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.
Colonel Edward Marcus Despard was an Irish soldier who served in the British Army. During the American Revolutionary War, he and his troops were victorious at the Battle of the Black River. His success was part of the reason that he was later appointed Superintendent in British Honduras. However, in 1790, he was recalled to London and questioned about his conduct while there.
Unhappy, over the ordeal, Despard became interested in revolutionary politics. The story begins after he joined the United Irishmen to fight for equal rights for the Irish. When war with France broke out, the United Irishmen went underground and backed the French in an invasion against Ireland. Unfortunately, the invasion failed, and in response, the passage of the Act of Union went into effect on 1 January 1801, abolishing the Irish Parliament and creating the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Continue reading →
William Burke and William Hare were two murderers who committed a series of sixteen murders in Edinburgh in 1828. Burke was probably the older of the two men as he had been born in 1792. His parents were middle class and he was born in Ulster province in Urney, Ireland. Burke had married but deserted his wife after fighting with her father. When he left Ireland, he moved to Scotland, found lodgings near Falkirk, and worked as laborer on the Union Canal. During that time, he began a relationship with Helen McDougal, whom he affectionately called Nelly, and, in 1827, he and Nelly moved to Edinburgh where he eventually worked as a cobbler. Continue reading →
William Boyd, 4th Earl of Kilmarnock and Arthur Elphinstone, 6th Lord Balmerino were taken prisoners at the Battle of Culloden, the final confrontation of the Jacobite rising of 1745. Both men were tried and sentenced to death for treason. Their executions were carried out at Tower Hill on 18 August 1746.
The event began at six o’clock, when “a troop of life-guards, one of horse-grenadiers, and 1000 of the foot-guards … marched from the parade in St James’s park thro’ the city to Tower-Hill.” Around eight o’clock, the sheriffs of London arrived, along with others, as well as the executioner. They then dined together at the Mitre tavern on Fenchurch-Street before being conducted to the scaffold, which was about thirty yards away from the tavern.
Preparations at the scaffold began at ten o’clock when a “blocked was fixed on the stage, and covered with black cloth, and several sacks of sawdust … were brought … to strew on it; soon after their coffins were brought, covered with black cloth, ornamented with gilt nails.” Each coffin had a plate with the appropriate person’s name inscribed and an image of their coronet: Guilelmus Comes de Kilmarnock and Arthurus Dominus de Balmerino.
Fifteen minutes later, the sheriffs left in a procession to the outward gate of the Tower. There they knocked and requested possession of the Earl of Kilmarnock and Lord Balmerino. The men were then delivered into their possession, and, soon after, the procession moved in a slow and solemn manner in the following order: Continue reading →
Margaret Dickson was executed, survived, and pardoned, and because of it she was nicknamed “ill hangit Maggy Dickson.” Her story begins with her birth in Musselburgh, Scotland, near Edinburgh in 1702. When she was an adult, she married a fisherman and together they had several children. However, Dickson found herself practically single because her husband was impressed and went to sea aboard a warship.
In Scotland, at the time, any woman who committed fornication was punished publicly. The punishment occurred over three Sundays with the fornicator seated in the most conspicuous place in church and receiving a public rebuke from the minister. This spectacle resulted in people attending church who never attended just so that they could see offenders shamed. Female offenders found the punishment so embarrassing, some “destroyed the fruits of their amours, rather than be made a spectacle to all the inhabitants of the parish.” Continue reading →
On 5 June 1789, at Westminster-Hall, a case was brought by a son against his father in Standen versus Standen. If the son did not prevail, his father’s marriage to his mother would be discredited and the son would be “ruined and undone.” The case began when the son, Charles, produced the registry and showed that the entry of marriage had been made and signed by the clergyman. Continue reading →
The Russian ship Soleure (or Sojus) belonged to Solomon van Brienen and Vassiley Popoff, and it was lost at sea in 1803. At the time, it was insured through Lloyd’s of London. The ship’s owners filed a claim to receive restitution for their loss. Unfortunately, Lloyd’s of London received an anonymous letter alleging the shiphad been sabotaged, and, so, they refused to pay compensation to the owners. At the time, John Bellingham was working in Russia as an export representative. Van Brienen believed Bellingham had sent the letter to Lloyd’s of London and, therefore, he and Popoff took retaliatory action against Bellingham by claiming Bellingham owed them a debt of 4,890 rubles. Continue reading →
Princesse de Lamballe, who was Marie Antoinette’s friend and her Superintendent of the Household, married the heir of the richest man in France. Because the princesse was royalty and because she was rich, many people were intrigued by her and many portraits were painted of her. One well-known painting that is currently displayed at Versailles was done by Antoine-François Callet in 1776. Another painting was painted by Louis-Édouard Rioult between 1780 and 1785 and appeared on a supplementary issue of Le Petit Journal in 1892. Another person who painted the princesse de Lamballe was one of Marie Antoinette’s favorite painters, Madame Le Brun. Yet, perhaps of all the paintings of the princesse, one particular painting bears mention because it was stolen in an art heist in the 1980s. Continue reading →
In 1833, two English women — a Mrs. Emma Lush (wife to a groom employed by the Royal Family) and Mrs. Sarah Wolfe (a servant in a distinguished family) — decided to go on a shopping excursion. After making several purchases, they fell into the company of two strangers who prevailed upon them to accompany them for drinks. Despite not knowing the men — John Clack and a man named Faulkener — Mrs. Lush and Mrs. Wolfe decided to have some enjoyment and went with the men. Continue reading →
Emmanuel Henri Louis Alexandre de Launay, comte d’Antraigues, was a French citizen. While living in France, d’Antraigues become involved in an incident known as the Favras Plot. When his involvement was discovered he fled to avoid execution. His mistress, a celebrated French operatic soprano named Madame de Saint-Huberty, followed him. They eventually married and lived in several countries before finally settling in Russia. However, the comte and his wife were expelled in 1806 because the comte published a pamphlet against Napoleon and the French Empire. Because of the expulsion, the comte and his wife moved to England. Continue reading →