Colonel Edward Marcus Despard’s Funeral

Colonel Despard. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Colonel Edward Marcus Despard’s was arrested in 1803 for treason in what became known as the Despard Plot. His trial began on 7 February, and the public was so enthralled that newspapers could hardly provide enough coverage. Ultimately, Despard and his co-conspirators were found guilty and sentenced to death on 21 February. A crowd of 20,000 came to watch the execution, and it was one of the largest attended spectacles until the funeral of the famous naval hero, Admiral Horatio Nelson.

After Despard’s death, preparations for his funeral began, and his body was released to his friends. Almost immediately, the famous wax modeler, Madame Tussaud, contacted Despard’s friends. She wanted to make arrangements to make a death mask of Despard’s while his body was at the undertaker. This would be her first death mask in England since her arrival in 1802. She expected that by obtaining Despard’s death mask, the popularity of her exhibition, known as “Curtius’s Grand Cabinet of Curiosities,” would be greatly increased.

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Desperate Measures: Women on Trial for Infanticide in the Early 19th Century

Naomi Clifford.

Today’s guest is Naomi Clifford. She has been a committed historian since the age of eight, when a birthday present of a folder of reproduction documents about the slave trade fired up her imagination about individual people forgotten by history. To this day she likes nothing better than rooting out and giving voice to those whose lives have not yet been told. The child of American expats, Naomi Clifford grew up in north London, lived for a time in Nashville, Tennessee and, after her return to London, worked for TV magazines. In 2010, Naomi chanced on the true tale of an heiress abducted in 1817, and decided to return to her first love, history, and to focus on “life, love and death in the Georgian era.”

Here is her guest post about women on trial for infanticide in the early nineteenth century: Continue reading

Evils of the Victorian Chignon in the Late 1800s

Parisian hairstyles of 1870. Author’s collection.

There were many fashion evils during the late 1800s, but the evils of the Victorian chignon were said to be the worst. A chignon was a hairstyle that had a knot or coil of hair arranged and worn low at the back of a woman’s head or at the nape of the neck. However, by the 1890s the chignon’s placement was higher on the head and the styles between the 1870s and 1890s were also more feminine and elaborate.

The main objection to the Victorian chignon seemed to be that they were not created from a woman’s real hair. Rather they were composed of false hair pieces that one person designated “hirsute deceptions.” Another person noted that they were “an offense against elevated morality, because, though they deceive nobody, they are intended to deceive, and deceit in any form is an offense against sound morals.”[1] There was also this gem, “‘Glory of a woman is in her hair’ … but nothing is said about the glory being attainable by the use of somebody else’s hair.”[2] In fact, hair pieces were so popular one contemporary writer of today notes: Continue reading

A Curious Love in 1804

Love is often consider inexplicable, and one story of curious love involved two people who fell in love in 1804. However, this story is not your typical love story. The story begins in Toulouse, France, when a tribunal was held on 18 November, and the following was printed by one newspaper about a month later:

A young peasant, of the name of LA FAY, of the department of Arriege, fell in love with MARIA ARIGNI, in the parish of Cassaigne. She was a young girl of property, and LA FAY possessed nothing: he dared, therefore, not pay his addresses to her or demand her in the usual manner. Love, however, inspired him with a fraud to make her his wife, both without her own and her relations consent. Continue reading

Napoleon’s Military Carriage at Madame Tussaud’s

The capture of Napoleon’s carriage by Major von Keller. Courtesy of National Library of Ireland.

