The Warwickshire Scandal by Lady Elizabeth Hamilton
Last week, l went to my local U3A AGM. After the meeting, where almost 200 hundred members attended, an elderly lady in her 90’s, Lady Elizabeth Hamilton, an historian walked onto the stage.
For almost an hour she related, never faltering, one of the most fascinating stories l have ever heard. It was about her husband’s family who lived at Walton Hall in Warwickshire.
The events, of which, led to her to write a book called, ‘The Warwickshire Scandal’ that was published some years ago but used copies are still available on Amazon. It was also narrated on the radio some years ago.
Here is a bit about the family and how she came to write the book about Sir Charles Mordaunt and his first wife Harriett Moncreiffe who was part of the Prince Of Wales ‘infamous set’.
SIR RICHARD HAMILTON, 9th Bt, who has died aged 90, was a schoolmaster and landowner; in middle life he inherited 4,000 acres in Warwickshire surrounding Walton Hall, a Gothic colossus designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott.
Hamilton was an unassuming figure, apparently at odds with his grandiose Victorian inheritance. His passions ranged from theatre to real tennis, a game that he sought to rescue from a period of chronic decline.
His mother Irene was a daughter of Sir Charles Mordaunt, 10th Bt, MP, the sporting squire famously cuckolded by the then Prince of Wales, later Edward VII. When Mordaunt's first wife Harriet confessed her adultery with the Prince and some of his friends, the lurid divorce case that followed seared Walton's name into the scandalous annals of Victorian causes celebres.
Sir Richard inherited Walton in 1961, when he was 50. Sir Charles Mordaunt's will had specified that the Walton estate should pass to the eldest son of his second wife's eldest daughter. Sir Richard set about managing his birthright, motivated by a conscientious desire to keep the estate together and a strong sense of stewardship.
The vast Grade II listed Walton Hall, towered and turreted, was commissioned by Sir Charles Mordaunt in 1858 to mark his coming-of-age. Scott, the most fashionable architect of his day, built it for £30,000 on the site of an earlier Georgian house.
During a heatwave in 1868, Sir Charles returned home unexpectedly to find the young Prince of Wales watching the beautiful and flirtatious Lady Mordaunt as she demonstrated her carriage driving skills with a pair of white ponies that the Prince had given her. After dispatching the startled visitor with a notable absence of courtesy, Sir Charles then dragged his wife from the house to watch the two ponies being shot.
In 1870, when Lady Mordaunt gave birth to a daughter, she astonished her husband by confessing her adultery not only with the Prince of Wales but with several of his Marlborough House cronies, "often and in open day". The subsequent divorce case lasted for several years, with the public treated to further titillation by the Prince's appearance in the witness-box to deny any impropriety. After being declared insane, Harriet Mordaunt spent the rest of her life in an asylum. Her daughter Violet became the 5th Marchioness of Bath, chatelaine of Longleat and grandmother of the present Lord Bath.
When Sir Richard inherited Walton, the house was in poor condition, having been leased to the Army during the Second World War. In the 1950s the Territorials had used it for training, and Sir Richard decided not to renew the Army's lease, turning it over instead to a girls' school, St Vincent's. When the school closed, Walton was converted into a hotel. It was subsequently taken over by Danny la Rue, but the business failed in 1983, leaving the entertainer with personal losses of nearly £1 million.
A timeshare developer stepped in, and the house of golden stone and towering windows of armorial stained glass is now leased to a timeshare company whose members run it as an apartment complex, hotel, conference centre and country club.
Robert Charles Richard Caradoc Hamilton was born on September 8 1911. The family had its roots in Lanarkshire. His father, Sir Robert Caradoc Hamilton, was the eighth baronet in a succession dating back to 1646; Sir Robert Hamilton had been created a baronet of Nova Scotia by Charles I, though the patent was not recorded in the General Register because of the Civil War. Richard was educated at Charterhouse and at St Peter's College, Oxford, where he read French, a language he then taught at Abinger Hill, a progressive prep school in Surrey.
A teenage attack of polio had affected his left arm, and when war came Richard Hamilton was not considered fit enough to fight. Nevertheless, he joined the Army and served in the Intelligence Corps, inspecting security arrangements at Allied bases across southern England and, on one occasion, reporting a woman said to be communicating with the enemy - close enough, he felt, to be able to claim responsibility for catching a spy. He subsequently served in the Army Education Corps as a teacher.
After the war he became a schoolmaster at Ardingly, the public school in Sussex, where he taught French and found himself in charge of drama. This was a chance to harness a lifelong enthusiasm (he would have liked to become a professional theatrical producer) and for five years he took a troupe of Ardingly boys to present a Shakespeare play at the Minack Theatre in Cornwall.
An amateur dramatist, Hamilton wrote three plays, all of which were produced professionally in repertory theatres. His drama, The Muck and the Golden Crown, was produced at the Margate Theatre in the early 1960s by J Baxter Somerville.
Hamilton succeeded to the baronetcy on the death of his father in 1959. In 1962 he became a founder member of the Moreton Morrell Real Tennis Club. At the beginning of the last century this tiny village boasted three millionaires, one of whom, an American called Charles Garland, had been refused entry into the Leamington Tennis Club. In 1904, therefore, he built his own court opposite his house, which is now occupied by the Moreton Morrell Agricultural College.
After Garland's death the real tennis court passed through various hands, at last coming into the possession of James Dance, the MP for Bromsgrove. When Dance sold the court a company was formed to purchase it by the 20th Lord Willoughby de Broke and four others, including Sir Richard Hamilton, who was for some 20 years secretary, and then president.
Sir Richard played real tennis enthusiastically into his eighties. In 1979 he published an English translation of Albert de Luze's La Magnifique Histoire du Jeu de Paume (1933). Eight years later he produced another translation from the French, this time of an 18th-century work, Pierre Barcellon's Regles principes de la paume. Pierre was the son of Louis XV's tennis coach Guillaume Barcellon, whose portrait by Etienne Loys adorns the tennis museum at Wimbledon (though currently on loan to an exhibition at Fontainebleau). Sir Richard also wrote How To Make The Real Tennis Ball From Core To Cover (1977), with illustrations by the artist Anthony Hobson.
Sir Richard Hamilton's appointments included the chairmanship of the Warwickshire branch of the Country Landowners' Association.
He married, in 1952, Elizabeth Vidal Barton, who wrote the definitive account of the Mordaunt affair in The Warwickshire Scandal (1999). As a prolific historical biographer, Lady Hamilton has also written lives of the Mordaunt family, Robert Harley (Earl of Oxford), William's Mary (Mary II), Henrietta Maria, and Barbara Villiers (Countess of Castlemaine and Duchess of Cleveland).
Walton Hall and most of its estate being in trust, the couple lived in a rambling early Victorian rectory in nearby Walton village. Sir Richard is survived by his wife, together with their son Andrew Caradoc Hamilton, born in 1953, who succeeds to the baronetcy, and three daughters.