Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Murder of Martha Reay: Victim Blaming in 18th Century England

by Lauren Gilbert

Martha Ray by Nathaniel Dance, 1777

It’s a story that could be taken from 21st century news media. The evening of April 7, 1779, Miss Martha Reay left the theatre with a friend. As she started to get into her coach, James Hackman shot her in the face with a pistol, and then tried to kill himself with a second pistol. Within a year or so of her death, the victim was considered somehow at fault in her own murder, even though he did not deny killing her. This case was a sensation in the press of the day.

Who was Martha Reay? Strictly speaking, in terms of the society in which she was born, Martha Reay (or Ray, or Raye, or other variations depending on the source) was no one. She was born sometime between 1742-1746 in Elstree in Hertfordshire, the daughter of a corsetmaker and his wife(?), a servant. She was apprenticed to a milliner or dressmaker at the age of 13 or so by her father. When Martha reached the age of 16, her father allegedly took her to a procuress with a prospect of prostituting her. By all accounts, she was an attractive girl (not strictly a beauty, but fresh and pretty in appearance) with a good singing voice and a kind nature. Whether through the efforts of the procuress or by other means, Martha became the mistress of John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, when she was somewhere between the ages of 17 and 19.

John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, engraving, 1774

The Earl was a married man, aged about 44 years, and a career politician with a serious love of music. He had naval interests and was a patron of Captain James Cook, who named the Sandwich Islands for the Earl. (Contrary to the myth, the “sandwich” of bread and meat named for him was his quick meal to allow him more time at his desk, not the gaming table.) Unhappily married with only one living child (a son and heir also named John), he separated from his wife in 1755, shortly after which she was found to be insane by the Court of Chancery and was made a ward of the court. While his wife remained in permanent seclusion, he was unable to divorce and remarry.

When Lord Sandwich took Martha under his “protection”, he first placed her in a little house in Covent Garden with a companion, where he provided her with music masters. Whether the sexual relationship started immediately or later, the Earl took her (and her companion) to his family home Hinchingbrooke and treated her for all intents and purposes as his wife. She served as hostess at dinners Lord Sandwich hosted at the Admiralty Club for fellow politicians, and sang in two seasons of oratorios sponsored by the Earl. Over a 10-year period, Martha bore him 5 living children (4 sons and a daughter), whom he acknowledged. Sources indicate she actually had 9 children by the Earl, but only 5 survived. All accounts indicate that they were an affectionate couple.

John Hackman, hand-coloured copper engraving, 1810

In 1774, John Hackman (a birth date of 1752 put his age at 22 at this time ) met the Earl while riding with a neighbour of the Earl’s, and was invited to dinner. At this point, he met Martha. Born in Hampshire, he was a handsome young man with the rank of ensign in the 68th regiment of the foot, of a respectable lower middle class family (originally destined for a trade, he went into the military instead.) Apparently, he conceived a romantic desire to rescue Martha from the Earl’s clutches. Martha was several years older than Hackman and there is no indication she had feelings for him. Being in the neighbourhood, they met multiple times. Hackman asked her to marry him and she turned him down. Accounts indicate Martha cited her loyalty to Lord Sandwich and that she had no desire to marry a military man. Shortly afterwards, Hackman was posted to Ireland. In 1776 he was promoted to lieutenant, but subsequently had resigned from the army to become a clergyman, supposedly in hope that Martha would change her mind and marry him. In February of 1779, he was ordained as a deacon, then a priest, and was assigned as rector of Wiveton in Norfolk.

Apparently, Hackman’s infatuation with Martha continued, possibly even grew, throughout this separation, and career change. (There is no indication he actually served in his clerical capacity.) He went to London, and sent Martha a note asking her to meet him. Accounts indicate she refused and told him to give it up, in essence. (This response appears to be the only letter known to have been written by Martha in the case.) Accounts indicate that his acquaintances noted that he was increasingly depressed. Shortly after this, on April 7, he followed Martha to the theatre, where he saw her in company including Lord Coleraine, who he decided was her current lover. He went to get 2 pistols, waited in a nearby coffee house, then, when he saw her leaving the theatre, committed the crime.

Stunned by her murder, Lord Sandwich had Martha buried next to her mother in Elstree. (Some accounts indicate he had her name engraved on a silver plaque which was mounted on her coffin.) In the meantime, during his murder trial, John Hackman pleaded innocent, saying he had not intended to kill Martha but only himself and that shooting her was a sudden impulse or frenzy, and his attorney said that he was insane. Judge and jury did not agree, especially because he had 2 pistols with him, and found him guilty. (Several witnesses also testified, which did not help his cause.) He was hanged at Tyburn April 19, 1779. Accounts indicate he met his end with bravery, asking to be buried near Martha, which did not happen. (His body was dissected at Surgeon’s Hall in London.)

The newspapers reported the case heavily, initially objectively. The supposed love triangle made it irresistible. Subsequently, Hackman's handsome appearance, his despair over his failed courtship and the death of his love resulting from his crime of passion made him a more sympathetic character. Speculation that Martha had somehow led him on then spurned him began circulating. Subsequently, a pamphlet (author anonymous) was published by G. Kearsley in Fleet Street, portraying John Hackman as good hearted yet misguided young man overwhelmed by his desire to save an undeserving woman. The romance combined with the facts that Hackman was a clergyman while Martha was a fallen woman appealed to the public’s imagination.

In March of 1780, G. Kearsley brought out a book titled LOVE AND MADNESS: A STORY TOO TRUE (written by Herbert Croft but published anonymously), to be the correspondence of John Hackman and Martha Reay over several years, supporting the view of Martha as the older woman taking advantage of a naive younger man then casting him aside, leading him to desperation. The book went into 9 editions. Even though the correspondence was forged and the book considered an epistolary novel when the author’s identity became known, many accepted it as factual. Public opinion leaned towards sympathy with the murderer, and a feeling that the victim had brought her death on herself.

