It was the spiciest scandal of the mid-Victorian era.
The beautiful, petite Lady Florence Paget, known as the ‘Pocket Venus’, was to be married to Henry Chaplin, the Squire of the Blankney estate, near Sleaford. But on the eve of the wedding, she ran off with the Marquis of Hastings.
The story of the men’s rivalry is told in Paul Mathieu’s new book Duel, available through independent bookshops at £20 and at https://shop1.racingpost.com.
Chaplin and Hastings were chalk and cheese. Chaplin was handsome, imposing, a friend of Royalty; it was said he lent Blankney Hall to the Prince of Wales for discreet assignments.
Harry Hastings was dissolute, unhealthy and addicted to reckless betting on his string of racehorses – which gave Chaplin the cue for retaliation. He spent heavily on expensive young bloodstock. Hastings was fixated with winning the Derby. Chaplin intended to thwart him.
The two men’s feud reached its climax in the Derby of 1867. Chaplin had a runner, Hermit, which Hastings decided to bet against, heavily and for months before the race. His total liabilities amounted to over £10 million in today’s money. His boldness seemed to have been rewarded when Hermit was injured shortly before the big race, but the horse recovered – and won.
That was the end of the duel between Henry Chaplin and Harry Hastings.
The Squire of Blankney would serve his country with distinction – he was an MP for over 30 years, mostly for Lincolnshire constituencies, and held Ministerial responsibility for Agriculture. Hastings was dead a year later, his possessions in hock to money lenders.
Duel will be published on Friday, August 24.