Lilith (lilith_queen) wrote in little_details,

Adultery, poisoning and murder investigations in England c. 1787

Setting: London, 1787

Time period: *points*

My problems: OK, this is going to take a while. Basically, I have four characters who matter in these questions. Victoria, a brewer's daughter and heir to a frankly absurd amount of money, is married to John, a baronet with a very expensive lifestyle to keep up, a crumbling family manor to maintain, and wandering eyes (and hands, and...) Basically, he's not faithful to her at all and is very rarely home. (He's actually robbing coaches for fun and profit, but that's neither here nor there.) They've barely even consummated their marriage. One day, she hears of a very skilled artist (Tom) and hires him to paint her portrait. She likes this artist's looks so much that she takes him for her lover. There is also Elizabeth, who is in love with John. John and Elizabeth both being rather depraved (and John being eager to get rid of his wife), they decide to kill Victoria. It's Elizabeth who'll be doing the killing, though. And this brings me to my questions, in order of plot.

1. Due to plot-related reasons, Elizabeth & John need to have been separated from each other for roughly 6 years, and Lizzy's the one who needs to not be in Britain during this time. Her family owns sugar plantations somewhere in the Caribbean; would they have taken her there? Or is somewhere on the continent of Europe more plausible? (Can be anywhere; I don't care.)

2. Where, exactly, would a young man who was just barely hanging onto a peerage by the skin of his teeth spend his free time? I know that Victorian and Regency gentlemen went to their clubs, but were coffee houses still more popular in the late Georgian period? (Considering the character, he can also hang out in seedy pubs & brothels, so this isn't such a vital question.)

3. Social mobility: would it be possible for a lower-class young man to become an artist of some renown? Not famous, just recognizable enough so that when mentioned, people would nod their heads and go, "Oh, that guy." Would he need to be apprenticed to someone? What if he had a rich, married female patron? (Victoria has Tom for a lover for at least a few months and is essentially raving about his painting skills to all her friends.) If he was really good at his craft (and possibly had gifts of money from a rich lover), would he be able to move into a more “middle-class” lifestyle? If he remained poor, what could a young woman (his sister) do to help keep both their heads above water?

4. I know Victoria will obviously have to keep her relationship with Tom a secret. But what about John? How would his peers treat his rakish ways? Would he almost be expected to have women on the side, or would he try very hard to hide it? How would it look in respectable society if he were to offer a respectable unmarried woman of his acquaintance (Elizabeth) and her wealthy, dying father a place under his roof while their house is repaired? (Right now, I'm planning to have half their roof fall in when they're not home.)

6. And now the murder! Lizzy doesn't really know what she's doing, but she can get hold of nearly any poison she wants. It just needs to be soluble and reasonably undetectable in alcohol. It also needs to act very quickly and have symptoms that would immediately suggest to anyone who finds the body that it was not suicide. I'm thinking John goes to his club for the day, Liz kills Victoria, and Victoria is found by her servants, who send for...and here's where I get stuck. Who were the enforcers of law in 1787 England, specifically London? Was it the military? How were murders investigated? Would her servants be suspected of killing her if it was known she treated them horribly? (If I can pin it on a hapless maid, so much the better.) Could they test for poisons? Would her husband be questioned? Who, if anyone, would press charges? Who would carry out the investigations? If the husband was rich enough to get the cause of death declared a suicide, would anyone investigate? Would the death be publicized or sensationalized by the press, or could it be hushed up? How long would a rich widower be expected to mourn for his dead wife?

7. Tom believes John has killed Victoria, and challenges him to a duel--ostensibly for the honor of his sister, who John has been hitting on. (Fortunately for later plot developments, John wasn't really paying attention to her face.) Would it be even remotely plausible for him to do this? I can easily bump up his social status a bit if a poor city-dwelling guy wouldn't know how to use a weapon of some sort. If he acquired money, would he be expected to learn?

Search terms on Google, Wikipedia: social mobility in Georgian England, law enforcement in Georgian England, history of English law enforcement, gentlemen's clubs, coffee houses, alcohol-soluble poison
Tags: 1780-1789, uk: history (misc), ~medicine: historical, ~medicine: poisoning

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