10 Things that turn a character bad
All great stories have baddies. Baddies or antagonists are the characters who get in your hero or heroine’s way. They create conflict and problems – all the things readers love. Evil villains help create a story that is exciting and sometimes even scary. Evil is up there with Love, Death, Beauty, Friendship, and Fate. Sooner or later we encounter at least a few of them in a good story. Here are 10 ways you can turn a character bad as a writer.
1. Bad Parents
When King Minos became king of Crete he challenged his brother to a dual. He prayed to Poseidon, the sea god for some help. Poseidon sent him a snow-white bull. The deal was that the king had to kill the bull to show honour to the gods, but he decided to keep it and kill one of his own bulls. To punish Minos, Poseidon made Pasiphaë, Minos’s wife, fall deeply in love with the bull. She was so in love that she had craftsman Daedalus make a hollow wooden cow, then she climbed inside it in order to mate with the white bull. The offspring was the monstrous Minotaur. Pasiphaë nursed him, and as he grew he became ferocious and started to eat people. Minos went to the oracle at Delphi for advice on how to handle his monstrous son. He had Daedalus construct a gigantic labyrinth to hold the Minotaur under the palace.
Deviant parents give a character a bad start in life as the Greeks knew all too well!
American author Ray Bradbury gave the theme a modern twist with his short story The Veldt in 1950.
The Hadley family live in an automated house called “The Happylife Home,” filled with machines that do every task. The two children, Peter and Wendy, become fascinated with the “nursery,” a virtual reality room able to reproduce any place they imagine.
The parents, George and Lydia, begin to wonder if there is something wrong with their way of life.
Lydia tells George, “That’s just it. I feel like I don’t belong here. The house is wife and mother now, and nursemaid. Can I compete with an African veldt? Can I give a bath and scrub the children as efficiently or quickly as the automatic scrub bath can? I cannot.”
They are also perplexed and confused as to why the nursery is stuck on an African setting, with lions in the distance, eating a dead figure. There they also find recreations of their personal belongings and hear strangely familiar screams. Wondering why their children are so concerned with this scene of death, they decide to call a psychologist.
The psychologist, David McClean, suggests they turn off the house, move to the country, and learn to be more self-sufficient.
The children, feeling reliant on the nursery, beg their parents to let them have one last visit. Their parents agree and when they come to fetch them, the children lock George and Lydia into the nursery with the pride of lions. Shortly after, it is implied that the lions eat George and Lydia.
When the psychologist comes by to look for George and Lydia, he finds the children enjoying lunch on the veldt and sees the lions eating figures in the distance – George and Lydia, the reader is lead to presume.
Favouritism is a commonly used trope in Fiction Land. Bad enough when you’re an only child, but if you’re among a pack of siblings, this particular trope is nearly guaranteed to raise its head at some point in order to make life even more difficult.
Parental Favouritism is just what it sounds like — one child is given preference over their siblings.
Cain and Abel were sons of Adam and Eve in the biblical Book of Genesis. Cain, the firstborn, tilled the soil, and his brother Abel was a shepherd. The brothers made sacrifices to God, each of his own produce, but God favoured Abel’s sacrifice instead of Cain’s. Cain murdered Abel.
God punished Cain with a life of wandering and set a mark on him so that no man would kill him. Cain then dwelt in the land of Nod where he built a city and fathered the line of descendants beginning with Enoch. The narrative never explicitly states Cain’s motive though it does describe him as being wrathful, and his motive is traditionally assumed to be envy.
This biblical story and archetype of brothers locked in dual for their father’s affection is the basis for many a story and many a baddie. Sibling rivalry, envy, and wrath can motivate a character to a lot of very bad behaviour.
Favourites come in a number of varieties: Birth Order, Gender, Personality, Biological versus Adopted or Step Children – just think of all those fairy stories!
Way back in Ancient Greece King Tereus of Trace takes his wife Procne and her sister Philomela to visit their father in Athens. On the way, he lusts after Philomela. One night he rapes her. To stop her telling his wife he cuts out her tongue.
Those Greeks sure knew how to do baddies. Here sexual desire, power, and guilt are the key motivators along with a good dollop of misogyny.
Continuing the story of the now mute Philomela; she weaves a tapestry that tells her story. When her sister finds out what has happened she kills her son by Tereus; boils him up and serves him up to his father for dinner. Philomela is turned into a Nightingale and given a beautiful voice by the gods to make amends for her terrible ordeal.
Yes, this is an extreme case and the origin of the expression revenge is a dish best served cold. Your characters don’t have to murder children to get their revenge putting rotting shrimps in the air conditioning ducts of his nice new apartment might be enough revenge for a women spurned.
Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth couldn’t just be happy with her Scottish castle and thanedom, could she?
“Glamis thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be
What thou art promised. Yet do I fear thy nature;
It is too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness
To catch the nearest way. Thou wouldst be great,
Art not without ambition, but without
The illness should attend it. (1.5.15-20)
After reading the letter from her husband which recounts the witches’ prophesy, Lady Macbeth’s thoughts immediately turn to murder. Problem: Her husband Macbeth has ambition, but he doesn’t have the nerve to see it through. Luckily Lady Macbeth is man enough for both of them.
