Monday, May 15, 2006

Charles Bravo

On April 21st, 1876, Charles Bravo, a newly-wed with many enemies, died from antimony poisoning. Julian Fellowes investigates the extraordinary case which scandalised Victorian Britain, and has remained unsolved to this day.

In 1874, Florence Ricardo, was recently widowed and independently wealthy, she started a new life at The Priory in South London. She had a lover, Dr. Gully, an elderly physician with a fashionable spa. The affair flew in the face of polite society, and Florence was shunned by her parents.

Florence discovered she was pregnant and Dr Gully performed an abortion. Florence's companion, Mrs Cox, nursed her back to health, and introduced her to Charles Bravo, a rising young barrister. Although clearly not in Florence's league, marriage to him would have brought reconciliation with her family and London society.

Charles demanded that Florence break off all relations with Dr. Gully. He also wanted proof of her affections and insisted on pre-marital sex. Following a row with her coachman, George Griffiths over his use of antimony, Charles dismissed him from Florence' service. Griffiths uttered a dark prediction that in four months Charles Bravo would be dead.

After the marriage, Charles tries to exert financial control over Florence, who became upset and as a result miscarried her child. Charles received an anonymous letter, accusing him of marrying Florence for her money. The servants pointed the finger of suspicion at George Griffiths, whilst Charles clearly thought Dr. Gully was guilty.

Charles and Florence fought over Dr. Gully and Charles struck Florence. She fled to Buscot but returned because she was pregnant again. Mrs Cox stumbled upon Charles fetching Marsala for Florence. He claimed he was worried that Florence was drinking too much, and that he intended to cure her. He swore Mrs Cox to secrecy.

On the fateful day…. Dinner was an angry affair and Charles was in a foul temper. Florence kept Mrs Cox with her late that evening, and Charles retired ungraciously. Later that night, the household is woken by Charles' cries for hot water. Three days later he was dead.

In this programme Julian draws the threads together. He recounts the evidence implicating each suspect but eventually discounts all the house members. So, who did kill Charles Bravo?

Julian reminds us that Charles clearly knew what he had taken because he didn't ask any questions and he didn't accuse anyone in the house. And yet, if he knew he'd taken antimony, why didn't he tell the doctors? After all, adding it to Florence's drink was hardly a crime - or was it?

Julian reveals that he believes Charles Bravo was trying to kill Florence. And in his distemper, mistook antimony for Epsom Salts. In trying to kill Florence, he had inadvertently killed himself.


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