Covent Garden Market by Balthasar Nebot, 1737

Moll King, proprietress of King’s Coffee House in Covent Garden

‘What rake is ignorant of King’s Coffee House?’

(Henry Fielding, The Covent Garden Tragedy, 1732).

There are many tall tales told about Mary (Moll) King, a shrewd businesswoman and proprietress of King’s Coffee House in London’s Covent Garden. Several sources also say that she was a pickpocket, stealing watches from ladies’ pockets, and spent time in Newgate for her crimes as well as being transported on more than one occasion, each time returning home to England post haste. She was, it was alleged, an accomplice of the notorious Jonathan Wild, one of his gang of thieves, and while in Newgate met Daniel Defoe who, it is alleged, used her as the inspiration for Moll Flanders. Later she settled down with her husband to run their very successful coffee shop, from where she operated as a form of bawd and was prosecuted for keeping a disorderly house.

Moll King of King's Coffee House, Covent Garden

It all seems a little far-fetched and, if we’re completely honest, we don’t believe the half of it. A certain Moll King appeared before the judges for thieving in 1693, and our Moll wasn’t born until 1696 (as claimed in a pamphlet, The Life and Character of Moll King, late mistress of King’s Coffee House in Covent Garden published anonymously in 1747 shortly after her death).

Mary King is not an uncommon name and we’re sure more than one Mary or Moll King would have been in trouble with the authorities in London in the first half of the eighteenth-century. It seems that the history of the pick-pocketing Moll King, who had a criminal career lasting between at least 1693 and 1728 and who Defoe based Moll Flanders upon, has become entwined in popular imagination with that of Moll King, mistress of King’s Coffee House. The pick-pocketing rumours abounded even during Moll’s own lifetime, as they are specifically discredited in The Life and Character.

Moll was born in 1696 in a garret in Vine Street (now Grape Street) in the heart of St Giles in the Fields, the daughter of a shoemaker and a fruit, fish and greens seller. As a child, she helped her mother in the market and had a brief spell as a servant but hated being indoors all day and went back to selling fruit from a barrow. According to The Life and Character, in 1717 at the Fleet, she married one Thomas King.

Vegetable seller, Covent Garden market by Pieter Angillis, c.1726. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Vegetable seller, Covent Garden market by Pieter Angillis, c.1726.
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Tom King too has a somewhat fanciful story. The son of an obviously well-to-do family, he was born around 1694 in West Ashton in Wiltshire. E.J. Burford, in Wits, Wenchers, and Wantons: London’s Low Life: Covent Garden in the Eighteenth Century says he was the son of Thomas King, a squire of Thurlow in Suffolk and Elizabeth, daughter of Sir John Cordell, Baronet, who had married in 1691 at St Paul’s in Covent Garden.[1] In 1708, at the age of 14 years, he went to Eton and then, in 1713, to King’s College, Cambridge. Three years later he left Cambridge under a cloud, either expelled or in apprehension that his fellowship would be denied to him, depending upon which account you read. Whatever the cause, he ended up working in Covent Garden market where he was known as Smooth’d-Fac’d-Tom, and there he met Moll.

Covent Garden Market (1726), Pieter Angillis from the Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Covent Garden Market (1726), Pieter Angillis from the Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Around the time she met Tom, it is alleged that Moll also had an affair with a gentleman named John Stanley who, in 1723, met his end at the gallows on Tyburn; he had stabbed his mistress. A pamphlet published the same year gave his history, including details of his brief dalliance with Moll five years earlier.

Is it true? Almost certainly not; it’s another of the many myths which surround Moll’s life, and probably relates to Moll the pick-pocket. The Life and Character admits only an affair with a man named Murray who was in high public office, whilst noting that the handsome Moll was never short of male admirers. One son was born to Tom and Moll, named Charles (Moll names him in her will as her only child and subsequent claims that she educated him at Eton appear to be a falsehood stemming from Tom King’s education there).

The next sighting of either Tom or Moll upon which we can rely comes in 1730 when ‘Thomas King, the Market’ appeared amongst the list of victuallers in St Paul’s, Covent Garden in the licensing register.

The Kings, or rather Moll, had made a tidy profit selling nuts from a stall in the Covent Garden market, and with the money rented a shabby little house (in fact nothing more than a wooden shack) in the Piazza at Covent Garden market and began selling coffee, tea and chocolate to the market sellers, naming their business King’s Coffee House. It was soon known informally as King’s College. As they opened in the very early hours of the morning, when the market traders began work and started to sell strong liquors as well as coffee, they began attracting the custom of those who had ventured to Covent Garden after dark, seeking pleasure, everyone from prostitutes to fashionable young beaux. Soon they were open all through the night. It is said that the clientele included Hogarth, Henry Fielding (who mentioned the coffee house in two of his works), Alexander Pope and John Gay. By 1732 business was booming and the Kings bought the two adjoining properties to expand their business. The new Covent Garden Theatre opened next door to their coffee house.

Inside the King's Coffee House. British Museum
Inside the King’s Coffee House.
British Museum

The business thrived. It is said that Moll acted as a procuress and bawd, but had no beds in the coffee house (except hers and Tom’s in an upstairs room, accessed via a ladder which they pulled up behind them) so she could not be prosecuted for running a brothel. Instead, the assignation would be made at her coffee house and she would then send a servant to light their way to a nearby bagnio. It is also suggested that she operated as a money lender. To deter outsiders from knowing what was going on within their doors, Tom and Moll, and their customers, started ‘Talking Flash’, their own secret language.

