Historical Underwear and the Surprising Thing Used to Clean It (Hint: It Starts with a U)

[From the archives] Okay, so we’ve had a lot of posts lately that have been on the serious side (fire, plague, syphilis, under-paying jobs), so for a change of pace, I thought I’d write about something a little more fun.

Underwear!

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15th century. Yes, really. (University of Innsbruck)

What’s not to like? Everyone knows that the best part of costume dramas in the historically accurate underwear (that can’t just be me). Fans of historical anything will already be so familiar with corsets that you might feel like you know your way in and out of one, but what about the rest?

Underwear is a surprisingly tricky subject. You’ll often hear that people just didn’t wear any, but that wasn’t always the case. Charles II wore one of the world’s first versions of silk boxer shorts to bed–would you expect anything less?–and Pepys’ wife, Elizabeth, is noted to have worn “drawers.” While it’s true that seventeenth century undergarments were a long way off from Victoria’s Secret, they were very common and almost always the cleanest thing a person wore. It was extremely difficult to clean many finer items of clothing, and people depended in part on frequent changes of undergarments such as shifts to preserve the more expensive outer layers.

As Lucy Worsley writes in If Walls Could Talk:

“In the Tudor or Stuart concept of hygiene, clean underwear played an important part. The wearing of clean linen next to the skin was considered essential in the ‘dirty’ centuries. People thought it was dangerous to immerse their bodies in water but perfectly safe to use linen to absorb the body’s juices, and then to wash the linen regularly. In fact, a show of brilliant white linen at the collar and cuffs was important to publicise the cleanliness of your body–and. by implication, the purity of your mind.”

The brighter the linen, the cleaner the mind. So how did they maintain the extraordinarily bright whites seen in portraits (apart from being kind to their painters)?

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15th Century tie-on underwear, not unlike something you could find at Ann Summers. Probably used for menstruation. (University of Innsbruck)

Urine!

That’s right, the second U of the day was used a stain remover right up until the twentieth century. Garments were scrubbed with a soap made of lye before the dirt was beaten out of them and they were hung in the sun to dry, ideally over sweet-smelling rosemary or hawthorn bushes. But for tough stains, you couldn’t beat urine. Satisfying as it might be, surely just peeing on one’s employer’s clothes would be too easy. So how was it done?

“Lay it all night in urine, the next day rub all the spots in the urine as if you were washing in water; then lay it in more urine another night and then rub it again, and so do till you find they be quite out.”
-Hannah Woolley, 1670

As you can see, sometimes it took quite a lot to do the job. Housemaids would even reserve urine from the house’s chamber pots for this specific purpose. Effective as it must have been, I can’t help but wonder how much lye and rosemary it took to neutralize the smell.

If that didn’t work, there was always perfume.

Perfume, pomanders, and scented washballs, waters, and other cosmetics were extremely popular and available in every scent imaginable from rosewater to civet (a musk from a wild cat). Although Worsley warns us about the perceived dangers of bathing, Sally Pointer assures us that both sexes bathed in scented flower waters regularly, so the situation was probably not as dire as you might imagine.

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Unidentified tailor, Giovanni Battista Moroni, 1570. Notice the pristine white ruffles under his doublet. Someone knows the secret to keeping their whites whiter.

For a bonus U: Giovanni Battista Moroni’s unidentified tailor (1570). This has very little to do with underwear (see caption), but I found him when looking for photos for you and thought you’d earned something pretty to look at after that syphilis post.

Jessica Cale

Sources

Pointer, Sally. The Artifice of Beauty

Woolley, Hannah. The Gentlewoman’s Companion (1670).

Worsley, Lucy. If Walls Could Talk.

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Executioner, Death, or The Devil Himself? The Legend of Jack Ketch

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Jack Ketch in the Plotter’s Ballad (1678-9). Ketch is seen right of center holding a rope and an axe.

[From the archives] Jack Ketch, otherwise known as John Ketch or Richard Jaquet, began his twenty-three year career as London’s leading executioner in 1663. He was not the only executioner dispatching the condemned at Tyburn, but he was the most infamous, earning a reputation for brutality remarkable even for a man in his profession. After his death in 1686, his name became slang for any executioner, the devil, and even death itself. Over time, his reputation took on such epic proportions that he became a sort of bogeyman. So who was he?

