Today’s post is a little unusual, as I welcome back legal eagle, Mel Barnes who has worked with me in a joint article, to tell the story of a very messy divorce (quite literally), as you’ll discover later.
As most of us know from experience, the golden rule when talking to someone about their divorce is that almost always, ‘the other spouse is always to blame’, a principle enshrined in natural law when Adam pointed his apple-scented finger at Eve and told God it was all her fault. But that’s all about to change with the introduction of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020on 6 April 2022 with a no-fact, no-fault, quickie online divorce. While the country perhaps celebrates this long-awaited change, in this post we will instead commiserate with a divorcing couple from the eighteenth century.
Historically, the Ecclesiastical Court could only pronounce a divorce mensa et thoro, separation from bed and board, now known in law as judicial separation for couples who do not want to divorce for religious reasons.
A divorce à vinculo matrimonii, one that dissolved the marriage, was only possible with a private member’s bill and were very rare, with only sixty divorce acts were passed between 1715 and 1775.
This brings us to our unhappy couple who wed on 14 June 1729 at Holland House in Kensington: Henry Somerset, the 3rd Duke of Beaufort (aged 22), and Frances Scudamore (aged 18); otherwise, Lord and Lady Beaumont.
Sadly, for the young couple, their respective fathers both died young, but fortunately at a time when they were fantastically rich. This was the marriage of two extremely affluent families, bringing to it both money and land and a union of wealth and assets, though Henry gifted jewellery with a value of £500 to Frances (about £60,000 today), which shows he was committed to the union.
Part of the marriage agreement included the requirement for Henry to also take Frances’ surname:
Obliging the duke and Duchess of Beaufort and her children to take the additional surname and bear the arms of Scudamore, pursuant to a settlement made by James, late Lord Scudamore and vesting in the duke in fee the manors of Wickhall and Ditton Camois and lands in Cambridgeshire, late the testate of Lord Scudamore, in lieu of the portion provided by him for his daughter, the said Duchess and other provisions.
As the years went by, the couple’s separate lives and absence of the pattering of small feet began to attract attention. The lack of an heir and a spare would have been seen as a major problem for these two dynasties, and it was highly likely that medical advice would have been sought about why Fanny couldn’t conceive (obviously, this was automatically assumed to be her fault).
Married life wasn’t great for Frances and Henry and it became a whole lot worse when, in 1736 Frances it would appear, contracted small pox and returned to the family home, Holme Lacy in Herefordshire to rest and be treated by the Scudamore physician, but she did recover from this.
In 1740, Frances met William, Lord Talbot (1710-1782), at that time a lawyer and politician referred to by Horace Walpole as having
some wit, and a little tincture of a disordered understanding; but was better known as a boxer and man of pleasure than in the light of a statesman.
William had also married for money, his wife being Mary de Cardonnel, but after two children (a daughter, Cecil (1735-1793) and a son, William who only survived until 1742), she was advised that she was unlikely to survive another pregnancy, so with that, he declared that he was ‘deprived of her sexual services’ and sought solace elsewhere.
With Frances looking for love and William for pleasure, the couple made a perfect match. They began an indiscrete relationship, which soon led to tongues wagging and an open secret that they were having an affair.
Initially, Henry was pragmatic about the affair and he and Frances executed a Deed of Separation under which each agreed not to make a claim against the other’s estate. This amicable relationship would not last long, as just few months later, Frances discovered that she was pregnant to William – this was not good!
As far as high society was concerned, indiscretion was forgivable, but public adultery was not. On 13 September 1741, Frances gave birth to a daughter who she named Fanny Matthews to hide her real identity. With Henry being in poor health, Frances hoped that he would soon die, so she could pass off her daughter as his, but alas, he recovered!
Meanwhile, William had grown bored with Frances, and he ended their relationship, but it’s not clear at that stage what became of their daughter, was she raised by Frances or perhaps William who had returned to his wife, something which was not unusual at that time.
Henry, continued with his mission and by June 1742, had obtained all the damning statements and evidence he could against Frances, and issued divorce proceedings against her for adultery.
What he hadn’t bargained on though, was that Frances would make a counter-application on the basis of his impotency, a claim that she knew would involve humiliating Henry with a very intimate examination.
In his Reply, Henry claimed that they had slept together in one bed for ten years and produced witness statements from servants swearing that they had ‘actually seen the stains’ on the bedding, proving their intimacy.
None of the evidence was given much weight, and a judge eventually held that Henry needed to prove once and for all that ‘duke-junior’ could ‘rise to the occasion‘.
This would involve either: masturbating and ejaculating, or having sex with a woman before court-appointed witnesses. Soul-crushing shame aside, what we want to know is whether the woman was also to have been appointed by the court. What sort of terrible employment would she have agreed to? However, a very embarrassed Henry eventually decided on the former and was successful. Thereby, winning his case, which gave him damages and costs of £80,000 (about £1 million in today’s money).
After a protracted bill through Parliament, the parties were finally divorced in March 1744, when the Act took effect. Any happiness with the freedom to marry would be short lived for our unhappy couple, as Henry died less than a year later, in February 1745.
As for Frances, well, she married again, not to Lord William Talbot, but to Colonel Charles Fitzroy, the illegitimate son of the 2nd Duke of Grafton. The couple married on 4 July 1748, at Holme Lacy, Herefordshire.
Francs died just seven months later, and was buried on 27 February 1749 at Holme Lacy, aged just 38. This was just six days after giving birth to another daughter, Frances, who was presented for baptism at St George’s, Hanover Square on 14 February 1749.
For anyone recently separated, know that everything will now be a lot easier in terms of the process, and be thankful for a divorce that no longer has anything to do with ‘private members!’.
As for Frances’s illegitimate daughter, Fanny, little is known about her life, but in his Will of 1782, William referred to his daughter Cecil, but, also, more curiously, ‘my very dear daughter, Miss Fanny Talbot, now living with me’.
So, it looks as if his illegitimate daughter ended up being cared for in a loving home, which means we can end on a happy note.
Today we are concluding the story of Catherine Despard, but if you missed the previous articles, part one can be found here and part two here.
In February 1799 the Whitehall Evening Post provided a transcript of events in Parliament including a speech by Mr Courtenay M.P, supporter of Edward and Catherine, which was stated to be Colonel Despard’s petition, in which Edward said he was aware of letters being written by Catherine which had been published in the newspaper and that he concurred with the contents of them. Edward stated that he had only been able to see Catherine through an iron grate and that his son, who had travelled a great distance had been denied permission to see him. He also confirmed that the Duke of Portland had refused to see Catherine.
The Courier, 22 August 1799, tell us that Edward was transferred over 100 miles away to Shrewsbury gaol, but there appears little by way of explanation as to why this should have occurred, it simply says:
At five in the morning, a King’s messenger and Bow Street officer took Edward out of the house of correction, Cold Bath Fields where he had been incarcerated for the past 17 months. They set off in a post-chaise for Shrewsbury gaol.
Catherine must have been aware of this where did that leave her, apart from being all alone in London without her beloved husband and fighting for his freedom?
On 2 October 1799, whilst Edward was still in gaol at Shrewsbury, a letter sent on his behalf, by the visiting magistrates, Reverend John Rocke and the Reverend Edmund Dana, asks:
In case Mrs Despard should come to Shrewsbury, in what manner and for what length of time will she be permitted to have access to him?
The original letter in Edward’s hand appears to be quite scribbled with crossing outs throughout it, but clearly, Edward was anxious that Catherine should visit him whilst there.
So, despite a notice in the Star and Evening Advertiser just a month earlier saying that
the orders strictly prohibit any communication either with persons without or prisoners in the gaol
it would appear from the letter that Edward was making representation to have Catherine visit him, so clearly, he wanted to see his wife and it’s probably safe to assume the feeling would have been mutual.
In his recent book, Red Round Globe Hot Burning, Linebaugh states that:
Catherine visited her husband in three prisons that we know of: Cold Bath Fields, the Tower and Horsemonger Lane Gaol. He was incarcerated between 1798 to 1799 in Cold Bath Fields, in the Tower in 1802 and in Horsemonger Lane for his trial and execution in 1803. In these years he was also imprisoned in Shrewsbury, in Tothill Fields, and in Newgate, though we do not have documentary evidence that Catherine visited him in those places.
Despite Lineburgh’s observation and the content of the piece in the Star and Evening Advertiser, saying that he was not to be permitted visitors, we do now have evidence that Catherine visited her husband whilst he was in Shrewsbury.
This comes courtesy of a letter written on 12 June 1800, to the Home Secretary, from Venerable Joseph Plymley, who was the Archdeacon of Shropshire and visiting magistrate of Shropshire County Gaol. He stated that Catherine was Edward’s only visitor at Shrewsbury, apart from the chaplain of the goal and quarterly visits by magistrates.
However, Plymley, also helpfully provided a snippet of information about their son being briefly in Shrewsbury:
Last night Colonel Despard’s son, an officer in His Majesty’s Service, arrived in this town from Ireland, upon military duty, viz to receive volunteers from the Glamorganshire Militia.
Edward’s son was then travelling on to South Wales and wished to see his father whilst he was in town, but the gaoler refused him admission. The gaoler immediately contacted Plymley who, in turn urgently wrote to the Home Secretary to find out if this would be acceptable. Plymley stressed that Edward was a model prisoner and only spent time with Catherine and suggested that any message for Edward from their son, could be conveyed by Catherine and therefore their son was not permitted to visit his father.
Given that we now know that Catherine visited him whilst in Shrewsbury, she must have travelled there by the regular coach service, or mail coach similar to the one below.
The journey from London to Shrewsbury was extremely long and arduous given the condition of the roads at that time. There was usually a ‘stop over’ enroute of a night, so the journey could well have taken at least two, very long days each way. A journey following the same route today, would take about four hours today by car, so we can only begin to imagine how hard this would have been for Catherine.
There was, however, a regular coach which travelled from London to Shrewsbury three times a week, via Henley on Thames, Oxford, Stratford upon Avon and finally arriving in Shrewsbury.
We can only assume that Catherine simply took lodgings and stayed in Shrewsbury for the duration of Edward’s time there, but it does appear from the letter, that she was a regular visitor.
The Ipswich Journal, Saturday 21 February 1801 reported that Edward had been held in gaol on charges of sedition from April 1798 until March 1801, but it doesn’t clarify exactly how much of that time was spent in Shrewsbury.
A report by James Ives, the keeper of the county gaol, Surrey, who wrote to the Northumberland, Durham Cumberland Gazette on 15 February 1803, wished to correct what he deemed misinformation about Edward’s accommodation in goal, he stated that:
Colonel Despard is confined in the attic story, in the same room as before his trial. It is a boarded floor, 80 feet square, with three large windows, framed and glazed, and a large fire constantly kept; his wife attends him daily.
Almost every report about Edward’s ‘domestic’ situation seems to make reference to Catherine being present, obviously they wanted to spend as much time together as possible. One account also mentioned that Edward made a lady, who accompanied Catherine, cut off some of his hair, which she was to distribute to some of his friends as a keepsake. A token which I sure must have been of some small comfort to Catherine too.
Baron Cloncurry noted that he didn’t see Edward between 1797 and spring 1801 and that he passed through London on his travels in 1802 at which time Edward called to see him. There was no mention of Catherine being present at this visit. He described Edward as:
So wan and worn, that he looked like a man risen from the grave. Of the unsound state of his mind, the following anecdote may convey some notion. In talking over the condition of Ireland, he told me that though he had not seen his country for thirty years, he never ceased thinking of it.
This would seem to confirm that since arriving from overseas that by 1802 Catherine must have remained in England and not have visited Edward’s relatives in Ireland as had been suggested elsewhere.
Baron Cloncurry, who was to become a good friend to the couple, described Catherine in about 1800, as:
A Spanish Creole, a remarkably fine woman, much younger than her husband, who then appeared to be about sixty years of age.
Edward was only 52 when he died, so he must have looked much older than his actual age, which provides no clues as to Catherine’s age, she may simply have looked younger than her age.
Edward and his reputed co-conspirators were arrested again on 16 November 1802 at the Oakley Arms public house for their part in Edward’s plot to assassinate King George III and were taken to Newgate prison.
Whilst back in gaol Catherine was still permitted to visit Edward, this may well have come about via the Attorney General, Spencer Percival, who wrote a letter on 15 February 1803, which confirmed that Catherine was being closely watched in case she smuggled papers out of the prison on Edward’s behalf and ultimately decided that whilst she could still visit, she should no longer be permitted to carry any papers for him. We don’t know how complicit Catherine was in doing Edwards’ bidding, so she must have either been very brave or completely unaware how closely she was being watched. Either way she must surely have feared for her own safety or perhaps so devoted that Edward that she wasn’t at all concerned.
Edward and his co-conspirators were tried on Monday 7 February 1803. From his Petition dated 16 February 1803, he stated that from September 1790 to September 1791 he was employed in London at the wish of government ministers, particularly furnishing details which had occupied many months of his helping to plan an attack on the Spanish Main.
For his work Edward was promised upwards of £2,000 and the first vacant consularship on the Barbary Coast, but that neither of these promises were kept. Overall, Edward stated that during his time in King’s Bench his debts amounted to some £3,000. There is no mention of Catherine, so how did she manage for money? It begs the question of who was financially supporting her at this time, friends and/or family? Someone was, for sure, perhaps her son.
On 20 February 1803, we have a letter from Sir Richard Ford, the chief magistrate at Bow Street, who referred to crowds gathering at the prison etc, but then made specific reference to Catherine, describing her as having been:
‘very troublesome, but at last has gone away’.
Catherine was piling on the pressure to have her husband released, she was utterly convinced of his innocence and willing to do as much as she could to persuade those in authority of her views, but to no avail. As her hopes of mercy vanished, Catherine, it is said, became almost delirious, her emotions, when the order for his execution arrived can hardly be imagined.
Morning Post 21 February 1803
Colonel Despard was strictly searched to discover whether he had any knife or meals of self-destruction concealed about him, and everything that it was though might enable him to put an end to his existence was conveyed out of his reach. There was no reason to suppose he had the slightest decision of committing suicide, but it was standard procedure.
Mrs Despard was greatly affected when he first heard that his fate was sealed, but yesterday, she recovered her fortitude. Accompanied by another lady, she had her last meeting with him on 20 February 1803. It is said that the other, unnamed woman wept bitterly. But first Mrs Despard, and then the colonel, reproached her with her weakness. Mr and Mrs Despard bore up with great firmness, even in parting. When Catherine got into the coach, as it drove off, she waved her handkerchief out of the window.
In the vivid newspaper accounts of the hangings that took place on 21 February 1803, there appears no mention of Catherine being present, although given her commitment to him during his life and her courage, it appears likely that she would have been there.
On a slight lighter but macabre note, the Gloucester Journal, (amongst others) of 28 February 1803 reported this reputed conversation (how very British, a conversation about the weather):
The following anecdote respecting Col. Despard immediately previous to the instant of his execution, is not generally known. When Macnamara was brought out, he said, upon seeing Despard, “I am afraid, Colonel, we have go into a bad situation”. The answer was very characteristic of the man, ‘There are many better, and some worse”. He was extremely anxious to assist the executioner in adjusting the rope about his neck and placed himself the noose under his left ear. When he was on the point of being launched into eternity he said to Francis, who stood next to him – “What an amazing crowd” and looking up, he observed, with the greatest indifference ‘Tis very cold, I think we shall have some rain”.
The sentence included disembowelment, but with the assistance of Lord Nelson, Catherine was able to have this part of the torture removed, instead he was hanged, and his head severed. An horrific sight whichever it was carried out, for Catherine to witness.
The day arrived for Catherine to say her final farewell to Edward and for his remains to be buried. About ten o’clock in on the morning of Tuesday 1 March 1803, just over a week after Edward’s death, several hundred people congregated near Lambeth asylum, at the property Catherine and Edward had lived in, but not where Catherine was living by that time of the funeral.
After fifteen minutes a hackney coach arrived, Catherine was inconsolable and almost fainted when the coach arrived and had to be supported by two female friends; sadly, no names were given for the female friends.
The Ipswich Journal, 5 March 1803, tells us that
An artist, it is said, took a cast of Mr Despard’s face, a few minutes before the lid of the coffin was screwed down.
This artist was Madame Tussaud.
Edward’s remains were taken away through the streets of London to be buried. Twelve of his friends arrived about eleven, with four gentlemen in each of the mourning coaches. Newspapers confirm that there were no women mourners. This was quite normal at that time for women not to attend funerals. Graveyards were not really places deemed safe or suitable for women.
It was reported that the procession initially headed for St Pancras for Edward’s final resting place, but this was a ruse, instead he was taken from where his body had been kept, near Lambeth, across the river, to St Faith’s Chapel, St Paul’s Cathedral.
The Lord Mayor of London immediately wrote to Lord Pelham, in a polite, but clearly furious tone, asking why Edward’s place of burial had been changed and wanting to know why no-one had bothered to tell him! This change of burial appears to have been instigated by Catherine who felt that it was Edward’s hereditary right to be buried there.
Shortly after Edward’s death, the Morning Post stated:
It has been reported that Mrs Despard, since the execution of her husband, has been taken under the protection of Lady Nelson. We have authority to state that the circumstances is holly untrue, and we much fear that the rumour has been propagated by the enemies of the virtuous an amiable Viscountess.
However, the Dairies of James Harris, 1st Earl of Malmesbury confirm that it was not Lady Nelson, rather Nelson’s lover, Lady Hamilton who visited Catherine, so it was she who took Catherine under her wing.
Monday Feb 21 – Lady Hamilton, whom Lady Malmesbury met in the evening of this day at Lady Abercorn’s, after singing etc said she had gone to see poor Mrs Despard in the morning – she did not know her, but she went to comfort her, and that she found her much better since the body had been brought back to her. This is the consequence of Lord Nelson having spoken to his character.
The Morning Post 21 February 1803 provided confirmation that a musical event was held at Marchioness of Abercorn’s that day, so that would tally with Harris’s diary entry.
