Tag Archives forRegency Romance

Criminal Travels in the Regency Era

Some of us dream our entire lives of a journey abroad; a coast somewhere far from home where every day is sunny and untroubled! Uh…

But for certain people in Britain, during the 18th and 19th centuries, this was their worst fear realized. Of course, I am referring to penal transportation that the British Empire imposed on convicted criminals and other people, that were specified as “undesired”. 

Penal transportation was a tactic that the British implemented to exile people that were convicted of a crime. It has its origins in the ancient years and specifically the Hellenistic period of the Roman Empire when undesired individuals were exiled from Rome as a form of punishment. Sometimes, this was even an indirect tactic; they would send officers that were deemed “dangerous” for Rome, to serve in remote provinces. 

The British borrowed quite a few strategies from the Romans (one might also take account of their name “Pax Britannica” which derived from “Pax Romana”). Transportation was a form of punishment as well, imposed by the United Kingdom to convicted criminals and at first, it had a specific term and duration. The time spent abroad had to be equal to their sentence. However, even after serving the years of their sentence, most of the prisoners did not have the financial means to return home, so they stayed in exile for the rest of their lives.

Even though the death penalty was in use, penal transportation was first used for convicted felons whose crimes were not considered so significant to deserve the capital penalty. So exile, in a sense, was a better fate for some! However, legislation concerning crime conviction was changing from year to year, making it difficult to assess a person’s sentence. For example, forgery was considered a serious crime and signified the end of a person’s life. Near the end of the Regency Era, 1820, though, the capital penalty was reduced to transportation for the same felony.

The Status Of The Prisoners

The prisoners were moved to the British colonies, like North America or specifically-made settlements called “penal colonies”, like the ones in Australia (New South Wales) or New Zealand. The latter were custom made establishments constructed to receive such criminals and exploit them in terms of dependent work.

The people arriving in such places were considered to have the status of an indentured laborer. This meant that the subjects were unfree workers bound by a contract to work without pay for a certain period of time. 

This sounds quite fair for someone that has committed a crime, does it not?

However, there is an ugly face as well…

Due to the Industrial Revolution, that started in the middle of the 18th century, people who were deprived of work in the countryside, often decided to move to urban centers for better job opportunities. This resulted in big cities like London being congested and consequently crime rates going extremely high. 

By the time we reach the first years of the 19th century, our very own Regency Era, jails are overflowing, the United States - having gained their independence - refuse to accept more convicts, and there is not enough coin to built new ones. Thus, transportation wasn’t really a favor to the criminals, but a necessity for the British Crown. 

The most horrible part of the story is, though, that most of these convicts were exploited by their “employers” in their new settlements. There are examples of people that were lied to regarding their sentence just to remain in plantations or other businesses as unpaid workers. Allegedly, “letters” would come from the Kingdom, informing the criminal of an increased sentence due to undisclosed reasons. 

Most of these people were illiterate and could neither read the supposed letter nor write in protest. Thus, they remained employed and exploited.

An ugly fate awaited some of the convicts arriving in West Africa. The British Empire, having previously established colonies, protectorates and other forms of rule in the African continent, attempted to direct some of the convict ships there. However, most of the people died due to the hard conditions of living in Africa; convicts and personnel as well, died of disease, starvation, and desertion. The rest of them were exploited by the slave trade and were transported to places like the Caribbean, or the southern states of the USA as slaves.

Imagine one day being a British citizen, and the next a slave! Oh my! 

The Bright Side

After adopting New South Wales as a destination point, some convicts were actually treated humanly and were able to live a better life. In Sydney Cove, Australia, for instance, the convicts were held in “open-air” prisons. They were surrounded by wilderness, outdoors, but within a designated area.

He is estimated to have lived around 3300 BC and it is unknown to this day what those tattoos meant to their owner.

Some of them were offered the opportunity to learn a new skill or sharpen an old one, such as carpentry. However, these offers were influenced by personal gain too, as the skilled convicts were used in building and other labor works in nearby towns. And the hot climate of New South Wales made their exertion even harsher.

Penal transportation was terminated by the Penal Servitude Act of 1856. This brought, though, good news and bad news. The good news was that people stopped being moved overseas as a form of punishment. The bad news was, that unfortunately in most crimes, the penal transportation was yet again replaced by the capital sentence. 

Thank goodness these years are behind us! 

Written by Patricia Haverton

Beauty Marks: A Brief History of Tattoos in the Victorian Era

Hello, again, my dearies!

In 2020, there are very few people who don't have even a small tattoo on their bodies. But what happened in 19th century Victorian England?

The mark in ancient times was called punctuation and the act was stigmatization. The mark on the body was called a
tattoo.

The word tattoo, which has been in the top ten searches on the internet since 1999, is a paraphrase of the word tattawing in Maori (New Zealand).

Tattoo means "the design that gives you the protection of the gods". It also has the concepts of "indelible mark", "drawing on the skin", "mark something", "embroider on the skin".

But tattooing is not something new, so I decided to take a brief historical look back at those times when tattoos were neither fashionable and -at times- nor acceptable.

If you are interested in learning more then keep reading! 😉

The First Man With Tattoos

The first person we know of that had a tattoo is Otzi, the Iceman. In 1991 the body of a frozen body was found on a mountain between Austria and Italy, in the Ötztal Alps.

His skin carried 57 tattoos, simple dots, and lines on the spine, a cross inside the left knee, six straight lines 15cm long above the kidneys and many parallel lines on the ankles.


He is estimated to have lived around 3300 BC and it is unknown to this day what those tattoos meant to their owner.

Victorians

Victorian court records state that 58,002 defendants in the 19th century had tattoos on them. Back then they thought these people had a bad reputation and used tattoos to mark themselves and appear to belong to a criminal gang. But the investigation revealed that the convict's tattoos expressed a surprisingly wide range of positive and even modern sentiments.