The novel, The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett, begins when the knockout Miss Wonderly walks into Spade’s office. It turns out she’s a knockout with money. And she wants to hire the services of a private detective to find her missing sister, who supposedly ran off with a crook named Thursby. Neither Spade nor his partner Miles Archer, buy her story. But with the money she’s paying, who cares? When Archer and then Thursby are murdered, Spade realizes that he’s getting more than he bargained for. In fact, just about everyone around Sam Spade dies trying to get their hands on a bird figurine worth…$10,000.
Is the love of money the root of all evil? Charles Dickens thought so. Unlike Hammet he saves his character Scrooge from his lonely fate when the author shows him what happens to greedy and selfish men – that it when the author isn’t bumping them off at a rate of knots!
This terribly sad true-life story shows just what can happen when someone feels rejected. Rejection is painful. Being made to look worthless is a frightening experience so rejection can be a powerful motivation for baddies. Children rejected by their parents are often lonely, angry and hostile to a world they perceive does not love them.
Because being left out can be so painful for children, researchers have spent a lot of time and effort trying to figure out why some children are rejected. About half of rejected boys are aggressive. They hit, kick, or shove more than other boys, and they also tend to be more disruptive and argumentative. However, not all rejected boys are aggressive. Another 13-20% are shy and withdrawn. Still, others are socially awkward. Their odd, disruptive, or immature behaviour is off-putting to peers.
The son of a Hollywood assistant director went on a shooting rampage near the UC Santa Barbara campus slaying 6 people and engaging in a shootout with police which left him dead. The young man was 22-year-old Elliot Rodger, the son of Hunger Games second unit director Peter Rodger. Prior to the rampage, Rodger submitted recordings to Youtube, chronicling his catastrophic emotional state after admittedly being rejected by women for eight years.
7. Feeling Invisible
In 1917, “Baby Jane” Hudson is an adored yet ill-tempered vaudevillian child star while her older sister Blanche lives in her shadow. By 1935, their fortunes have reversed: Blanche is a successful film actress and Jane lives in obscurity, her films having failed.
One night, Jane mocks Blanche at a party, prompting Blanche to run away in tears. That same night, Blanche is paralysed from the waist down in a mysterious car accident that is unofficially blamed on Jane, who is found three days later in a drunken stupor.
In 1962 a wheelchair-bound Blanche (Joan Crawford) and Jane (Bette Davis) are living together in Blanche’s mansion, purchased with Blanche’s movie earnings. By now, Jane has descended into alcoholism and mental illness and treats Blanche with cruelty to punish her for stealing her spotlight.
Later, when Blanche informs Jane she may be selling the house, Jane’s mental health begins to deteriorate further. During an argument, she removes the telephone from Blanche’s bedroom, cutting Blanche off from the outside world.
Jane begins denying Blanche food, until she serves Blanche her dead parakeet on a platter—and, at a later meal, a rat that she killed in the cellar. Jane kills Blanche’s carer and then drives to the beach where she finally goes bonkers as the police arrive to arrest her for the carer’s death and Blanche dies.
This is a powerful case of sibling rivalry, ambition, and ego. The story of these sisters shows just how powerful these motivators can be in the hands of a great writer. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is a 1962 American psychological thriller–horror film produced and directed by Robert Aldrich, starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. The screenplay by Lukas Heller is based on the 1960 novel of the same name by Henry Farrell. Upon the film’s release, it was met with widespread critical and box office acclaim and was later nominated for five Academy Awards, winning one for Best Costume Design, Black and White.
8. Being Thwarted
Varys & Petyr Baelish Speak – Game of Thrones
Lord Varys: Thwarting you has never been my primary ambition, I promise you. Although, who doesn’t like to see their friends fail now and then.
Petyr ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish: You’re so right. For instance, when I thwarted your plan to give Sansa Stark to the Tyrells, if I’m going, to be honest, I did feel an unmistakable sense of enjoyment there. Game of Thrones (TV Series), The Climb (2013)
Varys and Littlefinger may seem to be minor players — but the maneuverings of the noble families of Westeros often seem to come back to their ongoing chess game. Varys and Littlefinger articulate two very different philosophies. Lord Petyr Baelish, popularly called Littlefinger, was the Master of Coin on the Small Council under King Robert Baratheon and King Joffrey Baratheon. He was a skilled manipulator and used his ownership of brothels in King’s Landing to both accrue intelligence on political rivals and acquire vast wealth. Baelish’s spy network is eclipsed only by that of his arch-rival Varys.
Love them or hate them, Littlefinger and Varys are the series’ real game changers. They also take the reality TV show approach to competition, forming alliances, lying, and manipulating. Basically, they aren’t here to make friends. They are here to win. But, winning means different things to the two characters and the more they can thwart the other the better.
9. Lies and Betrayal
In the song made famous by Tom Jones the price for lies is death – ‘I felt the knife in my hand and she laughed no more, why, why Delilah?’ The biblical Delilah was approached by the lords of the Philistines, to discover the secret of Samson’s strength. She was offered eleven hundred pieces of silver for her pains. Three times she asked Samson for the secret of his strength but each time he gave her a false answer. On the fourth occasion, he gave her the true reason: that he did not cut his hair in fulfillment of a vow to God. When he was asleep she allowed his enemies to cut off his hair. They took him, put out his eyes, and bound him with fetters. Later, of course, he took his revenge by bringing the whole house down on his foes.
