Monday, October 24, 2016

Young Love, the Gunpowder Treason and the law of Adulterine Bastardy: The Banbury Case

by Linda Fetterly Root

Fifty years ago I was working as a paralegal assistant in a San Diego law office specializing in personal injury cases and business law. Occasionally a family law case would find its way into the case log, usually as a courtesy to a business client who had wed without the benefit of a prenuptial. Our managing partner undertook the case mentioned in this post as a favor to a Superior Court Judge who had heard about it from a colleague and was outraged. The partners had larger fish to fry and assigned it to an associate, who passed the research off to me. It involved a newly married couple in which the husband sought to adopt his natural child, and to his surprise, his wife’s first husband opposed it. Hence, my introduction to the law of Adulterine Bastardy, a prominent issue in 17th Century English Common law that eventually made its way into  20th century California  Family Law as a landmark precedent known as the Banbury Case.  If you question what this has to do with English history, be patient.

The Banbury Case was first litigated in 1661, revisited in 1816 and again at the end of the 19th century on a collateral issue [1]  ratifying the presumption that a child born during a marriage is deemed legitimate. There was a public policy reason: little bastards running around were a drain on societal resources. Other than in two narrowly applied exceptions, evidence to the contrary was barred. The presumption has migrated to California where it is deemed irrebuttable.

In the case I was researching, the law gave parental rights to a cuckold husband who took his ex-wife’s daughter whom he knew wasn’t his to Balboa Park where he stood her on a soapbox and held her out to passers-by as the poster child for adulterine bastardy
[2].  An appalled judge tried to apply the legal standard used in custody disputes—i.e., the best interests of the child—to terminate his parental rights and ran into the brick wall erected in 1661. In the San Diego case, the matter was resolved when the first husband tired of paying child support and let the child’s father adopt her. Time marched on, and I forgot about Banbury, never expecting to become intimately acquainted with the original litigants during my post-retirement adventures as a historical fiction writer.

When I first encountered Lord Edward Vaux and his fiancée, Lady Elizabeth Howard while researching the Gunpowder Treason, I entertained a suspicion they may have inspired Vaux’s friend Will Shakespeare’s ill-fated adolescent lovers Romeo and Juliet, but I never cast young Elizabeth as the adulterous Countess of Banbury. She was not a child of  lesser members of the Howard dynasty. Her birthright put her closer to the center of the circle of  nobility than either of the Tudor consorts who were Howards-- namely, poor silly Catherine Howard and bold, arrogant Anne Boleyn. Lady Elizabeth Howard, the Juliet in our story, was a granddaughter of the executed Duke of Norfolk, who had been England's highest ranking peer. Her father was Thomas Howard, Earl of Suffolk. Her mother Catherine was Suffolk's second wife, the first ranked lady in waiting to the  Queen. 

Meet the Parents:  The Countess and Earl of Suffolk (PDArt)

Like his father Norfolk, Suffolk had been subtle about his religious bent, but along with the rest of the Howards, he was regarded as a Church Catholic, who tempered compulsory sermons with an occasional illegal mass. 

By the time of Elizabeth Tudor's death in 1603, areas of rural England were heavily populated with recusant families, and the aristocrats among them clustered in close-knit groups. The King had been advised by his principal minister Lord Robert Cecil that aristocratic rural Catholics were like an extended family,
hunting, grousing and picnicking at functions featuring a priest as guest-of-honor. It is likely that at such an event, Edward Vaux, who had inherited the Harrowden Barony from his grandfather at the age of seven, and  Elizabeth Howard, one of  her parents' sixteen children, had met and fallen desperately and interminably in love. Neither of the young lovers was involved in the Gunpowder Treason, but they certainly suffered its consequences.

An engraving showing the first meeting of Romeo and Juliet
Wikimedia Commons

If there is a female at the crux of the story, it is neither the domineering Countess of Suffolk or her love-struck daughter, but the redoubtable Eliza Roper, Edward’s mother, the self-styled Dowager Lady Vaux. Even the use of her title was over-reaching since her husband had predeceased his father and never became a baron in his own right.  There is no known portrait of her other than a carving on a tomb effigy, but men found her captivating and she was probably a beauty.

John Roper Tomb in Lynstead,
Creative Commons.
Eliza Roper and George Vaux’s marriage had problems at the start. She was the daughter of Kentish aristocrats remotely related to the son-in-law of Thomas More, and George and his father Baron William Vaux were notorious recusants.

Since the marriage united two prominent Catholic families, it required the permission of Elizabeth, who was not asked. The Queen was known to be forgiving, but not when openly defied. The marriage stood, but to appease an angry,
vindictive Queen, George was passed over as his father’s heir in favor of his younger brother Ambrose who Eliza soon beguiled.  As a daughter-in-law, she was characterized as a domineering bully.  Per her mother-in-law’s brother Thomas Tresham[3], Eliza moved them out of Harrowden Hall into a smaller house and connived to take control of their wealth. Her brother-in-law Ambrose thought Eliza was a goddess but her husband's famous sisters, the recusants Anne Vaux and Eleanore Vaux Brokesby resented her treatment of their father and step-mother.

By 1590, George had reconciled with his father, and Ambrose ceded his rights of heirship back to George. What role Eliza may have played in the maneuvering is not recorded. Ostensibly the Queen had recovered from her earlier snit and posed no objection. There is no question that while he lived, Eliza adored her husband. When he died, she went into deep mourning for the better part of a year and refused to enter the part of the house where he died.  She was devoted to the advancement of her son, but she was equally absorbed in her defense of her religion.  While her sisters-in-law Anne Vaux and Eleanore Brooksby were of equal zeal, they and Eliza were not confederates. Anne and Eleanore lived in  properties they had inherited, primarily at White Webbs, where they often gave haven to the Jesuit Superior Henry Garnet. Eliza, however,was a patron of the Jesuit aristocrat, John Gerard, Garnet's protege.

Harrowden Hall,Public Domain
In 1598, Eliza purchased her seven-year-old son’s wardship, and moved her younger children into the Vaux ancestral home at Harrowden Hall, which she remodeled to include several priest hides. Then she brought the charismatic Gerard into the household as her confessor. He used it as his principal residence for at least six years. She established a Jesuit pre-college on the grounds for Catholic boys who were too young or too poor to be smuggled to the Jesuit College at Douai.

