Sunday, June 30, 2019

Editors Weekly Round-up, June 30, 2019

by the EHFA Editors

Lauren Gilbert gives us the fascinating history of Baltimore, County Cork, in this week's round-up. Never miss a post on EHFA.

by Lauren Gilbert

Friday, June 28, 2019

The Village of Baltimore, County Cork

by Lauren Gilbert

Usually when I think of Baltimore, I think of “Charm City” in Maryland, steamed crabs, and a visit to Fells Point, the Walters Gallery and the original Washington Monument. However, there is another Baltimore, which is completely different from the city in Maryland. It is a small village in Western County Cork in the southernmost parish, at the very tip, facing Spain. The village overlooks Roaring Water Bay, and today is an active ferry port, home to approximately 300-400 people (although the population increases during the summer). However, the village is on the site of an ancient location, possibly home to Druids. It is also the site of a singular pirate raid, known as the Sack of Baltimore that occurred in 1631.

Drombeg Stone Circle, taken by Nigel Cox, CC BY-SA2.0

Drombeg Stone Circle in Western County Cork is located about 17 miles away up the coast; it also seems possible to get there by boat - it overlooks the sea and is about ½ mile inland. It was constructed during the Bronze Age, and aligned with sunset on the Midwinter Solstice.  It may have been a place of sacrifice.  It seems possible that Druids were in West County Cork, and conceivably in Baltimore itself.  Baltimore is the anglicised version of Irish Gaelic Baile an Tí Mhóir which means “Town of the Big House”; it may also have a link to Beltane (the Gaelic May Day Festival) and a link to Baal, a sun god worshipped by the ancient Celts (Beal-ti-mor meaning House of Baal; Bal/Bel/Baal place names are found in throughout Ireland).

Baltimore Castle, Cork, Ireland, photo by Or la freedom, CC BY-SA4.0

From the 12th through the 16th centuries, the area was part of the Province of Munster, the seat of the former Kings of Munster and Kings of Tara. It was, and is still, the site of Dún na Séad Castle (also known as Dunashad and Baltimore Castle), Fort of the Jewels (possibly the “Big House” mentioned in the Gaelic name of the village). According to the Irish Annals, the castle was built in 1215 by a descendant of Robert FitzStephen, a Norman settler. It changed hands numerous times in its tumultuous history of Norman activity, clan warfare and English invasion. Oliver Cromwell also made an impact on the castle, having confirmed its surrender November 14, 1649. The castle was destroyed many times but always rebuilt, most recently over an 8-year period beginning in 1999 by the McCarthy family. It is now a private home.

The area belonged to the O’Driscoll clan. The O’Driscolls were descended from the original settlers. Although their lands had been reduced by invaders from other clans, they managed to hang on to the area around Baltimore for over 400 years. The industries were pilchard fishing and piracy. Many of these local pirates pursued foreign ships for the English. Information indicates that the Irish pirates in the Baltimore area were in contact with the Barbary pirates, some of whom may have even lived in Baltimore. Ultimately, the pirates got greedy. In 1537, they hijacked a Portuguese ship loaded with wine bound for the Waterford markets. Before they got the wine unloaded, the merchants sent a group to recover the ship, which they did. Afterwards, 3 warships were sent in and Baltimore and the O’Driscoll strongholds were destroyed. Although the O’Driscolls rebuilt, they were in a very vulnerable position.

Ultimately, the O’Driscoll clan allied with the English because of conflicts with other clans. Sir Thomas Crooke established an English colony in Baltimore about 1605, with the approval of King James I, on lands leased from Sir Fineen O’Driscoll, then head of the O’Driscoll Clan. The rent paid to the clan was significant. However, the situation in Baltimore was not easy. The settlers were English dissenters, looking for a place to worship as they wished. They were not welcomed by the local inhabitants. However, they built their homes, farmed, fished, and coexisted more or less successfully. (They may also have become involved with the pirate trade.) Although Irish piracy was decried, and Sir Thomas himself had been accused of being in league with pirates, Baltimore was granted borough status in 1612, and elected 2 members to the Irish House of Commons. There is no doubt, as time passed, that the village was between a rock and a hard place: as dissenters, they received little assistant from London, especially when Charles I became king as he was not tolerant of dissent; as English, they were frequently harassed by the native Irish.
Hand-drawn map of the village of Baltimore c 1631

In the 17th Century, the Barbary pirates were known and feared. On June 20, 1631, the village of Baltimore was attacked by the Barbary Pirates, who took almost all of the villagers captive. Most of these captives were women and children. Data indicates that this raid on Baltimore was deliberately planned for the purpose of obtaining slaves. Rumours about a possible attack had been in circulation since 1630, but no defensive action was taken. While there was at least one Royal navy ship in the area that was supposed to be patrolling, for whatever reason, there was no defence of Baltimore and no rescue of those captured attempted immediately at the time. Pursuit was delayed while those in power attempted to assign blame. The village was almost completely abandoned, as many of the surviving inhabitants fled to Skibbereen. By the mid-17th century, the castle itself was in ruins. After 15 years in captivity, Joane Broadbrook and Ellen Hawkins were finally ransomed and brought back. They were the only 2 of the captives to be ransomed and returned.

There are multiple theories about the reason for the sack of Baltimore at this time. One possibility is that the O’Driscolls ordered the raid to get rid of the English settlers. Another possibility is that the raid was ordered by Sir Walter Coppinger, an Irish moneylender, who wanted to take over control of Baltimore and had been trying to do so by other means. A third alternative is that Sir Thomas Crooke himself was in league with the pirates and ordered the attack to facilitate more pirate activity out of Baltimore. There is even a theory that the three men may have conspired together. There is no evidence establishing the validity of any of these possibilities. However, the questions continue to be asked.

In the 18th Century, the ruined village of Baltimore saw slow regrowth. The Baltimore Beacon (Lot’s wife) was built after the 1798 Rebellion. Although it had lost its status of borough in 1800 due to its ruined state, in the early 1800s, the village was becoming almost prosperous. In the 1830s, it had over 400 inhabitants, an active port and a new school. Then the Great Famine created new hardships and losses. People died and left again. 
View of Baltimore Beacon near Baltimore, Co. Cork, Ireland by Ben Rudiak-Gould, taken July 1, 2008

Today, the village is alive and well. It is a sister city with Baltimore, Maryland; a Baltimore clipper named the Pride of Baltimore landed at Baltimore County Cork in 1985 and is still the subject of local artists’ work. Baltimore is a famous fishing centre and a popular destination for tourists in the summer particularly those interested in water sports such as sailing, kayaking, etc. as well as bird- and wildlife-watching. Dún na Séad Castle has been fully restored, and has many visitors, including members of the O’Driscoll clan who have held clan gatherings there. The raid of the Barbary pirates has not been forgotten; Algerian names crop up and a Pirate Festival was held in 2013. This post is a much-abbreviated history of this fascinating area. I highly recommend THE STOLEN VILLAGE Baltimore and the Barbary Pirates by Des Ekin and BALTIMORE CASTLE An 800-Year History by Bernie McCarthy for more details.


