Three eldest princesses by Thomas Gainsborough. Royal Collection Trust

A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs – cover reveal

We’re massively excited to reveal the cover for our next book A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs which is due to be published later this year, again by Pen & Sword Books. It is now available to pre-order via Pen & Swords Books or Amazon and all other bookshops.
A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden

Rachel or Charlotte as she preferred to be known, really has tested our detective skills as she spent her life ‘under the radar’ despite everything she actually achieved in life and remained something of an enigma.

Lambeth Palace and St Mary's Church with St Paul's by William Marlow
Lambeth Palace and St Mary’s Church with St Paul’s by William Marlow; Government Art Collection

This book really has been a long time in the writing, as every time we thought we had found out all there was to know about her, Charlotte threw us another snippet, as if from nowhere, and off we disappeared again down yet another rabbit hole.

Putney Bridge and Village from Fulham, London
Putney Bridge and Village from Fulham, London; Museum of London

We thought we would share with you a little about how we came across Charlotte and what a complete nightmare and joy she has proved to be. We have gone through so many emotions we can’t begin to describe whilst piecing together her life.

Briton Ferry, Glamorgan by Julius Caesar Ibbetson
Briton Ferry, Glamorgan by Julius Caesar Ibbetson; Tate

Whilst researching Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s life (for our first book, An Infamous Mistress) we came across Charlotte’s name in connection with the home of one of Grace’s relatives. Our first thought was that it was a vaguely interesting snippet of information and perhaps worth, at the very most, a paragraph in Grace’s book, but absolutely nothing more than that.

An Account of the Celebration of George III's Jubilee in 1809

We then came across Charlotte’s ‘Testament’, her version of events that took place during her teenage years. At this point we knew her full life story needed to be told – she would either be immensely proud or absolutely furious that we haven’t left her to rest in peace (probably the former, if we’re honest).

Covent Garden Theatre from Microcosm of London, courtesy of British Library
Covent Garden Theatre from Microcosm of London, courtesy of British Library

At first, we couldn’t decide whether her Testament was a work of fiction or a factual account of shocking events that took place during her teenage years. We debated for months about her, swaying from completely believing her account, to thinking it was mere fiction as it read so much like a tragic Samuel Richardson novel.

Hotwells and Rownham Ferry by William Williams; Bristol Museums, Galleries and Archives
Hotwells and Rownham Ferry by William Williams; Bristol Museums, Galleries and Archives

I (Sarah) was less convinced than Jo that she was telling the truth, but the more we uncovered the more persuaded I became that the majority of it was true, too many of the facts checked out for it to be fiction.

House of Commons from Microcosm of London. Courtesy of the British Library
House of Commons from Microcosm of London. Courtesy of the British Library

So, with that one part of her life pieced together, in our usual detective fashion we simply had to find out more, where did she come from and what happened to her after this shocking ordeal? So off we went, desperate to find the missing pieces of the jigsaw.

The Conciergerie, Paris, by Henry Edridge,. Courtesy of The Yale Center for British Art
The Conciergerie, Paris, by Henry Edridge,. Courtesy of The Yale Center for British Art

What we discovered about her was far from anything we could ever have imagined. After a horrendous ordeal, she completely reinvented herself.

The York to London Coach at Bedale, c.1840; The British Postal Museum
The York to London Coach at Bedale by Anson Ambrose Martin; The British Postal Museum & Archive; c1840 (not quite Georgian)

We came across Professor Linda Colley’s book ‘Britons: Forging The Nation 1707-1837’ in which our heroine gets a mention. Colley describes her as:

an obscure, middle-class widow from the Welsh border’

From the Welsh borders – almost true. Obscure – well perhaps, she shunned the limelight, not that limelight was easy to achieve at that time for a woman. Middle class – probably. A widow – well, that’s another mystery which we’ll reveal in our book!

Rather than tell you more about the story itself we have included rather a lot of what appear to be random images, for which we offer no explanation, apart from to say that if you read the book they will make sense to you.

