Fight with Cudgels, Francisco de Goya. Prado Museum.

18th Century Cudgelling Matches

This is a sport that seems unlikely to make a comeback anytime soon – hopefully.  Cudgelling was a type of duel fought with wooden weapons and was also known as ‘single stick’, with its origin dating back to around Tudor times.

The aim of the competition was to break your opponent’s head with a single stick i.e. to cut the skin on the head, face or neck so that blood was drawn. When the crowd saw blood, they would shout ‘a head’.  What a relaxing pastime this sounds, those Georgians sure knew how to have fun!

A Cudgelling Match between English and French Negroes in the Island of Dominica. courtesy of the Yale Center for British Art
A Cudgelling Match between English and French Negroes in the Island of Dominica. courtesy of the Yale Center for British Art

Competitors needed to be both strong and agile and have great speed as it could take quite some time to hit your opponent hard enough to draw blood.

The newspapers carried reports of this combative sport, so we thought we would share a few with you.

Reading Mercury 13 May 1799

On Whit-Thursday the 16th May 1799, will be given a very good hat of 15-shilling value to be played at cudgels for, the man that breaks most heads to have their prize; the blood to run one inch or be deemed no head, which is to be decided by the umpires. No counterfeit play will be allowed.

From 'Chairing the Member, from The Humours of an Election series', 1755 by William Hogarth. Wikipedia
From ‘Chairing the Member, from The Humours of an Election series’, 1755 by William Hogarth. Wikipedia

Reading Mercury 21 May 1798

On Whit- Monday the 28th of May 1798, will be given One Guinea to be played for at Cudgels, for the best man; two Shillings for the man that break a head; and One Shilling for the man that has his head broken for the first seven couples that play. No man to have the two shillings, unless he plays the ties off, with the consent of the umpires.

Fight with Cudgels, Francisco de Goya. Prado Museum.
Fight with Cudgels, Francisco de Goya. Prado Museum.

Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, Thursday, September 26, 1765

Monday afternoon a cudgelling match was fought on Wandsworth hill, for a laced hat, for the value of one moidore. The opponents on each side were nine, one part of which were named the London side and the other the Wandsworth side. Great dexterity was displayed during the contest by both parties, particularly by a dyer, a sugar cooper and a carpenter, on the London side; and by a maltster, a gardener and a farmer’s labourer on the Wandsworth side. When, after the whose eighteen had undergone a very severe drubbing, each from his antagonist, fortune though proper to bestow the hat on the countrymen, by a small pimple under the eye of one of the London side, breaking through his overstretching, from which sprung a little bloody tinged matter, which the umpire was held to be broken head.

Public Advertiser (London, England), Thursday, August 28, 1755

On Wednesday, there was a cudgelling match for a hat, on the Strand, near the ferryboat slip, when a quarrel ensued, several were wounded, and a woman killed by a stone being thrown at her.

London Evening Post, September 6, 1733 – September 8, 1733

There will be a cudgelling match each forenoon on the Race Days for two Guineas to him that breaks most heads, half a Guinea to the second person that breaks most heads, and Five Shillings to the third.

London Evening Post, August 14, 1733 – August 16, 1733

Hindon Races

There will be a cudgel match each forenoon (from nine to one o’clock) on the race days, for very considerable prizes.

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Guest Post by William Ellis-Rees – ‘Empress Josephine and the creation of Malmaison’

We would once again like to welcome back to our blog, Classics teacher and author of  The Elephant of Exeter Change: A Tale of Cruelty and Confinement in Georgian LondonWilliam Ellis-Rees.

William’s guest post this time has as its subject, Empress Josephine, the wife of Napoleon Bonaparte.  Josephine is of course extraordinarily famous, and many biographies of her have appeared over the years.  However, William’s research has unearthed a curious story which does not appear in the standard works, and which sheds light on a fascinating corner of her life. His fascinating book tells more about her obsession with the collecting of animals and plants, Josephine in the Mountains: The curious story of the Empress’s journey from Paris to the Alps.

For most visitors to Paris, the château of Malmaison will not be high on their list of must-sees.  There are perhaps more obvious attractions: museums and churches, the Seine and its bridges, the grand boulevards and the romantic back-streets.

Vue du château de Malmaison (façade sur le parc) by Pierre-Joseph Petit. Musées nationaux de Malmaison, France.
Vue du château de Malmaison (façade sur le parc) by Pierre-Joseph Petit. Musées nationaux de Malmaison, France.

