The Scandal of the Century by Lisa Hilton - review by Adrian Tinniswood

Adrian Tinniswood

Dangerous Liaisons

The Scandal of the Century


Michael Joseph 352pp £22

The Scandal of the Century is an enjoyable read, but there is no denying that it has its quirks. The title refers to the elopement in 1682 of eighteen-year-old Lady Henrietta Berkeley, daughter of the first Earl of Berkeley, with the rackety Protestant conspirator Lord Grey of Werke. Her father’s dismay was exacerbated by the fact that Grey was married to Henrietta’s sister Mary. His proposed solution was to find Henrietta and pack her off to a nunnery in France. He accordingly offered a £200 reward for her return, while she moved from one lodging house to another in an attempt to evade her pursuers. Eventually, Berkeley sued Grey and his helpers at the Court of King’s Bench for ‘debauching the Lady Henrietta Berkeley’. Henrietta, who was present, maintained unconvincingly that she had not been debauched by anyone and then, in a superb coup de théâtre, suddenly announced to the court that she was not returning to the bosom of her family because she was now married. And not to Grey, but to one of his servants, a man named William Turner. 

Grey was found guilty, but subsequent events allowed him to avoid punishment. Implicated in the Rye House Plot, a plan to assassinate Charles II and his brother James, Duke of York, he fled to the Netherlands, taking a pregnant Henrietta (and her so-called husband) with him. From there he plotted to put Charles II’s bastard son the Duke of Monmouth on the throne, and actually took part in the Monmouth Rebellion, after which he was captured, saving his skin by implicating his co-conspirators in the plot. His later support for the Glorious Revolution earned him an earldom. Henrietta drifted into obscurity, dying at Tonbridge in Kent in 1706. 

This is all good stuff, and it has the makings of a first-class historical romp. But in spite of the book’s title, Grey and Henrietta play a relatively minor part in Hilton’s story. In 1684 an epistolary novel, arguably the first to appear in England, Love-Letters Between a Nobleman and

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