- Berkeley John Talbot Levett
Berkeley John Talbot Levett (1863 - ), was a Captain in the
Scots Guardsand later a Gentleman Usherat Court. He was a witness in the Royal Baccarat Scandalof 1890 in which the future King Edward VIIwas drawn into a gambling dispute which painted him in an unflattering light.
Life and career
The son of Col.
Theophilus John Levettof Wychnor Park, Member of Parliamentfor Lichfield, [ [http://books.google.com/books?id=wcRGAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA361&lpg=PA361&dq=%22hamar+bass%22+levett&source=web&ots=3yFBjItc-l&sig=P9k5FoZDgDVYa-WCExT3yKuV28A&hl=en#PPA292,M1 A History of the Meynell Hounds and Country, 1780-1901, Vol. II, J. L. Randall, Sampson Low, Marston and Company Ltd., London, 1901] ] Levettenjoyed playing cards and saw himself as a dashing figure in society circles. On September 8, 1890, the Scots Guards officer was in the company of royalty and fellow socialites at Tranby Croftin Yorkshirewhen the incident which set off the Royal Baccarat Scandal occurred. [ [http://books.google.com/books?id=9O0yAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA19&lpg=PA19&dq=%22berkeley+levett%22&source=web&ots=oeFJ-N4wHA&sig=ij_fIekSrfUDLDaJA-9JjVgYUyQ&hl=en#PPA16,M1 Gordon-Cumming v. Wilson and Others: Speeches for the Plaintiff Delivered by Sir Edward Clarke, M.P., Solicitor General, Stevens & Hayes, London, 1891] ] At the time, Levett was a soldier and bon vivant said to be the best-dressed man in London. The subsequent events led to a slander trial at which Levett was one of the defendants. Although the defendants won the case, public mood was against them.
Berkeley Levett had served as
Aide-de-campin India to William Mansfield, 1st Viscount Sandhurstwho was Governor of Bombayfrom 1895 to 1900. In 1900, back in England, Levett married Sibell Lucia Bass, daughter of Hamar Alfred Bass, of the Bass breweryfamily and Member of Parliament, on 2 June of that year. [ [http://books.google.com/books?id=ObnB2K0Pm-gC&pg=PA338&lpg=PA338&dq=levett+ruvigny&source=web&ots=UxFd-lbaTn&sig=entTMW8eMUMz4OGmDkSje8xTpPg&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=1&ct=result Plantagenet Roll of the Blood Royal: The Isabel of Essex Volume, Marquis of Ruvigny, reprinted by Genealogical Publishing Company, 1994] ] Having sold his share of the family's Staffordshireestates, he and his wife lived in Lancaster Gate, London, and Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, France, often turning up at society events before World War I. [ [http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=990CEED61F31E233A25753C1A9619C946396D6CF Drexel Entertains Society in London, The New York Times, July 9, 1912] ] [ [http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?_r=1&res=9503E7D61E39E633A25753C1A9639C946596D6CF&oref=login American Dollars Save London Season, The New York Times, May 9, 1914] ] He kept up his royal connections while serving as one of the Gentlemen Ushersfor the Royal Household from 1 April 1919 to 1 December 1931. Later Levett was promoted to the rank of Major. He and the former Sibell Bass had two sons, one of whom was killed in World War I.
Levett was drawn into the scandal after a night in which
Sir William Gordon-Cumming, 4th Baronet. a fellow officer from the Scots Guards, was accused of cheating at Baccarat, a card game. Levett testified later that he had witnessed the cheating. Gordon-Cumming had, when confronted, signed a statement conceding he had cheated and pledging never to play cards again. The assembled players, fearing the worst if the scandal leaked, made a pact to hush up the affair. For four months afterwards, Sir William split his time between his Scottish estates, his Scots Guards regiment, his wealthy American fiancee and his Paris club, hoping his signed confession would squelch the potential scandal.
The secret pact didn't hold. An anonymous letter from
Parisinformed Sir William that gossips on the Continent were chattering about the events of that evening -- and about Gordon-Cumming's alleged cheating. Enraged, Sir William brought suit against those present, including Berkeley Levett, charging slander. When the suit came to court in June 1891, it was a stylish affair: only those observers sporting a note from the Lord Chief Justicewere admitted. The cream of society turned out dressed as though for Royal Ascot. [ [http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=9400E0DD173AE533A25757C0A9609C94609ED7CF Sir William's Counters, The New York Times, June 3, 1891] ]
Levett testified under oath, and although the jury ultimately ruled for him and the rest of the defendants, the damage was done. Sir William was drummed out of his regiment and forced to resign from his clubs. The future King, who was required to testify and thus reveal his penchant for card-playing, was outraged. "Thank God," said the future King, "the army and society are now well rid of such a damned blackguard." [ [http://vault.sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1082344/1/index.htm The Prince and the Parvenus, J. A. Maxtone Graham, Sports Illustrated, April 28, 1969] ]
The royal reputation had been called into question. [ [http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=9B05E3DC173AE533A2575AC0A9609C94609ED7CF For the Prince's Sake, The New York Times, June 8, 1891] ] Newspapers and public opinion sided squarely with Sir William. Word in the street largely blamed the the future King. [ [http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=9C04E7DC173AE533A25756C0A9609C94609ED7CF Wales and the Scandal, The New York Times, June 5, 1891] ] In circles like Berkeley Levett's, consensus was the King was to blame, but for a different reason: the contentious card game had transpired at the estate of a newly-rich shipping millionaire.
The jury took 10 minutes to find all the defendants not guilty and award them their legal costs. It was not a popular decision. The crowd hissed and booed the jurors, and tried to attack the defendants as they left the courtroom.
List of Gentlemen Ushers
*"The Royal Baccarat Scandal," Edward Grayson, Michael Havers, Kimber, 1977
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