Friday, February 14, 2020

The Mystery of The Queen’s Pearl

by Judith Arnopp

Since my youth I have been awed by the story of La Peregrina, the ‘royal’ pearl that had passed from queen to queen until it was given as a Valentine present to Elizabeth Taylor by Richard Burton. As a girl I quite envied Elizabeth Taylor‘s ownership of such a historic piece of jewellery. It was good to see a perfect specimen that had once graced the bosom of a Tudor queen dangling in the cleavage of a twentieth century heroine. I was disappointed to learn a few years ago that it was indeed a different, if very similar, pearl. Unsure if it was true or just more fake news, I scanned the internet for information but the articles I found just increased my confusion.

Mary Tudor by Master John 

There is a lot of misinformation out there. I even found one article stating that:

‘The Spanish master, Diego Velazquez, in the mid 1600s painted Queen Isabel wearing the pearl, and he also painted young sweet Mary, Queen of England wearing the pearl before she became Bloody Mary and had her namesake niece, Mary Queen of Scots, beheaded.’

Oops, big boo boo! I didn’t read this unreliable article any further but I did find some offering useful information.

Elizabeth’s Taylors jewel is smaller than the one that Mary wore and it seems that the one of Tudor fame has been mislaid. The mystery becomes more complex when you discover there is another similar pearl with the almost identical name of La Pelegrina. Wikipedia explains it thus:

"La Pelegrina" is a Spanish word. Some gem historians translated it as "the Incomparable", but actually "La Pelegrina" has no such meaning in Spanish. Other gem historians believe that the name "La Pelegrina" was made to show a connection between "La Pelegrina" and another famous pearl “La peregrine”. "La Peregrina" means ‘The Pilgrim" or "the Wanderer", and rhyming the names "La Pelegrina" and "La Peregrina" could mean that the name "La Pelegrina" was meant to be also "the pilgrim" or "the Wanderer", and a single letter was changed to distinguish between the two different pearls.”
Confused? I am.

But undaunted, I set out to see if I could trace the path of two gems, almost identical in appearance, with almost identical names.

La Pelegrina was discovered on the coast of Santa Margarita in the Gulf of Panama in the 16th century. The man who found it was a slave who was rewarded for his discovery with his freedom. Inca Garcilaso de la Vega wrote about this in his Royal Commentaries of Peru.

‘This pearl, by nature pear-shaped, had a long neck and was moreover as large as the largest pigeon’s egg. It was valued at fourteen thousand four hundred ducats but Jacoba de Trezzo, a native of Milan, and a most excellent workman and jeweller to his Catholic Majesty, being present when thus it was valued said aloud that it was thirty – fifty – a hundred thousand ducats in order to show thereby that it was without parallel in the world.’ (La Pelegrina pearl. (2019, August 31). Retrieved from

In 1660 Philip IV of Spain gave the pearl to his daughter, Maria Theresa, on her marriage to Louis XIV of France. The pearl travelled with her to France and disappeared after Maria Theresa’s death in 1683. It did not reappear until 1826 when it showed up in St. Petersburg. It is believed that it then entered the French crown jewel collection but was stolen during the revolution along with the rest of the crown jewels. Sometime after that it travelled to Russia where Zinaida Yusupova was painted wearing it. The pearl then passed to her son, Felix Yusupov, (who interestingly, was involved with the murder of Rasputin.)

In 1917 during the October Revolution Felix smuggled the pearl, together with other royal jewels out of Russia. He later sold many of his treasures but hung on to La Pelegrina until 1953 when he sold it to a jeweller in Geneva.

Portrait of Zinaida Yusupova (1861-1939)
by François Flameng

La Peregrina
The first mention of this pearl is in Commentarios Reales de Los Incas by Garcilaso de la Vega (1539-1616). He describes a pear-shaped pearl arriving in Spain from Venezuela (although according to Wiki other sources mention Panama) in 1579. It was sold to King Phillip II of Spain who later married Mary I of England. (This made my ears prick, perhaps he did give it to her after all). He intended it as a gift for his daughter but instead added to the crown jewels where it is recorded as being for two hundred years.

Juan Pantoja de la Cruz, Margaret of Austria, 
Queen of Spain wearing the pearl (c. 1606) 

It seems to me that Philip may very well have given it as a marriage gift to Mary but there is no record of that ever having taken place. There are portraits of Mary sporting a very similar one. It would be lovely to think this was THE pearl but it is not recorded and neither is it listed with the jewels he did give her that were later returned to Spain after her death.

La Peregrina was worn by many Spanish queens. Margaret of Austria wore it while married to Philip III and it appears in portraits of Elizabeth of France and Mariana of Austria who were wives of Philip IV.

Peter Paul Rubens, Elisabeth of France, 
Queen of Spain wearing the pearl (c. 1625) 
When the elder brother of Napoleon Bonaparte ruled Spain in the 1800s it came into his possession but he left the kingdom after the French lost the Battle of Vitoria. At this time he made off with several of the crown jewels and it is believed La Pelegrina was among them. He bequeathed the pearl to his nephew who would become Napoleon III of France. It was Napoleon III who sold the pearl while in exile in England to James Hamilton, Later Duke of Abercon, who purchased it as a gift for his wife, Louisa. It remained in the Hamilton family until they sold it at Sothebys in 1969.
During the course of its history the pearl came close to catastrophe on several occasions. Once it was lost down the back of a sofa at a party at Windsor Castle, the second time during a ball at Buckingham Palace.

It was bought in 1969 by Richard Burton for $37,000 as a Valentine’s gift (hint-hint husband) for his wife Elizabeth. In her book My Love Affair with Jewellery she relates a story of it almost being swallowed by one of their dogs.

‘At one point I reached down to touch La Peregrina and it wasn't there! I glanced over at Richard and thank God he wasn't looking at me, and I went into the bedroom and threw myself on the bed, buried my head into the pillow and screamed. Very slowly and very carefully, I retraced all my steps in the bedroom. I took my slippers off, took my socks off, and got down on my hands and knees, looking everywhere for the pearl. Nothing.‘

Then on seeing one of the puppies chewing something …

‘I just casually opened the puppy's mouth and inside his mouth was the most perfect pearl in the world. It was—thank God—not scratched.’ (Elizabeth Taylor: my love affair with Jewelry - Simon & Schuster; 1 Oct. 2002) N.B: Ms Taylor seems to have recounted this tale several times, each one slightly different.’

Mary Tudor by Hans Eworth 1554, NPG 4861
© National Portrait Gallery, London 

The Burtons, at the time believing the pearl to have belonged to Mary Tudor purchased a portrait of Mary wearing the pearl and when it was discovered the connection was likely to be false, they donated the painting to the National Portrait Gallery.

La Peregina was sold after Elizabeth Taylor’s death fetching more than eleven million dollars.

La Peregrina.” La Peregrina - Smithsonian Institution,
Photo by NMNH Photo Services.
So, curiouser and curiouser. We now have two different pearls, neither of which seems to be have been worn by Mary although she is clearly wearing a very similar one is several portraits.