Although Martha was known to have been concerned about financial security for herself and her children (given that the Earl was significantly older than she was and not overly wealthy), she had actually considered becoming a professional singer. There is no indication that she was ever unfaithful to the Earl or that she encouraged Hackman to believe she had feelings for him. Hackman’s known letters indicated that he chose to believe that she might marry him; this belief may have had roots in his obsession with an attractive woman whom he felt needed to be rescued or, even more simply, a refusal to accept that she did not want to be with him. In my opinion, evidence does not support the theory that Martha toyed with him then cast him aside.

After Martha’s death, Lord Sandwich took care of their children who continued to live with him. Although one son died, the other 3 had opportunities and their daughter married an admiral. Lord Sandwich died in April of 1792. Mary Hervey, Lady Fitzgerald, was shown as his last mistress by one source, but another referred to her as a good friend to the Earl. Most biographical references for the Earl that I found do not mention a mistress after Martha. It seems he remained faithful to Martha’s memory. I found nothing to indicate that he believed that Martha enticed Hackman. Sadly, you can still find speculation that Martha led James Hackman on in accounts today.

Sources include:

CASE and MEMOIRS of Miss MARTHA REAY, to which are added, REMARKS, by Way of Refutation on The CASE and MEMOIRS of the Rev. Mr. Hackman. London: M. Folingsby and C. Fourdrinier, 1779. (ECCO Print Edition)

Stebbins, Lucy Poate. LONDON LADIES True Tales of the Eighteenth Century. New York: Columbia University Press, 1952. "John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich explained" (no author or post date shown). HERE "1779: James Hackman, sandwich wrecker" by Headsman, posted April 19, 2015. HERE

Plagiary. "LOVE AND MADNESS: A Forgery Too True" by Ellen Levy, 2006. HERE

Pen and Pension. "The Rev. James Hackman and the Murder of Martha Reay" posted June 10, 2015 by William Savage. HERE

Royal Favourites. "English Earls' and Countesses' Lovers and Mistresses" posted by Eu Royales (no date provided). HERE "Fatal Triangle" by John Brewer, Smithsonian Magazine, May 2005. HERE

Watford Observer. "Martha Ray" (no author or post date shown). HERE


Martha Ray: Wikimedia Commons, HERE

John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich: Wikimedia Commons, HERE

John Hackman: Wikimedia Commons, HERE


Lauren Gilbert, author of HEYERWOOD: A Novel, holds a B.A. in English and is a long-time member of JASNA. She lives in Florida with her husband, and is working on her second book A RATIONAL ATTACHMENT. Please visit her website here for more information.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Promise and the Curse of Dynasty: A Stuart Tragedy

by Linda Root

The Tragic Deaths of the Sons of King James Charles Stuart:

James I and VI
Seventeenth Century Britain was a society in which children were often regarded as commodities. In agrarian societies, numbers were important, especially if the counted heads were male.  Daughters were tolerable as long as there were not too many to be marketable. With the decline of female monasticism in England, the alternative of a nunnery was no longer viable. Even the highest levels of society suffered failed dynastic plans, not the least of which involved the Royal House of Stuart, even before James Charles Stuart VI, King of Scotland, ascended the English Throne as James I in 1603.
He was shortly followed from Scotland by the entourage of his Danish consort, Anne of Denmark, who traveled with their firstborn son and heir, Prince Henry Frederick, who was the image of everything a royal heir should  be.  

On instructions from the king's advisers, the second son was left in Fife. Ostensibly, he was too frail to travel. Or, perhaps his parents considered him an embarrassment likely to detract from the joy brought by the first Royal Family to grace England since the reign of Henry VIII. 


And thus, when the Stuart royals arrived in London, they brought with them the son and heir whom many were less impressed by the parents than their child, who was considered to be the Hope of England.

Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales

Meanwhile,  the not-yet-three-year-old Prince Charles, who did not walk, and when he spoke, stuttered, was left behind in a cloistered environment in Dunfermline in the household of the Scottish Chancellor, Catholic Alexander Seton. Finally Lord Robert Carey was sent to England to check on rumors of some improvement, and Seton was ordered to deliver Charles to London, where he was given the title Duke of York.  But even then, his liabilities prompted James to suggested his legs be encased in iron boots until Carey's wife, the redoubtable Dame Robert, tucked Baby Charlie under her wing and cajoled and bullied him into recovery.

Perhaps the earliest portrait of the future Charles I

Nine years later, on November 6, 1612, they saw the promise dashed when Henry Frederick, Price of Wales, died of what most likely was typhoid. When one considers its ultimate outcome, Henry Frederick's death may  be the most significant event in  17th Century English history. Upon his death, the Venetian Ambassador to England remarked: 'His authority was great... His designs were vast; his temper was grave, severe, reserved, brief in speech. All the hopes of these kingdoms were built on his high qualities."

A partial list of the attributes for which the prince was known and which his younger brother Charles lacked is portentous:

1. Prince Henry Frederick was a staunch protestant, but possessed a profound understanding of the theological issues of the day. His personal religious beliefs smacked of Puritanism, but his intellect was cosmopolitan.

2. His behavior and writings suggest he was not a Divine Right monarchist.

3. His thinking was mature beyond his years.

4. He was a sportsman and an athlete, and cultivated such an image of himself in art.

5. He enjoyed a personal correspondence with European royals not limited to members of his mother's Danish Royal Family, and including among others, Henri IV, King of France.

