A pair of queens, 1865

A friendship at royal level

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She was dressed in just the same widow’s weeds as I wear. I took her into the White Drawingroom, where I asked her to sit down next to me on the sofa…

In last week’s Histories we met Queen Emma of Hawaii (1836–1885), whose journals and letters recorded a ‘grand tour’ around Europe and America in 1865–66, after the death of her husband Kamehameha IV. I focused on her impressions of France. One reason she headed towards the Mediterranean was a nasty case of bronchitis picked up in her stay in London – there she had lived in Kensington for a few months, and then in Claridge’s hotel, which had already welcomed a royal guest five years earlier in the form of Empress Eugénie of France, wife of Napoleon III.

Emma’s London sojourn enabled her to cement a friendship – with none other than Queen Victoria herself. Victoria was 17 years older and had had nine children by the time Emma’s only son died in 1862. He had been Victoria’s godson, and the loss brought the two queens together in spirit if not in person yet – and in that year they began what was to become a 20-year correspondence.

In Emma’s first letter to Victoria, on 10th September 1862, she wrote: “With that depth of feeling which is fully known to the heart of none but a mother, I pray Your Majesty to accept my thanks for Your Royal benevolence towards me and mine”.1 Victoria’s reply didn’t come until February 1863, but was certainly personal:

As a Mother you will understand how fully I am able to appreciate the depth of your grief, at the sad loss which so soon succeeded to the Holy Ceremony. As a wife I can sincerely hope that you may be spared the heavier blow which has plunged me into life long sorrow,—but which makes my heart tenderly alive to all the sorrows of others.

By the time of Emma’s visit to London, both women were widowed, emphasising a common bond. Emma, of course, had received a very English upbringing in the Rooke household, but one also very much in the context of her Hawaiian roots, so the queens had certainly had different experiences too.

The two queens finally met in person on 9th September 1865, and we have a record of each of their impressions. (For another of Victoria’s notable encounters, see the previous Histories article about her meeting with Buffalo Bill.)

[On 9th September, Victoria wrote in her journal…]

After luncheon I received Queen Emma, the widowed Queen of the Sandwich Islands of Hawaii. Met her in the Corridor & nothing could be nicer or more dignified than her manner. She is dark, but not more so than an Indian, with fine features & splendid soft eyes. She was dressed in just the same widow’s weeds as I wear. I took her into the White Drawingroom, where I asked her to sit down next to me on the sofa. She was much moved when I spoke of her great misfortune in losing her husband and only child. She was very discreet and would only remain a few minutes. She presented her lady, whose husband is her Chaplain, both being Hawaiians…

[Emma didn’t record the meeting in her diary, but she did write this in a letter to King Kamehameha V, her late husband’s brother and successor…]

I have this moment returned from Windsor Castle where the Queen received me most affectionately, most sisterly.

[A few weeks later, Victoria invited Emma to spend a night at Windsor Castle. Again, Victoria gives us the details…]

November 27. Went with Vicky & Fritz [Victoria’s eldest daughter and her husband, the Crown Prince of Prussia] to see Queen Emma, who has come for the night. She is not looking well, & coughs poor thing, for which reason she is ordered to go to the south of France, to Hyeres… The Queen sat between Vicky and me. She was amiable, clever, & nice in all she said, speaking of her own country, which she said had originally been very mountainous. There were no animals, but small dogs and pigs, and these only since they had been imported and introduced in the time of Van Couvers [sic]—the same with flowers. The people were now always dressed like Europeans & were all nominally Christians, but not very fervently so. . . . Took the Queen to her room remaining a little with her.

November 28. …Directly after breakfast, we went to wish good Queen Emma goodbye & I gave her a bracelet with my miniature and hair. She thanked me much for my kindness, & for consenting to be godmother to her poor little child.

