Philip Henry Stanhope, 4th Earl Stanhope

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Philip Henry the 4th Earl of Stanhope believed to be in 1825

Philip Henry Stanhope, 4th Earl Stanhope FRS (7 December 1781 – 2 March 1855), was an English aristocrat, chiefly remembered for his role in the Kaspar Hauser case during the 1830s.


He sat in Parliament as a Whig for Wendover from 1806 to 1807, Hull from 1807 to 1812, and Midhurst from 1812 till his succession to the peerage on 15 December 1816.[1] Sharing his father's (Charles Stanhope's) scientific interest, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society on 8 January 1807 and was a president of the Medico-Botanical Society; he furthermore was a vice-president of the Society of Arts.[2]

Like other members of his gifted family, notably his half-sister Lady Hester Stanhope, he is usually portrayed as a somewhat eccentric character. Having studied in Germany, he used to travel extensively in Europe (mostly alone, though he was married and had a son and a daughter), thereby consorting at various princely courts and spending a lot of money. In contrast to some accounts, which suggest that he lived beyond his means, it appears certain that he was rich, at least after he had succeeded his father in 1816.[3]

His eccentricity may be understandable since, as the Duchess of Cleveland writes in her Life and Letters of Lady Hester Stanhope, his father refused to send him to school anywhere but kept him at the family home of Chevening. The plan was that Philip would help his father cut off the entail on the estate, and the Life implies that the Earl would then have sold the estate and sent the money overseas, impoverishing his family. Hester helped her brother escape and her letters, quoted in the Life, record that William Pitt the Younger and others rejoiced over what she had done.

Kaspar Hauser case[edit]

Stanhope became interested in the story of the "foundling" (aka a "feral child") Kaspar Hauser, a youth who had appeared in Nuremberg in 1828 and had become famous through his claim that he had been raised in total isolation in a dark room and could tell nothing about his identity. Furthermore, Hauser was found with a cut wound in 1829 and claimed to have been attacked by a hooded man. This led to various rumours that he might be of princely parentage but also suspicions that he was an impostor.

Stanhope first met Hauser in 1831 and soon felt a strong affection for the young man: indeed, their relationship could have had homo-erotic undertones, as contemporary rumours suggested. He endowed him generously and paid for (unavailing) inquiries in Hungary to clarify the young man's origin, as the latter, in 1830, had claimed to remember some Hungarian and Slavic words which had led to speculations that he might originate from there.

Hauser's custodian, Baron von Tucher, criticised Stanhope's pedagogically wrong behaviour towards Hauser and retired from his custodianship.[4] Now Stanhope, in December 1831, became Hauser's foster-father and transferred him to the care of a schoolmaster.

In January 1832, he returned to England from where he continued to communicate by letter with his fosterling and also with officials examining the case. Stanhope had favoured the theory that Hauser stemmed from Hungarian magnates but had to give up this idea when he was informed that further inquiries in Hungary had, once more, failed completely. In a letter to the Bavarian court president Anselm von Feuerbach (dated 5 October 1832), Stanhope now clearly uttered his doubts in Hauser's credibility.[3]

While he continued to pay for his fosterling's living expenses, he never made good on his promise that he would take him to England and his letters to Hauser became less affectionate. Hauser did realise this change of mood.[3] On 14 December 1833, Hauser came home with a deep wound in his chest and claimed to have been stabbed by a stranger. He died three days later.

Although Stanhope had long stopped believing in Hauser's tales, he at first was of opinion that Hauser had indeed been murdered, a view he uttered in one of his letters (dated 28 December).[3] In another letter from 7 January 1834, when he had received more information on what had happened, a change of mind announces itself:[5] he would later advocate the position that Hauser himself had inflicted the wound by pressure, and that, after he had squeezed the point of the knife through his wadded coat, it had penetrated much deeper than he had intended.

In his Tracts Relating to Caspar Hauser (1836, German original: 1835) Stanhope published all known evidence against Hauser:

The more I was deceived in this affair, and the more erroneous were my views, the more is it now my duty to act with zeal, and, if it were in my power, with ability, to preserve others as far as possible from similar errors. Though I have on that account appeared in an unfavourable light to some of those who are known or unknown to me, though I have been abused and even calumniated, I find a sufficient consolation in my own conscience.[6]

Stanhope, indeed, was attacked by followers of Hauser, and even accused of contriving his death. They suggested that Hauser was a hereditary prince of Baden and was murdered for political reasons. Professional historians (such as Ivo Striedinger) defended Lord Stanhope as a "seeker of truth" and as a deceived philanthropist who had realised his delusion.[5]

Anthroposophist author Johannes Mayer repeated the accusations against Stanhope,[7] but he completely failed to prove them.[8]



  1. ^ Stooks Smith, Henry. (1973) [1844–1850]. Craig, F. W. S., ed. The Parliaments of England (2nd ed.). Chichester: Parliamentary Research Services. pp. 345, 405, 478. ISBN 0-900178-13-2. 
  2. ^ Dictionary of national biography (1885–1900) (Volume 54); cf. article Earls Stanhope in Encyclopædia Britannica (1911)
  3. ^ a b c d Ivo Striedinger: Neues Schrifttum über Kaspar Hauser, in: Zeitschrift für bayerische Landesgeschichte, 6. Jg. 1933, pp. 415–484, here p. 427
  4. ^ Fritz Trautz: Zum Problem der Persönlichkeitsdeutung: Anläßlich das Kaspar-Hauser-Buches von Jean Mistler, in: Francia 2, 1974, p.721
  5. ^ a b Ivo Striedinger: Neues Schrifttum über Kaspar Hauser, in: Zeitschrift für bayerische Landesgeschichte, 6. Jg. 1933, pp. 415–484, here p. 428
  6. ^ Philip Henry Earl Stanhope: Tracts Relating to Caspar Hauser, Hodson 1836, p. 87
  7. ^ Johannes Mayer: Philip Henry Lord Stanhope, der Gegenspieler Kaspar Hausers. Stuttgart: Urachhaus, 1988
  8. ^ Walther Schreibmüller: Bilanz einer 150jährigen Kaspar Hauser-Forschung, in: Genealogisches Jahrbuch 31, 1991, pp. 43–84, here p. 52

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Charles Long
John Smith
Member of Parliament for Wendover
With: George Smith
Succeeded by
George Smith
Francis Horner
Preceded by
John Staniforth
William Joseph Denison
Member of Parliament for Hull
With: John Staniforth
Succeeded by
John Staniforth
George William Denys
Preceded by
Thomas Thompson
George Smith
Member of Parliament for Midhurst
With: Thomas Thompson
Succeeded by
Thomas Thompson
Sir Oswald Mosley, Bt
Peerage of Great Britain
Preceded by
Charles Stanhope
Earl Stanhope
Succeeded by
Philip Henry Stanhope