JULY 2020

JULY   2020
Everything Old Is New Again!


Saturday, October 19, 2019

LADY MATILDA Identity Theft in the 18th Century

I believe Sara Wilson was one of the most amazing people of the 18th century. And if you've never heard of this clever woman born with jet black hair around 1754 in the west midlands of England, don't be concerned; few people have. She was the daughter of a bailiff (or superintendent) of an estate, and at 16 was recommended for employment as a maidservant to Caroline Vernon, the second Lady Grosvenor, who was a lady-in-waiting to Queen Charlotte, wife to King George III. The Lady Grosvenor was herself “…a spinster” of just 17 years of age.
Overnight this girl from the countryside, Sara Wilson,  found herself living in the Queen’s house (now Buckingham Palace) in the center of the largest city in the western world. There Sara Wilson saw royalty up close and she advanced from “…opinionated child to a stoic onlooker…” - in other words a servant.  Sara  had to care for Lady Grosvenor’s clothing, help dress and undress her, serve her meals and see to her chamber pot at night. And then, in 1771, Sara was accused of stealing jewelry from the queen.
There is a problem with this story, and his name was Henry, Duke of Cumberland, the younger brother to the King.   In 1766 Henry had secretly married a commoner (above, center) , Maria Wapole, the Lady Grosvenor. Marriage without royal permission made him a scandal. But keeping a secret was difficult as well since Henry was also “…fierce of temper, frivolous of character, and foppish in his dress…In the year 1770, the attentions of the duke to Lady Grosvenor were so marked, and so ridiculous, that everybody talked about them."
"He followed her about in disguises, often betraying himself by his fopperies and imbecility…” (pp65-66, Lives of the Queens of England; Dr. John Doran, 1855). Perhaps the Duke  was suffering from the same infirmaries which would shortly produce the “Madness of King George III”, his older brother (above).   If he had been the one caught stealing jewelry from Lady Grosvenor’s chambers,  it would have been symptomatic of his behavior, but would also have been a new scandal requiring Lady  Grosvenor  to leave court.  In 1771 the Duke was finally ordered from court himself. And while there is no evidence that he was responsible for what happened to the maidservant of Lady Grosvenor, Sara Wilson, his guilt would explain certain odd events which which followed the servant' girl's arrest.
Sara was charged with sneaking into the Queen’s private quarters, breaking into a locked cabinet and stealing a ring, a dress and a miniature portrait of Queen Charlotte. What a 17 year old servent girl, less than a year out of the countryside, with no room of her own, would have done with such items, begs reason. But guilty or not, Sara was completely at the mercy of “her betters”. And where scandal might have attached if the same items had been stolen from 18 year Lady Grosvenor, none could dare be implied of the Queen - or the King's brother.  Sara was given the option of either hanging or transportation. So, in July of 1771 she boarded a prison ship bound for the port of Baltimore in the colony of Maryland. And somehow she took with her most of the damming evidence against her; the ring, the dress and the miniature portrait of the Queen (below).
The 4-7 week trip probably came close to killing her: “…during the voyage there is on board these ships terrible misery, stench, fumes, horror, vomiting…fever, dysentery, headache, heat, constipation, boils, scurvy… The misery reaches the climax when a gale rages for 2 or 3 nights and days…Children from 1 to 7 years rarely survive the voyage…warm food is served only three times a week, the rations being very poor and very little..."
...The water which is served out of the ships is often very black, thick and full of worms, so that one cannot drink it without loathing, even with the greatest thirst." (pp 25-31 Journey to Pennsylvania in the Year 1750” Gottlieb Mittelberger) And those were conditions for persons who paid for the privilege. Felons were not so well accommodated.
Sara then had to survive her arrival. “Every day Englishmen…go on board the newly arrived ships…and select among the healthy persons such as they deem suitable for their business, and bargain with them how long they will serve for their passage money “(ibid).
