The Library of Nineteenth-Century Photography

'Loulou' Harcourt

Lewis Vernon Harcourt

A carte-de-visite portrait of ‘Loulou’ Harcourt (1863-1922), later a Liberal politician who held the Cabinet post of Secretary of State for the Colonies from 1910 to 1915.

The only surviving son of politician Sir William Vernon Harcourt, his mother died a few days after his birth. He was originally christened Reginald Vernon Harcourt but was rechristened Lewis two months later when the statesman George Cornewall Lewis died. Throughout his life, however, he was widely known as ‘Loulou’.

Following his education at Eton, he followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather and entered politics, serving in Campbell-Bannerman’s Cabinet and twice in Asquith’s. He was First Commissioner of Works between 1905 and 1910, but the highest position in government he achieved was Secretary of State for the Colonies, a post he held between 1910 and 1915 under Asquith. He was raised to the peerage as Viscount Harcourt of Stanton Harcourt in 1917.

On 1 July 1899 he married Mary Ethel, daughter of the Anglo-American banker Walter Hayes Burns and through her mother a niece of the financier JP Morgan. The couple had four children.

A notorious sexual predator, Harcourt’s predilection for either gender was an open secret in society. Mothers warned their prettier children never to be alone in a taxi with him and at weekend house parties, the wise among the younger guests would have a servant sleep on the floor behind their bedroom door to block his ingress, in case he should decide to go wandering during the night. He attempted to seduce both Lord Esher’s son and his daughter, the latter later writing of him: ‘it is so tiresome that Loulou is such an old roué. He is as bad with boys as with girls ... he is simply a sex maniac. It isn't that he is in love. It is just ungovernable Sex desire for both sexes.’ When he made advances to a young Etonian (the twelve-year-old Edward James, later a great collector of surrealist art) the boy’s mother began to make the matter public. On 24 February 1922 Harcourt was found dead, aged 59, in his bedroom at 69 Brook Street, Mayfair, having taken an overdose of a sleeping draught. There were widespread rumours of suicide though the inquest returned a verdict of misadventure.

Photographed by Robert Boning of St Leonards-on-Sea in East Sussex.


Code: 126368
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© Paul Frecker 2019