But Malmaison, bought by Napoleon Bonaparte and his wife Josephine in 1799, is for those who make the pilgrimage to the outskirts of the city quite simply fascinating.  I first fell under its spell many years ago when I embarked on extensive researches into its history, and I still find that it has the power to evoke the atmosphere of the Consulate and the First Empire.  The château is crammed with images of Napoleon’s military exploits, and the furniture and furnishings showcase the opulent decorative style he made fashionable.

Design for the library at Malmaison in Recueil de Décorations Intérieures by Charles Percier and Pierre Fontaine.
Design for the library at Malmaison in Recueil de Décorations Intérieures by Charles Percier and Pierre Fontaine.

But above all it is Josephine’s role in this particular story — a role made possible by her ambition and energy — that gives Malmaison its special appeal.

Plants and animals 

Josephine, who is not always remembered in the most favourable light, was, in fact, a very considerable connoisseur of landscaped gardens.

Josephine as botanist by Robert Lefèvre. Museo Napoleonico, Rome.
Josephine as botanist by Robert Lefèvre. Museo Napoleonico, Rome.

She employed a succession of designers to lay out the park of Malmaison in the ‘English’ style, which called for purling streams, follies and toy farms and apparently natural arrangements of trees and plants.

The ‘English’ garden at Malmaison by Auguste-Siméon Garneray. Musées nationaux de Malmaison, France.
The ‘English’ garden at Malmaison by Auguste-Siméon Garneray. Musées nationaux de Malmaison, France.

Josephine was in her element.  She used her influence and wealth to turn Malmaison into the centre of an extensive scientific network, along which plants flowed into Paris from the furthest corners of the earth, and then, once acclimatised in her magnificent glasshouses, out to municipal gardens in every region of France.

The Great Glasshouse at Malmaison by Auguste-Siméon Garneray. Musées nationaux de Malmaison, France.
The Great Glasshouse at Malmaison by Auguste-Siméon Garneray. Musées nationaux de Malmaison, France.

She collected animals, too, and her exotic creatures turned the park into something not unlike an Old Master’s vision of the Garden of Eden.

New Holland  

Josephine’s interest in natural history found triumphant expression in her patronage of the 1800 expedition to Australia, which Europeans then called New Holland.

Headed notepaper used by Nicolas Baudin. Muséum d’histoire naturelle, Le Havre, France.
Headed notepaper used by Nicolas Baudin. Muséum d’histoire naturelle, Le Havre, France.

The expedition, sailing in two ships, was led by a seasoned captain, Nicolas Baudin, but he clashed with members of the scientific team — the mariner and the intellectual were not obvious travelling companions!  Although the voyage was arduous, New Holland proved to be a land of almost magical beauty, and the ships carried back to France a rich haul of exciting new plants and animals.  These had been earmarked for the Jardin des Plantes in Paris, but Josephine was quick to claim her share.  And so it was that the glasshouses at Malmaison boasted numerous New Holland species.  So it was, too, that black swans floated on the ‘English’ river, and kangaroos hopped about their enclosure in the park.

New Holland animals and plants at Malmaison depicted in frontispiece of Atlas du Voyage aux Terres Australes by Charles-Alexandre Lesueur and Nicolas-Martin Petit.
New Holland animals and plants at Malmaison depicted in frontispiece of Atlas du Voyage aux Terres Australes by Charles-Alexandre Lesueur and Nicolas-Martin Petit.

Journey to the mountains

Josephine shared with many of her contemporaries a passion for mountain landscapes — she built a Swiss chalet at Malmaison and kept a herd of Swiss cows — and in 1810 she set off for the Alps.  She had only recently been divorced by Napoleon, and her journey to the mountains may be seen as in some sense deeply personal, and maybe even as a spiritual process of self-discovery.  Given the circumstances — she had been rejected in favour of the powerfully connected Marie Louise — Josephine must strike us as a rather forlorn figure.  Even so, she travelled with a graceful entourage and was fêted along the way.

Josephine picnicking with her companions at Servoz in the Chamonix valley by Lancelot-Théodore Turpin de Crissé. Musées nationaux de Malmaison, France.
Josephine picnicking with her companions at Servoz in the Chamonix valley by Lancelot-Théodore Turpin de Crissé. Musées nationaux de Malmaison, France.

