The Seventh Earl Beauchamp

A Victim of His Times

by Peter Raina (Author)
©2016 Monographs XXVI, 516 Pages


The 7th Earl Beauchamp was a prominent figure in English public life in the years 1900–30, but his career ended in scandal. He was barred from English soil, his reputation was destroyed and his papers were withheld from public view. In this book, Peter Raina uses previously unreleased documents to reassess Beauchamp’s life and legacy.
Born into the aristocracy, Beauchamp was driven by a sense of noblesse oblige and devoted his life to public service. Though some of this was ceremonial, Beauchamp was keen to involve himself in practical politics, where he showed his independence of mind. He joined the Liberals as they pushed through change against obstruction from his own landowning class. He championed Irish Home Rule. In 1914 he opposed entry into the war and lost any chance of promotion. However, he remained deeply loyal to his party even after its split and decline, and worked tirelessly in its cause.
His life touched on great events such as the formation of Australia and, in Britain, the great reforms of 1906–9, the 1911 Parliament Act, the crisis of 1914, the creation of the Irish Free State, the Liberal collapse, the first Labour government and the economic slump. Through all these, he busied himself in party affairs, but one aspect of his private life worked against him and, in a Sophoclean twist, he fell from grace.
This book documents the Earl’s involvement in politics, explores his personality and looks carefully at the issues that brought him down. In the light of this analysis, it is hoped that historians will recognize his significant contribution to the events of his day.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Illustrations
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgements
  • Chapter 1: Early Years
  • Chapter 2: A Seat in the House of Lords
  • Chapter 3: Governor of New South Wales
  • Chapter 4: The Governor and the French Consul General: Further Estrangement
  • Chapter 5: A Most Charming Hostess: Lady Mary Lygon
  • Chapter 6: The Governor’s Profile: The Year 1900
  • Chapter 7: Resignation from the Governorship
  • Chapter 8: Marriage
  • Chapter 9: Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms
  • Chapter 10: Lord Steward of the Household
  • Chapter 11: First Commissioner of Works
  • Chapter 12: Lord Lieutenant of Gloucestershire
  • Chapter 13: Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports
  • Chapter 14: Advocate of Irish Home Rule
  • Chapter 15: Man of Peace
  • Chapter 16: Lord President of the Council
  • Chapter 17: Maintaining the Liberal Cause in the House of Lords
  • Chapter 18: Liberal Leader in the House
  • Chapter 19: Chancellor of the University of London
  • Chapter 20: Divorce
  • Chapter 21: Exile
  • Chapter 22: Last Will and Testament
  • Chapter 23: The Earl’s Death
  • Appendix: Execution of the Will
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Plates

← x | xi →

List of Illustrations

Alfred Emmott, 1st Baron Emmott
bromide print by Walter Stoneman, 1917
© the National Portrait Gallery, London

Edmond Warre
mixed-method engraving probably by Thomas Lewis Atkinson, 1889, thought to be after Francis Hall
© the National Portrait Gallery, London

William Lygon, 7th Earl Beauchamp
dry-plate glass negative by Walter Stoneman, 1917
© the National Portrait Gallery, London

Lady Mary Hepburn-Stuart-Forbes-Trefusis (née Lygon) as Marie de Lorraine, a lady at the court of Marguerite de Valois
by Thomas Bennett & Sons; photogravure by Walker & Boutall, 1897, published 1899
© the National Portrait Gallery, London

Hallam Tennyson, 2nd Baron Tennyson
half-plate glass negative by Walter Stoneman, 1917
© the National Portrait Gallery, London

Sir Almeric William FitzRoy
bromide print by Walter Stoneman, 1917
© the National Portrait Gallery, London

Arthur John Bigge, Baron Stamfordham
whole-plate glass negative by Walter Stoneman, 1917
© the National Portrait Gallery, London
← xi | xii →

Eton College
vintage snapshot print taken by Lady Ottoline Morrell, 1915
© the National Portrait Gallery, London

William Lygon, 8th Earl Beauchamp with William Lygon, the 7th Earl
whole-plate glass negative by Bassano Ltd, 25 April 1924
© the National Portrait Gallery, London

‘A view taken from Christ Church Meadows, Oxford’, showing James Webber and Cyril Jackson
hand-coloured etching by Robert Dighton, published May 1807
© the National Portrait Gallery, London