Their good fortune enabled Tom to build two or three ‘substantial houses’ and a villa on Haverstock Hill on the road to Hampstead, and he and Moll moved into one of them. The dancer and actress Nancy Dawson (famous for her hornpipe between acts in The Beggar’s Opera) later lived in the villa. Tom King died in the October of 1737 at his Hampstead home after a lingering illness exacerbated by his drinking and was buried at St Paul’s in Covent Garden on the 11th of that month. Moll was granted administration of his estate (goods in Hart Street, Covent Garden and the Coffee House in Covent Garden were mentioned) and took over the running of their coffee house, together with her nephew, William King.

Moll now took to drink – she was previously known for remaining sober – and the coffee house gained a worse reputation than that which it had previously enjoyed under Tom’s management and she began to appear before the courts charged with keeping a disorderly house. It was around this time that Hogarth depicted King’s College in his painting Morning, one of ‘The Four Times of the Day’ series. The scene shows two rakes and their prostitutes who have just staggered out of King’s into the early morning sunshine of a wintry day; icicles can be seen hanging from the timber roof of the coffee shop. Inside, a fight can be seen taking place.

Morning, one of the Four Times of Day series by William Hogarth.
British Museum

Moll stayed a widow for a twelvemonth, and when her year of mourning was over she married again, on the 11th October 1738 at St Dunstan in the West, to John Hoff, a carpenter and builder who lived on Compton Street in Soho. It was thought that John Hoff married Moll for her money, and indeed she did continue to use her former married name, at least in connection with her coffee house, but none of the evidence suggests that Mr Hoff was after Moll’s fortune. He died just less than four months into their marriage and his will, written on the 6th February 1739, appoints Moll as his executrix and everything is left to her. Moll proved the will on the 9th February before her husband was even in his grave. (John Hoff was buried at St Paul’s in Covent Garden on the 14th February 1739.)

It was in 1739, shortly after Mr Hoff’s death, that a disturbance at King’s Coffee House made the newspapers. A young gentleman claimed that Moll had beaten him in her house and the case ended up in the Court of the King’s Bench. Moll was found guilty. She was told that she was to be fined the considerable sum of £200, had to find sureties for her future good behaviour and that she would be held in prison until the fine was paid. Moll stubbornly went to prison refusing to pay the fine for, as she said, “if she was to pay two hundred pounds to all the insolent boys she had thrash’d for their impudence, the Bank of England would be unable to furnish her with the cash”. In her absence, the coffee house was run by her nephew and Moll languished in prison. It was said that she eventually came to an arrangement to pay less than half the fine in return for her release.

Moll retained her Hampstead villa (which was known locally as Moll King’s Folly), but when she came to write her will on the 6th June 1747 she was ‘Mary Hoff of the parish of St Paul Covent Garden, widow’. She left a few small bequests to her sister-in-law and friends, but the bulk of her reputedly considerable fortune she left to her only child, Charles King, in trust for him until he reached 30 years of age. If he died before that, she willed that her estate be used by the parish of St Giles in the Fields to benefit poor children. Moll obviously hadn’t forgotten her roots. She died later that year, on the 17th September 1747 and was buried ten days later in the same churchyard as her two husbands, St Paul’s Covent Garden.

A view of Hampstead Road near Tom King's House
British Museum

It was after Moll’s death that The Life and Character of Moll King appeared on the streets, which gave details of her criminal career. But how much truth is there in it? To be honest, we’re still not completely sure. Our opinion, and it is no more than that, is that the legend of the pick-pocketing Moll King has become entwined with that of Moll King, mistress of King’s Coffee House. You could accuse the latter Moll of being a bawd, a drunk and the keeper of a disorderly house, but we’re not sure that you could accuse her of much else. Unfortunately, it’s probably one of those cases which will never truly be proved one way or the other.

A Monument for Tom King of King's Coffee House. British Museum
A Monument for Tom King of King’s Coffee House
British Museum

 

Notes:

[1] E. J. Burford says Thurlow in Essex, but the marriage register at Covent Garden gives Thurlow in Suffolk. Thomas was the son of Robert King of Great Thurlow in Suffolk; Robert’s will c.1709 mentions his ‘unfortunate son’ Thomas and a grandson named John King, but not a grandson named Thomas.

 

Header image:

Covent Garden Market by Balthasar Nebot, 1737 (The Tate)

 

Sources:

The Records of Old Westminsters, Up to 1927

The Life and Character of Moll King, late mistress of King’s Coffee House in Covent Garden, 1747

Women in Business, 1700-1850 by Nicola Jane Phillips, Boydell & Brewer Ltd, 2006

London – The Wicked City: A Thousand Years of Prostitution and Vice by Fergus Linnane, Robson, 2007

Wits, Wenchers, and Wantons: London’s Low Life: Covent Garden in the Eighteenth Century by E. J. Burford, Robert Hale Ltd, 1986

Transactions of the Royal Historical Society: Volume 11: Sixth Series, The Royal Historical Society, Cambridge University Press, 2003

Tom King’s Coffee House on Wikipedia

Old and New London: Volume 5. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.

Derby Mercury, 13th October 1737 and 7th June 1739

National Archives: PROB 3/36/147, 20th December 1737

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Street Scene, Newcastle upon Tyne; British School; National Trust, Cragside

Old Judy – keeper of the Newcastle upon Tyne town hutch

We loved this portrait of ‘Old Judy’, keeper of the Newcastle upon Tyne town hutch, and thought we’d take a closer look at both the hutch and Old Judy for our latest blog.

Judy Dowling, Keeper of the Town Hutch by Henry Perlee Parker, c.1815-1820 (c) Laing Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Judy Dowling, Keeper of the Town Hutch by Henry Perlee Parker, c.1815-1820
(c) Laing Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The ‘town hutch’ was a strongbox, a sturdy wooden chest located in the Guildhall (also known as The Exchange) in which the Corporation officials kept the money the town paid in their dues (the Newcastle upon Tyne one has a hole in the lid to admit the money – a similar idea to the money boxes and piggy banks we all owned as children).

