The word molly appears in many Georgian era historical fictions as, more or less, a synonym for the modern terms “gay” or “homosexual.” The popular reference book by Francis Grose, 1811’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, includes it with the definition: A Miss Molly; an effeminate fellow, a sodomite. It seems of course, that this should point to it as a word appropriate to the 1810s. However, it must be noted that this book was a reprint of a title originally released in 1785, and that even in the first edition, many of the slang terms were outdated in common language. (Take the entries of Oliver’s Skull and Olli-Compolli, which both seem to be sourced from a 1699 Dictionary of the Canting Crew.)
While even today we have some slang terms that have lasted 90 years or more, such as “the bee’s knees” (ca. 1923) or “bimbo” (floozie sense, ca. 1920) these are, at the same time, not indicative of words used in fashionable speech or slang. They should be employed with caution by an inexperienced English speaker, since they can easily make one sound strange or childish.
Molly was one of these words that had been in use for quite a long time by the Regency era. The Woman in Breeches Broadsheet of circa 1695, quoted above, is the oldest certain use of it I have been able to locate. The term is most probably an alteration of the Latin word mollis, which would have been a word known to educated men through its use in Livy, Cicero and other classical writers. Literally meaning “soft” the term mollis designated a certain type of man who was very effeminate and thus implied homosexual. It also appeared in the Latin vulgate version of the Bible to translate certain passages about fornicators and homosexuals, and it is probably through this that it entered the underworld slang. (Do not doubt, a quick look through those old slang dictionaries will show a good deal of Biblical and Ecclesiastical references.) The words popularity was probably enhanced by its coincidental similarity to the name Molly, which was often used as a generic name for a floozy type of girl in songs and poems.
A text of 1709 by one Ned Ward, reporting on a “Mollies Club” in London, defines a molly for readers unfamiliar with the term:
“Sodomitical Wretches […] so far degenerated from all masculine Deportment, or manly Exercises, that they rather fancy themselves Women, imitating all the little Vanities that Custom has reconcil’d to the Female Sex, affecting to Speak, Walk, Tattle, Cursy, Cry, Scold, and to mimick all Manner of Effeminacy, that ever has fallen within their several Observations; not omitting the Indecencies of Lewd Women, that they may tempt one another by such immodest Freedoms to commit those odious Bestialities [i.e. behaviours unbecoming mankind], that ought for ever to be without a Name.”
In addition to a noun, it seems to molly was also employed as a verb. From a 1726 court case we have:
“they look’d a-skew upon Mark Partridge, and call’d him a treacherous, blowing-up Mollying Bitch.”
In another case of 1744 we have:
“James Ruggles, who had followed them at a Distance, and waited only till he saw them closely engaged, came up to them, and seizing upon the Gentleman, cry’d, D – n your Blood you Dog, what are you a Mollying one another? Give me what you have this Minute, or I will carry your directly to the Guard-Room. The Gentleman, confounded and frightened almost out of his Wits, made answer, […] but C – soon silenced him, by crying out, indeed he seduced me hither to Molly me.”
The subject not being a topic often discussed in polite literature, much of the information we have about the use of the word molly comes from old court cases. To judge from the records, the term peaked in the 1720s through 1740s, then is seen less and less through the 18th century until disappearing almost entirely after the 1770s. In fact, the only post-1770 use of the term in its homosexual sense which I have seen as of this writing is, you guessed it, Francis Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.
So, what wiped out the word ‘molly‘? To some extent the rival term madge seems it may have supplanted it in slang. Nevertheless, an increased prudishness about sexual talk through the 18th century may be also a culprit. (A personal story on this: I once was editing an edition of Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer, initially using a first edition text; but finding some missing page or such issue that required checking another copy, I looked to an edition from 1800. The 1800 edition had needed to cut a lot of sexual references in the dialogue to make it acceptable for public performance. It was quite heavily trimmed compared to the original.) By the early 19th century, a term “mollycoddle” meaning a weak or effete man is able to appear in print with perfect respectability, indicating the sexual suggestion in the word was lost — compare the term “weakling” which too originally had a sexual implication.
The term molly does seem to have a more effeminate connotation about it than the modern term gay, but that might simply be due to gay culture in a modern understanding, not yet existing. Words like sissy or faggot might better replicate the abusiveness of the term.
This week I am delighted to welcome another guest to All Things Georgian. Today’s guest is Alice McVeigh, a London ghost writer and professional cellist, who has spent over fifteen years performing with orchestras including the BBC Symphony and the Royal Philharmonic.
Her first two novels were published to acclaim by Orion, marketed as ‘The secret life of a symphony orchestra’. Her latest book, Susan: A Jane Austen Prequel, was released just a couple of weeks ago and has already been rated 10 stars out of 10 by Publishers Weekly’s BookLife Prize.
With that introduction, I’ll hand over to Alice to tell you more about her new book and the music in the era of Jane Austen.
As Lady Catherine de Bourgh decrees in my own new novel:
‘In my opinion, every gentlewoman should be able to ride, to embroider, and to play tolerably on the pianoforte. To play too well on the pianoforte, however, might be considered vulgar.’
Music features in all Jane Austen’s works – one recalls Mary Crawford’s entrancing harp, Marianne Dashwood’s ‘magnificent concerto’ – the one enabling Elinor and Lucy Steele to speak without being overheard – not to mention Jane Fairfax’s effortlessly superior performances in Emma.
On a less-exalted level, everyone remembers the Pride and Prejudice scene in which Elizabeth Bennet’s sister Mary tests the patience of the company to exhaustion-point. While Austen’s Lady Susan wrote of her daughter:
‘I want her to play and sing with some portion of taste and a good deal of assurance, as she has my hand and arm and a tolerable voice. I was so much indulged in my infant years that I was never obliged to attend to anything, and consequently am without the accomplishments which are now necessary to finish a pretty woman.’
Music, drawing etc. – even foreign languages, to some degree – were often regarded in such a manner: not as a means of personal enjoyment or as an artistic end in themselves, but as props deployed to display the daughters of the house to greatest advantage. Brides apparently often abandoned music upon marriage – it’s impossible not to imagine with some level of relief. (As Mrs Elton observed sententiously to Emma Woodhouse, “… for married women, you know–there is a sad story against them, in general. They are but too apt to give up music.”)
As for the London music masters, most were barely scraping a living. It’s hard not to feel sorry for them. And yet, without teaching young ladies (more occasionally, young gentlemen) these music masters’ finances would have been rocky indeed. Beethoven himself was obliged to teach young Hungarian countesses, with whom he was – being Beethoven – occasionally presumptuous enough to fall in love… (One such instance was explored in Jessica Duchen’s novel Immortal, based on Beethoven’s famous letter to his “Immortal beloved…”)
In my own Jane Austen prequel,there is the following exchange between the sharp-elbowed Susan and her erstwhile music master.
Still accompanying another young lady, he said, very softly, without troubling to look up, ‘And so, Miss Smithson, we were betrayed.’
‘I did nothing wrong, yet it was I who was sent away.’
He glanced up then, with that strangely attractive smile – the smile that had first persuaded her that he was not, in fact, so very plain. As his fingers moved over the ivory keys, he asked, ‘And do you regret your expulsion, Miss Smithson?’
‘I do not.’
‘Of course not, for you were no more allowed to be your true self in that place than Mrs Ansruther’s spaniel… I presume that you do not wish to exhibit?’
‘Not in the least.’
‘Then I will shield you. But I beg, once you come into your kingdom, that you remember me.’
Flustered, Susan longed to say that she was in no need of shielding, but she did not dare. As for remembering him ‘once she came into her kingdom,’ she understood the implied compliment – that she might become a person of influence. She understood too the sadness in his tone, though only moments later he was light-heartedly castigating another of his charges. (‘My dear Miss Drayton, be so good as to count your rests!’) But he was true to his word, and, when the cry went up for more young lady performers and ‘Miss Smithson’ was named, Mr Maggini said, ‘Nay, for she has injured her finger. Miss Clara, perhaps you might charm us with an air?’
In terms of instruments, the pianoforte and voice were most often preferred, but the harp was considered ladylike, and there were isolated cases of the violin being chosen – though the instrument possessed connotations of devilishness, and its shape seemed too suggestive for some.
Another alternative was the newly designed harp-lute, whose inventor, Edward Light, taught it to Princess Charlotte, and paid for its production. There was quite a vogue for the harp-lute during the Regency period. These apparently sounded rather harp-like (and, presumably, lute-ish) but were delicate, decorative and small enough to hold on one’s lap.
And then there was the repertoire.
Unpretentious little tunes – such as ‘Robin Adair’ – the song Frank Churchill teased Miss Fairfax about in Emma – were generally favoured over more earnest and difficult works. In Susan, I have Miss Caroline Johnson – a good-natured young heiress – struggling woefully with a sonata by Dussek:
Thus, Susan was at least partly prepared, after supper, to find Frank Churchill proposing that they stroll to her favourite spot, as Caroline was rashly embarking on her Dussek sonata.
They left, pursued by the sound of fingers falling with dogged persistence on ivory keys. Once outside, he added, ‘I am grateful. Otherwise, the Dussek might have been the death of me!’
‘I’m sure I should play it no better. Rather worse if anything.’
‘You would have the very good sense not to play it at all.’
‘I suppose it to be rather a compliment – Were the Cuthbert’s here, Miss Johnson would have confined herself to her well-trodden songs and airs.’
‘If so, it is a compliment I could willingly dispense with. I would rather hear young Miss Laura at her scales!’ They paused, to admire the scudding clouds in the half-light, then he said, ‘Miss Smithson, I asked you a question yesterday that you were denied the chance to answer. I asked whether you might one day like me better than “well enough”.’
Susan laughed. ‘Oh, that must be evident to everybody! Why, at this very moment, we are probably the talk of the place!’
Susan, however, used music to her own advantage – particularly when Lady Catherine requests that she read to her:
Now Susan had a low, pretty voice and natural discretion in the use of it. Lady Catherine had only once to object that she spoke too low for her to discover the pace and pitch most grateful to her ear. Of course, the book was wearisome, and the room overheated, but she read until she noticed her ladyship nodding off – at which she could not wonder – then she scraped the heel of her boot upon the floor.
Lady Catherine started, saying, ‘Nay, I was not asleep. You should take care not to sink your tone at the end of a section, Miss Smithson. Now, be so good as to play to me upon the pianoforte.’
Susan seated herself at the instrument, recalling an early work by Corri, which she had recently memorised. Lady Catherine beat time with her forefinger throughout and at its conclusion announced that she had always been devoted to Haydn. But when Susan enquired whether she might like another air, she said, ‘No. You may go, Miss Smithson – but come tomorrow at half-past two, to read to me again.’
Susan, hiding her dancing eyes, promised to attend her with the greatest pleasure…
As a professional cellist myself, I grieve that the cello was considered insufficiently decorous for a lady in the early 1800s. Worse, women were not allowed to perform in orchestras, whichever instrument they chose, though Austen does hint in Emma that Jane Fairfax’s unusual musical brilliance might have made her even more employable as a governess…
It’s a terrible thought: the elegant Miss Fairfax toiling over Miss Sophia’s pianoforte studies and Miss Maria’s vocal scales…
It’s always lovely to welcome guests to All Things Georgian and today I’m welcoming back the author, erAto who writes historic 18th century fiction, who will share with us information about 18th century songs.
My Exenchester Series is a dark and lurid take on the Georgian Era. In a world inspired by Old Bailey transcripts and by unusual authors like Thomas de Quincey, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and the Marquis de Sade, sex, crime and death are lurking everywhere.
The series consists of two novels and a short story. Within their haunting plotlines there is also a connection to another topic of 18th century interest: popular music. Some might think that this is an odd combination — gritty gothic noir and Georgian era songs — but let us take a look at the music of the Exenchester series and see how this all aligns.
STEPS OF THE MALEFACTOR & DOWN AMONG THE DEAD MEN
Gothic horror meets splatterpunk in Steps of the Malefactor. Giving the backstory of Francis Exenchester via his relationship with footman William Roxby, these two young men find themselves caught up in a “knot” of sex offenders. During what is likely the story’s most brutal scene, one character, Blore, spontaneously bursts into song: Down Among the Dead Men.
Here’s a health to the King and a lasting peace
To faction an end, to wealth increase.
Come, let us drink it while we have breath,
For there’s no drinking after death.
And he that will this health deny,
Down among the dead men, down among the dead men,
Down, down, down, down;
Down among the dead men let him lie!
Let charming beauty’s health go round,
With whom celestial joys are found.
And may confusion yet pursue,
That selfish woman-hating crew.
And he who’d woman’s health deny,
Down among the dead men, down among the dead men,
Down, down, down, down;
Down among the dead men let him lie!
In smiling Bacchus’ joys I’ll roll,
Deny no pleasure to my soul.
Let Bacchus’ health round briskly move,
For Bacchus is a friend to Love;
And they that would this health deny,
Down among the dead men, down among the dead men,
Down, down, down, down;
Down among the dead men let him lie!
May love and wine their rights maintain,
And their united pleasures reign.
While Bacchus’ treasure crowns the board,
We’ll sing the joy that both afford.
And they that won’t with us comply,
Down among the dead men, down among the dead men,
Down, down, down, down;
Down among the dead men let them lie!
Charles Mackay, in his collection of English folk songs, notes that this song’s composition is attributed to a “Mr. Dyer” (posited by some to be John Dyer) and said to have been first performed at the theatre at Lincoln’s-Inn-Fields.
The first publication is said to be from 1728 in a book called The Dancing Master, though it also appears in a slightly different, crasser form, in Scottish author Allan Ramsay’s Tea-Table Miscellany around the same time.
A circa 1740 broadside has yet another variant, and even crasser than Ramsay’s. The nature of folk songs means the tunes and lyrics are a bit unstable, for there was a time when one couldn’t rely on a recording to play the song back identically ad infinitum.
These old folk tunes tended to be communicated orally; and the transmission relies on the memory of the performer and on said performer’s own artistic take on the song. So it was that popular songs lived and mutated as they were passed along.
Best known as a drinking song, ‘Down Among the Dead Men’ has an implication in its lyrics of a person who is “dead drunk” — and this sometimes guessed to be the meaning of the “dead men” in the song.
Nevertheless, the patriotic note to the lyrics does suggest real animosity may be intended towards those who won’t drink to the King and Queen. It actually has a feel of the 17th century “Rump Songs” about it, and if it was already being collected by Ramsay as a folk song in the 1720s, the John Dyer attribution seems unlikely (or at least, it was not by the famous John Dyer who was born in 1699).
In the mirthful drama Molly Brazen, Annabelle the sex worker is baffled by the behavior and appearance of her young client, who seems to not actually want to have any sex; and as she interrogates him to discover his reasons why, his answers just get weirder and weirder.
The story was written as a promo piece for The Virgin and the Bull, but hints at many events from the then-to-be-written Steps of the Malefactor.
Technically, Molly Brazen contains no songs. However, the title of the story is reference to a sex worker character from The Beggar’s Opera, as well as a play on the old word for a homosexual (strictly speaking, mollyis the 18th century equivalent of sissy).
As with all songs from The Beggar’s Opera, author John Gay wrote the lyrics himself, but set them to an existing melody. In this case the song used was merely called “cotillion” — perhaps just an instrumental dance piece for which he created words. In the surrounding dialogue it’s referred to as a “French tune.”
The setting for this performance in The Beggar’s Opera is in a whorehouse, as is too the entire story Molly Brazen. There is consequently a bit of irony in its verses on fleeting love and hurrying to “drink and sport” as, like waiters at a restaurant table, the whores surely want to move along to their next client.
THE VIRGIN AND THE BULL & SWEET WILLIAM
Though a man of science, hero Charles Macgregor shows a great interest in poetry and literature, which proves to be what binds him to the gorgeous but troublesome Constance Fawkes. The tragic noir romance of The Virgin and the Bull opens with Macgregor’s suicide note, in which he quotes some lines from a song that is stuck in his head as he prepares himself for death.
Macgregor’s tune is a version of a song known variously as Sweet William, Sweet William’s Ghost, Lady Margaret, My Willie-O, Lament of the Border Widow, or simply nowadays as Child Ballad 77.
Francis James Child has seven versions of Sweet William in his original collection of popular ballads (of which it is the 77th entry). Some versions of this song are more or less cheerful in content, some have a more or less Scottish dialect to them, some are longer or shorter, some particular details get changed, but there is typically something consistent enough to make it a recognizable version of a single song. The Sweet William songs involve a woman (often called Margaret) receiving a visit from the ghost of her lover (usually called William or Willie) who has died while away from her. William’s promise to marry Margaret has gone unfulfilled, and he either wishes to fulfil the promise or be freed from it, so he may rest in peace.
Child’s oldest version of the ballad dates to 1740, via a later edition of Allan Ramsay’s Tea Table Miscellany.
However, in Child’s introduction he speculates it’s a variant of a song he can trace to 17th century in Scandinavian sources. The Virgin and the Bull’s Charles Macgregor uses a version similar to that found in Jamieson’s Popular Ballads of 1806 (though in which version the tragic hero is named “Clerk Saunders”).
When seven years were come and gane,
Lady Margaret she thought lang;
And she is up to the hichest tower,
By the lee licht o the moon.
She was lookin oer her castle high,
To see what she might fa,
And there she saw a grieved ghost,
Comin waukin oer the wa.
‘O are ye a man of mean,’ she says,
‘Seekin ony o my meat?
Or are you a rank robber,
Come in my bower to break?’
‘O I’m Clerk Saunders, your true-love,
Behold, Margaret, and see,
And mind, for a’ your meikle pride,
Sae will become of thee.’
‘Gin ye be Clerk Saunders, my true-love,
This meikle marvels me;
O wherein is your bonny arms,
That wont to embrace me?’
‘By worms they’re eaten, in mools they’re rotten,
Behold, Margaret, and see,
And mind, for a’ your mickle pride,
Sae will become o thee.’
‘O, bonny, bonny sang the bird,
Sat on the coil o hay;
But dowie, dowie was the maid
That followd the corpse o clay.
‘Is there ony room at your head, Saunders?
Is there ony room at your feet?
Is there ony room at your twa sides,
For a lady to lie and sleep?’
‘There is nae room at my head, Margaret,
As little at my feet;
There is nae room at my twa sides,
For a lady to lie and sleep.
‘But gae hame, gae hame now, May Margaret,
Gae hame and sew your seam;
For if ye were laid in your weel made bed,
Your days will nae be lang.’
In my book, Macgregor, of course, is feeling many of the song’s visions of graves and rotting corpses as he quotes from it; and surely, he’s also experiencing his own shock and betrayal at a broken promise of marriage, leading to this chilling tune churning amongst his final thoughts.
In Steps of the Malefactor, the character of Garcifer also makes a verbal reference to this song, addressing William Roxby as “Sweet William” while threatening to torture him (implying that he’s already marked for death).
These are all popular tunes of the 18th century (as opposed to art songs, such as the operatic tunes of Handel, Arne and others that are intended for a trained voice and large orchestra) and would have probably been known and heard comparably to modern multi-decade standards like Tubthumping, Holiday and Major Tom. It is nevertheless interesting to note the preoccupation with death and mortality in these songs, even in the cheerful one. In a sense, these songs reflect the darkness that existed within the Enlightenment, which was also rather the goal of the Exenchester series.
Jo has been an award-winning TV drama and comedy producer all her working life. Her credits range from the recent ‘Manhunt‘, starring Martin Clunes, to ‘Birds of a Feather’ and has now ventured in writing. This is her first book and she’s now busy working on her second – also a historical biography. Jo is married with a daughter, a son and a step-son. She lives in London and Dorset. You can find out more about Jo by clicking on the link at the end.
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and her husband Edward had two children – confusingly called Edward and Mary. Lady Mary’s two children had starkly contrasting lives and their mother’s relationship with both of them, though loving, was often stormy. Even in her lifetime she was sensitive to criticism that she was that dreaded thing: a bad mother.
Lady Mary is most famous for her contribution to the fight against smallpox. Both her children were involved. She inoculated her son Edward, aged nearly 5, while the family were living in Turkey in 1718. But this was common practice in Turkey at the time and Lady Mary was simply following in the footsteps of another Englishman, Sir Robert Sutton.
Her ground-breaking decision was to inoculate her only daughter, young Mary, aged 3, once the family were back in England. So young Mary became the first person in the west to be given protection against the smallpox. Young Mary was educated at home. She enjoyed putting on theatrical productions. Her mother, rather disloyally, described her as plain.
Lady Mary and Wortley set about finding a suitable husband for young Mary, once she reached the age of 18, as was the custom. They themselves had eloped, but they clearly wanted something more respectable for their daughter. Young Mary met a Scottish nobleman, John Stuart, Earl of Bute, in 1735, who also liked acting. The two fell in love but her parents were unhappy with the match. Lady Mary made the mistake of telling her daughter what she thought of Bute. He was honest, she said, but hot-tempered. She would prefer young Mary to remain single. Needless to say, this did not go down well. The marriage nevertheless went ahead but without a formal wedding reception.
The couple were exceptionally happy together and had eleven children. They initially lived at Mount Stuart on the Isle of Bute, where Young Mary grew lonely and depressed. Her mother – who was herself living far away by now, in France and Italy – worried about her. The two had quarrelled – we don’t know why – at the point when Lady Mary decided to leave her husband and live abroad. Very gradually their letters trace an improved relationship. Eventually, nearly 20 years later, Lady Mary was at a concert in Venice when someone told her how beautifully her daughter sang, and she burst into uncontrollable tears.
The Butes had meanwhile moved to London. Here, Bute became great friends with Frederick, Prince of Wales, and when the Prince died his widow, Princess Augusta, made him tutor to their oldest son. When this son then inherited the throne as George III he manoeuvred to have his former tutor made Prime Minister. Unfounded rumours abounded that Bute was having an affair with Princess Augusta. When the elderly Lady Mary arrived back in London at the time of Bute’s premiership, her daughter and son-in-law found her an eccentric embarrassment. On her death, they buried her quickly, to avoid controversy.
Lady Mary’s only son, Edward Wortley Montagu, could not have been more different from his goody goody sister. He caused his parents heart-ache from the start. He accompanied his parents in their carriage all the way from London to Constantinople, and a love of the East remained with him all his life. Back home in England, though, he was sent to Westminster School, which he hated. He ran away, swapping clothes with an urchin in Whitechapel and getting a job as a cabin boy on a ship bound for Gibraltar. He was missing for five months and his mother wrote that: ‘Nothing that ever happened to me has touched me so much.’ My own instinct – although there is no evidence to support this – is that Edward was probably abused around this time.
His parents, unsure what to do with him, gave Edward a series of tutors and sent him off to the West Indies. When he returned, aged 17, he provoked controversy by marrying a washerwoman and then immediately abandoning her. He was sent abroad again, with a new tutor, where he went through a period of religious fanaticism and began drinking heavily. His father avoided having any direct contact with him, but Edward did have a stormy meeting with his mother in London, where he demanded more money. He was already heavily in debt.
In 1741 Lady Mary – now living in France – received a letter from her son, asking for her help in dissolving his marriage so he could find an heiress to marry instead. Mary was sceptical but Wortley pressurised her to meet him. Eventually the two did spend a couple of days together in a village near Avignon. Edward, aged 29, had lost his looks and put on weight, Mary wrote to his father and ‘He has a flattering, insinuating manner which naturally prejudices strangers’. Things went relatively well until Edward broached the difficult subject of whether Wortley would leave his by now vast fortune to Edward as their only son. He indicated he would ensure Mary were taken care of, were that to be the case. This attitude infuriated her and so they parted.
Family connections procured an army commission for Edward, and he even served in battle at Fontenoy in France. Mary had to wait a month before hearing that he had survived. He was a prisoner of war for a time but then returned to England.
Again, Wortley exerted family pressure to ensure he was given a safe parliamentary seat, so as to escape prosecution. But Edward fell into bad company again, forging a friendship with a notorious highwayman, James McLean, who was then sent to the gallows. He made a bigamous marriage with a friend of McLean’s, Miss Elizabeth Ashe, and embarked with her on a career of swindling, gambling, extortion and physical violence. He was thrown into the Châtelet prison in Paris, but released on bail and sent back to England. As Mary wrote to Wortley:
The only way to avoid disappointment is never to Indulge any Hope on his Account.
