In 1823 the Wallop family put the 3rd Earl of Portsmouth on trial for insanity. Why would such a distinguished family let the world know their family secrets by going to court? The author seeks to answer this question. Everyone thought him a peculiar man, but he kept company with some famous people such as: Jane Austen and Lord Byron. How could he go so many years without people realizing he was insane as his family claimed? Jurors had so sort through testimony about his habits, behaviour, claims of violence and blackmail while they determined if this man was insane.
This book caught my attention because I was very curious to know why an aristocratic family would "air their dirty laundry" to get a family member declared insane. The most obvious answer is they wanted to control the family land and money (which Lord Portsmouth could not do if declared insane). While reading, Portsmouth's life is presented while learning how this would impact his later trial. It was an interesting perspective, sometimes I got tired of the back and forth. It also make me look at his life very differently than I might have if his life had been presented, and than the trial.
When I finished the book, I was left feeling very sympathetic to Lord Portsmouth. His life was controlled by those around him. His personal life was put on trial because he was different than other people. I was left wanting a clearer answer to Portsmouth. Was he actually insane, or did he simply have peculiar habits that became known? I also wanted a very clear answer about his family. Did they truly think he was insane, or was it all personal motive? I do think it possible that the line on that might not be clear, but I would have liked the author to make a case one way or the other.
There was also a little information about how people declared insane were treated. I had expected a little more of that, but was glad that some mention of it was made. I think it is very important for the reader to understand why the trial and verdict made such a difference in the lives of those involved in it.
Overall, I found this book an interesting read. The title really catches people's attention. Several people I work with added this book to their reading list because they found it so intriguing. I would have liked some clearer arguments at a couple points, but understand that sometimes the facts are simply not known.
If you are interested in this time period or how mental illness used to be treated and viewed I recommend reading this book.
*I received a free copy of this book from LibraryThing in exchange for an honest review.
*Receiving a free copy of this book does not change my review. It simply provides me with a copy of a book that I would not have gotten to as soon, or heard about otherwise.