Today, is is a pleasure to welcome Samantha Wilcoxson to History … the Interesting Bits, with an article about the research into her latest novel, But One Life, set during the American Revolution.
Failed Spies: Hale and André
Espionage played an important role during the American Revolution, with both sides in the conflict experiencing some victories and tragic defeats in this area. British spymasters had the advantages of experience and expertise, while Americans benefited from working in their native land with a better idea of who could be trusted and who could not. Very early in the conflict, General George Washington stated his desperate need for knowledge of the enemy.
‘I do most earnestly entreat you and General Clinton to exert yourselves to accomplish this most desirable end. Leave no stone unturned, nor do not stick at expense, to bring this to pass, as I was never more uneasy than on account of my want of knowledge on this score,’ Washington wrote to General William Heath seventeen days before Captain Nathan Hale was hanged as a rebel spy on 22 September 1776.
Today, Nathan Hale is remembered as the quintessential patriot. He was recently graduated from Yale when he joined the Continental Army with many other young men of his acquaintance. When he learned that a volunteer was needed to discover the information needed by Washington, he did not hesitate, despite the advice of many friends who insisted he was not well-suited to the mission.
It was not only because of his open, honest personality that they attempted to dissuade him. Spywork was considered a low, dishonorable duty. One friend, who tried to talk Hale out of his mission, reported later that Hale had insisted, ‘I wish to be useful, and every kind of service, necessary to the public good, becomes honorable by being necessary.’
Whether due to pride or excessive patriotism, Hale set forth upon a mission to Long Island, New York, his Yale diploma in hand to support his disguise as a Latin tutor. Hale had briefly served as a schoolmaster between graduation and army service, so his ruse should have come naturally to him. However, he was a trusting and friendly man, unlike the clever spy-catchers employed by the British. Within days of leaving his regiment, Hale was captured and executed, possibly with a paraphrase of Cato on his lips that his only regret was that he had but one life to give for his country. His body was left hanging for days to warn other would-be spies.
In the meantime, Major John André was making a name for himself in the British ranks as one who had connections and could get information. He was, like Hale, young, erudite, and eager to serve his country. André believed he had found the key to securing his future when he received correspondence from American General Benedict Arnold. The hero of Saratoga was willing to turn his coat for the right price.
Arnold had married Peggy Shippen a month earlier, and she was friends, or possibly more, with André. Together, they convinced the general that the British would show him greater appreciation and compensation, and they were bound to win the war anyway. In the spring of 1780, Arnold informed André that he was expecting to gain command of West Point, an important series of forts that controlled traffic on the Hudson River. He was willing to turn it over to the British in return for cash and a position in British command.
On 21 September 1780, almost precisely four years after the death of Nathan Hale, John André was captured after a secret meeting with General Benedict Arnold to finalize their plan. He begged that Washington treat him as an officer rather than a spy.
‘Let me hope, Sir, that if aught in my character impresses you with esteem towards me, if aught in my misfortune marks me as the victim of policy and not resentment, I shall experience the operation of these feelings in your breast by being informed that I am not to die on a gibbet.’ Washington refused his request, and André was hanged on 2 October 1780.
Other American espionage efforts were more successful than Hale’s, most notably the Culper Spy Ring, managed by Hale’s good friend and Yale classmate, Benjamin Tallmadge. The names of those involved in this successful ring were not revealed until over a century after the war had ended. Tallmadge also played a part in John André’s capture. One can imagine he had a sense of justice served as Hale’s British counterpart shared his fate.
But One Life by Samantha Wilcoxson is now available from Amazon.
Spies, Patriots, and Traitors: American Intelligence in the Revolutionary War by Kenneth A Daigler
Documentary Life of Nathan Hale by George D Seymour
The Life of John André: The Redcoat who Turned Benedict Arnold by DAB Ronald
Writer of historical fiction and sufferer of wanderlust, Samantha enjoys exploring the lives of historical figures through research and visiting historic places. Certain that no person is ever purely good or evil, she strives to reveal the deep emotions and motivations of historical figures, enabling readers to connect with them in a unique way. Samantha is an American writer with British roots and proud mother of three amazing young adults. She can frequently be found lakeside with a book in one hand and glass of wine in the other.
Samantha’s next project will take readers into the lives of women of the American Revolution – stay tuned!
Signed, dedicated copies of all my books are available, please get in touch by completing the contact me form.
Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword Books, Amazon in the UK and US,Bookshop.org and Book Depository.
Today it is a pleasure to welcome author Jo Willet to the blog. Jo has just released the biography The Pioneering Life of Mary Wortley Montagu: Scientist and Feminist. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu is remembered for her pioneering advocacy of smallpox inoculation – her 3 year-old daughter being the first westerner to be inoculated against the killer disease.
Mary Wortley Montagu and Alexander Pope – Best Friends turned Enemies
A friendship between a woman and a man which starts off as just that but develops into something altogether more dangerous – despite #MeToo heightening our awareness, these kinds of problems have been with us since time immemorial. The aristocrat Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and the poet Alexander Pope had just such a relationship. For both of them, it was one of the most powerful and ultimately the most damaging of their lives.
The two met in April 1715 in the London studio of a mutual friend, the artist Charles Jervas. Lady Mary was a 26-year old aristocrat, slight, dark and fiendishly intelligent. Alexander Pope was a year older. As a child he had suffered from tuberculosis of the bone, Potts Disease, which had stunted his growth and left him with a hunchback. He was only 1.2 metres in height, a bit smaller than Mary. Middle-class and Catholic, his background was very different from hers, but he had already found fame and fortune as a writer, which impressed her. Both saw themselves as outsiders and used these feelings to express themselves with wit and irony.
Mary and Pope were part of a group of friends all of whom liked to write and to share their writing with each other. Along with John Gay (who wrote The Beggars’ Opera) they began a shared project called The Town Eclogues. The Latin poet Virgil had written six poems known as The Pastoral Eclogues, each linked to a day of the week, and the idea was to use these as an inspiration for contemporary, English poems, capturing a sense of life in London at the time. Pope described himself and Mary working together on writing one of the poems and Mary calling out: “No, Pope, no touching! For then, whatever is good for anything will pass for yours, and the rest for mine.” Already there was an erotic undertone.
The poems were designed to be shown to friends, but they soon fell into the wrong hands. One of Mary’s poems satirised two women desperate to serve at the court of Princess Caroline of Ansbach. When the princess was shown a copy she was extremely displeased. Then, even worse, the notorious Edmund Curll published an unauthorised version of the poems, which immediately became a best-seller. None of them needed this kind of publicity. Furious, Pope arranged to meet Curll as if by chance at a drinking house. He introduced a powerful emetic into his drink, as revenge. We have no record of what Mary thought of this – but it probably felt good to have a friend protect her honour so powerfully.
