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Don't scare the sailors: in the June 1974 issue, Brinsley Ford explored the collecting career of the Earl-Bishop Frederick Hervey, whose eccentricities astonished 18th-century Italian society.

During the second half of the eighteenth century European Society was both shocked and amused by the eccentric, and sometimes outrageous, behaviour of Frederick Hervey, fourth Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry (1730-1803). William S. Childe Pemberton's life of The Earl-Bishop has long been very difficult to obtain, but we can now look forward with the liveliest anticipation to reading The Mitred Earl just published by Mr. Brian Fothergill, whose masterly biography of Sir William Hamilton has revealed in a very sympathetic light one of the most delightful men of his age. [...]

One of the most entertaining, if not the most reliable accounts of the Earl-Bishop in the last year of his life is that given by Miss Catherine Wilmot. Writing to her brother in April 1803, she says that Lord Bristol 'was the patron of all modern artists, whose wives he not only associates with as his only company, but has their pictures drawn as Venuses all over the House. His three favourite mistresses are beautifully represented as Juno, Minerva, and Venus in the Judgment of Paris.' She then goes on to describe his appearance, having often observed him either riding or driving past the windows of her hotel:

'His figure is little, and his face very sharp and wicked; on his head he wore a purple velvet night cap, with a tassel of gold dangling over his shoulder and a sort of mitre to the front; silk stockings and slippers of the same colour and a short round petticoat, such as Bishops wear, fringed with gold about his knees. A loose dressing gown of silk was then thrown about his shoulders. In this Merry Andrew trim he rode on horseback to the never-ending amazement of all Beholders! The last time I saw him, he was sitting in his carriage between two Italian women, dress'd in white Bed-gown and Night Cap like a witch, and giving himself the airs of an Adonis.'

When this was written the Earl-Bishop, who was aged seventy-six, had only a short time to live. Early in July when returning from Albano to Rome he was taken ill with gout in the stomach and was carded, according to Lord Cloncurry, 'to the out-house of a cottage in consequence of the unwillingness of peasants to admit a heretic prelate to die under their roof', and there he expired on 8 July, 1803. It is said that his obsequies in Rome were attended by 800 artists of every nationality, though it is difficult to imagine where they can have been held. Even in death that element of the bizarre and the unexpected which had characterized so much of the Earl-Bishop's earthly conduct attended his mortal remains. His body was conveyed from Naples to England on a man-of-war, and in order to remove the superstitions which a corpse would have aroused among the sailors it was packed and labelled as an antique statue.
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Author:Ford, Brinsley
Article Type:Reprint
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Nov 1, 2008
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