European Diary

A Sad Coincidence

If you’ve read enough Dickens, England is the land of coincidence, so I was not surprised to hear that a friend had sold his Northamptonshire family seat to a Russian.  Nor was the congenital gambler in me incredulous when I learned that the new master of the estate was a keen reader of my stuff and curious to make my acquaintance.  It was only when I found myself in the dining room of that Hawksmoor chef-d’œuvre seated opposite Lord Nicholas’s godson that my faith in happenstance began to wobble.

The Lord Nicholas Hervey, as he styled himself, would have been 50 this past November.  Had he not hanged himself in a Chelsea bedsit in 1998, he would have become Marquess of Bristol.  To me, it is a matter of indifference that, instead, the title passed to his godson and half-brother Frederick, my Northamptonshire vis-à-vis, upon the death of another half-brother, John Jermyn, of a heroin overdose.  But it was not all the same to poor old Nicholas.  That he had not waited out the expiring millennium, until chance had worked its way through the vicissitudes of the Hervey family, was a coincidence on a par with my presence at that dinner.  Except it was a vastly unhappy one.

In all probability Nicholas went to Yale because neither Oxford nor Cambridge would have him, but as his great ancestor Lord Rockingham was the prime minister widely known for the recognition of American independence,...

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