I found an article from a few years ago by jewellery exhibitor Symbolic & Chase who showcased a jewel which they called ‘The Mary Tudor Pearl.’ According to their description the Renaissance pearl surfaced in 2004, having been lost since the late 16th century, and can be dated back to 1526. It measures 258.12 grains (64.5 carats, 69.8 carats with its diamond cap) making it the third largest well-formed natural pearl documented to date.

The provenance leads at last to Mary.

‘Between 1526 and 1539 the pearl entered into the outstanding jewellery collection of the Empress Isabella of Portugal (1503-1539), either as a diplomatic gift or by the Empress purchasing it. When the Empress died in 1539 the pearl was inherited by her daughter, Juana of Austria (1535-1573). Following a short marriage to Prince John of Portugal (1537 – 1554), Juana returned to Spain to assume regency for her brother, Philip II. The pearl became part of Philip’s dowry for his new bride, Mary Tudor (1516-1558), after whom the pearl has been christened.'

Mary Tudor, Queen of England, 
second wife of Felipe II’ by Anthonis Mor 

‘It is an outstanding asymmetrical drop-shaped pearl that was much admired by the Tudor courts and is featured in Royal portraiture of Mary Tudor, namely ‘Mary Tudor, Queen of England, second wife of Felipe II’ by Anthonis Mor at the Museo del Prado and ‘Queen Mary I’ by Hans Eworth, which has been included below courtesy of The Bridgeman Art Library. A similar painting by Hans Eworth of Queen Mary I also hangs at the National Portrait Gallery.' ("The Mary Tudor Pearl Unveiled", Kari Pearls: Natural Pearls - A Trusted Resource.)

But is this and Mary’s pearl one and the same? The stories of all three jewels are so close, the provenances quite similar with it passing through the hands of so many European Royals, could their stories not just been horribly mixed up? Just as I was beginning to believe it was, I came across this website and discovered I wasn’t the only one in search of it. This website sums the whole thing up far more succinctly than I could ever do. He believes there is a third jewel, now known as Queen Mary’s Pearl and concludes that:

‘Mary Tudor never owned La Peregrina, though she did own a slightly larger pearl now known as the Mary Tudor Pearl.
Mary Tudor wore her pearl suspended from a golden brooch set with the Grande diamond that Philip II inherited from his mother, Isabel de Aviz.
Upon her death, Mary Tudor returned this brooch to her husband, who removed the pearl and gave it back to his sister Joanna.
Upon Joanna's death, the pearl was put up for auction.
The pearl failed to sell at the 1574 auction, but a man by the name of Diegor Ruiz purchased it in 1581 for 3,300 reales. After this, the pearl disappears from record.
In 2004, this pearl appears on the block at Christie's London, at which time it is purchased by Symbol & Chase of Bond Street.’
©2006-2020 EraGem®

For more information, read this very fascinating blog post.

Judith Arnopp is the author of twelve Historical Fiction novels and has contributed to several non-fiction anthologies. you can find more about Judith's work on her webpage: or her Author Page:
Judith's latest novel is The Heretic Wind: the life of Mary Tudor, Queen of England available on Kindle and Paperback. The audio version will be available later in 2020.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The Body in the Well

By Karen Charlton

'Dreadful Murder'

'For a week past, the water in the well of the Duke of York public-house at Brompton, Kent, had been affected with so nauseous a taste and smell that it became unfit for use. The servant, when drawing, found something hindered the bucket from filling…and thought that she perceived something like a body, and on moving the rope backwards and forwards to fill the bucket, she found pieces of skin and animal substance adhering to it when it was drawn up. Within the last few days, the smell at the mouth of the well had become so exceedingly offensive that no one would go near it.’
Morning Chronicle, 23rd October 1818

The murder of the heavily pregnant Bridget Donallen and the callous disposal of her naked body caused a public outcry in 1818. The wife of William Donallen, a soldier in the 98th regiment, Bridget had been murdered and ignominiously dumped down a tavern well in Westcourt Road, Old Brompton. Her water-logged and rotting corpse wasn’t discovered until a month later. 

The newspapers of the time reported every grisly detail surrounding the difficulty experienced by a group of volunteers when they tried to retrieve her remains. The Morning Chronicle, in particular, was in its element: 

On Saturday morning, some soldiers who were drinking at the Duke of York, offered, for a trifling reward, to go down the well and clear it of its impurity. A young man was accordingly lowered down, but before he arrived at the bottom, he was almost overpowered by the fetid effluvia, and called out to the men who were lowering him to stop. Having waited a few seconds and recovered himself, he proceeded. He, with infinite horror and dismay, discovered a naked human body floating on its back. To be certain, he took hold of the hair, when the body rolled over, and the hair and scalp became detached from the skull and remained in his hand. Terrified in the extreme, and almost reduced to insensibility at the horrid sight, he called to the men on the brink of the well to draw him up…
Morning Chronicle, 23rd October 1818

The article went on to describe how one of the other soldiers later braved this hellhole and brought up the decomposing body wrapped in a sheet. But this chap was so affected by the foul air, he fainted when he reached the top and nearly fell down the well himself. 

Bow Street

An inquest was held, and Bridget’s husband was deemed to be the main suspect for the murder. A warrant was issued for Donallen’s arrest but during the weeks that had elapsed, he’d left the army and disappeared. Bow Street Police Office was contacted. Principal Officer Stephen Lavender was employed to find the suspect and solve the case.  Lavender finally tracked Donallen down in County Mayo, Ireland and brought him back to Kent to face trial. Donallen was hanged for the murder of his wife in August 1823. 

I first came across this gruesome case, while browsing through the yellowing and musty pages of an 1818 edition of the Morning Chronicle during a visit to The National Archives in Kew. I needed a strong stomach as well as the standard-issue white gloves for my research that day. 

The Morning Chronicle wasn’t alone in this period in its use of sickening and repugnant detail.  The Times, that highly respected and most illustrious of newspapers, also pandered to the public’s taste for blood and gore. Describing another of Lavender’s cases, a particularly nasty attack on an eighty-six-year-old man in Northamptonshire, The Times took great pleasure in telling its readership about the ‘large quantity of clotted blood that had settled in his [the victims’] mouth.’ 

The second thing I noted in the Morning Chronicle’s report about the Donallen murder was the reporter’s indifference to the danger posed to the staff and customers of The Duke of York by the contaminated water. But when we put this in historical context, it’s not surprising really. It would be several more decades before doctors and scientists linked the drinking of poisonous water to lethal outbreaks of cholera and typhoid fever.

Example of The Morning Chronicle's pages

In fact, if we are ever to really understand our Georgian ancestors, we also need to put their morbid and blood-thirsty curiosity into context. Like a lot of people, I formed a romantic impression of Regency Britain when I was a young woman. Thanks to Wordsworth and Coleridge, Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer and Thackery’s Vanity Fair I thought it was a delightful period in history.  But tea parties in a Hampshire vicarage and balls in the assembly rooms of Bath, with giggling ladies in high-waisted, white dresses escorted by dashing soldiers in scarlet uniforms, were only one small part of their complex world. 

