Monday, April 30, 2012

Giveaway of I Serve: A Novel of the Black Prince

Rosanne E. Lortz is giving away a paperback copy of I Serve: A Novel of the Black Prince. The giveaway ends on Sunday, May 6 at midnight. Go HERE to find out more about this book, then come back to this post and enter by leaving a comment with your e-mail address (available internationally).

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Political Meaning in 18th Century Nursery Rhymes (Part Two)


The relationship between nursery rhymes and actual historical events or persons is considered by many to be apocryphal but whether you believe there is a political connection or not, it is always fun to speculate! As I did in part one I examine four nursery rhymes popular in the Georgian era and the meaning behind the rhyme.

Georgie Porgie
Georgie Porgie pudding and pie,
Kissed the girls and made them cry
When the boys came out to play,
Georgie Porgie ran away

There are two contenders for the title of Georgie Porgie.  The first is George Villiers; Duke of Buckingham (1592-1628) the bisexual lover of James I. George was a very good-looking lad with highly suspect morals. He did not confine his sexual favors to the king but had affairs with many of the ladies at court, as well as the wives and daughters of powerful nobles. It is also believed he used his privileged position with the King to force his attentions on unwilling ladies. He “ kissed the girls and made them cry” and managed to avoid prosecution or retaliation “when the boys came out to play, Georgie Porgie ran away”. Villiers notorious affair with Anne of Austria, Queen of France, injured both their reputations and was written into Alexander Dumas’ novel The Three Musketeers. Villiers liaisons and political scheming were questioned in the English Parliament who finally put a stop to James I intervening on his young lover’s behalf.

Caricature of George IV as the Prince of Wales 

 The second contender for the title of Georgie Porgie, and the one I prefer, is none other than the last of the Hanoverian Georges, “I’m the Fat One” (to quote Horrible Histories), the Prince Regent and subsequently George IV (1820-1830).

In later life, George was not just fat he was grossly obese. He gave huge banquets and drank to excess. Although he was described as the “First Gentleman of England”, is credited with championing the Regency style of clothing and manners, was considered clever and knowledgeable, Georgie Porgie highlights his worst traits. His laziness and gluttony led him to squander his abilities.

He spent whole days in bed and his extreme weight made him the target of ridicule hence the reference to “pudding and pie”. By 1797 he weighed in at 245 pounds (111kg) and by 1824 the waist of his corset was 50 inches (127cm).

George had a notorious roving eye. His checkered love life included several mistresses, illegitimate children and bigamy. Beautiful women invited to dine with the King were warned not to find themselves alone for George was not above taking liberties with his female guests. He “Kissed the girls and made them cry”. He was also considered a coward by those who knew him well, thus “When the boys came out to play, Georgie Porgie ran away”. A senior aide to the king recorded in his diary that, "A more contemptible, cowardly, selfish, unfeeling dog does not exist... There have been good and wise kings but not many of them... and this I believe to be one of the worst." The Times once wrote, George preferred "a girl and a bottle to politics and a sermon."

Jack and Jill

Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water;
Jack fell down and broke his crown,
And Jill came tumbling after.

Kilmersdon, a village in Somerset has claimed the rhyme as their own and there is a set of stone tablets along a path up to a well at the top of the notorious hill. The village claims that during 1697, a young unmarried couple courted up on a hill, away from the prying eyes of the village. Fetching a pail of water was a ruse. Jill became pregnant, and just before she gave birth, Jack “fell down and broke his crown”; he was killed by a hit to the head from a rock. Days later, “Jill came tumbling after”, dying in childbirth.

This could well be true, and could only help boost tourist numbers to Kilmersdon. However, the rhyme was not published until the 1700s. While 1760 is touted as the year of publication, there are those who contend the actual date was closer to 1795. The latter date would tie in nicely with the theory that the protagonists Jack and Jill are in fact the ill-fated French royal couple Louis XVI and his Queen Marie Antoinette who were both guillotined in 1793.

 “Up the hill” is said to represent Louis XVI’s ascension to the French throne in 1774. Jack falling down is reference to the French Revolution and Louis being arrested and charged with treason. He “broke his crown” when he was guillotined in January 1793, and Marie Antoinette (Jill) soon followed when she “came tumbling after” and was guillotined in October of the same year.

Execution of Louis XVI

There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe
There was an old woman who lived in a shoe
She had so many children, she didn't know what to do;
She gave them some broth without any bread;
Then whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.

