The Favourite: Sarah Churchill’s revenge

Discover the true story behind hit film The Favourite and how Sarah Churchill used her downfall to ensure Queen Anne was forever mocked by history

We’re continuing to celebrate the current Queens of the Screen posts (go here to read all about Mary Queen of Scots’ gruesome execution), which means you can probably guess what this post is going to be about.

If you haven’t seen The Favourite – the multi-award winning, winner of the Beschdel test, beautifully described by star Rachael Weisz as ‘like a funnier, sex-driven All About Eve’, then bookmark this page and get yourself down to the cinema.

I think all history-lovers and Olivia Colman worshippers can agree that seeing the stories of three powerful women in history that isn’t Elizabeth I (god love her but girl, you have taken up too much screen time) has been massively refreshing.Not only did this incredible film give us the gift of this GIF for all occasions…

BUT it was a remarkable piece of cinema that captured one of the most dynamic relationships in British history – that of Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, and Queen Anne. 

Queen Anne often got a bad rep in history. Remembered as overweight and dull, despite being a Queen in her own right (not a consort). Compare her reputation to that of Elizabeth I and she has been done a serious injustice.

Anne’s reign preluded the Jacobite rebellions and the political uncertainties of the Hanovers, so in comparison it’s easy to see why her court wasn’t quite as dynamic as other royals we know and love.

But as The Favourite shows, scandal and salaciousness were very much part of Anne’s court.

So why has Anne got such a bad rep? Whilst contemporaries from court did admit that Anne wasn’t the most exciting of monarchs, it was the memoirs of one courtier in particular that really painted the lasting portrait of Queen Anne and her reign of boring.

****Spoilers coming up if you haven’t seen The Favourite****

Unsurprisingly, the words that tainted Queen Anne and her reign, were those of Anne’s oldest and closest companion: Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough!

Meet Sarah Churchill, proudly flexing her gold key (the symbol of just how much power she had)

Sarah had rose up from mildly humble beginnings, and had waited upon Anne since she was a princess. Sarah was five years older than Anne. And Anne, who was reserved and shy, had developed crushes on other women of the court before. So naturally, the arrival of the dynamic and confident Sarah soon dominated her world.

Her sister, Queen Mary II, had urged Anne to give up Sarah before, concerned about her influence, but did Anne listen?

Of course not! 

Sarah was married to John Churchill, an equally ambitious military man who was made Commander-in-Chief of Anne’s armies upon her ascension to the throne. Her marriage often kept her from Anne’s side, as she had several children and raised her family, and the letters that Anne wrote to her in the interim at full of love, and yearning. 

Sarah referenced her letters later on in life, quoting them throughout her memoirs, highlighting how powerful and passionate Anne’s love for her had been.

When Anne became Queen, after the death of her brother-in-law William of Orange, Sarah and her allies rose to prominence. Sarah’s influence meant that the Whig party gained power in parliament; leaving the Tories – the party the Queen had once favoured – lost their hold.

Sarah became Mistress of Robes and Keeper of the Privy Purse. Anne, enraptured by her relationship with Sarah, did nothing to stem the power of her favourite…Until it all got a little complicated.And we love a bit of complicated over here at F Yeah!*sips tea*

For years, Sarah had relied upon Anne’s adoration of her to ensure she kept her place at the top. Sarah had dominated Anne without fear; she didn’t hold back, didn’t flatter, and didn’t placate the Queen at all. 

In their early relationship, Sarah had treated Anne mean to keep her keen. She had replied to her letters sporadically and held equally close, loving relationships with other women of the court. When Anne became Queen, she just continued this trait.

You may have noticed that delightful scene in The Favourite, with Sarah saying Anne looked like a badger…you get the picture of their over all dynamic!

Historians have come up with different theories as to why Anne ousted Sarah, with reasons both professional and personal. However, there was one big difference between Anne and Sarah, which would prove to be the deadly fracture to their friendship. 

Anne was a Tory, and Sarah was a Whig. 

Sarah’s continual lobbying of Anne in support of the Whigs grew overwhelming, particularly, when during one politicially charged argument, Sarah essentially told Anne to shut up.

No matter how high you’ve risen, you don’t tell the monarch to shut her trap. 

Sarah was beginning to overstep the mark, putting herself at risk of falling out of favour.

Enter Abigail Hill!

Abigail Hill (I feel kinda bad using this as my gawd does she look uncomfortable, but what can you do)

Abigail was a cousin of Sarah, who she had installed in court as a Maid of the Bedchamber.

