Friday, March 31, 2017

Before Almack's

by Lauren Gilbert

Social activities, fashions, entertainment and more are all driven by “the next big thing.” This is nothing new. Throughout history, we can find examples of this. During the Regency era, Almack’s Assembly Rooms were THE place to be during the Regency era. A voucher for Almack’s conveyed more social impact than invitations to multiple private balls and parties. When Almack’s Assembly Rooms opened in February of 1765, Mr. Macall was in direct competition with Mrs. Cornelys’ assemblies at Carlisle House, and it was by no means certain that Almack’s would be “the next big thing”. A veritable Studio 54 of its time, the assemblies at Carlisle House were geared for the highest society and were quite something....

Who was Mrs. Cornelys? Teresa Cornelys, also known as the Empress of Pleasure and the Queen of Masquerades, was born Anna Maria Teresa Imer in Venice in 1723, the daughter of Giuseppe Imer, an opera impresario. Her mother Paolina was an actress. Teresa herself was a singer and dancer. She was described as beautiful, but I found no particulars.  She led an extremely interesting life: she was married to a dancer named Angelo Pompeati in Vienna but lived with him only a few months. She became a well-known opera singer, and courtesan; at age 17, she was desired by Senator Alvise Gasparo Malpiero; some sources say she was his mistress. (Malpiero befriended a young Giacomo Casanova, who was frequently at his home.) Teresa fell madly in love with Casanova, who may have been the father of her first child, a son named Giuseppe. Her husband did not acknowledge the child; however, many accounts do not list Giuseppe as Casanova’s son either. She subsequently had a daughter named Wilhelmine by a different lover, a daughter named Sophie by Casanova (most accounts do list Sophie as Casanova’s daughter), and another baby by someone else. Wilhelmine and the baby both died. She had numerous lovers and used multiple names. Despite her own singing career and income from her various lovers, she was jailed for debt in Paris. Casanova took their son to raise in 1759. Teresa and Sophie moved on to the Netherlands.

Teresa had first appeared in London at the Haymarket under the name Madame Pompeati, in an opera by Gluck, in 1746. The reviews were not good, and she returned to the continent. After her release from debtor’s prison, she was convinced to try England again by a wealthy man known as John Freeman (and John Boorder and John Fermor which name he used in England) who she met in Holland and who may have been her lover. Using the name Cornelys (after a lover named Cornelis de Rigorboos in Rotterdam), she presented herself as a widow, and apparently benefited greatly from sympathy for her widowed state as well as the expanded legal rights enjoyed by widows as opposed to single or married women. At this time, she was about 37 years old. When she arrived in London this time, Teresa apparently decided to be a producer instead of an entertainer. In April of 1760, with the financial backing of John Fermor (as he was now known), Teresa rented Carlisle House in Soho Square, which she subsequently purchased a few months later.

At one time the home of the 2nd Earl of Carlisle, Edward Howard, Carlisle House changed hands, and Teresa rented the house and its furnishings for 180 pounds per year from the owner, before she purchased it. She made extensive renovations to the house during her occupancy, adding several rooms (including a supper room and a ballroom/concert hall) which were connected to the original house by a Chinese bridge. She opened her business to provide entertainment to the upper classes by private subscription later in 1760, calling her membership “The Society.” By making her entertainments a subscription affair, she evaded licensing laws in effect at the time as well as making them private and exclusive since not everyone could get tickets and she indicated that the cost was merely to cover expenses. (The Licensing Acts of 1737 and 1752 were in effect at the time, regulating legitimate theatrical entertainment as well as places open for public entertainment in and within 20 miles of London and Westminster.) Initially confined to dancing and card playing, Teresa expanded the entertainments offered to include concerts, balls and masquerades. Her rooms became very popular, and were known as much for their size and beauty of architecture and decoration as for the quality of the entertainments themselves. Musicians of note played and directed the concerts at her rooms, including Johann Christian Bach in 1765. As time went on, her entertainments became known for their sexual overtones, and the rooms were becoming known as a place of secret meetings for sexual purposes.
Subscription ticket for Carlisle House

Thanks to the support of society friends, including Lady Elizabeth Chudleigh (who would become a principal in a notorious bigamy case, having married in 1744 Augustus John Hervey (who became the 3rd Earl of Bristol) and then married Evelyn Pierpont, the 2nd Duke of Kingston-upon-Hull in 1769), Mrs. Cornelys’ rooms became THE place to be.  In April of 1768, members of the Royal family and the Prince of Monaco,  and subsequently in August the King of Denmark,  attended entertainments at Carlisle House.  The quality of the suppers served and the elegance of the surroundings (including the light of many wax candles) all contributed to the popularity of these events as well as to the costs.  Teresa showed herself to be a shrewd business woman, advertising her entertainments shrewdly and maintaining her attendance for over a decade.  However, her business sense had never included the good management of money.  Her continual remodeling costs as well as her operating costs continued.   Even though she increased her subscription costs for special events, somehow she was never able to get out of debt and show a profit.
Ticket for Masque Ball at Carlisle House

Almack’s rooms opened in February of 1765. Although it worried Teresa, who did some more decorating, initially Almack’s did her no harm. What did cause a problem was Teresa’s arrest providing public entertainments without a license in 1771. (When she ventured into operatic entertainments, she was competing with the Italian Opera House, and information was laid against her.) She agreed to stop the entertainments, and was fined 50 pounds. Once the matter was resolved, she returned to her regular entertainments (apparently, however, without opera). However, in January of 1772, the assembly rooms at the Pantheon opened on Oxford Street (not far from Carlisle House) and targeted the same exclusive clientele that Mrs. Cornelys and Almack’s pursued. Teresa increased her redecorating to compete with the new rival, which only drove her further into debt. The offerings at the new Pantheon rooms provided novelty, and drew away many of her regulars, causing her debt level to increase.

