Feb 252018
 

aa1As obituaries go, this one from the 1821 edition of the Gentleman’s Magazine is perhaps the least revealing: the Countess of Jersey, mother of ten children, died on 25th July. “She was very unpopular at the period of the unhappy marriage of our present Sovereign.” The “why” is not explained, but actually there is an awful lot more to the story of Frances, Dowager Countess of Jersey, than appears in this death notice.

For a start, look at the circumstances of her birth. Her father the Right Reverend Philip Twysden was well-connected and had been made Bishop – O.K., an Irish bishopric, but a Bishop nonetheless. But as rough diamonds go, he was quite something. Unfortunately, successful and solvent he was not – he became bankrupt. Unlike other bishops, he decided to do something about his parlous financial straits – not for him hand-wringing and whingeing. He took his destiny into his own hands – and turned to …. highway robbery!

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Apparently he was staying the night of 1st November 1752 at Royden Hall in Kent, where he met a doctor. The good medic was apparently engrossed in treating a sick man, while the Bishop surreptitiously contrived to remove the charge from the doctor’s pistol. Unfortunately for his Right Reverence, the manoeuvre was noticed by the patient. Later, the patient alerted the doctor – who therefore re-loaded his pistol and on the next day set forth for Wrotham Heath. There, in some remote spot, the Bishop suddenly appeared from the undergrowth and demanded that the medicine man should hand over his valuables, while advancing towards him with all the menace that comes from knowing that the victim was unarmed. Bad mistake! The doctor shot the Bishop dead, which, as ways to go and meet your Maker, is an unusual ending for a man of the cloth. Not good news for his unfortunate widow, who was already pregnant and who later gave birth to a girl destined to make her mark in the gossip columns of the nation.

Frances, Countess of Jersey, by Thomas Watson after Daniel Gardner, mezzotint published in 1774

Fast forward from 1752 to 1780 and  an attractive young lady is about to make her mark on the world…

It seems strange that with her infamous father she ever made it down the aisle with anyone respectable, let alone on the arm of the 34 year-old  (4th) Earl of Jersey, George Villiers. She was just seventeen years old.

George Villiers, 4th Earl of Jersey by Ozias Humphry RA. © National Trust, Osterley Park

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There then followed the baby-farming years – ten sprogs in the period between 1771 and 1788. To outward appearances, all seemed respectable, but having hit her fortieth year and become a grandmother she cut the traces and began an affair with the Prince of Wales. Well, in fairness she had already been “romantically linked” to one or two (well, four or five) other members of the aristocracy, but clearly the son of the reigning monarch was a better catch, even if he was “married” to his long-term mistress Maria Fitzherbert. Within a year this rocking granny had prised the Prince away from Maria. She helped push the Prince into a marriage with his cousin Caroline of Brunswick (1794). As the Queen Consort hated her new husband, and had very little to do with him once she had produced an heir, it left the way clear for Lady Jersey to tighten her grip on the Prince, and she became “the paramount paramour” for at least five years.

'A lady putting on her cap, - June 1795' by James Gillray © National Portrait Gallery, London

‘A lady putting on her cap, – June 1795’  by James Gillray, showing the Countess of Jersey putting on her head-dress/ setting her cap at the Prince.      © National Portrait Gallery, London

What of her husband? Well, in 1795 he was no doubt consoled by the fact that he was rewarded with being made up to Master of the Horse to the Prince of Wales. “Cuckold-in-Chief, more like.

This Gillray from 1796 shows Caroline bursting in onto the  embedded Prince and  the Countess, in a print called “The Jersey smuggler detected; – or – good causes for discontent [separation]”

© British Museum

© British Museum

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography describes her as “a scintillating society woman, a heady mix of charm, beauty, and sarcasm”. That barely does justice to a woman renowned for her scheming. In the Journal of Mary Frampton she is described as being “a clever, unprincipled, but beautiful and fascinating woman, though with scarcely any retrieving really good quality.” To Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, she was “la Peste” – in other words “the Plague.”

Her ability to spend money – buckets and buckets of it – was legendary and she made no effort to reduce her extravagance even when the Prince ended their affair in 1799. She was a constant thorn in his side, continuing to meddle and manipulate, causing mischief at every turn. The Prince responded by referring to her as “that infernal jezebel.”

Throughout this time her husband continued to put up with her shenanigans even though her extravagance led to him being threatened with imprisonment on account of his debts.

