Thursday, January 31, 2019

Cook at Buckingham Palace: Charles Elme' Francatelli

By Lauren Gilbert

Charles Elme' Francatelli, drawn by Auguste Hervieu, and engraved by Samuel Freeman about 1846

I have been enjoying the series Victoria on PBS. (It was so exciting that series 3 premiered in the U.S. BEFORE showing in the UK!) One character I particularly like is Mr. Francatelli, the chef in the palace. While it is true that Queen Victoria’s household did include a cook named Francatelli, there is a big difference between the way he is depicted in the television series and the known facts about him.

Charles Elme’ Francatelli is believed to have been born in London in 1805, to Nicholas and Sarah Francatelli. He actually grew up in France. He studied cooking at the Parisian College of Cooking, from which he received a diploma. He had the good fortune to study under the renowned chef Marie Antoine Careme (1784-1833), who served as chef de cuisine for the British Prince Regent (the future George IV) and was invited to Russia (although he left before cooking for the czar). When Francatelli returned to England, he cooked for various aristocratic households, until in late 1838 or early 1839, he went to work at Crockford’s. Crockford’s was a gaming establishment opened in 1828 by William Crockford in St. James’s Street. Crockford’s was known for its luxury and attention to detail, including a wide variety of games of chance and excellent food. Crockford’s was a fashionable and popular club, with a large and aristocratic membership. When the principal chef, Louis Eustache Ude, embroiled in a wage dispute, left (or was fired) in September 1838, Francatelli was selected to replace him and was known to be cooking there in February 1839. This brought him to the notice of a variety of noblemen, including William George Hay, the 18th Earl of Erroll.

Crockford's Club House, St. James's Street, 1828

In November 1839, the Earl of Erroll became Lord Steward of the Queen’s Household (Victoria was crowned in 1838). The chief cook at Buckingham Palace left on March 8, 1840. On March 9, 1840, at the recommendation of the Earl of Erroll (who apparently thought highly of Francatelli’s cooking), Mr. Francatelli became the chief chef’s replacement. During his tenure in the palace kitchens, Francatelli apparently exhibited a certain amount of artistic temperament (or just temper) and his kitchen staff functioned in a turbulent state. Late in 1841, Francatelli engaged in a dispute with Mr. Norton, at that time Chief Comptroller of the Household. He was suspended, and in December 1841, a quarter’s notice was given (whether by him or to him by the palace is unclear). At any rate, he left the queen’s employ on March 31, 1842. He returned to Crockford’s, where his cuisine was much appreciated, and he stayed there until the club closed January 1, 1846. (Due to a change of administration, the Earl of Erroll was no longer the Lord Steward as of August 30, 1841, so did not participate in the dispute.)

The Young Queen Victoria, by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1842

Francatelli’s first cook book THE MODERN COOK A Practical Guide for the Culinary Art in All Its Branches was published in early 1846. He dedicated the book to the Earl of Erroll on February 21, 1846 and thanked the earl for the opportunity to work in the palace. The cookbook became quite popular and went into multiple editions. This cookbook was geared toward the upper classes, and contained multiple bills of fare for each month of the rear, for diners in number from 6 to 300 depending on the season and the occasion. (The 28th edition in 1886 included a bill of fare for a dinner for Queen Victoria.) Later in the year, on June 1, 1846, Francatelli went to work for the Coventry House and remained there until it closed March 1, 1854. While so employed, in 1852, the first edition of his second book A PLAIN COOKERY BOOK FOR THE WORKING CLASSES was published. This differed greatly from his first effort, as it was geared for working-class families, and included a list of basic equipment needed, matters of cleanliness and economy, and a view to nourishing food.

A Bill of Fare for Her Majesty's Dinner from THE MODERN COOK, 1886

Sometime in late June or early July 1854, Mr. Francatelli became the cook at the Reform Club, where he remained for some years. In 1861, his third cookbook THE COOK’S GUIDE AND BUTLER’S ASSISTANT: A Practical Treatise on English and Foreign Cookery and All Its Branches was published. In this book, recipe # 319 is Marrow Toast a la Victoria, which is seasoned bone marrow on dry toast; Francatelli indicated that Victoria ate this every day at dinner. This statement was supported by HER LITTLE MAJESTY The Life of Queen Victoria by Carolly Erickson; by the 1880’s, Her Majesty was eating Francatelli’s Marrow Toast with every meal for the sake of her digestion (apparently ruined by years of gobbling excessive amounts of food). In 1862, THE ROYAL ENGLISH AND FOREIGN CONFECTIONER: A Practical Treatise on the Art of Confectionary in All Its Branches was published, being his fourth cookbook. He left the Reform Club (or was let go) either late in 1862 or in January of 1863.

Receipt for Russian Salad from THE MODERN COOK 1846

The St. James’s Hotel Company was formed in February 1863, with Mr. Francatelli listed as manager. The hotel opened May 2, 1863, and was managed by Mr. Francatelli and his wife. Later in that month, Francatelli also began cooking in the Prince of Wales’ household at Marlborough House (which was not far from the hotel), although he was not listed as an employee. This began another period of royal service. In addition to managing the hotel and cooking at Marlborough House, he also cooked for special occasions at Sandringham. He apparently stopped cooking for the Prince and Princess of Wales in the late summer or autumn of 1866, and focused on the management and cuisine at the St. James’s Hotel thereafter. He catered regimental dinners, and had special dinners featuring particular ingredients (such as horse meat, and Liebig’s Extract of Meat (a concentrated beef extract)), and a parliamentary dinner. He resigned as manager of the hotel in March 1870.

In October 1870, he was hired as the manager of the Freemason’s Tavern, which was his last place of employment. He functioned as the sole manager and catered special dinners. He retired in June 1876, and died on August 10, 1876 in Eastbourne.

As we can plainly see, his career differed significantly from the way the writers depicted it in the series Victoria. His actual royal service comprised barely 2 years for Queen Victoria, and about 3 ½ years for the Prince and Princes of Wales over 20 years after leaving Buckingham Palace. As an entrepreneur, he parlayed his relationship with royalty, particularly Queen Victoria, into cookbook sales. What about his personal life? That was different, as well.

Far from falling in love with and marrying Mrs. Skerrett, the Queen’s Dresser (and there really was a Mrs. Marianne Skerrett who was the Queen’s Dresser), Mr. Francatelli was in fact married well before he went to work at Buckingham Palace to Elizabeth Roberts, the wife who assisted him in managing the St. James’s Hotel until her death March 2, 1869. Apparently, Mr. and Mrs. Francatelli had a daughter Emily and a son Ernest. Mr. Francatelli remarried the next year. He and Elizabeth Cooke were married August 2, 1870, and he evidently had children with her as well, including a son Charles Elme’ Francatelli born in 1875. There is no indication of any opportunity (or inclination) for a palace romance between Mr. Francatelli and any woman employed in Queen Victoria’s household. Again, his personal life was quite different from that depicted on the television series. This does not make the series any less enjoyable; however, it does illustrate the need to watch with caution, as the engaging romance shown does not always reflect what really happened.

Sources include:

Chancellor, E. Beresford. LIFE IN REGENCY AND EARLY VICTORIAN TIMES An Account of the Days of Brummell and D’Orsay 1800-1850. London: B. T. Batsford, Ltd., 1926.

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

Erickson, Carolly. HER LITTLE MAJESTY The Life of Queen Victoria. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997. P. 237

Francatelli, Charles Elme’. A PLAIN COOKERY BOOK FOR THE WORKING CLASSES. Oxford: Benediction Classics, 2012.

