Archive for the ‘People in History’ Category

Corsets and Crinolines, by Norah Waugh (1954)

Corsets and Crinolines, by Norah Waugh (1954)

This week I received a new book in the mail! Corsets and Crinolines, by Norah Waugh, was first published in 1954, and has been invaluable to costumers ever since. I have been desperate to get a copy for ages and I finally made the plunge for my birthday!

The book has some photos of extant undergarments, as well as some patterns drawn from extant undergarments. It also contains quite an amount of text describing the fashions of particular historical eras, and the inclusion of historical texts that mention particular aspects of clothing.

As I was perusing it last night in bed, I came across a very interesting quote by a Spanish monk, Fray Fernando de Talavera, in 1477. It concerns the alarming fashions of women of the day, who were seeking to make their bodies altered in appearance by the use of whaleboned bodies and farthingales.

Women's fashions at the end of the 15th century changed from the long, thin style of medieval dress, and began to become bigger around the bottom of the dress. This picture is from 1450.

Women’s fashions at the end of the 15th century changed from the long, thin style of medieval dress, and began to become bigger around the bottom of the dress. This picture is a female Parisian in 1450.

There is another dress which is very ugly, for it makes women appear very fat and as wide as tongues. It is true that by nature women should be short, with slender or narrow shoulders, breasts and back, and small heads, and that thier faces should be thin and small … and also that they should be wide and big round the back and belly and hips so that they can have space for the children they conceive and carry for nine months … But although this is true, the aforesaid dress greatly exceeds and more than greatly exceeds, the natural proportions, and instead of making woman beautiful and well-proportioned, makes them ugly, monstrous and deformed until they cease to look like women and look like bells…

And, of course, just in case no one listens to such sage advice, it is always advisable to try and do everything to make such fashions morally wrong.

Finally, such dress is very deceitful and ugly. It is in truth great deceit in a woman who is slender, hipless, and very thin, to give herself hips and a shape with cloth and wool; if carried out in moderation it might be overlooked and at most would be a venial sin. But done in such a way, without moderation and with exaggeration, it is undoubtedly a deception and a lie of great guilt and consequently a great sin…

I always find it fascinating that historically, people seemed to concentrate on how a person looks to determine if they are sinful. I am sure there were many other examples of sin in the world at the time, such as injustice and mistreatment, but they seem to be much less focused on. And the monk concludes:

Thus it is a sin when women who are small of stature wear chopines [see picture] to feign a height they do not possess, especially as Our Lord has willed it that women are usually short of body and smaller than men, since they have to be ruled by them as their superiors, or when they with rags, wool, petticoats or hoops, affect a width which they do not possess. There is no doubt that deception and lies are a mortal sin when carried out in the above evil and sinful manner; thus the padded hips and hoop skirts are very harmful and very wicked garments; with reason they have been forbidden under pain of excommunication.

These chopines are dated to 1550, and were initially designed to enable the wearer to keep out of the mud. However, by 1600 the height of the shoes had risen to 20 inches!

These chopines are dated to 1550, and were initially designed to enable the wearer to keep out of the mud. However, by 1600 the height of the shoes had risen to 20 inches!

I am sure the poor monk has briefly forgotten in what other circumstances deception and lies are a mortal sin, especially when carried out in an evil and sinful manner… Indeed, I can think of many medieval examples!

At every step of history, fashion excesses have been either denounced from the pulpit or ridiculed in the press. And I have always wondered why. I wonder if it might be an indication of how threatening change was to these people we read about in history. And when you think about it, people haven’t changed all that much! Think about how it feels when your boss proposes radical changes in your workplace… We are still all a bit resistant to change.

It makes for very interesting reading!

Related Posts

More extremes in fashion!

The Rococo: The Extremities of Hoops in the 1740’s

The Rococo: The Extremities of Hairstyles in the 1770’s

Sources and Relevant Links

Corsets and Crinolines, by Norah Waugh – buy on Amazon

Picture Source: Of a Lady of Paris, 1450 – from the Costumer’s Manifesto

Chopines – information from The Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art

Picture Source: Chopines of Tooled Leather, c. 1600 – with lots of other images of chopines as well.

