Scandal Involving the Duke of Cumberland, 1832

NOTE: When Thomas White and John Hepburn was hanged in 1811, following the prosecution of the Vere Street Coterie in 1810, among the concourse of people in the press-yard were Lord Sefton, Lord Yarmouth, and the Duke of Cumberland. A rumour was widely circulated concerning the Duke of Cumberland, son of George III and future King of Hanover. Late at night on 31 May 1810, Cumberland was allegedly awakened by someone attacking him with a sword, who then fled the room. Cumberlandís Italian servant Sellis was discovered dead in his room in Carlton House not far from Cumberlandís room, stretched out on the bed, partly undressed, with his throat cut. A pair of slippers with Sellisís name were found in a closet in the Dukeís bedroom. A coronerís jury concluded that Sellis had committed suicide after trying to assassinate Cumberland in a fit of madness. Cornelia Knight, companion to Princess Charlotte, recorded in her journal that "there were some circumstances that threw a doubt upon his guilt. The slippers were old, and the name written in them appeared to be in French, whereas Sellis was a Piedmontese, and there were reasons for supposing that it was a greater person who had counselled the crime." She noted that Sellis was left-handed, but the physician who examined his body said that a left-handed man could not have made the cut across his throat. She pondered the mystery that "The duke gave a pension to his Irish page, and dismissed him. This man had a brother who had a good appointment in Windsor Castle, and a family, but he resigned, and went away." The rumour, which she refrains from stating, was that Sellis had discovered Cumberland and his valet Neale (who was actually English) having sex together, and that Cumberland murdered Sellis to prevent him from talking. Cumberland then allegedly wounded himself and pretended he had been attacked by Sellis, and bribed Neale to disappear. A journalist who published this rumour in 1813 was sentenced to fifteen months in prison, and the case was still controversial twenty years later. In 1832 one Phillips republished the libel in the book Authentic Records of the Royal Family during the last 70 Years; he was brought to trial for libel on 25 June 1833, and found guilty and sentenced to six months in prison. The following is a newspaper report summarizing the libel trial of 1832. This is followed by the report of another suicide in the Duke's household, in October 1833.


EX-PARTE THE DUKE OF CUMBERLAND. – Sir CHARLES, WETHERELL applied to the Court for a rule to show cause why a Criminal Information should not be filed against a person of the name of J. Phillips, for the publication of a most gross, infamous, and scandalous libel, on an illustrious member of the Royal Family – his Royal Highness the Duke of Cumberland. This libel was contained in a publication entitled Authentic Records of the Court of England for the last 70 years. The book formed an octavo volume, of 394 pages, and purported to be printed at London, and published by J. Phillips, No. 334, Strand, 1832. From this publication the libellous matter, in respect of which he made this application to the Court, had been abstracted, & was set out in the affidavits which he had before him, and the substance of which he would state to their Lordships. That libellous matter commenced at page 93 of the book, and extended to page 106 of the same publication, forming, in the whole, about 12 or 13 pages of libel. The subject matter of this most atrocious and infamous libel was a charge against the Duke of Cumberland of having committed, or having intended or attempted to commit a detestable crime, or some other indecent and unnatural crime, or of having been guilty of some practice of an indecent nature, having some reference to the crime. This was the nature of the first part of the libel. The second part of the libellous matter was of this nature and descripion. It was represented that the illustrious person on whose behalf he made the present application had been deteced in the commission of the crime, or in a situation indicating an intention or design to commit the crime, or some other unnatural or indecent offence, by a person of the name of Sellis; and it was further represented, or insinuated, that his Royal Highness afterwards, in order to prevent the disclosure of the circumstance by Sellis, either himself murdered Sellis, or cause or procured him to be murdered, or was in some way accessary and privy to his murder, for the said purposes of getting rid of his evidence, and preventing his being a witness against him. These were the principal heads of the most nefarious, false, and scandalous libel; first, there was the imputation against his Illustrious Person, that he had committed the crime, or had intended and attempted to commit the crime, or some other indecent and unnatural offence; and the next there was the imputation that hs Royal Highness, in order to destroy the evidence of his guilt, had murdered this person of the name of Sellis, or had procured him to be murdered, or was accessary and privy to his murder. In the affidavit of the Duke of Cumerland, the libellous matter was extracted in extenso; and he must read some portio of it, in order to lay the formal foundation for the application; but he would avoid reading whatever should appear to be unnecessary and most offensive in the details. The introduction was in this words: – "The memorable year 1810 was ushered in under distressing and unsatisfactory circumstances." The libel then stated that an attempt had been made on the life of the Duke of Cumberland, and proceeded to say, that

