In 1647, Christmas was made illegal in England, when parliament declared the act of celebrating Christmas a punishable offence.
The demise of Christmas had been long coming. Tensions around the holiday had been bubbling for some time and when England’s civil war broke out in 1642, this all came to a head.
There were two sides to this war, the royalists (cavaliers) and Parliamentarians (round heads), both fighting for the way England was governed.
Now the royalists loved them some festive cheer, but the Parliamentarians, er, not so much. With a strong Puritan presence, they were very vocal on their belief that Christmas was an outdated excuse for debauchery, that had more than a whiff of the old Catholic faith (something they wanted eradicated!)
Spoiler alert: the good time guys didn’t win this war.
During the blood soaked feud, pamphlets prophesying the end of Christmas were released. Rebel puritans started opening shops on Christmas Day (a move so scandalous it caused riots) and in 1645 Parliament released its new Directory for the Public Worship of God, that totally omitted any mention of Christmas, making it (at least from Parliaments view) pretty much religiously void – unless you turned it into a service of piety and humiliation.
Christmas was on its last legs and it’s death nell came in April 1646, when the royalist forces were defeated at battle in Naseby and it became very clear, they were about to lose the war and the Parliamentarians, led by Oliver Cromwell, were going to put England under puritanical rule. As one writer put it:
‘Christmas was killed at Naseby fight’
One year later in 1647, Parliament declared the mere act of celebrating Christmas to be a punishable offence.
Christmas was officially cancelled.
But the people of England weren’t letting Christmas go without a fight.
On Christmas Day 1647, pro-Christmas riots burst forth from all over England.
A group of Londoners set up holly and ivy decorations and in doing so, had to face down a group of soldiers.
On the same day, Canterbury descended into the fantastically named, Plum Pudding Riots. When locals, aghast at the fact that not only had mince pies been banned, but shops were now open on Christmas Day, decided to rebel in the most English way possible: by holding a mass football game where the main goal was to smash up as much shit as possible.
But riots didn’t bring Christmas back.
As the ban on Christmas continued, religious services celebrating the birth of Jesus became much more subdued and secretive, with several ministers actually being arrested for their activities.
In 1657 diarist John Evelyn recalled that he was attending a Christmas service at church, when the church was totally surrounded by soldiers. The congregation were held inside and interrogated over what they were praying for.
Eventually most people stopped trying to hold religious services for Christmas The risk just wasn’t worth it!
But do you know what was worth the risk? Christmas carols!
Carols were the double whammy of both being music (banned in churches under the new rule) and Christmassy (so, super banned.) Never before had the act of singing Hark The Heralds been so dangerous.
But clearly carols were still a beloved part of the new underground Christmas. In 1656 during a Christmas Day parliament session (after all, no Christmas equals no day off!) one MP moaned that his neighbours loud carol practising had kept him up all night, meaning he had not had time for:
‘preparation for this ‘foolish day’s solemnity
But then in 1660 there was a Christmas miracle! The monarchy was restored and with King Charles II on the throne that meant 2 things:
1.The end of puritanical rule AND 2,The return of Christmas!
Christmas was officially un-cancelled!
And the people celebrated in the most English way possible; by enacting exactly why the Puritans banned Christmas in the first place! By eating too much, drinking too much and getting way too merry.
Natasha Tidd is 1/3 of F Yeah History. She’s worked at museums and heritage sites across the UK. A huge history nerd, she will happily talk your ear off about women’s history, over several glasses (be real, bottles) of wine
Caroline Lamb has been remembered by history, thanks to her tenure as mistress to poet, Lord Byron.
Rather than the several books she published, it’s her love life that remains her legacy. With countless books and academic papers on Byron citing Caroline Lamb as the ultimate crazy ex; unhinged, obsessed, stalker-ish and prone to sending bloody locks of pubic hair as romantic favours.
But is this fair? Who actually was Caroline Lamb and does she really deserve the title of history’s ultimate ‘crazy ex’?Lets find out…
Caroline didn’t have a great childhood.Her parents were Henriette (Harriet) Spencer and Frederick Ponsonby, and believe me when I say, these two had a wildly unhappy marriage.
This had a huge impact on Caroline, namely because her parents were way to busy arguing and having affairs to actually parent her.
This led to Caroline developing some major behaviour issues, with her screaming fits and tantrums soon becoming part daily life.
