Robbery of Edward I’s Treasures from Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey has had a long history of royal ceremony and patronage, ever since its rebuilding between 1042 and 1052 by Edward the Confessor. The Westminster Abbey that we know of today was again rebuilt by Henry III in the 13th Century, and it was this rebuilding that has made it a place of safety for the crown jewels. A vaulted chamber known as the Pyx Chamber was used to house the royal treasures, including the crown jewels, alongside others belonging to the monks who called the abbey home. This chamber was considered the best place to house the treasury as it was a medieval equivalent of a high security bank vault.[1] With the monks in protection of these precious items, along with many keys to the strong vault doors, it’s easy to see why this site was chosen.

Chamber of the Pyx, Westminster Abbey, London (2012), Wikimedia Commons

However, in 1303, the unthinkable happened; the treasury was robbed and in a most miraculous and somewhat laughable way. The man responsible was Richard Podlicote or Pudlicote, he was a merchant who had previously been working in Flanders before returning to England. He clearly had motive as he had previously been arrested and forced to pay £14 (nearly £10,000 in today’s money) towards King Edward I’s debts in Bruges.[2] Whilst this may sound harsh to us, it was a common right of medieval kings to force Englishmen living abroad to help pay debts.

In his confession, Pudlicote revealed how he had managed to do the robbery. It took him 98 days (roughly 3 months), between Christmas and just after Easter, to dig a tunnel under the abbey grounds.[3] He said he knew where he was going because he had done a smaller scale robbery before, taking silver dishes and drinking vessels.[4] After getting through to the chamber, he spent a whole day deciding what he wanted to take. The items were more than he could carry and so, on his way out under the cover of darkness, he left some of it under a nearby bush, which he came back for the following night.[5]

With the passage of time, we’re not entirely sure just how many things Pudlicote stole, but we do know some of the higher status items he did and did not steal. The crown jewels themselves were left alone, probably because they were too high profile.[6] One item which was possibly stolen as it was missing and has never been found is a crown taken from the dead body of the Welsh Prince, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd after his death at the Battle of Builth in 1982.[7] It was claimed after the crown had passed into English hands that this crown had once belonged to King Arthur, who the Welsh royals claimed as their ancestor.[8]

Contemporary image of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd wearing his crown during a ceremony of him paying tribute to Henry III (1267), Wikimedia Commons

Amazingly, the crime wasn’t discovered until early June as on the 6th, Edward I ordered an investigation into the robbery.[9] Perhaps it wouldn’t have been discovered for a lot longer if it hadn’t had been for the pawnshops and brothels the treasures ended up in. The pawnshops in their desperation to be rid of the stolen goods, offered them to nobles and others of high standing. These men were among those who knew the truth what these goods were and where they had come from.[10] The reality of what had happened in Westminster Abbey began to unravel and it led to Pudlicot, who was found with between £2,000-£2,200 (around £1.5 million pounds in today’s money) worth of stolen goods on him.

Despite being a previous offender, and how long it took him to dig, as well as being in or around the scene of the crime, Pudlicote claimed the monks were not involved and didn’t know of his endeavours.[11] I’m not sure that really adds up, especially as 48 monks were arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London for a brief stay, but they were never formally punished after they were released on Edward I’s orders.[12] It seems to be a large coincidence, so there must have been some form of insider help. Whatever the truth, Pudlicote was sentenced to death in November 1303.

Painting in Westminster Abbey thought to be Edward I (2019), Wikimedia Commons

The theft changed how the crown jewels were kept, something which can be seen right up until the present day. The remaining treasure was briefly placed in the Tower of London whilst the Pyx Chamber was reinforced.[13] In the later 1300s, a new and more permanent home was built in the Tower of London specifically built to house the jewels, although this is not the building currently used for that purpose, as that has long been lost.

The debts of Edward I which were a major motive for the crime were long reaching. On his death in 1307, they amounted to £200,000, nearly £142 million in today’s money. It is certainly a phenomenal amount which is virtually unthinkable. Considering this, it’s no doubt that the vast amount of these debts were still unpaid by the time of Edward II, son of Edward I, 20 years after.


[1] Ross, D., ‘Westminster Abbey Chapter House and Pyx Chamber’, Britain Express, https://www.britainexpress.com/attractions.htm?attraction=4723; ‘Pyx Chamber’, Westminster Abbey,  https://www.westminster-abbey.org/about-the-abbey/history/pyx-chamber

[2] Rouse, R. and Rushton, C., The Medieval Quest for Arthur (Stroud: The History Press, 2016), p. 101.

[3] Rouse, R. and Rushton, C., The Medieval Quest for Arthur, p. 101.

[4] Ashbee, J., ‘Robbery of the King’s Treasure at Westminster Abbey’, English Heritage, https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/chapter-house-and-pyx-chamber/history-treasure-at-westminster/

[5] Ashbee, J., ‘Robbery of the King’s Treasure at Westminster Abbey’, English Heritage, https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/chapter-house-and-pyx-chamber/history-treasure-at-westminster/

[6] Rouse, R. and Rushton, C., The Medieval Quest for Arthur, p. 101.

[7] Rouse, R. and Rushton, C., The Medieval Quest for Arthur, pp. 91-92.

[8] Rouse, R. and Rushton, C., The Medieval Quest for Arthur, pp. 91-92.

[9] Ashbee, J., ‘Robbery of the King’s Treasure at Westminster Abbey’, English Heritage, https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/chapter-house-and-pyx-chamber/history-treasure-at-westminster/

[10] Rouse, R. and Rushton, C., The Medieval Quest for Arthur, p. 101.

[11] Ashbee, J., ‘Robbery of the King’s Treasure at Westminster Abbey’, English Heritage, https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/chapter-house-and-pyx-chamber/history-treasure-at-westminster/

[12] Rouse, R. and Rushton, C., The Medieval Quest for Arthur, p. 101; Keegan, V., ‘Vic Keegan’s Lost London 139: The great royal jewels heist of 1303’, On London, 13 April 2020, https://www.onlondon.co.uk/vic-keegans-lost-london-139-the-great-royal-jewel-heist-of-1303/

[13] Keegan, V., ‘Vic Keegan’s Lost London 139: The great royal jewels heist of 1303’, On London, 13 April 2020, https://www.onlondon.co.uk/vic-keegans-lost-london-139-the-great-royal-jewel-heist-of-1303/

Audley End- Aristocrats, Avenues and Espionage: a Guest Post by Laura Adkins

This guest post has kindly been written by Laura Adkins, the creator of the For The Love of History Blog, which I have been able to do a few guests posts for myself. She has worked at many historical sites and mainly posts about ones found in Essex, her home county. Do check her blog out if you can, I promise you it’s a very enjoyable read.

One of the grandest houses in England, Audley End stands proudly in the countryside of Saffron Walden. Its origins date back to the 10th Century, where it began life as Walden Abbey, given to Thomas, Lord Audley, by Henry VIII, who converted the monastery into a house. 

The rooms are high and hung with beautiful tapestries: the beds amply decorated with golden velvet and silk bed hangings and covers.’

From the account of the visit of Johann Ernst, Duke of Saxe-Weimar, to Audley End, September 1613

In this post, I will be exploring three parts of Audley’s history, those who lived there – the Howards, its beautiful gardens designed by the one and only Capability Brown and its role in WW2 and the polish resistance.

Aristocrats:

The creator of the current structure of Audley End was Thomas Howard, part of the infamous Howard family. He inherited the House in 1605 and set about transforming the site into a country estate fit enough for royalty as he wanted to show off his wealth. Unfortunately, not much survives of his transformations and what we know from his estate comes from archives and documentary evidence. We know work began in 1605 and completed around 1614. Along with his uncle Henry Howard and Bernard Janssen, a Flemish mason, the three set about creating one of the greatest houses in Jacobean England.[1] Audley End had all the parts one expects in a Jacobean Mansion including symmetrical inner court, lodgings for his guests, including one for both the King and a separate one for the Queen for when they would stay. Today the house is only half the size of what it once was.