"A short period before this dreadful catastrophe, the Duke had been surprised in an improper and unnatural situation with this Neale by the other servant, Sellis, and an exposure was expected. A brother of the Duke had also received accommodation in the same suitable apartments, and had by that act disqualified himself from any public expression upon the case, or opportunity to punish an aggressor. We presume that the following statement of the Cumberland stratagem may give energy to the mind and activit to the determinate resolution of our fellow-countrymen. We hope our efforts in the best of causes – truth – will be crowned with success; and trust, though we may pay the price of liberty, definable legacy to every child of humanity."

The meaning of "Cumberland stratagem," said Sir C. Wetherell, was undoubtedly in allusion to the supposed means by which Sellis was removed. But to proceed with another extract:–

"On the morning of the 1st of June an astounding communication was made by the daily Papers, that his Royal Highness had been surprised in the night, and that his life had been attempted by one of his valets, named Sellis. Many reports were circulated, and the general opinion was, that the Duke was the murderer. Of course the High Tory party took no small pains to propagate the opposite sentient, but the former was most generally believed, from the analogy of attending circumstances."

The publication then proceeded to state some other circumstances, with which it was unnecessary to trouble their Lordships, but afterwards he stated –

"The first account states, that early after midnight of May 31, an alarm was given by the Duke to his servants, by the Duke to his servants, by his screaming aloud 'Murder, murder!' that a valet, named Neale, was the first person who heard the Duke's cry, and ran to his assistance; he found his Royal Highness bleeding from wounds recently inflicted, and saying some person had attempted to murder him! Surgical assistance was immediately rendered, the wounds dressed, and the royal patient pronounced out of danger. The several apartments were searched, and in a room appropriated to the use of Sellis, a most awful spectacle presented itself. The body of this unfortunate man was lying on the bed, his throat cut, and life quite extinct. The report went on to state that it was believed Sellis had intended to murder his master, and then to rob him; but finding himself detected by the Duke being aroused before he had finished his deadly purpose, he hastily retired to his own room, where he committed the rash act of suicide, to prevent detection and consequent punishment. Afterwards the daily accounts spoke of the dreadfully wounded state of the Duke, and every expression was used to convey an idea of the murderous intentions of the deceased valet, and the improbability of the Duke being any blameable party in the transaction. The election of the Jury and the chosen evidence produced considerable disgust in many persons who were acquainted with the more private life and habits of the Duke."

The publication proceeded to state some of the private life and habits of the Duke, and that Sir Everard Home had proved that Sellis must have fallen by his own hand. It also proceeded to detail the Duke's cries for Sellis, the object of which was, no doubt, to imply that Sellis could not have been murdered, but must have fallen by his own hand. It then stated the position in which the body of Sellis was found in his bed, and proceeded as follows:–

"The wash basin was in the stand, but was half full of bloody water! Upon examining Sellis's cravat, it was found to be cut. The padding which he usually wore was covered with silk and quilted; but what was most remarkable, both the padding and the cravat were cut as if some person had made an attempt to cut the throat with the cravat on, then, finding the woollen or cotton stuffing to impede the razor, took it off in order more readily to effect the purpose."

This was evidently to show, from the position in which the body was found, that Sellis had been murdered. He then stated that certain proceedints had been adopted for the purpose of procuring an improper, unjust, and partial inquest to be held before the Coroner, and among other dramatis personae who were employed to procure that false inqust, an individual was, who could never be brought into notice, without, at the same time, recollecting the great legal and intellectual attainments which were attached to his character and conduct – he meant the then Lord Chief Justice of the Kingdom, & the first Coroner of the land, the late Lord Ellenborough. The statement regarding that inqust is given as the evidence which some supposed deponent could swear to, but who was not examined upon that inquest. The words were these:–

