The Guardian earlier this week ran a review of a book by Michael Bloch entitled Closet Queens. This is a history of homosexuals in English politics before 1967 when the criminality of homosexuality was ended. One of the lives considered is that of the 7th Earl Beauchamp whose portrait heads the review in the Guardian’s on-line edition. This is William Lygon, with some of whose children Waugh became friends. According to the review (by Chris Mullin):
Beauchamp, married with seven children, appears to have got away with leading a “hazardous, hedonistic life” for 40 years without encountering any serious trouble, all the while occupying some of the greatest positions in the land, including, ultimately, lord steward of the royal household. He came unstuck, however, in 1930, when his brother-in-law the Duke of Westminster launched a vendetta that led, at the insistence of King George V, to his having to disappear speedily into exile. In the best British tradition, the scandal was covered up, he was said to have gone abroad for health reasons, only resurfacing briefly towards the end of his life. Beauchamp was immortalised by Evelyn Waugh (a friend of the family) as Lord Marchmain in Brideshead Revisited.
The same assertion is made in the Literary Review and the Independent. This is correct up to a point but needs a bit of context. Lord Marchmain voluntarily chose exile over life with his domineering, Uber-Catholic wife, prefering to live with his mistress in Venice. Unlike Lygon, he did not risk arrest or criminal penalty if he returned to England, only the wrath of Lady Marchmain. Waugh’s friend, novelist Anthony Powell, thought the story would have been better (or at least more believable) if there had been some scandalous secret covered up by Lord Marchmain’s exile, such as seems to be hinted by Anthony Blanche. Waugh probably chose a less controversial explanation to spare the feelings of the Lygon family.