The Lady in Red: An Eighteenth-Century Tale of Sex, Scandal, and Divorce

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She was a spirited young heiress. He was a handsome baronet with a promising career in government. The marriage of Lady Seymour Dorothy Fleming and Sir Richard Worsley had the makings of a fairy tale—but ended as one of the most scandalous and highly publicized divorces in history.

In February 1782, England opened its newspapers to read the details of a criminal conversation trial in which the handsome baronet Sir Richard Worsley attempted to sue his wife’s lover for an ...

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The Lady in Red: An Eighteenth-Century Tale of Sex, Scandal, and Divorce

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Overview

She was a spirited young heiress. He was a handsome baronet with a promising career in government. The marriage of Lady Seymour Dorothy Fleming and Sir Richard Worsley had the makings of a fairy tale—but ended as one of the most scandalous and highly publicized divorces in history.

In February 1782, England opened its newspapers to read the details of a criminal conversation trial in which the handsome baronet Sir Richard Worsley attempted to sue his wife’s lover for an astronomical sum in damages. In the course of the proceedings, the Worsleys’ scandalous sexual arrangements, voyeuristic tendencies, and bed-hopping antics were laid bare. The trial and its verdict stunned society, but not as much as the unrepentant behavior of Lady Worsley.

Sir Joshua Reynolds captured the brazen character of his subject when he created his celebrated portrait of Lady Worsley in a fashionable red riding habit, but it was her shocking affairs that made her divorce so infamous that even George Washington followed it in the press. Impeccably researched and written with great flair, this lively and moving true history presents a rarely seen picture of aristocratic life in the Georgian era.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

Rubenhold's new history is just as linked to passion and vice as was her previous work, The Covent Garden Ladies, though her gaze has now turned from the lower class to the aristocracy. When in 1782 Sir Richard Worsley brought a criminal conversation case against his wife's adulterous lover and sued him for an exorbitant amount in damages to his "property," Lady Worsley chose to ruin both her and her husband's reputations by exposing the scandalous details of her married life and affairs, turning an already shocking trial into one of the first celebrity divorces. Rubenhold does an excellent job of leading readers through the lives and relationships of the main participants and the specifics of the case itself, with ample observations on marriage, divorce, sexual mores, and personal reputation in Georgian England. The delivery of the verdict doesn't signal the end of the matter, however, as she also examines how gossip and journalistic rumor affected opinions after the trial and traces the paths of both husband and wife following their separation. As a historical examination, it is well researched and thoughtful; as a narrative, it is entertainingly told. Highly recommended for all readers.
—Kathleen McCallister

From the Publisher

“Hallie Rubenhold’s captivating new cultural history gives an account of one of this century’s strangest marital scandals, the tale of the adulterous Lady Seymour Worsley and her vengeful husband, Sir Richard Worsley. . . . Ms. Rubenhold's book brings to life the dissipated and alluring world of aristocratic Georgian England, particularly its vexed sexual morality, through the story of a marriage and its unraveling . . . an impressive feat.”—Washington Times

“Because the market is saturated with eighteenth-century bodice biographies, most indistinguishable from the next, [The Lady in Red] should come with a warning: nothing else in the genre is close to being this good. As a historian and a storyteller, Hallie Rubenhold is in a league of her own. She keeps you glued to the very last page when, exhausted, exasperated, and elated, you can at last put the book down and get yourself some sleep.”—Frances Wilson, Literary Review (UK)

“The story of the Worsley divorce has never been revealed before, and Hallie Rubenhold tells it with panache. Her account of the elopement is gripping, but this is far more than an eighteenth-century bodice ripper. Rubenhold combines narrative skill with historical expertise, and she traces the knife edge that women walked between social success and public disgrace with subtlety and assurance.”—The Spectator (UK)

“[The Lady in Red] is told as a mystery, with Rubenhold keeping up the suspense and providing some surprises along the way. . . . In this thoughtfully crafted ‘tale of sex, scandal, and divorce’ she shows how Lady Worsley’s sexual energies carried her through to a kind of triumph.”—The Times Literary Supplement (UK)

