Tuesday, December 29, 2020

An Amiable Wife

 By Lauren Gilbert

Portrait of Anne Law, nee' Towry, 1st Lady Ellenborough by John Linnell

As a female, I cannot help being interested in the lives of women of earlier times. Finding information about some is easy, thanks to published letters and memoirs, newspaper archives, and (because of their own personal status or accomplishments or notoriety) even biographies. With others, it is a challenge, and we may find ourselves finding that little data is available, and that as side details provided in the information related to a father, husband or other male relative. One such lady is Anne Law, Lady Ellenborough. The November/December issue of JANE AUSTEN’S WORLD magazine included a reference to her in “What Made The News in November & December 1812” that caught my attention.

Anne was born about 1769, and possibly christened in St. Pancras Church in London. Her father was George Phillips Towry and his wife Elizabeth More. Mr. Towry served in the Royal Navy, commissioned a lieutenant in 1757. He inherited an estate from his uncle in 1762, and subsequently married the well-to-d0 and well-connected Miss More (possibly descended from Sir Thomas More) in June 1766 at St. Martin’s in the Fields. She had two brothers George Henry and Charles George. Elizabeth died, and her father remarried on April 3, 1770 to Susannah Haywood. In November of 1770, Mr. Towry won 20,000 pounds in a lottery. He became a Commissioner of the Naval Victualling in 1784, rising to Deputy Chairman of the Victualling Board November 4, 1803. He was considered an able administrator.

I found no information about Anne’s youth or education or her introduction to society. She was considered a great beauty, with regular features, rosy complexion, and a good figure. She was painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds in March of 1789, but that portrait was lost at sea. She had numerous admirers, among them a successful lawyer named Edward Law.


Mr. Law was the son of the Bishop of Carlisle, had attended school at the Charterhouse, and went on to Cambridge, obtaining a B.A. and an M.A. He decided to pursue law and was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn as a student in 1769. In 1771, he studied in London with George Wood (a special pleader (a lawyer who specialised in drafting statements of cases, give opinions, and prepare papers for various court proceedings) who was knighted, taught many students, and became famous). In 1775, Mr. Law became a special pleader himself, and was called to the bar in 1780. He built a successful practice and was elected to the Inner Temple in 1782. He gained a level of fame as leading counsel for Warren Hastings, a long-drawn-out trial that began in February of 1788. Although he was not handsome and was apparently socially awkward, he had acquired the reputation as something of a rake (and kept a mistress), prior to meeting Anne Towry. He pursued her fixedly, and asked her father for her hand. Being of good family and successful in his work, her father gave his consent to Mr. Law’s courtship.

Regardless of her father’s approval, Anne Towry refused his hand as she had already refused other suitors. In fact, she refused him three times. Each time, Mr. Law continued to court her despite her determined refusal. Finally, Anne consented to marry him the fourth time of asking. There is a suggestion that, at this point, members of her family pressured her to reconsider because he was such a promising suitor. According to THE LIVES OF THE CHIEF JUSTICES OF ENGLAND From the Norman Conquest Till the Death of Lord Tenterden, “…her aversion was softened, and she became tenderly attached to him.” (1) They were married by special license at her father’s home in Great Ormand Street on October 17, 1789.

On all counts, the marriage was successful. The couple had their first child, a son named Edward, about September of 1790. He was the first of thirteen children. Mr. Law’s career continued successfully-he became quite wealthy, he was involved with numerous high-profile cases and was instrumental in the ultimate acquittal of Mr. Hastings in 1795. He became Attorney General February 1801, and was knighted February 20, 1801 by George III. Shortly after being knighted, Mr. Law was returned as member for the borough of Newtown, Isle of Wight, to the House of Commons. His career in the House was short-lived, as he was appointed Lord Chief Justice April 11, 1802. On April 19, 1802, Mr. Law was created Baron Ellenborough in the county of Ellenborough, sworn a member of the privy council on April 21, and took his seat in the House of Lords on April 26th.

What little data is available indicates that Anne was busy with home and children, acting as her husband’s hostess. After their marriage, she was known to have retained her beauty, causing her to be pursued by followers at social events, and strangers gathering to watch her tend her flowers at their home. Their marriage was considered an affectionate and harmonious one. (2) She was painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence in 1811 and again in 1813, and by other artists. In addition to residence in London, the couple also had for some years a principal residence at Waldershare in Kent near Dover. This property was owned by the Earl of Guildford, and apparently leased by Lord Ellenborough.