When she was 9, Caroline’s parents shipped her off to live with Harriet’s sister, Georgiana Devonshire (her off of that Kiera Knightly film) and once more everyone failed to parent the by now irreparably out of control Caroline.
They tried medicating her with laudanum (a highly addictive pain killer), isolating her from the family and shipping her off to boarding school but nothing worked. Possibly because drugging kids up and ignoring them isn’t known to be a great parenting method.
By this point the family were sick of Caroline;something the now young teen was very aware of. Though she tried, she couldn’t make herself ‘better’ nor make her family love her, writing:
‘I’m mad That’s bad I’m sad That’s bad I’m bad That’s mad’
Eventually, a doctor was bought in. He advised that Caroline was far to delicate to be stuck in a stressful school environment, and so Caroline’s formal education was stopped.
Caroline was now living every child’s dream: no school, no discipline and complete control over what she did.
There’s no doubt this was awesome… at least until she grew up to become an adult who was almost entirely illiterate in some areas and had no concept of boundaries or life experience!
But there was at least one thing in Carolines life setting some form of moral code: GOD
Left to her own devices, Caroline had become absolutely fanatical; she devoured the bible, turning to God and religion as her only source of sanctuary and wisdom, which is great when you have other outlets and relationships, but for Caroline it led to a reallyunhealthy dependency on her religious beliefs.
BUT bar the religious ferver, Caroline had grown up to be pretty cool – well, at least on the surface.
She was stunning, in an elf like way, rode horses bareback and despite her patchy education was super smart. She even started re-educating herself, studying Latin, Greek and discovering an unparalleled flare for literacy.
Naturally, as such a catch, Caroline was immediately married off and in 1805, at just 20 years old, she married family friend, William Lamb.
William and Caroline were good together.He was sweet, kind and patient. Finally after so many years lost and alone, it looked like Caroline was getting her happy ending.
Until the wedding night.
Sex left Caroline traumatised. She was overwhelmed by guilt, absolutely convinced that what she had done was a sin against god.
Caroline entered a constant battle with her sexual urges. Disgusted with herself and plagued with an ill placed religious guilt, she decided she never wanted to have sex again.
Still, 7 months after first sleeping with William, Caroline gave birth to a baby girl.
The baby was stillborn.
It was a tragedy that in no way helped Caroline’s fear that her sexual urges were inherently wrong. And so she sunk into a pit of despair.
In the midst of this, Caroline gave birth to a healthy baby boy, Augustus.
BUTAugustus was born with severe learning difficulties; though Caroline refused to have her son hidden away (as was the norm at the time) she struggled to raise him; his disability just adding to her depression and sense of guilt.
It’s pretty unsurprising that Caroline and Williams relationship was hitting the rocks during all of this.
They had frequent arguments, a desperate Caroline threatening to have an affair in a bid for happiness.
William found this a laughable notion; his wives crippling religious guilt was so much she couldn’t have sex with him, what were the chances with her doing it with someone else, outside of the godly ties of wedlock?
His reaction crushed Caroline, writing:
‘William cares nothing for my morals. I might flirt and go about with whom I pleased.’
Everything had become too much and Caroline broke, in what we might now see as a manic episode.
And so, she cut ties with the religious mania that had consumed her for so long. Deciding the only way she’d find happiness and solve her problems was to find a man and have an affair.
She couldn’t have picked a worse man to do this with…
Caroline had become obsessed with Lord Byron after reading his poem, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.
To say Byron had a reputation would be an understatement.He was one of the greatest poets and writers of his era BUT was perhaps more known for his excesses (and subsequent debts) drinking, partying and stacks of affairs.
After their first meeting, Caroline summed him up as:
‘Mad, Bad and Dangerous to know’
BUT this huge red flag didn’t deter Caroline, who immediately followed up with:
‘That beautiful pale face is my fate’
And so in 1812 the pair started what would become history’s most ill-advised affair.
Though at first, Byron was less into the relationship than Caroline, the more time he spent with her the more fascinated he became, describing her as:
‘the cleverest most agreeable, absurd, amiable, perplexing, dangerous fascinating little being that lives now or ought to have lived 2000 years ago.’
And with that, the pair embarked on a whirlwind few months.
There was talk of running away together and as Caroline’s barriers started to drop, she even began dressing as a page boy, sneaking into Byron’s rooms for illicit and by all accounts, super X rated, afterhours rendavouxs.
