Tag Archives: history

The Duke Superseded By His Servant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THE DUKE SUPERSEDED BY HIS SERVANT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

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..

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..

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

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

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

Lavinia Fenton

English actress Lavinia Fenton was beautiful, lively, and vivacious. But life hasn’t always been kind to her. Born in Charing Cross, probably the daughter of a sailor her mother had a brief fling with, Lavinia had to work from an early age. She was a waitress and a barmaid, but then, still a child, turned to prostitution to supplement her meagre earnings.

In March 1726, the young teenager took up acting. Her first appearance on the stage was as Monimia in Thomas Otway’s The Orphan: or The Unhappy Marriage, at the Haymarket Theatre. She then joined the company of players at the theatre in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, where her talent and beauty made her a hit with the audience.

But it was her performance as Polly Peachum in The Beggar’s Opera that made her famous. Hogarth painted her in her role as Polly, and people started identifying the actress with her character both on and off the stage. Books and verses about her were published, and her pictures sought after. Lavinia’s salary now doubled too and she was very much in demand. She went on to star in John Vanbrugh’s adaptation of The Pilgrim, several comedies, and then in numerous repetitions of the Beggar’s Opera.

In the meantime, Lavinia had started an affair with Charles, Duke of Bolton. Twenty-three years older than Lavinia, he was trapped in a loveless marriage. But neither he nor Lavinia saw that as an obstacle to their union. Lavinia would give Charles three sons, all the while keeping appearing on the stage. She wasn’t about to give up her job to be just a kept mistress! When in 1751, Charles’ wife died, the couple finally married. Nine years later, Lavinia died at Westcombe House in Greenwich.

Further reading:
The Duchess Of Devonshire’s Guide To The 18th Century
Wikipedia

Historical Reads: The A to Z of life in Pompeii

What was life like for the Romans who lived in Pompeii? History Extra investigates:

C is for cafe culture
The latest estimate reckons that there were about 200 cafes and bars in the town altogether – about one for every 60 residents. A counter usually ran along the street to catch the passing trade, selling cheap takeaway food from large jars.

Wine was stacked up behind it and there were tables in a back room for sit-down eating and drinking. It was the reverse of today’s society, where the rich eat out and the poor cook up at home. In Pompeii, the poor, living in tiny quarters with no facilities, relied on cafe food.

D is for diet (and dormice)
Rich Pompeians did occasionally eat dormice. Or so a couple of strange pottery containers – identified, thanks to descriptions by ancient writers, as dormouse cages – suggest. But elaborate banquets were a rarity and just for the rich.

The staples were bread, olives, beans, eggs, cheese, fruit and veg (Pompeian cabbages were particularly prized), plus some tasty fish. Meat was less in evidence, and was mainly pork. This was a relatively healthy diet. In fact, the ancient Pompeians were on average slightly taller than modern Neapolitans.

E is for education, education, education
One of the puzzles of Pompeii is where the kids went to school. No obvious school buildings or classrooms have been found. The likely answer is that teachers took their class of boys (and almost certainly only boys) to some convenient shady portico and did their teaching there.

A wonderful series of paintings of scenes of life in the Forum seems to show exactly that happening – with one poor miscreant being given a nasty beating in front of his classmates. And the curriculum? To judge from the large number of quotes from Virgil’s Aeneid scrawled on Pompeian walls, the young were well drilled in the national epic.

To read the entire article, click here.

The Sad Life Of Princess Elisabeth Of Romania

Elisabetha Charlotte Josephine Alexandra Victoria, the daughter of Ferdinand, Crown Prince of Romania, and his wife, Marie of Edinburgh, was born on 12 October 1894 at Peleş Castle, near Sinaia. Although her father was a Roman Catholic, he was forced to obey the Romanian constitution and baptise his daughter in the country’s official religion, Greek Orthodox. The Pope wasn’t very understanding, and had Ferdinand excommunicated.

Elisabeth’s mother was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria and a supporter of all things British. She hired English governesses to take care of her children (although, when her parents were away, Elisabeth, as the eldest daughter, was often required to look after her siblings), and British tutors to educate her children at home. An avid reader, Elisabeth loved literature, but also painting, embroidery, singing, and playing the piano. But the outbreak of the First World War put an abrupt halt to her education.

