Sex, Power & the French Revolution: The scandalous life of Madame Du Barry

A cheap whore that got lucky; that’s the general historic consensus on Jeanne Bécu, more commonly known as Madame Du Barry. The rival of Marie Antoinette, scandalous mistress of Louis XV and joke of the French Revolution.

But I’d argue that there is WAY more to this lady than history has warranted her. 

The tale of Madame Du Barry verges on unbelievable. This is a story jam packed with love, sex and an EXTRODINARY  leading lady – oh, and at the end the entire cast is beheaded…

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Go on….

Jeanne Bécu was quite literally born into scandal. The illegitimate daughter of a seamstress, she was the result of a remoured (a quickly covered up) love affair with a local friar.

Yet despite her salacious start in life, Jeanne had a priveledged upbringing.

Her mother worked for an incredibly wealthy and powerful man, who just happened to be her former lover. This worked in favour of the precocious young Jeanne and she became an unofficial part of the household. Doted on by the staff, her  mother’s boss and even his mistress.

But this lush life came to a sudden end when Jeannes Mum married. The days of being showered with attention and gifts were over. And the family moved away from the household that had so adored Jeanne.

Soon money became more of an issue and Jeanne was shipped off to a convent.

Unsurprisngly this was not an environment that suited the fun loving and feisty Jeanne.

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Convents, not the natural home for teenage sass…

So as soon as she could Jeanne left the convent. And at just 15, Jeanne was making a living on the streets of Paris.

She worked selling low grade trinkets in the cities dingy side streets. In addition to a string of other short lived jobs and even shorter lived affairs…

Just surviving day to day was a struggle, but Jeanne still remembered her small taste of oppulance. She was determined to get that life back and was more than happy to work her arse off to get it.

Her endless jobs, hard work and good looks, caught peoples attention. Soon the back streets of Paris were abuzz about the beautiful and charismatic Jeanne.

A young Jeanne by François-Hubert Drouais
A young Jeanne by François-Hubert Drouais

Jean-Baptiste du Barry, had heard all about Jeannes beauty and he decided he wanted her on his books.

A ‘procurer’ of high class mistresses (read, Pimp) Du Barry thought Jeanne would be his crowning jewel and was desperate for her to join his merry band of mistresses.

Jeanne was totally down with this!

Becoming a mistress to the Parisian elite would allow Jeanne to get out of the gutter, maintain much of her independence, AND earn more money than she could dream of.

Finally Jeannes’ ship had come in… even if it was driven by Captain Creep.

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An accurate representation of Jean-Baptiste du Barry

Despite Captain Creep being at the wheel, Jeanne took Paris by storm. Becoming the mistress to political power players and influential courtiers.

She was the IT girl and everyone wanted a piece of her…including The King of France.

Jeanne had caught the Kings eye during a quick trip to Versailles (to see one of her many lovers) and upon meeting her King Louis XV was immediately entranced.

The king announced he wanted Jeanne as his main mistress. 

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The King in question, Louis XV

Slight snag; only titled, married, noble women could become the Kings mistress and Jeanne was a girl from the back streets of Paris with no ounce of noble blood…

But no matter! This was love!!

And so in a very real Cinderella story, the Kings men searched all the brothels of Paris, for the creep that could make their dreams come true.

And they found him!

Jeanne was married to her former pimp, Jean-Baptiste du Barry’s brother. He was then promptly paid to fuck off, making Jeanne just technically married.

The King then invented a fictional noble lineage for Jeanne, before transforming her old clothes into a fabulous gown and lavishing her with one of the most ornate wigs French court had ever seen.

Jeanne was now Madame Du Barry, and she was ready for her official debut as royal mistress extraordinaire.

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I’m shocked Disney has not made this yet!!!

Sadly the French Court didn’t get the whole ‘Cinderella story’ memo.

To them Jeanne was a ‘whore’. Sure she’d been cleaned up, but she was nothing more than a cheap guttersnipe who got lucky.

Women literally had to be bribed to become friends with Jeanne.

Those that didn’t ‘befriend’ Jeanne, remained irate that this strumpet had been chosen as mistress over noble born ladies. And so, in true OTT mean girls spirit, they started spreading rumour and gossip filled pamphlets about Jeanne across court.

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Who knew Mean Girls was inspired by Versailles?!

Almost as soon as she arrived at court, Jeanne had everyone around her actively pushing for her failure.

But she didn’t buckle. Instead Jeanne did what she always did. Worked.

Taking up classes in manners and etiquette, to help own her new role.

Not only that but just to prove that she was more than the cheap gold digger she was painted as, Jeannes first favour from the King wasn’t a request for money, political power or jewels…it was for mercy.

Infact, Jeanne became known for saving people from execution; falling to her knees and refusing to get up until the King agreed to spare lives.

She notably saved a debt ridden couple from beheading and a young women who was due to be hung after not reporting her still born child as dead.

Things were looking up for Jeanne,as she started cementing her place in court.

And then Marie Antionette turned up.

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In 1770 Marie Antionette married the Kings grandson (and heir).  joining the French Court.

