Saturday, November 14, 2015

Shadows In A Timeless Myth Presents The Great Ladies of Eighteenth Century England

After the turmoil of the Stuart period was over, and the country had settled down under the rule of the dull Hanoverians, social life in England assumed a new form. The circles of the great ladies who now come into prominence, partly through their wealth and dignities, but more on account of their qualifications as leaders of society, eclipse the circles gathered in royal palaces. Until the eighteenth century society consisted of factions. There was a court party and a party strongly opposed to the court; there were court beauties and favourites, duly hated by the opposite set. In London there were mansions where revels were held by great families, but there was no cohesion among the scattered elements of London life. It was only in the seventeenth century that it became fashionable to keep a town as well as a country house, or rather to spend the winter in London in a house hired for the season, which then included the darkest and coldest months in the year. London was only just beginning to be made the centre of all that was most brilliant in social life, and society’s leaders were still, for the most part, performing their functions at their country estates.

But in the eighteenth century London has its well-established social circles, which take the lead in all matters of fashion and taste, having first acquired the tone from Paris. It was in the second quarter of the century that the question of taste was always uppermost in polite circles, according to Lord Chesterfield.
“Taste,” he writes, “is now the fashionable word of the fashionable world. Everything must be done with taste; that is settled, but where that taste is is not quite so certain, for after all the pains I have taken to find out what was meant by the word, and whether those who use it oftenest had any clear idea annexed to it, I have only been able negatively to discover that they do not mean their own natural taste, but on the contrary, that they have sacrificed it to an imaginary one, of which they can give no account. They build houses in taste, which they cannot live in with conveniency; they suffer with impatience the music they pretend to hear with rapture, and they even eat nothing they like, for the sake of eating in taste. Eating, itself, seems to me to be rather a subject of humiliation than pride, since the imperfection of our nature appears in the daily necessity we lie under of recruiting it in that manner, so that one would think the only care of a rational being should be to repair his decaying fabric as cheap as possible. But the present fashion is directly contrary; and eating now is the greatest pride, business, and expense of life, and that, too, not to support, but to destroy nature.”
There was certainly a want of taste in the language used by great ladies, whose speech was often so coarse as not to bear repetition. One day the Duchess of Marlborough called upon Lord Mansfield, the Lord Chancellor, incognita. When the clerk went in to the Chancellor to announce the visitor, he said: “I could not make out, Sir, who she was, but she swore so dreadfully that she must be a lady of quality.” The substance of ladies’ talk was also open to censure. Writes Swift:

“Or how should I, alas, relate The sum of all their senseless prate, Their Inuendo’s, Hints, and Slanders, Their meanings, lewds, and double entanders! Now comes the general scandal charge. What some invent the rest enlarge.”
Expressions then in common use among ladies would not be tolerated now in decent society. In their intercourse with men they were more restrained, at least in writing, but the attitude of the sexes towards each other was one peculiar to the age. There was so much affectation of gallantry on the part of the men, and such a want of straightforwardness on the part of the women, that the whole tone of society was thoroughly artificial. Between the wits, statesmen, men of letters, and the great ladies of their acquaintance there was a romantic kind of relation worthy of the days of chivalry. The elaborately framed protestations of devotion to which women were generally quite ready to listen belonged rather to feudal romance than to real life. But the romance of the eighteenth century was tinctured with the spirit of banter, and both sides were well aware that the whole thing was merely put on, like the powder and the patches. So general was this playing at sentiment that when real feeling for once in a way tried to get the ascendant it was unable to obtain credence.

The fashionable dames of the eighteenth century loved to dabble in politics, which afforded a fresh excitement when the social round began to grow a little flavourless. The eighteenth century was a great period for letter-writing, and political news was a constant topic of correspondence. The interest centred on men rather than on principles. These great ladies, when they wrote to each other or to their friends of the male sex, did not discuss causes. They were concerned with individuals, with the career of the gentlemen of their acquaintance. Looked at in this way, politics were, in the phraseology of the age, “vastly” entertaining.

When the rage for speculation came in, the ladies became ardent speculators. They exchanged confidences and congratulations over the great South Sea Bubble, before it burst, and hoped that “stocks were going on prosperously.” Mrs. Molesworth, writing to Mrs. Howard (Countess of Suffolk), in June, 1720, says—
“To tell you the truth, I am South Sea mad, and I find that philosophic temper of mind which made me content under my circumstances, when there was no seeming probability of bettering them, forsakes me on this occasion; and I cannot, without great regret, reflect that for want of a little money, I am forced to let slip an opportunity which is never like to happen again. Perhaps you will think me unreasonable when I tell you that good Lady Sunderland was so mindful of her absent friends as to secure us a £500 subscription, which money my father had laid down for us, and it is now doubled; but this has but given me a taste of fortune, which makes me more eager to pursue it. As greedy as I seem, I should have been satisfied if I could by any means have raised the sum of £500 or £1000 more, but the vast price that money bears, and our being not able to make any security according to law, has made me reject a scheme I had laid of borrowing such a sum of some monied friend.”
The ladies got their men friends, with whom they corresponded copiously, to gamble for them. Thus the Duke of Argyll, in 1719–20, acted for the Countess of Suffolk, and invested for her a large sum of money in the Missouri scheme, informing her from time to time how things were going.
The taste for speculation was worse than the taste for French fashions, which was decried by Lord Chesterfield.
“I do not mean to undervalue the French,” he writes. “I know their merit. They are a cheerful, industrious, ingenious, polite people, and have many things in which I wish we did imitate them. But, like true mimics, we only ape their imperfections, and awkwardly copy those parts which all reasonable Frenchmen themselves contemn in the originals. If this folly went no farther than disguising both our meats and ourselves in the French modes, I should bear it with more patience, and content myself with representing only to my country folks that the one would make them sick and the other ridiculous; but when even the materials for the folly are to be brought over from France too, it becomes a much more serious consideration. Our trade and manufactures are at stake, and what seems at first only very silly is, in truth, a great national evil and a piece of civil immorality.”
The great lady of the eighteenth century is always, so to speak, in full dress. She seems to live in and for society, to be the leading figure in a great show. It is difficult to think of her except with a train and an elaborate coiffure, with her fan and smelling-bottle and her grand manner en princesse. The elaboration of life in the fashionable world, the affectations of speech and manner, and the imposing costumes surround her with an air of artificiality. Though she might be an ardent politician or a brilliant wit, though she might achieve fame in the world of letters, she lived in a narrow circle. The great social movements of the country were as nothing to her. The history of the classes below her own had no meaning for her mind. Court intrigues, political changes, were events of moment; they were part of her world; she knew no other. Her outlook was limited to personal interests and ambitions. The accident of birth gave her a part to play in the affairs of the world. And she played it like a great lady, whose proper business is pleasure. She flirted, intrigued, and cajoled; suffered herself to be alternately flattered and neglected when she wanted a place at court or to worm out some political secret for a friend. But of the healthy, broad interest which regards the politics of to-day, both home and foreign, as the history of the morrow, she was generally devoid.

The great lady of the eighteenth century, unless she happened to be gifted with exceptional breadth of view, was indifferent—often contemptuously indifferent—to matters outside her own fashionable circle. Her education and the temperament of the age fostered this feeling. She had not the domestic responsibilities of women of a lower grade, or of great ladies of former times. In their place she was offered the distractions of society. One by one her duties had fallen away from her. Domestic occupations did not form part of the rôle of a great lady then any more than at the present time. The altered conditions of life gave her leisure; the increase of luxury begat a distaste for exertion. There was a great deal of licence of manners allowed to women, but little real freedom. They could not venture out of the beaten track without incurring ridicule, and possibly insult. In all the relations of life they were made to feel they were dependent beings. As daughters they had the inferior portion, and no profession but marriage. As wives they had nothing at all of their own, not even their children—a condition only remedied late in the present century. But the lack of all interest in their children, which was said to be a characteristic of the French nobility, was not so marked in England. In France it was considered very bourgeois to be surrounded by a family. Husbands and wives commonly lived independent lives. “Une mariage uni devient une anomalie dans le grand monde, un manque de goût.”
It was the attitude in which women were regarded that affected their position more than the actual existence of repressive or deteriorating customs. And to public opinion the great lady was both more susceptible and more subject than other women, for she lived with all eyes upon her. Without a great deal of moral courage she could not step out of her bounds or revolt against the conditions of her life. A narrow mental horizon, a cramping education, united with wealth and high place, were not favourable to the evolution of women, morally or intellectually. In the eighteenth century women moved in a circle, from the meshes of which they were not freed until the present century had run half its course.

With all the elaborate airs and dress which prevailed in the eighteenth century there was a coarseness of taste and behaviour which is in odd contrast to the exaggerated politeness affected by beaux and élégantes. There seems a good foundation Walpole’s description of the gaiety of the women as “an awkward jollity.” The diversions of the great ladies read strangely to our modern ears. What would be thought now of dukes and duchesses going about London with their friends in hired vehicles to see the sights? But in the spring of 1740, the Duke and Duchess of Portland organized a jaunt (as one of the party described it) to the City to see the City show-places. There were four ladies and four gentlemen, and they set out at ten o’clock in the morning in a couple of hackney coaches, made a comprehensive tour, and wound up by dining at a City tavern. “I never spent a more agreeable day,” writes one of the ladies of the party.

