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.
This book has been on my to read pile for a while now and back in October, when it was Black history month, I thought there was no better time to read it. I had heard good things though, so I couldn’t wait to get started and I was definitely not disappointed!
It showcases ten very different examples of black people living in Tudor England to demonstrate that they would have been more judged by their social status than their skin colour. Each chapter is dedicated to telling the story of a different person. A few of the examples include the now fairly well known John Blanke, a trumpeter to Henry VIII, to Jacques Francis, a salvage diver who dived to the Mary Rose. All the examples chosen show the wide variety of trades available to them. They were not the slaves that we may perceive them to be, but free people who were able to chose their own path. Jacques Francis was a personal favourite and will be featured in a blog post at some point next year.
With focusing on these examples, the reader can clearly understand that Tudor and early Stuart England was not as white as we have been taught. For this reason, the book is very important as it sheds light on a little known aspect of history, which I am always a sucker for. The author not only gives a wider context to their situation, but gives smaller examples of other black people in the same situation, where we cannot find more than a fleeting glimpse of from the records. At times, this can take over a little from the people’s stories she is trying to tell, but I understand that it was necessary to do this in order to give a well-rounded picture to the times they lived in.
The writer’s style is easy to read and understand, which helps to appeal this book to a wider audience. It also helps them to ask questions about how racial attitudes and how this began to change following the introduction of the slave trade later in the seventeenth century. To do this, there are some uncomfortable moments in the book, particularly when explaining ideas of racism and slavery that were beginning to develop, and had already developed in places like Spain and Portugal, which are well explained throughout.
The main reason there has been a focus more on the contextual background is that the only sources that these black people existed in Britain are things like court and parish records. The issue with this is that it doesn’t add a wider context about how they would have been treated or viewed by those around them. It is for this reason that Kaufmann does add so much other information. This may put some people off, and there is no denying that there is some speculation amongst this, but I think the point of this book is to be expand historical thinking towards including those with different ethnical backgrounds. In this respect, it did well to answer some of the complex questions we may have about the book’s topic.
In general, I enjoyed this book and it left me wanting to know more about those black men and women who lived during this time period. I am not usually much of a fan of Tudor history, but this is certainly something I did enjoy. It brought something entirely new to the field and I hope that others authors take note of that and that there can be more research into black history during this period.
The Scottish Crown Jewels, also known as the Honours of Scotland, are a regular feature for any visit to Edinburgh Castle. Within the last week, the Honours crown was placed on top of Queen Elizabeth II’s coffin as she lay at rest in St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh. What is little known is the rather amazing survival story behind the jewels, a story I didn’t know myself until a I watched a programme during the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations only a few months ago. For that reason, I found it only fitting to write about it in the lead up to the Queen’s funeral.
The Honours are used as a collective term to include a crown, sceptre and sword. The sword and sceptre were given to James IV of Scotland by two separate popes in 1494 and 1507, with the crown having an unknown date, but it was certainly in existence before 1540, when James V ordered alterations to it. The first time all three items were used together was during the coronation of the nine-month-old Mary Queen of Scots in 1543. Within a century, the jewels were placed in immense danger. Following the English Civil War, Charles I, the grandson of Mary Queen of Scots, had been executed in January 1649 by the Parliamentarians, and the country was made a Protectorate, with Oliver Cromwell in charge.
The Scots, although they were against Charles I for his religious policy, were outraged at the murder of a king. On 1 January 1651, Charles II, son of the late king Charles, was crowned with the Honours. This angered Cromwell, who sent forces to Scotland as a punishment for their Royalist sympathies. The Honours were immediately at risk because Cromwell had already ordered the destruction of the English crown jewels, so the Scottish ones would be next if he could lay his hands on them. Following the coronation of Charles II, the Honours were unable to return to their home in Edinburgh as the city had already fallen to Cromwell’s troops, so another place of safety had to be chosen.
Dunnottar Castle, situated just under 20 miles from Aberdeen was chosen. It made sense to choose the castle as it was strategically placed on top of giant cliffs along a headland of coast. It was a good place to make a stand, but also to smuggle the jewels out from if necessary. The Honours arrived at Dunnottar not long after Charles II’s coronation by hiding them in sacks of wool. This in itself posed a threat as they had to be carried through territory occupied by Cromwell’s troops. Whilst Dunnottar was a safe haven for a while, troops began to besiege the castle from September 1651, which would last for eight months in total. A plan to smuggle the jewels out was now the only option. The question was how was it managed?
There have been two theories placed forwards as to how the jewels actually were smuggled, the first was given my Christian Fletcher, the wife of the minister of nearby Kinneff Church, who played a major part in the planning. In her account of the event later spoken in front of the Privy Council, she claimed to have visited the castle on three separate occasions to undertake the task of smuggling. She was also helped by Mary Erskine, dowager countess of Marischal, who’s son was in control of the area, and Elizabeth Douglas, wife of the Castle Governor. The first attempt launched the rescue attempt, in which Christian left the castle with the King’s papers sewn into her belt. She then returned in February 1652 to collect the crown and sceptre. She had arrived on horseback to collect them and left the castle by keeping close to the cliff in order to stay hidden. The final attempt was in March 1652, when she came back with a servant to collect the sword. The servant took the sword away hidden in a sack of flax on her back, with the sword case later being taken away in a sack of pillows.
