We would also like to thank our three wonderful guest authors, Sue Wilkes, Lally A Brown and Professor Chris Stephens, we hope you enjoyed reading their articles as much as we did and a big ‘Thank You‘ to the lovely Madame Gilflurt for asking us to write a guest blog for her website!
We would also like to say a massive ‘Thank You’ to all our friends and followers on both Twitter & Facebook who are too numerous to mention by name for their amazing support during the year. If you’re not already following us on Twitter and would like to we’re @sarahmurden & @joannemajor3 and on Facebook we can be found at AllThingsGeorgian.
Finally, we would like to thank all the other wonderful websites and blogs out there who have supported us and included our blog as a link on their sites. We really do appreciate each and every one of you and there are too many to include them all here, but we would like to highlight a few to return the favour. Please check out their sites too over the Christmas period and if you want more then check out our ‘Blogs I Follow’ section.
We are going to take a short break from posting here in order to enjoy the Christmas period with our families but rest assured we will be back with some new articles for you to read at the beginning of next year.
The custom of kissing under the mistletoe has its origins in Norse myth and is still practised today. In the Georgian era, when a sprig of mistletoe was hung up, a berry had to be picked off for every kiss taken and when there were no more berries left then there could be no more kisses under it, but the berries are poisonous so we don’t recommend a return to this method of limiting kisses. However, when this custom was practised the bunch of mistletoe hung in the North Pole tavern on Oxford Street in London during the Christmas of 1830 obviously did have a few berries left.
MARLBOROUGH-STREET – KISSING UNDER THE MISTLETOE.
William Duncan, a young man of respectable appearance, was yesterday brought before the Presiding Magistrates, J.E. CONANT and T. HALL, Esqrs., charged under the following circumstances:-
Duncan, an ex-policeman, had gone it appeared into the house in question, the North Pole, in Oxford-street, and the Defendant, who was there, went out and left his wife in the room. The mistletoe hung gracefully from the ceiling, and the moment was propitious, for the lady was saluted by one of the tap-room gentlemen present. The Defendant, however, shortly appeared, and then somebody informed him of the gallantry somebody had shewn towards his wife during his absence, with the important addition that he had infringed on the rules of gentility. He had committed an heinous offence – he had kissed the lady with his hat on – and the whole of the company insisted that nothing less than a pint of gin should be “stood,” as a compensation at the shrine of etiquette. The Defendant denied this, and refused to treat the company at all. Some words ensued, and then the Defendant struck Complainant repeatedly, and in fact shewed him all the new hits of the season.
Witness corroborated this statement, and stated that in fact it was he that had saluted the lady and not the unfortunate Complainant.
The Defendant said the other had peeled to fight him, and he merely struck afterwards; indeed they had no right to have kissed his wife at all. He did not like a policeman to do such a thing.
Mr. CONANT – Is he a policeman? – Defendant: No; but he was, and did duty in Duck-lane, Westminster.
Mr. CONANT thought it was merely the effects of gallantry; and even had there been an affront intended he had received a great deal of punishment in return, and the Defendant must pay 10s.
(The Morning Post, 29th December, 1830)
We end this article with a poem on kissing under the mistletoe written between December 1799 and December 1800 by Perdita or Mary Darby Robinson, that great rival to our favourite 18th century lady and subject of our forthcoming book, Grace Dalrymple Elliott.
The Mistletoe (A Christmas Tale)
A farmer’s wife, both young and gay,
And fresh as op’ning buds of May;
Had taken to herself, a Spouse,
And plighted many solemn vows,
That she a faithful mate would prove,
In meekness, duty, and in love!
That she, despising joy and wealth,
Would be, in sickness and in health,
His only comfort and his Friend–
But, mark the sequel,–and attend!
This Farmer, as the tale is told–
Was somewhat cross, and somewhat old!
His, was the wintry hour of life,
While summer smiled before his wife;
A contrast, rather form’d to cloy
The zest of matrimonial joy!
‘Twas Christmas time, the peasant throng
Assembled gay, with dance and Song:
The Farmer’s Kitchen long had been
Of annual sports the busy scene;
The wood-fire blaz’d, the chimney wide
Presented seats, on either side;
Long rows of wooden Trenchers, clean,
Bedeck’d with holly-boughs, were seen;
The shining Tankard’s foamy ale
Gave spirits to the Goblin tale,
And many a rosy cheek–grew pale.