Thomas Howard, 1st Earl of Suffolk by Unknown Artist, National Portrait Gallery

The Howard family’s rise to power began in 1483, when King Richard III created John Howard the Duke of Norfolk. This was the third time that the Title of Duke of Norfolk had been used, and John had blood links to the first ever Duke of Norfolk – Thomas Mowbray (made 1st Duke of Norfolk in 1397). The head of the Howards would not only hold the title of Duke of Norfolk, but that of Earl of Arundel, Earl of Surrey, and Earl of Norfolk in addition to holding six baronies. They were a powerful family, who in the reign of the Tudors were ones to watch out for. Thomas Howard, son of John would be successful in defeating the Scots at the Battle of Flodden with two of his nieces – Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard being married to King Henry VIII. Charles Howard, 1st Earl of Nottingham, would hold the title of Lord Admiral and lead the English against the invasion of the Spanish Armada in 1588. For more on this infamous family, I suggest reading House of Treason by Robert Hutchinson.

In 1751, after the 10th Earl’s death, Elizabeth, Countess of Portsmouth brought Audley End which in turn would be inherited by her nephew, Sir John Griffin Whitwell, on the agreement that he took the surname of Griffin. John was a retired soldier and MP for Andover. He had fought and was wounded at the Battle of Kloster Kampen in 1760 during the Seven Years War.

Sir John, who became Lord Howard, would make more transformations to Audley End, most of which is what we can see today. He hired the architect Robert Adam to transform the house and Capability Brown the landscape. Adam’s work can be seen in the ground floor reception rooms on the south front today. Over time, Sir John started to pick up the architectural bug and his second wife, Katherine the decor. They both, respectively, became amateur architect and decorator and thus set about making many of their own changes to the house. The central range was rebuilt to reconnect the two wings of the house, along with a unique service gallery and detached service wing, all under the eye of Sir John.

Audley End would be one of the first houses to have a flushing water closet (installed in 1775) along with a bell system for the family of the house to call their domestic staff. Today, much of what can be seen at Audley End is a result of Richard Neville, who in the 1820s remodelled the house taking it back to its Jacobean roots.

Audley End, Wikimedia Commons

Avenues:

The beginnings of formal gardens at Audley End were started during the conversion of the monastery into house. It would be Elizabeth, Countess of Portsmouth, who would begin the transformation of the gardens into a more formal landscape. However, the landscape that we see today was mostly the result of one Capability Brown.

I mentioned above that in 1763, Griffin hired John Adam to assist with the interior development, he had Capability Brown do the same with the estate. Brown’s brief was to widen the river running through the estate, building a ha-ha and transforming the overall look of the gardens into Brown’s ‘naturalistic style’. He would create new roads towards the house, including one with a bridge, which was designed by Adam’s and is a Grade I listed structure. Brown was to be paid £660 (around £1,150,000 today) for his work in three payments, the last being on completion.

The two would eventually fall out with the result being Griffin dismissing Brown and getting the unknown Joseph Hicks to finish the work. However, the elements of Brown’s work are there for all to see and appreciate, including sweeps of grass, water flowing towards the house, long curving drives with stunning views for visitors and wooded areas to hide service buildings.

Espionage:

When I visited Audley End many years ago, I did not really pay much attention to a monument within the estate, remembering fallen soldiers from WW2. It was not until planning this post that Danielle mentioned the Polish secret missions that made me go back and re look at Audley End’s history in the 20th Century.

In 1941, like a number of other country estates, Audley End was requisitioned by the Army to be used as a training facility. By 1943, those who trained there was exclusively Polish Soldiers. They were undergoing training to assist them when they were secretly returned to German occupied Poland and assist the Polish resistance.

WWII Reenactment at Audley End

Code named station 43 (overseen by the Special Operations Executive), the Polish agents, under the command of Captain Alfons Mackowiak (Alan Mack). They would undergo various training in guerrilla warfare which included close combat, assignation, forgery, planting booby traps and of course learning how to parachute out of a plane. In total 527 soldiers passed the training and were sent into Poland. Sadly, 108 of these were either killed in action or at concentration camps and are remembered on the memorial I mentioned above. The soldiers would be known as the Cichociemni (the silent and Unseen). They would be involved in many missions, including recovering a German V2 rocket and smuggling into England.

‘Between 1942 and 1944 Polish members of the Special Operations Executive trained in this house for missions in their homeland. This memorial commemorates those who parachuted into enemy occupied Poland and gave their lives for the freedom of this and their own country.’ Listed Grade II © Historic England Archive PLB/K030323

In 1948, the house was handed over to the nation. Today it is managed by English Heritage, and accessible to the public, for more information on visiting times, exhibitions and events head to https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/audley-end-house-and-gardens/

[1] Drury, P (…) English Heritage Guidebooks – Audley End

Sources:

Borger, J (2016) Honouring ‘silent and unseen’ fighters who led Polish resistance. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jun/10/honouring-poland-silent-unseen-fighters-resistance-nazi-british [Accessed 04.08/20]

English Heritage (2020) Audley End House and Gardens. Available from:  www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/audley-end-house-and-gardens/ [Accessed 25/07/20]

Historic England (2020) Audley End. Available from: historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1000312 [Accessed 25/07/20]

Historic England (2019) The Secret War: Resistance in Britain During the Second World War. Avalbne from: https://heritagecalling.com/2019/11/05/the-secret-war-resistance-in-britain-during-the-second-world-war/ [Accessed 05/08/20] Landscape Institute(2016) About Capability Brown. Available from:  http://www.capabilitybrown.org/  [Accessed 4/8/20]

Brushy Bill Roberts: Billy the Kid or Imposter?

After catching the last part of the film Young Guns recently, I suddenly realised I didn’t know the end of Billy the Kid’s life. Being English, I assumed that this was because we have our own outlaws, rather than the cowboys of the American West. However, after being to do a little research, some parallels with English outlaws emerged. Most notably that fictionalisation of his life has been a large part of Billy’s life. This was easy to do as there are little established facts and most of the knowledge known about his life has been taken from rumours and speculation found in newspapers and fictionalised accounts at the time.[1] Yet one thing stood out to me as utterly fascinating: in 1950, a man known as Brushy Bill Roberts applied for a pardon for Billy the Kid. Who was this Brushy Bill Roberts, and why was he asking for a pardon for Billy the Kid, real name Henry McCarty, nearly 70 years after the death of the outlaw?

Photograph of Brushy Bill Roberts

Brushy Bill Roberts, real name William Henry Roberts, first came to the attention of a paralegal, William V. Morrison, in 1948 whilst he was helping to settle an estate.[2] He had heard rumours that Roberts knew the true fate of Billy the Kid and wanted to investigate more. Little did he know exactly what he’d find. After some interviews, Roberts admitted he was Billy the Kid and that he was sick of hiding his identity. Morrison was initially unsure as to the truth of the claims, but quickly began to believe them as some of the activities of Billy the Kid and the Lincoln County War in which he was involved, were too in depth not to be true.[3] Despite these findings, when the story was released to the press, experts on the American outlaw were utterly unconvinced and instead they continued to believe that it was Billy the Kid who had been shot by Pat Garrett in the early hours of 14 July 1881.[4]

Billy the Kid, Wikimedia Commons

There are many loopholes in the story of Billy the Kid’s death, and therefore left an opportunity not just for Roberts, but a man name John Miller, who died in 1937, were able to claim to be the outlaw who died young. Garrett had shot a man who had been speaking Spanish in a darkened room of the ranch house of Pete Maxwell, a friend of Billy the Kid. The two deputies who were waiting outside the house, John W. Poe and Thomas McKinney, hadn’t met the outlaw before, so they didn’t know what he looked like. After the incident, Poe is noted to not believe the man who had been shot dead was Billy, insisting that it was the wrong man.[5] This, alongside rumours spread by locals to the ranch, meant some had begun to believe that it was someone else who had been killed that day.