 The old woman is said to refer to the English Parliament and the shoe itself is England. It is said that if you look at a map of Great Britain and turn it 90 degrees clockwise it resembles a shoe (!). By the mid 1700s England is considered an “old woman” by its colonies, particularly the American colonies, set in her ways and intractable. Her many children are said to represent the English colonies, young, growing and inquisitive. “Some broth without any bread” and then a whipping before bed, refers to the piecemeal and violent way the English Parliament dealt with colonials and their problems; in the same way a harsh parent treats a child considered wayward and naughty. The dismissal, and subsequent harsh treatment, of the very real problems faced by the American colonists eventually led to the American Revolutionary War.

Jack be Nimble

Jack be nimble,
Jack be quick,
Jack jump over
The candlestick.

There is consensus amongst historians as to the identity of Jack being the notorious pirate Black Jack Smatt who lived at Port Royal, Jamaica during the latter half of the 17th Century. Port Royal was known as “The Wickedest City on Earth”, until razed by an earthquake in 1692, at which time Jack and his fellow pirates were heard of no more. Yet, his legend lived on well into the Eighteenth Century and the printing of the first Mother Goose nursery rhymes. Jack Smatt was nimble and quick—he evaded capture by the British authorities, and he was never tried for piracy because he had the knack of getting himself out of a “hot spot” (represented by Jack jumping over a candlestick). Black Jack Smatt lives on in the 21st century consciousness as the Eighteenth Century pirate Captain Jack Sparrow of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, fabulously portrayed by the wonderfully talented Johnny Depp.


Baker, K (2005), "George IV: a Sketch." History Today, 2005 55(10): 30–36.

Clarke, John (1975). "George IV". The Lives of the Kings and Queens of England (Knopf): 225

Collcutt, D. (2008) Why does the Weasel go Pop, the secret meaning of our best-loved nursery rhymes

George IV of he United Kingdom

Miss Cellania, (2011) Who Was the Real “Georgie Porgie”?

Nursery Rhymes—Lyrics, Origins & History

Nursery Rhymes as Mother Goose Knows Them

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Medieval Bathing for Cleanliness, Health and Sex