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What would you do if you found out your very own Aunt Jane was the famous author of Sense and Sensibility?

A watercolour painting of Jane Austen, by Cassandra Austen

A watercolour painting of Jane Austen, by Cassandra Austen

Jane Austen was a very private person and throughout her career as an author she seemed to shrink from the personal acclamation that arose from the publication of her novels. Whilst her literary pursuits had always been celebrated within her immediate family circle by being read, performed and discussed, very few of her friends read her novels in their draft form.

Her first publication seemed to be a great secret; Sense and Sensibility, a novel, By A Lady, was published in 1811. Her immediate family did know of the pending publication; her brother, Henry, had acted on her behalf with the publishers, and her mother and sister were left at Chawton while Jane went to London to read the proofs before the novel’s publication. But Jane did not tell her niece, Anna, aged 18 at the time and to whom she was close. David Cecil, in his biography, relates an incident where Aunt Jane and Anna were perusing books together in the library:

…the two of them, looking at the novels in the Alton Circulating Library, saw Sense and Sensibility lying on the counter. Anna picked up the first volume. ‘It must be nonsense with a title like that’, she said and put it back again. Jane watched her amused and silent.

Jane had always expressed her desire to remain an anonymous writer and so was quite dismayed when her brother Henry spilled the secret to some acquaintances in 1813, concerning the author of the newly published Pride and Prejudice.

In 1814 Mansfield Park was published, and it was sometime in this year that Jane’s nephew, Edward Austen (later Austen-Leigh), son of James Austen, discovered that his Aunt Jane was a famous author. He was only sixteen at the time and, on finding out the truth, wrote the following poem to his Aunt.

No words can express, my dear Aunt, my surprise
Or make you conceive how I opened my eyes,
Like a pig Butcher Pile has just struck with his knife,
When I heard for the very first time in my life
That I had the honour to have a relation
Whose works were dispersed through the whole of the nation.
I assure you, however, I’m terribly glad;
Oh dear, just to think (and the thought drives me mad)
That dear Mrs Jennings’ good-natured strain
Was really the produce of your witty brain,
That you made the Middletons, Dashwoods and all,
And that you (not young Ferrars) found out that a ball
May be given in cottages never so small.
And though Mr Collins so grateful for all
Will Lady de Bourgh his dear patroness call, 
‘Tis to your ingenuity really he owed
His living, his wife, and his humble abode.
Now if you will take your poor nephew’s advice, 
Your works to Sir William pray send in a trice;
If he’ll undertake to some grandees to show it,
By whose means at last the Prince Regent might know it,
For I’m sure if he did, in reward for your tale,
He’d make you a countess at least without fail,
And indeed, if the princess should lose her dear life,
You might have a good chance of becoming his wife.

By Edward Austen-Leigh, Jane Austen’s nephew.

By 1815 many people had discovered the name of the famous authoress, even the Prince Regent. Instead of making her a countess, as Edward Austen had suggested he should, the Prince invited her to ask his permission to dedicate her next novel, Emma, to him. She did so, more because she did not wish to cause offence to such an august person than because she was delighted by the idea.

Her last two novels, Persuasion and Northanger Abbey, were published posthumously in 1818. Her brother, Henry, wrote a biographical notice in the preface, announcing Jane Austen to be the author of these works and sharing with her readers some of the history of her life and her last moments on earth. He also mentioned her particular aversion of publicity.

Most gratifying to her was the applause which from time to time reached her ears from those who were competent to discriminate. Still, in spite of such applause, so much did she shrink from notoriety, that no accumulation of fame would have induced her, had she lived, to affix her name to any productions of her pen. In the bosom of her own family she talked of them freely, thankful for praise, open to remark, and submissive to criticism. But in public she turned away from any allusion to the character of an authoress.

In short, she wrote for the pleasure of entertaining her family and friends, rather than the public acclamation that comes with publication. So what would you do if you discovered your own Aunt Jane to be a famous authoress?

