Oct 312012

Today marks the anniversary of a man who has gone down in history as ‘The Butcher’ – a name oddly enough bestowed on him by his elder brother the Prince of Wales, for political reasons. The two did not get on…


To give him his actual name, William Augustus was born on 15 April 1721 in London and was the third son of George II and Caroline of Ansbach. The title ‘Duke of Cumberland’ was bestowed on him as a five year old.

He became a soldier and achieved great popularity for his bravery in the (successful) Battle of Dettingen (1743), where he was wounded in the leg by a musket ball. He was immediately made a Lieutenant General and within two years was placed in command of the combined British, Hanoverian, Austrian and Dutch forces. His inexperience was demonstrated at the Battle of Fontenoy, where he was comprehensively beaten by France’s Marshal Maurice de Saxe on 11 May 1745.



The ‘martial boy’ had been depicted as a great military general in this 1744 engraving (shown courtesy of the British Museum).

Later in 1745 Cumberland was recalled to England to oppose the invasion of England led by ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ (Charles Edward Stuart, the Young Pretender, grandson of the deposed king James II). His appointment was hugely popular, particularly with the army. Up until then the rebel army had been highly successful in making use of ‘the Highland Charge’. At the Battle of Prestonpans in September 1745 and the Battle of Falkirk in January 1746, the Highland Charge caused havoc against the English army.

It was with this background that Cumberland marched up to Edinburgh and headed towards Aberdeen and then Inverness. By now he had insisted on the army being trained to combat the Highland Charge. The first row of infantry were to hold their fire until the enemy were just twelve yards away. While the front rank re-loaded, the second rank fired their guns. By the time the third rank had fired their guns, the first rank were ready to fire again.

Some of the English infantry had the benefit of using the more modern firelocks instead of the older matchlocks which were slow to re-load. Some of their guns had bayonets with which to dispatch any Scots who got too close – no match on their own for the Scottish broadsword but effective when used in conjunction with this style of fighting.

When the forces met at Culloden Moor near Inverness on 16 April 1746, the Highland Charge failed to make its mark. Some one thousand Scots died. After the battle Cumberland was purportedly in his tent playing cards. When he was asked for orders he wrote “No quarter” on the back of the nine of diamonds – a card still known to this day as the ‘curse of Scotland’.

How Richard Hall noted the victory at Culloden.

The resulting hunting-down and indiscriminate killing of men women and children in the Scottish Highlands left deep scars in much of Scotland – although interestingly the good burghers of Glasgow were so pleased with him that they promptly awarded Cumberland an honorary degree. The Highland Scots reviled him, and re-named the Common Ragwort (a noxious weed which gives off an unpleasant odour when bruised) as ‘Stinking Billie’. It is however quite wrong to attribute the naming of the flower ‘Sweet William’ to Cumberland by the English (as many have suggested) since the plant ‘Dianthus barbatus’ had been known by that name for several centuries.

 ‘Sweet William’ popularly but erroneously thought to have been named after Prince William.






Common Ragwort or Stinking Billie



Cumberland returned to London a hero. He was awarded an additional £25,000 per annum i.e. over and above what he already received. His brother the Prince of Wales was alarmed at the popularity of his kid brother (and perhaps miffed because he himself had been denied a military role in the campaign) and he orchestrated the use of the epithet ‘Butcher’ whenever his brother was mentioned.

Cumberland went back to Flanders, still in charge of British forces, and he led them to comprehensive defeats at Laffeldt in 1747 (War of Austrian Succession) and at Hastenbeck in 1757 (during the Seven Years War). This last battle allowed the French to take over Hanover, and Cumberland was relieved of his role as commander-in-chief of the army.

He returned to England, his reputation tarnished, being met by his father George II with the words “Here is my son who has ruined me and disgraced himself”. It was a little hard, since the King had himself authorised his son to agree the surrender terms.

Cumberland resigned from all his military positions and largely retired from public life. He had time on his hands to indulge his favourite hobby, gambling: he gambled at bare kuckle boxing matches and he gambled at horse races. In 1750 his favourite boxer Jack Broughton was up against the unknown Jack Slack. The Duke placed ten thousand pounds on Broughton to win ( a truly vast sum for a single bout, at odds of ten-to-one ON i.e. staking ten thousand to win one grand) and then watched in horror as his champion was defeated and near-blinded by the young upstart Slack, after a mere quarter of an hour.