by Katherine Ashe
There is a quite erroneous notion that medieval people didn't bathe. Some Tudors may have been proud of bathing once a month whether they needed to or not, but their ancestors had looked upon bathing as one of the sensual pleasures of life. King Henry III even had a special room for the purpose of washing his hair.
The medieval approach to washing hair
True, the poor had little access to bathing facilities other than the local well, and hefting buckets of water home for cooking purposes was probably quite enough of a burden. What personal washing was to be done could be done with a bowl of water. Laundry might be done in a village washhouse where once in the spring and once in the autumn stream water could be diverted to large stone tubs. Pounded lavender and soapwort made the washing compound,for soaps were not invented until the mid-thirteenth century. Soap was then imported from Spain and was only for the rich. Note, however, the shared linguistic root of "lavender" and "laundry," shared with the French word "lavande" and the Latin, heard in the Mass as the priest says, "Lavabo," "I will wash." Not too bad, having your laundry smell of lavender - even if it's only twice a year.
In cities the early mornings began with the water sellers wheeling their barrow-like barrels through the streets and selling door to door. Few houses, even of the wealthy, would have their own tubs for the immersion of a full grown person. Personal washing would be accomplished with a bowl, filled by a servant with one pitcherwith very hot water from a cauldron in the hearth and another pitcher of unheated water from a barrel or stone tank in the kitchen or cellar.The desired temperature was achieved by mixing the water from the two pitchers. This arrangement would prevail for most people until the mid-nineteenth century.
So much for washing,but what of bathing? To bathe, medieval men and women went to a bathhouse.
Individual tubs were an option
Picture a vast cellar, an undercroft with broad columns supporting the building, or multiple buildings, up above. The ceiling is low and groined and there are no windows. Iron chandeliers or candle stands, rusted to a mellow brown, bear numerous fat, white wax candles giving off a scent of honey. At one end of the room is a huge hearth hung with several cauldrons, each giving off a different perfume: attar of rose, mossy vetiver, musk or the haunting sweet aroma of civet (refined from the chokingly foul odor of the civet cat's spray to make one of the loveliest of perfumes.) The atmosphere in the low, dim room is dense with mists and laden with seductive aromas.
Arranged in aisles between the sturdy columns are curtained booths, their drapes hung from tall stands to provide total privacy - or, for parties of a racy nature, the curtains could be drawn back. Within each booth is a standing rack for clothing, a small table equipped with fruit, sweets, a carafe of wine and goblets, and soaps, oils and strigils (which we will discuss below.) And the central feature of the booth is of course the tub, made of wood like a huge bucket and equipped with seats inside so that the bathers may be immersed up to their necks when sitting. A friend of mine recently bought just such a tub from Russia, where apparently such bathing has continued in some places, sans plumbing, to this day. Such a tub will accommodate at least two people.
Or one could share…
If this sounds a bit like the modern "hot tub" and the pleasures of the "fast set" in places like Las Vegas, you've got it about right. While such bathhouses were where one went to seriously wash, they were also popular with married couples with sensual tastes, were notorious trysting places for clandestine lovers and were a favored workplace for courtesans. Priests and street corner preaching monks inveighed against them as halls of sin and depravity, and seem to have succeeded in reducing their presence until their reincarnation (with plumbing in place of hot and cold running servants) in modern times. Most illustrations from medieval manuscripts disapprovingly depict the bathhouse of the brothel variety.
What of bathing for health? Spas developed all over the Roman empire, wherever there were hot springs and waters with minerals thought to heal or restore health and vitality. Many of these spas have never been out of business since Roman times. Probably everyone knows of Bath and its Pump Room, made the height of fashion by Beau Brummel in the early 19th century. So I'm going to describe a somewhat less grand, and more close to ancient usage, spa, that of Dax, in England's medieval dukedom of Gascony in southwestern France.
In medieval times Dax was especially busy, as it was located on the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostella. Hence it was richly supplied with jewelers' shops to make settings for theseashells which were the proud souvenirs of anyone who had reached Compostella. Today the elegant shops lining Dax's main streets offera wonderful array of toys for grannies to bring back to their grandchildren, and the most beautiful candy shops perhaps in the world: row after row of footed crystal dishes heaped with chocolates wrapped in gold foil, each variety labeled with a tiny reproduction of a painting by Vermeer, Rubens, Rembrandt, etc.Dax, as it always has been, is a place for the rich and elderly to recover, indulge themselves, and think pleasantly of those back home.
And the bathing there? The bathers, monkishlysandaled and bundled in hooded white robes as they always have been, hurry through the streets to the bath. Which could hardly be more different from the undercroft bathhouse. Along the main street is a marble trough the rear wall of which has a row of Roman bronze lion heads with open mouths, each spewing a stream of hot water. Above the wall of these small but magnificent public spigots rise the weatheredcolumns of the Roman bath, at the street front of a rectangular, roofless temple-like structure. Where the floor of this temple of health would be is the pool, steaming with water from natural hot springs. A crowd of bathers, immersed amid the wreathing steam, soak in hopes of curing everything from rheumatism to varicose veins. Pilgrims too are still there, soaking their blistered feet after their trudge across the Pyrenees and back again.
The bath at Dax today
Strigils? I mentioned that soap was a Spanish invention of the mid-thirteenth century, so it was probably available at Dax very soon after its first appearance in Spain. But how did people wash before that? They rubbed themselves with scented oils and then scraped off the oils, dirt and shedding skin with a strigil, which looks rather like a marriage of an old fashioned straight razor with a butter knife. With the sharpness of the latter. The heat of the bath caused pores to open, helping to expel dirt, and the strigil scraped it away, leaving the skin smooth, clean, oiled and scented.
A Roman strigil
This was how people bathed in ancient Rome, this was how they bathed in Europe - until the invention of soap, in Spain, which may or may not be an improvement when dry skin is taken into consideration. However, the new Spanish luxury took over and made the strigil obsolete. Other means of hygiene associated with Spain were not so universally embraced. Gaius ValeriusCatullus, in about 50 BC, pokes a jibe at a Spanish customs of cleanliness in a poem addressed to Egnatius, a young Iberian gentleman overly given to flashing his brilliant smile. Catullus claims he would not be offended by such smiles from people of any of a number of other nationalities, but Egnatius is a Spaniard, and in Spain, according to Catullus, bright, clean teeth were achieved through the use of one's urine. If this seems shocking, we might take note that synthetic urine (urea) is an ingredient in many modern compounds. No doubt the synthetic variety is to be preferred.
Cleanliness has meant different things to different peoples at different times. It has always been considered a virtue, in whatever form was current, except of course when it was pursued with excessive sensual gusto. Then it could be a sin. The spa has two-thousand years of history as a treat for the rich and a hope for the sick. And lavender still scents some of our laundry detergents.

Katherine Ashe is the author of the Montfort series, on the life of the man who founded England's parliament in the year 1258. Montfort The Early Years 1229 to 1243; Montfort The Viceroy 1243 to 1253; Montfort The Revolutionary 1253 to 1260 and Montfort The Angel with the Sword are available from Amazon.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Charles Brandon ~ Loyaulte me Oblige

by Katherine Marcella

On Friday, July 10, 2009, I was fortunate enough to attend a lecture by Dr. Steven Gunn of Oxford University in the great hall at Gainsborough Old Hall in Lincolnshire, a lecture on his special interest, Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk.