Stephen, Sir Leslie, ed. DICTIONARY OF NATIONAL BIOGRAPHY, 1921-1922. Vol. 7. London: Oxford University Press.

Colin Smythe Ltd. “Charles Elme’ Francatelli, Crockford’s, and the Royal Connection.” Copyright (c) 2014-2015 Colin Smythe. HERE

Find-a-Grave Memorial. “Charles Elme’ Francatelli.”  HERE

Researching Food History-Cooking and Dining. “Queen Victoria’s chef Charles Elme Francatelli” Copyright © 2017 Patricia Bixler Reber (posted February 6, 2017). HERE

Images: Wikimedia Commons

Charles Elme’ Francatelli: HERE

Crockford’s 1828: HERE

The Young Queen Victoria by Franz Xaver Winterhalter 1842: HERE

A Bill of Fare for Her Majesty’s Dinner: HERE

Receipt for Russian Salad from THE MODERN COOK 1846: HERE


Lauren Gilbert is fascinated by England and its history, and multiple visits to England have only heightened her interest. A long-time member of JASNA since about 2001, she has attended multiple Annual General Meetings and was privileged to present a break-out session in Ft. Worth in 2011. Her first book, HEYERWOOD: A Novel was released in 2011, and she is a contributor to CASTLES, CUSTOMS AND KINGS True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors Volumes 1 and 2. She is finishing A RATIONAL ATTACHMENT and doing research for a biography. A long-time resident of Florida, she lives with her husband Ed. You can visit her website HERE.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Whose Side Does Boniface Choose after Charles Martel’s Death?

By Kim Rendfeld

We don’t know how or exactly when Boniface heard the news in the fall of 741, but it boded ill, enough for him to summon a trusted aide back to Bavaria, away from his missionary work. Charles Martel, the Frankish mayor of the palace and its true ruler, was gravely ill. A succession crisis loomed, as it had 27 years before, and it had implications beyond Francia’s frontier.

A Wessex-born archbishop (without a see) in his 60s, Boniface had not witnessed the earlier crisis caused by the 714 death Charles’s father, Pippin. But he likely had heard about it from his mentor, Willibrord, the Northumbrian-born bishop of Frisia. As Charles fought for control of Francia with a high-ranking Frank allied with the pagan ruler of Frisia and his father’s widow (not Charles’s mom), Willibrord faced a tough choice of whom to support. He made the right one with Charles.

Like Willibrord, Boniface was zealous about missionary work. And like his mentor, he sought support from powerful people, including the pope and Charles Martel, or Charles the Hammer.

Photo by Martin Bahmann,
GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0,
from Wikimedia Commons

A gifted general, Charles had been the uncontested ruler of Francia since 721, even though he never claimed the crown. When the Merovingian king died in 737, Charles continued to govern in the dead monarch’s name. He was powerful enough to call the shots but apparently didn’t want to risk it by calling himself king.

That power came with a lot of bloodshed. While Boniface tried to convert pagans in Hesse and Thuringia, Charles was defending his homeland or at war in several peoples in the frontier, including the Aquitainians, Alemans, and Bavarians. The aristocrats from those areas might have been beaten into submission, but it’s not too much of a stretch to think they resented outside rule and awaited an opportunity to break free.

When Charles’s health took a turn in 739, Boniface surely was not the only person to sense trouble. A look at Charles’s family provides clues. By his late first wife, Chrotrude, who must have come from a powerful family, he had two sons and a daughter, Karlomann, Pippin, and Chiltrude; another son, Grifo, with his influential current wife, the high-ranking Bavarian Swanahild; and three more sons with his concubine. This meant quite a few claimants to the inheritance.

Boniface was in Bavaria, appointing bishops and setting up dioceses with support from Duke Odilo, who had a complicated relationship with Charles. An Aleman from the Agiloling clan and kinsman of Swanahild, Odilo had the right bloodline to rule Bavaria, but he owed his dukedom to Charles, the very person who had deposed his family from power in Alemannia.

Photo by James Steakley, CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL,
from Wikimedia Commons

In 740, rivals drove Odilo from Bavaria, and he sought refuge in Charles’s court. When returned to power the next spring, he founded a monastery and had the law code revised. It is possible he and Boniface sent messages to each other about what was going on in the Frankish court. Boniface, in turn, would have kept the pope informed.

In October 741, Boniface recalled one of his disciples, Willibald, from Thuringia to the strategically located Eichstatt. He needed someone he could trust. He probably didn’t know it at the time, but Charles had died that month.

Did Boniface ally himself with Karlomann, Charles’s eldest son? In his early 30s, Karloman probably was the most groomed for power. He was married, probably the father of two sons, and likely had the support of his mother’s family. Or did Boniface side with the teenage Grifo, and by extension his mother, Swanahild, an Agilolfing who was so influential she had governed on her husband’s behalf?

Soon after Charles’s death, Boniface wrote to Grifo, asking for him to protect missionaries in Thuringia. It is possible he wrote similar letters to Karlomann and Pippin. However, Swanahild, and probably Charles too, had commended Grifo the Boniface’s prayers.

A few weeks later, Boniface might have learned relations between the Franks and Bavarians had gotten more complicated. Charles’s daughter, Chiltrude, had fled to Bavaria and wed Odilo without her brothers’ permission but with her stepmother’s encouragement. In an age when marriages formed or solidified alliances between families, this was a scandal. The couple’s son was born before the end of the year. Yes, Odilo and Chiltrude had been more than friends while he was in Charles’s court (and why I want to write a novel with Chiltrude as my heroine).

As news about Francia came to Boniface, he must have gotten more uneasy. Karlomann, Pippin, and Grifo disputed how Charles divided his lands. It is likely Karlomann got the eastern portion. Second son Pippin got the western and southern portion. And third son Grifo got some land in the middle. (The three sons by the concubine weren’t involved.)

A 15th century depiction of the brothers’ battle in 741
and Pippin coronation 10 years later, by Jean Fouquet,
public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Karlomann and Pippin each assumed the title of mayor of the palace for their lands, imprisoned Swanahild in the royal convent of Chelles, and fought with Grifo for control of Francia. In the meantime, Pope Gregory III died and was succeeded by Pope Zacharius.

Karlomann and Pippin battled Grifo at Laon and imprisoned him at Neufchâteau. Tensions remained in Aquitaine, Alemannia, and Bavaria. Boniface probably didn’t have firsthand knowledge of an alliance among the three, but he could infer that these noblemen were more than willing to test Charles’s sons.

Boniface faced a difficult decision: whom should he support? If he chose wrong, he could see all his work to save souls be ruined.

He decided to reconcile with Karlomann and distance himself from Odilo. Perhaps as a show of loyalty, he attended Karlomann’s first Church council in February 742. A few months later, Karlomann helped him found the monastery that became Fulda.

In 743, the mayors decided they really did need a living king in whose name to rule and brought Childeric out of a monastery to fill that role. Over the next few years, the brothers fought wars in Aquitaine, Alemannia, and Bavaria. Boniface might have brokered a peace between Karlomann and Odilo in 745. Later that year, he was appointed archbishop of Mainz. When Karlomann retired to a monastery in 747, Boniface decided to ally himself with Pippin, who would set Grifo free. This decision caused more trouble for Pippin.

After a few more wars, Pippin claimed the crown in 751 and send Childeric back to the monastery. After all, he reasoned, he was the one doing the job. Boniface was the churchman to anoint him at Soissons.