Photograph of Pat Garrett as a Sherriff in the Lincoln County Police, Wikimedia Commons

On the day after the shooting, a Coroner’s inquest ruled that the body was that of Billy the Kid and that Garrett had shot him as a justifiable homicide.[6] The body was buried that same day and was fully intact, despite later claims by various people to have kept body parts as relics.[7] It was purposefully buried alongside Billy’s mother and the graves have since been washed away in flooding, so no one knows if the remains are still there. A more recent stone marker has been placed in the graveyard but it’s uncertain whether it lies anywhere near the original grave location.[8] This has meant that any calls for DNA evidence to be analysed has been impossible.

I have purposefully not gone into the full ins and outs of the case for Brushy Bill Roberts either being or not being Billy the Kid, in the hopes that you will investigate it and make up your own mind. I would suggest that as it’s a fascinating topic. However, for me, there is one strange coincidence in the timing of Roberts coming forward as Billy the Kid. Roberts and his wife decided to retire to Texas after moving around between many different southern states because of the low cost of living there. Roberts was on a small state pension and this had to be supplemented by his elderly wife taking on laundry to bring in a relatively small income.[9] He also died of a heart attack in December 1950 after his attempt of a pardon was unsuccessful.

Photograph of Brushy Bill’s Grave, Wikimedia Commons

There is no way to definitively prove or disprove Roberts claims of being the infamous outlaw, but there is no denying that the case has helped perpetuate the outlaw in American history. This started within a year of the Kid’s supposed death after Pat Garrett published a biography on his victim. However, the book was more like a traditional dime novel, which often featured cowboy figures. It was based on entertaining fiction rather than hard facts.[10] Hico in Texas, where Roberts retired to openly admits his claims were true and has a Billy the Kid Museum to explain this. Whatever your own believes on the matter, it’s true that the outlaw does have continuing appeal and fascination. In terms of Brushy Bill, as has been said, if he wasn’t Billy the Kid, then who was he and how did he know so much about the outlaw and the Lincoln County War?[11] It is possible that even if he wasn’t Billy, Roberts would have known him well and had himself participated in the Lincoln County War.[12]


[1] Kiger, P. J., ‘How Did Billy the Kid Die?’, History, 14 May 2020, https://www.history.com/news/billy-the-kid-death-theories

[2] Jameson, W. C., Billy the Kid: Beyond the Grave (Lanham, Maryland: Taylor Trade Publishers, 2005), pp. 1-2.

[3] Jameson, W. C., Billy the Kid: Beyond the Grave, pp. 5 and 20.

[4] Prassel, F. R., The Great American Outlaw: A Legacy of Fact and Fiction (Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1996), p. 152.

[5] Jameson, W. C., Billy the Kid: Beyond the Grave, p. XII.

[6] Kiger, P. J., ‘How Did Billy the Kid Die?’, History, 14 May 2020, https://www.history.com/news/billy-the-kid-death-theories

[7] Kiger, P. J., ‘How Did Billy the Kid Die?’, History, 14 May 2020, https://www.history.com/news/billy-the-kid-death-theories

[8] Prassel, F. R., The Great American Outlaw, p. 152.

[9] Jameson, W. C., Billy the Kid: Beyond the Grave, pp. 15-16.

[10] Jameson, W. C., Billy the Kid: Beyond the Grave, p. 7.

[11] ‘Patrolling the Bandit Belt’, T. F. Dawson Scrapbooks cited in Prassel, F. R., The Great American Outlaw, p. 152.

[12] Jameson, W. C., Billy the Kid: Beyond the Grave, p. 20.

Book Review of Sitting Bull: His Life and Legacy

If you are a regular reader of the blog, you may remember a post I did at the end of last year about the murder of Sitting Bull, the chief of the Lakota nation who fought for the rights of Native Americans and their way of life. This is a cause very close to my heart and I have much respect for Sitting Bull and the Native American way of life in general. This post is something a bit different as I’ll be reviewing a book I asked for at Christmas, written by a descendant of Sitting Bull, Ernie LaPointe. I decided to do a book review because I feel the message of the book is a particularly important one and needs to be shared with others.

Sitting Bull: His Life and Legacy by Ernie LaPointe

Ernie LaPointe, the author of Sitting Bull: His Life and Legacy, is a great-grandson of Sitting Bull, and just like his ancestor, is an advocate of the traditional way of life of the Lakota and seeks to tell the truth of the life of the famous chief. I believe this book manages to successfully do both of these things as Sitting Bull’s life is retold in the oral tradition, almost like a story, rather than chronologically. This made it a very easy read and contributed to me not wanting to put the book down.

For me, I have never been so emotionally connected to a book in a very long time. The early parts of Sitting Bull’s life are told in a way which reflects the characteristics highly prized by the Lakota: honour, respect, humbleness and compassion. All of these traits are something I have always associated with Sitting Bull, so I especially liked learning the circumstances he showed these from an early age. The great chief showed these despite the hard times, including the loss of many loved ones, which I find utter commendable.

If you are looking for more information on Sitting Bull’s time in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, you’ll probably be disappointed as this only grants a couple of paragraphs. Personally, I don’t feel that is a problem as the sole purpose of the book is to show the character of Sitting Bull, which of course is not defined by his time in the Wild West Show, but more in the personal moments, of which the book is full of.

The book contains quite a few appendices that may put people off, but I found that these helped explain the animosity that has arisen from the descendants of One Bull, the nephew who was part of the Indian Police who arrested and killed Sitting Bull in 1890, against the direct descendants of Sitting Bull through his children. Perhaps the most useful of these is a glossary explaining the many many Lakota words found in the text. I did quite enjoy learning these words, although I’m pretty sure my pronunciation is terrible.

All in all, I found this a very enjoyable and educational book. It helps to demyth some of the life of Sitting Bull that has been given to us by white historians, rather than through the Lakota oral tradition. This is partly because one of the early historians never visited the children of Sitting Bull, despite the fact they were all present at the time of his murder. I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the life of Sitting Bull, or the way of life of the Native Americans. After reading this, I now have a newfound respect for the chief, even more than I already had. I hope that if you read it too, you would feel the same.

To read more on the murder of Sitting Bull, please have a read of my post on the subject using the following link.

Horace Walpole and Strawberry Hill

As someone whose first interest in history was the Wars of the Roses, I first came across Horace Walpole through his book Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of Richard III, in which he defended the reputation of Richard, including denying popular views that he murdered his nephews, the Princes in the Tower. Horace was the rather eccentric son of Britain’s first prime minster, Robert Walpole. He was a historian, collector, social and political commentator, writer, and author. He is perhaps most well known for writing the first gothic novel, and for leaving behind around 7,000 letters, and an account of the historical items in his collection at Strawberry Hill, his house in Twickenham.[1] Strawberry Hill itself is one of the earliest examples of Gothic Revival architecture and reflects Walpole’s interest in the medieval. The unique house was a source of fascination to the polite middle classes who were becoming interested in the country houses of the rich. However, this was not how the building began its life.