It seemed that her crippling sexual guilt was loosening it’s grip, replaced with a new overwhelming obsession with her boyfriend.But this wasn’t good for her either, as everyday Caroline become more frenzied.
On one famous occasion, Caroline broke the glass she was holding in her hand when she saw Byron speaking to another woman.
Anouther infamous episode was when Caroline sent Byron a lock of her pubic hair, writing in the attached note:
‘I cut the hair too close and bled more than you need’
Kinda understandably, the bloody public hair and accompanying unceasing attention was proving a bit too much for Byron. Not only that, but he’d already starting fancying a new woman anyway. A break up was imminent.
BUTInstead of ending the relationship like a grown up by explaining why things just weren’t working; Byron did what any dickhat would – he made up a string of lies, bought in another women and then fled the scene.
Caroline fell into a deep depression. Oddly it was her, until then, forgotten, husband who offered Caroline a shoulder to cry on.
William Lamb had seen ALL the red flags between Caroline and Byron and expected a nasty implosion, so he’d patiently waited to help his wife pick up the pieces when her affair ended.
This support couldn’t have been more needed, Caroline was in the throes if a full breakdown and it was agreed that she needed space and a break from her life at home. So she went to Ireland to recouperate.
Now when I say Caroline wasn’t doing well, I MEAN IT!The situation was dire. By the time Caroline reached Ireland she was swinging between devastating bouts of depression and wild manic episodes; her bones visibly jutting out from her refusal to eat.
Of course it was now that Byron decided to write to Caroline (I should add, Byron did this despite the small fact that he was already attempting to woo another women into engagement, whilst sleeping with an additional woman on the side-so a great move all round)
Byron wrote passionately with suggestions the pair may met again. This letter was then promptly followed by another that read:
‘I love another…I am no longer yr lover’
Understandably Byron’s letters did a huge number on the already fragile Caroline and any hope of her re-cooperation ended.
She started to self harm and broke into ever more frequent manic episodes.
These episodes pushed Caroline further from reality. During one she even recruited little girls from the local village, dressed them all in white and had them perform whilst she burnt a Lord Byron effigy and threw gifts he had bought Caroline into the fire; all the while she chanted a self composed poem:
‘Burn, fire, burn, while wondering boys exclaim, And gold and trinkets glitter in the flame. Ah, look not thus on me, so grave, so sad, Shake not your heads, nor say the lady’s mad. London, farewell; vain world, vain life, adieu! Take the last tears I e’er shall shed for you. Young tho’ I seem, I leave the world for ever, Never to enter it again; no, never, never!’
Once the embers died down, Caroline sent the girls home, before writing down the nights events in a letter to her former lover.
Carolines love had become consumed by anger and she vowed to destroy Byron.
Interestingly it was this that actually allowed Caroline to give the world a chance to see her as more than Byron’s ex lover and as a talented writer in her own right.
In 1816 she published Glenarvon, which was a thinly veiled fictional account of Caroline and Byron’s relationship. This was followed by two critiques of Byron’s work and abuse of his talents AND two more works of fiction, Graham Hamilton (1822) and Ada Reiss (1823).
It’s Caroline’s latter novels that really stand out, not just because of all the transposed fictional Byron digs BUT because she looks at some pretty cool issues. Including (the now timely) topic of how power is achieved, with Caroline delving into whether being ‘well born’ and rich actually qualifies anyone to lead.
In fact, right now Caroline’s novels are enjoying a bit of a literary review, with current academics starting to revisit her work and voice.
However, when Caroline’s work was released, it didn’t get an amazing critical reaction. After all, Glenarvon was pretty much a tell all; an A-Listers ex getting one back and trying to make some cash in the process.
Her books were picked up for the scandalous details, nothing else.
It wasn’t just Caroline’s writing that was taking a nosedive. Her ever faithful husband, William Lamb, had been left devastated by the publication of Glenarvon.
Suddenly his wives fictionalised love affair was immortalised in print, on bookshelves across the country. Heartbroken, William was left alone to pick up the pieces this time; Caroline oblivious to the pain she’d caused.
Now, Believe it or not, things were about to get even worse.
In 1824 Lord Byron died
Caroline was obviously devastated when she heard the news.
This was made worse when one of Byron’s close friends published: ‘Recollection of Lord Byron’ which revealed that her former lover hadn’t mentioned her in his final moments and thought of Caroline as nothing more than one more notch in his bedpost and a terrible wife.
