Fergus Suter and Jimmy Love: The First Professional Footballers, Part 2

Welcome back to the second part of the story of Fergus Suter and Jimmy Love, two of the first professional footballers. The first part focused on how Scottish Players, including Suter and Love came to play football in the mill towns of Lancashire, as well as a closer look into the life of Suter himself. You can find the first part here. This follow-on post will look into the short and tragic life of Jimmy Love, so be prepared for the emotion to come.

As previously mentioned, I first came across the story of Fergus Suter and Jimmy Love in the Netflix drama, The English Game. Jimmy’s character was portrayed as a kind, loving and caring young man, who see’s Suter not just as a friend, but a brother figure. He was by far my favourite character in the show. As usual, my curiosity got the better of me and I had to investigate the life of the real Jimmy Love. I was incredibly sad to find out that he is hardly remembered at all compared to Fergus, particularly as little is known about him. However, I must offer my thanks once again to Andy Mitchell, who is almost the only person who has seriously explored who the real Jimmy Love was. Most of what I have written has come from his sources with his permission to reference.

Jimmy or James Love was born in Glasgow in 1858, but sadly lost his mother at five years old. His dad also confusingly called James, which was probably why Jimmy was used to differentiate between the father and son. When I saw how young Jimmy was when he lost his mother, I instantly made a connection with Jimmy as my own mum lost her mother at the same age. Jimmy’s family moved from Greenock, around 25 miles outside of Glasgow, to Partick, which is now a suburb of Glasgow, in 1876. Following this move, Jimmy decided to set up his own street cleaning business and joined Partick football club in his spare time.[1]

James Harkness and Kevin Guthrie as Jimmy Love and Fergus Suter in Netflix’s The English Game (2020)

Things didn’t go well with his business and he went bankrupt in 1878, but absconded from his court appearances about the matter.[2] In fact he’d left Scotland altogether and moved to Darwen in Lancashire. At first this may sound odd, but Love had played against Darwen whilst playing for Partick, so he probably knew people there and that he felt he could easily pursue his love of football there. He became a part of the Darwen football team and secretly began to get paid for it. As previously explained, Jimmy was one of many Scottish footballers, especially Partick players, who went on to play for Lancashire teams, mainly because of the better skills they had compared to English players.[3] It turned out to be a good decision on Jimmy’s part, as he became a celebrated goal scorer for Darwen, which also led the way for Fergus Suter, a fellow Partick player, to decide to join Darwen a few weeks after Jimmy.[4] In April 1879, the club played a benefit match where proceeds were raised for both Fergus and Jimmy.[5]

For whatever reason, possibly the chance of earning more money, as Fergus later recalled, saying he was bribed, both Jimmy and Fergus moved on to play for nearby Blackburn Rovers. Jimmy made his first appearance for them in November 1879, but his last ever match was played in January 1880. It’s not known why he stopped playing football, especially as he was a good player. Still, Jimmy had been part of the Darwen team that made history for being the first northern team to get to the quarter finals of the FA Cup, but with the passage of time, his part in that has been partly forgotten.[6] This is probably in part to Suter, who carried on playing until his retirement in 1888 and became a household name in the world of football for winning the FA Cup three times.[7]

Report of the death of Jimmy Love in Egypt on the 27th of September 1882, Glasgow Herald, 10 October 1882

Sadly, for Jimmy, his own retirement from football in January 1880 is where most stories of him tend to end, most likely because of the unknown circumstances of it. Thankfully, Andy Mitchell has picked up the story of what happened to him after his football career was over, and it was as far away from football, and Lancashire, as you could possibly imagine. Just a month after his last game for Blackburn, Jimmy made the 40 odd mile journey to Liverpool to sign up for the Royal Marines. In his sign-up papers, he was described as a painter who was 5ft 6.5 inches tall with dark complexion, brown eyes, and brown hair.[8] He must have followed it through as he was next seen in the 1881 Census living in barracks at Chatham in Kent, a well-known naval base at the time. He had also been promoted to the rank of corporal.[9]

The Marines, Jimmy being among them, were sent out to fight in Egypt in 1882 as the Egyptians started an uprising after the British and French began to have a bigger amount of control over the country following the leader, Khedive Ismail Pasha’s financial ruin.[10] For Jimmy, this mission was ill fated as he died of a fever at the young age of 24 in Egypt.[11] His body stayed in Egypt but his name is mentioned in a memorial dedicated to the Marines who fought during that Egyptian Campaign.[12] For his service, he was posthumously awarded with a medal, which was given to his father, James Love.[13] In honour of her then dead younger brother, Jessie Love, who went on to marry David Muirhead, another Partick player, named her son Jimmy Love Muirhead.[14] What a touching tribute and perhaps a glimmer into how much Jimmy meant to his family. Still, the tragedy didn’t end their as Jimmy Muirhead died as a young man himself on the battlefields of World War One.[15] To say that name was unlucky for the Love family is a massive understatement.