One day a young man by the name of Joseph-Louis Bonjean was introduced to her.  What happened as a result of this meeting is an intriguing story, and, if you want to find out more, I would urge you read my recently published Josephine in the Mountains!

The Mer de Glace in the Chamonix valley by Lancelot-Théodore Turpin de Crissé. Musées nationaux de Malmaison, France.
The Mer de Glace in the Chamonix valley by Lancelot-Théodore Turpin de Crissé. Musées nationaux de Malmaison, France.

Conclusion

Suffice it to say here that for one of the two travellers, the illustrious Josephine and the humble Bonjean, nothing was ever the same again.  As one might expect, they later went their separate ways, but, as I show in my book, Bonjean’s name was not entirely lost.  What we have here is perhaps not the obvious story of Josephine.  My concern is not principally her rise to prominence, nor her marriage to and her divorce from Napoleon.  My story is about another — the other — Josephine.

The Staymaker c.1745; William Hogarth; The Tate

Frith Street, Soho: Mozart’s London Tour

One Wolfgang Mozart, a German Boy, of about eight Years old, is arrived here, who can play upon various sorts of Instruments of Music, in Concert, or Solo, and can compose Music surprisingly; so that he may be reckoned a Wonder at his Age.

The Mozart family made a grand journey around Europe during the 1760s and early 1770s which became a concert tour in which Wolfgang and his elder sister Maria Anna (Nannerl) performed under the supervision of their father.

Portrait of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart playing in Paris with his father Léopold and his sister Maria Anna by Louis Carrogis Carmontelle, 1763, Musée Condé.
Portrait of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart playing in Paris with his father Léopold and his sister Maria Anna by Louis Carrogis Carmontelle, 1763, Musée Condé.

After visiting various German towns, Brussels and then Paris, the Mozarts arrived in London in April 1764. It was something of an impromptu addition to the schedule: the family had not planned on performing in the British capital but after calls to do so after their performances in Paris, they hastily crossed the Channel.

An advertisement for these concerts announced that “the girl, in her twelfth year, and the boy, in his seventh will not only play on the harpsichord or the fortepiano, the former playing the most difficult pieces by the greatest masters, but the boy will also play a concerto on the violin, accompany symphonies on the keyboard and play with the keyboard completely covered by a cloth as well as though he could see the keyboard; he will also name, most accurately, from a distance, any note that may be sounded for him, singly or in chords on the keyboard, or on any conceivable instrument, including bells, glasses or clocks. Finally, he will improvise out of his head, not only on the fortepiano but also on the organ (for as long as anyone wants to listen, and in all the keys, even the most difficult, that he may be asked).”

Leopold wrote that he was ‘in a city that no-one from our Salzburg court has yet dared visit and to which perhaps no-one ever will go in the future’. He had high hopes of making a fortune while in the city but it did not go as planned. The London season was all but over and the nobility were retreating from the capital to their country estates, but Wolfgang appeared before the king and queen and made his debut in the concert rooms at Spring Gardens. Wolfgang and Nannerl then played at Ranelagh and Vauxhall: Leopold was awestruck at the sheer size of London and the multitude of people living in the city. One thing that did not impress Wolfgang’s father was, however, the English weather: Leopold fell ill with a ‘kind of native complaint, which is called a cold’. By the beginning of August, the Mozart family were lodging at a house in Ebury Row, Chelsea so that Leopold could recover in the country.

Childhood of Mozart; Ebenezer Crawford; Jersey Heritage
Childhood of Mozart; Ebenezer Crawford; Jersey Heritage

The London season began again in November and so, in anticipation of that, the family relocated during September back to London and took rooms in the house of Thomas Williamson and his wife, Jane, in Frith Street, Soho.

Frith Street, at the time, was known as Thrift Street and bounded at one end by Monmouth House, beyond which lay Soho Square, or King Square as it was then known. The Williamsons house, no. 15, was a brick built dwelling, three or four storeys high and dating from the 1720s. (Following the demolition of Monmouth House in 1773, the houses on Frith Street were renumbered: no. 15 is no longer standing, but its site is now occupied by no. 20 which is the back of the Prince Edward Theatre and opposite Ronnie Scotts Jazz Club.)

King Square in Soho, looking towards Monmouth House beyond which, to the right of the building, is Frith Street. © The Trustees of the British Museum
King Square in Soho, looking towards Monmouth House beyond which, to the right of the building, is Frith Street.
© The Trustees of the British Museum

Thomas Williamson followed the joint and somewhat incongruous professions of staymaker and wax and spermaceti candle chandler, trading as Williamson & Tonson in the latter capacity by 1777.

