Elizabeth Armistead: Courtesan to Charles James Fox

Elizabeth Armistead. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Elizabeth Armistead was born Elizabeth Bridget Cane on 11 July 1750. Little is known about her early years and what is known is debated. Some people say that Elizabeth was born in a cellar, her father was a cheese-and-bacon vendor, and her mother “addicted herself to the culling and vending of simples.” Elizabeth supposedly first began working in London as a model for a hairdresser and then later became a dresser to the English actress Mary Robinson, who was known as “the English Sappho” and who earned the nickname “Perdita” for her role as Perdita.

By the time Elizabeth was twenty-one, she was known as Elizabeth Armistead (or Armstead) and was working at a bawdy house. It was during this time that she met the famous British Whig statesman, Charles James Fox. The meeting occurred when Fox and some friends escorted a visiting Frenchman to a bawdy house. Upon learning that another male friend, Frederick St. John, 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke was being entertained by a woman in a room, Fox and his friends kicked the door open. The woman entertaining Bolingbroke was Elizabeth. Continue reading

Heroine of the Seas, Grace Horsley Darling

Heroine of the Seas, Grace Darling
Grace Darling. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The heroine of the seas, Grace Horsley Darling, was the daughter of a lighthouse keeper. Grace was born in the month of November on the 24th in 1815, and she was twenty-four when fate came knocking at her door. It happened at daybreak on 7 September 1838. At the time, Grace was sleeping but a noise awoke her. She then looked out her bedroom window from the Longstone lighthouse, and in the distance, she noticed the wreckage of the Forfarshire.

The Forfarshire was a 300-ton steamer that left Hull heading to Dundee with 62 people aboard. However, before it left, Mrs. Dawson, a passenger in steerage, realized something was not right. She thought about leaving the ship but did not. In the end, her concerns were justified because once at sea the steamer struggled. The boiler was not working properly, and when the storm began, the ship was left to mercy of the tempestuous sea. Continue reading

Marguerite Power, the Countess of Blessington

Marguerite Power, the Countess of Blessington, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Countess of Blessington, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Marguerite was born in Ireland on 1 September 1789 to a small landowner named Edmund Power. Her childhood was not particularly happy because of her father’s controlling character, drunkenness, and poverty. Moreover, in 1804, at the tender age of fifteen, a compulsory marriage was forced upon her by her father.

Marguerite married a drunken English officer named Captain Maurice St. Leger Farmer. From the start, it was an unhappy marriage. Marguerite barely spoke of her marriage, although she once said that “she had not been long under her husband’s roof when it became evident that he was subject to fits of insanity.” Apparently, her father had been aware but concealed the information from her, and, in addition, according to Marguerite:

“[Her husband] frequently treated her with personal violence; he used to strike her on the face, pinch her till her arms were black and blue, lock her up whenever he went abroad, and … left her without food till she felt almost famished.”

It should therefore come as no surprise that Marguerite left him after three months of marriage. Moreover, Farmer was eventually imprisoned for debts and during that imprisonment, in October 1817, he died. He was involved in a drunken orgy and fell out the prison window.  Continue reading

Madame de Genlis and Jane Austen

Madame de Genlis
Miniature of Madame de Genlis by Pierre Noël Violet, Courtesy of Christie’s

Stéphanie Félicité du Crest de Saint-Aubin better known as Madame de Genlis was born on 25 January 1746. She was french writer and educator appointed to oversee the education of the children of Louis Philippe II, Duke of Chartres (later Duke of Orléans) and his wife Louise Marie Adélaïde de Bourbon. The Duke appointed her gouverneur (not governess) of his sons in 1781. The position of gouverneur at the time was something given only to men, so the appointment caused a stir.

As gouverneur, Madame de Genlis was zealous to the point of being overbearing. Part of the problem was her educational techniques were uncommon. Moreover, all the other tutors quit because Madame de Genlis would not share her power and zealously implemented her ideas. (To learn more about her educational ideas and techniques, you can read my guest post at Naomi Clifford’s blog. It is titled Madame Genlis: A Most Unusual Educator). In addition, in order to popularize her educational ideas, Madame de Genlis included them in many of her novels, which amounted to over eighty. Continue reading

Victorian Event of the Season: 1897 Devonshire Costume Ball

Devonshire Costume Ball House
Devonshire House in 1896, Courtesy of Wikipedia

The Devonshire Costume Ball was held 2 July 1897. Some people claimed the ball offered “unparalleled splendor” and others lauded it as one of the most elite events of the year. In fact, no expense was spared as it was considered one of the “great fancy-dress balls of the Victorian Era, competing in beauty, brilliancy, and … picturesqueness … [with] the fancy-dress balls the Queen and the Prince Consort used to give at Buckingham Palace.” One newspaper described the scene as “one of great animation, the variety of costume was dazzling, the richness in many cases…enormous, the colours were kaleidoscopic in their changes.” Continue reading

Richard Hoodless, The 19th Century Horse Swimmer

A Swimming Horse and Richard Hoodless
A Swimming Horse, Author’s Collection

There are all sort of heroes but one unusual hero was a nineteenth century farmer named Richard Hoodless who was living near the Grainthorpe coast of Lincolnshire. When he was not farming, he was “said to devote himself to the noble duty of saving human life.” His job was saving mariners from drowning, and he did so “without any of the usual apparatus for succoring ships in distress.” Rather, Hoodless accomplished his remarkable missions using nothing but courage and his horse.

