Sunday, February 05, 2006

Crim.Cons and scandals

We are so used to salacious reporting of celebrity scandals that it sometimes a surprise to find equally frank reports in the respectable daily newspapers of the early 19th century - albeit in extremely small type. CrimCon, or Criminal Conversation was the euphamism for adultery and the latest CrimCon stories were eagerly recounted and gossiped over.
Looking through The Times for 29th February 1812 I found the case of Richard Moore, esq. of Long Melford who was proceeding against his wife, Mrs Sidney Arabella Moore for a divorce on the grounds of her adultery.
Her lover, it was alleged, was John Miller, appointed steward to the Moores' household in the Spring of 1810, when his employers had been married for fourteen years. Soon the servants began to whisper. Whenever Mr Moore was absent his wife and Miller were closeted together. They were observed kissing and using 'fond expressions' and Mrs Moore would sleep in a different bedroom when her husband was away - a room with an empty china closet opening into it.
One night "One of the servants, looking through the keyhole of a door commanding a view of the staircase, saw Mrs Moore come out of the drawing-room, and, after looking to see if anyone was near her, go softly upstairs, beckoning for someone to follow. And in a few moments Mr Miller stole softly after her." Mrs Moore reappeared, alone, and two of her servants went upstairs and began to search. There was no sign of Mr Miller anywhere - but the china closet attached to the bedroom was locked and a chair from a nearby room was missing.
Not content with their prying, the servants obtained a ladder the next morning and looked through the window of the china closet - sure enough there was the chair, where, they deduced, the steward had waited until Mrs Moore went to bed before joining her.
The next day the servants trooped off to denounce the adulterous pair to Mr Moore who promptly dragged his steward before the local magistrate, recovering a "heavy sum" in damages in the process.
The learned judge pronounced that it would require "a great degree of scepticism in anyone" not to conclude that adultery had taken place. Mr Moore obtained his divorce.
The whole story conjures up a Hogarth print with smug servants peeping through keyholes while the guilty pair romp in the bedroom. How on earth, in a houseful of servants, did Mrs Moore expect to get away with it? Was her marriage uphappy, or John Miller too seductive to resist? What happened to her afterwards - did her lover marry her or spurn her? I searched the internet genealogy sites, hoping to find their marriage, but without success.
And what of Mr Moore in possession of his heavy sum in damages, but without a wife, publicly cuckolded and with a houseful of sniggering servants? I would love to know.


Anonymous said...

Where did you manage to get hold of The Times? I love old newspapers, and this story is fascinating.

I'm sure there's an idea for a book in there somewhere. What did Mrs Moore do to alienate the servants? I can't help thinking that if she'd been a good mistress, they might have been prepared to turn a blind eye. Or was it the steward they didn't like? Or were they jealous of the steward, or indeed of Mrs Moore - if the steward was young, unmarried and good looking, presumably the maids would have seen him as the rightful property as one or other of them!

Or was it Mr Moore they loved? Was he a good and fair master, and so they didn't like to see him cheated?

Or, in the absence of Hello and Heat magazine, did they have to seek out their own scandals? IT puts a new complexion on the idea of people in the Regency era making their own entertainment!

It makes me wonder if this sort of thing was always going on in households - servants up ladders, stewards in china cupboards (although atleast the poor man had a chair - when we have an idea that everything was calm and elegant. It reminds me of the final scenes in Heyer's Cotillion, with Dolph hiding under tables etc, or something out of PG Wodehouse.

Yet again, fact is stranger than fiction. If you put this in a book, no one would believe you!

Historical Romance Author said...

I buy my old newspapers on Ebay. prices vary, and can go very high for famous events, but 'run of the mill' dates are usually only a few pounds. They are hidden in Collectables:Paper & Ephemera.

I agree - the whle thing reads like a complete farce - but with a sad ending for all concerned. i wonder if Mr Moore would keep those servants on afetr what they had witnessed?

Anonymous said...

My information through family links and records is that Richard Moore ended up in debtors' prison due to gambling debts and Sydney Arabella ultimately married her Mr. Miller.

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