Monday, 30 September 2013

José María Morelos, Mexican Revolutionary

José María Teclo Morelos y Pavón (Valladolid, now renamed Morelia, Mexico, 30th September 1765  – Mexico City, Mexico, 22nd December 1815)

We've gadded all over the globe since I opened the salon doors three months ago, stopping in Australia, India, America and all over Europe and England, but this is our first trip to South America. Once again it's time to pack the fard, leave the heaviest petticoats at home and strike out for a story of revolution, religion and drama with José María Teclo Morelos y Pavón, a priest and rebel who fought for Mexican independence.

Morelos was born into a family that enjoyed less privilege than many of our salon guests as the son of a carpenter, José Manuel Morelos y Robles, and his wife, Juana María Guadalupe Pérez Pavón. He worked in menial jobs and as a farmhand until his mid-20s, when he entered the seminary to pursue his dreams of becoming a priest, hoping to bring some comfort and support to those who shared his faith and the start in life he had known. Upon completion of his studies in 1797 he embarked on a successful career as a priest and was considered by his superiors to be a safe pair of hands, uncontroversial and dedicated. With that in mind, it's hardly surprising that it came as a surprise to everybody when Morelos threw himself fervently into the early days of the Mexican revolution.

The fateful day dawned on 16th September 1810 when Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, parish priest of the town of Dolores, had the bells rung to call his congregation to his church. Form the pulpit he declared his opposition to Spanish rule and called for the people to take up arms and fight for their independence. Weeks of fighting followed as Hidalgo and his followers moved through the country facing the Spanish forces head on. Following a fierce battle in Guanajuato the revolutionaries were excommunicated by Manuel Abad y Queipo, Bishop of Michoacán.

When the revolutionary army arrived in Valladolid in late 1810, Hidalgo y Costilla asked his friend, Morelos, to join them. The priest readily agreed, accepting his excommunication and proving himself a gifted military strategist, rising to the rank of Colonel. Under his command his troops won nearly two dozen victories in nine months and when he continued his campaign the following year Morelos won battles, broke sieges and even negotiated the odd peaceful surrender. He was the first commander to take Acapulco, his troops winning victory in the city on 12th April 1813.

Following this victory Morelos set his mind to establishing a new scheme of political and social reforms in Mexico, calling the National Constituent Congress of Chilpancingo. The Congress endorsed a document entitled Sentiments of the Nation that focused on independence, Catholicism, the abolition of slavery and torture and extensive government and social reform. However, the Spanish had taken the opportunity to regroup and set about aggressively quashing the rebellion, moving systematically through the country and taking back towns and territory as they went.

The following year Morelos was on the run with the by now outlawed Congress in tow and in November 1815 he was captured whilst on an escort mission. Transported to Mexico City in chains, Morelos was tried for treason, the outcome never in doubt. He died before a firing squad in December outside of the city, so fearful were the Spanish of public reprisals. The battle for independence continued after his death, Morelos' name forever linked with the cause he had given his life for. 

Morelos became a hero in death as he had been in life, his excommunication eventually lifted by the church. A man of the people, he was a gifted strategist as well as a leader with a social conscience and today his legend continues, honoured throughout the country of his birth.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

A Regal Disagreement: Charlotte, Princess Royal

The Princess Charlotte, Princess Royal (Charlotte Augusta Matilda; London, England, 29th September 1766 – Ludwigsburg, Baden-Württemberg, Germany, 5th October 1828) 

Charlotte, Princess Royal

Of late we've met composers, politicians and even murderers but it seems like a long time since we shared the salon with a member of the Hanoverian dynasty. Previously I wrote of the tragic Princess Amelia and today it's time to meet her sister, Charlotte, Princess Royal. Whilst Amelia lived a short life blighted by an unfulfilled romantic attachment, Charlotte would travel far from her Buckingham House birthplace and become a queen, though none of this would be achieved with a certain amount of royal drama!

When Charlotte was born she was the fourth child and first daughter of King George III and Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, her status as eldest daughter meaning that she was destined from birth to be one of the key players in a suitably grand dynastic marriage. Her parents were ecstatic to have a girl join their growing family and before she was two years old, Charlotte's education began. As a child she had a love of language and stories that never left her, though she disliked the study of music and the more public side of being a royal princess, expected to perform dances and theatrical tableaux as was the German way.

Charlotte particularly excelled in artistic pursuits under the tuition of Mary Moser and as an adult turned her talents to porcelain, decorating pieces that she would fire in a purpose-built kiln in the grounds of her marital home.

The three eldest daughers of George III (Charlotte, Augusta and Elizabeth) by Gainsborough Dupont
The three eldest daughers of George III (Charlotte, Augusta and Elizabeth) by Gainsborough Dupont

With her childhood spent under the watchful eye of Queen Charlotte, the little princess threw herself into her studies. She was an intelligent and studious child and though her looks were compared unfavourably to her pretty younger sisters, Charlotte refused to be cowed and set her mind to the future. Keen to be married, she found the field of possible husbands massively reduced by her father's decision that she would not marry into a Catholic family under any circumstances. However, the suitor most favoured by Charlotte was not only the son of a Catholic, he was also a man with scandal in his past.

The Hereditary Prince Frederick of Württemberg was a widower and father of three, who had been accused of violence by his late wife, Duchess Augusta of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, who had fled her husband and taken refuge in Russia. Charlotte's cousin, Augusta was also the sister to Caroline of Brunswick, later estranged wife of Charlotte's brother, George. Mindful of these allegations as well as his Catholic ties, the King and Queen refused permission for the marriage to go ahead but Charlotte would not back down and petitioned tirelessly, eventually winning the blessing of her father.

