Feb 062016
Steel Helmet, Brodie MKI (Lancashire Fusiliers)© IWM (UNI 12606)

Steel Helmet, Brodie MKI (Lancashire Fusiliers) © IWM (UNI 12606)

A while back, when browsing old issues of The Times from 1919, I came across a fascinating case that I felt compelled to share with you, because it’s very much a testament of its time.

Colonel Rutherford had served as a medical officer at the Western Front with during most of the war. He had been commended for gallantry and mentioned in despatches and all that sort of malarky. His fellow officers later testified that he was usually easy-going, able and very gallant, but that he also suffered from brief spells of extremely violent temper, triggered by tiny things, during which he would react and speak in ways not appropriate for an officer. These spells were short and afterwards he seemed quite dazed and tired and appeared not to remember them.

He had been married since 1902 and had several children. An old friend from university testified about how during his engagement he had, on at least one occasion, displayed irrational and violent jealousy because his future wife had taken a walk with said friend. This friend said that over the years he’d known him, he had witnessed in him a downward spiral of melancholia and continually sinking spirits.

During the course of his work, Colonel Rutherford developed a condition that resulted in extreme skin reactions that were quite, quite painful. Partly because of that, he suffered from acute insomnia for most of the war. His fellow officers and his batman attested to him being depressed and even speaking about killing himself. His wife had showed a letter he’d sent her to an old friend, who described it completely incoherent and full of mad scribblings that did not make sense.

Due to his medical problems, he was sent home in 1917 and got a cushy government post. However, he then quit that position and applied to be sent back to France. An acquaintance thought this very odd, and found him quite queer when they spoke, but surmised that the whole thing was due to financial or domestic problems.

Upon his return to France, he was kicked in the head during a rugby game and was unconscious for some time and suffered a brief loss of memory. By all accounts he was under extreme strain due to his work at the front. His wife wrote to him in very warm tones about her love and forgiving him for something in the summer of 1918, but in September, something had clearly happened because she expressed that she had “gone through hell in the last week” because of his mistreatment of her and that, because of it, there was not “an atom” of love for him left in her (the later divorce proceedings seem to imply he’d been unfaithful to her). She told him that she had been advised to get a divorce, but was willing to let him have custody of the three oldest children. After the Armistice, he told his brother: “I am sorry the war is over. I had hoped to be killed in France.”

He returned home in Jan 1919, and there are several accounts of him dragging his wife into a room and locking the door while she called for the maid. There had been evidence of extreme jealousy earlier; apparently, at some point, he had gone berserk and destroyed all the pictures of other men in the house he had been able to find. In anticipation of his return, his wife had ordered the maid to hide two pictures of Major Miles Seton, a family friend and former colleague of  Colonel Rutherford’s who was godfather to their youngest child. At the same time, Colonel Rutherford was described as spending most of his time since his coming home with his children and he was apparently very good to them.

Then one night, after the delivery of a letter from Major Seton to Mrs Rutherford, Colonel Rutherford set out on the town. He stopped at a messenger office and got the address for Sir Malcolm Seton where Major Seton was staying.

A photo of Sir Malcolm Seton’s house in Holland Park.

Sir Malcolm, his wife and his cousin, the Major, were seated in the smoking room when Colonel Rutherford called on them, and Major Seton went to speak with him alone in another room. After about 10 or 15 minutes, they heard crackling noises. Sir Malcolm and lady Seton rushed to see what it was and found Major Seton shot (the body would later be examined and found to contain 14 entry and exit wounds altogether, the result of 6 or 8 bullets).
Lady Seton exclaimed: “You have killed Miles” to which Colonel Rutherford replied “Yes, I only wish I had a bullet for myself.” Sir Malcolm said he appeared rigid and curiously calm (the word ‘dazed’ was suggested) and as if the situation was only gradually dawning on him.

Sir Malcolm rushed out to find a doctor and the police, while Lady Seton remained with the dead or dying Major and the Colonel, who burned a letter, presumably the one from Seton to his wife. When the doctor and the police arrived, Colonel Rutherford went downstairs to admit them. He was asked if he had shot Major Seton which he affirmed. He then asked for his hat and walking stick and to be allowed to send a message to his wife. It read: “I am sorry. An awful thing has happened. Seton is dead.”

