Friday, 31 January 2014

The Execution of José Félix Ribas, Rebel

José Félix Ribas (Caracas, Venezuela, 19th September 1775 - Tucupido, Venezuela, 31st January 1815)

José Félix Ribas by Martín Tovar y Tovar, 1861
José Félix Ribas by Martín Tovar y Tovar, 1861

After our sojourn to the bitter cold Russian winter yesterday, it's time to travel a little further afield for the tale of a Venezuelan rebel who was at the forefront of the fight for his country's independence.

Ribas was the youngest of eleven sons born to a prominent and wealthy family in Caracas, Venezuela. Fiercely intelligent and deeply charismatic, he was educated in a Caracas seminary amd assumed a civil service job, settling into adult life as the husband of María Josefa Palacios in 1796. However, as his politcal interests grew he became more and more involved in Republican politics and by 1808, was part of a conspiracy to revolt that saw his arrest and imprisonment.

As the people of Caracas gathered to decide their future on 19th April 1810, Ribas moved through the town encouraging them to take a stand against the ruling powers and they rallied to his call, overthrowing the Spanish authorities.

In the First Venezuelan Republic he proved an important figure in the the interim government, taking charge of the city of his birth and its environs.  Named Colonel of the Barlovento Battalion, he became a leading member of the Sociedad Patriótica organized by Francisco de Miranda, which encouraged rights and free speech for all citizens.

Ribas invested his personal wealth in the military and fought proudly alongside Simon Bolívar, whom he joined in exile when the First Republic fell after just two years. From his exile he continued to fight on for independence and was known to his men as a courageous and valiant soldier with a keen eye for strategy.

When Ribas and his surviving soldiers fled after the Battle of Maturín he was betrayed to the royalists by a slave and captured. The rebel leader was beheaded and his severed head was returned to Caracas, where it was displayed as a warning to the people.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

The Death of Peter II

Peter II (Pyotr Alekseyevich Romanov; Saint Petersburg, Russia, 23rd October 1715 – Moscow, Russia, 30th January 1730)

Peter II by Iogann Genrikh Vedekind, 1730
Peter II by Iogann Genrikh Vedekind, 1730

Yesterday we were present at the death of an elderly king, weakened by infirmity and insanity  until he finally passed away at the ripe old age of 81. Today our salon guest is another monarch in his final hours but this time, he is considerably younger. Emperor Peter II of Russia had ruled his country since the age of 12 yet his reign was to be a short one, and the young man was dead before he reached 15.

As 1729 drew to a freezing close, Peter was already in poor health and suffering from a severe ad debilitating cold. With his sense of duty outweighing all else he continued to honour his formal engagements and as the new year dawned, attended a traditional Epiphany Day feast on the River Moscow. On this bitterly cold January day the Emperor's condition deteriorated and as he slipped into a delirium, he was rushed back to Lefortovo Palace and the royal physicians were summoned.

After an examination the doctors gravely declared that the young ruler was infected with smallpox and that time was short, with no hope of recovery. Barely coherent, Peter's final words were  “Harness my sledge! I want to go and see my sister!".  That same sister had passed away just two years earlier at the age of 14.

Merely minutes later, Peter II died at the break of dawn on what should have been the day of his wedding to Ekaterina Dolgorukova. He was buried in the Archangel Cathedral,his death marking the end of the direct male line of the Romanov dynasty.

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

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Wednesday, 29 January 2014

The Last Hours of George III

George III (George William Frederick; London, England, 4th June 1738 – Windsor, England, 29th January 1820)

King George III in Coronation Robes by Allan Ramsay, 1761-1762
King George III in Coronation Robes by Allan Ramsay, 1761-1762

On this day, King George III breathed his last at Windsor Castle, his health and sanity weakened beyond repair. The British public took this unfortunate monarch to their hearts and tonight I will be raising a glass to Farmer George.

A decade before his death, George's health had deteriorated beyond the point of recovery. Plagued by mental illness, blinded by cataracts and crippled with rheumatic pain, he had never recovered from the death of his youngest daughter, Princess Amelia. Indeed, as I have already told, he simply refused to acknowledge that she had gone and fabricated a world in which the young girl lived on in Hanover, raising a family of her own.

George III of the United Kingdom by Henry Hoppner Meyer, 1817
George III of the United Kingdom by Henry Hoppner Meyer, 1817

With round the clock nursing care and the devoted attention of Queen Charlotte, George passed responsibility for leading the nation to his son, later to be George IV, on the passing of the Regency Act of 1811. Relieved of the pressures of ruling, the sickly king retired to live out the remainder of his life in peace and seclusion at Windsor Castle. As his dementia progressed and his hearing and mobility failed, he became a shadow of the man he had once been, not even well enough to realise that his beloved wife had passed away in 1818.