This time Caroline couldn’t turn to William for support. Her husband had had enough; enforcing a legal separation.
Caroline wandered Europe, picking up a string of short lived lovers as she went. She published a book under a sudo-name but it bombed.
Truly, she was alone. By now, Caroline had alienated everyone who’d want to help her. There was no solid mental health system, so as Caroline got sicker, got thinner and fell deeper, there was nowhere to go.
Eventually William took Caroline back, not as his wife, but as a sick friend who desperately needed help.
On her return to London, Caroline was declared ‘insane’.Just like she had been as a child, she was medicated with laudanum. And though she’d been trying since she was a little girl, she didn’t ever ‘get better.’
Caroline Lamb died in 1828, at just 42.
But history, would remember Caroline and her the two loves of her life, long after they were gone.
William Lamb went on to become Prime minster of Britain. Lord Byron would be remembered as one of the greatest poets to ever live. And Caroline? Caroline became a cautionary tale to men, a punchline; history’s best example of the ‘crazy ex girlfriend’.
This was interesting where can I find out more? You can still get copies of Carolines book, personally I’d say Glenarvon is the weakest, but worth a read, with the others all must reads!
Hypatia was a genius. She was a mathematician, astronomer and inventor. Our babe had some serious brains and was also ballsy as fuck. She’s one of, if not the first recorded women in mathematics.
Hypatia was born sometime between 350-37 BC in Alexandria (An Egyptian province). Her Dad, Theon, was one of the last members of the Library of Alexandria (an incredibly fancy palace of knowledge). A famed mathematician, Daddy Hypatia wasted no time teaching his little girl everything he knew.
Now, Hypatia was super smart and she quickly surpassed her Dad’s (pretty bloody genius) intellect… and so the student became the teacher.
People came from miles around to hear her teach and in around 400BC she became the head of The Platonist School in Alexandria where she lectured on mathematics and philosophy.
But this is history….so it doesn’t stay good (sorry)
See, back then science and the like was considered a pagan pursuit by Christians, so Hypatia’s teachings were not going down well with the locals. In fact they were not fans to the extent that they formed a mob and killed her…
But her work lived on; her influence monumental. Sadly we don’t have any of her surviving work, but she had a real impact on her peers, who talked about her with a reverence that was awe inspiring.
2. Dorothy Hodgkin
Dorothy is a scientific marvel. Fact. She specialised in X-Ray Crystallography which basically is a way to decode the structure of biomolecules. This was important in recreating synthetic structures in 3D to replicate those biomolecules. Like, for example, PENACILLIN! INSULIN! And other stuff people need to not die…
Dotty studied chemistry at Oxford in 1928, and left with a first class honours degree. This was pretty bloody amazing at the time, as there were limited spaces available for women to study at degree level (damn you patriarchy!) In fact Dotty was the third woman to receive a first in the history of Oxford university!
After smashing it with her degree, Dotty went on to study her doctorate at Cambridge where she became interested in X-Ray Crystallography.
She came back to Oxford in the late 1930s to continue her research and also to teach a new generation of Crystallographers.
In 1945 Dotty had her first big breakthrough…Penicillin! She pinned down the molecular structure of penicillin; a revolution in medicine that would save countless lives.
But Dotty didn’t stop! She later cracked the coding for insulin and B12, for which she was awarded a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1964. She is still the only British woman to receive this honour.
During all of this Dorothy pioneered new techniques to better capture the structures of even more complex biomolecules. Medicine owes one Dotty one hell of a debt!
3. Mae Jemison
Mae is famous for being the first African American woman in space, but that ain’t all she’s done (though it is still quite a lot…)
Born in 1956, she grew up with a fascination for space travel and was obsessed with the coverage of the Apollo missions, as well as being a massive Trekkie (Lieutenant Uhura was her absolute hero)
Mae was also a shit hot dancer, training in every type of dance imaginable. But she also had that passion for science, she struggled with what to do….be a dancer or doctor? Her Mum told her:
‘You can always dance if you’re a doctor, but you can’t doctor if you’re a dancer’
That settled things. Mae trained to be a doctor at the Cornell Medical College and got her degree in 1981. As soon as she’ got that under her belt Mae joined the Peace Corps (because Mae is the best like that)
After The Peace Corps, Mae applied to NASA; the dream of going to space one she just couldn’t get out of her head. And then she got the call…she was going to be an astronaut!
