Part #213: The Legend of Liam

“Mary, please forward me a microcap transcript of Douglas’ interview in the Register, the June 14th one (or was it 15th?). Jo passed on a rumour that Smith is going to bring up his opposition to the shed tax in the debate; dunno if it’s true but if it is, I need his exact words so I can loophole her on it. Dave’s canvass returns in Thornton Heath are grim reading if Douglas thought the tax would be a non-issue; the leafy suburbanites are up in arms about that one and we can’t win without them. But it also means they’ll be paying extra close attention at that point, so if I can score a point off Smith then—well, we’ll be home free...”

—From the Correspondence of Bes. David Batten-Hale (New Doradist Party--Croydon Urban)​


From “Great Lives” by Patricia Daniels (1979)—

His Grace Sir William Wesley, 2nd Duke of Mornington—better known to history as Liam Wesley, or simply The Bad Duke—was born in Dublin in 1820. From the start he was something of an embarrassment to his staid father Richard (jr.) with his scandalous youthful escapades. One particularly memorable incident was when the seven-year-old Liam sabotaged the hat of Lord Lucan, an elderly and stuffy member of the Whig-Tory party in the Irish House of Commons, with glue when he visited Dublin Castle. After donning the hat, Lucan proceeded straight to Parliament, where he removed it on entering the building only for it to take his otherwise convincing wig with it. Nothing was ever proved, but opposition Radical MP James Roosevelt did purchase Liam a new draisine (an early form of celeripede) for his eighth birthday.[1] Liam went on to be proof of the Jesuit axiom that character is determined by the age of seven, for his exploits only became more outrageous—and swiftly began to include the fairer sex as well. James (Seamus) O’Donnell, the head of the Irish National Census Board, quipped at the turn of the twentieth century that he was considering adding an extra demographic category to his City of Dublin pie charts just for ‘descendants of Liam Wesley’.

Liam’s family might have been relieved when he left Ireland to embark on a Grand Tour of Europe, were it not for the fact that 1) he did so while underage and unauthorised, and 2) it turned out to mostly be a Grand Tour of Europe’s premier drinking establishments, casinos and bawdy-houses. This is, perhaps, an unfair characterisation—even from an early age Liam displayed a keen and genuine interest in foreign language and culture—but it was how it was reported in Dublin’s gutter press. While his father and brother were scandalised, it remains debated by biographers just how much this applied to his illustrious grandfather Richard (sr.). Some point to letters in which the Lord Deputy of Ireland comments scathingly on his scion’s delinquency, while others pull out anecdotal accounts of Lord Mornington laughing uproariously at one of Liam’s dinner table pranks during a solemn ceremonial dinner at Dublin Castle. Regardless, it is unsurprising that when that great man shuffled off this mortal coil in 1846, it was tactfully decided by the King and the Irish establishment that Liam should be passed over to succeed his grandfather as Lord Deputy (his father Richard jr. having already passed away by this point). Accordingly, his more sober and suitable younger brother Arthur was made Duke of Dublin and Lord Deputy, while Liam inherited his father’s title and just enough of his property to avoid a scandal. This predictably was futile in any case as Liam was more than capable of providing scandals of his own, and sold off most of his inheritance in order to fund them.

He rapidly accumulated a number of nicknames which speak of his character. ‘The Bad Duke’ was rather obvious given his continued possession of the dukedom of Mornington while continuing to indulge in his favoured activities. ‘Lucky Liam’ noted his generally successful career at the Rouge-et-Noir tables at La Ridotte in Bordeaux and elsewhere, often uttered ironically by bitter opponents accusing him of cheating.[2] But, as one biographer Pavel Ivanov commented, ‘If Mornington was a cheat, he was a very good one who was never caught, and at many tables that is considered an admirable form of gambling skill in itself’. Liam rarely became unpopular with the majority of his gambling opponents despite this, due to a characteristic expressed in one of his more disparaging nicknames, ‘Mother’s-teat Mornington’—an expression of contempt from his fellows that he often showered money on his (many) bastard children. This, together with the fact that he was always acquiring a new love (not all of whom had his best interests at heart) meant that even when he was at his luckiest, Liam was always spending more than he won at the tables. From the age of twenty-eight onwards he repeatedly lurched from bankruptcy to liquidity and back again.