It happen’d, that some sport to shew
The ceiling held a MISTLETOE.
A magic bough, and well design’d
To prove the coyest Maiden, kind.
A magic bough, which DRUIDS old
Its sacred mysteries enroll’d;
And which, or gossip Fame’s a liar,
Still warms the soul with vivid fire;
Still promises a store of bliss
While bigots snatch their Idol’s kiss.
This MISTLETOE was doom’d to be
The talisman of Destiny;
Beneath its ample boughs we’re told
Full many a timid Swain grew bold;
Full many a roguish eye askance
Beheld it with impatient glance,
And many a ruddy cheek confest,
The triumphs of the beating breast;
And many a rustic rover sigh’d
Who ask’d the kiss, and was denied.
First MARG’RY smil’d and gave her Lover
A Kiss; then thank’d her stars, ’twas over!
Next, KATE, with a reluctant pace,
Was tempted to the mystic place;
Then SUE, a merry laughing jade
A dimpled yielding blush betray’d;
While JOAN her chastity to shew
Wish’d “the bold knaves would serve her so,”
She’d “teach the rogues such wanton play!”
And well she could, she knew the way.
The FARMER, mute with jealous care,
Sat sullen, in his wicker chair;
Hating the noisy gamesome host
Yet, fearful to resign his post;
He envied all their sportive strife
But most he watch’d his blooming wife,
And trembled, lest her steps should go,
Incautious, near the MISTLETOE.
Now HODGE, a youth of rustic grace
With form athletic; manly face;
On MISTRESS HOMESPUN turn’d his eye
And breath’d a soul-declaring sigh!
Old HOMESPUN, mark’d his list’ning Fair
And nestled in his wicker chair;
HODGE swore, she might his heart command–
The pipe was dropp’d from HOMESPUN’S hand!
HODGE prest her slender waist around;
The FARMER check’d his draught, and frown’d!
And now beneath the MISTLETOE
‘Twas MISTRESS HOMESPUN’S turn to go;
Old Surly shook his wicker chair,
And sternly utter’d–“Let her dare!”
HODGE, to the FARMER’S wife declar’d
Such husbands never should be spar’d;
Swore, they deserv’d the worst disgrace,
That lights upon the wedded race;
And vow’d–that night he would not go
Unblest, beneath the MISTLETOE.
The merry group all recommend
An harmless Kiss, the strife to end:
“Why not ?” says MARG’RY, “who would fear,
“A dang’rous moment, once a year?”
SUSAN observ’d, that “ancient folks
“Were seldom pleas’d with youthful jokes;”
But KATE, who, till that fatal hour,
Had held, o’er HODGE, unrivall’d pow’r,
With curving lip and head aside
Look’d down and smil’d in conscious pride,
Then, anxious to conceal her care,
She humm’d–“what fools some women are!”
Now, MISTRESS HOMESPUN, sorely vex’d,
By pride and jealous rage perplex’d,
And angry, that her peevish spouse
Should doubt her matrimonial vows,
But, most of all, resolved to make
An envious rival’s bosom ache;
Commanded Hodge to let her go,
Nor lead her to the Mistletoe;
“Why should you ask it o’er and o’er?”
Cried she, “we’ve been there twice before!”
‘Tis thus, to check a rival’s sway,
That Women oft themselves betray;
While VANITY, alone, pursuing,
They rashly prove, their own undoing.
A longer version of the poem, published under the pen name of Laura Maria, can be read here.
The following tale was printed in the Morning Chronicle on the 23rd November, 1821, and they had extracted it from the Dumfries Courier.
We feel it is only right to issue a warning at the head of this article: if you are planning on eating goose for your Christmas dinner this year beware, the following may taint your enjoyment of your meal!
The setting for this tale is Arbigland, an ancient Scottish barony on the Solway Firth in Dumfries. William Craik (1703-1798), interested in agricultural improvements, was laird there and he designed and built Arbigland House. It will also help to know that the term ‘Stag’ was, at the date when this tale was written, still a common name in many places of Scotland for a gander.
And so, we begin . . .