Mary’s husband, Edward Wortley Montagu, was appointed British Ambassador to Turkey in 1716. Spirited as always, she decided to go with him. Pope was distraught. He pleaded with her to give him some of her ‘last Moments’ before leaving, as if she were not simply travelling but dying. That said, a journey such as this would be fraught with danger. He gave her an album of their Town Eclogues bound in the finest red Turkey leatherand admitted: ‘indeed I find I begin to behave myself worse to you than to any other Woman, as I value you more.’ She left the album in London, said goodbye to Pope and set off on her travels.
It was expected that she would be away for five years. In fact the trip only lasted half that time. Pope wrote her a series of letters where it became increasingly obvious that his feelings for her had changed from friendship to something far more powerful. The further away she travelled, the less inhibited he became. He and Mary were, he said, ‘like a couple who behave modestly when around other people, but who once by themselves can untie garters or take off Shifts without scruple.’ His physical limitations were something he was always acutely aware of. He wrote to her imagining a place where women ‘best like the Ugliest fellows…and look upon Deformities as the Signatures of divine Favour.’
For her part, she was so excited by her adventures that she hardly seemed to notice what was going on. But she was careful to transcribe copies of Pope’s letters into her journal. When she and her husband travelled across the battlefield of Petrograd, strewn with corpses, where the Austrians had been victorious over the Turks only a few months earlier, she wrote to Pope expressing her revulsion for war. She knew he would agree with her.
Pope’s poems of the time were clearly inspired by his feelings for her. Eloisa and Abelard describes an impossible love which remains strong however many obstacles it encounters. The poem is full of images of eyes, like Mary’s own. He sent a copy, with a letter clarifying the source of his inspiration, out to Mary in Constantinople. She wrote ‘mine’ in the margin but at the same time dispatched a letter to their mutual friend, William Congreve, asking why he allowed Pope to go on making these ‘Lampoons’.
When the Wortley Montagus started their journey back to England in 1718, Pope offered to travel out to Italy to accompany Mary home. This was a conceit on his part. He would never be well enough to be able to travel. As she neared England, Mary became increasingly nervous as to how to handle things. When she landed in Dover a letter awaited her, expressing Pope’s longing to see her ‘Oriental self’. With it was a poem he had written about a pair of lovers from Stanton Harcourt, in Oxfordshire, who had both been struck by lightning and died simultaneously. The intensity of his feelings was clear.
Mary decided to respond by lightening the tone. She sent Pope a satirical, cynical poem in response. If the two lovers had lived, she wrote, their future marriage might well have turned out to be a disappointment: ‘Now they are happy in their doom,/For P. has wrote upon their Tomb.’ Pope got the message. Rather than rushing to greet Mary on her return to London, he held back.
By now Pope was living in Twickenham, outside London, and soon the Wortley Montagus rented a house nearby. For about ten years the two friends rubbed along. People noted that Pope tended to resort to over-elaborate puns whenever he was in Lady Mary’s presence but they had lots of mutual friends and enjoyed each other’s company. Pope even commissioned a portrait of her, which would hang in the ‘best room’ of his Twickenham house for the rest of his life. Then some time in the 1720s the two fell out spectacularly. We do not know why.
Mary’s family always believed that Pope one day made the mistake of expressing his feelings for her and that she instinctively broke into gales of laughter at what he said. An anonymous play, Mr Taste, the Poetical Fop, written a few years later, dramatised exactly this. Another reason given for the rupture was that she asked him to collaborate with her on a satirical poem and he made it clear he disagreed with her attitude to the subject matter. Yet another suggestion is that she was the author of some cruel verses satirising his relationship with his nurse, who had just died. Yet another was a rumour, spread by Horace Walpole, that she had borrowed some bedsheets from Pope and returned them unlaundered.
Whatever the reason, the result was an unedifying, escalating row. In 1728 a published poem of Pope’s satirised Wortley as a sober yeoman living in Yorkshire whose wife owned a hen (Lady Mary) which attracted lots of cocks. The innuendo was intentional. Another longer poem of Pope’s published the same year, The Dunciad, described Lady Mary as a ‘sage dame, experienced in her trade’ – a prostitute. Mary had been involved in bringing the process of inoculation against the smallpox back with her from Turkey. Pope played on this by linking smallpox to the word ‘poxed’, implying Mary had syphilis. He also insinuated that she had behaved badly towards someone during the South Sea Bubble Crisis. Her friends knew that Lady Mary had got into difficulty over some investments a French friend of hers had asked her to make on his behalf. But they would also have known she had behaved honourably throughout.
As an aristocratic woman, Mary risked undermining her reputation if she published anything in response. So to begin with she simply wrote satirical poems about the situation, which were to be passed around among her friends. In one the Goddess Dulness set up her headquarters in the famous shell grotto in Pope’s Twickenham garden. Various more scurrilous verses about the breakdown of the relationship began circulating as well. It is hard to ascertain whether either of them was the author of any of these. Pope wrote to a mutual friend of theirs claiming to have seen one of these poems in Lady Mary’s handwriting. She denied she had written it and suggested instead that Pope had indulged in a bit of forgery to blacken her name.
Mary appealed to mutual friends for help – first to Lord Peterborough, whose letter in response read as if Pope had ghost-written it, and then to Sir Robert Walpole, the prime minister. He asked Pope to remove a particularly nasty couplet about Mary. Pope refused, replying that it was Mary who had libelled him, not the other way round.
Mary then made the strategic mistake of collaborating with another friend of theirs, Lord John Hervey, in writing a satirical poem about Pope: Verses Addressed to the Imitator of the First Satire of the Second Book of Horace. Hervey was well-placed within society at the time, a close friend of the queen’s, an aristocrat like Mary and bisexual. The poem is vicious in its portrayal of Pope and ends by cursing him, predicting that he will be destined to wander the earth forever, like Cain, the first murderer in the Bible, ‘with the Emblem of thy crooked Mind/Marked on they Back.’ Somehow – and it was unclear how – the poem was published, with the claim that it was written ‘By a Lady’, with no mention of Hervey.
The gloves were off. Pope upped his verse attacks on her, all published so everyone who wanted could read them. And he ensured that even nastier, lewder verses of his were published anonymously. Again and again he elided smallpox with the pox, or syphilis. Though she normally charged ten per cent, he wrote, men could currently have Mary’s body for free. She was physically disgusting, ‘at her toilet’s greasy task’. Her dress sense was questionable, in ‘diamonds with her dirty smock’. He harboured ‘a Suspicion that she intended to ravish him.’
