The ‘Corsican Monster’ in British caricature

While British troops were away fighting the French during the Napoleonic Wars, a concerted war effort was being carried out on the home front. These years saw a proliferation of anti-Napoleonic propaganda in many forms. The government needed to whip up patriotic fervour not only to promote a general spirit of resistance against the French, but also to inspire volunteer recruits for the army and navy, and to persuade people that raised taxes were necessary for Britain’s very preservation.

The genuine popular demand for anti-Napoleonic propaganda gave lyricists, dramatists and others a rich fund of material to work with. This was a good time in particular to be a talented caricaturist. Napoleon (also known as ‘Boney’ and ‘the Corsican Monster’) was lampooned in prints by all the leading illustrators of the day, including Gillray and Cruikshank. By all accounts, the publishers of these satirical prints did a roaring trade. One French émigré wrote to the journalist Jacques Mallet du Pan of the enthusiasm surrounding a new print, describing the ‘madness’ as ‘people box their way through the crowd’ to the print shop. Towards the end of the Napoleonic Wars, another French observer described ‘a large crowd that had gathered in front of a shop on the Strand. The meeting was a noisy one and the agitation suggested that some people were actually boxing. We soon learned that a new caricature was the reason for all the upheaval. What a triumph for the artist!’

The caricatures themselves veered between bold assertions of Britain’s superiority, staunchly supporting the regime, to personal attacks on Napoleon, condemning everything from his short stature (a complete myth, incidentally), to the colour of his skin (suspiciously dark), to his troubled private life. For the personal attacks, nothing was considered too vulgar, as the following few caricatures show.

The First Night of my Wedding. Or Little Boney no Match for an Arch-Dutchess (1)

The first night of my wedding, or, little Boney no match for an Arch Dutchess (1810)

Marie Louise: Still says sly old Hodge, says he, Great talkers do the least d’ye see. Well well there’s one hope left – I shall quickly carry him to his Journeys end

Napoleon: Mort de ma Vie I must I must brush off to Compiegne and order seperate Beds

This cartoon is clearly about Napoleon’s alleged impotence. Marie-Louise, Napoleon’s second wife, quotes from Charles Dibdin’s comic opera, The Wives Revenged, while using a crown-shaped chamberpot as a footstoolNapoleon, looking rather the worse for wear, drinks some sort of reviving potion, has a bowl of ‘cock-broth’ on the table and plans to buy separate beds as soon as possible, presumably to save himself from the rampant sexual demands of his new wife.
The arch dutchess Maria Louisa going to take her NAP 1810 LOC.2

The Arch Dutchess Maria Louisa going to take her Nap

Marie-Louise: My dear Nap. your bed accommodations are very indifferent! Too short by a Yard! I wonder how Josephine put up with such things over as long as she did!!!

Napoleon: Indeed, Maria I do not well understand you: the Empress Josephine who knew things better than I hope you do, never grumbled – Le Diable! I see I never will be able to get what I want after all!!!

This print mocks both Napoleon’s alleged stature and the fact that his first wife, Josephine, was sexually experienced when he met her, whereas Marie-Louise was meant to be the blushing virgin who would give him a healthy heir, a role she fulfilled admirably.

More politically-oriented cartoons spanned a broad spectrum, ranging from the brash trumpeting of British superiority to more subtle takes on Napoleonic foreign policy.

Caricature by James Gillray. Tiddy Doll, the great French-Gingerbread-Baker; drawing out a new Batch of Kings, 23. Januari 18..

TIDDY-DOLL the great French Gingerbread-Baker, drawing out a new Batch of Kings. – his Man, Hopping Talley, mixing the dough (before 1806)

This 1806 cartoon mocks Napoleon’s political re-shaping of Europe. In the ‘New French Oven for Imperial Gingerbread’, Napoleon is baking three new rulers for the German states of Bavaria, Württemberg and Baden. Below the oven lies an ‘Ash-Hole for broken Gingerbread’, which includes Holland and Italy; they have been swept there by the ‘Corsican Beson of Destruction’. The basket to the left contains ‘true Corsican kinglings’, referring to the family members Napoleon put on the thrones of other countries. The cupboard on the right contains drawers for ‘Kings & Queens’, ‘Crowns & Sceptres’ and even ‘Suns and Moons’, suggesting that Napoleon wants to reshape the universe itself.

