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Monday, 4 July 2016

Life In the Georgian Court

Today I'd like to welcome the fabulous Catherine Curzon to my blog. Catherine's new book Life In the Georgian Court has just been published by Pen & Sword, and I'm sure it will be a must-read for fans of that era! 

The Greedy End of a Gluttonous King

Whilst researching my book, Life in the Georgian Court, I came across no shortage of dramatic stories and tragic deaths. From smallpox to strangulation, guillotine to gangrene, our 18th century royals didnt always die the most peaceful deaths.
Spare a thought then for Adolf Frederick, the King of Sweden who met his end on 12th February 1771 not by bullet or beneath the battlefield bayonets, but as a victim of pudding.
 When the Swedish monarch settled down to enjoy a meal that, as the saying goes, really was fit for a king, he wasnt in the mood for a simple snack. This well-liked king enjoyed nothing more than indulgence and on this day, he was going to indulge himself like no man had before.
As the hours drew on, he tucked into lobster, caviar, sauerkraut and kippers in abundance, the seemingly endless procession of food barely slowing as the evening passed. The ravenous monarch devoured everything that was set before him, swilling it down with glass after glass of the finest champagne. Yet for every plate that he cleared, Adolf Frederick still had room for more.
One of the kings favourite desserts was a dessert known as semla, a sweet roll popular in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. Most diners would content themselves with one or, with a very sweet tooth, maybe two of these super-indulgent treats but at Adolf s last meal, the king just kept on going. This was the last meal before Lent so the king was determined to feed himself up, and nothing was going to stop him.
To finish his meal, Adolf wanted semlas lots of semlas; fourteen portions served in hot milk, to be exact. Once the greedy king was finally sated, he retired to his chambers where his stomach began to grumble and soon, so did he. Adolf died that same day; whether his last meal contributed to his demise we cannot be certain, but posterity has recorded Adolf as the king who ate himself to death, the victim of one semla too many.

About the Author
Catherine Curzon is a royal historian and blogs on all matters 18th century at A Covent Garden Gilflurt's Guide to Life.
Her work has featured by publications including BBC History Extra, All About History, History of Royals, Explore History and Jane Austens Regency World. She has also provided additional material for the sell-out theatrical show, An Evening with Jane Austen, which she will introduce at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, in September (tickets are available here).
Catherine holds a Masters degree in Film and when not dodging the furies of the guillotine, she lives in Yorkshire atop a ludicrously steep hill.
Her book, Life in the Georgian Court, is available now from Amazon UK, Amazon US, Book Depository and all good bookshops!

About Life in the Georgian Court
As the glittering Hanoverian court gives birth to the British Georgian era, a golden age of royalty dawns in Europe. Houses rise and fall, births, marriages and scandals change the course of history and in France, Revolution stalks the land.
Peep behind the shutters of the opulent court of the doomed Bourbons, the absolutist powerhouse of Romanov Russia and the epoch-defining family whose kings gave their name to the era, the House of Hanover.
Behind the pomp and ceremony were men and women born into worlds of immense privilege, yet beneath the powdered wigs and robes of state were real people living lives of romance, tragedy, intrigue and eccentricity. Take a journey into the private lives of very public figures and learn of arranged marriages that turned to love or hate and scandals that rocked polite society.
Here the former wife of a king spends three decades in lonely captivity, Prinny makes scandalous eyes at the toast of the London stage and Marie Antoinette begins her last, terrible journey through Paris as her son sits alone in a forgotten prison cell.
Life in the Georgian Court is a privileged peek into the glamorous, tragic and iconic courts of the Georgian world, where even a king could take nothing for granted.

Monday, 13 June 2016


Seamen complain about their rations.

