Fanny Eaton: The Jamaican Pre-Raphaelite Muse

Fanny was an amazing woman, she moved from Jamaica to London where she became a model for the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (them famous dandy painting types)

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Sketches of Fanny Eaton by Walter Fry Stocks 1859

But before we get to that bit let’s give you some background.

IN THE BEGINNING

She was born in 1835 to her mother, Matilda Foster, who was an ex slave, but no father was mentioned on her birth certificate which means there’s a theory now that her father was a slave owner.

This was not an uncommon occurrence. Thanks gross old slave owning white dudes!

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History again proving dudes are the worst 🤢

There’s also suggestion that Fanny’s Dad was a soldier named James Entwhistle or Antwhistle (Fanny’s maiden name) who died at just 20 in Jamaica.

Either way her Dad ain’t in the picture.

Matilda and Fanny moved to London sometime during the 1840’s and in 1857 Fanny married a hot young cab driver named James Eaton (GO FANNY!).

Fanny mostly worked as a cleaner/domestic servant in London but had a side job working as an artist’s model.

COVERGIRL!

Fanny was mixed race and was by all accounts a total stunner so it’s no surprise she caught the eye of many an artist.

The first sketches and paintings of Fanny are attributed to artist Simeon Solomon.

In fact, the first painting featuring Fanny was The Mother of Moses by Simeon Solomon, which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1860. FANNY HAD MADE IT!

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The Mother of Moses by Simeon Solomon 1860

While working she caught the eye of some of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

‘Who are they?’

I hear you cry. Well these guys were a bunch of bohemian painters who loved nothing more than hanging out and painting super dreamy babes in big elaborate scenes pulled from the bible or popular mythos.

The core founding group was made up of William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rosetti, but they had roughly a metric shit ton of associated artists.

They were influenced by medieval art and wanted to focus on details and complex scenes rich with imagery.

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Gif version of Ophelia by Millais. Via  Giphy

Now the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood considered Fanny a total fucking hottie, because – duh- they had working eyes.

She was a favorite among them. Rosetti was said in a letter to his artist mate Ford Maddox Brown, that Fanny had a

‘very fine head and figure’

NO SHIT MATE!

One of the most famous paintings of Fanny was The Head of Mrs Eaton by Joanna Boyce Wells (sister of Pre-Raphaelite artist George Boyce)

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The Head of Mrs Eaton by Joanna Boyce Wells 1861

Sadly Joanna died tragically young just as her career was starting to take off, so we don’t know the true story behind her work with Fanny. But the portrait of Fanny was thought to be a study for was a larger painting that would depict Fanny as a Libyan prophetess or a Syrian Warrior Queen (both sound fucking amazing).

The last painting of Fanny was Jephthah by John Everett Millais.

Fanny worked as a model for classes at the Royal Academy from 1860 to 1879 and after that life got in the way… you see Fanny had 9 children by then.

I repeat: NINE CHILDREN!

THE INFLUENCE OF FANNY

Fanny’s contribution to the arts was largely forgotten, excluded from art history because of her race; the focus always on other Pre-Raphaelite models like Janey Morris or Lizzie Siddal.

But Fanny is a hugely important figure because she was a black woman whose beauty was celebrated in art.

She wasn’t just painted as a token black figure used to make art more exotic, the focus was on HER face, celebrating HER beauty.

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FUCK YES!!! Via Giphy

Fanny was sadly widowed in her 40’s, so she brought up (by now) 10 children on her own and worked tirelessly to provide for them all, working as a cook and seamtress.

Unfortunately, little is known about this period in her life.

We do know she lived a long life and died at the grand age of 88 and was living with her loving daughter and grandchildren.

We’re glad Fanny is being brought to the forefront of art history because her impact during a time of serious racial prejudices and divides Fanny was still a symbol for what was then thought of as other forms of beauty.

She’s also an example of how varied working class Victorian culture was, History is often white washed and then it’s presented as fact, but Britain has always been a pot of mixed cultures and influences.

Fanny is a symbol of celebrating black beauty during a time of rigid ideals of what women should be. Long may we celebrate her for that.

 

Sara Westrop is passionate about making history accessible (and fun!) for everyone. A disabled, queer writer from just outside London, who loves writing about the unsung chapters of history.

7 Things you probably didn’t know about Lady Jane Grey

When I was about 8 I became obsessed with Lady Jane Grey, after seeing this painting in the National Gallery

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Truly, I was a gem of a child

This Victorian painting by Paul Delaroche, embodies everything that has made Jane’s story stand the test of time.

The innocent teenager forced into a role she didn’t want by a power hungry family. To reign for 9 days before being stripped of her crown and thrown into prison. Finally meeting her end thanks to a bloody axe and a sadistic queen.

It’s a good story right?

Which of course means that it’s wrong! 

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History, being a dick since the dawn of time

The doe eyed Jane of history is a myth. A romanticised tale that, to be honest, does the real Jane a huge disservice.

So let’s discover the young women behind the myth:

1. Nobody wanted her to be queen

Bit of a harsh one to start with… but true! England didn’t want Jane to be Queen.

Though Jane was twice bumped up in the line of succession (by both Henry VIII and Edward VI) Nobody knew who the F she was.

Jane wasn’t a regular at court, there was no gossip on her; Jane just was not a name or face that anybody non-royal would recognise.

To put this in modern terms; Janes accession to the throne would be like Lady Sarah Chatto becoming Queen.

Lady Sarah Chatto
FYI – this is Lady Sarah

Lady Sarah Chatto is the Queens fave niece and one of the members of the Royal Family that has the most in common with the Queen.

Still – lovely though she sounds – if Lady Sarah Chatto became Queen there would be questions. Such as: ‘who the actual fuck are you?’

This was pretty much the position of the people of England.

It’s great that the previous King liked you and all…but nobody here knows you and yeah…. we’re not a huge fan of some random ruling over us.

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Probable scenes from Jane’s coronation…

The people of England knew Henry’s daughters Mary and Elizabeth; they liked them and (understandably) believed that they were the rightful heirs to the throne.

So it’s unsurprising that when Jane made her first speech as Queen she was met by silence.

Jane just didn’t have the support of the people and without that her reign could never succeed.

In fact by the end of her short time on the throne, half the country still wasn’t aware that there’d been a new queen. Jane had just been a blip.

And yet…

2. Jane was one of the greatest minds of her time

By all accounts, Jane was ridiculously smart. Like Ridiculously!

Her parents took her education seriously and whilst her younger sisters were playing or picking up musical skills, Jane could always be found surrounded by books.

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Like this – but with more restrictive clothes

Jane could speak around 6 languages and loved nothing more than a juicy philosophical debate with some of the worlds scholars (many of whom were her pen pals!)