The reference to Anne as Lady Ellenborough in JANE AUSTEN’S WORLD occurred in December of 1812: because of her generosity, one hundred poor women and girls were completely clothed, taken to church and then back to the mansion where they were provided with soup to take home and a shilling each. (There were 12 pennies in a shilling; in 1812, a pound of cheese cost about 9 pence.) This action was mentioned in the SUN (London) of Wednesday, September 16, 1812, in which Lady Ellenborough was described as “the amiable hostess of Waldershare-house”. While similar acts of charity were not uncommon, one of the things that struck me about this was the specific focus being on women and girls.

In early 1816, Lord Ellenborough began experiencing health problems but continued working. Anne’s father died March 12, 1817. His obituary describes him as “Commissioner of the Victualling-office, father of Lady Ellenborough.” Lord Ellenborough went abroad in the fall of 1817 in an attempt to improve his health, and returned to the bench on his return. He was very upset about the acquittals resulting in the winter of 1817, and his health deteriorated to the point that he was periodically absent from court. In September of l1818, he gave notice of his intent to resign, and executed his deed of resignation on November 6, 1818. He died December 13, 1818 at home in St. James’s Square. He was buried in the chapel of the Charterhouse, and a monument was raised there in his honour. At the time of his passing, he was survived by nine of his children with Anne, including their son Edward (now married) ranging to their youngest a daughter named Frances Henrietta born in 1812. (It appears he was also survived by some children born out of wedlock.) Anne was left a very wealthy widow.

The house at Waldershare was no longer in their possession, as it appears to have been occupied by the Earl of Guildford at the time of Lord Ellenborough’s death. Anne was seldom mentioned in print, other than at attendance at weddings. She outlived her husband by almost 25 years and never remarried. She apparently suffered ill health before her death at her home in Stratford-place in London. She died August 16, 1843. She left a rather detailed will, in which she left specific requests of jewelry to her daughters with other provisions, which was proved September 13, 1843. 



2. Ibid.

Sources include:

JANE AUSTEN’S REGENCY WORLD. November/December 2020, Issue 108. “WHAT MADE THE NEWS IN NOVEMBR & DECEMBER 1812”, compiled by Judy Boyd from the British Newspaper Archives.

Britishnewspaperarchive.com.uk  Numerous articles including the Hereford Journal for Wednesday, October 28, 1789; the Derby Mercury for Friday, December 7, 1770; the Leeds Mercury for Saturday, December 19, 1818; the Kerry Evening Post for Saturday, October 23, 1841; the Lincolnshire Chronicle for Friday, August 25, 1843; the home page is HERE

Thegazette.co.uk  THE LONDON GAZETTE for Tuesday February 17 to Saturday February 21, 1801. P. 202. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/15338/page/202 ; THE LONDON GAZETTE FOR TUESDAY APRIL 13 to SATURDAY April 17, 1802. P. 386. HERE

Books.google.com FRAGMENTIA GENEALOGICA, Volume 10. Great Britain: Private Press of Frederick Arthur Crisp, 1904. P. 43 HERE ;  The Annual Register or A View of the History and Politics of the Year 1843. London: F. & J. Rivington, 1844. P. 286.HERE ; THE UNIVERSAL MAGAZINE, NEW SERIES. VOL. XVIII. July to December, Inclusive. 1812. London: Sherwood, Neely, and Jones. P. 521 HERE; THE ROYAL KALENDAR AND COURT AND CITY REGISTER FOR ENGLAND, SCOTLAND, IRELAND, AND THE COLONIES FOR THE YEAR 1820. London: William Stockdale. P. 31. HERE

Minnesotalegalhistoryproject.org Campbell, John Lord, LL.D, FRSE. THE LIVES OF THE CHIEF JUSTICES OF ENGLAND FROM THE NORMAN CONQUEST TILL THE DEATH OF LORD TENDERDEN. Third Edition. In Four Volumes-Vol. IV. London: John Murray, 1874. Pp. 163-164. (PDF) HERE

Wikisource.org THE DICTIONARY OF NATIONAL BIOGRAPHY 1885-1900, Vol.32. “Law, Edward (1750-1818)” by George Russell Barker. HERE


Anne Law, nee’ Towry, 1st Lady Ellenborough by John Linnell. Wikimedia Commons. Photo by Wmpearl, May 21, 2012. HERE
Edward Law, 1st Lord Ellenborough by Sir Thomas Lawrence. Wikimedia Commons. Photo by Donan.raven, November 20, 2012. HERE


Lauren Gilbert lives in Florida with her husband. She earned a B.A. degree in liberal arts English, minoring in Art History. She has presented programs for the South Florida region of JASNA. Her first book, HEYERWOOD A Novel, is still in print, and her second novel,  A RATIONAL ATTACHMENT, is out now. She has articles in both volumes of CASTLES, CUSTOMS AND KINGS: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors. She is also working on a non-fiction book about seven powerful women.  Please visit her website for more information. 


Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Behind the Scenes of Charles Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol'

by Nancy Bilyeau

It may well be the most beloved Christmas story ever written. Charles Dickens' novella, originally titled Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas, was published on December 19, 1843, and sold 6,000 copies by Christmas Day. It has never gone out of print and is the basis for countless adaptations, giving way to debates over who is the best Ebeneezer Scrooge: Alastair Sim or Reginald Owen, George C. Scott or Patrick Stewart.

Autographed manuscript of the title page of 'A Christmas Carol,' signed by Dickens. Purchased byJohn Pierpont Morgan before 1900. Image courtesy of Morgan Library & Museum Media Department.
While the story itself is both touching and mythic, taking a closer look at Dickens' decision to write the book and the personal history that he poured into it is illuminating.

Dickens, to put it bluntly, wrote A Christmas Carol because he needed the money. He'd found literary fame due to the success of The Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist, but his new book, Martin Chuzzlewit, was not as successful.

Dickens had a wife and four children to support; his wife, Catherine, was pregnant with their fifth. He came up with the idea to rent the family’s London home and live on the Continent for a year. A Christmas Carol was written to fund this move. A story of spirits who appear at Christmastime was not invented by Dickens. For centuries, during the longest and darkest nights of the year, it was thought that the barrier between this world and the afterlife was at its thinnest. This was the time for ghosts to show themselves to the living.

The original cover of A Christmas Carol. Dickens insisted that it be bound in crimson morocco, a  durable goatskin leather. The binding is elegantly decorated in gilt with the name "Thomas Mitton Esqre." Dickens presented the bound manuscript to Mitton, his close friend and creditor, possibly as a Christmas gift. From the J.P. Morgan collection, courtesy of the Morgan Media Department 

Dickens penned the book in six weeks. He wrote in a concentrated burst from 9 am to 2 pm every day. Writing would be followed by long brainstorming walks.

He scribbled many notes in the margins as he went, making swift corrections. According to curators of a Dickens exhibit at the Morgan Library & Museum, owner of the original manuscript, "Deleted text is struck out with a cursive and continuous looping movement of the pen and replaced with more active verbs—to achieve greater vividness or immediacy of effect—and fewer words for concision. This heavily revised sixty-six-page draft—the only manuscript of the story—was sent to the printer in order for the book to be published on 19 December, just in time for the Christmas market."

Page 2 of the original manuscript of A Christmas Carol,
showing Dickens' corrections.
From the collection of the Morgan Library & Museum,
image courtesy of the Media Department 

Literary historians believe that because he needed to write so fast, Dickens focused on a topic already close to his heart. He fueled the story with his own feelings about the terrible conditions for the poor in England. The 1834 New Poor Law went far toward criminalizing poverty. Dickens was furious about the grim fate of the working class, and he used this novella to write about it.

As for the book's characters, debates go on about which real-life "misers" Dickens based the elderly Ebeneezer Scrooge on or his partner Jacob Marley. When it comes to the younger Scrooge, though, Dickens' own youth can be seen in glimpses. His years of loneliness and resentment come through.

In the story, the boy Ebeneezer Scrooge has been sent away to a boarding school (one with dirty rooms and cracked windows) by a father who seems to want nothing to do with him.

 Dickens had a complicated relationship with his father, John Dickens. When he was 12, Charles Dickens was removed from school and forced to work at a blacking factory for 10 hours a day, six days a week. The reason: his father, John Dickens, had been sentenced to Marshalsea Prison because he was unable to pay a debt of 40 pounds; his wife and younger children joined him there, while Charles lived alone in lodgings. 

This means that when still a child, Charles Dickens was under intense pressure to make money and relieve this debt. It was the family's only way out of prison. These memories never left Dickens: “My whole nature was so penetrated with grief and humiliation,” he told a friend.

Charles Dickens,
photo courtesy of the Morgan Library & Museum, media department.
The character of Bob Cratchit, Scrooge's weak, hapless, but warm-hearted clerk, bears some resemblance to Dickens' father. This makes Scrooge's abuse of Cratchit in the first three-quarters of the story all the more interesting.