The lecture started to great hilarity with a projected picture of Henry Cavill who played the part of Charles in the series The Tudors and Dr. Gunn's wry comment that that was how most people viewed Charles. Unfortunately that is probably still how most people see him: a drop-dead handsome rake and woman chaser, almost as bad as Henry himself had been. Is that a valid assessment? No.

The theme of the lecture was: What were the attributes possessed by most of the men who rose in power at the court of Henry VIII, and in particular, how did Charles Brandon fit into this category.

Henry seemed to favor men who came from a good background with family support and who married well.

Charles certainly fit into this mold. His father, Sir William Brandon, was Henry VII's standard-bearer at the Battle of Bosworth and died protecting Henry during Richard III's final charge, killed by Richard himself. That set the Brandons up well in Tudor estimation. Charles's uncle, Sir Thomas Brandon, was Henry VII's Master of the Horse, a position Charles would later hold. As for a good marriage, after a few marital misadventures in his youth, Charles married Henry's sister Mary Tudor. It's hard to imagine a better marriage.

On a daily basis, Henry liked men who shared interests with him, whose company he enjoyed and who possessed skills he needed.

Again, this describes Charles very well. He was a natural athlete, excelling at many sports. In particular he was a keen jouster -- probably better than Henry himself -- though he was intelligent enough to let Henry win most of the time. He and Henry seemed to have clicked on a personal basis almost from the time they first met when Henry was still a prince and Charles was moved over to his household from Prince Arthur's after the latter's marriage. As for skills possessed, Steven Gunn believes Charles' main ability was military. And he did serve in a high capacity in the military through most of Henry's time on the throne.

Henry also expected the nobility around him to act appropriately to their titles and office. This included maintaining their lands and manors, dressing well and displaying their wealth appropriately, while maintaining friendly relations with as many people as possible.

As a newly-minted Duke in 1514, Charles was in a difficult position. Though Henry tried to give him as much land as possible with the title, Charles worked hard to set up his estates, work that other dukes like Norfolk and Buckingham never had to bother with as they had inherited their estates already set up. Though it seems to have been an almost constant struggle for him, and he was chronically short of cash because of necessary expenditures, Charles managed. He was also managed to maintain cordial relations with most people. In general, Charles was well-liked though some, like Norfolk, were constantly jealous of his close relationship with the king.

I enjoyed Steven Gunn's lecture, though ultimately I decided the criteria for advancement at Henry's court said more about Henry than about Charles. That made me wonder what actually motivated Charles.

I've come to the conclusion that his father's heroic death was the single most important event that governed his life. We don't know Charles's birth date, but he couldn't have been old enough to remember Bosworth. He might not even have been born until after the battle. But he would have heard the story from his earliest days, and it had to have made a strong impression on him. The Tudors valued loyalty above almost all else, and William Brandon's willingness to put himself between Richard III and Henry Tudor was enough to give his family the chance to advance themselves.

Gunn mentions in his book on Charles (Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, c.1484 - 1545, Basil Blackwell, 1988) how much the ideals of chivalry meant to Charles.

I believe that these ideals combined with the circumstances of his father's death instilled in a Charles a life-long belief that his one purpose on earth was to serve and protect the Tudors even at the expense of his own beliefs and advancement. Unlike so many others at court, he stayed out of politics and never tried to influence the king in religious or state matters. Because of this, he (also unlike so many others) managed not only to keep his head but the king's lifelong friendship.

When Charles died in 1545, Henry commanded he be buried in St. George's Chapel at Windsor and paid for the entire funeral himself -- an extraordinary gesture for Henry at that point in his life. Charles still lies there today, as close to the royal tomb as Henry could arrange, testament to their friendship and Charles's well-chosen motto, Loyaulte me Oblige -- Loyalty Binds Me.

Ye Art of Acting, by Lady A~, Authoress of 'The Bath Novels of Lady A~'.

So much of what we write about on this blog is devoted to things past, pulled back into the present, in order that we can shine a spotlight on those in distant humanity who have entranced us in history. In my little ramble today, I thought I might introduce you to one of my very novel friends, and his lively troupe, who presently delivers history (and the historical)--but in the flesh. This charming creature is one of those rare beings who cannot only paint the past for us, but can perfectly perform it. What sets this singular person and his talented players apart is their intricate knowledge and interpretation of rare Georgian theater; plays and pieces that were last performed in their, then, contemporary period of the 1700's.

