The Library of Nineteenth-Century Photography

Sir Charles Dilke

Sir Charles Dilke

A carte-de-visite portrait of Sir Charles Wentworth Dilke (1843-1911).

A remarkable figure in the pantheon of Victorian radicalism, Dilke gained office as the Liberal MP for Chelsea. Disraeli called him the 'most useful and influential' politician of his generation. He was regarded by most of his contemporaries as a likely successor to Gladstone and a probable future Prime Minister, but his political career was ruined when he was exposed as an adulterer in a sensational divorce case of 1886.

There were, in fact, two related cases. In the first, Dilke was named as co-respondent when fellow MP Donald Crawford sued to divorce his wife, Virginia Crawford. The second, and more sensational, trial took place when, at Dilke’s request, the Queen’s Proctor intervened to show reason why the divorce decree granted to Crawford should not be made absolute. Subjected to rigorous cross-examination by Henry Matthews, one of the leading advocates of the day, Dilke performed badly on the stand and failed to clear his name. Mrs Crawford, on the other hand, was never properly cross-examined regarding her allegations of three-in-a-bed sex romps involving Dilke’s maid. Many today believe that Dilke was indeed innocent. It is possible that he was the victim of a political conspiracy; it has also been suggested that Mrs Crawford was displacing her extra-marital activities to protect her real lover.

Further reading: Sir Charles Dilke: A Victorian Tragedy by Roy Jenkins (1958) and The Lost Prime Minister: A Life of Sir Charles Dilke by David Nicholls (1995).

Photographed by the London Stereoscopic and Photographic Company.


Code: 125758
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