A crucial character in A Christmas Carol is Scrooge's older sister Fan, who is the only person to love him unconditionally but dies as a young woman after giving birth to her son, Fred.

"Always a delicate creature, whom a breath might have withered," said the Ghost. "But she had a large heart."
"So she had," cried Scrooge.
Fan, it seems clear, was based on Dickens' older sister Frances, known in the family as Fanny, who was close to her brother when they were children. 

She was "clever and accomplished," according to Dickens biographer Claire Tomalin. A talented musician,  in 1823 she became a student at the Royal Academy of Music in London.  She was expected to become the star of the family, not Charles. Biographers believe that he was often envious of Fanny.

According to the Charles Dickens Museum, "Fanny’s schooling was, however, often marred by her father’s inability to pay her fees. A letter survives from John Dickens, dated 25 May 1826, in which he suggests a payment plan, offering to pay '£10 quarterly from the 24th June next and the same to continue until the account is finally closed.' "

 Christmas Carol, London: Chapman & Hall, 1843
Illustration by John Leech depicting Marley's Ghost.
Photo courtesy of Morgan Library & Museum, media department
Fanny did have a career as a professional singer, with a "pure" singing style. In 1837, she married a fellow musician and they settled in Manchester. The couple had two sons. Harry was a bright child with some sort of physical handicap. "Once Fanny Dickens married and had children, her career declined," wrote Tomalin.

Fanny became ill with tuberculosis and went into a long decline. When Fanny died, Harry passed away shortly afterward at the age of 8. Some have speculated that the child was Dickens' inspiration for Tiny Tim.

Such family tragedies would seem to provide strong inspiration for Dickens in his character creations of Fan and Tiny Tim. What is chilling is that Fanny and Harry died years after Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol.  

By the time his sister fell ill, Dickens was in a much better financial position. He hired the best doctors for Fanny, but nothing could save her. She died at the age of 38 on September 2, 1848. Dickens arranged for her burial in Highgate Cemetery. Harry was buried there too, as were Charles Dickens' parents and other members of his family.

Charles Dickens, the great writer, did not join them. He is buried elsewhere.

Highgate cemetery, where many members of Dickens' family were
buried, including his sister Fanny and his nephew Harry

Nancy Bilyeau is a novelist and magazine editor. She has published four historical novels. Nancy recently published a novella, The Ghost of Madison Avenue, set in 1912 New York City and telling a Christmas story. For more information, visit Nancy's website at http://www.nancybilyeau.com/.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

“Good fences make good neighbours”: Enclosure in Georgian England

By Elizabeth Grant

A lawn sweeping down to a stream, expanses of undulating turf dotted with clumps of trees rising to a wooded skyline, a bridge giving focus to the scene – it is the quintessential English landscape. 

View from Chatsworth House, Derbyshire

In fact, it is a man-made park. The harmonious view reflects the ideas and style propagated by the dominant figure of eighteenth-century gardening history, Lancelot “Capability” Brown (1716–1783). It also reflects a social order dominated by landowners, because laying out the grounds in this style required exclusive ownership of vast tracts of land. And that meant enclosing.

Enclosing describes a process by which small or fragmented parcels of land are merged into homogeneous blocks, absorbing the common land that lies in-between. On the ground, that meant building fences. The common land previously accessible to all was now reserved for one deeded owner. At the political level, enclosing required an Act of Parliament. This was easy to obtain in a country where political power was tied to land ownership.

Enclosing meant building fences

Good fences make good neighbours: the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations traces the proverb cited in the heading back to the mid-seventeenth century. This was the time when enclosure, which had begun in the Tudor era, reached a significant scale. It intensified during the Georgian period, with around two thousand Enclosure Acts passed during the French revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. From 1760 to 1800, approximately 21 million acres of land were enclosed by statute. The process accelerated still further after 1800. (Charles Quest-Ritson, The English Garden: A Social History, London 2001, pp. 13, 137)

Was England a nation of wealthy aesthetes, then, desperate to improve their view? Garden historian Charles Quest-Ritson explains: “Landscaping the grounds of an estate was … closely linked to other forms of improvement – above all, better economic use of the land. It may seem at first that there is an obvious contradiction between improving the income of the estate and turning much of it into an extensive landscaped park. But, in fact, the opposite is true.” (Quest-Ritson, p. 137)

Compact land holdings were much easier to administer and improve. Enclosing made it possible to reorganize the farms on an estate and free up space around the landowner’s house for a landscaped park. Parks were ornamental and expensive to build, a perfect status symbol. But once a park had been created, it could be highly profitable. Not only was it low in maintenance – the mowing or grazing by deer, sheep or cattle which it required actually generated income. The rents from pasture exceeded rents from agriculture by up to 50 per cent. Stock-breeding became an elegant fashion, seen as a leisurely pursuit far removed from the more energetic arable farming. The handsome copses and clumps of wood dotting the pasture produced firewood, props, poles and hurdles. Their valuable hardwoods would swell the purse of the landowner’s descendants when cut and sold seventy or ninety years hence. (Quest-Ritson, pp. 140ff.)

