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Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Spying Secrets

William Oliver, the notorious spy of 1817.
This week I'm a guest on Anna Thane's fabulous Regency Explorer website - you can read my blog post on spying secrets here.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Ireland and Independence: Part I

The question of Ireland’s independence was to cause much bloodshed in the closing decades of the eighteenth century and beyond. 
The Irish Parliament was controlled by England until 1782, when the Rockingham administration granted Irish legislative independence following pressure from the ‘Patriots,’ headed by Henry Grattan and the Volunteer movement.
In theory, Grattan’s new parliament was independent of Westminster. Ireland now had its own House of Lords and House of Commons. Dublin Castle was its administrative centre. But for all practical purposes, Ireland remained subject to English rule and political influence. Ireland’s Lord Lieutenant and Lord Chancellor owed their places to the British prime minister’s patronage.
Now the ordinary people of Ireland endured massive economic and political disadvantages and deep religious divisions. The Protestant ruling class or ‘ascendancy’ owned virtually all the land, and hogged every key position in the army, navy, the law, commission of the peace, etc. Roman Catholics – the vast majority of the population – were excluded from the Irish parliament, and the franchise.
William Pitt wished to give some relief to disadvantaged Roman Catholics. But he was hamstrung by ultra-Tories in his own party, and George III’s belief that granting Catholic emancipation would violate his coronation oath.
During the 1788 Regency crisis caused by George III’s illness, Grattan’s parliament seized the initiative and asked the Prince of Wales to become Regent of Ireland, with unlimited powers.
This caused great tension between the two governments. The furious Tories realized that a Regent in Ireland with unlimited privileges could create as many peers as he liked, and tip the balance of power in parliament. ‘Prinny’ was thought to favour their opponents, the Whigs. A constitutional crisis was averted when the King recovered in early 1789.
But this abortive attempt by Ireland to assert its independence strengthened the hand of those, like Pitt, who wanted a Union of the two kingdoms. And Irish nationalists were now convinced that real independence must be fought for – but would they choose peaceful means, or rebellion?
The Bank of Ireland, Dublin, formerly the old Parliament House. Gallery of Engravings, Vol. II, (Fisher, Son & Co., c.1845).
Satirical print, 1789. The Prince of Wales (left) rises from his chair to receive the six Commissioners from Ireland, who are depicted as headless asses. Courtesy Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-31022.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Radicals and Reform

Famous Radicals.

By the early 1790s, it was blindingly obvious to liberal-minded thinkers that Britain's corrupt electoral system was long overdue for reform. Unless you were a member of the governing elite, of course - the rich had inherited the earth, and their sons were destined to rule over the middle and lower classes.
The Radicals included some prominent Whigs like Charles James Fox and Sir Francis Burdett. They wanted the abolition of rotten boroughs, the introduction of annual parliaments, and a more representative franchise. Reformers harked back to the Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights and the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which they believed enshrined men’s civil liberties and rights. They looked back to a long-lost Saxon golden age in which all men had the vote. (On the other hand, the government asserted that there was no historical precedent for universal suffrage).
Major John Cartwright (1740–1824) was convinced that ‘many of the political evils of the day’ emanated from ‘ignorance of the principles of the constitution’.  This former naval officer, a neat, upright gentleman, had served with distinction until the American War of Independence, but resigned in disgust over what he perceived as Britain's unjust treatment of the colonists.
Charles James Fox.
Cartwright, a prolific writer and campaigner, believed that petitioning parliament was the only way to achieve radical reform. The Major was a founder member of the Society of Constitutional Information in 1780, along with John Horne Tooke and others. Even Pitt the Younger, then the great white hope of the reform movement, was a member – ironic considering his later treatment of the Radicals.
Thomas Paine.
In the 1790s, Thomas Paine’s revolutionary ideas were taken up by the Society of Constitutional Information and by the ‘corresponding societies’. These societies wrote to one another about parliamentary reform and the rights of man, and spread these ideas widely in Britain. One group, the United Englishmen, expressed the views of many freethinkers in its ‘Declaration, Resolutions and Constitution’: ‘The House of now thoroughly corrupted, and from being the representative of a great and free People, is become a junto of Placemen, Pensioners and Court Dependents...The only effectual a radical Reform of the Representation of the People in Parliament’ (PC/1/42/144, 1798).
Corresponding societies were formed in London, Manchester, Leeds,
Matthew Campbell Browne.
Nottingham, Norwich and Sheffield. The Sheffield Society for Constitutional Information had nearly two thousand members. The Society resolved that Paine should be thanked ‘for the affectionate concern he has shown in his second work on Behalf of the Poor, the Infant and the Aged; who notwithstanding the opulence which blesses other parts of the community, are by the grievous weight of Taxes, rendered the miserable victims of Poverty and wretchedness’. (Resolutions of the SSCI, 14 March 1792, Sheffield Archives, MD 251).
The government's spies kept close watch on the corresponding societies. Although most of the societies' members were peaceful, there were a select few with revolutionary intentions, as we shall see.

