The Double Cube Room at Wilton House as seen in Bridgerton and More

Like many avid Bridgerton fans, I was captivated with the room chosen for Queen Charlotte’s throne room where the debutantes were presented. It sparkles and oozes luxury with gold and large paintings everywhere. It has also been featured in many other period dramas, The Crown, and the 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. So where exactly is it? The room is actually the Double Cube Room at Wilton House in Wiltshire. Wilton is a spectacular house and has been dubbed one of the most, if not the most, beautiful country houses in England. No wonder it has featured in many a period drama and specifically been Buckingham Palace on more than one occasion.

Queen Charlotte from Bridgerton in her throne room, Netflix

Wilton House itself has been a private house since Henry VIII seized a previous religious site on the estate from nuns during the Reformation. The abbey and its vast 46,000 acre estate was given to William Herbert, who would go on to become the 1st earl of Pembroke and Henry VIII’s brother-in-law when he married Anne, the sister of Henry’s last wife, Catherine Parr.[1] Following this change of ownership, an original Tudor mansion was built, but major alterations to the southern wing during the mid-seventeen century was what the house would go on to be famous for.

Charles I was said to have spent most of his time in the summer at Wilton, so an appropriate design fitting a king was needed.[2] The south wing was to be a set of state rooms similar to those found in the courts of royal palaces. These state rooms were meant to be a mixture of public rooms where the monarch could be meet with his court, along with banquets, music and dancing. There were also a few more private rooms which were only entered by invite only.

By the time of the alterations, the 4th earl was in charge, deciding to employ Inigo Jones and his pupil, John Webb, to design a classical style exterior with an flamboyant exterior, similar to Jones’ other works at Banqueting House and the Queen’s House at Greenwich. Who best to design a space meant to hold a mini court? Jones had been a protégé of the Herbert family, so that was also a big factor in choosing him as the designer.[3] He as also an innovator as he was responsible for bringing in the Palladian style, which took influence from the classical styles of architecture found in Greece and Rome. Whilst he was an innovator, the style would sadly not catch on until the Georgian period a hundred years later.[4]

John Goodall, Wilton House (2005), Wikimedia Commons

A fire in 1647 caused serious issues to the building project as it meant a new design, the one we now see, had to be built. Jones was an elderly man by then and so Webb is thought to have taken over more of the duties, whilst Jones was still involved.[5] What was finally completed was truly spectacular. The Double Cube Room, the focus of this post, is perhaps the most recognisable. It was one of the public state rooms, along with its smaller twin Single Cube Room, which was used as a sort of entrance space for the Double Cube Room. Both of the Cube Rooms were so called because Jones had designed them to be a symmetrical cube shape, although the Double Cube Room was originally known as the King’s Great Room as it was mainly used as a presence chamber.[6]

The ceiling was highly decorated in the baroque style that was popular at the time, known for its flamboyance. Again the classical themes were shown in the choice of scenes portrayed on the ceiling as they tell the story of Perseus, the Ancient Greek hero.[7] As if the splendour of the room wasn’t enough with its ostentatious decoration and expensive furniture made by William Kent and Thomas Chippendale everywhere, there are also the many paintings by Anthony van Dyck throughout the room. The largest of which is a portrait of the Herbert family. As it was 17 feet wide, the whole room had to be designed around it.[8] With so many van Dyck paintings in one room, it has often been called one of the best collections of the artist’s work in one place.

A chimneypiece in the Double Cube Room at Wilton House From In English Homes (1904), Wikimedia Commons

Whilst the room has become recognisable to many a period drama fan, in the past it was monarchs who have greatly enjoyed the Double Cube Room, and the rest of Wilton House alike. The house has been visited by every monarch since Edward VI, who would have visited when the whole original Tudor house would have been in existence.[9] It is no wonder that the grandeur of the house has made it as much of a character of the period drama genre as the human characters. Still, one thing is usually forgotten, well it’s certainly something that I didn’t know until researching for this post, that the state rooms, including the Double Cubed Room, served as an allied headquarters during World War Two and the D-Day Landings were planned from there.[10]

No matter how much grandeur the Double Cubed Room has seen during its long lifetime, it still continues to captivate many visitors and viewers of period drama alike. One day I hope to visit Wilton House in person and get to imagine just what it might be like to be an actor in Bridgerton visiting Queen Charlotte’s throne room.


[1] Ford, Toni ‘Great British Houses: Wilton House- A Stunning Example of Palladian Architecture in Wiltshire’, Anglotopia for Anglophiles, 14 August 2015, https://anglotopia.net/british-history/great-british-houses-wilton-house/

[2] Ellis, Sian, ‘Palladian Wilton House’, British Heritage Travel, 13 July 2016, https://britishheritage.com/palladian-wilton-house

[3] Montgomery-Massingberd, Hugh and Sykes, Christopher Simon, Great Houses of England and Wales (London: Laurence King Publishing Ltd, 1994), p. 117

[4] Ibid, p. 12

[5] Ibid, p. 120

[6] Hinshaw, Victoria, ‘Wilton House- Part Two’, Travels with Victoria, http://numberonelondon.net/2019/05/travels-with-victoria-wilton-house-part-two/

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid; Ellis, Sian, ‘Palladian Wilton House’, British Heritage Travel, 13 July 2016, https://britishheritage.com/palladian-wilton-house

[9] Ellis, Sian, ‘Palladian Wilton House’, British Heritage Travel, 13 July 2016, https://britishheritage.com/palladian-wilton-house

[10] Hinshaw, Victoria, ‘Wilton House- Part Two’, Travels with Victoria, http://numberonelondon.net/2019/05/travels-with-victoria-wilton-house-part-two/

In Memory of Harry Billinge

During the lockdowns of 2020, the world became aware of the inspiring feats of Sir Captain Tom Moore as he did laps of his garden to raise money for charity. Whilst what Tom did was totally commendable and I, along with everyone else, fell in love with him and his story, let’s not forget that their whole generation made, and many have continued to make, amazing sacrifices in the name of others. I have immense respect for that generation as they have seen things that many of us cannot imagine, and yet many are so humble and do so much for others. One of those was Harry Billinge, who sadly died at the age of 96 at the beginning of April. His funeral was held in Charleston, Cornwall, this week. For those of you who don’t know Harry, particularly my foreign readers, Harry had played a large part in fundraising for military charities for the last sixty years, particularly the British Legion.

Harry was perhaps most well-known for helping to raise over £50,000 for a British memorial to commemorate the 22,442 people killed on during D-Day and the Battle of Normandy, the military actions that helped pave the way towards an Allied victory at the end of the Second World War. Harry was only 18 when he landed on Gold Beach, one of the five beaches used by British, American, Canadian, Australian and other Allied nations. He was only one of four men from his unit to survive.[1] Before the memorial was officially opened by Charles, the Prince of Wales, via video link on the 6th June 2021, the anniversary of D-Day, the British were the only allied force not to have a Normandy memorial.[2] Harry, alongside other veterans and the BBC broadcaster, Nicholas Witchell, campaigned for one to be built.

D-DAY – BRITISH FORCES DURING THE INVASION OF NORMANDY 6 JUNE 1944 (B 5071) Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205205817

Harry was a common sight raising money for the memorial in St Austell, his hometown, where he had moved seventy years ago on advice for a better quality of life. Many have commented on how they befriended him during his fundraising campaigned. Throughout it all, Harry has never taken the praise for himself, even when he collected his MBE from the Queen in 2020. Instead, he always dedicated his achievements to those men and boys who lost their lives in Normandy. When a train was named after him in October 2020 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of World War Two, he again said the same thing. A short snippet from that particular interview can be viewed here: https://www.itv.com/news/westcountry/2020-10-07/cornwall-d-day-hero-harry-billinge-has-train-named-in-his-honour.

