The Royal Baccarat scandal is an event just before the end of the 1800’s involving the then Prince of Wales and future King of England, Edward the 7th. It was immense news at the time and the scandal spread thanks to socialites moving in the English and French circles of society.
It involved royalty and leaders of industry in a gambling scandal in a time when Baccarat was considered an illegal activity. It led to the downfall of the source of the scandal, one William Gordon-Cumming.
A scandal involving a cheating Baccarat player and royalty in a delicious bit of celebrity gossip easily spread like wild fire.
The Decorated General
William Gordon-Cumming was a landowner, socialite and soldier. He served as a Lieutenant colonel in the Scots Guard and he served tours of duty in South Africa, Egypt and Sudan.
He was also close friends for near 20 years with the Prince of Wales, Edward. Additionally William was also known as a serial womaniser and a generally arrogant, if handsome, chap.
The Baccarat game at Tranby Croft in 1891 would be a massive turning point in William’s life that would lead him down a path of social ruin.
The Prince of Wales
At this point in time, the Prince of Wales was a 49 year old father of five. It cannot be said that he had a good reputation.
Despite his royal lineage, the public frowned upon his regular brushes with the law with regards to gambling and even a quite public involvement of Sir Charles Mordaunt’s divorce trial as the prince was one of the three men accused of having an affair with his wife.
If another scandal came to rock the family, it was not known if the royal public image would be able to recover from it.
The Gracious Host
The Baccarat scandal took place at the home of shipping magnate, Arthur Wilson. He built the home, Tranby Croft, where the legendary game would take place.
There are rumours that William Gordon-Cumming was only at the party as he was interested in Arthur’s married daughter.
This cannot be officially verified but judging by Gordon-Cumming’s reputation, it sounds at the least plausible.
The Legal Status Of Baccarat
During this time, gambling was still something that was frowned upon but at the same time fully embraced by high society. It provided excitement and escape for many people from all walks of life, but obviously there weren’t the checks and balances in place that you will find in modern online casinos.
For instance there was no way you could set a daily or monthly limit on your gaming, not to mention you could find many a loan shark that would be only too happy to take advantage of someone down on their luck.
For this reason, the High Court of Justice ruled in 1886 that Baccarat was a game of chance, not skill and as such is deemed illegal to be played with money. It was still however perfectly legal to be played for fun.
Perhaps even more tellingly, the historian Roy Hattersley stated that despite its illegality, what potentially made Baccarat even worse in the eyes of many young Englishmen was the fact that it was a French game.
The Big Night
The scandal started on the night of the 8th of September. Edward suggested at around 11pm that the guests of Tranby Croft should play a few games of Baccarat.
They did not have a suitable gaming table so they simply moved three tables closer together and covered them with a colourful tablecloth. Gordon Cummings noted that the table cloth makes it hard for a person to distinguish between their chips on the table so he placed a piece of white paper infront of himself on which to stack his chips.
One of the guests Stanley Wilson thought that he saw Gordon Cummings add and remove chips from his stake, depending on whether he lost or won.
As the game commenced, he whispered his suspicions to his partner, Berkeley Levett. Levett started watching Gordon-Cumming play and he also agreed with Wilson by the end of the game.
The next night another game was to be played on a specially prepared table.
At this point, Wilson and Levett had spoken about the incident with their respective families so as Gordon-Cummings came to sit down for the game there was already an air of suspicion.
By the end of the night most members of the party were convinced Gordon-Cummings had been cheating.
Soon word spread about the incident both in their personal circles and publically, in fact as far abroad as France. Gordon-Cummings sued 5 members for slander, but the damage had already been done and Gordon-Cumming’s social life and position never recovered.