Upon seeing Jeanne, Marie asked what she did and was told that Jeanne gave the King ‘pleasure.’

To which Marie Antionette said:

‘Oh, then I shall be her rival, because I too wish to give pleasure to the King.”

Yeah… Marie Antionette was very green.

But sadly if Jeanne thought that sweet (and VERY naive) Marie was going to be her first real friend at Court, she was all kinds of wrong.

She had in fact just met her very own Regina George (in sheeps clothing)

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This bitch..

When Marie Antoinette discovered what Jeannes job actually was, she was disgusted. Feeling that Jeannes mere presence was degrading.

BUT Marie’s hatred of Jeanne wasn’t just down to properiety.

Marie Antoinette was just weeks into her marriage, but she was still struggling to have sex with her new husband. Infact the pair hadn’t even consummated the damn thing!

Now this openly sexual woman was being thrust in her face constantly.

That’s not the basis for a lasting living friendship.

And so, egged on by the court, Marie Antoinette did what any young woman does when faced with someone they hate….

she froze the bitch out.

Marie Antoinette and her entourage indulged in long bitch sessions about Jeanne and developed a fun habit of throwing lavish parties…where Marie just accidentally always forgot to invite the Kings Mistress.

Not only that but Marie Antoinette refused to acknowledge Jeanne in public.

Now this wasn’t like the parties and snide comments. This was a HUGE deal. For Marie to not acknowledge the Kings mistress broke all kinds of court etiquette and appeared to send a message that she was questioning the Kings decision making.

It’s the historic equivalent of you striding across the office, punching your bosses PA in the face, flipping their desk and calling them a bitch.

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Big no no!

But it wasn’t just Marie going after Jeanne. Shots had been fired by both sides in this battle.

Jeanne orchestrated the removal of one of Marie Antoinette favourite courtiers. She also loved nothing more than openly and loudly talking about Marie Antoinettes bedroom issues with her new husband.

BUT Marie Antoinette icing out Jeanne had taken things to far… it had gone from a mutual dislike to an actual threat to Austrian French relation. This fued had to end!

So on New Years Day 1772, Marie Antoinette ended the fight in style.

She cooly walked over to Jeanne in one of Versailles packer corridors. Waiting until she had everyone’s attention, Marie stared Jeanne down and said

“There are a lot of people today at Versailles”  

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The weirdly polite shade of it all!

With the feud between Marie Antoinette and Jeanne now at an end, you’d be forgiven for thinking things would chill out for Jeanne.

Nope!

In April 1774 King Louis XV caught Smallpox.

By May he was dead.

Marie Antoinette and her husband were now ruling France…and with Jeannes’ rival now Queen, that could only mean one thing.

Jeanne was out on her arse. 

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Madame Du Barry, by Elisabeth Vigée LeBrun

Just like that, Jeanne was once more sent to a convent.

But she didn’t stay there for long. Jeannes’ mistress-ing work had paid off and she could afford to buy herself an amazing house out in the country. Out of the way of Marie Antionette but still the lap of luxury, it was perfect.

So there Jeanne lived. Hosting salons for Frances best artists, doing charity work in her local area and taking as many lovers as she wanted,

But we all know that this story can’t end in pastoral bliss. Why?

THE FRENCH REVOLUTION! 

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‘Do you hear the people sing, singing this won’t end well’

By the 1790s, the revolution was in full swing. Many of the courtiers that Jeanne knew, had already met with the Guillotine and so she was doing her best to keep a low profile out in the country.

But then in 1791, Jeanne had her jewels stolen in the night.

Desperate to get them back she launched an investigation. Traveling between France and London to look for them.

King Louis XVs mistress running around Europe on a hunt for her missing jewels soon caught attention…and not the right kind.

It turns out the French Revolution is not the climate in which to become a bougie Carmen Sandiego. The people were calling out for Jeannes blood.

In 1793 she was arrested and on the 7th Dec that year, Jeanne was sentenced to death. Madame du barry.jpg

Jeanne was an emotional wreck (to be fair, wouldn’t you be!?!) she was to die the next day and had no clue how to get out of it.

But then she had an idea!

In the morning, when guards arrived to cut off Jeannes hair -in preparation for her execution-she calmly told them that she wanted just a few hours grace, so she could tell the Revolutionaries where a load of her valuable jewels were.

Surely these stupidly expensive jewels would result in her freedom.

So Jeanne spent hours informing the guards of where all her hidden gems were.

After she finished the guards left….and the hairdresser came back to chop off Jeannes hair in preparation for the Guillotine.

This was the Revolution; they weren’t going to play fair. 

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Yeah…not known as the most friendly time in history

When Jeanne boarded the wagon that was to take her and the other doomed nobles to the Guillotine, she was a damn wreck.

The French elite prided themselves on remaining stone faced as they traveled to their deaths. They wouldn’t show a flicker of emotion about their imminent demise.

Jeanne wasn’t playing this game.

Whilst the others in the cart stayed haughtily neutral. Jeanne screamed, wept and begged onlookers to help her.