“[Rubenhold] has an eye for an antique story . . . [and] is sure footed in her research . . . Her special forte is rakes and roués: her depiction of Coxheath Camp, where the country’s militias gathered for months as a glorified Home Guard, idling and fornicating, is deliciously lurid.”—The Sunday Times (UK)

“This is a fabulous eighteenth-century tale of sex, scandal, and divorce, and Hallie Rubenhold tells it beautifully.”—The Telegraph (UK)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312359942
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 7/7/2009
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.56 (h) x 1.13 (d)

Meet the Author

Hallie Rubenhold was born in Los Angeles to a British father and an American mother. She is a young British historian and writer whose first book, The Covent Garden Ladies, created a small sensation when it was published in the UK in 2005. She lives in London. Visit her Web site at www.hallierubenhold.com.

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Read an Excerpt

Lady in Red, The

1

The Heir of Appuldurcombe

In the early morning hours of the 8th of October 1767, a small packet ship sailed out of the harbour at Calais and on to the white crested waves of the English Channel. In addition to a cargo of parcels and letters bound for Dover, the vessel was ferrying an introverted and slightly awkward sixteen-year-old by the name of Richard Worsley. The boy's inquisitive mind and his pocket watch kept him occupied throughout the rough sea passage. As the hulk rolled and dipped with the swells he lost himself in the ticking seconds. By his calculations he and his family endured a crossing of precisely 'three hours and five and thirty minutes'. He jotted a notation of this into the back of a journal alongside a table of measurements. In the course of their long journey from Naples to Dover the young man had charted with meticulous care the expanse of road they had travelled, converting the distances from the Italian and French standards into English mileage. They had, according to his reckoning, 'been exactly absent two years, five months and twenty days'.

It had been on account of his father, Sir Thomas Worsley's deteriorating health that the 6th baronet's entire household were uprooted for a curative sojourn amid the orange trees and crumbling ruins of the warm Mediterranean. Two years earlier, on the 23rd of April 1765 his wife, the polished hostess Lady Betty Worsley, his seven-year-old daughter Henrietta and his son, Richard assumed their seats inside a carriage which would trundle across the pitted roads of Europe towards southern Italy. The historian Edward Gibbon,a friend of Sir Thomas's, had condemned the baronet's 'scheme' as 'a very bad one'. 'Naples', he warned, had 'no advantage but those of climate and situation; and in point of expense and education for his children is the very last place in Italy I should have advised'. However, contrary to Gibbon's fears, the journey which wound them through the valleys of France and over the Swiss Alps into Italy offered the Worsley children a scholastic diet far richer in experience than any provided by tutors in England.

In spite of his doubts, Gibbon recognised that Sir Thomas Worsley was an individual who valued knowledge, more so than many of his acquaintances. Although the historian marked him as 'a man of entertainment' he also admitted that he possessed 'sense' and an interest in antiquity. The library at Pylewell, his Hampshire estate held well-thumbed volumes of Cicero, Plato and Herodotus and bound illustrations of Roman temples and villas, many of which he and his wife had visited in the early years of their marriage. As a devoted traveller Sir Thomas believed that whilst such works offered a useful introduction to the classical world, a greater understanding of it could be gained from standing in the shadows of ancient monuments.

Before he and his family left for Italy, the baronet decided to remove his son from Winchester College, where after only a year's enrolment, Richard had been dubbed 'Dick Tardy' because 'he lagged so far behind'. As it was unusual for a gentleman to travel abroad with his wife, let alone with his children, a parent less concerned with his son's academic welfare would have left him in the hands of his tutors. However, Sir Thomas felt compelled to take command of his son's studies, to create his own programme of education and hire instructors that met his specific criteria. He was also determined to assume some of the burden of his heir's education by exposing Richard to the art and architecture that lay on their route to Naples. He placed his son between the buttresses of cathedrals, in colonnades and under rotundas. He plunged him into the jewel boxes of Europe; the gilt-embellished interiors of Catholicism, the private gallery walls aching with the heavy adornment of Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Titian and Raphael. He supervised him as he trod the paving stones of the freshly excavated Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum and sent him up the side of the still gurgling Vesuvius so that he 'could walk upon the coolest part of the lava'. This wealth of spectacles was difficult for Sir Thomas's son to digest. Although the baronet encouraged him to keep a travel diary, Richard was unable to put anything into it beyond notations of his father and his tutor's discourses, indicating which paintings were 'executedin the highest taste' and enumerating 'the profusion of different marbles' used in the Palazzo Farnese. Perhaps an indication of the domineering character of his father, the young Richard Worsley seemed hesitant to hold opinions of his own or to express them, even in the privacy of a travel journal.