Sarah didn’t suspect Abigail’s early nudging into Anne’s favour and it wasn’t until Abigail’s secret marriage to Samuel Masham (which Anne was invited to but Sarah wasn’t, awkward), that it became apparent Abigail was rising as Sarah was falling. 

Sarah was horrified when she discovered Abigail was a distant cousin of Robert Harley, a prominent Tory politician, and was happily chatting to Anne about politics, using a slightly more friendly and loving approach than Sarah had employed.

But Sarah wasn’t about to give up quite so easily. Using several underside tactics to try and discredit Abigail. She even helped send anonymous letters and caricatures attacking Abigail’s character, ‘warning’ the Queen of who she kept in her favour. 

But this didn’t get the desired result.

The Queen refused to see Sarah, and at their final meeting, she refused listen to Sarah’s complaints, only telling her to ‘put it in writing’.

Way harsh Tai…I mean Queen Anne

Sarah and John Churchill were banished from court and spent their days travelling Europe. It was only when Anne died and George I took the throne, that Sarah and John were restored to favour in the royal court, and their descendants – including Winston Churchill and Princess Diana – went on to dominate the history books and the newspapers, as Sarah would have done if she had lived today.

It was thanks to Sarah’s memoirs that Anne has gone down in history as dull, fat, and uninteresting. As she wrote of serving Anne:

‘Though it was tedious to be so much where there could be no manner of conversation, I knew she loved me and suffered by fearing I did wrong when I was not with her, for which reason I have gone a thousand times to her, when I had rather have been in a dungeon.’

Brutal!  

Sarah and her co-authors published her memoirs soon after her ejection from court. 

They were designed to vindicate Sarah from any wrongdoing, to highlight the stubborness, belligerence, and obsession of Queen Anne and to destroy the reputation of Abigail Masham. 

Amongst some of the scathing comments on the Queen that Sarah made, she gave Anne a trait that Elizabeth I, the great queen that had gone before her, had lacked- the inability to know her own mind.

‘In thirty years’ time I never knew her to do a right or good thing of herself. She never thought of rewarding men because they were deserving, nor or easing any people because they were miserable. All such things must be put in her mind by others, and chiefly by those she loves, who will always have the real influence…’

Today we celebrate previous Queens, ruling in a world that was dominated by male power, as early feminist icons – rulers, leaders, decision makers. Thanks to Sarah, the idea that Anne was anything but a puppet of political leaders and court favourites has stuck in history, and we have never kept her on the same pedestal as our favourite Tudor lady, Liz.
Sarah did exactly what Anne wanted – she ‘put it in writing’, and thus sealed Anne’s fate in history forever.

Until now. Until The Favourite

You can learn more about Anne and Sarah’s relationship in Ophelia Field’s The Favourite, an astoundingly good biography of Sarah Churchill 

More great stuff like this:

This post was written by Helen Antrobus. A curator and historian (formerly for Manchester’s Peoples History Museum) with a passion for telling the stories of radical women and working class history.

The Trial and Execution of Mary Queen of Scots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Babington Plot postscript and its secret cypher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mary’s arguments included:

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

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

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

BUT Elizabeth didn’t want to execute Mary.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth’s signature of Mary’s death warrant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The execution of Mary Queen of Scots, artist unknown

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

The first blow hit the back of her head.

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

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

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

‘God save the Queen’

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

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

A 1791 deception of Mary Queen of Scots burial

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

Alice Keppel: The Last Royal Mistress

Alice Keppel grew up in obscurity, relative to the English nobility – meaning she spent her childhood frolicking in the grounds of her family home, a Scottish castle (naturally)

Born in 1868, Alice was one of nine children (because boy could those Victorians breed) the daughter of the 4th Baronet Edmonstone, she was pretty much at the bottom of the nobility pecking order.

But relative lack of status aside, Alice was an extraordinary young woman. Beautiful, with smarts and a wicked sense of humour to match, she was, to be blunt, a catch.

So unsurprisingly Alice was snapped up almost as soon as she entered the marriage market. Marrying soldier George Keppel, when she was just 23. 

Alice Keppel
I mean, Alice Keppel looks the dictionary definition of elegance

But sadly, Alice and George’s newlywed bubble was quickly burst, when they realised they were totally broke.

Well kind of. They had servants, just way less servants than their friends – which in Alice and George’s minds meant they were as good as broke.

Appearances had to be maintained though and after assessing their finances, Alice declared there was only one option: She would have to take a wealthy lover.

It might surprise you to know that George was totally on board! See, George and Alice essentially had an open relationship; they loved each deeply, but they also had lovers on the side. Now admittedly this side piece would be based on cash rather than lust, but it wasn’t such a huge step out of the norm for the couple.

