England’s Beloved Criminal and His Nemesis: Jack Sheppard and Jonathan Wild

During the early eighteenth century, there was only one name on everyone’s lips: Jack Sheppard. As only a young man, his daring exploits and many escapes from prison captivated the nation. By successfully creating an exaggerated form of himself, he became an instant celebrity. Biographies about him helped to spread news about his criminal undertakings but also fuelled public opinion against Jonathan Wild, the man who eventually helped to seal Sheppard’s executionary fate.

Jack Sheppard turned to criminal life when he stopped his carpenter’s apprenticeship after only six years, due to becoming involved with the prostitute Elizabeth Lyons. Eighteenth century biographers condemned her as the one to tempt Sheppard away from the possibility of a respectable life.[1] From then on, he was committed to a life of theft and housebreaking. Whilst he was arrested for these four times, it also meant that he was good at escaping prison. His first escape in 1723 was with Elizabeth Lyons from New Prison in Clerkenwell and they escaped from a window using a rope made from sheets.[2] The second was from Newgate, where he filed the spikes of a hatch on his condemned cell so that Lyons and a friend of hers, Moll Maggot, could squeeze him through the gap.[3]

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 J. Thornhill, John Sheppard, Look and Learn / Peter Jackson Collection / Bridgeman Images

At this point, the Newgate authorities were determined to track Sheppard down and put him back in prison because of the criticism they had faced for the escape. The authorities eventually tracked him down and placed him back in Newgate, along with a ball and chain on both legs, rather than handcuffs.[4] This third and final escape was his most famous. Somehow, a file and chisel were found in Sheppard’s cell concealed in a bible, clearly showing his intent to make another escape, probably passed to him by some visitor, as visitors were not searched before entering the prison.[5] Once these tools were found, he was moved into a more secure part of the prison called ‘the Castle’. It was here that he escaped from by tunnelling through into another cell and then climbed out the window using a rope made from sheets.[6]

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 G. Cruikshank, Jack Sheppard Having His Portrait Painted by Sir James Thornhill in Prison, Private Collection / Look and Learn / Elgar Collection / Bridgeman Images

During his final stint in Newgate, Sheppard became a celebrity. Many people, rich and poor, came to catch a glimpse of the most famous criminal in Britain at the time. The successful prison escapes had turned him into a sensational news story that captivated Britain. Even the royal painter, James Thornhill, sketched him and George II also ordered prints about his escapes from custody.[7] The visitors would have had stories told of Sheppard’s criminal dealings first hand and it was here that his public image would have been created. Magical explanations were given for his escapes which were spread by the newspapers to fuel further interest in Jack Sheppard’s already popular image.[8]

Sheppard’s execution was attended by around 100,000 spectators who wished to witness a final and even more extravagant escape than his previous ones. Some women showed their admiration for him by laying flowers for Sheppard to walk on or threw petals over him as he passed. A pocket knife he was going to use for this escape was found and confiscated, thwarting any possible plans. His back up option of a friend, John Applebee, assisting in the escape was also hindered. Applebee was mistaken for a body snatcher, so Sheppard was never saved.[9]

Jonathan Wild pelted by the mob on his way to the place of execution, from the 'Tyburn Chronicle' (engraving) (b/w photo)
‘Jonathan Wild pelted by the mob on his way to the place of execution, from the ‘Tyburn Chronicle’ (18th Century)

Jonathan Wild is intrinsically linked to the life and legacy of Jack Sheppard. Wild was a thief-taker, a role which allowed civilian men to be hired by victims of crime to bring the thieves to justice.[10] Wild was a corrupt criminal who was paid protection money by others who had taken part in crime, whilst his gangs were responsible for crimes that victims paid him to investigate and catch the perpetrators.[11] He was believed to have been responsible for sending seventy five criminals to the gallows before he himself was finally executed for being the organiser of the crimes instead.[12] One of those criminals was Jack Sheppard and so, with public opinion so positive for Sheppard, Wild was seen as the scapegoat for Sheppard’s eventual execution. This feeling increased when he attempted to overdose on laudanum before his own execution, leading to stones, excrement and dead animals being thrown at him, contrasting to the flowers used for Jack Sheppard.[13] This behaviour indicates that the image of Sheppard and his own sense of celebrity had directly influenced the way in which they viewed Wild and accused him of the downfall of a beloved and public hero. The newspapers played a huge role in spreading this image for they portrayed Sheppard as greater than he was.[14] This helped to close the gaps of previous social, physical or psychological divides between the audience and the criminal.[15]

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Gallows Ticket for the Hanging of Jonathan Wild, Thief-Taker General, Engraving from James Caulfield’s Portraits, Memoirs and Characters of Remarkable Persons, London, 1819. / © Florilegius / Bridgeman Images

Sheppard’s criminal exploits, particularly his escapes from prison, helped to mock authority and pronounced him, the criminal, a hero instead.[16] For Sheppard had come to embody the source of fascination the public had with criminality through a mixture of elegance and danger that it possessed.[17] Just as Wild was seen as the exact opposite of Sheppard, this was easily fuelled by his representation in Henry Fielding’s novel Jonathan Wild. Wild’s villainous ways are exaggerated in this as his underhand behaviour is compared with heroic deeds of classical figures[18] The lives of these two people will be forever linked because it was Jonathan Wild who helped create the final capture of Jack Sheppard, the nation’s sweetheart criminal.