In Victorian England, tattoos were a particularly popular phenomenon and were not confined to sailors, soldiers, and convicts, as we have known. They were usually chosen by people who did not leave another written record and thus wanted to show their identity and emotions.

The themes were varied, with numerous recordings of images related to British and American identity, as well as drawings on astronomy, pleasure, religion, and sex.

Among the most popular were nautical themes with anchors, mermaids, ships, sailors, but also expressions of love. The most popular form of tattoos were the names or initials of these, which were present in 56% of all descriptions, as well as the misunderstood dots that took up 30% of that sum. Flowers and animals were also popular themes.

Often, tattoos at that time were used for purely decorative purposes. They were a form of working-class embellishment that was cheap and
easy to manage. It is not clear how tattooing had spread, but evidence suggests that it had grown widely across all walks of life during the 19th century.

Thus, by 1900 tattoos had penetrated many parts of British society. Their ingenuity, creativity, and evolution took place in the early 20th century, where tattoos became fashionable and reflected cultural trends. It was no longer just about convicts and marginalized people, but also about people with particular identities and interests.

Sutherland Macdonald, the First British Tattoo Artist in the Victorian Era

On June 25, 1860, Sutherland Macdonald, the first British tattoo artist of the Victorian era, was born.

For many, Macdonald, besides being a pioneer, is one of the greatest artists in tattoo history. It is said that he first came in contact with tattoos in the 1880s when he was in the British Army.

Those who wanted to get their own tattoos had to go to the professional studio opened in 1889 - after its first in Aldershot - on 76 Jermyn Street in London, over a Turkish steam bath.

When it was released in 1894, the Mailing List had to add a new professional category to its pages, in which, for the next four years, we only met Macdonald: the word created to describe his profession was tattooist, a combination of tattoo and artist.

After starting tattooing on several young officers, Macdonald began to gain more and more clients, with many celebrities and aristocrats among them.

Trivia

In Europe, it is rumored that Queen Victoria of England had tattoos. It is also rumored that the design was of a Bengal tiger fighting a python.

The mother of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill also had tattoos. It was a distinctive bracelet imitation on her wrist.

The photo below depicts London tattoo artist George Burchett, who, while working with his needles on his clients' bodies, wore a white apron similar to that of doctors.

The recent revival of tattoos dates back to the 1970s, when it became mainstream, permeating consumer culture through the media and the exposure of tattoos by various celebrities. This has led to tattoo recognition as an art form and today, 180 years later, one in five Britons has a tattoo.

Well, my dear, this is it!

Thank you for reading my article…I hope you found it interesting and that you have learned a lot!

I would love to know your thoughts on today’s topic so please leave a comment below!

Do you have a tattoo, my dears? I don’t… I’m too afraid of needles. 😉

Written by Scarlett Osborne

The Green Death of the Victorian Era

Well, ladies and gents!

The people of the Victorian era loved green. And not just any green, but a specific deep and vibrant green.

The corresponding dye was called Scheele's Green by the Swedish pharmacist and chemist who manufactured it in 1775. In 1814 two chemists discovered an improved version of this dye, known as Paris Green.

The problem is that both of these chemicals were made of Arsenic and although their toxicity was known and expected, no one seemed to notice this…

For a whole century, Europeans, and especially Britons, completely overlooked the danger they were exposed to daily. Then the infamous metalloid, the Arsenic, was everywhere.

It was used for dyeing clothes and upholstery, even food and cosmetics. It was found in baby strollers, vegetable fertilizers and, in Austria, it was also used as a libido pill.

We've talked about the arsenic in previous
articles, but do you know just how popular and deadly it was?

Well, keep reading, hun! 🙂

An Invisible Killer

If we were to choose an accessory that was a staple in every Victorian home, it's wallpapers.

Unlike the earlier Classicism and Regency, where walls usually had neutral colors and simple patterns, wallpapers now come into every home - thanks to their automated, mass production - and feature-rich patterns and vibrant colors.

We are in the time when the electricity comes into homes which means that for the first time people can brighten the interior of some rooms after sunset ... so of course, in light of electricity, they want to show off their wonderful green wallpaper!

And if it doesn't look creepy enough to cover the walls of your home with wallpapers full of deadly poison (plus sofa fabrics, painted wooden furniture, and kids' toys), consider how homebuilding combined with dampness and poor humidity ventilation, favored the development of mold between the wall and the wallpaper, which is dispersed throughout the room along with particles of deadly pigment.

First Deaths

Children were more susceptible to poisoning, and soon deaths appeared to be taking the form of an epidemic (eg, getting sick and dying one kid after another).

The disease progressed over a short period of time, and death came more like a relief after an agonizing and painful martyrdom. Most doctors attributed these deaths to Cholera or Diphtheria as some of the symptoms of acute Arsenic poisoning resembled these diseases, which were common in the era.

One prominent doctor named Thomas Orton nursed a family through a mysterious sickness that ultimately killed all four of their children. In desperation, one of the things he started to do was make notes about their home and its contents. He found nothing wrong with the water supply or the home’s cleanliness.

​The one thing he worried about: the Turners' bedroom had green wallpaper. In the mid-19th century, some doctors began to associate these deaths with the arsenic contained in green pigments.

This theory declared that, even though nobody was eating the paper (and people did know arsenic was deadly if eaten), it could cause people to get sick and die. Upholsterers were trying to reassure the world in every way, some even wanting to eat their wallpapers to prove how safe they were.

Money over Health

William Morris was an artist and designer associated with both the Pre-Raphaelites and the Arts and Crafts interior design movement. He was the designer of the most famous wallpaper of the nineteenth century.

Typical were the patterns of plants in his designs, many of which were decorated with green-painted wallpapers and which he publicly proclaimed to be safe. Less known, however, was that he owned the largest arsenic mine in the world!

Despite the assurances of the experts, by the end of the century, the world was already gradually moving away from the use of these wallpapers, so manufacturers following the market trend began to produce arsenic-free wallpapers.

