Friday, June 14, 2019

The Duke of Wellington’s Female Circle: Frances, Lady Shelley

by Lauren Gilbert

Lady Shelley, from a miniature by G. Sanders, in the possession of Spencer Shelley Esq.

Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, was known to enjoy women, particularly pretty, intelligent women. He was credited with many mistresses (whether or not true) and he had many women friends whose company he enjoyed. One of these women was Frances, Lady Shelley, a notable diarist.

Frances was born in June 16, 1787 at Preston, Lancashire. Her father was Thomas Winckley, and her mother was Jacintha Dalrymple Hesketh. Originally known as Janet or Jennet, Jacintha was the previously-widowed sister of the famous courtesan Grace Dalrymple Elliot, whose family had a connection to the Earl of Peterborough. Jacintha and Thomas were descended of Jacobite families and they married in 1785. Thomas was about 17 years older than Jacintha. Jacintha had children (5 daughters and a son) by her first husband. Apparently Thomas did not care for the Hesketh connection; only one of Frances’ half-siblings lived in the household with her and her parents, and they rarely met the Hesketh siblings. The household was not a particularly happy one; Thomas spent a lot of time with his cronies, drank heavily and liked to play pranks. Accounts indicate that Thomas was quite well off. Shortly after moving his family to Larkhill, Thomas died in 1794, leaving his widow, their daughter Frances and 2 illegitimate sons. Jacintha inherited the house and furniture; the residue of Thomas’ estate was left to Frances, who was 6 years old.

In 1795, at the age of 8, Frances was sent to school at Twickenham, where she resided for 2 years. She was removed from school and went to live at her mother’s home in Bath, under the instruction of a governess. She also had a drawing master. Apparently, she had delicate health, possibly with lung problems. At age 10, her doctor recommended fresh air and exercise, so she was allowed to spend a lot of time outdoors. She read a great deal, including the works of the poet Cowper and the tracts of Hannah Moore, and was imbued with a spirit of reform at a young age.

Jacintha Winckley remarried on September 1, 1799 in Bath. She wed Major James Barrington, an Irish career Army man. Although Frances later professed to be shocked by it, and claimed that her mother had had no one to advise her, the marriage was witnessed by Jacintha’s daughter (and Frances’ half-sister) Harriet Hesketh Despard and her husband General John Despard. Although respected by his fellow soldiers, Frances did not like him. Shortly after the marriage, the household moved to London, where Jacintha became very sick. Sometime before Jacintha’s death, Frances returned to her mother’s room to find a stranger visiting: her notorious aunt Grace Dalrymple Elliott. It was her only meeting with her aunt. Frances stayed with and cared for her mother until about 1801 when she was removed from the Barrington household by her guardian Reverend Geoffrey Hornby (who was related to Thomas Winckley, and whose son would inherit Thomas’ estate if Frances died). Jacintha died January 7, 1802, when Frances was approaching 15 years old.

Shortly thereafter, her half-brother, Sir Thomas Hesketh, brought Frances to live with him and his family. She again had a governess, and got on well with her sister-in-law. In order to gain polish and improve her accomplishments, she was placed with Mrs. Olier in Gloucester Place, Portman Square in London. Mrs. Olier took 4 pupils, each paying 1000 pounds. Frances spent 2 years in this establishment. She returned at age 17 to her half-brother’s home, where she entered local society. It appears that in January of 1805, she was presented at the court of King George III. Initially, her social engagements involved Lancashire and Cheshire families known to her and her half-brother, although she wanted to enter the haute ton. She made the acquaintance of Lord and Lady Sefton, who were friends of Sir John Shelley.

Sir John Shelley, 5th Baronet of Michelgrove, was born March 3, 1772, and was 15 years older than Lady Shelley.  He was handsome, charming and a member of the highest society.  He was also known for his fondness for gambling, horse racing, drinking, and womanizing.  One of his closest friends from his school days was Lord George Villiers, subsequently Lord Jersey. Sir John had served in the army in the Coldstream Guards, including time as aide-de-camp to the Duke of Sussex. He discovered that his father had demolished the family fortune to the extent that Sir John was forced to sell his family estate, Michelgrove, for 100,000 pounds when he came of age.  The loss of this property was painful to him for a very long time. His friends (including the Seftons) were hoping to see him settle down in a good marriage.  He was present at a dinner to which Frances and her family were invited.
Sir John Shelley, 6th Baronet. 1815, pencil and ink. By George Hayter (1792-1871).
Frances’ brother and others objected to Sir John's courtship of her, and she returned to her brother’s home. Her diary indicates that she agreed to marry Randal Wilbraham, a scholar and widower with 3 frail children, but came to her senses and broke it off the next day. For fear of scandal, her brother tried to compel her to marry Wilbraham but she refused so he ordered her out of his home. She returned to Rev. Hornby’s home for a few months, and then was allowed to return to her brother’s house.

Sir Thomas Hesketh lived 19 miles from Lord Sefton. Sir Thomas was determined to keep Frances away from Sir John Shelley; Lord Sefton was determined to assist Sir John Shelley in his pursuit of Frances. Sir John convinced Frances of his sincerity. It took time, but eventually Sir John won over Frances’ family and they became engaged. They were married June 4, 1807 at St. George’s, Hanover Square. As the wife of Sir John, Frances, Lady Shelley gained entrée to the highest level of society. However, she discovered that reforming a rake was no easy task. He had had many romances, including one with Lady Boringdon (Lady Jersey’s sister) and another with Lady Haggerstone (Maria Fitzherbert’s sister). Lady Boringdon was violently in love with Sir John, and had wanted him to elope with her.

After their marriage, Sir John received congratulations from his racing companions at Ascot, and they were presented at court by his aunt. Subsequently, they went to Osterley Park for a country visit with Lord and Lady Jersey. Lady Shelley found Lady Jersey to be domineering and rude, and was not happy there. (One can’t help wondering if Sir John’s previous relationship with Lady Jersey’s sister contributed to the awkwardness of the occasion.) As luck would have it, Sir John suffered an injury to his ankle which delayed their departure. Lady Shelley spent as much time as possible in her room or in the gardens, avoiding Lady Jersey and the other women in attendance. She was delighted when they were finally able to leave.

As they went forward as a couple, she did not interfere with his activities, and encouraged him to go to social engagements without her. They became a most devoted couple and Lady Shelley’s diary and letters indicate that they were very active socially, and often in company with the Jerseys. (Lady Jersey apparently bestowed the nicknames “Goose” and “Country Girl’) on Lady Shelley, which I’m sure did not improve relations between the ladies.) Lord and Lady Shelley had 5 children between 1808 and 1813: John Villiers Shelley born March 18, 1808, Frederick born May 5, 1809, Frances Louisa (Fanny Lucy) born February 2, 1811, Adolphus Edward born March 2, 1812, and Spencer born December 24, 1813.

In 1814, Sir John inherited a property, Maresfield, near Uckfield in East Sussex. Lady Shelley spent 70,000 pounds updating the estate. Having an estate improved Sir John’s position in the county, and made up for the loss of Michelgrove to some degree. They were in London for the peace celebrations and activities in 1814, attending the King of France’s levee at Grillon’s Hotel on April 22, and the arrival of the Emperor of Russia on May 13 as well as others. The Shelleys gave a party on July 18th which was attended by Marshall Blucher and General Platoff. Among the guests were Mrs. Wellesley Pole, accompanied by the Duke of Wellington. Sir John was known to the Duke from his army days, and Lady Shelley was quite impressed with the Duke. Lady Shelley met the Duke of Wellington again at a party at Wanstead House (the home of the Duke’s brother, William Wellesley Pole) on July 21 1814. This party was attended by members of the highest society.