As he entered his final years, the elderly king was barely coherent and he  spent the last weeks of his life in a state of insanity. With Frederick, Duke of York, at his side, George finally took his last breath at 8:38pm on 29th January 1820, less than a week after the death of his son, the the Duke of Kent. Three weeks or so later on 16th February he was laid to rest in St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle.

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

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Tuesday, 28 January 2014

The Publication of Pride and Prejudice

Today I relate the story of a literary classic and a book that has become beloved of millions of readers in the years since its initial publication. A tale of manners, morality, love and life, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice has become a legend.

In autumn 1796,  21 year old Jane Austen took up her pen to begin work on a novel entitled, First Impressions. She spent the better part of a year preparing the manuscript and her father took it upon himself to offer the work to London publisher Thomas Cadell, who declined any further interest. Jane worked on other novels and writing until 1811 when she returned to the work and made a number of significant revisions to the story, as well as giving her manuscript a new title. Gone was First Impressions and in its place was Pride and Prejudice.

Title page from the first edition of the first volume of Pride and Prejudice
Title page from the first edition of the first volume of Pride and Prejudice

Renaming the novel was no doubt a wise move as two other books with the same title had been published in the years since she first began work and the time when she returned to make revisions. With the newly reworked novel now ready for publication, Jane submitted it with an asking price of £150 to Thomas Egerton of Whitehall. The firm agreed to take the work and a payment of £110 was negotiated. This proved a costly error as Jane agreed that the copyright would pass to Egerton in return for this single payment, meaning that all risk and any profit passed to him. In fact, the book would go on to be a success, with Jane seeing no additional royalties from its publication

The first edition was published in three volumes on 28th January 1813 and it was a hit. Critically lauded, the book sold out and a second edition followed towards the end of the year, with a third edition hitting the shelves four years later. It has gone on to become a literary legend, printed in dozens of languages and beloved by millions.

Monday, 27 January 2014

"Thraliana is itself an odd Thing!": The Life of Hesther Thrale

Hester Lynch Thrale (nee Hester Lynch Salusbury; Caernarvonshire, Wales, 27th January 1741 – London, England, 2nd May 1821)

Hester Thrale with her daughter Queeney by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1777-78
Hester Thrale with her daughter Queeney by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1777-78 
It is a joy to welcome one of my favourite Georgian ladies to the salon today. For many years thought of as Dr Johnson's Mrs Thrale, the reputation of Hester Thrale (aka Hester Lynch Piozzi) has been reevaluated of late as her writings and diaries have been devoured by subsequent generations!

Hesther was born into privilege as the only daughter of diarist John Salusbury and his wife, Hester. She spent her early childhood in the surroundings of Bodvel Hall, Caernarvonshire, and was a fiercely inquisitive and bright child who immersed herself in writing and literature from an early age.

However, for all of their illustrious pedigree, life was not free of concerns for the Salusburys and the free spending of John's mother and brother meant that they were constantly juggling one financial misfortune or another. As John sank into despondency and the family moved to London, he became increasingly volatile until, in a last effort to save the solvency of his name, he departed for Nova Scotia.

Hester married for the first time on 11th October 1763 when she became the wife of the wealthy Member of Parliament and brewery magnate, Henry Thrale. Although the couple had a dozen children, four of whom survived into adulthood, the marriage was often strained but Thrale's distant behaviour and occasional infidelities. Court gossips whispered that Hester had married beneath her and Thrale seemed ill-suited to court life. However, the couple certainly respected one another and although they might not have shared a storybook romance or blazing passion, they certainly had a deep and abiding affection for one another.

Hester Lynch Piozzi, 1785-1786
Hesther Thrale, 1785-1786

Buoyed by her own pedigree and her husband's financial capital, Hester's life became a social whirlwind and she moved in the highest circles, befriending titans of the literary set and enjoying a particularly close friendship with Samuel Johnson, who would later praise her in verse. She counted Fanny Burney among her friends, though this particular relationship would one day be tested by Hester's second marriage.

On 4th April 1781 Hester became a widow and an enormously wealthy one at that, inheriting a vast sum of money and the couple's home of Streatham Park. Here she held literary salons attended by luminaries of the cultural world and Johnson had his own quarters there whilst working in the library. She first met musician Gabriel Mario Piozzi at a party in 1777 and was immediately taken by his talent; in the years that followed he often visited Hester to perform for her and by 1782, the widow admitted in her own journals that she was in love with Piozzi, tormented by the knowledge that their social standing was vastly different and that any apparently scandalous behaviour on her part would no doubt percolate down to her children.