This was still an era when whole families took picnics to watch public hangings. The brutal treatment of male and female prisoners – and their children – in our over-crowded jails and prison hulks barely elicited a shrug of concern (although prison reformers like Elizabeth Fry were starting to make their voices heard).  Sometimes crowds of ten thousand people lined the streets and encircled the gallows to watch the suffering and terror of the condemned. They cheered when the dying criminals twitched and defecated themselves at the end of the rope. And with over two hundred and twenty crimes on the statute books which were punishable by the death penalty, there were plenty of hangings to watch. 

Further evidence of the blood-lust of this generation can be found when we examine the most popular culture of the time. Yes, the novels of Jane Austen were popular, but the Regency publishing industry made a fortune from cheap novels full of spine-chilling gothic horror laced with a generous splattering of blood. This genre dominated the industry for more than sixty years after the novel format was first invented by Samuel Richardson. In addition to this, most London theatres were kept afloat by producing a string of gory melodramas. 

But don’t just take my word for it. Go online, read some old newspapers and discover for yourself the true extent of our ancestors’ revolting fascination with decomposing bodies and oozing body fluids.  

The Times has its own online archives and a small monthly fee paid to The British Newspaper Archive will give you online access to another 35 million pages of other British and Irish newspapers dating back to early 1800s. These websites can be accessed for free at most libraries.

You might be surprised at what you learn – just don’t eat before you browse.


Karen Charlton is the author of the best-selling Detective Lavender Mysteries, published by Thomas & Mercer and featuring Bow Street’s real-life Principal Officer, Stephen Lavender. The series starts with The Heiress of Linn Hagh.

Her latest novel in the series, The Willow Marsh Murder, is available on Amazon from 1st February 2020 and starts with the murder of a tavern barmaid whose body is dumped down a well. It can be read as a standalone book.

Through her research, Karen has come across dozens of reports of Lavender’s cases in the newspapers of the time. She frequently uses them as the basis for the plots of her fiction.

Catching the Eagle, her debut novel, is the true story of her notorious ancestor, Jamie Charlton, who was convicted back in 1810 of Northumberland’s biggest robbery. 

A former-teacher, Karen now writes full-time and lives in a tiny, Yorkshire fishing village.

Monday, February 10, 2020

The Testimony of Sal Madge

by Dr John Little

The town of Whitehaven in Cumbria has a rich history and in it may be found local ‘characters’ who were famous, infamous or notorious, though quite why they were is no longer remembered in much detail. ‘Laal Piano’ Bobby McGhee was three feet tall and played the piano in pubs; he was much loved by children. Duck Foot Charlie Smith lost a foot in the navy and earned a living as a hobbler, tying up ships. Geordie Mitchell slept in a wheelbarrow and ‘Leatherlugs’, a seller of reddening and sill (used for doorsteps) was used by mothers to  deter misbehaviour by threatening them that Leatherlugs would ‘get’ them if they did not behave. Among the number of the local colourful characters was one woman and she stands out among them by a very long way.

Sarah Madgin, known as Sal Madge, was born in 1841 and as may be seen, she was of singular appearance for her time. In the twenty-first century the discussion of gender and the various lives lived by people who no longer conform to traditional male/ female stereotypes is commonplace.

By and large this was not so in the nineteenth century when people were regarded as male or female by most of the population and any deviation from this was regarded as monstrous. Male homosexuality was met with severe penalties and the fate of Oscar Wilde is the best known example of what could be meted out to any who transgressed the social ‘norms’ of Victorian Britain.

There were exceptions of course and lately there has been a popular television series called Gentleman Jack which is based on the diaries of Anne Lister, a wealthy Yorkshirewoman who had a string of passionate affairs with women in the early part of the century. She documented them well in her diaries which were disguised in code, an understandable caution, though lesbianism was not a criminal offence. The Ladies of Llangollen were a well born pair of ladies who lived together in Wales and numbered some very well known people among their friends, not least of which was the Duke of Wellington.

Sal Madge had hair which was cut short at the back and longer at the sides. Her dark blonde hair was always covered with a working man’s peaked cap. Her face was pugnacious and masculine and even now gives the clear impression that she was not someone to mess with. Her upper body was clothed as a man with a male style jacket, a waistcoat and a neckerchief. When sitting she was often taken for a man, yet below the waist she always wore a skirt, but given what she did for a living it was probably a regrettable looking garment. There used to be a saying in the district if you were unwashed, you were ‘as black as Sal Madge.’ For over fifty years Sal worked as a wagoner on a wagon railway, driving huge horses pulling cartloads of coal from where it was mined, to the top of an inclined plane where it was lowered down to the docks and shipped all over the world. 

Sal with horse and her dog Flirt

It was very much a man’s job; hard, tough and in all weathers, all year round. Her personality matched the job for she associated with her best friends who were all pitmen. She drank, played cards, and if anyone attempted violence upon her they would probably lose for she could fist fight as well as any man. She arm-wrestled, drank pints, smoked a pipe, chewed baccy and could throw men at Cumberland wrestling.

It’s tempting to wonder why she did not just live her life as a man since she took on many of what we today would call male privileges and held them against all comers. However if was not practical; she lived in a close knit community and was accepted with a lot of local respect. If she had started calling herself Bill or Ted then among a deeply divided working class community, strong in both Catholicism and Orange Lodge, then she might have met with a degree of resistance.

In the same measure it can be argued that her job leading horses along a railway in winter gales and rain might have been warmer in trousers; I have seen discussions as to why she kept to a skirt but I fancy the answer is a simple one. People working out of doors have to pee. It’s easy for a man, but a woman in trousers has to take them down and squat. Somewhere in the works of James Joyce is a description of a market woman in Dublin standing over a drain-hole with her legs apart and hitching her skirt up to her knees; she then leaned slightly forward and pissed straight down into the drain. It may be that this was once a common feature of working women’s lives that has simply been lost from folk memory since long skirts were abandoned as everyday wear in the early twentieth century.

It is very tempting sometimes to make of people what they are not. Sal Madge is in the census records all through from 1841 to 1891 and in many entries she is living in a house belonging to a woman; sometimes a woman who has been widowed and has children. It is entirely possible that Sal was a lesbian, but there is not a shred of proof of that. In my treatment of her sexuality I have considered her looks, her nature, her strength of character and her considerable ability to stand up for herself. I think it very likely that she looked at the way in which many of the women in her community had to live their lives, and decided that it was not for her. Childbirth, abuse, drudgery and inferior status were not something that she wanted anything to do with. It was clear to her that her world was run by men and they had privilege; she took some of it for herself and woe betide anyone who tried to take it from her. She had a reputation of using her strength to enforce her will; if she decided that to live as a woman was not her thing and that she would live as she pleased, then she probably had little interest in the whole ‘sex’ thing. In my book I have restricted myself to hints without being too definite as to her thoughts on sex. It’s in my mind that if the subject had come up, she would have told the person questioning to mind their own business and if they had persisted they might have got a thump. My Sal more or less says that, and I would think it disrespectful to do more on the matter.

