THE DEAD DUKE, HIS SECRET WIFE, AND THE MISSING CORPSE

An Extraordinary Edwardian Case of Deception and Intrigue

Piu Marie Eatwell

One of the most notorious and bizarre mysteries of the Edwardian age, for readers who loved The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher.

At the close of the Victorian era, as now, privacy was power. The extraordinarily wealthy 5th Duke of Portland had a mania for it, hiding in his carriage and building tunnels between buildings to avoid being seen. So when, in 1897, an elderly widow asked the court to exhume the grave of her late father-in-law, T.C. Druce, under the suspicion that he’d led a double life as the 5th Duke, no one could dismiss her claim.

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One of the most notorious and bizarre mysteries of the Edwardian age, for readers who loved The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher.

At the close of the Victorian era, as now, privacy was power. The extraordinarily wealthy 5th Duke of Portland had a mania for it, hiding in his carriage and building tunnels between buildings to avoid being seen. So when, in 1897, an elderly widow asked the court to exhume the grave of her late father-in-law, T.C. Druce, under the suspicion that he’d led a double life as the 5th Duke, no one could dismiss her claim. The eccentric Duke, Anna Maria was sure, had faked his death as Druce, and her son should inherit the Portland millions. A lurid, decade-long case was born. Uncovering new archival treasures and offering a “lively account of…the lies, deceit, and hypocrisy of Victorian society” (The Times), Piu Marie Eatwell evokes an era in transition, when the rise of sensationalist media blurred every fact into fiction, and family secrets and fluid identities pushed class anxieties to new heights.

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  • Liveright Publishing
  • Hardcover
  • October 2015
  • 352 Pages
  • 9781631491238

Buy the Book

$27.95

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About Piu Marie Eatwell

Piu Marie Eatwell attended Oxford University and has produced and researched historical documentaries for the BBC. She divides her time between Paris and London with her husband and three children.

Praise

A juicy narrative history packed with revelations about unsavory goings-on among the upper classes in late Victorian England.”—Kate Tuttle, Boston Globe

It’s Downton Abbey meets The Addams Family in Piu Marie Eatwell’s The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife, and the Missing Corpse, a delightfully offbeat history of a bizarre Edwardian legal case that became tabloid fodder and kept the British public spellbound for a decade…. Eatwell’s marvelous book reads like a Wilkie Collins gothic novel, but at times truth is stranger than fiction.”—Wilda Williams, Library Journal (Editor’s Fall Picks)

A riveting true crime from yesteryear.”—Better Homes & Gardens

A superb unraveling of a sensational mystery—and an absolutely gripping read.”—David King, best-selling author of Death in the City of Light

Discussion Questions

As the Edwardian era progressed, being born into the aristocracy was no longer the only way for someone to possess prestige and wealth. How did increasing social mobility and changing definitions of the term “gentleman” impact the intrigue surrounding the Druce-Portland case?

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Importance of Being Earnest are presented here as examples of popular literature highlighting characters who fabricate alternate identities or personalities. Why was deceit such a popular and salient idea in the late Victorian era?

Anna Maria Druce became a celebrity after she came forward and claimed her father-in-law was the 5th Duke of Portland. Do you think this case would have been treated differently if Anna Maria Druce’s husband had been able to approach the British court in her place? How so?

How did vast changes in the media industry affect the case, and how it was received by the general public?

How are the 5th Duke of Portland and T.C. Druce similar? How are they different? Do these similarities and differences support or disprove the accusation that both men were the same person?

There are many popular historical figures that kept scandalous secrets and lived multiple lives: Charles Dickens, Henry Wainwright, John Maxwell, and Oscar Wilde among them. What made the Druce-Portland affair so lurid in comparison to other incidences of deception documented at this time?

Why do you think the 5th Duke of Portland would want to live a second life as a member of the middle-class? Why would any member of Edwardian society want multiple identities?

Were you surprised when the contents of T.C. Druce’s coffin were finally revealed? How do you think delaying the exhumation of the coffin helped or hindered claims to dukedom made by T.C. Druce’s legitimate children?