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

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

The Queen’s Ass

Courtesy of Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
George Stubb’s portrait of the Queen’s zebra. Courtesy of Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Some of the first exotic animals to enter France and England in the early 1700s were the chimpanzee and the rhino. They would later be upstaged by the zebra, with one zebra arriving in England in 1762. The zebra was a wedding gift from Sir Thomas Adams and given to Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, who had married George III a few months earlier in 1761.

Adams had actually brought two zebras — a male and a female — but only the female survived the journey and she arrived in July 1762 aboard the HMS Terpsichore. At the time, the zebra was considered a marvelous animal, rare and strange. Because the zebra was rare, it was initially housed in the tower, but several months later, in September, when a rare elephant arrived for the King, the two animals were housed together. Continue reading

Silhouettes and Étienne de Silhouette

Example of a Silhouette. Public Domain.

Silhouettes acquired their name from a French minister of finance under Louis XV named Étienne de Silhouette. De Silhouette had studied finance and economics and had spent a year in London learning about the British economy. According to one nineteenth century reporter, de Silhouette “introduced several parsimonious fashions during his administration a la Silhouette,”[1] and among these parsimonious fashions was severe taxes.

It began in 1760 when de Silhouette forecast a bleak budget and attempted to restore the finances of the kingdom using the English method of taxing the rich and privileged. He devised what was called “general subvention,” or in other words, any signs of external wealth (luxury goods, servants, etc.) were taxed. He went further when he became melting down gold and silver and criticized the nobility (including Voltaire) who objected to his extreme taxation measures. Continue reading

Madame Tussaud’s Napoleon Relics

Napoleon Bonaparte. Author’s Collection.

Madame Tussaud’s Napoleon relics were displayed in her exhibition hall in one of two rooms that first opened in 1843. The rooms were dedicated to the Emperor and those associated with him. They contained all sorts of interesting items, and, according to Madame Tussaud, the rooms were “fitted up exactly in the style of the period, with splendid ceilings, and picture-frames made expressly to show the peculiar fashion of Napoleon’s time, without regard to expense.”[1] Visitors to these rooms paid an extra 6d. and were also allowed admittance into the Chamber of Horrors.

Among the many relics perhaps the most popular was Napoleon’s military carriage that he had used on many of his military campaigns and while he was exiled on Elba. It ended up in England, after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo. A Major von Keller confiscated it as “his own booty,” and the carriage was either bought by the British government or given to the Prince Regent. A William Bullock then purchased it from the Prince Regent. He displayed the carriage at the London Museum and took it on tour throughout England, Ireland, and Scotland. It was then sold at an auction to a gentleman who planned to tour with it in America, but when that fell through, the carriage was used to satisfy a debt and became the property of a coach maker, who in turn sold it in 1842 to Madame Tussaud. Continue reading

Saturday Night in London in 1824

Engraving of a watch house being tipped over with a night watchman in it. “Tom Getting the Best of a Charley.” Courtesy of the Museum of London.

For most of the people of London, Saturday nights meant the work week was behind them. Saturday night was an evening where Londoners could relax, carouse, or enjoy themselves by visiting the market, the theatre, or their local ale house. Moreover, on Saturday nights, London was filled with all sorts of interesting people. Because Saturday nights were so popular, night watchmen sometimes stood in circular timber or stone structures (called watch houses) to observe the local happenings, or they patrolled the streets between 9 or 10 pm until sunrise. During that time, the night watchman called out the hour, kept a lookout for fires or crime, and ensured the safety of pedestrians, vagrants, and drunks. (The night watchmen would not be replaced by officers known affectionately as “bobbies” until a few years later in 1829.) With London alive and thriving on a Saturday night, one person wrote a description of what it was like to be there, and his description is provided below almost verbatim: Continue reading

Popular Posts for 2017

Last year was a great year for me. My book, Marie Antoinette’s Confidante, released in April in the U.S.. I also got a three book deal with Pen and Sword that will keep me busy for the next few years. Looking at the past year, I decided to list the twelve most popular posts, by month, for 2017:

January – First French Celebrity Chef Marie Antoine (Antonin) Carême

February – Marguerite Power, the Countess of Blessington

March – Battlefield Communications Using Drums and Drumming

April – Pioneering French Midwife: Angélique du Coudray

May – Louis XVI’s Sibling: Madame Élisabeth

June – Singerie: 18th Century Arts Depicting Monkeys Aping Human Behavior

July (A tie) – The Insects That Defeated Napoleon’s Army and Battlefield Medicine and Triage Innovator Dominique Jean Larrey

August – Explorer, Naturalist, and Ornithologist Extraordinaire François Levaillant

September – Rosalie Duthé was the First Dumb Blonde

October – Vehicles Found in France in the 1700 and 1800s: A-Z

November – 5 People Marie Antoinette Disliked (or Despised)

December – 11 Interesting Tidbits about the Wax Sculptor Madame Tussaud

Winter of 1813-1814: The Great London Fog and Frost

A Light Fog in London, Courtesy of Wikipedia
A Light Fog in London. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

During the winter of 1813-1814, a thick fog rolled into London. It was followed by a terrible frost and one of the coldest periods on record occurred from January to March. One newspaper reported it was “the heaviest mist and thickest fog ever remembered … [which] produced the thickest and most beautiful hoar frost that ever decorated the branches and tendrils of Britain’s vegetation.”[1] Moreover, the thickness and density of the fog was made worse by the “smoke of the city; so much so that it produce a very sensible effect on the eyes, and the coal tar vapour [was] … distinctly perceived by the smell.”[2] Continue reading