Marie Antoinette's Last Letter

When Marie Antoinette returned to the Conciergerie in the early hours of the morning of 16th October 1793, after being sentenced to death, she was allowed paper and ink. She used them to write a last farewell letter to her sister-in-law, Madame Elizabeth. The letter is very moving and in it Marie Antoinette expresses the sorrow she feels at leaving her children, she asks forgiveness for all her faults and the hurt she may have caused, without intending it, to all those she knows and asks Elizabeth to forgive her son for the accusations extorted from him by his jailers and declares she dies in the Catholic Apostolic and Roman religion.

Here’s the original, in French:

Ce 16 octobre, à quatre heures et demie du matin.

C’est à vous, ma soeur, que j’écris pour la dernière fois. Je viens d’être condamnée, non pas à une mort honteuse – elle ne l’est que pour les criminels, mais à aller rejoindre votre frère. Comme lui innocente j’espère montrer la même fermeté que lui dans ses derniers moments. Je suis calme comme on l’est quand la conscience ne reproche rien. J’ai un profond regret d’abandonner mes pauvres enfants. Vous savez que je n’existais que pour eux et vous, ma bonne et tendre soeur, vous qui avez par votre amitié tout sacrifié pour être avec nous, dans quelle position je vous laisse ! J’ai appris par le plaidoyer même du procès que ma fille était séparée de vous. Hélas ! la pauvre enfant, je n’ose pas lui écrire, elle ne recevrait pas ma lettre, je ne sais pas même si celle-ci vous parviendra. Recevez pour eux deux ici ma bénédiction ; j’espère qu’un jour, lorsqu’ils seront plus grands, ils pourront se réunir avec vous et jouir en entier de vos tendres soins. Qu’ils pensent tous deux à ce que je n’ai cessé de leur inspirer : que les principes et l’exécution exacte de ses devoirs sont la première base de la vie, que leur amitié et leur confiance mutuelle en fera le bonheur. Que ma fille sente qu’à l’âge qu’elle a, elle doit toujours aider son frère par les conseils que l’expérience qu’elle aura de plus que lui et son amitié pourront lui inspirer ; que mon fils, à son tour, rende à sa soeur tous les soins, les services que l’amitié peuvent inspirer ; qu’ils sentent enfin tous deux que dans quelque position où ils pourront se trouver ils ne seront vraiment heureux que par leur union ; qu’ils prennent exemple de nous. Combien, dans nos malheurs, notre amitié nous a donné de consolation ! Et dans le bonheur on jouit doublement quand on peut le partager avec un ami, et où en trouver de plus tendre, de plus uni que dans sa propre famille ? Que mon fils n’oublie jamais les derniers mots de son père que je lui répète expressément : qu’il ne cherche jamais à venger notre mort.

J’ai à vous parler d’une chose bien pénible à mon coeur. Je sais combien cet enfant doit vous avoir fait de la peine. Pardonnez-lui, ma chère soeur, pensez à l’âge qu’il a et combien il est facile de faire dire à un enfant ce qu’on veut et même ce qu’il ne comprend pas. Un jour viendra, j’espère, où il ne sentira que mieux le prix de vos bontés et de votre tendresse pour tous deux. Il me reste à vous confier encore mes dernières pensées. J’aurais voulu les écrire dès le commencement du procès, mais, outre qu’on ne me laissait pas écrire, la marche a été si rapide que je n’en aurais réellement pas eu le temps.

Je meurs dans la religion catholique, apostolique et romaine, dans celle de mes pères, dans celle où j’ai été élevée et que j’ai toujours professée, n’ayant aucune consolation spirituelle à attendre, ne sachant pas s’il existe encore ici des prêtres de cette religion, et même le lieu où je suis les exposerait trop s’ils y entraient une fois. Je demande sincèrement pardon à Dieu de toutes les fautes que j’ai pu commettre depuis que j’existe ; j’espère que, dans sa bonté, il voudra bien recevoir mes derniers voeux, ainsi que ceux que je fais depuis longtemps pour qu’il veuille bien recevoir mon âme dans sa miséricorde et sa bonté. Je demande pardon à tous ceux que je connais et à vous, ma soeur, en particulier, de toutes les peines que, sans le vouloir, j’aurais pu leur causer. Je pardonne à tous mes ennemis le mal qu’ils m’ont fait. Je dis ici adieu à mes tantes et à tous mes frères et soeurs. J’avais des amis, l’idée d’en être séparée pour jamais et leurs peines sont un des plus grands regrets que j’emporte en mourant ; qu’ils sachent du moins que, jusqu’à mon dernier moment, j’ai pensé à eux.