Hoodless lived on a small piece of land that had been “rescued from the sea, and almost cut off from the adjacent country by the badness of the roads.” When stormy weather approached, it was a call for Hoodless to go to the top of his dwelling and peer through his telescope. There, whether it be night or day, he would watch approaching vessels, and when lifeboats could not be launched, he would come to the aid of those struggling at sea. Continue reading

Executed for Jealousy, Elizabeth Richardson

Elizabeth Richardson and Pilmott's Murder
Pilmott’s Murder, Public Domain

Elizabeth Richardson (alias Forrester) was seduced at an early age and when older, she subsisted on wages made from “casual prostitution.” It was her casual prostitution that allowed her to meet an attorney named William Pilmott (perhaps Pilmot or even Pimlot or Pimlott). His chambers were located at Symond’s Inn.

Their relationship seemed to be filled with passion, and Pilmott liked Richardson enough to keep her. It is unclear whether or not the pock-marked Richardson had cause for jealousy, but whether she did or not, she was intensely jealous of Pilmott. In fact, her jealousy drove her to regularly visit Pilmott at his chambers thinking she would find him engaged in some sort of compromising situation with another woman. Continue reading

Eccentricities of a Dog Lover: The Earl of Bridgewater

Francis Henry Egerton, 8th Earl of Bridgewater, Author's Collection
Francis Henry Egerton, 8th Earl of Bridgewater, Author’s Collection

Francis Henry Egerton, 8th and last Earl of Bridgewater, (known as Francis Egerton until 1823), was a first-class British eccentric. One newspaper noted of him that “no one has higher claims to a distinguished place in … history than Mr. Egerton.” Part of their illustrious opinion of him may have had to do with the fact that an immense fortune enabled “him to gratify the most extravagant caprices that ever passed through the head of a rich Englishman.”

Examples of his eccentricities varied, but one rather memorable event involved a book he borrowed from a friend.

“He carried his politeness so far as to send it back, or rather have it [conducted] home in a carriage. He [gave] orders that two of his most stately steeds be caparisoned under one of his chariots, and the volume, reclining at ease in milord’s landau, [arrived] attended by four footmen in costly livery, at the door of its astounded owner.” Continue reading

Charlotte Charke: Actress, Novelist, and Transvestite

Charlotte Charke, Public Domain
Charlotte Charke, Public Domain

Charlotte Charke seemed to have a hard time defining her career and her sex. Born as a female to actor/playwright and poet laureate Colley Cibber and his wife, musician/actress Katherine Shore, Charlotte as they named her, at one point, began to call herself Charles Brown. As a young child, she also began to imitate the males around her and once reputedly “defended the house from an attack of thieves by firing pistols and blunderbusses out of the windows.” Moreover, from an early age she was said to enjoy male activities, such as sports, shooting, and horse racing, rather than female pursuits.

Her tendency towards everything male resulted in one writer noting that her “favourite resort was the stable, and although she could not use a needle she could handle a curry-comb most dexterously.” While she might have been handy with a curry comb, she was not successful in holding down any male occupation. Her failures were epic and numerous: She attempted to be a sausage maker, pastry chef, tavern owner, valet, and farmer. Continue reading

English Author Lucy Aikin (Mary Godolphin)

Dr. John Aikin, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Dr. John Aikin, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Lucy Aikin was born on 6 November 1781, at the Warring Academy for Dissenters in Cheshire, England. She was born into a prominent Unitarian family that was also a literary family: her father, Dr. John Aikin, was an author and historian; her brother, Arthur Aikin, a scientific writer; and her aunt, Anna Laetitia Barbauld, a woman of letters who wrote poetry, children’s literature, and essays.

Although Aikin’s family had literary tendencies, she initially appeared to not even have the skills to learn to read. At least that’s what her grandmother thought when she attempted to teach her. Her grandmother’s attempts resulted in her grandmother referring to Aikin as the “little dunce.” It traumatized Aikin to the point she wrote, “the reproach sank deep, and its effect was certainly unfavourable; it did not rouse me to further exertion, for I had already done my utmost, and it filled me with a sense of incurable deficiency. How soon may the tender spirit of a child be broken, and its faculties permanently dulled by such treatment!” Continue reading