Suffering in Some Strange Heaven: An Introduction to Laudanum

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Illustration for the cover of The Goblin Market. Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1862

“I should much wish, like the Indian Vishna, to float along an infinite ocean cradled in the flower of the Lotus, and wake once in a million years for a few minutes – just to know that I was going to sleep a million years more.” – Samuel Taylor Coleridge

While the medicinal properties of opium have been known since prehistoric times, it was 16th century Swiss alchemist Paracelsus who first developed laudanum. He discovered that when mixed with alcohol as opposed to water, opium’s pain-killing properties were heightened. He mixed it with crushed pearls, musk, saffron, and ambergris* and called it laudanum, from the Latin word laudare: to praise.

Now thought of as primarily a Victorian drug, laudanum first reached England in the 1660s when physician Thomas Sydenham developed his own recipe. While Sydenham left out the ambergris, the fundamentals remained the same: alcohol and opium was a potent cure-all and in his Medical Observations Concerning the History and Cure of Acute Diseases (1676), he gave it the praise Paracelsus had predicted a century before. Laudanum took off during the eighteenth century and by the nineteenth, it could be found in almost every home in Britain.

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“Papine,” an opium tincture

Although the recipe was flexible, it remained at heart an uncomplicated but potent combination of alcohol and opium. It was an over the counter drug cheap enough to be used across the social spectrum and simple enough to be brewed at home. Laudanum was used for an endless list of ailments including but not limited to teething, insomnia, anxiety, nerves, hysteria, menstrual cramps, pregnancy pains, mood swings, depression, stomach upset, diarrhea, consumption, cough, heart disease, and cholera.

It was certainly an effective cough suppressant; related opioids such as morphine and codeine are still prescribed for cough today. It was a potent painkiller, induced deep sleep and vivid dreams, produced feelings of euphoria, and was addictive as it was cheap. Not to be limited to medicinal purposes, laudanum was taken recreationally or mixed with other alcohol such as absinthe to stimulate creativity among artists. Some notable fans of the substance include Dickens, Bram Stoker, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, George Elliott, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and Rossetti’s wife, model Elizabeth Siddal, who tragically died of a laudanum overdose.

Women tended to be medicated more than men, and many opium-derived medications were known euphemistically as “Woman’s Friend.” Likewise, Godfrey’s Cordial, a mixture of water, treacle, and opium specifically for infants was knows as “Mother’s Friend.”

Charles Kingsley describes opium addiction in Alton Locke (1850) as ‘elevation’, a particular problem of women:

“Oh! ho! ho! — yow goo into druggist’s shop o’ market-day, into Cambridge, and you’ll see the little boxes, doozens and doozens, a’ ready on the counter; and never a ven-man’s wife goo by, but what calls in for her pennord o’ elevation, to last her out the week. Oh! ho! ho! Well, it keeps women-folk quiet, it do; and it’s mortal good agin ago pains.” “But what is it?” “Opium, bor’ alive, opium!”

There were several different laudanum varieties available and they could be made at home. It was dreadfully bitter, so sweeteners like honey and spice were added to improve the flavor. Sydenham’s recipe from 1660 was still in use by the 1890s when it was published in William Dick’s Encyclopedia of Practical Receipts and Processes:

“Sydenham’s Laudanum: This is prepared as follows: opium, 2 ounces; saffron, 1 ounce; bruised cinnamon and bruised cloves, each 1 drachm; sherry wine, 1 pint. Mix and macerate for 15 days and filter. Twenty drops are equal to one grain of opium.”

Dick’s Encyclopedia contains dozens of recipes for homemade laudanum, and even more for other remedies containing opium. As relatively appealing as cinnamon and cloves sound, by the 19th century, laudanum could also be mixed with mercury, ether, chloroform, hashish, or belladonna; if it didn’t kill you, it would make you see some very interesting things.

Whether or not the malady justified the use of such a powerful drug, laudanum and other opium derivatives were used frequently and without a great deal of hesitation. It was a good cough suppressant, kept children quiet, and induced restful sleep. Rhapsodic descriptions of its effects make it sound like magic.

In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde conveys the horrors and pleasures of an East End opium den in a single paragraph (it isn’t exactly laudanum, but it’s the same active ingredient):

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Opium Smokers in the East End of London. Illustrated London News, 1874.

“As Dorian hurried up its three rickety steps, the heavy odour of opium met him. He heaved a deep breath, and his nostrils quivered with pleasure. When he entered, a young man with smooth yellow hair, who was bending over a lamp lighting a long thin pipe, looked up at him and nodded in a hesitating manner. […] Dorian winced and looked round at the grotesque things that lay in such fantastic postures on the ragged mattresses. The twisted limbs, the gaping mouths, the staring lustreless eyes, fascinated him. He knew in what strange heavens they were suffering, and what dull hells were teaching them the secret of some new joy.”

Strange heavens aside, laudanum was not a friendly substance. In 1889, The Journal of Mental Sciences published what was purported to be an anonymous letter by the wonderful title of Confessions of a Young Lady Laudanum-Drinker which describes at length her experience of addiction:

“It got me into such a state of indifference that I no longer took the least interest in anything, and did nothing all day but loll on the sofa reading novels, falling asleep every now and then, and drinking tea. Occasionally I would take a walk or drive, but not often. Even my music I no longer took much interest in, and would play only when the mood seized me, but felt it too much of a bother to practice. I would get up about ten in the morning, and make a pretence of sewing; a pretty pretence, it took me four months to knit a stocking!

“Worse than all, I got so deceitful, that no one could tell when I was speaking the truth. It was only this last year it was discovered; those living in the house with you are not so apt to notice things, and it was my married sisters who first began to wonder what had come over me. By that time it was a matter of supreme indifference to me what they thought, and even when it was found out, I had become so callous that I didn’t feel the least shame. (…) My memory was getting dreadful; often, in talking to people I knew intimately, I would forget their names and make other absurd mistakes of a similar kind. As my elder sister was away from home, I took a turn at being housekeeper. Mother thinks every girl should know how to manage a house, and she lets each of us do it in our own way, without interfering. Her patience was sorely tried with my way of doing it, as you may imagine; I was constantly losing the keys, or forgetting where I had left them. I forgot to put sugar in puddings, left things to burn, and a hundred other things of the same kind.”

While this anonymous writer did recover, laudanum addiction was difficult to beat. People became tolerant to it quickly, and recovery was more likely to be achieved by tapering doses. Although laudanum was a common cough suppressant, it could work too well by causing shortness of breath and respiratory depression, or keeping the user from breathing at all. It can also inhibit digestion, cause constipation, depression, and itching. It was so potent that it was easy to overdose accidentally as an adult, and many infants and children died from it as well. Tragically, it was also a common method of suicide.

laudanumWe might not understand the appeal of such a debilitating and ultimately lethal substance, but for most people in the nineteenth century, laudanum must have felt like a godsend. Disease, poverty, and hunger were widespread, and those lucky enough to be employed suffered through long hours in terrible conditions to earn their pittance. Even for the wealthy and well-to-do, Britain was cold, wet, and overrun with discomforts that may necessitate its use. Menstrual cramps, insomnia, anxiety, nerves, cough, stomach upset, cholera, tuberculosis — if one drug could treat them all and that drug happened to be miraculously affordable and so common there was little to no stigma attached to it, there was no reason not to rely on it from time to time.

Laudanum is still in production today, but it is no longer available over the counter. Now referred to almost exclusively as Tincture of Opium, it is listed as a Schedule II substance due to its highly addictive nature and is used for stomach ailments, pain, and to treat infants born to mothers with opioid addiction.