[1] Basdeo, S., The Lives and Exploits of the Most Notes Highwaymen, Rogues and Murderers (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2018), p. 65.

[2] https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofEngland/The-Amazing-Escapes-of-Jack-Sheppard/; Basdeo, S., The Lives and Exploits of the Most Notes Highwaymen, Rogues and Murderers, pp. 66-67.

[3] https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofEngland/The-Amazing-Escapes-of-Jack-Sheppard/

[4] Basdeo, S., The Lives and Exploits of the Most Notes Highwaymen, Rogues and Murderers, p. 71.

[5] Basdeo, S., The Lives and Exploits of the Most Notes Highwaymen, Rogues and Murderers, pp. 68 and 71.

[6] Basdeo, S., The Lives and Exploits of the Most Notes Highwaymen, Rogues and Murderers, p. 72.

[7] Rawlings, P., Drunks, Whores and Idle Apprentices: Criminal Biographies of the Eighteenth Century (London: Routledge, 1992), pp. 39-40.

[8] Rawlings, P., Drunks, Whores and Idle Apprentices, p. 40.

[9] Arnold, C., Underworld London, p. 105.

[10] McDonald, F., Gentleman Rogues and Wicked Ladies, p. 23.

[11] Arnold, C., Underworld London, p. 108-109.

[12] Brewer, J., The Pleasures of the Imagination, p. 346.

[13] Arnold, C., Underworld London, p. 110.

[14] British Journal 17 October 1724, Weekly Journal 17 October 1724 and London Journal 24 October 1724 cited in Rawlings, P., Drunks, Whores and Idle Apprentices, p. 40.

[15] Chris Rojek, Celebrity cited in Zionkowski, L., ‘Celebrity Violence in the Careers of Savage, Pope and Johnson’, p. 169.

[16] Arnold, C., Underworld London, p. 99.

[17] Brewer, J., The Pleasures of the Imagination, p. 350.

[18] Rawson, C., ‘Henry Fielding’, in Richetti, J. (eds) The Cambridge Companion to the Eighteenth Century Novel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), p. 139; Terry, R., ‘Key Critical Concepts and Topics’, in Day, G. and Keegan, B. (eds) The Eighteenth Century Literature Handbook (London: Continuum, 2009), pp. 127-128; Farrell, W. J., ‘The Mock-Heroic Form of “Johnathan Wild”’, Modern Philology, 63.3 (1966), p. 221; Goring, P., Eighteenth-Century Literature and Culture, p. 86.

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Buckingham’s Hitman: Colonel Thomas Blood

Colonel Thomas Blood, whilst being well known for his attempt to steal the crown jewels from the Tower of London, what is less well known is his possible employment as the Duke of Buckingham’s hitman in an assassination attempt on the Duke of Ormond in 1670. The underground criminal life was also something his son, also called Thomas Blood, inherited. Blood Junior went by the alias of Thomas Hunt, as he was a professional highwayman and was involved in many of his father’s criminal schemes, including both the attempt on Ormonde and the infamous one on the crown jewels.[1] In comparison, their attempted kidnap and murder of the Duke of Ormonde would have had much more disastrous consequences, if it had been successful, than the theft of the crown jewels. The event shocked most of the court of its closeness to St James’ Palace and even the nonconformists that Blood believed he was a figurehead for.[2]

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Colonel Blood (engraving), Nineteenth Century/ Private Collection, Look and Learn / Bridgeman Images

Thomas Blood was only a self-titled colonel, his actual military service remains contradictory, what is known is that it was either made up or over exaggerated by Blood himself.[3] This is mainly because of there being no firm evidence to back the claims he made during an interview with Charles II after he had stolen the crown jewels, where he suggested he had once served under Prince Rupert.[4] Blood’s notoriety became known well before he became involved in the plot against the Duke of Ormonde. His involvement in an attempt to seize Dublin Castle and numerous political plots to either overthrow or kill Charles II made him a newspaper’s dream.[5] The reports on his exploits helped to spread his name across most of England, Ireland and Scotland.

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Lely, James, Duke of Ormond (1660), York Museums Trust (York Art Gallery), UK / Bridgeman Images

On 6th of December 1670, the Duke of Ormonde was in his coach on his way home to Clarendon House after a state function in the City of London, when he was attacked by six or seven men. Three of these men were later identified as Colonel Blood, his son Thomas, and Richard Halliwell.[6] The coachman was told of a dead man in the road ahead and was forced to stop. Once stopped, two riders threatened the coachman and a footman with pistols after the other retainers had run off.[7] Ormonde was dragged from the coach and placed on Blood Junior’s horse by tying him to the rider.[8] It is believed that the conspirators plan was to hang Ormonde from the public gallows at Tyburn, so that was the direction they rode off in.[9]