The fashionable diversions, balls and routs, were repeated over and over again at every watering-place.
“Pleasure with an English lady is a capital and rational affair. A party at Bath is perhaps the fruit of six months’ meditation and intrigue: she must feign sickness, gain over the servants, corrupt the physician, importune an aunt, deceive a husband, and in short have recourse to every artifice in order to succeed, and the business at last is to get fully paid for all the pains that have been taken. Pleasure is so much the more attractive to the English women as it is less familiar and costs them more to obtain. Melancholy persons feel joy more sensibly than those who are habituated to it.'
Amusements had no background of broad general interests. It was inevitable that their effect should be enervating. Some fresh zest was wanting, and it was found in a licentiousness of manner, just as flavour was added to conversation by doubtful anecdotes. A phrase in general use was “demi-reps.” It was the fashion to abbreviate words, and “rep” was commonly used for “reputation,” a thing in constant danger of being lost or destroyed at tea-tables. Walpole, writing in the last quarter of the century, notes with pleasure and surprise the unusual occupations of some of his fair friends, who busied themselves with carving and decorative work to adorn the interior of their houses.
“How much more amiable,” he says, “the old women of the next age will be than most of those we remember who used to tumble at once from gallantry to devout scandal and cards, and revenge on the young of their own sex the desertion of ours. Now they are ingenious. They will not want amusement.”
The great ladies of the eighteenth century sadly wanted amusement, for they had nothing else to fill up their time. It was not fashionable to be philanthropic, to start societies for the propagation of new social creeds. And there were not nearly so many diversions. There was no fishing in the Norwegian fjords in the summer, no autumn shooting-parties among the Scotch moors, no winter trips to the Riviera. At Bath, Tunbridge Wells, and other spas whither the fashionable world resorted, the social round was only varied by the bathing and drinking. The bad state of the roads often afforded diversion to the young, and many a merry mishap befell parties returning from festivities in the country. It certainly added to the excitement of a ball to know that there was every probability of being overturned on the road, or having to ford a stream swollen by the rain. The vivacious Elizabeth Robinson (afterwards Mrs. Montagu) describes how greatly she relished a break-down of the carriage on the return journey after a ball in the country.

The highwaymen who haunted the outskirts of London lent a melodramatic colour to all assemblies after dark. Even in broad daylight people who had anything to lose traversed unfrequented roads with fear and trembling. Certainly these conditions of social life averted the danger of monotony.
Looked at from another side, the great lady of the eighteenth century bears favourable comparison with the great lady of modern times. She was a more distinct individual influence in society than her successors. And yet neither then nor later had we salons comparable to those in Paris.

“Il n’y a pas à Londres comme à Paris des bureaux de femmes de bel esprit. Les auteurs anglais ne consultent pas les femmes; ils ne mendient pas leurs suffrages. Les affaires publiques intéressent le beau sexe anglais, mais il ne s’ingère pas de décider entre les intérêts de l’opposition et de la cour. Les femmes dans le monde, ne parlent ni de guerre, ni de politique, pratiquent leur religion et ne discutent point des dogmes. En général les femmes anglaises sont douces, modestes, et vertueuses.
But there were notable society leaders, such as the ladies who founded Almack’s Club, some of whom, like Lady Molyneux, were beauties who set the fashions. Almack’s, which was opened in 1765, was a club for both sexes, on the model of the men’s club at White’s. Ladies nominated and elected the men, and the men chose the ladies. The founders were Mrs. Fitzroy, Lady Pembroke, Mrs. Meynel, Miss Pelham, Miss Lloyd, and Lady Molyneux.

Better known to after generations are the names of the beautiful Duchess of Devonshire, the Duchess of Rutland, Lady Mary Chudleigh, the sisters Gunning. Mrs. Elizabeth Montagu, whose most intimate friend was the Duchess of Portland, collected the wits and brilliant talkers, and made Montagu House a rallying-point for all that was most attractive in society. The Countess of Suffolk was at one time the centre round which court gossip revolved. Lady Caroline Petersham kept up the pace with her frolics and jaunts. There was the more strictly political set, who were perpetually discussing the action of Ministers, and the probable effects on themselves and their friends. The ladies in this set, impelled largely by personal motives, were as keen about political moves as any party wire-puller.
“Our ladies are grown such vehement politicians that no other topic is admissible,” writes Walpole in 1783, the year of the memorable Westminster election. He complains that
“politics have engrossed all conversation and stifled other events, if any have happened. Indeed, our ladies who used to contribute to enliven correspondence are become politicians, and, as Lady Townley says, ‘squeeze a little too much lemon into conversation.’”
There was a good deal of acrimony imported into the atmosphere of political circles, partly because of the strong personal element pervading all politics. The weakness of eighteenth-century society was its narrowness. It cared nothing, comparatively speaking, for large general questions. The literary set discussed books and authors, but society in general did not care very much about literature. A new poem or a new romance were matters of interest because new; it was the correct thing to show acquaintance with the latest productions in verse or prose. Politics absorbed a great many in the fashionable world, but chiefly on the ground of personal interest. Society lived in a kind of mental stays.

The great ladies of the eighteenth century do not seem to have thought of work as a distraction when pleasures began to pall. They would have been bored to extinction at the idea. The worship of work is a characteristic of the nineteenth century. Those who do not work for profit work for the sake of the occupation, at some self-imposed task. The great philanthropic current, using the adjective to describe all forms of social amelioration, has drawn into its stream numbers of recruits from the so-called leisured classes. Indeed it is the members of this class who largely carry on works of general usefulness. England has become the country of volunteers in the public service.

The eighteenth century worshipped idleness. It looked upon labour as ignoble. This view of life had its effect on the bringing-up of girls in the higher ranks. They were bred to idleness as their proper vocation. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, writing to her daughter, Lady Bute, in 1753, about the education of the Countess’s daughter, says—
“I could give many examples of ladies whose ill-conduct has been very notorious, which has been owing to that ignorance which has exposed them to idleness, which is justly called the mother of mischief. There is nothing so like the education of a woman of quality as that of a prince: they are taught to dance, and the exterior part of what is called good breeding, which if they attain, they are extraordinary creatures in their kind, and have all the accomplishments required by their directors. The same characters are formed by the same lessons, which inclines me to think (if I dare say it), that nature has not placed us in an inferior rank to men, no more than the females of other animals, where we see no distinction of capacity; though I am persuaded that if there was a commonwealth of rational horses (as Dr. Swift has supposed), it would be an established maxim among them that a mare could not be taught to pace.”
The life of a great lady in the eighteenth century is well reflected in the contemporary literature. The satires of poets, the strictures of moralists, the raillery of wits, bring before us the social side of the period in numberless ways. A lady who was not a politician or a blue-stocking killed time by rising late, spending several hours over an elaborate toilette, and preparing herself for the gaieties of the evening. The eighteenth century was in some respects a period of inanition. The formalism which pervaded its literature was seen in another aspect in the social life of the age. There was a general want of the sympathetic spirit. Each circle in society lived shut up within itself, not knowing, nor caring to know, how the rest of the world went on. The narrowness of this attitude told more strongly on the wealthy classes, who had not the stimulus of being obliged to make an effort for the satisfaction of any desire. Social progress, as a recent writer has observed, is not the product of the intellect, but is due to the altruistic spirit. This spirit was asleep in the eighteenth century. In previous centuries there had been more progress with fewer opportunities. During periods of unrest women’s energies were called forth to cope with difficulties which a later civilization smoothed away. Family life, even for great ladies, offered scope, in times past, for the constant exercise of activity in the discharge of functions which lapsed in more refined ages. The leisure which had been painfully won in the progress of civilization the women of the eighteenth century knew not how to use. They dallied with trifles, yawned out of sheer vacuity, invented wants to pass the time, were by turns elated and vapourish, and affected sentiment for the sake of excitement. There were servile imitations of French manners as well as fashions, and neither were successful. Instead of progressing to a wider life, society turned off into a sidewalk of artificiality and moral inertia.

Compiled from sources in the public domain.

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Smiles & Good Fortune,
It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Shadows in a Timeless Myth Presents Heroines of the English Civil War

The great constitutional struggle of the seventeenth century was a struggle in which the whole nation was engaged. Every move on either side sent a thrill of hope or fear, of joy or indignation, throughout the kingdom. The brave defence of castle and home by the women, the patient endurance of hardship, the courage in presence of danger, the quick wit which could avert misfortune, make the Civil War of the seventeenth century peculiarly rich in striking incident. Every family of importance was ranged on one side or the other, and many a one that could lay claim to no special distinction acquired fame during the struggle, while a fierce additional interest was lent by the religious element. All classes, in fact, were affected. None could stand aloof. The civil war became not only a national but also a domestic question, a matter of the deepest personal concern to hundreds who had no interest in statecraft. It was remarkable for the absence of any foreign element. The contest lay between King and people, or rather between royal prerogative and the liberty of the subject. The Queen herself, Henrietta of Nance, though as a Roman Catholic she was the source of contention, played but an insignificant part in the war. She had not the spirit of Margaret of Anjou, and, on account of her alien creed, commanded the sympathies of neither side. The Queen never formed a party strong enough to change the current of events. She was one of the dramatis personæ in the great tragedy, but not a leading actor. It was a people’s war. The influence of foreign allies, the factions of court favourites, were as nothing. In former periods when civil war had raged, the flame had been kindled and fed by disputes for power among sovereigns and princes; the struggle had always assumed something of an imperial character. In the seventeenth century it was a purely internal dissension. Hence the overwhelming interest felt in the struggle by both women as well as men, of all classes.

Women both on the Royalist and the Puritan side were in the thick of the fray, sometimes actually taking part in the fight, as in the case of the Countess of Derby, whose defence of Lathom House against the Parliamentarians is among the most noted incidents of the war; or like Lucy Hutchinson, playing an equally important rôle in attending to the wounded. Mrs. Hutchinson, strong Puritan as she was, regarded Cromwell as a usurper and a despot, though she admitted his greatness, and his family excited her scorn and derision.
“His wife and children were setting up for principality which suited no better with any of them than scarlet on the ape; only to speak the truth of himself, he had much natural greatness and well became the place he had usurped.”
Lucy Hutchinson’s father, Sir Allen Aspley, was governor of the Tower during the time of Sir Walter Raleigh’s imprisonment. Her mother was in the habit of visiting Sir Walter, and helping him with the chemical experiments with which he wiled away the hours when not engaged in writing his “History of the World.” It has been suggested that Mrs. Hutchinson obtained from her mother some knowledge of the properties of medicine, for during the siege of Nottingham she proved most helpful in dressing the soldiers’ wounds, and her plasters and balsams were found most efficacious even in dangerous cases. Mrs. Hutchinson was not the only member of her sex who proved herself able and ready for action in the city of Nottingham. After the siege was practically over, and the royalist forces had departed, the town was constantly being fired. Thereupon the women banded themselves together, and in parties of fifty patrolled the streets every night.

