Wednesday, September 23, 2020

The Painted Churches Of England

By Karen Warren

We tend to expect the interior of a Norman English church to be dull grey stone, the only colour provided by the light flooding through the stained glass windows. However, these churches would have looked very different in the Middle Ages.

In those days the church was central to community life. Everyone, whether peasant or nobility, attended church on a Sunday, as well as for important rites such as baptisms and weddings. When they stepped inside the door they would be greeted by a feast of colour. It would seem as if every available surface – not just walls, but pillars and arches too – had been decorated [1].


Many of these paintings would have been pictures of well known biblical scenes, or they would have illustrated aspects of medieval Catholic theology, such as heaven and hell, or bands of angels. There would also be pictures of the saints, and a whole range of symbolic images including animals and flowers [2]. To get an idea of the effect, have a look at the stained glass windows in an old church and try to imagine the walls and pillars all covered with similar images.

Why were churches painted in this way? The easy answer is that church buildings were designed for the glorification of God. For the vast majority of people it was the most splendid building they would ever enter, and no time or expense was spared in its construction and decoration. It is possible that wealthy parishioners commissioned paintings for the walls, or bequeathed money for that purpose.

These pictures are popularly described as “the poor man’s Bible”. Many people of the time were illiterate and only the clergy had access to Bibles (which in any case were written in Latin). The theory is that the church paintings had an educational value, telling stories and imparting information to those who could not read it for themselves.

Richard Taylor [3] is sceptical of this idea, pointing out that the images would have been meaningless to anyone who did not already know the story. However, he argues that the pictures would have reinforced the message being delivered from the pulpit. They would also create a shared religious experience: anyone moving to a different part of the country would have recognised the scenes depicted in the local church.

A particular feature of medieval wall paintings is that the characters are always dressed in medieval clothes rather than the clothing they would have worn in biblical times [4]. This may simply be due to a lack of knowledge of (or interest in) the customs of earlier times. However, I would also suggest that a medieval parishioner who saw images of religious figures resembling him or herself would be more likely to identify with those people – and thus with the Christian faith – than they would have done with more remote images. (A similar phenomenon can the observed in the mystery plays – annual enactments of biblical stories – in which Old Testament characters are given distinctly medieval concerns and attitudes.)

Given the ubiquity of the medieval wall paintings, you may wonder why so few are visible today. The blame for this lies largely with the Reformation of the Church in the 16th century. The Church of England under Henry VIII remained broadly Catholic in its religious belief, although not its affiliation. However, Henry’s son Edward VI (and his advisors) had a more protestant vision for the church, and regarded any decoration as idolatrous. The wall paintings were either scraped away or whitewashed over, often to be covered by religious texts. The damage was largely done by the time of Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans a hundred years later, but they destroyed any remaining ecclesiastical artworks.

For centuries people forgot that church walls had ever been decorated. It was not until the Victorian era that churches began to be restored, and the paintings were revealed as old whitewash was removed from the walls. Unfortunately, many were damaged as the paint was chipped away.


However, modern restoration techniques have enabled some paintings to be recovered almost in their entirety. New paintings are being discovered all the time, and ways have been found to preserve them as they are uncovered [5].

Surprisingly, there does not seem to be a comprehensive list of all the churches with wall paintings in England, although English Heritage has a map of all the painted walls in its care, including many churches and abbeys [6]. One of the most impressive examples in a church still in use is that of St Peter and St Paul in Pickering, North Yorkshire. East Anglia has many fine painted churches, including St Mary’s at Houghton-on-the-Hill (where the church itself was not rediscovered until 1992).


Finally, the tradition of decorating church walls did not entirely die out in the Middle Ages. The Norman church of St Michael in Garton-on-the-Wolds in East Yorkshire was completely repainted with biblical scenes in the 19th century. More modern examples include the Bloomsbury Group murals in the Berwick Chapel in East Sussex, and the artist Stanley Spencer’s paintings at the Sandham Memorial Chapel in Hampshire.


[1] Matthew Champion, Medieval Graffiti, p4
[2] Richard Taylor, How to Read a Church
[3] Richard Taylor, ibid, p2
[4] Ian Mortimer, The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England, p78
[5] Historic England, Wall Paintings: Anticipating and Responding to Their Discovery
[6] English Heritage, Save Our Story – Wall Paintings 

Photographs all by the author:
1. The Martyrdom of St Edmund at Pickering Church
2. Victorian wall paintings at Garton on the Wolds
3. The Last Judgement, Houghton on the Hill


Karen Warren is a travel writer, novelist and book reviewer. Her first novel, Shadow of the Dome, is loosely based on real events in 13th century Mongol China, and was published by Lume Books in 2017. She is currently working on her second novel, based in England and South Africa. This is a contemporary history but has a smattering of the Middle Ages…

Karen writes travel articles for a number of outlets including her own site WorldWideWriter. She is also a book reviews editor for the Historical Novel Society.

Author website:

Link to Shadow of the Dome on Amazon

Link on publisher website -

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Temperance Flowerdew

By Denise Heinze

There’s no telling what advice Temperance Flowerdew, one of the founding mothers of Jamestown, may have given her teenage daughter, Elizabeth, on her deathbed.  Historical records provide only a bare bones chronology of Temperance’s life, and no written record exists in her own hand.  Yet, it’s easy to imagine this shrewd and enterprising woman instructing Elizabeth to “Marry well, or not at all.”  Born in Norfolk to landed gentry in the 1580s, Temperance no doubt understood that her fate depended heavily upon the man with whom she’d share a marriage bed. On that score, lightning for the resilient Flowerdew struck not once, but twice.

Finding a suitable mate, critical under normal circumstances, became a matter of life and death when Temperance found herself alone, possibly widowed, in a mud and stick outpost on the edge of nowhere. It was the summer of 1609 when Temperance arrived at Jamestown, along with a flotilla of nine ships called the Third Supply.  Stocked with goods and over 600 passengers, the convoy was sent by the Virginia Company of London to re-invigorate its investment, a bruised and battered colony in the throes of starvation, disease, and political in-fighting. Records show that Temperance may have been married at the time of the journey to Richard Barrow, but no mention is made of him again in relation to her life.  For all intents and purposes, once in Jamestown, Temperance was on her own.

Another ten months would pass before she met her future husband.  That Temperance survived until then is nothing short of remarkable.  The settlement, which was depending on the Third Supply for food and a regime change, got neither.  About a week out from landfall, the flotilla was hit by a hurricane.  While seven of the nine ships managed to make it to Jamestown, the most crucial one, The Sea Venture, disappeared, taking with it the bulk of the supplies, a second improved charter, and new leadership.  It also took a young captain, Sir George Yeardley, the man Temperance would eventually marry.

Foundation of a cottage at New Towne, a town
that grew quickly just east of the fort. *

Without The Sea Venture, Jamestown limped into winter and nearly perished.  Of the several hundred colonists in the settlement, only 60 made it to spring.   How Temperance managed to stay alive is a mystery.  It is only in the exploits of her husbands, and in public documents, that we know anything about her at all.


During a 2018 archeological dig at the original Jamestown site, a body was unearthed. Such findings are not unusual.  The 400-year-old settlement is a graveyard of sorts for the many early settlers who perished there.  What made this discovery so remarkable was its location, in a grave underneath the chancel of the second-oldest Jamestown church.  Only persons of high repute would be afforded such an honor.

But who?

Evidence points to a singular figure in the history of Jamestown, George Yeardley.  London-born into humble beginnings, Yeardley would become one of the most prominent figures in colonial Virginia.  It was a miracle of sorts given that he almost never made it there. The second son of a tailor, he served in the military as a young man under Sir Thomas Gates.  Later, in June 1609, he sailed with Gates to Jamestown in The Third Supply.  When the hurricane hit, The Sea Venture was thrown off course and beached in Bermuda.  Shipwrecked for nearly ten months, the crew and passengers, all of whom survived, would eventually make it back to Jamestown by crafting two smaller vessels from the ruins of The Sea Venture.   Some time after he arrived, George would marry Temperance.  It was a fortuitous match.

