Anne Agnes Willoughby in riding habit, 1860s
Agnes Willoughby (Mrs Windham): The enquiry held in London in 1861 into the state of mind of William Frederick Windham, heir to the Felbrigg estate, was a mid-Victorian sensation that enthralled the British publics for months.
Windham inherited the Felbrigg estate, worth £4,000 a year, at the age of twenty-one, together with the prospect of other estates worth a further £12,000 when he should reach the age of twenty-eight. In the event that he died without issue, the estates were all entailed to his uncle, General Windham.
Young Windham immediately proceeded to run up enormous debts which had to be settled out of the property. Then he married Agnes Willoughby, a notorious courtesan, and made on her a preposterous settlement. His new wife had been the mistress of the tenor Antonio Giuligni – indeed, she soon returned to him – and another of her lovers, a timber merchant known as ‘Mahogany’ Roberts, had maintained her in a house on Piccadilly. Windham next arranged for a deed that barred the entail, preventing his uncle from succeeding to anything. However, if the General could prove his nephew was of unsound mind, then all – the marriage, the marriage settlement, the barred entail – would be null and void, so he instigated proceedings for the young Windham to appear before a Commission de Lunatico Inquirendo.
The subject was debated throughout England. At the outset, many held that young Windham’s conduct had been so odd that the enquiry had become a public duty. Others, however, pointed out that it was only since the marriage, and the likelihood of an heir, that the General had become concerned about his nephew’s state of mind, and that it was his intention to get him locked away in a madhouse so that his own sons might inherit the property one day.
Windham was certainly eccentric, to say the least. Obsessed with railways, he had befriended railway porters and engine drivers and, lavishly tipped, these ‘low’ associates allowed him to play with real trains. In London, he would dress up in policeman’s uniform and harass the prostitutes in Haymarket and the courtesans on Rotten Row. His obsession with Agnes Willoughby was all-consuming, even though she was flagrantly milking him for all he was worth, and had even installed her pimp, Roberts, at Felrigg Hall, where he was trying to dupe his host out of all the timber on the estate.
The enquiry opened on 16 December 1861. After numerous sittings, Windham was eventually judged ‘a man of sound mind,’ although his application for costs was rejected. For the privilege of having his deplorable private life exposed in the courts and the British public for a month and a half, Windham was obliged to pay £20,000. His expensive pastimes unabated, he was eventually forced to declare bankruptcy and sell Felbrigg Hall. His behavior became more and more eccentric and he descended into penury. After a spell working as a driver on the Norwich to Cromer coach, he was reduced to lodging in a pot-house, living on an allowance of £1 a week from the General. By 1866, he had drunk himself to death. Although they had supported him at the time, the press wondered how ‘a British jury could have been led into the insane belief that Mr Windham possessed a sound mind.’
[The above is much-shortened version of a wonderful account of the extraordinary scandal entitled Mr and Mrs Windham. Written in 1951 by Donald MacAndrew, it is available in full on the Internet]
Anne Agnes Willoughby, Mrs William Frederick Windham, ca. 1860s
Anne Agnes was the wife of Mad Windham. Their son Frederick Howe Lindsey Bacon Windham was born in 1864. Another photo of Anne Agnes below, ca. 1870s:
The book ‘Felbrigg: The story of a house‘ by R.W. Ketton-Kremer tells about the life of William Frederick Windham. Briefly it states that he married an Agnes Willoughby ‘one of a group of accomplished women kept by rich men’. It was said that she was the daughter of a clergyman called Rogers (William Rogers, Esq., of Basingstoke, Hants.). She lived in a handsome house in Piccadilly which was maintained by a man in the timber trade ‘Mahogany Roberts’.
A few months after their marriage (and after a lengthy case trying to prove William as insane) Agnes left Felbrigg and was next heard of again in Ireland with a former lover, an opera singer called Guiglini. She went back later, in 1862, when William started divorce proceedings only to drop them and forgive her. They had a son on 19th April 1864 who was christened Frederick Howe Lindsey Bacon Windham. Agnes married later another man called George Walker.
Her maiden name was Agnes Anne Rogers, born ca. 1840-died ca. 1896, aged about 56. She married William Frederick Windham on 30th August 1861 in St. John’s Wood, Middlesex, England. Their son Frederick Lindsey Bacon Windham was born 19th of April 1864 in Upper Westbourne Terrace, London. He died in 1896 aged 32.