Mary could not retaliate with the same force. She wrote an unpublished poem describing him as a ‘Toad-eater’, but most of their friends and acquaintances sided with Pope not with Mary. Her friends Lord and Lady Oxford described Mary as having to check with them beforehand whenever she dined at their house that Pope would not be there. In the 1730s Mary went to live abroad, well away from ‘the wicked wasp of Twickenham’, as she called him. When Pope died in 1744 she wrote home anxiously to be sent a copy of his will, just in case there were anything damaging there. What a relief it was, she wrote to her husband, that now there was no-one in the whole world who wished them ill.
It feels a familiar story, when relationships turn sour, that the woman comes off worst. Pope’s satirising of Mary has a distinctly misogynistic feel to it, reading his words today. For her part, Mary was unable to defend herself satisfactorily. Her only crime was to invoke feelings in him he could not control and then to reject his advances.
All images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
I would like to express my thanks to Jo Willet for such a fabulous article, and to wish Jo my hearty congratulations on the release of The Pioneering Life of Mary Wortley Montagu: Scientist and Feminist.
To buy the book:
The Pioneering Life of Mary Wortley Montagu: Scientist and Feminist is now available from Pen & Sword Publishing and Amazon.
About the author:
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. Her most relevant productions for this project include BRIEF ENCOUNTERS in 2016 (a fictionalised story of the first women who ran Anne Summers’ parties in the 1980s), THE MAKING OF A LADY in 2012 (an adaption of the Frances Hodgson Burnett novel The Making of a Marchioness), BERTIE AND ELIZABETH in 2002 (telling the story of the Queen Mother’s marriage) and the BAFTA-and-RTS-Award-Winning A RATHER ENGLISH MARRIAGE in 1998 (starring Albert Finney, Tom Courtenay and Joanna Lumley, adapted from the novel of the same name by Angela Lambert). She studied English at Queens College Cambridge and has an MA from Birkbeck in Arts Policy. She is married with a daughter, a son and a stepson. She lives in London and Dorset. www.devoniaroad.co.uk
Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III.
I am well behind on the list of book reviews I still have to write up, so I though I would do a couple of articles that include mini-reviews of several books that I have read and enjoyed over the last few months, to clear the backlog and give you some fabulous ideas if you’re looking for that next read.
A Hidden History of the Tower of London by John Paul Davis
Famed as the ultimate penalty for traitors, heretics and royalty alike, being sent to the Tower is known to have been experienced by no less than 8,000 unfortunate souls. Many of those who were imprisoned in the Tower never returned to civilisation and those who did, often did so without their head! It is hardly surprising that the Tower has earned itself a reputation among the most infamous buildings on the planet. There have, of course, been other towers. Practically every castle ever built has consisted of at least one; indeed, even by the late 14th century, the Tower proudly boasted no less than 21. Yet even as early as the 1100s, the effect that the first Tower had on the psyche of the local population was considerable. The sight of the dark four-pointed citadel – at the time the largest building in London – as it appeared against the backdrop of the expanding city gave rise to many legends, ranging from the exact circumstances of its creation to what went on within its strong walls. In ten centuries what once consisted of a solitary keep has developed into a complex castle around which the history of England has continuously evolved. So revered has it become that legend has it that should the Tower fall, so would the kingdom. Beginning with the early tales surrounding its creation, this book investigates the private life of an English icon. Concentrating on the Tower’s developing role throughout the centuries, not in terms of its physical expansion into a site of unique architectural majesty or many purposes but through the eyes of those who experienced its darker side, it pieces together the, often seldom-told, human story and how the fates of many of those who stayed within its walls contributed to its lasting effect on England’s – and later the UK’s – destiny. From ruthless traitors to unjustly killed Jesuits, vanished treasures to disappeared princes and jaded wives to star-crossed lovers, this book provides a raw and at times unsettling insight into its unsolved mysteries and the lot of its unfortunate victims, thus explaining how this once typical castle came to be the place we will always remember as THE TOWER.
What a wonderful read!
Packed to the brim with the best stories from the Tower, and almost 1,000 years of history – some you will know and some you won’t. John Paul Davis tells the remarkable story of the Tower of London through the lives of the people who have resided under its roofs – some of them most unfortunate indeed! We hear the stories of those fortunate people who escaped – and the not-so-fortunate who died in the attempt. John Paul Davis examines every aspect of the Tower of London, its role as a royal fortress, prison and place of execution; and the national events in which it played apart, such as the Peasants’ Revolt and the executions of 2 of Henry VIII’s queens. Written in 23 chapters, the story of the Tower as a prison is told from its foundation in 1066 to the present day.
With these incredible and often heart breaking stories, John Paul Davis clearly demonstrates how the fortress acquired its sinister reputation.
A Hidden History of the Tower of London is a thoroughly enjoyable read, and impossible to put down.
Lost Heirs of the Medieval Crown by J.F. Andrews
When William the Conqueror died in 1087 he left the throne of England to William Rufus … his second son. The result was an immediate war as Rufus’s elder brother Robert fought to gain the crown he saw as rightfully his; this conflict marked the start of 400 years of bloody disputes as the English monarchy’s line of hereditary succession was bent, twisted and finally broken when the last Plantagenet king, Richard III, fell at Bosworth in 1485.
The Anglo-Norman and Plantagenet dynasties were renowned for their internecine strife, and in Lost Heirs we will unearth the hidden stories of fratricidal brothers, usurping cousins and murderous uncles; the many kings – and the occasional queen – who should have been but never were. History is written by the winners, but every game of thrones has its losers too, and their fascinating stories bring richness and depth to what is a colourful period of history. King John would not have gained the crown had he not murdered his young nephew, who was in line to become England’s first King Arthur; Henry V would never have been at Agincourt had his father not seized the throne by usurping and killing his cousin; and as the rival houses of York and Lancaster fought bloodily over the crown during the Wars of the Roses, life suddenly became very dangerous indeed for a young boy named Edmund.
With Lost Heirs of the Medieval Crown, author JF Andrews provides a fascinating study of the also-rans and almost-made-its of medieval history; those children of the kings of England who died before they could claim their birth-right, or were passed over due to the dynastic squabbles of the Norman and Plantagenet dynasties that ruled England from the Norman Conquest in 1066 to the advent of the Tudor age.
From the battles of Robert Curthose, eldest son of William the Conqueror, to the tragic lives of the Yorkist heirs, Edward V, Edward of Middleham and Edward Earl of Warwick, Lost Heirs of the Medieval Crown is a thoroughly engaging read, examining the lives of the heirs who were unable to claim their birthright, imprisoned for their royal blood, died before their time, or died in the attempt to claim the throne. Each individual story is brought into one volume, and demonstrates the struggle for power and supremacy in medieval England.
Beautifully written and well researched, it is an engaging read.
