Monday, December 30, 2019

Happy New Year from EHFA

From your Editorial Team: Cryssa Bazos, Charlene Newcomb and Annie Whitehead

We're taking a short break until after New Year but we very much look forward to sharing lots more articles with you in 2020, covering all aspects of British History.

We'd like to take this opportunity to wish our readers a Very Happy New Year!

Friday, December 27, 2019

Mary Edwards, An Independent Woman

By Lauren Gilbert

Portrait of Mary Edwards by William Hogarth
Mary Edwards (or Edwardes) has already been mentioned on the EHFA blog in connection with the arts and Hogarth. She was a fascinating and strong-minded woman, not afraid to make decisions or to take her life into her own hands.

Mary was born c 1704 or 1705, daughter of Francis Edwards of Welham Grove, Leicestershire, and his wife Anna Margaretta Vernatti, who was a wealthy Dutch woman. She may have been baptised May 25 1705 at Saint Anne Soho, Westminster, London. A great heiress, Mary succeeded to the estate of her father upon his death 1728-1729. Her estates included properties in the counties of Essex, Hertford, Kent, Leicester, Middlesex and Northampton, in the city of London, and in Ireland. She had an annual income between 50,000-60,000 pounds. All were at her disposal. Data indicates she preferred being in London rather than her estate at Welham.

Mary was of age and in control of her own fortune. Mary met Lord Anne Douglas Hamilton (who was the 3rd son of the James Hamilton, 4th Duke of Hamilton, and was born Oct 12, 1709) about 1730. He was the godson of Queen Anne, and named for her. He was younger than Mary by four to five years. Accounts indicate she fell in love with him. They may have been married sometime around 1730-1731, possibly in Fleet, but the location is unclear. Their marriage appears to have been a hasty marriage, as no one’s approval was required. A certificate may exist but has not been found.

Circumstantial evidence supports that there was a marriage in 1731 or earlier: on July 8, 1731, Mary granted property to Lord Anne in Leicester and on Aug 15 1733, her arms and crest were granted to Lord Anne; he added Edwards to his name as shown on bank stock September 11, 1733 in the name of Lord Anne Edwards Hamilton; she called herself Lady Hamilton Edwards.

Mary and Lord Ann had a son, born circa 1732-1733. There are indications that the child’s birth date may have been March 4, 1733 (old calendar). (A bill, Edwards v Mitford, filed in 1743 shows Gerard Ann Edwards as the surviving son of Mary Edwards and his age as 10, which supports a 1733 birth date.) Lord Ann’s possible marriage to Mary and their son appear in Anne Hamilton’s listing in The Peerage, as well as in the Scots Peerage, which implies that the question of the marriage’s validity has been a topic of discussion.

A patron of the arts, Mary’s name is linked to that of William Hogarth, and she was one of his most loyal patrons, encouraging his satirical works. She was also a subject for him. Coincidentally, some of his works appear to support the marriage:

A portrait of Anne Edwards Hamilton was painted in the uniform of the Second Regiment of the Guards c 1731 has been attributed to William Hogarth; Hogarth painted a portrait of her son Gerard Anne Edwards Hamilton c 1732 and the entire family (The Edwards Hamilton Family) c 1733.

The marriage disintegrated between 1733 and 1734. Available data indicates that Lord Anne was an avaricious spendthrift, and Mary was concerned about preserving her fortune and her child’s inheritance. Long before the Married Women’s Property Acts, Mary had no real recourse in law as Lord Anne’s wife to prevent him from draining her funds. So she took an unusual and drastic step and repudiated the marriage.

The process appears to have begun when she had their son christened as Gerard Anne Edwards on March 28, 1733 St. Mary Abbots Church, and showed herself in the record as a single lady. There was no marriage contract, and she allegedly bribed the officials at the Fleet to delete all references to their marriage from the Fleet registers. There is an indication that a final separation was established in a deed dated in May of 1734. The Leicestershire Archives show several documents from June of 1734 filed as Hamilton v Edwards, showing Mary Edwards as “spinster” that involve the support of Gerard Anne Edwards. She subsequently referred to herself as Mary Edwards, spinster. This process had the side of effect of rendering her son illegitimate legally. Mary never remarried.

Lord Ann was married (or married again, as one prefers) in Oct 1742 to Anna Charlotte Maria Powell, an heiress, in Bath. (This was before Mary’s death in 1743.) They had two sons. If, in fact, he and Mary were legally married, this marriage would have presumably been bigamous, which would have had serious ramifications for inheritance. The matter has not arisen as no primary evidence has surfaced, and efforts to document such evidence apparently have not been successful.

Mary made her will on April 13, 1742, leaving her entire estate to her son, and she died at approximately age 38 on Aug 23, 1743. There is an indication that her death may have been precipitated by her consumption of gin. A commemorative panel appears on family tomb in the Church of St Andrew Welham.

Mary’s mother Anna Margaretta survived her. Data shows her death occurring in 1765. Leicestershire Archives holds a copy of Anna’s will, proved April 15, 1765, leaving her estate to Gerard Ann Edwards (son of Mary Edwards, decd.).

Gerard Ann Edwards was married to Jane Noel, daughter of Baptist Noel, 4th Earl of Gainsborough on October 8, 1754. He died October 29, 1773. His only son, Gerard Noel Edwards, succeeded to the estate of his uncle Henry, 6th Earl of Gainsborough, and assumed by royal license the name and arms of Noel May 5, 1798.

Sources include:
Curzon, Catherine. (2015, June 13). “A Beloved Patron: Hogarth and Miss Mary Edwards,” on English Historical Fiction Authors.