The only son of William Howe Windham and Sophia Hervey, daughter of the 1st Marquis of Bristol was born in 1840, and was something of an odd child. Christened William Frederick, he acquired the name of ‘Mad Windham’ in the merciless climate of Victorian Eton. He was certainly distinctly odd and was further handicapped by his upbringing.
The sitter of the above painting was the penultimate Windham of Felbrigg. He inherited an estate which was heavily in debt from his father, and a rogue Hervey gene from his mother (the family was notoriously eccentric). His mother left him to his own devices when she became infatuated with the son of an Italian opera singer half her age, and with whom she absconded to Torquay. In spite of his family’s best attempts, ‘Mad Windham’ avoided being declared a lunatic. Ultimately he was forced to sell Felbrigg and ended up as an ‘Express’ coach-driver. The estate was bought by John Ketton in 1863, which prompted one wit to observe that ‘Windham is gone to the dogs. Felbrigg has gone to the Kittens’ [Ketton had changed his name from Kitton in 1853].
Something of an odd child, he acquired the name of ‘Mad Windham’ in the merciless climate of Victorian Eton. His passion for uniform was encouraged in his early years when his parents gave him a suit of blue and red livery, which the Felbrigg servants had worn since Ashe’s day, and allowed him to wait at table. As he grew up he became interested in trains and, having acquired a guard’s uniform, could be found on the platforms of local stations causing chaos with unauthorised whistle blasts. On coming of age in 1861 he made his way to London where he dressed up as policemen and patrolled the Haymarket, rounding up the dubious women who poured out of the pubs at closing time.
In the same year, on a visit to Ascot, he fell into the clutches of Agnes Willoughby, a glamorous kept woman whose protector, the timber contractor known as ‘mahogany Roberts’ was soon to take an unhealthy interest in the Felbrigg woods. Agnes was a striking figure who sported a scarlet riding mantle at meetings of the Royal Buckhounds and was perpetually surrounded by crowds of admiring officers. Her blond hair and china doll complexion captivated Windham, as did the epithet ‘pretty horsebreaker’ which she and her kind attracted.
Windham assented to a very generous marriage settlement guaranteeing an income for Agnes. In an attempt to protect the estate, his uncle General Charles Windham brought a petition for De Lunatico Inquirendo, leading to a notorious inquiry which sat for 34 days hearing evidence from 140 witnesses. However, the case collapsed and Windham was declared sane. You can read more about this in the book ” A Scandal at Felbrigg” by Trevor Heaton. The marriage was short-lived and by 1863 Windham’s debts were completely out of control and the estate passed into the hands of his bankers.
Before his death in 1866, William Frederick remained a conspicuous figure in North Norfolk, buying a mail van which he had painted scarlet with the Windham arms, and driving it daily into Norwich for his letters. Then he became the owner/driver of a coach which travelled established routes, pinching the customers of other companies and giving them free trips until, after he had lost everything, he concluded with a spell as an increasingly erratic and dangerous driver of the express coach between Cromer and Norwich.
William Frederick Windham: Born an only child with a harelip, the heir to wealthy Felbrigg Hall in Norfolk endured a lonely and capricious upbringing. He developed an awkwardness of manner, and eccentricities – such as waiting at table, costumed in the Windham family livery. Later, he would dress as a railwayguard and work trains on the Eastern Counties Railway. His truculent father, William Howe Windham, died when he was aged only fourteen and his mother Lady Sophia, a daughter of the aristocratic Hervey family of Ickworth in Suffolk, remarried and consigned him to the care of various ill-suited, and sometimes brutal, “tutors”.
Unable to establish a rapport with suitable young women of his own class, Windham became fascinated with the “pretty horsebreaker” Agnes Willoughby while he was boarding in London. She was a low-born country girl who had risen rapidly to become a celebrated society courtesan by the age of twenty-one. She could be seen holding court from a fine carriage in Hyde Park, or viewing Italian opera from her own box. Though incredulous on first hearing it, Agnes eventually accepted Windham’s marriage proposal. It did, after all, offer her the long-term security of becoming the Lady of Felbrigg Hall.
The so-called pretty horsebreakers were celebrated society prostitutes who desported themselves at fashionable venues, vigorously competing with high-society “ladies” (and each other) in the opulence of their carriages and attire. Agnes Willoughby was one of these and Catherine Walters (or “Skittles”) was another. The “horsebreaker” name is supposed to have originated in such women riding majestic beasts in Hyde Park to advertise nearby livery stables.