[By mid-December, Emma was in the south of France, convalescing from that cough, and a letter she wrote to Victoria shows the continued warmth between the women…]

When I was last at Windsor you most kindly made me promise to write and tell you of my journey and safe arrival to this place… I reached Hyere on Saturday last after five days traveling from London. The journey through France was very pleasant and every thing was new and interesting. At Boulogne through the courtesy of Earl Russell [the British prime minister] I was met by Your Majesty’s consul with every offer of assistance and mark of attention. Lyon, Avignon, Marse[i]lle, all were new to me and my attention was constantly occupied. This appears to be a warm snug little place although the residents are complaining of its being unusually cold at present… Allow me to say with how much gratitude and affection I shall always cherish the remembrance of you and yours…

And so their letters continued, exchanging gifts and news of their families. The last letter we know Emma sent to Victoria was on 9th April 1882, after Roderick Maclean had tried to shoot the British monarch. (“How shall I express my horror and grief over the narrow escape Your Majesty’s valuable life had met at the hands of an insane person,” Emma wrote, and Victoria’s grateful reply has also survived.) In the end, Victoria would outlive Emma by almost 16 years; the Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown in 1893, and in 1898 the fledgling republic was annexed by the United States, although it only officially became the 50th state in 1959.


My source for this correspondence is Rhoda E.A. Hackler’s 1988 article in the Hawaiian Journal of History, ‘“My Dear Friend”: Letters of Queen Victoria and Queen Emma’. My other source, as for last week, is Alfons L. Korn’s The Victorian Visitors: An Account of the Hawaiian Kingdom, 1861–1866 (University of Hawaii Press, 1958).

Views from French balconies, 1865

A royal visitor, enjoying anonymity

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I sat out on that balcony a very long time, taking advantage of our being unknown in that place—sat exposed without being known…

In a spirit of looking beyond the narrow shores of Britain, this week I give you a Hawaiian describing her impressions of France. But no ordinary Hawaiian – this was a queen.

Emma Kalanikaumakaʻamano Naʻea was born in Honolulu in January 1836 into a high-status family, her father being a high chief; her mother meanwhile, again from a high-status family, was the daughter of the English-born John Young (c.1742–1835), who had been a key advisor to the first king of the unified Hawaii kingdom founded in 1795. In Hawaii there was a traditional practice of adoption called hānai, which in Emma’s case led to her being brought up by the English doctor Thomas Rooke (who had cared for Young in his final days) and his wife Grace, who was Emma’s aunt (another daughter of Young).

Emma was consequently brought up in a very British manner – and known as Emma Rooke – but also to be conscious of her Hawaiian roots. Later in life she made considerable contributions to the nation’s cultural heritage, enlarging its libraries and acting as a very successful ambassador for all things Hawaiian, as well as establishing a new hospital and a school for girls.

In 1856, she married Alexander Liholiho (an Anglicised version of his name), who only a year before had become King Kamehameha IV – his grandfather had been the first king, Kamehameha I, the one advised by Young. The new king had travelled to Britain and America when he was a teenager and, like Emma, was a keen musician. Both of them had been educated by American Congregational missionaries, and in fact first met at school. Their marriage appears to have been happy, although hit a rocky patch when he drunkenly shot his secretary, suspecting him of having an affair with Emma (the friendship, the marriage and his reign were all rescued).

A darker shadow was to come, however: Emma and Alexander’s infant son died in 1858, and the king himself died in November 1864, apparently of grief. A year later, Emma’s own health was poor and she undertook a voyage to England, Europe and the US to convalesce, as well as further the cause of the new Anglican Church of Hawaii which she and her husband had helped to establish. She sailed from Honolulu on 6th May 1865 on board the Clio, and arrived in England that summer. I will touch on that part of her travels next week, but this time I’d like to present her first impressions of France, which are written (in letters and her own diary).1 Emma first arrived in France at Boulogne on 5th December 1865. She then travelled to Paris, where she penned a letter to King Kamehameha V (Alexander’s older brother and successor) from the Grand Hotel du Louvre describing her first impressions of France.

… when we reached the French coast Mr. Hamilton the English consul to Boulogne was the first person to come on board, and waited on me, he told me he did so by the express command of Earl Russell,2 and our luggage was sent to the Hotel de Bain, without word or examination, whither we drove, which is near by the landing. . . . [We were] received at the door by the landlady and landlord of the house, the former in a neat print dress & white apron and the peculiar white cap of muslin, fitted round the face looking so nice and Frenchy.

