The Duchess of Hamilton was born in Ireland, Elizabeth Gunning. She was a celebrity beauty who caused a sensation when she and her sister were introduced into high society. Though the sisters had neither dowries nor rank, their physical attractiveness secured them excellent marriages. Elizabeth married the Duke of Hamilton on St Valentine’s Day in 1752, only weeks after meeting him at a masquerade. This is a graceful portrait by the neo-classical painter, Gavin Hamilton, who was a distant relative of the Duke. Hamilton also produced an elegantly-draped full-length portrait of Elizabeth.
In late 1740 or early 1741, the Gunning family returned to John Gunning’s ancestral home in Ireland, where they divided their time between their home in Roscommon and a rented house in Dublin. According to some sources, when Maria and her sister Elizabeth came of age, their mother urged them to take up acting in order to earn a living, due to the family’s relative poverty. The sources further state that the Gunning sisters worked for some time in the Dublin theatres, befriending actors like Margaret Woffington, even though acting was not considered a respectable profession as many actresses of that time doubled as courtesans to wealthy benefactors. However, other sources[who?] differ and point out that Margaret Woffington did not arrive in Dublin until May 1751, by which time Maria and her sister Elizabeth were in England.
In October 1748, a ball was held at Dublin Castle by the Viscountess Petersham. The two sisters did not have any dresses for the gathering until Tom Sheridan, the manager of one of the local theatres, supplied them with two costumes from the green room, those of Lady Macbeth and Juliet. Wearing the costumes, they were presented to the Earl of Harrington, the then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Harrington must have been pleased by the meeting as, by 1750, Bridget Gunning had persuaded him to grant her a pension, which she then used to transport herself, Maria, and Elizabeth, back to their original home in Huntingdon, England. With their attendance at local balls and parties, the beauty of two girls was much remarked upon. They became well-known celebrities, their fame reaching all the way to London, with themselves following soon afterward. On 2 December 1750, they were presented at the court of St James. By this time, they were sufficiently famous that the presentation was noted in the London newspapers. Elizabeth was also immortalised in portraits by Gavin Hamilton a distant relation of the Duke.
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
The dead are always present, says Hilary Mantel, they live with us in our memory, in our genes and in the legacy of their decisions and actions that shaped the world we live in today. In the words of St Augustine, she says, they are ‘invisible, they are not absent’. My inspiration for it Sinclair was family history. Whoever we are we all have some sort of family and some sort of history, we could not have got here without it even if we do not know that history.
There is a poem by WH Auden, called “As I Walked Out One Evening”:
‘The glacier knocks in the cupboard,
The desert sighs in the bed,
And the crack in the tea-cup opens
A lane to the land of the dead’
Like most people I come from a long line of very ordinary people; people who struggled most of their lives to make ends meet them to keep a roof over their head. These are not the people we think of when we think of history. History was, until the last century, very much the domain of great men and great events. When we imagine the past in drama, in books, and, in films, the characters are always the movers and shakers of history; their decisions and actions change the world. Rarely do we think of the ordinary run of the mill people in the background who were most likely our ancestors.
My grandparents were born at the turn of the 19th century, they were Victorians. They lived through great events, the Great War, the economic depression of the 1930s, the Second World War, and the post-war boom but they did not shape them. They were lucky, they survived these huge historic events and so did their children; all of them living to ripe old age thanks to the introduction of the National Health Service in 1947. They were the first generation to live in Council Houses, proud tenants who always paid the rent on time. They worked hard and life was not easy but it was certainly better than it had been for their parents who had lived in overcrowded city-centre tenements with no interior sanitation. My Victorian ancestors worked hard, feared the workhouse, died young and were buried unceremoniously and as cheaply as possible.
My novel, Sinclair, is inspired by my husband’s family, the Leadams, who came from Walkington near the market town of Beverley and city of Hull. Christopher Leadam trained as a surgeon in York then moved to London sometime in the 1770s. I recently visited Walkington to look at the place he left to work at Guy’s Hospital. The contrast between this rural idle of the East Riding and the busy streets of Southwark could not be greater. Walkington is a beautiful place but as the 10th child in a family of farmers Christopher, who was clearly bright and adventurous, knew that if he was going to make a life for himself he had to leave the place of his birth.
