“He who does not fill his world with phantoms remains alone” – Antonio Porchia
Before his marriage to Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744-1818), rumor had it that mad King George III of the United Kingdom (1738-1820) got around. Few things inspire as much devout schadenfreude as aristocratic scandal, and that’s the trade-off you get for being royalty. While wearing a crown on Tinder is not an optimal strategy for attracting the attention of the opposite sex these days, in the 18th Century you could still parlay it into a hot date, say with Lady Sarah Lennox, daughter of the 2nd Duke of Richmond. Of course, the divine right of kings has remarkably little to say about birth control, and every now and again semi-royal progeny popped up on the radar. Sometimes there’s a little genealogical housecleaning that goes on, either tidying up the legitimacy of one “royal bastard” or another to put a shine on the succession, or making sure there is ample counterevidence or adequate payoffs (just because you’re noble doesn’t mean you have to be a savage). It helps enormously if ghosts are involved, as in the case of little Frederic W. Blomberg, the son of a British Army officer, welcomed with open arms into the court of King George and Queen Charlotte.
The Blomberg family had been hanging around England for quite some time, Charles John, Baron Blomberg (1658-1745) having reportedly arrived with George I to establish the House of Hanover as the British ruling dynasty, and taking up residence at what would be the family manor of Kirkby Misperton in Yorkshire, until about 1798, when the last Blomberg eligible for inheritance died childless and the estate reverted to the King. Of course there were other Blomberg cousins around, and one of them appears to have been named Fredric B. Blomberg, who had the right to use the family coat of arms and label himself with the honorific “Count”, although he undoubtedly still had to work for a living. References in contemporary British Army lists confirm that in 1765, a Captain Blomberg was serving with the 62nd American Regiment somewhere in the Caribbean. By 1767 he was no longer listed, presumably dead. We don’t know much else about him, except that about this time, young four-year-old Frederic W. Blomberg was adopted by George III and his wife Queen Charlotte, raised as one of their own children and known to be the close childhood companion of George IV, later pursuing a vocation with the church. “Dr. Blomberg, the adopted son of good Queen Charlotte, chaplain to his brother-by-adoption George IV, Canon of St Paul’s and an accomplished fiddler so devoted to his art that it was whispered that out of respect for his office and the Sabbatarianism of the times be kept a greased bow so that he could play silently on Sundays” (Tallentyre, 1909, p255). The scandal sheets of the time quietly remarked on the fact that young Frederic bore a remarkable resemblance to the rest of the royal brood, and though there was no clear evidence, many folks thought he was likely the illegitimate son of George III. As it turns out, the presence of Frederic Blomberg at court was easily explained, when stories regarding his true father’s ghost began to circulate in a number of complementary forms.
Early in the American war, Major Blomberg, the father of Dr. Blomberg, was expected to join his regiment, which was at the time on service in the island of Dominica. His period of absence had expired, and his brother officers, eagerly anticipating his return, as vessel after vessel arrived from England without conveying the looked for passenger, declared one to another, “Well, at all events, he must come in the next.” His presence in the island now became indispensable; and the governor, impatient of so long an absence, was on the point of writing a remonstrance on the subject to the authorities in this country, when, as he was sitting at night in his study with his secretary, and remarking on the conduct of the absentee, with no very favourable or lenient expressions, a step was heard to ascend the stairs, and walk along the passage without. “Who can it be?” exclaimed the governor, “intruding at so late an hour.” “It is Blomberg’s step,” replied the secretary. “The very man himself,” said the governor; and, as he spoke, the door opened, and Major Blomberg stood before them. The major advanced towards the table at which the gentlemen were sitting, and flung himself into a chair opposite the governor. There was something hurried in his manner; a forgetfulness of all the ordinary forms of greeting; and abruptly saying: “I must converse with you alone:” he gave a sign for the secretary to retreat. The sign was obeyed. There was an air of conscious superiority about the manner of the visitor that admitted no dispute. “On your return to England,” he continued, as soon as the apartment was cleared of the objectionable witness,” On your return to England, you will go to a farm house, near the village of Dorsetshire; you will there find two children; they are mine; the offspring and the orphans of my secret marriage. Be the guardian to those parentless infants. To prove their legitimacy, and