Colours given to Rochester Cathedral on 27 May 1950 after final parade of Chatham Group, Royal Marines, who were disbanded that year. Wikimedia Commons

All in all, I hope you’ve enjoyed my first ever two-part blog post, even if it’s not on my usual kind of topic. After discovering the real and moving story of Jimmy Love in particular, I felt I had to share his story. When I first read about his untimely death in Egypt, I’m not ashamed to admit I had a bit of a cry. Whether Jimmy had been a famous football player or not, the story of dying so young and so much to live for, as well as the story somewhat repeating itself in the next generation, is an awful thing for the family to have gone through. Anyway, I hope this post has helped raise the profile of Jimmy Love as a player who paved the way for his friend Fergus Suter, and just as seen in the English Game, probably helped and supported his friends along the way, whatever his personal reasons for leaving the sport were.

I would once again like to end on a thank you to Andy Mitchell for investigating Jimmy’s story in the first place, as it is certainly one that I feel needs to be told more. If you would like to know more about Jimmy, Fergus and Partick, I would thoroughly recommend Andy Mitchell’s blog on Scottish Sport, where most of the information I have referenced is from with his permission. I would also thoroughly recommend you watch The English Game on Netflix, as it tells the story not just of how football as we understand it today was created, but the class divisions that separated it in those early days of professionalism.


[1] Mitchell, A., ‘The True Story of Jimmy Love, the Very First “Scotch Professor”’, Scottish Sport Historyhttps://www.scottishsporthistory.com/sports-history-news-and-blog/the-true-story-of-jimmy-love-the-very-first-scotch-professor

[2] Mitchell, A., ‘The True Story of Jimmy Love, the Very First “Scotch Professor”’

[3] Mitchell, A., ‘From Partick With Love- The Story of Jimmy Love and Fergie Suter, the First Professional Footballers’, Scottish Sport History, https://www.scottishsporthistory.com/sports-history-news-and-blog/from-partick-with-love-the-story-of-jimmy-love-and-fergie-suter-the-first-professional-footballers

[4] Mitchell, A., ‘From Partick With Love- The Story of Jimmy Love and Fergie Suter’

[5] Mitchell, A., ‘The True Story of Jimmy Love, the Very First “Scotch Professor”’

[6] Mitchell, A., ‘From Partick With Love- The Story of Jimmy Love and Fergie Suter’

[7] Mitchell, A., ‘From Partick With Love- The Story of Jimmy Love and Fergie Suter’

[8] Mitchell, A., ‘The True Story of Jimmy Love, the Very First “Scotch Professor”’

[9] Mitchell, A., ‘The True Story of Jimmy Love, the Very First “Scotch Professor”’

[10] The National Archives, The Egypt War of 1882, https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/battles/egypt/

[11] Mitchell, A., ‘The True Story of Jimmy Love, the Very First “Scotch Professor”’

[12] Imperial War Museum, Royal Marine Light Infantry Egypt 1882, https://www.iwm.org.uk/memorials/item/memorial/16491

[13] Mitchell, A., ‘The True Story of Jimmy Love, the Very First “Scotch Professor”’

[14] Mitchell, A., ‘The True Story of Jimmy Love, the Very First “Scotch Professor”’

[15] Mitchell, A., ‘The True Story of Jimmy Love, the Very First “Scotch Professor”’

Pontefract Castle and John Morris: How an English Civil War Siege was Undone by Beds

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.[1] 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.[2] 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”.[3] 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.

Pontefract Castle during the Siege of 1645 in, “Supplement to the Sieges of Pontefract Castle, etc”, British Library

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.[4] 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.[5] 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.[6] 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.[7]

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.[8] 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.[9] 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.[10] He was eventually executed on 23rd of August 1649.

Pontefract Castle as of 2016 (Author’s Own Image)

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.[11] 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.


