Untold lives blog

185 posts categorized "Manuscripts"

11 November 2021

Life on the Home Front

From descriptions of shared conditions such as bombing and rationing to individual accounts of evacuation, internment and civilian war-work, a small free display running until 11 December 2021, gives a flavour of the experience of those living and working in Britain during the Second World War.  This is a brief introduction to the items on display at St Pancras.

View of Home Front exhibition cases at the British LibraryView of Home Front exhibition cases at the British Library Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Bombing raids had a devastating impact on civilian life.  On display are the air raid appointment cards, badges, chevrons and whistle of Edgar and Winifred Wilson who served as air raid wardens in St Albans, and a copy of Bombers over Merseyside giving an indication of the heavy bombing of Liverpool.


Opening of book entitled Bombers over Merseyside showing LiverpoolBombers over Merseyside. [Liverpool], 1943. 9101.ff.7 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The British Museum in London was also hit by incendiary bombs.  This photograph shows the damage in 1940 to the King’s Library Gallery, built to house the collection of King George III.

Damage in 1940 to the King’s Library Gallery at the British MuseumKings Library Gallery, British Museum, [1940]. British Library Corporate Archive, Photograph Box A1, no. 51 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In order to escape the bombs, children were evacuated to the countryside.  For some this was a happy episode but for others it was a miserable, dislocating time.  An account by Rita Cowell describes her experience of evacuation to Exmouth, Devon, during which she was treated as a ‘domestic skivvy’.  Another account is taken from News notes produced by the League of Coloured Peoples, an organisation which campaigned against racism.  It describes the prejudice faced by two young boys evacuated to Blackpool.

‘Back to the land’  pen and ink cartoons by Baroness WentworthJudith, Baroness Wentworth, ‘Back to the land’, pen and ink cartoons. Wentworth Bequest. Add Ms 75276  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Other items reflect the hardships of rationing.  Civilians were advised to grow their own vegetables and to salvage waste for reuse.  Some women as in this cartoon were sent to work on farms to help food production.  Not all foods were rationed and the restaurant Maison Prunier remained open through the blackouts, offering oysters to its clients.

Other documents record the work of volunteers including Vera Lloyd’s diary of her time with the Women’s Timber Corps.  Dilys Powell, film critic for The Sunday Times, volunteered as an ambulance car driver and George Orwell, novelist, as a member of the Home Guard.

Many men and women registered as Conscientious Objectors.  They were assessed at a civilian tribunal on the strength and sincerity of their beliefs.  The Scottish poet Ruthven Todd describes working as a stretcher-bearer until his tribunal.  Michael Tippett, the composer and pacifist, writes to his friend Evelyn Maude on the back of the Wormwood Scrubs Prison paper with a list of requests.  Tippett was imprisoned following his refusal to accept the result of his tribunal to undertake non-combatant military duties.

Letter to Evelyn Maude from Michael Tippett  Wormwood Scrubs Prison  1943Michael Tippett, Letter to Evelyn Maude, Wormwood Scrubs Prison, 1943, MS MUS 1757/5 f.26 Case 4
Usage terms - Reproductions of Michael Tippett’s writings are included by kind permission of the Trustees of the Sir Michael Tippett Will Trust.  Except as otherwise permitted under your national copyright law this material may not be copied or distributed further.  Held by© The Sir Michael Tippett Will Trust

Many Germans and Austrians fled the Nazi regime and thousands of refugees arrived in the UK.  However, on the outbreak of war, all Germans and Austrians resident in the UK were classed as ‘enemy aliens’.  Large numbers were interned in camps across the country.  The letters and diaries of Ernst Roth, Konrad Eisig and Gwyneth Hansen reveal some of their experiences.

The final items on display reflect the war-time experiences of the novelist E.R. Braithwaite and The British Honduran Forestry Unit.  Members of the Unit, sent to help fell trees in Scotland, were greeted with substandard accommodation and a lack of warm clothes.  In his book, Amos Ford, one of the first contingent, recounts that the Hondurans often felt isolated in the remote Scottish forests but that, after initial mistrust, relationships with the local population improved and some married local women.