The Age of Charles Martel by Paul Fouracre
From Ducatus to Regnum: Ruling Bavaria Under the Merovingians and Early Carolingians by Carl I. Hammer
The Carolingians: A Family Who Forged Europe, by Pierre Riché, translated by Michael Idomir Allen
"St. Boniface" by Francis Mershman The Catholic Encyclopedia (1907)


In Kim Rendfeld's Queen of the Darkest Hour, Queen Fastrada must stop a conspiracy before it destroys everyone and everything she loves. The book is available on Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & NobleKobo, and Smashwords.

Kim has written two other books set in 8th century Francia. In The Cross and the Dragon, a Frankish noblewoman must contend with a jilted suitor and the fear of losing her husband (available on Amazon). In The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar, a Saxon peasant will fight for her children after losing everything else (available on Amazon). Kim's short story “Betrothed to the Red Dragon,” about Guinevere’s decision to marry Arthur, is set in early medieval Britain and available on Amazon.

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

Monday, January 21, 2019

Keep Smiling Through: The Entertainers who kept us amused in the dark days of war.

By Hilary Green

Very little has been written about the people who helped to raise morale, both among the troops and the civilians, by providing entertainment during the war. A few names come immediately to mind – Vera Lynn singing 'We'll Meet Again', Ann Shelton, who was the 'Forces Sweetheart', Gracie Fields – but no one over the age of seventy remembers what ENSA stood for. The Entertainment National Service Association was the brainchild of impresario Basil Dean and actor Lesley Henson and brought together both professional and amateur entertainers in a uniformed service.

Gracie Fields with an RAF Orchestra - Public Domain Image

There were singers and dancers, actors and musicians, all of whom had been thrown out of work by the closure of the theatres in London and the many coastal resorts where they normally put on summer shows. Now they performed in munitions factories, garrison theatres, and village halls, helping to bring a little relief from the ever-present danger and the gloom of rationing and the blackout. In the months after the debacle of Dunkirk there were no front line troops to entertain, so they concentrated on keeping up morale at home, but groups were despatched to outlying units in place like Iceland and the Orkneys. At that time a directive went out ordering all the female performers to wear trousers when visiting naval ships, to preserve their modesty when climbing ladders up to the deck.

During the preparations for D-Day thousands of British and American troops were quartered along the south coast of England. They were confined to barracks, to preserve the secret of the forthcoming invasion, so ENSA companies were sent to entertain them. In an attempt to ensure that they had no idea where the camps were situated, they were made to travel in buses with the blinds down; but since most of them had been used to performing in summer shows at coastal resorts and so were familiar with the whole area this was a futile exercise.

One week after the D-Day invasion, the first ENSA company crossed the channel and they were soon followed by others. Each was a party of six, with their own transport, portable stages, lighting and costumes, and escorted by an army officer. The performances took place in tents and bomb damaged buildings across Europe. The players slept in any house they could find that still had a roof and they often performed within sound of the guns. In spite of this it was still known, to some of those forced to attend its less successful performances, as Every Night Something Awful!

An ENSA concert party entertaining troops from the steps of
  a chateau in Normandy, 26 July 1944 -Public Domain Image

ENSA was not the only organisation putting on shows for the troops. Soon after conscription began another far-sighted man took an important initiative. Colonel Basil Brown was an Army Welfare officer who realised that all round the country, in the period known as the 'phoney war' when hostilities proper had not commenced, there were talented performers, many of them professionals, who were languishing in army barracks square bashing and peeling potatoes. He sent out scouts to search for such people and had them seconded to the Central Pool of Artistes, which later became known as Stars in Battledress. They were formed into companies according to their particular fields of expertise. Some gave variety performances, others performed straight plays. They all had one handicap in common. Until 1944 no women were allowed to join. As a result, 'drag' acts became very popular and by a curious act of transference these performers were often treated as if they really were woman, and sent gifts of flowers and chocolates; while men in the audience vied for the privilege of taking them out for a drink after the show.

The advantage that Stars in Battledress had over ENSA was that, being soldiers in uniform, they could be sent to areas where civilians could not be allowed to go – into secret facilities, or right up to the front line, where they might be expected to scrub off the greasepaint and grab their rifles if the occasion demanded it. Many future stars made their first forays into the world of entertainment through Stars in Battledress, among them Harry Secombe and Spike Milligan.

Classical music, opera and ballet were not neglected. CEMA, the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts, was set up in 1940 under Mary Glasgow and Ivor Brown and under its auspices performances of all three were put on in village halls and works canteens all over the country. The Carl Rosa Opera company and the Ballet Rambert toured to northern towns and cities and the Old Vic Theatre and Sadlers Wells Opera mover to Burnley to escape the blitz. People in that area were able to see Sybil Thorndike playing Shakespeare and Margot Fonteyn dancing. For a great many people this was the first chance they had had to encounter styles of performance that had previously been restricted to those who lived within reach of major opera houses and concert halls and had money to pay for tickets.

Margot Fonteyn - Pubic Domain Image

After being briefly closed down at the outbreak of war the London theatre flourished. Musicals like Ivor Novello's 'The Dancing Years', 'The Maid of the Mountains', 'Rose Marie' and 'Lilac Time' were all revived. The Windmill Theatre, famous for its nudes, had the proud boast 'we never closed'. To escape the air raids the girls in the show used to sleep in the theatre lounge. Many theatre programmes contained this note . In the event of an air raid warning an announcement will be made by means of an illuminated sign installed in front of the footlights. Patrons are advised to remain in the theatre but those wishing to leave will be directed to the nearest air raid shelter, after which the performance will continue for so long as is practicable. The programme for Laurence Olivier's Richard lll added, 'All we ask is that if you feel you must go you will depart quietly and without excitement.'

Towards the end of the campaign in North Africa soldiers who had fought without leave for many months and endured terrible conditions were expecting to be sent home. When this did not happen mutiny threatened. Light relief was desperately needed and ENSA provided it. There was a huge variety show at the Royal Opera House in Cairo in the presence of King Farouk. Stars like Marlene Dietrich, Gracie Fields, Jack Benny, Bob Hope and Humphrey Bogart gave their services. In September 1943 King George VI signalled Basil Dean 'Well done, ENSA.'


Hilary Green has a personal reason for her interest in the subject. Both her parents were in the entertainment industry before the outbreak of war, her father as a singer and her mother as a dancer. Neither of them served with ENSA because her father joined the RAF as soon as war was declared and her mother by then had a family to care for. She grew up, however, listening to their reminiscences of life 'on the stage' and from time to time would hear a singer or a comedian on the 'wireless' and one of them would say 'Oh, I remember him/her. I worked with him/her in such and such a show before the war.' When she questioned how these people had become household names the answer was simple. They went into ENSA.
These events were the inspiration behind her four books in the 'Follies' series. Although the war takes the leading characters on many paths they would never have considered treading before, they are all at the outset entertainers, all members of the same 'Concert party' – and in one way or another they continue to use their varied talents in the service of their country.

Connect with Hilary:

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Editors Weekly Round-up, January 20, 2019

by the EHFA Editors

Every week our contributing authors tell of saints or sinners, politics or war. Read about kings and queens, the common people, and legends from ancient to post-WWII. Never miss a post on English Historical Fiction Authors

Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Arctic Convoys 1941-1945

By John R McKay

The temperature out on deck is minus thirty degrees Centigrade. The wind howls around, making it feel even colder. The sea rises and falls in swells of up to sixty feet, the water towering over your head one second before falling to a trough as equally deep the next, throwing your ship around as though it’s a child’s toy. Somewhere close by you know there is a U-boat wolf pack, waiting for the opportunity to slam a torpedo into your side and send you to the bottom of the sea. Enemy surface ships are gaining on you. Over your head Nazi attack planes circle, looking for an opportunity to swoop down like hawks, eager to drop their bombs, to wipe you and your mates from the face of the earth and confine your bodies to the deepest depths of an icy sea.