6. He was admired and respected by leaders in the Stuart government such as the powerful Earl of Salisbury, Lord Robert Cecil, some of whom had misgivings concern Scots in general and King James in particular.

7. He was no one's puppet, and there is evidence his father was afraid of him.

8. Physically, he was handsome and robust until illness struck him down, with the stature of his grandfather Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley and his grandmother Marie Stuart, Queen of Scots, both grandchildren of  Henry VII, and both near or over six-feet in height.


At the time of his brother's death, the future Charles I had overcome most outward manifestations of his childhood.  He had struggled to overcome his lameness and learned to control his stutter. But he never filled the image of his brother. By the time he succeeded his father  he favored a high Episcopal form of worship and was suspected to be a closet Catholic.  He married a Catholic French princess, Henrietta Maria,  three months after his ascension in 1625. He was a Divine Right monarch who made a habit of dismissing Parliament when it disagreed with him before he permanently disbanded it in 1629. Scores of historians who document his fall differ widely as to what kind of man he was and whether he was an anachronism or a charlatan, a victim of his unfortunate childhood or simply blind to change.

Whatever the diagnosis of the short-comings on Charles I, he was ill-equipped to rule a country on the brink of a Civil War unlikely to have happened had his brother lived. If he was successful at anything, it was as a family man. He begin his public life in England in an unpopular relationship with the Duke of Buckingham, and his marriage to a Catholic French princess placed him at odds with his father. His estrangement of his parliament clinched it. There are volumes written dealing with his fall. One could advance an argument that his attitude toward kingship killed him. He was executed outside the Banqueting House at Whitehall on January 30, 1649.  In any case, his execution created a hiatus in Stuart Rule.

A contrary argument can be advanced claiming the dynasty did not suffered from his death, since two of his son's survived to ascend the throne. However, the Stuart restoration can be chalked up to Dumb Luck rather than Divine Intervention. The military strategist and orthodox Puritan who managed England after the King's execution, Protector Oliver Cromwell, suffered a similar curse in leaving an ill-equipped and disinterested son  Richard Cromwell, to succeed him. The documents of government in effect at the time of Oliver Cromwell's death specified he should be the one to name his successor. With that in mind, he had been governing his son for years, with mixed results and much reservation as to his ability to lead the people and control the army.  His doubts were well founded and in 1659, with little hesitation on Richard Cromwell's part, he signed articles of Abdication on terms requiring the government to pay his debts and award him a pension. He received neither. But when the monarchy was restored the following year, he remained unmolested and resumed his former quiet life as a country gentleman. At that point, the English were tired of Puritan austerity and enthusiastically invited the Bishops back and the Stuart's home. There is no question the dynastic ills that cursed the Stuarts was with them both when they returned.


Without dwelling on the period of English history known as the Interregnum, a topic worthy of volumes, not a paragraph in a post, suffice it to say that England did not fare well without a sovereign. Scottish Parliament proclaimed the dead king's eldest surviving son Charles as Charles II in 1651. The English, in the hands of the Puritans, did no such thing. Following the defeat of Charles’s Royalist forces by Cromwell’s Model Army, Charles fled Britain.  He remained in exile in Europe for nine years until Oliver Cromwell's death resulted in a power vacuum and he was invited back to come home and take his crown.   He returned to London on his birthday in 1660 to rule as The Merry Monarch, an intensely popular king during his early reign, especially with the ladies.  Although known to have sired numerous bastards, some from one-night stands with nameless whores, he sired none to his unpopular wife, the Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza. And thus, the Stuarts faced the next dynastic crisis.  When Charles II died without legitimate issue at Whitehall Palace in February 1685, having asked those who attended him on his deathbed to deal generously with his mistresses, the crown passed to his younger brother James, who was proclaimed James VII of Scotland first, and soon thereafter, as James II of England, and, who by comparison, was no fun at all.

When Charles II died, James, Duke of York became King James II, for lack of a viable, Protestant alternative.  James II and VII was the last Catholic King to rule the British kingdoms.  The Scots, who knew him from his time spent there, were known to refer to him as Dismal Jimmie.  He was not a bright man, nor was he pleasant, in some ways the most tragic of the surviving victims of the English Civil War.  Although he was hardly intuitive, he was possessed of an integrity which his brother lacked.  If he mastered anything, it was the balance sheet.  He ran his own life with great frugality.  He had inherited his executed father’s obstinacy and stutter.  And worse, by the time of his ascension, he was no longer a closet Catholic. His first wife Anne Hyde had died leaving two daughters surviving of her brood of seven.

When Anne Hyde, left, Duchess of York died in 1671, Charles II still ruled England, with no legitimate offspring to take the throne. All his brother had were daughters, Mary and Anne. In one of his last acts to assure a Stuart succession,  the Merry Monarch set out to find a proper protestant second wife for his younger brother, who would have none of it. James would do his own shopping, thank you very much! His qualifications for a wife were two: she must be Catholic, and  she must be beautiful. In the adolescent Princess Mary of Modena, above right, he found both. Unfortunately there had been no  stipulation requiring her to be fruitful.

On the day James, then Duke of York, brought his fifteen-year-old consort to meet his daughters, he introduced her as their new play-fellow. While the young bride was repulsed by her much older and unattractive husband at first, she came to cherish him.  The marriage lasted longer than James II’s brief occupation of the British throne.

A early portrait of William and Mary
He was not a bright man, nor was he pleasant.  Although he was hardly intuitive, he was possessed of an integrity which his brother lacked.  On a personal note, if he mastered anything, it was the balance sheet. He ran his own household with considerable frugality and his life with little wit. Unlike his brother’s union with Catherine of Braganza who was blamed for Charles II’s suspected deathbed conversion, it was James, then Duke of York, who had instigated his first wife’s Anne Hyde's conversion to the Catholic faith. By the time of his ascension, his own Catholicism was an ill-kept secret. What was worse, his youthful second wife was rumored to be the daughter of the Pope. When his bride landed in England, effigies of the pope were torched along their parade route. Just when it appeared as if the British monarchy could be in no greater jeopardy, it became obvious his  consort was barren, and his son-in-law William was ready to take up arms against him.