This short post is in memory of Harry Billinge and I hope now that he can rest in peace with those men who he has fought so long for. May we never forget the ultimate sacrifice that Harry, along with all those others who fought and died, gave for us. In the words of Margot Billinge, Harry’s daughter, let us go forward with values Harry taught: “honesty, kindness, generosity and not to judge.”

More information on the British Normandy Memorial can be found at the following website: https://www.britishnormandymemorial.org/


[1] BBC, ‘Harry Billinge: Hundreds at funeral of D-Day veteran’, 26 April 2022, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cornwall-61221978

[2] British Normandy Memorial, https://www.britishnormandymemorial.org/

Out of the Shadows: Forgotten Nottinghamshire Castle Revealed Astonishing mediaeval castle at Greasley once rivalled Haddon Hall

Thank you to James Wright of Triskele Heritage for this press release, really exciting stuff here!

Archaeological survey work by Dr James Wright of Triskele Heritage, funded by the Castle Studies Trust, has revealed exciting new evidence that Greasley Castle in Nottinghamshire once rivalled world-famous Haddon Hall in size and appearance.


The castle, lying 8 miles to the north-west of Nottingham, was built in the mid-fourteenth century for the soldier and politician Nicholas de Cantelupe. “Greasley Castle is an enigmatic site,” says Dr Wright, “but the project has allowed us to understand this astonishing place for the first time.”


The survey shows that the site was a courtyard castle with corner turrets. It had a fine great hall accessed via an impressive doorway. The room was illuminated by tracery windows flanking an early example of a recessed fireplace. Fragments of stonework reveal that the decoration at the castle was magnificent and include carved head sculptures, moulded copings, and the crown of a vault.


The castle was a prestigious building that allowed Cantelupe to display his power and status. In 1343, Cantelupe hosted the archbishop of York at Greasley, along with several other bishops, earls and knights, during a ceremony to found nearby Beauvale Priory.


“The castle was very similar to Haddon Hall in Derbyshire,” states Wright, “it was built around the same time and the layout of the great hall is comparable. The owners of castles were often inspired by one another’s buildings – although Greasley was slightly bigger than Haddon.” Haddon Hall, the home of Lord and Lady Manners, is a beautifully preserved late mediaeval building known the world over due to its appearance in television and film as the location for productions including The Princess Bride, Pride and Prejudice and The Other Boleyn Girl.


In 1485, Greasley was confiscated Henry VII after a later owner of the castle – John Lord Zouche – supported the doomed Richard III at the battle of Bosworth. A century later, records show that the site had been turned into a farm. The survey has been able to identify the remains of the castle surviving among later farm buildings.


Jeremy Cunnington, of the Castle Studies Trust said: “The Castle Studies Trust is delighted to have funded this work and provide a good understanding of this important, but little understood castle. We hope it will provide a base from which others can build on to learn more about this significant Nottinghamshire castle.”


Sarah Seaton of Greasley Castle Farm History Project said: “Triskele Heritage have done amazing research on behalf of the Castle Studies Trust and we are so grateful to be able to finally share the story of such an important landmark with the wider community.”

The Castle Studies Trust is a charity and is fully funded by public donations. To learn more about these and previous projects the trust has funded people can visit the Trust’s website: http://www.castlestudiestrust.org

For more about Treskele Heritage, please visit their website: https://triskeleheritage.triskelepublishing.com

Review of To Hell on a Fast Horse by Mark Lee Gardiner

If you are a fan of the Wild West and looking for your next book to read, I would seriously recommend To Hell on a Fast Horse by Mark Lee Gardner. This book tells the joint story of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett, the sheriff who shot him dead in a house in Fort Sumner New Mexico one night in 1881. I have always enjoyed tales of the Wild West, but didn’t really know too much about the back story to either Billy the Kid of Pat Garrett. All I really knew was that myth and legend shrouds the backstory to both of these men. This book does help address some of those myths in an even and balanced way, particularly in terms of the biography of Billy the Kid that was written by Pat Garrett himself as it focused on Pat’s motivations behind his writing.

The first few pages of the book are dedicated to other reviews the book has been given. All of these are positive, and at times a little dramatic sounding, so I must admit this gave me some reservations. However, I must admit that not long into the book, I felt I must agree with them. This book really has been one of the best I’ve read this year. The writing style was easy going and action packed, but in a concise way. Whilst this book is a biography, this writing style really did make me feel like I was reading a fiction book, rather than a history book. It certainly meant that the book was very hard to put down. In many ways, it felt as if this book transported the reader right into the middle of the events being described.

I feel I have learnt a lot about what made both men tick, but in a very entertaining and thrilling way. The double narrative could have easily become confusing for the reader, but in fact it was the opposite. It was done in a way that described the outlaw and the lawman not just as individuals, but how their paths crossed at various points along the way. I feel that whether or not the reader knew the outcome of Garrett shooting the Kid, everything does culminate towards that. I had read previously about what happened during the Kid’s death, but had found descriptions of it very confusing. However, I feel the author dealt with what was a confusing event in a very commendable way that made it easy to understand with previous versions I had read. Just taking this example alone does make me applaud the writing style, even though as previously mentioned, it is written well throughout.

The good research and time gone into this topic is evident. Whilst it does have the tone of a fiction book, there are always good references to works by other historians, witnesses who had known Pat and the Kid, and newspapers from the time. By using all of these sources, it does give a well rounded approach to the topic, whilst also giving a wider context to lawless New Mexico, and the Wild West as a whole. I did particularly like the addition of what happened to Pat Garrett after he had killed Billy the Kid. As this book suggests, Garrett hated the fact he was known across America as the one who killed the Kid. By adding these extra facts both before and after Pat knew the Kid, it felt right to respect Pat’s wishes and added to his character. The goes for the exploration of the early life of Billy the Kid. Whilst of course his level of criminality can’t be justified, it goes towards explaining how his life had led him to that point.

The only thing that initially confused me a little was that the first chapter deals with when Pat Garrett first arrested Billy the Kid and others and attempted to take them on a train to meet their justice. This resulted in a shootout and riot with locals who wanted one of the criminals, not Billy the Kid. After reading the rest of the book, the author’s choice to put this in the first chapter makes sense as it places the relationship Garrett and the Kid had straight into the reader’s mind, before the author goes into more detail about the background of both characters.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone, whether they have an interest in the Wild West or not. It’s journalistic writing style is so easy to read and helps what is a difficult topic in places, in terms of the violence used by the criminals it mentions, but also as the life of Billy the Kid has become very sensationalised in the years since his death, easier to digest. There are many books on the Wild West out there and I genuinely feel that this is one of the best there is. As one of the reviews from the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper suggests “A superbly written story, utterly enthralling and unforgettable”. I would definitely reiterate that statement.

Just so you are aware, an updated edition for the tenth anniversary of this book was published in 2020. I am not sure what updates have been introduced in that version as I was reading the original 2010 one, but if you manage to get your hands on a copy, you’ll have to let me know if there are any differences.

