Charles De Rudio and Eliza Booth

  • Charles De Rudio, who died at his home in Los Angeles, California, on November 1, 1910, aged 78, is arguably one of the most colourful characters ever to serve in Custer’s celebrated 7th U.S. Cavalry. Bearing in mind the considerable difference in both age and social background it was almost inevitable that the marriage of this flamboyant, revolutionary Italian aristocrat to Eliza Booth, a 14 year-old* working-class, lace runner from Nottingham, would capture the imagination of generations of historians fascinated by the events surrounding De Rudio’s participation in both the failed attempt to assassinate Emperor Napoleon III and the ill-fated Battle of the Little Big Horn.
  • However, based on the findings of this writer’s own study of this remarkable couple it would seem that far too many authors have relied almost exclusively on previously poorly researched secondary sources, which regrettably has perpetuated factual inaccuracies and other errors. Of course De Rudio himself was perfectly capable of embellishing the truth for the sake of telling a good story and the extraordinary fact that important detail contained in the certified copy of their entry of marriage issued by the General Register Office in 2002 differs substantially from that on a similar document issued by the same Government agency seven years later clearly exacerbates the situation.
  • Given the above, it is hardly surprising that the De Rudios continue to be misrepresented in the ‘Custer Press,’ and I believe that a long-overdue and more faithful version of their incredible story is waiting to be told. It should make for interesting reading.
  • Note: (*) Eliza Booth was born in Nottingham on 23 February 1841, not February 1840, as is universally published. Source: Mencarini Family 1868 Almanac.
  • An account of De Rudio’s determined struggle to obtain a commission in the regular United States Army will be posted later this year.
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A Stab in the Dark

  • While Charles De Rudio’s personal and soldierly qualities may not been universally held the highest esteem among the officer corps of the much-celebrated 7th United States Cavalry, I have long been fascinated by his charmed and adventurous life, which would seem to be perfect material for a Hollywood movie. The fact that this charismatic Italian aristocrat, albeit a minor and impoverished one, married a feisty, working-class teenager from Nottingham and spent several years in England, has added a distinctly British dimension to my curiosity. Stories of his failed attempt to assassinate Emperor Napoleon III, his eleventh hour reprieve from the guillotine, his escape from life imprisonment in the disease-infested swamps of French Guiana and the period he spent concealed in the timber during the Battle of the Little Big Horn are well documented, but I suspect – judging from the conflicting versions already published – that much less is known about the time he cheated death at the hands of a knife-wielding fanatic in London’s West End.
  • A report in The Times, 18 April 1856, under the heading “Horrible Assassination in Rupert-Street,” says the attack took place the previous evening in a small restaurant there; while a question from the floor of the House of Commons to Sir George Grey, then Home Secretary (Hansard, 20 June 1856) refers to a “Murder in Panton Street.”
  • So, when and where did this vicious assault take place? Did any of the injuries prove to be fatal? And, what did De Rudio himself have to say on the matter? As this area of London is well known to me I decided to undertake my own research in an attempt to find the answers to these questions and separate verifiable fact from the ever-growing mass of misleading fiction: it certainly proved to be an absorbing exercise. De Rudio’s version of the affair, as related to Cesare Crespi (Per La Libertà! 1913*), clearly places the scene of the crime as a restaurant in Rupert Street but it differs in some fundamental aspects from the account published in the following morning’s Times, which presumably was based on information provided by Francesco Rossi, the prime target of the would-be assassin and, ironically, the least seriously injured of his four victims.
  • During the mid-nineteenth century Italian refugees living in London were divided into two factions. One composed of relatively moderate men who looked forward to a peaceful solution to the reunification of their native country, while the other, commonly referred to as “Reds,” were men of a more desperate character, followers of Giuseppe Mazzini, who were prepared to go to any lengths to fufil their political ambitions. De Rudio, who arrived in London in early 1855, belonged to the latter group but was suspected, some say unjustly, of having betrayed Pietro Calvi, a leading Italian patriot, to the Austrians as the price of his own freedom.