Later in 1772, Teresa Cornelys was bankrupt. Her creditors seized Carlisle House and tried to auction off her assets, but did not succeed. It reopened, with different management, in hopes of making a profit. By 1776, Teresa was back in possession of Carlisle House but she could never achieve any level of success and she gave up in 1783, when she or her creditors tried to rent out the house and furnishings. By March of 1784, the house was empty. (Carlisle House was demolished in 1791.) She attempted other ventures under the name of Mrs. Smith that were equally unsuccessful, and she was finally confined in the Fleet Prison for debt. While in prison, Teresa was being treated by Chevalier Bartholomew Ruspini (of questionable medical qualifications who advertised heavily) for a cancerous sore on her breast, but his treatment was unsuccessful. She died in Fleet Prison on August 19, 1797, age 74.

Sources include:

Chancellor, E. Beresford. MEMORIALS OF ST. JAMES’S STREET and CHRONICLES OF ALMACK’S. New York: Brentano’s, 1922.

THE LONDON ENCYCLOPAEDIA 3rd Edition. Ben Weinreb, Christopher Hibbert, Julia Keay and John Keay, authors. London: Macmillan London Ltd., 2008. “Personality of the Month: Teresa Cornelys” posted by Meg McNulty, August 3, 2010. HERE

GoogleBooks. Cruikshank, Dan. LONDON’S SINFUL SECRET:The Bawdy History and Very Public Passions of London’s Georgian Age. “At Home with Mrs. Cornelys.” Pp. 196-202. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2009. (Preview)  HERE

GoogleBooks. DICTIONARY OF NATIONAL BIOGRAPHY. Leslie Stephen, ed. Vol. 12. New York: Macmillan and Co., 1887. “Cornelys, Theresa (1723-1797)” by Warwick Wrote. Pp. 223-225. HERE

Googlebooks. THE GENTLEMAN’S MAGAZINE. Vol. 284. January to June 1898. London: Chatto & Windus, 1898. “Mrs. Theresa Cornelys” by Edward Walford, M.A. Pp. 451-472. HERE

GoogleBooks. GROVE’S DICTIONARY OF MUSIC AND MUSICIANS. In Five Volumes. Vol. 1. J. A. Fuller Maitland, M.A., F.S.A., ed. “Cornelys, Theresa” by H. R. Tedder, Esq. P. 606. New York: The Macmillan Co., 1904. HERE

GoogleBooks. Russell, Gillian. WOMEN, SOCIABILITY AND THEATRE IN GEORGIAN LONDON. “The Circe of Soho: Teresa Cornelys and Carlisle House.” Pp. 17-37. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. (Preview)  HERE “Romance of London: Mrs. Cornelys at Carlisle House” from ROMANCE OF LONDON: Strange Stories, Scenes and Remarkable Persons of the Great Town in 3 Volumes by John Timbs. Posted March 7, 2016.  HERE “Quacks and hacks: Georgian Medicine and the power of advertising” by Adrien Teal. Vol. 383, February 21, 2014. Pp. 404-405.  HERE

Subscription ticket HERE By Sharp, William, 1749-1824 [engraver] Incledon, Charles Benjamin, 1763-1826 [performer]Carlisle House ([London], England) [author] [Public domain or CC BY 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Masque Ball ticket HERE By Sharp [engraver] Sharp [artist] Incledon, Charles Benjamin, 1763-1826 [performer]Carlisle House ([London], England) [author] [Public domain or CC BY 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


About the author: Lauren Gilbert has been a member of the Jane Austen Society of North America since 2005.  Her first published work, HEYERWOOD: A Novel, was released in 2011.  Her second novel, A RATIONAL ATTACHMENT, is due out soon.  She lives in Florida with her husband.  Please visit her website HERE for more information.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Finding Love Among the Clauses - a Successful Medieval Marriage

by Anna Belfrage

Marriages in medieval times were rarely about love. Boys and girls born as heirs or heiresses to wealth and large estates had little say in who they married – it was up to their elders to arrange such matters. Marriages were seen as mutually beneficial contracts, and hopefully over time the couple would develop a fondness for each other and find contentment in their union. In most cases, they probably did.

In some cases, what began as a political union blossomed into more than fondness. Today’s post is about one of those love stories, so allow me to take you back to 1326 when a not yet fourteen-year-old boy was betrothed to a girl two years his junior. He was Edward, soon-to-be Edward III of England. She was Philippa, one of Guillaume of Hainaut’s four daughters. The betrothal cemented the alliance between Edward’s mother, Isabella of France, and Count Guillaume, whereby the count placed ships and men at Isabella’s disposal for the latter’s upcoming conquest of England.

There were certain anomalies in this arrangement. First of all, it was Edward’s mother, not his father, who negotiated the marriage. In fact, Edward II had repeatedly written to his son and forbidden him to enter into this marriage contract – or any other, unless approved by the king himself. Secondly, the political purpose of the marriage was not so much to cement the future relationship between England and Hainaut as it was to give Isabella the means with which to oust her husband and his favourite, Hugh Despenser.

In setting his name to the contracts, Edward defied his father’s will – even worse, he unwittingly contributed to his father’s eventual defeat. Not that the adolescent Edward had any choice: his mother would have him sign, and Isabella was not a lady who tolerated disobedience.

