Another of Charles Bancroft's secrets
Captain Charles Edward Bancroft in Hong Kong around 1901
If you have looked at the Charles Bancroft mystery page you will remember that Charles marriage to Margaret Catherine Grimston was annulled in very unusual circumstances in 1897. Following the annulment he returned to full pay in the Royal Welch Fusiliers on the 8 June 1898.
Charles seems to have been "ill" before this as can be seen in a small paragraph in The Era in June 1898 that explicitly links Charles Edward Bancroft to Lady [Marie] Bancroft. However, he was not THAT ill as we will see later!
The story starts in January 2009
I thought Charles's life complicated enough what with his own illegitimate birth and marriage annulment supposedly based on non-consummation with Margaret Grimston, but in January 2009 it got even more complicated upon the arrival of an email addressed to me from a very hot Australia.
"Dear Chris, I have been tracing my own family tree and I have information about Charles Bancroft that you might find interesting. Please let me know if you would like the information?"
"Yes", was my immediate answer and I was to be absolutely amazed by what was conveyed in the researcher's reply the next day.
The researcher had been putting together the Youngman family tree for many years and had been exchanging emails with family members around the world. He came into the possession of a number of personal letters from a Eve Brabant ( Youngman) who was living in Southern Africa in the 1960s.
Eve, as she signed herself in the letters, had been writing to a distant Youngman relative on the other side of the world for over twenty years and this person forwarded all of Eve's letters to the researcher in Australia in case they ever got lost. It seemed that Charles E. Bancroft was mentioned in one of these letters from Eve.
A colleague of the Australian researcher (I said this was complicated!) knew of Eve's letter and had come across my www.oldwhitelodge.com web site after entering Charles Edward Bancroft into the Google search engine and came across the page dedicated to Charles Bancroft. The researcher in Australia then sent me an email relating the content of Eve's letter that had been written to her relative in the 1960s.
So what did Eve say in her letter dated 24th September 1986 and why the intrigue? Here is what Eve said in her letter:
Wow! I want to comment straight away that I thought long and hard about publically quoting this letter in light of Eve's very specific request for the letter to be destroyed. However, the letter was not destroyed and taking into account that society views illegitimate births entirely different to that of Eve's generation. Perhaps, even, they are the norm these days? On reflection, I think she would be pleased to see this information coming out several decades after she passed away and being accepted as so normal. I hope so anyway.
Could the contents of this letter be true? There are two keys points to consider:
Let's look at these in turn.
Was Eve Youngman the illegitimate daughter of Charles Edward Bancroft?
Further information about the Youngman family was provided by the researcher in Australia:
"At the time Eve would have been about 90 years old and had grown up in very different times, when such a story would have been a matter of great shame. Eve’s mother’s name was Florence Martha Youngman and she came out to South Africa with two of her sisters, Kate and Eve Youngman (Eve turned out to be May Jessie)."
Clearly the first thing to find out was whether there was an "Eve Youngman" born in the UK around the turn of the century. A search undertaken on the FreeBMD site brought up a number of births of 'Eve Youngmans' around that time but non seemed right.
Interestingly, through luck, we also came up with a 'Eva Marion B Youngman':
Was our 'Eve' really born 'Eva'? What was interesting about this Eva was the date of 1898, which was the same year Charles Edward Bancroft rejoined the the Royal Welch Fusiliers and went off to Hong Kong on the way to China so the comment in Eve's letter about her father - a Captain - being in China when she was born was quite correct!
And, of course, what we asked ourselves was "What did the 'B' stand for in her name?" Could it really be Bancroft? There was only one way to find out and that was to send for her birth certificate. Which of course we did - immediately!
Yes! B really did stand for Bancroft and there was no father recorded. So Florence Martha Youngman did have an affair with Charles when he was supposedly ill just before he went to China. Amazing!
In January 2009, the UK 1911 census was released and we find Florence and Eva visiting her Aunt Shears along with Florence's sister May Jessie Swears.
May Jessie had already emigrated to South Africa by that time (Probably 1903 as the Swears family can be seen on a passenger list to South Africa in that year). What is really interesting is that Florence says she has "Private Means" and was "single". As Florence's father was a humble tobacconist, according to earlier census information, it is unlikely the private means came from her family but rather from Charles. This confirms Eve's comment in her letter about a lawyer who looked after her and who supposedly managed the trust that paid for Eva's (Eve as she later became known) upbringing.
When did Florence and Charles meet and had the opportunity to 'get together'? Another of Eve's letters may provide the answer.
Eve refers to a Military Camp near Wiltshire in a number of letters:
Based on this comment, it is very likely that Florence, Kate and May Jessie met officers from the Royal Welch Fusiliers while they were stationed in Wiltshire prior to Charles departing to China in 1898. However, from census information neither of the two other sisters married an RWF officer. I wonder why Charles did not marry Florence but went on to marry Ellie Moses in Hong Kong? We'll probably never know now.
Going through Eve's other letters elicited the following facts:
We are not sure when Eve passed away so more research is needed.
Incidentally, I'm not sure whether the statement about Eve's Aunt Jess is correct. May Jessie's husband Frank was a merchant's clerk in 1891 and his father was a hosier in 1871 though Frank was at a private school St Nicholas College in that year. Of course, he could have been "marrying below his station" and was disowned by his family.
Interestingly, when I first started investigating Charles Edward Bancroft there were strong family rumours about Charles being the illegitimate son of Edward VII. This was all passed down the family verbally and there is nothing written down. Because of this, in my discussion about So, who was Charles's father?, I did not think it worthwhile mentioning it.
However, could Charles really have been Edward VII's illegitimate son? This is best addressed by a quote from a posting by Roy Stockdill in 1999 on the SOG-UK-L Archives:
The term amende honorable is used
It would impossible now, in 2009, to prove this one way or another, however one of Eve's comments in her letters is intriguing:
The use of the term amende honorable is very strange taking into account that Eve did not have an educational background that would have made her familiar with this term. But what does the term mean?
To quote an on-line dictionary, amende honorable means a "Formal apology for an injury to the reputation and honour of another. In old French law the term was once used to describe a public confession made by persons guilty of crimes coming under the head of public scandals, and was accounted an infamous punishment."
Eve explicitly mentions in one of her letters that she still had the letters sent to her mother Florence by Charles. However I would expect these have been long destroyed on Eve's death. It is intriguing to think that these may still exist? Surely, this term came directly from Charles in one of his letters to Eve's mother Florence as this would not have come to Eve spontaneously I'm sure. Of course, there is no way of confirming this now. However, everything else mentioned by Eve concerning Charles has been shown to be true, so couldn't this also be true?
This investigation shows the power of the Internet in helping with issues concerning genealogy. If the letters had not been preserved and without the Internet, this little bit of history would never have seen the light of day.
Unless we can find a living relative of Eve in South Africa or locate the letters from Charles to Florence, it is unlikely that this is the end of this particular story thread.
Maybe I'll receive another email? - let's keep our fingers crossed!