The Batshit and Fantastical Life of Hortense Mancini

From bedding Kings to fleeing countries dressed as a pistol wielding man. Duelling her lovers, drinking, dancing and above all fighting for her independence; the life on Hortense Mancini was to be blunt, fucking insane…so lets get to it:

Born into nobility on the 6th June 1646 in Rome, Hortense Mancini was the fourth of five sisters.

Their Mother a great beauty, their Father an aristocrat who practiced black magic (specialising in necromancy) and their Uncle was Cardinal Mazarin; both Cardinal and Chief Minister to Louis XIV (the real power behind the French throne) – it’s safe to say the sisters had a somewhat eclectic background.

But things didn’t stay nattily rosey for long; in 1650 tragedy struck when Hortense’s Father died suddenly.

Fortunately the situation was far from as black as it could have been and Hortense’s Mother made the canny choice of leaning on Uncle Cardinal Mazarin in the families hour of need.

Uncle Cardinal had a soft spot for his nieces; in particular the wild and witty Hortense and he soon invited them to stay at French Court, where he would see what he could do for the girls.

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Cardinal Mazarin

The Mancini sisters took the streets of Paris by storm; very much the 17th century Kardashians; they were olive skinned, beautiful and very scandalous. They even had their own name ‘The Mazarinettes’ (that’s some top 17th century branding there, Kris Jenner would be proud)

With the attention of French society gossip mills focused on The Mazarinettes, it’s hardly surprising that when Uncle Cardinal announced his plans to arrange fabulously powerful and rich marriages for his nieces; the Mazarinettes became hot property.

Now the most eligable prospects in the European marriage market, everyone wanted a piece of Laure, Olympe, Marie, Hortense and Marie Anne.

Marie, Olympe, Hortense
Marie, Olympe and Hortense

The Mazarinettes had their pick of European nobility; Marie even became the lover of Louis XIV! Then Charles ll, party lover extraordinaire and future King of England, rocked up at French court.

Currently in exile from England, Charles quickly fell for fun loving Hortense. The pair seemed like two halves of one hedonistic whole; Charles proposed and promised to make the teenage Hortense England’s Queen (should his exile end…)

But Uncle Cardinal was having none of it. He was not about to set up his favourite niece with a galavanting eccentric Englishman with no fortune and only a title to his name (a title, btw, that was both now worthless and liable to one day get him killed) so Charles was sent packing

Charles ll
When Charles did become King, Uncle Cardinal offered 5 million for Hortense’s hand. Charles declined

Soon the Mancini sisters started to be married off to Princes, Generals and Dukes but Uncle Cardinal wanted something extra special for his favourite niece.

In fact this would be his dying wish and on his deathbed Cardinal Mazarin left Hortense his fortune and finalised her marriage to the richest man in Europe.

At the age of 15 Hortense was now one of Europes wealthiest women.

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-maybe not a totally historically accurate gif interpretation… –

This all sounds great. Until you realise that the richest man in Europe was the literal worst.

Armand-Charles de La Porte, Duc de La Meilleraye
Presenting the incredibly sexy Armand-Charles de la Prote

Hortense’s husband to be, Armand-Charles de La Porte, Duc de La Meilleraye (say that three times fast) was a religious nut, which is bad, but this guy took zealous dickery to a whole new level.

He worried that the sight of milkmaids milking cows would be so lustful and sinful to passing men that he ordered that any milkmaids in his service have thier teeth knocked out, so their smiles would no longer pose the threat of starting some kind of dairy based sexual riot.

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Yup, don’t look for the logic here

Upon marrying Armand-Charles de La Porte, Duc de La Meilleraye –from now on just Armand, because I’m not typing that all out again- 15 year old Hortense quickly realised that he was a monumental bell end.

Aside from his zealous nature, he was jealous and prone to angry and violent outbursts. He covered any nude paintings of men in the house so Hortense wouldn’t be tempted by lustful thoughts, burst into her room at night to check for hidden lovers and forced her to spend days praying away her sins.

This wasn’t Hortenses’ style.

If her husband wouldn’t let her be around men then that was fine; she could be flexible.

And so, soon into her marriage Hortense starting seeing another young woman; Sidonie de Courcelles.

Unsurprisingly Armand wasn’t happy when he discovered the affair. And so he packed the two girls off to a Convent.

Yup…That’s right. He sent them away. Far away. Together. This man is a genius.

OBVIOUSLY the girls continued their affair and weren’t overly fussed about their punishment.

They spent their days at the Convent playing pranks on the nuns, pouring ink in the holy water and attempting escape by fleeing up the chimney.

It was basically St Trinians but with more sex and pissed off nuns (actually, how has this not been made into a film?) Soon the nuns had enough and sent the pair back to Armand and the affair fizzled out.

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Fucking fun wrecking Armand

Somehow in their seven years of tumultuous marriage Hortense and Armand had 4 children (no I don’t know either) But the children weren’t enough to keep Hortense tied to Armand.

She decided to leave her husband, which in the 17th century meant that she would lose her children. The price of Hortenses freedom was high, but one she would be willing to pay if it meant escaping Armand for good.

After several foiled attempts (which led to Armand imprisoning her in the family home) Hortense left her husband on 13 June 1668. She rode out the gates on horseback, dressed as a man and quickly fled France for the safety of her sister Marie’s home in Rome.

Sadly Marie’s place wasn’t the safe house Hortense was hoping her; as Marie was deathly afraid her husband was trying to poison her (I’m not saying that Uncle Cardinal was shit at picking spouses but…) so the sisters fled to France where Marie’s former lover Louis XIV announced that both women were now under his protection.

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Marie and Hortense

Things were looking up. Louis XIV gave Hortense a hefty pension, which allowed her the unusual freedom of becoming an independent woman. She set up house in France and transformed her new home into a haven for artists, philosophers and great minds of the time.

Hortense also picked up a lover, The Duke of Savoy , who helped Hortense fight of her husbands many demands for her return.

Sadly all good things must come to an end; the Duke died and Armand finally managed to get his hands on her assets; freezing all her finances (including her pension from Louis XIV) until she agreed to come back to him.

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Fucking Armand! 

But Hortense wasn’t going to back down that easily.

She headed to England; agreeing to work with England’s ambassador to France, Ralph Montagu on his plan to de-seat one of the English Kings mistresses, Louise de Kerouaille.

Thats right, after turning down his proposal, Hortense was now travelling to England to become Charles ll’s new mistress. You can’t deny Hortense had moxy.

Hortense battled treacherous roads, icy weather and a near shipwreck on her journey from France to England. But she refused to give in and return to her husband, set on forging her own path and getting back the independence she had lost in France.

Hortense arrived at English Court in 1675 dressed as a pistol wielding man (naturally) and Charles ll fell for his old love once more; Hortense became a royal mistress.

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You can tell because her boobs out

Her partying, drinking and general debauchery rivalled Charles. Luckily Hortense’s love of sword fighting and horse riding helped ensure this her lifestyle didn’t have too much of an effect on her appearances.

Naturally the other women in Charles life started to grow concerned about Hortense; she could be a real threat to their positions.

But Hortense didn’t want to be like his other mistresses, she wasn’t a Nell Gwynn; she couldn’t dedicate her whole life to Charles. She escaped one man that wanted to rule over her and she sure as shit wasn’t go back there.

Hortense wanted to live as she choose; to drink, dance and take as many lovers as she could!

And so she did.

She lived independently yet remained a mistress. Charles loved Hortense for who she was and so he turned a blind eye to her refusal to call him ‘your majesty’ and made an exception for her long list of lovers; that is until Hortense pushed things too far by sleeping with both Charles and his daughter…

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Not at the same time. But still. 

Anne, Countess of Sussex was Charles daughter with one of his first mistresses, Barbara Castlemaine.

Anne was 15 and unhappily married when she met Hortense (now in her early 30’s) the two became firm friends, which quickly progressed to much more (wink).

The women attempted to keep the affair relatively quiet, but the court rumour mills intrest peaked.

Then things really hit the front page when Hortense and Anne publicly duelled in St James Park, in their nightgowns, with a group of men looking on.

