Aristocrats and No Noblesse

There are aristocrats, and then there are people with titles. Marcus Scriven piles it on thickly in his collection of the less than sublime. He recounts tales of aristocrats who fell on hard times. He jumbles the unpleasant on top of the unlucky, narrates the eccentric with the plain weird, and lists the madmen with the bad apples. All of this adds up to a colourful book with an appeal to the Schadenfreude crowd. It also caters to the readers who enjoy real life story that are hard to believe but true.

John Hervey and Francesca Fisher

Splendour & Squalor by Marcus Scriven was published by Atlantic Books. The book offers a kaleidoscope of British aristocrats who behaved badly, were badly behaved, or just had the devil's own luck. It’s a treasure trove for lovers of stories weird, wacky, and wonderfully eccentric. If noblesse oblige implies aristocratic belief in doing good, then this little collection will show the other leaf in the book. Criminal lords, notorious gamblers, and sexually depraved sons live cheek to jowl in this story collection. 

Edward FitzGerald, 7th Duke of Leinster, spent his life on the run from his creditors. Born a younger son without money and without a foreseeable future of becoming Duke one day, he developed an eccentric streak early on. At Eton, he kept snakes as pets, and over the years the pets would become more numerous and more exotic. He managed to amass debts of £67,000 by 1920 aged 27 (in today’s money about £16 millions).

To his relief, Edward FitzGerald contracted a deal with a loan shark who paid off his debts and guaranteed him a fixed income of £1,000 a year for live. In return, the shark would receive all the income from the estates should Edward FitzGerald become Duke of Leinster one day. 17 months later, his older brother died and he became the 7th Duke, living on £1,000 a year until 1976.

A really unpleasant specimen was the 7th Marquess of Bristol. He died in 1999 aged 44. A predatory homosexual, he boasted of Rupert Everett as one among his many lovers. He married hours before his 30th birthday to get more funds out of his trust fund. The marriage was made in hell, and his wife soon left him.

I do remember him as an unpleasant and imposing individual. In 1980, I was sitting in a cafe on a Central European motorway reading the local newspaper. Somebody sat down at my table without even asking leave to do so. The guy pushed his business card over the table to me and said: ‘I am the future Marquess of Bath. Are you ever coming to England on holidays?’ I said that I do from time to time. ‘Good. I like your looks. Call me when you are there. I want to adopt you.’ Then he left to rejoin his companion. I was so impressed; I forgot his card on the table. My mother had a fit when I told and recounted the career of his esteemed father.

His father, the 6th Marquess, was a creep, too. He enjoyed setting fire to his room at Eton and would set door handles under electricity. As a young man, he drove his car into a row of waiting cabs to see if they would fold up like a concertina. He loathed his son and placed an ad into The Times before his son’s marriage to announce that he was unable to attend due to a prior engagement.

I would have enjoyed the book more if the writing style had been a bit drier. Marcus Scriven uses a rich style that appears a bit too flowery. The book is a tremendous read all the same. The stories told by Marcus Scriven are highly entertaining and will keep you amused from cover to cover.

Further reading
Money Married Title
Digging for Gold in Europe
Princes: Not All That Glitters