In fact, Hester attempted to end her burgeoning romance with Piozzi in 1783 yet Hester was so unhappy at his departure that her own daughters had him recalled and on his return, Hester and Johnson exchanged letters in which Johnson's jealousy came to the fore, resulting in an estrangement between the close friends. Finally Piozzi and Hester were married on 25th July 1784 and the couple took up residence at Brynbella, a country house on the edge of Hester's Bach y Graig estate in Wales. She spent the time here in reflection, considering whether it would be possible to lay claim to the lands her father had owned in Canada and eventually resolving her feud with Johnson, just prior to his death. In fact, she went on to publish Anecdotes of the late Samuel Johnson in 1786 and her collected letters in 1788.

Hester Lynch Piozzi by Mariano Bovi, 1800
Hester Lynch Piozzi by Mariano Bovi, 1800

Hester's historical writings recognised the achievements of women throughout history and she became a noted diarist in the final years of her life. She died in Bristol after a fall and was buried beside Piozzi at Corpus Christi Church, Tremeirchion.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Jean-Baptiste Pigalle, Sculptor

Jean-Baptiste Pigalle (Paris, France, 26th January 1714 – Paris, France, 20th August 1785)

Jean-Baptiste Pigalle

Today we welcome a sculptor to the salon in the estimable form of Jean-Baptiste Pigalle, a man who rose from relatively humble beginnings to become the toast of Paris.

Pigalle was born in perhaps uninspiring circumstances, as one of seven children born to a carpenter. From a young age he showed an aptitude for art and was determined to win a place at the Académie Royale. He began his training with Robert le Lorrain and, without the wealth and privilege of some of his contemporaries, funded his own trip to Rome in 1735. Here he he studied and developed his talents with an eye on the Prix de Rome.

Mercury Attaching his Wings Jean-Baptiste Pigalle
Mercury Attaching his Wings

In fact, Pigalle did not win the Prix and returned to France in 1740, where he conceived his most famous sculpture, that of Mercury Attaching his Wings. It was an enormous critical success and he was finally awarded a place at the Académie Royale in 1744. With this ambition realised he quickly rose to the top of his field as a favourite of the royal court, particularly Madame de Pompadour.

By 1752 Pigalle was a professor at the Académie, his work on display in the courts of Europe and Russia. His sculptures are noted for their naturalism and were occasionally controversial, as seen in the shocked reception to his 1776 piece, Nude Voltaire. Tombs created by Pigalle can be seen in Notre Dame de Paris and by the time of his death, he was considered one of the foremost sculptors of his age.

Nude Voltaire by Jean-Baptiste Pigalle, 1753
Nude Voltaire, 1753

Saturday, 25 January 2014

The Founding of the London Corresponding Society

Don't tell grandmother Gilflurt, but we've the radicals in today...

The London Corresponding Society was founded by attorney John Frost and radical shoemaker Thomas Hardy on 25th January 1792, both of whom decided that the time was right for working men to have the vote. The single most important aim of the Society was to force reform on the British parliament, including far greater representation of the working classes. In addition, the learned members of the group loudly and vociferously opposed the government on a number of points, as did their affiliate groups throughout the land.

London Corresponding Society handbill, 1793
London Corresponding Society handbill, 1793 

The Society sought similar like-minded groups through England and slowly but surely began to grow in size and followers until, within 18 months, 6000 people had signed a petition in support of the aims of the LCS.

Finally the government had had its fill of these opponents and raided a convention of group leaders in Edinburgh in October 1793, arresting a number of attendees and trying them for treason. Whilst some members were transported as a result, Frost was only imprisoned for six months and the intervention did little to deter the members of the Society, who turned their attention to periodicals.

London Corresponding Society, alarm's' by James Gillray, 1798
London Corresponding Society, alarm's' by James Gillray, 1798

The following year yet more members of the Society were arrested yet all efforts to try them for treason proved unsuccessful. With public support for the Society growing, thousands of people attended public meetings and members even stoned the carriage of George II at the opening of Parliament. The government answered by passing the Treasonable Practices Act and the Seditious Meetings Act of  1795, following these with yet more arrests as the Society began to fracture.

Corresponding Society Meeting by James Gillray, 1795
Corresponding Society Meeting by James Gillray, 1795

By 1798 small groups were forming away from the main Society and though it struggled on for some time, the successful passage of the Corresponding Societies Act in 1799 proved the last nail in the coffin. The Act effectively outlawed any further meeting of the LCS and the Society and its affiliated groups faded into history, though their ideals and aims lived on in those who had been members.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Anne Horton, the Scandalous Duchess of Cumberland and Strathearn

Anne Horton,  Duchess of Cumberland and Strathearn (née Anne Luttrell; London, England, 24th January 1743 – Gorizia, Italy, 28th December 1808)

Anne, Duchess of Cumberland by Valentine Green, 1790
Anne Horton,  Duchess of Cumberland and Strathearn by Valentine Green, 1790

A scandalous lady joins us today; one who was known for her florid reputation as much as her marriage. Whatever one might think of Anne, Duchess of Cumberland and Strathearn, she was never dull though her somewhat glamourous life ended sadly.

