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.
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.
Eleanor Coade was a very unusual woman for the Georgian times, but one I must admit I admire after recently coming across her story. She was a businesswoman in her own right, despite never being married. The business she owned wasn’t traditionally feminine either. She actually owned an artificial stone factory in Lambeth, London, which bore her name. Architecture was an incredibly male dominated industry, although it was common for upper class women to have a say in the decoration of the house they lived in, Eleanor is definitely one of the first I’ve come across who had a practical role. Her business was highly successful and as English Heritage describes the stone her factory produced was “one of the most widely used materials of the 18th century”.
Eleanor was born on the 3rd of June 1733 in Exeter, Devon, to George Coade, a wealthy merchant, and his wife Eleanor. However, the wool trade George largely dealt in was soon in decline and in 1759, the family were forced to relocate to London because of bankruptcy, including s second one in 1769. Perhaps this was what spurred Eleanor to set up her own business, hoping to help the family fortunes. It was certainly a family trait as her grandmother and uncle all ran successful businesses, something which her father had not quite inherited.
By 1766, Eleanor was listed as a linen draper who dealt in linen-based textiles. That business was definitely a success as the insurance for it raised from £200 (around £17,500 in today’s money), to £750 (around £65,500 in today’s money) in just one year! Sadly we don’t know her reasons for deciding to give up this business and buy up the failing artificial stone manufactory set up by Daniel Pidcot just 3 years later. Perhaps it was just boredom or a sense of adventure, or maybe she just found it more interesting. Whatever may be the case, it became obvious that she had a flare for running a business and knew what clients wanted. Eleanor alone wouldn’t have been able to afford the purchase, so she must have had help from someone. There are two options for that, her grandmother, Sarah Enchmarch, and uncle, Samuel Coade, as previously mentioned. Eleanor certainly did receive £500 from her grandmother’s will, for she had been a successful textile businesswoman for 25 years herself, following the death of her husband. Eleanor also had close ties with her uncle, Samuel Coade. He had already bailed out his brother, Eleanor’s father, and in his own will, he specifically removed any of Eleanor’s outstanding debts she owed him, alongside providing a house for her in Lyme Regis, Dorset.
With the purchase of the business, it was renamed Coade, and all of the bills were transferred into her name. However, as she was often called Mrs Coade, this has since created some confusion as to whether it was this Eleanor, or her mother that owned the business. At that time, any woman who may have owned a business was customarily called Mrs, whether they were married or not. Despite no longer being the owner, Daniel Pidcot was kept on as a manager, probably to ease transition and to teach Eleanor about the artificial stone trade. This decision, whilst well meant, did come back to bite. In 1770, Daniel published an essay on artificial stone, and claimed that he had recently opened the manufactory, rather than in 1767, and with no mention of Eleanor being the real owner. There was also more problems ahead behind the scenes, as Eleanor publicly retaliated. In September 1771 she published 2 notices about Daniel Pidcot in the newspapers. The first one placed in the Public Advertiser showed who the real owner was:
Whereas Mr Daniel Pidcot has represented himself as a partner in the manufactory conducted by him, ELEANOR COADE, the real proprietor, finds it needful to inform the public that the said Mr Pidcot is no other than a servant to her and that no contracts, or agreements, discharges or receipts will be allowed by her, unless signed by herself.
The other notice publicised that Daniel Pidcot has left her employment and wouldn’t be returning.
It seems like the business had a bumpy start, but the success it would later see was all down to Eleanor and her business choices. Whilst the formula used for the artificial stone wasn’t invented by her, as it was based on much older ones, but she certainly altered it. The formula (although the exact one was a secret) roughly consisted of clay, flint, fine sand, glass and grog, clay that had already been fired and then ground into a powder. The particular type of clay used was purposefully sourced from Devon and Dorset, where Eleanor’s family came from, meaning this was probably the part she altered. The added glass gave the stone it’s weatherproof quality, and it was this that made Coade stone so popular, especially for outdoor decoration.
The designs created at the manufactory were mainly bespoke, although there were some pieces that could be replicated due to the use of moulds. Most of these designs were crated by the sculptor and chief designer, John Bacon, but Eleanor did do her own designs, as some were exhibited at the Society of Artists. A lot of these were mainly interior decorations, as she was interested in interior, as well as exterior design. The generic designs including things such as statues, plaques and even chimneypieces to name a few. Whether an indoor or an outdoor piece, they were always stamped with COADE to make sure no one ever forgot who made them.