Following the execution of Edward, Catherine was left virtually destitute and possibly heading for the workhouse, were it not for a pension being agreed for Catherine by Sir Francis Burdett and the kindness of 2nd Baron, Valentine Cloncurry, who offered her a safe haven at his estate in Dublin, Ireland, his father having died in 1799.
A year after this conversation, this poor madman made mad by official persecution, was executed for a plot to take the Tower. I was afterwards able to afford his wife an asylum from destitution. She lived in my family at Lyons for some years.
Lord Cloncurry doesn’t provide any clues as to how long ‘some years’ was, but we know that at some stage she returned to London, where she died. Catherine’s fight was over, and she died in 1815 in the Somerstown district.
She was buried at St Pancras parish chapel, Camden on 9 September 1815. Her address is almost impossible to read, but it looks like Elmore Street, so if anyone is able to decipher it, please do let me know.
Many newspapers nationally, noted Catherine’s death, all carrying the same few, simple words:
As to who notified the press we will never know, but someone certainly did, perhaps it was her son, I’d like to think so.
There remain a myriad of questions about Catherine’s life, but just maybe this has filled in a few of the gaps … for now. You can find out more about her mysterious son by following this link.
Following on from Part 1 of this story, which can be read here if you missed it, we now move on to
Catherine’s arrival in England
The Dictionary of Irish Biography states that Edward and Catherine married in 1786, Jamaica, but having contacted them, in order to check their source, they now plan to amend the entry to reflect the vagueness of that information. Their source being from Colonel Despard: the life and death of an English/Irish Jacobin, which suggests that it must have been between November 1785 and April 1786. None of the available Jamaican parish registers sadly show any marriage for them in any parish (believe me, I’ve read every single one of entry to check!), so it would appear more likely that if they actually married, that it took place in Honduras.
The Caledonian Mercury, 17 May 1790, tells us that Edward’s post as Superintendent of the settlement in the Bay of Honduras had been filled by a Colonel Hunter and that Edward and Catherine had returned to England, under something of a cloud, the authorities unhappy with Edward’s management style there, having apparently become something of an autocrat.
Arriving in England in 1790, must have been quite a culture shock for Catherine, sailing all that way to a new country, the sights, sounds, smells, climate, clothing, the list goes on and of course and probably one of the most important things being, the lack of people who looked like her, in the social society that Edward would have mixed, all of which must have been completely disorientating. There were of course, black people in London, but most of them would have been servants, working for affluent aristocrats.
Being a woman of colour living in London would not have been easy, especially given the trade in enslaved people, but Catherine seems to have risen above any preconceived notions about the colour of her skin, perhaps helped by her position as having married into Irish gentry. Catherine’s sole aim was to care for her husband, but she couldn’t possibly have imagined in 1790 how this new life in London would have panned out.
On arrival in England, Edward was merely expecting them to only remain there briefly, just long enough to sort out the financial issues pertaining to his time abroad, his plan being to return to Honduras, which makes it somewhat curious as to why Catherine and their son would have accompanied him on such a long voyage, but accompany him they certainly did.
This brief sojourn to England did not transpire the way Edward planned at all.
Edward, it seems, proved to be something of a thorn in the side of the government, he bombarded them with demands for compensation and vindication for what he viewed to be unfair dismissal from his post, no charges were brought against him, but no compensation either, leaving him with little more than his salary as a half pay colonel which wouldn’t amount to very much, probably insufficient to support Edward, let alone his Catherine and their son.
What was he going to do to rectify this matter? There was little he could do, he tried to seek employment, but nothing was forthcoming. This dispute between Edward and the government continued for two long years.
We can only imagine what Catherine must have made of this terrible situation that she had now found herself in, after all, she thought the visit to England was only going to be a short one, so there was nowhere she could now call home. There is no sign of them in rate books, so it has to be assumed that they were renting somewhere or living with friends. We know that Edward was a close acquaintance of Lord Nelson, having served together previously, so perhaps he helped them find lodgings.
On 28 November 1792 Edward was sentenced to two years in prison and the 1794 prison records for King’s Bench and Fleet prison discharge book, noted his release in 1794. With Edward incarcerated this would have left poor Catherine to fend for herself in this new country with presumably few, if any friends to assist her, this must have been immensely difficult for her.
We know that during Edward’s various court cases, Catherine was constantly referred to as his wife, which I do suspect was not done so as merely a courtesy title, but as I’ve said, proof of such a marriage is sadly lacking.
Besides being described as his wife, Catherine was described in a variety of ways by the press, some of which today we do, of course, deem derogatory, ‘a negress, a mulatto, a woman of the Caribbean and a woman of colour’. Her skin colour must have been an important fact for readers of the day, otherwise why would they feel the need to mention it? Mike Jay in ‘The Unfortunate Colonel Despard’ states that:
Family memoirs referred to Catherine as his “black housekeeper”, and “the poor woman who called herself his wife”. James was ascribed to a previous lover, both of whom were written out of the family tree.
It appears that parts of Edward’s family found it difficult to acknowledge Edward’s choice of wife given her colour, referring to her as his ‘black housekeeper’.
In July 1795, the True Briton, provided the first sighting of where Edward and Catherine were living in London, courtesy of the address ‘34 London Road, St George’s Fields’ an address provided by Edward in court, where he had been charged with allegedly being involved in the Charing Cross Riot.
Edward claimed that he was merely an onlooker and was on his way home. This was not believed, as he was apparently heard to say, ‘No King, No Pitt’. Edward was detained for further questioning.
When not in gaol, did Edward and Catherine appear to have spent their time trying to evade Edward’s recapture? At least, it would certainly appear that way, from this snippet, of 10 March 1798 in the Express and Evening Chronicle which reported that:
It was Colonel Despard, whom the King’s Messengers seized on Sunday in Meards Court, Dean Street, Soho. His house was entered by four Messengers, and several Bow Street Officers. The Colonel and Mrs Despard were both in bed when the former was arrested.
Dean Street was a location well known to Lord Nelson, as he stayed there the day before the Battle of Trafalgar, so perhaps Edward and Catherine were staying close by. Whilst this gives us an address for Catherine, the rates returns show that they must have been staying with someone living there. The residents around that time were George Campbell, Thomas Melhuish, Joel Clifford Mr Miles and John Dealtry, but none of them as far as I can tell, appear to have had any connection to Edward and Catherine.
Given the closeness of the date between the above report to this one from Lloyd’s Evening Post, 12 March 1798, it can only be assumed that the reference to Bath, was not the place, rather, Cold Bath Fields:
Yesterday, Mr Higgins, one of the King’s Messengers, arrived at the Duke of Portland’s office, having in charge Colonel Despard, whom he brought from Bath, after a search of two days.
Having caught Edward, he was brought before the Privy Council, underwent a short examination and was remanded into the custody of the Messengers.
It’s always lovely to come across letter written in the person’s own hand, especially by Catherine as we have little information about her life, but we see from this, that she was educated, fluent in English, articulate and confident in her own ability, assuming this was written in her hand rather than dictated by her. It was not in Edward’s hand; the style is completely different. It also demonstrates that Catherine didn’t remain at Meards Court, with the address, but moved very quickly to Upper Berkeley Street.
This letter, although undated, appears to have been written April – early May 1798, and the full letter tells us that Catherine was trying to establish whether there had been any response from the Duke of Portland regarding the payment of Edward’s pension.
She also wrote that Edward had been moved within Cold Bath Fields prison, from a comfortable, upper floor, to a lower room. Catherine described how awful Edward’s room was, no table, no chair nor a fire to warm himself. She continued to say that he was only allowed to see her briefly and described his care being more akin to that of a vagabond rather the gentleman he was.
We know from this letter written by Catherine that she was living in lodgings at 41 Upper Berkeley Street, where by 1801, the property itself appears to have been empty, but living a few doors away was Henry Austen Esq. at 24, the brother of the author Jane Austen, perhaps indicating that at least, that at that time, Catherine was living in a pleasant area of London, so, once again who was funding this?
This link will take you to the final part of Catherine’s story.
As there is so much to tell in this story, during the next articles I will be taking a look at the life of Catherine Despard and that of her son, so do keep an eye out for the following parts.
Firstly though, I would like to give a massive ‘Thank you’ to the kindness and generosity of Mike Jay, author of The Unfortunate Colonel Despard, who kindly shared with me Sarah Gordon’s will, which helped to open some doors. To Mish Holman, who, despite being busy with her own research, found time to check out some documents at the National Archives for me and to Professor Gretchen Gerzina for telling me to ‘go for it’ when I initially thought everything known about Catherine had already been written.
For fans of the programme, Poldark, you may well have seen the episode about Edward (Ned) Marcus Despard and his wife, Catherine and her valiant, but unsuccessful, attempt to save her husband’s life.
Whilst Poldark is fiction, the lives of Edward (Ned) and Catherine were real. The programme, as you might expect, used quite a bit of creative licence in the telling of their story, especially as neither character appeared in the books by Winston Graham.
Much has been written about the life and more dramatically, the death of Edward, who, for those who don’t know, was found guilty of high treason and met his end courtesy of the hangman’s noose, closely followed by the removal of his head, which was placed on a spike as a warning to others.
Edward allegedly plotted along with his co-conspirators, to kill George III whilst on his way to Parliament on 23 November 1802, then to seize the Tower, and the Bank of England. Whether he was guilty or not is another story, as he refused to admit to anything, perhaps to avoid implicating his co-accused. I’ll leave you to read more about the trial for yourselves, as the focus in tis post is really upon his wife, Catherine.
Fewer than a handful of writers have attempted to record in any detail Catherine’s life, and so, always being one for a challenge, it was suggested that I try to see if I could piece together a little more about the life of the woman who stood beside Edward every step of the way, until he mounted those final steps on 21 February 1803.
Not only did Catherine seem to be a dutiful and loving wife, but she also acted as a courier and campaigner, visiting her husband, writing letters on his behalf and fighting as hard as she could to gain his freedom.
Who was Mrs Catherine Despard?
Accounts vary but, she is often described ‘a former black slave‘, from somewhere in the Caribbean, but we do know a little more about her than just those few words.
Catherine’s early life
To begin with though, we don’t know exactly when, or for sure where Catherine was born, but it now seems fairly safe to assume she was born around 1760, give or take a few years, in Jamaica.
Having trawled through the baptism parish registers for Jamaica, there are a few possible matches for Catherine, as below, from the parish register of St Catherine’s Jamaica, but there is nothing conclusive. This entry provides no parents being named but describes her ‘a mulatto child’ meaning one white parent, one black which could possibly be hers.
It is now known that Catherine’s mother was Sarah Gordon of St Andrew’s, Jamaica, who was buried on 25 July 1799 at Long Mountain, St Andrews, as can be seen here.
The parish register of St Andrew’s clearly states any person of colour or black and as you can see the entry directly above Sarah Gordon’s, states that Martha was ‘a free black woman’, the next but one entries after Sarah’s name, tells us of two women who were buried as ‘a woman of colour’ and yet there is nothing against Sarah’s name, which is unusual in light of the other burials recorded at St Andrews, but this could simply have been an omission. The burial entry also tells us she was not buried in the church graveyard, but at Long Mountain.
Sarah left a will, of which I was extremely kindly sent a copy, by Mike Jay (see bibliography at end of the whole article). The handwriting not the easiest to decipher and is quite faint, but it does tell us that Sarah was a ‘free black woman’.
I have read that Catherine’s father was a church minister, but I haven’t as yet been able to confirm the source. Mike Jay also said that ‘There was a claim in the London pamphlets of 1802 that her father was a Jamaican preacher and her mother a Spanish creole’ but he had no luck confirming this either.
When writing her will, Sarah was ‘sickly state of health, but sound of mind.’ She was a land owner of the parish of St Andrews, and sadly no mention of a husband, it simply describes her as being a relic i.e., widow.
Although very difficult to read, the will tells us that at some stage in the past Sarah had borrowed money from a friend or possibly a relative, Hannah Williams, a ‘free sambo woman’. Sarah part purchased three pieces of land in Kingston, half of the money for the three plots was funded by her, the remainder of the money borrowed from Hannah, which Sarah wished to be paid to Hannah upon her death. She also names Hannah’s two children, Eleanor and Benjamin Pierce, who, in the event of Hannah’s death, would take over ownership of the land, assuming they were aged 21 or over.
Both children named in the will were born in St Andrews, Jamaica, Eleanor in 1783 followed by Benjamin, 1791, but what is confusing is that both children shared the same father, a Benjamin Pierce, but the mother of Eleanor was named as Johanna Williams, whilst Benjamin’s mother was a Hannah Pierce. It’s interesting to note in the parish register, just below Sarah’s burial was that of a Joanna Williams, was this Eleanor’s mother? once again, we may never know.
The children were baptised on the same day in January 1799, a fact that Sarah would, in all likelihood have been aware of. Whilst that is a slight aside, Sarah also names her sister, Catherine Pierce (surname illegible), so quite who her middle name, Pierce was in honour of, I don’t know, but what does seems highly probable is that Sarah named her daughter, Catherine, in honour of her sister.
Sarah also left a legacy for her daughter, Catherine:
to my dear daughter, Catherine Gordon Despard, now in London … four negroes, who had been in my possession, a negro man named Jack and a negro woman, named Maria and a little boy, her child, named December and a negro woman, named Louisa.
It has not been possible to find out anything more about the enslaved people or what became of them, unless Catherine bought them over to England, which seems rather unlikely. Sarah also described Catherine as
my beloved daughter and best of friends, Catherine Gordon Despard of the city of London‘
It would seem clear from Sarah’s will, that Catherine was very much loved, but perhaps more importantly that her mother knew about her husband, Edward, where they were living and also that Catherine and Edward had a son, Sarah’s grandson, John (illegible) Despard.
Sarah knew that her grandson was a lieutenant in His Majesty’s East London Regiment, so despite Catherine having left Jamaica almost 10 years previously she was aware of her grandson’s military rank prior to her death, which must mean that they retained communications after Catherine left the island, so presumably Catherine wrote to her mother with news from England.
This link will take you to Part 2 and Catherine’s arrival in England and this one to part 3.
Today, in this very long piece, for which I apologise in advance, we are going to take a look at arguably to the two most famous Regency courtesans, Harriette Wilson and her friend Julia Johnstone, or to be more accurate I’m going to try to establish some of the fact from fiction about Julia’s life, part of which was told by Harriette and part by Julia, so buckle up we’re in for a bumpy ride!
Who were these two women?
Julia Johnstone was the pseudonym of Julia Elizabeth Storer, born to Thomas James Storer and the Honourable Elizabeth Proby, a Maid of Honour to Queen Charlotte. She was baptised on September 9, 1777, at Frensham, Surrey.
Harriette Wilson was the pseudonym of Harriette Dubouchet, born 22 February 1786, St George’s, Hanover Square, the daughter of John and Amelia and about whom I have written previously, so rather than recap her life, there is a link to it here.
Despite everything I have read, I am convinced the pair met in the early 1810s when they became firm friends, visiting each other, mixing in the same social circles and sharing the gossip of the day, until that is, the friendship turned rather sour. Both were famous or infamous courtesans of the day; however, I am less convinced about Julia’s reputation.
Harriette’s Memoirs were first published in January 1825 and of which the Duke of Wellington, reputedly, if not accurately, said of her blackmail threats to include him in her book, ‘published and be damned’.
Julia’s Confessions, are a rebuttal of much of what Harriette had written about her, being published just two months later, with the subtitle of ‘In contradiction to the fables of Harriette Wilson’. Given the speed with which Julia wrote her book, she must have wasted absolutely no time whatsoever, after reading Harriette’s memoirs to write her own, a contradiction of the apparent lies that Harriette had written about her.
Julia would, no doubt, have been furious at Harriette’s portrayal of her and clearly wished to set the record straight, but this is where the problems begin, as some aspects of Julia’s account don’t stand up to close scrutiny, but then arguably, neither does Harriette’s.
I do have a major problem with Julia’s account, for a very specific reason which will become very clear at the end. Julia seems to have featured in several books, several of which have however, taken Julia’s account of her life at face value, but with a little more digging I have managed to rectify some of the reputed ‘facts’.
Who was Julia?
According to Julia, her mother, Elizabeth née Proby was a Maid of Honour to Queen Charlotte, however I am struggling to find confirmation of this widely acknowledged fact. This list notes all of Queen Charlotte’s maids and there is simply no sign of her either under her maiden or married name. I’m not saying she lied, but rather, I can’t find supporting evidence.
Her father was Thomas James’s Storer whose family lived in Jamaica and made their wealth owning slave plantations in Jamaica.
Apparently, Julia and her family lived at Hampton Court Palace, so the first thing to do was to check that out. However, this is where it begins to unravel, having checked the Grace and Favour handbook of people who lived in Hampton Court Palace it tells us that an Hon. Mrs Storer lived there from 1782 until 1808. Now this seems feasible as Elizabeth had married Thomas Storer in 1774 and she died in 1808, but the handbook itself suggests that the Hon. Mrs Storer was someone completely different. It is of course possible that Julia’s parents lived at another of the royal palaces. Sarah E Parker, author of Grace and Favour has picked up on the ODNB suggestion that a Rev. Francis Willis married a Mrs Storer who lived at Hampton Court Palace, however on closer examination that doesn’t quite add up either. Rev. Francis Willis, who treated King George III, married for the second time, in 1798, his wife was however, a Sarah Storr not Storer, a spinster of the parish of Greatford, Lincolnshire where both were living when they married, rather than at Hampton Court, although the possibly had rooms there too, it’s not clear.
Setting that aside, the author, Frances Wilson, in The Courtesan’s Revenge states that Julia had three siblings, but there is no sign of any other children, and certainly only three were named in her fathers will. Julia had just two younger siblings, a sister, Frances (1780-1821), who married a Richard Hutchins Whitelock and a brother, Anthony Gilbert (1782-1818), who inherited estates in Jamaica from his paternal uncle when just 17 years of age. He married in 1806 at Westmoreland, Jamaica and he and his family remained there until his death, aged 36.
According to Julia her father ‘died abroad in embarrassed circumstances’ – this does not appear to be quite truthful, although just maybe that’s what she was led to believe, only being 15 at the time.