Ekin, Des. THE STOLEN VILLAGE Baltimore and the Barbary Pirates. 2008: The O’Brien Press Ltd., Dublin.

McCarthy, Bernie. BALTIMORE CASTLE An 800-Year History. 2012: Baltimore Castle Publications, Baltimore, County Cork. O’Halloran, W. EARLY IRISH HERITAGE AND ANTIQUITIES AND THE HISTORY OF WEST CORK. 1916: Sealy, Bryan and Walker, Dublin. (digital edition produced 2013.) PDF file. HERE

Baltimore & the Isles. “Dún na Séad Castle.” (No post date or author shown.)HERE “Meet the Baltimore across the Atlantic, a jewel of Ireland” by Raymond M. Lane, February 23, 2017. HERE PIRATES AND PRIVATEERS-THE HISTORY OF MARITIME PIRACY. “Baltimore, Ireland 20 June 1631” by Cindy Vallar, (c) 2014.  HERE  ‘”A Place of Sacrifice”: Tour the Stone Circle that freaked out a 1930s Psychic’. Neil Jackman, May 15, 2015.   HERE

Drombeg Stone Circle. Wikimedia Commons.  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike.  HERE

Baltimore Castle.  Wikimedia Commons.  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike. HERE

Map of Baltimore c 1631 scanned from my personal copy of THE STOLEN VILLAGE Baltimore and the Barbary Pirates by Des Ekin. 

Baltimore Beacon. Wikimedia Commons.  Public Domain.  HERE


Lauren Gilbert holds a Bachelor of Arts in English with a minor in Art History.  Her first book, HEYERWOOD A Novel, was released in 2011.  Her second novel, A RATIONAL ATTACHMENT, will be released this year.  She is currently researching material for a biography. Lauren lives in Florida with her husband.  For more information, please visit her website.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Editors Weekly Round-up, June 23, 2019

by the EHFA Editors

Enjoy this week's articles from the EHFA blog.

by Chris Bishop
St. Cuthbert by Weglinde [CC BY-SA 3.0]

by Annie Whitehead

photo ©Annie Whitehead

Friday, June 21, 2019

The People's History Hiding around Snowdon

By Annie Whitehead

Pretty much everyone has heard of Mount Snowdon, or, to give it its Welsh name, Yr Wyddfa. It's there, it's big (1,085m) and it doesn't 'do' much. But take some time to not climb it and you'll discover some interesting history.

By 'not climbing' it, I mean take a walk nearby; you'll still have to scramble pretty high though so wear stout shoes!

Across the road from the base of Snowdon is Padarn Country Park and it's here where our tour begins. This was the site of the Dinorwic Quarry workshop and now houses the National Slate Museum. Admission is free, and you can still see much of the original tools and machinery. Look up at the hillside and you can also see how the quarry transformed it:

From there, you can walk trails which do, I admit, sometimes make climbing Yr Wyddfa seem like the easier option.  The trail I took brought me first to the Quarry Hospital. This was built in 1860 and is open now to the visitor who might wish to see how the hospital looked and operated in Victorian times. In fact, general surgery was still being carried out here as late as the 1940s. The rooms are now all laid out as in a museum and it literally smells like history. I felt a slight detachment until I went into the little building to the side of the hospital and stared for a while at the mortuary slabs.

Photo: Eric Jones - attribution link

There are some horror stories, that's for sure. Take Edward Jones, from Bethel, who needed to have both arms amputated; one at the shoulder and one at the wrist. Thanks to the doctors working at the hospital, a device was constructed which enabled him to hold cutlery and to take his hat off when going to Chapel on Sundays. The hospital boasted an X-ray machine, only three years after such things were invented. It also had, unusually for the time, hot and cold running water. The hospital was not able to help everyone, however. Deeply poignant was the tale of a young lad named Christmas - he was born on 25th December - who was crushed to death by machinery whilst working in the quarry. The hospital was a boon, though, meaning that injured men could be treated quickly.

The woodland trail is supposed to be one of the gentler walks which radiate out from the park centre. Somehow, though, I found myself on the Vivian Quarry trail, climbing higher than I meant to, but coming across the most vivid piece of history. Now, I'll be the first to admit that industrial history does not interest me overly much and a lot of the information about the quarry workings themselves was not of any special interest to me. But when I stumbled upon Anglesey Barracks, here, like the hospital, was another link to the men who worked at the quarry and spoke to me in a way that old wheels, giant bellows and engines simply couldn't.

'Anglesey' Barracks? Anglesey is not terribly near this area, so what was this all about? Well, these were cottages built to house the quarry workers who came from Anglesey, so that they could live on site during the week and return home at weekends. They would leave to go home on a Saturday afternoon and return to start work on Monday morning, so had at least part of the weekend away from the site. It all sounds very enlightened, doesn't it? Before I read up about it, I looked at these buildings and thought they were quite quaint, until I discovered that in each cottage, four men were crammed in, sharing the tiny space, roughly 20ft by 10 ft. The cottages had no running water, and there was only a coal fire for heating and cooking. Relics from the Victorian age? Incredibly, these cottages were still occupied in 1948, when a visit from the authorities saw them condemned, unfit for human habitation, and closed down.

Despite the appalling conditions, there was apparently a strong camaraderie, which saw the men gathering for choir singing and poetry readings. I can well believe it. These men lived and worked alongside each other and here, halfway up a hillside, was a mini-village. Ties of friendship and shared origins must have counted for a lot among these men from Ynys Mon (Anglesey).

Descending from here, once again it is clear how the quarrying affected the landscape:

The only way down from here is via a walkway piled high with enormous slate and you can get a slight feel for the hazardous conditions which prevailed here. I was just a tourist, walking on a lovely sunny spring day, but I wouldn't have cared to walk down this hillside in wet, slippy conditions, or to be working machinery or hefting equipment.

Here, too, is a reminder of people who lived in this area in ages gone by. In the distance of the photograph above, you can just make out Dolbadarn Castle (which will be the subject of my next article) which was the starting point for my walk that day. There is a rather tragic story associated with the castle, involving a man who was locked up there for many years, and which I'll relate next time. This landscape carries reminders of all the people who have lived and worked in the area over the centuries.

The next day, I went up Snowdon. It's a beautiful mountain and the views from the summit are breathtaking - almost literally, on a windy day - but what really caught my attention was a building halfway down the mountain.

This ruin is Hebron Chapel, built by the families who lived in the valley, the folk who worked the land, or in the quarries. They raised the money themselves, poor though they were, and built this Calvinist chapel. There seems to be some dispute over the completion date and I can't find the definitive answer, but the consensus seems to be that it was completed in 1797, which would have seen it completed only a decade or so after the first quarrying was carried out at Dinorwic, so perhaps the alternative date of 1833 might be considered nearer the mark. What can be said for certain is that it is now a ruin, yet another marker on this landscape to remind us of the ordinary folk who lived and worked in an area that, nowadays, we tend to think of as a natural playground for us to enjoy in our leisure time. A reminder, also, that history is all around us.