[1] Exploring Castles, Pontefract Castle: History of England’s Most Fearsome Fort, https://www.exploring-castles.com/uk/england/pontefract_castle/

[2] Cooper, S., The Bravest Cavalier: John Morris & The Siege of Pontefract Castle, 1648-9 (2014), http://www.chivalryandwar.co.uk/Resource/THE%20BRAVEST%20CAVALIER.pdf, p. 21

[3] Clarendon cited in Cooper, S., The Bravest Cavalier, p. 21.

[4] Pontefract Castle, Stories, https://www.pontefractcastle.co.uk/Castle-Stories.aspx; Thomas Paulden cited in Cooper, S., The Bravest Cavalier, p. 21.

[5] Earls of Manchester, Sieging and besieged: who were the soldiers who fought to control Pontefract Castle?, https://earlofmanchesters.co.uk/sieging-and-besieged-who-were-the-soldiers-who-fought-to-control-pontefract-castle/

[6] Cooper, S., The Bravest Cavalier, p. 49.

[7] Cooper, S., The Bravest Cavalier, p. 50.

[8] Earls of Manchester, Sieging and besieged: who were the soldiers who fought to control Pontefract Castle?, https://earlofmanchesters.co.uk/sieging-and-besieged-who-were-the-soldiers-who-fought-to-control-pontefract-castle/

[9] Earls of Manchester, Sieging and besieged: who were the soldiers who fought to control Pontefract Castle?, https://earlofmanchesters.co.uk/sieging-and-besieged-who-were-the-soldiers-who-fought-to-control-pontefract-castle/

[10] Earls of Manchester, Sieging and besieged: who were the soldiers who fought to control Pontefract Castle?, https://earlofmanchesters.co.uk/sieging-and-besieged-who-were-the-soldiers-who-fought-to-control-pontefract-castle/; Pontefract Castle, Stories, https://www.pontefractcastle.co.uk/Castle-Stories.aspx;

[11] Exploring Castles, Pontefract Castle: History of England’s Most Fearsome Fort, https://www.exploring-castles.com/uk/england/pontefract_castle/

Ned Despard: The Real Rebel Behind the Poldark Character

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.

Etching by Barlow (based on sketch taken at trial), Wikimedia Commons

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.[1] 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.[2] 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.[3]

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.[4] 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.[5] 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.[6]

The House of Correction in Coldbath Fields, British Library

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.[7] 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.[8] 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.[9] He was moved to a larger cell with better conditions, including a fire.[10]

During his unlawful imprisonment, Despard became radicalised after reading the Rights of Man by Thomas Paine.[11] 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.[12] 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.[13] 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.[14] The main surprise of the trial was when Lord Horatio Nelson was called as a character witness from Despard’s time in his fleet.[15]

Abbott, Lemuel Francis; Horatio Nelson (1758-1805), Viscount Nelson, Admiral, Victor of Trafalgar; National Galleries of Scotland; Art UK

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.[16] 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”[17]

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.[18] She was also given a pension by Francis Burdett that was due to her until she also died.[19] 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.[20] 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.[21] This, alongside Catherine Despard’s willingness to fight for her husband, meant that his name would live long after he did.


[1] Wilkes, S., Regency Spies: Secret Histories of Britain’s Rebels & Revolutionaries (Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2015), p. 62.

[2] Britannica, ‘Edward Marcus Despard’, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Edward-Marcus-Despard; Wilkes, S., Regency Spies, p. 63.

[3] Wilkes, S., Regency Spies, p. 63.

[4] Parolin, C., Radical Spaces: Venues of Popular Politics in London, 1790 – C. 1845 (Canberra: ANU Press, 2010), p. 51

[5] ‘Edward and Catherine Despard’, https://mikejay.net/edward-and-catherine-despard

[6] ‘Edward and Catherine Despard’, https://mikejay.net/edward-and-catherine-despard

[7] Wilkes, S., Regency Spies, p. 66.

[8] F. Burdett, An Impartial Statement of the Inhuman Cruelties Discovered in the Coldbath Fields Prison, cited in Parolin, C., Radical Spaces, p. 53.

[9] Parolin, C., Radical Spaces, p. 53; Wilkes, S., Regency Spies, p. 66.

[10] Wilkes, S., Regency Spies, p. 66.

[11] ‘Edward and Catherine Despard’, https://mikejay.net/edward-and-catherine-despard

[12] Wilkes, S., Regency Spies, p. 70.

[13] Wilkes, S., Regency Spies, p. 71.

[14] Wilkes, S., Regency Spies, p. 72.

