Monday, June 30, 2014

The Demise of the Powdered Wig, 1795

by Mike Rendell

When my ancestor went up to London for six weeks in the 1780's, he paid the barber to give him a whole-head shave every day. 42 shaves cost eighteen shillings - just over a dollar - and  shaving involved the entire head because my ancestor wore a wig. These hot-beds of lice and insect life would have itched constantly, but shaving would have reduced the irritation and kept the scalp clean. I rather like the image of a barber's shop drawn by Richard Newton  towards the  turn of the century. It is called 'Sketches in a Shaving Shop'

Different professions had evolved their own style of wig - different ones for the clergy, the army, the judiciary and so on. Shortly after the coronation of King George III, William Hogarth brought out a satirical print implying that the choice of wig was a branch of science.

Normally I do not like Hogarth - he is a trifle too moralistic for my liking, but here he is parodying contemporary pseudo-scientific treatises and manuals. It is entitled the “Five Orders of Perriwigs…” and shows ‘Episcopal or Parsonic’ as well as ‘Old Peer-ian or Aldermanic’, ‘Lexonic”, and ‘Composite or Half Natural’ and ‘Queerinthian.’ Lots of in-jokes and digs at  contemporary scientific discoveries – nice one, Billy-boy!

The one thing which was constant was the need to apply powder to the wig - this was a fashion copied from the French. Gentlemen generally wore white powder, ladies might have theirs a slightly bluish white. The powder was often highly toxic since it was made from white lead. The wise covered their face with a conical mask while the dresser applied the dusty powder, because otherwise the ingestion of lead would have been really unpleasant, leading to nausea, dizziness, headaches, paralysis and in some cases even death.

There are many caricatures of the time showing powder being applied. I rather like this one entitled The Macarony Dressing Room. It dates from 1779 and shows the seated gentleman taking snuff while his hairdresser dusts his wig. A slave boy holds the powder. Behind him a fop closes the door with his rapier while a servant is entering, sending the tray of refreshments to the floor. Another macaroni lifts his leg away from the spillage, concerned in case he gets splashed, while a corpulent gentleman, wearing a fancy leopard print waistcoat and trousers, watches the scene unfold.

But powder disappeared from use almost overnight in 1795. The Duty on Hair Powder Act  came into force on 5th May of that year. From that date wig-wearers who wished to powder their tresses had to go to the  stamp office; fill in a form with their name; and apply for an annual certificate at a cost of one guinea (twenty-one shillings – the equivalent of perhaps £80). Various exemptions applied – for instance for poorer clergymen and certain classes of  the armed forces.The Royal Family and their servants were of course exempt from this iniquitous tax which had the effect of ruining trade for the poor periwig makers of the day. The Act was repealed in 1869, by which time fewer than a thousand annual licences were being granted – and most of them were for servants.

If there was a household consisting of more than two unmarried daughters, good old Dad could pay over his two guineas and write down the names of all his daughters to be included in the one certificate. Similarly, an employer could buy a licence for a servant, and extend it if the servant was replaced during the year.

This led to a lovely caricature by James Gillray entitled 'Leaving off powder - a frugal family saving the guinea.'

I particularly like the oleaginous French wig-maker on the left, complete with a hole in his stocking, and as usual with Gillray's portrayal of the French, shown looking like a monkey! Or Mick Jagger…

Her Ladyship, with a head as smooth as a baby’s bottom, throws up her hands in horror at the coloured monstrosity which is about to be placed on her head. In the background the glamorous daughter looks forlornly at her image in the glass, her fashionable white locks replaced with brown curls. There is an interesting contrast between the picture on the wall of  King Charles II, resplendent in his full-bottomed wig, and the young blade looking at his reflection in the mirror, his short crop no doubt feeling somewhat chilly on a May morning… Only Dad, warming himself by the fire, seems unconcerned by all the fuss: he is happy with the brown rug sitting atop his pate and he certainly isn’t about to dish out a guinea for anyone else in the household!

Clearly there must have been discussions about what other products might be used to dress a wig without incurring the powder-tax. Hence this etching by Isaac Cruikshank, also from 1795, entitled “Debating Society : (substitute for hair powder)”. Beneath the picture of the braying ass, the learned gentlemen are all shouting at once extolling the virtues of … honey, or mustard. (I think I might pass on that one!) The organizer of the debate cries out "Silence, gentlemen! To order, only ten to speak at a time...".

Within a matter of a few years, fashions changed - men's hair was often worn short in a crop or lightly curled. The towering head-dresses favoured by ladies in the 1780's (think of Georgiana in the film 'The Duchess') were never to be seen again, and ringlets came into vogue. I think I might start a campaign to Bring Back the Wig - it may have been ludicrous, but for men like me who are, how shall we say, a little lacking on top, it might be a god-send!


Mike is the author of The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman based on the family collection of diaries and memorabilia from the 18th Century. He has also published a book about the origins of the Circus Astley's Circus - the Story of an English Hussar and is about to have published a fully illustrated book  An introduction to the Georgians. He also does a regular blog on all-things-Georgian here).