The popularity of her pieces began to increase, and Eleanor made a smart move by opening a showroom in 1798. This was located in a popular area near to Westminster Bridge, which was closer to her upper-class clients. The showroom showcased some of the company’s best pieces, as well as generic items to give clients an idea of what was on offer. The showroom also produced a booklet that took them on a guided tour through Coade designs and listed places where previous commissions were, ranging from country houses, to public places, even places abroad, such as Russia, South Africa and Brazil. Sadly by 1817, fashions had changed and large commissions were no longer in fashion and the showroom was forced to close, but instead it was replaced with better advertising.
Despite changing fashions, nothing could detract from the amazing commissions the company had already fulfilled. These included the Britannia sculpture for the Nelson Column in Great Yarmouth, the gate piers of Strawberry Hill, a candelabra for the Prince of Wales (future George IV) at Carlton House, and a gothic font and screen at St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle to name a few. This is not an exhausted list as the commissions were many. With the amount of time that has passed, we cannot name how many, but English Heritage has claimed that there are over 650 surviving Coade stone examples around the world. Including a few tombs, most notably William Bligh of Mutiny on the Bounty fame, who was buried in the same churchyard as her 20 year business partner and distant cousin, John Seely.
In a world where women were not necessarily the first choice of business owner, Eleanor did remarkably well. I think it’s a shame that her name is not well known, despite the obvious success she enjoyed in her lifetime, despite being in a male dominated working environment. I hope this post has done a little to change that. Eleanor herself must have realised her own influence somewhat as following her death aged 88 on 16 November 1821, her will gave much of her estate away to charitable causes. Most of the beneficiaries of her will were single women. 3 married women were mentioned, but the will stipulated that the money given to them was not to be taken by their husbands. Perhaps that is Eleanor’s great legacy, that she was, and hopefully still is, a great example to women about what they can achieve if only they put their minds to it.
Little did I know whilst watching the final series of Poldark last year, that the new character, Ned Despard, an old friend of Ross Poldark, who was imprisoned for treason, was actually based on a real person of the same name. It was only after reading a book on Regency era spy networks after the series had finished that I discovered there really was a Colonel Edward Despard who was executed for planning a rebellion against the King and State. The story told in Poldark was not too dissimilar to the reality. He was indeed a rebel with a black wife called Catherine, just as portrayed in the period drama.
Edward Marcus Despard had indeed been imprisoned and sentenced to be executed for attempting to incite a rebellion in London, that was meant to happen alongside rebellion in Ireland and invasion from the French. Before all this though, he had served in Nelson’s fleet in the Spanish Main, including a successful raid at Black River along the Mosquito Coast of Honduras. In reward for his service, he was offered a government position as Superintendent of Honduras, but was forced to return to London because of accusations of complaints from landowners. Following his return to London with his wife, Catherine, he was placed in prison, without charges brought against him, for 2 years between 1790 and 1792. The government finally did admit to the accusations being made up, but never offered recompense and instead decided to end the post of Superintendent of Honduras.
He was purposefully moved between prisons during this time, hoping to raise as little suspicion about the case as possible. The most notable prison he spent the last part of his sentence in was Coldbath Fields in Clerkenwell. It was a relatively new prison by the time Despard was moved there but had built up a reputation as England’s version of the Bastille. Despite this, he was still allowed to see his wife, Catherine. Catherine herself was an interesting woman and played a large role in the story of her husband’s many imprisonments. She was the daughter of a free black woman, who lived near Kingston in Jamaica. I find that during this period where the government purposefully tried to ruin the reputation of Despard, his marriage to a woman of black origin was never used as ammunition against him.
Catherine openly discussed the poor conditions, especially the lack of warmth, light and food given to her husband. The main support she lobbied was in the MP, Francis Burdett. Francis Burdett spoke of these terrible conditions in Parliament, asking for an inquiry to be made into the treatment of prisoners there. The speech that he made on the subject included the poor conditions other state prisoners, starvation of a 14-year-old girl, enforced solitary confinement without reason, and the theft of money belonging to prisoners. These explosive revelations were published by Burdett in a pamphlet called An Impartial Statement of the Inhuman Cruelties Discovered in the Coldbath Fields Prison, ensuring wider public knowledge of the situation inside the prison. The publication of this pamphlet and the voices of both Burdett and Catherine allowed enough public support to cause the prison to improve the lot of Despard. He was moved to a larger cell with better conditions, including a fire.
