Sunday, 20 March 2011

Happy belated birthday blog!: 1 year old :)

Ha so I just realised the other day that I have been writing this blog for over a year now- how time flies! I haven't managed to do as many posts as I would have liked (so many ideas- not enough time!!!) however I have enjoyed doing everything I have done so far, so anyway heres to many more posts in the future!

Over the past year both Twitter and Facebook have been really important in driving traffic to my blog as well as meeting others with the same interests and discovering new blogs and websites. For regular updates, pictures, discussion and general historical fun ;) follow me on twitter and facebook:

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Happy 1st Birthday!!!!!!!

Very cute birthday image from

Copyright © 2011 E.JH

The Ballad of the Midwife's Ghost

This ballad is a disturbing tale of a tortured ghost who after years of disposing of unwanted children decided to confess all in her death by haunting the inhabitants of her former home. Infanticide, particularly of bastard children was seen as a problem in the seventeenth century, the ballad's author describes how the midwife Mistris Atkins had been 'murthering Babes for Parents sake'. This ballad is set in Holbourn, London at a house in Rotten Row (an area which can still be seen it is now a track running along the south side of Hyde Park in leading from Hyde Park Corner to the west) The veracity of the tale is defended by its claim that the bones discovered by the maid were available to view at the Cheshire Cheese- a pub still in existence today. Whether or not any of the tale actually happened it is an interesting commentary on the contemporary importance of burial rights and the problem of bastard bearing in the seventeenth century.

 Let the world know my crime and that I am most sorry for’t

The Midwives Ghost:
Who appeared to several People in the House where she formerly lived in Rotten-Row in Holbourn, London, who were all afraid to speak unto her; but she grow-ing very Impetuous , on the 16th . of this Instant March, 1680, declarred her mind to the Maid of the said House, who with an Unanimous Spirit adhered to her, and afterwards told it to her Mistris, how that if they took up two Tiles by the Fire-side, they should find the Bones of Bastard-Children that the said Midwife had 15 years ago Murthered, and that she desired that her Kinswoman Mary should see them decently Buried; which accordingly they did, and found it as the Maid had said. The Bones are to be seen at the Cheshire-Cheese in said place at this very time, for the satisfaction of those that believes not this Relation.
To the Tune of, When Troy Town, etc.
MAn cornelis de 1670s WGA
T O speak of Murthers that have been
committed in our Sphear of late;
There's none like these I shall declare,
by monstrous hand, and cruel Fate:
Being acted by a Midwife fell,
Which in Scroop-Court of late did dwell.

Mistris Atkins she there was call'd,
of Reputation good alway;
Till Death did send his piercing Dart,
and told her that he could not stay:
But she must to the Stigion Lake,

For murthering Babes for Parents sake.
She seeing now her time was come,
most bitterly began to weep;
And lifting up her hands on high,
she took a short, not lasting sleep:
Six months ago, as I am told,
Before she did this same unfold.

Therefore not to detain you long
to this discourse, I now will press;
Which is a truth assuredly,
as many know, and you may guess:
When as 'tis plainly told herein,
Whereas their bones are to be seen.

The House whereas this Midwife liv'd,
hath very much disturbed been;
With Apparitions very strange,
the like whereof hath not been seen:
Sometimes resembling of her shape,

At other times Hells mouth to gape.
Which put the people in great fear,
that there had taken up abode,
Being loath for to disclose the same,
for fear expersions they should load
On her whom they really thought
Could never be to Lewdness brought.

...People they are apt of late, to condemn (most) strange things as lyes,To 'th Cheshire-Cheese you may repair, or this they will you satisfice: Having the Childrens Bones to show.... 
But still they daily was opprest,
with dismal shapes, and Lightings strange
That by no means they could not rest,
being very loath from thence to range:
They told some Neighbours secretly,
Desiring them their Faith to try.
To speak unto this Spirit strange,
if that occasion they saw;

But they thereby was daunted quite,
and very much was kept in awe:
The hair o'their heads standing on end,
To see their late Familiar Friend.