Like many executioners, Ketch spent much of his early life on the wrong side of the law, and is known to have spent time in Marshalsea Prison. Little is definitively known about his origins. He is first mentioned in the Old Bailey proceedings in January 1676 in the case of a man who was executed for a murder taking place in Whitechapel, and who also killed the bailiff charged with arresting him. The mention is a small one, but the meaning is clear: “the jury brought him in guilty, and Jack Ketch will make him free”.

after Francis Barlow, line engraving, 1679

Coleman drawn to his execution. Francis Barlow, 1679

The first public reference to him appeared in the broadside The Plotters Ballad two years later. In the Receipt for the Cure of Traytrous Recusants, or Wholesome Physicke for Popish Contagion, he is represented in a woodcut depicting the execution of Edward Coleman. Accused by Titus Oates of being involved in a “Popish Plot”, he was executed for treason in December 1678. In the woodcut, Coleman is saying “I am sick of this traitorous disease.” Ketch, illustrated holding a rope and an axe, replies, “Here’s your cure sir.” (see top)

Ketch was paid for his services, and went on strike in 1682 for better wages and won. In addition to his wages, he received bribes, but he would have made most of his money by selling off pieces of the condemned. As a matter of course, executioners were given the clothes of the dead and the rope, which they sold for significant profit. A used noose could be sold for as much as a shilling an inch.

Grizzly as it sounds, execution paraphernalia was widely believed to carry serious magic and was in high demand. Even so much as a strand of a hangman’s rope was believed to cure any number of ailments when it was worn around the neck, and gamblers sought pieces to improve their luck. Nooses had been used to cure headaches by wrapping them around the temples of the afflicted since ancient Rome. The efficacy of these cures was not in question, and the public was willing to pay for whatever they could get.

Jack Ketch had a reputation of brutality and incompetence, but the truth might be more complicated than that. Although executions were highly ritualized, there was nothing in place that we might think of as “quality control,” and bribery was a more than frequent occurrence–it was the norm. Apart from his wages and the money he made from selling off pieces of the deceased, Ketch would have received a great deal of money in bribes. If the condemned had the coin, they would attempt to bribe the executioner for a swift and merciful death. There was no mechanism in place to break the neck upon hanging at this point, so many died at Tyburn of slow strangulation, a process that could take an agonizing forty-five minutes. It would have been up Ketch to set the pace of their death and to limit–or draw out–their suffering.

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The execution of the Duke of Monmouth

The condemned were not the only people bribing executioners. Following the horribly botched executions of Lord William Russell in 1683 and the Duke of Monmouth in 1685, rumors ran rampant that although both men paid Ketch to be merciful, their enemies paid him more to make them suffer. He denied the rumors, as anyone surely would, but one has to wonder how a man who made his living executing people for twenty-three years could fail at his task so spectacularly. He was no amateur, yet during the execution of poor Monmouth, Ketch struck him five times with an axe Monmouth himself is said to have proclaimed “too dull,” and in the end had to take the Duke’s head with a knife. The spectacle had been so horrific that Ketch had to make his escape under the protection of a military guard to avoid being lynched by the crowd.

For every botched execution Ketch presided over, there were several that went off without a hitch. He was said to have known ways to tie the rope that would alternately cause the victim’s neck to break quickly or to merely render them unconscious. Indeed, if the body was moved swiftly to a coffin or intercepted by friends or relatives before it was snatched by surgeons or torn apart by the blood-thirsty crowd, there was a change they might later be revived with peppermint oil. If a person was lucky enough to survive their execution, they were typically allowed to carry on living, as this was very rare. In 1709, years after Ketch’s death, John Smith was hanged at Tyburn and left there for some time before he was cut down and revived. He made a full recovery. He was allowed to live out his life and from that day was known as “Half-Hanged Smith.”

Ketch died in November of 1686. For at least the next two hundred years, his name was applied to a whole host of things related to execution. Apart from his name becoming slang for any executioner, “Jack Ketch’s Kitchen” was a name given to a room in Newgate prison where they boiled the severed limbs of those quartered for high treason. A “Jack Ketch’s Pippin” was a candidate for the gallows. A noose became, rather uncreatively, “Jack Ketch’s Necklace”, while the slum around Turnmill Street in Clerkenwell became “Jack Ketch’s Warren”.

Jack Ketch makes an appearance in my book, Tyburn, as an acquaintance of highwayman Mark Virtue. For more on Jack Ketch and the history of Tyburn as a place of execution, check out our post here.

Jessica Cale

Sources:

Ackroyd, Peter. London, The Biography.
Brooke, Alan and Brandon, Peter. Tyburn: London’s Fatal Tree.
Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang
The Old Bailey Online
The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

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

“A Most Infamous, Vile Scoundrel”: Francis Charteris, The Rape-Master General

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A mezzotint of ‘Colonel Francisco,’ shown courtesy of the British Museum, with the heavily ironic words underneath: “Blood!–must a colonel, with a lord’s estate, be thus obnoxious to a scoundrel’s fate? Brought to the bar, and sentenc’d from the bench, Only for ravishing a country wench?”

For some people the word ‘rake’ is applied almost as a compliment–a recognition of hard-living and hard-drinking, with an almost heroic life spent on gambling and fornicating. But there was nothing heroic about Francis Charteris; he was not just a rake, he was a rapist, and a serial one at that. There are few men from the Eighteenth Century who come across as so totally devoid of decency and morality. Here was a thoroughly nasty piece of work–Swift described him as “a most infamous, vile scoundrel.”