Tscherny, N. “An Un-Married Woman, Mary Edwards, William Hogarth and A Case of Eighteenth Century British Patronage”, in WOMEN AND ART IN EARLY EARLY MODERN EUROPE: Patrons, Collectors and Connoisseurs edited by Cynthia Lawrence. University Park, PA : Pennsylvania State University Press, c1997.

Paul, Sir James Balfour, ed. THE SCOTS PEERAGE Founded on Wood’s Edition of Sir Robert Douglas’s PEERAGE OF SCOTLAND. Vol. 4. Edinburgh: David Douglas, 1907. [on Mary Edwards.]

Googlebooks. Maclehouse, James, ed. THE SCOTTISH HISTORICAL REVIEW. Vol. 5. Glasgow: James Maclehose and Sons, 1908. [on Lord Anne Hamilton.]

The Peerage. “Lord Anne Hamilton,” last edited 15 June 2014; “Gerard Anne Edwards,” last edited 6 December 2009; “Mary Edwardes,” last edited 29 June 2008.

British History Online. “Welham” by J. M. Lee and R. M. McKinley in A HISTORY OF THE COUNTY OF LEICESTERSHIRE: Volume 5, Gartree Hundred. PP. 330-336. London: Victoria County History, 1964.

Kensington Parish News, Spring 2014. St. Mary Abbots Church. “Inspiring Women” by Jane McAllen (The article refers to Mary Edwards, and shows the date of baptism of Gerard Anne Edwards on 28th March 1733.)

Illustration: Portrait of Mary Edwards by William Hogarth [Public domain].


Lauren Gilbert was introduced to English authors early in life.  Lauren has a Bachelor of Arts degree in liberal arts English with a minor in Art History.  A long time member of JASNA, she has presented several programs. She lives in Florida with her husband.  Her first book, HEYERWOOD A Novel, is available.  A RATIONAL ATTACHMENT, her second novel is in production and will be available soon.  A long-time contributor to this blog, her work is included in both volumes of CASTLES, CUSTOMS AND KINGS: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors. She is also researching material for a non-fiction work.  For more information, visit her on Facebook  and on Amazon.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Christmas at EHFA

From the Editorial Team: Cryssa Bazos, Charlene Newcomb and Annie Whitehead

Thanks to all our readers for the wonderful comments and feedback over the past twelve months.

We are taking a short break over the festive period, but please do join us here on Friday 27th December for a new post from our regular contributor Lauren Gilbert.

Wishing you all a very Happy Christmas and don't forget there are plenty of posts for you to read if you have a quiet moment over the holiday period.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

An Emperor's Christmas at Eltham in 1400

by Mark Patton

The south London suburb of Eltham today seems an improbable location for a Medieval Christmas celebration involving kings and emperors, but the area was, in the Fifteenth Century, in open countryside, just a day's ride from London, but sufficiently distant from the polluted Thames and from the frequently plague-ridden capital, for a King of England to entertain his guests in style and to enjoy, with them, the favoured pastimes of the time and season, notably hunting and jousting.

Eltham Palace: the Medieval great hall is on the right; the buildings on the left
were added in the 1930s, as the private home of Stephen and Virginia Courtauld.
Photo: Nick Blackburn (licensed under CCA).

Over the Christmas season of 1400-1401, the King in question was Henry IV, and his guests included the Byzantine Emperor, Manuel II Palaeologus. We refer today to the "Byzantine Empire," but nobody who lived in it ever thought of it as anything other than the "Roman Empire." Although his capital was Constantinople, not Rome, and his people spoke Greek, rather than Latin, Manuel regarded himself as the heir to the empires of Augustus and of Hadrian: and of Constantine, who had made the empire Christian and moved the capital eastward to a new city named after himself.

King Henry IV, UK National Archives DL 42/1
(image is in the Public Domain).

Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus,
Bibliotheque Nationale de France
(image is in the Public Domain).

Roman or Byzantine, however, the Empire, in 1400, was crumbling. The schism that had opened up in 1054, between the Eastern Orthodox and Western Catholic Churches, had never been repaired: and in 1204, the forces of the Fourth Crusade, in open defiance of the Pope, had sacked and pillaged Constantinople, dividing much of Byzantine territory up between Catholic French, German and Italian nobles. Now the Empire faced a new threat from the Muslim Ottoman Empire, which had more or less encircled Constantinople, cutting it off from its agricultural hinterland.

The Hippodrome of Constantinople, here shown on a 17th Century print,
was destroyed by the forces of the Fourth Crusade and never restored
(image is in the Public Domain).
The chariot races held here were among the city's last
tangible connections to the Rome of the Caesars.

The Mediterranean World in 1400 (image is in the Public Domain).

Manuel's journey to the west, far from being just a friendly visit, was a life-or-death diplomatic mission to secure the military and financial support that might enable his Empire to survive. One can hardly fail to admire his efforts, but the harsh truth is that it was probably already too late to save the Empire, which would ultimately fall to the Ottomans in 1453.

As a young man, Manuel had been a hostage of the Ottoman Sultan, Bayezid I at Bursa, and had escaped to Constantinople, where he was proclaimed Emperor. Bayezid besieged Constantinople from 1394 to 1402, and it was during a lull in the fighting that Manuel and his family had slipped away from the city to seek support overseas. Leaving his capital under the regency of a nephew, and his wife and children under the protection of his brother in Greece, Manuel traveled to Venice, and on to Padua, Milan, and Paris, where he met the French King, Charles VI.