You may have guessed by now that Jane was all types of precocious!

Once, acclaimed writer and scholar Robert Ascham, found Jane alone, nose in a book, whilst the rest of her family were out hunting.

When he asked why she preferred to sit alone reading Plato in its original Greek, rather than being out with her family, she earnestly turned to him and said:

‘All the sport they find in the park is but a shadow to that pleasure I find in Plato. Alas! Good folk they never felt true pleasure!’

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This may be the nerdiest parental burn in history

Soon Jane’s intelligence was gaining all sorts of attention. There was even speculation that she was more gifted than the (equally precocious) Princess Elizabeth.

Kind of awkward when you find out…

3. Jane grew up with Elizabeth I

When Jane was around 10, she became the ward of Thomas Seymour; the brother of Henry VIIIs third wife, Jane and the now husband of Henry’s last wife, Katherine Parr.

Thomas was a power hungry man (as you can tell by the brother in law martial gymnastics!) and with Jane’s bump in the line of successions (following Henry VIIIs will) he wanted Jane for a potential pawn in one of his many political power plays.

So Thomas convinced Jane’s parents that if Jane came to live with him, it would help her education and transform her into an eligeable lady.

Just like that, Jane was placed into his care.

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Meet notorious dick, Thomas Seymour

If you think this whole set up sounds sketchy AF… then you’d be right!

Not only was Thomas using a child for his political plotting, he was also a massive asshat!!

See Jane wasn’t the only ward under Thomas’s roof….

Princess Elizabeth was also living there, under the care of Katherine Parr. And you can bet Thomas was just as keen on using Elizabeth as he was Jane.

Princess Elizabeth, later Elizabeth I
Princess Elizabeth (Later Queen Elizabeth I)

There are stacks of evidence that Thomas sexually abused Elizabeth. Some of this evidence suggests Elizabeth consented… but let’s remember that she was around 13 and he was one of her primary carers.

This abuse would lead to Elizabeth departing the home she shared with Jane.

Though the two had only lived together shortly; Jane impacted Elizabeth’s life. Both as an academic rival and later as a tragic warning of what could easily be Elizabeth’s fate.

4. Jane was almost embroiled in two treasonous attempts for the throne

After Elizabeth left his home, Thomas Seymour turned all his dickish attention to Jane.

Tragically –and luckily- for Jane, around the same time, Kathryn Parr died.

Without a woman in the house to help care for Jane, her parents sent for her to come home.

… but Thomas was a dick; so he obvs wasn’t giving up Jane that easily!

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This fucking guy…

Thomas chased Jane down; eventually turning up at Jane’s parents house.

In a last bid attempt for Jane, Thomas promised her parents that he would work to get Jane married to the newly minted King Edward.

It worked and Jane was once more Thomas Seymour’s Ward.

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Seriously, this is like a how to for bad parenting choices

With Jane back under his roof, Thomas doubled down on his quest for power.

He became erratic; his scheming more and more far fetched.

Eventually he decided that the only way he could convince King Edward to go along with his plans was if he separated Edward from his council…

So Thomas broke into Hampton Court Palace.

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Don’t even try and make sense of that clusterfuck of a plan

In the dead of night, Thomas snuck into the Kings quarters. As he got closer to the bedroom, a dog spotted Thomas and let out a bark.

So Thomas shot the dog.

The shot drew guards and Thomas was arrested… because don’t murder dogs you prick.

With Thomas under arrest, the home he shared with Jane was ransacked for evidence of his treasonous treachery.

Jane’s parents got her back home ASAP, but It was too late… she was officially part of Thomas’ treason. One of the charges raised against him was:

‘To ally the King with the daughter of an English Nobleman’

That daughter was of course, Jane.

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Oh shit, this could go very badly!

To protect the family and Jane’s future, her Dad testified against Thomas.

The testimony was damning… so damning that Jane and her parents escaped any long term consequence.

Thomas wasn’t so lucky; he was beheaded for treason.

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Not that I’m happy about this…but the guy was a sexual abuser who murdered a dog…

Though Jane had escaped the clutches of super dick, Thomas Seymour, don’t go thinking she wasnt all innocent saint…you see:

5. Jane was sometimes the worst

One of the most important things in Jane’s life was her religion. This wasn’t rare; religion was a huge hot button issue in Tudor England.

There was a divide between Catholics and Protestants. Each group believed the other was wrong… and by that I mean they thought the other sides religious beliefs were an automatic ticket to hell.

Jane made sure that her Protestant faith was at the core of all she did. And as a precocious and crazy smart teenager… that meant a lot of arguing!

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ah, to be an angry yet smart teen

As we’ve already said, Jane was pen pals with some of the leading minds of her day.

All well and good… unless they had a religious slip or went and converted. Then you best believe they’d be getting a letter from Jane cussing them out (seriously though, she straight up wrote that they’d go to hell)

But Jane’s biggest piece of dicketry was pissing off the future Mary I (the woman that would later sign off on Janes execution)

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The future, Queen Mary I

Jane’s family spent Christmas 1549 with Mary. They were family after all and though Mary was staunchly Catholic and Jane Protestant, surely they could get along for Christmas?

Haha of course not! It’s Christmas after all!

In the strong tradition of families falling out over the holidays, Jane took a trip to Mary’s private chapel.

There one of Mary’s ladies curtsied to the alter, explaining to Jane that she was curtsying to ‘him that made us all’. At this, Jane loudly scoffed:

‘Why?!? How can he be here that made us all and the baker that made him?’

When word of Janes mocking outburst got back to Mary, she was (understandably) pretty pissed of that Jane had come to her home and made fun of her religious beliefs.

Afterwards it was said that Mary felt she could never truly love Jane as she had before.

But Jane wouldn’t budge on her actions…truly:

6. Jane was not here for your bullshit

On 6th July 1553, Jane was taken into a room where she found her family bowing at her. Then she was told that the King was dead, she was his new heir and was now Queen! All hail Queen Jane.

Jane’s response to this?

‘Nope!’
*obvs paraphrasing pretty heavily here…

Jane was having none of it. She immediately proclaimed the whole thing ridiculous.

Only after a lot of coaxing/forcing did Jane put the crown on her head; still making it known she was only doing it to appease her parents.

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Just so much sass for one itty bitty crown to contain

Forced into a role she didn’t want, Jane was adamant she wouldn’t be taking any more bullshit.

When her husband and his Mum tried to flounce out of The Tower of London, protesting he wasn’t being treated regally enough (poor baby) Jane barred their way. Having the pair sent back to their rooms, tails between their legs.