The events that brought an end to Stuart Rule through the male line is filled with intrigue and conspiracies far beyond the limits of this post. By 1689, events in England tone on a tone echoed in the New World colonies in 1776.  The king had broken his covenant with his people. Having done so, he fled to France and thus, was deemed to have abdicated. Those who governed in his absence fashioned laws placing limitations on the monarchy, and with that detail out of the way, they invited the King's Dutch son-in-law William and his daughter Mary to come to England to claim their crowns. The rulership passed to William and Mary.  There is a legend that on his flight from England, James II dropped the Great Seal of England in the Thames. It is also reported that after his arrival in France, the wise said, ‘When you listen to him, you understand why he is here.’

Yet, his forced abdication does not end the story nor give credibility to the curse, but the place of the position of the  Stuart Dynasty in the English monarchy is no longer as direct as it was after the male line failed. James II's daughter Anne succeeded when  her sister Queen Mary's spouse and co-ruler died. In 1714, Queen Anne died childless. Debates range as to exactly when the Stuart Dynasty ended, but the Act of Settlement of 1701, settling the succession on the House of Hanover upon Anne's death is as good a date as any, or if one is a die-hard romantic, upon the death of the last Stuart Pretender, Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1788. In a certain sense, it never did.

It is noteworthy that Prince George and Princess Charlotte are the fourteenth great-grandchildren of Marie Stuart, Queen of Scots. And thus, while dynasty eludes the Stuarts after 1701, the bloodline extends forward to the present day, and back through Marie Stuart’s paternal grandmother Mary Tudor to Owen Tudor’s bloodline, and through her Stuart ancestors, as far back as The Bruce.

Notes:  Photos are in the public domain.  Art is PD -Art, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, via Creative Commons and GNU.  Credit and accolades go to John Macleod's highly entertaining history, DYNASTY The Stuarts 1560-1807, St Martin's Press, 1999, to The Scotsman, The Guardian, and Wikipedia.

Linda Fetterly Root is a historical novelist living in the Morongo Basin area of the Southern California Hi-Desert, with numerous animals, both wild and tamed.  She is a member of the Marie Stuart Society, and of the Bars of the State of California and the United States Supreme Court.  She is a retired major crimes prosecutor who is is currently working on her eighth historical novel, this one set in 17th Century England in the aftermath of the  Gunpowder Treason.


Friday, August 25, 2017

A dark Welsh lady

by Anna Belfrage

In 1230, Ralph Mortimer of Wigmore took a certain Gwladus Ddu as his wife. Ralph was a Marcher Lord, always intent on expanding his domains into Wales. His new wife was as Welsh as they came, daughter of Prince Llewellyn the Great.

While Gwladus’ paternity has never been up for discussion – she is Gwladus ferch Llewellyn when mentioned in records of the time – who her mother was is a substantially thornier issue. Was Gwladus the product of Llewellyn’s long-standing affair with a certain Tangwystl, mother of his eldest son Gruffydd, or was she a legitimate daughter, born to Llewellyn and his Angevin wife Joanna? Somewhat ironically given the discussions as to whether Gwladus was illegitimate or not, Joanna was most definitely illegitimate, the daughter of King John of England.

To sort out who was Gwladus’ mother, one could start by trying to pin down when Gwladus was born. Well, unsurprisingly, it’s not as if there’s a neat entry stating her date of birth. Instead, genealogists usually work backwards from what known facts there are, and one of those facts is that Gwladus’ marriage to Ralph was not her first: she’d been wed to Reginald de Braose already back in 1215.

This, according to some, means she must have been born at the latest around 1202, so as to be of marriageable age in 1215. And if Gwladus was born in 1202, she could not be Joanna’s daughter seeing as Joanna and Llewellyn were wed in 1205, ergo Ralph Mortimer married an illegitimate Welsh princess.

However, there are some doubts as to whether there was a real marriage in 1215. Maybe it was more of a betrothal. Besides, why would Reginald de Braose, a man pushing forty and with heirs to his body (among which a certain William de Braose whom Llewellyn would hang in 1230 for having engaged in adulterous relations with Llewellyn’s wife, Joanna. All very complicated, isn’t it?) want to marry the illegitimate daughter of Llewellyn? A second marriage in this case would have been entered out of political interests, and Gwladus was worth much, much more as a political pawn if she was the legitimate daughter of a Welsh prince and the granddaughter of an English king than if she were the daughter of Llewellyn and the irresistibly named Tangwystl.

It is also interesting to note that while Gwladus and Reginald were married for thirteen years there are no recorded children. Reginald was definitely fertile and with her second husband Gwladus would go on to prove that she was too which begs the question if this first marriage was ever consummated, thereby indicating (perhaps) that maybe the bride was very young in 1215, corresponding with a birthdate after 1205.

When King John gave his daughter in marriage to Llewellyn, he also had Llewellyn promise that it would be the children he had with Joanna who would be his heirs. This was not in accordance with Welsh custom which in general supported every child’s right to inherit from its father, no matter if the child was conceived within or without the marital bed. At the time of Llewellyn’s wedding to Joanna, he already had a son named Gruffydd, so by agreeing to John’s demands he was effectively disinheriting his boy. Did not go down well with Gruffydd.