Louis XVI of France bids his farewell to the people of Paris, 1793. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
Louis XVI of France bids his farewell to the people of Paris, 1793. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images

Charlotte was in fact, the instigator of our ‘All Things Georgian‘ blog as we needed to find somewhere to store pieces of information we had found about her, so we have been writing about events in Charlotte’s life in a variety of blogs for quite some time now as we’ve pieced together her life, these include:

Reverend William Dodd

‘Clarissa’ and ‘ Pamela’ by Samuel Richardson

Countess Leonor D’Oeynhausen (1750-1839)

Rolinda Sharples (1793-1838)

Helen Maria Williams

Arabella Williams – Le Petit Matelot

Robert Carpenter, Drury Lane actor

Rehab for 18th-century prostitutes – The Magdalen Hospital

The Dunston Pillar: celebrating the 50 year reign of King George III

Finally, to whet your appetite we’ll leave you with the back of the jacket.

A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden

Header image: The three eldest princesses by Thomas Gainsborough. Royal Collection Trust.

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The many faces of George III’s wife, Queen Charlotte

With so much interest in the Royal Collection’s Georgian Papers Project,  we thought we would examine some of the portraits of Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz who was also patron of the arts. We took a brief look some time ago at some of the portraits of George III’s children, so other portraits of the Queen with her children can be found by following this link.

As you would imagine, both the King and Queen were painted by many of the leading artists of the day so we’ll take a look at just a few of them.

We begin with a miniature of Queen Charlotte by the artist Jeremiah Meyer, who was appointed miniature painter to her majesty.

Meyer, Jeremiah; Profile of Queen Charlotte (1744-1818); York Museums Trust; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/profile-of-queen-charlotte-17441818-7868
Meyer, Jeremiah; Profile of Queen Charlotte (1744-1818); York Museums Trust

Our next being portrait is attributed to Johann Zoffany, 1766. According to John Zoffany, His Life and Works by Lady Victoria Manners and Dr. G C Williamson:

Unfortunately for our artist he was addicted to the practical joke of introducing into his groups ‘without the permission of the original and often in unflattering guise‘ the representations of living persons with whom he had quarrelled or against whom he had  grievance. He is said to have scandalised the English Court by sketching out and showing to his friends a bold replica of his ‘Life School‘ in which he had introduced a portrait of Queen Charlotte before she was married and had placed it opposite to the figure of one of her former admirers in Germany.

As Zoffany’ s Life School wasn’t painted until after this portrait of Queen Charlotte, it rather begs the question as to what she had done to upset him – perhaps she didn’t think he had captured her likeness in this portrait! We will probably never know.

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Queen Charlotte (1744–1818) Johann Zoffany (1733–1810) (attributed to) The Holburne Museum

In 1789 Queen Charlotte sat for the artist Thomas Lawrence  but, according to the National Gallery,  apparently unwillingly, having recently undergone the shock of George III’s first attack of apparent insanity. The pearl bracelets on Queen Charlotte’s wrists were part of the king’s wedding gift to her; one clasp contains his portrait miniature, the other his royal monogram. Although Lawrence’s portrait was considered to be very like Queen Charlotte, it failed to please the king and queen and remained in the artist’s possession

Lawrence, Thomas; Queen Charlotte; The National Gallery, London; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/queen-charlotte-115071
Lawrence, Thomas; Queen Charlotte; The National Gallery, London

This next painting is by one of the monarch’s favourite artists, William Beechey. In the biography of William Beechey R.A. written by W. Roberts in 1909, he notes that in 1793 Beechey painted a full length portrait of Queen Charlotte, the Queen in turn honoured him by the appointment of Her Majesty’s Portrait Painter.

Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744-1818) by William Beechey; National Trust, Upton House
Beechey, William; Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744-1818); National Trust, Upton House

Interestingly, there is another copy of this portrait at the Courtauld Gallery, dated somewhat later – 1812 – and with slightly different dimensions.

Beechey, William; Queen Charlotte; The Courtauld Gallery; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/queen-charlotte-207040
Beechey, William; Queen Charlotte; The Courtauld Gallery

Probably one of the most well known portraits of her is the one by Allan Ramsay.

Reynolds, Joshua; Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744-1818), Queen Consort of King George III; Government Art Collection; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/charlotte-sophia-of-mecklenburg-strelitz-17441818-queen-consort-of-king-george-iii-29112
Reynolds, Joshua; Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744-1818), Queen Consort of King George III; Government Art Collection

And finally, a portrait after Thomas Gainsborough.

Gainsborough, Thomas; Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744-1818); National Trust, Wimpole Hall; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/charlotte-sophia-of-mecklenburg-strelitz-17441818-171645
Gainsborough, Thomas; Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744-1818); National Trust, Wimpole Hall

 

Featured Image

 

Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s aunt and uncle at the coronation of George III in 1761

Grace Dalrymple Elliott, the subject of our book An Infamous Mistress, was only around seven years of age at the time of the coronation of King George III on the 22nd September 1761 at Westminster Abbey.