But putting her mother in law in her place wasn’t the only way Jane was laying down the law. If she’d had it her way: 

7. Jane would have arguably been the first English queen to rule solo

After Jane was told she was Queen and was presented with her crown, she wasn’t amused. Jane was less amused when she was told her husband, Guildford, was also getting a crown. pfffft.gifAs soon as she was alone with Guildford, Jane explained that he would not be becoming King. Consort… sure. King? Not a chance in hell buddy.

This was unheard of! A female ruler was already unusual (as in it hadn’t even been a possibility for hundreds of years!)

But Jane had made her decision. It was final. So final that when she discovered Guildford was making people calm him ‘your grace’ she shut that shit down sharpish.

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Aaaaaand none for Guildford Dudley

No matter the argument, no matter how much she was pushed, Jane never backed down.

If she was going to be forced to rule, then she was going to do it her own way. Alone.

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Just 16 and yet so many goals.

This was really interesting! Where can I find out more? I love, Crown of Blood, by Nicola Tallis. It’s a great read, packed full of info and resources. I actually read it over my 5th anniversary holiday with my partner (he was thrilled!) and I swear it made my already fab holiday approx 100x more fun.

5 reasons Queen Caroline should be your new fave

When it comes to kickass women from history we all have our favourites, but there’s one woman we almost always forget. She’s a super intelligent German immigrant Queen of England, who bought art, culture and medical revolution to her country. She loved dancing, drinking and hanging out with her best mate Isaac Newton.

She is Queen Caroline and here are 5 reasons she should be your next history crush:

Queen Caroline
Prepare to fall in love!

No1: She bought the enlightenment

A woman happiest when surrounded by piles of books and great minds, Caroline wanted to be a different kind of British Queen. She was determined to channel her love of arts and knowledge to her subjects; ensuring that she left the country in a better state than she found it.

One area that Caroline soon took up was medicine. Smallpox had taken over the cities and with a survival rate of under 40%, Caroline was not playing the lottery with her family’s life.

So she set out to find a way to prevent the disease and came across the idea of inoculation. This was a radical new theory; an import from Constantinople that England’s science community was just starting to examine.

But Caroline wasn’t one to wait around, so she decided she’d look into these new theory herself science gif.gif

So she extensivley read up on the procedure, carried out a ton of experiments (using prisoners as test subjects; not that morally great!) and interviewed doctors and patients alike.

Eventually she concluded that inoculation was the best route of ensuring her loved ones safety and so she had the entire royal family inoculated….and people were pissed!

What the actual fuck was Caroline doing injecting Royals with literal fucking disease? Was she trying to kill off the royal family?!?

But Caroline remained firm and soon the results of the inoculation were clear; The royal family were both alive and smallpox free! This led to more and more people taking up inoculation (after all, if it was good enough for the Royals…) the death rate dropped and research into expanding inoculations surged

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Hooray! Lower rate of infant mortality!!!!

No2. She got the court clean!

Caroline wasn’t just smashing people’s outdated medical views, she was also blowing their minds when it came to personal hygiene!

You see bathing on the regular just wasn’t the done thing. Heating up a tub load of water was really expensive and then lugging it into a bath was a huge ball ache (even with servants!) so people bathed the bare minimum. In 1653 courtier John Evelyn, wrote that he planned to only bathe once a year.gag.gif

50 years later, things hadn’t changed that much. The courtiers of Caroline’s reign used towels to clean themselves in between their sporadic baths and doused themselves in perfume to cover up any extra stank.

Caroline was not here for this.

See Caroline had read some new fangled medical reviews that said regular bathing was the best way to rid the body of sweat and was essential to health. And just like that, knowledge lover Caroline was fully on board with this whole hygiene thing!

She had regular sponge baths and semi regular baths, taking the unusual step of using washing with actual soap! Not only that but Caroline even insisted on bathing her own children (a move that flummoxed her court)

Caroline’s cleanliness was so fastidious that if you go to her private bathing rooms in Hampton Court, you can still smell her perfume from where it’s seeped until the wooden panels. I repeat, 300 years on, her perfume is still there (it’s like a woody musk rose for this wondering)

 

No.3 She had the best friends

Thanks to both her amazing mind and (probably) the fact she didn’t reek as much as everyone else, Caroline had the coolest set of mates going.

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Sorry Taylor, theres a new squad queen in town

From Issac Newton to Robert Walpole and leading philosopher Samuel Clarke, Caroline’s squad was the it club of Georgian society. She hosted salons for her friends, which were essentially a mix of lectures on the latest scientific theories, chats about books, art and philosophy and also a ton of gossiping (because that’s what all the best friends do!)

Caroline served as the mum of the group, holding her salons, bringing new people in and crucially building bridges between the great minds of the day.

She notoriously tried to patched up a decade long argument between Gottfried Leibniz and Isaac Newton over who had created calculus (truly the nerdiest argument in history).

But even though Carolines friends were the bomb…

 

No. 4 Her husband was kind of the worst

(and she dealt with it like a pro!)

Now by no means was George II the worst husband we’ve ever come across (after all his Dad, George l, locked his wife in a tower, and his own son forced his heavily pregnant teenage wife to flee across London in a rickety carriage whilst in labor) but George was by no means a dream boat.

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Personality wise of course! Looks wise, he is clearly sex on a stick

He was a cross red faced little man and when he was really angry he’d tear off his wig and kick it across the room. Does that sound hilarious? Yes. But it also sounds like the you’d very quickly have an alternate suggest for where he could stick that wig.

George’s other favourite tantrum trick was violently kicking his feet against the palace walls; which. This is dickish behavior when coming from a 5 year old, but is way worse when you’re 45 and regal interior design costs a shit ton to replace.

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aint that the truth

When George became King he started to neglect his witty talented wife, taking on mistresses from her own ladies and giving very little regard to Caroline’s feelings; flaunting them in front of her.

Caroline met this with a fair degree of eye rolling, but the older she got, the harder it became to shrug off her husband showing off newer younger models.

By this time Caroline had to use a wheelchair (this by the way, was a former theatrical ‘sea goddess chariot’ prop that she decided to repurpose). She would roll through court, abandoned by her husband, but far from out.

Instead of wallowing, Caroline found better companionship, through her incredible friends and the countless heroes and heroines that occupied her 3000 strong book collection. books gif.gif

No5. The way she died

Look I know this sounds morbid, but it’s history and everyone dies!

Since giving birth to her last child, Caroline had suffered from an umbilical hernia (a weakening of the abdominal wall, which causes tissue to bulge out) Because Caroline lived in the 18th century, this went untreated for years (not good!) until one day when part of her bowel popped out from the hole (really not good!)