Anne’s husband was furious and she was sent away from court where desperate and lovelorn she took to her bed for days, a miniature of Hortense pressed close to her chest.

Charles ll wasn’t best pleased with Hortense, but with the affair over he cooled down.

…..Until Hortense took on another lover, this one the Prince de Monaco.

Sleeping with his daughter was one thing, but sleeping with another royal was a step too far for Charles. He put a stop to their affair and stripped Hortense of her royal pension for several days.

Thats right, days, I know, I don’t know how she coped either.

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Charles and Hortense remained friends. And with her pension back in place Hortense lived more than comfortably in Chelsea, her home once more a salon for artist, poets and great minds.

Then in 1685 Charles ll died suddenly.

Hortense maintained her place at court, remaining good friends with England’s new King, James ll, but with her protector now gone there was nothing stopping Armand from forcing his errant wife home.

And so in 1689 Armand took his case to court. The law was on his side and demanded that Hortense return to Italy and Armand. But she refused.

This time though Hortense’s fighting spirit failed her. With the stress of Armand’s continued efforts to force her back, as well as her years of drinking and gambling starting to take effect, Hortense found herself in spiralling debt.

She maintained her refusal though, retiring to the English countryside, where she died in 1699.

But thats not the end of the Hortense’s story…

Because Armand was still alive. 

That’s right, Armand had plans for Hortense, even in death.

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Yeah, Armand be crazy. 

Armand traveled to England, where he bought Hortense’s body from her creditors.

He then proceeded to take Hortense with him wherever he went, with her body propped up in his carriage.

Because Armand was (and will always be) the literal worst.

American Traitor: The Tokyo Rose

The myth of the Tokyo Rose can first be traced back to American soldiers stationed in Japan during WW2. Too far from home to be able to tune into US radio, they were at the mercy of Japanese entertainment. The Japanese quickly cottoned onto this and allowed American GI’s to listen to their favourite songs…at a price.

The music was introduced by  the voice of a mysterious woman, she spoke English but also predicted Americas fall and the imment deaths of the listening GI’s. Not exactly ideal dinner guest material. This woman became known as Tokyo Rose and soon became a notorious and hated symbol of the war.

When the war ended Tokyo Rose lived on ; her story now told in hushed tones and with an air of bitter resentment to the this war criminal who has alluded justice. Hollywood even turned its attention to this villainess in 1946 with the aptly titled, Tokyo Rose; with the films hero a GI on the hunt to kill the venomous Tokyo Rose.

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This bitch, am i right?

But heres the thing…Tokyo Rose wasn’t one woman. She was many. 

She was mostly American Japanese women who had been in the wrong place at the wrong time and were now stuck behind enemy lines and faced with a choice. The most infamous of these women is Iva Toguri D’Aqiino

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Iva Toguri D’aquino – just look at all that evil..

Ironically born on Independence Day in 1916, Iva Toguri D’aquino would grow up to be one of America’s greatest traitors. ironic

Iva grew up in LA, where she was a popular but average high school student. In 1941, newly graduated from college, Iva’s parents sent the now 25 year old to Japan to care for her sick Aunt.

Though she had never traveled outside of America, Iva hopped on a plane, keen to care for ailing Aunt. But she couldn’t settle in Japan and grew desperately homesick. After a few months Iva packed up and bought a ticket back to US soil. But her plans were scuppered when a paperwork mix up prevented her from boarding the boat back to America. It was a set back but Iva was determined to get another ticket, eager to return to the US.

 And then Pearl Harbour happened 

well shit
well shit

Iva Toguri D’Aqiino was now trapped. An American citizen in enemy waters.

But she was tough, when military police asked her to renounce her US citizenship she refused, even following harassment and her relatives pleas she refused. And so Iva was kicked out of her relatives house.

Now homeless, branded an enemy alien and denied rations, Iva was having by all accounts, a shit holiday. But still she didn’t give in.

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Don’t let the smile fool you, she has balls of steel

By 1943 Iva was living in Tokyo, still refusing to renounce her US citizenship. She supported herself working as a secretary for news companies, eventually securing a job at Radio Tokyo. Along with its usual output Radio Tokyo also produced propaganda programming aimed directly at American troops who had nothing better to do but listen in. These shows were created and hosted by Allied Prisoners of War, who were forced to now work against their own side.

One of these programmes, Zero Hour, was produced by a group of POWs from America, Australia and the Philippines, with the team headed up by Australian Army major Charles Cousins. Iva and Cousens already knew each other, with Iva having smuggled food to POWs on several occasions.

Upon arriving at Radio Tokyo, Cousens quickly picked out Iva, thanks to her unique husky voice and he requested that she come and work on Zero Hour.

Now here’s something to know: Zero Hour wasn’t actually propaganda. It was meant to be but….Cousens and his team were instead covertly working to undermine Zero Hour and fill it in jokes mocking its own propaganda.

It was a pretty ballsy move. But Cousens and his team weren’t happy with just mocking their enemy, they also wanted to produce a quality comedy programme! Which is why they were interested in Iva. Cousens felt her trademark husky growl would be the final touch to tip Zero Hour into full on farce (nice guy that Cousens)

After a lot of persuasion Iva joined the Zero Hour team, donning the persona of ‘Orphan Ann’ she directed messages to her ‘fellow Orphans’, took part in skits and regularly introduced propaganda with more than a telling nod: ‘here’s the first blow at your morale!’ (Iva wasn’t known for subtle satire) Iva 7

All in Iva took part on several hundreds of broadcasts over three years. During her spell as a presenter on Zero Hour she also met her husband, Filipe D’Aquino, who like her was trapped in an enemy land.

The pair tried continuously to get passage back to America, but still branded an enemy alien by the Japanese Government Iva’s financial situation was dire. Sadly things didn’t change for Iva following The Japanese surrender to America in 1945; she remained broke and far from home.

There seemed to be little hope in sight when one day two American reporters from Cosmopolitan turned up at Iva’s doorstep offering her several thousand dollars for an interview with the real Tokyo Rose.

Now Iva had never referred to herself on air as Tokyo Rose, but the considerable cash on offer would help get her the hell out of dodge; what harm could it really do?

You know the answer here. (it’s a lot.)

You see, the reporter from Cosmopolitan hadn’t actually got editorial sign off on Iva’s pretty hefty fee (whoops!) So the magazine did whatever it could to get out of its exclusive contract. Eventually duping Iva into giving a press conference to other journalists – thus making her violate her exclusive Cosmo contract and lose the money.

Not only that but in the finished article the journalist pretty much left out any mention of Iva deliberately undermining the propaganda she delivered – effectively turning the article into Iva’s confession. And so in 1945 Iva was arrested.

And you thought the worst thing Cosmo did was constant dieting tips

Iva was released without any charges a year later in 1946. (thats right a year later) She want back to life with her husband and hoped for normality. The pair tried to settle in Japan but their hopes for starting a family were shattered when still weakened from prison Iva gave birth to a child who died not long after.

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You did this Cosmo. You did this!

Meanwhile America hadn’t forgotten Tokyo Rose. A campaign against Iva was gaining momentum and in 1948 that American citizenship Iva had worked so hard to keep meant that she was dragged back to US soil and under great public pressure she was promptly put on trial for treason.

In 1949 Iva went on trial, the seventh person in American history to be tried for treason, in what – at the time – was the most costly court case in history, the jury was all white and no actual broadcast evidence was to be shown ; it’s safe to say that things weren’t looking good for Iva. Iva 5

Over the course of 13 weeks Iva was charged with 8 counts of treason. She pled her innocence throughout, with the Zero Hour crew flying out to the trial in San Francisco to give evidence on her behalf. Charles Cousens even flew from Australia to speak in her defence, outlining the farcical undercurrent of the show. But then the prosecution conjured a series of Japanese witnesses and it was game over.

The witnesses testified to Iva voicing strong anti-American sentiments on the show, with the final nail in her coffin being witness evidence that following the Battle of Leyte Gulf (which saw over 2000 allied casualties and 12,000 Japense casualties) Iva went on air and crowed:

“Orphans of the Pacific, you are really orphans now. How will you get home now that your ships are sunk?”