For those unfamiliar with the background to Isabella’s rebellion against her husband, Edward II and Isabella had fallen out over a couple of issues, such as the king depriving Isabella of her dower income and exiling her French retainers. Plus, Isabella resented Hugh Despenser’s influence over her husband and worried that the hated Despenser would jeopardise her son’s future ascension to the throne.

Isabella duped Edward II into believing she’d forgiven him for stealing her income and was sent to France to negotiate a peace treaty on Edward’s behalf. Once the treaty was in place, the French king required that Edward II do homage. Not a good idea as per Despenser, so Prince Edward was sent off to do homage in his father’s stead and was warmly welcomed by his mother. Isabella now had what she needed to launch an invasion: her son, heir to the throne. Plus she could now barter his hand in marriage for the wherewithal with which to crush Edward II.

Long before this, Edward II had also toyed with marrying his eldest to one of Count Guillaume’s daughters. He’d even sent his trusted man, Walter Stapledon, Bishop of Exeter, to inspect the goods. A description still survives, but it is unclear whether it refers to Philippa or to one of her sisters. The bishop describes a dark-haired girl with dark eyes, a full mouth and good teeth. All in all, the bishop found her pleasant enough, and one hopes young Edward agreed, that distant June day of 1326 when he first clapped eyes on the girl who was to become his wife.

We have no idea what Philippa looked like, but as she lived in the fourteenth century, she was burdened with a hairdo that is decidedly unflattering. If you look at her effigy in Westminster abbey, what you mostly see are those heavy arrangements of braids framing her face. Maybe she was a bit more daring in her youth – maybe there were days when she wore her hair loose and uncovered – but if so, that ended after she’d married Edward. Married women were supposed to keep their hair covered, as it was a well-known fact men went all gaga at the sight of curls billowing in the wind.

Philippa spent most of her childhood in Valenciennes, Guillaume’s principal city, but would also have been regular visitors at Le Quesnoy where Guillaume and his family enjoyed such noble pastimes as hunting and hawking. Her education was geared at preparing her for the role of a royal consort, even more so once the betrothal documents had been signed.

Isabella’s invasion was a success. The hated Despenser was executed, Edward II was imprisoned and forced to abdicate, and in February of 1327, Prince Edward was crowned Edward III. On the other side of the English Channel, preparations began for Philippa’s wedding.

Like many other young ladies of the time, Philippa was married twice: first by proxy, i.e. Edward sent over a man to stand in his stead, the second time in January of 1328 in York – this time the real thing in the half-finished cathedral with her young and handsome husband at her side. She was not quite fourteen, he was fifteen.

At the time of the wedding, Edward must have been in the grip of conflicting emotions: he’d recently seen his father buried (some people say Edward II didn’t die, but let us bypass that for now), his mother had awarded herself a huge income which seriously depleted the royal coffers, Roger Mortimer was effectively in charge of running the country (albeit with Isabella), and Edward was beginning to suspect neither Isabella nor Roger were all that keen on stepping down from their position of power. So what did that make him? A leashed lion? For a young man determined to become a perfect king, that was not an option.

He found a confidante in Philippa, someone as firmly in his own corner as he was. Philippa might initially have been intimidated by her mother-in-law, but she had every reason to side with her husband, starting with the fact that Queen Isabella showed little interest in ensuring her daughter-in-law was appropriately crowned. From where Isabella was standing, England was better off with one crowned king – her son – and one crowned queen – herself.

In 1330, Edward pushed through the coronation of his wife, by then pregnant with their first child. Mama Isabella was not entirely pleased, but public opinion was moving in the direction of Edward and Philippa, and when the little queen proudly presented her husband with a son and heir in June of 1330, Isabella should have realised power was slipping through her fingers. Edward III now had every reason to act – and act quickly – so as to retake control of his country. He did, which is how Mortimer ended up dead and Isabella ended up marginalised.

Philippa was now queen not only in name but also in fact – and she did a good job, the perfect medieval consort who advised her husband in private, interceded on behalf of the weak, and oversaw the raising of their large family. She was his pillar of strength, the companion from his youth that became his companion through life, the person he could always trust to have his interests at heart.

Over a period of 25 years, Philippa gave birth at least thirteen times, which means she was just sixteen when the first baby was born, over forty when the baby of the family, Thomas of Woodstock, saw the light of the day. Edward clearly enjoyed her company – and vice-versa – which explains why she accompanied her bellicose husband on various of his campaigns – both to Scotland but also to France, where she forever earned the reputation of being a gentle and good queen when she begged Edward to spare the burghers of Calais.

A little background: In 1337, Edward III claimed the French crown, this based on the fact that his mother was born a French princess. The French king obviously disagreed, and so began the Hundred Years’ War. After crushing the French at the battle of Crecy in 1346, Edward turned north – to Calais.

This town was protected by impressive walls, and no matter how many men Edward threw at the town, the defences held. Months of this did not improve Edward’s temper, so in February of 1347, he effectively closed off all lines of supply into the town. The siege of Calais had begun.

The Siege of Calais

The stubborn townspeople refused to give up, hoping their king would come to their aid. Philippe of France did show up, but he was still smarting after the loss at Crecy, and he was severely outnumbered and “outstrategised” by Edward, which made Philippe decide it was best to retreat and fight another day. Abandoned by their king, in August of 1347 Calais surrendered.

