Tuesday, 31 December 2013

A Very Stout New Year's Eve

In the interests of new year festivities and mindful that our tale yesterday was one of the darkest we have heard, today we turn out attentions to more pleasant themes. It's no secret that grandma Gilflurt likes a glass of gin now and again but grandpa is a man for his porter or, on occasion, a little Guinness. In honour of his tipple of choice, today's tale is a no more than a short one, to give you time to pop off and get your best togs on ready for the festivities this evening!

Arthur Guinness was a gentleman with a talent for brewing ale and had been happily doing so since 1755, enjoying no small success in his homeland of Ireland. With his breweries doing well, on 31st December 1759,  Guinness signed a 9,000 year lease on the St. James's Gate Brewery, Dublin. 

The 9000 year lease
The 9000 year lease

For an annual payment of £45, Guinness had full use of the brewery and began brewing his now iconic ale there. A decade later he exported his first barrels of stout to Great Britain and Guinness has been a firm favourite ever since, not least with my old grandpa!

I shall be toasting the new year in with a little fine claret and a delightfully decadent masque but whatever you do, have a fine evening and a wonderful 2014!

Monday, 30 December 2013

The Tragic Execution of Ruth Blay

Ruth Blay (Haverhill, Massachusetts, America, 10th June 1737 - Portsmouth, New Hampshire, America, 30th December 1768) 

Today's story is a sad one; it serves as a reminder of the harsh punishments our 18th century courts handed down for occurrences which, sometimes, weren't really even crimes at all.  

Rural New Hampshire
Rural New Hampshire

In June 1768, children playing in a barn in South Hampton near Portsmouth, New Hampshire, made a grisly and disturbing discovery beneath the floorboards when they found the body of newborn baby girl.  The authorities were duly summoned and an autopsy on the unfortunate infant was carried out, that found no suggestion of foul play in the child's death. However, the very act of secretly delivering an illegitimate child was a crime known as concealment and it was punishable by death. If the infant did not live and no eye witnesses were present to attest that the death was a natural one, then the matter automatically became one of murder.

Whispers spread throughout the town that the mother of the unfortunate babe was a 31 year old unmarried schoolteacher named Ruth Blay, who was rooming in a house beside the barn. Within a week of the discovery, the terrified woman was imprisoned and on trial for her life. She readily admitted to being the child's mother but swore that the death was a natural one and refused to name the father. Incarcerated through a blistering summer, Ruth mourned her lost child and sorry circumstances bitterly, her health slowly but surely declining.

An all male jury found Ruth guilty and on 24th November 1768, she was sentenced to death by hanging. Usually the sentence would be carried out swiftly but Ruth received three reprieves before the day of her death, each of them serving only to prolong her torment. The stifling summer turned to autumn and a bitter winter descended until finally, the sorry day could be put off no longer.

On the last night of her life, Ruth sat in her freezing cell in what must have been utter desperation, reflecting on the sad events that had brought her to this place. She composed a final statement in which she once again confessed to giving birth to the child but utterly refuted any claims that she was responsible for the death of her daughter. 

The following day  she was transported by cart to the place of execution where hundreds of locals gathered to watch her die. When the cart pulled away Ruth did not die quickly in the noose but instead was left to a slow, agonising strangulation. Her body was placed in an unmarked grave, the exact location now lost to history. 

Ruth Blay was the last woman to be executed in New Hampshire and today, her name lives on as a symbol of a cruel law, albeit one that would remain in place for almost a quarter of a century after her own execution.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

The Life of Dorothy Wordsworth

Dorothy Mae Ann Wordsworth (Cockermouth, CumberlandEngland, 25th December 1771 – Cumberland, England, 25th January 1855)

Dorothy Wordsworth

I missed the birthday of Miss Dorothy Wordsworth in favour of festive greetings but I have been asked on several occasions by salon regulars to feature this estimable lady so today, I shall indulge them!

The daughter of John Wordsworth and Ann Cookson, young Dorothy enjoyed some education at Hipperholme Boarding School in her early years and was a bright and enquiring girl. Although she was an orphan by the age of 12 her story is not one of grim servitude and unhappy wanderings. In fact, she and her siblings enjoyed a relatively happy childhood, living with various relatives and undertaking  further lessons with family members. She eventually ended up living with her adored brother, William, at Alfoxden House in Somerset. The brother and sister had precious little money and as Wordsworth tried to eke out a living as a diarist, Dorothy wrote her own travel journals when she and William visited Scotland.Although she had no interest in fame and recognition, Dorothy was happy to assist her more well-known brother in his own work, researching and inspiring his writings.

The siblings spent some time in Germany before taking up residence at Dove Cottage in Grasmere, a home that was the realisation of a lifelong dream of being settled for Dorothy. She adored life in Grasmere and loved her simple existence, walking the countryside around her home and chronicling her life and experiences in the now famous Grasmere Journal. When William married Mary Hutchinson in 1802, Dorothy shared their home  and was devoted to her now extended family, becoming a close friend of her new sister in law.