Joe Chamberlain
pen and ink drawing by Walter Stoneman, done between 1880 and 1910
© the National Portrait Gallery, London

Rufus Isaacs, 1st Marquis of Reading
bromide print by (Arthur) Walton Adams, 1910s
© the National Portrait Gallery, London

Herbert Henry Asquith, 1st Earl of Oxford and Asquith
bromide print by (Arthur) Walton Adams, 1913
© the National Portrait Gallery, London

Francis Paget
water colour by Sir Leslie Ward, published in Vanity Fair, 22 November 1894
© the National Portrait Gallery, London

David Lloyd George, 1st Earl Lloyd George
oil painting on canvas by Sir William Newenham Montague Orpen, 1927
© the National Portrait Gallery, London
← xii | xiii →

Victor Child-Villiers, 7th Earl of Jersey
pencil drawing by Frederick Sargent, 1870s
© the National Portrait Gallery, London

Edward Grey, 1st Viscount Grey of Fallodon
oil painting on canvas by Harold Speed, 1927–34
© the National Portrait Gallery, London

The Education Bill in the House of Lords (The Collapse of the Archbishop of Canterbury)
showing: George Wyndham Kennion; George Ridding; Francis John Jayne; Edward Stuart Talbot; Frederick Temple; Lord Alwyne Compton; Edgar Jacob; William Dalrymple Maclagan; Randall Thomas Davidson, Baron Davison of Lambeth; Arthur Foley Winninton-Ingram; and John Wordsworth

watercolour by Sydney Prior Hall, published in The Graphic, 13 December 1902
© the National Portrait Gallery, London

William Lygon, 7th Earl Beauchamp
whole-plate glass negative by Bassano Ltd, 22 January 1924
© the National Portrait Gallery, London
← xiii | xiv →

← xiv | xv →


My knowledge of the 7th Earl Beauchamp began accidentally. I first became acquainted with his name while writing the history of House of Lords reform. Beauchamp was one of the very few hereditary peers who, in 1910, strongly favoured limitation of the powers of the Lords. In addition, I came across a note by the writer Paula Byrne in her entertaining book Mad World: in this note, she stated that, because of the ‘scandal’ associated with the person of Beauchamp, nobody had undertaken a ‘full-scale political biography of this remarkable man’.1 This provoked my interest and made me consider trying to correct the omission. I was also much inspired and encouraged by David Cannadine’s erudite study, Aspects of Aristocracy. Introducing his work, this distinguished historian advises ‘other historians’ to ‘delve more deeply and more originally into the modern aristocracy’.2 Finally the determining factor that impelled me to engage in this book was the entry for the 7th Earl Beauchamp in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography by the renowned biographer Richard Davenport-Hines.3

The ‘scandal’ to which Paula Byrne refers had two motivational sources, each different from the other: one was the jealousy of a member of the aristocracy and the other the infantile outpourings of a coarse novelist. In both cases the smearing of the Earl was unjustified. The 2nd Duke of Westminster, a playboy and dandy but a total nonentity in high politics, could not bear the thought that his brother-in-law, the 7th Earl Beauchamp, had earned the confidence of the King, proved a diligent cabinet minister, ← xv | xvi → was promoted to high state offices and had become a successful and eloquent member of the House of Lords. Apart from pursuing his extravagant life, the Duke’s chief interest was to demean Beauchamp. He seized his opportunity when he heard it mentioned in private circles that the Earl enjoyed sexual relations with his male servants. This was true. But nobody was particularly bothered – certainly not the Earl’s immediate family. However, in Britain, the notorious Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1885 was still in force. It made all homosexual acts between men illegal, ‘in public or private’. Those prosecuted could be sentenced to two years’ imprisonment. The fallout from the Oscar Wilde case had been appalling, and it could not be forgotten. In Britain, as A. L. Rowse recalled, it ‘led to an accumulation of barbarous inhumanity, and incalculable suffering’, which forced people to flee abroad.4 The Duke was to dish out the same fate to Beauchamp. This distinguished man was ruined: while still in his prime, he lost his wife, his family and his home.