Noted Radicals: John Wilkes, John Horne Tooke, Sir Francis Burdett (5th Baronet), William Cobbett and Henry Hunt. History of England, Henry Fisher, Son, & Co., 1828. Author’s collection.

Charles James Fox, Dr Johnson’s Mrs Thrale, T.N. Foulis, 1910. Author’s collection.
‘Mad Tom, or the Man of Rights’. Courtesy Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-3847.
Citizen Matthew Campbell Browne, ‘Delegate from the Sheffield & Leeds Constitutional Societies to the British Convention’ at Edinburgh in 1794. Engraving by John Kay, 1794. Hugh Paton (ed.), A Series of Original Portraits and Caricature Etchings by the late John Kay, Vol. 2, (Adam and Charles Black, 1877). Author’s collection.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Jane Austen and the 'Infamous Mistress' Connection

Grace Dalyrmple Elliott - Met Museum.
Today I'd like to give a warm welcome to fellow Pen and Sword authors Joanne Major and Sarah Murden, authors of An Infamous Mistress - a biography of Grace Dalrymple Elliott. But what was the connection between Jane Austen and Grace? You can find out more in Joanne and Sarah's guest blog post:

Jane Austen: The Dalrymple and Elliott Connection
Jane Austen’s novel Persuasion, written in 1816 and published posthumously just months after her death in 1817, has at its centre the Elliot family – a surname we’re all too familiar with after writing our biography of the eighteenth-century courtesan Grace Dalrymple Elliott.
Jane Austen.

Anne Elliot, the novel’s heroine, had been persuaded to break off an early engagement to Captain Wentworth of the Royal Navy and, while in Bath, was courted by her cousin and heir to the Elliot estate, the recently widowed and caddish William Elliot.
There is also a Viscountess Dalrymple mentioned in Persuasion, from an Irish family who is related to the Elliots. Anne’s vain father Sir Walter and elder sister Elizabeth court Lady Dalrymple’s attention, determined to make use of their connection to this titled lady (for the finances of the Elliot family are in a decline – they have to rent out their family estate, Kellynch Hall).
It’s possible, as Margaret Doody has speculated in Jane Austen’s Names: Riddles, Persons, Places, that ‘there is a hidden joke, a potentially dirty meaning, in wishing to see Lady Dalrymple’, because Grace’s notoriety would still be remembered when Austen was writing – was this a sly dig at Grace, the name chosen by Austen in the full knowledge that many of her readers would get the joke, especially with the connection between the names Elliot and Dalrymple?
Grace was still alive at the time, although her star had faded somewhat and she was living largely in the shadows of society – wouldn’t you just love to know if she read the novel, and if she did, what her thoughts were on the names of the characters!