A view of the James River from the original site.

Yeardley was a man of firsts for reasons both noble and ignominious. The first colonial governor of Virginia, Yeardley instituted English jurisprudence and convened the inaugural General Assembly.  He negotiated with native tribes, with a vision to include them in the burgeoning democracy.  He married Temperance, who became not just a wife but his trusted business partner.  After his death, she was wealthy in her own right, and thus a 17th Century woman apart, one with actual power.  A successful planter, Yeardley put in tobacco.  The crop, he and others surmised, would ensure the economic viability and hence survival of the colony.  To harvest it, Yeardley bought human beings for labor, becoming the first slaveholder in America.  It is a startling entry in the otherwise sterling ledger of Yeardley’s life.  And yet, even here he becomes a first--embodying the glaring contradiction at the heart of the American experiment in freedom.


A traditional English-style mud and stud building
frame reconstructed at the original site.

For her part, Temperance not only enjoyed the fruits of her husband’s endeavors, but capitalized on them.  At one juncture she witnessed the will of John Rolfe, unheard of for a woman.  She accompanied George to the court of King Charles, no doubt acting as a de facto ambassador on behalf of Jamestown and her husband.  To ensure her legacy, she had George designate her as the sole executor of his estate.  After his death, she continued to manage the plantation, including most likely the slaves George had purchased.  Just months before she married again, she may have negotiated an early iteration of a pre-nuptial agreement in which she and her three children would retain rights to Yeardley’s property.  It was a bold and audacious move, as the man who became her next husband was arguably the most powerful in Virginia at the time, Sir Frances West.


Born in 1586 in Salisbury, Wiltshire, West was the second son of a baron, rising through the ranks in various military and government positions, eventually accepting an appointment as the second colonial governor of Virginia.  In marrying West, Temperance most likely had taken account of his status as governor, and his pedigree, a boon to her children’s social standing.  She may also have intuited a danger sign--West’s propensity to outlive his wives.  He survived his first wife, herself a three-time widow, and would bury Temperance in short order.
Memorial Church, built in 1907 above and
near the second Jamestown church.

Temperance’s instincts to protect her assets served her well.  Less than a year into her marriage to West, she died and West sued to wrest control of Temperance’s estate away from the surviving children. He did not succeed.  Eventually, West took a third wife but his luck had run out.  This time around, instead of marrying a widow, he would leave one behind.


For hundreds of years, Temperance Flowerdew has been a footnote in American history.  The fact that she married two prominent men is perhaps the only reason she made it into the history books at all.  And yet, true to form, she knew matrimony was, for her, the only way in.   It was how she would carve a niche for herself in life, and ensure a legacy after her death, until such a time as posterity would catch up and, for better or worse, recognize her for who she was.   

* All photographs by, and copyright of, the author.

A Land as God Made It by James Horn
Jamestown, the Buried Truth by William Kelso
The Jamestown Project by Karen Kupperman


Denise Heinze, a former literature professor and a PhD graduate of Duke University, writes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. She is the author of a scholarly work on Toni Morrison, and the eco-thriller Sally St. Johns. A descendant of Louisa May Alcott, she lives in North Carolina.

The Brief and True Report of Temperance Flowerdew is published by Blackstone Publishing 29th September 2020

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Departure of Rome from Britain

By E S Moxon

In the 4th Century the senior administration of Britain sat in Gaul. Military command had become regionalised with whoever sat over the Eastern Empire based in Constantinople and the Western Empire was ruled from Rome. Meanwhile the Christian church was gaining power and, depending on the religious leanings of who sat on the throne, persecutions were weighted against Pagans (including the old Roman pantheon of gods) or Christians.

The start of the demise of Roman rule in Britain isn’t easy to pinpoint, however it could have begun with the death of Constantine in AD337. For three months there was no rule in Britain while his 3 sons (Constantine II, Constans and Constantius II) squabbled over who would rule what and where. A military revolt arose in Constantinople refusing any successor but a son of Constantine and other members of the Imperial family were murdered to ensure this. For Britain, little changed as Constantine II emerged as Senior Augustus in control of Britain, Gaul and Spain.

Emperor Constantius II on Amethyst

This was not enough for Constantine II, who launched a failed attack on Constans’ domain in Italy during AD340. Then when Constans was killed by conspirators in AD350, a Germanic mercenary named Magnetius was proclaimed Augustus. Using frontier reinforcement troops in Britain (leaving these posts lacking in defence), Magnetius challenged Constantius II (Augustus of the East in Constantinople) and was victorious. Magnetius ruled for three years, allowing Pagan worship in Britain, until his defeat in Gaul at the hands of Constantius II.

This allowed Constantius to declare himself sole Augustus of the entire Roman Empire, ruling both eastern and western frontiers. He reintroduced the death penalty for Pagan worship or sacrifice. The religious barometer swung back to Christianity once more. Sympathisers of Magnetius were punished severely and many villas became abandoned as high officials fled. These sumptuous places became home to squatters or servants’ families left behind.

City of Constantinople 

The religious barometer swung back to Paganism around AD355 when Constantius gave his young cousin Julian rule of Britain and Gaul. The new Caesar was passionate about literature and the ancient Roman gods. There is no mention of Christians being persecuted during this time, so we must assume that both old and new faiths co-existed and were freely worshipped. It seems Julian was perhaps an idealist, attempting to embrace the past and the future.

Admired by his troops for being an extraordinary general, he quickly drew disfavour from Constantius who resented his younger cousin’s popularity. The family quarrel led to a military revolt against Constantius, who died before the cousins could meet in battle and the troops declared Julian sole Augustus. In response to this, possibly feeling brave, Julian came out as a devoted Pagan and restored Roman observances of the old pantheon.

Aberlemno Pictish Cross

By AD367 a quarter of the Roman army was Germanic in origin (and therefore most likely Pagan). Britain was now being harassed from all sides by the Picts, Saxons, Scotts and Attacotti. To compound things, troubles in the Eastern Empire meant garrisons from Britain were removed to assist. Once again this depleted the frontier defences of Britain during a period of intense attacks by several foes. These foes were opportunists and seized their moment. The Franks and Saxons invaded Gaul, while Picts, Scotts and Attacotti attacked Britain, causing Roman officials to abandon their posts.

Over the next twenty-five years Rome battled the mercenaries, attempting to regain control and restore Roman rule in its splintered Western Empire. Valentian ruled the Imperial family until his hanging in AD391, but lost control of Britain with the arrival of Magnus Maximus in AD383, who led a victory against the Picts and Scotts (something Rome had failed to do) and invaded Gaul, setting up a court at Trier where he was baptised Catholic. His defeat came at the hands of Theodosius in AD388 when they were defeated at Aquilea. Before his death in AD395 Theodosius ordered repairs along Hadrian’s Wall and the construction of watch-towers along the north-eastern coast. He also tried to help the Christian diocese to recover.

Hadrian's Wall

By now the Pennine and Welsh forts were abandoned. Britain must have been a bleak and savage place, with Germanic mercenaries billeted in towns and control being snatched repeatedly from the hands of the Imperial Roman family. In AD392 Eugenius, Arbogastes and Flavianus arrived on the scene. Theodosius battled Eugenius in AD394 and won, no doubt refusing to allow usurpers to undo all his hard work on frontier fortification. As a result of Eugenius’ defeat, Arbogastes and Flavianus committed suicide.

