Dec 022018
 

Just got back from a splendid fortnight cruising in the Indian Ocean (Mauritius, the Seychelles, the Comoros Islands and Madagascar). Unfortunately, the riots on Reunion meant that we had to give that island a miss – but against that, the weather was great and there cannot be many better places to spend a November day than afloat in the Indian Ocean.

I gave four talks – the first on Piracy in that part of the world 250 years ago (Olivier Levasseur et al). As luck would have it my book  ‘Piracy and Privateering’ came out just as we sailed – and my ‘author’s copies’ were held up in the post. Never mind, they greeted me on the doorstep when I got back. I had forgotten that it was going to be available in hardback format!

The second talk was on Royal shenanigans – the randy Regent and his entire family, with tales of murder, rape, incest and imprisonment (making straight-forward adultery seem somewhat tame). The audience seemed to like that, so I did anther ‘mini-talk’ on courtesans and hookers of the 18th Century. I paired it up, slightly incongruously, with the remarkable story of survival in the face of adversity by seven women abandoned on an island close to Reunion in the 1770s. No running water, no trees, no vegetation – but those seven survived fifteen years before being rescued. Incredible story. I give more details of it in the book ‘Crusoe, Castaways and Shipwrecks’ which comes out in April to mark the three hundredth anniversary of the publication of Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe.

Finally, I gave a talk on my old favourite – everyday life in Georgian England, looking at ancestor Richard Hall and his experiences as a hosier at One London Bridge. It is good practice for the presentation I will be giving when I do a USA tour in February – with talks in New York and Colonial Williamsburg. Before then I fancy doing another lecture cruise – possibly involving Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia. Watch this space – but quite when I can find time to finish the two books I have contracted to give Pen & Sword is something of an unknown! An end-January deadline is looming large…

 

Nov 012018
 

A lot is happening at present. At the end of November Pen & Sword are publishing my latest book, Pirates and Privateers in the 18th Century – the final flourish’ and I will be telling some of the exploits when I do a lecture-cruise for Fred Olsen on board the Boudicca when she sails in two weeks time through the islands of the Indian Ocean. In particular I will feature the remarkable story of Olivier Levasseur – possibly the wealthiest pirate who ever lived – who operated out of the Seychelles, was captured off Reunion, and was hanged on Mauritius. All very apt, as our ship will be visiting … the Seychelles, Reunion and Mauritius. Ooh argh me hearties, there be tales of buried treasure….

Meanwhile I am checking the final proofs for a book due out next Spring to mark the 300th anniversary of the publication of Robinson Crusoe. It will look at the whole question of castaways and shipwrecks in the Georgian era, and include some of the stories which are believed to have inspired Defoe to write his famous work. Nowadays Robinson Crusoe is almost always published as a single story, and it was only when I started the research  for my book that I realized that Defoe had written two sequels, and that in the Victorian era both  the original book and the first of the two sequels were usually published as a single item. The second sequel seems to have disappeared without trace – by then Defoe was somewhat running out of inspiration and was flogging a dead horse.

One of the castaway stories will be featured on the cruise – the astonishing tale of survival about a group of shipwrecked women (captured slaves) who survived fifteen years on a tiny island, without running water and with no useful vegetation, living off birds and turtle eggs. The French had deserted them on this barren island, near Reunion, promising to return. Well, they kept their promise, but only after a decade and a half. It really is a remarkable survival story.

To cap an interesting year I have been asked to go to Colonial Williamsburg in the States in February to deliver a lecture on life in Georgian London. I  have always wanted to do a lecture tour in America, and this is my chance! They are holding a five-day seminar in this (largely replica) Georgian  colonial town and it will be great to see all the buildings and the demonstrations of 18th Century skills. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is extremely generous and  have taken care of everything.

Meanwhile I am putting the final touches to my book on ‘unsung Georgian heroes’ – inventors etc who changed our world but who are largely overshadowed by the greats of the Georgian period such as Boulton, Watt, Wedgwood and ‘the rest of the boys in the band’. I have to submit it to Pen & Sword by the end of January. Time, then, to start on my final oeuvre, which will be on Sex and Sexuality in the Georgian era. Who ever would thought that retirement could be such good fun?

Sep 022018
 

As part of my trawl through the backwaters of the 18th Century, looking for overlooked heroes to include in my forthcoming book** with Pen and Sword on ‘forgotten’ Georgian Greats, I came across the name of Thomas Boulsover. “Who he?” I hear people ask. Well, he played his part in bringing high quality domestic ornaments within reach of ordinary households – he discovered a way to plate silver.