First of all, apologies for the radio silence! My poor blogs have been much neglected over the last few weeks, as I've been very busy writing a new book, but hopefully I should have more time to spend on them now.
On 16 April 1797 the crews of the Royal Navy’s ships at Spithead, including the Queen Charlotte and Royal George, went on strike. They refused to put to sea as ordered until their pay was raised, and red flags of mutiny were run up the flagpoles.
The mutiny could not have come at a worse time, as a French invasion was expected at any time (there was a landing at Fishguard earlier that year). But the men had had enough. Living conditions in the fleet were dreadful; crews were poorly paid, and their food and drink scarcely fit for human consumption. Many sailors were ‘pressed’ men, and a brutal system of floggings was used to enforce discipline.
The mutineers were primarily concerned with improving their pay and conditions, rather than disloyalty to Britain. Great care was taken to maintain discipline. Each ship had its own central committee; another committee comprised two delegates from each disaffected ship. The men took an oath of allegiance to one another.
Apology from the crew of the Mars.
The strength of feeling amongst the men was so solid that parliament agreed to several of the men’s demands. They were given a substantial pay rise and offered a free pardon. By 23 April the mutiny appeared over, but trouble began agains when doubts surfaced over whether the promised pay rise would materialize. On 7 May the men of the London at Spithead mutinied and three officers were imprisoned; soon more ships mutinied at St Helens (a harbour on the Isle of Wight). The men were reassured by the Admiralty, and returned to their duties.
Richard Parker, mutineer.
Meanwhile on 12 May another mutiny broke out at the Nore (Sheerness), led by Richard Parker, a well-educated seaman from Exeter, who served on the Sandwich. The Nore mutineers wanted better wages, like the Spithead men, and additional demands such as a fairer distribution of prize-money (given when an enemy ship was taken). When news reached the Nore of the terms agreed at Spithead, the Admiralty believed that the men would back down.
But the Admiralty refused to give the extra concessions which the Nore mutineers wanted, so the seamen seized some gunboats in Sheerness harbour and fired at the fort there. Effigies of William Pitt and Lord Dundas were hanged at the yard-arm. The language used by many ships’ delegates was clearly modelled on Thomas Paine's works. The men talked of their rights and liberties, and the mutinous ships were dubbed the ‘Floating Republic’.
In late May, some ships from Admiral Duncan’s fleet joined the mutiny at the Nore instead of going to the Texel to blockade the French as ordered. This action in wartime greatly shocked public opinion, and lost the men much support.
During the first and second weeks of June, more and more ships slipped away from the rebel fleet and surrendered. By 14 June the mutiny was a spent force. Retribution was swift: Richard Parker and over twenty ringleaders were hanged at the yard-arm. You can watch a YouTube video about the mutinies here.
Seamen complain about their rations prior to the mutiny at the Nore. Cassell’s Illustrated History of England Vol. VI, (Cassell, Petter and Galpin, c.1864). Author’s collection.
Letter dated 25 June 1797 from the sailors on board the Mars, a 74-gunner, apologizing for the mutiny. On display at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich (MKH/15.4).
A 1797 etching of Richard Parker, leader of the mutineers on the Nore. On display at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich (PAH5441).

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Stonemason Ancestors

Bath Abbey

From majestic cathedrals to humble gravestones, our stonemason ancestors helped create Britain’s historic fabric. My latest feature for Who Do You Think You Are? magazine (June issue) discusses how to trace your stonemason ancestors.

The Book of English Trades (London, 1824), defined ‘the business of a stonemason’ as ‘the art of hewing or squaring stone and marble; in cutting them for the purposes of building, and in being able to fix them in the walls of buildings with mortar’, and although modern stonemasons have access to modern cutting equipment, in many respects this is still the essence of their work.

Stonemasons’ expertise is still in demand, not only to create new buildings, but also to restore much-loved historic buildings like Salisbury Cathedral. Many ancient monuments still bear the marksof the men who lovingly crafted them centuries ago, like these ones in Herefordshire
This was an interesting article for me to write as my 4x great-grandfather John Lomas was a stonemason. In the 1851 census, he was listed as a stonemason at Reaps Moor, Fawfieldhead and ten years later, he was listed as a builder employing 31 men at the same place. His 18 year old son John Henry was listed as a stone mason's apprentice in the same census, although puzzlingly ten years later John Henry's occupation is given as a joiner, not a stone mason like his father.  

N.B. Sorry my blogs have been much neglected lately - I am busy writing Tracing Your Manchester and Salford Ancestors for Pen & Sword books, and I hope to resume regular updates after the book deadline.