Doctors should have pushed the bowel back in, but because this is the 18th century, they did the most logical thing at the time….they cut off the protruding bit of bowel, destroying Caroline’s digestive system and sentencing her to a drawn out excoriating death.

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Damn it terrible painful drawn out deaths, why do you always go for the good ones? 

But Caroline met the pain, the promise of death, all of it, head on. She stayed level headed and remained the most intelligent, witty person in any room. Before all her daily surgeries (yes, daily surgeries!) she would crack countless jokes, telling her surgeon to imagine he was cutting into his ex wife, so he did a better job.

At one point, surgery actually had to be stopped because Caroline could not stop laughing when one of our doctors wigs got to close to a candle and caught fire.

Caroline also maintained her role as court matriarch, ensuring she said goodbye to all of her friends and that her affairs were in order, no string left untied.

George came back to his wife, devastated to see her in such pain. Caroline urged him to re-marry, but he refused, saying he would only have mistress from now on. At this she reacted in true Caroline style; rolling her eyes she said:

‘My God, that doesn’t prevent it’

She died surrounded by family on the 20th November 1737. As news of her death spread, an outpouring of love surged, with mass mourning as well as art, poetry and music being created in her memory. Her longtime friend composer, Handel, wrote perhaps one of his best works, The ways of Zion do mourn / Funeral Anthem for Queen Caroline, a 40 minute tribute to her incredible life and legacy. Queen Caroline 2

This was interesting where can I find out more? A great book is Enlightened Princesses: Caroline, Augusta, Charlotte, and the Shaping of the Modern World, it’s pretty pricey though (but I had a copy in my local library, so worth checking out there!)

Another must read that features Caroline as well as the many interesting courtiers that surrounded her, is Lucy Worsley’s,  Courtiers: The Secret History of the Georgian Court, she also did a BBC series on The Georgians, which is well worth watching if you can find it *cough* YouTube *cough *.

Why calling Millicent Fawcett a suffragette is not o-fucking-k

Yesterday was a landmark day for women’s history; the design for Millicent Fawcett’s Parliament Square statue was unveiled. It’s truly momentous, with the statue set to become both the first woman to stand in this memorial to political powerhouses and also the first statue in the square designed by a woman!

Twitter was immediately a buzz; finally women’s history getting the acknowledgment it deserves! Even mainstream media joined in on the excitement with both The Guardian and The Independent leading with headlines on the amazing new ‘suffragette statue’!

BUT…there’s just one problem:

Millicent Fawcett wasn’t a suffragette.

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Well, this is awkward…

Millicent Fawcett was the leader of the NUWSS (which was the largest suffrage organistion in the country) and among many other amazing things, she spent decades tirelessly campaigning for women to have the vote.

So why is calling her a suffragette a big deal? Well, the difference between the suffrgattes and the suffragists is huge; let me break it down:

The Suffragists were (broadly) members of Millicent’s NUWSS, whilst suffragettes were members of the much smaller WSPU (run by Emmeline Pankhurst). Both groups wanted the same thing; the vote. But they went about getting it in very different ways.

Millicent was for peaceful protesting and working to get politicians on side…. While Emmeline was for extremism, using bombs, weapons and all out illegality.

I think we can all agree…

THATS A PRETTY FUCKING BIG DIFFERENCE!!!

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Yeah…bombs and petitions, kinda not the same thing

Probably due to their  more, er… explosive methods, Suffragettes are the most well known organastion from the women’s suffrage movement. They’re the group you learn about in school and the face of the movement in TV and film; from the eponymous, Suffragette to Mary Poppins!

Seriously, if you went into the street right now and asked 10 people who were the suffragists, I would bet you good money that :

A ) 90% don’t know how they are

B) The other 10% would think you just said ‘suffragette’ wrong

Don’t get me wrong, the suffragettes should get their due; they had a huge impact in getting the vote…but they should not be the only thing we’re taught.

The WSPU was very much a fringe group, with a few thousand members. The NUWSS on the other hand, had tens of thousands members, made up of hundreds of nationwide groups. That’s a lot of women to have been forgotten by history. millicent fawcett giving a speech

Historian Bettany Hughes recently said that:

‘women have always been 50% of the population, but only occupy around 0.5% of recorded history.’

That’s slowly starting to change (hooray!) as historians do ever increasingly incredible work to uncover untold stories and get them out there.

But the fights not over! Don’t forget that in 2015, a promised museum to the women of the East End, turned out to be nothing more than a shrine to a sex worker killing ass hat.  Last year, English Heritage asked people to name just 3 women from history and they really bloody struggled (with one guy saying Ada Lovelace was Kim Kardashian…)

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I mean…..

So yes:

  • Calling Millicent Fawcett a suffragette matters.

  • Calling a woman who self identified as a suffragist, something entirely different, matters.

  • Overlooking the fight and struggle of tens of thousands of women, matters.

It’s not being pedantic, it’s ensuring that we treat women’s history with the same respect as we do every other facet of history.

 

Note: The Guardian and The Independent have now both changed their wording to Suffragist – hooray!

The Midnight Flit AKA the worst husbanding ever (seriously, the worst!!!)

Prince Frederick was – if I’m being honest – a bit of a dick. The oldest son and heir to King George II, he was a constant pain in his parents arse.

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This guy – even the cherubs are rolling their eyes

The newly dubbed Prince of Wales made the most of his royal title; gambling, commissioning great music and of course getting off with as many women as possible (despite supposedly looking like a ‘frog’) …naturally the English loved him for it.

Sadly his parents did not. To say they hated their son would be an understatement; his mum, Queen Caroline, once called Frederick:

‘the greatest ass and the greatest liar and the greatest canaille and the greatest beast in the whole world…and I heartily wish he were out of it. ’

Luckily Frederick wasn’t upset by his Mum actively wanting him dead, because he hated her just as much, if not more!!

But why?

The blunt answer is… fuck knows! Nobody at court could see a clear reason for either sides intense loathing. The Royal family just hated each other.

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Real footage of the Georgian court  via giphy

It soon became time for England’s future monarch to marry. Unsurprisingly Frederick and his parents couldn’t agree on who should be his bride, With each side refusing the others suggestions, because you know, hate etc.

Side Bar: Weirdly, Frederick almost married Lady Diana Spencer, whose parents were offering a frankly enormous dowery (which handily would have paid off all of his gambling debts!) unfortunately for Fred his Dad scuppered the unsuitable marriage at the last minute…but we very almost had a Prince of Wales and Princess Diana 200 years early.

With Diana out of the picture, who would be the lucky lady to marry into this shit shack of a family dynamic?

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Meet Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, a real loser in royal blind date

At just 16, Augusta was shipped off (speaking no English, btw!) to become the future Queen of England.

