© Susan Shirley 2017
© Susan Shirley 2017
The second day of my visit to Yorkshire was to Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden.
I remember visiting Fountain’s Abbey as a child, with friends of my parents who lived in Middlesbrough. That was some time ago, so you’d expect things to have changed, and they have. The last time I went, there was no visitor centre, and I didn’t even know the Royal Water Garden existed! That’s hardly a surprise though, the estate was bought by West Riding County Council in 1966 (probably after I used to visit, although I can’t swear to that) and was only acquired by the National Trust in 1983. It is now a UNESCO world heritage site. The National Trust has become very experienced in making its sites consumer friendly, and this is much more of an experience than just a place to visit. Nature trails and egg hunts for children, and play parks, it very family orientated.
The abbey was originally established in 1135 after some monks from the Benedictine (yes, it was that order that made the liqueur) St Mary’s Abbey in York were expelled and later joined the Cistercian order and, after many problems and troubles, Fountains Abbey was founded and built. There is a lot more detail to it than that, all related to religious/political fighting.
Although the Abbey is in ruins now, when you walk around it, you can see how stunning it must have been in its heyday. It is truly magnificent, even now. I could almost hear the chanting as I walked around. I am not particularly religious, but I appreciate the work that went into churches and abbeys. More than appreciate, I love it and I always feel at peace in places like this.
The way the National Trust has set the sight up means, if you stick to the paths (and we did) that you walk past one side of the Abbey, and along to the Water Gardens, and back again.
Back in the fifteenth century, Studley Royal, as the estate and mansion was known, was home to the Mallory’s – a well-known family, two of whom were MPs in the seventeenth century. The Manor House itself was destroyed by fire in 1946, although a stable block survived, and is now a private house.
We walked around almost all of the water gardens, which was a good walk, and wore out poor little Jess, Becky’s beautiful Bichon Frise. As you walk back towards the abbey itself, there are areas for children to play, and there is a dedicated playground near to the visitors’ centre. In true National Trust style, there are regular events for the children too. It’s a good half or full day out, depending on your age and stamina, and I fully recommend it.
© Susan Shirley 2016
I stayed with my friend, Becky, in North Yorkshire recently. She’s only lived there for a couple of years, and it’s been some time since I’ve been there, so we did the full tourist thing. Our first day out was in York.
I’ve always liked York, but the last few times I’ve been, I’ve only ever had a couple of hours spare on each visit, so spending the day there was a rare treat.
A bit of history
York is an old city, founded by the Romans in 71 AD, on the confluence of the Ouse and the Foss. It was the capital of the Roman province in the north. The Romans called it Eboracum. After they left, and the Vikings invaded, it became the capital of the kingdom called Jorvik (which comes from the old Norse).
York became a major wool trading centre under Viking rule. It also became very important in the Church of England, after the Reformation. Subsequently, it became home to Suchard chocolate and a major railway hub.
It is likely that the area was first settled in around 8000 BC. By the time the Romans conquered Britain, the general area was inhabited by the Brigante tribe. The city of York was founded in 71 AD by the Ninth Legion.
The Romans left Britain in around 400 AD – they probably left the north earlier than that – and all was reasonably quiet until the Vikings invaded in 866 AD. The Vikings are well-known for their love of water and they made York a major river port, part of their trading route throughout Europe. They were kicked out by King Eadred. In 954 AD.
We all know that William of Normandy successfully invaded in 1066 AD, but two years later, the people of York, sick of having had their butts kicked, rebelled. At first they were successful but William was nothing if not a military strategist and he soon got the raging hump. He went about “Harrying the North,” when he is reputed to have destroyed everything from York to Durham. (I should point out that some scholars say that he could not have done this much damage. I don’t know, I wasn’t there, so we have to go with what we’ve got.)
Notwithstanding that, by the 12th century, York was prospering again, and after being granted a charter by King John in 1212, it became important in trade with France, the Netherlands and further afield.
The Minster was first built as far back as 627 AD, and the City became very important in the Christian Church, so it was a prime target for Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, which took place between 1536 and 1541.
In the Civil War, the Roundheads besieged York from 22 April 1644 until 1 July 1644. After the Battle of Marston Moor, York surrendered to Sir Thomas Fairfax.
The old city walls are a short walk from the railway station, so we walked along here before walking up to Clifford’s Tower, the high point of the City. Depictions inside the tower show how the city walls would have linked with it. English Heritage, who owns the site, are making a number of changes, to make the Tower easier to access and to unearth the nineteenth century wall that is buried under the mound, amongst other things.