[all photos by and copyright of Annie Whitehead unless otherwise attributed.]


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 Aethelflaed, 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. Annie has a deep and abiding love of North Wales and its rich history and takes every opportunity to visit.
Connect with Annie: Website, Facebook, Twitter, Blog, Amazon

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Should Alfred Be Known as the Come-back King?

By Chris Bishop

My title may seem to be rather ‘trite’ when referring to one of the truly iconic figures from English history but it is surprisingly apt.  There are many stories of great men who have lost almost everything yet managed to restore themselves and Alfred the Great must surely rank highly among them.  Let me explain why.

His story actually starts in 793 - nearly a hundred years before the era for which he is best remembered - when there was a surprise Viking attack on a monastery at Lindisfarne.  This was followed by more raids until, in circa 865, a Viking army, known as the ‘Great Heathen Army’, landed in East Anglia determined to conquer England for themselves.  This largely Danish force quickly secured most of the kingdoms which made up England at that time leaving just one, Wessex, to stand alone.

By 870 Wessex was ruled by King Aethelred who, with his younger brother, Alfred, held the Vikings off but the only significant victory they achieved was at the Battle of Ashdown in 871.  There Aethelred is said to have spent so long at Mass that Alfred pre-empted things and ordered the attack himself, thus enhancing his military reputation.  Aethelred died later that same year, probably from wounds received at the Battle of Marton.

England 878 Attribution Link

In those days there was no automatic right of succession.  Kings were ‘chosen’ and Alfred, as an accomplished warrior, was the obvious contender to succeed his brother (though not the only one).  As King, he continued his campaign against the Vikings but could not secure a decisive victory.  He also tried to buy peace by paying tribute, an act which didn’t best please the church or many of the senior Saxons.  Then, in 877, he retired to his Royal Vill in Chippenham for the winter, thinking himself safe until Spring.  But on the 10th day after Christmas (in January 878) the Vikings under Jarl Guthrum launched a surprise attack.   Alfred’s army – or at least that part of it which had remained with him - was all but annihilated.  Alfred fled with a few survivors and hid in the desolate marshes at Athelney in the Somerset Levels, a time which features strongly in my first novel, Blood and Destiny.

Given the ferocity of the attack, Alfred was lucky to escape with his life.  In fact, luck is a key element in his story.  For a start, he was ‘lucky’ that only part of the Viking army attacked his Vill.  Had it been the full force it’s doubtful he would have survived.  Also, he was ‘lucky’ to be King in the first place as, being the youngest of five brothers, he was destined for a life in the church until one by one his brothers predeceased him and he found himself as King.  

But King of what?  His kingdom was all but lost and he had nothing which could be described as an army at his disposal.  Estimates of the numbers who accompanied him vary but it’s likely that many of them would have been wounded and no doubt dejected having lost family and friends in the attack - and the marshes at Athelney were a harsh and forbidding place in which to survive the winter.  Yet it is from this miserable and wretched period that many of the stories about Alfred emanate - such as the burning of the cakes and the contention that he disguised himself as a wandering minstrel and actually returned to Chippenham to spy on the Vikings.  Make what you will of the story about the cakes (you might like to see the blog on my website ‘So, Did Alfred Really Burn the Cakes?’ but the idea of him returning to spy on his enemies is an unlikely proposition given that the prize for anyone prepared to betray him would have been wealth beyond reckoning.  

Undaunted, Alfred conducted what might best be described as a guerrilla campaign against the Vikings and, by Easter that same year, had somehow managed to rally the Saxon people in sufficient numbers to strike back and win a decisive victory at the Battle of Ethandune which then secured his realm of Wessex and ultimately provided the basis for a united England, albeit that didn’t happen until several generations later. 

Stained-glass window in Gloucester
Cathedral depicting Cuthbert -
Attribution Link
 My novel, Blood & Destiny, offers one possible explanation of how he achieved this incredible ‘come back’ but it remains a mystery.  The Saxons had efficient mechanisms for calling their men to battle but after so many years of war it’s likely that most would have had their fill of raids and fighting, particularly as Alfred, having gone into hiding, would have been thought by many to have been slain or to have fled abroad.  If so, his reappearance at Easter may have been seen as some sort of ‘resurrection’ in itself, something which would have helped to stir many loyal Saxons into action.  After all, they were fighting not just for themselves and their families, but for their freedom, their religion and for their whole way of life. 

One other important aspect of the battle is that Alfred claimed to have had a visitation from St Cuthbert who urged him to avenge the Christian church.  The ‘support’ of such a holy and much-loved saint would have encouraged many Saxons to follow Alfred, especially as the visitation would have seemed believable given that St Cuthbert had been disinterred from his grave at Lindisfarne and moved to keep his remains safe from Viking hands.  If no longer at rest, it would have been easy and heartening for the deeply religious Saxons to think of the goodly saint supporting their cause. 

So, what do we know about this important battle? 

Memorial stone to the battle at Edington,
erected in 2000 - Attribution Link
Well, the answer is not very much.  We’re not even sure exactly where it took place – some claim it was in Somerset but more likely it was close to a place called Edington near Chippenham and is therefore sometimes called ‘The Battle of Edington.’  

We also know very little about the tactics employed that day or how the battle progressed, though my novel does include a detailed account of what I think may have happened.  This is based on the fact that typical Saxon tactics would have involved a defensive shield wall with their foes pressed up hard against them locked in desperate hand to hand combat – but on foot, not on horseback as is sometimes depicted, for at that time most warriors tended not to ride into battle.  There is a story of Alfred leading a charge at the Battle of Ashdown mounted on a white horse but I find this to be unlikely as commanders usually positioned themselves at the rear of the shield wall from where they could best direct their men using runners to ensure their orders were properly relayed to all.  Ironically, a full-scale charge on horseback was probably first used against the Saxons at the Battle of Hastings to devastating effect – but that’s another story.  

Battle reenactment scene - Attribution Link

The outcome of the battle was a surprising victory for Alfred, forcing the Vikings to retreat to Chippenham where they held out for many days before surrendering.  When they did, Alfred actually showed compassion and wisdom in agreeing the terms of a peace treaty (The Treaty of Wedmore) which eventually ceded control of lands to the Vikings to ensure they didn’t trouble Wessex again (The Danelaw).  This respite provided a period of relative and much needed peace which, although it didn’t last, enabled Alfred to instigate the many reforms and initiatives for which he is renowned.

The relevance of this surprising victory reaches deep into English culture for had King Alfred not triumphed there, virtually the whole of England would have been under Viking rule and Alfred himself either executed or slain.  Had that occurred, many of the hugely important events which followed would simply not have happened; including quite possibly the Battle of Hastings given that the Vikings had such close ties with the Normans – the name ‘Norman’ is actually derived from the ‘Norsemen’ or ‘Northmen’,  Vikings who had settled in that part of France.  Whilst not exactly brothers, they might be considered as cousins, albeit many times removed.  