Augusta wasn’t hugely mature; still playing with dolls and not able to notice when Frederick was having affairs literally in front of her. But, somehow, less than a year into the marriage she fell pregnant.

Frederick was thrilled at Augustas news and immediately started plotting ways to ensure his parents stayed out of his child’s life. Because…priorities.

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Freds gonna be such a good Dad…  via giphy

Frederick was adamant that his parents would not be at the birth of his child. To say this was unheard of would be an understatement.

It was protocol for the reigning monarch to be at royal births and doubly expected for senior royal family members to be there…Fred barring his parents was a royal no no.

But Frederick didn’t care about that, he just didn’t want people he hated at the birth of his first born child…which you know, seems fair. Sadly, what happens next is less ok.

On 30th July 1737, Augusta and Frederick were having dinner at Hampton Court Palace (as you do) when Augusta started to have cramps which quickly transpired to be contractions.

It was go time!

Unluckily for the couple, King George II and Queen Caroline lived at Hampton Court Palace; Fredericks plans to block them out of the birth had immediately gone tits up!

But Frederick wasn’t giving up that easily. There was no way his Mum and Dad were wrecking this moment for him!! So he waited until the dead of night and then – whilst trying to keep Augustas cries of pain to a minimum – Frederick bundled the terrified 16 year old into a carriage, which was sent tearing across London for St James Palace.

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Very bad husband-ing Fred! Very very bad!!! via giphy

It was crucial that Augusta only give birth in the Palace – Fredericks heir couldn’t be born on the side of the road!

So though each cobblestone the rickity carriage rode over resulted in a fresh wave of pain and a speedier labour, the teenager would just have to cross her legs until she reached the Palace gates.

And, miraculously Augusta made it to the Palace gates, sans baby between her legs. More miraculously an impromptu high speed midnight dash across London in a rickety wooden box somehow didn’t create a terrible labour and on 31st July Augusta gave birth to a healthy baby girl. Both baby and Mum came out of the labour fighting fit. Great news, right?

Sadly not. See it was a baby girl. Not a boy.  Frederick might not have bothered working so hard to bar his parents from the birth if he’d known it would be a girl (eeew girls)

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Giving birth to girls. not cool. via giphy

Still, despite the gender, when King George II and Queen Caroline  heard that their grandchild had been born without them, they were seriously pissed off.

The royal couple made their way across London to visit the new born, where Queen Caroline earned the title of Grandmother of the year after taking one look at the baby and calling her:

‘poor, ugly little she-mouse’

 

Frederick, Augusta and their new born were promptly kicked out of court. But that didn’t stop Fred from pissing off his parents! He opened a new court; a younger, cooler court (with sex, booze and awesome music)

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I’m not saying its basically this….but it kinda is   via giphy

Frederick and his parents never made up. Queen Caroline died without speaking to her son. Father and son continued their fight (its what Caroline would have wanted) until  Frederick fell desperately ill.

Fred would never get to be the world most petty King. He died in 1751, aged 44. Of course, his eldest born didn’t get the crown (eeew girls) instead, his second eldest George, ascended the throne in 1761, becoming George III …. but thats a story for another day!!

Nell Gwynn: Not your strumpet

Nells mother ran a brothel; her Dad wasn’t on the scene. But this wasn’t even the most tulmotous part of her, far from ideal, childhood. 

Born in 1650, Nell grew up in one of the most difficult times in English history.

By 11 Nell had seen England change from a puritanical Government led country, where church attendance was mandatory and gambling, dancing and theatre was banned – to a country with a new King, Charles ll, at its helm, who loved nothing more than a drink, a dance and a roll of the dice.

It was to say the least: a full on clusterfuck of change!

Nell saw her future possibilities and place in society change overnight.

BUT she didn’t have time to focus on how the rich (and therefore powerful) were turning her world on its head; she had to earn a living!

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But obviously less making it rain, more making it so you eat and don’t die…

Growing up in a brothel it’s very possible that Nell worked there as a child and although that suggests she may have dabbled working as a sex worker, it’s not known for sure if she did.

What we do know is that one of Nells jobs was to fetch brandy to refresh worn out punters mid session. A totally acceptable job for a child. What gif.gif

But, growing up in the brothel made Nell a hustler and by her early teens she was flogging oranges to the crowds now flocking to Londons Covent Garden and its newly re-opened theatre district.

Orange selling may sound wholesome, but believe me, it was dog eat dog.

With hoards of sellers packing the streets, only the loudest, boldest and most whip smart would get theirs wares noticed. In this competitive game of survival, Nell was a clear winner.

With a quick wit, a no nonsense attitude and looks to boot she quickly captured the attention of the crowd and her oranges were selling like hot cakes (or hot oranges?…)

But it wasn’t just Theatre go-ers who were attracted to Nell. The Kings own theatre company soon noticed Nell and invited her to join their troupe.

At just 14 Nell became one of the first female actresses to take the stage.

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The hero of our play, Nell Gwynn

Sadly, Nell couldn’t read or write, which made reading scripts and learning lines pretty much impossible!

Still, she found ways round this. Having herself coached through the dialogue.

But this impairment perhaps explains why Nell hated dramas, which she found dull and too wordy (to be fair, if you’ve ever had to sit through a restoration era drama, then I’m sure you agree)

Yet, when it came to comedy, Nell would light up a stage. Using her fast wit and ability to creatively swear like a sailor, Nell became a household name.

Esteemed writer Samuel Pepys was a huge Nell fan girl, dubbing her:

‘Pretty witty Nell’

His thirst apparently could not be contained and Pepys continued;

‘So great a performance of a comical part, I believe, was never in the world before’

Samuel Pepys
Samuel Pepys: Fan girl and thirstiest bitch on the planet 

As all good theatre kids know, a play isn’t anything if there isn’t a showmance behind the scenes and Nell was more than happy to do her bit. So, she started an affair with famed actor, Charles Hart.

Like all good showmances the pair starred opposite each other in several productions and their PDA made things nice and awkward for everyone working with them.

But it wasn’t too last. Nell moved onwards and upwards. Starting affairs with many a man whose name started with ‘Sir’ and ‘Lord’.

And then one night Nells life changed for ever…

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It’s about to be just like disney; with added sex, swearing and alcohol!

In 1667 a 17 year old Nell was performing in ‘The Maiden Queen’, when the thirty something King Charles ll rocked up.

Charles was taken with Nell, as was his pal, the Duke of Buckingham, who saw Nell as the perfect pawn for a scheme he was plotting.

You see, The Duke of Buckingham was keen to oust the Kings current mistress, Barbara Castlemaine, who he believed was demanding too much money and power.