their consequent right to my property, you must demand of the woman, with whom they are placed at nurse, the red Morocco case which was committed to her charge. Open it; it contains the necessary papers. Adieu! You will see me no more.” Major Blomberg instantly withdrew. The Governor of Dominica, surprised at the commission, at the abrupt entrance, and the abrupt departure, rang the bell to desire some of his household to follow the major and request his return. None had seen him enter: none had witnessed his exit. It was strange! it was passing strange! There soon after arrived intelligence that Major Blomberg had embarked on board a vessel for Dominica, which had been dismasted in a storm at sea, and was supposed to have subsequently sunk, as she was never more heard of, about the time in which the figure had appeared to the governor and his secretary. All that Major Blomberg had communicated was carefully stamped in the memory of his friend. On his return to England, which occurred in a few months after the apparition above described had been seen by the governor, he immediately hastened to the village in Dorsetshire, and to the house in which the children were resident. He found them; he asked for the casket; it was immediately surrendered. The legitimacy and the claims of the orphans of Blomberg were established, and they were admitted to the enjoyment of their rights without any controversy or dispute. This tale was related to the late Queen Charlotte, and so deeply interested her that she immediately adopted the son as the object of her peculiar care and favour. He was brought to Windsor, and educated with his present Majesty, of whom he has through life been the favourite, the companion, and the friend (Jarvis, 1823, p138-141).
Still other stories began to appear, all still revolving around the secret marriage of Major Blomberg, and the requests of this parental phantasm for the care of his spawn. In some versions he was stationed in Dominica during the opening of America Revolution (1765), and died in a shipwreck, haunting his former Governor with requests to retrieve documents proving the legitimacy of his heir. Another version maintains the time frame, but moves the location slightly south to Martinique, directs the pleas to a Colonel, and has Major Blomberg expiring from a tropical fever.
When the English forces were in possession of the island of Martinique, in the seven years’ war, there was a Major Blomberg, who was detached from headquarters to a distant part of the island. After he had been there for some time, as Colonel Stewart was in bed at headquarters, Major Blomberg suddenly entered the room in the middle of the night, dressed in his regimentals, and advanced to Colonel Stewart’s bed-side, who, greatly alarmed at his appearance, exclaimed, ‘Blomberg! how came you here without leave? I thought you were at another part of the island with your detachment.’ The Major replied, ‘ Don’t be alarmed; I have leave to come here, but I am no longer alive. I died yesterday at seven in the morning, and am now come here to beg that you would take care of my little boy, who is in town; and, when you go to England, I desire that you would see him put in possession of an estate which he has a right to, and the writings relative to which are in a private drawer in an old chest, in a house in Yorkshire (naming the house), and this I most earnestly request of you, as my last wish and desire-‘ He then disappeared, leaving Colonel Stewart in the greatest astonishment, but that gentleman directly called to Captain Mounsey, who slept in the same room, and enquired if he had seen Major Blomberg, to which that officer replied, that he had not only seen him but had heard everything he had said, which he repeated to Colonel Stewart, and they both made notes of the event. The next morning they mentioned it to their brother officers, who treated it as a ridiculous thing, or as an invention of those gentlemen to impose upon some of the young officers; but a few hours afterwards advice was brought, that Major Blomberg had died of a violent fever in quarters, upon the same day and at the same hour as had been mentioned by Colonel Stewart (Gully, 1849, p41-43).
Yet, a creepier version involves the re-animation of Major Blomberg’s corpse, delivering his message to officers assigned to sit with the body.
Two officers had been detailed to sit up with a body in the West Indies. As the night advanced, one officer had passed into an adjoining room, while his companion remained with the body. To the great surprise of the watcher, he saw the corpse slowly rise and approach him, and presently begin to speak. The story told by this visitor from the secret world, was of a great wrong which had been kept secret. He had been permitted to return, that amends might be made. The apparition bade the astonished watcher call his companion, and then told of a secret marriage to a girl in Ireland, who was expecting a child; gave the name of the clergyman who married them, and told how they could obtain evidence. The guest had seen the sworn statement, testifying to the truth of the story he had related (Gebhard, 1915, p292-293).
