Diaries of William Goodwin (1746 – 1815)

Earl Soham is a traditional village lying in the heart of the Suffolk countryside on the Roman road that leads from the Suffolk coast to Stowmarket and as usual whilst stumbling around searching for something completely different we came across the Earl Soham village website and within it was a link to a collection of diary entries written by the Georgian surgeon, William Goodwin.

They have been carefully transcribed for the period 1785 – 1810 and make fascinating reading so we couldn’t resist adding the link to our blog so that you could peruse them at your leisure.  Apart from treating his patients, which entailed travelling long distances virtually every day Goodwin managed to find the time to keep a diary of daily life, national and international events:-

March 28th 1785 Wind W. very Cold; Frost sharp within doors, Therm’tr in Parlour 3 deg. Below Freesing –

The ground cover’d with Snow

 For the Rheumatism Take a Teaspoonfull of Aether in a glass of water 3 or 4 times a Day – sometimes add a few Drops of Laudanum – The above is thought infallible

May 1785 On an Average the Amount of our Taxes is 30-000£s a Day… (1/2 page)

86-000£ was produc’d by the Duty on Muslins in the last quarter, wh. was equal to a whole year’s income on that Article previous to Mr. Pitts Smugling Bill –

There were 240£ in Drury Lane at Mrs Siddon’s benefit and twice that amount eager for admission and could not get in – ?What a Symptom of our Poverty!

A recipe for yeast, we have absolutely no idea whether it works or not!

August 1798

Persian Yeast

Take a teacupful of split peas, boiling water one pint, infuse them all night, in a warm place, or in winter longer; the froth that arises will answer as Yeast

Also amongst his entries were records of all the carts passing through the village and recorded any possible contraband for example in 1785 he recorded that

‘2500 Gallons of Smugled Spirits were carried thro’ this village in 20 carts within the last six Days

16th Five Smugling Carts past through this Village at 8 this Morning loaded with 150 Tubs of Spirits containing 600 Gallons’

Goodwin

There are some mildly amusing entries and for a ‘Top Tip’ if you’re bitten by a mad dog you should:-

‘Wash the part immediately with warm water – continuing the operation for an hour at least, by which. the poison will be prevented entering the Circulation’

Another extract from his diary, that we would recommend that those with a sensitive constitution avoid was regarding the death of his mother Sarah; presumably, William would have assumed that his diary was private and that no-one would ever read his scribblings:-

Friday ye 20th of Sept’r 1793 Died Mrs Sarah Goodwin, my dear mother, aged 81 years and 9 months – She vomited many gallons of bile in the Course of the 8 days she laid ill – suffer’d little or no pain, and went off without a groan’

The Oxford Journal of 18th March 1815 confirms the demise of William, described as ‘an eminent and skillful physician‘. William was buried on the 3rd March at St Mary’s, Earl Soham aged 69.

The diaries can be read online here.

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Gipsy Camp; George Morland; The Stanleyand Audrey Burton Gallery, University of Leeds

Cornelius Blewitt was a Gipsy: the end of his life in a Lincolnshire village in 1786

In January 1786, in a small rural Lincolnshire village, an elderly gypsy died. Cornelius Blewitt was no ordinary gypsy though, he was a King of the Gypsies, and he was still remembered at the dawn of the 19th century. We think it is fitting that he is remembered once again now.

Gypsies in a Landscape by George Morland, c.1790 (c) Bristol Museum and Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Gypsies in a Landscape by George Morland, c.1790
(c) Bristol Museum and Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Cornelius was possibly born in Rochdale in Lancashire, baptized shortly afterwards at Davenham in Cheshire on the 26th February 1721, the son of Eliza Bluet, ‘a travailer‘ although at a baptism of one of his children he and his wife Phillis Boswell were described as being of Woolstone near Newport Pagnell in Buckinghamshire. Wherever he started his days he ended them at Thurlby-by-Bourne in southern Lincolnshire, where he was buried on the 7th January 1786, the burial register stating his age as 66 years.

churchweb
St Firmin’s Church, Thurlby-by-Bourne

Another gypsy also lies in the churchyard at Thurlby-by-Bourne, a girl named Lucia, daughter of Parcenos and Mary Bluet from Kentford in Suffolk who was buried there in 1754.

