Female Pharaohs: Khentkaus I & Sobekneferu

Today I want to talk about some women often forgotten about in your ordinary history books, and even some academic books depending on the accessibility to materials. These are some of the precursors to later and more famous female pharaohs of Ancient Egypt, and their names are Khentkawes I and Sobekneferu. Why? Because there is such a thing as being cool before being cool – no offence Nefertiti or Cleo. More importantly, these women actually start defining what the reality of female pharaohs was in a much earlier time period, therefore opening the possibility for further historical revisionism and a better understanding of the role of women in ancient history.

Female Pharaoh: More than a Queen

Manetho, the egyptian advisor of the Ptolemies created the royal dynasty system that we use nowadays. There he named 5 female pharaohs, and it is recorded that these existed as early as the 3rd millennium BC.We reckon that there are at least 7 female pharaohs in the Egyptian record, showing that this wasn’t a title exclusive to men. In fact, Aidan Norrie states that the title of pharaoh unlike in the case of traditional European ruling titles, the term pharaoh didn’t have a specific gender assigned. Unfortunately, the fragmentary evidence for these female rulers is a big hinderance to understand their roles and reigns in comparison to those of their male counterparts. Moreover, Joanne Fletcher is of the opinion that this title of pharaoh when associated with women, has traditionally appeared to be downgraded or dismissed despite the blatant exercise of power that these women had. Often, they are referred to as “queens” when, in fact, they were pharaohs in full right.

Continue reading “Female Pharaohs: Khentkaus I & Sobekneferu”

Olga of Kiev: Queen of the Rus

Vikings here, Vikings there, Vikings everywhere…! So today I take us back to one of my favourite women in history: an absolute kick ass queen who manage to take rulership of an old Norse state to a different level. Today, I bring you Olga of Kiev – or rather a summary of the things we know about Olga, because, as you know, I love me nothing better than dark characters and subjects in history that no one else seems to care about…Or that have hardly any research published in English…Oh Well!

So… Who’s Olga?

Good question! As far as we understand, Queen Olga of Kiev, ruled the realm after the death of her husband Igor, in the first half of the tenth century. Olga and Igor had only one son who was at the time of the death of his father, an underaged infant, which meant Olga acted as his regent…And the rest that we know about this incredible woman, is patchwork – at best. On a further note about the issue with the secondary sources- there is more availability of materials in other languages, mainly in Russian and other Eastern European languages. Even though, it is surprising how little in general has been written about her despite she was the first member of the royal family leave paganism behind and adopt Orthodox Christianity. Despite there are not many secondary sources about her, there was an increase in the amount of research done about her related to her conversion to Christianity and the millennium anniversary of her baptism In fact, Olga was the first member of the dynasty that became Christian; an event that had repercussions for the entire kingdom in the following years. This event was exposed in different ways in contemporary sources, which allowed the historical debate to begin.

According to Moseley, there are extensive materials for the study of middle- and upper-class women, such as personal correspondence and diaries; nevertheless, this does not apply to the Early Middle Ages where it was commonly the monks who recorded most events. Moreover, it was uncommon for women to write for it was seen as ‘exceeding society’s expectations. Apart from a few exceptions, like Christine of Pissan, the limited chances a woman had to influence written work were through patronage, as seen in the Encomium of Emma of Normandy. No sources written by Olga have been preserved or are known, although it has been suggested that the two Slavonic contemporary sources that remain could be based on a lost Encomium. Zemon Davis states that there are plenty of materials for research on European women, despite these might sometimes be under represented. However, we cannot be certain this applies to women that were not from mainland Europe. One of the very few sources we have availale that talk at lenght about Olga is the Russian primary Chronicle (which is super epic by the way, and if you have the time to read it, I thoroughly recommend it). Written in the twelfth century, this is nonetheless a controversial source: The text is meant to be a compilation of earlier manuscripts as well as oral traditions, although it is not disregarded it could just be the product of propaganda: both from the state and the Church.  Jesch defines it as an “apocryphal” and “legendary” text where the events are clearly manipulated by the author, but on the contrary Riha thinks that despite the religious bias it is the only remaining source of the early Russian past, so it cannot be disregarded. Thus, this source explains how Olga tricks the Derevlians, killers of her husband, and then leads the army to avenge the death of Igor and impose her rule over the neighbouring land .

According to Stafford, Olga was no exception as others like Aethelflead or Gerberga took active roles in siege and town defence. Furthermore, she states that ‘the struggles surrounding succession were often accompanied by propaganda wars’, a fact that fits in with the circumstances of Olga’s son’s minority and the political instability after the death of Igor. Moreover, it also reflects the Viking literary heritage presented in the sagas of the warrior maiden, that shows the perceptions of contemporary women by society. Finally, this source does mention other affairs related to the administrative power of the queen, like the economic prosperity reached since c.947 due to the building of several trading posts and the imposition of a tax on the goods transported through the Russian rivers. But, this does not say much about Olga’s personal life or experience of queenship. There is a passage of the Russian Primary Chronicle that perhaps reflects on this issue or maybe is just a remain of how she wanted to portray herself as a ruler. According to the events described, the Byzantine emperor fascinated by Olga proposes her marriage, for it is what she requires to be baptised. As he performs the rite, she eludes the proposal because of the formula used by the emperor, which calls her his daughter and therefore the incestuous controversy stands in Olga’s favour. It is interesting to know, though, that this is the only source that mentions this event. There is much debate amongst scholars regarding the truth behind this passage. Some consider that was the reality, some others that it never did happen. In addition, there are some that think that even if it happened it would not have been recorded elsewhere as it would have been a humiliation of the Emperor and, thus, too favourable for Olga, who after all was a widowed queen from a “lesser” kingdom. Perhaps that was her way to reinforce her position of widow, the one moment when women enjoyed more freedom and respect.

Related to that episode is the most celebrated part of Olga’s life: her baptism and conversion to the Christian faith. She was the first Russian Christian ruler who was the most inspiring figure for later tsar’s wives ‘who manipulated her image as intercessor for her people to legitimize their own roles as spiritual mothers of the realm and independent rulers’, according to Schaus. The importance of religion in life reaches its peak with her later beatification and sanctification. Interestingly, Schulenburg’s research shows how in the first half of the tenth century the number of female saints, all the clear example of piety, devotion and morality, increased by 20 per cent. Indeed, it is known women were a key part in the conversion process and spread of Christianity, and one of the few subjects where queens could get involved and develop their own affairs. Specifically, Norse women seem to have used this new opportunity that Christianity gave them to acquire more influence within their communities, just like Olga. Furthermore, women, and queens in particular, were the ones in charge of the spiritual protection of their families, which was very important for the well-being and prosperity of a dynasty. The importance of such matter is partially seen in a passage of Adalbert of Magdeburg’s Chronicle of Regino of Prüm that includes information regarding missionary work agreed between Olga and the court of Otto I. This is odd considering she was on good terms with Byzantium and she was converted to the Orthodox faith. However, it has been suggested that one of her multiple visits to Constantinople was intended to get a bishop for her realm but due to internal issues within the Byzantine administration this never happened, which may have made her get in contact with the Holy-Roman Empire.

 However, the German mission failed and with it the developments of Christianity in the Rus. Certainly Olga did not manage to convert her own son to the new faith, but the influence spread, reaching even a more important figure than the heir to the throne: Vladimir, Olga’s grandson. It was with Vladimir’s rule that Kiev became officially Christian, two decades after Olga’s attempt. Poppe suggests that this shows how important it was for female rulers to have support in different spheres and how religion was a way of gaining control and allies at the same time. Related to this, is the general question about status being so prominent and relevant in the study of these figures. There is one last source that deals with this subject, De Caeremonis: the book of ceremonies from the Byzantine court which provides details on the ceremonies Olga attended in Constantinople, and her dinners with the royal family, evidence of her high status and diplomatic abilities. Finally, Jesch mentions the large number of females from her family that had an active role in Olga’s court, perhaps suggesting a sort of female agency, and most definitely establishing the importance of household and family support for these individuals.