During his unlawful imprisonment, Despard became radicalised after reading the Rights of Man by Thomas Paine. It’s easy to see why when a government that you fought for and served for many years suddenly imprisons you on false pretences. Upon his release, he was approached by some radicals who understood the emotions this situation would have instilled in him. He became involved in a secret society that wanted to start an uprising in London. The plan they devised including taking the Bank of England, the Tower of London, and armouries, before declaring war on the State and murdering the King. The government were kept well informed of plans as they had a spies called Moody and Thomas Windsor in place to gather information, especially as this insurrection was to be a sign for the rest of the country, Ireland and France to also take up arms. A plot was uncovered and Despard was the leader of it.
On the 16th of November 1802, following a tip off about a meeting of the rebels, Despard and nearly 40 other conspirators were arrest for treason. Most of the people involved were labourers and soldiers, some of them Irish, who had mainly fallen on hard times. The trail began in January 1803, and all pleaded not guilty. However, most of the evidence used against them, especially that which implicated Despard, was given by the informers, which made followers of the trial suspicious of another government stitch up. The main surprise of the trial was when Lord Horatio Nelson was called as a character witness from Despard’s time in his fleet.
Despite the interventions by Nelson, Burdett and Catherine, Despard was still found guilty. The decision for this is clear in the Attorney General’s speech surrounding the suspicion Despard was held in. The Attorney commented that it was odd that a man of “birth, education, genteel manners, and of a rank in the army” would “associate with the lowest of mankind”, unless it was to cause trouble. At the end of the trial, he was sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered. Pleas of mercy were asked for by the jury, meaning the sentence was lessened to death by hanging, then beheading. His exact death speech was replicated in his final scenes in Poldark:
“His Majesty’s Ministers know as well as I do that I am not guilty, yet they avail themselves of a legal pretext to destroy a man, because he has been a friend to truth, to liberty, to justice… because he has been a friend to the poor and oppressed. But citizens, I hope and trust, notwithstanding my fate, and the fate of those who no doubt will follow me soon, that the principles of freedom, of humanity, and of justice, will finally triumph over falsehood, tyranny, and delusion”
After his execution, Catherine successfully won a fight against the Lord Mayor of London, over where her husband should be buried. She argued that because of hereditary rights, Despard should be buried in St Pauls. She was also given a pension by Francis Burdett that was due to her until she also died. Perhaps the best legacy left by the married pair was that their situation raised the issue of poor conditions inside prisons at that time. Thanks to Catherine’s political action with Burdett, state prisoners following Despard were given larger and more comfortable cells during their imprisonment. Madame Tussaud ‘s famous waxworks in London showcased an effigy of Ned Despard, using him as one of the first British criminals to be featured in her ‘Adjoining Room’, now known as the Chamber of Horrors. This, alongside Catherine Despard’s willingness to fight for her husband, meant that his name would live long after he did.
 Wilkes, S., Regency Spies: Secret Histories of Britain’s Rebels & Revolutionaries (Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2015), p. 62.
Female veterans were officially accepted into the Royal Hospital at Chelsea in 2009 but there was one who arrived in the 1730s. Her name was Christian Davies and she certainly had a story to tell. She lived a life that wasn’t available to most women of the eighteenth century and quite a lot of it was spent on the battlefield. The idea of war would have been known to her as she was born in 1667, the English Civil War would have been within living memory. Her protestant father had also supported James II during the Williamite War in Ireland, dying from wounds following the Battle of Aughrim in July 1691. At some point after the death of her father, she went to live with an aunt who ran a pub and it would be this move that set her life on a very different path.