On December 19th, 1799, the Oracle and Daily Advertiser newspaper published the following article.

THE COUNTRY CHURCH YARD

THE GIPSY

“Ha! ha! My Friend!” said EUGENIO, interrupting me, “the wings of thy fancy have borne thee again into the Regions of Delusion – as far from the point as Morality from a canting Face. CORNELIUS BLEWITT was a Gypsy.

“And yet, perhaps, you have rather undervalued, than exalted, his importance; for with the alteration of no single circumstance, except the change of scene, from fertile England to the Desert of Arabia, the dust we now despise might, during Life, have been entitled to its seraglio of Beauties, and its guard of Eunuchs; and have ordered the Heads of a hundred Captives to be struck off, to appease his capricious spleen, whenever a tempestuous wind prevented an excursion of Plunder, or a cruel Fair one had neglected the mandate of his love.

Take Physic, Pomp! Ambition check thy rashness. PULTOWA’S loss sunk SWEDEN’S Madman nearly to this level, though BENDER trembled at his shattered greatness; and an unfortunate day on the Banks of the Ganges might have rendered the mighty Son of PHILIP (like him whose mouldering bones we are moralizing upon) the Monarch only of a wandering Tribe of Robbers, as much despised, though I fear, not so little detested, as CORNELIUS BLEWITT.

In short, CORNELIUS, was King of the Gypsies: and was used, every year, attended by his Royal Family, and Officers of State, to visit this Village. He kept his Court at the House of that same honest, grey-headed Farmer, or Publican, where we have left our Horses; and in that very parlour where we enjoyed our tankard of excellent Home brewed, was erected his rustic Throne.

I met the Wanderers there in one of my former excursions: nor ever beheld I a set of merrier, or, apparently, more harmless Beings. And, believe me, the venerable Majesty of CORNELIUS, the despotic Ruler of the mysterious Counsellors of Fate, was regarded with no little reverence by the Country Maidens. Nay, and what will surprise you, his arrival was hailed with no small degree of pleasure by the whole Village; for CORNELIUS and his Subjects spent their money liberally, and paid with punctuality, and it is an invariable rule with these people never to rob in the neighbourhood of their settled Haunts.

But the Majestic Nod and Imperial Frown Death values not. KING CORNELIUS sleeps in the humble Grave, and the Five Bells at Thurlby is no longer a Royal Residence. The Palace and the Empire have shared one common Revolution; though the latter, it seems, has been considerably the greater loser by the change, for not only the Family, but the Nation of our Hero is reported considerably to have declined from its splendour since it has been deprived of his wise Administration.

A solemn deputation is, however, annually, sent to visit the venerated Tomb, to pay it, as is supposed, some mysterious honours, and to keep it in constant repair, a practice which would do honour to more regular Societies; and the neglect of which is a disgrace to the surviving relatives of departed Grandeur; for what can be more ridiculous or irreverent, than, after immense sums have been expended on Sepulchral Monuments to let them moulder away in neglect, and mingle with that dust they were designed to immortalize!

Header image: Gipsy Camp; George Morland; The Stanleyand Audrey Burton Gallery, University of Leeds

Gipsy Camp; George Morland; The Stanleyand Audrey Burton Gallery, University of Leeds

‘Her Vagrant Majesty’ of Puddletown, Dorset

0906_Puddletown_3
Puddletown, Dorset

Sporting Magazine, volume 21 dated 1803 reported:

A short time since, the youngest son of the late Peter Stanley, commonly known by the appellation of King of the Gypsies, started from the town-pump in Dorchester, to run to the town-pump in Weymouth for two guineas; the distance is about eight miles and a quarter, and the time allowed was an hour and two minutes, but he performed it with the greatest ease one minute and a half within the time.