Portrait of the Duke of Wellington by Francisco Goya, between 1812 and 1814
Information in Lady Shelley’s diary and other sources indicates that she and the Duke enjoyed conversation and riding together as she was a notable horsewoman. The Duke returned to Paris in August of 1814, by which time Lady Shelley entertained a great regard and respect for him. The Shelleys returned to Maresfield for the rest of the summer. After the Battle of Waterloo (June 18, 1815), the Shelleys planned a trip to Paris and departed Maresfield on July 13, 1815. They landed in Calais on July 15 and journeyed to Paris, where they arrived a few days later.

During this time in Paris, the Duke allowed them to use his boxes at the theatres in Paris, and escorted Lady Shelly on horseback to various military reviews. She dined with him regularly as Sir John was often out if not ill with gout. He introduced her to various personages. She attended the Allied Review of Troops in July in a glass coach with outriders and footmen provided by the duke. Gossip about their relationship was, of course, rife. The Duke simultaneously entertained more than one mistress, about whom Lady Shelley was aware but somehow managed not to meet. Her diary does not read like one would expect a record of a passionate affair but as a more platonic, intimate friendship. She also wrote of her husband with great affection.

Lord and Lady Shelley subsequently returned to England in September of 1815. The Duke and Lady Shelley maintained a regular correspondence. On Jun 18, 1816, Lord and Lady Shelley sailed from Brighton to France and journeyed back to Paris. The Shelleys dined with the Duke of Wellington on June 23, 1816. After that, Lady Shelley socialized with the Duke, and rode his horse Copenhagen (the horse he rode in the Battle of Waterloo) at least once in the Bois de Boulogne. (Her diary indicates that she and her husband spent time together, as well as having separate engagements.) However, the Duke was not there long, as he intended to go to Cheltenham, England to take the water and to spend time with his wife Kitty and their sons. Lady Shelley dined with him regularly until his departure.

The Shelleys left Paris July 7 on a European tour and travelled through France to Switzerland. Lady Shelley received a letter from the Duke of Wellington written July 10 at Cheltenham, a newsy, social letter in which he sent regards to Lord Shelley and asked her to write when she had time. They travelled on through the German states, to Prague, Austria and Hungary where she met the Princess Esterhazy and Lord Shelley went hunting with the Prince. They went to Vienna, where they spent a month. Their journey took them on to spend the winter in Italy, which Lady Shelley enjoyed very much, being particularly fond of Naples. It is interesting to note that, according to her journal, Lady Shelley indicated some kind of reconciliation with Lady Jersey in Italy. During her travels (as indeed during her life), Lady Shelley maintained an extensive correspondence with family and friends, as well as the Duke of Wellington. They finally returned home March 25, 1817. Their youngest child Cecilia Victorine was born sometime in 1818.

Both Lord and Lady Shelley maintained friendships with the Duke of Wellington and many personages highly placed in society and government circles. Lord Shelley served in Parliament from 1804-1806, and again from 1816-1831. He maintained his interest in horse racing, which kept him in the same circle as Lord Sefton, Lord Jersey and other racing aficionados. (His horse Prince Paul lost the Derby despite being the favourite in 1818, which was a sad disappointment to both; they had counted on winning the purse to ease a cash shortage.) Lady Shelley also went on to form a close friendship with Mrs. Harriet Arbuthnot, another of the Duke of Wellington’s closest female friends (and rumoured mistresses). Her diary and collected letters (in 2 volumes) show that, while she and the Duke of Wellington maintained a steady correspondence and met frequently when possible, she was deeply attached to Lord Shelley who was also on excellent terms with the Duke. In her diary, Lady Shelley refers to political matters, travels, and her personal impressions of people she met. They also entertained the Duke of Wellington at their home.

The only breach in the friendship between the Duke of Wellington and Lady Shelley occurred in 1847. The Duke wrote what he considered a private and personal letter to Sir John Burgoyne in which he described the weakness of England’s defenses. Concerned, Sir John showed it to Lady Shelley. She shared that information, publication of the information resulted, and the Duke was furious with her. (Her motive was honourable, in that she hoped action would be taken according to the Duke’s wishes; unfortunately, the Duke did not appreciate her efforts.) Although the Duke met Lord Shelley with pleasure, he remained on the outs with Lady Shelley, until 1850 when Lord Shelley managed to heal the breech. It is sad to note that she lost her both husband and her dear friend in 1852: her husband passed away on March 28, 1852, and the Duke of Wellington on September 14, 1852.

Lady Shelley maintained her diary and continued her travels and correspondence until late in life. She started to write an autobiography, which was unfinished, and made notes in her diary to clarify things. (She provided the details of Lord Shelley’s courtship and their marriage in 1855.) The closest she came to hinting at an affair with the Duke was her description of her hero-worship of Wellington and the intoxication of being his chosen companion and then his acknowledged friend.(1) It is very possible they had a romantic relationship (dalliance on his side, hero-worship on hers) that did not involve a physical affair, that evolved to a more mature and sincere friendship.

In 1868, she built a house on the Isle of Wight that was called Maresfield Lodge. She became a friend of Queen Victoria, with whom she dined at Osborne. Queen Victoria visited Lady Shelley when she became ill in early 1873, and came to see Lady Shelley when she got word that Lady Shelley was dying.

Frances, Lady Shelley died February 24, 1873 aged almost 86 years at her home on the Isle of Wight. She lived through interesting and momentous times, had the opportunity to know and observe many of the movers and shakers through the last reigns of the Georgians and into the Victorian era, and recorded her observations. Her diaries, which were edited by her grandson Richard Edgcumbe, provide a fascinating window onto the late Georgian and Victorian eras.


Shelley, Frances. (Richard Edgcumbe, editor.) THE DIARY OF FRANCES LADY SHELLEY, Vol 2. P. 405


Delaforce, Patrick. WELLINGTON THE BEAU The Life and Loves of the Duke of Wellington. 2004: Pens & Sword Books Ltd., Barmsley, South Yorkshire. (First published 1990 by The Windrush Press.)

Edgcumbe, Richard, ed. THE DIARY OF FRANCES LADY SHELLEY 1787-1817. Vol. 1. 1912: John Murray, London.

Shelley, Frances. Edited by Richard Edgcumbe. THE DIARY OF FRANCES LADY SHELLEY Vol. 2. (This covers 1818-1859.) Originally published 1912. 2012: Forgotten Books. (Reprint)

Major, Joanne and Murden, Sarah. AN INFAMOUS MISTRESS The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott. 2016: Pen & Sword Books, Ltd., Barmsley, South Yorkshire. (Kindle version)

Manning, Jo. MY LADY SCANDALOUS The Amazing Life and Outrageous Times of Grace Dalrymple Elliott, Royal Courtesan. 2005: Simon & Schuster, New York.

Blog Preston. “Notable People of Preston – Frances Lady Shelley 1787 to 1873” by Gill Lawson, October 18, 2013. HERE

History of Parliament Online. “Shelley, Sir John, 6th Bt. (1772-1852) of Maresfield Park, Suss.” by Howard Spencer (no post date). HERE

History Today. “The Duke of Wellington and Lady Shelley” by Prudence Hannay. Vol. 25 Issue 2 published February 2, 1975. HERE

Lady Shelley: scanned frontispiece from my personal copy of  THE DIARY OF FRANCES LADY SHELLEY 1787-1817.