But, like it or not, you must go out onto that very deck and chip away at the ice that has formed on the decks with picks and mauls. To leave it means the ship could get top heavy and capsize, nature completing the work the German military are trying to do. Should you be unlucky enough to fall into the sea then you have no more than two minutes before you freeze to death.

Inside the steel and iron superstructure, between watches, you attempt to gain some rest in freezing cabins and mess rooms where ice forms on your blankets as you sleep. Your frozen eyelashes break away, causing reddening and irritation, and no matter how hard you rub them, the discomfort will not go away. Most of all, you dream of home and those you love, so far away and oblivious to the hell that you are going through.

This may sound a little far-fetched, a little dramatic maybe, something from a novel. But this was the daily reality for those men of the Royal and merchant navies who took part in the Arctic Convoys of the Second World War. Voyages that Winston Churchill himself described as “the worst journey in the world”. Those necessary trips that provided real and practical support to the Soviet Union in their war on the Eastern Front.

When the German army unexpectedly invaded the Soviet Union in August 1941, the Soviets were taken completely by surprise and were ill-prepared for the Nazi Blitzkrieg. The Red Army were forced to retreat deep into Russia, as far as Moscow itself. Joseph Stalin, the leader of the Soviet Union, reached out to Britain to assist them in any way they could. They desperately needed tanks, airplanes, medicines, food and other practical supplies in order for them to maintain their fight.

For the first time since the Battle of France, Britain was not on its own in its struggle against the Nazis. Churchill realised that having an ally as potentially powerful as the Soviets was necessary if Britain was to endure. So not only was the decision to assist the Russians a practical one, it was also a political one as it showed the British public that they were no longer alone and gave hope to the country. As long as the Russians were also fighting with us, then there was the chance of an ultimate victory.

Wasting no time, Churchill ordered the Admiralty to organise a convoy of materials to set sail for Russia as soon as was possible and in late August 1941, only a couple of weeks after the German invasion, the first of those voyages set sail from Scotland. This would be the first of seventy five such journeys.

The initial stage of these voyages would be from Loch Ewe in Scotland to Iceland, where they would join other merchant ships and set sail for the ports of Murmansk and Archangel in northern Russia. In May 1940, fearing that the Germans would use neutral Iceland as a staging post for disrupting the Atlantic Convoys, the British ordered an invasion of the island and occupied it until the end of the war. This occupation of Iceland ensured the safety of the initial phase, and had Iceland been left to the Germans, then the Arctic Convoys would probably not have happened, or at least not have been as successful.

Once all the ships were prepared, they would form into ‘sticks’ with the Royal Navy and other military ships on the outside, searching for U-boats and to protect the merchantmen from enemy attack. Many of the warships involved were ‘borrowed’ from the Americans as part of the Lend-Lease Agreement of March 1941. This agreement was vital for the Royal Navy as it provided sufficient ships to carry out the convoys as well as maintaining operations in other theatres of war.

The 2,500 mile journey took the convoys around Norway to the Barents Sea and eventually to the Kola Inlet and onward to Murmansk and Archangel on the White Sea, where their cargoes would be unloaded and any repairs carried out before the return journeys back to Iceland and then Scotland. This route took them within range of Norwegian Nazi airfields and Kriegsmarine ports. Attacks were launched by the Luftwaffe and submarine ‘wolf packs’ stalked them, sinking both military and merchant vessels.

During the winter months, the further north the ships travelled, there would be very few hours of daylight. In one way this was a good thing as it reduced the amount of air attacks, the planes being unable to fly, but on the other hand it was when the worst of the weather would occur. If ice and snow was not cleared from the superstructures then the ships could easily capsize and so sailors had to go out in the harshest of conditions to clear it. Many ships were lost this way. However, during the summer months, when daylight lasted for up to twenty hours a day, they would suffer ceaseless air attacks until they were out of range of the bases.

However, once in the port of Murmansk, the ships were still susceptible to air attack as the port was bombed incessantly by German planes operating from Norwegian airfields and this only stopped when those bases were abandoned near the end of the war.

Although all the Arctic Convoys had their own perils, three particular journeys stand out from the rest in terms of hardship and naval losses:

Convoy PQ13 which sailed in March 1942 was hit by an extremely violent storm in the Norwegian Sea which lasted for three days, scattering the ships over 150 nautical miles. They were also attacked incessantly by the Luftwaffe, surface ships and U-boats and 5 of the 19 ships of the convoy were sunk. The Royal Navy destroyer HMS Trinidad was also damaged by its own torpedo when engaging a German surface ship, killing 32 of its crew. (HMS Trinidad was later scuttled during the return journey to Iceland after coming under air attack, which killed another 63 men).

Convoy PQ17, in July 1942 was a particularly hazardous journey. This was the first joint Anglo-American convoy and after coming under constant aerial attack and losing many ships, the Admiralty received information that the German battleship, The Tirpitz, was en-route to intercept it. The First Sea Lord, Admiral Dudley Pound, ordered the convoy to ‘scatter’. This effectively meant that it was ‘every man for himself’ and the merchant ships were pretty much left to their own fate. Of the 35 merchant ships that sailed on the convoy, 24 were lost, with only a handful actually making it to Murmansk.

The following convoy PQ18 did not fare much better, losing one third of its merchant ships (13 out of 39) to German aircraft and U-boats.

Nevertheless, by the end of the war the convoys had supplied the Soviets with four million tons of munitions including 5,000 tanks and 7,000 aircraft. This along with other vital supplies including food, grain and medicines undoubtedly assisted them in pushing back the Germans and ultimately winning the war. Without this vital aid they would have struggled to maintain their war effort, particularly in the early years.

In all, over a hundred merchant ships were lost during the Arctic Convoys, as well as twenty two ships of the Royal Navy (including the destroyers HMS Edinburgh and HMS Trinidad). Over 3,000 sailors lost their lives on these journeys.

It was many years after the war that the sacrifices and heroism of those who undertook these journeys was finally recognised. It was only in December 2012, 67 years after the end of the war that the British government finally acknowledged these brave sailors, issuing those who remain with us the Arctic Star, and in 2013 the Russian government issued the Ushakov medal to surviving sailors of the Arctic Convoys.

Finally, should you find yourself at a Remembrance Day parade or a maritime event and see an elderly gentleman wearing naval decorations and a white beret, then please acknowledge him. For  only those who sailed on the Arctic Convoys are allowed to wear the white beret, and no matter how small his role, he played a vital part in the war effort and endured what Winston Churchill described as ‘The Worst Journey In The World’ to give us all the freedoms we enjoy today.


John R McKay is the author of five novels, including ‘The Worst Journey In The World’, a story set aboard a Royal Navy frigate during the Arctic Convoys of World War Two.

His interest in the Arctic Convoys came from being introduced Bill Halliwell, the telegraphist on HMS Bazely, a ship which took part in the convoys in 1945. The stories he heard of Bill's time led to the research for and writing of ‘The Worst Journey In The World’.

He has recently contributed a short story to the World War Two anthology - The Darkest Hour, WWII Tales Of Resistance. This is a collaboration of ten authors, including Ellie Midwood, Roberta Kagan and Marion Kummerow and all proceeds are going to the Washington DC Holocaust Museum. The anthology will be released on 22 January 2019. For further information please check out the website

For further details of his work:
Twitter: @JohnMcKay68

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Useless Parliament of 1625

By Harry Hayfield

This evening, the House of Commons will hold the "meaningful vote" on the Prime Minister's agreement with the European Union over the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union which, if the experts are to be believed, is going to crash and burn leading people to sigh "Great, another useless Parliament". And whilst there have been several Parliaments that could be termed "useless" there is only one that can claim to be called "The Useless Parliament" and that Parliament was the one called in March 1625.