The Old Stag of Arbigland
Among the many rural appendages of Arbigland, there happened, a good many years ago, to be a fine old gander, who had lived from youth to age in the same delightful spot, and whose remarkable, though well-authenticated exploits, are well worthy of being recorded in a country newspaper. From the great age and superior sagacity of this bird, he had become a great favourite with the former proprietor of Arbigland, who used to take much pleasure in seeing the sentinel geese strutting through the long grass to rebuke the approach of every stranger, or, at times, leading forth a long train of cackling young, to dip their shooting pinions in the waters of the Solway.
One season, however, either the demands for a Christmas goose, or the midnight depredations of the fox and the foulmart had been so numerous, that the poor old gander was left without a single helpmate – a misfortune which he deplored day and night by many a doleful note, brought from the lowest bass of the cackling gamut. These affectionate repinings did not escape the observation of Mr. Craik’s servants, and orders had just been issued for replacing the extirpated breed of geese, when the widowed biped suddenly disappeared to the great regret of the whole family. One blamed the fox, another the foulmart, and a third the gipsies; but the event proved that they were all mistaken; for, one morning, as Mr. Craik was entering the breakfast parlour, he heard a well-known cackle, and immediately exclaimed, “If the old stag had not been drowned, or worried, I could have sworn that was his cry.”
This call was immediately repeated, and on going out to the lawn, or on looking out at the window, Mr. C. beheld the identical old gander, surrounded by a whole flock of bonny lady geese, whose approach he was thus proudly announcing, and whose wings were still dripping with the brine of that element through which he had taught them to pilot their way for a distance of at least 12 or 15 miles. This singular occurrence naturally excited a good deal of interest, and after making every inquiry, it appeared that the gander had either been carried away by the force of the tide, or had voluntarily swam to the opposite shore, where, landing on some English farm, he had immediately attached himself to one of the owner’s geese, and sojourned with her till she had hatched a pretty numerous brood.
At length, finding that he had reared up another family to people his favourite retreat, or, what is still more probably, being attracted by the woods of Arbigland, while sporting in the Solway on some clear sunny morning, he once more ventured to cross the water, carrying with him his English spouse, and her whole brood of Anglo-Gallovidians. – Whether this action was as honest as it was patriotic, we will leave to others to determine; but whatever may be said as to the rights of the English farmer, it is certain that this celebrated bird evinced far more gratitude than certain of our countrymen, who, after being accustomed to the rich pastures of England, seem willing to forget that there is such a place as poor old Scotland.
At any rate, the proprietor of Arbigland did not think the worse of the old stag for the wonderful instinct he had displayed; and had it not been for a circumstance which it may be proper to state, he would have undoubtedly dozed away life very comfortably, and at last been buried with his feathers – the highest mark of respect that can be bestowed on an irrational biped. But there is no providing against the chapter of accidents; and early one winter morning, a stupid servant carried away the gander, by mistake, among a lot of other poultry, which he had been directed to deliver as Christmas presents.
In distributing the said presents, the gander fell to the lot of the father of the present Thos. Goldie, Esq. whose servants killed and cooked the unfortunate bird, without ever discovering that it had lived more than half a century; but, when carried to the table, its extraordinary toughness was a subject of much speculation, and fairly baffled the skill of more than one accomplished carver.
The late Duchess of Gordon, it is said, once rallied a gentleman for his want of dexterity in carving, who replied that her Grace would have been less severe on him, had she known the history of the fowl placed before him, and who, on being asked to be more explicit, replied, “that it was the mother of the cock that crew to Peter!”
We are not aware that any similar criticism was made on the occasion to which we allude, but supposing there had, we think the carver might have replied, with equal truth, that the subject on which he had been so slowly operating, was the great great grandson of one of those classical birds whose well-timed cackling was a means of saving the Roman capitol!
With Christmas fast approaching, we present a miscellany of Christmas pies, puddings and cakes for your enjoyment, taken from recipe books and interesting articles in the newspapers.
Christmas pudding started out as plum porridge or pottage and this receipt (or recipe) is from The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy by Hannah Glasse, first published in 1747. Plum was actually another name for a raisin and does not refer to the fruit we know as a plum today.
To make Plum-Porridge for Christmas
Take a leg and shin of beef, put them into eight gallons of water, and boil them till they are very tender, and when the broth is strong strain it out: wipe the pot and put in the broth again; then slice six penny loaves thin, cut off the top and bottom, put some of the liquor to it, cover it up and let it stand a quarter of an hour, boil it and strain it, and then put it in your pot.