The overarching question about her is to why her memory has survived  in the way it has. If she had been just another local ‘character’, half man, half woman, like something in a Victorian freak show, then she would not have been remembered with the respect and affection that she was held in during and after her lifetime. Part of her local fame may lie in the abundant charitable activity that she engaged in, collecting money for local good causes for she seems to have thrown herself into the life of her community and liked to do good. Another part of it is undoubtedly her membership of the local Rocket Brigade, a life saving organization which fired rockets carrying lines out to ships wrecked on the coast. They saved many lives and Sal Madge drove their wagon so was subject to call out when the two cannon by the harbour sounded out an alarm across the town. There is however more than this to her legend.

Sal about to lead the Rocket troop on a parade

It is rare in historical research that we find the proverbial ‘smoking gun’ that apparently explains things but I believe that I have found the answer to why Sal Madge has such a high status memory in the local community. Without giving any spoilers I discovered that Sal Madge did something rather heroic in the summer of 1887 and it is my thought that her actions elevated her from local colour to local heroine. The actual events themselves have been forgotten, lost in the minds of succeeding generations but when people speak admiringly of Sal Madge being ‘hard as nails’ there is a solid base of evidence for that opinion. It involves an incident that might have seen her receiving an award for bravery in other circumstances, a court case that caught national attention and a level of esteem that caused hundreds of people to drop what they were doing after she died just to attend her funeral. That the esteem survives is witnessed by the fact that her home town raised money for her to have a gravestone back in the 1990s and when that was smashed by vandals a few years ago, to repeat the process and give her a new stone. That sort of regard comes not from duty but genuine affection.

There is more to it that that of course; she is almost an emblem of the town as it was; working class, dirty, smoky and smelly, hard working, hard drinking, salt of the earth, strong of mind and body and no side to her at all. It is easy to see why Whitehaven remains proud of her; so they should be.


Dr John Little spent almost forty years teaching in various schools in London and the South East. He was head of History at Meopham School and Rochester Independent College. He gained the first History PhD  awarded in the University of Westminster.
He has written nine books, mostly novels, and has settled into historical fiction as his favoured genre. His work is based on real evidence, people and events contained in plausible narratives. He also gives talks and presentations on the topics about which he writes. On 30th January 2020 his book about Sal Madge was published.

Friday, February 7, 2020

The Bad Boy Prince Who Became a King

by Nancy Bilyeau

He was a younger brother in a royal family, not expected to ascend to the throne of England when born. He threw himself into a military career. He was wild and boisterous, given to carousing, and fell deeply in love with an actress. During their many years together, she financially supported him. Sometimes mocked by the public, he had a warm heart, a generous nature, and a willingness to listen that gave him a popularity few others in his family enjoyed.

Meet William, Duke of Clarence, and later King of England from 1830 to 1837.

A slightly disheveled William, Duke of Clarence.
Photo: ©National Trust Images/Angelo Hornak 

In present circumstances, when the life of a younger prince in the British royal family is under scrutiny, William's career presents some interesting comparisons.

Born on August 21, 1765, he was the third son of George III and Queen Charlotte. As was common in the age, his parents did not see that much of him. He was in the hands of private tutors at Richmond and Kew and seems to have been emotionally closest to his sister Augusta.

His high spirits made him difficult to handle, and King George decided to install him in the Royal Navy. This was not an honorary position, as had happened with a few other royals. At the age of thirteen, William joined a ship's company as a midshipman. This was the usual age to begin a naval career in the 18th century and he was the first royal to seriously pursue such a career.

From the first, William was an enthusiastic sailor. He served on several ships in the Caribbean and the Americas for the next decade and more. Much later he bore the nickname "Sailor King." But he was rash, with a "roughness of manner" that stuck with him through most of his life.

William formed a strong friendship with Horatio Nelson and was the best man at Nelson's wedding. But he quarreled with others, both below and above him in rank. When in command of a ship, he was capable of disregarding orders and doing as he pleased.

To the distress of his parents, William had a well-deserved reputation for womanizing. He had affairs with married women, frequented brothels, and pursued young women talking marriage when it was impossible for him to offer matrimony.

One of his most infamous episodes took place in Bridgetown in Barbados. After dining with the mess of a regiment stationed on the island, William and his companions "went to Rachel's brothel in the town and, in a drunken orgy of destruction, smashed glass, broke furniture and threw feather beds into the street," wrote Roger Knight in his biography William IV. "Rachel herself sat watching all this in a chair outside the building with equanimity...The next morning she presented William with a bill for 700 pounds and he signed a draft on a Jamaican merchant house without question."

By 1790 his career in the Royal Navy was over. About this time, he was created Duke of Clarence by his father, but only under family pressure. He had nothing official to do.

Instead of marrying a princess, William fell in love with the talented Irish actress Dorothea Bland, whose stage name was Mrs. Jordan, and they lived together for years, becoming the parents of a huge family. She seemed happy in this domestic setting, yet through all her pregnancies she continued to perform on stage. William had little money--Parliament was not inclined to grant large incomes to dissolute princes--and rapidly spent what he did have. Mrs. Jordan supported the family, with their ten children taking the last name "FitzClarence."

"Mrs. Jordan," the mother of William's 10 children

George III accepted the reality of his son's personal life, probably because there were two older sons before him. He created William "Ranger of Bushy Park," which brought with it Bushy House, where the family all lived, fairly quietly.

This lifestyle did not impress everyone. "His life has hitherto been passed in obscurity and neglect, in miserable poverty, surrounded by numerous progeny of bastards, without consideration or friends," said Charles Greville, clerk of the council to the king.

Caricature of George IV, William's oldest brother

The death of Princess Charlotte, the only child of George, the Prince Regent, in 1817 changed everything for William. He moved up the line of succession following his brother Frederick, the Duke of York, who had no legitimate children. It now seemed possible that William would be King of England.

Mrs. Jordan retreated from the scene--she died later in Paris--and William married Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen, half his age. At least three princesses or heiresses had already declined to marry him. As part of the negotiation, Adelaide agreed she would be kind to his many children.

On their wedding day, William's main feeling seems to have been remorse. He wrote in a letter to his oldest son, "She is doomed, poor dear innocent young creature, to be my wife...I cannot, I will not, I must not ill use her."

Adelaide, William's royal wife

As unlikely as it may have seemed, the marriage was a happy one. Adelaide got her older husband to drink less and economize more. One of the main reasons he married was to provide the nation with a legitimate royal family, but Adelaide suffered miscarriages or their children died shortly after birth. They faced these tragedies together.

William was now in the public eye. The Royal Collection Trust, in a foreword to William's papers, wrote, "Only a few years before it had not been considered a remote possibility that William could become king, but by the late 1820s it was becoming a certainty....previously he had been free of the burdens and responsibilities that are usually placed on an heir presumptive, or the next in line."

Historian A.N. Wilson has declared that most of his contemporaries considered William a "buffoon." But there were differing views. "The British people liked him because he was a sailor, if for nothing else, and men's eyes turned hopefully to him when it became apparent that not much good was any longer to be looked for from George the Fourth," wrote Justin McCarthy in A History of the Four Georges and William IV.