The view from the Tower is beautiful, as you walk around the viewing deck you can see quite some miles. By the way, the Tower will be closed while the restoration work takes place, so check before visiting.
See here for further information:
The Jorvik Viking Centre
Our next stop was the Jorvik Viking Centre. This was badly damaged during the flooding a couple of years ago, and has only recently re-opened. We had to queue for about 50 minutes so I’d recommend booking and jumping the long queue. Entry into the centre is across a glass floor (I still can’t get used to that) into a room where there is an AV providing details of the dig. From there, it’s round to a cable car area where you are taken round a depiction of a Viking village.
I hesitate to call them robots, but there are certainly life-sized animated models of humans and animals as the cable car takes you around the village, telling you what life was like. These animated models are throughout until you come to a boat which has two real humans talking as though they were Vikings – a trifle disconcerting.
There were only two human skeletons found when digging the site, which surprised me, however, there were many other artefacts such as coins, jewellery, cookware, etc. I’d definitely recommend this is you have any interest in history at all.
We had a nice lunch in one of the many dog-friendly cafes in the city, The Nook, before making our way back to Becky’s. (We were dog-less on the day in question, but previous visits with her canine have taught Becky where to go.)
York has all the standard shops that you’d expect and a Fenwick as the main department store in the city centre. There is also the Castle Museum, the Railway Museum and the Minster – which is beautiful, although we didn’t do the full tour. It only takes two hours from King’s Cross on the high-speed train – definitely work a visit.
© Susan Shirley 2017
I’ve written about a few Victorian women recently, which got me to thinking about other aspects of their lives, the first one being clothing. As someone who loves clothes, especially the simplicity of what we wear nowadays, Victorian women’s clothes are a source of fascination to me. As a child, up until the age of about 11 or 12, when I managed to persuade my mum it was no longer necessary, I had to wear a petticoat under neath a dress or skirts and blouse, but that was nothing compared what Victorian’s wore. I dread to think how they coped in the summer! Here’s a quick run through of the typical clothing worn by Victorian women:
In the early Victorian days, everything was sewn by hand, so there was no mass production of clothes. As a consequence of this, clothing was expensive. Rich people didn’t have a problem but the poor would probably have made their own clothes and there was a lot of “hand me downing” going on. Even when I was a child, I remember having “best clothes” (a habit which I still have trouble getting out of) – in Victorian times, best clothes were saved for church on a Sunday, thus referred to as “Sunday best.” Things did start to change after the invention of the sewing machine in 1851, but it was quite some time before clothes became really cheap.
The crinoline was invented in 1856 – prior to this, dresses tended to have a simpler, more Empire line shape – think Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. The crinoline changed all this. In the early days, it was almost like a circular hoop that filled out the whole of the skirt of the dress, although in later Victorian days, it became just a bustle at the back of the outfit.
Despite this, the underclothes remained pretty much the same. It started off with stockings, which were really long socks, not what we would think of as stockings. They stopped just above the knee and were held up with garters. They weren’t elasticated the way mine were at school, they were lace, which by it’s manufacture, conferred some elastic properties. By the end of the nineteenth century, the garters were attached to corsets…. I’m still not feeling it.
The important bit of the undergarments were what were in those days called drawers, which were basically flaps of material without a crotch. I suppose they didn’t feel the cold with a long dress. A sleeveless chemise which came down to the knees was worn over this. This formed the first layer of the clothing.
Next came the corset, frequently strengthened with whalebone, sometimes steel. The corsets fastened up at the front (ribbons were common fastenings) and had draw strings at the back to pull them tighter. The idea was that they’d pull in at the waist and push up the bust – hence the very pert look we so often see in period dramas. I’m thinking there are some benefits to corsets, although some women took it to extremes and tied them so tight they could barely breathe.
The actual Crinoline (the name is a combination of the Latin words for hair and linen, because it was originally made from horsehair) was like a steel cage, flexible enough to collapse when sitting and strong enough to support the skirt when standing. Later on, the crinoline fell from favour and changed to become a bustle, just supporting the back of the skirt, but in the early Victorian days, it was the full thing.
At least one petticoat went on top of this, which would be decorated at the bottom, intended to show under the dress or skirt (it started with one and more became fashionable later in the era). The upper part of the body was covered by a plain chemise although underwear became more decorative as the era progressed.