Lord Shelley: Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)  HERE

Portrait of the Duke of Wellington: Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)  HERE

Lauren Gilbert is a dedicated reader and student of English literature and history, holding a BA in liberal arts English with a minor in Art History. A long-time member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, she has done various presentations for the local region, and delivered a break out session at the 2011 Annual General Meeting. Her first book, HEYERWOOD: A Novel was published in 2011, and her second, A RATIONAL ATTACHMENT, will be released later this year. She lives in Florida with her husband, and is researching material for a biography. For more information, visit her website

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Latin in Post-Roman Britain – An Old Debate Revisited

By Gareth Griffith

The current orthodoxy among historians of post-Roman Britain would seem to be that Latin was spoken and written widely in the century or so after the departure of the legions in around 410. This applies with particular force in what is called the Lowland Zone, the region in the south of the country where villa civilization proliferated. 

The issue is significant, not least because former assertions of the widespread displacement and even genocide of the native British population were sometimes based in part on the lack of Brittonic loan-words in Anglo-Saxon (for example, Ronald Hutton, p 296). But if Latin was the most common language encountered by the incoming Germanic people, at least in lowland Britain, then such assertions must look to new and different evidence. 

An example of the contemporary approach is found in Guy Halsall’s 2013 book, Worlds of Arthur: Facts and Fictions of the Dark Ages, where language is only one part of a larger and novel re-interpretation of the period. Halsall challenges the assumption, “still more or less universal,” he claims, that the people the Anglo-Saxons encountered in the Lowland Zone spoke Brittonic or Brythonic. He argues that: “This is very rarely questioned but it is more than a little problematic, being based upon absolutely no evidence.” Halsall’s view is that, while Brittonic was indeed the main language of the highland regions, the same cannot be said of what he calls “the lowland villa-zone.” By analogy with northern Gaul, he maintains that, after 400 years of Roman rule, in this zone “the local Celtic language was replaced by low Latin.” If that was so, then the “Anglo-Saxons’ lack of contact with British speakers would be entirely unsurprising.”

According to Halsall:
If we look for Latin loan-words in Old English, we find hundreds: about as many as there are in Old Welsh. It is usually claimed that these words were introduced during the Anglo-Saxons’ conversion to Christianity, yet that argument is itself founded ultimately on two propositions. 
One proposition is that, because the British spoke Brittonic, these Latin loan-words could not have been introduced earlier. The other is that Christianity died out in the lowland region before Augustine’s mission in 597. “Neither assumption is secure,” Halsall asserts. 

A similar, if less categorical version of this argument is found in Nicholas J Higham’s most recent book, King Arthur: The Making of the Legend. His conclusion is that, “Latin was widespread in late Roman Britain, particularly in the Lowland Zone, and literacy along with it, but Celtic was still heard everywhere and was for many their first language – particularly in the north and west.” 

In Wales and the Britons 350-1064 TM Charles Edwards wrote that in 400: 
…many Britons then spoke Latin, though many of them would also have been able to speak British…In the sixth century, Gildas referred to Latin as ‘our language’, contrasting it with the Germanic of the Anglo-Saxon settlers. 
This language issue is not new. For that reason, it is worth looking at it in a wider context, that of the development of scholarly thinking on the Latin question. Taking a step back a few generations, therefore, the issue of the use of Latin in post-Roman Britain, from around 410 to 600, can be viewed through the prism of Kenneth Jackson’s seminal 1953 book, Language and History in Early Britain
In Chapter 3, in his discussion of Roman Britain, Jackson looked back at the state of scholarship in the late 19th century. He noted: 
Since it was a Roman province, like the others [Gaul and other provinces], the natural tendency was to assume a priori, that Latin was the regular language everywhere, except for a few remote half-barbarous peasants who may have clung to their Celtic tongue in the East and (because of the existence of Welsh and Cornish) admittedly must have done so in the West. 
Jackson then commented that since the First World War, with the growing “interest in the Celtic side of all questions,” the pendulum swung the other way, possibly “a little too far.” Taking recent developments into account, Jackson presented a nine-point summary of the “probable situation” of the Latin and British languages in Roman Britain, as follows:
Latin was the language of the governing classes, of civil administration and of the army, of trade, of the Christian religion, and very largely (but perhaps not entirely) of the people of the towns. The rural upper classes were bilingual; the peasantry of the Lowland Zone, who constituted the great bulk of the population, spoke British and probably spoke little Latin; and the language of the Highland Zone (apart from the army and its native camp followers) was to all intents and purposes exclusively British. 
On this account, the speaking of Latin “coincided roughly with the ability to read and write,” making it largely “a polite tongue of the upper classes,” which for Jackson accounted for the “peculiarities of British Vulgar Latin.” On a technical note, Jackson was of the view that the superior British Latin from which loan words in Brittonic were derived was “quite different in certain important respects from Continental Vulgar Latin.” He estimated that Latin remained the “official” language up until around 450, after which it found refuge for a time in the Highland Zone; in the same period, the “British language came into its own among the upper classes in the Lowland Zone, as it had always been among the lower.”

Armed with this interpretation, Jackson then proceeded in Chapter 6 to analyse in more detail the situation in post-Roman Britain, as regards the influence of Latin on Anglo-Saxon. Jackson’s main point of departure was the work of the German scholar K Luick (Historische Grammatik der Enlischen Sprache, 1914). Luick divided Latin words in Anglo-Saxon into two main groups, as follows: firstly, popular oral borrowings from colloquial Vulgar Latin, which were early and almost all taken to belong to pre-Christian times; and secondly learned loan words, chiefly from the ecclesiastical spoken and written in Latin, which were late and subsequent to the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity.

The first early group, Luick further divided into two classes: (1) those loanwords adopted on the Continent by the West Germanic peoples during the Empire and inherited by the Anglo-Saxons prior to their coming to Britain; and (2) those loanwords which came into Anglo-Saxon between around 450 and the 7th century. Distinguishing between these two classes of loan words was far from straightforward, with Jackson describing the criteria for words in the (2) class as “vague and unreliable.” There was also the question of the extent of Anglo-Saxon intercourse with the Continent in this period, which could well have meant that some Latin words were derived from the spoken Latin of Gaul. He continued:
…the existence of the group (2) loanwords cannot be taken as positive proof that Latin was at all widely spoken in the Lowland Zone of Britain in the fifth and sixth centuries. 
In 1939, Sir Ivor Williams had argued that the larger number of borrowings from Latin than from Brittonic into Anglo-Saxon was evidence that the Lowland Zone was Latin rather than Brittonic in speech. Jackson disagreed:
But even if all the group (2) loanwords were adopted in Britain (and it is possible that none or almost none of them were), it would still not be safe to come to any such conclusions, because we are dealing with such small figures on both sides – about eighteen Brittonic versus a round two dozen Latin at most – that proportions are of little significance.  
Jackson went on to say:
Besides, assuming that the Latin words were taken over in Britain, some such relative number is only what would be expected, for Latin was the speech of an admired and superior culture, with expressions for ideas not existing in Germanic…. 
The conclusion arrived at by Jackson was that: “although it does not prove anything for certain, the heavy accumulation of negative evidence does seem to suggest strongly that the English met very few people who talked any sort of Latin at all during the course of the occupation of Britain.”

From this account, it would seem that Jackson’s views are not consistent with those of such contemporary historians as Guy Halsall whose argument is, in part, based on the evidence of Christian loanwords, which he claims were pre- and not post-600.