When Sir Thomas took his son's education in hand, there were many lessons which he intended to impart. The importance of duty, role and legacy were foremost among these. He taught his son that the world was a rational place, one that rotated around the principle of fixed truths. The baronet might have taken the watch from his pocket and opened its cover to the boy. The eighteenth-century mind often likened the workings of the era to a timepiece. Civilisation might operate on a smooth continuum only when each gear and cog ticked and turned as it should without question. Each object beneath the clock face had been designed for a purpose from which it would be unnatural to depart. Unlike the other notched circles that moved within, Richard Worsley would have been told that his function was exceptional, and that the other gears worked to ensure his existence. As the heir to his father's title and an estate that generated an income of over £2,000 per annum, Sir Thomas's son was a member of one of 630 families that made up the ranks of the aristocracy and gentry. What ensured his position of privilege over approximately 1.47 million other English families was the Worsleys' possession of land.1

Historically, only the ownership of property bought respect and influence. After the King and the royal family, those entitled to the greatest obeisance were the varying ranks of the aristocracy and gentry. Both Parliament and the judiciary served their interests. Neither politicians nor judges were much concerned with the travails of the average man or woman, and the recently fashionable concept of 'liberty' was a privilege savoured most by those whose estates sprawled the widest. The basic principles of this were explained to Richard Worsley as a young child. His tutors and father instructed him that the dark wood-panelled interiors of Pylewell, his home, and its 228 acres of field would one day pass into his care. But this estate would form only a small portion of his inheritance.

The family's principal seat, Appuldurcombe lay on the southern part of the Isle of Wight outside Ventnor, though it is unlikely that Sir Thomastook his son beyond its gates on more than a few occasions. In the middle of 11,578 acres of 'rich soil and excellent pasturage', surrounded by beech trees and 'venerable oaks of uncommon magnitude' sat an incomplete baroque manor house, mournful and abandoned. At the start of the century his relation, Sir James Worsley, had planned to construct a spacious, modern home but diminishing funds eventually slowed building to a standstill. Neither Sir Thomas nor the 5th baronet had demonstrated much interest in resuming the project, but to Richard, Appuldurcombe held great possibilities. From its windows he might one day look across the hillocks and troughs of his parkland and survey those farms, villages, orchards and fields that secured the Worsleys' wealth and political influence on the island.

Between the two estates of Appuldurcombe and Pylewell generations of Worsleys since the reign of Henry VIII had passed their lives. Many of Richard Worsley's ancestors had slipped without remark through the fingers of history, while others, more noteworthy, had been captured on its pages. The stories of the Tudor courtier Sir James and the first baronet, Sir Richard, were recounted to him with pride. In their lifetimes, sumptuous banquets were spread across Appuldurcombe's tables, marriages were contracted with some of the most powerful families in England, and his relations were favoured with places at the courts of Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth. It was the preservation of their name and the legacy of their deeds with which he would one day be charged.

Sir Thomas approached his parental duties with seriousness. While many of his contemporaries relegated the care of their children to servants and tutors, Sir Thomas enjoyed the company of his son and regularly had Richard at his side on journeys to London or Newport. Although this type of affective parenting was coming into fashion by mid-century, many found the baronet's constant influence on the boy worrying.

Since the early seventeenth century, the reputation of the Worsleys as a family who enjoyed access to the monarch's ear had diminished. Preferring a quiet local existence as gentry, they had retreated to their estates and bowed out of the prestigious circles of power. By the time of Richard's birth they were known simply as country squires; backward, uncouth and fierce supporters of the Tory party. Their prominence had long been forgotten. One anonymous scribe dismissed the family as 'never having been remarkable for producing either heroes or conjurors'; rather, they were a stock whose 'hereditary characteristics' had a history of 'association with vanityand folly'. With his boisterous and colourful behaviour, no one promoted this image of the Worsleys more than Sir Thomas.