On 22 August 1805, the Earl of Jersey died. The impoverished Frances had the bare-faced cheek to apply to the Prince for a pension. Reluctantly he eventually agreed. Still her debts mounted, but from time to time her son the 5th Earl would wipe the slate clean, as well as allowing her a jointure of £3,500 a year. So, she struggled by into her 69th year, when she died at Cheltenham on 23 July 1821. Her obituary really doesn’t do justice to her, so instead  I will finish with another caricature from Gillray…

NPG D13025; 'Fashionable-jockeyship' by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey

The Prince is shown holding up two fingers while being carried  by the Earl towards  the figure of the Countess of Jersey, who is attempting to hide under the bedclothes. “Buck, Buck, how many Horns do I hold up?” enquires our fashionable jockey, to which the cuckolded Earl replies “E’en as many as you please!”  On the wall a picture shows a fat old sow dancing to an angelic tune…

Feb 202018
 

1212One of the phenomena of the Georgian era was the popularity of the masked ball. It appealed to all social classes, and people did rather more than just put on a ‘Lone Ranger’ pair of eye-goggles; they dressed up as clowns, shepherdesses, allegorical figures vegetables – whatever took their fancy. They cross-dressed, and, liberated by their apparent anonymity, abandoned all propriety and sense of inhibition.

Probably for that reason they were often frequented by prostitutes on the pull. Which is where my interest came in, because I had been looking  at masquerades in context of my book “Sex, Scandal and Satire – In bed with the Georgians”.

The image at the top comes from the ever-excellent Lewis Walpole Library site, and shows all the principal characters at a masquerade in 1789 at the Rotunda. As you can see, the people attending theses balls went to a lot of trouble with their costumes. The same site gives us “The Beauty Unmask’d” (left) and “Lady Betty Bustle and her Maid Lucy preparing for the Masquerade at The Pantheon” on the right.

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The one on the left, with her ermine-lined cape, dates from 1770, and the elegant lady dolled up to the nines on the right is from two years later. Somehow I don’t see them as bestowing their favours on the young gallants for less than a fortune. On the other hand, this one from the British Museum site, is clearly ready for a bit of horizontal jogging – her swain has already removed his mask and is absolutely sure that he is on to a good thing. It dates from 1771.

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As the verse underneath puts it, ‘Our Buck unmasks and makes his wishes known, … No Art can curb, no Mask can hide desire.’

Here is a more ‘tasteful’ image, once more from Lewis Walpole, showing a masquerade at the Argyll Rooms in 1826:

1414It all seems a bit staid to me, so to end with, a view from the raucous, joyful, over-the-top Thomas Rowlandson in his 1790 picture entitled “Dressing for a masquerade”

171717A group of happy hookers are getting ready for the ball, decolletages to the fore. I love all the action, with the hairdresser, the maid holding up a mirror, the stocking being rolled up, the masquerade head-dress with its discreet veil, and the dog barking at all the excitement. The masked lady on the right is gazing at her reflection as she struggles with the lacing on the back on her outfit, and as ever with Rowlandson, the figures are either rather beautiful or incredibly ugly!  Somehow you know that their evening will revolve around pleasure – and that someone is going to have to pay for it!

(First posted in modified form 2014)

Feb 152018
 

Image courtesy of the Royal Museums, Greenwich.

Today I am delighted to offer a guest post to freelance writer Lucy Lawrence. She has many years experience across a variety of sectors, having made the move to freelancing from a stressful corporate job – and loves the work-life balance it offers her. She gamely accepted my challenge to let me have an article about the Great Storm of 1703 – because she has a particular interest in modern technology and how it can help the modern world keep itself informed about the sort of extreme weather conditions which caused such devastating damage back in 1703. Back then, Queen Anne described the storm as “a Calamity so Dreadful and Astonishing, that the like hath not been Seen or Felt, in the Memory of any Person Living in this Our Kingdom.” If only back then they had the benefit of Weather Station Advisor!

Over to you, Lucy:

The front page of Defoe’s book The Storm

Of the Great Storm of 1703 Daniel Defoe wrote: “No pen could describe it, nor tongue express it, nor thought conceive it unless by one in the extremity of it”. Indeed it is one of the worst storms recorded in British History, and the 1700s was no stranger to terrifying storms. Defoe’s book “The Storm” has been a valuable historical account of the disaster, helping us to understand what the storm was really like for those that had lived through it.

EXTREME WEATHER AND WIND
For almost two weeks before the story took hold, Britain was battered by strong winds, but from 26th November to 7th December, this had developed into an extra-tropical cyclone that caused incredible damage and loss of life. It was documented that there were 4,000 trees blown down in the New Forest alone. In London, it was reported that 2,000 chimney stacks collapsed – the knock-on effect would have been huge, considering that all homes were heated by fire, and it was the start of winter.