So, this is what we can comfortably talk about Olga. There is a very important issue that I need to address here which is something that Schaus points out and is the issue of romanticism with figures like Olga. There are extra difficulties to investigate characters like this due to the pagan-Christian controversy. After all, Kievan women suffered from the romanticism of the sources and their personas due to the Romantic and Nationalistic movements Kievan scholars experimented. Therefore, perhaps what we know about her must be taken with a pinch of salt? I am a little reluctant to believe it is all a fantasy or apocryphal. However, the lack of access to sources in different languages make this a very biased discussion.

Regardless, I still think that Olga is a well interesting figure that did a lot of great things for her people and that is still very under represented in her field.  

And here is the bibliography from where I pulled most of this research…So you can see it is archaic…However, I would like to point out that a few things have come out recently which will be worth examining…I just haven’t had the chance to get my hands on to them.

‘The Russian Primary Chronicle’, ed. T.Riha, Readings in Russian Civilization, Vol. 1, (Chicago and London, 1964), pp. 20-30.

Featherstone, J., ‘Ol’ga’s Visit to Constantinople’, Harvard Ukranian Studies, Vol. 14, No 3-4, (Dec., 1990), pp. 293-312.

Jesch, J., Women in the Viking Age (Woodbridge, 1991).

Jewell, H.M., Women in Dark Age and Early Medieval Europe c.500-1200 (Basingstoke and New York, 2007).

Moseley, E.S., ‘Sources for the New Women’s History’, The American Archivist, Vol. 43, No. 2, (Spring, 1980), pp. 180-190.

Poppe, A., ‘Once Again Concerning the Baptism of Olga, Archontissa of Rus’, Dumbaton Oak Papers, Vol. 46-Homo Byzantinus: Papers in Honour of Alexander Kazhdan, (1992), pp. 271-277.

Schaus, M., Women and Gender in Medieval Europe: an Encyclopedia (London, 2006).

Smith-Rosenberg, C., ‘The New Women and the New History’, Feminist Studies, Vol. 3, No. 1-2, (Aut., 1975), pp. 185-198.

Stafford, P., Queens, Concubines and Dowagers: The King’s Wife in the Early Middle Ages (London and Virginia, 1983).

Zemon Davis, N., ‘“Women’s History” in Transition: the European Case’, Feminist Studies, Vol. 3, No. 3-4, (Spring-Summer, 1976), pp. 83-103.

The Struggles With Lesbian History

LGBT history as a whole is difficult to study, with both its legal and societal condemnation historically and today. The first attempts to study the history of homosexuality were not started until the 19th century and these were largely hampered by source scarcity and societal opinion. It was not until the mid 20th century that as a study it became more popular, and until the 1970s that all identities under the LGBT umbrella were included. The last several decades have seen a massive increase in scholarship, especially in gay male history; however other identities have struggled much more. Trans historiography has been hampered by how to define trans historical figures, particularly so in the issue of whether people were trans or if they were passing as another gender for other reasons, such as avoiding being drafted into military service. Bisexual history has languished similarly due to the issue of how to consider historical figures who appeared to be bisexual – were they bisexual or were they gay and their opposite sex relationships a requirement of the society they lived in, or were such relationships genuine? This, of course, has implications for same-sex history: are historical figures being labelled as attracted only to the same sex or could they have been bisexual? While the lack of definitively knowing hampers any study of history, LGBT history particularly struggles.  

Lesbian history has always struggled – even the term ‘lesbian’ to describe history has been considered by some to be a difficult descriptor. Some feel that lesbian refers to an identity that historically women would have not considered themselves to be. Sometimes the phrase ‘women who loved women’ has been used. Scholars such as Cook and Rich argued for the use of the term ‘lesbian’ to describe women who had relationships with other women. However other scholars prefer to avoid the term, arguing that lesbian as a concept did not exist, or that the term does not fit the historical reality of the women they are studying. Others have also argued that this term is too Western-centric. However, others have pointed out that terms such as queer are too broad and erase the specific experience of women. This issue on phrasing symbolises the difficulty that lesbian history has faced. 

While there has been little debate about male homosexual history, lesbian history has been much more problematic. The existence of lesbian history has always been harder to find, just because as the history of women in general has been difficult to source because of the domination of men in the historical written word, lesbians have often been written out of history – even more so than heterosexual women who generally have been only featured when, relevant to men. Lesbian behaviour was less likely to be prosecuted than gay male behaviour (not that lesbians were not prosecuted but they were caught less often or in some cases the sheer idea of lesbianism was so alien that legislation did not exist) which also reduces the amount of source material available, although what does exist is important. Prior to the 19th century lesbian history is fragmented, although some lesbian historians, like Emma Donoghue, have criticised historians for failing to notice mentions of lesbians due their own heterocentrisim. Debates over whether female historical figures had romantic and/or sexual relationships with each other or whether they simply had close platonic friendships plague lesbian history. Many lesbian historians have pointed out that they themselves, and those that came before them who clearly were, and often identified, as lesbian have been described as ‘platonic’ yet that there are often signs of such romantic and/or sexual relationships. Anne Lister’s diaries are an example of this; when her diaries were originally deciphered some declared them a hoax because of their explicitness’ and her frank understanding of her sexuality.  

Most sources we do have on lesbian history focus predominantly on upper class women as they were the most able to record their own experiences. This can be frustrating for two reasons: women in the lower classes made up higher proportions of the general population and therefore are more likely to make up a significant proportion of lesbian women; and also that working class women traditionally had more opportunity to socialise with other women and without as much scrutiny. Upper class women were far more likely to have limited social circles and limited opportunity to be able to conduct affairs privately. Not only does this limit the amount of available knowledge it also means we miss out on knowing about working class lesbian subcultures and communities prior to the 19th and 20th centuries.  

Oral history has been an important part of lesbian history and has provided a significant amount of source material, although this is mostly restricted to post 1920s, as lesbian oral history was not recorded until the 1970s and beyond.  Along with sources such as zines and photography, archive groups in the 1970s and 1980s attempted to construct archives focused on the lesbian experience, such as the Lesbian Archive – now housed at the Glasgow Women’s Library, and the Lesbian Herstory Archives in New York. Other regional archives exist as does archives holding either LGBT history as whole or feminist/women’s history. 

So why is lesbian history so important to discover? Other than the general desire to uncover the past as much as possible, many lesbians find it important to connect to their forebearers and to demonstrate that their identity is legitimate and has existed for millennia. Lesbian erasure, historically and currently, is a major issue not just in society in general but also in the LGBT and feminist communities that claim to include and represent them. Erasure and ignorance of lesbian history helps exacerbate lesbian erasure. Many lesbians have been outspoken about society’s attempts to erase ‘lesbian’ as an identity, from claiming that ‘lesbian’ is exclusive or to that it doesn’t even exist – the tendency for some historians to deny lesbian history prior to the 19th century does just this.  

LGBT history often focuses on gay men while feminist history often focuses on heterosexual women. The fact that lesbians have often been both at the forefront of social movements is often ignored, even within these movements, and despite their presence they have been later ostracised or written out of these histories. Therefore their lesbian identity has been paramount to them. This importance also highlights the need for lesbian history to be inclusive of all lesbians. Recent scholarship has aimed to not only focus on white middle-class women in western societies but to expand our knowledge of lesbian history and how the diversity of these women are how we can broaden our overall knowledge.  

The Enchantress of Numbers: Ada Lovelace

I am sure by now you all know I am not the most techy person in the world, but I still find this an interesting area, particularly if it comes wrapped in a majestic, incredible woman with the smarts of a genius. Yes, I am of course talking of the only legitimate child of Lord Byron: Ada Lovelace. I was seriously blown away by her knowledge and contribution to modern-day science, and I think we should be talking more about her! So here we go.