There is one postscript to the battle in that recent archaeological evidence suggests that Alfred may not have stood alone at Edington.  Coins struck just after the battle depict Alfred and Ceolwulf II of Mercia sitting side by side, suggesting that he enlisted – or perhaps accepted - help from Ceolwulf to fight a common foe.  Or did it reflect the alliance between them once victory had been achieved?  
Either way, Alfred must be credited for restoring his realm and turning utter defeat into triumph – no mean achievement when you consider the forces he was up against and what he went on to accomplish. Little wonder that he is one of the few people in the history of the world to be afforded the title ‘The Great’.

[Illustrations: all sourced from Wikipedia/Commons Licence - click on attribution links for more details]


Chris Bishop is the author of the Shadow of the Raven series, a trilogy set in the time of Alfred the Great.

Twitter: @CBishop_author
Chris is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Historical Writers' Association

Friday, June 14, 2019

The Duke of Wellington’s Female Circle: Frances, Lady Shelley

by Lauren Gilbert

Lady Shelley, from a miniature by G. Sanders, in the possession of Spencer Shelley Esq.

Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, was known to enjoy women, particularly pretty, intelligent women. He was credited with many mistresses (whether or not true) and he had many women friends whose company he enjoyed. One of these women was Frances, Lady Shelley, a notable diarist.

Frances was born in June 16, 1787 at Preston, Lancashire. Her father was Thomas Winckley, and her mother was Jacintha Dalrymple Hesketh. Originally known as Janet or Jennet, Jacintha was the previously-widowed sister of the famous courtesan Grace Dalrymple Elliot, whose family had a connection to the Earl of Peterborough. Jacintha and Thomas were descended of Jacobite families and they married in 1785. Thomas was about 17 years older than Jacintha. Jacintha had children (5 daughters and a son) by her first husband. Apparently Thomas did not care for the Hesketh connection; only one of Frances’ half-siblings lived in the household with her and her parents, and they rarely met the Hesketh siblings. The household was not a particularly happy one; Thomas spent a lot of time with his cronies, drank heavily and liked to play pranks. Accounts indicate that Thomas was quite well off. Shortly after moving his family to Larkhill, Thomas died in 1794, leaving his widow, their daughter Frances and 2 illegitimate sons. Jacintha inherited the house and furniture; the residue of Thomas’ estate was left to Frances, who was 6 years old.

In 1795, at the age of 8, Frances was sent to school at Twickenham, where she resided for 2 years. She was removed from school and went to live at her mother’s home in Bath, under the instruction of a governess. She also had a drawing master. Apparently, she had delicate health, possibly with lung problems. At age 10, her doctor recommended fresh air and exercise, so she was allowed to spend a lot of time outdoors. She read a great deal, including the works of the poet Cowper and the tracts of Hannah Moore, and was imbued with a spirit of reform at a young age.

Jacintha Winckley remarried on September 1, 1799 in Bath. She wed Major James Barrington, an Irish career Army man. Although Frances later professed to be shocked by it, and claimed that her mother had had no one to advise her, the marriage was witnessed by Jacintha’s daughter (and Frances’ half-sister) Harriet Hesketh Despard and her husband General John Despard. Although respected by his fellow soldiers, Frances did not like him. Shortly after the marriage, the household moved to London, where Jacintha became very sick. Sometime before Jacintha’s death, Frances returned to her mother’s room to find a stranger visiting: her notorious aunt Grace Dalrymple Elliott. It was her only meeting with her aunt. Frances stayed with and cared for her mother until about 1801 when she was removed from the Barrington household by her guardian Reverend Geoffrey Hornby (who was related to Thomas Winckley, and whose son would inherit Thomas’ estate if Frances died). Jacintha died January 7, 1802, when Frances was approaching 15 years old.

Shortly thereafter, her half-brother, Sir Thomas Hesketh, brought Frances to live with him and his family. She again had a governess, and got on well with her sister-in-law. In order to gain polish and improve her accomplishments, she was placed with Mrs. Olier in Gloucester Place, Portman Square in London. Mrs. Olier took 4 pupils, each paying 1000 pounds. Frances spent 2 years in this establishment. She returned at age 17 to her half-brother’s home, where she entered local society. It appears that in January of 1805, she was presented at the court of King George III. Initially, her social engagements involved Lancashire and Cheshire families known to her and her half-brother, although she wanted to enter the haute ton. She made the acquaintance of Lord and Lady Sefton, who were friends of Sir John Shelley.

Sir John Shelley, 5th Baronet of Michelgrove, was born March 3, 1772, and was 15 years older than Lady Shelley.  He was handsome, charming and a member of the highest society.  He was also known for his fondness for gambling, horse racing, drinking, and womanizing.  One of his closest friends from his school days was Lord George Villiers, subsequently Lord Jersey. Sir John had served in the army in the Coldstream Guards, including time as aide-de-camp to the Duke of Sussex. He discovered that his father had demolished the family fortune to the extent that Sir John was forced to sell his family estate, Michelgrove, for 100,000 pounds when he came of age.  The loss of this property was painful to him for a very long time. His friends (including the Seftons) were hoping to see him settle down in a good marriage.  He was present at a dinner to which Frances and her family were invited.
Sir John Shelley, 6th Baronet. 1815, pencil and ink. By George Hayter (1792-1871).
Frances’ brother and others objected to Sir John's courtship of her, and she returned to her brother’s home. Her diary indicates that she agreed to marry Randal Wilbraham, a scholar and widower with 3 frail children, but came to her senses and broke it off the next day. For fear of scandal, her brother tried to compel her to marry Wilbraham but she refused so he ordered her out of his home. She returned to Rev. Hornby’s home for a few months, and then was allowed to return to her brother’s house.

Sir Thomas Hesketh lived 19 miles from Lord Sefton. Sir Thomas was determined to keep Frances away from Sir John Shelley; Lord Sefton was determined to assist Sir John Shelley in his pursuit of Frances. Sir John convinced Frances of his sincerity. It took time, but eventually Sir John won over Frances’ family and they became engaged. They were married June 4, 1807 at St. George’s, Hanover Square. As the wife of Sir John, Frances, Lady Shelley gained entrée to the highest level of society. However, she discovered that reforming a rake was no easy task. He had had many romances, including one with Lady Boringdon (Lady Jersey’s sister) and another with Lady Haggerstone (Maria Fitzherbert’s sister). Lady Boringdon was violently in love with Sir John, and had wanted him to elope with her.

After their marriage, Sir John received congratulations from his racing companions at Ascot, and they were presented at court by his aunt. Subsequently, they went to Osterley Park for a country visit with Lord and Lady Jersey. Lady Shelley found Lady Jersey to be domineering and rude, and was not happy there. (One can’t help wondering if Sir John’s previous relationship with Lady Jersey’s sister contributed to the awkwardness of the occasion.) As luck would have it, Sir John suffered an injury to his ankle which delayed their departure. Lady Shelley spent as much time as possible in her room or in the gardens, avoiding Lady Jersey and the other women in attendance. She was delighted when they were finally able to leave.