Betrayal destroys trust. If a loved one betrays us it crushes our faith in ourselves and others. The world and everyone in it can become an ugly place to live in. Betrayal is a particularly effective emotion-filled type of conflict that we can use in fiction to create long-lasting problems for our characters.
10. Being a Psychopath
Characteristics of a psychopath: glibness and superficial charm, grandiose sense of self-worth, pathological lying, cunning/manipulative, lack of remorse, emotional shallowness, callousness and lack of empathy, unwillingness to accept responsibility for actions, a tendency to boredom, a parasitic lifestyle, a lack of realistic long-term goals, impulsivity, irresponsibility, lack of behavioural control, behavioural problems in early life, juvenile delinquency, criminal versatility, a history of “revocation of conditional release” (i.e. broken parole), multiple marriages, and promiscuous sexual behaviour.
A recent study suggests that 1-4% of the population is on the psychopathic scale. This means that we’ll probably all meet at least one psychopath in our lives.
Psychopaths love themselves. Even if nobody else loves them. They’ll think they’re the best at whatever it is that they do, even if they suck at it. It’s entirely possible they’ll take credit for other people’s success too – they live vicariously and will work how a way to feel they contributed to it somehow. Ultimately, their world revolves around them and no one else. Psychopaths are great characters to write as they give you so much scope for upsetting others and it’s so rewarding when, as an author, you can give them their comeuppance.
About the author: Julia Herdman writes historical fiction. Her debut novel Sinclair is available worldwide on Amazon.
The retribution that followed the defeat of the Jacobite Army at Culloden in 1746 has passed into legend for its brutality and savagery and has formed the backdrop to many classic stories including Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped and more recently Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series of novels.
Today, we are so accustomed to the picture of the suppression of the Highlands by the British Army painted in these novels that we are hardly surprised by it. However, when I looked at the records in the Scottish National Archive for this article I found the pastiche of brutality in the films and TV shows suddenly and shapely transformed from fiction to fact and the true horror of what took place became fresh and alive once more.
I have chosen some examples from the records of the Fraser Clan to illustrate what happened as there is currently so much interest in it due to the success of the Starz Outlander TV series.
I am sure that if I had been alive at that time I would not have been a Jacobite. But that does not mean I condone what took place in 1746. Neither, I’m glad to say did some of the people involved in it at the time as these accounts of the death of Charles Fraser, the Younger of Inverallochy show. The most basic record reads;
“Aged 20 years. Killed at Culloden on 17 April 1746. While lying grievously wounded on Culloden battlefield was shot in cold blood at the order of Cumberland or General Hawley. The future General Wolfe had previously refused to act as executioner. In the Muster Roll, there is a suggestion (false) that he was not killed but escaped to Sweden.”
In A Short but Genuine Account of Prince Charlie’s Wanderings from Culloden to his meeting with Miss Flora MacDonald, by Edward Bourk the story is further elaborated.
‘But soon after, the enemy appearing behind us, about four thousand of our men were with difficulty got together and advanced, and the rest awakened by the noise of canon, which surely put them into confusion. After engaging briskly there came up between six and seven hundred Frazers commanded by Colonel Charles Frazer, younger, of Inverallachie, who were attacked before they could form a line of battle, and had the misfortune of having their Colonel wounded, who next day was murdered in cold blood, the fate of many others’. (folio 327).
In Lyon in Mourning, Vol. III a collection of stories, speeches, and reports by Robert Forbes the following version taken from Bourk in person in 1747 expands the previous versions.
‘The Duke himself (Cumberland) rode over the field and happened to observe a wounded Highlander, a mere youth, resting on his elbow to gaze at him. He turned to one of his staff and ordered him to “shoot that insolent scoundrel.’ The officer, Colonel Wolfe (later General) flatly refused, declaring that his commission was at the service of His Royal Highness, but he would never consent to become an executioner. The other officers of his suite, to their credit, followed the noble example of the future Hero of Louisburg and Quebec, but Cumberland, not to be baulked of his prey, ordered a common soldier to do the odious work, which he did without demur. The young victim was Charles Fraser, younger of Inverallochy, an officer in Lord Lovat’s Regiment.’
The story of Ensign, Alexander Fraser prisoner 950 and his comrades from Lord Lovat’s Regiment is no less disturbing. He was shot through the thigh or (knee) at Culloden and ‘carried off in the heat of the action to a park wall pointing towards the house of Culloden.
