This blog is a selection of interesting things I've come across during my history research. I have a wide interest in history ranging from Wars of the Roses, country houses, Stuarts, Georgians, Louis XIV, Napoleon and criminals. So expect to see a bit of everything on here, with a focus on little known stories.
I haven’t posted about one of my passions for a while now and that is pirates, so I hope this will be of interest to you. The lives of many pirates from the Golden Age of Piracy in the years leading up to 1726 have been surrounded by myth and legend. Black Caesar, a former slave turned pirate, who was part of Blackbeard’s crew is no different. Whilst little is known about his life, I hope this post can give a sense of what is known about such a fascinating character and what better time to do so than for Black History Month.
It has been estimated that of the around 10,000 pirates during the Golden Age of Piracy, up to a third of them were black. To reflect this, maritime historian, Ken Kinkor listed a number of various pirate captains and the ratio of black crewmembers they had on board their ships.
Samuel Bellamy (1717) – more than 27 out of 180 men
Edward England (1718) – less than 50 out of 180 men
Edward Lowther (1724) – 9 out of 23 men
Blackbeard (1717) – 60 out of 100; (1718) – 5 out 14
Yet, in the collective conscious of what makes a pirate, this number is not necessarily thought of. Most of them would have been runaways, possibly cimarrons who had escaped their Spanish captors, or had chosen to join when a slave ship or plantation was raided.
Considering the appalling treatment that black people had to face during this time, it is easy to see why they would turn pirate. Unlike on the mainland, they had a chance to some sort of equality, although this very much depended on the ship they sailed on, particularly in terms of being allowed to vote and have an equal share in any treasure. In such circumstances, this meant they were very much active members. On other ships, they would have still been mistreated and expected to take on the worst of the tasks on board. In the case of capture, there was certainly no equality in the treatment of black pirates. If caught, the punishment was usually to be sold back into slavery, whilst white pirates were hung.
Black Caesar was definitely a proactive member of the pirating community, but how he went on to become a member of the most famous pirate’s crew is a little hazy. According to most accounts, he had originally been an African chieftain, known for his strength and cunning. He had managed to avoid being caught by slavers until he was lured onto a ship that offered him treasure. Once he’d found out his fate, he refused to eat and drink but befriended a sailor who took pity on him and provided him with sustenance.
When the ship was off the coast of Florida, the pair escaped on a rowing boat and sought a life of robbery instead. They pretended to be shipwrecked, luring ships to rescue them and then stealing from them. This venture brought them great riches and they were able to take on more crew. However, the pair supposedly fell out over a woman they had captured. It was after this that Caesar chosen to join Blackbeard’s crew, although the details of how they met are unknown.
Blackbeard must have put a lot of trust in Caesar as during the famous pirates final battle against Lieutenant Robert Maynard in November 1718, Caesar was ordered to stand in the powder room with a lit match so he could blow up the ship if the pirates were overwhelmed. He was just about to carry out his orders when to prisoners, although some other accounts called them guests who had slept in the powder room overnight, stopped him. He was then taken prisoner and went on trial along with the other survivors of Blackbeard’s crew at Williamsburg, Virgina. Caesar was captured along with five other black pirates, but he was the only one who didn’t give evidence against his fellow crewmembers. The others probably did so in the hope that they would be granted mercy. This meant that Caesar was hung with the rest of the crew, although some accounts to say he was pardoned instead.
Whatever the fate of Black Caesar may have been, he serves as an example that black pirates were certainly not always passive in the pirate community. Whilst this idea may be easily thought as the majority of known black pirates are not named, it is not fair to make this assumption when the facts are not necessarily reported and the circumstances are often lost with time. What Black Caesar shows that black pirates were definitely fully functioning and trusted members of the crews they served with.
If you are a regular follower of the blog, you will have probably guessed that I have an interest in the Georgian period. However, I knew very little about the Georgian Queens. Perhaps part of that is that as the Georgian period is named after its kings, they have been pushed to the side somewhat. I wished to learn more, so that is what first attracted me to this book. As this book is written by an author I have not read before, I must admit I was a little apprehensive, but also excited, to see what this book would bring. I was definitely not disappointed with this book in anyway.
The women covered in the book are Sophia Dorothea of Celle, Caroline of Ansbach, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Streliz and Caroline of Ansbach. Each of the women featured have their own intriguing life stories to tell, which the author writes in an accessible and exciting way. I found this made it an easy read and despite the trials and tribulations all of the women went through, there were some light-hearted and entertaining moments throughout. The book certainly highlights how downtrodden the women were because of their husbands and the courts they lived in. This makes the reader empathetic with the lives the women lived, and showed that whilst covered in jewels, they were not necessarily as happy as modern readers may perhaps think.
All of the Queens, whilst mentioned individually, were placed into the context of the royal court they lived in. This gave a fascinating insight into the cycle of how they were influenced by the court and how the individual Queens in turn influenced the court. In doing this, it shows that the author has clearly done a good amount of research, not only into the lives of the Queens and their Georges, but also the wider context of society in Britain (and the German states where they all hailed from) at the time.