During the war, the princess, together with her sister Mignon and their mother, took care of the wounded soldiers at hospitals located in the Moldova region, the only part of Romania that hadn’t been occupied by enemy troops. She also kept drawing and painting. Some of her pictures were printed in the “Calendarul Regina Maria”, whose proceeded were used for the war relief effort. After the war, in 1919, Elisabeth spent one year in Paris to study music and painting.

Marie was now old enough to get married, as her grandmother, Maria Alexandrovna of Russia, kept pointing out. It seems the old lady was the first to suggest an union with George, Crown Prince of Greece. Queen Sophie of Greece was ecstatic at the idea. In a letter to Marie, she wrote: “We found her lovely most sympathetic and charming. Upon our dearest son Georgie she has made a deep impression. We are most anxious to know whether Nando and you would have any objections to a marriage between the two young people, who seems to have a deep feeling for each other.” The couple tied the knot on 27 February 1921.

Elisabeth loved her husband, but she found life in Greece difficult. She was homesick, “mentally starved […] hungering for the music and art and affection that were showered on her in Romania”, and often left home alone as her husband spent long periods at the front. Greece, at the time was at war with Turkey. The internal political situation was in turmoil too. The republican party was busy trying to gain power and sought every opportunity to diminish the power of the monarchy and its reputation with the people.

Soon, Elisabeth’s health grew worse. The princess suffered from typhoid fever and pleurisy, and had to undergo, without anaesthesia, two operations. Her parents, fearful for her life, rushed to her bedside. But, luckily, the princess recovered, although her heart, from then on, would always be weak. That year, King Constantine I of Greece, also had to abdicate in favour of his son. Upon hearing the news, Elisabeth, burst in tears. The throne she was suddenly thrust on was very shaky, and, to make matters worse, the monarchy had no money. Elisabeth was forced to economize, and struggled to pay even for necessary expenses. Still, Elisabeth did her best as Queen, even helping to raise money for the poor.

In December, her reign ended. Elisabeth and George went into exile in Romania, where they settled at the Cotroceni Palace. But her husband kept spending long periods in England, and, slowly, the couple started growing apart. In 1935, they divorced. Now, Elisabeth, who had lost her Romanian citizenship when she got married, asked to regain it. She then bought a house, which had always been a big dream of hers, to decorate as she pleased, and entertain her friends in, and founded, at her own expense, a hospital and home for children in Bucharest. It was one of the most modern institutions of its type.

But the peace she had found was shattered again by the outbreak of World War II. The Russians, who now controlled the country, forced King Michael to abdicate in 1947. The whole royal family, Elisabeth included, was forced to leave Romania in a hurry. Elisabeth died in exile, at Cannes, on 15 November 1956.

Further reading:
Lost In The Myths Of History
Roumania and her Rulers by Mrs Philip Martineau
The Story of My Life, vol. II, by Queen Marie of Romania

The Murder Of David Rizzio

On 9th March 1566, David Rizzio, Mary Queen of Scots’ private secretary, was assassinated in front of the heavily pregnant Queen. Many consider it the beginning of the end for Mary. But why? And who was Rizzio? What had he done to deserve such a fate?

David Riccio di Pancalieri was born in 1533 in the duchy of Savoy. The son of a poor musician, Rizzio inherited a strong musical talent and a beautiful singing voice. He was hired by the Duke of Savoy as valet and musician and, in 1561, together with his master’s ambassador, the Marquess of Moretto, went to Scotland. Here, the Marquess encouraged Rizzio to try and land a job at court.

It just so happened that Queen Mary was looking for a bass singer. Rizzio performed for her and the Queen was so impressed, she hired him as a gentleman of the privy chamber. But if Mary was smitten, others were less than impressed. Many at court considered Rizzio ugly, thought him arrogant and conceited, criticized his taste for expensive clothes, and were jealous of the favour the Queen showed him.

Few were pleased when, in 1564 Mary fired her French secretary Raulett, a retainer of the Guise family (her relations on her mother’s side) and gave the job to Rizzio. Rizzio was constantly in the Queen’s presence, carrying out this or that duty. The other courtiers soon learned that the best way to receive a favour from Mary was to bribe Rizzio. Many did, but resented his influence. Mary was aware of this, but she didn’t take their resentment seriously enough. She thought it was unjustified.