Finally, we get to the dress, which might have been one or two pieces. Again, as the era progressed, it became more common for women to wear separate skirts and blouses. The dress had all manner of fittings to make it more decorative – collars, cuffs, under-sleeves, etc. Capes, shawls, jackets would be worn over the top, both inside and out.
Early in the period, flat shoes were worn, but gradually boots became more fashionable, and they became longer, as in higher up the leg, as time went on.
Older and married women all wore caps indoors, outdoors, they were either covered by a bonnet or just a hat was worn. By the end of the 19th century, caps were no longer generally worn, but hats were worn outdoors. (I remember my mum always wore a hat outdoors when I was a child, as did my dad, although that changed for both of them by the 1970s.)
Gloves and jewellery, fans and parasols were also important accessories, at least for wealthy women in Victorian times. It was all very proper – and I dare say hot and uncomfortable. I wonder where I can get a full outfit to try for a day?
© Susan Shirley 2017
Mary Seacole was a little known woman who had quite an impact in the Crimean War. She would have done more, she’d been taught nursing, but was refused acceptance as a nurse. Seacole put it down to racial prejudice. Whether that is the case or not is hard to prove or disprove. The authorities said she didn’t have the necessary skills and experience, but I’m not sure who did in those days? It was hardly high-tech and there was no national standard the way there is nowadays.
Seacole was born Mary Grant in Kingston, Jamaica in 1805, the daughter of a free Jamaican woman and a Scottish lieutenant in the British army. Her mother was a healer who used traditional African and Caribbean medicines.
Seacole was proud to describe herself as a Creole and was proud of her Scottish heritage, although she must have been subject to prejudice because of her mixed heritage, if only by the authorities.
She married Edwin Horatio Hamilton Seacole in Kingston in November 1836. (Edwin may have been an illegitimate son of Admiral Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton – there is a clue in the name. Mary refers to him as Nelson’s God son, but there doesn’t seem to be any evidence to corroborate this. I think I’m going with the illegitimate son theory.) Eight years after their marriage, Edwin died.
Mary declined offers of marriage and threw herself into her work, which was running a boarding house. She also treated victims of the cholera epidemic of 1850 which killed 32,000 Jamaicans. She travelled to Panama to visit her half-brother, when a cholera outbreak happened there, and again, she treated the victims. The first victim survived, which firmly established her reputation. She charged the rich and treated the poor for free. She had moderate success with her treatments – she used herbal remedies as opposed to opium – remember, at this stage, the cause wasn’t known, let alone antibiotics with which to treat it.
Mary travelled to England in 1854, although her visit was unrelated to the Crimean War. However, when she arrived here and found out about the war, she applied to join the nurses travelling out there. Her application was refused, so she funded her own journey.
Seacole opened the British Hotel, near Balaclava, which was intended to be a comfortable billet for sick and recuperating officers. Whilst on the [somewhat circuitous] journey over there, she met a doctor from the hospital where Florence Nightingale worked in Scutari. He wrote a letter of introduction for Seacole and she visited Nightingale at her hospital. By all accounts, she received a warm welcome from Nightingale, spent the night at the hospital and travelled on to Balaclava the following day.
Building materials were in short supply, so Seacole’s hotel was built from driftwood and the like. She ran the hotel successfully, and even provided catering to spectators of the battles!
However, when the war ended, in 1856, Seacole returned to London. She had no money and was in poor health. She was declared bankrupt. The press got hold of the story and a fund was set up which discharged her from bankruptcy.
Accounts of how much nursing Seacole actually did vary, although there appears to be some evidence that she treated troops on the battlefields. However, her nursing career is controversial, with some experts saying that she did little actual nursing.
She returned to Jamaica around 1860, stayed there for ten years, undergoing financial stress again, although, fortunately, the Seacole fund was resurrected and money was sent to her in Jamaica. She then returned to London, perhaps to provide assistance in the Franco-Prussian war.
It seems likely that she approached Sir Henry Verney, who was the member of parliament for Buckingham, and also the husband of Florence Nightingale’s sister. He also happened to be involved with the British Society for the Sick and Wounded, hence Seacole’s contacting him. Apparently, Nightingale wrote to Verney and said that Seacole kept a disorderly house in the Crimea. Interesting, when they seemed to get on so well in Scutari. In any event, Mary didn’t go out to the war.
She died in Paddington in 1881, leaving a reasonable amount of money. She was buried in the Roman Catholic cemetery in Kensal Green.