Glastonbury and its Connections to the Hymn Jerusalem

First of all, Happy Easter, whether you celebrate Easter as a Christian festival like I do, or not. In honour of the season, I thought I would share the Christian legend connected to the hymn, Jerusalem. The hymn has become an unofficial national anthem of England and is seen as something very patriotic, having been sung at all sorts of events, including the London Olympics, royal weddings and the last night of the proms. It is perhaps also well known for being the anthem of the Women’s Institute, which adopted it in 1924.[1] Since then, the hymn has come to represent an idyllic England. It is within this patriotic context that the song, composed by Charles Hubert Parry, has been understood for over a hundred years since it was first debuted in March 1916, but have you ever stopped to think about what the words really mean?

The lyrics mainly come from Milton, an epic poem William Blake wrote in the early 1800s, especially the famous line “dark satanic mills”. Since the patriotic connotations became associated with the hymn, the dark satanic mills in particular has come to represent Britain’s Industrial Revolution, but in Blake’s format, it was really intended to be an allegory for Satan himself, who was a miller who ground souls.[2] Another famous line, “did those feet in ancient times”, is steeped in centuries old legend that Joseph of Arimathea, the man who gave his tomb up to hold the body of Jesus following the crucifixion, came to England and established the country’s oldest church at Glastonbury in Somerset.

View of the Abbot’s Kitchen Glastonbury, Somersetshire dated March 16 1761 from the King’s Topographical Collection at the British Library

During the medieval period, Glastonbury was a huge place of pilgrimage because of its abbey. The abbey not only had connections to Joseph of Arimathea, but in 1184, a fire hit. It was during restoration work following the fire that the graves of the legendary King Arthur and Queen Guinivere were found. Both of these links brought fame and drew on beliefs at the time. Whilst the theme of Arthurian legends and the belief of Glastonbury as being Avalon, where Arthur was buried, are interesting in their own right, there isn’t time to delve into those in this blog post, so I’ll just stick the Joseph connection. However, if you are interested in that, do feel free to research that for yourself.

According to legend, Joseph came either with a younger Jesus, or following his death and brought the Holy Grail with him, to set up a church, which later developed into what became the abbey.[3] If we follow the legend of the Holy Grail, Joseph buried the Grail at what is now known as Chalice Well. It is there that the water runs red, the colour of blood, linked with the blood of Christ. Whilst this colour is also created by the iron that runs through the water, it is clear to see why people in the past would have believed this.

Chalice Well, Glastonbury (2005), John Vigar, Wikimedia Commons

The other legend connected to Joseph is the Glastonbury Thorn Tree. It is said that on a hill just outside of the town called Wearyall Hill, Joseph’s staff turned into a thorn tree, which is a variety found in the Holy Lands.[4] What makes this tree miraculous is that it flowers twice a year: at Easter and Christmas, even though Easter changes its date ever year. Before Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries from 1536, there were known to have been three trees on Wearyall, but by the 1600s, there was only one left. When the English Civil Wars were raging, the Parliamentarian forces, who were mainly Puritans that followed strict doctrines, destroyed the Glastonbury Thorn. Luckily, local residents had taken cuttings and a replacements descended from the original were later planted, but many have either died or tragically been vandalised. There are many around the town, including one in the abbey grounds, but there is also one main one at Glastonbury’s parish church. Most monarchs since the seventeenth century, other than when the Parliamentarians ruled following the Civil War, have been gifted a cutting at Christmas to use for decoration, a tradition started when Anne of Demark, wife of James I, was gifted one.[5]

These legends originate from the fact that there was a large Jewish community in the West of England in the time following on from the crucifixion, many believed to have been tin miners in the region.[6] Whilst this may be the case, is there any truth to these tales? They cannot be totally proved or disproved with the passing of time and as there is faith behind them, I believe it is only fair to leave it up to individuals to make up their mind on this. However, an article written in 2018 about archaeological explorations made by the University of Reading at Glastonbury Abbey holds an interesting take on this. The origins of the Abbey were originally thought to date back to around 700 AD. In their excavations, they found the remnants of a pre-Saxon timber building on the outskirts of the later abbey complex. Within this they found fragments of later Roman pottery, showing links with the Mediterranean, and much earlier burials than expected.[7] These excavations have now dated the origins of the site to around 450 AD, nearly 300 years earlier than previously thought.[8]

A Holy Thorn beneath up the tower of St John the Baptist parish church (2009), geography.org.uk via Wikimedia Commons

Whilst this may not prove the Joseph of Arimathea legends, it does show that perhaps there was a much more ancient place of Christian worship than was previously thought. It showed that William of Malmesbury, an historian writing in the 1100s, was right when he noted an early church on the site at Glastonbury, which he said was the oldest he had ever witnessed himself.[9] Whatever the truth of the matter, there is no denying that Glastonbury does hold some sense of spirituality and mysticism to it, something which I can promise you can still feel today if you visit. As the hymn Jerusalem says, ‘did those feet in ancient times’, i.e. the feet of Joseph, come to England, bring Christ or Christianity with him, who knows, but hopefully this post has made you think a bit differently about that famous song.


[1] Whittaker, Jason, ‘Almost Everything You Knew about the Hymn Jerusalem is Wrong’, Prospect, 26 December 2019, https://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/arts-and-books/almost-everything-you-know-about-the-hymn-jerusalem-is-wrong

[2] Ibid

[3]  ‘Myths and Legends’, Glastonbury Abbey, https://www.glastonburyabbey.com/myths-and-legends.php

[4] Ibid; Johnson, Ben, ‘Glastonbury, Somerset’, Historic UK, https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryMagazine/DestinationsUK/Glastonbury/#:~:text=The%20legend%20of%20the%20Holy,the%20site%20of%20Glastonbury%20Cathedral.

[5] ‘Myths and Legends’, Glastonbury Abbey, https://www.glastonburyabbey.com/myths-and-legends.php

[6] Ross, David, ‘Legends of Glastonbury- Joseph of Arimathea’, Britain Express, https://www.britainexpress.com/Myths/Glastonbury.htm

[7] Gilchrist, Roberta, ‘Glastonbury: Archaeology is Revealing New Truths about the Origins of British Christianity’, The Conversation, 23 March 2018, https://theconversation.com/glastonbury-archaeology-is-revealing-new-truths-about-the-origins-of-british-christianity-93805

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid

A Historical Themed Weekend in Ludlow, Shropshire

As some of you will already know, I’m currently writing a biography on Anthony Woodville, a fifteenth century knight and man of letters, who was the brother of Queen Elizabeth Woodville, and brother-in-law of Edward IV. It should be out sometime next year, when it’s finished that is! This was the inspiration for a weekend away in Ludlow, Shropshire, mainly to go back to the castle there and take photographs of it for the book. Anthony was the head of the household of Edward, Prince of Wales, his nephew, who lived there for ten years until 1483. I have visited before, back in 2018, but it was great to be back in much better weather than before, but also to think about it in terms of what Anthony’s experience there would have been like. I don’t think we could have timed it better as we had the warmest weekend in March since the 1920s! Anyway, as I did a lot of history related things and enjoyed every minute of it, I thought I’d share what we did whilst there.

