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Ep 148 - Halloween - The gruesome story of Joseph Sellis


Cartoon by Cruikshank 1810

The distressing scene of an attack on the Duke of Cumberland, depicted by Cruikshank as " The blessed effects of preferring foreign servants to our own country men." As ever with Cruikshank there seems to be more than one issue being attacked in the cartoon. For us it's an image that might help us imagine the events at St James's Palace as one Joseph Sellis attacked the Duke. Or did he?


Ernest Augustus in an 1823 miniature based on an 1802 portrait by William Beechey

First things first - here's the Duke. Fifth son of George III and later King of Hanover. Not a particularly popular man. There's an array of portraits of him through his life. This one has the least exciting hair.


The young Ernest Augustus by Thomas Gainsborough, 1782

Can we also have a look at this early portrait by Gainsborough? How would we describe his haircut here? Could we, almost, call it a mullet????





St James's Palace North Front by Charles Wild 1819

St James's Palace, the picture is from 1819. Nine years earlier, on the 31st May 1810 the then Duke of Cumberland was attacked in his room. How seriously? Well, have a listen and decide for yourselves. For sure we can say that someone else in the palace was more seriously hurt. Fatally hurt. Joseph Sellis, the Duke's Valet was found in his rooms with his throat cut. The all important question, did someone attack the Duke and kill Sellis? Or did Sellis attack the Duke and commit suicide? When you just hear the headlines, I know which one of those seems more likely to me. But, the story is never that simple. Especially when there's royalty involved. Is there a scandal? Gosh yes. Is there a cover up? Maybe. Were there curious visitors allowed into the palace to see the murder scene? What do you think?


Another Cruikshank cartoon to finish with.

In 1815 The Duke was once again in the news, this time political. He's shown here being blasted by a cannon wearing the hat and wig of the speaker of the House of Commons. But look to the right, who's that lurking on the path? Our friend Sellis. Clutching a cut throat razor and saying "Is this a razor which I see before me. Thou can'st not say, I did it." So even 5 years later the ghost of the scandal is still haunting the Duke. And the ghost of Sellis? still haunting St James's Palace to this day.


Some prints of this cartoon have Sellis almost blacked out. You can see one, and read a transcript of the what Lord Cochane (firing the cannon) is saying here:


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