A little while ago I did a post on Sir William Don, the aristocratic wastrel who squandered his fortune and had to turn to acting to make ends meet. I was first alerted to his presence by a question on the Victoria List forum at Indiana, which is really useful and interesting if you have even a casual interest in the Victorian era.
The conversation was prompted by one member looking for examples of aristocrats who had squandered their fortunes, which turned into a greater conversation about what even constituted someone being an ‘aristocrat’ in the nineteenth century (the jury is still out–it’s a complicated issue). However, we did get a few fun biographical snapshots amidst the more academic debate. The below was submitted to the forum by Guy Woolnough on October 14:
“One obvious example is Hugh Lowther, Lord Lonsdale, 1857-1944. He inherited a considerable fortune based upon the toil of those who worked his mines. The estate was bankrupted by his profligate expenditure. He was known as ‘the sporting earl‘, one who would bet on anything. Lowther lavished vast sums on his horses, yachts and his motor cars. Lowther was also a keen follower of boxing. He had several affairs: low points included his fine of 5 Shillings at Newcastle for assault after he punched the husband of his lover. There are many more examples of his boorish behaviour. A cousin wrote a biography which does its best to present a positive story.”
A few additional facts:
-He had an affair with actress Violet Cameron, during which time she bore him two children and went through a very messy divorce with her husband.
-The scandal from his affair was so great that he had to flee the country. Most young bucks went to France to escape scandal, but he decided to REALLY get away from it all by exploring the Arctic regions of northern Canada in 1888, during which time he almost died.
-His favorite color was yellow–so much so that he became known as ‘The Yellow Earl‘– which is really on point for the ‘Yellow Nineties‘.
-According to Wikipedia, ‘Lonsdale was part of the famous wager with John Pierpont Morgan over whether a man could circumnavigate the globe and remain unidentified.’ Y’all should read the conditions of this bet. They’re bonkers. It’s unclear to what extent this wager was fulfilled (there are a lot of unverified rumors and it’s become the stuff of legend now), but it had to be called off part-way through, anyway, because WWI started.
-One of his houses (the one where he eventually died) is called Stud House. How apt.
-His brother and heir to the title was named Lancelot.
Any other facts people know about him are very welcome!