Jessica Cale

Sources

Anonymous. Confessions of a Young Lady Laudanum-Drinker. The Journal of Mental Sciences January 1889

Berridge, Victoria. “Victorian Opium Eating: Responses to Opiate Use in Nineteenth-Century England,” Victorian Studies, 21(4) 1978.

Dick, William B. Encyclopedia of Practical Receipts and Processes. New York: Dick & Fitzgerald, Publishers, 1890.

Diniejko, Andrzej. Victorian Drug Use. The Victorian Web. http://www.victorianweb.org/victorian/science/addiction/addiction2.html

Kingsley, Charles. Alton Locke (1850).

O’Reilly, Edward. Laudanum: A Dose of the Nineteenth Century.

Sydenham, Thomas. Medical Observations Concerning the History and Cure of Acute Diseases (1676)

Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890).

*presumably crushed diamonds would have been too extravagant

Private Domestic Tutors: Sitting Below the Salt in Early Modern England

 

I am delighted to welcome back historian John Polsom-Jenkins with a post about private domestic tutors in the seventeenth century. Tyburn‘s hero, Nick, works as a tutor in the Earl of Hereford’s household, and this part of Nick’s story was based on his research into the lives of tutors during this period, so we owe him a great deal! Here to tell you more about the subject in his own words, Dr. John Polsom-Jenkins:

Private Domestic Tutors in Seventeenth Century England

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John Locke

Tyburn’s hero, Nick Virtue, earns his “dashing” credentials as a highwayman, but his day job, as tutor to the frightful sons of a tight-fisted nobleman, is rather more mundane. The sexy subject of highwaymen is explored in greater depth in the works of historians such as the excellent James Sharpe. Nick’s more boring-sounding occupation is loosely based on my own research in the field of educational history. However, tutors like Nick, living and working in the households of great persons, were privy to some adventures of their own and, in some cases, could give highwaymen a run for their money in the sexiness stakes. Some famous figures, such as Thomas Hobbes, Andrew Marvell and John Locke, served as tutors in seventeenth century England.

From classical times, the sons (and less frequently, the daughters) of noble and wealthy persons, were educated at their homes by tutors who were kept within the household for that purpose. By medieval times, these household tutors might have a role in martial or religious, as well as academic, instruction and often doubled in a related role such as chaplain. It was also in the medieval period that universities developed the tutor system, where a scholar would be given particular charge over the studies and the conduct of students living at the university outside their parent’s home.

By the Tudor and Stuart periods of English history, domestic tutors were more widely utilized than ever before. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the lesser gentry (smaller landowners who were able to live off their lands rather than work for a living) and even successful merchants with aspirations for their children to move up in the world began to employ tutors in their houses. The profound religious differences which divided Europe during the Reformation also brought private tutors into demand amongst those who wanted their children educated in an unorthodox faith.

Domestic tutors were employed to teach an increasingly broad (or ‘liberal’) curriculum in everything from the basics of Latin grammar to the latest trends in natural philosophy (something akin to what we would term ‘science’) as well as to ensure their charges were well versed in the manners and behaviors that would be expected of them from a very young age. Day tutors were also brought in to provide instruction in specific gentle ‘accomplishments’ such as dancing, or speaking French.

During this period, it also became increasingly common for children destined for diplomatic office or for those from the highest echelons of society to be sent on a ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe, to see the sights, learn the languages and customs, to take lectures at foreign universities, and simply for the prestige this final gloss could give their education. These privileged children (usually males who had completed a year or so at one of the universities) were typically accompanied by a slightly older and more scholarly tutor or ‘bear ward’ on these lengthy educational voyages.

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Ben Johnson

Although this could be a highly supervised and intensely educational experience, several tutors were ill-equipped to maintain control over high-born and high-spirited adolescents and some were not themselves the best examples of behavior. In 1612, the tough bricklayer-come-playwrite, Ben Johnson, was chosen to keep the young Walter Raleigh (son of the famous potato-wielding, puddle-cloaking adventurer) in check on his Tour of France and the Netherlands, but apparently it was the ‘knavishly inclined’ Raleigh who got Johnson “dead drunk, so that he knew not where he was” and then had his tutor drawn through the streets “stretched out” on a cart, telling people at every corner that Johnson “was a more lively image of the crucifix then any they had.”

The élite world of expenses-paid sightseeing tours of Italy was not the lot of most tutors, however. Only the trusted servants of the greatest lords or wealthiest merchants could hope to enjoy such perks of the job and these men were usually formidable scholars who had a strong case for being considered gentlemen in their own right. Most tutors, if the testimony of contemporary scholars is to be believed were underpaid, poorly treated clerics, waiting for a church or university job to open up for them, or for their service to lead to some greater demonstration of favor from their lord. Joseph Hall, although later to rise to become Bishop of Norwich, wrote these biting verses on the lot of such men:

A gentle squire[1] would gladly entertain
Into his house some trencher-chaplain[2]:
Some willing man that might instruct his sons,
and that would stand to good conditions.
First that he lie upon the truckle-bed[3],
While his young master lieth over his head.
Secondly, that he do, on no default,
Ever presume to sit above the salt[4].
Third, that he never change his trencher twice.
Fourth, that he use all comely courtesies:
Sit bare[5] at meals, and one half rise and wait[6].
Last, that he never his young master beat,
But he must ask his mother to define
How many jerks she would his breech should line[7].
All those observ’d, he could contented be
To give five marks, and winter livery[8].

-Joseph Hall, Virgidemiarum (London, 1598).

[1] a squire – a gentleman, a landowner.
[2] a trencher was a bowl made out of bread, usually filled with stew – poor man’s fare at a lord’s table.
[3] a camp bed.
[4] salt was expensive and access to it controlled. Sitting above it became a sign of status.
[5] bare-headed, again indicative of low status.
[6] wait on the other diners.
[7] corporal punishment was generally considered essential to effective teaching and mothers were often accused of undermining teachers in this.
[8] Five Marks =3£ 6s 8d, a paltry sum of money. A livery was a coat with a badge or other design signifying the wearer’s service to a particular Lord or Lady. Attitudes to livery were complex amongst those who wore them, ranging from those who took pride in the finery and sign of favor to those who were ashamed to be seen in clothing which was selected for them and marked them out as a servant rather than as their own person.

This is not to say that there were not opportunities for ambitious tutors in more humble situations. Where some, rather like Nick, were underfed and paid only sporadically, others considered the food, drink, security, books, and opportunities to rub shoulders with the great on offer in wealthy households to be great perks of a tutoring job as well as being more than the average cleric could aspire to enjoy privately. Although meeting an influential patron offered a respectable way to move up in the World, many chaplains and tutors embarked upon the less popular route (with parents, at any rate) of marrying the daughters of their employers.

Some, like the Tudor-era music tutor, Thomas Whythorne, were rebuffed by young ladies who had been threatened with being cut off if they pursued such a relationship. Others, like the famous physician, John Harvey (he wrote a pioneering work on the circulation of blood in the human body), simply eloped with their intended (he and his Martha were able to reconcile with her father – well, he was a doctor, as was her father!). Not all were so fortunate, one Henry Hickman’s in-laws believed him to be a fortune-hunter when he married his Joanna, whereas a certain William Willmott was dismissed from Horseheath Hall for “endeavouring to pay his addresses to one of the ladies of the family”. Faint heart never won fair maiden, but the risks were high!