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Giveaway: The Handfasted Wife by Carol Mcgrath

Carol is giving away to an international reader a print copy of The Handfasted Wife. You can read about the book HERE. Please comment below on this post to enter the drawing. Please leave your contact information.

Queen Adelaide, the Last Georgian Queen

By Lauren Gilbert

Miniature of the Duchess of Clarence,

later Queen Adelaide, 1818, by Samuel Raven

When Queen Victoria took the throne of England in 1837, it was considered the beginning of a new era, a new beginning, moving away from the wild, wastrel ways of her immediate predecessors, especially the debauched King George IV.  However, the queen consort Adelaide was not to be lumped in with them.  

Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen, wife of William III, was willing to accept William’s proposal in the royal marriage frenzy following the death of Princess Charlotte in 1817.    (William was promised debt relief and an increased income if he married.)  She did her best to curb William’s eccentricities, and ultimately became a beloved figure in her own right.  But who was she?

Adelaide was the elder daughter of George I, the reigning Duke of Saxe-Meiningen, and his wife Princess Louise Eleonore of Hohenloh-Langenburg, born after 10 years of childlessness on August 13, 1792 in Meiningen.  She was given the very grand name of Adelaide Louisa Theresa Caroline Amelia (originally Adelheid Luise Therese Caroline Amalie in her native German).  

A Protestant, she was christened on August 19 in the castle chapel with an imposing list of godparents that included the reigning Prince of Hohenlohe-Langenburg and the Crown Princess of Saxony.  Another daughter named Ida was born 2 years later and, after a still birth, a son, Crown Prince Bernhard was born in 1800.  

Duke George was very interested in his children’s education (Adelaide and Ida began their lessons before the birth of the prince), and drew up a program of education himself, with an emphasis on religion and morals.  Their lessons included French and Italian.  By all accounts, Adelaide was intelligent and well educated.
Meiningen was a small state with a paternalistic government.  Education was highly thought of, and there was great pride in the founding of a girls’ school in 1797 where the girls were taught by men and studied Latin and other subjects.  There were also industrial schools where orphans and poor children were taught trades.  

The Duke supervised the government and the people’s needs closely.  By all accounts, Adelaide was raised in a progressive but controlled, structured environment.  Her father died in December of 1803, and her mother ruled as regent for the young prince, continuing the firm leadership of the late Duke. 

The tranquillity of this small state was destroyed by the activities of Napoleon, crossing back and forth with his armies, quartering his soldiers on the local inhabitants, banning English goods, and causing great damage and suffering when Napoleon was not satisfied.  Meiningen joined the Confederation of the Rhine, and sent 300 men to join the Allied Army.  

There was great suffering and privation during these years, and it appears that Adelaide spent much of this period assisting her mother with her duties in trying to maintain the people’s morale and welfare.
Taxation was very high in post-war Meiningen, and Adelaide was much occupied with trying to relieve the conditions of the poor in the state, and formed an organization of women to work with the Poor-Law Commission to assist with providing food and work to those found deserving.    She was a significant support to her mother as well.  

Adelaide’s sister Ida was betrothed in 1816, and married the Duke of Weimar June 2 of 1816.  This was the first time she and her sister were separated. Then, in 1818, Adelaide was caught up in the search for a suitable bride for William, the English Duke of Clarence, son of George III.
William had considered marriage before, notably after quarrelling with his long-time mistress, Mrs. Jordan (with whom he had 10 children).  In 1811, he proposed to an heiress, Lady Catherine Long, who apparently lost no time in accepting someone else.  Subsequently, he proposed to another young woman of rank, Miss Elphinstone, who turned him down immediately.  

William then apparently lost interest in the marriage project until 1817, when the death of Princess Charlotte (the heiress to the throne behind her father George, Prince of Wales and later George IV) made it essential for the unmarried sons of George III to do their duty.  (Mrs. Jordan’s death in 1816 made it somewhat easier for William.)  

In 1818, it appeared that William was unlikely to ever marry but, to everyone’s astonishment, he proposed to an heiress named Miss Wykeham, who possessed an income of 16,000 a year and a passion for hard riding.  (She was supposed to have worn spurs).  To the dismay of his family and the government, William’s proposal was accepted. It took two Council meetings and the combined efforts of the Regent, Castlereagh, the Duke of York and Lord Liverpool to talk him out this unsuitable alliance.  

At this point, Queen Charlotte apparently took a hand in the search for a suitable bride for William.  (Apparently by now, no one trusted him to do it himself.) Once Adelaide was identified as an acceptable candidate, the financial negotiations began.  William drove a hard bargain, but finally accepted what the government offered and proposed to Adelaide, with their engagement being announced in Meiningen April 19, 1818.  

There are indications that she was not happy about the engagement, but marriage to a royal duke with the potential of being queen and the possible mother to an heir to the throne of England was too much to dismiss lightly.  Adelaide was 25 (almost 26) and William was almost 53 years old.
Adelaide started on her journey to England on June 20, 1818 accompanied by the Duchess of Meiningen and her ladies and gentlemen.  Although Queen Charlotte had written to Adelaide, William did not deem it appropriate for him to escort his bride.  They arrived in London 14 days later.  She does not appear to have created much interest at the time of her entry.