The wedding took place on 18th May 1797 at the Chapel Royal of St. James's Palace with celebrations going on for days and the newlyweds set off for their new home in Stuttgart the following month. Despite Frederick's fearsome reputation he and Charlotte appear to have enjoyed a peaceful marriage; though their only child was stillborn on 27th April 1798, Charlotte's stepchildren adored her and she was devoted to them in turn. Free from her mother's somewhat dominant influence, Charlotte blossomed in Stuttgart and enjoyed her new life immensely. 

Frederick I of Württemberg by Johann Baptist Seele
Frederick I of Württemberg by Johann Baptist Seele

The settled life of the Stuttgart court was to suffer a serious shake-up in 1800 when French troops marched into Württemberg and sent the Duke and Duchess fleeing to Vienna. To the horror of Charlotte's parents, Frederick allied with Napoleon, making territorial exchanges and taking the title Elector of Württemberg on 25th February 1803. He later provided troops to France and on 1st January the Elector and Electress became King and Queen after a coronation held in Stuttgart, ruling from their home at the Ludwigsburg Palace.

Although Frederick switched sides in 1813, Charlotte's parents must have found it hard to reconcile the behaviour of their daughter and son-in-law and George flatly refused to address her as Queen of Württemberg, even after the title was confirmed by the Congress of Vienna. 

Frederick I of Württemberg by Johann Baptist Seele
The Bridal Night by James Gillray, 1797

Frederick died in 1816 and the Dowager Queen remained at the palace they had shared, receiving noble visitors from across Europe including her own illustrious siblings. 30 years after she left England in 1797, she returned to her native land to undergo surgery for dropsy, returning to Germany to convalesce. Dowager Queen Charlotte died at home in 1828 having lived an eventful life, a long way from the shy little girl who had been born in Buckingham House.

Life in the Georgian Court, true tales of 18th century royalty, is available at the links below.

Pen and Sword
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Book Depository (free worldwide shipping)

Saturday, 28 September 2013

The Lamp-Black Merchant's Son: Johann Peter Kellner

Johann Peter Kellner (Gräfenroda, Thuringia, Germany, 28th September 1705 – Gräfenroda, Thuringia, Germany, 19th April 1772)

We have had a fair bit of tragedy of late, so a little triumph seems in order. It's a musical trip to Germany today to meet Johann Peter Kellner, a German organist and composer who rose from unremarkable beginnings to join the circle of Johann Sebastian Bach, moving through most illustrious salons of German nobility.

Born to a lamp-black merchant, Kellner's parents expected their son to continue his father's business but the young man had other, more musical ideas. Whilst at school in Gräfenroda he excelled in music studies, immersing himself in vocal training with Johann Peter Nagel and discovering a love of organ music under the tuition of Nagel's son, Johann Heinrich. It soon became clear to the Nagels that Kellner had an extraordinary talent, one that could not be set aside in favour of lamp-black!

At Nagel's urging, Kellner's parents agreed to send their 15 year old son to Zella, where he continued his organ studies as a pupil of Hieronymus Florentius Quehl. Quehl recognised Kellner's talent and encouraged him to pen compositions of his own, even introducing him to Bach, with whom he became friends. After seven years in Zella, Kellner returned home to Gräfenroda and established himself as a music tutor, still working on his own compositions at every available opportunity.

He became cantor of Frankenhain in 1725 and two years later was assistant cantor in Gräfenroda, eventually assuming the role of cantor in 1732 when the elder Nagel died. Famed for his keyboard skills, he was in great demand in the finest houses of Germany, travelling the country and encouraging an audience for Bach, whose works he transcribed and handed out on his travels.

Kellner continued as cantor until his death, leaving behind a rich body of work; his music is still played today and the list of friends, pupils and clients in his 1754 autobiography is a who's who of the German music world of the 18th century. Not a bad legacy for a lad who was expected to sell lamp-black!

Friday, 27 September 2013

The Privileged, Tragic Life of Francis Russell, Marquess of Tavistock

Francis Russell, Marquess of Tavistock (London, England, 27th September 1739 – Bedfordshire, England, 22nd March 1767) 

Francis Russell, Marquess of Tavistock

Well, the journey from Massachusetts home to Covent Garden was a smooth one and this morning finds me happily at my bureau as London bustles into life outside, quill in hand and tea tray fully loaded. We heard yesterday of a gentleman who died before his time and today is another sad tale of a promising life cut short, though instead of an American composer, we are in the company of an English peer. We Gilflurt ladies have always been happy to welcome a gentleman of noble birth to Henrietta Street and today I've opened the salon doors to wish happy birthday to Francis Russell, Marquess of Tavistock.

As the son of influential Whig statesman, John Russell, 4th Duke of Bedford and his second wife Gertrude Leveson-Gower, it was almost inevitable that the young Marquess would forge a career in politics and so it would be though his early ambitions were more of the military sort. Ambitious, fiercely intelligent and with an established family name in the political sphere, upon his graduation from Cambridge, Russell contested and won the parliamentary seat for Armagh Borough at just 20 years of age. Two years later he left the Irish House of Commons and and won the vacant seat for Bedfordshire, assuming his place in Westminster. He would serve as Member of Parliament for Bedfordshire until his death six years later, though he indulged his love of all things military by serving with a local militia.