By then, Edward was seriously angry with the town for holding out for so long – it put a major dent in his calendar. Plus, he had hoped to force the French king into a decisive battle outside Calais, but Philippe had evaded that trap. I dare say Edward was tempted to unleash his men on the town, but as Edward was in France claiming the French crown, he realised this would not endear him to his French subjects. Instead he offered the people of Calais a deal: if six of them would come before him and give themselves up unconditionally, he would spare the rest.

Those six brave Calais burghers had no illusions as to what fate awaited them, especially as Edward ordered that they wear nothing but their shirts and a noose round their neck – ready to hang, if you will. They prostrated themselves before the smouldering Edward and begged for their lives. He ordered their heads to be cut off – ASAP.

Philippa begging for the life of the burghers

This is when Philippa stepped forth from the shadows of history to hog the limelight. Heavily pregnant, she kneeled before her husband and begged him to show mercy, as she feared God would otherwise rob them of the child presently in her womb. Edward was not happy - at all. But he was fond of his wife, and was so touched by the sight of her on her knees that he reluctantly spared the six burghers and everyone lived happily ever after. Except that they didn’t – at least not the citizens of Calais who were evicted out of their town and replaced by Edward’s men. Neither did Philippa’s baby. A son, Thomas of Windsor, was born in 1347 but died within a year.

After the events at Calais, Philippa went back to being the mild wife she’d always been, never questioning her husband in public, however much she may have argued with him in private. Not that I think they did argue. I believe theirs was a happy and fulfilling marriage, one in which they enjoyed spending time together, sharing their thoughts with each other. In Philippa and their children Edward found the family he’d lost as a child when his mother and father ended up on opposite sides of a battlefield. In her, he had a loyal and devoted spouse. In him, she found a man who cherished and honoured her.

All good things come to an end. In the 1360s, Philippa fell ill, a wasting disease that had her growing weak and him desperate. This is when Edward began his association with Alice Perrers, his only known mistress, but his devotion for his wife and his distress at her continued illness were evident.
In July of 1369, Philippa sent for her husband. He rushed to her side and found her wan and pale in her bed. They held hands as she had him promise that once he died, he’d be buried beside her. Edward wept and gave her his word, gripping the hand of the woman who’d been his mainstay through life.

Philippa was all of fifty-five when she died, and had lived through the misfortune of seeing nine of her children die before her. Her husband never recovered from her death. Soon enough, he fell under the spell of Alice Perrers, even more so as his mind deteriorated, but in his heart I believe Philippa ruled uncontested – as she had always done.

All pictures in public domain and/or licensed under Wikimedia Creative Commons


Had Anna Belfrage been allowed to choose, she’d have become a professional time-traveller. As such a profession does not exist, she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests, namely history and writing.

Presently, Anna is hard at work with The King’s Greatest Enemy, a series set in the 1320s featuring Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures and misfortunes in connection with Roger Mortimer’s rise to power. The first book, In The Shadow of the Storm was published in 2015, the second, Days of Sun and Glory, was published in July 2016, and the third, Under the Approaching Dark, will be out in April 2017.

When Anna is not stuck in the 14th century, she's probably visiting in the 17th century, specifically with Alex(andra) and Matthew Graham, the protagonists of the acclaimed The Graham Saga. This is the story of two people who should never have met – not when she was born three centuries after him.

More about Anna on her website or on her blog!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Horse Heredity in the Dark Ages

By Kim Rendfeld

The early medieval warhorse had two jobs. The first was to charge into battle with a fully armed and armored warrior on his back. The second was to beget foals as strong and brave as he was.

He—they were all stallions—was shorter than today’s thoroughbred. The modern thoroughbred can be 5-foot-1 to 5-foot-8 at the withers. A Germanic early medieval warhorse was about 4-foot-5, and a Roman military horse could be 4-foot-9 to 5-foot-3. (Yes, my horse friends, I know the proper unit is hands, and medieval people likely used that measurement or something similar. But like most 21st century Americans, I think in terms of feet and inches.)

All horses were expensive; they could cost three to five times more than a bull and as much as 90 times more than a ram. But the warhorse, a predecessor of the famous destrier, was the most costly of all livestock, both to purchase and to maintain. As was the case with all grazing animals, land had to be set aside for pasture rather than crops, and if we are to believe written sources, horses required a lot more oats in winter than oxen did.

Horses were critical to the military and had a variety of functions, carrying soldiers and baggage and pulling carts with supplies. The only time a warhorse was put to work was in combat (well, maybe he was used in the hunt, too).

This meant warhorses belonged only to the wealthy, who could afford to set aside land and have livestock work for such limited times. While medieval animals were valued more for their work than companionship as pets, warriors did get attached to their steeds, akin to fellow soldiers. The men relied warhorses not to freeze or bolt when they heard clashing swords and screams or saw an enemy attacking them. A horse giving in to fear endangered both man and beast.

Early Signs of Bravery

In other words, there was no room for cowardice—for anyone. Medieval people believed gelding would make a horse timid. The folk also thought that male horses were solely responsible for passing desirable characteristics, like courage and pride, to their offspring. As for the females, they just needed to have the broad quarters and abdomens good for bearing young, maybe be good-looking, and have attained the right age, at least 3 years. Some writers recommended mares stop breeding at age 10 because her foals would be lazy, while others thought she could reproduce throughout her life.

Mares outnumbered stallions, anywhere from 10 to 30, so not all colts grew up to reproduce. The rate of gelding varied region by region, but the decision of whether a colt would later become a stallion or a gelding was made when the animals were young, likely before they were 3. (Male horses were ages 3 to 4 1/2 before being allowed to mate. The belief was that younger parents had smaller and weaker young.)

