Category Archives: Georgian England

The British Lying-in Hospital: Health Care for Women in Georgian England

I’ve posted on the English Historical Fiction Authors blog today on a specialized hospital for women.

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Attribution: Wellcome Collection gallery (2018-04-03): https://wellcomecollection.org/works/yhnmeumy CC-BY-4.0

Specialised health care seems such a modern concept. When we read about medicine in the past, many things seem primitive and downright frightening. An especially vulnerable population is that of pregnant women. Midwives are the primary caregivers that come to mind. Generally one imagines a woman during the Georgian era giving birth at home, surrounded by female relatives under the guidance of a midwife. Although childbirth was considered a female issue, women of wealth and position were often under the care of an accoucher (a doctor trained in obstetrics or a male midwife). Princess Charlotte the daughter of the Prince of Wales during the Regency (later George IV) was under the care of society doctor Sir Richard Croft (there was a very sad outcome but that is for another article by Regina Jeffers here). What about women who did not have the money, the female relatives or even the home for her labour? The British Lying-in Hospital for Married Women provided an answer for some. The British Lying-In Hospital for Married Women on Brownlow St. in Long Acre was not the first established but it was the first to come to my attention.

To read more, visit the English Historical Fiction Authors blog HERE.

Illustration: Wikimedia Commons HERE

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Filed under 18th century England, Dr. Bartholomew Mosse, Georgian England, Lying-in hospital, maternity care, women's medicine

Margaret Campion, Business Woman

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Over on the English Historical Fiction Authors blog, I have a new post up.

Historically, women had limited options for their lives, and Georgian England was no exception. As any reader of Jane Austen’s novels knows, this situation resulted in marriage being a primary career objective. Lack of education and property laws restricted the ability of many women to support themselves respectably, or even adequately. However, there were always exceptions. Margaret Holt Campion, known as the first Lady Banker in northern England, was one of them. Read morehere.

Illustration of Campion Bank House by Mike Kirby herefrom Wikimedia Commons

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Filed under 18th century England, Georgian England, Margaret Campion, Women in business

Grosvenor Chapel

On the English Historical Fiction Authors blog, a visit to Grosvenor Chapel…

St. George’s, Hanover Square was (and still is) the most venerable church in Mayfair, the most fashionable district of London by the end of the 18th century. This district was home to the bluest of blood. Consequently, St. George’s, Hanover Square was the chief site of baptisms, burials and, most importantly, weddings for the highest society in London during the Georgian era and beyond. (Over 1000 marriages were conducted there in 1816 alone.) Grosvenor Chapel, located nearby at 24 South Audley Street, is not as well known…. Read more here.

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Directions for the Cook in March by Louise Rule

On Jane Austen’s London blog, Louise Rule considers March weather and a fascinating cook book from 1812. There are a couple of recipes as well if you want to experiment!

via Directions to the Cook for March

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Filed under 19th century England, Cooking, Georgian England, Old books, recipes

John Ker, 3rd Duke of Roxburghe and the Roxburghe Club

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John Ker, 3rd Duke of Roxburghe by Pompeo Batoni, 1761

Please visit the English Historical Fiction Authors blog, where my post on John Ker, 3rd Duke of Roxburghe and the Roxburghe Club is appearing today. The Duke and his predecessors accumulated one of the great libraries of the Georgian age… You can read about it HERE.

(Image from Wikimedia Commons HERE (public domain).

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Filed under 18th century England, Georgian England, Old books

Piracy During the Late Georgian Era

During the Elizabethan era, the seas were ruled by Sir Francis Drake, John Hawkins and others. Elizabeth subsidized voyages to seize Spanish ships, and was rewarded by a share of the booty (although her diplomacy required that she deplore such activities to ambassadors of other countries). The hey-day of piracy as we think of it was during the 1700’s in the Caribbean and was dominated by Blackbeard (Edward Teach), Henry Morgan, Jean Lafitte. It was largely suppressed by English and American navies by Jane Austen’s time.

The Barbary pirates, also known as corsairs, were very active during the Georgian era. They were based in northern coast of Africa, in Morocco, Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli. These were separate nations but all were ruled by the Ottoman Empire. They plundered ships in Mediterranean, and frequented the Adriatic and the seas around Ireland and Iceland. They were known for holding people of means or status for ransom, and for taking slaves as well as merchandise. (They needed roughly 200 men per ship to man the oars of their galleys.) They favoured galleys which were fast and easy to manoeuver in shallow waters; they also liked to disguise themselves as merchant ships. The Barbary pirates were active during the Regency era (they were not completely suppressed until the Victorian era). Byron’s poem “The Corsair” was a romance inspired by them.