Her father wrote his will on 29 September 1792, and stated that whilst he had been in Lille, he had, by this time, returned to the parish of St Margaret’s, London, now whether his wife, Elizabeth was living with him, who knows, but he does not appear to have been in embarrassed circumstances and left both his wife and children provided for. Frances Wilson also states that Thomas died at ‘his family’s Belle Isle home’ i.e., in Jamaica, clearly that was not the case as we can see from the Public Advertiser, 14 November 1792:
Thomas James Storer was buried on 18 November 1792 at St James, Piccadilly.
Thomas’s father had returned from Jamaica and died the following year, having made his will on 22 June 1792, so just before his son, in which he left the majority of his estate in Jamaica, to his eldest son, Anthony Morris Storer, which in turn, he left in trust to Julia’s brother, Anthony Gilbert.
Julia never married but adopted the surname, Johnstone, we may never know why, but as suggested by Frances Wilson, the Johnstone surname was probably adopted by Julia in honour of her late aunt, Elizabeth Anna Maria Storer, who married a Thomas Gregory Johnstone and who died in 1791, although no definitive reason for this name change has ever come to light.
Julia’s formative years
Julia says that she was sent to a convent in the south of France to be educated and that:
At the age of thirteen I was sent for home and arrived at the Royal Palace (where my mother had apartments) to finish my education under an old ignorant Swiss governante, amidst the gloomy walls, and long avenues of trees.
Julia refers to the apartment as being at the Royal Palace, so they could have been living at Kensington perhaps, or maybe St James’s, which might explain why there’s no sign of them at Hampton Court Palace.
Julia also says that says that once her education was complete, she wanted her freedom and independence:
My governess complained, my mother scolded, I pouted, a carriage was drawn up to the palace gates, I entered it by word of command, put my head out of the window, ‘Good bye, mother’, ‘Adieu, daughter’ and went the horses full speed, and from that moment we never met again.’
She specifically said of this event:
We stopped at Hampton Court Palace. Another palace, thought I, pray heaven it proves less gloomy than the one I have turned my back upon.
This implies that this was Julia’s first visit to Hampton Court Palace, but offers no explanation as to why she would go there, who she was going to, it was all rather a strange and vague parting. Surely Julia didn’t simply have an argument with her mother, pack her bags and head off to Hampton Court Palace without any money or any idea why she was heading there – it doesn’t add up.
She says that on her arrival she moved in with a Josiah and Lavinia Cottin who, according to Harriette’s account, eventually had 9 children. It would appear that Julia was to be a companion to Lavinia, although how this arrangement came about, we have no idea. Julia also said that she had met Josiah previously, in France when he had delivered letters to her from her mother, whether true or not, who knows, perhaps the families knew each other, and this is how it was arranged, rather than her simply packing up and leaving home for who knows where. According to Harriette’s account:
Poor Julia, all this time, did not receive the slightest compliment or attention from anybody. At last, she kissed her hand to someone in a neighbouring box.
“Whom are you bowing to?” I inquired.
“An old flame of mine, who was violently in love with me when I was a girl at Hampton Court,” whispered Julia. “I have never seen him since I knew Cotton.”
“What is his name?” I asked.
“George Brummell,” answered Julia
So perhaps Julia lived at Hampton for a few years earlier in her life, it feels almost impossible to distinguish fact from fiction here.
Who was Josiah Cottin/Cotton?
Josiah Cottin was born in 1767 to Alexander Cottin of Cheverills, Hertfordshire, and his wife, Anne née Chapman, so some ten years Julia’s senior. He served in the 10th Light Dragoons, and in March 1792 he married Lavinia Chambers, the daughter of the famous architect, Sir William Chambers.
Their first child, Anna, was born one year later, 1793. Anna was swiftly followed by Georgiana in 1794, John, 1795, Lavinia, 1796 and some five years later in 1800, Adolphus, therefore making just five in total, not the nine as has been claimed they had, unless they had other children who died in infancy, but certainly there is no evidence of the other four, but if they existed, they must have been born in the gap between 1796 and 1800.
Now, according to Julia, when she went to live with the Cottin’s at Hampton Court Palace, they did have children, daughters, but she didn’t specify how many. What Julia told readers was that she was only 16 at the time. However, if this were true it must have taken place in 1793, at which time the Cottin’s possibly had one baby, Anna, but certainly no more than that. The records for Hampton Court show Josiah and Lavinia not moving in to the palace until the end of 1797, this would have made Julia at least 21.
It seems far more plausible that Julia went there at that age, rather than aged 16 as she had said. By that time Lavinia would have 3 toddlers and a baby, which makes more sense of Julia’s statement when she described the children as being ‘too young for me to associate with’.
Julia described Josiah’s marriage to Lavinia as being ‘on the worst possible terms’. If that were the case, they still managed to resolve issues long enough to produce another child, perhaps that one was achieved more by accident than design.
Julia then asks her readers, not to judge her, when, ‘at the early age of sixteen I fell a victim to my own inexperience, and the passioned solicitations of a man’ – that man was Josiah Cottin and so their relationship began.
Julia started her seventeenth year as a well-connected debutante, but ended it a “fallen woman, pregnant and disgraced”.
If Julia became pregnant in 1794, then there is absolutely no sign of a birth for this child, so whilst I’m not saying it was a lie, I’m suggesting that it seems highly unlikely.
It wasn’t until in June 1800, that we first have any tangible proof that Julia became pregnant, giving birth to a son, Josiah, naturally as their first born, it seems logical that the baby would be named after its father. This seems to have taken quite a long time for her to conceive assuming her relationship with Josiah began when implied. Julia would have been 22 when Josiah was born. Coincidently, Josiah’s wife also gave birth to their final child in September of the same year – awkward!
It would be a further five years before Julia and Josiah had more children, however they then went on to have Charles in 1805, with the couple’s address being given as Warwick Court at that time. George who was born in 1806, Julia Emma in 1807, but not baptised until August 1814, at St George’s Hanover Square, with Josiah stating his rank to be that of Captain. The couple, or at least Julia, were living at Chapel Street, Grosvenor Place.
Then in 1809, Lavinia, who was also baptised with her sister, Julia Emma. Coincidently, on the same day, the line below in the parish register there is an entry for the baptism of Harriette’s parents youngest child Julia Elizabeth Dubouchet, which perhaps shows the closeness of Julia and Harriette. It strikes me that it was rather cheeky of Julia and Josiah to have been having an affair yet feeling it appropriate to name one of their offspring after Josiah’s wife, Lavinia.
The following year, 1810, Josiah’s eldest daughter by this wife, Georgiana Maria, aged 16, married Sir John Fleming, 1st Baron De Tabley, with her father’s permission and at the family home, Hampton Court Palace. Josiah was named on her marriage entry as a ‘lieutenant colonel in his majesty’s army’.
Julia and Josiah’s final child was Sophia, who was born in 1811, so a total of 6 children altogether, as confirmed by Harriette in her memoirs:
“Certainly,” said I; “I do think it wicked to put ourselves in the way of increasing a large family of children, only to starve them. You are the mother of six already, which is five more than your slender fortune can support
By Harriette acknowledging that Julia had six children would place this part of her memoirs as being post 1811. According to Harriette it was around this time that Julia claimed to be pregnant by Sir Henry Mildmay, although in reality there is no evidence of there ever being a child as a result of the reputed relationship.
Julia said that Josiah had set up her and the children in Primrose Cottage at Primrose Hill and visited them as often as possible, which seems to confirm that he was still living with his wife and keeping Julia as his mistress. Julia did have some money of her own from an inheritance, from a family member, but she didn’t elaborate as to which member, but it has to be assumed that Josiah was helping to fund their family unit, as well as his main family, so he would have been supporting 11 children on an army salary – quite an achievement in my opinion.
According to Harriette, Lavinia was extremely angry when she found out about Josiah and Julia’s relationship and threw her out. Julia on the other hand said that Lavinia knew nothing about it, until months after she had moved out of their home, and that Lavinia and Josiah had separated. As to which version was true, who knows, but Julia’s account seems more plausible.
When Julia announced her first pregnancy, according to Harriette:
Julia could not attempt to describe the rage and fury either of her mother or brother. It was harsh, it was shocking, even as applied to the most hardened sinner, in such a state of mental and bodily suffering. Julia was, with her infant, by her noble relatives hurried into the country, almost at the risk of her life, and Colonel Cotton was called out by young Storer, Julia’s brother, and, I believe, wounded.
Julia completely dismissed this as rubbish, saying that her mother treated this information with complete apathy, rather she said that Julia was now completely on her own to fend for herself. The idea that Julia’s brother had a duel with Josiah she said was complete fiction, as her brother was out of the country. This could well be true, as we know that he had inherited estates in Jamaica, so it’s feasible that he had left for Jamaica by this time.
When did Harriette and Julia first meet?
According to Harriette’s memoirs:
Just as we were sitting down to dinner Mr. Johnstone arrived and was introduced to me. He was a particularly elegant, handsome man, about forty years of age.
If we assume that Harriette was correct about his age being about 40, then this must meeting must have taken place around 1810, ‘Mr Johnstone’ (Josiah Cottin) was born in 1767, so would have been 43, so not a bad guess on Harriette’s part.
At the time of their meeting, Julia would have been about 34 and Harriette 25. Frances Wilson stated that Julia and Harriette met as early as 1803, but that doesn’t really fit with Julia’s children’s ages, as, in 1803 Julia had just the one child, not the five Harriette said.
Circa 1810 would also be a better match given Harriette’s remark if the couple had been together since about 1800:
I never saw such romantic people, after nine years and five children!
Harriette did say that at some stage during Julia’s relationship with Josiah that he was ‘was dismissed from his regiment by his royal commander’. I can find no evidence of this at all, and this remark angered Julia –
There never was a more cruelly false insinuation. I believe military law takes no cognizance of errors of the heart in any of its officers.
Josiah was a major in 1798, promoted to lieutenant colonel by 1804, then by 1814 he was a captain, or at least that is what was recorded on the baptism entries for Julia and Lavinia in 1814.
According to Julia, Josiah paid for the boys to attend a respectable public school. As for the girls, Julia said ‘he left me to dispose of, and assigned a very small annuity to each of them. As for me I was left to shift as I though proper’.
Having provided for them via his solicitor, Josiah left England with his regiment. This is likely to have been mid 1813 when the 10th Regiment were sent to Spain, at which time Julia described herself as a single woman again and decided at that time to move in with Harriette.
What became of Julia’s six children?
Josiah (junior) became a teacher in Twickenham, and died at just 27 years of age, leaving a widow, Eliza née Sandby and 3 children – Albany, Eliza and Ellen.
Josiah’s son, Albany would, as a young man of 22, appear in court for ‘begging letter imposition’. During the hearing Albany told the court of his family background which proved to be completely truthful and was verified in court, by the production of supporting documentation His mother, Eliza, his two sisters, Eliza and Ellen and wife, Mary Ann, were also present at the proceedings. Albany told the court that he had trained as a dentist but found himself and his family in dire straits, so appealed to people living at Hampton Court Palace for financial help. The case against him was dismissed.
Eliza, Josiah junior’s eldest daughter, married a widower, twice her age and they lived in Stepney, by 1861 she was living with her 3 children and her mother.
Ellen, Josiah junior’s youngest child, married in 1856, her husband, George Hyde Hambly, a law stationer, of Whitechapel.
Charles also became a school master and married in 1841. The couple lived in Chelsea before moving to Beaconsfield where they had at least two children. Charles died in in 1860.
George, little is known of him, he married a Mary Thorn May in 1829 and died in Hounslow in 1843, aged 36.
Julia Emma died aged 20 and Lavinia Mary died aged 32, both unmarried.
What became of Julia and when did she die?
Julia seems to have disappeared from the radar after her book was published, according to her book she was living quietly in Hampstead, but that in itself raises questions.
Did she really write the book? My conclusion is that she didn’t, but rather, it was written by someone with a good knowledge of her life, family and her friendship with Harriette and that much of Julia’s story could well have been written constructing it from information taken from Harriette’s book.
The author, Angela Thirkell also felt that Julia was dead before her memoirs were written and questioned whether they could, according to John Stockdale, have been ghost written by Jack Mitford, to me, this does seem feasible.
In June 1815, Harriette’s sister, Fanny, died (buried as Frances Parker, having taken her lover Colonel John Boetler Parker‘s surname) and Harriette confirmed that three months later (on 13 September 1815), her mother also died. She was buried at St George’s Hanover Square – this was also true and is supported by evidence for both burials.
Harriette said that following these deaths, she too became ill and was confined to her bed for two months which takes us to around November/December 1815.
Harriette then described visiting her friend Julia who was close to death.
When my spirits and health were at their very worst, I was informed that poor Julia was dying and wanted to see me. I could not refuse her request. Her features bore the fixed rigidity of death when I entered her room. Her complaint, like her late poor friend’s, was a disease of the heart, and there was no remedy.
Harriette’s story of Julia’s demise continues with a conversation with Napier* who said:
N: I had her laid out in state, and wax candles were kept burning round her coffin for a fortnight: and I paid half of all her debts!
H: Suppose you had paid the whole?
N: Nonsense! They were very thankful for half.
H: And what is to become of her poor children?
N:A noble relative has taken one, and Lord Folkestone another, and Mrs. Armstrong is consulting me about the rest.
The main reason I don’t believe Julia’s memoirs were written by her, is that according to the parish register of St George’s Hanover Square, Julia was buried on 28 January 1816 using the name with which she was baptised, Julia Elizabeth Storer, and coincidently, at the same church that several of her children were baptised. This also fits perfectly with the timescale Harriette gave.
I also noted that when Harriette was buried, she too was buried with her given name of Harriette Dubouchet rather than Harriette Wilson, so it would follow that Julia was also buried using her real name.
If that wasn’t her, then there was someone else with exactly the same name, Julia Elizabeth Storer, living in the same location. I have to say that I do find it too much of a coincidence and have found no other person buried at that time that it could have been.
The burial register for Julia Elizabeth Storer also provided the name of the street she was living on – Grosvenor Place, London. On checking the rates returns for around 1816, I had hoped to find her listed or a clue – sure enough, whilst there was no sign of her, her maternal uncle, Lord John Josiah Proby, 1st Earl of Carysfort had his London house there, and it was also the road noted on the baptismal entry in 1814 for two of her daughters.
For me at least, this would confirm that Julia died there in 1816 which is why she had disappeared from the radar. Whoever actually raised her children though, I have no idea as yet apart from the comment above, made in Harriette’s book.
In Frances Wilson’s book, The Courtesan’s Revenge, she states that in 1824, Julia was charged with being drunk and disorderly, however, the person named was a Julia Johnson, without the ‘t’ and ‘e’, she was a different person altogether, who appeared in court quite regularly. This and other newspaper reports were also cited in Julia’s book too, and disputed by its author. Whoever wrote Julia’s book had also read the newspapers and knew they were two different women.
Frances Wilson also concludes from a baptism of 1823, that Julia and Josiah were still together at that time, some 10 years after the birth of their last child. She names the child as being Julia Storer Johnstone. This infant was however, one of Julia’s grandchildren, born to her eldest son Josiah and his wife Eliza nee Sandby. Baby Julia was their second of 5 children and not in fact ‘our’ Julia, but named in honour of her grandmother, Josiah knowing full well that his mother was dead by this time.
Josiah Cottin remained resident at Hampton Court until his death in 1843, living there with his wife and after her death in 1830, with their eldest daughter, Anna. Josiah’s will made provision for one person only – his eldest daughter, Anna who presumably was caring for him in old age, as he died aged 76. There was no reference made to his other living daughter, Georgiana, although as she was married, he must have sure she was already being very well provided for. There was absolutely no mention of Julia or his children with her at all.
To finish, there was an interesting piece in the Morning Herald, 21 October 1826
Some curiosity was excited, on a woman called Harriette Wilson, being placed at the bar, on a charge of felony, brought be a certain Julia Johnson, in the vague hope that the prisoner and prosecutrix might prove to be the ladies whose annals have made so much noise and scandal in the world. The parties, however turned out to be common-place people, one of whom stole a milk jug from the other, and was therefore found guilty, and sent to the mill for a week.
Again, this confirms that Julia Johnson was not ‘our’ Julia.
*Napier was Charles James Napier (1782-1853). Julia’s memoirs described Napier as being ‘Inspector General, Ionian Islands’.
According to Harriette Napier was with Julia when she died, so we’re looking at about December 1815, I am struggling to place him in England at that time, although it’s not impossible. He was certainly in Paris during the earlier pat of 1815 according to his memoirs, so was this another piece of fiction? I suspect it was.
This of course, still leaves many unanswered questions, but, I hope gives a little more clarity about the life of Julia Elizabeth Storer (Johnstone).
Jane, or Mother Douglas as she was known, kept a bawdy house or brothel, in the Piazza, Covent Garden, entertaining a more upmarket clientele, until her death in 1761.
It was, as is often the case, that whilst looking for something completely different I came across her name recently in E.J Burford’s book, ‘Wits, Wenchers and Wantons’. Having also read her entry on Wikipedia I noticed a line which is always designed to send me scurrying off down a proverbial rabbit hole – ‘She had three sisters and at least one brother, but nothing more is known of the family’. Was that really true?
According to her memoirs published just after her death in 1761, her family were said to have hailed from Aberdeen. If her memoirs are to be believed, then her father was a John Douglas a ‘n___ by complexion, though born in these kingdoms’, and her mother was simply named Susanna.
John, it would was a drummer in the army. The couple apparently had a tempestuous and somewhat violent relationship, with infidelity and drink being to blame for much of this. Jane, it states, was:
born in Aberdeen, although they would lay no claim to her being one of its daughters.
Being raised in an environment of drink and violence, history, it is said, repeated itself with Jane enjoying a drop or two of drink. Incest was also said to have been involved in her early years, but how much truth there was in that remains unknown.
When Jane’s father died, she and her mother moved to London, where her mother, short of funds was said to have found herself on trial at the Old Bailey, and transported for 14 years, and never heard of again.