We were shewen upstairs into a pretty little room which looked over the harbour & on to the rising mountain beyond. A table was soon laid by a large puffy French waiter, with a light French dinner, of which we ate the celebrated French salad, and drank Bordeaux van ordinair [sic]. The moment we came into the harbour I felt instantly the change of everything. You saw France in every animate & inanimate thing—the market women in their white caps, short petticotes, sabots and great baskets of fish & other things hanging on their backs by the strap or loop of leather attached to them through which they slip their heads… the exterior & interior of houses the latter so tastily fitted, little recesses & nooks all curtained in with light curtains… and the French breads & the French long roll of bread to each one at table all tell instantly to the eye what that country is without asking questions…

[She then describes awaking in Paris and the scenes below her window.]

When we woke the next morning from our short night’s rest in Paris, we threw open the long windows and shutters, and slipping out into the little balcony whiled away 15 minutes before breakfast was announced, in looking down upon the rue Marenge [Rue de Marengo, named in 1854 after a French victory over Austria in 1800] at the pretty variegated sights in the street, of the bright dresses of both men and women, market vans, light phaetons, bright shops opposite the road, young demoiselles that trip along with blooming cheeks, and a bundle of sewing for the day’s work under their arm, Zouaves [French soldiers with a distinctive North African-influenced uniform] who jostle along with all their medals on their breasts, old women in sabots, white caps, short petticotes and a rainbowie handkerchief folded over their chest and shoulders—now all this was an early morning sight at the end of the street… We sat down to a light breakfast of sweet toast, beautiful coffee sweetened with square lumps of white sugar in large light green cups…

[She then travelled by train to the south of France. Her generally excited impressions of everything were slightly tempered by the men of Lyon, of whom she wrote: “… they have a cigar in the mouth… and when they go about they spit anywhere, whether in a room, on the floor, in the street. A filthy habit.” By 8th December, she was in Marseilles, and looking down from another balcony, enjoying her anonymity…]

[By] 4 o’clock we were… out on our balcony looking at the live street of Le Cannebiere [La Canebière], the great street of Marselles & the hotel the grandest place on it—all crowned heads & illustrious visitors go there. I never thought that the colored prints & pictures of street scenes could be so true. Why! it is to the reality!

It was a most animated scene all day long, & the variety of costumes is something very gay—the bright dress of Zouave soldiers, each regiment differing in brightness—the sedate looking French proprietaire in plane clothes with overcoats buttoned at the throat, & sleeves not used but dangling about, both hands being buried in the trowsers pockets—the narrow waggons or carts drawn by a tandem team of animals, foremost is the small donkey then a large mule, & a poor horse all with the queer head gear that looks like [a] yoke on their necks with a horn in the top of it covered with tiny globular bells on them that jingle through the streets— the Arabs in their white burnoose enveloping head & all, thrown over one shoulder—the young girls that swarm the streets passing up & down, their hairs so prettily & stylishly made, & who dresses in the most becoming of latest Mode de Paris—Americans in their usual quick businesslike walk— Priests in long robes & shovel hats shuffling through the crowd—the women of the lower orders dotting the mass with white by their white caps—the English discernable through that mottled crowd by their tall black hats, excessive simplicity of dress & dignified ladylike & gentlemanlike bearing— Turks with red fezzes & full trowsers, gay broad sashes wound round the waist—Sisters of Mercy of many orders & odd dresses, sailors, shabby cabs & drivers run about them, & once in a while a fast looking young gentleman dashes through this crowd in his Phaeton manageing two beautiful bays with his footman in livery & folded arms as stiff as you please behind him…

This was at our feet. The tall houses whose ornimental fronts & windows draped with bright sunshades, shop windows glittering with all kinds of purse temptations was opposite to us, piano music coming from our next door neighbours in the adjoining rooms.

Now with all this live scene utterly new to me you must not be surprised that I sat out on that balcony a very long time, taking advantage of our being unknown in that place—sat exposed without being known.

After a night in Marseilles, Emma went on to Hyères, regarded as the oldest resort on the French Riviera, to improve her health (she had picked up bronchitis in the damp environment of London). She found it a home from home. “The surrounding views are very diversified & strikes me [as] being much like scenery in my own land. The beautiful climate is doing wonders for us all, already we are almost ourselves again,” she wrote to her friend Lady Devon on New Year’s Day 1866.