However, despite his age of sixty, Ormonde put up a fight against his kidnappers, managing to knock a firearm out of Blood Junior’s had, whilst heaving both himself and the rider to the ground.[10] This would have been a hard thing to do whilst riding a horse and showed just how much of a determined man he was! By this time, the coachman had managed to raise the alarm at Clarendon House and Ormonde’s household were out looking for him, so the kidnappers, quite literally, cut ties with the Duke in a rather confused getaway that resulted in Junior’s sword and pistol being left at the scene.[11] If the Duke hadn’t have fought his way out of the situation, then the damning evidence of the weapons wouldn’t have been left. The pistol was later identified as belonging to Lieutenant Colonel Moore (a previous associate of Blood’s) and the sword was initialled as T. H., which was Blood Junior’s highwayman alias.[12] These pieces of evidence, as well as an investigation into the incident lead by the secretary of state, the Earl of Arlington, helped to identify most of the kidnappers.[13] However, when their homes were later raided, the assailants were long gone and limited resources meant that they couldn’t be tracked further.[14]

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Attack on the Duke of Ormond (engraving), from John Cassell’s Illustrated History of England (W Kent, 1857/1858) / Private Collection, Look and Learn / Bridgeman Images

In an age when news mostly travelled by word and rumours of political intrigue at court being “fair game for gossip”, the events of 6th of December 1670 were to be the talk of the country for weeks to come.[15] It was helped that the assassination attempt was done by the ‘Father of all Treasons’.[16] What was even worse was the implication of the Duke of Buckingham. Court rumours circulated that Buckingham had actually hired Blood to assassinate Ormonde because of a court rivalry. Whilst no one was ever brought to justice over the incident, it was always believed that this was the case. Buckingham is known to have had connections with radicals, dissidents and republicans because he saw them as “useful for his political ambitions”.[17] Shortly before the attempt on Ormonde’s life, Buckingham had spread tales that Ormonde’s eldest son had employed men to kill him, but these men were conveniently poisoned before they could be arrested and evidence extracted from them.[18] This same son after the event publicly accused Buckingham of involvement in the assassination attempt by saying “I know well that you are at the bottom of this late attempt of Blood upon my father.”[19] The accusations were believed to be accurate as Buckingham had been responsible for contriving Ormonde’s removal from his post as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and continued a feud with him long after that.[20]

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After P. Lely, George Villiers Second Duke of Buckingham, Clivendon/National Trust Photographic Library/Bridgeman Images

Despite Blood, or his possible employer Buckingham, ever being brought to justice over the crime, it set the outrageous tone that would continue to define Blood’s criminal finger print. The lack of nonconformist backing after the attempt on Ormonde’s life, might have been reason for his later stealing of the crown jewels.[21] Whether or not that is true, what is certain is that Colonel Blood definitely enjoyed doing these outrageous crimes “simply because they are there to be undertaken”.[22]

[1] Hutchinson, R., The Audacious Crimes of Colonel Thomas Blood (London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 2015), p. 91.

[2] Hutchinson, R., The Audacious Crimes of Colonel Thomas Blood, p. 99; Marshall, A., ‘Colonel Thomas Blood and the Restoration Political Scene’, The Historical Journal, 32.3 (1989), p. 581.

[3] The Remarks on the Life and Death of the Famed Mr Blood and by R.H. (1680) cited in Marshall, A., ‘Colonel Thomas Blood and the Restoration Political Scene’, The Historical Journal, 32.3 (1989), p. 561.

[4] Marshall, A., ‘Colonel Thomas Blood and the Restoration Political Scene’, p. 562.

[5] Jordan, D. and Walsh, M., The King’s Revenge: Charles II and the Greatest Manhunt in British History (London: Abacus, 2013), p. 297; Hutchinson, R., The Audacious Crimes of Colonel Thomas Blood, p. xv.

[6] H.M.C., 8th Report cited in Marshall, A., ‘Colonel Thomas Blood and the Restoration Political Scene’, p. 566; Hutchinson, R., The Audacious Crimes of Colonel Thomas Blood, p. 100.

[7] Hutchinson, R., The Audacious Crimes of Colonel Thomas Blood, p. 96; House of Lords Record Office, MS HL/PO/JO/10/1/344/352 (0) cited in Hutchinson, R., The Audacious Crimes of Colonel Thomas Blood, p. 96.

[8] R.L. Greaves, Enemies Under His Feet: Radicals and Nonconformists in Britain, 1664-77 cited in Hutchinson, R., The Audacious Crimes of Colonel Thomas Blood, p. 96.

[9] Hutchinson, R., The Audacious Crimes of Colonel Thomas Blood, p. 97.

[10] Hutchinson, R., The Audacious Crimes of Colonel Thomas Blood, p. 97.

[11] Hutchinson, R., The Audacious Crimes of Colonel Thomas Blood, pp. 97-98.

[12] Hutchinson, R., The Audacious Crimes of Colonel Thomas Blood, p. 98.

[13] Hutchinson, R., The Audacious Crimes of Colonel Thomas Blood, p. 99; Marshall, A., ‘Colonel Thomas Blood and the Restoration Political Scene’, p. 566.

[14] Marshall, A., ‘Colonel Thomas Blood and the Restoration Political Scene’, p. 562; Hutchinson, R., The Audacious Crimes of Colonel Thomas Blood, p. 113.

[15] Fox, A., ‘Rumour, News and Popular Political Opinion in Elizabethan and Early Stuart England’, The Historical Journal, 40.3 (1997), p. 614.

[16] The National Archives, SP4434/110, F.111, cited in Hutchinson, R., The Audacious Crimes of Colonel Thomas Blood, p. xv.

