The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife, and the Missing Corpse

The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife, and the Missing Corpse

An Extraordinary Edwardian Case of Deception and Intrigue

Book - 2015
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"One of the most notorious and bizarre mysteries of the Edwardian age, for readers who loved The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher. At the close of the Victorian era, as now, privacy was power. The extraordinarily wealthy 5th Duke of Portland had a mania for it, hiding in his horsedrawn carriage and creating tunnels between buildings to avoid being seen. So when, in 1897, an elderly widow asked the court to exhume the grave of her late father-in-law, T.C. Druce, under the suspicion that he'd led a double life as the 5th Duke, no one could dismiss her claim. The eccentric duke, Anna Maria was sure, had faked his death as Druce, and, therefore, her son should inherit the Portland millions. A lurid, decade-long case was born. Uncovering new archival treasures and offering a 'lively account of ... the lies, deceit, and hypocrisy of Victorian society' (The Times), Piu Marie Eatwell evokes an era in transition, when the rise of sensationalist media blurred every fact into fiction, and when family secrets and fluid identities pushed class anxieties to new heights"--Provided by publisher.
Publisher: New York : Liveright Publishing Corporation, a division of W.W. Norton & Company, 2015
Edition: First American edition
ISBN: 9781631491238
Branch Call Number: 941.082 EAT
Characteristics: xiii, 338 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm


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Jun 24, 2020

Fascinating book about the convoluted and secretive life of the 5th Duke of Portland, his eccentricities, his dislike of most people and his need to build on and under his estate of Welbeck Abbey. After his death, without an heir, the title and estate went to a young cousin, who became the 6th Duke of Portland. Several years later in 1898, a series of court cases were begun regarding the death and estate of a prosperous London merchant, Mr. T. C. Druce. Mr. Druce's daughter-in-law contented that Mr. Druce did not die and that he was in fact the 5th Duke of Portland. And that he had faked his death to go back to his life as the Duke. She wanted a ruling by the court to exhume the body, she was sure that the casket contained lead and no body. She contended that the Duke had been living a double life and that her son was the legitimate 6th Duke of Portland. This was only the first of a series of trials. It was discovered that Mr. Druce had been living a double life, but not as the 5th Duke of Portland.

Aug 29, 2016

I loved this book. Once I started reading it, I could not put this book down. Hidden passages. A reclusive duke. Tales of being dead or not dead. Hidden families. All in all it makes for a great page turner.

I won't say much more here for fear of ruining the ending, but for fans of true crime, this is the story for you.

bibliotechnocrat Jun 12, 2016

File under too-unlikely-to-be-untrue. This narrative focuses on a convoluted court case in which potential inheritors squabble and scheme in an attempt to establish that the late 5th Duke of Portland in fact faked his own death and lived on as a furniture salesman. It's filled with delicious Victorian and Edwardian details and characters, lies, deceptions, illegitimacy, hypocrisy, and money. A fun read.

Mar 20, 2016

Secret passageways. Illegitimate children. Multiple claimants to a huge fortune. A double life. Not to mention the emergence of the exploitative tabloid media. All these add up to this early twentieth century story where truth truly is stranger than fiction ... except for the fact it really happened.

Mar 06, 2016

A definite case of the truth being stranger than fiction.
Very interesting once the story gets moving..

Dec 26, 2015

Claim and counterclaim. Fact stranger than fiction. A very worthwhile rendition of a cause celebre in Edwardian society and the lengths gone to, by the aristocracy to cover up a scandal affecting the inheritance of the Portland Dukedom.

Dec 03, 2015

This is a fascinating re-telling of the Druce-Portland affair in Edwardian London. Was the extremely wealthy 5th Duke of Portland really living a double (or triple) life as a middle class merchant? Did he have two secret wives and father eleven (or more) children?

An elderly widow appears at a British court in 1898 requesting that her father-in-law's coffin be exhumed to show that it is filled with lead. Her purpose is to enable her son to receive his rightful inheritance. Two photographs showed an uncanny resemblance between the two men. Both were eccentric, had skin conditions, refused to eat red meat, and possessed many wigs. The duke lived almost entirely in isolation either at his huge Welbeck Abbey estate or at his London residence (Harcourt House). He initiated the building of many underground tunnels and trapdoors which enabled him to leave unseen. He only communicated with servants by letterboxes placed outside his rooms. No-one knew if he was home or not.

There are more twists and turns in this story than in a work of fiction! There is mystery, madness, deceit, famous detectives, genteel ladies, and intrigue. The author has done an incredible amount of research to be able to produce such a detailed version of this gripping story. There are many photographs and drawings in the book to refer to as well. Highly recommend this book for anyone who is interested in the late Victorian/early Edwardian time period and likes to learn the details behind a story.


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