© Peter Jackson Collection

From time to time Cumberland meddled in domestic politics, apparently trying to get William Pitt restored to office. He was however in poor health – obese and never fully recovered from the wound to his leg, he suffered a stroke. His death on 31 October 1765 was sudden. He was 44 years old (the same age at death as two of his siblings). He is buried at Westminster Abbey and his name is especially remembered in the States where the Cumberland Gap as well as the Cumberland River, Mountains, and Plateau are named after him. 

Richard’s cut-out showing soldiers riding in single file.

P.S. My thanks for the helpful link to http://londonist.com/2012/06/cavendish-square-gets-statue-made-from-soap.php where you can see an equestrian statue of the Duke, made out of …. soap!

Oct 262012

There is nothing new about Lonely Hearts advertisements in magazines, as shown by this one from the March 1740 edition of the Gentleman’s Magazine:


“As your Paper is calculated for the Fair Sex, and comes to the Hands consequently of a great number of pretty young Ladies, I address this Letter to you, as the Contents of it regard their Interest as well as my own. You must know that I am an old Batchelor, worth forty thousand Pounds, in my sixty-third year, or thereabouts, somewhat infirm of Body but perfectly sound of Mind: I have always been averse to Marriage, but am now willing to enter into that holy State on such Conditions as will hereafter be specfy’d. Having fairly got over the Rigour of the late Severe Season which has swept so many of my Age away I am inclin’d to think from some sensible Juvenilities I perceive about me, that this Spring will make me twenty Years younger than I am, and that when Lent is over, the Entering into the Bands of Wedlock would conduce much to my Health as well as Happiness.

Having such an Intention, and such a Fortune, you may wonder that I want  a Match. Why, sir, I know well enough that I might not be long wanting would I but disclose my Mind to some Ladies, but Sir, I am very bashful and at this Time should not care to go through the least Formality of Courtship: I know if I have a very fine,  beautiful,  accomplish’d young Lady (and such a one only will I have) my Money must buy her; therefore I endeavour to get such a Purchase with as little trouble as possible, and that is my Occasion of writing this Letter to you.

I have heard that when Persons of my Wealth and Age marry such young Ladies as I have described, they are us’d very ill by them when they are in any Sickness: and that sometimes the Doctor Apothecary, or Nurse or something or other helps them forward to the other World, that the young Widow may enjoy the large Jointure settled on her: For which Reasons… that I may be under no Apprehension of having my Pillow pull’d from under my Head in a fit of the Phthisick; and that I may have all due Care and Comfort administer’ to me by my Wife, I do propose to any Young, beautiful, accomplish’d young Lady, who will take me for her wedded Husband, to give her three thousand Pounds, down on the Day of Marriage, and to settle on her six hundred Pounds per annum during my Natural Life; but on the day of my Decease the said six hundred Pounds per Ann. shall entirely cease, and go as I shall think Proper to dispose of it in my last Will and Testament, she having no Claim or Title to any Part thereof.

You must see by my Meaning by this Scheme; tis her Interest to have me live as long as possible: If any Lady such as I have describ’d, will accept of this Proposal, let her send a line (… to the Editor) and on your advertising the Receipt, you shall hear from me.


Solomon Single

Ed: If any Lady, after a very nice Calculation of the Value of such a Marriage, thinks proper to accept Mr Single’s Proposal, on her writing to me I shall obey his Directions…”

Well it has to be said it isn’t the most romantic of declarations – money for love (well, more like: money for status, with a bit on the side thrown in). I may be a gentleman of similar years to Mr Single, also perhaps of infirm body but sound mind (or is it the other way round…) but I cannot say I sympathize with him in his predicament!

My ancestor’s drawing of an old goat!

In fact it merely highlights the lack of opportunities for women in the 18th Century unless they were prepared to marry – and for some, marrying an old goat for a lump sum of £3000 was perhaps a price worth paying. Play your cards right and the Old Boy’s ticker wouldn’t stand the pace for long, and you would be free to go looking for your next elderly gentleman….