omparative Anatomy or Bone-ys new Conscripts filling up the Skeletons of the Old Regiments 1813

Comparative anatomy or Bone-y’s new Conscripts filling up the Skeletons of the Old Regiments (1813)
InvasionraftAn accurate representation of the floating machine Invented by the French for invading England. and Acts on the principals of both Wind & Water Mills, carries 60-000 Men & 600 Cannon (c. 1805)
Cruikshank_-_Little_Boney_gone_to_Pot 1814 G. Cruikshank

Little Boney gone to Pot (1814)

This caricature was drawn towards the end of Napoleon’s career. It shows the defeated emperor exiled on the island of Elba with no-one to keep him company except the Devil. He sits on a chamberpot, the toy cannon is all that remains of his military ambitions, and he seems ready to commit suicide with the gun offered to him by his satanic tormentor.

Caricatures were, of course, not the only form of anti-Napoleonic propaganda in Britain. Handbills denouncing Napoleon and containing gruesome accounts of supposed French atrocities were manufactured almost daily and distributed throughout the kingdom, probably reaching even the illiterate sections of the population. Patriotic plays were put on to whip up national sentiment, and anti-French broadside ballads were common. Clergy thundered against the Corsican Monster from the pulpit, and millenarian preachers warned that Napoleon’s evil empire was surely a sign of the end time.

Eighteenth-century English men and women were characterised as ‘a polite and commercial people’ in Paul Langford’s contribution to the New Oxford History of England. When it came to anti-Napoleonic propaganda, the English were hardly polite, but some of them were certainly commercially-minded. Canny manufacturers took advantage of popular sentiment and produced all sorts of anti-French memorabilia. Perhaps the most remarkable example I have seen is a chamber-pot featuring a small bust of Napoleon in the middle. How edifying it must have been for those consumers who were now able to express patriotic sentiment even when exercising their most basic functions!

napoleon_chamber_pot_jpg

Pissabed, mare’s fart, dead man’s fingers: Curious old plant names

Pissabed; mare’s fart; dead man’s fingers. These are just three of the hundreds of traditional English plant names which, once ubiquitous but now little-known, have been replaced by the much more prosaic taraxacum, jacobaea vulgaris and xylaria polymorpha. A victory for scientific categorisation, perhaps, but arguably a sad loss of colourful English folklore. Before the professional standardisation of botanical terminology in the 18th and 19th centuries, England was full of such plant names, boasting a huge regional diversity. Some, such as Old Man’s Beard, are still in widespread use, but many are not, and it is the Latin terms which are largely used in scientific circles. Yet these names are colourful and humorous and curious, and deserve to be remembered.

Medieval and early modern plant names had strong visual, emotional and human connotations, fitting well into popular cosmology and reflecting the dominant anthropocentric worldview. Many were influenced by religion. Christ’s tears, Star of Bethlehem, Jew’s ear, Solomon’s seal, Jacob’s ladder and St John’s Wort are just a few examples. The centrality of Marian devotions to popular medieval Catholicism meant that plenty of plants were named after the Virgin Mary. Conversely, there were over fifty supposedly ugly or unpleasant plants whose names began with ‘Devil-‘. Religious plant names, particularly those alluding to saints or the Virgin, were particularly distasteful to Puritans, so they tended to be discouraged from the 16th century onwards.

Christ's tears. (© Vinayaraj)
Christ’s tears. (© Vinayaraj)
Star of Bethlehem (© Ulf Eliasson)
Star of Bethlehem (© Ulf Eliasson)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More names which came to be disapproved of were the coarse ones referring to sexual and other bodily functions. 17th century England was a forthright place, so it’s perhaps no surprise that in the countryside you could find shitabed, naked ladies, black maidenhair, Stinking Willy (named for its foul smell) and even priest’s ballocks [sic]. A herb garden commonly included horse pistle and prick madam, while in the orchard, the open-arse (or common medlar) was a popular fruit. ‘Open arse’ of course left itself vulnerable to all sorts of puns and jokes which Elizabethan and Jacobean dramatists didn’t fail to take advantage of. In Act II Scene I of Romeo and Juliet, Mercutio uses the image to tease Romeo about his unrequited love for Rosaline:

Now will he sit under a medlar tree,
And wish his mistress were that kind of fruit
As maids call medlars, when they laugh alone.
O Romeo, that she were, O that she were
An open-arse and thou a pop’rin pear!

