Opposites Attract: A True Love Story

Henry Beresford, 3rd Marquess of Waterford, wasn’t a rake, one of those smooth-talking charmers who populate romance novels. He was more of a frat boy.

Born in 1811, he inherited the title in 1826 after the untimely deaths of his older brother and his father.  He was still a student at Eton, where his exploits brought him notoriety. The headmaster at the time was John Keate, noted for having restored discipline to the school through liberal use of the birch, of which Waterford had experience. 

Keate’s sister referred to Waterford as “that reckless boy”—everyone knew he had devised the forbidden aquatic races, though since the boys were masked and ran faster than the masters, that particular escapade couldn’t be proven. 

His recklessness continued after he had left school. Among the less reprehensible of his feats was riding his own horse in the Grand National in 1840. He didn’t win, but he did finish the course. 

But it was the drunken brawls and vandalism kept him in the newspapers, where he was often referred to as the Mad Marquess. “Painting the town red” is said to refer to one of his exploits. After celebrating with some fox-hunting friends at Melton Mowbray, he came across  some cans of red paint. This proved irresistible, and they decorated the pub sign and doors all up and down the street.

Perhaps his most noted escapade came when he and some friends returned to Eton for the boat race. After celebrating the victory, they decided it would be a good idea to “liberate” the flogging block. This was the bench over which the schoolboy had  to bend, trousers down, while the headmaster administered a whipping with the birch rod, a bundle of leafless twigs bound together. 

The flogging block was kept in the library, which had a stout door. They couldn’t get in that way, so Waterford went out another window and crept along the cornice to reach the library window and get in. They carried off the block and the stack of birch rods, and for a while the block served as the seat of the President of the Block Club. Membership in the club was limited to those who had been flogged at least three times. Waterford had snuff boxes made with a bit of the wood and sent them to the headmaster and the provost.

Now comes a turning point in his story.

In 1839, the Earl of Eglinton sponsored a reenactment of a medieval joust at Eglinton Castle in Ayrshire. This was an enormous affair, spread over three days, celebrating romantic ideals of chivalry, with 100,000 spectators. Participants dressed in medieval garb, and the jousters wore medieval armor. Just the sort of thing to appeal to Waterford. (The picture above shows him in his armor for that event.)

But for him, what came to be the most important aspect of the whole thing was that he met Louisa Stuart and fell in love.

The Stuarts were an intellectual and artistic family. Louisa’s father, Lord Stuart de Rothesay, was at that time in Russia, serving as a diplomat. Louisa herself was an accomplished watercolor artist as was her sister, Charlotte. This was not a milieu in which Waterford felt sure of himself. Not knowing what to do—he was actually kind of shy with women—he persuaded his sister, Lady Sarah Ingestre, to write a letter to Lady Stuart, asking if he could court Louisa.

Lady Stuart was much amused by the letter and read it to her daughter. “I must lose no time in writing a refusal,” she said.

But Louisa plucked it from her mother’s hand and said, “Oh, let me think about it.”

London society was then treated to the sight of the Marquess of Waterford actually attending society events, something he had rarely if ever done before. He would arrive, look around until he saw Louisa, make a beeline for her, and remain at her side for the remainder of the evening.

Lady Stuart was not enthusiastic. She wrote to her husband, “The great fault of the other person is his boisterous, rough manners, without the slightest interest in any concerns within doors, or within the doors of Parliament especially.”

However, Waterford persisted and Louisa did as well. Eventually, Louisa’s sister wrote to their father, “I think you will be quite happy to hear that Lou’s marriage is definitely settled. She looks as happy as possible, and we are all very much pleased with Lord Waterford, who has become much more gentle and amiable. He is so devoted to Lou that he will do anything to please her, and as she is certainly not exigeant, it is a very good thing that he should voluntarily set about suiting himself more to her tastes…. The good side of Lord Waterford’s character has come forward so strongly that Mama and I are quite happy now.”

And so they were married and apparently lived happily ever after, at least until Waterford’s death in a hunting accident in 1859.  A witness to that event said, “Dr. Jephson rode on to break it to my Lady, and he met her driving her two white ponies up to the door, all gay and happy, and told her at first that my Lord had broken his thigh-bone and was very much hurt; but she saw by his face that it was worse than that, and said so, and he could not speak to her. Then she went away to her own room and locked herself in. When my Lord had been brought home and night came on, she ordered every one away from her, and she looked on his face once more, but what my Lady did that night we none of us knew.”

Louisa’s sister, Charlotte, was married to Charles Canning. That had also been a love match, but not as successful a one. Canning was frequently unfaithful, and Charlotte was happy to serve as a lady in waiting to Queen Victoria so that for six months of the year she did not have to live with her husband.

Victoria had asked Louisa to be a lady in waiting as well, but Louisa declined, saying that her husband needed her. That was the one excuse Victoria would accept.

 

Augustus Hare, The Story of Two Noble Lives

Augustus  Hare, The Story of My Life

Wasey Sterry, Annals of the King’s College of Our Lady of Eton Beside Windsor 

John Chandos, Boys Together: English Public Schools 1800-1864 

Kate Hubbard, Serving Victoria: Life in the Royal Household

 

Comments

What a beautiful story. It's

What a beautiful story. It's so sad he only lived into his forties, but it sounds like they definitely loved each other. He probably was a lot of fun with that adventurous past of his. Thanks for this, Lil.

It gives me faith that when

It gives me faith that when we write our historical romances, they're not as far-fetched as our critics say. People have always enjoyed a love story with a happy ending, and the ones that are true are even better.

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