Related Posts

Christmas with Jane Austen

Sources and Relevant Links

A Portrait of Jane Austen, by David Cecil – buy on Amazon

The Letters of Jane Austen, the Brabourne edition – read online

Biographical Notice of the Author, by Henry Austen – read online

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I happened upon a letter written by Jane Austen in 1817 to her niece Cassandra, daughter of her brother Charles. This particular Cassandra Austen was born in 1808, so would have only been about nine when receiving this letter. The “little Cassy” mentioned in the letter was probably Cassandra Austen, born to Jane Austen’s brother Francis, in 1814.

I thought it appropriate for the New Year, and – since I am away on holidays – a quick and easy post for your entertainment. It is written in a simple code, with the letters of each word backwards.


I hsiw uoy a yppah wen raey. Ruoy xis snisuoc emac ereh yadretsey, dna dah hcae a eceip fo ekac. Siht si elttil Yssac’s yadhtrib, dna ehs si eerht sraey dlo. Knarf sah nugeb gninrael Nital. Ew deef eht Nibor yreve gninrom. Yllas netfo seriuqne retfa uoy. Yllas Mahneb sah tog a wen neerg nwog. Teirrah Thgink semoc yreve yad ot daer ot Tnua Ardnassac. Doog eyb, ym raed Yssac.

Tnua Ardnassac sdnes reh tseb evol, dna os ew od lla.

fireworksRouy etanoitceffa Tnua, ENAJ NETSUA.

Notwahc: Naj. 8.

Happy New Year to you all!

Relevant Posts

Christmas with Jane Austen

Sources and Relevant Links

The Letters of Jane Austen – read online



I wish you a happy new year. Your six cousins came here yesterday, and had each a piece of cake. This is little Cassy’s birthday, and she is three years old. Frank has begun learning Latin. We feed the Ribon every morning. Sally often enquires after you. Sally Benham has got a new green gown. Harriet Knight comes every day to read to Aunt Cassandra. Good bye, my dear Cassy.

Aunt Cassandra sends her best love, and so we do all.

Your affectionate Aunt, JANE AUSTEN.

Chawton: Jan. 8.

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A Regency Christmas

A Regency Christmas

In order to celebrate Christmas this year, I thought I might share with you a letter from Jane Austen to her sister Cassandra, written on Christmas Day in 1798.

On this particular Christmas, Cassandra was on a visit to Godmersham Park in Kent. It was this property that her brother, Edward Austen, had lived in after being adopted by Mr and Mrs Thomas Knight, who had no children. Edward had inherited this property when Thomas Knight died in 1794.

I thank you for your long letter, which I will endeavour to deserve by writing the rest of this as closely as possible. I am full of joy at much of your information; that you should have been to a ball, and have danced at it, and supped with the Prince, and that you should meditate the purchase of a new muslin gown, are delightful circumstances. I am determined to buy a handsome one whenever I can, and I am so tired and ashamed of half of my present stock, that I even blush at the sight of the wardrobe which contains them. But I will not be much longer libelled by the possession of my coarse spot; I shall turn it into a petticoat very soon. I wish you a merry Christmas, but no compliments of the season.

Jane does not tend to describe much about the Christmas celebrations in which her family were involved, which probably indicates more about the lack of interest Cassandra would have in such descriptions, as Jane seems to focus more on news items that are of interest to her sister in her correspondence. The thing about Jane Austen’s letters is that they (at least those that survive) are lighthearted and humorous in a very similar way to her novels. They also demonstrate the very close relationship she had with her sister.

Wishing you and your families a very merry Christmas for 2012 and a happy and exciting New Year for 2013!

Related Posts

Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen

A Happy New Year

Sources and Relevant Links

The Letters of Jane Austen – read online

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James Boswell, painted by George Willison in 1765.

James Boswell (1740-1795) was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, and was the firstborn son of the Scottish advocate and judge, Alexander Boswell. He was heir to the Auchinleck estate in Ayrshire, and inherited it in 1782.

