4 Bad Ass Black Women Who Changed The World

Shirley Chisholm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Shirley refused to stop.

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

Hazel Scott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The film work soon dried up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The blow to her career was almost instant.

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

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

A week later The Hazel Scott Show was cancelled.

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

Flo Kennedy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Flo Kennedy and longtime cohort Gloria Steinem

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

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

Daisy Bates  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They went to school anyway.

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

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

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

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

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

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Daisy with members of the Little Rock Nine outside her home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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‘Catherine Howard was stupid’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She was a slut

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It didn’t work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dereham did not marry Catherine.

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

so I hear you say:

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

I mean have you seen her husband?

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Who wouldn’t, am i right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enter Thomas Culpepper.

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

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Yeah, it’s gonna go great!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Don’t worry it gets worse/more juicy

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

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

This -again- seems unlikely. 

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

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

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

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So many dramatic twists and turns

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

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

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

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

What it means to dress like a woman

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

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

Beauty is pain

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

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

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so so so very deadly

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

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

You are what you wear 

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

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

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

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

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The sex is in the heel

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

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

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

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Mistress of Charles ll, Hortense Mancini

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

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

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

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

6 crimes that scandalized Victorian England. Part 2

The Thames Torso Killer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Whitechapel again’

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

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

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

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

The Thames Torso Murders remains a mystery.

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

The tragic case of Eliza Fenning and the devilish dumplings  

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

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And it’s only slightly incredibly bleak- yay!

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

Aaaaaand onto the crime:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cover of Eliza Fennings case file

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

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

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Broadsheet of Eliza Fenning’s execution

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

6 true crimes that scandalised Victorian England. Part 1

Everyone loves a murder. It’s one of those indelible facts of life; everyone is born, everyone must die and everyone bloody loves a murder.

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Our murder obsession feels at its peak with podcasts like Serial now everywhere and documentaries on murderers and their victims littering our Netflix suggestions. But this is far from the first time that untimely and gruesome deaths fascinated people. We can date our love of murder back to…well literally always. It’s something that has just always fascinated people.

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Nobody was no more obsessed than the Victorians. They truly loved the macabre, it’s in this era that we see the boom in séances and horror fiction, not to mention the very Victorian after dinner activity of busting opening a sarcophagus to see what was inside (japes) but there was nothing they loved more than a good murder.

True crime Penny Dreadful’s like Famous Crimes luridly detailed present and past crimes and even Punch got in on the action, eagerly sinking its teeth into grisly foul play and ensuring that the crime, trial and often inevitable execution became national gossip.

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Without further ado here are some of the most sensational murders that gripped Victorian Britain 

1 . The Bermondsey Horror

In 1847 Swiss ladies maid Maria de Roux met Frederick George Manning. Now Manning was not exactly a catch, he had recently been fired from his job as a train guard following suspicion of theft and wasn’t the brightest BUT Manning told Maria he was due to inherit a small fortune from his mother and so the two were wed.

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Maria Manning

Frederick George Manning tried his hand as a pub landlord and failed almost immediately. After selling the pub the couple moved to much smaller lodgings in Bermondsey. This is when Maria found out Fredrick George had lied and there was no fortune. Sadly couples therapy wasn’t an option at the time, nor were quickie divorces – so the Mannings hatched a deadly plot to both save their marriage and ease their money troubles.

Patrick O’Connor had once proposed to Maria and though he was well off she had opted to marry Frederick George Manning knowing he would one day inherit a fortune. Obviously this had turned out to be a lie and Maria now realised she had made the wrong choice…yet she thought that Patrick O’Connor could still be the solution to her financial woes. On the 8th August 1849 Maria invited O’Connor to dinner. Before his arrival she bought a large shovel.

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When O’Connor arrived at the Mannings house, Maria sent him into the kitchen to wash his hands before eating. With his back turned to her, she shot him in the head. Frederick George Manning then came into the kitchen to find O’Connor half dead on the floor and he finished the job: “I never liked him, so I battered his head with a ripping chisel.”

Husband and Wife buried O’Connor and Maria went to the dead man’s house to start collecting his valuables.