Decoding the Bayeux Tapestry by Arthur C. Wright
For the first time, a scholar reveals the meaning of the marginal images on the Bayeux Tapestry, unlocking a completely new meaning of the work.
The story of the Norman Conquest and the Battle of Hastings as shown in the Bayeux Tapestry is arguably the most widely-known in the panoply of English history, and over the last 200 years there have been hundreds of books on the Tapestry seeking to analyze its meanings. Yet, there is one aspect of the embroidery that has been virtually ignored or dismissed as unimportant by historians—the details in the margins.
The fables shown in the margins are neither just part of a decorative ribbon, nor are they discontinuous. They follow on in sequence. When this is understood, it becomes clear that they must relate to the action shown on the body of the Tapestry. After careful examination, the purpose of these images is to amplify, elaborate, or explain the main story.
In this groundbreaking study, Arthur Wright reveals the significance of the images in the margins. Now it is possible to see the “whole” story as never before, enabling a more complete picture of the Bayeux Tapestry to be constructed. Wright reexamines many of the scenes in the main body of the work, showing that a number of the basic assumptions, so often taught as facts, have been based on nothing more than reasoned conjecture.
It might be thought that after so much has been written about the Bayeux Tapestry there was nothing more to be said, but Decoding the Bayeux Tapestry shows how much there is still to be learned.
Decoding the Bayeux Tapestry: The Secrets of History’s Most Famous Embroidery Hidden in Plain Sight by Arthur C. Wright is a wonderful, engaging study of this most famous of embroideries, retelling the Norman Invasion in stunning, colourful needlework. Arthur C. Wright studies every aspect of the Tapestry, from the beasts in the margins to the story being played out in dramatic detail in the main part of the Tapestry. The author demonstrates how the images in the tapestry, even the animals and mystical creatures in the margin, serve to tell the story of the tapestry and the Norman Conquest.
An entertaining read and thoughtful study of the most famous of tapestries Decoding the Bayeux Tapestry is an illuminating work, beautifully illustrated along the way with images from the famous needlework.
Sex and Sexuality in Stuart Britain by Andrea Zuvich
Peek beneath the bedsheets of Stuart Britain in this frank, informative, and captivating look at the sexual lives of the peoples of the British Isles between 1603 and 1714. Popular Stuart historian Andrea Zuvich, The Seventeenth Century Lady , explores our ancestors’ ingenious, surprising, bizarre, and often entertaining beliefs and solutions to the challenges associated with maintaining a healthy sex life, along with the prevailing attitudes towards male and female sexual behaviour. The author sheds light not only on the saucy love lives of the Royal Stuarts, but also on the dark underbelly of the Stuart era with histories of prostitution, sexual violence, infanticide, and sexual deviance. What was considered sexually attractive in Stuart Britain? At which ages would people be old enough for marriage? What were the penalties for adultery, incest, and fornication? How did Stuart-era peoples deal with infertility, sexually-transmitted illnesses, and child mortality? Find out the answers to these questions – and more – as fashion, food, science, art, medicine, magic, literature, love, politics, faith and superstition of the day are all examined, leaving the reader with a new regard for the ingenuity and character of our seventeenth and early eighteenth-century ancestors.
Sex and Sexuality in Stuart Britain by Andrea Zuvich is a wonderful study of the bedroom exploits of the Stuart dynasty of the seventeenth century. Andrea Zuvich examines all aspects of Stuart sexual life, from attitudes to rape and pornography, to the notions of love and marriage. Zuvich also looks at the lives of the Stuart monarchs, examining the rumours around them, the various mistress and lovers and the perceptions they gave to their people and to history. This is a truly fascinating study of a part of life that is important to all of us – and necessary for our continued existence – but so rarely talked about. Sex and Sexuality in Stuart Britain is so much more than a study of sexual practices in Stuart Britain, it also analyses the effects of child mortality, the dangers of childbirth. It also looks at the seedier side of society, such as infanticide and sexually transmitted diseases.
Sex and Sexuality in Stuart Britain is fascinating! It is a book that needed to be written and provides a wonderful contrast to the usual books on Stuart Britain, which concentrate on the Civil Wars, rather than the lives, loves and desires of the people. Andrea Zuvich has written a marvelous study of Stuart attitudes towards sex and sexuality, leaving no stone unturned to give the reader a comprehensive view of Stuart life, including the legal, social and personal aspects and implications.
The Peasants Revolting Lives by Terry Deary
Today we are aware of how the rich and privileged have lived in the past because historians write about them endlessly. The poor have largely been ignored and, as a result, their contributions to our modern world are harder to unearth. Skilled raconteur TERRY DEARY takes us back through the centuries with a poignant but humorous look at how life treated the common folk who scratched out a living at the very bottom of society. Their world was one of foul food, terrible toilets, danger, disease and death the last, usually premature. Discover the stories of the teacher turned child-catcher who rounded up local waifs and strays and put them to work, and the thousands of children who descended into the hazardous depths to dig for coal. Read all about the agricultural workers who escaped the Black Death only to be thwarted by greedy landowners. And would you believe the one about the man who betrothed his 7-year-old daughter to a Holy Roman Emperor, or even the brothel that was run by a bishop? On the flip side, learn how cash-strapped citizens used animal droppings for house building and as a cure for baldness; how sparrow s brains were incorporated into aphrodisiacal brews; and how mixing tea with dried elder leaves could turn an extra profit. And of the milestones that brought some meaning to ordinary lives, here are the trials and tribulations of courtship and marriage; the ruthless terrors of the sporting arena; and the harsh disciplines of education all helping to alleviate the daily grind. The Peasants Revolting Lives celebrates those who have endured against the odds. From medieval miseries to the idiosyncrasies of being a twenty-first-century peasant, tragedy and comedy sit side by side in these tales of survival and endurance in the face of hardship.
Terry Deary’s The Peasants’ Revolting Lives is a fun and fascinating read for all the family. Whenever a Terry Deary book arrives on the doorstep, there is an inevitable squabble between myself and my son as to who should read it first – I tend to lose!
With stories that are often amusing, sometimes gruesome and all true, Terry Deary examines every aspect of the life of the peasant – throughout history – from work and religion, to sport, entertainment and education. The book is packed full of facts, each story or anecdote intended to inform and entertain – and they do!
The Peasants’ Revolting Lives is a wonderful reading experience for adult and child alike. The stories are so engaging and interesting that you don’t even realise you are learning about the trials and hardships of life as a peasant down the centuries. It is a must-read for any history lover.
All these books are available from Pen & Sword, with 30% off throughout December.
