Monday, 26 November 2018

Around the World in Another 80 Gays: Part 33) An Enlightenment Triangle

Previously on “Another 80 Gays”: 67) Baron Friedrich von Steuben (1730-1794) suggested the throne of the newly independent USA should go to 68) Prince Heinrich von Hohenzollern of Prussia (1726-1802), the brother of 69) King Friedrich II the Great of Prussia (1712-1786), who fell in love with 70) Count Francesco Algarotti (1712-1764).

70) Count Francesco Algarotti was the same age as 69) King Friedrich II of Prussia and they first met when Friedrich was still a prince. They became lovers and when Friedrich became king he showered Algarotti with appointments and honours, including creating him a Prussian Count. Their relationship lasted for two years though they remained close for the rest of their lives.

Before arriving in Prussia Francesco Algarotti travelled all over Europe visiting many Enlightenment figures. One of his acquaintances was Voltaire, the French philosopher who would also later spend a lot of time at the court of King Friedrich. Voltaire gave Algarotti the nickname “The Swan of Padua” because of the way he seemed to glide from one city to the next.

When Algarotti, who had not yet met King Friedrich, arrived in London in 1736 he was a well-known writer, philosopher and scientist. He was in the process of writing a book called (in translation) “Newtonism for Women” on the theories of Sir Isaac newton. It wasn’t long before Algarotti was made a Fellow of the Royal Society.

Algarotti’s arrival at King Friedrich’s San Souci residence got him out of a love triangle in England. The woman involved was one of the most free-thinking intellectual women of her time, 71) Lady Mary Wortley-Montagu (1689-1762). For more information on Lady Mary go to my two articles on her Extraordinary Life.

The third person in this Enlightenment love triangle was 72) John Hervey, 2nd Baron Hervey (1696-1743). It was Voltaire who introduced Francesco Algarotti to Lord Hervey in Paris. Hervey was the son of the 1st Earl of Bristol and was elected a Member of Parliament in 1725. As heir to his father’s earldom he was known as Lord Hervey, one of his father’s junior titles. He wasn’t an actual peer of the realm because he was, basically, only “borrowing” the title until his father died. This is still customary in British peerages.

Lord Hervey was such an important member of the government that the Prime Minister of the day didn’t wait until the Earl of Bristol died before Lord Hervey could enter the House of Lords. So Lord Hervey was “accelerated” to the Lords as Lord Hervey in his own right. His father, the Earl of Bristol, relinquished his title of Lord Hervey to his son, and they sat in the House of Lords together. Lord Hervey, sadly, predeceased his father so never became Earl of Bristol.

Although married with 8 children Lord Hervey was well-known for his camp and effeminate personality. His style of dress was flamboyant, in a style that became known as “macaroni” because it was as fashionable among the aristocracy as was the Italian food they encountered on their Grand Tour of Europe. If you remember the song “Yankee Doodle” and wondered why he put a feather in his cap and called it “macaroni”, that’s why – it was fashionably flamboyant.

Lord Hervey was infatuated with Francesco Algarotti from the moment they met, and it was when Hervey later introduced him to Lady Mary Wortley-Montagu that things started to get “interesting”. Lady Mary was well over 40 years old by then, 20 years older then the two men. Her failed marriage and unhappy family life needed some pleasantness and Algarotti provided it.

The three of them spent a lot of time together in England. Algarotti read his Newton book to them and Lady Mary helped him to improve his English. In September 1736 Algarotti went back to Italy leaving the two English aristocrats heartbroken. They both wrote love letters to him urging him to return. Algarotti, probably conscious of the complications that might arise, gave polite excuses and encouraged them to continue writing.

Lord Hervey was content to bide his time but Lady Mary was truly infatuated. Her letters became more agonising and she made known her intention of visiting Algarotti in Italy. By this time, however, Algarotti was dating a young man from Milan, so you can almost hear the alarm bells going off in his head when he read that letter.

Algarotti visited England briefly in 1737, staying with Lord Hervey for a while before continuing on his graceful travels around Europe. By this time Lady Mary was virtually stalking him and she travelled down to Turin to meet him. This was in 1741, by which time he had met King Friedrich of Prussia and had been created a count. It was obvious to Lady Mary that she couldn’t compete with a king for Algarotti’s affections and gave up trying.

So what became of our Enlightenment love triangle? Lady Mary spent the next 20 years in retirement in Europe before returning home to die in England in 1762. Count Algarotti died two years later in Italy. Lord Hervey predeceased them both in 1743. His final years were clouded by an unhappy marriage, despite having 8 children. He virtually disinherited his wife in his will.

Throughout his short life Lord Hervey attracted much attention for his effeminate appearance and personality. As well as becoming a famous “macaroni” Lady Mary Wortley-Montagu once remarked that there were three genders in England – male, female and hervey. Other slang terms and names were given to him in his lifetime and he was an obvious target for political satire and caricature. Alexander Pope in his satirical “An Epistle From Mr. Pope to Dr. Arbuthnot” made no attempt to hide his contempt for Lord Hervey by portraying him as the castrated youth who was married Emperor Nero, a youth called 73) Sporus (c.51-69).

Next time : We watch Rome burn then go to a pantomime.

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