After Beauchamp’s death his memory was publicly dragged through the mud by Evelyn Waugh. What had stirred Waugh’s animosity against the Earl? When Waugh came up to Oxford and met the Beauchamp sons he began to develop an inferiority complex. The firstborn Beauchamp son was at Magdalen and the second at Christ Church – patrician colleges for aristocratic progeny. Waugh was at Hertford, which no doubt accommodated outstanding students but was not a province the aristocracy frequented. The future novelist thus initially formed ‘a withering contempt’ for these ‘arrogant scions of noble and country families’, who drank champagne at breakfast and then took to breaking windows in Peckwater Quad in Christ Church,5 as the Earl of Birkenhead6 (one of Waugh’s earlier friends) recalled. In time, however, Waugh’s ‘tastes matured’ and he ‘began to find pleasure ← xvi | xvii → in aristocratic society and the houses these people inhabited’.7 This was not due to ‘latent snobbishness’, but rather that there was an ‘inherited ease in their manners and an elegance in their surroundings which made a strong appeal to one side of his nature’.8 Waugh found compensation first in the homosexual company of Hugh Patrick, Beauchamp’s second son, at Christ Church, and, later, in becoming acquainted with Hugh Patrick’s sisters at Madresfield, the Beauchamp family house. The Beauchamp girls, all four of them, took a fancy to Waugh’s wit,9 so that he was a welcome guest, and he often spent days or weekends at Madresfield. Here he felt self-assured. He had failed to find his own identity, but sought solace in his association with the Beauchamp girls. They accepted him – but not fully. He fell deeply in love with one of them, Mary Lygon, and wrote affectionate letters to her all his life. It appears, however, that she refused to have intimate physical relations with him, and preferred to marry an exiled Russian prince, a drunkard and a parasite, whom Waugh loathed. Are we to presume that Lady Mary, despite her adoration of Waugh’s wit, would not marry him because he did not belong to her social class? Waugh must have felt the pain deeply. How did he get revenge? On 6 June 1944 Waugh recorded in his diary that he ‘sat down early to work and wrote a fine passage describing Lord Marchmain’s death agonies. [Lord Beauchamp had died in 1938.] … I sent for the priest to give Lord Marchmain the last sacrament.’10 In this way, Waugh ‘finished the last chapter’ of Brideshead Revisited: The Sacred and Profane Memoirs ← xvii | xviii → of Captain Charles Ryder, which was published a year later, in 1945.11 The narrative portrayed the ‘profane’ life of Madresfield in full detail. Waugh vehemently denied that this is what he had done. Dorothy Lygon recollects that during Waugh’s visits, ‘he talked about his next book’. Waugh told her: ‘It’s all about a family whose father lives abroad, as it might be Boom [Lord Beauchamp]12 – but it’s not Boom – and a younger son: people will say he’s like Hughie, but you will see he’s not really Hughie – and there’s a house as it might be Mad [Madresfield], but it isn’t really Mad.’ He talked on, writes Dorothy Lygon, for:

some time in this vein, at pains to emphasise that, although he had chosen a situation which might be compared to ours at one time, he was going to treat it in a very different way – he had taken bare bones, the skeleton, and intended converting it with muscles creating tensions, quite different from those which had influenced us – the Roman Catholic element, so powerful for him, and an integral part of the story, never affected us, and the Marchmains’ matrimonial problems can in no way be equated with those which beset my parents. … I think that Evelyn conceived Brideshead in a mood of violent nostalgia for what he thought was a vanished past; he put into it all he most regretted and missed in pre-war life. … I think that the resemblance between my family and the Marchmains has been exaggerated; when I first read it, it did not seem to me he had used us as characters, nor do I think so now; he had used a situation, not the people involved in it.13

This has not been the general view. The gifted writer Paula Byrne has analysed Brideshead closely and comes to a different conclusion:

Despite the prefatory author’s disclaimer,’ she writes, ‘the Lygons [the Beauchamp family] suffuse the book. The portrayal of their ancestral home with its Arts and Crafts chapel, their painful domestic situation, their startling beauty (like faces carved out of Aztec stone), the father as a disgraced Liberal politician who is now a social pariah exiled in Italy, the young people left to run wild in the great house, the pious ← xviii | xix → mother, the alcoholic second son drifting from failure to failure, the lovely daughter who becomes a society beauty in an unhappy marriage, the cold and pompous heir to Brideshead unable to produce an heir himself, the plain and tender-hearted youngest daughter. The Lygons inspired all of these elements and more.14