Photograph of members of the British Honduran Forestry Unit in Scotland from Amos A Ford  Telling the truthMembers of the British Honduran Forestry Unit from Amos A Ford, Telling the truth: The life and times of the British Honduran Forestry Unit in Scotland. London, 1985. X.329/20351  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The items on display represent only a small selection of the wealth of material relating to the Second World War in the Library’s collections and much more can be found via our catalogues.

Laura Walker
Lead Curator, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Life on the Home Front at the British Library St Pancras

03 November 2021

Unexpected items found cataloguing Hans Sloane’s natural history drawings

All manuscripts are unique and cataloguing them often leads to unexpected findings.  The 73 albums of natural history drawings recently selected for cataloguing as part of a PhD placement project undertaken in the Modern Archives and Manuscripts Department at the British Library are no exception.  Bird feathers, prints obtained from plant leaves, the wings of a dragonfly, a dried fish skin – at first, these objects seem to have little in common.  In fact, they all belong to the same remarkable early modern collection of natural history drawings. So how do they fit within it?

The albums of drawings catalogued during this project were bequeathed by the physician and Royal Society fellow Hans Sloane (1660-1753), who kept them in his library alongside prints, manuscripts and printed books.  You can learn more about Sloane’s legacy and his manuscripts through our collection guide.  Plants and animals easily come to mind as subjects of natural history drawings, but in Sloane’s lifetime, this category encompassed a broader range of topics, all of which are represented in his collection. There are studies on human and animal anatomy, maps and charts, sketches of fossils and minerals, costume albums and architectural drawings, all executed in a range of techniques.

Paper is not the only material found in the albums: parchment, cardboard and canvas were used for watercolours, and a series of studies of butterflies was even executed on small veneer panels, pasted on the folios of an album.

Study of a yellow butterfly on a dark green backgroundAdd MS 5271, item 162: Monogrammist ‘d.v.’ (Nicolaes de Vree?), Study of a butterfly, late 17th century. Oil on veneer panel, 47 x 87 mm.

There are not just albums in this collection.  As the drawings vary significantly in size and format, they were housed differently.  Pictured below is an example of a roll, filled with nature prints obtained from inking different leaves.  A team effort was necessary to measure this more than 5 metres long roll, which will not fit on any Reading Room table!

Paper roll filled with nature prints obtained from inking different leavesAdd MS 5026: The roll with nature prints, partly unrolled. Ink and watercolour over 14 sheets of paper pasted together and laid down on canvas; 33 x 552 cm.

A renowned collector, Sloane received donations and acquired works from many collecting enthusiasts, so that reconstructing the drawings’ provenance remains challenging.  How this dried fish skin made its way into an album of miscellaneous fish drawings is unclear, but the accompanying inscription tells us that the fish was ‘from Gibraltar by the persons sent from the King of Poland to collect natural curiosities in Africa, 1732’.  Sloane’s botanical specimens are now in the Natural History Museum, but some ‘organic matter’ remains in the albums.

Dried fish skin with an eye made of cardboard, accompanied by an inscription in pen in brown ink

Add MS 5267, item 99: dried fish skin with an eye made of cardboard, accompanied by an inscription in pen in brown ink.

In Sloane’s drawings collection, art and nature come together in fascinating ways.  In a series of watercolours of birds by the naturalist George Edwards, the iridescent wings of a dragonfly were pasted around the drawn body of the insect.

Dragonfly - the iridescent wings of a dragonfly were pasted around the drawn body of the insect.Add MS 5264, item 139. Detail from a watercolour of birds and insect by George Edwards, with real dragonfly wings pasted on paper.

In Sloane’s ambitious project to understand the variety of the natural world through arrangement and classification, specimens and artefacts were studied alongside images of the same.  Could this help explain why a watercolour of a crossbill includes two real feathers from this bird pinned onto the sheet?

Watercolour sketch of a crossbill. pencil and two bird feathers on paper.Fig. 5. Add MS 5264, item 73: Unknown artist, sketch of a crossbill. Watercolour, pencil and two bird feathers on paper.

These are just some highlights from a multifaceted drawings collection, which we hope many British Library readers will be keen to explore and help research further. The descriptions of these albums will become available on our online catalogue in early 2022.