The descendants of Theodosius, Arcadius and Honorius, were both Augustus, with the latter ruling into the beginning of the 5th Century. What then of the fate of Britain? After such turmoil, could Rome hold onto her and rule successfully? It appeared so for a while at least. Following the demise of Theodosius in AD395, his sons took over. In AD398 they repelled a joint Pict/Scott invasion with their western troops, who were mostly Germanic mercenaries, those called ‘foederati’. These barbarian troops were at the forefront of guarding Britain, along Hadrian’s Wall and the east coast shore forts. However, despite their military successes, Fate frowned on Rome.

Stilicho negotiating with Goths

In AD401 the Goth, Alaric came over the Alps and had Rome securely in his sights. Stilicho, a ‘magister militum’ who had married a niece of Thoedosius, wintered in the Danube desperately trying to recruit additional barbarian troops. This was to no avail. With almost no financial assistance from Honorius it had been hard to raise men to the cause. The barbarian army revolted against Stilicho and crossed back over the Rhine.

Meanwhile in Britain, they had had revolts of their own. The army made a Romano-Briton named ‘Gratian’ their leader, who was swiftly disposed of and replaced with Constantine III who moved to Gaul before the barbarian Germanic army of Stilicho could cross the Channel. The barbarians turned south. By AD407 Constantine III had taken back Gaul with his son and took Britain in AD408, forcing Honorius to accept Britain as a prefecture under Gaul in AD409. But there was more upheaval to come.

Alaric and his Goth army sacked Rome in AD410. In a panic to raise troops, all garrisons from Britain were recalled. This caused a civil war to erupt as several sought the title of Augustus and were forced to raise their own armies to fend off barbarian attacks. They ejected Roman officials from their offices and by AD413 no attempts had been made by Rome to bring Britain back under the rule of Honorius. Rome had certainly fallen, at the very least, in Britain.


“Roman Britain” by Martin Millett (English Heritage)

“Oxford Illustrated History of Roman Britain” by Peter Salway

“Britain AD” by Francis Pryor


E S MOXON has had a lifelong passion for history and writing. A childhood filled with family visits to ancient burial sites and stone circles fuelled her imagination. Inspired by classic medieval tales and Norse sagas, Elaine imagined herself inhabiting these Dark Ages and exploring the landscapes in her mind and continues to do so through her novels.

Tales of the Wulfsuna

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Lady Sarah Frederica Caroline Villiers: An English Princess

 By Lauren Gilbert

Schloss Esterházy, Eisenstadt, Darstellung von Lady Sarah Frederica Caroline Child Villiers 
by Karl Gruber / CC BY 3.0 AT 

Lady Sarah Caroline Frederica Caroline Child-Villiers was born August 12, 1822 in London, and was baptized May 27, 1823 in St George’s Hanover Square Parish. Her mother was Sarah Sophia Child-Villiers, Countess of Jersey and her father George Child-Villiers, 5th Earl of Jersey. She was born into one of the wealthiest and most powerful families.

At age 18, Sarah was One of 12 bridesmaids to Queen Victoria when she married Prince Albert in 1840. They wore gowns designed by Queen Victoria, and each received a brooch designed by Prince Albert, shaped like an eagle in turquoises.

Sarah married Prince Miklos Pal Esterhazy von Galantha on Feb 8, 1842. (The date was changed multiple times.) Born June 25, 1817, Prince Miklos (Nicholas in English) was the son of Prince Pal Anton Esterhazy von Galantha and his wife Princess Maria Theresia Esterhazy von Galantha. (Lady Jersey and Princess Esterhazy were both Lady Patronesses of Almack’s and friends.) After marriage, Sarah's title in English was Princess Nicholas Esterhazy von Galantha.

Nikolaus III, prince Esterházy de Galántha (public domain)

Theirs was a love match according to Esterhazy Palace data and the Duchess de Dino.(1) Nicholas had spent much of his life in England as the son of the Austrian Ambassador, so he and Lady Sarah Frederica could have become acquainted as children, especially given their mothers’ connection. Theirs was an unusually long engagement. It was known that they wanted to marry as early as 1836 (they apparently fell in love as teenagers). Prince Paul apparently was not pleased with the match (at least in part due to difference in status: the Jersey’s were not of a royal house, and Lady Jersey’s roots were in trade (her grandfather being the banker Robert Child)). He tried to prevent the match despite the fact the young couple were in love. There are indications that Princess Esterhazy was not enthused either (there are comments in the MEMOIRS OF THE DUCHESS DE DINO about having Lady Jersey as a mother-in-law (2), and a suggestion that the Esterhazy’s avoided having Lady Jersey in Vienna as much as possible). 

Lady Jersey encouraged the match. There were suggestions that she pursued the match relentlessly due to the status of the groom’s family. It seems equally possible that she wanted her daughter to marry the man she loved. Prince Paul tried to get out of the engagement as late as June 1841(3). However, he finally conceded. Lady Sarah Frederica’s trousseau was prepared and displayed for viewing in December 1841(4).

The marriage settlement was finally signed Monday Feb 7, 1842, and Lady Sarah Frederica and Prince Nicholas were married on Tuesday, February 8, 1842. Their wedding involved two ceremonies. At 10:00 in the morning, the couple was married in a Roman Catholic service in the library of Chandos House, the Austrian Embassy, performed by Rev. Dr. Griffiths, Apostolical Vicar of London. This service was followed by a breakfast. Shortly after 11:00, the wedding party arrived in St. George’s Hanover Square, where a Church of England service was performed by Robert Bagot, the Lord Bishop of Oxford (the bride’s uncle by marriage).

At this service, Lady Sarah Frederica had six bridesmaids, two of whom were her sisters Clementina and Adela*. She was given away by her father, who was visibly emotional. This service was followed by a sumptuous luncheon at the Child-Villiers home in Berkley Square, which included three bridal cakes. The wedding was a significant social event. Following the luncheon, the bride and groom spent some days at Osterley Park (the Countess of Jersey’s seat, formerly that of Robert Child), returning to Chandos House before leaving for Europe to join Prince and Princess Esterhazy. They arrived in Vienna in April 1842(5).

Prince and Princess Nicholas had an active social life in both England and Austria. Newspaper accounts document them going back and forth for a variety of social and family events (which included presentation at Queen Victoria’s Drawing Room on February 26, 1846, and a visit to the spa town of Ischl, Austria in August 1847 that included her mother and her sister Clementina (7)).

Prince and Princess Nicholas had six children, five of whom survived to adulthood: Pal Antal Miklos Prince Esterhazy von Galantha, born March 11, 1843 and died August 2nd, 1898; Alajos Gyogy Prince Esterhazy von Galantha, born March 9th, 1844 and died October 25th, 1912; Adolf Prince Esterhazy von Galantha born October 5th, 1846 and died in infancy February 1st, 1847; Sara Zsofia Princess Esterhazy von Galantha, born March 16th, 1848 and died February 22nd, 1885; Maria Terezia Princess Esterhazy von Galantha, born November 29th, 1849 and died May 7th, 1856 and Antal Miklos Furst Esterhazy von Galantha, born January 14th, 1851 and died February 10th, 1935. (The names are shown as in Vienna.)

Princess Nicholas sadly developed a lung complaint (consumption). After suffering several months of illness and unsuccessful spa treatments in Europe (at Ems and Ischl particularly), she finally went, at her doctor’s suggestion, to England to see if the air of her native country would help. It did not; she died at Torquay, Devon, England on November 17, 1853. She was buried at Eisenstadt in the Esterhazy vault. In 1871, Prince Nicholas raised an obelisk in the palace gardens in her memory. There is also a memorial in the Jersey family vault at the country estate in Middleton Stoney, England. Prince Nicholas did not remarry.