Ramsay, Allan; George III (1738-1820); City of London Corporation; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/george-iii-17381820-50900
Ramsay, Allan; George III in his coronation robes (1738-1820); City of London Corporation

Grace, living in Scotland with her maternal relatives after her father had abandoned his young family, might just have had a first-hand account of the ceremony from her aunt, Robinaiana, Countess of Peterborough, who attended the coronation.

Ramsay, Allan; Queen Charlotte (1744-1818), Princess Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Queen of George III; National Galleries of Scotland; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/queen-charlotte-17441818-princess-sophia-charlotte-of-mecklenburg-strelitz-queen-of-george-iii-213105
Ramsay, Allan; Queen Charlotte in her coronation robes (1744-1818), Princess Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Queen of George III; National Galleries of Scotland

As Peers of the Realm, the Earl and Countess of Peterborough would have been expected to wear their robes of state and coronets. An Earl’s coronet was a:

 . . . circle [of gold], richly chased, having eight pearls raised upon high points of gold, which spring out of the upper rim, with an equal number of strawberry leaves, formed of the same metal, standing upon lower points between them. It has also a doubling of Ermine, cap and tassel . . .

The Earl of Peterborough’s robes would have been of crimson velvet, lined with white sarcenet and with three guards of Ermine. Robinaiana’s state robe too would have consisted of crimson velvet and ermine, with her coronet having a cap also of crimson velvet turned up with Ermine and a button and tassel of gold on the top. The length of the train of the robe was regulated by the rank of the wearer; a Countess was allowed a train of up to a yard and a half in length.

Form of the Procession to the Coronation of the Sovereigns of England, 1760. (University of Virginia)
Form of the Procession to the Coronation of the Sovereigns of England.
(University of Virginia)

Whilst we know of no picture representing the Earl and Countess of Peterborough dressed for the coronation, there is one hanging at Doddington Hall in Lincolnshire which shows the Earl and Countess of Mexborough dressed for the occasion.

Reynolds, Joshua; The Earl and Countess of Mexborough with Their Son, Lord Pollington (1719-1778); Doddington Hall; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-earl-and-countess-of-mexborough-with-their-son-lord-pollington-17191778-80642
Reynolds, Joshua; The Earl and Countess of Mexborough with Their Son, Lord Pollington; Doddington Hall

Horace Walpole mentioned Robinaiana, Countess of Peterborough’s appearance at the coronation, and you can read more about that in our book An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott, available now from Pen and Sword Books and all good bookshops.

 

Sources:

A Faithful Account of the Processions and Ceremonies observed in the Coronation of the Kings and Queen of England: exemplified in that of their late most sacred Majesties King George the Third and Queen Charlotte with all the other interesting proceedings connected with that magnificent festival. Edited by Richard Thomson, 1820.

A View of Chiswick House Gardens with the Bagnio and Domed Building Alleys; Pieter Andreas Rysbrack; English Heritage, Chiswick House

How to mock 18th century nobility – The Gardener’s Calendar

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The Caricaturers Stock in Trade Courtesy of the British Museum

‘A garden is a world and every tree and flower are men and women’

The Georgian newspapers loved nothing more than mocking the aristocracy, never more so than in this article we stumbled across in The Morning Herald, January 1781, entitled ‘Vegetable Kit-Cats’, otherwise known as ‘The Gardener’s Calendar’ which attributed trees and flowers to some of the great and the not so good of the day so we thought it would be fun to follow suit.

Firstly of course we have His Majesty, King George III  – The Royal Oak

studio of Allan Ramsay, oil on canvas, (1761-1762)
King George III, studio of Allan Ramsay, oil on canvas, (1761-1762) Courtesy of NPG
Tate; (c) Tate; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
The Oak tree, by Joseph Farrington Courtesy of Tate; (c) Tate; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Closely followed by The Queena Crown Imperial

studio of Allan Ramsay, oil on canvas, (1762)
studio of Allan Ramsay, oil on canvas, (1762) Courtesy of NPG
(c) National Trust, Dudmaston; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Roses, Tulips and Crown Imperial in a Vase with a Bird’s Nest by Jan van Os c1770 (c) National Trust, Dudmaston; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Prince of Wales, now we’re sure that there must be any number of flowers that spring to mind, but the Morning Herald has chosen Hearts Ease, otherwise known as ‘leap up and kiss me‘. We can’t imagine why!