‘‘A short time after the battle he and 18 other wounded officers who had made their escape to a small plantation of wood near to where Fraser was lying. He was taken prisoner and carried with the others to Culloden House, where he lay for two days without his wounds being dressed.’ ‘On 19 April 1746, Fraser along with 18 other prisoners that were held in Culloden House were put in carts to be taken, so they thought, to Inverness to have their wounds treated. The carts stopped at a park dyke some distance from Culloden House. The whole of them were taken out and placed against a dyke. The soldiers immediately drew up opposite them. They levelled their guns and fired among them. Fraser fell with the rest. ‘
‘The soldiers were ordered by their officers to go among the dead and ‘knock out the brains’ of such that were not quite dead. Observing signs of life in John Fraser one of the soldiers, using his gun butt, struck on the face dashed out one of his eyes, beat down his nose flat and shattered his cheek and left him for dead.’ ‘Lord Boyd riding out with his servant espied some life in Fraser as he had crawled away from the dead. Lord Boyd asked him who he was. Fraser told him he was an officer in the Master of Lovat’s corps. He was offered money but Fraser said he had no use for it and asked to be carried to a certain cottar house where he said he would be concealed and taken care of. Lord Boyd did as asked. Fraser was put in a corn kiln where he remained for three months. He was able to walk with the aid of crutches’.
The Duke of Cumberland’s callousness and willingness to engage in what we would call war crimes today won him the soubriquet ‘the butcher.’
The Scottish History Society has published, in three well-documented volumes, “Prisoners of the ’45”, a list of 3,470 people known to have been taken into custody after Culloden. The list includes men, women and children combatants and supporters alike. It was decided by the Privy Council in London that the prisoners should be tried in England and not Scotland which was a breach of the Treaty of Union and on 10th June, the prisoners held at Inverness were loaded onto seven leaky ships named Margaret & Mary , Thane of Fife, Jane of Leith, Jane of Alloway, Dolphin, and the Alexander & James and transported to England. They eventually landed at Tilbury Fort or were kept in prison ships on the Thames. Accounts show that the prisoners held at Tilbury were selected for trial on the basis ‘lotting.’ This was a process in which 19 white slips and 1 black slip of paper where placed in a hat and the prisoners were invited to draw lots to see who would go before the Commission.
Records show that one hundred and twenty prisoners were executed: four of them, peers of the realm, were executed on Tower Hill including the 80-year-old Lord Lovat, who was the last person to be beheaded in public in England, beheading being a privilege of their rank.
The others such as Francis Townley, Esquire, Colonel of the Manchester regiment who suffered the barbaric ritual of hanging, drawing, and quartering after his claim to be a French Officer was rejected by the court on the evidence of Samuel Maddock, an ensign in the same regiment, who, to save his own life, turned king’s evidence against his former comrades.
Of the remainder 936 were transported to the colonies, to be sold to the highest bidder: 222 were banished, being allowed to choose their country of exile: 1,287 were released or exchanged: others died, escaped, or were pardoned and there were nearly 700 whose fates could not be traced.
After the defeat of the Jacobite army, the British government started the systematic dismantling of the ancient social and military culture of the Highland clans. The wearing of Highland garb, particularly tartan plaid, was banned, and the semi-feudal bond of military service to the Clan chief was removed. But despite the widespread and systematic oppression, it was the peace between Great Britain and France in 1748 that finally finished off the 1745 rebellion. Without the hope of French money and support the Stuart cause was lost.
This did not stop the reckless Bonnie Prince from trying again. It seems that he turned up in London in 1750, probably in disguise once more as he was what we might call, ‘Britain’s Most Wanted’ at the time and tried to drum up support for another rising. Luckily, this madcap scheme to kidnap or kill King George II in St. James’s Palace on 10 November 1752 petered out through lack of support and money. But the British Government kept their eye on the conspirators through a spy in the Princes’s camp known only by his nom de guerre of “Pickle”, who kept his employers informed of every Jacobite movement that came to his notice for years.
Bonnie Prince Charlie and Toad Escape Dressed as Women
Pirates and Smuggling Fact and Fiction
In the 18th century, the British government collected a good deal of its income from customs duties – tax paid on the import of goods such as tea, cloth, wine, and spirits.
The tax on imported goods could be up to 30% so smuggled goods were a lot cheaper than those bought through official channels. Smugglers operated all around the coasts of Britain. They worked in aggressive, well-organised gangs along the south coast, only a night’s sail from France. The gangs were often too big for the Customs officials to deal with as with the death penalty was a certainty if they were caught so the smugglers were prepared to use violence.
Many ordinary people approved of smuggling or took part in it. Labourers could earn more in a night’s work carrying brandy barrels up from the beach than they could in a month’s hard work in the fields. Others left their barns or cellars unlocked and didn’t ask questions about what was put in there.
Quite respectable people were involved: sometimes for money, sometimes because they didn’t regard smuggling as a crime.
Britain’s most infamous smuggler
Born in 1778 Britain’s most famous smuggler was a man called Rattenbury. He started his life at sea as a fisherman but soon progressed to the more interesting and lucrative trade of defrauding the king.
When he was fifteen he was part of the crew of a privateer but was captured and was taken prisoner by the French, and thrown into gaol. Rattenbury escaped and got back to England.
Rattenbury’s journal recounts many adventures including one where he tricked his drunken French captures into believing they were heading back to France when all the time he was steering the ship to England. As they approached the coast he made his escape by diving into the sea and swimming into Swanage harbour. Once ashore, he raised the alarm and notified the customs authorities that there was a hostile French ship in the harbour!
When Prime Minister William Pitt lowered duties in the 1780s, smuggling became less profitable and gradually the trade began to fall away. Further removal of duties in the 19th century put an end to the kind of smuggling which went on so openly in the 18th century. It seems to be the case that smuggling is always with us. Whenever governments try to stop, or tax, the movement of goods people really want, smugglers will move in no matter how high the stakes.