Christian Fletcher’s account was seen as too boastful and later on a different set of events was released to explain the rescue attempt for the jewels. This account suggests that all of the items were taken in one go, with them being tied up and lowered down to the beach below, were a servant girl collected them and hid them inside a basket of seaweed. Whichever account is accurate, the Honours were certainly successfully rescued. They were taken to nearby Kinnaff Church, where Christian’s husband served as a minister, and buried there. The Honours were dug up every three months to be checked for any damage, a process that would go on for nine years before they could be returned to Charles II, once had been restored as king.
When the jewels were returned to the monarchy, arguments began to ensue over who had really had the largest part in the rescue attempt. Dowager Countess Marischal managed to convince people that her son had smuggled them to the continent, meaning that he received money and titles for his supposed efforts, Elizabeth Douglas claimed she was the person in charge of the operation and also received rewards. This meant that Christian Fletcher, her husband, and their servants, had their roles diminished. It wasn’t until Fletcher told her side of the story that she was offered 2000 Scots merks, but it was never paid to her.
Upon the return of the Honours, they were placed back inside Edinburgh Castle, where they stayed until the Scottish Parliament was dissolved in 1707, following the Act of Union, which officially merged England and Scotland. They were then placed inside a large chest and their whereabouts forgotten for over a century. There were rumours that the jewels had been sent to England in secret, but the famous Scottish author, Walter Scot, still believed them to be in a chest in Edinburgh Castle. With this belief, he petitioned the Prince Regent, the future George IV, in 1818, to give permission for the chest to be opened. It was and the life of the jewels continued once more. They were put on public display on 26 May 1819 and have been ever since.
As mentioned at the beginning of this post, the crown was used to adorn Queen Elizabeth II’s coffin as it lay at rest in Edinburgh, so in some respects, it has once again been brought to the world’s attention, albeit in sad circumstances. Without the bravery and cunning of the women who helped save the Honours all those centuries ago, that would not have been possible. Whilst I know monarchy isn’t for everyone, as witnessed in the struggles between the Royalists and Parliamentarians at that time, there is no denying that the people who saved the jewels at that time risked everything to save the Honours.
Last month it was announced that the wreck of a ship known as the Gloucester had been found off the coast of Great Yarmouth in Norfolk. The ship had been wrecked on the sandbanks in 1682, whilst carrying the then heir to the throne, James Stuart, Duke of York, who later became James II. Whilst I am interested in the Stuart era, I must admit, I didn’t know anything about the sinking of this ship, so whilst it has been in the news a lot recently, I thought it best to explain the context around the sinking and why it has been such an important discovery. I also recently wrote a short piece on why this amazing discovery was needed by the town of Great Yarmouth, which can be viewed here.
James Stuart was heir to his older brother, Charles II, as Charles had had no legitimate children. As James was a Catholic in a Protestant country, this did cause issues. By the time of 1682, Charles had made James and his family live in Scotland, mainly due to the issues of the succession. Many had tried to bar James from becoming King, whilst there was also a Popish Plot in 1679, where Catholics had attempted a conspiracy to kill Charles in favour of his brother, James. In early 1682, when these issues appeared to be settling down, James was allowed to return to England, with plans being made to allow him and his family, including his pregnant second wife, Mary of Modena, back to court. In order to do this, James was to collect Mary by boat from Scotland and bring her back to England, with the hopes that she would give birth to a boy and thus secure James’ claim to the throne.
The ship chosen for this journey was the Gloucester. It had been originally commissioned in 1652 and was launched in 1654, so by the time it was used by James, it was already of some age. In fact, it had been out of action due to a poor state of disrepair and had been refitted between 1878 and 1680. In order to collect James from Margate in Kent, which is on the east coast, it had to leave the dock at Portsmouth on the south coast. As well as the Gloucester, there were also five other ships and four yachts that formed the escort. When the time came for boarding, there was a bit of chaos. It took several hours to load the tons of baggage and the estimated 350 passengers on board. Some, passengers decided to change which boat last minute. One of these passengers was Samuel Pepys, the famous diary writer. As he suffered from sea sickness and was worried that the amount of people on board would make him worse, he decided to change boat.
Bad weather made the journey an awkward one. One the first day of sailing, the Gloucester decided to moor due to the terrible conditions. When this decision was made, the ship fired a cannon to announce the decision but this only caused confusion. Instead, some the ships in the escort took this as a sign to move seawards again and were separated from the rest. When the ship got closer to the coast of North Norfolk, an argument ensued between the pilot, some of the crew and naval experts, and the Duke of York, as to which route would be best to take. The area was known for its treacherous sandbanks, so a wrong decision would have been fatal. This proved to be true in the case of the Gloucester.