Another of her projects was arranging a suitable marriage for her son.  Eliza was ambitious and in her judgment, there was no better match for Edward than a Howard. In 1605, Eliza’s design for Edward was going smoothly.  The two parties to the prospective marriage cooperated by actually being  in love. In spite of some accusations of recusancy based upon an ambiguous letter which had fallen into the hands of a rival Midlands socialite and passed to Robert Cecil, Lady Vaux and her son were in high favor with the crown. The king stopped at Harrowden to hunt in August, less than three months before the discovery of the Powder Treason, in spite of rumors that the mistress of the house was rumored to harbor priests. In the autumn of 1605, a wedding was on the horizon. Both the prospective bride and groom had come of age. It appeared that nothing could stand in their way.

And then came November 5, 1605.

  The politically astute Howards quickly distanced themselves from their Midland Catholic friends. The nature of the school operated at Harrowden and the presence of priests on the premises were ill-kept secrets. November of 1605 was a poor time to be negotiating a marriage with a son of Eliza Vaux.   Harrowden Hall had been on a Watch List well before November 5th, after her Papist neighbor Lady Anne Markham sold Eliza out to Cecil in hopes of having her own properties released from forfeiture and her husband returned from exile. The lady was engaged as one of Cecil’s spies, and when the Gunpowder Plot erupted, she descended upon  Harrowden with a warrant in her clutches. 

Lord Edward's engagement to Elizabeth had fallen apart in the aftermath of the Powder Plot, and it seemed the love of his life was forever out of reach, formally betrothed and soon to be wed to Sir William Knollys, later to become the Earl of Banbury, a childless widower fifty-nine years her  senior.  Knollys, incidentally, is the man credited with finding the gunpowder in the cellar beneath the House of Lords. Since Cecil had assigned spies within the Queen’s household at Denmark House to watch the Countess of Suffolk and other suspected Catholics, it was a clever match on the part of the Howards, who cleansed themselves of suspicion by marrying their daughter to the hero of the day.

Sir William Knollys, later Earl of Banbury
While the Countess of Suffolk prepared for her unhappy daughter’s hastily arranged wedding to William Knollys, the woman who was to have been the mother of the bridegroom was carted off to London to be interrogated. By then, most of the Gunpowder traitors were either dead or in the Tower awaiting execution, and Cecil’s focus shifted to the Jesuits. Lady Markham had assured him that Eliza could lead him to Gerard. But if Cecil’s henchmen hoped to wring admissions from the lady, they were sadly disappointed.

No, she’d never met anyone named John Gerard, and if she had, she had no idea he was a priest, and if she had a priest living in her house for the past six years, she had mistaken him for a country squire whose present whereabout she did not know,  but if she did, she wouldn’t tell.

The sympathetic Earl of Northampton cautioned her to  tell them what she knew of the Jesuit, since if she refused, she’d be putting her life at risk.

‘I’d sooner die first,’ she replied.

Her interrogation did not go according to the script.  It was difficult to determine who was the interrogator and who was the accused.  After being held in custody for two tedious days, the prosecution released her to detention in the home of an alderman named Swinnerton, who endured two weeks of playing manservant to his house guest before he declared her utterly reformed.  She was ordered to remain in London, but was released from custody and watched. Cecil hoped she would lead him to Gerard.  She spent her next months in London evading the pursuivants and orchestrating Gerard's escape, which is the topic of my current work in progress.

As for the thwarted lovers Edward and Elizabeth, they went their separate ways, or so it seemed, until twenty years later when William Knollys, Earl of Banbury, died, leaving behind two sons allegedly conceived during his ninth decade after twenty childless years of marriage to his countess, and which he seems to have forgotten when he made his Will. Five months later the still smitten Edward and Elizabeth wed. Vaux became the doting stepfather of two young boys who looked remarkably like him.

In spite of the tumultuous events of the reign of Charles I, the star-crossed, middle-aged couple lived happily ever after, leaving the legal quagmire surrounding the Banbury title to their heirs and generations of students of English Common Law who struggle with the principles of Adulterine Bastardy debated in the Banbury Case.   [4] 

Linda Root is a member of the State Bar of California and the United States Supreme Court, a former major crimes prosecutor and the author of seven historical novels including her work in progress, The Deliverance of the Lamb, featuring the rescue of the Jesuit John Gerard.  She is a member of the Marie Stuart Society, on the board of the M.M. Bennetts Award for Historical Fiction, a regular blogger at EHFA and a frequent reviewer and member of the Admin Team on The Review. She lives in the California hi-desert, on the edge of Joshua Tree National Park. A committed Indie, her books are available on Amazon.

Note:  All art shown is from Wikimedia Commons or other depositories of Creative Commons projects.

[1] The legal proceedings in the 17th century involved the issue of Lord Vaux’s surviving son Nicholas to use the name and title of Lord Vaux, but the subsequent case heard late in the 19th Century had to do with the entitlement to claim the peerage and the Banbury Earldom by the competing heir of William Knollys, the original Earl of Banbury. It is a very complicated litigation, and its synopsis is hundreds of pages long.
[2] The San Diego case was resolved when the legal father tired of paying child support and waging battle with Child Protective Services, the Probation Department and a hostile court, consented to a step-parent adoption of his daughter by her natural father, no doubt having found some other lives to make miserable.  It is to be noted, as in Banbury, there was little question that the child was not his.
[3] Thomas Tresham is the father of Francis Tresham, one of the persons involved in the Gunpowder Treason.  He died pending execution under suspicious circumstances. Many of the barbs directed at Eliza before were fired by Tresham’s bow, so it is hard to know if she was as abusive as he claimed. Even if they rang true he was hardly one to talk. Tresham was considered one of the most hated man in England for his bloodthirsty enforcement of the closures of his lands.  Eliza had sued him for unjust enrichment for taking funds that belonged to her son, so his low opinion of her may have been retaliation.
[4] A treatise on the Law of Adulterine Bastardy as reported in the Banbury Case,  by Sir Harris Nicholas is available as a free Google ebook, courtesy of Standford University School of Law.

The Jilting Princess...

by M.M. Bennetts

Yes, she was a princess.  And yes, she had to marry for reasons of state rather than solely based on her personal fancy, but Princess Charlotte (1796-1817), daughter of the Prince Regent and Caroline of Brunswick was no pawn--kind of more the opposite...

Bearing in mind that at the time when ministers of state, and latterly her parents, were scanning the horizon for suitable royal consorts for her, the Napoleonic wars were heading towards, they hoped, a close.  Whilst at the same time, the remaining heads of state--those which had survived--were wondering how best to restore order to Europe and reinstate legitimate government (read monarchies) to those countries which Napoleon had annexed to France.  So the task of choosing a royal mate was a little more complex than usual.