So why not replace the noble born Barbara with this gutter snipe? Nell was a slum girl done good, surely she’d be so thrilled at being in the Kings bed and would be no trouble at all!

Not our Nell!

Nell immediately refused the Mistressing offer. Unless, of course, she was paid £500 compensation for the ‘trouble’ that becoming the Kings mistress would cause her.

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Truly, Nell had historic levels of sass

The King wouldn’t pay Nell… but he also couldn’t resist her.

She soon became became a fixture at court parties, events and plays.

Within months the unlikely pair were firm friends and only then did Nell fall into Charles bed and accept the role of royal mistress.

Of course she still had caveats! She wasn’t giving up her career for anyone.

Charles eventually agreed and so Nell became one of the first Royal Mistresses to hold down a career and her mistress-ing duties.

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Duties that included, but were not limited to, occasionally getting half a boob out

Charles was enamored with Nell. So enamoured in fact that he had a topless portrait of Nell made and took immense pleasure in taking male friends into his rooms to let them marvel at the fine piece he was tapping. Because Charles was nothing if not a classy King. Nell Gwynn as venus

Nell was the apple of Charles eye…but that eye had a habit of wandering.

In 1668 Charles made entertainer, Moll Davis his mistress.

He lavished Moll with jewels and the promise of a house. The similarities between the two women were obvious and this cut a little to close to the bone for Nell. So she decided to shut that shit down.

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Moll Davis – I mean she hasn’t even got half a boob out, what kind of mistress is she?

Nell sent a dish of sweet meats for Moll to fill up on before she joined the King in bed that night (gotta keep your energy up!).

Sadly the sweet meats were laced with laxatives and for some reason Moll didn’t make her rendezvous with Charles…

Shortly after she was removed from mistress-ing duties.

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After Moll, no other mistress came close to toppling Nell. By 1670 she was firmly the main woman in Charles life and was pregnant with his child.

She decided to rest up and make sure her unborn baby was safe, so stopped working as an actress.

Unfortunately, at the same time, Charles decided she should also stop working as his mistress.

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Appropriate reaction

There was a new lady in Charles life and this one was no less than French nobility!

Louise de Kéroulle moved to England to serve the Queen (she had previously served Charles sister in France) Charles was soon head over heels for his wifes new maid and made her a royal mistress.

Louise used this new position to enjoy the finer things in life. She spent wads of cash on art, fashion and jewels. On the side she took up politics, forging herself a key role in English affairs with which to promote French causes.

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Louise De Kerolle: Unlike Moll, you know she is a threat because she has both boobs out.

Unsurprisingly Nell and Louise did not get along.

Not only were they fighting over the same man, but they were from two very different worlds. Louise was born into her position, Nell had to fight tooth and nail. Louise had never needed to work a day in her life, while Nell loved the independence work gave her so much that she was back on stage a mere four months after giving birth!

The fight between Louise and Nell got dirty real quick. And by that I mean they used tactics that were less based in Royal proticall and more Mean Girls.

Nell dubbed Louise ‘squintabella’ (due to a slight cast on Louise’s eye) and Louise never missed a chance to bitch out Nells lowly birth.

Charles gave Louise the title, Duchess of Portsmouth, as thanks for her role as mistress. Obviously Louise looooved rubbing this in Nell’s face. Once confronting/faux complimenting Nell in a crowded room (As she was passive aggressively want to do)

‘Nelly, you are grown rich, I believe, by your dress; why woman you are fine enough to be a queen’

Nell shot back

‘You are entirely right, madam, and I am whore enough to be a duchess.’

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Bitchy comments aside, Nell had one thing Louise could never have.

She had the people on her side.

English people had a history of not being huge fans of the French and they were certainly not fans of Louise.

She was a catholic in a protestant country, who was rumored to be a spy and oh yeah…she was French. Nell played up to this.

One day when riding through London, the people in the street stopped to boo the carriage, thinking the woman inside to be Louise.

Calmly Nell popped her head out of the window and said:

“Pray good people be civil, I am the Protestant whore” 

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seriously, get Tina Fey, I think we found a Mean Girls prequel 

In addition to her ability to sass for days, a HUGE positive Nell had going for her in the growing battle against Louise, was that she didn’t engage in politics.

This was a shrewd move. Nell had seen countless mistresses removed from their posts due to political meddling. Hell, she had even bought in as a mistress to oust the political minded Barbara Castlemaine!

The more Louise pushed for Frances interests in English politics, the more she pissed people off and pushed Charles away.

Nell opted for a different tact. She wanted to show Charles she was in it for the long haul. That the only thing she wanted from this relationship was him.

She didn’t ask for titles unless it was for their children and only pushed for political and social change on very rare occasions; which had the added bonus that this meant she was more likely to be listened to.

Nell’s clever moves paid off in 1675 when an exotic new woman arrived at court and pushed Louise off her pedestal.

The arrival of Italian runaway bride, Hortense Mancini, sent Louise packing.

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Hortense Mancini, only one boob out…who knows what that means at this point

But Nell wouldn’t be ousted so easily. By now she had stopped acting and given Charles 2 sons, she’d paid her dues and wasn’t leaving without a fight!

Luckily Nell didn’t need to fight, Hortense (who we’ve covered here) was far to busy getting drunk, dueling in her nightgown and having sex with Charles’ daughter, to have any time to actually spend with Charles.

Unsurprisingly her career as mistress was short lived (screwing your partner’s daughter will do that…)

Though Hortense was out the picture things were about to get veeeeery shit for Nell.

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Honestly, this level bad

Within 2 years:

– Nell’s mum drowned

– Nell fell seriously ill

– Nell’s son died

– The press started saying that Nell was losing her looks (because papers have always been pricks)

Nell had just turned 30 and it felt like her life was already over.

She didn’t know what to do. All she wanted to do was escape.

So she did.

Nell packed up her things and moved to the country.

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half boob, a confused child and sausages…truly the symbols of the British countryside

But Nell wasn’t going to be shacked up in the countryside alone.

By the time he reached middle age Charles was having some trouble getting it up (decades of excessive drinking and partying will do that to a penis)

He wanted to relax; less partying all night, more of having a little lie down. Where better to do that then Nell’s country escape.

With nearly twenty years under their belt, Nell and Charles were happy to just spend time together. They went on walks, played cards and spent time with their son. Basically, they just had a nice time.

Then, on 1st February 1685, Charles spent the evening with Nell and some of his past mistresses (which sounds a bit Sister Wives…but each to their own)

The next morning Charles suffered a fit and 4 days later he was dead.

His last wish was:

‘ Let not poor Nelly starve’

As per Charles wishes, Nell’s debts were wiped and she was given a hefty pension. Despite being an very eligible bachelorette, Nell turned down all suitors, instead choosing to spend her time hosting salons at her house and entertaining friends.