Upon reaching adulthood he had many struggles with his father, as they were both quite different in temperament. James suffered from “melancholy” and was prone to depression, often being affected by his frequent emotional swings. His father wanted him to begin a career in law, but Boswell much preferred literary pursuits and the company of theatre people and authors. After running away on a brief jaunt to London in 1760, James managed to gain his father’s approval to spend a year in London. Boswell’s plan was to obtain a commission in the Guards so that he would not have to study law, which would mean he would still have some means to independent income. His father reluctantly consented to this idea.

On this second trip to London (1762-1763), aged 22, Boswell kept a journal detailing the people he met with and the activities and conversations he was involved in. Reading his journal gives a good day-to-day idea of what life was like for a gentleman bachelor, living in London, who had a very modest allowance of 200 pounds a year.

One of the things that fascinated me most about this journal is the excerpts that relate to the obtaining of sexual favours from prostitutes. I had initially thought that a person would probably avoid writing down these types of activities, particularly because Boswell did allow his close friends to read his journal. However, it does paint an interesting picture of what occurred in this type of scene in London at this time, as well as some of the prevalent attitudes regarding prostitution. It is estimated that one in five women were prostitutes in eighteenth century London.

Below I have inserted excerpts of his journal which relate to these escapades. The first entry is written six days after his arrival in London.

25th November, 1762

I had now been sometime in town without female sport. I determined to have nothing to do with Whores as my health was of great consequence to me. I went to a Girl, with whom I had an intrigue at Edinburgh but my affection cooling, I had left her. I knew she was come up [to London]. I waited on her and tried to obtain my former favours; but in vain. She would by no means listen. I was realy unhappy for want of women. I thought it hard to be in such a place without them. I picked up a girl in the Strand and went into a court with intention to enjoy her in armour. But she had none. I toyed with her. She wondered at my size, and said If I ever took a Girl’s Maidenhead, I would make her squeak. I gave her a shilling; and had command enough of myself to go without touching her. I afterwards trembled at the danger I had escaped. I resolved to wait chearfully, till I got some safe girl or was liked by some woman of fashion.

Boswell had contracted venereal disease on his previous visit to London, and had endured much pain as a result. He has determined that they only way he would participate in intercourse with a prostitute is with “armour”, or a “cundum”. This was a prophylactic sheath made of animal membrane. It was reusable, and was tied at the open end with a ribbon, but had to be moistened with water before use. It was not designed as a contraceptive, but as a shield against contracting venereal disease. Boswell considers “women of fashion” or genteel girls to be safe from disease.

4th December, 1762

At night, Erskine and I stroled thro’ the streets and St. James’s Park. We were accosted there, by several Ladies of the town. Erskine was very humourous, and said some very wild things to them. There was one in a red cloak of a good buxom person and comely face whom I marked as a future peice, in case of exigency.

A Harlot’s Progress (Plate 3 of 6), by William Hogarth (1732): Depicts the progress of Moll Hackabout, who comes to London and becomes a prostitute.

From the 14th December to the 20th January, Boswell obtains a mistress who was “a handsome Actress of the Convent-Garden Theatre”. He calls her Louisa in his journal. They participate in intercourse without “armour” on several occasions, and then Boswell ends the affair when he discovers that he has another bout of venereal disease. In the eighteenth century, venereal disease was considered cured when the symptoms went away, often after treatment with various mercurial medicines. In fact, venereal disease actually lay dormant in the body. From the 21st January through to the 27th January, he remains at his quarters, too ill to go out.

25th March, 1763

As I was coming home this night I felt carnal inclinations raging thro’ my frame. I determined to gratify them. I went to St. James’s Park and like Sir John Brute, picked up a Whore. For the first time did I engage in Armour which I found but a dull satisfaction. She who submitted to my lusty embraces was a young shropshire Girl only seventeen, very well-looked, her name Elizabeth Parker. Poor being. She has a sad time of it!