  • A favourite haunt among foreign nationals, including Francesco Rossi, Carlo (Charles) De Rudio and a Pietro Chiesa, all from the same region of Italy, was a small restaurant at 45   Rupert Street, specialising in French and Italian cuisine, which was run by Louis Stucchi, a native of the Papal States. According to The Times, shortly after 8 o’clock in the evening of Thursday, 17 April 1856, Rossi, Chiesa, and De Rudio were conversing together in a back room on the ground floor at the restaurant, when Henri Foschini, from Lugo, also in the Papal States, a man with a known history of violence, entered and, producing a pack of cards, suggested that all four play a game together. Rossi declined on the grounds that he wanted an early night, though this may have been an excuse to avoid a confrontation with Foschini, whose political views differed widely from his own. It seems that Foschini was not one to take “No” for an answer and offered to fetch some beer from the pub next door if they agreed to stay, which he duly did. Soon after Foschini returned with the drinks, and before the proposed game of cards had started, he complained of feeling unwell and asked if someone would go with him to find a chemist or doctor. Rossi, who was still anxious to go home, volunteered to help even though he mistrusted Foschini and suspected he was not as ill as he was feigning to be. They had gone only the short distance as far as Brettell’s printing office, opposite the corner of Richmond Street, when Rossi released his arm from Foschini’s grip and in doing so his hand accidentally felt a hard object in Foschini’s trouser pocket, which he knew at once to be a poniard (a small dagger with a slender blade). Rossi accused Foschini of carrying an offensive weapon and asked him what he intended to do with it. Foschini did not reply, but at once seemed to recover his composure and the pair retraced their steps to the restaurant. On reaching Stucchi’s, and while Rossi was in the process of opening the outer door, Foschini, who was following closely behind, struck him a violent blow over the shoulder with his poniard. The blow fortunately had only a slight effect, having been stopped by one of the upper ribs. Rossi instantly exclaimed, “What are you doing, assassin?” But before he had time to recover himself he received a blow on the arm, and retreating into the restaurant, was followed by Foschini, who continued to strike at him with the dagger.
  • Now De Rudio gives a totally different version of how the confrontation started. He claims that he was chatting with Rossi (strangely making no mention of Chiesa), while Foschini, who sat on his own at another table, was clearly very restless. Previous to that evening De Rudio had privately been warned by Foschini that Rossi was a spy of the French Government and he should no longer associate with him. However, apart from being ‘a bit of a Casanova,’ De Rudio could find no fault with Rossi, whom he considered to be a friend, and chose to ignore Foschini’s threat which he felt could well be a case of mistaken identity – Rossi being a common surname in the north of Italy. It is equally possible that De Rudio was running with the hare and hunting with the hounds and, if so, it was a decision that would have serious consequences. He went on to say that all the other diners left the restaurant (perhaps anticipating something ugly was about to unfold) and the three men were left alone. At some point, Foschini got up and walking towards Rossi openly accused him of being a spy. Rossi replied by hurling an insult at Foschini who became even more aggressive and stabbed Rossi several times with a knife.  De Rudio, Chiesa and Carlo Rouelli, an Italian waiter employed at Stucchi’s, immediately rushed to Rossi’s aid, who managed to escape into the street and, though near faint from shock and loss of blood, ran to the nearest doctor who dressed his wounds and took him to Charing CrossHospital, in Agar Street, off the Strand. Meanwhile De Rudio had picked up a chair to stop Foschini but unfortunately only managed to break the light in the ceiling, so that the room was plunged into darkness. The would-be assassin blindly continued his murderous attack and Rouelli, who had been the first to try and disarm Foschini, fell to the ground severely wounded in the head and abdomen, and. indeed, in several other parts of the body. De Rudio next succumbed, and Chiesa alone was left to grapple with Foschini, when the attacker, finding, it is supposed, his strength failing, retreated into the street, followed by Chiesa. On realising he was cornered, Foschini turned again upon the unfortunate Chiesa, and struck him a severe blow in the abdomen, from the effects of which Chiesa fell, but still retaining sufficient strength and tenacity to shout for help from 20 or so passers-by “to arrest the ‘assassin.” The sight of the poniard and the determined appearance of Foschini, however, seemed to strike a panic among them, and he was allowed to escape into the night without even being challenged.
  • When the police arrived at the scene they found De Rudio, Chiesa and Rouelli in a terrible state. Rouelli, apparently mortally wounded, was laid out on the floor, blood flowing freely from his multiple wounds, and drifting in and out of consciousness. De Rudio was in a similar state, having been stabbed, according to Crespi, 36 times (trenta-sei pugnalate), any one of which could have been fatal. Emergency first aid was given, and all three victims were taken to join Rossi in Charing Cross Hospital. Before being interviewed by the police De Rudio was told by a doctor that two had died of their wounds, but Rossi was not one of them. Much to his relief this information proved to be false as both Rouelli and Chiesa were eventually to make near miraculous recoveries as none of their vital organs were damaged. It was common knowledge among the Italian community where Foschini was hiding but either out of fear or misguided loyalty none would break the code of silence, nor could the police persuade anyone to appear before a magistrate and make a charge as, in De Rudio’s own words, “he [Foschini] was thought to be a good patriot.” Rossi was discharged from hospital within a few days, De Rudio in mid-May and Chiesa and Rouelli two weeks later, and the fourfold attempted assassination in Rupert Street soon became yesterday’s news.