There were of course no transcripts or audio record to back this claim up. Nonetheless in October 1949 Iva was found guilty of treason. She was fined £10,000, sentenced to 10 years in prison and stripped of the American citizenship she had fought so hard for.Iva jail

Iva was released for good behaviour after 6 years in a Virginia woman’s prison. Once more deportation loomed, but Iva battled to stay in America, working with her husband she successfully argued for her right to stay, citing her fathers valid US citizenship. Her stay was granted. Her husbands was not. This time the distance was too great and the pair amicably split.

Iva went to live with her family in Chicago where she quietly and peacefully lived out much of the rest of her life. Then In 1976 two of the key witnesses in Iva’s trial spoke out and admitted to being forced into giving false testimony.

In 1977 Iva received a presidential pardon. By 2006 the tide had fully turned; That same year was Iva’s 80th birthday and the World War ll Veterans committee awarded her for her bravery, patriotism and spirit-she described it as the most memorable day in her life.

The sisters that brought down a dictatorship

Rafael Trujillo was a dick. Ruling as dictator of The Dominic Republic for over 30 years. Following a rebellion Trujillo was voted into power with 99% of the vote in 1930 with essentially no opposition (after his opponents were subject to military threats). Once the Commander in Chief of the army Trujillo now wielded ultimate power. Of course, he did have his supporters and under his control The Dominican Relublic soon became a founding member of The United Nations, enjoyed a great deal of economic stability and even saw its first national park-but the cost of this was incredibly high, human rights violations were a daily occurrence, torture and assassinations routine and order was maintened through fear and brute force- it is thought that Trujillo was responsible for at least 50,000 deaths (his mum must have been proud) his bloody reign seemed unstoppable.

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Notorious dick Trujillo – I’m not even going to pretend to be unbiased on this one

Enter the Mirabel sisters. Patria, Dede, Minerva and Maria Teresa Mirabel all came of age under Trujillo’s rule. The sisters came from a well connected middle class family, were feisty, well educated and with the exception of Dede, all the sisters made the unusual (for the time) step of attending higher education institutions.

Whilst attending law school Minerva started to learn about the families of her new friends who had been killed (or simply vanished) under the dictator, this paired with a blossoming knowledge of her uncles involvement in the resistance started to spark something in Minerva.

Shortly after this Minerva came face to face with Trujillo. In 1949 the family were asked to attend a party he was hosting (I say asked, I mean forced-Trujillo liked to ensure his parties had a high percentage of pretty young women). During the party Trujillo’s men separated Minerva from the family, seating her at his table. Accounts from here seem to vary and are a little fuzzy, but what we do know is that Trujillo made a move on Minerva and she rejected him. The family then swiftly left the party, this was was a risky move.

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Minerva Mirabel

Unsurprisingly Trujillo was not often told no and did not respond well to Minerva rebuffing his sexual advances or to the family leaving the party before he did (a big no no as it suggested disrespect towards the dictator) and so he ordered the entire Mirabel families imprisonment.

reasonable
cool, sounds perfectly reasonable: giphy

 

The family were eventually released, from prison. However Trujillo blocked Minerva from continuing her legal education and maintained a constant ebb of harassment towards her (again-his mum must be proud)

The families every move was now being monitored, with Minerva in particular reported to Trujillo’s forces several times for crimes including not toasting Trujillo at dinner. Soon Minerva started to become more active in resisting Trujillo, her youngest sister, Maria Teresa quickly jumped on board, outraged at the intimidation and human rights abuse that had not just seeped into the Mirabel household but the entire country.

Then on 14 June 1959 Patria witnessed the Luperion Invasion, an attempt by ousted Dominicans to topple Trujillo’s government. The rebels were quickly and brutally crushed, but rather than serving as a warning to Patria of the consequences of fighting Trujillo, she was inspired by the rebels. This is of course perhaps not that surprising as Trujillo’s years of continued pressure on the family had only ever served to weaponise them.

Patria went home and joined forces with Minerva and Maria Teresa. Round their kitchen table the sisters hatched a plan to continue the rebels fight and put an end to Trujillo’s reign of terror.

The group called themselves Movement of the Fourteenth of June, named after the slain rebels. With the help of their husbands, the three sisters started to distribute leaflets and pamphlets detailing Trujillo’s crimes, the people he had killed and the resistances work. The sisters started to become known under the moniker Las Mariposas or The Buttleflies.

In addition to their written work the group slowly started to weaponise. Once more the sisters sat around their kitchen table, this time making bombs from fireworks. They also gathered weapons, learnt how to use them and began to talk about taking a much more radical step-assassination.

Mirabel Sistsers

Their attempted assassination of Trujillo in 1960 failed and Minerva, Marie Teresa and their husbands were thrown in jail. But though Trujillo had survived the sisters attempt on his life his political career was heading towards its demise. An assassination attempt of his own (on The Venezuelan President) had failed, he had lost the support of the Catholic Church, his former powerful allies America and even the top tiers of Dominican society and now the work of the Mirabel sisters and others like them was starting to threaten his already weakening grasp on power.

Trujillo did what he did best, he tortured and executed many of the captured rebels, but it didn’t quell the murmurings of discontent at the regime that were now becoming ever louder. To make matters worse in 1960 growing international pressure forced Trujillo to release the incarcerated Mirabel sisters; the butterflies were once again free.

But Trujillo became fixated on the idea that the root of his problem was Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa Mirabel.

Warning – This next bit is rough

On 25 November 1960 the sisters were driving home after visiting their husbands in prison. Their jeep was stopped by secret police, who included Trujillo’s right hand man, Victor Alicinio Pena Rivera. The sisters and their driver were made to get out the car. They were taken to a sugarcane field and separated, then secret police beat and strangled each of the sisters. Their bodies were taken back to the jeep, which was then pushed off a cliff, in an effort to make their deaths look like an accident.

But this isn’t the end of the Mirabel sisters story.

You’ll pleased to know that cover up didn’t work work. The public soon realised that Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa was assisnated. The people were angry and the tide turned against Trujillo in almost an instant.

People were inspired by the sisters and keen to pick up where they had left off; as the Mirabel sisters had done for the Luperion Invasion rebels. Less then six months after thier deaths, in May 1961 Trujillo’s own car was ambushed and he was shot in an assination carried out by Dominican Rebels with American backing.

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The sisters became known as national heroes and their sister Dede opened a museum which told thier story. The Mirabel family also continued their legacy, Minerva’s daughter went onto become the Dominican Republics Under Secretary of Foreign Relations and Dede’s son the Vice President.

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That was really interesting, where can I find out more? If you read Spanish then you my friend are in luck, there are tons of great resources out there, so go nuts!

If you don’t speak Spanish it’s a little bit harder BUT there is still some great material. In the time of butterflies is a cracking book all about the sisters (shout out to my Twitter followers that suggested it) it is a fictionalised version of events but still historically good and if your feeling lazy there is even a film staring Salma Heyak (the whole things currently on YouTube-just saying)

6 crimes that scandalised Victorian England Part 3

In the final part of our series on Victorian crime and murder we have Britain’s most prolific serial killer and an actual case of death by chocolate, so without further ado let’s get to it:

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via giphy

The Angel Maker

If you asked a child to draw a picture of a serial killer, they would draw Amelia Dyer…and then have nightmares for literally ever because ohmygod have you seen this woman?!?

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Never sleeping again

Amelia Dyer grew up reasonably well off. She trained as a corset maker but gave up the trade in 1861 to marry George Thomas (at 59 over twice as old as 24 year old Amelia). Once married Amelia started training to be a nurse and it was nursing that would introduce her to baby farming and turn Amelia Dyer into Britain’s most prolific murderer.

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Shits about to get real – via giphy

 

Baby farming was a black market career choice but a not uncommon one. The 1834 Poor Law Amendment saw unwed mothers lose most rights to support; these women were now only able to receive clothes, food or shelter if both mother and child went to the workhouse – not a good option to put it mildly. Single mothers were limited to a few desperate options: prostitution, taking their chances on the streets or making their own children ‘angels’. Less Sophie’s choice, more super fucked no matter what you do.