Enclosing made huge pastures available for profitable
sheep farming

Agricultural improvement, in turn, was slow to gain ground. Most landowners concentrated their efforts on increasing their land holdings rather than increasing the yields of the land they already had – even though they were living in a time of profound demographic change, and knew it. Thomas Malthus had published his Essay on Population in 1798, and in 1817 Lord Liverpool wrote to Sidmouth: 
“If our Commercial Situation does not improve, Emigration, or Premature Deaths, are the only Remedies. Both must occur to a considerable Extent. It would be most inhuman in such Case, to encourage the latter, by prohibiting the former.” (John Plowright, Regency England: The Age of Lord Liverpool, London 1996, p. 8).

Historian Boyd Hilton asks the pertinent question, “How on earth did agricultural output manage to rise to meet the needs of townsfolk?” And explains, 

“This was a period of agricultural expansion rather than revolution. The number of acres increased from around 10 to 15 million between 1770 and 1850, while the area under wheat rose from about 2.8. million to 3.8 million … Most of the increase took place between 1790 and 1812, when scarcity prices due to population pressure and the difficulty of importing food in wartime led the margin of cultivation to be pushed up the hillsides.” (Boyd Hilton, A Mad, Bad & Dangerous People? England 1783–1846, Oxford 2006, p. 8)

You will object that there are no fences to be seen in the view from Chatsworth House, nor from scores of similarly grand or less grand houses in England. That’s because they’re hidden behind the trees. But they’re there all right. While historians continue to argue about the actual value and yields of the enclosed land, most of them agree that the social consequences were dire. Local labourers had customary shared-use rights to grazing, crops, brushwood, and fuel from the common land. You could graze a couple of goats on the commons, or a flock of geese. You could drive your pigs into the woods to fatten on acorns or beech mast. You could collect firewood or cut staves to repair your house or your fences. You might even fish or make hay (Wikipedia, s. v. common land). 

To claim compensation for lost use, however, you needed to be able to claim a legal right which few possessed. And even if they did, the compensation mostly came in the form of small allotments that could never yield the benefits a large tract of common land could. (Hilton, pp. 8f.). The Honourable John Byng, later the fifth Lord Torrington, wrote in 1781: “I hate enclosures, and as a citizen I look on them as the greedy tyrannies of the wealthy few to oppress the indigent many, and an iniquitous purchase of invaluable rights” (see Quest-Ritson, p. 138).


Elizabeth (Elsie) Grant
writes romantic fiction set in the early nineteenth century. Her first novel, An Independent Heart, takes place in a country house surrounded by just the kind of park described here. It also involves an enclosure scheme, parliamentary ambitions, and the landed interest, but never fear – these only form a sketchy background against which the romance is painted in delicate hues.

Elsie grew up in Germany, Yugoslavia (as it was then), and the United States. After studying languages in Glasgow and Berlin, she went on to work as a translator and proofreader, specializing in medieval art and contemporary architecture. She is currently working on her second novel, which revolves around a bright young heiress and a one-armed sea captain and is partly set in Greece.

An Independent Heart is available at:

Bod Buchshop

Amazon UK


Please visit Elsie at elsiegrant.blogspot.com

Or follow Elsie on Facebook

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Quaker Women in the Seventeenth Century

 By Maren Halvorsen

The image of the Quakeress, from the 18th century on, is the very picture of decorum: a woman dressed in gray, solemn, even dour, her head covered, her eyes lowered. Quakers in general were seen, and are understood even now to be, plain and quiet. Even the Quaker women of the 19th century, active in their opposition to slavery and advocates of their own liberation, displayed a public image of rectitude and sobriety. The modern weekly Meeting can often be a peaceful place of utter silence, as the participants, men and women, wait for God’s Light to speak through them.  