A serious illness in her late 50s left Dorothy an invalid for the rest of her life and she became a habitual user of opiates, which did her already weakened health no good at all. She sank into senility in her final decade, eventually dying at peacefully at home.

Dorothy left behind a wealth of writing from journals to poems and letters, as well as travelogues cataloguing the trips she and William and his family undertook and, despite her disinterest in fame, she has achieved a considerable critical reputation since her death.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

The Death of Queen Mary

Queen Mary II of England (London, England, 30th April 1662 - London, England, 28th December 1694)

Queen Mary II of England by Sir Godfrey Kneller, 1690
Queen Mary by Sir Godfrey Kneller, 1690

Queen Mary swept into power in 1689 alongside her husband, William III at the dawn of our glorious long 18th century. Their reign was short but memorable and today we join the queen at the end of her life, nearing death.

Mary was always fit and energetic so it must have come as a terrible shock to courtiers to discover that this most vibrant queen had contracted smallpox towards the end of 1694. The infection was virulent in England at the time and Mary immediately recognised her illness what it was and took steps to ensure that it didn't spread unduly. She went into seclusion at Kensington Palace and dismissed any members of court who had not previously suffered from the infection. Mindful of the danger, she refused to see even her closest family members for fear of their contracting smallpox too.

Mary did not linger and swiftly declined, dying in the small hours of 28th December, leaving her husband to rule on alone. The people of England mourned their queen throughout a bitter winter and she was laid to rest at Westminster Abbey on 5th March 1695. William declared that he would never recover from her death and he passed away less than a decade later, leaving no children to take the throne.

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

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Friday, 27 December 2013

The Second Coming of Joanna Southcott

Joanna Southcott (Taleford, Devon, England, 1750 - London, England, 27th December 1814)

Joanna Southcott by Sabine Baring-Gould, 1908
Joanna Southcott by Sabine Baring-Gould, 1908

Today we commemorate the death of a very different sort of guest, a self-proclaimed prophet and the woman who reckoned herself to be mother to the forthcoming Messiah, Joanna Southcott was one of the more eccentric characters of the Georgian era.

Southcott was born as one of six children to Hannah and William Southcott, a Devon farmer. As a girl she was devoutly religious but through her teenage years began to enjoy the attention of various suitors, only returning to her pious ways after she made a deathbed promise to her mother to do so. 

and when her mother lay on her deathbed, promised that she would never lose her faith. She went into service in Exeter for many years until, at the age of 42, she became convinced that she had psychic gifts. She constantly heard a voice that made predications for the future and approached a number of local Devon clergy in an effort to have the veracity of the prophecies tested, though all declined. However, she shared her prophecies with the public who attested that several came true, beginning Southcott's journey to massive popularity.

Giving up her job Southcott devoted herself instead to prophecies, convinced that she was referred to in Revelations as "a woman clothed with the sun [...]", who would have a vital part to play in the years to come. In her new capacity as prophet, she gave paid audiences and prophecies, amassing a following than ran into tens of thousands. She began to publish on the subject of prophecy and spiritual enlightenment at the turn of the century, finally driven to distraction by the refusal of the clergy to acknowledge or test her prophecies, she used her last money to publish a book on religion and prophecy.

The book came to the attention of engraver William Sharp and he, along with several prominent friends, invited her to come to London, where her popularity flourished. She supplemented this with tours of the country and tirelessly wrote pamphlets that circulated through England. However, she was not without her critics and attacks were made on her character and behaviour, though Southcott brushed these aside and enjoyed the redoubled adoration of her followers.

At the age of 64, Southcott declared that she was pregnant with the new Messiah and predicted that the child would be born on 19th October 1814. Fearful of giving birth outside of wedlock, she married friend John Smith, who was happy to serve as father to the unborn Shiloh. As her followers waited with baited breath the appointed day came and went without a birth, though it was declared that Southcott had fallen into a trance.

Two months later, Southcott died. Convinced that she would rise from the dead her followers kept her body for several days until it began to putrefy. Following her death, the thousands of Southcottians who hung on her teaching began to drift away from the movement. She left a sealed box of prophecies that was opened in more recent years and found to contain nothing of note; those who still follow her, though, claim that the box that was opened was nothing but a hoax and that Southcott's real prophecies remain sealed away.

A final note to consider is that Southcott claimed that the day of judgement would fall in 2004. So far, apart from the odd Friday night on Gin Lane, we have yet to witness the apocalypse.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

The Marriage of Prince Louis of Prussia and Frederica of Mecklenburg-Strelitz

We have witnessed a royal marriage and the nuptials of an emperor and today we return to the altar for the story of a festive wedding, though it was a far from happy one.

At 20 years old, the young and eligible Prince Louis Charles of Prussia was in need of a wife and his father, King Frederick William II of Prussia, was searching Europe for suitable candidates. His son loved living the high life and the king was determined that he would make him a fine match, hoping to secure some dynastic ties at the same time.

Prince Louis Charles of Prussia by Edward Francis Cunningham, 1786
Prince Louis Charles of Prussia by Edward Francis Cunningham, 1786

Whilst visiting the theatre in Frankfurt-am-Main, Frederick William met sisters Louise and Frederica of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. Aged 17 and 15 respectively, the king found the sisters utterly charming and after some negotiations with their father, Charles II, Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, it was agreed that Louise would marry Crown Prince Frederick William and Frederica would be wed to the younger Prince Louis.

