim of most travel sites on the internet is to enable you to plan your trips better, separating the wheat from the chaff and ensuring that not a second is wasted. Several Nazi Party rallies were less well planned than your average TripAdvisor aficionado’s holiday. Atlas Obscura is different. It’s a worldwide database of interesting but obscure places, which anyone can join and contribute to. Using it, you feel like an armchair explorer, unearthing those serendipitous finds that make getting lost so much fun, and discovering great places you might otherwise never have known about. ivermectin age

Example: I recently visited Salzburg for the second time. It’s a smallish city, I’ve read a few guide books, and I was accompanied by Julie, a seasoned visitor to Sazlburg, so I smugly thought I had a pretty good handle on most of what’s worth seeing there. Wrong. A few minutes on this site wiped the smile off my face, revealing the existence of things I must have literally come within metres of but remained utterly oblivious to. There’s the Dom Museum inside the stridently baroque Cathedral, which houses the restored Cabinet of Curiousities of the distinctly worldly Archbishop Wolf Dietrich ( who served from 1587 to 1612). There’s the magical water-powered mechanical theatre at Schloss Hellbrunn (which I had visited, but in winter when the theatre and the palace’s famous playing fountains are in hibernation). And, most intriguingly, there’s the skull in the University Mozarteum, said to have been lifted from the grave Mozart shared with 5 or 6 others, and claimed by some to be the bonce of the great composer himself. DNA tests have proved frustratingly inconclusive, but the skull bears the marks of a blow to the head sustained about a year before its owner shuffled off, which may explain the persistent headaches that plagued Mozart in the last year of his life. chicken lice ivermectin

The real joy of Atlas Obscura lies in the fact it’s not just a travel guide, but a compendium of places with stories to tell. Mercifully, the descriptions are free from irritating, overwrought, self-congratulating traveller’s tales, opting instead for good solid research and revealing explanation (as you might expect from a site co-founded by the author of the blinking marvellous Curious Expeditions blog). Typical of this is the page on the Broad Street Cholera Pump, revealing how an innocuous looking water pump on a London street marks the spot where 500 people died in a single outbreak of cholera in 1854, prompting Dr John Snow to discover the link between the disease and London’s foul drinking water.

Atlas Obscura is a highly diverting read now, and I for one hope it continues to grow with input from the community, because this idea has the potential to become very exciting indeed. ivermectin for mange dogs

The image used to illustrate this article is from Atlas Obscura’s page on the Globe Museum in Vienna. Now that sounds like a day out, how did I miss that? O why was I so blind? Curse my blinkers!

Categories
18th Century Animals Theatre

Dogs vs Flying Cars: A surprisingly Georgian night at the theatre

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Flying Car Vs Dog

A couple of weekends ago I went to see the touring production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the Bristol Hippodrome. I felt much the same about the show as I did when I saw it on the West End. Although it has some fun moments, it’s lumbered with some distinctly average new songs, and an extremely messy second act. Criminally, the stage production chooses to abandon some of the most enjoyable elements of the film, most notably the secret, murderous hatred between the Baron and Baroness Bomburst, disguised by sickeningly cutesy lovey-dovey language. ‘Chu-chi Face’, the ostensible love song sung by the pair as the Baron tries several ways to murder the Baroness, is a wonderfully ironic highlight of the film. On stage, this side of their relationship is jettisoned, and the Baron becomes merely an overgrown child, pathetically reciprocating the Baroness’s sugary sentiments.

All the same, the stage production remains enjoyable thanks in large parts to its sheer spectacle. The flying car is as bewitching and convincing a piece of stage magic as ever, and gets a huge reaction from audiences. They say nobody leaves the theatre humming the scenery, but in Chitty they’ve given it its own curtain call before they head out into the night.

Another highlight of the show, I must confess, is its cast of capering canines – at times, dozens of dogs fill the stage. I’ve always felt that dogs are under-appreciated thespians. Actors spend years in training, learning not to act, to be the part rather than merely acting it. Dogs get this right off the bat. A dog is a dog, always will be. In Chitty, the dogs seemed to be enjoying themselves far more than many of the chorus, too. And, most excitingly, when a dog’s on stage, you never know quite what’s going to happen. They may run off and on when they’re told, and perform any number of other tricks on cue, but they’re still dogs. They’re not worrying about getting shouted at by the stage manager or the producer complaining to Equity. Professional theatre can get incredibly stale and predictable, so much like a day at the office, that anything that sets that even slightly on edge is always a joy. At the climax of the Chitty, the dog and the flying car appear on stage together. Millions of pounds of development, a whole team dedicated to building the thing, packing it into lorries and keeping it going every night, and somehow, I still found myself staring at the chubby little dog.