George IV, who had lived as an unpopular recluse, hugely obese, for the last years of his life, died on June 26, 1830, and William became King of England at the age of 64. (York had already died.) "The public was in the mood to make the best of him," wrote one chronicler.

William IV as King

William IV was determined to set a much more financially prudent example than his extravagant brother. His coronation cost less than one-fourth as much as George's. Justin McCarthy wrote,"His manners were frank, familiar, and even rough. He cared little for court ceremonial of any kind, and was in the habit of walking along the streets of London with his umbrella tucked under his arm, like any ordinary Londoner."

King William was even known to offer rides to people in his royal carriage. When he offended anyone, he was quick to apologize. He did have a tendency to ramble strangely at state dinners. The only time his temper flared was over small things, such as a guest drinking water instead of port wine at the table.

William and Adelaide gave money to the poor, arranged dinners for the hungry, and endowed hospitals and charities. What is sometimes overlooked was the critical part William IV played in setting the future of the kingdom and keeping a British monarchy in play. His father and brother had adamantly opposed any parliamentary reform. Now, in the 1830s, a revolution was in the air.

The Reform Bill of 1832 enacted changes to the electoral system of England and Wales, making it more representative of the people and strengthening the House of Commons. It is hailed as bringing much-needed modern democracy to the nation.

Some historians ascribe William's passing it to being "weak." But others say that his years in the Navy followed by life with Mrs. Jordan gave him a view of life from outside the royal bubble. He knew that change had to happen.

William was very fond of his young niece, Victoria, the only child of his younger brother the Duke of Kent. But he distrusted her mother and loathed the looming Sir John Conroy. William said publicly that he would do his best to live long enough for Princess Victoria to ascend to the throne without the need of a regency.

And William did just that, dying of heart failure at the age of 71 on June 20, 1837, at Windsor Castle. Victoria was 18 years and one month old, and thus became Queen of England.

Adelaide, who refused to leave William's side for the 10 days of his last decline, outlived her husband by just 12 years. She was godmother to Victoria and Albert's firstborn child, Victoria, the future mother of Kaiser Wilhelm.

The city of Adelaide in Australia is named after William's queen.


Nancy Bilyeau is the author of five historical novels, including The Blue, an espionage thriller revolving around the art and porcelain world of 18th century England. Her most recent novel is Dreamland, set in 1911 Coney Island. To learn more, go to

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

British Documents’ Influence on Cornerstone Texts for Other Countries

By Michael Paul Hurd

Unlike most other countries with formal, written constitutions, the United Kingdom’s “constitution” is not one single document; rather, it is the system of rules that shapes the political governance of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The system is the evolution of documents such as Magna Carta (1215), the Petition of Right (1628), the Habeas Corpus Act (1640; 1679), and the Bill of Rights (1689). Each of those documents were a counter to perceived illegal or unreasonable activities by the Crown. In separation, any of the aforementioned documents could have resulted in the dissolution of both the British Empire and the Monarchy; instead, the offending monarch generally modified their behavior to prevent a total collapse of British society. The result, with the interdependencies of the documents, is that the British system of government and its constitutional monarchy have been preserved.

Magna Carta - Public Domain Image

Magna Carta, written in Latin and signed by King John in 1215, was an effort to make peace between the Crown and rebel factions. It was unsuccessful and actually contributed to the outbreak of the First Barons’ War. Regardless, the precepts of the document countered the Crown presumption that the King was above the law. For the “people,” generally defined at the time to mean only those who owned land, Magna Carta attempted to provide religious rights, protection from illegal imprisonment, and limits on taxation.

King John's Tomb, Worcester Cathedral, Public Domain Image

In 1628, Parliament presented Charles I with the Petition of Right. In it, the Members complained that the Crown had violated the principles of Magna Carta through taxation without the consent of Parliament, imprisoning people without cause, and illegal quartering of troops among the populace, and the establishment of martial law during peacetime. Charles rejected the original proposal from the House of Commons, threatened to dissolve Parliament altogether, and deferred to the House of Lords, where he expected to have some protection. He was mistaken; the House of Lords passed the Commons proposal and demanded that the King ratify the petition. However, the Petition marked a new phase in the ongoing constitutional crisis that ultimately led to the English Civil War and Charles I losing his head.

Charles I - Public Domain Image

Moving ahead to 1640 under Charles I and again in 1679 under Charles II, the Habeas Corpus Acts reaffirmed Magna Carta’s assertion that no one could be imprisoned unlawfully or without due process of the law. This meant that the Crown could not simply command that someone be imprisoned arbitrarily. The 1679 version of the law is still in effect in the United Kingdom, but has been suspended in times of national emergency or in cases involving terrorism. The original Act was passed by the Long Parliament following the impeachment, detention and execution of Thomas Wentworth, First Earl of Strafford in 1641. It was amended under Charles II in 1679 and included language that, in criminal matters other than treason and felonies, prisoners had the right to challenge their detention. For his part, Wentworth was accused of high misdemeanors for his alleged tyranny as administrator of Ireland. Because he was supposedly acting at the will of the Crown, Charles I was very reluctant to sign the death warrant issued by Parliament.

The British Bill of Rights 1689 further limited the powers of the monarch. It was presented to William III and Mary II as they were invited to be joint sovereigns of England. In their coronation, the co-regents swore an oath to uphold the laws made by Parliament. The British Bill of Rights included twelve key points that guaranteed “certain ancient rights and liberties.” It also addressed the alleged wrongdoings of James II of England (James VII of Scotland and James II of Ireland) and declared his flight to France an abdication. Coupled with the Act of Settlement 1701, the two documents contributed to the establishment of the concept of a constitutional monarchy. It is also interesting to note that noted jurist, Sir William Blackstone, described the cornerstone documents as fundamental rights of Englishmen.

Regardless of their intent at the time they each were written, the cornerstone documents are the foundation of not only Her Majesty’s Government but also of other governments around the world, both inside and outside the Commonwealth. Even Alexander Hamilton, one of the United States’ “Founding Fathers,” believed that the British system was the best form of government because its precepts fostered national unity, permitted the people to participate in government through their representatives, and centralized power under a monarch. Hamilton was derided as a monarchist or royalist for these beliefs, but nothing could have been further from the truth. Hamilton was simply advocating for a strong, centralized, efficient government – with the British system being the best model of the day.

One shining example of using “the British model” is the United States Bill of Rights, a series of ten amendments to the original Constitution, ratified in 1789, that guaranteed certain individual liberties. However, the package was not uniquely American in its tone, tenor, and composition. In fact, some of it was modeled after the variety of British documents that make up the essence of the unwritten British Constitution. Not surprisingly, a definite similarity in language appears in the United States’ Bill of Rights when it is laid side-by-side with similar British documents. Had the cornerstone British documents been equitably imposed on the Thirteen Colonies by George III, there might never have been a War for American Independence.

Alexander Hamilton - Public Domain Image

It is enough to say that, despite the pervasive American perception that the American Constitution is unique, nothing could be further from the truth.  We Americans might like to think that our forefathers were profound thinkers and eloquent authors who devised the concepts for our government on their own, but they really were reliant on relatively ancient British documents, some of which were over 500 years old.