To start off with, everything ran like clockwork. When Charles I became King on March 27th, 1625, the Parliament that had been gathered in the name of his father (James I) was dissolved and on April 2nd, the 1625 general election was called for Parliament to gather on May 7th. So far, so good you might think, however, things soon started to go wrong, not least when the King married. Why would this cause problems? Well, there were two reasons. First his bride, Henrietta Maria was a French Catholic and two, she was still in France. Therefore, her marriage was a little on the strange side for as she arrived at the altar at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris to wed the King, she found the Duke of Chartreuse standing in for the King. Due to religious and distance problems the King asked the Duke to marry on his behalf in Paris using a Catholic ceremony and then bring her to Canterbury for a Protestant ceremony so that everything was above board. This resulted in a delay to Parliament and so the opening was postponed until June 13th, and then postponed again until June 18th. Not the best start to a Parliament I think you will agree.

Charles & Henrietta Maria by Van Dyke (Public Domain Image)

However, once Parliament did get started, the King's Speech took place and as just today, there were certain traditions to follow. The formal investigation of the cellars underneath Parliament (to prevent a repeat of what had happened a mere twenty years previously), the kidnapping of a member of that Parliament to ensure the monarch's safe arrival from Westminster, the gathering of the peers in the Lords, the Commoners being summoned to the Lords and all standing behind the bar to hear the speech, but unlike today, it wasn't the Prime Minister who wrote the speech (mainly due to the fact that the title was not created until George I) but it was the actual King's speech. Every word was written by the King and so as this was his first formal speech at Parliament there was a lot of expectation to hear what he had to say.

"My lords spiritual and temporal, and you gentlemen of the house of Commons, in this parliament assembled; I thank God, that the business to be treated on at this time is of such a nature, that it needs no eloquence to set it forth; for I am neither able to do it, nor doth it stand with my nature to spend much time in words"

This is where the modern-day State Opening and the Opening of the 1625 Parliament differ, as in the modern era when the Queen has finished her speech the Lord Chancellor retrieves the speech, the Queen stands (as does the Lords) and she leaves the chamber with the MP's following shortly afterwards. But back in 1625 the Lord Keeper got to say a few words and the words that he spoke gave an indication of how difficult things were:

“That the king's main reason of calling the parliament, besides the beholding of his subjects faces, was to remind them of the great engagements for the recovery of the Palatinate, imposed on his majesty by the late king his father, and by themselves, who break off the two Treaties with Spain. Also to let them understand, That the succeeding treaties and alliances, the armies sent into the Low Countries, the repairing of the forts, and the fortifying of Ireland, do align in one centre, the Palatinate ; and that the Subsidies granted in the last parl. are herein already spent, whereof the Account is ready, together with as much more of the king's own revenue"

And there, in a nutshell, was the smoking gun that was to make this Parliament useless. The King needed money and needed it fast. Things started out on the up as four days later on June 22nd, a motion was passed expressing, "Good Harmony between the King and Parliament". However, this good harmony didn't last long for on July 5th, Parliament voted on a motion to supply the King's tonnage and whilst the motion was passed, it was only agreed for a year, a severe restriction on the usual method. But things appeared to resume their usual course save for the fact that shortly thereafter plague was discovered in London, so, in a move that has caused a great deal of debate these days, Parliament was moved lock, stock, and barrel to Oxford and on August 4th, the King addressed the Parliament gathered at Christchurch and declared:

"My lords, and you of the Commons; We all remember, that, from your desires and advice, my father, now with God, brake off those two Treaties with Spain that were then in hand: well you then foresaw, that, as well for regaining my dispossessed brother's inheritance, as home defence, a war was likely to succeed; and that as your counsels had let my father into it, so your assistance, in a parliamentary way, to pursue it, should not be wanting. That aid you gave him by advice, was for succor of his allies, the guarding of Ireland and the home parts of Munition, preparing and setting forth of his Navy"

And just as in London, once the King had finished the Lord Keeper added:

"That our sovereign lord king James, of famous memory, at the suit of both houses of parliament, and by the powerful operation of his maj. that now is, gave consent to break off the two Treaties with Spain, touching the Match and the Palatinate: That it was then foreseen a war would ensue, there being no other means to recover the Palatinate, nor to vindicate the many wrongs and scorns done unto his majesty and his royal children: besides, if the king of Spain was suffered to proceed in his conquests, under pretense of the Catholic Cause, he would become the Catholic Monarch, which he so much affects, and aspires unto"

It was becoming plain for everyone to see that the King had one idea about how to govern the land while Parliament wasn't that keen on the idea, and when a motion was moved on August 5th for the Supply, things really kicked off.

A 17th-Century Parliament
(Public Domain Image)

The Chancellor opened the debate stating that the supply should be "two Subsidies, and two Fifteenths, for that less would not serve for the present occasions" to which Sir Weston immediately sprung up to ask where the supply would be going, who the enemy was and why the papists were not being asked to supply the King instead of Parliament

It was at this point that Sir Robert Cotton rose to speak and just as when a former Cabinet Secretary or former Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition or former party leader speaks today, his speech was listened to without interruption and boy, did he speak!

"Mr. Speaker; Although the constant wisdom of this house of commons did well and worthily appear, in censuring that ill-advised member the last day, for trenching so far into their ancient liberties; and might encourage each worthy servant of the public here, to offer up freely his counsel and opinion: yet, since these walls cannot conceal from the ears of captious, guilty and revengeful men. without, the counsel and debates within; I will endeavour, as my clear mind is free from any personal distaste of any one, so to express the honest thoughts of my heart, and discharge the best care of my trust, as no person shall justly tax my innocent and public mind; except his conscience shall make him guilty of such crimes as worthily have, in parliament, impeached others in elder times"

The following day messages were sent from the Lords to the Commons (akin to Parliamentary ping pong today) with the Lords stating:

“That they had received one from the king, which was to be delivered to the lords and commons together, by the lord keeper and the duke of Buckingham, and that his maj. had commanded the lord keeper to require the lord treasurer, the lord Conway, and Sir John Cook, to assist his grace therein. Upon which account, the lords required a present meeting with their whole house, in the great hall of Christ Church, if it suited their convenience.”

To which the Commons replied:

"That the Commons would meet, at the time and place appointed, with their Speaker and the whole house. And, as intimation was given, that there might be occasion for a worthy member of their house, in delivering the message from his maj. ; though it was against the very fundamental privileges of the house of commons, yet they gave way to it, with this proviso; That he speak, as the king's servant and commissioner, and not as a member of their house.”

Which, when translated into laymen's reads "Get a move on, Commons, the King wants his Supply!" to which the Commons replied, "In our own time, Your Majesty", this was the straw that broke the camel's back for the following day, August 11th, 1625, the motion was voted on in the Commons and was rejected. The King couldn't believe this and so on August 12th, "...perceiving the commons resolved against a Supply, without redress of Grievances; and, in their debates, to reflect upon some great persons near himself, on the 12th of Aug. sent to the house of peers a commission, directed to several lords, for the Dissolution of the Parliament"

The Commons was outraged. The King dissolving Parliament just because they hadn't given him the Supply? This led to a formal protest from the Commons:

“We the knights, citizens, and burgesses of the commons house of parliament, being the representative body of the whole commons of this realm, abundantly comforted in his maj.'s late gracious Answer touching Religion, and his Message for the care of our health, do solemnly protest and vow before God and the world, with one heart and voice, that we are all resolved, and do hereby declare, that we will ever continue most loyal and obedient subjects to our most gracious sovereign lord king Charles; and that we will be ready in convenient time, and in a parliamentary way, freely and dutifully to do our utmost endeavours, to discover and reform the abuses and grievances of the realm and state ; and in like sort to afford all necessary supply to his most excellent maj. upon his present, and all other his just occasions and designs; most humbly beseeching our said dear and dread sovereign, in his princely wisdom and goodness, to rest assured of the true and hearty affections of his poor commons, and to esteem the same to be (as we conceive it is indeed) the greatest worldly reputation and security that a just king can have; and to account all such as slanderers of the peoples affections, and enemies to the common-wealth, that shall dare to say the contrary"

But the King was not moved and formally announced that the Parliament gathered in his name in March 1625 was now dissolved and a new Parliament would be gathered on February 6th the following year, therefore that Parliament was termed "The Useless Parliament" and no parliament, however useless it may be seen to be, can be as useless as that Parliament.