The following year, the dashing Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, arrived at the Scottish court. Mary quickly fell in love with him, and wanted to marry him. Rizzio, who, if rumours are to be believed fancied Darnley too (the two men were apparently caught in bed together!), supported the marriage. The wedding was celebrated on 29 July 1565 at the Palace of Holyroodhouse. But the Queens’ hopes for a good and peaceful union were soon disappointed.

Any happiness she may have felt at becoming pregnant with the future James VI of Scotland and I of England was marred by her husband’s outrageous behaviour. Shortly after the wedding, Darnley started showing his true colours. He was immature, weak, loved drinking and whoring, and longed to be made king of Scotland. Mary didn’t think he deserved it, which just infuriated Darnley more.

It didn’t take long to the Scots lords to realise they could use his resentment against Mary to their advantage. When Mary had married Darnley, some of the noblemen feared he, together with Rizzio, would change the religion of their country. They had started making trouble, but failed and a few of them, including Mary’s half-brother the Earl of Moray, then fled to England. In the next Parliament, their lands would be confiscated. To avoid it, they hatched a plot:

“If they would agree to grant Darnley the ‘crown matrimonial’ in the next Parliament, and so make him lawfully King of Scots, then Darnley would switch sides, recall the exiles home, pardon them, and forbid the confiscation of their estates. Finally, he would perform the ultimate U-turn and re-establish the religious status quo as it had existed at the time of Mary’s return from France… Darnley would become King with full parliamentary sanction, Moray and his allies would be re-instated as if they had never rebelled, and the Protestant Reformation settlement would be restored.”*

For the plan to work, the Scottish Lords needed a scapegoat. After promising him they would make him king, they convinced Darnley that Rizzio had mislead him, orchestrated the rebellion, and even slept with his wife. They started spreading rumours that the baby the Queen was carrying was Rizzio’s, not Darnley’s. Her husband soon became suspicious of all the time Mary was spending with her secretary. Even when they weren’t working, they were always together, dining and playing cards into the early hours of the morning. Darnley felt ignored, and complained bitterly to Mary. Then, he decided to join the plotters.

As soon as Parliament opened, the conspirators acted. On 9 June, Rizzio was having dinner with the Queen and her half-sister, the countess of Argyll, in a small closet just off her bedchamber in the tower of the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Suddenly, Darnley joined them, sitting down next to Mary, embracing her and chatting amiably with her. He was supposed to reassure her, but probably just unnerved her.

Next, the earl of Ruthven, deadly pale and still sick (he had just arisen from his sickbed and was still wearing his nightshirt under his coat of armour), came in too and shouted that Rizzio had offended her honour. Both the Queen and Rizzio suddenly realised the gravity of the situation. Terrified, Rizzio hid behind Mary, clinging to her skirts for protection. But the Queen was helpless. Her attendants tried to get rid of Ruthven, but now the Earl of Morten’s barged in too.

As Andrew Ker of Fawdonside aimed his pistol at the Queen’s pregnant belly, George Douglas, Darnley’s uncle, using his nephew’s dagger, stabbed Rizzio. The victim, still begging Mary for help, was then dragged into Mary’s outer chamber, and stabbed 56 times. His corpse, upon Darnley’s orders, was thrown down the main staircase and taken into the porter’s lodge. Mary was traumatised by the event, but still lucid enough to realise she had been the real target.

She also knew she would now be a prisoner and, so started planning her escape. She managed to see Darnley alone and convinced him the child she was carrying was his. At this point, Darnley had also begun to realise the Scottish Lords had used him and had no intention of ever making him king. Two nights after the murder, the royal couple escaped, through an underground passage, from Holyroodhouse to the fortress of Dunbar Castle. But Mary never forgave Darnley and, when a year later, he was killed, people thought she had something to do with it. She was forced to abdicate. But that’s a story for another post.

Notes:
*My Heart is My Own: The Life of Mary Queen of Scots by John Guy

Further reading:
Mary Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley by Alison Weir
*My Heart is My Own: The Life of Mary Queen of Scots by John Guy
The Elizabeth Files
The Freelance History Writer