On 1 September 1760 the inveterate gossip Horace Walpole wrote a letter to his friend Mr Montagu:

As I went to Lord Strafford’s I passed through Sheffield, which is one of the foulest towns in England, in the most charming situation, where there are 22,000 inhabitants making knives and scissors. … One man there has discovered the art of plating copper with silver. I bought a pair of candlesticks for two guineas that are quite pretty.

What Walpole was referring to was the discovery by Thomas Bouslover of a method of fusing copper and silver to produce a material now known as ‘Old Sheffield plate’. Even then, eighteen years after the initial discovery of plated silver, the items made from the new material (in this case a pair of candlesticks) were considered ‘quite pretty’ – a reflection of the fact that design, decoration and form were important even if the candlesticks were retailing at a fraction of the cost of solid silver items.

Boulsover was born in 1705, and was apprenticed as a cutler in the parish of Ecclesfield (four miles to the north of Sheffield city centre) to Joseph Fletcher. He qualified in 1726 and married Hannah Dodworth two years later. The pair went on to have ten children, of whom only two reached adulthood. For twenty years Thomas Boulsover was busy making and repairing knives. But if Sheffield’s reputation was built on cutlery it was to receive a huge boost due to a discovery which Boulsover made in 1742/3. There are a number of stories, some no doubt apocryphal, about the curious accident which led to his discovery. One suggests that he was repairing a knife handle, made of silver, holding it in a vice while he applied heat to the silver. Unknown to him, a copper penny was wedged in the vice and, as his concentration wandered, he overheated the silver, causing the silver to fuse with the copper in the penny. However, realistically, this cannot have been the first time that the two metals had been fused. What was new was that Boulsover recognized something very particular about the way the two metals had joined – they were fused in such a way that the ’sandwich’ remained in the same proportions, even when beaten or rolled into a lesser thickness.

It was the fact that the copper and silver expanded in unison which was hugely significant. Boulsover started to experiment, noting that the silver melted at a lower temperature than copper. By placing a flat copper sheet under the silver as it was heated and liquified, the silver ran evenly over the copper, then fused with it. It could then be fed through a succession of rollers to make a finer and finer gauge of plated metal. And because copper cost a fraction of the cost of silver it meant that the metal was ideal for making items which looked like silver, which could be made into products traditionally made of silver, and which satisfied the growing demand of the public for decorative items which ‘wouldn’t break the bank’.

To begin with Boulsover kept the discovery to himself and decided to concentrate on making straight-forward items such as buttons. He needed capital to expand the business and approached a friend of the family called Strelley Pegge, and asked for a loan. It was granted and twelve months later Mr Pegge was surprised to find that Thomas Boulsover wished to pay back not just the interest on the loan but the entire capital. He apparently explained his success to Mr Pegge by pointing out that whereas he could sell his buttons for a guinea a dozen (21 shillings) the silver in those buttons cost a mere three shillings – and the cost of the copper was almost insignificant.

Button-making turned out to be a most profitable exercise and there is a story that ‘when he had been in business some time he sent the sweepings from the workshop floor, which he had taken great care of, to Mr. Read, a silver refiner, in Green Lane, and in a little time they sent him back £100 worth of silver — so much for the value of shop sweepings’. Certainly Boulsover missed a trick – he never patented the process, and therefore missed out on royalties.

Other cutlers in Sheffield could see the opportunities of developing their skills in working with metal, be it in pure silver or by using a cheaper silvery substitute. They diversified away from simply making blades. Craftsmen worked in both metals, silver and plate, and in time Sheffield silversmiths were able to petition Parliament for their own Assay Office in 1773. No longer did they have to wait while their products were sent down to London for assaying and return – they could sell direct to the general public, further helping establish the reputation of the city. The fact that the craftsmen could also make buttons, snuff boxes, and decorative fish slices out of a far cheaper metal did nothing to harm this reputation – it just brought the wares to a wider market.

The next development was the introduction in 1770 of a ‘double sandwich’ i.e. copper plated on both sides with silver. This still left the problem of a copper edge being visible when the metal was cut, but this was overcome, initially by rolling the edge to make a silvered ridge, and subsequently by applying silver wire along the length of the visible copper edge.