Oct 222012

Some of us are good drivers, some are bad. I suspect that 250 years ago the same applied to horse riding skills and, as now, no-one admitted to being a bad horseman. That said, I have a suspicion that my ancestor Richard was not an especially good rider. On several occasions he remarks in his diaries that he was “Spared through Divine Mercy” when his horse bolted, or that he fell off his trusty steed while leaning over to open a gate, or whatever. That is not to say that he wasn’t interested in horse riding, as evidenced by the fact that he visited Philip Astley’s British Riding School  in the 1770s. He kept the hand-bill and would no doubt have marvelled at the dexterity of the riders, enjoyed the bare back and standing riders, applauded the flip-flaps and double sommersets,and so on.

The name ‘circus’ was first used by Astleys rival Charles Dibdin, who opened his” Royal Circus” a few hundred yards away.  Astley’s emporium was situated just by Westminster Bridge and opened in 1768. I particularly like the cameos of horses with riders in various poses shown at the top of the poster.

A rather good description of Astley and his Riding School appears on the London Historian blogsite here.

The exterior view of Astley’s premises

The interior










One of Astley’s horses decked out as a ship of the line












The three pictures above appear courtesy of the V&A site  which contains interesting details about the circus.

Next to the poster amongst Richard’s papers was a sales pitch for a special stirrup designed to prevent the rider being dragged along behind the horse when thrown. The fact that Richard kept it suggests that this was a concern of his – maybe it happened to him, though clearly not with the dire consequence mentioned in the sales pitch i.e. getting “ his scull fractured or Brains dashed out, and his Body otherwise miserably mangled and torn by the Fury of the Horses Motion and intervening Obstructions.”The patented stirrups appears to have involved a release mechanism which was sturdy enough to withstand mounting and dismounting, and yet broke free under impact. A variant on the airbag in modern cars…

I love the caption to the picture showing “Distress, Danger or Death in all stirrups prior to this Invention” being contrasted with the central picture extolling the virtues of riding on horseback as being conducive to health.

To end with, a picture of a Lipizzaner doing the classic jump the Capriole: NOT one of Richard Hall’s specialities!

Oct 202012

From time to time I feature the delicate and beautiful cut-outs made by my ancestor Richard Hall, illustrating life around him in the 18th Century. A number of people commented about the cut-outs so I decided to publish them as a separate book, using CreateSpace. Over fifty illustrations are used and I have tried to put the cut-outs into the context of Richard’s life and times. If anyone is interested, the book is only a fiver (if you are in the UK) or eight bucks (if you are in the States) and I am optimistic that you will find that in either case Amazon will dispatch for little or no cost.

Come on guys – not bad for a Christmas stocking filler! Because CreateSpace are part of Amazon the book material is automatically available on Kindle (though I have to point out that the text and illustrations line up in a printed book far better than they can ever do in an e-book).


If you are in the States the link is here

From Britain it is here

Other European countries can also find it via their respective Amazon sites.



Oct 192012

Visiting my Chiropodist (whoops, forgot, they now call themselves podiatrists!) reminded me that having painful corns is nothing new. I rather liked this 1793 etching entitled the Corn Doctor:

The narrative reads: “Madam there is not a man of the profession in Europe, that  can cut a corn with that ease delicacy and safety as Myself “

– “Oh Mercy  – Oh Curse your delicacy – you’ve   touched me to the Quick – You have ruined me you fumbling dog  – You a Chiropodist, Old Susan here would have done me better – If you don’t immediately decamp I’ll tear all the hair off your shallow pate.”

Poor podiatrists – centuries of being blamed and ridiculed – they deserve better!

For my ancestor Richard, foot care was apparently not a priority – he washed his feet but rarely, and even reckoned it was worth a diary entry if he did so!


By the middle of the eighteenth century books were appearing on the subject of chiropody – including  this splendid one belonging to Marie Antoinette dated 1782 entitled L’Art de Soigner les Pieds. If you have $16,500 to spare you can buy it through Bauman’s

And, as Yellow Pages had not been invented, you might find your corn-cutter via his trade card, such as this one

(shown courtesy of © Mary Evans Picture Library).