But Sara had an advantage which none of the other transported felons possessed. In the cash poor American colonies the dress alone was worth a small fortune if sold. How did such valuable property miss the sharp eyes of her betrayed mistress back in London, and the servants of the Queen, and the jailers and the crew of the ship? And how did it escape the purview of Mr. William Devall, her new master?
We do not know what Mr. Devall’s occupation was,  only that he owned property along Bush Creek, which arises south west of New Market, and flows into the Monocracy River southeast of Frederick, Maryland.  If Sara had harbored any hopes of a better life in America, she must have been sadly disappointed. The life of a servant girl was not much different in either country, except in America it was harder.
Gail Collins noted in her book “America's Women: Four Hundred Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines”, that ““A study of one Maryland County showed that 20% of the women who arrived as servants…wound up in court for bearing illegitimate children. Some of them must have been raped or seduced by the master of their house, but they were still punished as if they had freely chosen….. In one remarkable case, a seven year old girl was reprimanded when she was molested by an adult male. The man that assaulted her was convicted. But the girl's mother was also ordered to punish the young victim in order to increase the child's "grief for her offense." (pp9-10).
It should have been no surprise then, that within day’s of Sara’s arrival, in October of 1771, her new master was advertising; "Run away from the subscriber, a servant maid named Sarah Wilson…she has a blemish in her right eye, black rolled hair, stoops in her shoulders, makes a common practice of writing and marking her clothes with a Crown and a B. Whoever secures the said servant woman, or takes her home, shall receive five pistols, besides all cost and charges. William Devall."
Sara had only to follow the Monocracy River south a few miles to reach the Potomac River. On that stream’s southern shore was the “Tidewater Aristocracy” of Virginia, desperately anxious to prove to all its sophistication. Englishman Edward Kimber had noted that in Virginia in 1745, “Wherever you travel . . . your ears are constantly astonished at the number of colonels, majors, and captains that you hear mentioned: In short, the whole country seems at first to you a retreat of heroes.”
Almost immediately Sara assumed her new persona; Lady Susanna Carolina Matilda: estranged by a family feud from her sister, Charlotte, Queen of England. Sara dazzled her victims with court gossip – real and invented - and in exchange for lodging and meals, the use of a carriage, monetary gifts and letters of introduction to the next plantation house, the Lady Matilda granted political positions, military appointments and even economic beneficences, none of which were worth the paper they were written on. And few seemed to notice that the lady spoke not a word of German, even though, presumably, that was her native tongue.
Over the next two years Lady Matilda traveled down the coast of Virginia and passed on to the backwaters of the Carolinas.  On 13 May, 1773, there appeared the following item in the bemused “London Magazine”: “Some time ago one Sarah Wilson…assumed the title of the Princess Susanna Carolina Matilda, pronouncing herself to be an own sister to our sovereign lady the queen…she acted her part so plausibly as to persuade the generality that she was no impostor….At length, however, an advertisement appeared, and a messenger arrived from her master, who raised a loud hue and cry for her serene highness".
Sara was returned under guard to Bush Creek. For her escape, her term of service was extended by two years. But history was on Sara’s side. In the spring of 1775 the colonists began shooting at British soldiers, and Sara's master,, William Devall,  joined the American forces.  In his absence, Sara Wilson slipped away again, this time making her way to British occupied New York City. There she married William Talbot, an officer in the Royal Light Dragoons. When the war ended, the Talbot’s chose not to return to England, where Sara would have been subject to arrest. They settled instead in the bowery of Manhattan, and quickly faded into history.
But what an amazing woman Sara was. She became a criminal to survive in normal times, and found normality in a revolution. To call her a commoner misses the point entirely.
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Friday, October 18, 2019


I want to relate to you one of the most famous murder cases in English history. But the crime is not famous because of the weapon used. Nor is the case unusual because the victim and the killers were mostly wealthy and powerful. And there was no great mystery either, since the killers left their fingerprints...well, all over the crime scene. But what did raise this tawdry tale of sin and politics out of the common sewer and dropped it right onto the throne room was that from all indications one of the killers was sleeping with the King.