It is a pleasure to welcome to History … the Interesting Bits today, Nicola Lisle, author of Life in Miniature: A History of Dolls’ Houses as part of her Blog Tour with Pen & Sword. A history of dolls’ houses is a little different to my usual type of post, but reading Life in Miniature brought back some very happy childhood memories of my sister and I playing with our dolls’ house in our grandparents’ attic. So I was very interested in finding out more of their history and origins. Nicola very kindly answered a few of my most pressing questions.
Hi Nicola, congratulations on the release of Life in Miniature and thank you for stopping by to chat.
1. When I heard about your book, I immediately thought of the dolls’ house my sister and I had as children – we used to play with it for hours. How long have you had a fascination for dolls’ houses? Did you have one as a child?
I did have a dolls’ house as a child, and my sister and I played with it a lot. It was apparently made for us by a distant relative, who also made wooden furniture for it. It’s all quite basic, but I love it because it’s unique and it was part of my childhood. We used to have some tiny dolls for it, and we also used to decorate it at Christmas. We had a Christmas tree and had to cut away a square of carpet to fit it in! Sadly, the dolls and Christmas decorations have been lost, but the original furniture and other bits and pieces are still there. As we grew up we lost interest in the dolls’ house and it was in my parents’ loft for many years gathering dust! It wasn’t until I started writing that I became interested in dolls’ houses again, and it was quite by chance. I subscribed to Writing Magazine and Writers’ News – and still do! – and in one issue there was a piece about Dolls House and Miniature Scene magazine, which was open to submissions from freelance writers. It caught my attention, and I got in touch with some ideas. My first piece for the magazine was about the Museum of Childhood at Sudbury Hall in Derbyshire, and it was published in 2004. I carried on writing for the magazine for many years, and it ignited a real passion in me for dolls’ houses. Eventually I rescued my childhood dolls’ house from my mum’s house, and I’m hoping at some point to find the time to give it a bit of TLC! It’s not in bad condition, but it could definitely do with a bit of a makeover!
2. The thing with dolls’ houses is that they are not just for children, are they? My mum has one!
Dolls’ houses are definitely not just for children. I think a lot of adults who had them as children still treasure them, and collecting vintage and antique dolls’ houses is also popular. For children, they are great for stimulating the imagination, but for adults I think it’s more about appreciating the sheer delight of miniatures and the craftsmanship that went into creating them.
3. I think the most famous dolls’ house has to be Queen Mary’s in Windsor Castle, isn’t it? What is so special about it?
Yes, I think Queen Mary’s dolls’ house is probably the most famous. It’s special because it captures a slice of 1920s England in such exquisite detail, from the furniture and soft furnishings right down to the food and drink that were popular at the time. It attracted international interest when it first appeared, and it was a showcase to the world, a display of some of the very finest British talent. I think it also restored some pride and optimism in the country during the immediate post-war years. The house and garden were designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll, and among its highlights are miniature books, music scores and paintings by popular writers, composers and artists of the day. Many of the books contained original stories written exclusively for the dolls’ house. Two of these, Fougasse’s J. Smith and Conan Doyle’s How Watson Learned the Trick, have been reproduced as miniature replicas with booklets containing the stories in full-size print. Another, Vita Sackville-West’s A Note of Explanation – a story about a mischievous spirit who inhabits the dolls’ house – was also reproduced in full size. I treated myself to all three when I was researching my book, and they are now treasured items on my bookshelves!
4. How long have dolls’ houses been around, Nicola? I always associate them with the Victorians, but were they around earlier? Are dolls’ houses an English creation, or did they come from the continent?
Dolls’ houses have been around since at least the 16th century and originated in Germany, where they were known as baby houses. The first known dolls’ house was made for the Duke of Bavaria in 1557, and it was a miniature version of his ducal palace. By the 17th century, baby houses had become popular in Germany, particularly in Nuremberg. The idea caught on in Holland towards the end of the 17th century, but instead of baby houses the
Dutch favoured cabinet houses, which were grand, elaborately-carved cabinets containing exquisitely furnished miniature rooms. The earliest dolls’ houses in England appeared in the late 17th century and were similar to the Dutch cabinet houses. By the early 18th century they were beginning to look more like houses than cabinets, and they were often modelled on the great country houses and created by estate carpenters. It wasn’t until the Victorian era that they became regarded as toys for children, and mass production towards the end of the 19th century made them much more widely accessible.
5. And what was their original purpose, were they always aimed at children.
The earliest baby houses, cabinet houses and dolls’ houses were primarily display pieces, and they were very much the preserve of royalty and the aristocracy – each one was a statement of the owner’s wealth and social status. They also had an educational role, often being used to instruct young ladies and servants in efficient household management and domestic skills.
6. I am fascinated by dolls’ houses and have to admit that the first thing I did on getting your book was look at the pictures. The houses are beautiful and the furniture inside is so detailed and intricate, do you have a favourite?
I saw so many gorgeous dolls’ houses while writing and researching my book that it’s almost impossible to pick a favourite. I think all dolls’ houses have their own particular charm, from the grand, ornate ones to the very simplest, and often it’s the stories behind them that make them special. For this reason, I think the dolls’ house at Uppark in West Sussex is one of my favourites, partly because it’s one of the earliest surviving dolls’ houses from the early 18th century, reflecting the Palladian-style architecture that was popular at the time, and partly because it has a connection with H.G. Wells, and I always love literary connections! Wells’s mother was the housekeeper at Uppark during the late 19th century, and he drew on his childhood memories of Uppark in his novel Tono-Bungay, in which he refers to the “great dolls’ house on the nursery landing”.
Another with a literary connection is the dolls’ house at Charles Dickens’ House at Doughty Street in London. The house doesn’t actually have a connection with Dickens himself, but it was modelled on the Doughty Street house by dolls’ house maker Christopher Cole for his book Make Your Own Dolls’ House, which was published in 1976. It is a simplified version of the real thing, rather than an exact replica, but it is very similar, especially the outside, and it was one I particularly enjoyed going to see! It’s not on public display, but it can be viewed by appointment.
I also have special fondness for the dolls’ house at Overbeck’s in Devon. It was created during the 1980s by a lady called Mabel Hill, a very talented, self-taught craftswoman who used scraps of leftover material and other household odds and ends to make the furniture and soft furnishings. What’s particularly lovely is that Overbeck’s was used as a convalescent home for wounded soldiers during the First World War, and one of the activities they were encouraged to do as therapy was to make dolls’ house furniture. Although there’s no direct link between that and Mabel Hill’s house, it does feel as though there is a spiritual connection.