A number of questions and observations follow. One question is how persuasive is that element Halsall’s argument, bearing in mind that even if ecclesiastical words were imported early into Anglo-Saxon, many of these could very easily have been loaned from the Latin of Gaul. After all, modern historians are inclined to take a less insular view of this period of British history, with a new focus on links between the Anglo-Saxons and the continent of Europe. Moreover, even if British Christianity did endure in the Lowland Zone, might it not have been the case that Latin was primarily, if not exclusively, the language of the church, as it proved to be subsequent to the conversion?

More broadly, are contemporary interpretations of the prevalence of Latin in post-Roman Britain based on new evidence, sufficient to set aside the obvious counter arguments. If so, what is the nature of this evidence? Is it archaeological? Does it rest on new linguistic interpretation of a technical nature? Discounting Christian loanwords, Jackson counted a mere two dozen Latin imports into Anglo-Saxon in the period 450 to 600. Have more now been identified? For Jackson, the evidence was still largely a priori, which is to say based on deduction, using inference and analogy in place of inductive empirical proof. How far advanced are we since 1953 along the inductive route as far as the language question is concerned? Whereas other questions may lend themselves more to the archaeological and other tools available to contemporary research, language would appear to be a more recalcitrant customer, leaving room for continuing doubt and debate. The less than categorical conclusions reached by Nicholas J Higham would seem to indicate as much.

From Kenneth Jackson to the contemporary historians cited, there would seem to be broad agreement that Latin was the language spoken by the reading and writing classes of the Lowland Zone; that is, the administrators, traders, the army and the like. The difficult question is how far down the social scale did Latin reach? Was Latin the more or less universal language of the Lowland Zone in Roman and, for a time, in post-Roman Britain? Is there a case to be made, as Jackson thought, for bilingualism, at least outside the cities of Southern England? If bilingualism did endure in the country areas, did it conform to the model of social hierarchy suggested by Jackson? Was it the case that Brittonic displaced Latin in the 5th century as the spoken language of all classes of the native population in the former Lowland Zone? Alternatively, was Latin still the dominant language, to be replaced ultimately by Anglo-Saxon? For Gildas, writing in the 6th century, Latin was still “our language.” But then, Gildas was writing in a rhetorical vein, very much from an educated, Christian standpoint.

One thing we can say with assurance is that Kenneth Jackson was of the view that the evidence he had at hand in 1953 did not “prove anything for certain.” Has much changed in the intervening 66 years? It seems the language question will not go away. It has long been and still remains an important aspect of any analysis of the post-Roman era.

Kenneth Jackson, Language and History in Early Britain, Edinburgh University Press 1953
Ronald Hutton, Pagan Britain, Yale University Press 2014
Guy Halsall’s 2013 book, Worlds of Arthur: Facts and Fictions of the Dark Ages, Oxford University Press 2013
Nicholas J Higham, King Arthur: The Making of the Legend, Yale University Press 2018
TM Charles Edwards, Wales and the Britons 350-1064, Oxford University Press 2013

A replica of the Old Roman Cursive inspired by the Vindolanda tablets, the oldest surviving handwritten documents in Britain - public domain via Wikipedia
Historische Grammatik der Enlischen Sprache, 1914 Image from Internet Archive.Org
Statue of Saint-Gildas. It on the shore line in a small bay near the "Grand-Mont" (Morbihan, France) Via Wiki commons


Originally from Penmaenmawr, North Wales, Gareth Griffith now lives in Sydney, Australia with his wife Sue.

His career has encompassed teaching, research and writing, including many years working as the manager of research for the parliament of New South Wales. He has a PhD from the University of Wales. His academic publications include a study of George Bernard Shaw's politics, published by Routledge, and several publications on the study of parliament and constitutional law.

 These days, when Gareth isn’t writing, he enjoys reading, music, dark Scandi film and TV, and Dark Age Britain. Glass Island is his first historical novel.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Editors Weekly Round-up, June 9, 2019

by the EHFA Editors

Cryssa Bazos takes the spotlight this week with an article on Barbados in the 17th century.

by Cryssa Bazos

Friday, June 7, 2019

Exploring 17th century Barbados

by Cryssa Bazos

Photo credit: D-Stanley on Visualhunt / CC BY

Fancy a vacation? Barbados would surely be up there as a top destination: powdery beaches, palm trees, clear water, hot temperatures, and plenty of luxury. But imagine if you were going to take that trip 370 years ago? Today, we’re going to step back in time to the 17th century and visit Barbados before there were resorts and sandy beaches, two decades after the island had first been colonized by English investors.

Getting there

Travelling by ship from England to Barbados would have taken us approximately eight weeks, possibly longer if we were sailing in unsettled weather. Victuals would have been poor and not everyone took to sea travel. If we were unfortunate enough to be shipped down as an indentured servant (we’re coming from England after all), the death toll would have been high and many of our shipmates didn’t make it. Don't expect an ocean view cabin. Indentured servants would have been riding in the hold with other cargo.

Arriving there

As it is today, Bridgetown was a centre of commerce on the island back in the 17th century. Richard Ligon, an Englishman who arrived in 1647, described the town as being the size of Hounslow. He referred to it as the Bridge (also the Town) because a land bridge was erected over bogland to link the harbour with the settlement. Ligon had much to say about the lack of foresight in the town planning:

“A Town ill scituate; for if they had considered health, as they did conveniency, they would never have set it there; or, if they had any intention at first, to have built a Town there, they could not have been so improvident, as not to forsee the main inconveniences that must ensue, by making choice of so unhealthy a place to live in. But the main oversight was, to build their Town upon so unwholsome a place. For, the ground being somwhat lower within the Land, than the Sea-banks are, the spring-Tides flow over, and there remains, making a great part of that flat, a kinde of Bog or Morasse, which vents out so loathsome a savour, as cannot but breed ill blood, and is (no doubt) the occasion of much sicknesse to those that live there.”

Bridgetown was a busy harbour, and there were numerous storehouses built close to the waterfront that collectively stored most of the island’s sugar.

An equally important settlement was Speightstown, situated to the north-west. The town was also called Little Bristol in honour of the regular trade it enjoyed with Bristol, England. Goods would also flow by ship between the two harbours of Bridgetown and Speightstown, which was a more efficient method of transport than maneuvering the roads.

Speightstown © Cryssa Bazos

Getting Around

17th century Barbados had a very different landscape than today. Then, the island was thickly wooded (and not by palms) and the roads deeply rutted and broken by tree stumps for people were slowly clearing the land. This made it difficult for carriages or wagons to traverse the roads, and while goods still needed to be brought to Bridgetown, the planters had to rely on four-legged transportation.

Were we travelling down rough roads in those days, we could expect to find donkeys and camels heading down to Bridgetown. Oil-skin tarps covered the sugar to protect the valuable cargo from a sudden rain shower. One camel alone was able to carry about sixteen hundred pounds of sugar.

Along the way, a traveller seeking to take shelter from a sudden shower would be careful not to sit under the native manchineel tree. The tree was poisonous and rain runoff caused extreme blistering. Today, the trees are still found on the island and are often found near the shore for they are excellent at protecting against erosion.  

Manchineel tree: ©  Cryssa Bazos


St. Nicholas Abbey: ©  Cryssa Bazos
You might be a visitor, an indentured servant, or worse a slave, but plantations weren’t resorts. Concerns over tropical storms meant that houses were designed with north/south facing windows rather than east/west. Unfortunately, that construction didn’t allow for cooling breezes to circulate throughout the house.