Alice Zamboni
PhD placement student, Modern Archives and Manuscripts Department and PhD candidate, The Courtauld Institute of Art.

Further reading and links to online resources:
Reconstructing Sloane projects website Reconstructing Sloane – Welcome to Reconstructing Sloane.
Kim Sloan & Felicity Roberts, partial transcript of the handwritten British Library catalogue of Additional Manuscripts, vols 20-21, for Sloane’s albums of drawings (entries Add MSS 5018-5027 H and 5214-5308).
Sloane’s manuscript catalogue listing his albums along with books and printed ephemera, MS 3972 C vol IV 

Some of Sloane’s Additional Manuscripts have been digitised thanks to funding by the Oak Foundation and Trinity College Cambridge and can be consulted online

 

31 October 2021

Hauntings at Hinton Ampner

Amongst the papers of the Ricketts and Jervis family (Add MS 30001-30013) at the British Library lies an 18th century account of ghoulish goings-on.

Add MS 30011 documents a series of curious observations made by the Ricketts family and their household, who were tenants from 1765 until 1772 of the old Tudor house which once stood on the Hinton Ampner estate in Hampshire.  Primarily comprising a handwritten account of the frightful events by Mary Ricketts, the volume also contains a plan of the old house, a chart recording spectral sightings and noises, and later correspondence relating to this famous haunting.  Other correspondence referencing the hauntings can also be found throughout the wider collection (Add MS 30001-30013).

Mary Ricketts’ account of the hauntings at Hinton Ampner  written for her childrenAdd MS 30011, f.1. Mary Ricketts’ account of the hauntings at Hinton Ampner, written for her children, 1772. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Mary Ricketts’ account begins with a note to her children and a brief history of the estate, and then continues to retell her experiences in detail, noting that ‘soon after we were settled at Hinton I frequently heard noises in the night, as of people shutting, or rather slapping doors with vehemence’.  Initially the family had assumed it the staff who were responsible.  However, after making his own investigations, Mr Ricketts could find no evidence of this.

William Henry Rickets (1736-1798), a plantation owner, spent a significant portion of his time in Jamaica.  In 1769 he travelled without his wife and children, leaving them at Hinton Ampner, and it was during this absence that the disturbances became more terrifying and frequent.  ‘Vanishing’ figures, slamming doors, footsteps at the ends of beds, chilling cries and moans – the Hinton Ampner hauntings offer all of the prerequisite features of a perfect 18th century ghost story.  One male figure frequently spotted was said to be dressed in particularly drab clothing, leading some to believe it the ghost of Edward Stawell, 4th Baron Stawell, who previously occupied the house and had died there in 1755.

Portrait in oil of Edward Stawell wearing a tan coat and wig.Michael Dahl (c.1659-1743), 'Edward Stawell (c.1685–1755), 4th Baron Stawell', oil on canvas, c.1710-c.1720, National Trust. [Wikimedia Commons]

It seems even four-legged residents could not escape the ordeal.  Mary writes:
‘I had frequently observed in a favourite cat that was usually in the parlour with me, and when sitting on table or chair with accustomed unconcern she would suddenly slink down as if struck with the greatest terror, conceal herself under my chair, and put her head close to my feet. […] The servants gave the same account of a spaniel that lived in the house’.

When Mary’s brother Captain Jervis and his friend Captain Lutterell stayed to witness the events for themselves, they ‘declared the disturbances of the preceding night were of such a nature that the house was an unfit residence for any human being’.

Opeing section of Henry James  The Turn of The ScrewHenry James, 'The Turn of The Screw', Colliers Weekly 1898. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Mary’s account was published in the Gentleman’s Magazine in 1871.  Not only is it one of Britain’s best known historic hauntings, but it has been speculated that the ghostly goings on at Hinton Ampner, and specifically Mary’s account, may have also served as inspiration for Henry James’ 1898 gothic horror 'The Turn of the Screw', first published as a serial in Colliers Weekly.

The old Tudor house at Hinton Ampner, the site of the 'haunting' was demolished in 1793.  Its foundations were uncovered by the National Trust in 2014, 50 yards from the new house.  For more on the history of the Hinton Ampner estate, its former inhabitants, and its current collection, see the National Trust's Hinton Ampner webpage.