How did he recover himself when in the red? Beginning in 1848, Liam began enlisting in trading companies to earn money, often trading off the prestige of the Wesley/Mornington name for military purposes (despite initially having no military experience himself). This, combined with his rather self-interested approach to warfare, meant that he switched to a variety of aliases after 1860 or so. It did not help that he had technically fought on both sides of the Great American War—the result of first having his Royal and Imperial Natal Company ship boarded and seized by New Spanish Concordat forces, and then, after agreeing to command New Spanish troops in battle under Adolfo Montero for a propaganda boost, promptly switched sides again when surrounded by Augustus Dorsey’s Imperial forces near Santa Fe. Liam kept what was (by his standards) a low profile for the remainder of the war, ‘only’ searching for silver in California’s Argentina province (and somehow eventually ending up in Peru). He tactfully adopted an alias when serving under the British East India Company in China and then Bengal, having a narrow escape from Caliphate forces but acquiring a number of precious stones from a dying Neo-Mughal soldier who had rescued them from the ruins of the Taj Mahal after its destruction by the Mahdi’s iconoclasts. These were sufficient to bring Wesley back to Europe—now sporting a tan and a few new scars—to pay off his creditors and resume his high living. But they could not last forever in the hands of a man who fatally combined the vices of drinking, womanising and gambling with the virtue of generosity. Liam Wesley was soon back in the saddle, figuratively and literally.

After his less-than-creditable war experience up to this point, Liam displayed a less ambiguous record in his service as a mercenary officer for the Ottoman Sultan in the Euxine War of 1861-64. He commanded soldiers, often ex-Barbary pirates pressed into service, against the Russians in the Crimea. There remains a persistent (and entirely baseless) claim that Liam was depicted in Sakharov’s painting of the Battle of Balaklava. He won some plaudits for his command ability and tactics, whether through his genetic inheritance belatedly activating or through his well-established sheer luck. According to Liam himself he was given awards and lands by the Sultan and the title of ‘Wazli Pasha’, though most biographers are sceptical. Due to the destruction of many records in the former Ottoman Empire since then, it is doubtful whether this question will ever be resolved. It was also during the Euxine War that Liam met John-Peter Codlington, scion of an unlikely Anglo-French union of one of Lisieux’s fleeing soldiers from the invasion of England with the Chatham barmaid who chose to hide him from the mob. Codlington, fluent in both his parents’ languages, was one of the first true war reporters and wrote pieces for both Britain’s Register and France’s Le Journal. His experiences with Liam persuaded him of an alternative source of income for a skilled writer familiar with writing about action and conflict. Florin bloody writers had been scribbling away outrageously inaccurate (though rarely exaggerated...) tales of Liam’s exploits ever since his misspent youth. Why not have the far more capable Codlington write up the real stories right from the horse’s mouth and they could split the profits?

It was this idea, more than any possibly hypothetical gifts showered upon him by the Sultan, which led to Liam’s accounts returning to the territory of real numbers for the first time in a few years.[3] Once again Liam returned to the bars and card tables of Europe, this time sporting a turban and seeming intent to acquire a harem to match it. Despite the expenditure this presumably entailed, Codlington’s popular bilingual ‘Duke Tales’ series kept both of them well financed, and Wesley’s next adventure at the end of the 1860s was more occasioned by boredom (and perhaps escaping some determined suitors) than bailiffs. In 1868 Liam was forty-eight years old and there is some evidence he was sick of being treated as yesterday’s news resting on his laurels by the young bloods. As men like the elder Baron Münchhausen and Moritz Benyovsky faded into memory—Benyovsky had died in Africa when Liam was still a child—Liam was one of many new adventurers to have taken their place, but now he too was in danger of becoming just a story. Many newer rogues dismissed Codlington’s tales as pure fiction, and while some of them were undoubtedly embellished (there is no evidence of Liam ever stealing a giant pearl from a South Seas fish god temple out from the noses of a United Mauré army) this accusation stung his pride. Benyovsky had kept up having adventures until the day he died at an advanced age: though Liam had begun his global journeys out of self-interest, he was now keen to emulate this prototype and embrace action for its own sake.

