Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Charles I of Württemberg: Part II

I continue one of the most astoundingly lurid tales of European royalty.

It appears that King Karl (shown at left) had developed a taste for handsome young American men, and Jackson alone did not satisfy this hunger. Eight years after the Jackson scandal, the king fell under the spell of two more strapping lads from the U.S. In 1888 the Chicago Tribune newspaper told the story of NYC native Charles Woodcock, a tale of worldly ascent from humble butcher's son to a king's favorite. Returning from a first trip to Germany in 1873, Charles had joined the Church of the Disciples, presided over by the Reverend Dr. George Hepworth (make a mental note of that name). Woodcock graduated from seminary in Maine and was ordained as pastor of the Congregational Church in St. John, New Brunswick, Canada. Pastor Woodcock resided at the Victoria Hotel and soon became a prominent society man, spending his evenings in “entertainments.” It was whispered among some of the older boys of the town that Woodcock’s chambers in the hotel were often the scene of sordid stag parties. Woodcock was overextended financially, and troubles soon arose over reports of loose living and profligate behavior.

Woodcock spent his mornings at St. John's leading bookstore, and it was there that he met Donald Hendry, a low-born Canadian who became his constant companion. Hendry was known to be where “the fun was best.” Popular,  good-looking, affable and agreeable, Hendry was converted by Woodcock from his Baptist background to the Congregational faith. Invited by the Reverend Hepworth (there’s that name again) to make a Continental tour, both Woodcock and Hendry set off for Europe, ending up in Stuttgart. Like Jackson several years earlier, they, too, met the King of Württemberg and developed a profitable intimacy with him. In a repeat of Jackson’s performance, in short order the men found themselves at the highest levels of the court in an all-expenses paid romp with a king. Charles Woodcock, who inexplicably added “Savage” to his name (his mother's maiden name), became the constant companion of Karl. They were inseparable, going so far as to appear together in public dressed identically.

It was all too sordid and familiar. Finally, the naming of Charles Woodcock to Royal Councilor and his elevation to "Baron von Woodcock-Savage" in 1888 brought the resentment of Württemberg's courtiers to a frenzy. The title of Royal Councilor took precedence over that of Colonel, and an American thus passed at one step over the heads of the court officers who had been in the king’s service for twenty years.

Defending his friend, Hendry described Woodcock's relationship with the King as “hard work”: the American had to be always interesting and entertaining; he had to use all his extra time in reading and finding out what was going on in the world. Hendry said that Woodcock was doing the work of three men.

I’m sure we all agree. “Reading and socializing” is back-breaking work. Here's a photo of Woodcock hard at work in Venice, "reading" to the Grand Duchess Olga (left) and two of her ladies in waiting. Woodcock traveled as part of the household, wherever the royal family went.


The citizens of Württemberg thought differently. The courtier class of nobles saw themselves robbed of their traditional, profitable intimacy with the monarch and cheated of lucrative court positions. They observed that the King was completely in the hands of his American friends, with whom he spent hours daily, paying no attention to politics. Woodcock, especially, while holding no official position, had been elevated to leader of the court, and he was thus the most powerful man in Württemberg. The king provided palatial lodgings for the men and took them with him on exotic travels. When the king wintered in Nice, the king set them up in a luxury hotel next door. They were given titles, valuable gifts, royal favor and salaries. The king even gave Woodcock cash to pay off his debts left behind in Canada. Astonishingly, Woodcock ate daily at the king’s table, causing an outrage among the nobles.

From a reporter’s first hand account at the time: “This afternoon I saw Mr. Woodcock and the King start their daily drive.  I put Mr. Woodcock first, because it was upon him that the King had to wait, and an outsider would naturally take him for the monarch and the monarch for his domestic.  They drove off behind a fine pair of horses in grand style, cheek by jowl, for their daily conference on “spiritual matters.”

Eventually Chancellor Otto von Bismark himself had to intervene, and the Americans were eventually sent packing. Bismark had hired detectives to expose the ruse of the men. Woodcock claimed to have earned a Doctoral Degree from the University of Heidelberg, and he insisted that he be called “Doctor,” but no records could be found that he ever attended the university. Basically, Woodcock and Hendry were exposed as calculating, conniving, self-interested con-artists who had initially insinuated themselves into the king’s favor by posing as “spiritual advisors.” The detectives also exposed a sexual relationship between the American men and the king.

The resulting outcry forced Karl to renounce his favorite. The king was told that if the two Americans were not deported, his entire ministry would resign. The King released a statement on November 18, 1888: "At the command of my people I have sacrificed the noblest friend a monarch ever had." Woodcock returned to America, and King Karl found “private consolation” some years later with a German (at last), a Mr. Wilhelm George, the technical director of the royal theater.

Three years after the American lads were sent packing, Karl died childless at Stuttgart on October 6, 1891, and was succeeded as King of Württemberg by his cousin, his sister's son, William II of Württemberg. Karl rests, together with his wife Olga, in the Old Castle in Stuttgart.