John Polsom-Jenkins

Spelling has been modernized. Quotations are from the Dictionary of National Biography

The Great Fire of London: Casualties and Aftermath

This week marks the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London. Although my series, The Southwark Saga, begins five years after the fire, the characters are still feeling its effects. It would take years for the city to rebuild and in 1671, when Tyburn begins, parts of London are still covered in ash. In the next book of the series, we’ll meet a Dutchman who was very nearly killed in the aftermath of the fire. Let’s take a closer look in this post from the archives.

The Great Fire of London began in a bakery on Pudding Lane after midnight on Sunday, September 2nd and incinerated the medieval City of London until it died down the following Wednesday. Reaching an incredible 1700 degrees Celsius, it destroyed at least 13,200 houses, 87 churches, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and most City authority buildings.

Although there were only six confirmed deaths, historian Neil Hanson believes that the true number of casualties of the fire and its aftermath numbered in the thousands. (1) The deaths of the poor and middle-class were not recorded, and their remains would have been burned beyond recognition. Some French and Dutch people were actually beaten and even lynched amid fears that the fire had been intentionally set by immigrants, and they had been England’s enemies in the Second Anglo-Dutch War.

The houses had been mostly wooden with thatched roofs, and almost met across the streets with their projecting upper floors (jetties). Though these would have provided a shelter from the rain, the congested streets allowed the fire to spread faster with no more help than a good eastern wind.

Quite apart from the houses themselves, London was extremely flammable. The riverside alone was full of pitch, oil, tar, coal, tallow, alcohol, and turpentine. There were wooden tenements along the wharves and tar paper shacks for the poor. Homes were filled with black powder left over from the war, there were barrels of it beside the wharves, and an extra six hundred tons stored in the Tower of London.

Diarist Samuel Pepys saw the City burn, and recorded in his diary entry for September 2nd, 1666:

“Having stayed, and in an hour’s time seen the fire rage every way, and nobody to my sight endeavouring to quench it, I [went next] to Whitehall (with a gentleman with me, who desired to go off from the Tower to see the fire in my boat); and there up to the King’s closet in the Chapel, where people came about me, and I did give them an account [that]dismayed them all, and the word was carried into the King. So I was called for, and did tell the King and Duke of York what I saw; and that unless His Majesty did command houses to be pulled down, nothing could stop the fire. They seemed much troubled, and the King commanded me to go to my Lord Mayor from him, and command him to spare no houses. . . .

[I hurried] to [St.] Paul’s; and there walked along Watling Street, as well as I could, every creature coming away laden with goods to save and, here and there, sick people carried away in beds. Extraordinary goods carried in carts and on backs. At last [I] met my Lord Mayor in Cannon Street, like a man spent, with a [handkerchief] about his neck. To the King’s message he cried, like a fainting woman, ‘Lord, what can I do? I am spent: people will not obey me. I have been pulling down houses, but the fire overtakes us faster than we can do it.’ . . . So he left me, and I him, and walked home; seeing people all distracted, and no manner of means used to quench the fire. The houses, too, so very thick thereabouts, and full of matter for burning, as pitch and tar, in Thames Street; and warehouses of oil and wines and brandy and other things.” (2)

The King and the Duke of York went so far as to fight the fire themselves, pulling down burning buildings alongside their people. In spite of their best efforts, the fire raged on until Wednesday, when the winds died down and the firebreaks made by the Tower of London garrison finally proved effective.

More than 13,200 houses were destroyed

The Dutch saw it as divine retribution. During the Second Anglo-Dutch War, the English had burned a Dutch town in Holmes’s Bonfire. A French watchmaker names Robert Hubert confessed to setting the fire in Westminster on orders from the Pope. After he was tragically hanged at Tyburn, it was discovered that he could not have possible set the fire as he was as sea at the time.

The Aftermath

Fires were common. Fire was actually the second most common cause of death among women in this period due to the open hearths, ovens, and candles that filled their homes, just waiting to catch on the hem of a skirt. In the rebuilding of the City, cheap wooden and thatch houses were outlawed, and carpenters found themselves out of work by the hundreds, many of them forced to move out of London along with the homeless to seek shelter and work elsewhere.

Thousands of London’s inhabitants were left without homes and many died of exposure during the following winter. The only immediate positive to come of it is that the fire is generally believed to have eradicated the Plague that had devastated London the year before as it never returned.

It is this sad turn of events that inspires out-of-work carpenter Mark Virtue to turn to highway robbery in The Southwark Saga, preying on the wealthy who were living far enough west that the fire did not reach them. You can see the effects of the fire on the people even five years on in Virtue’s Lady, when the rebuild is beginning in earnest.

The Great Fire of London is very well-documented, thanks in no small part to diarist Samuel Pepys. You can read more about it here.

Jessica Cale

Sources

Hanson, Neil (2002). The Great Fire of London: In That Apocalyptic Year, 1666. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons.

Pepys, Samuel (1995). Robert Latham and William Matthews (eds.), ed. The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Vol. 7. London: Harper Collins.

The Life and Death of Claude Duval

Claude Du Val. William Powell Frith, 1860.

Claude Duval (1643 – January 21st, 1670)

Claude Duval (Du Vall, Duvall, Du Vail) was executed at Tyburn on January 21st, 1670. Although he is only in my novel, Tyburn, for a very short time, he has a huge effect on my heroine, Sally, a fictional childhood friend of his from Normandy.

Most of the details of his appearances in Tyburn are fictional with little bits of truth slipped in. The fact of the matter is, what we know about the historical Claude Duval is mostly limited to stories told after his death. Because so little is known for certain, we have to piece together stories to try to get a picture of the man behind legend. So where do we start?

Claude Duval was born in Domfront, Normandy in 1643 to a miller and the daughter of a tailor. In his Lives of the Highwaymen (1734), Captain C. Johnson writes that Domfront “was a place by no means unlikely to have produced our adventurer. Indeed, it appears that common honesty was a most uncommon ingredient in the moral economy of the place.”

Duval began working as a stable boy in Rouen at the age of thirteen, and is believed to have become a footman in the court of Charles II in exile. Johnson writes: “He continued in this humble station until the restoration of Charles II, when multitudes from the Continent returned to England. In the character of a footman to a person of quality, Du Vail also repaired to this country. The universal joy which seized the nation upon that happy event contaminated the morals of all: riot, dissipation, and every species of profligacy abounded.” (1)

He came to England with them in 1660, where he experienced the entertainments of the Restoration in full force: “The universal joy upon the return of the Royal family made the whole nation almost mad. Everyone ran into extravagances, and Du Vall, whose inclinations were as vicious as any man’s, soon became an extraordinary proficient in gaming, whoring, drunkenness, and all manner of debauchery.” (2)

“What is any Court Favourite but a Picker of the Common People’s Pockets?”

Duval turned to highway robbery at some point during the 1660s. The Newgate Calendar suggests he chose this profession to support his appetite for debauchery, but as this was written after the fact with a very biased point of view, we have to take this with a pretty serious pinch of salt. Whatever it was that made him begin robbing coaches, “in this profession he was within a little while so famous as to have the honour of being named first in a proclamation for apprehending several notorious highwaymen.” (2)

Duval distinguished himself not only through skill as a highwayman, but with his considerable charm and excellent manners. One of the most famous stories of his exploits involves his apprehension of a coach containing a knight and his lady.

