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  • Barbara Copperthwaite


"If it were a novel, people would say the storyline was too ridiculous"


The extraordinary story of the Druce-Portland affair, one of the most notorious, tangled and bizarre legal cases of the late Victorian and Edwardian eras.

In 1897 an elderly widow, Anna Maria Druce, made a strange request of the London Ecclesiastical Court: it was for the exhumation of the grave of her late father-in-law, T.C. Druce.

Behind her application lay a sensational claim: that Druce had been none other than the eccentric and massively wealthy 5th Duke of Portland, and that the - now dead - Duke had faked the death of his alter ego. When opened, Anna Maria contended, Druce's coffin would be found to be empty. And her children, therefore, were heirs to the Portland millions.

The legal case that followed would last for ten years. Its eventual outcome revealed a dark underbelly of lies lurking beneath the genteel facade of late Victorian England.


Bizarre is indeed a wonderful word to describe this tangled case. If it were a novel, people would say the storyline was too ridiculous; but of course truth so often is stranger than fiction. This is what makes history so absorbing - and why I can't get enough of it.

Lie upon lie is revealed in this thoroughly-researched and colourfully told tale of real Victorian legal wrangling. Nothing is as it seems, everyone has a reason to be dishonest, and it's incredibly hard to guess what is coming next.

Not only does the plot keep throwing twists and turns at you, the contemporary descriptions of some of the characters involved make them vividly come to life. One man was, apparently “not so much dry as desiccated” - wonderful!

At times the story is a little confusing, purely because of the volume of people involved – and the lack of truth on anyone’s part. But I found myself desperate to read on until the end, and discover just what on earth the real truth was about the dead duke, his secret wife, and the missing corpse. If you are a lover of real life mysteries such as The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, by Kate Summerscale, then you are sure to enjoy this.

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