The 6th baronet's aspirations were not lofty ones. Unlike many of his ancestors, he had no desire to hear his voice echo through the halls of Westminster. He did not wish to command a ship or assist in the governance of Britain's growing empire. His primary interests lay in Hampshire where he executed his occasional duties as Justice of the Peace for Lymington, listening to his tenants squabble over the ownership of a cow or the paternity of an illegitimate child. From 1759 his time was chiefly occupied in the command of the South Hampshire Militia, one of thirty-six battalions raised to protect Britain from the possibility of a French attack. These legions of what Horace Walpole called 'demi-soldiers' were considered 'a thing of jest' among the military establishment. Led by 'country gentlemen and men of property' who were 'imbued with a ... looseness of conduct', the militias were never destined to wield their bayonets in any real combat; instead they existed as a type of home guard and were marched futilely from county town to barrack and back again for no discernible purpose.

As the Colonel of the South Hampshire Militia, Sir Thomas presided at these activities, both official and extracurricular. According to Edward Gibbon's account of his commanding officer, the 6th baronet cut a clownish figure. 'I know his faults and I can not help excusing them,' he wrote somewhat apologetically. The baronet may have been a man who valued the classical lessons of stoicism and self-control but his outward personality betrayed no hint of this. Sir Thomas's manner was distinctly 'unintellectual' and 'rustic'. He was a man 'fond of the table and of his bed', Gibbon wrote. 'Our conferences were marked by every stroke of the midnight and morning hours, and the same drum which invited him to rest often summoned me to the parade.' Unreliable and fanciful, the baronet was better known for his musings on 'sensible schemes he will never execute and schemes he will execute which are highly ridiculous' than engaging in the practicalities of life.

Undoubtedly this behaviour was due in part to his severe dependence on the bottle. When Gibbon first encountered him in 1759 Sir Thomas was already an incorrigible alcoholic and it was through 'his example' that 'the daily practice of hard and even excessive drinking' was encouraged among the officers of the battalion. A significant amount of time was spent in 'bucolic carousing' or the pursuit of drunken antics, like the incident whenthe inebriated Sir Thomas roused his friend, the equally intoxicated politician John Wilkes from his sleep and 'made him drink a bottle of claret in bed'. Although hard drinking among men of the landed classes was widely accepted as a normal part of masculine behaviour, Gibbon suggests that even by the liberal standards of the era, Sir Thomas's attachment to drink was immoderate. By 1762 he had begun to feel the effects of gout and possibly other alcohol-related disorders. In the hope that the therapeutic waters of Spa might cure him, he travelled to Belgium that summer. Upon his return, Gibbon commented that 'Spa has done him a great deal of good, for he looks another man', but the perceived improvement lasted only until the first glass was poured. ' ... We kept bumperizing till after Roll-calling,' Gibbon wrote 'Sir Thomas assuring us with every fresh bottle how infinitely soberer he has grown.'

While the baronet's drinking caused his relations and friends concern, his unpolished conduct and rural habits were a source of true humiliation. He felt no obligation to own a town residence in London, as was the practice among fashionable families. Eschewing the lavish suppers and card parties which would have established his name in the capital the baronet chose to live simply and when he had to visit town, he took a modest rented house. This error of judgement left a poor impression on his associates, who in an age of conspicuous consumption interpreted scantily furnished rooms and a sparsely laid table as the hallmarks of poverty or a coarse character. Gibbon was horrified by what he encountered at Sir Thomas's London residence. The house he described as 'a wretched one' and while there he was served 'a dinner suitable to it'. Having been offered so meagre a meal, the historian stayed to finish three pints before departing 'to sup with Captain Crookshanks', a proper host who provided him with 'an elegant supper' and a variety of wines. Embarrassed at having glimpsed such a striking example of the Worsleys' lack of cultivation Gibbon marvelled how his friend, 'a man of two thousand pounds a year', could make such 'a poor figure' in London.