by Richard Cosway, watercolour on ivory, circa 1780-1782
by Richard Cosway, watercolour on ivory, circa 1780-1782, courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery

 

Heart's ease

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Princess Royal,  passion flower

Princess Royal, Charlotte
Charlotte, Princess Royal

passion flower

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prince William Henry, Sweet William

sweet william

by Sir Martin Archer Shee, oil on canvas, circa 1800
by Sir Martin Archer Shee, oil on canvas, circa 1800 Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Duke of Richmond, Fleur de Lis

240px-3rd_Duke_of_Richmond

Fleur de Lis or Iris

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lord Coleraine, Coxcomb

George Hanger, 4th Lord Coleraine (1751-1824) c.1782-92 Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014
George Hanger, 4th Lord Coleraine (1751-1824) c.1782-92
Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

john-edwards-1795-folio-hand-col-botanical-print.-coxcomb-51490-p[ekm]416x554[ekm]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lord Egremont, Bachelor’s Button

by John Samuel Agar, published by T. Cadell & W. Davies, after John Wright, after Thomas Phillips, stipple engraving, published 16 April 1810
by John Samuel Agar, published by T. Cadell & W. Davies, after John Wright, after Thomas Phillips, stipple engraving, published 16 April 1810 Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery

Bachelors Buttons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Duchess of Devonshire, London’s Pride

200px-Joshua_Reynolds_-_Georgiana,_Duchess_of_Devonshire c1775
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire c1775 Joshua Reynolds

WSY0041742_14562

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hon. Thomas Onslow, Dwarf Stock. His nickname at the time being ‘Tom Tit’ or dwarf

Hon Thomas Onslow Courtesy of the British Museum
Hon Thomas Onslow Courtesy of the British Museum

 

stock

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lord Kellie, Scarlet Lychnis

Thomas Erskine 6th Earl of Kellie 1780 Courtesy of the British Museum

 

curtis-1794-hand-col-botanical-print.-scarlet-lychnis-257-90139-p[ekm]416x554[ekm]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Miss Far__n, Sensitive plant

Sensitive plant - mimosa

Miss Farren in the Character of Hermione. Winter's Tale Act V and A
Miss Farren in the Character of Hermione. Winter’s Tale Act. Courtesy of Victoria & Albert Museum, London

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mrs Robinson, Princes Feather

110172075
Prince’s Feather or Kiss me over the garden gate (Polygonum orientale), Polygonaceae by Giovanni Antonio Bottione, watercolor, 1770-1781
Mary Darby (1758–1800), Mrs Thomas Robinson ('Perdita') by Thomas Gainsborough c.1781 (c) National Trust, Waddesdon Manor; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Mary Darby (1758–1800), Mrs Thomas Robinson (‘Perdita’) by Thomas Gainsborough c.1781
(c) National Trust, Waddesdon Manor; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mrs Mahon, Drooping Lilly of the Valley

Gertrude Mahon, 1781 Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library
Gertrude Mahon, 1781 Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

Lily of the Valley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vestris, The Caper Tree

Vestris and Cholmondeley 1781
‘Regardez Moi’. Lord Cholmondeley and Vestris, 1781. Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

220px-Illustration_Capparis_spinosa0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We wonder whether you agree with their choice or perhaps had some others you feel could be added to that list. If you do please let us know the person and a suitable plant to match their personality. The list of possible candidates from that period must be endless!

 

Header image: A View of Chiswick House Gardens with the Bagnio and Domed Building Alleys; Pieter Andreas Rysbrack; English Heritage, Chiswick House

 

The Royal Babies of King George III & Queen Charlotte

George III (1738-1820), Queen Charlotte (1744-1818) and their Six Eldest Children. Zoffany
George III (1738-1820), Queen Charlotte (1744-1818) and their Six Eldest Children. Zoffany Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

The arrival of a baby at any time is a joyous event and with the arrival of the latest royal baby girl, Charlotte Elizabeth Diana, we simply had to take a quick look back at the children of King George III and his consort Queen Charlotte. They produced a staggering 15 children. So here’s a brief look at them all through their portraits.