At the age of 19, Jane somehow found herself back in Aberdeen, tending to the needs of the young men there, but then fled to Edinburgh to avoid prosecution for stealing from the young men.
Whilst in Edinburgh, she took up with a Captain Hunter for a while, until she gave him the gift of a sexually transmitted disease and he kicked her out. Whilst finding herself in the situation of being on the street she stole a watch and wallet from a parson, containing ten guineas and was now wealthy and managed to get herself cured and continued to ply her trade, stealing as she went along.
She moved in with a ‘Mother R___’ where she proved to be an asset helping to run the house, whilst continuing to ensure her own purse was full, but things began to unravel for Jane and ultimately, she had to leave Edinburgh and headed back to London hoping to make her fortune.
Sure enough, the streets of London weren’t paved with gold, as she had hoped, and she took a room in an ale house in Drury Lane to recover and decide what she was going to do with her life. Again, she found herself as a street walker, but struggled to earn any money, her dinners being described as a slice of bread and cheese, and a pint of porter.
She accidently met up with a girl, Suky, who had also worked for Mother, R___, and who, like Jane had fled to London, but was now living in house of Moll J___ under the Piazza, Covent Garden, a place to which eventually Jane moved, and her life began to improve. The house was frequented by noblemen and gentlemen and Jane could visualise her life on the up, until an altercation with Moll J___, at which point Jane found herself back out on the street, she was, it seems incapable of holding her temper.
To cut a long story short though eventually Jane managed to acquire her own house in the perfect location in Convent Garden meaning plenty of customers and ‘would be’ actresses who could earn some extra money whilst waiting to land their star role.
‘Her house was calculated for the superior ranks of debauchees. Princes and peers frequented in, and she fleeced them in proportion to their dignity. She had a piece of plate which she constantly exhibited on her sideboard and which she called ‘Billy’s Bread basket’, it being a present from a certain Prince of that name who often visited her’.
It is said that she moved location in 1741 to the opposite side of the road, to the even more impressive building, the former King’s Head. Money was rolling in and Jane had improvements carried out to enhance the premises, but the working life of the girls remained the same, continuing to attract the wealthy clients.
Within a few years though all began to turn sour, the elite stopped visiting and she found her girls catering for a different clientele. The full ‘genuine’ account of her life can be found in the link below and is well worth reading.
However, as if often the case, some of may have been a case stretching the truth somewhat. Many accounts of her life confirm that she died June 1761, with her memoirs stating
The fatal hour last arrived, and the illustrious mother D____s paid the debt to nature on the second of June 1761. She was the same night carried privately out of her welling house to the undertaker’s. This measure was very prudent, as there was reason to apprehend, that the mob might rise, and some mischief ensue on the occasion. So, she was buried privately in the night time on the eight of the month in Paddington church yard. She died a true penitent, in the seventy-fourth year of her age, but very little lamented.
At least two newspapers reported:
Died. 10 June. At her house in Convent Garden, London. Mrs Douglas, well known by the name of Mother Douglas.
On Tuesday night died, at her house in Covent Garden, Mrs Douglas, well known to the sorrow of many fools of both sexes.
Where this Memoir begins to fall apart is that Jane was always referred to as Mrs Douglas, now this could of course have been a courtesy title or, as is more likely, she really was married to a Mr Douglas, but who he was or what became of him, I have no idea, alternatively, the whole story about her parents was fabrication on someone’s part.
Having managed to eventually find her burial, it took place as stated at Paddington, but on 12 June 1761, but more importantly the burial names her not as Jane, but Amelia, which has been stated by Burford to have been a relative of hers who ‘died a few year later’. This can’t be the case, unless both relatives died at the same time and were buried in the same place.
It seems far more likely that Jane used a variety of names, but was, officially Amelia, but as to where the surname Douglas came from, we may never know. With this in mind, it led to her will, which was dated 31 October 1759, plus a codicil added 15 May 1761, just a few days before her death.
In her will she left bequests to her sister, Mary Ann Marin(e) of Bromley Street, St Giles in the Fields, her brother, James in Edinburgh and his daughters, Jacobina and Frances.
Trawling through newspapers it would appear that her sister returned to Edinburgh, presumably to be nearer to her brother. According to Aberdeen Press and Journal 11 March 1799:
Died, at her house in Nicolson’s street, on the 11th ult. Mrs Mary Anne Marine, sister to the late James Marine, trumpeter to the Court of Justiciary, aged 103.
According to an article in The Trumpet in Scotland from 1488-1800, by Alexander McGrattan, it transpired that there was a James Marine with a musical connection, but I still wasn’t convinced that these were Amelia aka Jane’s siblings until I found the baptism in 1738, for James’s daughter, with the unusual name of Jacobina, that it began to come together, with the added bonus of her baptism telling us that her father was one of his majesties household trumpets.
We therefore have Mary Ann Marin(e) approx. 1696-1799
James Marin (e) 1699-1786
And the youngest, Amelia, approx.1704-1761, so rather than being Mrs Jane Douglas, she was actually born Amelia Marine. Whether there were any other siblings who knows, maybe they are still waiting to be found.
There’s still a mystery surrounding the codicil to Amelia’s will, as she provides for a young girl, Elizabeth Holmes, who was living with her, but was aged below 21 when the codicil was written. It is believed this girl was her daughter, but so far, I can find nothing to support the theory that her father was Admiral Charles Holmes, who was said to have been known to Amelia.
I’m sure this still leave many unanswered questions, but equally, it clarifies some of the mysteries. If you know anything more about the family, do let me know.
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
The portrait on the left is that of Mrs Sophia Musters, painted by George Romney and the one to the right is Mary, Countess Howe, by Thomas Gainsborough.
Both painting are located at Kenwood House and initially I didn’t realise there was any other connection, apart from that they were simply two stunning portraits of 18th century women. It was when I began to explore the life of Sophia, that her connection to Mary came into view.
Sophia Catherine nee Heywood was one of the daughters of the affluent James Modyford Heywood and his wife Catherine, nee Hartopp. The couple lived at Maristow House in the parish of Bickleigh, set in landscaped parkland, on the River Tavy to the north of Plymouth. In addition to this, James also had a plantation named Heywood, in the parish of St Mary, Jamaica.
James and Catherine had 4 daughters:
Frances, who married Thomas Orby Hunter on 26 Sept 1796 at the parish church of Tamerton Foliot, Devon.
Maria Henrietta, who married a Lewis Montolieu on 4 March 1786 at St George’s, Hanover Square in the presence of her father, her sister, Frances and John Musters.
Emma who married the controversial Admiral Sir Albemarle Bertie on 15 July 1782 also at Tamerton Foliot.
Finally, the woman in question, Sophia, who married Sir John Musters on 23 July 1776, again, their marriage took place at the parish church of Tamerton Foliot in Devon.
John Musters was a Nottinghamshire politician, land owner and the High Sherriff of Nottingham and just prior to the couple’s marriage John had the old Colwick Hall demolished and a new one built in its place ready for his new bride.
Once settled into their new home, Colwick Hall, they wasted no time starting a family, with Sophia giving birth to their first child, a son, John, born on 6 May 1777, followed by two daughters, sadly though, only one of whom survived into adulthood, Sophia Ann, who baptised on 21 Jun 1778. Their second daughter, Frances Catherine was baptised on 31 Jul 1779 but she sadly died shortly after.
Not long after this, all was not well in paradise, although to the outside world it certainly appeared to be. Sophia soon learnt that John preferred to spend his time with his horses and country pursuits rather than with his beautiful wife and young family.
The diarist, Fanny Burney described Sophia as ‘most beautiful, but most unhappy’. Sophia, it transpired, was much livelier and fun loving than her seemingly dull and disinterested husband.
Men were captivated by Sophia and being bored with her husband she soon found herself attracted to other men and was reputed to have had affairs with the likes of Peniston Lamb and George Pitt.
It’s curious however, that when Lamb died in 1805 that he left his bay horse to his ‘good friend, John Musters’ along with a further bequest to Sophia. It can only be assumed that Peniston and John Musters found a way to move on from Sophia’s affair and the two men remained friends. John was said to have been furious when he discovered his wife’s infidelity and had her removed from their joint portrait and this has only recently been discovered and restored to the image above that you now see.
Sophia died in 1819 at the age of 61, the couple having patched up their differences and settled down to some sort of marital harmony. In her memory John had this tomb sculpture of a woman weeping.
In 1796, Sophia’s father James Modyford died, and it was whilst checking his will, that Mary, Countess Howe (nee Hartopp) came into view. Mary was James’ sister in law and whilst she wasn’t named in his will, her husband Richard, 4th Viscount Howe was. James also sold his plantation in Jamaica, along with property, cattle and enslaved people to Donald Campbell for £18,000, payable in instalments.
How interesting that the two portraits now share the same location, Kenwood House, but to finish, here we have Mrs Sophia Musters as Hebe, again at Kenwood House.
It has largely been accepted that the story of Lady Godiva riding through the streets of Coventry was a myth. The legend dates back to around the 13th century when she was reputed to have ridden around Coventry naked, with just her long blonde hair covering her modesty. Her reason for doing this was said to have been in protest against her husband Leofric who was planning to impose higher taxes on his tenants.
The name ‘Peeping Tom’ was said to originate from someone who, rather than politely looking away when she rode through the town, watched her and was said to have been struck blind, other legends say he was struck dead. Either way, both Lady Godiva and Peeping Tom entered folklore, with her parade being re-enacted every 3 years initially. This eventually became incorporated into the Coventry’s annual fair.
Today we’ll take a glimpse into how this story continued to be remembered and re-enacted into the Georgian Era. In 1713, according to ‘British curiosities in nature and art’ which described notable objects and buildings in Coventry it made specific reference to both Lady Godiva and although not named, Peeping Tom:
The figure of a man, who was very miraculously punished for his brutal curiosity, in looking out at a window, when the Lady Godiva (wife of Leofric, the first Lord of this place) road naked thro’ the streets, to purchase a mitigation of taxes, and other privileges for the city.
From the beginning of June 1788, the city of Coventry held a week long fair, known as the Trinity Fair, also known as a Shew or Show Fair, and it was at this that it was agreed that the pagan tradition of Lady Godiva parading through the streets on horseback was reinstated after many years.
On Friday in consequence of the revival of that ancient and singular ceremony, which has for some years discontinued, the procession of Lady Godiva through the streets of Coventry. A great concourse of people were assembled at the fair in that place, from all parts of the country, than has ever been known upon a former similar occasion and the fight with which the spectators were gratified fully answered their expectations, great preparations having been made to render it is most showy and splendid. After divine service had been performed at Trinity Church, the procession began, and her ladyship, attired only in white linen, closely fitted to her body, and decorated with bows of red ribbon, paraded on horseback, through the principal streets of the city. The Mayor, Sheriffs, Aldermen, Council and Companies of the city, attended by their proper officers, and music, were in the procession. The banners of each were newly painted and the streamers and flags finely ornamented with a variety of curious emblematic devices, added greatly to the beauty of the scene. Peeping Tom, a principal personage in the show, was entirely new clothed, and appeared with becoming dignity.
Clearly the weather was good for the 1789 event as ‘Lady Godiva, not only made a most majestic appearance, but conducted herself throughout the whole in a manner becoming her exalted station’.
In 1818, according to the Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser:
The ancient city pageant at Coventry, which has been suspended for some years, is about to be revived with additional splendour; for which cavalcade the several trading companies are preparing. Lady Godiva is once more to pass mounted on her milk white palfry, and Peeping Tom again to appear in all his glory.
In 1827, Lady Godiva did not make an appearance at the annual show, which was much to the disappointment of visitors, according to this piece:
Our annual Great Fair commenced this morning and will continue for eight days. The occasion has brought a considerable influx of strangers to the city, but in consequence of the lowering aspect of the morning, together with the omission this year of the Procession of Lady Godiva, many of our annual gay country visitors will probably defer their visit to a future occasion. An unusual number of exhibitions have arrived, which, if the weather permits, we doubt not will in great measure make up for the absence of the pageant of our good Lady.
Finally, in this period, the Oxford Journal, 30 May 1829, tells us that citizens of Coventry were expecting a splendid fair this year with the procession of Lady Godiva being revived and here was a portrait of the young woman portraying Lady Godiva in that year. She takes centre stage on her horse, fully clothed and a brunette, rather than the traditional image of a fair haired Lady Godiva. She is being handed a bouquet of flowers.
On the right of the image, although a little blurred, you can see the coat of arms for Coventry on the banner.
I did come across a couple of amusing anecdotes which referenced Lady Godiva to share with you:
The first comes to us courtesy of the Cambridge Intelligencer, 20 April 1800:
Masked Ball – At one of the great Parisian grand masked balls, a mask appeared whose whole outward dress was composed of macaroons; the lovers of sweets pursued him from every quarter of the room, and in a short period his clothing was so completely devoured that he was nearly in the state of Lady Godiva at Coventry Fair.
From the Morning Post 14 September 1801, it appears that the term Peeping Tom had by then acquired an unwelcome meaning, one which is still used even to this day:
The indiscriminate mixing of the bathers at Ramsgate is much complained of by some of the visitors, as there are many ‘Peeping Toms’, and some, who, it is supposed, wish to be Lady Godivas.
The first details about Peeping Tom were said to have been recorded in the city of Coventry accounts of 1773, however, I have come across a description of him dating back to 1762 in a book, ‘England and Wales described in a series of letters’, by William Toldervy in which he tells readers that
In one street, against the wall of a house, is the figure of a man, in a blue doublet, with a black cap on his head. This figure call Peeping Tom, being the representation of a Taylor, who (as the vulgar believe) having more curiosity than the rest, popped out his head as the lady rode along, but on the instant, was struck blind.
Mary Anne Deane was born about 1718 and was believed to be the daughter of John Deane, Governor of India, who died about 1752. Sadly, it’s proving difficult to find anything about this lady’s early life.
She came to my attention when I was asked for help in finding out more about her for the television programme, A House Through Time, but, as their plans changed I decided that for now it was worth including the little we do know about her, here on All Things Georgian.
Mary Anne was a deeply religious woman and friend of John Wesley, the evangelist and lived at The Manor House, Whitkirk, near Leeds, until her death on 4 February 1807, when she was buried at the parish church, aged 88 years, according to the parish register. The burial register entry also stated:
Her life was pious, her death triumphant
William Dawson described as ‘an eloquent preacher’ gave the sermon at Mary Anne’s funeral which took place the week following her demise. The York Herald 14 February 1807 also paid tribute to her, describing her as, ‘a lady universally respected’.
Mary Anne had moved to Whitkirk about 1768, but it’s not clear whether that it was then that she moved into The Manor House.
Apart from being well known to the Selina Hastings, the Countess of Huntington, the religious leader who played a prominent part in the religious revival of the 18th century and the Methodist movement in England and Wales, Mary Anne was also reputed to be related to the Frances, Viscountess Irwin, but so far it hasn’t been possible to establish whether the connection was to the Countess or her husband.
Viscountess Frances Irwin (Irving) was the illegitimate daughter of Shepheard, but was also known as Gibson, her mother’s name. Her father Samuel Shepheard’s will of 1748, made that clear ‘my daughter Frances Gibson, commonly called Frances Shepheard’.
In her will, May Anne stipulated that she should be buried at Whitkirk parish church, with a gravestone just showing her name and age. She made provision for a Louisa Deane, daughter of her late uncle Lewis Deane, the interest on £1,000 stock, so long as Louisa paid £10 per annum to her brother John. This was all to be left in trust granted to Viscountess Irwin.
She also made reference to bank annuities from 1747, but provided no explanation as to exactly what consisted of. She left £1,000 to a Mary Greenwood, wife of John Greenwood, of Whitkirk, but again, sadly no explanation as to who this was, or whether John and Mary were connected to her, and also to a Christopher Wainwright she left, 10 guineas.
She also made provision for her employees – household linen and wearing apparel to her chambermaid, Deborah and money to Catherine Houseman, her cook. Not only her wages, to Catherine, but also her ‘Mr Wesley’s unbound magazines‘, which she clearly felt Catherine would really appreciate.
She also mentioned Miss Gordon and Miss Alice Scott, to whom she bequeathed a miniature of Lady Irwin. Her will was proven 5 May 1807.
There was an account in the Wesleyan Methodist Magazine of 1840 about a Mrs Bywater, who had died in 1837. Mrs Bywater being nee Houseman (Catherine) which made reference to Mary Anne and provided a small glimpse into her later life:
In the year 1797, following, as she believed, the leadings of divine providence, she engaged in the service of that venerable saint, the late Mrs Deane of Whitkirk. Her fellow servant was also a deeply pious young woman, and they both enjoyed peculiar privileges while dwelling under that favoured roof. Mrs Dean was so infirm that, though the church was not far distant, it was very difficult to get her there; and, as her hearing was far from good, she could not hear much of the service; and though she could join in the prayers, yet the sermon was lost to her. The servants were induced to propose to her to have preaching on Sunday evenings in the front kitchen; and to this she readily consented, attending as long as she was able, and fining the service very profitable.
In The Sword and The Trowel: A Record of Combat with Sin and of Labour for the Lord, edited by C.H Spurgeon, written in 1873, Spurgeon was writing about the Yorkshire farmer and preacher, William Dawson, who had given the sermon at Mary Anne’s funeral. It was said that Mary Anne was very attached to Dawson and was in the habit of designating him, ‘My Willy’.
The late Mrs Deane who resided at that time at Whitkirk near Leeds, was considered as ranking among the higher circles. She had occasionally heard Mr Ingram and Mr Edwards, who had withdrawn himself from Mr Wesley, and had built himself a place of worship, known by the name of ‘White Chapel’, at Leeds, where he continued to dispense the Word of Life for more than thirty years.
Mr Edwards mentioned Mrs Dean to Lady Huntingdon, who observing the mark of a penitent in her, invited her to her house, and there she became acquainted with those bright stars that shone in England, and now shine in heaven. Messrs Whitefield, the Wesley’s, Venn, Ingram, Romain and other clergymen who found a welcome in that honourable house. She had frequent opportunities of conversing with Lady Huntingdon and enjoying those spiritual pleasures which would naturally result from communication with one so well qualified as that excellent lady, to direct and comfort the Christian in his road to glory.