View of Ludlow Castle from the apartment, Author’s own image

We stayed on the grounds of Ludlow Castle inside what is known as Castle House. This part of the castle is along the entrance, and includes what is now the café, gallery shop, and the apartments where I stayed with my parents and sister. There are three apartments you can stay in, all suitably named after people connected with the castle. Our apartment, named Arthur and Catherine after Prince Arthur and Catherine of Aragon, who honeymooned at the castle after their wedding, had beautiful views looking towards the rest of the castle and out across the Shropshire countryside. I’m not going to deny that the accommodation was expensive, but this visit was a once in a lifetime chance to stay at a place I’m writing and researching about. I’m really glad I did as the apartment was lovely and very spacious. The views and peacefulness, whilst being right in the centre of town and only a walk away from everything, was fantastic as well. If you would like to stay in Ludlow yourself, there are lots of other great options around the town and last time, we did stay in a pub just 15 minutes away, which was also a good place to stay.

The first place we visited was Stokesay Castle, which is owned by English Heritage. I had also previously visited here, but was keen to go back as even though it is a small site, it has a lovely and somewhat homely atmosphere. Stokesay was built at the end of the thirteenth century by Laurence of Ludlow, a local wealthy merchant, said to have been one of the wealthiest men at the time. It’s survival is wonderful and really makes you feel what medieval life would have been like. It also underwent renovations during the Stuart era, so look out for the seventeenth century panelling in the Solar, which would have been the private area of the castle. As someone who loves both the medieval and Stuart periods, I must admit I was a little in my element. Also remember the lovely Stuart era gatehouse, which someone kindly told me that until English Heritage took over the site fully, the lady who granted them part ownership still lived in this part until her death in 1992. This whole place is really so photogenic though, so do make sure you’ve got your camera!

Stokesay Castle Gatehouse, Author’s own image

We also went inside the church next door. It was very small as it once served as the chapel for Stokesay Castle. Despite its size but just wonderfully formed. Despite enduring the English Civil War, the church was not wrecked by the Puritans and is an excellent example of how seventeenth century churches would look, complete with original box pews. Sorry to sound a bit nerdy, but I must admit I got excited by this as it’s the first time I remember ever seeing proper box pews. As well as the pews, there are also wall paintings of the ten commandments, another rarity in English churches. Another thing to keep an eye out for is some of the interesting gravestones and memorials dotted around the churchyard. Make sure you have a read of the ones with coats of arms that are on the side of the church, there’s a wonderful story about an incredibly long marriage for the time.

Of course we also visited Ludlow Castle itself. As we stayed in the apartments, we got free entry, so that was a plus sign. It also meant we didn’t have the worry of how long we would be there for as we only had to walk around the corner back to our apartment. The castle itself dates back to Norman period, when it was founded by the de Lacy family. Due to the age of the site, it’s impossible to go through the entire history of the castle, but the reason I have a particular interest in it was that it was a Yorkist stronghold during the Wars of the Roses. Richard, Duke of York, the father of Edward IV and Richard III, had inherited the castle from his Mortimer family ancestors. He established it as the administrative base for his lands in the region. In 1459, Richard was in the castle, with his forces preparing for the Battle of Ludford Bridge, named after one of the bridges into Ludlow. However, the Yorkists retreated before any serious action, as they feared being outnumbered. When his eldest son, Edward, became King Edward IV, the castle reverted into Royal hands. As mentioned previously, Edward chose the castle as the place to bring up his heir, Prince Edward, under the guidance of his uncle, Anthony Woodville, and others. The castle is perhaps best known as the deathplace of Prince Arthur, the eldest brother of Henry VIII.

Ludlow Castle as viewed from Dinham Bridge, Author’s own image

Ludlow Castle is now a ruin as it was neglected after the Council of the Marches, the administrative body set up to rule Welsh borders, was removed in 1641, around two hundred years after its creation. However, I must admit they are picturesque ruins! If possible, I would recommend talking the footpath that goes round the side of the castle and down to the river. This gives lovely views and also goes down to Dinham Bridge, another ancient bridge. If you walk down to either this bridge or Ludford Bridge, you will walk past lots of historic buildings. I’ve never seen so many blue plaques, which detail the history behind them. Mostly they are a mix of medieval or Tudor, with lots of Georgian ones mixed in. Keep an eye out for the lovely looking Dinham House, which once housed Lucien Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon, who was kept under house arrest there.

A short walk away from the castle is the parish church of St Lawrence. This again is a real treat and is such a beautiful place. A church is said to have stood on this site since Saxton times, but most of what you see is a mixture of Norman and Medieval. It is a very impressive church and is famous for the stained glass windows of Richard Duke of York, Edward IV, Prince Edward and Prince Arthur. Prince Arthur’s heart was also buried here after his death, with his body being buried at Worcester Cathedral, just over 30 miles away. Volunteer guides are dotted around to answer any questions you may have, so please make use of their wonderful knowledge.

Some of the stained glass windows at St Laurence’s Church in Ludlow, Author’s own image

Ludlow is also full of lots of lovely places to eat, including pubs, cafes and restaurants. There are definitely so many options to choose from, whatever your tastes are. We ate at a place aptly called Aragon’s, which is close to the marketplace. They serve the most wonderful cooked breakfasts there, but we also enjoyed lunch there too. Some in the party commented on how the sausages served were some of the best they’d ever tasted, so that definitely comes highly recommended! The staff were very friendly too, which was an added bonus. Other places to look out for are Vaughan’s, a sandwich bar that also serves salads and jacket potatoes. Many people have commented on their hot pork sandwiches being the best ever, so again give that a go. We wanted to visit, but didn’t quite have the chance this time, but definitely on the list for next time.

As we visited the weekend of Mother’s Day, I had booked a Sunday Carvery at the Fisherman’s Arms in Docklow, a 20 minute drive away from Ludlow. It is a bit of a fisherman’s retreat as there are ponds and woodland walks. There are also places to stay there, as well as a café too. The country pub/restaurant was where we went. I had heard good reviews about the place, but as a visitor, didn’t really know what to expect. All I can say was that we definitely weren’t disappointed. It was by far the biggest carvery portions I think any of us had ever had. The food quality was excellent and so were the staff. We will definitely be going back too, so definitely make this a place to visit if you can.

A market is held on the market place nearly every day, so be sure not to miss that! Last time we visited, they were holding an antique market, which was good quality and had very interesting items. This time it was the general market, which had stallholders selling food, jewellery, antiques, crafted items and all sorts of things. I came away with some lovely jewellery and photographic prints of the places we’d visited. Another shop I also brought from, not far from Aragon’s café, was Nina and Co, a quirky little antique shop. I saw some lovely sparkly brooches in the window that would look lovely for putting on clothing and bonnets for our Regency dressing up at the Jane Austen Festival in Bath, where we will be going back for a second time later this year. Thank you to them for also giving us a few free ones, which were missing a stone, but still useable for that. Again all of these were such lovely experiences.

Nina’s shop where I got the brooches from

All in all, it was probably one of the best trips I’ve been on. The peacefulness was just what was needed after what have been an awful two years. If you ever get the chance to go yourself, I promise you that you will love it. It feels like stepping back into a bygone era. What makes it all the more enjoyable is just how lovely the people of the area are. The memories I’ve made will certainly stay with me forever.