But when we take a close look at the first generation of Quakers, those who followed the Quaker leader George Fox (1624-1691) as the movement swept like fire through the North of England and beyond, we are confronted with a very different picture. At the heart of the theology of the Society of Friends was, and is, their belief in the spiritual equality of all, and this belief trumped everything else. They refused to use honorifics, refused to doff their hats to their “betters,” and insisted on the primacy of faith over the concerns of this world. They adhered so closely to a literal interpretation of Scripture that they refused to take oaths,and insisted that “the sprinkling” (baptism) did no good. Some early Quakers took to heart Fox’s exhortation to “run naked for a sign,” stripping off their clothes and running naked through towns as a way of protesting worldly wealth. Their refusal to take oaths, combined with their disregard for earthly governments, made them suspect to the authorities, and for most of the 17th century they were subject to arrest and imprisonment.  

Fox by Lely

A key aspect of the egalitarianism of the Society of Friends was the inclusion of women as central figures in the spread of the movement. The most famous of these early converts was Margaret Fell (1614-1702).  Married to a barrister, prominent and wealthy, Margaret Fell met Quaker founder George Fox in 1652 and became an early member of his movement. She was sufficiently active as a proselytizer to be arrested more than once, her imprisonment lasting years as she continued to write pamphlets and letters to encourage her fellow Friends and win over new believers. After the death of her husband Judge Fell, Margaret married George Fox in 1669. Her subsequent canonization as the “Mother” of the faith lends her a propriety and formality that is at odds with her vibrant, fiercely iconoclastic defense of the movement. In fact, even her marriage to Fox was unconventional; they spent most of their married life either in jail or separate, as Fox continued to preach all over the British Isles until his death in 1691. It is worth noting that Fell was very much opposed to the plain “uniform” that was beginning to be adopted by the Quakers and instead celebrated her own fashion sense at every opportunity.  

Margaret Fell

In 1666 Fell wrote an essay answering St Paul’s injunction against women speaking in church. Women's Speaking Justified cites the numerous examples of powerful women in the Bible, from Judith and Sarah of the Old Testament to Mary Magdalene’s discovery of the empty tomb in the New. A century ahead of such early feminists as Mary Wollstonecraft, Fell demanded that women’s voices not only be heard but that they be central to the Quaker movement. By highlighting the discovery of the empty Tomb, one of the most significant moments in the development of the Christian faith, along with Mary Magdalene’s role, Fell is insisting upon the value and power of women’s speech. Parsing the language of Scripture, she argued that while women should seek the advice of their husbands before speaking in church, they themselves were the final arbiters of their decision to speak. 

While Margaret Fell was perhaps the most prominent, there were several other first-generation Quaker women who were viewed as leaders during that time of persecution and prophecy, both in England and the Colonies, including Elizabeth Hooton (1600-1672), Mary Fisher (c. 1623-1698), and Mary Penington (1623-1682). It’s easy to imagine the exhilaration and sense of possibility that these early Quaker women felt, being part of a new movement that at its very core rejected many of the societal values they had been raised to accept.  The days of the week were renamed, and the religious holy days that marked even the Protestant calendar were gone. Mary Penington, in her brief memoir written for her children, talks of a youth and young adulthood of spiritual seeking, resisting the religion of her family, and eventually finding her way to the Friends after her second marriage. There is a powerful sense of agency in her narrative, refusing to attend the church of her guardians, composing her own prayers, and eventually, as a young widow, refusing to have her own daughter baptized. During her second marriage, to Isaac Penington the Younger (1616-1679), she devoted much of her time to the design and reconstruction of their home near Chalfont St. Peter while Isaac was continually hauled off to jail for his religious writings and for his refusal to show proper deference to a local nobleman. Her daughter by her first marriage later married William Penn.  

Margaret Fell and Mary Penington exemplify the radical nature of that first generation of Quakerism, as it spread throughout the British Isles in the 17th century. Its appeal, for many, lay in its rejection of the rigid hierarchy of power, both spiritual and material, which the Quakers saw as oppressive and false. Unlike Fell and Penington, most new converts to the Friends tended to be from the lower or middling classes. They found in its message a powerful critique of the established order. For women too, there was a clear hierarchy that many chafed against. The Society of Friends was the pathway to making their voices heard.  

To some extent this seizure of power was short-lived: the Women’s Meeting, originally a feature of Quakerism fought hard for by women such as Penington, and seen initially as a symbol of women’s power within the movement, quickly became more of a women’s auxiliary, focused mostly on “women’s issues” having to do with children, family, and service. Indeed, the writings of Mary Penington likely only survived because of the fame of her husband and her son-in-law (see Norman Penney’s introduction to her memoir in Experiences in the Life of Mary Penington, Friends Historical Society, 1992). On the other hand, the potential was there, and we see a “second wave” of Quaker feminist activism especially in the United States, mostly linked to the abolitionist movement of the 19th century. Lucretia Mott (1793-1880) and the Grimke sisters (Sarah, 1792-1873, and Angelina, 1805-1879) went well beyond finding their place within the faith to making real change in the world around them.