          Postscript: among the recently discovered papers belonging to Richard Hall (yes, another whole cache!) was a letter to Richard from his niece (by marriage)  called Anna Seward. She was a well-known Sapphic poet. She writes in 1800: “At present I am suffering a pained imprisonment which has lasted 5 weeks. From mal-formation the nails on my feet have a propensity to grow in. It produced a case which demanded a surgeon. He has cut my toe four times without being able to remove the deep-seated cause of  the sore. Thus I am deprived of all powers of taking exercise by which my general health suffers….” Ouch!!!

She ends her letter with a nice gesture, considering the painful ingrowing toenails, by  saying that she wishes to send a new gown for either Richard’s wife or his daughter, and enquires how this should best be sent, by what carriage or coach.

Oct 172012

Just to show that there is nothing new about cross-dressing, here is a cartoon from  25 March 1780 entitled:  “A morning frolic, or, The transmutation of sexes” and is described as being ‘from the original picture by John Collet, in the possession of Carington Bowles’. It appears courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library

In practice genuine cross-dressers (as opposed to lovers wearing each others garments in jest) would have met in what were termed Molly houses, the most famous of which was Mother Clap’s Molly House on Field Lane in Holborn. Meeting places like this were not necessarily brothels but they were usually coffee houses or taverns with private rooms, where homosexuals and cross-dressing men could meet.

Mollies would dress in female clothing, assume a female identity and affect female mannerisms. On occasions the Molly Houses played host to a faux-marriage where a couple would ostensibly go through a form of wedding ceremony, accompanied by male ‘bridesmaids’ and with a friend playing the role of the priest. The ceremony had no legal validity whatsoever. Molly houses were to be found in most of the larger cities, and were a forerunner of the modern gay bar (such as this aptly named one in Manchester).

Sodomy was however illegal and carried the death penalty. Margaret Clap, better known as Mother Clap was therefore taking a huge risk in running what appears to have been a male knocking shop in the two years up to 1726. Apparently the premises had been under surveillance for a year or more. In February of that year a raid took place and some 40 men were arrested. Of those, three were later found guilty of sodomy and were hanged (Gabriel Lawrence, William Griffin, and Thomas Wright).

Margaret a.k.a. Molly was sent for trial in July 1726. She argued. ‘I hope it will be considered that I am a woman, and therefore it cannot be thought that I would ever be concerned in such practices.’ The court felt otherwise and she was sentenced to stand in the pillory in Smithfield, was fined, and ordered to serve two years in prison. In practice there were enough members of the public who abhorred sodomites, and who appear to have assaulted her so viciously in the pillory, that she apparently died a week later of her injuries.

It is considered possible that her final act was a contribution to the English language – her name (Clap) which became a slang term for gonorrhoea.

And to end with, my favourite cross-dresser of the period, a Frenchman exiled for the latter part of his life in England and rejoicing by the name of Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée d’Éon de Beaumont (but better known as the Chevalier d’Éon). He was born in 1728 and died in 1810, Here he is pictured in 1792 by Thomas Stewart, He spent the first 49 years as a man, and the last 33 as a woman.


Oct 152012

“It was at Rome, on the fifteenth of October, 1764, as I sat musing amidst the ruins of the Capitol, while the barefooted friars were singing Vespers in the temple of Jupiter, that the idea of writing the decline and fall of the City first started to my mind”

So Edward Gibbon recounted the circumstances in which he came to write his magnum opus, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Other commitments meant it was another four years before he started writing in earnest, and it was to be 1776 before the first of six volumes was published, the final volume emerging from the presses in 1788.

 Edward Gibbon by Henry Walton


He was one of seven children, and the only one to survive infancy. Born in Putney to a family which was originally well-to-do but which had lost a fortune with the stock-market crash of 1720 (shades of Richard Hall’s own family misfortunes in the same South Sea Bubble) he had a weak constitution. As he himself put it, he was “a puny child, neglected by my Mother, starved by my nurse.” Life took a turn for the better when his mother died, because he was put under the wing of his beloved “Aunt Kitty,” Catherine Porten, who ran a boarding house at Westminster School and who fostered in the young boy a love of reading and intellectual challenge. He went up to Magdalen College Oxford where, to his father’s immense rage, he converted to Roman Catholicism in 1753. He was taken out of university and packed off to Lausanne in Switzerland where, as he put it, “The various articles of the Romish creed disappeared like a dream.” He reconverted to the Protestant faith on Christmas Day 1754.