For more about the places mentioned in this post, please visit the following websites:

Ludlow town, https://www.ludlow.org.uk/index.html

Ludlow Castle, https://www.ludlowcastle.com/

St Laurence’s Church, https://stlaurences.org.uk/history-timeline/

Stokesay Castle, https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/stokesay-castle/

Aragon’s Restaurant, https://www.facebook.com/AragonsLudlow5/

Vaughan’s Sandwich Bar, https://www.facebook.com/Ludlow14KingStreet/

Fisherman’s Arms in Docklow: https://www.thefishermansarms.uk/

Nina and Co: https://www.instagram.com/nina.and.co.ludlow/?hl=en

Bibliography:

Griffiths, Ralph, ‘Wales and the Marches in the Fifteenth Century’, in Chrimes, Stanley; Ross, Charles; Griffiths, Ralph (eds), Fifteenth Century England, 1399–1509: Studies in Politics and Society (Bristol: Sutton Publishing, 1972)

Shropshire Churches Tourism Group, ‘Stokesay, St John the Baptist’, https://www.discovershropshirechurches.co.uk/south-west-shropshire/stokesay/

Jane Lane: The Woman who Helped Charles II to Escape

The English Civil War, fought between the Parliamentarians and Royalists, had started as a direct result of grievances about the way in which Charles I had ruled, largely without Parliament, as well as fears about the Catholics, most notably his wife, Henrietta Maria, he had become associated with. Whilst there are many more reasons for the Civil War, these are most commonly cited. When Charles I was executed at Whitehall in January 1649, England became a republic led by Oliver Cromwell. Still, Royalist hopes were kept alive in Charles, the Prince of Wales. Scotland had been horrified and proclaimed the young Charles as their king. On 1 January 1651, Charles was crowned as Charles II, with the promise that Scottish forces would follow him to England to help him reclaim his throne.[1]

The forces led by Charles met with Parliamentary resistance at the battle of Worcester on 3 September 1651. It was not the Royalist victory that was hoped for as the Parliamentarians defeated them. Despite reports that Charles had been killed in the fighting, he had managed to escape and had gone into hiding. A huge £1,000 reward (around £103,000 in today’s money) for his capture was given. This reward would make his escape even harder. Whilst in hiding, the famous incident of Charles hiding in an oak tree at Boscobel House when Parliamentarian soldiers came looking for him happened.

Plan showing the route Charles took on his escape from England following the Battle of Worcester in 1651, from Fea, Allan, The flight of the king : a full, true, and particular account of the miraculous escape of His Most Sacred Majesty King Charles II after the battle of Worcester, (1908), p. 2

This, as well as other close shaves, made him realise a better plan was needed to get him out of the country and away from danger. Lord Henry Wilmot, a close confidant of Charles, who had also been at Worcester, was also in hiding, but was staying at Bentley Hall, the home of John Lane. John Lane was a known Royalist sympathiser who had been a Royalist cavalry officer during the Civil War. He had led a band of Royalists who made the journey to Worcester but didn’t get there in time for the battle.[2] The original plan was to use John’s sister, Jane, to help Wilmot escape, as she had been granted a pass to visit a pregnant cousin in Bristol so she could help with the birth. This pass covered her, a servant, and her cousin Henry Lascelles. As both Royalist and Catholic, the family needed these passes to be able to move further than 5 miles away from their home.[3] This was the perfect excuse to help Charles, rather than Wilmot to escape to the safety of the continent.

Charles was to pretend to be Jane’s manservant, taking on the name Will Jackson. Only a few, including Jane, know the true identity of this man. Charles’ acting skills really had to be excellent to pull off this disguise as he was easily noticeable with his dark complexion and 6 ft 2 stature. Despite many dangers along the way, including a horse losing a shoe and a brush with Parliamentarian soldiers, the gang, which included John and Jane Lane, as well as their sister Withy and her husband, John Petre, arrived at the home of Ellen Norton, their pregnant cousin. Whilst there, a butler recognised the king but rather than think of taking the £1,000 reward, offered his silence and assistance.[4] It was decided that Charles wouldn’t be able to take a boat from Bristol, as had originally been planned, but that it was best to try the south coast. To be able to do this, the party needed some sort of excuse to leave, which was now harder when Ellen had suffered a late-term miscarriage. Jane herself forged a letter saying her father was seriously ill and she had to return home.[5]

Isaac Fuller, King Charles II and Jane Lane riding to Bristol (1660s), NPG 5251, © National Portrait Gallery, London

The ruse worked and the group managed to get to Dorset, where Wilmot and Charles were safely reunited. Despite all the dangers they had faced in their journey to get to this point, Jane and her family had to return to Bentley Hall to make their plan appear real, leaving Charles to escape to France. It’s quite possible that Jane and Charles thought that would be the last they saw of each other. However, fate had other ideas. News of a woman matching Jane’s description had helped Charles in his escape began to spread. Her life was now in danger and it was her turn to take on a disguise. She walked all the way to Yarmouth in Norfolk and escaped to France, where she was warmly welcomed by Charles.[6]

In return for saving his life, Charles offered Jane many personal gifts, including miniature portraits of himself, a lock of his hair, and a gold pocket watch, which had been a gift given to him by his father.[7] The pair remained firm friends and even continued corresponding together when in 1652, Jane became a part of the household of Charles sister, Mary of Orange, in Holland.[8] Following the Restoration of Charles as King in 1660, Jane was given a £1,000 a year pension for her services to the monarchy.[9] The pair continued their friendly correspondence, even after Jane became Lady Fisher after her marriage to Sir Clement Fisher in December 1662, right up until Charles death in 1685.[10]

The bravery of Jane in helping the young Charles is evident. What is most remarkable is the platonic nature of her relationship with Charles, an open and well known philanderer. He was less than subtle when it came to his womanising ways and yet, with Jane, it appears that it never went beyond a friend-like relationship. However, he did admire Jane and was always keen to tell everyone that it was her who had saved his life.


[1] ‘Charles II’, https://www.royal.uk/charles-ii#:~:text=On%201%20January%201651%2C%20the,Worcester%20on%203%20September%201651.

[2] Beardsley, Martyn R., Charles II and His Escape into Exile (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2019), p. 55

[3] Lawless, Erin, ‘Hidden historical heroines: Jane Lane’, https://erinlawless.wordpress.com/2013/06/03/hidden-historical-heroines-28-jane-lane/

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid; Whipp, Koren, ‘Jane Lane, Lady Fisher’, https://www.projectcontinua.org/jane-lane-lady-fisher/

[7] Ibid

[8] Lawless, Erin, ‘Hidden historical heroines: Jane Lane’, https://erinlawless.wordpress.com/2013/06/03/hidden-historical-heroines-28-jane-lane/

[9] Whipp, Koren, ‘Jane Lane, Lady Fisher’, https://www.projectcontinua.org/jane-lane-lady-fisher/

[10] Ibid

Elizabeth Linley: The Sensational Life of a Georgian Woman

Elizabeth Linley was a famous singer in the late eighteenth century, not only for the remarkable music abilities of her own family, dubbed the Nest of Nightingales, but also for the tumultuous marriage to the playwright, Richard Brinsley Sheridan.[1] Despite both of their connections to Bath, which I have visited a view times now, I hadn’t heard of them until recently. The BBC programme Britain’s Lost Masterpieces featured a painting, supposedly of her, painted by the famous Georgian portrait painter, and a personal favourite of mine, Joshua Reynolds. That programme showed a story of celebrity not unlike those known today.