I doubt that a gently-bred aristocratic lady would have asked for an ‘open-arse’ at table, but such a term would have been widespread among less exalted folk, both men and women. However, altered sensibilities in the 18th and 19th centuries were disgusted by these coarse names, so they were abandoned or changed, at least among the educated classes. For instance, ‘lords and ladies’ is no ancient name, but a fanciful Victorian invention. Seeing the plant (below left), it’s not very hard to imagine what sort of name it was given before its bowdlerisation.

Botanical illustration of Lords and Ladies
Botanical illustration of Lords and Ladies
Open-arse (© Andrew Dunn)
Open-arse (© Andrew Dunn)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other plant names were based on supposed similarities to parts of animals: cat’s tail, goat’s beard, hound’s tongue, cranesbill, coltsfoot, bearfoot, bird’s eyes. Some referred to the smell: hound’s piss, stinking arrach; and some plants were named for their edibility: poor man’s pepper, sauce alone, hedge mustard, fat hen. Plants which supposedly looked like parts of the human body included miller’s thumb, old man’s beard, maidenhair and dead man’s fingers, and items of clothing were also represented in bachelor’s buttons, shepherd’s purse, fool’s cap and ladies’ slippers. In the medieval and early modern periods, much popular medicine relied on herbal lore, so some plant names alluded to their supposed medicinal properties: navelwort, lungwort and feverfew, for example.

Much terminology was simply poetic or humorous without any obvious practical meaning. For instance: thrift, goodnight at noon, patience, son-before-the-father (because the blossom came before the leaves),  love-in-idleness, honesty, courtship and matrimony (alluding to the deterioration in the scent after the flower was picked), and the wonderfully named welcome-home-husband-though-never-so-drunk. One contemporary accused women of making up these silly terms, saying that “our London gentlewomen have named [swallow wort] Silken Cisley…our women have named [oxlips] jack-an-apes-on-horseback”.

A field full of Bachelor's buttons (© Ralf Roletschek)
A field full of Bachelor’s buttons (© Ralf Roletschek)
Dead man's fingers (© Michael Gäbler)
Dead man’s fingers (© Michael Gäbler)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To complicate matters still further, there was rarely one vernacular name for a plant. There could be so many regional variations that the frustration of professional botanists perhaps becomes more understandable. Herbals (popular books containing drawings and descriptions of plants) tell us that ladies’ bedstraw (galium verum) was also known as cheese rennet, gallion, pettimugget, maid’s hair and wild rosemary. Ground ivy was variously referred to as tun hoof, haymaids, catsfoot, alehood, Gill go by the ground and Gill creep by the ground. Mulleyn (candelaria) was called Jupiter’s staff, woollens, hare’s beard, high-taper, hagtaper or bullock’s lungwort depending upon where you were. The Tudor surgeon and botanist John Gerard wrote of treacle mustard (erysimum cheiranthoides), “we call this herb in English penny flower or money flower, silver plate, pricksongwort; in Norfolk [it is called] sattin and white sattin and among our women it is called honesty”. It really was a minefield for anyone seeking to bring some order to plant terminology.

Bullock's lungwort (© Andrew Dunn)
Bullock’s lungwort (© Andrew Dunn)
Ladies' bedstraw (© Tetcu Mircea Rares)
Ladies’ bedstraw (© Tetcu Mircea Rares)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s an interesting point to be made beyond the quaintness of these old names. The change to Latin terminology was a sign of the onward march of science, and it signalled the end of the anthropocentric worldview which was previously dominant in Europe. Latin names turned plants into neutral objects more fit for study, whereas the old vernacular terms tied the natural world closely to humans; plants were given personal names, were named after human characteristics and referred to by their usefulness in medicine or other tasks. By the 18th century it was no longer acceptable for professional naturalists to use the old vernacular terms. “Those who wish to remain ignorant of the Latin language”, said John Berkenhout in 1789, “have no business with the study of botany”. Vulgar names were an obstacle to science. In the nineteenth century there was a brief, sentimental attempt by John Ruskin and others to revive or invent English plant names, but by that time the learned world had permanently discarded the language of ordinary discourse.