Photograph taken c.1830. Newcastle Libraries via Flickr.
Photograph taken c.1930.
Newcastle Libraries via Flickr.

The Newcastle hutch had eight locks – the Mayor had the key to one and seven chamberlains the others, and the hutch could only be opened in the presence of all the key-holders (or with their explicit consent if they couldn’t be there). But when these illustrious officials were absent, the hutch was guarded by the formidable Old Judy.

The Old Exchange, Newcastle upon Tyne, Tyne and Wear by George Bouchier Richardson. (attributed to) (c) Newcastle Guildhall; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
The Old Exchange, Newcastle upon Tyne, Tyne and Wear by George Bouchier Richardson (attributed to).
(c) Newcastle Guildhall; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

In the early nineteenth-century Judith Dowlings (also Downey or Downing) was the keeper or guardian of the town hutch and wielded a stout stick, which she was not afraid to use in its defence to keep away anyone she thought should not be near, including unwary boys loitering nearby. A newspaper report written in 1863 quoted the Handbook to Newcastle-on-Tyne by the historian Dr John Collingwood Bruce, which wryly noted that ‘some shoulders still ache at the thought of her’. Presumably that is the same stick which Old Judy has hold of in her portrait.

The Black Gate, Newcastle Upon Tyne by George Balmer (attributed to). (c) Lady Lever Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
The Black Gate, Newcastle Upon Tyne by George Balmer (attributed to).
(c) Lady Lever Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

In 1816 the artist Henry Perlee Parker settled in Newcastle upon Tyne (he stayed there until 1841 when he moved to Sheffield) and painted some of the local characters, including Old Judy, people that history would probably otherwise have forgotten all about. Her portrait was executed at some point in the first four years of his residence in Newcastle. We’ll take a look at some of his other paintings in due course – including one in which Old Judy makes another appearance. Both the town hutch and Henry Perlee Parker’s portrait of Old Judy, a half-length in oils on canvas, were moved to the new offices of the Newcastle City Treasurer when the hutch ceased to be used – fittingly Old Judy could gaze down from the wall and keep a watchful eye on the hutch she had so formidably guarded for so many years. Her portrait is now held by the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle upon Tyne.

Henry Perlee Parker by Ralph Hyde Parker. (c) National Portrait Gallery, London; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Henry Perlee Parker by Ralph Hyde Parker.
(c) National Portrait Gallery, London; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

As Judy Downey her death is immortalised in a verse of The Newcassel Props by William Oliver. The earliest date we’ve found for this ballad in 1827, which puts Old Judy’s demise prior to that date.

But when maw lugs was lectrified

Wiv Judy Downey’s deeth,

Alang wi’ Heufy Scott aw cried,

Till byeth was out o’ breeth;

For greet and sma, fishwives an’ a’,

Luik’d up tiv her wi’ veneration –

If Judy’s in the Courts above,

Then for au’d Nick there’ll be ne casion.

 

Sources:

Newcastle Courant, 20th November 1863.

Notes:

Header image: Street Scene, Newcastle upon Tyne; British School; National Trust, Cragside

The Newcastle upon Tyne town hutch can be seen in the Discovery Museum.

The Passage of the Bidassoa, 7th Queen's Own Hussars 1813

‘Tom Jones’: the history of a female soldier

On a surprisingly mild day in the October of 1821, in the second year of the reign of King George IV, a heavily pregnant woman sat herself down on the doorstep of a gentleman’s house in Gloucester Street, Queen Square in London’s fashionable Bloomsbury district; she felt suddenly faint and needed to rest. A crowd gathered around her and some people, assuming she was a poor beggar, threw halfpence into her lap. At this point two officers from the Mendicity Society arrived and took her to their rooms and then conveyed her to the sitting Magistrates at Hatton Garden and attempted to have her charged her under the Vagrant Act.[i] It was discovered that she had been relieved three times before, and on each occasion had been passed back to Birmingham in the West Midlands, her home parish.

View from the street, looking across the gardens in the square from the north front; elegantly dressed figures on pavement in foreground, separated from square by iron railings; illustration to Ackermann's The Repository of Arts, part 45 volume 8. 1812. Reproduced by permission of the artist. © The Trustees of the British Museum
Queen Square – View from the street, looking across the gardens in the square from the north front; elegantly dressed figures on pavement in foreground, separated from square by iron railings; illustration to Ackermann’s The Repository of Arts, part 45 volume 8. 1812.
Reproduced by permission of the artist. © The Trustees of the British Museum

The lady then began her defence and told the officers an extraordinary and hard to believe account of her life up to that point.

She gave her name as Mary, otherwise Tom Jones. She had been born a soldier’s daughter and after her father was killed when she was still a child she had dressed herself in boy’s clothes and enlisted in the 47th (Lancashire) Regiment of Foot, serving seven years in their ranks as a drummer boy. It was certainly unusual but not unknown for women to enlist and live as a man; Hannah Snell famously did so in the eighteenth-century. Maybe Mary’s father had served with the 47th and the soldiers had taken in the young orphan (if so she was) letting her live amongst them and looking after her? But eventually it was discovered that she was a girl and discharged. We are given no clue about the years in which Mary saw service in the 47th, but it must have been at some period in the first fifteen years of the 1800’s. During those years the 1st Battalion of the 47th saw action in South America and India and the 2nd Battalion were stationed in Ireland for five years before, in 1809, being sent to garrison Gibraltar and they then saw action from 1811 in the Peninsular War. It therefore seems possible that Mary spent her years as a drummer boy with the 2nd Battalion during their seven years of garrison duty in Ireland and Gibraltar, and possibly deliberately allowed her sex to be discovered rather than risk her young life on the battlefield.