Thomas Gainsborough, Elizabeth and Mary Linley (c.1772), Dulwich Picture Gallery via Art UK

Elizabeth was one of twelve siblings born to Thomas and Mary Linley, most of whom were musically capable, a trait they had clearly inherited from their father. Thomas was a famed harpsicord player and a musical director at the Bath Assembly Rooms. Elizabeth’s brother, Thomas Junior, was compared to Mozart, and her sister, Mary, was also an accomplished singer. For Elizabeth herself, she made her public debut at the age of twelve, a very young age to be performing, but with her elder siblings already in the spotlight, it was seen as normal for the Linley family. The family’s pre-eminence in Bath was noted by painter, Thomas Gainsborough, who bad become friends with the family after moving to Bath in 1759.[2] Between the late 1760s and 1789, he had painted a number of portraits of the family, including one of Elizabeth and Mary (see above image), which was altered later on, as Mary had been unhappy with the original version.[3]

With her beauty and talent, Elizabeth became sort after by many suitors. In 1769, when she was sixteen, Elizabeth’s parents had betrothed her to Walter Long, a man who was around sixty. This engagement was ended in 1771 when Elizabeth claimed she was in love with another. Walter paid £3,000, or around £270,000 in today’s money, to Elizabeth’s father and let her keep the jewels and gifts he had already given her.[4] At the same time, a married family friend, Captain Thomas Mathews, had been harassing Elizabeth for a while by trying to force her to become his mistress. He tried any tactic he could from threatening her reputation to threating to commit suicide if she continued to ignore his advances.[5] The playwright, Samuel Foote wrote a play called The Maid of Bath about the situation. The play, which opened in Haymarket, London, in 1771, insinuated that Elizabeth’s engagement had been called off because she had had an affair with Mathews.[6] The only thing that was accurate about the play was the depiction of Elizabeth as a mixture of spirited and dutiful, but this was also a popular trope for heroines at the time.[7]

Hubert von Herkomer (after Joshua Reynolds), Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1880), Russel-Coates Art Gallery & Museum via Art UK

The situation with Mathews, alongside the popularity of The Maid of Bath, only appeared to make Elizabeth’s worries grow. She confided with her friends, Lissy and Betsy Sheridan, the sisters of her future husband. Between them, they concocted a plan for their brother, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, to escort her to France, where she could stay until she became of age.[8] Whilst on their way, Sheridan admitted his feelings for Elizabeth and the pair were married in a village near Calais in March 1772. As this was a Catholic ceremony, the marriage was not deemed legal under English law, meaning that when the couple were persuaded to return to England, they were not seen as married.[9]

Both Elizabeth and Richard’s family didn’t accept the match and were forced apart. However, Sheridan did leave love notes at a grotto in Bath for her to find, but it’s uncertain whether she ever saw them.[10] Captain Mathews was also unwilling to give up his feelings for Elizabeth and challenged Sheridan to a duel over her. This was fought in London and Sheridan won, with the demand that Mathews retract an unflattering article he had published about Sheridan in the newspapers.[11] That was not to be the last duel as Mathews failed to keep his side of the bargain and spread rumours that it was him that had one the previous duel, not Sheridan. The second duel was fought just outside of Bath. Sheridan was injured and when reports later came about the outcome of the duel, stories were told that he had been saved from death by a miniature of Elizabeth.[12]

Sheridan still didn’t give up in his pursuit for love. When he came of age in October 1772, he followed Thomas Linley around, begging him to let his daughter marry him. He even went to nearly every, if not every, concert hall Elizabeth performed at to pester for her hand in marriage.[13] Elizabeth and Sheridan were finally able to marry in London on 13 April 1773 but it would not be the happy ever after you would expect. After their marriage, Sheridan refused to let his wife perform for fear of his own reputation if she continued. Instead, she helped her husband to write his play, The Rivals, which premiered in January 1775, which was only fair when Elizabeth’s dowry had helped pay for Sheridan’s theatrical ambitions.[14] Eventually Elizabeth was allowed to perform for exclusive functions, but this was mainly to pay for the enormous debts her husband had racked up.[15] Sheridan also began to have numerous affairs, which Elizabeth was aware of. In retaliation, she also had affairs, which produced an illegitimate daughter, as well as the legitimate children she had with Sheridan.

Thomas Rowlandson, Comforts of Bath, Plate 2 (1798), The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Elizabeth was known to have suffered bouts of ill health throughout her life, many of which were reported to a public who were eager to have any update possible about the celebrity couple. These became even more sort after when she had all but retired from public life after a stillbirth in May 1777 and the death of her brother, Thomas, in a boating accident in August 1778.[16] She finally died from tuberculosis on 28 June 1792 at the age of 38 at Bristol Hot Wells, where she had moved to from London for health reasons. She was buried alongside her sister, Mary, at Wells Cathedral.

Whilst Elizabeth’s life may have been short, there is no denying that it had been eventful. Both her and her husband, Richard, showed that whilst we understand celebrity as a relatively modern phenomenon, it did have its infancy in the Georgian period. Many of the celebrities of the day were of musical and theatrical backgrounds, just like Elizabeth, her family, and her husband. A plaque dedicated to her can still be seen at 11 Bath Crescent, where she had lived before her marriage. When I go back to Bath later on in the year, I will now look on it with a better understanding and appreciation for the woman who it commemorates.


[1] Dulwich Picture Gallery, ‘Elizabeth and Mary Linley’, https://www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk/explore-the-collection/301-350/elizabeth-and-mary-linley/

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] ‘Elizabeth Ann Sheridan nee Linley’, https://georgianera.wordpress.com/2014/11/25/elizabeth-ann-sheridan-nee-linley/

[5] Brewer, David A. (ed), The Rivals Richard Brinsley Sheridan and Polly Honeycombe George Colman the Elder (Ontario, Canada: Broadview Editions, 2012), p. 36

[6] Ibid, p. 36; ‘Elizabeth Ann Sheridan nee Linley’, https://georgianera.wordpress.com/2014/11/25/elizabeth-ann-sheridan-nee-linley/

[7] Aspden, Suzanne, ‘”Sancta Caecilia Rediviva” Elizabeth Linley: Repertoire, Reputation and the English Voice’, Cambridge Opera Journal, 27.3 (2015), p. 265.

[8] The Bath Magazine, ‘Duelling for the Love of Eliza’, https://thebathmagazine.co.uk/duelling-for-the-love-of-eliza/; Brewer, David A. (ed), The Rivals, p.  36.

[9] Brewer, David A. (ed), The Rivals, p.  37.

[10] The Bath Magazine, ‘Duelling for the Love of Eliza’, https://thebathmagazine.co.uk/duelling-for-the-love-of-eliza/

[11] Ibid; Brewer, David A. (ed), The Rivals, p.  37.

[12] The Bath Magazine, ‘Duelling for the Love of Eliza’, https://thebathmagazine.co.uk/duelling-for-the-love-of-eliza/

[13] Ibid

[14] ‘Scandal in the Making’, https://georgianjunkie.wordpress.com/tag/elizabeth-linley/

[15] ‘Elizabeth Ann Sheridan nee Linley’, https://georgianera.wordpress.com/2014/11/25/elizabeth-ann-sheridan-nee-linley/

[16] Ibid

Lew Wallace: The Author of Ben-Hur and His Connections to Billy the Kid

Until recently, I didn’t know that Ben-Hur was a novel written by Lew Wallace, a former Governor of New Mexico and Major General. Instead, I just assumed the famous 1959 film, starring Charlton Heston, was just an original screenplay suited to the epic film genre that was popular at the time. It was only whilst reading a book on Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett, the sheriff responsible for the outlaw’s death, that I came across Lew Wallace. After doing further research, I found that Wallace had had an interesting and varied life. Hopefully this post will go some way towards demonstrating that.