Smuggling and smugglers have been a vast source of inspiration for fiction writers. Perhaps the most famous fictional smuggler being, The Reverend Doctor Christopher Syn by Russell Thorndike. The idea for the novel came from smuggling in the 18th century Romney Marsh, where brandy and tobacco were brought in at night by boat from France. Minor battles were fought between gangs of smugglers, such as the Hawkhurst Gang and the Revenue, supported by the army and local militias in South Kent and West Sussex.
The first book, Doctor Syn: A Tale of the Romney Marsh was published in 1915. Three film adaptations have been made of Dr. Syn’s exploits.Doctor Syn (1937) featured noted actor George Arliss. Captain Clegg (1962) known as Night Creatures in the U. S., was produced by Hammer Film Productions with actor Peter Cushing in the lead role; and The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh (1963) starring Patrick McGoohan in the title role.
Smuggling today is probably just as risky as it was in the past, if not more so. Smugglers today use their bodies as a vehicle for drugs and put their own lives on the line in the same way as the smugglers of old.
The number of swallowed drug packages recovered by customs officers at Heathrow airport is usually between 80 and 150 a year. The drugs are wrapped in condoms, balloons or cling-film, forming neat packages about the size of a large grape, and swallowed with syrup to make them more palatable. Couriers take a constipating agent before they embark and tend not to eat during the flight.
In March 2015 the Daily Telegraph online reported on a strange case of modern smuggling. A man was caught trying to enter Spain through Madrid airport with a suspiciously large bulge between his legs in much the same vein as the fictional Derek Smalls played by Harry Shearer in the film Spinal Tap. In this case, the hidden appendage turned out to be half a kilo of cocaine whereas Smalls’ turned out to be cucumber if I remember it rightly.
Julia Herdman writes historical fiction that puts women to the fore. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle £2.42 Also available on:
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The Problem with Bankers
Bankers and men of property are some of the richest men on the planet today.
Bankers’ relationship with governments and the democratic process is a battle for power. Locked in a war of attrition; the bankers’ desire is to operate unfettered while governments’ want responsibility through regulation.
Often richer than entire countries, and certainly richer than elected heads of state, the influence of these multi-billionaires bankers is profound. This is not a new phenomenon as the story of the Dundas family reveals.
Scotland’s Premiere Family of Bankers
The Dundas family were one of Scotland’s leading landowners but they fell on hard times during the failed Scottish rebellions: Head of the clan, William Dundas of Kincavel was imprisoned for his part in the 1715 Jacobite rebellion and many of the Dundas estates were forfeited to the British Crown after the 1745-1746 Jacobite rebellion.
The laird’s humbler relatives were landless and urban living and working in trade and in the newly emerging professions in Edinburgh. Lawrence Dundas the first of great Dundases was the younger son of landless branch of the family. His father, Thomas owned a drapery shop and woollen business in the Luckenbooths, a range of tenements which formerly stood immediately to the north of St. Giles’ Kirk in the High Street of Edinburgh.
Sir Lawrence Dundas – Nabob of the North
Sir Lawrence Dundas (1710-1781) known as the “Nabob of the North” even in his own lifetime was one of the new breed of men who made their fortune servicing what we call the public sector today. He used the money he earned in the service of the King to invest in property and banking. He was the forerunner of many successful money men today who provide governments with armaments and supply multi-million-pound government contracts.
Lawrence left his father’s business in Luckenbooths and set up in as a merchant contractor and with his friend James Masterton. He and Masterton obtained contracts to supply the army of the Duke of Cumberland in the 1745 rebellion. Being successful with Cumberland further work came his way. His greatest money making opportunity came during the Seven Years War (1756-1763), when he secured even greater contracts to supply the armies of the anti-French allies in Europe and Canada. It was not all plain sailing though. He ran into trouble with Thomas Orby Hunter and the commissaries of control, and Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick-Lüneburg the German-Prussian field marshal (1758–1766) for late or non supply of goods. Prime Minister Walpole once threatened to hang him for late fulfillment.
Journalist, James Boswell claimed Lawrence Dundas brought home, ‘a couple of hundred thousand pounds’ from that war but some historians estimate actual figure was nearer to £2 million the equivalent of more than £200m in today’s money which put him in the class of a multi-millionaire today.
Having made one fortune Lawrence went into two others, both in the 18th century’s growth industries – banking and canals. Dundas was a man who understood the future was in money not land. Banking in Scotland was dominated by two Edinburgh based institutions; the Bank of Scotland and what became The Royal Bank of Scotland. The two institutions were fierce rivals. Both had the power to issue bank notes but the The Bank of Scotland was deemed to be tainted by its past Jacobite inclinations so it is no surprise, given his support for the British, Lawrence Dundas invested heavily in its rival the Royal Bank of Scotland.
Dundas completed the development of the port of Grangemouth in 1777, which linked his other major investment, the construction of the Forth and Clyde Canal to the sea. Dundas ran the canal through his estate, of Kerse House, near Falkirk, to save money. He was a canny operator.