The marriage of Louis and Frederica took place on 26th December 1793 and from the start, the couple did not get along. Louis barely saw his wife and instead kept the company of his mistresses, on whom he lavished time and attention. Encouraged by his father to do his princely duty, Louis and Frederica eventually had three children together, two of whom survived to adulthood, though their offspring did nothing to bring the unhappy couple closer. The court gossips murmured that the unhappy woman sought solace in the company of her uncle-in law, Prince Louis Ferdinand, but whether this is true or not, her neglectful husband appeared hardly to care.

Princess Frederica by Johann Friedrich August Tischbein, 1797
Princess Frederica by Johann Friedrich August Tischbein, 1797

In fact, the marriage was over in three years when Louis died of diphtheria in 1796. Frederica married three more times, eventually becoming Queen of Hanover through her marriage to Ernest Augustus, son of our very own George III.

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

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Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Glad Tidings from Gin Lane

It has been a wonderfully whirlwind few months here at the Guide; thank you to all of you who have read, shared, encouraged, written and made this worthwhile. There shall be a brand new dispatch from the long 18th century tomorrow but for today, have a delightfully decadent day and don't forget you can read my brand new guest post on Richard Arkwright at the English Historical Fiction Authors blog!

Winter by Francois Boucher, 1755
Winter by Francois Boucher, 1755

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

The Premiere of Silent Night

Well, the salon is all trimmed up for Christmas and we're looking forward to the big day. One thing you can be sure of is that grandmother Gilflurt will take to the piano and demand everyone join a singsong. One of grandfather's favourite songs of the season is Silent Night and it is in his honour that I decided to pay a visit to Austria to witness the first performance of this Christmas favourite.

The Silent Night Chapel
The Silent Night Chapel

On Christmas Eve 1818, Father Joseph Mohr, a young priest at the St Nicholas parish church in Oberndorf bei Salzburg, paid a visit to Franz Xaver Gruber, an organist from the village of Arnsdorf, to show him a poem he had written entitled, Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht. Mohr believed his work might be the basis of a  had written the lyrics to a celebratory song entitled and asked Gruber if he could compose music to accompany the words. 

Gruber was happy to oblige and composed a score for both piano and guitar, with the men working together to perfect the carol in preparation for its debut that night at the church in Oberndorf. The church organ was awaiting repairs so the carol was to be performed to a guitar accompaniment, with Gruber on strumming duties on the night.

By candlelight, tenor Mohr and bass Gruber performed Silent Night for the first time at the evening mass. We shall certainly be singing it here on Gin Lane, though it might not sound quite so sweet with grandmother's gin-fuelled fingers on the keys!

Monday, 23 December 2013

The Death of Saint Marguerite d'Youville

Marie-Marguerite d'Youville (Née Marie-Marguerite Dufrost de Lajemmerais; Varennes, Canada, 15th October 1701 - Montreal, Canada, 23rd December 1771)

Saint Marguerite d'Youville

Today we have a first here at the Guide as we meet Marie Marguerite d'Youville, woman who overcame personal hardships to found a religious order. More than two centuries after her death she became the first Canadian to be canonised, making her our very first saint here at Gin Lane. 

Marguerite was born to Marie-Renée Gaultier de Varennes and Christophe du Frost, who died when she was still very young. Although the family were desperately poor, Marguerite's grandfather arranged for her to undertake education at the Ursuline convent in Quebec City, where she remained for two years. When she returned home, she educated her siblings and becomes an invaluable help to her mother. A vibrant, intelligent girl, Marguerite was just a teenager when her widowed mother married an apparently reprobate Irish doctor, Timothy Sullivan, effectively sabotaging her daughter's hopes of making a good marriage.

At the age of 21 Marguerite married a reprobate of her own in the shape of bootlegger François d'Youville, with whom she would have six children, two of whom survived infancy. François died less than a decade after the marriage but the years in which they were together proved difficult for Marguerite, with her husband away for long periods and engaged in highly illegal liquor trades. Unhappy and beleaguered, Marguerite turned to her religion to help her deal with the many losses she endured and when her two surviving children entered the priesthood, Marguerite's charitable works went one step further. In 1737 she, along with three fellow charitable ladies, founded a religious home for the poor in Montreal with the intention of offering food, shelter and support to those at their lowest ebb.

Mocked by family, friends and society for their lofty ideals, the women were nicknamed les grises, or, the grey [drunken] women in reference to Marguerite's scandalous late husband. They refused to be cowed by their critics and the movement grew, helping more and more of the poorest people on Montreal. Eventually becoming known as the Grey Nuns, the association rebuilt the General Hospital of Montreal and opened charitable homes in other cities across Canada, silencing those critics who had thought the women were certain to fail.

Marguerite died in the hospital her foundation had restored. In 1990 she was canonised, with a feast day of 16th October; not a bad end for the girl who endured poverty, unhappiness and disdain!