© Susan Shirley 2017
I first heard of Joseph Lister when I was studying ‘A’ level biology, the man who used carbolic acid in surgery. That’s pretty much what I remember, but think about him next time you or someone you know needs to have surgery. Before Lister, there was a terrifyingly high mortality rate.
He became the First Baron Lister, and is known as a pioneer of antiseptic surgery. In the early days of surgery, it was barbers and the like who carried it out, hence, in the UK, surgeons are known as Mr/Mrs/Miss/Ms rather than doctor (not so in the United States, they are all called doctor there, but we like our tradition here in the UK).
Lister was a Quaker, and came from a fairly well off home in West Ham, East London. He was a bright lad, and studied languages, maths and natural sciences. He went onto attend University College London, one of the only colleges to accept Quakers at the time (prejudice and –isms are not new!).
He first studied botany and achieved a Bachelor of Arts, and then registered as a medical student. He achieved an honours degree in his Bachelor of Medicine, and went on to become a member of the Royal College of Surgeons. He was 26 years old, which was no mean feat in the nineteenth century.
As an aside, he left the Quakers and joined the Scottish Episcopal Church, after working with James Syme at the University of Edinburgh, and went on to marry Agnes, Syme’s daughter. They spent their honeymoon visiting hospitals in France and Germany… Ok, she went on to work with him in his lab, so I guess he got away with that, but I have to wonder what that marriage was like.
I have to do a quick re-wind here. I said above that in the early days of surgery, they were carried out by barbers. There was no anaesthetic in those days, and the ‘surgeon’ would stroll in wearing his everyday clothes (actually, scrap that, his dirtiest everyday clothes because he knew they’d get covered in blood). There was no ‘scrubbing in.’ In fact, operating theatres were not even restricted to those involved in the surgery, there was a lot of room for spectators. So, nothing about surgery was sterile. And there was a pretty high mortality rate. Wounds became infected with alarming regularity, infection and death followed. The prescribed wisdom at the time was that infection was spread by bad air. There were no hand washing facilities nor any methods for cleaning patients’ wounds. It was common for surgeons to refer to “the good old surgical stink” and enjoyed the blood stains on their aprons. See below:
Lister learned of Louis Pasteur’s work about food spoilage and how it might be dealt with, and proceeded to experiment with one of these – chemical techniques. He started by spraying the surgical instruments, the incisions and the dressings with carbolic acid. He found that swabbing wounds directly with carbolic acid reduced the incidence of gangrene.
There is the well-known case of the seven year old boy whose leg had been run over by a cart, causing a fracture. No plaster casts in those days, but Lister placed lint dipped in carbolic acid on the wound. Four days later, he renewed the lint and was delighted to find there was no infection. Six weeks later, he found the bone had knitted without any infection.
As a result of this, Lister instructed all his surgeons to wash their hands before and after surgery with 5% carbolic acid solution. The instruments were washed in the same solution and the solution was sprayed over the wound in the operating theatre. (There was a slight downside to this – carbolic acid is mildly acidic and can cause chemical burns. It did cause some problems with healing as a result, but still, it was far better than the earlier situation.).
Lister returned to London, where, as well as being elected President of the Clinical Society of London, he developed a means of repairing kneecaps and improved the method used for mastectomy. We have a lot to thank him for.
Lister’s wife died in 1893, after which he retired. He and is wife had worked together for so long, he lost his appetite for his work. He suffered a stroke however, in 1902, two days before his coronation, Edward VII became ill with appendicitis. This was still a dangerous operation in those days. To put it in perspective, I had mine removed when I was six years old, and my scar is about two inches long (and they probably are smaller than that nowadays). My mum had hers removed forty odd years before me and her scar was all the way across her abdomen. Back to Edward VII. The surgeons of the day were between a rock and a hard place: they had to operate or the soon to be crowned king would die. However, the risks of infection were huge. They went to Lister for advice who told them the latest antiseptic surgical techniques. The king later wrote to Lister and said, “I know that if it had not been for you and your work, I wouldn’t be sitting here today.”
He died on 12 February 1912.
Listerine mouthwash is named after him.
He has the honour of having the bacterial genus Listeria, one of the little beasties that gives us an upset stomach, named after him (yes, I really do mean honour, we might not think so but medics get excited over these things).
Listerella, a slime mound, was also named after him.
The Lister Hospital in Stevenage, Herts, is named after him.
Two postage stamps were issued in honour of his services to antiseptic surgery in September 1965.