Then in March 1687 Nell suffered a stroke that left her half paralysed.

In May that same year she suffered another stroke that confined her to bed.

She continued cracking jokes and seeing friends until in November 1687 she suffered a final stroke. Nell died aged just 37.

But she wasn’t done just yet…

A huge crowd swarmed London’s Martins in the fields church for Nell’s funeral. As per one of her final wishes, the closing sermon read:

‘Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who need no repentance’

This was really interesting where can I find out more? In the spirit of Nell I am going to direct you to a play. That play is of course called, Nell Gwynn. Much like Nell its a whole lot of fun and is currently on at the Globe in London and also on tour!

Jane Boleyn: History’s biggest bitch?

Jane Boleyn was a bitch – or so history tells us

Centuries on from her execution she remains one of the most vilified figures in history. Opinion of her can be pretty much summarised by Historian C Coote:

‘The infamous lady Rochford… justly deserved her fate for the concern which she had in bringing Anne Boleyn, as well as her own husband, to the block.’

Aww remember the good old days when historians could openly celebrate the brutal execution of people…

Cootes opinion isn’t a one off. You see, Jane is famed with bringing about the downfall and eventual execution of her husband George Boleyn and his sister, Anne Boleyn. With Jane giving false evidence which led to Anne, George and 4 other courtiers execution.

And it’s not only that! Just a few years later Jane would be embroiled in yet another royal scandal; aiding and abating the treasonous affair between Thomas Culpepper and Henry Vllls young wife, Katherine Howard. This was a scandal Jane couldn’t survive and she, Culpepper and Howard all met with the executioners axe.

It’s all this that had made Jane Boyleyn history’s favourite conniving bitch.

But is that right? Does Jane deserve to be vilified by history? As historic research keeps getting better, we’re seeing more and more cracks in what we know about Jane Boleyn. What was once hard fact is starting to look fictitious. Which raises the question – did Jane Boleyn actually do any of the things she has been demonised for?

Let’s find out!

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Sketch believed to be Jane Boleyn

Did Jane kill Anne Boleyn?

The most common story tells us that spiteful and jealous, Jane gave false evidence that sealed the fates of Anne Boleyn, George Boleyn and 4 other unfortunate courtiers.

Jane told the court that Anne was having affairs all over the place…even with her brother. This effectively nailed down 6 people’s coffins.

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Woah, hold up with the hate – let’s dive into the evidence!

Here’s the thing: the facts on this one are pretty bloody shaky at best! There’s little surviving evidence in both sides of the argument.

Which makes working out if Jane did effectively kill 6 people, detective work to the extreme.

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Seriously, its like putting together a jigsaw thats on fire.  

Here’s what we know:

We know that several of Anne’s ladies were asked to give evidence at her trial. To refuse was not an option (unless you fancied joining the rest of your pals at the execution block) Jane was part of this number.

We also know that during the trial one of these ladies gave false evidence that Anne and George had a more than platonic relationship. But no name is given as to who this woman was.

In the account of Imperial Ambassador Chapuys, the only description of the woman is this:

‘That person’

Super helpful Chaps!

But don’t worry, at his trial George Boleyn mentions the woman who sealed his fate, so maybe theres something useful there:

‘On the evidence of only one woman you are willing to believe this great evil of me’

‘Woman’ ….yeah not that helpful either George.

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See what I mean, the evidence isn’t top notch thus far!

So, left without a name or a description, how the hell can we possibly work out who gave this evidence?

Well we can hazard a guess at who would have been most likely to be privy to this kind of information.

On that level, it’s not looking great for Jane.

As sister in law and confidant she would be best placed to hear of/witness an affair – but remember the evidence is false – so the question is this: though Janes neck is quite literally on the line here, would she lie to this extent when:

She has the most to lose

The families of people convicted of treason didn’t tend to live out the rest of their days skipping through a field of daisies.

Yes, execution really was the worst punishment. But the potent decades of shame, poverty and even prison that the families of the accused had in store was also pretty shitty.

With her husband and sister in law convicted of treason in such a scandalous way, Jane stood to lose a lot.

The Boleyns high position of power, their titles and lands all disappeared overnight and as she and George hadn’t popped out a son she wasn’t entitled to his fortune.

Jane did get to keep her title (Viscountess Rochford) but without a place at court, lands or a fortune it was kind of useless.

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Yup being married to a convicted traitor sucked!  

It should also be noted that Jane wrote to George when he was awaiting his execution. And his reply didn’t contain the words:

‘Fuck you bitch, I’m totally going to die because of you’

In fact his reply was nice, which suggests he didn’t blame Jane for his death.

George and Anne’s Dad also appears to have been in the same camp; arranging a yearly small pension for Jane.

Armed with this pension, Jane convinced Thomas Cromwell – the Kings right hand man and key player in the Boleyn downfall – to offer her financial and social support. With this in place, she returned to court and started to try and claw her way back into a good position.

Her hard work paid off and Jane served Jane Seymour until Seymours death and then her successor, Anne of Cleeves.

She started to get back in Henry’s good books, performing a role in Seymours funeral and giving evidence to help Henry divorce Anne of Cleeves (because being nice to Henry Vlll involves a lot of deaths, wives and court proceedings.)

But then all Janes hard work turned to shit.

Enter Katherine Howard! 
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As she had with the two previous Queens, Jane also served Henrys new young bride, Katherine Howard (who was a relative, through Jane’s marriage to the -deceased- George Boleyn)

Jane quickly become Katherines confidant and soon the two women became embroiled in a secret so great that it would end both their lives.

The story goes that Jane and Katherine worked together to hide the new Queens relationship with one Thomas Culpepper. A favourite of the King and Katherine’s cousin. with Jane acting as secret keeper and go between.

But the relationship didn’t stay in the shadows for long. Katherine and Culpepper were caught and accused of adultery. Soon they, along with Jane, were sent to the Tower of London to await their fate.

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Yeah, Jane has literally 0 luck

Now, hiding a Queens affair seems like a monumental fuck up on Janes part and hardly fits in with the behavior of someone trying to regain the Kings favour and move on from their scandalous past.

But as with everything in this story – it’s not that simple!

We’ve previously discussed Katherine and how new evidence suggests that her affair with Culpepper was less affair and more abuse and blackmail dickery.

To summarise: Katherine had a hidden past of sexual abuse; a past that would put her marriage at risk if Henry ever discovered it. It’s likely that Culpepper discovered this and was blackmailing Katherine (for sex, for power, etc.)

Culpepper was not a nice guy, he was a known rapist and murderer and volatile as fuck. Basically not someone you want to be around.