Anne was born in Marylebone, London to Simon Luttrell, Member of Parliament and later first Earl of Carhampton and, Judith Maria Lawes. Her early life was one of privilege and wealth although her family were already just a touch notorious after a political scandal involving Anne's brother, Henry.

Considered something of a catch, it came as a surprise to society when Anne married a commoner and squire, Christopher Horton, at the age of 22. Although the marriage ended in widowhood just four years and a day later, it was not the end of her romantic story and rumours flew that Anne was somewhat free with her favours until, on 2nd October 1771, she was married to Prince Henry, Duke of Cumberland and Strathearn. 

The marriage of prince and commoner caused discord in the royal household and was a direct cause of the Royal Marriages Act of 1772 which forbade any descendant of George II to marry without the monarch's permission. The king was furious that his brother had chosen to marry into a family that had a hint of scandal about it, let alone the social standing of bride versus groom.

When Cumberland refused to turn his back on his bride, Anne pushed for official recognition as a princess. Following a continental tour, Anne and her husband established a salon at Cumberland House that became the talk of the town, with Anne exuding charm to all who came into her circle. Indeed, eventually this unofficial court found a number of followers and the Duke and Duchess lived on in luxury until Cumberland's ill-health forced them to quit London for Brighton in 1779.

Their finances dwindling, the couple once more travelled to the continent and did not settle in England again until 1786, where they remained until Cumberland's death in 1790, with no children to take his place. 

The scandalous bride of Cumberland fell heavily into debt following her husband's death and sold off many of his possessions. Eventually, she left England for the continent, where she died at Gorizia on 28 December 1808.

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

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Thursday, 23 January 2014

A Salon Guest... Re-thinking the death of William Pitt the Younger: His Legacy

We've got the best china out today to welcome Stephenie Woolterton with a guest post on William Pitt the Younger, a subject on which she is the toast of the town!


William Pitt the Younger by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1781

At half-past four on the morning of Thursday, January 23, 1806 - 208 years ago today - William Pitt the younger took his final long sigh. He was only 46 years old. In an ironic twist of fate, the date of Pitt’s death fell on the 25th anniversary of his first entering Parliament as the youthful MP for Appleby. His friends and remaining family were devastated, and his demise sparked dramatic convolutions in the British political world. It was a dreadful calamity, coming soon after the defeat at Austerlitz in December 1805, and the fall of Pitt’s much-desired Third Coalition formed to beat the military dictator Napoleon. Opposition in Parliament was mounting against Pitt, and many of his intimate friends felt it was time he permanently resigned from office. The incessant pressure and arduous work involved was taking a mortal toll on Pitt’s health, and he himself was aware that he had not been well for many years. Indeed, upon resuming office for the second time in 1804, Lord Eldon recalled Pitt prophesizing that his health was so delicate that doing so may cost him his life [1]. 

Whatever the immediate causes were of Pitt’s death, his friends and medical attendants variously ascribed it at the time to anxiety [2], overwork, and a constitution which from “the early habit of the too free use of Wine operated unquestionably to weaken the Powers of the Stomach” [3]. Pitt had also suffered numerous attacks of gout, at least partially as a result of stress and worry, and he was especially prone to recurring stomach complaints involving loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, severe abdominal cramps, retching, inability to eat, and weight loss. His physician Sir Walter Farquhar, who later wrote an account of Mr. Pitt’s health, justified his course of medical advice by asserting that he repeatedly urged Pitt to retire from politics. “But Mr. Pitt’s memorable reply was that his country needed his services, and he would rather prefer to die at his post than desert it” [4]. 

Throughout his time in politics, Pitt’s devotion to duty was considered remarkable; he possessed an unwavering love of honour, truth, and, above all, his country. It may be said, in fact, that he sacrificed his life in the service of it. Pitt’s close friend William Wilberforce recorded in his diary entry of 23rd January 1806 that “Pitt [was] killed by the enemy as much as Nelson,” and later wrote to a friend that he believed Pitt died of “a broken heart” [5]. As sentimental as it may come across to a modern reader, the point may truly be made. The perpetual setbacks of the war rarely allowed Pitt to obtain a gleam of victory, although he always affected a sanguine, and at times overly optimistic, disposition. Although he presented a façade to the world at large of an aloof, cold, and haughty man, this was a mere mask to hide his inherently shy nature [6]. For those who knew the ‘real Mr. Pitt,’ as it were, he was an incredibly generous, and selfless man. One of the best descriptions of Pitt is presented thus: 

"...of the amiableness of his [Pitt’s] private character no one can form a just idea who had not the happiness of enjoying his acquaintance and society. He had a peculiar sweetness and benevolence of disposition, a kindness of heart, an unaffected ease, frankness, and simplicity, and a natural flow of spirits which made his extraordinary intellectual powers as pleasant and fascinating in the common intercourse of life as they were commanding in the [House of Commons]” [7]. This was the Mr. Pitt who won the love and undying affection of those who knew him best. His death left a gaping hole for those he left behind; it was a sense of pain and grief keenly endured by his political associate, right-hand man, and long-term confidante Henry Dundas, Lord Melville. 