In June 1861 the journalist and prankster Matthew James Higgins (who revelled in the pseudonym “Jacob Omnium”) launched a fake correspondence about them in The Times. His letter, under the heading “A Belgravian Lament”, purported to be a complaint from a society lady to the effect that her daughters could not find eligible young men to marry because these were much more interested in pretty horsebreakers, who did not expect marriage. It may well be that Higgins also authored the response, purporting to be from an eligible young heir calling himself “Primogenitus”, which confirmed that men like him did indeed prefer the company of pretty horsebreakers to the prospect of marrying boring well-brought-up Belgravian girls.
General Charles Ashe Windham: The military reputation of Windham’s Uncle Charles was made in the Crimean War when he was acclaimed “The Hero of the Redan”, but broken in the Indian Mutiny when his generalship was called into question. He tried, and failed, to stop his nephew’s marriage to Agnes Willoughby, which took place when William came into his inheritance on reaching twenty-one. He then sought to have his nephew delared mad by a Lunacy Commission, to invalidate his marriage and take control of Felbrigg from him. Many doubted the purity of the general’s motives, especially when he refused to be cross-examined at the trial.
Montague Chambers QC: Distinguished barrister Montague Chambers led the case against Windham, which was brought by the general and fourteen other aunts and uncles who barely knew their nephew. Windham’s mother, Lady Sophia, did not join in with the action but neither did she give evidence for her son. Chambers produced numerous witnesses who swore to the “supposed lunatic’s” undoubted peculiarities from childhood. Much of this was more comic than damning, but then he called some witnesses who swore to unspeakable doings on Windham’s part, including foul gluttony, murderous threats of violence, and indecent exposure.
Sir Hugh Cairns QC: Austere Ulsterman, and rising Conservative politician, Sir Hugh Cairns was engaged to lead for the defence. He deployed his formidable forensic and oratorial skills to the full, but the defence team tried the court’s patience by putting up an endless procession of trivial witnesses testifying to Windham’s sanity. Sir Hugh, later the first Earl Cairns, was afterwards twice Lord Chancellor and a prominent lieutenant of Benjamin Disraeli’s. He suffered a scandal of his own in 1884 when his son, Lord Garmoyle, was successfully sued for breach of promise to marry by the actress May Fortescue who won £10,000 in damages.
Samuel Warren QC: Coincidentally, the man who presided over the trial, “Master in Lunacy” Samuel Warren QC, had earlier written a novel entitled Ten Thousand a Year. Warren had authored other literary works, like Diary of a Late Physician, that were popular in their day but have not stood the test of time owing to their overwrought prose and simplistic moralising. Because Lunacy Commissions were so rarely contested, the “Masters” who tried them were not actual judges. Vain and vacilating, and lacking the experience to handle major proceedings conducted in the public eye, Warren allowed them to drown in a sea of irrelevancy.
Dr Forbes Benignus Winslow: Winslow was the principal “alienist”, or “mad-doctor” as psychiatric practitioners were then often known, put up against Windham. His testimony concerning what exactly he thought Windham was suffering from was a confused and incoherent finding of so-called “amentia” (“not downright idiocy, but something between idiocy and lunacy.”) The psychiatric case against Windham was strongly based upon the assertions that he was an imbecile and that his marriage to an “immoral woman” like Agnes Willoughby was compelling evidence of something called “moral insanity”. See Inconvenient People by Sarah Wise.
Dr Thomas Harrington Tuke: Dr Harrington Tuke was the leading defence medical witness. The defence experts in general characterised Windham as boysterous and immature, but disbelieved in the concepts of “amentia” (“an exploded term”) and “moral insanity”. They argued that no degree of simple eccentricity (such as a young nobleman choosing to act as a sweep and carry a soot-bag in the street) would amount to madness. This reflected a pronounced current of public opinion to the effect that Windham’s actions, however questionable, were his own business and that he should be free to marry whomsoever he wished.
Sir George Armytage: It fell to a “special jury” of twenty-three men of high social standing to decide the issue, of whom sporting Yorkshire baronet Sir George Armytage was elected Foreman. The frequently repetitive hearing became something of an endurance test for these gentlemen, straddling the Christmas of 1861 and lasting from 16th December to 28th January in cold and uncomfortable courtroom conditions. If their verdict went against Windham, then his freedom of action would be ended. The victors could then apply to the Court of Chancery for committees to be formed to supervise both his person and his property.