A few quotations from Brideshead support this claim. Waugh’s note on the novel, which reads: ‘I am not I: thou art not he or she: they are not they’,15 misleads the reader. ‘I’ certainly is Waugh; Sebastian Flyte is definitely Hugh Patrick: ‘Lord Sebastian Flyte … A most amusing young gentleman. … The Marquis of Marchmain’s second son, the Earl of Brideshead [Viscount Elmley] went down last term’.16 And Lady Marchmain! ‘Very, very beautiful; no artifice, her hair just turning grey in elegant silvery streaks, no rouge, very pale, huge eyes … pearls and a few great star-like jewels, heirlooms, in ancient settings …’.17 Readers need only take one look at the Countess Beauchamp’s charcoal portrait by John Singer Sargent to see how perfect Waugh’s description is.18 But it is Lord Marchmain that interests us. He is ‘a little fleshy perhaps, but very handsome, a magnifico, a voluptary … He daren’t show his great purple face anywhere. He is the last, historic, authentic case of someone being hounded out of society.’19 Lady Marchmain ‘has convinced the world that Lord Marchmain is a monster. And what is the truth? They were married for fifteen years or so and then Lord Marchmain went to the war; he never came back but formed a connection with a highly talented dancer. There are a thousand such cases. She refuses to divorce him because she is so pious. Well, there have been cases of that before. Usually, it arouses sympathy for the adulterer; not for Lord Marchmain ← xix | xx → though.’20 Why not? Because Waugh believes that Lord Marchmain has committed a great sin – and Waugh is heavily obsessed with this.21 The ‘I’ of Brideshead even feels embarrassed when he visits Lord Marchmain in Italy: ‘Lord Marchmain’s mistress arrived next day. I was nineteen years old and completely ignorant of women. I could not with any certainty recognise a prostitute in the streets. I was therefore not indifferent to the fact of living under the roof of an adulterous couple, but I was old enough to hide my interest.’22 Later, however, Waugh indulged in paranoia: ← xx | xxi →23

Lord Marchmain lay dying, wearing himself down in the struggle to live …24 The priest bent over Lord Marchmain and blessed him. … ‘Now,’ said the priest, ‘I know you are sorry for all the sins of your life, aren’t you? Make a sign, if you can. You’re sorry, aren’t you?’ But there was no sign. ‘Try and remember your sins; tell God you are sorry. I am going to give you absolution. While I am giving it, tell God you are sorry you have offended him.’ … ‘God forgive him his sins’ and ‘Please God, make him accept your forgiveness.’ … Lord Marchmain made the sign of the cross. Then I knew that the sign I had asked for was not a little thing.25

That was how Waugh pursued Lord Marchmain, and literally Lord Beauchamp, with what A. L. Rowse fitly calls ‘such barbarous brutality’. That was what Brideshead brought about. Was not this super-Catholic (or rather, pseudo-Catholic) himself suffering from a kind of infantilism, from ‘a mood of violent nostalgia for what he thought was a vanished past’, and was he not diverting his feelings about ‘all he most regretted and missed in pre-war life’ to the downfall of Lord Beauchamp. Homosexuality was neither a sin nor unnatural. Homosexuality, wrote Sigmund Freud in 1935 is ‘nothing to be ashamed of’. It is ‘no vice, no degradation, it cannot be classified as an illness; we consider it to be a variation of the sexual function produced by a certain arrest of sexual development. Many highly respectable individuals of ancient and modern times have been homosexuals, several of the greatest men among them (Plato, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, etc.).26 It is a great injustice to persecute homosexuality as a crime, and cruelty too.’27 Yet British social norms were such that Freud’s words would go ← xxi | xxii → unheeded. With the wide circulation of his novel, Waugh achieved what the 2nd Duke of Westminster had failed to accomplish. The Duke sent Beauchamp into exile, but Waugh did more: he ruined the Earl’s reputation.