As the story goes, once the knight and lady realized they were about to be robbed, the lady, “A young, sprightly creature” pulled out a flageolet and began to play. Duval then pulled out a flageolet of his own (because you never know when you’re going to need to rock out). Duval then asked the knight for permission to dance with the lady, which he graciously granted. Johnson writes: “It was surprising to see how gracefully he moved upon the grass; scarce a dancing-master in London but would have been proud to have shown such agility in a pair of pumps as Du Vall showed in a great pair of French riding-boots. As soon as the dance was over he waits on the lady back to the coach, without offering her the least affront.” (1,2)

The knight then gave Duval the exorbitant sum of one hundred pounds. Duval, “received it with a very good grace, and courteously answered: “Sir, you are liberal, and shall have no cause to repent your being so. This hundred given so generously is better than ten times the sum taken by force. Your noble behaviour has excused you the other three hundred which you have in the coach with you.” After this he gave him the word, that he might pass undisturbed if he met any more of their crew, and then very civilly wished them a good journey.” (1)

His behavior might not have always been what we would consider to be polite today, especially given that he was still robbing people, but I think this story is particularly revealing of a good degree of honor and no little cheekiness:

“Du Vail and some of his associates met a coach upon Blackheath, full of ladies, and a child with them. One of the gang rode up to the coach, and in a rude manner robbed the ladies of their watches and rings, and even seized a silver sucking-bottle of the child’s. The infant cried bitterly for its bottle, and the ladies earnestly entreated he would only return that article to the child, which he barbarously refused. Du Vail went forward to discover what detained his accomplice, and, the ladies renewing their entreaties to him, he instantly threatened to shoot his companion, unless he returned that article, saying, “Sirrah, can’t you behave like a gentleman, and raise a contribution without stripping people; but, perhaps, you had occasion for the sucking bottle yourself, for, by your actions, one would imagine you were hardly weaned.” This smart reproof had the desired effect, and Du Vail, in a courteous manner, took his leave of the ladies.” (1)

Once the reward on his head became too much of a temptation, he returned to France for some time and is believed to have resided primary in Paris, where he lived well until his money ran out. He eventually returned to England, where he took up his old profession.

Robbery was not the only way Duval was able to to earn money. He was a legendary gambler who owed his success to knowing how to take advantage of his adversaries, sometimes winning as much as a hundred pounds in a single sitting. He was also very good at laying wagers.

“He made it a great part of his study to learn all the intricate questions, deceitful propositions and paradoxical assertions that are made use of in conversation. Add to this the smattering he had attained in all the sciences, particularly the mathematics, by means of which he frequently won considerable sums on the situation of a place, the length of a stick, and a hundred such little things, which a man may practise without being liable to any suspicion, or casting any blemish upon his character as an honest man, or even a gentleman, which Du Vall affected to appear.” (1)

The Second Conquerer of the Norman Race

Regardless of whether or not these stories were true, one thing is certain: Duval was irresistible to women. Lucy Moore explains that Duval was “a royalist who had served Charles II; his dashing style was intimately bound up with his links to the glamorous court-in-exile.” (4)

But it wasn’t just popularity by association.

“He was a handsome man, and had abundance of that sort of wit which is most apt to take with the fair sex. Every agreeable woman he saw he certainly died for, so that he was ten thousand times a martyr to love. “Those eyes of yours, madam, have undone me.” “I am captivated with that pretty good-natured smile.” “Oh, that I could by any means in the world recommend myself to your ladyship’s notice!” “What a poor silly loving fool am I!” These, and a million of such expressions, full of flames, darts, racks, tortures, death, eyes, bubbies, waist, cheeks, etc., were much more familiar to him than his prayers, and he had the same fortune in the field of love as Marlborough had in that of war —- viz. never to lay siege but he took the place.” (1)

He was eventually caught at the Hole-in-the-Wall tavern on Chandos Street in Covent Garden and on January 17th, 1670, Sir William Morton found him guilty of six robberies and sentenced him to death at the age of twenty-seven.

He was visited in prison by countless ladies in disguise, and they turned out in droves for him execution and the subsequent display of his body at the Tangier Tavern in Covent Garden. Convict or not, he had died a hero. “So much had his gallantries and handsome figure rendered him the favourite of the fair sex, than many a bright eye was dimmed at his funeral; his corpse was bedewed with the tears of beauty, and his actions and death were celebrated by the immortal author of the inimitable Hudibras.” (1)

When his friends prepared his body for burial, they supposedly found the following note in his pocket, a farewell to the ladies who loved him:

“I should be very ungrateful to you, fair English ladies, should I not acknowledge the obligations you have laid me under. I could not have hoped that a person of my birth, nation, education and condition could have had charms enough to captivate you all; though the contrary has appeared, by your firm attachment to my interest, which you have not abandoned even in my last distress. You have visited me in prison, and even accompanied me to an ignominious death.

“From the experience of your former loves, I am confident that many among you would be glad to receive me to your arms, even from the gallows.

“How mightily and how generously have you rewarded my former services! Shall I ever forget the universal consternation that appeared upon your faces when I was taken; your chargeable visits to me in Newgate; your shrieks and swoonings when I was condemned, and your zealous intercession and importunity for my pardon! You could not have erected fairer pillars of honour and respect to me had I been a Hercules, able to get fifty of you with child in one night.

“It has been the misfortune of several English gentlemen to die at this place, in the time of the late usurpation, upon the most honourable occasion that ever presented itself; yet none of these, as I could ever learn, received so many marks of your esteem as myself. How much the greater, therefore, is my obligation.

“It does not, however, grieve me that your intercession for me proved ineffectual; for now I shall die with a healthful body, and, I hope, a prepared mind. My confessor has shown me the evil of my ways, and wrought in me a true repentance. Whereas, had you prevailed for my life, I must in gratitude have devoted it to your service, which would certainly have made it very short; for had you been sound, I should have died of a consumption; if otherwise, of a pox.” (2)

Duval was buried under the center aisle of the church of St. Paul’s in Covent Garden under the following plaque:

“Here lies Du Vall, reader, if male thou art,
Look to thy purse; if female, to thy heart.
Much havoc hath he made of both; for all
Men he made stand, and women he made fall.
The second conqueror of the Norman race,
Knights to his arms did yield, and ladies to his face.
Old Tyburn’s glory, England’s bravest thief,
Du Vall the ladies’ joy! Du Vall the ladies’ grief.” (1,2)

You can read the first chapter of Tyburn here, which takes place at Claude’s execution.

Jessica Cale

Sources
1. Captain C. Johnson, Lives of the Highwaymen. (1734)
2. The Newgate Calendar
3. Alan Brooke & David Brandon, Tyburn: London’s Fatal Tree. Sutton Publishing Ltd., 2004.
4. Lucy Moore, The Thieves’ Opera. Harcourt, 1997.

From the archives. Previously published on authorjessicacale.com

 

Must Love Machetes: The Legend of Pirate Anne Bonny

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Anne Bonny. Anushka Holding, 2016.

Anne Bonny was born in Cork around 1690 to lawyer William McCormac and his servant, Mary Brennan. The scandal of Anne’s birth caused her father to lose much of his practice as well as his wife, so he took Mary and Anne to Charleston, South Carolina, and set up a new practice there. William – now going by Cormac – was so successful in his new home that he was able to buy a large plantation and Anne grew up in some degree of comfort.

Even by thirteen she was said to be stunningly beautiful, and had more than her fair share of suitors. Lovely as she was, she would soon be known more for her “fierce and courageous temper.” When one suitor attempted to rape her as a teenager, Anne beat him so badly he was bedridden for weeks.

