Nonfiction Review: The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife, and the Missing Corpse: An Extraordinary Edwardian Case of Deception and Intrigue

The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife, and the Missing Corpse: An Extraordinary Edwardian Case of Deception and Intrigue, Piu Marie Eatwell

Published October 5th 2015 by W.W. Norton

Kindle Edition, 352 pages

Source: e-ARC from Edelweiss


Doesn’t this title make you want to pick this book up immediately?  What a totally bizarre story!  In 1897 Anna Maria Druce requested that the coffin of her father-in-law be exhumed with the goal of proving that T.C. Druce had faked his death.  She suggested Druce was actually the 5th Duke of Portland who had been posing as the owner of the Baker St Bazar selling furniture and other commodities to London’s wealthy.  Anna Maria proposed that her own children should inherit the Portland title and vast wealth rather than the distant relative living as the current 6th Duke.  

This case went back and forth from legal court to the ecclesiastical for 10 years to determine who had access to the grave site and who could possibly stand to inherit.  Witnesses and claimants traveled from New York and even Australia to testify.  So were Druce and the Duke the same person?  I’m not that easy that I’ll tell!  You have to read the book to find out!  What I will tell you is that this is a book about double lives, secret marriages, lies between parents and children, and estates with underground tunnels.  There shady attorneys and private investigators and determined policemen.  What a world those Victorians lived in!  

Eatwell lays out the history and the facts so cleanly that this nearly reads like fiction.  You’ll be caught up until the final page of the postscript to learn all that she uncovered.  She puts it all into perspective to say that the Druce affair was significant because of the light it shed on the lies, deceit and hypocrisy practised by society at the time and their tragic consequences.”  While this was a bizarre and entertaining story it certainly does leave you thinking about what life was like for those as fortunate as the Duke of Portland and those unfortunates trying to clamor for a share of his wealth.

Thank you W.W. Norton and Edelweiss for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion. 

All quotes taken from an uncorrected galley copy in advance of publication.


  1. The description of this book and many of the other reviews I’ve read haven’t jumped out at me, but it sounds as though you found this really entertaining. I’m tempted to pick it up after reading your review 🙂

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