Adieu, ma bonne et tendre soeur ; puisse cette lettre vous arriver. Pensez toujours à moi ; je vous embrasse de tout mon coeur ainsi que ces pauvres et chers enfants. Mon Dieu, qu’il est déchirant de les quitter pour toujours ! Adieu, adieu ! je ne vais plus m’occuper que de mes devoirs spirituels. Comme je ne suis pas libre dans mes actions, on m’amènera peut-être un prêtre ; mais je proteste ici que je ne lui dirai pas un mot et que je le traiterai comme un être absolument étranger.

An English translation, by Charles Duke Yonge

16th October, 4.30 A.M.

It is to you, my sister, that I write for the last time. I have just been condemned, not to a shameful death, for such is only for criminals, but to go and rejoin your brother. Innocent like him, I hope to show the same firmness in my last moments. I am calm, as one is when one’s conscience reproaches one with nothing. I feel profound sorrow in leaving my poor children: you know that I only lived for them and for you, my good and tender sister. You who out of love have sacrificed everything to be with us, in what a position do I leave you! I have learned from the proceedings at my trial that my daughter was separated from you. Alas! poor child; I do not venture to write to her; she would not receive my letter. I do not even know whether this will reach you. Do you receive my blessing for both of them. I hope that one day when they are older they may be able to rejoin you, and to enjoy to the full your tender care. Let them both think of the lesson which I have never ceased to impress upon them, that the principles and the exact performance of their duties are the chief foundation of life; and then mutual affection and confidence in one another will constitute its happiness. Let my daughter feel that at her age she ought always to aid her brother by the advice which her greater experience and her affection may inspire her to give him. And let my son in his turn render to his sister all the care and all the services which affection can inspire. Let them, in short, both feel that, in whatever positions they may be placed, they will never be truly happy but through their union. Let them follow our example. In our own misfortunes how much comfort has our affection for one another afforded us! And, in times of happiness, we have enjoyed that doubly from being able to share it with a friend; and where can one find friends more tender and more united than in one’s own family? Let my son never forget the last words of his father, which I repeat emphatically; let him never seek to avenge our deaths.

I have to speak to you of one thing which is very painful to my heart, I know how much pain the child must have caused you. Forgive him, my dear sister; think of his age, and how easy it is to make a child say whatever one wishes, especially when he does not understand it. It will come to pass one day, I hope, that he will better feel the value of your kindness and of your tender affection for both of them. It remains to confide to you my last thoughts. I should have wished to write them at the beginning of my trial; but, besides that they did not leave me any means of writing, events have passed so rapidly that I really have not had time.

I die in the Catholic Apostolic and Roman religion, that of my fathers, that in which I was brought up, and which I have always professed. Having no spiritual consolation to look for, not even knowing whether there are still in this place any priests of that religion (and indeed the place where I am would expose them to too much danger if they were to enter it but once), I sincerely implore pardon of God for all the faults which I may have committed during my life. I trust that, in His goodness, He will mercifully accept my last prayers, as well as those which I have for a long time addressed to Him, to receive my soul into His mercy. I beg pardon of all whom I know, and especially of you, my sister, for all the vexations which, without intending it, I may have caused you. I pardon all my enemies the evils that they have done me. I bid farewell to my aunts and to all my brothers and sisters. I had friends. The idea of being forever separated from them and from all their troubles is one of the greatest sorrows that I suffer in dying. Let them at least know that to my latest moment I thought of them.

Farewell, my good and tender sister. May this letter reach you. Think always of me; I embrace you with all my heart, as I do my poor dear children. My God, how heart-rending it is to leave them forever! Farewell! farewell! I must now occupy myself with my spiritual duties, as I am not free in my actions. Perhaps they will bring me a priest; but I here protest that I will not say a word to him, but that I will treat him as a total stranger.

The letter was kept by Robespierre. It never reached Elizabeth..

Maria Branwell Bronte

Maria Branwell was born in Penzance, Cornwall, on 15th April 1783. She was the eighth of eleven children (only six survived to adulthood though) of Thomas Branwell, a successful merchant, and his wife Anne Carne. The family owned many properties in the town and was involved in local politics (her brother Benjamin became the town’s Mayor in 1809). They were also Methodists and helped build the first Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in Penzance. A plain and petite woman, Maria made friends easily. She was well-read, intelligent, witty and pious. She also wrote “The Advantages of Poverty, In Religious Concerns”, but it was never published.

When her parents died, Maria had to look for a job. In 1812 her aunt Jane Fennell, who was housekeeper at the Woodhouse Grove School at Rawdon in Yorkshire, invited Maria to assist her. Maria accepted and left Penzance to start a new life. John Fennell, Jane’s husband and Maria’s uncle, was a methodist minister and the headmaster of the school. In 1812 he invited his former colleague Patrick Bronte to visit the school. Here, he met Maria and after a short courtship the couple were married on 29th December 1812. It was a double ceremony as John and Jane’s daughter, Jane Branwell Fennell, also got married to the Reverend William Morgan. On that same day, but in Penzance, Joseph and Charlotte Branwell, two cousins of the brides, got married as well.