Mrs Dean was a woman of rank, of superior education and accomplishments, ad her letters and meditations afford strong proofs that if there be any happiness separate from union and communication with God by faith in Jesus Christ.
Mrs Deane was nearly allied to the noble family of Charles, Viscount Irvine, of Temple Newson. His Lordship, who had succeeded to the title in 1763, had married Miss Shepheard, a lady possessed of a very great fortune. Mrs Deane’s attachment to and affection for Lady Irvine and every member of that honourable family were remarkable, and always appeared so vigorous that they were constantly breaking forth in the most aren’t prayers for their eternal welfare. She soon brought her Ladyship acquainted with Lady Huntingdon, and never failed to invite Lord and Lady Irvine to her house whenever the Countess was at Leeds, or at Ledstone Hall.
The account goes on to say that Lady Irvine outlived her ‘old friend and relative’ and that Mary Anne died at the age of 88 years and nine months. Hopefully in due course more information can be found about Mary Anne’s earlier life.
On 12 July 1704, at Christ Church, Newgate Street, London, Francis Edwards married Anna Margaretta Vernatti and almost nine months to the day their daughter, Mary was born. On 25 May 1705, Francis and Anna presented their daughter, Mary to be baptised at St Ann’s Soho.
Anna Margaretta was the daughter of Constantine Vernatti of Hackney, who died a year before Anna married.
In Constantine’s will, he stated that if his daughter married with her mother’s consent, that she would receive £10,000, which is over one million pounds in today’s money.
The remainder of Constantine’s vast estate including lands in Dartford, Kent and Hackney was to be left to his wife and so as you can see, the Vernatti family were extremely wealthy landowners, as were Francis Edwards’ family, so this was a union of two very wealthy families.
In 1729 Francis Edwards died, leaving one of his estates in Ireland, directly to his daughter, Mary, thereby making her an extremely wealthy heiress, not to mention all the land he also owned in England in including properties in Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent, Middlesex, Northamptonshire and Welford, Leicestershire and shares in the New River water Company.
Upon her father’s death, Mary arranged for this memorial below, to be erected in his honour at Welham church.
The London Gazette, August 1729 carried the following notice:
The Daily Advertiser, 17 June 1731 announced that Mary was due to marry:
between the right honourable the Lord Anne Hamilton, brother to his Grace the Duke of that name, and Miss Edwards of Pall Mall, a young lady of distinguishing great virtues, and possessed of a plentiful estate, which according to her innate propensity to the poor, enables her to exert herself in the most extensive charities and acts of humanity towards the distressed part of her fellow creatures.
On 8 July 1731, Mary granted property in Leicestershire to Lord Anne, so had they married? This was followed by an article in the Caledonian Mercury, dated 2 August 1731, which reported that:
on Sunday the Lord Anne Hamilton was married to Miss Edwards of Pall Mall, a rich heiress’,
However, it was soon updated on 24 August:
A marriage is actually concluded, and will soon by consummated, between the Right Honourable Lord Anne Hamilton, and Miss Mary Edwards, of Cambden House, Kensington, a very rich heiress.
(Lord Anne Hamilton took his first name from his godmother, Queen Anne. Born 12 October 1709).
So, when and where did they marry? Articles I have read state that there’s no evidence of their marriage having taken place, others that they married at Fleet prison, so a clandestine marriage. If that were the case, why did the newspaper provide coverage of it and what did her mother, who was still alive, make of it? This seems unlikely, she was a wealthy young woman and someone who the press would have taken great interest in.
It wasn’t until 8 November 1731 that more information became visible about their possible marriage, courtesy of the Daily Advertiser:
On Monday last, and not before, the Right Hon. The Lord Anne Hamilton, brother to his Grace the Duke of Hamilton, was married at Kensington Church, to Miss Edwards, the great heiress of Pall Mall, a lady of upwards of £100,000 fortune (about 12 million in today’s money).
If that figure is even vaguely correct, then Mary was exceptionally wealthy when she married her spendthrift husband. The newspapers also tell us that he had something of a penchant for the horses, presumably both owning and gambling on them, so had he married her and if so, was it purely for her money?
Either way, after two years of marriage, they saw the joyous arrival of a son and heir. The Stamford Mercury 15 March 1733 reported that
On Thursday last the Lady of the Lord Anne Hamilton (Brother to his Grace the Duke of Hamilton), was safely delivered of a son, at his house in Pall Mall, to the great joy of that family.
After the birth of their son, it was to be Mary alone, who presented the child for baptism on 28 March 1733, at St Mary Abbots, Kensington, the church where is seems likely Mary and Lord Anne had married.
The child, a boy, was born 4 March 1733 and baptised as Gerard Anne Edwards, son of Mary Edwards, Singlewoman.
By having giving her status as single, it raises several questions – were she and Lord Anne legally married? If they were, then wouldn’t it be highly likely that the same vicar who presided over their marriage would have also officiated at the baptism of their son and would surely have questions Mary’s actions? Did this act imply that, if they had been married, then by this time Mary no longer regarded herself as such? Or was the son really Lord Anne’s child? The latter seems unlikely, given that she named with child with Anne’s name. This baptism raises more questions than it answers, unfortunately.
It was only a few weeks after the birth of their son, that Lord Anne resigned from his post from the First Regiment of Foot, presumably to spend more of his time on his passion of horse racing, after all, having married a wealthy heiress, money would not have been in short supply and in 1734 he stood as a candidate for Lanarkshire and became Knight of the Shire of Lanark in early 1735.
According to the ODNB
Mary also used her maiden name on 2 July 1733, when signing a grant at the College of Arms, extending the use of her coat and crest to Lord Anne, who briefly assumed Edwards as his middle name.
The couple continued to live together for a while and this conversation piece above depicts the couple together, although from the painting it appears quite obvious that there is little love lost between them by this stage and young Gerard is playing alone on the left of the painting, on the terrace of Mary’s house in Kensington.
Shortly after this, the couple went their separate ways, with Mary clearly having had enough of her husbands spending and stating that he had taken some of her money without her consent, to value of a little under £2,000. Mary continued to live alone until her death in 1744.
Two years prior to her death, Mary wrote her fourteen page will, on 13 April 1742, written in the name of Mary Edwards, complete with full details of her estate and that it should be left to Gerard, in trust until he reached 21 and that her executors be appointed his guardians until then, given that he was only eleven when she died. She stressed the importance of him continuing with his education which was being provided at that time by Rev Cox, in Kensington. She made a somewhat unusual stipulation that her son should not be sent away to public school or university, nor should he be permitted to travel abroad. Mary arranged for him to continue with his education with Rev Cox in Kensington, she was very clear about how important his education was to her.
She also set aside money to ensure that the monument erected for her father at Welham be maintained and repaired as and when necessary. She also took the unusual step of confirming in her will, when and where her son had been baptised, and that he to be known as Gerard Anne Edwards, the implication being that no connection to his father should be mentioned. Mary also ensured that her mother, who was still living should be provided for too.
Once Mary and Lord Anne had separated, Lord Anne found love again or maybe just another source of money, as it was reported in the Caledonian Mercury 20 December 1742, that he had married again, at Bath, so only months after Mary had written her will, with absolutely no mention of him in it.
Was he really free to marry or was it a bigamous marriage? His bride being a Miss Anna Charlotta Maria Powell, described as a beautiful young lady, with a fortune of £30,000.
Mary died at Kensington on 23 August 1743, aged thirty-eight and was buried at the same church as her father, Welham, Leicestershire.
Lord Anne was reported to have died on 1 January 1749 in either Bath after a long illness, or in Paris, it’s unclear as to which was correct. Whichever it was his burial did not take place until 7 July 1749 at St James, Piccadilly.
When Mary’s mother, Anna Margaretta sat down to write her will in 1762, her daughter, Mary had been dead for several years as Anna made specific mention to in her will. With no-one else to inherit her not unsubstantial will, she left everything to her grandson when she died in 1765, Gerard Anne Edwards.
She referred to her late daughter, Mary Edwards, indicating that either her daughter never married or was no longer married to Lord Anne Hamilton and had resumed the use of her maiden name. Anna owned property and land in Clapton, Somerstown and Barking. Anna was buried on 19 March 1765 in St. John-at-Hackney Churchyard.
Today, we pick up where we left off last week with the story of Con’s life.
It was about 1737 that she became involved with a gentleman she simply referred in her ‘Apology’ as Mr Worthy, his identity eventually his name came into the public domain – he was Henry Nedham. She provided at least two clues in her Apology, which helped to identify him, firstly, she referred to him being the son of a wealthy plantation owner in Jamaica and the second clue, which confirmed it was that his cousin was named Hampson (Volume 3. Page 124).
With these two clues it became possible to trace the Nedham or Needham (there seems no explanation as to the slight surname change though), family tree back and with it the connection, between not only Henry and his cousin Hampson, but also to them both being related to Henrietta Crofts, daughter of Eleanor Nedham. So, was Con telling the truth about Henrietta being her godmother? It certainly seems much more feasible than originally thought, and that the handsome, Oxford educated, Henry appeared in her orbit via her godmother, by then the dowager, Duchess of Bolton, Henrietta (the 2nd Duke having died in 1722).
It was around 1739 that Henry had to return to Jamaica to sort out an issue on the plantation pertaining to his father, and Con was determined to follow him out there. After two failed attempts to get to Jamaica and then Boston where he had gone to, she gave up on the relationship and in 1740 returned to England.
This, she admitted, was an error, as she fell ill with a fever and by then was again in debt with creditors chasing her. On her return she stayed with a friend, an unnamed surgeon, but the following morning the bailiff appeared at the door for her, but somehow she managed to avoid him by climbing out of the kitchen window and making her escape, but the bailiff was wise to her plan and set up a watch outside the rear of the premises, but Con escaped by using a ladder to climb into next door’s garden, that being the home of the Duchess of Marlborough.
Con eventually gave herself up and paid off her debts. But life was not improving for her, as she met up with an old friend, Colonel Vassall, a merchant who she knew from Boston. He was ill and broke, so Con made him a loan to help him out, but he died before being able to pay her back.
She was now penniless and sometime between 1742 and 1744 she was arrested for debt. She made been living well beyond her means and also had debts mounting for the legal action against Muilman. With that she fled to France for several months. Eventually on her return to England she wrote her ‘Apology’, which was going to act as a tool for blackmail, a ‘name and shame if you don’t pay me’, type document. Quite who, if anyone actually paid up we will never know, but presumably very few and it was late 1750 that according to Read’s Weekly Journal, News from Jamaica
Mrs Con Phillips was arrived there from England
So Con had returned once again to Jamaica, perhaps hoping for a better life there.
The Ipswich Journal 13 April 1751, tells us a little about of Con’s fiery personality when she was obliged to appear before a magistrate to give security and keep the peace.
A complaint had been made by an unnamed gentleman, that Con arrived at his home and without saying a word, rushed up to his bedchamber where this poor man was lying in bed, unable to move as he was suffering from gout. When she realised that he was ill her demeanour changed and she calmed down toward him, however in a fit of jealous upon seeing his black handmaid in the room, Con took her by the ear and began to slap her. The maid retaliated but was cuffed again five or six times by Con at which time she became delirious.
Con was fined one hundred pounds for this seemingly unprovoked attack on the maid and fifty pounds surety.
The same day, Con place a notice in the newspaper that she was going to have to delay the opening of her Boarding School for the Education of Young Ladies, for which purpose she had taken a large house and white women to wait on the ladies. Presumably as she had to sort out the court action.
According to an anonymous article in the Gentleman’s Magazine(1766), she:
made three further, bigamous marriages, to ‘Mr M.’, an Irish land surveyor, then to ‘Mr S. C.’, a Scotsman and commissary for French prisoners of war in Jamaica, and finally to a Frenchman named Lanteniac.
Further research does confirm that there were in fact a further three husbands, but, as Con hadn’t obtained a divorce from husband number one, they would all be classed as bigamous.
Her first of these, i.e. husband number three, was a wealthy, Irish land surveyor, Hugh Montgomery. This marriage was reputed to have taken place towards the end of 1752, as, on 4 Jan 1753, the London Evening Post said:
‘Tis said a Letter from Spanish Town in Jamaica gives an Account, that the noted Con Phillips is married there, and keeps the most considerable Publick House in that Town. Spanish Town St Catherine’s parish.
Sadly, checking the parish registers for 1752 and 1753 there seems to be no surviving record of exactly when it took place. However, Con wrote a letter in 1755 from Jamaica, to Mr Rose Fuller, MP who had recently left Jamaica, in which she titled herself Constance Montgomery and saying:
from an abandoned woman whose understanding deserved far more of a reasonable creature than ever her beauty did;… you and only you I have to curse for the cruel exile I suffer in this damned country, for which I will thank you in the 4 volume of my life which I have almost completed; adieu.
Quite what her fit of pique toward Fuller was all about we will never know and whether he responded to her letter is equally a mystery. The author Nick Hibbert Steele mentioned Con in his book about Hibbert House, Kingston saying that :
it was built in 1755 by Thomas Hibbert, as a result of a bet with 3 other merchants in Kingston, to see who could build the finest house. The prize was the hand in marriage of Teresia Constantia Phillips a notorious courtesan. Thomas Hibbert won the bet but declined to marry Con. Phillips recognising her as a gold-digger.
This seems a curious story if Con was already married to Montgomery by then, but perhaps all was not what it appeared to be in paradise.
In their early years together everything went well, but it was becoming clear that Hugh was unwell, his physicians were very concerned at his rapid weight loss and put it down to Cons carryings-on.
He eventually became so weak that he decided that he should write his will, which he duly did. As Hugh and his physicians felt that a trip to the country might be of benefit, fresher air and a chance to relax and recuperate, but, as Con was busy with her appointment as Mistress of Revels for the island and was too busy to accompany him, he would go alone. Con was appointed to this post by the Governor of Jamaica, Henry Moore (1713-1769).
It was only when it was time for him to leave that Con became emotional, fearing this would be the last time she saw him alive. She immediately asked him whether he had made a will and whether he had left her provided for. ‘Yes of course’, he replied – this was not quite the truth.
He had made a will, which unknown to him, Con had read and it was hidden in her her pocket, so she knew at this point that despite his words, she was not provided for. So before allowing him to leave she had him dragged back into the house, where he was made to re-write it, dictated by her and witnessed by three people, who she had on standby. No way was he leaving her without her ensuring that she was provided for.
Everything was left to her, his ‘his death and beloved wife’. The will was made on 14 January 1760. After sorting this, he was free to leave and Con watched him set off and sure enough she didn’t see him again. Hugh’s body was returned to Kingston and buried on 8 May 1760.
In 1760, Con, penned from her home in Jamaica, what appears to be her last piece of correspondence that has survived, perhaps reflecting on the imminent closure of her own life, to someone whom she regarded as a friend, The Right Honourable, the Earl of Chesterfield. This letter appears to be her reflecting on her life and how it turned out and was in the form of advice for young women on how not to live if they wished to be happy.
For my part, my life has been one continued scene of error, mistake, and unhappiness. I was by my ill fate, left mistress of myself, before the time I ought to have forsaken the nursery.
Within the letter she talked about her life and loves, her time in Jamaica and about her niece who was aged fifteen at the time and how she was teaching her how to live a better life than she had. Whilst it isn’t clear from the letter, Con appears to know her niece well, so it can only be assumed that she was living along with her mother, in Jamaica. The reason for writing to him was, that according to Con he had written a booklet entitled ‘The Whole Duty of a Man’.
However, Con was not in danger of imminent death, instead she was to walk up the aisle yet again, when she married yet again, husband number four. This marriage was to a young Scotsman, Samuel Callendar, Commissary for the French prisoners of war brought to the island. Quite where on the island they married is unknown, but it certainly wasn’t recorded in the records for Kingston.
He was said to have been from a good family, well respected and held a prominent position in the social life of Jamaica – until he married Con, that was.
Shortly after they married, he seemed to vanish from the social circle and was reputed to have only left his home three times during the two years of their marriage.
Before the end of their second year together, he too was dead. Although there’s no sign of their marriage, we know that it was short lived as Callendar was buried on 2 Jan 1762, again at Kingston.
Just 3 months later, on 24 April 1762, Kingston, Con married for what would be her fifth and final husband, as the widow Teresia Constantia Callendar.
Her final husband was Monsieur Adhamar de Lantagnac who had only recently arrived on the island as part of a batch of French prisoners over whom Con’s late husband had control over. This final husband was said to have grown up amongst the Canadian Indians whose customs he had adopted such as tattoos on his body, arms and legs. His appearance, if nothing else, caused him to be a great hit amongst Cons social circle.
The problem with this husband being that he enjoyed spending money, or to be more precise, Con’s money that she had accumulated from both previous husbands. Callendar had died without leaving a will, but Con took it upon herself as his wife, to take control of his assets including a cargo worth about £2,000 (about a quarter of a million in today’s money), which she had landed and promptly sold, netting Con a decent amount of money to live on for the rest of her life, or so she thought, but her new husband saw to it that this would not be the case. He ran through her money very rapidly on clothes, food and drink and with that Con told him to pack his bags and leave before she was completely destitute.
As was so often the case, money was in short supply again for her, her friends rallied round and help her out, but when this occurred for a second time friends were suddenly found to be in short supply.
As the curtain went down on her final show at the Kingston Theatre, Con saw her own life now coming to an end, with no husband for comfort and precious little money, she wondered how it had all gone so wrong.
As she lay on her death bed, she was terrified that her corpse might be arrested to pay off her debts on its way to the grave, as was the custom at that time.
Her wish was to die on a Saturday night so that being buried on a Sunday her body would be safe in the ground. She got her wish and was buried in Kingston graveyard on Sunday 20 January 1765, as Teresia Constantia, wife of Adhamar Delantagniac, with not even the apothecary to mourn her passing. In life, known as the Mistress of Revels and the Pride of England, her body went unnoticed to its nameless grave.