Russell's first love was for the very married Lady Pembroke but, with no prospect of divorce despite her husband's own adultery, our hero cast around for a suitable alternative. On 8th June 1764 Russell was married to Lady Elizabeth Keppel, grand daughter of Charles II, daughter of William Anne van Keppel, 2nd Earl of Albemarle, and Lady Anne Lennox. The couple had three sons within three years of their marriage and seemed to live a charmed life. Fashionable, successful and wealthy, their privileged existence was shattered by tragedy in early 1767, the first of several that would strike the family.

Lady Elizabeth Keppel adorning a Herm of Hymen by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1761
Lady Elizabeth Keppel adorning a Herm of Hymen by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1761

Whilst out hunting in the land surrounding his home at Houghton House, the Marquess fell from his horse. His skull was fractured by a kick from the animal and Russell suffered fatal injuries. He was only 27 years old when he died, the heir to the Dukedom of Bedford laid to rest in the Bedford Chapel of the parish Church of St. Michael in Chenies, Buckinghamshire. For the Russell family there was to be further tragedy and the couple's young children were orphans within twelve months, the Marchioness claimed by consumption during a visit to Lisbon. Elizabeth's body was brought home to England so that she could be interred beside her husband at Chenies.

The tragic early death of Francis Russell robbed Whig politics of a talented young politician and we can only wonder what he might have achieved had he lived. His three sons followed their father into the House of Commons and one would later be the victim of a gruesome murder but that is a story for another time! 

Thursday, 26 September 2013

From Songsmith to Street Sweeper: William Billings

William Billings (Boston, Massachusetts, America, 7th October 1746 – Boston, Massachusetts, America, 26th September 1800)

William Billings

Yesterday we left Covent Garden behind to hear a grisly tale from Massachusetts and since we're already on the other side of the Atlantic, it seemed only right to spend some more time in that fair state for a slightly less gruesome tale, though one with a tragic ending all of its own. Whereas our last visit to Massachusetts was steeped in blood, today's is drenched in music as we meet William Billings, a choral composer who found himself hugely popular even as he languished in the depths of poverty, forever prevented from receiving the money he was due.

A man with music in his very soul, Billings was not born into privilege and by his mid-teens was working to support himself as a tanner, toiling long hours at the trade. He suffered from physical deformities to his limbs, as well as having only one eye and an addiction to snuff would ravage his voice and respiratory system yet none of this would hold Billings back as he rose from tanner to celebrated pioneer of American choral music. With no formal training, Billings had an innate passion and talent for music that drove him to leave the tanning trade by the age of 22, when he took up a position as a teacher of choral singing.

With his lessons paying the bills, Billings quickly moved into composition and when he published his works he frequent providing colourfully written narratives to accompany them. These notes allowed Billings to discuss music, tell stories and give performance directions, revealing much of the eccentric character of the composer as well as his deep understanding of the interplay of voice and instrument. He became known for his celebratory religious compositions and as travellers set out to discover America, they took with them Billings' songs and music.  In his work Billings developed a choral sound that was uniquely his own, a new musical identity for the colonies that acknowledged little debt to its European forebears.

As Billings' fame increased so too did his social circle grow ever more illustrious and he befriended many major figures of the American Revolution, including Samuel Adams, with whom he enjoyed a close friendship of many years standing. When he required engraving, he turned to Paul Revere, another great friend; however, he remained deeply involved with those who performed his work, teaching in singing schools throughout the state and tirelessly publicising the work of these still-new institutions.

Sadly, Billings was to meet with personal disaster thanks to the virtually non-existent American laws of copyright during his time. His enormous popularity meant that his works were reprinted across the country and the composer found himself with no recourse to claim royalties. Instead, his music was legally exempted from copyright and could be printed and performed freely. Though the law was subsequently strengthened the changes came too late for the composer and he was plunged into poverty despite the best efforts of his friends to arrange charitable sales and performances of his work. As choral music declined in popularity Billings took a job as a street sweeper but would die soon after, the end perhaps hastened by his long-term addictions to snuff and tobacco.

Forgotten in death, the once hugely popular composer languished in anonymity for almost two centuries. His work was rarely performed outside of rural parts of the southern states and his name faded from popular memory until his choral works enjoyed a richly-deserved revival in the twentieth century. Inspiring, dramatic and characterful, the self-taught composer is once again achieving the acclaim he so richly deserves. Bravo, Mr Billings!

Here is a little taste of Billings...

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

A Murderer Undone by Breakfast: Jason Fairbanks

Jason Fairbanks (Dedham, Massachusetts, America, 25th September 1780 – Boston, Massachusetts, America, 10th September 1801) 

The Fairbanks House
The Fairbanks House

Shutter the windows and bar the doors because we're in the company of a thoroughly bad lot today in the shape of Massachusetts murderer, Jason Fairbanks. Before the sensationalist crime literature of the Victorians who followed, this was a case that set tongues wagging and excitable hearts fluttering because it had it all, spurned love, a suicide pact and a daring escape foiled by a young man's empty stomach.
Born into a socially prominent family, Fairbanks had been courting 19 year old Elizabeth Fales for some time yet all was not rosy for this particular couple. The young lady was a little reticent to commit permanently and her frustrated beau decided that enough was enough, the time had come for her to make up her mind once and for all. The couple arranged a liaison in a secluded birch grove to discuss their relationship and when Elizabeth set out for her meeting on 18th May 1801, her family could little suspect what horror the day would hold. Whatever passed between the pair remains a mystery but one fact we can be sure of: by the time the interview was concluded, Elizabeth Fales lay dying.