From 1868 to 1872 Liam therefore journeyed to Africa and worked for the Royal Africa Company under a transparent pseudonym—by this point there were few who did not recognise him. The Company, now under the leadership of Director Robert Jeffries (who had married the late Philip Hamilton’s daughter Eliza) was resigned to the fact that any bad press Liam bought them would likely to be balanced by increased public interest as they sought additional government funds to continue to bring railways and Lectel to the Guinean interior. Liam’s service in Africa was predictably dramatic: it is ironic to note that if his journey to Natal had not been interrupted by the New Spanish twenty years earlier, he might well have had a quiet career on the continent ending in obscurity. Now, however, he played a crucial role in African history by rescuing the Company’s cinchona plantations from a dastardly plot by the dispossessed Prussian Junker Emil von Möllendorf. Liam insisted ever afterwards than Möllendorf had been in the pay of the Meridian government or one of the UPSA’s increasingly powerful corporate entities, seeking to destroy the independent Guinean supply of quinine and force the RAC to purchase at exorbitant prices from the Hermandad states. The Board of Directors was uncomfortable about this accusation, for which Liam had no proof other than claimed last words by Möllendorf, and avoided diplomatic protests from the Meridian resident in Dakar by shuffling Liam off to the Hausa/Fulani frontier.

Undaunted, Liam proceeded to command native Jagun troops in several skirmishes against rogue Fulani treaty-breakers. Possibly in an attempt to impress Jeffries’ daughter, he sought to equal Philip Hamilton’s famous feat by sneaking his way into Timbuctoo disguised as a Muslim. His plan worked a little too well, and after one thing led to another, Liam ended up being one of the very few Europeans to ever visit Mecca (forbidden to non-Muslims on pain of death)—and certainly the first one who didn’t actually want to go. Fortunately, his experience serving under and alongside Muslims in the Euxine War let him bluff his way through the encounter, at least long enough for him to hightail it in a boat across the Red Sea in 1872 pursued by an angry mob. Enough word of this incident reached and upset the Company’s Hausa subjects and Fulani neighbours that Director Jeffries tactfully discharged Liam from the Company.

The Bad Duke returned to Europe, though not without one final act of outrage. He arrived back in his native Ireland with a new love in tow: a native Dahomean lady named Hangbe who he claimed (though, again, biographers are suspicious) was a retired Dahomey Amazon. This affair lasted about as long as most of Liam’s, and Hangbe (after adopting the Irish name Holly O’Leary) had a successful career founding and running Black Hol’s Circus, which took in performers from across the world and was considered one of the travelling wonders of Europe during the early years of the Long Peace. Her legacy was forgotten for most of the twentieth century until she was rediscovered in the 1960s when the English band Argentus recorded a novelty song inspired by one of her circus posters found in an attic, The Amazing Amazon.

Liam, meanwhile, crossed the Irish Sea and—now at the dignified age of 64—calmed down slightly and amused himself by the more sedate practice of joining and getting kicked out of every club in London to have survived the Populist purges. This presumably excluded the all-female clubs, though there are rumours. Nonetheless, Liam once again sank into a slough of despond. He had proved himself to the doubters, he was a wealthy man (and the more prudent Codlington an even wealthier one, now owning Lion and Unicorn Publishing House). But what did the 1870s, an era of peace and prosperity (for the most part) offer a man like Wesley? The blank unexplored spaces in the atlases shrank every year. The world was shrinking with them, as communications and transport both constantly accelerated in speed. When Liam had been a boy, it had taken five or six weeks to travel from Fredericksburg to Susan-Mary; now an American could cross from Atlantic to Pacific coast in a fraction of that time on the brand new Trans-American Railway. It is easy to see how Liam could have ignominiously ended his long life in banal squalour and broken dreams.