In March that year she set out for Italy and then Germany before returning to London, and then New York, Washington and Canada. She returned home in July 1866 upon the news of her aunt and adoptive mother Grace’s death. In the course of her voyage Emma was wined and dined by the great names of the day, from Queen Victoria to Napoleon III and US president Andrew Johnson. She died in 1885, aged only 49.


The best source for these is Alfons L. Korn’s The Victorian Visitors: An Account of the Hawaiian Kingdom, 1861–1866, which can be found online. I have left the spellings as he has them.


Russell was the British prime minister at this point, and took Emma under his wing during her trip to Britain.

The flames reach Westminster, 1666

And who was blamed?

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And now let any person judge of the violent emotion I was in when I perceived the metal belonging to the bells melting; the ruinous condition of its walls; whole heaps of stone of a large circumference tumbling down with a great noise just upon my feet, ready to crush me to death…

The Great Fire of London broke out 355 years ago this week, on 2 September 1666. Of course the first-hand accounts of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn (both of whom have been mentioned elsewhere in Histories, here and here) are well known as eyewitness reports. But there are many others.1

This week, meet William Taswell (1652–1731), a merchant’s son who was sent to Westminster School and experienced the Fire first hand; he later studied at Christ Church, Oxford and became a lecturer in Greek and then a parish priest in Norfolk and London. He wrote a memoir in Latin, which was translated into English by his grandson Henry in 1761 and then published in 1852. Taswell’s account is of course from a man recollecting the events later in life – he wrote the memoir when he was 48. He wrote about his life until 1682, then abandoned his account. He wrote: “I am weary of my undertaking, which begins to increase into a bulk; and, as my avocations abroad call me, I here break off the thread of my narration.” An autobiographer’s key dilemmas in a nutshell. He later resumed this work in his seventies, only covering the years from 1724 on. His life in the interim seems to have been mostly unremarkable, other than his writing a couple of controversial pamphlets railing against the Quakers.

So the account below is by a middle-aged man – but nonetheless it perhaps offers the closest we can get to a schoolboy’s eye view of the Fire. And what’s interesting, if depressing, here is his report on how people, assuming the Fire was caused by an attack, assaulted French people in the city, as well as looting taking place.

And not to pass over in silence that memorable event—the Fire of London, September 2; it happened between my election and admission as scholar. On Sunday, between ten and eleven forenoon, as I was standing upon the steps which lead up to the pulpit in Westminster Abbey, I perceived some people below me running to and fro in a seeming disquietude and consternation; immediately almost a report reached my ears that London was in a conflagration; without any ceremony I took my leave of the preacher, and having ascended Parliament steps, near the Thames, I soon perceived four boats crowded with objects of distress. These had escaped from the fire scarce under any other covering except that of a blanket.

The wind blowing strong eastward, the flames at last reached Westminster; I myself saw great flakes carried up into the air at least three furlongs; these at last pitching upon and uniting themselves to various dry substances, set on fire houses very remote from each other in point of situation.

The ignorant and deluded mob, who upon the occasion were hurried away with a kind of phrenzy, vented forth their rage against the Roman Catholics and Frenchmen; imagining these incendiaries (as they thought) had thrown red-hot balls into the houses.

A blacksmith, in my presence, meeting an innocent Frenchman walking along the street, felled him instantly to the ground with an iron bar. I could not help seeing the innocent blood of this exotic flowing in a plentiful stream down to his ancles.

In another place I saw the incensed populace divesting a French painter of all the goods he had in his shop; and, after having helped him off with many other things, levelling his house to the ground under this pretence, namely, that they thought himself was desirous of setting his own house on fire, that the conflagration might become more general. My brother told me he saw a Frenchman almost dismembered in Moorfields, because he carried balls of fire in a chest with him, when in truth they were only tennis balls.

In this interval of time, when the fury of the common people burst forth with an irresistible torrent upon these unhappy objects of distress, a report on a sudden prevailed that four thousand French and Papists were in arms, intending to carry with them death and destruction, and increase the conflagration. Upon which every person, both in city and suburbs, having procured some sort of weapon or other, instantly almost collected themselves together to oppose this chimerical army.

