Count Riamo d’Hulst – a man of mystery
The title ‘Count D’Hulst’ is easy to find – too easy, in fact, as it was a name so widely adopted by the nobility of Flanders and Belgian, it defies detection.
Sometimes the spelling of his surname varies and I find material relating to him under ‘de Hulst’, ‘d’Hulzt’, ‘d’Hulse’, ‘von Holst’, etc., Other documents have also surfaced under searches for ‘Graf d’Hulst’ or ‘Comte d’Hulst’.
But Riamo? What sort of name is this? It sounds like it ought to be Italian or Spanish in origin.I cannot find any other person from this period with this name. Riamo apparently appears as a rare Castillian surname and even more rarely as a Finnish first name; some even posit Celtic roots for the name (see the article based on my work and the comments posted on the blog: iesusioshemarian).
One comment notes that the name Riamo spelt backwards yields a well-known Arabic name: Omair. The Count was fluent in Arabic. So was Riamo a nickname based on an Arabic name?
But other evidence (more on this later) shows that the Count chose St Richard as his patron saint (the “R” of Richard for the “R” of Riamo), and his wife, Laura Mary Agnes chose St Agnes as her patron saint. But this was 1902, and by this time the Count had been known as Riamo for many years.
Only one document recalling the Count’s activities refers to the name Martin – Comte Martin Riamo d’Hulzt is the name given on the bill of sale for a castle that he purchased in 1902, but the bill itself is signed ‘R. d’Hulzt’, and the name Martin is never found on any letter that he signed (and I have read scores of his letters). Only once is there a difference in the signing of his first name – on a letter written to Reginald Stuart Poole, co-founder of the Egypt Exploration Fund in 1887 – where he signs himself as Rimo. Odd to misspell one’s own name, I think …
Also strange: the Count’s wife, Laura, nearly always spells the name d’Hulst with a Germanic umlaut. She claimed to be an English woman, yet the Count – who was presumably of some sort of Germanic background – never used the umlaut.
In one letter written to the Bodleian Library in Oxford, d’Hulst refers to himself as a German, but later claims Luxembourg nationality. This claim may have been made due to the onset of the First World War in order to allay fears about his citizenship, but he had certainly demonstrated an interest in Luxembourg as a country when he had tried to reconstruct the ruins of Castle Esch-sur-Sûre in 1902. However, there is no evidence that he ever legally claimed Luxembourg citizenship. Another reference, in a recent book about the Egyptologist, Flinders Petrie, describes him as a Frenchman, and a friend, the Assyriologist, Archibald Henry Sayce, referred to him as an Austrian (something the Count himself denied).
Where he came from, we do not know, but we do know that he lived for most of his life in Cairo. One report in a newspaper printed in Luxembourg (1901) claims that the Count and his wife owned many castles and buildings in the Rhineland (Koblenz), England, Tyrol, and Cairo. In the early part of the 20th century, we can see that he did indeed try to reconstruct a castle in Northern Italy (Obermontani in Tyrol) in the 1880s, but then something happened and he lost all his money … Of the properties in the Rhineland and in England, I can find no trace … yet.
D’Hulst was also a pronounced Anglophile; his wife – Laura Mary Agnes – was an English woman. Laura — Countess Laura M. A. d’Hulst, as she signs her letters — now, there’s another mystery … who was she? I cannot find anything relating to her. Her letters occasionally betray turns of phrase that are awkward and read as though they might have been written by a non-native speaker of English … Was she not who she said she was, or was she simply not highly literate?