Horace Walpole by John Giles Eccardt (1754), © National Portrait Gallery, London

As a younger son, Horace didn’t have his own country seat to use as a summer residence and he looked for the perfect place to convert into one. In 1747, he acquired the site in Twickenham, when it was as a rather ordinary late-seventeenth century cottage called Chopped Straw Hall.[2] It came with 5 acres of land but before long, it expanded to include 46 acres.[3] The beginning of the transformation into the building Horace wished was initially low key. The first mention of any connection to the Gothic was mentioned in a letter from Horace to a friend on the 28th of September 1749, where he mentioned about creating battlements.[4] From then on, the Gothic architecture would be developed by the ‘Committee of Taste’, including Walpole and two of his friends, John Chute and Richard Bentley. Chute had met Walpole on the Grand Tour around Europe and owned his own Tudor Gothic home in Hampshire, whereas Bentley created the drawings and plans based on Walpole and Chute’s ideas.[5] These ideas were mainly inspired by Gothic features seen elsewhere.

E. Rooker, Strawberry Hill near Twickenham (1774), British Library

The rooms created for Strawberry Hill were purposefully created to be an exaggerated and theatrical version of the classic Gothic architecture seen in the medieval period.[6] The style created was from Walpole’s imagination, but had elements that were recognisable as Gothic. It meant that a more theatrical version of the Gothic was created for the brash Georgian era. As what we now call Gothic Revival was in its infancy, there was not yet any set rules for the style. Walpole’s version of this was certainly theatrical and reflected the uniqueness of the objects he collected.[7] The building work, not including the contents, cost £21,000, around £925,000 in today’s money, so it was a rather expensive renovation project.[8]

The collection that was created at Strawberry Hill was a rather random collection almost in the style of a cabinet of curiosities but were collected by Walpole to create a museum to England’s history and heritage, especially time periods that were not seen as fashionable at the time.[9] The Georgians very much focused on items from ancient civilisations like Rome or Greece, but Walpole’s focus was very much on the medieval, right through to the Stuarts in the previous century. Some of the treasured items in his collection included locks of hair of Edward IV and Mary I, a hat that once belonged to Cardinal Wolsey, a comb of Mary Queen of Scots and a watch of George II.[10] The way these items were displayed and described were based on a mixture of “provenance, description, association and imagination”, possibly saying more about Walpole than the items.[11] Despite the criticism this has brought Walpole, both in his own time and now, there is no doubting that he tried to widen the circle of what was worthy to study as history.

Print from: A description of the villa of Mr. Horace Walpole, youngest son of Sir Robert Walpole Earl of Orford, at Strawberry-Hill near Twickenham, Middlesex: with an inventory of the furniture, pictures, curiosities, & c. Strawberry-Hill, printed by Thomas Kirgate, 1784, Rijksmuseum

To create the museum like home he wanted, it was essential for Strawberry Hill was open to the public to see the collections. This is where Walpole’s selectively anti-social behaviour really shone through. Whilst he was open to hosting foreign ambassadors, royalty, and aristocracy, it was the middling classes he found rather annoying.[12] In a letter to Sir Horace Mann dated 30th of July 1783, he wrote of the many visitors coming to Strawberry Hill, which meant he was “tormented all day and every day by people that come to see my house”.[13] He was especially peeved by the visitors who came as an escape from the illnesses circulating in London, suggesting “You see the plague! You are the plague.”[14] In a list of visitors kept for Strawberry Hill between 1784 and 1797, it shows that when the house was open between May and September, around 300 people a year viewed the house.[15]

The tour around the house is not self-guided as we would understand from a county house visit today. They would have been shown round by the housekeeper on a set route. Walpole was often known to hide under his bed when the housekeeper showed groups around.[16] Despite the aggravation these visitors caused, the house was never shut to visitors during Walpole’s lifetime. Perhaps this was partly because these tourists were the reason for his ‘museum’ existing. Instead, he chose to curb their behaviour by only allowing visitors with tickets given out with his signature on to be admitted. From 1784, a page of rules was also given to prospective tourists to ensure they knew the rules they had to follow to gain admittance. First and foremost, anyone applying for a tour would have to give their name and the number in their party, alongside the date they wished to attend. This information would be then given to the housekeeper if Walpole agreed to allow the party around the house.[17] Further rules would also have to be abided by:

  1. The person applying must give at least a day or two’s notice and would only be allowed to be a party of 4 people. Also, only one party to be shown around per day.
  2. The day given on the ticket would be valid for the day shown and if more than 4 people arrived without prior permission, the housekeeper would be allowed to turn them away.
  3. The party could only be shown around between 12 and 3 pm.
  4. No group would be admitted after dinner.
  5. If the ticket couldn’t be used on the date written on it, then prior knowledge must be given so another party could be allowed the opportunity to go.
  6. No children.

These rules may sound strict, but there could be leniency given on all of them other than the no children one, as there was always a strict no children policy.[18]

T. Rowlinson, Temple at Strawberry Hill, from “Sketches from Nature” (1822), Metropolitan Museum

Sadly, after Horace died, the building was left rather neglected and unloved by its owners and the novelty of the building and its contents wore off for visitors, meaning no one really wished to visit as a tourist. As Horace died unmarried, the house went through various distant female relatives. It wasn’t until George, the 7th Earl of Waldegrave inherited it that the building was really hated. He decided to leave the house to ruin and sold off the collection in 1842.[19] It could have ended disastrously for this once unique and popular building if it hadn’t had been for George’s widow, Frances. She had been left a lot of money by George and went on to have another rich husband, meaning she could afford to add extensions to the house in a style like Walpole’s original fantasy Gothic.[20] It is her, alongside the current owners, St Mary’s University College, that we have to thank for the survival of such an unusual, and in my opinion beautiful, building that we can now enjoy.

I have yet to visit Strawberry Hill, but it certainly another one to add to my to visit list when things are better and we can travel again. Of particular interest to me is the cottage in the garden that once housed Walpole’s printing press which he used to publish he works from. This printing press was the first one to be privately owned in England, and strangely housed in the only building in the garden that wasn’t built in the Gothic style, instead it was built in traditional Georgian brick. I still wonder what Horace’s thinking was behind that.[21]


[1] Strawberry Hill House, https://www.strawberryhillhouse.org.uk/the-house/history/

[2] Harney, M., Place-Making for the Imagination: Horace Walpole and Strawberry Hill (Oxon: Routledge, 2016), p. xvii.

[3] Lewis, W. S., ‘The Genesis of Strawberry Hill’, Metropolitan Museum Studies, 5.1 (1934), p. 60.

[4] Cited in Lewis, W. S., ‘The Genesis of Strawberry Hill’, p. 62.

[5] Lewis, W. S., ‘The Genesis of Strawberry Hill’, pp. 63-64.

[6] Harney, M., Place-Making for the Imagination, p. 4.

[7] Harney, M., Place-Making for the Imagination, p. 4; Strawberry Hill House, https://www.strawberryhillhouse.org.uk/the-house/history/

[8] Lewis, W. S., ‘The Genesis of Strawberry Hill’, p. 60.

[9] Harney, M., Place-Making for the Imagination, p. 4.

[10] P. Bains, ‘”All of the House of Forgery”: Walpole. Chatterton and Antiquarian Collecting’, Poetica, 39/40 (1993), cited in Mack, R., ‘Horace Walpole and the Objects of Literary History’, ELH, 75.2 (2008), p. 374.

[11] Harney, M., Place-Making for the Imagination, pp. 2-3.

[12] Strawberry Hill House, https://www.strawberryhillhouse.org.uk/the-house/history/

[13] Cited in Tinniswood, A., The Polite Tourist: A History of Country House Visiting (London: National Trust Enterprises Ltd, 1998), p. 91.

[14] Cited in Tinniswood, A., The Polite Tourist, p. 91.

[15] Tinniswood, A., The Polite Tourist, p. 92.

[16] Tinniswood, A., The Polite Tourist, p. 92.

[17] Cited in Tinniswood, A., The Polite Tourist, p. 96.

