This is the dramatic, often erratic, and at times unbelievable story of the fortunes and misfortunes over 900 years to the present day of one of England's premier aristocratic families, who in 1661 were given the Earldom of Essex by Charles II. This fascinating, previously untold story begins just after the Norman Conquest with a Hugh Capel in AD 1100 and ends at the present day, with Frederick Paul de Vere Capell, 11th Earl of Essex and the future heir presumptive, William Jennings Capell, a former shelf stacker, who lives in Yuba City, California. Over a period of 400 years the Capell family built a fortune, and over the next 500 years lost it due to an incredible number of mistakes bad judgment calls, and misfortunes. Lord Arthur Capel, one of England's richest men, changed sides from Parliament to support Charles I, and after a further series of poor decisions, was executed at Palace Yard, Westminster at the age of 41 in 1649 by the same executioner, using the same axe as had executed King Charles I barely three months earlier. His son, also Arthur Capel, created 1st Earl of Essex by Charles II became involved in a plot against the king, and was mysteriously found with his throat cut whilst awaiting trial in the Tower of London. Did he commit suicide to avoid the consequences of treason and to save the estates and titles for his son? Conspiracy theories abounded. The king commented sadly that he owed the Earl's father had died for his father, and he owed him a life and would have spared him. Arthur's young son became the 3rd Earl and went down in history as `the most debauched young man in London.' The long-lived 5th Earl had numerous mistresses and, as a close friend of the debauched Prince Regent, shared a well-known courtesan, Mrs Robinson with the Prince. Unhappily married, with no legitimate male heir, living at the family seat, Cassiobury in Watford, at the age of 81 he married secondly a 44-year-old actress and died shortly afterwards, accompanied to the grave by some very irreverent press comments. The three-times-married 6th Earl, whose father was a bankrupt debauched gambler, had an illegitimate son, George Ingerfield Capel, who had an illegitimate daughter who was the mistress of the `Sundance Kid.' The 7th Earl, in 1892 struggling to keep Cassiobury and the family fortunes together married a title-hunting American heiress, Adele Beach Grant, who was not really an heiress, and who became a member of the Edwardian `fast set'. Her alcoholic husband, known as `sulky' stepped in front of a cab outside his London club in 1916 and was killed. Adele was found mysteriously dead in the bath in 1922. Her step-son the 8th Earl had eloped with and married young, and by the 1920s the extensive family estates had to be sold. The much-married 9th Earl died heirless in Bermuda in 1966. A contest broke out over whom should now inherit the titles. Robert Edward de Vere Capel, the next Earl, born in 1920 was the son of a railway parcel porter and was a Royal Air Force flight sergeant during the Second World War. He fought a dramatic battle to prove his right to the Earldom. His son, Frederick Paul de Vere Capell, the 11th Earl of Essex, who lives modestly not far from Lancaster, is a retired assistant schoolmaster and a classical music devotee. He has no children and unless the inheritance laws change, the title will one day go to his American cousins in Yuba City, California.
Robert Bard, MA, PhD, has had a long and interesting career as an airline pilot, sales director of a well-known confectionery company, and author of fifteen books. Bard has appeared on BBC programmes talking about aspects of London's history including London's lost battlefields, hidden burial grounds, and execution sites. Robert Bard lives in Chipping Barnet, Hertfordshire, and was previously a visiting lecturer at the University of Hertfordshire, lecturing in European history.