1. Their eldest child and first in line to the throne being George, later to become King George IV (1762 – 1830). As you may know, George, Prince of Wales, was named as the father of our favourite Georgian courtesan Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s daughter, but that’s another story, with Prince George featuring in our book An Infamous Mistress.

2. Frederick, Duke of York, now gave the couple the requisite ‘heir and a spare’. (1763 – 1827).

Royal baby - Buckingham Palace
Queen Charlotte with her Two Eldest Sons (Artist, Johann Zoffany)

At number 3  we have William, who would eventually become William IV (1765-1837). So the monarchy was safe, ‘an heir and now 2 spares’.

Prince William (1765-1837), later Duke of Clarence
Prince William (1765-1837), later Duke of Clarence, King William IV. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015

As if  three children weren’t enough the couple produced their first daughter, Charlotte, The Princess Royal  (1766 – 1828).

Princess Royal
Queen Charlotte with Charlotte, Princess Royal (Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014)

The couples fifth child, was to be yet another son, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn (1767 – 1820).

Portrait of a Baby, possibly Prince Edward (1767-1820), later Duke of Kent
Portrait of a Baby, possibly Prince Edward (1767-1820), later Duke of Kent. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

At number six and almost a year to the day, Augusta Sophia was to make her appearance into the royal family, followed by  their seventh child, another daughter,  Princess Elizabeth  (1770 – 1840).

Princess Augusta, Princess Elizabeth, Prince Ernest, Prince Augustus, Prince Adolphus and Princess Mary
Princess Augusta, Princess Elizabeth, Prince Ernest, Prince Augustus, Prince Adolphus and Princess Mary, Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

Numbers eight & nine were  Prince Ernest Augustus (1771 – 1851) and  Prince Augustus, Duke of  Sussex (1773 – 1843), followed a year later by their tenth child Prince Adolphus (1774 – 1850). At number eleven there was Princess Mary, Duchess of Gloucester (1776 – 1857) and at twelve,  Princess Sophia (1777 – 1848).

The Three Youngest Daughters of George III
The Three Youngest Daughters of George III, John Singleton Copley, Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

At thirteen we have the young  Prince Octavius  (1779 – 1783) whose life was tragically cut short  only six months after the death of his younger brother Prince Alfred.

Prince Octavius (1779-1783)
Prince Octavius (1779-1783), by Benjamin West. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015

14. Prince Alfred (1780 – 1782)

Royal baby - Prince Alfred
Prince Alfred by Thomas Gainsborough

Finally, at number fifteen there was  Princess Amelia (1783 – 1810).

220px-Princess_Amelia_in_1785

Our final offering, King George III, Queen Charlotte accompanied by their surviving 13 children.

Murphy_-_George_III_and_Queen_Charlotte_with_their_thirteen_children
George III and Queen Charlotte with their thirteen children by John Murphy

 

The Dunston Pillar: celebrating the 50 year reign of King George III

George Jubilee 1st Edition

On the 25th October 1809 the jubilee of King George III was celebrated across the nation. Opinion was divided as to whether the jubilee had been celebrated a year too early; 25th October 1809 was the first day of the 50th year of George III’s reign, he had not actually reigned yet for a full fifty years.

4thEarlOfBuckinghamshire
Robert Hobart, 4th Earl of Buckinghamshire

In honour of the completion of the fiftieth year of his reign Robert Hobart, the 4th Earl of Buckinghamshire decided to place a statue of the King, made out of Coade Stone (artificial stone manufactured by Eleanor Coade in Lambeth) on the top of Dunston Pillar in Lincolnshire, an old ‘land lighthouse.’

Land Lighthouse on Lincoln Heath from The Life of Thomas Telford by Samuel Smiles
Land Lighthouse on Lincoln Heath from The Life of Thomas Telford by Samuel Smiles

The Dunston Pillar, originally known as Dashwood’s Lighthouse, stands six miles to the south of the City of Lincoln, actually much closer to the village of Harmston than to Dunstan itself, and the pillar, with a spiral staircase inside and originally with a lantern on top reached by a surrounding balustraded gallery, was erected in 1751 by Sir Francis Dashwood (of Hellfire Club fame) to guide travellers across the dark and desolate heathland and to attempt to deter highwaymen and, so it is said, to please his wife.