Uniforms of the 47th in 1804. © Lancs Inf Museum & Harry Fecitt MBE TD
Uniforms of the 47th in 1804.
© Lancs Inf Museum & Harry Fecitt MBE TD

Shortly afterwards, at the age of nineteen years, she married a soldier in the , otherwise known as the 7th Hussars or the ‘Saucy Seventh’, a regiment which was ‘the embodiment of dash and panache for which every cavalry regiment strives’.[ii]

Mary followed her husband’s regiment and was present at the Battle of Waterloo on the 18th June 1815 where their regimental Colonel, Henry Paget, Lord Uxbridge, was commander of the entire British Cavalry force (Paget famously lost his leg towards the end of the Battle and was subsequently created the Marquess of Anglesey). In the mayhem of the day she claimed that she once again dressed herself in male clothing and fought, as a volunteer, by the side of her husband. The 7th Hussars were in the thick of the battle from 5pm (they were not used before that) and were charged more than a dozen times. Mary told the officers that she was wounded three times on that day, slashed across her nose by a sabre, stabbed by an enemy bayonet in her left leg and received a musket ball in her right. Her unnamed husband sadly lost his life on the battlefield.

Plate 4; soldiers and horse gathered in a ruined house. © The Trustees of the British Museum
Plate 4; soldiers and horse gathered in a ruined house.
© The Trustees of the British Museum

Staggering from the field, Mary came across a Captain belonging to her husband’s regiment who was dreadfully wounded in his head. She had him removed to a surgeon and safety and he recovered. Mary told the officers of the Mendicity Society that the grateful Captain now lived in Sloane Street and allowed her a shilling a day in return for saving his life. For some time after that fateful day in 1815 she had also received nine pence a day from King George IV, but that allowance had been taken from her on account of her drunkenness.[iii]

But Mary had turned her life around once more and married for a second time, to a soldier in the Guards by whom she was now with child. She asserted that she had not been begging, that she had merely sat down as she was feeling faint and had not solicited the ha’pennies which had been thrown into her lap. The officers could not prove the charge against her and so Mary was discharged.

We thought it was a fascinating tale and tried to prove or disprove the facts within it. Sadly the newspaper report on this ‘Female Soldier’ had not given us much to go on and we were left not even knowing if her alias of ‘Tom Jones’ related to her maiden surname, the surname of one of her two husbands or a name she had chosen at random. She did not give her father’s rank in the 47th regiment of foot, nor that of either of her two husbands. We thought that probably the only person we could track down was the injured Captain of the 7th Hussars who allowed poor Mary a shilling a day.

1821 George III shilling.
1821 George III shilling.

Turning to the 1815 Army List we found the names of twelve men who were Captains in the regiment at the time of the Battle of Waterloo. We then checked the newspaper reports which appeared in the wake of the battle listing the men who were killed, wounded or missing. From those we found that three Captains in the 7th Hussars were wounded in the battle, Captains Thomas William Robbins, William Verner and Peter Augustus Heyliger. If Mary’s story was correct then her Captain had to be one of those three men. We dug a little deeper.

Captain Peter Augustus Heyliger had been particularly noted for his bravery on the day by the Duke of Wellington, but his injury consisted of being shot through the arm. The wounds suffered by Captain Thomas William Robbins did not seem to be specifically mentioned. We then turned our attention to Captain William Verner who was raised in rank to a Major after the battle.[iv]

Verner, a native of Armagh in Northern Ireland, had left behind some memoirs and had described his experiences on the day. He had indeed received a severe head wound, caused by a musket ball, and had been taken to the surgeon. Later moved to Brussels he developed a fever and his life was feared of. Reputedly the Duke of Wellington visited the badly wounded Captain and brusquely told him that “You are not nearly so bad as you think”. With that Verner was up and about within a month but instead of attributing his recovery to either Mary or to the Duke of Wellington, he instead said it was down to the recuperative powers of Guinness porter. Verner married in London on the 19th October 1819 (his wife was Harriet, daughter of Colonel Wingfield and granddaughter of the 3rd Viscount Powerscourt) and subsequently is mentioned as living at 86 Eaton Square, but if Mary’s story was correct he must be the man whose life she helped to preserve and who allowed her a shilling a day. William Verner eventually retired from the army as a Lieutenant-Colonel and subsequently became Sir William Verner. We have yet to find that he mentioned any part played in the battle by a young female soldier who was widowed on the field.

Lieutenant Colonel Sir William Verner (1782–1871), Bt by Martin Cregan. (c) Armagh City, Banbridge & Craigavon Borough Council; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Lieutenant Colonel Sir William Verner (1782–1871), Bt by Martin Cregan.
(c) Armagh City, Banbridge & Craigavon Borough Council; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

There was at least one wife of a soldier with the 7th Hussars on the battlefield that day: could she possibly be Mary? If so she seems a little less forward than her tale to the Mendicity officers would have us believe but perhaps, even if she did not fight, she did indeed assist the badly injured Captain William Verner from the field in his hour of need, earning his lasting gratitude and assistance if not his public thanks. From William Verner’s Memoirs:

About this time we heard a person in a rough voice cry out, “What is the matter with you, are you afraid?” Upon turning to see we found that this was addressed by Sergt. Major Edwards of Captain Fraser’s Troop, to his wife, who had accompanied him ever since our arrival in the country upon a small pony. As soon as she was discovered by Captain Fraser, he asked her husband if he intended his wife to go into action with us, and ordered her immediately to the Rear.