"That Lord Ellenborough undertook to manage this affair, by arranging the proceedings for the Inquest; and also, that every witness was previously examined by him; also that the first Jury, being unanimously dissatisfied with the evidence adduced, as they were not permitted to see the body in an undressed state, positively refused to return a verdict, in consequence of which they were dismissed, and a second Jury summoned and impanelled, to whom severally a special messenger had been sent, requesting their attendance, and each of whom was directly or indirectly connected with the Court of the Government; that on both Inquests the deponent had been omitted, and had not been called for to give his evidence, though it must have been known, from his personal attendance and situation upon the occasion, that he must necessarily have been a material witness. The second Jury soon returned a verdict agaisnt Sellis, and his body was immediately put into a shell, and conveyed a certain distance for interment. The Duke was privately removed from St. James's Palace to Carlton House."
          It then stated "that his Royal Highness went out daily in a sedan chair to Lord Ellenborough's."

It then summed up the various reasons why, as the publisher stated, the verdict should not have been murder, instead of felo de se, thereby insiuating that his Royal Highness either committed the murder himself, or procured its commission. These reason, which were six, are as follows:–

  1. "The very unusual request for additional arms in the bedroom of a Prince, without some reason given.
  2. "The absence of Neale during the whole of the examination of the Duke's wounds, yet he gave the alarm.
  3. "The situation of the body of Sellis, rendering it utterly impossible that he had fallen by his own hand.
  4. "The omission of the principal witness (the attendant) on the Jury.
  5. "The strange difference between the announced and the actual state of the Duke's health.
  6. "The refusal of a verdict by the first Jury, and the very ready compliance and concurrence of the second.

"We certainly feel sure that there was much mystery in the affair, and we ought to inquire from whence that mystery originated. Had it been the case of a poor man, he must have been hanged, & his body given for dissection, merely upon circumstantial evidence. But the son of a reigning Monarch has, by circumstantial evidence only, been acquitted."