Let it boil a quarter of an hour, then put in five pounds of currants, clean washed and picked; let them boil a little, and put in five pounds of raisins of the sun, stoned, and two pounds of prunes, and let them boil till they swell; then put in three quarters of an ounce of mace, half an ounce of cloves, two nutmegs, all of them beat fine, and mix it with a little liquor cold, and put them in a very little while, and take off the pot; then put in three pounds of sugar, a little salt, a quart of sack, a quart of claret, and the juice of two or three lemons.
You may thicken with sago instead of bread, if you please; pour into earthen pans, and keep them for use.
Hampshire Chronicle, 1st January, 1776
The Duke and Duchess of Cumberland gave orders for the neighbouring poor at Windsor Lodge to be entertained three days of the holidays with beef, plum puddings, and mince pies; and likewise for one hundred guineas to be distributed among the distressed families.
Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 25th December 1766
An ESSAY on CHRISTMAS-PYE.
I presume I need not say any thing of the high and grateful flavour whereby the Christmas Pye recommends itself to the almost universal taste of both sexes: But I cannot forbear wondering, since we can be so well furnished with this rich and nourishing food, that there should be any such thing as a fricassée or ragoût in the kingdom; and that we should be so foolishly fond of foreign fashions, as, to the expence of our constitutions, to imitate the cookery of a fantastical nation, whose natural scarcity of provisions puts them upon tossing up the little that they have a hundred ways, to supply, as well as they can, their want of the British plenty.
There is something in the crust of this pye, too remarkable to be passed by; I mean the regularity of the figures into which it is sometimes raised; which seem to owe their original to the martial genius of our nation. For in many of them, the rules of military architecture are observed with that exactness, that each of them would serve for the model of a fortification; and a board of well-raised pyes, look like so many castles in miniature. From whence I conjecture, that it might have been anciently the amusement of our British Ladies, while their spouses and lovers were engaging their enemies abroad, to describe in paste, the glorious dangers they encountered; and that it might be their custom to form these pyes from the publick draughts of the towns and castles, against which they expected them to march, that so they might have the pleasure of storming and taking them, in effigy.
As to the reason why this dish is most in vogue at this time of the year, some are of the opinion, that ‘tis owing to the barrenness of the season; that there being little or no fruit remaining for any variety of tarts, and the scarcity of milk denying any affluence of cheese-cake or custard, therefore the ladies, being at a loss for a desert, invented this excellent compound.
But I rather think, from its regularly making its revolution with the present festivity, that it bears a religious kind of relation to it, and that from thence it had its name. What confirms me in this opinion, is the opposition which it meets with from the people called Quakers; who distinguish their feasts at this time by a certain heretical sort of pudding, known by their name, inveighing against Christmas Pye, as an invention of the Scarlet Whore of Babylon, a hodge podge of superstition, popery, the devil and all his works.
I am particularly concerned to take notice of another sort of people, who, while they indulge themselves in the free enjoyment of this excellent food, are for cutting out the clergy from having any share in it; under pretence that a sweet tooth and a liquorish palate are inconsistent with the sanctity of their character. Against these persons, the famous Bickerstaff rose up; and with a becoming zeal, defended the chaplains of noblemen, attacked in this tender point; and asserted their ancient and undoubted right to Christmas pye. After having exposed the injustice of such an encroachment, he rallies those who had been guilty of it, very agreeably. The Christmas Pye, says he, is, in its own nature, a kind of consecrated cake, and a badge of distinction; and yet ‘tis often forbidden to the druid of a family. Strange! that a sirloin of beef, whether boiled or roasted, when entire, is exposed to his utmost depredations and incisions; but if minced into small pieces, and tossed up with plumbs and sugar, changes its property, and forsooth is meat for his master.
I must beg leave of the ladies, for presuming to offer them my thoughts upon a subject which they must needs understand better than myself; But if they think I have been impertinent, they may at the same time take their revenge upon me, and bring my dissertation nearer to its subject, by putting it under the next pie they raise.
Morning Post, 26th December 1805
It is estimated that the quantity of plum pudding devoured yesterday, in the United Kingdom, if collected in a heap would in size be about equal to Primrose-hill.