Among Commonwealth Countries, the roots of Canada’s constitution also date back to the 13th Century and includes aspects of Magna Carta and the first Parliament of 1275. However, Canada’s constitution contains specific provisions for the entrenchment of statutes from its cornerstone documents, where the American constitution does not specifically mention any of them. Canada’s constitution, like that of the United States, includes Magna Carta (1215), the English Bill of Rights (1689) – plus the Act of Settlement (1701), the Proclamation of 1763, and the Colonial Laws Validity Act (1865). One key difference, however, between Canada’s constitution and the United States Constitution is that Canada’s document, ratified in 1982, is written in modern, unambiguous language. It evolved over time as Canada separated itself from the protection of the Crown and became an independent country.

Australia, on the other hand, does not include a detailed description of individual rights in its constitution, preferring instead to suggest that the rights are included by implication and did not need to be specified, as it was felt in the Constitutional Convention of 1898 that, as British subjects, rights were already guaranteed by Parliament. Australia has repeatedly been chided for this lack of inclusion. However, the Australian constitution does expressly guarantee the right to trial by jury, the right to just compensation, and freedom of religion.

United States Bill of Rights - Public Domain Image

A relatively new arrival in the constitutional discussion is South Africa. Its newest constitution was implemented in 1997 with the end of apartheid under President Nelson Mandela. However, the constitution of South Africa not only codifies numerous individual rights, but defines the rights in a way that is unambiguous and relevant to the 20th Century. In its twenty-seven points, it even guarantees the rights of workers to unionize. Reading through Chapter 2 of the Constitution of South Africa, its parallels with some aspects of the British Bill of Rights, the Habeas Corpus Acts and even Magna Carta quickly become obvious.

Most unique of the major Commonwealth affiliates is New Zealand. It is perhaps the closest to the British model, with its “unwritten constitution” being an amalgamation of both written and unwritten sources. It recognizes the sovereignty of the current British monarch, with power delegated to ministers of the Crown.

The following table summarizes the implementation of British cornerstone documents in the governments of the United States, Canada, Australia, and South Africa. Because of the way New Zealand implemented its constitutional law, there is no written document that embodies separate listings of rights as applied to individuals. It should be assumed that the British cornerstone documents and New Zealand’s implementation are one in the same.


Michael Paul Hurd retired from full-time employment in 2018 and began writing his first historical fiction novel in August of that year. His “Lineage Series” of novels projects the touchpoints of his family onto events in history on both sides of the Atlantic. Married to his wife, Sandy (daughter of a British emigrant to the United States), for nearly 40 years, he spent over a decade working in the United Kingdom, from 1983-1994. There he took an interest in British history, studying under Dr. Sid Brown of Leeds University. Fourteen novels are planned for Hurd’s “Lineage Series,” several of which will involve topics relevant to British history as they evolve out of the vignettes of the first book in the series. The Hurds have two sons (one deceased) and are doting grandparents to their three grandchildren.


Monday, February 3, 2020

The Man Who Broke King Harold

by Helen Johnson

The invasion, occupation and conquest of England by William of Normandy's troops in the 1060s created trauma that echoes through the centuries.

Famously, the Conquest began at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, when King Harold of England was killed.  But Normandy was a small duchy.  England was one of the wealthiest and best organised countries in Europe.  How could Duke William beat king Harold?

I believe that Harold was broken before he ever faced William - broken by his own brother, Tostig.

Tostig and Harold's father was Godwin, Earl of Wessex, who married King Cnut's kinswoman, Gytha.  In 1042, Cnut's succession failed and Edward, son of defeated King Aethelred 'the Unready', was invited to return from exile in Normandy.

Tostig's king and brother-in-law, King Edward the Confessor,
depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry. Image Credit

Under Edward, Earl Godwin rose to power.  His sons gained earldoms, and he married his daughter, Edith, to the King.

Tostig's sister Edith of Wessex,
wife of King Edward Image credit
The 'The Life of King Edward', written not long after the Conquest, describes two of Godwin's six sons, Tostig and Harold.  Both, we are told, were 'handsome and graceful persons.'  They were similarly 'strong' and 'brave'.

Harold was practiced in 'endless fatigues'.  He was mild tempered and 'of ready understanding'.  He 'could bear contradiction well'....'not readily... retaliating.'  If he thought someone loyal, he would share his plans.

It's a portrait of a self-controlled, thoughtful man, prepared to communicate and to listen to others.

Tostig, by comparison, 'occasionally was a little over-zealous in attacking evil.'  He was of 'bold and inflexible constancy of mind.'   He would 'ponder much and by himself the plans in his mind'.... 'In his word, deed or promise he was distinguished by adamantine steadfastness.'

And, in a comment that possibly tells us more about other men than of Tostig, 'He renounced desire for all women except his wife...'

Tostig's portrait is of a secretive, stubborn man, who might sometimes break into extreme behaviour.

However, Tostig was admired for his military prowess and firmness of mind, and became a  trusted servant of the King.

In 1051, King Edward's brother-in-law, Eustace of Boulogne, visited Dover. Unfortunately, his men ran amok. Townsfolk resisted, and around forty people were killed.

King Edward considered his brother-in-law to be in the right, and ordered Earl Godwin to punish the people of Dover. Godwin, believing the townsfolk to be in the right, refused.

Edward was furious.  He exiled Godwin's family, repudiated his wife, Godwin's daughter, and sent Godwin's youngest son, Wulfnoth, to Normandy as a hostage.

The incident was a flare for the Norman/English power play that simmered in England. Edward grew up in exile with his mother's people in Normandy after Danish Cnut took the throne. When Edward returned to England, he brought friends and habits gained in Normandy. But the Anglo-Scandinavian English aristocracy, including Godwin, did not like the Frenchified ways of the Normans.

A year after being exiled, Godwin returned, and supporters flocked to him. Edward was compelled to restore Godwin – and his sons and daughter.

Godwin subsequently appears to have been king in all but name.  Edward spent his time either in Church or at the hunt while his wife 'preserved the secret of the King's chastity.'  Edward developed his reputation for saintliness, while Godwin ran the kingdom.

When Godwin died in 1053, his son Harold moved into his place both as Earl of Wessex and as the King's 'Number Two.'

The Godwin plan was always for the whole family and in 1055 when Earl Siward of Northumbria died, Tostig was swiftly installed as Earl. The younger Godwins, Gyrth and Leofwine, became Earls of East Anglia and Kent.

Tostig's star was rising. He had, of all the brothers, the most illustrious wife: Judith of Flanders, half sister of Count Baldwin V of Flanders, granddaughter of Duke Richard II of Normandy, and cousin to King Edward.

A valuable gospel book, owned by Tostig's wife Judith
 and taken with her when the couple were expelled
from Northumbria Image Credit

Tostig was a favourite of King Edward, and they hunted together. Tostig was Queen Edith's favourite brother. He had a palace in York, from which to govern Northumbria.  He was wealthy, and made lavish gifts to Northumbria's patron saint, Cuthbert.

Project Godwin was going swimmingly: only one region of England, Mercia, was not ruled by a Godwin.