 

Sources used:

Caledonian Mercury, 6th July 1815

Stamford Mercury, 26th October 1821

Heroic Option: The Irish in the British Army by Desmond Bowen and Jean Bowen, 2005

Reminiscences of William Verner (1782-1871) 7th Hussars, 1965

The Waterloo Archive: Volume III: British Sources edited by Gareth Glover

Waterloo Letters by Major General H.T. Siborne, 1993

Wellington’s Doctors: The British Army Medical Services in the Napoleonic Wars by Martin Howard, 2002

WO 65. War Office: printed annual army lists, National Archives

UCL Bloomsury Project – Bloomsbury Institutions – Society for the Suppression of Mendicity

The Queen’s Own Hussars Museum

Churchill – Home of the Verners (Craigavon Historical Society Vol. 6 No. 3)

 

Endnotes:

[i] The Society for the Suppression of Mendicity (also known as the Mendicity Society) was founded in 1818 to attempt to prevent people begging on the London streets by offering them charity if they left the area immediately.

[ii] The newspaper report on Mary’s arrest said her husband was in the 7th Dragoon Guards: the 7th (the Princess Royal’s) Dragoon Guards did not, however, see action at Waterloo (see National Army Museum) but the 7th (the Queen’s Own) Regiment of (Light) Dragoons (Hussars) did. We have therefore assumed the latter regiment was the one to which her husband belonged.

[iii] In an age when a soldier’s pay was nominally one shilling a day the allowance provided by the Captain seems generous. It is of course possible that the newspaper had got its facts a little wrong and Mary received a her allowances weekly rather than daily.

[iv] Vice Major Edward Hodge who was killed at Waterloo.

 

Header image: The Passage of the Bidassoa, 7th Queen’s Own Hussars 1813

 

Hannah Snell: the Amazons and the Press Gang, 1771

On Friday 4th January 1771 a press gang was busily impressing men at Newington Butts (now a borough in Southwark).

The Press Gang by Alexander Johnston (c) Ferens Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
The Press Gang by Alexander Johnston
(c) Ferens Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The men who had been impressed had no recourse, and one woman was distraught to see her husband being taken away from her and their children. She followed the sailors with loud lamentations and protestations which roused many other women to sally forth from their houses to add their voices to that of the wife’s. One of these women was the famous Hannah Snell who was at that time the landlady of the Three Tuns public house.

National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Three Tuns Passage in Southwark, pictured in 1890 but perhaps not so different from Hannah's day. Courtesy of the Museum of London
Three Tuns Passage in Southwark, pictured in 1890 but perhaps not so different from Hannah’s day.
Courtesy of the Museum of London

Years earlier Hannah had disguised herself as a man, taken the name of her brother-in-law James Gray, and joined the British army in search of her errant husband, a Dutchman named James Summs whom she said she had married in 1744 in the Fleet (he had left her with a young daughter who had died as an infant).[i] Successfully hiding the fact that she was a woman, even though she was reputedly twice given the lash and suffered many wounds, she served both on land with the army and at sea with the marines until she returned to London and came clean. She petitioned the Duke of Cumberland for a stipend, and then trod the boards on the London stage for a time.

Hannah Snell (1723–1792) (detail) c.1750 by Daniel Williamson National Trust; (c) Royal Marines Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Hannah Snell (1723–1792)
(detail) c.1750 by Daniel Williamson
National Trust; (c) Royal Marines Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

By the time she chased the press gang, Hannah had found out her first husband had died (she was told a fanciful tale that he had been executed for murder in Genoa by being put into a barrel and thrown into the sea) and had remarried (and probably again been widowed) to a Berkshire carpenter named Richard Eyles with whom she had two children.[ii]

Copper-engraving by B. Cole after Boitard, of Hannah Snell in military dress with military and naval battles in background. Published in London by B. Dickinson. Images of Women in the Anne S. K. Brown Military Art Collection Brown University Library
Copper-engraving by B. Cole after Boitard, of Hannah Snell in military dress with military and naval battles in background. Published in London by B. Dickinson.
Images of Women in the Anne S. K. Brown Military Art Collection
Brown University Library

The newspapers reported that Hannah accosted the Lieutenant in charge of the sailors, and demanded the captive be released; he refused and ‘bad words’ ensuing, she grabbed hold of him and shook him. Two sailors stepped forward to rescue the officer, but Hannah quickly saw them off, and then challenged the rest of the gang to a fight with fists, sticks or quarter-staffs. Her only proviso was that she be permitted to pull off her stays, gown and petticoats and to put on a pair of breeches. Loudly she declared that she had sailed more Leagues than any of them, and if they were Seamen, they ought to be on board, and not sneaking about as Kidnappers, saying:

. . . but if you are afraid of the Sea, take Brown Bess on your shoulders, and march through Germany as I have done: Ye Dogs, I have more Wounds about me than you have Fingers. This is no false Attack; I will have my Man.

And with that the sailors backed down and allowed her to take the poor man from their ranks: Hannah restored him to his hearth and home, and his grateful wife.

The press gang, or, English liberty display'd Engraved for the Oxford Magazine, 1770 Lewis Walpole Library
The press gang, or, English liberty display’d
Engraved for the Oxford Magazine, 1770
Lewis Walpole Library

Shortly after her successful sally on the press gang she married for a third time, to a man named Richard Habgood.

On the 12th November 1772 the couple applied for marriage bond in the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Salisbury, covering Wiltshire and Berkshire. The bond gave the information that Richard Habgood was of Welford and Hannah Eyles was of Speen, both in Berkshire. The bondsman was James Owen of Welford. They then married on the 16th November 1772 at St Gregory’s, the parish church covering the villages of Welford and Wickham, by banns.

