Bring Him in Mad

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Bring Him in Mad    
Fact & fiction

Lunacy Commissions

Windham's trial was technically a Commission De Lunatico Inquirendo. These were required when their relatives sought to take control of a "supposed lunatic's" property and person. As Lunacy Commissions were part of a complex and expensive Chancery court proceedure, they were comparatively rare and seldom contested. In the three years from July 1860 to June 1863 only 180 such cases were brought, of which Windham's was one of only five contested before a jury. Most were conducted quickly and quietly at country inns or asylums, and Windham's was exceptional in the degree of popular and press attention it attracted. Lunacy Commissions declined after the introduction of the cheaper, simpler and more private "receivership" procedure in 1891.

Bring Him in Mad follows the broad contours of the actual trial, but is rarely a wholly faithful account. In the novel, the number of trial barristers involved is much simplified. In fact, in addition to those leaders described in Real-Life Characters, John Burgess Karslake QC also appeared for William Windham, Charles Arthur Russell appeared for Windham's mother Lady Sophia Giubilei, and John Duke Coleridge QC appeared for Agnes Willoughby. The solicitors "Praed & Pumicestone" and "Portal & Merritt" are fictional. Windham's actual solicitors were Gregory & Co of Bedford Row, and those for his uncle General Windham were Field & Roscoe of Lincoln's Inn Fields.

Punch cartoonPunch cartoonWindham's case was heard before packed courtrooms, and was exhaustively covered and commented upon in the London dailies and the periodical press.

In the end it turned itself into a kind of lunacy. Punch published a cartoon of barristers eating oysters from a barrel with the caption: "Law and Lunacy, Or, A Glorious Oyster season for the Lawyers."

Pretty Horsebreakers

Schooled in received ideas of an uptight Victorian morality, the modern reader may be surprised at how open, gleeful even, the Victorian press could be about prostitution. The so-called pretty horsebreakers were celebrated society prostitutes who desported themselves at fashionable venues, vigorously competing with high-society "ladies" (and each other) in the opulence of their carriages and attire. Agnes Willoughby was one of these and Catherine Walters (or "Skittles") was another. The "horsebreaker" name is supposed to have originated in such women riding majestic beasts in Hyde Park to advertise nearby livery stables.

In June 1861 the journalist and prankster Matthew James Higgins (who revelled in the pseudonym "Jacob Omnium") launched a fake correspondence about them in The Times. His letter, under the heading "A Belgravian Lament", purported to be a complaint from a society lady to the effect that her daughters could not find eligible young men to marry because these were much more interested in pretty horsebreakers, who did not expect marriage. It may well be that Higgins also authored the response, purporting to be from an eligible young heir calling himself "Primogenitus", which confirmed that men like him did indeed prefer the company of pretty horsebreakers to the prospect of marrying boring well-brought-up Belgravian girls.

The Eastern Counties Railway

This company had a reputation for bad punctuality and crashes. Its name suffered further during the trial when it emerged that Windham, and other well-to-do gentlemen, were in the habit of tipping railwaymen to one illegitimate purpose or another. During the trial the Secretary of what had then become The Great Eastern Railway, Mr J R Owen, wrote an indignant letter to The Times denying that any gentlemen would be allowed to interfere with the conduct of trains.

Railways were still a comparative novelty, and source of wonder or disgust. Their building continued to cause massive destruction in urban areas, as shown in Bring Him in Mad where the building of London's first underground railway, the Metropolitan line, is described. Although the book's scene is imagined, the disruption portrayed was very real. A later scene from the book illustrates how the old culture of stage-coaches and coaching inns was still hanging on in places such as Norwich.

The Italian Opera

These were very popular entertainments for members of leisured society to be seen at, which explains Agnes Willoughby's interest in them. They were put on at the Covent Garden Theatre, and at Her Majesty's Theatre on the Haymarket. The scene in Bring Him in Mad set at Her Majesty's during a performance of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor is fictional, though Agnes did have a long-standing affair with the tenor Antonio Giuglini, and Giuglini did perform with the diva Marietta Piccolomini.

The scene set at the Queen's Theatre in Edinburgh during a performance of Bellini's Norma is also fictional, though it is based on a real incident wherein Giuglini was struck on the nose by a mallet-wielding high priestess during a rendition of that opera. Giuglini actually went mad a few years after the end of the Windham case and died at an asylum in Italy in 1865.

Outdoor London

Mid-Victorian society was marked by much outdoor spectacle and display. Vast crowds would turn out for public occassions such as the Prince of Wales' marriage to Princess Alexandra, or the visit by Italian nationalist Garibaldi. Sporting contests such as the University boat race on the Thames were followed fanatically by all classes, and London virtually emptied on Epsom Derby day.

The 1860s (also known as the "merry sixties") was a flamboyant time of tall hats, large whiskers, wide crinolines and equally expansive behaviour. Particularly in the London social "season" during spring and summer, it was desirable to be seen out at Hyde Park in a carriage, or riding a fine beast along Rotten Row. In Bring Him in Mad it is Hyde Park where Windham first sees Agnes Willoughby. The book also has a scene set at Cremorne, one of London's fabulous outdoor pleasure gardens that were respectable in the day and riotously licentious after dusk.

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