However, he did not, due to an incident in that year of 1874 which ultimately stemmed from the aftermath of the Euxine War in which he had fought a decade before. The Russian court had been embarrassed by their military’s conduct in the conflict and, besides new military reforms and a focus on building new Lectel networks and railways (the Trans-Siberian Railway would open this decade). A consequence of this had been renewed infighting between noble and political factions and some had lost out. Prince Sergei Dolgorukov had led one such faction, but his pedigree was such that he had not faced exile to Siberia by the Tsar, but had instead been appointed Ambassador to the Court of St James. The slight problem with this otherwise elegant solution was that Dolgorukov was a raving Anglophobe and one who not only tested diplomatic immunity to the limits in his staged insults to his country of exile, but—hating those currently in power at court in St Petersburg—he had no particular incentive to avoid an incident that would embarrass them. The London press understandably mostly condemned Dolgorukov’s actions (from ‘accidentally’ spilling his drink on Jennifer Wyndham at the King-Emperor’s birthday dinner to paying thieves to steal Black Rod’s black rod five minutes before the state opening of Parliament). The exception was the quirky publication The Hermetic Weekly, which perversely admired Prince Dolgurokov for his ‘enlivening our pages at a time when the great and the good of our capital seem so disinclined to’. (Indeed, the 1870s were generally considered something of a dull time in terms of high society events and culture, though predictably many plays, paintings and books later considered great were produced to no great fanfare at the time).

In 1874, however, Prince Dolgurokov went too far. Once again he adopted his usual practice of working at arm’s length with hired mischief-makers, but in such a way that made it blatantly obvious to everyone who had done it. He had already used Russian down-and-outs from the Isle of Dogs docks, but this time he took a slightly different tack. What followed has formed the basis for so many plays, films and Motoscope dramas that it is hard to tease out the fiction from the reality. Indeed, The Bad Duke was first filmed as early as the 1920s: the well-known 1964 film is actually a remake, contrary to popular belief. Perhaps at this point all we can do is quote that well-trodden script...


A dark, stone-walled room with no windows: a basement. LIAM WESLEY, looking decidedly worse for wear and with his hands tied behind his back, is slammed down on a wooden chair by two tough-looking men in dark, anonymous suits. A large metal bowl sits before him on a table. One of the men shoves WESLEY’s head forward into the bowl, prompting a splash of water and bubbles. WESLEY lashes out, apparently randomly flailing, but actually skilfully grabs the man’s arm and unbalances him, levering him down to bash his temple on the corner of the table. The dripping WESLEY emerges from the bowl and looks down at the unconscious man with a satisfied expression, even as the other man grabs him threateningly.

WESLEY: Water way to go.

NEW VOICE (VO): Very droll, Lord Mornington. You are fortunate my man is but stunned or it would have gone very harshly with you. You’re not in the jungle now.

WESLEY sends a hard look at the source of this voice, a figure standing obscured in the shadows.

WESLEY: No, even in the jungle I wasn’t often grabbed from behind by two b—ds who then took me to some blackguard’s basement and tried to drown me. Who the h—ll do you think you are?

(The figure steps forward into the light. WESLEY recoils in surprise)

WESLEY: Mr Tendring!

TENDRING: Less of the names, Your Grace. Do you think anyone would believe you if you told them that Bes. Alfred Tendring (Moderate-Norwich Rural North), His Britannic Majesty’s Home Secretary, was lurking in a basement in Cheapside waiting to accost dissolute noblemen.

WESLEY: I’m not dissolute. I’ve got pots of royals.

TENDRING: I wasn’t talking about money. You’re fresh out of action and adventure. And I know men like you. That’s what you really want.

WESLEY: Playing the alienist now are we? All right. It’s clear you want something. What is it?

TENDRING: Very good, Lord Mornington. You are a disgrace to your family, a lecherous dilettante, possessed of a grotesque sense of morality and—

WESLEY: This is an interesting way to persuade me.

TENDRING: Allow me to finish. Despite all the things I said, you have proved yourself a capable fighter and, more importantly, thinker. You have pulled off plans that few would have thought possible. Your ill-omened voyages around the world have seen you obtain keen knowledge of many of its countries, including some particularly relevant to my interests.

WESLEY gives TENDRING a suspicious look.

WESLEY: I’m not interested in joining your New Unnumbered.

TENDRING: That doesn’t exist, of course. And besides, it’s certainly not called that.

WESLEY: Call it what you may, I’m not spying for you. I have my pride.

TENDRING quirks an eyebrow.

TENDRING: Be that as it may, I am not asking you to leave this country. We do, however, have a problem. Henry Fairbanks, the President of the Government—

WESLEY: I am loosely familiar with the existence of the gentleman in question.