So whilst Alice was out romancing rich men, George would be out courting his own side pieces, sure, it may not have been a fairytale, but it worked for them.

Soon enough, thanks to Alice’s hustling, the Keppels were far better off than they ever had been. Still though, they weren’t as rich as they’d like…

And then Alice met a Prince

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And you know the Keppels were diving straight for that rich AF D.

Edward Prince of Wales (Bertie to his friends) was heir to the English throne. BUT until that crown was on his head, he was intent on having some fun.

He was a heavy smoker, drinker and with a 48 inch waist you know he loved some good food. Bertie was also a serial womaniser and despite having a wife at home, he had so many notches in his bed that it was basically kindling.

Enter Alice Keppel.

Now 29, Alice immediately entranced Bertie. Over 25 years her senior, The Prince was immediately captivated with her beauty, wit and incomparable charisma. And in no time at all, Prince Bertie was following Alice around like a lost puppy.

Edward VII in Coronation Robes
Bertie in all his regal and corpulent glory

Now, if Bertie thought he was in control, he was wrong. Alice was determined that she wouldn’t be another notch on his bed post; picked up, used and immediately abandoned.

Nope! If Alice was going to be Bertie’s mistress, she was going to get her due.

So Alice and her husband worked together on both ensnaring the Prince AND creating a long term sustainable income from the relationship.

The plan paid off; with both Keppel’s working to get Alice the mistress spot, any competition was knocked back.

Alice mastered the tightrope line of Royal mistress-ing; working out how to manage Bertie’s many mood swings, all while appearing vivacious and deeply in love.

The Prince fell hard and (believing he had control) arranged a cushy and veeery well paid job for husband George, to ensure he remained out of the house and that Alice was free to be no1 mistress. 

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Seriously, lets take a moment to appreciate the cunning teamwork of Alice and George

Between the lavish gifts the Prince gave Alice and George’s new stupidly well paid job, the Keppel’s were now extremely rich.

Not only that, but Alice had also become the leading beacon in fine society. Hosting grand parties, she was renowned for her wit and kind nature; Alice’s daughter later comparing her mother to:

‘A Christmas tree laden with presents for everyone’

But Alice’s lights started to get a little dimmer when Bertie actually became King in 1910.

Unlike Royal Mistresses of the past, Bertie had been banned from giving his no1 mistress any form of pension or monetary gain – after all that was tax payers money and they probably didn’t want their hard earned cash splashed on the king’s lover!

With their income sources drying up, things weren’t looking so bright for the Keppel’s.

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Like, STILL shit tons of servants, but ya know, in the Keppel’s minds…

The other big issue was that Alice didn’t want to end her relationship with Bertie. She’d caught feelings.

Alice still loved her husband, BUT she also loved the new the King, there was no way she could let either man go.

So she maintained her Royal mistress position. Working out a way to get around the lack of income, by picking up shares and bonds from Bertie (in addition to husband George’s well paid job)

Alice then further cemented herself as Official Royal Mistress by making herself indispensable. It was often only she who could get around Bertie’s many, many moods and convince him to actually do his job as King; which he naturally did with Alice by his side.

This actually helped endear Alice to Bertie’s wife, Queen Alexandra; and though the two didn’t become friends (hey, Alice was sleeping with Alex’s husband!) , they did become something like allies.

Alice Keppel Portrait.png
With the wife onside and her influence undeniable, Alice was officially immovable as Royal Mistress!

But then in 1910 it all came crashing down.

Bertie became ill – you know, because of the whole constantly smoking, drinking and eating thing…

As the King lay on his deathbed, Alice ran to be at his side.

This turned out not to be a great move on Alice’s part. The appearance of her husbands mistress at his deathbed pressed on Queen Alexandra’s now (understandably) fraught nerves. What made this all the worse, was when Bertie turned to his wife, and commended her to

‘Kiss Alice’

This proved to be the last straw for Alexandra and she immediately commended for Alice to leave. This didn’t go down well, with a hysterical Alice crying as she was dragged away from her lover:

‘I never did any harm, there was nothing wrong between us! What is to become of me?’

Bertie, died on 6 May 1910; on his death Alice was duly thrown out of court.

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No matter your feelings on the relationship, you have to admit, this is just heartbreaking!

Alice was allowed to the funeral, but only through a side exit.

Her royal love gone, Alice returned home to her husband George and the couple picked up where they left off.

Together they used their, now piles of cash, to travel the world, going on adventure after adventure with each other.

