In which the author– Elizabeth A. Foyster– delves into the life of one John Wallop, the 3rd Earl of Portsmouth, to present the facts as they are recorded regarding the Earl’s sanity.
The Trials of the King of Hampshire is not a happy book. The obsessive aunt who was shut away in a private lunatic asylum, but still bothered her relations with plaintive letters complaining of the “poisons” (drugs) the doctors slipped in her milk giving her headaches; the pain of a father prevented from being with his daughter in her dying moments; Portsmouth’s thoughtless cruelty to his animals and servants; the intended cruelty and abuses of Portsmouth’s wife on himself; the machinations of power hungry relatives calling a vulnerable adult’s sanity into question; and finally, the lonely life of a keeper, trying, without resources, to provide a comfortable life for his charge.
Portsmouth was an enigma– reliable witness called him normal; mentally “weak” (but sane); an emotionally stunted lunatic; and a perverse and cruel man, by turns. Foyster offers no verdict as to Portsmouth’s sanity, so you are free to draw your own conclusions as to his diagnosis.
The Trials well written and interesting, and gives an unusual insight into the early 1800’s. Making guest appearances are the Austen family (yes, Jane Austen met Portsmouth at a ball, and found him quite agreeable) and Byron, who was a witness at Portsmouth’s wedding.
A enjoyable read, especially if you like armchair diagnosis.