Like Billionaires today who build themselves lavish houses in places like the Hamptons near New York, Dundas set about building himself a few mansions. He built what Scottish writer Hugo Arnot described as “incomparably the handsomest townhouse we ever saw,” in St. Andrew Square, Edinburgh. Designed by Sir William Chambers, it became the headquarters of the Royal Bank of Scotland in 1825.
In 1754 he made his second attempt to gain a seat in Parliament. He lost but not before he had spent a fortune on bribes which was the 18th century way of currying favour with the electorate and he was disappointed again in 1761 election. Having failed to get a seat he turned to his friend Lord Shelburne for help. On 19 August 1762 Shelburne wrote to Henry Fox: ‘Dundas, the Nabob of the North, writes me to desire I’ll get him made a baronet.’ On 20 October Dundas duly received his baronetcy.
With his baronetcy in hand he made his move south but not without comment. He bought the Aske Estate, near Richmond in North Yorkshire in 1763 from Lord Holderness for £45,000 and proceeded to enlarge and remodel it in Palladian taste by the premier Yorkshire architect, John Carr, who also designed new stables for him.
On 3 May 1763 Lord Hardwicke wrote to Lord Royston, “Sir Lory Dundas, who extends his conquests from North to South, has purchased Moor Park from Lord Anson’s heirs for £25,000 for which he ordered a set of Gobelins tapestries with medallions by François Boucher and a long suite of seat furniture to match, for which Robert Adam provided designs: they are among the earliest English neoclassical furniture. A few months later he bought Lord Granville’s London house for about £15,000.
From 1766 Dundas set about securing his political influence in Scotland. In July that year be he purchased the Orkneys and Shetlands from the Earl of Morton for £63,000, thereby obtaining the parliamentary seat for his brother, he obtained Stirlingshire for his friend Masterson, Linlithgowshire and Fife went to another friend James Wemyss, the Yorkshire seats of Richmond were given to two proxies Norton and Wedderburn to be controlled directly by Dundas himself; the seat for Edinburgh he kept for himself. His ‘purchase’ of these seats secured him 8 or 9 votes in the Commons which he was willing to be courted by both Government and opposition alike but generally he voted in support of the Hanoverian king.
Although Dundas never obtained high office either for himself or his followers it was generally believed that ‘without the name of minister’ he had ‘the disposal of almost everything in Scotland’ and in the East India Company. The Duke of Queensberry or Lord Marchmont got most of appointments available in Scotland through his influence but many he saved for himself. As governor of the Royal Bank of Scotland, 1764-77, he exercised great influence in the financing of new projects, notably his own, the Forth and Clyde canal, while he worked in Parliament to prevent his rival, Lord Argyll, developing the Glasgow and Clyde Canal. He also provided government supporters with shares in the East India Company to boost their wealth to meet the selection criteria in the 1770 election.
But as the 1770s progressed Sir Lawrence’s star was dimming. His new rival came not from the aristocracy but from a distant family connection Henry Dundas, with whom Sir Lawrence’s family had long been on bad terms.
Henry was a skilled lawyer and was every bit as unscrupulous as Sir Lawrence when it came to politics and the two would wage war on each other’s interests in Scotland and the East India Company through their proxies until Lawrence died.
Henry rose quickly through the Scottish legal system and became a Member of Parliament in 1774. The two men were arch enemies. Henry was more than a match for the older man when it came to politics.After holding subordinate offices under William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne and William Pitt the Younger, he entered the cabinet in 1791 as Secretary of State for the Home Department where he successfully held back the abolition of slavery arguing the country made too much money out of it to give it up in a time of war.
Always viewed as an outsider, and as a man more interested in himself than King and country, Sir Lawrence’s influence waned. He never received the peerage he felt he deserved for his support to the King neither did he manage to maintain his family’s political position. He died on 21 September 1781, leaving an estate worth £16,000 p.a. and a fortune of £900,000 in personal and landed property. His son Thomas was elevated to the peerage as Baron Dundas of Aske in August 1794, and was also Lord Lieutenant and Vice Admiral of Orkney and Shetland. In 1892, the family gained the title Marquis of Zetland.
Henry Dundas went onto to be Prime Minister Pitt’s fixer and War Secretary at the outbreak of the Napoleonic Wars. In 1802 he was elevated to the Peerage as Viscount Melville and Baron Dunira and in 1804 he became First Lord of the Admiralty. He introduced a number of improvements there but questions were asked about his financial management of the department which resulted in an impeachment trial for the misappropriation of public funds.
Henry Dundas was an accomplished politician and scourge of the Radicals, his deft and almost total control of Scottish politics through the 1790 when no monarch visited the country, led to him being pejoratively nicknamed King Harry the Ninth, the “Grand Manager of Scotland” a play on the Masonic office of Grand Master of Scotland, or the “Great Tyrant” and “The Uncrowned King of Scotland.” Indeed by 1790 Dundas was in Pitt’s own word the ‘indispensable’ coadjutor of his ministry and the prime minister’s friend par excellence. His hold over Pitt seemed to many observers unaccountable: but, “Dundas brought to market qualities rarely combined in the same individual. Conviviality at table: manners frank and open and inspiring confidence: eloquence bold, flowing; energetic and always at command: principles accommodating, suited to every variation in government, and unencumbered with modesty or fastidious delicacy.”(1)
But Henry over stepped the mark and was accused of withdrawing money from the Bank of England and placing it in his own account at Coutts for speculation, primarily in the East India Company. Although Dundas lost his job as Minister Treasurer of the Navy in 1783 he was made a member of the Board of Control for India in 1784 and became its President from 1793-1802. During this period he held a number of other political appointments most notably from 1791-1794 as Home Secretary, during which he defended the East India Company from his position as Secretary of War in 1794. When it came to his trial his prosecutors found he had conveniently destroyed all his records so the case was largely based on the testimony of his accusers. Lacking any material evidence Dundas could only be formally censured by the House of Commons Henry and was acquitted 1806, but he never held public office again.