Sunday, 22 December 2013

The Execution of Constantia James

Constantia James (Norham, Northumberland, England, c.1708 – London, England, 22nd December 1738)

As we prepare for Christmas festivities, spare a thought for those not fortunate enough to share in the spirit of festive cheer. We have witnessed executions before here at the Guide and we Georgians were nothing if not keen on the noose, nor did we always demand much in the way of evidence before we passed judgement, wielding the power of life and death.

Newgate Prison

The sad facts in the case of Constantia James were recorded by the chroniclers of the Old Bailey and tell the story of an unhappy life. When she was brought before the judge for the final time, the life of the 30 year old woman was laid before the court and they heard that she had enjoyed a settled upbringing, even undertaking some education. In her teens Constantia took a job as housekeeper to a gentleman but the young woman fell pregnant by her employer and found herself without employment, references or reputation. 

With nothing to her name Constantia found her way to London where she eventually became a prostitute. Over the decade that followed she was imprisoned in Newgate on 20 occasions for solicitation and petty crimes committed during her career on the streets. She had previously stood trial for her life and walked free but this time, in the bitter winter of 1738, she was not to be so fortunate.

Constantia was accused of picking the pocket of a Mr Davis of 36 shillings and a half-guinea whilst performing a service for him with her other hand. The evidence was the word of her accuser and on this, the woman was sentenced to death; she pled her belly but the midwives told the court that the woman was not pregnant and could, therefore, face the executioner. On the morning of her execution Constantia took her final prayers before going to the gallows, weeping bitterly to the end for her life and the fate that had befallen her.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

The Naval Life of Admiral Philip Affleck

Philip Affleck (Dalham, Suffolk, England, 1726 – Bath, Somerset, England, 21st December 1799)

Admiral Philip Affleck

I have always liked a nice naval uniform and so a British Navy Admiral is very welcome here in the salon, especially one with a tale worth telling. Born to a wealthy family and with a brother who was also a naval hero, it is a pleasure to look at the life of Admiral Philip Affleck.

One of 18 children born to Anna Dolben and politician Gilbert Affleck, Philip enjoyed a privileged childhood in Dalham Hall, Suffolk. From an early age he was determined to go to sea and began his career working for the East India Company before moving on to serve in the British Navy. An acting-Lieutenant by the age of 29, Affleck distinguished himself at the Siege of Louisbourg in 1759 under Boscawen and by reward was promoted to command, from here rising rapidly through the ranks to captain HMS Panther in India.

Affleck was known as a brave, cool-headed captain and one who inspired trust and loyalty in his men. He remained in the Navy for more than three decades though was not always on active service until, in 1790, he was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Jamaica station. Here he would remain for two years until his return to England, where he was appointed as one of the Lords of the Admiralty under our old friend, John Pitt, Earl of Chatham. He rose once more though the ranks and became Admiral of the White in 1799, the pinnacle of a long career.

Affleck retired at the age of 70 and enjoyed a quiet retirement in Bath, where he died peacefully  on 21st December 1799.

Friday, 20 December 2013

The Death of Louis, Dauphin of France

Louis, Dauphin of France (Paris, France, 4th September 1729 – Paris, France, 20th December 1765)

Louis, Dauphin of France by Maurice Quentin de La Tour, 1745
Louis, Dauphin of France  by Maurice Quentin de La Tour, 1745

We have already been present at the marriage of the parents of Louis, Dauphin of France and have spent time in the company of more than one of their illustrious children so it seemed like an opportune moment to meet the Dauphin himself. A longed-for heir to the throne of France, Louis would not live long enough to take the crown, and today we visit him at the end of his short life.

As the son of Louis XV of France and his wife, Queen Marie Leszczyńska, Louis was always expected to one day become King of France. After years without an heir, the Dauphin's birth was a blessing that the whole of France celebrated with great rejoicing. Fireworks were let off across the country and court breathed a sigh of relief that succession was assured. 

By the age of 16 Louis was already a widower, bereft at the loss of his adored wife, Maria Teresa Rafaela, but the young man's status assured that he would not be single for long. In fact, as soon as the Dauphin married his second wife, Archduchess Maria Josepha of Saxony, in 1747, the couple set about the business of producing heirs of their own. Three of their children would go on to be kings of France, Louis XVI, Louis XVIII and Charles X, each with their own dramatic stories to tell.

A devoted husband to both of his wives and interested in culture and religious pursuits, Louis was a hugely popular figure with the public, the court and his own family. However, his life was a short one and at the age of just 36, ill health forced him to take to his bed at Fontainebleau. He would never again emerge and died here in December of consumption, leaving behind the wife who adored him and would never really recover from his loss. Just two years later she too fell victim to tuberculosis and though the Dauphin's body was laid to rest in Sens, his heart was interred with his wife in Saint Denis.

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

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Thursday, 19 December 2013

The Illustrious Career of Jean-Baptiste van Loo

Jean-Baptiste van Loo (Aix-en-Provence, France, 14th January 1684 – Aix-en-Provence, France, 19th December 1745)

Self Portrait by Jean-Baptiste van Loo
Self Portrait

We welcome our second van Loo today in the estimable form of Jean-Baptiste. Like his son he was a noted painter and virtually artistic royalty, enjoying a long and illustrious career that spanned the continent of Europe and England too.