The person who made the bet was a young spendthrift of the neighbourhood, who, fearing he should not be able to see fair play himself, hired a horse for his favourite Cyprian to accompany the light-footed prince, but she not having attended Astley’s Lectures on Horsemanship, and finding it impossible long to retain her seat in the usual way, immediately crossed the saddle, and in that state entered Weymouth, at full speed, by the side of her infatuated adorer, to the no small gratification of a numerous assemblage of spectators.

Having read this story we thought we would see if we could find anything more out about the family. Henry, records show, was the youngest of at least nine children born to Peter and Sarah Stanley, a  gipsy family who were renown in Puddletown (formerly known as Piddletown) in the county of Dorset and the surrounding area. Seven of the nine survived to adulthood and were named Selbea, William, Sabra, Aaron, Peter, Paul and Henry.  The family spent most of their lives travelling around  Dorset, Wiltshire and Hampshire and ultimately Peter (senior) became known as the King of the Gypsies, a term applied to the respected elders of the community. According to a 1792 settlement document, Peter’s occupation was a razor grinder and tinker.

As was commonplace amongst the gipsy community they occasionally found themselves on the wrong side of the law, in particular, Henry, the runner, who managed to acquire a one year spell in the old Dorchester prison for assault.

Peter died in 1802 and the parish register of Puddletown confirms that he was aged 75 and buried on the 18th November 1802.  However, his headstone tells a different story and gives him as being five years younger leaving us unsure as to which is the more accurate.

In memory of Peter Stanley, King of the Gypsies, who died 23rd November 1802, aged 70 years.’

puddletown_church

 

Peter Stanley 1802
Peter Stanley aged 75 years, 18th November 1802

Sarah allegedly reached the grand old age of 101 years when she died, which, if you do the maths on that, would have made her some 12 years older than her husband and 58 years of age when she gave birth to her youngest child Henry in 1778 at Winterbourne Kingston, which seems highly unlikely.

Travelling Gypsies by Thomas Barker c.1787 (c) The Holburne Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Travelling Gypsies by Thomas Barker c.1787
(c) The Holburne Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Whilst researching the gipsy community we have noticed that it was quite a common practice for gipsies to add a few years on to their ages at death.  Perhaps this was done to make them appear to be more important?

Sarah died at Wareham in Dorset and was buried at Puddletown alongside her husband on the 22nd of February 1821 and as such an important person in the community her death was noted in the newspapers and a large number of people attended her burial; the extract below is from Jackson’s Oxford Journal.

At Piddletown, Mrs Stanley, the Dowager Queen of the Gipsies, of the counties of Berks, Wilts, Hants, and Dorset. Her vagrant Majesty was in the 101st year of her age.

Header image: Gipsy Camp; George Morland; The Stanleyand Audrey Burton Gallery, University of Leeds

 

 

‘Happy Birthday’ George IV – born 12th August 1762

NPG D33075; Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenburg-Strelitz; King George IV when Prince of Wales by Richard Houston, published by Robert Sayer, after Robert Pyle
Queen Charlotte & King George IV when Prince of Wales

Today’s blog is a little different to our usual but we could not allow the birth of  George IV to pass without a little acknowledgement, especially as he was one of Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s lovers and  allegedly father of  her daughter, Georgiana Augusta Frederica Seymour, although Georgiana’s birth was not heralded in quite the same way as her alleged father’s entrance into the world. We thought we would celebrate his birth in the shape of portraits of him over the years, the majority being courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, as tempting as it would be simply to use the vast quantity of caricatures of him we’ve managed to resist temptation … well almost!