The meeting of the magi, from Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry,
Musee Conde (image is in the Public Domain).
The figure on the white horse is believed by some to be styled on Manuel.
Clearly a fine horseman, the fifty year old emperor impressed the Parisian crowd
by leaping from one horse to another without touching the ground. 

His Christmas sojourn in England may, in fact, have been an accident, prompted by a recurrence of the mental illness that had dogged Charles throughout much of his reign. Henry IV, however, was a natural ally. He was more widely traveled than many English monarchs, having participated with the Teutonic Knights, in a "Crusade" against the supposedly Pagan Lithuanians, and having made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where he had promised to return as a Christian liberator.

Henry met the Emperor at Blackheath, and conducted him, with his forty retainers, to Eltham Palace. Manuel spoke no English, which was unsurprising, but he equally spoke no Latin (the universal language of diplomacy and scholarship in the Catholic west). His entourage must have included men who could translate between Latin and Greek, whilst Henry's court would have included many who could translate from Latin to English. Conversation cannot have been easy; already, from Paris, Manuel had complained in a letter to a Greek friend, that "the difference in language ... did not allow us to converse, as we had wished, with really good men who were extremely anxious to show us favour."

Hunting in December, from Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry,
Musee Conde (image is in the Public Domain).

The Medieval hall of Eltham Palace (extensively remodeled by Edward IV).
Photo: David Hatch (licensed under CCA). 

Manuel had brought with him Christmas gifts of religious relics: fragments of the True Cross and of garments believed to have been worn by Christ and the Virgin Mary. There was much hunting and feasting, and some of the people of London traveled down to Eltham to entertain the royal party with carols and mumming. Ultimately, however, Manuel returned to Constantinople empty-handed. Neither his English nor his French allies were able to offer any meaningful assistance, their own armies and treasuries seriously depleted by decades of war and plague.

Mark Patton is a published author of historical fiction and non-fiction, whose books can be purchased from Amazon.

[This post is an Editor's Choice article and was originally published on the blog on 16th December 2017]

Monday, December 16, 2019

Party clothes in the 17th Century

by Deborah Swift

I wondered if my 17th century equivalent would open her closet and sigh the way I did, when someone invited me to a party and I couldn't decide what to wear. So just what would the fashionable woman about town be wearing in the 17th century?

On the left you can see the 17th century equivalent of the "little black dress" in this painting by Verceulen. Invisible in this picture is the fact that at the beginning of the 17th century women wore farthingales and whalebone corsetry beneath their clothes to emphasise a small waist and large hips. So she is probably not as comfortable as she looks. The large amount of gorgeous lace would be hand-made as Elizabethan ruffs gave way to expensive lace collars. Fancy embellished petticoats were now revealed as skirts were hooped back to display them. Perhaps she has one on, just out of view! After the restoration of the monarchy women’s clothes were elegant and colourful and made from costly fabrics such as satin and silk.

But what accessories might you choose on your night out - perhaps dining with a courtier, or attending a concert?

Well one of the oddest 17th century accessories was the mask or "vizard". These were commonly worn by women to protect their skin from the sun when they went outside, particularly for horse-riding or on carriage journeys. Women also wore masks to maintain their mystery as well as to keep their identity secret, although not many masks survive, and those that do are in poor condition.

Here is a real surviving example - this vizard was found during the renovation of an inner wall of a 16th-century stone building. The nose area is strengthened to stand out and form a case around the wearer's nose. The outer fabric is black velvet, the lining of silk, and inside it is strengthened by a pressed-paper inner. A black glass bead attached by a string to the mask was used to hold the mask in place - the wearer would hold the bead tightly in her mouth. This of course made speaking impossible, so I don't think I would have worn mine for long!

An exerpt from Phillip Stubbes Anatomie of Abuses, published in 1583:

"When they use to ride abrod, they have invisories, or masks, visors made of velvet, wherwith they cover all their faces, having holes made in them against their eyes, whereout they look. So that if a man, that knew not their guise before, should chaunce to meet one of them, he would think hee met a monster or a devil; for face hee can see none, but two brode holes against her eyes with glasses in them".

So now you have your dress and your vizard, what else might you need? Well, fans made from silk and decorated paper were widely used by wealthy people during the 17th century and the most essential accessory for women during the Stuart period. And without being able to speak you would definitely need the 'language of the fan'.
The example I show is from the Fitzwilliam Museum.

But I feel we are lacking a bit of glitz and glamour, don't you? So how about embroidered petticoats and a bit of twinkling jewellery?
There was a passion in this period for floral fabrics and jewellery, so it was likely you would put on your earrings by looking in a mirror with an engraved or enamelled back, decorated with floral motifs like the one on the left. You might be tempted to have your dressmaker make a gown, or under-dress, from flower-inspired fabric like the example below made in India for export to the English market.

Cosse-de-pois (pea pod) shapes and later flowers became very popular and many designs in this fashion were produced. Exotic flowers were immensely popular and botany became a study in its own right. In The Lady's Slipper, my main character Alice Ibbetson is a botanist and artist. Like many ladies of this era she was fascinated by new varieties of flowers.

The intensification of the trade with the near East had brought flowers and bulbs to Europe which had never been seen before, and a true craze for flowers suddenly sprang up. The Tulipomania of 1634 is a well-documented example. Flora had been fashionable in embroidery since the end of the 16th century but was now adopted by jewellery designers as well. From the 1650's on engraving in metal was another, and later preferred, way of depicting flowers.