You see, when the virgin Queen Elizabeth died the early dark of 24  March,  1603, she figured it would be better for England if her crown went to the son of her worst enemy, Mary Queen of Scots. On the very afternoon of Elizabeth’s death, it was officially announced that James VI of Scotland would become James I of England. In fact, under Elizabeth’s orders, officials of the English court had been visiting Edinburgh for years, to smooth the transfer of power. It was probably the most noble thing Elizabeth I did for her people, something no other monarch of her age did. But it turns out, that was where the trouble all began.
Sir Thomas Overbury (above) was one of the court officials sent north to prepare James and his court for their new responsibilities. Now, Thomas was handsome, smart as a whip and as popular as canker sore. One of his competitors described him as “prone to over valuing himself and undervaluing others”, which was the polite Tudor way of calling him arrogant jerk. And in 1601, Thomas was in Edinburgh when he was introduced to a drop-dead handsome 23 year old servant lad named Robert Carr.
Now, Robert Carr (above) was not very a smart, but he was gorgeous, ambitious and he was willing – very willing. Enthralled, Thomas took the boy home with him as a sort of souvenir. And on 24 March, 1608, when Robert broke his well turned leg during a jousting tournament held in honor of King James, James noticed that leg. And it was love at first sight.
James (above) began his courtship of the lad by giving the convalescing Robert daily lessons in Latin (as opposed to Greek). He made the boy a Knight, then the Viscount of Rochester, and showered him with gifts of money and land, gave him a key to the royal bedchamber, made him the keeper of royal documents and, according the King’s own letters, they spent most nights together. At one point James sent a note, complaining that Robert was “withdrawing yourself from lying in my chamber, notwithstanding my many hundred times earnest soliciting you to the contrary.” By 1610 Robert was one of the King’s closest advisors.
Of course Robert was not smart enough to advise the king about anything, But Thomas Overbury was. And Thomas didn't mind losing his boy toy if he could now whisper suggestions in Robert’s ear, who would pass them along to King James. So the combination of Robert’s good looks and Thomas’s brains made for the perfect intimate for King James. Of course, Thomas not only advised the king what was best for England, but what was best for Thomas was well. But as far as our little circle within the Court of James I, everybody was happy. There were only two things that could have gone wrong, and they both did. Thomas’ ego could not resist boasting to everyone that he was the brains behind Robert Carr’s success. And, as one observer at the time noted, “Some one or other told James that it was commonly reported that, whilst Rochester ruled the King, Overbury ruled Rochester.” That angered the King, who didn’t like Thomas much anyway. Nobody did, really.  And then Robert Carr fell in love – with a woman, of all people.
She was Francis Howard (above), the Countess of Essex. She was smart, gorgeous and treated sex as  a hobby.  Robert began a torrid love affair with Francis, and although neither her husband nor the King seemed to mind their dalliance, Thomas Overbury did.  He warned Robert that she was “a filthy, base woman…noted for her injury and immodesty.” And Thomas may have been right, because even the lady’s husband described Francis as “a stretched glove”, not exactly a compliment.  But when Robert and Frances started planning to divorce her husband so they could marry, Thomas went ape. His ego could not abide the insult. He told Robert he would do everything he could to prevent the divorce. And when Robert told Francis about Thomas' threat, it was open war between Francis and Thomas. And here Francis discovered her real talent was not sex, it was revenge.
Her plot was simple and simply devious. She urged Robert Carr to urge King James to offer Thomas Overbury the post of ambassador to Russia. She also urged Robert to urge Thomas to turn down the offer.  Well, Thomas saw the offer as an attempt to get him out of the way and so, taking Robert’s advice, he turned the offer down. And, just as Francis had planned, the King was enraged by the rejection of his "gift". 