As they went forward as a couple, she did not interfere with his activities, and encouraged him to go to social engagements without her. They became a most devoted couple and Lady Shelley’s diary and letters indicate that they were very active socially, and often in company with the Jerseys. (Lady Jersey apparently bestowed the nicknames “Goose” and “Country Girl’) on Lady Shelley, which I’m sure did not improve relations between the ladies.) Lord and Lady Shelley had 5 children between 1808 and 1813: John Villiers Shelley born March 18, 1808, Frederick born May 5, 1809, Frances Louisa (Fanny Lucy) born February 2, 1811, Adolphus Edward born March 2, 1812, and Spencer born December 24, 1813.

In 1814, Sir John inherited a property, Maresfield, near Uckfield in East Sussex. Lady Shelley spent 70,000 pounds updating the estate. Having an estate improved Sir John’s position in the county, and made up for the loss of Michelgrove to some degree. They were in London for the peace celebrations and activities in 1814, attending the King of France’s levee at Grillon’s Hotel on April 22, and the arrival of the Emperor of Russia on May 13 as well as others. The Shelleys gave a party on July 18th which was attended by Marshall Blucher and General Platoff. Among the guests were Mrs. Wellesley Pole, accompanied by the Duke of Wellington. Sir John was known to the Duke from his army days, and Lady Shelley was quite impressed with the Duke. Lady Shelley met the Duke of Wellington again at a party at Wanstead House (the home of the Duke’s brother, William Wellesley Pole) on July 21 1814. This party was attended by members of the highest society.

Portrait of the Duke of Wellington by Francisco Goya, between 1812 and 1814
Information in Lady Shelley’s diary and other sources indicates that she and the Duke enjoyed conversation and riding together as she was a notable horsewoman. The Duke returned to Paris in August of 1814, by which time Lady Shelley entertained a great regard and respect for him. The Shelleys returned to Maresfield for the rest of the summer. After the Battle of Waterloo (June 18, 1815), the Shelleys planned a trip to Paris and departed Maresfield on July 13, 1815. They landed in Calais on July 15 and journeyed to Paris, where they arrived a few days later.

During this time in Paris, the Duke allowed them to use his boxes at the theatres in Paris, and escorted Lady Shelly on horseback to various military reviews. She dined with him regularly as Sir John was often out if not ill with gout. He introduced her to various personages. She attended the Allied Review of Troops in July in a glass coach with outriders and footmen provided by the duke. Gossip about their relationship was, of course, rife. The Duke simultaneously entertained more than one mistress, about whom Lady Shelley was aware but somehow managed not to meet. Her diary does not read like one would expect a record of a passionate affair but as a more platonic, intimate friendship. She also wrote of her husband with great affection.

Lord and Lady Shelley subsequently returned to England in September of 1815. The Duke and Lady Shelley maintained a regular correspondence. On Jun 18, 1816, Lord and Lady Shelley sailed from Brighton to France and journeyed back to Paris. The Shelleys dined with the Duke of Wellington on June 23, 1816. After that, Lady Shelley socialized with the Duke, and rode his horse Copenhagen (the horse he rode in the Battle of Waterloo) at least once in the Bois de Boulogne. (Her diary indicates that she and her husband spent time together, as well as having separate engagements.) However, the Duke was not there long, as he intended to go to Cheltenham, England to take the water and to spend time with his wife Kitty and their sons. Lady Shelley dined with him regularly until his departure.

The Shelleys left Paris July 7 on a European tour and travelled through France to Switzerland. Lady Shelley received a letter from the Duke of Wellington written July 10 at Cheltenham, a newsy, social letter in which he sent regards to Lord Shelley and asked her to write when she had time. They travelled on through the German states, to Prague, Austria and Hungary where she met the Princess Esterhazy and Lord Shelley went hunting with the Prince. They went to Vienna, where they spent a month. Their journey took them on to spend the winter in Italy, which Lady Shelley enjoyed very much, being particularly fond of Naples. It is interesting to note that, according to her journal, Lady Shelley indicated some kind of reconciliation with Lady Jersey in Italy. During her travels (as indeed during her life), Lady Shelley maintained an extensive correspondence with family and friends, as well as the Duke of Wellington. They finally returned home March 25, 1817. Their youngest child Cecilia Victorine was born sometime in 1818.

Both Lord and Lady Shelley maintained friendships with the Duke of Wellington and many personages highly placed in society and government circles. Lord Shelley served in Parliament from 1804-1806, and again from 1816-1831. He maintained his interest in horse racing, which kept him in the same circle as Lord Sefton, Lord Jersey and other racing aficionados. (His horse Prince Paul lost the Derby despite being the favourite in 1818, which was a sad disappointment to both; they had counted on winning the purse to ease a cash shortage.) Lady Shelley also went on to form a close friendship with Mrs. Harriet Arbuthnot, another of the Duke of Wellington’s closest female friends (and rumoured mistresses). Her diary and collected letters (in 2 volumes) show that, while she and the Duke of Wellington maintained a steady correspondence and met frequently when possible, she was deeply attached to Lord Shelley who was also on excellent terms with the Duke. In her diary, Lady Shelley refers to political matters, travels, and her personal impressions of people she met. They also entertained the Duke of Wellington at their home.

The only breach in the friendship between the Duke of Wellington and Lady Shelley occurred in 1847. The Duke wrote what he considered a private and personal letter to Sir John Burgoyne in which he described the weakness of England’s defenses. Concerned, Sir John showed it to Lady Shelley. She shared that information, publication of the information resulted, and the Duke was furious with her. (Her motive was honourable, in that she hoped action would be taken according to the Duke’s wishes; unfortunately, the Duke did not appreciate her efforts.) Although the Duke met Lord Shelley with pleasure, he remained on the outs with Lady Shelley, until 1850 when Lord Shelley managed to heal the breech. It is sad to note that she lost her both husband and her dear friend in 1852: her husband passed away on March 28, 1852, and the Duke of Wellington on September 14, 1852.

Lady Shelley maintained her diary and continued her travels and correspondence until late in life. She started to write an autobiography, which was unfinished, and made notes in her diary to clarify things. (She provided the details of Lord Shelley’s courtship and their marriage in 1855.) The closest she came to hinting at an affair with the Duke was her description of her hero-worship of Wellington and the intoxication of being his chosen companion and then his acknowledged friend.(1) It is very possible they had a romantic relationship (dalliance on his side, hero-worship on hers) that did not involve a physical affair, that evolved to a more mature and sincere friendship.

In 1868, she built a house on the Isle of Wight that was called Maresfield Lodge. She became a friend of Queen Victoria, with whom she dined at Osborne. Queen Victoria visited Lady Shelley when she became ill in early 1873, and came to see Lady Shelley when she got word that Lady Shelley was dying.