This is where baby farms came in. For a fee women would take in these children, adopt or foster them, care for the child as their own and then rehouse the child with suitable parents. Of course the reality was very different, most destitute mothers couldn’t afford a rolling fee for their child’s care, many paying a one off fee of around £5 (around (£225 today). Anyone who has seen the price of nappies knows that sum isn’t going to care for a child for long, so it’s unsurprising that some baby farmers had no intention of caring for the child as their own. Instead they fed their charges the bare minimum, used opium to keep the children quiet and left them in squalid conditions. It was not uncommon for baby farm children to die as a result of neglect.

It was this world Amelia Dyer chose to enter.

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By 1869 Amelia had left nursing and soon after this her husband died. she needed a source of income fast and baby farming seemed like the best choice to make a quick buck. Amelia threw herself into this new profession but she soon got greedy and started allowing some of the children to die, purposefully neglecting them to free up space for more babies.

She tried to make these deaths seems as legitimate as possible (well as legit as tons of dead babies can be). after several years a local doctor finally started to think there might be something dodgy about all the dead children at Amelia Dyers house and reported her to police on suspicion of neglect, she was found guilty and in 1879 was sentenced to just 6 months of hard labour.

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Via giphy

 

Once out of prison, Amelia left baby farming, she tried to get back into nursing, but was deemed mentally unstable and was sent to a mental asylum. When she left the aslym Amelia had no place to go, so she turned to what she knew: baby farming.

It was perhaps her mental break that led Amelia to stop trying to get death certificates for the infants that died in her care. Instead she decided to cut the middle man out entirely, killing the children almost immediately after their arrival. This meant she could take on more children then ever before. At one point neighbours saw up to 6 children a day being handed over to Dyer. Business was booming.

One unwed mother soon to cross paths with Amelia Dyer was Evelina Marion, a young barmaid who had given birth to an illegitimate daughter, Doris. Short on options Evelina came across an advert in The Bristol Times and Mirror:

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It seemed to good to be true – it was

 

On 31st March 1896 Evelina met with the woman who posted the advertisement, Mrs Harding, and handed over Doris. Mrs Harding was of course Amelia Dyer using a pseudonym. Now on a roll, just a day later Dyer took guardianship over another baby Harry Simmons.

But Amelia’s luck was running out. The day before she was given Doris Marmom, a bargeman fished a brown paper package the Thames at Reading. Upon inspection the wrapping came loose and a child’s foot fell out. When fully unwrapped, the package revealed the tiny body of Helena Fry, a child who had been left in Amelia Dyers care.

After the discovery the river was immediately searched. A carpet bag was dredged up and inside were the bodies of Doris Marmom and Harry Simmons. Both had been strangled with white tape.

However the brown paper packaging that Helena Fry had been Found in provided police with a vital clue. The paper was addressed to a Mrs Thomas, yet anouther pseudonym used by Amelia Dyer.

Whilst the police hunted for Dyer, four more children’s bodies were dredged from the river. Each had been strangled and like Doris Marmom and Harry Simmons, white tape was wrapped around their necks.

It didn’t take long for the police to catch up with Dyer and on 4th April 1896, just days after she had taken custody of Doris Marmom, she was charged with the child’s murder. Amelia Dyer confessed, telling police to look for children with white tape around their necks, that way they ‘Could tell it was one of mine’

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Daily Mail article following Amelia Dyers arrest

 

Amelia Dyer stood trial on 22nd May 1896 at The Old Bailey. She confessed to only one murder, Doris Marmom. The evidence was stacked against her, along with her written confession, several people reported seeing Dyer acting strangely and it transpired she had almost been caught on multiple occasions.

Despite Amelia Dyers pleas of insanity and her long history of stays in mental asylums, it took a jury under 5 minutes to find her guilty. She was sentenced to death.

Amelia Dyer described herself as ‘the angel maker’. Prior to her execution she wrote a confession which filled over five exercise books. It’s thought she killed over 200 children, though the number may be as high as 400 or even 700.

 

Death By Chocolate

Christiana Edmunds was a fashionable lady about town and also one of Victorian England’s most interesting mental health case studies. Her increasingly elaborate killing spree sent her to Broadmoor and thanks to newly released archives we are just starting to discover what led her to killchristiana edmunds .jpgEdmunds came from a background streaked with mental illness, her Dad died in an asylum in London from what was considered ‘madness’ (now considered the side effects of syphilis) Christiana’s brother was also sent to an asylum this one ‘for idiots’ (don’t you just love those Victorians) where he died from an epileptic fit. Christiana’s sister attempted suicide several times, finally collapsing and dying outside her home following the death of her brother. Soon after all of this Christiana was diagnosed with that Victorian classic, hysteria – or what we would now diagnosis as (at least) severe depression, most likely stemming from ALL THE FUCKERY.

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Like things couldn’t get any worse, right? via giphy

In the 1860’s Christiana, her mother and sister moved to Brighton and an by 1867 a Dr Beard starting treating Christiana for her hysteria. Beard was attractive, intelligent, kind and married. The married part was less than ideal for Christiana, especially as the two grew closer and she started to fall in love with Beard, but life had knocked Christiana so many times she wouldn’t allow a little blip like a wife to get in the way of her future happiness. So in September 1870 Christiana visited the Beard residence armed with a box of chocolates.

Dr Beard was out but his wife Emily invited Christiana in  and the two women sat in the kitchen with the chocolates between them and chatted. Emily reached for a chocolate cream but quickly spat it out, something was wrong, the cream inside was bitter and spoiled. That night Emily was incredibly ill, vomiting and in increasing pain- she had been poisoned with Strychnine.

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I’ve chosen to illustrate this with Turkish Delights, which might as well be poison

Emily lived, much to Christiana’s frustration. To make matters worse Dr Beard appeared at Christiana’s home the next day. He confronted her and revealed that he had recognised the symptoms of strychnine and he knew that Christiana had tried to murder his wife; if she knew what was good for her then she would stay away from him and his family.

To Christiana this was just another blip on the road to happiness. She now knew she must do two things:

1) Successfully kill Emily Beard

2) Ensure Dr Beard no longer suspected her as the poisoner (because murder is kind of a turn off)

Christiana decided to stick with chocolates as her murder weapon, injecting chocolate creams from a local sweet shop with strychnine and then planting them back on the shelves. Planning to kill Emily Beard under the guise of a serial killer and throw Dr Beard off the scent. It seemed to work and over the coming months numerous people fell deathly ill after eating the chocolates. But nobody actually died.

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via giphy

But then in June 1871 4 year old Sidney Barker was on holiday in Brighton with his family. His Uncle bought the boy some chocolates as a treat. After eating just a few chocolates Sidney was dead.

Sidney Barkers death was initially ruled an accident but it didn’t take long for police to join the dots between his death and the other curious illnesses that had spread across Brighton. At the inquest into Sidney’s death, Christiana Edmunds actually appeared, giving evidence that she herself had become ill after eating chocolates bought from the same shop.

But Christiana didn’t stop there, she started writing Sidney’s father letters, urging him to take legal action against the shop that had sold the chocolates. The police quickly noticed Christiana’s continued involvement in the case. Rather than helping to to create an imaginary serial poisoner, it was just leading police right to her.

And then shit got real. The Beards announced they were moving to Scotland. Christiana went into full defcon mode and started work on one last ditch attempt to kill Beard’s wife and make him fall in love with her and stay in Brighton.

Christiana created a batch of poisoned plum cakes and distributed them around Brighton, sending them to random people as well as the Beards and herself.

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I am now highly suspicious of this bitch – via giphy

The cakes didn’t work and Dr Beard finally alerted the police to his suspicions.

In January 1872 Christiana Edmunds stood trial at The Old Bailey in London. Her lawyer, John Humffreys Parry openly admitted to being confused at Christiana’s motives, however upon meeting with her he decided that the only route to go down was to plead insanity. This was not an easy task in Victorian England, the only way the plea would be granted was if a jury could all agree that Christiana could not be blamed for her actions.

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A, in no way terrifying drawing of Parry

Parry leaned on her family history and also had several notable doctors come to examine Christiana, all agreeing that she could not tell right from wrong. Still the plea didn’t work and Christiana Edmunds was sentenced to death. Though she did attempt to avoid the hangman’s noose by faking a pregnancy – the rouse was quickly discovered.