The occasional addition of extracts from letters about the Queens and other events also provided a good insight, as it felt like reading about more personal matters. The same could be said about the inclusion of newspaper articles, in order to gauge possible public opinion. This was particularly useful for considering the media war between George IV and his wife, Caroline of Ansbach, who actively disliked one another. With the retelling of this, it was clear that there were so many modern day parallels in. Again, moments like this provided a good context to the times, but also highlighted the wide range of research conducted by the author.
With the amount of women involved in this book, there is of course some skimming of their lives. I feel that doesn’t necessarily detract from the overall experience of the book. Instead it allows the book to be light and not so stuffy as other history books can sometimes be. I can understand how this may put some readers off, but it is fine to use, as I did, as an introduction to either the Georgian period, or to the Georgian Queens themselves. As the book covers so many people and has a large timespan, I can also understand that that may be confusing to some readers, especially as the people mentioned have similar names. Sadly that is what happens a lot in history, so please don’t let that put you off giving this a read.
Overall, I would definitely recommend this book. Not only is it written in a witty and engaging style, but the Catherine Curzon manages to make the Queens feel like real people that the reader can connect with, rather than figures from the distant past. It highlights the human side to royalty, that can so often be forgotten. As said above, this is the perfect book to introduce the topic and I hope it would encourage anyone who reads it to find out more about the Queens who would help define an era, although the era is clearly given its name by their husbands.
In the opening chapters of Charles Dicken’s Great Expectations, Magwitch was incarcerated on a prison hulk, a disused ship used to house prisoners, situated around the mouth of the River Medway in Kent. It was after he escaped from one that he first encountered the main character, Pip, along the foggy marshes near this part of Kent. The mention of these hulks during the opening scenes of the book was meant to play on pre-existing ideas about the harsh conditions that those on board endured. Were these ideas really true and what exactly was a prison hulk?
Hulks were first used after the American War of Independence in order to solve the issue of ever increasing prisoner numbers. Prior to the war, many prisoners were sent out to America, but during the War of Independence and after, this was no longer a viable option for the government. Something else had to be done as there was no space to hold them inside prisons. The idea of using decommissioned and unseaworthy ships, known as prison hulks, was born out of this need. They were officially made legal by the ‘Hulks Act’ of 1776, which was meant to create a temporary fix, although the hulks would be in action for the next 80 years. As the hulks were designed to be organised by contractors, it made them an easier and cheaper option that building new prisons to hold people in. The first few were located close to London in the Thames, but when need increased, more were placed along the Medway Estuary in Kent and near the dockyards at Portsmouth.
One of the first ships to be brought used from August 1776 was the Justitia, which was previously owned by the wealthy East India Company. A total of 632 prisoners were initially placed on the ship, of which 176 had died by March 1778, showing just how insanitary the ships were. Insanitary conditions were an issue throughout the lives of the prison hulks, although there were some attempts at improvement. The cramped conditions were the main cause of disease being rife on board as this meant disease could travel easier. The small amount of rations given also made the men weak and more susceptible to the diseases onboard. Instructions meant that prisoners were given little more than bread, other than some meat and potatoes for their evening meal. These rations were not enough to cover the hard labour of the prisoners, who were expected to work in chain gangs, either at nearby dockyards or along river banks. Any insubordinate behaviour was punished with heavier chains for work or whilst on board. These would have made already backbreaking work a lot harder. Those who were either too old or too infirm for this kind of work instead stayed on the ship to cook, clean and mend clothes and shoes.
The only upside to the work was that there was the opportunity to gain money. Although whilst a prisoner men were only entitled to keep a penny of every shilling they earned, funds were saved so that they could be given money upon their release. In general, this amounted to between £10 and £15, or between £670 and £1,000 in today’s money. The prisoners also had the opportunity to gain some education whilst on board, if they so wished. After their evening meal, there was the option of attending to school work, giving them the chance to learn to read and write. This was certainly more skills than most of the prisoners would have had before entering the hulk. It was hoped that with this education, as well as the backbreaking labour, that criminality could be forced out of those incarcerated.
By the mid-1800s, more prisons were beginning to be built, meaning that the prison hulks were slowly being phased out. More and more criticism was aimed at the hulks. Those who wanted reform for the prison system suggested that the improvements being made in ordinary prisons was not being implemented on the hulks, meaning that the conditions were still as terrible as ever. As husband and wife authors, Sydney and Beatrice Webb, who wrote on the prison system many years later, have indicated that the hulks had become “of all the places of confinement… apparently the most brutalizing, the most demoralizing, and the most horrible”. It is no wonder then that by 1852, there were only two hulks left in use, before the whole hulk system was officially disbanded in 1857.
