The case of the Lady and her missing earring.


Cheapside in the City of London, c.1831

In July 1848 Katherine, Lady Villiers lost an earring. It was found by a woman named Carty who took it to sell to a jeweler in Cheapside. Mr Bennett, the jeweler, gave her £12 for it. In the meantime Lady Villiers had posted a reward of £10 for the recovery of her property and this caught the attention of another woman, who was poor but had known that Carty had sold such an item.

The woman had seen a handbill with the reward and so made her way to the address printed on it. This took her to Sergeant Wells of C Division, Metropolitan Police. She told the policeman what she knew and he followed it up with a visit to the jeweler’s shop. There he recovered the item when Lady Villiers agreed to reimburse Mr Bennett the £12 he had paid for from Mrs Carty. Carty, who had been arrested for theft, was now released as the aristocrat did not want to pres charges having got her jewels back. As much as possible the English ruling class preferred to keep their names out of the courts to avoid embarrassment.

However, no trace of any reward reached the informer and so she approached her local magistrate at Westminster. She told the justice that it ‘was entirely through her that the property was traced’. She deposed that the sergeant had promised to take this up with her ladyship but while she had been to see him several times he kept putting her off. In the meantime she had lost an opportunity to get a position (as a servant) and was now behind with her rent and in danger of being thrown out of her lodgings. Her goods had been detained in lieu of the unpaid rent and so even if a job had come up she ‘was in no position to take it’.

The unnamed woman was, therefore, ‘in a most destitute, and penniless situation’. The magistrate sympathized with her plight but could do little about it. He gave her 5s out of the poor box and advised her to apply once more, but directly this time, to Lady Villiers.

Lady Katherine  was married to George Villiers, the 4th Earl of Clarendon. In 1848 Clarendon had just taken up the position of Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, arriving in the middle of the Great Famine. Tension was high, both in Ireland and on the Continent with revolution in France, Italy, Austria and Germany. Clarendon was considered to be an able diplomat and was this was recognized by speeches of thanks in both houses of parliament, an honour not often bestowed. He and Katherine (for whom Villiers was her second marriage) had eight children.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly London Newspaper, Sunday, August 13, 1848]

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