Having not seen either of her children for many years, Mary’s death brought them back into her life. Wortley died in 1761 and defied convention by leaving his fortune to their daughter not their son. Inevitably Edward challenged this. Mary, who by now had breast cancer, made the long journey across Europe to London to be reunited with her daughter’s family and fight Edward’s lawsuit. She admitted that Edward had broken her heart. But relations with the Butes were not easy either. Whether or not she was indeed a Bad Mother, Mary’s relationships with her children ultimately brought her precious little happiness.
You can find out much more about Mary Wortley Montagu and her family in Jo’s book and check out her website here.
Today I’m thrilled to welcome a new guest to All Things Georgian, Molly Chatterton of Lillicoco, antique and vintage jewellers, to talk about a subject close to my heart – 18th century jewellery, so without any further ado I’ll hand you straight over to Molly:
The explosion of Bridgerton on our screens late last year has brought a renewed interest to the Regency era. And whilst we were glued to our screens waiting for Daphne and Simon to just profess their undying love and devotion for one another, we couldn’t help but also be dazzled by the array of glittering jewellery.
Whilst some jewellery historians have already said that the jewellery within this TV series has taken the artistic licence quite liberally, it does make us wonder what kind of jewellery was worn in this period, and specifically, the types of jewellery worn to debutante balls and important occasions.
From Diamond sprays to stomachers and sevignes, there were an array of high Georgian jewellery that was pinned, clasped and sewn into a young woman’s eveningwear. Here, we focus specifically on three different types of sparkling Georgian jewellery that was front and centre at fashionable 18th century European balls.
If there was something that the Georgians specifically wanted from their jewellery, it was luminosity, vibrance and colour, and this was achieved through the ancient art of foiling.
18th and early 19th-century lapidaries could only do a few certain kinds of gemstone cuts. These included rose cut, table cut, and flat cut. Unlike more modern gemstone cuts, these gemstone cuts did not reveal the natural innate fire of certain gemstones. That being said, they certainly possessed their own romantic character and allure. To increase the gemstones vibrancy, and to add more colour and depth, the Georgians placed foils in the backs of the gemstone settings. These foils could be the same colour as the gemstone or they could be a different but complementary colour entirely.
The foils were designed to increase the refraction of light, creating an intense flash of colour and draw the eye to the centre. Some of our favourite foiled jewellery pieces in our collection have included pink-foiled Amethyst and Paste, peachy-foiled Diamonds and Paste, and sumptuous foiled Garnets.
Foiled pieces were highly fashionable and sought after for 18th and 19th-century balls, this is because the foils would literally come alive in candlelit rooms. 18th century and early 19th century fashions lowered the decollete of ballgowns, which, of course, led to more flesh on display. With this in mind, foiling was commonly used with earrings, riviere necklaces and pendants. So, if you wanted to attract a certain suitor, then this style of jewellery would literally catch their eye and draw their gaze towards your face and neck.
It is no secret that beautiful bejewelled jewellery and the night sky certainly have a stylistic affinity with one another. You can find a myriad of celestial fashion jewellery today but did you know that astrological themed jewellery was in vogue during the 18th and 19th century?
This rise in Georgian celestial jewellery coincided with the Age of Enlightenment (1650-1780). Just a century before, there were spectacular scientific discoveries made by Galileo about outer space. This clearly held huge weight within Georgian society, as the whole world was not only bedazzled by the universe, but also what part they played within it. With this in mind, the interest in astrology boomed, and it wasn’t long for the fascination with the heavens to pass through the minds of astronomers to the fingertips of jewellers.
One of the two most sought after pieces of Georgian celestial jewellery were Bagues Au Firmament and Halley’s Comet. Bagues Au Firmament were a fashionable ring trend first emerging in France, and were even worn by the Queen Marie Antoinette herself! Bagues Au Firmament dreamily translates to “Ring of the Heavens”, and they were a poetic rendition of the night sky. These rings were often a sea of blue Enamel or blue glass, and were speckled with Diamonds or Paste gems. Certainly a statement piece, these rings were a must-have for any regency ball. As not only did it show that you were learned in the art of the universe, but also that you had the taste of Parisian and French fashions at your fingertips.
The second type of Celestial jewellery that was a must for regency balls were Halley’s Comet jewellery. If you weren’t already aware, Halley’s Comet is one of the world’s most famous comets, circling the sun every 75-76 years. The comet was named after Sir Edmund Halley, a royal astronomer who accurately predicted all of the comet’s sightings. In 1759 and 1835, the comet made its regular appearance in a scheduled and timely manner. What resulted was an explosion of commemorative jewellery, from Diamond shooting stars, Paste-encrusted sunbursts and meticulously carved intaglio’s of Halley’s face. We can just imagine the numerous balls and parties that were thrown to celebrate the comet’s arrival, the long-awaited special VIP guest of the night!
Just like the Bagues Au Firmament, it was paramount to have these quintessentially romantic jewels at regency balls, especially if you wanted to have the gossip periodicals discussing your etoile-encrusted ensemble the next day!
Giardinetti jewellery is beautiful and captivating. Throughout the 18th and especially in the 19th century Flowers were a fashionable and symbolic bejewelled choice, especially when it comes to the art and ardours of love. So much so that this culminated in the Victorian language of flowers.
Giardinetti jewellery actually first became popular in Italy, with “Giardinetti” translating to “Little Garden”.
These were mainly rings and brooches that were speckled with tiny blossoms of Rubies, Emeralds, Diamonds and coloured Paste gems protruding from Silver and Gold flowerpots. This style of jewellery reflected the delicate and elegantly composed fashions of the Rococo period, as well as in keeping with the floral embroidered gowns that were in vogue from the 1740s to 1780s.
Giardinetti jewellery was a literal breath of fresh air in the world of 18th century fashion, adding an innocent soupçon of sparkle to a pastel silk gown. Giardinetti gems were also exchanged between lovers and friends, perhaps Simon would have given Daphne a Giardinetti ring or brooch to show the other suitors just what they were missing!
We hope you have enjoyed reading all about fabulous glittering Georgian jewellery, you can see the current Lillicoco Georgian jewellery collection here!
I am delighted to welcome my first guest of the year to All Things Georgian, Elizabeth Larby, who, apart from being the archivist at Gresham’s School, Norfolk, has also come across a fascinating diary which she is going to tell us more about today.
The diary is safely stored at Norfolk Records Office, but Elizabeth has also transcribed it and added additional information. I have added links at the end of this post if you’d like to find out more about this fascinating gentleman.
Intrepid Mr Marten set off with his wife Emma, daughter Sarah and servant from the Custom House steps in London aboard the ‘Hero’ steam packet on 7th September 1825 for a voyage to the depths of Norfolk of 24 days duration. The trip – intended for the ‘heath and pleasure’ of the family – took them initially by sea to Great Yarmouth, on to stays in Cromer and Norwich, and finally to a few days of Georgian country delights with friends.
Who was author of the 1825 diary?
Robert Humphrey Marten was born on 21st March 1763 in London, the second eldest in a typically large family for the period. His father Nathaniel was a Mile End pastry cook and his mother was Martha Clarkson. The family attended local Congregationalist (Independent) meetings and family prayers and religious instruction were commonplace in the home.
After assuring himself of her ‘pious principle’ and sampling her sensible conversation, Robert married Mary Reeves in 1789 at Bethnal Green.
Sadly, their happiness was short-lived, and Mary was taken ill during the following year and died in June. By the end of the year, however, on the advice of his father, the young man was once again considering marriage.
Having renewed his acquaintance with Miss Elizabeth Giles, Robert proposed and was accepted. He and Elizabeth were married on 12th July 1791 at Milton-next-Gravesend Church. Living on a small income, the couple had to practice economy in the home and no frivolous Sunday parties were allowed, instead they lived according the advice of their church, working and praying hard, remaining cheerful despite their straitened circumstances.
The first of Robert’s five children, Robert Giles, was born on 22nd June 1792. Improving finances allowed a move to No. 64 Great Prescott Street in London, a comfortable house with a small garden. By this time Robert had become a partner with the maritime insurance company Smith St Barbe & Marten, marking a great step forward for the ambitious 30-year old. To the firm’s main business of insurance, Robert added the care and disposal of salvaged ships, a big money earner during the ensuing wars with France.
By 1805 Elizabeth’s health was declining and a change of air recommended, encouraging a move to Broadway House in the village of Plaistow and a daily commute by two-wheeled chaise for Robert. A gardener and various servants completed the now well-to-do household.
As more dissenting families moved into the area the need for a suitable place of worship became more pressing and Robert was one of the founders of the meeting house in 1807. As well as being a leading light in the chapel, Robert was well known for his generosity and charity in the area and worked tirelessly in support of many causes.
On the death of his second wife Elizabeth in 1811 Robert wrote of twenty years of ‘mutual happiness’ with the mother of his five grown up children.
Another two years passed before a new bride was chosen for her very high character and approved by the children. Emma Martin, who accompanied Robert on his 1825 tour, became his wife on 8th July 1813.
By 1825 the demands of business and philanthropy were taking their toll on Robert’s health in the form of headaches and nervous exhaustion, hence the need for a break at the seaside with its recently discovered benefits to the constitution.
The discovery of Robert’s journal and identify
In 1983 I was looking around for a new project, having completed ‘Poppyland in Pictures’, an illustrated guide to the history of tourism in Cromer whilst working as a volunteer at the local museum. My college history tutor suggested I might see if the Norfolk Record Office had any interesting texts that I could edit and bring to the public’s attention and the little calf-skin diary came into my life. I was immediately struck by the charm of Robert’s writing and the strong element of social history as he described the sights and sounds of Georgian England on his travels.
I soon became fascinated with the diarist and keen to find out more about him than the little he reveals in the diary pages. Robert was clearly a caring man, his benevolence well in evidence in the journal with small acts of kindness to local children and helping a distressed widow on board ship, as well as involvement in missionary work with Norwich worthies. Although a serious man, Robert clearly had a cheeky sense of humour, and there are several instances of his amusement at the canny Cromer locals and their efforts to profit from their visitors!
At this stage though I knew little more than his name so decided to try advertising in The Lady magazine in case he was known to one of their readers. As luck would have it, a family friend of Robert’s great great grandson John W. King just happened to be browsing its pages and came across my plea for information. John soon came up trumps with a family tree and autobiography of my diarist giving all the information I wished for and more.
Newly armed with material on Robert and his background, I set about researching the people and places mentioned on his travels in detail to help bring the tour to life and provide some context.
The diary’s charm and historical value
Robert’s diary is illustrated with contemporary engravings as well as his own careful pencil sketches and it was fascinating to compare the scenes he recorded in Cromer to that of today and find that some have actually changed very little. Cromer was just emerging as a holiday destination for discerning visitors and still retains its charm as a seaside resort – walking on the pier and cliffs enjoying the views, picking up shells & fossils on the beach, enjoying the bracing sea air and tasty seafood are common to the Marten family’s experience and that of today’s tourists.
Norwich still has plenty to interest the visitor, with its old buildings, cobbled streets, churches and markets, but we would perhaps not want to visit places on Robert’s itinerary such as the new prison buildings and factories, the evidence of a changing, industrial society. Yarmouth has probably changed the most with its mass tourism appeal, amusement arcades and funfairs, and is certainly less smelly than when the Martens visited when the town’s prosperity was based on its herring fisheries!
The later Georgian era was called the first great age of popular travel, when the activity was no longer restricted to business or necessity, and was starting to become a pleasure in itself and even associated with idea of an annual holiday. During the last quarter of the 18th century travel books were amongst the bestsellers, and, like the eagle-eyed antiquarian, Robert is always on the lookout for the picturesque view complete with crumbling ruins. The tour ends with a stay in a country house where the family enjoy some typical Georgian delights including shooting, a musical evening, riding, and some fine dining.
Robert Marten died of a coronary at his home in Plaistow, aged 76 on 11th December 1839. In many ways he mirrored the changing society in which he lived and recorded in the pages of his Norfolk journal, sharing common roots in 18th century England, but showing symptoms of the great transformation afoot in the 19th century.
With his sense of order and tradition and preference in all things for the ‘solemn grandeur’ he admired in Norwich Cathedral, he was typical of the 18th century gentleman. Yet, with his interest in the inventions and industrial expansion of the day, the diarist was also very much a man of the 19th century.
Just to let you know, I’m taking a seasonal break now until Wednesday 13 January 2021, and would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone seasons greetings and my sincerest wish for you all, that 2021 will be an improvement on the rollercoaster ride that 2020 has been.
This year, apart from my own articles I have been delighted to welcome several guests to All Things Georgian, who have shared some fascinating stories with us. So, whilst you try to relax over the festive period you might enjoy re-reading some or catching up on ones you missed the first time around.
I am delighted to welcome guest author and blogger Jeremy Bell who is going to tell you more about a couple of hidden secrets , which he’s sure that many people will not have noticed before, within Hogarth’s painting.
Much has been written about the characters in William Hogarth’s painting The March of the Guards to Finchley (1751). However, there are two figures that the artist concealed within the painting, and this is the perfect year for them both to be exposed.
In this, the tricentennial anniversary of the birth of Charles Edward Stuart (1720-1788), the prince and his nemesis, the Duke of Cumberland (1721-1765) have been discovered, along with details of their face-off at Culloden.
Take a look at the central detail in which a grenadier marches in step with his pregnant wife. They are assaulted by a Catholic woman, identified by her cross and priest-like robes. She attacks the couple with some verbal abuse and a Jacobite newspaper!
Another soldier seems to charge at her from behind and drive her back with his halberd. Although he is standing several yards behind the woman, Hogarth uses a trick of perspective to make it seem like he is running her through.
On closer inspection, this soldier’s swarthy face is similar to a portrait of the Duke of Cumberland which the protestant woman carries in her basket. It is covered by a copy of ‘God Save the King’, a reference to rumours of the Duke’s aspirations to rule.
Hogarth often employed such visual tricks (trompe l’oeil) to tell his stories. Notice how the artists darkened the place where the rolled-up newspaper seems to make contact with the soldier’s shoulder.
The publication’s full title – ‘The Remembrancer or weekly Slap in the Face of the Ministry’ had attacked the Duke in the year of the painting, by criticising his proposal for army discipline. The scene of rowdy soldiers begs for this necessary reform.
This Catholic woman represents the Jacobite forces which were camped just 100 miles away from London. Her charge being repelled by the pikeman is a premonition of the imminent conflict. The other end of the halberd axe appears to threaten the mother and child in the cart (positioned many yards behind him). I believe that this trompe l’oeil refers to the alleged atrocities that took place after the battle of Culloden.
Although these details are obvious once it is pointed out, I do not believe that anyone has written about this example of Hogarth’s storytelling. The artist also included a depiction of the leader of the Jacobite forces. How wonderful to discover several hints that identify Charles Edward Stuart in the year of his 300th birthday.
You don’t have to search long to find a miniature portrait of the Stuart prince – he is the only one looking to the North. A first account description describes him as a tall, slender, upright man. It was noted that his neck was ‘long, but not ungracefully so, …. with a slender stock buckled behind.’ This conforms to Hogarth’s tiny depiction of him.
Hogarth has imagined that Charles has disguised himself as a British officer. He has come down from his camp in Derby to spy on the enemy’s position. He is actually being pointed out by his accomplice who crouches behind him. This man’s red hair identifies him as a Scotsman. The bayonet that overlaps his head is another trompe that hints at the Jacobite inevitable slaughter.
Hogarth obfuscates the Scotsman’s finger-pointing by painting him in the act of stealing some alcohol from a barrel (that is a gimlet in his mouth). His finger-to-the-nose sign was always reported as ‘quiet don’t tell anyone.’ In this new context, he is actually telling us not to give the prince away.
Hogarth presents us with a whole line of thieves. One man steals milk from a maid, while another ‘steals’ a kiss. A third soldier points all this out to a pieman, and then steals from him in the process.
Hogarth was famous for including clever word games within his art. I wonder if he continued this line of thievery to the Scotsman (who is stealing from the barrel), and the prince who is ‘stealing away’. Commentators focus on the painter’s disrespect of the troops. However, Hogarth’s intention might have been to create this visual pun.
He who would be Charles III, is riding away from the Charles II tavern sign. In the distance we can see that Charles Edward is headed towards a barren tree – a symbol of the impending disaster that awaits the House of Stuart. It compares to a healthy tree on the other side.
While we, the viewer, can see this tree from our position, the branches lie just out of the prince’s sight. The symbol of his imminent defeat lies ‘just around the corner’. (My red arrow shows the prince’s sight line with the dead tree coloured in red). At this particular moment in time, Charles was still confident that he would win the day. However, the painter knows the full story. With a clever addition, Hogarth has given away the ending with a forewarning of the atrocities that will follow.
Ending on a less depressing note, I think it a wonderful coincidence that the Scottish spy who accompanies the Young Pretender looks like a character from Outlander – Jamie Fraser (played by Sam Heughan). The series, based on the wildly popular books by Diane Gabaldon, concerns time travel to the Jacobite times – here is your proof in oil!
Jeremy Bell’s book William Hogarth – A Freemason’s Harlot (2017) was written to coincide with the 300th anniversary of formation of the United Grand Lodge of England.
Over 300 illustrations show how Hogarth actually hid previously unnoticed portraits of himself within his work, along with the signs, passwords and ‘secret knocks’ of the Freemasons. It explains how Jacobite Freemasonry (which is the true original Scottish form), was used to infiltrate London gentry, and suggests that the Duke of Burlington built Chiswick Villa as a stage to welcome the return of a restored Stuart king. Indeed, the ‘failed’ waterfall at Chiswick was actually a cleverly constructed ‘carriage splash’ that would welcome ‘The King Over the Water’.
The book can be ordered via Jeremy’s website , he can also be contacted at Brotherhogarth@gmail.com
Today I am delighted to welcome a new guest to All Things Georgian, Paul Martinovich. After a career spent planning museum exhibits in North America and Ireland, Paul retired to pursue a longstanding interest in the Napoleonic Wars.
He first came across Selina Cordelia St Charles whilst researching for his forthcoming biography of Pulteney Malcolm: The Sea is my Element: the eventful life of Admiral Sir Pulteney Malcolm, in which you can find out more about the liaison between Malcolm and Selina, and the fate of their son. The biography of Malcolm is the result of several years research in archives in Britain and North America.
With that introduction I’ll now hand over to Paul to tell you more about the illusive Selina Cordelia St Charles:
In April of 1796, a 13-year-old girl boarded the East Indiaman William Pitt in Portsmouth harbour. An observer might have noted that she was well-dressed and well-spoken—these facts (along with her elegant name) would have suggested she was from a good family. But what were her origins, why was she going to India alone (except for her maid), what would become of her when she got there? These questions are not easy to answer, but the research has revealed a strange and unexpected life, and the interesting woman who lived it.
Selina was not famous and is not well-documented in the historical record. In fact, her origins are shrouded in mystery, and are the least-understood part of her life. She was almost certainly illegitimate, and born in 1782 or 1783. She was said to have been born in Quebec, and named ‘Selina Cordelia St Charles’, ‘facts’ which it has not been possible to verify, and may well be a red herring to conceal her true parentage. Her father was almost certainly one of a clan of prosperous traders and professional men named Birch, possibly William Henry Birch, an officer in the British Army. Her mother’s identity remains unknown.
The infant Selina was brought up by her Birch grandparents, William and Sally Birch, in Pinner just outside London. Sally Birch was born a Holwell, a family that, like the Birches, had long-standing trading connections with India. She was the daughter of John Zephaniah Holwell, survivor and publicist of the ‘Black Hole of Calcutta’. In this famous outrage nearly a hundred-and-fifty British civilians, captured by an Indian ruler, were crammed overnight into a space the size of a good-sized bedroom. The next morning most of them were dead, but Holwell was among the living. After the British recaptured Calcutta, in order to perpetuate the memory of his dead companions he had a monument erected on the site and wrote a widely read book on the incident.
Selina would have learned of these events, and of her family’s Indian links from her grandparents. They also provided her with a good education judging by her letters, which are well-composed and written in an elegant hand.
In 1796, possibly as a result of the death of her father, it was decided to send Selina to India, even though she was only about 13 years old. There she would live with her Birch uncles, prominent businessmen with the East India Company, and would be expected eventually to find a husband. The dispatching of children to live with relatives in distant countries was not unknown in Georgian times, and the annual traffic in young women travelling to India to seek a husband was so common that it came to be nicknamed ‘the fishing fleet’.
So when Selina boarded the Indiaman she must have felt she was about to begin a great adventure. Another passenger was Major John Shee, a British Army officer going out to join his regiment (the 33rd) in Bengal.
Their shipboard acquaintance led the astonishingly young Selina (she was still playing with dolls) to marry the 26-year-old Shee when the ship stopped at Cape Town. Even though marriages to 16 or even 15-year old girls were not unheard of in the Georgian period, it is difficult to understand how under any circumstances a child of 13 could be allowed to marry a man of 26. Probably, Shee got around the legal prohibition on those under 21 from marrying without parental consent by having the banns read in three successive Sundays at a church in Cape Town. Shee’s regiment stayed at the Cape for a couple of months before embarking for India. Selina (now Mrs Shee) seems to have proceeded to Calcutta on a different ship to her husband, under the protection of a Captain Henry Churchill, who was probably her uncle. Perhaps this was because it was felt that such a young girl should not be exposed to the sights and sounds on the troopship in which Shee travelled.
The couple reunited in India and the marriage seems to have been briefly happy as Selina lived with John Shee at Fort William in Calcutta. However in 1798, he sent her back to England on the Indiaman Hawke. Later Selina claimed that this move was for her health, and that she expected Shee to soon join her. Another explanation for sending Selina to England might be to remove her from being caught up in a war with Tipu Sultan, which was clearly imminent. Whatever the reason, Shee not only sent his teenage wife home without making any provision for her support while she was in England, but then also failed to communicate with her in any way for more than two years.
In England Selina lived with her grandparents in Pinner. Naturally she was very short of money, so she wrote a series of polite letters to her husband’s relatives (which included Sir George Shee, a rich nabob with an important government post) asking for support, while proclaiming her continued affection for her delinquent spouse. Selina’s efforts to convince herself that her husband was not the callous spouse that he seemed to be are captured in this extract from a letter she wrote to Jane Jackson, Shee’s sister.
It is the appearance of neglect from him who is dearer to me than life which has stung me to the heart; how then can I help tenderly loving her [Jane Jackson] who assures me of the truth of that which I have always believed? that cruel accident [letters having gone missing] and not neglect is the cause of all my anxieties. I have had every proof of the goodness and Generosity of Col. Shee’s heart, not only in his behavior to me while in India (which was all tenderness and affection), but from his general Character. Is it likely then that his Wife alone should have just reason to doubt the Excellency of his heart?
Selina seems to have received little or no assistance from the Shees, so when the financial situation of her Birch relatives became more difficult, she resolved to return to her husband in India. Where the money came from to pay for her passage is not clear.
John Shee had meanwhile risen to the rank of brevet lieutenant-colonel in the 33rd, which happened to be the regiment of Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington. There is ample evidence that Wellesley despised Shee, considering him an incompetent officer, and ‘a species of assassin’, who practiced with a pistol in order to be able to kill his opponents in duels more efficiently.
Selina reached India in July 1801 but did not stay long, since Shee (apparently because of Wellesley’s enmity) decided to return to England and sell his army commission. She accompanied her husband on this journey, but the marriage was now breaking down, and it seems likely that Shee was physically abusing his wife.
The couple was offered a passage from Cape Town to England by a naval captain named Pulteney Malcolm, who was returning in his ship of the line after some years in Indian waters. A number of other passengers and about a hundred troops were also crammed aboard the ship, which was in poor condition and urgently needed repairs.
During the passage, Malcolm and Selina became lovers, despite the proximity of her husband, who on discovering the liaison quitted the ship to complete his journey on another vessel. On reaching England Shee sued Malcolm for Criminal Conversation, essentially an action for ‘damages’ to his ‘property’ i.e. his wife’s reputation. During the trial it became apparent that Shee had beaten Selina, and while the jury found for the plaintiff, it clearly did not feel he deserved any sympathy in the situation.
As was customary in such cases, Selina did not testify in the trial. In fact she was now pregnant with Malcolm’s child, and gave birth to a son a few months later.
Somewhat conveniently, John Shee died (possibly due to alcohol, since he was a heavy drinker) in March 1804.