Whilst living with her aunt, Christian fell in love with a servant at the pub by the name of Richard Welsh. They were married and ended up having 3 children together. Their life together seemed rather ordinary until during the last pregnancy, Richard disappeared without a trace. It turned out he had been signed up for the army and shipped off to the Netherlands to fight. A letter was sent home by him explaining that he had been drunk and had woken up on a ship surrounded by other soldiers on their way to war. There would have been a social stigma attached to Christian if word had got out her husband had abandoned her, regardless of the real facts. Rather than face the sad situation, she left her children with her mother and made the rather unusual choice to join the army herself and find Richard. Whether her intention was solely to find her husband or to use his disappearance as an excuse to find the opportunity for adventure, we’ll never know, but whatever those reasons, her choice to join the army herself was an incredibly brave one.
Christian changed her name to Kit Cavanagh and became a rather skilful soldier, fighting in both the Nine Years War and the War of Spanish Succession. The first battle it is known she fought at was the Battle of Landen in July of 1693, where she was wounded and taken prisoner by the French. She was released in a prisoner swap a year later but her secret was still not known. How Christian managed to keep her gender a secret for upwards of 13 years is a miracle, especially considering some of the situations she found herself in. She fought a duel with a sergeant in the same regiment for attacking a young woman in hopes of defending the woman’s honour. The sergeant was killed and she was dismissed but soon after reenlisted in the Royal North British Dragoons, which later became the Scots Greys. As if that wasn’t awkward enough, a prostitute later claimed that Kit Cavanagh was the father of her child but instead of telling the truth and decrying the other woman as a liar, Christian instead paid for the baby’s maintenance. The bizarre situations the imposter found herself in didn’t stop there. In a biography later published in 1740 following her death, which claimed to have come from her own words, Cavanagh said she managed to fool the rest of her regiment into believing she was a man by using a tube with leather straps to pee through. If that part was true, it shows how much effort she put into her disguise and possibly how stupid the other men around her were.
Following the Battle of Blenheim in 1704, Christian finally found Richard after she was put in charge of some French prisoners. Richard was getting flirty with a Dutch woman and Christian’s anger showed her true identity. Begging to still remain a soldier, Christian insisted the pair act as brothers. It was not until a more serious injury of a fractured skull from the Battle of Ramillies that the truth was discovered by an army doctor. Instead of instantly sending her home, the regiment’s commanding officer recognised Kit’s bravery and allowed her to keep her pay until she was fully recovered, then would be allowed to stay as a camp follower as a soldier’s wife. This situation continued for 3 years until Richard was finally killed at the Battle of Malplaquet on the 11th of September 1709.
The army life still called to her and Christian decided to stay following the Scots Greys. This led to a brief relationship with a Captain Ross, hence the nickname Mother Ross, and a 3 month marriage with a man called Hugh Jones, before he died also. The wandering life never left her even when she returned to Ireland. She owned many pubs but never settled on one, despite her third and final marriage. Despite her return to a somewhat normal life, Christian remained a celebrity from her life in the army, so in some ways the army had never left her. She was presented to Queen Anne and received a £50 and 1 shilling pension from her, besides a separate pension from the Duke of Marlborough. In her final years she was accepted as a pensioner at the Royal Chelsea Hospital and died there on the 7th of July 1739, later to be given a funeral with full military honours.
Whilst there is debate as to whether the posthumous biography on Christian Davies, under the name of Kit Cavanagh, used her own words, it does certainly shed light on life in an army camp at that time. It became a go-to book on women’s experience of war during the early part of the eighteenth century, which was often overlooked at the time. Yet there is a more complex context behind it than who’s words were used to create this biography. It did one of two things; help promote nationalism for men and women at a time of further conflict during the Anglo-Spanish War and the War of Austrian Succession and celebrated a woman who was able to defy the typical gender roles that were expected of her.
 Wynn, S. and Wynn, T., A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, 1682-2017 (Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2019), p. 192.
 Wynn, S. and Wynn, T., A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, p. 193; Broderick, M., Wild Irish Women (Dublin: O’Brien Press, 2012).
 Wynn, S. and Wynn, T., A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, pp. 194-195.
 Wynn, S. and Wynn, T., A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, p. 195.
 Wynn, S. and Wynn, T., A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, p. 196.
 Wynn, S. and Wynn, T., A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, p. 196; Broderick, M., Wild Irish Women.
 Wynn, S. and Wynn, T., A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, p. 196.
 Lynn, J. A., ‘Essential Women, Necessary Wives, and Exemplary Soldiers: The Military Reality and Cultural Representation of Women’s Military Participation (1660-1815)’, in Hacker, B. C. and Vining, M. (eds), A Companion to Women’s Military History (Leiden: Brill, 2012), p. 127.