Anne was passionate, capable, and she craved adventure. She wanted to escape life in Charleston, and she married a penniless sailor to do it. At sixteen, Anne married a James Bonny and left for the pirate haven of Nassau, New Providence.

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Calico Jack Rackham

Fascinated by piracy, Anne loved life in Nassau and was known to hang around the dives, drinking with the likes of Captains Vane, Hornigold, and even Blackbeard. Surrounded by infamous men with enough swagger to match her own, she quickly got bored with her husband. She washed her hands of him when he became an informant for Governor Rogers, and passed her time with many of the local pirates instead.

One of these pirates was Calico Jack Rackham, so called for his love of flamboyant clothing. Jack was a pirate captain who had come to Nassau in hopes of gaining a privateering commission from the king. He was charming, handsome, and absolutely fascinating to Anne, who was rather romantic at heart.

As for Jack, he fell hard. He accepted her promiscuous past, and swore she would belong to no one else but him going forward, which she seems to have been fine with. He offered to buy Anne from her husband (a relatively common practice at the time, and a form of divorce), but her husband refused. Governor Rogers got involved when her husband made a fuss, and he ordered her to return to her husband or he would have her whipped as an adulteress.

Not only did Anne refuse, but she became a pirate.

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Anne Bonny

Anne and Jack took off and began sailing together on his ship, Revenge. Armed with a sword and pistol and dressed as a man, she swore like a pirate and fought like hell. Drop dead gorgeous with long, red hair, Anne may not have passed for a boy, but none of the other sailors gave her any trouble. This may have been because it was common knowledge that she was in a relationship with Jack, or it might have been because she was absolutely terrifying. In Captain Johnson’s General History* he writes that “no body was more forward or courageous than she,” and those who knew her seemed to agree.

In early 1720, Anne and Jack had a child in Cuba. The fate of the child is not known, but if he survived, it is thought he was left with their friends there. Regardless, she was back on the boat and fighting within months.

According to Captain Johnson, Anne’s relationship with Jack was complicated when they took on a young sailor from a Dutch ship. In spite of her love for Jack, she rather fancied the sailor and made it known to him that she was a woman in case he was not already aware. The sailor had a secret of his own – he wasn’t Dutch, and he wasn’t a man, either. Anne’s sailor was actually the twenty-seven year old Englishwoman Mary Read.

Mary had been raised as a boy and had even had a career in the army, serving as a cavalry soldier in Flanders during the War of Spanish Succession. After her own marriage had ended with the sudden death of her husband, Mary decided to make a go of it as a sailor. Anne and Mary became fast friends, presumably out of a mutual love for trousers and swashbuckling.**

It’s a good story, but historian Colin Woodard disputes Captain Johnson’s account as there are records that Governor Rogers knew both women by name and that Mary set out with Anne and Jack from the start. Like many good stories, Mary’s account of her life was probably embellished if not totally fabricated. Regardless of how they met, Anne and Mary were very close friends and important members of Jack’s crew. According to Dorothy Thomas, an eye witness quoted in the pamphlet The Tryals of Jack Rackham and other Pirates (1721):

“(They) wore men’s jackets and long trousers and (had) handkerchiefs wrapped around their heads…a machete and pistol in their hands and cursed and swore at the men.”

General_History_of_the_Pyrates_-_Ann_Bonny_and_Mary_Read_(coloured)

Anne Bonny and Mary Read

The only way Ms. Thomas knew they were women was “by the largeness of their breasts.”

The Golden Age of Piracy was coming to an end by 1720, and Anne and Jack were caught in the middle of it. In an effort to curb piracy in the area, the governor of Jamaica chased them down and caught Jack and his crew in Dry Harbor Bay. The crew was woefully unprepared and almost certainly drunk. Although Anne and Mary fought bravely, they were all taken and imprisoned in Jamaica.

At their trial, Anne and Mary were identified only as “spinsters,” which was laughably inadequate and technically incorrect. They were sentenced to execution for piracy, but their sentences were delayed as both women had managed to become pregnant while in prison. Mary died of a fever during this pregnancy, and her lover, Tom, was acquitted.

Jack was hanged in Port Royal on November 18th, 1720. Still very much in love with Anne, he asked to see her before his execution. According to Johnson, Anne, still angry that they had been captured, said that she was sorry to see him there, but “If he had fought like a man, he need not have been hanged like a dog.”

There is no record of Anne’s execution. It is suspected that her father had pulled some strings to have her released, and she was never heard of again. It has been suggested that Anne later married and lived into her eighties, but this has not been conclusively proven.

Jessica Cale

Sources
Johnson, Captain Charles. A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates (1724) (Note: All images are from this book unless otherwise noted)
Sherry, Frank. Raiders & Rebels: A History of the Golden Age of Piracy.
Woodard, Colin. The Republic of Pirates.

Notes
*Captain Charles Johnson is a pseudonym. This is thought to have been written by Daniel Defoe.
**Squad goals.

Bathing in the Age of Extravagance: How to Make Your Own 17th Century Washball (Recipe)

Vermeer_-_Diana_and_Her_Companions

Diana and Her Companions. Johannes Vermeer, 1655.

There is an unfortunate misconception that people in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries did not bathe. While it is true that full immersion was less common than it is today, people washed fairly regularly and business in scented bathing products and cosmetics thrived.

Demand for luxury goods flourished during the Age of Extravagance (1660-1714) and this naturally extended to cosmetics and bathing products. Cosmetics were easily purchased or made at home, as many household books such as The Gentlewoman’s Companion (1675) contained recipes for perfumes, skin tonics, and remedies for freckles or chapped hands.

Both men and women bathed in scented flower waters. Those who did not or could not might freshen up with sponges soaked in perfume. For some, perfume replaced bathing altogether. Washballs also became very popular. Made from soap blended with herbs, flowers, or scent, they would have resembled some of the luxury soaps available to us today.

In The English Housewife (1683), Gervaise Markham supplies the following recipe for washballs:

“To make very good washing balls take storax of both kings, benjamin, calamus aromaticus, labdanum of each a like; and bray them to powder with cloves and orris; then beat all with a sufficient quantity of soap till it be stiff, them with your hand you shall work it like paste, and make round balls thereof.”

Public baths remained open throughout the eighteenth century and were used socially or for medical concerns more than as a means of bathing. These were often suspected of concealing brothels, so the most reputable bath houses took pains to advertise the respectability of their establishments and even offered bloodletting as an extra feature.

Bathing at home was by no means an option for everyone. Washballs remained popular, but their composition suffered. Now used primarily for the hands, they were often cut with fillers or lightening agents such as white lead. Perfumers continued to make quality washballs for their wealthier patrons, but those sold to the poor were significantly worse.

In Lillie’s The British Perfumer (1740), he describes the process for making “inferior common washballs,” and we can see a significant difference from Markham’s recipe:

“One hundred-weight of tallow soap and fifty pounds of Spanish or common whitening, are mixed and beaten up with double the above quantity of water, and scented with oil of caraways or some other cheap essential oil. These washballs are made large; and, to deceive the buyer, are made very round, by being skin-dried, or crusted, by laying in the stove for twelve hours; whereas good washballs, dried in the air, generally lose their shape. Their roundness, with their large size at little expense, recommend such rubbish to the ignorant buyer; but as for washing, or any other use, it is well known that they will no more lather, than a piece of clay, or a stone. There have been wash-balls frequently made for this sort of trade, which are merely the shells of large French walnuts covered over with the above base composition.”