Later that Spring day the distraught Fairbanks arrived at Elizabeth's home drenched in blood, a knife clutched in his fist. Shocked and gravely injured, Fairbanks told the family that he and Elizabeth had tried to enact a suicide pact; however, only she was successful. A rescue party rushed to Elizabeth's aid and found her barely alive, the young lady expiring within minutes. Her body was riddled with stab wounds, including a serious injury to her back which would have been quite a feat for a suicide. With her injuries throwing suspicion over Fairbanks' version of events, the young man was treated for his injuries before being taken to jail. 

Fairbanks passionately protested his innocence; with limited use in one arm he maintained that he could not have attacked Elizabeth so ferociously. Nor, he said, would he wish to hurt her; after all, the couple were in love. A short trial resulted in a guilty verdict and Fairbanks was sentenced to death by hanging; for most people this would be the end of the story yet for Jason Fairbanks, it was the start of another dramatic chapter.

Thanks to a plan enacted by friends and family, Fairbanks escaped his cell and went on the run, sights set firmly on the border. As America hunted for the escaped murderer and his companions, the outlaws headed north to Canada but here they made one fatal error. They didn't cross the path of law enforcement, nor were they caught by those pursuing the bounty on Fairbanks' head... no, they simply stopped for breakfast. 

As the band enjoyed their repast in Skenesboro, New York, they were apprehended. With no doubt as to his identity, Fairbanks was returned to jail and when he went to the gallows on 10th September 1801, a crowd of 10,000 gathered to watch. 

The Fairbanks/Fares case became a cause célèbre, the story of the murder, escape and trial a bestseller across the country. The story of their doomed courtship and sad end  spawned sentimental literature, breathless newsprint and a national manhunt... you never get that down Gin Lane, thank goodness!

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

From Augsburg to the Moon: Johann Matthias Hase

Johann Matthias Hase (Augsburg, Germany, 14th January 1684 – Wittenberg, Germany, 24th September 1742) 

Hase's Map of Europe
Hase's Map of Europe

Our first visiting astronomer was not the most lucky man, as you may recall, so I thought we would meet another gentleman of the stars today in the form of Johann Hase. His tale is a slightly more pleasant one so help yourself to a glass of claret as I reveal the story of a man whose name travelled all the way from Augsburg to the very surface of the moon!

Hase was born the son of a mathematics professor and from an early age showed a natural aptitude for figures and science, eagerly learning at his father's knee. Fiercely intelligent, at the age of 17 the young man became a student at the University of Helmstedt and later the University of Leipzig, where he specialised in mathematics with a particular focus on algebra, which sends a shudder through this particular salon keeper! 

However, despite his very analytical mind, Hase found himself increasingly drawn to philosophy and theology. For a very short time he set his mathematical studies aside to focus on faith but the lure of numbers proved far too strong and soon he was employed as a private tutor, undertaking further study at Leipzig where he developed an abiding fascination with astronomy and cartography.

Hase's academic career advanced at an astounding rate and he took a professorship at Leipzig, writing a number of seminal papers on astronomy and geography, including an amazingly detailed map of the world. Further maps followed of individual countries and continents and Hase became renowned for his cartography. He argued that geography and history were inseparable disciplines, unshakable in his belief that historians could not begin to properly examine the past unless they understood the lands in which events occurred.

Among all of this, Hase found time to pursue his interest in astronomy, even petitioning for the construction of an observatory at Wittenberg to further his studies. He remained involved in academic research until his death and today his name lives on, immortalised in the name of the moon's Hase crater, which the mapmaker would no doubt have appreciated!

Monday, 23 September 2013

Gros Madame: Marie Clotilde of France

Marie Clotilde of France (Marie Adélaïde Clotilde Xavière; Versailles, France, 23rd September 1759 – Naples, Italy, 7th March 1802)

Marie Clotilde by Johann Julius Heinsius, 1780
Marie Clotilde of France by Johann Julius Heinsius, 1780
After leafing through my papers this last week and perusing my articles, my own grandpa Gilfliurt declared at dinner, "I don't know why you don't just move to France!", so Frenchified does he feel things have become here on Henrietta Street. He's a traditional old sort and his claret-fuelled outburst left me in no doubt that I may as well throw caution to the wind and gad back across the channel in search of a lady of France!

Marie Clotilde was born in Versailles, the daughter of Princess Maria Joseph of Saxony and Louis, Dauphin of France. Nicknamed Gros Madame on account of her weight, Marie Clotilde was a quiet girl who enjoyed a very close relationship with her sister, Élisabeth, the bond growing stronger than ever when the two girls were raised by Madame de Marsan following the death of their parents. When the young lady was just 15 her brother Louis Auguste, was crowned king and his wife, Marie Antoinette, queen.

Marie Clotilde

On 27th August 1775, Marie Clotilde was married by proxy to Charles Emmanuel, the son of Victor Amadeus III of Sardinia. The wedding had been planned for years as part of a wider scheme of political marriages and Marie Clotilde had been taught Italian to ensure she would be able to hold her own in the Sardinian court. She left Versailles and her devastated sibling immediately afterwards to travel to Turin in the care of her brother, the comte de Provence. On route to her new life she met her husband for the first time at Pont-de-Beauvoisin and the group went on together to join the Sardinian court at Chambéry, with a full wedding ceremony following soon afterwards. 

We have witnessed so many royal marriages that ended unhappily and it is gives me a very warm glow to write that Marie Clotilde and Charles Emmanuel developed a strong and lasting love for one another. Her husband dismissed jibes about his bride's weight out of hand and though the marriage was to remain childless, their union was one of mutual adoration. They shared a strong Roman Catholic faith and Marie Clotilde swiftly became part of the family in Sardinia, forging strong friendships with her new sisters-in-law.