Mr. Macaroni and his fine troupe of traveling players
'Mr. Macaroni' is every bit of the Georgian noodle; in fact so suave is he, he might 'as well be speaking Italian'! Doubling daringly as both thespian and impresario of The Great Mogul's Company of Comedians aka 'Humphrey Clinker and the Travelling Libertines', Mr. M. and his troupe bring to life, amongst others, the pricelessly pertinent works of Henry Fielding and Laurence Sterne. By employing a method of comedic delivery that has not been seen since the golden age of Garrick, Macaroni and friends will transport one straight back to the carousing, drinking, singing, swearing and fighting of glorious Georgian theatrics. If you may be guessing at the relevance for such theater in a tawdry, modern world, besides the obvious exquisite art of these performances, only but reflect upon some of the themes of their work: war in deserts, 'corrupt politicians, celebrities courting fame'. The great mogul and his company will bring new meaning to 'what goes around comes around', and with a period panache rarely seen in the neo-realistic arenas that offer us far less colorful stereotypes.

Be-wigged Wags!
Here's what makes this group an historic must-see both in this ramble, and if you are really privileged, in high performance upon the oaken boards in the business that Macaroni calls the STAGE. When this iconic group of strolling players first came together they literally moved about like a traveling troupe Jane Austen might have witnessed at the Chawton Fair. All the scenery, props, period costuming, including wigs and period instruments, were ferried with the cast/crew to the unusual places in which they earlier performed, e.g. in newly reunified Germany in the 1990's.

Ensembles of High Performance
Taking a rare present-day peek into what such an undertaking might comprise in terms of period detail and authenticity, here are some Great Mogul 'Vignette-views'. The cast dons proper theatrical 'slap' (makeup) from the days of yore, complete with handmade wigs, fashioned by a remarkable fellow-player, and appositely named, wig-maker Keith Wigham. Seemingly born to the role, Mr. Wigham crafts these 'do's of art' with 'hair, gauze, glue and chicken wire' and as painstakingly (some wry wag remarked) as "watching paint dry". Additionally, the very accomplished choreographer, one 'Mistress Shaw', is an expert designer in the art of costuming. She procures the 'magnificent frock coats, shirts, breeches, skirts, stomachers, and aprons' that might once have flashed across the creaky boards of a pucker Georgian stage. And if this isn't fascinatingly authentic enough to hasten you to catch your glimpse-treat of the Mogul and his Company, this treasure of a troupe comes equipped with two very accomplished musicians, who are 'schooled in the art of the classical and the baroque, and are expert in playing and composing in that style'. Recently the Company toured with an actual 'full-size harpsichord', which, undoubtedly, added a sublime measure of 'musical beauty and veracity' to their performances.

'Slap', Wiggery & ye Baroque!
The troupe is very unique too, in that its members all share a well-founded interest in 18th-century culture, in fact, they make a 'kind of art of it'. They concentrate upon the Satires with distinct Hogarthian flavor, embodied in such performances as Fielding's Historical Register for the Year 1736 and Gay's The Beggar's Opera. Certainly not any 'olde' thing you can catch at the Multiplex or a Playhouse near you, and truly nothing you could stream to your instant queue on TV. If I had to draw an evocative historical-witness analogy, such fare is as rare as having the Romanovs to dinner. Not only are the performances a singular sight to be seen, in every exquisite brushstroke of authenticity, but the venues in which they are staged, quite literally 'set the stage'.

Wags, Wenches, Wine & Song
Two of these that deserve especial mention are Fairfax House in York, and Seaton Delaval Hall in Northumberland, the latter designed by the aptly diverse playwright and architect, John Vanbrugh. In Fairfax House the Company performed a memorable piece in the 'splendid and sumptuous withdrawing room', and in Seaton Delaval Hall's be-cobwebbed Coach House, they rendered a technically subdued exhibition of their art, in order to accommodate an upstaging colony of bats, sensitive to 'ranting and wailing'! Definitely not anything comparable to the Multiplex! Macaroni also shared a spectral anecdote with me about the Hall being haunted by a disaffected servant-girl circa mid-18th c. Apparently the 'White Lady', as she is fondly known, fell in love with one of Captain Francis Blake Delaval's sons, who was packed off to war and never to return. Naturally the poor thing succumbed to her mortal love-wound, died, and is now said to sit at window gazing out to sea, in the hope she might yet spy her long-lost warrior-love. A sure bonus to the Georgian theatrics of a knave-noodle and his wags, who have, as surely, distracted the pining specter on every performing occasion with the likes of (Georgian) '(Gruesome) Ailments and Remedies' and 'The Age of Beauty, not Hygiene'. No doubt Mrs. Slurp's mighty 'mouse-brows' must have been frightful enough to alarm even this enduring ghost!