For those with the means to afford quality cosmetics, the range of products available must have seemed endless. Abdeker’s Library of the Toilet (1754) lists many products that would have been available to purchase at well-stocked chemists. Waters, spirits, essences, pomatums, oils, vinegars, pastes, washballs, powders, and even gloves came in a dizzying variety of scents. Familiar scents such as rose and lavender were sold alongside varieties the modern reader might find peculiar, such as wormwood, scurvy grass, and the intriguingly named “volatile.”

You can easily make your own washballs at home inspired by Markham’s recipe. With a base of castille soap and rosewater, you can add ingredients of your choice to make your own washball in your kitchen.

In The Artifice of Beauty, Sally Pointer suggests the following recipe:

17th Century Washball

1 bar bland white (Castile soap) grated
1 small cup rosewater
1 tsp. lavender flowers
1 tsp. orris-root powder
1 tsp. dried rose petals
1 tsp. powdered sweet flag root (or myrrh, camomile, or marigold flowers)

“Beat all the herbs being used to a powder, and sieve to get the larger particles out. Don’t worry if the powder is a bit gritty. Warm the rosewater and dissolve the soap in it. When it has all melted, stir in the powders and remove from the heat. As soon as you can safely handle the mixture, divide it into several portions. Allow to harden for five minutes, then wet your hands in rosewater and shape them into nice, round balls.

Leave to set, then wrap in greaseproof paper and store in a dark place for a while to harden further. The longer they are left before use, within reason, the harder they will get and the more the scent will develop. It is a nice idea to store them in a paper bag in the underwear drawer or airing cupboard to scent everything. The slight grittiness of the powders makes the soap a good exfoliant in use. A small cheat to get an even deeper scent into your soap is to store your dry washballs in a bag of dried herbs or pot-pourri. The scent will permeate the soaps very readily.”

Although this recipe smells divine, you can also draw inspiration for your washball from some of the scents available from the time. Try cedar, lemon, bergamot, amber, plantain, violet, jasmine, orange flower, lavender, strawberry, cyprus, rosemary, cherry, almond, cassis, cinnamon, or your own combination thereof to bring a touch of the seventeenth century into your bath (minus the lead).

Washballs and other popular cosmetics of the period feature prominently in my new book, The Long Way Home, which is set in Versailles during the Affair of the Poisons. You can read more about here.

Jessica Cale

Further reading:

For a truly comprehensive guide to cosmetics in this period and throughout history, do not miss Sally Pointer’s The Artifice of Beauty.

See also:

The English Housewife (1684). Gervaise Markham
The Gentlewoman’s Companion (1675). Hannah Woolley
The British Perfumer (1740). Charles Lillie
Abdeker’s Library of the Toilet (1754)

Previously published on A Covent Garden Gilflurt’s Guide to Life

“Love’s Pleasing Paths in Blest Security”: Seventeenth Century Condoms

William_Hogarth_-_After_-_Google_Art_Project

After. William Hogarth, 1730.

As you’re reading my series, you might notice that condoms (or “cundums”) are present. “Now, Jess,” you might be thinking to yourself, “I know you’re obsessed with contraception, but were people really using condoms in 1671?”

Yes, reader. Yes, they were.

The invention of modern condoms has been attributed to many people, and one of the front runners was Gabriele Fallopio (three guesses what he gave his name to) who recommended linen sheaths soaked in salt and herbs to prevent disease in his De Morbo Gallico (1564), a treatise against syphilis (translation: About the French Disease).

He was hardly the first person to use them for this purpose. Condoms have been used in various forms as far back as ancient Egypt (and beyond, if you believe that cave painting). By the Restoration, a Colonel Quondam, believed to have been a physician in the Royalist army, was rumored to have invented one made of animal gut for the notoriously amorous Charles II.

The first known mention of using sheep’s innards as a barrier method dates back to Minos, but we’ll let him have this one.

The process of producing condoms made of sheep intestines was lengthy. In The Sexual History of London, Catharine Arnold writes:

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This is a condom from 1640. Check your expiration dates, folks.

“(The) process involved soaking sheep’s intestines in water for a number of hours, then turning them inside out and macerating them again in a weak alkaline solution, changed every twelve hours. The intestines were then scraped carefully to remove the mucous membrane, leaving the peritoneal and muscular coats, and exposed to the vapor of burning brimstone. Next they were washed in soap and water, inflated, dried, and cut into eight-inch lengths. Finally, the open end was finished with a ribbon that could be tied around the base of the penis, and the condom had to be soaked in water to make it supple before use. After use, it could be washed and hung up to dry, ready for another excursion.”

Condoms became incredibly popular and were even lauded by the Earl of Rochester in 1667 as a protection against both disease and pregnancy in his Panegyrick Upon Cundums:

Happy the Man, who in his Pocket keeps,
Whether with green or scarlet Ribband bound,
A well made Cundum — He, nor dreads the Ills
Of Shankers or Cordee, or Bubos dire!”
Thrice happy he — (for when in lewd Embrace
Of Transport-feigning Whore, Creature obscene!
The cold insipid Purchase of a Crown!
Bless’d Chance! Sight seldom seen! and mostly given
By Templar or Oxonian — Best Support
Of Drury and her starv’d Inhabitants

He later died of syphilis.

Rochester definitely had the right idea, but at the time, there was a popular belief that venereal disease could not be spread between men, so some men took to entertaining themselves with their own sex to avoid disease, with small groups even swearing off women altogether. That sounds like a great excuse to me and will be the subject of an altogether different post.

But we’ll get there.

In the meantime, you can read Rochester’s Panegyrick Upon Cundums in its entirety here, and I recommend you do. It’s amazing. I’ll leave you with another little excerpt. Rochester makes a guest appearance in Tyburn, and Sally could be somewhere in this passage:

That when replete with Love, and spur’d by Lust,
You seek the Fair-one in her Cobweb Haunts,
Or when allur’d by Touch of passing Wench,
Or caught by Smile insidious of the Nymph
Who in Green Box at Playhouse nightly flaunts,
And fondly calls thee to Love’s luscious Feast,
Be cautious, stay a while ’till fitly arm’d
With Cundum Shield, at Rummer best supply’d,
Or never-failing Rose; so you may thrum
Th’ ecstatic Harlot, and each joyous Night
Crown with fresh Raptures; ’till at least unhurt,
And sated with the Banquet, you retire.
By me forwarn’d thus may you ever treat
Love’s pleasing Paths in blest Security.

Jessica Cale

Sources

Arnold, Catharine. The Sexual History of London: From Roman Londinium to the Swinging City—Lust, Vice, and Desire Across the Ages.

Fallopio, Gabriele. De Morbo Gallico.

Wilmot, John. A Panegyrick upon Cundums.

Previously published on authorjessicacale.com

Taxation, Smuggling, and Sheep Dung: The Dirty History of Tea in Britain

1024px-Liotard,_Jean-Étienne_-_Still_Life-_Tea_Set_-_Google_Art_Project

Still Life: Tea Set. Jean-Etienne Liotard, 1781-3.

Tea is thought to have been popularized in Britain by Catherine of Braganza, wife of Charles II. Although she adopted English fashion following her marriage to Charles II in 1662, she continued to favor the cuisine of her native Portugal. Tea was already popular in Portugal, Holland, and other parts of Europe through trade with the east, but it was still unusual in England in 1660 when Pepys recorded trying it for the first time on September 25th, 1660:

“To the office, where Sir W. Batten, Colonel Slingsby, and I sat awhile, and Sir R. Ford coming to us about some business, we talked together of the interest of this kingdom to have a peace with Spain and a war with France and Holland; where Sir R. Ford talked like a man of great reason and experience. And afterwards I did send for a cup of tee (a China drink) of which I never had drank before, and went away.”