Boswell has purchased a “cundum” since his first encounter with a prostitute on 25th November, when he asked her if she had one and she didn’t. According to The Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1785), by Captain Francis Grose, these were said to be invented by a Colonel Cundum. And just in case you were unsure where to purchase them, the dictionary informs you that “these machines were long prepared, and sold by a matron of the name of Phillips, at the green canister in Half-moon-street, in the Strand.”

31st March, 1763

At night I stroled into the Park and took the first Whore I met, whom I without many words copulated with free from danger, being safely sheeth’d. She was ugly and lean and her breath smelt of spirits. I never asked her name. When it was done she slunk off. I had a low opinion of this gross practice and resolved to do it no more.

Boswell often remarks after these sexual episodes, that he feels bad about them and then “resolved to do it no more”. At one stage, he even makes a promise to his close friend, William Temple, that he will not engage in “low debauchery” any more, but these promises are often short-lived.

9 April, 1763

…then came to the Park and in armorial guise performed concubinage with a strong plump good-humoured girl, called Nanny Baker.

13 April, 1763

I should have mentioned last night that I met with a monstrous big Whore in the Strand, whom I had a great curiosity to lubricate as the saying is. I went into a tavern with her, where she displayed to be all the parts of her enormous carcase; But I found that her Avarice was a large as her A_; for she would by no means take what I offered her. I therefore, with all coolness pulled the bell and discharged the reckoning, to her no small surprise and mortification, who would fain have provoked me to talk harshly to her, and so make a disturbance.

I was so much in lewd humour, that I felt myself restless, and took a little girl into a Court; but wanted vigour: So I went home resolved against low, street debauchery.

10 May, 1763

At the bottom of the Hay-market I picked up a strong jolly young damsel, and taking her under the Arm I conducted her to Westminster-Bridge, and then in armour compleat did I engage her upon this noble Edifice. The whim of doing it there with the Thames rolling below us amused me much. Yet after the brutish appetite was sated I could not but despise myself for being so closely united with such a low Wretch.

17 May, 1763

…so I sallied the Streets and just at the bottom of our own, I picked up a fresh agreable young Girl called Alice Gibbs. We went down a lane to a snug place; and I took out my armour, but she begged that I might not put it on, as the sport was much pleasanter without it; and as she was quite safe. I was so rash as to trust her, and had a very agreable congress.

19 May, 1763

I then sallied forth to the Piazzas in a rich flow of animal spirits, and burning with fierce desire. I met two very pretty Girls, who asked me to take them with me. “My Dear Girls,” said I – “I am a poor fellow. I can give you no money. But if you chuse to have a glass of wine and my company, and let us be gay and obliging to each other, without money, I am your Man.” They agreed with great good humour. So back to the Shakespear I went. “Waiter” said I, “I have got here a couple of human beings, I don’t know how they’ll do.” “I’ll look, your honour” (cried he) and with inimitable effrontery stared them in the face, and then cried they’ll do very well. What said I, are they good fellow-creature? bring them up, then. We were shown into a good room and had a bottle of Sherry before us in a minute. I surveyed my Seraglio and found them both good subjects for amourous play. I toyed with them, and drank about and sung “Youth’s the season” and thought myself Captain Macheath: and then I solaced my existence with them, one after the other, according to their Seniority. I was quite raised, as the phrase is. Thought I was in a London Tavern, the Shakespear’s head, enjoying high debauchery, after my sober winter. I parted with my Ladies politely and came home in a glow of spirits.

The following excerpt takes places as part of the festivities on the King’s birthday. “It was the King’s Birth-night and I resolved to be a Blackguard and to see all that was to be seen.” Boswell dresses himself in a disguise, that of a lower class of person, and goes out for some fun around the town.

4 June, 1763

I went to the park, picked up a low Brimstone, called myself a Barber, and agreed with her for Sixpence, went to the bottom of the park, arm in arm, ann dipped my machine* in the Canal, and performed most manfully.

*Here, the “machine” is his “armour”, which needs to be moistened with water before use.