Police soon began investigating O’Connor’s disappearance and their suspesions pointed to the Mannings. Realising they were cornered the couple planned to flee. Maria sent her husband to sell their furniture to raise funds for their life on the run. As soon as he had left the house she took everything of value and fled.

Frederick George returned to find his wife had double crossed him, but managed to escape just before the police reached the Manning residence where they quickly found O’Connors body covered in lime and buried under the kitchen floorboards.

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Maria and Frederick George fled to Edinburgh and Jersey respectively. They were both caught within days of each other; Maria after attempting to sell O’Connors belongings and Frederick George after his rampant drinking drew attention.

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for fucks sake

The couples trial was held at The Old Bailey in London on 25th Oct 1849 and it was a sensation. Maria was the subject of most of the attention, throughout the trial she was immaculately dressed, elegant and composed. However, this composure slipped once the jury read their verdict; guilty. Maria stood and screamed at the court: ‘You have treated me like a wild beast of the forest.’

Husband and Wife were both sentenced to be hung. This most rare of executions (a woman and the first married couple to be hung together in over a hundred years!) created further fever. A cottage industry was soon set up, with lodgings and horse and cart owners selling standing room tickets to the hanging and at least 2.6 million broadsides (Victorian one sheet newspapers) dedicated to the execution being sold.

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On the day of the Mannings execution a crowd of between 30,000 and 50,000 gathered to watch the pair be hung- the biggest crowd ever assembled at an execution in Britain. There was much gossip prior to the hanging as to whether the couple would reconcile on the scaffold and more importantly just what Maria Manning would wear to her execution (times really have not changed…). Fashion lovers were not disappointed and Maria ascended the scaffold “beautifully dressed, every part of her noble figure finely and fully expressed by close fitting black satin”. Maria and Frederick were then hung side by side.

Frederick George Manning and Marie Manning

Yet they lived on. Those who had not been able to witness their execution were still able to see the Mannings in waxwork form, with Madame Tussaud’s promising a recreation of the Mannings kitchen (complete with O’Connor under the floorboards!) and a waxwork’s in Manchester advertising its Manning’s-a-likes as able to amuse, delight and highly instruct’.

Maria Manning went on to inspire in the world of literature, most notably Charles Dickins, who having been at her execution became fascinated by the scandalous black satin clad woman and created a character in her likeness, Mademoiselle Hortense (both a lady’s maid and murderer) in his next book, Bleak House.

 

2. Sweet FA

In at number 2 its child murder! (Don’t say I don’t do anything for you- also in advance, sorry this one is pretty bleak)

On the 24th August 1867 Fanny Adams , her younger sister Minnie and a friend left their house to go for a walk. The group were approached by a smartly dressed man in a black coat who offered Minnie and their friend money to leave and go get sweets, which they did. The man then offered Fanny a half-penny if she would accompany him to ‘The Hollow’, she refused and he picked her up and took her anyway.

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Fanny Adams

Several hours later Minnie returned home without Fanny and told their mother about the meeting with the man in the black coat. Worried Mrs Adams, went to look for Fanny with the help of a neighbor, Mrs Gardiner.

Whilst searching they saw a man in a black coat walking back to the village from the direction of The Hollow. Mrs Gardiner accosted him and demanded to know what he had done with Fanny, the man shrugged off her claims “Nothing, I gave the girls money, but only to buy sweets which I often do to children.” The two women remained unconvinced, but then the man told them that he was the clerk to a local solicitor, William Clement, deciding him to be respectable the women let him walk away.

A search party was formed, and they quickly came across Fanny’s remains. Her head was found stuck up on two poles, the eyes missing. It would take several days to find the rest of the body which was dismembered and scattered nearby, her eyes were later found in a nearby river (I said this was bleak…).

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Please Victorian newspapers, don’t feel like you should hold back…

That same night an investigation into the murder was launched and the obvious prime suspect Frederick Baker, Clerk to William Clement, was immediately arrested. Baker claimed his innocence, despite his clothes being bloodstained and being found carrying two bloody knives.