Zoe Louca-Richards
Curator, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

 

28 October 2021

A. A. Milne and Belisha the Hippotish

A curious item was discovered in the British Library’s Modern Archives recently: a torn piece of paper belonging to A. A. Milne (1882-1956), creator of Winnie the Pooh.  On the back of a royalty statement for the Christopher Robin Reader is a drawing of a hippopotamus and six statements predicting the future of the Second World War.  It was written on 21 January 1943, and you can see it below:

Drawing of a hippopotamus and six statements predicting the future of the Second World WarDrawing of a hippopotamus and six statements predicting the future of the Second World War - Add MS 89401.

Immediately noticeable is the sketch of ‘Belisha the Hippotish’ in a long coat and wide brimmed hat.  Not one of his son’s stuffed animals, it is probably a reference to Leslie Hore-Belisha (1893-1957), a Member of Parliament and Cabinet Minster.  If you haven’t heard of him, you’ve probably heard the name Belisha from the beacons named after him.

A Belisha beacon at a pedestrian crossingA Belisha beacon. Source: Wikipedia

As Minister for Transport in the 1930s, he was also responsible for creating the driving test and instituting the standard 30 miles per hour speed limit.  But by the time of Milne’s doodle he had fallen out of favour with the government of the day.

Milne had served in World War One, suffering many illnesses and then injury at the Battle of the Somme.  He was decidedly a pacifist by the advent of the Second World War, although he joined the Home Guard despite this.  He explains his decisions in War with Honour (1940), writing that ‘we are truly fighting the Devil, the Anti-Christ’.

As for the predictions – how accurate were they?  Well, a few were completely wrong, but most did happen…eventually.  ‘The Axis will be axed in Africa’ occurred a few months later than Milne thought, in May 1943 following the conquering of Tunisia.  ‘Mass raids from East and West on Berlin’ also commenced with bombing campaigns the following month in June 1943, though ‘no effective reprisals in England’ would not turn out to be true, as it felt the force of V-2 rockets towards the end of 1944.

Photographic portrait of  A A Milne in May 1939Portrait of A. A. Milne in May 1939 by Bassano - courtesy of National Portrait Gallery London NPG x85610 National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

Similarly, ‘Invasion from the North’ would not commence until eighteen months after his estimation, and Finland refused to make peace until it had resisted invasion by the Soviet Union.  Another inaccuracy was ‘Nothing much will happen in the Far East’, a somewhat dismissive statement.  Allied forces did launch offensives there, though most were disastrous and necessitated retreat.

Overall though, he was not too far off.  His predictions captured the spirit of wartime Britain well, at a time of gaining momentum.  Most of them just took a lot longer than he thought.

So why did Milne decide to scribble all this on the back of a royalty check?  The answer is probably just that – it was a doodle when he was bored, getting out his thoughts of the day.  It doesn’t appear to have been written for anyone, certainly not for publication, and it’s a wonder it survived.

Jack Taylor
Doctoral researcher at the Open University. His CHASE-funded research explores sexual violence between men in the late 18th and 19th centuries.

Letters, original illustrations, photographs, books and leaflets, together with items issued to air raid wardens form part of the Life on the Home Front display in the British Library’s Treasures Gallery. The display gives a flavour of the experience of those living and working in Britain during the Second World War. It runs from 14 September until 11 December 2021. 

Further Reading:
A.A. Milne, It's too late now: the autobiography of a writer (2017 [1939]).
A.A. Milne, War with Honour (1940).
Add MS 89401 - A A Milne, ‘Programme for the Next 3 Months’.
A.A. Milne’s pacifist pamphlets Five minutes of your time printed in October 1935 and 5 minutes of your time (3rd ed.) printed May 1937, produced by the League of Nations Union, are in the collection at shelfmark J/8425.pp.29.
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Ann Thwaite, ‘Milne, Alan Alexander (1882–1956), writer’. 
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Keith Robbins, ‘Belisha, (Isaac) Leslie Hore-, Baron Hore-Belisha (1893–1957), politician’.