Margaret ('Peg') Woffington by Jean-Baptiste van Loo, 1738
Margaret ('Peg') Woffington by Jean-Baptiste van Loo, 1738

As the son of Louis-Abraham van Loo and grandson of Jacob van Loo, the young man could not have asked for a better education in art. He showed a natural aptitude for the subject and in his early twenties wealthy patrons paid for van Loo to undertake a trip to Rome, where he entered the tutelage of the celebrated Benedetto Luti and mastered his skills. He travelled Italy producing religious paintings and upon his visit to Turin became immensely popular at the court of Charles Emmanuel II, Duke of Savoy, for whom he executed several works.

Portrait of an Unknown Gentleman by Jean-Baptiste van Loo, 1740
Portrait of an Unknown Gentleman by Jean-Baptiste van Loo, 1740

Riding high on his Italian successes, the celebrated van Loo returned home to France and took up residence in Paris where he became a member of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture. However, not content to rest on these considerable triumphs in 1737 he took up his travels again, visiting London to paint any number of illustrious clients including Walpole and members of the royal court. Van Loo was noted for the accuracy of his likenesses yet he did not believe in flattering his subjects, presenting sitters as they truly were, not as fashion might wish them to be.

Sir Robert Walpole, Earl of Orford, Prime Minister by Jean-Baptiste van Loo, 1740
Sir Robert Walpole, Earl of Orford, Prime Minister by Jean-Baptiste van Loo, 1740

His health in decline, van Loo moved back to Paris just five years later with his wife, Marguerite Le Brun. He did not settle in the capital though and instead returned to his hometown, where he died peacefully in 1745.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Joseph Grimaldi, A Legendary Clown

Joseph Grimaldi (London, England, 18th December 1778 – London, England, 31st May 1837)

Joseph Grimaldi by John Cawse
Joseph Grimaldi by John Cawse

Those of you who suffer from coulrophobia look away now, as today we welcome a giant of English comedy, the legendary clown and performer, Joseph Grimaldi. Grimaldi's story is so full of highs and lows that it will take more than one day to tell it, so today I present the first part of Grimaldi's life and his rise to stardom, with more on this celebrated comic performer to come later!

Grimaldi was the latest in a long line of theatricals to bear the name, each noted for their comic and acrobatic or dancing skills. Indeed, when his Italian great-grandfather arrived in England he set his dental practice aside to concentrate on the stage, setting the standard for the Grimaldis who would follow. Our hero's father was Joseph Giuseppe Grimaldi, a noted actor and dancer and his mother, Rebecca Brooker, had been apprenticed to him as a young teen. Although he was almost five decades her senior, she became his mistress and bore him two sons, one of whom was Joseph.

Grimaldi made his stage debut at the age of two when he appeared at Drury Lane, gaining excellent notices just one year later as Little Clown in The Triumph of Mirth; or, Harlequin's Wedding at Sadler's Wells. Audiences were charmed by the bright little boy and Richard Brinsley Sheridan happily added him to the roster of child performers to whom he gave regular repeat bookings at Drury Lane. He consolidated this success by appearing numerous times on the stage of Sadler's Wells and by the age of six, he was considered a very safe pair of hands.

A short foray into education at Mr Ford's Academy did little to stop the boy's meteoric rise and Grimaldi went from strength to strength until his career was staggered by a personal tragedy. In 1788 Grimaldi's father died, leaving the child responsible for his family, who had grown accustomed to an upscale lifestyle. Despite his success the little boy could not afford to keep his mother and brother in their Holborn home and the family eventually moved to the rookery of St Giles, with his brother, John Baptiste, going away to sea at just nine years old. 

When Kemble took over as producer Drury Lane  in 1788, Grimaldi continued at the theatre and began to learn the backstage crafts of scene building and design. However, without his father's guiding hand the boy's career began to slump. He laboured in lesser roles as the years passed until a 1794 performance in Valentine and Orson brought him back to the public eye. Once again the audience took this young performer to their hearts and his reputation was cemented when the 11 year old Grimaldi took the role of Pierrot  in a pantomime version of Robinson Crusoe.

Grimaldi met Maria, the daughter of Richard Hughes, proprietor of Sadler's Wells Theatre, in 1796 and the couple began a devoted courtship, eventually marrying three years later. Grimaldi was now a star and he would go on to become a theatrical legend, even if some of his personal behaviour was just a little strange. That, though, is a story for later.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Thomas Tickell, Poet

Thomas Tickell (Bridekirk, Cumberland, England, 17th December 1685 – Bath, Somerset, England, 21st April 1740) 

Thomas Tickell by Sylvester Harding
Thomas Tickell by Sylvester Harding

A gentleman of letters and politics joins us today as we welcome a poet whose fame has faded somewhat. However, he was a favourite of grandmother Gilflurt and it is for her that I include him here today. He is also yet another enemy of Alexander Pope, who has graced our pages before!