Redeeming features? None that anyone could see. He was born in 1675 into a wealthy aristocratic Scottish family. He joined the army and was chucked out on four occasions, most notably by the Duke of Marlborough who had him court-martialed for cheating at cards. Eventually he was dismissed by Parliament for accepting bribes. By then he had achieved the rank of colonel–a rank which he had purchased largely through his expertise at cards. On one occasion he fleeced the Duchess of Queensbury out of £3000 by the simple expedient of playing cards with her after positioning her in front of a mirror, enabling him to see each hand of cards reflected in the glass.

He amassed money through bribery, fraud and blackmail as well as by dabbling on the nascent stock market (he was one of the few who did not get burned when the South Sea Bubble burst in 1720). He would lend money at an exorbitant rate of interest – sometimes 100%. It was small wonder that he reputedly had an income of £7000 a year, as well as a hundred thousand pounds invested in stocks and shares. He was a bully, a cheat and a con-artist, and a man who apparently thought he could have any woman he wanted, under some twisted idea of ‘droit de signeur.’ On one occasion in Scotland he raped a married woman at gunpoint, before running away to England to avoid capture. That meant that he was unable to return to the country of his birth, where he owned substantial estates, but in 1721 was able to petition the king (George I) for a pardon.

Armed with the pardon, he clearly felt that he was free to commit rape with impunity–he reveled in the name “Rape-Master General” and bragged of having had his way with some three hundred women. Nathaniel Mist, in his ‘Weekly Journal’, wrote “We hear a certain Scotch Colonel is charged with a Rape, a misfortune he has been very liable to, but for which he has obtained a Nolle Prosequi. It is reported now that he brags that he will obtain a Patent for ravishing whomever he pleases.”

Honour had no place in his repertoire. On one occasion when staying at an inn in Lancaster he reportedly persuaded a young servant girl to have sex with him on payment of a gold guinea. The next day, before departing, he told the inn-keeper that he had given the girl a gold coin and asked her to have it changed into silver, and that she had failed to deliver his change. The girl was searched, the gold coin discovered, and of course the word of Colonel Charteris was accepted, and the girl’s protestations were in vain: he got his guinea back, and she got the sack.

One of the drawbacks of his notoriety was that it was well-nigh impossible to find female servants to work in his household, so when he needed a new servant-girl for his home at Hanover Square in London, he gave his name as Colonel Harvey. It was apparently part of a ritual, played out for the amusement of the somewhat fat fifty-four year old colonel and his friends. Girls would be hired, raped, and then pushed out onto the streets.

As the Newgate Calendar put it: “his house was no better than a brothel, and no woman of modesty would live within his walls. He kept in pay some women of abandoned character, who, going to inns where the country waggons put up, used to prevail on harmless young girls to go to the colonel’s house as servants; the consequence of which was, that their ruin soon followed, and they were turned out of doors, exposed to all the miseries consequent on poverty and a loss of reputation.”

In October 1729 a young woman called Anne Bond was taken on as a maid-servant and was immediately besieged by the loathsome lothario. She resolutely declined the Colonel’s demands for sexual favours. On the third day she overheard someone refer to her master as Colonel Charteris. Realizing who ‘Colonel Harvey’ was, she sought to leave his employment immediately. He responded by having her locked in her room. The next day, 10th November 1729, he sent for her demanding that she make up the fire. He then brutally raped her, after gagging her screams with his night cap. When she stated her intention to report the crime, had her stripped and horse-whipped, alleging that she was a thief. She was thrown out with no possessions.

Brave girl –she made a complaint against Charteris and initially he was charged with the misdemeanour of assault with intent to rape. The Middlesex Jury upgraded the charge to rape, a crime which carried the death penalty. The case was referred to the Old Bailey and the trial started on 27 February 1730. By then the trial was the subject of huge Press attention. His defense team tried to besmirch Anne Bond’s character, claiming that she was a prostitute and a thief. He claimed that the act was consensual, producing his household servants to give evidence that the girl was lying, and that they had heard no noises or screams at the time of the alleged offence. Charteris even produced a letter which his footman swore on oath came from the girl, but it was clearly a forgery. Three witnesses were produced to give evidence that Anne was a virtuous and religious young woman. The jury retired for just 45 minutes to consider its verdict, and on 2 March Charteris was found guilty and sentenced to death.

That should have been the end of the matter–he was carted off to Newgate prison and his goods were seized as being forfeit to the Crown. He was, it transpired, one of ten men sentenced to death by the court that day.