Mrs. Hutchinson was of great service, at the beginning of 1660, in assisting to quell the disturbances which arose over the elections. There was a strong party in the city for the King, and much ill feeling aroused between the townsmen and the soldiers of the Commonwealth. Just as matters were coming to a crisis and the soldiers were preparing to take vengeance on the citizens, Mrs. Hutchinson opportunely arrived—
“and being acquainted with the captaines perswaded them to doe nothing in a tumultuary way, however provok’d, but to complain to the generall, and lett him decide the businesse. The men, att her entreaty, were content so to doe, the townsmen alsoe consenting to restreine their children and servants and keepe the publick peace.”
It was in the year 1643 that the Countess of Derby began her memorable defence of Lathom House. The Countess was a Frenchwoman, a daughter of the Duc de Tremouille, and a descendant of Count William of Nassau. Negotiations began in May with a summons from Mr. Holland, Governor of Manchester, to Lady Derby to subscribe to the propositions of the Parliament or yield up Lathom House. The Earl was then away, fighting for the King. Her ladyship refused either to subscribe or to give up her house.
“From this time she endured a continual siege, being, with the exception of the gardens and walks, confined as a prisoner within her own walls, with the liberty of the castle-yard, suffering the sequestration of the whole estate, besides daily affronts and indignities from unworthy persons.”
The Countess was very circumspect, putting a restraint upon her soldiers, and giving no provocation to her foes, “and so by her wisdom kept them at a more favourable distance for the space of almost a whole year.”

In the following February Sir Thomas Fairfax wrote demanding surrender, to which the Countess replied that—
“she much wondered that Sir Thomas Fairfax should require her to give up her lord’s house without any offence on her part done to the Parliament, desiring that in a business of such weight which struck both at her religion and at her life, and that so nearly concerned her sovereign, her lord, and her whole posterity, she might have a week’s consideration.”
The Parliamentarian general then proposed a conference at a house about a quarter of a mile distant from Lathom House, but the Countess refused with dignity, saying she conceived it “more knightly that Sir Thomas Fairfax should wait upon her than she upon him.” After further parleyings with Parliamentarians, she finally sent the following spirited message:—
“That she refused all their articles, and was truly happy that they had refused hers, protesting she had rather hazard her life than offer the like again. That though a woman and a stranger, divorced from her friends and robbed of her estate, she was ready to receive their utmost violence, trusting in God both for protection and deliverance.”
The siege thereupon commenced, and was carried on in a desultory fashion by Sir Thomas Fairfax, who, after six or seven weeks, resigned his post to Colonel Rigby of Preston. The Countess commanded her troops, numbering three hundred soldiers, in person. The besiegers amounted to between two and three thousand men, of whom they lost five hundred, while the Countess lost only six during the whole period, two of those being killed by their own negligence.

After manufacturing a number of grenadoes, the Colonel sent a very peremptory message to the Countess demanding that Lathom House should be surrendered. Lady Derby received the message surrounded by her troops. She tore up the paper, and, turning to the messenger, said—
“Tell that insolent rebel [Rigby] he shall neither have person, goods, nor house; when our strength of provisions are spent, we shall find a fire more merciful than Rigby’s, and then, if the providence of God prevent it not, my goods and house shall burn in his sight; and myself, children, and soldiers, rather than fall into his hands, will seal our religion and loyalty in the same flame.”
The Countess followed up her words with deeds, and at four o’clock the next morning caused a sally to be made, whereby her soldiers got possession of the ditch and rampart, and of a very destructive mortar piece which had been pouring forth grenadoes from its mouth on to the besieged. Rigby wrote to the deputy-lieutenants of Lancashire begging for assistance. “The length of the siege,” he complained, “and the hard duties have wearied all soldiers.” As for himself, he says, “I almost languish under the burden, having toiled above my strength.” However, nobody had time to attend to Rigby’s complaints, and after a few more weeks he raised the siege. Help was now coming to the beleaguered garrison. The Earl of Derby and Prince Rupert were on their way, and Rigby, in his endeavours to escape the Royalist forces, was surprised and badly beaten just as he had reached the town of Bolton.
“In this memorable action the Countess was amply revenged. The Earl of Derby took the first colour that fell before the Royalists, and with his own hand cut down a man who had once been his servant, but who had deserted with the intention of betraying his mistress in the time of her greatest peril.”
Another memorable siege in 1643 was that of Wardour Castle in Wiltshire, the family seat of Lord Arundel. The Parliamentarians seized the opportunity when Lord Arundel was engaged in the king’s service at Oxford to besiege the castle. They came with a supposed warrant to seize certain plate, money, and arms. Lady Blanche Arundel, though she had only a handful of men—twenty-five, it is said—to oppose the thirteen hundred soldiers mustered under Sir Edward Hungerford and Colonel Strode, bravely refused to yield to the demand that she should surrender the castle, saying “she had a command from her lord to keep it, and she would obey his command.” Cannon were brought up within musket-shot, and the battery continued from Wednesday to the following Monday. Two mines were sprung in a vault through which food was conveyed. One of these mines, being connected by passages with several parts of the castle, did much damage.

Sir Edward Hungerford again and again offered to grant quarter to the women and children if the castle were surrendered, but the offer was contemptuously refused, the women bravely resolving to die beside the men rather than live on dishonourable terms. The female servants were very useful in reloading muskets and bringing food to the soldiers.

But at length the besieged became worn out with the strain. Food was short, and they got no rest night or day. The soldiers were so faint and weary they could scarcely wield their arms.
“It might have been a doubt which they would have first loaded their muskets withal, either powder before bullet or bullet before powder, had not the maid servants (valiant beyond their sex) assisted them and done that service for them. Lastly, now when the rebels had brought petarrs and applied them to the garden door (which if forced opened a free passage into the castle), and balls of wild fire to show in at their windows, and all hope of keeping the castle was taken away; now, and not till now, did the besieged sound a parley.”
This was after the siege had lasted nine days. Five van-loads of costly furniture were carried off by the Parliamentarians, who plundered and destroyed as much as £100,000 worth of property. The women and children were carried off prisoners to Shaftesbury.

Corfe Castle, Dorsetshire, was bravely held for the Royalists in 1643 by Lady Mary Bankes, wife of the Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, “to her eternall honour be it spoken, with her daughters, women and five soldiers.” Being so short of men and arms, the besieged had recourse to stones and hot embers. These missiles they cast over the walls, which the foe were attempting to scale, and greatly diminished the strength of the attack. The siege lasted six weeks, and the leader of the Parliamentarian army was so dispirited that when the news arrived that a party of Royalists were advancing to relieve the castle, he took flight. The next in command, not being disposed to try conclusions with a fresh force, did not even wait to collect his artillery and ammunition, but slipped away at night in a boat. Among other booty he left behind about a hundred horses.

A distinguished Irish lady, Lettice Digby, Baroness of Offaley, displayed marvellous courage during the troubles of 1641, when the Irish rebels stormed her castle of Greashill, in King’s County. Although she was upwards of sixty years of age, she undertook the defence of her home with great vigour. The castle stood in the midst of bogs and woods, and Lady Lettice, relying on the security of her position, closed the gates and refused to listen to any terms for surrender. She was at length relieved by Viscount Lisle and Sir Charles Cook, and, having been supplied with food and firearms, she resolved not to leave the castle, but to take the risk of another assault. This occurred soon after, and on this second occasion Sir Richard Grenville came to her aid. Apparently this valorous lady was then induced to change her quarters. She died in 1658, at Cobs Hill, Warwickshire, one of her estates.

Lady Fanshawe, whose father was an ardent Royalist, endured a good deal both before and after her marriage, which took place in 1644. Sir Richard Fanshawe, who was a connection on her mother’s side, held the post of Secretary of War to the Prince of Wales, and was taken prisoner at the battle of Worcester.
“During the time of his imprisonment,” writes Lady Fanshawe in the “Memoirs” she compiled for her children, “I failed not constantly to go when the clock struck four in the morning, with a dark lantern in my hand, all alone and on foot, from my lodgings in Chancery-lane, at my cousin Youngs, to Whitehall, in at the entry that went out of King-street into the Bowling-green. There I would go under his window and softly call him; he, after the first time excepted, never failed to put out his head at the first call: thus we talked together, and sometimes I was so wet with the rain that it went in at my neck and out at my heels. He directed me how I should make my addresses, which I did ever to their General Cromwell, who had a great respect for your father, and would have bought him off to his service upon any terms.”
After great exertions, she succeeded in getting her husband released on bail.

While in Ireland Lady Fanshawe displayed great courage. She was in Cork with her children, her husband being engaged elsewhere, during the revolt of 1649. The city was in the hands of Cromwell’s army, but “through thousands of naked swords” she conveyed her children and her maids to a place of safety.