At 5:30 am on the 6th of May, the ship hit two parallel sandbanks known as the Leman and Ower sandbanks off the coast from Yarmouth. James was reluctant to leave the ship, thinking that they could save it. Instead the opposite was true. It only took the ship around an hour to sink. The rest of the passengers couldn’t leave as etiquette dictated that no one could leave until royalty had gone first. In the end, it has been estimated that around 130-250 people died that day, including some from the nobility. James had also lost a brother of his first wife, Anne Hyde, and according to one source, “all the Dukes cooks but one, all his footmen, and all the rest of his servants”.
As would be expected, the sinking caused a lot of emotions within the witnesses and the families of those who had died, with all wanting answers. The pilot of the Gloucester, James Ayres, was sentenced to life in prison, although there were some, including the Duke of York, who were calling for his execution. Instead, the pilot only served a year of his sentence. Others blamed James, for one being involved in the argument about navigation, and two, for taking so long leaving the ship, meaning others couldn’t escape. No matter who was really to blame for the wreck, the reality was that many people had lost their lives in the tragic accident.
In the aftermath, James’ reputation was at stake. With his reputation only just beginning to rebuild, the Gloucester did little to help, despite some reporting hoping to diminish the collateral damage. Poems, ballads and plays were all written about the event, meaning the news of it was everywhere. With the succession being so fragile already, this event was again another thing used by some against James to show he wasn’t the right person to become the next king. Others who did support him were willing to place the blame elsewhere and continue their support for him. One such way of doing this was by the production of a medal to commemorate the event and to circulate rumours that it was a republican plot to kill James and end monarchy in England once again.
Whilst James did eventually become king in 1685, following the death of his brother, Charles II, he was ousted during the Glorious Revolution of 1688, in which his own Protestant daughter, Mary, and her husband, William of Orange, were invited to take the throne. Perhaps the Gloucester was one of the many reasons used against James’ rule. Whatever the case may be, the discovery of the shipwreck has brought up many fascinating artifacts that capture the moment in time when it sank on the 6th May 1682, including spectacles that would have once been used by someone on board. I hope the discovery helps to add more context behind the life of James and of course be used as a way to remember those who lost their lives on that day. For that reason, I very much look forward to seeing what will happen with it in the future, starting with a planned exhibition next year.
 Ibid; Claire Jowitt, ‘The Last Voyage of the Gloucester’, p. 12
Letter from Scotland Giving a True Relation of the Unhappy Loss of the Gloucester-frigot, Whereof Sir John Berry was Commander. With a Particular Account of the Persons of Quality Drowned therein, and the Miraculous Escape of His Royal Higness the Duke of York (London, 1682), cited in Claire Jowitt, ‘The Last Voyage of the Gloucester’, p. 13
Whilst as a rule I don’t usually share about history themed news pieces, I have made an exception, just this once. A few days ago, it was announced that the discovery of a ship, known as the Gloucester, which sank in 1682, with James, Duke of York (the future James II) on board, was found off the coast of Great Yarmouth in Norfolk. You may ask why this is significant and why I’m particularly excited to share this news with you.
Great Yarmouth is where I have holidayed regularly for many years now. For this reason, it holds a special place in my heart. It’s a traditional British seaside town, full of fun and amusement arcades. The pirate golf there is a must visit and is actually education too! Best of all is the famous reputation it has for it’s fish and chips. I have to agree that they taste like know where else.
However, the town does struggle with poverty due to its reliance on seasonal tourism. Whilst I must admit this is an issue that does need addressing, it is a place full of history if you know where to look. It was once a thriving fishing town and port. During my own research, I have seen these aspects referenced many times. One particular part of its history has become well known: the many old passageways that the inhabitants of the town used to live and do business from, which are known as The Rows. However, I must acknowledge that the town’s history and heritage is not always celebrated as much as it should. There are pockets of it, if you are interested and they certainly do have a very good maritime festival along the quayside.
From this, you may be wondering why I find it so exciting that a 340 odd year old shipwreck is such a welcome thing to the town. The Gloucester wreck has been described as an important a find as the Mary Rose, the flagship of Henry VIII’s fleet that was raised from the seabed off Portsmouth in 1982. The Mary Rose was a time capsule thanks to the many artefacts onboard and it seems the Gloucester is no different. There are even wine bottles with their contents still inside! The ship’s bell was still intact too, helping to identify the wreck.
If like me, you want to know all that there is to know about this amazing discovery, click here to learn more about the significance and some of the findings. An exhibition of the discovery is due to be held at Norwich Castle museum from Spring 2023 and I for one will definitely be attending and if you can, I hope you will too. I also hope that this will be just one of the things that Great Yarmouth needs.
I will also be writing a post on the events around the sinking of the Gloucester in a few week’s time, so please do look out for that.