Ada was born in 1815 as the only child fruit of the relationship between Byron and his wife Anne Isabella Milbanke; as we know he was a serial polygamous lover and the vast majority of his children were born out-of-wedlock from his lovers and mistresses. This relationship in fact, is very short lived and the couple separate just a few weeks after the birth of their daughter. Byron never got to meet the woman his child became, as he died away in Greece when Ada was only 8 years old. They never really met, so Ada really grew up away from her father’s influence. This probably worked out well for Miss Milbanke as she was seriously concerned her daughter would turn up to be like her father: she thought Ada would inherit some sort of poetic madness just like her stranged husband and that would ruin her…(Genetics, huh?). But interestingly enough, little Ada showed from a very early age an interest in machines. It is because of this reason and her utter bitterness towards Lord Byron that Annabella decided to promote her daughter’s education in the field of science, particularly mathematics. Ada grew under the tutelage of Mary Sommerville, the famous astronomer who  expanded the girls curiosity into rational thinking and the complexity that was the universe. And it is thanks to her tutor that Ada gets to meet the most influential person in her life: her mentor Charles Babbage. Although becoming a reason for gossip at the time, the relationship between then an elderly Babbage and a very young Ada was strictly intellectual. However, it could be argued that they were, indeed, very fond of each others company, but not in the way people thought of it. If one considers her family lineage, and the fact people were very aware this was, in fact, Lord Byron’s daughter, in addition to Ada’s apparent great beauty, perhaps one could understand the nature of said rumours…Nevertheless, you could say that the Lovelace – Babbage companionship was really a family replacement one. Babbage had lost his children; Ada never knew her father, so they found in each other that perfect person to compliment their hearts as well as their minds.

And it is then when Ada’s brilliance really flourishes. Babbage gave her the task to translate the work of Luigi Menabrea on the Analytical Engine of Babbage. But she went so much further than just doing a translation of the work: in addition Ada introduced notes and sketches on how to use this machine. Thus, she created in many ways a new piece of work, 3 times longer than the original. Finished in 1843, Ada’s work was presented as Notes by the Translator…Sketches of the Analytical Engine. This piece also provides an insight into what Ada understood to be the true potential of such piece of equipment. In here she develops the theory that Babbage’s machine could find application beyond numerical calculations. She was convinced that this engine could be used to perform complex tasks by manipulating symbols such as producing basic answers to questions. In essence, a century early, Ada Lovelace conceived in her mind that computing was indeed possible and that any piece of content had the potential to be digitised.  It was Miss Lovelace work that truly inspires Alan Turing’s work in the mid 20th century.

However, this brilliant young mind suffers the fate of such many romantics, yet not in the way her mother thought. Ada Lovelace died at the age of 36, just like her father, but due to a severe medical condition: uterine cancer.

Hamilton

A History of our time?

The forgotten founding father?

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Legacy, what is a legacy?
It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see[1]

 

I honestly could not resist writing a piece about Hamilton. Hamilton is the 2015 musical phenomenon written by Lin Manuel Miranda and inspired by R. Chernow’s 2004 biography titled Alexander Hamilton that has since reached London’s West End as of December 2017.

I have been extremely lucky to have watched the performance twice! Now I feel it would be appropriate to examine the historical significance of the musical about the man who is on the $10 bill and how it resonates to a present-day audience on both sides of the Atlantic. I will focus more on social and political matters as opposed to the economic and military. If you wish to see the musical in the future, please note I will make mention to some elements in the plot.

 

The Backstory

 

Alexander Hamilton’s Early Years

My name is Alexander Hamilton and there’s a million things I haven’t done just you wait, just you wait…[2]

Let’s start with the backstory. Alexander Hamilton was an American statesman who fought numerous battles in the Revolutionary War against Britain and became the first United States Secretary of the Treasury. The story narrates the life of Alexander Hamilton, an unlikely founding father who was born on the British island of Nevis (now St Kitts and Nevis) in January 1757/1755 as there is some debate amongst historians regarding this, although it is widely considered to be 1757. Born outside of wedlock, his father abandoning the family and his mother dying when he was still a child, his prospects on the face of it appeared dire.

Hamilton’s mother, Rachel Fawcett was married to Johann Michael Lavien before she met James Hamilton, the father of Alexander Hamilton. Lavien seized Fawcett’s estate in St Croix (now United States Virgin Islands) in probate court upon her death and sold off a sizeable portion of Fawcett’s items.

Hamilton later became a clerk at Beekman and Crugar, an import and export firm. The firm traded with the colonies of New England and New York. At 14/16, Hamilton was placed in charge of the firm when his employer was away at sea for five months. Hamilton’s cousin, Peter Lytton briefly looked after him and his brother, James Jr Hamilton before he committed suicide. From this point henceforth, the brothers were separated though remained on Nevis.

Hamilton (Alexander) was taken in the custody of Thomas Stevens, a local merchant and the older Hamilton (James Jr) became a Carpenter’s Apprentice. By this point Alexander Hamilton was well read and enjoyed writing in his spare time. In 1772 a devasting Hurricane hit St Croix, in response Hamilton (Alexander) wrote a letter to his father pertaining to the Hurricane in enormous detail and his thoughts on the destruction. The letter gained popularity after it was published in the Royal Danish-American Gazette by Journalist, Hugh Knox. This popularity garnished the attention of community leaders. This was a real turning point for Hamilton, as the news of his letter impressed the leaders so much they collected funds to send Hamilton to study in New York. This proved to be an invaluable opportunity for Hamilton, which no doubt paved the way to his military and to a higher extent, his political pursuits.  Much of these accounts from Hamilton’s early life are touched upon during the musical’s opening number, Alexander Hamilton.[3]

 

The musical synopsis

 

The story develops and looks at how he overcame these difficulties in early life looking at how he established himself in New York City; at King’s College (now Columbia University), his personal life, military /political exploits, his relationships with other founding fathers; John Laurens, Marquis de Lafayette, Hercules Mulligan, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and not forgetting his relationship with political rival, Aaron Burr, which ended in Hamilton’s death on 12th July 1804 as a result of the famous Burr-Hamilton duel on the day before.

This is all set at a time of revolution and increased animosity towards the British in the colonies, chiefly regarding taxation. This animosity occurred since 1765 and arguably more so after the Boston Massacre of 1770 when a group of American colonists were shot by soldiers who were stationed in Boston to control heighted colonial unrest, the capital of the Provence of Massachusetts Bay.

What Hamilton (the musical) does so well is create a visually stunning performance, amalgamating the history of a nation with the contemporary, a retelling of history, predominately in the form of hip-hop and casting actors from ethnic minority backgrounds in major roles within the production. This invariably is told as a history of our time, in other words to reflect the society of the US and the UK today.

 

The historical legacy

Ethnicity & Immigration in the United States

Let’s start with the casting. A conscious decision was made regarding the casting. The story is told by a diverse group of actors from different backgrounds. This is true in both the US and UK productions. Notably, the roles of the founding fathers; Hamilton, Burr, Laurens/Philip Hamilton, Mulligan/Madison, Lafayette/Jefferson and Washington were played by actors from an ethnic minority. This is also true of the Schuyler sister roles in the musical; Angelica, Elizabeth “Eliza” and Margarita “Peggy”. For reference, the Schuyler family were influential Dutch landowners that held much prominence in New York, Elizabeth Schuyler was a fourth generation American and the wife of Alexander Hamilton. They married in December 1780 and their courtship was acknowledged during the song Helpless.[4]

 

Immigrants we get the job done[5]

 

Essentially what the musical does is it tells the story about an immigrant trying to establish a place for themselves through hard work, grit and determination. These are traits not so different in people today. What Hamilton was doing back in the 1700s, hundreds if not thousands of immigrants since then have aspired to work hard for their livelihoods and prosper in their endeavours. Looking at the United States today many people can trace their ancestry back to Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. This applies to the original Broadway cast. For instance; the Musical’s creator, Miranda who played Hamilton has Hispanic heritage from the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico. Not to dissimilar from the character he was playing in that respect that they both had a personal connection to the Caribbean as Hamilton was born there. However, he was of Scottish and French Huguenot descent, although there is speculation that Hamilton’s mother was of mixed racial descent there is no substantial evidence to support these claims. Philippa Soo who originated the role of Hamilton’s wife, Eliza is of White European and Chinese descent and lastly another example would be Daveed Diggs who originated the role of Lafayette/ Jefferson whose mother was Jewish and his father, African-American.