[15] Wilkes, S., Regency Spies, p. 66; ‘Edward and Catherine Despard’, https://mikejay.net/edward-and-catherine-despard

[16] J. Gurney and W. B. Gurney, The Trial of Edward Marcus Despard, Esquire, for High Treason (1803) Cited in Wilkes, S., Regency Spies, p. 71.

[17] Cited in Wilkes, S., Regency Spies, p. 73.

[18] ‘Edward and Catherine Despard’, https://mikejay.net/edward-and-catherine-despard

[19] ‘Edward and Catherine Despard’, https://mikejay.net/edward-and-catherine-despard

[20] Parolin, C., Radical Spaces, p. 65.

[21] Knowles, R., What Regency Women Did for Us (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2017), p. 60.

Christian Davies: First Woman to be Paid an Army Pension in her Own Right

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.[1] 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.[2] 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.[3]


Kit Cavenaugh, aka Mother Ross and Christian Davies (1706), from the Scottish Military Historical Society

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.[4] 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.[5] The sergeant was killed and she was dismissed but soon after reenlisted in the Royal North British Dragoons, which later became the Scots Greys.[6] 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.[7] 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.[8] 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.


L. Laguerre, The Battle of Malplaquet (Tanières), 1709: The Duke of Marlborough and Prince Eugene Entering the French Entrenchments, Wiki Commons/Art UK

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.[9] 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.[10] 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.[11] 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.[12] 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.[13]


The Royal Hospital, Chelsea: viewed from the Surrey bank with boats on the river. Coloured engraving. Credit: Wellcome CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

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.[14] 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.[15] 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.[16]


[1] Wynn, S. and Wynn, T., A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, 1682-2017 (Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2019), p. 192.

[2] Wynn, S. and Wynn, T., A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, p. 193; Broderick, M., Wild Irish Women (Dublin: O’Brien Press, 2012).

[3] Traynor, J., ‘The crossdresser from Dublin who tricked the British Army’, The Irish Times, 27 June 2018, https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/abroad/the-crossdresser-from-dublin-who-tricked-the-british-army-1.3544764

[4] Wynn, S. and Wynn, T., A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, p. 193.

[5] Wynn, S. and Wynn, T., A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, p. 194; Broderick, M., Wild Irish Women.

[6] Wynn, S. and Wynn, T., A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, p. 194.

[7] Broderick, M., Wild Irish Women.

[8] Broderick, M., Wild Irish Women.

[9] Wynn, S. and Wynn, T., A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, pp. 194-195.

[10] Wynn, S. and Wynn, T., A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, p. 195.

[11] Wynn, S. and Wynn, T., A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, p. 196.

[12] Wynn, S. and Wynn, T., A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, p. 196; Broderick, M., Wild Irish Women.

[13] Wynn, S. and Wynn, T., A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, p. 196.

[14] 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.

[15] Lynn, J. A., ‘Essential Women, Necessary Wives, and Exemplary Soldiers’, p. 127.

[16] 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.

William Hiseland: the Oldest of the Original Chelsea Pensioners

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!

chelsea pensioner
E. R. White, A group of Chelsea Pensioners disputing in the Hall at the Royal Hospital Credit: Wellcome CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

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.[1] It’s uncertain as to when exactly he first came to live at the hospital, but its thought to have been around 1713.[2] 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.[3] 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.[4] 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.[5] He literally kept soldiering on!

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The Royal Hospital, Chelsea: viewed from the Surrey bank with boats on the river (1776) Credit: Wellcome CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

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.[6] 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.[7] 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.[8] 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.[9]

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William Hiseland Portrait, Royal Chelsea Hospital Museum

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.

[1] Rochester, J., The Royal Hospital Chelsea: a Brief History, talk given to the Sherbourne Historical Society, 5 November 2019, https://www.sherbornehistoricalsociety.co.uk/upcoming-talks/the-royal-hospital-chelsea-a-brief-history/57

[2] Wynn, S. and Wynn, T., A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, 1682-2017 (Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2019), p. 44.

[3] Wynn, S. and Wynn, T., A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, p. 43.

[4] Wynn, S. and Wynn, T., A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, p. 43.

[5] Lambert, T., A Brief History of Life Expectency http://www.localhistories.org/life.html

[6] Wynn, S. and Wynn, T., A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, p. 43.

[7] Wynn, S. and Wynn, T., A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, p. 43; Faulkner, T., An Historical and Typographical Description of Chelsea, and its Environs, Vol 2 (1829), p. 265.

[8] Wynn, S. and Wynn, T., A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, pp. 43-44.