Like many avid Bridgerton fans, I was captivated with the room chosen for Queen Charlotte’s throne room where the debutantes were presented. It sparkles and oozes luxury with gold and large paintings everywhere. It has also been featured in many other period dramas, The Crown, and the 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. So where exactly is it? The room is actually the Double Cube Room at Wilton House in Wiltshire. Wilton is a spectacular house and has been dubbed one of the most, if not the most, beautiful country houses in England. No wonder it has featured in many a period drama and specifically been Buckingham Palace on more than one occasion.
Wilton House itself has been a private house since Henry VIII seized a previous religious site on the estate from nuns during the Reformation. The abbey and its vast 46,000 acre estate was given to William Herbert, who would go on to become the 1st earl of Pembroke and Henry VIII’s brother-in-law when he married Anne, the sister of Henry’s last wife, Catherine Parr. Following this change of ownership, an original Tudor mansion was built, but major alterations to the southern wing during the mid-seventeen century was what the house would go on to be famous for.
Charles I was said to have spent most of his time in the summer at Wilton, so an appropriate design fitting a king was needed. The south wing was to be a set of state rooms similar to those found in the courts of royal palaces. These state rooms were meant to be a mixture of public rooms where the monarch could be meet with his court, along with banquets, music and dancing. There were also a few more private rooms which were only entered by invite only.
By the time of the alterations, the 4th earl was in charge, deciding to employ Inigo Jones and his pupil, John Webb, to design a classical style exterior with an flamboyant exterior, similar to Jones’ other works at Banqueting House and the Queen’s House at Greenwich. Who best to design a space meant to hold a mini court? Jones had been a protégé of the Herbert family, so that was also a big factor in choosing him as the designer. He as also an innovator as he was responsible for bringing in the Palladian style, which took influence from the classical styles of architecture found in Greece and Rome. Whilst he was an innovator, the style would sadly not catch on until the Georgian period a hundred years later.
A fire in 1647 caused serious issues to the building project as it meant a new design, the one we now see, had to be built. Jones was an elderly man by then and so Webb is thought to have taken over more of the duties, whilst Jones was still involved. What was finally completed was truly spectacular. The Double Cube Room, the focus of this post, is perhaps the most recognisable. It was one of the public state rooms, along with its smaller twin Single Cube Room, which was used as a sort of entrance space for the Double Cube Room. Both of the Cube Rooms were so called because Jones had designed them to be a symmetrical cube shape, although the Double Cube Room was originally known as the King’s Great Room as it was mainly used as a presence chamber.
The ceiling was highly decorated in the baroque style that was popular at the time, known for its flamboyance. Again the classical themes were shown in the choice of scenes portrayed on the ceiling as they tell the story of Perseus, the Ancient Greek hero. As if the splendour of the room wasn’t enough with its ostentatious decoration and expensive furniture made by William Kent and Thomas Chippendale everywhere, there are also the many paintings by Anthony van Dyck throughout the room. The largest of which is a portrait of the Herbert family. As it was 17 feet wide, the whole room had to be designed around it. With so many van Dyck paintings in one room, it has often been called one of the best collections of the artist’s work in one place.
Whilst the room has become recognisable to many a period drama fan, in the past it was monarchs who have greatly enjoyed the Double Cube Room, and the rest of Wilton House alike. The house has been visited by every monarch since Edward VI, who would have visited when the whole original Tudor house would have been in existence. It is no wonder that the grandeur of the house has made it as much of a character of the period drama genre as the human characters. Still, one thing is usually forgotten, well it’s certainly something that I didn’t know until researching for this post, that the state rooms, including the Double Cubed Room, served as an allied headquarters during World War Two and the D-Day Landings were planned from there.
No matter how much grandeur the Double Cubed Room has seen during its long lifetime, it still continues to captivate many visitors and viewers of period drama alike. One day I hope to visit Wilton House in person and get to imagine just what it might be like to be an actor in Bridgerton visiting Queen Charlotte’s throne room.
The English Civil War, fought between the Parliamentarians and Royalists, had started as a direct result of grievances about the way in which Charles I had ruled, largely without Parliament, as well as fears about the Catholics, most notably his wife, Henrietta Maria, he had become associated with. Whilst there are many more reasons for the Civil War, these are most commonly cited. When Charles I was executed at Whitehall in January 1649, England became a republic led by Oliver Cromwell. Still, Royalist hopes were kept alive in Charles, the Prince of Wales. Scotland had been horrified and proclaimed the young Charles as their king. On 1 January 1651, Charles was crowned as Charles II, with the promise that Scottish forces would follow him to England to help him reclaim his throne.
The forces led by Charles met with Parliamentary resistance at the battle of Worcester on 3 September 1651. It was not the Royalist victory that was hoped for as the Parliamentarians defeated them. Despite reports that Charles had been killed in the fighting, he had managed to escape and had gone into hiding. A huge £1,000 reward (around £103,000 in today’s money) for his capture was given. This reward would make his escape even harder. Whilst in hiding, the famous incident of Charles hiding in an oak tree at Boscobel House when Parliamentarian soldiers came looking for him happened.