Frances, Lady Shelley died February 24, 1873 aged almost 86 years at her home on the Isle of Wight. She lived through interesting and momentous times, had the opportunity to know and observe many of the movers and shakers through the last reigns of the Georgians and into the Victorian era, and recorded her observations. Her diaries, which were edited by her grandson Richard Edgcumbe, provide a fascinating window onto the late Georgian and Victorian eras.


Shelley, Frances. (Richard Edgcumbe, editor.) THE DIARY OF FRANCES LADY SHELLEY, Vol 2. P. 405


Delaforce, Patrick. WELLINGTON THE BEAU The Life and Loves of the Duke of Wellington. 2004: Pens & Sword Books Ltd., Barmsley, South Yorkshire. (First published 1990 by The Windrush Press.)

Edgcumbe, Richard, ed. THE DIARY OF FRANCES LADY SHELLEY 1787-1817. Vol. 1. 1912: John Murray, London.

Shelley, Frances. Edited by Richard Edgcumbe. THE DIARY OF FRANCES LADY SHELLEY Vol. 2. (This covers 1818-1859.) Originally published 1912. 2012: Forgotten Books. (Reprint)

Major, Joanne and Murden, Sarah. AN INFAMOUS MISTRESS The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott. 2016: Pen & Sword Books, Ltd., Barmsley, South Yorkshire. (Kindle version)

Manning, Jo. MY LADY SCANDALOUS The Amazing Life and Outrageous Times of Grace Dalrymple Elliott, Royal Courtesan. 2005: Simon & Schuster, New York.

Blog Preston. “Notable People of Preston – Frances Lady Shelley 1787 to 1873” by Gill Lawson, October 18, 2013. HERE

History of Parliament Online. “Shelley, Sir John, 6th Bt. (1772-1852) of Maresfield Park, Suss.” by Howard Spencer (no post date). HERE

History Today. “The Duke of Wellington and Lady Shelley” by Prudence Hannay. Vol. 25 Issue 2 published February 2, 1975. HERE

Lady Shelley: scanned frontispiece from my personal copy of  THE DIARY OF FRANCES LADY SHELLEY 1787-1817.

Lord Shelley: Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)  HERE

Portrait of the Duke of Wellington: Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)  HERE

Lauren Gilbert is a dedicated reader and student of English literature and history, holding a BA in liberal arts English with a minor in Art History. A long-time member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, she has done various presentations for the local region, and delivered a break out session at the 2011 Annual General Meeting. Her first book, HEYERWOOD: A Novel was published in 2011, and her second, A RATIONAL ATTACHMENT, will be released later this year. She lives in Florida with her husband, and is researching material for a biography. For more information, visit her website

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Latin in Post-Roman Britain – An Old Debate Revisited

By Gareth Griffith

The current orthodoxy among historians of post-Roman Britain would seem to be that Latin was spoken and written widely in the century or so after the departure of the legions in around 410. This applies with particular force in what is called the Lowland Zone, the region in the south of the country where villa civilization proliferated. 

The issue is significant, not least because former assertions of the widespread displacement and even genocide of the native British population were sometimes based in part on the lack of Brittonic loan-words in Anglo-Saxon (for example, Ronald Hutton, p 296). But if Latin was the most common language encountered by the incoming Germanic people, at least in lowland Britain, then such assertions must look to new and different evidence. 

An example of the contemporary approach is found in Guy Halsall’s 2013 book, Worlds of Arthur: Facts and Fictions of the Dark Ages, where language is only one part of a larger and novel re-interpretation of the period. Halsall challenges the assumption, “still more or less universal,” he claims, that the people the Anglo-Saxons encountered in the Lowland Zone spoke Brittonic or Brythonic. He argues that: “This is very rarely questioned but it is more than a little problematic, being based upon absolutely no evidence.” Halsall’s view is that, while Brittonic was indeed the main language of the highland regions, the same cannot be said of what he calls “the lowland villa-zone.” By analogy with northern Gaul, he maintains that, after 400 years of Roman rule, in this zone “the local Celtic language was replaced by low Latin.” If that was so, then the “Anglo-Saxons’ lack of contact with British speakers would be entirely unsurprising.”

According to Halsall:
If we look for Latin loan-words in Old English, we find hundreds: about as many as there are in Old Welsh. It is usually claimed that these words were introduced during the Anglo-Saxons’ conversion to Christianity, yet that argument is itself founded ultimately on two propositions. 
One proposition is that, because the British spoke Brittonic, these Latin loan-words could not have been introduced earlier. The other is that Christianity died out in the lowland region before Augustine’s mission in 597. “Neither assumption is secure,” Halsall asserts. 

A similar, if less categorical version of this argument is found in Nicholas J Higham’s most recent book, King Arthur: The Making of the Legend. His conclusion is that, “Latin was widespread in late Roman Britain, particularly in the Lowland Zone, and literacy along with it, but Celtic was still heard everywhere and was for many their first language – particularly in the north and west.” 

In Wales and the Britons 350-1064 TM Charles Edwards wrote that in 400: 
…many Britons then spoke Latin, though many of them would also have been able to speak British…In the sixth century, Gildas referred to Latin as ‘our language’, contrasting it with the Germanic of the Anglo-Saxon settlers. 
This language issue is not new. For that reason, it is worth looking at it in a wider context, that of the development of scholarly thinking on the Latin question. Taking a step back a few generations, therefore, the issue of the use of Latin in post-Roman Britain, from around 410 to 600, can be viewed through the prism of Kenneth Jackson’s seminal 1953 book, Language and History in Early Britain
In Chapter 3, in his discussion of Roman Britain, Jackson looked back at the state of scholarship in the late 19th century. He noted: 
Since it was a Roman province, like the others [Gaul and other provinces], the natural tendency was to assume a priori, that Latin was the regular language everywhere, except for a few remote half-barbarous peasants who may have clung to their Celtic tongue in the East and (because of the existence of Welsh and Cornish) admittedly must have done so in the West. 
Jackson then commented that since the First World War, with the growing “interest in the Celtic side of all questions,” the pendulum swung the other way, possibly “a little too far.” Taking recent developments into account, Jackson presented a nine-point summary of the “probable situation” of the Latin and British languages in Roman Britain, as follows:
Latin was the language of the governing classes, of civil administration and of the army, of trade, of the Christian religion, and very largely (but perhaps not entirely) of the people of the towns. The rural upper classes were bilingual; the peasantry of the Lowland Zone, who constituted the great bulk of the population, spoke British and probably spoke little Latin; and the language of the Highland Zone (apart from the army and its native camp followers) was to all intents and purposes exclusively British. 
On this account, the speaking of Latin “coincided roughly with the ability to read and write,” making it largely “a polite tongue of the upper classes,” which for Jackson accounted for the “peculiarities of British Vulgar Latin.” On a technical note, Jackson was of the view that the superior British Latin from which loan words in Brittonic were derived was “quite different in certain important respects from Continental Vulgar Latin.” He estimated that Latin remained the “official” language up until around 450, after which it found refuge for a time in the Highland Zone; in the same period, the “British language came into its own among the upper classes in the Lowland Zone, as it had always been among the lower.”