George’s birth was proclaimed in the London Evening Post  (August 10, 1762 – August 12, 1762) :

At seven this morning her Majesty was safely delivered of a Prince at the palace of St James, to the great joy of his Majesty and of all his loyal subjects, who consider the birth of this heir to the crown as a pledge of the future felicity of their posterity under the happy auspice of his royal family.

About half an hour after nine this inestimable blessing was made known to the nation by the discharge of the tower guns and at noon there was a great court at St James’s, when the foreign ministers, the great officers of state and all the nobility and other persons of distinction were admitted to pay their compliments to the King upon this mark of the divine favour to his Majesty and to his people.

Her Majesty and the new-born Prince of Wales are in perfect health and nothing can surpass the testimonies of joy and affection expressed by all ranks and degrees of his Majesty’s subjects for this great and desirable event.

It is worth of observation that her Majesty is brought to bed of an heir to the crown on the same day that our most gracious Sovereign’s great grand-father, King George the first, succeeded to the crown of these Kingdoms, by virtue of several acts of parliament for securing the Protestant succession in the illustrious house of Hanover.

The first portrait we offer is that of George was a young child with his younger brother Frederick.

NPG D33327; King George IV; Frederick, Duke of York and Albany by James Watson, after Katharine Read
by James Watson, after Katharine Read mezzotint, circa 1765-1770 NPG D33327

The next shows George in his teenage years whilst he was busy having fun with the ladies of the ton such as Grace Dalrymple Elliott, amongst others!! Grace looks more than 8 years older than him, doesn’t she?

George IV when Prince of Wales by Richard Cosway, watercolour on ivory, circa 1780-1782
by Richard Cosway, watercolour on ivory, circa 1780-1782; National Portrait Gallery
Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Thomas Gainsborough. Courtesy of the Frick, New York.
Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Thomas Gainsborough.
Courtesy of the Frick, New York.
NPG D19038; King George IV by Louis or Lewis Saillar (Sailliar), after Richard Cosway
Richard Cosway stipple engraving, published 24 August 1787. Aged 25

NPG 5389; King George IV by Richard Cosway

Another Cosway portrait in 1792, aged 30

On the 8th April 1795 the Prince married Princess Caroline of Brunswick and somehow, despite unwillingness on his part, the couple managed to conceive a daughter who was born virtually nine months to the day after the couple were married – Princess Charlotte.

NPG D20038; King George IV; Caroline Amelia Elizabeth of Brunswick by Michael Sloane, published by Luigi Schiavonetti, after Richard Cosway

NPG D15606; Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales by Francesco Bartolozzi, published by Gaetano Stefano Bartolozzi, after Richard Cosway
Princess Charlotte Augusta born 7th January 1796 Francesco Bartolozzi
NPG D8048; King George IV when Prince Regent by William Say, after John Hoppner
by William Say, after  John Hoppner, mezzotint, published 1812 Aged 40
NPG D33353; King George IV after Unknown artist
after Unknown artist stipple engraving, published January 1827 16 3/8 in. x 11 3/8 in. (416 mm x 290 mm) plate size; 19 1/8 in. x 14 1/4 in. (487 mm x 362 mm) paper size Aged  65 years

Well, we said we couldn’t resist a caricature image and this is our favourite, 1795 reflecting upon all his mistresses … is Grace amongst them? You decide!

Lovers George IV
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Collection Thoughts on matrimony (1795)

Mary Robinson aka Perdita

Frances Villiers, Countess of Jersey

Anna Maria Crouch

Maria Fitzherbert

Pretty Milliner

Lady and Child – Grace Dalrymple Elliott, perhaps?

The Lincolnshire Stuff Ball

Lincoln Cathedral, from the west by Augustus Charles Pugin (1762-1832) © Whitworth Art Gallery
Lincoln Cathedral, from the west by Augustus Charles Pugin (1762-1832)
© Whitworth Art Gallery

In the mid 1780’s Lincolnshire society established an annual ball, known as the ‘Stuff Ball’, to encourage and promote the local manufactory and industry of the fabric known as ‘Lincolnshire Stuff.’  The first ball was held in 1785 at The Windmill Inn, Alford.

