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. 

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Editors Weekly Round-up, June 2, 2019

by the EHFA Editors

Lauren Gilbert takes the spotlight on this week's round-up with a post about Charles - brother of Mary - Wollstonecraft and his wife Nancy. Never miss a post. Follow EHFA on  Facebook or Twitter, or subscribe to the blog via email.

by Lauren Gilbert