 

21 October 2021

The bombing of Britain

Air Raids were a consistent source of terror and dread for Britons during the Second World War (1939-1945).  The first warning siren sounded only 22 minutes after war had been declared; it was a false alarm, with bombing not beginning in earnest until the following September.  The most sustained bombing campaign – The Blitz – lasted until May 1941, and claimed the lives of around 43,000 people.  Bombing continued after this period, across various regions of the United Kingdom.  Some people wrote about their experiences.

Diaries are an especially good source of information on the difficulties of living in fear and anticipation of air raids.  Those of Judith Blunt-Lytton (Lady Wentworth) are particularly detailed about her life in Sussex.  Perhaps the most evocative entry is from 29 November 1940, where she wrote how she had to jump in some wet bushes after the warning sounded, and that explosions in nearby Horsham ‘looked like an aurora borealis’.

Afsa Horner described how bombing evolved over the years.  She writes in her memoirs that she preferred V2 rockets – which often did not trigger warning sirens – as you had no time to wonder about getting to safety.  Although deadlier, they were less frightening as you had no time to be scared.

Letter from Rupert D'Oyly Carte to Lady Dorothy D'Oyly Carte  26 November 1940Letter from Rupert D'Oyly Carte to Lady Dorothy D'Oyly Carte, 26 November 1940 - Add MS 89231/18/44

Staying in a hotel, especially in London, was extremely risky.  Nevertheless, business continued despite the persistence of air raids.  Evelyn B. Graham-Stamper was in bed with her husband at the Hans Crescent Hotel in September 1941, ‘when, suddenly, the most blinding flash and every-thing seemed to fall around us’.  She continues, ‘We both knew the end had come and clung to each other waiting for the coup de grace which was to finish us off.’  However, they survived and managed to make their way to safety.  Similar experiences did not hurt the trade of one grand hotel, The Savoy.  Owner Rupert D’Oyly told his wife in a letter from September 1940 that after a series of bombs falling, causing damage on multiple floors, ‘in fact the 200 or so people living in the hotel increased the next day’.  Life went on.

An account of air raids by William Carpenter  Chief Air-raid Warden of Poplar September1940An account of air raids by William Carpenter, Chief Air-raid Warden of Poplar, September 1940 - Add MS 48988 M

A persistent theme throughout these narratives is morale.   The Chief Air Raid Warden of Poplar emphasised that people are ‘wonderful considering what had happened’: multiple streets destroyed with numerous deaths.  On the other hand, Julian Symonds described London life as ‘depressing’.  Either way, the experience of huddling in shelters together was the ‘new spirit’ of the country, as editor of Poetry London Meary James Thurairajah Tambimuttu wrote.

Air Raids were terrifying part of life on the Home Front, which continued throughout the War.  However, what comes through in most of these narratives is a sense of positivity, that life must continue as normal as possible.  The accounts described here are only a small sample of those which survive in our collections.

Jack Taylor
Doctoral researcher at the Open University. His CHASE-funded research explores sexual violence between men in the late 18th and 19th centuries.

Further Reading:
The Life on the Home Front display in the British Library’s Treasures Gallery includes cartoons by Judith Blunt-Lytton, Lady Wentworth, depicting the experiences of Mary in the Women’s Land Army and the badges, chevrons and appointment cards of the air raid wardens, Edgar and Winifred Wilson. The display gives a flavour of the experience of those living and working in Britain during the Second World War. It runs from 14 September until 11 December 2021. 
Add MS 48988 M – 'Intensified Air Raids on London', a memorandum by William Carpenter, Chief Air-raid Warden of Poplar, Sept. 1940 (ff. 47-51).
Add MS 75028 – Wentworth Bequest (Series II), Vol. XXVI, Pocket Diaries (1 Jan. 1940-31 Dec. 1940).
Add MS 78862 – Phyllis Bottome Papers, VOL. XXXI, Letter from Evelyn B. Graham-Stamper (14 September 1941).
Add MS 85265 - Letters from Julian Gustave Symons D. S. Savage (ff. 13-15).
Add MS 88997 – Afsa Horner: Memoirs.
Add MS 89231/18/44 - D'Oyly Carte Family Papers: Letters from Rupert to Lady Dorothy D'Oyly Carte.