 Lynn, J. A., ‘Essential Women, Necessary Wives, and Exemplary Soldiers’, p. 127.
 Bowen, S., ‘”The Real Soul of a Man in her Breast”: Popular Opposition and British Nationalism in Memoirs of Female Soldiers, 1740-1750’, Eighteenth-Century Life, 28.3 (2004), p. 20; J. Wheelwright, ‘”Amazons and Military Maids”: An Examination of Female Heroines in British Literature and the Changing Construction of Gender’, Women’s Studies International Forum, 10.5 (1987), cited in Bowen, S., “The Real Soul of a Man in her Breast”, p. 21.
As someone who loves pirates but doesn’t drink rum (unless it’s Malibu) and instead drinks a lot of tea, I feel I’d have got on well with Captain Bartholomew Roberts. Despite his rather strict rules on gambling, fornication and drinking, his crew were staunchly loyal to him until the bitter end. These rules certainly didn’t live up to the general image we have of drunken pirates whoring and gambling. Yet, there was something in this system designed by Roberts that must have worked, for he was the most successful pirate in terms of ships captured. During his short reign on the seas of the Atlantic, between the Americas and West Africa, he captured around 400 ships. In terms of ships captured, this made him the most successful pirate of the Golden Age of Piracy. He was also known for having a mini fleet of three ships: his flagship, Royal Fortune and two others named Ranger and Little Ranger. With these strings to his bow,
During the time Roberts spent pillaging the coast of West Africa in the few years leading up to 1722, the area was seeing increased activity in slavery, as this was when many of the slavery posts were being established. The link to slavery was a constant in Roberts’ career upon the sea. He reluctantly turned pirate after the slave ship he had previously been on, had been captured by the crew of Howell Davis. In this situation it would have been turn pirate or die. No doubt he would have learnt how t o be a true pirate during those early days on board, especially as the Davis was a fellow Welshman. Roberts was born around 1682 as John Roberts but changed his name to Bartholomew at the time he became pirate. John was obviously not a good enough pirate name.
He was a quick learner and within weeks of his capture, Davis was ambushed on the Portuguese island of Principe after a trap set up to lure him to the governor. Roberts was voted in by the crew who must have seen potential in this newbie of a pirate. It was this basic form of democracy that drew sailors to the pirate flag around this time, as they would be allowed to vote in their captains and on major decisions on board. This was certainly something they were not entitled to on Royal Navy ships or back home on land. The decision-making process was also helped by the fact pirates were viewed as men who “could do anything as long as he remained at liberty”. It is claimed that when Roberts accepted his role as captain, he said “since he dipped his hands in the muddy water, and must be a pirate, it was better being a commander than a common man”.
As a captain, Bartholomew was mostly known for the way he dressed on board. His usual outfit consisted of a damask waistcoat, red feather in his hat and a gold chain with diamond crucifix around his neck. He was also known for not drinking rum. Instead his tipple of choice was tea. It would have been easy to get hold of as many of the merchant ships at that time would have carried it. Unusually the crew often would “vote him small parcels of plate and china” if any were found on board captured ships. The somewhat sophisticated notion of drinking tea from china cups was certainly not replicated on many, if any, other pirate ships.
The main legacy he left was his own version of the pirate code, which he created in 1720. His version was one of many such lists of rules that pirates had to abide by. However, each one followed roughly the same guidelines of including voting on board, equal share of booty and compensation for injuries. Robert’s version of the pirate code was certainly quite different in places.
Every man has a vote in affairs of moment; has equal title to the fresh provisions, or strong liquors, at any time seized, and may use them at pleasure, unless a scarcity makes it necessary, for the good of all, to vote a retrenchment.
Every man to be called fairly in turn, by list, on board of prizes because they were on these occasions allowed a shift of clothes: but if they defrauded the company to the value of a dollar in plate, jewels or money, marooning was their punishment. If the robbery was only betwixt one another, they contented themselves with slitting the ears and nose of him that was guilty, and set him ashore, not in an uninhabited place, but somewhere, where he was sure to encounter hardships.
No person to game at cards or dice for money.
The lights and candles to be put out at eight o’clock at night: if any of the crew, after that hour still remained inclined to drinking, they were to do it on the open deck.
