Grumpy old fart!!!

"If you talk to God you're religious. If God talks to you, you're psychotic."

Belle Bilton (Lady Dunlo) – The Sunday Post – Sunday 16th May 1920


The Romance of the Earl of Clancarty


THE Earl of Clancarty, hero of the greatest peerage-stage romance of, modern times, is again in the public eye.

During the past week he has been the principal figure in a case opened in a London Court arising out of his financial affairs, and now adjourned until Thursday first. William Frederick Le-Poer-Trench, fifth Earl of Clancarty, in whose veins flows some of the bluest blood in Britain, is 51 years of age, and has been for many years one of the most prominent figures in society circles. He is the son of the fourth Earl and his Countess, the Lady Adeliza Georgiana Hervey, daughter of the second Marquess of Bristol. The family estates are 25,000 acres in extent, and the country seat is Garbally Park, Ballinasloe, County Galway.

From the time he left Eton he became one of the most popular young men about town, and his marriage the age of twenty Belle Bilton, the famous music hall artiste, was the sensation of the season. The romantic circumstances of the match and the strenuous efforts made by his father to have broken off made the affair the most interesting and romantic its kind.



It was in July, 1889, that the Earl of Clancarty, or Viscount Dunlo, as he was then called, made Belle Bilton his wife. Belle Bilton figured with her sister a music hall turn. They were professionally known as the Sisters Bilton, and they achieved a high reputation on the halls as vocalists and dancers.

They were the daughters of a retired recruiting sergeant of the Royal Engineers, and. determined not to be burden on him, they had gone gallantly forth into the world of stageland, and after several years of hard work reached a place amongst the “stars.” As time wore on they became the talk of the West End of London, and very often their performance was described as the prettiest and daintiest turn on the boards.

“Have you seen the Sisters Bilton? Have you heard Belle Bilton sing?”

Those questions were constantly cropping up in conversation during the days which followed. Little wonder, then, that the up-to-date young gentleman, Viscount Dunlo, should make a point of witnessing the performance. It was a momentous evening to him. He was completely captivated by the charms of the youthful and lovely Belle. The Viscount was just twenty years of age, and more handsome or high-spirited youth never came out of County Galway, where he was born.

For many nights Viscount Dunlo watched his idol from the stalls ere he gained the introduction that he longed for. At length, however, he made the personal acquaintance of the charming singer, and found that off the stage she was every bit as fascinating she was in the gleam of the footlights.

The hardships through which she had passed and the success which she had won worthily had not spoilt Belle Bilton.

By instinct as well as by training she was a lady. There was a charming refinement, a sweet dignity, about her smallest words and actions.

Viscount Dunlo noted these things.

“In every way she is fit to be the future Countess of Clancarty,” he decided.

Weeks lengthened into months, and gradually a strong and tender friendship grew up between the two young people. Lord Dunlo waited until he knew that friendship had become something deeper, and then he proposed.

“I love you,” replied Belle Bilton, “but your father will never consent to the marriage.”

To the gallant, impetuous young Viscount only one answer was possible. Lord Dunlo declared he would marry her though all the world should be against the wedding. When the Earl of Clancarty heard of the engagement he was, so the story goes, furious.

A fine old aristocrat was the Earl, just and upright to a degree; hut the idea of his son marrying an actress – music-hall singer – had never entered into his calculations.



Straightway he exerted himself to the utmost to break off the affair, even, it is said, holding before his son the prospect of penury.

But his son was determined as the Earl himself.

“Whatever happens,” he said quietly, “I shall marry Belle Bilton !”

A family council was held. If it was impossible to make the Viscount see reason, perhaps the young singer would be more amenable to argument. It was decided to approach her on the matter.

An old actress- now dead- who declared that she witnessed the interview in Belle’s dressing-room, used to describe as follows:-

“Belle Bilton entered the room where her fashionable visitors were seated, holding her head high. A smile flickered about her lips, the smile that seldom left her face, and made it wonderfully bright and beautiful, but her eyes had the light of determination in them.

“Swiftly the situation was put before her. She was stage singer, and a stage singer, however refined and lovely, must realise that she was not the right mate for future Peer of the realm. Such a marriage could only lead to misery. Surely if she loved Lord Dunlo as she professed to do she would be the last to wish ruin his career? For the boy’s own sake, it was her duty to surrender him!

“But Belle was as firm as she was polite. She loved Lord Dunlo and he loved her, she declared. She would part with her life before she would part with her engagement ring against his wishes.

“A minute later she was bowing them out of the room.”