Armed with this interpretation, Jackson then proceeded in Chapter 6 to analyse in more detail the situation in post-Roman Britain, as regards the influence of Latin on Anglo-Saxon. Jackson’s main point of departure was the work of the German scholar K Luick (Historische Grammatik der Enlischen Sprache, 1914). Luick divided Latin words in Anglo-Saxon into two main groups, as follows: firstly, popular oral borrowings from colloquial Vulgar Latin, which were early and almost all taken to belong to pre-Christian times; and secondly learned loan words, chiefly from the ecclesiastical spoken and written in Latin, which were late and subsequent to the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity.

The first early group, Luick further divided into two classes: (1) those loanwords adopted on the Continent by the West Germanic peoples during the Empire and inherited by the Anglo-Saxons prior to their coming to Britain; and (2) those loanwords which came into Anglo-Saxon between around 450 and the 7th century. Distinguishing between these two classes of loan words was far from straightforward, with Jackson describing the criteria for words in the (2) class as “vague and unreliable.” There was also the question of the extent of Anglo-Saxon intercourse with the Continent in this period, which could well have meant that some Latin words were derived from the spoken Latin of Gaul. He continued:
…the existence of the group (2) loanwords cannot be taken as positive proof that Latin was at all widely spoken in the Lowland Zone of Britain in the fifth and sixth centuries. 
In 1939, Sir Ivor Williams had argued that the larger number of borrowings from Latin than from Brittonic into Anglo-Saxon was evidence that the Lowland Zone was Latin rather than Brittonic in speech. Jackson disagreed:
But even if all the group (2) loanwords were adopted in Britain (and it is possible that none or almost none of them were), it would still not be safe to come to any such conclusions, because we are dealing with such small figures on both sides – about eighteen Brittonic versus a round two dozen Latin at most – that proportions are of little significance.  
Jackson went on to say:
Besides, assuming that the Latin words were taken over in Britain, some such relative number is only what would be expected, for Latin was the speech of an admired and superior culture, with expressions for ideas not existing in Germanic…. 
The conclusion arrived at by Jackson was that: “although it does not prove anything for certain, the heavy accumulation of negative evidence does seem to suggest strongly that the English met very few people who talked any sort of Latin at all during the course of the occupation of Britain.”

From this account, it would seem that Jackson’s views are not consistent with those of such contemporary historians as Guy Halsall whose argument is, in part, based on the evidence of Christian loanwords, which he claims were pre- and not post-600.

A number of questions and observations follow. One question is how persuasive is that element Halsall’s argument, bearing in mind that even if ecclesiastical words were imported early into Anglo-Saxon, many of these could very easily have been loaned from the Latin of Gaul. After all, modern historians are inclined to take a less insular view of this period of British history, with a new focus on links between the Anglo-Saxons and the continent of Europe. Moreover, even if British Christianity did endure in the Lowland Zone, might it not have been the case that Latin was primarily, if not exclusively, the language of the church, as it proved to be subsequent to the conversion?

More broadly, are contemporary interpretations of the prevalence of Latin in post-Roman Britain based on new evidence, sufficient to set aside the obvious counter arguments. If so, what is the nature of this evidence? Is it archaeological? Does it rest on new linguistic interpretation of a technical nature? Discounting Christian loanwords, Jackson counted a mere two dozen Latin imports into Anglo-Saxon in the period 450 to 600. Have more now been identified? For Jackson, the evidence was still largely a priori, which is to say based on deduction, using inference and analogy in place of inductive empirical proof. How far advanced are we since 1953 along the inductive route as far as the language question is concerned? Whereas other questions may lend themselves more to the archaeological and other tools available to contemporary research, language would appear to be a more recalcitrant customer, leaving room for continuing doubt and debate. The less than categorical conclusions reached by Nicholas J Higham would seem to indicate as much.

From Kenneth Jackson to the contemporary historians cited, there would seem to be broad agreement that Latin was the language spoken by the reading and writing classes of the Lowland Zone; that is, the administrators, traders, the army and the like. The difficult question is how far down the social scale did Latin reach? Was Latin the more or less universal language of the Lowland Zone in Roman and, for a time, in post-Roman Britain? Is there a case to be made, as Jackson thought, for bilingualism, at least outside the cities of Southern England? If bilingualism did endure in the country areas, did it conform to the model of social hierarchy suggested by Jackson? Was it the case that Brittonic displaced Latin in the 5th century as the spoken language of all classes of the native population in the former Lowland Zone? Alternatively, was Latin still the dominant language, to be replaced ultimately by Anglo-Saxon? For Gildas, writing in the 6th century, Latin was still “our language.” But then, Gildas was writing in a rhetorical vein, very much from an educated, Christian standpoint.

One thing we can say with assurance is that Kenneth Jackson was of the view that the evidence he had at hand in 1953 did not “prove anything for certain.” Has much changed in the intervening 66 years? It seems the language question will not go away. It has long been and still remains an important aspect of any analysis of the post-Roman era.

Kenneth Jackson, Language and History in Early Britain, Edinburgh University Press 1953
Ronald Hutton, Pagan Britain, Yale University Press 2014
Guy Halsall’s 2013 book, Worlds of Arthur: Facts and Fictions of the Dark Ages, Oxford University Press 2013
Nicholas J Higham, King Arthur: The Making of the Legend, Yale University Press 2018
TM Charles Edwards, Wales and the Britons 350-1064, Oxford University Press 2013

A replica of the Old Roman Cursive inspired by the Vindolanda tablets, the oldest surviving handwritten documents in Britain - public domain via Wikipedia
Historische Grammatik der Enlischen Sprache, 1914 Image from Internet Archive.Org
Statue of Saint-Gildas. It on the shore line in a small bay near the "Grand-Mont" (Morbihan, France) Via Wiki commons


Originally from Penmaenmawr, North Wales, Gareth Griffith now lives in Sydney, Australia with his wife Sue.

His career has encompassed teaching, research and writing, including many years working as the manager of research for the parliament of New South Wales. He has a PhD from the University of Wales. His academic publications include a study of George Bernard Shaw's politics, published by Routledge, and several publications on the study of parliament and constitutional law.

 These days, when Gareth isn’t writing, he enjoys reading, music, dark Scandi film and TV, and Dark Age Britain. Glass Island is his first historical novel.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Editors Weekly Round-up, June 9, 2019

by the EHFA Editors

Cryssa Bazos takes the spotlight this week with an article on Barbados in the 17th century.

by Cryssa Bazos

Friday, June 7, 2019

Exploring 17th century Barbados

by Cryssa Bazos

Photo credit: D-Stanley on Visualhunt / CC BY

Fancy a vacation? Barbados would surely be up there as a top destination: powdery beaches, palm trees, clear water, hot temperatures, and plenty of luxury. But imagine if you were going to take that trip 370 years ago? Today, we’re going to step back in time to the 17th century and visit Barbados before there were resorts and sandy beaches, two decades after the island had first been colonized by English investors.

