The Duchess of Hamilton

The Duchess of Hamilton

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 Aftermath of Culloden – 1746

The Aftermath of Culloden – 1746

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.

 

See also:

Bonnie Prince Charlie and Toad Escape Dressed as Women

 

 

Sources:
http://www.jacobites.net/prisoners.html
http://www.historyextra.com/article/feature/10-facts-jacobites-bonnie-prince-charlie-culloden
https://www.thurrock.gov.uk/historical-figures/jacobites-culloden-and-tilbury-fort
http://www.electricscotland.com/history/charles/100

Writers of influence – Hilary Mantel

Writers of influence – Hilary Mantel

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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The Princess Who Married The Hunchback Prince

The Princess Who Married The Hunchback Prince

Anne, The Princess Royal, married the hunchback William of Orange in 1734.

Princess Anne, or the Princess Royal as she was known, was the eldest daughter of George II. The title Princess Royal is a substantive title customarily (but not automatically) awarded by a British monarch to his or her eldest daughter. There have been seven Princesses Royals. The daughter of Queen Elizabeth II is currently holds the title. The title Princess Royal came into existence when Queen Henrietta Maria (1609–1669), daughter of Henry IV, King of France, and wife of King Charles I (1600–1649), wanted to imitate the way the eldest daughter of the King of France was styled “Madame Royale”. Thus Princess Mary (born 1631), the daughter of Henrietta Maria and Charles, became the first Princess Royal in 1642. Anne,the daughter of George II was the second Princess Royal.

Dysfunctional Family

Anne was born into what we would call an extremely dysfunctional family in May 1709. George II was the only son of the German prince George Louis, elector of Hanover (King George I of Great Britain from 1714 to 1727), and Sophia Dorothea of Celle. George, I had divorced and locked Sophia Dorothea in a castle in Celle for her adultery with a Swedish cavalry officer and taken their children, which include the boy who would become George II away from her. George II had, of course, never forgiven his father for his cruel treatment of his mother.

George II’s daughter Anne was a remarkable woman in many ways. She was criticised and praised in equal measure by contemporary chroniclers. Some said she was arrogant others that she was accomplished.

Early Life

Although Anne was an English princess, she was born at Herrenhausen Palace, Hanover. Her mother was Caroline of Ansbach. According to a recent biography of Caroline, The First Iron Lady: A Life of Caroline of Ansbach By Matthew Dennison, she was the real power behind George II. When she arrived in England in 1714, she became the first Princess of Wales since Prince Henry married Catherine of Aragon in 1509. She was blonde, buxom and above all, intelligent. Anne was one of the couple’s four children.

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 to the Prussian King and had been well educated.

When she married, she joined the Hanoverian Court, which was by comparison boorish. How much that experience influenced her opposition to George I in England we do not know, 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? There were always rumours surrounding the disappearance of her Swedish lover.

Political differences between George I and his son the Prince of Wales led to factions in the court. The family dispute came to a head following the birth of George and Caroline’s second son, Prince George William in 1717. At the baby’s christening, the Prince of Wales publicly insulted the Duke of Newcastle one of his father’s allies. This so infuriated George I he banished his son and daughter-in-law from St James’s Palace, but he kept their children, including Anne under his guardianship at Leicester House.

The Prince and Princess of Wales were sent packing without their children. George, I kept them separated until 1720 when Anne’s brothers were returned to the care of her parents, but the girls remained the wards of the King.

Smallpox and Variolation

In that year, Anne’s body was ravaged by smallpox; she was 11 years old. The disease killed an estimated 400,000 Europeans a year during the closing years of the 18th century.

Smallpox had no respect for wealth or rank, anyone could catch it. Her own father had suffered from the disease in the first year of his marriage. Her personal near-death experience and the experience and her father led the family to support the introduction of variolation (an early type of immunisation against smallpox), which had been witnessed by Lady Mary Wortley Montague and Charles Maitland in Constantinople.

