Though modern society is rife with sensational news stories concerning celebrities and other luminaries, Victorians were no strangers to scandal and intrigue. Well-known for their eccentricity and peculiar habits, the Victorians also loved a bit of gossip (especially if it involved the upper classes!)
So, steady your monocles and flutter your fans, as we take a look at some of the most shocking scandals to hit 19th century society.
Men in Petticoats
While cross-dressing has arguably become a cornerstone of British humour, in Victorian England it was practically illegal. According to Victorian London, in 1854, two men were apprehended by the police at a masked ball for “exciting others to commit an unnatural offence”, in other words, they were dressed as women. At the time, homosexuality was well and truly illegal and a trial was initiated forthwith. Both men claimed that they had worn petticoats so that they may infiltrate a den of vice, witness the inequity themselves and therefore better preach against it. Luckily for them their character witnesses described them as honourable gentleman and despite igniting a nationwide scandal the pair were let off with a severe warning.
Eddy the Ripper?
Everyone has heard of Jack the Ripper, arguably the most notorious serial killer of all time. Though no culprit was ever brought to book, there are many interesting theories and one which surfaces more often than not, is that he was a Royal. Prince Albert Victor, known to his friends as Eddy, was next in line for the throne and liked to slum it down in Whitechapel. Rumour has it that he impregnated a Catholic prostitute out of wedlock. Well, news of this scandal soon reached Queen Victoria who ordered this problem be taken care of, through whatever means necessary. Whether Prince Eddy undertook the grisly deed himself or someone else did it for him, his involvement makes a titillating side note to many Jack the Ripper tours. Though his involvement in the Ripper case is debateable, Prince Eddy was also at the centre of a number of scandals during this period, notably, an adultery charge and alleged paedophilia.
“The Fruits of Philosophy”
When it came to anything remotely sexual being discussed in public, the Victorians were famously prudish. So when a book, concerning contraception, was published by Annie Besant, a noted feminist and atheist Charles Bradlaugh there was mass public outcry. The work entitled The Fruits of Philosophy: The Private Companion for Young Married Couples was dubbed obscene by the Society for Suppression of Vice and reportedly, a mere 20 minutes after it went on sale, the pair was arrested. The trial was a sensation and though the judge ruled that they had not meant to deprave the public, he forbade them from republishing the pamphlet; they later published it again regardless.
Non-Consummation of Marriage
In 1846, John Ruskin was considered one of the leading critics of the age and when he had the privilege of marrying the young and remarkably beautiful Euphemia Gray, the nation expected children to follow soon after. However, in 1854 Gray had met another man and filed for the annulment of her marriage to Ruskin, the reason? According to Wikipedia, she reportedly stated, “He did not make me his wife.” Apparently, she was still a virgin as Ruskin had never physically consummated the marriage. There was uproar and scandal, with many of the tabloids at the time accusing her of lying or worse. She would later marry the other man and have eight children.
The Boy in the Palace
The 17 year old Edward Jones made a name for himself when he was caught in a dressing room at Buckingham Palace; what made matters worse was that apparently he had been sneaking in for years. However, on this occasion he was caught with a pair of her majesty’s underwear stuffed down his trousers as well as a number of other valuables. The story doesn’t end there though and despite being caught and security tightened, he was found inside the palace again some years later and was promptly sent to Australia.