This unnerved the gathering crowds. Jeanne was the first person they had ever seen show any kind of fear about the whole ‘about to get my head chopped off’ thing. Suddenly this wasn’t such a fun day out…

When the cart arrived at the Guillotine, Jeanne was too scared to get out, having to be bundled onto the scaffold ‘like an animal’.

She continued weeping, wailing to the crowd

‘You are going to hurt me! Why?’

Then she saw the executioner and broke down even more.

Rather than enjoying themselves, as usual, the crowd was clearly deeply unnerved by what was about to happen. This caused the executioner to work faster than usual.

He thrust Jeanne onto the Guillotine. She turned to him crying:

‘one moment more, please monsieur, do not hurt me’

As Jeanne cried for mercy, the blade came down. Madame Du Barry 4

And so ends the tale of Jeanne, more commonly known as, Madame Du Barry. A woman who pulled herself out of poverty and into power. Who lived openly as a sexual being and in doing so felt the wrath of those around her.

Who overcame time after time, only to die at the hands of those she had grown up with.

This was interesting, where do I find out more? It’s weirdly hard to get hold of decent books on Madame Du Barry. A lot seem to have gone out of print/don’t exist in most  book shops/online outlets.

So first, check out your local library and if that leaves you empty handed, I fully suggest checking out the below:

Madame Du Barry, The Wages of Beauty by Joan Haslip 

‘Whores’: The sisters that ruled Versailles

As anybody with a sister can attest, there is no relationship in the world that revolves around so much love and so much loathing, as being a sister. Seriously though, its some complicated ish.

And no set of sisters quite embody this weird relationship as the de Mailly sisters.

Growing up in 18th century France, the 5 sisters were beautiful, noble born and all set to become good wives…but they didn’t.

Instead four of the five sisters would all go on to become mistress to the same man: King, Louis XV of France. 

Louise, Pauline, Diane and Marie de Mailly would wield unprecedented power; their lives would be risked, sisterly bonds would be built and broken.

They’d know fame and famine alike, and by the end all but 2 would be dead.

Side note: The middle sister, Hortense, didn’t go into mistress-ing. Valid career choice, but it means that for the reminder of this article we’re gonna wave goodbye to Hortense and focus on the other four.

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Both a fun gif and also kind of a historical mirror! See, The de Mailly were pretty much as famous, divisive and constantly sex shamed as the Kardashians!

Louise

Sweet, witty but very clumsy, Louise was the eldest of the sisters.

Louise De Mailley
Louise de Mailly

She was newly unhappily married to her cousin (yay for the past and its never ending parade of gross marriages) but, Louise dreamed that her life would become more than just a long stream of popping out extremely related babies.

At 19 she got what she wanted…thanks to her mother dying.

Yeah, less than ideal.

Still, as the eldest daughter, it was Louise’s duty to take up her late mother’s role as a lady in waiting to The Queen of France.

And just like that, Louise was shipped off to Versailles.

A mourning teenager dumped into the snakepit that was royal court…it could have gone tits up so easily!

Yet, Louise remained strong. Though her clumsiness meant she was far from elegant, she let her intellect and wit take centre stage; soon enough she was a court favourite!

And wasn’t just the court that was infatuated – Louise had caught the eye of the King.

King Louis XV of France
Meet King Louis XV of both France and blue balls

The King could be as in love with Louise as he liked…she wasn’t biting. Louise had taken her marriage vows seriously and it would take a lot more than a royal crush for her to break them.

This was incredibly unusual; the general rule was that if a King wanted to have sex with you…then like, you should probably start making your way to his bedroom…

But Louise stood her ground and she made Louis work!

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Louise aint gonna get with you for nothing!

It took Louis over a year to even get a kiss…but that kiss opened the floodgates to a whole lot more *wink*

Pretty soon Louise and Louis were official (plus their names match, so it was clearly meant to be) true love.gif

Louis and Louise weren’t a flash in the pan. She was in love and soon she was Louis’s official main mistress.

And as all big sisters know…the minute you get something good, your younger sister is immediately there wanting a piece of it! Enter:

Pauline 

The second eldest of the sisters, Pauline wrote to Louise and begged to be bought to court. As a good big sister, Louise let Pauline come stay…while also probably reminding her not to be embarrassing in front of Louises cool new courtier mates.

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Pauline de Mailly

The bright lights of Versailles suited Pauline to a tee. She was loud, funny and the life and soul of the party.

More than this though, Pauline was unashamedly ambitious. So. Naturally she wanted to milk her sisters new position for everything she could get.

And, boy, did she do that!

Just like Louise had done, Pauline quickly caught King Louis’s eye. The difference was, Pauline was happy to pursue the King…

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Thats breaking all kinds of sisterhood codes!

King Louis may have loved Louise (#L+L4ever) but he also reeeeally liked her sister.

It was all kinds of dicky and icky, but the Kings penis wants what it wants.

And so, though Louise got to remain top mistress, Pauline joined the ranks of official mistresses.

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Like I don’t think it counts as incest. BUT STILL

Pauline LOVED her new role and unlike Louise, she used her position as mistress for everything she could.