Llewellyn with his sons
Eventually, Joanna did present Llewellyn with a son who was named Dafydd. In 1229, young Dafydd rode to London to visit with his young uncle, Henry III. He did this to present himself before the entire English court as Llewelyn’s recognised heir, thereby formally acquiring his uncle’s support against his half-brother’s claim.

Interestingly enough, Dafydd was accompanied on this little jaunt by none other than Gwladus, at the time recently widowed as Reginald passed away in 1228. Now, the fact that Gwladus chose to accompany her younger sibling may indicate nothing more than a case of wanderlust. But if Gwladus was Gruffydd’s full sister, wouldn’t she have hesitated in accompanying her half-brother on a trip that had as its purpose to permanently scotch Gruffydd’s hopes of inheriting Llewellyn’s lands?

It did not take long for Llewellyn to find a new husband for his widowed daughter. This time, Gwladus was dispatched to wed Ralph Mortimer of Wigmore, a man some years her senior who’d become heir to the Mortimer lands upon the death of his older brother. The Mortimers were as covetous and power-hungry as all the Marcher Lords and while Ralph definitely wanted heirs, he also wanted valuable alliances. I seriously doubt he’d have wanted Gwladus—no matter how beautiful she might have been—unless she was not only the daughter of Llewellyn but also the niece of Henry III.

Whatever the case, Ralph and Gwladus seem to have hit it off. Over the first nine years of married life, she gave birth to six known children, among them the very competent Roger Mortimer who would go on to become a loyal servant of the king, behead Simon de Montfort at Evesham and marry Maud de Braose, daughter of the man his Welsh grandfather once hanged for adultery.
In 1246, Ralph died, leaving Gwladus a widow. She never remarried, dying five years later while visiting with her uncle, Henry III, in Winchester.

Not only don’t we know for sure who Gwladus’ mother was. We know nothing about Gwladus herself, beyond who her father was, who her husbands were, who her children were. She is defined not by who she was but by what she was, daughter, wife, mother. We have no depiction of her, all we have is her epithet, Ddu, which is Welsh for black. I guess this probably means that Gwladus was dark rather than fair, and I picture her with long dark braids and eyes the colour of a deep forest tarn. For some reason, I imagine she was of a serious disposition – but that is entirely fanciful, and for all I know, Gwladus may have been the life and soul of any medieval party she might have been invited to.

Gwladus Ddu remains an enigmatic and anonymous lady who attracts more interest due to the uncertainties surrounding her mother than due to herself. That’s a bit sad. However, no matter who her mother was, through Gwladus the blood of the Royal House of Gwynedd would pass down the Mortimer line, the Welsh Dragon lying dormant until that very distant descendant of hers, Edward IV, claimed the throne. Through Edward’s daughter, Elizabeth of York, that rather diluted drop of Welsh blood has made it all the way down the line to the present Queen. Having cried my eyes out over the sad fate of Llewellyn’s grandson and namesake, Llewellyn the Last, I find some comfort in that. Some.

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. And yes, Edmund of Woodstock appears quite frequently. 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, was published 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.

Monday, August 21, 2017

All you thought you knew about the Wars of the Roses, but didn’t… Episode One: Henry VI: the mad king?

by Derek Birks

A few weeks ago, I had a bit of a rant on Facebook about the common myths which persist about many aspects of the Wars of the Roses period. I vowed to do something about it, so to start with, I'm looking at Henry VI himself.

There are two commonly held beliefs about Henry VI: either he was a simpleton or he was mad – not a great choice really… and of course, neither charge is actually supported by the evidence.

Myth #1: Henry VI was a simpleton; he was just plain stupid.
Like most myths of history, this claim is so often repeated that it seems to be regarded by many as truth, despite the fact that there’s no real evidence of it at all.

Henry was not a fool. There is enough evidence, however, to suggest that he was naïve.

For example, he put far too much trust in several of the powerful and ambitious men around him at court – men like Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset. But let’s bear in mind that Henry spent the whole of his long royal minority surrounded by noble advisers. He had grown up accepting advice and the habit, for a young man who was not particularly assertive, was probably quite difficult to break.
Was Somerset, or his rival for influence at court, Richard, Duke of York, especially greedy or corrupt? No, not really by the standards of the time, but they did have their own personal agendas – along with every other nobleman, lord or gentleman in the land!

A strong-willed king, who understood such men, might have managed them rather better.
Henry was undoubtedly a poor manager of men.

Henry VI [courtesy of wikipedia]
Henry was more concerned with spiritual matters than political ones – but that doesn’t make him a fool. His piety and his concern for men’s souls is somehow easily dismissed in our very secular age, but such matters were very important to all in the later middle ages and certainly not a sign of folly.

Is it so hard to believe that Henry was simply a peace loving man in an age that valued more martial virtues? 

Their king was so different from his warlike father, Henry V, that his subjects felt undermined and confused by his approach. He wanted to bring to an end the long French wars with a peace agreement. In that respect, he was out of step with the majority of his subjects for whom a successful conclusion of the war meant a military victory. Jack Cade’s Rebellion in 1450 showed the anger and distrust stirred up by Henry’s government but the rebel targets were his councillors not the king himself.

Judge him by what he did: for example, Henry wrote a letter to the French king suggesting peace and offering him some English-held lands in France. That was certainly unwise since such lands were currently held by Henry’s own subjects. Giving them up was not likely to be popular. So he was naïve, but – and here’s why he was no fool – he kept the letter secret. 

Why? Because he understood how alarmed his leading subjects would be if they knew about his offer. If he understood that, then he had more about him than your average simpleton.

Naïve then maybe, but not an idiot.

Myth #2: Henry VI was 'mad'.

Now madness is a very general term and the public perception of madness is therefore quite broad and vague. Consequently, using the word at all is unhelpful in trying to describe or understand anyone.