Note that in Britain, officially, the use of arsenic as a pigment has never been banned. Beyond the immediate victims of poisoning, no one will ever know how many people have been affected or even died due to chronic arsenic poisoning.

According to some theories, Napoleon Bonaparte's bedroom upholstery (of course, painted in his favorite, green) in the years he lived in exile on the island of Saint Helena seems to have played a role in his death.

Overwhelmed by the arsenic and other heavy metals contained in the pigments, the painters of the time were also very susceptible to this deadly combination of chemicals.

Thank you for reading this article of mine and write below your replies so that I can see them!

And please let me know your thoughts—did you enjoy the topic?

If there is anything else you’d be interested in reading about the Regency Era, feel free to let me know…

…and who knows? Maybe you will read about it soon!

Written by Olivia Bennet

Penny Dreadfuls of the Victorian Era

Hello, my sweetie!

Metropolitan London of the Victorian era was a labyrinthine universe that was rapidly expanding; a dangerous world full of risks.

The melodramatic stories that were at the heart of the cheap booklets of the time functioned largely as a relief valve to this chaos. It is noteworthy that the same position occupied by the penny dreadfuls in London's entertainment was undertaken by the cinema addressed to the same audience a few decades later. 

The penny dreadfuls appeared in Great Britain in the late 19th century causing an unprecedented publishing phenomenon. These were cheap-cost dramatized sequels aimed primarily at the lower social classes.

The subjects they dealt with were largely grotesque, overflowing with the sole aim of causing awe and amazement. They usually involved extreme and frightening incidents, serial killings and all sorts of atrocities, often deriving their content from real incidents that took place in the dark alleys of Victorian metropolitan London.

The episodes were circulated on a weekly basis and consisted of 8 to 16 pages, accompanied by rich text and illustrations. The front page was dominated by the title in large letters and a large black and white illustration typical of the theme and story of the episode.

Keep reading, sweetie! 🙂

First Appearance

The first publications appeared in the 1830s and were immediately beloved by the working classes to which they were primarily targeted. But they were also loved by many readers from the upper social classes, which undoubtedly contributed to their dissemination.

The number of published titles rose sharply in the 1830s and 1850s. In particular, by the end of 1850, there were already over 100 publishers of penny dreadfuls across England.

The first penny dreadful, "Lives of the Most Notorious Highwaymen, Footpads, & c.", was published in 1836 with the main theme of the adventures of notorious robbers and other thugs. It was a great success and completed in sixty episodes.

Mysteries of London

The most successful commercial series was George W. M. Reynolds' Mysteries of London. The series began in 1844 and has enjoyed great success for 12 consecutive years, publishing 624 issues.

Much of his success was due to the subject dealing with life in nineteenth-century London. It presented the city as a distinct mosaic of contrasts. The stories brilliantly highlighted the crime and poverty of the London slums as well as the wastefulness and wastage that characterized the wealthy inhabitants of the city.

Even today this series is of great interest as it is considered one of the first examples of steampunk text.

Sir Varney, An Aristocratic Vampire

One of the most interesting cases is Varney the Vampire; or, The Feast of Blood.

It consists of 220 issues that were published between 1845 and 1847 and tell in an intense melodramatic tale the stories of an aristocratic vampire, Sir Francis Varney, who persistently pursues the Bannerworth family. The paternity of the text has not been fully ascertained as the work is sometimes attributed to James Malcolm Rymer and other times to Thomas Preskett Prest. 

Varney the Vampire is considered particularly important in literary rule, especially in the category of Gothic horror, not so much for the quality of its writing or its inventive plot but for its role in the development of vampire literature. The image of the aristocrat-vampire as we know him today, and as Bram Stoker inspired him in "Dracula" (1897), owes his form to a significant degree in Victorian love for Vampire Varney.

The Vampire Varney has canines and its bite marks on the victims' throats. He also possesses submission forces and superhuman strength. He differs from the classic form of the vampire in the following elements: he is not afraid of garlic and circulates undisturbed in daylight. Also, although he does not need water and food to survive he can feed on human food.

But the most important element of Varney is that he is the first vampire in Gothic literature who expresses strong signs of dissatisfaction with his vampiric nature.

Spring-Heeled Jack And Batman

One particularly popular hero of the penny dreadfuls was Spring-heeled Jack. This character was based on a legend that sprang from the urban imagination and quickly found himself in the cheap brochures of Victorian society.

The appearances of the real Jack split and terrorized the Victorians, and the recordings of his appearances/attacks quickly took on mass hysteria.

The legend speaks of a tall man with a cape who has the ability to make supernatural jumps, hence the connection to the springs at his feet. Those who claimed to have seen him spoke of a devilish figure with glossy nails, eyes firing and a mouth that fired blue gases at his victims, who were usually young girls or constables.

The first recorded report of this strange man's appearance was made in 1837 in London. There have even been government agencies that have publicly confirmed his existence to some extent. A typical example is a mayor of London, Sir John Cowan, who referred to Jack in a speech given on 9 January 1838.

Jack's legend with the springs on his feet has been so crucial that it has become central to dozens of cheap periodicals and plays. The evolution of the character through the penny dreadfuls is of particular interest because, from an urban legend, Jack was quickly turned into an anti-hero in the 1870s and from 1880 until the early 20th century emerged as a classic superhero.

Jack's legend is intertwined with another popular masked hero as the resemblance between them is obvious. Specifically, Jack the penny dreadful Spring-Heeled Jack: The Terror of London was a wealthy eccentric aristocrat who had set his life's purpose in enforcing law and order. Hosted by a secret hideout and very good technological know-how for his time, Jack was disguised in the streets of London trying to fight injustice and crime.

The resemblance to Batman is obvious, and many today consider Jack a worthy ancestor of the Dark Knight. Bob Kane, the creator of Batman, however, claims that his hero is not based on Jack whom he did not know. So, whether Jack's dreadful Victorian penny is related to Bruce Wayne is worth investigating. It is highly likely that these stories were passed unconsciously through collective imagination without Kane having to be fully aware of the Victorian legend.