These examples really do highlight and bring to prominence what America looks like today, by casting actors from an ethnic minority it really does bring life to the storytelling and above all accessibility. Yes, in real life the founding fathers were of White English, Scottish and Irish descent, yet despite that, the casting of Hamilton brings forth the idea of inclusiveness and allows for a more cathartic experience for audiences that resonate with them. This is a great way to promote history to more people that might otherwise feel alienated from this episode of history.

Looking beyond what race these characters were back then, now in the present day the United States is a melting pot of cultures from across the globe. In a traditional sense it is the primary and secondary source material found in archives, manuscripts and books to name but a few that provide us with the know-how. It is the power of theatre that allows us to look beyond the traditional historiography for a moment and build a bridge taking elements of the past and mixing it with the present to generate interest and come away thinking; it does not matter who you are or where you come from, we all have an opportunity to make a difference.

Consequently, looking at it in this sense, the story of Alexander Hamilton’s journey from orphan, to immigrant, to statesman serves as a timeless inspiration that immigrants past, present and future strive to better themselves and as a result shape society in enterprise, business, education, government, science, healthcare and as the musical reflects, the arts.

Much like analysing the first line in the American Declaration of Independence of 1776, “we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal” as being true to a society where it was acceptable in some states; particularly the south to keep Black African slaves. Looking at this declaration by todays standards, there would be a consensus refuting that declaration. It is how a particular place in time within society can interpret events.

 

But how is this argument historically significant for the UK?

Very much so. The UK very much like the US has been a magnet for settlement throughout history, going further back in time before the formation of the UK some of the earliest setters came from the Roman Empire, Germanic speaking tribes; the Angles, Saxons and Jutes known collectively as the Anglo Saxons, the Vikings and the Normans and French Huguenots.

In more recent history since the 19th century immigration from outside of Europe started to take shape chiefly from British colonies. In the 20th century immigration started to become more pronounced after the decline of the British Empire and many people settled from former colonies and countries making up the Commonwealth from the East, Africa and the West Indes. The imagery used once more in the UK casting reflects the society of the UK today and at the same mirrors Hamilton’s own backstory. Strikingly, Jamael Westman who currently plays the title role of Alexander Hamilton has Irish roots from his maternal side of the family and Afro-Caribbean roots from Jamaica on the paternal side.

Other examples include; Rachel John who currently plays Angelica Schuyler, her mother immigrated to the UK from Trinidad, Michael Jibson who currently plays King George III hails from Yorkshire, Leslie Garcia Bowman who currently plays Charles Lee/Ensemble comes from New Zealand and Rachelle Ann Go who currently plays Eliza Hamilton was born in the Philippines to name but a few. In all essence the full cast does reflect modern British society, just as the Broadway cast does in the US. The subject content is largely on American history and that this episode in history is not as well known in the UK, the idea nonetheless remains the same. By bringing forth historical content to the stage it serves as a virtual source to appeal to those that would not necessarily read about the content. What’s more the diversity of the cast has more of an impact resonating with members of society that are not always included in retellings of history, much like the argument that was put forth previously under Ethnicity & Immigration in the United States.

Knowing Brixton is a short distance from Victoria, the London home for Hamilton, just shy of 37 years the Brixton Riot occurred in April 1981. This was at a time when recession hit, those of Afro-Caribbean descent living in the area were particularly affected by lower job prospects and public services. Hamilton justly serves as a history of our time told by society as it is today, all backgrounds coming together to tell the story of a struggling immigrant intent to shape the future and leave a legacy, two things that are not to dissimilar to the actual narrative.

 

The “forgotten” Hamilton

A wife’s tale

I put myself back in the narrative… I’ll live another fifty years, it’s not enough[6]

 

There is much mention about the roles of women in Hamilton. However, for the purposes of this piece I will examine the role of Eliza Hamilton nee Schuyler, Hamilton’s wife of 21 years before his death. A fundamental conclusion to the musical details a wonderous segment, regarding Eliza Hamilton’s role in preserving the legacy of her husband, Alexander Hamilton. After Hamilton’s death Eliza along with the help of her son John Church Hamilton organised and arranged his political writings in view of publication. This was to ensure his legacy in American politics was not forgotten by the people. What the musical does so well is it attributes Chernow’s school of thought, that Eliza Hamilton’s role was significant in preserving Hamilton’s memory and conveys this with such vigour. This is considering she was left widowed, having to settle Hamilton’s debts and knowing that he had an affair with Maria Reynolds (this was publicly declared by Hamilton himself in the self-published, “The Reynolds Pamphlet” in 1797). The musical suggests Eliza Hamilton, upon hearing the news of Hamilton’s affair burns her correspondence with her husband in the song titled Burn.[7] Although it is not certain Eliza Hamilton burnt her letters, the musical nevertheless supports Chernow’s school of thought that she did destroy her letters but there was no evidence to suggest how.

Her passion and devotion to keeping Hamilton’s memory alive really hits home when her contribution to Hamilton’s legacy is explored in Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story[8], knowing that Eliza Hamilton lived in a male dominated society in commerce, politics and education, she was able to rise above her station and truly make a difference by getting Hamilton’s “story” out there for all to see and hear.

Eliza Hamilton did not stop there, not only did she ensure Hamilton’s writings were preserved, she also ensured to help orphans in New York city. Hamilton himself was an orphan, this in part must have played a large role in Eliza Hamilton’s efforts to help orphaned children. Together Alexander and Eliza Hamilton had eight children and one known foster daughter, having been caring for eight children and bringing in a foster daughter into the Hamilton household, it was apparent Eliza Hamilton cared deeply about children.

Eliza Hamilton helped to establish the first private orphanage in New York city in 1806 along with her friend Joanne Bethune. Eliza Hamilton was the Vice-President of the organisation and continued her support well into her nineties. It was called the Orphan Asylum Society of the City of New York, this organisation still exists to this very day by helping to care for children ensuring access to education, health care and support. Today it is named Graham Windham. This is where the whole idea of legacy intertwines, by preserving Hamilton’s legacy and crafting a legacy of her own.

Hamilton’s death must have been a horrible prospect for Eliza Hamilton to have dealt with but reviewing her contribution after his death, some goodness has come out of it by helping the next generation of orphans in a city where as a child orphan himself, Alexander Hamilton thrived. Though Hamilton could not live to see his legacy, Eliza Hamilton lived for another 50 years after her husband’s death in that time ensured others could see it.

 

My personal thoughts on Eliza Hamilton’s significance

Writing as a 21st century woman it is incredible to think that Eliza Hamilton achieved a great deal in her own right at a time, considering women’s suffrage was not on the agenda at the time of the Orphan Asylum Society of the City of New York’s creation and when she was organising Hamilton’s writings for preservation. As with the section on Ethnicity & Immigration, we see many women in professions doing what Eliza Hamilton did; women historians, women social workers and women carers to name but a few. That is another great legacy to add to mix, we see her character in many of the women of today, very much a living history of our time.

To end on, the musical really does highlight Eliza Hamilton’s prominence regarding Hamilton’s legacy. The staging was beautifully crafted, whereby during the first Act Hamilton was centre stage in the story. Eliza Hamilton, on the other hand was not standing on the main stage, she was staged with the characters; Maria Reynolds and Angelica Schuyler, seemingly fighting to declare their love for Hamilton during the musical’s opening number but for it to be bellowed by them at the same time, “I loved him”.[9] However, at the end of the second Act, Hamilton casts himself aside from the spotlight but close to his wife to reveal much of his legacy is owed to Eliza Hamilton, where she is the one standing in front of the legacy she preserved. Alexander Hamilton is often credited as America’s “forgotten” founding father, the end piece almost appears as if there was a forgotten behind the forgotten in the form of Eliza Hamilton.