The Somerset Levels, particularly in the area down towards Bridgwater and Yeovil, suffered from catastrophic flooding – hundreds of people died. There were also thousands of cattle, sheep and other livestock that were killed in the floods. Most incredible of all was the destruction of 400 windmills in the area. There were accounts of the sails going round with such speed and force that they burst into flames.

The first Eddystone Lighthouse

Off the coast of Plymouth the first Eddystone Lighthouse, constructed of wood to the designs of Henry Winstanley, was destroyed and Winstanley himself was among six people drowned. Meanwhile on the Goodwin Sands the destruction of ships seeking shelter was catastrophic, with ship after ship being sunk. Towns such as Portsmouth, on the South Coast, were described by Defoe as looking  “as if the enemy had sackt them and were most miserably torn to pieces.”

The Royal Navy took a terrible battering, losing thirteen ships including its entire Channel Squadron. The ships HMS Northumberland, HMS Restoration, and HMS Mary amongst others were destroyed. There were also 30 merchant ships lost in the storm, together with their crew. It is estimated that the storm resulted in the loss of between 8,000 and 15,000 lives.

HOW COULD TECHNOLOGY HAVE HELPED?

In 1703 there was no warning system to tell others of the dramatic fall in barometric pressure that happened before the storm – a sure indicator that it was unwise to set sail. In a disaster situation, the key to saving lives and trying to prevent as much damage as possible is communication. Emergency radio and weather radio is invaluable around the world to spread the news about incoming bad weather. These types of radio work without the use of the internet, or a television signal. In terms of the losses at sea, this would have been a game changer.


LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

Following the storm, the public and government reaction was very different to how it would have been today. It was generally considered that the storm was an act of God who was “crying at the sins of a nation.” As a result of this, the 19th January 1704 was declared by the government to be a day of fasting to atone for these sins. In Daniel Defoe’s book, he said that the sovereign fleet had been destroyed as a punishment for their unsuccessful performance during the War of Spanish Succession. Would this kind of comments be made today?

The Great Storm of 1703 was an enormous tragedy, with great loss of life and livelihood. However, it wasn’t for another 150 years that weather forecasting emerged as a science.

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Thanks Lucy – and if anyone is interested in finding out more about the work of NOAA (the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration) or the Weather Station Advisor which aims to help weather enthusiasts choose not only the best but the most suitable weather instruments for their particular needs, do follow the link to their site here. After all, as Lucy says, according to Time Magazine 2017 was the worst hurricane season ever and 2018 is unlikely to be any better. For my part I have just returned from seeing the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma in the British Virgin Islands. It  really was a reminder of the terrifying power of Mother Nature – and of how lucky we are that nowadays we get an effective ‘early warning’ of the sort of storms which caused so much damage 300 years ago.  

NASA image of Hurricane Irma

Road Town, Tortola – next to the Yacht Marina built by my brother 40 years ago….

Life’s a beach …. Cane Garden Bay, BVI, has re-opened, but it is still recovering.

Feb 062018
 

Exactly one hundred years ago  the Representation of the People Act received the Royal Assent from George V. The historic day, 6 February 1918, gave approximately 8.4 million women the vote. They did however have to be aged thirty or over, and meet certain requirements regarding property ownership. It was to be another ten years before the age difference with men (who could vote at the age of 21) was removed.

It was of course a watershed enactment – leading in turn to women being given the right to stand for Parliament (November 1918) and to become lawyers and civil servants (The Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act of 1919). Slowly but surely, further legislation brought in equal property and inheritance rights – but one hundred years later we are still seeing heated discussions about equal pay for equal work. It really is extraordinary how long it has all taken…

I will leave it to others to debate how far we have come since 1918 – my interest is in why it took so long for women – and particularly married women – to make the breakthrough from being treated as chattels to becoming fully enfranchised and equal. That is why I wrote my forthcoming book, due out with Pen & Sword in early April, entitled “Trailblazing Women of the Georgian Era” – it seems extraordinary that we had a female financial adviser, dealing in stocks and shares, and happily gleaning information about the markets from the male-dominated Coffee Houses in London  in the early years of the 18th Century (Hester Pinney) – and yet it would be 1973 before women were finally admitted to the Stock Exchange.

The Georgian era saw women run manufacturing businesses (Eleanor Coade) and become accomplished silversmiths (Hester Bateman) – yet these industries are still dominated by men. I think I am right in saying that only 7 out of the 100 companies in the Footsie 100 have a female CEO. Yet in the 1700s Elizabeth Raffald was opening employment exchanges, operating a delicatessen, co-owning a newspaper, and publishing a best-selling cookery book. So what happened to the female Captains of Industry and entrepreneurs for the next two centuries?