Church of England parish church of All Saints, Middleton Stoney, Oxfordshire; Jersey Chapel: detail of the tomb of Princess Esterhazy and Lady Clementina Villiers 
by Motacilla / CC BY-SA

*Newspaper accounts showed her sister's name as Adelaide; her name is correctly Adela Corisande.


(1) THE MEMOIRS OF THE DUCHESSE DE DINO, entry for June 16, 1841.

(2) THE MEMOIRS OF THE DUCHESSE DE DINO, entry for June 19, 1841.

(3) THE MEMOIRS OF THE DUCHESSE DE DINO, entry for June 16, 1841.

(4) Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette, Thursday 23 December 1841-British Newspaper Archives

(5) MEMOIRS OF THE DUCHESSE DE DINO, entry for April 17, 1842.

(6) The Globe, Saturday 26 March 1842-British Newspaper Archives.

(7) The Morning Post - Friday 27 February 1846, and the Morning Post- Saturday, 04 September 1847-British Newspaper Archives.

Sources include: 

Sudley, Lord, editor. THE LIEVEN-PALMERSTON CORRESPONDENCE 1828-1856. London: John Murray, 1943.

British Newspaper Archives. Northampton Mercury, Saturday 12 June 1841; London Evening Standard, MARRIAGE OF PRINCE NICHOLAS ESTERHAZY AND LADY SARAH VILLIERS, 22 December 1841; Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette, Trousseau of the Lady Sarah Villiers, Thursday 23 December 1841; Oxford Chronicle and Reading Gazette, MARRIAGE OF PRINCE NICHOLAS ESTERHAXY AND LADY SARAH VILLIERS< Saturday 12 February 1842; Weekly Freeman’s Journal Saturday, FASHIONABLE INTELLIGENCE, 12 March 1842; Globe, FASHION AND TABLE-TALK, Windsor, Friday. Saturday 26 March 1842; Morning Post, Ischl, Aug. 26, Saturday 04 September 1847; and John Bull, DEATH OF HER HIGHNESS PRINCESS NICHOLAS ESTERHAZY, Saturday 19 November 1853. (All articles © British Library Board) HERE The Project Gutenberg’s eBook of MEMOIRS OF THE DUCHESSE de DINO (Afterwards the Duchesse de Tallyrand) 1841-1850, edited by Princess Radziwill, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, London: William Heinemann, 1910. HERE “Queen Victoria’s Bridesmaids” by Elizabeth Jane Timms, July 4th, 2019. HERE “Lady Sarah Frederica Caroline Child-Villiers.” HERE ; “Miklos Pal Prinz Esterhazy von Galantha.’’ “Lady Sarah Child-Villiers.” HERE ; ‘’Prince Miklos Pal Esterhazy de Galantha.’’ HERE “Princess Have Happy and Less Happy Lives”. Supplement to the Eisenstadt Exhibition. November 6, 2012.HERE THE NEW WORLD: A Weekly Family Journal of Popular Literature, Science, Art and News, Volume 3. New York: 1841. THE NEW WORLD, December 25, 1841. “Foreign Items.” HERE ; THE GENTLEMAN’S MAGAZINE, Volume XLI New Series, January to June inclusive. London: John Bowyer Nichols and Sons, 1854. January 1854, P. 106. Obituary of Princess Nicholas Esterhazy. HERE

Wikipedia. “Robert Bagot (Bishop)”. Last edited 29 January 2020. HEREImages from Wikimedia Common.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

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. 

Lauren's first book, HEYERWOOD A Novel, is available. A RATIONAL ATTACHMENT is her second novel. A long-time contributor to the English Historical Fiction Authors blog, 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 biography. For more information, visit her website.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

The Most Famous Fact in English History is Not True

By Mark Colenutt

Every country has a famous date. In the US it’s 1776 and the declaration of Independence, the rest of the world knows the day for some reason but can’t remember the year. In France it’s 1789 and the Storming of the Bastille. In Spain it’s 1492, not only the year that the centuries-long Reconquista was finalized, but it was also the discovery of the New World by the Crown of Castile. And in Australia it’s probably 1882 when they beat England at Cricket for the first time, but the less said about that the better.

In the case of England it is 1066, the Norman invasion of England. But why 1066? Why commemorate a defeat? The Spanish don’t ingrain 1588, The Spanish Armada, on the impressionable minds of their students as the most significant year in their history, especially when 1571 and the battle of Lepanto would be a more influential naval battle. The Scots commemorate Bannockburn in 1314, a resounding victory for them, over celebrating 1707 with the Act of Union. The Italians, to be even more specific, all know the date 25th April, 1945, which pays tribute to the liberation of Italy during the Second World War and the overthrow of the fascist regime.

It is true that 1066 was a fundamental shift in the direction of old England. It introduced feudalism and castle building, thus safeguarding the nation against future invasion and making the Norman feat unrepeatable. They introduced cavalry as a new military tactic and ended slavery in England. They also tied the nation fatefully for centuries to royal intrigue and conflict with France. And the French connection gave rise to Norman French being used at court and its influx of Latin gradually transformed the dulcet tones of Olde English, for better or for worse. They even introduced the need for surnames when they commissioned the Doomsday Book.

It was not the first time in the history of southern Britain where a foreign invader had changed the cultural direction of a people and with it their identity. The Romans had achieved this a millennium before, almost to the day, when they suppressed the last-ditch attempt by Boudicca and her allies to end Roman hegemony. At the battle of Watling Street the ancient world confronted the modern with the resulting defeat of the Britons carving their descendants a different character and aesthetic.

So, it is for these reasons that modern England looks back to 1066 as an equally radical shift in cultural identity and political ideology, and not just for the unprecedented cathedral building project that the Normans engaged in. And this is why every child, old enough to remember four digits and suffer detention, has to learn this all-important date. In fact, even the most stubborn student will have internalized this date despite their most dogged efforts not to learn anything at all in their history classes. So forceful is this date in the English classroom that those that choose to snooze the hour away have absorbed it via hypnopædia. In short, there is no escape. One of the most famous history books written in England is even titled 1066 and All That: A Memorable History of England, comprising all the parts you can remember, including 103 Good Things, 5 Bad Kings and 2 Genuine Dates, published in 1930, it is a parody of the style of history teaching in English schools at the time and “punctured the more bombastic claims of drum-and-trumpet history.” But 1066 is only one half of the equation.

There are only two historical facts that every school child knows about England. And those that wish to undermine the subject would go as far as to say they are the only facts you need to know, but that is only if you hold examinations above understanding. The first indispensable fact, as we have already admirably established, is the year 1066. The second is the manner in which the Anglo-Saxon King Harold met his end.

The traditional dragon banner of Wessex

Everyone knows he died with an arrow through the eye at the battle of Hastings. But here comes the shocking admission… it’s not true.

The Normans would have us believe as much, because it fed into their narrative, it was perfect propaganda. Halley’s Comet was sighted shortly after Harold usurped the throne.

The most powerful Thane in the land had, apparently, sworn to support Duke William of Normandy’s rightful claim to the throne but then went back on this holy oath, an oath sworn upon holy relics so the Bayeux Tapestry goes to lengths to illustrate. Such omens were strong currency at the time and still are when the time is right.

So, how did every history department in England come to propagate a false event? Quite easy in fact, but we will need to take a look at prime source material and the scene of Harold’s death during the drawn out battle to explain further. The Latin inscription, called tituli, above Harold in the Bayeux tapestry (which is actually an embroidery) reads: HIC HAROLD REX INTERFECTUS EST – meaning: Here King Harold is slain. However, there is reason to doubt that this is correct.

In order to shed light on this, we will need to take a closer look, literally. There is indeed a figure right below the name ‘Harold’ with an arrow in his eye and the name above a figure would normally be indicative of that person. But what catches my attention is the falling figure just to his right. It is not the same man. They are clearly two different people, which can be discerned from the differing leg ‘warmers’ that both men are wearing.