Christopher died when he was relatively young, probably around 40. We know from the historical record that when he died he was the owner of an apothecary shop in Tooley Street and that he had a 14-year-old son and a wife. Christopher was not a great man of medicine but he was one of the cast of players who helped to heave medicine out of its medieval roots into the modern scientific age.
The Leadams of Tooley Street has led me on a journey into the 18th century and early 19th century. My novel begins in the aftermath of the disastrous American War and ends as France is about to throw the shackles of the ancient regime. Most historical romance is about aristocratic families, families with connections and status. My fiction is about a family too but this family has to make their own way in the world. They have no estate or inheritance to come into; they have to use their hands and their brains to make their way in the world. Men like the Leadams and the fictional Sinclair were men of the professions, industry, ideas, and commerce; they were the men for a new and enlightened age, the men who shaped the world we know today.
As a novelist, I want to tell the story of that change, of the development of the middle class if you like. The middle class is much maligned and forgotten in the pages of history and novels. Today middle-class values are under attack from libertarian capitalists who view government as a barrier to the unfettered accumulation of personal wealth, they do not believe in society or collective endeavour. In the historical novel, the middle class gets lost between the aristocratic splendour of the ballroom and the rags to riches stories of the poor.
‘The pursuit of the past makes you aware, whether you are novelist or historian, of the dangers of your own fallibility and inbuilt bias’ says Mantel. I agree I am the product of my own history. I am not the past I am now writing about the past in a language that is understood today. I am a writer of fiction but I am a historian too; an anachronism an oxymoron. The 19th-century historian Lord Macaulay said, “History has to be burned into the imagination before it can be received by the reason.” I burn with a passion for the past, but I also burn with a passion for the future, for a better future for my children and mankind. I’m biased and I don’t feel guilty about it; all history is biased, I am not perturbed about my desire to tell stories about people who live in townhouses and not country estates, people who value education for its own sake, people who want to engage in the political life of the nation because they want to improve the lives of others and build a better future.
Mantel says, “The historian and the biographer follow a trail of evidence, usually a paper trail. The novelist does that too, and then performs another act, puts the past back into the process, into action, frees the people from the archive and lets them run about, ignorant of their fates, with all their mistakes unmade.” Sinclair makes plenty of mistakes.
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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Princess Anne, the Princess Royal was the eldest daughter of George II. She was born into what we would call an extremely dysfunctional family in May 1709. Anne was a remarkable woman in many ways; she is criticised and praised by contemporary chroniclers for her arrogance and her accomplishments both of which she had in abundance.
Anne was born at Herrenhausen Palace, Hanover, five years before her paternal grandfather, Elector George Louis, succeeded to the British throne as George I. Her parents’ relationship with King George I was a troubled one. Her mother, Caroline of Ansbach, had been brought up in the Prussian Court where she had been treated as a surrogate daughter and had been well educated. It is difficult to know to what extent her experience of life at the boorish and brutal Hanoverian Court influenced her opposition to George I in England but the two did not get on. One wonders if Caroline suspected her father-in-law of having her mother-in-law’s lover killed? And was she as appalled as her husband about the treatment of his mother? Did she support her husband’s desire to set his mother free from her imprisonment at Ahlden? Whatever the case Anne’s parents left Hanover in 1714 and did not return.
Political differences between father and son led to factions in the court in Hanover from the late 1710s and these disagreements were carried over the British court coming to head following the birth of George and Caroline’s second son, Prince George William in 1717. At the baby’s christening, Anne’s father publicly insulted the Duke of Newcastle. This so infuriated George I he banished his son and daughter-in-law from St James’s Palace and kept their children, including Anne under his guardianship at Leicester House. The family rift was healed, in part at least, in 1720 when Anne’s brothers were returned to care of her parents but the girls remained the wards of the King.
