Sunday, 20 July 2014

The Windsor Nell Gwynn Knew

As royal mistresses go, Nell Gwynn is probably our most favourite of King Charles II's mistresses - and with good reason. This saucy, funny, beautiful actress was quite a loveable character - and her royal lover certainly knew that. John Evelyn referred to Nell as, "the Comedian & Apple-woman's daughter", whilst Samuel Pepys called her, "pretty witty Nell." She had risen from impoverished prostitute and orange seller to admired Restoration actress before catching the eye of the Merry Monarch. She had two sons by Charles - Charles and James.

Last month, my husband and I moved from Lancashire to Windsor, and I was excited for many reasons, not least because Windsor has an abundance of 17th-century history. As I turn one corner, walk down this street, stop in front of this house, I can't get over how much history is everywhere. Very near Windsor Castle, there is a small, quaint street which has an array of little shops and eateries. I daresay most tourists - overwhelmed by so much to see - don't realise how old the buildings are. There is a Chinese restaurant in what is referred to as "Nell Gwynn's House" - and there is an inscription on the exterior of this building that states it was built in 1640. You can see how close the castle is to the site of Nell's house.

"The Protestant Whore" had previously lived in houses in Lincoln's Inn Fields and Pall Mall. In Windsor, however, Nell Gwynn is most closely associated with Burford House. In The Story of Windsor, Maurice Bond stated, "Charles II had a strong affection for Windsor. [His] mistress, Nell Gwynn, had a house especially built for her (Burford House) just outside the Castle Walls, and her descendants, the Beauclerks, Dukes of St. Albans, came to play a considerable role in the life of the borough" (page  63).

James Beauclerk, Charles Beauclerk, 1st Duke
St. Albans, Nell Gwynn, by Richard Tompson,
after Sir Peter Lely, before 1693.
The Windsor that Nell Gwynn knew was one of rural life mixed with cockfighting, horse races, and there was a bustling new coffee house. According to The Physical Shape and Urban Landscape of New Windsor 1500-1780 by E.J. Brown, "a coach and postal service were introduced in 1673 and 1674." The River Thames runs by, dividing Windsor from Eton. Windsor Castle, now known to be the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world, was extensively renovated during the Restoration, following its use as a prison under Cromwell. You can read more about its history here.

By the time Nell began living in Windsor, the 1670s, the town had begun to see a rise in population. Such increase understandably led to some concerns about contaminated wells, more refuse on the streets, and associated health risks. In the early 18th-century, during the reign of Queen Anne, the population had risen more and the queen asked for water to be brought in from a neighbouring area.

As with the home in Pall Mall, London, Nell Gwynn wanted to secure the freehold of the house instead of the leasehold she was originally given. Now, this is a problem many people still face. Indeed, my husband and I had a leasehold in London and we had to pay rent for the land even though we owned the house. It's all rather confusing, but then as now it was far better - more secure - to have the freehold on a property than a leasehold. 

Nell, always a sharp cookie, knew this and did obtain the freehold (first for the Pall Mall property) by telling the king that, "she had always conveyed herself free under the crown , but that she would not accept the house until its freehold was conveyed free to her by the crown." Nell and Charles's descendants continued to own Burford House until the late 18th century.

Image found in The House of Nell Gwynn, 1670-1974.

Burford House, however, was an enchanting dwelling, as you can see from the image above. Great, fabulous gardens were created, and it is believed that the land surrounding the house was no more than forty acres. You can tell how countryfied it was. It is to this day a remarkably verdant area - and I can understand why Charles liked it so - it's very different and quiet - in comparison to London. As a great deal of construction was going on inside Windsor Castle itself at that time, Nell was able to have the interiors of her new, modern home decorated by the highly sought-after painter Antonio Verrio and some elaborate woodcarvings were also created for parts of the house by the talented Baroque woodcarver Grinling Gibbons. We can only imagine how beautiful the end result was! 