A photo of the inquest can be found here.

He was later examined by several doctors, several of which were specialists in mental disorders. According to these, he only gave as reason for the act that he thought Seton had a bad influence on his children. The only example of this he could give was that one son had talked about big game hunting in Africa which he did not approve of. When asked why he’d shot Major Seton so many times he said he hated to see things wounded. Later during his trial, he seemed confused about the whole thing and said it felt like it had happened to someone else. According to the experts he was not fit to plead due to insanity.

The jury found him “guilty, but insane” which meant he was admitted to Broadmoor and not hanged.
His wife tried to obtain a divorce, but murder and insanity were not considered to be sufficient grounds as the law then stood. Lord Birkenhead commented on the case that

To some this may appear a harsh and even an inhumane result, but such, my lords, is the law of England.

She was finally granted a legal separation in 1922 and eventually (following a new Parliamentary Divorce Act) obtained a divorce from her husband in 1938 on the grounds of cruelty, the suit being undefended. She later remarried and lived to be 100 years old.

During his time at Broadmoor, Colonel Rutherford wrote a book entitled An Outline History of the Great War together with (non-inmates) Gordon Vero Carey and Hugh Sumner Scott, which was published with Rutherford as an anonymous contributor. After publication, Scott sent it to the Home Secretary Sir William Joynson-Hicks, ‘with a covering letter describing fully Rutherford’s part in its production’, after which Rutherford was released quietly from Broadmoor. After his release, he was reinstated to the Medical Register but mostly lived and worked abroad, among other places in Vienna and Persia.

He died in South Africa in 1951, and asked to be buried with his tin hat from the trenches.

Sources: The account of the actual crime is mostly based on articles describing the trial in The Times while the account of the later life of the Rutherfords is based on information found by the clever application of Google Fu, most especially here:

Jan 272016

Having carefully studied the criminal gangs of the first three decades of 20th century Britain, I would like to pass on some useful things I learned, in case you… You know, get stuck in the TARDIS and find you’ve travelled back to 1919 and your only hope of survival is to join a gang in Camden.

These things do happen, you know. Or could happen. Maybe.

A selection of tough boys in 1919, including Billy Kimber, the McDonalds and the Sabinis, on an outing to Hammersmith.

Continue reading »

Jan 212015

I think a lot of people may have seen Susan Higginbotham’s Tudor Cosmo girls. I thought they were really funny so I decided to try my hand at making a few Stuart ones.

Cosmo Frances Howard edition

For those not entirely familiar with Frances and her fascinating story, I offer you these links, plus a brief explanation.

She was the daughter of the Earl of Suffolk and initially married the Earl of Essex (son of Elizabeth’s favourite). However, the marriage was a failure and was never consummated (both parties seem to haveagreed on that), and after a few years divorce proceedings were initiated (separation was much easier but then they would technically still be married and not able to remarry and Essex would be unable to ever get an heir). One of the few grounds for divorce was impotence, but in order for both parties to be able to remarry, Essex’s impotence had to be specific – they had to claim he could perform with other women, just not with Frances.

She had meanwhile fallen in love with Robert Carr, James’s current favourite and wanted to marry him. One obstacle was the fact that his best friend, Sir Thomas Overbury (who some experts claim is really the sitter in the most famous portrait others claim to be of William Shakespeare), hated her and tried to sabotage the relationship. He was imprisoned in the Tower on trumped up charges where he died.

A few years later stories surfaced about how Overbury had been poisoned by Frances (one of the more piquant details in the drama was Frances’s addiction to astrology and witchcraft and her reliance on the infamous necromancer Simon Forman), and it was claimed that “letters” was used as a code word for poison. She and her husband were convicted for the murder and, after a few years in the Tower, exiled to the country, where she died a few years later of uterine cancer, just 42 years old.

Earlier: the Anne of Denmark issue

Aug 232014

On 23rd August, 1628, the Duke of Buckingham, King Charles’s closest friend and most trusted political ally, as well as the least popular man in England, was stabbed to death in Portsmouth by a man called Felton.