Because bravery was a desired trait, owners would watch for signs. Those included a colt running in the front of the herd, staying calm when seeing or hearing something unfamiliar, being more playful than other horses his age, and when racing, leaping over ditches and crossing bridges without a fuss. Easily spooked colts would have an appointment with the knife in the fall, considered the perfect time for the procedure.

In Spring, a Stallion’s Fancy Turns To ...

At this time of year, between the vernal equinox and the summer solstice, a stallion would be fulfilling his more pleasant responsibility and become reacquainted with his harem. He didn’t have access to his mares at any other time. He was fattened, perhaps on barley and vetch, before and during the spring because his duty was exhausting. A strong, well-fed stallion was believed to sire strong foals, but he had a deadline.

Breeding after summer solstice was believed to result in weaker foals. Yet a real practicality came into account. A mare’s pregnancy lasts 11 to 12 months. Her caretakers would prefer her to deliver when the grass was growing so that both mother and baby would have fodder.

Conceiving foals might take more than one try. The mare was thought to be pregnant when she no longer showed interest in the stud.

Not all the mares in the herd would be available to the stallion. Some of them would have recently given birth. Nursing foals took six months, and the mothers would not be bred for another six months after that. The waiting period might have been to time optimal conception and the availability of fodder. Yet the owners of the herd would want to keep their animals healthy, if more for practical reasons than sentimental ones. They needed to protect their investment.

The inspiration for this post is a tragedy that happened while Charlemagne was at war against the Avars in 791. In his half of the army, a pestilence killed nine-tenths of the horses, which from a military perspective is devastating. Think of it as nine-tenths of the vehicles being wiped out. Even if you have more tanks in production, that kind of a loss is still a huge blow, and in this case, you can't speed up production.

This occurred in the late fall, and more horses would be on the way. Some mares in the herd would be in foal, and there would be some months-old foals along with maturing colts and fillies. But none of that was enough to come anywhere near replacing a loss of this magnitude. A normal year would have some deaths from illness or age among the herd, and aristocrats would expect to lose some horses in battle. But not this many.

First, stallion and mares would need to wait until spring to breed. On top of the 11-to-12-month pregnancy, it would take another two years for horses to be ready for someone to ride them.

Replenishing the herd was a slow process indeed, and in the meantime, the army was crippled.

All images public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Source: Horse Breeding in the Medieval World by Charles Gladitz


Kim Rendfeld learned about the mass loss of horses while researching her work in progress, Queen of the Darkest Hour, a novel about Charlemagne's influential fourth wife, Fastrada, and his rebellious eldest son, Pepin. She has written two novels set in early medieval times.

You can order The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar, about a Saxon peasant who will fight for her children after losing everything else, at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, CreateSpace, Smashwords, and other vendors.

Kim's first novel, The Cross and the Dragon, in which a Frankish noblewoman must contend with a jilted suitor and the fear of losing her husband, is available at Amazon, Kobo, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, CreateSpace, and other vendors.

Connect with Kim at on her website, her blog, Outtakes of a Historical Novelist at, on Facebook at, or follow her on Twitter at @kimrendfeld.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Arthur Wellesley - First Duke of Wellington (The Iron Duke)

by Arthur Russell.

Sir Arthur Wellesley, the First Duke of Wellington, garnered quite a few names over a long illustrious career – first as a military man, and later in life in a political career that saw him reach the highest position as a two term Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

His distinctive Roman nose gave him the name “Nosey” for the soldiers he led, while his military prowess and spectacular achievements on battlefields on two continents earned for him the name “The Iron Duke” or simply “The Duke”.

He was born in a house on Merrion Square, Dublin and spent most of his formative years in the Wellesley family demesne of Dangan Castle, in the rolling pastoral countryside between the village of Summerhill and the small provincial town of Trim in County Meath, Ireland. His upbringing was typical of many young men of his class, time and place, which is so well described in Philip Guedalla’s  masterful tome, “The Duke” about the life and times of the hero of Waterloo as well as his successful campaign in Portugal, Spain and France against Napoloen Bonaparte in the European wars of the early 19th century.

Guedella’s book, which was written and published in 1931, just eight decades after Wellesley’s death in November 1850; opens with a description  of the Wellesley family’s unique Anglo Irish aristocratic background of the late 1700’s.

“Castes mark their children deeply – and as a caste the English gentry resident in Ireland were pronounced. Every conquest leaves a caste behind it, since conquerors are always apt to perpetuate their victory in superior social pretentions. Had not the Romans been the noblemen of Europe? Even a Norman raid became an aristocracy in England; and in Ireland the Anglo-Norman conquest left a similar deposit. Such castes are frequently absorbed, assimilated by their subject populations. But where race combines with religious differences and recurrent insurrection to keep the two apart, the schism is absolute and the conquerors remain an alien caste. Such castes, where they survive, are aristocratic by necessity, since their hauteur is less a mannerism than the sole condition of their survival. For without a sinful pride the conqueror will vanish --
Anglo-Irish magnates knew themselves observed by long, resentful rows of Irish eyes; and what conqueror would condescend before such an audience? The silent watchers made and kept them prouder than ever; and in the last half of the eighteenth century the Anglo Irish magnate was indisputably “Grand Seigneur”. ----------------
A chasm yawned between the classes, as it yawned between Versailles and France. But safe on the hither side the gentry lived their lordly lives, drank claret, toasted the “glorious, pious, and immortal memory”, ran races, and matched fighting cocks. ---------
As their rents rose ever higher on the mounting tide of Irish population, they scattered their argosies (and mortgaged their remotest prospects) in the lordliest game of all. For they built as recklessly as kings. The trim Palladian facades rose gracefully in every Irish county ---------------
A light hearted gentry built with an increasing fervor, since rents could never fall while tenants swarmed in every cabin---------
They bore themselves with the immense patrician dignity that comes from super position on a foundation of slavery. For the native Irish, even in the last years of the eighteenth century, were not far removed from slavery ----------
The nearest social parallel to rural Ireland was to be found three thousand miles away, in the cotton fields of Carolina. There too a little caste lived on their acres. The grace of Southern manners on the white pillared porches of Colonial mansions matches the ease of Irish country houses. There is the same profusion, the same improvidence against the same background of slavery. The same defects recur------