Despite her favourable position as a royal mistress, poor Nell was often in debt. In fact, one of King Charles II's last words was to his brother, James. The following is from John Evelyn's Diary entry for 6th of February, 1685:

He spake to the Duke [James, Duke of York] to be kind to his Concubines the DD: of Cleveland, & especially Portsmouth, & that Nelly might not starve.

...because she was so often in debt, starvation was a frightening possibility. James stayed true to his promise to his brother and paid of Nell's debts. Nell and Charles's son, the Duke of St. Albans, was financially better off than his mother.

Charles Beauclerk, 1st Duke St. Albans. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

As stated in The Windsor Beauties:

The Earl of Burford was created Duke of St. Albans in January 1684, and ample provision was made for him by his father. There was a settlement of £5000 a year, chargeable on the Exchequer, he inherited on his mother's death Burford House, and he was given the reversion of the sinecure office of Master Falconer of England and Registrar of the Court of Chancery, both to be hereditary, worth some £1500 a year.
Beauclerk later became a favourite of King William III's following the Glorious Revolution of 1688/89, at which point his fortunes increased. Beauclerk lived in Burford House and eventually married Diana de Vere, with whom he had twelve children.

As I've walked around this part of Windsor, I've noticed so many shop signs and gift shop trinkets that feature Nell. Nell as the busty orange-seller, Nell as the romantic actress, Nell as the wanton mistress. A highly romanticised depiction of her from a 19th-century painting adorns the door to the Windsor & Royal Borough Museum (perfectly situated in the building that Christopher Wren designed!).

It's quite easy to imagine her in her colourful dresses, a bright smile upon her face, as she walked around these streets. I think she'd be astonished to find that, after all this time, people still think on her fondly. I like to think it's because she's the most accessible of Charles II's mistresses, and her warmth transcends time. 

Adamson, Donald and Peter Beauclerk Dewar. The House of Nell Gwynn, 1670-1974.
Bond, Maurice. The Story of Windsor.
Brown, E.J. The Physical Shape and Urban Landscape of New Windsor 1500-1780.
Evelyn, John. Diary.
Pepys, Samuel. Diary.
Melville, Lewis. The Windsor Beauties: Ladies of the Court of Charles II.
Powell, Roger. Royal Sex: The Scandalous Love Lives of the British Royal Family.

Andrea Zuvich (aka The Seventeenth Century Lady) is usually a 17th-century historian and authoress of historical fiction set in the 17th-century, but she has had to take a break from her beloved history for a month to deal with the craziness of moving house. Now that's sorted out (whew!) she's back, working on three books: William & Mary: A Novel, William Alone: A Sequel, and Anthea: Confessions of a Restoration Actress. She is also thinking about writing a non-fiction history on the Stuarts. She was recently listed as one of the Most Followed Historians on Twitter.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

1650: The FIRST attorney general in America -- a firebrand

Engaged for the people, by, or in the peoples' name

William Dyer, the son of a yeoman farmer from a village near Boston, Lincolnshire, was apprenticed as a haberdasher in London, where his guild brothers often became mayors, councilmen, or government officers. After his emigration to New England in 1635, he held a succession of appointments as surveyor, clerk, Secretary of State, and General Recorder, and was appointed the first Attorney General of Rhode Island in 1650. But as I discovered, Dyer was also the first Attorney General of any colony in North America! And wait until you read his commission. It’s brilliant. It will make you long for a return to that ideal of government today!