That year Anne’s body was ravaged by smallpox. The disease killed an estimated 400,000 Europeans a year during the closing years of the 18th century. This near death experience and her parent’s experience of the disease at the beginning of their marriage caused her to support her mother’s efforts to test the practice of variolation (an early type of immunisation against smallpox), which had been witnessed by Lady Mary Wortley Montague and Charles Maitland in Constantinople. At the direction of her mother, Caroline, six prisoners condemned to death were offered the chance to undergo variolation instead of execution: they all survived, as did six orphan children given the same treatment as a further test, (there were no medical ethics committees then). Convinced of variolation’s safety, the Queen had her two younger daughters, Amelia and Caroline, inoculated and with this royal patronage the practice spread amongst the upper classes.
On 22 June 1727, George I died while in Germany, making Anne’s father king. The following year, her elder brother, Frederick, who had been educated in Germany, was brought to England to join the court. Father and son had not seen one other in 14 years and when they did the fireworks began. Their relationship was even more tempestuous than the one between George I and George II especially after 1733 when Frederick purchased Carlton House and set up what George II considered to be a rival court.
As a daughter of the future British King Anne’s marriage was always going to be a dynastic one. As a princess requiring a protestant marriage her options were limited. The government hit on the idea of a marriage with the rather lowly William, Prince of Orange-Nassau to sure up their anti-French alliance. George II was not enamoured with the proposal and Anne was concerned herself for William had a well-known physical deformity. She dispatched Lord Hervey, a close confident, to report on its extent. Hervey reported that although William was no Adonis and his body was as bad as possible; William suffered from a pronounced curvature of spine, probably the result of sclerosis like the English King Richard III; he had a pleasing face.
Despite his deformity and the inferior territory Anne decided she would take him. She was already 25 years old and did not want to end up an old maid surrounded by her warring relatives. When they married in 1734, her mother and sisters wept through the ceremony and Lord Hervey described the marriage as more sacrifice than celebration.
As an outsider and British, Anne was not popular in the Netherlands. Her life must have been a lonely one as she did not get along with her mother-in-law and her husband was frequently on campaign, his power base dependent on his ability to protect the states of the Dutch Republic from its enemies. In these lonely years Anne concentrated her efforts on literature and playing the harpsichord; she was an accomplished, artist, musician, and lifelong friend of her music teacher Handel.
Producing the required heir was problematic too. In 1736, she gave birth to a stillborn daughter and another in 1739. Her first live birth came in 1743 with the arrival of Princess Carolina of Orange-Nassau who was followed by another daughter,
Princess Anna two years later. Her only son arrived in 1748 when she was 39 years old. When her husband died three years later in 1751 at the age of 40, Anne was appointed regent for her 3-year-old son, Prince William V. She was given all prerogatives normally given a hereditary Stadtholder of the Netherlands, with the exception of the military duties of the office, which were entrusted to Duke Louis Ernest of Brunswick-Lüneburg. To say that she took to the role like a duck to water would not be an exaggeration. Finally free to exercise some power, in true Hanoverian style, Anne used her wit and her determination to secure her personal power base and with it the dominance of her family and the Orange dynasty.
She was hard-working but remained unpopular. Commercial rivalry between the Dutch and the British East India Companies was part of the cause. Another reason was the constitution of the United Provinces. But what made her most unpopular was that she seized the opportunity to centralise power in the office of the hereditary Stadtholder over the traditional rights of the Dutch states particularly the State of Haarlem and in her foreign policy, she favoured the British-German alliance over alliance with the French.
Ultimately, as a woman she was reliant on the men around her and it is fair to say that her husband and her son were fighting a losing battle against the tide of history at the end of the 18th century and Anne with all her skills could not realise the ambitions of the House of Orange on her own. She ruled the Netherlands for eight years dying of dropsy in 1759 when her son was 12. She was replaced as regent by her mother-in-law, Marie Louise of Hesse-Kassel and when she died in 1765, Anne’s daughter, Carolina, was made regent until William V turned 18 in 1766.