She created political sway for herself, bagged a rich husband with a title (who’d have to remain cool with her extra-marital duties) and snagged herself countless expensive gifts…including an actual castle!!!!!

Needless to say, the rest of court were somewhat jealous of this new upstart. And a general loathing of Pauline started to assimilate.

But Pauline didn’t care! She had power, riches and to boot she’d just got pregnant with the Kings kid – meaning nothing could topple her…right?

Nope! Turns out giving birth before decent medicine and pain relief was a killer…literally 

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Yep, the likelihood of survival during this era, er…well, its not exactly vegas odds.

Though Pauline delivered a healthy baby boy, she died in child birth.

Both King Louis and Louise were grief-stricken; it was arranged for Pauline’s body to be placed in state, to allow for mourners to pay their respects…but then something truly horrific happened.

A mob broke into the chapel housing Pauline. They wanted to exact punishment on the woman they saw as a ‘whore’ – so they mutilated her body. portrait of paulineLouise was devastated. Her little sister was dead and her body defiled.

She sunk into a pit of despair. Turning to religious rituals as a way of offering penance.

Louise wasn’t the only one mourning Pauline’s death; the political heavy weights were just as bereft.

Without Pauline, there was no woman with the ear of the king who was happy to push political plans.

See, Louise was in love (#L+LAlways) and therefore uninterested in using the man she loved as a step up to securing her own power.

But the politicians weren’t out of luck. There was another de Mailley sister waiting in the wings. And she had Pauline’s ambitious streak:

Marie Anne

The youngest of all the sisters, Marie Anne had a serious case of last born syndrome (i.e she felt she had something to prove) that mixed with her devastating looks, smarts and endless ambition, made her the perfect political mistress.

So she was bought to court with the intention that she would take Pauline’s place.

Marie Anne de Mailly
Marie Anne de Mailly

Slight issue…Marie Anne didn’t want to become the Kings mistress.

She already had a lover and she didn’t want to drop him to become the Kings sloppy seconds (well thirds).

King Louis had other ideas; he was now desperate to bag Marie Anne as his latest conquest…and so he sent her lover off to war (as you do)

Sadly for the King, Marie Anne’s lover came back from war alive, intact and a war hero.

But it wasn’t quite game over!

The king’s friends were desperate to get the King a mistress who would play their political games. So, they arranged for another woman to seduce Marie Anne’s lover.

Then they sent the pairs illicit love letters to Marie Anne, who was understandably heartbroken. So she broke up with her lover and fell into the Kings bed to spite him.

It’s official! French court was more of a bitchy head fuck than high school! 

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For reals though…who the fuck does that?

Despite the dickery that had made her a mistress, Marie Anne refused to be a pawn.

If she was going to a mistress she wanted three things:

1.A more powerful King than the one she had

2.Power and wealth of her own

3.To be the top mistress.

Luckily, one and two were pretty easy.

Marie Anne lent on the King, persuading him to build up his power, go to war and actually join the battle as a true military leader.

In return King Louis gave Marie the title of duchess and a HUGE pension.

But becoming the top mistress would be a little more difficult…after all, the woman in the role was Louise, Marie Anne’s own sister…

And yet…

Marie Anne was resolute she was gonna kick her sister off the top spot. 

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There is literally no way this can end well

Things weren’t looking great for Louise. Since Paulines death, she’d been down and had drifted away from the King.

Yet she was still very much in love with him (#L+LForLife), but faced with her own sister and the kings friends, who were also desperate for her removal, would her love be enough?

What made things even worse for Louise (if that was possible) was that she refused to believe that Marie Anne would be plotting against her, after all, they were sisters.

And, of course, Marie Anne used this against Louise.

She convinced Louise to resign her post as one of the Queens ladies. Which meant that Louise now had no official reason to be at court.

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Even for these sisters…that is cold!

Everyday the King was falling more and more for his new squeeze Marie Anne.

He spent his evenings with Louise proclaiming how desperate his was to get off with Marie Anne…which for some reason made Louise burst into tears! (go figure!)

Everyday King Louis grew less and less fond on his old -now very emotional- mistress. In his opinion, the only use she had now, was a way to make Marie happy…by dumping Louises arse.

So he had all of Louise’s furniture removed from her apartments and told her she was to leave Versailles.

Louise didn’t take this well. Falling to her knees and begging to stay…but it was no use.

Louise was out and Marie Anne was in.

But Marie Anne wasn’t taking any chances.

Just to be sure that Louise couldn’t return to her lost love, she ensured that Louise was sent to live out the rest of her days in a convent.

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I mean…THERE ARE LIMITS MARIE!!!

Now top mistress, Marie Anne enjoyed all the influence and power that was at her disposal.

She was in early twenties, a newly minted duchess and rich beyond her wildest dreams; it was time to pay it back. Enter:

Diane

Marie Anne wanted to ensure that her favourite sister, Diane, enjoyed this new regal lifestyle.

So she hooked Diane up with a fancy new husband and a new gig as (you guessed it!) The Kings mistress…with Marie Anne remaining top dog, naturally.