But then Christiana underwent a full psychiatric evaluation and her sentence was remitted, she was then moved to the newly opened Broadmoor. This move resulted in a public outcry, with many seeing it as a clear sign of class privilege and massive miscarriage of justice. None the less Christina spent the rest of her life in Broadmoor dying there in 1907, aged 78.

That was interesting, where can I find out more: I’m glad you asked! If you haven’t already caught up with the rest of this series you totally should! And you can! Right here:

4 Bad Ass Black Women Who Changed The World

Shirley Chisholm

Before there was Hilary there was Shirley Chisholm, heck before there was Obama there was Shirley!

Political pioneer extrodinare, Shirley Chisholm has claim to a whole litterny of firsts: first African American congresswoman, the first African American woman to run for demotic party presidential nomination and the first African American to run for President.c3uyiiuvyaasqae-jpg-large

Born in 1924 in Brooklyn to working class immigrant parents, the importance of an education was installed in Shirley at a young age.

She trained to become a teacher, and in 1953 started working in early years education in New York. It was around this time that Shirley discovered politics, she became an authority on child welfare and education and started to volunteer for political organisations- all of which were promindently white, particularly at the top. Shirley looked to change that

‘if they don’t give you a seat at the table bring a folding chair’ 

Just over a decade later in 1968 Shirley Chisholm became the first black woman elected to congress.

It wasn’t an easy road for any women in politics, daily life was full of challenge after challenge and in this era of civil rights those challenges were multiplied for Shirley.

Yet she remained undeterred, continuing her battle to ensure black voices were heard at the political table, fighting for the rights of immigrants, access to education, extending the food stamps programme and ensuring benefits extended to domestic workers.

Shirley’s background as the daughter of working class immigrant parents was front and centre when she decided to break down yet another barrier; in 1972 Shirley Chisholm ran for presidency.
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Her candidacy was up against it from the start.

Underfunded and seen as little more than a symbolic vote, Shirley fought to be taken seriously, even suing to ensure she was included in TV debates and gaining backing from The Black Panthers, who dubbed her ‘the best  social critic of America’s injustices to run for presidential office’ (this was also notably the first time The Black Panthers were involved in election politics)

Several assassination attempts later, it was clear she was now being taken seriously. So seriously that people were out for her blood.

But Shirley refused to stop.

In the end Shirley lost the democratic vote to George McGovern. It was a blow but in hindsight it’s clear that Shirley Chisholm’s presidential race still won, breaking down countless walls for those that came after her.

Hazel Scott

Trinidadian Jazz prodigy Hazel Scott was wowing audiences with her piano prowess from just 16, her future was bright; indeed she would go onto become a groundbreaking entertainer, however in just a few years she would be blacklisted from the very world she helped build.img_1871

In 1943 after several years of drawing crowds and acclaim on the New York jazz circuit, Hazel Scott moved her sights to Hollywood.

Her musical talent caught the attention of Hollywood producers and Hazel joined the likes of Lena Horne as one of the first well paid and highly acclaimed black performers in film.

Like Horne, Hazel avoided roles that played into already damaging black stereotypes, choosing to appear in musical variety films as herself and point blank refusing to take parts that cast her as a ‘singing maid’.

This proved to be a canny career move and Hazel Scott’s popularity as a jazz musician famed for ‘swinging the classics’ grew. In 1950 she became the first black person to have their on TV show; The Hazel Scott Show.hazel-scott-show

Scott’s outspoken refusal to play into stereotypes helped her secure her landmark TV deal, but it had also built her an undesirable reputation within the industry.

Scott required final cut on any films she was in, helping her to ensure her image wasn’t distorted. She also refused to wear any costumes she found demeaning (often also fighting for the rights of her black co-stars) It helped create her brand, BUT it went directly against the status quo of the time and this didn’t do her any favours.

The film work soon dried up.

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It’s fine, Hazel always had a back up plan

Hazel Scott wouldn’t back down, she stood by her views and hit the road. It quickly transpired that she was just as ballsy on tour as she had been on a film set. In 1949 she sued a restaurant in Washington that wouldnt serve her and a friend as they ‘were negroes’.

She refused to play segregated venues and when discovering that a venue in Austin, Texas had segregated seating, she had to be escorted out of Austin by Texas rangers after refusing to perform (the most badass way to end a tour by the way). Later saying:

‘Why would someone come to hear me, a negro, and refuse to sit next to someone just like me?’

Hazel Scott’s continued vocal campaigning came with a price.

In 1951 McCarthyism and the red scare hit Hollywood hard and Hazel was listed in Red Channels, the notorious pamphlet which ‘outed’ 151 communists and communist sympathisers in the entertainment industry.red-channels

The blow to her career was almost instant.

Outraged Hazel voluntarily appeared in front of HUAAC (The House Un-American Activities Committee) admitting to supporting Benjamin Davis, a communist candidate in Harlem-but pointing out that Davis was supported by socialists and was not in fact part of the communist movement that HUAAC was built to ‘protect’ America from.

But Hazel didn’t stop there. She then blasted the very committee she was standing in front of, pulling apart the reasons behind the blacklist and the harsh methods the committee used.

A week later The Hazel Scott Show was cancelled.

Scott left America, moving to Paris and touring Europe. She became more involved in the civil rights movement, eventually coming back to America, where she of course remained outspoken until her death in 1981 .

Flo Kennedy

Floyrnce ‘Flo’ Kennedy described herself as ‘radicalisms rudest mouth’.

This trailblazer for civil rights and feminism could not be described more perfectly. An activist with an anarchist fun streak; when heckled during a speech ‘are you a lesbian?’ she shot back ‘are you my alternative?’.img_1896

Raised in 1920s Missouri as part of a large black family, Flo was taught to stand up for herself from an early age.

She left school a feisty, scrappy young woman, top of her class. Ignoring family suggestions to go into nursing she became one of the first black women to graduate from Columbia Law in 1948 (a feat she was only permitted after threatening legal action against the law school…)

By 1951 she was settled in New York and was running her own legal practice, counting stars like Billie Holiday as clients.

However by the time the 1960’s rolled in Flo was starting to fall out of love with the law, wondering if true change could ever be made in a system that seemed stacked against the people that needed it most.

Flo became a full time activist in the 60’s so she could ‘kick more ass’, founding the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1966 and in the same year creating the Media Workshop, which directly challenged discrimination within advertising and the media at large. Successfully challenging several large ad by forming latching pockets outside thier offices, coining the phrase:

‘When you want to get in the suites start in the streets’

Flo helped to align mainstream feminism movements with the current civil rights struggles and built bridges between them and groups like the black panthers, highlighting the need for activists to work together to achieve a greater goal and ensuring that the form of feminism she fought for was always entrenched in abolishing white dominance over all people.

In 1969 she formed a group of female lawyers to challenge New York’s anti abortion laws, successfully having these overturned the next year.

At one point she even took on the Catholic Church over abortion. Filing tax evasion charges against the church, claiming that their stance on abortion went against their tax exempt status.

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Flo Kennedy and longtime cohort Gloria Steinem

By 1971 she had helped found the Feminist Party, which offered help to another lady on our list, Shirley Chisholm, during her presidential candidacy.

During the 70’s Flo also teamed up with another influential feminist, Gloria Steinem, on a lecture tour, once more emphasising the need to extend activism beyond just one cause.

Daisy Bates  

Daisy Bates had what I am going to call a Batman-esque origin story – in that, with her start in life there was no way she wasn’t going to shake shit up.

When she was just a baby Daisy’s mother was murdered by a gang of white men after refusing their sexual advances, her body was found dumped in a pond. Daisy’s father quickly fled town fearing repercussions from the murder. Daisy was taken in by friends of her parents. img_1894

By the mid 1950’s Daisy was living in Little Rock, Arkansas, with her husband, where the pair ran The Arkansas State Press, the leading African American paper in the state and a beacon of the area’s civil rights movement.

It was through this paper that Daisy chronicled the landmark 1954 case of Brown v Board, which saw the US Supreme Court deem segregated schools unconstitutional.