[18] Tinniswood, A., The Polite Tourist, pp. 96 and 98.

[19] Strawberry Hill House, https://www.strawberryhillhouse.org.uk/the-house/history/

[20] Strawberry Hill House, https://www.strawberryhillhouse.org.uk/the-house/history/

[21] Lewis, W. S., ‘The Genesis of Strawberry Hill’, p. 87.

Creation of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich is now one of the things to visit in London, but it had a rather rocky first 10 years after it was opened by King George VI on 27th of April 1937. Small scale ideas for some form of national museum to celebrate Britain’s seafaring history had been in circulation since the centenary of the Battle of Trafalgar in 1905, but none of these stuck until 1927.[1] From 1927, the Society for Nautical Research led a campaign to create some from of a national maritime museum. This was helped by a wealthy member of the Society, Sir James Caird, who purchased a large collection of naval themed items known as the A. G. H. MacPherson collection.[2] Originally, the museum was to be called the National Maritime Museum, as ingeniously thought up by Rudyard Kipling.[3]

Sir James Caird, Bain News Service, Wikimedia Commons

These acquisitions, alongside items either belonging to, or associated with, Lord Horatio Nelson, which had already been bought for the nation a long time before, formed the beginnings of the museum’s collection. It had built upon the small art gallery that had already been in existence at Greenwich, a former naval hospital similar to its army sister hospital at Chelsea, since the early 1800s.[4] This made Greenwich the perfect place to house the museum. However, the location being chosen, the process of turning the buildings into a museum worthy of the nation’s maritime heritage couldn’t take place until two things had happened. First, the Royal Hospital School, for sons of naval men, that already used the site had to move out, which they did when it moved to Suffolk in 1933; and secondly, an official act passed by Parliament granting the site national status was passed in 1934.[5]

On the 29th of April 1937, the museum officially opened to the public. Around 5,000 people attended on the first day alone, which in a time of financial hardship, was no mean feat.[6] One of the most popular galleries was No. 10, which was dedicated to all things Nelson. Sadly though, less than 3 years after it had opened, the museum had to close its doors at the outbreak of the Second World War.[7] The threat of bombs meant many of the precious items had to be moved outside of London, a decision which proved to be right as the site was bombed many times during the war.

When the museum was finally allowed to reopen at after the end of the war, things had changed very much. Sir Geoffrey Callender, the first Director of the museum, who had been an integral part of the creation of the museum, had recently died, leaving a large hole in the staff.[8] There was also a vacancy on the Board of Trustees, which was filled by Prince Philip, then a 27-year-old who was just out of the Navy himself.[9]

With all the turmoil the National Maritime Museum faced in its first 10 years of life, it’s wonderful to see it thriving now. Sadly though, that isn’t really true with the current pandemic, but I sincerely hope it will last for many more years to come, especially as it’s on my list of places to visit one day when we can go places again.


[1] Littlewood, K. and Butler, B., Of Ships and Stars: Maritime Heritage and the Founding of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich (London: The Athlone Press, 1998), p. 24.

[2] Royal Museums Greenwich, History of the National Maritime Museum, https://www.rmg.co.uk/national-maritime-museum/history

[3] Royal Museums Greenwich, History of the National Maritime Museum, https://www.rmg.co.uk/national-maritime-museum/history

[4] Royal Museums Greenwich, History of the National Maritime Museum, https://www.rmg.co.uk/national-maritime-museum/history

[5] Downer, M., Nelson’s Lost Jewel: The Extraordinary Story of the Lost Diamond Chelengk (Stroud: The History Press, 2017), pp. 230-231.

[6] Downer, M., Nelson’s Lost Jewel, p. 231.

[7] Downer, M., Nelson’s Lost Jewel, p. 231.

[8] Littlewood, K. and Butler, B., Of Ships and Stars, p. IX.

[9] Downer, M., Nelson’s Lost Jewel, p. 232.

End of Year Thank You

I would first of all like to thank everyone who has read and supported this blog this year. Writing posts for it is about he only think that’s kept me sane, so it honestly means a lot to me. It’s honestly been so humbling to know how many of you have been reading, and most importantly, enjoying the things that I’ve been writing about throughout 2020. I hope in my own small way that I have helped to bring a small amount of happiness to you all with the posts, even if it’s only been for a short while.

A man on horseback driving a sledge with two young girls and a young boy on it. Engraving. Credit: Wellcome CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

This year has certainly been one full of stress and lots of bad things for all of us, and I haven’t escaped that. Sadly I lost my last surviving grandparent in April, just before my dad’s birthday and we were unable to say goodbye. I know this is a situation that so many of us have been in this year and I just want all of you to know I truly hope and pray that 2021 will be the better year we all deserve.

Something this year has taught me is to take each day as it comes and do the things that you love. For me, blogging and my love of history is one of those things. I honestly hope that comes across in my writing. I was hoping to have time to post once more before Christmas, but sadly I haven’t had the time. I now won’t be posting again until some point in January. The first post will be on Horace Walpole and his amazing house of Strawberry Hill. There will hopefully be some guest posts coming in various times throughout 2021, along with some interesting topics, so keep an eye out.

Print from: A description of the villa of Mr. Horace Walpole, youngest son of Sir Robert Walpole Earl of Orford, at Strawberry-Hill near Twickenham, Middlesex: with an inventory of the furniture, pictures, curiosities, & c. Strawberry-Hill: printed by Thomas Kirgate, 1784, Rijksmuseum

If you want to read up on anything during the festive period, I will leave you with my favourite post of this year on the real Ulrich von Lichtenstein, who was played by Heath Ledger in the film A Knight’s Tale.

I hope that Christmas is a happy time for you, but please remember to abide by the rules and stay safe and healthy. Once again, I want to thank you for all your support of this blog throughout 2020, which has been the most popular year since I started blogging 2 years ago. From the bottom of my heart, it honestly means the world to me that people are genuinely interested in the things I post.

William and Winifred Maxwell’s Escape from the Tower of London

After the Glorious Revolution of 1688 (where Protestant William and Mary replaced the Catholic James II as joint monarchs of England, Wales and Scotland) tensions rose within the nobility and people at large, depending on which monarch they supported. At this time large pockets of Scotland in particular were Catholic, meaning they had a natural leaning towards King James. They, alongside others supporting James, became known as Jacobites, so named because it was similar to the Latin for James. This period in history is fascinating to me, not just because I love the Stuarts, but a few years ago during researching our family history, my dad discovered that my mum’s family are descended from James II’s first wife, Anne Hyde. The Glorious Revolution is literally my ancestors having a family fall out.

The tensions finally began to come to a head in late 1715 when forces mustered in the name of James’ son, James Francis Edward Stuart, known as the ‘Old Pretender’. It wasn’t well supported as Louis XIV of France, a previous supporter of the Jacobite cause, had died in September. The Duke of Orleans, who became the Regent took a rather different approach, choosing to instead become friends with the Hanoverians, the Protestant line that had been invited to the English throne following the end of the remaining Protestant Stuarts.[1] Despite this, the forces marched through Cumberland, Westmoreland and Lancashire, until they eventually surrendered in Preston.[2] Amongst them was William Maxwell, the 5th Earl of Nithsdale. He and others were taken to London as prisoners and placed either in the Newgate Prison or the Tower of London. William was taken to the Tower, awaiting execution.