Lewis, known as Lew, Wallace was born in Louisiana on 10 April 1927. He father, David Wallace, was a politician and Governor, something which he would pass onto Lewis. However, the pair disagreed a lot as Lew didn’t do well in school. He was more bothered about art and books than his school work, much to the annoyance of his father. At the age of 16, he was thrown out of the family home so he could start earning a living, with the hope this would cure him of his so-called delinquent ways.[1] In some ways it did a little. He went on to become a lawyer, but only to satisfy his father. He still loved his books and carried on reading whenever he had the opportunity, even if it meant reading till very late at night.

Image of Lew Wallace from his autobiography, published in 1906, Wikimedia Commons

Wallace took any opportunity he could to get away from his law practice by becoming a soldier. First in the American-Mexico war of 1846-1848 when he joined the Indiana regiment before joining the American Civil war, where he was first a general, then later a major general. At the Battle of Shiloah in April 1862, he was used as a scapegoat for the Union’s near defeat. He had been ordered to bring his division as reinforcements, but took the wrong route and didn’t get there until the second day of fighting.[2] Sadly, this was something he had to deal with for the rest of his life as people never let him forget and heaped the blame on him. The American Civil War was not the last time he attempted to join the army. In 1898, at the age of seventy one, he tried to join up again so he could fight in the Spanish-American War.[3] His efforts were politely declined.

In September 1878, Lew Wallace was brought in as the Governor of New Mexico in an attempt to create peace following the Lincoln County War, a conflict between two rival factions within the Lincoln County part of New Mexico. As Wallace had previously been one of the members of a military commission that tried the conspirators behind the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, it was thought he would do a good job.[4] There is no denying that Lew did his very best to create peace, but it was a very difficult job with so many outlaws causing havoc throughout the territory. The most notable being Billy the Kid.

Letter to Lew Wallace from Billy the Kid dated March 1881, Fray Angelico Chavez History Library, Wikimedia Commons

The Kid and Wallace met in Spring 1879 when Wallace offered him a pardon in exchange for his witness testimony in a high profile murder case. However, no pardon was ever given, despite Billy writing to Wallace numerous times to remind him of the promise. There were never any replied to these letters, but from Billy’s continued criminal behaviour and the many death threats he made against Wallace, it’s clear why the promise was never fulfilled. Many local newspapers reported on this situation, especially after Pat Garrett arrested Billy in December 1880, who still wanted a pardon. In response, one newspaper directly asked Wallace about it. He said “I can’t see why a fellow like him should expect any clemency from me”.[5] Billy certainly didn’t get it and in April 1881, Wallace signed the death warrant as ordered by the courts, with an execution date set for 13 May. The execution never happened as Billy escaped from jail and was later shot by Garrett on 14 July. Wallace had offered a $500 reward for anyone who recaptured the Kid, but by the time Garrett claimed the reward money, Wallace was no longer the Governor, meaning it took longer to be paid.

The connections to Billy the Kid could easily have become one of the only parts of Lew Wallace’s life that made him an interesting man. However, it was really his writing of the historical novel Ben-Hur, that would become his lasting legacy, even if we now remember it more from the Charlton Heston film, rather than the book itself. When it was published in November 1880, it was an almost instant success. By December, its first print run was completely sold out.[6] By 1900, the novel had been through thirty six English editions and twenty other language editions.[7] Ben-Hur has been described as the “most influential Christian book written in the nineteenth century”, as it outsold every other book in America, except the Bible, until Gone with the Wind was published in 1936.[8]

First Edition of Ben-Hur (1880), Wikimedia Commons

In later life, people of his hometown of Crawfordsville in Louisiana recalled a rather odd old man. They remembered him more of a solider than a writer as he was known to wear his military uniform around town.[9] To many he seemed aloof but those who were close to him, he was thought of as gracious and hospitable.[10] What many did remember though was the beech tree, later known as the Ben-Hur tree, on his land where he was often seen writing under.[11]

There aren’t enough words or time to go into all the details of the life of Lew Wallace, but I hope that this goes some way to show the ‘highlights’ of what was a varied and interesting life. He may be not so well known now, but in his own time, he was one of America’s best-known celebrities. With connections to one of the most infamous outlaws of the Wild West and one of the most famous stories (and later film) of all time, the legacy of Wallace is still around, just as long as you know where to look.


[1] Lifson, Amy, ‘Ben-Hur: The Book that Shook the World’, Humanities, 30.6 (2009), https://www.neh.gov/humanities/2009/novemberdecember/feature/ben-hur-the-book-shook-the-world

[2] Gardner, Mark Lee, To Hell on A Fast Horse: The Untold Story of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett (New York: Harper Collins, 2010), p. 153

[3] McGrath, Nick, ‘Major General Lewis “Lew” Wallace’, On Point, 19.4 (2014), p. 18

[4] Gardner, Mark Lee, To Hell on A Fast Horse, p. 87

[5] Ibid, p. 23

[6] Ibid, p. 154

[7] Lifson, Amy, ‘Ben-Hur: The Book that Shook the World’, https://www.neh.gov/humanities/2009/novemberdecember/feature/ben-hur-the-book-shook-the-world

[8] Ibid

[9] Forbes, John D., ‘Lew Wallace, Romantic’, Indiana Magazine of History, 44.4 (1948), p. 386

[10] Ibid, p. 386

[11] McGrath, Nick, ‘Major General Lewis “Lew” Wallace’, p. 21

The Wild Animals of Stuart England- Guest Post by Cassidy Cash

“Gavest thou the goodly wings unto the peacocks? or wings and feathers unto the ostrich?” – Jon 39:3, King James Bible (1616)

Exotic animals in England in the 17th century were a staple part of society. Travelers, explorers, and representatives of the import/export industry would send and ship non-native animals to England for display, for curiosity collections among the upper classes, and for use in production of perfumes, apothecary remedies, and even ink pens or clothing accessories.

Close up section of a painting by Jan Brueghel the Elder, (1618). The full portrait is called  Allegory of Taste, Hearing and Touch. This closeup shows a peacock served in full plumage. Public Domain.

Exotic animals were used in everything from perfume and apothecary creations to harvested for their pelts and feathers to be used in clothing or accessories. While cats and dogs were common household pets, the more exotic animals like parrots and even monkeys were also imported to the newly formed United Kingdom to take up residence at the homes of the UK’s most prominent citizens who saw the possession of exotic animals as a status symbol. 

From the mundane to the extraordinary, I decided to take a look at the animal life of the 17th century. Here’s a few of the most surprising animals I discovered and their place in Stuart England.

Monkeys at a banquet, 1660, byDavid Teniers the Younger. At the  Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid, Spain. Public Domain.

Monkeys

Monkeys were often kept by the elite of the 17th century, who saw ownership of these curious creatures as a symbol of their status. After all, to purchase a monkey was quite involved logistically since it was much more complicated than running out to a pet store. Therefore, to own a monkey was a way to flaunt your power and wealth as it required both to own one. It is recorded that one prominent Stuart lady, the daughter of James I, Elizabeth Stuart, owned not only monkeys but also parrots. According to the Oxford University Press, household records from Elizabeth’s childhood record “Elizabeth spent 8 shillings and 3 pence on ‘strewing herbs, and cotton to make beds for her grace’s monkeys’, ‘mending parrot’s cages’, and ‘for shearing her grace’s rough dog.’” 

There are numerous paintings of parrots from the 17th century (including several of the african grey parrot like what Frances Stuart owned). This portrait is titled “A Woman Feeding a Parrot, with a Page” by Caspar Netscher, 1666, part of the National Gallery of Art. Public Domain.