On January 28, 1806, Lord Melville wrote to William Huskisson of Pitt’s loss, confiding “I am certainly very miserable, and as there is not an hour of my life for these twenty four years past that does not at this moment and for ever continue to bring his image to my Mind, I cannot summon up or suggest to myself any Recourse from which I can collect a Ray of consolation…I must wait for that Species of Apathy which buries every thing past in one indiscriminate Oblivion” [8].

Others, even those not privately acquainted with Pitt, were equally struck by his loss. On January 25, 1806, two days after Pitt’s death, Colonel Ralph Creyke of Marton wrote to Wilberforce. In contemplating Pitt’s premature demise, he lamented “what a sudden and awful change! It really is a noonday eclipse. But when will that former light be re-lumined?...When we lose those whom we value and esteem, our memory dwells with pleasure upon every, even melancholy, circumstance which accompanies the close of their life…I shall ever revere his [Pitt’s] memory for standing between the dead and the living, and staying the plague which, in the French Revolution, had infected the Continent, [and] might have spread and desolated this island…” [9].  In life, Pitt was viewed as the ‘Saviour of Europe,’ [10] and in 1802, Canning composed verses commemorating Pitt as ‘The Pilot That Weathered the Storm’ [11]. 

Fast forward to the twenty-first century, and what is Pitt’s legacy? In this sense, one does not refer to his political legacy, for that has been a contested argument amongst historians from the time of his death. To debate Pitt’s political legacy is not my purpose. What interests me most is what Pitt the man has left behind. In other words, what has survived the passage of time? It has been rumoured that Pitt’s tutor and one of his executors, the Bishop of Lincoln (George Pretyman Tomline), and probably others, destroyed most of Pitt’s private papers. Consequently, whilst there are still numerous archives throughout the world containing Pitt’s letters, most of these reflect Pitt’s political life rather than anything of a personal nature. In the absence of more knowledge, it can only be speculated that something regarding Pitt’s domestic life may have been destroyed in order to suppress or conceal information from the eyes of the public. In reflecting on his life, and particularly upon the man he was in his daily life, it may be useful for the social historian to gather together information regarding Pitt’s items that are still in existence. I have chosen to include Mr Pitt’s watch, which is preserved at The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, and Mr Pitt’s waistcoat, which is in the safe keeping of his former alma mater at Pembroke College, Cambridge. Pitt’s connection to Cambridge started when he entered as a Fellow Commoner in 1773, and continued for the rest of his life. He was one of the Members of Parliament for Cambridge University from 1784 until his death. His strong connection to Cambridge can still be felt today in name of The Pitt Building, at the Senate House which showcases a life-size tribute to Pitt, and in his unmistakable seated statue on the grounds of Pembroke College. Pembroke still elects a William Pitt Fellow, and interested visitors may still take a peek inside the Thomas Gray Room that was once occupied by Pitt. 

Throughout my time spent in researching William Pitt the younger’s life, I have been led to search for various items that are reputed to have once belonged to him. One of these objects is Mr Pitt’s watch. After some research, I discovered that Pitt’s watch is still held at The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. It was bequeathed from the Right Hon. R.A. Christopher on 16th November 1852. It’s an English gold fob watch, with a gold case, and was made by John Holmes in 1782. On the back of the watch there is an image of a stork holding an anchor which features as part of the Pitt family crest, and underneath it is engraved ‘William Pitt 1782.’ Pitt kept the watch, presumably from 1782 until his death when it passed to his servant (I’m unsure which one - his valet John Pursler, perhaps?), who handed it over to Mr. Dundas, M.P. more than twenty years later. That watch, a mourning ring, and a box containing Pitt’s hair were bequeathed to the Rt. Hon. R.N. Hamilton [12]. It must have passed from there to the Rt. Hon. R.A. Christopher, and who then bequeathed it to The Fitzwilliam Museum. Below are several images of the watch.

Needless to say, it was exciting to receive photographs of Pitt’s watch! The watch remains, by kind permission, the copyright of The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (accession number M. 1&A-1852).

