The Prince of Silence

There have been many eccentric characters that have graced the British aristocracy over the centuries. No one knows for sure why, but access to vast sums of money and power might have made it possible for these people to indulge some desires that the general public could not.

One of the more interesting aristocrats in British history was the 5th Duke of Portland, William John Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck (we’ll call him William). He has a nickname that is more famous, however, and that is “The Prince of Silence.”

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He was born in 1800 in London, and lived a fairly unremarkable upper class life for many years. He served in the army, but left due to poor health. He also took a seat in Parliament at age 24, but he surrendered the seat to an uncle in 1826, once again for health problems.

His eccentricity started to show itself after he proposed marriage to an opera singer and was turned down. This was apparently too much for his mind to handle, and he retired to his estate, Welbeck Abbey.

He used only five rooms in his house, and wouldn’t let anyone except his valet see him. If he needed medical help, a doctor would have to shout questions at his valet from behind a locked door. The valet would then get the answer from William and shout them back. Since William nearly reached his 80th birthday, this must have worked.

It was inevitable, though, that other servants would encounter him when he left his rooms. If this happened, William would back up against a wall and pretend to be a statue. The servant would then have to walk by him without looking at him or acknowledging him in any way. If they failed to do this, they were fired immediately. If he needed to communicate with a servant, he would do so by mail, as he kept a mailbox outside his rooms specifically for staff communications.

His desire to not speak to anyone was certainly hampered by his building plans. He was constantly adding to his home, and hundreds of workmen were employed in this task at all times. Even these construction projects were eccentric, too. He had 15 miles of tunnels constructed underground, as well as a series of subterranean rooms, included an observatory with a glass roof. He also built a giant underground ballroom with a large hydraulic elevator, but he obviously never held any parties there. In addition, he got rid of most of his furniture and painted many of his rooms bright pink.

He became more reclusive as he got older, and he allowed Welbeck Abbey to fall into disrepair. When he died, he was at his home in London, because the Abbey was no longer fit for human habitation.

Since he had no direct heirs, his estate passed to a cousin. Years later, part of Welbeck Abbey was turned into a museum that showcased William’s eccentric life.

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