Other popular jewellery designs were the three droplets, or ‘girandoles’, called this as they resembled the lit branches of a candlestick. Examples of these gorgeous 17th century designs for earings and pendants are from and

If you were going to go outside then the latest fashion was for Venetian "chopines" - a type of sandal or stilt designed to keep your shoes protected from the filth and dirt of the city streets, and for short ladies, to add a little height.

Constructed from carved wood and silks, they must have been as uncomfortable to wear as modern platform soles, but twice as difficult to keep on. Chopines apparently caused an unstable and inelegant gait. Women wearing them were generally accompanied by a servant or attendant on whom they could balance themselves, and even to put them on was a little like climbing onto stilts, so they were usually put on with the help of two servants.Some chopines could be as high as 50 cm, and their height became symbolic of the status of the wearer.

So now, in whalebone re-inforced black dress, gripping my vizard between my teeth, ears heavy with floral gems, I shall totter on my chopines to my sedan. Have a great Christmas party time, everyone!

This article is an Editor's Choice and was originally published December 12, 2011.


Deborah Swift is the author of eight historical novels as well as the Highway Trilogy for teens (and anyone young at heart!). So far, her books have been set in the 17th Century or in WW2, but she is fascinated by all periods of the past and her new novel will be set in the Renaissance. Deborah lives on the edge of the beautiful and literary English Lake District – a place made famous by the poets Wordsworth and Coleridge.

For more information of Deborah's published work, visit her Author Page

Friday, December 13, 2019

Dunnottar Castle - Majestic Ruin with Tales to Tell

By Annie Whitehead

Dunnottar Castle: if you’ve never visited, chances are you’ll still recognise it. It’s a ruin now, perched on a headland just south of Stonehaven, in the northeast of Scotland. What remains visible dates to mainly the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, but there is evidence of habitation from a much earlier period.

There are two references to it in the Annals of Ulster, under the entries for 680 and 693, where it is named as Dùn Fhoithear, which means ‘fort on the shelving slope.’ The antiquarian, William Skene, commenting on Fordun’s Scotichronicon, called it Dunnottar in the Mearns, ‘Mearns’ being the old term for Kincardineshire.

It is said that Saint Ninnian, born around 360AD and known for his missionary work among the Picts, built a chapel at Dunnottar.

A dig carried out by the nearby University of Aberdeen found evidence of Pictish occupation on the sea stack of Dunnicaer to the north of the castle. It was, apparently, the oldest Pictish fort to have been found. It seems that the site remained in continuous use for some centuries.

No finds or structures earlier than the late twelfth century were discovered under the castle ruins, but the archaeologists knew from research that the site was one of the centres for trade bringing glass and pottery from Gaul into Britain and Ireland in the seventh and eighth centuries. Examining the symbols carved on the group of five Class 1 Pictish stones on the sea stack known as Dinnacair or Dunnicaer, they concluded that St Ninian’s missionary church was on Dunnottar Rock and that Dunnicaer might have been a ‘disert’, or place of retreat from Ninian’s missionary station.

In the seventh century Dunnottar came under attack from King Bridei III, king of the Picts from 672 until his death in 693. He launched his assault on Dunnottar in 680/1, before turning his attention to the Orcadian kingdom where, according to the Annals of Ulster, he ‘destroyed’ the Orkney Islands. Bridei was quite some warrior, fighting and defeating Ecgfrith of Northumbria at the battle of Nechtanesmere in 685.

Pictish Stone generally accepted to depict the
battle of Nechtanesmere - public domain image

In the late ninth century, Domnall mac Causantín, better known perhaps as Donald II of Scotland, had the misfortune to be ruler at a time of Danish raids in the area. According to the Chronicles of the Kings of Alba, Donald ruled between 889–900 and 'The Northmen wasted Pictland at this time. In his reign a battle occurred between Danes and Scots at Innisibsolian where the Scots had victory. He was killed at [Dunnottar].' The castle was then apparently destroyed. With his back literally to the sea, the fight must have been intense, and desperate. Looking out over the water, on a cloudy autumn day, I couldn’t help but think that it was a rather desolate end for him.

In 934, according to the chronicler Simeon of Durham, ‘King Athelstan, going towards Scotland with a great army ... subdued his enemies, [and] laid waste Scotland as far as Dunnottar and Wertermorum (unidentified). For context, it takes around six hours to drive in a modern car along mainly dual-carriageways and motorways from the current England/Scotland border to Dunnottar, and at least as long in the other direction to get to ‘Wessex’. Athelstan was a long, long, way from home. Sometimes we are grateful to have more than one source, for the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle entry (Ms C) for the same year tells us only that ‘King Athelstan went into Scotland with both a land force and a naval force, and ravaged much of it.'

In 1276 a new church was built on the site of St Ninian’s chapel, erected in stone in the Norman style and consecrated by William Wishart, who was the bishop of St Andrews until his death in 1279

Dunnottar was to see more action when in 1297 a force led by none other than William Wallace captured the castle. It is said that the English soldiers garrisoned there took refuge in the church and that Wallace burned the church with the soldiers inside it, but I have read sources which state that this might not be true.

Things seem to have calmed down a little in the fourteenth century when the Keith family took up residence. However, this was not a time of peace in Scotland. In 1314 Sir Robert Keith was in command of the Keith cavalry at the battle of Bannockburn.

His descendant, Sir William Keith oversaw the building of the keep, which has survived to the present day.

The Keep

The family remained in the ascendant and Sir William was appointed first Earl Marischal of Scotland by King James II in 1458. Mary Queen of Scots visited Dunnottar on more than one occasion, bringing with her, in 1562, her son, the future James VI of Scotland (and subsequently I of England). In 1580 he visited by himself and apparently stayed for several days’ hunting on the Keith family estates.