Another variation has Blomberg lurking about camp and contacting his brother officers after he’d been shot to death.
During the American War, two officers of rank were seated in their tent, and delayed taking their supper till a brother officer, then absent upon a foraging party, should return. Their patience was well-nigh exhausted, and they were about to commence their meal, concluding something had occurred to detain the party, when suddenly his well-known footstep was heard approaching. Contrary to their expectation, however, he paused at the entrance of the tent, and without coming in called on one of them by name, requesting him with much earnestness, as soon as he should return to England, to proceed to a house in a particular street in Westminster, in a room of which (describing it) he would find certain papers of great consequence to a young lad with whom the speaker was nearly connected. The speaker then apparently turned away, and his footsteps were distinctly heard retiring till their sound was lost in distance. Struck with the singularity of his behaviour, they both rose, and proceeded in search of him. A neighbouring sentinel on being questioned denied that he had either seen or heard anyone, although, as they believed, their friend must have passed close by his post. In a few minutes their bewilderment was changed into a more painful feeling by the approach of the visiting officer of the night, who informed them that the party which went out in the morning had been surprised, and that the dead body of poor Major Blomberg (their friend) had been brought into the camp about ten minutes before. The two friends retired in silence, and sought the corpse of the person who, as both were fully persuaded, had just addressed them. They found him pierced by three bullets, one of which had passed through his temples and must have occasioned instant death. He was quite cold, and appeared to have been dead some hours (Ingoldsby, 1870, p51-52).
While the details vary, the essential theme is always the same. Major Blomberg had a secret marriage and a son who might not be allowed to inherit the social status of his father. Blomberg meets with an untimely death somewhere in the West Indies during the American Revolution. Blomberg returns from the grave to provide guidance and request assistance in legitimizing the claims of his heir. Our tendency is to view these four variations on the same story and usher the whole thing off into the ghetto of folklore or poorly fact-checked royal propaganda. Yet the essence of a large part of the story is verifiable. The people existed. The timeline fits. Only the introduction of a ghost into the equation strains credulity, beyond which this would be a rather mundane tale of inheritance issues and the surprisingly charitable behavior of a King and Queen. When the surreal emerges in a narrative that we would otherwise accept at face value our modern inclination is to “Cry Hoax, and let loose the dogs of skepticism!” A single element of the inexplicable can summarily execute an army of the explicable. Let’s face it, legions of ghost hunters are running about these days poking in dark and gloomy corners, waving dubious meters, and enlisting psychics to reach through the veil to contact the other side, and we marvel at their relative inability to make any sort of conclusive connection to the phantasms of the dead, whereas history gives us abundant examples of helpful ghosts taking a righteous stand. Maybe we have to let them come to us, or as John Malkovich said, “the ghosts you chase, you never catch”.
Day, Clarence S. Remarkable Apparitions and Ghost Stories, Or Authentic Histories of Communications (real Or Imaginary) With the Unseen World. New York: Wilson and company, 1848.
Gebhard, Elizabeth Louisa, 1859-1924. The Life And Ventures of the Original John Jacob Astor. Hudson, N.Y.: Bryan printing company, 1915.
Gully, Lionel Watt. Recollections And Reflections During an Occasional Week-day Lounge In Bristol Cathedral. London: Clarke, 1849.
Ingoldsby, Thomas, 1788-1845. The Life And Letters of the Rev. Richard Harris Barham, Author of the Ingoldsby Legends: With a Selection From His Miscellaneous Poem. London: R. Bentley, 1870.
Jarvis, T. M.. Accredited Ghost Stories. London: J. Andrews, 1823.
Taylor, John, 1829-1893. A Book About Bristol: Historical, Ecclesiastical, And Biographical. London: Houlston and sons, 1872.
Timbs, John, 1801-1875. Signs Before Death, And Authenticated Apparitions: In One Hundred Narratives. London: W. Simpkin and R. Marshall, 1825.
Tallentyre, S.G. “A Parson of the Thirties”. Thackeray, William Makepeace, 1811-1863, and George Smith eds. The Cornhill Magazine 3:26. London: Smith, Elder and company, 1909.