[9] Rochester, J., The Royal Hospital Chelsea: a Brief History, talk given to the Sherbourne Historical Society, 5 November 2019, https://www.sherbornehistoricalsociety.co.uk/upcoming-talks/the-royal-hospital-chelsea-a-brief-history/57

Jane Austen During World War One

Jane Austen is one of Britain’s most well-known and best loved authors. Alongside Dickens, she is definitely my favourite author. There is something happy and uplifting about her novels. It also helps that you can find lots of other things to fill your Austen need. You can so easily find sequels, academic articles, merchandise, virtually anything related to Austen or her novels. Admittedly this ‘Austenmania’ started in the 1990s with a number of TV and film adaptations, with Colin Firth as Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice being the one that comes to mind the most. However, this type of fame has been hard come by and the beginnings of it certainly didn’t come into force until the late nineteenth century.

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Engraving of a young Jane Austen based on a sketch by Cassandra Austen from James Edward Austen-Leigh’s 1870 Memoirs, Wikimedia Commons

The term ‘Janeite’ that is usually given to Jane Austen fans was only invented in 1894 by George Saintsbury, a writer and literary historian.[1] Whilst this was nearly 80 years after the author’s death, this was mainly due to her unpopularity in the Victorian period. To the Victorians, Jane Austen’s novels didn’t conform to their ideals as her heroines were “ungenteel” and they often made fun of the clergy.[2] It was only after the publishing of her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh’s biography of his little known aunt in 1870 that her image began to change to a domestic woman, reflecting Victorian expectations of femininity.[3] Whilst this helped to increase Jane’s popularity, it was only seen in a select group of people. The types of people known to be Janeites at this time were mainly men, which is surprising as contemporary society views Austen’s fans as largely women. These men were largely publishers, professors, novelists and other literati, including Montague Summers (novelist and clergyman), R. W. Chapman (editor of Jane Austen’s works) and E. M. Forster.[4] The status of these admirers meant that they flaunted the idea that they were part of a select cult who viewed her works as miracles that were above that of authors who others read.[5]

With the outbreak of the First World War, ideas on reading began to change. The National Home Reading Union’s Annual General Meeting just three months after the start of the war invited Michael Sadler, a recognised educationalist at the time to be a guest speaker. In his speech he suggested that reading was needed to keep “minds fresh and sane” and that reading “good fiction” would do this.[6] This appeal applied to those at home and on the front lines. The speech was then published and distributed to many soldiers’ camps to know this also applied to them.[7]

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John Warwick Brooke, Highland Gas Sentry Reading a Letter from Home, National Library of Scotland

Reading fiction became a part of war life as it was an easy way to distract and provide entertainment but also bolstered patriotic sentiments.[8] The patriotic feeling this brought was by an increased understanding of what British culture was and what was at risk. To some, reading books was just as important as letter writing to loved ones back home as it helped to “overcome perceived boundaries between home and battle fronts” and helped maintain pre-war identities and interests.[9]

For Jane Austen’s novels, they often became a lifeline for fighting soldiers. Siegfried Sassoon was one of many who would have read Austen during his time in the trenches.[10] It’s claimed that Pride and Prejudice was the most read of all books by soldiers during the First World War.[11] There may be some truth in this as Austen and Dickens were the main authors prescribed by doctors to wounded soldiers and those suffering from shell shock.[12] Perhaps these choices were made because by the time of the First World War, Jane Austen had come to represent Englishness that soldiers were fighting for and helped give a nostalgic view that England had remained unchanged from the past which was seen in these Georgian era novels.[13] Unfortunately, those serving in the trenches were living a very different reality of war than George Wickham’s militia regiment. Surely though it would have made some difference of distraction to those who were bored or injured.

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C.E Brock, ‘Love and Eloquence’ from Macmillan’s 1895 edition of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, British Library

The 6 novels of Jane Austen may have even been read out in groups. Reading in the trenches had to be more informal than people at home as it had to fit around active service.[14] To ensure this happened many charities were set up to send mainly donated books to the front lines. These included the Camp Libraries, Red Cross Library, St John’s War Library Committee and Worker’s Educational Association, who between them sent active and wounded soldiers, as well as prisoners of war.[15] Jane Austen’s books would have been included in these as ensuring that soldiers read good quality fiction was seen as a way of stopping them from seeking unacceptable entertainment elsewhere, particularly in taverns and brothels.[16]