Now, comes the history. The first known recounting of the events surrounding Harold’s death comes from the Carmen de Hastingae Proelio - ‘Song of the Battle of Hastings’, which was written just months after the battle. It says that four knights cut him down and there is no mention of the arrow at all. This seems to fit in with the image in the tapestry. The arrow would have been a great lyric, but it isn’t even in the song.

In fact, the first reference to Harold and the arrow was the Italian monk Amatus of Montecassino, some thirty years after the event! That is no eyewitness account and must be approached cautiously, if at all. It makes for a great story, admittedly, but it doesn’t mean there’s a grain of truth to it, especially when the writer is based in some far off land.

Again, when Harold’s wife Edith the Fair had to identify his body, due to it being badly mutilated, there was no mention of the arrow then either.

Another account has William killing Harold, a further account has Harold dying in the morning as fighting began while the Chronicle of Battle Abbey says no one knows how Harold died.

So, while it could be true there is no proof that it is, and just because there is a man with an arrow in his eye in the embroidery, sorry tapestry, is not definitive either. I imagine many men lost their lives with an arrow through the eye during these times. The character in the tapestry could quite easily be one such victim. In fact, the man with the arrow in his eye is not dead but injured, while the figure cut down by the Norman knight is already dead as he falls. It is once again the latter image that fits in with the first account we have of Harold’s death.

One must therefore conclude that we can no longer teach with any certainty that Harold was most surely killed with an arrow to the eye. If we do this we continue doing the Normans’ bidding for them, centuries later, by ensuring the mysticism of a bad omen is proof of God’s will. It will of course lessen the weight of a great story and make it less ingrained upon our collective imagination but we must stay true to the facts.

So, to end we learn anew the advice that haunts all historians, namely ‘check your sources’ and it has a striking precedent here with this well worn history of England. But it does beg the question, while Hollywood continues to powerfully shape our impression of the past like a modern-day Bayeux tapestry, what else are we sure about that probably never happened?


Mark Colenutt as lived in Spain for the past 27 years. He has a BA in Medieval History and MA in Imperial and Social History. He teaches history by day and moonlights as a writer in both fiction and non-fiction. He writes the fictional Chester Bentley Mysteries directed at a young readership with co-author Jacqueline Wood, under the pen name MJ Colewood. The series is a collection of epic mysteries surrounding major events in British history. Each story leads to the discovery of one of the most surprising untouched treasures from Britain’s extraordinary and volatile past. Chester Bentley and the Last Treasure of Ancient England puts the reader on the front lines of the Norman invasion and then brings them back to the present as Bentley hunts down the long lost treasure.
Book on Amazon:

Sunday, August 23, 2020

The Portraits of Lady Margaret Beaufort

by Judith Arnopp

Most of us are familiar with the portraits of Margaret Beaufort. Invariably she is depicted toward the end of her life, elderly, austere, and pious. It is difficult to imagine this staid, nun-like woman as a gurgling baby, or a naughty child; even less as a vigorous young woman. 

But people, even Countesses, are not born pious. Her face must once have been unlined, she may have been frivolous, perhaps even reckless. She was certainly determined; her crusade to secure her son Henry VII on the English throne involved intrigue against a reigning monarch. Against all odds, she financed her son’s campaign and in doing so, changed her life forever. 

With Henry’s accession to the throne, she became the most powerful woman in the realm, and she did not waste her new-found success but became one of Henry’s chief advisors, her charitable work extending to the foundation of universities, and championing the arts.

The portraits we see today are not contemporary. Without exception, she is depicted in her later year, clothed in a peaked white headdress, usually with a book, and always in the act of religious contemplation with an aura of chastity and charity.

Of course, portraits are not always about the subject’s appearance; sometimes a painting depicts a person’s character rather than how large the sitter’s nose may have been. Margaret, in her exalted position, would have been keen to project an authoritative, reverent persona but she evolved into a nun-like figure, as a young woman she would have suffered all the uncertainties, the passions and the flaws that we all experience. That is the Margaret made more fascinating simply because of the lack of portraiture from the uncertain days of her youth.

There are no extant portraits of Margaret from her lifetime, the ones we see today were made during the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Undoubtedly they are copies of a lost original so, particularly if we compare them to the effigy on her tomb at Westminster, we can be fairly sure of her appearance during the later years of her life. This portrait of Margaret is believed to have been part of a set of corridor portraits including Henry VII, Henry VIII, commissioned during the reign of Elizabeth I. Again Margaret is in a religious pose, her clothing and book of hours illustrating her religious devotion. It is the best-preserved portrait we have of Margaret, the detail of the golden arch beneath which she sits, and the ornamented cloth of state is still visible to the naked eye.

My personal favourite portrait of Lady Margaret hangs in St John’s College in Cambridge. It was painted by Rowland Lockey in the 16th century. Margaret is shown at prayer in a lavish apartment, presumably her private chamber. She kneels at a desk with a heavy embroidered cloth and before her is a prayer book, a sign of piety and learning, and beneath it the ‘chemise’ cover she wrapped it in. Above her head, a tester bears the Tudor rose. The chamber itself is sumptuous, testament to her love of comfort, the stained glass windows with the badge of the Beauforts and of England.

This portrait tells us more about her lifestyle than the others. We can see that despite her sombre attitude, she lived luxuriously, as one would expect. Her dark clothes, although quite dour to our modern eyes, were of the best quality, black being among the most expensive and difficult hues to buy. 

After her death ‘seven gowns of black velvet were found, trimmed with ermine, and a mantle of tawny.’ And, most interesting of all, was ‘a scarlet gown with a long train, ornamented with the badges of the Garter and evidently to be worn on St George’s day. In another inventory we find a crimson gown to be work with her ‘circuit’, not a diadem but a surcoat, such as she had worn at Christmas 1487.’

So, a new Margaret begins to emerge, a woman who favoured scarlet and ermine, whose ‘chariot men wore scarlet. The very buttons of the horse harness were of gold of Venice.' This speaks less of piety and very much of majesty, perhaps even a little vanity.

The National Portrait Gallery has a portrait previously thought to be Margaret but now largely dismissed. It features a younger woman, hands clasped in pious prayer, her head covered with a veil. The painting is dark but the gown appears to be dark red, the veil itself lavishly embroidered. The nose is long and heavy, the eyes heavily lidded, as Margaret is shown in other portraits, and the face is pensive. Whether the sitter is lost in religious contemplation or distracted by plots of rebellion, it is difficult to judge. 

As I said earlier, the portrait is no longer believed to represent Margaret but it is intriguing none the less and I confess I used it during my research to picture the younger Margaret, the young woman who, widowed three times and separated from her only son, had no notion of the triumphs the future held.

[1] Jones and Underwood, The King’s Mother p188
[2] Ibid p189

Portraits from Wikimedia Commons

This is an Editor’s Choice from the #EHFA archives, originally published February 25, 2019.


Judith Arnopp is the author of eleven historical fiction novels including The Beaufort Chronicle: the life of Lady Margaret Beaufort. 

Connect with Judith at Judith's books are available through Amazon including The Beaufort Bride, The Beaufort Woman: Book Two of the Beaufort Chronicles, and The King's Mother: Book Three of the Beaufort Chronicles

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

The Introduction of Tobacco to England

By Jordan Baker

Europe Meets Tobacco
Tobacco had been cultivated in the Americas for thousands of years before Europeans arrived. By the time Columbus stumbled into the New World, cultures from Canada to the Carribean and Mesoamerica grew and used tobacco in various aspects of life. Indeed, on his first voyage to the Carribean Columbus noted how the people used “burning coals in order to make fire with which to burn certain performed herbs that they had with them.” [1]

As the Spanish and Portuguese became the dominant European forces in the early stages of American colonization, their colonists quickly learned to love tobacco. Convinced that it had benefits for their health, Europeans began cultivating tobacco at home and across the Atlantic in their new colonies. As Europeans got hooked, tobacco began appearing in ports in France, Spain, and Portugal in the 1550s.