Diane de Mailly
Diane de Mailly

Together, Diane and Marie Anne travelled with King Louis to the battlefield during the war of the Austrian Succession; where on Marie Anne’s advice, King Louis would once more be joining the fray as a true military leader.

What could possibly go wrong?

Yeeeeeah… King Louis fell ill…like horrifying battlefield full of nasty diseases and no sanitation, ill.

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Literally!

King Louis was on his deathbed in the middle of a battlefield, surrounded by mistresses.

Things weren’t looking good for his immortal soul.

So King Louis denounced his main mistress Marie Anne and begged repentance for ever having been associated with her. Then he had her sent packing (you know, I’m starting to think this guy might be an ass hat)

Marie Anne and Dianne fled the battlefield.

On the road home, their carriage was met by an angry mob.

These women had put the King’s soul in danger and now they were going to pay!

The mob threw urine and rocks at the sisters. They threatened to lynch them and the pair barely got away.

The ordeal didn’t end there. Marie Anne almost immediately fell ill; she suspected poison.

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I mean…there were enough people who’d want her dead

Miraculously King Louis survived his illness! But, Marie Anne would not be so lucky.

She was summoned back to court, but whatever had caused her sickness, had wrecked her immune system.

Almost as soon as Marie Anne had returned to Versailles- she was dead.

With two sisters dead and one locked in a convent…things weren’t exactly peachy for the de Mailley sisters.

Diane managed to survive as a mistress for a few months longer, before King Louis grew tired of her.

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Well, at least King Louis was!

History has been rough on the de Mailly sisters. 

Remembered as wanton whores, or just not remembered at all – I kinda feel like these ladies got the short shrift.

Sure, they aren’t winning any best sister prizes soon (or ever) but they were ambitious, they created power, wealth and forms of independence for themselves.

They had faults (ok, fine, maaaaany faults) but these ladies are way to interesting to be sex-shamed from history!

This was interesting, where can I find out more: There aren’t that many solid non-fiction books on the ladies BUT there is a good historical fiction book.

The Sisters of Versailles by Sally Christie is a fun popcorn read; kinda The Other Boleyn Girl, but in Versailles.

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

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

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Truly, I was a gem of a child

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

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

It’s a good story right?

Which of course means that it’s wrong! 

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History, being a dick since the dawn of time

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

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

1. Nobody wanted her to be queen

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

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

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

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

Lady Sarah Chatto
FYI – this is Lady Sarah

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

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

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

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

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Probable scenes from Jane’s coronation…

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

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

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

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

And yet…

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

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

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

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Like this – but with more restrictive clothes

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

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

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

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

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

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This may be the nerdiest parental burn in history

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

Kind of awkward when you find out…

3. Jane grew up with Elizabeth I

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

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

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

Just like that, Jane was placed into his care.

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Meet notorious dick, Thomas Seymour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This fucking guy…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So Thomas broke into Hampton Court Palace.

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

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

So Thomas shot the dog.

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

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

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

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

That daughter was of course, Jane.

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Oh shit, this could go very badly!

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

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

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

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

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

5. Jane was sometimes the worst

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

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

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

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ah, to be an angry yet smart teen

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

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

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

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The future, Queen Mary I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Jane was not here for your bullshit

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

Jane’s response to this?

‘Nope!’
*obvs paraphrasing pretty heavily here…

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

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

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Just so much sass for one itty bitty crown to contain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Aaaaaand none for Guildford Dudley

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

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

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Just 16 and yet so many goals.

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

Anna/Anastasia: Russia’s fake Princess

Lost Russian Princess or History’s greatest imposter? The mystery of Anastasia Romanov has fascinated for decades.

Did she die at 17 or live to the ripe old age of 87? Could a suicidal asylum inmate called Anna Anderson, really be a Russian Princess and if so, how did she survive against all odds?

It’s a story with twists and turns for days – and it all starts in a basement in a far flung corner of Russia…

Romanov Family, Russias last royal family. All were murdered in 1918
Colourised image of Russia’s last Royal family, The Romanovs                     (warning the next three paragraphs are pretty bleak…) 

On July 17th 1918, the Russia’s royal family were led to a basement. There they were photographed, lined against a wall and told they were to be executed.

Within seconds soldiers descended. The Father, Tsar Nicholas ll was shot point blank in head. His children, Tatiana, Olga, Maria, Anastasia and Alexei were not so lucky. They were shot, stabbed, beaten and bayoneted, until the soldiers were sure the job was done.

All it took was a few blood soaked minutes and the Romanov dynasty was snuffed out; centuries of royal rule and tradition…gone…just like that.

Or was it?

Anastasia Romanov, youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas ll, take one of the worlds first slefies

Anastasia Romanov was the youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas ll of Russia and she really owned the role of little sister.

Anastasia was the Romanov wildcard. She spent her days getting into scrapes, getting out of those she scrapes and (as shown in the above pic) becoming one of the first adopters of the selfie (see I told you she was the ultimate little sister!)

When the news of the Romanov family murders started to spread, people were desperate for a ray of hope. That somehow someone had gotten out. So you can see why all these hopes were pinned to the Romanov most full of life – Anastasia.

