SEX AND DEATH
RICH OR POOR A WOMAN’S FATE COULD BE THE SAME
WOMAN PLYING HER TRADE
There were two ways for a girl to get on in the 18th century and they both involved sex and the risk of disease followed by the likelihood of an early death.
The choice for most women was either wife or city prostitute. Prostitution was the riskier option and the option most likely to taken by the poor – women who had been abandoned and those who were widowed.
The 18th century saw the birth of commerce and a huge expansion of trade in the great cities of the world. The goods on offer were not only tea and sugar – there was a thriving trade in sex as well.
Sex was the commodity most often traded in 18th-century cities – sex with women, sex with men, and, sex with children.
Sex and the Age of Marriage
Since the 12th century in Europe, the onset of puberty was the acceptable time for marriage. This was about 12 for girls and around 14 for boys.
The first recorded age-of-consent law appeared in 1275 in England in the Statute of Westminster. It made it a misdemeanor to “ravish” a “maiden within age,” with or without her consent. The phrase “within age” was later interpreted by jurist Sir Edward Coke as meaning the age of marriage.
The American colonies followed the English tradition, but the law was more of a guide – Mary Hathaway (Virginia, 1689) was only 9 when she was married to William Williams.
In Europe, the situation was much the same.
Sex and the French Revolution
The advent of the French Revolution hardly changed at a thing for women and girls. The age of consent for sexual intercourse was set at 11 years for girls in 1791. How enlightened was that? In the 18th-century there was little understanding of childhood as a concept. Children were seen as “little adults” who were born sinful and subject to the corruptions of the flesh.
Sex and the Job Market
Women and female children were barred by law and convention from all but the most menial jobs in Europe and in the colonies. There was no chance of a woman making a decent living on her own so many were forced to make an indecent living for themselves.
Some women inherited property from their families when there was no male heir, there are plenty of examples of female innkeepers and shop owners but most of them were widows. The problem for a woman with property was that when she got married it became her husband’s. If the marriage was not a success she could be left with nothing.
With odds stacked against women economically, the trade in sex thrived. Thousands of women needed to make a living and the only thing most men would pay for was sex or sex with housework.
The Harlot’s Progress
William Hogarth’s six-part Harlot’s Progress of 1732 makes the lot of the prostitute visible in a straightforward way. The representation of Moll Hackabout’s journey into prostitution, from the innocent country girl we see arriving in London on the first plate through to her subsequent career as a harlot and her decline towards death in plate six, is generally acknowledged to mark a turning point both in British visual culture and in Hogarth’s career but it changed little for women like Moll.
Charlotte Hayes’ Nuns
Of course, taking control of their commercial assets was somewhat more difficult for the women, the commercial world was designed for men. However, some did. One such was a woman called Charlotte Hayes. Hayes ran a brothel or ‘nunnery’ in the parlance of the day. She grew wealthy on her girls, keeping a carriage and liveried servants for her ladies of the night. She taught her girls the manners and graces of elite London society to get a better price for them. One of these so-called ‘nuns’ was Emily Warren, an ‘exquisite beauty’ who became the muse to the painter Sir Joshua Reynolds. She was discovered by Hayes leading her blind beggar of a father through the streets of London. The Georgian memoirist William Hickey described sleeping with her as follows;
‘Never did I behold so perfect a beauty. I passed a night that many would have given thousands to do. I, however, that night, experienced the truth – that she was cold as ice, seemingly totally devoid of feeling. I rose convinced that she had no passion for the male sex.’
Little wonder, perhaps. Emily Warren had, like so many other girls, become a prostitute at the age of 12.
Hayes dressed her girls in French silks and lace and promised they would ‘satisfy all fantasies, caprices, and extravagances of the male visitor, carrying out their every wish’.
Masquerade parties were a popular cover for anonymous sexual encounters. Among the most sought-after of these risque gatherings were those held by one Mrs. Cornley, reputedly a lover of Casanova; they were held in a grand house or ‘fairy palace’ in Soho Square. The parties were honeypots for prostitutes and pimps and saw peers of the realm mix with streetwalkers.