© Susan Shirley 2017
I went on David Charnick’s excellent The Ripper Enigma for the second time recently. In this walk, David does not set out to sensationalise the Jack the Ripper murders (the newspapers of the time did enough of that). What he does is to set the scene of life in that part of Victorian London, and explains why the victims were vulnerable. It is an excellent tour and I recommend it to anyone who has any interest in social history, or just an interest in history, in fact. Check out David’s website for more details:
It is no secret that the police of the day were baffled. Yes, there were a lot of arrests but all of the suspects were released without charge. To this day, there are numerous theories abounding, but no-one knows who Jack the Ripper was, nor why s/he stopped so suddenly. And we probably never will.
All this got me wondering though, what would happen if there were to be another Jack the Ripper phenomenon today. Would the police fare any better? Let’s look at the facts.
Definition of a Serial Killer
Or, probably, more correctly, a serial murderer. According to the FBI, serial killings are not new, and have been documented since the nineteenth century, although they are known to have occurred way before then. They are estimated to make up only 1% of all murders. (A not-very comforting thought that we might all want to remember is that most murders are committed by someone the victim knows…)
The FBI defines a serial murderer as someone who kills two or more victims, and the events in which those killings take place are separated by time. It also says that there may be more than one offender.
Although there is some dispute as to whether there were five, seven or even only four victims, I think we can agree that whoever s/he was, the Ripper was a serial killer, and, in all probability, acted alone. I say this because, from witness sightings, the victims were only seen with one person, a man. Not definitive proof, I know, and in those cases, where there was a time lag between the last sighting of the victim and the body being found, who knows what might have happened? However, on the balance of probability, it is likely to have been only one person. (I also know that the burden on proof in criminal cases is ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ but since this is not a trial, I’ll go with the lower standard.)
Why do I suggest that the Ripper might have been female? There are a couple of theories out there that suggest that Jack was actually Jill. One, that I read about many years ago, was that the killer was an abortionist whose work had gone wrong, so she made it look like murder so that they could stay in business. Personally, I don’t buy that. All but one of the Ripper killings took place outside and why would anyone have been performing abortions outside? Doesn’t make sense to me.
Another theory that David referred to was that the murderer was a woman who couldn’t have children. Most of the victims were professional prostitutes (as opposed to women who used prostitution as a casual means of supplementing their incomes). They would not have wanted children. A woman whose mind had become deranged because she was unable to give birth might have felt that these women deserved to die. To be honest, I don’t buy this theory either. Not because it isn’t possible, I just think that’s it unlikely a deranged woman would have been more chaotic in her behaviour.
Whether the Ripper left any DNA is anybody’s guess, but it is irrelevant, since the police in the 1800s did not have the benefit of DNA analysis. It was used for the first time in the UK in 1986, almost 100 years after the Ripper. If it were to happen today, the forensics team would check the victim’s body for fibres and hair (although hair is only of use if the root is still attached). They’d also check for semen and saliva. These would be useful if the police had a suspect, but they wouldn’t actually help catch the killer, unless the killer was already on the DNA database, in which case, happy days.
Fingerprints were around at the time, but they weren’t used by police until later. Nowadays, a crime scene would be routinely dusted for prints, but remember, all but one of these murders was committed outside. It depends on the actual materials from which the areas where the bodies were found, but t might be possible to obtain fingerprints from brick etc. Not so in the 1880s when techniques were still in their infancy.
The scene would also be check for footprints nowadays, which might be of use, depending on the type of shoe the killer wore – trainers are good for sole prints. However, the man with whom the victims were seen didn’t look as though he’d have been wearing trainers.
Crime Scene Contamination
If you watch any TV cop shows at all, particularly those made in the UK, you will see that the police and all the forensic staff all wear paper suits over their day clothes. They cordon off the area as soon as possible. They do this for the simple reason that they don’t want to contaminate the crime scene. The mantra in forensic investigation is Locard’s Exchange Principle – “Every contact leaves a trace.” What this means is that when two objects come into contact with each other, each will take something from the other, or leave something behind. Thus the paper suits, which are uncontaminated when they are first put in and will prevent fibres, pet hairs, and so on, from being left at the crime scene.
In the case of the Ripper murders, all the crime scenes were contaminated in some way. In the case of the first murder, when the first people on scene pulled down the skirt of Polly Nichols, they contaminated the scene. We don’t know how long the bodies were in situ prior to being found – plenty of time for scene contamination from any animals that might have been around. The point is, even today, this wouldn’t have been a great start for the police investigation.
