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 - 2014
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In 1898, an elderly widow, Anna Maria Druce, came to the British court with an astonishing request. She stood among the overflowing pews of St. Pauls Cathedral claiming that the merchant T. C. Druce, her late father-in-law, had in truth been a secret identity for none other than the deceased and enormously wealthy 5th Duke of Portland. Maintaining her composure amid growing agitation from the clutch of lawyers, journalists, and curious onlookers crowded into the church, Mrs. Druce claimed that Druce had been the duke's alter ego and that the duke had, in 1864, faked the death of his middle-class doppelgänger when he grew tired of the ruse. Mrs. Druce wanted the tomb unlocked and her father-in-law's coffin exhumed, adamant that it would lie empty, proving the falsehood and leaving her son to inherit the vast Portland estate. From that fateful afternoon, the lurid details of the Druce-Portland case spilled forth, seizing the attention of the British public for over a decade.

As the Victoria era gave way to the Edwardian, the rise of sensationalist media blurred every fact into fiction, and family secrets and fluid identities pushed class anxieties to new heights. The 5th Duke of Portland had long been the victim of suspicion and scandalous rumors; an odd man with a fervent penchant for privacy, he lived his days in precisely coordinated isolation in the dilapidated Welbeck Abbey estate. He constructed elaborate underground passageways from one end of his home to the other and communicated with his household staff through letters. T.C. Druce was a similarly mysterious figure and had always remained startlingly evasive about his origins; on his arrival in London he claimed to have "sprung from the clouds."

Drawing from revelations hidden within the Druce family tomb in the chilly confines of Highgate Cemetery, Piu Marie Eatwell recounts one of the most drawn-out sagas of the era in penetrating, gripping detail. From each thwarted investigation and wicked attempt to conceal evidence to the parade of peculiar figures announcing themselves as the rightful heir, Eatwell paints a portentous portrait of England at the dawn of the Edwardian age.

Few tales--be they by Charles Dickens or Wilkie Collins, The Importance of Being Earnest or The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde--could surpass the bizarre and deliciously dark twists and turns of the Druce-Portland affair. A mesmerizing tour through the tangled hierarchies of Edwardian England, The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife, and the Missing Corpse illuminates the lies, deceit, and hypocrisy practiced by "genteel" society at the time--and their inevitably sordid consequences.

Publisher: New York : Liveright Publishing Corporation, a division of W.W. Norton & Company, c2014
ISBN: 9781631491238
Branch Call Number: 942 Eatw
Characteristics: xiii, 338 pages, [8 unnumbered pages of plates] : illustrations ; 25 cm


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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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