It was left to a colleague of Boulsover to develop further commercial possibilities of plated silver. His name was Joseph Hancock, and before long he was manufacturing a wide range of goods, starting with saucepans, then coffee pots, hot water jugs and moving on to candlesticks. He prospered and emerged as a Master Cutler from 1763 and was one of the thirty ‘guardians’ appointed to oversee the Sheffield Assay Office. When Hancock died in 1791 a local newspaper described him, most unfairly, as ‘the founder of the plated business in Sheffield, as he was the first person who commenced a manufactory of the goods.’ This was to completely overlook Boulsover’s involvement in silver plating, which gave a huge boost to the region’s economy. In time, more Sheffield plate was made in Birmingham than it was in Sheffield, largely thanks to Matthew Boulton making use of the fused material in his new factory at Soho.

Boulsover seems to have been happy to diversify into other areas where his experience of rolling, rather than hammering, metal could be put to good use. Up until then, wood-cutting saws were hammered from a single piece of steel, and setting the teeth was a difficult and inefficient process. Boulsover developed a system whereby the steel could be fed through rollers and also found a simple way for setting the teeth at an angle. Man-power was soon superseded by horse-power and then by water-power. To this end, Boulsover opened a mill on the stream below his house at Whiteley Wood, which he had bought from his original benefactor Strelley Pegge in 1757. As a result of his diversification he was being described in trade directories  from 1774 onwards, not as a silver plater, but as  ‘a manufacturer of saws, fenders, edge tools, Casted and Emory, from Sycamore Street’. By the end of the century there were two water-wheels and a steam engine powering the forge’s drop hammers at the industrial premises which Boulsover had started in the Porter Valley. It is thought that the forge ceased as a commercial enterprise around 1887.

Boulsover died at his Whiteley Wood home in September 1788 and was buried in St Paul’s Church Sheffield on 12 September. He never made a fortune from his discovery – but others did. The process remained popular until the production of nickel silver, otherwise known as German Silver, in around 1820. This used 60% copper, 20% nickel and 20% zinc – and its nickel content gave it a harder, silvery, appearance which made it more resistant to the copper showing through the top layer due to daily wear and tear. In turn, German silver was largely overtaken by electroplating, which came in during the 1840s. In a way they all proved one thing: there was a commercial appetite for objects which looked like silver, shone and sparkled like silver, but which were in fact made largely from base metals.

Former Methodist Chapel, then a cowshed, now a derelict building, at Meadow Farm, Bents Green. (Picture courtesy of Mark Knapton).

There are small memorials to Boulsover in Tudor Square in central Sheffield, and at Wire Mill Dam in the nearby Porter Valley. There is also a small Methodist Chapel still standing (actually it then became a cowshed and is now completely disused), in the grounds of Meadow Farm, adjacent to the site of the old steel-rolling premises. It had been erected by his two surviving daughters and bears the inscription: ‘This chapel was built by Mary Mitchell and Sarah Hutton in 1789 in memory of their father Thomas Boulsover, the inventor of Sheffield Plate (1705 – 1788).’  Fame has certainly been transient for poor Thomas Boulsover.

**Due out some time towards the end of 2020 – first there will be books on Piracy (due out this year) and on the story behind Robinson Crusoe (due next April).

Mar 152018
 

It was a strange feeling, being thousands of miles away in India (where International Women’s Day is widely celebrated) to realize that back in the UK Pen & Sword were releasing my latest book “Trailblazing Women of the Georgian Era – the 18th Century struggle for female success in a Man’s World” – onto an unsuspecting public. It was  slightly odd  returning to the UK and seeing the book for the very first time – always an exciting moment for an author, and realizing that I wasn’t the first person to have a look at it!

Overall, I am pleased with it because  the book marked the conclusion of a fascinating voyage of discovery – until I started the research I hadn’t appreciated  the obstacles faced by women 300 years ago – obstacles such as a general lack of proper education, and obstacles of a legal nature (coverture reduced married women  to a state little better than slavery). I was intrigued to see that some women pushed the door ajar – only for it to be slammed shut immediately afterwards. It is almost as if the public recoiled from the whole idea of change – the Terror which followed the French Revolution was a clear example of how change could get out of control. And people only had to consider the scandalous behaviour of Mary Wollstonecraft – that fascinating proto-feminist – to see how female emancipation could so easily lead to disaster (she had, after all, been an unmarried mother, had attempted suicide on more than one occasion, and was readily dismissed as a rotten role model and, as Horace Walpole said, as a ‘painted hyena’). There is a certain irony in finding that a pioneer actually set-back the cause which she so fiercely espoused. Nowadays, her ideas are back in fashion, but she certainly went out of favour in the Victorian era!