Nevertheless, in 1812, the government hit upon a plan.  Wouldn't it be perfect if Princess Charlotte were to marry William of Orange?  He was of an age with Charlotte, not too old nor too young, he'd seen active service in the Peninsula, so he was a dashing military hero and he was a Protestant (a necessity). What could be better? 

William of Orange had been raised in exile in England (so he spoke English!), he'd spent two years at Oxford,and from 1811, he served in the Peninsula under Wellington by whom he was known as 'Slender Billy'.

Perhaps he wasn't great looking, but he was known to be amiable, there had been another hugely successful marriage between a Prince of Orange and an English princess...And, bliss of blisses, someday he would rule the Netherlands--so through him and any children they might have, Britain would regain a toehold on the Continent, moreover a toehold that was right across the North Sea, thus securing the sea lanes to the Baltic.  It was ideal!

There was only one problem:  Princess Charlotte.

Because you see, in the autumn of 1812, she had conceived a rather violent passion for a Captain Charles Hesse of the 18th Hussars, and whilst at Windsor had gone out riding with him every day.

And after that, she'd been meeting with him secretly at her mother's home in Kensington, where her mother, helpfully, would "let him into her own apartment by a door that opens onto Kensington Gardens...[then] leave them together in her own bedroom, [with the words] 'A present, je vous laisse, amusez vous'."  [For the moment I'm leaving you, amuse yourselves...]

As may you appreciate, when the Prince Regent discovered, he was incandescent with rage.

And Charlotte was pretty much locked away with a new governess and with very little company.  As the Prince said with some feeling (and almost in echo of Austen's Mr. Bennet):  "I know all that passed in Windsor Park; and if it were not for my clemency I would have shut you up for life.  Depend upon it, as long as I live you shall never have an establishment, unless you marry."  

Hence, when the proposed match with William was put to Princess Charlotte in February 1813, she was not keen.  As she said of him, "I think him so ugly, that I am sometimes obliged to turn my head away in disgust when he is speaking to me."  (Ouch!)  But the idea did eventually take hold--marriage would allow her her own establishment and financial independence.  And the princess was already in debt to the tune of £22,000.  (Over a million pounds in today's money.)

The Prince Regent was delighted and held a dinner at his home at Carlton House so that the two might meet on 11 December, and Charlotte was enjoined to give her father her "fair and undisguised opinion".  After the usual fits and starts, by the end of the evening, Charlotte told her father, "I like his manner very well, as much as I ever have seen of it."

The Prince Regent was rapturous.  Charlotte would later speak of the whole thing as "a dream".

Then, in early April, having been fought to a standstill in France, Napoleon abdicated.  Then followed another remarkable bit of news:  for the first time in centuries European royalty were to visit England!  Caught up in the euphoria of the moment, in early May, the government announced the intended marriage between Charlotte and William, the Hereditary Prince of Orange (who suddenly had a throne again!)...

William himself had already arrived in Britain, ahead of the other European princes--Tsar Alexander and Kaiser Wilhelm and their entourages.  But then, a spoke appeared in the marital-diplomatic wheel--the Grand Duchess Catherine, the Tsar's confidante and sister, who allegedly had designs on William herself--or rather Russia also wanted a toehold in western Europe.

The visit of the crowned heads that June offered an opportunity for endless rounds of parties, balls, dinners and diplomacy, but Princess Charlotte was not invited.  Instead, she remained cooped up in her residence at Warwick House, next door to Carlton House, sequestered away from the fun, even as Grand Duchess Catherine worked on her, visiting, taking tea, souring whatever remained of Charlotte's affection for Slender Billy--especially by recounting just what her fiance was getting up to.

While Charlotte was locked away, William was repeatedly getting drunk, attending all the social events, having a whale of a time...when he'd gone to the Ascot Races, he'd returned to London hanging off the outside of a stage coach.

And there was one other looming problem.  Where would the young couple live?  Charlotte feared that if she  left the country and her father obtained a divorce as he wished to do, her father might remarry and produce a new heir.  And where would that leave Charlotte?  So the demand made in the proposed marriage settlement that she should spend some time with her husband in the Netherlands, as she put it, "living in Holland amongst the fogs and dykes", each year proved the final straw.

(Though it's also said that she'd been secretly seeing the Prussian king's nephew, Prince Frederick, who was said to be very handsome and she was much enamoured...)

Charlotte therefore requested that William pay her a visit on 16 June.  Their consultation together ended with Charlotte's "positive declaration that she will not leave England now..."  And later that evening, Charlotte wrote to William informing him that she was jilting him, that their engagement was "to be totally and for ever at an end".

It was a public humiliation for William...and initially, it didn't work out so well for Charlotte either...though later, she did marry the rather spiffing Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg and he was her choice.

This is an Editor's Choice post, originally published April 23 2013


M.M. Bennetts was one of the driving forces behind teh EHFA blog and contributed many wonderful posts before her early demise some years ago. She was a specialist in early 19th century European history and the Napoleonic wars, and the author of two novels, May 1812 and Of Honest Fame set during the period.  

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Marriage in Tudor England

by Samantha Wilcoxson

King Henry VIII & Anne Boleyn
Deer Hunting in Windsor Forest
20th Century Painting
The idea of courtship during the Tudor dynasty can inspire some widely varying portraits of love and marriage. Maybe you think of a poor young princess bartered off to be the property of an older man, as Mary Tudor was in 1514 when her brother, the man who became the poster boy for Tudor marital scandal, sent her to be the wife of King Louis XII. Her betrothed, the king of France was almost three times her age. On the heels of that image may come the idea of a handsome knight saving his beloved from a loveless marriage. Again, Princess Mary serves as a fine example with the scandalous match that she made with Charles Brandon upon the death of her first husband. However, these visions describe a small minority of Tudor marriages.

To a large extent, what a young person in Tudor England could expect from marriage depended upon their social and economic position. The rules for royalty, nobility, and commoners varied in many ways, though they did share the characteristic of matches often being planned by parents rather than being passionate ‘love matches’ discovered by the young people themselves.

It is difficult to understand from our modern point of view, but these couples did not see this as a detriment or example of parental tyranny. Despite the popular idea of a young woman running away with the man she loves in order to avoid being forced into a horrid marriage, this was not usually the case. In most instances, parents would suggest a match and then give the young couple the opportunity to get to know each other and decide whether or not they liked each other.

The modern need for butterflies, love at first sight, or undeniable passion for each other was not a necessity to the Tudor couple. It was enough that they liked and respected each other. Love was expected to grow as they experienced life together. The economic realities of the day made it necessary for couples to be paired based upon their ability to bring money or the skill to make it to their union. For the couple without that wherewithal, love simply was not enough.