The BL King’s Topographical Collection: “THE TOWER OF LONDON”, British Library

William would probably be forgotten to history if it wasn’t for his wife, Winifred, who’s family had been closely linked to the exiled Jacobite court[3]. She was full of dedication, love and loyalty for her husband. Once news of his capture reached her at the family home in Terregles House, just outside Dumfries. Winifred bravely decided to take the month-long ride down to London through terrible winter weather, including deep snow, alone, other than for her maid.[4] After taking lodgings in the city, she wrote a petition to King George I, asking for clemency, after there was no forthcoming help from other Jacobite supporters. When none of this worked, she even visited the King in person, some sources saying she clung to his robes with her begging.[5] Still none of this worked, and Winifred knew she could only rely on herself and a few close friends to help William escape.

W. B. Blaikie, William Maxwell, Earl of Nithsdale, National Library of Scotland

Planning to escape from the Tower of London was a dangerous thing to do and was fraught with danger. Many had attempted it, but few had successfully managed it. Winifred was willing to play the long game though, and purposefully built up trust with the guards so that she was allowed to visit William regularly. This was a good way to lay the ground for the escape attempt which was scheduled for the day before William’s execution.

Winifred, along with her maid and two friends, were granted a last visit to say goodbye to William when they offered the guards drinking money and began friendly conversation with the wives of the guards.[6] Each of the women had the cloaks of their hoods up and were crying into handkerchiefs every time they left the cell, creating a confusing situation for the guards. It also gave Winifred the time to dress William up in spare women’s clothing that had been smuggled in under the clothing of her friends, and place make up on his face.[7] The funny thing is that William hadn’t had time to shave, so the make up didn’t stick to his face well. However, he was able to leave his cell and get past the guards pretending to be another of the grieving entourage. This was only made possible because Winifred stayed in the cell, pretending to have a conversation with William, and later telling the guards to leave him to his prayers.[8]

Illustration of William Maxwell’s Escape from the Tower of London from T. Archer’s Pictures and Royal Portraits illustrative of English and Scottish History … With descriptive … sketches (1878), British Library

The alarm wasn’t raised until much later after the party had managed to leave the Tower without suspicion. The pair were never caught as William was smuggled out of the country using a carriage with the Venetian ambassador’s coat of arms on, whilst Winifred made the journey back to Scotland to organise family papers and how the estate would be run whilst they were in exile.[9] By the time Winifred made the journey back to Scotland, she was pregnant and sadly after all her hard work, miscarried on the boat over to France to find her husband.[10] They did reunite and moved to Rome, where the rest of the exiled Jacobite court was living. However, despite happily being reunited, their life was still filled with varying degrees of poverty. They were helped with money and things did improve when Winifred became governess to Henry Stuart, the younger brother of Charles Edward Stuart, also known as Bonnie Prince Charlie.[11]

Winifred Maxwell, Countess of Nithsdale (née Winifred Herbert) from a drawing by C. Kirkpatrick Sharpe, Wikimedia Commons

William and Winifred did continue to be in love, and it is lovely to know that love never wavered, despite imprisonment, rebellion, and poverty. The pair did have two children, William, and Anne, but it is thought there were further miscarriages.[12] William Junior did return to the family home following his father’s death in 1744 and reconciled himself with the Hanoverian regime and continued to tell the tale of his parents’ escape from the Tower of London. This was especially important as his mother continued to live in exile until her own death in 1749.

This story of love is perhaps a rather bizarre one, but I must admit there is something endearing that Winifred was so instrumental in saving her husband’s live, despite the obvious risks she was taking. It’s certainly one I hadn’t heard of until recently and I hope it will continue to live on as one of the stranger parts of the Jacobite Rebellions and the history of the Tower of London. Thank you to Lauren Johnson’s talk on women and the Tower of London for bringing it to my attention. The story of the Maxwells certainly shows that whilst the Jacobite Rebellions is often told from the male perspective, just like Flora MacDonald, who helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape following his rebellion, women played an important, if forgotten role during that time.


[1] Burke, S., ‘Women of Merit Connected with Criminal Trials: The Countess of Nithsdale’, The Rose, Shamrock, and the Thistle, 5.25 (1864), p. 50.

[2] Burke, S., ‘Women of Merit Connected with Criminal Trials: The Countess of Nithsdale’, p. 50.

[3] ‘Lady Winifred Maxwell’, https://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/usbiography/m/winifredmaxwell.html

[4] ‘Winifred Maxwell’, https://www.encyclopedia.com/women/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/maxwell-winifred-1672-1749; Burke, S., ‘Women of Merit Connected with Criminal Trials: The Countess of Nithsdale’, p. 50.

[5] Burke, S., ‘Women of Merit Connected with Criminal Trials: The Countess of Nithsdale’, p. 50.

[6] ‘Lady Winifred Maxwell’, https://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/usbiography/m/winifredmaxwell.html

[7] Davis, J. P., ‘The 5 Most Daring Escapes from the Tower of London’, History Hit, https://www.historyhit.com/most-daring-escapes-from-the-tower-of-london/; ‘Lady Winifred Maxwell’, https://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/usbiography/m/winifredmaxwell.html

[8] ‘Winifred Maxwell’, https://www.encyclopedia.com/women/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/maxwell-winifred-1672-1749; Davis, J. P., ‘The 5 Most Daring Escapes from the Tower of London’, History Hit, https://www.historyhit.com/most-daring-escapes-from-the-tower-of-london/

[9] ‘Winifred Maxwell’, https://www.encyclopedia.com/women/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/maxwell-winifred-1672-1749; Davis, J. P., ‘The 5 Most Daring Escapes from the Tower of London’, History Hit, https://www.historyhit.com/most-daring-escapes-from-the-tower-of-london/; ‘Lady Winifred Maxwell’, https://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/usbiography/m/winifredmaxwell.html

[10] ‘Winifred Maxwell’, https://www.encyclopedia.com/women/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/maxwell-winifred-1672-1749

[11] ‘Lady Winifred Maxwell’, https://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/usbiography/m/winifredmaxwell.html

[12] ‘Winifred Maxwell’, https://www.encyclopedia.com/women/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/maxwell-winifred-1672-1749

Eleanor Coade: A Little Remembered Georgian Businesswoman

Eleanor Coade was a very unusual woman for the Georgian times, but one I must admit I admire after recently coming across her story. She was a businesswoman in her own right, despite never being married. The business she owned wasn’t traditionally feminine either. She actually owned an artificial stone factory in Lambeth, London, which bore her name. Architecture was an incredibly male dominated industry, although it was common for upper class women to have a say in the decoration of the house they lived in, Eleanor is definitely one of the first I’ve come across who had a practical role. Her business was highly successful and as English Heritage describes the stone her factory produced was “one of the most widely used materials of the 18th century”.[1]

Eleanor was born on the 3rd of June 1733 in Exeter, Devon, to George Coade, a wealthy merchant, and his wife Eleanor. However, the wool trade George largely dealt in was soon in decline and in 1759, the family were forced to relocate to London because of bankruptcy, including s second one in 1769.[2] Perhaps this was what spurred Eleanor to set up her own business, hoping to help the family fortunes. It was certainly a family trait as her grandmother and uncle all ran successful businesses, something which her father had not quite inherited.