Living 'Georgian Lives'
And not unlike the breathtaking, English historic houses in which some of the troupe's period work is put on polished display, The Great Mogul's Company of Comedians deserves that special preservation assigned to treasures of heritage. In such a way, then, the Company has forged past cooperative links with the British Council, formed a present partnership with Northumbria University's English Department, and is generating new scripts (for example, its 'Vignettes') for organizations such as the National Trust. Most importantly, however, if you are lucky enough to be one of England's fine denizens, living in vicinity of this spectacular group of strolling players, it is your welcome support that will help guarantee that Mr. Sterne's sentimental journey will never end. Well, at least in every sumptuous withdrawing room or be-cobwebbed Coach House to be had--with upstaging bats--in the kingdom!

If I've peaked your interest in Mr. Macaroni's 'living history', then do amble to my extended tete-a-tete with him on Ye bath Corner Blogge to discover the Knave under the Wig! Ladies, the divine & charming Mr. M. can also be noodled with upon his thespian blog or at his lively post in the 'Twittershire', where he oft toozles with our bluestocking dowager, Mrs. Skyelark. Also find Mr. M's artful company details upon our freshly debuting A-Lyste!

Discover what drama the notorious Noodle and his Libertines shall be creating next!

All Great Mogul's Images courtesy H.C. Productions

Lady A~ is the authoress of The Bath Novels of Lady A~, a companion set of seven original Regaustenian novels to Jane Austen's perfect six. Discover this collection's first 'Bath Beauty', Merits and Mercenaries.

Purchase & Possess Merits and Mercenaries

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The must-have garden accessories for the rich and richer? A glasshouse and pineapples!

by M.M. Bennetts

Oranges and lemons first made their way to the English plate and palate sometime during the reign of James I.   They were the preserve of the rich.  Obviously.  Unsurprisingly, within a very short space of time, these citrus fruits--which we take quite for granted--were the status symbol. 

In order to grow the fruits then, small conservatories were built to protect the potted trees over the cold English winter months.  And they weren't called conservatories.  They were known as orangeries or orange houses.

They had solid roofs because the plants are dormant in the winter months anyway, and featured glass windows (or French doors as we'd call them) along one side--usually the south side--so that the sunshine through the windows from February onwards would help restart the growth until the trees could be taken out into the garden once danger of frost had passed.

Queen Henrietta Maria's Orangery (right)
Queen Henrietta Maria had such a structure built at Wimbledon Manor House in the 1630s. 

By the 1650s, despite the deteriorating political situation which might have taken their attention off such frivolities, the well-heeled were for the most part installing heating into their orange houses, usually in the form of free-standing charcoal-burning stoves.  Which occasionally proved unreliable, occasionally poisoning the plants with charcoal fumes.

So the famed garden writer John Evelyn suggested a new kind of stove--this was fixed outside the glasshouse and the heat was conducted into the conservatory through pipes.  It sounds obvious to us, but to them, this was innovation!  Not only that, but Evelyn was the first to call these orangeries 'conservatories'.

Within fifty years, even as the range of plants and fruits to be grown in them had expanded, so too the technology had advanced.  In 1710, the Duke of Chandos' new conservatory was heated by flues, with the central glass section flanked by two walls into which were built coal fireplaces.

Which meant that through the winter months, the tables of the rich and nobles featured not only the citrus fruits, but a wide range of vegetables.  And, as well as stocking their conservatories with other plants such as jasmines and pomegranates, they were producing the ultimate symbol of status--largely because they did require a conservatory and were so difficult to grow--the pineapple.

Which incidentally weren't just eaten.  Generally, for at least a fortnight or so before eating, the pineapple would be on display on the dining table as part of a centrepiece.

But, by this time, the conservatory had outgrown its simple original function and was being viewed more as an architectural accessory rather than a horticultural one.  They were garden features now and were often being built as a focal point in a garden, rather like the Tudor banqueting houses had once been.  Hence, they now often contained a degree of furnishing and like at Dyrham Park near Bath were used during the summers as an extra room, when all the plants were outside.

Lady Hertford wrote in 1739 of the Earl of Bathhurst's greenhouse at Riskins in Buckinghamshire as "a very agreeable room; either to drink tea, play at cards, or sit in with a book, in a summer's evening..." for it was filled with a "collection of orange, myrtle, geranium, and oleander trees".