Others closer to home, in Oxfordshire, include the Regency-style dolls’ house at the Tolsey Museum in Burford, which was created during the 1930s by members of the local community and reflects the town’s rural industries (another fascination of mine!), and the Palladian-style house at Greys Court, near Henley, which was created by a local lady, Patricia Mackenzie, during the 1970s. Like Mabel Hill, she used old materials and household objects to create the house and its contents. She was inspired by the Carlisle Collection of Miniature Rooms, which she used to visit when it was displayed at Greys Court during the 1970s. The collection is now housed at Nunnington Hall in Yorkshire, and is another favourite of mine, with a fascinating history – as I said, there are so many favourites!
7. I am guessing that some of these dolls’ houses have fascinating histories – is there one that has a story that particularly caught your attention?
Something I became fascinated with while researching the book was finding out about famous collectors, particularly Vivien Greene, wife of novelist Graham Greene. Her collection was once housed in a museum in Oxford, not far from where I live, so there’s a bit of a connection there! Tracking down Vivien Greene’s dolls’ houses almost became a project of its own – sadly, she decided to auction her collection during the late 1990s when her eyesight was deteriorating and most of it finished up in private hands. But one that is on public display is Whiteway at Saltram, a National Trust house in Devon, and its Victorian-style interior is exquisite. I particularly loved the library with its miniature books, all made from wood, and the dining room with its plush red furnishings. The provenance of the house is something of a mystery, and I do love a good mystery! There’s another Vivien Greene house on display at Ilkley Toy Museum in Yorkshire, which dates from the late Victorian era and used to belong to a lady in Abingdon, Oxfordshire – again, not far from where I live. At some point it was converted into an hotel and named The Original Swan after a pub in Cowley, just outside Oxford. It has lost some of its original contents, but it is in good condition and you can still see the mahogany bar and its wooden barrels and glass bottles.
8. What made you want to write a book on dolls’ houses?
It was writing for Dolls House and Miniature Scene magazine for so many years that made me think it would be interesting to write a book on the subject. I had already accumulated a lot of information and pictures that I could use as the basis for a book, and I had a lot of fun building on that, visiting various museums and stately homes that had dolls’ houses on display and gathering up lots more fascinating facts about these wonderful miniatures. I enjoyed researching and writing the book so much – it was a real labour of love!
9. What is your next writing project?
I’ve been working on some possible new book ideas, but at the moment I’m very busy with other writing work. I have several article deadlines coming up, and I am also a tutor on four distance-learning courses with The Writers Bureau, so I’m having to work on my book pitches in between everything else! Hopefully, though, at some point I’ll get them finished and sent off!
10. Where can people find you? Do you have a website or blog? Are you on social media?
I’m on Twitter – you can find me at @NicolaLisle1. I did set up a blog a while ago but haven’t actually done anything with it for some time, so it’s due for a major overhaul – that’s probably going to be a Christmas holiday job!
Thank you, Nicola, for such a lovely chat!
Life in Miniature: A History of Dolls’ Houses is available from Amazon or direct from Pen & Sword and would make a perfect Christmas present.
About the author:
Nicola Lisle is a freelance journalist and author specialising in history and the arts. She has written numerous articles for family history magazines, including Who Do You Think You Are?, Your Family History and Discover Your Ancestors, and was a regular contributor to Dolls House and Miniature Scene magazine for many years. She is the author of Tracing Your Family History Made Easy (Which? Books, 2011) and Tracing Your Oxfordshire Ancestors (Pen & Sword, 2018).
Popular history writer Terry Deary takes us on a light-hearted and often humorous romp through the centuries with Mr & Mrs Peasant, recounting foul and dastardly deeds committed by the underclasses, as well as the punishments meted out by those on the right side’ of the law.
Discover tales of arsonists and axe-wielders, grave robbers and garroters, poisoners and prostitutes. Delve into the dark histories of beggars, swindlers, forgers, sheep rustlers and a whole host of other felons from the lower ranks of society who have veered off the straight and narrow. There are stories of highwaymen and hooligans, violent gangs, clashing clans and the witch trials that shocked a nation. Learn too about the impoverished workers who raised a riot opposing crippling taxes and draconian laws, as well as the strikers and machine-smashers who thumped out their grievances against new technologies that threatened their livelihoods.
Britain has never been short of those who have been prepared to flout the law of the land for the common good, or for their own despicable purposes. The upper classes have lorded and hoarded their wealth for centuries of British history, often to the disadvantage of the impoverished. Frustration in the face of this has resulted in revolt. Read all about it here!
This entertaining book is packed full of revolting acts and acts of revolt, revealing how ordinary folk – from nasty Normans to present-day lawbreakers – have left an extraordinary trail of criminality behind them. The often gruesome penalties exacted in retribution reveal a great deal about some of the most fascinating eras of British history.
It has been a strange week for us all, I’m sure. And on Tuesday evening we got a message from my son’s school saying it was closed until further notice, so Wednesday morning was my first day of home schooling. School have been amazing and set tons of work to keep the child occupied. However, on Wednesday, there was no English so I had to set some myself; which was basically for said child to write a review of Terry Deary’s The Peasants’ Revolting CRIMES. I received this book as a review copy from the publishers, Pen & Sword, but the child got to read it first, and loved it. He’s a die-hard fan of Horrible Histories, so this book was right up his street.
So, it’s over to Lewis:
I liked, no I LOVED Terry Deary’s The Peasants’ Revolting CRIMES. I would recommend it for people who are age 13+ (due to minor swearing content) and you will not need to know your history because this book educates you in the revolting and hard life of the peasant.
Opening with ‘Norman Nastiness’, the book gives you a vivid taste of peasant crimes right up until the ‘Georgian Jokers and Victorian Villains’ and beyond.
The last witch
After seeing a smiling ‘medium’ at a psychic fair, a friend of mine punched her. When I asked him why he would do such a thing, he replied, ‘My father always taught me to strike a happy medium’,
In 1944, Helen Duncan was a Scottish spiritual medium, working in Portsmouth. She began broadcasting information from the port’s gullible sailors wjhho came ot consult her. D-Day was approaching and she was a security risk. She had to be stopped.
Duncan was originally charged under the Vagrancy Act 1824, relating to fortune telling, astrology and spiritualism. Then there was a change of plan. The paranoid government’s legal experts sent her to be tried by jury at the Old Bailey for contravening section 4 of the Witchcraft Act 1735, which carried the heavier penalty of a prison sentence.
Winston Churchill even described the whole episode as ‘obsolete tomfoolery’ but Helen went to prison for nine months.
The 1753 Act was later repealed and replaced with the Fraudulent Mediums Act of 1951.
So, no more witch trials.
You could call it hex-it
In this book, you will explore various ages of history, from the Middle Ages to the Stuarts, to the vicious, unforgiving Victorian era and the modern era. You will hear various quotes from all sorts of people, from William Shakespeare, to Martin Luther King and many, many others as you explore the book.