In 1992, Mae was a mission specialist on mission STS-47 on the space shuttle Endeavour. Mae often started her recordings in space with the classic trekkie line
‘Hailing frequencies open’.
After she returned to earth Mae quit NASA and went on to found her own company The Jemison Group that develop science and technology for everyday use. Another one of her company’s developed a device that mean doctors can monitor a patient’s day-to-day nervous system functions, which was developed from NASA technology.
But Mae still can’t quite shake the stars. She’s the principal of the 100 Year Starship project who aim to travel to the next solar system by the next 100 years AND are looking at developing ways to improve recycling & develop more efficient and green fuel solutions (Peace Corps for life!)
Live Long and Prosper Mae, we think you are an absolute legend.
4. Wang Zhenyi
Wang Zhenyi is was born in 1796 in China. She was fascinated by eclipses, which were still a mystery back then, but Zhenyi knew it weren’t no magic making that happen!
She wrote a paper on what she she thought was going on and created a model for those less wordy; using a globe, a mirror and a lamp, Wang showed how the eclipse was made by the moon blocking out the sun. Simple!
She also understood that the earth wasn’t flat, that it was a globe and that the earth rotated around the sun. This was revolutionary thinking for the time.
But Wang didn’t stop there, at the age of just 24, she wrote a book called Simple Principles of Calculation…I don’t know what you were doing at 24, but I know I wasnt spending my time moulding mathematics..
With all this science and maths, you’d be forgiven for thinking Wang was just a giant brain….but she had a huge heart to match. She wrote political poetry, touching on topics like gender equality and in her additional spare time she worked to ease the suffering of China’s poor.
She died aged only 29. But in her short life she published so many papers on maths, the solar system as well as some lush poems. Her work influenced countless numbers of clever clogs who came after our girl.
I’ll leave you with this mic drop of a poem by Wang:
It’s made to believe, Women are the same as men; Are you not convinced, Daughters can also be heroic?
5. Alice Ball
Born in 1892 Alice grew up in Seattle and took an interest in chemistry when helping her photographer Grandfather develop shots in his darkroom
Super smart and a tough cookie, she become both the first woman and the first African American to graduate from the University of Hawaii.
With those barriers firmly broken, Alice moved onto a bigger task…saving Hawaii.
See Hawaii had an influx of patients suffering with leprosy, or Hansen’s disease (Mmmmbop) it got so bad that people with the disease were arrested and shipped off to a leper colony on an Island off the mainland! The only treatment was a very painful injection of oil made from chaulmoogra tree seeds…and it only relieved some of the symptoms.
But, Alice had a solution! When she was 24, Alice figured out a way to make the oil injectable! She isolated the ethyl esters of the fatty acids in the oil.
Sadly Alice died shortly after perfecting this method (likely from inhaling chlorine gas during research) One of her fellow peers at Hawaii university decided to be a total shit rag and tried to steal her research and pass if off as his own. BUT thankfully, one of Alice’s mates put that fucker in his place.
The treatment worked. It meant people affected with the disease could now go home and see their families, and Hawaii stopped arresting their sick and chucking them on an island to forget about them.
Alice’s method of treatment, known as The Ball Method *snigger* was so good that it was used until the 1940s to treat patients with leprosy.
Her influence was huge in combating this disease, though it did take the University of Hawaii NEARLY 90 YEARS to recognise Alice’s achievements by putting a plaque to her on a chaulmoogra tree outside the University.
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.
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:
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 *.
Mary I has been remembered by history as ‘Bloody Mary’. The woman who burned her own people alive, ruthlessly lead her country into pointless religious upheaval and basically turned England into a clusterfuck of sadness and fear. But was Mary really that bad? Let’s find out!
Mary kicked off her reign with the execution of Lady Jane Grey.
Now I’m sure we can all (hopefully) agree that the beheading of an innocent teenage girl isn’t a winning start to your Queen career.
It is however worth pointing out that it’s more than arguable that Mary’s hand was forced in this; with continual attempts to make Jane queen and Mary’s hold on the throne more than shaky, Jane was way to dangerous to keep alive.
Yet Mary really didn’t want the teenager to die. Desperately attempting to spare Jane’s life by trying to diagnose Jane as pregnant (Jane wasn’t pregnant FYI and she was pretty pissed at Mary trying to get her internally examined)
In the end Mary saw no way out. For her to be Queen (and also alive!) heads had to roll.
