Great Tom the Christ Church Belle: Valentine’s Day 1816

Great Tom is the name of the bell which hangs in Tom Tower at Christ Church, one of the colleges at Oxford University. The following print was produced for Valentine’s Day in 1816, playing on the names, with two Oxford men fleeing underneath Great Tom away from a Christ Church Belle.

A View of great Tom the Christ Church Belle, from the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, Ohio State University.
A View of great Tom the Christ Church Belle, from the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, Ohio State University.

We were drawn to this print as it relates, in a loose way, to our book, A Right Royal Scandal. Valentine’s Day 1816 found Lord Charles Bentinck, a younger brother of the Duke of Portland, embroiled in a highly scandalous Criminal Conversation trial following his elopement the previous year with the wife of Sir William Abdy. The lady was the niece of the famed Duke of Wellington and the amorous couple had eloped just weeks after his triumph at the Battle of Waterloo. Tongues had not stopped wagging since!

A divorce and a swift remarriage followed and for a while, the Bentincks lived quietly and tried to let the scandal die down.

But it was the eldest son of Lord and Lady Charles Bentinck who we think of when we see the print above. Charley Cavendish Bentinck did not attend Christ Church, instead he studied at Merton from 1837, and he did not flee from his Belle: instead, he ran directly into her arms! In the village of Summertown, just outside Oxford and nestled against the Cumnor Hills, lived the Lambournes, a humble working-class family.

Winter view of Great Tom via Wikimedia
Winter view of Great Tom via Wikimedia

James Lambourne was a horse dealer known to settle disputes with his fists and his wife Sinnetta was a full-blooded gipsy who had left her family and peripatetic way of life upon her marriage. The couple had a daughter, named Sinnetta like her mother, who was a dark-haired beauty, and she captivated not only the aristocratic Charley but a rival too. Charley won her heart but it was a romance which had to be kept secret and one which had devastating consequences for the two star-crossed lovers.

Not a few Oxford men, of nine or ten years’ standing, could tell a tale of frantic passion for a Gipsy girl entertained by two young men at one time, one of them with ducal blood in his veins, who ultimately wooed and wedded his Gipsy love. So that it is no way impossible (the heirs to the dukedom being all unmarried, and unlikely to marry) that the ducal coronet of ____ may come to be worn by the son of a Gipsy mother

And why was it a right royal scandal? Because Charley Cavendish Bentinck is the great-grandfather of Queen Elizabeth II. Our book looks at the Cavendish Bentinck and Wellesley families, at their ‘scandalous marriages’ and shows how our modern history, as it concerns the British royal family, could look very different indeed, if not for a young gipsy girl.

A Right Royal Scandal: Two Marriages That Changed History by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Right-Royal-Scandal-Marriages-Changed/dp/1473863422
Available  from Amazon and other leading booksellers

Reviews of A Right Royal Scandal

…Major and Murden keep their text entertaining and light throughout, making for an easy read of a subject that keeps you engrossed from start to finish. This book is brilliant for those who enjoy the scandals of historical television, with the added authenticity of historical fact. History of Royals, February 2017

Awesome real life biography that could be a scandalous historical romance novel. Loved it. NetGalley, reviewed by Nikkia Neil

The biography reads like a saucy Regency/Georgian novel with love affairs, mistresses, illegitimate offspring, elopements and unsuitable (and unhappy) marriages galore. A golden thread weaves through this colourful tapestry of indiscretions leading us from the Battle of Waterloo to the present day, from the Duke of Wellington’s niece to our very own Prince William… Buy it, read it, you won’t be disappointed – a true 5* gem of a book! Amazon, reviewed by Lally Brown

This really is a case of ‘You couldn’t make it up’. The plots may seem to come straight out of the world of Regency Romance but they are all true, and carefully annotated and verified by Major and Murden. Amazon review – reviewed by Nomester

Berkeley Square, 1813.

Exciting news – our next book, ‘A Right Royal Scandal’

Our blog today is a little different as we have some news that we would like you, our readers, to be the first to hear about. We’re not going back in time as far as we usually do, in fact today we are going back only around a decade to the time when we first met via an online genealogy forum.

From discussing folk we had a common interest in online, we swapped email addresses and then phone numbers and lengthy conversations became the norm during which we delved deeper into the past. As our regular readers will no doubt be well aware, we’ve always been prone to getting a little side-tracked when something piques our interest (you only have to look at the different subjects we’ve covered on here!), and so it was that we became more than a little obsessed not with our own ancestors, but with a particular line of the British royal family’s tree.

These were the people we originally planned to write about. Then we discovered a connection to Grace Dalrymple Elliott and turned our attention briefly, or so we thought, towards her. Grace had other ideas. She barrelled into our lives like a steam-roller and she, and her family, took over, resulting in An Infamous Mistress, but we always planned to return to our original research which now forms a sequel to our first, although it can very much be read as a stand-alone book.

A Right Royal Scandal: Two Marriages That Changed History by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Right-Royal-Scandal-Marriages-Changed/dp/1473863422

And so, we are delighted to announce that our second book, A Right Royal Scandal: two marriages that changed history, will be available from November in hardback and is now available to pre-order.

Almost two books in one, A Right Royal Scandal recounts the fascinating history of the irregular love matches contracted by two successive generations of the Cavendish-Bentinck family, ancestors of the British Royal Family. The first part of this intriguing book looks at the scandal that erupted in Regency London, just months after the battle of Waterloo, when the widowed Lord Charles Bentinck eloped with the Duke of Wellington’s married niece. A messy divorce and a swift marriage followed, complicated by an unseemly tug-of-war over Lord Charles’ infant daughter from his first union.

Over two decades later and while at Oxford University, Lord Charles’ eldest son, known to his family as Charley, fell in love with a beautiful gypsy girl, and secretly married her. He kept this union hidden from his family, in particular his uncle, William Henry Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck, 4th Duke of Portland, upon whose patronage he relied. When his alliance was discovered, Charley was cast adrift by his family, with devastating consequences.

The book ends by showing how, if not for a young gypsy and her tragic life, the British monarchy would look very different today.

It’s been a very busy few months with the launch of An Infamous Mistress and finalizing A Right Royal Scandal, so we’re taking a ‘blog break’ now until the beginning of September when we will return with lots more blogs from the Georgian Era for you, so please join us again from the 1st September and have a wonderful summer.

Sarah & Jo