Stuff’ could refer to any woven fabric and the rules for these balls stipulated that only ‘Lincolnshire Stuff‘ made from Lincolnshire wool and both manufactured and dyed in the county could be worn, the only exception being for gentlemen to be allowed silk stockings. Each year the titled patroness of the ball chose the colour theme for the year ensuring that all the guest had to order new clothes rather than wear those from the previous year.

The 18th century assembly rooms on the Bailgate in Lincoln.
Assembly rooms

Due to the success of the ball, the venue had to be changed to accommodate everyone who wanted to attend and it was held at the Assembly rooms on Lincoln’s Bailgate from 1789 when the first patroness there was Lady Banks, wife of Sir Joseph Banks.

Dorothea Banks (née Hugessen) by Joseph Collyer the Younger, after John Russell; National Portrait Gallery
Dorothea Banks (née Hugessen) by Joseph Collyer the Younger, after John Russell; National Portrait Gallery

In 1790 Lady Monson was patroness when the colour scheme chosen was brown. One wonders how the ladies present dressed that one up!

Stuff Ball 1790

 Click to enlarge

A contemporary report described it thus:

 The Lady’s magazine: or, Entertaining companion for the fair sex, 1791

At a time when the amusements of the wealthy are more calculated for their private gratification than for the good of the public, the following information relative to the Lincolnshire ball, cannot be unacceptable.

 The annual ball for the benefit of the stuff manufactory of Lincolnshire, was begun about six or eight years ago at Alford, with an intention to encourage the spinning of worsted among the poor, and in the houses of industry in this country; and removed to Lincoln in 1789 when Lady Banks was patroness.

 The following are the rules by which the ball is conducted.

 Ladies are admitted gratis, appearing in a stuff gown and petticoat of the colour appointed by the patroness, spun, woven, and finished within the county, and producing a ticket signed by the weaver, and countersigned by the dyer; one of which tickets is to be delivered with every twelve yards of stuff.

 Tickets to gentlemen are 10s. 6d. who are to appear without any silk or cotton in their dress, stockings excepted.

 The first year, the assembly-room was so very much crowded, that the stewards erected a temporary booth for the cold collation the year following; when the ball was honoured with most of the nobility and gentry of the county; 466 being present, viz. 252 ladies, and 214 gentlemen. Lady Monson was patroness, and the ball colour a dark brown or carmelite.

The Morning Post, on the 1st December 1796, and amidst the backdrop of the French Revolution, reported that:

Lady BERTIE is the patroness of a Ball at Lincoln for the encouragement of Lincolnshire Stuffs, and at which those stuffs are, of course, alone worn. If our Nobility followed the example of Lady BERTIE, and Lord EGREMONT, the Duke of BEDFORD, &c., the great Patrons of improvement in agriculture, the discontented would have less ground of complaint against the Aristocracy.

In 1809 the annual Stuff Ball was combined with the Royal Jubilee celebrations for King George III on October 25th and ‘perhaps, never before exhibited such an universal scene of elegant and decorous festivity.’

The Stonebow and Guildhall, Lincoln, 1836. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.
The Stonebow and Guildhall, Lincoln. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

By the end of the 19th century, although the balls continued in the same tradition, with the patroness picking the colour, the rules regarding the wearing of Lincolnshire Stuff had been waylaid and much lighter fabrics were the norm, more suited to the ballroom. The balls were also moved from their usual date of October or November to January. The ball scheduled for January 1900 was cancelled; it was felt that a time when so many families were anxious for relatives serving in the Boer War it was not suitable to be enjoying the festivities of a ball, and the tradition lapsed.

 

The ‘Petticoat Duellists’ of 1792

In 1792, the Carlton House Magazine ran an article, with an accompanying illustration, of two female petticoat duellists. The two participants were identified, in the magazine, as Lady Almeria Braddock and Mrs Elphinstone.