Adelaide married William on July 11, 1818, at Kew Palace with Queen Charlotte present.  Although William had parted from Mrs. Jordan, leaving her to die in penury, he had remained a devoted father to his children and expected Adelaide to welcome them as well.  There is a great deal of speculation on how she felt about this, but all accounts indicate she treated his children with great kindness and affection.
A few weeks after their wedding, the Duke and Duchess of Clarence settled in Hanover.  Although Adelaide was not considered a beauty (allegedly plain, thin and having some kind of skin problem), apparently she and William settled down contentedly to a quiet life in Hanover.   

Adelaide quickly became pregnant but unfortunately delivered her child prematurely in March of 1819.  The baby girl, who was baptized Charlotte Augusta Louisa, lived only a few hours. Adelaide was quite ill after the birth, and both she and William were devastated by the baby’s death. 

After she recovered, they left Hanover and travelled through Europe.  They visited her mother in Meiningen, and continued on to meet the royal yacht at Dunkirk.  Their sailing was, unfortunately, delayed by a miscarriage.   They finally reached Clarence House in November of 1819.  This is the beginning of Adelaide’s life in England.
A few months of marriage to Adelaide had apparently done much to calm William’s excitability and improve his manners, and they were apparently happy living a quiet life, dividing their time between Clarence House in London and Bushy Park.  

The Duke of Kent and his wife had produced a daughter, Victoria, of whom William and Adelaide were very fond. When the Duke of Kent died on January 23, 1820, Adelaide paid multiple visits to his widow.  Much is written about her good relationships with her husband’s family and her efforts to keep the peace.  

King George III also died on January 29, 1820 making the Prince Regent King George IV.  His already debauched court was further scandalized when George IV’s wife Caroline decided to return to England for the coronation.  With her reputation for morality and kindness, Adelaide may not have felt comfortable (or even particularly welcome) at George IV’s court.  

At any rate, she was pregnant and living an extremely quiet life at this time, although she was present at the marriage of William’s daughter Elizabeth at St. George’s Hanover Square in December 4th, 1820.
On December 10, 1820, Adelaide gave birth to another premature daughter.  She was named Elizabeth Georgina Adelaide.  Again, Adelaide was quite ill and took several weeks to recover.  

At the beginning of March of 1821 the weather turned extremely cold.  Little Princess Elizabeth became very ill and died March 4, 1821 at only 4 months old.  The baby’s funeral was March 10th.  This was a tragedy from which Adelaide never fully recovered.  

Although she did become pregnant again, her pregnancies ended in miscarriages, including one, supposedly, of twin boys.  William was very sympathetic and was also upset over the loss of his children with Adelaide.  

An affectionate note written by Adelaide a short time after her baby’s death to the two-year-old Princess Victoria illustrated the kindness and warm-heartedness of Adelaide.
In June of 1822, the Duke and Duchess travelled to Europe.  Their travels included a visit to Meiningen, where they were greeted by Adelaide’s younger brother, the duke.  She was also able to spend time with her mother.  Later they also visited the Duke and Duchess of Weimar (her sister Ida and her husband) and saw the battlefield of Waterloo.  

Adelaide and William left for England in September of 1822.  They returned to continue their quiet life at Clarence House and Bushy Park, with occasional visits to see George IV at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton. Apparently, she was able to spend time with her family in Europe at periodic intervals during this period.    

Adelaide and William, by all accounts, became extremely fond of each other and had a congenial marriage.  Their last visit to Europe lasted over six months, during which time Adelaide was able to participate in her brother’s wedding festivities among other family visits from which they returned to England in early summer 1826. 
Frederick, Duke of York and heir to George IV, became ill in December of 1826 and died in January of 1827, leaving William heir to the throne.  This was completely unexpected, and thrust the Duke and Duchess of Clarence from their quiet life into political and social prominence.    

William was also made Lord High Admiral in April, which appeared to be almost more important to him, as it gave him the opportunity to suggest reforms and improvements for the navy.  (He was also pleased when he was granted additional funds.)
William and Adelaide led much more active social lives, together and separately; they gave a ball at the Admiralty on the anniversary of Waterloo on March 18, 1828 and hosted receptions. Unfortunately, William’s views and renewed excitability (apparently resulting from his unexpected elevation) brought him into conflict with Sir George Cockburn, head of the Board of the Admiralty, and he was ultimately compelled to resign as Lord High Admiral, even though many of his suggestions and ideas had merit.   

Apparently, he was quite unstable for a time in 1828 resulting in the Duke of Cumberland declaring him as mad as their father.  Available information indicates a period of quiet at Bushy Park with Adelaide finally restored his equilibrium.
Adelaide and William remained at Bushy Park for the next year or so.  Adelaide enjoyed long walks, embroidery, and was very happy at Bushy Park.  Several accounts indicate she did not look forward to being queen.  

George IV was also living much retired and became very ill in early 1830.  An early harbinger of change was a visit paid by Lady Jersey to Adelaide. (Adelaide and Lady Jersey were not close, and Adelaide expressed her surprise at Lady Jersey’s new interest in her.)

