Meet the Herveys, Britain’s Most Scandalous Aristocratic Family

A tabloid has reported that Lady Victoria Hervey had a threesome with Melanie Brown and her husband Stephen Belafonte. It’s the latest scandal in a long family line.

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

“When God created the human race,” a popular 18th century witticism ran, “He made men, women and Herveys.”

The cameo appearance of Lady Victoria Hervey as a rumored participant in a ménage à trois between Mel Brown—aka Spice Girl Mel B—and her estranged husband, Stephen Belafonte, is just the latest startling installment in the extraordinary story of the scandal-heavy Hervey family, also known as the Bristols (the eldest male in the family is called the Marquess or Earl of Bristol).

Lady V, as she is known to her pals, which comprise a raucous set in her adopted home of Los Angeles, is said to have joined the couple for a night of passion after a drunken night celebrating Brown’s appearance on the show Dancing with the Stars.

A friend told the Sun: “It was all a blur and everyone was very drunk, especially Lady Victoria.

“She told me one minute they were laying in bed watching a movie together, then they got carried away and Stephen was on top of her and Mel was kissing her.

“Next thing she can remember they all woke up naked in bed in the morning.”

Although it appears from reports that the assignation took place in good faith between consenting adults, the story has acquired dark overtones after Brown made allegations in court papers that her husband beat her, persuaded the nanny to have an abortion after he got her pregnant, and had blackmailed his wife into taking part in certain threesomes.

Belafonte has now filed for divorce, citing “irreconcilable differences.”

Lady V is said to be mortified that the threesome is now public knowledge, and nervous in case footage was secretly recorded.

She is no stranger to the tabloids. She became famous as an It girl (like Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, who died this year). Hervey has participated in reality TV shows like Celebrity Love Island, and has had flashbulb-friendly relationships with pop star Shane Lynch and race car driver David Coulthard.

In 2003, Lady V’s opinion about the homeless made it into the Observer’s “great sayings” of the year: “It’s so bad being homeless in winter. They should go somewhere warm like the Caribbean where they can eat fresh fish all day.” She recently reinvented herself as an author.

Lady V is hardly the first member of the Hervey family to engage in a little sexual adventuring.

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Indeed, the family has at least one other threesome definitively in the archive: Lady V’s great-great-great-aunt was Lady Elizabeth Hervey, the daughter of the Fourth Earl of Bristol, known as “Lady Bess” who famously lived and shared a bed with the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, William and Georgiana, as played on screen by Ralph Fiennes and Keira Knightley in The Duchess.

(Lady Bess also happens to be the great-great-great-grandmother of Vogue editor Anna Wintour, but that’s another story.)

The joke about the Herveys being a species apart from humanity—attributed apocryphally to Voltaire—became a popular bon mot in the 18th-century society when British society was at peak Hervey (pronounced Harvey), but was originally formulated as a reference to John, the second Lord Hervey.

John, who lived from 1696 to 1743, was one of a handful of openly gay upper-class men of the Georgian age, and one of its greatest characters. He was married, but had numerous affairs with both men and women, and lived on and off with Stephen Fox, the first Earl of Ilchester, for 10 years.

Many of their passionate love letters survive. “Don’t imagine I am modest enough to think myself such a sort of dish, for ’tis the least of my thoughts; and if I could, would certainly persuade you not only to have me always at your table, but to eat of no other,” Hervey wrote in one typically florid billet doux from 1727.

His sexuality made John a constant target of the satirist Alexander Pope, who referred to him as “Lord Fanny,” and he was occasionally denounced by other society figures and politicians.

But John was protected, essentially, by the vast wealth of the Herveys and the tolerant attitude of his father (John predeceased his father, dying at the age of 46, so never became Lord Bristol himself).

He also had a network of powerful friends at court.

He was, in his younger years, a close friend and ally of the Prince of Wales, Frederick, the son of George II. However, they grew apart after they fell out over a woman.

John turned against Frederick and sided (astutely) with the king.

However, he secretly wrote a memoir of life in George II’s court which was preserved by his family and not published until 1848. Hervey’s gossipy account of court life and its intrigues has since become one of the key primary materials on the early Georgians.

The Herveys managed to stay out of the limelight for the next few hundred years, residing quietly on their vast estate, Ickworth in Sussex, from where they sent out worthy military gentlemen and charming ladies for several successive generations, but in the 1930s the exploits of Victor, a playboy who was destined to become the Sixth Marquess of Bristol, captured public attention just as surely as John had 200 years earlier.

Victor—the father of Lady V—had expensive tastes but, faced with the reluctance of his father to fund his expensive lifestyle, took to jewel thievery and petty crime to make ends meet while he waited to inherit.

Victor, who was expelled from the British officer training academy Sandhurst for unspecified offences, became the ringleader of a gang of former public school boys known as the Mayfair Boys, who, among other crimes, assaulted and robbed a jeweler from Cartier.

Victor was eventually caught, and his July 1939 trial was attended, according to the Daily Mirror, by “expensively gowned Mayfair women, some wearing dark glasses and heavy veils.”

His father, who had led a respectable life, reportedly broke down in tears on hearing the sentence: three years.

Victor was widely believed to continue to be involved in crime for the rest of his life, even after his father died in 1960, and he inherited the family fortune.

In 2007, Metropolitan Police files made available publicly showed that police believed Victor was involved in the 1946 robbery of Hever Castle: The gang used a black Rolls Royce as their getaway car. He was even said to have supplied guns to Franco.

In 1975, Victor put a large tranche of the Ickworth goods and chattels on the market and moved to Monte Carlo, became a tax exile, and never set foot in Britain again.

Victor was said to loathe his son, John, then known as John Jermyn due to the complex naming rituals of the British upper classes which often see children and parents using different surnames for periods of time depending on their standing in the hereditary order.

He was said to be more affectionate toward John’s half-sister, Lady Victoria, born of his second wife, his former secretary.

Lady V inherited no money from her father (who died of emphysema when she was 8), but John came into £1 million at the age of 16, and at 21, another £4 million, a sheep station in Australia, and four oil wells.

His life, however, was blighted by an insatiable appetite for alcohol, drugs, and sex. John was said to have boasted of sleeping with 2,000 rent boys.

He moved to New York and became a key figure in the Studio 54 party scene. In 1983, he was arrested and accused of trafficking in $4 million worth of heroin.

Thomas Puccio, the lawyer who had previously represented Claus von Bulow, got the charges reduced to a misdemeanor.

John moved back to the U.K. He married, and had a child. But things didn’t work out, and the marriage fell apart after two years, and he dived back into the world of drugs and partying.

He learned to fly a helicopter and, as one of his friends told the writer Anthony Haden-Guest, “would steer by an AA map on his knees, while snorting coke off the map.”

By the time he died in 1999 of multiple organ failure brought on by chronic drug use, he was living in a small cottage on the vast estate his family had once owned. Lady Victoria was left nothing in her brother’s will.

She is said to be mortified by her inadvertent walk-on role in the messy breakdown of Brown and Belafonte’s marriage. But as her extraordinary ancestral history shows, in comparison to the antics of many other Herveys, Lady V’s exploits might be considered nothing more than the most minor of indiscretions.