In April of 1613, noted a chronicler, “Sir Thomas Overbury is sent to the Tower for saying he could not and would not accept a foreign employment.”  Thomas was locked away in the dank rooms of the Tower prison for five months. And by the end of September, Thomas was dead. Just about everybody who knew Thomas figured his death was just a happy accident; but not everybody.
Sir Walter Raleigh (above) had been a political ally of Thomas Overbury. And Raleigh fumed while Francis Howard’s marriage was annulled just a week after Thomas had died. And Raleigh steamed, when in November, the King made Robert Carr the Earl of Somerset, as a wedding present. And when Robert Carr and Francis took their vows the day after Christmas 1613, Sir Walter Raleigh was already hard at work, tracking down an obscure man we know only as William.
What made this William stand out was that although he was a lowly apprentice to an apothecary, he had suddenly left England for Holland. Where would a lowly commoner get money for such a trip? And why would such a man suddenly want to travel to a country where he could not speak the language? Sir Walter eventually tracked down William in Holland and had him followed closely for over two years. And when William fell ill in the summer of 1615, Sir Walter Raleigh’s agents were on hand to obtain his deathbed confession of his part in killing Sir Thomas Overbury.
The apothecary, read William's confession, had advised William Carr that Sir Thomas was weak, and might be near death already. But, Carr and Francis were both impatient. They had been trying to murder Sir Thomas Overbury for months, but he refused to die from the poisons they kept feeding him. Finally Carr offered the apothecary £20, literally a small fortune in 1613, to administer a massive dose of arsenic directly into Sir Thomas's bloodstream  in the only way it could be administered without leaving a mark.   William swore on his deathbed that a bribed guard had first drugged Sir Thomas Overbury's  wine, When he had passed out, William and the guard rolled the defenseless  man over, while William had inserted the tube into the terminal junction of his digestive canal and released the clamp. By six the next morning Sir Thomas Overbury was dead.
That confession produced an investigation led by Sir Francis Bacon (above), part time playwright and the Royal Attorney General. The first victim to be tortured, er, I mean the first suspect to be questioned was the apothecary, James Franklin, who admitted to preparing seven concoctions to be used by his assistant William against Thomas Overbury; sulfuric and nitric acids, copper vitriol, mercury powder, arsenic powder (lapis cotitus), “great spiders and cantharides, otherwise known as Spanish Fly.
According to Franklin the list had been prepared by Mrs. Anne Turner (above), the widow of a London doctor, who made a living selling love potions and inheritance powders to wealthy and want-to-be wealthy patrons.  Mrs. Turner admitted under “questioning” that she had been directed prepare the list and to deliver the finished poisons, one after the other, to Richard Weston, Thomas Overbury’s jailer.   In his turn under enhanced interrogation, Richard Weston admitted he had slipped the poisons, one after the other, into Thomas’ food and drink. However none of them had been effective. Evidently Thomas was unfortunate enough to possess an iron constitution. Everything he ate made him sick, but he refused to die. So, in the end, said Mrs. Turner, it was decided to speed him along with a coupe de grace, right up the coupe de shute, via the steady hand of William the late apothecary assistant. And the villain who requested this barrage of food born punishment, was the lady Francis Carr and her new husband,  the handsome Robert Carr.
Francis (above, another impression) was smart enough to confess her crime under the mere threat of torture. Her new husband, Robert Carr, remained convinced he had nothing to worry about. He was certain his “friend” King James would never allow him to be tortured, because he knew too much. But James had already moved on to a new young male friend, George Villiers, and was no longer interested in Robert.  And just in case Robert decided to blurt out some embarrassing truth at his trial, two men stood at either side of Robert while he testified, just in case it was necessary to muffle the mimbo - male bimbo.
The result of the trial was a fore gone conclusion. Richard Weston was hanged. Mrs. Turner was hanged. Mr. Franklin was hanged. Even the Lieutenant of the Tower, Grevase Helwys, was hanged, although his only crime was that he couldn't figure out which of his betters were going to come out on top, and so kept his mouth shut.