Sir Thomas's insistence on maintaining a lifestyle of 'great oeconomy' did not suit the tastes of his wife, Lady Betty Worsley. As the daughter of the 5th Earl of Cork and Orrery, one of the eighteenth century's most celebrated literary patrons, Lady Betty had enjoyed a position at the centre of cultural activity in London, Dublin and at her father's estate in Somerset. The earl's drawing rooms had been warmed by the witty conversation of Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, Dr Johnson and his friend, the accomplished actorDavid Garrick. What hopes Lady Betty may have had of continuing her father's tradition of arts patronage were quashed soon after marriage by the force of her husband's personality. While her name and connections facilitated an entrée into the most elite circles, the 'great contrast between the baronet and his wife' did not go unmentioned behind fluttering fans. In her attempts to sidestep social disgrace, Lady Betty's appearances in the capital became less frequent. She preferred to remain in Hampshire and reign as the mistress of Pylewell or to slip away to the continent where she and her husband passed several years of their marriage untouched by social obligation. It was only after Sir Thomas's death in 1768 that Lady Betty re-established herself in London. Taking a town house on Dover Street, she made her home a centre for lively musical parties and artistic gatherings.

Between Lady Betty's graciousness and Sir Thomas's boorish temperament, it appeared to some observers that the heir of Appuldurcombe had taken on more of the roughness of his father's character than the smooth gentility of his mother's. Like the baronet, Richard had a hungry intellect which thrived on classical history, philosophy and mathematical conundrums, but while his mind had been honed, his manners had been left untended. Lady Holland, who encountered the boy in Naples, thought him to be 'rather pert'; the product of parents whom she dismissed as 'mighty good but deadly dull'. Described as 'an honest, wild English buck' Sir Thomas's son had the smell of the country about him. Fresh faced and unaffected, Richard had enjoyed a rural boyhood, removed from the unhealthy air and corrupting morality of London. But although this upbringing represented the era's ideal childhood, it had left the young man unfinished, gauche and lacking in gentlemanly manners. This was a situation which his mother, his godfather, Sir William Oglander and his father's cousin, James Worsley, thought required an urgent remedy.

Since the 23rd of September 1768 responsibility for Richard Worsley's education had been placed in their hands. After a year of declining health, Sir Thomas's exhausted liver and kidneys finally failed him. It became common knowledge that the baronet had made himself 'a sacrifice at the shrine of Bacchus' at the relatively young age of forty. The door of the family tomb had hardly swung shut when preparations for his son's grand tour of Europe began. At the time of his father's death, the 7th baronet, who now proudly bore the title of Sir Richard Worsley, had been wearing the velvet cap and silk gown of a privileged 'gentleman commoner' at Corpus ChristiCollege in Oxford. His guardians would not have him waste his time or his mind in the collegiate environment for long. Like most gentlemen they recognised that Oxford and Cambridge offered little in the way of a useful education. In the eighteenth century few who began their studies at a university did so to obtain a degree. The colleges were home to an assortment of wealthy young men, idling their time away before inheriting their fathers' estates or marrying. It was widely acknowledged that drunkenness and gossip preoccupied the tutors while their students were left to engage 'in every disgraceful frolic of juvenile debauchery'. The guileless 7th baronet would never receive the refinement his character required in such an environment. For this it was necessary that he go abroad.

The traditional grand tour was designed to plug the deficiencies in a young man's education. A period which might span several months or several years was spent under the direction of a specially appointed tutor, or 'bear leader', who escorted his charge around the major sights and cities of Europe in pursuit of intellectual and personal improvement. The standard curriculum generally included immersion in the languages, art, architecture, geography and history of the countries visited, but also might involve instruction in additional subjects such as music, fencing and dance. As the study of classical and Renaissance art and architecture was the focal point of most tours, Italy was given precedence on the itinerary. A stay in Paris where a gawky young man might better his deportment and dress sense was also considered de rigueur, while a test of nerve in the form of an Alpine crossing by mule or sedan chair rounded the experience. At a time when the cost of travel was beyond the reach of those without a considerable fortune, the grand tour was a luxury reserved primarily for the elite male. Multiple visits to Europe for the purpose of study were a rarity and so the decision Sir Richard's guardians made to send him abroad for a second time in less than five years would not have been undertaken lightly. In return for this extravagant investment, the results would need to be demonstrable. Richard Worsley was to return to Pylewell with his rustic edges smoothed and his character shaped into that of a fully formed gentleman.