So what basis is there for this claim? There’s no question that from 1453 – a year traumatic enough for the average king - Henry VI succumbed to bouts of mental illness. Schizophrenia has been suggested – amongst other diagnoses. The first of these rendered him incapable of speech or recognition of those around him.
This was not a ‘mad’ king flinging out commands such as “Off with his head!” or something! It was simply as if the throne was vacant.
This first occurrence was the most significant because no-one was prepared for it and it led to the emergence of the Duke of York as the de-facto political leader of the country. In 1453 York saw himself as rightly restored to a position of great influence. But even York’s closest supporters only ever saw him as a caretaker – whether for the ailing King Henry, or for his very young son, Edward, when he ultimately came of age.

When the King recovered his capacity in December 1454, York’s role as protector was once more unnecessary and his supremacy at court waned. This was not a result of 'madness' on the king’s part but further evidence of his inability to manage political factions. Thus it resulted in the victory of one faction – that of the Duke of Somerset – over another. 

In the turbulent years which followed, it suited the Yorkists to blacken Henry’s name by emphasising his incapacity to rule: either by promoting the idea of his stupidity or his madness. Either of these slurs might help to undermine public confidence.

Yet, even after the Yorkists had taken up arms against the king and seized the throne in 1461, most of the nobility still sided with Henry VI, their anointed king. A king who inspired such loyalty had clearly earned a great deal of support from many of those closest to him. If he had truly been an imbecile or a mad man, I cannot believe he would have retained such genuine goodwill.

Two key elements of Henry VI’s kingship were:
1.      he was unable to control his leading subjects
2.      he aspired to resolve problems by peaceful means.

These two factors combined to make him an ineffectual king but neither of these factors made him mad or stupid. It's high time we stopped perpetuating these myths.


Derek was born in Hampshire in England but spent his teenage years in Auckland, New Zealand, where he still has strong family ties.

For many years he taught history in a secondary school but took early retirement to concentrate on writing. Apart from his writing, he spends his time gardening, travelling, walking and taking part in archaeological digs at a Roman villa.

Derek is interested in a wide range of historical themes but his particular favourite is the late medieval period. He writes action-packed fiction which is rooted in accurate history.
His debut historical novel was Feud, which is set in the period of the Wars of the Roses. Feud is the first of a now complete four-book series, entitled Rebels & Brothers, which follows the fortunes of the fictional Elder family from 1459 to 1471.
A new series, The Craft of Kings, picks up the story of the Elders in 1481 in its first book, Scars From The Past. Later this year, the violent events of 1483 are played out in the sequel, The Blood of Princes.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Editors Weekly Round-up, August 20, 2017

by the EHFA Editors

by Mark Patton

by Jacqui Reiter
An Editor's Choice from the Archives

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Monday, August 14, 2017

Introducing that Amazing Man, William Pitt the Younger ~ Part II

by Jacqui Reiter

Please cast your minds back to 24 November 2013, when I introduced (or re-introduced) you to the Right Honourable William Pitt the Younger and began explaining to you why you should find him worth the trouble of studying. I have already discussed his youth, his intelligence and his humanity. Today I will bring my explanations to a close.

He defied expectations

Pitt was proverbial for his honesty. This was a time when most politicians were happy to cream off every last financial perk they could, and were indeed half expected to do so. Pitt infused the posts of First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer with a fresh sense of responsibility.

One of the first things he did on taking office was to turn down the lucrative sinecure of Clerk of the Pells. He later turned down the Garter as well. He did accept the Lord Wardenship of the Cinque Ports in 1792, but only after the King told him he'd take a refusal as a personal insult.[1]

This had a lot to do with Pitt's determination not to be anyone's plaything, even the King's. It's no accident that, when Pitt resigned in March 1801, he did so on an issue (extending the political freedoms of Catholics and other non-Anglicans) with which the King vehemently disagreed.

Pitt was no doctrinaire. He described himself early on as an 'independent Whig'[2] and showed a lifelong reluctance to commit himself to political absolutes (apart, of course, from the admiration for the Glorious Revolution and its religious and political settlement that was sine qua non for any ambitious 18th century politician).

He was an admirer of Adam Smith and formed many of his financial policies on a laissez-faire basis, but when things went wrong he was not afraid to depart from Smith's ideas. In 1800, for example, the harvest failed and Britain was on the brink of famine. Pitt outraged many of his more rigid followers by recommending the importation of grain from abroad to relieve the scarcity.

Politically he was creative enough. Many of his more famous ideas were lifted from others, but crucially Pitt made them work. You can blame him for the first Income Tax in 1798, which helped raise much-needed funds for the war with France despite being criticised as an unprecedented attack on personal property. The newest thing about it-- and I'm not sure this happened again until 1992-- was that the monarch was also taxed.

The forging of the United Kingdom and its new parliament after the union with Ireland in 1801 involved startling corruption but also significant administrative change. Less obvious was Pitt's review of the way government departments were run. These were made more accountable, stripped of excess staff and slim-lined in a way that laid the foundations for 19th century bureaucracy.

And of course Pitt was capable of breaking the rules in a literal sense. During a debate in Parliament in 1798 he accused a member of the opposition, George Tierney, of obstructing the defence of the country. Tierney challenged Pitt to a duel, and Pitt accepted. Thankfully both parties emerged unscathed. but it's just another of those unexpected little details that makes Pitt so interesting.

He is a mystery

For someone so famous there is much about Pitt that is simply not known, starting with his own opinions on major matters and working down from there. Like many politicians Pitt was cagey about taking a stand and was rarely categorical on the 'big issues' such as parliamentary reform, abolition of the slave trade, abolition of political restrictions based on religious beliefs, and so on. His political pronouncements were so woolly that, after his death, his heirs could trace arguments for and against all the above issues to him. 19th century Liberals and Conservatives both traced their ancestry to Pitt, and both were in some degree right to do so.