Image credit HERE

Tobacco Comes to England
England was the late comer to the game. Tobacco didn’t arrive on the island until 1565. And while many have attributed Sir Walter Raleigh and his Roanoke colonies with introducing the brown leaf to England, it's more likely that the infamous pirate/privateer, Sir Francis Drake, was the first to bring tobacco to Elizabeth’s realm. [2]

As Spanish ships made their way from Mexico and the Carribean to the main port at Seville, which, in 1614, Spain proclaimed the tobacco capital of the world, English privateers happily relieved them of their load. [3]

English sailors also participated in an illicit trade centered out of the Carribean. Spanish colonists grew their own personal crops on several different islands in the region and proved more than willing to trade with sailors from other kingdoms. In 1607, the Spanish governor of the island of Cumaná wrote King Philip III himself, warning his monarch about the tobacco trade on nearby Trindad. “English and Dutch ships are never lacking there,” he said; in a time when empires commonly sought monopolies over the trade with their colonies, this must have been unwelcome news. [4]

No matter how tobacco made it to England, it quickly became a hit. One reason is that it was widely considered good for one’s health. One English writer named William Barclay extolled the virtues of tobacco, claiming it to be “one of the best & surest remedies in the world against Paralisie, epilepsie or apoplexie, that is, that falling ill, & Vertigo Idiopathica, the passion of dizzines in the head by wind, that ever was found out.” Which, to Barlcay’s mind, made tobacco the cure for “foure of the most incurable diseases that besiege the braine of man.” [5]

A Counterblaste from King James I
Not everyone fell in love with tobacco, however. Perhaps the most notable nay-sayer was the king of England himself, James I. Denouncing tobacco as a “noxious weed” James penned an anti-tobacco treatise called “A Counterblaste to Tobacco.” [6] Written in 1604, the Counterblaste leveled two basic arguments against the use of tobacco: it originated among Native American cultures and was thus “barbarous”; and it was not, in fact, good for one’s health.

James I & VI - Image credit HERE

James’s first argument was based in the imperial mindset of Europeans at the time. Across the continent, people felt superior to the cultures they had found when they entered the New World. Whether or not James actually thought this way about the Indigenous nations of the Americas, he attempted to use this mindset to his advantage. In the Counterblaste, James asked his kingdom, “shall wee… that have bene so long civil and wealthy in peace, famous and invincible in Warre, fortunate in both, we that have bene ever able to aide any of our neighbors (but never deafed any of their eares with any of our supplications for assistance) shall we, I say, without blushing abase our selves so farre, as to imitate these beastly Indians, slaves of the Spaniards, refuse to the world....” [7]

In essence, James wanted his subjects to think of England as the epitome of culture, and the Indigenous nations of the New World as the epitome of uncultured. And thus, anything that came from these Indigenous nations as uncultured and barbarous - including tobacco.

The crux of James’s next series of arguments, though based in what has borne out to be incorrect science, was actually, in essence, true. Unlike many, James saw smoking tobacco as an unhealthy habit. The cutting edge science of the time stated that “because the braines are colde and moist… things that are hote and drie are best for them…” such as breathing in the warm smoke created by burning tobacco. [8] To counter this, James essentially stated that if brains are cold and moist, that’s the way they’re meant to be. The warm smoke of tobacco, then, would have a harmful effect.

James also sought to dispel the notion that “by the taking of Tobacco divers and very many doe finde themselves cured of divers diseases…” For James, if people recovered from an illness after smoking tobacco it was mere coincidence. In fact, he insisted that tobacco was more likely to kill you than to make you better. To prove his point, he compared tobacco to a more well known substance, alcohol. “If a man smokes himself to death with [tobacco] (and many have done) O then some other disease must beare the blame for that fault... And so doe olde drunkards thinke they prolong their dayes, by their swinelike diet, but never remember howe many die drowned in drinke before they be halfe olde.” [9]

In this near 5,000 word essay, James continued to lambast tobacco and its users. And even though he attempted to back up his rhetoric with action by instituting a high tax rate on tobacco, the popularity of the “noxious weed” continued to grow.

Tobacco’s Staying Power
Eventually James I gave up his anti-tobacco stance and embraced the new crop. Tobacco had become too popular, even by 1604, to be done in by words and taxes. Every level of the English social hierarchy enjoyed it for both leisure and medicinal use. Even James’s predecessor, Elizabeth I, had tried smoking a pipe at the behest of her favorite courtier, Sir Walter Raleigh. [10]

Cultivation of tobacco at Jamestown - Image credit HERE

Another huge reason for tobacco’s staying power in England was the sheer economic benefit the crop brought the burgeoning empire. In 1609, Jamestown reaped its first successful tobacco harvest; by 1614 it was sending its first shipment of tobacco to England. Tobacco quickly became a gold mine, earning the crop the nickname ‘brown gold.’ Indeed, the English hoped a tobacco exporting colony would do for them what the mines of Peru and Mexico had done for Spain. By 1638, Virginia was sending 3,000,000 pounds of tobacco a year back home to England. [11]

As the amount of tobacco Virginia produced and exported continued to climb throughout the seventeenth-century, England’s wealth increased and tobacco’s popularity continued to grow, cementing the crop’s place in English society.


1. Peter C. Mancall, “Tales Tobacco Told in Sixteenth-Century Europe,” Environmental History, Vol. 9, No. 4 (Oct., 2004): 651. Accessed via
2. Mike Davey, “Trade from the 15th to the 17th Centuries,”
3. Ibid
4. Melissa N. Morris, “Spanish and Indigenous Influences on Virginian Tobacco Cultivation,” Atlantic Environments and the American South ed. Thomas Blake Earl and D. Andrew Johnson Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2020), 163-164. Accessed via Google Books.
5. Mancall, “Tales Tobacco Told in Sixteenth-Century Europe,” 660.
6. “King James I, A Counterblaste to Tobacco, 1604,”
7. King James I of England, A Counterblaste to Tobacco, accessed via
8. Ibid
9. Ibid
10. “King James I, A Counterblaste to Tobacco, 1604,”
11. Ben Johnson, “Introduction to Tobacco in England,”


Jordan Baker received his BA and MA in History from North Carolina State University. A lover of all things historical, he concentrates his research and writing on the history of the Atlantic World. He also blogs about history at

Thursday, August 13, 2020

The Vulnerable Victorian Governess

by Mimi Matthews

The Governess by Richard Redgrave, 1844.

A governess occupied a unique position in a Victorian household. She was neither servant, nor family member. She existed in a sort of in-between world which often left her feeling isolated and alone. To combat this, the young governess was advised to cultivate a tolerance for solitude. Author Susan Ridout addresses this in her somewhat depressing nineteenth century book of advice, Letters to a Young Governess on the Principles of Education and Other Subjects Connected with Her Duties (1840):
“Consider therefore, before you enter a family, how far you are able to support the solitude into which you must be thrown, in such a situation. It is not now a separation merely from friends and relations to which you are called; it is a seclusion from society altogether, at least from any which sympathizes with you.”
Seclusion from society not only left a Victorian governess isolated and alone, it also left her vulnerable to the unwelcome advances of men, both in and out of the household. To that end, Ridout instructs the young governess to be gentle, modest, reserved, and dignified, stating that:
“If there are young men in the family where you reside, remember that your carriage will generally govern theirs; they will not presume, if you are discreet and unpretending.”
On occasion, modesty and dignified reserve did not provide enough of a deterrent to gentlemen who were determined to take liberties with an unprotected female. Cases abound of governesses who were kissed, groped, and otherwise assaulted in the course of their employment. On these unfortunate occasions, there was little incentive for the governess to complain to her employer, since, as Ridout implies, gentlemanly presumptions were generally marked down to some lapse in decorum on the part of the governess. If she brought them to the attention of the mistress or master of the household, she risked being let go without a reference.