Getting there

Travelling by ship from England to Barbados would have taken us approximately eight weeks, possibly longer if we were sailing in unsettled weather. Victuals would have been poor and not everyone took to sea travel. If we were unfortunate enough to be shipped down as an indentured servant (we’re coming from England after all), the death toll would have been high and many of our shipmates didn’t make it. Don't expect an ocean view cabin. Indentured servants would have been riding in the hold with other cargo.

Arriving there

As it is today, Bridgetown was a centre of commerce on the island back in the 17th century. Richard Ligon, an Englishman who arrived in 1647, described the town as being the size of Hounslow. He referred to it as the Bridge (also the Town) because a land bridge was erected over bogland to link the harbour with the settlement. Ligon had much to say about the lack of foresight in the town planning:

“A Town ill scituate; for if they had considered health, as they did conveniency, they would never have set it there; or, if they had any intention at first, to have built a Town there, they could not have been so improvident, as not to forsee the main inconveniences that must ensue, by making choice of so unhealthy a place to live in. But the main oversight was, to build their Town upon so unwholsome a place. For, the ground being somwhat lower within the Land, than the Sea-banks are, the spring-Tides flow over, and there remains, making a great part of that flat, a kinde of Bog or Morasse, which vents out so loathsome a savour, as cannot but breed ill blood, and is (no doubt) the occasion of much sicknesse to those that live there.”

Bridgetown was a busy harbour, and there were numerous storehouses built close to the waterfront that collectively stored most of the island’s sugar.

An equally important settlement was Speightstown, situated to the north-west. The town was also called Little Bristol in honour of the regular trade it enjoyed with Bristol, England. Goods would also flow by ship between the two harbours of Bridgetown and Speightstown, which was a more efficient method of transport than maneuvering the roads.

Speightstown © Cryssa Bazos

Getting Around

17th century Barbados had a very different landscape than today. Then, the island was thickly wooded (and not by palms) and the roads deeply rutted and broken by tree stumps for people were slowly clearing the land. This made it difficult for carriages or wagons to traverse the roads, and while goods still needed to be brought to Bridgetown, the planters had to rely on four-legged transportation.

Were we travelling down rough roads in those days, we could expect to find donkeys and camels heading down to Bridgetown. Oil-skin tarps covered the sugar to protect the valuable cargo from a sudden rain shower. One camel alone was able to carry about sixteen hundred pounds of sugar.

Along the way, a traveller seeking to take shelter from a sudden shower would be careful not to sit under the native manchineel tree. The tree was poisonous and rain runoff caused extreme blistering. Today, the trees are still found on the island and are often found near the shore for they are excellent at protecting against erosion.  

Manchineel tree: ©  Cryssa Bazos


St. Nicholas Abbey: ©  Cryssa Bazos
You might be a visitor, an indentured servant, or worse a slave, but plantations weren’t resorts. Concerns over tropical storms meant that houses were designed with north/south facing windows rather than east/west. Unfortunately, that construction didn’t allow for cooling breezes to circulate throughout the house.

In the mid-17th century, a large plantation would be about 500 acres, though there were numerous smaller plantations dotted across the island. A friend of Ligon’s purchased a plantation for 7,000 pounds, which was a breathtaking sum. Out of 500 acres, 200 would be devoted to sugar cane, 30 acres to growing tobacco, 120 acres for wood, 5 for ginger or cotton and 70 for other household crops such as plantains, corn, cassava and orchard fruit. Oxen had to be imported from England, but often succumbed to disease. Pigs and goats did well, and there were wild turkeys to be had.

What of the accommodations, you may ask? Seaside view or garden view? Neither. The slave and indentured servants’ quarters were thatched huts far from the main house. The slaves were expected to sleep on rough pallets  on the dirt floor while indentured servants (or Christian servants as they were known as then) were spared the discomfort of the creepy-crawlies and slept more comfortably off the ground in hammocks. The only luxury item, born of need rather than generosity, were wax candles instead of tallow. They didn’t have the wherewithal to make tallow candles, and Beeswax was readily available as an import from Africa.

Michelin star dining

Not so much for servants, though the owners and their guests could expect an excellent pork to grace their table. For workers, the first meal of the day would be around 11 am and then the last one after 6 pm. During the heat of the day, servants and slaves were given a two hour break to cook, eat and rest before heading back to the fields to continue their work. Their main staple was a gruel of cornmeal called loblolly.

Looking for some bread to make a sandwich? No wheat, but a flatbread made from a root vegetable called cassava will have to do. Cassava was a major staple; boiled and ground into meal, it went a long way.

At the end of the work week (Saturday), servants and slaves would be given the following extra food allotment: two mackerel for the men and one for the women. Bone meat would be given perhaps a couple of times a week. Animals that died (even if diseased) would be given to the servants and slaves to eat, although the slaves mostly received the head and entrails.

And as for drink, the most common grog was a drink called mobbie, made of sweet potatoes. It had the strength of Rhenish wine and could be coloured red if red potato skins were used in the fermentation process. As a by-product of the sugar production, rum or kill-devil was distilled and given to the servants and slaves. Excess rum could be sold in Bridgetown to the ships. The best imported brandies and spirits would be reserved for the master's table.


Sugar was king. There was no hard currency on the island so people relied on bartering and the currency of sugar for every major purchase, including the payment of fines. In 1651 when there was an influx of Scottish PoWs arriving as indentured servants, the going rate to purchase their bond was 800 pounds of sugar. To put this in perspective, this would have been the approximate yield of a quarter acre of sugarcane. A large plantation at that time with 200 acres of sugarcane would have yielded one million pounds of sugar over a twenty month cycle. And there’s your luxury.

17th century Barbados was not for the faint of heart. It was wild, exciting,  and offered the potential for huge profits for investors. In the early days, indentured servants were lured with the promise of land, and when that became too valuable, an allotment of sugar or passage home were given instead for several years work. Those who stayed, indentured and slaves, were survivors and eventually built up the island to the tropical jewel that is today.


A True & Exact History of the Island of Barbados, Richard Ligon (originally published 1657)
A German Indentured Servant in Barbados in 1652: The Account of Heinrich Von Uchteritz


Cryssa Bazos is an award-winning historical fiction author and 17th-century enthusiast with a particular interest in the English Civil War. Her debut novel, Traitor's Knot, was the Medalist winner of the 2017 New Apple Award (historical fiction), a finalist for the 2018 EPIC eBook Awards (historical romance) and the RNA Joan Hessayon Award. Her second novel, Severed Knot, was longlisted for the Historical Novel Society 2018 New Novel Award and tells the story of a Scottish PoW transported down to Barbados as an indentured servant.

Connect with Cryssa through her Website, Facebook, and Twitter (@CryssaBazos). Traitor's Knot is available through Amazon, and Severed Knot is available through Amazon and other Online Retailers.