 

 

 

[1] L. Manuel Miranda, “The World Was Wide Enough” as performed by L. Manuel Miranda & L. Odom Jr. in Hamilton: An American Musical Original Broadway Cast Soundtrack

[2] L. Manuel Miranda, “Alexander Hamilton” as performed by The Original Broadway Cast in Hamilton: An American Musical Original Broadway Cast Soundtrack

[3] Ibid; “Alexander Hamilton”

[4] L. Manuel Miranda, “Helpless” as performed The Original Broadway Cast in Hamilton: An American Musical Original Broadway Cast Soundtrack

[5] L. Manuel Miranda, “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)” as quoted by D Diggs and L. Manuel Miranda in Hamilton: An American Musical Original Broadway Cast Soundtrack

[6] L. Manuel Miranda, “Burn” as performed by P Soo in Hamilton: An American Musical Original Broadway Cast Soundtrack

[7] Ibid; “Burn”

[8] L. Manuel Miranda, “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story” as performed by The Original Broadway Cast in Hamilton: An American Musical Original Broadway Cast Soundtrack

[9] Ibid; “Alexander Hamilton”

 

Insult in the 16th Century (Revised)

The use of insulting language in the late 16th century is easily seen in court records of the time. After the Reformation there was a sudden rise in defamation allegations being recorded. Defamation laws required there to be an economic consequence or accusation of crime for the case to be brought to court, hurt feelings were not enough. The general type of these cases is easily seen, in situations where it is men v men, the insult is normally against a man’s reputation, or the activities of his wife. The thought being that a man’s reputation was precious, and any insult is important enough to take to court. Most of these cases were tried at the secular courts, with the exception with those concerned with sexuality, generally against women, these went to church courts. Men were more likely to be concerned with insult that could affect their business, while women’s entire reputation was based on the accepted sexual mores of the day.

The most dangerous insults towards men, and those pursued most vigorously, were those against their professional business. Thomas Handley accused Elizabeth Vincent of destroying his business when she publicly proclaimed “God forbid that ever Handley take any work in hand that ever shall prosper” after her child died in his care. He claimed as a result of this he lost customers. Some insults were meant to suggest that men were outsiders to their communities and a threat by questioning their parentage – a direct insult to their reputation – such as those levelled at John Johnson by a neighbouring couple who claimed ‘no man knew from where he came’ while also branding him a ‘Scotty Rouge’ and ‘Vagabond’ further pushing an idea of a threat to the community. While drinking alcohol was seen as an important part of male friendship, extreme or common drunkenness was seen as a man out of control. One John Paterson was described as a ‘foresworn drunken fellow’ and a ‘spewbleck’ describing what drunkenness did to him.

 

The cases of women v women or men v women are quite different. When women were insulted it tended to be of a sexual nature, often with the word ‘whore’ being used. Other words of a negative sexual nature solely towards women such as ‘jade’ and ‘queane’ can be seen in cases such as Anne Webb’s diatribe against Margery Dunne in 1593:‘thow hacking queane thou hacking jade comon ridden Jade codpeece whor codpeece quean…’. Some cases such as this one seem to be more attacks on other women out of anger. Other women sometimes would directly attack women who had sex with their husbands such as a case in 1579 where Alice Amos was heckled by Susanna Symonds: ‘Thow art a whore And I sawe my husband stand between thie legs and thow didst put thow hands into his codpeece very rudely.’ The difference between the gender and the language of insult has been explored by Laura Gowing in her article ‘Gender and the Language of Insult in Early Modern London’ in History Workshop. Gowing states that after 1600 the consistory court of London found its time taken up by cases sued by women concerning insults about their sexual and moral behaviour. This statement is backed by numerous records of what is said in these cases.

 

When cases were between men and women the tone often changed. One such case is between Robert Coke and Joan White. The basis of the argument is that Robert found a knife in the street, which Joan then claimed to be hers. Robert then claimed that Joan ‘…liest (sic) like a whore…’, to which Joan replied ‘Whose whore am I…’. Robert then stated ‘…thou art John Cokes whore…’. This relatively simple exchange of insults was enough for it to be heard in court. The document in which these quotes originate is part of the church court record dated 30th October 1585. Some were possibly revenge, men often defamed women they claimed to have slept with; whether this was always true if women rejected male advances or if it was in revenge for when women tried to end things we cannot always know. In 1574 James Granger threatened Alice Marsh by telling her: ‘Alice Marsh was an arraunte whore and that he had lyen with her, and that he would send letters to her husband to declare the same’.

The study of these documents show how insults were tailored to men and women, depending on their social standing. The fact that women were able to pay the costs of taking a case to a judge suggests that their husbands considered an insult against the woman an insult against them, as it would suggest that if their wife was a whore he could not control her sexual actions and he was a cuckold. The number of cases where men brought the cases to court where female family members were accused of ‘whoredom’ is interesting, as men were considered the guardians of their female family member’s sexual behaviour.

I find this all very interesting as it shows how the higher levels of society dealt with insult and potential controversy in the late 16th century, going to such lengths to protect their reputation as they would their own interests.

 

“Dress suitably in short skirts … and buy a revolver”: The role of women in The Easter Rising of 1916

As we mark the centenary of The Easter Rising, a recent article by Olivia O’Leary for The Guardian lead me to consider the involvement of women in the conflict and on the involvement of the aristocrat-turned-rebel, Countess Markievicz, in particular.

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Three young rebels of Easter, 1916

          Easter fell early this year, on March the 27th, but a century ago Easter Sunday was celebrated on the 23rd of April, with Easter Monday falling on the 24th.  However, the religious festivities of 1916 were to be greatly overshadowed by the outbreak of an armed conflict in Ireland, one which came to be known as The Easter Rising. The Rising, a rebellion against British rule, largely took place in Dublin, with smaller skirmishes breaking out across the country. It began on Easter Monday, 1916, when a group of around 1,800 men and women took over key buildings in Dublin, transforming The General Post Office into their headquarters. It was on the steps of the Post Office that Patrick Pearse read aloud a statement, known as the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, in which he declared that Irish men and women would fight for their independence from the crown.

The British army, caught unawares by the development and with forces focussed on World War One, was initially slow to react but it soon took measures to halt the rebellion. Within a few days, extra troops had arrived in Ireland. Fighting broke out on the streets of Dublin, and it is thought that almost five hundred people were killed in the conflict. Of them around two hundred and sixty– three for every rebel death – were civilians, with many killed as a result of crossfire in the busy city, or of the British use of artillery and heavy machine guns.  The Rising began on April the 24th and lasted for just five days, though its legacy is still celebrated by Irish Republicans, and the conflict is a common theme in many of the famous Belfast murals. Many others, however, such as the former Irish Prime Minister, John Bruton, criticise the ‘celebratory’ tone surrounding memorials. He believes that ‘It is important that in remembering and commemorating what happened that we don’t glorify or justify it.’

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The destruction of Dublin, 1916

The centenary of the conflict lead many to discuss the way it is commemorated, and indeed whether the legacy is worth remembering at all. In a recent article for The Guardian, for example, published shortly before Easter this year, journalist Olivia O’Leary voiced her admiration at her grandfather’s involvement in the Rising, yet her disappointment in the outcome. She wonders, ‘What happened to the promise of equality in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic read out on Easter Monday 1916, … addressed to “Irishmen and Irishwomen”?’ O’Leary goes on to note that while the proclamation declared an end to British rule, it also guaranteed religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities for all citizens. What’s more, writes O’Leary, it made a commitment to universal suffrage, something which was extraordinary at the time, and two years before women in Britain won the vote. O’Leary writes of her disappointment therefore that the progressive message ‘became stifled by a conservative culture obsessed with female chastity and purity.’