In 1628, the founders of Massachusetts Bay Colony followed the lead of the Plymouth Colony, and obtained a royal charter to form a community that was self-governed but answerable to the King, Parliament, and laws of England. The Massachusetts Bay Company purchased a huge tract of wilderness that was later subdivided to become part of New Hampshire and Connecticut.
In late 1637, a large group of religious dissidents in the Boston area, including Anne and William Hutchinson, and William and Mary Dyer, were given the choice of submitting to the Massachusetts Bay theocracy, or being banished. They may have been planning to leave anyway, but the expulsion of Anne Hutchinson for heresy certainly hurried their departure. While she was under house arrest in the winter of 1637-38, the men were searching for and purchasing land from the Narragansett Indians, for what would become the Colony of Providence Plantations and Rhode Island.
The group may have sent their belongings by ship around Cape Cod, but some of them walked out of Boston and through the Indian trails of the forest in hip-deep snow, near the time of Passover and Easter. They walked 44 miles in what must have been an impressive Exodus from Egypt.
Upon their arrival, they immediately began building a town at the top of Rhode Island, later called Portsmouth. And a year later, a group of them moved to build a town and harbor called Newport. William and Mary Dyer were co-founders.
They formed the first democracy in America—and a secular one at that— (Massachusetts governors John Winthrop and Thomas Dudley were disdainful of democracy), and obtained their own charter from the English government in 1643, after Massachusetts Bay’s Gov. Winthrop implied that Rhode Island would be annexed to Massachusetts, thus bringing the heretics back under his control.
In May 1650, the General Assembly, meeting in Newport, created the offices of Attorney General and Solicitor General. William Dyer and Hugh Bewitt/Buit, respectively, were immediately engaged.
Notice the wording in the order and commission for Attorney General below, that he was “Engaged for the people, by, or in the peoples name…”  Does that sound familiar, like, say, the Gettysburg Address by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, when he said that “Government by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”?  

Abraham Lincoln's 1863 Gettysburg Address
You won't see many “one people” or “We the People” empowering statements until 1776, in the Declaration of Independence, or 1787, when the United States Constitution was written. But Rhode Island was there in 1650, advocating for us—the People.
How wise and creative and brilliant were those Rhode Island founders?! Huzzah! This office of Attorney General was not created for the use of oligarchs, or “the cutthroat of prosperitie” and commerce, or for preferment of the representatives and executive officers (feel free to contrast with modern government). It was for the interests of the people—of any background or social structure or financial status.  

The. Free. People. 

The job description promised protection from criminals, and from officers of the state. These assemblymen were not creating laws to cover their behinds, they were creating laws for transparency and accountability. It’s mind-boggling, contrasting what the United States (and its allies) have come to over the last few decades.
Records of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations in New England, p. 220 and 225:
Acts and Orders made at the Generall Courte of Election held at Newport, May the 23d, (1650), for the Colonie of Providence Plantations.

It is ordered by this Courte, to apoynt an Atturney Generall for the Colonie, as also a Solicitor. That the Atturney Generall shall have full power to impleade any transgression of the lawe of this State in any Courte of this State; but especially to bringe all such matters of penal lawes to tryall of the Generall Courte of Tryalls, as also for the tryall of the officers in the State at the Generall Assemblies, and to impleade in the full power and authoritie of the free people of this State, their prerogatives and liberties; and because envy, the cut throat of all prosperitie will not faile to gallop with its full careere, let the sayed Atturney be faithfully ingaged and authorized and encouraged. Engaged for the people, by, or in the peoples name, and with their full authoritie assisted; authorized, that upon information of transgressions or transgressors of the lawes, prerogatives and liberties of the people, and their penal lawes, he shall under hand and seale take forth summons from the President or Generall Assistants, to command any delinquent, or vehemently suspected of delinquencie in what kind soever accordinge to the premises, to appeare at the Generall Courte, if it be thereto belonginge, or to the Generall Assemblie in those matters proper thereunto; and if any refuse to apeare at that mandamus in the State of England’s name and the free people of this State, he shall be judged guiltie; and so proceeded with according to fine or penaltie.
Mr. William Dyre is deputed Generall Atturney for the Colonie, and ingaged.

I created the table by searching for the first attorney general of every English colony or early state of America. William Dyer is, indeed, the very first appointment, by 27 years!
First Attorneys-General of colonial/east-coast America
Year instituted
Colony/east coast of America
First attorney general
Rhode Island
William Dyer
North Carolina
George Durant
New York
crown appointee
David Lloyd
Benjamin Bullivant
western New Jersey
Charles Carroll
South Carolina
Nicholas Trott
Alexander Griffith
Sir John Randolph (deputy AG)
William Clifton
Gunning Bedford, Jr.
New Hampshire
Samuel Livermore
Erastus Foote
Charles Phelps

The most famous segment of Abraham Lincoln's 1863 Gettysburg Address is:  “…that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”
Note the similarity to the 1650 commission to the office of Rhode Island attorney general: “engaged for the people, by, or in the peoples' name.”
Well done, Rhode Island, and well done, William Dyer.  

