Friday, 18 September 2009

Muttonchops and parrots: for those of you who like your Earls of Aberdeen a little racier.

I promise this marks the end of Lord Aberdeen week. More eminent scholars than I have been looking into the whole question of Lord Aberdeen's father-in-law and that dog he invented. So let us instead now briefly examine Lord Aberdeen's great-great-grandfather, and his grandson.


Our Lord Aberdeen, John, and his wife, who called themselves 'we twa', seem to have been beloved wherever they went, sent off by Queen Victoria around the Empire like benevolent supernannies, jollying Ireland along here, inventing brigades of nurses for the Canadians there, and generally adding to the gaiety of nations (although along the way, it seems, spending the family's money like water, especially on fruit farms and pageants, two things to which her Ladyship seems to have been particularly partial).


It was a different story when Lord A's ancestor George Gordon, the third Earl, was in the driving seat. Known as 'Lord Skinflint' and 'The Wicked Earl', he evicted tenants; only granted 19 year leases, and in general, I think we're safe in concluding, ensured there were no fruit farms or pageants for anyone on his watch. He was also quite the ladies man. Here, according to John Doran, is the charming tale of how he met his wife:


"During a stop-over at the Stafford Arms in Wakefield, he was so pleased with the mutton chops served for his supper that he demanded to see the cook. Thus he met Catharine Hanson, a handsome woman of 29 and immediately led her to his bedchamber. When the time came for him to return home, George could not resist the temptation to again sample the delights of the Stratford Arms. This time Catharine had a surprise for Lord Aberdeen. Faced with a loaded pistol and the choice of marriage or his life, George pragmatically decided the Gordons of Haddo would benefit from an infusion of English blood."


As we have seen, Lord John did not noticeably take after Lord George. But genes are funny things, as we will see when we now turn to Lord John's grandson, Alastair Gordon, 6th Marquess of Aberdeen and Temair (Lord John was promoted from 7th Earl to 1st Marquess, hopefully for services to comedy, or at least pageants.) Alastair, who died in 2002 at the age of 82, was an artist and art critic, 'a tall, sprightly, bespectacled man with a toothbrush moustache', who listed his recreations in Who's Who as 'wine, women and song'. He wasn't joking, either. The year before his death, he wrote an article for The Oldie entitled 'The Good Whores Guide', comparing and contrasting his wartime experiences in Mme Janette's brothel in Beirut, and Mrs Fetherstonhaugh's 'private hotel' in Kensington. Here he is on Mrs F's recruitment policy:


"This consisted of asking girls who seemed as if they might be enthusiastic amateurs - out-of-work actresses or married women with husbands away at the war - if they would like to come to a party. If they then showed signs of enjoying themselves, it would be suggested that they continue to do so for money."


His wife Anne, according to the obituary, 'regarded her husband's interest in sexual matters with tolerant amusement' and 'decorated their home with her colourful flocks of parrots.' That's what I call a wife.



I now promise not to go on about any other Lord Aberdeen. Not even Lord John's grandfather: the Prime Minister who took Britain into the Crimean War; or the current incumbent, Lord Alastair's son Alexander, and his ill-fated tank-driving business. You can have too much of anything, even Lords Aberdeen.

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