On the next day, John Dolben, Bishop of Rochester and Dean of Westminster (who in the civil wars had frequently stood sentinel), collected his scholars together in a company, marching with them on foot to put a stop if possible to the conflagration. I was a kind of page to him, not being of the number of King’s Scholars. We were employed many hours in fetching water from the back side of St. Dunstan’s Church in the East, where we happily extinguished the fire.

The next day, Tuesday, just after sunset at night, I went to the royal bridge in the New Palace [Yard] at Westminster,2 to take a fuller view of the fire. The people who lived contiguous to St. Paul’s church raised their expectations greatly concerning the absolute security of that place upon account of the immense thickness of its walls and its situation; built in a large piece of ground, on every side remote from houses. Upon this account they filled it with all sorts of goods; and besides, in the church of St. Faith, under that of St. Paul’s, they deposited libraries of books because it was entirely arched all over; and with great caution and prudence every the least avenue through which the smallest spark might penetrate was stopped up. But this precaution availed them little. As I stood upon the bridge among many others, I could not but observe the gradual approaches of the fire towards that venerable fabric. About eight o’clock it broke out on the top of St. Paul’s Church, already scorched up by the violent heat of the air, and lightning too, and before nine blazed so conspicuous as to enable me to read very clearly a 16mo. edition of Terence which I carried in my pocket.

On Thursday, soon after sunrising, I endeavoured to reach St. Paul’s. The ground so hot as almost to scorch my shoes; and the air so intensely warm that unless I had stopped some time upon Fleet Bridge to rest myself, I must have fainted under the extreme languor of my spirits. After giving myself a little time to breathe, I made the best of my way to St. Paul’s.

And now let any person judge of the violent emotion I was in when I perceived the metal belonging to the bells melting; the ruinous condition of its walls; whole heaps of stone of a large circumference tumbling down with a great noise just upon my feet, ready to crush me to death. I prepared myself for returning back again, having first loaded my pockets with several pieces of bell metal.

I forgot to mention that near the east walls of St. Paul’s a human body presented itself to me, parched up as it were with the flames; whole as to skin, meagre as to flesh, yellow as to colour. This was an old decrepid woman who fled here for safety, imagining the flames would not have reached her there. Her clothes were burnt, and every limb reduced to a coal.

In my way home I saw several engines which were bringing up to its assistance all on fire, and those concerned with them escaping with great eagerness from the flames, which spread instantaneous almost like a wildfire; and at last, accoutred with my sword and helmet, which I picked up among many others in the ruins, I traversed this torrid zone back again.

The papers, half burnt, were carried with the wind to Eton. The Oxonians observed the rays of the sun tinged with an unusual kind of redness. A black darkness seemed to cover the whole hemisphere; and the bewailings of people were great.

It could not be expected that my father's houses should escape this almost general conflagration. They shared the same fate with others. But what rendered our loss still greater was this: certain persons, assuming the character of porters, but in reality nothing else but downright plunderers, came and offered their assistance in removing our goods: we accepted; but they so far availed themselves of our service as to steal goods to the value of forty pounds from us.

There was a large vaulted cellar under our house, where my father kept particular sorts of wood, and some combustible matter, too, for the sake of making some experiments. These were found entire afterwards, contrary to what I had observed in other like places where great citizens placed fuel in, &c. The fire was not extinguished four months afterwards.


The Museum of London’s Great Fire of London website has numerous letters from people such as merchants affected by the fire, for example.


Not actually a bridge, but a landing place – a bridge had been proposed in 1664 but nothing was started here until 1739, and at the time of the fire the only fixed crossing was at London Bridge.

A piece of the king's cheese, 1645

Who dares ask for it?

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We never tarry’d long in any place, & therefore might the more willingly endure one night’s hardship, in hopes the next night might be better…

This week we dip into the memoirs of Sir Henry Slingsby (1602–58), a Yorkshireman who was an MP and landowner, and a notable supporter of Charles I in the period of what we used to call the English Civil War. I say ‘used to’, because the title doesn’t really embrace the complexities and scope of the war, which also involved Scotland and Ireland (hence another title being the Wars of the Three Kingdoms) – although, as it happens, in this week’s vignette from the war, we follow the king through Wales (where I’ve spent much of this month myself, in fact).