The Staymaker c.1745; William Hogarth; The Tate
The Staymaker c.1745; William Hogarth; The Tate

Spermaceti candles – made from a waxy substance found in the head cavities of sperm whales – were preferred by those who could afford them as they were odourless: Thomas had royal patronage as two of George III’s younger brothers purchased their candles from him, Prince William Henry, Duke of Gloucester and Prince Henry, Duke of Cumberland and Strathearn. A Daniel Williamson in Hull, East Yorkshire appears to have manufactured the candles and sold them from his premises. Possibly he was Thomas’ brother, the two siblings running a joint operation.

Trade receipt of Williamson & Tonson, Wax Chandlers. © The Trustees of the British Museum
Trade receipt of Williamson & Tonson, Wax Chandlers.
© The Trustees of the British Museum

The London season normally began when parliament reconvened but that winter, due to tensions between King George III and his government, the opening was delayed until 10th January, a further setback for the finances of the Mozarts, additionally so when their concerts during the rest of their stay were not as well attended as they had hoped they would be. They performed at private houses and their final public concert was on 13th May 1765: thereafter they continued performances for which the public were charged admission at their rooms in Frith Street until June.

Leopold and Wolfgang Mozart; Royal College of Music
Leopold and Wolfgang Mozart; Royal College of Music

The family left London at the end of July and sailed for France on 1st August 1765. Thomas Williamson continued his joint professions from Frith Street until his death in the summer of 1778. By his will, he left his businesses and stock in trade to his wife and to his son, John.

The blue plaque on the site of the house in Frith Street where Mozart lodged.
The blue plaque on the site of the house in Frith Street where Mozart lodged.

The subject of our latest biography, Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs owned two houses on Frith Street in the early 1800s, inherited from her father. They stood about where Ronnie Scott’s is, so opposite the house in which Mozart had lodged. A relation had lived on Frith Street in the 1780s, so it is entirely possible that our Mrs Biggs had heard tales of the child prodigy’s stay in Soho from someone who had personally known the Williamson family.

Sources:

Oxford Journal, 23rd February 1765

Newcastle Chronicle, 14th May 1768

Mozart, Stanley Sadie, Oxford University Press, 2006

National Archives, PROB 11/1041/84

One of the miseries of life – Gout

In the Georgian era, if you weren’t afflicted by gout you were nobody, it was very much a statement of wealth and class, something to aspire to have. Most sufferers of this complaint ate too much rich food and drank even more – port being regarded as one of the most common causes.

Gout was described in ‘A Treatise on the Nature and Cure of Gout’ by Charles Scudamore, written in 1816, as

a constitutional disease, producing an external inflammation of a specific kind; the susceptibility to it often depending on hereditary conformation and constitution, but more frequently wholly acquired; not occurring before the age of puberty, seldom under the age of five and twenty; and most frequently between the ages of twenty-five an thirty-five; affecting chiefly the male sex; and particularly persons of capacious chest and plethoric habit; in the first attack invading usually one foot only and most frequently at the first joint of the great toe; but in its return affecting both feet, the hands, knees and elbows, often accompanied by a fever.

Today, of course, medical knowledge has moved on and we now know that gout is caused by a build-up of uric acid which the body cannot break down and presents as a swelling in a joint, usually the big toe with red skin around the affected joint, as can be seen in this caricature by James Gillray. This being only one of countless caricatures of the day, mocking sufferers.

Nobody laughs at a touch of the gout.
Courtesy of Wellcome Collection

Where there was illness there were plenty of so-called doctors ready to offer you a quick fix. So much so that they proudly advertised the efficacy of their product in the newspapers, with claims that they could not just ease the condition, but totally cure it. So confident were they with their products that they provided testimonies apparently from people they had treated such as this one for ‘Mr Gardner’s Pills and Plaisters’.

Wright Esq. No. 40 Duke Street, Manchester Square, was many years afflicted with the gout, is cured by Gardener’s Pills and will with pleasure satisfy the afflicted.

Mr. Watson, Merchant and Underwriter, No. 25 Mincing Lane, seven years afflicted.

Mr. Purser, Talbot Innkeeper, Whitechapel, twenty years afflicted.

If that didn’t take you fancy, then no problem, why not try a more palatable cure?