The Social Value Of Penny Dreadfuls

Although penny dreadfuls are considered a cheap form of art, with many even questioning their categorization as a kind of art, it is extremely important to consider their value based on the historical and social context in which they appeared.

On the one hand, their dissemination was favored by the possibilities of the development of printing itself, which until recently seemed impossible. On the other hand, this was helped by the increase in the population that could read. These two factors, as well as the very subject of these cheap publications, have helped to make the penny dreadfuls so popular with the British public.

Well, my sweetie, this is the end of this article!

I hope you enjoyed it—I certainly did while writing it!

Thank you for accompanying me on my writing journey!

It would be lovely if you could share your thoughts with me! Or whatever you like...Surprise me! 

Written by Violet Hamers

Who was the Arthurian Lady of the Lake?

Alright, time for one little confession…

I’m the BIGGEST King Arthur fan.

Ever.

I’ve read every relevant book I’ve managed to get my hands on, I’ve watched every TV and movie adaptation (I’m looking at you Sean Connery) and I’ve visited a ton of historical sites that were allegedly visited by King Arthur. I’ve even written a book that incorporates the Arthurian Legend, which you can find right here!

I’m not ashamed to admit that I once got into a heated argument with a university classmate about whether or not King Arthur broke the Laws of Chivalry before in his life. She insisted he did, I insisted he didn’t.

Long story short, she was wrong, and I was right. Period.

Having said that, the Arthurian Legends are full of interesting characters that come with their own unique stories.

And my favorite (second to King Arthur, of course) has to be the fabled Lady of the Lake.

Who was the mysterious woman who not only gave King Arthur his magical sword, Excalibur but kidnapped Sir Lancelot as a child only to later cure him of his madness? 

The Lady of the Lake may have been a Celtic goddess in origin, perhaps even related to the Gwagged Annwn, the lake ferries in modern Welsh folklore. According to Ulrich, she was a fairy that raised Sir Lancelot from birth and was the mother of Mabuz, identical to the Celtic god Mabon.

The Lady of the Lake’s character is super ambiguous, even in her most early appearances in the legends and stories. In the French Vulgate Estoire de Merlin, she loves the enchanter and seals him in a beautiful tower, magically constructed, so that she can keep him for herself forever. She would visit him regularly and ended up giving her love to him. 

In the continuation of the Vulgate, known as the Suite du Merlin, the relationship is very different. When Merlin shows her a tomb of two lovers, magically sealed, she enchants him and has him cast into the tomb on top of the two lovers, whereupon she reseals the tomb and Merlin dies a slow death.


Alfred Lord Tennyson turns Vivien into the personification of evil. Edwin Arlington Robinson, in the poem, Merlin, makes Merlin’s “captivity” voluntary, and his Vivian is less of an enchantress than an interesting woman whom Merlin truly loves. 

So, who is the Lady of the Lake or Vivien? Was she good, evil or a bit of both? Perhaps she was a combination of many imaginative tales and came to be popularized as one of the primary characters of the Arthurian legends.

The Lady of the Lake has been known by many names. The most common are Nimue, Viviane, and Vivien. Nimue became the most popularly used name for this character from Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur.

Morgana Le Fay was also, at some point, theorized to have been the Lady of the Lake, though that theory never gathered a lot of momentum due to the overwhelming lack of writing to support it.

Morgana le Fay is, in Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, Arthur’s half-sister, the daughter of Arthur’s mother Igraine and her first husband, the Duke of Cornwall. She is also presented as an adversary of Arthur’s: she gives Excalibur to her lover, Accolon, so he can use it against King Arthur and, when that plot fails, she steals the scabbard of Excalibur which protects Arthur and throws it into a lake.


Despite the motif of Morgana’s enmity towards Arthur and Guinevere, she is also presented as one of the women who take Arthur in a barge to Avalon to be healed.

Although the Lady of the Lake is most famous for giving King Arthur the sword, this title has been used to refer to many different people: water fey, an enchantress who Merlin fell in love with, etc. It makes sense that she’d have multiple names because it actually wasn’t the same person in all these legends.

Since no one actually knows the origins of the Lady of the Lake legend, people have theorized that she originated from the Celtic Water Goddess, Coventina, as it is believed the name Viviane stems from Co-Vianna, which is a variation of Coventina.

Nimue, the woman who sealed Merlin in a cave (or a tree), put him under a spell and deprived King Arthur of his services (but later on rescued the King twice, with one time being from Accolon, who -as mentioned above- was given Excalibur by Morgana Le Fay), is also mentioned as one of the maidens who aided King Arthur’s passage to Avalon.


Legend says that King Arthur now sleeps in Avalon waiting to return to England. Some stories say he will rise again when England needs him most. 

And I, for one, cannot wait for his return. 😉

Written by Hanna Hamilton

The Fasting Girls of the Victorian Era

Hello, again, my dearies!

Our relationship with food is complex, and every woman I know has at some point in her life, questioned herself and others about what she is eating – is it too much, too little, too fatty, too sugary, not healthy enough?

As it seems this is not a first! During the Victorian Era,
fasting girls - captured the admiration and attention of the public due to their miraculous ability to live without food. Can you imagine that?

Fasting girls were usually young, pre-adolescent girls who claimed to be able to survive without any kind of nourishment over long periods - even forever!

A famous fasting girl could be a financial boon to a struggling family, as people would pilgrimage to them and leave monetary offerings.

Misunderstood and misdiagnosed, the Fasting Girls may have been the undiagnosed victims of anorexia nervosa during the Victorian era.

Here are a few of their stories. If you are interested in learning more then, my dears, keep reading! 🙂

The Brooklyn Enigma

In 1865, Mollie Fancher or The Brooklyn Enigma, as they used to call her, was seriously injured when her skirt got caught on a carriage wheel and she was dragged down the street for nearly a block.

Miraculously she survived but she suffered brain damage and slipped in and out of consciousness. She claimed to have lost her sight but gained a connection with the kingdom of spirits. Oh my!