 

14 October 2021

Diary of a Lumber Jill

‘Lumber Jill’ was the name given to women who worked in the oft-forgotten Women’s Timber Corps (WTC) during the Second World War, who have only begun to receive proper recognition for their service the past two decades. Initially a sub-division of the Women’s Land Army (WLA), members volunteered – or were conscripted into – working in forestry, carrying out duties previously done by men, such as sawing, felling, measuring, loading cargo, and driving tractors. This was often heavy manual labour, and could also be dangerous, but many women enjoyed it. Vera Lloyd compiled her experiences of the WTC into a diary in 1953, which found its way to our Modern Archives collections.

Opening page of diary showing Timber Corps logo

Opening page with Timber Corps insignia, Add MS 70609

Vera began her journey in Gloucestershire, with working hours typically starting at 7.45am in the morning until 6pm in the evening, with a half-day on Saturdays. During summer, work was daily and often never ending. It was not all hard labour though, early on in the service she rode her first pony, saw another give birth in the wild, and even had the time to fill in the head-sawyer’s cap with sawdust.

After nine months on the job, aged only 23, she was sent to Jacobstowe to lead a group of men at a sawmill – and here encountered some resistance to her leadership. A man named Fred was slacking on the job, often arriving late in the morning. She reflects, ‘It was, I suppose, [a] rather excusable reaction against being under a mere woman, but after a fortnight I decided to act’. Despite never sawing herself before, she worked for two hours before Fred arrived, putting in a significant amount of work. He ‘then eyed me with approval. “Shake” he said, holding out his hand’. She had little trouble from him thereafter.

Diary entry with a sketch showing Vera entering the upstairs window of the house via a ladder

Diary entry with a sketch showing Vera entering the upstairs window of the house via a ladder, Add MS 70609

In 1943 she was relocated further south-west to Baconnoc, to become sub-foreman for 80 workers, a significant increase of people under her charge. She writes a relatable experience of forgetting her keys and having to break into her house. While doing so her landlady returned, at which point she explained the ‘awkward situation with famous tact acquired since employed by Ministry of Supply, but am bowled over by information now imparted that key was under mat.’ We’ve all been there.

Of course, forestry work was perilous too. Early on, she writes that when walking through the forest a tree began to fall, which she dodged ‘with expert skill’. Worse, a few years later a boy came into her office bleeding over the floor. She explains how he had ‘placed [his] thumb too near [the] circular saw and is not the lad he was by quite a large bite’. 

After the War ended she stayed in the Corps to help rebuild, but disliked the office work she was assigned, longing for the manual labour and companionship in the fields. So she ‘rejoined the ranks of civilians, the richer by over five years of happy comradeship with the people of the West Country’. Vera received two recognitions of her service, which she kept in the diary.

Triangular red long service badge pasted into the diary, presented by HRH Princess Elizabeth, 1945

Triangular red long service badge pasted into the diary, presented by HRH Princess Elizabeth, 1945

'Personal message' of appreciation signed by Queen Elizabeth 

'Personal message' of appreciation signed by Queen Elizabeth 

Jack Taylor

Doctoral researcher at the Open University. His CHASE-funded research explores sexual violence between men in the late 18th and 19th centuries.

Vera Lloyd’s diary is part of the Life on the Home Front display in the British Library’s Treasures Gallery from 14 September until 11 December 2021. More information can be found at https://www.bl.uk/events/life-on-the-home-front.

Further Reading:

Add MS 70609 - Vera Lloyd: 'Timber Corps Diary', a calligraphically written account of episodes from the author's service in the forestry section of the Women's Land Army during World War II (6 Feb. 1941-15 May 1946).

Emma Vickers, ‘”The Forgotten Army of the Woods”: The Women’s Timber Corps during the Second World War’, Agricultural History Review 59, no. 1 (2011): 101-112.

Joanna Foat, Lumberjills: Britain's Forgotten Army (Stroud: The History Press, 2019).