Three weeks later Selina married one James Martin Holwell, a haberdasher aged 21. This was no sudden infatuation—James Martin was her cousin, another descendant of John Zephaniah Holwell, and she had surely known him from her childhood in Pinner.
At this point, Selina’s life settles into a more typical path. The couple moved to Devon, where Selina had two children with James Martin. His haberdashery business did not prosper and he went bankrupt, but was rescued by Captain Malcolm, who got him a job with the Navy. In the post-war slump, the Holwell family emigrated to Canada, and settled in Montreal. It is not clear if by this move Selina was returning to her roots in the New World: this is just another aspect of the mystery of her eventful life. Selina Cordelia Holwell died in Montreal, still only 42, in 1825.
Should anyone happen to know something about Selina’s origins—where and when she was born and who her parents were Paul would be grateful to learn the details. Such an extraordinary woman deserves a full accounting of her life.
East Indiaman Pitt in two positions by Whitcombe (Christies)
Today, I have another guest post, by Etienne Daly about his research into the burial of Dido Elizabeth Belle‘s sons.
After establishing early on in my research that Dido Elizabeth Belle, Britain’s first mixed-race aristocrat was buried at St George’s Fields Burial Ground, I next focussed my attention to her two sons – Charles and William Thomas (whose twin John, died in infancy) and was probably also buried at St George’s Fields.
I started my search back in February 2016. Finding Charles, William Thomas was no easy feat as I thought it would be. Having contacted most of the cemeteries in Greater London, starting with the Brompton Cemetery, where Lavinia Amelia Daviniere, late Wohlgemuth, was buried, then nearby Margravine Cemetery and on to Paddington Cemetery, all bearing no fruit. It was the same story for Highgate and others. I eventually fell upon Kensal Green Cemetery in north London as a possible because both Charles and William Thomas lived nearby. Charles in Notting Hill and William Thomas in Paddington, with both staying within those areas for much of their lives, they married, had children, lived and died in those boroughs, but they did also travel.
My first call to the cemetery bore fruit as they were able to locate the grave of William Thomas on their register and gave me those details over the phone, whilst asking for any findings on his brother Charles or any other family members. ‘No, I’m sorry we can’t find anyone else listed here’, I was told. Odd? Perplexed I thanked them for their help. I continued my search for Charles and his family. Looking everywhere I could think of, but no joy and getting a bit frustrated, when I came across by chance, on Billion Dollar Graves.com, an image of a grave with a marble cross above it and written below was Charles George Daviniere, buried at Kensal Green Cemetery. Died 16th January 1899. I knew then that this was Dido’s grandson from her twin son, Charles. Eureka, I cried as I always felt that if William Thomas was buried there, his older brother Charles would be too. So, quickly I grabbed the telephone to call the cemetery with this find.
Even with this call, they could not find a listing straight away, I even mentioned the site that I had found the details on. They suggested I leave it with them, and they would email me with any findings and references they could muster. I was hanging onto a thread of hope.
A day later I was emailed the information I wanted and again, I reached for the phone to call Kensal Green Cemetery, but this time I had a contact name who was dealing with my enquiry. I explained that I was puzzled that there was no sign of Charles, Dido’s son and could they please check again, and still even after that they could not confirm that Charles Daviniere (who died 24th January 1873) was actually at the cemetery. I even gave his title as Lieutenant Colonel – still no joy.
At least I have 2 family members now, so the next thing was to visit I thought. Absolutely. I had a contact at the friends of Kensal Green Cemetery who was able to pinpoint the exact area for me from his experience of the site as a whole.
There are thousands of graves that are intertwined just in the area I was going to visit let alone the cemetery as a whole without this knowledge the find would have been a lot longer, believe me. Needle in a haystack!
The first grave I found was in the sections 66 and 67 and was that of William Thomas, Dido’s last child, who I was able to establish then and there, was born on the 17th of December 1800.
I thought at the time ‘what a lovely Christmas present Dido got that year and just a week before that big event, a baby’. The grave is a ledger, a flat stone that covers the burial site and this one is made of pink granite – very expensive for the time. It was deeply engraved (a difficult job in those days), where all the family members were inscribed, William Thomas Daviniere – died 10th September 1867; wife, Fanny (Frances) – died 19th January 1869; Emily Helen (daughter) died 2nd March 1870. And finally, another relative William Charles Graham, nephew of Fanny. He lived with them and oddly he died on the same day and month as his uncle but being 10 September, three years later in 1870. So, within 3 years of William Thomas’s death, all the family were gone, all buried there.
A tree behind the ledger is tall and could have been planted there at the time of the final burial. Worth noting is the condition of the ledger today, given that it’s been in situ what will be 153 years this September, you would think it’s only been there 10 years maximum, it has weathered very well and has a sheen to it, remarkable really. And all the lettering is legible not eroded.
Having visited this grave I made my way to find that of Charles George Daviniere, bearing in mind it was a blowy, early March day in 2016, so not the best of days to linger around, quite cold too, with parts of the cemetery waterlogged.
I knew what to look for which was a marble cross albeit a bit grubby in appearance from the weather and placed on 3 tiers. I was told this grave wasn’t too far from that of William Thomas, in fact, it was only a stone’s throw away, literally so. Upon finding it fairly quickly, thanks to my contact, I noticed the grave was in a bad state and not tended to for many years. I noticed some of the family names were there, but not all. First, to be buried was Charles George who died on 16 January 1899, then was his son Percy Angus, he died 10 June 1904 in his 25th year and which was next followed by the wife of Charles George, Helen Marion Daviniere. She died on 23rd July 1932, a long life considering she was born in 1849/ Finally their youngest son Charles Crawford, who died on 28 Jul 1937, only into his 51st year, being born in 1886.
Reflecting again on the condition of that grave I turned to my left and noticed just beside Charles George’s monument, and I mean literally beside it, was a granite obelisk-shaped headstone which was in better condition, very grubby through many years of exposure to the weather. Encrusted with dirt, grime and birds mess. Upon closer inspection and to my complete surprise I saw first, inscribed the words: Lt. Col. Charles Daviniere of the MADRAS ARMY. Died 24 January 1873. In his 78th year.
Jumping for joy I read the other now grimy looking names on the obelisk: Lavinia Hannah Steele, died 20 February 1876, aged 38 years. To the side was a child’s burial, a son of Charles George – Herbert Lionel Daviniere, who died 20 November in 1878 only 17 months old – that was sad.
Lastly, was Charles his wife Hannah who died on the 14th of November 1883, some 10 years plus after the death of her husband. All now found by me and by chance. I noticed Hannah had the longest life dying at 70 years that was a good life span for the Victorian era.
They were all ‘upper, middle class,’ worth noting that Charles, William Thomas, Fanny and Hannah (Nash) Daviniere were all born in the Georgian era, 1795, 1800, 1801 and 1813 respectively. Their offspring all born in the Victorian era. But not all of Charles George’s children were buried at Kensal Green Cemetery.
I quickly advised the staff at the burial office of my find, which they noted, and all sites are now included fully in the register so that other visitors should not have the difficulty I had, finding the graves. Having found the graves, I decided, that given their condition, if it were possible to have them renovated and cleaned up so they could look bit more respectable, so I contacted the nearby undertakers, E.M. Lander who like many funeral directors handle restorations, as monumental stone Masons. I explained the task at hand to him and they took over from there liaising with the cemetery directly and with clearance from them, started work in February 2017.
You’ll be able to see from the images how good a job they did of the three graves and I, in turn, attempt to visit these graves at least bi-monthly in order to keep him clean tidy and free from any fallen debris. Such a shame other graves unlocked looked after. I noticed on a recent visit that a nearby grave that had looked very weathered, had been cleaned up and the marble now looks bleach wide and surrounding area tidied up.
Anyone wishing to visit the Daviniere’s graves will be able to see from the map and the grids shown here, how to get there without needing a compass. You will also find the staff at the main office entrance on Harrow Road, most helpful.
Finally, some helpful tips – good footwear, an umbrella, a good coat should you visit in the wintertime, tissues/wet wipes to clean your shoes and boots after leaving the cemetery.
Should you wish to know more of those buried at Kensal Green, such as Augustus Frederick, King George III’s son, contact Kensal Green Cemetery on 0208 9690152, Monday to Saturday 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM.
Today I welcome back Etienne Daly, with whom I’ve been working for a while now, researching Dido Elizabeth Belle, her life and her family. Today, Etienne is going to provide a quick Q&A session about Dido Elizabeth Belle, to set the record straight about some of the misinformation that still circulates in the public domain. Also, if you want to read more about her, you might like to try using the search option on All Things Georgian which will take you to all the current articles about Dido. I’ll now hand over to Etienne:
Over the past few years, there’s has been growing interest in Dido who is often referred to as Great Britain’s first mixed-race aristocrat. This is partly true as her father, Sir John Lindsay K.B., was an aristocrat and she was raised from five years old in the ‘aristocratic’ environment of both Caenwood (Kenwood) House in Hampstead and Bloomsbury Square in London. Her great uncle and aunt were also part of the elite, with Lord Mansfield being the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales.
Dido received a special upbringing with the Mansfields, that which no person of colour in Western Europe of the time had. Even the Chevalier de St. Georges had to go to school whereas tutors came to the Mansfields to educate their great-nieces. Both cousins were educated equally and amongst their subjects, they were taught French – something that was to aid Dido very well in the future when she met John Louis Daviniere in the early 1790s. He was a Gentleman’s Steward.
Dido became an heiress in Lord Mansfield’s will of 1782 and whilst born in the era of slavery was never born as a slave herself, even though her mother Maria was. Maria was later freed from slavery by Dido’s father, Sir John Lindsay. A lot more interest in Dido would follow but the media has given the impression that there is no more knowledge of her to be found. This is wrong!
Here are some of the answers to most common questions raised about Dido, although I am sure there’s plenty more.
1. Where is the real painting of Dido & Elizabeth?
The real painting of the cousins is at Scone Palace, Perth in Scotland
2. How did Dido die and at what age?
Dido is said to have died of natural causes at the aged of 43, in Pimlico, London
3. Was John Daviniere French or of French descent?
John Louis Daviniere was French, from Ducey in Normandy, France. He came to England in the mid-1780s.
4. What was John Daviniere’s occupation?
Daviniere’s was a Gentleman’s Steward, above head-butler, unlike his occupation in the film, Belle.
5. Was the film ‘Belle’ based on historic accuracy?
The film was based upon the book by Dr Paula Byrne and was very helpful in getting Dido known, but of course, being a film there was some creative licence and more information has emerged over time about her real life
6. Dido bore twins in 1795, one of the twins, John died in infancy – where is he buried?
Although no burial has been found so far, he was most likely buried at St George’s Field
7. What was the exact year and month Dido was born?
Dido was born on 29th June 1761 and in London. Confirmation that she was born in England was provided by Thomas Hutchinson.
8. Thomas Hutchinson remarked Dido’s hair didn’t match the larger curls now in fashion, did she ever try to relax her?
Most probably, as Hutchinson noted back in 1779 it was lengthened more than short curls. She most probably used pomade by the 1780s onwards to relax her hair finer still.
9. Was Dido really part of the Mansfield family and not a slave?
Dido was very much part of the family, fully educated by them and never raised or treated as a slave. This becomes clear when you read this newspaper article written in 1788 on the death of her father, Sir John Lindsay. It makes it clear how well respected Dido was by both family and visitors to the house.
10. Did Dido have any siblings?
No, but she did have several half-siblings. Sir John had 4 other children, all by different mothers and all born in Jamaica, one of whom died in infancy. The two who are best known to history were John and Elizabeth.
11. Where was Dido married and in what year?
Dido was married at St. George’s Church, Hanover Square – 5th December 1793, on the same day and at the same church as the 1st Duke of Sussex
12. As she was married by licence who paid for it?
As part of her inheritance, she had her licence paid for by her uncle, 2nd Earl Mansfield. The cost was £200.00. The cost of the licence would have bought you a 3-bedroom property with garden outside the city of London at that time.
13. It is said her grave was moved along with others to make way for a housing development, is this correct?
The main site was developed, but part of the 1st class plot was not excavated. There’s a blog showing my calculations
14. She is often referred to as black and sometimes mixed race, which one is she?
Dido was mixed race and not black. She had a white father, Sir John Lindsay and a black mother, Maria Bell
15. Was Dido financially secure after she left Caenwood House?
Dido was very secure financially when she left Caenwood House in early April 1793. In fact, she had her own bank account with one of London’s oldest and respected private banks
16. Where did she live after she got married? and for how long?
Dido went to live in Pimlico in a ‘new build’ Georgian house which would of have at least 3 bedrooms, a cook and housemaid. She lived there from 1794 until her death in 1804
17. Was Dido well educated like her cousin Elizabeth?
Yes. She was educated in all ladylike pursuits of the era including horse riding and had the same education as her cousin, Elizabeth
18. If Dido was found at St.George’s Fields Burial Ground how could you identify her for sure?
As per question 11, if found she could be identified firstly by DNA, and secondly, in 1791 there remains proof of her having dental work, she had two teeth removed from her lower jaw by a visiting dentist. She could also have been wearing a dress – more of which another time.
19. Was Dido’s father, Sir Lindsay, wealthy?
Yes, definitely. Apart from a naval salary, Sir John made good prize money with his captures in the Caribbean. Also, for example, we know from a newspaper of 1772 that when he returned from India he came back significantly more wealthy than when he left to the tune of around £100,000 (which in today’s money is in the region of 9 million pounds), of course, this may well be a slight exaggeration on the part of the media, but either way it was a significant sum.
20. What happened to Dido’s mother?
Maria Bell(e) remained in England until around 1774, Sir John purchased land for her in Pensacola where a house was built, No 6 Western Bayfront.
21. There was a ship launched in 1784, named HMS Dido, did it have any connection to Dido Elizabeth Belle?
Watch this space as more research into the possibility that it was named after her is in progress, especially as it tied in nicely with it being commissioned in 1782, around her 21st birthday and her father’s place in high society and his royal connections.
Today, I am delighted to welcome to All Things Georgian, Professor Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina whose new book, ‘Britain’s Black Past‘ (*see end) has just been published by Liverpool University Press and is also available from Amazon. Our paths crossed as a result of our shared interest in the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle, who features in the book.
Gretchen has been an Honorary Fellow at Exeter University, Eastman Professor at Oxford University, and professor of English at Brunel University. She is Paul Murray Kendall Professor of Biography and Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and amongst her numerous books, she has written ‘Black England: Life Before Emancipation’. With that introduction, I’ll now hand over to Gretchen to tell you more about how her latest book came to be written.
In 2015, I was contacted by a radio producer, Elizabeth Burke, proposing a ten-part series on early black Britain for the BBC. She had read my book Black England: Life Before Emancipation and thought that would like to put together a number of programmes we called “Britain’s Black Past,” exploring what to most Britons was the unfamiliar history. (You can also listen to the broadcast on BBC Radio 4 by clicking on this link).
My job, as an author with an extensive history of radio presenting, was to go with her to locations all over Britain to interview those who were making discoveries and bring their work to life in the studio. Together we climbed a hill in Wales, visited an enslaved boy’s grave in Morecombe Bay at low tide with Alan Rice, learned from academics led by Simon Newman in Glasgow who had put together a database of runaway enslaved people in Scotland.
In the studio, Elizabeth and I, with her colleagues, put it all together with further interviews, period music composed by the eighteenth-century shopkeeper and letter-writer Ignatius Sancho, whose letters were read aloud by the actor, Paterson Joseph.
The programmes were such a success when it aired in 2016, that it occurred to me that the finds of those who appeared on-air, and of those we were unable to include at the time, would make a terrific book.
Some of its contributors are academics, but others include independent researchers, a museum curator, an actor, a media specialist, and a lawyer turned biographer. In this book, you will meet an early black trumpeter who is the subject of blogs by Michael Ohajuru, and visit a Georgian house in Bristol where two very different enslaved people lived, explored in chapters by Madge Dresser and Christine Eickelmann.
Readers—even those familiar with some of the figures and history it explores—will find much to surprise them. Nathaniel Wells, the mixed-race son of a plantation owner and an enslaved woman on St Kitts, became his father’s heir. He was sent to England for education, and when he came into his contested inheritance built a grand house on his estate and pleasure gardens in Wales. He married twice to white Englishwomen, had numerous children, and became a magistrate and sheriff. His story is complicated by the fact that his money came from a slave plantation, and the only enslaved people he freed were related to him. His story results from the tireless research of Anne Rainsbury, Curator of the Chepstow Museum.
Francis Barber (the servant of Samuel Johnson), black sailors, and Soubise (the ne’er-do-well protégé of Ignatius Sancho) appear in chapters by Michael Bundock, Charles Foy, and Ashley Cohen. Sue Thomas gives a far more extensive context to the narrative of Mary Prince, whose narrative hugely influenced the British abolitionist movement.
Theresa Saxon follows the actor Ira Aldridge through his lesser-known performances in provincial theatres as well as in London, and the ways they were reported in the press.
Rafael Hoermann analyses the political speeches of the firebrand reformer Robert Wedderburn. Caroline Bressey moves forward into the Victorian period to examine how race made its way into literature and public discourse. And Kathleen Chater, whose important database of black people from Britain’s past has become a valuable resource for researchers, discusses the different ways that academics and genealogists contribute to our knowledge of the black past.
These stories may have taken place in the past, but they also live on in the present. Paterson Joseph was so taken by Sancho’s story of becoming independent and later being the first black man in England to cast a vote, that he wrote and performs in a one-man play that travelled from Britain to America.
My chapter reconsiders an ‘All Things Georgian’ favourite, Dido Elizabeth Belle, filling out more of her story but also looking at the ways it has been retold in television and film.
Ray Costello gives a longer history of race in Liverpool extending to the present day. And Vincent Carretta talks about the sometimes unpleasant aftermath to his discoveries about Olaudah Equiano.
It was a huge learning experience for me, but also tremendously rewarding to discover that all of these people, many of them unknown to each other, and others who knew of the others’ work but had never met them, are continuing to bring to light a past that is not past at all.
* Please be aware that right now Amazon appears to have sold out of copies and are not re-stocking at present due to the current COVID19 situation. However, copies of Gretchen’s book are available directly from her publisher Liverpool University Press. They are currently offering a 50% discount on all of of their ebooks as everything is becoming a little more digital at the moment. The discount code is EBOOKLUP
Today I have the honour to host a guest post about the famous 18th-century celebrity, Kitty Clive, by Dr Berta Joncus.
Berta is Senior Lecturer in Music at Goldsmiths, University of London. Before joining Goldsmiths, she was at the University of Oxford: she took her doctorate there and was a British Academy Post-Doctoral Fellow at St Catherine’s (2004–7), then music lecturer at St Anne’s and St. Hilda’s (2007–9). As a scholar, she focuses on the intersection in eighteenth-century vocal music of creative practice and identity politics.
Historians have typically described Kitty Clive as a fat, vain comedienne. My book reveals another artist altogether.
From her 1728 debut until 1748, Clive was an awe-inspiring songster who changed Georgian playhouse history. She was the first playhouse performer to make music the basis of her stardom. She upended hierarchies of taste, dazzling equally with smart airs, operatic pyrotechnics and raw street ballads.
Was she a cheeky minx, a refined siren, a leering vulgarian, or all or none of these? Audiences flocked to the playhouse to find out. Handel, Thomas Arne, Henry Fielding, David Garrick and others supplied vehicles for personae Clive re-invented on the boards, defying male authority through her ability to, as she once wrote, “turn it & wind it & play it in a different manner to his intention.”
Facing systemic discrimination against women, Clive strategized brilliantly. She had some lucky breaks: in 1728, as she prepared for her debut, the collapse of London’s Italian opera company deprived audiences of high-style song, and The Beggar’s Opera whetted appetites for low-style song.
Composer and singing master Henry Carey had groomed Clive to excel in operatic and ballad singing, and Drury Lane manager Colley Cibber, desperate to rival other houses, hired the seventeen-year-old on first hearing. Carey was Clive’s friend and ally, fitting her earliest parts to her strengths, whether as a singing goddess (in masques), a witty shepherdess (in ballad opera), or a sentimental heroine (in sung comedy). Like Carey, the playwrights Charles Coffey, James Miller, and William Chetwood – this last Drury Lane’s prompter, and Clive’s first biographer – designed flattering stage characters around her gifts.
But often Drury Lane managers’ casting disadvantaged Clive, forcing her to create her own opportunities. Performing in The Devil to Pay, a 1731 ballad opera that extolled wife-beating, she used the songs Coffey had added to transform Nell, scripted as the drab victim of her cobbler husband, into a tender, courageous heroine. Overnight, she became Drury Lane’s star of ballad opera as well as of serious song.
In 1732 Cibber replaced Carey with Fielding as Drury Lane’s author of Clive vehicles, driving the indebted Carey to suicide and saddling Clive with Fielding’s unsavoury characterizations – in comedies, epilogues and air verses – through which she nonetheless shone.
With success came marketing. Illustrator John Smith claimed that an image he had engraved of a bare-breasted nymph from an old Dutch oil was a likeness of Clive igniting a years-long battle over whether she was plain or comely.
Theatrical wars were an occupational hazard throughout Clive’s career. In 1733 Colley Cibber’s son Theophilus, angered by not being made Drury Lane’s manager, led an actors’ revolt that Clive refused to follow.
While pamphleteers attacked her, she shored up her reputation by appearing to marry into the genteel Clive family of Shropshire. This ‘union’ was perhaps the most brilliant invention of the former Kitty Raftor: it bestowed on her the status of a Clive while allowing her to keep her earnings, and hid the same-sex desires that both she and George Clive harboured. Kitty’s reputation for propriety – one satire glossed her as ‘Miss Prudely Crotchet’ – became a critical means for garnering sympathy once Theophilus Cibber returned victorious as Drury Lane’s deputy manager.
In 1736 the younger Cibber tried to steal Clive’s parts for his new wife, Susannah. Rewriting the rules of playhouse power, Clive ran a newspaper campaign about her rectitude and her right to her parts; this battle Theophilus lost, despite having the more credible behind-the-scenes account.
Dissimulation was one of Clive’s arts, and her ability to shape-shift made her a Town favourite. She appealed to wit, not sensuality, and claimed to speak for the middling sorts. In her airs and parts of the 1730s and 1740s, Clive protested against effeminate fops, foreign entertainers, men’s authority, Spain’s perfidy, and first minister Robert Walpole’s corruption.
‘The Clive’ stood for native taste in music (she was given two parts in London’s favourite masque, Comus), in legitimate drama (her Portia in The Merchant of Venice became legendary), and in celebrity connections (Handel wrote Samson for her to lead, and an elegant air for her 1740 benefit). In propria persona ‘Kitty’ roles multiplied, not least from the pen of Garrick, so that she could effervesce in the playhouse, season after season.
Clive’s very success sowed the seeds her failure. When in 1743 Drury Lane manager Charles Fleetwood cheated company members of their salaries, she co-led a company rebellion, prompting Fleetwood to claim that the house had been bled dry by stars’ outrageous salary demands.
He published Clive’s earnings, which were indeed large, and the perennial eagerness of the celebrity industry to consume its own children did the rest. Critics charged her with being vain, greedy, jealous and ambitious; a story was faked that she had been involved in a back-stage scuffle with rival actress Peg Woffington. In December 1745 Susannah Cibber engineered another press row with Clive, but this time readers believed her, not Clive. By 1747, Clive had lost her following.
Needing to work to support herself, her brother, and their household, Clive colluded with new Drury Lane manager Garrick to regain public favour. He re-cast her as a blousy, arrogant has-been whose saving grace was how cruelly she mocked herself. To verify Garrick’s version of her, Clive wrote and led self-incriminating in propria persona afterpieces; in her first such work, The Rehearsal, or Bays in Petticoats (1750), she also staged her farewell to serious song. Clive would again succeed at Drury Lane, where she would dominate for another twenty years, but in farce rather than art song or drama. She retired early and wealthy, but her former reputation as a vocal artist of rare skill, and an exponent of British virtues, was in tatters.
Kitty Clive’s rich, complex story, both familiar and foreign to our own celebrity-obsessed era, has been buried under mis-information for centuries. In Kitty Clive, or The Fair Songster, I invite readers to appreciate for the first time not only her achievements as a singer, actor, writer and self-manager, but also the obstacles she had to overcome and the compromises she had to make to reach, and regain, her leading position on the London stage.