The latter sentence constituting the conclusion to which this supposed deponent would lead people's minds to believe that this "Cumberland Stratagem," as it was called, had been so managed and procured by the aid of the Lord Chief Justice of England, that the Illustrious Duke had not been found guilty of murder, merely because he was the son of the reigning Monarch. Now, for the purpose of supporting the present application, he would call their Lordships' attention to the affidavit of his Royal Highness. There had been certainly for some time past various mysterious insinuations, and various modes adopted of assailing the character of the Illustrious Duke, which he might on many grounds be justified in allowing to pass unnoticed. To persons in different situations of life, many libels might be published which they might not think proper to repel, and which they might treat with utter scorn; but the present publication contained a charge so plain in its nature, composed so deliberately and so malignantly, and so industriously worked up for the purpose of scandalising a member of the Royal Family, and exhibiting in its title-page the words Authentic Records of the Court of England, that it was a duty incumbent upon his Royal Highness not to stand upon his own principles of honour and rectitude, but to come forward and meet the charge in a public Court. The affidavit of his Royal Highness stated that he had seen the publication in question, and that he believed that one object of the libel was, to charge him with the commission, or with the intent to commit an abominable offence with a person named Neale; that the whole and every part of that statement was a wicked, scandalous, and malicious falsehood; that he had never committed, nor had any intention or desire to commit that detestable offence with Neale or with any other person; and that he always held such and the like offences in the greatest indignation and abhorrence. His Royal Highness also, upon his oath, negatived the charge of having been detected with Neale by Sellis, or by any other person or persons whatsoever, and that the whole of the matter insinuated in the publication was utterly false and untrue. The next part of the affidavit related to the imputation that his Royal Highness had murdered, or cause to be procured the murder of Sellis. His Royal Highness deposed that in case Sellis did not die by his own hands, which he verily believed he did, he was not accessary to the death in any way whatever. On the contrary, he verily believed that Sellis did die by his own hands, as was found by the coroner;s inquest; that the proceedings of that inquest were duly, properly, and impartially conducted, and that he had no reason to believe that the verdict was not a just and honest verdict; also the insinuation that he was accessary or privy to the murder or death of Sellis, was a scandalous and malicious falsehood. The next affidavit to which he (Sir Charles Wetherell) would refer their Lordships not ony denied the charges imputed to his Royal Highness, but most circumstantially denied them. It was the affidavit of Cornelius Neale, with whom the detestable offence was alleged to have been committed, and with whom it was said in the publication that the Royal Duke had been detected in an indecent situation by Sellis. Neale deposed that he had read the libel; that in May, 1810, he was one of the valets to his Royal Highness the Duke of Cumberland, and was always called by the name of Neale, although his sirname was M'Neale; that he believed one objecct of the publication was to charge him with having committed, or intended to commit, a detestable offence with the Duke of Cumberland; that the whole of that statement was untrue and destitute of foundation; that he had never committed, nor had any intention or desire to commit such an offence with his Royal Highness, or with any person whatsoever; that it is false and untrue that he was ever surprised in an unnatural, indecent, or improper situation with the Duke of Cumberland by Sellis, or by any person whatsoever, and that the whole statement was false and unfounded. The next affidavit to which he would refer was that of the Coroner who held the Inquest on Sellis; and their Lordships would see that the whole statement in the publication regarding the Inquest contained the most abominable falsehoods, and must have emanated from a most malignant mind. The general representation in that publicaton respecting the Inquest was, that it was solely under the management and contrivance of the then Chief Justice, in order that the son of the Monarch might not be found guilty of murder, because he was the son of George the Third. The affidavit of Thos., Adams, the Coroner for the verge of the King's Palace of St. James, before whom the inquest on Sellis was held, in the year 1810, deposed that it was not true that Lord Ellenborough undertook to manage the affair, by arranging the proceedings of that inqust. He denied that any witness had been previously examined by Lord Ellenborough, or that the first Jury had been dismissed because of their refusal to return a verdict. He denied that each juryman was connected with the Government; that it was not true that any person was omitted as a witness, whose evidence was material to the investigation. He deposed that when Sellis died he was required to hold the inquest; that by the statute of the 23d of Henry VIII. it was provided, that in case of death happening in any of the King's Palaces and an inquest necessary to be held, the jury should be compossed of twelve yeomen and officers of the King's household; but, believing that it was important that the investigation should be conducted in the most impartial manner, he took upon himself to contermand the order, and assembled a Jury of persons who lived at a distance, and were wholly unconnected with the Palace of St. James; that his summoning officer applied to F. Place, of Charing-cross, Mercer, for the names of persons who were eligible to compose a Jury, & that out of such persons an impartial Jury, of which Francis Place was the Foreman, assembled on the 1st of June, 1810, to hold the inquest; that the Court was thrown open to the public, and all persons who chose were admitted without distinction, among whom were several Reporters, who took notes of the proceedings; that the whole of the depositions were taken by John Reid, the then Chief Magistrate of Police, and they were read over to the witnesses, who were severally asked if they had anything to add to them; that all the circumstances were most impartially scrutinized by the Jury, and every person was called who could give the slightest information respeccting the case; that the Jury went to the apartment where the body of Sellis was discovered, and carefully examined it, and all other circumstances touching Sellis's death; that he locked the doors of the apartment, and would not permit the position of the body to be disturbed until it was examined by the Jury; that the Jury unanimously returned a verdict that the deceased, Joseph Sellis, voluntarily and feloniously murdered himself; that the proceedings were in all respects regular, except that the Jury were not composed of yeomen and officers of the King's household; that the verdict was a just, true, and honest verdict; and that there was not the smallest ground to allege the contrary. Their Lordshiups would, therefore, perceive, that the imputed perversion of justice by managing the inquest, as stated in the publication, was wholly negatived by the Coroner. With regard to the other affidavits,, he would not trouble their Lordships at any great length, because they applied to the person from whom the book was procured. At the foot of the title page was "London, J. Phillips, 334, Strand." What the Christian name was – whether John, James, or Joseph – did not appear; but it was sufficient for the purpose of this motion, if the identity of the individual be established, which he conceived had been sufficiently done. (SOURCE: Morning Chronicle, Thursday, 19 April 1832; Issue 19546.)