Despite there being some positives, in terms of offering meals, education and money upon release, there was no denying that the authorities made sure that prison hulks were a nightmarish place to be. Many who served their sentence on them were known to stick together, almost as if to rally around the horrors they had witnessed, mainly caused by the corruption of the system. All in all, it is a good thing they ended, but let them be remembered for the inhumanity, just like much of other parts of the justice system at that time.
I recently took a short holiday to Norfolk. It’s full of history and as where I come from is the furthest away from the sea you can get, I love to be by the sea. For one day, we went into the city of Norwich, famous for it’s historical buildings. The city was once one of the largest in England, largely due to the wealth Norfolk got from its farming and wool trades. Of course, I also went because of its links to Anthony Woodville. Little did I expect when I’d booked to go round the Stranger’s Hall, a merchant’s house dating back to the 1200s, that there would be a connection to one of my favourite period dramas, Outlander. In the very lovely Georgian dining room, there was a portrait of Margaret Tryon, the wife of William Tryon, Governor of North Carolina, who features in series four and five of the drama. I would like to thank Cathy Terry, the Senior Curator of Social History at Norwich Museums, who left a copy of her research into Margaret near her portrait, who it turns out, was an amazing woman in her own right.
Margaret was born in London in around 1732 as the daughter of William Wake and his wife, Elizabeth. Elizabeth claimed descent from John Rolfe and his wife, Pocahontas, whereas William, was a wealthy merchant for the East India Company, who went on to be the Governor of Mumbai (then known as Bombay) between 1742 and 1750. She went on to marry William Tryon in 1757, who was an aristocratic army officer. Margaret’s dowry was £30,000, which is around £3 million today, which showed just how wealthy her father had become. It would seem that Margaret would be just any other military wife, but she had very different ideas about that. Not only was she a talented organ and spinet player, she was fascinated by all sorts of intellectual topics aspects of government, military strategy and religion. These topics would keep her in good stead for the next aspect of family life, which saw the Tryons move to America.
William had been injured during a raid on Cherbourg in the Seven Years War, so a less physical role was needed for him. Thankfully, Margaret’s relations were able to help with this. One of her relatives was Lord Hillsborough, who was the Secretary of State for the Colonies, which explains why William’s next position was as Lieutenant Governor of North Carolina, which he took up in 1764. The couple, along with their young daughter, also called Margaret, moved to Wilmington in North Carolina.
Within a year, the existing Governor died, leaving William to take the promotion to Governor himself. Whilst in Wilmington, the family lived in a house on the Cape Fear River. It was there that a boy was born, but he sadly died in infancy. The couple often held social events inviting the upper classes from Wilmington and throughout the area. Margaret was known to seek out male, rather than female, company due to her masculine interests. On this, a friend known as Mrs Janet Montgomery wrote of her that:
‘Her mind was masculine. She studied everything difficult…. She published a book on fortifications and I fancy I could have won her heart if she could have given me a taste for such useful arts. The many called her mad; she certainly was eccentric. As trifling amusements had been beneath her lofty mind, and as they were essential to please the town, she found a substitute in me to amuse the circle and make the parties at the card tables.’
She was also known to insist she be addressed as Your Excellency, a title which should have only been addressed to her husband, William. William himself has been seen as a controversial man, and there is not enough time to go into the whys in this post, but he was known for his bad temper and he did isolate the people of Wilmington. Rebellions led by men called The Regulators dominated the area, blaming the Governor’s corruption and unwillingness to listen to grievances. The building of a new Governor’s Palace, known as Tryon’s Palace, in New Burn, nearly 100 miles away, was the last straw. Tryon had brought over an English designer and no expense was spared on the build, which was paid for by the citizens of Wilmington. The Regulators were eventually stamped out by Tryon’s forces, but the damage was done. In order to get out of the situation, William accepted the Governorship of New York. Tryon Palace had only been lived in for a year before the family moved in 1771.
When William took up this post, the family moved into another richly decorated house at Fort George. They had little luck there either as the house burned down in 1773 after a fire lit in the council chamber got out of control. The fire was so great that all of their possessions were lost. The estimated loss was £6,000 in possessions (around £523,000 in today’s money), and £900 in cash (around £78,500). In order to claim compensation, detailed inventories of the contents of each of the 16 rooms of the house were required. These still survive and show just how richly the Tryon family lived. No wonder the family briefly returned to England in 1774.
The family did return to America following the outbreak of the American War of Independence. This was an awkward time for William Tryon, who’s duty was to the British Crown. Forces under Tryon were known for their brutality against civilians. He also had a particular animosity towards George Washington, which led to him being embroiled in plot to assassinate Washington. The Tryons did eventually return to England again in 1780, when William’s health began to deteriorate. They moved to Mayfair, a wealthy part of London that was seen to fit their status. Despite concerns for his health, Tryon was still given military duties, this time back in East Anglia. He was appointed to command the fortifications at Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft, and also placed at Somerleyton Hall, his headquarters, where he was also in charge of forces from American and Canadian from. William died in 1788 and left the bulk of his estate to Margaret. Tragically, their daughter, Margaret, died only 3 years after her father, when she fell onto railings outside the London home, when climbing down from a rope in an attempt to elope with her army officer sweetheart. Margaret herself died on 16 February 1819 in Great Yarmouth, where she had retired to a respectable lodging house on the famous Yarmouth Rows, used by families as a holiday home.