Among the many relics at Madame Tussaud’s was Napoleon’s military carriage used by him on many of his campaigns and while he was exiled on Elba. The carriage had been captured at Genappe during the Waterloo campaign. The French overturned cannons and carriages and from behind these barricades, they fired muskets attempting to stop the Prussians. However, it was the Prussian horse-artillery that dispersed the French, and “the town was taken, along with Napoleon’s traveling carriage, private papers, hat and sword.”[1] Continue reading

Nine Firsts Accomplished in France in the 1700s

Louis XIV. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The 1700s included such events as Louis XIV dying of gangrene and his 5-year-old grandson succeeding him on the throne as Louis XV. There was also the Treaty of the Hague signed by France and its allies that ended the War of the Quadruple Alliance. When Louis XV died on 10 May 1774, Louis XVI became king. It was under Louis XVI that France recognized the American colonies and waged war against the United Kingdom in the Americas. Unfortunately, for Louis XVI he was beheaded and so was his wife, Marie Antoinette. More tumult occurred with the Coup of 18 Brumaire when General Napoleon Bonaparte overthrew the French Directory and replaced it with the French Consulate. However, these events were not the only interesting events that happened in France in the 1700s. There were also nine interesting firsts accomplished in France in the 1700s. They included a couple of balloon firsts, firsts related to art, medicine, and inventions, a story of mythical beast, and the idea of mass conscription. Continue reading

English Miscellany in the 1860s

Pike Perch, Author's Collection
Pike Perch. Author’s collection.

Sometime in the 1860s, a farmer in Scotland hooked a large pike, weighing twenty-one pounds. He left it for dead upon the bank of the river, opposite his house; but his dog happened to brush past it. The fish caught the dog by its tail, and despite the dog plunging into a river and swimming across, the pike did not let go. It took the assistance of the farmer to loosen the fish. However, this was not the only miscellany reported in the 1860s. There were other interesting miscellany such as the following reports: Continue reading

Maid of Buttermere or the Buttermere Beauty: Mary Robinson

Maid of Buttermere. Courtesy of British Museum.

On a verdant isthmus in Cumberland existed the small village of Buttermere. Buttermere was surrounded by rugged mountains and innumerable babbling streams. The village also consisted of a few scattered cottages, a white-washed parsonage, and a public house that stood alone by a rapid flowing brook and offered refreshments and relaxation to weary travelers. The public house was also clean, neat, and humble with two spare bedrooms available for anglers who wanted to enjoy the fine trout fishing in the area.

At the public house, in this pristine village, also lived a young woman named Mary Robinson but called the “Maid of Buttermere” or the “Buttermere Beauty.” Mary was a paragon of loveliness and first noticed by Joseph Palmer, who stayed at the inn in 1797-1798. Palmer later wrote “A Fortnight’s Ramble to the Lakes in Westmoreland, Lancashire, and Cumberland” that was published in 1810. In the book Palmer described Mary as follows: Continue reading

Napoleon Bonaparte’s Mother: Letizia Ramolino

Napoleon Bonaparte's mother
Napoleon’s Mother, Letizia Ramolino. Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Napoleon Bonaparte’s mother, Letizia Ramolino was a sensible, pragmatic, domineering, and no-nonsense mother, and even after Napoleon became Emperor, she still acted like his mother. To demonstrate, once when Napoleon presented his hand for her to kiss, she flung it at him and presented her own hand instead. Although Napoleon and his mother had their differences with one another, Napoleon still respected her and once said of her, “She has always been an excellent woman, a mother without an equal; she deserved all reverence.”[1]

Perhaps, Napoleon felt that way based partly on what his mother Letizia once wrote about her early life, marriage, and children: Continue reading

A Satirical Description of Voltaire

Voltaire, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Voltaire, Courtesy of Wikipedia

François-Marie Arouet, simply known by his nom de plume Voltaire, was a well-known eighteenth century French Enlightenment writer who became famous for his wit. He was also known for criticizing French institutions, religious dogma, and the Catholic Church. He was frequently thought of as fascinating and because of this fascination, “a great prince” wrote a satirical description of him in the eighteenth century that was transmitted to a magazine by an “ingenious Correspondent of the Royal Academy of Sciences at Berlin.”

Here is that satirical description (almost) verbatim. Continue reading