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Appuldercombe House on I.O.W


The year is 1780, and we find ourselves on the Isle of Wight, at a masterpiece of English baroque architecture, Appuldurcombe House. What happened next is a story combining irregular aristocratic deeds, a relentless public appetite for sexual scandal, and a sensationally frank publishing phenomenon described by Samuel Johnson as ‘without exception the best written poem that has made its appearance these many years’.


Appuldurcombe House

Sir Richard Worsley inherited Appuldurcombe in 1768. Four years later he met Seymour Fleming, a wealthy heiress with a reputation for being a bit of a wild child, and by 1776 they were married with a son. Unfortunately, Sir Richard was too busy with his duties defending the Isle of Wight from France, Spain and Holland, to pay much attention to his energetic wife, and she sought solace in fashionable society, hanging out with the Duchess of Devonshire and – perhaps – enjoying an affair or two. Richard Sheridan’s School for Scandal (1777) is suggestive of this, insofar as Seymour was apparently the inspiration for naughty Lady Teazle in the play. Either way, pretty standard Georgian fare so far.

Our story takes a turn for the unconventional when one George Bisset arrives on the island in 1780. Worsley quickly befriended this fellow aristo of a similar age, and made him a captain of his militia. With the threat of French invasion looming large, local troops from around the country were ordered to assemble in Kent, and Worsley’s militia, including Bisset and Lady Worsley, moved to the mainland. Bisset and the Worsleys moved into a large house in Maidstone, and soon George and Seymour were sharing more than just polite mealtime conversation. But here’s the thing: it seems Sir Richard was rather excited by this turn of events, and sought to actively encourage it. One famous episode in particular suggests this was indeed the case


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