[17] Marshall, A., ‘Colonel Thomas Blood and the Restoration Political Scene’, p. 565.

[18] Hutchinson, R., The Audacious Crimes of Colonel Thomas Blood, p. 110.

[19] M. Petherick, Restoration Rogues cited in Whitehead, J., Rebellion in the Reign of Charles II (Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2017), p. 114.

[20] Marshall, A., ‘Colonel Thomas Blood and the Restoration Political Scene’, p. 566; Whitehead, J., Rebellion in the Reign of Charles II, p. 112.

[21] Marshall, A., ‘Colonel Thomas Blood and the Restoration Political Scene’, p. 581.

[22] Marshall, A., ‘Colonel Thomas Blood and the Restoration Political Scene’, p. 582.

The Beggar’s Opera: A Satirical Version of Robert Walpole

During the Eighteenth Century, highway robbery was nearing the end of its peak. However, the beginning of the century saw an increased fear of this particular type of crime. It had been on the increase since the end of the English Civil War but now highwaymen had become engrained in popular culture. The theatre was a popular way of representing this relatable problem for British Society during this time.[1] The most notable production was John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera (1728), which told the story of the sexually attractive Macheath, a gentleman highwayman.

The Beggar’s Opera was first performed at Lincoln Inn Fields Theatre but didn’t enjoy initial success because it the ballad opera genre, a satirical play with operatic songs, was seen as too new at the time for an audience who liked consistency.[2] Eventually, the play gradually grew in popularity because of its themes of satirising a growing social issue, whilst not condemning the criminal life.[3] The main reason for its increasing popularity was the satirical political undertones that the public began to see in the production.[4] Macheath, the infamous rogue is an ambiguous character within the play as it is left open to the audience as to whether they interpret him as a villain or hero. This was partly because Macheath was based on Robert Walpole to demonstrate how corrupt the government was.[5] The play subtly blamed Walpole for the collapse of the South Sea Bubble, a stocks and shares incentive with trade to the South Seas, which had ruined many wealthy people in Britain and disgraced many politicians. It was meant to show Walpole as “a fraudulent, self-interested manipulator”, who was always insincere and corrupt in his government business.[6]

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 Dahl, Portrait of Robert Walpole, Virginia Historical Society, Richmond, Virginia, USA / Bridgeman Images

During the early eighteenth century, criminal biographies and sensationalised stories of criminals, especially highwaymen, were a popular form of literature. The Beggar’s Opera is a recycled version of pre-existing criminal biographies, which shows that the content in cheap and topical pamphlets was being recreated in a new form of ballad opera culture in order to appeal to a wide audience.[7] The play contained many similar themes to the existing pamphlets and cheap books that spread the news on the latest celebrity criminals. The main plotline of The Beggar’s Opera tells the story of a highwayman with many female lovers, who escapes from prison only to be convicted on evidence given by members of his gang.[8]

Whilst the satire of the criminal background may be lost to the contemporary audience, the audience of the eighteenth century would have understood both the political and criminal context. The characters featured in The Beggar’s Opera had huge similarities to the largest criminal case of the early eighteenth century: Jack Sheppard and Johnathan Wild.[9] Jack Sheppard’s daring escapes from prison were the talk of the country and the published form of his dying speech.[10] Jonathan Wild, the ‘thief-taker’ who provided evidence against Sheppard quickly became the most hated man in the country for sending the nation’s hero to the gallows. All of these themes were evident in The Beggar’s Opera lead to the play’s eventual success. The little-known sequel, Polly, was officially banned by Robert Walpole due to its similar insinuations that highwaymen had the same morals as politicians.[11] From both of these plays by John Gay, the highwayman became a satirical character in the subversive commentary on politics, allowing crime to directly relate to the moral ambiguity of Walpole and his government.

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 Hogarth, The Beggar’s Opera, (1731)

The play also made the actors who featured in it stars in their own right. Three of them featured in some of the first examples of theatrical biographies. These biographies blamed the theatre and other celebrations of actors and actresses as creating debauched tastes within their audiences. This was because of the sexual, political and cultural issues they were associated, as they went against the grain of ‘normal’ society.[12]  This links to the eighteenth century idea of the “invention of liberty” which was the fanciful idea of the freedom of the individual, even though ‘free’ actions were still condemned.[13] The hypocrisy of this concept was a key theme to the satirical, particularly those concerned with the criminal.

The Beggar’s Opera, though largely forgotten in today’s understanding of eighteenth-century theatre and literature, was hugely significant in its day. It successfully linked itself to fears of crime waves and political corruption. It also purposefully joined in on the popular band wagon of criminal biographies by using similar sensationalist themes. Gay’s application of this was so apparent that there became fears that it would eventually debauch the audience who watched it.[14]

[1] McKenzie, A., ‘Martyrs in Low Life? Dying “Game” in Augustan England’, Journal of British Studies, 42.2 (2003), p. 176.

[2] Brewer, J., The Pleasures of the Imagination: English Culture in the Eighteenth Century (London: Routledge, 2013), pp. 342-343.

[3] Brewer, J., The Pleasures of the Imagination, p. 343.

[4] Brewer, J., The Pleasures of the Imagination, p. 285.

[5] White, J., London in the Eighteenth Century: a Great and Monstrous Thing (London: The Bodley Head, 2012), pp. 303-304.