In the mid-17th century, a large plantation would be about 500 acres, though there were numerous smaller plantations dotted across the island. A friend of Ligon’s purchased a plantation for 7,000 pounds, which was a breathtaking sum. Out of 500 acres, 200 would be devoted to sugar cane, 30 acres to growing tobacco, 120 acres for wood, 5 for ginger or cotton and 70 for other household crops such as plantains, corn, cassava and orchard fruit. Oxen had to be imported from England, but often succumbed to disease. Pigs and goats did well, and there were wild turkeys to be had.

What of the accommodations, you may ask? Seaside view or garden view? Neither. The slave and indentured servants’ quarters were thatched huts far from the main house. The slaves were expected to sleep on rough pallets  on the dirt floor while indentured servants (or Christian servants as they were known as then) were spared the discomfort of the creepy-crawlies and slept more comfortably off the ground in hammocks. The only luxury item, born of need rather than generosity, were wax candles instead of tallow. They didn’t have the wherewithal to make tallow candles, and Beeswax was readily available as an import from Africa.

Michelin star dining

Not so much for servants, though the owners and their guests could expect an excellent pork to grace their table. For workers, the first meal of the day would be around 11 am and then the last one after 6 pm. During the heat of the day, servants and slaves were given a two hour break to cook, eat and rest before heading back to the fields to continue their work. Their main staple was a gruel of cornmeal called loblolly.

Looking for some bread to make a sandwich? No wheat, but a flatbread made from a root vegetable called cassava will have to do. Cassava was a major staple; boiled and ground into meal, it went a long way.

At the end of the work week (Saturday), servants and slaves would be given the following extra food allotment: two mackerel for the men and one for the women. Bone meat would be given perhaps a couple of times a week. Animals that died (even if diseased) would be given to the servants and slaves to eat, although the slaves mostly received the head and entrails.

And as for drink, the most common grog was a drink called mobbie, made of sweet potatoes. It had the strength of Rhenish wine and could be coloured red if red potato skins were used in the fermentation process. As a by-product of the sugar production, rum or kill-devil was distilled and given to the servants and slaves. Excess rum could be sold in Bridgetown to the ships. The best imported brandies and spirits would be reserved for the master's table.


Sugar was king. There was no hard currency on the island so people relied on bartering and the currency of sugar for every major purchase, including the payment of fines. In 1651 when there was an influx of Scottish PoWs arriving as indentured servants, the going rate to purchase their bond was 800 pounds of sugar. To put this in perspective, this would have been the approximate yield of a quarter acre of sugarcane. A large plantation at that time with 200 acres of sugarcane would have yielded one million pounds of sugar over a twenty month cycle. And there’s your luxury.

17th century Barbados was not for the faint of heart. It was wild, exciting,  and offered the potential for huge profits for investors. In the early days, indentured servants were lured with the promise of land, and when that became too valuable, an allotment of sugar or passage home were given instead for several years work. Those who stayed, indentured and slaves, were survivors and eventually built up the island to the tropical jewel that is today.


A True & Exact History of the Island of Barbados, Richard Ligon (originally published 1657)
A German Indentured Servant in Barbados in 1652: The Account of Heinrich Von Uchteritz


Cryssa Bazos is an award-winning historical fiction author and 17th-century enthusiast with a particular interest in the English Civil War. Her debut novel, Traitor's Knot, was the Medalist winner of the 2017 New Apple Award (historical fiction), a finalist for the 2018 EPIC eBook Awards (historical romance) and the RNA Joan Hessayon Award. Her second novel, Severed Knot, was longlisted for the Historical Novel Society 2018 New Novel Award and tells the story of a Scottish PoW transported down to Barbados as an indentured servant.

Connect with Cryssa through her Website, Facebook, and Twitter (@CryssaBazos). Traitor's Knot is available through Amazon, and Severed Knot is available through Amazon and other Online Retailers. 

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Editors Weekly Round-up, June 2, 2019

by the EHFA Editors

Lauren Gilbert takes the spotlight on this week's round-up with a post about Charles - brother of Mary - Wollstonecraft and his wife Nancy. Never miss a post. Follow EHFA on  Facebook or Twitter, or subscribe to the blog via email.

by Lauren Gilbert

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Charles and Nancy Wollstonecraft

By Lauren Gilbert

Botanical illustration and description by Nancy Anne Kingsbury Wollstonecraft of the Cuban Blue Passion Flower, Vol. I, Pl. 25, ca. 1826 

Earlier this year, we learned of an astonishing discovery: the manuscript of a work long thought lost created by American Anne Kingsbury Wollstonecraft titled SPECIMENS OF THE PLANTS AND FRUITS OF THE ISLAND OF CUBA. This remarkable work consists of three volumes, in which Mrs. Wollstonecraft described various specimens. She also illustrated them beautifully in watercolors herself. Although we know little about her, data shows that she was married to Charles Wollstonecraft, the youngest brother of British author Mary Wollstonecraft, who wrote VINDICATION OF THE RIGHTS OF WOMAN, among other works. I was immediately intrigued. How did Charles Wollstonecraft get to America? What is their story?

Portrait of Mary Wollstonecraft (Mrs. William Godwin) by John Opie c 1790-1791

Charles Wollstonecraft was born in the summer of 1770 in Beverly, Yorkshire, the youngest child of Edward John and Elizabeth Dixon Wollstonecraft. He was baptized July 23, 1770 at St. John and St. Martin in Beverly. He appears to have been a cheerful and optimistic youth, and possibly a favorite with his sisters,including Mary. The eldest brother Edward (also known as Ned) was the only child in the family to have had a good education; he was an attorney. When Charles was approximately 17 years old, he was apprenticed to his brother. Subsequently Charles was apprenticed to another attorney, but that resulted in his dismissal about 1789. The family moved to London in 1775, then to Laugharne in South Wales in 1776. Elizabeth Wollstonecraft died April 19, 1782.

In April 1789, Charles went to Cork, Ireland to stay with family, but returned to his father in the spring of 1791. That didn't work out, so he returned to his brother Ned in the fall. (It appears that Charles had difficulty finding himself.) He was supposed to go to America in 1792 with Joel and Ruth Barlow, American acquaintances of sister Mary. Mr. Barlow was a speculator in land. Mary bought Charles clothes and put him on a farm in Leatherhead so he could learn something of agriculture until his departure. However, Mr. Barlow ended up in France and Charles went to America alone, possibly later in 1792 or in 1793.

There are indications that Charles dabbled in land speculation, and he may have purchased land in Ohio. He was in Philadelphia, PA in late 1794, and wrote to his sisters telling them how well he was doing. In 1795, he became involved with a calico mill with Archibald Hamilton Rowan, another acquaintance of Mary's who was also a speculator. Although he continually wrote in optimistic terms, he did not respond to requests for financial assistance from his family in England.

Apparently, Charles' efforts at speculation in land and calico did not pay off, as he enlisted in the U.S. Army in Pennsylvania in 1798. He was a Lieutenant in 2 Artilleries and Engineers June 4, 1798 and went to Artillery April 1, 1802. Charles married Sarah Garrison of New Orleans in 1804, and they had a daughter named Jane Nelson Wollstonecraft about 1806. Data indicates he divorced Sarah for adultery in 1811, and kept their daughter. He was promoted to Captain March 15, 1805. He served as captain of the Regiment of Artillerists (known as Captain Charles Wollstonecraft's Company from 1806 until late 1815). He himself was transferred to Corps Artillery May 12, 1814 and was present in the British bombardment of Fort St. Philip, Lower Mississippi River, Louisiana from Jan 9-18, 1815 (in the aftermath of the Battle of New Orleans).

