Monday, August 12, 2013

Wilfrid Scawen Blunt

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.
Judith Blunt-Lytton

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.
Catherine 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!


  1. Love your daughter's tango video and the music.

    Blunt not to much.

    Where did Kerry Ann film this lovely dance segment?

    1. Kathy, it is Dag Hammarskjold Park near the UN. Thanks for your kind words. Please share the video. It would be lovely for both me and for her if it got lots of views.

  2. TO BE BLUNT, that is the absolutely best book trailer I have ever seen. I mean WOW.

    I shall leave the rest of the blunt jokes to Everett.

    As for his poem, the meter was right on and I just wonder if he was attempting to describe himself as all knowing or just pursing a new tack in pursuit of his fourth major interest. I shall leave that subject untouched as well.


    1. Jeff, thanks for your kudos. I have passed them along to Kerry Ann. I read Blunt's poem several times. It made me laugh. I guess there is a reason why he was not included in the survey of Romantic poetry course I took as an undergrad.

  3. To be perfectly blunt, Jeff has no point. Well, okay, he has a point about the trailer. Kudos to your daughter (and you :-)! But look at that new portrait of Jeff on the sidebar: no point, just a blunt, blunt chin that would do any great PI justice. But enough about Jeff (TOO much, some would say...)

    Re Blunt: another fine example that people are people, no matter the time or geography, and wealth simply magnifies who the person, at their core, really is... which is all too often not a very nice person. Fortunately, as a counter-balance, there's always people like you, Annamaria! (Well, okay, and Jeff, too. Sometimes.)

    Best wishes for BLOOD TANGO!

    1. I think somewhere in there, Everett, is a phrase I'm supposed to say thank you to, but I fear some may say I'm angling in on Annamaria's time. :)

    2. Thanks, Everett for your compliments. I could also thank you for getting Jeff off my turf, but strange as it may seem, I love hanging around with him--here, in NYC, anywhere actually EXCEPT Mykonos in August, of course. I have a delicate stomach.

  4. To be blunt, I'm trying to analyze the sentence: "To be blunt, this man’s name could rightly have been Wilfrid Scallywag Blunt."

    I also loved the video. Super!

    1. I could have said, "To be Blunt....". Would that have helped?

  5. Loved the video. The tango is far more complicated than I thought. Have to check out your book and your daughter did a lovely job. Your picture, Jeff, is a little intimidating. Who are you channeling ;).

    1. In answer to your question, Lil, Adobe Photoshop :).

    2. Lil, thank you for your kind words. We have to forgive Jeff for butting in. He is hiding out indoors so he won't have to see all those naked butts around his island paradise.

    3. At least he didn't use HIS naked butt for his new MIE photo! (At least, I don't THINK he did...)

  6. Fascinating story of a man who might well be duplicated in today's U.S. Congress or many E.U. governments! I especially enjoyed the lovely piece by your daughter. My copy of Blood Tango just arrived and I look forward to reading it carefully! Thelma Straw in Manhattan

  7. Jeff's photo is kind of eerie: looks like a Mobster retiree hiding behind thick sunglasses while enjoying his retirement in Mykonos.

  8. LOVE the video! I really like tango music, actually. Have you ever listened to Astor Piazolla?

    1. Thanks, Lisa. The music of Astor Piazzolla is another thing we have in common! I listened to Gidon Kremer's Hommage a Piazzolla continually while I worked on Blood Tango.

  9. Dear AM, no idea if you will actually see this note, more than 3 years after your post, but I would love to know the source for the point on Blunt being buried according to Muslim rite? I don't recall seeing this anywhere else. Thank you, and all the best for 2017.

  10. Hi Omar, thank you for visiting the blog. I carefully research to write my historical mysteries. I wish I could tell you where I found that fact, but I am away from home and, as you note, I learned about Blunt years ago. The research for Blood Tango is squirrelled away at home and out of my reach right now. When I return to New York, I will try to find the reference for you and post it here. All my best for 2017.