Lastly, on a recent visit to Pembroke College Archives and Manuscript Reading Room, I was enabled to view and take personal photographs of Pitt’s waistcoat that they have in their possession. I was received with a very warm welcome, and was allowed to peruse some rare and beautiful Pitt artifacts and letters. According to the provenance note on the waistcoat, it belonged to Lady Hester Stanhope, Pitt’s niece, and was given by her to her physician, Dr Charles Lewis Meryon. He in turn gave the waistcoat to his nephew, Lewis Meryon who presented it to Pembroke in 1910 (Pembroke College Archives, Gifts and Bequests L. Meryon). Below is a photograph of William Pitt’s waistcoat I took on the day of my visit to Pembroke. It remains the property, by kind permission, of the Master and Fellows of Pembroke College, Cambridge.

After enquiring the measurements of the waistcoat in order to determine Mr Pitt’s physique, the honorary archivist at Pembroke informed me that the length down the back (visible from the front) is 64 cm, the length straight down from the front centre to the tip below the last button is 48 cm, the measurement of the circumference at the armpit is 88 cm (including packing), and the waist is 82 cm. In looking upon the waistcoat in person, it becomes immediately apparent that Pitt was a very tall, slim man. As it was originally in the possession of Lady Hester Stanhope following Pitt’s death, it can be surmised that Pitt owned the garment in his last years of life. Lady Hester Stanhope only came to live with Pitt after her grandmother’s death in 1803. I would date to the item to between 1803 and 1805. There are many other items associated with William Pitt the younger that are still in existence, either in a private collection or in a public archive around the world. These are only two of many objects I have researched. If you’re interested in researching the life of William Pitt, or have more information about him, I’m happy to converse with you. In conclusion, Pitt’s memory deserves more attention and reverence. What more could Pitt have achieved had he not died in January 1806? We shall never know. His memory, accomplishments, and brilliance need a far greater historical presence than it has received in recent years. Much has been written about his political life whereas little is widely known about the man he was in his private hours. Therefore, my focus is to concentrate on Pitt the Man, as opposed to Pitt the Minister. This is my tribute to a most deserving and misunderstood man.


1. Stanhope, Earl Philip Henry (1867) Life of the Right Honourable William Pitt, Vol. IV (3rd Edition). London: John Murray, p. 174.
2. Aberdeen Papers, BL Add Ms 43337, Lord Aberdeen’s note on January 31, 1806.
3. Rosebery (1900) Letters relating to the Love Episode of William Pitt, together with an 4. Account of his Health by his Physician Sir Walter Farquhar, London: John Murray, p. 48.
4. Rosebery (1900) Letters relating to the Love Episode of William Pitt, together with an Account of his Health by his Physician Sir Walter Farquhar, London: John Murray, p. xvi.
5. Wilberforce, R.I. & Wilberforce, S. (1843) The Life of William Wilberforce: By his Sons. London: Seeley, Burnside & Seeley, p. 330.
6. Reilly, R. (1978) Pitt the Younger. London: Cassell, p. 135.
7. The Monthly Review, Vol 12 (1903), pg. 29.
8. Melville to Huskisson. 28 January 1806. Huskisson Papers, British Library, Add Ms 38759.
9. Wilberforce, W. (1840) The Correspondence of William Wilberforce, Volume 2. London: Albemarle Street, pp. 63-64.
10.  Rosebery (1918) Pitt. London: Macmillan, p. 255.
11.  Hinde, W. (1973) George Canning.  London: Collins, pp. 94-109.
12. Timbs, J. (1864) A century of anecdote from 1760-1860, pp. 182-3.

Biography of the Author

Stephenie Woolterton has an MSc in Social Research, and a background in Psychology. She is currently researching and writing her first book on the private life of William Pitt the Younger. She is also working on a historical novel about Pitt’s ‘one love story’ with Eleanor Eden. 
She blogs at:, and can be contacted via Twitter at:

Written content of this post copyright © Stephenie Woolterton, 2014.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Adventures in Brazil: Maria Leopoldina of Austria

Maria Leopoldina of Austria (Maria Leopoldina Josefa Carolina; Vienna, Austria, 22nd January 1797 - Paço de São Cristóvão, Rio de Janeiro, 11th December 1826)

Maria Leopoldina by Joseph Kreutzinger, 1815
Maria Leopoldina of Austria by Joseph Kreutzinger, 1815

A royal lady joins us in the salon today, a woman born in Vienna who went on to play her part in the story of Brazilian independence.

Archduchess Maria Leopoldina was born at Schönbrunn Palace to Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor and Maria Teresa of the Two Sicilies. She was one of twelve children and among her siblings could count Emperor Ferdinand I of Austria and Marie Louise, Duchess of Parma, the wife of Napoleon Bonaparte. As a girl she was dedicated to her studies and developed and abiding and lifelong love of the natural sciences, enjoying a loving and close relationship with her stepmother, Maria Ludovika d'Este, after the death of Maria Teresa when the little girl was just ten years old.