Maren Halvorsen is a novelist whose most recent manuscript, The Bailiff’s Wife, was a Finalist in the category of historical fiction at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association annual literary competition.  Earning her Ph.D. in History at the University of Washington in 2002, she is a specialist in Medieval and Early Modern Europe.  She currently lives on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. 

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Finding Rosa Mingaye, Cumbrian Artist

By Dr John Little

Like all English historical fiction authors my writing deals with a mixture of reality and truth, of actual and dreams; of fiction and fact. It is my wish to make it so that my reader may, in the style of Leopold von Ranke, walk in the shoes of dead men and women, even for just an instant. This desire is shared by every writer of historical fiction. Last year I lit upon the figure of Dr William Perry Briggs, a Cumbrian doctor who somehow found himself tending wounded Turks at the town of Plevna during a murderous siege in one of the major wars of the nineteenth century; the Russo-Turkish conflict of 1877-8. It seemed an interesting adventure story and so I set out to write it, and found that the borderline between researching for historical fiction, and unearthing unknown history is a very fine one.

Of course, any adventure has to have a back story or two; the protagonist must have a family, friends, motives, a background of some sort and some personal details. I found that Briggs married a woman called Rosa, and that he thought she was three years older than him. She was, in fact nearly eight years older. Of itself that detail is fairly quotidian for the day; many people faked their ages, particularly on marriage certificates. Rosa’s gravestone claims a birth date of 1853, whereas the census of 1851 reveals that she was born in 1849; her husband was born in 1856.  

So far, so not very exceptional, but it was enough to spark an interest in finding more. Her father was Joseph Richardson, and her brother was Augustine; both men were well known artists, and the brother in particular was renowned for stained glass windows in churches, some of which survive today. For some reason unknown, both men were using ‘Mingaye’ as their professional name; it had been the surname of Joseph’s dead wife. They were not alone in this, for Rosa was also signing ‘Mingaye’ on her own work.

Rosa Mingaye has been long forgotten, yet as I wish to demonstrate, she was an artist of flair, great talent and an extremely fine water colourist. In her day she was celebrated, and though her works sell for small amounts today, I believe that in real terms they sold for far more when she was making her living from them. Women artists are all too often airbrushed from history, and my research for my novel led me to one who deserves to be known. I have not found her name on any of the long lists of Victorian artists that may be found on the internet; perhaps it is time to revise them.

I believe that the above painting is the River Thames, near Oxford, where Rosa lived and worked before her marriage. Her work seems to comprise landscape scenes, but also some rural buildings. Human figures appear as above, small and in the distance. I am led to think that she was working to please a market of well do do town dwellers who wished to adorn their walls with such things, not only for decorative purposes, but to show their wealth. Iffley Mill (below) stood on the River Thames; it was destroyed by fire early in the twentieth century.

Rosa's work seems to comprise landscape scenes, but also some rural buildings. Human figures appear as above, small and in the distance. I am led to think that she was working to please a market of well to do town dwellers who wished to adorn their walls with such things, not only for decorative purposes, but to show their wealth.

Her work was displayed across the country; this one is from a gallery in Norwich; the spelling of her name may be put down to the reporter.

Not all of her paintings are extant. To judge from the contemporary description of this one (below) from Manchester, it was worth seeing.

She continued her career after her marriage where she and William Briggs lived in the small Cumbrian town of Aspatria. It is not very far from the English Lake district, and of course the area became her studio. These are studies of Derwentwater.

That I have come across this undoubtedly talented, but unknown English water-colourist of the nineteenth century, is an accident of writing fiction. 

Rosa Mingaye was not a fiction and it may be that a serious art historian with access to more resources than I can command, may be able to find more about this artist. It is a basic understanding of feminism, and of plain common sense, that men and women are of equal dignity. This artist deserves a place, even just a mention, in the pantheon of nineteenth century water-colour painters. Neglect, surely, is not an option.