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Further Reading
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Keith Thomas, Man and the Natural World: Changing Attitudes in England 1500-1800 (1991)

“The Bank of Mum and Dad”, funding students since 1200

Although European society has changed hugely since the Middle Ages, some documents and objects from the time still have the power to speak straight down the centuries and demonstrate that despite radically altered worldviews, we do have things in common with our medieval ancestors. I was reminded of this when I came across a collection of model letters dating from 1200 to 1250, which contained templates for students to send to their parents. The style may be formal and full of allusions to Christian and classical literature, but the content is strikingly similar to students’ emails to parents today. The writer tends to slyly work his way from affectionate greetings and assurances of his hard work, to earnest requests for money or other commodities. Take this early 13th century model letter as an example; my favourite part is when the student says he “cannot now specify” his expenditure:

“B. to his venerable master [father] A., greeting. 
This is to inform you that I am studying at Oxford with the greatest diligence, but the matter of money stands greatly in the way of my promotion, as it is now two months since I spent the last of what you sent me. The city is expensive and makes many demands; I have to rent lodgings, buy necessaries and provide for many other things which I cannot now specify. Wherefore I respectfully beg Your Paternity that by the promptings of divine piety you may assist me, so that I may be able to complete what I have well begun. For you must know that without Ceres and Bacchus, Apollo grows cold. Therefore, I hope that you will act in such a way that, by your intercession, I may finish what I have well begun. 
Farewell.”

Students in the 2nd half of the 14th century, by Laurentius de Voltolin
Students in the 2nd half of the 14th century, by Laurentius de Voltolin

Clearly the desired response to such a missive would be affectionate, containing liberal promises of monetary aid. However, medieval writers seem to have taken delight in composing parental reproofs full of withering put-downs. In one model answer from a collection in Franche-Comté, an exasperated father writes:


“To his son G. residing at Orl
éans P. of Besançon sends greetings with paternal zeal. It is written, ‘He also that is slothful in his work is brother to him that is a great waster’. I have recently discovered that you live dissolutely and slothfully, preferring license to restraint and play to work and strumming a guitar while the others are at their studies, whence it happens that you have read but one volume of law while your more industrious companions have read several. Wherefore I have decided to exhort you herewith to repent utterly of your dissolute and careless ways, that you may no longer be called a waster and your shame may be turned to good repute.”

Although these are model letters, we find their content replicated over and over in the following centuries in individually composed letters. Take, for instance, a 1762 letter from Jeremy Bentham to his father, written whilst he was a student at Queen’s College, Oxford. It is startlingly similar, except that he asks to be sent some tea and sugar, not money. Bentham reasons that these commodities are much cheaper in London, thus presenting his request in the light of economical living, although a cynic might view this as a mere ploy for a free home care package!

Bentham's letter of February 5th 1762 to his father
Bentham’s letter of February 5th 1762 to his father

Dear Papa
Queen’s. February 5th 1762.
I hoped to have had the pleasure of hearing from you before now; but as that could not be, I flatter myself I shall not be disappointed of an Answer to this, when it comes to hand. I have the Satisfaction of telling you that I go on briskly in Homer, doing generally a book in two days, which is no very inconsiderable thing, to do exclusive of the College-business. – You cannot expect a long letter from a place so destitute of Novelty as this is, all the news there is here is that the College is not only as full as it can hold but even fuller, there having come 3 or 4 in the little time that I was absent, one of whom his name is Piers; whose father is a wholesale grocer in London; which puts me in mind of my wants, which I hope you will supply; you may guess I mean Tea and Sugar; or else I must be forced to get some here at half as much again as you can get it me for; I have been forced to live upon my Friends these 2 or 3 days. Pray give my duty to Grandmama and love to brother Sammy, and fulfill the expectations of
Your dutiful and affectionate Son
J. Bentham”

 

The torments of marriage in Georgian caricatures

The Georgian era (1714-1837) was the golden age of English satire. Gillray, Rowlandson and the Cruikshank family made themselves famous with their exuberant, brightly-coloured caricatures which lampooned everything from government to the clergy, from fashion to the French. Here are some of their satirical takes on marriage. They point out the problems so often ignored in the contemporary moral literature and novels which portrayed marriage as a companionate and dignified state; adultery, frustrated husbands, scolding wives and seething hatred are all exposed, making simultaneously amusing and uncomfortable viewing.