To keep their piece, pistols, and cutlasses clean and fit for service.
No boy or woman to be allowed amongst them. If any man were to be found seducing any of the latter sex, and carried her to sea, disguised, he was to suffer death.
To desert the ship or their quarters in battle, was punished with death or marooning.
No striking one another on board, but every man’s quarrels to be ended on shore, at sword or pistol.
No man to talk of breaking up their way of living, till each had shared one thousand pounds. If in order to this, any man should lose a limb, or become a cripple in their service, he was to have eight hundred dollars, out of the public stock, and for lesser hurts, proportionally.
The captain and quartermaster to receive two shares of a prize: the master, boatswain, and gunner, one share and a half and other officers one and a quarter.
The musicians to have rest on the Sabbath Day, but the other six days and nights, none without special favour.
The most unique is the ban of gambling on board, most other pirates wished to limit it but not ban it altogether. As pirates were mainly known for their lack of religious practice, it is also a rare example of the observance of the Sabbath. It’s claimed that Roberts even read the bible out to the crew on Sundays. What is known of this version of the pirate code is taken from later hearsay as it is believed the crew threw it overboard when they were captured. Despite some of these rules sounding harsh, it was clear discipline on board was a priority to Roberts, and is probably the reason why he was known for being a good leader of his men. However, he was known to only use harsh punishments as a last resort, even when it came to the treatment of prisoners.
As with most pirates, the days were numbered for Captain Bartholomew Roberts and his crew. In 1722 Captain Ogle of the Swallow was out searching Captain Roberts in the Cape Lopez along the coast of Gabon. Ogle’s first tentative steps towards this was to lure out the Ranger from its hiding place before focusing on the Royal Fortune. Despite the imminent threat of danger, Roberts refused to fight until he had finished his breakfast, especially as most of his crew had spent the previous night drinking in celebration of capturing a ship. This lack of action would seal the fate of Roberts and his crew. No shot was fired in enough time at the Swallow, giving Ogle’s crew the opportunity to fire with all their might at Roberts. It worked and killed Roberts, making his men surrender instantly out of a mixture of loyalty and fear. They still somehow managed to find time to wrap their dead captain up in a sail and throw his body overboard. As Peter Earle indicates, this final battle was a bit of a humiliation to the memory of the most successful pirate, as it happened “without a single royal sailor being killed”. The majority of men in Roberts’ crew captured that day were in their 20s, with the oldest being 45.
Following the passing of the Act for the More Effectual Suppression of Piracy in 1700, Admiralty courts could be held abroad, rather than sending pirates to London for trial. This meant that the hundreds of Roberts men captured were imprisoned at Cape Coast Castle, now in modern day Ghana. 52 of them were found guilty and were hung outside the castle gates along the waterside to prove as a warning to other sailors. 74 more were acquitted, 2 sentences were respited, 20 sentenced to hard labour in mines owned by the Royal Africa Company, 17 sent back to London for another trial and 32 died before the original trial. This number doesn’t include the 77 slaves found on board who were sent back into slavery. Captain Ogle himself hugely benefitted from his booty of pirates. He was the only person to be knighted specifically for fighting pirates.
The trial was one of the largest ever pirates trials and marked the end of the Golden Age of Piracy in the Atlantic. As Roberts’ crew had successfully “nearly brought Antillean commerce to a standstill” by focusing on these newly established slavery ports, an example had to be made. It certainly made a big enough one to end, or at least mark the beginning of the end, of what we see as the Pirates of the Caribbean. It was a “devastating blow to the pirate community as a whole” and showed how willing the authorities were to hand humiliate and punish those caught for piracy. The last words on the crew’s loyalty to Roberts and sense of adventure attributed to the life of a pirate is probably best summed up in the final words of Thomas Sutton, one of the crew members, when discussing heaven with a follow prisoner: “Give me hell, it’s a merrier place: I’ll give Roberts a salute of 13 guns at entrance”.
 Kuhn, G., Life Under the Jolly Roger: Reflections on Golden Age of Piracy (Oakland, California: PM Press, 2010), p. 21
 Rendell, M., Pirates and Privateers in the 18th Century (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2018), p. 127.