Fortunately, the courts were not always as indifferent to the plight of governesses as the rest of society. Below are just a few instances of advances made toward young governesses, some of which were ultimately dealt with in a Victorian court of law.

Proposals, Elopements, and Bigamy

In some cases, the overtures of a gentleman of the household could lead to a marriage proposal. This happened with enough regularity—both in reality and in popular fiction—that the young governess could be forgiven for dreaming that she might, too, meet a wealthy Mr. Rochester during the course of her employment. In reality, however, the man of the house was usually more of a middle-aged fellow in a marital rut than a single, charismatic hero.

Arrival of a New Governess in a Merchant's House by Vasily Perov 1866.

The 18 November 1893 edition of the Yorkshire Gazette reports the case of Mr. Hearn, a wealthy, fifty-four year old father who had engaged Miss Crosswell, a governess, to instruct his daughters on the pianoforte. He subsequently fell in love with Miss Crosswell and made her an offer of marriage. Miss Crosswell eagerly accepted, but when Mr. Hearn’s daughters protested the engagement, he broke it off. Miss Crosswell pleaded with Mr. Hearn to stand by her. When he refused, she promptly sued him for breach of promise. According to the Yorkshire Gazette, the jury awarded her £475, a sum which they considered to be “an approximate pecuniary equivalent to her pain and loss.”

Often, the master of the house developed a tendre for the governess while still married to his wife. This caused quite a bit of tension in the household. The 17 September 1892 edition of the Dundee Evening Telegraph reports the case of a wealthy farmer who eloped with the family governess while still married. As the newspaper explains:
“His wife had occasion to remonstrate concerning his marked attentions to the attractive young lady who had for a considerable period acted as governess in the family.”
When confronted, the governess agreed to find another situation and asked for a leave of absence in order to do so. The husband left the family home at the same time, ostensibly on a business trip. The following day, the pair was spotted “at a junction in England,” after which they were never seen again.

A governess and her male employer in 1901 were not so lucky. The Sheffield Independent states that, after ten years of marriage, Leopold Moulton and his wife, Lucy, hired a governess named Miss Robson to teach their children. Less than two years later, Mr. Moulton and Miss Robson departed the family home, intending to elope together to Australia. The pair was “caught together at Marseilles,” at which point they made a full confession. Mrs. Moulton subsequently sued her husband for divorce on the grounds of cruelty and adultery and was granted a dissolution of marriage.


Far more common than marriage proposals and elopements, were the everyday instances of physical encroachments perpetrated against the vulnerable young governess. If committed by a member of the household, these insults were difficult to defend against. However, if an assault was perpetrated by a man outside of the home, a governess sometimes had recourse in the courts—especially if that assault was witnessed by others.

The Governess by Rebecca Solomon, 1851.

In 1874, while out walking in a field with her three young charges, governess Lydia Jackson crossed paths with Mr. John Bickley, a young gentleman of the neighbourhood who was heir to a great fortune. Mr. Bickley was driving by in a cart when he saw Miss Jackson gathering violets. He made disparaging remarks about the children and, when Miss Jackson did not reply, the 20 May 1874 edition of the Norwich Mercury states that Mr. Bickley “did something to his trowsers; and subsequently tying his horse up, he came towards plaintiff in that position.”

Miss Jackson ran. Mr. Bickley followed and soon overtook her, grabbing hold of her jacket. Miss Jackson was able to get free and, along with the children, ran to the cottage of a neighbour. When later confronted in court, Mr. Bickley denied he had ever even seen or spoken to Miss Jackson. He claimed she was either lying or that it was a case of mistaken identity. Fortunately, the children and the neighbour were all able to verify Mr. Bickley’s presence in the field of violets that afternoon. The Norwich Mercury reports that:
“The jury almost immediately returned a verdict for the plaintiff for the full amount claimed, namely £50, the usual costs following. His Honour, addressing the jury, said that if it was any satisfaction to them to know it, he quite concurred in the decision at which they had arrived.”
In a similar case from 1881, a governess by the name of Jane Hutton was out walking when Christopher Henderson, a railway worker, grabbed her by the wrist, pulled her close to him, and attempted to kiss her. Miss Hutton ran away, but, as the Dundee Courier relates:
“He ran after her and overtook her, and again seized hold of her by the wrist and arm, dragged her on to the embankment, pulled her on to his knee, and placed his arm round her waist.”
What happened next is not entirely clear from the reports, but whatever transpired, it was enough to result in Mr. Henderson being sentenced to thirty days' imprisonment.


Cases of governess murdered by their employer are not as numerous as those involving assault, but they do exist and are, in my opinion, some of the most tragic. Victorian governesses were often alone in the world, without friends or family to inquire after them if they should happen to disappear. With no one to ask questions, a governess’s murder could go undiscovered for years. For example, in 1843, a governess by the name of Miss Crossland was employed by Mr. and Mrs. Clarke at Firth Wood Farm. The 19 August 1893 edition of the Yorkshire Evening Post reports that:
“Clark became enamoured of her and got rid his wife, to whom he allowed £60 a year, while he retained Miss Crossland as housekeeper.”
Mr. Clarke was a big man who had been known to participate in prize fights. When Miss Crossland later disappeared, the locals assumed she had either “died in giving birth to a child” or met with foul play.

The New Governess by Thomas Ballard, (1836-1908).

Her ultimate fate was destined to remain a mystery until, forty years later, railway workers excavating a field near Firth Wood found “the remains of a young woman” buried in a shallow grave. The newspaper reports that “the skull was crushed on to the chest, and both jaws wore broken, as well as several ribs.” By this point, Mr. Clarke had long since died himself and, though the remains were widely believed to be those of Miss Crossland, the Coroner in the case declined to hold an inquest.

In Conclusion

Not every position held by a Victorian governess was fraught with physical danger. There were many families who were genuinely decent and respectable, allowing the governess to go about her duties without fear of being importuned by the gentlemen of the household. With that being said, it is important to remember just how vulnerable a governess was during the nineteenth century and just how precarious her situation could become if an unscrupulous man should decide to embark on a seduction.
Dundee Courier (Angus, Scotland), 26 November 1881.
Norwich Mercury (Norfolk, England), 20 May 1874.
Ridout, Susan. Letters to a Young Governess on the Principles of Education and Other Subjects     Connected with her Duties. London: Edmund Fry, 1840.
Sheffield Independent (South Yorkshire, England), 05 February 1901.
Yorkshire Evening Post (West Yorkshire, England), 19 August 1893.
Yorkshire Gazette (North Yorkshire, England), 18 November 1893.

This post is an Editor's Choice from the Archives, originally published August 7, 2017.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Mimi Matthews writes both historical non-fiction and traditional historical romances set in Victorian England. She is the author of numerous works both nonfiction and fiction, including The Pug Who Bit Napoleon: Animal Tales of the 18th and 19th Centuries, A Victorian Lady’s Guide to Fashion and Beauty, The Work of Art, and most recently, Fair as A Star.

In her other life, Mimi is an attorney with both a Juris Doctor and a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature. She resides in California with her family, which includes an Andalusian dressage horse, two Shelties, and two Siamese cats.


Wednesday, August 12, 2020

The Complex History of Welfare: The Poor Law in Nineteenth Century Ireland

By Frank Parker

Public Domain Image

Prior to the reformation – the switch, over large parts of Europe, from Roman Catholicism to Protestantism – the poor were looked after by the monasteries. The funding for this came from the patronage the monasteries received from the landowners and from the tythes paid by farmers. Whilst the old, the sick and the disabled were provided with food, shelter and healing, the able bodied were provided with work, either in farms that formed an important part of the religious community or on building construction and maintenance.