The book looks at some of the  “petticoat pioneers” who started to break the mould – who refused to take a back seat and let the men take all the credit. The 18th Century is, when all is said and done, a century dominated by the roar of male success – men headed the Industrial Revolution, men spearheaded the growth of the British Empire, men explored, discovered, invented – and ruled. But that did not mean that women threw in the towel, and the book looks at pioneers such as Elizabeth Raffald (cook, delicatessen owner, employment-exchange owner, newspaper proprietor, and highly successful author) and Eleanor Coade (who set up a factory making products out of artificial stone). It includes the silversmith Hester Bateman, the formidable chocolatier Anna Fry, and also my favourite paradigm-shifter, the remarkable Hester Pinney. Here was a woman who enjoyed great success as a financial adviser, dealing in stocks and shares – and who preceded the first woman to cross the floor of the Stock Exchange by 250 years. I look at pioneering artists, novelists and actresses, as well as reformers and educationalists such as Elizabeth Fry, Hannah More and the anti-slavery firebrand Margaret Lady Middleton. There are one or two scientists, inventors and teachers (Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Jane Mercer and Sarah Guppy) and, perhaps standing out for all the wrong reasons, the astonishing tale of Teresia ‘Con’ Phillips. She was a bigamist, a sex worker – and a woman who never gave up in her pursuit for justice through the courts, inspiring men such as Jeremy Bentham to advocate reform of our arcane legal system, and leading directly to the 1753 Marriage Act of Lord Hardwicke. Here was a woman who just wouldn’t give up, and her life was certainly a roller-coaster!

One of the things I discovered was the often over-looked influence of the Quakers. I had not appreciated that the Quaker belief in equality not only meant that they opposed slavery, but also that they treated boys and girls equally, and generally refused to follow conventional ideas about primogeniture. I was intrigued to see the Quaker introduction of fixed prices for a product – no haggling. Their word was their bond- and the book considers how Quakers “punched above their weight” in the market place. They may have been few in number, but just think of the industries they dominated – not just chocolate-making (Fry’s, Cadbury’s Rowntree’s etc) but also banking (Lloyds, Barclays, Friends Provident). Think Clarke’s shoes, Bryant and May matches, Huntley & Palmer biscuits, and the iron and steel-makers of the Darby family at Coalbrookdale, to name just a handful. And what distinguished these Quaker businesses was that women played an active part in the decision-making process – making it all the more remarkable that 250 years later there are still only seven companies in the Footsie Top 100 which have a woman as CEO. 7% doesn’t look like equality to me!

The book ends with a look at some of the areas where women still have not made a significant breakthrough – such as the miserable 3% of airline pilots who are female, or the unequal percentage of female surgeons, consultants, judges and senior partners in legal firms. But the emphasis is not intended to be on where we are now – it tries to look at how people fought injustice, poor education and legal opposition three centuries ago. I thoroughly enjoyed researching the book  – it isn’t intended to be academic, but hopefully it will contain something of interest to general readers. Let me know!

It is available direct from the publishers here, and (in the U.K.) on Amazon.co.uk   Those of you who are readers in the States will have to wait until 3 July before it is available on Amazon.com – apparently it takes that long for the copies to float across the Atlantic on a slow paddle steamer….

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.

1313    1515

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

1616

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 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!

Jan 172018
 

There will be a distinct lack of blogs for the rest of the month – I am delighted to have been asked to join the Braemar as a lecturer for its cruise around the Caribbean, starting and ending in Barbados. The trip takes in St Lucia, Aruba, Jamaica, Cuba and the BVI, and I will be giving talks on topics relating to the places we will be visiting. So, a talk on castaways (ship wrecks, mutinies, and the background to Robinson Crusoe) and another one on Captain Morgan – the man and the myth. To end with I will give a talk on the golden age of piracy. I am looking forward to it! Especially as the research for the talks linked in happily with writing my next book on life in the Eighteenth Century – under the provisional title of ‘Piracy and Privateering’. I have just handed in the manuscript for the book to Pen & Sword, and hopefully it will come out towards the end of the year. First up though will be ‘Trailblazing Women’, which I hope to see in the shops before Easter …. so, no time for blogs, ‘cos I’m off on my hols!

Dec 182017
 

I am always amused, at this time of year, to see how sales of a small book I brought out a few years ago and entitled “Bristol Blue Glass – the Story of a remarkable cobalt-blue glassware” suddenly leap. It is a reminder that one of the things about writing is that the ‘rewards’ are often not immediate, but can be spread over many years. With Kindle, in particular, it is fascinating to see how sales can tie in with other articles, or blogs, or public lectures, often several years after the ‘hard work’ of writing the book have finished.