 Bowling, T., A Brief History of Pirates and Buccaneers (London: Robinson, 2010), p. 79; D. Cordingly, intro to A. Konstam, The History of Pirates (1999) cited in Kuhn, G., Life Under the Jolly Roger, p. 30.
 Bowling, T., Pirates and Privateers (Harpenden: Pocket Essentials, 2008), p. 108.
 Captain Johnson, General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates cited in Kuhn, G., Life Under the Jolly Roger, p. 34.
 Rendell, M., Pirates and Privateers in the 18th Century, p. 125.
 Captain Johnson, General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates cited in Kuhn, G., Life Under the Jolly Roger, p. 32.
The pensioners of the Royal Hospital Chelsea are iconic with their red coats and tricorn hats. After recently reading a book on the hospital, I was surprised to learn that this uniform is only the ceremonial uniform and not the everyday wear of the pensioners. I was even more surprised to learn about one rather special resident, William Hiseland (is also seen spelt as Hiseland/Hizeland or Hadeland), who lived until he was 111. It is believed that William was born on the 6th of August 1620 and he died 7th of February 1732. Even today anyone living over 100 is an amazing achievement, but to have managed this in the late 17th and early 18th century seems more surreal!
As if living to over 100 wasn’t an achievement enough, that is only part of his story and how he ended up as a Chelsea Pensioner. First of all, he was actually one of the first Chelsea Pensioners to live at the hospital as it had only opened its doors in 1692 to elderly veterans. It’s uncertain as to when exactly he first came to live at the hospital, but its thought to have been around 1713. When the hospital was first established, they served ‘in pensioners’, who lived within the hospital and had forfeited their pension to pay for their care, or those ‘out pensioners’, who were paid their army pension by the hospital but were living elsewhere.
William himself was given a pension of 1 crown (5 shillings) when he retired aged 93, which was paid by Charles Lennox, the 1st Duke of Richmond, and Robert Walpole, the first Prime Minister. To actually be a part of the army until such an old age is something amazing, but when you look further into his military career, things get even more interesting. It’s believed that he first entered the army at the age of 13 in 1633, but unfortunately there was nothing to corroborate this. Whether this is true or not, it is known that the first significant battle he took part in was at Edgehill, the first pitched battle of the English Civil War. Having survived the Civil War, he also fought in William III’s wars in Ireland in 1689, by which time he would have been nearly 70. By this point, you’d have expected the elderly veteran to think about taking things easy, especially as he had already gone past the average life expectancy at the time of 35-40. He literally kept soldiering on!
The next war he was to be found in was as part of the Grand Alliance army made up of Britain, the Holy Roman Empire, Austria, United Provinces (now Holland) and Danish Auxiliary Corps during the War of Spanish Succession against France. At the Battle of Malplaquet, William was believed to have been 89. Whatever his real age was, he was definitely the oldest man on the battlefield. It’s not known as to how much fighting personally did whilst serving in his older years, but to even still be part of the army was a major achievement. From all this dedication to his country, it’s no wonder that William Hiseland became one of the first pensioners to live at the Royal Chelsea Hospital.
The adventurousness in his character didn’t stop when he became a resident at the hospital. In 1723, he left the comfort of the hospital to get married. In pensioners were not allowed to be married as the pension would be forfeited and as a dependent, any wife would need support. Some sources claim that this was his only marriage, but others suggest he may have had up to 3 wives after the age of 100. Whichever of those statements is right, William’s wife died and he returned to being a pensioner at the Chelsea Hospital, living there until his own death as the last living soldier of the English Civil War. His grave can be found in the cemetery in the grounds of the hospital and is located near to the first ever pensioner admitted, Simon Box.
The fact that a portrait of this extraordinary veteran survives (see above) shows just how much others at the time believed this man should be remembered. The epitaph carved into his gravestone also tells the story and brings his character to life:
“Here lies William Hiseland a veteran if ever a soldier was, who merited well a pension. If long service be a merit having served upwards of the days of man ancient but not superannuated, engaged in a series of wars, civil as well as foreign, yet not maimed or worn out by either. His complexion was fresh and florid, his health, hale and hearty, his memory exact, and ready in stature. He surpassed the prime of youth and what rendered his age, still more patriarchal, when above one hundred years old he took unto him a wife. Read fellow soldiers and reflect that there is a spiritual welfare as well as a welfare temporal.”