Henry is commemorated by one of the most prominent memorials in Edinburgh, the 150-foot high, Melville Monument at St Andrew Square, which stands looking down on the house of his rival Lawrence. The house is now the headquarters of The Royal Bank of Scotland.
In 2008, the UK Treasury had to inject £37 billion ($64 billion, €47 billion, equivalent to £617 per citizen of the UK) of new capital into Royal Bank of Scotland Group plc, Lloyds TSB and HBOS plc, to avert financial sector collapse. No bankers have been prosecuted in the UK for their misdemeanours although a group of shareholders is trying to bring the 2008 management of the Royal Bank of Scotland to book through the courts.
(1)W. L. Clements Lib. Pitt letters, Pitt to Dundas, 22 July ; Wraxall Mems. ed. Wheatley, i. 266.
Julia Herdman writes historical fiction that puts women to the fore. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle £2.42 Also available on:
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The Poldarks are having their usual brush with the law this season. This time it’s the life of Drake Carne, Demelza‘s brother whose life hangs in the balance. Justice in the 18th century was probably as rare as hen’s teeth for the common man. 18th-century law enforcement was very different from modern-day policing. The prosecution of criminals remained largely in the hands of victims themselves, who were left to organise their own criminal investigations – as we see in this season’s Poldark where George Warleggan is both the alleged victim of the crime, investigator, prosecutor, and judge.
Every parish was obliged to have one or two constables, who were selected every year from local communities, and were unpaid volunteers. These constables were required to perform policing duties only in their spare time, and many simply paid for substitutes to stand in for them.
The Magistrates’ courts were where minor offences were dealt with in ‘petty sessions.’ These made up the vast majority of criminal cases during the 1700s. Magistrates were themselves unpaid officials who were drawn from the ranks of the wealthy and were expected to defend the English law as amateurs. As a result, many magistrates were easily corrupted. In London, Horace Walpole believed that ‘the greatest criminals of this town are the officers of justice’.
More serious cases were held at the local county courts where trials were held four times a year at the ‘quarter sessions.’ For more serious crimes such as rape or murder, cases were referred to Crown courts, which sat at quarterly assizes in large towns or at the Old Bailey in London. For the ordinary citizen, trials at these higher courts were hugely intimidating experiences. Business was conducted in Latin and few of those accused had defence barristers until the end of the century. Witnesses were usually examined directly by the judge and sometimes by members of the jury which was a difficult experience for many. The vast majority of cases lasted for only a matter of minutes, and it was not uncommon for dozens of cases to be heard in a single day.
The Assizes was where the most serious criminal trials were heard twice a year by judges appointed by the monarch who travelled around a ‘Circuit’ of towns dispensing justice. Bodmin in Cornwall was on what was called the ‘Western Circuit’ which covered Hampshire, Wiltshire, Dorset, Devon, Cornwall, and Somerset. The lent assizes were held at Winchester, Salisbury, Dorchester, Exeter, Launceston, Taunton, and Bristol, and were generally attended in that order. The summer assizes were held at Winchester, Salisbury, Dorchester, Exeter, either Bodmin or Truro, and either at Wells or Bridgwater, and were generally attended in that order.
Bodmin Gaol which plays host to various characters in the Poldark series of novels was built in the late 18th century and was the first British prison to hold prisoners in separate cells although this did not mean each prisoner had their own cell, those awaiting trial, as well as convicts, were often held in cells up to 10 at a time.
During the 18th century, criminals and lawbreakers were often celebrated in popular culture and seen as local heroes. Stories of daring criminality were reported in printed pamphlets, books, and newspapers, and generated high levels of public interest across the country. Highwaymen, in particular, were held in high esteem by many people. Tales of highway robbery often became the stuff of folklore and legend, and several highwaymen became celebrities in their own lifetime. When street robber Jack Sheppard was hanged in 1724 after making four escapes from prison, 200,000 people attended his execution and when the celebrated 18th-century highwayman John Rann was acquitted of a charge of theft in 1774 he was mobbed by a crowd of adoring admirers as he left the court in London. But anyone being brought before a court of Assize was usually in serious trouble. Over fifty prisoners were condemned at the Bodmin Assize Court and were hanged in the prison. The prison was also used for holding convicts sentenced to transportation; a punishment that was like a living death to many as they never saw their family or their home ever again.
The 18th-century criminal justice system relied heavily on the existence of the ‘bloody code’. This was the list of crimes that were punishable by death – by 1800 there were over 200 capital offences. Guilty verdicts in cases of murder, rape and treason – even lesser offences such as poaching, burglary and criminal damage – could all see the accused at the gallows. Executions were elaborate and shocking affairs, designed to act as a deterrent to those who watched.