The Moneylender and His Wife
by Kazerouni Guilliame
Musée du Louvre 
Since the ability to support themselves was tantamount, couples that were not of noble families with expectations of great inheritance might be matched to take advantage of what assets or aptitudes each had. For example, a man who had lost his wife might marry a woman capable of managing his children and household. A man without a son might betroth his daughter to his apprentice in order to more easily leave the family business to them. These couples did not marry as young as their noble contemporaries because they were expected to support themselves and their household upon their marriage. How the couple would cope with everyday life was a great consideration that we do not typically have to consider nearly as seriously today.

Those of noble birth had the advantage of access to great estates and riches, but that did not leave them free to marry of their own free will. Allegiances, dowries, and estate planning had much to do with these marriages. Few had a greater challenge than those marrying during the reign of Tudor queen Elizabeth I. Refusing to marry and plan for the succession herself, Elizabeth was constantly wary of others who did wed and have sons who could potentially become a threat to her crown. During this difficult time, noble families had to plan for the future, but not so well that it offended their queen.

Still, these couples did not often go into marriage without knowing and having some affection for each other. The period of courtship was intended for the couple to spend chaperoned time together, give each other gifts, and begin to grow a relationship that their marriage could be built upon. Usually, each person had the option of declining the match, though there are examples of those who were compelled against their wishes, typically for the greater good of their family.

Marriage of Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York,
to Lady Anne Mowbray
Painting by James Northcote (19th century)
It is royal matches in which the couples had the least input. For all their riches and privileges, princes and princesses had little say in who they would share their life with. These are the matches that were often arranged at ages that seem shocking to us.

Negotiations for the marriage of the first Tudor prince began when Arthur was a toddler, and the marriage was carried out when he was the ripe old age of fifteen. Most of his siblings received similar treatment, although they did not always end up wed to those intended for them as children. Treaties could be both made and broken, creating the question of whether or not one was pre-contracted before they could be betrothed to another.

The problem of pre-contract had a hand in ending the Plantagenet dynasty and paving the way for the Tudors. With Edward IV’s children declared illegitimate after his untimely death, his son, who should have reigned as Edward V, was replaced by his uncle, Richard III. Amid the unrest caused by Richard’s usurpation, Henry Tudor seized the opportunity to invade. When he was victorious at Bosworth field, he fulfilled his vow, made almost a year earlier, to marry Elizabeth of York, the eighteen-year-old daughter of Edward IV. You can be sure that Henry and Elizabeth had their papal dispensation in hand to ensure that their new dynasty would not be questioned.

Photo Credits

King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn Hunting in Windsor Forest: Public Domain
Marriage of Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, to Lady Anne Mowbray: Public Domain
The Moneylender and His Wife: The Louvre

Additional Reading

Birth, Marriage, & Death: Ritual, Religion, & the Life Cycle in Tudor & Stuart England, by David Cressy
Courtship & Constraint: Rethinking the Making of Marriage in Tudor England, by Dana O'Hara


Samantha Wilcoxson is a first generation American with British roots. She is passionate about reading, writing, and history, especially the Plantagenet dynasty. Her novel, Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen: The Story of Elizabeth of York has been recognized as a Historical Novel Society Editor's Choice. The Plantagenet Embers series continues with Faithful Traitor: The Story of Margaret Pole and will conclude with Queen of Martyrs: The Story of Mary I in 2017.

Samantha has also published two middle grade novels, No Such Thing as Perfect and Over the Deep: A Titanic Adventure.

When not reading or writing, Samantha enjoys traveling and spending time at the lake with her husband and three children. You can connect with Samantha on her blog, Twitter, Goodreads, Booklikes, and Amazon.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Power and Passion in 1830’s Cornwall

by Jane Jackson

Falmouth Harbour
The Post Office packet service – delivering mail and dispatches to British interests and theatres of war throughout the world - was formally established in 1688. Though the port of Falmouth in Cornwall was 230 miles from London, capital city and hub of UK commerce and the seat of government, it had the advantages of a ready supply of fresh water and a large well-sheltered deep-water harbour.

The packet ships (the name comes from the French paquet which describes the way the mail was packaged and sealed prior to dispatch) were mostly schooners and small brigs built in Cornish shipyards. These ships were privately owned and contracted to the Post Office for three years, the term being renewable subject to checks on seaworthiness. To comply with property law, ownership was divided into 64 equal shares. Usually the share-holders were members of the same family, plus perhaps one or more fellow packet captains, each holding a proportionate number of shares.

The rule was that packet captains must run rather than fight, and if running was impossible, hold off the enemy long enough to sink the mails before surrendering. To ensure obedience, packet ships were armed only for defence.

In 1823 after a decade of rumour and wrangling the Admiralty took over management of the packet service from the Post Office. This move was prompted in part by pressure to give work to Royal Navy seamen made redundant by the ending of hostilities with France.

As contracts on privately-owned vessels ran out, the Admiralty used naval gun-brigs. But in Atlantic waters these were death traps. Heavy masts and spars and great quantities of canvas made them top heavy. The hull design – a deep waist, low deck and small emptying ports - meant that when a heavy sea broke inboard the water could not quickly drain away so the ship became dangerously unstable. Pressure to cut voyage times forced captains to drive hard resulting in nine brigs lost with all hands, passengers, freight, bullion and mails in just ten years. These ships were quickly dubbed ‘coffin-brigs’ and though the Admiralty never formally acknowledged their flaws, a new design of brig was commissioned and brought into service.

By the 1830’s the packet service was at its peak, carrying and mail to and from Halifax in Nova Scotia, Bermuda, Tampico, Havana, Jamaica, Barbados, Cartagena and all major ports on the north and east coasts of South America, Corunna, Lisbon, Gibraltar, Malta and Corfu.

It was during this decade that the Admiralty decided to modernise the service and increase efficiency by introducing steam vessels. The first paddle-steamer, HM Steam Vessel Meteor powered by two 50HP engines made the round trip from Falmouth via Gibraltar and Malta to Corfu and back in 47 days, compared to with the 90 days it took a ship under sail. This success claimed the route for steam. But success in Mediterranean waters did not translate into Atlantic crossings as the ships could not carry enough coal to complete the voyage and no one had thought to organise refuelling ports.

Meanwhile the Admiralty withdrew HMStV ‘Echo’ from service after only two years and fitted her with Cornish tubular boilers to test high-pressure steam. But because high-pressure steam was still in its infancy, few understood the dangers.