Thomas Tickell was born the son of Reverent Richard Tickell and Margaret Gale and was a precociously intelligent, inquisitive young man who excelled academically. He won a scholarship to the prestigious school, St Bees,  and then another that allowed him to attend Oxford. He graduated in 1709 and returned two years later to take the role of position of Professor of Poetry. However, rather than follow his clerical ambitions he befriended the Whig Secretary of State, Joseph Addison, and became his trusted advisor.

Tickell's ties to Addison did wonders for his literary career too and Addison championed his friend's translation of the Iliad against that of Pope, an insult that Pope could not forgive. On top of that, Tickell made a lifelong enemy in the shape of Richard Steele, who had expecting to be named Addison's secretary and lost the role to Tickell. With his professional career riding high, Tickell also found his poetic works lauded by Addison and when the latter died in 1719, the poet wrote and inspired a heartfelt elegy to his late friend.

In the years that followed Tickell went on to collect and edit Addison's collected works and Pope contributed some lines of his own, effectively ending the dispute between the three men. With his influential friend gone, Tickell remained at Oxford until 1724 when he went to Dublin to assume the prestigious position of Secretary to the Lords Justices of Ireland. Here he met the wealthy heiress, Clotilda Eustace, whom he would eventually marry and father five children, four of whom survived to adulthood. He published further poetry, the most popular of which was the tragic Colin and Lucy.

On his death in 1740 Tickell was laid to rest at his home of Glasnevin. In an age where the likes of Pope mercilessly thrashed their opponents in print and verse, Tickell took a more measured approach and preferred a waspish good humour to scornful disdain. His poetry is little remembered today so it is a pleasure to say happy birthday to Thomas Tickell, a true gentleman of letters.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Commodore Sir William James, Foiler of Pirates

Commodore Sir William James, 1st Baronet, FRS (Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, Wales, c.1721 – Eltham, London, England, 16th December 1783)

Commodore Sir William James by Joshua Reynolds, 1784
Commodore Sir William James by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1784

I hope you've got your sealegs on because today we make the acquaintance of a man who rose from humble beginnings to the heights of naval success. A true tale of rags to riches, William James travelled the oceans to make his name in business and seafaring circles!

The man who would become a Baronet was born into poverty, the son of a miller in Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire. With no appetite to follow his father into his trade he ran away to sea before he entered his teenage years and his dedication saw him rise swiftly through the ranks. By the age of 17 the young man was in charge of his own vessel in the West Indies. Captured by the Spanish, he was left to drift at sea until he made landfall in Cuba, only to be captured again.

Undaunted by these experiences, James joined the East India Company in 1747 and by 1751 he was Commander of the the Bombay Marine Forces, chiefly concerning himself with the pirates who plagued the company's dealings. His particular target was Toolaji Angria, a pirate leader  of some renown who operated out of the fortress of Severndroog, a stronghold that had been undefeated for decades. James was not concerned by previous failed efforts to bring down the pirates, confident that his own knowledge of the sea as well as the might of his ship, The Protector, would secure him the victory.

In fact James was proven right; his expert navigational skills around the Indian coastline led to a successful attack on the fortress in 1755 and the fortress fell. He also supported Colonel Robert Clive on occasion and was instrumental in securing British dominance over French forces in India.

In 1759 James returned to England and took up a role as chairman of the East India Company, settling with his wife, Anne Goddard, in Soho. He served as MP for West Looe in Cornwall and into 1774 moved to Eltham, his many successes crowned with a a baronetcy in 1778. 

James died at the age of 62 after suffering a massive stroke at his daughter's wedding. Today he is commemorated by Richard Jupp's Severndroog Castle, the building commissioned by the grief-stricken Lady Anne James.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Family Feuds and Rumours of Poisoning: Princess Maria Antonia of Naples and Sicily

Maria Antonia of Naples and Sicily (Maria Antonietta Teresa Amelia Giovanna Battista Francesca Gaetana Maria Anna Lucia; Caserta, Italy, 14th December 1784 - Aranjuez, Spain, 21st May 1806)

Princess Maria Antonia of Naples and Sicily by Vicente López y Portaña
Princess Maria Antonia of Naples and Sicily by Vicente López y Portaña 

It must be something in the air at the moment because we seem to be meeting lots of ladies who lived painfully short lives of late and today is no exception. It is time to leave England behind for the climes of Italy and Spain and the story of Princess Maria Antonia.

As with two of our other guests, Maria Antonia was the daughter of Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies and Maria Carolina of Austria and, like so many of the young nobles we have met, her future was decided by means of negotiations and power plays. Like so many of the young ladies we have met, Maria Antonia was raised to make a good marriage and, whilst the princess was still a girl, she and her siblings were already the subject of marital negotiations.

To secure alliances, it was agreed that the intelligent and vibrant young lady would marry her first cousin, Infante Ferdinand, Prince of Asturias and future king of Spain. Her brother was likewise to marry into the Spanish court, becoming the husband of Ferdinand's sister, Infanta Maria Isabella. Maria Antonia and Ferdinand were wed on 4th October 1802.