The celebrated Hannah Snell died in Bethlem (Bedlam) Hospital in 1792.

The Hospital of Bethlem [Bedlam] at Moorfields, London: seen from the north, with people in the foreground. Coloured engraving, c. 1771. Wellcome Images via Wikimedia
The Hospital of Bethlem [Bedlam] at Moorfields, London: seen from the north, with people in the foreground. Coloured engraving, c. 1771.
Wellcome Images via Wikimedia
Hannah’s life as a ‘female soldier’ was told in print in 1750, and can be read here.

 

Endnotes:

 

[i] They had a daughter, Susannah, baptised on the 3rd October 1746 at St George in the East and Hannah’s address in the baptism register was given as Silver Street.

[ii] Her son George Spence Eyles was baptised on the 17th January 1765 at St Luke’s in Chelsea.

 

Sources used:

Newcastle Courant, 10th November 1759

Northampton Mercury, 7th January 1771

Chester Chronicle, 6th December 1776

The Truth about Lady Barrymore, the Boxing Baroness

Barrymore

Courtesy of National Library of Scotland from the Balcarres Heritage Trust

Behold that shivering female there,

Who plies her woeful trade!

‘Tis ten to one you’ll find that GIN,

That hopeless wretch has made.

(The Gin-Shop; Or, a Peep into a Prison, Hannah More)

Our blog today concerns Lady Barrymore aka ‘The Boxing Baroness’ aka Mary Ann Pearce (sometimes Pierce).

In her youth ‘Lady Barrymore’ had been a beauty and the mistress of Richard Barry, the 7th Earl of Barrymore (1769 – 1793), a notorious rake known as Hellgate (his brothers were Newgate (after the prison) and Cripplegate (due to a deformity) and his sister Billingsgate because she swore like a fishwife).

Lady Barrymore - les trois magots

For an all too brief time, Mary Ann Pearce enjoyed a luxurious lifestyle with a splendid house together with her own carriage provided for her.  Their relationship had presumably come to an end by the time Barrymore eloped with Charlotte Goulding, the daughter of a London sedan chairman and niece to Lady Letitia (Letty) Lade who had made a scandalous marriage with Sir John Lade, one of the inner circle of the Prince of Wales. Before her marriage, Letty had been the mistress of both the Duke of York and John Rann, the highwayman.

Barrymore died the following year aged only 23. He was a Captain in the Royal Berkshire Militia and had been driving a gig which was taking French prisoners of war to Dover when his musket accidentally discharged.

Subsequently, Mary Ann was known as ‘Lady Barrymore’ because of her previous connection but she had no entitlement to that name.  Her fondness for gin was her downfall and her undoing and led to numerous appearances before the Justices of the Peace and many spells in Tothill Fields Bridewell, often on the treadmill.

Let’s just set the record straight about ‘Lady Barrymore’ as there is plenty of conflicting information out there: the ‘boxing baroness’ and the woman who made regular appearances in the London courts, usually for being drunk and disorderly, was Mary Ann Pearce, not Charlotte Goulding who Richard married in June 1792. Poor Charlotte would be spinning in her grave at the thought of such an error!

Courtesy of the British Museum
Courtesy of the British Museum

Pearce was reputedly Mary Ann’s married name, one source having Lord Barrymore marry her off to a servant when he’d tired of her but another says her husband is mentioned as being an officer on the half pay.  Caroline Norton (née Sheridan, granddaughter of Richard Brinsley Sheridan) who became notorious when her husband, the Honourable George Norton, brought a criminal conversation case against her said she was the sister of Edward Wentworth Pearce.

Now Edward (or Edmund) Wentworth Pearce’s family are fascinating in their own right and, on face value, look an ideal match for the hapless Mary Ann.  Far from being servants, they are reasonably well-born and have two brothers who were on half-pay, one from the navy and one from the army, and their story is littered with family feuds, whoring, drunkenness (like Mary Ann a fondness for gin) and claims of insanity. There was a Mary and a Maria Pearce in this family but the Pearce’s are worthy of a blog in their own right, which you can find here.

Whoever Mr Pearce was, the marriage was an unhappy one and he seems to have abandoned Mary Ann by the beginning of the 1820’s when her descent into the gutter led to her notoriety.  She was often found insensible around the Drury Lane area of London, sometimes almost naked, and, if she wasn’t insensible, all too prone to using her fists, especially on the watchmen trying to arrest her, hence her sobriquet of ‘The Boxing Baroness’.

A picture of her, fists raised, appeared in the March 1819 edition of the Bon Ton Magazine in which she was linked to Viscount Ranelagh who had stood accused of an assault on some men who had trespassed on his property in the December of 1818.

Mary Ann’s is a tragic story: although she cuffed Beadles and police officers and swore at the magistrates, once she was in prison and away from the gin-shops she behaved with so much decency and propriety that Mr Nodder, the governor of Tothill Fields Bridewell, appointed her as a matron to look after the female prisoners whilst she was detained.  He often declared that he could not have selected a more fit person to act in that capacity and always regretted her release from prison as she invariably made straight for the nearest gin-shop and ‘in half an hour after she might be seen staggering through the streets, followed by a crowd of idlers, plaguing and annoying the wretched woman’.

Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library
Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library

To avoid this crowd she would hide in a public-house and, if refused more drink, took to destroying everything around her and smashing the windows.  Rather than a cossetted courtesan she now had to resort to the lowest form of prostitution to raise money for her next tot of gin.

At last her lifestyle caught up with her.  On Mary Ann’s last appearance at Bow Street her appearance led the official to believe her ‘in a consumption’ and she told Mr Minshull that “it was her last appearance on that stage”.

Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library
Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library

Just before her death she was taken to the station house in Covent Garden twice, both times being wearily discharged.  The last time Mary Ann, knowing her end was near, told the superintendent Mr Thomas, as she left, that “I have given you a great deal of trouble, Sir, but I shall not give you much more. It is almost over with me.”

The superintendent told her to go home and go to bed as she was clearly ill and although she promised to do so she instead went to a gin-shop.  Finally arriving back at her lodging, a miserable attic at No. 8 Charles Street (now called Macklin Street), Drury Lane, it was clear that she would not survive the night and around midnight the lodging house keeper came to the station to see Mr Thomas.  This kindly man went straight to the house as he thought she must have met with ill-treatment but found that she had died ten minutes before he got there.  She died in the early hours of the 9th October, 1832 and her cause of death was suffocation, occasioned by the excessive use of spirituous liquors.

mary ann pearce burial

Mary Ann was buried on the 23rd October 1832  at St Giles in the Field

Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library
Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library

 

SOLEMN VERSES.

 

AH! who is she whose haggard eye

Shrinks from the morning ray?

Who, trembling would, but cannot fly,

From the busy day!

Mark her pale lip, and cheek all o’er,

How deathly it appears!

See! how her blood-shot eye-balls pour

Torrents of briny tears.

Behold! alas, misfortune’s child,

For whom no kindred grieves ;

Now driven to distraction wild,

Her tortur’d bosom heaves!

Despis’d, yet dreaded, ruin’d, lost

Health, peace, and virtue fled ;

On misery’s stormy ocean tost,

Now stretch’d on dying bed.

 

Once were her prospects bright & gay,

Hope, smiling, blest her hours;

A vile seducer cross’d her way,

And cropt the blooming flower.

Dazzled by shining grandeur, she

Quits parents, friends, and home :

But soon reduc’d to misery,

An outcast vile to roam.

She, for relief, to liquor flies,

Which soon full havoc made;

Vanish’d the lustre of her eyes,

Her beauty soon decay’d.

Oft did she brave the winter’s wind,

The driving sleet and rain;

And oft in prison drear confin’d

For months she would remain.

 

At length by drink and fell disease

Worn down to skin and bone,

Upon a wretched pallet laid,

No kindred nigh – not one.

She yields to death, – no pitying friend,

Her hapless fate deplores

Ye fair, take warning by the end

of Lady Barrymore.

 

Printed by J. Catnach, 2 Monmouth-court, 7 Dials.

 

Sources used:

The Criminal Conversation of Mrs Norton, Diane Atkinson, 2012

The Examiner, 14th October, 1832

The Extraordinary Life and Death of Mary Anne Pierce, alias Lady Barrymore, National Library of Scotland

Women in 18th Century Politics – 1784 Election

A Borough secur'd or Reynards resource: a caricature featuring the Duchess of Devonshire and Charles James Fox
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

As we all know the ‘well to do’ women of the Georgian era were regarded as objects of beauty that simply swooned and fainted at the sight of a gallant gentleman. They wore stunningly beautiful clothes and shoes and spent hours on their hair and beauty regime. They paraded around Georgian London, Bath, Brighton etc. in their finery and partied into the early hours, but on the whole they were regarded as fairly vacuous creatures.

STOP RIGHT THERE!

OK, so we’ve done the whole film thing, now let’s move on and dispense with that image. If we’re being totally honest that is, to a certain extent, the stereotypical image held of women from that period as, let’s face it, they had very few, if any ‘rights’ during that time. Only those in what was regarded as the lower class, worked, the remainder were kept in comfort by their spouses or parents if not married, they had no voting rights, rarely any disposable income of their own unless they had inherited money that was solely for their use and their husband could divorce them with minimal discomfort on their part.

The Duchess of Devonshire and Charles James Fox
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

Whilst women were maybe not able to publicly ‘have a voice’ in the world around them and how it worked it, appears from reading the newspapers of the day that actually they took more than a passing interest in the arts, science and politics. Many of the names we have become familiar with over the years did in fact take a more active role in politics than we had at first assumed with many of them engaged in gathering support for their chosen politician during elections using whatever methods were at their disposal.

One of the most famous election campaigns that took place was that of the 1784 Westminster election.   If you thought politics and political campaigning today was vicious then take a look back to the Georgian era when things were far worse!  We came across a book written October 1784 that provides a detailed account of all the events during the campaign – History of  the Westminster Election from 1st  April to the 17th May.  

A meeting of the female canvassers in Covent Garden
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

The Westminster election was of paramount importance as this was one of the key boroughs for two reasons – firstly every male homeowner could vote and secondly due to the number of voters it was equally important to both the Whig and Tory parties. There were two seats to be had and three candidates, so the battle was between Cecil Wray and Lord Hood, both Tory’s, and Charles Fox, Whig, therefore the candidates needed to use every weapon in their armoury to achieve success; none more so than Charles Fox. The battle then commenced.

The Duchess of Devonshire by Joshua Reynolds.
The Duchess of Devonshire by Joshua Reynolds.

The Duchess of Devonshire led the female canvassers accompanied by her sister Lady Harriet Duncannon, as she was titled at that point, later to become Lady Bessborough. The list of women involved in the election included Albinia, The Countess of Buckinghamshire, the Duchess of Portland, Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s wife, Elizabeth née Linley, Lady Jersey, the Honourable Mrs Bouverie and the Scandalous Lady Worsley.

Lady Worsley by Joshua Reynolds
Lady Worsley, Joshua Reynolds

Others including Perdita aka Mrs Robinson, The White Crow, aka Maria Corbyn,  The Bird of Paradise aka Gertrude Mahon, Lady Archer, Lady Carlisle, Mrs Crewe, Mrs Damer and the Miss Waldengraves,  Lady Grosvenor and Mrs Armistead, the future Mrs Fox,  so quite a little collection.