In the Strand, I picked up a profligate wretch and gave her sixpence. She allowed me entrance. But the miscreant refused me performance. I was much stronger than her; and volens nolens** pushed her up against the Wall. She however gave a sudden spring from me; and screaming out, a parcel of more Whores and Soldiers came to her relief. “Brother Soldiers (said I) should not a halfpay Officer r-g-r for sixpence? And here has she used me so and so.” I got them on my side and abused her in blackguard stile, and then left them.

**Volens nolens – Latin for “whether she would or not”

At Whitehall I picked up another girl to whom I called myself a highwayman, and told her I had no Money; and begged she would trust me. But she would not.

18th June, 1763

At night I took a street-walker into privy Garden, and indulged sensuality. The wretch picked my pocket of my handkerchief; and then swore that she had not. When I got home, I was shocked to think that I had been intimately united with a low abandoned perjured pilfering creature. I determined to do so no more; but if the Cyprian fury should seize me to participate my amorous flame with a genteel Girl.

On 16th May 1763, James Boswell met Dr Samuel Johnson, the writer of the famous Dictionary (and many other publications). As time went on, Boswell spent more and more time with Johnson, often copying down large segments of their conversation in his journal. Boswell held a great admiration and regard for the older gentleman, and they became quite good friends. Later, in 1791, Boswell would write a biography of Johnson, entitled Life of Samuel Johnson.

16th July, 1763

Since my being honoured with the friendship of Mr Johnson, I have more seriously considered the dutys of Morality and Religion, and the dignity of Human Nature. I have considered that promiscuous concubinage is certainly wrong. It is contributing one’s share towards bringing confusion and misery into Society; and it is a transgression of the Laws of the Allmighty Creator who has ordained Marriage for the mutual comfort of the Sexes, and the Procreation and right educating of Children. Sure it is, that if all the men and women in Britain were merely to consult Animal gratification, Society would be a most shocking scene; Nay it would soon cease altogether. Notwithstanding of the Reflections, I have stooped to mean profligacy even yesterday. However, I am now resolved to guard against it.

28th July, 1763

As we [Boswell and Johnson] walk’d along the strand tonight, arm in arm, a Woman of the town came enticingly near us. “No” (said Mr Johnson) “No, my Girl, it won’t do.” We then talked of the unhappy situation of these wretches, and how much more misery than happiness, upon the whole, is produced by irregular love.

3rd August, 1763

I should have mentioned that on Monday night [two days earlier], coming up the Strand, I was tapp’d on the shoulder by a fine fresh lass. I went home with her. She was an Officer’s daughter, and born at Gibratar. I could not resist indulging myself with the enjoyment of her. Surely, in such a Situation, when the Woman is allready abandoned, the crime must be alleviated, tho’ in strict morality, illicite love is allways wrong.

This is the final entry related to this topic in his journal. It appears that, whilst Boswell has come to believe theoretically that prostitution is very bad for the health of Society, he struggles to behave in a way that is consistent with that belief.

Having been unsuccessful at obtaining a commission in the Guards, Boswell submits to his father’s wishes and consents to study law. As part of this, Boswell persuades his father that he should begin his study during a Grand Tour of Europe, before he comes home to take up this profession. He leaves London for Utrecht, Netherlands, on the 5th of August, 1763.

Related Posts

James Boswell’s Trip to Tyburn

A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

Sources and Relevant Links

Boswell’s London Journal (1762-1763) – buy on Amazon

A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, by Captain Francis Grose (1785) – free e-book on Google Books

Life of Samuel Johnson, by James Boswell (1823 edition) – read online

The Secret History of Georgian London: How the Wages of Sin Shaped the Capital, by Dan Cruikshank (2010) – buy on Amazon

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James Boswell, by George Willison (1765)

James Boswell (1740-1795) kept a journal of his daily doings when he lived in London during 1762 and 1763. He had been born in Edinburgh, Scotland, and was the son of Alexander Boswell, the laird of the Auchinleck estate in Ayrshire. This was his second trip to London, at the age of twenty-two, and was much against his parent’s wishes, though he did have their permission. In his journal, he recounts a trip he made to view an execution at Tyburn.