No one is really sure just how long she lived in those lodgings for, but what is known is that she was buried alongside her husband and daughter at St Mary’s Church in Twickenham, London. Her memory, and that of her husband’s (whether deserved or not in his case), is continued by Tryon’s Palace in New Burn. This curious museum is not the original home of the Tryon’s, as that was seized by rebels at the start of the American War of Independence and burned down in 1798. Instead, it is a modern recreation based on the original plans, which opened in 1959. Still, it is used to remember a turbulent period of the history of North Carolina, of which Margaret Tryon, with all her masculine ways, played a part in.
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. 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.
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. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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.
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. 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. 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.
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. 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. Eventually Elizabeth was allowed to perform for exclusive functions, but this was mainly to pay for the enormous debts her husband had racked up. 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.
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. 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.
This book tells the story of two women trying to bring two smuggler gangs operating in Cornwall to justice; the first the teenage Emily Moon in 1799, the second Phoebe Bellingham in 2019. Both cases have their parallels, but to help solve the 2019 case, Phoebe has to figure out what happened to Emily Moon. Legend says she plunged from the cliff and her ghost still haunts the cliffs next to the pub she and her family once lived in. How true was this and how did it link to the present day case of smuggling? Of course, I won’t give you spoilers, but I hope that gives a bit of flavour to what the premise of the book is, without giving too much away.
I haven’t really read much historical fiction lately, so I must admit I was intrigued by the concept of the book, even if the main reason I chose it was because it reminded me of Poldark. There were a few reservations about it at the beginning, including the idea of having parallel timelines. Whenever I watch TV shows with that concept, I must admit, I do get quite confused with it at times. However, this book manages to keep it simple yet gripping at the same time. It certainly helps that the chapters are fairly short, so you don’t forget what’s happening in the other timeline. This also helped the reader to feel anticipation as to what was coming next, whilst also making it feel fast paced. Another reservation I had was about how much violence would be mentioned. Personally, I can take a bit, but I don’t like anything too gratuitous. I was happily surprised to find that other than at the beginning, there wasn’t much. Most of it was inferred rather than actually described, which I feel suited my tastes well. I will warn you that there are inferences of rape though, so just be careful of that.
After these initial reservations, I relaxed into the story and once I had, I found it really gripping and extremely hard to put down! The easy writing style helped with this enormously, but I also feel like the writer provoked a personal response from the reader. I know I certainly had one and just couldn’t wait to find out the fate of both the main characters and whether the bad guys were brought to justice or not.
For me, the best part was the character of Emily Moon. A girl who has only ever known the coastal village she lives in, struggles to talk and is viewed by her village neighbours as simple. She is far from it. At times, she is a silent observer, but is often helped by her drawing skills and her best friend, Arthur, who is really her childhood sweetheart. All this makes Emily a heroine with a difference, as her steely determination is often looked over by other characters in the book, but is clearly evident to the reader. Emily is a definite contrast with Phoebe, the modern day heroine.
Phoebe, originally from London, moves to Cornwall with her friend, Liv, to help run the pub Emily once lived in. She made the move after she was signed off from her job as a police officer following a particularly harrowing case. After hearing the local legends about Emily, she decides to discover more about her. Phoebe herself is very much affected by what had happened in London, so sees Emily as a way to cope with what has happened and to keep herself occupied. It is this that I feel ties both parallel timelines together. It also leaves the reader finding more about both Emily and Phoebe at the same time.
The ending does come to a satisfying conclusion, for both Emily and Phoebe, although there are a few surprises. To some extent, not all of them are total surprises, they are more logical conclusions. For that reason, the ending is definitely believable and I was very sad to finally come to an end of the book. I feel that’s always a sign of a good book, which this one definitely is! The author herself describes how she wanted to write a cross between Jamaica Inn and Line of Duty. I personally feel she has achieved that. It successfully mixed the gripping nature of Line of Duty with the smuggling and historical setting of Jamaica Inn. If there are any TV producers out there looking for the next thing to adapt, I would totally recommend this story.
It can be hard to know what to get the history lovers in your life when it comes to Christmas, especially if, like me, they’re interested in more than one period. If you need a bit of inspiration this year, then here’s a list of my top five history books that I’ve read this year. It’s a mixture of different periods and some fiction and non-fiction, so hopefully there’s something for everybody there.