Towards the end of the sixteenth century, the fifth Earl Marischal, George, built on the site and founded Marischal College in nearby Aberdeen.

But the family fortunes were to take a downturn.

It’s strange to think of the English Civil War having an impact on this remote part of the world, but it did, for the people of Scotland were caught up in the wrangle too. In 1645, James Graham, earl of Montrose, (who’d been appointed Lord Lieutenant of Scotland) marched his army to Dunnottar and requested a treaty with the Earl Marischal, who declined to respond. Montrose set fire to nearby homes, farms and boats in the harbour below.

Nor was Dunnottar safe from Parliamentarian forces, for Cromwell’s army also besieged it in 1650 for a long and trying eight months. The castle surrendered, but the Honours of Scotland, which were in effect the Scottish Crown Jewels, had been smuggled out of the castle to Kinneff Church nearby.

1715 saw the first of the Jacobite risings and the incumbent of the castle at this point, George Keith, the tenth (and last) Earl Marischal, was convicted of treason for taking part in the doomed rebellion. Dunnottar, among his other holdings, was forfeited to the government. Two years later, it was sold to the York Mining Company and was stripped of all valuable materials. The floors and ceilings were taken and all the furniture was removed. After that, it was inevitable that the castle would fall to ruin.

What the visitor sees today is somewhat of a romantic ruin. It must have looked much more impressive in its heyday but as it stands, it sparks the imagination. Indeed, lovers of folklore will be pleased to know that Dunnottar features in the story of Fergus.**

The young man, Fergus, encounters the young lady Galiene whose uncle is the castellan of Liddel Castle (in Roxburghshire). She falls in love with him, but he says he will only return to her once he has completed his quest to vanquish the Black Knight. He does so, but when he returns to claim Galiene he discovers that she is not there. He searches for a year, eventually encountering a dwarf who tells him that his lost love will only come back to him if he takes a shield from a witch at Dunnottar. He travels all the way to Scotland, reaches Dunnottar, slays the witch and returns via Lothian, where he finds that Galiene is now Queen of Lothian, under siege from the neighbouring king of Roxburgh. Fergus then has to fight the avenging husband of the witch he killed at Dunnottar. The story goes on, although the rest is not linked to Dunnottar.

On the overcast, windy day when I visited, it was certainly easy to see how this place inspired such legends. But perhaps it's harder to believe, looking at it in its present state, how many true stories it holds.


** The Roman de Fergus - a 13th-century Arthurian romance written in Old French


Annie Whitehead is an author and historian, and a member of the Royal Historical Society. She has written three award-winning novels set in Anglo-Saxon Mercia, including To Be A Queen, the story of the life of Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians. Her history of Mercia, from Penda the pagan king to the last brave stand of the earl of Mercia against the Conqueror, Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom, is published by Amberley. Her new book, about Anglo-Saxon Women, will be published by Pen & Sword in 2020.

Connect with Annie: Website  Blog  Facebook  Twitter 

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Women's Rights and the Battle for Identity

The husband and wife are one person in law: that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during her marriage, or at least is incorporated or consolidated into that of her husband, under whose wing, protection and cover, she performs everything. - Sir William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England 1765-1769

At the time of Blackwell's statement, a woman, having married, gave up control of any income she had earned from wages, or property, real or personal. Everything was his. True, he could not sell her real property without her permission, but any income made from it belonged to him, any contracts made against it, must be made by him. Of course there were legal ways to preserve a woman's property for her own use, but these did little more than remove it from her hands into that of a trustee. She still could not use the money or gain by it during the course of her married life, but it would be preserved for the security of her children, or for her use upon the death of her husband.

Not only did a woman forfeit her right to personal property, but she gave up her legal rights as well. She could not file a lawsuit, enter into any legal arrangements, or write a will or sign a contract. Legally speaking, she had no identity. She was an extension of her husband and nothing more. If one were fortunate enough to marry a good man with a democratic mind and an eye toward fairness, this was possibly just as well. Unity has been the preserving virtue of many a home and nation. It was, after all, the case for many. It was hardly the case for all.

Consider the example of Caroline Sheridan, who, in 1827 married George Norton. It was, from the start, a bit of a mismatch. He was 26, socially awkward, not very intelligent, and he had little money. Caroline, at 19, was a social star, beautiful, witty, and rich. This he seemed to have resented, though no doubt her wealth was a chief factor in his desire to marry her in the first place. George was also possessed of a violent temper which was easily exacerbated by drink. They were not very happy and separated many times, but their three children always brought them back together.

Until 1836, when, while Caroline was visiting her sister, George removed the children and barred her from the house, refusing to allow her any access to her children. As children were the property of the husband, this was his right, and she had little recourse. The income she made as a successful writer was also his, and this, too, he laid claim to. At the time of this last separation, he demanded she live with her brother, upon whom she was to depend for support. She was also to relinquish all claims to her children, including her right to see them. If she did not agree to the terms, he threatened to sue Lord Melbourne on the grounds of adultery. Of course she did not agree, and George went ahead with his suit.

Because Caroline had no legal identity of her own, George could not sue her. And that was likely not his aim, as Caroline had nothing to give him he did not already have. But because Caroline was his property, he could sue Lord Melbourne for damages, as any compromising relationship between them would devalue her as his wife. He could therefore recover his losses in a pecuniary manner. Perhaps this was him aim, after all. Whether she and Lord Melbourne had an affair is unclear, though they did indeed maintain a close friendship throughout their lives.