Spilsbury’s Antiscorbutic Drops. This medicine had undergone a series of trials and held a variety of certificated of efficacy and could cure scurvy, gout, leprosy, rheumatism etc. The drops themselves were reputed to be pleasant to take, required no confinement. They were supplied in moulded bottles, with fluted corners and the words Francis Spilsbury, chemist, his Antiscorbutic Drops, by the King’s Patent, indented on each 5-shilling bottle and were supplied with directions to usage.

The Gout.
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Collection

Interesting to note that almost half the advertisement seemed to focus on the appearance of the container rather than the product it contained. Whilst it seems feasible that these drops could help to prevent or cure scurvy, as they were predominantly a form of vitamin C tablets, there seems little evidence that they could have any effect on gout.

So, who amongst the great and the good of the day suffered from gout – well naturally the Prince Regent with his excessive lifestyle was a prime candidate and the newspapers reported instances of him having suffered ‘a slight attack of gout in his knee’.  Sir Joseph Banks whose gout became so debilitating that he had to resort to using a wheelchair. Both William Pitt, the elder and the younger were both troubled by the complaint. Pitt, the younger being advised to avoid port and to drink wine instead. If you read the letters of Horace Walpole, you will find countless references on the subject of gout!

Lord Bryon, noted in 1814 that King Louis XVIII of France was another sufferer of gout and nicknamed him ‘Louis the Gouty’.

We will finish with an extract from the work of Rev. Jonathan Swift

As, if the gout should seize the head,
Doctors pronounce the patient dead;
But, if they can, by all their arts,
Eject it to th’extremest parts,
They give the sick man joy, and praise
The gout that will prolong his days.

 

Featured Image

Courtesy of Welcome Collection

Merry Christmas: Reviews, Guest Blogs and More

We’re now ending yet another year of blogging. It’s true, as you get older time goes faster. It feels like five minutes ago that we were wishing everyone a Happy 2017 and we’re now almost at the end of it. We’re taking our usual break until January to spend time with our families and to draw breath, but of course, we’ll  be back next year with even more stories from the Georgian era – we already have plenty in the pipeline.

We have just launched our third book, so if you’re still looking for that last-minute Christmas present or just a treat for yourself, then you may wish to check out A Georgian Heroine. There’s also a direct link on the right-hand side of the blog to all our books.

The bizarre but true story of an astounding woman persevering in a man's world. A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs.

We are delighted with the first reviews of A Georgian Heroine. Regan Walker, author of Georgian, Regency and Medieval romances had this to say:

We authors try and cast our heroines as noble women who overcome great odds to lead significant lives and win the hero’s love. Though she never found true love, Charlotte was just such a woman. I could not recommend a more delightful heroine to you than Charlotte. The authors have done a thoroughly researched job of bringing her story to light in a fast-paced narrative. I recommend it!

You can read the full review on Regan’s website.

We’ve been guest blogging to promote A Georgian Heroine so, if you’d like to discover more about this truly amazing woman, the links you need are below.

Charlotte, as our Georgian Heroine preferred to be known, suffered a tortured existence at the hands of a man she should have been able to trust when she was in her late teens. On Naomi Clifford’s blog, we discuss Abduction and Rape in 18th Century London: The Multiple Misfortunes of Charlotte Williams.

Robert Lovelace preparing to abduct Clarissa by Francis Hayman, Southampton City Art Gallery.
Robert Lovelace preparing to abduct Clarissa by Francis Hayman, Southampton City Art Gallery.

Charlotte grew up in Lambeth on the banks of the River Thames and her close neighbour was the Georgian era businesswoman, Eleanor Coade, a lady we looked at in more detail in our post on Sue Wilkes’ site.

Coade Stone Factory, Narrow Wall, Lambeth, anonymous, 1790s.
Coade Stone Factory, Narrow Wall, Lambeth, anonymous, 1790s.

Finally, we headed over to Anna M. Thane’s website, Regency Explorer for a look at a daring scheme to end Napoleon Bonaparte’s life, The Plot of The Infernal Machine, which Charlotte had links to. You can find out more in The Lady is a Spy.

Hortense de Beauharnais - Rijksmuseum
Hortense de Beauharnais – Rijksmuseum

In other news, our first book, An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott is now a bargain £4.99 in eBook format for a limited time (click here for more).