 

18 May 2021

Introducing Elizabeth Blackwell to Hans Sloane

One day in early August 1735, a woman arrived at the London home of Sir Hans Sloane, letter of introduction in hand.  Social networking etiquette required such a document when approaching a new acquaintance.  And, Elizabeth Blackwell hoped to connect with Sloane, who was linked with numerous networks of knowledge, and acquire his support.  Some 280 years later, that letter is held by the British Library and identified as Sloane MS 4054, f. 90.

Letter written by physician Alexander Stuart introducing Elizabeth Blackwell to Sir Hans SloaneThis letter, written by physician Alexander Stuart, introduced Elizabeth Blackwell to Sir Hans Sloane. Sloane MS 4054, f. 90

One of Sloane’s close colleagues, a Scots-born physician named Alexander Stuart, had written it on Blackwell’s behalf.  But even before stating the reason for her visit, Stuart assured Sloane that 'Mrs. Blackwell' merited his consideration. She was, he wrote, the 'Niece of Sir Wm. Simson, one of the Barons of the Exchequer, whom you know; & first Cousine to My Lady Cook Windford, whom you also know'.  She was, then, a gentlewoman who could be linked to persons familiar to Sloane.

With those salient points covered, Stuart explained why Blackwell wished to see him.  She was working on a project, and Sloane’s endorsement would be of great help.  A 'very ingenious person', Blackwell wanted to draw a set of about 500 plants from the most up-to-date (1721) edition of the Dispensatory of the Royal College of Physicians.  Blackwell also had with her a proposal for the project. In all likelihood, it was similar to those drawn up by persons who were writing books that they wanted to sell by subscription.  Its wording probably resembled the text of an advertisement that ran in the London Evening Post on 9-11 October 1735: 'This Day are publish’d PROPOSALS For PRINTING by SUBSCRIPTION, A Curious Herbal'.

Botanical drawing of a dandelionElizabeth Blackwell’s illustrations include this Dandelion. Plate 1 of Joseph Banks’ copy of A Curious Herbal (London: Samuel Harding, 1737). 452.f.1.

Stuart’s letter also noted that the document had space at the bottom for signatures of endorsers – akin, perhaps, to the page that is found in volume one of effectively every copy of A Curious Herbal.  The apothecary Isaac Rand had composed the proposal for Blackwell and, along with the illustrious Dr Richard Mead, had promised to sign it.   Would Sloane also 'be so good as to sign the recommendation'?

Page of Publick Endorsements from A Curious HerbalThis page of Publick Endorsements likely resembled the one that accompanied the proposal that apothecary Isaac Rand wrote for Blackwell. A Curious Herbal (London: Charles Nourse, 1782), vol. 1. 445.h.6.

As it happened, no.  But Sloane would help Blackwell in other ways, which were cited in the dedication that she composed to him – one that was engraved and printed on pages found in various copies of A Curious Herbal.  Likewise, Blackwell would compose dedications to Stuart, Mead, Rand, and six other men who contributed to her undertaking.

Elizabeth Blackwell's dedication to Sloane in A Curious HerbalSloane didn’t sign Blackwell’s recommendation but he helped her in other ways, as noted in this dedication. Joseph Banks’ copy of A Curious Herbal (London: Samuel Harding, 1737), vol. 1, after plate 96. 452.f.1.

What other insights might Stuart’s letter provide into A Curious Herbal and Elizabeth Blackwell?  If nothing else, its references to Blackwell’s uncle and cousin (whom, research indicates, lived in or near London) cast some doubt on claims that she was from Aberdeen.  Without wishing to wound Aberdonian pride, the possibility cannot be discounted.

Janet Stiles Tyson
PhD candidate at Birkbeck, University of London

 

22 April 2021

The Marital Affairs of Heirs: Marriage Negotiations of Prince Charles

Now available on Digitised Manuscripts is Stowe MS 174, comprising part of the state papers of Sir Thomas Edmondes (1563 –1639), ambassador to King James at Paris.  It primarily concerns the marriage negotiations for Charles I (then Prince of Wales) to Princess Christine Marie of France, sister of Louis XIII.  The letters provide a fascinating insight into the political marriage game of seventeenth-century Europe.