There was no-one present at her burial, not even her niece who lived on the island. For someone who knew everyone in Jamaica, and everyone knew her, she died very much alone, but the name Teresia Constantia would live on, as I noted several children baptised with those names in the Jamaican baptism registers.
The Real Duty of a Woman, in the Education of a Daughter: A Letter Humbly addressed to the Right Honourable, The Earl of Chesterfield. 1760
The Gentleman’s and London Magazine. Volume XXXI. 1766
Morris. John. The Troubles of Our Catholic Forefathers Related by Themselves, Volume 1
Stone. Lawrence. Uncertain unions : marriage in England, 1660-1753
Teresia Constantia Phillips, courtesan, bigamist and author of her autobiography, first appeared on the radar whilst researching the duchesses of Bolton, for our latest book, The History of the Dukes of Bolton published by Pen and Sword Books.
Teresia, better known as Con, claimed that the Duchess of Bolton was her godmother, in her ‘Apology for the Conduct of Mrs T C Phillips’, written in three parts, the first of which was published in 1748, from her home at Craig’s court, Charing Cross, near Whitehall.
This appeared to be quite a claim with little to substantiate it. Of course, it became necessary to know more about Con and to establish how much of her story was true, especially the connection with the Duchess of Bolton.
Certain sources claim that the reference was to the 4th Duke of Bolton’s wife, Catherine Parry, this could not be feasible – the dates simply didn’t work, Catherine didn’t become the Duchess until 1754, long after Con published her Apology, so it had to be have been Henrietta, the 2nd Duchess of Bolton, wife of Charles Powlett.
In order to establish whether the snippet of information Con provided about the Duchess of Bolton had any truth to it, it’s necessary to take a brief look at Henrietta, Duchess of Bolton’s ancestry, which will make sense later in the story.
Born Henrietta Crofts, she was the illegitimate daughter of Eleanor Needham or Nedham (the spelling seems to vary becoming Nedham when part of the family moved to Jamaica) and James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth (1649-1685). Henrietta was given the surname Crofts as it was the name adopted by her father when he was in the care of the Crofts baronets.
Her maternal grandfather being Sir Robert Needham of Lambeth, one of the sons of Thomas Needham of Pool Park, Denbighshire and his wife Eleanor Bagenal and her aunt was Jane Myddleton nee Needham, one of the Petworth Beauties’.
Sir Robert married twice, Eleanor being his daughter by his first wife, Jane Cockayne. She had several siblings, but after the death of Jane, Sir Robert married a second time, his new wife being a Mary Hartopp, with whom he had at least a further two sons, Robert and George.
Of these two sons Colonel George, is the significant one in this story. Colonel George Nedham left England for the Caribbean in 1680 and married Mary Byam, the daughter of William Byam, Governor of Antigua and his wife Dorothy Knollys, from an extremely distinguished family.
George and Mary had several children, but it’s the eldest child, Robert (1672-1738) that we’re interested in right now.
Robert married Elizabeth Shirley and again had several children, but the one who is important in this story is Henry. Remember that name as it will crop up in Con’s story, but in the meantime, here is the family tree to help.
So, let’s return to the beginning of Teresia Constantia’s complicated life; a life which she recounted in her ‘Apology’ which we know ran to three volumes, although she claimed there was a fourth, which, if it existed, hasn’t been discovered.
According to her ‘Apology’ she was born January 2, 1708/9 at somewhere she referred to as West Chester, now this could have meant west of the city of Chester, or somewhere completely different, whichever it was there is no sign of her baptism, assuming she was ever baptised.
Con claimed that she was the daughter of Thomas Phillips, the younger brother of the Phillips of Picton Castle in Wales. Her paternal grandfather, she claimed, married an heiress of the Powlett family, if that were the case, evidence is sadly lacking.
Her maternal grandfather was said to have been the younger brother of Sir Henry Goodrick of Yorkshire and her maternal grandmother was of the Deans of Wiltshire. Her parents married 1707/8 when her father was Captain of Grenadiers in Lord Slane’s regiment, afterwards Lord Longford. Colonel Thomas Phillips possibly married Frances, niece of Sir Henry Goodricke, but that too remains speculation, so all very well connected.
It was around 1717 that her father, Thomas left the army and was in poor circumstances so took his wife and children to London.The family at this point was split up, with the eldest son being sent to Barbados and Con’s godmother, the one she claimed was the Duchess of Bolton arranging for Con to attend Mrs Filler’s (Filer’s) prestigious boarding school in Prince’s Court Westminster. There she learnt the skills which she would later rely on as one of the most well-known courtesans of the day.
This arrangement didn’t last very long as about 1720 her mother died, and Con was promptly withdrawn from the school. According to Con, her father quickly remarried, his choice of bride being the family’s servant, someone that Con didn’t get along with very well.
It was when she was just thirteen, according to her Apology, that she was seduced and raped by someone she only ever referred to as Thomas Grimes, possibly because she never knew his name, although it has often been thought this to be Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield, but this has now been revised and it is now believed to have been Thomas Lumley-Saunderson, 3rd Earl of Scarborough.
Irrespective of which one of them it was, Con found herself in desperate straits and by 1721 aged under thirteen, she was in need of money as she was facing arrest for debt.
Desperate to rid herself of her debts and thus avoid prison, Con paid ten guineas to a Mr William Morrell of Durham Yard to procure a potential husband for her. The idea of this being, that the man would marry her and that way her debts became his, allowing her to avoid debtors prison. At that time the legal age for marriage was 14 for the groom, but just 12 for the bride, this remained to situation until the Marriage Act 1753, which in part came about as a result of Con’s marriages.
With that thought in mind, a willing participant was found, to become husband number one, in the shape of a Francis Devall. Apparently, William Morrell got him drunk, presumably so that he couldn’t identify her later, and once somewhat inebriated, the sham marriage took place at Saint Benet Paul’s Wharf, to a Francis Delafield, a man she had never seen before and with whom she had never exchanged a word. Clandestine marriages were often performed by needy chaplains without banns or a licence and on the day that Con married Francis Devall, a further three marriages took place which must have kept the chaplain busy.
After the ceremony Con suddenly became a respectable married woman, Mrs Devall and with it, came the freedom from debt, at which point, she rapidly packed her bags and left for Rouen, France, where she remained for a few months before returning to England. She offered no explanation for this sudden sojourn, but presumably it was somewhere to lay low until the dust settled with her debts all cleared, and to allow enough time so that Devall couldn’t identify her.
What of course Con perhaps didn’t know at that time, was that her new husband was already married and his wife, still very much alive. He had married Magdalen Youn of St Andrews, Holborn on 17 September 1718, using the name Francis Delafield, so as to which was his real name we will never know.
Very soon after this escapade Con found herself being courted by a wealthy Dutch merchant named Henry Muilman (c1700-1772), who quickly succumbed to her charms and whilst her expectations being that she would be his mistress, he wanted to make her his wife, so it appears that without divorcing her first husband, she married husband number two, Henry on 9 February, 1723.
But this marriage was a big mistake as they did not get along with each other and his family utterly disapproved of her. According to Con he was violent and abusive toward her and that having married her he was able to use her as he pleased – she was after all his wife, and behaviour like that was often regarded as acceptable at the time.
From her Apology, Volume 1, Con wrote of Henry
What! (he would say) not sleep with you? Are not you my wife! my dearest wife? Have I not made you so, at the price of my ruin? Yes, I will have you, and not all the powers in Heaven or in Earth shall keep you from me; and would sit sometimes on a chair whole nights by her bedside: at others, he would come to her, and half a dozen of these strange fellows with him, and beat, and abuse her in the most barbarous manner; and, if he found her in bed, strip the cloaths from off her, and expose her, to them, naked, as she lay; or drag her, by the hair of her head, out of bed.
Eventually, in order to escape from this marriage and to rid himself of her, according to the Daily Post, 3 March 1725, Henry obtained a ‘nullity of marriage with the daughter of Captain Thomas Phillips, on account of her prior marriage with an attorney’s clerk’. This annulment however, cost him a generous annuity of £200, but Muilman refused to pay up and a lengthy dispute between them began.
In 1728 Henry married for a second time, his new wife and mother to his two children being Ann Darnell, the daughter of Sir John Darnell, Sergeant at Law and Judge of the Palace Court.
Con had relationships with numerous men including the mysterious Mr B., whom she said she had known from childhood, but his identify still appears to be well hidden. Although never named, she said he was the son of a General, who would ultimately inherit a substantial fortune. The pair travelled around Europe, proclaiming to be married, living the high life and spending money like water. However, in 1728 they had a major argument and Con took herself off to a convent in Ghent where she remained for around 18 months, the couple eventually agreeing to go their separate ways.
When this relationship ended, she became moved on to have a relationship with to Sir Herbert Pakington, a wealthy baronet, who was married to Elizabeth Conyers at the time. This was to be yet another relationship which ended badly as he proved to be a jealous lover and became so jealous that he attempted to take his own life on at least two occasions, once by use of his sword at the dinner-table. On the second occasion, enough was enough for Con and she ended that relationship and disappeared to her convent in France.
However, Pakington didn’t give up easily and regularly wrote to her pleading for her to return, despite the newspapers apparently having accused her of attempted murder. The London Evening Post, 25 February 1731, however, noted that he was ‘in a fair way of recovery’. So clearly there not too much harm done.
Pakington travelled over to France to meet her but appeared to be jealous of anyone she spoke to and attempted to take his life again. That was the final straw and Con left him once back in England and placed herself under the care of Lord Falkland at his home in Hertfordshire.
However, on 16 Apr 1734, Lucius Charles Cary, 7th Viscount Falkland married the widow Jane Butler and made Con a payment for agreeing to release him from their arrangement, thereby making him free to marry some more suitable, an heiress.
Quite what became of Con for the next few years appears somewhat vague. During the time she spent with B she accumulated quite a bit of money, plus the money from Lord Falkland, so began spending it on litigation over her marriage to Muilman.
Whilst these relationships had be going on, she involved herself with someone simply named as ‘Tartuffe’ the French word for imposter or hypocrite. It has been widely acknowledged now that it was Philip Southcote, son of Sir Edward Southcote. With Tartuffe she had a child, which lived until it was aged just eleven, so until the early 1740’s, and which Tartuffe failed to support. She did not confirm the gender of this child, so it seems we will never know more about it apart from that Tartuffe only saw the child on less than a dozen occasions. There was a curious entry on 15 Jul 1740 in the General Evening Post:
By Letters from Jamaica we hear that the celebrated Con Phillips died there in April last, after a short illness
Given that we know Con hadn’t died, could this have misinterpreted and that it was her child who died, speculation of course.
The only other piece of information we know about Tartuffe being that he was married at the time. It was clearly a volatile relationship as Con spent most of the second volume of her ‘Apology’ telling readers how dreadfully he had behaved toward her.
Part 2 can be found by clicking the highlighted link here.
In the eighteenth-century women were largely viewed as subservient, a commodity, a man’s possession, much like their house or dog; an object for men to do with as they saw fit, including – in extreme cases – beating or raping if they wished. A warning – part of this post doesn’t make for easy reading.
In upper-class households, it was not uncommon for the man to take a mistress if he chose and his expectation of his wife was to produce children, to ‘look the part’, to be talented in the arts and to oversee household management. For working-class women, life would be incredibly tough as they helped to support the family financially, bore and raised numerous children and tried to keep the family from the workhouse door.
So how did our ‘Georgian Heroine’ fit into either scenario? Well, she simply didn’t. Mrs Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs, known as Charlotte, fell between two worlds, neither upper nor working class, and almost obsessively private.
Charlotte first crossed our path whilst researching Peterborough House, Fulham and Grace Dalrymple Elliott. We came across a story by the author and poet, Marius Kociejowski who had researched part of Charlotte’s life and were hooked; we had to find out what became of this teenager. We began to retrace Kociejowski’s work and piece together her life from a document she had written (Kociejowski refers to it as Charlotte’s Testament, the original of which he still owns; he has also kindly written an introduction to our book).
As a teenager in the 1780’s living in Lambeth, Charlotte lost her first love when he set sail for India, where he found great fame as a military man and who was never to return.
Shortly after he left, she was abducted and raped, held prisoner and even bearing a child to her captor until she found the courage to escape.
My situation was disgraceful – living in a state of constant hostility … Moreover, the ungovernable passions of Mr H___ rendered the house often a scene of nightly disorder, for in these frenzies he would break open the doors, get in at the windows and commit all sorts of outrages, so that I was often obliged to make one the maids sleep in my room.
Although Charlotte’s abduction and rape had parallels with a novel written some thirty years prior to her abduction: Clarissa, by Samuel Richardson. Unlike Clarissa, Charlotte didn’t have a fortune, but her captor undoubtedly wished to possess her, both body and soul.
The difference between the story of Clarissa and that of Charlotte being that Charlotte’s story was fact not fiction and recounted it in her own words, written in her ‘Testament‘ written to the former love of her life in 1821.
Having made her escape, she had the option of her day in court to potentially see her abuser hanged, but eventually she declined. A quote taken directly from her ‘Testament‘
I was in a bad state of health – my mind subject to abstractions of an alarming nature and I protested that giving such evidence in a court of justice would kill me and that moreover, thought I held the person in question in abhorrence. The idea of being the cause of his death by the hand of the executioner was most dreadful to me – still I have ever truly regretted the civil action, it was most repugnant to me and when the Deeds were brought to me to sign more than three years after when I came of age, I told the lawyers that ‘I deemed the whole, a cruel violence on my feelings’ – and bursting into tears I added ‘Gentlemen, I call God and you to witness I was not seduced, that I am an innocent and hapless victim’.
A course of action she may well have regretted, as he abducted her a second time, but again, she managed to escape from the horror she had endured.
After this ordeal, Charlotte travelled to France, becoming trapped and imprisoned during the French Revolution. She showed amazing resilience and subsequently reinvented herself as a peculiar form of female spy, working for the British government while travelling backwards and forwards to France, reporting upon the state of the nation in the years following the revolution, even suggesting plans by which Napoléon Bonaparte might be thwarted. Charlotte spoke fluent French and could pass for a native of the country.
Returning to England, she became an author, a minor playwright and had works published anonymously including, A Residence in France during the Years 1792, 1793, 1794 and 1795, the manuscript of which she cleverly manipulated to suit both her own political views and appeal to the public at large.
Charlotte held strong opinions which she wanted to have voiced. Clearly, she couldn’t speak publicly, so had to find other ways of getting her opinions heard. She used the power of letter writing and we unearthed copious numbers of letters, mainly to politicians and peers of the realm. Charlotte was never afraid of offering her opinion as to what they should do about certain matters and seemingly they respected and took note of her, great men including Nicholas Vansittart, Chancellor of the Exchequer and William Wilberforce who acted as her mouthpiece on at least one occasion in the Houses of Parliament.
Although her identity was known to the men to whom she wrote, a combination of ‘female modesty’ and a fear of not being taken seriously should her sex be revealed induced Charlotte to an obsessive level of public anonymity. In her later years, she almost single-handedly orchestrated King George III’s golden jubilee celebrations – again with her identity protected – and was in contact with George III’s daughters for whom she acted as a courier.
Charlotte’s life took many twists and turns and piecing it together has been no mean feat. We are amazed at how this unfortunate young girl grew into such a determined and articulate woman in a world where this was not the norm for her gender.
There was a Mr Biggs, but it appears to be largely a union of convenience for both he and Charlotte. Unable to track down a marriage, we suspect that Charlotte used the appellation ‘Mrs’ for her own protection within society, giving her a veil of respectability which allowed her to move freely both in England and France without raising suspicion. The final clue as to Charlotte’s marital status appeared in her will, which suggested she was a spinster and not a wife.
Linda Colley, in Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707-1837, referred to Charlotte as ‘a middle-class widow from the Welsh borders’. She was in part correct, but Charlotte was much more than that, she was an enigma who until now has remained off the radar of history, a woman in a man’s world. Had she been male we would certainly have heard more of her before today.
Despite her many misfortunes, she continually reinvented herself, manipulating the world and men around her but never publicly having ownership of her voice or her words during her lifetime. We felt it was time to give her back ownership of that voice.
Old Westminster Bridge from Lambeth by R. Paul. City of Westminster Archives centre
We are delighted to welcome a new guest to our blog, the lovely Kimberley Reeman. Kimberley Jordan Reeman was born in Toronto, graduating from the University of Toronto with a Bachelor of Arts (hons.) in English literature in 1976. She worked in Canadian radio and publishing before marrying the author Douglas Reeman in 1985, and until his death in 2017 was his editor, muse and literary partner, while pursuing her own career as a novelist.
She has always been a spinner of tales, telling stories before she could write, reading voraciously from childhood, and citing Shakespeare, Hardy, Winston Graham and the novels of Douglas Reeman and Alexander Kent as her most profound influences.
From Graham, who became a friend, she learned to write conversation, to eavesdrop as the characters spoke; from the seafaring novels of Reeman and Kent, which she read years before meeting the author, she came to understand the experience of men at war.
In this post Kimberley is going to write about ‘The Secret Woman’, so we’ll hand over to her:
He behaved like a brute… the most hardened creature I have ever met.
(Florence Nightingale to her sister Frances Parthenope Verney, 1855)
They met on a blazing October day at Scutari, now Üsküdar in Istanbul, at the height of the Crimean War: the ‘lady with the lamp’, grave, chaste, demure, and hailed as a pioneer of nursing and a heroine in Victorian England, and the short, slight, irascible, ageing lieutenant-colonel who had been appointed deputy inspector-general of hospitals for the British army in May of 1851, Dr. James Miranda Barry.
The antagonism was mutual. Florence has been described as intense and driven, and accused of racism for her icy attitude toward Mary Seacole, the mixed-race Jamaican ‘doctress’ who had applied to join Nightingale’s nurses and served, when rebuffed, as a sutler privately providing care, nourishment and accommodation to wounded soldiers on the supply road from Balaclava. But this was a clash of titans, neither of whom ever yielded to other authority, civil or military. Barry, so obsessed with hygiene that he would mutter, “Dirty beasts! Dirty beasts! Go and clean yourselves!” when inspecting the troops, was not impressed by Nightingale’s standards at Scutari and lectured her in the presence of her subordinates. Nightingale’s response was glacial, perhaps because she had been publicly castigated, and nobody who had ever been on the receiving end of one of Barry’s tirades ever forgot it; or perhaps it was a visceral reaction to what she saw or sensed, a sexual challenge that offended the devoutly Christian, Nightingale, who had no great affection for her own sex and preferred the company of powerful men.
