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The Seventh Earl Beauchamp

A Victim of His Times

Peter Raina

The 7 th 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.

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Chapter 20. Divorce

Extract

Chapter 20 Divorce On 14 May 1931 Lady Beauchamp filed a petition for divorce: that by reason of the conduct of her husband, Earl Beauchamp, the petitioner had ‘suffered acute mental agony and misery and her health was undermined’. Earl Beauchamp was accused of being a homosexual, the details of which were specified in the petition. That Earl Beauchamp cherished intimate contact with young men was no secret among his close friends. He very seldom had a permanent lover. It was mere sexual lust that drove him to make physical love to men. But it disturbed nobody. His children did not care about their father’s sexual preferences, nor did his political allies worry themselves.1 Even his own wife, Lettice, had been aware of it for a long time. Years later she confessed to this in a letter to her daughter, Dorothy. ‘Now you should know,’ she wrote, ‘that for many years, I had strongly suspected that [with Daddy] all was not as it shld be and that one side of his life and desires went contrary to everything that is Natural. It was for your sake, when you were all very young, I deliberately refrained, thro’ many years of anguish, from converting my suspicions into actual knowledge, but, as I once told Daddy, there were times when I welcomed the sufferings of illness, so as to escape from my great agony of mind.’2 We do not doubt the agony of mind that Lady Lettice must have suffered. But why...

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