  • After the fracas, Henri Foschini returned to his lodgings at the Coach and Horses public house, Leather Lane, Holborn, and remained in the area for a few more days. So seriously was this incident taken by the Government that it offered a reward of £100 for his arrest and placards appeared all over London describing his appearance – 23 years of age, 5 feet 4 or 5 inches high, light hair, thin beard, and moustaches, slightly built, and good looking. “Foschini being a foreigner,” said one Member of Parliament, “rendered him a more marked character, and more likely to be apprehended.” However on Sunday, 25 April, a body bearing Foschini’s alleged description and wearing a shirt embroidered with the initials ‘H F’ was found floating in the River Thames, although the face was so swollen as to make positive identification nigh on impossible. At an inquest held at the Ship Tavern, Lambeth, six days later, the coroner learned that Foschini was actually 5’ 8” and he advised the jury to return an open verdict. We know that Foschini was employed at Bernaux’s envelope making factory in Lambeth and it would not be unreasonable to assume that it was one of his non-Italian colleagues who introduced this critical piece of information. A suspicious mind may think that there was something a little odd about the circumstances surrounding the body found floating in the Thames and the failure of the police to arrest Foschini. Bearing in mind that he had only recently arrived in the capital and, to my knowledge, few knew what he actually looked like, it would be not be beyond the wit of a group of determined and desperate men to pervert the course of justice. The description of the fugitive which appeared on the placards certainly does not conjure up an image of the archetypal Italian, let alone one who was capable of callously stabbing four of his compatriots. After all, how many Italians have ‘light hair,’ what is ‘good looking’ intended to mean, how did a man of “5 feet 4 or 5 inches high” physically manage to stab Rossi “over the shoulder” and land the blow in the upper ribs; and, wasn’t it incredibly convenient that the facial features of the drowned man were unrecognisable? Also, was a body clad in a shirt bearing the initials ‘H F’ initials just an amazing co-incidence or the second phase of an ingenious and elaborate hoax to throw the authorities off the scent and give Foschini a better chance to flee the country, which he did. A conspiracy theory maybe, for we shall likely never know what actually happened It is now generally accepted that Foschini met “a glorious death” while fighting alongside Carlo Pisacane whose famous but ill-fated expedition in the cause of his country’s independence ended in failure at Sapri, Campania, southern Italy, in late June 1857.
  • Being a foreign national involved in such a high profile incident, De Rudio certainly would not have wanted to attract any undue attention and risk deportation. According to his young wife, Eliza, as soon as he had sufficiently recovered from his injuries De Rudio hightailed it to Nottingham where she was living at her grandmother’s house and gainfully employed in her old job as an embroiderer in the lace making industry. We also learn from Eliza that De Rudio worked as a language teacher in Nottingham for five or six unsuccessful months from around September 1856 and that their first child, Hercules (named after his paternal grandfather), was born in that city in June of the following year.
  • It is sobering to think that the next time you’re in London you could be standing on the very spot where De Rudio so very nearly met an early death … BUT — where was it exactly? If you go to 45 Rupert Street today, is that the place? And how could Rupert Street be confused with Panton Street, when any Londoner knows there’s two thirds of the length of Oxendon Street between them?
  • To muddy the water still further the area immediately to the north of Haymarket was redeveloped in the mid-1880s – which included the construction of Piccadilly Circus and Shaftesbury Avenue – and consequently many properties in the central part of Rupert Street were demolished. The White Horse public house, which is currently designated as number 45, was actually number 37 in April 1856! A study of old street directories and Census Returns, places Stucchi’s restaurant on the west side of the road, immediately south of Shaftesbury Avenue on the site now occupied by the famous Trocadero Centre and virtually opposite an Italian Ristorante Pizzeria, which may seem a fitting end to this extraordinary tale. But is it?
  • A large scale map of London, dated 1862, shows a small cul-de-sac (long since swept away) at the end of Arundel Street, a narrow road that ran parallel between Rupert and Windmill Streets, whose northeast boundary may well have been contiguous with the rear of Stucchi’s restaurant. Even on a map of this scale (6” to the mile) it was difficult to decipher its name with the naked eye but everything soon became clear with the aid of a magnifying glass. It was called ‘Panton Square,’ which almost certainly explains the confusion of where this violent incident took place.
  • Note: (*) Per La Libertà! means ‘For Freedom’ and is based on Crespi’s conversations with ‘Count Carlo di Rudio, accomplice of Felice Orsini.’
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Count Carlos de Rudio in Nottingham

Charles De Rudio lived in Barker Gate, in the heart of the Lace Market, Nottingham, in 1861. Author's photograph.