[6] Goring, P., Eighteenth-Century Literature and Culture (London: Continuum, 2008), p. 19.

[7] Brewer, J., The Pleasures of the Imagination, pp. 342 and 345.

[8] Brewer, J., The Pleasures of the Imagination, p. 343.

[9] Brewer, J., The Pleasures of the Imagination, p. 345.

[10] Brewer, J., The Pleasures of the Imagination, p. 347.

[11] James R. Sutherland, ‘Polly Among the Pirates’, Modern Language Review, 37 (1942) cited in Rediker, M., Villains of All Nations: Atlantic Pirates in the Golden Age (London: Verso, 2004), p. 120.

[12] Wanko, C., ‘Three Stories of Celebrity: The Beggar’s Opera “Biographies”’, Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, 38.3 (1998), p. 482.

[13] Jean Starobinksi, The Invention of Liberty’ translated by Bernard C. Swift cited in Castle, T., ‘The Culture of Travesty: Sexuality and Masquerade in Eighteenth-Century England’, in Demaria, R. (ed) British Literature, 1640-1789 (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 1999), p. 270; Castle, T., ‘The Culture of Travesty’, p. 252.

[14] Wanko, C., ‘Three Stories of Celebrity’, pp. 481-482; Arnold, C., Underworld London: Crime and Punishment in the Capital City (London: Simon & Schuster, 2012), p. 91.

 

 

Wassail: The Traditional Christmas Tipple

Wassail is not a popular drink at Christmas time as it once was. In the past, wassail was the traditional drink of Christmas, especially on Twelfth night. Wassail was a warm beer, cider or wine combined with honey and spices and served in a large bowl that people would sip from. The tradition of sharing wassail comes from an ancient Anglo-Saxon tradition where local landowners would hold a gathering to toast those from the local community. This toast was called waes hael, which meant be well.[1]

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Silver mounted mother-of-pearl wassail bowl, 1650-1700, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK/ Bridgeman Images

As wassail played a part in the Twelfth Night celebrations, it was seen as a sinful drink. This was because Twelfth Night was seen as a big party, very similar to modern Christmas Day, where extravagance, over indulgence and drunkenness were seen as acceptable.[2] With all this drunkenness, wassail was blamed for creating an environment that bred revelry and disorder.[3] It was a way of undermining the traditional social and cultural order of the day by allowing any member of the gathering, no matter their background, to be the king and queen for the Twelfth Night celebration.[4]

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J. Stephanoff, The Wassail Bowl, Private Collection / Look and Learn / Bridgeman Images

It was not until the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries that wassail became associated with the sinful acts over the Christmas period. During this time there were increasing fears of alcohol being the ‘evil drink’ and that it was that drunkenness was responsible for urban disorder and violence within English society.[5] Fears of irreligiosity and immorality that seemed to be accentuated at a time when reflection and contemplation of the gift of Christ was to be the norm.[6] It was bad enough that drunkenness at any other time of year was seen as the drink that would turn the ‘little’ sinner into the ‘big’ sinner, but alcohol on top of general social disorder and revelry was too much for critics to handle.[7]

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S. Collings, Christmas in the Country (1791), Private Collection/Bridgeman Images

Alcohol and other intoxicants were seen as a way for those of the middle and upper classes to prove their social status.[8] This added an extra element of the removal of social norms, of which wassail played a part. By consuming wassail with the aims to get drunk, the poor created an environment where it was widely acceptable for them to participate in and demand for privileges that were unreachable for them at other times of the year.[9]

Whilst drunkenness was of course not a new thing by the eighteenth century, fear of it became more apparent due to its greater definition in law and the mental distress it caused drunkards.[10] It was in this context that wassail became known as the sin drink during the Christmas festivities. It was seen as the root of merry and disorder during this time of year.[11] The poor were seen as the main victim of this sin as they were unable to work the fields during December and early January due to the cold weather.[12] Combined with a season of over indulgence, drunkenness and idleness, wassail was seen as the temptress to all righteous social order.

[1] Castlowe, E., ‘Wassailing’, https://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/Wassailing/

[2] Johnson, B., ‘A Georgian Christmas’, https://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/A-Georgian-Christmas/

[3] Mattern, J., Celebrate Christmas (New York: Enslow Publishing Inc, 2012), p. 24.

[4] Ratcliffe, J., ‘An 18th-Century Christmas’, http://www.julieratcliffe.co.uk/an-eighteenth-century-christmas/

[5] Holliday, S. L., Jayne, M. and Valentine, G., Alcohol, Drinking, Drunkenness: (Dis)Orderly Spaces (Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2011), p. 13.

[6] Miles, C. A., Christmas in Ritual and Tradition (London: T. F. Unwin, 1912), p. 45; Holliday, S. L., Jayne, M. and Valentine, G., Alcohol, Drinking, Drunkenness, p. 14.

[7] Rabin, D., ‘Drunkenness and Responsibility for Crime in the Eighteenth Century’, Journal of British Studies, 44.3 (2005), p. 457.

[8] Withington, P., ‘Intoxicants and Society in Early Modern England’, The Historical Journal, 54.3 (2011), p. 632.

[9] Doares, R., Wassailing Through History, http://www.history.org/foundation/journal/holiday06/wassail.cfm

[10] Rabin, D., ‘Drunkenness and Responsibility for Crime in the Eighteenth Century’, p. 458.