Part of the problem is the lack of primary evidence. Some of this is due to Pitt himself. He was a notoriously bad correspondent. His friends despaired of him. 'I called [at Downing Street] in hopes of seeing you, for you are so bad a correspondent that nothing can be made of you by Letter,' one wrote in 1796.[3] Pitt's own mother complained she had to hear about him from mutual friends.[4]

But there is more to it than Pitt's laziness. He certainly left a lot more behind him than now exists. One of his executors was his old friend and former Cambridge tutor George Pretyman-Tomline, Bishop of Lincoln, who later also wrote a (dreadful) biography of Pitt.

Pitt was barely cold in the grave before Tomline went through his papers and 'indulged in an orgy of devastation which ensured that nothing of the slightest personal significance ... remained to posterity'.[5] This is Reason Number 1, and there are more, why Tomline's portrait will always be at the centre of my dartboard.

Tomline was not alone; several of Pitt's friends, for example Henry Addington, Viscount Sidmouth, destroyed material in their possession as well. Quite why is hard to say as the material obviously no longer exists, but it means that much of Pitt's private life and public opinions have to be guessed at from the little that remains.

It's really, really annoying for historians, but a perfect boon for novelists. I am surprised so few novelists have taken up the challenge of filling in the blanks. (No, I'm not the first, and I hope I won't be the last either!)

He is relevant

A historical character can be interesting, but in my opinion they only become important historically when what they achieved resonates across the centuries. Pitt, I think, definitely qualifies.

If you will pardon the cliché, Pitt lived in turbulent times. He entered Parliament at the end of the war with revolutionary America, when only a quarter of a million adult males had the vote and the movement for Parliamentary Reform was in full swing. He was later prime minister when reform returned to the fore of the agenda in the shadow of the French Revolution.

Pitt initially supported reform. He introduced three private reform bills in the early 1780s, one as prime minister. All failed. By the time the French Revolution broke out he'd changed his mind and argued that wartime was not the opportunity for reform. He had never been anything but a cautious reformer and clamped down hard on radicalism. For this reason he is mostly remembered as an enemy of the reform movement.

His quashing of popular reform movements in the 1790s in particular earned him a fearsome reputation in some 20th century historiographical circles. Some historians still talk about 'Pitt's Terror', and a book was recently published drawing parallels between Pitt's anti-reform measures and post-9/11 American and British intrusions into personal privacy.[6]

This does not make him any the less influential. The fact that his political acts in the 1790s still resonate today suggests the opposite. And in any case Pitt made a more lasting mark in other areas. He was the friend of William Wilberforce, and helped him galvanise the movement for abolishing the slave trade.

Abolition was not achieved until after Pitt's death, and for a variety of reasons he was not able to make it an official government measure. It was he, however, who first suggested Wilberforce take up the cause in Parliament, and it was Pitt himself who first moved it on Wilberforce's behalf. He continued to support it throughout his life.

Others of Pitt's measures were of great practical importance. For better or for worse, the Act of Union with Ireland in 1801-- passed by Pitt's government-- changed the political complexion of the British Isles completely. We are still (... just about!) the United Kingdom today, so it's safe to say Pitt's policy-making had a lasting impact.

I have no intention of going into the political complexities of the above-mentioned issues here. Reams have been written on the subject. What I want to say is that Pitt was a leading figure in a time of profound change and his actions mattered. He will always be interesting. Like him or not, I trust you will at least concede his importance.

And finally...So there you have it: six reasons why Pitt the Younger is worth your time of day. I hope that my enthusiasm has been catchy, and that any of you who began reading these entries with questions about who Pitt was, or why he is interesting, have now had those questions answered.

I hope, too, that I have whetted your appetite for more. Should you choose to expand your knowledge I would advise you to consult any or all of the following:

John Derry, William Pitt (B.T. Batsford, 1962)
Michael Duffy, Pitt the Younger (Longmans, 2000)
John Ehrman, The Younger Pitt, 3 vols (Constable, 1969-96)
William Hague, William Pitt, the Younger (Harper Collins, 2004)
Robin Reilly, Pitt the Younger (Cassell, 1978)
J. H. Rose, William Pitt and National Revival and William Pitt and the Great War
Lord RoseberyPitt (1891) 
Earl StanhopeLife of William Pitt, 4 vols (J. Murray, 1861-2) 
Michael J. Turner, Pitt the Younger: A Life (Hambledon and London, 2003) 

[1] Stanhope II, Appendix xv-xvi
[2] Ehrman I, 58
[3] Lord Mulgrave to Pitt, 14 May 1796, Cambridge University Library Pitt MSS f 1961
[4] Holland Rose,
[5] Robin Reilly, Pitt the Younger
[6] Kenneth R. Johnson, Unusual Suspects: Pitt's reign of alarm and the lost generation of the 1790s (OUP 2013)

An EHFA Editor's Choice, originally published December 11, 2013.