Before we leave you for the year,  we would like to say a huge ‘Thank You’, to all our lovely readers who have taken the time to read our stories and to comment on them and to wish you a very Happy Christmas. We’ve had some lovely comments from people so hopefully, we’re writing things that interest or intrigue you, our lovely readers. We must also say a massive ‘Thank You‘ to our guest writers who have provided us with yet more amazing stories from the Georgian era.

 

 

Eastern Promise: Mughal India and the East India Company

We never initially set out to research Mughal India and the East India Company (EIC) but, time and time again, the people we were looking at took us east. It all started with the eighteenth-century courtesan, Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s family. Grace had a brother and three male cousins who all ventured to India in different capacities with the EIC. Perhaps best known of these is Colonel John (Jack) Mordaunt, who has been captured for posterity in the middle of a cock match against Asaf-ud-daula, Nawab Wazir of Oudh. Mordaunt, a keen cock-fighter, had imported birds from Europe which he thought were superior to those of the Nawab’s.

Colonel Mordaunt's Cock Match c.1784-6 by Johan Zoffany. The Tate.
Colonel Mordaunt’s Cock Match c.1784-6 by Johan Zoffany. The Tate.

And as well as her male cousins out in India, Grace also had two female cousins – sisters – who travelled to the country on an ultimately successful husband-hunting trip. The EIC was concerned about its officers taking Indian women as wives and adopting Mughal dress and habits. In an effort to stem this, they encouraged British girls and young women to embark on ships for an Indian adventure and to provide suitable marriage material.

A Sale of English Beauties in the East Indies. © The Trustees of the British Museum
A Sale of English Beauties in the East Indies. © The Trustees of the British Museum

You can find more on Grace and her relations, who travelled the globe, in An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott.

Our second book, A Right Royal Scandal: Two Marriages That Changed History, looks at the ancestors of the British royal family, specifically Anne Wellesley, her second husband Lord Charles Bentinck and their son, the Reverend Charles Cavendish Bentinck but, first, we examined Anne’s background. She was the daughter of Richard Colley Wellesley, 1st Marquess Wellesley (the Duke of Wellington’s older brother) and Hyacinthe Gabrielle Rolland, a Parisian opera dancer whom the marquess fell in love with as a young man. Richard was posted to India as Governor-General but Hyacinthe Gabrielle, chronically afraid of the sea voyage, refused to accompany him, a decision which would ultimately lead to the break-up of their marriage.

A Cheetah Hunt in Lord Wellesley's Park at Barrackpore by Charles D'Oyley, 1802, British Library, India Collection.
A Cheetah Hunt in Lord Wellesley’s Park at Barrackpore by Charles D’Oyley, 1802, British Library, India Collection.

And so we come to our latest book, A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs. Charlotte, as our heroine preferred to be known, fell in love when she was only sixteen years of age with a young lad who left her behind when he sailed to India in search of adventure, subsequently joining the EIC as a junior officer and rising to become a general and a baronet. This man, Sir David Ochterlony, remained Charlotte’s one true love throughout all her many adventures and exploits. Towards the end of their lives, David and Charlotte once again reached out to each other, albeit by letter and from one side of the globe to the other. Ochterlony, like so many before him, had ‘gone native’, dressing in flowing Mughal robes and smoking a hookah pipe while sitting cross-legged on his diwan, watching dancing girls. He could be spotted each evening with his multiple Indian wives, each atop an elephant as they perambulated around Delhi. Did Charlotte dare to dream that the only man she had ever loved would return to England to claim her, in her dotage?

Major-General Sir David Ochterlony (1758-1825), Soldier by Arthur William Devis; National Galleries of Scotland.
Major-General Sir David Ochterlony (1758-1825), Soldier by Arthur William Devis; National Galleries of Scotland.

If you’d like to discover more about Charlotte, all is revealed in our book. A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs is out now in the UK (and coming soon worldwide) and can be found at Pen & Sword, Amazon and all good bookshops.

 Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs lived an incredible life, one which proved that fact is often much stranger than fiction. As a young woman she endured a tortured existence at the hands of a male tormentor, but emerged from that to reinvent herself as a playwright and author; a political pamphleteer and a spy, working for the British Government and later singlehandedly organising George III’s jubilee celebrations. Trapped in France during the revolutionary years of 1792-95, she published an anonymous account of her adventures. However, was everything as it seemed? The extraordinary Mrs Biggs lived life upon her own terms in an age when it was a man’s world, using politicians as her mouthpiece in the Houses of Parliament and corresponding with the greatest men of the day. Throughout it all though, she held on to the ideal of her one youthful true love, a man who abandoned her to her fate and spent his entire adult life in India. Who was this amazing lady?