This, as well as other close shaves, made him realise a better plan was needed to get him out of the country and away from danger. Lord Henry Wilmot, a close confidant of Charles, who had also been at Worcester, was also in hiding, but was staying at Bentley Hall, the home of John Lane. John Lane was a known Royalist sympathiser who had been a Royalist cavalry officer during the Civil War. He had led a band of Royalists who made the journey to Worcester but didn’t get there in time for the battle. The original plan was to use John’s sister, Jane, to help Wilmot escape, as she had been granted a pass to visit a pregnant cousin in Bristol so she could help with the birth. This pass covered her, a servant, and her cousin Henry Lascelles. As both Royalist and Catholic, the family needed these passes to be able to move further than 5 miles away from their home. This was the perfect excuse to help Charles, rather than Wilmot to escape to the safety of the continent.
Charles was to pretend to be Jane’s manservant, taking on the name Will Jackson. Only a few, including Jane, know the true identity of this man. Charles’ acting skills really had to be excellent to pull off this disguise as he was easily noticeable with his dark complexion and 6 ft 2 stature. Despite many dangers along the way, including a horse losing a shoe and a brush with Parliamentarian soldiers, the gang, which included John and Jane Lane, as well as their sister Withy and her husband, John Petre, arrived at the home of Ellen Norton, their pregnant cousin. Whilst there, a butler recognised the king but rather than think of taking the £1,000 reward, offered his silence and assistance. It was decided that Charles wouldn’t be able to take a boat from Bristol, as had originally been planned, but that it was best to try the south coast. To be able to do this, the party needed some sort of excuse to leave, which was now harder when Ellen had suffered a late-term miscarriage. Jane herself forged a letter saying her father was seriously ill and she had to return home.
The ruse worked and the group managed to get to Dorset, where Wilmot and Charles were safely reunited. Despite all the dangers they had faced in their journey to get to this point, Jane and her family had to return to Bentley Hall to make their plan appear real, leaving Charles to escape to France. It’s quite possible that Jane and Charles thought that would be the last they saw of each other. However, fate had other ideas. News of a woman matching Jane’s description had helped Charles in his escape began to spread. Her life was now in danger and it was her turn to take on a disguise. She walked all the way to Yarmouth in Norfolk and escaped to France, where she was warmly welcomed by Charles.
In return for saving his life, Charles offered Jane many personal gifts, including miniature portraits of himself, a lock of his hair, and a gold pocket watch, which had been a gift given to him by his father. The pair remained firm friends and even continued corresponding together when in 1652, Jane became a part of the household of Charles sister, Mary of Orange, in Holland. Following the Restoration of Charles as King in 1660, Jane was given a £1,000 a year pension for her services to the monarchy. The pair continued their friendly correspondence, even after Jane became Lady Fisher after her marriage to Sir Clement Fisher in December 1662, right up until Charles death in 1685.
The bravery of Jane in helping the young Charles is evident. What is most remarkable is the platonic nature of her relationship with Charles, an open and well known philanderer. He was less than subtle when it came to his womanising ways and yet, with Jane, it appears that it never went beyond a friend-like relationship. However, he did admire Jane and was always keen to tell everyone that it was her who had saved his life.
“Gavest thou the goodly wings unto the peacocks? or wings and feathers unto the ostrich?” – Jon 39:3, King James Bible (1616)
Exotic animals in England in the 17th century were a staple part of society. Travelers, explorers, and representatives of the import/export industry would send and ship non-native animals to England for display, for curiosity collections among the upper classes, and for use in production of perfumes, apothecary remedies, and even ink pens or clothing accessories.
Exotic animals were used in everything from perfume and apothecary creations to harvested for their pelts and feathers to be used in clothing or accessories. While cats and dogs were common household pets, the more exotic animals like parrots and even monkeys were also imported to the newly formed United Kingdom to take up residence at the homes of the UK’s most prominent citizens who saw the possession of exotic animals as a status symbol.
From the mundane to the extraordinary, I decided to take a look at the animal life of the 17th century. Here’s a few of the most surprising animals I discovered and their place in Stuart England.
Monkeys were often kept by the elite of the 17th century, who saw ownership of these curious creatures as a symbol of their status. After all, to purchase a monkey was quite involved logistically since it was much more complicated than running out to a pet store. Therefore, to own a monkey was a way to flaunt your power and wealth as it required both to own one. It is recorded that one prominent Stuart lady, the daughter of James I, Elizabeth Stuart, owned not only monkeys but also parrots. According to the Oxford University Press, household records from Elizabeth’s childhood record “Elizabeth spent 8 shillings and 3 pence on ‘strewing herbs, and cotton to make beds for her grace’s monkeys’, ‘mending parrot’s cages’, and ‘for shearing her grace’s rough dog.’”
Elizabeth Stuart is just one example of a lady of prominence owning a parrot. Frances Stuart, Duchess of Richmond is immortalized in a wax effigy that features her pet parrot. Her parrot was an African Grey parrot that lived with Frances Stuart for close to 40 years. After it died, the bird was stuffed, and despite what Westminster Abbey’s blog calls “Primitive” measures to preserve the animal, the entire skeleton of the bird survives to this day, making it the oldest known stuffed bird in existence.