Although she had lost her sight, she claimed that she could see from the back of her head just by putting her hands behind her. Also, that she could read, even without her eyes, and predict the future. She created beautiful wallpapers despite the fact that her hands were paralyzed.

“I am sometimes conscious of what others are not,” she said and explained how she stopped eating. “I rejected it. My doctor thought I was insane, but, as a matter of fact, I had never been more rational in my life.”

She stated that she had no need to eat or drink and that she was able to survive for unlimited periods of time without food. She stayed in her bed for the next 48 years.

Fancher was just one of the many
Fasting Girls of the Victorian era that fascinated the public, while something much darker, something yet unnamed, was screaming for attention.

Welsh Fasting Girl

Sarah Jacobs, the Welsh Fasting Girl, claimed that she stopped eating at the age of 10.

Her vicar said she was a gifted child and she enjoyed a long period of publicity, during which she received numerous gifts and donations from people who believed she was miraculous.

But doctors were becoming increasingly skeptical about her claims and eventually proposed that she be monitored in a hospital to see whether her claims about fasting were true.

Under the constant surveillance of nurses, Sarah began to starve herself. When her parents refused to let the nurses feed her, as they claimed that they’d seen her in this state before, she died at the age of 12. 

The subsequent legal proceedings, which culminated in her parents being convicted of manslaughter and imprisoned, give an insight into more than simply a tragic local incident but also highlight the competing claims of Victorian science and popular religion.

Other Fasting Girls

Another tragic case was that of Lenora Eaton, a respectable girl from New Jersey, who was examined in 1881 for allegedly living without food. After investigators arrived at her home to survey her case and doctors were sent to help her, Eaton continued to refuse to eat and died after forty-five days.

In 1889, The Fasting Girl
Josephine Marie Bedard, of Tingwick, Quebec, was also revealed to be a fraud with a derogatory title in the Boston Globe: “Who Took the Cold Potato? Dr. Mary Walker Says the Fasting Girl Bit a Doughnut.”

Thérèse Neumann claimed that after 1927, nothing but the Eucharist had passed her lips. In 1954 Bergen Evans wrote: “The most famous of contemporary non-eaters. The number of ecclesiastical and medical dignitaries who have vouched for the truth of her claims is impressive... Millions of sober, sensible people believe beyond doubt that this woman does not eat or drink. The Roman Catholic church has never, officially, recognized her claims as true.”

The interesting thing about these girls was that they received gifts from the public, but they came from wealthy, middle and upper-class families, and thus needed no money.

Anorexia Nervosa

Nowadays, all this sounds like eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa - which was barely understood at the time. It was not until 1873 that it was designated by one of Queen Victoria's personal physicians, Sir William Withey Gull.

That same year, a French doctor published a document with other cases, the De l'Anorexie hystérique, but in the second half of the 20th century, the disease became widely known.

Anorexia Nervosa always depends on many factors: biological vulnerability, psychological predisposition, as well as the home environment and culture in general.

The same thing happened in 1870, a time when the ideal woman was trying to become a living porcelain doll. Without knowing it, she poisoned her eyes with drops of Atropa belladonna to make them look big and shiny. Women had a fainting couch. Many would go vegetarian "because the meat was a hot food associated with lust”.

Thus, upper-class Victorian girls who decided to eat - or not - on their own terms, gained radical and persistent control over their lives, even if the messages they sent were mixed.

Unfortunately, these cases almost always resulted in tragedy and did not elicit a progressive public response. My friend, Olivia Bennet has written an article about those Deadly Traps of the Victorian era.

There have always been eating disorders.

In antiquity, there were descriptions of religious fasting dating back to the Hellenistic era, while in the Middle Ages fasting was common practice because of women's belief in religious piety and purity.

St. Catherine of Siena and Mary the Queen of Scotland are believed to have suffered from the disease.

Well, my dear, this is it!

Thank you for reading my article…I hope you found it interesting and that you have learned a lot!

I would love to know your thoughts on today’s topic so please leave a comment below!

You’re fantastic 🙂

Written by Scarlett Osborne

The Controversial Victorian Freak Shows

Let us be honest here.

In one way or another, everyone's a “freak”. No two bodies are the same; we all have unpleasant, wonderful, shocking and extraordinary features; we are all unique. But for centuries the word 'freak' has been used cruelly to describe people born with 'abnormal' features, or those able to perform extraordinary physical acts by contorting or misshaping their bodies.

Exhibitions of live human curiosities had appeared in traveling fairs, circuses and taverns in England since the 1600s. These included so-called giants, dwarves, fat people, the very thin, conjoined twins and even people from exotic tribes. Freak shows were a particularly popular form of entertainment during the Victorian period, when people from all classes flocked to gawp at these unusual examples of human life.

A variety of factors fueled this fascination with all that the world had to offer—from the rise of photography to Darwin’s theory of evolution. Little wonder, then, that touring attractions of the exotic and sideshows that displayed the human form in all its variety and deviation flourished during the Victorian Era.

The maestros behind these touring attractions were well aware of what their spectators wanted, and set out to prove that their particular sideshow was the biggest, strangest, and freakiest of the bunch. Perhaps the best-known barker of the era was P.T. Barnum, a man who spun elaborate—and often entirely fabricated—backstories for his freaks in order to draw an audience.

But the impresarios weren’t the only ones making money. Victorians were so taken with the stars of the shows that freak show paraphernalia became a hot commodity. Freak trading cards were wildly successful and some performers – such as Isaac “The American Human Skeleton” Sprague – even composed biographies to be printed in pamphlets along with their pictures and sold at each performance. While profit was split between showmen and performers, the entertainers often fared better than their management.

-Ella and Elvira Salon, the conjoined twins who were billed as the two-headed woman act in the 1880s.