Capture2
From ‘Symptoms of matrimony’ (Lewis Walpole Library)

Husband: “Rabbit it, Wife, you’ll make me look like a fool.”
Wife: “Now you are Married you shall look like other people, I insist upon it, and leave off your rustic manners!”

 

'An old husband and young wife, or, a quarrel about nothing' (Lewis Walpole Library)
‘An old husband and young wife, or, a quarrel about nothing’ (Lewis Walpole Library)

Husband: “What makes you so Sulky this Morning my Dear?”
Wife: “Nothing.”
Husband: “What is the matter with you?”
Wife: “Nothing.”
Husband: “You was in a very good Humor last Night, pray what have I done to offend you?”
Wife:“You have done Nothing. That’s the reason.”

 

'An anonymous letter' (Lewis Walpole Library)
‘An anonymous letter’ (Lewis Walpole Library)

Wife: “You can’t deny the letter you false man – I shall find out all your Wicked Women – I shall, you abominable Seducer!”
Husband: “Indeed Lovey I know no more who sent the letter than the Man in the Moon.”

 

'The dinner spoil'd' (Lewis Walpole Library)
‘The dinner spoil’d’ (Lewis Walpole Library)

Husband: “It’s red! Not fit to eat! These are the blessed [?] effects of boiling Mutton in a cloth!!”

 

'Late hours' (Lewis Walpole Library)
‘Late hours’ (Lewis Walpole Library)

Wife: “Here have I been sitting up for you these four hours, without any thing to Comfort me – Mr Fillpot I will not suffer it.”
Husband: “Don’t be angry – you beauty! I have only been drinking your health with Squire Guzzle, ‘pon honour!”

 

'Three weeks after marriage' (Lewis Walpole Library)
‘Three weeks after marriage’ (Lewis Walpole Library)

 

'Matrimony. May the Devil take them that brought you and me together' (Lewis Walpole Library)
‘Matrimony. May the Devil take them that brought you and me together’
(Lewis Walpole Library)

Does coffee make men impotent? a 17th-century perspective

Although we are regularly reminded of the potential health risks of drinking too much coffee, to my knowledge no-one has yet argued that men ought to cut back on coffee because it makes them impotent. However, that is exactly what one bawdy pamphlet from 1674 claims. Given the catchy title of The Women’s petition against coffee: representing to public consideration the grand Inconveniences accruing to their Sex from the Excessive Use of that Drying, Enfeebling Liquor, this scurrilous pamphlet claims to be a plea on behalf of the women of England which asks their men to stop drinking coffee, as it makes them unable to perform, thus leaving wives across the country languishing in a state of desperation.

To put this into context, coffee was an increasingly popular drink in 17th century Europe. It was mostly drunk in coffee-houses, where for just a penny, men enjoyed unlimited refills, access to the latest newspapers and a forum for intellectual discussion with other patrons; I wrote about the rise and fall of English coffee-houses in another post. Yet despite their enormous popularity, coffee and coffee-houses were not without their detractors. Serious-minded physicians published diatribes against the drink, and Charles II wanted to shut down coffee-houses as they were a potential hotbed of sedition. It’s no wonder, then, that a lot of satirical literature on the topic was printed. This pamphlet belongs in that category and shouldn’t be read as a serious social criticism, although some writers have mistakenly seen it as such. It probably wasn’t written by a woman at all; in fact, it scorns women by playing on the age-old stereotype of the gossiping woman unable to control her lustful appetites. However, what was calculated to entertain and make a quick profit back in 1674 still makes amusing reading today. Here is an abridged version with modernised spelling:

006790

“The Humble Petition and Address of several Thousands of Buxom Good-Women, Languishing in Extremity of Want showeth, that ’tis Reckon’d amongst the Glories of  our Native Country, To be A Paradise for Women [due to] the brisk Activity of our men, who in former Ages were justly esteemed the Ablest Performers in Christendom; But to our unspeakable Grief, we find of late a very sensible Decay of that true Old English Vigour. Never did Men wear greater Breeches, or carry less in them of any Mettle whatsoever. There was a glorious Dispensation (’twas surely in the Golden Age) when Lusty Lads of seven or eight hundred years old, Got Sons and Daughters; and we have read, how a Prince of Spain was forced to make a Law, that Men should not Repeat the Grand Kindness to their Wives, above NINE times in a night: But Alas! Alas! Those forward Days are gone.”