The two ladies were taking tea when Mrs Elphinstone, after an exchange of ‘bloated compliments’ between them, said to Lady Almeria, “You have been a very beautiful woman.”

Lady Almeria: “Have been? What do you mean by ‘have been’?”

Mrs Elphinstone: “You have a very good autumn face, even now . . . The lilies and roses are somewhat faded. Forty years ago I am told a young fellow could hardly gaze on you with impunity.”

Lady Almeria: “Forty years ago! Is the woman mad? I had not existed thirty years ago!”

Mrs Elphinstone: “Then Arthur Collins, the author of the British Peerage has published a false, scandalous and seditious libel against your ladyship. He says you were born the first of April 1732.”

Lady Almeria: “Collins is a most infamous liar; his book is loaded with errors; not a syllable of his whole six volumes is to be relied on.”

Mrs Elphinstone: “Pardon me. He asserts that you were born in April 1732 and consequently are in your sixty first year.”

Lady Almeria: “I am but turned of thirty.”

Mrs Elphinstone: “That’s false, my lady!”

Lady Almeria: “This is not to be borne; you have given me the lie direct . . . I must be under the necessity of calling you out . . . “

Mrs Elphinstone: “Name your weapons. Swords or pistols?”

Lady Almeria: “Both!”

The ladies met at Hyde Park and set to with pistols. Mrs Elphinstone proved the better shot, putting a bullet hole through Lady Almeria’s hat. Their seconds pleaded with them to end it there but Mrs Elphinstone refused to apologise and so hostilities resumed, this time with swords. Lady Almeria managed to inflict a wound on her opponent’s sword arm and honour was deemed to have been satisfied; both ladies quitted the field.

An Airing in Hyde Park, 1796. Yale Center for British Art.
An Airing in Hyde Park, 1796. Yale Center for British Art.

It’s no doubt an intriguing tale and has been repeated time and time again over the intervening two centuries. Unfortunately, it is also most probably completely untrue.  There never was a Lady (or a Lord) Braddock, and no contemporary account can be found of such a duel being fought, and it would certainly have excited plenty of attention if it had.

There was a contemporary Lady Almeria, but she was Lady Almeria Carpenter (20th March 1752-1809), daughter of the 1st Earl of Tyrconnell, and the mistress of Prince William Henry, the Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh (1743-1805, son of King George II) and mother to his illegitimate daughter Louisa Maria La Coast.

The True Briton wrote of her on the 28th June 1798, ‘Lady Almeria Carpenter was at the Haymarket Theatre on Monday last; and though she has been celebrated as a Beauty for near thirty years, she may still vie in personal attractions with the fairest Toasts of the present day.’

Lady Almeria Carpenter by Richard Cosway via Sphinx Fine Art.
Lady Almeria Carpenter by Richard Cosway via Sphinx Fine Art.

If Lady Almeria Carpenter is not the person alluded to, we do wonder if the fictitious Lady Almeria Braddock is somehow referring back to the Georgian actress George Anne Bellamy (1727-1788)? She played Almeria in Congreve’s The Mourning Bride and was a close acquaintance of one General Edward Braddock (1695-1755). She claimed to have known him from her infancy, and in her memoir ‘An Apology for the Life of Mrs. George Anne Bellamy,’ in which she mentions him often, she said of him:

This great man having been often reproached with brutality, I am induced to recite the following little accident, which evidently shews the contrary.

As we were walking in the Park one day, we heard a poor fellow was to be chastised; when I requested the General to beg off the offender. Upon his application to the general officer, whose name was Drury, he asked Braddock, How long since he had divested himself of brutality, and of the insolence of his manners? To which the other replied, “You never knew me insolent to my inferiors. It is only to such rude men as yourself, that I behave with the spirit which I think they deserve.