Harry Hayfield, a resident in the county of Ceredigion in Wales, has been interested in Parliament since at least 1983, but only started giving it more attention since 1992. Since then, despite standing for his local council five times in the last 21 years, his interest in Parliament has been extended by his interest in the Caroline era. It is these two interests that combined in his book "The Adventures of Henry Cardigan" based on the tales of the Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas, which tell of a member of the Useless Parliament being sent to France at the behest of His Grace, the Duke of Buckingham and the adventures that occur once there. Harry hopes that this will turn into a series of books and is already writing the second volume dealing with the assassination of the Duke in 1628 along with the siege of La Rochelle.

Buy Link for The Adventures of Henry Cardigan
Connect with Harry on Twitter

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Editors Weekly Round-up, January 13, 2019

by the EHFA Editors

Enjoy this week's articles from English Historical Fiction Authors, and don't forget to comment on the Giveaway post!

by Marilyn Pemberton

by Penny Hampson

Comment on the post by midnight (PST) Sunday, Jan. 13 for a chance to win a copy

Friday, January 11, 2019

Mary, Countess of Elgin

By Penny Hampson

I expect most people will have heard of the Elgin Marbles and the controversy surrounding them. The focus of their story has always been Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin and 11th Earl of Kincardine, and whether he acquired the marbles illegally. But what is known of his first wife Mary, who accompanied him on his travels? Like most women of the time, her life has been overshadowed by her husband’s, and her main claim to fame has been her involvement in a scandalous divorce case. However, closer inspection of the records reveals a woman of lively intellect who possessed great strength in adversity.

Mary was born in April 1778, the only child and heiress of William Hamilton Nisbet of Dirleton and Belhaven, and his wife, Mary Manners, granddaughter of John Manners, 2nd Duke of Rutland. William Nisbet was a wealthy Scottish landowner, who during Mary’s teen years became a Member of Parliament, thereby introducing Mary to London society. As a wealthy heiress, related to nobility, and by all accounts very attractive, Mary was quite a catch.

Thomas Bruce, although titled and well-connected, was somewhat less wealthy. A second son, he had inherited his title just before his fifth birthday, his older brother having died at the age of seven.  Educated at Harrow and Westminster, he attended St Andrews University and also studied in Paris, giving him an excellent command of the French language. He joined the army, but saw no active service, and he commenced his diplomatic career in 1790, when he was posted to Austria. After various other postings, in 1798 he was appointed Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. Shortly before departing to take up this position he courted and married Mary.

They married in March 1799, and the couple departed Portsmouth for Constantinople in September the same year, with Mary knowing she was pregnant. This seems to have been a particularly brave decision on her part. Not only were they travelling at a time when Britain was at war with France, but she was heading to a relatively unknown and alien part of the world. To go when she was also expecting her first child, a time when many women can feel vulnerable and apprehensive, takes a certain sort of courage and determination.

As mentioned previously, Mary was wealthy, and upon their marriage Thomas Bruce would have had access to her wealth. This was used to ensure that the Elgin household was one befitting a British Ambassador. Their party consisted of not only artists – Elgin tried unsuccessfully to engage the twenty-four-year-old J.M.W. Turner to accompany him – but also a private secretary, musicians, and a chaplain. Apparently, it was specified that at least one of the musicians should be able to teach the pianoforte, presumably to Mary, so it appears that they did not travel lightly.

It took them two months to get to Constantinople, by way of Lisbon, Gibraltar, Sicily, and several other ports of call. Once in Constantinople, they based themselves in the recently vacated French Embassy, which Mary renovated. As the Ambassador’s wife she proceeded to establish herself as a society hostess, hosting balls and parties. For a young woman – she was only twenty-one – pregnant, and living in an unfamiliar environment, she seems to have been remarkably cool-headed. 

But not everything went smoothly. Despite their wealth, they were subject to the same health hazards affecting ordinary people. A letter of July 1801 from Reverend Hunt, the family chaplain, to their private secretary, mentions that Lord Bruce, Mary’s fifteen-month-old firstborn son, was recovering from fever and dysentery, which must have been a worrying time for Mary.

After a successful sojourn as a society hostess in Constantinople, in 1802 Mary set off on her travels again, this time accompanying her husband to Athens. She now had another child, Mary, in addition to her firstborn, Lord Bruce. In lively letters to her mother, Mrs Hamilton Nisbet, Mary makes light of the perils of travel. She describes how, after they departed Constantinople on 28th March 1802, their ship was caught up in a storm, so bad that ‘Bruce was almost the only person on board who was neither sick nor frightened’. 

By 1st April, still suffering from rough weather, Mary insisted on going ashore in the Bay of Mandria (Porto Mandri, in the south-east of Attica), where they pitched a tent in a cave and stayed overnight. For some reason the children had been left aboard ship, a situation that was remedied the next day, when they too were brought ashore.

Bad weather was not the only danger; pirates were an ever-present threat. It was then decided that the remainder of the journey be undertaken overland. Horses and asses were hired, and accompanied by two wet-nurses, and a washerwoman, the journey continued. Mary, in the same letter, describes the next six hours as ‘most tedious’, which rather sounds like an understatement. Arriving finally at a village for the night she says ‘I expected to sleep like a Queen! But in this Alas! I was disappointed’. Her humour and ability to make light of what must have been very trying circumstances are what make her such an engaging personality. She goes on to describe how they spent ‘a most delightful night’ plagued by fleas that kept her and the children awake. 

With Athens another nine hours journey away, Mary paints a wonderful picture of her children, riding in baskets attached to the mules, ‘we deposited our little treasures in the baskets and off we set’.  She admits her own exhaustion, ‘I really thought of getting off my horse and laying down, for I was never so faged’ (sic). Arriving in Athens at about nine in the evening, the children however ‘arrived as fresh and lively as possible’. They at least must have enjoyed some comfort and rest on the journey.     
By the 15th April, Mary had obviously recovered sufficiently from the journey to visit the Bath, which she describes ‘it very far surpassed my expectation’ although, ‘the dancing was too indecent beyond anything’.

Life in Athens must have been quite pleasant for Mary; she mentions giving a ball and spending her days at her pianoforte, reading, or arranging medals in the gallery. She dines at two and drives out every afternoon in her curricle. Just like any modern mother, the safety of her children was also of paramount concern – she arranges for a gate to be put at the top of the stairs, so that the young Lord Bruce has a safe place to toddle about. 

But Mary had itchy feet; in another letter to her mother she describes leaving the children in Athens on 3rd May while she accompanies her husband on yet another tour. Embarking on a ten-oared barge, they departed at noon on a very hot day, taking in a stop to visit ruins on the way to Port Nisea, where they stayed the night in a miserable cottage.