William was very fond of his brother, the king, and his moods swung from anticipation of what was to come, then to grief for his brother’s condition. As the end approached, he took residence in Windsor on May 25, 1830 and visited his brother daily.  George IV died June 26, 1830.  It must be said that there was little mourning for him.
Adelaide stayed at Bushy Park while William entered into his new life in London with gusto.  She lived quietly, spending time with the Duchess of Kent (mother of Princess Victoria) and in her usual pursuits. She did not attend George IV’s funeral procession, although she did observe the funeral itself from the Queen’s Closet.  

There was concern about William’s state as he was again exhibiting a certain amount of agitation, and the Duke of Cumberland was again making comments about William’s fitness to rule.  The fact that William did get through this period and relations with his brothers were smoothed over (even with the Duke of Cumberland) was attributed to Adelaide’s kindness and her ability to calm William.
Adelaide and William preferred a simpler life, and it showed in their coronation at Westminster Abbey on September 8, 1831.  (William had no taste for pomp and had not wanted a coronation at all.)  It was a pared-down ceremony, and there was no banquet at Westminster Hall. Adelaide paid for her own crown, using some of her own jewels and paying for the setting.   

William’s lack of pretension, warmth and good nature were well received, and Adelaide shared in his initial popularity.  However, his long-winded, loud speech, his excitability and lack of dignity created concerns. He was also interested in issues and politics, which had been neglected by George IV.  He said too much, insulted and offended people, and made himself extremely visible. Ultimately, he became a laughing stock.
In the early 1830’s there was great pressure for reform. When a bill to reform parliament was defeated a month after the coronation, crowds were angry. With her conservative, sheltered background, Adelaide found the prospect of change difficult and opposed reform.  William, on the other hand, was an advocate of reform.   

When the conservative House of Lords rejected another reform bill, William threatened to create enough liberal peers to make sure it passed, and the reform bill passed in May, 1832.  William was pleased, but it made him unpopular in conservative circles.   

Adelaide was also unpopular, accused by the conservatives of wielding her influence to push the King toward this liberal stand and by the liberals of meddling too much with politics through expressing her conservative views which encouraged the conservatives to fight reform.  

William and Adelaide were also disappointed in their efforts to have a closer relationship with their niece (and his heir) Princess Victoria, because of long-running tensions with the Duchess of Kent and the duchess’ restrictions on Victoria’s activities. 
As 1832 progressed, William’s physical and mental health deteriorated under these pressures and he became irritable and forgetful.  Adelaide objected to the politically-motivated removal without warning of her chamberlain Lord Howe and refused to appoint another.  He continued to serve her household in an unofficial capacity, which resulted in rumours of an illicit relationship.
By 1835, William had become stubborn and almost impossible to get along with. He tried to circumvent his ministers at every opportunity (without success), cursing and abusing them. He was frightened for the future of the realm, afraid of foreign invasion (he was especially suspicious of Russia), and of the Duchess of Kent serving as regent for Princess Victoria if he were to die before her majority. He did not trust the government to protect the realm.  

However, his affection for his wife remained constant.  In 1836, he suggest that her name be given to a new colony in south Australia; the city still bears her name.
William was pleased when Victoria’s 18th birthday came on May 24, 1837, taking great satisfaction that the Duchess of Kent would be denied the position of regent.  His physical condition deteriorated, and his primary concern was surviving until the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo on June 18.  

The few pleasures he had included visits from his children and grandchildren. This must have been an excruciating time for Adelaide, with all the bad feeling, arguing and in-fighting combined with watching the inevitable decline of her husband and the death of her mother in the spring.  

She lived her usual quiet life, giving receptions and drawing rooms.  She also suffered a period of extreme illness, during which she was unable to assist William.  

Once she was sufficiently recovered, she was with him constantly, not leaving to change clothes for the last 10 days or so of his life. William died in Adelaide’s arms June 20, 1837 at Windsor Castle.
William’s funeral was at Windsor on July 10, and Adelaide attended, sitting in the Royal Closet at St. George’s. Letters between Adelaide and the new queen, Victoria, show an affectionate relationship, with Victoria allowing Adelaide to stay in Windsor at her pleasure, allowing her to take what she wished (Adelaide took a cup that William had used and a picture of him with his children); Adelaide in her turn wrote warmly to Victoria, offering her blessings and prayers to the new queen, showing no signs of begrudging her niece anything. Adelaide retired to Marlborough House and her beloved Bushy Park with no sign of regret.
For a while after William’s death, Adelaide received no visitors. She had never fully recovered from her illness at the time of William’s last illness, and the strain of caring for him and his subsequent death resulted in a recurrence of her own illness. Custom prevented her from attending Victoria’s coronation, although she sent a lovely letter of congratulation and best wishes to her niece on that day.  She retained the servants who had worked for her when she was Duchess of Clarence.  
Adelaide became noted for her charitable work and became widely loved. According to one account half of her income was devoted to various charities, including several church funds. 