[11] Mattern, J., Celebrate Christmas (New York: Enslow Publishing Inc, 2012), p. 24.

[12] Ratcliffe, J., ‘An 18th-Century Christmas’, http://www.julieratcliffe.co.uk/an-eighteenth-century-christmas/

Nassau: a Pirate’s Safe Haven

Pirates have always had a fascination across society throughout their various incarnations, whether this be through literature, film, criminal biography or material culture. Whilst pirates have existed for centuries and still continue to exist, the period most linked with them is the early eighteenth century. This was the ‘Golden Age of Piracy’ because many European navies were reduced after the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 and the wrecking of the Spanish treasure fleet in 1715 attracted a ‘gold rush’ to the Caribbean.[1] Both of these factors meant that with many skilled seamen unemployed and the chance of gold made many turn pirate to make a living.

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Airy, The Braggarts (1941)

There is some accuracy in the portrayal that has been passed down to us today. In the Pirates of the Caribbean films Tortuga is shown as a pirate parallel world. Part of this image is true. Whilst it was not in Tortuga, in reality was actually Nassau in the Bahamas, pirates did make a place where they believed themselves free from the authorities. A pirate’s identity was based on renouncing any form of traditional forms of power and authority, in a way which put them in charge of their own fate. As described by Bowling, a pirate was a man “who could do anything as long as he remained at liberty”.[2] It meant that pirates appeared untouchable until they were either killed or caught by the authorities. This rather personal identity was also translated in their pirate haven at Nassau.

Nassau was chosen as the perfect place for this separate pirate world because it was outside of the jurisdiction of the Governors of the Bahamas. No authority or defences has been put into place in the land around Nassau, so it was the perfect place to set up a pirate colony.[3] It became a town full of brothels and taverns which was governed by loose code adopted to create unity.[4] This code was upheld by an informal pirate council led by a former privateer turned pirate Captain Henry Jennings.[5]

Nevertheless, Nassau was about creating a place where pirates could do whatever they wished without being hounded by authorities, there was also a more practical aspect to pirates creating a safe haven on land. As pirates had in essence created a war against the rest of the world, they needed an independent place where they could safely repair ships and take on supplies without scrutiny of how legitimate the crew on board were.[6]  This single colony meant that they were separate from any other nation. In effect, Nassau had become its own nation and so, wasn’t a priority of the American/British government until waterfront hangings took place, which marked the end of piratical control and the beginning of increased law enforcement.[7]

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Pyle, Pirates,Lebrecht History / Bridgeman Images

Despite its eventual downfall with the dwindling number of pirates in the Caribbean, Nassau had proved that pirates were culturally alien to their British/American counterparts, partly by geographical distance but also because they were an armed response to merchant shipping.[8] Pirates successfully created a parallel culture than would have been the traditional society in the early eighteenth century. Nassau allowed bigamy, prostitution, drunkenness and violence to rule. Whilst in other societies this would have been unacceptable behaviour, it was deemed acceptable in this isolated pirate community. However, this lack of accountability finally changed with the development of official naval legality in Nassau, more warships had gained better weapon technology and there were increasing numbers of coordinated campaigns against pirates.[9]  With this came the end of the Golden Age of Piracy that had reigned by terror in the Caribbean and after the turn of the nineteenth century, a nostalgic sentiment became linked to it.

[1] Cordingly, D., Spanish Gold: Captain Woodes Rogers & the True Story of the Pirates of the Caribbean (London: Bloomsbury, 2011), p. 2.

[2] Bowling, T., Pirates and Privateers (Harpenden: Pocket Essentials, 2008), p. 108.

[3] Cordingly, D., Spanish Gold, pp. 134-135.

[4]Parry, D., Blackbeard: the Real Pirate of the Caribbean (London: National Maritime Museum Publishing, 2006), p. 51.

[5] Parry, D., Blackbeard, p. 51.

[6] Charles Johnson, A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates, cited in Cordingly, D., Spanish Gold, pp. 130-131; Rediker, M., Villains of All Nations: Atlantic Pirates in the Golden Age (London: Verso, 2004), p. 8.

[7] Cordingly, D., Spanish Gold, p. 166.

[8] Mackie, E., Rakes, Highwaymen, and Pirates, p. 141.

[9] Cordingly, D., Spanish Gold, p. 161; Parry, D., Blackbeard, p. 161 and 164.

 

 

Anthony Woodville and the Smithfield Tournament

The Smithfield tournament is perhaps the only instance of there being a slight to Anthony Woodville’s honour. For Anthony this slight was taken very personally as it meant he had been accused of cheating by his opponent. For a loyal knight such as Woodville, this would have been a rather personal insult.

