The Trials of the King of Hampshire: Madness, Secrecy and Betrayal in Georgian England by Elizabeth Foyster - review by Miranda Seymour

Miranda Seymour

The Marriage Plot

The Trials of the King of Hampshire: Madness, Secrecy and Betrayal in Georgian England

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Lunacy, as lovers of Wilkie Collins’s novels will be aware, was a lucrative business in 19th-century England (and not only for the owners of the country’s innumerable asylums). Anybody who wanted to lay their hands on a fortune – as did Collins’s magnificently wicked Count Fosco and his less lovable sidekick, Sir Percival Glyde – found it remarkably easy to lock away a perfectly sane heiress and to seize her estate.

The case of John Charles Wallop, third Earl of Portsmouth, newly investigated and beautifully narrated here by Elizabeth Foyster, a historian specialising in family history, was complicated by the fact that the earl’s eccentric habits offered him a wobbly perch on the Humpty-Dumpty wall of lunacy. Portsmouth was

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