Lady Susan Hamilton

Lady Susan Hamilton, by Francis Grant

Lady Susan Harriet Catherine Opdebeck (née Hamilton; 9 June 1814 – 28 November 1889) was a Scottish aristocrat. The daughter of Alexander, 10th Duke of Hamilton and Susan Euphemia Beckford, she at once was a star of high society. An angelic child of great beauty and style, she attracted controversy after a high-profile divorce suit from the future Duke of Newcastle.


She married Henry Pelham-Clinton, heir to the 4th Duke of Newcastle, on 27 November 1832 at Hamilton Palace, Lanarkshire. She was afterwards known as the Countess of Lincoln, the Earl of Lincoln being the courtesy title held by the eldest son of the Duke of Newcastle.

They had five children:[1]

Divorce and later lifeEdit

Lady Lincoln then lost interest in her husband and started a disastrous affair with Horatio Walpole. They eloped to escape her possessive and domineering husband when Susan was unwell. She was unstable, but while away gave birth to an illegitimate son, also named Horatio. It was a short-lived affair ending sadly in embittered circumstances. Divorce proceedings were commenced by an outraged Duke, citing the co-respondent Walpole in a writ. She was certainly well-known to the brilliant divorce and Whiggish barrister Lord Brougham, whose correspondence in the National Archives cites her to Samuel Rogers in a number of letters at the time of the proceedings in the early 1850s.

I have letters from Lady Susan Hamilton, now at Venice, which show all the stories of Walpole having left her to be pure fabrications, as I always believed they would turn out to be,

he opined smugly with the ominous intent. How he came to be in possession of the letters is evidently due to Lady Susan's application to Brougham for client advice. Although Brougham did not think that she was personally in fear for her life from domestic violence, he did conclude the letter with

I rely for my view on the universal fear of violence which constrains all parties.

Brougham had represented Queen Caroline in the famous case of 1820 and he was now an old man, but it was clear she was frightened. In a similar vein Brougham showed how he was concerned for female safety later in March 1853,

Lady Susan Hamilton is on her way home. I saw the Duchess—her mother—to-day quite well.

In 1857 Gladstone was attacked for speaking out against violation of women when he became embroiled in the court action for the Lincoln-Oxford case held in Chancery. Divorce proceedings frequently dragged on for years, so that Susan was unable to get remarried for a full decade afterwards. The unhappy Lady Susan married again, to an untitled Belgian, a commoner called Jean Opdebeck from the city of Brussels at Naples on 2 January 1870.[3] Her ex-husband, by then the 5th Duke of Newcastle, had died in October 1864, aged 53, and was succeeded in the dukedom by their eldest son, Henry.

Lady Susan was one of those rescued by Gladstone's work for distressed womenfolk. The exact state of his involvement is mysterious, but it was clear that felt by the late 1880s that he had lost touch with the younger generation whose appetites far exceeded his own. On occasion he misunderstood his secretary devoted and loyal daughter Mary (Mrs Drew). Susan's fall from grace and tragic death had stirred great sympathy in the Grand Old Man.[4] An article in The Argus three days after her death blaming the Walpole family as typical — "obstinate", "irritating" behaviour as a well-known trait in the Walpole dynasty.


  1. ^ "Biography of Henry Pelham-Clinton, 5th Duke of Newcastle under Lyne (1811-1864)". University of Nottingham. Retrieved 12 September 2018.
  2. ^ Robert Aldrich, Garry Wotherspoon, "Who's who in gay and lesbian history: from antiquity to World War II", Routledge, 2001, ISBN 0-415-15982-2, p.66
  3. ^ C 16/446/O28 1867 Cause number: 1867 O28. Opdebeeck v Duke of Hamilton. Bill, interrogatories.
  4. ^ Matthew, Gladstone, vol.2, p.366; Shannon, Heroic Minister, p.486
Secondary sources
  • Virginia Surtees (1977). A Beckford inheritance : the Lady Lincoln scandal. Wilton, UK.