The Trial and Execution of Mary Queen of Scots

By 1586 Mary Queen of Scots had been imprisoned by her cousin, Elizabeth I for almost two decades.

She’d lost her throne in 1657, having been forced to abdicate in favour of her baby. Then after fleeing Scotland for safety in England she’d been (at least in her mind) royally screwed over. Instead of helping Mary regain the Scottish throne, Elizabeth had her locked up.

Mary was a serious threat to Elizabeth’s rule. Viewed by Catholics as the true catholic ruler of England, there was many a plot to bump off Elizabeth and put Mary on the throne.

Thus, Mary was imprisoned. Spending year after year being dragged around England to be locked up in its various castles.

So you can see why, approaching her 20th year of imprisonment, Mary eagerly took part in plot to assassinate Elizabeth.

Enter, The Babington Plot. Put together by young nobleman, Anthony Babington and priest, John Ballard (along with other conspirators) the plot was an incredibly convoluted scheme to:

  • Start a Spanish invasion
  • Kill Elizabeth I
  • Put Mary on the throne
  • Return England to Catholicism

Whilst locked away, Mary advised the plotters, both in terms of strategy and how to ensure she’d win the English throne. And naturally as the ‘rightful’ ruler of England Mary would be the one to sign off on the plot starting. Which she did, in July 1586.

Unfortunately for Mary, the plot had been infiltrated and Elizabeth I’s own spy master, Sir Francis Walsingham had been using the letters to entrap Mary and get her to call for Elizabeth’s murder. Which by signing off for the plot to go ahead, she’d done.

Everyone involved with The Babington Plot, including Mary, was duly arrested.

The Babington Plot postscript and its secret cypher

In September 1586 the first of the conspirators were executed, including ringleaders John Ballard and Anthony Babington. Onlookers said that by the time he arrived at the execution site, John Ballards limbs were barely in their sockets, as a result of the torture he’d undergone.

One at a time, the men were hung drawn and quartered. Forced to watch their fellows dismemberment before their own death. The executions were so brutal that a public outcry meant the other conspirators were just ‘hung until they were quite dead’ before being dismembered.

With that bloodbath over, the attention turned to Mary. What could be done with the traitorous Queen?

The idea of executing a Queen was very possible. After all, Elizabeth’s own mother, Anne Boleyn had been beheaded. But this wasn’t a outcome that Mary entertained.

In her mind she had been anointed by god to reign. That was something holy and untouchable. There was no law in the land that could hold jurisdiction over her, the only judgement she was accountable to was God’s.

However it quickly became apparent that it wasn’t God’s holy anointed Mary going on trial for treason, but (as the royal warrant for the trial put it) Mary, a mere woman who was:

‘Pretending title to this crown of this realm of England’

Mary’s trial hearing started on 14 October 1586. Though it operated as less of a trial and more of a really long argument between Mary and those convicting her.

To say Mary would have made an excellent lawyer would be an understatement. She rallied hard, with a stream of well thought out and articulated arguments. Always ready with something to fight the prosecutions threats and refusals to acknowledge her words.

Mary’s arguments included:

  • That she wasn’t an English subject and therefore couldn’t be held as an English traitor
  • She’d been denied legal counsel or the right to view evidence being bought against her
  • Did she mention, she was a Queen. Anointed by God. It would literally be a sin to kill her.

After Mary’s hearing was finished, the trial was adjourned to The Star Chamber, leaving Mary at Forgeringay Castle. Then on 25 October, the trial was completed…without anyone telling Mary.

The trials commissioners found Mary guilty of treason. And together with Parliament they urged Elizabeth to execute Mary as quickly as humanly possible.

BUT Elizabeth didn’t want to execute Mary.

Though there’d been a lot of bad blood between the pair of Queens, there had also been a kind of respect. They were so similar in so many ways. Cousins thrust into positions of power considered above their gender. No matter how begrudging, there was a bond there.

After Mary’s second husband, Lord Darnley died in an incredibly suspicious explosion, Elizabeth wrote to Mary, urging her to distance herself from the scandalous tragedy, as:

‘I treat you as my daughter, and assure you that if I had one, I could wish for her nothing better than I desire for you.”

But even more than the bond Elizabeth shared with Mary, she didn’t want to execute her because it set a deadly precedent. To lawfully kill a sovereign.

Elizabeth had hoped she’d be able to pardon her cousin. That Mary would beg for forgiveness. But none of that happened.

As pressure mounted from her councillors and parliament, Elizabeth had no choices left. On 1 February 1587 she signed Mary’s death warrant.

Elizabeth’s signature of Mary’s death warrant

With the warrant signed, Elizabeth’s councillors decided to carry out the execution immediately – without telling Elizabeth.

