A Basildon Park story

Having an affair in Victorian England was not an issue if you were of the upper class. After all, most marriages were pre-arranged and had nothing to do with love or affection. However, there was one affair that had terrible consequences, and you can still discover part of it every time you read the book of Oliver Twist (or see the movie…)

It all started in 1835 when Basildon Park was the home of the 3rd Baronet Francis Sykes and his wife, Henrietta. A young writer, who had already published several books, entered the life of the couple. His Name was Benjamin Disraeli, and 30 years later, he would become the prime minister of the United Kingdom. He was a guest of the Baronet but ended up the lover of his wife. The Baronet didn’t care; affairs were an ordinary thing in this period. In fact, the Baronet himself was preoccupied during the same period with one of Disraeli’s previous lovers…

The Relationship between Henrietta and Disraeli was strange; in the letters she sent him, she signed “Your Mother”, he in return wrote a book and named it, “Henrietta’s Temple”. Things took an odd turn when one day Disraeli brought a friend with him to Basildon. His name was Daniel Maclise. He was an artist and was hired by the Baronet to paint some portraits of him and his wife, but, it seemed that in the case of Henrietta, he did a bit more than painting. Now the Baronet was angry. Having an affair with a gentleman like Disraeli was one thing, but sleeping with a painter? This was too much!

In 1837, the Baronet divorced  Henrietta leaving her with nothing. But he was still angry and wanted more revenge. His next move shocked the high society of England. On 5th of August 1837, he put an ad in a national paper,‘“The Spectator”, telling the whole world about the adultery of Henrietta and Daniel, and he announced that he would not pay any of her debts from that day forward. You can imagine the embarrassment Henrietta felt and she disappeared from public life, but it was nothing compared with what happened to Baronet Sykes…

You see, what he did not know was that Daniel Maclise had a friend named Charles Dickens and that this friend was busy writing a novel that we all know today as “Oliver Twist”. Charles Dickens had a great habit of using the names of real aristocrats as his characters, so when he was looking to name his new villain, he knew exactly which name to use. To avoid prosecution, he changed it a bit and so, Baronet Francis Sykes, became “Bill Sikes”, the notorious villain from Oliver Twist.

As soon as the book was published, all the elite understood immediately what the author had done. The Baronet himself was even more humiliated than Henrietta. He sold Basildon Park quickly at a loss and also disappeared from public life. The story could have ended here, but there was another victim that no one knew about… the 3rd Baronet had a brother. He was a simple priest in a church nearby, and he answered to the name William, but everyone called him Billie… So after Oliver Twist was published, he had no choice but to change his name…

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