Inspired by the explorer-of-the-day James Cook‘s accounts of Tahitian erotic rituals, Charlotte Hayes organised a tableau in which ’12 beautiful nymphs, unsullied and untainted’. These nymphs were to be publicly deflowered by 12 young men as in ‘the celebrated rites of Venus’. Her disreputable business earned Hayes, a teenage prostitute herself, a fortune of £20,000 – a sum a working man would have to work 500 years to earn.
The Harris’ List
The centre of the Georgian sex trade was Covent Garden. There, men could not pass it without being accosted by women silently offering their arm or making lewd suggestions in their direction.
In the Covent Garden coffee shops and jelly houses, where exotic concoctions were eaten from tall glasses, hundreds of lavishly adorned women sat looking for business.
The infamous Harris’ List of Covent Garden Ladies was a directory of London prostitutes, circulating from the late 1740s. It detailed each girl’s charms. A typical entry in 1788, described Miss Lister, of 6 Union Street, Oxford Road. ‘She is painted by the masterly hand of nature, shaded by tresses of the darkest brown, with the neighbouring hills below full ripe for manual pressure, firm and elastic, and heave at every touch.’
A German visitor of the time observed prostitutes in the West End with these words. ‘Usually, a crowd of female creatures stand in front of the theatres, amongst whom may be found children of nine or ten years, the best evidence of moral depravity in London. In general, the English nation oversteps all others in immorality, and the abuses which come to light through addiction to debauchery are unbelievable.’
The dawn of the Victorian age and new attitudes to morality meant that prostitution gradually went underground but it did not go away. Streetwalking was made an imprisonable offence in the 1820s. For the whores, harlots, pimps, and courtesans of Georgian London, the party was over but their abuse was not.
The Secret History Of Georgian London, Dan Cruickshank
Prostitution and Eighteenth-Century Culture: Sex, Commerce, and Morality, edited by Ann Lewis, Markman Ellis
Infamous Commerce: Prostitution in Eighteenth-century British Literature and Culture, Laura J. Rosenthal
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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
White skin was a must for the most fashionable boys and girls about town in the 18th century. What we would call a healthy sun kissed complexion was a sure sign of being a peasant labouring on the land and not the sign of a lady or gentleman of leisure and so was to be avoided if one could afford it.
Although the 18th century is known as the Age of Enlightenment, most fashionable men and women poisoned themselves with make-up. Unbeknown to these fashionistas the lead based powder they were using to show their class and their wealth contributed to much of the poor health they suffered. It inflamed the eyes, attacked the enamel on the teeth and changed the texture of the skin causing it to blacken; it also made the hair fall out and it became fashionable to shave the front hairline to disguise its worst effects.
Both men and women of fashion applied bright pink rouge in circles and triangles to their powdery white faces in the form of Spanish wool; this was a pad of hair rather like a pan scourer impregnated with pink coloured lead. Lips were painted to appear small with the same pink powder or with carmine [a bright-red pigment obtained from the aluminium salt of carminic acid] to give a bee-sting effect.
Hair was powdered with the same lead based concoction and some women also powdered their shoulders and breasts. A pure white breasts was the vogue and was accentuated by painting veins onto it with blue paint making the bosom a toxic one. The eyes and eyelashes were mostly ignored.
To make white lead powder it was necessary to take plates of lead, and cover them with vinegar in a bowl. The bowl was left in a heap of horse manure – the manure gave off a slow gentle heat as it rotted (if you’ve kept a compost heap you’ll know what I mean). Three weeks later the lead is soft enough to be beaten to a powder and mixed with perfume and dye.
Maria Gunning, Countess of Coventry was the 18th century equivalent of Angelina Jolie; a celebrity who caused men to faint in awe of her beauty.Her beauty regime led to her nasty demise; the same toxic make-up is said to have killed well-known actress Kitty Fisher. Maria entered the social whirl of the Georgian Court in December 1750; within a year, her sister Elizabeth had married the Duke of Hamilton and in March 1752, Maria married the 6th Earl of Coventry and became the Countess of Coventry. For their honeymoon, the Earl and Countess travelled around Europe accompanied by Lady Petersham, but neither lady enjoyed it much, especially Maria who particularly disliked Paris. The Countess’s ignorance of the French language and her husband’s decision not to allow her to wear red powder as make-up (which was fashionable in Paris at the time) intensified her dislike of the city and the trip. On one occasion, her husband saw her arrive at dinner with powder on her face and tried to rub it off with his handkerchief but it was no use she was a make-up addict and it killed her.