Variolation or inoculation was the method first used to immunise an individual against smallpox (Variola) with material taken from a patient or a recently variolated individual in the hope that a mild, but the protective infection would result. The procedure was most commonly carried out by inserting/rubbing powdered smallpox scabs or fluid from pustules into superficial scratches made in the skin. The patient would develop pustules identical to those caused by naturally occurring smallpox, usually producing a less severe disease than naturally acquired smallpox. Eventually, after about two to four weeks, these symptoms would subside, indicating successful recovery and immunity.

To test the process, Caroline ordered six prisoners who had been condemned to death to take part in the trial. They were offered the chance to undergo variolation instead of execution. They all agreed, and they all survived, as did the six orphan children who were also part of the test. (There were no medical ethics committees then). The tests convinced Caroline of variolation’s safety, and the Queen had her two younger daughters, Amelia and Caroline, inoculated. Royal patronage of the process was a boon to the doctors who were prescribing the process, and variolation began to spread amongst the upper classes.

On 22 June 1727, George I died 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.

Marriage

As a daughter of the future British King Anne’s marriage was always going to be a dynastic one. But, as a princess requiring a protestant marriage, her options were limited, most of the continent was ruled by Catholic princes. The government hit on the idea of a union 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. The Dutch Prince William had a well-known physical deformity. Anne wanted to know more about his deformity before she agreed to see him, so she dispatched Lord Hervey, a close confidant, to report on its extent. Hervey said that William was no Adonis. William suffered from a pronounced curvature of the spine, which was probably the result of sclerosis, the same condition suffered by the English King Richard III. or Kyphosis the hunchback disease.

William’s Deformity

A normal thoracic spine extends from the 1st to the 12th vertebra and should have a slight kyphotic angle, ranging from 20° to 45°. When the “roundness” of the upper spine increases past 45° it is called kyphosis or “hyperkyphosis”. Scheuermann’s kyphosis is the most classic form of hyperkyphosis and is the result of wedged vertebrae that develop during adolescence. The cause is not currently known and the condition appears to be multifactorial and is seen more frequently in males than females. The condition must have made life very hard for William who apart from the problem with his spine was considered an attractive, educated, and accomplished Prince.

Having taken Hervey’s report into consideration and the inferiority of William’s territory, Anne decided she would take him. She was 25 years old, and it seems she 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 because she did not get along with her mother-in-law, and her husband was frequently on campaign. France was an ever-present threat to William’s protestant country and 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.

Regent

Anne became a widow in 1751 at the age of 40 and was appointed as Regent for her 3-year-old son, Prince William V. She was given all prerogatives usually given a hereditary Stadtholder of the Netherlands, except for 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 of the own, 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.

As Regent she was hard-working, but she remained unpopular. The commercial rivalry between the Dutch and the British East India Companies was part of the cause, her Dutch subjects were never entirely sure she was on their side because she pursued a foreign policy, that favoured the British-German alliance over alliance with the French. 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.

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. Even 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. She died of dropsy (an accumulation of fluid in the body that leads to heart failure) in 1759. Her son was twelve and still too young to take the reins of power.

Anne 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 her younger brother William V turned 18 in 1766.

Legacy

Anne was a remarkable woman in many ways. Her beauty was shredded by smallpox, but she took on the world and won. (I am sure she took the opportunity to show herself in the 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 giving birth to two stillborn children and then she was widowed. Anne exercised the role of Stadholder (chief executive of the Dutch Republic) as effectively as any man and the centralisation of power she created laid the foundations of the Dutch state and its royal family. Her grandson, William I became the first king of the Netherlands in 1815.

Picture: Self Portrait

Sources:

George II: King and Elector By Andrew C. Thompson, 2011, Yale University Press

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anne,_Princess_Royal_and_Princess_of_Orange

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 and on Kindle.

Sinclair is available of Amazon. Click here to get your copy.

Sinclair is set in the London Borough of Southward, the Yorkshire town of Beverley and in Paris and Edinburgh in the late 1780s. Strong female leads include the widow Charlotte Leadam and the farmer’s daughter Lucy Leadam. Sinclair is a story of love, loss and redemption. Prodigal son James Sinclair is transformed by his experience of being shipwrecked on the way to India to make his fortune. Obstacles to love and happiness include ambition, conflict with a God, temptation and betrayal. Remorse brings restitution and recovery. Sinclair is an extraordinary book. It will immerse you in the world of 18th century London where the rich and the poor are treated with kindness and compassion by this passionate Scottish doctor and his widowed landlady, the owner of the apothecary shop in Tooley Street.  Sinclair is filled with twists and tragedies, but it will leave you feeling good.