This uniformed martinet in the scarlet coat with the heavy epaulettes and insignia of rank, and the sword and the spurs and the tightly trousered, booted legs, lecturing her from the saddle, was a woman.
She had been born Margaret Anne Bulkley in Cork, Ireland, about 1789, the daughter of Jeremiah Bulkley, grocer and inspector at the Weigh House, a position of responsibility not often granted to a Roman Catholic, and his wife Mary Anne, née Barry, sister of the renowned Irish painter James Barry, a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Arts in London.
She was a pretty, spirited child with red-gold hair and blue-green eyes, and the characteristic Barry hooked nose and small, sweet mouth. Fastidious in everything from the choice of her clothing to the penning of letters on Mary Anne’s behalf to James Barry, asking for financial assistance as the family fortunes declined and Jeremiah was dismissed from the Weigh House in a British backlash against Irish Catholics after the French invasion of 1798, Margaret Anne Bulkley was indubitably female, as was confirmed after her death when those preparing her body for the undertakers found her to be “a most complete and perfect woman”.
There were also indications on that body that ‘James Barry’ had borne a child, and it is probable that Margaret was raped at about the age of thirteen, the most likely suspect being her dissolute uncle Redmond Barry, a sometime sailor who washed ashore occasionally, in and out of debt, debtors’ prisons, and the Royal Navy. What is known is that Mary Anne Bulkley and her daughter Margaret disappeared into the country for some time and returned with a baby girl, who was named Juliana for Mary Anne’s mother and who was, allegedly, Margaret’s sister. And while this child was never acknowledged, nor, eventually, was any other vestige of her former life, ‘James Barry’ remained notably fond of, and affectionate toward, children and small animals, and was instinctively trusted by them, to the extent that in the Cape Colony where Barry subsequently spent many years, local children would fearlessly call him the kapok nooientjie, the “little kapok maiden”, not only for his delicate physical appearance but for the stuffing with which he padded his trousers and coats to simulate anatomical correctness. Barry would later use custom-made prosthetics, presumably supplied by London theatrical costumiers, to achieve the same effect.
The anticipated financial aid never materialised from the painter James Barry, and mother and daughter made yet another pilgrimage from Cork to London to claim a share of his estate when Barry died intestate in February of 1806.
Little money was forthcoming, but Barry’s friends and patrons, among them doctors, lawyers, the Earl of Buchan and the Venezuelan patriot and diplomat Sebastian Francisco de Miranda y Rodríguez de Espinosa, took a paternal interest in Margaret, mentored her, encouraged her passion for learning, and almost certainly suggested the risky charade that would determine the course of her life. It had been done before by Margaret, Countess of Mount Cashell, near Cork, a pupil of the radical feminist Mary Wollstonecraft who had left her titled husband, taken a lover more kindly disposed toward the emancipation of women, and as a six-foot, muscular female in male clothing had attended medical lectures in the university town of Jena in Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach. A Cork girl herself, and one who had once written to her brother, “Were I not a girl, I would be a soldier,” Margaret Bulkley must have been intrigued by the story.
General Miranda had a vision of a republican Venezuela where men and women would be equal. Margaret could accompany him there and practise medicine openly.
On Thursday, November 30th, 1809, Margaret Anne Bulkley disappeared, and a young ‘nephew’ and namesake of the painter James Barry took ship for Edinburgh, accompanied by his ‘aunt’ Mary Anne. He applied to and was accepted by the university, and joined hundreds of other male medical students. Three years later, after countless lectures and dissections and courses in anatomy, pathology, military surgery, medical botany and, particularly, midwifery, and oral and written examinations in Latin, ‘James Barry’ was awarded his degree.
For Margaret Anne Bulkley, now a qualified physician, the dream of re-assuming her female identity and joining General Miranda in Venezuela was abruptly and hideously shattered.
As described by Michael du Preez and Jeremy Dronfield in their compassionate and evocative biography, Dr. James Barry, A Woman Ahead of Her Time, Miranda
had returned with [Simon] Bolívar to Caracas, where he received a mixed reception… his idealism was at odds with Bolívar’s authoritarianism. Following a year of violent turmoil and political intrigue, he was betrayed by Bolívar. Accused of treason, Miranda was handed over to the Spanish royalists and taken back to Spain, where he was thrown into a dungeon in the Arsenal de la Carraca in Cadíz. He never saw freedom again.
There would be no Venezuelan dawn for Margaret Bulkley.
For Dr. James Miranda Barry there were London dawns at St. Thomas’s hospital, following the great surgeons on their rounds, observing the distressing lack of hygiene on the wards, and learning, always learning. But money remained a problem, and in June of 1813 Barry presented herself to the army medical board and applied to be accepted as a surgeon, giving her age as eighteen (she was about twenty-four). Considered a prodigy but certainly not a woman, she passed the examinations required by the Royal College of Surgeons and was commissioned as assistant staff surgeon in the British army on December 7th, 1815. An attractive, androgynous and unusually youthful figure in plain single-breasted scarlet coatee without epaulettes, as befitted an assistant surgeon, she sailed for the Cape Colony in 1816; and, having obsessively guarded her privacy throughout the long sea passage from England, set her booted feet with their two-inch heels on the soil of Africa in October.
The years in Cape Town would be the most fulfilling and challenging of her life. With the widowed governor of the Cape, Lord Charles Somerset, a former army officer and younger brother of the sixth Duke of Beaufort, she began a passionate and enduring relationship, possibly platonic, very probably sexual, although it is not known, nor is it appropriate that we should know as we have no proprietary right to Barry and her private life, how that sexuality was expressed. Certainly it was thought to be true when a placard was posted in Cape Town on Tuesday the first of June, 1824, claiming that a witness had seen “Lord Charles buggering Dr. Barry.”
Barry, walking along Heerengracht that morning, heard the story and behaved like any sensitive human being whose life had been rocked to its foundations. She sought refuge in a nearby shop and broke down in tears: of rage that something so precious had been publicly and libellously defiled; of fear that she and Charles would be arrested on charges of sodomy, a crime in the armed forces that was punishable by death; of exoneration, if investigated, by the disclosure of her sex, by which she would lose everything of significance, including her identity, her commission and her vocation.
There was a court of inquiry, but no conclusive evidence was produced, and the case was closed. The libellers were never identified, although Somerset and Barry, as well as citizens of Cape Town, offered substantial rewards. But the shadow and the shame never entirely dissipated, and Lord Charles Somerset was summoned to England in February of 1826, with his second wife and his family, to respond to criticisms of his administration.
Barry remained at the Cape, more argumentative, more confrontational and more intolerant than ever, vulnerable without her champion, Somerset, who had wielded his considerable influence to extricate her from every crisis into which her ferocious temper propelled her: challenging authority and incompetence and imagining insults and conspiracies until the Office of Colonial Medical Inspector was abolished. Shattered, she resigned her appointments and practised medicine privately, caring with a brisk compassion for the Cape garrison of 2,400 officers and men and their wives and children.
On Tuesday, June 25th, 1826, Barry was summoned in the middle of the night to attend Wilhelmina Munnik, in protracted labour and dangerously exhausted: she was unable to give birth naturally, and the only alternative, to save the living foetus, was to perform caesarean surgery, which almost invariably resulted in the death of the mother and, all too frequently, the child. Only in three recorded cases of caesarean section had both survived.
Barry, with Wilhelmina’s consent, and meticulous attention to hygiene and technique, that night performed the first caesarean surgery in the Cape Colony. Wilhelmina and her son survived, and the baby was christened James Barry Munnik, a name that would be handed down through generations of the Munnik family, in tribute to the surgeon who had delivered him.
In August of 1829 Barry, now a full staff surgeon in Mauritius, received devastating news. Charles Somerset, some twenty-two years Barry’s senior and suffering from the complications of heart failure, was reported to be dying. Barry, characteristically, committed one of the flagrant breaches of discipline for which she had become notorious and abandoned her post without permission.
She reached England on Saturday, December 12. Somerset was still alive, although very frail, and Barry, who had saved his life years before, nursing him with tenderness and dedication through a near-fatal attack of typhus with dysentery, undertook his care. Somerset seemed to rally, and then died on Sunday, February 20, 1831, with his wife, Lady Mary, his daughter Georgiana, and his beloved Barry at his bedside.
For Barry without her patron, “my more than father⸺ my almost only friend”, the aftermath and the years that followed were a blurred succession of postings, to St. Helena, Jamaica, Trinidad where she fell ill with malaria and was discovered sweating and delirious in bed by two medical subordinates who examined her and saw indisputable evidence of her sex, and maintained their silence; to Malta and a cholera epidemic; to Corfu; to the hostile meeting with Florence Nightingale at Scutari; and eventually to Montreal, where one officer was overheard to remark, seeing her for the first time, “You’d have to be mad to take that for a man.”
As intransigent as ever and suffering frequent bouts of bronchitis and pneumonia, she reached the pinnacle of her career and fell abruptly and catastrophically from it while pursuing personal vendettas.
She had always been defensive and impulsive: at the Cape in her youth she had struck an officer across the face with her riding crop when he had said, “By the Powers! You look more like a woman than a man!” And she had fired a pistol with deadly intent in a duel when another officer had challenged her after some imagined slight and been shot herself, a wound she had dealt with in private. But this time Barry had gone too far, expressing her volatile opinions to the Dean of Montreal, the bishop and the archdeacon, as well as other members of the clergy, and “assailing them with violence and insulting conduct”.
Tolerance of her increasing eccentricity had reached its limit. She was recalled to London and faced a medical board comprised not of the director-general and senior officers to which her rank, the equivalent of a brigadier-general, entitled her, but three
junior surgeons who were perfect strangers to me and to my peculiar habits…. they not unnaturally and somewhat hastily jumped to the conclusion that I was in a bad state of health.
The board’s decision was also a foregone conclusion. James Miranda Barry, now officially sixty years of age and in reality several years older, was relieved of her North American command and reduced to half-pay.
There was no appeal.
She drifted, lost, no longer defined by the identity she had created and the persona she had inhabited for so many decades. She travelled to the Caribbean with her Jamaican servant John, a former soldier in the West Indian Regiment, chasing the ghosts of the past, considering adopting a child, visiting old friends, too many of whom were dying or infirm; becoming increasingly unwell herself; returning to London and more shadows and memories of the past.
In the early hours of Tuesday, July 25, 1865, in sweltering heat, Margaret Anne Bulkley, who for fifty-six years had lived as James Miranda Barry, died of cholera. Years before, in Trinidad, she had told a female friend⸺ and Barry had many female friends and was sparkling and gregarious in their company⸺ that in the event of her death her body was to be wrapped in the sheets in which she had died and buried unwashed and unexamined. That wish was either not known or ignored by those who came to lay out the corpse of Dr. James Barry before the arrival of the undertakers. The revelation of her sex to the press created an international sensation. Dickens gave the story a fictional spin in 1867. In 1919 the renowned actress Sybil Thorndike played Barry on the stage. There have been novels, biographies, broadcasts: a film is said to be in production.
Barry eludes definition, but nothing diminishes her uniqueness: as the first woman ever to hold the rank of general in the British army, as a pioneering surgeon, as a fearless human being sacrificing comfort, peace, stability, and emotional and physical intimacy in the pursuit of her destiny.
She had chosen her life. But the battered trunk which had accompanied her for so many years, when opened after her death by the solicitors in charge of settling her affairs, may speak of yearning and regret. When lifted, the lid’s leather lining was found to be covered with a collage of women’s fashion plates. Hats, gowns, hairstyles… a haunting affirmation of an irretrievable past, and an acknowledgement of the woman, long forgotten, who had once lived it.
Find out more below about Kimberley’s book Coronach, which is available to order from Amazon (UK) and Amazon (USA) and Amazon (Canada)
It is not necessary to look further than the history of Canada, and Toronto itself, for the genesis of Coronach: a vast country explored, settled, and governed by Scots, and a city, incorporated in 1834, whose first mayor was the gadfly journalist and political agitator William Lyon Mackenzie, a rebel in his own right, and the grandson of Highlanders who had fought in the `45. The Vietnam War, also, burned into the Canadian consciousness the issues of collateral damage and the morality of war; and from this emerged one character, a soldier with a conscience. In unravelling the complexity of his story, Coronach was born.
On the bitterly cold morning of Saturday 22nd March 1828, a twenty two year old woman sat in her prison cell at Lancaster Castle, awaiting the hangman’s noose, with just the long standing prison chaplain, Reverend Mr Joseph Rowley to comfort her before her final journey. Outside, waiting to witness this event was one of the largest crowds ever seen at the castle, with many travelling from far afield to witness this spectacle.
So how did this unfortunate young woman find herself in this most desperate of all situations? To find out we return to the beginning of this story, and to a John Scott, a Methodist preacher and shop keeper on Bridge Street, Preston and his wife Mary. The couple were well respected in their local community and further afield, as John Scott travelled to local fairs and markets selling his wares.
The couple had three daughters – Mary, Jane and Maria, who died in aged eight.
It was the very year Maria died that Jane, aged just 15, found herself unmarried and pregnant as the parish register of April 13th, 1821 confirms, Jane presented her first illegitimate child, a daughter, Anne, for baptism at the local parish church, not at the non-conformist church her parents attended.
Jane’s behaviour began to deteriorate, becoming rebellious, stealing from her parents and drinking. As to what became of Anne can only be speculated upon, but in all likelihood she died in infancy.
On 29th January 1824, aged 18, still unmarried and living with her parents, Jane presented a second child, for baptism, a son named John, but just three years later she would return to the church, this time to bury him.
Questions were raised at the time about the death of this child, but there was nothing tangible to suspect that anything untoward had happened to him. Perhaps her daughter Anne had in fact died, leading people to question Jane’s untoward lifestyle and her ability to care for children. She now frequented the local public house, ‘The Three Tars’ and continued stealing from her parents.
History has a habit of repeating itself, this time on 6th May 1825, Jane presented another illegitimate child, Harriet, for baptism. Then, only a few months later this child’s name too was to appear in the parish burial register.
Mortality rates in this parish were high and the parish registers showed many children dying young, well over fifty percent of the entries were for under-fives, so the deaths of Jane’s children, although tragic, might not have appeared that unusual.
June 1825, just one month later, there was another baptism, for a Robert Scott (illegitimate), this time the child belonged to Jane’s elder, unmarried sister, Mary.
Eighteen months later, on 13th January 1827, Mary married James Woods with her father, John, present as a witness, perhaps given the girls’ history he was glad to have one safely married off.
Flicking through the pages of the parish register two more Scott names jump out – burials which took place on the same day at Holy Trinity church, Preston on May 17th, 1827. The names were John and Mary Scott, the parents of these girls, so how did they die and why were they buried on the same day?
The answer to that lurked in the numerous newspaper reports of the time, which provided somewhat grisly accounts of their deaths and the coroner’s inquest which led to the subsequent trial of their daughter, Jane ‘a short, thick set woman’, at the Lancashire Assizes on August 29th, 1827.
On the 13th May 1827 John Scott was alive and in good health but died just one day later. The first witness called was Mrs Hannah Cragg, who was well acquainted with the couple and confirmed that Jane still lived with her parents. Mrs Cragg said that she had taken tea with them on Sunday and that Mrs Scott took her home a little after eight. The couple were both well and appeared on good terms with their daughter.
She stated that on the following evening, just after nine, Jane had run to her home, asking her to ‘come to our house, my mother is dead’. She appeared to be very alarmed. She told Jane to go straight home and that she would follow her.
On arriving, she saw Mrs Scott in the kitchen.
‘I had a conversation with her, but Jane was not present. I saw John Scott afterwards in the yard, vomiting. He went into the kitchen with me; Mrs Scott was still there. Jane came in and was going about the kitchen but could hear what was said.’
Mrs Scott said, ‘I am poisoned by the porridge’. So did Mr Scott. Jane said she would get rid of the porridge and that nothing more should be said of it.
Mrs Cragg said she saw it whilst she was holding Mrs Scott’s head. Mrs Scott told Jane not to dispose of it, but, Jane, who was close enough to hear completely ignored her and disposed of it. Dr Brown, the surgeon, was immediately sent for and instructed Jane to put the tin pan used to make the porridge to one side, but not to wash it out.
Jane and a Mrs Bilsborough went to fetch Jane’s half-brother, David Graham, as she feared her parents were dying. On arriving at the house, David found the doctor busily using a stomach pump on his mother and immediately accused Jane of causing them to be unwell.
David also told the court that Jane had been prone to violent convulsions over the past 3 years, which left her feeling weak for the next few hours, but he didn’t think it had impaired her mind. Mrs Bilsborough also confirmed that they had become more frequent, occasionally they were so bad that Jane would fall over in the street.
Just before midnight, Mrs Cragg went home, leaving Mr and Mrs Scott in bed being cared for by David who continued his vigil until, about three when his mother died.
His stepfather was still alive, but extremely unwell. David said that his stepfather told him that he feared he didn’t have much longer to live, he believed Jane had put poison in the porridge. At half- past five in the morning John Scott also died.
At the trial, Thomas Emmett, the druggist confirmed that Jane had visited his shop to purchase quarter of a pound of arsenic to use at her parents house in Bridge Street, as they had rats in the shop that she needed to kill and that two weeks later she returned for a further supply as she hadn’t managed to kill all of them. She returned for a third time, just days before the Scott’s died, saying that on this occasion she needed some to kill bugs around the bedstead.
The next witness was George Richardson, who said he had known Jane for a couple of months and that he saw her on the Sunday night whilst on his way home for tea and that Jane called him to come in. Jane then asked him, ‘When do you intend to marry me?.’ George said that he had already told her that he had no intention of marrying her yet as he wasn’t ready for marriage, he had no money or possessions.
