In the Shadow of an Adulteress; He Was One of Britain's Greatest Statesmen Who Served Six Prime Ministers. but Lord Hailsham, Who Died This Month, Never Recovered from Finding His Wife in Bed with Another Man. Was It This Secret Torment That Cost Him the Glory He Craved?

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THE SOLDIER'S homecoming was meant to be a glorious surprise. He had been wounded in North Africa, and then contracted hepatitis from bad water. His war was over.

Now, with tiny gifts tucked lovingly into his suitcase, his head swam with anticipation as he pushed open the front door of his small house in London's Victoria. From upstairs came the startled voice of his wife, Natalie: 'Who's there?' Captain Quintin Hogg called out in reply and mounted the stairs to find her in the embrace of a young French officer, who murmured his excuses and left as quickly as he could.

Precisely what greeted Hogg's eyes we shall never know, for he wrote in his diary: 'The kind of welcome I got when I came in had better not be described here.' The following day, Natalie left him, taking the marital bed with her.

For Hogg (later Lord Hailsham), who died this month aged 94, it was the lowest point of a life which was to soar to greatness as Chairman of the Conservative Party and a distinguished Lord Chancellor under two Prime Ministers.

But the death of this apparently jovial man also left an intriguing question: just how much did the shock of that homecoming affect the rest of his life - and could it conceivably have cost him the leadership of the party two decades later, and thus the office of Prime Minister for which he so yearned?

To political colleagues and friends such as former Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington, Lord Hailsham was a colourful character who never talked about his first wife's adultery after their divorce in 1943, and who seemed to have quickly overcome the despair which wracked him at the time.

'He certainly never mentioned it,' says Carrington, 'and he had a happy subsequent marriage.' Hogg had, indeed, made a wonderful second marriage in 1944 with Mary Martin, the daughter of a Ceylon tea planter.

He had met her when she was staying with her uncle, physics professor Sir John Townsend, in the Oxford City constituency where he had been MP since 1938.

They had three daughters and two sons - one of whom, Douglas, was a recent Tory Minister of Agriculture.

And yet there is evidence to suggest that Hailsham, despite his mischievousness and apparent joviality, and his happy family life with Mary, never really escaped the shadow of the unfaithful Natalie.

And as we shall see, more than four decades later it was to her that he turned in an hour of need.

'I believe she may well have undermined his confidence to the point where it affected his judgment and increased his impulsiveness,' says Geoffrey Lewis, his official biographer.

'He was always impulsive, of course, but this made him worse, more flamboyant and even showy.'

FLAMBOYANCE and showiness were not qualities which the Tories wanted in 1963, when their Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, stood down and the party hierarchy was forced to pick a new leader.

Quintin Hogg had by then inherited his father's hereditary peerage - but, exploiting a change in the law, he renounced it so he could throw his hat into the ring.

But his chances were diminished by a television interview in which he exploded in anger when asked about the effects on the party of the Profumo scandal - War Minister John Profumo had lied to the Commons in denying an affair with call girl Christine Keeler, whose other men friends included a Russian diplomat.

'A great party,' raged Hogg, 'is not to be brought down because of a scandal by a woman of easy virtue and a proved liar.' This somewhat biblical response hardened the view of his critics that he was too volatile for the leadership.

And some also wondered, when he spat out the phrase 'woman of easy virtue', to what extent his anger was motivated by the painful memory of his own wartime homecoming.

It was a speculation to which he never provided an answer. …