TENDRING: Quite. Five hours ago, Mr Fairbanks attended a masqued ball in Marylebone Hall on the old WorldFest site. The great and the good of British society and our foreign visitors were there—

WESLEY: Yes, I know. They didn’t send me an invitation.

TENDRING smirks.

TENDRING: I’m surprised you didn’t try to get in anyway.

WESLEY: I did. But there was a subtle flaw in my disguise.


WESLEY: Indeed. I was wearing this season’s dress with last season’s bonnet. An amateur’s mistake.

TENDRING stops smirking.

TENDRING: Uh...regardless. Despite being accompanied by a bodyguard, President Fairbanks has vanished from the ball. One hour ago, this note was delivered to the Whitehall Forum.

TENDRING pushes a note across the table to WESLEY, who looks at it owlishly.

WESLEY: Something familiar about this handwriting...

TENDRING: I thought you might say that.

WESLEY: Not the individual, I think, but the style...this was written by someone used to writing...

WESLEY trails off

WESLEY: Oh no. Yapontsi script?

TENDRING: I fear so. You may be a Bad Duke, Lord Mornington, but I have one question to ask you.


TENDRING: The President has been kidnapped by Nindzhyas. Are you a Bad enough Duke to rescue the President?

WESLEY’s eyes light up...


Though the 1964 film (and the others) takes some liberties with the details (and minimises the role of Wesley’s fellow adventurer and friend Edgar Tibbetts), it is reasonably faithful to the real events of the Fairbanks Affair. Without Wesley’s knowledge of fighting the elite Yapontsi nindzhyas in the Crimea, without his quick wit and planning, it is unlikely that the government’s Land Marines and the Middlesex Police Force (and possibly Tendring’s nascent spy agency which the scene quoted above alludes to) would have been able to find where President Fairbanks was being held and release him from his hostage takers. Furthermore, it was only through Wesley both securing the nindzhyas’ documents and being able to read them that a link was proved to Prince Dolgorukoi, who finally outstayed his welcome and fled the country. This time not even the Prince’s heritage let him escape the Tsar’s wrath, and in a supreme irony he was appointed a Governor of the new territories in Yapon—whose last remaining independent Hans were in the process of falling under Russian influence at the time.

Lord Mornington could not be openly thanked by the government (which successfully suppressed public knowledge of the whole incident for years), but he received his wish for bequests for all his illegitimate children. Despite his advancing years, the whole affair rekindled his love of adventure (as Tendring had guessed) and there was one country in particular where he desired to go. In 1878, Governor-General Prince Dolgorukoi was found dead in his bed, slain by a supposed serving girl. The Yapontsi rose in revolt, a glorious but ultimately futile operation that led to the entire Japanese Islands being annexed to the Russian Empire and the Kingdom of Corea in the 1880s after it was crushed. There remain persistent rumours that Liam was involved in the planning of the revolt, and certainly Codlington continued to publish reports supposedly written by him for years to come. These pamphlets are frustrating for historians attempting to reconstruct Yapontsi history after purge and counter-purge, as they are potentially a hugely valuable source for the Hanran (Great Rebellion) but ultimately their veracity cannot be trusted. Indeed, many scholars dismiss them purely based on the certainly exaggerated or fabricated tales of the female entertainers known as gyejshas, though arguably the presence of such tales should only lend credence to Liam Wesley actually being the author.

The date of Liam Wesley’s death remains unconfirmed. It is known that in 1898, at a time when the Pandoric War was raging, a ship arrived in Dublin carrying a young half-Yapontsi gentleman who claimed to be Wesley’s legitimate son from a marriage to a Yapontsi lady. Patrick Wesley (or Uesuri Patorikku) therefore claimed that as his father had passed away, the dukedom of Mornington had fallen to him. This was hotly disputed not merely on grounds of prejudice and lack of proof, but also because many of Wesley’s bastards in Dublin also sought to claim the dukedom, either fabricating marriage records or legitimisation papers. The whole affair saw the Irish courts tied up in litigation for years, and the eventual ruling from the Crown (worn by separate people on different continents at different stages of the process) was that there was no proof Wesley had died. This was a tactful compromise to effectively ensure none of the claimants could obtain the Dukedom. Therefore, at time of writing the law says that the dukedom of Mornington is still held by the 2nd Duke, currently aged 158. A piece of legal absurdity, perhaps, but if anyone was capable of finding the fountain of youth—quite possibly by accident—there are few candidates more likely than Liam Wesley...