For a signed author’s copy at £35.00 (or $45.00) posted free of charge, please email email@example.com.
To listen to the song Handel composed in 1740 for Clive, please to go this link.
Today, it is a pleasure to welcome another new guest to All Things Georgian, Peter Kennison, co-author of ‘Policing From Bow Street: Principal Officers, Runners and The Patroles’, who is going to tell us more about the early origins of policing, so I’ll hand over to him to tell more:
In 2014 Lucy Inglis was perceptive in her brilliant book Georgian London when she wrote that “Less has changed than you might think” something which is certainly true of Bow Street as the centre from which policing in the UK commenced.
Today the Bow Street Tavern exists at 37 Bow Street and if you are lucky enough to be invited down in the cellars you will see the dark damp cell where the Bow Street constables of the 1750s onwards lodged their prisoners. In their day the public house was called the Brown Bear and in 270 years only its name has changed. The Brown Bear was not only the prison for lodging prisoners by the court, but it was also the place where the so-called Bow Street runners took their refreshments. Situated Immediately opposite the public house was the Bow Street Public Office and courthouse at no. 4 Bow Street – originally established by the Trading Justice Sir Thomas De Veil.
The existing medieval system of watch and ward designed to police the masses was breaking down. Societal change and urban growth were destabilising the fabric of society. Weak, independent local Government added another layer of complexity and ineffectiveness. The playwright and magistrate Henry Fielding realised the ineffectiveness of the Parish Police Parochial Watch system that press-ganged traders and merchants into doing their civil duty for one year as Constables. Each Parish Watch operated independently within its own boundary, but since crime fails to respect boundaries many perpetrators escaped.
Crimes committed often went unreported and unrecorded for want of a real central police organisation. A further weakness in the law enforcement system inevitably bred public corruption and led to a deterioration in public morals. Unscrupulous and dishonest individuals found themselves in positions of power as Trading Justices, dispensing the law to a fee-paying public.
Public disorder became a problem; religious, political and social grievances expressed themselves in public scenes of dissatisfaction. Life on the Hogarthian margins was laid bare, with rampant prostitution, drunkenness, hooliganism, bawdy houses and civil disorder. Something had to be done.
The Runners were created by the playwright and magistrate Henry Fielding who in 6 short years created a plan of policing to combat the crime problems into principals we follow today. Fielding created his own constabulary of 6 trusted men taken from the 80 parish constables who had been elected in the City of Westminster for 1 year. This indicated that not many of those selected were up to the job. With the help of Sanders Welch the High Constable of Holborn they established rules in policing practice which every person who holds the office of constable today.
Later they were erroneously known as Runners was a title given to them by the newspapers in the 1780s at roughly the same time that the Bow Street Foot Patroles were introduced. The names and details of these six or so early policemen were deliberately kept secret by Fielding to avoid them being identified as constables nonetheless these were like-minded public-spirited individuals seeking the common good. But who were the men of Bow Street? Those intrepid constables who were the first Principal Officers of the court who from the start – learned the so-called “fundamentals of policing” or its perceptual blueprint. Henry Fielding became the first Stipendiary magistrate funded by the Government as he wished to distance himself from the corrupt practices he witnessed by the other Westminster Trading Justices in dispensing justice. He needed to build an honest reputation that would give confidence to victims and witnesses of crime to come forward and report what they knew. The Bow Street officers made good progress in ridding the streets and highways of dangerous Robbers and footpads.
Bow Street’s gradual success took on something akin to a mythical status. The myth attributed to the Runners was acquired in retrospect was of a group of active individuals who uncovered law-breaking and arrested felons. There was seemingly no hiding place for offenders and Bow Street always got their man, even though they were just a small group of no more than eight investigators.[i] What also added to this myth were numbers of other Bow Street constables because these were not just small numbers.
There were other patroles at Bow Street who supplemented the “Thief Takers”, and they sometimes numbered nearly 300. By the 1780s public signs of hostility over religious grievances caused public disorder resulting in military overreaction. A civil body was needed.
A Bow Street Foot patrole was created in 1782 numbering over 68 although a Bow Street Horse patrole had been experimented with in 1763 and whilst very successful only lasted a year when the Government withdrew funds. These mounted patroles, however, were resurrected in 1805 and later laid the basis of the Metropolitan Police Mounted Branch.
The Horse patrole consisted of 2 Inspectors, 4 deputy Inspectors and 54 constables. Then there were the 100 constables of the Dismounted Horse Patrole and by 1821 28 members of the uniformed day patrole so in the later stages of Bow Street they numbered 264 in total. The Runners built up a reputation based on their detective skills and investigated mainly property crime whilst the plain clothes heavily armed foot patroles went out onto the streets at dusk until midnight in groups of 5 operating out from Westminster to a distance of 4 miles. This was every day, 365 days a year and they became a familiar sight on the streets of Westminster Surrey, Kent, Essex and Middlesex becoming a familiar sight on London’s streets.
Fielding and Welch both instilled an esprit de corps that helped galvanise the group into an effective crime-fighting force. It was this spirit of comradery which contributed to the myth in what Critchley (1967) asserts:
This roisterous body of men some of whom made substantial fortunes out of shady business in trafficking in crime, undoubtedly… creating in their own lifetime the myth of the Bow Street Runners.
The success of Bow Street not only hinged on its mythical status, but the way Henry Fielding laid out his plan to combat crime was unique. This he termed as moving from “Madness to Method”. Once his constabulary was in place they went out onto the streets established informants for information on offenders who they paid them out of their own pockets and if successful they would pocket the state reward of up to £40 on successful conviction of a felony – a more serious crime.
He established Bow Street as the ‘Go to’ place to report their crimes where he had his men available to record these matters into Criminal Registers. These early Registers reported the time, place, method descriptions, value of property stolen, witnesses (+ their addresses) or either real or likely names (or pseudonyms) of suspects.
Prisoners were brought to his court on other matters where he had invited the general public to view proceedings and possibly identify likely perpetrators. Also invited were the newspapers who meticulously reported proceedings under the heading of Bow Street daily to a news-hungry public.
Fielding also established his own successful newspaper which he used to highlight particular crimes reported to Bow Street and these also included matters alerted to him at Bow Street from Magistrates in the shires surrounding London and sometimes beyond. On the report of a felony, a reserve of 2 Bow Street principal officers were waiting to take details, search the registers for descriptions before they ventured out at any time of the day or night on the fast response vehicle at the time – the horse. Fielding only selected those of his officers for the job if they were highly-skilled as good horsemen, often brave battle-hardened ex-cavalry soldiers who had served the army with credit. The men were well-trained, properly armed and good marksmen.
The constables appreciated the dangers of violence towards them under these circumstances and often went in sufficient numbers. His methods of sudden pursuit paid dividends since many highwaymen were swiftly caught and brought back to court to face examination. With an added confidence, soon more witnesses and victims of crime attended the court to make their reports, with each case being investigated and acted on quickly. Quick response has become a useful police strategy.
The Fieldings newspaper was the early forerunner to the Police Gazette still circulated to Police organisations today. Historians have viewed this part of police history at Bow Street Public Office as an irrelevance not to be taken seriously because little is known about the detail. The Whig historians claim that these later Runners were a corrupt group of men whose services could be bought or who would frame innocent people to gain the state (£40) reward. Whilst this was more true later at the turn of the century onwards the men of Bow Street were properly regulated, honest, public-spirited thief-takers.
These honest men were not to be confused with the common and disreputable thief-taker general, Jonathon Wild, whose corrupt gang fitted up unsuspecting people to claim the rewards. What seems to add fuel to this flame and probably a reason none of the runners were employed as Metropolitan Police detectives was that when for example, the most famous Bow Street Runner John Townsend died in 1832 he left investments totalling £25,000, getting on for £1,237,250 in today’s money and this was the same for other principal officers.
Peter’s book can be obtained from Mango Books by following the highlighted link, at £25 plus £3.55 postage for the hardcover cover. He also has a limited supply at £21 post free via PayPal at firstname.lastname@example.org on a first-come, first-served basis.
[i] Beattie, J. M. (2012) The First English Detectives. Oxford University Press, Oxford, p. 264.
Today we have the final part of the story about General James Wolfe, so I’ll hand you over to Kim to complete this and take this opportunity to say a massive ‘Thank You’ to Kim, for all her hard work in writing this fascinating story.
If by any chance you missed any of the first 3 parts, click on the following links – Part 1; Part 2; Part 3.
Events moved quickly, and not only in Wolfe’s professional life.
Her name was Katherine Lowther, and she was his parents’ “pretty neighbour” at Bath, whose sleep he had apologised for disturbing by his clattering departure one winter morning two years before. Her pedigree was impeccable: her father had been a governor of Barbados; one of her grandfathers was a baronet, his wife the daughter of a viscount; her sister was the Countess of Darlington. It was not the coup de foudre which had shattered Wolfe’s life in 1749 and he said he had “no thought of matrimony”, but there was clearly commitment; and he took his final leave of his parents by letter, claiming that he disliked the emotional business of parting. Henrietta Wolfe remained jealous and suspicious, and Lieutenant-General Edward Wolfe altered his will, leaving his considerable estate to his wife with no provision for his son.
Wolfe learned of this in Louisbourg in May, following a rough passage in H.M.S. Neptune to New York, and from there to a fogbound Halifax, the harbour of which was still choked with ice. Edward Wolfe’s death in March had not been unexpected, as “I left him in so weak a condition that it was not probable we should ever meet again”, but the financial blow was a heavy one, although he wrote to Henrietta from “the Banks of the St. Lawrence, 31st August 1759… I approve entirely of my father’s disposition of his affairs, though perhaps it may interfere a little matter with my plan of quitting the service, which I am determined to do at the first opportunity⸺ I mean so as not to be absolutely distressed in circumstance, nor burdensome to you or anyone else.”
He had made his will aboard Neptune, leaving to Katherine the miniature she had given him, “to be set in jewels to the amount of five hundred guineas, and returned to her.”
Perhaps the future would always be only this: an endless repetition of the past. A flirtation with life, the certainty of death, an evanescent dream.
He disposed, generously, of his other assets, and his aides witnessed his signature. There was nothing else, nothing more. The rest, even she, was an illusion.
He burned his personal journal for August, with its bitter catalogue of affront, resentment, suspicion, foreboding and depression, and its accounts of “a sad episode of dysentery”, not now uncommon in an army encamped in extreme heat and humidity, and increasingly severe bouts of renal colic. He had asked for something to ease the pain, fearing that events would slip beyond his control and that he would be unable to prosecute this final attack on a tenacious and unaccommodating enemy.
My antagonist has wisely shut himself up in inaccessible entrenchments, so that I cannot get at him without spilling a torrent of blood, and that perhaps to little purpose. The Marquis de Montcalm is at the head of a great number of bad soldiers, and I am at the head of a small number of good ones, that wish for nothing so much as to fight him; but the wary old fellow avoids an action, doubtful of the behaviour of his army. People must be of the profession to understand the disadvantages and difficulties we labour under, arising from the uncommon natural strength of the country.
Rumours of his illness had disconcerted men already unnerved by a summer of skirmishes and scalpings and sniping by disaffected habitants bearing arms and grudges against the British.
The French did not attempt to interrupt our march. Some of the savages came down to murder such of the wounded as could not be brought off, and to scalp the dead, as their custom is… Scarce a night passes when they are not close upon our posts, watching an opportunity to surprise and murder. There is very little quarter given on either side.
It revolted him. His orders of the 24th of July read: “The General strictly forbids the inhuman practice of scalping, except when the enemies are Indians or Canadians dressed as Indians,” but a subsequent order posted a bounty of five guineas for an aboriginal scalp. The Canadians were offering a similar reward for a British scalp, and after a Captain Alexander Montgomery of the 43rd Foot found his brother’s body “cruelly mutilated by the savages” he had reciprocated in a manner they understood: he and his men had murdered and scalped a priest and twenty of his congregation when they had refused to disarm in St. Joachim on the 23rd of August.
In every man of every race the creed of the frontier, the inner savage, was asserting itself.
No churches, houses or buildings of any kind are to be burned or destroyed without orders. The persons that remain in their habitations, their women and children are to be treated with humanity. If any violence is offered to a woman, the offender shall be punished with death. If any persons are detected robbing the tents of officers or soldiers they will be, if convicted, certainly executed. The commanders of regiments are to be answerable that no rum, or spirits of any kind, be sold in or near the camp.
But it was the enemy within he hated: not Montcalm, not the Canadians, not the Iroquois Confederacy, but a confederacy of his own brigadiers, sworn to subvert, discredit and undermine his authority.
His right to choose his own staff officers had been a condition of his acceptance of command, and he had thought he knew them: his aides, Captains Hervey Smith and Thomas Bell, remained loyal and protective of him.
An Irish major named Isaac Barré was adjutant-general: he had not yet betrayed Wolfe’s trust. The others were his quartermaster-general Lieutenant-Colonel Guy Carleton, an Irish veteran of Flanders whose commission for Louisbourg the King had refused to sign because Carleton had insulted the Hanoverians: even Carleton, a friend, had offended Wolfe by his “abominable behaviour”; the Honourable Robert Monckton, brigadier-general commanding the first battalion, who had been lieutenant-governor of Nova Scotia and had overseen operations in the Bay of Fundy after Louisbourg; and the Honourable James Murray, brigadier-general commanding the third battalion, a touchy Scot whose brother was a known Jacobite, and who had served in Flanders and at Rochefort and Louisbourg. He was increasingly influenced by Colonel the Honourable George Townshend, honorary brigadier-general in command of the second battalion. Townshend had been Pitt’s choice, not Wolfe’s. He had fought in Flanders and at Culloden, been aide-de-camp to Cumberland and then to George II, and was called by Horace Walpole “proud, sullen and contemptuous”. He was also a maliciously talented cartoonist and had satirized Cumberland to the detriment of his own career. He now found in Wolfe both subject and target and was circulating with impunity his caricatures of ‘Our General’, hinting that Wolfe’s judgment was clouded by opium and that his refusal to disclose his plan of attack was indecision or, at worst, paranoia.
Wolfe was, by his own admission, “so ill and so weak that I begged the General Officers to consult together for the public utility and advantage; and to consider of the best method of attacking the enemy.” He offered them what he called “a choice of difficulties”. They rejected all three options and mooted one of their own, Townshend claiming afterwards that Wolfe had never had any intention of forcing a pitched battle at Quebec.
For a man who was bluffing or indecisive, or too ill or too drugged to function, his mind remained exceptionally focused, detailing the siting and calibre of artillery, and designating specific ships, batteries, and signals; collating information from every source including deserters, whom he questioned himself; conducting solo reconnaissances on foot or by boat; noting the dispersal of Montcalm’s forces, the Duc de Lévis somewhere between Quebec and Montreal with an army of 4,000 chosen men, Colonel Louis-Antoine de Bougainville at Cap-Rouge with another 3,000 regulars, militia and aboriginals; reading the reports of shortages and damages within the city; considering the logistics: the immutable, the inalienable, the impossible. He knew every officer and had trained and drilled personally many of the men: the combined forces were now a weapon poised to strike when the time and the tide and the peculiarities of the river and the phase of the moon dictated. He had seen the place in early July and had conferred with the navy’s navigators and cartographers, among them James Cook. The time was now.
Those commanders he trusted he briefed in full, including the navy, with which close co-operation was vital. He issued his final orders on the afternoon of September 12th, from aboard H.M.S. Sutherland.
The enemy’s force is now divided; great scarcity of provisions is in their camp and universal discontent among the Canadians. The second officer is gone to Montreal or St. John’s, which gives reason to think that General Amherst is advancing into the colony. A vigorous blow struck by the army at this juncture may determine the fate of Canada. Our troops below are in readiness to join us; all the light artillery and tools are embarked at Point Levi, and the troops will land where the French seem least to expect it.
The first body that gets onshore is to march directly to the enemy and drive them from any little post they may occupy. The officers must be careful that the succeeding bodies do not by any mistake fire upon those who go before them. The battalions must form on the upper ground with the expedition, and be ready to charge whatever presents itself. When the artillery and troops are landed, a corps will be left to secure the landing-place, while the rest march on, and endeavour to bring the French and Canadians to a battle. The officers and men will remember what their country expects from them, and what a determined body of soldiers, inured to war, is capable of doing against five weak French battalions mingled with disorderly peasantry. The soldiers must be attentive and obedient to their officers, and the officers resolute in the execution of their duty.
At 8:00 p.m., as the troops were climbing down into Sutherland’s boats, he received a letter signed by all three brigadiers demanding further clarification. Security was necessary, they conceded, but they had not been taken fully into the General’s confidence, and their orders were not specific.
He wrote to Monckton:
My reason for desiring the honour of your company with me to Gorham’s Post yesterday was to show you, as well as the distance, would permit, the situation of the enemy, and the place where I meant they should be attacked. The place is called the Foulon, distant upon two miles or two and a half from Quebec… as several Ships of War are to fall down with troops Mr Holmes will be able to station them properly after he has seen the place… The officers who are appointed to conduct the divisions of boats have been strictly enjoined to keep as much order and to act as silently as the nature of the service will admit of. It is not usual to point out in the public orders the direct spot of our attack, nor for any inferior officers not charged with a particular duty to ask instruction upon that point. I had the honour to inform you today that it is my duty to attack the French army. To the best of my knowledge and ability, I have fixed upon that spot where we can act with the most force and are the most likely to succeed. If I am mistaken, I am sorry and must be answerable to his Majesty and the public for the consequences.
To Townshend, controlling his dislike, he wrote:
Brigadier-General Monckton is charged with the first landing and attack at the Foulon, if he succeeds you will be pleased to give directions that the troops afloat be set on shore with the utmost expedition, as they are under your command, and when 3,600 men now in the fleet are landed I have no manner of doubt but that we are able to fight and beat the French army, in which I know you will give your best assistance.
To Murray, who was under Monckton’s command, he wrote nothing.
At 2:00 a.m., time and tide ebbing, Sutherland’s barge took the lead.
On the right of the line to the edge of the cliffs, with Wolfe in personal command, the 35th, the Louisbourg Grenadiers, the 28th, the 43rd. In the centre under Monckton, Lascelles’, the 47th: Scots who had fought Scots at Prestonpans and Culloden. On the left, Murray with the 78th, the Fraser Highlanders, born, perhaps, of a conversation one evening in Inverness between Wolfe and Simon Fraser, whose father, the Jacobite Lord Lovat, had been beheaded for treason in 1747. Fraser had been out with his clan for the Pretender in the ʼ45 and been pardoned in 1750. Wolfe had suggested he raise a regiment for the King, and the Frasers were here now, bristling with the weapons the Disarming Act of 1746 still forbade civilians to carry in Scotland. They were, he acknowledged, among the finest soldiers he had ever known. Beside them, Anstruther’s; and in the second line, where Townshend could do the least damage, the 15th and two battalions of the 60th. In reserve, Lieutenant-Colonel Ralph Burton’s 48th in eight sub-divisions; and at the rear Colonel the Honourable William Howe, another friend of Wolfe’s, with the rangers and light infantry.
The French colours surrendered at Louisbourg had been paraded in London and put on display in St. Paul’s Cathedral. He did not want to see these six-foot standards, the King’s colours and these regiments’, so dishonoured in Paris.
Daybreak: just after 5 a.m. The rain fell. They waited, unmoving. The ‘plains’ were fairly level, but patched with cornfields and studded with undergrowth and coppices that afforded cover to native and Canadian marksmen. The French picquets, running, had reached Quebec with intelligence that the entire British army was established on the heights to the westward, on, Montcalm noted, “the weakest side of this miserable garrison,” and had, by their presence, thrown down a psychological gauntlet no soldier of honour could ignore.
By 7 a.m., in showery rain, the French were seen coming out, one eyewitness reported, “like bees from a hive”. Sniping by Canadian irregulars and their aboriginal allies intensified. The French opened fire with artillery, and the hailstorm of lead from the Canadians became “very galling”: rather than sacrifice men’s lives prematurely, Wolfe ordered the infantry to lie down briefly in their ranks. The French formed three columns, some 7,500 men, and at about 10 a.m. began to advance. The thin red lines waited.
Apprȇtez vos armes… En joue… Feu!
From his position on the right, on slightly rising ground, Wolfe observed. A soldier wrote later, “I shall never forget his look. He was surveying the enemy with a countenance radiant and joyful beyond description.”
A bullet tore the tendons of his right wrist. He tied it up with his handkerchief: it seemed to cause no pain. The fire was very hot now from the sharpshooters: he could handle a fusil as well as any sergeant and he tore the cartridge with his teeth and spat out the fragment, and waited; every musket in the line was double-shotted on his orders. Amongst the French, there were shouts: obscenities, jeers, encouragement, shouts of Vive le Roi! and Marquez bien les officiers! And marked they were, in the oblique fire from the Royal Roussillon, the Compagnies Franches de la Marine, the battalions of La Sarre, Languedoc, Béarn, Guyenne: Monckton shot in the chest, his left lung collapsing, Carleton sustaining head wounds, Barré’s nose and left cheekbone smashed by a musket ball, his left eye blinded.
They took it, standing impassively with shouldered arms. One hundred and forty yards: one hundred and twenty. The French had four or five field guns: they had hauled only two up the cliffs. A hundred. Hold your fire. Eighty. Sixty. Hold your fire, damn you. At forty yards, on the command, they opened fire: a single volley in unison, which had the effect of a cannonade. When the smoke cleared the plain was littered with greyish-white uniforms, stained scarlet: the dead, the dying, the mutilated. They fired another five volleys. It was 10:15 a.m. and the sun had come out, glinting on bayonets. From further along the line there was a hiss of drawn steel as the Highlanders unsheathed their broadswords.
A quarter-inch of metal, a bullet or shrapnel from an exploding shell, hit Wolfe in the groin: they were under heavy fire from the front and flank, and he was too conspicuous a target to ignore. He waved his hat, signalling that the whole line should advance; and then two bullets pierced his left breast, and he staggered and almost fell. He was caught, supported. “Hold me up,” he said, “don’t let my brave fellows see me fall.” He leaned on Captain Ralph Corry of the 28th, and then there were others: Lieutenant Henry Browne of the Louisbourg Grenadiers, a volunteer named James Henderson, another officer: blue uniform, red facings. Artillery. He tried to help them, but his strength and his vision were failing: he collapsed, and they carried him through the smoke another hundred yards to the rear. Henderson held him upright while Browne tore at his waistcoat, and saw that his shirt was soaked with blood. He attempted to dress the wound, but the haemorrhage could not be staunched. He asked if Wolfe wanted a surgeon.
“No need,” he said, “it’s all over with me.”
Someone else, a grenadier, was shouting.
“They run! See how they run!”
He stirred, rousing himself, they said afterwards, like a man from a heavy sleep. “Who run?” he said, and the grenadier, shocked by what he was witnessing, answered, “The enemy, sir. Egad, they give way everywhere.”
One more order, and then there would be peace. He said, “Take a message to Colonel Burton. Tell him to take Webb’s with all speed to Charles River, to cut them off before they reach the bridge.”
And then to Browne, whose arms were around him, “Lay me down. I am suffocating.” Browne, crying openly, laid him gently on the ground, and cradled him as he died.
He had been greatly loved, far more than he had known. Browne wrote to his father: “Even the soldiers dropped tears, who were in the minute before driving their bayonets through the French. I can’t compare it to anything better, than a family in tears and sorrow which had just lost their father, their friend, and their whole dependence.” Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Murray of the Louisbourg Grenadiers wrote to his wife, “His death has given me more affliction than anything I have met with, for I loved him with a sincere and friendly affection.”
His body was carried from the field wrapped, it was said, in a plaid offered by a wounded Highlander, and brought aboard the 28-gun frigate H.M.S. Lowestoft at 11 a.m. It was embalmed, and eventually placed in a stone sarcophagus taken from the convent of the Ursulines, which had been heavily damaged by bombardments from the batteries at Pointe aux Pères: Montcalm was buried there at 8 o’clock on the evening of the 14th in an enlarged shell hole in the floor. Quebec capitulated on September 18th. Montreal fell a year later.
News of the victory reached England on October 17th and the country went wild with bonfires and celebrations, although friends and neighbours in Blackheath refused to illuminate their houses out of respect for James’s memory, and his mother’s very real grief.