Jane Austen Investigates: The Abbey Mystery, by Julia Golding
Whilst this is technically a children’s fiction book, it is well suited for Jane Austen fans of all ages. A teenage Jane Austen turns supersleuth when mysterious goings-on happen at Southmoor Abbey, where she has been sent to be a companion of Lady Cromwell for a week. It’s written in a very entertaining way and is a satirical version of a Gothic novel, full of many hints of the real Jane which will be recognised by hardened fans. It’s also a good way to introduce younger readers to the world of Jane Austen. This has definitely been one of my favourite books and I found it quite hard to put down! If you would like to know a bit more, I recently wrote a review for Love British History, which can be found here.
The Real Falstaff: Sir John Fastolf and the Hundred Years War by Stephen Cooper
This book places the Hundred Years War in the context of John Fastolf, the man Shakespeare used as inspiration for his Falstaff character. It successfully blends military history and social history with the personal life of John Fastolf. It gives you a great understanding of how Fastolf fit in and influenced the world around him until his death in the 1450s, including a focus on the homes he built for himself. All in all, a very interesting read and shows just why Fastolf isn’t recognised enough.
Sitting Bull: His Life and Legacy by Ernie LaPointe
In this book, Ernie LaPointe, great-grandson of the legendary Chief Sitting Bull, tells the real story of his famous ancestor. This is a biography with a difference. It’s written in the traditional style of Lakota oral history. This makes it read very differently to other books, but feels true to the person of Sitting Bull. It also makes it easy to read. Again this is up there with one of my favourite books of all time as it is full of emotion but is also education in the respect it shows just how complicated history has portrayed Sitting Bull. I wrote a review of this earlier in the year, so please do take a look here if you’re interested.
Before the Crown by Flora Harding
This is another fiction book, but this time an adult one. I was recently given this by a friend as a gift, so I would definitely recommend gifting this one. It tells the story of how Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip fell in love during the war and the lead up to their wedding on the 20th November 1947. Whilst this isn’t my usual time period, my friend obviously remembered that I have a personal connection to the Queen’s wedding day as my mum was born on the exact same day. I feel this has captured a young Elizabeth and Philip well and is also a very easy read. This would definitely be a good choice for any Royal fan!
Saving Mona Lisa: The Battle to Protect the Louvre and Its Treasures from the Nazis
Again this isn’t my usual time period, but I read this mainly because I have been a regular visitor to the Louvre, but was unaware of the troubles the museum had had during the Second World War. Whilst this is a non-fiction book, it does read more like an action or thriller story as the museum staff risked their lives to protect the treasures in their care. Again this makes it an enjoyable read and really focuses on the individuals involved and their sacrifices, as well as the personal achievements and recognition they had after the war ended. I recently wrote a review of this, which can be found here.
This guest post has kindly been written by Laura Adkins, the creator of the For The Love of History Blog, which I have been able to do a few guests posts for myself. She has worked at many historical sites and mainly posts about ones found in Essex, her home county. Do check her blog out if you can, I promise you it’s a very enjoyable read.
One of the grandest houses in England, Audley End stands proudly in the countryside of Saffron Walden. Its origins date back to the 10th Century, where it began life as Walden Abbey, given to Thomas, Lord Audley, by Henry VIII, who converted the monastery into a house.
The rooms are high and hung with beautiful tapestries: the beds amply decorated with golden velvet and silk bed hangings and covers.’
From the account of the visit of Johann Ernst, Duke of Saxe-Weimar, to Audley End, September 1613
In this post, I will be exploring three parts of Audley’s history, those who lived there – the Howards, its beautiful gardens designed by the one and only Capability Brown and its role in WW2 and the polish resistance.
The creator of the current structure of Audley End was Thomas Howard, part of the infamous Howard family. He inherited the House in 1605 and set about transforming the site into a country estate fit enough for royalty as he wanted to show off his wealth. Unfortunately, not much survives of his transformations and what we know from his estate comes from archives and documentary evidence. We know work began in 1605 and completed around 1614. Along with his uncle Henry Howard and Bernard Janssen, a Flemish mason, the three set about creating one of the greatest houses in Jacobean England. Audley End had all the parts one expects in a Jacobean Mansion including symmetrical inner court, lodgings for his guests, including one for both the King and a separate one for the Queen for when they would stay. Today the house is only half the size of what it once was.
The Howard family’s rise to power began in 1483, when King Richard III created John Howard the Duke of Norfolk. This was the third time that the Title of Duke of Norfolk had been used, and John had blood links to the first ever Duke of Norfolk – Thomas Mowbray (made 1st Duke of Norfolk in 1397). The head of the Howards would not only hold the title of Duke of Norfolk, but that of Earl of Arundel, Earl of Surrey, and Earl of Norfolk in addition to holding six baronies. They were a powerful family, who in the reign of the Tudors were ones to watch out for. Thomas Howard, son of John would be successful in defeating the Scots at the Battle of Flodden with two of his nieces – Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard being married to King Henry VIII. Charles Howard, 1st Earl of Nottingham, would hold the title of Lord Admiral and lead the English against the invasion of the Spanish Armada in 1588. For more on this infamous family, I suggest reading House of Treason by Robert Hutchinson.