Privateers were privately owned ships whose owners had letters of marque from their own government authorizing seizure of enemy ships, especially trade ships. There was a very thin line between privateers and pirates: many privateers exceeded their license, and one king’s privateer was another’s pirate. Privateers were still present during the Regency era and eers usually held no scruples about exceeding their letters of marque if profit ensued. An interesting side note: by the Regency era, pirates wore what normal gentlemen did: boots, trousers or breeches, shirts with stocks and coats.

European privateers were drawn to the Barbary Coast, bringing their wooden ships (or the knowledge of how to build them)-these ships needed fewer men to man the oars, were faster, and allowed for more men at arms on board. By Jane Austen’s time, the Barbary Pirates had negotiated “treaties” with European states, which involved payment of protection money. While America was protected by Britain, those protections applied to American shipping but after the Revolution, those protections no longer held. American merchant ships were captured, and their crews held as slaves, while the pirates demanded ransoms the new nation could not pay. Negotiations were extraordinarily complex, and winning an agreement with one Barbary nation did not ensure that the others (or the one who signed it) would honour it. Many prisoners died in captivity; some were held as slaves for many years. In 1801, Thomas Jefferson declared war on the Barbary Pirates and, after numerous setbacks, finally won in Tripoli (hence “…the shores of Tripoli…” in the Marines’ Hymn).

When captured alive, pirates were taken to London, where they usually were held in Marshalsea Prison, and, if convicted in the Admiralty Court, transported to Wapping to be executed at Execution Dock on the banks of the Thames, which was symbolic of the seas where their crimes were committed. They were known as enemies of all mankind, and were usually considered guilty before ever facing a trial. Execution was by hanging (with a short rope that resulted in strangulation instead of a cleanly-broken neck) and bodies were left hanging for 3 days or longer, to serve as a deterrent (with indifferent success, it must be said). The last execution of this nature occurred in 1830.

Sources include:

Kilmeade, Brian and Yaeger, Don. THOMAS JEFFERSON AND THE TRIPOLI PIRATES The Forgotten War That Changed American History. 2015: Sentinel (an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC), New York, NY.

English Legal History. “Pirate Executions in Early Modern London” by Rebecca Simon, posted 7/9/2014. HERE

Pirates and Privateers. “The Barbary Corsairs” by Cindy Vallar, (c) 2004. HERE

Image: Captain Bainbridge Pays Tribute to the Dey, by Henry Ogden (1856-1936). Wikimedia Commons HERE Image created 12/8/2008 by ZeD. Public domain in the U.S.

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Filed under 18th century England, 19th century England, corsairs, Georgian England, pirates, slavery

Jane Austen and Marriage

Das Ehesakrament by Pietro Longhi c. 1755 via Wikimedia Commons

Thanks to movies and television, Jane Austen’s novels, especially PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and PERSUASION, are synonymous with happy-ever-after. Many love her works as romantic courtship novels. Ironically, Jane Austen has also been embraced as a feminist author, thanks to her subtle criticisms of male-dominated education and economics, and her personal unmarried state. In recent years, speculation on her personal love life and reasons for her failure to marry has generated a variety of novels and movies as well. The fact remains that marriage is a central point of her novels. There is a conflict common in all of her novels, again especially visible in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE: marriage as a romantic state versus marriage as a means of financial support. This conflict was present throughout Austen’s life, and was the dichotomy for gentlewomen of her time. On one hand, Romantic thought required a marriage based only on mutual love, a one-time event. On the other hand, reality saw many women propelled into marriage solely for financial support. The same reality forced many widows into remarriage, regardless of their desires. A shortage of eligible males and women’s vulnerability to changes of status exacerbated the situation.

Jane Austen knew that marriage did not provide a guarantee of financial security. Money was lost, as in brother Henry’s bankruptcy. (Mrs. Smith in PERSUASION epitomized a woman’s vulnerability when a family fortune was decimated.) Inheritance laws distributed assets, resulting in distress, as illustrated by Mrs. Bennet’s obsession with the entailment that would result in Mr. Collins’ inheriting Longbourn when Mr. Bennet dies. There was no assurance that family members would aid an unattached female. Romantic fervor did not always last. A rise of divorce, particularly well-publicized in Austen’s time as it was still an expensive rarity, showcased a woman’s vulnerability in marriage. High society divorces occurred, such as that of Lord and Lady Worsley, in Jane Austen’s lifetime, and she was aware of them. In SENSE AND SENSIBILITY, Colonel Brandon disclosed the sad fate of his first love to Eleanor: an heiress forced into an unloving marriage with his elder brother, mistreated, seduced, ultimately divorced and left with inadequate means of support despite her personal fortune (which remained in her husband’s hands), leading to her complete ruin.