The 7th Earl Beauchamp did not deserve to be treated as a social outcast. Whatever his sexual proclivities, they were private: they did not interfere with, or in any way influence his public life. His children did not make a fuss about them. The Earl’s tendencies did not even worry the Countess, his wife, at first. For ‘many years’, she wrote to her daughters, she had ‘strongly suspected’ that ‘all was not as it should be’ with her husband.28 And she kept silent. But in the end, bullied by her brother, she changed her mind and filed a divorce case. Only then did she come to think that ‘one side of his life and desires went contrary to everything that is Natural’. This again is paranoia.

Earl Beauchamp was indeed a remarkable man. He had rich talents. His knowledge of ancient art and architecture excited envy. He was an affectionate father. He showed capacity in the high state offices that he held: Governor of New South Wales, Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms, Lord Steward of the Household, Lord President of the Council and First Commissioner of Works. His eloquence and work in the House of Lords met with high regard and won the approbation of the House.

It is chiefly to the political side of the Earl’s life that the attention of the present volume is devoted. This book is almost entirely based on the unpublished archival collections. All along, I have maintained the methodological principle that the subject ‘shall be his own biographer’. Accordingly, ← xxii | xxiii → I have cited appropriate documents fully and extensively. These include: state papers, official records, extracts from speeches made in the House of Lords, and also diverse correspondence – with the court, with party leaders and prime ministers and with other institutions and individuals. These all help illuminate the character of the Earl. This study is more a portrait than a complete biography. I hope to give a more accurate picture of a person who has been unjustly treated by history.

Jowett Lodge
Michaelmas Term 2015
Peter Raina
← xxiii | xxiv →

1 See Paula Byrne, Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead (London: Harper Collins, 2010 paperback edition), p. 353.

2 See David Cannadine, Aspects of Aristocracy: Grandeur and Decline in Modern Britain (London: Penguin Books, 1995), p. 5.

3 See Richard Davenport-Hines, ‘Lygon, William, seventh Earl Beauchamp (1872–1938)’, in The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, vol. 34, ed. H. C. G. Mathew and Brian Harrison (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

4 See A. L. Rowse, Homosexuals in History (New York: Dorset Press, 1983), p. 169. This book is highly instructive. It portrays the homosexual life of many eminent historical personalities and tells us how natural this life was.

5 Birkenhead, 1st Earl of, b. 1872. A Unionist.

6 See The Earl of Birkenhead, ‘Fiery Particles’, in David Pryce-Jones (ed.), Evelyn Waugh and His World (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1973), p. 138.

7 Ibid.

8 Ibid., p. 139.

9 Dorothy Lygon, one of the Beauchamp girls to whom Waugh was closely attached and with whom he corresponded regularly, writes: ‘In looking back on my friendship with Evelyn down a perspective of forty-odd years, the most predominating features are his consistent, spontaneous, irreverent wit, and his capacity for turning the most unlikely situations into irresistibly funny jokes which continued to be woven into our conversations and letters with an increasing richness of texture over the years.’ See Lady Dorothy Lygon, ‘Madresfield and Brideshead’, in David Pryce-Jones (ed.), Evelyn Waugh and His World, op. cit., p. 50.

10 See The Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, ed. Michael Davie (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1976), p. 567.

11 See Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited: The Sacred and Profane Memoirs of Captain Charles Ryder (London: Chapman & Hall, 1960 edition).

12 Lord Beauchamp was known as ‘Boom’ to all of his children ‘behind his back’. ‘Mad’ was what they called Madresfield.

13 See Lady Dorothy Lygon, ‘Madresfield and Brideshead’, in David Pryce-Jones (ed.), Evelyn Waugh and His World, op. cit., pp. 53–4.

14 Paula Byrne, op. cit., p. 301.

15 Evelyn Waugh, op. cit., p. 6.

16 Ibid., p. 37.


XXVI, 516
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2016 (June)
New South Wales Gloucestershire Irland House of Lords Irish Home Rule
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2016. XXVI, 516 pp., 4 coloured ill., 15 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Peter Raina (Author)

Peter Raina is a historian with a long association with the University of Oxford, as Honorary Member of High Table and Senior Common Member, Christ Church, Associate Member of Nuffield College, Honorary Member of the Senior Common Room, Magdalen College and Senior Research Associate at the Graduate Centre, Balliol. He has also been a Visiting Fellow of the Institute of Historical Research, School of Advanced Studies, London.


Title: The Seventh Earl Beauchamp
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