Internal corrosion weakened the boiler barrel so it could not withstand normal operating pressure. Grooves could occur along horizontal seams, known as lap joints, below water level. None of this could be seen from the outside so no preventive measures were taken.

A basic fire-tube boiler steaming at 50lbs per square inch contains water at a temperature of roughly 150 °C (300 °F). If the boiler fails and depressurizes, most of the water will instantly flash into steam. Steam takes up 1,600 times more space than liquid water, so each cubic metre of heated boiler water will expand into 1,600 cubic metres of steam in a fraction of a second. The result: a devastating explosion. Metal plates from a ruptured boiler have been thrown a quarter of a mile.

When this occurred in a railway locomotive, only the engine driver and fireman died. But as in the case of two American river boats, when their high-pressure boilers exploded, hundreds died and both ships and valuable cargo were lost.

Reading about this, then seeing a working model of a ‘hot air’ engine that doesn’t need a boiler so is perfectly safe, gave me the idea, the factual background, and a powerful conflict for ‘Crosscurrents.’

Prejudice and mismanagement sabotaged the ‘Echo’ trials delaying development of Cornish marine steam engines by a decade.

By the mid 1830s commercial steamship companies were bidding for the mail contracts. In 1840, the British & North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, (now the Cunard Line) won the contract to carry mail for North America from Liverpool. By 1842 the Royal Mail Steam Packet vessels were sailing from Southampton to the West Indies, Mexico and Cuba.

In 1851, after 150 years of service, the Falmouth Packet Station ceased operating.

[This is an Editors' Choice post, originally published on 6th August 2014]



Jane Jackson loves history, Cornwall and romance. A professional writer for over thirty years with twenty-eight books published, she also teaches the craft of novel-writing and ten of her former students are now published novelists. Happily married to a Cornishman, with children and grandchildren, when not writing she enjoys reading for pleasure and research, long walks while listening to music and playing 'what if' with characters and plot ideas. She also likes to bake - hence the need for long walks.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Great Stuart Bake Off: What They Ate

by Margaret Porter

Typically a person of the Stuart era ate three meals per day. Early risers and those who had the leisure for it--aristocrats, gentry, the merchant and professional classes--ate breakfast. Laborers and farm workers broke their fast, at a very early hour, before beginning their daily work. Heavy with protein, it consisted mainly of cold meat, fish, cheese, washed down with ale or small beer. Dinner, the principal meal, occurred midday or early afternoon, gradually shifting to mid-afternoon, and included any number of dishes. In general, few vegetables were consumed but the table was spread with a vast array of meats, fish, cheeses, pies, and puddings. Many dishes were flavored with common herbs--sage, thyme, rosemary--or costly spices such as saffron, mace, and nutmeg. Supper was a light meal taken before bedtime.

At certain times of the year--and particularly during the Interregnum--fast days were designated. Each year Lent brought restrictions on meat-eating. During one week in Lent, 1661, Lord Bedford's household record indicates the purchase of salted fish, fresh cod, a quartern of smelts, twenty flounders, a chine of salmon, two pairs of soles, and four quarts of oysters. In summertime, fruit was purchased in quantity, for eating but also for preserving in some fashion for later use.
The seasons ordained the substance of meals. Fresh foods were eaten when fresh, and stored as feasible for later consumption. Chief methods of food preservation were pickling, potting, drying, and salting. Fruits were used as sweeting agents, as was honey. Sugar came in loaves, dark in colour, that were cut with snippers and then ground into granules or powder. A drop in price during the century resulted in an expansion of sweet puddings in addition to savoury ones.
The foreign visitor is always a valuable source of information that the resident takes for granted. Monsieur Henri Misson of France was highly enthusiastic about puddings:
The pudding is a Dish very difficult to be describ'd because of the several Sorts there are of it; Flower [flour], Milk, Eggs, Butter, Sugar, Suet, Marrow, Raisins, &c &c are the most common Ingredients of a Pudding. They bake them in an Oven, they boil them with Meat, they make them fifty several Ways. Blessed be he that invented Pudding, for it is a Manna that hits the Palates of all Sorts of People . . . the People are never weary of it. Ah, what an excellent Thing is an English Pudding!
During his stay Misson encountered people who never or seldom ate any bread. He further describes the eating habits of various classes:

They chew the Meat by whole Mouthfuls. Generally speaking the English Tables are not delicately serv'd. There are some Noblemen that have both French and English Cooks and these eat much after the French Manner: But among the middling Sort of People (which are those I spoke of before) they have ten or twelve Sorts of common Meats which infallibly take their Turns at their Tables and two Dishes are their Dinners, a Pudding for instance, and a Piece of roast Beef. Another time they will have a Piece of boil'd Beef, and then they salt it some Days beforehand and besiege it with five or six Heaps of Cabbage, Carrots, Turnips, or some other Herbs or Roots, well pepper'd and salted and swimming in Butter. A Leg of roast or boil'd Mutton dish'd up with the same Dainties, Fowls, Pigs, Ox tripes, and Tongues, Rabbits, Pidgeons, all well moisten'd with Butter without larding. Two of these Dishes always serv'd up one after the other make the usual Dinner of a substantial Gentleman, or wealthy Citizen.

Samuel Pepys by Godfrey Kneller
Anyone interested in a London gentleman's food habits should seek out Samuel Pepys's Diary, in which he recounts various feasts, fasts, 'frolicks'. Every year he threw a party to celebrate the successful removal of the 'stone' from his bladder. (He preserved said object in a leather case, and displayed it to visitors!) It has been observed that his record of dinners and such is sketchy at best, considering the vast amounts of food that the average Stuart gentleman consumed in the course of his day--he remarks only on what is, to him, noteworthy or particularly delectable.

Then, as ever, children were especially fond of sweets and treats. In May and June of 1655, Lord Bedford's account books contain these line items: For six sweet oranges and cherries for my Lady Anne, 1s. 6d. To one that brought a cake for my Lady Anne, 1s.

Those possessed of great estates, like his lordship, could rely upon the produce of his own lands, and tenant farmers fed their families from their grounds and gardens. Residents of county towns obtained their food from weekly markets, and in cities from butchers, fishmongers, poulterers, cookshops, etc.

Kitchen Scene

During the 17th century, the surge in printing presses in England led to increased production of books on food and cookery--the nation was far behind Italy, Germany, and France in that respect. Gervase Markham produced The English Hus-wife in 1615, but it is much more a guide for housekeeping and other skills though it includes recipes.