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World War One: Islington Public Library used as a hospital ward. Photograph by Langfier Ltd., 1916. Credit: Wellcome CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Regardless of the reasons why Austen was given to soldiers to read, there is no doubting the unity a love of the author can bring, either today or in the past. This was something Rudyard Kipling knew in his story The Janeites he wrote about a group of WW1 soldiers who found solidarity over their love of Jane Austen. The story was published in May 1924 in an international magazine called Storyteller. The men purposefully named a loud gun Lady Catherine de Bugg as a joke about the infamous Lady Catherine de Bourgh from Pride and Prejudice.[17] The idea for the story came from a visit Kipling took to Bath in 1915 and from his time researching the history of his son John’s regiment, following his death in the First World War.[18] Following his son’s death, Kipling read aloud all of the Austen books to his family, using it as a tool for solace, just as many of the soldiers on the front also did.[19]

Just as we today often read Jane Austen as a source of refuge and distraction from difficult times, so did the soldiers having to endure the hell of the trenches. I only hope that it really did offer the comfort they craved and helped to be a defence against the war environment around them.[20] What is certain is that the popularity of reading books during the First World War had been vital for helping soldiers and civilians alike. By the end of March 1919, Britain had sent 16 million books to the front.[21] The Red Cross alone had sent 2.8 million donated ones and 1.2 brought ones to fill these frontline libraries.[22] Even on the Homefront the amount of patronage for public libraries increased.[23] Jane Austen’s works would have played a part in this. As William Dean Howells notes, Austen “has not yet died” because of her enduring popularity and this is even more the case during WW1 as it helped those in their time of extreme need and possibly even in their own dying moments.[24] No wonder that at the time she was seen as a redemptive figure who was part of England’s bygone glory and a symbol for a soldiers duty to protect it.[25]

[1] Johnson, C. L., Jane Austen’s Cults and Cultures (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012), p. 8.

[2] Fullerton, S., Happily Ever After: Celebrating Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (London: Frances Lincoln Limited, 2013), pp. 22-23.

[3] Fullerton, S., Happily Ever After, p. 23.

[4] Johnson, C. L., Jane Austen’s Cults and Cultures, p. 8.

[5] Johnson, C. L., Jane Austen’s Cults and Cultures, pp. 8-9.

[6] Liebich, S., ‘Reading as War Effort: The National Home Reading Union During the First World War’, First World War Studies (2015), p. 2.

[7] National Home Reading Union, ‘Work Among the Troops’, HRM, XXVI, no. 4 (Jan 1915) cited in Liebich, S., ‘Reading as War Effort’, p. 2.

[8] J. Potter, Boys in Khaki, Girls in Print: Women’s Literary Responses to the Great War, 1914-1918 (2005) cited in Liebich, S., ‘Reading as War Effort’, p. 2.

[9]  Liebich, S., ‘Reading as War Effort’, pp. 9-10

[10] Fullerton, S., Happily Ever After, p. 24.

[11] Fullerton, S., Happily Ever After, p. 24.

[12] Sutcliffe, M., ‘Reading at the Front: Books and Soldiers in the First World War’, Paedagogica Historica (2016), p. 5.

[13] Fullerton, S., Happily Ever After, p. 24; Roper, M., ‘Nostalgia as an Emotional Experience in the Great War’, The Historical Journal, 54.2 (2011), p. 441.

[14] Liebich, S., ‘Reading as War Effort’, p. 10.

[15] Liebich, S., ‘Reading as War Effort’, p. 11.

[16] Sutcliffe, M., ‘Reading at the Front’, p. 5.

[17] Fullerton, S., Happily Ever After, p. 24.

[18] Lewis, L. and Kieffer, G., ‘The Janeites’, http://www.kiplingsociety.co.uk/rg_janeites1.htm

[19] Lewis, L. and Kieffer, G., ‘The Janeites’, http://www.kiplingsociety.co.uk/rg_janeites1.htm

[20] Roper, M., ‘Nostalgia as an Emotional Experience in the Great War’, p. 439.

[21] Sutcliffe, M., ‘Reading at the Front’, p. 4.

[22] British Red Cross, What We Did During the War, https://vad.redcross.org.uk/en/What-we-did-during-the-war

[23] A. Ellis, Public Libraries and the First World War (1975) cited in Liebich, S., ‘Reading as War Effort’, p. 2.

[24] William Dean Howells cited in Johnson, C. L., Jane Austen’s Cults and Cultures, p. 8.

[25] Johnson, C. L., ‘Jane Austen’s Cults and Cultures’ in Copeland, E. and McMaster, J. (eds), The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen, Second Edition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), p. 239.