Evidence mounted. The entry in Baker’s dairy for the 24th August read: killed a young girl. It was fine and hot’. Bakers colleagues said that he was missing between 1pm-3pm (the time of Fanny’s disappearance) and left the offices again at 5pm (when he met Mrs Adams and Mrs Gardiner) returning at 6pm when he then mentioned the meeting with the two women and commented that if Fanny’s body were to be found it would be ‘awkward for him’ (truly a master criminal)

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The police feared that the local community would attempt to lynch Baker and his initial hearing and trial were carried out at top speed, with his trial starting at Alton Town Hall on Thursday 29th August, just days after the murder.

The judge urged the jury to take into account Baker’s poor mental health and consider Baker irresponsible for his action through reason of insanity- but the jury took just 15 minutes to convict him, Guilty. The judge had no choice but to carry out a sentence of death.

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Prior to his execution on Christmas Eve 1867, Baker wrote to the parents of Fanny Adams and asked for their forgiveness of his crimes that he had committed at: “an unguarded hour and not with malice or a forethought”

The murder of Fanny Adams resonated throughout the country, with the grotesque illustration and write ups of the murder featured across newspaper and broadsides. The murder would also become the subject of many a folk songs and ballad.

Then in 1869 the British Navy introduced a new ration, mutton in a tin. The food stuff was hardly appetizing and sailors started a running joke that the mutton was actually the remains of ‘sweet Fanny Adams’ (truly the height of humor…). These joke continued and soon the contents of the tin became to be known as ‘sweet FA’ this trickled into popular parlance and still today people say ‘sweet FA’ as another term for ‘nothing’. Nice.

I’m sorry, but I did say this one was bleak!

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Part 2 coming very soon, hopefully less child murder…

Contagious Diseases Act – The most vital chapter in women’s history you’ve never heard of

 

The Contagious Diseases Act (here by shortened to the CD Acts because as important as it is…it’s one hell of a mouthful) came about in part due to the rapid rise of prostitution in Victorian England. Prostitution was the fourth largest occupation for working women* and it grew along with the boom of the British Empire.

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This bombastic empire expansion led to thriving new trading routes and soon British sailors were bringing home ships chock full of tea, textiles and Venereal Disease. Yup you have to take the bad with the good and one of the prices for this exciting new empire? An exciting new STI! Sailors picked up VD from their travels and then spread it back in Britain when they arrived home after a long time at sea and in need of some company…

The disease spread quickly and became an epidemic. Parliament needed to do something to control the situation and fast! So in 1864 they covertly passed The Contagious Disease Bill.

The bill allowed for any person suspected of being a ‘common prostitute’ to be forced into submitting to an internal genital exam by a male doctor.

The law only pertained to women.

The examination was humiliating and painful. It would later be described as ‘surgical rape’. Countless female sex workers found themselves subject to this ordeal.

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The situation was further worsened as there didn’t need to be any evidence for a woman to be accused and therefore internally examined. This resulted in many women who were not sex workers having to undergo the examination- with both the accusation and their examination now public knowledge these women found their reputations destroyed – they became ‘ruined women’ and their chances for a hopeful future were vastly diminished.

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Parliament renewed the CD Acts in 1866 and again in 1869. Increasing the penalty for not submitting to a genital exam to 3-6 months in prison with the possibility of hard labour. This was later raised to 6-9 months to help the women ‘become clean’.

Throughout the acts frequent revisions hardly any of the public knew about it – though it effected 50% of the population, it remained a secret. That was all about to change.

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Elizabeth Wolstenholme

In 1869 a meeting about the bill was held Bristol’s Royal Hotel. At this meeting was Woman’s Suffrage Campaigner, Elizabeth Wolstenholme. She was shocked to hear about the CD acts, which had now been in effect for almost 5 years.

Elizabeth saw the CD acts as a violation of woman’s rights and made it her mission to raise public awareness. After leaving the meeting Elizabeth contacted her friend Josephine Butler and asked for her help. Butler was a social reformer and women’s rights campaigner who had previous experience working with and campaigning for the rights of women working as prostitutes.

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Josephine Butler

Butler and Wolstenholme toured the country giving speeches about the act- to say this is shocking would be a huge understatement, a woman talking openly in public about sex in the Victorian era was shocking and seen as deeply concerning. Yet the speeches worked. The women sparked something and people started talking and when people started talking they became outraged.