An allegory of agriculture: Ceres reclining amidst a collection of farm implements, she holds a sheaf of wheat and a scythe. Engraving by W. Bromley, 1789, after a sculptural panel by Mrs E. Coade. Credit: Wellcome CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

By 1766, Eleanor was listed as a linen draper who dealt in linen-based textiles. That business was definitely a success as the insurance for it raised from £200 (around £17,500 in today’s money), to £750 (around £65,500 in today’s money) in just one year![3] Sadly we don’t know her reasons for deciding to give up this business and buy up the failing artificial stone manufactory set up by Daniel Pidcot just 3 years later. Perhaps it was just boredom or a sense of adventure, or maybe she just found it more interesting. Whatever may be the case, it became obvious that she had a flare for running a business and knew what clients wanted. Eleanor alone wouldn’t have been able to afford the purchase, so she must have had help from someone. There are two options for that, her grandmother, Sarah Enchmarch, and uncle, Samuel Coade, as previously mentioned. Eleanor certainly did receive £500 from her grandmother’s will, for she had been a successful textile businesswoman for 25 years herself, following the death of her husband.[4] Eleanor also had close ties with her uncle, Samuel Coade. He had already bailed out his brother, Eleanor’s father, and in his own will, he specifically removed any of Eleanor’s outstanding debts she owed him, alongside providing a house for her in Lyme Regis, Dorset.[5]

With the purchase of the business, it was renamed Coade, and all of the bills were transferred into her name. However, as she was often called Mrs Coade, this has since created some confusion as to whether it was this Eleanor, or her mother that owned the business.[6] At that time, any woman who may have owned a business was customarily called Mrs, whether they were married or not. Despite no longer being the owner, Daniel Pidcot was kept on as a manager, probably to ease transition and to teach Eleanor about the artificial stone trade. This decision, whilst well meant, did come back to bite. In 1770, Daniel published an essay on artificial stone, and claimed that he had recently opened the manufactory, rather than in 1767, and with no mention of Eleanor being the real owner.[7] There was also more problems ahead behind the scenes, as Eleanor publicly retaliated. In September 1771 she published 2 notices about Daniel Pidcot in the newspapers. The first one placed in the Public Advertiser showed who the real owner was:

Whereas Mr Daniel Pidcot has represented himself as a partner in the manufactory conducted by him, ELEANOR COADE, the real proprietor, finds it needful to inform the public that the said Mr Pidcot is no other than a servant to her and that no contracts, or agreements, discharges or receipts will be allowed by her, unless signed by herself.[8]

The other notice publicised that Daniel Pidcot has left her employment and wouldn’t be returning.

Peter Mazell, The Font in Debden Church, Essex (c. 1786), British Library

It seems like the business had a bumpy start, but the success it would later see was all down to Eleanor and her business choices. Whilst the formula used for the artificial stone wasn’t invented by her, as it was based on much older ones, but she certainly altered it. The formula (although the exact one was a secret) roughly consisted of clay, flint, fine sand, glass and grog, clay that had already been fired and then ground into a powder. The particular type of clay used was purposefully sourced from Devon and Dorset, where Eleanor’s family came from, meaning this was probably the part she altered.[9] The added glass gave the stone it’s weatherproof quality, and it was this that made Coade stone so popular, especially for outdoor decoration.

The designs created at the manufactory were mainly bespoke, although there were some pieces that could be replicated due to the use of moulds. Most of these designs were crated by the sculptor and chief designer, John Bacon, but Eleanor did do her own designs, as some were exhibited at the Society of Artists.[10] A lot of these were mainly interior decorations, as she was interested in interior, as well as exterior design. The generic designs including things such as statues, plaques and even chimneypieces to name a few.[11] Whether an indoor or an outdoor piece, they were always stamped with COADE to make sure no one ever forgot who made them.[12]

Keith Evans, Britannia Monument at Great Yarmouth, Wikimedia Commons

The popularity of her pieces began to increase, and Eleanor made a smart move by opening a showroom in 1798. This was located in a popular area near to Westminster Bridge, which was closer to her upper-class clients. The showroom showcased some of the company’s best pieces, as well as generic items to give clients an idea of what was on offer. The showroom also produced a booklet that took them on a guided tour through Coade designs and listed places where previous commissions were, ranging from country houses, to public places, even places abroad, such as Russia, South Africa and Brazil.[13] Sadly by 1817, fashions had changed and large commissions were no longer in fashion and the showroom was forced to close, but instead it was replaced with better advertising.[14]

Despite changing fashions, nothing could detract from the amazing commissions the company had already fulfilled. These included the Britannia sculpture for the Nelson Column in Great Yarmouth, the gate piers of Strawberry Hill, a candelabra for the Prince of Wales (future George IV) at Carlton House, and a gothic font and screen at St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle to name a few.[15] This is not an exhausted list as the commissions were many. With the amount of time that has passed, we cannot name how many, but English Heritage has claimed that there are over 650 surviving Coade stone examples around the world.[16] Including a few tombs, most notably William Bligh of Mutiny on the Bounty fame, who was buried in the same churchyard as her 20 year business partner and distant cousin, John Seely.[17]

Linwood, J., Tomb of Vice-Admiral William Bligh, St Mary’s Churchyard, Lambeth, Wikimedia Commons

In a world where women were not necessarily the first choice of business owner, Eleanor did remarkably well. I think it’s a shame that her name is not well known, despite the obvious success she enjoyed in her lifetime, despite being in a male dominated working environment. I hope this post has done a little to change that. Eleanor herself must have realised her own influence somewhat as following her death aged 88 on 16 November 1821, her will gave much of her estate away to charitable causes. Most of the beneficiaries of her will were single women. 3 married women were mentioned, but the will stipulated that the money given to them was not to be taken by their husbands.[18] Perhaps that is Eleanor’s great legacy, that she was, and hopefully still is, a great example to women about what they can achieve if only they put their minds to it.


[1] English Heritage, ‘Eleanor Coade’, https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/learn/histories/women-in-history/eleanor-coade/

[2] Knowles, R., What Regency Women Did for Us (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2017), p. 16.

[3] Knowles, R., What Regency Women Did for Us, p. 16.

[4] Major, J. and S. Murden, A Georgian Heroine: Eleanor Coade, https://suewilkes.blogspot.com/2017/12/a-georgian-heroine-eleanor-coade.html

[5] Knowles, R., What Regency Women Did for Us, p. 17.

[6] Knowles, R., What Regency Women Did for Us, p. 17.

[7] Knowles, R., What Regency Women Did for Us, p. 18.

[8] Cited in Major, J. and S. Murden, A Georgian Heroine: Eleanor Coade, https://suewilkes.blogspot.com/2017/12/a-georgian-heroine-eleanor-coade.html

[9] Knowles, R., What Regency Women Did for Us, p. 18.

[10] Knowles, R., What Regency Women Did for Us, pp. 19-20.

[11] Kelly, A., ‘Furnishings from the Coade Factory in Lambeth’, Furniture History, 10 (1974), p. 68.

[12] Major, J. and S. Murden, A Georgian Heroine: Eleanor Coade, https://suewilkes.blogspot.com/2017/12/a-georgian-heroine-eleanor-coade.html

[13] Knowles, R., What Regency Women Did for Us, p. 22; English Heritage, ‘Eleanor Coade’, https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/learn/histories/women-in-history/eleanor-coade/

[14] Knowles, R., What Regency Women Did for Us, p. 23.

[15] Knowles, R., What Regency Women Did for Us, p. 20 and 24.

[16] English Heritage, ‘Eleanor Coade’, https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/learn/histories/women-in-history/eleanor-coade/

[17] Knowles, R., What Regency Women Did for Us, p. 23 and 27.

[18] Knowles, R., What Regency Women Did for Us, p. 20 and 25.

Margaret Cavendish (nee Lucas), Duchess of Newcastle

I first came across Margaret’s story during my volunteering at Bolsover Castle. I admired her determination to be what we would view as a modern woman, which during the seventeenth century, was an incredibly difficult thing to do. The saddest thing is that she was often nicknamed ‘Mad Madge’, when really, the exact opposite was true. Margaret was a highly intelligent woman who was interested in science, art, laboratories, and literature.[1] She was a prolific writer of books and essays on these topics and much more, including a biography of her husband, William Cavendish, poetry, and plays which often reflected her life experience. Best of all, William actively encouraged these interests his wife, who was 30 years younger than himself, had. He often spoke out about the reasons her being criticised as being unladylike and socially inappropriate in her pursuits, as pure sexism.[2] In Margaret he saw an intellectual equal, which it a very unique relationship for the times. I completely commend them for it. They received a huge amount of criticism for this, meaning they often spent long periods away from court, but that didn’t stop them from showing genuine love and acceptance of each other’s talents.