The “Demons” of London

The physical display of people considered to look different or unusual has a long history. In the medieval and early modern periods, people who looked different – with, for example, birth defects – were considered ‘monstrous’ and attracted lots of attention. Much of it was unkind; they would be mocked and ridiculed at best, considered possessed or demonic at worst.

For a long time disabled people had been used as entertainment: the ‘court jester’ of short stature being a prime example. During the 18th and 19th centuries people who were considered different, particularly those with a physical disability, tended to be displayed more systematically in both Britain and the US.

From the 1840s, the word ‘freak’ came into popular usage. From then on, these displays or performances were openly discussed and advertised as ‘freak shows’.


It is difficult to emphasize how popular these shows were. Because they were often touring shows visiting large cities and small villages alike, they attracted thousands of people each year. This was helped by the low entry fee, with some charging only a penny for admittance. They were also accessible; you did not need to be highly educated to enjoy the freak show. They appealed to every class, and to adults as well as children.

Add a Bit of Science and Stir

Although freak shows were primarily for entertainment, in the Victorian period they also became bound up with ideas about science. People who were considered different could also be displayed for apparently ‘scientific’ purposes. They could be poked and prodded, asked questions and otherwise interrogated physically and verbally. This was the case with Joseph Merrick, the ‘Elephant Man’.

Originally, Merrick was displayed in a small and, by all reports, seedy sideshow in Whitechapel. Among the visitors to this freak show was Frederick Treves, a doctor at the nearby Royal London Hospital, who wanted to see Merrick as part of his medical curiosity. It was Treves who eventually ‘saved’ Merrick from display after his escape and abandonment at a fairground in France. Nonetheless, the alternative life he provided for him, as a semi-permanent resident in the hospital, still involved being examined by multiple people. 

-Joseph Merrick, the ‘Elephant Man’.

The Hairy “Monsters”

In the early 1880s a young girl called ‘Krao’ was taken from her home in Laos, then a vassal state of Siam, to the cold metropolis of Victorian London by William Leonard Hunt, a showman known as ‘the Great Farini’. The girl, probably about four at the time of her capture, was of unusual appearance. She was covered in thick dark hair and rumour had it that she had ‘a double row of teeth’, ‘pouches in the cheek’ and ‘double-jointed knuckles’.

Krao was exhibited by Farini at the London Aquarium in a display that labelled her as ‘The Missing Link’ between animals and humanity. She drew large crowds and attracted huge attention in the press and periodicals.

In the period when Krao was being exhibited, Britain had been gripped by a controversy surrounding Charles Darwin’s claim that human beings had evolved from other species. Many were shocked by his findings and refused to believe in the theory of evolution.

Furthermore, Darwin’s inability to pinpoint an exact evolutionary stage between the human and the orangutan led to much skepticism about the whole of evolutionary theory and generated much public interest as to where that so-called missing link might lie. That Farini was able to tap into this topical concern in the way he marketed Krao says much about his skills as a showman.

-William Leonard Hunt, also known as ‘the Great Farini’ and ‘Krao’.

There have always been people with bodily difference, including, for example, that of not being able to walk or work, or the visible difference sometimes discussed as ‘deformity’. But in the Victorian period these differences were concentrated on and commented upon more and more. 

The reign of the freak show waned at the dawn of the 20th century; by the 1950s, it had all but disappeared. A number of factors led to its decline – including shifts in public interest, charges of exploitation by journalists like Henry Mayhew, and the rise of television.

Oh dear! 

Between popular murder scenes and freak shows, those Victorians surely knew how to chose their entertainment, didn’t they?!

Written by Patricia Haverton

The Regency Era: A Time of Peculiarity

Ah, the Regency Era!

A time of luxury, elegant balls, and proper manners!

A period of extravagant dresses, hearty dinners…

…and murder scenes that served as entertainment!

Oh, you heard that right!

For all its glamour and obsession with decorum, the Regency Era became the birthplace of a few very strange, and dome downright inexplicable things!

Let’s take a look at a few of them!

A Walk In The Park...Or Not!

Regency society decreed that a lady must not walk or ride along St. James Street in London where a number of the famous men’s clubs such as “White’s”, “Boodle’s” and “Brook’s” were situated. A lady risked her reputation and being impertinently ogled if she dared venture into this male precinct. 

St. James was the gentlemen’s preserve. For a woman to simply walk down St. James’ Street was considered a social solecism. Even more so, for a woman of quality to be seen entering a gentleman’s lodgings or area of entertainment, alone, would mean swift and certain ruin.

Celebrity Chefs

A celebrity chef is a kitchen chef who has become a celebrity. Today, chefs often become celebrities by presenting cookery advice and demonstrations, usually through the mediums of television and radio, or in printed publications. While television is ultimately the primary way for a chef to become a celebrity, some have achieved this through success in the kitchen, cookbook publications, and achieving awards such as Michelin stars, while others are home cooks that won competitions.

The idea of the “celebrity” chef emerged during the Regency with the most famous being Marie-Antoine Carême who charged astronomical amounts of money for his services, wrote bestselling cookbooks and was employed by both Napoleon and the Prince Regent.


How Many Candles Does It Take To Light A Ballroom?

It cost at least £15 – an average working man’s yearly wage – to light a ballroom with wax candles for one night. Candles were sold in four-hour or six-hour burn lengths, and they dictated the length of the ball. One can imagine the delight of walking into a ballroom and finding the room ablaze with six-hour candles, and the disappointment of finding only the four-hour kind in the candelabra.

I can’t imagine how high the electricity bill would have been…


Pineapples Were Symbols Of Wealth

Pineapples were very exotic and so expensive that hostesses used them as centerpieces on their dinner tables to show their wealth. They were hardly ever eaten as they were too precious and were often passed from hostess to hostess to use as decoration until they rotted.


Reusable Tea Leaves

I do love tea, and I simply can’t imagine re-using the tea leaves, but that is precisely what happened during this era, when tea was an expensive import. 