She finding none that would Reply,
importune at last did grow;
A'th 16th . of this Instant March ,
unto the Maid reveal'd her Woe:
Who then was by her Mistris sent,
To fetch Night-cloaths Incontinent.

pray Virgin stay, then quoth the [?],
for I to you will do no harm;
And tell Mary whom I love most,
that I hereby, her now do charm,
Two Tiles by 'th fire up to take,
A Board also, and then to make
A Burial of what she finds,

in decent and most handsome sort;
And let the World to know my Crime,
and that I am most sorry for't:
Desiring Midwives to take heed,
How they dispose their Bastard-breed.

She having now reveal'd her mind,
did vanish in a Flash away,
And none doth know where she's confin'd,
until the General judgement-day:
When as she shall the answer make,
For what she then did undertake.
The Maid at first astonish'd was,
at this which she her self did hear;

And to her Mistris did impart,
the same that now I do declare:
Concerning of the Murthers strange,
And did not seem at all to change.
Which being throughly searched out,
accordingly it did appear;

The Maid she spoke of is suppos'd,
to be her kind Kinswoman neer:
That will fulfill her will, 'tis said,
She being a Religious Maid.

Most People they are apt of late,
to condemn (most) strange things as lyes,
To 'th Cheshire-Cheese you may repair,
for this they will you satisfice:
Having the Childrens Bones to show,
In Holbourn if you do it know.

London, Printed for T. Vere , at the Sign of
the Angel in Guiltspur-Street. 1680.

Rotten Row as Seen today

Bones image from here
Cheshire cheese pub image from here 
Rotten Row image from here

Copyright © 2011 E.JH

Monday, 14 March 2011

Judith and the decapitated head of Holofernes

Judith with the Head of Holofernes by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1530

 'My God, my God hearken unto me. A widow, for it was thou who didst do the things which were before those things and those things and the things after them...Bring low their might by thy power. For they have planned to pollute thy sanctuary. To defile the tabernacle where thy glorious name doth rest....By the guile of my lips smite...break in pieces their highest state by the hands of a female....King of all thy creation, hearken thou to my supplication, and make my word and deceit for the wound and bruise of those who have purposed hard things against thy covenant and thy hallowed house.'[1]              (Judith's prayer before embarking on her mission)

The story behind this startling sixteenth century painting comes from the Book of Judith [2]. To narrate the story briefly, the tale is set in Judea at around 350 BC and stars Judith a widow and noted beauty from the town of Bethulia. Her town is under siege by the Assyrian army and in a desperate bid to rid her town of their oppressors Judith visits the Assyrian camp. Accompanied by her maid she manages to gain access and is invited to join a private party at which Holofernes the commander of the Assyrian army is in attendance. Waiting until he is drunk Judith seizes her moment to chop off his head and takes it home, the following day Bethulian soldiers accompanied by Holofernes head manage to drive away the invading Assyrian force.

The painting is a suitably beautiful depiction of Judith looking quite regal and poised, holding the decapitated head of Holofernes. Here the artist has not chosen to present the bloody act in action which differs very much from later gory depictions, there is no blood on the sword or her and she certainly does not look like a woman who just took a life. Instead it focuses on her femininity and perhaps the notion of her chastity, which although she spent an evening at the camp remained in tact. In later images she is presented in the act of murder and as sturdier and older in appearance, perhaps this was a step too far for early sixteenth century tastes.
A later depiction from the of Judith in the act helped by her maid by Artemisia Gentileschi dated 1611-12

[1] Morton Scott Enslin (ed.), The Book of Judith: Greek Text with an English Translation, (E.J. Brill: Leiden, 1972), pp. 9-10
[2]The Book of Judith was probably written in the 2nd century B.C, it is included in the Septuagint and Catholic /Eastern Orthodox Christian Old Testament Bible. It has been suggested that it could have been the first historical novel.

