5 Things Horace Walpole Disliked

Horace Walpole by John Giles Eccardt in 1755. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Horace Walpole was an English historian, man of letters, politician, and writer. He had plenty of things that he liked, such as his extraordinary Strawberry Hill House. It was a Gothic Revival villa in Twickenham, London, that he began building in 1749. However, as much as Walpole may have liked Strawberry Hill, there were five things Walpole did not like (or in some cases detested). They included the city of Bath, cricket, gout, princes and princesses, and the French Revolution.

While many people reveled in the spa city of Bath and described it as charming and relaxing, Walpole was not among them. On 2 October of 1766, he traveled there and wrote to the British Field Marshall and statesman who was his cousin, Henry Seymour Conway, about his distaste for the place: Continue reading

A Regency Era Female Husband – James Allen

James Allen, Public Domain
James Allen, Public Domain

The idea that a woman would pretend to be a male was considered shocking in the Regency Era. One woman who perpetrated such a hoax was commonly known as James Allen. Allen’s situation came to light when Allen, who was 42 years old and a sawyer, was fatally struck in the head by a piece of timber while in a saw pit. Allen had been married for twenty-one years and the marriage had been solemnized at Camberwell Church on 13 December 1808. According to Allen’s wife, Abigail Mary (whose maiden name was Naylor), she had no idea Allen was female until the astonishing fact was discovered at St. Thomas’s Hospital when doctors undressed Allen.

According to Abigail Mary, more commonly known as Mary, their courtship began while they were in the service of a Mr. Ward of Camberwell Terrace and Mary was working as a housemaid and Allen as a groom. Allen, who was a native of Yarmouth and described as “reserved, sober, and industrious,” began to pay attention to Mary near the end of his service with Ward. The attention paid off and they married. It was then reported after “the matrimonial alliance took place … they retired together to the Bull, in Grey-in-lane.”[1] Continue reading

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.

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

Daring Escape of Jacobite Woman Lady Margaret Ogilvy

Margaret Ogilvy. Public Domain.

Jacobite woman Lady Margaret (Johnstone)* Ogilvy joined with her husband, David Ogilvy, 6th Earl of Airlie, in supporting the Jacobite movement that culminated in the rising of 1745 (the forty-five). She was the daughter of Sir James Johnston of Westerhall and Barbara Murray. Ogilvy was taken prisoner at the Battle of Culloden, along with several other women who supported Prince Charles Edward Stuart, afterwards known as Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Having been captured, Ogilvy was “committed to the [Edinburgh] Castle on the 15th of June.”[1] She was tried and condemned to death as a traitor, and thereafter she sat imprisoned at the castle awaiting her execution daily. However, Ogilvy seems to have had more freedom than many other prisoners and frequently had guests. Among her frequent guests was Miss Katherine Hepburn of Keith, Ogilvy’s brother, and Ogilvy’s sister, Bonnie Barbara Johnston, later known as Lady Kinnaird. Continue reading

Count d’Artois at the Scottish Palace of Holyrood

Engraving of Count d’Artois. Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France.

After the Bastille was stormed in July of 1789, Louis XVI’s youngest brother, the Count d’Artois, fled France with his family. They lived briefly in Italy and Germany before finally settling in Great Britain in 1792. There the Count became a leader of the French émigrés and was welcomed by King George III, who also gave him a generous allowance.

Although the Count d’Artois was welcomed in Great Britain, he wanted the Bourbon monarchy to rule in France. So, he outfitted an army on borrowed money around 1795 and became involved in a royalist uprising against revolutionaries in La Vendée. Things did not go as planned. He was beaten and returned to Great Britain defeated. However, before he landed in Great Britain, he was “advised that should he step ashore he would be liable to imprisonment for debt under British law if he did not meet the sum due.”[1] Continue reading

Brighton Dipper Martha Gunn

Brighton dipper Martha Gunn
Martha Gunn. Courtesy of Royal Pavilion and Museum.

Seawater and sea bathing became popular in the 1700s as a method to improve a person’s health and well-being, and Brighton was one of the hot spots for sea bathing because of its close proximity to London. When bathing in Brighton, bathers were separated by sex. They climbed inside bathing machines (wooden, enclosed crates) using a small ladder and changed their clothing before entering the water. Horses then drew the bathing machine into deep water and bathers emerged into the water either nude or dressed in bathing costumes with the help of a bather (a man) or a dipper (a woman).

After sea bathing became popular, so too did Brighton dipper Martha Gunn. In the late 1700s and early 1800s, Gunn was about one of twenty of the bathers or dippers who helped the horses and operated the bathing machines at Brighton. She dipped bathers into the sea, kept them afloat, aided them in the water, pushed them through the waves, and helped them return to the bathing machines when they were finished. To perform this job, dippers had to be strong and sturdy, and Martha Gunn was said to possess both of these qualities. Continue reading

Heavenly Visitors and the Credulous in the 1700s

Heavenly Visitors in the 1700s: Saint Paul by Bartolomeo Montagna
Saint Paul by Bartolomeo Montagna, 1482. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The belief in heavenly visitors in the 1700s resulted in one credulous 62-year-old woman coming face-to-face with Saint Paul and the angel Gabriel. It all began because the widow had an incredible devotion to the gospel and such unshakeable faith in Saint Paul that she would spend several hours each day at an altar dedicated to Saint Paul. Because she came so frequently and so regularly, two villains observed her, and as they knew she was rich, they decided to take advantage of her believing and gullible nature.

One day, about the time of her devotions, one of the villains hid behind the altar. When the widow arrived and when she was not looking, he threw a letter out that she assumed had dropped from Heaven as it was signed, “Paul, the apostle.”

In the letter the widow was praised for her devotion and for the many prayers she offered up to the saintly apostle. Moreover, she was told that because of her remarkable faith and devotion, the apostle and the angel Gabriel would come from Heaven and sup with her that very evening at 8pm. Continue reading

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