‘Historians,’ writes O’Leary, ‘now tell us that there was a tussle to have women included so pointedly in the proclamation.’ It was a struggle won by James Connolly and Constance Markievicz, the prominent feminist and socialist. Yet only two years later in the general election of 1918, ‘when Sinn Féin swept the boards,’ it was clear that the socialists and feminists had been pushed aside. ‘Most of the dreamers and visionaries had been shot in 1916’, writes O’Leary, ‘and a more pragmatic and conservative leadership concentrated totally on the nationalist goal of separation from the UK.’ Thus, when the Irish Labour movement decided to stand aside in 1918 so as not to split the nationalist vote, the only woman elected was Markievicz.

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Constance Markievicz, the rebel countess of 1916

After reading O’Leary’s article, I was curious to read more about the involvement of women in The Easter Rising. In particular, I was keen to learn more about the role of Constance Markievicz, knowing very little about her beside her reputation as the ‘rebel countess.’ One post, by BBC History, notes that her exploits dominated contemporary press accounts of The Easter Rising. An instance of this being ‘the scene at the College of Surgeons when she kissed her revolver before handing it over to the British officer at the moment of surrender,’ a tale which passed instantly into Irish nationalist mythology. Quite something for a woman who had been born into the aristocratic Gore-Booths family in London, 1868, and presented at court to Queen Victoria in 1887.

The author writes that she married a Polish count, Casimir Markievicz, however they had little in common and separated amicably at the outbreak of World War One. Then, in 1909, Markievicz first became known to British intelligence for her role in helping the nationalist scouting organisation Na Fianna Éireann in their mission to train boys for participation in a war of liberation. She was also deeply involved with the Irish suffragette movement and focussed considerable energy into Inghinidhe na hEireann, a militant women’s organisation founded by Maude Gonne. Markievicz demonstrated further compassion in her work with the poor. In 1913, for example, during the Dublin Lockout, she worked tirelessly so as to provide food for the worker’s families.

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Countess Markievicz

Just two years later, she was involved in helping to organise and train the Irish Citizen Army. Indeed, during the Easter Rising, Markievicz was second-in command to Michael Mallin at St. Stephen’s Green/College of Surgeons, and she actively fought throughout the week. After the conflict, she was the only woman to be court-martialled, on May the 4th, 1916. While it has been suggested that Markievicz ‘crumpled up’ during her trial, there is little evidence to support this. Official records instead suggest that ‘she acted with courage, dignity and defiance’ at the trial, and declared “I did what I thought was right, and I stand by it.” The verdict reached by the court was unique; she was found ‘Guilty. Death by being shot,’ yet with a recommendation to mercy based ‘solely and only on account of her sex.’ The sentence was therefore commuted to a life sentence.

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Countess Markievicz during her time in prison

Markievicz ultimately served thirteen months in Irish and English gaols, and later claimed that her inspiration during the period of her imprisonment had been Thomas Clarke, a signatory of the Proclamation who had been executed alongside Pearse and MacDonagh on the 3rd of May, 1916.  Afterwards she also was known for being unforgiving in her attitude towards the Irish Volunteer Chief of Staff, Eoin MacNeill, who had opposed and tried to prevent the Rising. In the General Election of December, 1918, Markievicz became the first woman to be elected to the House of Commons. However, as a member for Sinn Féin, she never took her seat in Westminster. Rather, she served as Minister of Labour (1919- 1921) in the first Dáil, the lower house of the Irish Parliament. She is known to have bitterly opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December, 1921, and supported the anti-Treaty forces during the civil war. In 1921, aged 59, Markievicz died in hospital in Dublin. At her funeral, the working class of the city lined the streets.

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Crowds line the streets for the funeral of Countess Markievicz, 1921

Markievicz is perhaps the best known woman to have been active in the Easter Rising, but she was by no means the only one. In her article entitled Women of the Rising: Activists, Fighters & Widows, Sinéad McCoole writes of the many who fought alongside her, and are only now receiving recognition. Approximately three hundred women took part in the events of Easter week, 1916. This figure is one which McCoole draws from recently released material held by the Military Archives, and is much higher than previously thought. Beyond the statistics, McCoole also examines contemporary newspapers for ‘a more immediate insight into the roles played by women in 1916.’ One press report, for instance, stated that the women ‘were serving in the dining room of the Post Office dressed in their finest clothes, and wore knifes and pistols in their belts… wearing green and white and orange sashes.’ While another report, based on an account by a Red Cross nurse and published under the headline ‘Fearless Under Fire,’ expresses a great amount of admiration for ‘…these Irishwomen, who did their work with a cool and reckless courage, unsurpassed by any man from the first to the last day of the Rebellion.’

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Some of the approximately 300 women involved in the Easter Rising

Indeed, the contribution of women attracted a great deal of international attention, and in the aftermath of the Rising many representatives of the American press came to interview the women who had been imprisoned. Kathleen Lynn, for example, who had served as Chief Medical Officer in the Irish Citizen Army later reflected that they were not what the media had expected; ‘We were not up to the mark and as snappy as they would have liked us to be. They got the impression that we were a poor lot.’ Yet, whatever the opinion of the American press, and whether or not the Easter Rising should be commemorated or simply remembered, the role of women in the conflict should not be overlooked. In a recent article entitled The Forgotten Role of Women Insurgents in The 1916 Rising, Tom Clonan effectively summarises by stating that while women continue to be ‘effectively airbrushed from historical accounts of the Rising and their sacrifices for the state routinely omitted in discussions about Irish identity and citizenship,’ the role they played in the struggle of 1916 and in the subsequent War of Independence was nonetheless vital.

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Further reading:

Lady Mary Bankes and the Siege of Corfe Castle

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‘Courage even above her sex’, this statement immortalised on a plaque as part of a eulogy for Lady Mary Bankes by her son Sir Ralph Bankes is located in St Martin’s Church in Ruislip, Greater London. This statement was in actual fact a rather fitting and accurate description of her; particularly concerning her valour during the Civil War whilst defending her home, Corfe Castle in Dorset. This post will account for Lady Mary’s bravery concerning this siege against Parliamentarian assault on Corfe Castle.

Lady Mary Bankes neé Hawtrey was the only daughter born to Ralph Hawtrey Esquire of Ruislip, Middlesex and Mary Altham in c.1598. Bankes married John Bankes, later made an Attorney-General, Lord Chief Justice of Common Pleas to King Charles I and knighted as Sir. Looking at her marital family connections in hindsight that Lady Mary was married to a pro-Royalist. Lady Mary bore ten children in total, four sons and six daughters. There only appears to be later information relating to two of her sons, Sir Ralph Bankes and that he married Mary Bruen with issue and Jerome along with Ralph later purchased a manor on behalf of their mother after the events of the siege at Corfe. Considering there is no later information accounting the lives of her other sons it can be presumed that they died in infancy without issue or that later records are of them at adulthood have been lost or are hard to come by. There are more extensive records relating to who her daughters married and if they had issue. Alice Bankes married John Borlase, Jane Bankes married George Cullen, Mary Bankes married Sir Robert Jenkinson (with issue), Joanna Bankes married William Borlase of Great Marlow (with issue) and Arabella Bankes married Samuel Gilly. Her other daughter Elizabeth, it can as with her sons; Charles and William that she died in infancy or that she reached adulthood without marriage. However considering all her sisters married, the former theory is more likely.

The most thorough account we have of Lady Mary is surrounding her involvement in the Siege of Corfe Castle. Corfe Castle had a rather imposing appearance, dominating the surrounding landscape of Corfe Village since the times of William the Conqueror and the site was used for the construction of the castle as it was close to Purbeck forest as the so that he could use it for hunting purposes. The ruins as they appear today, indicate that the design was Norman but the site was used in Saxon times and even further back to the Iron Age. It was acquired by Sir John Banks from Lady Hatton (otherwise known as Lady Coke) who was twice widowed by her first husband William Hatton. William Hatton inherited the castle through his uncle who died as a bachelor, Sir Christopher Hatton, a favourite of Elizabeth I. This suggests the castle was once a royal domain of the Tudors, however they did not take much notice of the place as William the Conqueror did. Henry VII handed the residence over to his mother Lady Margaret Beaufort and she was said to have not visited the castle more than once, Henry VIII like his father passed it down to Henry Fitzroy. At the point that he died it fell to Edward VI upon Henry VIII’s death and passed it on to Lord Protector Somerset before Elizabeth I inherited it.