The common scenario went like this – the first use was made by the householder. After they had enjoyed their tea, the housekeeper would collect the leaves and dry them out, whereupon she would enjoy the second steeping of the leaves. She may then pass them onto some lucky individual among the members of staff who had fallen into her favor, blessed to enjoy the third use of the tea.

You Could Flash Your Ankles Without Ruining Your Life

It was not scandalous for ladies to show their ankles. In fact, several drawings and engravings of the era show ladies with skirts barely reaching their ankles. Since their dancing slippers were similar to today’s ballerina flats, the ankles were clearly visible. As shoe styles changed from slippers into the boots of the Victorian Era, it also became a sign of modesty to keep one’s ankles covered.  Hence, showing ankles was scandalous during the Victorian Era, but not the Regency Era.

The Stale Bread Law

Due to the Napoleonic Wars and subsequent blockages, wheat was hard to come by. This meant that bread, a main staple in the Englishman’s diet, became scarce. In an attempt to prevent a massive shortage, Parliament passed the Stale Bread Act. This outlawed the sale and/or consumption of fresh bread, and only allowed stale bread, or bread baked more than 24 hours ago, to be sold. Apparently stale bread filled bellies faster than fresh bread. Penalties for the offense were severe, but as you can imagine, it was very hard to enforce due to the poverty rates. The government repealed it about a year later, but the shortage persisted until after the war ended.

Romantic Dinners…Not So Much!

Austen wrote that "to be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love", and country balls were seen as an excellent way for Regency women to hook a husband. The food on offer was "fancy" finger food that could be eaten without too much mess. Like…

…er…

…chicken stuffed with hogs' tongues.

So romantic!

And While We’re On The Matter Of Romance…

The upper classes liked to swan around at balls, but rural communities had more practical methods of helping people find a match. If a girl's parents approved of a boy, he'd be invited to stay the night in her bed. To prevent premarital hanky-panky, they'd be sewn into a bag with a seam down the middle to keep them on their own side.

Ah, what a time to be alive! 😉

Written by Emma Linfield 

Deadly Traps of the Victorian Era

Well, ladies and gents!

Women have always been doomed to withhold a certain position in society: slaves to fashion, cosseted and striving to please men, whatever the cost. Just like today’s women attempting plastic surgery or wearing really high heels to look good, Victorian women also took extravagant efforts for the sake of fashion.

But sometimes, when it came to looking pretty, some ladies would really go the extra mile! And Machiavelli’s famous saying, The end justifies the means, could go a little bit too far… or close to death!

Although technologically advanced, the British society of the Victorian era was characterized by great rigor in the morals first expressed by Queen Victoria herself, a model for every respectable woman of the time.

The model dictated the lady of the house to be a loving mother, a fashionable lady, and always well-mannered. Creating and maintaining this image, however, entailed many risks for women.

Well, keep reading, hun! 🙂

Victorian Silhouette

Even though the official timeline of Regency Era is from 1811 to 1820, the regency style in fashion really began around 1795.

The typical Victorian silhouette demanded a very slim waist, which was possible only with the use of a
corset. Thanks to the industrialization and production of garments, corsets were accessible to all walks of life.

The corset pressed the sides and the chest which in turn, pushed the internal organs. The immediate problem, of course, was that movement was limited and breathing was difficult.

Many girls started wearing corsets at a very early age, even as infants, when their bodies had not yet been formed, resulting in a completely deformed skeleton. Corsets on children were often used as training tools to prepare them for the corsets they would wear in adult life. A child’s corset was less intense and usually given its shape by the rough material sewn in cords rather than the baleen or steel rods they would wear as grown-ups. When they were confirmed at the age of 15, and thus able to get married, they got their first real corset. This was a shoulder corset or a girl's pair of stays.

And if you think that pregnant women could escape the stylistic norm, well… think again! Women wore corsets throughout pregnancy, often causing miscarriages or giving birth to malformed babies and, of course, developing uterine prolapse.

This situation was doubly tragic for women of the time, as their value was calculated on how many children they would give birth to and how many of them would be able to spend their childhood healthy (and there were many more traps in the Victorian home to prevent this…).

Hourglass Silhouette

The corset guaranteed the delicate waist and toned bodice, but for the effect of the hourglass silhouette to be complete, the pelvis and the entire skirt should be highlighted as well.

To do this, women put a crinoline through their dress, a wooden or metal construction that created the characteristic umbrella shape.

But women were taking this trend too seriously. In their effort to get more and more diameter in their dresses, which made navigating the space difficult and dangerous, they usually put themselves in danger.

There were several incidents where women were pushed, dropped or dragged by carriage wheels because of the crinoline. But the biggest problem was the hundreds, maybe even thousands, of women over the decades who were burned alive because their skirts caught fire.

Additionally, the dresses and the coats were so long that they literally dusted the streets of Victorian megacities, bringing home dirt and disease.

Footwear

The bad balance given by crinoline would finish with the right shoes of course!

The industrial-produced shoes of the time did not have right and left. In order to reduce the cost and time of production, factories produced same-shaped shoes for both feet! Their shape was straight and flat making them uncomfortable and unstable.

Makeup

To complete the image of Victorian beauty we can not miss skincare.

The use of obvious makeup and toiletries was considered immoral. It was, of course, a common secret that all women used cosmetics, often hiding them in bottles with other labels, to be passed on as medicines, for example.

There were two dominant trends in the makeup of the time: the Natural (The English Rose look) and the… Kardashian! (the too painted).

The painted look was not for everyone. It was chosen by women who were so rich that they did not care about social conformities and gossip, or by women of a more ‘unconventional’ way of life.

But if you chose it, it became part of yourself and you could never go back to the natural look for two reasons: because everyone knew you were a painted lady and due to the fact your skin was so damaged by the use of paint that you couldn’t show it anymore without it.

Women used poster colors to cover the natural tone of the skin on the head, neck, and hands and achieved the color of a living dead. These paints, however, contained a highly corrosive lead, so each time a larger amount of paint was needed to cover the damage the previous layer had made.