As the President of her local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NACCP) Daisy played a key role in helping ensure Arkansas complied with the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Little Rock was court ordered to integrate schools by 1957. Daisy worked with the local black community to pull together a group of students who would become the first black students to attend Little Rock’s Central High School.

Daisy ensured all students put forward were of an extremely high calibre, with grades that would match or surpass Central High School’s top students. After  a rigorous round of interviews through the state school system, 9 students were chosen. They would go on to be known as ‘the little rock nine’.

‘What is happening at Little Rock transcends segregation and integration, this is a question of right and wrong.’ 

Prior to the first day of the school year threats were made.

Daisy Bates and her husband saw rocks thrown through their windows and crosses burned on their lawn.

A poll showed that 85% of the state were opposed to desecration and Arkansas’s Governor said that were the Little Rock Nine to attend the first day of school, ‘blood would run in the streets’. 

They went to school anyway.

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15 year old Student Elizabeth Eckford meets the mob at Central High School

On the 4th September 1957 the Little Rock Nine were met at the school doors by soldiers with bayonets who had been ordered by Arkansas’s Governor to prevent the nine children from entering.

Daisy Bates became the children’s spokesperson and mentor, her home turned into a second home for the group as they plotted out what the best course for action would be.

On 24th September 1957 President Eisenhower federalised the Arkansas National Guard and deployed 1000 paratroopers to the school. The next day on September 25th the Little Rock Nine met at Daisy’s house and traveled in a military convey to their first full day of lessons at Central High School.

A month later Daisy and other members of the NCAAP were arrested in retaliation. Daisy was fined and her conviction ultimately overturned by the Supreme Court.

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Daisy with members of the Little Rock Nine outside her home

Over the next year Daisy was the point of contact between the school board, Central High School and the Little Rock Nine, ensuring that measures continued to be in place to allow for the children’s safety and continued education.

In 1958 the first of The Little Rock Nine graduated. It was a victory, but a bitter one. The battle of Little Rock had seen bombs thrown at Daisy’s home, a constant stream of threats and the closure of her and her husbands paper.

After Little Rock Daisy moved to Washington DC to continue her work. Joining The Democratic National Committee and working in LBJ’s administration on anti-poverty programmes. Later in life she moved back to Arkansas, where she went back to bettering her local community.

Why Catherine Howard is so much more than ‘the slutty one’

Catherine Howard is widely known as the dumb wife, the spoiled bimbo wife, the promiscuous wife. The one who got what she deserved.

Now I’m not saying the rest of Henry Vllls wives don’t have wildly unfair labels attached to them – of course they do. But I’d argue that Catherine’s current historic portrayal is both demonstrably sexist AND hides her incredible true story. A girl who was tormented with sexual assault, blackmail and was constantly used as a puppet for more powerful men’s plans. YET grew up to be determined, ballsy and full of life. 

It’s time to get to know the real Catherine. So let’s start by knocking down some of the misconceptions around her. 

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‘Catherine Howard was stupid’

This sits across almost all historic interpretation of Catherine Howard, including those by noted historians. Though Alison Weir offers a sympathetic view of the young Queen in her book, Six Wives, she still sees her as ’empty headed’. Whilst Suzannah Lipscomb describes her as ‘a stupid girl’.

This trend also crops up in more fictitious offerings, with Phillipa Gregory’s The Boleyn Inheritance portraying Catherine as vacuous and thoughtless. And let’s just take a quick look at how shes shown in pop culture smash hit, The Tudors:

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One of 1000 blank looks by Catherine Howard courtesy of The Tudors

For her time Catherine Howard was educated as well as any woman was expected (or could be hoped) to be.

She was proficient in household skills, dancing, needlework and music. Put bluntly she was educated in a way that was suited to her gender and class.

Is she is less educated than Henrys other wives? Yes.

Catherines cousin Anne benefited from an education at European courts, Katherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleeves were educated as European Princesses and Katherine Parr was extremely fortunate in having a mother who valued girls education.

But Catherine Howard was never expected to be royalty, she was never expected to be high up in court, the most she was expected to accomplish was a good marriage and her education was the best a woman in her position could hope for. If anything Catherine Howard’s education is the most similar to Henrys favourite wife Jane Seymour.

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Jane Seymour: The ultimate ‘can’t get over’ ex

In fact when Catherine becomes consort she rather cannily models herself after this beloved late wife.

She learns from the mistakes of her predecessors and becomes ‘the rose without a thorn’. Catherines motto ‘no other will but his’, takes what Henry sees as Jane Seymour’s best traits but makes them her own. 

She’s submissive and sweet but also more charming, charismatic and vivacious than Jane could ever have been. This is not the move of a teenage bimbo but rather the calculated work of a determined and intuitive young woman.

She was a slut

Acclaimed Historian Lacey Baldwin Smith called Catherine Howard a ‘common whore’ also writing that ‘there never was such a whore’ as she.

And you can see why history loves this portrait of Catherine! It’s just so juicy! A beautiful and promiscuous young woman pulled up to the highest position in the land. Her aging husband gifts her with wealth, comfort and security and she repays him by sleeping around with his most trusted servants and friends.

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It’s a story as old as time…but it isn’t a true one. 

Now w jnow that Catherine had sexual partners before marrying Henry Vlll. However modern evidence shows that these early relationships were not romantic whirlwinds but deeply traumatic experiences, based in neglect, emotional abuse and were most likely forced.

That’s right, Catherine Howard was a victim of sexual abuse (feeling bad yet?)

When Catherine was around 12 Henry Mannock was employed as her music tutor. Mannock took a liking to his young student and started attempting to seduce the pre-teen.

Catherine turned down his initial advances stating ‘I will never be naught with you and able to marry me you be not’. Still Mannock continued his persuit and eventually Catherine gave in, giving her tutor permission to touch her ‘secret parts’ in hopes this would placate him and he would ‘desire no more’.

It didn’t work.

Mannock continued to abuse his position of power over Catherine. Actually boasting to friends that he had been with her so much that he knew of a secret mark on her body.

Finally Catherine’s Grandmother (who she was living with at the time) found out about the ‘affair’ and ordered that Mannock never be alone with Catherine. But not before beating Catherine for flinging away the great commodity of her virginity. 

But despite the threat of Mannock being extinguished, there would be no respite for Catherine.

When Catherine was 13, Francis Dereham, a man of low but noble birth was installed as ‘Gentleman Usher’ in the house. Meaning that he was essentially Catherine’s boss. (Warning, its going to get really bleak again)

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Though Dereham started affairs with other girls in the house his attention soon turned to Catherine Howard. Once more the young girl resisted and denied consent. Once more she was ignored.

There are accounts of Dereham lifting Catherine’s dress past her naval so he could get a good look at her body. It didn’t stop there, Dereham had a key that allowed him access to the quarters where Catherine and the other girls slept, and using this he frequently ‘lay’ with her.

Soon the pair formed a relationship of sorts, Catherine allowing the affair to go forward under the promise that one day Dereham would marry her.

Dereham did not marry Catherine.

He eventually left, returning to Catherine’s life only when she became Queen. Using their prior relationship as leverage to force himself onto her privy council – in doing so helping to set up both their demises.

so I hear you say:

Fine….BUT didn’t Catherine lie about her past relationships AND THEN have an affair with Thomas Culpepper when she married to Henry VIII? You have to admit, that’s some poor decision making…

I mean have you seen her husband?

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Who wouldn’t, am i right?

Look – there is no concrete evidence for an affair between Henry Vlll’s servant Thomas Culpepper and Catherine Howard. However, it is widely accepted that an affair of sorts probably did happen or would have happened eventually (yes it is that super vague and complicated)

For the sake of argument (and ease) let’s say the affair did happen – what does that say about Catherine’s decision making skills?

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Ok fine, it doesn’t look good…but stay with me

Look – You do not want to be married to Henry Vlll. Fact. He is a categorically crap husband, especially at this time of his life.

Prone to volatile outbursts and mood swings, he also has a scary amount of power at his disposal (hello one executed wife and Thomas Cromwell his most trusted advisor beheaded on the same day as Catherine and Henrys wedding) oh and he also his a gaping leg wound – just for added sex appeal.