The couple first lived in Clough House, Hightown, where their first two children Maria (1814) and Elizabeth (1815) were born. In 1815, the family moved to Thornton, where the rest of their children was born: Charlotte (1816), Patrick Branwell (1817), Emily (1818) and Anne (1820). In 1820 the family moved again, this time to Haworth. Maria didn’t enjoy her new house much though as within a year she developed cancer and died on 15th September 1821.

Further reading:
http://www.bronte.org.uk/

The Duke Superseded By His Servant

From The Rambler’s Magazine of 1823, the story of a duchess who cheats on her husband with her footman and, eventually, settles down with him..

THE DUKE SUPERSEDED BY HIS SERVANT

A celebrated duchess long renowned for her meanness at home, and her husband’s arrogance abroad, has at length reached the final point of female disgrace; she has “fallen from her estate,” and fallen “like Lucifer never to hope again.” We could have mentioned this in our last, but we are never first to condemn a woman, we never wish to lay a hand upon them but in kindness, and with our pen would rather extenuate their failings, than set down aught in malice. The husband of this “stricken deer,” holds a sinecure office in London of immense emolument, and he resides abroad as governor of a West Island, where he is famous for annual quarrels with the legislative assembly, he also makes up for the loss of his fair rib’s society by substituting black beauties in her place.

The lady retaliated, as she could not have the master, took the man, who no doubt felt it his duty to obey his mistress in every thing with spirit and alacrity. The lady was at one time so stingy in her nature, that she actually, when she returned from court, made her footmen pull off their silk stockings and send them up to her, when she carefully folded them in a drawer, and made them serve again without washing. She also kept the key of the pastry larder, lest they should use her flour for hair powder; it is presumed that he who had got a key to admit him into the secret recesses of her grace’s thoughts, was not locked out from such trifling luxuries. The man that is once locked in a woman’s arms, will find every bolt and bar fly open at his approach, as if by magic.

He that has got the key of her heart and conscience, will find it open, – her purse – her bed-chamber – her wine cellar – in fact every thing but her eyes, which it is to his interest to keep shut. […] Affection may subsist betwixt parties, though the Atlantic ocean divides their persons – a letter can

“Waft a sigh from indus, to the pole”

but practical proofs of love which either sex require, are rendered impossibilities. The duke heard, that his tired spouse had resorted to her servant for those duties, he had it not in his power to bestow, and he came home breathing out threatanings and slaughter; but the blood of the Gordons was up and ready to repel the heavy charge he had preferred. Her grace made no attempt at concealment […] Whilst she admitted having committed adultery with her husband’s servant, she taxed that husband with having committed incest with his wife’s sister; and he shrunk from the charge – simple fornication, or double adultery, was not to be compared to this revolting crime – a judge and a jury was not to be faced on the occasion, and a private arrangement was made between the guilty parties, in which the interest of the footman was well considered. In case of a separation by an Ecclesiastical court, the parties would have had to give bond for remaining in a stale of continence, which both would have been sure to break, and her graces’s open confession at first, was meant more for the good of her body than her soul, as her aim was to live incontinently with the object of her love.

Three thousand pounds per annum was settled upon her grace, and she has settled with her footman in an elegant cottage near London, where she has taken his name, and sunk the honors and title of a duchess in the humble name and brawny arms of her fortunate domestic. We are not of those who think real happiness consists in titles and honors, none can blame this lady severely, when we reflect, that for years she never saw her husband’s face, so that she was only nominally a wife. […] 

Further reading:
The Rambler’s magazine: or, Fashionable emporium of polite literature …, Volume 2

Sir Henry Norris

We all know the sad story of Anne Boleyn. Lots of books have been written and films made about this unfortunate Queen and her tragic fall and execution. But we too often forget that Anne wasn’t the only victim in the coup that took her down. Five men, including her own brother, were found guilty of having committed adultery and treason with her and sentenced to death. But who were these men? And why were they accused of such heinous crimes? In the upcoming weeks, I will try to answer these questions. Let’s start with Sir Henry Norris.

SIR HENRY NORRIS

Sir Henry Norris was the second son of Sir Edward Norris and his wife Frideswide, daughter of Francis, Viscount Lovell. We don’t know the exact date of his birth, but he was thought to be several years younger than Henry VIII (born in 1491) and thus born in the late 1490s. By 1526 (again, we ignore the exact date), he was married to Mary Fiennes, daughter of Lord Acre. They had three children: Mary, Henry and Edward. Only Mary and Henry survived childhood. The marriage was short-lived as Mary died before 1530.