The only two people who did not hang for the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury were the two who had conceived of and financed the whole thing; Robert Carr and Francis. They were both sentenced to death, but instead the King ordered Robert sent to the Tower for life, while Francis was confined in her home, which is where she would have been anyway because she was “with child”. Robert the homosexual boy toy was also fecid.  In January of 1622, Richard’s was finally released on the condition that he and Francis leave London for ever. The rumor is that alone at last on their country estates the pair learned to loath each other. She died of uterine cancer in 1632, and he died in 1645 of old age and probably, terminal stupidity.
And thus ended one of the most amazing murder cases in English history, in which at least four people hanged, and two reputations were destroyed, because they helped to murder a man no body even liked. Oh, and because they were stupid enough to get caught at it.
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Thursday, October 17, 2019


I agree with William Plummer’s 1803 assessment of John Randolph of Roanoke, Virginia; “I admire his ingenuity and address, but I dislike his politics.” The man  represents the tap root of two great branches in American conservative politics, patrician conservatives and gay conservatives; because if John Randolph wasn’t gay, then neither was Roy Cohen.
Some biographies of Randolph insist that he suffered from a condition called “Klinefelter’s syndrome”, which only occurs in only 1 out of every 500 males, or 0.02% of the general population, while homosexuality is a genetic variation that occurs in (conservatively speaking) about 5 – 6% of the population, making it far more likely that Randolph was gay. And in any case, both conditions are genetic variations, having nothing to do with sin, intelligence, choice or morality. So, from a purely practical standpoint, it is just simpler to concede that Randolph was gay and move on.
Randolph was a slave-owning elegantly dressed ‘fashionista’, described by one author as “The most notorious American political curmudgeon of his time”. That may be putting it kindly. John Randolph specialized in what the Romans called the “Argumentum Ad Hominem” or the ‘argument against the man’. As a verbal tool it allows the speaker to change the subject, to argue the man not the issue, and thus to tar a political position with the alleged sins of one of its advocates, thus forcing advocates to defend themselves, not what they stand for. And if that method of attack sounds familiar, it is confirmation of the connection between Randolph’s ideological bloodline and its present day Republican practitioners.
John Quincy Adams borrowed from Ovid to describe John Randolph; “His face is ashen, gaunt his whole body, His breath is green with gall; His tongue drips poison.” It is a fair description of the “…abusive eloquence which he possessed in such abundance” (ibid)..
It is a shame that both of those distinguished blood lines are now being excised from the Republican Party in preference to the Donald Trump template. The idea that a dumb, uneducated heterosexual conservative is preferable to a smart homosexual conservative is akin to abandoning a talking dog because you don’t like the way he pronounces “BĂ©arnaise sauce”.  The Trumpanisters remind me of the words of British Prime Minster Lloyd George who said of one opponent; “He has a retail mind in a wholesale business.” Or, to paraphrase John Selden, ignorance of the law may be no excuse, but ignorance in general is inexcusable.
Randolph’s first biographer, Lemuel Sawyer, described him this way; “As an orator he was more splendid than solid; as a politician he (lacked) the profound views of a great statesman...he was too intolerant." But John Randolph admitted to enjoying “That most delicious of all privileges – spending other people’s money.”  Its hard to condemn a man who admits his own sins so gleefully.
Randolph was elected to congress at 26 years of age in 1799, and served off and on in both houses (as well as in the Virginia State legislature) until his death. He never married, and admitted “I am an aristocrat. I love liberty, I hate equality." And in describing his chosen career Randolph observed that “If electioneering were allowed in heaven, it would corrupt the angels.”
As if to prove his point, in 1824 Randolph turned his cutting tongue loose in the defining speech of his life, on the floor of the U.S. Senate. It was described by one author as “rambling, sometimes incoherent, funny, insulting and devastating….filled with literary and classical allusions, among other odds and ends, and delivered with a delightful insouciance.”
