It was at “Delmonico’s” restaurant in New York in 1892 that the dashing aristocrat, Lord Francis Hope, owner of the Deepdene estate, met and fell hopelessly in love with a star of the American stage, May Yohé.
Money and Marriage
A pretty singer and actress, May Yohé’s arrival in London only deepened Lord Francis’ infatuation. Already spending the wealth of a vast fortune, that included the fabulous Hope Diamond, in an extravagant, irresponsible way, Lord Francis unwisely began financing ventures to advance May’s career. Inevitably, bankruptcy loomed for the owner of the Deepdene estate despite his being heir to a dukedom.
“He’s Hope, and it’s a cinch he has faith, seeing he married Yohe and she hasn’t a dollar in the world; so I guess it’s a case of Faith, Hope and Charity”
George Bernard Shaw, quoted in R. Kurin, 1950, Madcap May
Before long the press was speculating that the couple might marry, prompting his Lordship’s family to absolute horror at the prospect – with their reputedly offering him £300,000 if he would break off the relationship. Nevertheless, Lord Francis proposed, May accepted, and in 1894 they were married. He was to spend a part of their honeymoon, however, attending the bankruptcy court.
“May epitomised the naughty nineties”
R. Kurin, 1950, Madcap May
Still at the height of her career May Yohé, now Lady Francis Hope continued to act and sing in sensationally popular musicals both in Europe and the USA. The Hope family wanted nothing to do with her. May was deliberately snubbed by society ladies when attending events but this was said to have changed dramatically when the playboy Edward, Prince of Wales, took an interest in her – as he did with numerous female performers.
A ‘Second Honeymoon’
By 1899 there were newspaper reports of a failing marriage and separation. Despite still living well beyond their means the couple embarked on a world tour. A ‘second honeymoon’ it was said but it was perhaps equally a way to escape his creditors. The state of their finances was so poor that May, on engaging to perform in New York the next year, had to do so with the embarrassing stipulation that Lord Francis appear in the theatre lobby, to be seen by theatre-goers as they arrived and again during the interval! The marriage, her career and his finances were unravelling at an alarming rate.
The most handsome man in the Army
On the return voyage to Southampton they encountered fellow passenger US Army Captain Putnam Bradlee Strong; described as “the most handsome man in the Army”. Before very long “New York’s finest lover” was wooing May. Lord Francis seemed oblivious but, in truth, he had appeared to be showing very little interest in May perhaps even encouraging the outcome.
By 1901 the marriage was over, an infatuated Captain Strong resigned his army commission to be with May. She finally, very publically, deserted Lord Francis, who sought divorce in 1902 to be rid of his “giddy and unfaithful wife”. No sooner than the divorce was finalised, May married Putnam Strong but it was to be yet another doomed relationship. Her stage career staggered on with performances trading on her being “the former Lady Francis Hope”. She had a role in the 1921 silent film The Hope Diamond Mystery, “A story by May Yohé”, that probably magnified the rumours of the diamond curse to their current level of fame.
The final fall
May remarried several times and attempted various unsuccessful money-making ventures until ending her days on hard times, having to work as an office cleaner and a clerk. When she died in 1938 her ashes were scattered in the Atlantic Ocean. Had things turned out differently, she might have become the Duchess of Newcastle.
Lord Francis remarried happily to Olive Muriel Thompson in 1904 and inherited the title, Duke of Newcastle in 1928 but by that time had already destroyed much of the family wealth and estates through enforced sales to meet his debts. The once magnificent Deepdene had never been the real residence of unlucky Lord Francis but had been rented out, its wonderful collections of sculpture and art sold off and the wider estate broken up and sold to pay off his debts. Even the Hope Diamond was sold. The Duke was to finally return to Deepdene, however, when he died in 1941 and was interred in the Hope Mausoleum.
Researched by a Dorking Museum volunteer
Find out more
Watch some episodes of May Yohé’s Mystery of the Hope Diamond!
Key Source Kurin, R. 1950 Madcap May: Mistress of Myth, Men and Hope London: Smithsonian Books
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