The man whom Sir William Oglander and James Worsley employed to implement the young baronet's metamorphosis was an individual well known to the Hampshire gentry. Since 1766, Edward Gibbon had been hosting the Swiss writer and scholar Jacques Georges Deyverdun under his roof atBuriton. Gibbon's 'dear friend' had been hoping to find an income as 'the travelling governor of some wealthy pupil' when the historian recommended him to Sir Richard Worsley. As his student had already acquired a substantial knowledge of Italy, both modern and ancient, Deyverdun devised a course for Sir Richard which departed from the usual grand tour programme. On the 22nd of April 1769, the pair embarked on a fourteen-month exploration of the less traversed regions of Switzerland, France and northern Italy. They were also to spend several months in Paris and at least a full year in the scenic surrounds of Lausanne, the town of Deyverdun's birth. This bracing location beside Lake Geneva was an ideal spot for the improvement of the mind, body and soul. As Gibbon, who had lived in Lausanne several years earlier had found, Switzerland was devoutly Calvinist. Laws prohibiting gambling, and in some towns attendance at the theatre, made evenings in this region quieter than in other European countries, while Voltaire's decision to reside near Geneva brought serious scholars of philosophy to its shores.

Under Deyverdun's guidance, Sir Richard applied his intellect to a critical investigation of the 'French and Latin classics'. Where previously the baronet's education had focused on achieving a grasp of the Italian language, he had come to Lausanne to improve his French and possibly to learn German. His tutor was fluent in both languages but as Deyverdun 'never acquired the just pronunciation and familiar use of the English tongue' it is likely that they conversed almost exclusively in French and Latin.

Months were spent scrutinising and discussing the works of great historians, orators and poets. Yet, remarkably, Sir Richard's travel journal demonstrates very little intellectual growth. Its rambling pages read like a roll call of inanimate objects and sights between Paris and Turin. Void of objectivity or analysis and with barely a note to document human interaction on any level, Sir Richard's method of regarding the world around him was perfectly scientific, stoic and absolutist. Only the factual was recorded; the distance they rode between villages, the length and width of fortress walls, the age and height of a cathedral. On the rare occasion that he gives an opinion it comes in the form of a pronouncement. He provides no elaboration and no explanation of his conclusions. Towns, roads, inns and churches are rated as either 'miserable' or 'of the greatest merit', 'execrable' or 'the finest example', and whether he referred to a work of art as being 'fine' or 'excellent', what made it so was never discussed or even questioned. Sir Richard'suniverse was one of blacks and whites and by engaging in the ordering and ranking of it he demonstrated his eagerness to assess his own place within its grand scheme. At the same time his adherence to accepted perceptions limited what he was able to see. In spite of his learnedness his diaries reveal a persistent fear of independent thought.

Attaining an understanding of one's role in society formed the very essence of the grand tour's purpose. Its broad syllabus was designed to introduce an elite young gentleman to his inherent privileges and responsibilities. Intellectual polishing played a large role in this, but learning was not confined exclusively to an investigation of antiquity. The tourists were also expected to gain an insight into the workings of contemporary Europe, from its politics to its agriculture. A knowledge of its people and cultural habits, its topography and technology could only add to a gentleman's effectiveness as a law maker when he returned to his own country. Likewise, it was held that an inspection of the practices of Catholic Europe might serve to bolster his natural Protestant biases and patriotism. The acquisition of the precepts of taste, where it applied to art, was also considered instrumental to well-rounded education. Wealthy men were society's patrons; their inclinations dictated the tone of paintings and architecture and it was their duty to impart their exalted wisdom to the plebeians. The grand tour provided a baptism in the waters of eighteenth-century manhood. From this formative experience the tourist was to emerge with good deportment, confidence, and a command of etiquette useful in a variety of scenarios, from how to address a monarch to how one might undress a lady of pleasure. As it was considered preferable for a boy to learn nature's lessons from the degenerate women of France and Italy than from his father's household servants, sex also featured on the grand tour's agenda. Upon his return home, the sly smiles of a young man's guardians would belie a shared acknowledgement of that which had come to pass in a foreign bedchamber.