Image 1 from wikimedia
Image 2 from the Web Gallery of Art

Copyright © 2011 E.JH

Sunday, 6 March 2011

‘The Somersetshire Lady’ a 17thc Ballad

The Somersetshire LADY:
Her sorrowful Lamentation for her Misfortunes, in an Extravagant SPENDTHRIFT,
who by Riotous Living, brought her to Ruine.
To the Tune of If Love's a sweet Passion, etc.
NETSCHER Caspar. young girl holding a letter. c. 1665.
I Am a young Wife that has cause to complain,
Yet I fear all my sorrowful Sighs are in vain;
For my Husband he is an invincible Sot,
There is nothing he minds but the Pipe, and the Pot:
When a Husband he is a sad Spendthrift, you know
Then a Wife must sad Sorrow and Grief undergoe.
I am a Knight's Daughter of Somersetshire ,
And my Portion was Three or Four hundred a Year;
Which my rambling Husband has blasted of late,
For he spends at a woeful Extravagant rate:
When a Husband he is a sad Spendthrift, you know
Then a Wife must, etc.
When first he came to me, I needs must confess,
He came, like a Spark, in an Officer's Dress;
But in drinking so many good Gallons of Sack,
He has scarce a good Coat, or a Shirt to his Back:
When a Huaband he is a sad Spendthrift, you know
Then a Wife must, etc.
LE NAIN brothers- smokers 1643DETAIL
I know he will revel, and thunder, and call,
And suppose there be Twenty, he'll pay for them all,
While they are a toping his full flowing Bowl,
They will count him a noble and generous Soul:
When a Husband he is a sad Spendthrift, you know
Then a Wife must sad Sorrow and Grief undergoe.
It is but a folly to mention my Birth,
Or to think of my former rich Pleasure and Mirth;
For, alas! I am drowned in Floods of sad Tears,
For I han't been a Wife above Three or Four Years:
When a Husband he is a sad Spendthrift, you know
Then a Wife must sad Sorrow and Grief undergoe.
TERBORCH offering a woman coins. 1662-63
Believe me good People, as this is my Hand,
He has swallowed about Threescore Acres of Land,
With an Orchard, and House, a Draw-bridge, and great Moat,
He has swallowed them down his devouring Throat:
When a Husband he is a sad Spendthrift, you know
Then a Wife must, etc.
HONDECOETER, Gillis Claesz. d.landscape. 1620-22
To see my vast Portion thus wastfully spent,
It has cost me, in private, to sigh and lament,
And a Thousand times wishing I ne'er had been born;
For my Life is a burthen, my Days are forlorn:
When a Husband he is a sad Spendthrift, you know
Then a Wife must, etc.
I often have told him, when all is consum'd,
In Prison, with sorrow, he then will be doom'd;
Yet he never regards what I say in the least,
But abroad with his Croneys he'll Revel and Feast:
When a Husband he is a sad Spendthrift, you know
Then a Wife must, etc.
CARAVAGGIObeheading of st john the baptist detail1608
The Chains, and rich Jewels, I formerly wore,
They are gone, I have little, or nothing in store;
And besides, all my Lands are here mortgag'd, and sold,
There is nothing but Sorrow and Grief I behold:
When a Husband he is a sad Spendthrift, you know
Then a Wife must, etc.
O what will become of my Children dear,
They will live to know Hardship, and Sorrow, I fear,
When they might have liv'd happy, nay glorious and great,
If their Father he had not destroy'd their Estate:
When a Husband he is a sad Spendthrift, you know
Then a Wife must sad Sorrow and Grief undergoe.
BRAKENBURG Richard. may queen festival. 1700
Printed for J. Back, at the Black-Boy, on the midd[le]
of London-Bridge.
TENIERS David the Younger. the hustle cap.late17thc

AND THEN?.............

Pepys 4.83 from date approx: 1675-1703
All images from
1.NETSCHER Caspar. young girl holding a letter. c. 1665.
2.LE NAIN brothers- Brothers smoking (detail) 1643
3.TERBORCH offering a woman coins (detail) 1662-63
4.HONDECOETER, Gillis Claesz. d'. landscape. 1620-22
5.CARAVAGGIO, beheading of st john the baptist (detail)1608
6.BRAKENBURG Richard. may queen festival. (detail) 1700
7.TENIERS David the Younger. the hustle cap. late17thc
8.LAZZARINI, GregorioJael and Sisera late 17thc

Copyright © 2011 E.JH