The next day their travels continued by barge to Port Cencha, where they stayed in the Governor’s house. Mary describes a visit to the ladies of the harem, who had left their own house in the country in order to see her. An independent female who travelled with her husband and endured harsh conditions, must have seemed a novelty to the confined and restricted Turkish ladies. She writes that she was ‘deluged with rose water’ during her visit and treated as an honoured guest during the twenty minutes she stayed with them.

From Corinth, the party then travelled to Nemea and then onwards to the ruined city of Mycenae. Mary takes part in all the excursions to see the ruins, giving a lively account of how she had to crawl on all fours to enter one cavern, before creeping through another subterranean passage to the next vault. She mentions with some pride that a young man in their party, who had been instructed by his mother not to undertake anything that Lady Elgin herself did not undertake, refused to follow her into the second vault. Mary is not the faint-hearted female that we are led to believe is typical of the period in which she lived.

Having reached Tripolitza on 9th May, where they were given a lavish welcome by the Pasha, they stayed only a few days before setting off on the return journey to Athens. They had been warned against travelling further because of the threats posed by bands of robbers. Using a different route, Mary conveys her love of travelling by her vivid descriptions of the countryside and explorations of yet more ruins of ancient sites.

Our ride from thence was along the Bed of a Torrent, between very steep Mountains and Crags, covered with Myrtles, Arbutus, Oleanders, Olives, Locust Trees, Brooms, and other extremely beautiful Shrubs which grow there with the utmost luxuriance. I should certainly have been ruined could Money have bribed the Shrubs to have left the scorching Sun of Greece for the cooling breezes of the Firth. It undoubtedly was without any exception the most perfectly inchanting ride I ever took, quite in my style; the road very dangerous and the Mountains perpendicular.’

The ride took eleven hours and although Mary admits to being ‘fatigued’ one gets the distinct impression from her account that she loved every moment of it. They arrived back in Athens on 15th May. Throughout her various travels, the sleeping in caves, damp tents, or verminous cottages, Mary never complains, but describes everything with a positive tone and a sense of humour.

Another letter of Mary’s, this time to her husband, demonstrates what a loving and affectionate relationship they enjoyed. Her pet name is apparently ‘Dot’, though she refers to him always as Elgin. Here she boasts about how she persuaded Captain Hoste to take several cases of marbles aboard his ship. ‘How I have faged to get this done, do you love me better for it, Elgin? …I am now satisfied of what I always thought; which is how much more Women can do if they set about it, than Men.’

With such evidence of a strong, indomitable character, it is a wonder that she has been relegated to the footnotes of history and only famed for her acrimonious divorce. Further excursions are taken before the journey back to Constantinople; there are hair-raising accounts of encounters with pirates, storms, and treks along mountainous roads with precipitous drops to one side; all these are recounted in letters to her mother and read like an adventure story.

Amongst it all, Mary still found time to attend a ball given by the Russian Consul when they stopped en-route at Tenos. Most surprisingly of all, it is learned from a letter of Elgin’s dated 8th October 1802, that Mary had in fact been pregnant during all these adventures. She gave birth to another daughter in late September of that year.

In January 1803, the Elgins left Constantinople by sea for Athens and thence to Malta; by April they had reached Rome, where they spent Holy Week. They travelled onwards via Genoa and Marseilles, and by great misfortune were in Paris when the First Consul (Bonaparte) declared all Englishmen in France between the ages of eighteen and sixty prisoners of war. Elgin was held captive in France from 1803 until 1806 and Mary worked hard to secure his release.

However, it was during this time that the marriage fell apart. There is some dispute as to Elgin’s affliction. What is not in dispute is that he lost his nose, a terrible disfigurement. Depending on which version you prefer, he was either suffering from syphilis or the mercury, which he was allegedly taking for a lung condition, caused his nose to disintegrate. Either way, Mary no longer wished to have intimate relations with him. The arrival on the scene of one Robert Ferguson of Raith complicated matters; he and Mary fell in love and, after much bitterness and an acrimonious divorce, Mary married Ferguson in 1808. The couple never had children of their own. Like many other women of her period, Mary faded from public view.

Wood, Gillen D'Arcy. “Mourning the Marbles: The Strange Case of Lord Elgin's Nose.” The Wordsworth Circle, vol. 29, no. 3, 1998, pp. 171–177.  JSTOR,

Hunt, Philip and Smith, A. H. “Lord Elgin and His Collection”, The Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 36, (1916), pp. 163-372. Publ. by The Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies. url:

Vrettos, Theodore. The Elgin Affair: The Abduction of Antiquity’s Greatest Treasures and the Passions It Aroused. Secker & Warburg, London, 1997

Mitsi E. “Commodifying Antiquity in Mary Nisbet’s Journey to the Ottoman Empire”. Travel, Discovery, Transformation. 2014;1:45.

Portrait of Mary Nisbet, Countess of Elgin (1777 - 1855) by  Francois-Pascal-Simon Gerard (1770-1837) Scottish National Gallery accession number: NG 1496 Scottish National Gallery(On Display)


Some time ago Penny Hampson decided to follow her passion for history by studying with the Open University. She graduated with honours and went on to complete a post-graduate degree. 
Penny then landed her dream role, working in an environment where she was surrounded by rare books and historical manuscripts. Flash forward nineteen years, and the opportunity came along to indulge her other main passion – writing historical fiction. Encouraged by friends and family, three years later Penny published her debut novel, A Gentleman’s Promise. 
Penny lives with her family in Oxfordshire, and when she is not writing, she enjoys reading, walking, swimming, and the odd gin and tonic (not all at the same time).
You can follow Penny on Twitter at: @penny_hampson
Visit Penny’s Amazon author page:
To discover more of Penny’s writing, visit her website and blog here.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Mary's Walk in the Jewel Garden: Spiritualism in the 19th Century

By Marilyn Pemberton

There is a general consensus that the huge increase in the popularity of spiritualism in the nineteenth century started with the Fox sisters in 1847. The Fox family had recently taken up residence in Hydesville, a village in New York State, when they began to hear strange noises in the house. Mr Fox and his wife got up each night to try and discover from whence the knockings came but to no avail. There seemed to be some intelligence behind the knocks because when the mother asked, “How old is my daughter Margaret?” there was a reply of 12 knocks, and of nine knocks when the age of Kate was asked. When Kate was sent to a relation at Rochester the raps followed her. Similar knocks occurred about the same time in the houses of the neighbours. An alphabet and code of signals was established, and one of the first messages given from beyond was, “We are all your dear friends and relatives.”

L-R: Margaret, Kate and Leah Fox

This may well have been the start of the spiritualist phenomena that swept through the UK during the second half of the nineteenth century. Well before the Fox sisters “created spiritualism”, however, Sophia Frend, later De Morgan, (1809 - 1892), was a firm believer in the existence of spirits, in a life after death and the ability of spirits to communicate with the living. Whilst still a child, she expressed to a Jewish neighbour her hope in such “another world”. The neighbour promised to visit her and tell her all about it when he died, which he unfortunately did just a few weeks later. In her reminiscences, Three Score Years and Ten, Sophia recounts how she went to bed the night of the man’s death with no fear or apprehension, or indeed, any memory of his promise. She was roused, however, by strange noises, fluttering curtains and the feeling of a “presence” beside her, which remained throughout that night and subsequent nights for the rest of the week.