For the able-bodied individual who could not find work near his place of abode the only alternative was to travel to a place where there was work available. Others might travel from place to place plying a particular trade, or offering a service, moving on when the demand for the service in a that area had been satisfied.

Throughout this period there were years when crops failed causing famine. Epidemics of disease occurred from time to time. The 'Black Death', the plague that devastated Europe in the 14th century, for example, reduced the population by 30%. Wars, too, took their toll on populations, although they also provided a source of income for those who chose, or were forced, to join one or other of the many armies that took part. With the men away fighting the bulk of the labour necessary to grow food fell to the women.

Wars were often responsible for the failure of crops. This was sometimes a deliberate act of destruction, perpetrated as part of the campaign. The poet, Edmund Spenser, who served in the English army at the bloody siege of Smerwick and received lands in County Cork for his trouble, later wrote a pamphlet advocating the widespread adoption of such a policy.¹ At other times it was the consequence of the absence of  farm labourers meaning that insufficient crops were sown.

Edmund Spenser - Public Domain Image

The destruction of the monasteries that followed the Reformation meant they were no longer able to carry on the work of alleviating poverty. In Britain, it now fell to the Parishes to administer poor relief under the first of a string of 'poor laws' that were introduced and amended throughout the 16th and 17th centuries.

In order to qualify for relief you had to be able to prove a connection to the parish from which you were claiming. If you were a stranger, you would need to travel to the parish where you were born or where you could demonstrate a long-term affinity. Such relief, when applied to individuals deemed capable of work, was conditional upon the individual undertaking some form of work in return. It was funded by levying a rate (property tax based on the notional value of the property) on the landowners of the parish.

By the 18th century this idea, that assistance must be earned by performing work, had become well established. After all, someone else's labour had created the food, clothing and shelter with which you were being provided. It was only right that you should perform some service in return.

For those not completely indigent, survival depended on payment received in return for their labour, whether as agricultural labourers or in the factories appearing in the growing industrial centres. The balance between wages and the price of food and other necessities became an important factor influencing the extent of poverty.

The practical manifestation of the principle of work in return for relief for the indigent was the workhouse. The first of these was established in Bristol at the end of the 17th century. The movement grew throughout the 18th century as the larger parishes, and groups of small parishes set up similar institutions. By 1776 there were over 1900 such institutions in England and Wales, housing an estimated 100,000 individuals, most of them children, sick or elderly.

The Victorian facade of the former workhouse in Athy, County Kildare,
built in 1844 and now part of a community hospital complex -
author's own photo

The Dublin House of Industry was established in 1772 to care for vagrants and beggars. In times of more general distress the work of this and similar institutions in other cities was supplemented by ad hoc provision by the parishes raising funds by subscription. Reading accounts of the conditions that prevailed in the early 1780s, for example, it is clear that the response to widespread food and fuel shortages that occurred consisted of a combination of fire-fighting with limited financial resources and attempts by the government in Dublin to control markets and prices. Such attempts were actively opposed by merchants who often combined to frustrate philanthropic actions such as the donation of 2000 tons of free coal from the mine owner Sir James Lowther.

In addition to fund raising appeals by the parishes and government's attempts to control markets and prices, some landlords offered alternative employment to workers displaced by such events as the failure of the flax crop in 1782 that had left weavers unable to ply their trade. In rural areas many communities took the law into their own hands, waylaying cartloads of grain destined for the cities.

According to James Kelly “Acts of benevolence by landlords and clergy, and donations to institutions like the Houses of Industry, were vital for the control of distress in late eighteenth century Ireland. ... In Dublin the House of Industry was the most important agent of relief, but it worked with local committees and was heavily reliant on donations.... while in the countryside landlords, wealthy farmers and clergy were indispensable.” ²

Note, however, that whereas there were numerous workhouses in England and Wales there were only a handful in Ireland, even though poverty and famines, or near famines, were much more common there. After the Act of Union at the commencement of the 19th century the government in London considered various ways of tackling this problem which was beginning to effect social cohesion in England. A growing number of poor Irish families were migrating to England. Whilst they were not able to take advantage of the poor relief available there until they had established 5 years residence, their presence was perceived as a threat to both wages and social order.

Education was seen as one important way of ending poverty, by equipping individuals with the skills to enable them to obtain work. During the second half of the 18th century a number of Protestant organisations established schools in Ireland. Catholics had been banned from providing education as part of the policy of suppressing the old religion. Once the ban was lifted, Catholic schools also began to appear. Unlike the Protestant schools, however, these did not receive government support. By the 1830s, the government decided to establish a National school system which would be multi-denominational, run by committees containing both Catholic and Protestant members.

Although this put Ireland ahead of the mainland in terms of state funded education, Ireland was not progressing economically or socially. A number of government-initiated surveys and reports were commissioned but their recommendations were generally deemed to be too costly to implement. One such commission, headed by the Protestant Archbishop of Dublin, recommended that the poor law, as established in England, would not work in Ireland because of the lack of available work. This was unacceptable to the authorities in London who sent one of the commissioners responsible for administering the poor law in England to look at the situation in Ireland.

The modern liberal view is that a person's ethnic origin has no bearing on his or her intelligence or ability to acquire useful skills. This was not so in the first half of the nineteenth century. The English establishment viewed the native Irish in exactly the same way as they viewed the natives of Africa.

The remarks of the poor law commissioner, George Nicholls, illustrate this perfectly. “They seem to feel no pride, no emulation; to be heedless of the present, and reckless of the future. They do not ... strive to improve their appearance or add to their comforts. Their cabins still continue slovenly, smoky, filthy, almost without furniture or any article of convenience or decency ... If you point out these circumstances to the peasantry themselves, and endeavour to reason with and show them how easily they might improve their condition and increase their comforts, you are invariably met by excuses as to their poverty ...Sure how can we help it, we are so poor’ ... whilst at the same time (he) is smoking tobacco, and had probably not denied himself the enjoyment of whiskey.”³

George Nicholls - Public Domain Image

His conclusion was that a new poor law should be enacted for Ireland which should include the provision of a network of 130 workhouses and that these institutions would not be permitted to provide relief other than within their walls. It was felt that this would deter all but those deemed to be the most deserving people from claiming relief. Each workhouse would have space for 800 persons, would be administered by a Board of Guardians and financed by a local property tax.

This policy was quickly implemented. When the potato crop failed in the second half of the 1840s this network of workhouses became the bases from which relief would be administered. They would prove to be utterly inadequate to perform the task, although, in fairness to the Boards of Guardians, they did their best with the limited resources available to them.

¹ A Vewe of the Present State of Irelande was originally circulated in manuscript form in 1598. It was published by Sir James Ware in 1633 under the title The Historie of Ireland
²Kelly, James. “Scarcity and Poor Relief in Eighteenth-Century Ireland: The Subsistence Crisis of 1782-4.” Irish Historical Studies, vol. 28, no. 109, 1992, pp. 38–62.
³Nicholls, George. A History of the Irish Poor Law, First published in 1856, available on-line at: The quotation is from an extract from his 1st report delivered in November 1836 and included in Chapter III.

Frank Parker is a former engineer who took up writing on retirement. He became interested in the history of Ireland shortly after moving there in 2006. He has written about the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland (Strongbow's Wife, 2013) and the Irish famine (A Purgatory of Misery, with Patrick Lillis, 2018). His latest, a historical novel based on the two and half years tenure as Poor Law Inspector in Kilrush, County Clare, of Captain (later Sir) Arthur Kennedy, Called to Account is published by TSL Books. He lives in the Irish Midlands.