So maybe Jane got involved in the situation because she wanted to gain the trust of the new Queen, maybe she just felt bad and wanted to help. whatever it was that led her to make that choice, once Culpepper knew of Janes involvement it would have been near impossible for her to back out.

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Yup as always with Jane, it’s a monumentally shitty situation! 

Personally I think this really puts pay to the picture of Jane as a master manipulator.

Jane entered an obviously dangerous situation, where the gains in no way outweighed the risks.

Unless Jane just lived for the drama, it seems very unlikely that she got involved due to a machiavellian lust for power and more likely that she made one bad decision and the situation spiraled beyond anyone’s control.

Either way Jane ended up in The Tower of London facing execution and under this intense stress she had a severe mental breakdown.

Or did she? Because one theory that has followed Jane through history is this:

Jane Boleyn faked madness to avoid execution

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Stay with me here

This really fits the cunning bitch narrative, but yet again, is based around literally no evidence.

We do know that Jane had a full on breakdown in the Tower. Completely breaking away from reality, everyone around her became deeply worried about what was going on with her mental health. From the guards to her family; they all agreed that Jane was very unwell.

However there’s no evidence that suggests this entire mental break was a cunning rouse.

Jane was eventually removed from the Tower of London and cared for by members of the court in their home.

However Henry wasn’t letting her off that easily! It was against the law at the time for a person suffering ‘madness’ to be executed. But that wasn’t going to stop Henry ‘I invented a religion for a divorce’ Vlll.

Henry Vlll changed the law just so Jane Boleyn could be executed – I mean, I guess you have to give Henry props for determination.

And so on 13th February 1542, Jane Boleyn was beheaded inside the Tower of London alongside Katherine Howard.

As with her life, Jane’s execution managed to create it’s own mythology, with Jane tearfully apologising for her role in the deaths of Anne and George Boleyn (she didn’t and yet again, there is no evidence that she did)

Wow this was really interesting where can I find out more? I would suggest checking out Julia Foxes book ‘The True Story of The Infamous Lady Rochford.’ It’s a great deep dive and has a good pace.

The Daily Mail vs Women

From the first British paper catered to women to the sidebar of shame, The Daily Mail has a long and veeery complicated history with women.

In the Mails first issue in 1896, it’s editor, Lord Northcliffe, went to great strains to show that this was a paper for both sexes and that alongside news the Mail would also contain sections dedicated solely to ‘women’s intrest’

‘Movements in a woman’s world – that is to say, changes in dress, toilet matters, cookery, and home matters generally – are as much entitled to receive attention as nine out of ten of the matters which are treated of in the ordinary daily paper. Therefore, two columns are set aside exclusively for ladies.’

Now, I know that on the surface putting aside column inches for recipes, homemaking tips and toilet matters (no I don’t know either) doesn’t seem groundbreaking…or well, that great – BUT in 1896 this was a pretty fucking ballsy statement for a newspaper to make in its first issue.

Yet it was a move that didn’t go down well with other journalists, who openly mocked the Mail for targeting an audience that the other papers deemed beneath their ideals for a readership. But crucially the women’s pages went down well with women.

The success was actually large enough that when The Daily Mirror opened just a few years after the Daily Mail, it mimicked the Mail; creating a paper that catered to a female audience in addition to male. With beauty, fashion and homemaking pages (mostly run by men-obvs) as well as shocking news headlines aimed at women such as ‘baby in a dustbin!’ And ‘divorce by dagger!’

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Don’t act like you wouldn’t read those!

Though the Mail’s aim to have one ‘women’s news story’ amongst each days headlines, was commercialy progressive that didn’t translate to the political sphere, and It was the Daily Mail who in 1906 coined the term ‘suffragette’ for members of the WSPU; a derogatory term mocking the group and their violent methods.

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1909 Daily Mail cartoon – stay classy Mail!

But even the Daily Mail couldn’t change an already turning tide. Though on its pages it remained staunchly conservative and traditional; inside its offices women were increasingly starting to claw their way into positions of power. The women’s pages had already had a woman at the helm (Mary Howarth, who would become the editor of the Daily Mirror) but the pages soon became saturated with women’s voices and they weren’t all happy!

Constance Peel (who wrote under the name, Mrs C.S Peel) became editor of the woman’s section in 1918 and bemoaned the Mails refusal to diversify the sections topics and steadfast belief that women were interested:

‘solely in knitting jumpers, in caring for their complexions, looking after babies…’

But the thing was that these topics were popular with the women who bought the Mail. Sales remained steady and advertisers were very happy (and its advertising that brought in the lions share of income) It was a winning formula so why change it?

And so they didn’t.

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I get it. I do. But still…

Instead they found new ways to please both advertisers and women interested in domesticity. In 1908 the Mail opened the first Ideal Home Show. For a mere shilling the public could wonder at labour saving devices and attend talks and workshops on homemaking. It was a huge success and one that the paper continued to run for almost 100 years.

In this vein the Mail also doubled down on its lifestyle and celebrity gossip content (a very familiar sounding formula…) images of glamorous women filled its pages and Lord Northcliffe was once heard to have said that he had no use for a journalist who couldn’t ‘appreciate a pretty ankle’.  shudder.gif

There were of course arguments that the Mail was playing into gender stereotypes-arguments, that let’s be honest, still exist today – but it looked like change was imminent when feminist Shirley Conran took over the reigns of the women’s pages in 1969, rebranding them as ‘Femail’.

‘The things women are supposed to want to read about are generally chosen by men’

These were the first words of ‘Femail’ and though the new women’s pages were pioneering in a sense they weren’t a complete overhaul. Yes the pages tackled sex more (after all it was the dawn of the pill and Conran is now known as Queen of the ‘bonkbuster’!) but much of Femails gender stereotyping remained and when The Daily Mail emerged as a fully fledged tabloid two years after Femails launch it was clear that the pages strangely conservative yet sexualised celebrity streak was to remain. glass cieling

In recent years Femail has proven crucial to the Daily Mails success, widely read both in print and online. Clearly Lord Northcliffe was correct, women are infested in news and in news content tailored to them.

However this content is a constantly met with criticism. Femails online sidebar has gained notoriety as the ‘sidebar of shame’; an internet haven of illicit office lunchtime reading on which celebrity has ‘poured her curves’ into what outfit today. Femail also runs a neat sideline in outrage opinion pieces, articles designed to piss off, e.g Samantha Brick being ‘too beautiful ‘ and Jan Moir ‘pitying’ women who shop in their pyjamas.

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So there you have it, from revolutionary to labelled sexist and outdated; the story of the Daily Mails women’s pages, both fascinating and depressing all at the same time, kind of like the sidebar of shame…

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