The earliest known image of a rhinoceros was drawn as a woodcut in 1515 in Italy. That same year, another famous and much more detailed woodcut of a rhinoceros would be drawn by Albrecht Duer who drew the animal from a description provided about a live rhino that had been given as a gift to the King of Portugal. While most of the instances of rhinoceroses are drawings and woodcuts included in naturalist texts there was one instance of a live rhinoceros in England in the year 1684.
Dated October 10, 1684, this London newspaper records an advertisement for a Rhinoceros. The animal was shipped to England from India and placed on display at a tavern where patrons could pay money to look at and to ride the “Rhynoceros.”
“Proud as a peacock” is a well known English saying that stems from the prevalence of peacocks in England. These birds, known as blue peafowl, do not have what bird experts call an “established” presence in the country, but they have remained popular in England since at least Roman times when the birds were first introduced from India by the Romans.
What made the peacock popular for Stuart England was the use of their beautiful feathers in decoration as well as their popularity as an elegant dinner dish on the tables of England’s nobility. In this 1618 painting by Jan Brueghel the Elder, you can see a peacock served at the table with it’s full plumage and even it’s head salvaged for decoration on the dinner table.
The peacock was frequently used as a symbol of pride. You can see this usage of the peacock’s reputation in this drawing of James II of Scotland who is depicted in caricature as an owl kneeling to the Pope, who is caricatured as a peacock.
Lions, Tigers, and…Eagles?
By 1622, Lord Protector Olive Cromwell had outlawed animal fighting, but animals were still kept in the Tower of London. There’s a record of eleven lions, two leopards, three eagles, two pumas, a tiger, and a jackal being housed there that year.
Sports in Stuart England often included pets with popular pastimes like bull and bear baiting both involving dogs, often pit bulls, being trained to attack bulls or bears in an arena for the purpose of entertaining a gathered group of spectators. Beyond spectator sports, activities like falconry involved the use of birds to capture prey and was a popular form of hunting for the monarchy.
Dogs and cats were the most common household pets, but cats were also used by the military as a weapon. Published in official military manuals, one strategy for burning down a town including strapping flammable material to the back of a cat, lighting it on fire, and setting the cat loose in the town. The cat being extremely hard to catch anyway, it’s even harder to catch once it’s on fire, so the cat would mercilessly spread fire over an entire town during this death run.
For 16-17th century London, the ostrich was known, and considered incredibly exotic, rare, and consequently, images of ostriches were used to communicate great wealth. According to the Art Institute of Chicago, Ostrich feathers were used to create the decorative panache combatants wore during a jousting match in the 16th century, and some historians report that ostrich feathers were used as quill pens during Shakespeare’s lifetime. Colored ostrich feathers were also popular in the 16th century. Read more about that here. Not native to England, ostriches were imported from Northern Africa to England for their feathers. I was unable to find any ostrich farmers in Stuart England, but the sheer volume of feathers that were in demand for clothing and ink pens would have made it practical to try and raise them on a farm, so I wouldn’t be surprised to discover a farm did exist for Stuart England.
Ostriches, along with elephants, lions, and rhinoceros were among the animals kept in the Tower of London. This menagerie of animals was considered the first zoo, and many of the inhabitants were there because explorers or even dignitaries would give the exotic animals to the King as a gift and the gifted animals had to be kept somewhere.
As an example of animals returned from exotic lands as a gift for the King, there were two polar bear cubs brought back from an expedition to the Arctic to be given as a gift to James I in the early 17th century.
We know about Poole’s polar bear cargo because Samuel Purchas writes about it in Pilgrimes (1625).
we slue 26. Seales, and espied three white Beares: wee went aboord for Shot and Powder, and comming to the Ice againe, we found a shee-Beare and two young ones: Master Thomas Welden shot and killed her: after shee was slayne, wee got the young ones, and brought them home into England, where they are aliue in Paris Garden.
By 1611, Philip Henslowe and Edward Alleyn had, as Aubrey notes in today’s episode, received the royal warrant from King James to be in charge of the various bears, bulls, and mastiffs in the King’s care. Which means they were specifically in charge of the polar bear cubs which Poole had gifted the King. King James loved animal blood sports and is reported to have kept quite the zoo inside the Tower of London. As shareholders in the Fortune Theater and investors in Bear Garden, Henslowe and Alleyn bought their own zoo, and several critics have pointed out that the young bears could have performed in playhouses as well as baiting rings.
During that 1595 expedition, Barents lost two of his men to a ferocious polar bear attack. In his diary, Gerrit de Veer recounts the episode by saying the bear pursued the first man, before he “bit his head in sunder, and suckt out his blood” The rest of the crew takes off running, and the bear chases them, grabbing his second victim “which she tare in peeces” The story was written down close to 15 years later, and published in English in 1609, the same year Jonas Poole returned to England with two polar bear cubs for King James, and the same year William Shakespeare wrote A Winter’s Tale and included the not only famous, but curiously unique “exit, pursued by a bear” stage direction.
