The Cause Célèbre of the year, if not the decade: May, Dowager Duchess of Sutherland

Catherine Layton

Research output: Book chapter/Published conference paperChapter


In 1894, a Probate Court case attracted a huge crowd in anticipation of an appearance of the Prince of Wales: Scandalous revelations about the private life of his deceased friend—the 3rd Duke of Sutherland—would negate a will that left everything that was not entailed to his second wife. She was born Mary “May” Caroline Michell. Rumors about a relationship with the Duke began when her husband, Arthur Kindersley Blair, died in a shooting accident in 1883. Scandal erupted when the 3rd Duke asked Mrs. Blair to stay at his side when he had pneumonia in 1887. After the Duchess died in 1888 and the Duke married Mrs. Blair, opposition to the match from within his family escalated to the point that when the Duke died of a perforated ulcer in 1892, his son locked her out of the properties. Dowager Duchess May eventually transitioned from compliance to self-assertion, the pivotal point being when her stepchildren ensured she spent six weeks in Holloway Gaol. In battling her in-laws’ superior forces and in full awareness of the Queen’s involvement, she brought the Prince, and potential revelations about the questionable conduct he shared with the 3rd Duke, into her court battle.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge handbook of Victorian scandals in literature and culture
EditorsBrenda Ayres, Sarah E. Maier
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherTaylor & Francis
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781000782578, 9781003286011
ISBN (Print)9781032259963
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 01 Dec 2022


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