A year after William’s death, Adelaide cruised the Mediterranean and visited Malta, where she was received enthusiastically. Apparently there was no Anglican church at Malta, and she wrote to the queen and prime minister about the situation. She was ultimately responsible for founding and endowing the Anglican Cathedral of St Paul at Valetta, Malta (she laid the foundation stone in 1839).
Adelaide remained on excellent terms with her niece. After her return, she visited the Queen in her box at the opera, attended her wedding, and was one of the sponsors for the queen’s first child, Princess Victoria Adelaide Mary Louise. (However, Adelaide did annoy Queen Victoria by writing to her, expressing strong Tory leanings.)  

Adelaide also remained on good terms with the dowager Duchess of Kent (Victoria’s mother) and other members of the royal family. Her own family spent much time with her, and she was still very involved with William’s children and grandchildren.   

She continued to have health problems, and she ultimately lost the use of one lung.  She changed residences frequently, apparently trying to find a place where she would improve to no avail. Her last residence was Bentley Priory, in Middlesex, where she died December 2, 1849. Her sister and her nephew were with her, and Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visited her the week before she died. Adelaide was buried with William.    

 Sources include:
Crofton, Ian.  The Kings and Queens of England.  New York: Metro Books, 2011 (by arrangements with Quercus Editions Ltd).
Erickson, Carolly.  HER LITTLE MAJESTY The Life of Queen Victoria.  New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997.
Erickson, Carolly.  ROYAL PANOPLY Brief Lives of the English Monarchs.  New York: History Book Club, 2003.
Williamson, David.  History of the Kings and Queens of England.  National Portrait Gallery, 1998 (Barnes & Noble edition 2003).
Sanders, Mary.  The Life and Times of Queen Adelaide. London: Stanley, Paul & Go, 1915.  On-line at
Britain Express website.  Dictionary of British History.  “Queen Adelaide 1792-1849.”
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (on-line).  Clerke, E. M. and Purdue, A. W.  Adelaide {Princes of Saxe-Meiningen}(1792-1849), queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, consort of William IV.
The Advertiser (on-line).  McGuire, Michael.  “How Well Do You Really Know Our Queen Adelaide?” May 3, 2013.
Lauren Gilbert, author of HEYERWOOD A Novel, lives in Florida with her husband.  A second novel is expected out later this year.  For more information, visit her website at      

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Archbishop Oliver Plunkett - Last Martyr of the Reformation

by Arthur Russell

Oliver Plunkett (Born 1625 – died July 1st 1681) is remembered as the last Catholic cleric to suffer martyrdom in England. At the time of his death by hanging in Tyburn, London, Oliver was Archbishop of Armagh and as such was a primary target for the notorious Titus Oates and his “Popish Plot” which had already led to many executions of innocents, as well as causing the “Mother of Parliaments” to pass the Test Act which required Catholics to deny fundamental tenets of their religion before they could sit in Parliament. (This Act was not repealed until 1829 when Daniel O’Connell was finally allowed to take the seat he had won in the Co Clare by-election. It was strenuously argued against by Plunkett at the time of its introduction).

 Oliver Plunkett was charged with  conspiring to facilitate a French invasion of England to effect regime change and the restoration of Catholicism as the realm’s state religion. Driven by the mischievous Titus Oates, the totally fabricated Popish Plot caused panic in the English Establishment of the day, as well as among the common people, who dreaded a repetition of the infamous Gunpowder Plot at the beginning of the century. After much blood letting and violence, the Oates story eventually lost its traction with King Charles II and many in the London Parliament; but not before it claimed the life of the Irish Archbishop who was completely innocent of the charges that were made against him.

In relation to Archbishop Plunkett’s execution; King Charles himself is reported to have said to Sir Arthur Capell, the Earl of Essex and former Lord Lieutenant of Ireland who was one of the moving forces behind the Archbishop’s arrest on foot of the alleged conspiracy, “His blood be upon your head – you could have saved him but would not. I would save him, and dare not”.

 From this it is clear the Earl had not intended that the accusations and doubtful evidence he himself had caused to be presented to the Privy Council in London should lead to Oliver Plunkett’s death. The Earl’s real target was James Butler, the Marquis of Ormonde, a staunch supporter of Charles who had replaced him as Lord Lieutenant in Ireland after the Restoration and who had accorded a modicum of religious freedom to Ireland’s predominantly Catholic population. Oliver Plunkett was therefore an unwitting pawn and eventual victim in the larger game the Earl was playing, a game that took advantage of current religious discord to further his own agenda.

It proved to be an uncontrollable force, as due to fear of the hysteria which the Oates Popish Plot had generated among the general populace of London and England generally, neither earl or monarch were prepared to intervene to save the Archbishop who had been arrested in 1679 at the height of anti-Catholic hysteria, and who was sentenced to be executed by hanging, drawing and quartering in Tyburn on July 1st 1681 after a highly dubious trial.

It was a “Pontius Pilate moment” for the largely well-meaning but nervous Charles who, in the aftermath of his Restoration in 1660, was trying to create and promote a broader climate of religious tolerance throughout his kingdom which had been scarred by the upheavals of Civil War and the subsequent period of Puritanical intolerance that characterized the regime of Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell.