I particularly like the funny jokes like “Bring a man a fire and he will be warm for a day. Give a man a fire and he will be warm for the rest of his life” and “Will Shakespeare. Great writer, dodgy historian”. There are various other jokes, which are scattered throughout the book.
There was nothing to dislike about this book, despite its gory and bloody moments. It will tickle your funny bone for hours on end, so much so you will never put it down!
In conclusion, this is a great book for children and adults alike. It is not only comedy but it also used 100% historically accurate. You should order it now. What are you waiting for?
Huge thanks to Lewis for a fabulous, entertaining review!
This is a story about Yorkshire and its people, from the earliest period up to recent times. Foremost it is a story about invasion. Archaeological finds have shown that Yorkshire was occupied at a time when early hunters from continental Europe were not supposed to have ventured so far north. Growing populations on the European mainland made Yorkshire s fertile land and receding woodland a prime landscape for these first European farmers, and over time they would be followed by waves of invaders intent on pillage and land grabbing. From the north and west came the Picts and the Scots, while the Romans, Angles and Vikings arrived via the River Humber. The Normans would be the last to invade and seek to dominate everything they saw. Each invasion would leave its stamp on Yorkshire s culture and life, while battles would later be fought on Yorkshire soil during both the Wars of the Roses and the English Civil Wars. More than just a romp through the ages, this book reveals the key places where battles were fought and Yorkshire history was made.
Yorkshire: A Story of Invasion, Uprising and Conflict by Paul C. Levitt is a fabulous, fun and entertaining overview of the history of Yorkshire, from the earliest times to the 20th century. As a Yorkshire lass myself, it was a pleasure to sit back and soak up this history of this unique county. The author obviously enjoys his work, and writes about Yorkshire’s history with an enthusiasm that makes the book impossible to put down.
The beauty of Yorkshire: A Story of Invasion, Uprising and Conflict is that it tells Yorkshire’s story within the context of England’s wider history. So we see the Norman invasion of 1066 through the very harsh and dramatic effects it had on Yorkshire, with the Harrying of the North. We also Yorkshire’s part in the Anarchy, the almost-20 year civil war between Stephen and Matilda, and in such events as the Wars of the Roses and the English Civil War of the seventeenth century.
Paul C. Levitt also brings to the fore events particular to Yorkshire, such as the dreadful massacre of the Jews in York, while also explaining the wider context of anti-semitism in England and the time. The author manages to portray Yorkshire’s unique personality and place in history, both of the county and its people and the relationship of the county with the country as a whole.
Throughout the first millennium, the tribes of Europe were taking part in unprecedented levels of migration. The collapse of the Roman Empire released unbridled waves of Huns, Goths and Vandals who moved across Europe displacing native tribes. On the edge of this disturbance was Scandinavia, from where people would come to British shores from the late eighth century until AD 1100 looking for richer land and more space to live. The question arises, when exactly does a ‘migration’ become and invasion? The Vikings were thought to have left their homelands in Scandinavia initially due to overcrowding and declining resources, but later on their mass migration was equally due to a weakness they perceived in the English. Although they shared similarities and kinship with the Anglo-Saxons, the Vikings viewed them as being weak and cowardly…
Yorkshire: A Story of Invasion, Uprising and Conflict by Paul C. Levitt is a thoroughly enjoyable read that I’m definitely going to pass on to my dad – as a true Yorkshireman, he will love it! This book will be useful for anyone with an interest in Yorkshire and it history.
Fun and informative, it clearly demonstrates the reason we Yorkshire folk are said to have ‘grit’. I can highly recommend it!
To Buy the Book:
Yorkshire: A Story of Invasion, Uprising and Conflict by Paul C. Levitt is available from Pen & Sword and also from Amazon in the UK and US.
About the author:
Born into a military family in the historic market town of Beverley, East Yorkshire, Paul Levitt has always been intrigued by the past. He developed a keen awareness of Yorkshire’s rich heritage as a schoolboy and developed a particular interest in the medieval period. Yorkshire’s unique landscape and especially the North York Moors made a strong impression on him and to this day remains a magical place. He has written professionally on a wide range of subjects for the past 25 years.
From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066. Available now from Amazon UK, Amberley Publishing,Book Depository and Amazon US.
Telling the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich, Heroines of the Medieval World, is available now on kindle and in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon, in the US from Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.
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Take a romp through the long eighteenth-century in this collection of 25 short tales. Marvel at the Queen s Ass, gaze at the celestial heavens through the eyes of the past and be amazed by the equestrian feats of the Norwich Nymph. Journey to the debauched French court at Versailles, travel to Covent Garden and take your seat in a box at the theatre and, afterwards, join the mile-high club in a new-fangled hot air balloon. Meet actresses, whores and high-born ladies, politicians, inventors, royalty and criminals as we travel through the Georgian era in all its glorious and gruesome glory. In roughly chronological order, covering the reign of the four Georges, 1714-1830 and set within the framework of the main events of the era, these tales are accompanied by over 100 stunning colour illustrations.
I have to say that All Things Georgian: Tales from the long Eighteenth Century is one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. Crammed full of glossy, colourful paintings and photographs, it is impossible for the reader not to appreciate how aesthetically pleasing this book is. It is a pleasure to browse through, just to appreciate the gorgeous images scattered throughout the book.
Having said that, the images are not all this book has to offer. All Things Georgian: Tales from the long Eighteenth Century is co-written by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden and is replete with some of the best stories from the eighteenth century; scandals, love stories and mysteries fill the pages. The most amazing characters of the Georgian era complement the colourful photos; from Marie Antoinette to ‘Crazy Sally’, from coffee shop rivalries, to smuggling, female jockeys and intrepid balloon rides.
This book has stories to entertain everyone.
On the evening of 20 June 1791, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette of France, together with their children and a handful of trusted attendants, made an ill-fated attempt to escape the revolutionary forces who were keeping them closely watched. The plan had taken many weeks to bring to fruition and the French queen, to whom it was inconceivable that she should survive without the everyday luxuries with which she was surrounded, had been engaged in smuggling various items to the safety of her sister in Brussels. AN infamous Scottish courtesan played a key role in one of these transactions, risking her life in Marie Antoinette’s service.
