William George (Bay) Middleton was described by Lord Rossmore in 1912 as ‘one of the best riders to hounds that ever lived, an amusing dare-devil, and very good company’. The three qualities that made him a close and intimate companion of Sisi’s.
Born in Scotland to a land-owning family he joined the 12th Lancers in 1865 and served in Ireland where he hunted, followed draghounds and began steeplechase riding in 1867. While in the army he acquired the nickname of Bay. In 1870 Middleton was appointed aide-de-camp and escort to the Viceroy, the 5th Earl Spencer. When Disraeli came to office in 1874 he appointed a new Viceroy and within a year Bay resigned his army commission and followed Spencer back to Northamptonshire. Spencer nominated a reluctant Bay as Empress Elisabeth’s pilot in the hunting field, a position he filled admirably for four seasons. As soon as he saw Sisi ride, Bay’s doubts vanished.
Elisabeth must have been bitterly disappointed when he gave up piloting her and finally went ahead and married Scottish heiress Charlotte Baird in 1882. They had one child Violet Georgina. Although an amateur rider, Bay made much money from his successful steeplechasing career. In 1892 Middleton came out of retirement to ride in the House of Commons Steeplechase, across the land where the Civil War battle of Naseby was held. Bay’s horse threw him and he was killed instantly. He is buried in Haselbech churchyard in Northamptonshire.
© L. and R. Offer