Clearly this book appeals to people who want to give a token to someone they know and who likes Bristol Blue – it isn’t a definitive book about every single maker of blue glass through the ages, more an overview of how the fashion for blue glassware swept the country, catapulting  the Jacobs family in Bristol to considerable fame and fortune. It also describes how the family were left stranded, bankrupt and shunned by the community, when the sales boom collapsed. Tastes moved on to other exotica such as cranberry glass and so on, and nobody wanted to be seen dead with oh-so-dated blue decanters, wine-glass coolers and condiment sets adorning their fashionable dining tables.

I must admit I love some of the 18th century examples, whether they were made in Bristol, or Newcastle, or in the West Midlands.

For anyone interested in the book, you can find it on Amazon.co.uk and at Amazon.com  – it is never too late to fill a stocking!

Dec 132017
 

“In bed with the Georgians: – Sex, Scandal & Satire” was published a year ago – how time flies – and there have been some lovely reviews (see here). Another review has just appeared in a splendid bi-monthly publication called Jane Austen’s Regency World – it is a full-colour magazine packed with articles about Austen and the world she lived in. Anyone interested can find subscription details at janeaustenmagazine.co.uk

Anyway, I will set out the review in full:

 

 

I’ll settle for ‘shocking hilarious and massively entertaining’ anytime!

Just by way of an update, Pen & Sword will be publishing my next book, “Trailblazing Women of the Georgian Era” in the Spring and I am just about to hand in the manuscript for a book on piracy, provisionally entitled “Plunder”. At the moment I am finishing off the final ‘what if’ chapter – what if piracy had not been driven out of the West Indies in the 1720s? What if colonial trade had dwindled because merchants were unable to get their goods in and out of the colonies? What if the pirates really had developed their own utopian government in the Caribbean, syphoning off all the profits for themselves? Would we have had a British Empire? Would we have been able to afford an Industrial Revolution – and would sailors have preferred to engage in piracy rather than devote their energies to the slave trade? We think of our colonial past as something inevitable, whereas it was far from certain that places such as Jamaica would ever be profitable in their own right. You only have to think of the disastrous attempt by Scotland at the turn of the 18th Century, attempting to colonise the Darien Peninsula and thereby hoping to become a colonial power in its own right, to realize that many attempts ended in abject and expensive failure. In Scotland’s case it forced them to accept the Union with England – it was the price they paid for being bailed out. It is interesting to consider what would have happened if piracy had bled Jamaica dry – would Britain have decided to pull-out of its colonial aspirations and concentrate instead on its position in Europe? The world would certainly have been a different place…

As for sex and scandal – well, nothing has changed there! The satire is a bit more anodyne, and the behaviour of our rulers is slightly more tame and less outrageous than it was a couple of centuries  ago, but I can well imagine someone writing a follow-up in 200 years time, to be called “In bed with Millennials: Sex, Scandal & Satire”. The difference is that nowadays things are rather more furtive and secretive – 250 years ago our rulers revelled in their notoriety. Their sexual dalliances were a badge of honour. But some things never change – generally speaking it is the rich who have the fun, and the poor who pay the price….

Jun 132017
 

 

I  am delighted to have been asked by the Marlborough College Summer School to give a talk to them next month. The courses available at the summer school look to be great fun – and anyone attending the course is free to attend the various lectures which take place. The variety of courses is astonishing – there are hundreds of courses being run over a four week period. Arts and Crafts your bag? Or History? Or Architecture and the Landscape? Or Literature and Creative Writing? Or ….. There is a huge and impressive list – something for everyone.

I gather that the public can also come along to any of the talks, although in that case a small fee is payable for admission at the door. If you have not already done so have a look at the range of activities available at the summer school, some aimed at children, some at adults. You can find their website here.

Arising out of my researches for “In bed with the Georgians – Sex, Scandal & Satire” I will be giving my talk on Thursday 13 July at 17.15 under the heading of “Royal Shenanigans”. It will look at the earlier Georges and their propensity for taking mistresses, as well as at the Prince Regent and his ‘libidinous accomplishments’. The bedroom conquests of the Regent’s brothers will also get a mention, and in particular I will focus on the unloved and unlovely Ernest Augustus, the Duke of Cumberland. I have to say I am rather looking forward to it!

Who could forget, the wicked Uncle Ernest ….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, if you can possibly make it to Marlborough in sunny Wiltshire on 13 July I look forward to seeing you there!