In the 1600s, the idea that a pig-faced lady existed captured the imagination of people in France, England, and the Netherlands. The idea was rooted in a fabled woman named Tanakin Skinker. She was supposedly born with a pig snout due to witchcraft. By the 1700s, the belief in pig-faced women transitioned from fiction to fact after people began to report a pig-faced woman existed. Then, between 1814 and 1815, portraits of a pig-woman surfaced, along with reports that a pig-face lady resided in the affluent Marylebone and lived in Manchester Square.
The fervor that a pig-faced woman existed was supposedly further encouraged when:
“[A]t the illuminations for the battle of Waterloo … a carriage was observed, and in it a magnificently dressed female with a pig’s head. She was subsequently seen driving about in different parts of London … and the driver of the carriage always succeeded in eluding the curiosity of the crowd. Many persons said that it was someone wearing a theatrical mask.”
However, many people believed whoever was in the carriage was real and the pig-faced lady. This belief was partly brought to life when a print was published by Fairburn. It “sold for a shilling, [and provided] … a portrait of the pig-faced lady, her silver trough placed on a table beside her.”
Included with Fairburn’s portrait of the pig-faced lady was a letterpress. It claimed the lady was “unmarried, … only twenty years of age, … and had been born in Ireland of a high and wealthy family.” A physical description of the pig-faced lady was also included:
Her person is most delicately formed, and of the greatest symmetry; her hands and arms are delicately modelled in the happiest mould of nature; and the carriage of her body, indicative of superior birth. Her manners are, in general, simple and unoffending; but when she is in want of food she articulates, certainly, something like the sound of pigs when eating, and which to those who are not acquainted with her, may perhaps be a little disagreeable.
Belief in this pig-faced woman was widespread enough one woman sought employment with her and published the following ad in the Times, 9 February 1815:
“FOR THE ATTENTION OF GENTLEMEN and LADIES.—A YOUNG GENTLEWOMAN HAVING HEARD OF AN Advertisement for a person to undertake the care of a Lady who is heavily afflicted in the Face, whose Friends have offered a handsome Income yearly, and a Premium for residing with her 7 Years, would do all in her power to render her Life most Comfortable, and undeniable Character can be obtained, from a respectable Circle of Friends: An Answer to this Advertisement is requested, as the Advertiser will keep herself disengaged. Address, post paid, to X. Y. at Mr. Ford’s, Baker, 12 Judd Street, Brunswick Square.”
One “simpleton” even wanted to marry the pig-faced woman. His ad, published in the Morning Herald on 16 February 1815, read:
“SECRECY. A SINGLE GENTLEMAN, AGED THIRTY-ONE OF a respectable Family, and in whom the utmost Confidence may be reposed, is desirous of explaining his Mind to the Friends of a Person who has a Misfortune in her Face, but is prevented for want of an Introduction. Being perfectly aware of the principal Particulars, and understanding that a final Settlement would be preferred to a temporary one, presumes he would be found to answer the full extent of their wishes. His intentions are sincere, honourable, and firmly resolved. References of great respectability can be given. Address to M.D., at Mr. Spencer’s, 22, Great Ormond Street, Queen’s Square.”
By the end of 1815 critics began to question the reality of the pig-faced lady, but this did not deter people’s belief in her. In fact, various pig-faced ladies were exhibited by “traveling caravans at fairs, races, and places of general resort,” which made people more sure of her existence. It wasn’t until a quarrel occurred between a dwarf and proprietor that an investigation was conducted and the deceit uncovered. The pig-faced proved not be a lady at all. Accordingly,
“[The] lady was nothing but a [drunken] bear, its face and neck carefully shaved, while the back and top of its head were covered by a wig, ringlets, cap, and artificial flowers all in the latest fashion. The animal was then securely tied in an upright position into a large armchair, the cords being concealed by the shawl, gown, and other parts of a lady’s fashionable dress.”
- “The Pig-faced Woman,” in The Book of Days, 1881
- The Pig-Faced Lady,” in Illustrated Police News, pg. 2, 7 Jan. 1882
- Wilson, Henry, The Book of Wonderful Characters, 1869