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Princess Sophia Dorothea the Uncrowned Queen of Britain

A Labour in Vain – The Tragic Death of Princess Charlotte Augusta

Mary Wollstonecraft’s Friends

Mary Wollstonecraft’s Friends

Mary Wollstonecraft was born on 27 April 1759 she is one of the world’s first feminist writers.

Wollstonecraft decided to become a writer in 1787, 230 years ago, when she moved to 45 George Street, in Southwark, now called Dolben Street. It was from Dolben Street[1]  that she launched her career, with the publication of her novel, Mary: A Fiction or Maria: or, The Wrongs of Woman is a philosophical and gothic novel that revolves around the story of a woman imprisoned in an insane asylum by her husband. The story focuses on the societal rather than the individual “wrongs of woman” and criticises what Wollstonecraft viewed as the patriarchal institution of marriage in eighteenth-century Britain and the legal system that protected it. However, the heroine’s inability to relinquish her romantic fantasies also reveals women’s collusion in their oppression through false and damaging sentimentalism. The novel pioneered the celebration of female sexuality and cross-class identification between women. Such themes, coupled with the publication of Godwin’s scandalous Memoirs of Wollstonecraft’s life, made the novel unpopular at the time it was published.

Two friendships shaped Wollstonecraft’s early life. The first was with Jane Arden. At the age of nine Wollstonecraft was taken to a farm near Beverley in Yorkshire with her brothers and sisters. They lived a wild life, roaming around the flat land of the Humber estuary until her father took a house in the town opposite the Minster. It was in Beverley she met Jane Arden. Life in Beverley was remarkably civilised, there was a theatre, dances at the Assembly Rooms and a race course with a spring meeting that co-inside with the Spring Fair. Part of my own novel Sinclair is set in Beverley.

Image result for Beverley yorkshire creative commons

Beverley, Yorkshire

The girls frequently read books together and attended lectures presented by Arden’s father, a self-styled philosopher and scientist. John Arden was the descendant of the playwright Arden of Faversham but was disinherited by his family, and forced to set himself up as a roving teacher of practical mathematics and experimental philosophy. After a spell in Germany, he settled in Bath for a while where he became a founder member of the Bath Philosophical Society. Then moved onto Derby where he made friends with the artist Joseph Wright. Wright painted him as the Philosopher in his work entitled: A Philosopher Lecturing on the Orrery, or the full title, A Philosopher giving a Lecture on the Orrery in which a lamp is put in the place of the sun, in 1766.

 

Image result for The Philosopher Lecturing on the Orrery

The Orrery, Joseph Wright of Derby – Derby Museum and Art Gallery

The Orrery, which now hangs in the Derby Museum, caused a sensation at the time because it replaced a classical motif with a scientific one. In this picture, Wright replaces the awe inspired by God with the wonder of science.  [John Arden – The Philosopher Lecturing on the Orrery, iOpening Books 2016.]

 

 

 

At fourteen Wollstonecraft revelled in the intellectual atmosphere of the Arden household and valued her friendship with Jane 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. Mary’s crush for Jane ended badly, in quarrel spiked with jealousy and rage.

Her second and more important friendship was with Fanny (Frances) Blood, who was introduced to Wollstonecraft by the Clares, an elderly couple from Hoxton who became parental figures to her. Mr Clare was a retired clergyman with a taste for poetry, and Mrs Clare encouraged Mary’s reading, providing her with copies of Milton, Shakespeare, Pope and Johnson. Like Fanny, Mary learned the accomplishments expected of a middle-class woman from Mrs Clare – sewing, drawing and letter writing. Above all, she learned to be feminine and neat.

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 because she was called back to care for her dying mother. Rather than return to Mrs Dawson’s employ after the death of her mother, Wollstonecraft moved in with the Bloods.