“The Occasion of which Insufferable Disaster, after a serious Enquiry, and Discussion of the Point by the Learned of the Faculty, we can Attribute to nothing more than the Excessive use of that Newfangled, Abominable, Heathenish Liquor called COFFEE, which Drying up the Radical Moisture, has so Eunuched our Husbands, and Crippled our more kind Gallants, that they are become as Impotent and as unfruitful as those Deserts whence that unhappy Berry is said to be brought. For the continual sipping of this pitiful drink is enough to bewitch Men of two and twenty, and tie up the Codpiece-point without a Charm. They come from it with nothing moist but their snotty Noses, nothing stiff but their Joints, nor standing but their Ears. Nor can all the Art we use revive them from this Lethargy.

“Can any Woman of Sense or Spirit endure with Patience, that when privileged by Legal Ceremonies, she approaches the Nuptial Bed, expecting that a Man with Sprightly Embraces, should Answer the Vigour of her Flames, she on the contrary should only meet A Bedful of Bones, and hug a meagre useless Corpse rendered as sapless as a Kixe, and dryer than a Pumice-Stone, by the perpetual Fumes of Tobacco, and bewitching effects of this most pernicious COFFEE, whereby Nature is Enfeebled, the Off-spring of our Mighty Ancestors Dwindled into a Succession of Apes and Pygmies: and The Age of Man Now Cramp’t into an Inch, that was a Span.

King Charles II in 1675, a year after this pamphlet was published. Although he presumably drank coffee like other fashionable men, no-one could accuse it of making him impotent; during his life he had 8 to 14 mistresses (though just one wife), with whom he fathered 15 children.
King Charles II in 1675, a year after this pamphlet was published. Although he presumably drank coffee like other fashionable men, no-one could accuse it of making him impotent; during his life he had 8 to 14 mistresses (though just one wife), with whom he fathered 15 children.

“We have reason to apprehend and grow Jealous, That Men by frequenting these Stygian Tap-houses [coffee-houses] will usurp on our Prerogative of Tattling, and soon learn to excel us in Talkativeness: a Quality wherein our Sex has ever Claimed pre-eminence: For here like so many Frogs in a puddle, they sup muddy water, and murmur insignificant notes till half a dozen of them out-babble an equal number of us at a Gossiping. Though they frequently have hot Contests about most Important Subjects; as what colour the Red Sea is of; whether the Great Turk be a Lutheran or a Calvinist; who Cain‘s Father in Law was &c. yet they never fight about them with any other save our Weapon, the Tongue.

“Certainly our Countrymens’ palates are become as Fanatical as their Brains; how else is’t possible they should Apostatize from the good old primitive way of Ale-drinking, to run a whoring after such variety of destructive Foreign Liquors, to trifle away their time, scald their Chops, and spend their Money, all for a little base, black, thick, nasty, bitter, stinking, nauseous Puddle-water. Yet (as all Witches have their Charms) so this ugly Turkish Enchantress by certain Invisible Wiles attracts both Rich and Poor.

“Wherefore to the end that our Just Rights may be restored, and all the Ancient Privileges of our Sex preserved inviolable; That our Husbands may give us some other Testimonies of their being Men, besides their Beards: That they no more run the hazard of being Cuckolded by Dildo’s: But returning to the good old strengthening Liquors of our Forefathers; that Natures Exchequer may once again be replenished, and a Race of Lusty Hero’s begot to equal the Glories of our Ancestors. We Humbly Pray that henceforth the Drinking COFFEE may on severe penalties be forbidden to all Persons under the Age of Threescore. In hopes of which Glorious Reformation, your Petitioners shall readily Prostrate themselves, and ever Pray, &c.”