Petticoat - George Anne Bellamy
George Anne Bellamy

In 1718 Braddock had fought a duel, using both swords and pistols, with Colonel Waller in Hyde Park. George Anne Bellamy also knew a Mrs Elphinstone; again in her ‘Apology’ she writes:

The most attached patronesses I had, besides those of the Montgomery family, which were numerous, were the Duchess of Douglas, and the Miss Ruthvens, the eldest of whom soon married Mr. Elphinstone. The latter were partial to me to a degree of enthusiasm. Lady Ruthven likewise honoured me with her support.

Petticoat - Braddock

We can, however, give one, much earlier account of a ‘petticoat duel’ which did take place, however not with swords and pistols but with pattens (protective wooden overshoes).

Some Days ago a Female Duel was fought at Greenwich, in which one of the Combatants kill’d her Antagonist with her Patten. The Coroner’s Inquest having sate upon the Body of the Deceased, brought in their Verdict Manslaughter.

(London Journal, 28th December 1723).

Margaret Nicholson: the woman who attempted to assassinate King George III

On the 2nd August 1786, a woman named Margaret Nicholson was arrested for making an attempt on the life of King George III. Judged to be insane, and committed to Bedlam for the remainder of her life, it turned her into an instant celebrity. No fewer than five hastily printed books and pamphlets proclaiming to be accounts of her life were printed and rushed out for sale, one of these being written by her landlord, Jonathan Fiske, who was conveniently a bookseller and stationer. These books, even Fiske’s, were largely copied from the newspaper reports which appeared after the assassination attempt and salacious gossip and incorrect facts were copied time and again, and still persist today.

Margaret Nicholson was not born in 1750, the daughter of George Nicholson a barber from Stockton-on-Tees, as stated in most sources including the much respected Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Nor was she born in Stokeswell in Yorkshire, as stated by Fiske. She was, in fact, the daughter of Thomas and Ann Nicholson of Stokesley in North Yorkshire, born in 1745 and baptized there on the 9th December 1745, the fourth child of the couple. Thomas Nicholson was, however, a barber, that bit of information was correct.

Her brother, named in the newspaper report below and who gave evidence at his sisters trial, was George Nicholson, landlord of the Three Horseshoes public house in Milford Lane on the Strand, a lane leading down from St Clement’s Church to the River Thames.

Margaret had left Stokesley for London when she was just twelve years of age, finding employment in several respectable houses before achieving her notoriety at the age of forty years.  She died at Bethlem Hospital (Bedlam) in St. George’s Fields, being buried there on the 21st May 1828, her age erroneously given as 90 years.

Margaret nicholson burial

The following newspaper article details her attempt on the King’s life and, written just hours after the event and in an attempt to quash the rumours which were already starting to flow through the streets of London, can be taken as an authentic account.

THE SCOTS MAGAZINE, August, 1786.

Particulars of MARGARET NICHOLSON’S Attempt to assassinate his MAJESTY.

LONDON GAZETTE EXTRAORDINARY.

St. James’s, Wednesday, Aug. 2.

This morning, as his Majesty was alighting from his carriage at the gate of the palace, a woman, who was waiting there under pretence of presenting a petition, struck at his Majesty with a knife; but providentially his Majesty received no injury. The woman was immediately taken into custody; and upon examination appears to be insane.

An extraordinary Gazette gives importance to a subject; but this gazette is so very short, that some further particulars of this very interesting fact appear to be necessary.

It was at the garden-door opposite the Duke of Marlborough’s wall, that the woman, who appeared decently dressed, presented to his Majesty a paper folded up in the form of a petition. His Majesty, in stooping to receive it, felt a thrust made at his belly, which passed between his coat and his waistcoat. The King drew back, and said, “What does this woman mean!” At that instant one of the yeomen (Lodge) laying hold of her arm, observed something drop out of her hand, which another person taking up, said, “It is a knife!” The King said, “I am not hurt – take care of the woman – she is mad – do not hurt her *.”