Parrots

Elizabeth Stuart is just one example of a lady of prominence owning a parrot. Frances Stuart, Duchess of Richmond is immortalized in a wax effigy that features her pet parrot. Her parrot was an African Grey parrot that lived with Frances Stuart for close to 40 years. After it died, the bird was stuffed, and despite what Westminster Abbey’s blog calls “Primitive” measures to preserve the animal, the entire skeleton of the bird survives to this day, making it the oldest known stuffed bird in existence. 

Albrecht Duer’s woodcut from 1515 of the Rhinoceros, woodcut print, sheet (trimmed to image): Height: 23.5 cm (9.2 in); Width: 29.8 cm (11.7 in). National Gallery of Art. Public Domain. Note This is a digitally altered version of File:Albrecht Dürer – The Rhinoceros (NGA 1964.8.697).jpg. The modification consists of the setting of the white point according to the light area around the sheet, normalization of the dynamic range, and a slight sharpening. The resulting image was converted into an indexed colour palette. To avoid quantization errors this file should not be used for further processing. Any modifications are best applied to the original.

 Rhinoceros

The earliest known image of a rhinoceros was drawn as a woodcut in 1515 in Italy. That same year, another famous and much more detailed woodcut of a rhinoceros would be drawn by Albrecht Duer who drew the animal from a description provided about a live rhino that had been given as a gift to the King of Portugal. While most of the instances of rhinoceroses are drawings and woodcuts included in naturalist texts there was one instance of a live rhinoceros in England in the year 1684. 

Dated October 10, 1684, this London newspaper records an advertisement for a Rhinoceros. The animal was shipped to England from India and placed on display at a tavern where patrons could pay money to look at and to ride the “Rhynoceros.”

A peacock in a flask, “representing the stage in the alchemical process when the substance breaks out into many colours”,from the Splendor Solis (1582). “Detail of a miniature of a peacock in a flask. Image taken from f. 28 of Splendor Solis (an alchemical treatise) (index Splendor of the Sun). Written in German.” by Salomon Trismosin | The British Library | This file is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

Peacocks

“Proud as a peacock” is a well known English saying that stems from the prevalence of peacocks in England. These birds, known as blue peafowl, do not have what bird experts call an “established” presence in the country, but they have remained popular in England since at least Roman times when the birds were first introduced from India by the Romans. 


What made the peacock popular for Stuart England was the use of their beautiful feathers in decoration as well as their popularity as an elegant dinner dish on the tables of England’s nobility. In this 1618 painting by Jan Brueghel the Elder, you can see a peacock served at the table with it’s full plumage and even it’s head salvaged for decoration on the dinner table. 

The peacock was frequently used as a symbol of pride. You can see this usage of the peacock’s reputation in this drawing of James II of Scotland who is depicted in caricature as an owl kneeling to the Pope, who is caricatured as a peacock. 

Lion from Cosmographia by Sebastian Münster., unknown artist, published 1544. Published to http://www.tablespace.net/maps/ by William Favorite. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Lions, Tigers, and…Eagles?

By 1622, Lord Protector Olive Cromwell had outlawed animal fighting, but animals were still kept in the Tower of London. There’s a record of eleven lions, two leopards, three eagles, two pumas, a tiger, and a jackal being housed there that year. 

Sports in Stuart England often included pets with popular pastimes like bull and bear baiting both involving dogs, often pit bulls, being trained to attack bulls or bears in an arena for the purpose of entertaining a gathered group of spectators. Beyond spectator sports, activities like falconry involved the use of birds to capture prey and was a popular form of hunting for the monarchy. 

Dogs and cats were the most common household pets, but cats were also used by the military as a weapon. Published in official military manuals, one strategy for burning down a town including strapping flammable material to the back of a cat, lighting it on fire, and setting the cat loose in the town. The cat being extremely hard to catch anyway, it’s even harder to catch once it’s on fire, so the cat would mercilessly spread fire over an entire town during this death run.

Ostrich Hunt byAntonio Tempesta (Italy, Florence, 1555-1630), Italy, 16th century Series: Hunting Scenes V Prints; etchings Etching Los Angeles County Fund (65.37.1) Prints and Drawings Los Angeles County Museum of Art | Public Domain

Ostriches

For 16-17th century London, the ostrich was known, and considered incredibly exotic, rare, and consequently, images of ostriches were used to communicate great wealth. According to the Art Institute of Chicago, Ostrich feathers were used to create the decorative panache combatants wore during a jousting match in the 16th century, and some historians report that ostrich feathers were used as quill pens during Shakespeare’s lifetime. Colored ostrich feathers were also popular in the 16th century. Read more about that here. Not native to England, ostriches were imported from Northern Africa to England for their feathers. I was unable to find any ostrich farmers in Stuart England, but the sheer volume of feathers that were in demand for clothing and ink pens would have made it practical to try and raise them on a farm, so I wouldn’t be surprised to discover a farm did exist for Stuart England. 

Ostriches, along with elephants, lions, and rhinoceros were among the animals kept in the Tower of London. This menagerie of animals was considered the first zoo, and many of the inhabitants were there because explorers or even dignitaries would give the exotic animals to the King as a gift and the gifted animals had to be kept somewhere.

A Polar bear approaches the men of Willem Barentsz.| Engraving by Gerrit de Veer 1596, from Diary of Gerrit de Veer | Public Domain

Polar Bears

As an example of animals returned from exotic lands as a gift for the King, there were two polar bear cubs brought back from an expedition to the Arctic to be given as a gift to James I in the early 17th century. 

We know about Poole’s polar bear cargo because Samuel Purchas writes about it in Pilgrimes (1625).

we slue 26. Seales, and espied three white Beares: wee went aboord for Shot and Powder, and comming to the Ice againe, we found a shee-Beare and two young ones: Master Thomas Welden shot and killed her: after shee was slayne, wee got the young ones, and brought them home into England, where they are aliue in Paris Garden.

By 1611, Philip Henslowe and Edward Alleyn had, as Aubrey notes in today’s episode, received the royal warrant from King James to be in charge of the various bears, bulls, and mastiffs in the King’s care. Which means they were specifically in charge of the polar bear cubs which Poole had gifted the King. King James loved animal blood sports and is reported to have kept quite the zoo inside the Tower of London. As shareholders in the Fortune Theater and investors in Bear Garden, Henslowe and Alleyn bought their own zoo, and several critics have pointed out that the young bears could have performed in playhouses as well as baiting rings.

During that 1595 expedition, Barents lost two of his men to a ferocious polar bear attack. In his diary, Gerrit de Veer recounts the episode by saying the bear pursued the first man, before he  “bit his head in sunder, and suckt out his blood” The rest of the crew takes off running, and the bear chases them, grabbing his second victim “which she tare in peeces” The story was written down close to 15 years later, and published in English in 1609, the same year Jonas Poole returned to England with two polar bear cubs for King James, and the same year William Shakespeare wrote A Winter’s Tale and included the not only famous, but curiously unique “exit, pursued by a bear” stage direction.

From elephants to monkeys and parrots, it seems Stuart England had more than their fair share of surprising exotic animals in the streets and homes around England.

Cassidy Cash is a Shakespeare historian and host of That Shakespeare Life, the podcast that goes behind the curtain and into the real life and history of William Shakespeare. Cassidy runs a vibrant membership community for Shakespeare enthusiasts and creates history activity kits that work like science labs for Shakespeare history. Learn more at www.cassidycash.com