Stamford Mercury, 15th January 1808
At Earl Grosvenor’s second dinner at Chester, as Mayor of that city, on Friday the 1st instant, there was a large Christmas pie, which contained three geese, three turkies, seven hares, twelve partridges, a ham, and a leg of veal: the whole, when baked, weighed 154 lbs.!
Once again we turn to Hannah Glasse, and her receipt for a Yorkshire Christmas-pie, which bears a resemblance to that served by Earl Grosvenor.
To make a Yorkshire Christmas-Pie
FIRST make a good standing crust, let the wall and bottom be very thick; bone a turkey, a goose, a fowl, a partridge, and a pigeon.
Season them all very well, take half an ounce of mace, half an ounce of nutmegs, a quarter of an ounce of cloves, and half an ounce of black pepper, all beat fine together, two large spoonfuls of salt, and then mix them together.
Open the fowls all down the back, and bone them; first the pigeon, then the partridge, cover them; then the fowl, then the goose, and then the turkey, which must be large; season them all well first, and lay them in the crust, so as it will look only like a whole turkey; then have a hare ready cased, and wiped with a clean cloth.
Cut it to pieces; that is, joint it; season it, and lay it as close as you can on one side; on the other side woodcocks, moor game, and what sort of wild fowl you can get. Season them well, and lay them close; put at least four pounds of butter into the pie, then lay on your lid, which must be a very thick one, and let it be well baked. It must have a very hot oven, and will take at least four hours.
The crust will take a bushel of flour. These pies are often sent to London in a box as presents; therefore the walls must be well built.
Now, a cautionary tale of a Christmas cake with an added deadly ingredient!
Bury and Norwich Post, 9th January 1811
Another instance of the melancholy effect of want of caution in the disposition of poison, for the purpose of destroying vermin. – John Vellum, shepherd to Mr. Calthorpe, of Gosberton, in Lincolnshire, having invited a party of friends to keep a Christmas feast with him, on Thursday se’nnight, his wife prepared a cake for their entertainment, but the flour running short in the composition of the cake, she unadvisedly added to it a quantity of flour which stood in a jar, already mingled with mercury for the destruction of rats.
A deadly sickness soon pervaded the frames of 13 persons, the unfortunate partakers of this unfriendly benevolence. It was not long however before the cause was discovered, and the skill and activity of Mr. Brocklesby and Mr. Pickworth were exerted in sufficient time to save the lives of 12 out of the 13 persons. It is hoped by this timely interposition the 12 may recover, but before the surgeons arrived, Matthew Slater was dead, having left a wife and daughter to mourn his fate.
Matthew Slater, of Quadring, was buried at Billingborough in Lincolnshire on the 29th December 1810, two days after the fatal Christmas feast.
We move on to a couple of early 19th century recipes for mince pies and offer one traditional meat based mince pie and one without meat, both taken from A New System of Domestic Cookery, formed upon Principles of Economy, and adapted to the use of Private Families, by ‘A Lady’ (Maria Eliza Rundell), 1808.
Of scraped beef free from skin and strings, weigh 2lb., 4lb. of suet picked and chopped, then add 6lb. of currants nicely cleaned and perfectly dry, 3lb. of chopped apples, the peel and juice of two lemons, a pint of sweet wine, a nutmeg, a quarter of an ounce of cloves, ditto mace, ditto pimento, in finest powder; press the whole into a deep pan when well mixed, and keep it covered in a dry place.
Half the quantity is enough, unless for a very large family.
Have citron, orange, and lemon-peel ready, and put some of each in the pies when made.
Mince Pie without Meat
Of the best apples six pounds, pared, cored, and minced; of fresh suet, and raisins stoned, each three pounds, likewise minced: to these add of mace and cinnamon a quarter of an ounce each, and eight cloves, in finest powder, three pounds of the finest powder sugar, three quarters of an ounce of salt, the rinds of four and juice of two lemons, half a pint of port, the same of brandy. Mix well and put into a deep pan.
Have ready washed and dried four pounds of currants, and add as you make the pies, with candied fruit.
And finally, a couple of references to that age-old gastronomical battle between the French and the English.