Marie Clotilde never returned to the country of her birth and was understandably devastated by the fate that befell her family during the Revolution. Though the Sardinian court provided protection to those who were able to escape, her brother and adored sister went to the guillotine and Marie Clotilde felt their loss keenly.

Marie Clotilde, 1775

Marie Clotilde became Queen of Sardinia at the age of 37 but the reign of Charles Emmanuel was to last only two years before the French First Republic declared war on Sardinia, leaving Charles with a vastly depleted kingdom. The couple travelled Italy together and settled in Naples happily, gathering Charles Emmanuel's family to them.

When Marie Clotilde died, Charles Emmanuel abdicated the throne of Sardinia and lived on quietly, mourning the loss of his beloved wife. There is a simplicity to Marie Clotilde's life that I found genuinely touching; her story is not often told and it is a pleasure to wish her a very happy birthday!

Life in the Georgian Court, true tales of 18th century royalty, is available at the links below.

Pen and Sword
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Book Depository (free worldwide shipping)

Sunday, 22 September 2013

From Church to Prison to the Stage: John Home FRSE

John Home FRSE (Leith, Scotland, 22nd September 1722 – Edinburgh, Scotland, 5th September 1808) 

 John Home by Sir Henry Raeburn
John Home FRSE  by Sir Henry Raeburn

I was introduced to today's guest by a very dashing doctor from Edinburgh who calls in now and again for tea and crumpets, royal health problems permitting. He is a man of few words but many entertaining tales and knows all the folk worth chattering about from that part of the world. So, far away from banks and boat races, it's time for a jaunt north of the border to pass the time of day with another man of letters.

Born the son of a town clerk, John Home was a pupil at Leith Grammar School before moving to the University of Edinburgh. A keen and intelligent student, he graduated at the age of 20 with two possible career paths in mind, his future life torn between church and military. Exploring his options, Home plumped for a study of divinity and joined the presbytery of Edinburgh in 1745. However, the lure of a more exciting life proved too tempting and later that year he volunteered against Bonnie Prince Charlie. Home was a loyal soldier but not a particularly successful one and he was one of many men taken prisoner after the Battle of Falkirk in 1746. The prison of Doune Castle could hardly hold the volunteers though and when some of the prisoners made their escape, Home was among them.

His experiences against Charlie fresh in his mind, Home decided to try a less dangerous path and instead took a position as minister in Athelstaneford, East Lothian. Enjoying the pastoral life he devoted his time to writing and in 1747 completed his debut play, Agis: A Tragedy. As far as the new author was concerned, this was the play the theatre was waiting for and he travelled to London and held a meeting with David Garrick, certain that the theatrical impresario would jump at the chance to premiere the work. In fact Garrick rejected the play out of hand, seeing nothing on interest within its pages. Undaunted, Home was back in London five years later with a new play, The Tragedy of Douglas. Once more he met Garrick and once more he was dismissed but this time the playwright returned to Edinburgh with the intention of debuting the work in Scotland instead.

David Garrick as Kitely in 'Every Man in his Humour, by Sir Joshua Reynolds
David Garrick as Kitely in 'Every Man in his Humour, by Sir Joshua Reynolds

Garrick's rejection was to prove meaningless to the people of Edinburgh and when the play open in December 1756, they flocked to see it. Home was suddenly famous, his work celebrated and he returned to London in triumph the following year to see The Tragedy of Douglas open to enormous acclaim. The play proved controversial to the presbytery in Scotland and Home resigned his position as minister and instead devoted himself to a life of letters. He became secretary to Lord Bute and enjoyed influence and position at court. Most pleasing of all though, in 1758 Garrick ate his earlier words and produced Agis in London. It was to prove a misjudged decision and the play closed within a fortnight. Subsequent plays were equally underwhelming and the disappointed Home returned to his first love, the military.

Tragedy struck in 1778 when, serving with the Duke of Buccleuch, Home suffered a serious fall from his horse. As a horsewoman myself I've had one two most ungainly spills but they paled in comparison to that experienced by out hero, who suffered ongoing problems from a brain injury sustained in the accident. He retired from public life and took up residence in Edinburgh, where he continued to study and write until his death at the ripe old age of 86, having enjoyed a long and fruitful social life alongside his more learned pursuits!

Saturday, 21 September 2013

The Tragic Revolutionary Romance of François Marceau-Desgravier

François Séverin Marceau-Desgraviers (Chartres, Kingdom of France, 1st March 1769 – Altenkirchen, Holy Roman Empire, 21st September 1796) 

François Séverin Marceau-Desgraviers by François Bouchot, 1840
François Marceau-Desgravier by François Bouchot, 1840

It seems that a week never passes without a trip to France of late and today we find ourselves traversing the Channel again in search of a revolutionary general. His story has it all; excitement, heartbreak and even a spot on the Arc de Triomphe. Make sure you have a nice lacy handkerchief on hand, as you might find yourself dabbing away a tear by the end of today's tale of the boy general.

Born the son of a prosecutor, Marceau's future looked set when he entered training to follow his father into law. A capable and intelligent student, the young man found himself increasingly drawn away from academia in search of something more thrilling and when he was just 16, he enlisted in the army to serve at Angoulême. He was present at the storming of Bastille and that event had a profound impact on him. Spurred on by revolutionary fervour, he resigned his post in the army and joined the National Guard, swiftly attaining the rank of Captain.