In 1751, after the 10th Earl’s death, Elizabeth, Countess of Portsmouth brought Audley End which in turn would be inherited by her nephew, Sir John Griffin Whitwell, on the agreement that he took the surname of Griffin. John was a retired soldier and MP for Andover. He had fought and was wounded at the Battle of Kloster Kampen in 1760 during the Seven Years War.
Sir John, who became Lord Howard, would make more transformations to Audley End, most of which is what we can see today. He hired the architect Robert Adam to transform the house and Capability Brown the landscape. Adam’s work can be seen in the ground floor reception rooms on the south front today. Over time, Sir John started to pick up the architectural bug and his second wife, Katherine the decor. They both, respectively, became amateur architect and decorator and thus set about making many of their own changes to the house. The central range was rebuilt to reconnect the two wings of the house, along with a unique service gallery and detached service wing, all under the eye of Sir John.
Audley End would be one of the first houses to have a flushing water closet (installed in 1775) along with a bell system for the family of the house to call their domestic staff. Today, much of what can be seen at Audley End is a result of Richard Neville, who in the 1820s remodelled the house taking it back to its Jacobean roots.
The beginnings of formal gardens at Audley End were started during the conversion of the monastery into house. It would be Elizabeth, Countess of Portsmouth, who would begin the transformation of the gardens into a more formal landscape. However, the landscape that we see today was mostly the result of one Capability Brown.
I mentioned above that in 1763, Griffin hired John Adam to assist with the interior development, he had Capability Brown do the same with the estate. Brown’s brief was to widen the river running through the estate, building a ha-ha and transforming the overall look of the gardens into Brown’s ‘naturalistic style’. He would create new roads towards the house, including one with a bridge, which was designed by Adam’s and is a Grade I listed structure. Brown was to be paid £660 (around £1,150,000 today) for his work in three payments, the last being on completion.
The two would eventually fall out with the result being Griffin dismissing Brown and getting the unknown Joseph Hicks to finish the work. However, the elements of Brown’s work are there for all to see and appreciate, including sweeps of grass, water flowing towards the house, long curving drives with stunning views for visitors and wooded areas to hide service buildings.
When I visited Audley End many years ago, I did not really pay much attention to a monument within the estate, remembering fallen soldiers from WW2. It was not until planning this post that Danielle mentioned the Polish secret missions that made me go back and re look at Audley End’s history in the 20th Century.
In 1941, like a number of other country estates, Audley End was requisitioned by the Army to be used as a training facility. By 1943, those who trained there was exclusively Polish Soldiers. They were undergoing training to assist them when they were secretly returned to German occupied Poland and assist the Polish resistance.
Code named station 43 (overseen by the Special Operations Executive), the Polish agents, under the command of Captain Alfons Mackowiak (Alan Mack). They would undergo various training in guerrilla warfare which included close combat, assignation, forgery, planting booby traps and of course learning how to parachute out of a plane. In total 527 soldiers passed the training and were sent into Poland. Sadly, 108 of these were either killed in action or at concentration camps and are remembered on the memorial I mentioned above. The soldiers would be known as the Cichociemni (the silent and Unseen). They would be involved in many missions, including recovering a German V2 rocket and smuggling into England.
As someone whose first interest in history was the Wars of the Roses, I first came across Horace Walpole through his book Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of Richard III, in which he defended the reputation of Richard, including denying popular views that he murdered his nephews, the Princes in the Tower. Horace was the rather eccentric son of Britain’s first prime minster, Robert Walpole. He was a historian, collector, social and political commentator, writer, and author. He is perhaps most well known for writing the first gothic novel, and for leaving behind around 7,000 letters, and an account of the historical items in his collection at Strawberry Hill, his house in Twickenham. Strawberry Hill itself is one of the earliest examples of Gothic Revival architecture and reflects Walpole’s interest in the medieval. The unique house was a source of fascination to the polite middle classes who were becoming interested in the country houses of the rich. However, this was not how the building began its life.
As a younger son, Horace didn’t have his own country seat to use as a summer residence and he looked for the perfect place to convert into one. In 1747, he acquired the site in Twickenham, when it was as a rather ordinary late-seventeenth century cottage called Chopped Straw Hall. It came with 5 acres of land but before long, it expanded to include 46 acres. The beginning of the transformation into the building Horace wished was initially low key. The first mention of any connection to the Gothic was mentioned in a letter from Horace to a friend on the 28th of September 1749, where he mentioned about creating battlements. From then on, the Gothic architecture would be developed by the ‘Committee of Taste’, including Walpole and two of his friends, John Chute and Richard Bentley. Chute had met Walpole on the Grand Tour around Europe and owned his own Tudor Gothic home in Hampshire, whereas Bentley created the drawings and plans based on Walpole and Chute’s ideas. These ideas were mainly inspired by Gothic features seen elsewhere.