On the evening of 7 February, Mary was visited at her prison of Fotheringhay Castle and told she was to die the next morning.

Her last hours were spent both in prayer and sorting out her affairs. Sleeping would be near impossible, thanks to the incessant loud hammering as the execution scaffold was hastily erected.

Early on the morning of 8 February, Mary serenely entered the castles great hall to face the scaffold. And after that everything turned into a shit show.

Mary bids her servants farewell in a 19th century re-imagining (which explains the sheer drama here)

To kick things off, Mary was curtly informed that she was to go to her death alone. This was a shock.

Traditionally women of Mary’s status were allowed their ladies around them on the scaffold. They not only gave one last herald of the condemneds status. But, perhaps more importantly, the women provided comfort before the ax fell and then shielded the broken body. Offering dignity in death by not subjecting the woman to being stripped by men for burial.

To be rejected this right at the last minute was a huge blow.

Though she maintained a calm exterior, Mary begged to be allowed her ladies. She was rejected, but refused to give up. Pleading for this, her final right.

Eventually the councillors gave in. On condition that Mary’s ladies didn’t loudly weep, wail, or generally erupt into female hysteria.

And so Mary climbed the stairs of the scaffold, her ladies in tow.

As Mary waited for the death sentence to be read out, a man burst forth from the crowd. Dr Fletcher, The Protestant Dean of Peterborough proclaimed that it wasn’t too late for Mary to save her soul and convert from Catholicism to the Protestant faith.

Mary ignored his loud protestations and prayers, until eventually breaking and saying:

‘Mr. Dean, trouble not yourself any more, for I am settled and resolved in this my religion, and am purposed therein to die.’

In response, the Dean fell to his knees on the scaffolds stairs and started loudly praying at her. Mary politely turned away and began her own prayers.

Despite the Deans complete inability to read a room, Mary finished her prayers. With this over she stood, readying herself for this final act of ceremony.

She paid the executioner, forgiving him in advance for what he was about to do. Then Mary’s ladies helped her remove her black gown. Revealing a red petticoat with deep crimson sleeves.

This colour wasn’t a a random choice, but the red of catholic martyrdom. Mary was making a clear statement – she was anointed by God, to kill her was a sin and in death she would become a holy martyr.

The execution of Mary Queen of Scots, artist unknown

The wordless statement from Mary’s blood red petticoat rang throughout the great hall. Even as Mary was blindfolded, laid her head on the block and stretched her arms wide to signal the executioners axe.

The first blow hit the back of her head.

Accounts vary on if Mary cried out from the pain or remained silent. However as this was a chop wound (a mix of sharp force and blunt force trauma) its most likely that Mary felt excruciating pain for a few seconds, before losing consciousness.

The axes second blow hit her neck, severing it almost entirely. With one third chop needed to separate Mary’s head from her body.

The executioner then picked Mary’s head up by the hair, held it forth to the crowd and proclaimed

‘God save the Queen’

At which point, he lost grip on the head as Mary’s wig fell off, revealing her greying hair (something people were shocked about, despite the fact she was 44 and they’d just witnessed her bloody execution)

And with that macabre farce, the story of Mary Queen of Scots came to an end.

A 1791 deception of Mary Queen of Scots burial

This was interesting! Where can I find out more? Choosing just one book on Mary Queen of Scots is impossible, so here are some of my favourites:

When Cromwell Made Christmas Illegal!

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.

You’re a mean one Mr Cromwell

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!

These god damn badasses…

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

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

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

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This guy – even the cherubs are rolling their eyes

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

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

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

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

But why?

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

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Real footage of the Georgian court  via giphy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Freds gonna be such a good Dad…  via giphy

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

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

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

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

It was go time!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Giving birth to girls. not cool. via giphy

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

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

‘poor, ugly little she-mouse’

 

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

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

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

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

Anne of Cleves so much more than the ‘ugly’ one

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)

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Seriously though, this bitch is so underrated!

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 Vll.jpg

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!

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Hooray! Anything had to be better than Anne’s family…right……right?

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….bad gif.gif

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.

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yeah…so not exactly ideal…

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.

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portrait possibly of Anne of Cleves

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…

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Remember kids, don’t do anything and you probably won’t get beheaded!

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.

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shame on you if you’re not singing along

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.

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This is either really smart or reeeeeeally dumb

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. happy tears gif.gif

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.

 

The Daily Mail vs Women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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1909 Daily Mail cartoon – stay classy Mail!

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

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

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

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

And so they didn’t.

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I get it. I do. But still…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Cardinal_Mazarin
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.

money
-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.

what the dick?
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.

boo.gif
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.

marie-and-hortense-mancini-2.jpg
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.

fuck
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.

hortensemancinijacobferdinandvoet1675
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…

oh snap.gif
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.

crying

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.

dog.gif
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.

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