Wilfrid Scawen Blunt (1840-1922)
Wilfred Scawen Blunt was born at Petworth House in Sussex in 1840. A Roman Catholic by faith, he was educated at Stonyhurst College and at St Mary’s, Oscott. In 1858 he entered the diplomatic service and successively served in Athens, Frankfurt, Madrid, Paris, Lisbon, Buenos Aires and Bern. It was the start of a long adventure, in love as much as in travel. Blunt was equally known for his erotic verse, expression of anti-imperialism, extravagant peacock lunches and fine Arabian horses.
Posted to Spain in 1862, Blunt first took a mistress in Madrid. A young lady by the name of Lola, it was her who encouraged him to take up bull fighting. Posted to France two years later, Blunt preferred to spend his time in Bordeaux rather than in Paris. Romance determined this choice, as it was in Bordeaux that he embarked on an affair with Catherine Walters, the notorious Victorian courtesan ‘Skittles’. Esther in his Sonnets and Songs by Proteus (1875; rev. 1881 and 1892), she also inspired his melodramatic Esther – A Young Man’s Tragedy (1892), a poem consisting of 58 sonnets. Further diplomatic postings brought further love affairs: the half-Indian Anita in Buenos Aires and the wife of a prominent English resident in Bern.
In 1869 Blunt married Lady Anne King, the daughter of the 1st Earl of Lovelace and granddaughter of Lord Byron. Now a rich man, he retired from the diplomatic service, but not from his travels and affairs. In 1872 Blunt inherited, by the death of his elder brother, Crabbet Park and Newbuildings Place, both in Sussex. The following year his only surviving child was born, Judith, later Baroness Wentworth. Judith still young, Blunt and his wife departed on a series of expeditions. These took them to northern Africa, Asia Minor, the Arabian Peninsula and India. Having explored Turkey, Egypt, Palestine, Arabia and Syria on horseback, they bought a pure-bred Arabian stallion in Aleppo, brought him and other Arabian horses to Crabbet Park and established their admired Crabbet Arabian Stud. Blunt and his wife later also purchased a small stud near Cairo, Sheykh Obeyd, where they bred Arabian horses in Egypt.
Following their return to England, Lady Anne wrote Bedouins of the Euphrates (1879) and A Pilgrimage to Nejd (1881). Blunt committed himself to the promotion of self-government and entered politics. An ardent opponent of British policy in the Sudan, he also lobbied Prime Minister William Gladstone for Egyptian independence and wrote The Future of Islam (1882). This directed attention to the forces that were to produce Mahdism and Pan-Islamism. Blunt also took a prominent part in the defence of the Egyptian nationalist leader Arabi Pasha, which resulted in him being banned from Egypt for four years. Closer to home he championed Irish independence and challenged the authority of Arthur Balfour, chief secretary in Ireland, which resulted in him being imprisoned for three months in 1888. His poem In Vinculis (1889) echoes what he experienced in Galway and Kilmainham prisons.
Blunt subsequently retired to Crabbet Park, where he ran the Crabbet Arabian Stud with his wife and organised extravagant Crabbet Club weekends. He also spent time at Sheykh Obeyd, where he took Balfour’s cousin, Mary Elcho, as his ‘Bedouin wife’. An act of love as much as revenge, it also resulted in the birth of another daughter. When Blunt tried to move the young Scottish artist Dorothy Carleton into Crabbet Park, however, his wife asked for legal separation. This was granted in 1906 and left Lady Anne with Crabbet Park and half of the horses and Blunt with Newbuildings Place and the other half of the horses. While Blunt continued to enjoy amorous adventures and poetry dinners at Newbuildings Place, Lady Anne eventually left Crabbet Park for Sheykh Obeyd. Following her death in Egypt in 1917, Blunt disputed her will, but eventually lost his case to Judith. Disappointed and disillusioned, he published his memoirs in two volumes in 1919 and 1920. Blunt died at Newbuildings Place in 1922.
Bequeathed by Blunt to the Fitzwilliam Museum, the Wilfrid Scawen Blunt Archive is the largest single holding of works by and associated with Blunt. It contains autograph manuscripts, annotated proofs, his original diaries and transcribed memoirs. It further holds his voluminous correspondence and various photographs and sketches, amongst which the famed picture of Blunt with W.B. Yeats and Ezra Pound. Last but not least, the archive preserves the records of his sexual exploits and the hair locks of some of his mistresses. It is for this reason that Blunt stipulated that the archive should not be opened until thirty years after his death. When the material was viewed in 1952, it was ruled that only the Syndics of the Fitzwilliam Museum and relevant staff were to have access to the papers for another twenty years. The Wilfrid Scawen Blunt Archive has been open to the public since 1972.
Note: Judith Blunt-Lytton, Baroness Wentworth, reunited and managed the Crabbet Arabian Stud until her death in 1957. Her influence on Arabian horse breeding was profound and more than ninety per cent of all Arabian horses in the world today carry Crabbet bloodstock in their pedigrees. Managed by Cecil Covey, the Crabbet Arabian Stud continued until 1972, when the new M23 bisected the property and the horses and stables were sold.
The Sheykh Obeyd Foundation International dedicates itself to the preservation and promotion of Sheykh Obeyd Arabian horses today.
W. S. Blunt, The Poetical Works of Wilfrid Scawen Blunt: Complete Edition, 2 vols., Macmillan & Co, 1914
W. S. Blunt, My Diaries: Being a Personal Narrative of Events, 1888-1914, 2 vols., Martin Secker, 1919-20
E. Longford, A Pilgrimage of Passion: The Life of Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1979
E. Longford, 'Wilfrid Scawen Blunt', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004-8
J. Wentworth, The Authentic Arabian Horse and his Descendants, G. Allen & Unwin, 1945
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