In A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs, we delve into her life to reveal her accomplishments and lay bare Mrs Biggs’ continued re-invention of herself. This is the bizarre but true story of an astounding woman persevering in a man’s world.

Featured image

Colonel Mordaunt and Nawab Asaf al-Daula of Oudh at a Cock Fight, Company School, Patna, circa 1840, after Richard Earlom’s mezzotint of Zoffany’s ‘Col. Mordaunt’s Cock Match’, via Sotheby’s website.

The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking: a review

Have you ever wanted to dress like a gorgeous Georgian? Well, now help is at hand in the form of the The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking by Lauren Stowell and Abby Cox. It is released here in the UK on 13th December 2017, just in time for Christmas.

The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking.
The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking.

Lauren and Abby are owners of the historical footwear online store, American Duchess who ship worldwide and sell the most amazing shoes. They have now used their research and experience to complete your outfit and enable you to make the most amazing dresses (and accessories) to go with those fantastic shoes.

The American Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking

Divided into four chapters, this book takes you step-by-step through making four gowns representing four different eras of the eighteenth-century plus all the accessories you could need to go with them. If, like us, your dressmaking skills are a little rusty or even rudimentary, don’t be put off. The book is written in a friendly style with basic details such as the different types of stitches covered as well as more detailed instructions, and all with a multitude of helpful diagrams and images so it doesn’t seem as daunting as you’d think.

There are instructions for making four gowns in the book. © American Duchess
There are instructions for making four gowns in the book. © American Duchess

And, even for a non-sewer, the book is still an entertaining and informative read if you are interested in the period. It’s interspersed with sumptuous pictures and lots of amusing asides (for instance, discover why one of Madame Pompadour’s maids inspired the name for the new short sacque gown being worn by her mistress, ‘pet en l’air’).

Madame de Pompadour at her Tambour Frame, 1763-4 by François-Hubert Drouais. The National Gallery
Madame de Pompadour at her Tambour Frame,
1763-4 by François-Hubert Drouais. The National Gallery

The book begins with a simple English gown from the 1740s complete with neckerchief, apron, mitts and hat. Then we go onto a much more extravagant ruffled and flounced dress, a sacque gown dating from the 1760s-1770s inspired by Francis Cote’s A Portrait of a Lady, plus underpinnings and accessories.

Portrait of a Lady, 1768 by Francis Cotes. The Tate
Portrait of a Lady, 1768 by Francis Cotes. The Tate

An Italian gown in printed cotton which follows the style of the 1770s-1790s and accommodates a ‘false rump’ is the third project. Again, you are given instructions for everything from the false rump to a silk covered ‘brain hat’, described as ‘fluffy, puffy and never stuffy’.

At the end of each section, you are shown how to wear your gown with style.
At the end of each section, you are shown how to wear your gown with style.

The last gown to be featured is the 1790s round gown, a much different silhouette from the preceding dresses.

Plate 034, N. Heideloff, February 1, 1795, Thomas J. Weston Library, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. One of the images given as inspiration for the 1790s round gown in the American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmkaing.
Plate 034, N. Heideloff, February 1, 1795, Thomas J. Weston Library, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. One of the images given as inspiration for the 1790s round gown in the American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking.

To build confidence, we’d recommend starting with some of the simpler projects: now the weather has turned cold we’re looking with extreme interest at the 1790s giant (faux) fur muff… that’s a fashion that needs to be brought back, right?

The American Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking

This is a book that will be a permanent fixture on our bookshelf. It is a brilliant reference book on the fashions of the eighteenth-century and the history of dressmaking of the period and, as such, invaluable for anyone who writes about the era and wants to understand more about the clothes women wore. And, if you are an eighteenth-century re-enactor or lucky enough to be attending a Georgian dinner, ball or festival where it is requisite to look the part, then this wonderful guide will ensure that you stand out from the crowd in the latest fashions.

The Family of the Duke of Penthièvre in 1768 by Jean-Baptiste Charpentier the Elder, 1768, Château de Versailles.
The Family of the Duke of Penthièvre in 1768 by Jean-Baptiste Charpentier the Elder, 1768, Château de Versailles.

Now, where are our needles? That fur muff is not going to make itself and it’s beginning to snow outside!

We received a copy of this book in return for an unbiased review on our blog.