Wolfe’s body, brought home aboard the 84-gun H.M.S. Royal William, arrived at Spithead at 7 a.m. on the morning of Saturday, 17th November. The raucous port he had called “this infernal den” was hushed as Royal William’s barge, escorted by others and to the sound of tolling bells and muffled drums, conveyed the sarcophagus to Portsmouth Point. Now transferred to an oak coffin and accompanied by Captains Thomas Bell and William De Laune, it was placed in a hearse and driven to Blackheath. It had been discovered on opening the sarcophagus that the face had decomposed too much to allow a death mask to be made: the sculptor Joseph Wilton modelled his commemorative marble bust on a servant thought to resemble Wolfe. He was advised by Richard, second Baron Edgcumbe, a draughtsman and patron of the arts who had known Wolfe and was able to recreate the beaky, angular features to an almost forensic degree.
Wolfe’s coffin, covered with a pall of black velvet and heaped with laurels, lay in state at his mother’s house the night before a private funeral on November 20th at the church of St. Alfege in Greenwich. There were five mourners, all male. Henrietta Wolfe remained prostrate with grief and did not attend.
She petitioned the government unsuccessfully for Wolfe’s pay to be increased to parity with Amherst’s, and “for a pension to enable me to fulfil the generous and kind intentions of my dear lost son”, which she said she could not otherwise honour “without distressing myself to the highest degree.” She did, however, pay the jeweller Philip Hardle £525, and returned the miniature, set with diamonds, to Katherine Lowther as Wolfe had requested. Katherine wrote to her but dared not call on her.
Your displeasure at your noble son’s partiality to one who is only too conscious of her own unworthiness has cost her many a pang. But you cannot without cruelty still attribute to me any coldness in his parting, for, madam, I always felt and express’d for you both reverence and affection, and desir’d you were ever first to be considered.
They never met again.
Henrietta Wolfe died on September 26, 1764, and was interred between her son and her husband in the family vault in the church of St. Alfege. Katherine Lowther married Vice-Admiral Harry Powlett, later the sixth Duke of Bolton, on April 8, 1765. Wolfe’s letters to her and those she wrote to him at Quebec, which arrived too late and were returned to her unopened, have not survived. She died in 1809.
In England, he is all but forgotten. In Canada, the tides of political correctness alternately burnish and tarnish his reputation. The vast, untamed country of which he said “every man is a soldier” is now dedicated to peacekeeping; bears and beavers still roam the wilderness; and the snow, falling early and lingering long, still, in the true north, covers the ground for eight months of the year.
We do hope that you have enjoyed the story so far about General James Wolfe and today we can share with you the 3rd part, with the final part coming up this Thursday. If you’ve missed the first two parts then just follow these highlighted links – Part one and Part two.
There is a tide in the affairs of men/ which, taken at the flood/ leads on to fortune.
The tide turned.
He had written of zeal and ardour. His own had not gone unnoticed. Vice-Admiral Hawke had spoken of his exemplary behaviour at Rochefort to Admiral George Anson, who had mentioned it to the King; the Prince of Wales, summoning ‘Mister Wolfe’ to discuss the newly published Report of the General Officers appointed to Inquire into the causes of the Failure of the Late Expedition to the Coasts of France, opined that had his proposals been adopted the mission would have been a success, and complimented him on the ‘high spirit of service’ and discipline in the 20th, the regiment on which Wolfe had lavished so much care and attention. A second battalion had been authorized, to be designated the 67th Foot. Wolfe was offered a full colonelcy.
There was more…
By Christmas Day it was known in army circles that four colonels, all relatively young, had been chosen to launch a new North American offensive. Jeffrey Amherst, the aide-de-camp to the venerable Field-Marshal Lord Ligonier, commander-in-chief of the forces since the Duke of Cumberland’s disgrace, had been commissioned major-general and would be in overall command. The others were John Forbes, another protégé of Ligonier’s, George Augustus, third Viscount Howe, brother of Captain Richard Howe of H.M.S. Magnanime and a charismatic soldier already serving in America; and the youngest, James Wolfe, who would be temporarily commissioned brigadier-general in North America and serve as second-in-command to Amherst.
Their objective was Cape Breton, an island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence between Newfoundland and Nova Scotia held by the French since 1713, and its fortress, Louisbourg. It had been besieged in 1745 and had surrendered, and it had been returned to France under the terms of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. It protected the rich fisheries of the St. Lawrence and was a haven for the privateers who harassed the New England colonies.
Whoever held Louisbourg held the key to Canada. Whoever took Quebec and Montreal would hold North America.
Louisbourg surrendered on the 27th of July, 1758. Its fortifications had appeared impregnable, but it was vulnerable to sustained bombardment from the sea as well as fire from batteries overlooking the harbour, which had been hastily constructed and commanded by James Wolfe. He had been an integral part of the operation, seen everywhere, issuing orders and instructions in a display of physical courage and deeply personal leadership: instantly recognizable with his wings of auburn hair and shabby scarlet coat, without lace or insignia except for the aiguillette on his shoulder. The Highlanders, who had a particular fondness for him (or his Celtic hair, he thought), called him “the red corporal”, and passed the word when he was approaching. He learned to recognize the Gaelic and to appreciate the nickname. “Tall and straight as a rush,” one of them said, recalling him in 1828.
Oh, he was a noble fellow. And so kind and attentive to the men, that they would go through fire and water to serve him.
Lieutenant Thomas Bell, a marine, reported that he
built fresh batterys every day… and with his small corps came and took post within 200 yards of the town, while the engineers were still bouggering at 600 yards distance. He opened the trenches, called in the army, and pushed them within forty yards of the glacis and in short took the place without the assistance of anyone regular fumbler. He has been general, soldier, and engineer. He commanded, fought and built batterys and I need not add has acquired all the glory of our expedition.
He called them ‘brother soldiers’: they remembered him, sunburned and sweating, sitting amongst them, red hair tied back with a piece of cord, scribbling a message to Amherst
from the trenches at Daybreak, the 25th. We want platforms, artillery officers to take the direction, and ammunition. If these are sent early, we may batter in breach this afternoon… Holland has opened a new boyau, has carried on about 140 or 150 yards and is now within 50 or 60 yards of the glacis… You will be pleased to indulge me with six hours’ rest, that I may serve in the trenches at night.
They breached the bastions. Heated shot had already destroyed L’Entrepreneur. The Royal Navy commanded by Admiral the Honourable Edward Boscawen cut out the Bienfaisant in the harbour and burned the Prudent; and, confronted with the prospect of point-blank broadsides and an assault by the fourteen battalions under Amherst’s command, the governor, Augustin de Boschenry de Drucour capitulated and asked for terms. He and his garrison of 3,500 became prisoners of war and were transported to England. Amherst considered an attack on Quebec: Wolfe, never shy of speaking his mind, urged him forcefully to seize the moment.
Boscawen demurred, announcing on August 3rd that he would not support the idea: the fogs and storms of summer in Cape Breton would usher in the equinoctial gales, and the St. Lawrence would freeze in the winter. There was only time to destroy the enemy’s fisheries in the Gulf.
They were a legitimate target. Twenty-six local chaloupes had sailed the week before laden with tons of dried cod for Quebec, where, the crew of a captured French sloop had said, “there was a great scarcity of provisions and great distress.” And Wolfe was grieving for Howe, who had been among a thousand killed in an attack in the wilderness near Ticonderoga on July 6th by 3,000 French regulars and their native American allies under the command of Louis-Joseph, Marquis de Montcalm de Saint-Véran. Many of the dead had been scalped. The war had had its moments of chivalry, in the graceful exchange between Amherst and Mme Drucour of pineapples for champagne and fresh butter, but it had become a thing of unique horror, and the men who waged it would be stained by it.
They burned nets, boats, buildings and 30,000 pounds of dried cod. Privately, Wolfe thought the inhabitants of the Gaspé would starve; but it was war, and Quebec would starve also.
He sailed for home with Boscawen at the end of September, missing by days a letter from the War Office ordering him to remain in Nova Scotia. He wrote to Rickson from London:
Our attempt to land where we did was rash and injudicious, our success was unexpected (by me) and undeserved. There was no prodigious measure of courage in the affair; an officer and thirty men would have made it impossible to get where we did. Our proceedings in other respects were as slow and tedious as this undertaking was ill-advised and desperate. We lost time at the siege, still more after the siege, and blundered from the beginning to the end of the campaign.
… I have this day signified to Mr Pitt that he may dispose of my slight carcase as he pleases. I am in a very bad condition both with the gravel and rheumatism, but I had much rather die than decline any kind of service that offers. If I followed my own taste, it would lead me into Germany. However, it is not our part to choose, but to obey.
And to one of his captains: “It is my fortune to be cursed with American service.”
He was now a household name in Britain. The London Gazette, The London Magazine, The Gentleman’s Magazine, The Scots Magazine, were printing letters and eyewitness reports from men who had served at Louisbourg, extolling the extraordinary exploits of the young Brigadier James Wolfe.
In the middle of December, the Prime Minister summoned him. If the past was the prologue, James Wolfe’s entire life had been merely the prologue to Quebec.
Join us again, in a couple of days for the final part of this story.
Although preliminary peace talks between Britain and France had begun in the summer of 1746, the bloody and protracted War of the Austrian Succession ground to a halt only with the ratification of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in October of 1748. Its terms merely restored the status quo and sowed the seeds of another war.
By then Wolfe had spent several years in garrisons in Scotland, escaping the punishing climate and hostile inhabitants only briefly for a return to conventional soldiering in the Low Countries, and to London on leave in the winter of 1746. And there, hardened veteran of several campaigns, he surrendered his heart and fell “hopelessly in love”. Those who had thought him disinterested in women or only a brain fixated on promotion in a passionless body, or a repressed homosexual, although nothing in his letters or relationships suggested this, were stunned by its effect on him.
She was Elizabeth Lawson, maid of honour to the Princess of Wales and niece of Wolfe’s old mentor, Lieutenant-General Sir John Mordaunt. They were reunited when, now lieutenant-colonel of the 20th Regiment of Foot and gaunt from the scurvy and malnutrition of too many cold years in the Highlands, he was at last granted, not the foreign leave he had requested, hoping to repair what he saw as the deficiencies in his education by studying engineering and artillery tactics at the military academy in Metz, but six months in London.
He was still in the throes of what his mother called his “senseless passion” and in no mood for opposition, although his parents were, as he wrote to his close friend, Colonel William Rickson, “somewhat against it”. The pressure from his mother was unrelenting, he told Rickson: she thought he could do better than Elizabeth Lawson and her £12,000 and had her eye “upon one with £30,000.”
He arrived at his parents’ house in Old Burlington Street and immediately found himself embroiled in psychological warfare. Elizabeth, who obsessed him, had obviously cooled toward him and was entertaining other suitors; the Croydon heiress, his mother told him, was still available with her £30,000; and was James aware that Lady Lawson, Elizabeth’s mother, had been a loose woman before her marriage, and it was possible that her daughter was the same?
Henrietta Wolfe had gone too far. She had occasionally, in her letters, reproached her son for his temper: he had frequently apologised and attempted to control it. But something vital in James Wolfe snapped that day and he turned its full fury on her, and then stalked out of the house and took lodgings in a nearby street, where, to the fascination of the neighbours, he relieved his emotional and sexual frustrations in the longest and most uncharacteristic debauch of his life.
Rumour had it that he had arrived drunk at a ball and loudly proclaimed his love for Elizabeth Lawson, and threatened to horsewhip a rival: whatever indiscretions he committed, Elizabeth warmed no more to this new, rake hell incarnation than to the staid James Wolfe she knew. She ended the relationship. Shattered, he lost himself in alcohol, emerging briefly to listen from the public gallery to debates in the House of Commons on the future of British North America, until his outraged body rebelled and he became ill. His mother continued her campaign. He wrote to her in anguish,
How could you tell me you liked her, and at the same time say her illness prevents her wedding? I don’t think you believe she ever touched me at all, or you could never speak of her ill-health and marriage, the only things in relation to that lady that could give me the least uneasiness.
He wrote to his father with a certain battered dignity, “You called my situation ridiculous, and indeed it was,” and apologised for what he said had been done “out of passion and anger when I had the honour to be near you.” To his friend Rickson, he confessed:
In that time I committed more imprudent acts than in all my life before. I lived in the idlest, most dissolute, abandoned manner that could be conceived, and not out of vice, which is the most extraordinary part of it. I have escaped at length, and am once again master of my reason, and hereafter it shall rule my conduct, at least I hope so.
He never recovered. Four years later, her portrait in Sir John Mordaunt’s dining room still disconcerted him so much that he could barely eat, and any mention of her name affected him profoundly.
He took his wounded heart to Paris. The Croydon heiress unexpectedly bestowed her £30,000 on one of his best friends in February of 1751. Elizabeth Lawson died, unmarried, a few months before he sailed for Quebec.
For a few brief months, in this interlude of peace under the auspices of the Earl of Albemarle, His Britannic Majesty’s ambassador in Paris, James Wolfe knew luxury: warmth, cleanliness, leisure, and more than adequate nourishment, eating for breakfast every morning fresh grapes from a convent garden, “the same as the King eats, and a great curiosity.” His health improved: his energy seemed boundless.
Monsieur Fesian, the dancing-master, assures me that I make a surprising progress, but that my time will be too short to possess, as he calls it, the minuet to any great perfection; however, he pretends to say that I shall dance not to be laughed at. I am on horseback every morning at break of day and do presume that, with the advantage of long legs and thighs, I shall be able to sit a horse at a hand-gallop. Lastly, the fencing-master declares me to have a very quick wrist, and no inconsiderable lunge, for the reasons aforementioned… I wish I could send a piece of tapestry from the Gobelins, or a picture from the Palais Royal, instead of a letter.
He went to the theatre, became fluent in French, socialised, went sight-seeing, shopped, sending his mother two black velvet hoods and “a vestale for your neck, such as the Queen wears”, had his teeth filled, and observed the French: in the streets, in the salons, at the court of Versailles. On January 9th, 1753, he was presented to Louis XV, the Queen, the Dauphin, and, finally, the King’s mistress, the beautiful and fearless Jeanne Antoinette Poussin, Marquise de Pompadour. Philosopher, diplomat, political savant and patron of the arts, she had many enemies, but the intense young English soldier with whom she chatted in her boudoir, where she entertained visitors but offered a chair only to her royal lover, was not one of them. He recalled afterwards her intelligence, her wit and her courtesy, and that she was curling her hair during their conversation.
But despite the glitter and grace, life in Paris began to pall. He still hoped to be allowed to travel, perhaps to visit the French army in its summer encampment, but his request was denied and another officer was granted the privilege. And then, peremptorily, he was ordered back to his regiment. He returned to England, wretchedly seasick as usual, and rejoined the 20th in Glasgow.
He found it in dire straits.
Officers ruined, impoverished, desperate, and without hopes of preferment; the widow of our late Major and her daughter in tears; an ensign struck speechless with the palsy and another that falls down in the most violent convulsions. Some of our people spit blood, and others are begging to sell before they are quite undone, and my friend Ben will probably be in jail in a fortnight… The ladies are cold to everything but a bagpipe⸺ I wrong them. There is not one that does not melt at the sound of an estate. We march out of this dark and dismal country in August.
He was beginning to wish he had stayed in Paris.
But it was a soldier’s life and he was a soldier’s soldier, committed to service. Younger officers came and went on their own career trajectories: he guided them, advised them, trained them, disciplined them, and, conscious of an increasing abruptness and austerity in himself, encouraged them to mingle in society, and go to balls and assemblies.
It softens their manners and makes ʼem civil; and commonly I go along with them, to see how they conduct themselves. I am only afraid they shall fall in love and marry. Whenever I perceive the symptoms or anybody else makes the discovery, we fall upon the delinquent without mercy until he grows out of conceit with his new passion… My experience in these matters helps me to find out my neighbour’s weakness, and furnishes me with arms to oppose his folly.
Sometimes he reflected darkly on the future and was not reassured.
I am eight-and-twenty years old, a lieutenant-colonel of foot, and I cannot say I am master of fifty pounds.
His requests for promotion had been denied. He was too young for higher rank, they said, although he had seen other officers promoted, not on the basis of merit but out of political expediency. He felt old, jaded, bitter, forgotten.
He prayed for war, war came.
The amphibious assault on Rochefort on the Charente estuary in September of 1757 was a million-pound fiasco involving sixteen ships-of-the-line, frigates, fire-ships and bomb ketches, as well as ten-line regiments, fifty horse, and gunners, a total of about 10,000 men. Intelligence had suggested the town contained a large arsenal of arms and ammunition and was only lightly guarded, and it was thought an ideal diversion to aid Hanover and Prussia, where a French army of 150,000 was preparing to attack.
Only two officers emerged from the resulting debacle with their reputations intact: Captain the Honourable Richard Howe of the 74-gun former French prize H.M.S. Magnanime, who bombarded into submission the fortifications on the Île d’Aix that commanded the approaches to Rochefort and La Rochelle; and the army’s quartermaster-general, James Wolfe, who after reconnoitring the area by boat had recognised the strategic necessity and recommended the fort be destroyed.
Wolfe had been plucked from the obscurity of fly-fishing, shooting game birds without a licence, suppressing a riot by local weavers striking for higher pay, and other diversions of garrison life in Gloucestershire, on the recommendation of Sir John Mordaunt. General after general had declined the honour of leading the expedition, or had been vetoed by the King: the secretary of state, William Pitt, had eventually offered Mordaunt command. Wolfe was told nothing of the destination, nor were any other senior officers until they had been at sea for a week.
The troops had mustered on the Isle of Wight and waited for the transports. And waited. The weather turned against them and delayed embarkation. It was a bad beginning. Things got worse.
Mordaunt had been a brave and competent soldier, but he was sixty now, and ailing, and he had lost his nerve. He vacillated, unable to decide where or when or how to attack, issuing and countermanding orders, infuriating Vice-Admiral Sir Edward Hawke, who threatened to withdraw his ships if Mordaunt could not stop procrastinating; and, as Wolfe wrote to his father,
We lost the lucky moment in war, and were not able to recover it. It had been conducted so ill that I was ashamed to have been of the party. The public could not do better than dismiss six or eight of us from the service. No zeal, no ardour, no care or concern for the good and honour of the country.
After a court of inquiry in November, Mordaunt was brought before a court-martial on December 14th, charged with disobeying his orders. Given the fate of Vice-Admiral the Honourable John Byng, who had been executed by firing squad on the quarterdeck of H.M.S. Monarch in Portsmouth harbour in March for failing to defend Minorca, his acquittal was considered lenient. He was allowed to retire from the service.
Wolfe, who had given evidence at the court of inquiry and at Mordaunt’s court-martial, had refrained from any public condemnation of him, but he plunged into depression and decided to resign his commission as quartermaster-general for Ireland, an office he had held only in name, hiding at his parents’ new house in Blackheath and writing to his mother, who had gone to Bath:
I can’t part with my other employment because I have nothing else to trust to, nor do I think it consistent with honour to sneak off in the middle of a war.
To Rickson, he vented his shame and humiliation.
I own to you that there never was people collected together so unfit for the business… dilatory, ignorant, irresolute, and some grains of a very unmanly quality, and very unsoldierlike or unsailor-like.
And then, perhaps considering the repercussions if his comments as a prominent member of the expedition should become more widely known:
I have already been too imprudent; I have said too much. Therefore report nothing out of my letter, nor name my name as author of any one thing.
He was thirty years old, angry, frustrated, alone. The future was a void.
We look forward to you joining us for the final two episodes next Tuesdays and Thursday.
It’s always lovely to welcome back guests to All Things Georgian, and one such guest is the delightful, Kim Reeman, who has written two previous articles for us. Today she has quite a story to share about the life of General James Wolfe and as such it will appear in four parts, over the next couple of weeks – so please do keep an eye out for the future posts to find out more. With that I will hand over to Kim to tell you more:
Canada est un pays couvert de neiges et de glaces huit mois de l’année,
habité par des barbares, des ours et des castors…. Quelques arpents de neige.
VOLTAIRE (FRANÇOIS-MARIE AROUET), 1758
There was no snow on this September morning, only a vast, living silence under the stars: the concerted creak and dip of oars, the uneasy shuffle of boots on bottom boards, a muffled cough as men, packed closely together, gripped their weapons, stared into the blackness and listened, waiting for whatever would come. The night was calm, the current strong: the tide, in this river of seven hundred miles, ebbing rapidly. From the unseen shore, after the heat of the day, a cool wind brought the scent of the pines.
The quarter moon had risen at 10 p.m., laying a faint, camouflaging track on the water to confuse the eye, and the boats slipped through the shadows. They had begun to embark at about 9 p.m., the light infantry and the Royal Americans first, followed by other regiments in order of seniority, dropping away from the Sutherland at midnight at the hoisting of the signal: two lanterns, one above the other, in her maintopmast shrouds. At 1:35 a.m. the tide began to flow, and at 2 the signal to proceed was given. The commander-in-chief, in Sutherland’s barge, took the lead.
He sat on the thwart, his six-foot frame uncomfortably cramped, maintaining the silence he had ordered all men to observe in the boats, with a fusil slung across his back, a cartridge pouch with seventy rounds of ammunition suspended from his belt, and a bayonet at his left hip. Recent, debilitating illness had drained him, physically and spiritually, and he was haunted by the possibility of failure. He had seen the fates of generals and admirals arraigned for dereliction of duty: court-martial, professional oblivion, dishonour, or worse. He had held his first commission at the age of fourteen: he was now thirty-two, and half his life, spent in continuous service, had been merely the prelude to this rendezvous with destiny.
He focused his mind on a stanza of Gray’s Elegy, a copy of which his fiancée had given him before he had left Portsmouth, and which he had annotated the previous evening in his cabin aboard Sutherland.
The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,
Await alike th’ inevitable hour.
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.
The barge nudged into the shallows, and, adrenaline coursing through his blood, he was up, into the water, splashing ashore. The inevitable hour had come.
Time had matched him with this hour: time and a crucible of war, which had taken an affectionate child in an ensign’s uniform writing letters to his “dearest Mamma” and by its alchemy produced a man, impetuous, hot-tempered, over-sensitive, disciplined, meticulous, and intolerant. Devoted to his family and friends, he had a capacity for love that would never be truly fulfilled, and an intense vulnerability: he never forgot a kindness, and very seldom forgave an injury. Trust once lost was never given by him again, a quality he recognized in himself, writing in a moment of excoriating self-analysis, “I have that cursed disposition of mind, that when once I know people have entertained a very ill opinion, I imagine they never change. From whence one passes easily to an indifference about them, and then to dislike… There lurks a hidden poison in the heart that is difficult to root out.”
Aware of his own military genius, he had felt for most of his life ignored, undervalued, denigrated, and often openly insulted by subordinates and superiors alike.
Initially shy with women, although he gained grace and confidence, he remained conscious of his singular physical characteristics: he was six feet three inches tall and very thin, with flame-red hair, long, nervous, restless fingers, pale skin that blushed furiously with any access of emotion, and his mother’s unfortunate profile, which would be so cruelly lampooned at Quebec and immortalized in a host of bad portraits and tasteless souvenirs at the apogee of his posthumous fame.
Only the painting attributed to Joseph Highmore was considered a good likeness by his family until George Townshend, one of Wolfe’s combative trio of brigadiers at Quebec, produced from life, without a trace of his signature malice, the iconic and endearing watercolour of his mercurial commander that captures the elusive qualities of his face: the piercing, heavily lidded blue eyes, the patient, somewhat quizzical expression, the dimpled chin, and an essential gentleness about the mouth, a gentleness for which, in life, Wolfe was known, and in death remembered.
Time. There had never been enough time: enough peace, enough warmth, enough comfort, enough nourishment, enough freedom from physical and mental stress. No time to study, to travel, to observe, to discover, as a shy and awkward lover, the mysteries and delicacies of lovemaking; no time to marry, to father the children he longed for, to walk, as he once wrote wistfully to his own father, in his garden and sample his own sun-warmed figs. There had only been war.
And now, at the foot of these cliffs, time stopped. Two hundred and fifty feet above, men were climbing, cursing, dislodging soil and stones, hauling weapons: those who had reached the top and dispatched the French sentries were silhouetted against the stars. The path, the metaphor for his life, awaited.
He drank briefly from an offered flask: water, not alcohol. He seldom drank spirits, although he had ordered an issue of rum for the men tonight, knowing it would hearten them. Chronic dehydration had led to infections of the bladder and urethra which had felled him repeatedly, with fever and bloody urine and excruciating pain, most recently in the previous week, and he was still desperately ill, despite his efforts to conceal it. He began to climb.