But in October 1065, while Tostig hunted with King Edward in Wiltshire, the Northumbrians attacked his palace in York. They slew his retainers and broke into the treasury.

The rebels rampaged south, stopping along the way to meet their allies: Edwin, Earl of Mercia, the Welsh, and their armies.

To show the King the strength of their feelings, the Northumbrians harried Northampton. Pity the unfortunate civilians of Northampton. Harrying, a standard military tactic of the time, meant burning houses and stealing cattle.

The rebels marched on to Oxford.

What had gone wrong?

Tostig's role as Earl of Northumbria was to govern, on behalf of the King, the whole of northern England. However, until 954, Northumbria was an independent kingdom, and in 1065 the Wessex-based King's power was limited to what historian W. E. Kapelle describes as 'essentially an overlord'.

Tostig was the first southerner ever appointed to rule there, and it appears either that he did not understand Northumbria, or that he aimed to govern in the same way as Wessex. However, Northumbria's laws were different to Wessex's. Northumbria had the 'Danelaw' – the laws of the Scandinavian immigrants who were the majority population in the area. Its territory and laws were defined by King Alfred in 879, and affirmed by subsequent kings including Cnut (reigned 1016 – 1035).

Many things were different in the Danelaw, but the universal complaint was that Tostig taxed too heavily. Taxes were significantly lower in the Danelaw. Did Tostig attempt to tax at southern levels?

Tostig was also accused of corruption. And there were murders – all men connected to the dynasty of hereditary Northumbrian earls, who were overlooked when Tostig got the Earldom. Might they have been a focus for rebellion?

Certainly, Tostig upset enough northerners that large numbers rebelled. They organised well. They allied with Edwin of Mercia, the only English Earl not a Godwin, keen to curb Godwin power.  Edwin allied with the Welsh, who Tostig and Harold had attacked in 1063.

The allies demanded that the king remove Tostig, renew the 'laws of Cnut' (i.e. Danelaw tax levels), and install Earl Edwin's brother, Morcar, as Earl of Northumbria.

King Edward sent Harold, his familiar 'number two', to negotiate.  Edward's orders were, essentially, to tell the Northumbrians to shut up and go home.

But when Harold saw that he had fewer soldiers than the massed Northumbrians, Mercians and Welsh, he knew that was impossible.

When Harold reported to Edward that there would be civil war unless Tostig was dismissed, Edward suffered a seizure.

Harold gave the Northumbrians all they demanded.  He averted civil war – but at cost of banishing his own brother.

Tostig went into exile in Flanders. Morcar became Earl of Northumbria. Peace settled.

Ships in the Bayeux Tapestry: Tostig travelled in ships like this,
to Flanders, Denmark and Norway.  And maybe to Normandy.
Image Credit

From this moment, King Edward descended into terminal decline. Some commentators have suggested that Edward and Tostig were homosexual lovers. From this distance, that is impossible to know. But they were certainly close companions. Edward's marriage was 'chaste'.  Tostig 'renounced desire for all women except his wife', although she did bear children.

Whatever the reasons, Edward died, childless, on 5 Jan 1066. The Witan, the country's council of wise men, overlooked Edward's teenage great-nephew, Edgar, and chose Harold to become King.

It appeared a prudent choice. The custom at the time was that the Witan chose the best candidate, and mature brothers or nephews were often chosen over younger contenders. Harold was brother-in-law to the deceased king, and had, in practice, been doing the job for years.

The news infuriated Tostig. As the king's favourite brother-in-law, and with a royal wife, I believe that Tostig had expected to become king. Instead, he was exiled, and Harold slipped into the throne.

In exile, Tostig's brother-in-law, Count Baldwin of Flanders, provided him with a home, an estate, and income of the town of St Omer. But Tostig was not satisfied: he wanted vengeance.  His 'adamantine steadfastness' cut in. Harold must pay for his betrayal.

Tostig sought support. Baldwin did not want a military adventure. Tostig surely went next to neighbouring William of Normandy, husband of Tostig's wife's niece. But I have found only writer – Peter Rex - who confirms that. Several historians record that Tostig went to his mother's cousin, King Swein of Denmark. Swein, like Baldwin and William, refused him. Tostig moved on, to Harald 'Hardrada', king of Norway.

Tostig reminded Hardrada of a treaty made in the late 1030s between Cnut's son Harthacnut and King Magnus of Norway, and persuaded Hardrada that he had a claim to England. Tostig, presumably recalling his father's return after exile, claimed that he had many supporters in England.

Hardrada was persuaded.  They raised troops, and in September 1066, they marched on York.

Was Tostig deluded when he promised Hardrada that supporters would flock to them? Or was he simply lying?

In the event, the Northumbrians defended York.  They met Tostig and the Norse at Fulford, a swampy place a couple of miles south of York.  The new Earl, Morcar, was young, not tested in battle.  Hardrada had a lifetime's military experience. The Northumbrians didn't have a chance.

After the slaughter, the Northumbrians surrendered. As usual, hostages were given as security.  Tostig began his vengeance by selecting those hostages. Promises were extracted from the Northumbrians to march with the invaders to depose King Harold – Tostig's primary aim.

Unbeknown to the invaders, however, King Harold was racing north.  Too late to save the Northumbrians, he went straight to attack the invaders.

Harold called out Tostig and offered him peace. He even offered him his place back as Earl of Northumbria – 'one third of the kingdom'.

Tostig refused – that 'adamantine steadfastness'.

So, at Stamford Bridge, on 25th September 1066, Harold's army wiped out the Norse, King Harald Hardrada, and Harold's brother, Tostig. Shortly afterwards, William of Normandy landed on the south coast.

As Harold rushed his troops back south, he paused to pray at Waltham Abbey.

A year previously, Harold and Tostig were the golden boys of England, King Edward's senior Earls.  Now, Tostig lay dead, killed if not by Harold's own hand, then certainly by his actions. What would he tell their mother?

While there, Harold received a message. The message told him that William had the Pope's blessing, and carried his banner. The message was that William had God on his side.

From this moment, Harold, the brother-killer, appeared a changed man.

His brother Gyrth volunteered to attack William, while Harold and his troops recuperated. Should Gyrth lose, the King and his troops could fight again. Gyrth also suggested they scorched the earth around William's encampment, contain them, and starve them out. They were all sensible suggestions.

But Harold – the brother-killer - did not listen. He insisted on facing William in battle at once.

Harold led his men to face God's judgement at Hastings on 14th October, 1066.

Harold, Gyrth and Leofwine were all felled by William's troops.

Their mother lost four sons in three weeks.

And England was conquered.

The death of King Harold, as depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry


The Life of King Edward, anonymous, but believed to have been commissioned by Queen Edith Godwinson, and written by monk/s of St Bertin Abby at St Omer, Flanders.

The Relations between England and Flanders before the Norman Conquest, by Philip Grierson.

The Godwins, by Frank Barlow

The Saga of Harald Hardrada, in Heimskringla by Snorri Sturlesson

Queen Emma and the Vikings by Harriet O'Brien

Bloodfeud  by Richard Fletcher

The Norman Conquest of the North by William E Kapelle

William the Conqueror, the Bastard of Normandy, by Peter Rex

Finding Fulford by Charles Jones.