For years the newspapers were full of rumors that secretly Anastasia was alive and inevitably this led to a parade of faux Anastasias, all desperate for 15 minutes of fame and all almost immediately shown to be frauds.

But much like Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy, everyone has to grow out of the fantasy. As time moved on, the cold hard truth became more inevitable. And so, two years after the Romanovs deaths, Anastasia still hadn’t turned up and hope that she ever would started to vanish.

But then… a young woman jumped off a bridge in Berlin and everything changed. 

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I told you! Twists and turn for days!!!

The woman was taken to a German asylum. With no ID and the woman refusing to say who say was, she became known as:

Madame Unknown

As well as sounding like Marvels next villain, Madame Unknown wasn’t your average German asylum patient, for one thing, she spoke with a Russian accent. She also held herself with an unusual poise and had hastily stitched up wounds.

In the mind of one patient, Clara Peuthert, this could only mean one thing:

Madame Unknown was a Russian Princess!

Clara was so sure of this, that she told everyone she could, all about her friend from the asylum who was totally a Princess!

…and everyone believed her.

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Yeah, don’t look for the logic in this, There is none.  

Soon former Russian big wigs and Romanov servants were descending upon the  asylum to check out this potential Princess.

But Madame Unknown refused to speak to any of them.

Then a former Romanov lady in waiting visited. She took one look at Madame Unknown and declared her too ‘short to be Tatiana’. Madame Unknown stared at the woman and said:

‘I never said I was Tatiana’ 

the drama of it all

Madame Unknown was in fact Anastasia Romanov…well at least that’s what she said. She also explained that she didn’t go by Anastasia anymore, but rather Anna Tchaikovsky.

Names aside, Anna/Anastasia had a lot of questions to answer! First up was:

How the living fuckity are you alive?

Anna said that the bayonets used by soldiers to kill the Romanovs had in fact been blunt and thus had failed to kill her because she was wearing a corset padded with jewels.

Anna fell to the floor and played dead. When it was over, a kindly soldier –named Alexander Tchaikovsky – carried her to safety.

Alexander nursed her to health and the two had a child together, with Anna taking on his last name. However, Alexander died and her child was taken away. That’s why Anna came to Berlin…to kill herself!

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Yup, that all seems fully legit and sound

Aside from this (lets be real – batshit) story, Anna bore a resemblance to Anastasia and could pick out and name Romanov family members when shown photographs.

Anna also spoke in a Russian accent BUT she didn’t actually know a word of Russian.

You might argue that this could be considered a bit of an issue for someone claiming to be a Russian princess, who was born and raised in Russia and spoke Russian…yet Anna’s supporters were having none of this, they were adamant that Anna’s lack of ability to speak Russian was down to amnesia caused by her trauma!

But don’t worry, not everyone believed the amnesia line! In fact the majority Russia’s surviving aristocracy didn’t buy into what Anna was selling. And they had good reason not to.

In 1927 a Berlin newspaper published a report that suggested Anna was in fact a missing polish factory worker called Franziska Schanzkowska.

Franziska Schanzkowska and Madame Unknown had an uncanny resemblance and Franziska’s brother swore in court that Anna was in fact Franziska.

Not only this, but after being caught up in a factory explosion, Franziska had been declared insane. Shortly after this diagnosis, Franziska went missing and within weeks Madame Unknown was dragged out of a Berlin canal.

Anna Anderson, wiki
Franziska Schanzkowska/Anna Tchaikovsky/Anastasia Romanov/Madame Unknown/

But despite all of this – some people still believed that Anna was who she said she was.

They believed this for decades! They believed it so much that they took Anna into their homes, where she was nothing short of a nightmare to live with (you know…because she was really ill and getting no help)

They even funded a 30 year long series of court cases, in an attempt to help Anna get the Romanov fortune. Which ultimately proved fruitless.

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Anna/Anastasia in the 1950s

In 1984, Anna (now called Anna Anderson) died in America; 60 years on from being found in the asylum, she still claimed to be Anastasia Romanov.

Then in 1991, the graves of the Romanov family were found (missing two skeletons).

Finally, DNA testing proved that Anna had not been a Romanov

In fact, Anna had probably been a missing polish factory worker called Franziska Schanzkowska.

The mystery finally ended in 2007. When the remaining two bodies of the Romanov family were discovered. One was Alexei and the other was Anastasia.

You’d think this was the end of the Anna/Anastasia Saga…

Nope! 

Still. STILL. People say that Anna Anderson is in fact Anastasia Romanov.

These aren’t only people in one dark corner of Reddit. In 2014 a historian, Veniamin Alekseyev, released a book claiming that Anna Anderson was Anastasia. Because apparently, almost 100 years on, we just cant let this one go. Anastastia Romanov

This was really interesting, where can I find out more? You should totally check out Helen Rappaports book, The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra (admittedly not a catchy title, but an amazing book)

It gives a great insight not just into the life of Anastasia, but also her three sisters, Tatiana, Olga and Maria.