Jane then told him that her father had signed over all his goods to her, but George didn’t believe her, so she produced a paper to prove it. George though, was semi-literate, but recalled that there was both writing and printing on the paper with her name at the bottom of it. He returned it to Jane saying he didn’t understand it, but that he had seen the words ‘tobacco and snuff’ on it. Jane said that snuff was there, along with a list of other goods meant for her. It later transpired that this was merely a snuff licence.
Next, was James Shorrock, who confirmed that he knew Jane and George Richardson. He said that he had seen Jane on the Sunday evening and Jane told him that her mother was very ill. He said that he saw her again on the Monday night about eight o’clock near a factory on Bridge Street when she said to him:
‘Here, Jem, I want thee’, I have just been watching George go into the dandy shop, Betty Watsons. George thinks to make a fool of me. I’ll make a bigger fool of him. He’ll be here after a while. My father and mother are very badly. I’ll go in to my supper, stop here till I come back’.
Jane disappeared and returned after about twenty minutes and said, ‘Oh Jem my father and mother are sure to die’. He replied:
‘we are all sure to die,’ Jane’s response was ‘we’re all sure to die, but not so soon as them. Next week I’m going to Manchester. I owe you two shillings. Come tomorrow night and I’ll pay thee’.
She went on to say, that on her return she would be married, but didn’t say to whom. She told him that her parents had signed over everything to her, they had three houses and when she returned she would sell one, which would set them up in some kind of business, and then they would go to Liverpool to her sister, Mary.
The surgeon, Dr Robert Brown was next to be called to give his testimony. He confirmed that when he arrived at the house about half past nine on the Monday evening, Mrs Scott was sitting in a chair in the kitchen, supported by Mrs Cragg and was vomiting violently. Dr Brown concluded that she had been poisoned. He called for a quantity of warm water and applied the stomach pump to Mrs Scott. He stated that he took care of the contents of her stomach and that Mr Scott’s condition was very similar to that of his wife. He then used the stomach pump on Mr Scott and the couple were then put to bed.
Mr Scott was sick and complained of pains in the bowels. Mrs Scott was still being violently sick and complained of great cramp in her legs. Dr Brown confirmed that he had some conversations with Jane and asked to see the pan in which the porridge was made and confirmed that Jane had told him when she fetched him that her parents had eaten porridge and that caused them to become ill.
He asked for the bowl to be left for examination, he then gave it to his apprentice for safe keeping.
After he had finished administering the pump he asked Jane for the pan used to make the porridge. When Jane produced it, he noted that it had already been washed. He said he was somewhat surprised that she had not understood his earlier instructions to leave it, but her response was that she needed to use the pan to boil the water for the pump. He said that the pan in question had not been used, as he had watched her boil the water in a different pan. She made no reply.
The following day Dr Brown carried out a post mortem on John Scott’s body. He believed from the original symptoms which were borne out in the post mortem, showed that the death was caused by arsenic. Vomiting, purging and cramp in the legs were indicative of having ingested arsenic.
The judge was concerned that no tests had been carried out by Dr Brown as they might have yielded a different or conclusive outcome. He addressed the jury advising them that without conclusive proof of poisoning it was difficult for them to find Jane guilty. The case so far had only related to Jane’s father and the judge advised the jury that they should make their decision about this one count, as it was the fault of the prosecutor that necessary evidence was not available.
The judge confirmed that the case against her of murdering her mother would need to wait to allow the prosecutors the necessary time to supply further evidence and that a verdict on the case against Jane of murdering her father should be given.
Mary, now Mrs James Woods (Jane’s sister) was called to give her statement. She confirmed that the household regularly used arsenic and that they mixed it with oatmeal and sugar to kill rats and to eliminate bugs around the bedstead. Mary said that her father sold bread in his shop and that rats were abundant in the property, so she often made up a solution for use as an when required and that a solution was always kept at hand, so it was more than likely that there would have been some in the house on the day her parents died.
She said that she had seen some arsenic a few days before she went home to Liverpool, and that it was in the drawer of a wash-stand, wrapped up in blue paper, without any string and warned her mother about leaving it about the house.
Mary also confirmed that Jane on occasion, had as many as fifty fits in one day and could be ill for a week afterwards. Mary was sure that her mind had become afflicted as a result of them. She told the court that Jane was on good terms with her parents, in fact, that they thought more of Jane than they did of her.
Mrs Alice Berchell was called next. She described herself as being Mrs Scott’s neighbour for over seven years and that they were very close. She corroborated Mary’s evidence. She too confirmed that Jane suffered from fits and that on occasion she had held Jane whilst she had been fitting. She said that Jane had been in the Dispensary at Preston and in Manchester Infirmary and that Mr and Mrs Scott were always kind and affectionate toward Jane, but were extremely worried that Jane would never be well enough to work for her living due to these fits.
The judge summed up the case for the jury who retired and returned with their verdict of:
Not Guilty due to weak intellect
Jane was however, returned to the prison to await trial for the murder of her mother. During this time, she ate very little and became weaker by the day.
On 20th March 1828, Jane was brought before the court again, some ten months after the death of her mother, having already been acquitted of the murder of her father and feeling convinced she would receive the same outcome. This time the jury took a mere five minutes to reach their conclusion and found her:
Jane sat quietly and calmly throughout the trial until the verdict of hanging was delivered, she sobbed and pleaded for mercy, asking to be transported instead. This request was declined, she was returned to her cell where she became agitated and unable to support herself so much so, that she had to be put to bed by the castle matron.
Finally, when time was running out for Jane she confessed her crimes. She stated that she had been well brought up, but from the age of fourteen she had led a dissolute life and had been seduced by a local man when she was just fifteen. She said her mother and father had always been kind to her and tried to keep her on the straight and narrow, but it was too late, ‘the devil got possession of her’. She confessed to robbing her parents of their property and money before they died.
The day before her parents were poisoned she said that she had met up with George Richardson, who she wished to marry. The couple went to ‘TheThree Tars’ public house for a few drinks then went their separate ways, meeting up later when Richardson tried to persuade her to get money from her father. She refused. Richardson goaded her until eventually she went home and made up a porridge containing arsenic which she gave to her parents. Shortly after this she felt guilty and ran to fetch help from a Mrs Cragg. She said that she was convinced that she could get away with it.
Two days before her death her sister, Mary visited her, accompanied by the prison matron. When asked by her sister whether there was anything she wished to confess. Jane, presumably realising that she now had nothing to lose, confessed to having killed Mary’s child as an act of revenge following an argument that they had had. Jane said that she had taken the baby out for a walk, it was then that she gave it laudanum. Jane said that everyone believed the child died from a fit, but that was not true.
Jane also confessed to having killed her son, as she had hoped the child’s father would marry her, but he wouldn’t, so she bought an ounce of white powder from the local doctor and when the child was sitting at the table, she gave him a kiss, mixed the arsenic with treacle, spread it on some bread and gave it to him. As she watched, the child’s eyes glaze over and he died shortly after. Jane confirmed that there had been questions raised about the child’s death, but these weren’t pursued.
At 10 o’clock on Saturday 22nd March 1828, Jane was helped to the chapel where the sacrament was administered by Rev. Mr Rowley. She was so weak that it took two people to support her, having refused food since sentence was passed and only drank one cup of tea.
A few minutes after midday, the door from which culprits passed on to the scaffold was opened, a deathly silence instantly fell amongst the crowd. Jane was so weak so weak that she had to be wheeled to the gallows using this chair.
The executioner then turned her to face toward the prison, put a cap over her head, hooked the halter around her neck and to the chain that was suspended to the fatal beam and retired. Many places report the hangman as Ned (Edward) Barlow, but this was not true as he died in 1812. The most likely candidate was Samuel Haywood, from Leicestershire, who was hired by several assizes as he was highly regarded for his skills.
The two women supported her for a moment, one quickly left in a state of distress, the other gave Jane a kiss, pulled the cap over Jane’s eyes and left. The rope swung round leaving Jane facing the crowd and she was immediately launched into eternity in less than two minutes. An hour later her body was removed to be dissected and anatomized.
The final twist to this tale was, that Jane’s body was sold for dissection and was purchased by a respected local doctor, Dr Thomas Monk, who ultimately found himself jailed for ten years hard labour. Sometime during this time Jane’s skeleton was sold by public auction. The purchaser in the 1870’s, was reputed to run an herbal shop on Walker Street, Preston, who decided to put Jane’s skeleton to profitable use, by displaying it to the public, charging one half penny to view it. So, there really was no rest for the wicked, but hopefully now the victims have been named and can rest in peace.
Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser 2 June 1823
The Examiner, Sunday, May 27, 1827
Evening Mail 10 September 1827
Evening Mail 24 March 1828
The Times 25th March 1828
Chester Courant 1 April 1828
Cumberland Pacquet, and Ware’s Whitehaven Advertiser 1 April 1828
Lancaster Gazette 21 August 1875
Fleury. C. Time-honoured Lancaster
Hurren. Elizabeth T. Dissecting the Criminal Corpse: Staging Post-Execution Punishment in Early Modern England
For anyone not familiar with Harriette Dubochet who used the assumed surname of Wilson whilst alive, (although when buried her baptismal name was given) I would definitely recommend both volumes of her memoirs published in 1825, as they make fascinating reading and are online via Internet Archive.
Harriette lived life to the full and was virtually penniless at the end. Her death certificate gives cause of death as ‘old age’, although in all likelihood a cause of alcohol related disease might have been more accurate. As well as finding religion toward the end of her life, she also found the bottle. She was apparently extremely fond of brandy, to the point of dependency and was reported to have been having a tipple or several just 24 hours prior to her death.
I came across this extract from Frances Wilson’s book, The Courtesan’s Revenge and wanted to check out what became of Harriette’s siblings and possibly find Harriette’s burial.
Harriette’s place of burial has always been something of a mystery, but I can now reveal that she was buried at Brompton Cemetery and the location of her grave is still visible.
The newspapers were not at all kind to her in life as can be observed in this article about her in 1826.
The present appearance of this unfortunate woman makes it difficult to conceive that she could ever have been attractive, either as to person or manner: her features are now ugly and coarse, her person bad and her manners vulgar, with a harsh discordant voice.
A correspondent informs us that the notorious ‘Harriette Wilson’ resides at Chelsea and has become a convert to Popery, and is a very active promoter of the objects of the virtuous priesthood! What next? Is she a candidate for the office of a Lady Abbess, or Principal of a Nunnery?
And even more derogatory about her death:
We have now done with this woman, and we hope no stone will be erected to commemorate her memory and disgrace the place of her burial.
Just for the record, Harriette was born 22nd February 1786 and baptised on 19 March the same year at St George’s, Hanover Square, the same place as her other siblings were baptised.
Back to her memoirs, she thought nothing of naming and shaming the gentlemen in whose company she and three of her sisters, Amy, Frances, better known as Fanny and Sophia spent much of their youth.
When Harriette wrote to the Duke of Wellington advising him she was about to publish her memoirs and that to keep his name out she wanted money from him, his famous response was reputed to have been ‘publish and be damned‘, so with that she went ahead and published (the famous phrase is probably not strictly accurate).
I’m not planning to revisit the memoirs in this article as there’s already more information about Harriette and her memoirs online than you can shake a stick at. I will, however, say that in a letter I came across, Harriette was described as being ‘the worst and wickedest bitch in the world’.
Harriette was one of 15 children (11 girls and 4 boys, not all of whom survived childhood), born to Amelia Gadsden, not Cook as previously named elsewhere, Amelia was raised by John Cook and his wife, which is probably where the assumption of her surname has come from, and John James Dubochet, a Swiss coal merchant.
I have noticed that John seems to have had several occupations including that of a stocking cleaner, a mathematician and watch maker, but there’s no evidence to support this. On the children’s baptism and in his will, proven in 1826, he continued to give coal merchant as his occupation.
Little is known of several of Harriette’s siblings in particular that of the boys. The family seems to have been of mixed repute.
Rose (1799 – ?)
After her baptism there appears to be no proof that she survived into adulthood.
Known in Harriette’s memoirs as Diana, remained single and taught the piano from her home 34 Chapel Street, in the St Marylebone area of London.
Mary (1784 – ?)
Mary was referred to as Paragon, in Harriette’s memoirs. She married an Irish gentleman, Richard Borough(s), in 1812 in Dublin, and the couple went on to have four children, Mary, John, Henry and Augusta Sophia. At least one child was baptised in France so it looks likely that they remained there at least until Richard died at Calais in 1847.
Charlotte (1801 – 1873)
Charlotte, born 1801, married a surgeon and apothecary, William Jones Percival in 1825. The couple moved about with William’s business, from Poplar to Soham, Suffolk and finally to Birmingham to raise their family, where William ultimately took on the post of surgeon at the Kings Norton and Union Workhouse. After his death Charlotte moved to Aberystwyth to live with one of her three daughters, Mary Sophia and her husband the renowned Dr Charles Rice Williams and it was there that she died in 1873.
Julia Elizabeth (1808-1883)
Like her sister Jane, Julia also remained single and spent her later life living with her, by then, widowed sister and former courtesan, Sophia, Lady Berwick (1794-1875), at 7 Clarendon Crescent, Leamington Spa, Warwickshire. After the death of her sister, Julia moved to The Mansion, Richmond (now home to Richmond Golf Club).
Frances (Fanny) (1782-1815)
Also a courtesan who, according to Harriette, produced three children with her lover, then upon his death, moved on to have a relationship with a Colonel Parker, who in all likelihood was John Boteler Parker, the son of Sir Hyde Parker. She took his name as if they were married although they were not. Frances was buried in 1815, at Kensington as Frances Parker, her assumed surname.
Amelia, aka Amy (1781-1838)
In 1794, at the age of 13, Amelia became apprentice to a Mary Barker, mantua maker. However, like her sisters, she became a courtesan and had a relationship with George Campbell, 6th Duke of Argyll, with whom, according to Harriette she had a son around 1810. The child, it would appear was William George Campbell and baptised at St Marylebone in 1810.
She did however marry the musician Nicholas Robert Charles Bochsa, in 1818 despite him still being married to the Marquis Ducrest’s daughter who was, apparently still alive. Bochsa was both famous and infamous throughout the Georgian and Victorian eras!
He was believed to have been born around 1789 in France, where he studied music at the Paris Conservatoire. Regarded as a child protégé he could play both the flute and piano competently, by the age of just seven. In 1813, he apparently became harpist to the Imperial Court, however, by 1817 he allegedly became involved in counterfeiting, fraud and forgery and fled to London to avoid being prosecuted. In his absence he was sentenced to twelve years hard labour and a fine of 4,000 Francs, so clearly, he was unlikely ever to return to his place of birth.
By 1821, the couple were the height of respectability, with Bochsa, in 1822, becoming one of the founders of the prestigious Royal Academy of Music, London together with John Fane, 11th Earl of Westmorland.
He was however, required to sever his ties with the Academy when news of his previous misdemeanours were discovered and two years later he was bankrupt, but became the musical director of the King’s Theatre, London. Newspapers began reporting that he not only committed the crimes of forgery and fraud, but also that he was a bigamist. We can find no proof of the final accusation, but there was probably some truth in his dubious reputation, as he found himself with a five-pound fine, this time for assault.
On 27th December 1837 Amelia died at her home, 2 Orchard Street, St Marylebone from an inflammation of the intestines and was subsequently buried at Kensal Green Cemetery.
Bochsa eloped with Mrs Anna Bishop, the wife of Sir Henry Rowley Bishop. Frances Wilson, in her book, queried whether Bochsa had eloped with Anna Bishop prior to Amy’s death; the jury’s out on that one, but clearly he wasn’t with her on the day she died as her death was not witnessed by him, but by a John Knight, a collector, who lived there with his wife, Sarah, eight children and their servants.
Bochsa and Bishop left England and reappeared eventually on the other side of the world, having spent the subsequent years touring Europe, America, Mexico and then Australia, where Anna appeared on stage as his protégé. They continued to perform on the stage until his death in 1856, in Sydney.
Harriette’s male siblings were Charles Frederick (1791 -?), Henry Cook , John Emmanuel and George Edward. Very little is known about the first three boys and in all likelihood Charles died during childhood, although there is no evidence of a burial for him.
John Emmanuel (1790-1821)
Apart from his birth and death, the only snippet of information about John comes from the marriage entry for his sister, Sophia, where he was present as a witness.
Henry Cook (1804-1855-9)
After his baptism, there is little known of Henry, apart from one mention of a brother to Lady Berwick in Naples, Italy in 1848. I eventually discovered his death dated simply as being sometime between 1855 and 1859, in Naples (British Armed Forces and Overseas deaths and burials records).
George married Christiana Hadden in 1816 and the couple had 4 children. At the baptism of their youngest child, George was a piano maker, then, by the time his youngest daughter married he had died, but had been ‘of the Treasury‘.
(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 say she was a pickpocket, stealing watches from ladies’ pockets and held in Newgate before being transported on more than one occasion. She was, it was alleged, the notorious Jonathan Wild’s accomplice, one of his gang of thieves, and while in Newgate met Daniel Defoe who 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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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 was to 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.
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.
 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.
Covent Garden Market by Balthasar Nebot, 1737 (The Tate)
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
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Newcastle Courant, 20th November 1863.
Header image: Street Scene, Newcastle upon Tyne; British School; National Trust, Cragside
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.
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 1800s. 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.
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.
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 ninepence 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.
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.
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.
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 Bloomsbury 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)
[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
On Friday 4th January 1771 a press gang was busily impressing men at Newington Butts (now a borough in Southwark).
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.
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.
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]
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.
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.
Hannah’s life as a ‘female soldier’ was told in print in 1750, ‘The Female Soldier; Or, The Surprising Life and Adventures of Hannah Snell’.
[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.
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).
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!
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 1820s 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’.
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”.
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 was buried on the 23rd October 1832 at St Giles in the Field
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.
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
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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*.
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’.
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’.
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!
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 from 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 it 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!
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
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
If you found this article interesting then you might also enjoy our book, A Georgian Heroine, about an 18th century woman who lived life on her own terms and who took far more than a passing interest in the politics of the day!
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 baptised 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.
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