When Leopoldina was 18 years old she was informed by her father that the time had come for marriage and that she should prepare to leave for Rio de Janeiro, where she would be wed to Pedro of Braganza. She consented to the match and immediately set about learning as much as she could about her husband and the land where she was to make her new home, concentrating on learning Portuguese so that life at court might be less difficult to settle into. Her studies eventually became a unique journal on the life, culture and environment of the place that would become her home.

On 13 May 1817 Leopoldina was married to Pedro by proxy in Vienna, where the bridegroom was represented by the bride's uncle, Archduke Karl. Finally, amid celebration and festivities, she left Livorno for Rio on 13th August 1817, eventually arriving on 5th November.

Leopoldina arrived in her new home to find her husband living with dancer Noemie Thierry, who would remain at court for a further month before finally being prevailed upon to depart. The young couple found married life more difficult than they had anticipated yet they settled together in the Quinta Boa Vista in São Cristóvão. Their surroundings were far from luxurious and the couple were overrun with insects and suffered greatly in the humidity of Rio. However, the couple persevered and had seven children together, three of whom survived childhood.

In 1822 Leopoldina the first Empress Consort Brazil had known and proved herself a keen political maneuverer. With her husband away in São Paulo, she served as Regent and led negotiations in favour of Brazilian independence. She wrote to him with her findings and thoughts and he accepted her reasoning, declaring the independence of Brazil on 7th September 1822.

Four years later Pedro inherited the Portuguese throne upon the death of his father, holding it for just two months until he abdicated in favour of his seven-year-old daughter Maria. That same year Leopoldina died in Rio de Janeiro, after complications from a miscarriage.

Life in the Georgian Court, true tales of 18th century royalty, is available at the links below.
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Tuesday, 21 January 2014

The Last Months of King Louis XVI

Louis XVI (Versailles, France, 23rd August 1754 – Paris, France, 21st January 1793) 

Some time ago my salon guests and I shared the last hours in the life of Marie Antoinette; today is another sad tale as we visit the former King Louis XVI on his final day, the man who had ruled France now known as little better than a common criminal.

On 15th January 1793, Louis XVI was found guilty of treason and crimes against the state. The prisoner was returned to his cell in the Temple to prepare for his fate, his appointed with the executioner scheduled for 21st January 1793 and little hope of a reprieve on the horizon.

 The King at The Temple by Jean-François Garneray
 The King at The Temple by Jean-François Garneray 

On the last evening of his life Louis said his farewells to his family; more than anything he wished to spare his children the agony of knowing they would never see their father again and told them that he would visit them again in the morning, a meeting that was destined never to happen. At dawn on the day of his execution he celebrated mass and then, all hope of mercy gone, prepared to journey by carriage to the scaffold where a crowd of thousands waited.

When Louis left his bed at five o'clock on the morning of his execution, he was greeted by a cold, wet and miserable day in Paris. He spent the early hours in contemplation and prayer until he was taken from the tower at around eight o'clock, to find a guard of over one thousand horseguards who had been appointed to escort the prisoner on the long journey from the prison to the place of execution in the Place de Louis XV,. At Louis' request it was agreed that he would be accompanied by Father Henry Essex Edgeworth, an Irish priest who had made his home in France and served as confessor to Madame Elizabeth.

During the carriage ride Louis remained utterly composed, praying with Father Edgeworth and apparently unaware of the vast crowds of citizens who lined the route, any sound they might make drowned by by innumerable drummers who walked ahead of the procession. 

The Execution of Louis XVI by  Isidore-Stanislas Helman, 1794
The Execution of Louis XVI by  Isidore-Stanislas Helman, 1794

Upon their arrival before the scaffold the former king left the carriage and dismissed any notion that the guards who came to surround him would prepare him for his fate Instead he untied his own neckerchief, opened the collar of his shirt and declared himself ready to proceed. Momentarily stilled by such a composed display, the guards recovered themselves and moved to bind his hands, at which point Louis refuted their efforts, their very audacity most distasteful to him.

Taking the arm of the priest who had ridden with him, Louis passed along the path to the scaffold as a crowd of thousands looked on. He mounted the steps and addressed those who had gathered to watch his execution, telling them firmly, 

"I die innocent of all the crimes laid to my charge; I Pardon those who have occasioned my death; and I pray to God that the blood you are going to shed may never be visited on France."

At that, the drummers picked up their sticks and began again as the crowd called its approval, urging the guards on as they seized the former king and set him beneath the blade. With no further ceremony, the National Razor fell, ending the life of Louis XVI at just after quarter past ten, with the citizens letting out a roar. At that, one of the guards seized the head and promenaded around the scaffold; at this, the crowd fell silent for a short time, perhaps realising for the first time what they had just witnessed. Presently though cries of support could be heard until the Place rang with shouts of "Vive la Republique!".