George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham by Peter Paul Rubens, 1625

Continue reading »

Jul 102014
Frances, Countess of Somerset studio of William Larkin oil on panel, feigned oval, circa 1615 NPG 1955 © National Portrait Gallery, London, used here under a Creative Commons license

Frances, Countess of Somerset studio of William Larkin oil on panel, feigned oval, circa 1615
NPG 1955 © National Portrait Gallery, London, used here under a Creative Commons license

Originally Frances Howard; later married Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex and was Frances, Countess of Essex (usually signing herself Frances Essex) between1604-13; later married Robert Carr, the Earl of Somerset and was Frances, Countess of Somerset.

In contemporary documents, her first husband is quoted as referring to her as “Frankie” and her father as “Frank”.

Born: 1590
Died: 1632

Lord Thomas Howard, later Earl of Sussex
Catherine Knyvet (his second wife)

Theophilus Howard, 2nd Earl of Suffolk
Elizabeth Howard
Robert Howard
Gertrude Howard
Sir William Howard
Catherine Howard
Thomas Howard, 1st Earl of Berkshire
Emily Howard
Frances Howard
Sir Charles Howard
Henry Howard
John Howard
Edward Howard, 1st Baron Howard of Escrick
Margaret Howard

Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex (divorced) 1604-1613;
Robert Carr, 1st Earl of Somerset 1613-death

Anne Carr, Countess of Bedford

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Mar 032014


Name: Born Anne Norton; married Anne Turner

Born: 1576

Died: 1615

Parents: Thomas Norton of Hinxton, Cambridgeshire; Margaret Norton

Siblings:10 (?)

Husbands: Dr. George Turner

Children: 3 unnamed (by her lover Sir Arthur Mainwaring)

Unsure if she had any by Dr. Turner?

_____________________________________________________ Continue reading »

Oct 072013

Yngsjö is a small and rather insignificant municipality in the southernmost county of Sweden. It’s the sort of place most people wouldn’t have heard of unless it had been the centre of one of the most publicised murders in the history of Sweden.Anna_Månsdotter

Where it all began is debatable, but a good starting point for the story seems to be the marriage of one Anna Månsdotter to a Nils Nilsson, 13 years her senior, around 1860. It seems that it was very much a marriage of convenience rather than infatuation. Anna had counted on a financially stable and secure future, but instead, they ended up poor and debt-ridden. The relationship between husband and wife was strained, and Anna sought comfort in their son Per, the only of her three children to survive into adulthood. Continue reading »

Oct 162012
Wilhelm Voigt at his arrest

Wilhelm Voigt at his arrest

In October, 1906, Wilhelm Voigt, aged 57, was down on his luck. He’d first been convicted of theft at age 14, and had since then managed a rather impressive career of thievery and forgery. In February of 1906, he’d been released after a 15 year long sentence for having broken into the building of the Court of Justice at Wongrowitz, in Posen, and stolen the money box. It would later be noted by the judicial authorities that the sentence had been “excessively heavy and to have been imposed after a somewhat irregular trial.”[1]

Continue reading »

Jun 202011
Axel von Fersen

Axel von Fersen by Carl von Breda, ca 1800. He is wearing his Swedish robes of state as well as the collar of the Royal Order of the Seraphim and of a Commander Grand Cross of the Order of the Sword.

The Swedish Count Axel von Fersen, who died on June 20, 1810, lived an extraordinary life. He took part in the American Revolutionary War – among other things he served as an interpreter between Washington and the French and he excelled at Yorktown – and he served as a diplomat as well as a leading Swedish statesman. Axel’s main claim to fame, however, is his intimate friendship with Marie Antoinette. Continue reading »

May 252011


It’s October 8, 1760, and David Morgan, William Dupuy and Ralph Wayne are up to no good.

They don’t look like fearsome criminals at first glance. Wayne is only 16 and described by witnesses as short and slender. Dupuy is not yet 24, and a native of Hampshire though of French descent. He was entered as a volunteer aboard a man-of-war when he was only eight years and served as a sailor for several years before disembarking to a life of petty crime. During the sad aftermath of their adventure, he will be described as “giddy, trifling, and boyish.” Morgan is an unknown entity, but from the general account, I’m assuming he is about Dupuy’s age or a little older. Somehow I get the feeling that he’s pretty much the leader of the group. The cool kid, if you know what I mean. The kind who draws people to him. Continue reading »