The rooms created for Strawberry Hill were purposefully created to be an exaggerated and theatrical version of the classic Gothic architecture seen in the medieval period. The style created was from Walpole’s imagination, but had elements that were recognisable as Gothic. It meant that a more theatrical version of the Gothic was created for the brash Georgian era. As what we now call Gothic Revival was in its infancy, there was not yet any set rules for the style. Walpole’s version of this was certainly theatrical and reflected the uniqueness of the objects he collected. The building work, not including the contents, cost £21,000, around £925,000 in today’s money, so it was a rather expensive renovation project.
The collection that was created at Strawberry Hill was a rather random collection almost in the style of a cabinet of curiosities but were collected by Walpole to create a museum to England’s history and heritage, especially time periods that were not seen as fashionable at the time. The Georgians very much focused on items from ancient civilisations like Rome or Greece, but Walpole’s focus was very much on the medieval, right through to the Stuarts in the previous century. Some of the treasured items in his collection included locks of hair of Edward IV and Mary I, a hat that once belonged to Cardinal Wolsey, a comb of Mary Queen of Scots and a watch of George II. The way these items were displayed and described were based on a mixture of “provenance, description, association and imagination”, possibly saying more about Walpole than the items. Despite the criticism this has brought Walpole, both in his own time and now, there is no doubting that he tried to widen the circle of what was worthy to study as history.
To create the museum like home he wanted, it was essential for Strawberry Hill was open to the public to see the collections. This is where Walpole’s selectively anti-social behaviour really shone through. Whilst he was open to hosting foreign ambassadors, royalty, and aristocracy, it was the middling classes he found rather annoying. In a letter to Sir Horace Mann dated 30th of July 1783, he wrote of the many visitors coming to Strawberry Hill, which meant he was “tormented all day and every day by people that come to see my house”.He was especially peeved by the visitors who came as an escape from the illnesses circulating in London, suggesting “You see the plague! You are the plague.” In a list of visitors kept for Strawberry Hill between 1784 and 1797, it shows that when the house was open between May and September, around 300 people a year viewed the house.
The tour around the house is not self-guided as we would understand from a county house visit today. They would have been shown round by the housekeeper on a set route. Walpole was often known to hide under his bed when the housekeeper showed groups around. Despite the aggravation these visitors caused, the house was never shut to visitors during Walpole’s lifetime. Perhaps this was partly because these tourists were the reason for his ‘museum’ existing. Instead, he chose to curb their behaviour by only allowing visitors with tickets given out with his signature on to be admitted. From 1784, a page of rules was also given to prospective tourists to ensure they knew the rules they had to follow to gain admittance. First and foremost, anyone applying for a tour would have to give their name and the number in their party, alongside the date they wished to attend. This information would be then given to the housekeeper if Walpole agreed to allow the party around the house. Further rules would also have to be abided by:
The person applying must give at least a day or two’s notice and would only be allowed to be a party of 4 people. Also, only one party to be shown around per day.
The day given on the ticket would be valid for the day shown and if more than 4 people arrived without prior permission, the housekeeper would be allowed to turn them away.
The party could only be shown around between 12 and 3 pm.
No group would be admitted after dinner.
If the ticket couldn’t be used on the date written on it, then prior knowledge must be given so another party could be allowed the opportunity to go.
These rules may sound strict, but there could be leniency given on all of them other than the no children one, as there was always a strict no children policy.
Sadly, after Horace died, the building was left rather neglected and unloved by its owners and the novelty of the building and its contents wore off for visitors, meaning no one really wished to visit as a tourist. As Horace died unmarried, the house went through various distant female relatives. It wasn’t until George, the 7th Earl of Waldegrave inherited it that the building was really hated. He decided to leave the house to ruin and sold off the collection in 1842. It could have ended disastrously for this once unique and popular building if it hadn’t had been for George’s widow, Frances. She had been left a lot of money by George and went on to have another rich husband, meaning she could afford to add extensions to the house in a style like Walpole’s original fantasy Gothic. It is her, alongside the current owners, St Mary’s University College, that we have to thank for the survival of such an unusual, and in my opinion beautiful, building that we can now enjoy.
I have yet to visit Strawberry Hill, but it’s certainly another one to add to my to visit list when things are better and we can travel again. Of particular interest to me is the cottage in the garden that once housed Walpole’s printing press which he used to publish he works from. This printing press was the first one to be privately owned in England, and strangely housed in the only building in the garden that wasn’t built in the Gothic style, instead it was built in traditional Georgian brick. I still wonder what Horace’s thinking was behind that.
 Lewis, W. S., ‘The Genesis of Strawberry Hill’, p. 60.
 Harney, M., Place-Making for the Imagination, p. 4.
 P. Bains, ‘”All of the House of Forgery”: Walpole. Chatterton and Antiquarian Collecting’, Poetica, 39/40 (1993), cited in Mack, R., ‘Horace Walpole and the Objects of Literary History’, ELH, 75.2 (2008), p. 374.
 Harney, M., Place-Making for the Imagination, pp. 2-3.