Now imagine being Catherine, a teenager with little experience of Court and a string of abusers behind you. Now married to the King of England, who also happens to be a tyrant. I’d argue that’s a slightly precarious position.

Enter Thomas Culpepper.

Was Catherine finally about to get the knight in shining armour she deserved? Nope! Guess what – Thomas Culpepper was also a dick! Not just any dick though…he was a rapist AND murderer!!!

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Yeah, it’s gonna go great!

Prior to meeting Catherine, Thomas Culpepper was accused of raping a park keeper’s wife (whilst serval of his men held her down) and then when people from the local village tried to apprehend him for this crime, he murdered one of them – but don’t worry, Henry Vlll pardoned him for both the rape and the murder, because hey, boys will be boys. 

Culpepper’s contemporary, George Cavendish, described Culpepper as violent, disorderly and arrogant. So essentially an all around stand up gent.

Yet, Culpepper rose quickly at court, and soon becomes one of Henry Vlll’s most vaulued servants.

Around 1541 Culpepper started taking particular notice of Catherine Howard. This date is important because it is also when Francis Dereham blackmailed his way into being on Catherine’s privy council.

It is very likely that Culpepper caught wind of Dereham and Howards previous relationship (because Dereham had a fun habit of telling people all about it).

And it’s also worth noting that around this time the aging Henry Vlll falls very ill and it is looking more and more likely that he may die.

So it’s more than arguable that Culpepper took all of this and used it to his advantage; using knowledge of Dereham and Howards sexual past to gain leverage to meet with the young Queen in private and start to position himself for power come Henry’s death, (perhaps even as the former Queens new husband), through a mixture of flirtation and blackmail. 

The dates fit in with this theory, as does what we know about the kind of man Culpepper was.

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Don’t worry it gets worse/more juicy

When both Catherine and Culpepper are arrested for their potential affair, both are quick to point the finger at the other.

Culpepper admitted to intending to do ‘ill with the Queen’ but made it clear that Catherine Howard seduced him. 

This -again- seems unlikely. 

Catherine made a point that her servant, Jane Rochester, was in attendance at every private meeting she had with Culpepper. Serving as both a guard and a witness.

If you’ve heard Jane Rochesters name before, that’s because she was married to Anne Boleyn brother, George. Jane witnessed Anne’s downfall and it was suspected that she provided information that helped send her husband and sister in law to their deaths. So then why would Catherine put a potietial informant in prime place of witnessing treason, if she was the initiator of a sordid affair?

Then there’s the infamous love letter from Katherine to Culpepper. I’m inclined to agree with historian Retha Warnicke’s reading which tells a tale of blackmail rather than passion. Katherine’s wording seems tense and desperate to placate Culpepper, particularly around the ‘promise’ he has made her – most likely a promise to withhold information about her sexual history.

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So many dramatic twists and turns

Catherine Howard was so much more than her historic portrayal until now has allowed her to be. And it’s important that as this new evidence and understanding of Catherine’s abuse is acknowledged, we don’t let history rebrand her, from ‘the slutty one’ to ‘the tragic victim’. 

Catherine Howard was a victim of sexual abuse, but she was so much more than that. She was brave, determined and fiesty. Thurst entirely unprepared into a perilous position, Catherine didn’t shrink away, but embraced it. Learning from the Queens that came before her and shrewdly turning their mistakes into her road to glory. She learnt how to manage a tyrant and until her abusers caught up with her, it looked like Catherine would be the Queen that survived Henry VIII. 

In a Me Too era, Catherine’s story not only needs to be told, but celebrated. 

This was interesting, how do I find out more: I’d suggest checking out Josephine Wilkinson’s book: Katherine Howard, The Tragic Story of Henry Vlll’s Fifth Queen. It’s a good starting off point; a thorough read and not so heavy you need an encyclopaedia and pack of highlighters to get through it.

What it means to dress like a woman

Women’s clothing is currently somewhat of a hot button issue thanks to Presidents Trumps suggestion that his female staffers ensure that when they attend work they ‘dress like a woman’

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Of course this is far from the first time the way women dress has been the topic of public debate and it won’t be the last. Discussing and dissecting women’s clothing is something of a historic tradition, with many aspects of what it is to dress like a women having remained the same for centuries

Beauty is pain

To be beautiful is to be in pain, a fact anybody who has ever worn heels for more than 3 hours can attest to (time to bust out the gel heel pads every woman in Trumps office!) This is of course nothing new, from bruise inducing heavy fabrics to mantuas that required hinges to allow for the wearer to get into and out of carriages (and don’t even start on managing doors!)

Being really bloody uncomfortable goes part in parcel with being on trend. Of course these trends have also proved deadly. Yes the thing that makes you beautiful can also be a weapon. Corsets of course are famed for their organ mangling powers but crinolines were also a very lethal culprit.

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so so so very deadly

Unsuspecting wearers would catch themselves on a candle and the whole crinoline would go up in flames. To make matters worse the crinolines design prevented the victim from putting the fire out themselves and any crinoline clad bystanders were also hampered down by their large skirts and rendered powerless to help- all they could do would be to watch their friend burn alive within their dress.  In 1864 one Dr Lancaster reported a supposed 2,500 people in London alone suffered this fiery end. This seems a little steep, still, I can’t think of a worse fate but please feel free to put answers on a postcard- or the comments…whatever.

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This actually happened in 1861 in Philadelphia, 9 ballerinas died. Crinoline fires, argubaly worse than chip pan fires

You are what you wear 

When you read any book about the wives of Henry Vlll you will quickly realise the wives hoods are an indicator of who they are as people. Anne Boleyn with her rule breaking and saucy French hood, Jane Seymour trying to appease with her plain and ungainly English hood etc etc etc. The clothes are packaged as an integral part of these women’s core identity.

Even executions of women in this period turn into a (blood soaked) runway. Catherine Howard newly conservative but still glamorous in dark velvet, Lady Jane Grey pious in black and Mary Queen of Scots working rebellious martyr chic in crimson.  What you wear is who you are, even if that could not be further from the truth.

Margaret Cavendish, forerunner of Science Fiction, poet and one of the first philosophers to really dive into if the gender divide was maligned by her peers. She was seen as a bimbo.

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Cavendish loved fashion and dressed vividly and eccentricly. Samuel Pepys described her as ‘conceited and ridiculous’ and her ‘dress so antic’. One of the greatest minds of her time overlooked, because her dress was a bit out there. But don’t worry, Pepys also describes her as a ‘good comely woman’ so everything’s fine really.

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The sex is in the heel

If you are a woman then at some point you will have been told that you are dressing too provocatively (you bitch) or not provocatively enough (you bitch). Yes the debate on putting it away vs putting it out there is long and aged and something everyone apparently has some kind of stake in.

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What is permitted for women to wear is somewhat cyclical. There is fine line between what is seen as ‘attractive’ and ‘slutty’ but it is a line that keeps on fucking running all over the pitch.

For example, if you were a woman in the court of Charles ll then your neckline would be low to the extent that nipple paint would be a thing in your life – go and find any portrait of a bright young thing of this court and you will find an image of a woman barely containing her breasts (if they arnt just out and roaming free) it seems like the birth place of liberal love for the raw female form, free the nipple and all that…but for the love of christ don’t show an ankle, because a naked breast was one thing but a naked ankle was seen as scandal itself.

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Mistress of Charles ll, Hortense Mancini

Sexual fetishization was also ripe in Victorian England. What we now think of as the a bastion of sexual repression was actually incredibly sex obsessed (seriously Victorians LOVED their porn). But like today sexuality was a nuanced minefield.

Take our old friend the corset, it was seen as key to maintaining the ideal female figure- a waspish waist, curvy hips and breasts. A narrative was created around this fashion- it became a sign that you were a someone, feminine, rich, desirable, demure and sophisticated all at once. Yet at the same time the corset became a symbol of loose morals- it pushed up the cleavage and alluded to the hips and vagina.

Wear it…but don’t go too far. It is much the same as a short skirt – one thing on a Jennifer Lawrence type (elegant, fashionable and daring yet somehow sophisticated) and another entirely on a reality TV star (tacky, most likely taken as an up skirt shot when entering a club).