Kitty Fisher by Nathaniel Hone
Dressing one’s hair was time consuming and expensive and had to last as long as possible. Rich women rarely wore whole wigs, instead, they hired professional hairdressers (coiffures) who added false hair to their natural hair to big it up and then they added padding, powder, and ornaments, as a women’s hair was supposed to remain “natural” and not have the obvious artificiality of men’s wigs.
Styles sometimes lasted several weeks or months, which could make sleeping difficult, sometimes a wooden block was used as a headrest instead of a pillow to prolong its life. Long scratching sticks were needed when hair became infested with lice. The fashion in France, where all fashions began and were the most extreme, led many men and women to shave their heads for ease and comfort preferring to wear nothing but wigs in public.
Men in particular needed wigs for work and business. There was the Campaign Wig, worn by military men, vicars, lawyers and just about everyone who held a profession or public office needed a wig so the trade was huge and most towns had a thriving trade in wig making. Highly fashionable fops, known as The Macaronis chose elaborate high wigs, sometimes worn up to 18 inches high, they carried men’s fashions and men’s cosmetics to a new extreme. Town and Country Magazine 1764 described them: “They make a most ridiculous figure… it is a puzzle to determine the thing’s sex.”
As the century progressed hair styles and wigs got simpler. The most popular became the Tie Wig where the hair was drawn back from the face and tied at the back of the head with a black ribbon; the tied hair was called a ‘queue’, meaning tail. Men were always clean shaven; beards and moustaches were unpopular, except with the military.
Illustration: Maria Gunning Countess of Coventry, National Trust.
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:
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Throughout her life, Florence Nightingale’s gift for mathematics was often to be a source of frustration for her. This was because many of those she sought to influence simple did not understand numbers. In 1891 she wrote that: “Though the great majority of cabinet ministers, of the army, of the executive, of both Houses of Parliament, have received a university education, what has that university education taught them of the practical application of statistics?”
Nightingale came to prominence while training and managing nurses during the Crimean War, where she organised the tending to wounded soldiers. She gave nursing a highly favourable reputation and became an icon of Victorian culture, especially in the persona of “The Lady with the Lamp” making rounds of wounded soldiers at night. She was revered more as a representative of the female carer than the promoter of scientific medicine.
Florence Nightingale was born on 12 May 1820 into a rich, upper-class, well-connected British family at the Villa Colombaia,in Florence, Italy, and was named after the city of her birth. Florence’s older sister Frances Parthenope had similarly been named after her place of birth, Parthenope, a Greek settlement now part of the city of Naples. The family moved back to England in 1821, with Nightingale being brought up in the family’s homes at Embley, Hampshire and Lea Hurst, Derbyshire.
As a young woman, Nightingale was described as attractive, slender and graceful. While her demeanour was often severe, she was said to be very charming and possess a radiant smile. Her most persistent suitor was the politician and poet Richard Monckton Milnes, but after a nine-year courtship she rejected him, convinced that marriage would interfere with her ability to follow her calling to nursing.
In 1853, Nightingale took the post of superintendent at the Institute for the Care of Sick Gentlewomen in Upper Harley Street, London, a position she held until October 1854. Her father had given her an annual income of £500 (roughly £40,000/US$65,000 in present terms), which allowed her to live comfortably and to pursue her career. A year later, on 21 October 1854, Nightingale and a staff of 38 women volunteer nurses that she trained arrived in Scutari, the base for casualties from the war being waged in Crimea between the British, France, The Ottoman Empire and Sardinia on one side and the Russian Empire on the other.
Immediately, Florence calculated that deaths from disease were seven times those arising in battle and used the information to campaign for better food, hygiene, and clothing for the troops. She persuaded the government to commission Isambard Kingdom Brunel to design a prefabricated hospital to be shipped out to Scutari, though it arrived after hostilities had ceased.