François Séverin Marceau-Desgraviers by François Séraphin Delpech, 1830
François Marceau-Desgravier by François Séraphin Delpech, 1830

Marceau rose quickly through the ranks of his unit in the Eure-et-Loir and by 1792 was a Lieutenant Colonel. He played an important role in the defence of Verdun, though his men became demoralised quickly with the appalling conditions and Marceau was to find himself under suspicion of fraternising with the enemy after he participated in talks with his Prussian counterparts. The revolutionary government called his conduct into question and in early 1793 he was arrested and imprisoned for a short time. When it became clear that there were no charges to answer, Marceau returned to service and by June 1793 was defending Saumur against Vendéean Royalists. This conflict turned his fortunes around as he was instrumental in the daring rescue of National Convention representative, Pierre Bourbotte, who was being held by loyalists. He became a hero of the revolution, rising swiftly to the rank of Brigadier General and winning the friendship of  Jean Baptiste Kléber, a fellow General.

Despite his apparently glittering career, Marceau was known of something of a particular character. Plagued by ill health, the young man resigned his commission in 1793 and spent some time convalescing before returning to service, clad always in a hussar's uniform of his own design. Together Marceau and Kléber served in a number of important battles, one of which was to prove personally significant for the young general. After an engagement at Le Mans in December 1793 Marceau championed the cause of a Royalist sympathiser, Angélique des Mesliers, whom he saved from imprisonment. He concealed the young woman from her pursuers but she was discovered whilst he was in Paris on military business.

The gossips of Paris whispered that there was more than friendship between this star-crossed couple and once again the political leaders of the Revolution were horrified. Despite the efforts of Marceau and his influential military contacts, Angélique was arrested and executed and Marceau would have followed her to the guillotine if not for the intervention of Bourbotte. The young man was crushed at the loss of Angélique and once again, his always questionable health began to decline.

Tomb of François Séverin Marceau-Desgraviers  in Koblenz
The tomb in Koblenz

Marceau was devastated and though he would eventually become engaged to Agathe Leprêtre de Châteaugiron, the marriage was destined never to take place thanks to a combination of career and familial opposition. For three more years after the loss of Angélique he fought on the battlefields of Europe until, on 19th September 1796, the young man suffered a serious wound whilst fighting at Altenkirchen. Unable to remove their fallen commander, the French troops left him to the mercy of the opposition and he was taken into the care of the finest Austrian surgeons. Despite their efforts he continued to decline and succumbed to his injuries just two days later. Marceau was cremated, his ashes interred in a pyramid designed by Kléber before their eventual transfer to the Panthéon almost a century later.

Marceau has since been immortalised in both art and architecture; he is commemorated in Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage and his name if carved into the Arc de Triomphe. Today his likeness can be seen in statues and portraits, the boy general remembered for his remarkable, tragic story.

Many thanks to Kagama, who stopped by the salon to let me know that, in true tragic romantic fashion, Desgraviers wore Agathe's miniature around his neck in battle. As recently as 1935 the miniature was in the Chartres museum "fading away slowly”.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Doggett's Coat and Badge

Thomas Doggett (Dublin, Ireland, ca. 1640 – London, England, 20th September 1721) 

Thomas Doggett

We Georgians know the Thames too well,  its sights, its sounds and, of course, its often eye-watering smells. That river can be a devil to cross and for that, we all call huzzah for the watermen who carry us safely across the waters in their familiar ferries. In today's tale, the worlds of theatre and river meet in the story of Doggett's Coat and Badge.

To start the story, we shall take a diversion by way of Dublin in pursuit of a theatrical gentleman, who made a lasting contribution to the sporting life of London. Not a great tragedian nor a noteworthy Shakespearean, it's time to pour the claret and welcome Thomas Doggett to Gin Lane! 

A successful comedy actor in Ireland, Doggett was approaching middle age when he arrived in the capital to make his stage debut. He enjoyed great success as a comedic performer and became known as one third of the actor-manager triumvirate at the Drury Lane Theatre with Robert Wilks and Colley Cibber, a famed partnership eventually ended by one too many differences of opinion. He also managed the Haymarket though it isn't for his theatrical career that Thomas has caught my eye, it is for Doggett's Coat and Badge.

Doggett's Coat and Badge

Married to a lady from Eltham, whilst working in the city Doggett would commute to his rooms in Chelsea from his Kent home. As was common, he spent much time travelling on the river, where he developed friendships with many of the city's 2500 watermen. The waterman were responsible for ferrying passengers across the Thames safely; each served a seven year apprenticeship and many of the watermen had followed generations of their family into the trade.

Always fond of a little entertainment, when George I came to the throne in 1714, the patriotic Doggett decided that something should be done to mark the occasion, especially since the new monarch was one of his greatest fans. After casting around for inspiration he hit on the idea of a boat race on the Thames, to be rowed annually on 1st August. The competitors were to be six watermen who had served as apprentices for a minimum of six months and the prize for the victor would be traditional watermen's coat adorned with a silver badge bearing the white horse motif of the Hanovers. It was a handsome prize and with Doggett's talent for showmanship and publicity, a sought-after one too! 

Doggett's Coat and Badge by Thomas Rowlandson
Doggett's Coat and Badge by Thomas Rowlandson

The early races were enormously popular and the six contestants were chosen by ballot from hundreds of entrants. Rowing their ferries against the tide, the race was a true test of strength and stamina. The watermen were a vital part of the fabric of London life and the annual event was an opportunity for them to shine and be celebrated by the people who used their services every day. 