As the range of available seeds grew, so too did the building of specialist greenhouses.  By the early years of the 19th century, it was not unknown for larger households to have a specialist 'melon house' which was also used for growing cucumbers, strawberries and salad greens year-round in raised hot beds.

The technology for heating the glass structures continued to advance, though it remained somewhat experimental.  And by the end of the 18th century (due to the wars with France), glass was heavily taxed so on the whole glasshouses remained prohibitively expensive.

Yet the true test of a skilled horticulturist remained his ability to grow pineapples. (It was also a measure of one's wealth that one could afford the wages of a head gardener who could grow pineapples.)  So in addition to the melon houses, and the conservatories which were now attached to the house and used as a summer room, special 'pineries' were built.

In 1777, "two hothouses full stocked with pine apples and plants" were built at Knole for the sum of £175. 

By 1805, garden designer and painter Humphry Repton was outlining his plans (in paint) for vast greenhouses for Woburn Abbey which he called 'The Forcing Garden' and that promised fresh exotic fruit and vegetables throughout the winter.  It was also Repton who suggested that the conservatory should be connected to or built off the library (which was by the early 19th century the most used public space of a house) as a natural transition between the house and the garden outside.  And it was this which gave rise to the Victorian tradition of building conservatories for the next several generations--as garden rooms attached to libraries.

Still, the prize for the greatest pineapples--and thus the greatest conservatory building and the most lavish spending--probably goes to the Marquess of Hertford in 1822.  For it was his gardener, Thomas Baldwin, who sent several pineapples to an anniversary dinner of the Royal Horticultural Society--the largest of which weighed 8lbs 14oz.

M.M. Bennetts is a specialist in early nineteenth-century British history and the Napoleonic wars, as well as the author of two historical novels set in the period - May 1812 and Of Honest Fame. Find out more at

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Marshalsea Debtors’ Prison

Who among us would be there today?  What was it like?
by Wanda Luce
Ready for a laugh before considering the grim and macabre?  Well, as much as I have always loved Dickens, it was only this last year when I watched the new production of Little Dorrit with Mathew MacFayden that I heard of the Marshalsea, but since I only heard the word and did not see it written, I was visualizing the word as “Marshalcy.”  All the way through, I was puzzling over the word and what it meant in that context.  I kept making a mental note to look it up but never got around to it.  So, in my mind, Mr. Dorrit kept saying “Marshalcy” and not the actual word  “Marshalsea.”  I would love to know if I had any company in rolling that word around in my mind.  When I at last learned the real name of this debtors’ prison, I decided to share with you the truly horrible place that it was.  Its example of some men’s brutal inhumanity makes me wonder if some of our fellow beings don’t belong to some lower order of creature.  How ready so many on this globe are to inflict cruelty upon their fellow beings! 
The first Marshalsea reposed in all its barbarous in-dignity on the south bank of the Thames River in Southwark from the 1300s until it was rebuilt in the early 1800s.  Apparently too few of our fellow mortals (or at least the ones who held the power) cared enough the suffering there over five and a half centuries to come up with a more humane solution.  Tragic is what it is.  Incomprehesible is what it I,s as well.
Those sent to the Marshalsea were guilty of various crimes.  Some had committed crimes at sea, like piracy or smuggling.  Others were sentenced for “unnatural crimes,” like  homosexuality.  Dissenters likewise found themselves closed up inside its walls.  Bonner, the bishop of London at the time of Elizabeth's accession, was incarcerated in Marshalsea for ten years because he refused to take the oath of allegiance.  Imagine if one of our religious leaders was sentenced to ten years in Federal Prison because he refused allegiance to President Obama.  Politicians and intellectuals accused of sedition as well as debtors also found themselves shut up in the Marshalsea. 
For the most part, London debtors stayed as long as their creditors chose to have them incarcerated.  It is estimated that in 1641 around 10,000 people in England and Wales were in prison for debt.  In 1729 a parliamentary committee reported that 300 had died there within a three-month period and that eight to ten died every 24 hours in warmer weather. 
Charles Dickens  At the tender age of twelve, Charles Dickens was forced to leave school and work in a shoe-blacking factory after his father was sent to the Marshalsea.   Of this he writes in David Copperfield, “I had no advice, no counsel, no encouragement, no consolation, no assistance, no support, of any kind, from anyone.”
Entire families removed to the Marshalsea or sprang up there, and many were incarcerated for decades.  Other European countries limited imprisonment for debt to one year, but in England, debtors stayed in prison until their creditors were satisfied.  And the prison-keepers charged rent (jailor’s fee); bailiffs charged for food and clothing; attorneys charged legal fees; and creditors often increased the debt simply because the debtor was in jail. 
The prisoner’s family members, including children, often had to be sent to work on the outside to pay for the family’s keep.  Usually the only food supplied by the prison was bread and water or something from a local market that was no longer fit for human consumption.  Those who had no money for food or anyone to bring it to them simply died of starvation.
Until the 1790s, jailors could chain prisoners with as many iron fetters as they wanted and then charge to remove them one at a time.  In the Bishop of Ely’s prison, those prisoners who were unable to pay for the removal of these chains were chained to the floor on their backs and forced to wear a spiked collar around their necks.  Heavy iron bars were also clamped over their legs until somehow they found money to pay for an “easement of irons.”   It seems impossible that anyone could inflict so much misery on another.                                                     Tools of Torture
In 1639, twenty-three women were held in one room without space to lie down.  Some prisoners were regularly beaten or tortured with thumbscrews and a skullcap.  Others were forced to lie in a windowless shed called the Strong Room near the main sewer where rats ran wild and cadavers awaited burial.   According to a Gaols Committee formed in 1729, they found “the sale of offices, breaches of trust, enormous extortions, oppression, intimidation, gross brutalities, and the highest crimes and misdemeanours.”  In the Marshalsea they found that prisoners on the Common Side were being routinely starved to death:
“All the Support such poor Wretches have to subsist on, is anaccidental Allowance of Pease, given once a week by a Gentleman, who conceals his Name, and about Thirty Pounds of Beef, provided by the voluntary Contribution of the Judge and Officers of the Marshalsea, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday; which is divided into very small Portions, of about an Ounce and a half, distributed with One-Fourth-part of an Half-penny Loaf ... When the miserable Wretch hath worn out the Charity of his Friends, and consumed the Money, which he hath raised upon his Cloaths, and Bedding, and hath eat his last Allowance of Provisions, he usually in a few Days grows weak, for want of Food, with the symptoms of a hectick Fever; and when he is no longer able to stand, if he can raise 3d to pay the Fee of the common Nurse of the Prison, he obtains the Liberty of being carried into the Sick Ward, and lingers on for about a Month or two, by the assistance of the above-mentioned Prison Portion of Provision, and then dies.”