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Tournament (19th Century), Private Collection / © Look and Learn / Bridgeman Images

The tournament was arranged to start an alliance between England and Burgundy to gain a powerful ally to help consolidate the Yorkist Edward IV’s reign.[1] The tournament was initially arranged by Elizabeth Woodville and her ladies in 1465. In a scene similar to something from Arthurian legend, Anthony was given, by the ladies in waiting, a letter ordering him to honour his queenly sister by partaking in a tournament with Anthony, the Bastard of Burgundy, as well as a gold collar being placed around Woodville’s thigh.[2] However, the Bastard of Burgundy, as an illegitimate brother to Charles, Duke of Burgundy, was too busy fighting in the wars against the French. This meant he was unavailable until 1467.[3]

Upon the Bastard’s decision to finally take up the challenge, he arrived in England with a large retinue made up of 400 knights, lords, squires and others.[4] After three days of rest for the Burgundian visitor, he and his large retinue, with large amounts of pomp and ceremony, visited Edward IV and accompanied him to open parliament.[5] This amount of pageantry was to set the tone for the whole tournament as Anthony Woodville, whilst a devout and pious man, knew how to live it large when it came to tournament spectacle. Even whilst staying at the Bishop of Ely’s palace in Holborn in the lead up to the tournament, Woodville’s household were known to be full of prayer and godly worship while wearing sumptuous silks and cloths of gold outfits.[6] The pageantry didn’t stop there. It had been agreed in the rules laid out for the tournament that the knights would be allowed to have spare horses. Anthony had 9 horses in total. Each horse was extravagantly dressed in various fabrics ranging from cloths of gold, velvets and damasks, all richly decorated with gold or furs.[7]

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The Tournament (19th Century), Private Collection /© Look and Learn / Bridgeman Images

However, large the spectacle, it did not take away from the seriousness of the fight that was to follow. On the first try the lances didn’t hit so they were replaced with swords.[8] It was at this moment that things seemed to go wrong. The Bastard’s horse was spooked for some reason and reared, trapping its rider to the ground.[9] He instantly accused Woodville of cheating, but this was probably due to his fear of cheating, as he a previous German squire opponent had hidden daggers in his horse armour.[10] To prove he hadn’t cheated Woodville rode over to Edward IV, showing he had no concealed weapons.[11] Due to the accusations Edward deemed it necessary to dismiss the knights until the following day.[12]

The second day’s action was to be fought on foot with axes, which were a popular choice of weapon for foot combat during tournaments.[13] Both men fought hard and during the fight, Woodville’s axe sliced the Bastard of Burgundy’s visor.[14] The men still continued to fight and it was only with the intervention of King Edward’s men that stopped the two men from seriously hurting one another.[15]

Despite the controversy of whether or not cheating did happen during the tournament, it still managed to achieve its overall goal of improving Edward IV’s popularity and help secure a lasting alliance with Burgundy.[16] This was also helped by Edward IV’s younger sister Margaret marrying Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, of which Anthony was also vital in an ambassador role to help negotiate the marriage terms.[17] From Anthony’s involvement in increasing relations with Burgundy, it shows just how vital he was in international matters as well domestic ones in England.

[1] Kettle, A., ‘Parvenus in Politics: The Woodvilles, Edward IV and the Baronage 1464-1469’, The Ricardian, 15 (2005), p. 17.

[2] MacCracken, H. N., ‘The Flower of Souvenance: A Moment in the Twilight of Chivalry’, The Sewanee Review, 20.3 (1912), p. 368.

[3] MacCracken, H. N., ‘The Flower of Souvenance’, p. 371.

[4] MacCracken, H. N., ‘The Flower of Souvenance’, p. 371.

[5] MacCracken, H. N., ‘The Flower of Souvenance’, p. 372.

[6] MacCracken, H. N., ‘The Flower of Souvenance’, p. 372.

[7] Uden, G., A Dictionary of Chivalry (London: Longmans, 1968), pp. 37-38.

[8] MacCracken, H. N., ‘The Flower of Souvenance’, p. 372; Uden, G., A Dictionary of Chivalry, p. 342.

[9] MacCracken, H. N., ‘The Flower of Souvenance’, p. 372; Uden, G., A Dictionary of Chivalry, p. 342.

[10] MacCracken, H. N., ‘The Flower of Souvenance’, p. 372.

[11] Uden, G., A Dictionary of Chivalry, p. 342.

[12] Uden, G., A Dictionary of Chivalry, p. 342.

[13] Uden, G., A Dictionary of Chivalry, pp. 21 and 343;

[14] Uden, G., A Dictionary of Chivalry, p. 343; MacCracken, H. N., ‘The Flower of Souvenance’, p. 374.

[15] Uden, G., A Dictionary of Chivalry, p. 343.

[16] MacCracken, H. N., ‘The Flower of Souvenance’, pp. 370-371; Kettle, A., ‘Parvenus in Politics’, p. 17.

[17] Kettle, A., ‘Parvenus in Politics’, p. 16.

Reincarnation of Napoleon

In the summer, I presented a paper during my time as an MA Public History and Heritage student at the University of Derby that discussed the cultural legacy of Napoleon. This paper discussed how Napoleon has been used as a symbol to reinforce an official type French national identity at a time when multiculturalism is thought to be eroding it.

Whilst it is certainly true that rumours of Napoleon not dying on St Helena were rife (despite this being true) had created a sort of cult around Napoleon. This was largely due to the failing economy France faced after his defeat and imprisonment. Still, this meant an increase in nostalgia towards the Napoleonic era. This nostalgia has always had periods of increase and decrease over the last 200 years. This type of nostalgia helped to contribute to France’s national pride being based on the belief that glory can be found in both military and cultural achievements.[1]

What is most intriguing is his resurrection within contemporary French society. The identity based on France’s glory in military and cultural achievements has felt to be under threat in the modern age due to multiculturalism. Since Nicolas Sarkozy’s creation of the Ministry of Immigration, Integration, National Identity and Mutually-Supportive Development in 2007, it has created debate about what French identity means to a multi-racial society. This debate culminated in an online survey taken in 2010. What this survey found was that participants suggested that Napoleon, alongside other military figures such as Charles de Gaulle and Joan of Arc, were some of the “most pivotal aspects of their identity”.[2] This has led to a form of resurrection for Napoleon and his political regime.