From elephants to monkeys and parrots, it seems Stuart England had more than their fair share of surprising exotic animals in the streets and homes around England.
Cassidy Cash is a Shakespeare historian and host of That Shakespeare Life, the podcast that goes behind the curtain and into the real life and history of William Shakespeare. Cassidy runs a vibrant membership community for Shakespeare enthusiasts and creates history activity kits that work like science labs for Shakespeare history. Learn more at www.cassidycash.com
Pontefract Castle in Yorkshire has been a place of power ever since he was originally built during the Norman Period. It became a place of royal power after it was brought into royal hands in the 12th century, after the power struggles during the reign of Henry I. For me, the castle means a lot as the place that Anthony Woodville, my favourite historical figure, his nephew, Richard Grey, and his friend, Thomas Vaughn, were executed in 1483. The years of the English Civil War in the 1640s continued this tumultuous history when it was besieged 3 times. In fact, the consequences of the last siege in 1648, following the Parliamentarians gaining control of the castle ended in an interesting, even somewhat comical, way.
The Royalists were determined to again take possession of the castle. None was more enthusiastic than the Yorkshireman, Colonel John Morris. He was known for carrying on fighting at both the Battle of Nantwich and Middlewich, despite being on the losing side. However, following the fall of Royal forces at Liverpool, he briefly switched sides. It is thought that this was because of a soldiers’ desire to win, rather than any heartfelt gesture. As Edward Hyde, the Earl of Clarendon (also a very distant ancestor of mine), noted on Morris’ decision to change sides, this didn’t help him with the Parliamentarians either, for they “left him out in their compounding of their new army”. The lack of acceptance made him once again return to his Royalist roots and he found himself assisting in the third siege at Pontefract Castle.
The original plan was to scale the walls using ladders, but the men Morris commanded had got a little too drunk beforehand and they ended up being disturbed by the guards but weren’t captured. Following this attempt at entering the castle, there were orders to employ more men at garrison inside the castle. This meant more beds were needed for these extra men, so Morris and his men were able to successfully disguise themselves by carrying beds into the castle. It’s almost beyond belief, but this strategy worked, and the Royalists were able to take charge of the castle. The Parliamentarians were placed in the dungeons and many of their names were carved into the walls. In direct response, other Parliamentarians in the area were sent to ransack John Morris’ house in the West Riding of Yorkshire. They stole £1,000 (around £103,500 in today’s money) in goods, and £1,800 (just over £186,000 in today’s money) in cash.
The Royalists held Pontefract for around 9 months in total, even well after the Parliamentarians had officially won the war. It wasn’t until the execution of Charles I in January 1649 at Whitehall in London, that the garrison finally realised that they would have to surrender. Even so, just as before, Morris wasn’t willing to give in without having his final say. He made demands that he said had to be met before he would allow the garrison to surrender. He specifically asked for an armed convoy home and for all the men to be exempt from prosecution or being sued for their parts on the Royalist side. These terms proved too much, and it was finally agreed that only Morris and 5 others would be exempt, but this proved to be a trick so they would leave the castle. One man was shot when they left and Morris escaped, but went on the run. He was found 10 days later and sent to York to be condemned to death as a traitor, but again he briefly escaped. He was eventually executed on 23rd of August 1649.
The Parliamentarians, especially Oliver Cromwell, never forgot how stupid they were made to look when John Morris and his men had taken over the castle at Pontefract. Cromwell saw it as such a troublesome place than instead of the customary slighting, where a castle was partially damaged, he ordered and paid the townspeople of Pontefract to destroy it. To this day, the castle is a former shadow of itself. It’s very hard to imagine what the castle had once looked like prior to the destruction as there is so little left of it. Thankfully, there are some lovely images available to give a sense of what that might have been like. Whatever that may have been, you can’t help but commend John Morris for his tenacity and quick thinking when it came to infiltrating Pontefract Castle by using just beds.
If you would like to learn more about the history of Pontefract Castle, please do take a look at the following website: https://pontefractsandalcastles.org.uk/. It’s run by an amazing team of volunteers for both Pontefract and nearby Sandal Castle, both with wonderful Wars of the Roses connections. The team are lovely and the website is full of information on all aspects of history connected to both sites.
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.
I first came across Margaret’s story during my volunteering at Bolsover Castle. I admired her determination to be what we would view as a modern woman, which during the seventeenth century, was an incredibly difficult thing to do. The saddest thing is that she was often nicknamed ‘Mad Madge’, when really, the exact opposite was true. Margaret was a highly intelligent woman who was interested in science, art, laboratories, and literature. She was a prolific writer of books and essays on these topics and much more, including a biography of her husband, William Cavendish, poetry, and plays which often reflected her life experience. Best of all, William actively encouraged these interests his wife, who was 30 years younger than himself, had. He often spoke out about the reasons her being criticised as being unladylike and socially inappropriate in her pursuits, as pure sexism. In Margaret he saw an intellectual equal, which it a very unique relationship for the times. I completely commend them for it. They received a huge amount of criticism for this, meaning they often spent long periods away from court, but that didn’t stop them from showing genuine love and acceptance of each other’s talents.