The marriage was far from devoted and Maria Antonia thought Ferdinand most unappealing, so it is perhaps not a surprise that the expected heir did not materialise. Instead, pregnancies in 1804 and 1805 both resulted in miscarriages, occasions that did nothing to endear Maria Antonia to her new family. Life at court was far from happy for the young woman as the families of the bride and groom simply did not get on and Maria Antonia found herself constantly in opposition to Maria Luisa, her mother in law. Indeed, accusations of poisoning and sabotage were flung around on all sides and the young woman's mother had a particular loathing for her Spanish opposite that can hardly have made marital life fun.

In fact, dislike for Maria Luisa was one of the few areas where Ferdinand and Maria Antonia did see eye to eye. The heir apparent took his wife's advice and opinion of his mother seriously and valued her guidance in his own efforts to gain political ascendancy over Maria Luisa and her close ally, prime minister Manuel Godoy. However, by this point Maria Antonia's health was already deteriorating, weakened by the miscarriages and the condition that would kill her.

Maria Antonia died of tuberculosis in 1806 aged just 21. Her grieving mother fervently believed that her daughter had fallen victim to a poison plot by her mother-in-law, a belief she held until her dying day.

Life in the Georgian Court, true tales of 18th century royalty, is available at the links below.
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Saturday, 14 December 2013

George Washington: Death of a President

George Washington (Westmoreland, Virginia, America, 22nd February 1732 - Mount Vernon, Virginia, America, 14th December 1799)

George Washington by Gilbert Stuart, 1797
George Washington by Gilbert Stuart, 1797

Most of our time here at the Guide is spent gadding about on European soil, yet today marks the anniversary of the death of George Washington and, since I share my abode with a colonial gentleman, it seems only right to commemorate this occasion.

The weather in Virginia in December 1799 was foul, winter growing deeper with each passing day. Despite the freezing rain and deep snow, however, George Washington spent hours outdoors as he made inspections of his plantation. When he finally returned to shelter in search of food and warmth he was freezing, no doubt glad for home and hearth.

The following morning Washington awoke to face the day and found himself suffering from a painfully sore throat. Once again though there was plantation work to be done and he travelled abroad in the heavily falling snow, spending hours outside. He retired to bed that night with no respite from the sore throat that had plagued him, waking in the early hours of 14th December barely able to breathe, let alone speak.

With no physician on hand an estate manager was summoned and Washington instructed him to begin bloodletting, in total removing approximately half of pint of blood. Meanwhile, the president's personal physician, Dr James Craik, was summoned, along with Dr Gustavus Brown and Dr Elisha Dick. Upon consulting their illustrious patient the three medics disagreed on their diagnoses yet all were of one mind that further bloodletting must take place and, in the next few hours, almost half the blood in Washington's body was removed. Dick was adamant that the problem was an inflammation of the throat that could only be cured by performing a tracheotomy yet the unfamiliar procedure was rarely undertaken and the more experienced men rejected the proposal out of hand.

With every treatment failing, the doctors laboured on until Washington died at 10pm, uttering his final words, "Tis well." Almost immediately the three physicians were called to account for his death, a tragedy which many believed had been caused by the extreme amount of bloodletting Washinton had endured. As they defended their actions and reputations George Washington was laid to rest at Mount Vernon four days after his death, leaving a nation to mourn.

Friday, 13 December 2013

A Story of Groundbreaking Surgery

Today's tale was related to me by my good friend and one of Edinburgh's finest, tallest and most charming exports, the estimable Doctor James Dillingham. A physician of some renown, he can often be persuaded to share some gruesome stories over tea and I thought I would pass one on to you!

Dr Ephraim McDowell was a resident of Danville, Kentucky, and had, like the good Dr Dillingham, received some training at the University of Edinburgh. A pillar of the community and well respected by patients and peers, the doctor was summoned from his home on 13th December 1809 to see a most intriguing patient in Green County, 60 miles from Danville.

Dr Ephraim McDowell

Arriving in Green County, Dr McDowell was introduced to Jane Crawford, a woman who appeared to have been pregnant for a very long time indeed. Her own doctors were at a loss to explain her condition and the terrified woman begged Dr McDowell to help, suffering as she was from dreadful pains. Dr McDowell diagnosed Mrs Crawford's condition as an ovarian tumour, a condition that had never successfully been operated on and was toa ll intents and purposes believed to be a death sentence. However, Dr McDowell believed that if anyone could change that, he could, and agreed to undertake the operation if Mrs Todd could travel to his home. She swiftly agreed and undertook the 60 mile journey on horseback, willing to do anything to preserve her life.

The operation took place on the morning of 25th December 1809, without recourse to anaesthetic. In under half an hour Dr McDowell had removed a 22.5 pound tumour that was attached to Mrs Crawford's fallopian tube. Despite the dire pronouncements of the doctor's medical peers, Mrs Todd made a swift recovery and before January was out, the lady was back at home in Green County, where she lived on for the following 32 years.