The 1st English Cookery Book

In 1660, shortly after the Restoration, The Accomplish't Cook or the Art and Mystery of Cookery by Robert May appeared, regarded as the very first English cookery book. The author, son of a cook ('one of the ablest cooks in his time' asserts May in his preface), learned much from his parent, who worked for Lady Dormer. Her ladyship sent the youth to France to train, and during his five years there he had access to the wealth of French cookery books. Following his London apprenticeship, he returned to Lady Dormer's household. During the course of his career he was employed by a number of lords and ladies: The Countess of Kent, Lord Lovelace, Sir Kenelm Digby, Lord Montagu, and more. In addition to the recipes, May helpfully provides menu suggestions for holiday feasts and fasting-days, as well as recommended bills of fare for each month in the year.

The next important tome is Will Rabisha's The Whole Body of Cookery Dissected (1662), a title that bestows a medical and scientific imprimatur upon the subject. Sir Kenelm Digby (one of May's employers) published the first edition of his book of cookery and 'receipts' (recipes) in 1669. Here we have Digby's version of Puffs:
Take new milk Curds, strained well from the whey; then rub them very well; season them with Nutmeg, Mace, Rose water and Sugar; then take an Egg or two, a good piece of Butter, and a handful of flower; work all together, and make them into Balls; bake them in an overn, upon sheets of Paper; when they are baked, serve them up with butter melted and beaten with Rose-water and Sugar.

About 1679 John Evelyn, the diarist, began composing a treatise titled Acetaria: A Discourse of Sallets (1699), in which he primarily discusses garden plans, plants, and gardens. His description of produce to be used in salads includes many which are familiar to the modern diner:

--Lettuce, Lactuca...ever was, and still continues the principal Foundation of the universal Tribe of Sallets; which is to Cool and Refresh, besides its other Properties
--Cucumber, Cucumis; tho' very cold and moist, the most approved Sallet alone, or in Composition, of all the Vinaigrets, to sharpen the Appetite, and cool the Liver,
--Endive, Endivium, Intubum Sativum; the largest, whitest, and tenderest Leaves best boil'd, and less crude.
--Cabbage, Brassica (and its several kinds)
--Beet, Beta; of which there is both Red, Black, and White
--Artichaux, Cinara, (Carduus Sativus) hot and dry. The Heads being slit in quarters first eaten raw, with Oyl, a little Vinegar, Salt, and Pepper.
--Basil, Ocimum (as Baulm) imparts a grateful Flavour, if not too strong, somewhat offensive to the Eyes; and therefore the tender Tops to be very sparingly us'd in our Sallet.
--Borrage, Borrago hot and kindly moist, purifying the Blood, is an exhilarating Cordial, of a pleasant Flavour.
--Cresses, Nasturtium, Garden Cresses; But above all the Indian, moderately hot, and aromatick, quicken the torpent Spirits, and purge the Brain.
--Garlick, Allium; dry towards Excess; and tho' both by Spaniards and Italians, and the more Southern People, familiarly eaten, with almost every thing, and esteem'd of such singular Vertue to help Conception, and thought a Charm against all Infection and Poyson.

Title page of Evelyn's book on Sallets

Edward Kidder (born 1665) was not only a skillful pastry cook, he's acknowledged as the proprietor of ones of the first cookery schools in England. Apparently he had several London schools, at Holborn and near Furnival's Inn and at St. Martin's Le Grand, which might have operated simultaneously. Late in his career, after the dawn of the Georgian era, he had his recipes printed and bound as a handbook for his pupils--several copies of which are extant. His students were male--females were privately instructed, as indicated by a note in some editions that 'Ladies may be taught at their own Houses.' Lady Mary Pierrepont (after her marriage Wortley Montagu), who kept house for her widower father, received thrice weekly carving lessons from a master of the art.

Kidder's book is valuable for its detailed account of table arrangement and specific dishes that could be included in each course.

Arrangement of the Table
First Dishes: Pottages of all sorts, a dish of fish, beans & bacon, ham & chickens, pullets & oysters, boiled tongues & udders, a leg of veal, a calves head, a goose or turkey, haunch of venison, leg of mutton & tunips, piece of salt beef, boiled fowls & marrow bones, a turbot & small fish

Bottom Dishes: A chine of veal or mutton, a neck of veal, pigeons in saffron, puddings, roast beef minced pies, cold ham, sliced tongue, venison pasty, potted meats or fowls, cold lobster or salmon or sturgeon, haunch of venison roast, let of mutton roast, hens with eggs, chicken & asparagus, a roast pike, calve's head roasted

Side Dishes: Bombarded veal, Scotch collops, leg of lamb, fricasees white or brown, ragout of any sort, a tart or tansy, scalloped oysters, carp in a ragout, pigeons and asparagus, lamb stones & sweet breads, stewed carp, chickens

For the middle of the table: a grand salad of pickles, a salad & butter, hot or cold pie, tarts, cheesecakes, puffs & custards, jellies, creams, blanc manges, a dish of fruit, sweetmeat tart, patty of lobsters, cold lobsters

Second Course: A dish of wild fowl, green geese or ducklings, roast chicken or pigeons, lamb joint, fried fish, turkey, leverets, partridges or cocks or snipes, pheasants or quails or larks, buttered lobsters or crabs, scalloped oysters, tart or tansy, tarts, cheesecakes, puffs, custards, dish of peas, ragout of mushrooms, lobsters ragout or roast

Plates: Oyster loaves, artichokes in cream, Portugal eggs, cutlets of veal, patties of oysters, crawfish, prawns, shrimp, apricot fritters, Polonia sausages, salmagundy, pickles of any sort, marrow or spinach toast, veal puffs, sweetbreads.

The most elaborate meals, as one would expect, were enjoyed by royalty--who regularly dined in public, so lesser persons could enter the palace to witness this spectacle. Immediately after a monarch's coronation, a massive feast took place in London's Westminster Hall, with all the nobility seated at tables heaped with delicacies. For a description of the foods served at King James II's coronation feast, see my earlier post for EHFA here.

Tables at the Coronation Feast


Margaret Porter is the award-winning and bestselling author of twelve period novels, whose other publication credits include nonfiction and poetry. James II's coronation feast is depicted in A Pledge of Better Times, her highly acclaimed novel of 17th century courtiers Lady Diana de Vere and Charles Beauclerk, 1st Duke of St. Albans. Margaret studied British history in the UK and the US. As historian, her areas of speciality are social, theatrical, and garden history of the 17th and 18th centuries, royal courts, and portraiture. A former actress, she gave up the stage and screen to devote herself to fiction writing, travel, and her rose gardens.