During the war women as well as men were called upon to contribute money and arms to the Commonwealth. A letter from Cromwell himself was addressed from Huntingdon, August 2, 1643, “to the Bachelors and Maids.”
“I understand,” he wrote, “by these gentlemen, the good affection of your young men and maids, for which God is to be praised. I approve of the business, only I desire to advise you that your foot company may be turned into a troop of horse, which indeed will (by God’s blessing) far more advantage the cause than two or three companies of foot, especially if your men be honest, godly men, which by all means I desire. I thank God for stirring up the youth to cast in their mite, which I desire may be employed to the best advantage; therefore my advice is, that you would employ your twelve-score pounds to buy my pistols and saddles, and I will provide four-score horses; for £400 more will not raise a troop of horse.”
A typical instance of the straits to which gentlewomen were reduced, and the hardships and injuries which they suffered, may be found in the case of Mistress Joyce Jefferies, a maiden lady of good birth and some fortune, living on her own property in the thoroughly Royalist city of Hereford, which went through many vicissitudes during the Civil War. In 1638 Mistress Jefferies was called upon for ship money. This she paid, and also provided one soldier in respect of her farm and one for her other property in Hereford when the Trained Bands were called out. The ancestral armour which hung rusting on her walls she had taken down and cleaned ready for use. Up to the year 1642 Mistress Jefferies was able to remain unmolested in her own house, but in September of that year the Earl of Essex was advancing rapidly westward and took possession of the city of Worcester. It was felt that Hereford was no longer a safe place for Royalists, so, packing up some furniture and clothes, Mistress Jefferies got into her carriage and drove away.
“I came,” she writes in her diary or account-book, “to Kilkinton, to my cosin penreeses house from heriford for feare of ye parliaments army, September 23d, 1642. The 27 I came from thence to Mr. Geeres at Garnons.”
She contrived to have some of her possessions sent after her, for there are records of payment to different carriers—
“Paid Edward Parsons of heryford for helpping to carry my goods out of my howse in heriford to the cart that brought hit to Kilkinton, for feare of ye coming of ye parliaments army from Worcester to heriford 1s. Gave another man for helpping in the same work 3d. Paid Edward Stefens, Carier, for cariing a way my trunks and boxes and bedding from heriford to Kilkinton 25s.”
She saved some things by hiding them in the coal cellar, for she notes down that she paid fourpence to a “carpinder to pass my standard powles in ye cole house when the souldiers would had them barricade Widmarsh Gate.” She did not get away much too soon, for she writes—
“Friday the 30. The Parliaments Army cam to herifford frõ Worster, Henry Gray, Earle of Stamford, ye Generall. On Tewsday morning October 4 captain Hamon and his barons company plundered Mr. Geereses house at Garnons, both them and me of much Goods, toke a way my 2 bay coache mares and som money, and much Linen: and Elyza Acton’s clothes. I cam frõ Garnons ye same Tewsday to Mr. John Garpinder’s to Hinton, a mile off, and staied there till the 14 of December following.”
From place to place this good lady went seeking safety. She was reduced to having her clothes hidden in different places.
“January 7 feare of ye plunderers gave goody Lawrence for keeping clothes of myne and Eliza Actons (a young lady who lived with her) in ye hill for feare 1s.”
When she could not save her apparel from falling into the enemy’s hands, she managed sometimes to redeem it, as in the following case:—
“Paid Mathias Rafford w^{ch} he laid out to redeeme my 2 black bever Hatts, and 2 gould bands out of ye theefes or plunderers hand, they took at Garnons 21/6.”
Soldiers had meantime been quartered in her house in Hereford, where she had left her maidservants, and whither Miss Eliza Acton seems to have gone from time to time to keep things in order. When the Royalists triumphed and established a garrison in the city, Mistress Jefferies paid her quota for the support of the soldiers. She was one of the richest householders in the city. The victory of the Royalists was short-lived, for in 1643 Hereford was again besieged by the Parliamentary forces. So things went on for a couple of years, and Mistress Jefferies had to consent to see her comfortable house in the outskirts of the city razed to the ground to make room for military operations when another siege was expected. Far from grumbling at her own misfortunes, she was always ready to lend a helping hand to her neighbours. The income derived from her estates was seized by those other “plunderers,” the Parliamentary Committee, who doled out to her some portion of her own property, imposing fines simply because she was a Royalist.

A distant relative of Mistress Jefferies was reduced to the most abject poverty during this period. This was a Mrs. Conyngesby, whose husband was sheriff of the county of Hereford, and also the owner of Hampton Court. Before the war broke out he had been burdened with debts, and during the early years of the Commonwealth, while he was absent from England, his family were reduced almost to beggary. Mrs. Conyngesby was constantly besieging the authorities who received petitions in Goldsmiths’ Hall, begging for one-fifth part of her husband’s estates, for her children were wanting food. These kinds of petitions were continually pouring in at Goldsmiths’ Hall, and though orders were given for money to be paid, much laxity was shown in the execution, and the wretched petitioners were kept for weary months in suspense and privation, and deemed themselves fortunate if they secured anything from the general wreck.

A foremost figure in the troubles going on in Ireland while war was raging in England was Lady Ranelagh, daughter of the first Earl of Cork. Through her persuasions her husband was induced to change sides and come over from the King to the Parliament. He became a genuine supporter of Cromwell, giving up to the common cause five castles, and also aiding the Parliamentary forces with men and arms. His family were, in consequence, reduced to great straits, and in 1646 Lady Ranelagh petitioned Parliament for some support. The sum of £6 a-week was allowed her for four years, and after this she had £4 a-week up to 1653. In spite of her anti-Stuart feelings, she was a good friend to those of the other side who were in distress. The eldest son of Lord Clarendon, who, after the Revolution, was involved in a plot for the restoration of James II., owed much to her good offices, as did also the second son who proclaimed himself in favour of the hereditary line of sovereigns, and was in danger of losing his government pension. Through Lady Ranelagh’s friendship with Bishop Burnet, who used his good offices with the Queen, the offence was passed over. Lady Ranelagh, on the other hand, made efforts to save the life of Lord William Russell, and tried to help those persecuted for religion like William Riffin, who was arrested by order of the Duke of Buckingham for preaching in a Baptist chapel.

It will be seen how frequently women were called upon to take a personal and decisive part in the great struggle of the seventeenth century.
“There was no security against the lawlessness of the soldiery, who availed themselves (on both sides) of the slightest pretext for entering private houses, and plundering and menacing the inhabitants. A suspicion of disaffection either way, or the possession of arms or gunpowder, was excuse enough for violence and rapine. Unprotected widows, or ladies left in charge of mansions and domains while their husbands were out levying troops, offered irresistible temptation to the scattered parties of half-fed troops that went marauding hungrily over the country."
Two sisters wrote the following appeal to General Fairfax:—
“May it please your Excellency to vouchsafe me and my sister Ann your honourable favour and protection for our goods, and that we may not suffer though my brother hath broke his promise with your lordship; which I vow my Lord, I was altogether ignorant of, and it grieves me infinitely; for that we have ever found your lordship so noble a friend to our house. Therefore I beseech your lordship to commiserate our cases who are left orphans, and for my dear deceased father’s sake, who loved and honoured your lordship truly, let us not, who are innocent, suffer; but that your wonted goodness and favour may still reflect and shine upon us, by which you shall oblige us ever to remain my Lord,
“Your lordship’s most humble servants,
Mary Middleton,
Ann Middleton.”
The Parliament were very much afraid of the leading women in the Royalist party, and to undermine their influence and prevent communication, orders were given that certain ladies should be removed from their homes. Colonel Chomeley was directed particularly to get Lady Musgrave out of the way. A letter was sent from William Roe, Secretary to the Commissioners, dated from Newcastle, April 12, 1645—
“Whereas we are informed that the wives of sundry of our enemies in Carlisle are remaining at their own houses in Cumberland and Westmoreland, from whence they may give intelligence of all that passeth amongst yourselves, and are ready to stir the vil humours and to improve all discontents, to the raising up of tumults, and bringing in confusion with the people and inhabitants their neighbours, round about them: we think fit and hereby order that Colonel Chomeley shall take care to apprehend all such persons as he may have just cause to suspect to be stirrers up of sedition and insurrection; that in particular he would repair to the Lady Musgrave at Eden Hall, and conduct her to Carlisle, where she may remain with her husband, Sir Philip Musgrave, in more security than in her house at Eden Hall, in these tumultuous and troublesome times; and of this service we expect an account as speedily as may be.”
Lady Musgrave, whose husband, Sir Philip Musgrave, was a staunch Royalist, addressed the following remonstrance to Lord Fairfax:—
“I have formerly received your lordship’s protection for my remaining at Eden Hall, if I be obedient to ordinance of Parliament, which they cannot tax me, for my accusation is suspicion of intelligence, without desert or proof. Colonel Chomeley hath orders for my removing. I did desire the stay of us till I knew your honour’s pleasure. Eden Hall is my jointure, where my humble suit is to remain, being very unfit for travel. But I wholly refer myself to your lordship’s pleasure, both for means, and what place I and my children may remain together at, presuming that your honourable favour and worth will consider my poor condition, which shall ever oblige me to be,
“Your most obedient servant,
Julian Musgrave.”
Another instance of the prominent part which women were compelled to take in the stormy politics of the seventeenth century, may be found in the life of Lady Anne Halkett, the daughter of Thomas Murray, who was Secretary to Charles I. when Prince of Wales. It was Mistress Anne who, at the request of Colonel Bamfield, assisted the Duke of York to escape from St. James’s Palace. She caused a female costume to be made for the duke by her own tailor, having first procured the necessary measurements from Colonel Bamfield. There was a little awkwardness about this initial proceeding, for the tailor much wondered at the directions given him.
“When I gave the measure to my tailor to inquire how much mohaire would serve to make a petticoate and wastcoate to a young gentlewoman of that bignesse and stature, hee considered itt a long time, and said hee had many gownes and suites, butt hee had never made any to such a person in his life. I thought hee was in the right, butt his meaning was, hee had never seene any woman of so lowe a stature have so big a waste; however hee made itt as exactly fitt as if hee had taken the measure himselfe. It was a mixed mohaire of a light haire colour and blacke, and ye under petticoate was scarlett.”
It was arranged that the duke should make his escape on the evening of April 20, 1648. The duke was accustomed to play at hide and seek with his attendants after supper, and this game was employed to cover his flight. Colonel Bamfield waited at the garden gate of the palace, and conveyed the duke to a house that he had hired, where the costume was in readiness, and Mistress Anne and another were waiting in great anxiety.
“I had many feares,” she writes, “for Colonel Bamfield had desired me, if they came nott there precisely by ten a’clocke, to shift for myselfe, for then I might conclude they were discovered, and soe my stay there could doe no good, but prejudice my selfe. Yett this did nott make me leave the howse, though ten a’clocke did strike, and hee that was intrusted offten wentt to the landing place, and saw no boate comming was much discouraged, and asked mee what I would doe. I told him I came there with a resolution to save his Highnesse, and I was fully determined nott to leave that place till I was outt of hopes of doing what I came there for, and would take my hazard. Hee left me to go againe to ye watter-side, and heard a great noise of many as I thought comming up staires, which I expected to be soldiers to take mee, but it was a pleasing disapointmentt, for ye first that came in was ye Duke, who with much joy I took in my armes and gave God thankes for his safe arrivall. His Highnese called ‘Quickely, quickely, dress me,’ and putting off his cloaths I dressed him in the women’s habitt that was prepared, which fitted his Highnese very well, and was pretty in itt. After hee had eaten something I made ready while I was idle lest his Highnese should be hungry, and having sent for a Woodstreet cake (which I knew he loved) to take in the barge, with as much hast as could bee his Highnese wentt crose the bridge to ye stairs where the large barge lay, Colonel Bamfield leading him; and immediately the boatmen plied the oare so well that they weare soone out of sight, having both wind and tyde with ym.”
The duke was not missed at first, his attendants supposing he had found some secure hiding-place. But as time sped on a thorough search was made, and the Earl of Northumberland, who had charge of the duke, sent to acquaint the Speaker of the House of Commons. Orders were given to stop and search all ships leaving the Cinque Ports, but the clerks employed to write the instructions were slow in making out the papers.
“None of them were able to writt one right, butt ten or twelve of ym were cast by before one was according to their mind.”
So the orders arrived too late.

