|Rowing in The Lake in Central Park. 3:30 PM. Photo: JH.|
|Those millions of us who watched the PBS series “Brideshead Revisited” in the early 1980s recall with great fondness the bittersweet story of a British aristocratic family and its historic house “Brideshead” based on the classic novel by Evelyn Waugh.
Both the film and the TV series were shot in visually sumptuous locations, especially at Castle Howard, the fantastic 17th-century stately home of the Earls of Carlisle (the Howard family) designed by van Brugh who also had a great part in the design and building of Blenheim Palace, the country seat of the dukes of Marlborough (the Spencer-Churchill family).
|Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews, stars of the TV version of “Brideshead Revisited.”|
|The 12 hours of the series gave the producers and writers an opportunity to follow much of the Waugh novel with details that included even dialogue taken from the book, and to follow the complex and elaborate relationships of the family.
“Brideshead,” which was Waugh’s most popular novel, was inspired by his relationship with a real-life British family, the Lygons, (the Earls Beauchamp – pronounced Beech-um) who have occupied their ancestral, Madresfield Court for the past 1000 years (not a typo) and still do to this day.
Although the novel implies that Charles Ryder’s relationship with Sebastian had a homosexual subcontext, and indeed, it may have been so in real life with Waugh and Hugh Lygon, it was Hugh’s father (like Lord Marchmain in “Brideshead”) who was the center of the family problem/scandal that overshadowed the family’s well-being.
William Lygon, the 7th Earl, was also homosexual and had had a number of liaisons which were eventually brought to the attention of his brother-in-law (his wife’s brother), the 2nd Duke of Westminster, Hugh Grosvenor – England’s richest landowner (Belgravia).
|Homosexual acts in those merry olde days of yore, were considered criminal behavior and punishable by prison sentences. Westminster, who besides being homophobic as well as an arrogant prig also hated his brother-in-law from an ancient (unlike his) aristocratic family.
The duke, who was informally known as BendOr, took the matter all the way to Buckingham Palace. When King George V (grandfather of Queen Elizabeth II) was told by the duke that he could provide evidence of “criminal acts of indecency between his brother-in-law and a number of men,” the king is said to have responded “I thought men like that shot themselves.”
Nevertheless, the matter was considered so serious that three Knights of the Garter were disbursed by the King to call on the Earl – who was a friend of his, and also a Knight of the Garter – to urge him to resign all of his official posts (a member of the House of Lords) and to leave England that midnight!
|The Earl immediately informed two of his daughters – the only children who were in the house at the time -- of the matter. His plan was to depart immediately for Wiesbaden, Germany where he planned to commit suicide. However, through a series of interventions, first by his doctor and then by constant the companionship of his adoring children who took turns keeping him company, he was persuaded to live.
Six years later, not long after the death of King George V, Hugh Lygon – Evelyn Waugh’s great friend and the model for Sebastian in “Brideshead,” died from a fall where he hit his head. His father returned immediately to England, at the risk of being arrested, to be at his son’s side when he died three days later. The new king, George VI (Elizabeth’s father) was persuaded to drop the charges against the grieving father in 1937, six years after his exile, allowing him to remain in England and at Madresfield.
Waugh’s novel, fashioned on the family, took a more romantic version of the family’s great dramas, authentically portraying, however, the personalities who occupied by the 160-room “castle” (with moat) that the Lygons and their ancestors had owned (and never sold) for a millennium.
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