Grace Dalrymple Elliott, tall, willowy and stunningly beautiful, had gained her notoriety following a very public Criminal Conversation trial and divorce from her portly little husband, Dr (later Sir) John Eliot; Grace had been discovered in a Berkeley Row bagnio with her lover, the worthless Viscount Valentia who soon after discarded his mistress. The handsome Earl of Cholmondeley became her protector; tall and athletic, he was the perfect match for Grace, and the two made an attractive if slightly disreputable couple but, when a countess’s coronet was not forthcoming, Grace left for France and the arms of Louis XVI’s cousin, Louis Philippe Joseph, Duke d’ Orléans (later known as Philippe Egalité). A brief interlude back in London followed where grace bagged the affections of the young Prince of Wales and gained a permanent memento of her royal dalliance in the person of her daughter, Georgiana, who the future monarch privately – if not publicly – acknowledged as his child. The Earl of Cholmondeley became the child’s guardian and Grace, with an annuity from the royal purse, returned to her French duke, only to become trapped in Paris during the French Revolution. …
Sarah Murden and Joanne Major have done a wonderful job of recreating the Georgian world. The language is beautiful, the stories both exciting and entertaining; and scattered with just the right amount of famous and infamous people to make the reader go ‘ooh!’. The two authors are so in sync that it is impossible to discern which story is told by one of the writers and which by the other.
I usually read through books as quickly as possible, devouring them, so-to-speak. However, with All Things Georgian: Tales from the long Eighteenth Century I have taken my time, read only one or two of the fabulous stories at a time. Reading this book is a truly pleasurable experience, and I wanted to take my time and savour every moment.
All Things Georgian: Tales from the long Eighteenth Century by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden is a wonderful little treasure trove of stories and facts, brought to life in beautiful prose and accompanied by glorious images. Well researched and beautifully presented, it would be a stunning addition to any library – it even smells special!
All Things Georgian: Tales from the long Eighteenth Century is available from Amazon UK and US.
About the authors:
Joanne Major and Sarah Murden are supersleuthing historians who enjoy bringing the Georgian era to life. Their lives were changed forever when they (metaphorically) met an eighteenth-century courtesan, and this is now their fourth book together. Along with their respective families, they live in Lincolnshire.
From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066. Available now from Amazon UK, Amberley Publishing,Book Depository and Amazon US.
Telling the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World, is now available in hardback in the UK from Amazon UK, and in the US from Amazon US. It is available now in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.
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From Windsor to Weymouth, the shadow of scandal was never too far from the walls of the House of Hanover. Did a fearsome duke really commit murder or a royal mistress sell commissions to the highest bidders, and what was the truth behind George III’s supposed secret marriage to a pretty Quaker? With everything from illegitimate children to illegal marriages, dead valets and equerries sneaking about the palace by candlelight, these eyebrow-raising tales from the reign of George III prove that the highest of births is no guarantee of good behaviour. Prepare to meet some shocking ladies, some shameless gentlemen and some politicians who really should know better. So tighten your stays, hoist up your breeches and prepare for a gallop through some of the most shocking royal scandals from the court of George III’s court. You’ll never look at a king in the same way again…
I have been taking a break from the medieval era this month to visit the court of King George III, reading the fabulous non-fiction book, The Scandal of George III’s Courtby Catherine Curzon. And what a thoroughly delightful read!
Anyone who has studied the Georgian era to some extent will be familiar with some of these scandals, but to have them all presented on one book is a real treat. Catherine Curzon loves her subject – and her subjects – and this shines through on every page. This is not some onerous read, listing scandal after scandal, but an in-depth look at some of the most devastating and salacious scandals that rocked the Georgian court – and obviously tried the precarious mental state of the king to its very limits.
My favourite is the retelling of a story which I have known for some time, but have never looked into in the depth that Catherine Curzon delves. The story of Caroline Matilda, Queen of Denmark, her mentally unbalanced husband and her lover, Struensee, is one that everyone should know, and ultimately a tragedy for all involved.;
Christian’s mental health had by now deteriorated drastically and when Struensee was promoted again, this time to Councillor of Conference and the queen’s ‘very’ Private Secretary, there could be no doubt how the wind was blowing. Struensee warned Caroline Matilda that her husband would soon be incapable of ruling and someone else would need to steer the ship of state. If Caroline Matilda didn’t seize the day, then Julianna Maria certainly would. That was all it took, and soon Denmark’s newest power couple began positioning themselves to take the reins of the kingdom.
Oddly, almost as soon as the affair began, Christian warmed to his wife, and began to hold her in a higher regard. Together, the trio of king, queen and doctor seemed to get along in a way that Caroline Matilda and Christian never had before. Though this was no ménage both husband and wife seemed far more at ease, and at 18, Caroline Matilda was finally flourishing, no longer the unhappy young woman she had once been.
She donned male attire to ride astride through the towns and countryside of Denmark and even took part in archery contests, scandalising the public and court alike. Her inseparable shadow, Struensee, was in the ascendant. He and Caroline Matilda’s passion blazed and with it, his influence only increased. By now virtually insane, Christian looked to his wife and doctor for guidance in all things yet Stuensee knew that if he wanted real power, he needed real office.
He wanted to be Prime minister.
Not all the scandals involve love affairs – although the majority do (that’s the Georgians for you!). Catherine Curzon also tells us the story of the Duke of York and the scandalous sale of army commissions – when he was Commander-in-Chief of the army – by his girlfriend! There is also the attempted assassination of the Duke of Cumberland, which left the poor prince with some horrific head injuries. The Scandal of King George III’s Court does not just tell us the stories, but analyses their nuances, the veracity of the facts and tries to get to the bottom of exactly what happened and why.
The book also emphasises the great interest by the Georgian public, in scandals involving the royal family, how they hung on every word of scandal they could read about – and how George III and Queen Charlotte tried to protect the dignity of the crown amidst the numerous dalliances of the king’s own brothers and the royal offspring.
I loved Catherine Curzon’s writing style! Such a fun read!
The strength of this book lies with the author. Catherine Curzon has a talent for telling stories – especially scandalous ones, apparently. She draws the reader in with an easy -going, conversational style, presenting the facts with her own colourful observations, making the reader feel a part of the scandalous liaisons and conspiracies that make up this book. The Scandal of King George III’s Court is a pleasure to read, and probably the greatest escapism you will ever experience from a non-fiction book.
Catherine Curzon is an author and royal historian of the 18th century.
She has written extensively for publications including HistoryExtra.com, the official website of BBC History Magazine, Who Do You Think You Are?, Your Family History, Real Crime, Explore History, All About History, History of Royals and Jane Austen’s Regency World. Catherine has spoken at venues and events including the Stamford Georgian Festival, the Bath Jane Austen Festival, Lichfield Guildhall, the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich, Dr Johnson’s House, Kenwood House, the Hurlingham Club, Godmersham Park, and the Royal Pavilion, Brighton. She has provided additional research for An Evening with Jane Austen, starring Adrian Lukis, and has introduced the performance at venues across the UK.
Catherine holds a Master’s degree in Film and when not dodging the furies of the guillotine can often be found cheering for the mighty Huddersfield Town. She lives in Yorkshire atop a ludicrously steep hill with a rakish colonial gentleman, a long-suffering cat and a lively dog.