The FBI now agrees that there is no generic profile for a serial murderer, which makes sense when you think that there is no generic profile of a human being. However, most serial killers are not social misfits who hide themselves away. They often have families, jobs and seem, to all intents and purposes, to be just like you and me. And often overlooked by the police for this reason.
Why did the killings stop?
Something else we will never know, maybe Jack himself was murdered? The FBI says that some serial killers stop killing before they are caught, and may never be caught. There are lots of reasons for this, including greater participation in family activities, but also maybe even just moving away.
Of course, if these killings took place today, the police would do the usual thing, set up a team, conduct house to house enquiries, and maybe, just maybe, there would have been more people around to have witnessed the crime, and possibly CCTV. They would learn early on that some of the victims knew each other and they’d do the usual background checks and they would interview everyone who had seen the women on the night in question. They would have create an e-fit of the suspect and it would be publicised in the press, television and probably social media. Crimewatch would be a great medium. They’d rely on someone coming forward with some information. They might get lucky. Or they might not. There are no guarantees.
© Susan Shirley 2017
Born Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, Reinette, as she was known to her friends (translated as little queen) was born on 29 December 1721 in Paris, France. Her mother Madeleine de La Motte and her father Francois Poisson, although it is suspected that he was not her biological father. Reinette had a brother, Abel-Francois, who later became the Marquis de Marigny. Her parents were not exactly “haves” nor “have nots.” I suppose we would have called them Yuppies in the 80’s – they were financial speculators, or at least, her father was. The class system in France was still very strong in those days, and it was very much a make-it or break-it world for people like her father.
Reinette spent her early life being educated at the Ursuline Convent in Poissy, and returned to Paris when she was aged nine. Her mother took her to see a fortune teller who told her that Reinette would become the mistress of Louis XV. Whether that became a self-fulfilling prophecy or not, I can’t say, but Reinette’s mother decided that her daughter was destined for great things and started to ensure that she was prepared for it. She was taught to sing, dance, paint, play musical instruments and she went on to become an actress. Sadly, her mother died before she could see her dreams for her daughter come to fruition.
Reinette’s father was forced to flee France in 1725 as a result of claims that he had been involved in a black market scandal and had unpaid debts, an offence punishable by death in those days.
Charles Lenormand de Tournehem became Reinette’s legal guardian, and it was he who paid for her expensive education, an education preparing her to be the wife of a rich man. Reinette was a quick study, she made friends with the likes of the philosopher and writer Voltaire. At the age of 19, Jeanne Antoinette married her guardian’s nephew, Charles. It was a lucrative match at the time, but even better a few months later when Charles was made sole heir, which improved the couple’s financial standing.
Reinette gave birth to two children by her husband – a boy who died at just a year old, and a girl born three years later. One of the beauties of the day, Jeanne Antoinette became the toast of society and founded her own salon that was frequented by philosophers of the day, including her renowned friend, Voltaire.
As her mother had hoped, the king heard about Jeanne Antoinette. As chance would have it, one of the king’s mistresses, the Duchess de Chateaurux died unexpectedly, and for a while, the king was broken-hearted. However, he met Reinette at a masked ball at Versailles. She made quite an impression on the king and within a month, she had become his mistress, and had moved to an apartment in the Palace of Versailles. She was a commoner, and in order for her to be presented at court, Reinette had have a title, hence she became the Marquise de Pompadour. She also obtained a legal separation from her husband.
It didn’t take long for her to become the king’s chief mistress. Reinette set about if not becoming the queen’s friend, at least not her enemy, which was unusual. The king’s previous mistresses had ignored the queen, and she said of Reinette,
“If there must be a mistress, better her than any other.”
Her attitude towards the queen, who was not well-suited to Louis, made life much easier for Louis, no wonder they remained friends for the rest of their lives. Louis was shy, and not a great communicator. Reinette became his private secretary almost, and conveyed his instructions to others.
She was only his regular mistress for about five years, even though she remained at court and was still his official mistress until her death. In fact, it was then that she moved into more lavish apartments at Versailles, and became better established than ever before. Whether this was due to Louis’ roving eye or Reinette’s desire for self-preservation. She had two miscarriages while at court and must have known that further pregnancies were putting her life at risk so she arranged for lesser mistresses to replace her in the king’s bed.
Madame de Pompadour also arranged for her brother to be appointed the director of the king’s buildings. He became Marquis de Marigny. With his sister, they planned and built the Ecole Militaire and what is now known as La Place de La Concorde (then the Place Louis XV), most of the palace of Compiegne, and more besides.