Margaret was born Margaret Lucas in 1623 to a respectable, royalist leaning family, in Colchester. We know little as to how she became interested in the usually male reserved topic of science and literature, but it is probable that she accessed these during her private tutoring at home. What is clear is that she had an innate understanding of these topics. It was this that probably attracted William Cavendish when they met at the exiled court of Henrietta Maria in 1645. By this time, Margaret was a lady-in-waiting to the exiled Queen of England and William’s first wife, Elizabeth, had died. This first marriage, although is deemed to have eventually become a love match, was more a typical match of convenience, despite it producing 8 children. In Margaret, William had found his equal in all things, other than age and status.
The couple’s early courtship was full of romance, despite the unhappiness that Henrietta Maria felt about the match. From these letters we can clearly see the emotions that William felt for Margaret. They often referenced the large age gap between them, hoping that it would not hinder their love.
These letters offer us an incite into what appears to have been a genuine love between William and Margaret. It would appear that William didn’t hide his faults at this time, but he certainly made it no secret that he had a true love for Margaret, despite the small differences between them. However, they also had a lot in common.
The exile they endured until the Restoration of Charles II in 1660 didn’t hinder their enthusiastic collecting of books and scientific instruments, amongst other things, a hobby they often shared together. The couple amassed a large collection of microscopes and telescopes during this period. Margaret even had her own ones to use personally, which was why she later went on to critique the use of them in the Royal Society. Many at the time used this to rubbish her opinion, believing that them as childlike. However, as she used such instruments herself, she knew very well that the instruments could offer imprecise readings, especially as the grinding of lenses was a common problem. These critiques of microscopes would later be reflected in the work of John Locke and Thomas Sydenham, but were largely brushed off. These were not the only dealings Margaret had with the Royal Society, she often attended their public experiments, much to the comment of others. Sadly, this meant that after Margaret, women were excluded from the Royal Society until 1945.
Science wasn’t the only interest Margaret had. She also published a lot of material, starting with Poems and Fancies in 1653. At the time, as William also was a writer, they believed it was truly her husband, using his wife’s name as a pen name. William always supported his wife, claiming it was always her own work. Margaret did the same but did credit William as a writing mentor. As Billing suggests, the pair actually relied on each other in print, in order to maintain a certain reputation in the public sphere: William as a supportive husband and loyal subject to the king, Margaret as a dutiful wife and writer in her own right. It was for this that Margaret so wished to be remembered. Instead, society wished to rubbish her as a woman whose opinion on usually male dominated topics wasn’t required.
The relationship she had with William’s children and household also proved to be a rocky affair, probably not helped by the fact her marriage proved childless. Margaret blamed Henry, William’s longest surviving son, for abandoning his father during the exile. This alongside her unusual approach to societal norms caused a lot of tension within the family. In October 1670, not long before the death of both William and Margaret, these tensions came to a head. William wrote over more of his lands to Margaret in the hope of sustaining her during her widowhood, believing he would die first (although sadly that was not to be the case). This move angered William’s children, especially Henry, who believed she had had enough lands and was now stealing the inheritance. At the same time, William’s steward, Andrew Clayton, began to spread malicious rumours about Margaret, suggesting she was being unfaithful, and was purposefully stockpiling money and land to fund a second marriage after William’s death. However, Margaret herself died on the 15th of December 1673 at their main house of Welbeck Abbey, nearly 3 years before William himself. Probably still hurt by the turn of events in 1670, William instead used the money he had saved for Margaret to begin reworking Nottingham Castle.
Sadly, I don’t have enough time or words to go into depth about the many works published by Margaret, or the influence they had. If you would like to know more, I would recommend looking into The Blazing World, often referenced as a proto-science fiction novel, almost Jules Verne in character. For now though, I hope this post has managed to highlight the unfair attitude that Margaret Cavendish was treated with in her own time. During the Seventeenth Century, intelligence in a woman, whilst accepted to a small degree, was often seen as far too dangerous, and in the case of Margaret, was dismissed as childish. However, she did have similar views to men in her field, but she was always excluded. From this, it is no surprise that she advocated for better education for women and believed that women were being forced to obey men. That is why I am glad she married William, because without his support and understanding her as an equal to him, she wouldn’t have been allowed to follow her interests and talents. This can be seen in the epitaph he gave her tomb:
This Dutches was a wife wittie and learned lady, which her many books do well testifie. She was a most virtuous and a louieng and careful wife and was with her lord all the time of his banishment and miseries and when he came home never parted from him in his solitary retirements.
 Worsley, L., Cavalier: The Story of a Seventeenth-Century Playboy (London: Fabor and Faber Ltd, 2007), p. 219.
 Worsley, L., Cavalier: The Story of a Seventeenth-Century Playboy, p. 223.