By then the family fortunes had recovered. He stayed on in Switzerland, and travelled around Europe on the Grand Tour, for a number of years studying the classics and reading voraciously. He returned to England in 1765 and on his father’s death in 1770 found himself sufficiently well-off to move to Bentinck Street in London and to join London society. In 1774 he became a freemason of the Premier Grand Lodge of England, and in the same year was elected Member of Parliament for Liskeard – a post he filled with total lack of effort and effect since he was by now fully occupied in writing Decline and Fall.

The Blue Plaque at Bentinck Street



When the first volume came out it was a big success – bringing both fame and fortune to its author. He struggled on year after year to finish the great story, completing the writing process at Lausanne in June 1787. Thereafter, it was downhill all the way: a number of his close friends died and this coincided with a decline in his own health. He cut a sad and lonely figure, enduring much pain and discomfort. He had to face a number of operations, the last of which caused peritonitis which eventually led his death on 16th January 1794 aged 56.

Decline and Fall was a masterpiece because of the use of primary sources, and because of the research and analysis which went into it. He used footnotes extensively, often drawing parallels with contemporary events, frequently using wit and humour. He was meticulous with his citations and developed a style copied by others, including Winston Churchill.


Image courtesy of Abe Books


Gibbon’s style of writing makes it easy to read. Not everyone endorsed his views – particularly where he relegated the story of Christianity to a mere description of a historical phenomenon, rather than as a Divine event. Indeed he went further, suggesting that Christianity had itself weakened Rome, encouraging Romans to believe in a better life to come, rather than going out and doing ‘manly things’ to safeguard and expand the Empire. Because he criticized the Church the book was banned in some countries for a time.

Gibbon was a very quotable writer: these are some of the quotations I like:

Books are those faithful mirrors that reflect to our mind the minds of sages and heroes.

Conversation enriches the understanding, but solitude is the school of genius.

Corruption, the most infallible symptom of constitutional liberty.

Fanaticism obliterates the feelings of humanity.

History is little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind.

I am indeed rich, since my income is superior to my expenses, and my expense is equal to my wishes.

I never make the mistake of arguing with people for whose opinions I have no respect.

I was never less alone than when by myself.

Of the various forms of government which have prevailed in the world, an hereditary monarchy seems to present the fairest scope for ridicule.

Revenge is profitable, gratitude is expensive.

The laws of probability, so true in general, so fallacious in particular.

The various modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world were all considered by the people as equally true; by the philosopher as equally false; and by the magistrate as equally useful.

The winds and the waves are always on the side of the ablest navigators. My early and invincible love of reading I would not exchange for all the riches of India.

And finally:

Unprovided with original learning, unformed in the habits of thinking, unskilled in the arts of composition, I resolved to write a book.

(This post first appeared on my Posterous site 15th October 2011)

Oct 122012

Whenever a new fashion appears, there are those who ridicule it. After the excesses of exaggerated posteriors and padded embonpoints you might think that the “elegant” high- waisted lines which became popular in 1794, and which presaged the regency look, would have met with approval. Far from it – the dress tight under the bust dropping to the ground without a hint of a waist was a source of ridicule. A parody of the popular song “Shepherds I have lost my love – Have you seen my Anna?” turned it into “Shepherds I have Lost My Waist Have you seen my body?”

   Shepherds, I have lost my waist,

   Have you seen my body?

   Sacrificed to modern taste,

   I’m quite a hoddy doddy!

   For fashion I that part forsook

   Where sages place the belly;

   T’is gone – and I have not a nook

   For cheesecake, tart, or jelly.”

In some instances additional lines were added:

   “Never shall I see it more,

   Till common sense returning,

   My body to my legs restore,

   Then I shall cease from mourning.

   Folly and fashion do prevail

   To such extremes among the fair,

   A woman’s only top and tail,

   The body’s banish’d God knows where!”

Here, to illustrate the verse, is a cartoon by my favourite caricaturist Richard Newton, courtesy of the British Museum.