Dr McDowell's actions on that day were groundbreaking and he undertook further such operations in the following years, eventually chronicling the procedure in 1817. In total he carried out a dozen or more such operations with the majority proving successful, changing the face of surgery and disproving his esteemed, disbelieving peers.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

The Marriage of Napoleon and Marie Louise

In honour of the birthday of Marie Louise, Duchess of Parma, today I thought we would do something just a little different and drop in on the marriage negotiations and numerous wedding ceremonies of Marie Louise and the Emperor Napoleon. We have already met Marie Louise's father and the child she bore her husband so let's gad across to the continent and see where it all began.

Marriage of Napoleon I and Marie Louise by Georges Rouget, 1810
Marriage of Napoleon I and Marie Louise by Georges Rouget, 1810

By 1809 Napoleon had been married to Joséphine de Beauharnais for 13 years and could no longer contain his frustration that he had no heir. Seized by the  need to ensure 
that his dynasty would continue, he began divorce proceedings against Joséphine and began a search for a woman whom he would deem worthy of making an empress. His first thought was that an ideal candidate might be the teenaged Grand Duchess Anna, sister of Tsar Alexander I, yet the Austrians took exception to the implications this might have on their nation, neatly sandwiched as it was between Russia and France. In addition, Alexander seemed lukewarm towards the prospect and as discussions dragged on, Napoleon began to seek his bride elsewhere. 

With his thoughts turning towards the Austrian court, Napoleon was pleased to hear confirmation that Marie Louise, daughter of Francis II, might be an excellent candidate and even better, her father was open to discussions. Negotiations went on for some time but eventually, in early 1810, the deal was struck. As the discussions progressed, the 18 year old Marie Louise remained blissfully aware that her fate was being decided and when she was informed of the forthcoming nuptials in February 1810,  she said simply, "I wish only what my duty commands me to wish."

Empress Marie-Louise by Jean-Baptiste Isabey, 1810
Empress Marie-Louise by Jean-Baptiste Isabey, 1810

The marriage took place by proxy on 11th March 1810 at the Augustinian Church, Vienna and though the groom was not present, a huge celebration and ceremony was held to celebrate the nuptials.  Now Empress of the French and Queen of Italy, Marie Louise left her home to travel to France two days later, finally meeting her husband for the first time on 27th March at Compiègne. With a civil wedding following at the Château de Saint-Cloud, the couple had one final ceremony to undertake and another lavish religious ceremony was held in the Louvre on 2nd April.

The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries by Jacques-Louis David, 1812
The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries by Jacques-Louis David, 1812

Marie Louise was unassuming and popular and quickly felt at home in her new surroundings. Her new husband lavished her with gifts and indulgences and it appears that the couple were indeed very fond of one another, whilst the marriage brought peace between the traditionally opposed nations of France and Austria. The Emperor and Empress finally shared the child Napoleon had so longed for and for a time, at least, there was happiness at the French court.

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

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Wednesday, 11 December 2013

The Lonely Life of Louise Élisabeth d'Orléans

Louise Élisabeth d'Orléans (Versailles, France, 11th December 1709 - Paris, France, 16th June 1742)

Louise Élisabeth d'Orléans by Jean Ranc, 1724
Louise Élisabeth d'Orléans by Jean Ranc, 1724

We have encountered many cultured, poised and very noble women here at the Guide yet our visitor today was known for being a little more earthy than some of her peers and fellow princesses. My own grandmother Gilflurt can be somewhat ribald yet even she never quite matched some of the more unusual behaviour of Louise Élisabeth d'Orléans, a young lady who lived a somewhat sad life.

Élisabeth d'Orléans was born to Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, and his wife, Françoise Marie de Bourbon. As the fifth of seven children, it was always supposed by her disinterested parents that she would make an uninspiring and unimportant dynastic marriage and her convent education was basic, focussing on making her a relatively useful wife. However, her father was regent ruler of France and when war broke out with Spain, King Philip V suggested that an admirable way to make peace might be through a series of alliance-building marriages.

Louis I of Spain by Jean Ranc, 1724
Louis I of Spain by Jean Ranc, 1724

It was agreed that the 11 year old Élisabeth would marry Louis of Spain and the wedding took place by proxy in November 1721. Élisabeth left for Madrid immediately afterwards, taking with her an enormous dowry of 4 million livres but upon her arrival she was subject to a far from glowing welcome. Given the title of Princess of Asturias, she was not made welcome at the Spanish court and found herself mocked and gossiped about, her insular upbringing leaving her without friends or support. Still only a girl,  Élisabeth  
lacked the emotional maturity to stand up to such bullying and instead began to behave increasingly bizarrely, displaying poor manners and hygiene and apparently appearing naked in front of people. She and Louis did not get on at all and went for long periods without seeing one another, often not speaking when they were together; perhaps unsurprisingly, there were no children from the marriage. 

Louis and Élisabeth became king and queen on 15th January 1724 yet the reign was a short one and Louis died of smallpox within the year. A widow at just 15, Élisabeth remained in Madrid after her husband's death yet found herself utterly isolated and eventually returned to France. The Spanish crown moved to have her marriage annulled and the unhappy young girl endured an isolated existance in Paris. She died at the age of just 32, lonely to the last.

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

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