Miss Tickletoby’s Lectures on English History, Vol. V

Here is Vol. IV Part II of William Thackeray’s Miss Tickletoby’s Lectures on English History, a satirical series published in Punch magazine in 1842. Here, the fictional amateur historian Miss Tickletoby gives a unique, unintentionally hilarious and staunchly monarchist take on the years following the Norman Conquest of 1066, starring “Prince Shortlegs”…
EDWARD THE CONFESSOR – HAROLD – WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR. Part 2
 
Harold being dead, His Majesty King William – of whom, as he now became our legitimate sovereign, it behoves every loyal heart to speak with respect – took possession of England, and, as is natural, gave all the good places at his disposal to his party. He turned out all the English noblemen from their castles, and put his Norman soldiers and knights into them. He and his people had it all their own way; and though the English frequently rebelled, yet the King managed to quell as such disturbances, and reigned over us for one-and-twenty years. He was a gallant soldier, truly – stern, wise, and prudent, as far as his own interests were concerned, and looked up to by all other Majesties as an illustrious monarch.
But great as he was in public, he was rather uncomfortable in his family, on account of a set of unruly sons whom he had – for their Royal Highnesses were always quarrelling together. It is related that one day, being at tea with her Majesty the Queen and the young Princes, at one of his castles in Normandy (for he used this country to rob it chiefly, and not to live in it), a quarrel ensued, which was certainly very disgraceful. Fancy, my darlings, three young Princes sitting at tea with their papa and mamma, and being so rude as to begin throwing water at one another! The two younger, H.R.H. Prince William and H.R.H. Prince Henry, actually flung the slop-basin, or some such thing, into the face of H.R.H. Prince Robert, the King’s eldest son.
His Royal Highness was in a furious rage, although his brothers declared that they were only in play; but he swore that they had insulted him, and that his papa and mamma favoured them and not him, and drawing his sword, vowed that he would have their lives. His Majesty with some difficulty got the young Princes out of the way; but nothing would appease Robert, who left the castle vowing vengeance.This passionate and self-willed young man was calling Courthose, which means in French short inexpressibles, and he was said to have worn shorts because his limbs were of that kind. Prince Shorts fled to a castle belonging to the King of France, who was quite jealous of Duke Robert, and was anxious to set his family be the ears; and the young Prince began forthwith robbing his father’s dominions, on which that monarch marched with an army to besiege him in his castle.
Here an incident befell which, while it shows that Prince Robert (for all the shortness of his legs) had a kind and brave heart, will at the same time point out to my beloved pupils the dangers – the awful dangers – of disobedience. Prince Robert and his knights sallied out one day against the besiegers, and engaged the horsemen of their party. Seeing a warrior on the other side doing a great deal of execution, Prince Robert galloped at him sword in hand, and engaged him. Their visors were down, and they banged away at each other, like – like good-uns [Hear, hear]. At last Prince Robert hit the other such a blow that he felled him from his horse, and the big man tumbling off cried, “Oh, murder!” or “Oh, I’m done for!” or something of the sort. Fancy the consternation of Prince Robert when he recognized the voice of his own father!
He flung himself off his saddle as quick as his little legs would let him, ran to his father, knelt down before him, besought him to forgive him, and begged him to take his horse and ride home. The King took the horse, but I’m sorry to say he only abused his son, and rode home as sulkily as possible. However, he soon came to be in a good humour, acknowledged that his son Prince Shortlegs was an honest fellow, and forgave him; and they fought some battles together, not against each other, but riding bravely side by side.
So, having prospered in all his undertakings, and being a great Prince and going to wage war against the French King, who had offended him, the famous King William I of England, having grown very fat in his old age, received a hurt while riding, which made him put a stop to his projects of massacring the Frenchmen, for he felt that his hour of death had come. As usual, after a life of violence, blood, and rapine, he began to repent on his death-bed, uttered some religious sentences which the chroniclers have recorded, and gave a great quantity of money which had been robbed from the people to the convents and priests.
The moment the breath was out of the great King’s body, all the courtiers ran off to their castles expecting a war. All the abbots went to their abbeys, where they shut themselves up. All the shopkeepers closed their stalls, looking out for riot and plunder; and the King’s body being left quite alone, the servants pillaged the house where he lay, leaving the corpse almost naked on the bed. And this was the way they served the greatest man in Christendom!
[Much sensation, in the midst of which the Lecturer retired].

 

Miss Tickletoby’s Lectures on English History, Vol. IV

Here today for your enjoyment, I present Vol. IV Part I of William Thackeray’s Miss Tickletoby’s Lectures on English History  (satires published in Punch magazine in 1842), in which the (fictional) amateur  historian Miss Tickletoby gives a unique take on the events of what is perhaps the most famous year in English history – 1066.