A general map of the seat of war in Louisiana & west Florida : shewing all the fortified points and encampments of both the American and British armies also the march of Genl. Jackson's army on his expedition against Pensacola. 1814

Charles married Anne Kingsbury in 1813 in New Orleans. (Her name is commonly shown as Nancy or even Nancy Anne.) She was born October 29, 1791 to Benjamin Kingsbury and Abigail Sawin. She had multiple siblings, and her mother died when she was 12 years old. I found no information on her youth, education or when (and why) she came to New Orleans. I also found no information on how Charles and Nancy became acquainted. She would have been approximately 22 years of age, and he would have been about 43 years old when they were wed.

Charles became brevet major on March 15, 1815, as a reward for 10 years' service in one grade. He died in Louisiana, possibly of fever, September 28, 1817. He left his daughter Jane (then age 12) in Nancy's care, with Nancy as her guardian. Nancy placed Jane in other people's custody, the last being Rev. Richard Hall in New Ipswich, NH. Jane's mother Sarah managed to find and take the child to New York. A custody battle ensued, which resulted in Sarah being awarded custody of the child in August 1819, based in part on Jane's expressed desire to stay with her mother.

Nancy apparently remained in New Orleans for a time. She was a benefactor of the Poydras Female Asylum (an orphanage) in 1817. In 1819, she moved to Matanzas, Cuba. The reason for this move is unclear; health seems a likely possibility as Cuba's subtropical climate made it a destination for sufferers of various health problems, including lung complaints, for which warmth and sea air were specifics.

Throughout the 1820s, Nancy worked on SPECIMENS OF THE PLANTS AND FRUITS OF THE ISLAND OF CUBA. She was very knowledgeable in the study of botany, showing familiarity with the work of Carolus Linnaeus (18th century Swedish botanist who pioneered classification and naming of organisms), Olof Swartz (another Swedish botanist, noted for his work with orchids) and other contemporary scientists. At this time, it is unknown where she studied or if she was self-taught. Besides her scientific knowledge, she was also a talented artist as her illustrations show. (The 3 volume manuscript has been digitized and can be viewed here.)

Portrait of Carl von Linne (Carolus Linnaeus), 1774

In 1825, Nancy visited New England. Under the pseudonym, "D'Anville", she began publishing articles about her botanical studies and about women's issues. "The Natural Rights of Women" was published in the Boston Monthly Magazine in August  1825, in which she appeared to echo many of her sister-in-law Mary Wollstonecraft's views, especially on women's education. (It is tempting to imagine that Charles told Nancy about his sister, and that Nancy read her works. It is certainly not impossible.) Nancy's "Letters from Cuba" appeared in the Boston Monthly Magazine in April and May 1826. On June 10, 1827, her father Benjamin Kingsbury died.

At some point around 1827, Nancy sent her manuscript for SPECIMENS OF THE PLANTS AND FRUITS OF THE ISLAND OF CUBA to New York for publication (her manuscript was known to be there in April 1828, even thought it was not published). There are indications that she was still working on notes for her manuscript when she died on May 16, 1828 in Matanzas, Cuba, aged 46 years.


Todd, Janet. MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT A Revolutionary Life. 2000: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London.

AtlasObscura. "A Forgotten Botanist's Stunning 19th Century Manuscript Is Now Online" by Jonathon Carey, February 5, 2019. HERE
Cornell University Library. “Rediscovering a pioneering botanical illustrator.” (no author shown) February 1, 2019. HERE “Edward John WOLLSTONECRAFT/Elizabeth DIXON”, Family Tree Maker, 2/19/05. HERE

Feminist History of Philosophy. “An ‘Exciting New Discovery’: Anne Wollstonecraft, Botanist and Woman’s Rights Writer” by Sandrine Berges, April 25, 2019. HERE

GoogleBooks. Davis, Paris M. AN AUTHENTICK HISTORY OF THE LATE WAR BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES AND GREAT BRITAIN with a Full Account of Every Battle. 1829: ATHAEA. HERE ; Hamersly, T.H.S. COMPLETE REGULAR ARMY REGISTER FOR ONE HUNDRED YEARS (1789-1879). 1881: T.H.S Hamersly, Washington D.C. HERE

Hathi Trust Digital Library. “The Natural Rights of Woman” by D’Anville. Boston Monthly Magazine, Vol. 1, No. 1-7 (1825). HERE ; “Letters from Cuba No. 11”. Boston Monthly Magazine, 1825-1826, S.L. Knapp, Boston. HERE ; Wollstonecraft, Anne Kingsbury. SPECIMENS OF THE PLANTS AND FRUITS OF THE ISLAND OF CUBA, 1826? V. 1, 2 and 3. HERE

National Geographic. “.'Lost' Book of exquisite scientific drawings rediscovered after 190 years” by Czerne Reid, April 22, 2019. HERE “Historical Memoir of the War in West Florida and Louisiana, 1814-1815” by Major A. Lacarrier Latour, translated by H. P. Nugent, Esq., Philadelphia 1816. Bombardment of Fort St. Philip, in Placquemines Parishl [reproduction of an item in the Louisiana Historical Quarterly, published by the Louisiana Historical Society] Bill Thayer, no date of post. HERE

University of Florida. “The Cuban Botanical illustrations (1819- 1828) of Nancy Kingsbury Wollstonecraft (1781-1828) at Cornell University Ithaca, New York” by Emilio Cueto, November 8, 2018 (PDF). HERE

U.S. Army Center of Military History. McKenney, Janice E. FIELD ARTILLERY PART 1. 1985: Center of Military History, Washington D.C. p. 311.HERE


Botanical illustration and description of the Cuban Blue Passion Flower, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain. HERE

Mary Wollstonecraft by John Opie, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain. HERE

A general map of the seat of war in Louisiana & west Florida 1814. Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain. HERE

Carolus Linnaeus, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain, HERE


Lauren Gilbert is a dedicated reader and student of English literature and history, holding a BA in liberal arts English with a minor in Art History. A long-time member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, she has done various presentations for the local region, and delivered a break out session at the 2011 Annual General Meeting. Her first book, HEYERWOOD: A Novel was published in 2011, and her second, A RATIONAL ATTACHMENT, will be released later this year. She lives in Florida with her husband, and is researching material for a biography. For more information, visit her website here.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Editors Weekly Round-up, May 26, 2019

by the EHFA Editors

Contributors to English Historical Fiction Authors bring us posts that delve into various aspects of British history. Read the fascinating story of John and Jane Loudon, and also visit a castle in Wales on this week's round-up.

by Annie Whitehead

by Judith Taylor

Friday, May 24, 2019

An Unlikely Power Couple in British Gardening

By Judith Taylor

He only had one arm and she was a penniless orphan when they married but what he lacked in limbs he made up for in intelligence, sheer bloody-mindedness and perseverance.

John Claudius Loudon, 1783 – 1843, was born in Scotland, where else. British horticulture depended very largely on the skill of these well trained Scottish men and their capacity to live on oatmeal for six months at a time. There is talk of re-naming the British Empire to be the Scottish Empire but that is for another time.