When Edward VIII abdicated the throne in 1936 to marry Wallis Simpson, Alice emerged out of a gorgeous French villa just long enough to roll her eyes and say:

‘It was done better in my day’ 

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Oh you thought just because she’d been shamed and kicked outta court, Alice would be quiet? Pffft please

Alice died in 1947. But that’s not where the story ends…

You see Alice may have been the last Royal Mistress but her legacy of mistress-ing wasn’t quite over.

Alice’s granddaughter ALSO became involved with a Prince of Wales; this affair with the heir to the throne becoming both notorious and era changing; in fact you might have heard her name before…

Camilla Parker Bowles

THE DRAMA OF IT ALL
BOOM! Mic drop.

This was interesting where can I find out more? I‘d suggest checking out, Alice Keppel and Agnes Keyser: Edward VII’s Last Loves by Raymond Lamont Brown; it looks at the life of Alice and another of Edwards mistresses, Agnes Keyser, because hey, equal mistress-ing opportunities for all.

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

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

Frederick_Prince_of_Wales.jpg
This guy – even the cherubs are rolling their eyes

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

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

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

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

But why?

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

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Real footage of the Georgian court  via giphy

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

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

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

Augusta_of_Saxe-Gotha,_Princess_of_Wales_by_Charles_Philips.jpg
Meet Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, a real loser in royal blind date

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

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

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

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Freds gonna be such a good Dad…  via giphy

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

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

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

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

It was go time!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Giving birth to girls. not cool. via giphy

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

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

‘poor, ugly little she-mouse’

 

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

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

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

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

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.

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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.

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

Anne of Cleaves has a historically bad rap, this is in no small part because she will forever be remembered as Henry VIIIs ‘ugly’ wife; ‘the Flanders Mare’. Which seems pretty bullshit:

A) have you seen Henry VIII????

B) why are we still putting a woman’s entire worth on how fuckable Henry VIII found her?

Anne was an incredibly amazing and accomplished woman, she was smart, shrewd and is far and away the wife I’d most like to have a pint with (sorry Anne B)

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Seriously though, this bitch is so underrated!

Anne grew up the awkward middle child, both on Europes political stage and at home.

Princess to a small and only occasionally useful duchy, Anne was told that the only thing she would ever achieve was to be a good-ish wife.

Her older sister was a famous beauty who was soon married off, her younger sister was also beautiful and witty, her older brother was an arsehole, but a semi-successful one…and Anne was just there, under the family thumb, getting on with her wife studies and waiting to be told what to do and where to go.

Sadly for Anne, Her family decided the best place for her was on the arm of this ass hat Henry Vll.jpg

Henry VIII was on the hunt for wife number 4. With one wife divorced and essentially exiled, one beheaded and one dead, his dating profile wasn’t great. So it’s unsurprising that Europes princesses weren’t exactly tripping over themselves to marry this obese ageing megalomaniac.

But that wasn’t an issue for Annes family!

Anne and her younger sister had portraits taken and sent to Henry (sort of like ye olde Tinder)

Henry was immediately taken with Annes portrait and the description of her. Sure enough, Anne was picked to be Henrys bride and her passage to England was set.

For her part, Anne was thrilled. Finally she’d get away from her oppressive family and get to live her own life!

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

But there were issues. For one, Anne couldn’t actually speak English, which is a bit of a worry when you’re off to go be Queen of England. She also didn’t know anything about music or dancing, which were Henrys favourite past times. Plus she hadn’t actually been raised to be a Queen.

Sure, she was a Princess and yes she’d been raised to be the best darn wife she could be…but she was princess of a tiny duchy and only ever expected to marry a Duke or maybe a low level Prince. Being Queen of one of the worlds biggest powers was a different thing entirely!

But Anne wasn’t a quitter. She spent the long journey to England trying to pick up the language and customs and learned games that Henry liked. She was aiming to wow!

And then she got there….bad gif.gif

Henry was both a tyrant and a romantic, a combination that basically guarantees dickery.

True to dick form, he decided to don a disguise to meet his new bride, sure that their love would be so strong, she would immediately see through the rouse and leap into his arms.

Obviously this didn’t happen…

Instead Anne patiently ignored the overweight sweaty man as he pawed at her and tried to get her attention. She was waiting to meet the King and neither wanted to engage with or offend this new unwanted admirer.

And then the guy kissed her and Anne stepped back in shock. Because, well you would. This was too much for Henry. He threw off his disguise and stormed out the room, leaving a confused Anne in his wake.

The damage was done, the marriage was in ruins before it even began.

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yeah…so not exactly ideal…

Still though, the Henry and Anne had to tie knot! The wedding was set, Henry well versed in what to do and well…it would have been embarrassing not to.