Soon Butler and Wolstenholme formed the Ladies National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts (LNA for short) and in doing so arguably became two of the first publically known feminists. Though women before them had previously fought against slavery and war, this was the first time in British history that women were fighting for all women’s rights and women’s sexual rights at that.

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In 1869 the fledgling LNA published a petition with 124 signatures calling for a repeal of the CD acts. Two years later in 1871 they produced another petition calling for the repeal – when it was handed in to The House of Commons it had to be laid on the floor as there was not a table that was large enough to hold it. Groundbreaking doesn’t even cover it.

The LNA worked tirelessly over many years to end the CD acts, but that wasn’t all Butler and Wolstenholme did – in fact from the start of The Contagious Diseases Act to its end both women did an extraordinary amount:

  • 1865 – Elizabeth Wolstenholme along with 11 other women formed the Kensington Society, a discussion group which would lead to the birth of the suffrage movement in Britain.
  • 1867 – Josephine Butler becomes chair of The North of England Council for the Higher Education of Women. A council both women work on.
  • 1868 – Both Butler and Wolstenholme join the Married Women’s Property Committee which sought to allow wives the right to buy, own and sell property.
  • 1875 – Butler tours Europe, giving speeches about sexual rights for women. This creates the International Abolitionist Movement, a group whose aim was to prevent international trafficking and stop state regulation of the sex trade.
  • 1882 – Married Women’s Property Act allows married women to retain property following campaigning by both Butler and Wolstenholme.
  • 1885 – Josephine Butler succeeded in campaigning for the age of consent to be raised from 13-16, helping to lower the rate of child prostitution.
  • 1886 – Wolstenholme’s campaign to improve women’s right to custody following divorce succeeds with the Guardianship of Infants Act

In 1886 The Contagious Diseases Act is finally repealed.

 

*Though a reliable estimate of the actual amount of women working in this field does not exist, we can see that throughout the 1840’s and 50’s the number of women working in prostitution was rapidly growing.

The Princess in the tower, and the skeleton under the floorboards

The excellently named Sophia Dorothea was born in 1666 the only child of the Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, who ruled the Celle portion of the Duchy of Brunswick. Sophia’s mother was the Dukes long standing mistress Éléonore Marie d’Esmier d’Olbreuse, who he quickly married after Sophia’s birth.

It was a scandalous start to a life that would see Royal coverups, affairs and murder. With Sophia cementing her place in history as England’s lost Queen.

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A miniature of Sophia Dorothea

By the time Sophia reached marrying age she was something of a certified beauty, skilled at a whole host of ‘womanly pursuits’ (i.e music and sewing…) and was funny and smart to boot. Girl was a catch!

Sadly for Sophia, she had no say in who she married. So rather than marrying any of the eligiable suitors who she might have lived happily ever after with, she had to go with her parents first choice -her first cousin George Ludwig.

In addition to being her cousin, George was THE WORST. Rude, loud, and aggressive but not too smart, George was notoriously quick to anger. He was also vindictive and obnoxious.

The only thing going for George was the fact that he was heir to Hanover.

A marriage between George and Sophia would mean that George’s family would rule both Hanover and Celle. So despite the fact that Georges family hated Sophia (due to her low birth) all parties involved were for the marriage.

Well, apart from Sophia. Who when told about the engagement, promptly threw Georges portrait across the room.

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To be fair to Sophia, look at George…wouldnt you want to chuck his portrait?

The marriage, unsurprisingly, didn’t get off to a good start.

Sophia struggled to fit into her new world. Not helped by her new mother in law who constantly called Sophia out and bitching about her with the court.

Sophia’s new husband was not any better (like you were expecting him to be…) he was stand off-ish and spent very little time with his new wife, going away whenever he could.

He also created a network of spies so he could know what Sophia was doing at all times – which is super normal and healthy.

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By the way, this kind of behaviour is a HUGE red flag and sign to get the fuck out

Yet, somehow the pair had not one but two babies, with George (who later became King George ll of England) both in 1683 and Sophia (later, Queen of Prussia) in 1687. With an heir and a spare in the bag, George saw his job as over.