  • On page 191 of that excellent biography of Frederick W. Benteen, Harvest of Barren Regrets, author Charles K. Mills, writes: He [De Rudio] allegedly went to Nottingham, but there is some doubt about this.  The following newspaper article, and the Census [1861], clearly show that De Rudio did, indeed, reside in this East Midlands city; famed for its lace making and links to the legend of Robin Hood.

  • New York Times, February 9, 1858.
  • The Nottingham Journal contains the following details respecting the residence of the assassin Rudio, at Nottingham: DE LA SILVA (sic) (whose real names, according to several influential journals, is Count Carlos de Rudio) formerly filled a situation as translator to a French newspaper, published in London. About two years ago he became acquainted with a sharp, good looking girl, named BOOTH, a native of Nottingham, and employed as an overlooker at MR. FISHER’S WAREHOUSE, Short Hill.  Although only 16 years old, a girl of no education, not being able, it is said, to write her name, she attracted his attention, and he succeeded in exciting a reciprocal attachment on her part. They were married at Godalming Church, in Surrey, within a short distance of London. Soon after the ceremony, the newspaper on which he was engaged, not answering the expectations of its proprietors, died a natural death, and the Count was thrown out of employment. He utterly failed to get a living in the metropolis, and, as a last resort, came to Nottingham, hoping to make some friends, through the influence of his wife, in the expectation also, that the latter would be able to obtain employment from her former employer. On coming to the town, the young woman was kindly taken into the service of MR. FISHER, and for several weeks the pair lived almost exclusively upon her earnings. The Count meanwhile had been furnished with letters of introduction to one or two gentlemen connected with some foreign lace establishments. Being possessed of no mean attainments, and having a knowledge of five languages, besides possessing a very gentlemanly manner, his misfortunes excited some commiseration and one or two gentlemen set on foot a subscription, to enable him to furnish a room, and receive private pupils. Upwards of £20 was collected for this purpose, and accordingly, a small house being taken for him in Castle-place, Hounds-gate, he commenced business with some half dozen pupils. To one young gentleman and his wife, who were favored with an introduction on his first arrival in Nottingham, he paid the most marked attention, and was a continual guest at their house. He confided to them many curious particulars of his previous history. We learn, for instance, that he was an officer in the Italian Legion at the time of the revolution in that country, and that, being of a fiery and ardent turn of mind, he was also involved in several private quarrels on his own account.
  • The result of the revolution is a matter of public history. The count, with singular good fortune, escaped both the pistols of the duellist and the bayonets of the French Emperor. He was one of the victims of the murderous FOSCHINI, who it will be remembered, some two years ago, stabbed several of his compatriots in a public house brawl in London. RUDIO was struck in several places, and for a considerable time his life was despaired of. When in Nottingham he expressed very violent opinions to private confidants on political subjects, and on one occasion he showed a formidable-looking poignard (sic) the friend above named, and the latter became really alarmed lest at any time he should incur the displeasure of his quondam associate. It need not be said that the estimable Count did not scruple to avail himself to the utmost of his friend’s generous hospitality. It may be mentioned to his credit that he punctually repaid several loans that were made to him, while part of the subscriptions were still unpaid. On the other hand, some gentlemen refused to take any part in the subscription, because while living exclusively on private charity and on the scanty earnings of his wife, close up to the time of her confinement, he was to be seen lounging about the town smoking cigars. In due time he became the father of a fine little boy, and the mother, compelled to give up her situation at MR. FISHER’S shortly after, took in lacework from Mr. STEEGMANN’S and other warehouses. The pupils, however, dropped off one by one, and in the month of December last, without consulting any of his benefactors or apprising his creditors, to whom he was indebted about £15, he absconded. He was not long, however, before he communicated with one or two special favorites. There is very little doubt that the, Count RUDIO, who resided in Nottingham, is one of those who are charged with the attempt to assassinate the Emperor of the French, as he was known to be closely connected with Count ORSINI, the prime mover of the plot. In conversation with his friends in Nottingham, RUDIO frequently referred to ORSINI, and the latter in his celebrated pamphlet ‘Austrian Dungeons and Prisons,’ alludes in terms of high praise to the family of RUDIO.
  • The Paris Pays says:
  • “One particular relative to the prisoner RUDIO, alias DA SILVA, is worthy of note. It may be remembered that two years ago a murder was committed in a coffee-house in London. An Italian, named FOSCHINI, killed one of his countrymen and seriously wounded two others. The murderer succeeded in escaping from the pursuit of the police in London. One of the men wounded on that occasion was RUDIO, and the cause of the crime, which was not then known, was the suspicion entertained by the murderer against his countrymen of betraying the secrets of their political association.”

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