In 1653 Mistress Anne Murray, while staying in Edinburgh, rendered an important service to the Earl of Balcarres, who was in danger of arrest. She undertook to warn him, and started early in the morning attended by a man-servant, reaching the Earl’s residence before ten o’clock. Lord and Lady Balcarres immediately left the house, and at their request Mistress Murray stayed with the children and packed up the books in trunks, for the Earl had a very fine library.
“I was very desirous,” she writes, “to serve them faithfully in what I was intrusted, and as soone as my Lord and Lady were gone, I made locke up the gates, and with ye helpe of Logan who served my Lord, and one of ye women, both beeing very trusty, I tooke downe all ye bookes, and putting them in trunkes and chests, sentt them all outt of the house in the night to the places appointed by my Lord, taking a short way of inventory to know what sort of bookes were sentt to every person.... The things had nott been two houres outt of the house when the troope of horse came and asked for my Lord.... They searched all the house, and seeing nothing in itt butt bare walls and weemen and children, they wentt away.”
Just before the Restoration, in February, 1660, when Monk caused the secluded members to be re-admitted to what was called a Free Parliament, there was great excitement among the country gentlemen. One of the most notable politicians was Lady Rochester, whose son, Sir Henry Lee, was a candidate. She writes to her friend Mr. Thomas Yates, on February 23—
“This day I received a letter from you with all the good newes in it, for which I give you thanks, and also for the care you tell me you have taken for my sonne Lee’s being chosen a Parliament man in the next election. I was formerly spoken to for Mr. Appletree, whome I must now lay absolutely aside by reason that Sir Ralphe Verney desires to bee one, who is a person whose owne merits is such, as it will bee a happinesse to the place, and they will have cause to give us thanks for him; besides, you know his relation to the childrens businesse obleiges me to doe him any service hee shall comand; if there should be noe oath imposed nor engagement, Sir Ralphe will accept of it himselfe, and if there should be any reason to divest him I shall desire it for his sonne. Good Mr. Yates, next to my sonne Lee, let not Sir Ralphe Verney faile of being chosen. What you shall say to the people of the place to encourage them to it, I shall leave to your prudence, depending uppon your descreation in presenting his merrits, and truly it will bee much to my satisfaction to serve him in this, and it will bee very kindly taken from you by her that is ye
“Your friend and servant,
Anne Rochester.”
Lady Rochester was a person of influence, and was besieged by applications for help. A little later she writes again—
“Here is such a doe about providing for burgeses place the nex perlement, I have ben soe trobeled with Solicitors for those places in the children’s estate that it has bin very trobelsome too mee, but I put them all off with telling them that I am already promised as far as my interest goes; I hope that Yates wil be carefull in securing a place for you and my sonne Lee, and those will bee as many as wee can compas. The town of Mamsbery sent too my sonne Lee that if hee would come in person they did hope too chuse him, though there were at least thirteine that did sue to bee choose in that towne, soe my sonne meanes too goe thether at the election for feare of the worst. Sir, if therebe anything wherein I may serve you more then I doe yet understand, bee pleased to command her that is your friend and servant
Anne Rochester.”
Turning from England to Scotland, we find women playing a notable part at a later period, when the House of Stuart again involved the country in civil war. The Jacobites kept up a political ferment from the time when James II. was impelled to lay down his crown and fly, to the death of his grandson Prince Charlie. The Young Pretender, who has been variously described as the pink of chivalry and a worthless debauchee, was the object of a very real and practical enthusiasm. In Scotland, ladies of rank and wealth enlisted eagerly in his cause. There is very little that is admirable in such partisans of Prince Charlie as Lady Ogilvie and the Duchess of Perth beyond their dauntless courage. But if half the men who flocked to the Young Pretender’s standard had been filled with the fiery spirit of those two notorious Scotchwomen, the course of political events would have been altered. As it was, they materially influenced the action of the leaders of the rebel party. Had it not been for the Duchess, the Duke of Perth would have been but a lukewarm adherent, and certainly would never have bestirred himself to raise a troop for the Prince on his own estate. But the Duchess shamed him into action. She herself went about for three days and nights collecting recruits, and when she had mustered seven hundred and fifty, she caused the Chevalier, as he was called, to be proclaimed by sound of bagpipes and hunting-horns from the walls of Castle Drummond. She accompanied the Scotch army to England, and when the expected reinforcements failed to appear at Carlisle, she told the hesitating Duke that if he turned back she would lead the men herself. She had not only to overcome her husband’s timidity, but to contend with the weakness of the Prince. When he talked of a retreat at Derby, she expressed her disgust in no measured terms, and gave him clearly to understand that she thought him a coward.
“If,” said the indignant lady, “I had as many women in my train as the Prince has men in his, I would not turn my back upon all the power the enemy could bring up.”
Much against her will, she was forced into the rear at the battle of Culloden, and was ultimately taken prisoner.

Her friend, Lady Ogilvie, was likewise always to be found wherever fighting was going on. She was present at the battle of Falkirk and at the siege of Stirling; but, unfortunately, her ferocity of temper marred the excellence of her courage. Her political foes were enemies for whom no measure of retaliation was too harsh. Lady Ogilvie, like the Duchess of Perth, was taken prisoner after Culloden, though she was not present at the battle.

But the heroine of the Jacobite rising was the famous Flora McDonald. The gentle but high-spirited girl, whose name has become a household word, was far from being a politician. When the Prince of Wales visited her in London after her release from the Tower, she said very frankly that she only acted towards Prince Charlie as she would have acted towards his Royal Highness himself had their positions been reversed. Womanly compassion moved her to imperil her life and the prospects of her family to relieve the distresses of a fugitive prince. At the same time she shared the enthusiasm of her country for the house of Stuart. The romantic story of her journey with Prince Charlie attired as her Irish maid-servant has been fully told in other pages. Her want of precaution in not stopping the mouths of the boatmen led to her arrest. Two weary months she spent in prison in Scotland, and was then conveyed to London and confined in the Tower. From this ominous fortress she was removed and placed in charge of a private family, where the Prince of Wales made his totally unexpected visit. Her candour so impressed him that he advised she should be restored to her friends. A free pardon was sent her, and Flora McDonald became the lioness of the London season. To the young Scotch gentlewoman, unaccustomed to the turmoil of fashionable life, and loving the freedom and solitude of the moors, London society soon became oppressive. She writes—
“To be in the fashion in London, the people appeared to me to live more out of their houses than in them; in the afternoon visiting, driving in their family coaches, attending sale-rooms where trumpery articles were sold by auction to the highest bidder, sometimes really scarcely worth taking home; for the principal part of the amusement consisted in the ladies outbidding each other, and generally amongst friends, so that large sums of money used to change hands in this frivolous way, which, no doubt, made their husbands very cross. However, the town ladies would, and I suppose ever will, contrive to have their own way. Then came the formal dinner-parties—oh, how I used to yawn behind my fan!—and often we went to see the play in Drury Lane, and, if it chanced to be a mournful tragedy, I could not help being so silly as to cry, it all seemed so natural and life-like. The best actor was Mr. Garrick, and he certainly was a great man in his profession. Mr. Cibber also was wonderfully clever: these were the first stage performers at that time....”
She goes on to describe how soon she tired of the constant whirl of London fashionable life,234 out all day driving from house to house, and every night at some place.
“I was sick,” she declares, “of the compliments paid me; indeed, in many cases the attentions of the gentlemen went beyond compliments.”
Presently this brilliant figure disappears from English society, and the heroine returns to her native land to marry her kinsman, Allan McDonald, and to become the mother of the celebrated Sir John McDonald.

Compiled from sources in the public domain.

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Smiles & Good Fortune,
It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Shadows In A Timeless Myth Presents Women and Witchcraft in Historic England

There is one aspect of women’s relation to the Church in the period under review which cannot be passed over without some brief notice, although any detailed examination of the subject would be impossible in a book of this scope and purpose. The subject of witchcraft, which has filled so many hundreds of volumes, is, after all, only a branch of a still larger subject—superstition. The beliefs of one age are the superstitions of the next, but it is sometimes difficult to say where the dividing-line should be drawn, for while a belief is not necessarily a superstition, a superstition has frequently the force and reality of a belief. The belief in witchcraft was very slow in passing into the phase of a superstition. Both the Catholic and the Protestant Church for many centuries denounced witchcraft as one of the greatest forms of evil, to be withstood by every possible means. To doubt its reality was to doubt one of the articles of faith. At certain periods in history, the persecution of witches broke forth like one of the great physical plagues that from time to time scourged Europe. The belief in witchcraft was a moral pestilence, insidious, far-reaching, and deadly in its effects.