Sir John Bankes most likely purchased the castle as a country retreat intending to use it for leisurely purposes but considering the political climate at the time Sir John Bankes did not manage to see the positives of his investment. This was mainly due to his work commitments for Charles I, he did in actual fact preside over cases against Members of Parliament who refused to comply with royal prerogative. One of which was John Hampden who refused to pay one of Charles’ taxes ‘Ship money’, by claiming it was an unjust tax that Charles instigated without the consent of Parliament in spite of the King and his supports saying it was needed for the upkeep of Naval defences along coastal areas. This tax soon was imposed on inland areas too, which increased further animosity. Upon the outbreak and throughout the Civil War he appeared to be loyal to Charles and the Royalist cause and as a result of this loyalty he followed the King North to his new seat at York and later to Oxford. This is where Lady Mary Bankes’ involvement comes in at the time of war.

Lady Mary Bankes along with her children and servants withdrew to Corfe Castle in 1642, whilst her husband was away serving Charles. At first life for the Bankes’ seemed relatively peaceful until the Parliamentarians became interested in the site. The local parliamentary commanders, Sir Walter Earle and Sir Thomas Trenchard along with 200-300 men set out to capture it and planned to storm the grounds on 1st May 1643 at a May Day gathering at the castle making it seem less suspicious. However this plan never worked as Lady Mary was informed of this plan beforehand and she was well equipped to prevent these troops from entering the premises on that day. She stepped up security surrounding the castle and required that the gates were to be kept shut. At this point Lady Mary was successful in preventing a Parliamentary coup. However, it is equally as important to consider the fact that she prevented this from happening with a bit of luck as she learned of this coup as it was leaked. Nevertheless she demonstrated great courage and wisdom by protecting herself, family and servants from the Parliamentarians. From this point they kept watch on her actions from afar, this was to monitor who she lets in and in the sense who she may be corresponding with. Additionally she also enlisted the help of 80 soldiers led by Captain Robert Lawrence. June proved to be a testing month for Lady Mary at Corfe as the Parliamentarians openly attacked the royalist stronghold. Erle came back this time with a larger force of men, this time about 500-600 men and two siege engines. This was designed to break through the fortress of Corfe Castle. Captain Lawrence defended the Middle ward of the castle, whereas Lady Bankes, her daughters, servants and an additional five soldiers dropped stones and hot embers in order to protect the garrison from the Parliamentarian troops. Bankes, her family, servants and Royalists who were loyal to her acted valiantly and managed to hold up the castle until 1646. By this time her husband Sir John Bankes had died and with the formation of the New Model Army by Oliver Cromwell the Parliamentarian tactics seemed to undermine the Royalists. Charles I and his supporters were in a weak position at this point. In 1646 unfortunately Corfe Castle was besieged by the Parliamentarians. It does some though again that luck did play a part in this, albeit bad luck. It was chiefly down to a dissenter who switched allegiance to the Parliamentarians, Colonel Pitman. He led a Parliamentarian force through a sally gate into the castle. At this point they used a shrewd tactic by wearing their garments inside out so that they resembled Royalist clothing. Being caught out by this ambush Lady Bankes was forced to surrender Corfe Castle over to the Parliamentarians.

Angel in the castle? Queen Victoria and female sexuality in the nineteenth century.

‘How repressed were the Victorians?’ asks a recent article for The British Library. Writing a convincing case for a reassessment of Victorian sexuality, Dr Holly Furneaux challenges our assumptions about Victorian attitudes to sex, while considering the many ways in which theorists such as Michel Foucault have provided ‘new ways of understanding sex and sexuality in the period.’

‘Not so long ago,’ writes Furneaux in her fascinating article for The British Library, ‘it might have come as a surprise to see Queen Victoria described as “Britain’s sexiest Royal,”’ (quote taken from an Empire review of The Young Victoria). However, ‘Now,’ she suggests, ‘It seems we no longer only think of “straitlaced patriarchs making their wives and children miserable […], whaleboned women shrouding the piano legs for decency’s sake, then lying back and thinking of England.”’ (Matthew Sweet, ix). She goes on to write that such stereotypes of high prudery were famously critiqued by Michel Foucault as the ‘repressive hypothesis: the idea that Victorians could not mention sex.’ Foucault points out that, far from being silenced, sex was discussed everywhere in the 19th century in a wide range of contexts. Including, though not limited to, the law, medicine, religion, and education. Furneaux also goes on to write that ‘Much academic and popular work since has considered the many ways in which Victorians did experience and speak of desire.’

Queen Victoria herself, for instance, is known to have doted on her ‘dearest Albert’s’ physical perfections in her journal:

 ‘11th October, 1839

Albert really is quite charming, and so excessively handsome, such beautiful blue eyes, an exquisite nose, and such a pretty mouth with delicate moustachios and slight but very slight whiskers; a beautiful figure, broad in the shoulders and a fine waist.’

Angel in the Castle?: Queen Victoria and the 'quite charming' Prince Albert, 1854.
Angel in the Castle? Queen Victoria and the ‘quite charming’ Prince Albert, 1854.

‘Victoria’s frank expression of her desire cuts across another received view of the period;’ writes Furneaux, ‘that the enjoyment of sex was an exclusively male prerogative.’ One proponent of such a belief was William Acton, a gynaecological doctor. He wrote in his The Functions and Disorders of the Reproductive Organs (1857) that ‘The majority of women (happily for them) are not very much troubled by sexual feelings of any king.’ Though Furneaux writes that Acton’s beliefs were so extreme that they ‘cannot be taken as representative,’ she acknowledges that similar views are ‘Almost certainly discernible in the virginal ideal of the “Angel in the House,” a term inaugurated by Coventry Patmore in his 1854 poem of that name.’ The poem which laid out the model of the domestic goddess, who apparently retained her chastity even as a wife and mother. Paraphrasing John Ruskin, Furneaux writes that ‘In her purity and capacity for “sweet ordering” […] the angel in the house was to sanctify the home as a refuge for her menfolk from the trouble of public life.’

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The Male Gaze: A man pretends to be reading as a woman looks for books. Image taken from The Exquisite.

Furthermore, Furneaux poses that ‘Gendered ideals of the sexual purity of the respectable woman, though never unchallenged, helped to enshrine a sexual double-standard.’ She believes that this ‘double-standard’ is all too apparent in the legislation of the time, with the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857 infamous for having set in law that women could only be divorced on the grounds of their adultery alone. In contrast, it had to be proved that men had ‘exacerbated adultery with other offences.’  Similarly, Furneaux offers the further example of the Contagious Diseases Act of the 1860s. The act has become somewhat notorious as it aimed to deal with the rife spread of sexually transmitted infections through the forcible medical examination of female prostitutes in garrison towns, yet made no suggestion of examining the male sufferers.

Furneaux also explores the cultural fascination with the opposite of the ‘angel in the house’, the ‘fallen woman.’ In the Victorian era, this was a broad term, which encompassed any woman who had, or appeared to have had, sexual experience outside of marriage, including adulteresses and prostitutes. The archetype of the ‘fallen woman’ appears as a common trope in so much Victorian literature and art. Furneaux writes that ‘Advice literature presented a woman’s “moral influence” as a result of her “natural and instinctive habits,” but then was forced to lay out these supposedly innate characteristics.’ She offers an example by Peter Gaskell, writing in 1833 that ‘Her love, her tenderness, her affectionate solicitude for his [her husband’s] comfort and enjoyment, her devotedness, her unwearyingly care.’ Furneaux responds, ‘All the energy that went into writing conduct books telling women how to behave shows that “proper” feminine behaviour was far from natural, and had to be taught.’

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The Fallen Woman: A client is entertained in a brothel, 1849.