Huge crowds gathered to watch the contest and to this day the race is still held every summer, the world's oldest annual sporting event. Doggett's name lives on as the benefactor of this unique race, best enjoyed with good friends and a tasty picnic; it makes for a fine way to spend a day!

Thursday, 19 September 2013

From Queen Caroline to Cannes: Henry Brougham, 1st Baron Brougham and Vaux

Henry Peter Brougham, 1st Baron Brougham and Vaux (Edinburgh, Scotland, 19th September 1778 – Cannes, France, 7th May 1868)

Henry Brougham, 1st Baron Brougham and Vaux by Sir Thomas Lawrence
Henry Brougham by Sir Thomas Lawrence

Today's post is unapologetically self-indulgent as I am marking the birthday of one of my favourite, if somewhat abrasive, characters, whom I first discovered whilst happily adding to my  Pinterest boards many moons since. Henry Brougham, 1st Baron Brougham and Vaux achieved fame as the advisor to Caroline of Brunswick, bought his way out of a scandal involving Harriette Wilson and enjoyed a long and successful political career before retiring to the sunshine of France!

Brougham was born into a wealthy and influential Edinburgh family, the son of Henry and Eleanora Brougham, who made their home at Brougham Hall. As befitted his station in life, the young Brougham enjoyed the best in education and in his mid teens found himself at the University of Edinburgh, splitting his studies between science and law. His academic career was dazzling and by the age of 25 he was a Fellow of his University; despite his illustrious family connections Brougham was determined to make a success on his own and financed his studies through journalism, eventually founding The Edinburgh Review in 1802, a publication for which he wrote a number of erudite, challenging pieces.

Henry Brougham by James Lonsdale, 1821

The following year Brougham left Scotland to pursue a career as a barrister in London, his fame as the founder of The Edinburgh Review opening the most fashionable society doors to him. The stylish, urbane Brougham became a leading light in Whig political salons and in 1806 joined a diplomatic mission to Portugal on behalf of Charles James Fox. Whilst on the mission he developed a staunch opposition to the slave trade and found his interests diverted away from law and journalism towards politics, eventually becoming Member of Parliament for Camelford in 1810. Just as he had made his mark at university, so to did he throw himself into his political career, speaking often and eloquently in the House of Commons and distinguishing himself in debate.  In fact, Brougham still holds the record for the longest Commons speech, clocking in at six unbroken hours; that's a figure that even we very chatty Gilflurts would find hard to beat!

Tiring of toiling in the rotten borough where he held his seat, Brougham stood in Liverpool in 1812 but found himself utterly trounced; this same year he took office as advisor to Caroline of Brunswick, estranged and loathed wife of the Prince Regent. He was out of the House of Commons until 1816, when he was returned as Member for Winchelsea. Just as he campaigned passionately for the abolition of slavery, now he added the cause of education to his interests, championing schools for the poor and disenfranchised.

Henry Brougham, 1st Baron Brougham and Vaux by James Lonsdale, 1821

His political career back on track, Brougham was to take a new office as Attorney-General to Caroline in 1820. With her husband now king, Caroline found herself in the throes of a messy and vitriolic divorce, the full power of the Tory Pains and Penalties Bill focused on her. Fuelled by accusations of adultery on Caroline's part, the Bill aimed to dissolve the marriage and strip her of her title and she employed Brougham to lead her defence in the Lords. In fact the bill did pass through the House but by a meagre nine votes; fearing an embarrassing defeat in the Commons, the bill was withdrawn and Brougham found himself famous throughout England. One year later the charming and highly eligible bachelor married Mary Spalding, with whom he had two daughters.

Brougham was not without his own scandals and in 1826 was one of the illustrious clients named in the Memoirs of Harriette Wilson, written by the titular courtesan. Invited to buy his anonymity by Wilson and her publisher, John Joseph Stockdale, our hero paid up, saving his name for the time-being at least. Not content with mixing with royals, avoiding scandal and championing reform, he even found time to develop the Brougham, a small horse-drawn carriage!

Harriette Wilson
Harriette Wilson

Happily ensconced in the twin worlds of politics and law, Brougham was not universally popular. Seen as ambitious, arrogant and overly-influential, Brougham's critics could do nothing to stop his still-rising star and in 1830 he was appointed Lord Chancellor and given the title Baron Brougham and Vaux. Whilst in office he passed the Representation of the People Act in 1832 and the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, two causes for which he felt very strongly. However, his personal conflicts with his fellow Whigs began to become more prominent and when the government was reshuffled in 1834, Brougham was removed from office.

Statue of Brougham in Cannes
Statue of Brougham in Cannes

Although he continued to be a force to be reckoned with in the Lords, Brougham now returned to his early loves of journalism and academia and in 1835 visited Cannes whilst en route to Genoa, falling instantly in love with the picturesque surroundings. Just as he threw himself into politics, law and courtesans, the Baron became a pillar of the town, providing funds and leadership with which to improve and develop the burgeoning community where he would eventually die and be laid to rest. Today Baron Brougham and Vaux is still remembered in Cannes thanks to a very fine statue that commemorates this colourful, abrasive and very ambitious fellow.

Life in the Georgian Court, true tales of 18th century royalty, is available at the links below.

Book Depository (free worldwide shipping)

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Poetry, Controversy and the Inquisition: Tomás de Iriarte

Tomás de Iriarte y Oropesa (Puerto de la Cruz, Spain, 18th September 1750 - Madrid, Spain, 17th September 1791)

Tomás de Iriarte by Joaquín Inza (1736-1811)
Tomás de Iriarte by Joaquín Inza 

For all of our gadding about Europe, it strikes me that we've not spent nearly enough time beneath the Spanish sun so on the birthday of Tomás de Iriarte y Oropesa, it seemed like the ideal opportunity. The nights are drawing in at Gin Lane and what better way to prolong the summer than a trip to Tenerife to meet a neoclassical poet who did not shirk from making enemies.

