The Story Of The Royal Baccarat Scandal Of 1890 – Part 2
December 5, 2017
The fabled tale of the 1890 Royal Baccarat Scandal continues as we delve into just what happened before, during and after that infamous game of baccarat. Catch up on the story with part 1
The Prince was getting itchy feet. A long day at the races and a long, indulgent meal had the characteristics of a pretty decent day for most people, but for Edward, the company by his side was wearing and bordering on tedious. The fact that his mistress Daisy was absent from the party only made things worse.
Following dinner and the inevitable monotonous post-meal chatter, the Prince proposed a game of baccarat as a form of entertainment. Baccarat was made illegal in England four years previous after the High Court of Justice in London determined that the “game was more of chance rather than skill”, but the thought of hanging around with the Lord’s and aristocrats and their wives made Edward queasy.
Arthur Wilson, who was housing the Prince and his guests at Tranby Croft during the Doncaster Races, was opposed to the idea, but instead of trying his royal guest, fulfilled Edward’s wishes and organised the game with the baccarat set that the Prince brought with him.
Wilson was a large man with white balding hair and a small wispy moustache, and was a prominent shipping magnate in the industrial port city of Hull. He was joined at the baccarat table by the Prince, his son Jack, his wife Mary, Berkeley Levett, Lord Edward Somerset, General Owen Williams, and Sir William Gordon-Cumming.
Baccarat in the 19th century was most commonly played by the upper-class. The value of tens are zero, and from ace to nine they are pip value. The idea is to get to 9 points, and the player is dealt two cards which are added together to create a single digital value score. If the value of the cards is 18, the value in baccarat will be 8. The player will be able to bet on their own card, a draw, or on the banker.
This evening, The Prince was, as you might expect, the banker. As the game progressed Gordon-Cumming was on a great run. The soldier was playing the ‘coupe de trois’ system, where if he won, he would add the winnings to the stake, if he lost he would halve the bet.
Wilson’s son, Jack became suspicious. He believed Gordon-Cumming was swapping his stacks around after his cards had been dealt.
“This is too hot. The man next to me is cheating,” he whispered to Berkely Levett on his left.
“Impossible,” Levett replied.
“Well look for yourself,” Jack retorted.
“This is too hot,” Levett agreed.
Levett had seen Gordon-Cumming increase his stake when the cards were good. He and Jack Wilson patiently waited until the game had finished before discussing it further in Levett’s room.
“My God! Think of it. Lieutenant Colonel Sir William Gordon-Cumming caught cheating at cards!” exclaimed Jack.
Levett didn’t want to get involved. Gordon-Cumming was a respected senior officer, and Levett would rather do nothing and hope that it would just go away. Plus, what could he do? Apart from Jack Wilson and Levett’s testimony, there was no further evidence.
Agitated, Jack spoke to his mother. Mary had seen no sign of cheating, but she believed him and told him to set up the table for the following night in a way that they’d be able to keep on eye on him. To further lessen the load, Jack then told his brother-in-law Edward Lycett-Green. Lycett-Green was very sceptical, but he told his wife to keep an eye out for it the next evening. Five people were already in the know.
After a day of copious amounts of champagne at the races, the table was prepared for another evening of baccarat. The Prince, Reuben Sassoon, Jack and Mary Wilson, Arthur Somerset, Lord Coventry, Lord Edward Somerset, General Williams, Berkeley Levett, Lady Coventry, Lady Brougham, and Edward and Ethel Lycett-Green all frequented the table.
Was it just a misunderstanding?
Gordon-Cumming’s luck from the night before continued. In no time at all, he was up £225 (£21,610 in today’s money), more than £100 more than anyone else, and by this point, the other players on the table were getting suspicious, especially Edward Lycett-Green. No scene was made at the table, but instead, he stepped away to the smoking room and wrote a note to his mother-in-law, Mary Wilson, describing what he had witnessed.
By this time Edward and Ethel Lycett-Green, and Jack and Mary Wilson were convinced Gordon-Cumming was cheating. All of the money, of course, was won from the banker, the Prince of Wales, so the severity of swindling was tremendous, and the two families felt like they had to act.
The next day Edward Lycett-Green met with the Prince’s senior courtier, Lord Coventry to tell him of the news who then told General Owen Williams, a mutual friend of both the Prince and Gordon-Cumming.
After another day at the races, before dinner, Gordon-Cumming was visited by both General Williams and Lord Coventry who informed him of the allegations and told him that they will have to tell the Prince. No investigation had yet taken place, but Lord Coventry was terrified of yet another scandal involving the Prince.
“There is a very disagreeable thing that has occurred in this house. Some of the people staying here object to the way you play baccarat,” stated Lord Coventry.
“Do you believe the statements of a parcel of inexperienced boys?” Gordon-Cumming spat back at the Lord, and demanded to see the Prince.
Gordon-Cumming got his wish, but the Prince was sold on the allegations and had assumed that he had been cheating by how much money he had won.
“There are five accusers against you,” said the Prince.
“The accusations are foul and abominable, Edward,” pleaded Gordon-Cumming.
But there was no budging the Prince. Gordon-Cumming withdrew and returned after half an hour to sign a document that they had drafted, and despite still denying the allegations, the Colonel signed the document under pressure from the Royal entourage.
“In consideration of the promise made by the gentlemen whose names are subscribed to preserve my silence with reference to an accusation which has been made in regard to my conduct at baccarat on the nights of Monday and Tuesday the 8th and 9th at Tranby Croft, I will on my part solemnly undertake never to play cards again as long as I live.”
— (Signed) W. Gordon-Cumming
Gordon-Cumming left the next day imbittered with the whole situation. But the Colonel had one big piece of blackmail hidden under his sleeve…
Find out what happened in court in the third and final part