SEX SCANDALS AND MEDIA POWER
Sex scandals in high places are nothing new. In Georgian England, a series of sordid intrigues revealing the private lives of the aristocracy created a media frenzy. The press pounced on these juicy tales of sex, money and power, eager to cash-in on the public appetite for sensation, and expose the moral corruption of the establishment.
Facts and fictions were twisted into dramatic stories of infidelity that shocked the country, including Lord Grosvenor’s addiction to prostitutes, the Prime Minister’s five-year liaison with a notorious courtesan, and the love-life of dashing Lord Boringdon who was widely rumoured to be the real Mr Darcy – Jane Austen’s fictional hero.
The golden rule of adultery is ‘do not be found out’. Sexual misdemeanours are best kept as guilty secrets because, as unlucky aristocrats who became victims of the press discovered, public scandals have dreadful consequences. The flood of print about aristocratic adultery ultimately caused a national outcry, and raised serious questions about whether the nobility was fit to rule.
Dr Susan Law is a journalist, and historian specialising in the social history of 18th and 19th-century Britain. She is the author of Through the Keyhole. Sex, Scandal and the Secret Life of the Country House, and has written for a wide range of newspapers and magazines including The Times Higher Education Supplement, London Evening Standard and BBC History Magazine.