The Museum’s own description states: “Front and back view of two ladies (or one lady) dressed identically. One (right) looks to the right at a round table on which are a jelly-glass and a tartlet, holding up a napkin in her left hand, the right behind her back. The other is behind her and on the left. She wears large ear-rings. The high-waisted dress has a flowing line with an overdress forming a train, and is thus less skimpy than others of the period. Two huge erect ostrich feathers decorate the head.”

Compared with some of the monstrosities of the Georgian era,  this seems positively tame to me!

Oct 112012

A quick follow-on from yesterday’s post to show a rather lovely commentary on obesity. The background is that Frederick I, King of Württemberg, married Charlotte, the Princess Royal (eldest  daughter of King George III) in 18th May 1797. It was his second marriage, since his first wife died in 1788.

The cartoon is by Richard Newton and shows the grotesquely large Frederick approaching his consort, while  a black slave supports his protruding belly. A carpenter has cut a hole in the dining table so that the King can reach his dinner, and makes the crude comment that he wonders “How the King will reach [the Queen], God only knows. Perhaps he has some German method…”

In fact the print hardly  exaggerates: the king was huge. Wikipedia has him as being at 2.11 m (6 ft 11 in) tall  and weighing about 200 kg (440 lb). Frederick had been given the nick-name “The Great Belly-Gerent”. Napoleon apparently remarked that God had created the Prince to demonstrate the utmost extent to which the human skin could be stretched without bursting. In return, Frederick wondered how so much poison could fit in such a small head as Napoleon’s. Ouch!

Poor Charlotte…. the German Method may have worked but the resulting daughter was stillborn  (1798) and she was widowed in 1816. She died in 1828.





The King in full ceremonial garb.

Oct 102012

Newton, self portrait

My post is on a splendid artist called Richard Newton who had his first drawing published when he was 13 or 14 and then proceeded to produce pictures at the rate of at least one a week for the next seven years. By the time he was 21 he had nearly 300 of his works published. Many of them are youthful, sometimes scurrilous, often irreverent, and are occasionally brilliant cartoons.

Let me start with his drawing of the inside of William Holland’s print shop, bedecked with prints (some of them recognizably by Newton himself). It is shown courtesy of the British Museum.

Why? Because William Holland published works which were considered seditious (Rights of Man) and was in prison in 1793, leaving the young Newton to run the shop for him.

Despite being kept busy running the shop he nevertheless landed useful commissions, including one to illustrate Laurence Sterne’s Sentimental Journey through France and Italy (1795). He was later involved in providing illustrations to Tom Jones by Henry Fielding.

Richard Newton had been born in 1777. Some of his earliest works were drawings of George III – in particular having a dig at the royal low-brow taste in theatrical entertainment as here, where the King considers it appropriate to study clowns in close detail. They in turn inspect the monarch (hence the title of “Rival Clowns”). This was part of a series of prints showing the King’s  lack of good taste.

Richard also drew a number of anti-slavery caricatures as well as a series about the characters he met on his prison visits (i.e. when visiting Holland in Newgate). He moved around London – the British Museum site lists his addresses in Great Portland Street, (November 1791 to December 1792) 26 Wallbrook (the address given on prints published in 1794) Brydges Street, London (three houses in this street near Drury Lane belonged to Newton’s father, where Richards lived from early 1797 onwards, apparently sharing the house with the Hixon family, copperplate printers).

The youthful artist was not averse to puns (as in this picture entitled Night Mare). A man awakes to find a demon sitting on his wife in bed, smoking a pipe. At the window the ‘night mare’ makes an appearance.



See also “A peep into Brest with a navel review”












The lad also liked lavatorial humour as in “Treason”, and in “John Bull in Paris between a shower and a stink”.
















Fashions were ridiculed as in Tippers of 1796, as were the ogling males in Madame Parisot.












I rather like his picture of the barber’s shop; in “Shave for a penny” the poor guy in the chair gets cut by the barber, who has been distracted by the man calling round to collect spare hair with which to make wigs.

Richard’s prodigious and bawdy output included these three prophetic cartoons showing Death: the irony is that at the age of 21 death did indeed come knocking at his door. He died of typhus (popularly known as jail fever) in 1798. It was a huge loss to the world of satire, because here was a man with a big talent.