James Wolfe was born on January 2, 1727, at Westerham, Kent, the first surviving child of Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Wolfe, a career soldier of Irish descent who had served with Marlborough, and his much younger wife Henrietta Thompson Wolfe, an imperious beauty who claimed descent through her Yorkshire family, the Tindals of Brotherton, from Edward III and Shakespeare’s ‘Hotspur’, Henry Percy.
Throughout his life, James’s relations with his English and Irish relatives, particularly his uncle Major Walter Wolfe, who had retired to Dublin, and his cousins, the Goldsmiths of Limerick, remained fond and close.
Almost exactly a year after James’s birth a paler, frailer sibling arrived and was christened Edward after his father. Where ‘Jemmy’ led, Ned would follow, even through waist-deep snow in the brutal winter of 1743 as a fifteen-year-old ensign in Colonel Scipio Duroure’s 12th Regiment of Foot, sharing a horse with the sixteen-year-old James, also an ensign but already discharging the duties of adjutant. After a particularly arduous march, James wrote to his father from Aschaffenburg, near Frankfurt:
The men almost starved. They nor their officers had little more than bread and water to live on, and that very scarce. The King is in a little palace in such a town as I believe he never lived in before. It was ruined by the Hanoverians, and everything almost that was in it was carried off by them sometime before he came. They and our men now live by marauding… The French are burning all the villages on the other side of the Mayne, and we ravaging the country on this side.
And, as the army was as much a family as the Royal Navy, and friends and former brothers-in-arms kept in as close touch as was possible, he added:
Brigadier Huske inquires often if I have heard from you lately, and desires his compliments to you. He is extremely kind to me, and I am most obliged to him. He has desired his brigade-major Mr Blakeney, who is a very good man, to instruct me all he can. My brother intends writing very soon. We both join in love and duty to you and my mother.
Meanwhile, Ned was reporting busily: “They say there are many wolves and wild boars in the woods, but I never saw any yet, neither do I desire.”
There was something far more lethal in the woods, dogging the footsteps of the allied forces of Britain, Hanover and Austria under the personal command of George II: a French army of 70,000 commanded by the Duc de Noailles, one of the most formidable soldiers of his time. Inexplicably, Noailles ceded command of a large contingent of infantry, artillery and cavalry to his less capable nephew, the Duc de Grammont, who abandoned an unassailable position to attack the allies on open ground near the village of Dettingen, in what is now Bavaria, on June 27th, 1743.
The Wolfe boys, receiving this baptism of fire, saw the mathematical precision of drill disintegrate into the chaos of hand-to-hand fighting: Duroure’s, in the front line, suffered the highest casualties of any allied regiment engaged that day. The colonel’s horse was shot from under him, as was James Wolfe’s; the King was thrown, and led the Hanoverians on foot; his son William, Duke of Cumberland, who would figure prominently in James’s life, took a musket ball through the calf, and Wolfe wrote in a graphic dispatch to his father after being, with Ned, under artillery fire for nearly three hours and then in close action for more than two, “I sometimes thought I had lost poor Ned when I saw arms, legs, and heads beat off close by him. He is called ‘the Old Soldier’ now, and very deservedly.”
Dettingen, with 750 British, Hanoverians and Austrians killed and 1,600 wounded, and between 2,000 and 4,000 French dead, was considered a victory. A British cavalryman writing home of the “dead and mangled bodies, limbs, wounded men” and terribly injured horses he saw on the battlefield in the rain the following morning, revealed that “this sight shocked my very soul.”
The armies regrouped, reinforced, and did not engage again that year.
On June 3rd, 1744, James was promoted to captain in the 4th Regiment of Foot, the King’s Own, also known as Barrell’s after its nominal colonel, Lieutenant-General John Barrell: its lieutenant-colonel in the field was Robert Rich, who welcomed the newly blooded young captain and would become a friend and champion. Ned, now a lieutenant, remained with the 12th. The brothers saw each other occasionally and corresponded as regularly as circumstances permitted, but a letter from the 12th’s surgeon expressing concern over Ned’s health never reached James, and he was in winter quarters in Ghent and unaware of the gravity of the situation when Ned died in October, probably of tuberculosis. He wrote to his parents on the 29th of that month, overcome with grief and self-recrimination.
“It gives me many uneasy hours when I reflect on the possibility there was of my being with him sometime before he died. There was no part of his life that makes him dearer to me than that where you have often mentioned⸺ he pined after me… He lived and died as a son of you two should, which, I think, is saying all I can.”
In May of 1745, at Fontenoy, Ned’s old regiment engaged once more in bloody combat with the French. James, who was kept in reserve with the 4th and never ordered out of Ghent, wrote to his father after the allies’ ignominious defeat that Duroure’s “has suffered very much, 18 officers and 300 men killed and wounded. I believe this account will shock you not a little, but ʼtis surprising the number of officers of lower rank that are gone.”
Not for the first time, he contemplated the ephemerality of life and a future in which the only certainty was death. He was young but no longer youthful: his had become an older, darker soul, prone to depression, and driven by ambition and an awareness of the passing of time.
On June 22nd, 1745, general orders announced his appointment as “Brigade-Major to Pulteney’s Brigade.” He was eighteen years old.
The cliffs had been thought unscalable, except by Wolfe himself. The French had not, apparently, thought suspicious the spectacle of four senior British officers staring at the Anse au Foulon through telescopes from a vantage point on the opposite bank, when he had been explaining, yet again and more testily, what the other three seemed unwilling or unable to understand. After a summer of feints and manoeuvres and skirmishes and infuriatingly unsuccessful forays, perhaps Montcalm had dismissed the episode of the telescopes as merely another caprice on the part of the British. Deserters, in traffic that flowed both ways across the St. Lawrence, had reported his response.
We need not suppose the enemy has wings.
He had placed his trust in the river and the country, and what time would do to both. These impudent invaders would be forced to withdraw soon, or be locked in by the Canadian winter.
The heat was still intense in the afternoons, but the quality of the light had changed. Time, in the turning of a leaf, in the coolness before dawn… time in the flood of the river, the flood of years. Time was running out.
The stars were veiled with cloud now, and rain intensified the fragrance of the pines.
Culloden cast its long shadow over the rest of Wolfe’s life, although, as aide-de-camp to the foul-mouthed old cavalryman Lieutenant-General Henry ‘Hangman’ Hawley, he was not fighting with his regiment, Barrell’s, the King’s Own, on the morning of April 16th, 1746. He remained on the right of the line with Cobham’s Dragoons and Kingston’s Light Horse, which Hawley did not order into action until the entire right wing of the rebel army had thrown itself on Barrell’s.
He did not see, except at a distance and through the smoke, Barrell’s break under the impact of the charge by the Stewarts of Appin and Atholl and the Camerons under Lochiel, and throw it back with bent and bloodied bayonets; did not see his friend, Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Rich, fighting with inhuman courage beside the colours, receive six head wounds; did not see Rich’s left hand struck from his wrist and his right forearm almost severed by a Highland broadsword; did not see until afterwards Lord Robert Kerr, son of the Marquess of Lothian and captain of Barrell’s grenadiers, dead on the ground with his skull split from crown to collarbone. He did not, in all probability, feature in the apocryphal story that sometimes had the Duke of Cumberland, sometimes, more characteristically, Hawley, pointing to a wounded Jacobite, identified as Charles Fraser of Inverallochy, and saying, “Wolfe, shoot me that rebel dog,” whereupon the indignant young major retorted, “My commission is at Your Highness’s disposal, but I can never consent to become an executioner.” Wolfe loathed insubordination and would certainly not offer it to his commander-in-chief, and it is highly unlikely, despite his personal hatred of Hawley, that he would have behaved with insolence toward him. He remained on good terms with Cumberland and was more than once recommended for promotion by him until the Duke’s own spectacular fall from grace following his surrender of Hanover in 1757.
But for Wolfe, the dark memories remained, and an appreciation of the raw courage of the Scots. He had seen that ferocity unleashed. He could not know that within thirteen years, on a sun-swept plateau on a September morning, it would be his to command.
Part 2 of this story will be on Thursday.
General James Wolfe (1727–1759), When a Boy. Benjamin West (1738–1820). Government Art Collection
I am delighted to welcome back a guest who writes under the pen name of Erato. Her article last time was about her then latest book – The Cut of the Clothes: A Story of Prinny and Beau Brummell.
Today she is here to talk about her new book which has just been released – Slick Filth: A Story of Robert Walpole and Henry Giffard.
I remember the first time I saw G.W. Pabst’s 1931 film of The Threepenny Opera, I was very struck by what a wicked man Mack the Knife was and how there was so little attempt to give him any really favourable qualities. The popular versions of Threepenny’s famous Mack the Knife tune, sung by Sinatra and his ilk, have lyrics that omit and soften many of his worst crimes, and with their upbeat, jazzy rhythms (a bit different from Brecht’s original) make Macheath sound like a pretty swell guy.
It’s reasonably well known that The Threepenny Opera was adapted from John Gay’s 18th century musical The Beggar’s Opera, but it takes a little more work to discover that Macheath was conceived as a rather blatant caricature of the first Englishman to win the title of Prime Minister — Robert Walpole.
With the understanding that the show’s star, criminal Macheath, was created to poke fun at a politician, his lack of good qualities becomes far less surprising. John Gay’s 1728 musical was a huge hit, spawning a veritable fad of stage plays which poked fun at politicians. Audiences loved them — but the politicians, not so much. Robert Walpole bribed a theatre manager to prevent the staging of Gay’s sequel to Beggar’s Opera, entitled Macheath Turned Pirate; but this action only turned the printed script for the play into a bestseller.
Whether it was due to some personal vendetta against the theatre for his depiction as Macheath the Highwayman, or whether it was over a real concern that the political satires had gotten out of hand, Robert Walpole soon set into motion a bill which would strengthen the power of politicians to censor the British stage. In order to gain support for his proposed regulations, he read before Parliament some passages from an extremely offensive play called The Golden Rump, which was purportedly intended to be staged in London.
No script for The Golden Rump survives, and there is doubt amongst scholars as to whether or not a complete script for such a show ever really existed; for, it seems that everybody who has ever looked into the matter has come to the conclusion that Robert Walpole created the alleged script himself.
By reading passages from a play so offensive that nobody could possibly agree that it should have been staged, Walpole was able to convince both the Commons and Lords of a need to enact stricter censorship of stage shows. The result of this Licensing Act was that the Lord Chamberlain had to approve the scripts for all new plays before they could be performed; and this remained law until the 1960s. The dearth of good English stage plays from the 18th century has been directly attributed to Walpole and his Licensing Act; for not only was there a risk that a show could be suppressed for any reason at all, but also the expense of submitting new scripts to the Lord Chamberlain limited the playhouses’ interest in even trying new shows. Revivals of Shakespeare, Otway and Dryden became the norm for much of the 18th century’s theatrical fare.
An effort to re imagine the script has been composed in my new book Slick Filth; inspiration was taken from genuine offensive plays of the past such as a Henry Fielding’s Pasquin (1736) and the unsurprisingly anonymous Sodom; or, the Quintessence of Debauchery (1689). The effect is rather like South Park, only with long-Ss and greater use of the word “swive.”
A glimpse of my play:
And for those who don’t relish the idea of reading a mere play script, unstageable as it is, Slick Filth also contains a fictionalised account of Walpole’s creation of the script, as told by his unwilling accomplice, Henry Giffard of Goodman’s Fields.
Today’s blog is a promotional one for ‘The Early Dance Circle Annual Lecture, 2020’ which will take place on
Friday 28 February 2020 at 7.15 p.m.
Swedenborg Hall, Swedenborg House,
20 Bloomsbury Way, London WC1A 2TH
Last year their guest speaker was one of our fellow Pen and Sword,author, Mike Rendell and this year’s speaker will be the dancer, dance Historian and archivist at New College, Oxford, Jennifer Thorp.
The high seas of British publishing have always been choppy. Of course, publishing piracy is not a thing of the past by any means. Last March, Katy Guest wrote about the modern problem in The Guardian, reporting the boast, ‘I can get any novel I want in 30 seconds.’ It’s estimated that 17% of e-books are consumed illegally. Katy found the recurring claim that there was nothing wrong in the practice because, “Reading an author’s work is a greater compliment than ignoring it.”
In 1706 English dancing-masters were introduced to the new concept (for London) of dances recorded in notation and manuals in English on how to read them. That year John Weaver, with the encouragement of two significant patrons, sold copies of his influential Orchesography and A Collection of Ball-Dances … by Mr Isaac through the Strand bookshop of Paul and Isaac Valliant. They did him an honest and successful job but inadvertently signalled to less scrupulous printers that there was money to be made in such publications, by fair means or foul. This talk looks at the ways in which some of the eighteenth-century dance materials that we cherish today came into being and survived – if they did?
The dance publishers that Jennifer Thorp will tell us about, like authors today, might stoutly disagree! Come along to the EDC Annual Lecture this year and hear more about the 18th century form of publishing piracy and its consequences. You’ll be very welcome!
For further information or to reserve your free place, please contact: email@example.com or 020 8699 8519 . A suggested donation is £5.00.
We are thrilled as always, to welcome back Regan Walker, whose latest book in the Agents of the Crown series, ‘Rogue’s Holiday‘ has just been released and for which there are further details of how to obtain a copy at the end of her article. Today Regan is going to tell us more about Prinny’s Brighton, so, over to Regan:
When George, the Prince of Wales, reigned as the Prince Regent, beginning in 1811, and even after he became king in 1820, Brighton on the south coast of England was his favourite destination. It was fifty-four miles from London as the road winds, close enough to travel to in one day. The seaside resort provided all the pleasures of the Beau Monde without the discomforts of town. William Wilberforce, after a visit in 1815, dubbed the town “Piccadilly by the sea-side.”
Brighton loved the Prince Regent. Whatever criticisms he may have faced for his lifestyle, the Brighton newspapers celebrated his frequent visits and looked forward to welcoming all those who flocked the seaside town to enjoy what became “the Brighton Season”.
In 1822, the Brighton Gazette reported:
Gay and fashionable equipages are daily pouring into the town, and every thing gives promise of a brilliant and prosperous winter season. Many large houses on the Cliffs, Marine Parade, etc. have been engaged for Noblemen within the last fortnight… Who indeed would not fly the dirt and smoke of the crowded metropolis for a place like Brighton, where he may at once enjoy the pure and healthful breezes of the ocean, and a salubrious climate, without being subject to the dreary ennui of a country life?
For the Prince, Brighton became a fantasy escape from his narrow-minded and staid parents who failed to appreciate their son and heir. More than anyone, they were responsible for making Prinny the Grand Corinthian. Thus, it should have come as no surprise that the Prince would build a palace that would be a mogul’s dream where he could entertain his eclectic bevy of friends in grand fashion, including of course, the characters in my story.
The Marine Parade that ran along the shore and the Old Steyne that fronted the Pavilion were wide paths available for a morning or afternoon stroll. But one could certainly keep busy in Brighton. Visitors were offered an endless array of balls, concerts, soirees, private dinners, theatrical events, interspersed with riding, card games and other entertainments.
The Pavilion’s designer was architect John Nash who built it in three stages until it became the palace we think of today with its many domes and minarets. There, Prinny reigned as the beneficent patron of the foremost artists and literary men of his age and entertained his diverse friends in the rooms decorated in chinoiserie style to look like the home of a Chinese emperor who lived in a kingdom of flowers and perpetual spring. Rooms, such as the Music Room, pictured above, which Prinny kept overheated with candles and gas lamps.
As the town grew, entertainments were added to rival those of London. Hotels, shops, theatres and a racecourse stood at ready. Castle Square next to the Pavilion and half of North Street were the Bond Street of Brighton where one could buy cloth, shoes, cigars, porcelain and many other things. North Street was home to sixty shops by 1820, the year of my story. By 1808, Brighton also had a department store, Hanningtons, on North Street. Added to that, there were dozens of taverns and hotels, that featured balls and card games. All of the taverns, shops, shopkeepers and hotels mentioned in Rogue’s Holiday existed at the time.
The Castle Inn adjacent to the Pavilion had an assembly room and a smaller room used as a tearoom. The Old Ship Inn, the oldest hotel in Brighton, also had a tearoom. And there was yet another tearoom erected in 1805 in the gardens of a public house a mile away in Preston.
Among Brighton’s many attractions was sea bathing, where one could be towed to the water in small boxes on wheels to swim, as my heroine does, in the altogether or, if you prefer, in one of the gowns provided. The men’s and women’s bathing areas were separated, of course. Dippers (for women) and bathers (for men) were employed to make sure the person’s head was dipped into the water. Dipping took place year round since the cold water was considered to be good for the health.
A wholesale fish market was held on the beach, supplied by 100 ships that sailed in the afternoon or evening and returned in the morning. Mackerel were in season from May to the end of July. Also, Sole, Brill, Turbot (common at all seasons) and Dories were in plentiful supply. As you will see in Rogue’s Holiday, while the fish market proceeded on shore, the boats hoisted their nets to dry.
Among Brighton’s most famous residents was Prinny’s Catholic wife, Maria Fitzherbert, a virtuous woman who took her marriage to Prince George seriously even if he did not. All of Brighton respected her. The king must have had her on his mind when he died in 1830, for he was buried wearing a locket containing her miniature.
A curious feature in the category of equipages was the fly carriage, a small covered carriage you might see around Brighton drawn by a man and an assistant. They were very convenient for navigating the narrow streets and had room for two. The ones that Prinny and his noble friends used for midnight excursions were dubbed “fly-by-nights”.
Prinny’s yacht, the HMY the Royal George, was commissioned in 1817 and could often be seen anchored off shore of Brighton when he was in residence. In my story, set in 1820, the king invites my characters to dine onboard. Among Prinny’s friends invited that evening were Lord Alvanley, Sir Bellingham and his wife Harriot, Sir John Lade and his wife Letty, and Elizabeth Conyngham, Marchioness Conyngham, the king’s mistress.
I have described the Royal George, in detail as my research provided. The great cabin really did have windows of plate glass, a skylight, gilded dark wood panelling, a Brussels carpet beneath a mahogany table and a pianoforte, among other accoutrements. As my hero, Sir Robert, said, the king liked to travel in style.
Even a spy needs a holiday…
Robert Powell’s work as a spy saves the Cabinet ministers from a gruesome death and wins him accolades from George IV. As a reward, the king grants him a baronetcy and a much-deserved holiday at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton where he thinks to indulge in brandy, cards, good horseflesh and women.
But when Muriel, Dowager Countess of Claremont, learns of Sir Robert’s intended destination, she begs a favour…to watch over an “errant child” who is the grandniece of her good friend living in the resort town. Little does Robbie know that Miss Chastity Reynolds is no child but a beautiful hoyden who is seemingly immune to his charms.
Chastity lives in the shadow of her mother and sisters, dark-haired beauties men admire. Her first Season was a failure but, as she will soon come into a family legacy, she has no need to wed. When she first encounters Sir Robert, she dubs him The Rogue, certain he indulges in a profligate lifestyle she wants no part in.
In Brighton, Robbie discovers he is being followed by friends of the conspirators who had planned to murder the Cabinet. Worse, they know the location of Chastity’s residence.
Below are all the ways you can find out about and purchase Regan’s books, so feel free to click on the highlighted links.
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.
We are thrilled to welcome Australian author, Caroline Miley to our blog. Caroline is an art historian and author of literary historical novels set in the late Georgian era. Her debut novel, The Competition,(e-book version) won a Varuna Fellowship and a Fellowship of Australian Writers award, and was selected by the Royal Academy of Arts, London, for it 250th Anniversary celebrations.
Her latest novel, Artist on Campaign, (also e-book version) was inspired by wondering what would happen if a rake of an artist was obliged to put up with the British Army, and vice versa, so I’ll hand over to Caroline to tell you more.
“I had had no idea until this commission started how much time officers spent sitting down within doors with a pen in their hand”, the hero of Artist on Campaign says, as he consults the Town Major in Lisbon as to where he might find General Cradock.
I, too, had visualised officers as spending their life either on duty, largely on horseback, galloping from post to post or inspecting troops and ordering them about, or in their time off, gadding about town, drinking, carousing or making up to young ladies in drawing-rooms or at balls. But that was only half the story, especially when on campaign. Many officers did spend a great deal of time writing.
Being the army, as much time as possible was committed to writing, including daily and general orders and instructions. A staff officer such as the Adjutant-General or Quartermaster-General would in fact spend most of their life behind a desk, but even field officers had to write a great deal. Some even had their saddle bow built up into a tablet so they could write in the saddle. Much of the correspondence was on the dullest possible subjects, although giving insights into the exigencies of life:
“Gunner Farquhar has received no subsistence since the 31st March last year so that there is 15 months due to him viz., from 1st April 1809 to 30 June 1810… do me the favour to cause enquiry to be made of Mr Bell, Paymaster…”(1)
Many wrote up the day’s activities every night, and diaries, letters and memoirs as well as official documents. Some, such as Alexander Dickson, made extremely detailed accounts of architecture and the surroundings (2). Augustus Schaumann, a German Commissary, left one of the most vivid and evocative accounts in On the Road with Wellington (3), which includes something that many writers left out, i.e. their love affairs. And their leisure time is depicted in the amusing sketches and lampoons of army life by Thomas Rowlandson and his contemporaries.
Life on campaign hardly involved any fighting at all. During the Peninsular campaign of 1809, for instance, which lasted roughly from the 22nd of April when General Wellesley arrived in Lisbon to take command, up to the 3rd of September when the army arrived at Badajoz to recuperate, the British Army spent a half day re-capturing the city of Porto from the French.
The battle of Talavera de la Reina took three days, an unusually long and correspondingly bloody affair. So during a period of about four and a half months, only four days were spent in actual fighting. The remainder was spent on the march, with a few weeks in towns awaiting orders or assembling the troops.
An officer on campaign carried an enormous quantity of baggage and got an allowance for a bat horse to carry it and a servant from the ranks to look after him. During Sir John Moore’s campaign of 1808, he ordered that soldier-servants had to be returned to active duty, causing a great deal of grumbling from the officers. They certainly needed servants! They baggage included quantities of demountable furniture sturdily made of mahogany or oak with brass corners, sometimes sewn up in protective canvas. Then there were the contents of those chests – changes of clothes and their uniforms and hats, which occupied their own japanned tin boxes. And their writing-desks, shaving gear and other ‘necessaries’, cutlery, crockery, silver-mounted toilet sets, and edibles to eke out the army ration beef and biscuit. A servant’s work comprised that of valet, butler, cook, groom, laundryman and commissary – everything needed to keep their master clean, presentable, fed and comfortable.
Unlike soldiers, officers did not often bring their wives. Many, like Sir John Moore, considered that marriage was not suitable for a career military man. Those who were married, such as Wellington, mostly left their wives at home. If they did accompany them, they found the ladies a suitable residence among the English merchant community in safely-garrisoned Lisbon and settled them there for the duration, visiting when duty – or inclination – allowed.
In their spare time, officers sallied out into whatever town they were in. They attended balls, receptions and tertulias – dull affairs where the men and women stood about separately in corners and lemonade and cakes were served – given by the local people, drank a colossal quantity, and energetically prosecuted love affairs with local ladies.
Something that fascinated English officers in Portugal especially was the numerous convents full of nuns, who as staunch Protestants they pitied. Visiting nuns and making love to the younger and prettier through the grilles in the convents was a popular pastime, and some even persuaded the ladies to run away with them. This was so common that scholarly papers have been written about the numerous accounts of relations with nuns in British officers’ memoirs (4)
Drinking was endemic and a sign of manliness; a novice like Johnny Newcome had to learn to take his liquor. When the Duke of Wellington decided to commit himself to military life, he cut his consumption of alcohol in half – to only four bottles a day! Men drank port or brandy; claret was regarded as a drink for women. Drunkenness was only an issue if it prevented you from doing your work, for both officers or men, but extreme dissolution was frowned on as ungentlemanly.