Sadly, logic (however bleak!) does not prevail when you’re faced with a headless innocent 16 year old who is immediately martyred. And so starts the story of the woman labeled one of history’s biggest bitches.
The first born child of Henry VIII, Mary grew up in a happy little bubble. Her dad loved her, her mum (Catherine of Aragon) loved her; she was intelligent and her future was looking pretty damn bright. And then the divorce hit.
If you have divorced parents, then I’m sure you understand how rough a divorce can be on a child. But just incase, lets break this down:
Imagine that your dad is so desperate to divorce your mum he invents a whole new religion to do it (which btw turns your strict catholic upbringing on its head!). Then dad ships mum off, to essentially live in exile.
Then new mummy (Anne Boleyn) makes it clear that she’d be more than pleased if you and your mum were executed, but as that’s not happening any time soon, you’ll be stripped of your titles and made to basically serve your new baby sister (Elizabeth).
Oh…and then your dad stops speaking to you, your mum dies (obvs you’re banned from seeing her on her death bed) and then to top things off, new mummy is beheaded.
THERE IS NOT ENOUGH THERAPY IN THE WORLD TO WORK THROUGH THAT SHIT!
Somehow Mary turns out ok. She is super overly religious (Catholic of course, because fuck Dad’s new home wrecking religion!) and not a ton of fun, but she’s also determined, smart and a functioning adult. It could have been worse!
Mary and her dad start talking again and by the time he dies she is once more a Princess and eligible to the throne – should her brother die…
And what do you know, he does die!
Once Lady Jane Grey is out the way, Mary ascends the throne aged 37. The people are happy, Mary is happy, it’s all good. Well, apart from a few small problems.
You see, Mary was determined to return England to Catholicism, this can’t happen with Mary’s half sister Elizabeth (a protestant!) next in line to the throne. But as Mary was unmarried with no kids, Elizabeth was almost guaranteed the crown. So Mary set out to get herself a man….and so began her many problems
Problem no 1: The Foreign Husband
Mary quickly snagged herself a hot (and crucially, catholic) betrothed – Prince Philip of Spain. Sadly, for Mary, the English people hated him.
The English did not like Spain, it was foreign and they did not get on with it at all. They were certainly not happy with having a new foreign King telling them what to do and wanted nothing more than for Philip to pop back on his little boat and kindly fuck off back to Spain.
Worse than this casual xenophobia, the protestants were uprising. Afraid of what this catholic power couple would mean for them, a rebellion soon sprung up.
Life lesson: if your marriage causes a literal revolt, maybe have a little rethink.
Obviously Mary got married anyway. She was determined to get married, get up the duff and save England from the protestants and restore Catholicism. Fuck popularity, this was the lords work.
So a few months into her reign and Mary had ‘get a husband’ crossed off her to do list. Now all she needed to do was pop out a baby…easy right?
Problem 2: Kids
In Tudor England it was a woman’s job to have babies. In fact, it was a woman’s only job: Have all of the babies…ideally boys.
It seems simple but Mary knew differently. She had seen countless women fail at this, her mother included and she knew that without an heir, any work she did would be for nothing.
The pressure was very real.
And then it happened. Mary fell pregnant.Her stomach grew, she felt her baby kick, she even had the joys of morning sickness. But the baby never came.
Mary was so desperate for a baby that her mind had created one for her.
It’s now believed that Mary was suffering from pseudocyesis, a rare condition where a person experiences the symptoms of pregnancy, believing themselves to be pregnant, when there is no child. The condition may be caused by trauma (which for Mary would make sense!) and is treated with ongoing intensive therapy.
But Tudor doctors didn’t know about pseudocyesis, or therapy. Mary was on her own.
The fear that Mary must have felt is just incredible. She would have felt like she was both losing her grip on reality and her power. So it’s no surprise then that Mary doubled down on her third problem:
Problem 3: Restoring the faith
The whole burning people alive…thing
Mary believed that the only way to bring England back to Catholicism, was to publically punish protestants. She invoked old laws to persecute popular protestants (bishops, arch bishops, preachers, you name it!)
During her short reign, just under 300 people were sent to the stake for the crime of not being catholic. That’s, innocent men, women and children, all burned alive.
No matter what her intentions and reasoning, no matter how hard Mary believed she was actually ‘saving’ these souls, burning people alive is unforgivable. It’s beyond not ok.
And yet…. Mary wasn’t the only one to burn her people.