Although he possessed a familiarity with the sights and customs of Europe, until his second continental excursion Sir Richard had not yet experienced all that a grand tour had to offer. The gap in his knowledge was only filled upon his arrival in Paris, a capital believed to be 'a theatre of more vice than any city in the world', where it was impossible to escape the noise, filth, prostitutes and beggars, even in the more fashionable quarters.

The lodgings which had been arranged for the baronet lay on the rue Saint-Honoré, in one of Paris's better areas. From his windows on the firstfloor at the hôtel des Quatre Nations he enjoyed a clear view into the glowing rooms of the opposite building. After observing for some time its female occupants open and close the shutters or carelessly leave the drapery askew, he was able to conclude that the residence 'was a bordel deternie, or a positive brothel'. Naturally curious, the young man became compulsively drawn to his window. His stares were soon discovered by his powdered and rouged neighbours, who began 'paying him not only their respects by ogles and signals, but verbal communication'. Over the course of several days the baronet's will was sufficiently eroded for 'their charms ... to conquer his virtue'. One evening he determined that he would cross the road and pay them a visit. However, before he departed, the hotel's proprietress asked to speak with him. She had heard of the baronet's plans from his manservant and had grown anxious. Where brothels were concerned, the establishment across the road did not bear a good reputation, she warned, and 'gave him such cautions as induced him to forgo the expected pleasures he had promised himself'. It was a fortunate escape, 'for that night a man was murdered in the house'. The following morning his body 'was found after the ladies and their bravoes had decamped'. Sir Richard had observed it from his window. It was a sight which bled deeply into his consciousness. The prostrate customer lay stretched out on a drenched bed, 'naked and ... stript of all he had been possessed of'. The baronet could not shake the belief that the corpse might have been his own. The experience made him 'very cautious how ... he viewed females' and persuaded him in part that the sexual act was best enjoyed when observed from afar. Beyond everything he had learned on his grand tour, it was this lesson which would shape the events of his life.

Sir Richard's homecoming in the early spring of 1772 had been greatly anticipated by his relations and friends, who were eager to see how his experiences had changed him. Indeed there were alterations, as Gibbon remarked, but surprisingly 'little improvement'. The young man knew that his guardians had expectations and was determined not to disappoint. The new master of Pylewell hid his youthful lack of confidence behind a grandiose façade. He believed that his studies had made him a sage at the considerable age of twenty-one. 'Sir Richard Worsley ... has grown a philosopher,' Gibbon proclaimed archly. While 'Lord Petersfield displeases everybody by the affectation of consequence; the young baronet disgusts no less by the affectation of wisdom'. This attitude was not what either Sir William orJames Worsley had had in mind for their ward and they were quick to chasten him, pointing out 'that such behaviour, even were it reasonable, does not suit this country'. But behind the puffed-up projection of himself was a son, wrought with insecurities and desperate to demonstrate that he was not the inebriated, bumbling image of his father. Instead, the 7th baronet embraced an entirely different persona. Gibbon was astonished. 'He speaks in short sentences, quotes Montaigne, seldom smiles, never laughs, drinks only water' and, most importantly, 'professes to command his passions'. To this list was added one further detail. Ready to assume all the responsibilities of adulthood, Sir Richard made it known that 'he intends to marry in five months' time'.

THE LADY IN RED. Copyright © 2008 by Hallie Rubenhold. All rights reserved. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.

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  • Posted January 27, 2014

    A study in real life sexual mores and society in 18th century western Europe

    I enjoyed this book greatly. The author described her subjects in the most human of terms. She does not sugar coat their deeds, morality or sense of survival. Their lives read like fiction yet their story is not. Captivating and fast pace.

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