Randolph attacked the Federalist position on the central issues of the day and said any compromise with Speaker of the House, Henry Clay of Kentucky, or with Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, would be anathema, as “…their friendship is a deadly distinction, their touch pollution”. And as to the very idea of a strong central Federal government, Randolph called it “That spirit which considers the many, as made only for a few, which sees in government nothing but a job, which is never so true to itself as when false to the nation.”
I’ve read that speech at least ten times and each time it makes less sense to me than it did before. At the time, however, it had a great effect on its audience. I guess you had to be there.
Then Randolph got down to the most troublesome part of his attack. He described Henry Clay as “…so brilliant yet so corrupt, like a rotten mackerel by moonlight, he shines and stinks.” Among southern aristocrats, being called a ‘stinking mackerel’ were fighting words. Henry Clay was willing to overlook the insult until, in 1826, the insult was repeated in print, in the newspaper "United States Telegraph". Clay could no longer pretend Randolph had not said the words, and after a properly stiff exchange of notes, Clay issued Randolph a challenge to what one witness described as the “…the last high-toned duel I ever saw”.
They met at about 4:30 p.m. on 8 April, 1826, just over the Little Falls Bridge from Georgetown, Virginia.  Randolph was resplendent in a bright yellow coat. Clay was coldly determined. The night before Thomas Hart Benton had paid Randolph a visit and pleaded with him not to go through with the duel, saying Clay had a young son and wife who would be left destitute if Clay were killed or seriously injured. Randolph seemed unmoved, but he had replied to Benton, “I shall do nothing to disturb the sleep of that child or the repose of the mother.” But I don’t think anybody told Clay he had nothing to worry about.
The men paced off ten steps apart (about 30 feet), and then as the countdown began Randolph’s gun misfired. The gun was reloaded and the countdown began again; “Ready, aim, fire.” Clay’s shot hit the dirt in front of Randolph, whose shot struck a stump behind Clay. The men then reloaded and the insanity began again. This time Clay got off the first shot, sending a ball through the hem of Randolph’s expensive yellow coat. Randolph held his fire, and then dramatically fired his shot into the air.
Then Randolph strode forward with his hand extended. The opponents shook hands in the center of the “field of honor”, and Randolph dryly said, “You owe me a coat, Mr. Clay.”
I don’t think Clay ever paid for the coat, because when John Randolph died in May of 1833, his will instructed that after his slaves were transported to Ohio and freed, his body was to buried in Virginia and he was to be planted facing west, so he could keep an eye on Kentucky’s Henry Clay. Now that is going a long way for an insult.
It could be said of John Randolph that he had opposed most if not all of the famous men and great causes of his time, that politically he gave as good as he got, and that he made the most of the talents that God gave him; not a bad legacy. Except, it must also be said that nothing he supported made the nation stronger, nor helped improve the lives of the the people of his state. A politician who chose the career of a speed bump cannot, in my opinion, be said to have used his talents for the public good.
Why he did not do so might be explained, at least in part, by a letter he wrote in the winter of 1833,  addressed "To the Honorable Waller Holladay, Esquire, of the county of Spotsylvania, of the State of Virginia, of the United States of America, of the Western Hemisphere,of the Globe." And amazingly, it was delivered. "I am sure you will be surprised and pained to hear that I was honored last night by a visit from no less a personage than His Satanic Majesty. His Majesty assured me that my only hope of much longer continuance of my mortal existence depended upon my subsisting entirely upon the milk of your fine Medley mare, which would restore health to my worn out body. Under these melancholy circumstances, I have no choice hut to throw myself upon your friendly mercies and I implore you to let me have the mare without delay...that her milk may save the life of your sincere but sulfuring friend. Randolph of Roanoke"
Mr. Holladay read the letter but did not dispatch the mare. Instead he immediately filed the missive away without answering it, in the hope he said later that "the aberration was but temporary". It was not.  Randolph died in May of 1833. And the letter concerning Mr. Randolph's visit from Satan, was thought to be  proof of his insanity.  Or perhaps the visit was real, a sort of courtesy call, from one sly and merciless liar upon another.  
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