When he was born to Don Bernardo de Iriarte and Doña Bárbara de las Nieves Hernández de Oropesa, Tomás was the latest member of a family who enjoyed a rich reputation as writers, many of whom had a particular interest in humanism. Raised in an atmosphere of academia and literature, at the age of 14 he went to Madrid with his uncle, the writer and translator, Juan de Iriarte. Following his uncle's lead, the young man began his career by translating plays from French to Spanish for performance at court, de Iriarte enjoying no small influence with the king. 

At the age of 20 Tomás produced his first play and a year later was given the position of official translator at the State Department, a role he left in 1776 to progress to the War Office as an archivist. He was a gifted public speaker and adored debate, eventually finding himself welcomed into Spain's intellectual circles.

Though he was enjoying a successful professional career, Tomás found that his true love was poetry and he wrote tirelessly, in 1780 publishing the acclaimed work, La Música. Two years later he followed this with Fábulas Literarias, a hugely ambitious collection of fables that satirised his fellow writers and parodied their style. It was to prove a fateful publication for Tomás and made him powerful enemies; though he found himself reported to the Inquisition in 1786 for his supposedly controversial ideas, Tomás continued to write prose, poetry and drama without compromising his satirical style. In fact, he even branched out into composition, enjoying some success as an accomplished violinist.

Despite the enemies he made with his satires, the writer's popularity endured and he enjoyed success until his death, gout carrying him off just one day shy of his 41st birthday.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Tobias Smollett, A Satirical Surgeon

Tobias George Smollett (Dalquhurn, Scotland, baptised 19th March 1721 – Livorno, Italy, 17th September 1771) 

Tobias Smollett

My grandpa Gilflurt was never without a book on his hands or a story on his lips and many's the night we sat around his chair listening to him reading tales of adventure and daring. When he was in his cups he liked a bit of poetry too and one of his favourites was Tobias Smollett, a writer whose works he would recite with no little enthusiasm!

Smollett was born to Barbara Cunningham and Archibold Smollett, a landowner and judge in what is now West Dunbartonshire, Scotland. Enjoying a very comfortable upbringing, the young man found himself with a burgeoning interest in medicine and went to study at the University of Glasgow, where he trained as a surgeon. However, even as he found himself well-qualified for a medical career and apprenticed to William Stirling and John Gordon, Smollett's true ambitions lay elsewhere. He did not complete his studies and at the age of 18 decided to take his chances in London, envisioning a successful future as a novelist and dramatist.

Like so many other who travelled to the capital chasing their dreams, Smollett found his ambitions thwarted as he could raise no interest in his works. Frustrated and disappointed, he returned to his vocation and took a post as ship's surgeon on HMS Chichester, bound for Jamaica. He spent some time on the island and struck up a courtship with heiress Anne "Nancy" Lascelles before returning to the sea, serving at the Battle of Cartagena.

After the battle he finally set sail for England and established a hugely successful society practice in Downing Street. He married Nancy and together the couple had one child, a daughter. However, his marriage to Nancy was to prove somewhat troublesome as her generous dowry was tied up in her homeland and Smollett would spend a fortune in legal costs in his unsuccessful efforts to obtain it in the form of cash.

The Battle of Cartagena by Luis Fernández Gordillo
The Battle of Cartagena by Luis Fernández Gordillo

Despite the disappointments of his earlier literary efforts, Smollett continued to write and in 1746 published a poem of Culloden, The Tears of Scotland. However, his first true success was to come in 1748 with The Adventures of Roderick Random, a picaresque tale of an adventurous traveller that became a popular success and laid bare life naval life. Buoyed by this triumph he travelled to France to research his second novel, The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, which added to his already considerable reputation and sold in great numbers. The publication in 1753 of a third work, The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom, cemented Smollett's reputation and he moved in the highest literary circles in London, basking in the respect of his readers and peers.

Smollett's personal dealings went from bad to worse despite his professional successes; he wrote a scathing report on the medicinal resort of Bath that gained him few friends and became involved with a dubious figure named Peter Gordon, who borrowed and refused to repay large sums of money. A failed novel proved costly and Smollett found himself in financial dire straits, borrowing large sums of money until he gained regular employment as the editor of The Critical Review in 1756. With life once again on the up he published his hugely successful work, Complete History of England and  continued to write and publish poetry and translate works from overseas.

Tobias Smollett by Nathaniel Dance-Holland, 1764
Tobias Smollett by Nathaniel Dance-Holland, 1764

However, things were to take a darker turn for Smollett once more in the 1760s when The Critical Review libelled Admiral Sir Charles Knowles and our hero found himself serving three months in prison. However, he was able to afford a relatively comfortable incarceration and even used the experience as research for another novel! 

In 1762 Smollett's teenaged daughter, Elizabeth, died. Her heartbroken parents left England to travel the continent, the writer's creative output never slowing and just months before his death he saw the publication of his last and arguably finest novel, The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker. With his health failing, Smollett retired to Livorno, the final destination in his well-travelled life. He died at the age of 50, laid to rest in the city he had made his home. 

Smollett left behind a rich legacy of satire, his novels providing a wonderfully witty account of life in the navy, on the continent and in our wonderful Georgian world!