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To dress like a woman is a myth and one far more complicated than I have been able to touch on in this (another time perhaps). It is an ever changing goal post built on cultural expectations and outdated stereotypes. It exists…it clearly very much still exists (hey again Mr President!) but it doesn’t have to be something we adhere to. We can look at history and notice the rule breakers, the women that created their own fashions and lived how they choose – what I’m saying is, don’t feel like you have to wear heels and a pencil skirt to the office because someone berk in a shit wig tells you too.

6 crimes that scandalized Victorian England. Part 2

The Thames Torso Killer

Whilst Jack the Ripper was making the streets of Whitechapel an all around unpleasant place to be in 1888, another serial was also roaming the streets of London and its time he got his share of the praise well it’s not, because he did horrifically murder several people but you get my drift…)

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In May 1887 workers along the Thames river valley pulled a bundle from the river bank. Upon opening the bundle they discovered a woman’s torso. Throughout May and into June more body parts washed up onto the banks of the Thames, once put together doctors confirmed that the limbs were from the same woman. Doctors were eventually able to piece together the body, with only the head and upper chest missing. However the bodies dismemberment had been so cleanly carried out and the corpse so water beaten that no cause of death or clue of the woman’s identity could be uncovered.

Almost a year later in September 1888 Scotland Yard were desperately trying to solve the murder of Mary Ann Nichols, the second prostitute in as many days who had been found murdered and mutilated in Whitechapel. Then a woman’s arm washed up in Pimlico, followed by its partner on Lambeth Road.

What came next can only be described as a ballsy move by the killer – on 2nd October the same woman’s torso was discovered by builders in the construction site of New Scotland Yard. The murder had been bought straight to the Police and they now had a torso, two arms, two serial killers on the loose and no clue – it was then that a journalist’s terrier dug up the woman’s leg from the grounds of New Scotland Yard (after police dogs had failed to find any further remains).

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Doctors concluded that the limbs found under New Scotland Yard had been buried there for weeks and had perhaps been buried by someone with easy access such as a workman or builder. However, the cuts that had been made to dismember the victim were once again clean cut and surgical, and yet again no cause of death could be found and no clue to the woman’s identity made. The murder was filed as ‘found dead’.

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In June 1889 a woman’s body parts started to wash up on the shores of The Thames. A leg and thigh in Battersea, liver in Nine Elms and a foot and leg in Wandsworth. A body part was even thrown into the estate of Percy Shelley, whose mother, Mary Shelley had written Frankenstien; a book about a monster pieced together out of human body parts.

Though once again the victims head was missing, the police managed to identify this victim thanks to a fragment of clothing found of the body. Elizabeth Jackson had been missing from her Chelsea home since just before the first body parts were found. Jackson had been 7 months pregnant at the time of her death. A verdict of ‘Wilful murder against some person or persons unknown’ was passed; though no cause of death was ever discovered.

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By the 10th September 1889 the police were no closer to finding who the killer was when a cryptic telegram was sent to all police stations in London:

‘Whitechapel again’

Police scrambled suspecting another Ripper murder. However they were to be foiled, yet again. When walking his beat on Pinchin Street Police Constable William Pennett discovered a woman’s torso.

Once more doctors were stumped and unable to work out the victim’s identity or cause of death. As in the case of Elizabeth Jackson a verdict of ‘wilful murder against some person or persons unknown’ was passed. In an effort to preserve the torso (should any other clues be discovered) the unknown women was buried in a cast coffin filled with spirits.

Possible links were discovered to a murder in Paris in 1886 (where a woman’s torso and several limbs were found on the steps of a church) and two other murders in London in 1901 and 1902, but none truly fit the Thames Torso Killers method.

The victims heads would never be discovered, nor would the victims breasts or uteruses, which the killer also took. The case went cold, with no clear motive, no evidence and not even a cause of death, there were next to no clues leading police to the killer.

The Thames Torso Murders remains a mystery.

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Well they can’t do worse than the Metropolitan Police did…

The tragic case of Eliza Fenning and the devilish dumplings  

Ok so full disclosure this crime does just miss the Victorian era, taking place in 1815, BUT I couldn’t not include it. That’s how good this one is, your gonna love it!

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And it’s only slightly incredibly bleak- yay!

Fun fact: I actually used to work on London’s Chancery Lane, where the crime took place, and took great pleasure in telling this crime to friends when meeting for after work drinks- truly I am a joy.

Aaaaaand onto the crime:

Elizabeth ‘Eliza’ Fenning entered the employment of Robert Turner and his wife Charlotte in early 1815. The house in Chanchery Lane looked to be a step up for 20 year old Eliza, she had been hired as a cook, a promotion after working 6 years as a lower level domestic servant in other households.

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Eliza’s first two months in her new post went well and she started to fall into the pattern of day to day with the Turners’. On the night of the 21st March 1815 Roberts Turner’s Father was due to come round for dinner. Eliza prepared a dinner of beef and dumplings for the family. Just before she finished cooking Robert Turner came into the kitchen and ordered Eliza not to leave the room until the meal was finished- strange, but she complied. The dinner was served and the family tucked in, along with two of Roberts apprentices and a housemaid. Shortly afterwards everyone at the table collapsed onto the floor.

The police arrived to find Eliza curled up on the stairs in crippling pain, the rest of the household were in a much worse state and close to death. An investigation was started. Foul play was suspected for the sudden sickness that had torn through the house and the line of suspicion led straight to Eliza.

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Forensics expert John Marshall was bought in. The art of forensics was very much in its infancy but Marshall had a theory; he thought that the nights dinner must have been subject to arsenic poisoning. He searched the kitchen for traces of the stuff and came up with a small half teaspoon of ‘white powder’ which had been found in water used to wash up Eliza’s mixing bowl. Marshall carried out tests to see if this powder was indeed arsenic, this included heating the powder over a flame to see if it emitted a garlicy smell (this was obviously not 100% foolproof test…) when Marshall put the powder on a halfpenny over a candle the room was quickly filled with a pungent garlic aroma (surprisingly food sometimes smells of garlic-gasp!)

Things were not looking good for Eliza. To make matters worse witnesses came forward claiming that Eliza hated her employers who had recently threatened to fire her after she was seen coming out of the bedroom of an apprentice at night.

Within several days everyone who had eaten the potentially poisoned dumplings started to get better. Still, Eliza was arrested and was quickly put on trial for attempted murder.

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The evidence against Eliza was strong, the forensic expert had evidence of arsenic and witness testimony gave a motive for the attempted murders. However, it was pointed out that it would not have been possible for the arsenic to have been mixed into the dumplings- the amount the forensic expert claimed to have found would have been enough to kill 120 people per serving, the Turners couldn’t have survived! For the dumplings to have been poisoned they would have to have been sprinkled with the poison after being cooked. A deed which could have happened in the kitchen or in the dining room- a room Eliza had been banned from.

To add more fuel, witnesses came forward alledging that Robert Turner had a history of violent and ‘mad’ outbursts. Further more a chemist clamied that Robert Turner had tried to buy arsenic from him just months earlier. The forensic evidence was also shown to be lacking as there was no evidence that this mixing bowl had indeed been used to make the poisoned dumplings and Marshall had failed to test any other substance found in any other of the cookware or ingrediants that had been used to make the dumplings.

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Cover of Eliza Fennings case file

Sadly this was all no was no use to Eliza and she was found guilty. The public rallied to her side and campaigned against the courts decision. Petitions were made and the press even came to her defense. On the day of her execution the home office held a meeting to look over the case.

It all proved fruitless. Eliza was hung alongside William Oldfield who was convicted of rape and Abraham Adams a homeless man who was sentenced to death for ‘unnatural crimes’ (translated to sodomy) on the 26th July 1815. Eliza’s last words with of her innocence.

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Broadsheet of Eliza Fenning’s execution

Following her death The Turners became public hate figures and John Marshall a laughing stock. The misuse of forensics in Eliza’s trial was held up as a prime example of legal misconduct and several medical societies put in place measures that anybody studying for a license with them take a three month course in legal medicine (or medical jurisprudence) to ensure what happen to Eliza Fenning would never happen again.

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