Nell Gwynn: Not your strumpet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The hero of our play, Nell Gwynn

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

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

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

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

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

‘Pretty witty Nell’

His thirst apparently could not be contained and Pepys continued;

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

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

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

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

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

And then one night Nells life changed for ever…

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

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

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

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

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

Not our Nell!

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

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Truly, Nell had historic levels of sass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In 1668 Charles made entertainer, Moll Davis his mistress.

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

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

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

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

Shortly after she was removed from mistress-ing duties.

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

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

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

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Appropriate reaction

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

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

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

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

Unsurprisingly Nell and Louise did not get along.

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

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

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

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

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

Nell shot back

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

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

She had the people on her side.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Honestly, this level bad

Within 2 years:

– Nell’s mum drowned

– Nell fell seriously ill

– Nell’s son died

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

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

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

So she did.

Nell packed up her things and moved to the country.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His last wish was:

‘ Let not poor Nelly starve’

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

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

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

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

But she wasn’t done just yet…

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

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

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

Jane Boleyn: History’s biggest bitch?

Jane Boleyn was a bitch – or so history tells us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s find out!

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Sketch believed to be Jane Boleyn

Did Jane kill Anne Boleyn?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what we know:

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

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

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

‘That person’

Super helpful Chaps!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She has the most to lose

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

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

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

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

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

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Yup being married to a convicted traitor sucked!  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But then all Janes hard work turned to shit.

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

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

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

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

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Yeah, Jane has literally 0 luck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jane Boleyn faked madness to avoid execution

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Stay with me here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Millicent Fawcett was the fucking best

Think votes for women and you think Pankhurst’s, you think fearless suffragettes risking everything, committing violent acts to win the day.

And you would be wrong. 

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Well this is awkward

Ok fine, not entirely wrong, but you would only be seeing about 10% of the picture. Women’s suffrage was a fight that had been going on since the early Victorian period, decades before the suffragettes were formed – it’s a battle thats largely been forgotten, but thanks to some bad ass feminists & historians thats all changing!

So how do you get up to speed with this unsung era of history? Well theres no better place to start than Millicent Garrett Fawcett.

 

Millicent
Feminist hero and Queen of fidly up-do’s

Millicent was born in 1846, one of the youngest of 10 (yep that’s right, 10!). She was raised right; taught to think for herself and pursue her passions.

When Millicent was 12 her older sister Elizabeth moved to London to study medicine (FYI- Elizabeth went on to become Britain’s first female doctor – you will soon learn that these sisters had badassery hardwired in their genes) it was whilst visiting Elizabeth in London that the young Millicent had her first brush with the women’s rights movement.

Elizabeth introduced her younger sister to Emily Davies, a fervent campaigner for women’s rights. Soon the two friends descended into talk of overcoming gender barriers in education (Emily) and medicine (Elizabeth) deciding that it was only after achieving equal rights in fields like these that women would be able to fight for the vote; then as if in an after thought the women turned to Millicent and Emily said:

You are younger than we are, Millie, so you must attend to that.”

Older sisters, right!

But attend to it Millie did. She threw herself into reading up on the law and female rights. She went to a talk given by radical MP John Stuart Mill in favour of women’s rights and became his ardent supporter…she did all this before she was 19, and she wasn’t done.

Now lets pause for a moment and think about what your life’s greatest achievement at 19 was. I’ll admit that working out jäger bombs do not a good evening make is an achievement. But it’s not got shit on 19 year old Millie.

Because In 1866 she delivered a petition to parliament calling for women to have the vote.

That’s right. At 19 Millicent kickstarted things, with the first official move in the loooong battle for equal votes.

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Yup it’s both amazing and sickening   via giphy 

Having fired the opening shot, Millicent was keen to continue her campaign. She started writing and working at getting more politically active. Then in 1867 she met Henry Fawcett a radical liberal MP and scholar, the two had a lot in common and Millicent felt like she had met a kindred spirit. BUT Henry was a decade older than her and was also newly blind..not your stereotypical dreamboat.

Yet against everyone’s wishes the pair married with Millicent helping Henry come to terms with his new disability and he supporting her to find her feet in politics.

Henry and Millicent
Henry and Millicent Fawcett 

As  part of Millicents’ effort to get womens’ right to vote into the public consciousness, she gave her first speech in 1869. She hated every moment of it.

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Urgh public speaking! via giphy

But without any real mass media to spread the word on women’s suffrage she didn’t really have a choice. So Millicent fought through it, chucking herself in at the deep end she went on a speaking tour in 1871. She kept pushing through and eventually became one of England’s most popular and passionate public speakers.

Whilst overcoming her fears Millicent published several in depth political and economic books and founded Newham College, Cambridge – you know as you do. A boss at multitasking she also found time to give birth and raise a daughter, Philippa (who went on to become an acclaimed mathematician and educator btw) 

Everything was coming up Millicent, and she was fast becoming one of the most vocal proponents for women’s rights in the world; her husband, Henry one of the most loved and respected figures in British politics (not an easy feat being a liked politician!) it seemed nothing could stop this power couple.