In the eighteenth century, Tyburn Tree was the location of most of the executions in London. The “Tree” was a triangular scaffold located in the middle of the road, just west of the junction of Tyburn Road (now Oxford Street) and Tyburn Lane (now Park Lane). It was designed to enable large numbers of hangings to occur at once.

The Tyburn tree, from John Rocque’s Map of London (1746)

These executions were such popular entertainment with the viewing public that a permanent gallery or spectator stand was built to enable people to get a better view. In June 1771 it collapsed and The Gentleman’s Magazine reported a number of injuries to spectators. The crowds were often quite large and unruly, and had even been known to take off with the dead body “in triumph” (The Gentleman’s Magazine, December 1758).

The criminals were usually transported to the gallows by cart from Newgate Prison, where they had been held for execution. Prisoners were also frequently visited in Newgate, which is where James Boswell first meets the condemned man, Paul Lewis, who is destined to die for robbery. Once the criminals had arrived at the gallows, they were sometimes allowed speak their last words, which were dutifully reported in the papers in the course of the next week.

James Boswell’s account begins on Tuesday 3rd May, 1763, when he writes:

I walked up to the Tower in order to see Mr Wilkes come out. But he was gone. I then thought I should see Prisoners of one kind or another; So went to Newgate. I step’d into a sort of court before the Cells. They are surely most dismal places. There are three rows of ’em, four in a row, all above each other. They have double iron Windows and within these strong iron rails; and in these dark mansions are the unhappy criminals confined. I did not go in; but stood in the court where were a number of strange blackguard beings with sad countenances, most of them being friends and acquaintances of those under sentence of death. […] In the Cells were Paul Lewis for Robbery and Hannah Diego for theft. I saw them pass by to Chapel. The Woman was a big unconcerned being. Paul who had been in the sea service and was called Captain was a genteel, spirited young fellow. He was just a Macheath. He was drest in a white coat and blue silk vest and silver with his hair neatly queued and a silver lac’d hat smartly cock’d. An acquaintance asked him how he was. He said very well; quite resigned. Poor fellow! I realy took a great concern for him, and wished to relieve him. He walked firmly and with a good air, with his chains rattling upon him, to the Chapel.

The Gentleman’s Magazine (May 1763) states that Paul Lewis was the son of a clergyman, who had run away to sea after having run up debts with his tailor. After being sometime in the navy, and being known for his various attempts of cheating money from people, he returned to England where he was caught “committing robbery on the highway”. According to The Magazine, even in the face of death Paul Lewis was shrewd:

Such was the baseness and unfeeling profligacy of this wretch, that when his father visited him the last time in Newgate, and put twelve guineas into his hand as a present supply, he immediately slipt one into the cuff of his sleeve by a dextrous slight, and then opening his hand, shewed the venerable and unfortunate old man that there was but eleven, upon which he took out another, and gave it to make up the number he intended. As soon as he was gone, “there, says Paul, I slung the old fellow out of another guinea.” To this state of obdurate and habitual wickedness he had arrived before he was 24 years old, when the gallows put an end to his power of disgracing his friends and injuring society.

On Wednesday 4th May, Boswell writes about the execution:

My curiosity to see the melancholy spectacle of the executions was so strong that I could not resist it; altho’ I was sensible that I would suffer much from it. In my younger years I had read in the lives of the Convicts so much about Tyburn, that I had a sort of horrid eagerness to be there. I also wished to see the last behaviour of Paul Lewis, the handsom fellow whom I had seen the day before. Accordingly I took Captain Temple with me; and He and I got up on a Scaffold, very near the fatal tree; so that we could clearly see all the dismal Scene. There was a most prodigious crowd of Spectators. I was most terribly shocked, and thrown into a very deep melancholy.