Ireland at the end of the 18th century was truly a country of contrasts, social, religious, political. It was a country of native Irish and their Anglo Irish masters; of ruling class Protestant and oppressed Catholics; of a minority population of privileged haves and an overwhelming majority population of dispossessed and disenfranchised have nots. Ireland was a country that was ill-governed by a seriously unrepresentative Dublin based parliament which focused on serving the interests of those who made it up rather than the welfare of the country and the people it more rightly owed responsibility for protection and just legislation.

His privileged background inclined the future soldier politician to be an ultra conservative and non reformist. As a young man, he cut his political teeth serving under two Lord Lieutenants of Ireland (both appointed by the English House of Commons). He was also a member of the Irish parliament for the nearby borough of Trim in County Meath. As a young parliamentarian he was strong in his opposition to granting the Freedom of Dublin to the leading reformer in the Irish Legislature, Henry Grattan; precisely because Grattan and his Patriot party were reformers and its leader seen as being untrue and disloyal to his own (aristocratic) kind by many of his peers in the Dublin Parliament. 

His long career was both political and military, his spectacular success in the latter helped to propel him to the highest office in capital city of the Empire he helped to expand during his Indian campaign (1796-1806). India was where he made his reputation as a supreme strategist and military commander.

He was no social reformer, but is credited as being the British Prime Minister who guided the Catholic Emancipation Bill through a reluctant House of Commons in 1829. In doing this he was making good on a promise made in 1805, when as Chief Secretary for Ireland he stated that he would always refuse to observe the excesses of the oppressive Penal Laws that the majority population of Ireland had endured for more than a century. As a supreme pragmatist he could well see the shifts in the wind that informed that such legislation had no place in enlightened governance in the aftermath of the American War of Independence, and the French Revolution. Ultimately he furthered the process of righting the massive legislative wrongs that had been perpetrated against Catholics for so long.  His boyhood experience of Ireland and of the strictures the majority population lived under, may well have given him insights and motivation. It is a matter of record that the British Army that took to the field at the battle Waterloo under his command, was made up of 30% Irish soldiers, most of them Catholic. By that time they were allowed have their own chaplains, a reform made a mere 30 years before.
Of course his critics on both sides, argued that the pragmatist in him bowed to the inevitable only when it became inevitable. Against that, he had to operate against the not insignificant opposition of King William, who as head of the Established Church, saw Emancipation as an essential inherited Royal duty to deny, to protect and defend against a long perceived enemy – the Roman Catholic Church. Wellington’s threat to resign and collapse the Government quickly overcame whatever objections the King might have held. It was a risk the Duke was prepared to take, in the certain knowledge that civil war would have broken out in Ireland if the Act was not passed. Many of his Irish Ascendancy colleagues would find it hard to forgive what they saw as betrayal of his class.

By contrast, 2 years later (1831) he adamantly opposed the First Reform Act which sought to widen voting rights and suffrage in the United Kingdom. He was no great believer in the capacity of the “plain people” to engage in political processes, which he considered to be more rightly the preserve of their “betters”. His attitude no doubt drew on his inherited aristocratic perception of the social order, which was further reinforced by strong military experience garnered on 60 battlefields in India and Europe. So much depended on his ability and capacity as a military leader to know what was best for those under him. Because of these influences in his life and career, he would always find it hard to accommodate completely to the notion that the business of running a country is not quite the same as running a military campaign.  Imposing discipline on soldiers is one thing, doing the same for a diverse population quite something else. To his credit, it has to be noted that at a time when the lives and welfare of rank and file soldiers drawn from what were considered “the lower orders”, was not set at high account in the scale of things; Wellington was always conscious of his responsibility for the lives and welfare of those under his command. This trait earned this aristocratic and rather aloof leader of men a well deserved reputation for his defensive as well as offensive approach to warfare, earning him the respect, loyalty and even sometimes the love of those who served with and under him.
In his day he was something of a fashion leader and did much to popularise the short tunic, tight breeches and high shiny boots so beloved by Society of the early 1800's.

Lady Catherine - First Duchess of Wellington

Catherine Packenham - Duchess of Wellington 
When it came to his interaction with the fair sex, Wellesley had a questionable record. As a young military man at the start of his career in 1793, he had cast his eye on Catherine (Kitty) Packenham, the daughter of Edward, 2nd Baron of Longford, but was found by her family to be wanting in terms of wealth and prospects. He found this rejection hurtful, causing him to throw all his energy into his military career. His spectacular Indian exploits won him the plaudits he lacked so that when he returned to Ireland a decorated hero 12 years later; he was pushing an open door in his quest for Kitty’s hand. 