They washed their face with ammonia to make it softer… Many women dropped Atropa Belladonna in their eyes to have dilated eye pupils to transmit innocence and be considered more attractive. However, Belladonna has alkaloids that caused severe toxicity as well as death, which the ladies of course knew.

Number One Source of Poisoning

But the trademarked and number one source of poisoning of the time was arsenic.

Did Victorian people know that arsenic is poisonous? Yes! Did they still use it, literally everywhere, as a pigment and as a beauty product? Yes! Even when it was clearly associated with multiple deaths.

In order to achieve a natural whitish complexion, many women wore arsenic-containing powders resulting in them consuming a small amount of it daily. Their body tolerated higher concentrations of arsenic while the skin gradually became whitish.

The problems with this were two: first, they gradually became addicted to it and if they discontinued its use they would eventually die. Second, if they accidentally got more than they should, acute toxicity and death would occur once again (and the higher dose was an easy thing in an arsenic-filled home).

Without seeking it, the girls of the time, trying to emulate the literary, romantic aspect of philanthropy with the practices they followed, were driven near death.

One can’t help but wonder how harmful our habits and tendencies are to our health today, considering them to be normal or even healthy.

Thank you for reading this article of mine and write below your replies so that I can see them!

And please let me know your thoughts—did you enjoy the topic?

If there is anything else you’d be interested in reading about the Regency Era, feel free to let me know…

…and who knows? Maybe you will read about it soon!

Written by Olivia Bennet

How to Use “Hestia’s Blood” in Your Tea…


“Eye of newt, and toe of frog,

Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,

Adder's fork, and blind-worm's sting,

Lizard's leg, and owlet's wing,—

For a charm of powerful trouble,

Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

Double, double toil and trouble;

Fire burn, and caldron bubble.”

Never heard of this before?

You must be thinking this is some kind of witch’s spell, right?

A nefarious potion boiled under the full moon as a hag throws all kinds of bizarre ingredients in a bubbling cauldron…


Yeaaah…Not exactly!

Sorry to disappoint you!

These few lines were actually written by William Shakespeare. In Macbeth, to be specific.

Now, I can’t really say what Shakespeare did in his free time, but I’m pretty sure that potions and outlandish-sounding witchcraft weren’t among his list of hobbies.

In fact, the above quote from Macbeth isn’t witchcraft at all!

I know, I know. Toes of frogs and tongues of dogs are not exactly the ingredients you’d want your daily green smoothie to include. And well, that “hell-broth” part doesn’t really create a good first impression.

But hear me out!

Chances are, you have been using “eyes of newt” and “lizard’s legs” for years!

Traditional Folk Names for Common Plants

No doubt some country folk in the Middle Ages thought these names were literal, given that witch hunts were a favorite sport at the time. In fact, in addition to midwifing babies, having knowledge of herbs and plants was reason enough to accuse a woman of being a "witch."

Witches were persecuted to hell and back, especially in England, during the infamous Witch Hunts. Thousands of women -and men- died horrible deaths at the hands of self-proclaimed witch hunters and “priests.” If you’d like to read an article on the matter, click here!

Medicine women, with their vast knowledge of herbs and their medical properties, very often found themselves on the receiving end of extraordinarily harsh punishment for practicing their trade.

And the strange names given to plants certainly played a part in that.

Medicine was and still is a difficult field to master.

Back then, with their very limited resources, people had to rely on the gifts offered by Mother Nature herself in order to cure their ailments. At some point, some laurel in a pot of boiling water along with some lemon and honey and poof! A cure for headaches.

Of course, in the absence of labs and test bottles, people had to rely on experience to decipher which plant helps with which ailment. And that, my dear fellow, was quite dangerous!

Some plants can be toxic if consumed in certain forms, others can kill a grown man if the dosage exceeds a certain amount. Others are not fit for human consumption in any way, shape or form.

And that’s when medicine men and women said, “Enough is enough! We need to do something so that people without any knowledge won’t meddle in our affairs and get themselves killed!”

Enter the peculiar names for common plants that to this day, we use in our cooking, our medicine, our drinks.

And here are a few that you might recognize!

Adder’s Fork: Adder’s Tongue

Eye of Newt: Wild Mustard Seed

Toe of Frog: Bulbous Buttercup Leaves

Tongue of Dog: Hound’s Tongue

-“Eye of Newt”


Chamomile: Blood of Hestia

Valerian: Bloody Butcher

Cedar: Blood of Kronos

Yarrow: Devil’s Nettle

Parsley: Devil’s Oatmeal

Rosemary: Dew of the Sea

Foxglove: Fairy’s Finger

Motherwort: Lion’s Ear

Shepherd’s Purse: Mother’s Heart

-“Devil’s Nettle”


Common Stonecrop: Mouse’s Tail

Dandelion Leaves: Priest’s Crown

Field Clover: Rabbit’s Foot

American Valerian: Ram’s Head

Fern: Skin of Man

Flowering Spurge: Snake’s Milk

Knotweed: Sparrow’s Tongue

Wild Lettuce: Titan’s Blood

False Unicorn: Unicorn’s Horn

Rowan: Witchbane

-“Unicorn’s Horn”


When a specific part of an herb needed to be used, they were referred to usually as a body part.

Inner part of a blossom: Eye

Leaf: Paw, Foot, Leg, Wing, or Tow

Roots and stalk: Guts

Seeds: Privates

Dried Herbs: Hair

Stem: Tail

Flower: Head

Petal: Tongue

A bud or seed: Heart

-“Witchbane”


Phrases such as those mentioned above could have been and probably were used to name the plant by using a descriptor that would be easy to remember, and easy to teach to others. Other plants were given names descriptive of their uses; still others, for something they generally resembled.

The bottom line is…

Next time someone asks you for an herbal tea or a leafy cocktail, you know how to name them…

“Hi, darling! Can I have a cup of chamomile tea?”

“Oh, certainly! Just let me see where I put that jar of Hestia’s Blood…”

Written by Hanna Hamilton

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