After the Glorious Revolution of 1688 (where Protestant William and Mary replaced the Catholic James II as joint monarchs of England, Wales and Scotland) tensions rose within the nobility and people at large, depending on which monarch they supported. At this time large pockets of Scotland in particular were Catholic, meaning they had a natural leaning towards King James. They, alongside others supporting James, became known as Jacobites, so named because it was similar to the Latin for James. This period in history is fascinating to me, not just because I love the Stuarts, but a few years ago during researching our family history, my dad discovered that my mum’s family are descended from James II’s first wife, Anne Hyde. The Glorious Revolution is literally my ancestors having a family fall out.
The tensions finally began to come to a head in late 1715 when forces mustered in the name of James’ son, James Francis Edward Stuart, known as the ‘Old Pretender’. It wasn’t well supported as Louis XIV of France, a previous supporter of the Jacobite cause, had died in September. The Duke of Orleans, who became the Regent took a rather different approach, choosing to instead become friends with the Hanoverians, the Protestant line that had been invited to the English throne following the end of the remaining Protestant Stuarts. Despite this, the forces marched through Cumberland, Westmoreland and Lancashire, until they eventually surrendered in Preston. Amongst them was William Maxwell, the 5th Earl of Nithsdale. He and others were taken to London as prisoners and placed either in the Newgate Prison or the Tower of London. William was taken to the Tower, awaiting execution.
William would probably be forgotten to history if it wasn’t for his wife, Winifred, who’s family had been closely linked to the exiled Jacobite court. She was full of dedication, love and loyalty for her husband. Once news of his capture reached her at the family home in Terregles House, just outside Dumfries. Winifred bravely decided to take the month-long ride down to London through terrible winter weather, including deep snow, alone, other than for her maid. After taking lodgings in the city, she wrote a petition to King George I, asking for clemency, after there was no forthcoming help from other Jacobite supporters. When none of this worked, she even visited the King in person, some sources saying she clung to his robes with her begging. Still none of this worked, and Winifred knew she could only rely on herself and a few close friends to help William escape.
Planning to escape from the Tower of London was a dangerous thing to do and was fraught with danger. Many had attempted it, but few had successfully managed it. Winifred was willing to play the long game though, and purposefully built up trust with the guards so that she was allowed to visit William regularly. This was a good way to lay the ground for the escape attempt which was scheduled for the day before William’s execution.
Winifred, along with her maid and two friends, were granted a last visit to say goodbye to William when they offered the guards drinking money and began friendly conversation with the wives of the guards. Each of the women had the cloaks of their hoods up and were crying into handkerchiefs every time they left the cell, creating a confusing situation for the guards. It also gave Winifred the time to dress William up in spare women’s clothing that had been smuggled in under the clothing of her friends, and place make up on his face. The funny thing is that William hadn’t had time to shave, so the make up didn’t stick to his face well. However, he was able to leave his cell and get past the guards pretending to be another of the grieving entourage. This was only made possible because Winifred stayed in the cell, pretending to have a conversation with William, and later telling the guards to leave him to his prayers.
The alarm wasn’t raised until much later after the party had managed to leave the Tower without suspicion. The pair were never caught as William was smuggled out of the country using a carriage with the Venetian ambassador’s coat of arms on, whilst Winifred made the journey back to Scotland to organise family papers and how the estate would be run whilst they were in exile. By the time Winifred made the journey back to Scotland, she was pregnant and sadly after all her hard work, miscarried on the boat over to France to find her husband. They did reunite and moved to Rome, where the rest of the exiled Jacobite court was living. However, despite happily being reunited, their life was still filled with varying degrees of poverty. They were helped with money and things did improve when Winifred became governess to Henry Stuart, the younger brother of Charles Edward Stuart, also known as Bonnie Prince Charlie.
William and Winifred did continue to be in love, and it is lovely to know that love never wavered, despite imprisonment, rebellion, and poverty. The pair did have two children, William, and Anne, but it is thought there were further miscarriages. William Junior did return to the family home following his father’s death in 1744 and reconciled himself with the Hanoverian regime and continued to tell the tale of his parents’ escape from the Tower of London. This was especially important as his mother continued to live in exile until her own death in 1749.
This story of love is perhaps a rather bizarre one, but I must admit there is something endearing that Winifred was so instrumental in saving her husband’s live, despite the obvious risks she was taking. It’s certainly one I hadn’t heard of until recently and I hope it will continue to live on as one of the stranger parts of the Jacobite Rebellions and the history of the Tower of London. Thank you to Lauren Johnson’s talk on women and the Tower of London for bringing it to my attention. The story of the Maxwells certainly shows that whilst the Jacobite Rebellions is often told from the male perspective, just like Flora MacDonald, who helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape following his rebellion, women played an important, if forgotten role during that time.
 Burke, S., ‘Women of Merit Connected with Criminal Trials: The Countess of Nithsdale’, The Rose, Shamrock, and the Thistle, 5.25 (1864), p. 50.