One cloudless July morning, when schemes to break off the match were nearing completion, Lord Dunlo and his sweet heart slipped quietly away to the Hampstead Registry Office, and there were made man and wife.

The Earl knew nothing about his son’s marriage until he read brief report of the event in a newspaper. He was furious that in the face of his opposition to the engagement Lord Durllo should have persisted in his intention, and the immediate result of the romantic match was the deepening of the old aristocrat’s resentment against his heir and against the woman whom he had married.

A stormy interview occurred between father and son, in which the latter was informed that if he did not leave his wife and make world-tour previously arranged, would be disowned.

Those who knew the young Lord intimately sympathised with him in his trying position, and, whatever criticisms may have been passed in the matter, there was no doubt that it was a real love match, which neither parental wrath nor the interventions of lawyers could break.



It almost needless to say that this unexpected development caused much surprise amongst the public, and various rumours were circulated which did not cease until the remarkable proceedings in the Dunlo divorce case some months later finally cleared the air.

The action was nominally brought by Lord Dunlo against his wife, but although he signed the petition he acknowledged, first in a letter to his wife and afterwards in open Court, that he did not believe the charges brought against her, and made it clear that he signed the petition against his will.

The action was based on the fact that after Lord Dunlo’s departure his wife had occasionally met an old acquaintance, who had befriended her critical period in her past career. She again turned to him for help and advice.

Placing the worst construction upon this innocent and natural act, Lord Clancarty determined to secure his son’s divorce. He had Lady Dunlo shadowed, and soon brought himself to believe that he had sufficient material to fight a successful action.

Meantime the young Viscount, who had also heard rumours the renewal of the old friendship, conscious that it might give rise to malicious talk, wrote to his wife as follows:-

“Don’t go too much about with W. People will talk; not that 1 care, for I trust you with all heart and soul.”

When the case came to be tried in Court Lord Dunlo’s evidence made it perfectly _ clear that he had signed the petition against his will, and that he did not believe the charges against his wife. A large number of witnesses were heard, many letters were read, and there was an eminent array of legal talent on both sides. The result was the complete vindication of Lady Dunlo. She was judged guiltless of the charges brought against her. The methods of the old Earl were condemned, and the curtain fell on the triumph to which the daughter of the Woolwich recruiting sergeant was justly entitled. The sequel proved that Belle Bilton was actuated in what she did not by greed but by love for the Viscount she had secretly married. Her whole life might have been wrecked – but she forgave. The fourth Earl died less than twelve months after the close of the trial. Belle Bilton was appearing at Plymouth when the news was brought to her. Tired of theatrical life, she left the stage and joined her husband, and almost immediately took up her residence at Garbally Park, Ballinasloe, the family seat in County Galway, where her beauty and charm endeared her to the hearts of her husband’s tenantry.



She did not stop at that. The former music-hall star was to be received into the charmed inner circle of society. Not all at once, for stage marriages by the aristocracy were not quite so common in those days, but her charm of manner opened many doors to her. At last her triumph was complete.

“Belle Bilton is to be received the Court of St James’s!”

This was how the smart set phrased it when Queen Alexandra extended her Royal hand to the Countess. The hidebound sticklers of the aristocracy were nonplussed; but there was no occasion, for Queen Alexandra recognised that the modest womanly Peeress was fit to grace the highest society.

As already indicated, it was after her marriage before her Ladyship was bidden to pass the thresholds of many women whose rank equalled her own, and, indeed, until Queen Alexandra’s decision became known, it was thought that the “music hall Peeress” would forever remain in the obscurity to which she seemed chained by her former life a music hall artiste.



Despite all rebuffs and pitiless the far-seeing Peeress had the good sense not to sulk. On the contrary, she took it very meekly, and bore herself in a manner which showed how thoroughly capable she was of filling the position. There was nothing either in good sense or society etiquette that she had to learn.

Once the Queen had spoken, society – ever fickle, and often unthinkingly cruel changed ground, and the Countess of Clancarty took her rightful place in Britain’s aristocracy.

For fifteen years Belle Bilton happy and contented life with her husband proving herself a model wife and endearing herself to all with whom she came into contact. Then disease brought about a final separation. Cancer caused the death of the beautiful artiste who had known so many changes of fortune.


The Earl married again in 1908, Mrs Gwatkin Ellis, daughter of the late W. F.  Rosslewin Ellis, barrister, and this union too, has been blessed with great happiness. There were three sons and one daughter of the first marriage, and two sons and one daughter of the second marriage.


The Sunday Post – Sunday 16th May 1920

September 30, 2020 - Posted by | Social History, Uncategorized | , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

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