This scene quite significantly affected Boswell, who was known for his sensitive and emotional temperament. The Gentleman’s Magazine reported that Hannah Dageo “was a strong masculine woman, had been an old offender, and once stabbed a man in Newgate, who was evidence against her. At the place of execution, getting her hands loose, she struggled with the executioner, and gave him such a blow on the breast, as almost beat him down. She disposed of her hat, cloaths and cardinal in spite of him; and as soon as the rope was fixed about her neck, pulling a handkerchief over her eyes, she threw herself out of the cart with such violence, that she broke her neck, and died instantly.”

Boswell writes later that night:

But gloomy terrors came upon me so much, as Night approachd, that I durst not stay by myself; so I went and had a bed or rather half a one from honest Erskine, which he most kindly gave me.

These emotional affects continued in the coming days. On Friday 6th May:

When I went home at night I was tired and went to bed and thought to sleep. But I was still so haunted with frightfull imaginations, that I durst not lie by myself, but rose and sallied straight to Erskine, who realy had compassion on me, and as before shared his bed with me. I am too easily affected. It is a weakness of mind. I own it.

The effects finally seem to ease on Saturday 7th May:

My mind was recovering it’s tone. I went home at night, after sauntering with Dempster up and down fleet-market, and I went to bed quietly, and slept soundly.

It is easy to imagine that the eighteenth century was filled with people quite callous to the deaths of others, and I suppose that – compared to today – this may be quite true. However, I was touched to read an account of a person who was as horrified as I might be to watch the public hanging of a man and woman for the crimes of robbery and theft!

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Sources and Relevant Links

Boswell’s London Journal (1762-1763) – buy on Amazon

Dr Johnson’s London, by Liza Picard (2000)

John Rocque’s Map of London (1746) – view online

Online archives for The Gentleman’s Magazine

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On the weekend I went to see a movie – a rare occurrence for me! This superb piece of theatrical eye-candy was A Royal Affair.

A Royal Affair (2012)

The story is based on the life of Caroline Matilda (1751-1775), a member of the British Royal Family, who married the King of Denmark, Christian VII, in 1766.

The marriage was, unfortunately, an unhappy one, with the King rejecting his new wife soon after their marriage in favour of various courtesans. He was also mentally unstable, which made his behaviour irregular and difficult to tolerate. Nevertheless, in 1768 Caroline bore him a son, Prince Frederick, who would later inherit the throne.

Christian and Doctor Struensse

After an extended period of travel during 1768-9, the King returned to Copenhagen with a new German physician, Doctor Johann Struensse. He was a believer in the Enlightenment that was currently spreading through Europe, and brought his new ideas to a very conservative Denmark. Struensse used his influence over the King to bring about various reforms to the country, which culminated with the King dissolving the Council and installing Struensse as a Privy Councillor. In this role, the Doctor brought about numerous changes to the country in the interests of moving Denmark “forward” to be in line with the rest of Europe.

By 1770, Struensse and Caroline were having an affair. In 1771, Caroline bore her second child, Louise Augusta. Whilst she was most probably the child of Struensse, she was considered a Princess of Denmark throughout her life.

Doctor Struensse and Caroline

Once the affair became open knowledge, the King signed an arrest warrant for both Struensse and Caroline. Caroline was imprisoned, divorced and then deported, and Struensse was executed for treason. Caroline never saw her children again, and died of scarlet fever at aged 23.

With the absence of Struensse, the King was declared unable to rule and his step-mother and her son (also a Prince Frederick) installed a Regency, reversing the changes that Struensse had made. Interestingly, Caroline’s son took back the throne in 1784 in a coup and became the new Regent until the King’s death in 1808. During this time, he was successful in introducing a wide range of liberal reforms characterised by the Enlightenment period.

The movie was subtitled, as it was spoken in Danish, but this just added to its charm. From what I can discover, the movie is quite historically accurate, although the characterisation of Struensse as idealistic rather than ambitious could be considered contentious. Aside from the fact that true stories NEVER have happy endings, I really enjoyed it! The costumes were divine, and the photography was fantastic as well.

Period movies are my cup of tea!

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Hogarth: Marriage A-la Mode – Marriage in England in the eighteenth century

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Sources and Relevant Links

A Royal Affair – the movie

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