Anne was a remarkable woman. With her beauty shredded by smallpox she took on the world and won. (I am sure she took the opportunity to show herself in her best light in her self-portrait above.) She accepted and made a success of her marriage which on the face of it held little prospect for personal happiness. She was an intelligent if haughty woman who endured years of loneliness, the pain of 2 stillborn children and widowhood. She exercised the role of Staadholder (chief executive of the Dutch Republic) as effectively as any man and laid the foundations of the Dutch royal family. Her grandson, William I became the first king of the Netherlands in 1815.
Picture: Self Portrait
George II: King and Elector By Andrew C. Thompson, 2011, Yale University Press
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 £2.29 Also available on:
Amazon New Zealand
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Mary Wollstonecraft was born on 27 April 1759 she is one of the world’s first feminist writers. She decided to become a writer in 1787, 230 years ago, and moved to 45 George Street, in Southwark, now called Dolben Street. It was from Dolben Street that she launched her career, with the publication of her novel, Mary: A Fiction.
Two friendships shaped Wollstonecraft’s early life. The first was with Jane Arden in Beverley. The two frequently read books together and attended lectures presented by Arden’s father, a self-styled philosopher and scientist. Wollstonecraft revelled in the intellectual atmosphere of the Arden household and valued her friendship with Arden greatly, sometimes to the point of being emotionally possessive. Wollstonecraft wrote to her: “I have formed romantic notions of friendship … I am a little singular in my thoughts of love and friendship; I must have the first place or none.” In some of Wollstonecraft’s letters to Arden, she reveals the volatile and depressive emotions that would haunt her throughout her life.
The second and more important friendship was with Fanny (Frances) Blood, introduced to Wollstonecraft by the Clares, a couple in Hoxton who became parental figures to her; Wollstonecraft credited Blood with opening her mind. Unhappy with her home life, Wollstonecraft struck out on her own in 1778 and accepted a job as a lady’s companion to Sarah Dawson, a widow living in Bath. However, Wollstonecraft had trouble getting along with the irascible woman (an experience she drew on when describing the drawbacks of such a position in Thoughts on the Education of Daughters, 1787). In 1780 she returned home, called back to care for her dying mother.Rather than return to Dawson’s employ after the death of her mother, Wollstonecraft moved in with the Bloods. She realised during the two years she spent with the family that she had idealised Blood, who was more invested in traditional feminine values than was Wollstonecraft. But Wollstonecraft remained dedicated to her and her family throughout her life (she frequently gave financial assistance to Blood’s brother, for example).
Wollstonecraft had envisioned living in a female utopia with Blood; they made plans to rent rooms together and support each other emotionally and financially, but this dream collapsed under economic realities. In order to make a living, Wollstonecraft, her sisters, and Blood set up a school together in Newington Green, a Dissenting community. Blood soon became engaged and after their marriage her husband, Hugh Skeys, took her to Lisbon, Portugal, to improve her health, which had always been precarious. Despite the change of surroundings Blood’s health further deteriorated when she became pregnant, and in 1785 Wollstonecraft left the school and followed Blood to nurse her, but to no avail. Moreover, her abandonment of the school led to its failure. Blood’s death devastated Wollstonecraft and was part of the inspiration for her first novel, Mary: A Fiction (1788).
She followed Mary: A Fiction, with works on the education of children. Through her association with her friend and publisher Joseph Johnson she met Thomas Paine, the writer of the The Rights of Man. Paine who would become one of the great influencers of the both the French Revolution and the development of the American state opposed the idea of hereditary government—the belief that dictatorial government is necessary, because of man’s corrupt, essential nature. she also met her future husband and one of the forefathers of the anarchist movement William Godwin through Johnson.The first time Godwin and Wollstonecraft met, they were both disappointed in each other. Godwin had come to hear Paine, but Wollstonecraft assailed him all night long, disagreeing with him on nearly every subject.
It was after she left Dolben Street in 1791 that she published A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). There is no doubt that her time at Dolben Street, Southwark was the furnace of her intellectual development, and was the site of her most intense creative years.
My own novel, Sinclair takes place in Southwark and Beverley at this time. I shall be picking up some of Woolstonecraft’s themes in my next novel.
Julia Herdman is a novelist. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1 is Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle £2.29
Also available on:
Amazon New Zealand
Amazon South Africa