On Sundays Divine Service would be held, probably in the open air, and the officers and men and their wives would assemble to hear it. At this period the service would be Matins, as the Sacrament was celebrated less frequently. Outdoor spare time pursuits were hunting in the neighbourhood, using dogs they had brought with them, and getting up horse races, as officers were proud of their horses and aimed for the fastest and showiest animals they could get, while betting was a favourite recreation. Being in a foreign country gave the more artistically inclined numerous opportunities to inspect the art, architecture and sights of the place, and collect trinkets and souvenirs. Some of the wealthier bought art works and antiquities and sent them home to add to their collections.
It may be surprising, in view of all the drinking, wenching and galloping about the country, but many officers were great readers. Popular books were Portuguese and Spanish grammars and dictionaries, books on the arts of war like A treatise containing the elementary part of fortification by John Muller (5) or The Officer’s Manual in the Field (6), and for light reading many chose Don Quixote (7), which they hoped would give them some insight into Spanish life and customs. Novels were not much favoured, but John Cleland’s Fanny Hill: or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (8), the prime pornographic work of the era, would have found a place in many officers’ libraries, together with a selection of erotic engravings to while away the more solitary hours, far from home.
The life of an officer on campaign was an odd miscellany. Courage and daring, sheer hard work, gentlemanly conduct and extreme physical hardship consorted with balls, dancing, gaiety, extravagant uniforms, love affairs, adventure and the tedium of life garrisoning a small town – and, in all this, a great deal of sitting at a desk with a pen in one’s hand.
Both of Caroline’s books are available via Amazon in either paperback or as e-books.
1) The Dickson Manuscripts Major-General Alexander Dickson (Royal Artillery) Ken Trotman Ltd, Cambridge, 1987, Vol 2 p. 225
3) On the Road with Wellington Augustus Schaumann Greenhill Books, London, 1999
4) Eg The Historical Journal Vol. 58 Issue 3 September 2015 pp. 733-756
“Habits of Seduction: Accounts of Portuguese Nuns in British Officers’ Peninsular War Memoirs Jeanne Hurl-Eamon Published online by Cambridge University Press;
The British Soldier in the Peninsular War: Encounters with Spain and Portugal 1808-1814 Gavin Daly Palgrave Macmillan London 2013 p. 165
5) A treatise containing the elementary part of fortification, regular and irregular John Muller J Nourse London 1756
6) The Officer’s Manual in the Field or a Series Of Military Plans Representing the Principal Operations of a Campaign T. Bensley London 1798
7) Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes 1615
8) Fanny Hill: or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure John Cleland London 1749
Soldiers of a campaign. Yale Center for British Art
We are delighted to welcome the author, Simon Edge, journalist, critic and novelist, to our blog to tell us more about the challenges he face when writing his latest novel, due to be released in a few days time, A Right Royal Face Off: A Georgian Entertainment featuring Thomas Gainsborough and Another Painter. So, with that, we’ll hand you over to Simon:
My first novel was based on the life of the Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. The historical parts were set in the 1870s and 1880s and it did not require a huge effort to think myself into his era. Surrounded as we are by Victoriana – in our culture, our civic infrastructure and the clutter of antique fairs or auction rooms – it’s easy to have an instinctive feel for how the Victorians ate, got around, furnished their homes and so on.
When I came to write a comic novel about Thomas Gainsborough and his rivalry with Sir Joshua Reynolds for the affections of the Royal Family, I found myself on less sure ground.
The historical events of A Right Royal Face-Off take place between 1777 and 1785, a century earlier than my previous period. Did I have any clear idea what forms of technology were new at that time, and what was about to be invented?
Was I confident of what well-to-do Londoners had for their dinner, or what time of day they ate it? Could I picture a Georgian hackney carriage, or a Georgian newspaper? No, no and no again.
These things are far from unknowable, of course. The works of Fielding, Swift, Sterne or Thackeray offer plentiful insights, and I wince as much as any other visitor to All Things Georgian at the anachronisms in a bad film adaptation of Jane Austen.
However, I didn’t have any instinctive sense of the difference between the 1770s and, say, the 1720s or the 1820s, so there was a high risk of howlers. Most readers don’t have that sense either, but if it’s worth doing historical fiction, it’s worth getting it right.
I live very close to Gainsborough’s House, the painter’s birthplace museum in Suffolk, so I could examine his painting table, the kind of paintbox he might have used, the sort of mannequin he would have employed for human figures in his early paintings (painfully apparent in portraits such as ‘Mr and Mrs Andrews’), and so on.
However, I needed basic guidance on ordinary living – the kind of stuff that novelists needs to get our characters out of bed in the morning and to take them through the day.
The trick, especially when you have a deadline, is to find a good guide who can help you cut corners, and mine was Fanny Burney. Her novel Evelina, about a country innocent introduced to London ways, was published in 1778 – spot on for my needs. Joy of joys, my edition came with detailed footnotes explaining hairdressing fashions, the dates of the London season and the difference between a sedan chair, a hackney-coach and a chariot.
Another boon was A Country Parson, the diary kept by the Norfolk vicar James Woodforde between 1759 and 1802. First published in the 1920s, its attraction for generations of readers is its homely detail, with meticulous records of meals taken, conversations with servants, journeys made, and so on. Woodforde lived a rural life, but he came from a similar class to Gainsborough and I found him invaluable every time I needed to give my characters a good feed. For example, when Gainsborough’s journalist friend Henry Bate-Dudley drops in for lunch, I provide him with a lobster, some mackerel, veal cutlets, a mutton leg with caper sauce, and a pig’s face, followed by a pineapple, oranges, a melon, damson tarts and a syllabub. If that gives you indigestion just thinking about it, take it up with Parson Woodforde.
A major issue for anyone writing historical fiction is language, particularly if the narrative is in the first person. You need to avoid anachronism – no shots in the arm or rollercoaster journeys, for example. That may sound obvious, but these things have a way of sneaking in. I once made myself unpopular with a writer friend by objecting to his description of buddleia (named after the 17th-century Reverend Buddle) in a novel about Roman Britain. Nobody loves a smartarse, but that doesn’t mean I was wrong.
Making characters sound authentic to their period isn’t just about avoiding modern slang – you need phrases of the time, too. I plunged into Fielding’s Tom Jones and made lists of idiomatic expressions: ‘he gave loose to mirth’, ‘she opined’ or ‘you are of the vulgar stamp’.
It took me back to my A-levels, trying to shoe-horn a list of idioms into French and German essays, and there is clearly a danger of trying too hard. Perhaps the best you can hope is that you fall into the right kind of linguistic groove. Total authenticity is not the aim.
One well-known literary novel from the 1980s, based on a brilliant idea, is virtually unreadable because it’s written in pedantically accurate 17th-century English. Better to suggest your period and not become inaccessible. A bestselling historical novelist friend insists this is all about word order: rearranging a sentence very slightly can create an impression of unfamiliarity, without forcing the reader out of their linguistic comfort zone.
I also found profanity very useful. We know from Gainsborough’s letters that he was a fantastically sweary person, so in my version he constantly calls the servants addlepates, whoresons and coxcombs. No doubt some of those expressions are ruder than others, just as we have our acceptable swear-words and our beyond-the-pale ones nowadays, but I used them interchangeably. It’s a comic novel, not a doctoral thesis on 18th century idiom.
I hope it entertains people, because that is the primary intention, but I’ll also be delighted if readers feel at home in my version of Georgian England. My bestselling historical novelist friend told me that my 18th century world was “lightly but effectively drawn”. I took that as the highest compliment.
Today we are thrilled to welcome to our blog, Sophie Guiny. Sophie is a Wedgwood collector and researcher. She is also the newsletter editor for the Wedgwood Society of Washington, D.C.
In May 1759, 260 years ago this month, 29-year old Josiah Wedgwood founded his own pottery works. Born in a family of potters in Burslem, Staffordshire, young Josiah was struck by smallpox and the resulting damage to his leg (which would eventually be amputated) left him unable to operate a potter’s wheel. He turned his attention to design and experimentation with new clays and glazes, improving on known techniques and creating new styles and ceramics bodies, including the now iconic jasperware, which Wedgwood perfected around 1775. In both pursuits, women played a critical role as patrons, artists and factory workers.
Josiah Wedgwood’s sense of innovation extended to marketing his wares in what was a crowded market. As the quality of his creamware (a type of ceramic made of pure white clay with a clear lead glaze) had garnered him royal orders, he petitioned Queen Charlotte for the right to use her name in selling his products. Starting in 1763, Wedgwood’s creamware was sold as Queen’s ware, and the Queen’s patronage became very visible on all advertising materials.
The Frog Service commissioned by Empress Catherine II of Russia in 1773 is a good case study of the role of women in Wedgwood’s business. First, as with the naming of Queen’s ware, Josiah Wedgwood aggressively courted royal and aristocratic female patrons, as they had the ability to influence the taste of other women, both in the aristocracy and in England’s burgeoning middle class. In a letter to his partner Thomas Bentley, Wedgwood muses, “Suppose you present the Duchess of Devonshire with a Set and beg leave to call them Devonshire Flowerpots.” This was never to be. But having Catherine the Great as a repeat customer (she had already ordered a service in 1768) was a marketing coup for which Wedgwood was prepared to incur financial losses.
The Frog Service comprised 952 pieces, and was to be decorated with a different view of England on each piece, an extremely ambitious task. The only repeating designs would be the border and the frog emblem, as the service was destined for a palace known as “Frog Marsh.” To realise the service, Wedgwood had to hire numerous skilled painters, which included a number of women: factory records show that at least half a dozen women were employed to paint the Frog Service, working on both the borders and the centre landscapes. The highest paid woman, a Mrs Wilcox, was paid eighteen shillings a week, which is just over half of what the highest-paid man earned (thirty-one shillings).
Wedgwood catered to a variety of tastes, and was always trying to introduce new styles. Many pieces were decorated with classical designs, inspired by antiquity, and modelled by such noted artists as John Flaxman Junior and George Stubbs. It is worth noting, however, that in the 1787 company catalogue, Wedgwood gives a place of pride to designs made by three women artists: Elizabeth, Lady Templetown, Lady Diana Beauclerk, and Miss Emma Crewe. All three were gifted amateur artists, and their designs were used exclusively to decorate the very fashionable jasperware.
Lady Templetown, often misspelled as “Templeton”, perhaps based on Josiah Wedgwood’s own frequent misspelling in his letters, was inspired by sentimentalist literature (such as Laurence Sterne’s novels) and traditional domestic activities. Born Elizabeth Boughton in 1747, she came from an aristocratic, if not particularly wealthy, family and married Clotworthy Upton in 1769. In 1776, in recognition for his services to the royal family, Upton was made Baron Templetown of Templetown, County Antrim in Ireland, and Elizabeth became the first Lady Templetown. Left a widow with three children in 1785, she managed her family’s Irish estates until her son’s coming of age, and retired to Rome where she died in 1823.
Her drawings caught the eye of Josiah Wedgwood who commissioned several designs from her starting in 1783. In a letter to Lady Templetown dated June 27, 1783, Josiah Wedgwood expresses: “a wish to be indulged in copying a few more such [figure] groups” in addition to what she had already lent him. She provided drawings or cut-outs in Indian paper of her designs, and William Hackwood, a sculptor employed by Wedgwood, modelled the actual reliefs to be applied on the jasperware. The etching below, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, is based on one of Lady Templetown’s series of cut-outs on the theme of Domestic Employment. The jasperware version of this design (which is the mirror image of the cut-out) is on the teapot at the top of this post.
Emma Crewe’s designs were quite similar in inspiration to Lady Templetown’s, but much less is known about her life. She was born in 1741 and was the sister of John Crewe, a Member of Parliament and a staunch supporter of Whig party leader Charles James Fox. It is likely that these personal acquaintances played a role in Emma’s designs being used by Wedgwood, as Josiah Wedgwood was also a committed Whig.
Lady Diana Beauclerk’s designs were of a different style, although they too feature boys and cherubs at play. She was born Lady Diana Spencer in 1724 in one of Britain’s most prominent families: she was the great-granddaughter of the first Duke of Marlborough and grew up at Blenheim Palace. In 1757, she married Lord Bolingbroke, but her unhappy marriage was dissolved in 1768. That same year, she married Topham Beauclerk. The Beauclerks were part of the literary and artistic society of the time, counting among their inner circle such luminaries as Horace Walpole and Joshua Reynolds, and her life was the source of some gossip, which had been featured on this blog. Lady Diana Beauclerk died in 1808, having spent the last years of her life mostly blind and in much reduced circumstances (her husband Topham died in 1780).
According to Beatrice Erskine’s 1903 Lady Diana Beauclerk Her Life and Work, the first contact between Lady Diana Beauclerk and Josiah Wedgwood occurred in 1780 through their mutual friend Charles James Fox.
It is likely that Josiah Wedgwood chose to hire women artists and to publicise their work because he thought that it would appeal to the market, showing a softer side than scenes inspired by the Iliad, or portrait medallions of Roman emperors. Wedgwood has reproduced Domestic Employment and Bacchanalian Boys countless times since the eighteenth century, showing the long-lasting appeal of the more feminine designs.
However, Josiah Wedgwood was ahead of his time on many social and political issues, from his commitment to the anti-slavery movement to his position in favour of the independence of the American colonies, and was involved in the latest scientific research of his time through his membership in the Lunar Society. So it is not inappropriate to think that hiring women artists may have gone beyond commercial considerations and reflected Josiah Wedgwood’s progressive positions.
For more on this topic:
The Wedgwood Museum is part of the World of Wedgwood experience in Barlaston, Staffordshire
Both the British Museum and the V&A have large collections of Wedgwood, including works by women designers
The Frog Service is in the collections of the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg
The most comprehensive reference book is Robin Reilly, Wedgwood (two volumes), Macmillan & Co, 1989.
With the turn for the century, fashions began to change from the tight-laced bodiced dresses to a softer, flimsy and floating style, often made from lightweight fabrics. Presumably it was this change of style that required women to preserve their modesty, so, on that note we’re delighted to welcome a new guest to our blog, Sarah Waldock, who describes herself as ‘a Regency romance author with a morbid interest in drains and underwear’.
The post has come about following conversations we’ve had with Sarah Waldock, about one of our previous articles regarding whether Georgian women wore knickers or not! So we’ll hand over to her to tell you more.
This goes back to an assertion I made that yes, there were drawers worn by ladies in the Regency period as I had seen ads for them. Only when I uncovered the following ad, two words – invisible dresses – leaped out at me.
Radford’s Hosiery, 52 Cheapside
All manner of hosiery, gloves, flannels, drawers, ladies’ invisible dresses….
So going a bit further, I found
Mrs. Morris, once Mrs. Robertshaw, invisible dresses, petticoats, drawers and waist coats of real Spanish lamb’s wool, Welch Flannel Warehouse, 100 Oxford Street.
Plainly Mrs. Morris is a cut above Mr. Radford, being in Oxford Street where you pay three guineas a lungful to breathe [not that Cheapside was especially cheap; the name comes from the same source as Chapman, a peddler, from OE for goods for sale].
Digging around, I initially discover Mr. Radford advertising as far back as the 1st of January 1806 both the ‘Newly invented’ invisible petticoat and drawers, which is the earliest mention of drawers I had yet to find – at that point.
And then a bit of luck.
An unnamed seller advertises on Tuesday 17th September 1811;
New-invented invisible dresses [I hear you say, hang on, Radford and Morris had them in 1810; it’s the way of making them which is new invented] all in one, of a superior style for ladies and children … for ready money only, at no. 16 Poultry.
All in one, which is interesting; it suggests that invisible petticoats and waists have been combined. And in the same year, 21 December, 1811, Mr. Radford is back with his own take on this:
New-invented Brunswick invisible dresses that are such a preventative against colds and are patronised by the Royal Family.
There are also ads from him advertising them for ladies and children, reinforcing the idea that these are practical garments, no mere modesty pieces. These garments are for warmth to prevent the silly and fashionable chits in muslins from dying of pneumonia at winter balls.
I then looked up ‘Brunswick’ in the ‘Fairchild Dictionary of Textiles’. It gave me:
“A twilled wool and cotton fabric similar to cassimere”[Cassimere was a soft woollen twill cloth invented in Bradford and often combined with cotton, silk or mohair].
Now, Mr. Radford was also advertising cotton invisible petticoats in June and July of 1806, so maybe they were there as modesty pieces as well. I don’t have any more on that, nor on whether they were stockinet flesh coloured garments, like the drawers mentioned by Nicky Roberts in ‘Whores in History’ [Harper Collins 1992] to be worn under the notorious dampened muslins. It wasn’t mentioned. However I am seeing, I hope not spuriously, a connection between drawers and invisible gowns, which is an impression strengthened by a few more ads.
And this one from Mrs. Robertshaw [before she was Mrs. Morris] is the winner.
30th September 1806
SPANISH LAMBSWOOL INVISIBLE PETTICOATS
Mrs. Robertshaw begs leave to inform those ladies that found their invisible petticoats shrunk last winter that she has a kind so much improved that she will warrant them never to shrink even in the commonest wash, at the same time will be found equally as soft, pliant and warm. Everybody that has tried them allows them to be a much pleasanter article than ever before invented, being so very elastic[a word merely meaning at the time having some stretch or give] and of so beautiful a white, and, like all these comforts will add quite as little to size as her patent lambs’ wool so much approved of last winter. Likewise invisibles and stays all in one; well adapted to ladies that are confined; also under waist coats and drawers of the same description.
The ad goes on to invite mail order purchase, but what seems suggestive here is that the drawers are also for warmth as the implication is that they are also lambswool [and possibly either knitted or woven as a knit-weave like gents’ pantaloons]
The implication is also that this is not the earliest date.
So this is the ad I found, on 21st October 1805.
Spanish lamb’s wool invisible petticoats; Mrs. Robertshaw…. large assortment of her large assortment of real patent invisible petticoats which ladies will find soft, warm and pleasant at the same time adding little to the size.
Patent. A suggestive word, though I have a gut feeling that a lot of advertisers threw it around without applying for a patent. However, it does suggest that warm underclothes under skimpy top clothes was a recent response to the changes in fashion, having to be lightweight themselves rather than adding a quilted petticoat as one might do in earlier times.
The latest ad I found was in 1815, Friday 22nd December. Mrs. Morris is no longer reminding people that she was Mrs. Robertshaw before.
Ladies opera dresses, drawers, waistcoats, invisible petticoats – Mr. [sic] Morris manufacturer to the Royal Family respectfully informs those ladies that have patronised her patent invisible petticoat, opera under-dresses, drawers and waistcoats …. that she has manufactured an entire fresh and extensive assemblage.
I searched up to 1820 but could find no more ads. But after 1816, the year without a summer, the climate warmed up. Could it be that woolly longjohns and flannel petticoats disappeared for a lack of need for them?
As to earlier, in 1804 Mr. Radford was bad-mouthing those who sold inferior quality whilst proclaiming his own cheap but quality hosiery. He mentions flannels again. Was this a euphemism for flannel drawers? I haven’t tracked that down.
On 13th November 1804 he is advertising elastic cotton and other drawers in with his hosiery, gloves, lace mitts and lace sleeves. He is mentioned on 12th May 1803 as a hosier, and taking on the rent somewhere in an article too faded for me to read.
Mrs. Robertshaw however turns up in December 1804, or rather, Mr. W, Robertshaw does, at the same address, 100 Oxford Street, with a hosiery and pantaloon warehouse with fresh Spanish lambs wool and Angola waistcoats and drawers. Mrs. Robertshaw.
…begs the attention of the ladies to her patent Bath and elastic lambs wool petticoats and drawers, which ladies will find soft, warm and pleasant at the same time to add very little to size.
So, they are not yet invisible! Bath was a soft woollen cloth comparable to superfine; Bath suiting was often used for men’s jackets. It moulded nicely to the muscular form of the Corinthian.
Apart from the existence of W Robertshaw, Hosier, 100 Oxford Street in January 1804, the Robertshaws too disappear. Two families of Hosiers, whose brief, decade-long production of underwear excites the interest two hundred years later.
We are delighted to welcome The Early Dance Circle to the blog. On Friday 1st March they have their Annual Lecture, with this year’s guest speaker our good friend and fellow Pen and Sword author, Georgian Gentleman, Mike Rendell. So, to find out more about the event we hand over to Sharon, from the centre, to tell you more:
Join us on the dance floor of history – Learn how to dance Britain’s heritage or come to enjoy watching and help to pass it on.
If you love dance and want to safeguard and pass on its earliest forms in the UK and Europe, join us now. You can help us to secure a thriving future for early dance.
The Early Dance Circle (EDC) is a UK charity that aims to promote the enjoyment, performance and study of historical dance in the UK and beyond. Formed in 1984, it counts individuals and groups, both amateur and professional, among its members. We believe that a knowledge of earlier forms of dance helps enrich the cultural life of the UK, by accessing a heritage of international importance that belongs to us all, but has been until recently largely forgotten.
Our website, Early Dance Circle, offers information about classes & teachers, all our many events (including an Annual Early Dance Festival) our publications and lots of free resources about the 500 years of dance history in the UK and the rest of Europe. We have sponsored a free annual lecture since 1988.
Our Annual Lecture for 2019 will take place on
Friday 1st March 2019 at 7.15pm
Best foot forward – Georgian Style: Waltzing through History
Mike will look at dance in the Georgian era from a social history point of view – its importance, what it was like to go to Bath, to the Pantheon, to Almacks, what people wore, how they travelled, the role of the Master of Ceremonies, the growth of Masquerades – and finally some press reaction to the introduction of that grossly immoral and shocking dance, the waltz.
Mike is the custodian of a vast array of family papers dating back to the early 1700s. After he retired, he published The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman: The Life and Times of Richard Hall 1729-1801 (2011) about his Georgian ancestor. Currently working on no fewer than three books, Mike is known to 18th Century enthusiasts through his highly varied blogs on life in the Georgian period. He speaks regularly in the UK and abroad.
To reserve your free place, please book on Eventbrite (click here).
We are thrilled to welcome back the author of Regency Cheshire, Sue Wilkes who explores the county during the age of Jane Austen and Walter Scott; Regency Cheshire is now available on Kindle. Here’s a brief look at one of Cheshire’s most famous Regency-era architects.
Thomas Harrison (1744–1829), a Yorkshireman of humble origin, learnt his craft in Italy during the early 1770s.
Harrison’s works brought a restrained classicism to the city. His first major project was the Castle site, home to the civil and crown courts, county gaol, and an army garrison. Prison reformer John Howard, who visited in 1788, likened conditions in the cells (which housed debtors and felons) to the Black Hole of Calcutta.
In the summer of 1784, Cheshire magistrates, following a country-wide typhus epidemic the previous year, held a design competition for a new gaol within the castle. Thomas Harrison, now in his early forties, won the 50-guinea prize for his plans. Preliminary work began on site in 1788.
Harrison’s new gaol was laid out in the shape of a half-octagon fanning out from the Shire Hall. When the building was finally completed in 1801, conditions had greatly improved. The gaoler’s house looked out over an exercise yard; the cells, nine ft. by seven ft., were built in two-storey blocks along the inside of the perimeter wall. Robert Southey commented on how comfortably the jailor was housed:
The new jail is considered as a perfect model of prison architecture… The main objects attended to are, that the prisoners be kept apart from each other, and that the cells should always be open to inspection, and well ventilated so as to prevent infectious disorders… The structure of this particular prison is singularly curious, the cells being so constructed that the jailor from his dwelling-house can look into every one…The apartment from whence we were shown the interior of the prison was well, and even elegantly furnished; there were geraniums flowering upon stands, – a pianoforte, and music-books lying open – , and when we looked from the window we saw criminals with irons upon their legs, in solitary dungeons: – one of them, who was intently reading some devotional book, was, we were told, certainly to be executed at the next assizes…
Although Harrison’s design was very beautiful, it wasn’t necessarily secure; five prisoners escaped in the spring of 1802, and another five absconded in November 1807.
Harrison’s beautiful Propylaea Gateway, inspired by the Acropolis in Athens, was the crowning glory of the Castle complex. The gateway, with its Doric porticos and massy columns, is a high point of Greek Revival architecture in England.
Harrison’s new Shire Hall, with a grand façade of a Doric portico in fine ashlar stone, formed a harmonious whole with the prison buildings. Work continued on the Castle site for the rest of the decade; a new Armoury and Barracks (the present day Regimental Museum) for the garrison was added.
Harrison was also asked to revamp the city’s last surviving medieval gate, the Northgate. It housed the city gaol and had a dire reputation. This mouldering pile had a dreadful dungeon thirty feet below street level.