Execution of Louis XVI from an English engraving, 1798
Execution of Louis XVI from an English engraving, 1798

His body was transported for burial in the churchyard of the Church of the Madeleine. Here he lay until 21st January 1815 when he and Marie Antoinette's remains were retrieved and interred beside the King's ancestors in the Basilica of Saint-Denis, their memories honoured by a monument to their passing.

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

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Book Depository (free worldwide shipping)

Monday, 20 January 2014

A Politician with a Conscience: Charles Yorke

Charles Yorke (London, England, 30th December 1722 – London, England, 20th January 1770)

Charles Yorke by William Ridley, 1803
Charles Yorke by William Ridley, 1803

A sad tale today and one of a politician with no small amount of moral fibre; indeed, he was so distressed at a broken promise that it was eventually the death of him!

Charles Yorke spent his lifetime moving in high Whg circles. Born the son of Philip Yorke, 1st Earl of Hardwicke and Lord Chancellor, he took the parliamentary seat for Reigate and made an immediate splash in the House Commons, marking himself out as one to watch. As his illustrious  career progressed, Yorke rose through the offices of state and served under multiple Prime Ministers, though found his natural home as Attorney-General in the administration of Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham, to whom he was fiercely loyal.

When Rockingham was dismissed and Pitt and Grafton came to power, Yorke resigned his office in solidarity with his old colleague, swearing that he would never take office under Grafton. His enthusiasm for the business of parliament appeared somewhat dimmed by his recent experiences and when he was offered the coveted role of Lord Chancellor in 1770, he immediately declined, remembering his pledge to Rockingham. However, George III himself intervened, telling Yorke that he would never be offered the office again should he decline it now. Under pressure from the highest in the land, Yorke reversed his decision and agreed under duress to take his seat on the iconic woolsack.

That evening Yorke visited his brother, his host's coolness doing nothing to assuage the sense of guilt that had already begun to gnaw at him, and went from there to a meeting with his new Opposition partners. By now overwhelmed with shame he returned home, haunted by the knowledge that he had abandoned the pledge made to Rockingham. After three miserable days he could stand it no longer and cut his own throat, meaning to end his life once and for all. Although the wound was treated, when Yorke's wife, Agneta Johnson, showed him the newly-arrived patent of his peerage, he was overwhelmed with despair and tore away his bandages, dying just a few hours later.

For all the guilt and misery he suffered, at the last Yorke never sanctioned the sealing of his peerage, meaning that the newly-created title of Baron Morden died with the man who would have been the first to hold it.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

The Bittersweet Life of Thomas Linley the Elder

Thomas Linley the Elder (Badminton, Gloucestershire, England, 17th January 1733 – Bath, Somerset, England, 19th November 1795)

Thomas Linley by Sir Thomas Gainsborough
Thomas Linley the Elder by Sir Thomas Gainsborough

We are back in the theatre today to meet a man who enjoyed professional successes even as his life was touched by tragedy. Conductor, composer and theatrical impresario, it is a pleasure to welcome Thomas Linley the Elder to the salon.

Linley was born into a privileged family and his early love of and talent for music was plain from an early age. Recognising that he had a natural aptitude for music, they sent the young man to study in Bath, where he eventually became a concert promoter and conductor. 

He made an excellent living as a composer and maestro in the fashionable city and married Mary Johnson, with whom he had 12 children. Seven of these would go on to musical careers of their own and one daughter in particular would provide her father with opportunities for business advancement.

We have previously met the somewhat characterful Richard Brinsley Sheridan and in 1770 he cropped up in the life of Linley as suitor to the composer's 16 year old daughter daughter and operatic soprano, Elizabeth. She was a particular favourite at the concerts given by her father but was not enjoying the attentions of a rather too persistant suitor, Thomas Mathews, and it was decided that she would shelter in a French convent until Mathews could be convinced to seek amusement elsewhere. Sheridan accompanied Elizabeth to Lille but, after an unhappy start to her time in France, Linley travelled to the country to fetch her back to England. Finally, after duels and heartache, Sheridan and Elizabeth were wed in 1773.

Linley collaborated with his son-in-law theatrically, producing songs for The Duenna, premiered in 1776, and providing madrigals and musical accompaniment for other works written by Sheridan and his contemporaries. Even when the play might have been somewhat substandard, Linley's compositions saw audiences flocking to attend the theatre and he soon looked deeper into theatrical opportunities. With Sheridan and James Ford, Linley took on a half share in the management of Drury Lane Theatre and the trio would increase this to total management within two years.

However, 1778 was not to be a year of unbridled successes and tragedy struck when his 22 year old son, Thomas Linley the Younger, died in a boating accident. The younger man had been working as a composer on Drury Lane productions and the death of the enormously talented young man understandably devastated the the Linley family, as well as the company at Drury Lane. The loss of Linley echoed through the musical world and shook his father, who nevertheless enjoyed a successful career until his own death in 1795.