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E. J. H. Vernet, Napoleon Emerging from His Tomb (1860), Private Collection/Bridgeman Images

The ‘official memory’ or accepted memory of France has been linked to defence against invasion or oppression.[3] Napoleon helped to create this type of ‘official nationalism’ by mixing military and political legitimacy to his rule, for he recognised that after the French Revolution, he would need the people’s will if he was to survive in both these areas.[4] In successive regimes, Napoleon’s rule was seen with nostalgia and that he was seen as a unifying symbol that represented glory for the French nation.[5] Napoleon is being used in contemporary France as a symbol of the old glory that France once knew and which is seen as being at threat due to multiculturalism. Fears have arisen that this multicultural and at times multireligious society is seen to be a threat to France’s age-old adage of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.[6] This type of French unity has been based on connection with high culture and military heroism being sources of pride, which Napoleon established, and was exaggerated by his political successors.[7] However, there has been fears that migrants have not been connecting to this ‘official’ form of French identity. In this case, Napoleon, and other French military figures, are again being used to fight multiculturalism by trying to reinforce ideas of what the French nation and French national consciousness means.[8]

Even President Macron is trying to emulate the most well-known Frenchman. In his first year as president, Macron has continued Napoleon’s themes of security and sovereignty. Whilst these themes are in a different context to the one’s Napoleon would have understood, there are still similarities. In Macron’s speech on the Europeon Migrant Crisis in September 2017, themes such as “controlling our borders” and “preserving our values” were some of the main points.[9] These themes can all be linked to the defence and cultural superiority that Napoleon promoted.

If that was too subtle a link to make, then the two following images show just how much Macron is emulating his presidency on Napoleon. The first is David’s portrait of Napoleon in his study from 1812. This portrait is symbolic of Napoleon’s desire to create a legacy for himself that was based on self-promotion through ideas of civic duty and being the right choice to uphold the public’s interest.[10] Very similar in style and symbolism is Macron’s official presidency portrait, which suggests that Macron, just as Napoleon two centuries before, was the best person to lead France into the future by subtly using similar imagery to show a form of state power.[11]

The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries, 1812 (oil on canvas)
L. David, ‘The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries’ (1812), National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, USA / Bridgeman Images
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Elysée Palace, Macron’s Official Portrait (2017)

Napoleon has been used by contemporary French society and the current French president to reinforce ideas of recreating the “reputation, status, respect, pride, honour and esteem” of France both in the past and present. As Nicholson suggests, Napoleon is used as an emotive response to ideas of France being linked to “military capacity” and “magnificent cultural achievements”, which has become an increasing priority at a time when it’s believed to be in crisis due to immigration.[12]

[1] Tombs, R., France, 1814-1914 (Harlow: Longman, 1996), p. 313; H. Nicholson, The Meaning of Prestige (1937) cited in Wood, S., ‘Nations, National Identity and Prestige’, National Identities, 16.2 (2014), p. 101.

[2] P. Marchand and P. Ratinaud, Being French Today: the Words of the Debate on National Identity Survey (2010) cited in Caron, J., ‘Understanding and Interpreting France’s National Identity: The Meanings of Being French’, National Identities, 15.3 (2013), p.  226.

[3] Caron, J., ‘Understanding and Interpreting France’s National Identity’, p. 226.

[4] Hazareesingh, S., ‘Napoleonic Memory in Nineteenth-Century France: the Making of a Liberal Legend’, MLN, 120.4 (2005), p. 23.

[5] McLynn, F., Napoleon: a Biography (London: Pimlico, 1998), pp. 667-688.

[6] P. Marchand and P. Ratinaud, Being French Today: the Words of the Debate on National Identity Survey (2010) cited in Caron, J., ‘Understanding and Interpreting France’s National Identity’, p. 230.

[7] Baycroft, T., Inventing the Nation: France (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2010), p. 121.

[8] Nora, P., ‘The Era of Commemoration’, in Nora, P., Realms of Memory: The Construction of the French Past, Vol 3, translated by A. Goldhammer, ed. By L. D. Kritzman (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), p. 633.

[9] Macron, E., ‘French President Emmanuel Macron on the European Migration Crisis and the Future of the European Union’, Population and Development Review, 43.4 (2017), p. 760.

[10] Lyons. M., Napoleon Bonaparte and the Legacy of the French Revolution (Basingstoke: Macmillan Press, 1994), p. 189.

[11] Green, C., ‘Louis XIV, Napoleon, and Macron: The Choreography of Portraits’, JSTOR Daily, October 13th 2017 https://daily.jstor.org/louis-xiv-napoleon-macron-the-choreography-of-official-portraits

[12] H. Nicholson, The Meaning of Prestige (1937) cited in Wood, S., ‘Nations, National Identity and Prestige’, p. 101.