EDWARD THE CONFESSOR – HAROLD – WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR. Part 1

King Canute, whose adventures at the watering place my young friend Mr. Simcoe described last week in such exquisite verse (and I am afraid that the doings at watering-places are not often so moral), died soon after, having repented greatly of his sins. It must have been Gravesend, I think, where the King grew so thoughtful.
[Here Miss T. was rather disappointed that nobody laughed at her pun; the fact is, that MISS BUDGE, the usher, had been ordered to do so, but, as usual, missed the point]
Before he died, he made a queer sort of reparation for all the sins, robberies, and murders that he committed: he put his crown on the head of the statue of a saint in Canterbury, and endowed no end of monasteries. And a great satisfaction it must have been to the relatives of the murdered people, to see the King’s crown on the saint’s head; and a great consolation to those who had been robbed, to find the King paid over all their money to the monks.
Some descendants of his succeeded him, about whom there is nothing particular to say, nor about King Edward the Confessor, of the Saxon race, who succeeded to the throne when the Danish family failed, and who was canonized by a Pope two hundred years after his death – his Holiness only knows why.
‘Spooney’, my dears, is a strong term, and one which, by a sensitive female, ought to be employed only occasionally; but SPOONEY, I emphatically repeat [immense sensation], is the only word to characterise this last of the regular Saxon kings. He spent his time at church, and let his kingdom go to rack and ruin. He had a pretty wife, whom he never had the spirit to go near; and he died, leaving his kingdom to be taken by anyone who could get it.

A strong gallant young fellow, Harold by name, stepped forward, and put the crown on his head, and vowed to wear it like a man. Harold was the son of Earl Godwin that we spoke of in the last lecture, a great resolute fellow, who had been fighting King Edward’s enemies while the King was singing psalms and praying the saints to get rid of them, and turned out with his sword in his hand and a coat of mail on his body, whilst the silly King stayed at home in a hair-shirt, scourging and mortifying his useless old body.
Harold then took the crown (though, to be sure, he had no right to it, for there was a nephew of the King, who ought to have been first served); but he was not allowed to keep undisturbed possession of it for very long, for the fact is, somebody else wanted it. You all know who this was – no other than William, Duke of Normandy, a great and gallant prince (though I must say his mother was no better than she should be*), who had long had a wish to possess the noble realm of England, as soon as the silly old Confessor was no more. Indeed, when Harold was abroad, William had told him as much, making him swear to help in the undertaking. Harold swore, as how could he help it? – for William told him he would have his head off if he didn’t – and then broke his oath on the first opportunity.

*Miss Tickletoby’s rancour against Edward’s treatment of his wife, and her sneer at the Conqueror’s mother, are characteristic of her amiable sex.
 
Some nine months, then, after Harold had assumed the crown, and just as he had come from killing one of his brothers (they were pretty quarrelsome families, my dears, in those days), who had come to England on a robbing excursion, Harold was informed that the Duke of Normandy had landed with a numerous army of horse, foot, and marines, and proposed, as usual, to stay. Down he went as fast as the coach could carry him (for the Kentish railroad was not then open), and found Duke William at Hastings, where both parties prepared for a fight.
You, my darlings, know the upshot of the battle very well; and though I’m a delicate and sensitive female, and though the Battle of Hastings occurred – let me see; take 1066 from 1842 – exactly seven hundred and seventy-six years ago, yet I can’t help feeling angry to think that those beggarly, murderous Frenchmen should have beaten our honest English as they did. [Cries of “Never mind; we’ve given it ’em since”]. Yes, my dears, I like that spirit; we have given it ’em since, as the Duke of Wellington at Badajos, and my late lamented br-r-other, Ensign Samuel T-t-tickletoby, at B-b-bunhill Row, can testify.

[The Lecturer’s voice was here choked with emotion, owing to the early death of the latter lamented hero].

But don’t let us be too eager for military glory, my friends. Look! We are angry because the French beat us eight hundred years ago! And do you suppose they are not angry because we beat them some five-and-twenty years back? Alas! and alas! this is always the way with that fighting; you can’t satisfy both parties with it, and I do heartily hope that one day there’ll be no such thing as a soldier left in all Europe. [A voice, “And no police neither”].