The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife And The Missing Corpse: An Extraordinary Edwardian Case of Deception and Intrigue
Piu Eatwell

The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife And The Missing Corpse: An Extraordinary Edwardian Case of Deception and Intrigue

In 1898, a little old lady stunned the Ecclesiastical Court of London with an extraordinary request.  Anna Maria Druce, an ex-governess, claimed that her deceased father-in-law - one T.C. Druce, a successful Victorian businessman and furniture seller in Baker Street - had in fact been no less than the late 5thDuke of Portland, and therefore one of the richest men in the country.  Her case was that the Duke spent six months of the year disguised as her father-in-law in Baker Street. Her application to the court was for his tomb to be opened, to prove that it contained no body, but just lead. 

Mrs Druce was helped in her case by the extremely reclusive character of the 5th Duke of Portland, one of the last and greatest of English aristocratic eccentrics.  Known as a “burrowing duke”, the 5th Duke had a complete aversion to being seen by any person, a phobia that led him to excavate a warren of subterranean rooms connected by tunnels under his sprawling estate at Welbeck Abbey, stretching over several miles.

The legal battle between warring factions of the Druce family over the exhumation of T.C. Druce’s grave was to occupy various courts in London over the next ten years, becoming one of the most notorious trials in Edwardian England.  The issues in the case - double lives, secret goings-on behind closed doors, children whose true parentage was concealed or falsified - opened up the dark recesses of late Victorian and Edwardian society.  A repressed or hidden double life was an obsession of the time, represented figuratively in the literature (the double life of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the lunatic asylums of the novels of Wilkie Collins), real life (the secret mistresses and hidden families of many "respectable" public figures), and the nascent science of Freudian psychoanalysis which was beginning to attempt to rationalise the feverish nightmares of the age with scientific discipline.  When the order to open the grave was finally made in 1908 – ten years after the original litigation had started – nobody knew what to expect.  All that was certain was that the case had held a deeply unflattering mirror up to the duplicitous times.  Was Druce the Duke?  More importantly, were the Edwardians all that they presented themselves to be?

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Book Details:

  • Author: Piu Eatwell
  • On Submission
  • Rights Sold
    • UK: Head of Zeus
    • US: Norton

Piu Eatwell

Piu Eatwell is based in Paris, France.  She writes historical true crime as well as books about her adopted home country. Piu was born in India, of mixed Anglo-Indian descent. She studied English at Oxford University, graduating ‘summa cum laude’ with a starred First Class degree, ranked 4th out of all students taking the final examination. As an undergraduate at Oxford, Piu won a scholarship and was awarded the Skeat-Whitfield Essay Prize, for an essay on the work of the eighteenth century English writer, Laurence Sterne.  She subsequently worked as a lawyer and tele...
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Book Reviews

  • "...a lively account of the light shone through these embarrassing proceedings on the lies, deceit and hypocrisy of Victorian society and their tragic consequences."
    Times
  • "A brilliant forensic analysis of the intriguing Druce case, and wonderfully revealing of the many layers beneath Victorian respectability."
    Mr Justice Haddon-Cave, judge on Richard III re-internment case.
  • "If only the book was to continue as I never really wanted the ending to come and found myself wanting to know more and more in what is an extraordinary, compelling but complex piece of work by Piu Marie Eatwell who deserves to be congratulated on bring this to the reader. Anyone who reads this and enjoys history will not be disappointed. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED "
    Last Word
  • "The rigorous research is the book’s strength. Eatwell often digresses to insert background, enriching the narrative with juicy details from the time period, or to note other sensational cases (both George Eliot and Charles Dickens were involved in double lives, for instance), positing that the period’s restrictive social mores often forced people into scandalous situations."
    Publishers Weekly
  • "We can't recommend this title enough... reminiscent of sitting through a wonderfully vivid lecture by someone well-informed and excited to discuss the subject."
    All About History
  • "An utterly enthralling story and a light on the underside of Victorian and Edwardian life."
    The Bookseller
  • "Eatwell has undertaken a mountain of research, yet although her story is factual there is much artistry in the telling."
    Historical Novel Society
  • "a wonderful, intriguing account …which cuts straight to the heart of the deceit and hypocrisy of genteel Victorian society.… a lively and well-researched treat for fans of real-life historical mysteries ."
    Family Tree Magazine
  • "BBC documentary producer Eatwell (They Eat Horses, Don’t They: The Truth About the French, 2014, etc.) brings her skills as a researcher and training as a lawyer to this engrossing tale of mystery, lies, and intrigue…. cliffhanging narrative. Each chapter ends with a question unresolved, a discovery soon to be made, or a character (there are more than 40) gasping in disbelief. Besides recounting years of subterfuge, media hype, greed, and fraud, Eatwell throws light on Victorian and Edwardian society: aristocratic entitlement and power, numbing poverty, political corruption, and many secret lives. "
    Kirkus
  • "The Druce-Portland case gripped Edwardian England, and you can see why. An eccentric Duke, a mysterious claimant to the title, a long legal battle to open a grave in pursuit of a huge fortune - it's a thoroughly engrossing story, in the best traditions of Mr Whicher."
    Nicholas Best, author of ‘Tennis and the Masai’ and ‘Five Days that Shocked the World.’
  • "A superb unraveling of a sensational mystery – and an absolutely gripping read."
    David King, bestselling author of ‘Death in the City of Light’
  • "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."
    US Library Journal, Editor’s Picks.
  • "The story of the Duke of Portland and his fortune makes compelling reading."
    M.J. Trow, author of the ‘Inspector Lestrade’ detective series
  • "A juicy narrative history packed with revelations about unsavory goings-on among the upper classes in late Victorian England. "
    Boston Globe
  • "A riveting true crime from yesteryear."
    Better Homes & Gardens
  • "delicious, dishy true tale of intrigue.. Eatwell, a BBC producer, unfolds the story like a classic mystery (it’s a genuine page-turner), but also provides a wealth of context in which to understand it.  "
    Boston Gobe
  • "As the best books in this genre do, Eatwell’s narrative expands to give us a broad view of the cultural and social circumstances existing in England in the late 19th and early 20th centuries... well-researched, engrossing  Somebody get Tim Burton on the phone. I think I have his next film project here."
    Los Angeles Review of Books