The Dyers trilogy, by Christy K Robinson
Christy K Robinson has written a trilogy (two historical novels based in fact, and a nonfiction book) on Mary and William Dyer. Traditionally, Mary Dyer, who is known for giving her life in the cause of religious liberty, gets all the attention because Quaker historians used her story for political and evangelization purposes. Because he never became a Quaker, William Dyer’s history has been much more difficult to tease out of archives and records in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and the British Library. But this English farmer's son was a foundation stone of American democracy. One might call him a Firebrand.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Light and Shadow in the 17th Century

by Deborah Swift

When I first began writing novels set in the 17th century, I quickly became aware that lighting would play an important part in any night time scene. If outdoors, then the phase of the moon dictates how much light there is to see by, and any indoor scene would need to be lit by some means.

So what did ordinary people use in their daily lives?

The earliest form of lighting, which existed in Greek and Roman times and persisted until well after the 17th century was the rush-light. Gathered in the height of summer, the rushes were stripped to leave only a narrow sliver of green attached to the pith. These were then dried in the sun and were sold on, or used at home. To give you an idea of their lightness and fragility, a pound in weight of rush-dips contained 1600 dry rushes (according to Gilbert White of Selborne )
Chobham Museum, Rushlight holderphoto by Brian Wood
Rushes were dipped in bacon or mutton fat in an oval grease pan. This type of light might last for a half hour, but the light was meagre and smoky, and several lights might need to be burned to provide useful light for work. The rush was supported by a clamp in a rush-light holder, and when it became low could be burned at both ends. (Yes, you guessed, origin of the phrase; 'burning the candle at both ends'.) Children were often responsible for making rush-lights and keeping them alight, as they were very fiddly and delicate to handle.

Candles were the light of choice for more wealthy householders, and rush-light holders often had a candlestick attached, see left. Candles were made the same way as rush-lights with string dipped several times in grease, or by moulding them with a 'candle stool'.

Candle stool for moulding candles
Beeswax candles were made from rolled sheets of wax and were very expensive, so reserved for special occasions. With the mutton fat candles the string burned more slowly than the grease and had to be trimmed often.

1680 Candlestick
A candlestick could be a simple wooden or brass holder, or something more elaborate. Candles were often supported by pushing them onto spikes, rather than into a cup type holder.

Antique 1800s Early Wrought Iron Free standing candleabra such as this Spanish 17th Century example, were common, as were wall sconces, usually of a simple wrought iron variety. These examples are later, but something similar is referred to in Evelyn's diary of the 17th century.

A lamp was often just a candle inside a metal carrier, and often not glazed but with holes cut to let out the light, or bars to prevent the candle from falling over and setting light to the furnishings. See the picture at the top of the post. Examples with glass are rare, but this is a German hand-held lantern. The front hinges open so that you can insert a candle, and there is a 'chimney' to let the smoke out. The handle is at the back, as heat rises and this prevents the hand being burned.

I became especially interested in different types of lighting because my latest novel for teens and adults, 'Shadow on the Highway' has many night-time scenes.

In order to understand the visual effect of the light and shadow of naked flames I turned to artists such as Gerrit Von Honthorst (see below) and Rembrandt. I hope to write a further post on these artists as their paintings really helped to shape the world  of light and shadow I was trying to create. The painting I've put in this post is called 'The Denial of St Peter', though the subjects are dressed as contemporaries to Honthorst. The darkness where things can be out of sight so easily, is a thing that novelists often forget to take account of, but this painting makes it very evident.


'Shadow on the Highway' is coming out in a few weeks time as an e-book from Endeavour Press, and the paperback will follow later. It is about the life and legend of Lady Katherine Fanshawe, the highwaywoman.
Here is a sneak preview of the cover.