Sue Young Histories

Philip Henry Stanhope 4th Earl Stanhope 1781 – 1855

January 12, 2010

Philip Henry Stanhope 4th Earl Stanhope FRS 1781 – 1855 was an English aristocrat, President of the Medico Botanical Society, Vice President of the Society of Arts,

Earl Stanhope became the foster father of Kaspar Hauser, who was under the homeopathic care of Georg Friedrich Daumer,

Earl Stanhope was the grandfather of George Stanhope 6th Earl of Chesterfield, and his wife Emily Harriet Stanhope, and his son Philip Henry Stanhope 5th Earl Stanhope, were correspondents of Charles Darwin,

Earl Stanhope, with his close friend Edward Bulwer Lytton, was a member of the occultic Orphic Circle  (C. G. Harrison, The Transcendental Universe: Six Lectures on Occult Science, Theosophy, and the Catholic Faith : Delivered Before the Berean Society, (SteinerBooks, 1993)) in the 1830s (as was Benjamin Disraeli). Earl Stanhope was a secret agent, an amateur homeopath and a lifelong keen researcher into the occult,

Earl Stanhope sat in parliament for Wendover in 1806-7, Hull in 1807-12, and Midhurst from 1812 till his succession to the peerage on 15 December 1816. Sharing his father’s (Charles Stanhope’s) scientific interest, he was elected FRS. on 8 January 1807 and was a President of the Medico Botanical Society; he furthermore was a Vice President of the Society of Arts.Like other members of his gifted family, notably his sister Hester Stanhope, he is usually portrayed as a somewhat eccentric character. Having studied in Germany, he used to travel extensibly in Europe (mostly alone, though he was married and had a son and a daughter), thereby consorting at various princely courts and spending a lot of money. In contrast to some accounts, which suggest that he lived beyond his means, it appears certain that he was rich, at least after he had succeeded his father in 1816.

His eccentricity may be understandable since, as the Duchess of Cleveland writes in her Life of and Letters of Lady Hester Stanhope, his father refused to send him to school anywhere but kept him at the family home of Chevening. The plan was that Philip would help his father cut off the entail on the estate, and the Life of and Letters of Lady Hester Stanhope implies that the Earl would then have sold the estate and sent the money overseas, impoverishing his family. Hester Stanhope helped her brother escape and her letters, quoted in the Life of and Letters of Lady Hester Stanhope, record that William Pitt the Younger and others rejoiced over what she had done.

Stanhope became interested in the story of the “foundling” Kaspar Hauser, a youth who had appeared in Nuremberg in 1828 and had become famous through his claim that he had been raised in total isolation in a dark room and could nothing tell about his identity.

Furthermore, Kaspar Hauser was found with a cut wound in 1829 and claimed to have been attacked by a hooded man. This led to various rumours that he might be of princely parentage but also suspicions that he was an impostor.

Stanhope first met Kaspar Hauser in 1831 and soon felt a strong affection for the young man: indeed, their relationship could have had homo erotic undertones, as contemporary rumours suggested. He endowed him generously and paid for (unavailing) inquiries in Hungary to clarify the young man’s origin, as the latter, in 1830, had claimed to remember some Hungarian and Slavic words which had led to speculations that he might stem from there.

Kaspar Hauser’s custodian, Baron von Tucher, criticised Stanhope’s pedagogically wrong behaviour towards Kaspar Hauser and retired from his custodianship. Now Stanhope, in December 1831, became Kaspar Hauser’s foster father and transferred him to the care of a schoolmaster.

In January 1832, he returned to England from where he continued to communicate by letter with his fosterling and also with officials examining the case. Stanhope had favoured the theory that Kaspar Hauser stemmed from Hungarian magnates but had to give up this idea when he was informed that further inquiries in Hungary had, once more, failed completely.

In a letter to the Bavarian court president Anselm von Feuerbach (dated 5 October 1832), Stanhope now clearly uttered his doubts in Kaspar Hauser’s credibility. While he continued to pay for his fosterling’s living expenses, he never redeemed his promise that he would take him to England and his letters to Kaspar Hauser became less affectionate. Kaspar Hauser did realize this change of mood.

On 14 December 1833, Kaspar Hauser came home with a deep wound in his chest and claimed to have been stabbed by a stranger. He died three days later. Although Stanhope had long stopped believing in Kaspar Hauser’s tales, he at first was of opinion that Kaspar Hauser had indeed been murdered, a view he uttered in one of his letters (dated 28 December).

In another letter from 7 January 1834, when he had received more information on what had happened, a change of mind announces itself: he would later advocate the position that Kaspar Hauser himself had inflicted the wound by pressure, and that, after he had squeezed the point of the knife through his wadded coat, it had penetrated much deeper than he had intended.

In his Tracts Relating to Caspar Hauser (1836, German original:

  1. Stanhope published all known evidence against Kaspar Hauser: ”The more I was deceived in this affair, and the more erroneous were my views, the more is it now my duty to act with zeal, and, if it were in my power, with ability, to preserve others as far as possible from similar errors. Though I have on that account appeared in an unfavourable light to some of those who are known or unknown to me, though I have been abused and even calumniated, I find a sufficient consolation in my own conscience.

Stanhope, indeed, was attacked by followers of Kaspar Hauser, and even accused of contriving his death. They suggested that Kaspar Hauser was a hereditary prince of Baden and was murdered for political reasons. Professional historians (like Ivo Striedinger) defended Lord Stanhope as a ”seeker of truth” and as a deceived philanthropist who had realized his delusion. Anthroposophist author Johannes Mayer repeated the accusations against Stanhope, but he completely failed to prove them.

Of interest:

Edward Stanhope 1840 – 1893 was a British Conservative Party politician, second son of Philip Henry Stanhope 5th Earl Stanhope, he served under Queen Victoria, and Edward VII, and he was a colleague of Herbert Henry Asquith, Henry Campbell Bannerman, William Ewert Gladstone, John Henry Kennaway 3rd Baronet, Henry Charles Keith Petty Fitzmaurice 5th Marquess of Lansdowne, Edward Stanhope,