The suit, however, was a failure. There was no proof. The jury made the decision without ever leaving the box. George, having lost his claim, consequently had no chance of divorcing her, as a successful damages suit was a prerequisite for divorce. Despite his loss, and Caroline's supposed victory, her reputation was tarnished. There was no going back to George now. But what to do about her children?

She turned to Thomas Talfourd, a serjeant-at-law and a member of Parliament, and persuaded him to introduce a bill granting mothers the custody of children under seven. The result was the Custody of Infants Act of 1839, which also granted a mother access to children under 16. A passing of a law, however, does not ensure its being observed. George still refused to let her see her children. Until tragedy struck, when the youngest of her sons was seriously injured in a riding accident. George agreed to let her see him, but he died before she could get to him. George thereafter relented, and allowed her access to her remaining boys.

In 1848, George was again in need of money. Caroline allowed him access to property left in trust to her in exchange for a separation deed and £500.

That same year, Lord Melbourne died and named Caroline in his will to be supported from his estate. In 1851, her mother died, leaving her £480 yearly, willed to her alone as her 'separate estate,' this with the intent of keeping it from George. Effectually it did, but in reality he could now claim that she no longer needed any assistance from him and he once more cut off his support. In retaliation, Caroline set her creditors after him to collect their debts, as any debts accrued by a woman were the responsibility of her husband. (This was a trick also used by Theresa Longworth when she wished to prove that she was in fact legally married to William Yelverton, with whom she exchanged vows by way of a secret 'Irish marriage'. That suit failed.) Caroline's suit raised questions about the nature of her separation, which was proved invalid as it was only by deed (which she had no rights to enter into as a married woman) and not by ecclesiastical decree.

These injuries drove her to take up her pen once more and in 1854 she wrote a pamphlet entitled English Laws for Women in the 19th Century, which was a passionate indictment of the laws governing married women. Then, in 1855 she published A Letter to the Queen on Lord Chancellor Cranworth's Marriage and Divorce Bill, in which she challenged the double standard that was the right of men to sue on the grounds of adultery but did not offer the same recourse to women. She went a step further, accusing men of maintaining and defending their extra marital liaisons as their right and privilege as men. The Letter to the Queen eventually brought about the Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857, which restored 'the property rights and status of a single woman ... as long as she remained apart from her husband.' It allowed women to sue on grounds of adultery if her husband had also deserted her for a period of more than two years, or if he could be proved guilty of brutality, or of adultery committed with a relative, a man, or an animal. Providing proof of these was a tricky and scandalous business, but it was a step, even if only a small step, in the right direction.

In 1870, the first Married Women's Property Act was passed, but the law that actually made it through the parliamentary mill was such a watered down version that what was affected was merely a small compensation to women who invested in the matrimonial practice. Women now kept possession of their earnings, inherited personal property, and small sums of money.

Throughout the ensuing years, further amendments were made to the laws governing the rights of married women (in fact it is said that there were perhaps eighteen such bills introduced to Parliament in the years between 1857 and 1882.) Neither can we forget the many others who brought about the advances toward women's equality; Ursula Mellor Bright, Eliza Lynn and Barbara Leigh Smith, just a few among these.

But it was not until the passing of The Married Women's Property Act of 1882 that women won any real victories. According to Mary Shanley (Feminism, Marriage, and the Law in Victorian England, 1859-1895), this Act 'allowed the common law doctrine of coverture to include the wife's right to own, buy and sell her separate property.' According to the 1882 Act, a woman was now entitled to keep 1) any money earned in the form of income made from employment, trade, or use of skill, 2) any property inherited, including money in amounts up to £200, her 3) real property and earnings from it. It also dictated that 4) both parents were equally responsible for the upkeep of their children.
Once more quoting Mary Shanley, the Married Women's Property Act of 1882 was 'the single most important change in legal status of women in the nineteenth century. ... In enabling married women to act as independent legal personages, it not only gave them the legal capacity to act as autonomous economic agents, but struck a blow at the whole notion of coverture and the necessary subordination of woman's will to that of her husband. Quoting Jennifer Phegley (Courtship and Marriage in Victorian England) 'The 1882 Law gave every married woman sole possession of everything she earned or inherited, before or after marriage. This act came the closest of any marriage law reforms of the century to allowing the existence of marriage in which both partners were equal under the law.'

[This is an Editor's choice post, first published on the blog on 5th November, 2012]


V.R. Christensen is the author of Of Moths & Butterflies, for which the months before the passing of the Married Women's Property Act of 1882 serve as a backdrop. Cry of the Peacock, a companion piece to Of Moths & Butterflies, is due to be released in October of 2012. She also is the author of a neo-Victorian paranormal novella, entitled Blind. (Free May 12 in the Kindle store.) To learn more about her and her work, visit

Monday, December 9, 2019

Cromwell, More and the Most Hated Man in America

By Nancy Bilyeau

How people imagine Sir Thomas More and Sir Thomas Cromwell, two very different ministers to Henry VIII, has something to do with their famous portraits by Hans Holbein the Younger, the German artist whose work defined the Tudor era. In their expressions, their clothes, their gripping of papers, we see something of their essence.

If you want to gaze upon the original paintings, you do not go to the National Portrait Gallery in London, or to any other museums in England. Cromwell and More are not in private collection in England. Nor are they to be found in Europe, for that matter.

No, you need to head over to 70th Street and Fifth Avenue, in New York City. Inside a beautiful mansion built right before World War One called The Frick Collection, you will find the originals of Cromwell and More:

Thomas Cromwell, painted by Holbein in 1532 or 1533, wikipedia

Sir Thomas More, painted by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1527, wikipedia

The paintings hang on either side of a fireplace inside the Frick. Between them, above the fireplace, is an El Greco, an imagined portrait of St. Jerome.

