Available from Pen and Sword Books
A Right Royal Scandal recounts the fascinating history of the irregular love matches contracted by two successive generations of the Cavendish-Bentinck family, ancestors of the British Royal Family.
We are delighted to have been asked back to Tony Riches’ blog. This time we would like to share a little information on the background to our second book, A Right Royal Scandal: Two Marriages That Changed History.
This was originally going to be our first book, our interest in its subject piqued by a chance throwaway comment between us during a telephone conversation almost a decade ago when we were discussing all things genealogical, as we mentioned in our first post for Tony. “Have you ever heard about the gypsy girl who married an ancestor of the queen?”
The story was true but not widely known although it had been reported on and gossiped about in the mid-Victorian era, during the lifetime of the queen’s ancestor who followed his heart when his family wanted him to do otherwise.
Not a few Oxford men, of nine or ten years’ standing, could tell a tale of frantic passion for a Gipsy girl entertained by two young men at one time, one of them with ducal blood in his veins, who ultimately wooed and wedded his Gipsy love. So that it is no way impossible (the heirs to the dukedom being all unmarried, and unlikely to marry) that the ducal coronet of ____ may come to be worn by the son of a Gipsy mother.
The Reverend Charles Cavendish Bentinck was the grandson and nephew of two successive Dukes of Portland. On his mother’s side, his grandfather was Marquess Wellesley and the famed Duke of Wellington was his great-uncle. His father had been amongst George IV’s inner circle and his elder half-sister Georgiana was – reputedly – the king’s granddaughter. Charley, as he was known to his family, was of illustrious and highly aristocratic stock which made it all the more shocking when, as a young man studying at Oxford University, he fell head over heels in love with a working-class girl named Sinnetta Lambourne, a girl with gypsy blood running through her veins… and secretly married her.
Sinnetta’s parents had met at a horse fair held at Warwick racecourse; her mother was a full-blooded gypsy and her father an Oxfordshire horse dealer who was known to settle disputes with his fists. A Right Royal Scandal documents the romance between Charley and his beautiful gypsy bride, as well as his family’s devastating reaction to it. We found his union mentioned in letters written by Lord and Lady Hatherton – Charley’s maternal aunt and uncle – who addressed the matter both directly and obliquely; at times we had to read between the lines of the letters to discover the truth. Official documents – birth, marriage and death certificates, census returns and wills – provided yet more evidence of Charley and Sinnetta’s life together and they appeared within the pages of a diary written by a Victorian gentleman who was their friend and neighbour. Slowly and methodically we pieced together the story of their romance and married life, which was to be cut tragically short.
Charley made a second marriage in his later life and became the proud father of three daughters, the eldest of whom married the Earl of Strathmore. The Earl and Countess of Strathmore’s youngest daughter, the Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, is now better known to us as Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother.
But our title promises two marriages and so what of the other? We start A Right Royal Scandal by taking the story back a further generation: Charley’s father, Lord Charles Bentinck (a widower with a young daughter), faced his own scandal when he eloped with the married niece of the Duke of Wellington just weeks after the Battle of Waterloo. The bored and unfulfilled Lady Abdy was the daughter of Marquess Wellesley, one of five children borne by his mistress, an exotically beautiful French opera dancer named Hyacinthe Gabrielle Rolland (the marquess married his mistress but only after the birth of his children). Anne, Lady Abdy, was beautiful, flirtatious and impetuous just like her Gallic mother, and she inherited her aristocratic father’s hot temper too.
A married Lady has recently eloped with the brother of an English Duke. A female friend, on learning the story, coolly observed – ‘Who could expect a tame duck out of a wild duck’s nest?’
It was said that Lady Abdy resembled the first Lady Charles Bentinck and this, together with her solicitude for his young daughter who had been left motherless, led to Lord Charles becoming besotted. The scandal of the elopement involved many famous personalities of the day, the Prince Regent, the extended Wellesley family including the Duke of Wellington, the Duke of Portland and the Regency courtesan Harriette Wilson and a very public Criminal Conversation trial and divorce hearing was to follow.
There are ups and downs, love, laughter and tragedy in the stories of the tangled love affairs of this branch of the royal family tree and we hope that our readers will find their lives as fascinating as we do. The people we have written about were close to the royals in many ways over the years and generations, as courtiers, friends, lovers, illegitimate offspring and – finally – as legitimate members of the family itself. It is a love story as much as a meticulously researched historical biography and a continuation of our first book, An Infamous Mistress, about the eighteenth-century courtesan Grace Dalrymple Elliott whose daughter was the first wife of Lord Charles Bentinck (although both books can be read as independently of each other). A Right Royal Scandal ends by showing how, if not for a young gypsy and her tragic life, the British monarchy would look very different today.
Joanne Major and Sarah Murden
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About the Authors
Sarah and Joanne are genealogists and historians who live in Lincolnshire, England and spend the majority of their lives immersed in both the Georgian and Victorian Eras. They describe themselves as 'history detectives' and aim for all posts on their with our blog to have at least one piece of information that is not already in the public domain. You can find out more at their blog www.georogianera.wordpress.com and follow them on Twitter