Norris was an attractive, trustworthy, discreet man and liked sports. He actively took part in court festivals and pageants and was very good at jousting. He started his royal career at a young age. In 1515 he received his first royal grant and two years later he was already serving in the King’s Privy Chamber. In 1520, he attended the Field of the Cloth of Gold. In 1526, he became Groom of The Stool. His job required him to be present when the King performed his basic natural functions, which is just a “posh” way of saying he had to wipe Henry VIII’s bottom really. However disgusting and humiliating this job seems to us today, it was actually a very important position. There were only 12 Gentlemen of the Privy Chamber and these posts were sought after because these man were very close to the king, having the right of entry to his private chambers, attending on him and just providing companionship.

As a results, these men could advice and influence the king and also controlled access to His Majesty. The Groom of the Stool was the Chief Gentleman of Henry’s Privy Chamber and by attending the king in the toilet, Norris became closer and more intimate with him than most. Not only that, but anyone who wanted to present a petition to the king had to lay it before Norris instead than Cromwell. Cromwell mustn’t have been too happy about that! The King trusted Norris and gave him numerous other posts: Chamberlain of North Wales, Keeper of The King’s Privy Purse, Master of the Hart Hounds and of the Hawks, Black Rod in the Parliament House, “graver” of the Tower of London, collector of subsidy in the City of London, weigher of goods in the port of Southampton, High Steward of the University of Oxford, and keeper or steward of many castles, parks and manors. Because of this his income shot from £33.6s.8d (£11,650) to £400 (£139,700)!

Norris was also a member of the Boleyn faction and it seems he was present when the king secretly married Anne Boleyn in 1533. He was also courting Margaret (Madge) Shelton, Anne’s cousin and, for a short period, the King’s mistress. This courtship had gone on for quite a long time, so on 30th April 1536, Anne asked Norris why he hadn’t gone through with the marriage yet. Norris replied that “he would tarry a time”. Anne thought Norris couldn’t commit to Madge because he was actually in love with her and said the words that would get her in trouble when reported to Cromwell: “You look for dead men’s shoes, for if aught should come to the King but good, you would look to have me.” Norris was shocked. He knew that under the 1351 Statute of Treason even just imagining the death of the King constituted treason and could be punished by death. He hastily replied “if he should have any such thought, he would his head were off”.

Upon realizing what she had said, the Queen asked Norris to go to her almoner John Skip to swear that she was a good woman but this backfired on her. Skip became suspicious and informed the Queen’s chamberlain Sir Edward Baynton, who went to Cromwell. Cromwell realized how easily the words could be twisted to accuse Anne and Norris of having an affair. Considering how close Norris was to the King, the betrayal would have been extremely shocking.

On May Day, Norris took part in the jousts. When his horse became uncontrollable, Henry VIII gave him his. Did the king know at this point about the accusations against his Queen? We’ll never know, but towards the end of the jousts, he received a message (probably informing him that Mark Smeaton had confessed to adultery with the Queen) and just left. While the Queen (and everyone else) wondered at his behaviour, Norris rode back with the King to Westminster. Henry VIII interrogated him, promising him he would be forgiven if he would confess the truth. But he maintained his innocence. When they arrived at York Place, Norris was placed in the custody of Sir William FizWiliam. He and other members of the Privy Council questioned him. On 2nd May, Norris was taken to the Tower.

On 12th May, Norris, together with Weston, Brereton and Smeaton, as commoners, were tried by a special sessions of oyer and terminer. Norris must have made some kind of confession before the trial had begun because he defended himself by saying that he had been deceived into confessing (we don’t know exactly what he confessed to) and retracted it. In addition, the dates and places cited in the indictments as the occasions where the Queen was supposed to have cheated on the King with Norris were made up as there is evidence that either she or her supposed lover were in different places at those times. But nothing of this mattered. The verdict was a foregone conclusion and Norris and the other poor men were found guilty and sentenced to death. He was beheaded on 17th May.

Further reading:
The Lady In The Tower by Alison Weir
The Anne Boleyn Files

Emily Bronte

Emily, the fifth child of Reverend Patrick Bronte and his wife Maria, was born on July 30th 1818 at Thornton, Bradford in Yorkshire. Her mother died of cancer in 1824, shortly after the family had moved to Haworth. Her father, struggling to bring up his family, decided to send her, together with her sisters Maria, Elizabeth and Charlotte, to the Clergy Daughter’s School at Cowan Bridge. The harsh regime of the school, the poor food and hygienic conditions took their toll on the girls. When a typhus epydemic broke out, Maria and Elizabeth fell ill, came back home and died. The other two girls were taken away from school too.