The Tudor portraits were created with live sitters. The two men were, at the time they posed, at the height of their powers.  Sir Thomas More, philosopher, lawyer, and royal councilor, would not compromise his values and sign the oath of supremacy to Henry VIII, and was arrested. The royal advisor who pressured More to sign the oath and then engineered his treason trial when he refused was none other than Thomas Cromwell, the architect of the Reformation. Cromwell and More were once on friendly terms. It's safe to say that by the time of More's arrest, they were friends no longer. Sir Thomas More was beheaded for treason in 1535. Cromwell's turn on Tower Hill came in 1540.

Hans Holbein's connection to each man went deeper than a portrait commission. The artist might have lived with Sir Thomas More for a time. After More's execution, Holbein was favored by Anne Boleyn, and he designed some jewelry and coronation decorations for the stylish queen in addition to portraits (Henry VIII later ordered her portraits destroyed). Cromwell, in turn, patronized Holbein after the fall of Anne Boleyn, but some believe it was Holbein's portrait of prospective fourth queen Anne of Cleves, leading Henry to want to marry her, that led to the crisis of Cromwell. What a tumultuous time to be a court painter!

Today the two Tudor statesmen's portraits hang in the Living Hall of the Frick Collection, a lushly masculine space of oak-paneled walls, 18th century furniture and ceramics and bronzes that is supposed to have been kept unchanged since Henry Clay Frick occupied his house in the early 20th century.

Frick's feelings about the two men may have much to do with how he felt about power and rivalry. He knew a great deal about both.

The Living Hall, with Cromwell and More on either side of the fireplace

The Frick Collection is considered one of New York City's chief art treasures, filled with paintings by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Fragonard, Goya, Bruegel, Gainsborough, Van Dyck, Titian and Turner. It was Frick who personally bought these paintings, in a frenzy of purchases that ended during World War I.

Yes, Frick was one of the premier collectors of the Old Masters in all of America. But just as there were many sides to Thomas Cromwell and Thomas More, there is much more than art appreciation to Frick. In fact, he was for a time widely known as "the most hated man in America."

To learn why he was so despised, we need to now head west, to Pennsylvania, where Frick lived for most of his life. His parents were rural Mennonites. At the age of 21, he formed a partnership with cousins and friends called Frick Coke Company--using a special oven, they turned coal into coke for steel manufacturing. By the early 1880s, Frick controlled most of the coal output in the entire state.

Henry Clay Frick

Frick took his place on the national stage when he became partners with Andrew Carnegie of the Carnegie Steel Company. In 1892, the violent Homestead Steel Strike, which Frick provoked as a way to break the union, earned him the nickname "The Most Hated Man in America."

Frick brought in 300 Pinkerton guards after the steelworkers went on strike, leading to an epic all-day battle leaving 16 men dead and many more wounded. The governor was forced to call in 8,000 militia to restore order.

Alexander Berkman, an anarchist and lover of Emma Goldman, tried to assassinate Frick in his Pittsburgh office. Carnegie, who didn't want the labor wars to tarnish his business reputation, was in Europe during the strike but approved of breaking it from afar. After repelling Berkman, who was armed with a knife and a gun, Frick cabled Carnegie: "Shot two necessity for you to come home. I am still in shape to fight the battle."

An illustration drawn in 1892

In 1901, Frick moved with his family to New York City. He was now a fabulously wealthy director of J.P. Morgan's United States Steel Corporation, and he decided to spend some of his millions on art. This was a period of fierce competition for the finest paintings in Europe. Frick was often going after the same masterpieces as Morgan, sugar magnate H.O. Havemeyer, and Boston philanthropist Isabella Gardner. Some of the oldest families in England were in a financial crisis, trying to hang onto their centuries' old estates. The art dealers who descended, representing American "robber barons," could not have come at a better time for cash-starved aristocrats.

Frick bought the painting of Sir Thomas More in 1912 and the one of Thomas Cromwell in 1915. Frick very much wanted to buy Holbein's painting of the beautiful Christina of Milan, but it escaped his grasp. Holbein was able to invoke the personalities of his subjects as few artists had before. They were wonderfully lifelike. Peter Ackroyd has written, "He illustrates his sitters in the light of some sudden but characteristic emotion, as if he had caught their thought on the wing."

Painting of Frick and his devoted daughter, Helen.

When Frick couldn't sleep, he roamed at night, looking at his art collection. His three favorite paintings were said to be Holbein's Sir Thomas More, Giovanni Bellini's St. Francis in the Desert, and Rembrandt's last self-portrait.

Frick had fallen out with Andrew Carnegie years earlier; lawsuits and acrimony followed. Although they did not speak, in their senior years, the two men both lived in New York City. Frick was building an art empire; Carnegie was writing books, funding libraries, and donating huge amounts of money to educational and artistic causes. Carnegie Hall on 57th Street, built in 1891, is one of the world's premier concert venues.

In 1919, when Carnegie, 83, was dying, he sent a message to Frick seeking reconciliation. The note traveled from one man's mansion to the other's. "Yes, you can tell Carnegie I'll meet him," Frick responded. "Tell him I'll see him in Hell, where we both are going."

Just months later, Carnegie and Frick were both dead.

The Frick Collection, Fifth Avenue and 70th street.

In 1935, the Frick Collection opened its doors to the public. Art lovers could enjoy the exquisite sculptures and paintings, including the Holbein portraits of More and Cromwell, two men who underwent a different struggle in a different time, and yet now inhabit the same room, thanks to one of the most combative men in all of America.