[1] Celeripede is the term that becomes the favoured one in TTL for bicycle; in OTL it was only used for a specific variety. Draisine is an OTL early French term for proto-bicycles, sometimes called dandy horses in English.

[2] Rouge-et-Noir, also called Trente et Quarante, is a French gambling card game from the seventeenth century (therefore predating the POD) which remains popular today at European casinos such as Monte Carlo. La Ridotte is a casino founded in Bordeaux in TTL which takes its name from the Ridotto, a famous seventeenth century casino in Venice which was closed down (in both OTL and TTL) in the late eighteenth century.

[3] Note that the idea of complex numbers long predate the POD and were termed imaginary numbers by Descartes in the seventeenth century.

Last edited:


That Volume I Sea Lion Press publication should be out soon, so let's celebrate with another update. This one has been in the planning works for quite a while, it's just been finding the right time to write it.
Interesting bit of information on the fate of Japan, particularly Korea's involvement.

And the destruction of the Taj Mahal is quite sad to me.
'Duke Tales' - like all well-executed puns, it's so bad that it actually goes across the line and becomes funny.

Fantastic update - there's too much good stuff to pick everything out, but in terms of world-building (and the trademark Thandean cryptic hints) there's so much going on here that I think I'll be coming back to this for a while.

The President has been kidnapped by Nindzhyas. Are you a Bad enough Duke to rescue the President?

I'm sad he isn't real.

I decided to pop over to his wiki page just to read about his madness again and saw that every second sentence has a [citation needed] written on it. Seems fitting. :D
TENDRING: The President has been kidnapped by Nindzhyas. Are you a Bad enough Duke to rescue the President?
This was so great and so cheesy! Is this from an 80s action film starring Steven Segal? :D

Indeed, many scholars dismiss them purely based on the certainly exaggerated or fabricated tales of the female entertainers known as gyejshas, though arguably the presence of such tales should only lend credence to Liam Wesley actually being the author.
Yeah, "gyejshas", totally made-up. :D

Duke Tales! Woo-hoo!
An interesting adventurer, Liam Wesley. I wonder if some of his exploits could have been modified for teenager adventure stories ITTL.


Thanks for the comments and glad everyone enjoyed it. The seeds for this pun were planted way back in part 170-something before the Great American War if you look back (yes, my long-term planning for this TL generally revolves around how I can make puns...) Liam Wesley is not real, Mumby, though there were a few real inspirations for him. There was a bit of deliberate switcheroo irony in that here it's a Wesley (Wellesley) who's the roguish cad while a Lucan is the staid aristocrat, whereas the families' reputations in OTL (certainly in the last few decades) are pretty much the reverse.

(While checking the above, I found that the current Duke of Wellington was once Tory candidate in Jeremy Corbyn's parliamentary seat, though before Corbyn himself was MP. That's weird).

(Also did anyone get the Argentus reference? Ed Costello perhaps?)
Thanks for the comments and glad everyone enjoyed it. The seeds for this pun were planted way back in part 170-something before the Great American War if you look back (yes, my long-term planning for this TL generally revolves around how I can make puns...) Liam Wesley is not real, Mumby, though there were a few real inspirations for him. There was a bit of deliberate switcheroo irony in that here it's a Wesley (Wellesley) who's the roguish cad while a Lucan is the staid aristocrat, whereas the families' reputations in OTL (certainly in the last few decades) are pretty much the reverse.

(While checking the above, I found that the current Duke of Wellington was once Tory candidate in Jeremy Corbyn's parliamentary seat, though before Corbyn himself was MP. That's weird).

(Also did anyone get the Argentus reference? Ed Costello perhaps?)
So Liam Wesley could be considered a younger ATL brother of the Duke of Wellington?


So Liam Wesley could be considered a younger ATL brother of the Duke of Wellington?
Well, in TTL there's this figure Richard Wesley, Duke of Mornington, who is basically a composite of the OTL first Duke of Wellington Arthur Wesley/Wellesley and his older brother Richard, Earl of Mornington. Liam is the grandson of Richard Wesley. Not sure what the 'ATL relation' terminology becomes by that point :D