Why were nearly all the inventors male? Sarah Guppy was the only (minor) exception I came across. Why was it, nearly a century after trail-blazing playwright and novelist Aphra Behn, her successor Fanny Burney was regarded as a paradigm shifter because she had the temerity to publish novels and plays under her own name? Indeed, after yet another one hundred years, female novelists were still hiding their lights under a bushel (the three Bronte sisters all used male pseudonyms up until the middle of the nineteenth century – namely Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell).  Mary Anne Evans was still using a male persona (George Eliot) in 1876.

How come the Royal Academy had two female founder members (Angelica Kauffman and Mary Moser) – and yet it wasn’t until 1936 that Dame Laura Knight became the next woman to be elected as a full Academician?

I suspect that if education was what held women back (as much as male intransigence and bigotry) then it will be interesting to see what happens in the next 25 years. After all, if a majority of graduates from University courses for medicine and the law are female, it is hard to imagine that hospital consultants will continue to be predominately male, or that most law firms will continue to justify offering more partnerships to men than women.

But as much as anything else, I suspect that women still regard certain jobs as inherently ‘male’ – often without any justification. Why are pilots generally assumed to be male – and also most electricians, plumbers, plasterers and HGV drivers? Sure, driving a lorry used to involve a fair amount of muscle, but modern technology has removed much of the need for pure strength. Time and time again we hear the same excuses popping up (it was used when women first applied to become stockbrokers): “We don’t have separate toilet facilities”.

But I suppose pre-conceptions work both ways: when I was a lawyer I recall one male applied for a job as a secretary. It wasn’t a great success as far as I remember – for a start, none of the other secretaries felt comfortable with ‘their’ territory being encroached upon…

Anyway, for anyone interested in my book it is available on pre-order from this link. Enjoy!

Feb 052018
 

View over the sugar refining area towards the Atlantic coast

Ruined outbuildings

 

Arriving on Martinique I was expecting it to be French – very French – and indeed it carries all the hallmarks of its status as an overseas department of France. There are four arrondissements and the island has decent roads, many of them dual carriageways. It has blocks of flats. It has endless commercial parks filled with French supermarkets and building-supply stores. It has innumerable main dealerships for Renault and Citroen – and is quite distinct from any of the other islands where we have visited on our cruise. No shacks or shanty towns – but also, far less picturesque “typically Caribbean” simplicity.

Iron collecting bowl

The twelve pillars supporting the cane grinding area

To me, the bonus was discovering Chateau Dubuc, way out on the eastern peninsula known as  Presqu’ile de la Caravelle. It is in ruins, and never was a castle – more a manor house situated on a superb elevated site with magnificent sea-views.

Martinique, showing the peninsula on the eastern coast, where Chateau Dubuc is situated.

The Dubuc family apparently came over from Normandy in the late 17th Century and established tobacco, sugar and (unusually) coffee plantations. A scion of the family then moved to Caravelle and in 1721 decided to build himself a fine plantation house, using granite and blocks of coral limestone. What I admire is his vision – this wasn’t just a home, it was a complete economic unit in one place, where he and his family, with no doubt numerous slaves, could grow their own sugar cane, process it, make it into brown sugar (like muscavado) and distil it into rum. For good measure the mountain-growing coffee beans could be collected, processed on the same site, and all the produce would then be barrelled and trundled down a hauling way to the harbour where ships would be gathering to take the produce back to France for sale.

The family were obviously hit hard when earthquakes damaged the building in 1726, just as the main plantation house had been finished, and again in the 1750s when there were earthquakes and hurricanes in successive years. But the Dubuc family were no quitters and they carried on until 1794 when the British came along, sacked the place, and the Dubucs gave up and went home to France. It then deteriorated over the centuries, allegedly a haunt of pirates and smugglers, until the 2.5 hectare site was taken over by the French Department of Works, and sympathetically restored. Well, made safe at any rate. Because what is nice is that there has been very little attempt to restore – more, to repair, to explain the significance and use of buildings, and to preserve a fascinating piece of history. You can see where the sugar cane was fed under giant rollers. The 12 stone pillars supporting the roof to the mill are all that remains of the external structure – now looking rather like an industrial Stonehenge – but a scale replica of the grinding machine has been constructed in situ. You can see where the cane juice ran through channels to be collected in huge vats where it was boiled, refined, and made into molasses. A separate process  produced the refined sugar, and anther area converted it into rum after being distilled.

Coffee-bean washing tunnel

 

 

 

 

All in all a fascinating insight into 18th Century colonial life.