As so often in life, long absence coupled with the excitement and uncertainty of the chase could well have outshone the attainment of the prize. Winning that particular battle as part of the upward trajectory of his career, was no guarantee of “happy ever after”.  His life with Kitty was not what either of them had hoped for, though the marriage produced two boys, Arthur (1812) and Charles (1815). He had a series of mistresses and sexual dalliances during his long life, in a parallel life to his domestic life. Nor did he make any great secret of this as evidenced by his retort to a would be blackmailing newspaper publisher who threatened to expose one of his many affairs in exchange for payment.  He is credited to have told him “Publish and be damned”.

Despite all of this, he was reported to be extremely saddened when Kitty died of cancer in 1831. It is reported that his one comfort was that after "half a lifetime together, they had come to understand each other at the end". Three years later he was equally saddened by the death during a cholera epidemic, of one particular mistress friend, diarist Harriet Arbuthnot.

This brilliant complex man, soldier and statesman died in Walmer castle on September 14th 1852 at the age of 83, and was accorded a state funeral in November of the same year, at which thousands paid their respects to one who had done so much during a long and interesting life of service to the Empire he had helped to establish.  He was laid to rest in an imposing sarcophagus in St Paul’s Cathedral, beside another hero of the Napoleonic wars, Lord Horatio Nelson.

Memorials to Wellington in Ireland

"This column erected in the year MDCCCXV11 (1817)
in honour of the illustrious Duke of Wellington
by the grateful subscriptions of the County Meath
The country that birthed and nurtured Wellington did not forget him in the aftermath of his greatest victories and death. Two years after Waterloo, his native Trim raised an imposing commemorative column close to the town centre, while a huge memorial, the largest obelisk in Europe; was raised to him in Dublin’s Phoenix Park after his death.

The Wellington monument in Dublin's
Phoenix Park, the largest obelisk in Europe.
Completed in 1861
While most Irish Nationalists in the wake of Irish independence almost a century ago are no great lovers of the Duke; the Wellington monuments in Trim and Dublin have been spared the fate of similar memorials to King William III (of Battle of the Boyne fame) on College Green and Horatio Nelson in the centre of O’Connell Street as somewhat uncomfortable reminders of Ireland’s sometimes difficult history as part of the British Empire. While their presence sometimes give cause for debate and flurries of letters to newspapers, (pro as well as contra); as time passes, and the nation comes to terms with its past; the desire to remove or destroy may lessen rather than increase. With growing National confidence comes the realisation that history cannot be changed by such acts, and in so many ways, the actions and achievements of those who went before, from all sides of political, social and religious divides, contribute to who we in Ireland are.


Arthur Russell is the Author of Morgallion, a novel set in medieval Ireland during the Invasion of Ireland in 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’ was awarded the IndieBRAG Medallion and is available in paperback and e-book form.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Editor's Weekly Round-Up, March 26, 2017

by the EHFA Editors

Enjoy this week's round-up of historical articles.

by Annie Whitehead

by Wendy J. Dunn
(Editors's Choice from the archives)

by Maria Grace

And a timely post from the archives...

by Katherine Pym

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Teething: A leading cause of infant mortality?

by Maria Grace

Anyone who has dealt with young children knows the misery teething can bring, not just to the baby, but the entire household. Modern parents expect teething to begin at about five months, ushering in fussiness, sleep disruption and drooling, but nothing more difficult or dangerous than that.

Twenty four hundred years ago, though, Hippocrates warned parents of the fever, diarrhea and convulsions teething could produce. 18th century Scottish physician John Arbuthnot estimated one tenth of children died while teething. (Mims, 2005) Others estimated up to one third of infant mortality was due to teething. (Day, 2013)

Dreaded Dentition

18th century French physician Jean Baumes (1783) wrote “All experience teaches that dentition is to be dreaded.”

Why the dread? In layman’s terms, the irritation of the gums and possibility that teeth might fail to break through could upset a child’s fragile nervous system. Obviously, right? Such disruption could lead to convulsions or even death. Buchan (1838) suggested “These symptoms are in a great measure owing to the great delicacy and exquisite sensibility of the nervous system at this time of life, which is too often increased by an effeminate education. Hence it comes to pass, that children who are delicately brought up, always suffer most in teething, and often fall by convulsive disorders.”

In other words, it was probably mom’s fault. Of course.

Still some children cut teeth without significant issues. This Baumes attributed to healthy parents and good quality care of the child. A woman who “restrained her passions during pregnancy” and “retained a tranquil mind” helped insure her child would have successful teething. But errors of diet and “abuses of regimen” could lead to feebleness of constitution, an imbalance of fluids, and “organic disorders of bodily systems.”

According to period physicians, dentition contributed to two major groups of illnesses: digestive and nervous. Digestive ills included diarrhea (which killed many infants no matter what caused it) constipation, vomiting (also potentially deadly), cough, colic and hiccoughs. Even more dreaded were the nervous complications: restlessness and fitful sleep which could lead to exhaustion, derangement and convulsions. Cases of “dental paralysis”, especially upon the eruption of the canine teeth, were even reported. All of these could lead to death.

A Charm Against Teething Evils

Regency medicine was more medieval than modern, so superstition and ancient beliefs still held powerful influence over treatments. Medicinal amulets to ward off evil were every bit as reliable and quite possibly as effective as the doctors of the era. (And probably a good deal less dangerous … just saying.) Many relied upon the protective power of coral.

Belief in coral was steeped in centuries old traditions. Ancient Greeks and Romans believed coral would ward off a variety of infantile illnesses. Plato wrote of the value of wearing coral amulets and hanging them in cradles and nurseries. Ancient Egyptians believed coral would ease teething pain. By the 16th century, coral beads became a common christening gift among the wealthy classes.