Reinette had many enemies at court, initially because she was a commoner, but later because of the power she had over Louis. She became one of his most trusted advisors; including military matters and affairs of state, although these matters were nowhere near as successful as the artistic and architectural ones, quite probably because most of the French politicians and senior army personnel were not particularly talented. Unfortunately, her protégé, the duc de Choisel, was brought in to deal with the Reversal of Alliances, which had allied France with Austria, and which eventually led to the Seven Years War. The war was a disaster for France, and led to Madame de Pompadour taking the blame.
Her spirits fell, and she became ill in 1764. Some say it was TB, others cancer. The king nursed her throughout her illness until her death. She was 42.
© Susan Shirley 2017
I suppose I should have realised that there might have been a bit of an issue when I bought the house. The clue is in the street name after all: Ivyhouse Road. Oh yes, there was ivy there at the bottom of the garden when I moved in, but not too much. I was able to keep it pretty much under control. Until a couple of years ago. That’s when I decided to try to get rid of the ivy in my garden.
I kid you not, it is like a Triffid. It’s almost as if it sees you cutting it down and thinks, Ok, I’ll get you, I’ll just sprout over here, you won’t beat me. It embeds itself in brickwork and concrete and clings for dear life. It overtakes the other plants, blocking the light from them. Admittedly, it doesn’t help that two of my neighbours don’t do anything to keep their ivy under control, but I still think the ivy is taking it personally, so now, I am a woman on a mission. And, thanks to my brother and his lovely wife, Alison, making some headway.
Who is Ivy?
When Alison and I were in the garden this week, we were intrigued by the size of the leaves on some of the ivy, it didn’t look like the normal sort of stuff you see climbing up the sides of buildings. (By the way, I hate that. The stuff is full of insects that love to bite me, even in December, and it makes me sneeze. It even made Alison sneeze.) I’m no expert but I think it may be that this one is the adult form of ivy, as the adult and juvenile forms of the plants differ.
The genus is Hedera, and there are about 15 different species within the genus (I’m a bit vague about it because plants have a habit of mutating and Hedera is a fast growing plant. Strangely enough, poison ivy is not true ivy, it’s a different genus altogether, Toxicodendron radicans, is native to North America, has leaves that grow in groups of three with a pointed tip and grows clusters of white berries.
The ivy that we see in this country mostly is Hedera helix, also known as common ivy or English ivy. According to the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, it is prized for its ability to thrive in the shade. Hmm, mine seems to thrive in full sunlight…. Apparently, people like it because it covers unsightly walls, and so on, and the berries are loved by blackbirds. Sorry birdies, I’ll forego seeing you in the garden for a while. Or you can eat the holly or pyracantha berries instead, I’m sure they taste even better. Ivy can cause skin irritation and minor allergies, as I know only too well. As an aside, the Kew Gardens also suggest that it should be “clipped” alternate years to stop it from getting too heavy.
There are other species of ivy that colonise pretty much everywhere in the world from Algeria to the Himalayas. In fact, the only places they don’t seem to grow are the arctic regions.
How do you get rid of it?
Not as easily as you might hope. It’s hard work. You have to cut and pull. As in cut the ivy growing on the wall/tree/fence, pulling off the ivy as you go. The easiest way is to cut in a couple of different places to make it easier for yourself. When you are trying to get rid of ground cover ivy, you can, apparently, roll it up in sections.
The prescribed wisdom for killing it off seems to be white vinegar (it’s more acidic than malt vinegar.) Apply it to the roots after you’ve cut down and pulled up as much as you can. Applying it to the leaves isn’t always successful because the leaves are waxy which makes is harder for it to penetrate. I’ve liberally applied some salt around the roots too (another good weed-killer, I’ve read, is white vinegar, a handful of salt and a liberal dash of washing up liquid, all mixed in water. It’s worth a try.) I added the salt to the root area because it effectively makes the plant die of thirst. You do remember osmosis from your school days, don’t you?
Theoretically, once you’ve cleared the lower down ivy, the stuff above shoulder height should die off, so I will update you in a few months. In the meantime, I’m awaiting my delivery of my job lot of vinegar…
© Susan Shirley 2016
I was watching the film Sense and Sensibility again the other day. The book behind the film was written by Jane Austen, one of my favourite authors; I’ve read all of her novels. I’m not normally a lover of the romance, but hers are not just romances, they are far more. Jane had a wit that few have matched. She seems to me to have been a bit like the Agatha Christie character Miss Marple; someone who critically observed what was going on around her – much easier without the distractions of mobile ‘phones and computer games. I suppose we would call it people watching nowadays. Whatever we call it, she critically observed the society of her day and wrote about. I like her so much, I attended a lecture about her work back in the summer, and bought a book called The Jane Austen Writer’s Club by Rebecca Smith, one of her great nieces.