Dr John Little spent almost forty years teaching in various schools in London and the South East. He was head of History at Meopham School and Rochester Independent College. He gained the first History PhD  awarded in the University of Westminster. He has written ten books, mostly novels, and has settled into historical fiction as his favoured genre. His work is based on real evidence, people and events contained in plausible narratives. He also gives talks and presentations on the topics about which he writes. His novel about Dr Briggs featuring Rosa Mingaye, ‘Love and War - a Romance of Old Aspatria’ will be published early 2021, and although based on real people, and accurate in detail, it remains a fiction.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Hangings and Gibbeting

By Donna Scott

Death by hanging was used as a form of capital punishment in England as early as the fifth century. Other methods of execution found their way into history over the years as well, yet never managed to maintain the longevity of death by hanging. Castration, blinding, beheading, boiling, burning, and dismemberment all made an appearance in England between the time of William the Conqueror and the 18th century when hanging became the favoured method of punishment. Even children as young as seven were subject to pay for their crimes at the end of a rope.

A 17th-century hanging at Tyburn

Those unfortunate enough to find their necks in a noose prior to the late 19th century, when the long drop was introduced, would die from strangulation, as the height of the drop was not long enough to snap the neck. Once the long drop was employed, the actual cause of death was dislocation of the vertebrae and the rupturing of the jugular vein. But those who were fortunate to survive their hangings—be it through fate, good fortune, or divine intervention—were subjected to a different fate.

In the early 18th century, the British government mandated that anyone who survived his execution would either be hanged again, sent to the colonies, or set free. Although there are several recorded cases of convicted criminals surviving their hangings, the majority clearly did not.  In a few cases, prisoners were accidentally decapitated during the process. But, as they say, accidents happen.

Those felons convicted of capital offenses—like murder—who didn’t survive their hangings, were additionally gibbeted or “hanged in chains” and placed on display after their deaths as carrion for birds and rodents. Like placing a traitor’s head and other body parts on the point of a pike and displaying them for all to see, gibbeting was used to warn citizens to behave within the confines of the law. The Murder Act of 1752 reinforced the practice of gibbeting. It was created "for better preventing the horrid crime of murder" and that "in no case whatsoever shall the body of any murderer be suffered to be buried" but instead be hanged in chains or publicly dissected. This punishment was mandated until 1834, when the Act was abolished.

Gibbeting involved moving the corpse to a new location to be displayed on a gibbet. The placement of the gibbet and hanging cage were of utmost importance, as the ideal location would be one that was easily seen or frequented.  In some cases, gibbets were located at or near the scene of the crime. This could be a rather unpleasant experience for those who lived nearby or owned a business in the area since the offensive stench of rotting flesh traveled at the whims of the wind.

Possibly “Jack the Painter’s’ gibbet irons.
Jack—or James Hill—was accused of burning down
His Majesty’s Dockyard in Portsmouth in 1776.
(Winchester Museum)

The mid to late 18th century was a particularly popular time for gibbeting. Between 1730 and the turn of the century, there were approximately 293 recorded cases of criminal corpses being gibbeted in England and Wales. London, of course, had the most instances of gibbeting, likely due to the large population and social and economic problems of the time.  

Typically, a body was gibbeted within a couple of days of the execution unless it had to be transported to another place. The poles were quite high—20 to 30 feet—and sometimes studded with spikes or nails around the bottom so the corpse could not be tampered with. Since bodies could be displayed for years within these cages, it was rare that any were ever reused.

Gibbet irons were shaped like the human body so that the bands would help the decaying form keep its shape over time. On occasion, the smith who fashioned the cage would travel to the place of execution to measure the accused’s proportions, ensuring a good fit. Once that was established, the smith could then solder or weld the irons shut over the corpse. For this reason, it was possible that a body could be furthered desecrated by the smith as seen in the case of Stephen Walton, whose skeleton was discovered buried in Norfolk in 1899. The skull had clear scorching marks on it where it had been burned by a hot iron.

Female criminals were not gibbeted like male criminals. Because there was an increased interest in the female anatomy, women’s cadavers were often sold to anatomists and surgeons for research through dissection.

In 1868, approximately 30 years after gibbeting was no longer practiced, the last public hanging took place. Future executions were mainly performed within prison walls. It would be a long time before hanging would disappear completely from the British justice system, the last one happening in 1964.


Donna Scott is an award-winning author of 17th and 18th century historical fiction.  Before embarking on a writing career, she spent her time in the world of academia.  She earned her BA in English from the University of Miami and her MS and EdD (ABD) from Florida International University.  She has two sons and lives in sunny South Florida with her husband.  Her first novel, Shame the Devil, received the first place Chaucer Award for historical fiction and a Best Book designation from Chanticleer International Book Reviews.  Her newest novel, The London Monster, will be released in January 2021.

Website: www.donnascott.net

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