John Claudius Loudon

Loudon’s father was a “respectable farmer” in Lanarkshire, a southern county of Scotland. “Respectability” meant that his father was sufficiently prosperous to educate his very promising son at Edinburgh University and even to send him abroad on a grand tour. Being educated meant that the crippling arthritis he developed as a very young man was less of an impediment than it would have been to a man having to live from hard physical labour.

Loudon grew up on a farm in the depths of the countryside. He learned about plants and their qualities in a way no city -bred man could. That knowledge, combined with the modern science he learned at Edinburgh, led him into landscape ”planning” (his term) and horticulture as a profession. He moved to London. After working on the design of a farm for George Stratton at Tew Cottage he began to write. Before long he opened his own practice.

He was frequently in pain and used laudanum in excessively large quantities. The first synthetic drug not directly from a botanical source, acetyl-salicylic acid, “Aspirin”, was not released until 1899. Unlike Thomas De Quincy, he was later able to overcome his addiction. The joint pain was attributed to rheumatic fever. He lost his right arm in 1826 after a botched attempt to repair a fracture. It had to be amputated at the shoulder.

With that remarkable persistence of his and massive will power Loudon trained himself to use his left hand to write. He could no longer draw the plans needed for his work but retained the services of a professional draughtsman

Gardening has long slow cycles of fashion and the first quarter of the nineteenth century was a transitional period. Just as in so many other aspects of life new ideas arose in reaction to the old ones and lasted until even newer, often better, ideas emerged. Creating a great garden or park was mostly done by wealthy aristocrats with a view toward posterity. They planted trees and shrubs which would not reach maturity until long after their death.

The results were staggering. One man managed to capture almost everyone’s imagination for the middle years of the eighteenth century, Lancelot “Capability” Brown, 1716 – 17163.
A slyly designed landscape gave the impression that the park was open countryside, completely changing the ancient view of British gardens as fussy art. Brown was succeeded by Humphrey Repton, 1752-1818, who offered a slight variation in his plans. With Repton’s death there was a vacuum and Loudon was ideally placed to fill it. Commission after commission rolled in for gardens, parks and interestingly, cemeteries.

At the same time Loudon wrote copiously about his ideas and about the professions of gardening, horticulture and landscape planning. He was not alone in doing this. Many of   these masters spent much of their time writing, presumably as a form of advertising. It was also a source of income. The accumulation of contemporary botanical and horticultural information in the magazines they founded and edited gives a vivid cross section of what went on for the modern scholar.

Their industriousness commands enormous respect. There was no artificial light other than candles, paper was very expensive, rooms were cold if one moved a few feet away from the open fire and it was almost impossible to find a quiet and private place without constant interruption and distraction.

He wrote several seminal books on city planning, the design of hothouses, cemeteries and an encyclopedia of gardening. Loudon created the word “arboretum” to describe a garden in which trees were collected systematically for scientific study, “Arboretem et Fruticetum Britannicum” (1838).

A page from "Arboretum et Fruticetum Britannicum 1838
by Loudon via Internet Book Archives (Wikipedia)

The design of cemeteries was being completely revised in the United States at that period. Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was the first one to reflect the new ideas. Before anyone understood how infection was caused and transmitted, diseases like malaria were believed to rise from swampy land or “miasmas”. The air surrounding a cemetery was to be considered to be a prime suspect for causing disease, emanating from the corpses buried under the ground.

Dr Jacob Bigelow, noted medical practitioner in the community, thought that if cemeteries were turned into parks with many trees and plants and wide-open paths the miasma could be dissipated. Families liked to gather at cemeteries to remember those they had lost. Making the places more attractive and healthier had many benefits. It took him five years to persuade the authorities and find suitable property. The cemetery opened in 1831.

Both Loudon and his wife were welcome guests among London’s literary groups. They enjoyed considerable social success that way and were among the leaders together with figures like Charles Dickens.

From: Jane Loudon "Ladies Flower Garden
of Ornamental Annuals"

Loudon moved away from the openness and spatial qualities of Capability Brown’s gardens and offered a new concept of “gardenesque”. It was a way to show off the exotic plants which were flooding into England as countries like China and Japan grumpily permitted Westerners to explore their plants. Instead of placing these trees and shrubs in graceful groups they were planted singly at intervals.

Loudon was a very important figure but gardenesque is not an attractive style. The best that can be said for it was that it allowed a middle-class family with modest means to decorate their small gardens with at least one fancy plant. From such things is democracy achieved.

Jane Webb Loudon, 1807 – 1858, was born in Edgbaston, Birmingham, to a wealthy businessman and his wife and had a very genteel upbringing before misfortune struck. Her mother died when she was twelve and her father lost all his money and died when she was seventeen. The genteel upbringing and 19th century attitudes toward women working did her no good at all when it came to earning a living. If such a woman did not marry, her choices were stark but there was steel under the prim and proper surface. Jane became a writer.  There are several examples of women doing this in similar circumstances.

Jane Webb Loudon

One of the best known was Fanny Trollope, Anthony Trollope’s mother. Her husband, also Anthony, was a very belligerent barrister who managed to alienate the few clients he had. Fanny was obliged to write novels at a furious pace to try and pay the bills but her masterpiece is  “Domestic Manners of the Americans”, a hilarious account of taking her family to live at a commune in Ohio when that was still the “Western Reserve” and not yet tamed for white people.

Jane had only travelled on the Continent a little with her father when times were good but she was fascinated by the discoveries coming out of Egypt in the early 19th century. Napoleon had conquered Egypt and his soldiers were finding things like the Rosetta Stone. Jane wrote “The Mummy,” : Or a Tale of the Twenty Second Century” and it was published anonymously in 1827. Nowadays such a novel would be called science fiction but there was no term to apply to Jane Webb’s book at the time. Lacking a better descriptor some critics labelled it “Gothic” but no one had seen anything quite on this order before.  At the time scholars were developing the basic sciences, using logic and not supernatural powers to explain everyday phenomena.  Perhaps galvanic action could revive the Egyptian mummies or be used to do all sorts of helpful things.

She set her novel in the England of 2126 when the monarch had become a tyrant. Jane imagined that it could be possible to cool the hot summer air, that machines would make the coffee and even that people could connect via invisible means, an early foretelling of the internet.

John Loudon had a rather surprising feeling for the fantastic under his sober surface and enjoyed the book. He reviewed it favourably in his Gardeners Magazine. A friend had told him who the author was and shortly after he was introduced to her, they married in 1830. John was 47, Jane was 23. They had one daughter, Agnes. Even she became a writer though she was not driven by need. She had married a solicitor, Mark Spofforth.  Agnes died giving birth to her third child at the age of 33. They were all at the mercy of the disastrous medical care of the epoch.

In spite of Loudon’s renown and significant accomplishments he never made very much money. By the time he embarked on his last project, another cemetery, he was dying from lung cancer. He returned to London and died in his wife’s arms. He was penniless but he left an extraordinary legacy.

Jane lived until 1858, editing his work, writing her own manual of gardening for ladies and fulfilling many of his plans. One can safely say they were a power couple.


Elliott, Brent 1990     Victorian Gardens   London,  Batsford & Co

Hadfield, Miles 1960       Gardening in Britain        London,  Hutchinson & Co

Images sourced from Wikipedia


Judith M. Taylor MD is a graduate of Somerville College and the Oxford University Medical School and is a board certified neurologist. She practiced neurology in New York and since retiring has written six books on horticultural history as well as numerous articles and book reviews on the same subject.