Scholars say that she had a natural talent for speech and listening to the way that people spoke, which is evident from reading her work.
“I have sometimes thought,” said Catherine, doubtingly, “whether ladies do write s much better letters than gentlemen! That is – I should not think the superiority was always on our side.”
“As far as I have had opportunity of judging, it appears to me that the usual style of letter-writing among women is faultless, except in three particulars.”
“And what are they?
“A general deficiency of subject, a total inattention to stops and a very frequent ignorance of grammar.”
From Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen
There is an honesty in the stories that made me wonder how an 18th century spinster could know so much, and I wanted to learn more.
Jane was born on 16 December 1775. She was the youngest of eight children – six brothers and one sister. Her father was a clergyman. Jane’s father died when she was aged 30, which meant that she and her sister, Cassandra, moved house several times and struggled a bit financially. Quite a bit, to be honest. They basically relied on handouts from the family and whatever they could make in other ways – one being Jane’s writing. I think there was a touch of autobiography in many of her novels – most of her heroines had a bit of a financial constraint on them.
Jane started to write in her teens, even as a child she’d written plays for the entertainment of her siblings. She was encouraged to read and this is clearly where her loves of books arose. Her first novel was Love and Friendship. It was written as a series of love letters, although in true Austen style, it was something of a parody. Remember, there were no mobile ‘phones in those days, and people really did send love letters. Love and Friendship is classed as one of the Juvenilia Stories.
With the help of one of her brother’s, Jane started publishing her work when she was in her 30s. Hard for us, I know, but we have to remember that it was “not the done thing” for women to have jobs in those days, unless it was something like a governess or companion – George Eliot, who was born a couple of years after Jane’s death, was the pen name of Mary Ann Evans.
Sense and Sensibility came first, followed by Pride and Prejudice which, I think, was Jane’s favourite. These were followed by Mansfield Park, Emma, Persuasion and Northanger Abbey. Sanditon was unfinished when she died. Some say the same of Lady Susan, also classed by some as one of the Juvenilia Stories, and unfinished, although I have always thought it stood alone, and seems very complete to me. If you haven’t read it, I recommend it. It’s another book written as a series of letters, very effective.
Jane became ill in her 40s. It is widely thought the she suffered from Addison’s disease, a condition in which the adrenal glands don’t make enough of a hormone called cortisol, one of the stress hormones, also used in the regulation of some major bodily functions. It leaves the body open to other conditions, and, in Jane’s case, there is some evidence that she may actually have had Hodgkin’s lymphoma, perhaps as a result of Addison’s.
I have often thought – and said – that were she to live today, Jane would have been a writer and a coach. She had a very clear philosophy, evident in her letters (most of those remaining were written to her sister) – whatever you want to do, just get on and do it. For an 18th century woman, this was very forward thinking.
Why didn’t she marry?
When I first read her books, I thought that Jane must have been the subject of unrequited love somewhere along the way, and, it seems that was the case. When she was 20, she met a chap called Tom Lefroy (sounds a bit like a George Clooney character). It seems they had a bit of a dalliance, but he had no money, nor did she, so that ended as quickly as it began. Jane had subsequent offers of marriage but refused them all. I like to think that she was still holding a candle for him. In fact, she probably was, if she turned down subsequent offers. She and her sister could have lived far more comfortably had one of them been married. So now I know how she knew so much!
Whatever your views on her novels, consider this: Jane wrote without a typewriter or laptop. All her novels were written by hand.
Jane Austen personal quotes
These are some of my favourite of Jane’s personal quotes, taken from http://www.janeausten.org/jane-austen-quotes.asp
“Wisdom is better than wit, and in the long tune will certainly have the laugh on her side.”
“Single women have a dreadful propensity for being poor. Which is one very strong argument in favour of matrimony.”
“One man’s style must not be the rule of another’s.”
“Every man is surrounded by a neighbourhood of voluntary spies.”
“Business, you know, may bring you money, but friendship hardly ever does.”
“An artist cannot do anything slovenly.”
© Susan Shirley 2016