Slingsby joined Charles’s forces in 1642, and soon commanded a regiment defending York. His men saw action at Naseby (14th June 1645), where a crushing defeat turned the tide against the Royalist cause. Slingsby’s memoirs cover the period 1638–48. Under Cromwell, his estates were confiscated in 1651 and he was later implicated in a Royalist plot and was ultimately imprisoned and then executed on Tower Hill in 1658.

Immediately after Naseby, Charles withdrew to Hereford, and it is from there this passage in Slingsby’s memoir1 picks up:

This City of Hereford is situate’d not much unlike to Yorke, & in some parts resembles it very much; for it hath a round tower mount’d upon a Hill, like to Cliffords tower, & the mills near it, with some little works about, having the river Wye running close by; but the Walls tho’ they be high yet are not mount’d upon a Rampeir as York walls are. The King marcheth from hence to Ragland [i.e. Raglan, held by the Earl of Worcester] a Castle of the Earle of Worsters, a strong Castle of itself, & beautifull to behold, yet made stronger much by art, being pallizado’d & fortify’d by a double work; here the King continued 3 Weeks, being entertain’d by the Earle, not withstanding the great charge by keeping therein a Garison for him…

While he stay’d in these parts he visit’d all Garisons; but first he went to Abergeiny [Abergavenny], which was not a Garison, but a place where he conven’d the Country Gentlemen to be assured of their affection, & with assistance they could give him. After this he went to Monmouth… & to Cardiff… About 3 Miles from this town the King went to view a muster which ye Gentlemen had caused, to testify their forwardness to advance the service of the King, which could be no less upon the view than 3000 foot, with such guns and other weapons as they had, making a shew by their acclamation of much rejoycing to see their King; but all this prov’d vain & fruitless, & no advantage came thereby to the King; whereupon he resolv’d to leave the Country & match Norwards with all the force he had…

The King after he return’d from visiting many places thereabout, came back to Raglang, & so march’d to Brecknock [Brecon]…

[Slingsby then describes their onward journey through Staffordshire, Derbyshire and Northamptonshire to Yorkshire, then Lincolnshire, Rutland and Huntingdon; thence to his headquarters at Oxford before returning to Wales.]

I never observ’d any great severity in the King, us’d either toward the enemy when he had him in his power, or to the Soldier in his own army, except only at Wing [in Rutland], a house of my Lord Caernarvon’s, where he command’d to be hang’d upon a sign post, a soldier, for stealing a Chalice out of the church…

… the King will once again secure himself among the mountains of Wales… Here [in Hereford again, which had been besieged by an army from Scotland]

Here we found all places about the town made Levell, where as before they stood upon the same ground, fair houses & Goodly Orchards. I went to see the house, where I formerly Quarter’d, & found it pull’d down, & the Gentlewoman that had liv’d in it dead upon grief to see the ruins of her house. We stay’d not long here but took our march towards Raglang the Lord of Worsters house, over the River Wye, upon the bridge the Scots had made: the other being broken down, & this made substantiall with strong piles of Timber… [Slingsby then gives great detail on the construction of this bridge.]

… hearing of Poynze advance he gives orders to have a rendezvous 8 miles off upon a Mountain, thinking we should have march’d forwards; but when we were drawn up he commands us to march directly back, & Quarter beyond Hereford; Poynze having his intelligence abroad, & understanding where he meant to be, march’d in the night to be with us; but being this defeat’d we gain’d so much of him by this, & by the wayes we took thro’ the almost unaccessible mountains of Wales, that we heard no more of him…

In our Quarters we had little accommodation; but of all the places we came to, the best at old Radnor, where the King lay in a poor low Chamber, & my Lord of Linsey & others by the Kitchen fire on hay; no better were we accomodat’d for victuals; which makes me remember this passage:

When the King was at his supper eating a pullet & a piece of Cheese, the room without was full, but the men’s stomacks empty for want of meat; the good wife troubl’d with continual calling upon her for victuals, & having it seems but that one cheese, comes into the room where the King was, & very soberly asks if the King had done with the cheese, for the Gentlemen without desir’d it.