Dr Taylor’s  books include The Olive in California: history of an immigrant tree (2000), Tangible Memories: Californians and their gardens 1800 – 1950 (2003), The Global Migrations of Ornamental Plants: how the world got into your garden (Missouri Botanical Garden Press 2009), Visions of Loveliness: the work of forgotten flower breeders (Ohio University Press 2014) and “An Abundance of Flowers: more great flower breeders of the past” (Ohio University Press  2018).
         In 2019 she published “A Five Year Plan for Geraniums: growing flowers commercially in East Germany 1946 – 1989”.
        Dr Taylor’s web site is:

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Gwydir Castle: Treasure of the Conwy Valley

By Annie Whitehead

Recently, I paid my second visit to Gwydir Castle. This lovely historic house was built on the edge of the River Conwy flood plain – of which more later – just about a mile or so from Llanrwst. The fertile Conwy Valley, land worth owning, was fought over for several centuries so Gwydir held an important defensive role, although it is more of a fortified manor house than true castle.

Its first owner was a man named Hywel ap Coetmor, who was recorded fighting in France as a commander of longbowmen who served the Black Prince at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356. But his is not the building that visitors see today, for it was destroyed during the Wars of the Roses when, following a Lancastrian assault in the area, Edward IV issued orders for the earl of Pembroke to retaliate and attack Nantconwy (‘Nant’ meaning Vale, or Valley).

Hall of Meredith - image courtesy Judy Corbett
The castle was rebuilt in the late fifteenth century by Meredith ap Ieuan ap Robert (born 1460), who bought it from Hywel’s son, Dafydd ap Hywel, and who was the founder of the Wynn dynasty. Meredith was a staunch supporter of the Tudor king, Henry VII and he had held the lease for another great Welsh castle, Dolwyddelen. During the tenure of his son, John ap Meredith, who also established Gwydir School, (possibly, the teachers were monks from Maenan) Gwydir was enlarged, using stone from the nearby – recently dissolved – Maenan Abbey. The square turret at the rear of the Solar Tower has a spiral staircase which was part of the masonry re-used from the abbey. John Wynn’s initials can be seen above the main entrance in the courtyard, with the date: 1555. The oldest part of the present building is the Solar Tower, but the castle was extended by Sir John Wynn, a descendant of the first John, in the seventeenth century.

The Wynn family was influential throughout North Wales during the Tudor and Stuart periods and Plas Mawr, an Elizabethan house in Conwy – which I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post – was built by Robert Wynn, son of John ap Meredith.

Sir John Wynn, the first baronet, (1553-1627) was John ap Meredith’s grandson, his father, Morris, being the first to use the name Wynn as a surname. Sir John Wynn claimed, in his History of the Gwydir Family, that his family was descended from Gruffudd ap Cynan (1054/5–1137), king of Gwynedd, but this has been disputed. The aim seems to have been to establish links with the Welsh royal dynasty to maintain connections with the present monarchy. Sir John, who went to Oxford, was wealthy and powerful, serving as an MP and a JP. He was less successful in his commercial ventures, losing money from his investment in Parys Mountain (a copper mine on Anglesey). He died at Gwydir on 1 March 1627 and was buried in Llanrwst parish church.

Gwydir Uchaf Chapel

A hidden delight (I only found out about it through a chat with the current owner) for the visitor to Gwydir is Gwydir Uchaf Chapel – not to be confused with Gwydir Chapel in Llanrwst, of which more in a moment – which is just a short walk from the castle, where the key is held. The chapel was built in 1673, by Sir Richard Wynn, the fourth baronet, as a family memorial chapel for the Wynns, although apparently there is no record of its ever having been consecrated. Sir Richard was also an MP, though he was rarely present in the commons, due to his drink problem, and served as Groom to the Bedchamber to King Charles I and his consort, Queen Henrietta Maria. The king was Sir Richard’s guest at Gwydir in 1645.

Interior of the chapel 

Next to the chapel is a smaller building, now used as Forestry Commission offices, which I only discovered after my visit was originally a smaller home owned by Sir John Wynn, built in 1604. Sir Richard died of the plague in 1674 and the property passed to his daughter Mary. Her marriage, at the age of seventeen, in 1678, to Robert Bertie, Baron Willoughby de Eresby, later duke of Ancaster, meant that during the late seventeenth century to the late nineteenth it was the possession of the Barons Willoughby de Eresby of Lincolnshire. In 1895 it was bought by Charles Wynn Carrington who sold it in 1921.

Following a fire in the Solar Tower in 1922, the house fell to ruin. There was an attempt in the 1940s to restore it, but by the 1980s it was once again derelict and was bought by its current owners in 1994.

The restored dining room - image courtesy Judy Corbett
The wood panelling in the dining room was bought by William Randolph Hearst and was subsequently located in the Metropolitan Museum in New York and bought back by the current owners of Gwydir. Princes Charles officially opened the restored dining room in 1998.

Ghost Room - image courtesy Judy Corbett
Visitors to Gwydir might feel a chill in the rooms (as I did, on both occasions!) because it is said to be haunted. In fact, it is known as being one of the most haunted of all the stately homes in Wales. The gardens, Grade I listed, are a delight. The resident peacocks are numerous but friendly, and the Cedars of Lebanon are recorded as having been planted in 1625. Follow the Chinese Walk down to the river, and you will see the remains of Gwydir Quay. This area is prone to flooding and there is a constant battle to keep the fabric of the building safe from floodwater. Followers of Gwydir on Twitter are familiar with the regular calls for help to ‘plant’ sandbags when bad weather is forecast. Click the link HERE for more details about the fundraising efforts and the scale of the problem.

The current owners, Judy Corbett and Peter Welford, fund the restoration project themselves, with only a small grant from CADW (the Welsh government's historic environment service.) Their approach ensures that the castle can be seen by the visitor very much as it appeared in its time as the home of Meredith and his descendants.

Tu-hwnt-i'r bont, now a tea room
The strong presence of the Wynn family can also be seen in Llanrwst, just a short walk away. To get there from Gwydir, you walk past probably the most famous tea room in the UK* and then on to the parish church of St Grwst where Sir Richard Wynn built Gwydir Chapel in 1633, which was used as the family chapel until Gwydir Uchaf was built. Many family members were buried here, including Sir John as mentioned above, but not, as it turns out, Sir Richard, who was buried in Wimbledon. I’m informed that the pews are the originals, where the family sat during service.

There is an effigy of the original owner of Gwydir, Hywel ap Coetmor. The chapel now also houses the sarcophagus of Llywelyn Fawr, thirteenth-century prince of Gwynedd, but I’ll return to that in a future post. In the mid-eighteenth century, the chapel, to the consternation of those who wished to keep the memory of the Wynn family alive, was closed off from the main church when panelling was placed across the doorway. Happily, the castle they built is being lovingly cared for and the restoration project continues.

Effigy of Hywel, who began the story of Gwydir

* Tu-hwnt-i’r-bont dates from the fifteenth century and was used for a while in the sixteenth century as the local courthouse.

Images: Taken by and copyright of Annie Whitehead, unless otherwise credited. Grateful thanks to Judy Corbett of Gwydir for permission to use images of the interior from the Gwydir Castle Website


Annie Whitehead is an author and historian, and a member of the Royal Historical Society. She has written three award-winning novels set in Anglo-Saxon Mercia. Her history of Mercia, from Penda the pagan king to the last brave stand of the earl of Mercia against the Conqueror, Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom, is published by Amberley. Annie has a deep and abiding love of North Wales and its rich history and takes every opportunity to visit.

Connect with Annie: Website, Facebook, Twitter, blog, Amazon