So in 1540 Anne and Henry were married.

But the pair didn’t consummate the union.

Rumours soon spread that Anne didn’t actually know what sex was. She told her ladies that she had ‘laid’ with the King and thought she might be pregnant – despite openly acknowledging that the two had just kissed.

This is where the question comes in:

Was Anne smart or just super naive?

Look, cards on the table – yes it is likely that Anne wasn’t, er…as well versed in sexual conduct as she should have been.

She came from a strict and religious upbringing and it is very likely that her mum neglected to tell her about the birds and the bees as much as she should have done, especially considering her daughter was being shipped off to go make babies.

This aside though, I reckon Anne was pretty bloody on it!

Anne knew that her marriage was heading for the rocks. She understood that this was a very dangerous situation and that if not careful she would possibly be dead or ruined in a few months time.

So Anne played the game. She learnt from past players mistakes (she wouldn’t argue back or push for reform and change like Anne B and Catherine. Though she shared a lot of their personality traits (determined, spirited and vocal) Anne worked hard to play this down for the volatile King Henry.

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portrait possibly of Anne of Cleves

During her short reign as Queen, Anne of Cleves implemented no major changes.

This will be the only time I ever say this, but…doing absolutely nothing was the best thing she could have done!

Being docile and impassive guaranteed her survival. Perhaps that’s not making any inspirational posters, but it’s true and it worked…

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

That’s not to say Anne didn’t occasionally show her true self. Once when discussing Henrys daughter Mary and her marriage prospects, Anne was (gasp) open and frank in her opinions.

This didn’t go down well and soon Henry was loudly complaining about Anne’s stubborn and wilful nature.

After this incident Anne made sure to double down on her docile rouse and soon She looked on track to escape this marriage with her head. Win! But that wasn’t the only thing she wanted.

Anne wanted independence

Anne hadn’t known independence before coming to England. She had been strictly under her Mum and brothers control.

She had thought that marrying the King of England would be the shot at independence that she had longed for…but instead she’d become a shadow of herself as she tried to appease a tyrannical super dick.

With this marriage coming to a close, Annes future  was up in the air.

The English court was soon full of gossip, Would Henry find her anouther husband? Would she live the rest of her days as a nun? Perhaps she’d be sent back to her family?

Not on Anne’s watch! She had no intention of once more living under anyone else’s rule.

Anne was determined to finally be an independent woman.

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shame on you if you’re not singing along

Though she was expecting it, Anne was still devastated when she was told Henry wanted a divorce. There was a lot on the line and suddenly everything felt very real.

But she quickly regained composure and determined to not repeat Catherine of Aragons mistakes, Anne complied with all of Henrys wishes.

However she was resolute on staying in England. She had started to realise the full level of her disgrace should she return to Cleves and genuinely feared that her brother may kill her in retaliation for her failure as a wife.

Shit was very real and time was running out.

Henry demanded Anne send him her written agreement to his offer of a divorce. But Anne needed more time to think and make sure she was completely safe…so she refused Henry Vlll. Steadfast that she would only speak to the King in person.

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This is either really smart or reeeeeeally dumb

It was a big gamble, but it paid off. The marriage was annulled (saving Anne from divorce and offering her a little bit of dignity) she also received a generous lifelong yearly pension and the new title of ‘Kings Sister’; her status at English court would be higher than any other lady.

With her place in English court locked down, Anne made one more brave decision.

She decided not to get married.

This was – to put it mildly – a fucking ballsy move.

In Tudor England an unmarried woman was a cause for pity, a divorced and unmarried woman was a cause for pity, scorn and a side of ‘what’s her problem?’

But Anne didn’t care what anyone thought, she wanted her independence. So she ignored the whispers and wore her new title of ‘kings sister’ with humor and grace.

She visited court regularly and became a popular and beloved figure. She was given land and property, where she set up a home for herself and spent the next 17 years living the life she chose.

Finally, Anne was free. happy tears gif.gif

This was really interesting, how can I find out more? Now, I’ve never found a book on Anne that truly digs deep and does her the historic justice she deserves. But I live in hope, Josephine Wilkinson did an incredible -and waaaay overdue – book on Katherine Howard last year, so maybe one day we’ll get the Anne C book of our dreams.

Until that day, I’d suggest reading Six Wives by Alison Weir. It’s a great place to start getting more in depth looks at all of Henry Vllls wives.

 

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’

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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!

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.

jane-seymour
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.

gold-digger

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)

hello-darkness

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?

henry-vlll
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?

awkward
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!!!

sigh
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.

popcorn
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.

gasp
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.

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