From that moment, their father took charge of their education. The Bronte children studied at home, read a lot and invented stories. Emily and Anne worked together on poems and stories about the imaginary world of Gondal. In 1834, Emily enrolled at Miss Wooler’s school at Roe Head Mirfield, where her sister Charlotte worked as a teacher, and remained there for 3 months before going back home again. In 1839, Emily became a teacher at Law Hill school but left her job after six months.

Emily dreamed of opening her own school with her sisters and so, to improve her knowledge of foreign languages, she left for Brussels with her sister Charlotte. Here, she learned French, German and how to play the piano. A few months later, they received the news of their aunt Maria’s death and went back home. Emily and her two surviving sisters, Charlotte and Anne, inherit £350 each. Thanks to this money, her project of opening the school became more realistic but despite all the sisters’ efforts and hard work, they failed to attract students. The project was abandoned.

Emily started writing down all her poems into two notebooks. Charlotte found them and thought they should be published but Emily refused. A reserved and taciturn woman, she was furious at this invasion of her privacy. Eventually, though she relented. In 1846, the Bronte sisters published a book of Poems under the pseudonyms of Currer (Charlotte), Ellis (Emily) and Acton (Anne) Bell. The following year, her masterpiece, Wuthering Heights was published too. But in 1848, Emily’s health deteriorated. She refused all medical help and died on 19 December. She rests in the Church of St. Michael and All Angels family vault, Haworth, West Yorkshire.

Further reading:
http://www.haworth-village.org.uk/
Wuthering Heights

Clara Fisher Maeder

Clara Fisher was a British child prodigy. Born in London on 14th July 1811, she was the fourth daughter of Frederick George Fisher, a librarian and, later, an auctioneer in King-Street, Covent Garden. She was a clever girl, with good memory and a musical ear: from a very early age, she could learn any air after hearing it performed just a couple of times on the piano. When she was only four years old, her parents took her to Covent Garden to see the play “The Tragedy of Jean Shore”. Clara was very impressed by Mrs O’Neil’s performance (she played the main character) and, once home, she retired in a corner of the room and repeated everything she had witnessed. Her love for the theatre and acting was born.

Clara made her debut on a London stage on 10th December 1817 (she was just six years old), in a play altered from Garrick’s Lilliput. She played the character of Lord Flimnap. She was well-received by the crowd and the play ran for 17 nights. The following year, in 1818, she performed in front of the Prince Regent and other important personages in the pantomime Gulliver. Clara played Richard III. Known as the “child wonder”, this talented little actress dazzled audiences all over the UK and Ireland:  Worchester, Bath, Bristol, Brighton, Southampton, Dublin, Liverpool and Edinburgh are just a few of the places where she performed.  

Even though very young, Clara was a talented actress and, when something went wrong on stage, instead than running away or crying, she maintained her composure and knew how to save the situation. It seems that, when she performed the part of Richard III at Birmingham, a little crown was made especially for her. But it was so small that it fell off her head upon the stage. Undaunted, she finished her speech and, once done, she beckoned to another actor to approach. “Catesby!” she called, and pointed to the crown. She remained erect, motionless and dignified, like beckoning the monarch she was playing, while he placed the crown back upon her head. No wonder, people loved and admired this little girl!

Clara also had two older sisters, both promising actresses who played together with her on stage. They were also invited at fashionable parties given by the nobility, where they were well-received and admired. But a talent like hers couldn’t stay deprived of the artistic possibilities of a career outside her homecountry and so, in 1827, a teenage Clara made her debut on a New York stage. Here too she was a sensation. Clara mania exploded. Everywhere she performed, she got a rapturous reception. Poems were written about her, parents called their babies Clara, and horses, hotels and pretty much everything else in America was given her name!

Although not beautiful according to the standards of the time, everyone still thought her charming and fascinating. Her face, it was said “is all expression without being all beauty”. She was a natural talent. She didn’t just play a character, but while on stage, she became that character, forgetting everything else. Although she didn’t have exceptional singing abilities, she still mesmerized crowds with her voice: she wouldn’t just sing a song, she acted a song, conveying its meaning not just with words and music, but also with her face and movements.

Clara married James Gaspard Maeder, a composer and vocal coach who wrote an opera for her called Peri, or the Enchanted Fountain, in December 1834. The couple had seven children. They also opened a theatre in New Orleans together. Clara had earned an immense fortune throughout the years and so, in 1844, she decided to retire. However, her eccentric taste coupled with bad financial investements forced her to return to the stage six years later.