The Northgate was demolished and replaced by Harrison with a ’light, elegant structure of white stone.’ He also designed a new city gaol and House of Correction, built between 1806 and 1808, close to the medieval walls, but these buildings no longer survive.
Harrison was a very busy man in Chester during the Regency era. Thomas repaired the crumbling fabric of Chester Cathedral and refurbished the Exchange. His elegant Commercial News Room on Northgate St was a quiet haven for gentlemen wishing to peruse the daily newspapers. At Chester’s famous racecourse, the Roodee, he designed the first permanent grandstand to give genteel race-goers some protection from the weather. His skills were also greatly in demand for private homes.
Harrison’s works form a wonderful legacy for Cheshire architecture. His obituary in the Chester Chronicle (3 April 1829) called him a ‘highly distinguished artist,’ who ‘in his professional character, had few equals.’
We are always delighted to welcome back the lovely and very informative author Regan Walker. Today she’s going to tell us about what the island of Guernsey would have been like during the French Revolution. So, without further ado, we will hand you over to Regan.
My newest novel, A Fierce Wind, is set in England, France and the Isle of Guernsey during the French Revolution. It’s an exciting story of love in time of war when loyalties are torn and love is tested and when the boy Zoé Donet knew as a child turns out to be the man of her dreams. Since Guernsey has been of particular interest lately, I thought to give you an idea of what life might have been like there in the late 18th century.
With the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789, French émigrés began flowing into England and other parts of Europe in successive waves that became a huge tide of emigration. (The number is believed to be one hundred and sixty thousand.) Some fled to Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands, then called “the French Isles” even though they were dependencies of the British Crown. A considerable number of royalist and Catholic émigrés took refuge on Guernsey and a portion of those settled on the island, giving up hope of ever returning home.
Lying so close to France (less than twenty miles from Normandy), the islands not only provided sanctuary to the fleeing French, but they were used by the British as a base from which to monitor the movements of ships in and out of the Normandy’s ports. Hence, it was not surprising that Frederick West, the hero in A Fierce Wind, who lives on Guernsey, became a spy for the English while working with his French brother-in-law to ferry émigrés to London.
Freddie’s superior in London was Evan Nepean, Undersecretary of the Home Office and, after 1794, Undersecretary of War. One of his chief interests during the revolution was intelligence and Captain Philippe d’Auvergne on the Isle of Jersey was a primary contact. In addition to his duties as commander of the flotilla of small gunboats that protected the isles and administrator of the French émigrés, d’Auvergne was a British spymaster.
Although the Islands have been loyal to the English crown for eight hundred years, the native people would have been of Norman and Breton stock. In the late eighteenth century the majority of Guernsey’s population conversed in Guernsey-French (derived from the old Norman-French with Breton words tossed in), but in the capital, St Peter Port, they also would have had a working knowledge of both French and English.
During the Revolution, people might have been starving in Paris, but on Guernsey, they generally ate well. Good weather and good soil produced a rich bounty of fruits and vegetables. Figs and oranges grew on Guernsey. Healthy cows provided fine milk, butter and cheese, and most households kept a pig or two. Oysters, fish and lobsters abounded. Guernsey fishermen also brought home cod from Newfoundland. Wine and spirits were plentiful, too, and always had been since the isles were home to many privateers.
Even before the French Revolution, Guernsey was an entrepôt, a place for temporary storage of goods and provisions held free of any duty for exportation to another port or country. Being a free port, the British Parliament had no right to levy taxes in the Isles and the Isles themselves had no desire to levy taxes on goods brought to and then exported. Thus Guernsey and the rest of the Isles could import goods from any country, not an enemy of Britain, free of British taxes.
There were no bonded warehouses in England in the 18th Century, so warehouses were built on Guernsey to store and mature wine and spirits until they were needed in England. During the war with France, Guernsey warehouses were filled with brandy, wine, tea, rum and tobacco, all in high demand and taxed in England. In my story, Freddie’s brother-in-law keeps a warehouse on Guernsey to store his goods.
The first newspaper printed on Guernsey appeared in 1789 under the title of Gazette de L’Ile de Guernesey. It was published every Saturday in French and its size was that of a small sheet of letter paper. It contained local news and items from the Paris journals. In 1791, its publication was discontinued for a short time, but it re-appeared in 1792, under the same title.
In 1794, during the Reign of Terror, the first mail packet sailed from Weymouth to Jersey. Informed that postal packets would be crossing the English Channel to and from the islands, the Admiralty asked that “His Majesty’s Cruisers be directed to keep as far as may be an eye on the Packet Boats to prevent their being taken by the Enemy.” Indeed, protecting one particular packet leads to a battle on the English Channel in my story.
Guernsey was a hopping place!
Love in the time of revolution
Zoé Ariane Donet was in love with love until she met the commander of the royalist army fighting the revolutionaries tearing apart France. When the dashing young general is killed, she joins the royalist cause, rescuing émigrés fleeing France.
One man watches over her: Frederick West, the brother of an English earl, who has known Zoé since she was a precocious ten-year-old child. At sixteen, she promised great beauty, the flower of French womanhood about to bloom. Now, four years later, as Robespierre’s Terror seizes France by the throat, Zoé has become a beautiful temptress Freddie vows to protect with his life.
But English spies don’t live long in revolutionary France.
We are delighted to welcome back to our blog fellow Pen and Sword author, Naomi Clifford who loves nothing better than nosing around old archives to find stories of forgotten people.
Today Naomi’s going to share with us some information about her latest book, so we’ll hand straight over to her.
In Ford Madox Brown’s painting The Last of England, painted in the middle of the 19th century, a young couple on the deck of a ship bound for Australia gaze grimly out to sea, the White Cliffs of Dover behind them. Perhaps they have left hunger and trauma behind them. Perhaps they are merely convinced that better fortunes lie overseas.
Emigration grew throughout the early part of the century: the Irish potato famine, changes in farming and industry, high taxes – all contributed to a great movement of people to dominions across the water. Many went to Australia and Canada but America was perennially popular.
Although there are no reliable statistics before about 1800, it has been estimated that in the first decade of the 19th century more than 20,000 people emigrated to America from the United Kingdom, most of them from Ireland and the Highlands of Scotland. A good proportion of them earned their passage by hiring themselves out as indentured servants, their labour sold on by the captain after landing. Some were veterans of the long wars with France, who had been unable to settle or find employment. Others simply found life in Britain and Ireland untenable: wages were low and food prices were high. The steerage of packet ships crossing the Atlantic was stuffed with the labouring poor and their families, who no doubt earnestly hoped for significantly better prospects overseas.
Abraham Thornton, who in the middle of September 1818 left the family farm at Shard End in Castle Bromwich, Warwickshire and travelled to Birmingham to catch the stagecoach to Liverpool, was not one of these.
His reason for quitting England was simple: he was hated, notorious throughout the country. In the opinion of most people, he had escaped his rightful fate: swinging on the gallows for the brutal rape and murder of Mary Ashford.
Thornton, the only suspect in Mary’s death, was tried at Warwick Assizes in August 1817, but to the surprise of many was acquitted. Rumours that witnesses and jurymen had been paid off by his father were rife and a few months later Mary’s brother started a civil prosecution in London. The case gripped the country, partly because early on in the proceedings Thornton challenged his accuser to hand-to-hand combat, and the rest of the case was devoted to deciding whether this could legally take place. The public was appalled when the case collapsed. Thornton seemed once more to have evaded justice.
Once in Liverpool, Thornton browsed the newspapers for a suitable passage. He booked a place on the American-owned packet ship The Independence which was scheduled to sail for New York on the 25th. Fixed sailing dates was a recent innovation, brought in by a group of New York Quaker businessmen who developed the idea of creating a ‘shipping line’ by contracting several vessels to sail on specific dates between established ports. In autumn 1817 they advertised the first service in the Black Ball line, using large three-masted square-rigged schooners. Sailings started in January 1818.
Soon two ships were travelling across the Atlantic each month each way. Rather than follow the trade winds across the Atlantic, the American captains preferred the most direct route – it was rougher but faster. Thompson incentivised his team: If an eastbound sailing was completed in under 22 days or westbound in under 35, the captain was given a new coat, and a dress for his wife.
The Independence was not one of the Black Ball ships (rival shippers were quick to copy Thompson). In the end, however, Thornton was prevented from boarding after he was recognised by a fellow passenger who objected to the prospect of being at close quarters for at least six weeks with a possible murderer.
Aged 25, and of average height, broad and beefy, with a square jaw and thinning dark hair swept forward over a bald patch, Thornton was easy to recognise. His portrait had appeared in numerous pamphlets while the case was in play and had been printed in The Observer.
It is quite possible that in Liverpool he wore the same black hat, black coat and beige leggings he had on at his numerous court appearances in London. There was also something less tangible but equally notable – an aloof confidence, which had so struck the newspaper journalists who saw him in court that they remarked on it in their reports.
A few days after failing to board The Independence, Thornton managed to leave England. He bought a place on The Shamrock which was aiming to leave ‘immediately’ for Baltimore, which probably meant ‘as soon as the agent had booked sufficient cargo and passengers’.
Most of those who disembarked The Shamrock would have moved on pretty swiftly – Baltimore was the primary gateway to the West. Thornton, however, apparently headed north to New York and into almost complete obscurity.
Back in England, there were rumours about what had happened to him but none can be verified. Like many a traveller before and after him, he found protection in the vastness and anonymity of the US.
Over the years, the Ashford-Thornton case became known primarily for its effect on the statute book – it led directly to the rescinding of two medieval laws, appeal of murder and trial by battle – rather than the question of Thornton’s guilt or innocence. His solicitor and others speculated that Mary had not been raped and murdered but had drowned herself in remorse for ‘transgressing’ with Thornton in a field on their walk home. Naomi Clifford has uncovered evidence to show that the truth about the events of that night has been hiding in plain sight for 200 years…
It is our pleasure to welcome a new guest to our blog. She writes under the nom de plume of Erato. Her latest book is a fictional account of the relationship between Prinny, the Prince of Wales and the infamous George Bryan ‘Beau’ Brummell.
Why should a story about beauty and fashion be about a bunch of men? — When Beau Brummell takes centre stage, what else can the book be about?
Many modern grooming habits, which we take for granted today, were established by Beau Brummell. These include the exclusively drab colours for men’s formalwear, the absence of lace and frills, and the practice of bathing daily. (Brummell’s bathing habits were so mystifying to the Regency gentlemen that they actually lined up at his house to watch him bathe every morning — a lengthy procedure, as the Beau was quite thorough about it, taking as much as two hours to complete his washing).
In The Cut of the Clothes, we learn about Brummell from the viewpoint of his famous friend and rival, the Prince of Wales, later Prince Regent, later King George IV. It was the Prince’s support that allowed Brummell to claim the sort of influence he obtained over the London ton, but soon the young Beau began to overshadow his mentor’s influence. Famously, when someone once asked what Brummell would do if he lost the Prince’s support, he quipped, I’ll cut young George and make a fashion of the old one. (The old one being the Prince’s father, George III.)
The practice of social “cutting” was what led to perhaps the most famous piece of Brummelliana: when the Prince at last became fed up with Brummell’s insults, he cut Brummell, and made his decision clear at a party.
As it is told in The Cut of the Clothes, from the Prince’s viewpoint:
He had lately won an almost unheard of £20,000 at the table. To commemorate this achievement, he and his core dandy friends were to throw an extravagant ball; one which I daresay must have consumed a goodly portion of the funds it was meant to celebrate having gained. Every body who was any body in the ton was to be there. Frances, Isabella, even Caroline were invited (though I understood the lattermost to have left the country for Italy by then, praise be to God.) Lord Byron would be there. Frederica and my brother were to attend. Not a name was missing from the guest list, but for one. It was mine.
This was surely no oversight; the Beau must have known I had cut him, and have therefore influenced his friends (with whom I was still connected) not to invite me as any guest of their own. And yet, as Prince Regent, I did not need an invitation.
It was like a modern droit du seigneur: if I chose to attend at any ball or assembly, invited or not, it was considered an honor to the hosts to have me there. Naturally, Mr. Brummell was to be at this event, and I surely had no desire to see him again; but I took into consideration how many others whom I dearly loved and wish’d to see, would be there.
Was that wretch to deprive me of my company, of my happiness? Never! I wrote to the hosts of this party, announcing my plans to attend notwithstanding their little oversight about inviting me. There was no need to ask their permission.
The fashionable Argyle [also Argyll] Rooms had been rented to accommodate this glorious event. It is a most splendid location: the entrance hall is painted with frescos of Corinthian pilasters and compartments, footed with green marble. It was there, waiting to greet the guests, that I saw my four hosts in all their tasteful finery: Alvanley, Mildmay, Pierrepoint and, naturally, the Beau himself. They were lined up, two to each side, in suits so well tailored that there was not a single wrinkle between them.
It was my polite duty to greet them. I began at the left side, speaking first to Mildmay; then across to Pierrepoint. Beside him was Brummell, eyes glaring at me despite his false smile. I passed him over, making every display of not having noticed him at all, as if the man were no more visible to me than a f–t. People around us saw what I had done; I could feel a sudden chill to course through the whole room. I had just affronted the great Beau Brummell, and made known to everybody my cut of his company. I crossed back to the left to greet Alvanley, and that done, was about to make my way up to the vestibule and stairs.
Then loudly, loudly, oh! so loud, there was a cry from behind my shoulder in the voice which I knew belong’d to Brummell:
Aw, Alvanley, who is your fat friend?
Every person who stood in that passageway cringed. There was a moment of silence as nobody knew what to do. Then I heard, dreadfully, the rising sound of a giggle: a crescendo that soon became a mighty roar of laughter. Everybody was laughing, and this delight was being had at my expense. Brummell was plainly quite pleased with himself to have thus humiliated me.
If you have ever wondered “Who was Beau Brummell?” then you might like to read the account of his reign as the king of fashion in The Cut of the Clothes.
We would once again like to welcome back to our blog, Classics teacher and author of The Elephant of Exeter Change: A Tale of Cruelty and Confinement in Georgian London, William Ellis-Rees.
William’s guest post this time has as its subject, Empress Josephine, the wife of Napoleon Bonaparte. Josephine is of course extraordinarily famous, and many biographies of her have appeared over the years. However, William’s research has unearthed a curious story which does not appear in the standard works, and which sheds light on a fascinating corner of her life. His fascinating book tells more about her obsession with the collecting of animals and plants, Josephine in the Mountains: The curious story of the Empress’s journey from Paris to the Alps.
For most visitors to Paris, the château of Malmaison will not be high on their list of must-sees. There are perhaps more obvious attractions: museums and churches, the Seine and its bridges, the grand boulevards and the romantic back-streets.
But Malmaison, bought by Napoleon Bonaparte and his wife Josephine in 1799, is for those who make the pilgrimage to the outskirts of the city quite simply fascinating. I first fell under its spell many years ago when I embarked on extensive researches into its history, and I still find that it has the power to evoke the atmosphere of the Consulate and the First Empire. The château is crammed with images of Napoleon’s military exploits, and the furniture and furnishings showcase the opulent decorative style he made fashionable.
But above all it is Josephine’s role in this particular story — a role made possible by her ambition and energy — that gives Malmaison its special appeal.
Plants and animals
Josephine, who is not always remembered in the most favourable light, was, in fact, a very considerable connoisseur of landscaped gardens.
She employed a succession of designers to lay out the park of Malmaison in the ‘English’ style, which called for purling streams, follies and toy farms and apparently natural arrangements of trees and plants.
Josephine was in her element. She used her influence and wealth to turn Malmaison into the centre of an extensive scientific network, along which plants flowed into Paris from the furthest corners of the earth, and then, once acclimatised in her magnificent glasshouses, out to municipal gardens in every region of France.
She collected animals, too, and her exotic creatures turned the park into something not unlike an Old Master’s vision of the Garden of Eden.
Josephine’s interest in natural history found triumphant expression in her patronage of the 1800 expedition to Australia, which Europeans then called New Holland.
The expedition, sailing in two ships, was led by a seasoned captain, Nicolas Baudin, but he clashed with members of the scientific team — the mariner and the intellectual were not obvious travelling companions! Although the voyage was arduous, New Holland proved to be a land of almost magical beauty, and the ships carried back to France a rich haul of exciting new plants and animals. These had been earmarked for the Jardin des Plantes in Paris, but Josephine was quick to claim her share. And so it was that the glasshouses at Malmaison boasted numerous New Holland species. So it was, too, that black swans floated on the ‘English’ river, and kangaroos hopped about their enclosure in the park.
Journey to the mountains
Josephine shared with many of her contemporaries a passion for mountain landscapes — she built a Swiss chalet at Malmaison and kept a herd of Swiss cows — and in 1810 she set off for the Alps. She had only recently been divorced by Napoleon, and her journey to the mountains may be seen as in some sense deeply personal, and maybe even as a spiritual process of self-discovery. Given the circumstances — she had been rejected in favour of the powerfully connected Marie Louise — Josephine must strike us as a rather forlorn figure. Even so, she travelled with a graceful entourage and was fêted along the way.
One day a young man by the name of Joseph-Louis Bonjean was introduced to her. What happened as a result of this meeting is an intriguing story, and, if you want to find out more, I would urge you read my recently published Josephine in the Mountains!
Suffice it to say here that for one of the two travellers, the illustrious Josephine and the humble Bonjean, nothing was ever the same again. As one might expect, they later went their separate ways, but, as I show in my book, Bonjean’s name was not entirely lost. What we have here is perhaps not the obvious story of Josephine. My concern is not principally her rise to prominence, nor her marriage to and her divorce from Napoleon. My story is about another — the other — Josephine.
We are absolutely thrilled to be welcoming back the author Regan Walker whose latest book has just been released – A Secret Scottish Christmas and today she’s written a guest blog about orangeries.
Whether you call them orangeries, hothouses, greenhouses or conservatories, buildings in which plants were allowed to grow in an environment sheltered from the weather were much in vogue in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the warm air of these glassed buildings, one could grow flowers (oleander, hibiscus, lily of the valley and camellias, among others), vegetables (kale would have been popular in Scotland), oranges and other citrus as well as other fruits (cherries, peaches, plums, pomegranates and figs). Perhaps most favoured of all were the exotic pineapples.
The name “orangery” reflects the original use of the building as a place where citrus trees were often wintered in tubs under cover, surviving through harsh frosts and snow, as they do in my story, A Secret Scottish Christmas. It is there the heroine often takes her morning runs.
The Romans are credited with the first greenhouses to grow fruits and vegetables, but the Italians are given credit for the orangery during the Renaissance when glassmaking techniques enabled sufficiently large expanses of clear glass to be produced. Though some in Scotland imported citrus trees from Spain, at least one of my sources said it was from Italy the Scots imported small budded orange trees.
Originally built to protect Queen Anne’s citrus trees from the harmful winter weather, orangeries in Britain became status symbols among the wealthy in Scotland as well as England. Early orangeries were built as extensions to the house, heated by charcoal braziers. But, as time went on, it became the fashion to have a separate “greenhouse” and, after 1816 when hot water heating came into being, the heating source might be outside the building.
Growing Pineapples in a “Pinery”
Discovered by Christopher Columbus in the Caribbean in 1493, pineapples became a rare delicacy in Europe and were associated with power, wealth, and hospitality. In Britain, the practice of bringing pineapples to the dining table was not just for the aristocracy but extended to the gentry. The list of gentlemen engaged in this horticultural activity includes such notables of Georgian society as the poets William Cowper and Alexander Pope and the architect Lord Burlington.
The pineapple was a testament to the owner’s wealth and to his gardener’s skill and experience. Producing a crop of tropical fruit in Scotland before the advent of the hot water heating system in 1816 was a remarkable achievement. Several varieties were grown, but the one most common in Scotland was the Queen pine.
The Dunmore Pineapple, a folly ranked “as the most bizarre building in Scotland”, is located in Stirlingshire, Scotland. Dunmore Park, the ancestral home of the Earls of Dunmore, includes a building containing a hothouse constructed in 1761 by John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore. There, among other plants, he grew pineapples.
The south-facing ground floor was originally covered with glass windows. The heat was provided by a furnace-driven system that circulated hot air through cavities in the wall. The smoke from the furnace was expelled through four chimneys cleverly disguised as Grecian urns.
Sir James Justice, an 18th-century Scottish horticulturalist and gardener, developed an incredibly efficient glasshouse on his estate at Crichton, combining the bark pits for succession and fruiting plants under one roof. In a letter to Philip Miller and other members of the Royal Society in 1728, he proudly announced,
I have eight of the Ananas in fine fruit.
Glasshouse cultivation was an important part of 18th-century horticulture and many of the inventions we now take for granted were developed or refined during this period, such as the use of angled glazing, spirit thermometers and the furnace-heated greenhouses called hothouses.
Young pineapple plants were often grown in “tan pits” lined with pebbles at the bottom followed by a layer of manure and then topped with a layer of tanners’ bark into which the pots were plunged. The tanners’ bark, oak bark soaked in water and used in leather tanning, was the most important as it fermented slowly, steadily producing a constant temperature for two to three months. It remained in use until the end of the 19th century.
Three developments changed pineapple cultivation: hot water heating in 1816 (allowing the stove and its fumes to be located outside the orangery), sheet glass in 1833, and the abolition of the glass tax in 1845. With these, glasshouses for pineapple cultivation became very large structures.
Enjoy your trip through the orangery at the Stephen estate in Arbroath, Scotland in A Secret Scottish Christmas!
Spies and Scots and Shipmasters, oh my!
Twin brothers Nash and Robbie Powell of Powell & Sons Shipping, London, sail with their fellow Agents of the Crown to Scotland for a secret celebration of Christmastide, a holiday long frowned upon by the Scottish Kirk. But more than Christmas is being kept secret. The two brothers have accepted an assignment from the Home Secretary Lord Sidmouth to ferret out a fugitive fomenting rebellion among the Scots.
Aileen Stephen, the only daughter of an Aberdeen shipbuilder, had to be clever, devious and determined to gain her place in the family business. She succeeded to become a designer of highly coveted ships. One night, a man’s handsome face appears to her in a dream. When two men having that same face arrive on a ship full of Londoners, Ailie wonders what her second sight is telling her. Is the face she saw a portender of the future, a harbinger of danger, or both? And which of the two Englishmen is the one in her dream?
Older than Nash by a mere five minutes, Robbie has always been protective of his twin. When he realizes Nash is attracted to the sister of their Scottish host, he thinks to help matters along. But Nash wants no help from his brother, not where Ailie Stephen is concerned because Robbie is attracted to the girl himself!
Two brothers vie for the affection of the Scottish lass but only one stirs her passion. Which one will it be? And what will she do when she learns they are spies?
We are delighted to welcome back to our blog, the author Naomi Clifford. For her book Women and the Gallows 1797-1837: Unfortunate Wretches, Naomi researched the stories of the 131 women who were hanged in England and Wales between 1797 and 1837. Here she outlines the last days of the notorious poisoner Mary Ann Burdock.
For 25% off the RRP and free UK P&P phone 01226 73422 or visit Pen and Sword Books and use discount code WATG25 on the checkout page.
People passing by the solid stone gatehouse on Cumberland Road in Bristol would not necessarily be aware that it is all that remains of the city’s New Gaol and that it holds a truly grisly history. Two women were executed on the flat roof above the entrance: Sarah Harriet Thomas, the last person publicly hanged in Bristol, in 1849, and Mary Ann Burdock in 1835. 
A record crowd waited hours in the rain to witness Mary Ann’s final moments, at 1.40pm on 15 April 1835. The Bristol Mirror estimated the numbers at 50,000 and described it as ‘the largest assemblage of human beings we ever beheld’, their mass stretching ‘the entire line of Coronation Road, from the distance of 200 yards beyond the New Church, to the Bridges, and from the top of the river banks down nearly to the water’s edge’. While they assembled there was a bit of a carnival atmosphere; people did not seem overly impressed with the seriousness of what was about to happen.
Then at about 1.30pm, if they were close enough to get a good view of proceedings, they watched a small female figure dressed in black appear on the platform accompanied by the prison Governor, under-sheriff, turnkeys, executioner and the chaplain, the Rev Jenning. They might have heard Jenning intoning the funeral service… ‘I am the Resurrection and the Life…’ At this point, as understanding that events were reaching a climax rippled through the crowd, the feeling amongst the spectators changed. A ‘shuddering and anxious silence’ pervaded.