So George started having very public affairs, notably with two women nicknamed The Beanpole and The Elephant.

To add to this, George was physically abusive towards Sophia.  He would beat her in public and on one occasion nearly strangled her, an act of violence that was witnessed by a room full of people.

That was just what George did it public. We don’t know what went on behind closed doors, but we can imagine.

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Sophia with her children

Neglected and isolated, Sophia found solace in an old friend. Swedish Count, Philipp Christoph von Königsmark (try saying that 5 times fast).

The pair had had met in Sophia’s homeland just before her marriage to George. Whilst Sophia had gone to Hanover, Phillip traveled to England, becoming a favourite in the court of Charles ll and creating something of a Casanova like persona – bedding countless countesses (and the odd Duchess).

The rekindled friendship with Phillip was a life line for Sophia. She started to become healthier and happier, something that was noted by Hanovers courtiers. Though they knew George wouldn’t approve of the friendship, the court did. Sophia was overdue some happiness.

But then Philipp and Sophia became more than friends.

The pair were spotted writing each other love messages on the palace windows, and exchanging romantic letters; one notable line from Philipp is:

“I embrace your knees”

This was a very dangerous game. But the pair continued and by 1690 things had gotten serious. With the couple spending as much time together as possible, and using codes and confidantes to communicate when apart.

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Philipp Christoph von Konigsmark

In 1692, George’s Dad, the King of Hanover, was shown the couples love letters. Angry, he promptly sent Philipp away to fight with the Hanoverian army – with any leave request turned down.

But Philipp was not that easily deterred. He abandoned the army and rode to be with Sophia.

At this point, George found out about the affair. He confronted Sophia and shouting quickly escalated into violence. Sophia only survived the encounter thanks to servants who pulled George off her

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George- Future King and notorious dick

Following this terrifying meeting with her husband, Sophia and Philipp hatched a plan to escape Hanover together and elope.

BUT the plan was quickly foiled – word got round to George and his Dad and the lovers plans were put to an abrupt stop.

Philipp was ambushed, and in an attack that would later be covered up, he was murdered.

Several court insiders would admit on their deathbeds to being involved in the death, but none would say how Philipp died or where his body lay.

Popular legend said Philipp’s body was covered in quicklime and buried under the still bloody floorboards of the castle

Hysterical, Sophia was held under house arrest in her rooms.

George managed to divorce Sophia and she was found guilty of malicious desertion.

Then George ordered that his wive be locked away in Castle Ahlden. Her right to see her children was cut and the only visitor permitted was to be her mother.

Sophia remained captive, locked away in her castle, for 30 years. Until she died in 1726.

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But what happened to George? Well George went on and became King of Great Britain and Ireland- King George l, the first of the Hanoverian line.

When he arrived in England he turned up speaking very little English and with his two loyal mistresses in tow- The Beanpole and The Elephant. But rumours of his ill fated wife and her lover continued to swirl. Dogging George until still his dying day.

3 Important Witch Trials In History (that you’ve never heard of)

Superstition made living in Europe around 1560 – 1630 very dangerous for any woman that bucked the norm. Panic was wide spreads and things soon escalated from accusation to execution.

The Berwick witches!

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Now this was far from the first witch trial in England- but it was the catalyst for things being particularly burney during the reign of King James l.

In 1590 King James and his new wife Anne of Denmark, were sailing home from their wedding in Denmark to James home in Scotland; when their ship was hit by a terrific storm – though the couple was fine, rumors soon flared up that the storm had been the work of witches determined to murder the newlyweds.

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Accusations spread across England, Wales, Denmark and Scotland; with nearly 100 women  in Berwick being accused of forming a coven and bringing about the storm.

Fun fact – in Scotland it was completely legal to torture witches; this little legal loop hole unsurprisingly led to some pretty lurid confessions from the Berwick ‘witches’, including one Agnes Sampson.

Agnes was a healer and midwife for the community and despite sounding like an all around good egg; the elderly woman was accused of being the lead witch in the plot to sink the Kings ship. She was questioned and tortured in front of the King at Holyrod Palace. Initially Agnes pleaded her innocence, but after she was stripped, shaved and beaten…she admitted her guilt.