And then Henry died. it isnt fair.gif

 

But Millicent persisted. Now a single mother, she buckled down on women’s rights. Soon becoming the clear figurehead for the movement in the U.K. Millicent fought for the campaign to seek more than the vote, fighting for women’s sexual rights, working rights and so much more.

In 1897 she helped form the NUWSS (The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies- also known as the suffragists) bringing the majority of the countries women’s rights groups together and making their voice even louder. Suffragist

Though the Suffragists means were peaceful that didn’t mean Millicent couldn’t get militant.

She had an active role in the Personal Rights Association who sought to shed light on men with, er, nefarious intentions when it came to young women. Once throwing flour at a seemingly untouchable Army General who had been sexually harassing a maid; Millicent then pinned a sign to his back which outlined his deeds and sent him packing down a crowded street of onlookers (because seriously, fuck that guy)

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A witness said Millicent ‘had no pity and would have cashiered him if she could’

But it wasn’t just women’s rights that concerned Millicent. In 1900 NUWSS member Emily Hobhouse traveled to South Africa and shone light on the treatment of the Boer People who were at war with England (The Boer War)

The Boer People were being sent to concentration camps (never not a good time to to remember that the British invented them!) and their land overturned and scorched. This quickly became a hot topic in Parliament with all around liberal bae David Lloyd George declaiming the British military’s actions as an extermination of a people.

Believing Hobhouses’ claims to be vastly exaggerated, The British Government created a commission of women with the purpose of travelling to South Africa and reporting back on the camps. Millicent was made head of the commission, which was met with criticism…as Millicent was in favour of the camps

 

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Yes, I’ll admit this is pretty awkward, but bear with me!

Millicent went out expecting to find the conditions in the camp slightly grim but with the people well fed, clothed and sheltered. This was not what she was met with.

To say the conditions in the camps were grim would be a gross understatement (emphasis on the gross). Disease and famine were widespread and by the end of the war of those in the camps 1 in 4 had died.

Despite a (pretty darn racist) government release defending the camps; The Fawcett Commission backed up Hobhouses claims and made their damning evidence very public knowledge. The Boer War ended in 1902, the camps quickly removed. cheering.gif

But it wasn’t all good news. Back in England the women’s rights movement hit a wall.

The Suffragists arguably had most MPs persuaded that votes for women was the right thing to do, but as anyone who has spent 5 minutes in Parliament will tell you – just because MPs know it’s right…doesn’t mean they will do it. And so from 1901-1914 the Liberal government refused to do anything around women’s votes.

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Yeah don’t try and look for logic in that bullshittery             via giphy 

 

In this climate the suffragettes were born. With the WSPU (The Women’s Social and Political Union) forming in 1903. The suffragettes were a much smaller movement than the Suffragists (by a David and Goliath level comparison) but their violent methods caught the eye of the media and they stayed in the headlines for much of the decade suffragette

 

Yet Millicent maintained that the NUWSS wouldn’t enter the violent fray, intent on keeping the dialogue with politicians open; saying:

‘I can never feel that setting fire to houses and churches and litter boxes and destroying valuable pictures really helps to convince people that women ought to be enfranchised.’

Then in 1914 England entered the First World War and the suffrage movement met a cross roads. Should they halt their actions and support the war effort, or continue none the less? The WSPU agreed to halt activity, with the government releasing all imprisoned suffragettes the movement threw themselves fully into recruiting soldiers.

BUT the NUWSS disagreed with the war. Millicent was torn; to publicly call for peace would lead to a public outcry against the suffragists; horrific considering the fight for the vote hadn’t actually been won – but to do like the WSPU and drive recruitment would splinter the party.

 

In the end Millicent opted to stay neutral, not calling for peace, but not actively speaking out for the war. It meant she lost some face within the party and the NUWSS lost some members, but crucially it ensured the public remained on side and lines with politicians open. munitions ad

Throughout the war women from all over the country took up the job roles men had left behind. Both the NUWSS and the WSPU were key to this work effort, which did far more than help the British military…it showed on a practical level that women were just as capable as men on every level.

And so in 1916 Millicent wrote to the Prime-minister urging him to take into account the tremendous daily work being carried by women and reconsider the vote.

And this time he did.

In 1918 women over 30 who were householders or wives of householders were granted the vote.

A year later, now in her 70s, Millicent stepped down from her role leading the NUWSS. But of course, her fight was not over. As she always campaigned for women’s rights, calling for equal access in the fields of civil service and law and fighting for better divorce rights for women.

In 1928 Parliament granted women the same voting rights as men.

Millicent was one of the only original suffrage campaigners to see their decades long campaign win out. After over 60 years of campaigning, she watched the bill be carried out in Parliament.

Forgotten for decades, Millicent’s story is finally getting the attention it deserves and in 2018, she will become the first woman with a statue in Parliament square. Millicent Fawcett

American Traitor: The Tokyo Rose

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

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

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

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This bitch, am i right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 And then Pearl Harbour happened 

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well shit

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

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

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

Iva 3
Don’t let the smile fool you, she has balls of steel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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You did this Cosmo. You did this!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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