But the best was, we never tarry’d long in any place, & therefore might the more willingly endure one night’s hardship, in hopes the next night might be better. And thus we continued our march, until we came to Chester…

Royalist Chester had been laid siege to by the Parliamentarians since September 1644, and Charles reached the city briefly in September 1645 – he only stayed for one night before heading back to Wales, as Slingsby later goes on to report.

Local tradition in Wales holds that the name Beggar’s Bush was given by Charles to the humble place where they stayed – see here for a discussion of it. But whether the king chose to share his cheese, we will never know.


The text can be found here in an 1836 edition, which I have used but with my own modernised spelling, or in an 1806 version here, which seems to be have substantially edited and rewritten.

Corrosive sublimate, 1813

Are you selling your muffins too quietly?

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The accident of being the successful defender of a man accused of murder brought me forward…

I’m having a brief summer break from my desk, so I’m afraid Histories is shorter than usual. This week, the ‘trials’ of a lawyer, in a couple of short extracts. Henry Crabb Robinson (1775–1867) was a well-connected character. He was the son of a Suffolk tanner (he also had an uncle with the wonderful name of Habakkuk Crabb), and became apprenticed to a lawyer in Colchester, Essex in 1790. In 1800 he took five years out from his developing career to travel and study in Germany, where he met luminaries such as Goethe and Schiller. After that he was a war correspondent for The Times in Germany and then Spain, before returning to London to become a barrister. If that wasn’t enough, he was also one of the founders of University College London, and his diary (which survives from 1811 to his death and was first published in 1869) is one the major literary sources for the lives and personalities of the Romantic poets, including Wordsworth, Coleridge and Blake.

In the short diary entry here, Robinson reports on a trial at Norwich, where he defended the accused. It’s a pithy summary of the dilemmas faced by a lawyer, who on the one hand must earn his fee (and grumble about it), while on the other wrestle with the near-certainty of his client’s guilt…

20th August 1813

I defended a man for the murder of his wife and her sister by poison. It was a case of circumstantial evidence. There was a moral certainty that the man had put corrosive sublimate into a tea-kettle, though no evidence so satisfactory as his Tyburn countenance [referring of course to the gallows in London known as Tyburn Tree]. I believe the acquittal in this case was owing to this circumstance. The wife, expecting to die, said, “No one but my husband could have done it.” As this produced an effect, I cross-examined minutely as to the proximity of other – there being children about – the door being on the latch, &c.; and then concluded with an earnest question “On your solemn oath, were there not twelve persons at least who could have done it?”. “Yes, there were.” And then an assenting nod from a juryman. I went home, not triumphant. But the accident of being the successful defender of a man accused of murder brought me forward, and though my fees at two assize towns did not amount to £50, yet my spirits were raised.

Lest we imagine Robinson was too confident a person, in 1838 he reveals the fears of every author. He had written a book in defence of his friend the slavery abolitionist and pacifist Thomas Clarkson (1760–1846), and on 10th August he wrote this to William Wordsworth:

I have heard of a lady by birth being reduced to cry “muffins to sell” for a subsistence. She used to go out a-nights with her face hid up in her cloak, and then she would in the faintest voice utter her cry. Somebody passing by heard her cry, — “Muffins to sell, muffins to sell! O, I hope nobody hears me.” This is just my feeling whenever I write anything. I think it a piece of capital luck when those whose opinion I most value never chance to hear of my writing. On this occasion I must put my name; but I have refused everybody the putting it in the title-page. And I feel quite delighted that I shall be out of the way when the book comes out. It is remarkable how very differently I feel as to talk and writing.

No one talks with more ease and confidence than I do; no one writes with more difficulty and distrust. I am aware, that, whatever nonsense is spoken, it never can be brought against me; but writing, however concealed, like other sins, may any day rise up against one.

And six days later, he told his diary: “The book came out to-day. And now I have the mortification before me, probably, of abuse, or more annoying indifference.”

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