Mrs Bouverie and Mrs Crewe. Print after Sir Joshua Reynolds. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund.
Mrs Bouverie and Mrs Crewe. Print after Sir Joshua Reynolds. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund.

The Morning Post and Daily Advertiser of 6th April 1784 confirmed that the

Duchess of Devonshire along with Lord Derby & Lord Keppel are the firm of Mr Fox’s responsible committee.

This seems to imply that her role was a little more than just to ‘look pretty’; presumably she was there to help to obtain votes however she could. It is reported that she canvassed every day and that she arranged for a thousand coalition medals to be struck, one of which she gave to every voter who agreed to support Fox.

NPG D9540; 'A coalition medal struck in brass' (Frederick North, 2nd Earl of Guilford; Charles James Fox) by James Sayers, published by Edward Hedges
Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery

Just over a week later The Bath Chronicle reported that

‘ It was observed of the Duchess of Devonshire and Lady Duncannon, while they were soliciting votes in favour of Mr Fox, on Saturday last, they were the most lovely portraits that ever appeared upon a canvas’.

Like most people we had heard the story that the Duchess secured votes for Charles Fox by offering kisses in exchange for their vote, but until now we had assumed this was simply a myth that has evolved over time due to the astounding number of caricatures of such a scene, but it does seem from this letter written by a certain Duchess to Fox that there was some truth in it*.

‘Dear Charles

Yesterday I sent you three votes but went through much fatigue to procure them. It cost me ten kisses for every plumper.  I’m afraid we are done up – I will see you at the porter shop and we will discuss ways and means’.

Yours

D_____e House

NB Clare Market is a filthy place – keep up your spirits. I have a borough – you know where.’

The was much printed in the newspapers about her ‘method’ and many derogatory comments made about morals. The reality however, was that amongst the public she was a very popular figure, not only because of her looks but also because she did actually engage with the public and by all accounts was able to discuss eloquently and put forward information about what Fox stood for.

As a campaigner for Wray we have the much quieter and more demure Duchess of Rutland, needless to say we don’t have a plethora of caricatures for her!

‘we can assure the public, that the beautiful and accomplished Duchess of Rutland does not drive about the streets and alleys, or otherwise act in a manner unbecoming of a lady of rank and delicacy’.

Procession to the Hustings after a successful canvass.
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library Duchess of Devonshire, Lady Duncannon and possibly Mrs Crewe

Despite the mocking and caricatures of these women, predominantly  of the Duchess of Devonshire, and the vile abuse they apparently received from Wray’s supporters and the press, the only person who apparently clearly objected to her participation in the election was her mother who felt that she was being used by Fox, no-one else appeared to have any objection which is quite telling; it appears that even the Queen was a supporter of the Duchess of Devonshire:

Her majesty has all the morning prints at breakfast every day and the Princesses are permitted to read them. Her eye caught the indecency of that one which attacked the Duchess of Devonshire. She gave it to an attendant and said let that paper never more enter the palace doors.  The story got round and the same orders were given everywhere else.’ 

There were even comments made that women’s participation in politics could result in them wanting to vote – shock horror, how times have changed!

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. National Portrait Gallery.
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. National Portrait Gallery.

The Duchess of Devonshire suffered greatly at the hands of the press, but she clearly had a passion for politics and felt that the country would benefit by Fox’s appointment. We are aware from The Cavendish Family by Francis Bickley, that she wrote to her mother advising her of how miserable she was, but that she had begun her involvement and that she would see if through to the end.  Given that the odds were stacked against Fox winning the election from the beginning, it could be argued that  a win from Fox was highly unlikely that without the help of these women!

Election te^te-a`-te^te
1784 Election Tete a Tete

15th May of 1784 The Morning Post and Daily Advertiser printed the following letter purporting to be from Lady Worsley to the Duchess of Devonshire, whether it was genuine or not we have no idea, but it is nevertheless interesting

Madam

Before the General Election in the year 1780, the name of Lady W____y stood fair and respectable; the gay world derives no entertainment from her follies. The forms of decency and decorum had not been neglected, and, therefore men of gallantry felt but little encouragement to make approaches.  Sir Richard found not Cassio’s kisses on my lips, for neither Cassio nor Roderigo revelled there. But, Madam   in the general Election of that day I acted like yourself – like a woman of life – a woman of spirit, but how unlike a politician! As you set your face against Sir Cecil Wray, I opposed my influence to that of Jervoise Clerk Jervoise.  I coaxed, I canvassed; I made myself, in the language of Shakespear ‘base, common and popular’. I was charmed with the public attention I received from the men; they talked to me of irresistible graces; the pressed my fingers; they squeezed my hand and my pulse beat quicker; they touched my lips, and my blood ran riot; they pressed me in  their arms and turned my brain. O, the joy! The rapture, the enchanting, thrilling, aching sensations, which beset my soul! They banished in an instant, all ideas of a cold, a formal education; they drove from my mind all decent forms which time and observation had copied there. Your Grace is apprized of the sequel. Before the canvas – Was your Grace strict? So was I. Was your Grace modest? So was I.  And if after the canvas, your Grace should find a violent metamorphosis in your feelings; I am ready to confess – so did I.

I am, Madam

Dorothea W____y

Did our favourite 18th century lady, Grace Dalrymple Elliott, interest herself in politics?  Please do subscribe to our blog to receive updates on the progress of our forthcoming book An Infamous Courtesan: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott in which we will reveal all.

 

* History of the Westminster Election, 1784

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