In discussions at mystery conferences of writerly research, moderators and audience members alike are fond of asking about those tidbits of history that don’t make it into the book. One thing a writer of historical novels can do with those stray bits of fascinating information is put them into a blog. I came across a guy whose story cried out for such treatment. To be blunt, this man’s name could rightly have been Wilfrid Scallywag Blunt. I found him fascinating because he has a connection both to Buenos Aires, setting for Blood Tango and for British Africa, where my next book takes place. Here’s his story:
Blunt was born in Sussex, England on the 17th of August 1840 (It’s almost his birthday!). He was raised a Catholic, was educated at a Catholic boarding school and Catholic college, joined the Diplomatic Service, and married Lord Byron’s granddaughter—Lady Anne Noel, whose father was the Earl of Lovelace.
Wilfrid had four major interests: raising horses, travel/diplomatic service, poetry, and seducing women. The only one he seems to have truly excelled at is the last, so let’s start with the first.
He and Lady Anne, based on her love of pure-blooded Arabian horses, established breeding farms both in England and in Egypt. By the end of his life, strung out on drugs and alcohol and in debt because them, he got into a legal and emotional battle, over the horses, with his daughter and only heir Judith Blunt-Lytton, the 16th Baroness Wentworth. During the protracted legal skirmishing, he sold all the beasts he could get his hands on to pay his debts. At one point, frustrated that the courts would not award them all to him, he shot four belonging to his daughter, out of spite. Not much of a father!
Though he was a great traveler, having journeyed to Spain, Algeria, Egypt, the Syrian Desert, all through the Middle East and Indian, and to Buenos Aires (where I “met” him), he was no better a diplomat than he was a father. He was more or less a spy in the employ of the British Empire, a power of which he did not approve. In late 1881, he went to Egypt on a mission. At that point, it was very important to the Brits to maintain hegemony over Egypt in order to keep control of the Suez Canal. Blunt (not a good name for a diplomat under any circumstances) befriended a powerful leader in the “Egypt for the Egyptians” movement, which was aimed largely at the ridding Egypt of Turkish control. In an attempt to aid the movement, Blunt took back to London all the secrets he learned about its participants. The result was not what he anticipated. Instead of helping the Egyptians, his report inspired the British to mount campaigns against them. Also, not surprising for a Catholic, he took the part of Ireland in its endless religious conflict with England. He spent some time in jail in 1888 over that.
Then there was Blunt, the poet. Again a questionable name for his chosen profession. Here is a quote from one of his better-known poems. I leave to you to decide on its merits.
A Day In The Castle Of Envy
The castle walls are full of eyes,
And not a mouse may creep unseen.
All the window slits are spies;
And the towers stand sentinel
High above the gardens green.
Not a lizard lurking close
In the brambles of the dell;
Not a beetle as he goes,
Toiling in the dust, may tell
The least secret of his woes
To the idle butterflies;
Not a privet moth may flit,
But the castle looketh wise,
But the old king knoweth it.
|Blunt in his Twenties|
Last we come to his most successful undertaking—seduction. He was a remarkably handsome man. In addition to marrying Lord Byron’s only surviving descendant, he carried on a long time relationship with the beautiful courtesan Catherine “Skittles” Walters.
He had an affair with Jane, the wife of William Morris and a model for the Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
|Jane Morris as "Proserpine" byt Dante Gabriel Rossetti|
When he finally went too far and brought his mistress Dorothy Carleton into the house to live with him and his wife, Lady Ann absconded to the Egyptian stud farm (no implications regarding her intended).
|Lady Ann Blunt in Egypt|
This estrangement led to the tumultuous family situation with his daughter that he carried on until his death on the 10th of September 1922.
He was buried according to Muslim rite on his estate in England.
Annamaria - Monday
PS: I cannot resist adding to this post an unrelated link. Here is a look at the video my Daughter, Kerry Ann King produced to publicize Blood Tango. That's her in the flower print dress and her husband Ted in the background. I am proud of of the film and of her!