When “Freiherr von Savage, Baron Woodcock,” the favorite of the King of Württemberg, returned to New York City, he moved in with his parents, ostensibly to “mourn his sweetheart,” a certain Miss Belle Carter, who had conveniently died a few months earlier. Claiming a female lover was his way of deflecting further innuendos about his intimacy with King Karl.

Bismarck's investigators had also reported that Dr. George Hepworth (you remembered, right?) had taken an interest in Woodcock's “education” many years ago and had given him the means to afford his studies; the detectives found evidence that Hepworth seemed to have a “special inclination to young men.” Those detectives even dug up dirt about the king himself. They discovered that the king’s sexual and unnatural sickness was shared with the king’s grandfather, King Friedrich I (1797-1816), also known to have had a strong sexual interest in men.

Perhaps you should stop to pour a cup of tea, in order to digest all this in a calm and reasonable manner, thus steadying your nerves.

Charles Woodcock-Savage later established a household with Donald Hendry in NYC, and they vacationed together in nearby Long Beach, New Jersey. During the summer of 1891 Charles and Donald hosted the Reverend George Hepworth (no!) and his wife at their cottage in Long Beach.

So there you have it.

But Woodcock never lost his need for luxury. In 1894, with Donald Hendry as best man (!), Charles married Henrietta Knebel Staples, a very wealthy widow with four children who owned a house on Central Park West and 84th Street, NYC. In 1900 they bought and substantially reconstructed one of the Princeton’s finest nineteenth century houses. All four of Henrietta's children changed their last name to Savage, and one of the sons even changed his first name to Charles. Creepy.

Stranger still: In 1906 Charles Woodcock-Savage published A Lady in Waiting: Being extracts from the diary of Julie de Chesnil, sometime lady-in-waiting to her Majesty, Queen Marie Antoinette (New York: D. Appleton and Company). He dedicated it "To a Noble Soul I Knew and Loved and Mourn." The King had died in 1891, so three guesses as to the identity of the dedicatee. The introduction gives an account of a diary found locked in a drawer of a cabinet sold at auction and bought by the translator's friend, who gives permission to publish the writings. The memoirs offered up are in fact a  pseudo-autobiography, with names and gender changed to protect the guilty.

As for Donald Hendry, he inexplicably subtracted three years from his actual age and studied to become a librarian. By 1910 he was employed on the staff of the Pratt Institute Free Library, in Brooklyn, New York, and for twenty-four years headed its Applied Science Reference Department. Hendry retired in 1934, as a bachelor at the age of eighty. When Hendry died a year later, his New York Times obituary said that he had spent "eleven years in Europe as a private secretary," a way of publicly naming his years with Woodcock, who had died in 1923. Today, Hendry's gravestone in Trinity Cemetery (Riverside Dr. at W. 153rd St.), lies between those of Charles Woodcock-Savage and his wife. I’m not making this up.

Oh wait. I’m sure you’re wondering whatever became of Jackson. Well, he survived the exile of Woodcock and Hendry, somehow untouched by scandal. Even after the death of King Karl, in 1891, Jackson maintained his position in Stuttgart society. However, a house servant, Karl Mann, who had worked for Jackson in the 1880s, extorted 1,075 marks from his former employer, threatening to denounce Jackson to the police for engaging him in illicit sexual acts. Jackson, taking a most unusual and courageous step, lodged a blackmail complaint against Mann in 1893, and Mann was found guilty.

This legal case provided ammunition for the newspapers of the German Social Democratic party to attack the immoral behavior of the upper classes. Recalling the King's "generous gifts to Jackson," one item remarked sarcastically that the American "must have been of quite extraordinary service to the person of the deceased king," thereby suggesting sexual relations. Jackson, the paper reported, had for long years practiced an abominable vice, the crime against nature.

The public scandal surrounding Karl Mann’s trial was too much for Jackson, who left Stuttgart for the United States. Returning to Steubenville, Ohio (named for the gay Prussian Baron von Steuben, as you will recall), he ended his days with his sister elsewhere in the state, thus resuming the role of a plain citizen. A life with an unassuming beginning and end, perhaps, but with a prickly spark in the middle.

5 comments:

  1. a new book just published with the title `´the Lover of King Karl of Württemberg`´ by Dr.Hohbeck, historian

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  2. And, BTW, Steubenville is now the host city to one of the largest gay leather conventions in the midwest! :D

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  3. edmund.miller@liu.eduJuly 25, 2014 at 12:28 AM

    I am working on a play about the Woodcock affair. Do you have any more information about the book. Computer searches do not turn up anything. The publisher or the first name of the author or his academic address might help. Is the book in English or is the title you give a translation from German or another language? Edmund.miller@liu.edu

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  4. This was fascinating reading, I've never heard any of this before. Thanks!

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  5. What a hoot!! Thanks for a very amusing ten minutes.

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