However, a campaign to pardon the appalling colonel got under way–it appears that he had ‘friends in high places’ not least with Robert Walpole, First Lord of the Treasury. More to the point, he seems to have been able to buy off Anne Bond with the promise of an annual sum of £800, enough for her to get married. She planned to open a public house, apparently to be named ‘The Colonel Charteris Head.’ The sum of fifteen thousand pounds was apparently spent on ‘oiling the wheels of justice’ (in other words, laid out in bribes). It worked. Six weeks after sentence was handed down, George II granted a Royal Pardon, and the man was set free. He then had the nerve to sue for the return of his goods, even though his conviction as a felon meant that the seizure was entirely lawful. He ended up having to sell shares to obtain the return of his chattels. Meanwhile the Press also alleged that he made a substantial ‘thank you’ gift to Sir Robert Walpole….

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Hogarth, A Harlot’s Progress (Plate 1). When William Hogarth drew the first plate of his Harlot’s Progress, he shows the young, innocent Polly arrive in London with Colonel Charteris fondling himself in the doorway in eager anticipation of debauching the girl. His manservant ‘Handy Jack’ is by his side (top right).

The public were outraged–the poor because it was a clear example that the rich could get away with anything, and the rich because he was a disgrace and a dishonest cheat. He was pilloried in the Press with books such as “Some authentick memoirs relating to the life, amours … of Colonel Ch—-s. Rape-Master General of Great Britain.” A ballad entitled “On General Francesco, Rape-Master General of Great Britain” was published and he became the subject of satirical attacks by popular writers such as Alexander Pope, John Arbuthnot and Jonathan Swift.

Charteris returned to Edinburgh in ill-health, possibly as a result of illness contracted in prison. He died on 24 February 1732. The outraged citizens of Edinburgh saw no reason why he should receive the full sacrament–they chased away the clergyman conducting the funeral, and pelted the grave at Greyfriars with manure, offal, and dead cats.

His conduct and unpopularity coincided with a campaign aimed at discrediting Walpole, who was seen as corrupt. The idea that “the rich can get away with it” was echoed in John Gay’s The Beggars Opera, which cast the hero as a highwayman and posed the question: why do the poor get punished for their crimes, when the rich do not?

in-bed-etcMike Rendell retired as a lawyer 15 years ago and now writes and lectures on Georgian history. He has written The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman based on the treasure trove of family papers (diaries, day books, etc) kept by his 4x great grandfather. His next book, In Bed With The Georgians: Sex, Scandal, and Satire in the 18th Century, will be out in October from Pen & Sword Books. You can visit him at http://mikerendell.com.

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

 

Walk the Streets of Eighteenth Century London and See the Setting of the Southwark Saga!

Ever wish you could wander around 18th century London? Now you can, just about, thanks to this incredible interactive map at Locating London’s Past. You can even use the map to search the real locations that appear in the Southwark Saga! Yes, this map is from almost 100 years later, but most of it’s still there. Bookmark it and get ready to use this a lot, because this will be an invaluable resource to historians, authors, and readers of historical fiction alike. Ever wonder about The Strand or Half Moon Street? Now you can find them! 

In case you’re curious about some of the places names in the Southwark Saga, here’s a little list to get you started (note: I’ve highlighted the place names to make searching easier):

Love Lane: There are several Love Lanes in London and Southwark at this time, but Jane lives in a little flat on the one south of the river at the west end of Maid Lane (not to be confused with Maiden Lane, below). Maggie’s shop would have been there, too, and I imagined The Rose & Crown being across the street, perhaps where the Peacock Brewhouse was. (Heh heh)

On the other side of Maid Lane is Bear Gardenwhere the prize fights are held in Virtue’s Lady, and one of Meg Henshawe’s very favorite places. 

Fleet Street: Now, The Cheshire Cheese was (and is!) a real pub, but it is not on this map. You can search Fleet Street, however, and follow it all the way east to Newgate, and beyond that is Friday Street in Cheapside. This is where Harry’s girlfriend, Mary, lives, and the lads even pay her a visit there in Virtue’s Lady. Incidentally, this is also where the Cheapside Hoard was found. (Click here for a peek at what was in it!)

Charing Cross is where Claude Duval left Sally to fend for herself in 1668, and Bedford Street in Covent Garden is where Tyburn begins (adjacent to the infamous Maiden Lane). 

Mark and Nick grew up in a house on St James Square between Pall Mall and Piccadilly. Tyburn itself is on the map, just about, on the far left hand side at the end of Tiburn Road (follow Oxford Street west). If you zoom in, you can see the creepy little illustration of the gallows. 

How cool is that? 

PS – Don’t miss amazing street names such as Dead Man’s Place, Clink Street, and Vinegar Yard. This is way too much fun. Enjoy! 

PPS – If you fancy a paperback copy of either (or both!), I’m giving away one of each via Goodreads this month. You can even enter through the widgets in the sidebars! 😉