This article is an Editor's Choice and was originally published on October 6, 2016.


Nancy Bilyeau is a historical novelist and magazine editor based in New York. She wrote the Joanna Stafford trilogy, a trio of thrillers set in Henry VIII’s England, for Simon & Schuster. Her fourth novel is The Blue, an 18th century thriller revolving around the art & porcelain world. Her next novel is Dreamland, set in Coney Island of 1911, to be published by Endeavour Quill on January 16, 2020. A former staff editor at Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and InStyle, Nancy is currently the deputy editor at the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay College and contributes to Town & Country, CrimeReads, and Mystery Scene magazine.

For more information, visit

Friday, December 6, 2019

The Monarchy~ William the Conqueror

by Debra Brown

Edward the Confessor
A previous post on this blog discussed the "Dark Ages" dynasty, the House of Wessex. Edward the Confessor had once fled to Normandy with his parents. He later put Norman friends in high places in England, and promised that his cousin, William, Duke of Normandy, would succeed him - according to William. Edward, though, changed his decision upon his deathbed, and he now left the throne to Harold Godwinson, who had no blood ties to the succession. William was having none of that, and made plans to invade England. Winds did not permit the duke to sail across when he had first intended to do so, and he left later, but this turned out to be in his favor.

Despite realizing that William was finally on his way, Harold II was forced to pull away from southern England to ward off an attack in the north by even more powerful forces, his own brother Tostig along with the King of Norway. When Harold II was asked by Tostig how much land he was prepared to yield to the King, he replied, "Six feet of ground or as much more as he needs, as he is taller than most men." Harold successfully routed that attack at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. Only three days later, the Normans landed at Pevensey the 28th of September, 1066.
Bayeux Tapestry
Harold headed south, obtained fresh troops in London and set off to meet the advancing Duke. William had but seven thousand men to England's two million. They met six miles north of Hastings. Though Harold II had the upper hand much of the day, when the ten-hour battle ended, he and his brothers lay dead. He was the last monarch of England to be defeated by a foreign invader. William went on to devastate a large circle of land to establish his authority and then swept into London to claim the throne.

 William the Conqueror
The Witanagemot had assembled and elected young Edgar the Ætheling, the grandson and rightful heir of the Confessor, king after the death of Harold Godwinson. Edgar was never crowned, however, and a group of nobles met the invading Duke of Normandy and handed the Crown of England over, as well as young Edgar. William took him in. Edgar lived to attempt the crown, but never gain it. He was still known to be alive in 1126.

The White Tower, built by William

William had some experience from his duchy in Normandy, and set about organizing England his way. He took estates away from English owners, kept much for himself and gave some to his supporters from France. These nobles (who, do not forget, also had interests in France) built castles, following the lead of William with his start on the Tower of London, to protect themselves from the angry English. Over the next 600 years, this trend continued and some 2,000 castles appeared. The French barons divided their land into fiefs and handed them out to vassals who organized men under them, knights, for military service to the king.

Division of English Counties as laid out in William's Doomsday Book. 
This map highlights a southeastern circuit. 

William was an administrative genius, and commissioned a national survey of belongings- his boring Domesday Book records the possessions of all his subjects for taxation purposes. It was said that there was "not an ox, cow or swine that was not set down in the writ". William also took firm action against criminals, even castrating rapists. There was, therefore, less crime in the country under his rule. He also introduced trial by jury. However, he was far from just. He was an avid deer hunter, and he cleared the New Forest of all its buildings and inhabitants to create game reserves for himself. His forests came to cover a third of English land. Poachers were killed or mutilated. When rebellions reared he reacted firmly, even burning the entire villages and their crops. Much of Northern England was devastated, its economy ruined for decades after a rebellion. Thus he kept firm control. He spent much of his time in France, as did his new English knights and English tax money. He was, after all, first and foremost, the Duke of Normandy.

William was the illegitimate son of Norman Duke Robert I and a tanner's daughter. Though he succeeded to his father's duchy, while still a child, he had grown up with the nickname William the Bastard. Perhaps this is why the great conqueror was such a faithful and devoted husband to Matilda of Flanders, by whom he had four sons and five daughters.

The former English ruling class disappeared when William conquered England, and French speech and customs thereafter heavily influenced the English. French fashions, manners, art and architecture made a permanent mark. He build great cathedrals, which were to give the impression that he was, indeed, ordained by God to rule England.

William, a calculating and brutal invader, deemed his eldest son, Robert, too generous and easygoing, and while he left his Norman holdings to him, just before his death he willed the rule of rebellious England to his second son, William Rufus. He then died a day after having been thrown from his horse, who had stepped on hot coals following his capture of the French town of Nantes. His body was looted by those who had been taking care of him, and he was left nearly naked. His body broke in half as it was being forced into a too-small coffin. He was buried in Caen. In time, his body was dug up and parts of it taken, but a thigh-bone remained to be reburied in dignity. Even this bone was disinterred and stolen during the French Revolution. The long-missed thigh-bone was found, however, and confirmed to be authentic in the 1980s, and it was finally laid to rest under a new tombstone.

A future post will discuss the remaining Norman dynasty.

An Editor's Choice from the EHFA Archives, originally published January 26, 2012.


Debra Brown is the founder of the English Historical Fiction Authors blog. She is the author of The Companion of Lady Holmeshire, a Jane Austen and Charles Dickens inspired sweet romance and mystery; and co-editor of Castles, Customs and Kings, vols. 1 & 2.