Magic and sorcery have been believed in from the earliest times of recorded history. But although, in the first centuries of the Christian Church and throughout the Middle Ages, there was a dread of the black art, and those who practised it were liable to numerous punishments, and to death itself, there was, curiously enough, far less persecution than prevailed in later and more enlightened periods. The twelfth and thirteenth centuries were worse than the sixth, and the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were far more persecuting periods than the twelfth and thirteenth. Michelet, writing generally of the fourteenth century, says the witch saw before her—
“a horrible career of torments lighted up for three or four hundred years by the stake. After 1300, her medical knowledge is condemned as baleful, her remedies are proscribed as if they were poisons.”
With the uprising of the Protestant Church in the sixteenth century came a great wave of superstition. In the reign of Elizabeth, Bishop Jewell, preaching before the queen (1568), said—
“It may please your Grace to understand that witches and sorcerers within these few last years are marvellously increased within your Grace’s realm. Your Grace’s subjects pine away even unto the death, their colour fadeth, their flesh rotteth, their speech is benumbed, their knees are bereft. I pray God they never practise further than upon the subjects.”
There was no doubt about the sincerity of the bishop’s belief. “These eyes,” he said, “have seen most evident and manifest marks of their wickedness.” The reformers were the strongest believers in and the bitterest persecutors of witchcraft. Not even Innocent VIII., who, in 1484, promulgated a Bull against witchcraft and heresy, and thereby gave a great impetus to the persecution on the Continent, was more virulent against witches than Luther. “I should have no compassion on these witches,” said Luther, in a discussion on witchcraft. “I would burn all of them.” And he adds, “Witchcraft is the devil’s own proper work.”

In Scotland, where the Reformed Church exercised great sway, the persecution was much keener than in England.
“When a woman had fallen under suspicion, the minister from the pulpit denounced her by name, exhorted his parishioners to give evidence against her, and prohibited any one from sheltering her.”
In the seventeenth century the belief in witchcraft was much fostered by the Puritan party, who were the bitterest of persecutors. The Puritans were diligent students of the Old Testament, and doubtless considered that they had full warrant for their action from certain much-quoted passages in Scripture. The Puritans, like the Fathers in the Early Christian Church, had a very real belief in and horror of the power of supernatural evil; and, like the Fathers, they too believed that women were more inherently wicked than men—that they were more liable to assaults of Satan, and more easily drawn into communion with evil spirits.

Numerous as were the punishments inflicted upon sorcerers and magicians, the persecution of witches was far greater. King James I., in his “Demonology,” asks, “What can be the cause that there are twentie women given to that craft where there is only one man?” And he gives as his reason that women are frailer than men, quoting the fall of Eve as the beginning of Satan’s sovereignty over womankind. There was, however, a more obvious reason for the fact that women were so much more frequently denounced than men for practising the black art. The chief doctors and surgeons in former times were women. There was no formulated science of medicine down to the seventeenth century, but certain persons, generally women, acquired a large amount of knowledge of the properties of plants useful for healing, and methods of distilling and mixing vegetable juices. The healing art, like nursing, fell into the hands of women, and herbal lore was transmitted from mother to daughter, just as skill in cookery and in special kinds of needlework was handed down. Deftness, appreciation of detail, quick observation, and patience supplied the place of written knowledge. The conditions of life during the Middle Ages, and even down to the last century, were such as to afford plenty of scope for the exercise of practical ability. The women who had the greatest knowledge of the properties of plants were, naturally, those most dependent on nature—women of the poorer class, but women endowed with a greater share of insight, and larger brain power than their companions. The “wise women,” who usually dwelt alone in some humble dwelling remote from their neighbours, and “lived on their wits,” were naturally regarded with a tinge of awe by the ignorant, and were credited with some supernatural power. Their appearance and their habits—the result of poverty and loneliness—caused them to be looked upon with suspicion. To a wrinkled, repulsive visage was frequently united a temper equally obnoxious, and which was embittered by the gibes and sneers which were freely cast at the “old hag,” whose weapon of defence was her tongue. The curses which she poured forth on her tormentors inspired dread, and if by chance some bodily affliction attacked the cursed ones, it was invariably attributed to malevolence. All sorts of ills were ascribed to the spite of these outcasts of society: the maiming of cattle, the withering of pasture, diseases bodily and mental, misfortunes of every kind. The witch was never a bringer of good; she was always thought to be working evil, with or without motive. Women have been credited, not only by the ignorant multitude, but by philosophers, with the power, at certain seasons, of turning milk sour, making dogs savage, and effecting other things, by their mere presence.

It is not until the twelfth century that there is any definite mention of witchcraft in England. This seems strange when it is remembered that in the time of the early Britons what was known as magic or sorcery was practised by the wives of the Druid doctors. These women were noted for their skill in herbal medicine, and even credited with the power of causing evil as well as healing wounds. But the term “witch” does not seem to have come into use until the period mentioned. The twelfth century has been described by Mr. Lecky as the turning-point of European intellect. The first glimmerings of incredulity were showing forth. The Church became aware of some opposing force, and assumed the offensive. Circumstances that had hitherto passed unnoticed were regarded as danger-signals. Any evidences of unusual capacity for controlling physical forces, such as the “medicine women” showed, were regarded with hostility. Their power implied converse with Satan, for by no other means was it supposed that such knowledge and skill could be obtained. There was at that time a widespread belief in the supernatural, in the presence of evil spirits who infested the earth in all sorts of shapes to torment and deceive men. The theory that the wise woman was an emissary from the Prince of Darkness accorded with the popular delusions. The witch gradually became a distinct personality, a figure which troubled every society. Diseased imagination united to ignorance of physical science caused the belief in witchcraft to become a terror for centuries.

Witchcraft offered a solution of the problem of evil. How otherwise to account for the ills which beset humanity? It is difficult for us to realize the panic which took possession of people’s minds at the appearance of misfortunes such as plague, famine, drought, floods, and the like. The terrible pestilence, for which we can now to some extent account, appeared like a visitation of Providence or the direct work of Satan to an age which knew nothing of the laws of health, of the courses of disease, and very little of the structure and functions of the bodily organs. As time advanced, the belief in the power and malevolence of the women called witches increased. The Church, following in the steps of those Fathers who had credited women with being endowed with special capacity for evil, commenced a virulent persecution of witches. In the reign of John a woman was tried for witchcraft, but there was little detailed mention of such trials until the fourteenth century. In the year 1324 there was a celebrated case in Ireland, and this, the first trial of which we have any full account, was not that of some mis-shapen, miserable old woman living in a hovel, but a woman of good social rank and possessed of wealth, Lady Alice Kyteler, of Kilkenny. The lady’s troubles arose partly out of her excessive liking for matrimony. She had four husbands, and the principal count against her was that she had made away with these husbands by magic. There was at this period in the Papal chair a pope who held strong views on the subject of sorcery, Pope John XVII., and who issued the first Bull promulgated against it. Through the instrumentality of one of his Irish bishops, Lady Alice Kyteler and others were denounced as sorcerers, the Lady Alice being accused of causing the death of her various husbands, and having converse with evil spirits. The arbitrary action of the ecclesiastical authorities excited so much dissatisfaction that even the Lord Chancellor expostulated with the bishop, but received as reply that the Church was above all law. The Lady Alice, after being excommunicated, finally escaped from the priestly meshes, and retired to England, where she died. During the trial a woman, who declared she had received instruction in magic arts from Lady Alice, was flogged six times by order of the bishops.

There were, however, no regular enactments against witchcraft until the reign of Henry VIII. Up to that time, unless the supposed sorceress was also accused of the crime of poisoning, she was not condemned to death. But in 1541, conjuring, sorcery, and witchcraft were all put together as crimes for which capital punishment could be inflicted. Statutes against witchcraft were also enacted in the reigns of Elizabeth and James I.

John Wier, a physician of Cleves, wrote a treatise in 1563, in which he described witches as lunatics labouring under Satanic influence. All women he considered to be peculiarly subject to delusions created by malignant agency, and witches he regarded, in fact, as exaggerated examples of the inherent moral weakness of the female sex.

With the rise of Puritanism in the seventeenth century came a second great wave of superstition. The stern theology of the men of the Commonwealth was embittered by the darkest of beliefs. They were always looking for direct manifestations of the power of evil. It was their conviction that Satan was embodied in the persons of the unhappy women who were called witches, and that to hound them to death was a religious duty. The Puritans held with great firmness that a curse rested on womanhood. They found it quite easy to believe that certain women were specially chosen instruments of evil, for the whole sex they regarded as created for the trial and temptation of men. Undoubtedly the Puritans did much to enforce respect for women at a period when licentiousness was rife. They had an honest desire to raise the standard of public morals, and preserve order and decency. But they were actuated more by a desire to guard men from evil than by a reverence for womanhood. Though individually they made good husbands and fathers, their theology was a relentless creed, which permeated their lives with hard, unsympathetic views, and condemned sinners without mercy. The intense vitality of their belief in the omnipresence of evil clouded their perceptions and blurred their judgment. Hence their readiness to believe in witchcraft, and the savagery of their persecution.

Scripture, they said, was on their side. They pointed to the Witch of Endor, and to the declaration, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” All sorts of gruesome ideas had grown up and been handed down as to the power of witches, and became more widespread and intensified by the fanatical zeal of the Puritans. It was not until the second half of the seventeenth century that the full fury of the persecution blazed forth, though previously there had been frequent trials and executions. Thus in the early part of the reign of James I., who was responsible for much of the persecution, a woman was tried and hanged at King’s Lynn. A sailor had thrown a stone at her boy, whereupon she cursed the sailor roundly, and hoped his fingers would rot off, which happened two years later. Then she got into a quarrel with a neighbour, who was seized with violent pains, and felt the bed rocking up and down. The woman was denounced as a witch and condemned to death. Like other innocent persons accused of crime, she at last got to believe what her enemies said of her, and actually brought herself to confess that she had practised unholy arts.