Oil painting of Sir Thomas Edmondes dressed in a dark suit and a white ruffSir Thomas Edmondes by Daniel Mytens, 1622, NPG 4652 © National Portrait Gallery, London  National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

For seventeenth-century royalty, marriage wasn’t a private union of love.  Marriage was a political contract, negotiated by committee.  In April 1612 James I had been in negotiations with France for six-year-old Christine’s marriage to eighteen-year-old Henry, his eldest son and heir.  The proposition from the French court had come at a time when James’s coffers were running low, offering a convenient opportunity for replenishment, and a political union with France.  Correspondence regarding Henry’s match to Christine can also be found amongst Edmondes’s State Papers in Stowe 172 & Stowe 173.

When Henry died in November 1612 from typhoid, focus shifted to Charles, as did the expectations that came with being heir - including proposed wives.  James was keen to retain the important Anglo-French alliance, and the French princess’s dowry, so in December 1612 - following a somewhat brief period of mourning- the King instructed Edmondes to recommence negotiations.  This time twelve-year-old Charles was to be the groom.

LIne engraving of King Charles I when Prince of Wales, wearing an elaborate costume with a high stiff lace collar

King Charles I when Prince of Wales by Simon de Passe. early 17th century NPG D25736 © National Portrait Gallery, London  National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

 

Portrait of Princess Christine Marie of France aged about 6, wearing an elaborate embroidered dress, pearls and jewels, and with flowers decorating her hair.

Princess Christine Marie of France (1606-1663) by Frans Pourbis (The Younger), 1612. Wikimedia Commons

Negotiations moved slowly. Edmondes’s papers document the lengthy back and forth of agreeing the terms of marriage, and the all-important 'political prenup'.  In a letter dated 9 June 1613 (ff.84r-88v) outlining James’s terms for the French Court, he requests the same dowry of 800,000 French Crowns as previously agreed for Christine’s match to Henry.  The French considered this too high for the new match, and in a later letter, James deemed it unnegotiable (f.192).  Andrew Thrush estimates 800,000 Crowns as being roughly equivalent to £240,000, which would have modern purchasing power in the region of £30,000,000!

Article 4 f.84v Stowe MS 174 - dowryStowe MS 174 f.85 – Article 4, stating James I’s requested dowry for Princess Christine of France. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Article 8 in the letter of 9 June states that Christine will be provided with a room for prayer, but permitted the service of only two priests - this would later change to four.  Article 9 notes that she may keep her jewels, but if she bears a child, they (and thus England) will be entitled to a portion.  Another letter dated 20 July 1613 (ff.124r – 130v) stipulates that Christine will not be delivered to Charles until after the solemnisation of the marriage, and that if either party dies before they bear a child, the marriage should be dissolved, leaving them both free of this foreign tie.

Stowe 174 F 124r cropped

Stowe MS 174 f.124r. - Volume 9 of the Edmondes Papers. Letter from James I to Thomas Edmondes outlining several of the Articles of Marriage under negotiation. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Protestant Privy Council of England had been opposed to the Catholic match for both Henry and Charles, and certainly some of the French demands, such as their insistence that a Catholic Bishop perform the marriage, would have increased their discontent.  Despite England and France eventually agreeing terms in late 1613, French domestic difficulties in 1614 most likely quashed the proposal.  Nevertheless, Charles was eventually married over a decade later (following the infamous failed ‘Spanish Match’) in 1625 to Henrietta Maria of France, Christine Marie’s younger sister.

Zoe Louca-Richards
Curator, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further reading:
Stowe MS 174 has been digitised and made available as part of the Library’s Heritage Made Digital project to digitise our collection of Tudor and Early Stuart material. Here is an introduction to the digitisation project.
Andrew Thrush, “The French Marriage and the Origins of the 1614 Parliament” in Stephen Clucis and Rosalind Davis eds. The Crisis of 1614 and the Addled Parliament. Literary and Historical Perspectives, (Routledge, 2018).
British Library, Stowe MS 166-177: 1592-1633. Collection of State Papers and correspondence of Sir Thomas Edmondes, Knt.; 1592-1633. Including A full list of the correspondence in Stowe MS 172-174. 

 

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