His Majesty then went forward into the palace; and, when he had recovered his surprise, appeared to be greatly affected, expressing in a kind of faultering voice, that, “surely! he had not deserved such treatment from any of his subjects.” On opening the paper, when he entered the royal apartments, there were found written “To the King’s Most Excellent Majesty,” the usual head to petitions, but nothing more.

The woman was immediately taken into custody, and carried to the inner guard-chamber. Being questioned how she could make such a wicked and daring an attempt, her answer was, that “when she was brought before proper persons, she would give her reasons.”

She was then taken to the Queen’s antichamber, where she remained from twelve till near five, during all which time, though spoken to by several of the nobility, she did not condescend once to open her lips, but appeared totally unmoved by any representations of the atrocity of her crime.

At five o’clock she was taken to the board of green cloth for examination, where were present the Attorney and Solicitor Generals and Master of the Rolls, Mr Pitt, the Earl of Salisbury, Marquis of Caermarthen, Lord Sydney, Sir Francis Drake, and several magistrates.

Being interrogated, she said, her name was Margaret Nicholson, daughter of George Nicholson of Stockton-upon-Tees in Durham; that she had a brother who kept a public house in Milford-lane; that she came to London at twelve years of age, and had lived in several creditable services. Being asked, where she had lived since she left her last place? to this she answered frantically, “she had been all abroad since that matter of the Crown broke out.” – Being asked what matter; she went on rambling, that the Crown was her’s – she wanted nothing but her right – that she had great property – that if she had not her right, England would be drowned in blood for a thousand generations. Being further asked where she now lived; she answered rationally “at Mr Fisk’s, stationer, the corner of Marybone, Wigmore-street.” On being questioned, as to her right; she would answer none but a judge, her rights were a mystery. Being asked, if she had ever petitioned; said she had, ten days ago. On looking back among the papers, such petition was found, full of princely nonsense about tyrants, usurpers, and pretenders to the throne, &c. &c.

Mr Fisk, being sent for and interrogated, said, she had lodged with him about three years; that he had not observed any striking marks of insanity about her – she was certainly very odd at times – frequently talking to herself – that she lived by taking in plain work, &c. Others who knew her said, she was very industrious, and they never suspected her of insanity.

Dr Monro being sent for, said, it was impossible to discover with certainty immediately whether she was insane or not. It was proposed to commit her for three or four days to Tothil-fields Bridewell. This was objected to, because it was said, she was a state prisoner. At length it was agreed to commit her to the custody of a messenger.

Her lodgings being examined, there were found three letters written about her pretended right to the crown, one to Lord Mansfield, one to Lord Loughborough, and one to Gen. Bramham.

His Majesty’s presence of mind, and great humanity, were very conspicuous in his behaviour upon this shocking and terrifying attempt to take away his life. And if he had not instantly retreated, or if the wretch had made use of her right hand instead of her left, the consequences might have been of a most fatal nature.

It has been said, that the knife was concealed in the paper; but the fact was it was under her cloak; and when she presented the paper with her right hand, she took it and made a thrust with her left.

The instrument she used was an old ivory handled desert knife, worn very thin towards the point; so thin, that a person pressing the point against his hand, it bent almost double without penetrating the skin.

This attempt circulated through the city with amazing rapidity, and, gathering as it flew, a thousand fictions were added. The instant publication of the GAZETTE EXTRAORDINARY stopt at once their mischievous effect.

* The Earl of Salisbury ordered a gratuity to the yeoman of the guard, and the King’s footman, who first secured Mrs Nicholson after her attempt on the King; the rewards were 100 l. to the first, and 50 l. to the other.

In writing this article we have to acknowledge our debt to the following source:

Narrating Margaret Nicholson: A Character Study in Fact and Fiction by Joanne Holland, Department of English, McGill University, Montreal, August 2008