Who was Oliver Plunkett?

The Plunkett castle and church in Oldcastle, Co Meath, Ireland
Oliver Plunkett was a scion of the long established Plunkett family in Loughcrew, near Oldcastle in Co Meath, Ireland, and was related to many of the Norman-Irish families who were collectively known as Lords of the Pale. In common with many of these families, the Plunketts had remained loyal to Rome during the Reformation of the 16th century and supported the Confederation of Kilkenny which sought to defend the religious rights of both native Gaelic and Anglo Irish.

Their allegiance to the Royalist cause ultimately led to wholesale confiscation of many of their estates during the Cromwellian settlement of the 1650’s, many of which were not overturned as promised when Charles II assumed the throne in 1660.

By that time, Oliver was a student in Rome and was a highly regarded academic in the Irish College where he was ordained in 1654 and appointed Professor of Theology in 1657. From Rome, he successfully pleaded the case for the Irish Catholic Church with the newly established court of King Charles II after the Stuart monarch was invited back to London and was instrumental in winning a degree of freedom for Catholic religious practice in Ireland.

 He was appointed Archbishop of Armagh in 1669 and set foot on Irish soil, after more than 20 years of exile, in March 1670. The homeland to which he returned contrasted sharply with the Ireland he had left twenty three years earlier in 1647. He had been advised on travelling to Ireland from Belgium not to travel as a cleric, which explained why a martial looking Captain William Browne (an assumed name) disembarked in the port of Dublin to take up his clerical mission. The Plunkett family home at Loughcrew was now occupied by the Naper family. Many of their neighbours were also gone, banished “to Hell or to Connaught” by the victorious Cromwellians as they went about “cleansing” huge swathes of lands in the East, Midlands and South of the island of Royalists and (hopefully) the Catholic religion.

In the aftermath of revolution and civil war, the population of Ireland was estimated to have fallen to well under 1 million. As part of the Cromwellian settlement, thousands of “disaffected” persons were killed. Thousands died of starvation and disease due to the disruption caused by the long war. Thousands more were deported to the West Indies as slave labourers to work the colonies’ sugar cane plantations. The so-called “curse of Cromwell” was a harsh reality of life for many during those difficult years.

  Plunkett’s Irish Mission

In the relatively benign religious climate that existed during the early years of Restoration arising from the Declaration of Breda in 1660, Archbishop Plunkett was able to travel widely to service the needs of his Irish congregation and to put some badly needed church reforms in place for the church arising from three decades of war and disruption. Some of his reforms of local clergy resulted in his making some enemies among those he sought to reform, a fact that worked against him later.

One of his first actions as Archbishop was to establish a Jesuit college in Drogheda in 1670 which lasted just five years before it was closed due to a new rising tide of religious intolerance. The school was remarkable in that in 1671, out of one hundred fifty students, forty were Protestant which meant that it was the first integrated school in Ireland.

As the tide of religious intolerance increased during the 1670’s, the Earl of Essex directed the Council of Ireland to pass a series of anti-Catholic laws including one ordering all priests and bishops to leave the country or risk arrest and possible execution for the crime of treason.

Plunkett refused to abandon his congregation. He went on the run and continued servicing them under the most difficult circumstances during the following years. He travelled everywhere as a layman and had to rely for food as well as shelter from cold and rain wherever he could find it. He had a price on his head, so life was precarious.

Arrest and Trial:

He was finally arrested in December 1679 and spent 6 weeks in Dublin Castle.

At his first trial in Dundalk he was charged with conspiring to bring a huge French invasion force to Ireland as well as raising a levy on his congregation to finance a local anti-Government militia, but it proved impossible for the prosecution to find credible evidence or witnesses. (The Marquis of Ormonde said of them “silly drunken vagabonds... whom no schoolboy would trust to rob an orchard").

Arising from this, the powers that be found it necessary to send the Archbishop to England where he was lodged in Newgate prison to await trial. He languished here for six long months before he was brought in front of a grand jury in Westminster Hall.

The first trial on English soil found no case against him, but he was not released.

The second trial has generally been regarded as a gross miscarriage of justice. Plunkett was denied defending counsel, though one Hugh O’Reilly from Cavan, at some risk to himself, travelled to England to provide him with legal advice. The prisoner was not allowed enough time to assemble defense witnesses and was frustrated in his attempts to obtain evidence to rebut witness being given against him. A servant, James McKenna, and a relative, John Plunkett, travelled back to Ireland but were not allowed time to assemble witnesses or evidence for the defence.

During the trial, the Archbishop strenuously disputed the right of the court to try him in England and drew attention to the criminal past of some of the prosecution witnesses.

It was all to no avail.

How History views the Trial

The following quotes attributed to Chief Justice Sir Francis Pemberton in course of the trial give indication of the determination of the court to find the prisoner guilty of treason:

"Look you, Mr. Plunkett, it is in vain for you to talk and make this discourse here now..." 

“Look you Mr Plunkett, don't mis-spend your own time; for the more you trifle in these things, the less time you will have for your defence". 