However, Furneaux believes that while recent work may have done a lot to complicate overly simplistic views of Victorian purity, ‘The idea of Victorian sexual repression lingers.’ She writes that this has ‘powerful roots’ in the prominently anti-Victorianist stance of Modernist writers, most notably Lytton Strachey and Virginia Woolf. Strachey, for instance, sought in Eminent Victorians (1918) to ‘liberate’ his generation from the ‘Perceived reticence and ignorance, especially in sexual matters, of their pre-Freudian fathers and grandfathers.’ While similarly, Steven Marcus’s The Other Victorians: A Study of Sexuality and Pornography in Mid-Nineteenth Century England (1966), he elaborates on the views of Strachey by presenting the Victorians as ‘Sexual hypocrites, maintaining a veneer of respectability over an underbelly of prostitution and pornography.’ Furneaux dismisses the views of Strachey and Marcus, instead adhering to the belief Foucault sets out in The History of Sexuality (1976). That is to say that ‘Far from silencing sex as a taboo subject, the Victorians inaugurated many of the discourses- legal, medical and sexological […] that allowed sex to become a legitimate subject for investigation and discussion.’

The Victorian period was, after all, a key moment in the history of sexuality. Furneaux writes that ‘It is the era in which the modern terminologies we use to structure the ways we think and talk about sexuality were invented.’ She examines the roles of sexologists during the fin de siècle, where pioneers such as Richard von Kraft-Ebind and Havelock Ellis analysed and categorised human sexuality. They created terms such as ‘homosexual,’ ‘heterosexual’ and ‘nymphomaniac.’ An advancement which Furneaux believes was ‘valuable to the history of female sexuality.’ This is not to say, however, that she views the Victorian era as being entirely tolerant towards female or hetero-divergent sexuality. Indeed, she goes to great pains to remark upon the limitations of accommodation; seen most clearly perhaps with the trials and imprisonment of Oscar Wilde in 1895. Furneaux also comments upon the lack of discussion regarding lesbian relationships in the Victorian era, and sides with literary scholar Terry Castle in her hostility to the suggestion that there were ‘No lesbians before 1900.’ Instead she acknowledges that while the Victorian era was tolerant of female sexuality in many ways, arguably more so than is often thought, there were undoubtedly limitations to this tolerance, limitations which are most visible in Victorian interactions with the Other- whether queer, sex worker or another form of ‘fallen woman.’

Dr Holly Furneaux’s article on gender and sexuality in the Victorian era may be read in full here. Further articles by this author may be found here.

Pocahontas

As the dissertation starts to bite, I have found that watching many Disney films is the perfect reward after a hard day’s work at the library, no doubt Pocahontas was one of them. Pocahontas was the daughter of Chief Powhatan (Wahunsenacawh) of the Powhatan tribe in the state known today as Virginia. However as many of you know the Disney adaptation is only a loose account of her life and is not an entirely accurate depiction. This post will aim to reveal the real identity of “Pocahontas” and the real identities of the people she interacted with; namely, John Smith and John Rolfe.

For starters the name Pocahontas is strictly speaking not her real name. The name Pocahontas was used by her father as a nickname which can loosely be translated as ‘the little playful one’. This was nothing unusual amongst Native Americans to give their children different names at different times; particularly during childhood and the name Pocahontas was no different. She was also known by other names as she was born with the name, Matoaka and was later known as Amonute. After she married she took the Christian name Rebecca, although this should be stressed that this practice was uncommon amongst Native Americans in case of course like Pocahontas they needed a Christian name in order to marry.

Additionally another feature that predominated the Disney film, was that it insinuated Pocahontas’s mother had died. Although there is no accurate way to determine whether or not Pocahontas’s mother died when the colonists arrived, but some theorists suggest her absence was a strong possibility. This can be explained through two ways, firstly Native American chiefs in general were thought to have married multiple wives that in turn sired them one child and after that happened the wife would usually leave the chief and return to her previous way of life. This model is plausible and can be applied to Chief Powhatan also if this was considered to be a general practice amongst Native American chiefs in the past. This example however does have some reliability in the sense that a coloniser by the name of Henry Spelman commented that Chief Powhatan had many wives, perhaps from observation. Other theorists have put forth the argument that she simply died as a result of childbirth, which also makes sense considering childbirth was a difficult procedure to go through in the sixteenth century, regardless of ethnicity. This perhaps might have been a reason behind her absence in the Disney adaptation as her actual cause of death was never mentioned. However it is important to add these reasons are only theories and that it is difficult to be certain what actually happened to her mother.

Although the Disney film portrays Pocahontas as a young woman in her early twenties or late teens, the reality was far from that. Pocahontas was in actual fact many years younger than this. However it is difficult to pinpoint how old Pocahontas was when the colonists arrived. It is from Smith’s memoirs that her age can be identified, yet Smith provides us with two different ages. At first he stated she was a child of ten years old in 1608 but in another separate letter he later claimed she was twelve when they first met. As there appears to be no other written record in order to determine her accurate age, Smith’s account is the only contemporary written piece of evidence to refer to, that corresponds to the timeline Disney used in their 1995 feature film. Clearly it is easy to tell that the Disney adaptation of Pocahontas was a very loose take on the actual events regarding Smith’s and Pocahontas’s relationship.

Again when the Disney adaptation deals with John Smith’s capture, there is evidence to suggest that he was in actual fact captured in the Powhatan territory and taken to the Powhatan capital, Werowocomoco. He mentions this in his memoirs of 1608, in the film it is evident that Smith and Pocahontas already met upon his capture. This however was not the case in reality as Smith was captured before he ‘met’ Pocahontas. Furthermore the circumstances upon Smith’s capture was loosely adapted from reality as there was no evidence to suggest a Powhatan male under the name of Kocoum ever existed. In the film Smith was accused of murdering him, this appears to have been sensationalised for dramatic effect as Smith merely states he was exploring the area around the Chickahominy River without an individual by the name of Kocoum being at the scene let alone Pocahontas.

Smith wrote two accounts of his capture and the details after the initial capture seem a bit sketchy in terms of reliability. Initially Smith did not mention Pocahontas at all until many months after his capture and to be fair this makes more sense in comparison to Smith’s other account, which implies Pocahontas rescued him. The second account appears sketchy as the content changed so drastically, it was a letter written to Queen Anne some years later from his first account in 1608. This account was written in 1616. One reason behind this change in detail could be attributed to the interest that Pocahontas attracted in England during her time there, implying Smith perhaps wanted to ‘jump on the bandwagon’ and epitomise Pocahontas. Yet others disagree as some commentators on the subject suggest Pocahontas was not as well received as others had previously thought, implying Smith’s differing accounts are exceptionally hard to believe.

Strictly speaking the second instalment of Disney’s Pocahontas again riddled with many historical inaccuracies (Shakespeare’s appearance in a musical number when in reality he died two months before Pocahontas’s arrival in 1616). Two major good things about the second film was that it did specify that Pocahontas arrived in England in 1616 and the character of John Rolfe was included. Rolfe was a key person in Pocahontas’s life as he was her husband, something the previous adaptation had not included, opting to favour a storyline around Smith and Pocahontas in the first adaptation. However the second film did not specify they were married as by the time Pocahontas arrived in England she was already baptised and had the name Rebecca. Furthermore using the second adaptation’s timeframe Pocahontas and Rolfe also had a son, named Thomas. The film omits the Thomas and Pocahontas’s marriage in spite of sources indicating they had a child born in 1615.

Again as it was a Disney adaptation that perhaps was not a suitable/and or interesting storyline to use. It was a landmark in itself that a Native American Princess was used, second after Jasmine to not have been of White Caucasian origin. Perhaps this accounts for reasons as to why the life of Pocahontas was a loose adaptation? This perhaps also accounts for why Pocahontas and Rolfe were last seen in the second adaptation sailing out to sea (creating a well-rounded ending), when in reality Pocahontas remained in England and died in Gravesend, Kent in 1617.