I think William’s obvious patriotism and love for the career he had chosen for 70 odd years is an inspiration to us all.
Whenever pirates are mentioned, the first person to come to mind is usually Blackbeard. He was notorious for his use of violence and tyranny, making him the scourge of the Caribbean. The modern idea of historical pirates is usually linked to Blackbeard’s style of piracy. Whilst writing my undergraduate dissertation on pirates and highwaymen, I found that there were many pirates, particularly Captain Bartholomew Roberts, the creator of the pirate code, who didn’t match up to this image we have today. Still, this image was largely created by Blackbeard and the legends that surround him. His image and dramatic death became the personification of piracy, inspired by many eighteenth and nineteenth century plays and melodramas written about him. The idea of Blackbeard’s exploits being shown to an eager and willing audience helped spread this image in a way that ensured it is still very much remembered today.
The demonic image that we have of Blackbeard was fuelled by Blackbeard himself. This was purposefully done by matches placed in his hair and beard and his brutal treatment of fellow shipmates. All this was done to give the appearance of a beast from hell. The reputation this created ensured that he gained power from encouraged tales about him to exacerbate his brutal nature. One of these shipmates was Israel Hands, who was shot in the knee, with the hope it would encourage further rumours of brutal treatment.
His reputation for a brutal form of piracy first became noticed by a wider public when his ship besieged Charleston in South Carolina. The oddest thing about this siege was that it was done to get medicines for the crew. It’s not known exactly what disease the medicines were needed for but following the finding of the Queen Anne’s Revenge in 1996, large traces of mercury were found. From this, it has since been believed that the most likely reason for the medicines was for the mercury, suggesting that many on board were suffering from sexually transmitted diseases, which were usually treated with mercury.
Blackbeard was believed to have been a mass bigamist who had married fourteen wives. His last wife, Mary Ormond, was sixteen years old when she married him and afterwards was prostituted out by Blackbeard. This shows a different culture than would have been acceptable in Blackbeard’s native England as bigamy and prostitution was considered illegal but such behaviour was deemed acceptable in the pirate community. However, such transgressive behaviour was usually exaggerated by legitimate sea captains who were the only contemporaries to comment on piracy in order to promote their own careers. This ‘othering’ reaction was certainly something that was part of Blackbeard’s motives behind the behaviour.
The most famous part of Blackbeard’s story is without a doubt his death. It was this that sealed his fate as the most infamous pirate to have sailed the seas of the Caribbean. Johnson describes his final battle as Blackbeard’s last defiant act, as it took 25 shots and cutlass wounds to kill him after Captain Maynard’s crew besieged the Queen Anne’s Revenge. His headless body was thrown overboard and legends circulated that his headless body swam around the ship in defiance of his own death. This would be the last act to reinforce Blackbeard’s devil image, even though it was from beyond the grave. Once dead, Maynard displayed Blackbeard’s head as a war trophy on the front of his ship. This followed the tradition of displaying the body of hanged pirates on waterfronts to act as a deterrent to other would be pirates by indicating that the relevant authorities had command on such crimes.
Pirates were able to romanticise themselves by a lack of ethical accountability and used this in order to establish a common “national-cultural identity”. In the case of Blackbeard, this was done by controlling his own portrayal of individual identity, which in turn influenced the collective memory of what it meant to be pirate. The idea of pirates and their lack of accountability finally changed with the development of official naval legality in Nassau and warships had gained better weapon technology, increasing the number of coordinated campaigns against pirates. Blackbeard was the beginning of the end for the pirates who plagued the seas around the Caribbean and so is continually remembered for being the image by which all pirates are remembered. His legacy is that he has influenced many fictional pirates after him, including Long John Silver and Captain Flint, as well as the Pirates of the Caribbean series, especially as Blackbeard himself makes an appearance.
 Bowling, T., Pirates and Privateers (Harpenden: Pocket Essentials, 2008), p. 148.
 Cordingly, D., Spanish Gold: Captain Woodes Rogers & the True Story of the Pirates of the Caribbean (London: Bloomsbury, 2011), p. 167.
 Johnson, C., A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates, Reprint (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014), p. 60.
 Parry, D., Blackbeard: The Real Pirate of the Caribbean (London: National Maritime Museum Publishing, 2006), p. 10.