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It had all started so well…

Agnes said that the witches had been called to action by Francis Stewart, 5th Lord of Bothwell (who had a claim to the throne so long as James remained heirless). To cast the spell that set forth the storm, the witches had gathered in church yards to kiss the devils ‘backside’. They had dug up graves to secure fingers for spells, and in one instance, stolen a cat, christened it, tied male genitals to the cats legs, sailed out to sea, and tossed the poor kitty into the sea (which sounds totally legit)

Agnes was executed, along with other accused witches in Scotland and Denmark.

Following the trials, James wrote and published a pamphlet which scandalously detailed the events of the trial; and in no small way helped to create the panic surrounding witchcraft that would see thousands of innocent people executed.

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James l – in no way remembered as a notorious dick

 

The Fulda witch trials

It wasn’t just England who got a little…heated (sorry) over witches. Germany also got involved in the epidemic (after all they are the home of fairy tales!) and my God did the Germans go all in.

The Fulda witch trials took place over 3 years between 1603-1606 and saw over 200 people executed. It was one of the worst and most large scale of the witch trails in Europe during this era.

The trials were triggered by the return to power of Prince-abbot Balthasar Von Dernbach, following 20 years in exile.

Now though he had an amazing name, the good Prince was a bit of a massive dick. Upon coming home he ordered a witch-hunt to cleanse the area (as you do). You see whilst the Prince had been in exile, Fulda had enjoyed a period of relative religous liberalism, and the good Prince was not down with this. So naturally he figured a witch hunt was the best way to ‘cleanse’ Fulda. Nice guy.

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The excessive gilding tells you that this man will in no way be remembered as a notorious dick

The most high profile the Prince’s 200 odd victims was Merga Bein.

Merga had been married twice before, but she was independently wealthy herself; the now heir to her two previous husband’s fortunes. This factor seems likely to have played a pretty hefty part in her being ‘cleansed’ by the Prince.

Merga was one of the first arrested. She was accused of being in cahoots with the Devil, of having murdered her second husband and their children and of having taken part in the Sabbath of Satan. Merga was sentenced to be burned at the stake.

However her husband argued that executing her was illegal as she was pregnant. No matter for the good Prince though, he just claimed that the child was clearly the Devils- and so Merga along with over 200 others was executed.

The executions only stopped after the good Prince died. I’m sure all of Fulda was devastated…

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3. Hag Riding

Witch trials were still going on in the 19th century, though less common place. Kind of awesomely though, they tended to be prosecuting the accusers!

In 1875 the town of Weston Super Mare housed one of these trails- which concerned the fantastically named practice of hag riding.

Hag riding was essentially, ‘sleep paralysis’. Much of these claims were just nightmares, but in Weston Super Mare, the claimant was was stabbed in the face and hand as a defense against the dreams.

Hester Adams accused neighbor, Maria Pring of appearing in her dreams to terrify her for over two years, Hester claimed that she lived in fear of Maria (an early adopter of Freddy Krueger based high jinks)

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But Hester was an early adopter of, er…knives? (sorry) She decided that the only way to stop the dreams was to draw Maria’s blood… because logic. The elderly woman stabbed Maria in the face and hand, which put a stop to the dreams (again- logic)

Though understandably confused by the case bought to them, the magistrates erred on the side sanity (ish) and ordered that Hester give Maria a shilling and agree to keep the peace (and try really hard to not stab her neighbours anymore).

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Thats just 3 notable witch trails that you might not know- or if you do, you might not know that much about.

You see *gets on soap box* the problem with witch trials is that its hard for us to ever know much about the people who were accused. We can only ever have half of the story- because 99.9% of the time we don’t know anything about the people who were accused – these were people who were often poor and lived on the fringes of society, they were easy victims. Often the only direct information we have from them is their confession- which was false and 9 time out of 10 obtained through torture – not great.

It’s important to try and seen the humanity behind the horror.

OK *gets off soap box* sorry about that

Bonus Wicked as way of apology:

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Go get her, she’s Wicked

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