I believe that Jane wanted to be married. However, her definition of marriage seems to have been very specific: a union of shared tastes and interests, mutual affection and mutual respect. Neither financial security nor romantic love (or infatuation) individually was enough. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE contained multiple examples of marriages that were unhappy because the partners were unequally matched in terms of education, interests, respect, infatuation that cooled or other circumstances. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s relationship was the classic portrait of unequal marriage: her pretty face and flirting caught the eye of an educated young gentleman. His disillusionment, loss of respect and withdrawal from his wife had an extremely damaging effect on their children. (The differences between Jane and Lizzie (early products of the marriage), and Mary, Kitty and Lydia (later products of the search for a son and heir) showed the deleterious effect on the family as a whole of Mr. Bennet’s disenchantment with his wife ).

The marriage of Charlotte and Mr. Collins highlighted another unequal match: her need to find a place with a modicum of security so she would not be a charge on her brother or father led her to coolly pursue marriage to a singularly unsatisfactory man. Her superiority of taste and thought versus his foolishness did not lead to disillusionment for Charlotte but resulted in a constant effort to find satisfaction in her own abilities to counter the loneliness and frequent humiliation she experienced in her life with Mr. Collins. Lydia and Wickham was the ultimate mismatched couple, with no hope of any real comfort. Their marriage was the outcome of an elopement propelled by her giddy infatuation with the military and his taste for debauchery, and only occurred because Mr. Darcy had the means to compel Wickham to marry Lydia. They had no real affection for each other, no home or significant money of their own and no welcome from family or friends. Lydia had no significant hope of security (she had no internal or financial resources of her own, and Wickham’s unsteadiness and lack of a stable profession other than the military left them living on the edge of disaster).

Other novels in Ms. Austen’s body of work contain examples of unequal marriages as well: Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram in MANSFIELD PARK, and Charles and Mary Musgrove in PERSUASION are only a couple of examples. In PERSUASION, Lady Russell was in no hurry (or was possibly unwilling) to change her widowed state which allowed her full control of her life and her funds. Certainly, she showed no interest in pursuing Sir Walter Elliot. In her Juvenilia, “Catharine or the Bower” in Volume the Third contains the story of a young lady who, against her personal inclinations, went to India to find a husband and was “Splendidly, yet unhappily married.”* (This story is based on her own family experience, as her aunt Philadelphia, her father’s sister, went to India and was married there.)

Jane Austen withdrew into premature spinsterhood, reluctantly yet almost with relief. Was it due to the loss of an early love, or a strong-willed desire to control her own destiny? Were there other factors? Jane advised her niece not to marry without affection. Her novels show the pitfalls of unequal, unloving or imprudent marriages, and the merits of marriages that combine affection, shared tastes and other benefits. Her heroines achieved the ideal state of being married happily and advantageously. However, her novels seem to contain more illustrations of the less satisfactory relationships than the happy ones. While the characters and circumstances involved in these less-than-happy marriages added greatly to the entertainment factor of the stories, one can’t help but see a warning of the dangers of marriage entered into lightly or for the wrong reasons.

With her family’s support and encouragement, Ms. Austen enjoyed writing and earning her own money. She was proud of her work and very interested in the financial reward of it. She saw women’s need for improved education and the ability to provide for their own support. Her sharp wit and keen observations were, and are still, admired. We should also consider her emotions as a girl and young woman, and how those emotions affected her writing. Did she truly feel a “splendidly engaged indifference”*. to marriage, or was she making the best of her unmarried state? When Mr. Bigg-Wither proposed in December 1802, he offered Ms. Austen a comfortable life in a family she knew and liked; his sisters were close friends. However, she did not particularly like or admire him personally. She accepted, and then withdrew her acceptance the next day. Her acceptance shows she was aware of the advantages that marriage to Mr. Bigg-Wither offered; her withdrawal shows that she valued respect and esteem more.

Jane Austen evolved from a girl dreaming of marriage into a determined spinster unwilling to settle for second best, as shown in family records, her letters and her novels. In PERSUASION, Anne Elliot defined good company as “the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation….”*** In my opinion, the character of Anne Elliot and this quote in particular reveal Jane Austen’s personal views and desires regarding relationships in general and marriage in particular most clearly. Jane was a woman of her time, a realist, who understood her family’s situation. She was also a woman of feeling, in a loving family. Choice as well as circumstances led to her decision to stay a spinster. Her wit and observations gave her writings humor, while her emotional growth allowed her to combine the sparkle of youthful hope, the caution of experience in adulthood and the wisdom of maturity in her stories.

Notes:

*Chapman, R.W., ed. MINOR WORKS The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen Vol. 6. 1988: Oxford University Press, Oxford, p. 194.
**Walker, Eric C. MARRIAGE, WRITING AND ROMANTICISM Wordsworth and Austen After War. 2009: Stanford University Press, Palo Alto, CA, p. 226.
*** Chapman, R. W., ed. NORTHANGER ABBEY AND PERSUASION The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen Vol. 5. 1988: Oxford University Press, Oxford, p. 150 of PERSUASION.

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Filed under Georgian England, Jane Austen, Love story, Regency society