Fanny Blood was paid by the botanist William Curtis to paint wildflowers for his book Flora Londinensis. When Mary was living with the Bloods Fanny became engaged to Hugh Skeys, but the pair could not marry immediately and Skeys was forced to go the sea to finance the marriage. Fanny’s brother Lieutenant George Blood (1762–1844), became good friends with Mary so much so that William Godwin, Mary’s husband wrote that Mary had “contracted a friendship so fervent, as for years to have constituted the ruling passion of her mind”.

Blood, together with Mary Wollstonecraft and Wollstonecraft’s sisters, Eliza and Everina, opened a school first in Islington, which soon failed, and then in Newington Green. The school was combined with a boarding house for women and their children.

On February 24, 1785, Fanny Blood married Hugh Skeys who had made himself into a successful wine merchant based in Dublin. When Blood married and left the school, Wollstonecraft left too, and so their other school failed.

Fanny died in childbirth in Lisbon, Portugal, on November 29, 1785. Wollstonecraft was deeply affected by Blood’s death and in part inspired her first novel, Mary: A Fiction in 1788. She also named her own daughter, Fanny Imlay (1794–1816), after her friend.Frances “Fanny” Imlay was Mary’s daughter by the American commercial speculator and diplomat Gilbert Imlay. The pair never married and when Mary died Fanny remained part of the family of the man her mother had married, William Godwin. She was born in Le Havre in 1794 as the French Revolution took hold. Her half-sister Claire Clairmont would become Byron’s lover and her sister by Godwin would elope with the poet Shelley and write the gothic novel Frankenstein.

In later years, Mary realised during the two years she spent with the Blood family she had idealised Fanny as a woman like herself, fiercely independent and intellectual but Fanny was not like Mary, she wanted to be a wife and a mother more than a revolutionary. Nevertheless, Mary loved the Bloods and remained dedicated to them throughout her life. Wollstonecraft had envisioned living in a female utopia with Blood; they made plans to rent rooms together and to support each other emotionally and financially, but this dream come to nothing. The weight of economic reality and social conformity as well as  being women in what was to all intents and purposes a world designed and run by men for men made their dream impossible to fulfil.

Mary followed the publication of Mary: A Fiction, with works on the education of children. Her own experience of motherhood forcing her to reconsider her views on women and children.

Through her association with her friend and publisher Joseph Johnson, she met Thomas Paine, the writer of 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 and the belief that dictatorial government is necessary, because of man’s corrupt 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 intensely creative years.

For more information on Wollstonecraft see: https://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/keywords/mary-wollstonecraft

 

Notes:

[1] George Street was formed circa 1776 and the houses on either side were completed and tenanted by 1780 when the street name first occurs in the sewer rate books. It was built across the open fields shown as “tenter grounds” on Rocque’s maps, on part of what became known as Brown’s Estate. The formation of George Street was part of the rapid development of the area which followed the erection of Blackfriars Bridge. The street was renamed Dolben Street in 1911 in honour of John Dolben (1625–86), Archbishop of York, who in 1671, when Bishop of Rochester, officiated at the consecration of Christ Church. Throughout the period that these houses are shown in the rate books and directories they have been occupied by small tradesmen, chandlers, bakers, etc., and by artisans. https://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol22/pp127-128

Southwark was the location of several London prisons, including those of the Crown or Prerogative Courts, the Marshalsea and King’s Bench prisons, those of the local manors’ courts, e.g., Borough Compter, The Clink and the Surrey county gaol originally housed at the White Lion Inn (also informally called the Borough Gaol) and eventually at Horsemonger Lane Gaol.

One local family of note, was the Harvards. John Harvard went to the local parish free school of St Saviour’s and on to Cambridge University. He migrated to the Massachusetts Colony and left his library and the residue of his will to the new college there, named after him as its first benefactor. Harvard University maintains a link, having paid for a memorial chapel within Southwark Cathedral (his family’s parish church).

Sources:The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft By Claire Tomalin, Mary Wollstonecraft and the Feminist Imagination by Barbara Taylor,  & Wikipedia

My own novel, Sinclair takes place in Southwark and Beverley.

Julia Herdman is a novelist. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1 is  Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 on Kindle

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Byron’s Daughters – A Tale of Three Sisters

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