Sometimes I wonder if I might not be a bit simple, so it was reassuring to read in The Pantomime Life of Joseph Grimaldi, that the Georgians would be firmly on my side on this one. In this book, Andrew McConnell Stott paints a wonderful picture of the awe-inspiring excess of Georgian theatre in London, as rival playhouses vied to add ever more spectacle to their spectaculars, and draw crowds of hungry theatre-goers. In 1794, the Covent Garden theatre staged a production of the full-blooded romance Lodoiska. Its climax featured a siege on Lovinski Castle by a horde of Tartars. Military extras swarmed the stage, firing rifles and cannon, while real flames erupted eighteen feet high at the back of the stage (frequently threatening to engulf it entirely). The heroine of the piece is trapped in a high tower, surrounded by the flames, prompting the hero to dash across a bridge, scale the tower and rescue the maiden, seconds before carpenters backstage knocked out supports, sending both bridge and tower hurtling towards the stage. One night, one of the carpenters proved rather too keen, scuttling the bridge too early, while the hero was still on it. He fell to the stage, and somehow managed to catch the heroine as she fell with the collapsing tower. When he stepped out of the smoke, with her in his arms, the pair received such a rapturous response from the audience, thinking that this was all part of the show, that they were forced to repeat this new hair-raising climax every night.

Not wanting to be outdone, Sadler’s Wells ripped out its entire under-stage area one season, so that it could be filled with water and used to stage mock naval battles (with children employed to man the ships so as to disguise their miniature scale). Buoyed by Nelson-mania, the venture was a roaring success, and performances continued nightly in the increasingly unsanitary waters.

The Georgians, like me, also had a particular fondness for animal actors, albeit taken to a typically outrageous extreme. One notable hit in 1784 involved Moustache, a dog cast as the star of a play called The Deserter. The plot of this impossibly bizarre piece of theatre centred on Moustache leading his platoon of canine soldiers into battle against their enemies. Frederick Reynolds remembered seeing him,

“in his little uniform, military boots, with smart musket and helmet, cheering and inspring his fellow soldiers to follow him up the scaling ladders, and storm the fort”

That I would pay to see. As did the Georgians, in their droves. The following season was replete with a Noah’s Ark of entertaining animals, from a hare playing the drums to a singing duck, two dancing horses and, Samuel Johnson’s favourite, a pig who could read and tell the time.

Clearly, this was not the ultimate expression of what theatre can achieve, but it is telling that men like Johnson and Sheridan (who managed Covent Garden at this time) had such open attitudes to this type of theatre. Georgian theatre might have been chaotic, hopelessly extravagant, rampantly commercial, often shallow and sometimes desperate, but it was also exhilariting, bold, extremely popular and wildly entertaining. It’s a reminder of how deadening the limits of snobbery can be, and of the joys of a willingess to try anything once.

Further Reading

Categories
20th Century Biography Site of the Week

Site of the Week: Oscar Kirk’s Diary

London's docks

Oscar Kirk was born and raised in Poplar, East London, close to the substantial complex known as the West and East India Docks. A few days before the end of the First World War, Oscar, then just 14, got a job at the docks, and started to write a diary of his everyday experiences.

His entries from the first half of 1919 survive, and the Museum of London Docklands has started publishing them daily on this web site. The diary is remarkable for its detailed record of seemingly ordinary events, from the purchase of a paintbrush to watching a diver plunge into a drydock to retrieve a spade. A typical entry from Friday 3rd January reads,

Pay day. 17/- . 2pm
I bought 3 comics and a maxim-gun. “Chuckles, Merry & Bright, and The Jester.
Had some fried potatoes for my supper.
Mother and Marjorie went to the Hippodrome to see “Smiles*”.
I bought some boot-polish.
Weather: Wind SW. Fresh at times. Raining. Late Mild.

It’s so minimal and mundane it’s almost poetic, but it’s quickly becoming quietly gripping. Already poignant themes are starting to suggest themselves, especially in the contrast between the regulated working life of Oscar (who by today’s standards is still a child) and the world of adventure he seems to dream of. He records the death of Captain Leefe Robinson, the first war pilot to shoot down a zeppelin, and the reading list he included with the diary includes such exotic titles as The Elixir of Life, To Arms!, and Under Sealed Orders. Somehow, you can’t help but wonder if a part of Oscar might feel he missed out on the derring-do of the war. It’s all speculation, of course, as I’m sure it will remain. I don’t see Oscar getting all One Tree Hill on us any time soon, but this, I think, will be the fun of it. Over the coming months I’m looking forward to trying to piece a larger picture together from these bare fragments.

Congratlulations should go to the Museum of London Docklands for a refreshing project that sets an example for how museums can use technology to bring their archives to a wider audience, without feeling gimmicky. You can also keep up with Oscar’s entries on twitter, though the tweets reduce his spare writing even further. The effect of reading it in twitter form is like buying a mobile phone for an elderly relative, who despite having hated the things all their lives suddenly, through a mixture of gratitude and loneliness, begins to use it obsessively, bombarding you by text with every detail of their day-to-day lives, necessarily abbreviated by their arthritic difficulties with working the keypad.