As she grew older, her popularity started to fade and she could only play the roles of older women. However, she was still very respected and referred to as “the oldest living actress”. In 1988, she retired from the scenes again and started writing her autobiography, which she finished the following year. She spent the last years with her daughter, Mrs Post, in Metuchen, New Jersey. Here, Clara died on 12th November 1898. Only three of her children survived her. She is buried at the Woodlawn Cemetery in New York.

Furher reading:
Autobiography of Clara Fisher Maeder
La Belle Assemblée, July 1818
The Biography of the British stage

Georgiana, Duchess Of Devonshire: Childhood

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, is a very important and famous historical figure of the eighteenth century. We all know her story. She entered into an unhappy and loveless marriage with a man she had nothing in common with, became the queen of fashion and of the ton, was an important figure in the Whig Party, was an affectionate mother, was always in debt because of her love for gambling and had the best friend from hell, Elizabeth Foster. But what is less known about Georgiana is her childhood. How was she as a child, and how those important years affected her?

Georgiana Spencer was born at Althorp, the Spencer’s family home outside Northampton, on 7th June 1757. She was the eldest child of John Spencer and his wife Margaret Georgiana Poyntz. The couple had two more children, George, born in 1756 and Harriet, born in 1761. However, Georgiana, a precocious and affectionate baby, always remained her favourite child and the two women enjoyed a close relationship throughout their lives. The relationship with her father, instead, was more complicated. She obviously loved him but was also a little afraid of him at times. John Spencer was a very reserved man who showed his amiable disposition only in private, but he was also capable of an explosive, albeit not violent, temper, which was probably due to his ill-health.

The Spencers were one of the richest families in the country. Their estate was worth £750,000 (about £45 millions in today’s money) which included 100,000 acres of land in 27 counties, five residences and a vast and beautiful collection of paintings, jewels and plates. The family would spend the summer at Wimbldon Park, a Palladian villa on the outskirts of the town, the autumn at their hunting lodge in Pytchley, outside Kettering,
the winter at Althorp, the county seat of the Spencers, and “the season” in a draughty house in Grosvenor Square in London. But when Georgiana was 7, the family moved to their new sumptous London residence, Spencer House, localed in St James’s and overlooking Green Park. In 1765, John Spencer was created first Earl Spencer and thus little Gee, as her mother called her, became Lady Georgiana.

The Spencers were always entertaining. Her father was a lover and a collector of rare books and Italian arts, plays and concerts were often held at Spencer house and after dinner the most famous actors and writers of the time would display their talents to entertain the guests. All this was done to consolidate the power and prestige of the family, with many jobs obtained and government policies discussed at the house. But it also meant that Georgiana grew up in an exciting environment and surrounded by artists, politicians and writers. From an early age, she started writing little poems and stories she would recite after dinner and would put up little plays for her family in the evenings. Adults were charmed by this little girl and failed to see that she craved and needed attention, something that would affect her for the rest of her life.

She also received a good, but not overtly so, education. During the week, she studied languages (French, Latin and Italian), geography and deportment. She learned how to draw, to play the harp, dance and ride. She also received singing lessons. A good student who learned easily, Georgiana never had any problems grasping the complicated rules of etiquette and had great social skills, which pleased her mother a lot. When little Gee was 6 years old, her father had trouble with his lungs and his parents decided to go to Spa, in Belgium, hoping the warmer climate of the Continent would improve his health. George and Harriet were considered too young to travel abroad, but Georgiana went with her parents. Spa, however, didn’t have its hoped effect on the Earl’s health so they decided to try Italy instead. This time, her parents went alone, leaving little Gee with her grandmother in Antwerp.

This deeply affected Georgiana, who was already missing her siblings. She felt this abandonment was a punishment for something she had done, but didn’t know what it was. As a result, in the year she lived with her grandmother, she became even more self-conscious and eager to please those around her. Lady Spencer noticed a change in her daughter when they finally reunited but she liked it and never realized how this lack of confidence would cause her to depend too much on other people as an adult. In 1766 and 1769, Lady Spencer gave birth to two daughters but they died after a year and three months respectively. The Countess and Earl were distraught and started travelling a lot. When at home, Lady Spencer would play billiards and cards, gambling at her house with her friends till the early hours of the morning. Sometimes, the children would creep out of their rooms to see what was going on at the gaming table. As an adult, Georgiana would lose exorbitant sums of money gambling.

But for now, she was just a little girl affected by her sisters’ deaths. While it is true that she might have been a bit jealous of them soon after their birth because of all the attentions they received from their mother, their deaths made Georgiana worry excessively about her remaining siblings. She also became very sensible to criticism and would overreact, crying and screaming, at the slightest remonstrance. Her mother tried everything she could think of to calm her down, but to little avail. Time would help, though, and by the time she was a teenager, her reactions were more controlled.

