History April 13, 2022 at 01:00 pm

The freed Afro-Caribbean slave who passed himself off as a Black prince in late 18th century Britain

Mildred Europa Taylor | Head of Content

Mildred Europa Taylor April 13, 2022 at 01:00 pm

April 13, 2022 at 01:00 pm | History

The "Mungo Macaroni" (Mungo - a name of a slave character from a comic opera) is based on Julius Soubise. (Public domain)

Not much is known about Julius Soubise’s early life only that he was born around 1756 in St. Kitts to a White planter father and a mother of African descent. Some say that he was the son of a Jamaican slave from St. Kitts. Soubise was brought to England in the 1760s by Captain Stair Douglas and was soon given to the Duchess of Queensbury who took care of him like her own child.

Soubise would grow up to become a “notorious young dandy”, leading a lavish and decadent lifestyle in London high society, according to historians. Catherine Hyde, the Duchess of Queensberry, could have checked him but she failed to do so largely because she found him likable.

In fact, in 1764 when a young Soubise was given to her, she freed the boy from slavery and named him Julius Soubise, after Charles de Rohan, Prince of Soubise. Workers at the duchess’ household liked Soubise the moment they met him and they soon started calling him “The young Othello”. The duchess and her husband educated Soubise and asked Domenico Angelo, an Italian sword and fencing master, to teach him how to fence and ride horses. Soubise would become the duchess’ riding and fencing master

Soubise also had some of the best instructors teaching him proper speech, how to play the violin, and sing. As he became proficient at the above, he took on an “extremely privileged lifestyle”, spending money on clothing, women, and fine dining while labeling himself “The Black Prince”.

Gerzina (1995) wrote that Soubise “suddenly changed his manners, and became one of the most conspicuous fops of the town. He frequented the Opera, and the other theatres; sported a fine horse and groom in Hyde-Park; became a member of many fashionable clubs, and made a figure.” He continued such reckless life with the blessing of the duchess.

According to this report, the duchess “maintained a house in town for Soubise, as well a liveried carriage to take him around, and all amenities for leading his foppish life. She herself suffered often from his heedless drives, but made no attempt to check him firmly, probably due to her kindly feelings toward the black boy less than half of her age.”

It was even rumored that a sexual relationship existed between the duchess and her fencing master Soubise. London high society went on to create a satirical picture depicting their supposed relationship to embarrass the two. British abolitionist, writer and composer Ignatius Sancho, who was a friend to Soubise, wrote a letter to him in 1771 asking him to try and put an end to his depraved lifestyle as the upper-class Britons had had enough of him.

Not too long after, Soubise was accused of raping a maid. The duchess had to send him to India to save him from prosecution. She died two days after Soubise fled to Calcutta in Bengal, India. Soubise founded an equestrian school in Calcutta, training young men and women to ride and fence. He died in 1798 from injuries sustained by a fall from a horse.

Several pieces of literary and stage work are about his life and personality. He is the subject of the 1769 opera, The Padlock, by Isaac Bickerstaffe. A Mungo Macaroni (1772) by Matthew and Mary Darly is also about him, so is the 1773 book The Duchess of Queensbury and Soubise by William Austin.

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