Although Sophia was a whole-hearted believer in spiritualism, her husband was somewhat less so. Augustus De Morgan (1806 - 1871), a renowned mathematician, was considered to be the first man of science to study the phenomena of spiritualism, clairvoyance and telepathy with seriousness. Although Augustus never categorically confirmed the existence of spirits, he did experience events that he could find no rational answer for. He wrote a letter to the Reverend Heald  in 1853, for instance, telling of a séance he had attended at the house of Mrs Hayden, an American medium. He was allowed to ask questions mentally, and was surprised that the rapped answers, which only he and the dead knew, were correct. He concluded the letter by saying “I have no theory about it ...”
Augustus was unable to be totally serious about rapping, however, and in a letter to his holidaying wife he finishes with a typically humorous comment on there being in the house “a great rapping - but I am afraid only workmen.”

Augustus de Morgan

Sophia’s desire to prove the existence of a life after death increased after the death of her beloved sister Harriet (1814-1836) and her daughter Alice (1838-1853) and resulted in the publication in 1863 of From Matter to Spirit: The Result of Ten Years’ Experience in Spirit Manifestations, Intended as a Guide to Enquirers. Sophia was the author and Augustus wrote the Preface - his reputation as an intelligent, rational investigator giving great credence to the book. Augustus’s prevarication in the letter to the Reverend Heald had not subsided a decade later and he admitted that:

I am satisfied, by the evidence of my own senses, of some of the facts narrated: of some others I have evidence as good as testimony can give. I am perfectly convinced that I have both seen, and heard in a manner which should make unbelief impossible, things called spiritual which cannot be taken by a rational being to be capable of explanation by imposture, coincidence, or mistake. So far I feel the ground firm under me. But when it comes to what is the cause of these phenomena, I find I cannot adopt any explanation which has yet been suggested. 

In From Matter to Spirit, Sophia describes multiple examples of rapping, table-moving, mesmerism, mediumship, spirit-writing and drawing, visions, and the formation of the spiritual body after death - all experienced by herself or by others well known to her. The detailed descriptions are interesting and thought provoking, and although Sophia maintains that she is merely reporting the facts and it is up to the reader to decide on the cause, it is clear that she absolutely believes that the spirits can, and do, communicate with the living. She claims, quite unequivocally, that the force that passes between a mesmeriser to the patient “is that by which all the operations of mediumship are carried on, and the source from whence it immediately flows is an unseen and intelligent being, asserting itself to be a spirit, which has quitted the material earthly form.”

What is of greater interest than the different experiments and the looked and unlooked-for visions or communications from the spirits, or even Sophia’s very detailed instructions on how to carry out a séance, is how these experiences were incorporated into the daily life, not just of Sophia, but also of her whole family. For instance, the De Morgan family and another family were both staying in a seaside lodging-house and they agreed to hold a séance. It is not so much the description of the moving table that is of interest, but rather that the account of the séance held during a holiday is told as if this was an everyday occurrence. On another occasion, Sophia describes how, one evening, she became very sleepy and how “the influence like mesmerism remained with me after I had gone with my children to the nursery.”

De Morgan describes so many personal experiences in From Matter to Spirit, that the reader gets the impression that Sophia’s life was indeed divided equally between the world of the living and the world of the spirits. One wonders what effect this had on her seven children.

Alice’s death, at the age of fifteen, was indeed a physical loss, but could perhaps be considered to be a spiritual gain. When, for instance, Sophia had a photograph taken with a medium, the developed picture showed a shadowy figure standing behind her, whom Sophia identified as her dead daughter. This can doubtless be attributed to the wishful thinking of a grieving mother, but From Matter to Spirit makes very clear Sophia’s absolute confidence in a life after death, and the ability of the spirits to communicate with and to guide the mere mortals still living in the here and now. This is evidenced by a fascinating hand-written notebook in which she recorded the dreams and visions experienced not only by herself but also of her youngest daughter, Mary (1850 - 1907). The notebook covers the years 1856-1857, at which time Mary was only six, and her dreams, according to her mother’s records, often include references to Alice, who had died some three years earlier. Sophia was a firm believer in the concept of a spirit guide and it would have come as no surprise to her that Mary, being an innocent child and therefore receptive to such visions, was communicated to in her dreams by her dead sister.

The words recorded in the notebook are blatantly not those of a six-year old child, nor are most of the sketches. One must therefore assume that there was a certain amount of “interpretation” done by her mother. This in itself is fascinating, as this was some forty years before Freud published his own Interpretation of Dreams. Freud, of course, interpreted dreams from an objective point of view and searched for the dreamer’s subconscious desires and fears. Sophia, on the other hand, assumed every object in a dream to be a symbol of religion or spiritualism; she saw no inconsistency between spiritualism and Christianity.

There follows an excerpt from one of the records in the notebook that tells of “Mary’s Walk in the Jewel Garden”, based on a dream November 14th 1856. The notebook itself can be found in the De Morgan Archives, held at Senate House, University of London.

I was walking along till I came to the arch which was like this. 
I could not get through the middle one, because the handle was too high up; if I had been dead I should have gone through the middle door. I don’t know why the right hand door had no handle. I went through the small door with the handle and got into the garden.
First of all there were violets of a rich blue sapphire and green emeralds for the leaves; the lilies grew among them made of white pearl with emerald leaves also. The roses were some of red ruby and some of red ruby with pearl. The chrysanthemums were made of many coloured stones. The periwinkles were of turquoise and some of a beautiful white pearl. The geraniums were of ruby and coral and the buds were so transparent that they shewed the colour of the flowers’ buds through. The breezes smelt so sweet without your trying to smell them the scent comes to you. The jasmines were inside and outside the crystal water and shewed through. Then I came back. 

The picture which accompanied the notes

According to Sophia, there are three spiritual degrees that are represented by gardens: the first degree is symbolised by lanes, groves and gardens similar to those on earth; the second, higher degree is symbolised by the silver and gold garden; the third and highest degree is the jewelled garden. Sophia gave no explanation here or in From Matter to Spirit of the symbolism of the flowers and jewels but the Victorians commonly used flowers and gems as symbols for emotions or ideologies that they wished to evoke: violets for virtue; emeralds for hope; lilies for beauty; pearls for tears; roses for love; chrysanthemums for abundance; periwinkles for sweet memories; coral for innocence; jasmine for grace; geraniums for consolation; sapphire for truth.

One cannot but wonder what the six-year Mary saw, heard, was told or was involved in during the day, such that she experienced - or told her mother that she had experienced - such dreams as she supposedly had at night. Did Mary have fairly ordinary dreams which her mother interpreted according to her own belief in the spirits? Did Mary describe dreams that she knew her mother wanted to hear, realising, even at the age of six, that her mother yearned for confirmation that the dead endure - including Alice whom Mary could surely barely remember? Or was Mary in truth one of those “innocent loving children” through whom the spirits communicated?

Three of the De Morgan children died during the lifetime of their parents and a further two during Sophia’s. One can only hope that her belief in a life after death sustained her and that she maintained her conviction in a better and higher existence, one that can be equated, according to her husband, with “emigration to a country from which there is no way back, and no mail packets.”


Marilyn Pemberton is still a full-time IT project manager. At the age of 40 she commenced a part-time BA that ended, many years later, with a PhD on the utopian & dystopian aspects of Victorian fairy tales. 
During her research Marilyn became obsessed with Mary De Morgan, a Victorian writer of fairy tales. Her obsession resulted in Out of the Shadows: The Life and Works of Mary De Morgan, followed by a fictional novel based on Mary’s life, The Jewel Garden, published February 2018.
Marilyn is a member of the Society of Women Writers & Journalists, the Historical Novel Society and The Society of Authors. 
Marilyn has just completed her second novel, Song of the Nightingale, about two young boys in eighteenth-century Italy, who are bought from their families, castrated and then trained to be singers. It tells not only of singing, but also deceit, murderous revenge, passion and reconciliation.