Georgiana had a privileged childhood. She had parents who loved each other and their children very much, she was close to her siblings, she received a good education and her family never had any money problems. Yet, by examining her childhood it is clear to see that her lack of self-esteem, eagerness to please others, her tendency of being dependent from other people, and maybe even her love for gambling, developed at a very early age. Lack of self-esteem and addiction go hand in hand and when people are desperate to please others, they are very easily influenced and often end up doing whatever they are asked, even if that’s gonna get them in trouble. But still, the question remains, how could she have had such a low self-esteem when everyone loved her and she didn’t seem to have had anything traumatic happen to her?

I think Georgiana was simply a very sensitive child, more sensitive than most. Things that most people would consider normal, especially when taking into consideration the times and situations they happened in, like her parents travelling a lot (especially after the death of their two youngest daughters) and leaving her alone with her grandmother abroad for a year (it just wasn’t feasible to take her with them), affected her more deeply than they would others. Yes, she was very loved but maybe she didn’t think she was worthy of that love (maybe she felt that was why she was left with her grandma) or she thought she felt she had to behave in a certain way to deserve it (her mother was obviously pleased about Georgiana’s social abilities – may it be that Georgiana felt under great pressure to be the charming and social girl her mum loved and not disappoint her?) . Whatever the reason, she felt that being herself just wasn’t enough. And so, she needed to please others and gain her approval to feel loved. Unfortunately for her, no one, not even her parents, seemed to understand how vulnerable this charming girl actually was inside and so no one helped her. After all, to the outside world, she was a fascinating woman with a gambling addiction who just spent too much. Sad, isn’t it?

What about you? How do you think her childhood experiences affected Georgiana? 

Further reading:
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman

Historical Reads: When Was Anne Boleyn born?

Anne Boleyn is one of the most famous figures in history, yet we don’t know much about her. One of the things we still ignore is her date of birth and how old she was when she was executed. Historians have been debating about it for ages and have put forward two dates: 1501 and 1507. If we believe the second date, then Anne Boleyn was 28 at the time of her death, while if we believe she born in 1501, then she died at 35, already past her childbearing years. There isn’t any definitive proof on which date is right yet, but both have valid arguments supporting them.

Gareth Russel, author of the Confessions of A Ci-Devant Blog, believes Anne was born in 1507. To quote:

Because if she was 28, as one of her stepdaughter’s ladies-in-waiting claimed, then the reasons behind her execution become infinitely more sinister – at 28, Anne Boleyn was still undeniably in her childbearing years. Yes, she would have been at the tail-end of them by Tudor standards, but she would have had at least four or five more years before she was considered infertile, and so the idea that it was just her “failure” to produce a son which led to her death in 1536 suddenly becomes a good deal less convincing and the idea that it was her husband who orchestrated her monstrously unfair death becomes infinitely more likely.

One question the 1501 side of the debate has never fully answered is the issue of Anne’s suitability to be the mother of the King’s children. In the half-decade-long battle with Rome between Henry’s proposal to Anne and their actual marriage, every conceivable objection was thrown up at Anne Boleyn by those who did not wish to see her become queen. And yet, Anne and Henry did not go through a marriage service until November 1532 and she did not give birth to their first child until September 1533. If she had been born in 1501, she would have been 32 years-old at the time she gave birth to Elizabeth – over-the-hill, by Tudor standards. Why did no-one highlight the fact that she was simply too old to be the mother of the next Heir to the Throne? Thirty-two was the age when Henry’s first wife, Katherine of Aragon, had gone through her last pregnancy and after that everyone assumed (rightly) that she would never fall pregnant again – why did no-one point out that the new Queen was going into labour for the first time at exactly the same age as the old “barren” Queen had gone through it for the last time?

Claire Ridgway, author of the Anne Boleyn Files website, examines, both dates, but she is more inclined to believe Anne was born in 1501. To quote:

Thomas Boleyn’s letter to Cromwell, dated July 1536 – In it, Thomas Boleyn refers to the financial hardship of the early years of his marriage, writing that his wife “brought me every year a child” LP xi.17 If we consider that the Boleyns married c1498/1499 then surely all five Boleyn children (Mary, Anne, George, Thomas and Henry) were born before 1505. Also, Thomas Boleyn became a wealthy man on the death of his father in 1505, so he must have been referring to Elizabeth’s pregnancies pre-1505.

A birth date of 1501 would make Anne around 35 years of age at her execution and it may explain why Henry VIII was worried that Anne could not give him a male heir and why he was so ready to replace her with the younger Jane Seymour. At 35, Anne was past her prime. Jane Seymour is thought to have been born around 1508, so if Anne was born in 1507, why would Henry replace her with someone just a year or so younger?