1066 The Year of the Conquest, by David Howarth


Helen Johnson has roved around Yorkshire, England, for twenty years, writing about the history, heritage, landscape and people of the region.

She was inspired to write about the Norman Conquest after learning of William the Conqueror's 'Harrying of the North' – an act which today would qualify as genocide.

Her short story, 'God's own Country', published at Copperfield Review, imagines how two people might have felt about one of William the Conqueror's policies – his plan to blend what he described as the 'two races' of his dominions. Read the story HERE

Helen is working on two novels set in Conquest Yorkshire, one for adults and one for teenagers.

You can discover more of Helen's work and read about William the Conqueror's good intentions at her website, or follow her on Twitter @Yorkshirewriter.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Diana Hill, Miniaturist

by Lauren Gilbert

Diana was born about 1760, possibly in London, to George Dietz, a jeweller. Her mother’s name is unknown. Very little is known about her youth, except that she learned how to paint miniatures from Jeremiah Meyer, who painted miniatures for King George III and Queen Charlotte, and was a foundation member of the Royal Academy in 1768. In 1775, Diana Dietz exhibited miniatures at the Society of Artists. That year, for “promoting the Polite and Liberal arts”[1], she also won a silver palette and five guineas from the Society of Arts (Society for the Encouragement of Arts Manufactures and Commerce) for her drawings of flowers. During the period 1777-1798, she exhibited miniatures at the Royal Academy, under her own name Diana Dietz from 1777-1780. One such painting was a portrait exhibited in 1778.

Jeremiah Meyer: Her Majesty Queen Charlotte of England,
Wife of King George III (reproduced in Photogravure)

On February 3, 1780, Diana was the victim of a theft at her father’s house. A record of her testimony, which provided her father’s name and occupation, is available on-line at the Old Bailey website.

On February 1st, 1781, at age 21, Diana married Haydock Hill (born around 1746-1750), at St. Mary’s, Marylebone, London. She exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1785 under the name of Mrs. Hill as an “Honorary Exhibitor”; two of her three exhibited works were flower pictures. The couple had a son, Haydock James Hill in 1782, at least one daughter, and possibly more children. Haydock Hill reportedly died in London in 1785 aged in his mid to late 30’s. There is an indication he was buried in May of 1785. (Some sources show a date of death of 1816 for him; there was no conclusive documentation for either year. 1785 seems most likely.)

John Cary: A New Map of Hindoostan
from the latest authorities, 1806.

After Mr. Hill’s death,  Diana obtained permission on September 21, 1785 from the court of directors of the East India Company to work as a portrait painter in India. Elizabeth Hill (her mother-in-law) and a merchant named T. C. Blanchenhagen stood as approved securities for her. Her brother-in-law John Hill worked for the East India Company's civil service in Bengal. The involvement of her in-laws supports the date of death for Haydock Hill in 1785. It also seems possible that, as Mr. Meyer was still living, he or his son (who went to Calcutta, and was employed as a civil servant there) may have provided assistance with this enterprise, providing references or other support. Diana arrived in Calcutta in 1786. According to Janet Todd’s essay “Ivory Miniatures and the Art of Jane Austen” in British Women's Writing in the Long Eighteenth Century, she may have taken such a drastic step because there was so much competition within the market for miniatures in England. Apparently other female artists of the time made similar moves. I found no reference to indicate whether her children by Mr. Hill accompanied her.

The arrival of the widow was noted by artist Ozias Humphrey, in that he identified her as competition, acknowledging that her work was good. One of her subjects was General Lord Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis, painted in 1786, now in the Mount Vernon collection. Another miniature painted in 1786 was that of a lady, Mrs. Robert Graham. Diana was successful as an artist due to her undoubted talent, as well as her connections.

On November 15th, 1788, she married Lieutenant Thomas Harriott of the 1st Native Infantry (an officer in the East India Company’s service) who was then acting brigade major for the 3rd brigade. She painted a miniature of Harriott about 1791, currently on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum. She stopped working professionally after this marriage. However, a miniature of Elizabeth Steuart, which appears to have been painted about 1790, has been attributed to Diana, although it was not signed.

Diana and Thomas had four children, at least one, possibly two of whom were born in India. They took their family back to England in 1806. They lived in West Hall in Kew for an unknown period of time. Thomas died April 19, 1817. He left a will leaving Diana and their children as beneficiaries, which was proved June (day unclear) 1817.

Diana died February 10, 1844 in  Twickenham, Middlesex, and was buried at St. Mary, Mortlake, Surrey February 17, 1844. She also left a will, which was proved February 22, 1844. She outlived all but two (possibly three) of her children. In her day, she was a prize-winning artist, exhibited at the Royal Academy. Sadly, she fell into obscurity, even though her work is known and valued today.

[1] Transactions Of The Society Instituted At London, For The Encouragement Of Arts, Manufactures And Commerce, With The Premiums Offered In The Year 1784, Volume II.  p. 124.

Sources include:

Aronson, Julie and Wiseman, Marjory E. Perfect Likeness: European And American Portrait Miniatures From The Cincinnati Art Museum p. 209. 2006: Yale University Press.

Transactions Of The Society Instituted At London, For The Encouragement Of Arts, Manufactures And Commerce, With The Premiums Offered In The Year 1784, Volume II. London.

Library of the Fine Arts, or Repertory of Painting, Sculpture, Architecture and Engraving, Vol. III. 1832: M. Arnold, London. Catalogue of Pictures Exhibited at the Rooms of the Royal Academy, Tenth Exhibition, 1778, p. 259.

Batchelor, Jennie and Kaplan, Cora, ed. British Women’s Writing In The Long Eighteenth Century: Authorship, Politics and History. 2005: Palgrave Macmillan, Houndmills, Basingstoke. P. 80. “Past Residents at West Hall.” (no author or post date shown).

Old Bailey Proceedings Online (, version 8.0, 29 January 2020), April 1780, trial of WILLIAM BAGNALL ELISABETH ROSE otherwise BAGNALL (t17800405-19).

Peach, A. (2008, January 03). Hill [née Dietz; other married name Harriott], Diana (d. 1844), miniature painter. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 29 Jan. 2020, from

“Pencil Sketch Portrait Biography.” Retrieved from ; posted October 2, 2013.

Meyer, Jeremiah (DNB00). (2013, February 27). In Wikisource. Retrieved 23:21, January 29, 2020, from,_Jeremiah_(DNB00)&oldid=4325744


An avid reader, Lauren Gilbert was introduced to English authors early in life. Lauren has a Bachelor of Arts degree in liberal arts English with a minor in Art History. A long time member of JASNA, she has presented a number of programs. She lives in Florida with her husband. Her first book, HEYERWOOD A Novel, is available. Just released in December 2019, A RATIONAL ATTACHMENT is her second novel. Her work is included in both volumes of CASTLES, CUSTOMS AND KINGS: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors. She is also researching material for a non-fiction work.

Buy links on Amazon (worldwide)

A Rational Attachment
Heyerwood: A Novel