Unfortunately, he doesn’t tell us what he thought of it. At this time, tea was usually drunk without anything added to it. Milk was difficult to keep fresh and was mainly used for butter or cheese. It was brewed by pouring hot water into a pot, and slotted spoons were used to extract the leaves. As it gained popularity throughout the seventeenth century, there was some confusion as to how to make it. Sir Kinelm Digby advised that brewing should take “no longer than while you can say the Misere Psalm very leisurely.”

The first tea cups to arrive in Britain were mismatched, handle-less Chinese porcelain used primarily as ballast on the clipper ships. Matching sets were not purchased until the eighteenth century with the development of the British ceramic industry. Inviting people over for tea took off as a way for the hostess to show off both her purchasing power (tea and tea sets were prohibitively expensive) and manners (in knowing how to serve it).

Although tea was hugely popular in the eighteenth century, few could afford it. The East India Company held the monopoly on importing it, and on top of the already high prices, tea was taxed heavily. Tea was a luxury item everyone wanted, so to answer the demand for an affordable product, two things became commonplace: smuggling and adulteration.

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Smugglers. John Atkinson, 1808

Smuggling flourished. Much tea was smuggled in from continental Europe on small ships, but some was purchased from the East India Company’s own officers who would use the space allotted to them to undercut the company with some private trade of their own. Throughout the eighteenth century, smuggling grew in scale and became more organized, until an anonymous pamphlet in 1780 complained that so many men were employed as smugglers Britain’s agriculture was suffering as a result. Fortunately, tea smuggling stopped abruptly when William Pitt the Younger introduced the Commutation Act of 1784, reducing the tax on tea from an outrageous 119% to a more reasonable 12.5%.

‘British tea’ was a regional substitute for the genuine article that was produced briefly both as an addition to imported tea and as something to drink on its own. Made from the buds of elder, hawthorn, and ash trees, it was banned in 1777 out of concern over the destruction of the trees.

Even after the Commutation Act made tea more affordable, merchants added other substances to it to further reduce the price. Green tea was colored with highly toxic copper carbonate and lead chromate. Because of this, black tea became more popular, although adulterated back tea wasn’t much better. Often cut with sheep’s dung, floor sweepings, or black lead, if it wasn’t lethal, it would have tasted revolting. It was made palatable with the addition of milk, which wasn’t much better. By the time it became a common addition to tea in the nineteenth century, milk was often watered down and whitened with chalk dust.

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Chemical Lectures by Thomas Rowlandson. Caricature depicting Friedrich Accum. Accum was a chemist and his Treatise on Adulteration of Food (1820) denounced the common practice of cutting food and tea with additives.

The public was largely aware of these abuses, and it seems to have been generally accepted as a trade off for an affordable product. Parliament eventually brought in the Food and Drugs Act of 1860, but tea continued to be adulterated throughout the century.

Tea had become so cheap by the nineteenth century, that it was a dietary staple for those who could afford little else. It continued to be popular across class lines, and coffee and tea stalls popped up all over London until there were an estimated three hundred in 1840. Encouraged and sometimes sponsored by the Temperance movement, they remained open all day to offer an alternative to alcohol. Coffee and tea were sold in the streets with hard-boiled eggs, bacon, and bread, and many people purchased their meals from these street vendors. Made in cans over charcoal burners, coffee and tea were served in china. People would drink it quickly and return the cup to be (hopefully) washed and used by the next customer.

By 1901, the average person in Britain drank an estimated six pounds of tea per year. Tea had become so much a part of British life that the government took over tea importation during the First World War to ensure it continues to be affordable and readily available. Tea was acknowledged to boost morale, and was one of the products rationed during the Second World War.

Jessica Cale

Sources

Paterson, Michael. Life in Victorian Britain. Running Press, 2008.
Worsley, Lucy. If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home. Walker Publishing, 2011.
The Diary of Samuel Pepys, entry for September 25th, 1660.
The UK Tea & Infusions Association. Catherine of Braganza and Tea Smuggling.

For more on smuggling, read Virginia Heath’s post How Smuggling Shaped the English Language.

Executions at Tyburn: Ritual and Reality

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Once enough to send a shiver down the spine of anyone in London or greater Middlesex, the infamous Tyburn gallows have at last begun to fade from collective memory.

Between 1196 and 1783, an estimated 60,000 people were executed at Tyburn. Murderers, sometimes, and highwaymen, certainly, but for every major criminal executed at Tyburn, there were four more condemned for petty theft. Most of the people hanged at Tyburn were under 21, and many of them were still children.

By the eighteenth century, “Tyburn had become associated with mockery, irreverence, and the defiance of authority. The activities there encapsulated rough-and-ready humour, elements of carnival and, on occasion, very public displays of approval of sympathy for the condemned miscreants. For their part, the latter sometimes seem to have relished their brief moment of glory and to have drawn succour from it.” (1)

The public executions at Tyburn and the rituals surrounding them were intended to demonstrate the omnipotence of the law and to serve as a deterrent to crime. Hangings took place eight times a year in a highly ritualized and somber manner that was intended to put the fear of God into the condemned and the spectators alike.

The evening before the execution, the condemned would be offered the final sacrament by the prison chaplain before the bell tolled in the tower of St. Sepulchre’s Church. In 1604, Robert Dow left the church fifty pounds annually to toll the bells for the condemned both the evening before and the day of the execution. The hand bell was also rung within the prison at this time to accompany the following cry:

“All you that in the condemned hole do lie, Prepare you, for tomorrow you shall die; Watch all and pray; the hour is drawing near, That you before the Almighty must appear. Examine well yourselves; in time repent, That you may not to eternal Flames be sent. And when St. Sepulchre’s Bell in the morning tolls, The Lord above have mercy on your souls.”

At dawn on the day of execution, the prisoner would have his irons struck off and replaced with a cord or handcuffs. A halter was placed around his neck by the Knight of the Halter, and he was loaded into the cart with the Ordinary and the coffin he was to be buried in. The cart stopped in front of St. Sepulchre’s Church where the bell was rung again, and the bellman would ask the crowd to pray for the soul of the condemned. The Ordinary was not there to provide comfort. His presence “indicated the involvement of the Church in the punishment of sin and recognized that although the prisoner’s physical life was about to be terminated, his soul could still be saved even at this late hour.” (1)

execution-at-tyburn1The law had their rituals and the public had theirs. While the authorities effectively stage-managed the executions to discourage the public from criminal acts, there is no evidence that this was any real deterrent as many attendees would later go on to commit similar crimes themselves.

Execution days were brilliant for businesses of all kinds. In addition to the pubs that benefited along the three-hour journey from Newgate to Tyburn, the “hanging fair” itself was ripe with opportunity for profit. Young pickpockets, known as “Tyburn Blossoms” did well in the tightly-packed and distracted crowds, the execution more an opportunity than a deterrent. Prostitutes could count on being busy as the carnival atmosphere and the grim demonstration of mortality drove many to the pursuit of more earthly delights. Cakes, pies, and baked potatoes were sold, and the “Last Dying Confessions” were purchased and circulated. Seats could be bought, and the grandstand known as Mother Proctor’s Pew made £5,000 (about £450,000 in today’s money) from the execution of Earl Ferrers alone.