One prisoner, a debtor named Thomas Bliss, could not pay the prison fees and had been left with so little to eat that he tried to escape.  William Acton, prison ward of the Marshalsea in the 1720s, left Bliss in the filth of the Strong Room for three weeks wearing a skullcap, thumb screws, an iron collar, leg irons, and irons around his ankles.  According to one witness the swelling in his legs fully covered the leg irons on one side.  His wife testified that he was bleeding from his mouth and thumbs and could not eat because of the skullcap.   Eventually he was taken to the sick ward, but he died a few months later.
Extremely humble legislation began to be introduced from 1649 onwards.  Under George III debts of under 40 shillings did not demand jail time.  The Insolvent Debtors Act of 1813 allowed a debtor to request release as long as his assets did not exceed £20.  If the creditor did not agree, the debtor stayed in prison, some even for life.  As a result of the Gaol Committee’s inquiries, key figures in the administration of several of the jails were tried for murder.
The Marshalsea was divided into two sections for its different classes of prisoners:  the Master’s Side with about 50 rented rooms was reserved for those of the higher classes who had a way to pay more for their keep.  The Common Side had only nine small rooms.  It was not uncommon for as many as 300 debtors to be locked up in those nine rooms from dawn to dusk.  Wives, daughters, and lovers of male prisoners were allowed to live with them, so long as they behaved and paid their keep.  Women who could afford to pay the fees were housed in separate quarters called “the Oak.”
 A new Marshalsea was built and stood from 1811-1842, but conditions were also horrific.  It is the second one that Dickens made famous in his novels.  In 1842 Parliament ordered the Marshalsea closed.  The mentally ill were sent to Bethlem Hospital and the rest to the King’s Bench Prison.
Dickens visited the Marshalsea after it closed as a prison, and its rooms were being let as apartments.  He wrote:

“[W]hosoever goes into Marshalsea Place, turning out of Angel Court, leading to Bermondsey, will find his feet on the very paving-stones of the extinct Marshalsea jail; will see its narrow yard to the right and to the left, very little altered, if at all, except that the walls were lowered when the place got free; will look upon the rooms in which the debtors lived; and will stand among the crowding ghosts of many miserable years."                             The Old Wall still stands today.
Thanks to Wikipedia for the bulk of the information in this post.

I have a great fascination with history and write Regency-era romances.  For more information, I hope you will visit my blog