Her Dad (Henry Vlll) brother (Edward Vl) and sister (Elizabeth l) all also burnt subjects at the stake and the reasoning for many of these deaths religion based.
This isn’t to excuse anyone’s actions – it’s too point out that everyone was a dick when it came to this and that this ‘punishment’ was pretty standardized for the era (yeah; turns out Tudor England is a pretty crap place to live)
On the whole, Mary was actually a lot less execution happy than the rest of her family! With her Dad raking up more executions per year on average than Mary did.
In fact, Mary pardoned a lot of people (more than anyone else in her family!) believing in reprieves and forgiveness, she was known to offer many a last minute pardons as people were about to be executed.
So is she histories bloodiest bitch?
Look, it’s time we dropped the ‘Bloody Mary’ label.
In history we have a habit of labelling, especially when it comes to women. In the tudor era alone we’ve had callous six fingered bitch Anne Boleyn, sex kitten whore Katherine Howard, Virgin Queen Elizabeth; we know that when we dig beneath the labels we find something so much more interesting, and actual person!
So was Mary evil? No. Now, she wasn’t lovely either – you wouldn’t want to get a drink with her (mainly because I reckon she’d drone on when drunk). Mary was a person, she had a troubled childhood that shaped her, a history of mental illness and dogged determination that led to so much heartache. She’s an interesting woman and well worth another look.
This was interesting! Where can I find out more? I’m going to suggest, Anne Whitelock’s Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen, it’s a thoughtful read and tries to understand why Mary had her world view.
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.
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!!
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.
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?
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.
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.
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)
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)
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!!
Anne of Cleaves has a historically bad rap, this is in no small part because she will forever be remembered as Henry VIIIs ‘ugly’ wife; ‘the Flanders Mare’. Which seems pretty bullshit:
A) have you seen Henry VIII????
B) why are we still putting a woman’s entire worth on how fuckable Henry VIII found her?
Anne was an incredibly amazing and accomplished woman, she was smart, shrewd and is far and away the wife I’d most like to have a pint with (sorry Anne B)
Anne grew up the awkward middle child, both on Europes political stage and at home.
Princess to a small and only occasionally useful duchy, Anne was told that the only thing she would ever achieve was to be a good-ish wife.
Her older sister was a famous beauty who was soon married off, her younger sister was also beautiful and witty, her older brother was an arsehole, but a semi-successful one…and Anne was just there, under the family thumb, getting on with her wife studies and waiting to be told what to do and where to go.
Sadly for Anne, Her family decided the best place for her was on the arm of this ass hat
Henry VIII was on the hunt for wife number 4. With one wife divorced and essentially exiled, one beheaded and one dead, his dating profile wasn’t great. So it’s unsurprising that Europes princesses weren’t exactly tripping over themselves to marry this obese ageing megalomaniac.
But that wasn’t an issue for Annes family!
Anne and her younger sister had portraits taken and sent to Henry (sort of like ye olde Tinder)
Henry was immediately taken with Annes portrait and the description of her. Sure enough, Anne was picked to be Henrys bride and her passage to England was set.
For her part, Anne was thrilled. Finally she’d get away from her oppressive family and get to live her own life!
But there were issues. For one, Anne couldn’t actually speak English, which is a bit of a worry when you’re off to go be Queen of England. She also didn’t know anything about music or dancing, which were Henrys favourite past times. Plus she hadn’t actually been raised to be a Queen.
Sure, she was a Princess and yes she’d been raised to be the best darn wife she could be…but she was princess of a tiny duchy and only ever expected to marry a Duke or maybe a low level Prince. Being Queen of one of the worlds biggest powers was a different thing entirely!
But Anne wasn’t a quitter. She spent the long journey to England trying to pick up the language and customs and learned games that Henry liked. She was aiming to wow!
And then she got there….
Henry was both a tyrant and a romantic, a combination that basically guarantees dickery.
True to dick form, he decided to don a disguise to meet his new bride, sure that their love would be so strong, she would immediately see through the rouse and leap into his arms.
Obviously this didn’t happen…
Instead Anne patiently ignored the overweight sweaty man as he pawed at her and tried to get her attention. She was waiting to meet the King and neither wanted to engage with or offend this new unwanted admirer.
And then the guy kissed her and Anne stepped back in shock. Because, well you would. This was too much for Henry. He threw off his disguise and stormed out the room, leaving a confused Anne in his wake.
The damage was done, the marriage was in ruins before it even began.