It is reputed that Sir Francis, 15th Baron le Despencer, later landscaped the area around the pillar, even adding a two story dining hall and it became a popular place for picnics, known as the ‘Vauxhall’ of Lincolnshire. Around the pillar Dashwood built ‘a square walled garden, less than an acre in extent, within a larger enclosure of heathland. There was an opening or gateway in each side of the wall, and a little stone pavilion at each corner. There were plantations outside the walls, and a bowling green just beyond the opening on the north side’. It was recorded in 1836 that an inhabitant of Lincoln remembered seeing as many as sixteen or eighteen carriages there at one time about fifty years previously.

Sir Francis Dashwood by William Hogarth (via Wikimedia)
Sir Francis Dashwood by William Hogarth (via Wikimedia)

William Wroughton, the Vicar of nearby Welbourn, described the pillar in a letter to Lord le Despencer in 1776 thus:

 . . . the Vauxhall of this part of the world. The Bowling Green is the best and kept in the best order I have ever seen and the plantations are all in a very thriving state and will in a few years be the Paradise of Lincolnshire. It was used for the accommodation of parties resorting thither.

From the gallery at the top of the Pillar the magnificent Lincoln Cathedral could be seen to the north and, weather permitting, the Boston Stump to the south.

Dunston Pillar, unknown artist (c) Museum of Lincolnshire Life; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Dunston Pillar, unknown artist
(c) Museum of Lincolnshire Life; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

A decade earlier than the construction of the pillar a local landowner named Charles Chaplin had remodelled the Green Man Inn, part of the Blankney estate and situated very close to the Pillar, where the ‘Lincoln Club’ which included Dashwood and Chaplin, met in the 1740’s, although the purpose or aims of the Club have been lost to time. Indeed, as it is not even known how long the Lincoln Club continued to meet then the story that Dashwood built the ‘land lighthouse’ to please his wife may perhaps more realistically be retold to say that he built it to light his and his friends journey to the ‘Lincoln Club’.

Standing over 90ft high the lantern was lighted every night until 1788 and it was last used in 1808. A year later a storm brought the lantern tumbling to the ground.

On the 9th September, 1810, a Lambeth stonemason named John Wilson, no doubt employed by the Coade works, whilst engaged in fixing the statue of George III to the Pillar fell from the top to his death. He was buried in the nearby Harmston churchyard, his epitaph reading:

He who erected the Noble King,
Is here now dead by deaths sharp sting.
To the memory of John Wilson who departed this life Sept. 9th 1810

The Stamford Mercury newspaper dated 9th November 1810 reported the following once the statue of the King had been firmly fixed atop the pillar:

Among the numerous testimonies of loyalty offered by a grateful people to their Sovereign, none perhaps has been more appropriate than what the Earl of Buckinghamshire has recently completed upon his estate at Dunston, in this county.  In the year 1751, Sir Francis Dashwood erected the Pillar on Dunston Heath, about five miles south of this city.  It was a plain quadrangular building, 92 feet in height, with an octagonal lantern on the top, 15½ feet high, surrounded at its base with a gallery. – It was then of considerable utility to the public, the heath at that time being an uncultivated and extensive waste; but since that period the lands have been inclosed, which has rendered it entirely useless. – Upon the west side of it is the following inscription:-

“Columnan hanc

utilitati publican

D.D.D.

F. DASHWOOD.

MDCCLI.”

The lantern and gallery having been removed, the Earl of Buckinghamshire has erected upon the Pillar a magnificent colossal Statue of our venerable Sovereign. It was executed by Code in artificial stone, and measures 14 feet in height, standing upon a pedestal 9 feet high. His Majesty is represented in his coronation robes, with a crown upon his head and a sceptre in his right hand. – Though its elevation from the ground is 115 feet, yet the features are perfectly distinct, and altogether it makes a grand and magnificent appearance. – Two feet above the old inscription is affixed a tablet, with the following record of his Lordship’s loyalty:-

“The Statue upon this Pillar

was erected A.D. 1810,

by Robert Earl of Buckinghamshire,

to commemorate the 50th anniversary

of the reign of his Majesty

King George the Third.”

During WWII the statue was taken down (and damaged in doing so) and the Pillar shortened to prevent any collision with low-flying aircraft as it was near to two airbases. The bust of King George III, all that remains of the statue, can still be seen in the grounds of Lincoln Castle.

All that remains of the statue of George III, now in the grounds of Lincoln Castle. © Joanne Major
All that remains of the statue of George III, now in the grounds of Lincoln Castle. © Joanne Major

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