Jacqueline Reiter has a PhD in late 18th century political history from the University of Cambridge. A professional librarian, she lives in Cambridge with her husband and two children. She blogs at and you can follow her on Facebook ( or Twitter ( Her first book, The Late Lord: the Life of John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham, was published by Pen & Sword Books in January 2017.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Editors Weekly Round-up, August 13, 2017

by the EHFA Editors

Enjoy this week's articles from the blog.

by Mimi Matthews

by Lauren Gilbert
(Editor's Choice from the Archives)

by Maria Grace

by Susan Appleyard

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Organised Crime in the 14th Century

By Susan Appleyard

When a propertied man died, he usually left the whole kit and kaboodle to his eldest son. Sir John Folville was a respected member of the gentry who had seven sons. The eldest, also Sir John, inherited the property and took little part in his brothers’ nefarious activities. The younger ones had to fend for themselves. There were options, a career in the church being the most popular and one of the brothers, the unlucky Richard, became a member of the clergy. A man who knew how to use a sword – and most of them did – could hire it out; there was always a war going on somewhere in Europe. Another option was outlawry. Like many others of good birth, that was the route to infamy and riches chosen by Eustace Folville and his five brothers.

The church at Teigh were Richard Folville was murdered
The gang’s organisation was not dissimilar to any other business. There was a hierarchy headed by the top man, Eustace, division of labour, recruitment program, maintainers, and laws. Some of the brothers held public office. Richard was the rector of Teigh and the only one to suffer for the gang’s crimes. A local justice of the peace and his officers entered the church, dragged him into the churchyard and beheaded him. Pope Clement ordered the guilty parties to do penance for killing a priest, which involved a whipping at the major churches in the area.

The Folville cross marks the place where
Roger Bellers was murdered
When they were not committing crimes on their own behalf the Folvilles were often hired by other men of rank to commit robbery, extortion and murder. They appear to have been hired by members of Sempringham Priory and Haverholm Abbey. One of their most notable crimes was the murder of the corrupt Roger Bellers, a Baron of the Exchequer, who was said to be a henchman of the infamous Hugh Despenser. Arrest warrants were issued naming, among others, four of the brothers.

Some of the fugitives, including Eustace, fled to France where they joined Queen Isabella and Sir Roger Mortimer. When the Queen led an invasion to rid the kingdom of Hugh Despenser, it’s likely the Folvilles returned with her.

The return of Isabella to England
King Edward II issued a general pardon to all who would fight for him, with the sole exceptions of Mortimer and the Folville gang. The invasion was an overwhelming success. Despenser and his father were executed and the King fell into the hands of his wife.  The Folvilles were pardoned by the new regime.

Within a few years of their return, they were up to their old tricks and indictments were issued against them. They did not appear in court to answer the charges but made off to Derbyshire where they rode openly with the Cotterel brothers.

Such reprobates were bound to come to a bad end. Right? Well, no. To start with, they really weren’t all that bad. The ones they killed were considered worse than their killers, so the common people regarded them with approval and would not bear witness against them in court, nor help the authorities to apprehend them. Eustace was seen as a hero, an enforcer of God’s law against corrupt government officials, a kind of Robin Hood.

And no, they did not come to a bad end. None of them (excluding the unlucky Richard) ever stood trial for their crimes. They were given a pardon by King Edward III in return for military service. Eustace Folville was knighted for exemplary service. He served on commissions and one of his brothers became a member of Parliament. At the end of his life, Eustace was a member of the Abbott of Croyland’s Council. A very upright citizen.

Like the Folvilles, the outlaw Cotterel gang held responsible posts at both shire and national levels, as well as attracting influential supporters. James Cotterel managed to obtain the wardship of a rich widow. Nicholas Cotterel was the bailiff of Philippa, Edward III’s queen. A notable supporter of the gang was none other than the Sheriff of Nottingham, Sir Robert Ingram. High born gentry often hired the gang to do their dirty work.

They ignored summonses to court and rampaged through the Royal Forest of the Peak. Gradually, however, Crown officers caught members of the gang until the brothers were reduced to wandering through the forest with about 20 followers. Neither of them stood trial. Nicholas was selected to lead 60 men to fight in Scotland, but he absconded with their pay and was never seen again. James, who had some kind of association with Lincoln Cathedral became a Crown administrator!

And they say crime doesn’t pay!

It’s interesting to note that these gangs and others, were most active during the latter part of the reign of Edward II, a time of unrest when the king was hugely unpopular, his greedy and unscrupulous favourite Hugh Despenser virtually ruling the country and universally hated, and fighting between barons and King was rampant. There was little justice to be had at such times and the poor people suffered.

Why did they, and other gangs, manage to stay at large for so long – and in some cases, for the rest of their life – when they were well-known offenders. Why were such reprobates given pardons, even though they were credited with five murders? One of the reasons is that they undoubtedly had far-reaching influence. There is a suggestion that the Folvilles were supporters of Roger Mortimer and benefited from his protection.

It wasn’t only a few of the mighty who protected them. Justices of the Peace and other law enforcement officers were dependent on local information and assistance in their operations. Given the powerful hold which the Folvilles held on Leicestershire, and the Cotterels in Derbyshire, it’s not surprising that many people wouldn’t inform on them for fear of retribution. But there was more to it than that.

The Folvilles are mentioned by William Langland in Piers Plowman, written at least forty years later and containing the first allusion to Robin Hood.

‘..and fechen it for false men
 with Folvyles law…’

‘and fix it for false men
with Folvilles law…’

The Folvilles may have been the basis for the Robin Hood legend. They certainly won the approval of the commons. The murder of Bellers, for instance, would have been cheered because he was corrupt and oppressed the poor. In many complaints against the outlaws are suggestions that they were aided and abetted by the local people. They may well have lined their own pockets and perhaps committed crimes of retribution, but it seems they also dispensed vigilante justice.

In a time of lawlessness and mayhem, it was perhaps the only form of justice the common people were able to obtain.


Susan Appleyard is the author of :

Queen of Trial and Sorrow,  This Sun of York, The Remorseless Queen, The First Plantagenet, In a Gilded Cage, Dark Spirit, and The Forsaken Queen, which is available for pre-order now.

Find her on her Amazon author page
On her Blog
On Twitter
and on Goodreads