In 1645 there was a great outbreak of persecution in Essex. In 1664 occurred the celebrated trial of witches at Bury St. Edmunds. There were living at Lowestoft two lone women whose temper and demeanour caused them to be disliked by the inhabitants of that little fishing hamlet. From the children they endured much petty persecution, and were treated as outcasts by the adult population. Nobody would even sell them fish. The two victims, who were inappropriately named Amy and Rose, cursed and prophesied evil things. Some children were seized with fits, during which they declared they saw the two women coming to torment them. After eight years of accusations, the women were brought to trial. Sir Matthew Hale presided, expressing his belief that the Scriptures proved the reality of witchcraft. The women were hung, which was the common mode of dealing with them. In Scotland they were usually burnt.

There is no need to multiply instances. During the sittings of the Long Parliament, as many as three thousand persons are said to have been executed, exclusive of those who were “done to death” by enraged mobs. In 1640 a witch is described in a contemporary publication as—
“the devil’s otter-hound living both on land and sea, and doing mischief in either; she kills more beasts than a licensed butcher in Lent, yet is nere the fatter; she’s but a dry nurse in the flesh, yet gives such to the spirit. A witch rides many times poast on hellish business, yet if a ladder do but stop her, she will be hanged ere she goes any further.”
The last judicial execution took place in England in 1716, when a woman and her daughter, aged nine, were put to death at Huntingdon, accused of selling their souls to the devil. But years after this date the persecution continued, and women were assailed by the rabble as witches, frequently dying of the injuries they received. The penal statutes against witchcraft were repealed in 1751. This, however, did not do away with the belief which was held by people in various classes of life. John Wesley was perhaps the last noted person who clung to what eventually became a mere superstition, which only survived in obscure places.

After the Restoration came in a different temper and view of life. On the one side were the gay and274 frivolous, who mocked at the grim Puritan with his terrific beliefs; on the other were the philosophers and the intellectual world, who explained by natural causes the so-called supernatural appearances. The Anglican Church held a middle course between the sceptics and the fanatics. There were some, like Joseph Glanvil, who, in 1681, took up the defence of witchcraft; and there were bishops who promulgated persecution. The clergy had a strong leaning to superstition, and inclined to the side of the fanatics; but they were restrained from the greatest excesses of the Puritans by the influence of the educational portion, whose learning and enlightenment reflected credit on the Church at a period when it greatly needed strengthening.

Compiled from sources in the public domain.

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Smiles & Good Fortune,
It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Shadows In A Timeless Myth Presents A Glimpse Into The Lives Of The Great Ladies of the Seventeenth Century

When with the Renaissance old habits of thought changed, the horizon of domestic life was enlarged. The great lady appears in a different light. She is no longer merely the loaf-giver and spinster, sitting in the shadow of her lord. With increased means of comfort, with the spread of knowledge, life became much more complex. The conditions of life did not permit that the great lady should herself take such an active part in all the domestic industries and arts which were carried on in a large household. She had other occupations. It was the steward who saw to the providing of the household stuff, to the payment of servants’ wages, to the almsgiving, and even to the furnishing of the wardrobe.

Although needlework still filled a large and honoured place in the lives of women of high station, it was rather an exercise than a necessity. Girls were taught to spin, to sew, and to embroider; a great lady might assist in the devising and making of her own apparel, but more commonly she left it in the hands of the tailors and sempstresses, and when she busied herself with plain needlework it was for the poor. Great families in the country would, for ordinary purposes, employ a local tailor, who would come and do his work at the house. Lady Elizabeth Howard, of Naworth Castle, who lived in the seventeenth century, and was one of the greatest ladies of her time, with a rent-roll of £1040 a year of the money of that period, was satisfied to have the plain serge gowns which she wore for common use made by the country tailor. The flax for the household linen was spun at home and sent to a country weaver. Lady Elizabeth was a woman of simple tastes, too much engrossed with practical affairs to care for display.

The curious commissions which great ladies in the seventeenth century gave to their male friends abroad, and the presents exchanged among members of noble families, show that many ordinary articles now in domestic use were then luxuries. In 1679, or thereabouts, the Countess of Sunderland writes to her brother, Mr. Sidney, envoy to Holland, in the following terms:—
“I desire you to lay out £20 for me in Dutch wax candles, which my Lady Temple says are very good. I would have them four to the pound, three parts, and the fourth part six to the pound; and some tea if you love me, for the last you gave was admirable.”
One would like to know what quantity of candles Mr. Sidney was able to buy for £20, which represented a much larger sum then, and whether the countess kept a private cupboard in which to lock up these precious articles.

Lady Chaworth, in 1676, writes to her brother, Lord Roos, at Belvoir Castle, to thank him, among other things, for a present of some oat-cakes and a pie. She sends him in return a peck of chestnuts and five pounds of vermicelli, some portion of which, she says, is of the same quality as that supplied to the king, who had a consignment of three hundred pounds’ weight. This seems a prodigious quantity, when it is remembered that farinaceous foods were not a staple article of diet. She also sends Lord Roos comfits, which she is pleased to hear that he likes, for she tells him—
“There is four pound of them, and made fresh for you of the purest sugar, though I gave a little more for them.”
Lord Roos had a sweet tooth, evidently, and it is to be hoped as sound as sweet, for our ancestors took very little care of their teeth. In 1650 we find Sir Ralph Verney sending to a friend at Florence a present of “teeth-brushes and boxes,” which were new-fangled Parisian articles, described by Sir Ralph as “inconsiderable toyes.”

As manners improved there was less separation of the sexes and more family life. In the absence of the husband, the lady of the manor, as she may still be called, for she often enriched her lord with the broad acres of her own inheritance, was much occupied with the management of the estate. The Lady Elizabeth Howard, already mentioned, who brought as her dowry the extensive Dacres property about which there was so much litigation, always attended to the business relating to the manors during her husband’s absences in London, whither she herself rarely travelled. Anne, daughter of the second Duke of Norfolk, being burdened with a husband very deficient in mental and physical parts—“Little John of Campes,” fourteenth Earl of Oxford—took the control into her own hands of all the affairs of the household and the estate. She corresponded about her difficulties with Wolsey, who advised her to return with her husband to her father’s roof, paying the duke a reasonable sum for the accommodation. The countess, who had no children to aid her, was sorely beset, after her husband’s death, by rapacious relatives, whom during his lifetime she had contrived to keep at bay. She complains that her park, and even her house, were broken into and her servants maltreated, and that, although the justices issued a writ against the offenders, it was not put into execution, and “doth nothing avail.”

Anne Countess of Warwick, wife of the king-maker, was shamefully robbed of her possessions by her sons-in-law, the Dukes of Clarence and Gloucester, and was obliged, she tells us, to write many letters with her own hand, in the absence of clerks. She finally got back all her property by Act of Parliament, but she did not keep it. She was either cajoled out of her estates, or her attachment to the king, whom her husband had assisted to the throne, was all-powerful; but, whatever the cause, she passed over one hundred and eighteen manors by private compact to Henry VII.

Another great lady, Margaret Countess of Salisbury, grand-daughter of Richard Earl of Salisbury, had a great deal of trouble in keeping a hold of her possessions. She was engaged in a suit against Henry VIII. to recover a yearly income of 5000 marks from certain of her manors. The rapacious king appears to have yielded, and she afterwards generously presented him with a year’s revenue as an aid in the prosecution of his wars. A revengeful lover whom she had rejected did his utmost to deprive her of her estates by filling the king’s mind with suspicions as to the legality of her claim. She also suffered much annoyance from marauders, who broke into her domain and cut down her woods.

Women of property were very liable to be preyed upon by grasping sovereigns and unscrupulous ministers like Wolsey, who actually led Elizabeth Dowager Countess of Oxford to endanger the cliff at Harwich, which formed part of her estate, in order to supply him with stone for his new college at Ipswich.

The famous Anne Clifford, Countess of Pembroke and Dorset, after struggling with James I. over her inheritance, found plenty of occupation in going to law with her numerous tenants, in building, in causing “bounds to be ridden,” and courts to be kept in her several manors. She seems to have divided her time pretty equally among her northern castles, travelling in state in a coach and six from Pendragon Castle to Appleby, and thence to Skypton and Brougham. She describes her tenants as frequently obstinate and refractory, and evictions were sometimes necessary. However, in the midst of these unpleasant processes, she was building brew-houses, bake-houses, and stables, repairing decayed mansions which had not been inhabited for years, and establishing fresh almshouses for the poor.

The Countess was very tenacious of her rights, and refused to yield at any cost when it was a question of principle. On one occasion a rich clothier of Halifax, one of her tenants, would not pay the one “boon hen” which traditional custom demanded from the holder of a certain tenement. The Countess took the case to the law courts and recovered the hen, but at a cost of £200 to herself and the same amount to her adversary. She much resented interference, and when Cromwell sent down a commission to compose some differences between herself and her people, she politely but firmly refused to let the commissioners deal with the matter at all, saying she preferred to leave it to the decision of the law. As a landlord she did all she could for her county by buying everything from her neighbours and tenants, very rarely sending to London or elsewhere as other great folk in the country were in the habit of doing, and as a mistress she was very kind to her attendants.

Anne Clifford was not singular in her taste for litigation. Walter Cary writes, in 1626—
“These three which have turned things upside down and strangely altered our estate are suits of law, suits of apparel, and drunkennesse.”
With regard to the last two particulars, Anne Clifford was certainly blameless, and though she moved about in her own part of the country, she did not waste her substance on journeys to London, as Cary complained the country gentlemen were in the habit of doing. In former times, he says men
“did not long for their neighbours’ land, neither sold of their own, but keeping good hospitality and plainly ever attired were very rich.”
The celebrated Bess of Hardwicke, who made her first marriage in 1532, and was a widow for the fourth time in 1609, after the death of George Earl of Shrewsbury, spent much of her time and money in building. It was a passion with her to repair and to erect magnificent piles. She persuaded her second husband, Sir William Cavendish, to begin the building of Chatsworth, which she completed after his death. Near the old home of her childhood she erected a second Hardwicke Hall, and also built a mansion at Oldcote. She has been described by her greatest detractor, Lodge, as “a builder, a buyer, a seller of estates, a money-lender, a farmer, and a merchant of lead, coals, and timber.” She also built herself a magnificent mural monument in All Saints’ Church, Derby. It was her fourth husband, the Earl of Shrewsbury, who had for a long time the custody of Mary Queen of Scots, of whose supposed influence “Bess” was so jealous. A significant remark which she made to Queen Elizabeth caused the Earl to be deprived of his fair charge.