Upon returning to England, Florence continued her work and calculated that, even in times of peace, mortality among supposedly healthy soldiers, aged 25–35 and living in barracks, was double that of the civilian population. She wrote to Sir John McNeill (who was conducting the inquiry into the mismanagement of the Crimean campaign): “It is as criminal to have a mortality of 17, 19 and 20 per thousand in the line, artillery and guards, when that in civil life is only 11 per thousand, as it would be to take 1,100 men out upon Salisbury Plain and shoot them.”
She bombarded the commissioners with questions about the relationship between the death rates in barracks and such factors as the provision of water, sewerage, ventilation, accommodation, and food, using a ‘coxcomb’ chart (a sort of pie chart) to press home her points. She used her contacts to ensure that her views received publicity in newspapers. The commission reported in 1863, accepting most of her recommendations and Florence then used her royal connections to ensure that they were put into effect. Death rates fell by 75 percent.
Florence’s campaigns continued to the end of her life,1891. She didn’t get everything right. Her analysis of the 19th‑century cholera epidemics convinced her that they were caused by foul air, not polluted water and her influence was such that she probably hampered the fight against the disease. But, despite such miscalculations, she was certainly a passionate statistician and reformer.
Sources: Wikipedia, http://www.historyextra.com/article/people-history/florence-nightingale-nursing-numbers
Illustration: A portrait of Florence aged about 20 by August Egg.c. 1840.
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 and Kindle. Also available on:
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When I think of May Day I think either of Maypoles, Morris Dancing and the Jack in the Green or the old Soviet military processions in Red Square.
The origins of May Day stretch back into the mists of time. In the late Middle Ages people in England started to dance around a Maypole (a pole with no ribbons) as a celebration of Spring and to encourage fertility in the soil and people. This was banned by the Puritans but came back with the Restoration in 1660 and has remained with us ever since – the Victorians added the ribbons.
By the seventeenth century England was on the long march to modernity and urban living and London was well on the way to being the first great modern city in the world so May Day in London had nothing to do with May Poles or flowers. It was one of a number of days of the year; Shrove Tuesday, Ascension Day, Midsummer and St Bartholomew’s Day; when disorder reigned. Between 1603 and 1642 Shrove Tuesday riots involved apprentice boys attacking brothels, bawdy houses and playhouses to reduce temptation during Lent! In the same period there were eight May Day riots. The attacks on bawdy houses seem to peter out after the Restoration and the nature of May Day and other celebration days changes again.
In the late seventeenth century there is evidence of what are called ‘ridings’ in London and other towns. In a ‘riding’ those who are viewed to have transgressed the sexual morality of the day were harangued in the street by the mod who beat their pots and pans and shouted at the tops of their voices in what was called ‘rough music.’ In June 1664 a woman appeared before a magistrate in Middlesex accused of following a woman down the street shouting, ‘whore, whore’ and clapping her hands. She was joined by others and soon there was a riot. On May Day those who were deemed to have offended their community were spat on, had dirt and stones thrown at them as well as the contents of chamber pots. In London the haranguing husbands who had beaten or cheated on their wives was particularly popular as was terrorising brothel keepers and the mothers of illegitimate children.
Historian Charles Pythian-Adams has argued that during the eighteenth century May Day celebrations in London were transformed. The population of the city was becoming socially segregated with the rich withdrawing from popular or plebeian activities, but this notion leaves out the growing urban middle class and the effects of growing religious non-conformity. As the eighteenth century progressed so did social separation (both class and gender) but it was not exclusively the elites separating themselves from the poor, the middle class were able to buy their way into urban elite culture, they may not have had a box at the theatre but they could have a seat in the stalls; and as for the poor they separated into those who chose the strictures of religious non-conformity (no pagan rituals) over the perceived laxity of the established church were certain pagan rituals were accepted. This new urban culture was not conducive to what we think of as May Day traditions and its celebration or marking lapsed until it was re-invented and sanitised by the Victorians who gave us children holding ribbons and dancing round the May Pole in the Board School yard.
Source: The Eighteenth-Century Town: A Reader in English Urban History 1688-1820, By Peter Borsay, Routledge 2013
Illustration: Country Dances round a Maypole (decorative painting for a supper-box at Vauxhall Gardens, London), Francis Hayman (1708–1776), Victoria and Albert Museum.
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
Amazon South Africa