Meeting a good end was crucial. While most would have been insensible with fear, the crowd loved those who showed a brave face. Some of the condemned gave daring or subversive speeches, joked with the crowd, or confessed at length, embellishing their crimes with lurid detail. The best executions had ballads written about them and were retold in newspapers and pamphlets. For so many who had lived lives of desperation and neglect, the idea of a little postmortem glory must have had its appeal.

The crowd loved a good show, and some of the condemned took the execution as a last opportunity to rebel. One way they did this was through their clothing. On the morning of the execution the prisoners were allowed to choose their clothes for the day. As the executioners could turn a handsome profit by selling the clothes of the condemned following the hanging, some chose to wear as little as possible to limit this.

A young Irish woman named Hannah Dagoe took this to the extreme. Intent on cheating the hangman out of the money he would receive for the sale of her clothes, she spent the three mile journey stripping them off and throwing them into the crowd. When they reached the gallows, she wore almost nothing at all. To add insult to injury, she kneed the hangman in the groin and leaped out of the cart herself, breaking her own neck.

What had been intended as a public display of punishment to encourage law and order evolved over time into regular acts of quiet rebellion. Executions became raucous fairs attended by thousands where pickpockets and prostitutes did their most profitable work. Displays of contrition and the warnings of the condemned were replaced with lurid confessions and triumphant farewells. While the law exercised power by executing people for relatively minor crimes, the people showed resistance by celebrating the condemned as heroes.

Evidence of the disregard the public had for the executions can be found in the tongue-in-cheek terms they developed for them. Tyburn became the “three-legged mare” or the “deadly nevergreen.” “Going west,” became a euphemism for execution, and being hanged was “to dance the Paddington frisk.”

The last hanging at Tyburn took place in 1783. After this, hangings were moved closer to Newgate to a site where crowds would be easier to control. They remained there until the end of public execution in 1868.

Sources

Tyburn: London’s Fatal Tree. Alan Brooke and David Brandon. Sutton Publishing Ltd, 2004.

The Thieves’ Opera. Lucy Moore. Harcourt, 1997.

An earlier version of this appeared on thehistoryvault.co.uk.

Gay Icon, Intriguer, Author, Adventuress: The Many Lives of Aphra Behn

Aphra_Behn

Bit of a mystery, is Aphra – who says that the reinvention of one’s past is an activity reserved to Hollywood starlets?

She kept her early years a closely-guarded secret.

The Histories And Novels of the Late Ingenious Mrs. Behn (1696) states that she was born to Bartholomew Johnson, a barber, and Elizabeth Denham, a wet-nurse. (That story recurs, as a contemporary, Anne Finch, wrote that she was born in Wye in Kent, the “Daughter to a Barber”) However, a contemporary essay by the unidentified “One of the Fair Sex” maintains that Aphra was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John Johnson of nearby Canterbury. Johnson was a gentleman related to Lord Willoughby, who appointed him lieutenant-general of Surinam, for which Willoughby was the royal patentee.

Whether Aphra was Johnson’s by-blow or fostered by him is not known, but what has been established with reasonable certainty was that in 1663 she accompanied Johnson, his wife, and a boy, described as her brother, on a voyage to take up residence in the West Indies. Johnson died on the way, and his wife and children lived for several months in Surinam. Her novel, Oroonoko (1688), is allegedly based on her experiences there and her friendship with a prince of the indigenous peoples…. although there is no evidence that Oroonoko existed, that she had a friendship with him, or that the slave rebellion of the novel ever happened. Colonel Thomas Colepeper, the only person who claimed to have known her as a child, wrote that she was born at “Sturry or Canterbury” to a Mr Johnson and that she had a sister named Frances.

Southerne_Oroonoko_1776_performanceShortly after her supposed return to England from Surinam in 1664, she may have married Johan Behn. He may have been a merchant of German or Dutch extraction, possibly from Hamburg. He died – or they separated – soon after 1664, and from this point she used “Mrs Behn” as her professional name. Whatever the truth of it, none of it appears in the records… I have played a little fast and loose with Aphra’s activities, for it was not until 1666 that she appears officially attached to the court.

She was recruited as a political spy in Antwerp on behalf of King Charles II, possibly under the auspices of courtier and theatre-owner Thomas Killigrew. (And possibly not.) It happens to suit my story to have her in 1665 as already recruited as a spy, simply because, like many things about the divine Astraea – her code name, and the name she used for much of her later writing – we don’t know she wasn’t, and it tickles me to think of the dubiously-widowed Mrs Behn languishing on the Continent with other impoverished Royalist ex-pats, spinning lurid tales and batting her eyelashes at Russell.

(He didn’t. He wouldn’t…. Did he?)

Her role in Antwerp was to establish an intimacy with the son of Thomas Scot, a regicide who had been executed in 1660 – which is a discreet way of saying she was expected to seduce him. William Scot was believed to be ready to become a spy in the King’s service, reporting on the plots of Roundhead exiles. Aphra arrived in Bruges in July 1666, probably with two others (I wonder who?), tasked with turning Scot into a double agent, but it failed.

The cost of living in Europe shocked her, and only a month after arrival, she was forced to pawn her jewelry. Money had to be borrowed so that she could return to London, where a year’s petitioning of Charles for payment for her expenses was ultimately unsuccessful. It may be that she was never paid by the crown. A warrant was issued for her arrest, but there’s no evidence she ever went to prison for debt. Knowing the fair Astraea, it’s equally likely that she would have served His Majesty for love, and laughed at the warrant.

She began to work for the King’s Company and the Duke’s Company players as a scribe, to keep the wolf from the door. (Not her first writing, but her first paid gig, at least.) Her first play, The Forc’d Marriage, was staged in 1670, followed by The Amorous Prince (1671). After her third play, The Dutch Lover, failed, she disappears for three years. It is speculated that she went travelling again, possibly in her capacity as a spy – though I wouldn’t put a staged comeback past Mistress Behn’s sense of the dramatic.

Linked with notable writers of the day, she was acknowledged as part of the circle of the Earl of Rochester. (Interestingly, her name was never romantically linked with any of the Merry Gang.) As a mature woman her primary publicly acknowledged relationship was with a bisexual man, John Hoyle, himself the subject of public scandal for murder and sodomy. She was known to have had male lovers – those poems weren’t written by a woman who didn’t know what sex was – but she also writes explicitly of the love of women for each other. Did she have female lovers? She says so, but then she also claimed that Nature had meant her as a nun. More of the self-mythologising of the fair Astraea.

Gay icon, intriguer, author, adventuress. Unconventional businesswoman who lived and died on her own terms, as independently as she had lived. I wasn’t entirely serious, comparing her to stars of the silver screen, but the more I think about it – tirelessly self-promoting, glamorous, self-reliant, deceptively professional, and ultimately tragic. In her last years her health began to fail, beset by poverty and debt, but she continued to write, though it became increasingly hard for her to hold a pen. She died on 16 April 1689, and was buried in the East Cloister of Westminster Abbey. The inscription on her tombstone reads: “Here lies a Proof that Wit can never be Defence enough against Mortality.”

Oh, I don’t know.
Reckon the gal’d be proud of the likes of me and you, Jess…

masthead-coverM. J. Logue is a re-enactor, half-trained archivist, sometime copywriter, retired professional tarot reader, and almost always a writer. When not living with a troop of Parliamentarian cavalry circa 1642, she lives in the West Country with her husband, her son, and five cats.

The new book is The Broom at the Masthead – in which the Divine Astraea does not have an affair with Russell, but not for want of trying – and the blog is www.asweetdisorder.com.