P. Lely, Margaret Cavendish, Wikimedia Commons

Margaret was born Margaret Lucas in 1623 to a respectable, royalist leaning family, in Colchester. We know little as to how she became interested in the usually male reserved topic of science and literature, but it is probable that she accessed these during her private tutoring at home.[3] What is clear is that she had an innate understanding of these topics. It was this that probably attracted William Cavendish when they met at the exiled court of Henrietta Maria in 1645. By this time, Margaret was a lady-in-waiting to the exiled Queen of England and William’s first wife, Elizabeth, had died. This first marriage, although is deemed to have eventually become a love match, was more a typical match of convenience, despite it producing 8 children. In Margaret, William had found his equal in all things, other than age and status.  

The couple’s early courtship was full of romance, despite the unhappiness that Henrietta Maria felt about the match.[4] From these letters we can clearly see the emotions that William felt for Margaret. They often referenced the large age gap between them, hoping that it would not hinder their love.

“I know that I’m old, it is too true,

Yet love, nay, I am in love with you.

Do not dispise me, or be cruell

For thus I am loues best fuell

No man can love more, or loves higher

Old, and dry wood, makes the best fier.”[5]

Even more touching is the references made to the lack of financial stability during his time in exile on the continent, following on from the Battle of Marston Moor and the English Civil War.

“The Princess Mary, marrys Kinge of Poland,

And you my Deer, do marry Prince of Noland”[6]

These letters offer us an incite into what appears to have been a genuine love between William and Margaret. It would appear that William didn’t hide his faults at this time, but he certainly made it no secret that he had a true love for Margaret, despite the small differences between them. However, they also had a lot in common.

William Cavendish, 1st Duke of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Margaret Cavendish (née Lucas), Duchess of Newcastle upon Tyne by Peter van Lisebetten, © National Portrait Gallery, London

The exile they endured until the Restoration of Charles II in 1660 didn’t hinder their enthusiastic collecting of books and scientific instruments, amongst other things, a hobby they often shared together. The couple amassed a large collection of microscopes and telescopes during this period. Margaret even had her own ones to use personally, which was why she later went on to critique the use of them in the Royal Society. Many at the time used this to rubbish her opinion, believing that them as childlike. However, as she used such instruments herself, she knew very well that the instruments could offer imprecise readings, especially as the grinding of lenses was a common problem.[7] These critiques of microscopes would later be reflected in the work of John Locke and Thomas Sydenham, but were largely brushed off.[8] These were not the only dealings Margaret had with the Royal Society, she often attended their public experiments, much to the comment of others. Sadly, this meant that after Margaret, women were excluded from the Royal Society until 1945.[9]

Science wasn’t the only interest Margaret had. She also published a lot of material, starting with Poems and Fancies in 1653. At the time, as William also was a writer, they believed it was truly her husband, using his wife’s name as a pen name. William always supported his wife, claiming it was always her own work. Margaret did the same but did credit William as a writing mentor. As Billing suggests, the pair actually relied on each other in print, in order to maintain a certain reputation in the public sphere: William as a supportive husband and loyal subject to the king, Margaret as a dutiful wife and writer in her own right.[10] It was for this that Margaret so wished to be remembered. Instead, society wished to rubbish her as a woman whose opinion on usually male dominated topics wasn’t required.

Margaret Cavendish (née Lucas), Duchess of Newcastle upon Tyne by Pieter Louis van Schuppen, © National Portrait Gallery, London

The relationship she had with William’s children and household also proved to be a rocky affair, probably not helped by the fact her marriage proved childless. Margaret blamed Henry, William’s longest surviving son, for abandoning his father during the exile. This alongside her unusual approach to societal norms caused a lot of tension within the family.[11] In October 1670, not long before the death of both William and Margaret, these tensions came to a head. William wrote over more of his lands to Margaret in the hope of sustaining her during her widowhood, believing he would die first (although sadly that was not to be the case).[12] This move angered William’s children, especially Henry, who believed she had had enough lands and was now stealing the inheritance. At the same time, William’s steward, Andrew Clayton, began to spread malicious rumours about Margaret, suggesting she was being unfaithful, and was purposefully stockpiling money and land to fund a second marriage after William’s death.[13] However, Margaret herself died on the 15th of December 1673 at their main house of Welbeck Abbey, nearly 3 years before William himself. Probably still hurt by the turn of events in 1670, William instead used the money he had saved for Margaret to begin reworking Nottingham Castle.[14]

Welbeck Abbey in Nottinghamshire, England from Jones’s Views of the Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen, 1829

Sadly, I don’t have enough time or words to go into depth about the many works published by Margaret, or the influence they had. If you would like to know more, I would recommend looking into The Blazing World, often referenced as a proto-science fiction novel, almost Jules Verne in character. For now though, I hope this post has managed to highlight the unfair attitude that Margaret Cavendish was treated with in her own time. During the Seventeenth Century, intelligence in a woman, whilst accepted to a small degree, was often seen as far too dangerous, and in the case of Margaret, was dismissed as childish. However, she did have similar views to men in her field, but she was always excluded. From this, it is no surprise that she advocated for better education for women and believed that women were being forced to obey men.[15] That is why I am glad she married William, because without his support and understanding her as an equal to him, she wouldn’t have been allowed to follow her interests and talents. This can be seen in the epitaph he gave her tomb:

This Dutches was a wife wittie and learned lady, which her many books do well testifie. She was a most virtuous and a louieng and careful wife and was with her lord all the time of his banishment and miseries and when he came home never parted from him in his solitary retirements.[16]


[1] Worsley, L., Cavalier: The Story of a Seventeenth-Century Playboy (London: Fabor and Faber Ltd, 2007), p. 219.

[2] Worsley, L., Cavalier: The Story of a Seventeenth-Century Playboy, p. 223.

[3] British Library, Margaret Cavendish, https://www.bl.uk/people/margaret-cavendish

[4] Worsley, L., Cavalier: The Story of a Seventeenth-Century Playboy, p. 177.

[5] BL Add MS 32497, f. 11or, cited in Worsley, L., Cavalier: The Story of a Seventeenth-Century Playboy, p. 178.

[6] BL Add MS 32497, f. 11or, cited in Worsley, L., Cavalier: The Story of a Seventeenth-Century Playboy, p. 179.

[7] Wilkins, E., ‘Margaret Cavendish and the Royal Society’, Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, 68.3 (2014), p. 247.

[8] Wilkins, E., ‘Margaret Cavendish and the Royal Society’, p. 248.

[9] Drury, P., Bolsover Castle Guidebook (London: English Heritage, Revised Edition, 2016), p. 43.

[10] Billing, V., ‘”Treble marriage”: Margaret Cavendish, William Newcastle, and Collaborative Authorship’, Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies, 11.2 (2011), p. 95.

[11] Worsley, L., Cavalier: The Story of a Seventeenth-Century Playboy, pp. 229-230.

[12] Worsley, L., Cavalier: The Story of a Seventeenth-Century Playboy, p. 230.

[13] Drury, P., Bolsover Castle Guidebook, p. 43; Worsley, L., Cavalier: The Story of a Seventeenth-Century Playboy, p. 230.

[14] Drury, P., Bolsover Castle Guidebook, p. 43.

[15] Drury, P., Bolsover Castle Guidebook, p. 43; Worsley, L., Cavalier: The Story of a Seventeenth-Century Playboy, p. 223.

[16] Lees, L. E., ‘Introduction: A Glorious Resurrection’ in Lees, L. E. (ed), Margaret Cavendish (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003), p. 1.