Hampshire Telegraph, 20th January 1823
Dr. Schomberg of Reading, in the early part of his life, spent a Christmas at Paris with some English friends. They were desirous to celebrate the season, in the manner of their own country, by having as one dish at their table, an English plum-pudding, but no cook was found equal to the task of compounding it. A clergyman of the party had, indeed, an old receipt-book; but this did not sufficiently explain the process. Dr. Schomberg, however, supplied all that was wanting, by throwing the recipe into the form of a prescription, and sending it to the apothecary to be made up. To prevent all possibility of error, he directed that it should be boiled in a cloth, and sent in the same cloth, to be applied at an hour specified.
At this hour it arrived, borne by the apothecary’s assistant, and preceded by the apothecary himself, drest, according to the professional formality of the time, with a sword. Seeing when he entered the apartment, instead of signs of sickness, a table well-filled and surrounded by very merry faces, he perceived that he was made a party in a joke that turned on himself, and indignantly laid his hand on his sword; but an invitation to taste his own cookery appeased him, and all was well. – Hawkin’s Anecdotes, just published.
Hampshire Chronicle, 27th June 1825
A French author, who has recently published a “Tour through England,” calls plum pudding poudin de plomb (lead pudding).
Following our previous post What a Spectacle! which looked at the development of spectacles during the Georgian Era, we had a question/observation from a reader regarding portraits of women wearing spectacles – or rather the lack of them. With that in mind we have tried, almost in vain to put together a short post to show just women wearing spectacles. To be honest it has proved to be something of a challenge and of course we thrive on challenges!
There are only a few possible explanations for the lack of images – the first being that of vanity – you wanted to look at your best when having your portrait painted and ‘masking’ the eyes with spectacles or even showing publicly that your eye sight wasn’t quite what it should have been may have been one. The second being that young to middle aged women simply preferred to use an eyeglass of some sort if they felt their eyesight was lacking or finally that quite simply eye tests as we understand them today simply did not exist in the same way so people didn’t realize how good or bad their eye sight was. Around the 1800’s the use of any type of spectacles was a sign of old age and infirmity, so it seems that vanity would most likely have prevented many women from admitting to this!
For ‘ladies of fashion’ the lorgnette was immensely popular. The picture below shows one invented by George Adams Jr. (1750 – 1795) in the form of a penknife and intended to be carried loose in the pocket. Lorgnettes were developed towards the end of the 1700’s and often took the form of a pair of eye glasses on a long handle.
Courtesy of the Museum of Vision
If you preferred something slightly more discrete and more akin to a piece of jewellery then the other option was quizzling glasses which became popular from the early 1800’s.
Moving on to the portraits that we have found and to be honest they seem to confirm our suggestions and only feature the more mature woman.
Our first offering is an oil painting entitled ‘The Sense of Hearing, The Sense of Sound’ by the French artist Phillipe Mercier.
The next is a self portrait by the Polish artist Anna Dorothea Therbusch, painted circa 1777 when she was around 65 years of age.
Our third being that of Ferdinande Henriette, Countess of Stolberg-Gedern, in her later life.
The next, a caricature entitled ‘ The Mutual Embrace’ courtesy of the British Museum.
Lastly, there is ‘High Life Below Stairs’ by John Collet, London, England, 1763. We offer two versions of this image, the first in colour, the second black and white, but there are a few subtle differences between the two. The difference we are interested in however is that the woman in the centre of the first image is wearing spectacles, in the second she isn’t – we have no idea why this is – very odd!
Unfortunately, despite our best attempts we failed to find any paintings of young women wearing spectacles, so as many of you know our blog posts couldn’t possibly be complete without any caricatures so we offer this one from the Lewis Walpole Library entitled ‘Heyday! Is this my daughter Anne!‘, yet again depicting an elderly woman accompanied by her daughter who is sporting one of our favourite enormous hair styles.
It is an absolute pleasure to welcome our lovely guest author, Lally Brown to our blog. She has recently written a book about the amazing life of the Countess Françoise-Elisabeth Bertrand (Fanny Dillon) which is now available to download from Amazon.
Countess Françoise-Elisabeth (Fanny) Bertrand was tall, attractive and charming. An aristocratic lady fond of the latest fashions she was popular, and is said to have possessed ‘a hot and passionate nature’.