Until 1783, London executions took place at Tyburn eight times a year, where as many as 20 felons could be hanged at the same time. Judges also had at their disposal a range of other unsavoury punishments including transportation to the American colonies and later in the century to Australia. Those convicted of lesser crimes could be fined, branded on the hand with a hot iron, or publicly shamed by being whipped ‘at the cart’s tail’, or being set in the pillory.
The pillory was not an easy option. After many years of successfully plying her trade as the keeper of a ‘Disorderly House’ otherwise called a brothel in St James London, Elizabeth Needham was fined 1 shilling and required to stand twice in the pillory in 1731. She was so severely pelted on the first occasion that she died two days later and never completed her sentence.
Julia Herdman writes historical fiction that puts women to the fore. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle £2.42 Also available on:
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Through most of history men were thought of as the stronger sex, more violent, more intelligent, more courageous, and the more determined sex. Women were perceived to be governed by their emotions and they were expected to be passive, chaste, modest, compassionate, and pious.
It is often argued that the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries witnessed a significant separation of the sexes in society. For example, women and men to develop separate social lives, women took tea at home, men frequented the coffee shops, women withdrew from the dining table after a meal to let the men smoke and talk politics whilst they concerned themselves with more domestic topics of conversation and drank tea. These social changes were in part due to increased wealth and to some extent the growing influence of evangelical Christianity which placed a high moral value on female domesticity, virtue, and religiosity.
When it came to crime women are always accused of fewer, and different, crimes to men. At the Old Bailey women accounted for only 21% of the defendants tried between 1674 and 1913, but this figure masks a significant chronological change. While women accounted for around 40% of the defendants from the 1690s to the 1740s (and, highly unusually, over half the defendants in the first decade of the eighteenth century), over the course of the period this proportion declined significantly, so that by the early nineteenth century only 22% of defendants were women and by the early twentieth century the proportion had declined to 9%. By this point serious crime had come to be perceived as essentially a masculine problem. Increasingly, female deviance was perceived as a consequence and aspect of sexual immorality rather than crime, and was addressed through other agencies of protection and control.
Women tended to be accused of certain kinds of theft – pick pocketing, shoplifting, theft from lodging houses, theft from masters, and receiving stolen goods. More serious crimes included coining, kidnapping, keeping a brothel, and offences surrounding childbirth such as infanticide, concealing a birth or unlawful abortion.Although prostitution itself was not tried at the Old Bailey, keeping a brothel was, and women account for about a third of those prosecuted.Of the 47 infanticide cases Naomi Clifford read researching her book, The Disappearance of Maria Glenn, 13 ended in acquittal of the manslaughter or murder charge but conviction of the less crime of concealing a birth, for which the defendants were given prison sentences ranging from 14 days to 2 years. In 32 cases the defendant was found not guilty and was free to go. Two cases resulted in conviction for murder. Neither were commuted and the defendants were hanged.
Appearing as a defendant at the Old Bailey must have been a significantly more intimidating experience for women than it was for men. All court personnel, from the judges and jury to lawyers and court officials were men except when a jury of all women was convened, known as a ‘jury of matrons’ to determine the validity of a convicted woman’s plea that she was pregnant. There is some evidence that juries treated evidence presented by female witnesses more sceptically than that delivered by men and female testimony was more likely to be omitted from court proceedings. At the same time, other evidence suggests that juries may have been more reluctant to convict women since, they were perceived as less of a threat to society and the legal principle of the feme covert, which made women responsible for crimes committed in the presence of their husbands (since they were presumed to be following their husbands’ commands) was not often applied.
The pattern of punishments for convicted women was significantly different from that of men, though when punishments for the same offence are compared the differences are not so great. Before 1691, women convicted of the theft of goods worth more than 10 shillings could not receive benefit of clergy unlike men, and were sentenced to death (in practice, they were often acquitted, convicted on a reduced charge, or pardoned).Women convicted of treason or petty treason were sentenced to death by being burned at the stake (until 1790); men convicted of the same offences were hanged, drawn and quartered, it seems the authorities did not want to expose women to this humiliating fate. Women sentenced to death who successfully pleaded that they were pregnant had their punishments respited, and often remitted entirely. From 1848, reprieves granted to pregnant women were always permanent.
Following the suspension of transportation to America in 1776, a statute authorised judges to sentence male offenders otherwise liable to transportation to hard labour improving the navigation of the Thames (they were incarcerated on the hulks), while women, and those men unfit for working on the river, were to be imprisoned and put to hard labour. Only men could be sentenced to military or naval duty and fewer women were selected for transportation when when transportation to Australia began in 1787. The public whipping of women was abolished in 1817 (having been in decline since the 1770s), while the public flogging of men continued into the 1830s (and was not abolished until 1862).
The perception of women and the type of crimes most frequently committed by them made them seem far less of a threat to society than the crimes of men but when a woman transgressed into the world of ‘male crime’ her punishment was likely to be more severe than that of a man in a similar situation because she had not only committed a crime she had transgressed the social order and stepped outside her perceived expected gender role.