Lady Dalrymple, PBS.
Persuasion:Lady Dalrymple and Miss Carteret.
Austen’s Elliot family had Scottish origins and Sir John Eliot, Grace Dalrymple’s husband, was a Scotsman, hailing from Peebles. Grace too was from a Scottish family, although hers was more noble in its origin for her maternal ancestors were once the Lairds of Blackburn in the Berwickshire borders. She also counted a countess amongst her close relations for her maternal aunt, Robinaiana, became the Countess of Peterborough, although only after many years of being the Earl’s mistress first, a path her infamous niece was later to follow with significantly less success. Grace never got a title; she was divorced by her husband Dr John Eliot before he became Sir John and her subsequent lover, the Earl (and future Marquess) of Cholmondeley refused to make her his Countess.
If Grace is recalled somewhat in the character of Lady Dalrymple, was her husband Sir John Eliot at all the inspiration for Sir Walter Elliot? Both baronets, Sir John and Sir Walter, were vain and self-satisfied men (although Sir John was certainly more careful of his fortune than Austen’s Sir Walter), and neither man had a male heir (John Eliot’s son by Grace died as an infant, and his only other male progeny was born illegitimately to an unknown woman).
There is another similarity too – Sir Walter takes into his house, ostensibly as a companion to his daughter Elizabeth, a Mrs Clay, an impoverished widow with children to provide for and who has designs on becoming the next Lady Elliot for all that she is beneath Sir Walter on the social ladder. Both before and after his divorce from Grace, Sir John Eliot embarked upon a series of affairs with women well below him socially (one was a tea dealer from the Tottenham Road). At his death his final mistress was, like Austen’s Mrs Clay, angling for marriage and a title – and hoping that her daughter (by another man) would benefit from Sir John’s fortune to the detriment of his own illegitimate offspring.
N.B. – while Sir John was an Eliot, after her divorce Grace habitually spelled her surname differently, using both Elliot and Elliott.
Thomas Gainsborough, Jane Austen and Fashionable Society by Catherine Engh on NASSR Graduate Student Caucus, a fascinating read which looks at Gainsborough's portraits of Grace in conjunction with Jane Austen's use of the Dalrymple and Elliot surnames.
Jane Austen's Names: Riddles, Persons, Places by Margaret Doody, University of Chicago Press, 2015.
 Our book, An InfamousMistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott is available now from Pen and Sword and all good bookshops.
Divorced wife, infamous mistress, prisoner in France during the French Revolution and the reputed mother of the Prince of Wales’ child, notorious eighteenth-century courtesan Grace Dalrymple Elliott lived an amazing life in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century London and Paris.
Strikingly tall and beautiful, later lampooned as ‘Dally the Tall’ in newspaper gossip columns, she left her Scottish roots and convent education behind, to re-invent herself in a ‘marriage-a-la-mode’, but before she was even legally an adult she was cast off and forced to survive on just her beauty and wits.
The authors of this engaging and, at times, scandalous book intersperse the history of Grace’s tumultuous life with anecdotes of her fascinating family, from those who knew Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, and who helped to abolish slavery, to those who were, like Grace, mistresses of great men.
Whilst this book is the most definitive biography of Grace Dalrymple Elliott ever written, it is much more than that; it is Grace’s family history which traces her ancestors from their origin in the Scottish borders, to their move south to London. It follows them to France, America, India, Africa and elsewhere, offering a broad insight into the social history of the Georgian era, comprising the ups and downs, the highs and lows of life at that time.
This is the remarkable and detailed story of Grace set, for the first time, in the context of her wider family and told more completely than ever before.
You can also visit Joanne and Sarah at All Things Georgian where they blog about anything and everything to do with the Georgian era.
Images supplied by Joanne and Sarah:
Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Thomas Gainsborough. Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Tilly Tremayne as Lady Dalrymple in the PBS version of Persuasion.
Jane Austen, coloured copy of a drawing by her sister Cassandra, held by the University of Texas.
Lady Dalrymple and [her daughter] Miss Carteret escorted by Mr Elliot and Colonel Wallis, from a 1909 copy of Persuasion.