What do you think? I also believe the 1501 date, but Gareth Russel’s comments do make me think that 1507 is a more valid option that I initially assumed… I’m not entirely convinced of it yet though. Mmm..

Anedoctes And Advice From The Rambler's Magazine, Vol. 2, 1823

I was reading the 1823 issue of The Rambler’s Magazine, as you do (yes I’m weird but I can’t be the only one who enjoys old mags more than modern ones, or am I? Mmmm), and came across a couple of nice little pieces in the Anecdotes section that made me smile and decided to share them with you. I hope you enjoy them!

HOW TO WIN THE LADIES

The plainest man, who pays attention to women, will sometimes succeed as well as the handsomest man who does not. Wilkes observed to Lord Townsend, “You, my Lord, are the handsomest man in the kingdom, and I the plainest; but I would give your Lordship half an hour’s start, and yet come up with you in the affections of any woman we both wished to win: because all those attentions which you would omit, on the score of your fine exterior, I should be obliged to pay, owing to the deficiencies of mine.”

Still, a very relevant piece of advice, don’t you think? A charming personality, a bright mind and treating women nicely can get you as far as a pretty face, if not further.

MADE UP BEAUTY 

False rumps, false teeth, false hair, false faces,
Alas, poor man! how hard thy case is;
Instead of woman, heav’nly woman’s charms,
To clasp cork, gum, wool, varnish, in thy arms.

The more things change, the more they stay the same… makes you wonder what the author would think of so many women getting plastic surgery today…

Further reading:
The Rambler’s Magazine, Vol.2

The Dutch Toy

Before her marriage to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, Princess Charlotte of Wales, the heiress to the British throne was betrothed to Prince William, the Hereditary Prince Of Orange. That was an union the Princess, much to her father’s chagrin, had never been too keen on. Both her mother’s hatred for the Orange family, and her reluctance to leave England and live abroad, even for a few months a year, eventually prompted her to end the engagement.

Of course these events were closely observed by the satirists of the time, who had a field day (or year) with it. Here are a few of the satirical prints making fun of the whole thing:

A Dutch Toy!!!-Or, a pretty Play-thing for a Young Princess!!! Huzza

Sitting under a canopy, Princess Charlotte is pulling the strings on a jointed puppet representing the Prince of Orange in military dress, holding a flag inscribed “Orange Boven”. Across her knees rests a miniature portrait of a man, inscribed “Fitz Mo” (the rest of the name is illegible). At her feet lies an open book inscribed “Clarence’s Dream”. In the garden, we can see a fountain, with water spurting from a cupid seated on a swan. Is Charlotte serious about the Prince of Orange, or is she just toying with him?

The Dutch toy

Princess Charlotte is raising a whip to lash a top spinning on the floor, on which sits the Prince of Orange smoking a pipe. In his pocket, he carries a piece of paper inscribed “Contract”. The Princess says: “Take this for Ma! and this for Pa!—and this! and this! for myself, you ugly thing you!—”

From the open door, we can see the leg and arm of the concealed Prince Regent, Charlotte’s father. He’s holding a birch-rod tied with orange ribbon, and, with a threatening voice, says: “If you don’t find pleasure in whipping the Top, I shall whip the Bottom!”

Behind Charlotte, there’s a piano, on which lies a copy of “School for Wives”, a comedy by Hugh Kelly, and an open music-book, inscribed with the words and music of a song:

“An Obstinate Daughter’s the plague of you [sic] life
No rest can you take tho your rid of your Wife
At twenty she laughs at the duty you taught her
Oh! what a plague is an obstinate Daughter.”

On the wall, hangs a portrait of Cupid. He’s standing on his head on a terrestrial globe, in the country of Holland, aiming his arrows at England.

Miss Endeavouring to excite a glow with her Dutch Play thing-

Printed one month after the previous print, Miss Endeavouring to excite a glow with her Dutch Play thing depicts Charlotte, still with a whip in her hand, standing over and pointing at the “Dutch Toy”, who is falling forward. The Prince of Orange is still smoking and carrying the contract in his pocket, but he’s now resigned he’s never going to marry Charlotte. Between his knees, he holds a bottle.

The Princess says: “There, I have kept it up a long while you may send it away now, I am tired of it, Mother has got some better play things for me.” The Regent replies, “What are you tired already? Take another spell at it, or give me the whip.” But Charlotte refuses: “No, No, you may take the Top, but I’ll Keep the Whip.”

At the Regent’s feet lies an open book titled The Way to Teaze him a Play in V acts’. On the wall hangs another portrait of Cupid. This time the god of love, who has dropped his bow and broken arrows, is resting his head on a large orange inscribed “Orange Boven”.

What do you think of these prints?