(Total aside here, it is interesting to note that coral beads were a very fashionable accessory for young ladies of the Regency era. It does make one wonder about them as possibly infantilizing young women as well… but back to teething now…)

Coral teething sticks became popular as well. And then as now, whatever is popular tends to become fashion statements and, well just plain overdone.

Artisans designed elaborate teething rattles for their wealthiest of patrons. Usually fashioned out of silver and gold (both considered to have supernatural powers of course) these odd looking accessories would have a whistle on one end and the coral sticks on the other. Bells, silver ones in particular, would be hung around the base of the whistle, their pure tones repulsing evil spirits and drawing in good ones—and distracting the baby as well. A ribbon allowed them to be suspended from the baby’s neck or tied at the waist. (Yet another great idea, right?)

Less ornate teething ‘corals’ were also available, but not nearly the status symbols the elaborate ones were. Still though, they provided the same benefits. Corals provided a tough, but safe substance for babies to bite down on and gave parents the peace of mind they were doing something to protect their baby through a difficult and dangerous time.

Teething Treatments

When teething corals did not provide sufficient relief, physicians and superstitions had numerous treatments to offer. (And if you ask me, I think, in this case I’d go with the superstitions…)

Since babies drool during teething, saliva was though to soften the gums. If it was insufficient to the task, a number of preparations were available to help nature along. Parents were told to rub chicken grease or fresh hog’s lard lightly and frequently over infant’s gums. A somewhat less palatable alternative was to use hare’s brains for the same purpose. Yum.

When a family could not afford coral, ivory, wolves teeth or bone might be given to a child to bite on. If those were not available, a child might be given a dry bread crust, a lump of sugar wrapped in cloth, licorice sticks dipped in honey, carrot sticks or wax candles.

I just heard my dentist friends gnashing their teeth.

Baumes (1783) discouraged the uses of gum rubs as vulgar. Furthermore, he thought giving children hard substances to bite as they would harden and callous the gums, making teething harder rather than easier. I see you rolling your eyes, but wait, it gets better.

Instead he recommended standard era treatments including enemas, purgatives, emetics, bleeding, blistering, plasters, cauterization and leeching. Buchan (1838) gives us a sound scientific explanation why: “Difficult teething requires nearly the same treatment as an inflammatory disease. If the body be bound, it must be opened either by emollient clysters or gentle purgatives; as manna, magnesia alba, rhubarb, senna, or the like. The food should be light, and in small quantity; the drink plentiful, but weak and diluting, as infusions of balm, or of the lime-tree flowers; to which about a third or fourth part of milk may be added. If the fever be high, bleeding will be necessary; but this in very young children ought always to be sparingly performed….Purging, vomiting, or sweating, agree much better with them, and are generally more beneficial.”

Of course, this makes perfect sense. But wait, there’s more.

Under the most severe of circumstances, era surgeons might go so far as lancing an infant’s gums. Baumes (1783) warned though that a simple incision was not always enough. The gums needed to be lanced down to the teeth and skin flaps excised to fully liberate the teeth. In the most extreme cases, the tooth socket might be broken or tooth extracted.

Would you believe that it was only at the turn of the 20th century that medical science disavowed the use of lancing to treat teething?

A few medicinal preparations were available to soothe babies’ pain and help them sleep. The most basic was to give them a cloth soaked in brandy to chew or suck on. (Then again, after all this stress and worry, mom might be the one more in need of that.)

On a more commercial level, a number of preparations became available, like Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup. Most of the concoctions were solutions of alcohol and morphine, possibly with various herbal components. A few boasted calomel, a mercury-based compound, as well.

So let’s review, leeches, bleeding, lancing, alcohol, opiates and mercury versus lard and hare’s brains. There’s a reason I suggested superstition was a safer alternative for teething babies.

No wonder teething was such a cause of infant mortality!


Baumes, Jean Baptiste Timothée. A treatise on first dentition and the frequently serious disorders which depend upon it. Translated by Thomas Emerson Bond. New York: Raetas & Kelley, 1841.
(French version written by Jean Baptiste Timothee Baumes published in 1783).

Buchan, William. 1838. Domestic Medicine: Or, A Treatise on the Prevention and Cure of Diseases by Regimen and Simple Medicines: with Observations on Sea-bathing, and the Use of the Mineral Waters. To which is Annexed, a Dispensatory for the Use of Private Practitioners. J & B Williams, London.

Day, Nicholas. "Your Baby’s Teething? Rub a Minnow on It." Slate Magazine. April 17, 2013. Accessed March 16, 2017.

Hunter, Sonja. "Rethinking "Teething" Deaths." Rethinking “Teething” Deaths. March 01, 2013. Accessed March 10, 2017.

Kane, Kathryn. "Corals: Protection for Teething Babies." The Regency Redingote. January 09, 2014. Accessed March 6, 2017.

Mims, Robert. "S.L. DOCTOR EXAMINES THE MYSTERY OF PIONEER INFANTS' `TEETHING' DEATHS." December 22, 1991. Accessed March 10, 2017.

Stempniak, Marty. "TBT: In the 1800s, One Opium-Laced Drug Helped Moms Soothe the Pains of Teething Children." H&HN. March 31, 2016. Accessed March 16, 2017.


Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful. 

After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.

Click here to find her books on Amazon. For more on her writing and other Random Bits of Fascination, visit her website. You can also like her on Facebook, or follow on Twitter.