The great lady in her own home appears to far better advantage than her compeers at court, who are thus caustically described by a writer of the second half of the sixteenth century—
“The women of the Courte have also their vices. For alwaie we see manie endowed with goodly giftes of the body, fayre, preatie, handsome and comely. Moreover, richly attired in purple, golde, jewels, and ryches: but all men cannot see what filthy monsters do often lurke under those faire skinnes....

“They have mouthes armed for all kindes of clattering trifles with which they utter idle and foolish communication, and oftentimes displeasant to those that be compelled to heare them. For what shoulde we thinke them to speake emong themselves so many howers, but foolish and idle thinges: as how the heare should be dressed, how it should be kembed, how the heare should be coloured, how the face should be rubbed, after what facion the garment should be playted, and with what pompe they should go, rise and sit, and what attire they should weare, to what persons they should geve place, with how many bowinges salute, what women, and whome they should kisse or not kisse, what women ought to ride upon an asse, horse, seate and be carried in a chariote or couche: what women maie weare golde, pearle, corall, chaines, ringes hanginge at their eares, bracelets, ringes and tablets and other trifles of Semiramis lawes.

“There be also ancient matrons whiche tell how many wowers they have had, how many giftes thei have receaved, with how many flatteringe wordes they have benne wowed: this woman talketh of him whome she loveth, that woman cannot skantly forbeare to speake of him whom she hateth, and every one thinketh that she speaketh with the admiration of other women, sometimes they maintaine talke with fonde quippes or very impudent lies. There wante not emonge them cruell hatredes and eger brawlinges, malicious detractions, backebitinges, false accusations and whatsoever be the vices of a naughtie tongue.”
All the blame is laid upon the wives by this moralist, and the husbands he depicts as long-suffering martyrs—
“O how sorrowful do thei make their good husbandes when continually they objecte to them their lineage, dowrie, beautie, and other mens mariages, and with scoldinge and tauntinge do weary their husbandes, they alwaies lamente, whilst they dispise housholde and temperate fare, and twite their husbandes with the courtly excesse and being enured in pleasant fantasies and gloriouse ostentation do consume theire riches upon superfluous ornamentes, they bring houses by ruine, sometimes they enforce their miserable husbandes to dishonest and naughtie gaines.”
Lady Brilliana Harley, who lived through the Civil War, stands out in pleasing contrast as a quiet domestic character, a model housewife. While her husband, who was actively engaged on the Parliamentarian side, was away from home, she watched over the family interests with the greatest solicitude, and seems to have been her own housekeeper and man of business. At one time she was busy with repairs and alterations to the house, and mentions having to pay five shillings a day to plumbers and five shillings a hundred to them in addition for “casting lead.” She was constantly sending provisions to her son at Oxford University, and sometimes to her husband, and describes with such minuteness the contents of the pies that one feels she must have assisted in the making. Very big pies they were; a couple of chickens would be added as a kind of make-weight, and one of these pasties contained two whole turkeys. As this was a present to her son at Oxford, it may be supposed that Lady Brilliana had hospitable thoughts for the other undergraduates.

Lady Lucas, mother of the learned Duchess of Newcastle, was “very skilful in leases, setting of lands, court keeping, ordering of stewards”—useful talents, seeing that she married a rich husband. After the Civil War, her daughter, who presumably inherited some portion of the property which her mother had so carefully guarded, was reduced to great straits. The Duke of Newcastle’s estates were sold by the Commonwealth, and, the Duke being made a delinquent, his wife was deprived of the usual allowances. She retired to Antwerp, but returned to England and spent a year and a half unsuccessfully trying to obtain some compensation. However, as her chief interest lay in literature, the absence of outward show in her surroundings did not greatly affect her, and she bore her losses very philosophically.

Dependent as has been woman’s position up to the present century, in all the important relations of life, she has always been called upon as a great lady to bear responsibilities and fulfil duties of no light character. In mediæval times they were chiefly domestic, but none the less weighty, for the health and comfort of the household depended upon the “bread-giver.” As social conditions altered, we see the great lady extending her duties outside her own walls, and engaged in what is almost public work. She is frequently drawn into the current of political life, and her position is considerably affected by the religious changes in the country. She comes into prominence as an independent actor in the drama of history, forced oftentimes to stand alone, and beset by trials and cares which only belong to those who have much to lose. In times when the power of the sovereign was more absolute, the position of persons of property and influence, whether men or women, was less secure, and they were liable to a rise or fall of fortune according to the caprice of the monarch. A great lady in the present day could not be brought into collision with the sovereign over the rights of property, as were Margaret Countess of Salisbury and Anne Countess of Pembroke. There is no longer that intimate personal relation between the sovereign and the subject.

The hereditary right of succession to titles of nobility granted by the Norman kings, without distinction of sex, greatly affected the position of women among the higher classes. They acquired a dignity and importance in the eyes of rulers which otherwise they would not have possessed. An heiress who could convey a title and lands to her husband was a personage to be reckoned with and considered. There are numerous instances of men claiming titles and privileges by virtue of their wives’position. Richard Neville gained the earldom of Salisbury, and his son that of Warwick, by marriage with heiresses. But while a woman could thus confer advantages of a substantial kind upon her husband, she still lacked that control over her own property which characterized the position of a wife until recent times. Women’s marriage portions were denounced by writers in the seventeenth century as the cause of wedded misery and sin—
“men and women, being byassed by interest in marriage and not having that firm friendship and love for each other, do seek for a greater happiness abroad.”
Marriages were arranged among people of good estate and condition with a very frank display of mercenary motives. For instance, we find various relatives of the excellent Sir Ralph Verney anxiously engaged in helping him, after his wife’s death in 1656, to find an heiress for his son. One, Mrs. Sherrard, writes that she has discovered a lady whom she thinks would be a suitable mate for young Edmund Verney—
“Her father will give her five thousand pounds, and hath but on dafter more, and she is sickly and never licke to mary, and if not shee will have more than enouf, for it is beleved that her father is worth above thirty thousand pounds, and dooth daily incres in welth. I hear shee is not but of a very good disposition.”
Another relative writes—
“Here is a match for your sown, Mr. Wilson’s daughter of Surrey (formerly a cittizen) that I think worthy yur consideration; they offer £5,500.”
People used plain language in the seventeenth century, and when a match was proposed it was in out-spoken terms. The young people were treated as pawns by their respective guardians, and instead of lawyers settling matters, it was the parents who wrangled over property and drove bargains. There is little difference in this respect between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and the following letter of Lady Katherine Berkeley, though it belongs to the Tudor period, might well have been written a hundred years later. Lady Berkeley was wife of Henry, first Lord Berkeley, to whom she was married in the reign of Queen Mary. She is writing to her confidential man of business, John Smyth, about her son’s marriage.
“I have received your letter, but doe not think good to show it to my lord least hee should leave his suits in law whereof I have soe good hope to a dangerous event, with an imagination that out of his own judgment hee could conclude a profitable end upon the overture now made. These imaginations you know have not produced the best effects. If the motion for my son’s marriage proceed I doe then believe the politicke lady will bee glad to come to an end; yet doe I fear her proffer rather proceeds of policy then from sincere meaning. I have observed that when she sees anything bending to our good, then shee proffers an agreement, and yet proceeds in lawe with all extremity.” She concludes by requesting that “whosoever intends to match with my son shall only deale with my lord and mee.”
This really meant with Lady Katherine herself. She had but a poor opinion of her husband’s ability, and was exceedingly anxious to keep him by her side. She does not at all approve of his going to London by himself to negotiate marriages or any other business, being confident that he will only lose his money.
“At London younge crafty courtiers will lay baits which will bee swallowed with danger; the safest way is to keep him from London.”
Many romances have been written on the carrying off of heiresses by bold suitors. During the Commonwealth some effort was made to prevent scandals of this kind and save women from being married against their will. There was one case that excited a good deal of attention in October, 1649. Mistress Jane Puckeringe was abducted from Greenwich Park while walking with her maids, close to her own house. She was the daughter of Sir Thomas Puckeringe, and an heiress. The abductors were some people named Walsh, a Worcestershire family. Joseph Walsh and his friends seized Mistress Puckeringe, mounted her on a horse, and, having a hoy in readiness, went across to Dunkirk. Thence they went to Nieuport, in Flanders, and shut her up in a religious house. As soon as the affair was made known, there was a great stir in the official world, and warrants were issued for her recovery and for the punishment of Walsh and his companions. Walsh maintained that there had been a marriage ceremony performed. The Spanish ambassador was appealed to, and steps taken that every one concerned in the affair might be arrested. The Council of State in England sent over a Mrs. Magdalen Smith, armed with letters of authority, to seek for the lost heiress and bring her back; and a ship was ordered to go to Nieuport to be in readiness to receive her. The English agent at Brussels, Peter Thelwell, was told to turn his attention to the matter. Still, the winter sped away and Mistress Puckeringe was not restored to her friends, so in March the Council of State again took action and wrote to the archduke. Mr. Peter Thelwell, on his own responsibility, appealed to Prince Charles, which was distasteful to the officers of the Commonwealth, who were not disposed to have any dealings with the Cavalier party, and at last in June, some eight months after the abduction, the lady was sent back to England in a man-of-war, and her captors were surrendered to the English authorities and indicted for felony, the supposed marriage being set aside.

Compiled from sources in the public domain.

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Smiles & Good Fortune,
It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915