Still though, the Henry and Anne had to tie knot! The wedding was set, Henry well versed in what to do and well…it would have been embarrassing not to.
So in 1540 Anne and Henry were married.
But the pair didn’t consummate the union.
Rumours soon spread that Anne didn’t actually know what sex was. She told her ladies that she had ‘laid’ with the King and thought she might be pregnant – despite openly acknowledging that the two had just kissed.
This is where the question comes in:
Was Anne smart or just super naive?
Look, cards on the table – yes it is likely that Anne wasn’t, er…as well versed in sexual conduct as she should have been.
She came from a strict and religious upbringing and it is very likely that her mum neglected to tell her about the birds and the bees as much as she should have done, especially considering her daughter was being shipped off to go make babies.
This aside though, I reckon Anne was pretty bloody on it!
Anne knew that her marriage was heading for the rocks. She understood that this was a very dangerous situation and that if not careful she would possibly be dead or ruined in a few months time.
So Anne played the game. She learnt from past players mistakes (she wouldn’t argue back or push for reform and change like Anne B and Catherine. Though she shared a lot of their personality traits (determined, spirited and vocal) Anne worked hard to play this down for the volatile King Henry.
During her short reign as Queen, Anne of Cleves implemented no major changes.
This will be the only time I ever say this, but…doing absolutely nothing was the best thing she could have done!
Being docile and impassive guaranteed her survival. Perhaps that’s not making any inspirational posters, but it’s true and it worked…
That’s not to say Anne didn’t occasionally show her true self. Once when discussing Henrys daughter Mary and her marriage prospects, Anne was (gasp) open and frank in her opinions.
This didn’t go down well and soon Henry was loudly complaining about Anne’s stubborn and wilful nature.
After this incident Anne made sure to double down on her docile rouse and soon She looked on track to escape this marriage with her head. Win! But that wasn’t the only thing she wanted.
Anne wanted independence
Anne hadn’t known independence before coming to England. She had been strictly under her Mum and brothers control.
She had thought that marrying the King of England would be the shot at independence that she had longed for…but instead she’d become a shadow of herself as she tried to appease a tyrannical super dick.
With this marriage coming to a close, Annes future was up in the air.
The English court was soon full of gossip, Would Henry find her anouther husband? Would she live the rest of her days as a nun? Perhaps she’d be sent back to her family?
Not on Anne’s watch! She had no intention of once more living under anyone else’s rule.
Anne was determined to finally be an independent woman.
Though she was expecting it, Anne was still devastated when she was told Henry wanted a divorce. There was a lot on the line and suddenly everything felt very real.
But she quickly regained composure and determined to not repeat Catherine of Aragons mistakes, Anne complied with all of Henrys wishes.
However she was resolute on staying in England. She had started to realise the full level of her disgrace should she return to Cleves and genuinely feared that her brother may kill her in retaliation for her failure as a wife.
Shit was very real and time was running out.
Henry demanded Anne send him her written agreement to his offer of a divorce. But Anne needed more time to think and make sure she was completely safe…so she refused Henry Vlll. Steadfast that she would only speak to the King in person.
It was a big gamble, but it paid off. The marriage was annulled (saving Anne from divorce and offering her a little bit of dignity) she also received a generous lifelong yearly pension and the new title of ‘Kings Sister’; her status at English court would be higher than any other lady.
With her place in English court locked down, Anne made one more brave decision.
She decided not to get married.
This was – to put it mildly – a fucking ballsy move.
In Tudor England an unmarried woman was a cause for pity, a divorced and unmarried woman was a cause for pity, scorn and a side of ‘what’s her problem?’
But Anne didn’t care what anyone thought, she wanted her independence. So she ignored the whispers and wore her new title of ‘kings sister’ with humor and grace.
She visited court regularly and became a popular and beloved figure. She was given land and property, where she set up a home for herself and spent the next 17 years living the life she chose.
Finally, Anne was free.
This was really interesting, how can I find out more?Now, I’ve never found a book on Anne that truly digs deep and does her the historic justice she deserves. But I live in hope, Josephine Wilkinson did an incredible -and waaaay overdue – book on Katherine Howard last year, so maybe one day we’ll get the Anne C book of our dreams.
Until that day, I’d suggest reading Six Wives by Alison Weir. It’s a great place to start getting more in depth looks at all of Henry Vllls wives.
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!
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.
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.
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’
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…
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.’
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”
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.
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.
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.
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!