Connect with Margaret:

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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Saint Lebwin: A Reluctant Dark Ages Missionary Who Found Courage

by Kim Rendfeld

While in his native England around 754, Saint Lebwin apparently resisted the call to be a missionary. His 10th century hagiography says God admonished him three times before he got on a boat and traveled to the Continent.

Lebwin’s life in England, including his birth date, is a mystery other than that he was educated in a monastery. His reluctance to leave his homeland is understandable. Travel was uncomfortable and hazardous, and when he got to his destination, he would be preaching to a stubborn audience of pagans. This line of work also was dangerous. Saint Boniface, a Saxon missionary from Britain, and his companions had recently been martyred by a mob of pagans in Frisia.

We don’t know what persuaded Lebwin to go. Maybe he believed that he would someday stand before God and be asked to account for all the souls he could’ve brought to Christ. If he neglected that duty, he would face consequences in the afterlife.

Saint Lebwin, from a fresco painted before 1800

Lebwin’s ship sailed to Utrecht, close to Frisia, and he was greeted by Saint Gregory, who was serving as bishop. A disciple of Boniface since childhood, Gregory might still have been mourning his mentor when Lebwin related God’s command.

Gregory sent Lebwin and a companion to a settlement on the River IJssel, an area the Frisians and Continental Saxons disputed. Here, he enjoyed the hospitality of an aristocratic Saxon widow named Abachilda, and with her support, found fertile ground. At first, the faithful built a chapel on the river’s west bank. Then they built a church across the river in Deventer, which was perhaps a merchant town. It proved to be a good place of operation for Lebwin. He traveled into Saxon lands and gained many followers, including the nobleman Folcbert of Sudberg.

Converting an aristocrat helped keep a missionary safe, and if a leader converted, so might his followers. But pagans of all classes might fear divine retribution. They believed their survival in this world depended on pleasing their gods. So they would leave behind a few stalks of grain for the goddess responsible for the harvest and their ability to feed themselves through winter. Or they might sacrifice war captives as a thanksgiving to Wodan, the god who decided which side won wars. Baptismal vows required Christians to renounce Wodan and other deities. Not a big deal if that convert was a peasant or a slave, who by definition had little influence. But if the new Christian was someone who could order others to displease the old gods, the consequences were dire.

That might be why a mob burned Lebwin’s church in Deventer and caused his followers to scatter.

If the mob was trying to scare Lebwin away, they were sorely disappointed. Instead he was determined to speak at the annual assembly of Saxon leaders at Marklohe. The decentralized peoples had no king, but noblemen from the villages did choose someone to lead soldiers during wartime.

Folcbert tried to dissuade Lebwin, fearing the Englishman would be killed. In addition, the roughly three weeks to get to Marklohe had its own hazards such as bandits and otherworldly creatures. Lebwin would not be moved and was certain God would protect him. Frustrated by his friend’s refusal, Folcbert sent him away.

The assembly at first went as planned, with the pagans giving thanks to their gods, asking for protection of their lands, and gathering in a circle. Suddenly, Lebwin showed up at the meeting in his priestly garb, holding a cross in one hand and the gospel in the crook of his other arm. He prophesized that if the Saxons followed the Christian God’s command, they would be richly rewarded, and no king would rule over them. If they didn’t, he predicted, a king from a nearby land would conquer them, and they would lose everything, even their freedom.

An 1869 illustration

It’s a convenient prophesy, written well over 100 years after Charlemagne had subjugated the Saxon peoples and the Church, with the monarch’s support, had made every attempt to obliterate the old religion. Like their pagan counterparts, Christians believed their deity had a hand in everything, including who won the battle, and this literary device was a way to reinforce that faith would be rewarded while disobedience was punished.

But might there be a grain of truth? Might Lebwin have feared that God would blame him for the lost souls if he didn’t summon the courage to speak to Saxon leaders? Hard to say for certain.

If Lebwin addressed the assembly, he did not get the response he wanted. The pagans thought he was a charlatan preaching nonsense and wanted to kill him. Somehow Lebwin escaped. A Saxon chided those assembled for their lack of manners—they had respected foreign envoys—and made the case for Lebwin to be left alone. Apparently, the Saxon leaders agreed, and they went back to their normal business.

Lebwin returned to Deventer and had his church rebuilt. He died of natural causes around 770 and was entombed within the church.

Later, pagan Saxons destroyed the church again—we don’t know exactly when—and spent three days vainly looking for his body, if we are to believe the hagiography. Pagan Saxons, who burned their dead, might not have understood the significance of a saint’s relics. The fruitless search might have been a creative addition to show that pagans were ultimately on the losing side. They didn’t find the relics because God didn’t want them to.

A mural from around 1880 depicting the destruction of the Irminsul.

In 772, Charlemagne and his Frankish forces invaded Saxony, and reminiscent of Saints Boniface and Willibrord, demolished their sacred pillar, the Irminsul. The enmity between the Franks and the Saxons went back for generations even then, but this was the first time the conflict had a religious tone. Two summers later, while Charlemagne was at war (literally) with his ex-father-in-law in Italy, the Saxons retaliated, wrecking churches.

In 775, the same year Charlemagne’s army was again fighting the Saxons, Saint Ludger was sent to Deventer to restore the church and find Lebwin’s relics. According to the hagiography, Lebwin appeared to Ludger in a dream, telling him where to find his body. Ludger did as instructed and found the remains. He moved one of the building’s outer walls to make sure the saint would always be present in the church he had lived for.

All images are public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.


Medieval Sourcebook: The Life of Lebwin

"St. Lebwin" by Thomas Kennedy, The Catholic Encyclopedia

Charlemagne's Early Campaigns (768-777): A Diplomatic and Military Analysis, by Bernard Bachrach

Butler's Lives of the Saints, Volume 11, edited by Alban Butler, Paul Burns

The Barbarian Conversion: From Paganism to Christianity, by Richard A. Fletcher


Kim Rendfeld learned about the Frankish-Saxon wars while writing her first novel, The Cross and the Dragon, in which a Frankish noblewoman must contend with a jilted suitor and the fear of losing her husband. Kim wrote her second book, The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar, about a Saxon peasant who will fight for her children after losing everything else, to provide a Saxon perspective on the events.

The Cross and the Dragon was rereleased Aug. 3, 2016, in print and ebook formats. You can order the book at Amazon, Kobo, iTunes, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, CreateSpace, and other vendors.
The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar will be rereleased on Nov. 2, 2016. Preorders for ebooks are available at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, and iTunes. It will also be published in print, and if you would like a note when it's available, email Kim at kim [at] kimrendfeld [dot] com.

