Scandal: The Russell Baby & the Virgin Birth
'Injudicious use of a sponge'
This is how Anthony Russell's grandmother claimed that she had become pregnant back in the nineteen twenties. To Anthony, she was known as 'Granny A' but many years before he was born, his grandparents had caused an immense scandal in England.
If you'd like to see the book from which this information came, just scroll down the page. (THis is just one quick story from this excellent memoir).
Having had mildly scandalous grandparents myself, I can't resist this story. Read on.
The virgin birth
When Christobel Hart had married John Russell in 1918, she had already decided that she didn't want any children. Therefore an agreement took place between the young married couple that no, let's say, activity should take place which could lead to such an event.
It may seem strange now, but that was relatively normal in those days. However, the families invariably wanted the young couples to provide heirs. But Christabel was adamant.
Strangely, the young husband was quite happy with this arrangement. You'll see why below.
Although I say 'strangely', there is just one small matter that we should take into consideration here. That is that the young husband in question had great fondness for dressing in women's clothes. I know that the fact that a chap liking to wear a frock from time to time doesn't necessarily preclude a normal marital life, but it does make you wonder.
Whatever the case, it does appear to be true that the marriage was never consummated.
The miracle baby
The fact remains though that Christobel did become pregnant. Her husband however was certain that he was not responsible and a dramatic divorce case ensued, much to the joy of the scandal-loving public and the horror of King George V and other aristocrats. And yet several doctors examined Christobel prior to the birth of her child and pronounced her to be a virgin.
To put it terribly politely, she had not been 'de-flowered'.
Who would believe that, these days?
Several court cases later, the judges found in favour of Christabel and this was her story. She had become pregnant when the pair went to stay with his mother, Lady Ampthill. Parents invariably wanted their married children to reproduce. In the case of aristocracy, there was the small matter of producing an heir. For many, there was also the natural desire to have grandchildren.
Mum, wanting to be encouraging, put the couple in the same bedroom - which the two weren't used to - and where Christabel successfully spent the night fending off her husband. But the problem took place the next morning.
She took a bath in the same water previously used by her husband, using the same sponge with which he had 'washed himself' (somewhat vigorously, one would imagine)... and the rest, as they say, is history.
The Russell Baby Case - afterword
The 'baby', Geoffrey, went on to inherit his father's peerage, became Baron Ampthill and as such, was a member of the House of Lords.
Many years later (1999) parliamentary reform meant that Lords now had to be elected. In this goal, each had to write a 'letter of application', although most wrote only the most perfunctory notes. One journalist (in the Guardian) had a wonderful outlook on the matter.
See what he wrote about the Baron below.
The story of the Russell Baby - and much more
When I first started reading this book, I found it to be a delightful account of Anthony Russell's (the author's) privileged upbringing in the 1950 and 60s in aristocratic England. Which it is, of course.
But it became even more interesting when I discovered that the author's dear old 'Grannie A' was in fact, Christabel.What amuses me is that Anthony knew nothing about the affair until 1976, when a New York acquaintance drunkenly yelled 'Sponge!' at him, thus alerting him to the somewhat interesting aspects of his father's birth and his grandparents' scandals.
It's a great read in every way.
Please note that the images here do not depict the personnel involved. They are copyright-free from Wikimedia & used merely as decoration.
© 2014 Jackie Jackson