“You have done as much as you could to dishonour God in this case; for the bottom of your treason was your setting up your false religion, than which there is not any thing more displeasing to God, or more pernicious to mankind in the world.” 

At the end of the trial, the jury took all of fifteen minutes to return a guilty verdict, to which Plunkett is reported to have responded resignedly, “Deo Gratias”.

The French ambassador to England, Paul Barillon, conveyed a plea for mercy from King Louis XIV to King Charles, who decided not to intervene despite his reservations.

The Scottish clergyman and future Bishop of Salisbury, Gilbert Burnet, who was at the trial, had no doubt of the Archbishop’s innocence of the charges brought against the Archbishop, considering him to be a “wise and sober man who had no aim but to live peacefully and tend to his congregation”.

Writing two centuries after the event; the commentator Lord Campbell stated that Chief Justice Pemberton’s handling of Oliver Plunkett’s trial was a “disgrace to himself and his country”.

Quite simply, there was never the slightest evidence that the Archbishop had ever conspired against the King, yet he was found guilty and was condemned to the cruelest death that could be prescribed under the law.

Execution at Tyburn

The following account of Oliver Plunkett’s trial and execution is taken from Bishop Burnet's, “History of his own Time, 1724”:

Execution Day at Tyburn July 1st 1681
Dr. Oliver Plunket was arraigned at the King's Bench, May 3, 1681, for "high treason, in endeavoring and compassing the king's" death, and to levy war in Ireland, and to alter the true religion there, and to introduce a foreign 'power.' 

The particulars of his trial, as well as his speech at the place of execution, may be found in the third volume of the State Trials, p. 294, Margrave's edit. Dr. Burnet gives us no very favorable idea of the equity of the proceedings against him.

'Some lewd Irish priests and others of that nation, hearing that England was at that time disposed to hearken to good swearers, thought themselves well qualified for the employment; so they came over to swear, that there was a great plot in Ireland, to bring over a French army, and to massacre all the English. The witnesses were brutal and profligate men, yet the earl of Shaftsbury cherished them much: they were examined by the parliament at Westminster and what they said was believed. Upon that encouragement it was reckoned, that we should have witnesses come over in whole companies. 

Lord Essex told me, that this Plunket was a wise and sober man, who was always in a different interest from the two Talbots; the one of these being the titular primate of Dublin, and the other came to be raised afterwards to be Duke of Tirconnell. These were meddling and factious men, whereas Plunket was for their living quietly, and in due submission to the government, without engaging into intrigues of state. Some of these priests had been censured by him for their lewdness: and they drew others to swear as they directed them. They had appeared the winter before, upon a bill offered to the grand jury: but as the foreman of the jury, who was a zealous Protestant, told me, they contradicted one another so evidently, that they would not find the bill. But now they laid their story better together and swore against Plunket, that he had got a great bank of money to be prepared, and that he had an army listed, and was in a correspondence with France, to bring over a fleet from thence. He had nothing to say in his own defense, but to deny all: so he was condemned; and suffered very decently, expressing himself in many particulars as became a bishop. He died denying every thing that had been sworn against him.

What Happened Oliver Plunkett’s Body and Head

The shrine containing Oliver's head in
St Peter's Church, Drogheda
After the execution, the Archbishop’s dismembered body was taken away by friends to a house near St Giles Church. His head and arms were placed in one box while the rest of the body was buried in the Churchyard beside the remains of five other Jesuit priests who had been recently executed arising from the Oates allegations.

“A copper plate placed on his breast, whereon was engraven these following words, set here down for the satisfaction of the curious: "In this tomb resteth the body of the right reverend Oliver Plunket, archbishop of Armagh, and primate of Ireland, who in hatred of religion was accused of false witnesses, and for the same condemned, and executed at Tyburn; his heart and bowels being taken out and cast into the fire: he suffered martyrdom with constancy, the 1st of July, 1681, in the reign of king, Charles II."

The remains of the Archbishop were exhumed in 1683 and moved to the Benedictine monastery at Lamspringe in Germany before being returned to Downside Abbey in England. His head was first brought to Rome, and from there to Armagh and eventually to Drogheda where, since 29 June 1921, it has been enshrined on an ornate altar in the parish Church of St Peter.

Saint Oliver Plunkett

Oliver Plunkett was beatified by the Catholic Church in June 1921 and was declared Saint in St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican in May 1975. In 1997, he was made the patron Saint for Peace and Reconciliation in Ireland. Based on the evidence of his life’s work, this last is something he would truly appreciate.

 Related reading : 
“Making it Big Through Lies and Perfidy” by Anna Belfrage (EHFA Blog on Titus Oates and his Popish Plot for Feb 2014). 