The wars between the Franks and the Saxons play a major role in Kim's third novel, Queen of the Darkest Hour, about Charlemagne’s fourth wife, Fastrada.

Connect with Kim at on her website, her blog, Outtakes of a Historical Novelist at, on Facebook at, or follow her on Twitter at @kimrendfeld.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Eleanor Glanville 17thC Entomologist

by Deborah Swift

Eleanor Glanville, born in 1654, was a 17th century entomologist who lived in Lincolnshire, and later Somerset. She is renowned for collecting many butterfly specimens, many of which are the earliest specimens kept in the British Museum. The Glanville Fritillary (Melitaea cinxia) was named after her.

The Glanville Fritillary
This fly took its name from the ingenious Lady Glanvil, 
whose memory had like to have suffered for her curiosity 
Moses Harris 1776

In fact, although referred to as `Lady Glanville', Eleanor actually bore no title, the honorary title of `Lady` was bestowed upon her simply because she was a gentlewoman. But the honorific stuck, and she is still called by that in documents about the study of butterflies.

Eleanor was the elder of the two daughters of Major William Goodricke (d. 1666) and his wife, also called Eleanor. On his death, her father left a thousand pounds to Mary, his younger daughter, but to Eleanor he left his estate, which included Tickenham Court in Somerset, a medieval hall dating back to 1200, and there she took up residence. Her wealth made her an attractive marriage proposition, so on 14th April 1676 she married Edmund Ashfield, an artist from Lincolnshire, with whom she had three children, Forest, a boy, and twin girls Mary and Katherine, who unfortunately died at birth.

Tickenham Court

Unfortunately her artist husband died in 1690, and she was soon sought out by Richard Glanville. This time Eleanor was unlucky in love, for Glanville turned out to be a violent bully, who more than once threatened to shoot her dead. The marriage was such a disaster that they became estranged in 1698, with Glanville angling to get his hands on her estates the whole while.

It was then that Eleanor began to take solace in the natural world and renew her love for butterflies.

Petiver illustration of butterflies

She corresponded regularly with James Petiver (1660–1718), a London pharmacist who was at that time a well-known naturalist and insect collector. He was the man who first coined the name “fritillary”, after the Latin word fritillus - a chequered dice box, and was the first man to give butterflies their English names, such as Admiral, Tortoishell and Brimstone. She also had long association with Joseph Dandridge, a silk-screen printer and owner of one of the finest butterfly collections of the time, and also the botanist Adam Buddle, an Essex rector from whom we get the flower name Buddleia. After Petiver's death his collection was purchased by Hans Sloan, and from there it made its way to the British Museum (Natural History Museum).

For Eleanor, collecting insects became a complete obsession - so much so that she often paid her servants 6d or a shilling (good money in those days) to net butterflies and collect specimens for her. She also gave them lessons on how to carry them safely and how to pack them in brown paper to send them off to Petiver. Petiver documented many of Eleanor’s specimens and her first-hand observations in compiling his ‘Gazophylacium naturae artis’, an illustrated catalogue of British insects.

from the Petiver Collection

When she went to London in 1703 taking with her a large collection of butterflies, her visit caused some excitement among naturalists in the capital.

Whilst this was going on, her husband Glanville was intent only on securing his ownership of her property and cared nothing for her as a person. Glanville also organised a plot to kidnap one of her sons, Richard, from Aldersgate where he was apprenticed to Petiver. He wanted to blackmail him into rescinding any claim against the property that he stood to inherit upon Eleanor's death. With the violent Glanville, Eleanor had two more surviving children, Richard (b. 1687) and Eleanor (b. 1688). but because of the erratic behaviour of her estranged husband, she separated from him completely in 1698.

Fearing he would take her inheritance after her death, she arranged for her estate to be dealt with by a board of trustees should she die, and she bequeathed her estate to her second cousin Sir Henry Goodricke, except for some small legacies to her children.

Eleanor Glanville died in 1709 at Tickenham Court, but Glanville had turned her son, Forest, against her, and the battle for her inheritance still was not over. When her will was published, and he found she had left everything to a second cousin, her eldest son, Forest Glanville sought to contest it on the grounds that his mother had gone mad.
Some relations that was disappointed by her Will, attempted to let it aside by Acts of Lunacy, for they suggested that none but those who were deprived of their senses, would go in Pursuit of butterflies.
Moses Harris
Unfortunately the ploy worked, and in 1712 he won his case. Forest then sold off his mother's home, the Manor at Tickenham.

It seems unusual to us that someone could be considered mad merely for hunting butterflies, however, in this period in history, shortly after the English Civil Wars, women who embraced the natural world with too much enthusiasm were still accused of witchcraft. In the seventeenth century entomology was largely limited to the study of useful insects like bees and silkworms. Butterflies, according to popular belief, could be witches or spirits in disguise, out to curdle cream and butter, hence their name “buttervögel” in German and “butterfly” in English. No doubt Eleanor would have heard of, or even witnessed, women who were hanged for similar harmless occupations. Her neighbours claimed incredulously that she beat the hedges for a parcel of wormes, thinking this crazy, but of course they were only the caterpillars she was studying. Nature Study, for a seventeenth century woman, was a very dangerous occupation.
Mr Rae defended her character. This last gentleman went to Exeter, and on the trial satisfied the judge and jury of the lady's laudable inquiry into the wonderful works of Creation, and established her will." 
Moses Harris
Her other son Richard seemed to have remained loyal too, for he is quoted on record as saying he had the best of mothers and the worst of fathers.

Illustration by Maria Sybilla Merian

I wonder if Eleanor Glanville ever heard of Maria Sibylla Merian, a butterfly illustrator who published her book, Caterpillars, Their Wonderous Transformations and Peculiar Nourishment from Flowers in 1679.  Not only was Merian a woman who would have understood completely Eleanor's passion, but she was another woman in the male-dominated field of science. Read my post on Merian here.

Once widespread on open grassland in England, Eleanor's Glanville Fritillary (Melitaea cinxia) is now one of Britain’s rarest butterflies. It is rare because it lives only on ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata) and because the caterpillars need the warmth of direct sun on bare ground. Such sites are now rare in England.

Fiona Mountain has written a delighful novel, Lady of the Butterflies which fictionalises Eleanor's life. Do give it a look. And why not listen this beautiful zither tune composed especially to honour Eleanor Glanville's life.


Deborah Swift is the author of seven books, most set in the 17th century. Her first novel has just been re-released with a new cover, and tells the story of another seventeenth century woman, contemporary with Eleanor, who was also obsessed by nature.

Find Deborah on Twitter @swiftstory and on her blog