Fanny was born on the island of Martinique in the French West Indies. Her mother was a wealthy widow who had married General Arthur Dillon, a British Aristocrat in the service of France. When Fanny was nine her father was imprisoned and subsequently guillotined during the French Revolution.
Her mother’s cousin was the celebrated Empress Joséphine, Napoleon’s first wife. As a result of this connection Fanny found herself treated as a favoured relative by Napoleon and her life became inextricably bound with his.
When she was twenty-three Napoleon arranged for Fanny to marry one of his Generals (later to become his Grand Marshal of the Palace). Fanny was not at all keen. Her suitor, Count Henri-Gatien Bertrand, was thirty-five, boring, and (in Fanny’s opinion) not particularly handsome. She remonstrated with Napoleon ‘But Sire’ she protested ‘Bertrand! The Pope’s monkey to the life!’ However, Napoleon insisted, signing the contract and providing a generous dowry and property. They were married at the home of Queen Hortense on 16th September 1808.
Despite her initial misgivings Fanny was very content with her husband. They were, said friends, ‘Well suited’. Henri was placid, kind and attentive, the perfect balance to Fanny’s more impetuous temperament. He called Fanny ‘My Fiery Creole’. They had five children in the twenty-eight years of their marriage.
All was well until Napoleon’s downfall. First Elba and then Waterloo. Napoleon gathered his Generals around him and planned, initially to go to America. But it was not to be. Hoping to live in seclusion on a country estate in England, Napoleon gave himself up to the British.
Count Bertrand, Fanny and their three children were on board HMS Bellerophon when Napoleon was informed he was being exiled as a Prisoner of War to the remote island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean. Fanny was distraught. She knew her husband would insist on accompanying his beloved Emperor and she would be obliged to go with them. She burst into Napoleon’s cabin, made a terrible scene, and attempted to throw herself overboard.
But calmed by Henri and assured the exile ‘would not be for long’ Fanny reluctantly agreed to accompany her husband. She suffered greatly from sea sickness on the sixty-seven day voyage and should have been relieved to sight land. I would like to tell you what Fanny said to Napoleon when she saw St. Helena for the first time from the deck of HMS Northumberland, but it is entirely unsuitable for printing in the refined pages of All Things Georgian.
Fanny hated St. Helena. She begged her husband to leave and several times the British offered them the opportunity, but each time Napoleon persuaded Henri to stay. Fanny gave birth to her fourth child, Arthur, on the island, but she also suffered several miscarriages. It was after her last, near fatal miscarriage, that Napoleon finally agreed to their departure, shortly before his death. Fanny was at his bedside with her husband and children when Napoleon died on 5th May 1821.
After almost six years in exile with Napoleon on St. Helena, Count Henri-Gatien Bertrand was granted amnesty on 24th October 1821, his titles and property restored. The family returned to France and on the 6th July 1823, Fanny was safely delivered of a son, Alphonse.
In February 1833 Fanny became ill. She died of cancer at Château de Laleuf on 6th March 1836 age fifty-one.
I became involved with the fascinating Fanny several years ago, when the British Government sent my husband to St. Helena on a two-year contract. Our accommodation was the house built for Count and Countess Bertrand in 1816, just across the road from Napoleon’s Longwood House.
The French Consul on St. Helena, who at that time lived in Longwood House, was my close neighbour. He asked me to help transcribe primary-source archive material relevant to Napoleon’s exile on the island. I became totally engrossed in the research, enthralled by this ‘Palace in Exile’. This little French community of Generals, their wives, children and servants, was dominated by the demands of Napoleon and constrained by restrictions imposed upon them by Lord Bathurst in London, implemented on island by the unsympathetic Governor Sir Hudson Lowe.
I felt enormous sympathy for Countess Fanny Bertrand and found myself compelled to tell the moving story of her life on St. Helena. The result is ‘The Countess, Napoleon and St. Helena – In Exile with the Emperor 1815 to 1821’. Compiled as Fanny’s Diary and conscientiously following the dates and content of the original archive documents, it is an accurate non-fiction account of Fanny’s years on St. Helena.
As a counterpoint to Fanny’s story I have scattered through her Diary a few chapters of my own life on this remote British Overseas Territory in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean.
I hope you enjoy it!
The Countess, Napoleon and St. Helena: In Exile With The Emperor 1815 to 1821 by Lally Brown, Kindle Edition – click here to view