On Tuesday a Coroner's Jury was impanelled at Mortlake, to inquire into the circumstances connected with the suicie of Henry Hampfeldt, aged 45, head butler to the Duke of Cumberland, who had been in the service of his Royal Highness nearly 20 years. His Royal Highness and other gentlemen of distinction were present at the investigation. It appeared from the evidence that the body was taken out of the Thames, near Kew bridge, on Sunday afternoon. On Saturday afternoon he was seen at his desk in the pantry, in Kew Palace, engaged in writing letters, and was observed for the last time about half past ten o'clock. Since he had known he was going to Germany with his Royal Highness, he had been low spirited, and was heard to say he would rather be in London than in Germany. – Previous to that he was in the habit of getting intoxicated, and on one occasion deceased and the steward, Ball, had a quarrel in consequence of deceased leaving the plate [i.e. the silver] unprotected, when he was overpowered by liquor, for which he rebuked him. There was no imputation on his character, except his propensity to drink. He had never been neard to say that he was disatisfied with his situation; on the contrary, he had said his Royal Highness was a good master, and would provide for him. One of the witnesses stated that o the Saturday deceased was in a very desponding state of mind, in consequence of the under-butler having received orders to accompany the plate to London, for the purpose of being packedup he thought they had lost confidence in him, and said it almost broke his heart. In connection with this, his Royal Highness stated, that in sending the under-butler to London with the plate, no slight was intended to the deceased; he told the steward he had better send the other man, as he should want the deceased to wait at table on Sunday; but it was evident he laboured under a false impression. On Sunday morning a letter was found in deceased's room addressed to the head-page, Franzillius, in which was inclosed the key of his writing-desk. The letter was produced and interpreted by the Rev. R. Jelf, preceptor to Prince George. From the style it evidently showed that he was in a disturbed state of mind at the time. It was as follows:– "Dear Franzillius, I beg you to announce to the world how far the tyrant has carried matters with me, after serving 20 years, and really like a slave. I can say with Mary Stuart, 'I was better than my reputation,'* [*From the German play of Mary Stuart, by Schiller.] and do not curse my soul." After desiring him to pay all his debts, &c. he says – "May all good men be heppy. God bless the good Prince George, so that he may soon recover his sight. I curse Cumberland and the old Ball (meaning the steward). Herewith I renounce the splendour of the world, for my soul is pure and blessed." On opening the writing-desk of deceased, Franzillius found receipts and money to the amount of £20; together with two letters, one addressed to his father, and the other to Hentze, the Duke's steward at Berlin. These letters were taken to his Royal Highness, and opened by the advice of the Rev. Mr. Jelf. The letter to his father was then read – it was as follows:– "My dear Father – Curse not thy son, who renounces the world in consequence of a slight; my master, the tyrant, whom the world hates, has terminated my life. Twenty years I have served him faithfully and honestly, and in truth have been his slave. – Embrace my brothers and sisters, and bless my soul, which is certainlky better than my reputation. My friend Hentze, in Berlin, servant to the Duke, has my papers and money – 3000 guilders in Polish bonds, and 1000 dollars in Prussian Exchequer bills. Baron Linsingen has placed for me in the Hanoverian Bank 400 dollars. There is in my writing desk £20; and my wardrobe. Your son, now no more – HENRY. Kew, Sept. 21." – The other letter was directed to the steward at Berlin:– "My faithful friend, these lines are the last. The slight of the Duke has brought me to this step, to put an end to my life. With trembling bleeding heart I write these lines. Pray take care that my effects left behind me and my mney may be conveyed to my poor family. My great chair has been for you, and the little library for your William. So far, then, a heart filled with honour can be enervated. You may curse me, but my soul is good and blessed. But after so manyyears such treatment! no one can bear it. Posterity must know it. Embrace your wife and kiss your children. May you remain happy. Your faitfhful friend, now no more – HENTRY." – In the course of the examination of the Duke of Cumberland, it appeared that Ball, the steward, had been in his service 35 yars, the porter 30 years, Franzillius the head page 20 years, and one died last year who was his Royal Highness's nurse, who had been with him 50 years. General Sir John Slade, 34 years equerry to H.R.H. deposed to the kindness shown by him to his household. The Jury expressed themselves perfectly satisfie,d and after a short deliberation, returned a verdict, "that deceased drowned himself, being at the time in a state of temporary derangement." – The inquest lasted 7 hours. (SOURCE: Belfast News-Letter, Tuesday, 1 October 1833)

CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (Ed.), "Scandal Involving the Duke of Cumberland, 1832", Homosexuality in Nineteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook, 27 May 2012 <>.

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