Arthur Russell is the Author of ‘Morgallion’, a novel set in medieval Ireland during the Invasion of Ireland (1314), by the Scottish army led by Edward deBruce, the last crowned King of Ireland. It tells the story of Cormac MacLochlainn, a young man from the Gaelic crannóg community of Moynagh and how he and his family endured and survived that turbulent period of history. ‘Morgallion’ has been recently awarded the indieBRAG Medallion and is available in paperback and e-book form. More information available on website -

Friday, June 27, 2014

When Edward's Boy Came Over

By Scott Higginbotham

One cannot talk about the United States’ role in Second World War in a geographical vacuum, for this note in history is very much entwined in England’s not so distant history.  Many can still recall the fear when the Nazi war machine was in sight of the English coastline, the air raids, the loss, and an unknown future.

Donald Stanley Higginbotham served in the US Army's 29th Division, the Blue and Gray.  Growing up in McKeesport, PA he spent his days working in a steel mill. He turned out shell casings for the war effort during the week, followed by a weekend of playing snooker at the local pool hall and dipping Copenhagen Snuff.  

PFC Higginbotham - Photo by Scott Higginbotham
And then his number came up.  Lately, I have wondered which country he had fought for the most.  It’s an intriguing question concerning the fact that Edward’s boy came over to fight.  But for whom?

There is no whiff of treason here, for both countries were in lockstep.

He wrote letters to his widowed mother, his sister, and sometimes his older brother serving in the Merchant Marines.  He spoke of Sunny Devon, where he trained; I asked what the weather was like, and he said that it was quite rainy.  He had such a dry sense of English humor.  And from where did that derive?

He enjoyed movies, so it was no small stretch for him to find himself at the theater.  He once mentioned that a young lady asked for a tip once he was seated.  I had found this odd, and perhaps a little forward on her part, but once he explained the desperation and the privations I began to see things more clearly.  He tipped her with nary a thought.

That was Edward’s boy.
Edward Higginbotham - by Scott Higginbotham

On February 20, 1944 he wrote the following to his sister Evelyn.  Reproduced word for word.

Dear Sis:
I received your letter this week and today is Sunday and I am going to drop you a few lines.  When I was on furlough I did not see Stanley Higginbotham but I seen Aunt Jane and her sister's husband and the two children Ted and Kathleen, they aren’t children, they are both grown ups and Ted is married and he stays at his Father’s home and Kathleen stays there also, she is not married.  Well Aunt Jane is pretty lively, but she will not tell anyone her age, she really treated me fine when I was there.  Well you can send me some more candy and movie magazines.  Well how is Eddie I guess he is enjoying self in the snow well I hope this finds you all in the best of health.
Your Brother
V-Mail by Scott Higginbotham

On May 31, 1944 the following form letter was sent home, very scant in the way of personal expressions.  It reads:
Dear Mother,
Effective immediately and until further notice please do not send any more mail to me at the address given below.  I will advise you promptly when mail should be resumed and will give you my proper address.  I cannot do so now for military reasons.
Your Son, Don

V-Mail by Scott Higginbotham

Within a week Edward’s boy would be wounded and lying in a shallow ditch in Normandy, after crawling through the surf, dodging German machine guns, and seeing things that twenty year old kids need not see. 

        Edward’s boy lay near a hedgerow, trying to keep warm, trying to stay alive, and listening to the moans of the wounded until the evening of June 7.  He mentioned seeing a church steeple in the town of Verveille sur Mer, where he and a few stragglers and new found comrades had been heading, until a German artillery shell cut lives short and left others with hellish memories.  On July 17, his mother would receive a Western Union telegram, detailing the events of him being wounded in action.
We know who Edward’s boy is.  But who is Edward?

       Edward Higginbotham was born in 1882 in Burton on Trent, England, emigrated to the United States, and became a citizen in 1937.  He died in 1939, never experiencing the pride and fear of sending his boy off to fight, not only for his new country, but for the family, the friends, and the beloved country he left behind.  

Edward Higginbotham - by Scott Higginbotham

The letter to his sister gives a glimpse into how the English relatives regarded Edward’s boy.  Forty years later, we visited doting relatives in London, Bradford, and a certain house visited by a US Army soldier so many years ago – 7 Knowsley Road in Macclesfield. 

It was there where there was a distinct awe concerning the former PFC Donald Stanley Higginbotham.  The aunties Kathleen and Agnes brought in relatives from all around, making a huge fuss over the soldier that had returned so many years after the war.  Peter Higginbotham was a director of the Majestic Theatre in town and gave us the best seats one evening; perhaps he knew of the soldier’s love of movies from the stories that had been handed down.

But the part that strikes me so solidly is the fact that during this time, English and American histories were so entwined.  That is an undisputed fact.  And the memories, mainly as it pertains to his family on British soil, were very long, very dear, and unforgettable.  So who did he fight for?  The United States?  Indeed, for he was a soldier that followed orders.  However, if I had to wager, I would say that in his heart, Edward’s boy fought for England, too.
A Soul’s Ransom

Scott Higginbotham writes under the name Scott Howard and is the author of A Soul’s Ransom, a novel set in the fourteenth century where William de Courtenay’s mettle is tested, weighed, and refined, and For a Thousand Generations where Edward Leaver navigates a world where his purpose is defined with an eye to the future.  His new release, A Matter of Honor, is a direct sequel to For a Thousand Generations.  It is within Edward Leaver's well-worn boots that Scott travels the muddy tracks of medieval England.